The hypocrisy and double standards could not be more glaring as the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant against Putin on the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the United States’ imperialist invasion of Iraq.
The ICC has accused Putin of committing war crimes during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which started a year ago. ICC prosecutor Karim Khan KC declared that “there are reasonable grounds to believe that President Putin and [Commissioner for Children’s Rights] Ms Lvova-Belova bear criminal responsibility for the unlawful deportation and transfer of Ukrainian children from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation”. Furthermore, Mr Khan said, these alleged deportations “were carried out in the context of the acts of aggression committed by Russian military forces against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”.
It was very easy for Russia to respond, as they have done, that they were merely transferring children out of a war zone for their own safety. The main point here is not the specifics of the accusations against Putin, but rather the character of the Court and the double standards of western imperialism.
The Kremlin spokesperson Peskov has correctly pointed out that Russia is not a party to the ICC, “and accordingly, any decisions of this kind are null and void for the Russian Federation from the point of view of law.”
Not only is Russia not a signatory to the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court in 1998 – neither is Ukraine! How can then the Court claim to have jurisdiction regarding war crimes committed in Ukraine? Very simply. The Ukrainian government, without signing the Statute, has given the ICC authority to do so. That is what they call a “rules based order”. Paraphrasing (Groucho) Marx: these are my rules, but if they don’t apply, I have others.
But the height of hypocrisy has been reached by the United States. President Biden was quick to declare that the issuing of the warrant “makes a very strong point,” adding: “He’s clearly committed war crimes.” The phrase, “it takes one to know one,” comes to mind.
A small detail here is that in fact the US is also not a signatory to the Rome Statute. Not only that, the United States is a staunch opponent of the ICC, and has even passed legislation allowing for military action against it! In 2002, the US passed a law, called the American Service-Members Protection Act, which directly threatened the ICC and any country collaborating with it in the case of the prosecution of US citizens. The law allows for the use of military force to liberate any American or citizen of a US-allied country being held by the ICC and, as the court resides in the Hague in the Netherlands, it has become known as the ‘Hague Invasion Act’. Additionally, “the law allows for the withdrawal of US military assistance from countries ratifying the ICC treaty, and restricts U.S. participation in United Nations peacekeeping unless the United States obtains immunity from prosecution.”
We see here the naked hypocrisy of US imperialism. The real character of ‘international law’ becomes quite apparent. As with UN resolutions, US imperialism will use international institutions when it suits them as a fig-leaf to cover their naked interests, but when they do not serve this purpose or go against Washington’s designs, they are then brushed aside as a minor inconvenience. Or, as in this case, they threaten the use of military force!
You might think that this was an idle threat but it most certainly is not. In 2020, the US imposed sanctions on Mr Khan’s predecessor as ICC prosecutor, Mrs Fatou Bensouda. Her bank accounts were closed down, her credit cards canceled, and members of her family even saw their assets seized by banks following sanctions imposed by the US Treasury.
What had she done to become an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States”? As the ICC prosecutor, she attempted to prosecute US war crimes during the invasion of Afghanistan. Unheard of! Unacceptable! Surely the US does not commit war crimes, rather it accuses others of committing them. The then-US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described the ICC as a “renegade, unlawful so-called court.”
The actual wording of the presidential executive order imposing sanctions on the ICC makes for an interesting read: “…the ICC and parties to the Rome Statute must respect the decisions of the United States and other countries not to subject their personnel to the ICC’s jurisdiction, consistent with their respective sovereign prerogatives.” So, the US is prepared to go to war with the ICC to defend itself and its allies (the case also involved war crimes investigations against Israel) from any interference… but it is quite happy to cheer the ICC when it interferes in the “sovereign prerogatives” of its enemies – in this case, Russia. This is a textbook definition of rank, stinking hypocrisy.
Finally, after some dithering, president Biden rescinded sanctions on the ICC and its prosecutor Mrs Bensouda, but only after she was replaced by Mr Khan and after declaring that they still would not allow the Court to prosecute either the US or Israel for war crimes. In fact, Secretary of State Blinken declared: “The United States firmly opposes an ICC investigation into the Palestinian Situation. We will continue to uphold our strong commitment to Israel and its security, including by opposing actions that seek to target Israel unfairly.”
You see, there are war crimes committed by US imperialism and its friends, and these are very different from war crimes committed by Washington’s enemies.
The ICC investigation on war crimes in Afghanistan, which goes back to 2017, is languishing in someone’s desk. In fact, the latest official document by the ICC on the Afghanistan case, an appeal lodged by the victims’ legal representation, makes complaint about the fact that the ICC Prosecutor has decided to “deprioritised” the part of that investigation relating to war crimes committed by US personnel, and that he had made clear that he would “not undertake active investigations at all” regarding possible US war crimes. The ICC investigation on war crimes in Ukraine, on the other hand, has proceeded at lighting speed, to the point where an arrest warrant has been issued in just over a year. Again, another case of double standards.
As pointed out at the beginning, the issuing of the arrest warrant against Putin coincided with the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq. That was, by any standards of international law, an illegal war (the first invasion of that country had been carried out under the flag of the United Nations, but the invasion of 2003 was conducted by a “coalition of the willing”). The US and its allies committed all sorts of war crimes, violations of human rights and other abuses, and these have been widely documented. According to Amnesty International: “The US has failed to adequately investigate the widespread human rights violations and war crimes committed by US forces and to hold those responsible to account at all levels, including senior US officials and commanders.”
No US president, nor for that matter the British Prime Minister Tony Blair, has ever been held accountable, nor has the ICC issued any warrants for their arrest. In fact, some of the crimes committed only came to light because of courageous whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning, who spent seven years in jail as a reward, and because the evidence they provided was published by courageous journalists like Julian Assange, who has spent four years in a high security prison after being holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for another seven years. If he is finally extradited to the US, he will spend the rest of his life in prison.
The only people who have been ever prosecuted by the ICC are those war criminals who lost wars, were overthrown in their own countries and were considered enemies by US imperialism. The war criminals that are friends of Washington, or who are former or current US presidents, are never prosecuted. In fact, some of them are given the Nobel Peace Prize.
The question is therefore not whether Russia has committed war crimes in Ukraine or not, but whether the West considers it convenient, from a propaganda point of view, to use the ICC as a tool to put pressure on Putin.