Speaking on Monday, Mr Bolton, commenting on the ICC’s pledge to investigate possible war crimes involving all sides in the conflict, said if such a probe was launched the Trump administration would consider banning ICC judges and prosecutors from entering the United States, sanctioning funds they have there and prosecuting them in US courts.
Rhys Davies, a barrister specialising in international criminal law and a member of the List of Counsel of the International Criminal Court, said: “The current administration’s attitude to international justice could not be more opposed to those sentiments. John Bolton’s attack on the international criminal court – and there can be no doubt that it is a serious attack – sets the US on a collision course with civilised people around the world.
“Nobody expects a Trump administration to embrace the ICC, but the threats that have been made in recent days are truly extraordinary.”
Mr Davies said the need for international diplomacy remained undiminished – but characterised Mr Bolton’s comments as “startlingly shortsighted”.
He added: “The legitimacy of international institutions is profoundly undermined by these comments.
“How can, on one hand, the US seriously expect oppressive regimes around the world to accept the validity of the UN and other international institutions when, on the other hand, the US itself has its own completely selective approach?
“From Salisbury to the South China Sea, opponents of Western democracy are trying to undermine the structure of international legal norms.
“Bolton’s comments hand the Russia, China and other regimes the tools to do so. No institution is perfect but the attack on lawyers and judges at an institution with a broad international backing is chilling.
“We may, by now, be used to the so-called plain speaking of the Trump administration, but the kind of language we have heard is that which we might expect from Putin or Assad. Bolton’s comments are frightening and juvenile in equal measure.”
Ben Keith, barrister at London-based criminal law specialists 5 St Andrew’s Hill, was equally stinging his assessment, describing the proposed measures as a “shocking attack on justice and democracy”.
He said: “Pursuing judges and prosecutors of a UN backed tribunal is conduct worthy of a totalitarian regime.
“These threats which could not be more political and aggressive in their nature are designed to bully and intimidate.
“The suggestion by John Bolton the US national security adviser threatening to sanction judges and prosecutors at the ICC is nothing short of extraordinary.
“For all the deficiencies in the International tribunal system, Trump’s attack is designed to inflame and upset, which is a chilling use of international rhetoric. The US picks and chooses the parts of international law it wants to deploy and Trump has shown a desire and ability to tear apart received wisdom and play by his own rules.
“The statement seems to be playing to the domestic audience and fundamentally undermines the International legal order.
“Its tone is Putinesque, sowing the seeds of confusion and disorder whilst trying to reassert US international influence.”
The International Criminal Court was created in 1998 by the Statute of Rome, and has the jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for genocide and war crimes.
Former Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda appeared before the ICC last month.
However, the US has never signed up the the agreement and Mr Bolton left observers in no doubt about his hostility with his remarks, made to the Federalist Society, a conservative group, in his first major address since joining President Donald Trump’s White House in April.
He said: “The ICC prosecutor has requested to investigate these Americans for alleged detainee abuse, and perhaps more – an utterly unfounded, unjustifiable investigation.
“We will not cooperate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC. 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.”
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