Cuba Religious Freedom in the Eyes of the U.S. State Department 

On May 29, 2018, the U.S. Department of State released its 2017 International Religious Freedom Report, which is required by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (“the Act”) and which details the status of religious freedom in nearly 200 foreign countries and describes U.S. actions and policies in support of religious freedom worldwide.[1]

The State Department says its “guiding principle [in preparing this report] is to ensure that all relevant information is presented as objectively, thoroughly, and fairly as possible. Motivations and accuracy of sources vary, however, and the Department of State is not in a position to verify independently all information contained in the reports. To the extent possible, the reports use multiple sources to increase comprehensiveness and reduce potential for bias.”

At the report’s release, introductory remarks were made by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (a former Republican U.S. Representative from Kansas and Director of the CIA), followed by a briefing for journalists by Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback (a former Republican U.S. Senator and Governor of the State of Kansas). After reviewing these comments, the Report’s discussion of Cuba religious freedom will be covered.

Secretary Pompeo’s Introduction[2]

“This report is a testament to the United States’ historic role in preserving and advocating for religious freedom around the world. Religious freedom is in the American bloodstream. It’s what brought the pilgrims here from England. Our founders understood it as our first freedom. That is why they articulated it so clearly in the First Amendment. As James Madison wrote years before he was president or secretary of state, ‘conscience is the most sacred of all property.’ Religious freedom was vital to America’s beginning. Defending it is critical to our future.”

“Religious freedom is not only ours. It is a right belonging to every individual on the globe. President Trump stands with those who yearn for religious liberty. Our Vice President stands with them, and so do I.”

“Advancing liberty and religious freedom advances America’s interests. Where fundamental freedoms of religion, expression, press, and peaceful assembly are under attack, we find conflict, instability, and terrorism. On the other hand, governments and societies that champion these freedoms are more secure, stable, and peaceful.”

“So for all of these reasons, protecting and promoting global respect for religious freedom is a priority of the Trump administration. As our National Security Strategy so clearly states: ‘Our Founders understood religious freedom not as the state’s creation, but as the gift of God to every person and a fundamental right for a flourishing society.’ We’re committed to promoting religious freedom around the world, both now and in the future.”

“I am pleased to announce that the United States will host the first ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom at the Department of State on July 25th and 26th of this year. I look forward to hosting my counterparts from likeminded governments, as well as representatives of international organizations, religious communities, and civil society to reaffirm our commitment to religious freedom as a universal human right. This ministerial, we expect, will break new ground. It will not just be a discussion group. It will be about action. We look forward to identifying concrete ways to push back against persecution and ensure greater respect for religious freedom for all.”

Ambassador Brownback’s Briefing[3]

The Ambassador mentioned that Eritrea, Tajikistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, North Korea  and Iran were “Countries of Particular Concer” and that Pakistan, Russia and Burma also raised serious issues.

Report’s Executive Summary: Cuba Religious Freedom

“The constitution provides for freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination based on religion. The government and the Communist Party, through the Communist Party’s Office of Religious Affairs (ORA), continued to control most aspects of religious life. Observers noted the government continued to use threats, travel restrictions, detentions, and violence against some religious leaders and their followers. In May the government officially informed the Assemblies of God (AG) it would not proceed with confiscation orders against 2,000 AG churches or demolish a church in Santiago under zoning laws passed in 2015; however, it did not provide written guarantees to this effect. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) [4] noted 325 violations of freedom of religion or belief during the year. CSW reported a “significant drop” in the reported cases of violations of religious freedom or belief in the year compared with previous years, which it attributed to the government’s verbal rescinding in May of the decree outlawing the 2,000 AG churches. The majority of CSW’s reported violations were related to government efforts to prevent members of the human rights organization Ladies in White from attending Catholic Mass, as well as government threats and harassment of members of religious groups advocating for greater religious and political freedom. Religious groups reported a continued increase in the ability of their members to conduct charitable and educational projects, such as operating before and after school and community service programs, assisting with care of the elderly, and maintaining small libraries of religious materials. Some leaders from Catholic, Protestant, and minority religious groups stated the religious freedom environment had improved compared with the previous year, pointing to progress made in a pending permit to build a permanent church structure, while some evangelical Christian groups said religious freedom had not improved for them.”” (Emphases added.)

