Fatou Bensouda and the International Criminal Court in the Court of Donald Trump

As the International Criminal Court investigates the actions of American soldiers in Afghanistan, the U.S. has announced sanctions against the Gambian chief prosecutor of an ICC described as “corrupt.”

Donald Trump has become a master of the art of window dressing the news involving Americans. Since the start of his presidency, he has urged people to reject alleged “fake news” from leading newspapers, and to buy into the “alternative facts” of his administration. And the bigger the better: after seven bullets were fired into the back of Jacob Blake, an African American man, the head of state compared the police shootings to a missed shot during a golf tournament.

The president is now attacking the laudable idea that prevailed with the birth of the ICC: to prevent perpetrators of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity from escaping a lax, not to say complicit, national justice system.

Sanctions and Warnings

Opportunistically, Trump sees the transnational institution only through the small end of a specific lens. The court has opened an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Afghanistan which could implicate the U.S. Army, and has also opened another inquiry into the intervention by its Israeli ally in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. As he gives a pass to police uniforms, particularly during an election campaign focused on security issues, the U.S. head of state clears military uniforms.

The United States has just announced economic sanctions — freezing any assets in the United States and prohibiting access to the American financial system — against Fatou Bensouda,* and also against Phakiso Mochochoko, the director of the Jurisdiction, Complementarity and Cooperation Division at the ICC and former co-supervisor of the establishment of the Sierra Leone Special Court.

And, in order that every international justice groupie stands at attention, Washington has added that “Individuals and entities that continue to support Prosecutor Bensouda and Mr. Mochochoko materially risk exposure to sanctions.”

Already in June, an executive order authorized sanctions against “ICC officials, employees, and agents, as well as their immediate family members” who try to assert “jurisdiction over United States personnel.”

Where is African Solidarity?

If Trump can afford to impose sanctions so casually, it is because his predecessors — of all persuasions — never ratified the Rome Statute that created the ICC.

What about Africa in all of this? Will the continent be outraged at Western sanctions against a Gambian and a Lesothan?

Often critical of a court suspected of Afrophobia with regard to the number of African defendants, will public opinion validate the relentless attacks against a national of the continent, attacks by someone who called nations in the same geographic area “shithole countries” in 2018? It’s a safe bet that the reaction will be characterized by a deafening silence.

*Translator’s note: Fatou Bensouda is a Gambian lawyer and the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

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