The US has threatened sanctions against the United Nations and its International Criminal Court (ICC) if it continues to threaten US sovereignty by proceeding with prosecutions against American soldiers.
The court is currently considering prosecuting US servicemen over alleged detainee abuse in Afghanistan.
National Security Adviser John Bolton called the court “illegitimate” and vowed the US would do everything “to protect our citizens“.
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The US is among dozens of nations not to have joined the International Criminal Court.
What is the ICC?
BBC reports: The court investigates and brings to justice people responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, intervening when national authorities cannot or will not prosecute.
The ICC was established by a UN treaty in 2002, and has been ratified by 123 countries, including the UK.
However several countries, including China, India, and Russia, have refused to join.
Some African countries have called for withdrawal from the court over perceived unfair treatment of Africans.
Why is John Bolton opposed to it?
The US has been critical of the ICC since it was established – and Mr Bolton has been particularly vocal in his opposition to the court.
In his speech on Monday in Washington, Mr Bolton attacked two areas of the court’s work.
Why is the ICC controversial?
The first was ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s request last year for a full investigation into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan, which would include any committed by US military and intelligence officials.
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.
Mr Bolton said neither Afghanistan nor any government signatory to the ICC’s statute had requested an investigation.
However, ICC prosecutors also have the ability to take independent action, although any prosecutions must be approved by a panel of judges.
In his tirade against the court, Mr Bolton said it:
- Was a threat to “American sovereignty and US national security”
- Lacked checks and balances, claimed “jurisdiction over crimes that have disputed and ambiguous definitions” and failed to “deter and punish atrocity crimes“
- Was “superfluous” as the US administration did “not recognise any higher authority than the US Constitution”
- Mr Bolton said: “We will not co-operate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC. We will not join 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.”
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders backed Mr Bolton, saying President Donald Trump would use “any means necessary to protect our citizens [and] those of our allies from unjust prosecution from the ICC“.
What steps could the US take?
ICC judges and prosecutors would be barred from entering the US and their funds in the US would be targeted.
“We will prosecute them in the US criminal system. We will do the same for any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans,” Mr Bolton said.
More “binding, bilateral agreements” would be signed to stop countries submitting US citizens to the court’s jurisdiction.