“The Community of Sant’Egidio organized the Paths of Peace, an interreligious meeting, in Havana on October 4 and 5. Leaders of different religions and more than 500 participants attended the meeting, which focused on the importance of welcoming and integrating migrants regardless of their religious affiliation or nonaffiliation.”

“U.S. embassy officials met with ORA officials to discuss the registration process for religious organizations and encourage equal treatment in allowing nonregistered groups to practice their religion. Embassy officials also met with the head of the Council of Cuban Churches (CCC), a government-recognized organization with close ties to the government and comprising most Protestant groups, to discuss its operations and programs. The embassy met regularly with Catholic Church authorities and Jewish community representatives concerning the state of religious, economic, and political activities. Embassy officials also met with representatives from Muslim, Jehovah’s Witness, Santeria, and various Protestant communities. The embassy remained in close contact with religious groups, including facilitating exchanges between visiting religious delegations and religious groups in the country. In social media and other public statements, the U.S. government continued to call upon the government to respect the fundamental freedoms of its citizens, including the freedom of religion.”

The Report’s Comments About Cuban Government Practices[5]

Religious organizations and human rights groups stated the government continued to threaten, detain, and use violence against outspoken religious figures, especially those advocating for human rights and religious freedom or collaborating with independent human rights groups. Security forces took measures, including detentions sometimes accompanied by violence, which inhibited the ability of members of the protest group Ladies in White to attend Catholic Mass. Some members of independent evangelical Christian churches said government authorities closely monitored and detained, for unspecified periods of time, their leadership and family members. Representatives of the Patmos Institute, a religious freedom advocacy organization, said authorities also targeted Christians affiliated with the institute, including through threats, detentions, and expulsions from school and work. One leader, who stated the situation had improved from the previous year, cited the approved permit to build the first new church built in the country since 1959.”

“Some high level Catholic, Protestant, and minority religious leaders stated the religious freedom environment had improved compared with the previous year; however, some evangelical Christian groups said religious freedom had not improved for their groups. CSW’s annual report stated church leaders from all denominations reported consistent harassment and surveillance from state security and officials responsible for religious affairs. It also stated the government continued to severely restrict public religious events. The CSW report counted 325 violations during the year, compared with 2,380 violations in 2016 and over 2,300 violations in 2015. In its report CSW stated the “significant drop” in the reported cases of violations of religious freedom or belief in the year, compared with previous years, was due to the government’s verbal rescinding in May of a decree that had outlawed 2,000 AG churches. One leader, who stated the situation had improved from the previous year, cited the approved permit to build a new Catholic church in Pinar del Rio Province – the first new church built in the country since 1959.” (Emphases added.)

“According to CSW, human rights activist Jorge Luis Garcia Perez reported state security agents raided the home of Misael Diaz Paseiro on October 22 and confiscated two Bibles, a number of crucifixes and five rosaries. On November 4, police reportedly beat Diaz, tore his rosaries from his neck, and said ‘in addition to being a counterrevolutionary, you are also a Christian. You should look at us – we are revolutionaries and we don’t believe in your god. Our god is Fidel Castro.’ Diaz was imprisoned on November 22 and reportedly denied visits from a priest and access to a Bible. The Christian Post reported the government charged Diaz with ‘pre-criminal dangerousness’ and sentenced him to 3.5 years in prison.” (Emphasis added.)

“Reverend Juan Carlos Nunez Velazquez, an Apostolic Movement leader, lost an appeal on February 1 to overturn his sentence of one year under house arrest. Police arrested Nunez in 2016 for disturbing the peace because he failed to comply with police orders to reduce the size and volume of the speakers he used during Sunday sermons at his open-air church.”

“According to CSW, in February authorities twice interrogated an Eastern Baptist Convention pastor about his work, members of his congregation, and the activities of his church. The authorities also threatened to confiscate the property; however, at year’s end, the government had taken no action against the church.” (Emphasis added.)

