IBAHRI: United States must cease threats to International Criminal Court personnel and families

Thursday 19 March 2020

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) condemns the remarks of United States Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo, in relation to an ongoing investigation at the International Criminal Court (ICC). During the media briefing on 17 March 2020, Secretary Pompeo spoke of the possible implication of US nationals in investigations conducted by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor. He derogatorily referred to the ICC as a ‘so-called court’ and a ‘nakedly political body’. He also named two members of the prosecution’s staff and implied measures could be imposed on these individuals, and their families.

Anne Ramberg Dr jur hc, IBAHRI Co-Chair and the immediate past Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association, commented: ‘The IBAHRI notes with extreme concern the naming of ICC personnel and the veiled threats regarding their families. The ongoing attempts by the United States to obstruct the ICC’s investigations in Afghanistan is deeply concerning. The ICC is a judicial institution charged to provide accountability for the most serious crimes and can act only when national jurisdictions fail to do so. Any state, including the US, that fully investigates and prosecutes crimes committed by its own nationals, has no reason to fear the ICC. Rather than fully pursue accountability for torture and other crimes committed in the war in Afghanistan, the US is seeking to deter ICC investigations.’

Secretary Pompeo’s statements to the press follow the ICC Appeals Chamber’s authorisation of an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed within the context of the war in Afghanistan; these investigations may implicate US armed forces and US Central Intelligence Agency personnel. Although Secretary Pompeo has spoken against the ICC in the past, this is the first time he has publicly singled out individuals and their family members, taking criticism and interference to a new level. In 2019, the US also denied entry to ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, and other members of her staff involved in the preliminary examinations.

Dr Mark Ellis, IBA Executive Director, said: ‘The Office of the Prosecutor is an independent body within the ICC and any attempt to obstruct the performance of its statutory duties is a threat to the rule of law and international justice. The US administration is consistently and aggressively targeting the Court, and by doing so seeking to undermine a legitimate judicial process. We call on all states to support the Office of the Prosecutor in its work.’

As of 2020, 123 States are parties to the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the ICC. The US participated in the negotiations to create the Court and contributed significantly to the provisions of the Rome Statute. At present, the US is not a party to the ICC.

Kate Orlovsky, Director of the IBA’s International Criminal Court and International Criminal Law Programme, noted: ‘This is a moment for States Parties to the Rome Statute to protect this institution and ensure it can discharge its mandate to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The long-awaited Afghanistan investigation should not be imperilled by threats and intimidation – justice should be allowed to run its course.’


Notes to the Editor

  1. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.

    In the ensuing 70 years since its creation, the organisation has evolved from an association comprised exclusively of bar associations and law societies to one that incorporates individual international lawyers and entire law firms. The present membership is comprised of more than 80,000 individual international lawyers from most of the world’s leading law firms and some 190 bar associations and law societies spanning more than 170 countries.

    The IBA has considerable expertise in providing assistance to the global legal community, and through its global membership, it influences the development of international law reform and helps to shape the future of the legal profession throughout the world.

    The IBA’s administrative office is in London, United Kingdom. Regional offices are located in: São Paulo, Brazil; Seoul, South Korea; and Washington DC, United States, while the International Bar Association’s International Criminal Court and International Criminal Law Programme (ICC & ICL) is managed from an office in The Hague, the Netherlands.

    The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), an autonomous and financially independent entity, works to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.

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