The United States of America wields a lot of power when it comes to foreign affairs and other international matters. The US has threatened the International Criminal Court (ICC) judges with sanctions if they proceed with a probe on American citizens for alleged war crimes in Afghanistan. What is striking is that the US is brazenly standing up to the ICC while African leaders are hauled there every time.
John Bolton, who is President Trump's national security adviser, issued a vehement, blistering and virulent verbal attack on the ICC in a speech to the Federalist Society, a conservative group, in Washington, DC, on Monday.
"Today, on the eve of September 11th, I want to deliver a clear and unambiguous message on behalf of the president. The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court," Bolton said.
"We will not cooperate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC ... We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us."
The United States is not tolerating any form of investigations into its activities in Afghanistan. Bolton said that if the ICC continued with the investigations they would "fight back" and impose sanctions – even seeking to criminally prosecute ICC officials.
Bolton said that the court was a threat to "American sovereignty and US national security" and that it lacked checks and balances, claiming "jurisdiction over crimes that have disputed and ambiguous definitions" and failing to "deter and punish atrocity crimes". He also said the court was "superfluous" as the US administration did "not recognise any higher authority than the US Constitution".
The United States' double standards
This naked resistance to international law principles shine a light on the double standards of the US. The US claims to be a pinnacle and bastion of human rights, but history shows us they do not want to be held accountable for their atrocities. It is even showing now. It seems they are afraid of international law and will not tolerate any form of probe into their activities in other countries.
These sentiments were echoed by David Scheffer, who established the ICC on behalf of the US and served as the country’s ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues. He said, "The Bolton speech today isolates the United States from international criminal justice and severely undermines our leadership in bringing perpetrators of atrocity crimes to justice elsewhere in the world."
"The double standard set forth in his speech will likely play well with authoritarian regimes, which will resist accountability for atrocity crimes and ignore international efforts to advance the rule of law. This was a speech soaked in fear and Bolton sounded the message, once again, that the United States is intimidated by international law and multilateral organizations. I saw not strength but weakness conveyed today by the Trump Administration."
Is the ICC independent?
Since the ICC was established by a UN treaty in 2002, the United States has always been critical about it. Yet the US has been one of the loudest Western powers saying Africa must be democratic and respect fundamental human rights. While not condoning the egregious and flagrant human rights abuses in Africa, the United States always treads on the grounds of blatant hypocrisy.
A 2016 report from the ICC said there was a reasonable basis to believe the US military had committed torture at secret detention sites in Afghanistan operated by the CIA, and that the Afghan government and the Taliban had committed war crimes. Following Bolton's remarks, the ICC said that would continue its work as an independent and impartial institution, backed by 123 countries.
The ICC has always been the place where African leaders are sent and tried for their various war crimes and human rights abuses crimes. Maybe, the ICC can assert its independence by proceeding with the probe on America. But with how powerful the United States is, it is going to be a huge task to surmount.
The United States is also closing the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington because of the Palestinian attempt to get the ICC to investigate Israel for crimes committed during its decades-long occupation of Palestine.
Conservative groups in the United States are obviously pleased with these actions. But they just show how America is a bully and how it is preaching hypocrisy.
Header image credit: Al Jazeera