“According to CSW and news sources, on April 27, airport authorities detained and interrogated Felix Yuniel Llerena Lopez, a 20-year-old student and evangelical Christian and religious freedom activist, upon his return to the country. The authorities informed Llerena Lopez he was being investigated for planning terrorist acts, possessing pornographic materials, and meeting with “terrorist” Cuban exiles opposed to the government. The authorities briefly detained Lopez’s mother, expelled Llerena Lopez from the university where he was a part-time student, and banned him from international travel. On October 2, authorities informed Llerena Lopez he would not be charged with any crimes and rescinded his travel ban; however, the university had not reinstated him at year’s end. CSW quoted Llerena Lopez as saying, ‘After five months of opposition, arrests, being expelled from university, intimidation, threats, and a false accusation, today I can say that solidarity and the dignity of not giving up on principles … triumphed.’” (Emphases added.)

“According to CSW, on November 6, police arrested and briefly detained Leonardo Rodriguez Alonso, a local Patmos coordinator in Santa Clara, without charges. CSW sources said on April 11, Rodriguez’s daughter, Dalila Rodriguez Gonzalez, was fired from her position as a university professor for not being ‘a good influence on students’ and because she ‘could damage their formation.’  According to Rodriguez Alonso, his daughter’s dismissal was revenge for his religious freedom advocacy.” (Emphasis added.)

“According to CSW, police physically assaulted members of the Ladies in White, a rights advocacy organization, while they were en route to attend religious ceremonies. On February 19, CSW reported that a police officer punched in the face Ladies in White member Magda Onelvis Mendoza Diaz as she was going to church. On August 13, a police officer in Havana reportedly choked Berta Soler Fernandez, and officers detained her for 24 hours; they subsequently released her without charge.” (Emphases added.)

“According to representatives of several religious organizations that had unsuccessfully sought legal recognition, the government continued to interpret the law on associations as a means for the MOJ to deny the registration of certain religious groups. If the MOJ decided a group was duplicating the activities of another, it denied recognition. In some cases, the MOJ delayed the request for registration or cited changing laws as a reason why a request had not been approved.”

“According to the members of Protestant denominations, some groups were still able to register only a small percentage of ‘house churches’ in private homes; however, most unregistered house churches continued to operate with little or no government interference. A number of religious groups, including the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons, continued to await a decision from the MOJ on pending applications for official recognition, some dating as far back as 1994. These groups said the authorities permitted them to conduct religious activities, hold meetings, receive foreign visitors, make substantial renovations to their facilities, and send representatives abroad. They also said state security continued to monitor their movements, telephone calls, visitors, and religious meetings.”

“According to CSW sources, on September 14, police disrupted an interdenominational Christian service in Santiago; local authorities had previously approved the service. Local authorities said the service was ‘counterrevolutionary’ and threatened to imprison event organizer Pastor Ernesto Lora if he organized a similar event in the future.” (Emphasis added.)

“According to CSW, on April 3, authorities in Las Tunas fined Reverend Mario Travieso of the Apostolic Church 1,500 pesos ($1,500) for building a wall next to his church that the authorities considered too high even though he had received written approval from his neighbors. Prior to imposing the fine, authorities had inspected his house in response to a noise complaint; they told him not to pray or sing with neighboring families.” (Emphasis added.)

“Many religious leaders continued to state they refrained from speaking about overtly political topics. Some said they feared criticizing the government could lead to denials of permits from the ORA, dismantling of religious buildings, or other measures that could limit the growth of their religious groups. The nongovernmental organization Outreach Aid to the Americas (OAA) reported some instances in which evangelical Christians not supporting Communist Party political activities experienced harassment and threats from government employers and educators.”

“According to the OAA, the Central University in Santa Clara expelled an 18-year-old student after he began attending Christian group meetings at the university. The OAA said university officials told the student he was expelled because his beliefs ‘were not compatible with the philosophy taught at the university.’”

“The OAA said from October 2016 to April 2017, the supervisors of an employee in a government-run company in Taguasco reportedly threatened the employee with termination after learning he had joined a Christian church in 2016. The man reported his harassment and threats to his pastor in April.”

The OAA stated in April school administrators had threatened to expel a 17-year-old student “enrolled in a pre-university course at the Ernesto Che Guevara Institute of Santa Clara if he continued to participate in Christian group meetings.”

