The International Criminal Court (ICC) has rejected a decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to authorize sanctions against any official investigating American troops over alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.
The court expressed "profound regret" over Trump's announcement in a statement on June 11.
The ICC called Trump's moves an "unacceptable attempt to interfere with the rule of law and the court's judicial proceedings."
The Hague-based court said the moves come "with the declared aim of influencing the actions of ICC officials in the context of the court's independent and objective investigations and impartial judicial proceedings."
It also represents an attack against the interests of victims of atrocities for whom the court is the last hope for justice, the court said.
Trump issued an executive order earlier authorizing economic sanctions and travel restrictions against employees of the ICC who are directly involved in investigating U.S. troops and intelligence officials for possible war crimes in Afghanistan.
After Trump signed the order, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington would not allow Americans to be threatened by "a kangaroo court."
Attorney General William Barr accused "foreign powers like Russia" of manipulating the court "in pursuit of their own agenda."
The United States is among dozens of countries that are not parties to the Rome treaty that established the ICC in 2002 to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in areas where perpetrators might not otherwise face justice.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell voiced "serious concern" at Trump’s order, saying the bloc is a “steadfast” supporter of the ICC, which he called “a key factor in bringing justice and peace.”
"Very disturbed by the United States’ measures," Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok tweeted. "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."
Human rights groups also deplored the Trump administration’s move, with Andrea Prasow, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch, saying it "demonstrates contempt for the global rule of law.”
“This assault on the ICC is an effort to block victims of serious crimes whether in Afghanistan, Israel, or Palestine from seeing justice," she added.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany called the actions of the court "an attack on the rights of the American people and threaten to infringe upon our national sovereignty."
The court "has been an unaccountable and ineffective international bureaucracy that targets and threatens United States personnel as well as personnel of our allies and partners," she said in a statement.
McEnany alleged that the court continues to pursue politically motivated investigations against the U.S. and its partners, including Israel, and that "adversary nations are manipulating" the ICC.
The United States also has "strong reason to believe there is corruption and misconduct at the highest levels of the International Criminal Court office of the prosecutor, calling into question the integrity of its investigation into American service members," the White House spokeswoman said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the U.S. move, saying the ICC is “politicized and obsessed with carrying out a witch hunt against Israel and the United States as well as other democratic countries.”
Meanwhile, the court “turns a blind eye to the world's worst human rights offenders," including Iran, he told a press conference.
Trump’s order authorizes the secretary of state, in consultation with the treasury secretary, to block financial assets within U.S. jurisdiction of court personnel who directly engage in investigating, harassing, or detaining U.S. personnel.
Court officials -- and their family members -- involved in the probe can also be blocked from entering the United States.
The Trump administration already imposed travel restrictions and other sanctions against ICC employees last year.
In November 2017, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda asked judges to initiate an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Afghanistan since May 2003.
But in April 2019, an ICC pretrial chamber rejected the inquiry as not being in the "interests of justice" because it would likely fail due to lack of cooperation.
In March this year, the ICC’s Appeals Chamber ruled that the investigation could go ahead – a decision Pompeo at the time described as "reckless."
Afghanistan is a signatory of the Rome treaty but officials have expressed opposition to the investigation.
U.S. forces and other foreign troops intervened in Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States and overthrew the Taliban government.
ICC Expresses 'Profound Regret' Over Trump's Move To Sanction Afghan War Crimes Investigators