Biden administration moves to assist ICC in Russia investigation

US has previously been sceptical of cooperation with the ICC, worrying it could investigate alleged abuses by US forces.

The international criminal court building
The International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands, has been investigating alleged human rights abuses during Russia's war in Ukraine [File: Piroschka van de Wouw/Reuters]

The United States will support the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) investigation into alleged abuses by Russian forces in Ukraine, two senior US senators have confirmed, marking a major about-face in Washington’s stance towards the international tribunal.

Dick Durbin, the Democratic chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Lindsey Graham, the Republican ranking member of the panel, lauded the decision by President Joe Biden’s administration on Wednesday.

“After pressing the administration for months, we are pleased that the administration is finally supporting the ICC’s investigation,” Durbin and Graham said in a statement.

“We will continue to work in the Senate to ensure those responsible for atrocities are held accountable, including by working to close the gap in US law for crimes against humanity.”

The move reverses a longstanding trend of the US refusing to cooperate with the ICC, partly due to concerns that the court could use its authority to investigate alleged crimes by US forces or allied countries.

The Trump administration had previously imposed sanctions on ICC officials who were investigating alleged US violations in Afghanistan and abuses by Israeli authorities against Palestinians.

The US remains one of a handful of countries that are not party to the Rome Statute, which first established the court in 1998.

Following international criticism during the early years of its so-called “War on Terror”, the US went so far as to pass a law in 2002 authorising military action against The Hague to rescue any citizen of the US or an allied nation who might be held by the ICC.

That history has left the US exposed to criticisms that it makes appeals to international law selectively, shielding itself and its allies from accountability.

Earlier on Wednesday, the US state department reiterated its opposition to an ICC investigation in Israel and Palestine when asked about increased settler attacks against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

“We have not viewed the ICC as the appropriate mechanism for some of these deliberations,” department spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters.

The US has also rejected the push to seek accountability at the ICC for the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was fatally shot by Israeli forces last year.

The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin in March over allegations that his country’s forces have taken children out of Ukraine and transported them to Russia, an act that would constitute a war crime.

Since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine last March, human rights groups and media organisations have detailed a litany of alleged abuses, from the execution of civilians and indiscriminate bombing of civilian infrastructure to torture and sexual violence.

Republican and Democratic legislators have accused the Pentagon of setting back efforts to hold Russia accountable after it blocked previous efforts to share intelligence with the ICC.

Asked why the Pentagon was refusing to share evidence of such crimes with the ICC, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said he supported efforts to hold Russia accountable but would “always prioritise the protection of US military personnel”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies