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US attacks against the International Criminal Court a threat to judicial independence – UN experts

25 June 2020

GENEVA (25 June 2020) – The unprecedented decision by the United States Government to target and sanction individual staff of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is a direct attack to the institution’s judicial independence and could undermine victims’ access to justice, UN human rights experts* said today.

“The implementation of such policies by the US has the sole aim of exerting pressure on an institution whose role is to seek justice against crimes of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression,” said Diego García-Sayán, the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers. “It’s a further step in pressuring the ICC and coercing its officials in the context of independent and objective investigations and impartial judicial proceedings.”

Following a 5 March 2020 decision by the ICC’s Appeals Chamber, which authorised a probe of alleged war crimes in Afghanistan committed by all sides in the conflict, including American forces, the US Administration this month announced it was launching an economic and legal offensive against the Court.

On 11 June 2020, in response to the Appeals Chamber’s decision, the US President issued Executive Order 13928 on Blocking Property of Certain Persons Associated with the International Criminal Court.  The US Government declared it would revoke or deny visas to members of the ICC involved in investigations against US troops in Afghanistan or elsewhere, and sanction any person “directly engaged in any effort by the ICC to investigate, arrest, detain, or prosecute any United States personnel without the consent of the United States”. US Attorney-General William Barr said the moves were aimed at “holding the ICC accountable for exceeding its mandate and violating the sovereignty of the United States”.

In December 2019, the US Administration had warned that it would “exact consequences” against the ICC for any “illegitimate” investigations into Israeli practices in the occupied Palestinian territory.

“The use of unilateral sanctions against international judges and international civil servants constitutes a clear violation not only of their privileges and immunities, but also of a broad spectrum of rights of the targeted individuals”, the experts said. “In particular, the enforcement of E.O. 13928 would result in the violation of the prohibition of punishment for acts that did not constitute criminal offences at the moment of their commission, the right to a fair trial, the right to freedom of movement and the right to privacy and family life.

“These threats constitute improper interference with the independence of the ICC and could also have potential adverse impacts on human rights defenders, civil society organisations and victims’ representatives who might be discouraged from cooperating with the ICC and, consequently, hinder the possibility of victims of atrocity crimes to access justice”.

The experts have been in contact with the US authorities on the issues.


(*) The UN experts: Mr. Diego García-Sayán, Special Rapporteur on the Independence of judges and lawyers; Mr Baskut Tuncak, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes; Ms. Alena Douhan,Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights;  Mr. Fabian Salvioli, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence;  Mr. Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues; Ms. Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary killings; Mr. David R. Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment;  Mr. Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants;  Mr. Alioune Tine, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Mali;  Mr. Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Special Rapporteur on theright to adequate housing;  Mr. Luciano Hazan (Chair), Mr. Tae-Ung Baik (Vice Chair), Mr. Bernard Duhaime, Ms. Houria Es-Slami, and Mr. Henrikas Mickevičius, UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances Mr. Saad Alfarargi, Special Rapporteur on the right to development;  Mr. Tomoya Obokata, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences; Mr. Dainius PūrasSpecial Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health Mr. Livingstone Sewanyana, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order Mr. S. Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967;  Ms. Leigh Toomey (Chair-Rapporteur), Ms. Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Mr. José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez, Mr. Sètondji Roland Adjovi, and Mr. Seong-Phil Hong, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention;
Ms. Claudia Mahler, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons;  Mr. Tomás Ojea Quintana, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea;  Ms. Ikponwosa Ero, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism;   Ms. Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders;  Mr. Githu Muigai (Chair), Ms. Anita Ramasastry (Vice-chair), Mr. Dante Pesce, Mr. Surya Deva and Ms. Elżbieta Karska, Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page – United States of America

For further information and media requests, please contact: Stefano Sensi (+41 22 917 9237/ [email protected])
For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Renato de Souza (+41 22 928 9855 / [email protected]) and John Newland ([email protected])

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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