NLG: Outrageous U.S. sanctions against ICC prosecutors will not quell fight for accountability

The National Lawyers Guild is outraged at the actions of U.S. President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in imposing OFAC economic sanctions on senior prosecution officials of the International Criminal Court, in an attempt to use its coercive economic powers to secure permanent international impunity for U.S. and Israeli war crimes.

After the United States illegally invaded and militarily occupied Iraq after years of devastating sanctions, torturing prisoners, devastating the country and leading directly and indirectly to the deaths of millions of Iraqis, and as the United States continues to illegally occupy Afghanistan, having killed and wounded thousands of Afghans over nearly 20 years of ongoing military attacks, while continuing drone strikes, extrajudicial killings and other war crimes and crimes against humanity around the world, it seeks not only to evade accountability by refusing to join the Court. It also has escalated its attacks on any effort toward international accountability, imposing sanctions on Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and prosecution jurisdiction director Phakiso Mochochoko for authorizing an investigation into international crimes in the war in Afghanistan, including those committed by U.S. forces, for which U.S. officials bear responsibility

It must further be noted that this comes in response to the Prosecutor’s approval of an investigation into Israeli war crimes in Palestine, about which the U.S. and Israel have exerted tremendous pressure on both Palestinian and international actors in an effort to uphold permanent impunity for ongoing Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity.

While the ICC was established in order to prevent serious crimes against civilians and put an end to impunity under domestic law, for years, the weight of its decisions have fallen vastly disproportionately on African officials, even in relatively weak cases. These sanctions are a direct attempt to force an end to any effort to hold the U.S. and its allies accountable, a necessary condition of any court or judicial project that seeks to be international or universal in scope.

It must be noted as well that these sanctions come amid the ongoing use of unilateral coercive measures, in violation of international law and the United Nations charter, by the U.S. government; for example, against Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, Syria and Zimbabwe. These unilateral coercive measures are a form of economic warfare and an attempt to impose regime change upon any country that rejects the dictates of the United States, and the sanctions on individual ICC prosecutors fit precisely into this framework.

We also note that Pompeo used the term “material support” in his announcement of the implementation of Trump’s Executive Order, which invokes the civil and criminal portions of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. This concept has been used domestically and internationally on multiple occasions to criminalize activities on the basis of “material support for terrorism,” when the definition of “terrorism” is defined by the U.S. government to include a wide array of its official enemies, while it supports, funds and upholds state terror and paramilitary brutality elsewhere in the world.

This is an attempt to suppress international justice and any form of accountability for U.S. and Israeli officials through direct economic attack and the threat of criminal prosecution against victims and their advocates simply for pursuing justice, and these sanctions must be revoked immediately. As an organization of lawyers, law students, legal workers and jailhouse lawyers committed to the principle that human rights and the rights of ecosystems are more sacred than property rights, we affirm that this announcement will not chill our efforts to hold U.S. officials and their allies, including Israeli officials, accountable and to support our international colleagues working to do so in a variety of forums and venues, especially the International Criminal Court.


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