President Trump issued an executive order on Friday, June 12, to block the visas and property of some International Criminal Court personnel. Within hours a mushroom cloud of denouncements by Blue-Checks loomed over social media. “More U.S. thuggery.” “The U.S. Rogue Regime continues.” The Court is “blackmailed by lawless gang posing as diplomats.” The International Criminal Court (ICC) complained that the Executive Order is “an unacceptable attempt to interfere with the rule of law.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo promptly responded: “We will not stand idly by if the International Criminal Court follows through with its ideological crusade against American service members.”
At immediate issue in the president’s executive order is a revived 2017 ICC attempt to formally investigate alleged war crimes in Afghanistan during 2003–2004. The Court was established in 2002 but waited 13 years—throughout the Bush and Obama administrations—to find warrant to investigate the U.S. military and CIA personnel (along with the Taliban) for alleged crimes. That 2017 review failed to find sufficient evidence for ICC prosecutors to proceed. Nonetheless, in 2019 ICC Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, appealed to reopen the investigation.
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Of particular importance to Christians is the observation by Secretary Pompeo that the ICC is capable of ideological crusades. The current investigation by the ICC is directed toward alleged war crimes; the Court, however, has broad jurisdiction to examine genocide, crimes against humanity, and the amorphous “crimes of aggression,” too. Within the category of crimes against humanity are various subsets for gender and “other inhumane acts… causing great suffering… to mental or physical health.” Ideological activists whose framework is global rather than local frequently suggest that the ICC should prosecute individuals for “crimes” that injure their perceived “rights.”
The battle now unfolding is beyond executive orders and political skirmishes. Greater than matters of sovereignty or jurisdiction are so-called “urgent questions”: What constitutes a human right? What role does objective truth play in determining a human right? The world is laboring to refine or re-define “rights” in an era of intense philosophical discord. Do I have a right to live according to my conscience? Is religious freedom a human right? Who decides if my freedom offends an identified group within the jurisdiction of the ICC?
A global Gay Pride event was held in Rome in 2000. Pope Saint John Paul II said that the gathering was “offensive and insulting to Christian values.” An October 2000 Crisis article detailed the group of Dutch activists who unsuccessfully sued the pope in a Dutch court for his remarks that they claimed were “discriminatory and incites hatred against homosexuals.” At the time, the ICC was awaiting the required signed treaties from sixty nations that would initiate the Court’s power to prosecute. Despite the loss in their national court, homosexual activists looked ahead to the day when the ICC would entertain their claims. Such claims fall under the vaguely defined “human rights” and “inhumane acts” that cause an identified group “great suffering,” mental or physical.
The United Nations adopted the formula “Women’s rights are human rights” at the 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights. One year later, at the International Conference on Population and Development, in Cairo, Egypt, the phrase “health and reproductive rights” was added to the U.N. understanding of women’s rights and the “rights of the girl child.” If women’s rights are human rights, could a claim be lodged in the ICC against a pope for teaching that life begins at conception and abortion is therefore morally impermissible?
Human Rights Watch is one among several “watchdog” organizations that pursue legal redress for various favored identity groups. “Sexual orientation and gender identity are integral aspects of our selves,” they announce on their website, “and should never lead to discrimination or abuse. Human Rights Watch works for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender peoples’ rights, and with activists representing a multiplicity of identities and issues. We document and expose abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity worldwide.” Researchers are assigned to their “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program.” Whereas once such an organization might have an “Advocacy Program,” today its efforts are to establish disputed “rights” as an absolute right with the force of international law.
The threat for Christians (and other people of faith) worldwide is evident. Most activists believe a new world is emerging, one of global scope with the authority to reach beyond national borders when nations decline to prosecute an individual for an ill-defined crime.
Catholics, too, have had an indication of how determined activists might seek to use the ICC to intervene in Church governance. On the eve of the Vatican’s preparation for the papal visit to Great Britain, atheist agitator Richard Dawkins and anti-religion curmudgeon Christopher Hitchens engaged a lawyer to bring charges against Pope Benedict XVI for a failure to control pedophiles within the priesthood. As reported in The Guardian,
Senior churchmen who protected pedophile priests, swore their victims to secrecy and allowed the perpetrators to continue working with children, committed the offense of aiding and abetting sex with minors. Practiced on a large scale, this becomes a crime against humanity recognized by the international criminal court. This is the general Vatican policy over which the then Cardinal Ratzinger is accused of presiding. When Benedict comes to the UK in September he could, if Dawkins and Hitchens get their warrant, be arrested.
Level heads note that all religions and all professions have similar records of abuse against minors, but the Catholic Church, despised for other reasons, makes an especially lurid headline. Last year in an interview with The Guardian, U.N. Justice Council member Geoffrey Robertson said, “Legal immunity cannot hold. The Vatican should feel the full weight of international law.” Pedophilia is “a crime against humanity,” he continued; “In any event, head of state immunity provides no protection for the pope in the international criminal court.”
Meanwhile, the United Nations is running interference for an actual terrorist organization. On June 19, the U.N. Geneva’s official Twitter account posted, “U.N. human rights experts express profound concern over a recent statement by the U.S. Attorney-General describing Antifa and other anti-fascist activists as domestic terrorists, saying it undermines the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in the country.” There’s certainly nothing peaceful about Antifa.
The President’s executive order rejects the ICC’s “illegitimate assertions of jurisdiction over personnel of the United States and of its allies” which “threatens to subject current and former United States Government and allied officials to harassment, abuse, and possible arrest.” Jurisdiction is crucial in a world of changing institutions, changing legal framework, and expanding rights.
The United States is not a party to the ICC. Though Bill Clinton signed the Rome Statute, he declined to send it to the Senate for ratification. Clinton advised incoming president George W. Bush not to seek ratification, and Bush “unsigned” the statute soon after his inauguration. The ICC has no legal authority within the United States. However, citizens—especially diplomats—may have exposure when they travel to nations that are a party to the ICC and sympathetic to its schemes.
Few commentaries on President Trump’s executive order reveal the broader context. The U.S., under both presidents Bush and Obama, did investigate alleged crimes by Americans in Afghanistan. Where warranted, American personnel were tried under U.S. law. A factor frequently omitted is that, under ICC procedures, U.S. standards of evidence or due process are not afforded to the accused. There is no jury and no redress. Additionally, the U.S. isn’t alone in its refusal to forfeit sovereignty and jurisdiction to the ICC. Other nations that are wary of the ideological aims of the ICC include India, Russia, and China.
Two-thirds of the world’s people live under the legal jurisdiction of their own nations. The Catholic principle of subsidiarity would suggest this is the most humane governance structure. Despite the call by progressive luminaries (and some political allies) for the U.S. to cooperate with the ICC, the nation is better served by its current America First policies.
Image: The flag of the International Criminal Court (Wikimedia Commons)