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US revokes visa of Gambian ICC top prosecutor for probing Afghan war crimes

April 05, 2019 at 08:10 am | News

Mildred Europa Taylor

Mildred Europa Taylor | Staff Writer

April 05, 2019 at 08:10 am | News

Led by Gambian prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, the ICC said in November that all legal criteria had been met to open a war crimes investigation into the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Pic credit: Foroyaa Newspaper

The United States has revoked the entry visa of Gambian national and chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, over her inquiry into possible war crimes by US soldiers in Afghanistan.

“We can confirm that the US authorities have revoked the prosecutor’s visa for entry into the US,” Bensouda’s office told Reuters news agency in an email.

The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said, last month, that there will be restrictions on any ICC staff who investigated such allegations of war crimes against US forces or allied personal.

In November 2017, Bensouda asked ICC judges for authorisation to open an investigation into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan by the Taliban, Afghan government forces and international forces including US troops, the AFP reports.

The court is yet to decide whether to launch a full investigation. But the US responded, warning last month that the ICC was “attacking America’s rule of law”.

Pompeo said he was “announcing a policy of US visa restrictions on those individuals directly responsible for any ICC investigation of US personnel”.

“If you’re responsible for the proposed ICC investigation of US personnel in connection with the situation in Afghanistan, you should not assume that you still have, or will get, a visa or that you will be permitted to enter the United States.

“We are determined to protect the American and allied military and civilian personnel from living in fear of unjust prosecution for actions taken to defend our great nation,” he said.

UN human rights experts at the time said the response by the US showed “improper interference” in the work of the Hague-based court. The European Union also criticized the move. The ICC subsequently responded that it will still operate “undeterred” by the US action.

The US administration led by Donald Trump had earlier launched dictatorial attacks on the judges of the ICC for the plan to open a war crimes investigation into the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton, last September, threatened the judges with sanctions.

“The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court. 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. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us,” he said in a speech delivered to the conservative Federalist Society in Washington.

“We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States. We will sanction their funds in the US financial system, and we will prosecute them in the US criminal system. We will do the same for any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans.”

The Human Rights Watch stated that any attempts by the U.S. to interfere with the investigation “would demonstrate that the administration was more concerned with coddling serial rights abusers — and deflecting scrutiny of US conduct in Afghanistan — than supporting impartial justice.”

The ICC came into force on July 1, 2002. It was established by a Rome Statute adopted in 1998 to prosecute international crimes, including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed within the territory of signatories and nationals of signatory countries. It was ratified by 123 countries including a total of 34 African states out of the then 54 countries.

The United States previously signed the Rome Statute and a few months later, formally withdrew its signature and indicated that it did not intend to ratify the agreement.

African states have also complained about the court’s focus on Africans and not investigating war crimes in other countries outside the continent like the United States.

Bensouda was unanimously elected as the new Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court by the ICC Member States in 2011. She succeeded Argentinian Luis Moreno-Ocampo who was accused by the African Union of selective justice by only investigating atrocities in Africa during his nine-year term.

Bensouda had argued that the ICC is “working with Africa, and working for African victims, so I don’t think the African Union should be against that.”

Meanwhile, her office has said that under the Rome Statute governing the ICC, which was set up in 2002, Bensouda had an “independent and impartial mandate”.

It added that the latest US decision should not affect Bensouda’s travel to the United Nations in New York, where she gives regular briefings to the security council.

Bensouda would also continue to exercise her duties “without fear or favour”, the office of the prosecutor said.

Bensouda had also told reporters this week that she and her outfit will remain “fully committed” to their mandate.

“[We] will continue to honour our legal duty undeterred,” she said.

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