Ilhan Omar’s ‘Progressive’ Foreign Policy Vision Embraces the International Criminal Court

Patrick Goodenough | February 13, 2020 | 4:32am EST
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Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.  (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)
Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

( – Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) on Wednesday launched her vision for a “progressive” foreign policy, a package of seven bills including one seeking to reverse four consecutive administrations’ positions on the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“America has led the world in standing up for human rights before,” Omar said in a statement. “It’s time for us to seize the mantle of leadership again.”

“No matter who is president, Congress has a crucial constitutional duty when it comes to matters of foreign affairs. As in our domestic policy, the U.S. has far too often not matched our ideals with our actions.”

Omar’s ICC bill calls on the U.S. Senate to ratify the Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding treaty; says the U.S. should use its clout to encourage other non-parties to join; and calls for a lifting of the State Department’s visa restrictions on ICC personnel.

Omar said U.S. “hostility towards the ICC has always been at odds with our commitment to the rule of law, accountability, and to the principle that no one is above the law.”

She conceded that the tribunal is “imperfect,” but said it was “made up of professionals who have dedicated their lives to the fight against impunity, and we should support them”

“We can also improve the court by being members of it,” Omar added.

(That sentiment echoed the Obama administration’s rationale for overturning its predecessor’s policy on shunning the U.N. Human Rights Council – a policy reinstated by the Trump administration in mid-2018. Claims that U.S. engagement improved the HRC have been strongly disputed.)

The ICC was created two decades ago to deal with cases of genocide, crimes against humanity and other violations. The initiative prompted concern in Washington that U.S. citizens, especially military personnel serving abroad, could be targeted in politically-motivated cases.

Although President Clinton signed the Rome Statute in his last weeks in office, he did not seek Senate ratification. Moreover, he recommended that President George W. Bush also not do so until concerns had been put to rest.

Bush withdrew the U.S. signature in 2002, and his administration negotiated more than 100 individual agreements with nations which undertook not to surrender American citizens to the ICC without U.S. consent.

The Obama administration was more sympathetic towards the ICC in principle, and in its 2010 National Security Strategy it expressed support for “the ICC’s prosecution of those cases that advance U.S. interests and values, consistent with the requirements of U.S. law.”

But it took no steps to sign the Rome Statute, push for its ratification, and join the ICC.

President Trump’s administration made clear its views on the ICC in a Sept. 2018 speech by then-National Security Advisor John Bolton. The administration would neither cooperate with, provide assistance to, nor join the ICC, he said, but would let it “die on its own.”

The International Criminal Court in The Hague.  (Photo by Michel Porro/Getty Images)
The International Criminal Court in The Hague. (Photo by Michel Porro/Getty Images)

Last March Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a decision to bar entry to anyone “directly responsible for any ICC investigation of U.S. personnel,” and weeks later revoked ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s visa.

Omar on Wednesday called the visa denial “an unacceptable escalation of U.S. hostility toward the ICC.”

‘The long-term consequences of U.S. militarism’

The Minnesota freshman, who is actively supporting Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, calls her seven-bill package “Pathway to PEACE (Progressive, Equitable, and Constructive Engagement).”

Her statement says the plan “takes into account the experiences of people directly affected by conflict and the long-term consequences of U.S. militarism, acknowledges the damage done when we fail to live up to international human rights standards and is sincere about our values regardless of short-term political convenience.”

“As a child, I survived war,” said the Somalia-born Omar, who moved to the U.S. as a child refugee in the early 1990s. “I have firsthand experience with how destructive war can be – and I see how our continuous involvement in foreign conflicts is not making our country any safer. It is costing lives, destroying future hopes and dreams, and damaging our reputation in the world.”

Another of Omar’s proposed bills would bring under congressional oversight the imposition or extension of sanctions under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA). Around 30 national emergencies invoking IEEPA are currently in force, the oldest of which dates back to the Iranian revolution in 1979.

A third measure would require the U.S. to take the lead in creating a binding global agreement on migration, building on the U.N.’s global compact on migration (which Trump rejected in 2017, citing sovereignty concerns.)

A fourth bill would divert $5 billion from defense spending to a “global peace-building fund,” while a fifth sets human rights criteria for U.S. security aid and arms sales to foreign countries.

Omar’s sixth proposed measure aims to help disadvantaged youth around the world obtain education and employment skills.

The seventh bill calls for the U.S. to become a party to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The CRC was signed by Clinton in 1995, but no president has submitted it to the Senate for ratification. Critics say the treaty would infringe on domestic policymaking on family issues and hamper efforts by the U.S. government to protect individual rights.


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