By Daya Gamage –
Biden administration’s decision last Friday – April 2 – to reverse previous Trump administration decision last year to prevent officials of the International Criminal Court (ICC) arriving in Washington to investigate U.S. alleged atrocities in Afghanistan could be signal to Sri Lanka that it could not prevent UNHRC team from arriving in Colombo to get a firsthand knowledge of rights abuses.
President Biden revoked President Donald J. Trump’s executive order authorizing sanctions on top officials at the ICC, reversing the decision.
The move comes after the Trump administration decided last year to sanction the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, and a senior official, Phakiso Mochochoko, after the court opened an investigation into potential war crimes committed by American troops in Afghanistan.
The ICC officials were expected to be in Washington last year to investigate alleged war crimes of US military and intelligence officials in the US operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
President Barack Obama in his second month in office in 2009 refused to succumb to domestic and international pressure to investigate alleged violation of international humanitarian law (IHL) and war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq which included torture of prisoners, summary executions and the use of ‘water boarding’ as a interrogation technique by his predecessor Bush administration declaring “his administration does not want to look back but forward”.
However, there were instances that the Bush and Obama administrations cooperated quietly in several cases with the ICC, and with those efforts facilitated the arrest of at least two fugitives.
The Biden administrations’ decision last Friday was in contrast to Obama’s in which Biden was the vice president.
A clear indication that Washington may not object to UNHRC officials arriving in Colombo came from the statement made by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken:
(Quote) Today, President Biden revoked Executive Order 13928 on “Blocking Property of Certain Persons Associated with the International Criminal Court (ICC),” ending the threat and imposition of economic sanctions and visa restrictions in connection with the Court. As a result, the sanctions imposed by the previous administration against ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and Phakiso Mochochoko, the Head of the Jurisdiction, Complementarity and Cooperation Division of the Office of the Prosecutor, have been lifted.
Our support for the rule of law, access to justice, and accountability for mass atrocities are important U.S. national security interests that are protected and advanced by engaging with the rest of the world to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow. Since the Nuremberg and Tokyo Tribunals after World War II, U.S. leadership meant that history permanently recorded fair judgments issued by international tribunals against justly convicted defendants from the Balkans to Cambodia, to Rwanda and elsewhere. We have carried on that legacy by supporting a range of international, regional, and domestic tribunals, and international investigative mechanisms for Iraq, Syria, and Burma, to realize the promise of justice for victims of atrocities. (End Quote)
The reversal of Trump’s executive order means sanctions on Ms. Bensouda and Mr. Mochochoko will be lifted. Secretary Blinken declared that travel restrictions the Trump administration placed on the (ICC) court’s personnel in 2019 will be reversed.
This Washington decision could have direct impact on Sri Lanka in which the Rajapaksa administration could be disabled if it attempts to restrict UNHRC officials arriving in Colombo to probe and investigate alleged human rights abuses. The March 23 adopted resolution singles out abuses of the current Sri Lanka regime but the probe could cover the previous Rajapaksa administration that spearheaded the war against the separatist LTTE.