U.S. Sanctions Imposed on International Court at The Hague

Court at the Hague
The building of the international Court at The Hague, Holland (Courtesy photo).

By Leni Villagomez Reeves

“State of Emergency

On June 11, 2020, President Donald Trump declared a “state of emergency.” Not about the pandemic. Not about racist violence by the police and the ultra-right. Not even about the fact that about 20% of the U.S. working population is currently unemployed. No, the emergency was the arrival of human rights investigators from the Netherlands.

Investigation of War Crimes in Afghanistan

This “emergency threatening the national security of the US” is the fact that the International Criminal Court (ICC) is investigating crimes committed by U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The ICC has evidence of rape, torture and other war crimes.

In 2017, its report said, “Finally, the information available provides a reasonable basis to believe that members of the United States of America…armed forces and members of the Central Intelligence Agency…committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence against conflict-related detainees in Afghanistan and other locations, principally in the 2003–2004 period.

(This doesn’t mean that war crimes, including the murder of civilians by drones, did not continue after that period. They did. It also doesn’t mean that the investigation is limited to U.S. crimes. It isn’t.)

Sanctions Can Include Investigators, Witnesses

Declaring the ICC investigation to be a national emergency that threatens to impede the critical national security is the justification provided by the Trump administration for imposing sanctions. Yes, any investigators from that nefarious terrorist organization, the International Court at the Hague, can have their assets seized by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Just as if they were from Venezuela or Cuba. Or any of the 28 other countries that have complete or partial sanctions imposed by the United States.

And the language is broad enough that not only an international human rights lawyer but even a witness could be subject to seizure of assets. The Brookings Institute deplores the ICC sanctions, saying that applying sanctions to human rights personnel “undermines their efficacy and legitimacy.”

As far as efficiency—sanctions have created a lot of human misery, but failed to overthrow the governments of Venezuela or Cuba or any other country to which they are currently applied.

As far as legitimacy—really? What legitimacy? All these sanctions have about the same level of legitimacy as the actions of organized crime: “We can do what we want because we have power and ruthlessness and you can’t stop us.” And in this case, that of the ICC, we see the typical crime mob warning, “Don’t talk.”

Who Could Trump Be Protecting?

So who are the Trump crime family members that this “I, DONALD J. TRUMP, President of the United States of America, found that the situation with respect to the International Criminal Court (ICC)…” order is designed to protect?

No doubt there are others, but the name that comes to mind immediately is Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater, a private mercenary army employed in Afghanistan following the U.S. invasion. Prince, a Trump buddy and member of Trump’s shadow cabinet, is brother of Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Secretary of (mis)Education.

Prince’s new company is recruiting undercover agents to infiltrate groups in the United States, including the American Federation of Teachers, where an agent tried to steal union documents. This spying project, called Project Veritas, received thousands of dollars from Trump’s foundation.

Small change compared to the $600 million the Central Intelligence Agency awarded in classified contracts to Blackwater and its affiliates from 2001 to 2010. In 2016, Erik Prince contributed $250,000 to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and $100,000 to Make America Number 1, a Trump-aligned super PAC.

Illusion That the United States Is a Defender of Human Rights

George A. Lopez, writing on this issue, said, “In this case, where the investigations also include Afghan forces, the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, the U.S. should share the ICC goal of holding perpetrators of mass atrocities and war crimes accountable.” Should is a big word.

There are a number of things the United States should do. One is identifying and prosecuting those guilty of war crimes at the highest levels, with the goal of preventing future atrocities. Another is to cease using economic sanctions and seizures, blockades and embargoes to coerce the world into cooperating with U.S. capitalism.

The  absurdity of sanctioning human rights investigators of the International Court at the Hague makes clear the absolute illegitimacy of U.S. sanctions.


Leni Villagomez Reeves is a local physician and activist. Contact her at lenivreeves@gmail.com. Check out her news and views about Cuba on Facebook (fresnosolidarity/).


  1. Test of the Executive Order: https://publicpool.kinja.com/subject-executive-order-on-blocking-property-of-certai-1843993980
  2. George Lopez quote: https://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/06/13/targeting-icc-misguided-sanctions-imposed-yet-again


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