Biden lifts Trump sanctions on international court officials targeting Israel

When former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo imposed the financial penalties on the ICC in 2020, he warned that the court is “a thoroughly broken and corrupt institution.”

By World Israel News Staff and AP

President Joe Biden on Friday lifted sanctions that Donald Trump had imposed on two top officials of the International Criminal Court, undoing one of the past administration’s key moves targeting the anti-Israel body.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement stressed that the United States still strongly disagreed with some actions by the court, which is a standing body based at The Hague in the Netherlands charged with handling genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The United States is not one of the about 120 member countries of the court.

“We believe, however, that our concerns about these cases would be better addressed” through diplomacy “rather than through the imposition of sanctions,” Blinken wrote.

The Trump administration unapologetically removed the United States from numerous international institutions and agreements and harshly criticized others, including the ICC, deeming them flawed and working against American interests.

The ICC is currently pursuing the U.S.’ closest ally in the Middle East, Israel, over alleged “war crimes” that independent military experts warn lack merit and are motivated by political considerations, not justice.

Since Biden took office, his administration has rejoined the World Health Organization, re-engaged with the U.N. Human Rights Council, returned to the Paris climate accord and on Friday started talks aimed at returning to the Iran nuclear deal.

Trump had pulled out of all five.

While the ICC was created to hold accountable perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity in cases where adequate judicial systems were not available, the U.S. has not joined the ICC, which began operations in 2002 after enough countries ratified the treaty that created it, because of concerns the court might be used for politically motivated prosecutions of American troops and officials.

The U.S. sanctions had targeted ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and the court’s head of jurisdiction, Phakiso Mochochoko, for pressing ahead with investigations into the United States and its allies, notably Israel.

Two sets of sanctions were imposed, the first being a travel ban on Bensouda in March 2019, and then 18 months later a freeze on any assets she and Mochochoko may have in the United States or U.S. jurisdictions. The second round also made giving the pair “material support” a potentially sanctionable offense.

When former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo imposed the financial penalties in September 2020, he warned that the court is “a thoroughly broken and corrupt institution” and said “we will not tolerate its illegitimate attempts to subject Americans to its jurisdiction.”

U.S. presidents since Bill Clinton have expressed deep reservations about the court, although some, including President Barack Obama, agreed to limited cooperation with it.

The Trump administration, however, was openly hostile to the tribunal and lashed out at Bensouda and others for pursuing prosecutions of Americans for actions in Afghanistan and Israelis.

The Palestinians use institutions such as the ICC in their attempts to take unilateral steps that might lead to statehood, instead of engaging in negotiations directly with Israel over the key issues in the conflict.

Israel is not a member of the ICC and, along with the U.S., rejects Palestinian membership because it is not a state.