Washington bemoans Russia quitting International Criminal Court, 14 years after US did the same

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 November, 2016, 2:31pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 November, 2016, 10:07pm

The United States expressed regret Wednesday that Russia had withdrawn from the International Criminal Court - 14 years after Washington made exactly the same decision.

While Washington accuses Russian forces of brutal crimes in Syria and Ukraine, it does not accept the jurisdiction of the court over its own personnel.

Like Russia, the United States signed the Rome Statute of July 17, 1998, but neither country ever ratified it and now both have definitively rejected its authority.

Russia’s decision was seen by many as the latest step in a trend that may threaten the future of world justice, after a string of African countries pulled out from the court.

“Obviously we recognise these are decisions that ultimately are sovereign national decisions to make,” US State Department spokesman John Kirby said.

“But that doesn’t - even though we’re not a signatory - diminish our belief that the court does provide a valuable framework.”

The United States withdrew from the Rome Statute in May 2002, in a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan from US under secretary of state John Bolton.

At the time, president George W. Bush had just launched a global war on terror and invaded Afghanistan in response to the September 11 attacks.

On Tuesday, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said she is considering launching a full investigation into reports that US CIA operatives tortured captive suspects.

That they did is in little doubt. US investigations concluded that the Bush administration’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” were unlawful.

Bush’s successor, President Barack Obama banned the harsh techniques and in August 2014 admitted candidly: “We tortured some folks.”

So an ICC war crimes investigation would have a lot of evidence to work with, but no one expects the world’s only superpower to surrender its troops and spies.

“We have a robust national system of investigation and accountability that is as good as any country in the world,” a State Department spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Hague prosecutors say US forces likely committed war crimes, torturing dozens of prisoners

Washington will, however, support “ICC prosecution of those cases that advance US interests,” Kirby said.

Russia stands accused of greater, and more recent, crimes: the deliberate targeting of civilian hospitals and clinics in its air war against Syrian rebels.

Just hours before Moscow announced it was pulling out of the court, the State Department said its recent air strikes were a “violation of international law.”

But if this were proven, where would international prosecutors bring a case if not the ICC?

“Russia’s announcement that it would not join the International Criminal Court is far from big news for the court,” said Elizabeth Evenson of Human Rights Watch.

“Although it signed the ICC treaty, Russia never ratified it and thus was never a member,” she explained.

“The announcement says much more about Russia’s retreat from international justice and institutions and is part of the larger harm being inflicted on its own people.”