Countries’ Reactions to Bolton’s Attack on the ICC

John Bolton’s aggressive speech last week, in which he threatened the judges and prosecutors of the International Criminal Court (ICC) with sanctions, prompted plenty of reaction. While opponents of the Court rejoiced, experts have questioned the legal basis for the measures Bolton proposed. Commentators (including one of the authors of this post) have expressed concern at how Bolton’s speech would damage U.S. interests, inflict long-term harm on efforts to ensure international justice for the most serious crimes, and embolden war criminals, warlords and despots around the world. Meanwhile, the Court itself pledged to “continue its independent and impartial work, undeterred,” while the president of the Assembly of States Parties to the Court’s founding Rome Statute said that “the Assembly of States Parties remains committed to uphold and defend the principles and values enshrined in the Rome Statute, including in particular the judicial independence of the Court.”

So far, the reactions of individual governments to Bolton’s remarks have received relatively little attention. Here we lay out the reactions of different states that we’ve managed to gather so far after looking for statements by all 123 States Parties to the Rome Statute, as well as some major non-States Parties. (If readers know of any reactions that we missed, please do send them in so we can update the list. You can send them to: submissions@justsecurity.org.)

Notably, a number of traditional U.S. allies in Europe have spoken out strongly in support of the Court. However, many States Parties have not said anything. A further, concrete test will come in December, when States Parties will approve the Court’s budget. Will statements of support translate into financial support?

It is also worth noting that the few officials who have expressed support for Bolton’s remarks come from countries where mass atrocities have been widely documented and are under investigation by the Court. The situation in Sudan, whose ambassador to the U.S. praised Bolton’s “good words,” has been under investigation for many years following a U.N. Security Council referral in 2005. Prior to the referral, an independent U.N. Commission of Inquiry concluded that the government was responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and, since opening its investigation, the Court has issued an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir for these crimes, as well as for the crime of genocide. The situation in Burundi, whose ambassador in The Hague reportedly “rejoice[d]” on hearing Bolton’s words, has been under investigation by the ICC Prosecutor for alleged crimes against humanity since 2017, following reports of killings, enforced disappearances and torture after a disputed presidential election in 2015. Other countries where investigations have been opened may have been emboldened by Bolton’s remarks: On  Sept. 15, the Democratic Republic of Congo, where war crimes and crimes against humanity are under investigation by the Court, threatened to withdraw from the ICC.

A special thanks to the Harvard Law School students who helped us compile the countries’ reactions: Tyler Starr, David Benger, Benjamin Spiegel and Nicolas Luongo.

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Afghanistan: Afghanistan has not responded directly to Bolton’s statement, but dismissed allegations that Afghan forces or the Afghan intelligence agency have committed war crimes. Shahussain Murtazawi, deputy spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani, stated that war crimes had been committed by anti-government groups, including the Taliban and the Islamic State group affiliate.

Austria: The Austrian Foreign Ministry tweeted: “The #ICC is the world’s first and only permanent international criminal court for the most serious crimes. We fully support the ICC & its impartiality and independence. EU Council Conclusions of 16 July 2018: http://data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/ST-11240-2018-INIT/en/pdf … #eu2018at #morejustworld #RomeStatute” 

Belgium: Didier Reynders, Minister of Foreign Affairs, retweeted a tweet from the EEAS, adding, “Like its #EU partners, Belgium fully supports the #ICC and its work. As we enter the #UN Security Council soon, we are convinced that #accountability is essential in building the foundations for #peace @IntlCrimCourt”

European Union (not formally a State Party to the Rome Statute, although all its constituent Member States are States Parties): Federica Mogherini, the high representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and vice president of the EU Commission, said in a speech to the European Parliament that the existence of the ICC was “not questioned by the European Union and that we will continue to strongly and fully support the ICC and its work” and that this “is the strong position of this Parliament  and of all our Member States.”  She noted that while “[t]he Court may not be perfect,” the “way forward for us is to make them stronger, and build a stronger and more effective multilateral system.”

Finland: Finland’s Embassy to the Netherlands commented on Twitter that Finland “supports the work” of the ICC.  Additionally, the Finnish Embassy highlighted that it is “[i]mportant to continue to fight against #impunity for international crimes” and directed readers to the statement by President of the Assembly of States Parties to the ICC, O-Gon Kwon.

 France: The French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs commented that the ICC “must be able to act and exercise its prerogatives without hindrance, in an independent and impartial manner, within the legal framework defined by the Rome Statute.”  It furthered that “France, together with its European partners,” supports the ICC “through its budgetary contribution as well as its cooperation.”  The French Ministry added that the creation of the ICC “to try those responsible for the most serious crimes was an important step in the fight against impunity” to which both it and the United States “are very attached.”

