'Dead to us': Trump will ban, arrest International Criminal Court judges
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'Dead to us': Trump will ban, arrest International Criminal Court judges

New York: Donald Trump's top national security adviser has launched a bellicose attack on the International Criminal Court, describing it as "fundamentally illegitimate" and "outright dangerous" in a speech that has alarmed human rights groups.

John Bolton threatened to prosecute judges from the International Criminal Court (ICC) or ban them from entering the United States if the organisation pursues an investigation into the conduct of American soldiers in Afghanistan.

"The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court," Bolton said in a speech to the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group, in Washington D.C on Monday US time.

"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.

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"We will do the same for any company or state that assists in an ICC investigation of Americans."

The court was established in 2002 to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

Bolton also announced that the US would shut down the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s office in Washington D.C, further deepening a rift with the Palestinian leadership. Bolton said he was delivering these views on behalf of President Trump.

We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States. We will sanction their funds ... we will prosecute them.

National security adviser John Bolton

Last November, the ICC's chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said the court would investigate "war crimes by members of the United States armed forces" and "secret detention facilities in Afghanistan" used by the CIA.

She said the Taliban and the Afghan National Security Forces, would also be investigated.

The US government declined to join the court in 2002 when Bolton was a senior official in George W. Bush's administration.

The Obama administration softened its stance on the court but the US is still not a member. Australia signed a treaty in 2002 ratifying its membership of the court.

John Bolton, national security advisor, speaks at a Federalist Society event in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Sept. 10, 2018.

John Bolton, national security advisor, speaks at a Federalist Society event in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Sept. 10, 2018.

Photo: Bloomberg

"We will not cooperate with the ICC," Bolton said in his first major speech since joining the Trump administration in April. "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."

Bolton said the US would "take note" of other countries' cooperation with the ICC and "will remember that cooperation when settling US foreign assistance, military assistance, and intelligence sharing levels."

In June the US withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council, saying it was a "hypocritical and self-serving organisation that makes a mockery of human rights".

Adotei Akwei, Deputy Director Advocacy and Government Relations at Amnesty International US, said: "The ICC prosecutes the most serious crimes under international law – genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression.

"Resuming attacks against the Court sends a dangerous signal that the United States is hostile to human rights and the rule of law."

The Trump administration warned last year that it might close the PLO office office after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called for the investigation and prosecution of Israeli officials by the ICC and other bodies.

PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat said in a statement: "This dangerous escalation shows that the US is willing to disband the international system in order to protect Israeli crimes and attacks against the land and people of Palestine, as well as against peace and security in the rest of our region."

Bolton said the US remained committed to negotiating a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians.

"The United States supports a direct and robust peace process, and we will not allow the ICC, or any other organisation, to constrain Israel’s right to self defence," he said.

Matthew Knott is a Fairfax Media reporter based in the United States. He previously worked in the Canberra press gallery and recently finished a Masters of Journalism at Columbia University in New York.