Will Biden’s return to multilateralism extend to the ICC? | Crimes Against Humanity News

US President Joe Biden’s election victory raised the prospect of increased US support and engagement with the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Many observers have cited Biden’s emphasis on multilateralism and his support for the international tribunal as a Democrat classifying the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as positive signs.

But the Biden administration did not revoke former President Donald Trump’s September 2020 executive order that imposed it punishments on ICC staff, including prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, raising new questions about the policy Biden plans to pursue.

“I think it was expected that [the lifting of sanctions] would be automatic, and not only would the removal of existing sanctions be a fait accompli, but the current decree would be overturned, ”said William Schabas, professor of international law at Middlesex University in London.

Trump-era sanctions were imposed after two-decade-old court launched an investigation into abuses committed by various actors in Afghanistan, including those committed by US military and CIA personnel that had been documented in previous national and international investigations.

This ongoing investigation, and the tribunal ad The opening of an investigation into alleged crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories on Wednesday could complicate Biden’s approach, observers told Al Jazeera.

Yet “there is a distinction between disagreeing with the ICC ruling and unfairly punishing ICC officials in ugly and rogue ways,” human rights lawyer and director Sari Bashi told Al Jazeera. research at Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN).

“Biden doesn’t have to agree with every prosecutor’s decision to say that the United States should not sanction human rights defenders.”

“ Abuse ” of sanctions

In early February, the Biden administration congratulated the ICC for condemn Dominic Ongwen, commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), for war crimes committed in Uganda in the early 2000s.

Shortly thereafter, the administration said it had “serious concerns” about the determination that the occupied Palestinian territories come under its jurisdiction, paving the way for its recently announced war crimes inquiry that will examine the actions of Palestinians and Israelis.

State Secretary Antony Blinken mentionned the United States “strongly opposes and is deeply disappointed” by the Court’s investigation, adding that the United States “remains deeply committed to ensuring justice and accountability for crimes of international atrocity” and recognizes ” the role that international tribunals such as the ICC can play ”.

Before the court’s announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly urged Biden in their first phone call on February 17 to uphold U.S. sanctions against ICC officials.

ICC opens investigation into war crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories that could trap Israelis [File: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters]

Bashi said Biden would likely be under “enormous pressure, not only from Israel but also from Israel’s allies” to keep the pressure on the ICC in light of the investigation.

In February, 80 non-governmental, faith-based and academic organizations around the world called on the Biden administration to lift the sanctions, which were also imposed on a senior official in Bensouda’s office, Phakiso Mochochoko, and anyone who “brings material aid ”. officials.

“These actions were an unprecedented assault on the Court’s mandate to bring justice and the rule of law to the world, an abuse of the financial powers of the US government and a betrayal of the American legacy in the establishment of institutions of international justice, ”the groups said in a statement. open letter.

“Maintaining in place the decree authorizing the sanctions would be incompatible with the laudable commitments of the new administration to respect the rule of law and to continue multilateral cooperation in favor of American interests,” he said.

Perspectives for change

Biden’s victory in November last year raised hopes for a policy shift towards the ICC from Trump, who took an adversarial approach to the tribunal, as he has done with most organizations. international.

But historically, the United States is largely suspicious of The Hague-based tribunal, which is the only permanent tribunal with jurisdiction to try cases of genocide, international crimes, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

In 2000, former President Bill Clinton signed the Rome Statute, the Court’s governing and founding treaty, a preliminary step to joining the treaty, which was never ratified by the US Senate. President George W. Bush subsequently “unsigned” the treaty, meaning he would not support ratification.

Joining the court, which would require a two-thirds majority in the Senate, remains an unlikely prospect.

Yet relations between the United States and the ICC peaked during Barack Obama’s presidency.

Brianne McGonigle Leyh, professor at the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights at Utrecht University, said the Obama administration supports aspects of the court’s work while maintaining “an underlying belief in the superiority of the American judicial system and in the preeminent position of the United States in the world ”.

In what they called a “positive engagement,” the United States helped surrender two fugitives to court; supported the referral of Libya by the UN Security Council to court and worked with ICC members on some aspects of the investigations.

“I still remain hopeful that the Biden administration will return to the committed exceptionalism we saw under the Obama administration,” McGonigle Leyh told Al Jazeera, adding, however, that the delays in lifting the ICC sanctions raise questions about the pressures the Biden administration is facing.

“The administration must ask itself… to what extent does it want to uphold responsibility for serious international crimes? How much does he want to support the rule of law, not only at home, but also abroad? ” she said. “For me, these are the key questions.”

“ The court has evolved ”

Schabas said the Biden administration is unlikely to take the same aggressive stance towards the ICC that Trump has taken due to “too much support within the administration and its political base for the court.”

However, he said it was not clear whether Biden would warm up to Obama administration levels since “the court has advanced in investigations that threaten the United States.”

Meanwhile, the ICC will not “waver” under pressure from the United States to drop its investigation into the abuses in Afghanistan, although ICC officials have said Washington could end the investigation by adequately continuing its investigation. own investigation and prosecution, in accordance with the provisions of the Rome Statute.

Afghan villagers protest US special forces accused of overseeing torture and killings in Wardak province [File: Mirwais Harooni/Reuters]

Schabas said that while many believe that the United States’ engagement with the ICC would be helpful, the opposite could also be true.

“A great excitement for the Court and the possibility of its continued expansion around the world is the fact that it is not intimidated by the United States and that it was ready to conduct investigations which threaten American interests,” did he declare.

“The tribunal has moved on – and it has moved on without the United States.”

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