Why the Trump administration is so afraid of the ICC and trying to destroy it

ICCPresident Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton launched a broadside against the International Criminal Court (ICC), the body mandated by most of the international community to prosecute genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. In a speech to the conservative Federalist Society on Monday, Bolton announced that Washington would “use any means necessary” to push back against the organization’s influence.

The ICC was established in 2002 in response to a decade of human rights abuses in countries such as Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. Supported by 123 nations, it was intended to act as a “court of last resort,” to step in when nations’ legal systems fail. Since then, it has succeeded in convicting several war criminals, even as critics have slammed its slow bureaucracy and its toothlessness in prosecuting crimes outside Africa.

US threatens to arrest ICC judges if they pursue Americans for Afghan war crimes, FRANCE 24
US threatens to arrest ICC judges if they pursue Americans for Afghan war crimes, FRANCE 24

Bolton added to those criticisms on Monday, his ire apparently provoked by the Court’s preparation to launch a probe into war crimes in Afghanistan. Last November, the ICC’s chief prosecutor asked judges to authorize an investigation, which could include examining the alleged torture of detainees by U.S. military and intelligence personnel. “Any day now,” Bolton said, “the ICC may announce the start of a formal investigation against these American patriots.” As a result, he warned, Washington was ready to take steps including banning judges of the “illegitimate court” from the country and sanctioning their funds in the U.S. financial system.

It wasn’t first time Bolton has crossed the Court. Like several countries, the U.S. sees the court as a challenge to its constitutional authority. The U.S. joined Israel, China and Saudi Arabia in refusing to ratify the ICC’s founding document in 2002, citing its “unacceptable consequences for our national sovereignty.” A key person working on that decision was an Under Secretary of State in the George W. Bush Administration: John R. Bolton.

In the years that followed, he spearheaded the signing of approximately 100 bilateral deals to prevent countries around the world handing Americans over to the ICC.That work, he said on Monday, “remains one of my proudest achievements.” None of those deals has ever been tested—no American has been indicted by the Court, let alone convicted. But murmurs of an investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan threaten to change that.

John Bolton. Although the U.S. is not a member of the ICC, Afghanistan is. As a result, crimes committed on its territory can legally be brought to the Court, no matter the nationality of the perpetrator.

Although the U.S. is not a member of the ICC, Afghanistan is. As a result, crimes committed on its territory can legally be brought to the Court, no matter the nationality of the perpetrator. “What we saw from Mr. Bolton on Sept. 10 was a preemptive strike to intimidate the ICC,” the director of the international justice program at Human Rights Watch, Richard Dicker, tells TIME.

Washington’s resistance to the ICC is not new, but the threats coming from a senior administration official are—not to mention that the country’s refusal to cooperate could hinder other investigations, too, including Taliban war crimes committed in Afghanistan. “Bolton barely referenced any importance to holding to account in fair trial those responsible for mass slaughter of civilians, the use of rape as a weapon of war, ethnic cleansing as a practice,” says Dicker. “The first casualty here is any prospect of the U.S. credibly asserting itself as a champion for justice.”

But it seems Bolton has a different casualty in mind. “The ICC,” he said in his speech, “is already dead to us.”


  • Arzna

    How can the US defend freedom and democracy and at the same time intimidate the ICC.

    • MaryTPresumptuous

      That’s an easy one:

      . Americans do not believe in a global governance, global government or global law. Full stop. .

      Americans believe in American government, American laws and the American process by which both are held in check and are improved. Americans believe that every other country’s approach to governing is unattractive by comparison.

      Technically, America is not a signatory to the ICC, and so is not subject to its jurisdiction. The reason is that the elected representatives serving in Congress have not ratified what a president said should be good policy. American presidents do not and will not ever have enough power to commit the United States to such a treaty without getting Congress to agree.

      • Arzna

        Frankly ever since Trump became president, I don’t know what America stands for . It is shameful and embarrassing

        • Mark

          You sound very confused. America has not changed. You have.

          You are the one that has changed. You should decide what you yourself stand for. America has always been against the ICC and the Law of The Sea. They have not changed.

          But maybe more importantly, you mention about Trump, and yet you fail to realize Trump was elected by the American people. You imply that you knew what America stood for, and yet you fail to understand that what America stood for is EXACTLY what Americans collectively stood for. Nothing more, nothing less.

          It has never been a case of “ever since Trump became president”. Trump was elected president BEFORE he was president, not after. And he was elected by the same people that you imply you knew what they stood for.

          • Arzna

            Thanks for Putin, Russia has Trump as the American president who is doing everything Putin wants him to do. Wake up Mark …this is not the America Americans can be proud of

          • MaryTPresumptuous

            On 17 July 1998, the Rome Statute was adopted by a vote of 120 to 7, with 21 countries abstaining. The seven countries that voted against the treaty were Iraq, Israel, Libya, China, Qatar, Yemen, and the United States.

            In 1998, the President was William J. Clinton. Later, he signed the Rome Statute but did not submit it to Congress for approval, as required by United States law.

            George W. Bush sent a note informing the Secretary-General that the U.S. no longer intend to ratify the Rome Statute, and that it did not recognize any obligation toward the Rome Statute. In addition, the U.S. stated that its intention not to become a state party should be reflected in the U.N. depository’s list

            Barack Obama, though “less hostile” to the ICC, nevertheless did not submit the Rome Statute to Congress for approval.

            SO, you see, Mark’s comment above is entirely correct. It is you and your perspective that does not reflect the will of the American people. Do not dismay; our political system is working rather well, in this regard, thank you very much.

            One can only wish that the same will one day be truthfully said of the political systems elsewhere around the world … like Lebanon .. like Syria … like in Russia … … … Today, that objectively is not the case.

          • Arzna

            The United States government has consistently opposed an international court only because it is scared of it . The reason it is scared of it is because that could hold US military and political leaders to a uniform global standard of justice.

            The Clinton administration actively tried to manipulate the International Criminal Court treaty by seeking Security Council screening of cases. If adopted, this would have enabled the US to veto any dockets it opposed.

            When other countries refused to agree to such an unequal standard of justice, the US campaigned to weaken and undermine the court. The Bush administration, coming into office in 2001 as the Court neared implementation, adopted an extremely active opposition.

            Washington began to negotiate bilateral agreements with other countries, insuring immunity of US nationals from prosecution by the Court. As leverage, Washington threatened termination of economic aid, withdrawal of military assistance, and other painful measures.

            The US has no intention to join the ICC mainly due to fear over possible charges against US nationals. But why attack it and undermine it ?

            Bolton’s attack may be just the I.C.C.’s luck. Faced with the belligerence of the Trump administration, ICC might find renewed support in governments that worry about the threat posed by America itself. Nobody is afraid of the I.C.C., not even its members. But many think it’s Bolton’s, and Trump’s, America that is outright dangerous.

    • Niemals

      It was a looonnnnggggg time ago that the US defended freedom and democracy ????