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U.S. Lifts Sanctions Imposed On ICC Prosecutor Over Afghan War Crimes Investigation

Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda of the International Criminal Court in The Hague (file photo)

The United States has lifted sanctions on senior members of the International Criminal Court (ICC), including a prosecutor who had launched an investigation into alleged war crimes by U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the move in a statement on April 2, saying the department had decided sanctions were “inappropriate and ineffective."

The sanctions targeted prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and other court staff, imposing asset freezes and travel bans on them.

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last year accused the Hague-based ICC of infringing on U.S. national sovereignty when it authorized an investigation into war crimes allegedly committed by Afghan forces, the Taliban, or U.S. troops.

The court further irritated the United States by opening an investigation into alleged war crimes by Israel in the Palestinian territories.

Blinken said despite the announcement the United States continues to “disagree strongly with the ICC's actions relating to the Afghanistan and Palestinian situations" and objects to ICC efforts to assert jurisdiction over the United States and Israel, which are not members of the court.

But he said Washington believes its concerns “would be better addressed through engagement with all stakeholders in the ICC process rather than through the imposition of sanctions."

The court welcomed the U.S. move, saying it would contribute to strengthening its work.

Silvia Fernandez de Gurmendi, head of the Association of States Parties to the ICC, said in a statement the ICC had "always welcomed the participation" of the United States in achieving justice for war crimes despite the U.S. decision not to ratify its founding Rome Statute in 1998.

"I trust this decision signals the start of a new phase of our common undertaking to fight against impunity for these crimes," she added.

Fernandez said the U.S. decision came at a "fundamental juncture" amid reforms at the court, which has come under scrutiny over internal matters such as judges' salaries.

Blinken said he was encouraged by the reforms.

Bensouda is leaving her job in June and will be replaced by British human rights lawyer Karim Khan.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AFP
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