Germany: The German Foreign Office said on Twitter that, since its inception, the ICC has played a role in “enforcing international law in cases of the most serious crimes” and noted that it remains “committed to the work of the ICC – in particular when it comes under fire.”

Liechtenstein: The official account of the Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein to the UN tweeted, “LI strongly supports the work of @IntlCrimCourt – humanity’s first and only permanent, independent and impartial criminal court. #ICC #RomeStatute #JusticeMatters” And then followed it with, “20 years after the historic adoption of the #RomeStatute of the #ICC, to which 123 countries from all regions of the world are party, the rules-based international order is under increasing attack, making political support for the independence of the ICC more important than ever!”

State of Palestine: The Palestinian Mission to the Netherlands (and also representation of the State of Palestine to the ICC) said in a press statement that “The US threats against the ICC is [sic] a coup against the rules-based international system… It is not up to any one state to decide the fate or standing of the ICC. This Court reflects the will of the international community and is an integral component of the system of laws and regulations that protect the dignity of all persons.”

Nabil Abu Rudeina, the spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the Palestinian Authority would maintain its commitment to the resolutions of international legitimacy.

Spain: Minister of Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell i Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF) tweeted:

“I reject #USA’s National Security Advisor @AmbJohnBolton’s statement on the work done by the @IntlCrimCourt and his country’s cooperation. #Spain fully backs the work of the #ICC and is fully committed with the fight against #impunity.”

His tweet was retweeted by the Embassy of Spain in the U.S. (@SpainInTheUSA).

The Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs put out this statement: “​The Spanish Government would like to reiterate its full support for the International Criminal Court. It was created and implemented 20 years ago as the main body with full jurisdiction over the most heinous crimes and it represents a triumph of the International Community and multilateralism. 

Sweden: Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström tweeted: “Sweden has been a strong supporter of the ICC since its creation. Worrisome recent statements by the US. Together with the EU we reaffirm our commitment. The court is a fundamental part of a rules-based order and int justice. The need for this is more pressing than ever.”

Switzerland: Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs (@SwissMFA) tweeted: “The #ICC, an independent and impartial institution, contributes to the fight against impunity and to sustainable peace. It serves the victims of the most serious crimes. 🇨🇭 will keep supporting it strongly. @IntlCrimCourt @swiss_un”

United Kingdom: Although not directly responding to Bolton’s comments, when discussing accountability options for Myanmar, U.K. Foreign Officer minister Alistair Burt said on Sept. 13 that the U.K. would “support the Court’s efforts to bring perpetrators to justice.”

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Non-State Party Reactions

Burundi: The Burundian Ambassador in The Hague reportedly said in an interview with the New York Times, “We can only rejoice that another country has seen the same wrong… Perhaps this will be a message that the sovereignty of a country must be respected, in the U.S. and in other countries. That’s also what the White House asks.”

Iran: Javad Zarif, the foreign minister of Iran, asked on Twitter where the “outrage” was for the U.S. threat “to impose sanctions on the ICC & even prosecute its judges in American courts.” He said that “the boorishness of this rogue US regime seems to know no bounds” and questioned: “When will the international community say enough is enough & force US to act like a normal state?”

Sudan: Sudanese Ambassador to the U.S., M.Atta Abass (@AttaAbass) tweeted: “The Rome Statute was fundamentally illegitimate “ -“In practice ,however ,the court has been ineffective,unacceptable,and indeed,outright dangerous.Some of his Ex. John Bolton – very good words.

He also tweeted: “Ex. Bolton said: ‘In short, the ICC unacceptably concentrates power in the hands of an unchecked executive ,who is accountable to no one. It claims authority separate from and above the constitution of the USA.’ I add and constitutions of others sovereign STATES.”

And: “’We will not cooperate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC. We will not joint the ICC. We will let the ICC die on its own.’ – Please Your Ex. Complete your fine work and do more favor to the justice in the World.”

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

 

About the Author(s)

Alex Moorehead

Lecturer-in-Law at Columbia Law School, Director of the Counterterrorism, Armed Conflict and Human Rights Project at Columbia Law School's Human Rights Institute Follow him on Twitter (@apmoorehead).

Alex Whiting

Professor of Practice, Harvard Law School; former federal prosecutor at the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Boston; served as Investigations Coordinator and Prosecutions Coordinator at the International Criminal Court. Follow him on Twitter (@alexgwhiting).