The undersigned organizations express their deep concern regarding today’s announcement by Secretary of State Pompeo and other senior U.S. officials that the United States, among other things, has invoked emergency powers in order to threaten asset freezes and other punitive actions against officials of the International Criminal Court (ICC), their family members, and those who assist their investigations.
The ICC exists because it is difficult to hold government officials and other powerful actors accountable when they commit grave human rights abuses. That impunity, in turn, is corrosive to the broader rule of law, the prospects of lasting peace, and respect for the dignity of all. Since the ICC’s establishment in 2002 as a court of last resort, diverse coalitions of faith-based organizations, human rights advocates, legal practitioners, victims of atrocities, and other constituencies have often looked to it to complement and reinforce their work for justice. Like all other human institutions, the ICC has room for improvement. Nevertheless, from Uganda and the Central African Republic to Darfur and the situation in Bangladesh/Myanmar, the ICC continues to play a vital role, filling gaps in the justice system by independently investigating and prosecuting grave atrocity crimes when national authorities do not do so, or when they seek out help.
This is the context that makes the latest steps in the U.S. government’s attack on the ICC so alarming. It is unacceptable that the United States would target the judges, prosecutors, and other legal professionals of a court that more than 120 countries have joined – including U.S. allies in Europe, Latin America, Africa, and the Asia-Pacific region – using tools that are designed to stigmatize war criminals and disrupt terrorist networks. At this fragile moment in our country and globally, the U.S. government must find ways to address its stated concerns without alienating other countries that have supported international justice or signaling to those who may face the scrutiny of institutions like the ICC that intimidation is an acceptable means of avoiding accountability.
The United States can and should be a powerful voice for justice and accountability for mass atrocities. Punitive measures against the ICC diminish the credibility of that voice. We urge the administration to reverse the steps it has announced, and we urge members of Congress to clearly and publicly oppose this policy.
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Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies
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