“In May the government informed the Assemblies of God (AG) it would not proceed with confiscation orders against 2,000 AG churches or demolish a church in Santiago under zoning laws passed in 2015; however, it did not provide written guarantees to this effect.”

“Many religious groups continued to use private homes as house churches to work around restrictions on constructing new buildings. Protestant leaders’ estimates of the total number of house churches for Protestant groups varied significantly, from fewer than 2,000 to as many as 10,000. Religious groups said authorities approved many applications within two to three years from the date of the application, but either did not respond to or denied other applications arbitrarily.”

“Representatives from both the Catholic Church and the CCC [Cuban Council of Churches] said they continued to conduct religious services in prisons and detention centers in some provinces. The Protestant seminary in Matanzas and churches in Pinar del Rio continued to train chaplains and laypersons to provide religious counseling for prison inmates and to provide support for their families. The CCC continued to operate a training facility it opened in 2016, at which it offered courses on chaplain work as well as courses on caring for sacred religious objects, gender and women’s issues, and seminars for international students.”

“Representatives of religious groups reported their leaders continued to travel abroad generally unimpeded to participate in exchanges between local and international faith-based communities.”

“The majority of religious groups continued to report improvement in their ability to attract new members without government interference, and a reduction in interference from the government in conducting their services. According to local observers, in September authorities prohibited a Baptist journalist from traveling with an interfaith group of religious and civil society activists and journalists to a human rights training seminar in Brazil. The journalist’s employer reportedly accused the journalist of selling secret information and of committing treason. Several independent journalists and bloggers reported an increase in government harassment and prohibitions of travel of individuals who questioned government policies.”

“Some religious leaders reported obstacles preventing them from importing religious materials and donated goods, including bureaucratic challenges and arbitrary restrictions such as inconsistent rules on computers and electronic devices. Several groups said they could import large quantities of Bibles, books, clothing, and other donated goods. The Catholic Church and several Protestant religious group representatives said they continued to maintain small libraries, print periodicals and other information, and operate their own websites with little or no formal censorship. The Catholic Church continued to publish periodicals and hold regular forums at the Varela Center that sometimes criticized official social and economic policies.”

“By year’s end, the government had not granted the Archbishop of Havana’s 2016 public request to allow the Catholic Church to reopen religious schools and have open access to broadcast on television and radio. The ORA authorized the CCC to host a monthly radio broadcast, which allowed the council’s messages to be heard throughout the country. No other churches had access to media, which are all state-owned. Several religious leaders continued to protest the government’s restriction on broadcasting religious services over the radio or on television.”

“The ORA stated in August the law on associations was being revised, although it did not provide a timeline for when the revisions would be finalized, nor what the changes would be. Members of the AG continued to request the government pass reforms to the law that would validate and legalize the property the church owned, as well as allow the church to build new temples.”

“Several religious leaders said the ORA continued to grant new permits to repair or restore existing buildings, allowing the expansion of some structures and in some cases the construction of essentially new buildings on the foundations of the old. In August an ORA source stated the ORA had granted permission in 2015 for the Catholic Church to build an entirely new church on newly acquired ground in Pinar del Rio Province. The media reported in 2017 the construction was almost complete. Some religious leaders stated the government regularly granted permits to buy properties to be used as house churches, including in some cases when the titleholder to the property did not plan to live there. Other religious groups stated securing permission for the purchase or construction of new buildings remained difficult, if not impossible.”

T”he government continued to prevent religious groups from establishing accredited schools but did not interfere with the efforts of some religious groups to operate seminaries, interfaith training centers, before- and after-school programs, eldercare programs, weekend retreats, workshops for primary and secondary students, and higher education programs. The Catholic Church continued to offer coursework leading to a bachelor’s and master’s degree through foreign partners. Several Protestant communities continued to offer bachelor’s or master’s degrees in theology, the humanities, and related subjects via distance learning; however the government did not recognize any of these degrees.”

“Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders continued to state they found the requirements for university admission and the course of study incompatible with the group’s beliefs since their religion prohibited them from political involvement. As a result, Jehovah’s Witnesses remained ineligible for professional careers in the fields of law, medicine, among others.”

