National Security Adviser John Bolton on Monday renewed his long-standing attack on the International Criminal Court, vowing that the United States would not cooperate with the court and predicting that it would “die on its own.”
“We will not cooperate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC. We will not join the ICC. We will let the ICC die on its own,” Bolton said in a speech at an event sponsored by the conservative Federalist Society. “After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us.”
The apparent impetus for the speech, delivered, Bolton noted, on the eve of the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, was that last November the ICC prosecutor requested authorization to investigate alleged war crimes committed in Afghanistan by US service members.
“Any day now, the ICC may announce the start of a formal investigation against these American patriots, who voluntarily went into harm’s way to protect our nation, our homes, and our families in the wake of the 9/11 attacks,” Bolton said.
The United States is not a signatory to the convention that established the ICC, whose mandate is to prosecute crimes such as genocide that individual governments can’t or won’t. Then-president Bill Clinton signed the convention in 2000, but never presented it to Congress for ratification, and George W. Bush authorized the United States to “unsign” it in May 2002.
But Bolton noted that under the convention, known as the Rome Statute, the ICC claims “automatic jurisdiction,” which means individuals can be prosecuted even if their governments aren’t part of the ICC. Bolton, who was undersecretary of state for arms control and international security at the time, was among the opponents to the ICC then. On Monday, he said he was “honored” to have opposed the court from its inception.
Bolton outlined five reasons for opposing the ICC. He said that the ICC is a threat to American sovereignty and interests; that it claims jurisdiction over crimes “that have disputed and ambiguous definitions”; that the court has failed to punish and deter atrocities; that it is superfluous, “given that domestic US judicial systems already hold American citizens to the highest legal and ethical standards”; and that it has been criticized and rejected by “most” of the world — an assertion that seemed a stretch; 123 countries have ratified the ICC, including most of the nations of the Western Hemisphere except Cuba and Nicaragua. In addition to the United States, nations that are not signatories to the convention include China, India, and Pakistan in Asia, and Saudi Arabia and Israel in the Middle East.
Bolton singled out the support of European Union, a traditional US ally, for the court, noting that the EU "is where the global governance dogma is strong."
He noted that Israel, in particular, has been critical of the ICC over the possibility that it might prosecute Israeli authorities for actions taken against Palestinians.
It was congressional concerns over Palestinian efforts to prompt an ICC investigation into Israel, Bolton said, that led the State Department to announce the closure of the Palestinian Liberation Organization office in Washington. The State Department announced the closure on Monday before Bolton’s speech.
Moving forward, Bolton said, the United States would negotiate “even more binding, bilateral agreements” to prevent other nations from surrendering US persons to the ICC. It would sanction judges, prosecutors, and any company or state that assists an investigation of Americans. The United States, Bolton said, would try to constrain the ICC at the UN Security Council. And it would take note of those countries that cooperate with ICC investigations into Americans. "We will remember that cooperation when setting US foreign assistance, military assistance, and intelligence sharing levels,” he said.
To date, the ICC has prosecuted and indicted individuals involved in crimes against humanity and war crimes in Sudan, Kenya, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Ivory Coast, and Uganda. Perhaps most notable to Americans, the court indicted the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi for crimes against humanity in Libya.
Proponents of the ICC were quick to criticize Bolton's speech. “The Bolton speech today isolates the United States from international criminal justice and severely undermines our leadership in bringing perpetrators of atrocity crimes to justice elsewhere in the world," David Scheffer, who was the ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues during Clinton's second term, said in a statement. "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."