Trump and Bolton Undermine the International Criminal Court

Many Americans and others around the world have been following with great concern the irrational statements and destructive decisions made by President Trump ever since his election.

Some of the President’s policies on national and international issues have made the United States the laughing stock of the world. The latest such example is the announcement by the White House National Security Adviser John Bolton that the United States will not cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC); will not allow the Court’s judges to travel to the United States; will sanction their funds in American banks; and will prosecute them in U.S. courts.

On background, the ICC was formally established back in 2002. It was inspired by “The Rome Statute” of 1998 in which 120 countries adopted a permanent and pan-national court for perpetrators of the most serious crimes in their territories to be prosecuted.

In a highly critical speech on September 10, 2018, John Bolton, the National Security Adviser of Pres. Trump, rejected the jurisdiction of the ICC, especially in cases involving accusations against the United States and its allies, particularly Israel.

It is ironic that the United States, after preaching for decades to the rest of the world about upholding law and order, is now flouting the very principles that this country was founded on.

Bolton and his boss were incensed by the ICC’s investigation of possible crimes committed by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and charges brought by the Palestinian National Authority against Israel. To prevent any legal action against American forces, the United States has signed binding agreements with 100 countries not to surrender any U.S. personnel to the ICC. Furthermore, the United States shut down the representative office of Palestine in Washington, D.C., because of the latter’s intention to file charges at the ICC for alleged Israeli violations. This comes on the heels of the White House decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, thus eliminating all possibility for the United States to serve as an honest broker between the Palestinian Authorities and Israel.

Bolton gave five reasons for the U.S. refusal to cooperate with the ICC:

The first reason is Bolton’s claim that the ICC “threatens American sovereignty and US national security interests. The prosecutor in The Hague claims essentially unfettered discretion to investigate, charge, and prosecute individuals, regardless of whether their countries have acceded to the Rome Statute.”

Bolton’s claim is not accurate. First, all international treaties ratified by the United States supersede national sovereignty, such as the Genocide Convention and many others. Secondly, the ICC has jurisdiction over U.S. citizens only in cases where the U.N. Security Council authorizes the Court to do so. While the United States is not a member of the ICC, it is a Permanent Member of the U.N. Security Council and as such it has veto power over its decisions. Thirdly, the ICC does not get involved in cases where the home country takes legal action against its own citizens.

Bolton’s second objection is that “the International Criminal Court claims jurisdiction over crimes that have disputed and ambiguous definitions, exacerbating the court’s unfettered powers.” Bolton is concerned that ICC judges would bring charges against the United States, in cases such as the U.S. bombing of Syria in 2017 for its alleged use of chemical weapons.

As in any other trial, if the evidence proves that the United States acted illegally, there should be an appropriate verdict. No country is above international law. The U.S. is already protected from such Court actions as a non-member of the ICC. It is ironic that the United States, after preaching for decades to the rest of the world about upholding law and order, is now flouting the very principles that this country was founded on.

Bolton’s third concern is that “the International Criminal Court fails in its fundamental objective to deter and punish atrocity crimes. Since its 2002 inception, the court has spent over $1.5 billion while attaining only eight convictions.” Contrary to Bolton’s assertion, the eight convictions prove that the Court is very deliberate in its judgments and does not pursue every little case around the world, allowing member states to charge their own accused citizens.

Bolton’s fourth complaint is that “the International Criminal Court is superfluous, given that domestic US judicial systems already hold American citizens to the highest legal and ethical standards.” This is an easily dismissible issue. If the ICC finds that U.S. courts have dealt with a particular crime, it will not interfere. The ICC is a court of last resort. This is one of the ICC’s main guidelines.

Bolton’s fifth criticism is that “the International Criminal Court’s authority has been sharply criticized and rejected by most of the world. Today, more than 70 nations…are not members of the ICC.” While 70 countries are not yet members of ICC, 123 countries are members. Over time, more nations will join the ICC, as is the case with other international conventions.

Rather than argue against the rule of law, the United States should be the first to join such international legal institutions. By rejecting the ICC and considering it to be “dead,” as Bolton described it, the United States is simply encouraging the impunity of brutal regimes and dictators around the world.

 

This piece originally appeared in The California Courier on Sept. 20, 2018.

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Harut Sassounian

Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the United Armenian Fund, a coalition of the seven largest Armenian-American organizations. He has been decorated by the president and prime minister of the Republic of Armenia, and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

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