Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Friday that employees of the International Criminal Court (ICC) involved in investigating alleged human rights violations by US personnel will be barred from entering the United States.
"I'm announcing a policy of US visa restrictions on those individuals directly responsible for any ICC investigation of US personnel," Pompeo told a press conference in Washington.
President Donald Trump is "determined to protect the American and allied military and civilian personnel from living in fear of unjust prosecution for actions taken to defend our great nation," the secretary said.
"The ICC is attacking America's rule of law," Pompeo said.
The secretary added that the visa restrictions "may also be used to deter ICC efforts to pursue allied personnel, including Israelis, without allies' consent."
Washington is likewise ready to "take additional steps, including economic sanctions, if the ICC does not change its course," Pompeo said.
In late 2017, ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda asked the judges for permission to launch an investigation into possible war crimes and crimes in humanity in Afghanistan since May 1, 2003.
Bensouda told the judges there were "reasonable grounds to believe" that the Taliban, Afghan authorities and US troops committed such offenses.
The ICC judges have yet to decide on the prosecutor's request.
Founded in 1998, the ICC, based in The Hague, has 123 member-states. But that list does not include the US, Russia or China.
During a speech at the United Nations last year, Trump rejected the "legitimacy and authority" of the ICC.
Laura Seal, a spokesperson for the US Department of Defense, told EFE that the Pentagon believes an ICC inquiry with respect to US personnel in Afghanistan would be inappropriate.
One of the main challenges for the investigators is the fact that the US does not acknowledge the ICC's jurisdiction over its citizens.
A director of Human Rights Watch, which has endorsed Bensouda's prospective investigation, denounced Pompeo's statement as a "thuggish attempt to penalize investigators" at the ICC.
"Taking action against those who work for the ICC sends a clear message to torturers and murderers alike: Their crimes may continue unchecked," Andrea Prasow said.