international criminal court

Christoph Flügge, a senior judge with the UN International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, has resigned from the ICC, after the US threatened judges investigating alleged US war crimes in Afghanistan.

Flügge, a German judge, has worked with the ICC and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) since 2008. Recently, he got involved with a preliminary investigation into claims that US military service members and CIA operatives tortured prisoners in Afghanistan.

Flügge told German newspaper Die Zeit that he handed in his resignation after open threats from US officials, including a speech by hawkish national security adviser John Bolton last September, where Bolton “wished death” on the Court.

“If these judges ever interfere in the domestic concerns of the US or investigate an American citizen, he said the American government would do all it could to ensure that these judges would no longer be allowed to travel to the United States – and that they would perhaps even be criminally prosecuted,” Flügge told Die Zeit, in an interview. The Guardian has translated the interview.

“The American security adviser held his speech at a time when The Hague was planning preliminary investigations into American soldiers who had been accused of torturing people in Afghanistan,” Flügge said. “The American threats against international judges clearly show the new political climate. It is shocking. I had never heard such a threat.”

Bolton’s speech was delivered in September to the conservative Federalist Society in Washington, DC. It came a year after the ICC began investigating claims that at least 61 detained persons in Afghanistan had been tortured by the US troops and another 27 by the CIA at secret prisons in Afghanistan and abroad, according to prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.

Bolton called the investigation “utterly unfounded” and “unjustifiable,” and promised to “protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court.”

The senior US official also vowed to defend Israeli citizens from the court. US “friend and ally” Israel was at the time accused of perpetrating war crimes against Palestinian civilians. He warned that the US would disregard arrest warrants, ban judges and prosecutors from entering the country, and even try them in the US courts.

Flügge said his colleagues were “stunned” that “the US would roll out such heavy artillery,” but added “it is consistent with the new American line: ‘We are No 1 and we stand above the law’.”

The US disregard for the ICC is not a new phenomenon. After much debate, US President Bill Clinton signed the Rome Treaty that established the ICC, but the Congress never ratified it. George W. Bush symbolically ‘un-signed’ the treaty in 2002, when the war in Afghanistan was in full swing.

Later that year, the US Congress passed the American Service Members’ Protection Act, which obliged the president to prevent any ICC prosecution of US armed forces “to the maximum extent possible,” and even authorized military force to free any US service members from ICC custody. Bolton was Bush’s under-secretary of state at the time.

The court has come under fire from more countries than just the US. Russia withdrew its signature from the Rome Treaty in 2016, after the court criticized the reunification of Crimea. China, India, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are among the other nations that never signed the treaty.

Flügge told Die Zeit that he had concluded in the wake of the developments that the “diplomatic world” saw no value in an independent judiciary.

“Every incident in which judicial independence is breached is one too many,” he said. “Now there is this case, and everyone can invoke it in the future. Everyone can say: ‘But you let Turkey get its way.’ This is an original sin. It can’t be fixed.”

Flügge said the attitude of the US administration to the ICC highlighted the danger.



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One Comment

  1. Donald Ferencz says:

    The website recently described John Bolton, the national security adviser to Donald Trump, as “a megalomaniac, a narcissistic bully, a dangerous psychopath, a degenerate and a threat to the people of this planet”. Judge Flügge’s resignation is the regrettable consequence of a deeply flawed current U.S. policy – a policy which betrays a long history of U.S. support for the rule of law in international affairs. The United States “uber alles” flies in the face of respect for the equal rights of all inhabitants of Planet Earth. Hopefully, the American people will wake up from this nightmare of bad leadership before it’s too late.