International Criminal Court
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo outlined the rationale and details of the executive order President Trump signed today to penalize the ICC for investigating whether US personnel committed war crimes in Afghanistan and if Israel committed war crimes against the Palestinians. He argued that the ICC does not have jurisdiction over Americans because the US is not a party to the Rome Statute that created the ICC and the ICC's procedures "make a mockery of due process" since: (1) There's no requirement for unanimity for a conviction. (2) The prosecution can rely on hearsay to obtain a conviction. (3) There's no real guarantee of a speedy trial. And, (4) instead of facing a jury of one's peers, it's a panel of judges who aren't subject to any American accountability. Pompeo warned other NATO members that their soldiers who served in Afghanistan could also face prosecution in the future and decried the ICC investigation into Israel because of its "strong track record of investigating and prosecuting wrongdoing by military personnel." Attorney General Bob Barr seconded Secretary Pompeo's accusation that the ICC is financially corrupt and added that the US is "concerned that foreign powers, like Russia, are also manipulating the ICC in pursuit of their own agenda."
The Trump administration will penalize the ICC through the "imposition of economic sanctions against ICC officials directly engaged in the ICC efforts to investigate U.S. personnel or allied personnel against that allied state's consent, and against others who materially support such officials' activities." It will additionally expand "visa restrictions for officials directly engaged in those same investigations... to include their family members."
While the Trump administration coordinated Thursday's authorization of sanctions against the ICC with Israel, it received some pushback in Europe. EU Minister for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell called Trump's executive order "a matter of serious concern, as you can understand, because we as the European Union are steadfast supporters of the International Criminal Court." Similarly, Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok tweeted, "Very disturbed by the United States' measures against the @IntlCrimCourt. We call on the US not to sanction ICC staff. The Netherlands fully supports the ICC and will continue to do so. The ICC is crucial in the fight against impunity and in upholding international rule of law." Some Democratic lawmakers are also condemning the executive order. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) issued a press release that said in part: "This announcement is predictable from a President whose idea of justice is to encourage the police to abuse prisoners, pardon his friends, and override the Pentagon in cases of military justice. The White House accuses the ICC of being 'an ineffective and out-of-control international bureaucracy.' To the contrary, the ICC has successfully prosecuted some of the world's worst war criminals, and has done so judiciously and professionally. "
A Turkish court Thursday sentenced Metin Topuz, a Turkish citizen employed at the US consulate in Istanbul, to an eight year and nine month prison term for "aiding an armed terrorist organization." Originally arrested in 2017, the indictment included telephone calls and text messages between Topuz and formerly high-ranking officials in the police and judiciary, whom the Turkish government later blacklisted as members of Fethullah Gulen's Hizmet movement. Erdogan's government blames the movement, without evidence, of orchestrating the failed 2016 attempted coup and has proscribed it as a terrorist organization. Topuz claims all his contact with the supposed Hizmet movement members related to his job as a translator and middleman for the DEA. The US Embassy in Turkey tweeted, "U.S. officials observed every hearing in the trial of Metin Topuz in Istanbul, and we are deeply disappointed in today's decision. We have seen no credible evidence to support this conviction and hope it will swiftly be overturned." An appellate court still might overturn Topuz's conviction.
Turkey's parliament passed a bill Thursday empowering the "Night Eagles" nighttime neighborhood watch group – created by Erdogan's government in the wake of the failed 2016 coup to patrol communities in search of suspicious behavior – to order people to identify themselves, carry out arrests, and in some cases use deadly force. In response to concerns from the opposition Republican People's Party and Peoples' Democratic Party that the Night Eagles' limited training makes them prime candidates to commit human rights abuses, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu pointed to a 47 percent decrease in burglaries since the patrols' introduction. Currently numbering 21,000, a lawmaker from Erdogan's AK Party said the group will expand to 30,000 members this year.
With low energy prices decreasing government revenue, Qatar's Ministry of Finance directed every government agency and state-funded entity to cut monthly costs for non-Qatari employees by 30 percent from June 1 through wage reductions or layoffs. Foreign workers comprise approximately 95 percent of the country's labor force.
Following weeks of anti-regime protests in government-controlled areas, motivated by an inflation-fueled decline in living standards, President Bashar al-Assad replaced Prime Minister Imad Khamis with Water Resources Minister Hussein Arnous. He will keep the water resources portfolio while serving as prime minister. The value of the Syrian pound on the black market has fallen from about 940/dollar in January to at least 3,000/dollar now. 80 percent of the population lives in poverty and 9.3 million Syrians are now food insecure, an increase of nearly 1.5 million compared to six months ago. While the anti-regime protests remain peaceful, Damascus faces growing ISIS violence in areas nominally under government control. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights documented clashes on Wednesday and Thursday in Hama province killing 13 regime soldiers and loyalists as well as 21 ISIS militants.
The United Nations Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) expressed horror at the Government of National Accord's (GNA) discovery of mass graves in territory recently captured from Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA). "UNSMIL notes with horror reports on the discovery of at least eight mass graves in past days, the majority of them in Tarhuna. International law requires that the authorities conduct prompt, effective & transparent investigations into all alleged cases of unlawful deaths." After regaining control of western Libya in recent weeks with Turkish assistance, the GNA's offensive has stalled outside Sirte due to LNA air superiority. At least one of the Russian MiG-29s that arrived in Libya last month reportedly joined the battle for Sirte. Undeterred by Russia's intervention, GNA spokesman Abdelmenaam al-Draa stated Thursday, "We will continue east until we liberate all of Libya from the war criminal Haftar."
Washington and Baghdad Thursday initiated strategic talks, expected to last several months, covering the future of American forces in the country, an Iraqi economic crisis attributable to low energy prices, decreasing rocket attacks by pro-Tehran militias on the Green Zone, and reducing Iraqi dependence on Iranian electricity. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale led the American team in Thursday's Zoom conference while Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Abdul Karim Hashim headed the Iraqi side. One of the first issues likely to be addressed is American technical assistance to minimize flaring of gas from Iraq's southern oil fields, which costs the Iraqi government billions of dollars in lost revenue each year.
Comments from Settlement Affairs Minister Tzipi Hotovely Thursday suggest the likelihood of Israel unilaterally annexing the West Bank settlements on July 1 is minimal. She said that any annexation "has to be agreed by parts of the [Israeli] government and by the American side" and "there are gaps between the Americans and us on this issue and between us and our senior partner in the unity government, Kahol Lavan."
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum