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Take Action: John Bolton and the International Criminal Court

On September 10th, United States National Security Advisor John Bolton gave a speech to the Federalist Society in which he spoke, at length and with numerous inaccuracies, about the International Criminal Court.

You can watch the speech or read the full text.

Bolton began his speech talking about the establishment of the International Criminal Court being the result of “years of effort by self-styled ‘global governance’ advocates” and that “the largely unspoken, but always central, aim of its most vigorous supporters was to constrain the United States” and that “the ICC was created as a free-wheeling global organization claiming jurisdiction over individuals without their consent.” Of course, these statements are incorrect.

His misleading, and often false statements continued, including characterizing the preliminary investigation into the situation in Afghanistan as being targeted at US service members and intelligence professionals. ICC investigations consider the entire situation in a geographic area and all the actors involved. In the case of Afghanistan, the Taliban is a large part of the situation being investigated.

Bolton cited five principal concerns about the Court, including that it threatens US sovereignty and is contrary to the fundamental American principle of the separation of powers; that the crimes the Court has jurisdiction over have ambiguous definitions; that it has not sufficiently deterred and punished crimes; that is is superfluous because the US judicial system holds American citizens to the “highest legal and ethical standards”; and lastly, that others have criticized or rejected the ICC’s authority.

Clearly, there are a lot of red flags in Bolton’s comments and his efforts to explain himself do not lessen them.

Bolton has been severely critical of the Court in the past, when he was the US Ambassador to the United Nations during the presidency of George W Bush, but this attack on the Court is more menacing and, as National Security Advisor he has more political authority now (and fewer in positions of authority who might restrain him) than was the case in the early 2000s when he was UN Ambassador.

He says that he believes “that perpetrators should face legitimate, effective, and accountable prosecution for their crimes, by sovereign national governments” which, of course, often does not happen and is a central reason for the Court’s existence.

Bolton concluded by threatening to sanction ICC funds, ban the ICC’s judges and prosecutors from entering the US, and prosecute them in the US criminal system. The same would hold for “any corporation or state” that assists an ICC investigation involving US citizens .

The response to Bolton has been swift and broad, although Canada has yet to release a statement.

Responses to John Bolton’s remarks

The International Criminal Court

Statement by the President of the Assembly of States Parties, O-Gon Kwon, reaffirming support for the ICC

Country responses to Bolton, including Germany, France, and Sweden (Twitter summary)

International Bar Association

Ambassador (ret) David Scheffer on John Bolton’s Announcement of “Ugly and Dangerous” Punitive Actions against Judges, Prosecutors of Int’l Criminal Court

Judge Theodor Meron, President of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals

With all the world’s crises, this is John Bolton’s top concern? (Editorial board of the Washington Post)

Four States That Have Stayed Quiet Over Bolton’s ICC Speech (David Bosco, Lawfare)

What you can do

Write to Foreign Affairs Minister Chyrstia Freeland and ask her to publicly affirm Canadian support for the International Criminal Court.

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