America’s War on the International Criminal Court

ICC, United States, Cablegate, Wikileaks

After formally ‘unsigning’ the Rome Statute in 2002, Cablegate outlines how George W.Bush’s administration prompted a campaign of aggressive diplomatic lobbying in order to coerce nations into signing ‘Article 98 Agreements’ – which grants bilateral immunity of prosecution from the newly-created ICC. The American Service-Members’ Protection Act (ASPA) was then signed and weaponised by allowing economic sanctions to be placed on nations that are party the the Rome Statute and have not entered Article 98 Agreements.

Through snubbing the Rome Statute, US nationals were excluded from the jurisdiction of the ICC unless the crime took place in a state that is party to the treaty. The aim of ASPA was to use a ‘carrot and stick’ approach of threatening economic sanctions and giving vague promises of favourable treatment in order to encourage ICC nations to sign Article 98 and therefore guarantee that they would not hand US nationals over to The Hague.

In a particularly harrowing case, the AIDS-stricken nation of Lesotho had their request for emergency aid from the US denied as a result of being a “high-profile” example of a non-signatory of Article 98. The US ambassador to Maseru, however, informed the President that he would receive a “warmer welcome” to the US if he were to sign the agreement, and reminded him that “so many countries in the SADC region had already signed”.

This campaign naturally hit a roadblock during the release of the Abu Ghraib photos and the resulting global condemnation of the Iraq war. US diplomats attempted to combat this via confidentiality and recommending bypassing parliamentary procedure wherever possible. A cable from Sana’a expressed Yemen’s discomfort towards the agreement with an “obvious reference to Abu Ghraib”. The agreement was eventually reached in secret via a series of diplomatic notes.

Similarly, in Guatemala, Officials informed the US Embassy that seeking Congressional approval on the topic “could be fatal” considering public reaction to the events at Abu Ghraib. The agreement was signed and “kept confidential” whilst US and Guatemalan officials devised a strategy of gaining Congressional approval at an opportune moment.

Although the US somewhat largely softened its approach toward the ICC under the Obama administration, the prospect of Palestine joining the ICC and prosecuting Israel for Human Rights abuses was an extremely contentious issue that was met with strong action. After Ban Ki-Moon announced that Palestine’s membership of the ICC would take effect from April 1, 2015, The US Department of State accused the ICC of being “counterproductive to the cause of peace” and backed Israel’s retaliation of withholding $127 million in tax revenues due to the Palestinian Authority.

While the Obama administration’s limited cooperation with the ICC may have improved the international image of the United States, it does not represent a genuine embrace of the Court and its mandate. Taken as a whole, Obama’s actions show that the US is still committed to the double-standard that US enemies should be subject to the dictates of international law, while the United States and its allies should not.

Wikileaks Decrypted | Cablegate