On Monday, President Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, said that if the International Criminal Court in The Hague pursued charges against members of the U.S. military and intelligence community over alleged war crimes committed in Afghanistan, the United States will issue sanctions on those involved in the investigation and ban them from traveling to the United States.
"We will not cooperate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC,” Bolton said. “We will not join the ICC. We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us."
The United States is far from the only country to have taken issue with the court, which was set up in 2002 to pursue serious cases of human rights violations. As The Washington Post's Adam Taylor wrote Monday, “More than 120 states are party to the Rome Statute — the treaty that established the ICC — while a further 23, including the United States, signed the treaty but never ratified it."
Many of the grievances against the court have come from Africa, because, as Taylor wrote, “Ten of the court's 11 current investigations are focused on African states, and all 37 named defendants are from Africa."
In early 2017, the African Union even called for its member states to withdraw from the ICC, saying it was biased against the continent. Bolton's insistence Monday that the United States will not cooperate with the court echoed sentiments expressed by a number of African governments in recent years.
Burundi said the ICC is a ‘weapon used by the West to enslave’
In 2015, Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza announced that he would seek a third term in office, setting off a political crisis in the East African nation that would leave at least 1,000 people dead and hundreds of thousands of others displaced.
The dispute over whether a third term would violate the constitution quickly turned violent, but Nkurunziza went on to prevail for a third term, despite a coup attempt. In September 2017, a U.N. Commission of Inquiry report on Burundi said it had gathered evidence of a number of crimes committed there since the unrest began in 2015, including torture, rape, extrajudicial killings and disappearances.
The next month, Burundi officially left the court, becoming the first nation to do so since it was set up in 2002. “The ICC has shown itself to be a political instrument and weapon used by the West to enslave [other countries],” presidential spokesman Willy Nyamitwe said at the time. “This is a great victory for Burundi because it has defended its sovereignty and national pride."
Last November, the ICC approved opening an investigation into Burundi anyway. But Burundian Justice Minister Aimee Laurentine Kanyana said the government rejected the decision to investigate “and reiterates its firm determination that it will not cooperate,” Reuters reported.
Gambia called it the ‘International Caucasian Court’
In 2015, then-Gambian President Yahya Jammeh called on the ICC to look into cases of African migrants “who have died on the European coast under unusual circumstances.” He was referring to migrants whose boats and dinghies had capsized at sea, saying on state television in June 2015 that “if it is not done deliberately, how is it possible that each time a vessel is capsizing, there is the Italian navy to rescue only a few people."
Then, in October 2016, shortly before a whirlwind turn of events in which Jammeh lost reelection and, under international pressure, left the country, the longtime leader announced that Gambia would leave the ICC. He claimed that the court ignored war crimes perpetrated by countries outside of Africa and focused unfairly on prosecuting Africans.
Jammeh's information minister, Sheriff Bojang, said that “the ICC, despite being called International Criminal Court, is in fact an International Caucasian Court for the persecution and humiliation of people of color, especially Africans.” At that point, Jammeh had been in power more than 20 years, and his government was accused of a wide variety of human rights abuses.
Jammeh left Gambia in January 2017 after losing the presidential election to Adama Barrow, the current president. In February 2017, Barrow reversed course on Jammeh's attempt to leave the ICC, announcing that the country would plan to stay in the tribunal.
South Africa said ‘the ICC is biased’
The ICC issued a warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in 2009 after charging him with war crimes and crimes against humanity for atrocities that took place in Sudan's Darfur region between 2003 and 2008.
But Bashir is still at large, despite continuing to travel internationally after the ICC issued its warrant.
In 2015, six years after the initial warrant for his arrest went out, Bashir visited South Africa for an African Union meeting and managed to avoid being detained. The South African government, then led by President Jacob Zuma, insisted that he had immunity because he was in South Africa as leader of his country's delegation to the AU meeting. Despite controversy, Bashir ultimately managed to fly home from that meeting free. Zuma said that “the ICC is biased."
The ICC later determined that South Africa should have arrested Bashir, but the court declined to refer South Africa to the United Nations over it. Still, the row over what to do about Bashir soured South Africa's relations with the court, and in October 2016, the South African government announced that it planned to leave the ICC.
It was blocked from doing so by the country's high court, which said it had failed to seek permission from parliament. In 2017, Judge Phineas Mojapelo of South Africa's High Court called the attempted departure “unconstitutional and invalid,” Reuters reported.