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Trump Administration Sanctions ICC Prosecutor Investigating Alleged U.S. War Crimes

International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, seen here in 2018, has been added to the U.S. Treasury's sanctions list. She is leading the court's investigation into alleged U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan.
Bas Czerwinski
International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, seen here in 2018, has been added to the U.S. Treasury's sanctions list. She is leading the court's investigation into alleged U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan.

The Trump Administration has leveled sanctions against the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor, who is investigating allegations that U.S. troops committed war crimes in Afghanistan. Human rights groups swiftly decried the sanctions as an attack on international justice.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the sanctions at a news conference on Wednesday.

The U.S. has never been a part of the ICC, which Pompeo called "a thoroughly broken and corrupt institution" and said "We will not tolerate its illegitimate attempts to subject Americans to its jurisdiction."

The sanctions are directed at Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and the court's head of jurisdiction Phakiso Mochochoko who were both added on Wednesday to the Treasury Department's "Specially Designated Nationals" list. The designation freezes any assets they might have in the U.S. or subject to U.S. law.

The move builds on an executive order issued by President Trump against court officials in June.

In March, the ICC moved forward with its investigation into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan, including those allegedly committed by U.S. forces and the CIA, as NPR's Merrit Kennedy reported:

"According to court documents, [Bensouda] plans to investigate alleged Taliban attacks against civilians, including murders and abductions.

"Bensouda also wants to look into methods that the U.S. military and CIA used to interrogate detainees. The prosecution has said, 'There is reasonable basis to believe that, since May 2003, members of the US armed forces and the CIA have committed the war crimes of torture and cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and rape and other forms of sexual violence pursuant to a policy approved by US authorities.'"

The Assembly of States Parties is the court's oversight and legislative body. Assembly president, O-Gon Kwon, denounced the sanctions.

"I strongly reject such unprecedented and unacceptable measures against a treaty-based international organization. They only serve to weaken our common endeavor to fight impunity for mass atrocities," Kwon said in a statement.

He said the assembly's Bureau would be meeting soon "to consider the measures imposed by the United States and ways to give effect to our unstinting support for the Court."

Human Rights Watch says the sanctions will have a serious impact on Bensouda and Mochochoko, "who not only lose access to their assets in the US but are also cut off from commercial and financial dealings with 'US persons,' including banks and other companies. US sanctions also have a chilling effect on non-US banks and other companies outside of US jurisdiction who fear losing access themselves to the US banking system if they do not help the US to effectively export the sanctions measures."

"The Trump administration's perverse use of sanctions, devised for alleged terrorists and drug kingpins, against prosecutors seeking justice for grave international crimes, magnifies the failure of the US to prosecute torture," Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Right Watch, said in a statement.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.

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