“Church leaders reported the government continued an unofficial practice of allowing civilian public service to substitute for mandatory military service for those who objected on religious grounds. Church leaders submitted official letters to a military committee, which decided whether to grant these exemptions. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-day Adventist leaders stated their members generally were permitted to perform social service in lieu of military service.”

“Some religious leaders said the government continued to restrict their ability to receive donations from overseas. They cited a measure that prohibited churches and religious groups from using individuals’ bank accounts for their organizations, and required existing individual accounts used in this way to be consolidated into one per denomination or organization. Larger, better organized churches reported more success in receiving large donations, while smaller, less formal churches reported difficulties with banking procedures. According to these religious leaders, the regulations allowed the government to curb the scope and number of activities of individual churches and to single out groups that could be held accountable for withdrawing money intended for purposes not approved by the government.”

“Religious groups continued to report the government allowed them to engage in community service programs, including assisting the elderly, providing potable water to small towns, growing and selling fruits and vegetables at below-market prices, and establishing health clinics. International faith-based charitable operations such as Caritas, Sant’Egidio, and the Salvation Army maintained local offices in Havana. Caritas in particular was very involved in gathering and distributing hurricane relief items.”

“According to the Western Baptist Convention (WBC), on July 6, members of a family that occupied a Havana property owned by the WBC more than 30 years ago broke into the WBC’s new office adjacent to where the family lived. The family reportedly stole the WBC’s documents, computers, furniture, and other property and refused to return it to the WBC. The ORA took no action, despite WBC’s requests for ORA’s intervention. In 1992, a court ruled the family’s residency in the property was illegal but did not require the family to leave.”

Conclusion

The Act requires the Secretary of State to make annual designations of counties that have “engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom” as “Countries of Particular Concern,” and on December 22, 2017, then Secretary Rex Tillerson so designated these 10 countries: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, all of which in this Report are so identified.[6]

The Report’s discussion about Cuba surprisingly did not mention the recent annual report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and instead heavily relied on the annual report of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, which seems contrary to the Department’s stated desire to have multiple sources of information. Further research and a separate blog post about CSW seem necessary and then an overall evaluation of these reports about Cuba religious freedom.

=======================================

[1] U.S. State Dep’t, International Religious Freedom Report for 2017 (May 29, 2018); U.S. State Dep’t, Five things To Know About This Year’s International Religious Freedom Report Release (May 29, 2018); Secretary Pompeo To Release the 2017 International Religious Freedom Report (May 25, 2018). Earlier reports on international religious freedom by the State Department and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom are identified in the “Cuban Human Rights” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA. /

[2]  U.S. State Dep’t, Release of the 2017 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom (May 29, 2018).

[3] U.S. State Dep’t, Briefing on the Release of the 2017 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom (May 29, 2018).

[4] Christian Solidarity World claims that it it is independent of any government or political persuasion and says it has a “specialist team of advocates work on over 20 countries across Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America, to ensure everyone’s right to freedom of religion or belief is defended, protected and promoted. Our vision is a world free from religious persecution, where everyone has the right to practice their religion or belief freely.” Its main office appears to be in London with other offices in Brussels, Belgium; Edinburgh, U.K.; Washington, D.C.; Casper, WY, U.S.; and Kaduna, Nigeria. In April 2017 the U.N. granted CSW  Consultative Status allowing it to participate in certain U.N. activities. Its Founder and Chief Executive is Mervyn Thomas, a member of the World Assemblies of God Religious Freedom Commission. (See Thomas, One Church, One Prayer; Williams, Christian Solidarity Worldwide gets UN recognition after lengthy wait (April 20, 2017).)

[5] U.S. State Dep’t, International Religious Freedom Report for 2017—Cuba (May 29, 2018).

[6] Compare U.S. State Dep’t,  Designations Under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (Jan. 4, 2018)   with Cuba Religious Freedom in the Eyes of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, dwkcommentaries.com (May 28, 2018).  The six additional countries so designated by the Commission were Central African Republic, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Syria, and Vietnam.

