Liberia: What Do Tense Ties Between the US & The International Criminal Court Mean for Liberia’s War Crimes Push?

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LONDON – When John Bolton, the National Security Adviser to US President Donald Trump recently threatened sanctions against the International Criminal Court (ICC) if it goes ahead with prosecutions against Americans, concerns were immediately raised about the implications of the United States position regarding the creation of a War Crime Court in Liberia.


Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]


The ICC is currently considering prosecuting US servicemen over alleged detainee abuse in Afghanistan and Bolton and the US have called the court “illegitimate” and vowed the US would do everything “to protect our citizens”.

The ICC has not shied away from its position, insisting that it would “continue to do its work undeterred” despite threats of sanctions.

The Hague-based court said in a recent statement noted that it was an independent and impartial institution with the backing of 123 countries. “The ICC, as a court of law, will continue to do its work undeterred, in accordance with those principles and the overarching idea of the rule of law,” it said.

Last year, Fatou Bensouda, the lead ICC prosecutor noted that there was a “reasonable basis to believe” war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed in Afghanistan and that all sides in the conflict would be examined, including members of the U.S. armed forces and Central Intelligence Agency.

To date, the US has not ratified the Rome treaty that established the ICC during the presidency of Republican George W. Bush. Instead, it adopted the American Services-Members’ Protection Act, nicknamed the Hague Invasion Act because it authorized the use of any means necessary to free U.S. personnel held by the court.

In essence, Mr. Bolton’s threat that the Trump administration would no longer cooperate with the ICC and the launch of a series of threats in case that ICC starts investigations against U.S., Israeli or other allied country citizens, on paper suggest that the US may be against war crimes push in Liberia.

But what did Mr. Bolton actually say: “The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court; we will not cooperate with the ICC; we will provide no assistance to the ICC, etc.”.

In November 2017, the ICC prosecutor requested to open an investigation in Afghanistan. Afghanistan ratified the Rome Statute which means that, according to this statute, the ICC has jurisdiction over alleged war crimes committed in its territory, including those committed by U.S. military.

A similar situation occurred with the referral of Palestine regarding to the alleged war crimes committed by Israeli nationals related to Gaza and the West Bank.

Israel and U.S. did not ratify the Rome Statute, that is why they do not recognize the ICC jurisdiction. However, the crimes were perpetrated in the territory of countries that did ratify the Rome Statute, or that submitted the case to the ICC. Therefore, the ICC has jurisdiction over nationals of other countries that committed crimes in those territories.

In 2005, the US did not veto the UN Security Council request to the ICC prosecutor to investigate crimes in Sudan, which allowed the work of the ICC.

In 2013, Bosco Ntaganda, who faced war crimes charges before the ICC, surrendered into the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda. He was transferred to the ICC with the collaboration of U.S. authorities.

Ironically, the US has in the past showed strong support to the establishment of ad hoc tribunals. The U.S. have been one of the driving force of the establishment of the International tribunals for Rwanda and for the former Yugoslavia. U.S were also supporting the establishment of the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL). At some point U.S were participating for one third of the SCSL budget. In terms of domestic war crimes chambers in Iraq, in Bosnia, in Serbia, the U.S. provided important assistance in the form of financial support, training and technical assistance

War crimes experts say, it is important not to confuse Bolton’s statement against the ICC with the creation of a war crimes court in Liberia. The relationship between ICC and U.S. has been tense from the very beginning. This is not something new. For example, U.S. has promoted the adoption of UN resolutions to bar the prosecution of U.S. national that are part of UN peace keeping forces.

The U.S. has been a strong supporter of the investigation of the crimes committed in Liberia and has collaborated in the investigation of international crimes committed in Liberia, not only as international crimes as such (v.gr. Chucky Taylor was the first person to be convicted using the Torture Act in U.S.), but also as immigration offenses, because of the fact of lying about what the people did during the Liberian civil war (v. gr. Jungle Jubbah and Thomas Woewiyu).

Quite recently, Representative Daniel M. Donovan (Republican) presented to the United States Congress a resolution that calls for the full implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) recommendations, including the establishment of an extraordinary criminal tribunal for Liberia

War crime observers say, Mr. Bolton’s statement is not representative of U.S. position toward international justice rather it should be seen as a mere reiteration of Bolton’s view towards one single institution, the ICC, perceived as threatening U.S. interests. Focus, some say, should be given to the long-standing history of U.S. support to other international Justice initiatives worldwide.

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