The US has dared the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate its role in allegations of war crimes in Afghanistan. Washington’s threat to the ICC wasn’t hollow.

US President Donald Trump’s administration announced a set of punitive sanctions not, wait for it, against the entire ICC institution but rather against individuals appointed by the ICC to carry out the war crimes probe against the US and its allies.

Now, this is truly bizarre. First and foremost, the officials are merely employees of the ICC tasked to perform the duties for which they are hired. The interpretation of the US sanctions simply means a direct threat to the investigators in question to back off or suffer the dire consequences in their personal capacity.

Clearly, the intended outcome by the US is that no staff member of the ICC or any external service provider should exhibit an appetite to take up the assignment. It comes at a great cost to one’s career and livelihood. So harsh is the threat of US sanctions on ICC staffers that the sanctions have been extended to family members of any investigator. They include visa restrictions, meaning being barred from international travel. To say this is serious is an understatement. The Trump administration never ceases to amaze.

The ICC as a concept was thought through in the early 1900s. It was however given real life at the height of the League of Nations post World War One in 1937. This is when it concluded its first convention stipulating the establishment of a permanent international court to try acts of international terrorism.

Fast-forward, in modern times the ICC has been accused of bias against African leaders accused of crimes against humanity who have been detained, tried and sentenced at The Hague. The US is not a signatory to the Geneva Convention statute on the establishment of the ICC and thus regards itself as immune to probe or prosecution by the body. Through its silence on the prosecutorial history of the ICC, the US has given the impression that silence means concern. Until, of course, the ICC announced recently that it will tackle the seemingly untouchable superpower.

This is a real poser for the ICC. The whole world, particularly in Africa, will be watching with keen interest as to whether the ICC will carry out its duties without fear or favour in line with the organisation’s founding ethos.  The truth is President Trump hardly ever makes empty threats. Hence we are watching this space with great interest.

Responding to the US’ imposition of sanctions on its personnel, the ICC accused Washington of issuing threats and coercive actions. It reiterated that the court remains independent and its judicial investigations are objective and impartial.  ICC president Chile Eboe-Osuji boldly proclaimed that the ICC will not shy away from its role of upholding justice.

But, it seems like he has his work cut out. The US Attorney-General, William Barr, refers to the ICC as a “little more than a political tool employed by unaccountable international elites”. Flanked by the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security advisor Robert O’Brien and Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Barr added: “The US has reason to doubt the honesty of the ICC. The department of justice has received substantial credible information that raises serious concerns about a long history of financial corruption and malfeasance at the highest levels of the office of the prosecutor.”

Now, you don’t need to be a genius to read into threats contained in such a loaded statement. The US being the world’s do-as-I-please, and with no consequences, means the ICC is truly up against it. And, traditionally, with the US sanctions, once targeted everybody seems to desert you at once. That’s the reality of the influence of the world’s only remaining superpower in the post-Cold War era.

The US is a law unto itself. For instance, its unilateral invasion of Iraq in 2003 in pursuit of Saddam Hussein’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction remains unpunished. Quite literally, Washington got away with murder. Yet, in a shrinking world that is inter-dependent and evidently one global village, no country can bully others with impunity forever.

The US needs to respect international treaties and conventions in order to preserve peace and stability in the world.  We learned from the First World War from 1914-1918 and later the Second World War from 1939-1945 that peace is better for humanity than the antics of powerful bullies who are bent on being the rulers of the world.

Cooperation is by far a better and greater choice than the belligerence of powerful self-centered leaders with a penchant for destruction of international institutions.