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Govt ‘concerned’ over US sanctions on ICC duo

by Lesotho Times
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’Marafaele Mohloboli

THE government has expressed concern over the United States’ decision to impose sanctions on a Lesotho citizen, Phakiso Mochochoko, in connection with his work at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Mr Mochochoko is the ICC’s director of jurisdiction in its complementary and cooperation division. He was slapped with sanctions last week in connection with his work in investigating alleged war crimes by US forces in Afghanistan. He was sanctioned alongside the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda.

Announcing the sanctions on 2 September 2020, US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said the ICC “continues to target Americans” and that Ms Bensouda and Mr Mochochoko were “materially assisting” that alleged effort.

The US Treasury Department also issued a statement saying Ms Bensouda and Mr Mochochoko had been added to its  list of “specially designated nationals”, grouping them alongside terrorists and narcotics traffickers. Individuals on the list have their assets in the US blocked and American citizens are prohibited from having any dealings with them.

The Hague-based ICC is currently investigating whether US forces committed war crimes in Afghanistan. However, the US is not an ICC member and insists that the court cannot investigate its citizens or states that are not members of the ICC.

The sanctions against the duo follow threats in March this year by Mr Pompeo to impose punitive measures on ICC officials and their family members who might wish to travel to the US. This after the ICC had announced that it would probe alleged crimes by US forces in Afghanistan.

The US also opposes ICC scrutiny of potential Israeli crimes against Palestinians as part of a wider investigation that also looks at abuses carried out by Palestinian security forces.

The move to impose sanctions on Mr Mochochoko has not gone down well with the Lesotho government which has called for an “amicable solution to the issue”.

In a statement this week, the Lesotho government said, “the ostensible reason for this (sanctions) action is that the two, Ms Bensouda and Mr Mochochoko, are investigating US citizens suspected of committing crimes under the Rome Statute which deals with crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression”.

“In March 2020, the ICC authorised an investigation into possible war crimes in Afghanistan, including those that may have been committed by US military and the (Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) which could lead to the indictment of US military and intelligence personnel.

“As a state party to the Rome Statute, the Kingdom of Lesotho is fully committed to justice and the rule of law at the international level. In this context Lesotho will support all peaceful efforts at the multilateral fora aimed at finding a lasting solution to this problem.

“Moreover, the government of Lesotho has initiated bilateral consultations with the government of the United States of America intended to secure an amicable solution to this issue.”

The ICC has condemned the sanctions on Ms Bensouda and Mr Mochochoko, saying they “are another attempt to interfere with the Court’s judicial and prosecutorial independence and crucial work to address grave crimes of concern to the international community”.

The European Union (EU) has described the US move as “unacceptable and unprecedented” and urged the US government to reverse the sanctions.

“The sanctions announced by the United States administration … are unacceptable and unprecedented measures that attempt to obstruct the Court’s investigations and judicial proceedings,” the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement last week.

Over the weekend, Mr Mochochoko said he was unfazed by the sanctions. He said they would not distract him from doing his job.

“The sanctions have been imposed on me in my capacity as a civil servant of the ICC,” Mr Mochochoko said.

“These sanctions are an affront to international criminal justice and the quest to end impunity. I am an international civil servant working to advance the mandate of the ICC. It is a very unfortunate and disturbing development that civil servants and their families can be threatened for doing their work.

“They (sanctions) shall however, not deter the ICC from carrying out its mandate. Nor shall they affect my personal commitment to contributing to the achievement of the ICC mandate of fighting impunity for the world’s gravest crimes and providing much needed justice to victims of these crimes.

“No amount of threats or intimidation will detract the ICC and its committed professional staff from ensuring justice for victims of heinous crimes irrespective of who commits such crimes,” said Mr Mochochoko.

He said although the US was not a member of the ICC, the court’s founding statue allowed it “to investigate non-state party citizens if they commit crimes on the territory of a state party”.

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