WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, over her investigation into whether American forces committed war crimes in Afghanistan.
Pompeo also said Phakiso Mochochoko, the head of the ICC’s Jurisdiction, Complementarity and Cooperation Division, had also been blacklisted under sanctions authorized by President Donald Trump in June that allow for asset freezes and travel bans.
“Today we take the next step, because the ICC continues to target Americans, sadly,” Pompeo told reporters.
Pompeo also said that individuals and entities that continue to materially support Bensouda and Mochochoko would risk exposure to sanctions as well.
The ICC dismissed the measures as “another attempt to interfere with the court’s judicial and prosecutorial independence” and said in a statement that it stood by the work of its staff.
“These coercive acts, directed at an international judicial institution and its civil servants, are unprecedented and constitute serious attacks against the court, the Rome Statute system of international criminal justice, and the rule of law more generally,” it said in a rare joint statement on behalf of the entire ICC.
The State Department also restricted the issuance of visas for individuals Pompeo said were involved in the court’s efforts to investigate U.S. personnel, though he did not name those affected.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was concerned by Pompeo’s announcement, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.
Dujarric said that “we trust that any restriction taken against individuals will be implemented consistently” with a decades-old U.S. deal with the United Nations to host the world body’s headquarters in New York.
Bensouda was given the go-ahead by the court in March to investigate whether war crimes were committed in Afghanistan by the Taliban, Afghan military and U.S. forces.
The United States revoked Bensouda’s entry visa last year over the possible Afghanistan inquiry. But under an agreement between the United Nations and Washington, she was still able to regularly travel to New York to brief the U.N. Security Council on cases it had referred to the court in The Hague.
Rights groups immediately condemned the U.S. designations.
Richard Dicker, Human Rights Watch international justice director, said it was a “stunning perversion of U.S. sanctions.”
“The Trump administration has twisted these sanctions to obstruct justice, not only for certain war crimes victims, but for atrocity victims anywhere looking to the International Criminal Court for justice,” he said.
(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis in Washington and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and David Brunnstrom in Washington and Anthony Deutsch and Toby Sterling in Amsterdam; Editing by Paul Simao and David Gregorio)