WASHINGTON — The Biden administration today announced the rescission of President Trump’s executive order imposing sanctions on officials of the International Criminal Court. The Trump sanctions regime prohibited anyone from assisting the ICC in investigating and prosecuting genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, under the threat of severe civil and criminal penalties.
In January, three distinguished law faculty and an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, represented by the ACLU and Covington & Burling, sued the Trump administration because the sanctions regime violates their First Amendment rights to communicate with and support the ICC. Each had previously provided substantial assistance to the ICC for investigations and prosecutions of war crimes and other serious human rights violations. Last month, they filed a motion for preliminary injunction seeking an order blocking enforcement of the sanctions regime. President Biden’s order revoking the Trump sanctions comes a week before his administration was due to defend the sanctions in this case.
“We are pleased President Biden has finally rescinded President Trump’s unconstitutional sanctions order. This is a victory for our clients and all those who support the ICC’s pursuit of justice,” said Scarlet Kim, staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project. “The unprecedented sanctions on the ICC were yet another terrible legacy of the Trump administration, which made clear its disregard for human rights and the rule of law.”
The sanctions have had devastating consequences for the ACLU’s clients.
“The sanctions regime ground my work to a halt by preventing me from providing legal advice and assistance for ICC investigations and prosecutions of crimes against humanity around the world,” said Leila N. Sadat, special adviser on crimes against humanity to the prosecutor of the ICC and plaintiff in the case. “This decision by the Biden administration opens the door for me and my co-plaintiffs to be able to return to our essential human rights work.”
K. Alexa Koenig, who specializes in the use of emerging technologies to document human rights atrocities in conflict zones, also had to put her work on hold as a result of the sanctions. Koenig and Naomi Roht-Arriaza, a law professor who has worked alongside Latin American civil society groups investigating the role of corruption at the highest levels of government in human rights atrocities, are additional plaintiffs in the case. Professor Roht-Arriaza was forced to abandon her critical research and advocacy due to the sanctions regime.
Steven Watt, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Human Rights Program, represents six survivors and victims of forced disappearance, torture, and other war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by U.S. military and CIA personnel in Afghanistan. Watt had provided documented evidence of these crimes to the ICC prosecutor’s office to support its investigation in Afghanistan but the sanctions stopped him from providing further evidence and from representing his clients before the ICC.
More information about the ACLU clients’ lawsuit challenging the sanctions, Sadat v. Trump, is here: https://www.aclu.org/cases/sadat-v-trump-challenge-trumps-international-criminal-courts-sanctions-regime