U.S. bars entry to ICC members probing 'war crimes' in Afghanistan

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department Friday

The United States announced its first sanctions against the International Criminal Court Friday, threatening visa restrictions for anyone involved in a potential probe of American soldiers' actions in Afghanistan.

The United States will revoke or deny visas to International Criminal Court personnel seeking to investigate alleged war crimes and other abuses committed by USA forces in Afghanistan or elsewhere, and may do the same with those who seek action against Israel, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday.

The U.S. secretary of state said, "if you are requesting an ICC investigation of U.S. personnel in connection with a situation in Afghanistan, you can not assume you will get a visa to enter the U.S".

The move, Pompeo confirmed to reporters Friday morning, is a direct response to ongoing efforts by the ICC to probe allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity tied to the seemingly endless war in Afghanistan. He said ICC judges and prosecutors would be banned from coming to the USA, their assets in U.S. jurisdictions frozen and they would face prosecution in the United States.

Pompeo said the policy was already being implemented but would not elaborate, citing visa privacy laws.

The ICC said in response it would continue its "independent work, undeterred, in accordance with its mandate and the overarching principle of the rule of law".

But rather than targeting global criminals, the Trump administration has set its sights on the ICC-an impartial judicial body that aims to promote accountability under worldwide law by probing and prosecuting crimes of aggression, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide.

The court, which sits in The Hague, responded that it was an independent and impartial institution and would continue to do its work "undeterred" by Washington's actions.

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Similar measures will be taken against any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans, he said.

But ICC membership was never ratified by the US Senate and the "America First" administration of President Donald Trump has been a particularly virulent opponent.

Supporters of the court slammed Pompeo's announcement.

"These visa restrictions will not be the end of our efforts", Pompeo said.

Human Rights Watch called it "a thuggish attempt to penalize investigators" at the International Criminal Court.

"Taking action against those who work for the ICC sends a clear message to torturers and murderers alike: Their crimes may continue unchecked", she said, and called on U.S. lawmakers to rescind the move and express support for the court.

"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.

"This announcement is the latest attack on global justice and worldwide institutions by an administration hellbent on rolling back human rights protections".

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