EU ‘gravely concerned’ about US sanctioning ICC officials investigating its troops

Trump has decided to sanction ICC officials involved in an investigation into war crimes committed by US troops in Afghanistan. The EU has called this decision 'unacceptable' and has demanded a reversal, which only widens the rift between itself and the US.

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The European Union has called on Washington to reverse its “unacceptable and unprecedented” sanctions on International Criminal Court (ICC) officials who are investigating US troops for potential war crimes.

President Donald Trump authorized economic and travel sanctions against ICC employees who are looking into potential US war crimes in Afghanistan last week. The EU expressed “grave concern” about the US move, in a statement which urged Washington to reverse its decision. The bloc also reaffirmed its “unwavering support” for the ICC.

EU says US sanctioning ICC is ‘unacceptable’

The EU said it remains committed to defending the ICC from “any outside interference aimed at obstructing the course of justice and undermining the international system of criminal justice.”

It also commented on what it described as increasing pressure facing “rules-based international order,” likely in reference to the US withdrawal from international agreements like the Paris Accord and Iran nuclear deal, along with the Human Rights Council.

International investigators looking into charges of war crimes by Americans in Afghanistan will face economic penalties and travel restrictions, the Trump administration warned on Thursday, accusing a Hague-based court of corruption and maintaining that the United States can prosecute its own military and intelligence personnel.

The sanctions come more than two years after the International Criminal Court announced an inquiry into allegations of crimes against humanity — including torture and rape — by U.S. forces in Afghanistan and at C.I.A. interrogation facilities abroad.

President Trump ordered the new penalties on Wednesday, and dispatched four of his most senior advisers to announce them on Thursday as a rebuke to what the administration described as an affront to American sovereignty, despite the risk of appearing to dismiss attention to possible human rights abuses.

“When our own people do wrong, we lawfully punish those individuals, as rare as they are, who tarnish the reputation of our great U.S. military and our intelligence services,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was flanked at the State Department by Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, Attorney General William P. Barr and Robert C. O’Brien, the White House national security adviser.

“We hold our own accountable better than the I.C.C. has done for the worst perpetrators of mass criminal atrocities,” Mr. Pompeo said.

ICC probe into US troops is a sensitive matter  

The ICC probe is largely focused on the actions of the Taliban and Afghan security forces, but is also looking into allegations of US personnel abusing prisoners in black sites in Afghanistan, Lithuania, Poland and Romania.

Announcing the sanctions last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged more countries to join the US in pushing back against the ICC, warning that other nations “could be next” in the court’s sights – particularly NATO members “who fought terrorism in Afghanistan right alongside of us.”

This didn’t appear to have the desired effect, as NATO members France and the Netherlands said they were “dismayed” and “very disturbed” by news of the US move.

According to an op-ed for Global Village Space, in a strongly-worded statement, unusual for a Saturday, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Rabb said on June 13, “The UK strongly supports the International Criminal Court in tackling impunity for the worst international crimes.” He added, with an eye on Trump’s Executive Order, “We will continue to support positive reform of the court, so that it operates as effectively as possibly. ICC officials should be able to carry out their work independently and impartially, and without fear of sanction.”

Read more: What makes ICC investigation of US war crimes in Afghanistan highly sensitive

It is well-known that the methods used by the US intelligence against Afghan detainees have been extremely brutal and wanton killings by the American military personnel and extrajudicial killings by US-trained hit squads and Pentagon contractors have been widely documented and even condemned by top Afghan leaders.

What makes the ICC investigation highly sensitive is that the US’ European allies who fought alongside in Afghanistan as part of the NATO forces might have been witness or privy to at least some of the atrocities committed by the American military and intelligence personnel.

EU-US rift widening 

Recently, effort has been made to bridge the widening rift between the US and Europe by holding talks. The agenda of these talks includes Middle East peace process, as Brussels seeks to persuade Israel to back down from plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.

A senior EU official said Monday’s talks with Pompeo would begin three weeks “devoted to strongly reaching out” to all parties — including the Israeli and US governments — to try to stop the moves.

Read more: EU-US rifts widen on key issues as Pompeo talks to EU leaders

EU ministers will press their objections to annexations — which they say breach international law — with Pompeo.

“We are reaching out trying to persuade everybody that annexations are not a good idea and will create instability, and the Israeli government should reconsider,” the official said.

Europe is also increasingly alarmed by Trump’s withdrawal from international institutions and agreements, most recently the World Health Organization and the Open Skies treaty with Russia.

Monday’s meeting comes after the US leader authorised sanctions against any International Criminal Court official who investigates US troops — a move that EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell said was a matter of “serious concern”.

RT with additional input by GVS News Desk