John Bolton says US should not co-operate with ‘illegitimate’ ICC

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Former American government official says ‘nothing will happen’ after the court issues an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin

Former US national security adviser John Bolton said the International Criminal Court lacks jurisdiction. Reuters
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Laura O’Callaghan


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Mar 20, 2023

The US should not co-operate with the “illegitimate” International Criminal Court, former national security John Bolton has said in a stinging rebuke of the body as prosecutors began to gather in London.

Mr Bolton, 74, made the comments during a visit to London on Monday as justice ministers from around the world gathered in the city to how they can support the ICC in holding war criminals to account for atrocities in Ukraine.

Karim Khan, the ICC’s chief prosecutor, warned the court would not hesitate to take action against possible war crimes in Ukraine as he issued a call for more funding for investigations.

Mr Bolton, who served as US ambassador to the UN in George W Bush’s administration and national security adviser to Donald Trump, said the multilateral institution had no jurisdiction.


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“I believe, as I have for many years, [that] the International Criminal Court is fundamentally illegitimate,” he told Sky News. “It’s not something the United States should co-operate with.”

While Mr Putin’s actions against the Ukrainian people cannot be excused, it is not the ICC’s place to prosecute him for alleged crimes that had happened during the conflict, he said.

Ukraine or “a free Russia” would be better placed to try the Russian leader on war crimes charges, Mr Bolton said.

“The International Criminal Court is illegitimate because it is an exercise of governmental power in a vacuum, without any constitutional framework or restraint. And it’s a very dangerous institution,” Mr Bolton said.

The ICC has issued an arrest warrant for President Vladimir Putin over alleged war crimes in Ukraine. EPA
The ICC has issued an arrest warrant for President Vladimir Putin over alleged war crimes in Ukraine. EPA

“I think the conduct of the International Criminal Court is potentially threatening at this point to a diplomatic solution in Ukraine.”

ICC judges issued arrest warrants for President Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, Russian commissioner for children’s rights, on war crimes charges of illegally deporting Ukrainian children following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Mr Bolton dismissed the warrant for Mr Putin’s arrest and said “nothing will happen”.

Justice ministers from more than 40 countries gathered at Lancaster House, on the edge of St James’s Park, on Monday morning to discuss building support for the ICC as it probes possible war crimes in Ukraine.

Britain pledged £1 million ($1.2m) this year for the court, based in The Hague in the Netherlands.

An additional package of about £400,000 was put forward by London to pay for witnesses and victims of crimes to receive psychological support, and also equip the ICC with British expertise.

Other countries are tipped to commit to render financial and practical assistance.

UK Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Minister Dominic Raab is hosting the high-level talks.

“We are gathering in London today, united by one cause, to hold war criminals to account for the atrocities committed in Ukraine during this unjust, unprovoked and unlawful invasion,” he said.

“The UK, alongside the international community, will continue to provide the International Criminal Court with the funding, people and expertise to ensure justice is served.”

Ukraine’s Minister of Justice Denys Maliuska and the country’s top prosecutor Andriy Kostin would be attending.

UK Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary Dominic Raab, left, greets the ICC's chief prosecutor Karim Khan at Lancaster House in London. Photo: Yui Mok
UK Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary Dominic Raab, left, greets the ICC’s chief prosecutor Karim Khan at Lancaster House in London. Photo: Yui Mok

Mr Khan, who is also on the guest list, last December called on the international community to double down on its support for the court, which requires vast amounts of financial and technical resources to conduct its investigations.

Speaking before the conference opened, Mr Khan said the ICC had a standard that it had to meet in terms of criminal prosecutions.

“We can’t do everything at once,” he told BBC radio. “We don’t have unlimited resources.”

However, if reliable evidence has been gathered and “there’s no exonerating evidence that mitigates or reduces the criminal responsibility, we won’t hesitate to act”, he said.


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