US House passes legislation to sanction ICC over Gaza warrants bid

June 05, 2024
House Speaker Mike Johnson and Texas Rep. Chip Roy at the US Capitol
House Speaker Mike Johnson and Texas Rep. Chip Roy at the US Capitol

WASHINGTON — The US House of Representatives has voted to pass legislation that would sanction the International Criminal Court (ICC) after its prosecutor applied for arrest warrants against Israeli officials.

The move comes after The Hague-based court's prosecutor said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant should be arrested on charges relating to the war in Gaza.

The prosecutor is also seeking warrants for three leaders of Hamas.

The bill, proposed by pro-Israel Republicans, targets ICC officials involved in the case by blocking their entry to the US.

On Tuesday, it passed with a majority of Republican support by a vote of 247-155. Two Republicans voted "present" and 42 pro-Israel Democrats crossed the aisle to back the legislation.

Though the bill passed in the House, it is not expected to become law.

The legislation will likely be ignored by Democrats who control the US Senate, where it would have to pass before it could be signed into law by the president.

But President Joe Biden has also indicated that he "strongly opposes" the bill and the administration has said it does not support the sanctions.

If it did become law, however, the legislation would also revoke any US visas held by ICC officials and restrict them from making property transactions in the US.

Some Senate Democrats, like John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, an outspoken supporter of Israel, have indicated they would support legislation sanctioning the court.

“I really would like to sanction the ICC for that. That was trash,” Fetterman said of the arrest warrants.

Congressman Chip Roy, a Texas Republican who introduced the legislation in the House, titled the Illegitimate Court Counteraction Act, has called the ICC “a massive threat to US sovereignty”.

The Democrats who opposed the measure largely support Israel, but have criticized Netanyahu's conservative government. Some Democratic opponents said it risked forcing the US to sanction ally nations that support the ICC.

When the measure cleared the House Rules Committee on Monday, Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat, said: “This bill makes a mockery of the rules-based international order that America helped build.”

The bill's passage comes shortly after Netanyahu was invited by US lawmakers to deliver a speech to Congress this summer, although the date of his speech has not been finalized.

Last month, ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan said he had "reasonable grounds" to believe that Netanyahu and Gallant, as well as Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar, military chief Mohammed Deif and political leader Ismail Haniyeh, bore "criminal responsibility" for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity during the war in Gaza.

It marked the first time the ICC has targeted the top leader of a close US ally.

"The ICC has to be punished for this action," Republican Speaker of the House Mike Johnson said on Tuesday. "We cannot allow this to stand."

"If the ICC was allowed to do this and go after the leaders of countries whose actions they disagree with, why would they not come after America?"

Israel’s government and Hamas reacted with outrage to Khan's announcement last month.

Netanyahu denounced the warrant applications against him and Gallant as a “moral outrage of historic proportions”.

Gallant accused the prosecutor of drawing a “despicable” parallel between Israel and Hamas and attempting to deny his country’s right to self-defense.

Hamas — which is proscribed as a terrorist organization by Israel, the US and other countries — demanded the cancellation of the warrant applications for its leaders and denounced what it called Khan's attempts “to equate the victim with the executioner".

If the ICC’s judges decide to issue the arrest warrants, it will be up to its 124 member states — including the UK and many other US allies — to decide whether or not to enforce them.

The White House said in a statement on Monday that while the ICC prosecutor’s warrant applications for Israeli leaders were "outrageous", it did not support sanctioning the ICC.

"There are more effective ways to defend Israel, preserve US positions on the ICC, and promote international justice and accountability, and the administration stands ready to work with the Congress on those options,” it said.

Created by a UN treaty in 2002, the ICC investigates and brings to justice those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, intervening when national authorities cannot or will not prosecute.

The US — like Israel — is not a member of the ICC and does not recognize its jurisdiction, but has backed its previous prosecutions and arrest warrants not related to Israel and the Palestinians.

In 2020 under the Trump administration, the US imposed sanctions on top ICC officials, including Khan’s predecessor, after the court began investigating alleged war crimes committed by the US and others in the Afghan conflict.

The ongoing conflict in Gaza began when Hamas gunmen attacked southern Israel on 7 October, killing about 1,200 people and taking 251 others hostage, according to Israeli authorities.

At least 36,470 people have since been killed in Gaza during Israel’s military campaign to destroy Hamas, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. — BBC

June 05, 2024
21 minutes ago

No political deal on EU top jobs after leaders' meeting in Brussels

4 hours ago

White House slams 'bad faith' viral clips of Biden

20 hours ago

Trial of US soldier Gordon Black begins in Russia