Letter to President Biden Re: Threats to the International Criminal Court

Dear President Biden:

We write as organizations with a steadfast commitment to justice for grave international crimes and therefore to the success of the International Criminal Court (ICC). We urge your administration to oppose the threats and calls for punitive actions against the Court that several U.S. lawmakers have recently made. Acting on these calls would do grave harm to the interests of all victims globally and to the U.S. government’s ability to champion human rights and the cause of justice, which are stated priorities of your administration.

Accountability is important for its own sake and protects against the commission of future atrocity crimes. Acting where it has jurisdiction and within its mandate as a court of last resort, the ICC works together with national authorities to ensure perpetrators of such crimes are held to account and that victims and affected communities find some measure of justice. While the United States is not an ICC member country, Republican and Democratic administrations have supported the Court in specific cases, and the U.S. has assisted arrest operations to bring justice to victims in central Africa. Your own administration has recognized the Court’s essential role to address serious crimes in Ukraine and Darfur.

We are alarmed by threats that U.S. lawmakers have aimed at the Court in recent weeks including the letter sent on April 24 by Senators, threatening to sanction the ICC prosecutor’s “employees and associates,” if steps were taken to pursue arrest warrants against Israeli officials. On May 20, the ICC prosecutor requested warrants for leaders of Hamas and Israeli officials stemming from his ongoing Palestine investigation; ICC judges will assess the request to determine whether to issue warrants.

The previous administration’s sanctions against the prosecutor’s predecessor were an affront to justice and threatened to undermine the ICC’s effective functioning. A U.S. federal district judge held that the sanctions threatened the First Amendment rights of U.S. citizens working to support justice before the ICC. Regrettably, those sanctions aligned the United States with authoritarian tactics of threatening judges and independent judicial institutions.

The ability of the ICC to provide justice for victims requires full respect for its independence. A selective approach to judicial decisions undermines the credibility, and ultimately, the force of the law as a shield against human rights violations and abuses. Your administration appeared to recognize this in repealing the Trump-era sanctions, noting that U.S. concerns “would be better addressed through engagement with all stakeholders in the ICC process.” We urge you to ensure 2 that any disagreement about the Court’s process is pursued through proper judicial channels under the Court’s treaty.

We welcomed press statements by your administration in recent weeks indicating that it does not support “threats or intimidation” of ICC officials. U.S. allies have condemned the threat of sanctions and expressed support for the Court, as have 45 United Nations experts on human rights in a joint statement. We urge you to oppose any legislative efforts to undermine the ICC, and to make clear that regardless of its views on specific ICC investigations, the United States continues to support independent international justice mechanisms.



Published on May 23, 2024


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