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US slaps sanctions on Lesotho national at ICC

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’Marafaele Mohloboli

LESOTHO national, Phakiso Mochochoko, is one of two senior International Criminal Court staffers who have been slapped with sanctions by the United States (US) government.

Mr Mochochoko is the ICC’s director of jurisdiction in its complementary and cooperation division. He was slapped with sanctions alongside the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, on Wednesday.

Announcing the sanctions, 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 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 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 an investigation that also looks at abuses carried out by Palestinian security forces.

The US embassy officials were not reachable for comment yesterday.

However, the ICC has condemned the sanctions.

In a statement on Wednesday, the ICC said the measures “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”.

On Thursday, the European Union (EU) described the 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.

Borrell’s sentiments were echoed by France’s Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian who also called on the US to “withdraw these measures”.

Lesotho’s Foreign Affairs and International Relations Minister Matšepo Ramakoae yesterday said the government was “aware of the matter” and they were working on it.

“A regional committee will meet on Tuesday and we have asked that Mr Mochochoko’s issue be incorporated in the agenda. We shall also be releasing a statement because Mr Mochochoko is a Lesotho national,” Ms Ramakoae said.

On his part, 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 told the Sunday Express from his base in the Netherlands yesterday.

“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”.

“It is correct that USA is not a party to the ICC but information collected by Prosecutor Bensouda and independently assessed by judges, shows that there is a reasonable basis to believe that US forces may have committed crimes in Afghanistan which is a state party to the ICC,” Mr Mochochoko said.

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