USA to impose visa bans on International Criminal Court personnel

US weighs visa ban against ICC officials probing American soldiers’ actions in Afghanistan

The United States will impose visa restrictions on people responsible for any International Criminal Court probe, a move aimed at preventing actions against US and allies in Afghanistan, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday.

Pompeo's announcement came after John Bolton, President Donald Trump's national security adviser and a longtime critic of the ICC, threatened to impose sanctions on court officials in September if they continued to pursue an investigation of potential crimes by USA civilians or military personnel in Afghanistan.

Pompeo, speaking from the State Department Friday, said the restrictions include "persons who take or have taken action to request or further such an investigation".

In November 2017, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda sought authorization to open an investigation into crimes connected to the conflict in Afghanistan. "We're prepared to take additional steps, including economic sanctions, if the ICC does not change its course".

"These visa restrictions will not be the end of our efforts", Pompeo said. "The ICC, as a court of law, will continue to do its independent work, undeterred, in accordance with its mandate and the overarching principle of the rule of law".

The American Civil Liberties Union, which represents three people before the ICC who say they were tortured in Afghanistan, called the decision "misguided and dangerous" and "an unprecedented attempt to skirt worldwide accountability for well-documented war crimes that haunt our clients to this day".

A director at Human Rights Watch, Andrea Prasow, described the announcement as a "thuggish attempt to penalize investigators" at the court.

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The ICC said in a statement it was established by a treaty supported by 123 countries and that it prosecutes cases only when those countries failed to do so or did not do so "genuinely". Major powers, including the United States, China and Russian Federation, are not members.

James Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, said Pompeo's remarks reflected the administration's view that global law matters "only when it is aligned with USA national interests".

But ICC membership was never ratified by the US Senate and the "America First" administration of President Donald Trump has been a particularly virulent opponent.

The ICC came into being in 2002 with over 120 members, including most European nations.

The court, which sits in The Hague, responded that it was an independent and impartial institution and would continue to do its work "undeterred" by Washington's actions.

US National Security Advisor John Bolton unveils the Trump Administration's Africa Strategy at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, December 13, 2018.

"We will not cooperate with the ICC", Bolton said. We will not join the ICC.

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