WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump’s belligerent national security adviser harshly condemned the International Criminal Court, one of the most-hated international organizations for conservatives.
John Bolton used his first major address as a Trump adviser to issue another major political broadside against what has been until now a U.S.-led system of international rules, laws and order.
He chose a Federalist Society luncheon in Washington’s Mayflower Hotel to deliver a speech he called, “Protecting American Constitutionalism and Sovereignty from International Threats.” In it, he unleashed his longstanding hostility towards the court — and denounced its global jurisdiction.
The occasion for Bolton’s speech, which he delivered on the eve of the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, was an imminent decision from the court. Prosecutors had asked the court to formally open an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Afghan national security forces, Taliban and Haqqani network militants, and U.S. forces and intelligence in Afghanistan since May 2003.
The court decision also affects U.S. personnel, who are alleged to have used torture and illegally imprisoned others in Afghanistan.
Bolton has been campaigning for decades, at least since his time in former U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration, to neutralize the International Criminal Court, or ICC, which he regards as a threat because of the possibility that it might someday try to prosecute an American citizen.
Until now, most of the prosecutions in The Hague, Netherlands-based court — and there have been only eight convictions in its 16-year history — were directed against Africans suspected of war crimes.
“The International Criminal Court unacceptably threatens American sovereignty and U.S. national security interests,” Bolton told the Federalist Society, a conservative Washington-based think tank and powerful, nationwide organization of conservative lawyers.
“In no uncertain terms, the ICC was created as a free-wheeling global organization claiming jurisdiction over individuals without their consent,” he said.
The speech was the Trump administration’s latest attack on some of the biggest and most important international organizations — and the international order and achievements they represent.
“We will not cooperate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC. We will not join the ICC,” he said. “We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us.”
In recent months, Trump has taken aim at the United Nations, European Union, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, and World Trade Organization, or WTO.
He pulled the United States out of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, the U.N. Human Rights Council and the Global Compact for Migration, and he has announced the United States’ withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known as the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal.
The Rome Statute, a treaty that underpins the ICC’s authority, was adopted in July 1998 by 120 nations. The United States was among the seven nations that voted against it; China, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Qatar and Yemen were the others.
Two years later, then-U.S. President Bill Clinton signed the Rome Statute. But the U.S. Senate has never ratified it.
With 60 ratifications, the treaty entered into force in July 2002 — the date when the court became operational. As of 2018, it had 123 ratifying members that recognize its jurisdiction. There were 124 last year, but Burundi withdrew as of October. The Philippines has given notice this year that it also plans to withdraw in March 2019.
Bolton said the United States will use “any means necessary” to protect Americans and citizens of allies such as Israel “from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court.”
.@AmbJohnBolton "The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens & those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court. We will not cooperate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC and we certainly will not join the ICC." pic.twitter.com/k7TaPEjWuc
— CSPAN (@cspan) September 10, 2018
Longstanding U.S. aversion
The ICC is the world’s first permanent international criminal court with the jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for the most serious crimes under international law — crimes against humanity, genocide, war crimes and aggression.
It was created to serve as a court of last resort among member nations and is intended to step in only when nations are unwilling or unable to dispense justice themselves.
The U.N. Security Council has the power to refer a matter to the ICC’s prosecutors for investigation, even in a country that does not recognize its jurisdiction.
This occurred just once, in March 2005, when the council told the ICC to investigate claims of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan’s Darfur region since July 2002.
Over the years, the court has filed charges against dozens of prominent suspects.
Those include Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is accused of charges including genocide in Darfur and remains at large; former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was killed before he could be arrested; and Uganda’s leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, Joseph Kony, a warlord who was among the first rebels charged by the court in 2005.
There have been 26 cases brought before the court, some involving more than one suspect. To date, ICC judges have issued 32 arrest warrants and, due to cooperation from nations, nine people have been detained in the ICC detention center and appeared in court, according to the court’s figures.
Fifteen people remain at large, and charges were dropped against three people due to their deaths. ICC judges have issued nine summonses to appear and issued verdicts in six cases, resulting in eight convictions and two acquittals.
The court now has 11 open “situations under investigation.” All but one are in Africa. There are two cases in Central African Republic and one each in Burundi, Congo, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Sudan’s Darfur region and Uganda. The other case is in Georgia.
👉 fights impunity
👉 prosecutes perpetrators of war crimes, genocide & crimes against humanity
👉 works to build a more just world.
— United Nations (@UN) September 10, 2018
Isolationism and anti-multilateralism
David Scheffer, an American lawyer and diplomat who served as the U.S. State Department’s first Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues in the Clinton administration, said Bolton’s speech isolates the United States and severely undermines its leadership in prosecuting war criminals.
“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,” Scheffer said in a statement.
“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,” he said. “I saw not strength but weakness conveyed today by the Trump administration.”
Scheffer said the punishments called for in Bolton’s speech are “ugly and dangerous” because penalizing judges and prosecutors in this manner “invites comparisons to fascism, where individuals who do not toe the line are marked and punished, particularly in the judicial sector.”
“Bolton just invited other countries to punish U.S. judges and U.S. prosecutors who are not ruling in the way they prefer on cases that concern their interests (and there are plenty of those cases in America),” he said. “That is an unprecedented development in American legal history.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, representing several people allegedly detained and tortured in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2008, said Bolton spoke “straight out of an authoritarian playbook.”