US sanctions ICC prosecutor over Afghanistan war crimes probe

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, DC, US Sept. 2, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 02 September 2020

US sanctions ICC prosecutor over Afghanistan war crimes probe

  • US is objecting to an investigation of US soldiers for alleged war crimes in Afghanistan
  • Washington is not a member of the ICC

WASHINGTON: The Trump administration on Wednesday imposed sanctions on the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and one of her top aides for continuing to investigate war crimes allegations against Americans. The sanctions were immediately denounced by the court, the United Nations and human rights advocates.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the moves as part of the administration’s pushback against the tribunal, based in The Hague, for investigations into the United States and its allies. The sanctions include a freeze on assets held in the US or subject to US law and target prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and the court’s head of jurisdiction, Phakiso Mochochoko.
He said the court, to which the United States has never been a party, was “a thoroughly broken and corrupt institution.”
“We will not tolerate its illegitimate attempts to subject Americans to its jurisdiction,” Pompeo told reporters at a State Department news conference. In addition to the sanctions imposed on Bensouda and Mochochoko, Pompeo said people who provide them with “material support” in investigating Americans could also face US penalties.
Pompeo had previously imposed a travel ban on Bensouda and other tribunal employees over investigations into allegations of torture and other crimes by Americans in Afghanistan.
The head of the court’s governing board, the Assembly of States Parties, decried the step as “unprecedented and unacceptable” and an affront to efforts to combat impunity for war crimes. O-Gon Kwon said the assembly planned to convene shortly to reaffirm the members’ “unstinting support for the court” and its employees.
“I strongly reject such unprecedented and unacceptable measures against a treaty-based international organization,” he said. “They only serve to weaken our common endeavor to fight impunity for mass atrocities.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres noted Pompeo’s statement “with concern,” according to spokesman Stephane Dujarric. He stressed that the UN expects the United States to abide by its agreement with the United Nations, which allows the prosecutor to come to UN headquarters on ICC business.
The Security Council referred the situations in Sudan’s Darfur region and in Libya to the court, and Bensouda has regularly updated members on its actions. “We have always stood for the need for international justice and for issue of accountability and the fight against impunity,” Dujarric said.
Human rights groups and others have condemned the administration’s moves against the court and Wednesday’s announcement was immediately met with withering criticism from them.
“Today’s announcement is designed to do what this administration does best — bully and intimidate,” said Daniel Balson of Amnesty International USA. “It penalizes not only the ICC, but civil society actors working for justice alongside the court worldwide.”
“Today’s reckless actions constitute a demand that the US government be granted a political carve-out of impunity for nationals accused of having committed crimes under international law in Afghanistan,” he said. “No one responsible for the most serious crimes under international law should be able to hide from accountability, under a cloak of impunity.”
Richard Dicker, the international justice director at Human Rights Watch, called it “a stunning perversion of US sanctions, devised to penalize rights abusers and kleptocrats, to persecute those tasked with prosecuting international crimes.”
“The Trump administration has twisted these sanctions to obstruct justice, not only for certain war crimes victims, but for atrocity victims anywhere looking to the International Criminal Court for justice,” he said.
In March 2019, Pompeo ordered the revocation or denial of visas to ICC staff seeking to investigate allegations of war crimes and other abuses by US forces in Afghanistan or elsewhere. He also said he might revoke the visas of those who seek action against Israel.
Prosecutors have been conducting a preliminary inquiry since 2015 in the Palestinian territories, including Israel’s settlement policy, crimes allegedly committed by both sides in the 2014 Gaza conflict and Hamas rocket attacks aimed at Israeli civilians.
The court was created to hold accountable perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity in cases where adequate judicial systems were not available. The US has not joined the ICC because of concerns the court might be used for politically motivated prosecutions of American troops and officials.
Subsequent US administrations have reiterated that stance, although some, including President Barack Obama’s, have agreed to limited cooperation with court. The Trump administration, however, has been openly hostile to the tribunal and lashed out against Bensouda along with others for pursuing prosecutions of Americans.


Two accomplices in Kenya’s Westgate attack jailed for 33 and 18 years

Updated 30 October 2020

Two accomplices in Kenya’s Westgate attack jailed for 33 and 18 years

  • Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa, both 31, were found guilty on October 7 of conspiring with and supporting the four assailants
  • The convicted men were in regular contact with the attackers who at midday on September 21, 2013, stormed the upscale Westgate mall in the Kenyan capital

NAIROBI: A Kenyan court Friday handed prison terms of 33 and 18 years respectively to two men accused of conspiring with the Al-Shabab extremists who attacked Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall in 2013, killing 67 people.

Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa, both 31, were found guilty on October 7 of conspiring with and supporting the four assailants from the Somalia-based extremist group who died in what was then Kenya’s worst terrorist attack in 15 years.

The accused asked the judge for leniency, saying they had already served seven years behind bars and had family to care for.

“Despite mitigation by their defense lawyers on their innocence, the offense committed was serious, devastating, destructive, that called for a punishment by the court,” Chief Magistrate Francis Andayi told a Nairobi courtroom.

He sentenced the men to 18 years for conspiracy and 18 for supporting extremists, but ordered they serve both terms together. Abdi was also given an additional 15 years for two counts of possessing extremist propaganda material on his laptop.

He will serve 26 years and Mustafa 11, taking into account their pre-trial detention.

The convicted men were in regular contact with the attackers who at midday on September 21, 2013, stormed the upscale Westgate mall in the Kenyan capital and began throwing grenades and firing indiscriminately on shoppers and business owners.

A four-day siege ensued — much of it broadcast live on television — during which Kenyan security forces tried to flush out the gunmen and take back the high-end retail complex.

Although there was no specific evidence Abdi and Mustafa had provided material help, the court was satisfied their communication with the attackers amounted to supporting the armed rampage, and justified the guilty verdict for conspiracy.

The marathon trial began in January 2014. A third accused was acquitted of all charges.
The Westgate attack was claimed by Al-Shabab in retaliation for Kenya intervening military over the border in Somalia, where the extremist group was waging a bloody insurgency against the fragile central government.

Kenya is a major contributor of troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which in 2011 drove Al-Shabab out of Mogadishu and other urban strongholds after a months-long offensive.

In a car the attackers drove to Westgate, police found evidence of newly-activated SIM cards used by the gunmen. Their communications were traced, including calls to Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa.

A fourth defendant, Adan Mohammed Abdikadir, was acquitted in early 2019 for lack of evidence.

The Westgate attack was the deadliest incident of violent extremism on Kenyan soil since the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, which killed 213 people.

But since the assault on the shopping complex, Al-Shabab has perpetrated further atrocities in Kenya against civilian targets.

In April 2015, gunmen entered Garissa University and killed 148 people, almost all of them students. Many were shot point blank after being identified as Christians.

In January 2019, the militants struck Nairobi again, hitting the Dusit Hotel and surrounding offices and killing 21 people.

Al-Shabab warned in a January statement that Kenya “will never be safe” as long as its troops were stationed in Somalia, and threatened further attacks on tourists and US interests.

That same month, Al-Shabab attacked a US military base in northeast Kenya in a cross-border raid, killing three Americans and destroying a number of aircraft.