House Republicans push sanctions on ICC over war crimes charges against Israel

    GOP lawmakers advance legislation to penalize the International Criminal Court, despite opposition from the White House and Democratic leaders.

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    House Republicans have advanced legislation to sanction the International Criminal Court (ICC) after its top prosecutor recommended war crimes charges against Israeli leaders amid their ongoing conflict with Hamas. The House Rules Committee voted 9-3 along strict partisan lines to send the bill to the House floor, where it is expected to pass before moving to the Senate, which is controlled by Democratic leaders likely to ignore the measure.

    The effort to sanction the ICC began as a bipartisan initiative, reflecting Washington’s support for Israel following the October 7 Hamas attacks. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) worked with Democratic counterparts and the White House to craft a bill that could become law and serve as a deterrent while ICC judges consider issuing warrants. However, the White House’s announcement last week that it opposes sanctioning the ICC derailed bipartisan efforts.

    Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stated, “We fundamentally reject the ICC prosecutor’s application for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders. Sanctions on the ICC, however, we do not believe is an effective or an appropriate path forward.”

    Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) introduced the bill following reports that the ICC was considering charges against Israeli leaders for their conduct in the Hamas conflict. Supported by over 60 Republican co-sponsors, the bill seeks to impose sanctions on ICC officials involved in investigating, arresting, detaining, or prosecuting U.S. or allied individuals. These sanctions include blocking property transactions, deeming individuals inadmissible to the U.S., and revoking visas.

    The legislation grants the president the authority to lift sanctions if the ICC ceases investigations into protected individuals or permanently ends such efforts. Despite the White House’s opposition, the House is likely to pass the bill with significant Republican support and backing from some pro-Israel Democrats.

    The Biden administration has voiced strong opposition to the ICC prosecutor’s application for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders but does not support sanctioning the ICC. Instead, it advocates for alternative measures to support Israel and uphold international justice. The White House issued a statement saying, “There are more effective ways to defend Israel, preserve U.S. positions on the ICC, and promote international justice and accountability, and the Administration stands ready to work with the Congress on those options.”

    The United States has never ratified the ICC’s charter, does not believe Americans are subject to its jurisdiction, and provides no funding for its operations. This stance complicates the U.S. position on the ICC’s investigations into alleged war crimes by both Israeli and Hamas leaders. The administration’s support for the ICC’s arrest warrants against Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes in Ukraine, despite neither Russia nor Ukraine being parties to the Rome Statute, contrasts with its opposition to actions against Israeli leaders.

    Dylan Williams, vice president of government affairs at the Center for International Policy, warned that the bill’s broad language could sanction ICC officials or U.S. allies who assist in investigating Hamas leaders. “Lawmakers should unequivocally oppose the new Republican bill to sanction the International Criminal Court,” Williams stated. “Threatening and penalizing legitimate international institutions, their staff, or members is what dictators and pariah states do, not democracies seeking to uphold the rule of law.”

    Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the top Democrat on the Rules Committee, criticized the bill during the panel’s hearing. “The International Criminal Court is an important institution, and those who care about human rights would certainly agree with that assessment. And I think that it is not in America’s moral or strategic interest to attack the court for attempting to do its job.”

    The House is expected to pass the sanctions bill with strong Republican support and some pro-Israel Democratic backing. However, the Senate, controlled by Democratic leaders, is likely to block the measure. This political divide underscores the broader implications for U.S. foreign policy and international justice.

     As the House prepares to vote, the broader implications for U.S. foreign policy, international justice, and the protection of human rights remain at the forefront. Simply put, “This is a bad bill,” said Rep. Jim McGovern.

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