The US has imposed sanctions on the chief prosecutor of the international criminal court, Fatou Bensouda, in the latest of a series of unilateral and radical foreign policy moves.
Announcing the sanctions, the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, did not give any specific reasons for the move other than to say the ICC “continues to target Americans” and that Bensouda was “materially assisting” that alleged effort.
He also announced sanctions against Phakiso Mochochoko, the ICC’s director of jurisdiction, complementary and cooperation division.
The US Treasury issued a statement saying Bensouda and Mochochoko had been deemed “specially designated nationals”, grouping them alongside terrorists and narcotics traffickers, blocking their assets and prohibited US citizens from having any dealings with them.
In June, Donald Trump issued an executive order imposing sanctions on ICC officials involved in investigating Americans, in response to the court’s decision to open an inquiry into war crimes committed by all sides in Afghanistan.
The US was roundly condemned for its anti-ICC campaign, which was not supported by any other western democracy or US ally apart from Israel.
In a statement in response to the sanctions on Wednesday, the ICC said: “These coercive acts, directed at an international judicial institution and its civil servants, are unprecedented and constitute serious attacks against the Court…and the rule of law more generally.”
Richard Dicker, the international justice director at Human Rights Watch, said the announcement “marks a stunning perversion of US sanctions, devised to penalize rights abusers and kleptocrats, to persecute those tasked with prosecuting international crimes”.
“The Trump administration has twisted these sanctions to obstruct justice, not only for certain war crimes victims, but for atrocity victims anywhere looking to the international criminal court for justice,” Dicker said.
The decision to escalate its campaign against the ICC is one of a series of radical steps the Trump administration has taken on foreign policy that have left it isolated on the world stage.
On Monday, it was alone in voting against a counter-terrorism resolution in the UN security council. On other recent council votes involving US efforts to reimpose UN sanctions on Iran, Washington has only managed to secure the support of the Dominican Republic.
On Wednesday, Pompeo also confirmed that the US would not be taking part in an international effort to find a vaccine for Covid-19, because the World Health Organization was involved. The administration has sought to blame the WHO for the pandemic, against which the US has fared worse than any other major industrialised economy.
“This administration wants multilateral institutions to function, to actually work, but multilateralism just for the sake of it, just to get together in a room and chat doesn’t add value,” Pompeo said on Wednesday.
“This should be a five-alarm fire for the UN,” Mark Leon Goldberg, the editor of the UN Dispatch newsletter, said on Twitter. “It’s one small step from imposing sanctions against top WHO officials as part of Trump’s campaign to shift blame for his handling of Covid-19.”