- The Washington Times - Monday, July 6, 2020

The head of the International Criminal Court said Monday that he still hopes to forge a productive relationship with the Trump administration despite the deepening strains between the global organization and Washington.

But ICC President Chile Eboe-Osuji, a Nigerian lawyer whose three-year term expires next year, made it clear the U.S. would also have to adjust its attitude.

Mr. Eboe-Osuji, speaking at a teleconference hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations Monday, said an executive order Mr. Trump signed effectively sanctioning top prosecutors of the ICC and declaring a “national emergency” to prevent any cooperation between the U.S. government and the Hague-based ICC was “an absurd proposition.”

“I daresay, that is not the American way as the world has come to know,” Mr. Eboe-Osuji said.

The court, established in 2002 and now with 123 member-states including a number of top U.S. allies, was conceived as a judicial panel to handle international crimes such as genocide and to provide legal backing for weak or ungoverned states where local courts were unwilling or unable to function.

But conservatives have long been suspicious of the unelected court’s claim to a broad mandate unchecked by any political leadership, and by what critics say is a temptation to pursue politicized prosecutions.

“We won’t cooperate with the ICC,” former National Security Advisor John Bolton said in 2018. “We will provide no assistance to the ICC. And we certainly will not join the ICC. We will let the ICC die on its own.”

He added, “If the court comes after us, we will not sit quietly.”

But the Trump administration has been particularly angered by the ICC top leadership’s decision in March to proceed with an investigation of war crimes and human rights violations in the war in Afghanistan, including, potentially, actions of U.S. troops and officials stationed there.

U.S. officials had revoked the visa of the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, last year after she had signaled she was considering pursuing such cases.

In a show of bureaucratic force last month, four top Cabinet members, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, Attorney General William Barr, and National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, Mr. Bolton’s successor, briefed reporters at the State Department last month on the sanctions and visa restrictions being placed on ICC prosecutors — and their families — in the wake of the Afghan decision.

“We cannot, we will not stand by as our people are threatened by a kangaroo court,” Mr. Pompeo said.

Mr. Eboe-Osuji acknowledged criticisms of the ICC bureaucracy and management failings, and said he agreed with many of the critics.

The ICC chief said he hears the complaints and that the “legal process” is being used to “correct things that need to be corrected.”

But in a 56-page brief Mr. Eboe-Osuji included with his presentation Monday, he argued it was U.S. leaders such as Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman who built the international order from which the ICC sprung. And he insisted Washington’s fears of the court and of frivolous prosecutions were “understandable” but overblown.

“There are adequate guarantees — both legal and political — in place against such risks,” he wrote. “And it is critical that vigilance is not relented in that regard.”

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