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.


Pakistan regulates falconry as Arab hunting forays loom

Updated 27 November 2020

Pakistan regulates falconry as Arab hunting forays loom

  • Every winter, thousands of the houbara bustard migrate to Pakistani deserts

KARACHI: With the annual hunting season for the houbara bustard bird beginning in Pakistan next month, the country’s southern Sindh province has moved to regulate the practice of falconry, including that parties arriving mostly from Arab states pay $100,000 to hunt 100 of the rare desert birds over a 10-day period.

Every winter, thousands of the houbara bustard migrate from Central Asia to the warmth of Pakistani deserts in Sindh province. Their arrival sets off another migration, with scores of wealthy Gulf Arab residents descending on Pakistan for falconry, the practice of hunting wild animals in their natural state or habitat, with the help of a trained bird of prey.

Local communities benefit from the hobby, the government argues, with hunters channeling cash — via hunting permit fees and jobs — into remote corners of the country where the bird is found.

In September this year, Sindh passed a new law, the Sindh Wildlife Protection, Preservation, Conservation and Management Act of 2020, to boost falconry and prevent “harmful” practices such as hunting during the breeding season.

“Previously, there was no code of conduct explained in the old law; however, in the new law it is fully explained,” Javed Mahar, the conservator at the Sindh Wildlife Department, told Arab News.

Under the new law, a foreign dignitary or his state would be required to file a hunting permit request with the Pakistani foreign office, which would then be forwarded to the wildlife department.

The provincial wildlife department would issue hunting permits to foreign dignitaries only on the request of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Mahar added: “A foreign hunting party will pay $100,000 for hunting 100 houbara bustards in 10 days’ time.”

“The request is received by the government in writing, from a dignitary or his state or forwarded through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Pakistan,” the new law reads.

The foreign office did not respond to requests for comment.

In 2015, the Supreme Court placed a ban on hunting the houbara bustard. The government at the time, of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, asked the court to review the ban because it was damaging Pakistan’s relations with Gulf states, key investors in the country. It argued that sustainable hunting of the bustard was the best means of conservation.

The court lifted the ban in 2016.

But conservationists say that the bird is at risk of extinction if hunting continues.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the bustard as a vulnerable species with a global population of between 50,000 and 100,000. It has almost vanished on the Arabian Peninsula.

But Pakistani officials say that the new law will both boost diplomatic relations with Gulf states and set better hunting precedents.

“This healthy practice will help in boosting diplomatic relations,” Pakistan Falconry Association President Kamran Khan Yousafzai said. “It is good that falconry has been regulated in Sindh,” he added, saying that the new regulations would help local communities and conservation efforts.

“The pattern can be derived from markhor trophy hunting, which diverts 70 percent of its earnings to uplift local communities and conservation whereas only 30 percent goes to the government,” he said, referring to hunting licenses auctioned each year for the rare long-horned goat native to Pakistan.

However, the World Wide Fund for Nature — Pakistan said that hunting permits for the bustard should only be issued based on population viability confirmed through credible research.

“The global population of the threatened Asian houbara bustard is continuously declining mainly due to poaching, hunting and habitat degradation,” said Muhammad Jamshed Chaudhry, WWF Pakistan senior manager for research and conservation. “Without taking stringent measures to control these, new regulation law may not demonstrate any benefits to the species and communities.”

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