 

 

The International Criminal Court and the Obama Administration

Barack Obama

The Obama Administration has adopted what it calls “an integrated approach to international criminal justice,” including the International Criminal Court. There are at least six points to this approach, the first three of which are specifically addressed to the ICC.[1]

First, the U.S. will not be seeking U.S. Senate consent to U.S. ratification of the Rome Statute. In January 2010, U.S. Ambassador at Large for War Crimes, Stephen Rapp, publicly stated that no U.S. president was likely to present the Rome Statute to the U.S. Senate for ratification in the “foreseeable future.” Rapp cited fears that U.S. officials would be unfairly prosecuted and the U.S.’s strong national court system as reasons it would be difficult to overcome opposition to ratification. He did not mention the virtual political impossibility in this Congress to obtaining the two-thirds (67) vote in the Senate that would be necessary for ratification.[2] In addition, in March 2011, the U.S. told the U.N. Human Rights Council at the conclusion of its Universal Periodic Review of the U.S. that the U.S. did not accept the recommendations by a number of States that the U.S. ratify the Rome Statute.[3]

Second, the U.S. Administration will not be seeking statutory changes to U.S. statutes and practices that are hostile to the ICC. This conclusion emerges by implication from the absence of any such proposed legislation and from the same political calculus just mentioned. The Obama Administration, therefore, is living with the laws on the books bolstered by a January 2010 legal opinion from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel that U.S. diplomatic or “informational” support for particular ICC investigations or prosecutions would not violate U.S. law. Other hand-me-downs of past U.S. actions hostile to the ICC are the U.S.’ 102 Bilateral Immunity Agreements or “BIA”s, whereby the other countries agreed not to turn over U.S. nationals to the ICC. The last of these was concluded in 2007. There is no indication that the U.S. will seek to rescind these agreements or to negotiate new ones.[4]

Third, the U.S. instead has been pursuing a policy of positive engagement with the ICC in various ways. Indeed, the U.S. National Security Strategy of May 2010 stated that as a matter of moral and strategic imperative the U.S. was “engaging with State Parties to the Rome Statute on issues of concern and [is] supporting the ICC’s prosecution of those cases that advance U.S. interests and values, consistent with the requirements of U.S. law.”[5]

Foremost for positive engagement is the U.S. participation as an observer at meetings of the ICC’s governing body, the Assembly of States Parties. The U.S. did so in November 2009,[6] March 2010,[7] June 2010[8] and December 2010[9] and has announced its intention to do so at the next meeting in December 2011.

In addition to observing the debates and discussion at these meetings, the U.S. has made positive contributions. The U.S. experience in foreign assistance judicial capacity-building and rule-of-law programs, Ambassador Rapp has said, could help the ICC in its “positive complementarity” efforts, i.e., its efforts to improve national judicial systems. Similarly the U.S. experience in helping victims and reconciling peace and justice demands has been offered to assist the ICC.[10] At the June 2010 Review Conference the U.S. made a written pledge to “renew its commitment to support projects to improve judicial systems around the world.” Such improvements would enable national courts to adjudicate national prosecutions of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide and thereby make ICC involvement unnecessary. The U.S. also pledged at the Review Conference to “reaffirm President Obama’s recognition . . . that we must renew our commitments and strengthen our capabilities to protect and assist civilians caught in the [Lord Resistance Army’s] wake [in Uganda], to receive those that surrender, and to support efforts to bring the LRA leadership to justice.”[11]

The June 2010 meeting was the important Review Conference that adopted an amendment to the Rome Statute with respect to the crime of aggression; this will be discussed in a future post. Immediately after the Review Conference Ambassador Rapp and State Department Legal Advisor Koh said that U.S. participation at the Review Conference “worked to protect our interest, to improve the outcome, and to bring us renewed international goodwill.” All of this reflected U.S. (a) “support for policies of accountability, international criminal justice, and ending impunity,” (b) the U.S. “policy of principled engagement with existing international institutions” and (c) ensuring that lawful uses of military force are not criminalized.[12]

At the December 2010 meeting, Ambassador Rapp emphasized three ways for the world community to help the important work of the ICC. First was protecting witnesses in cases before the ICC and in other venues from physical harm and death and from bribery attempts. Second was enforcing the ICC arrest warrants and bringing those charged to the Court to face prosecution. Third was improving national judicial systems all over the world. In this regard the U.S. endorsed the recent discussion in the Democratic Republic of the Congo about creating a “mixed chamber” of Congolese and foreign judges in its national judiciary with jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.[13]

The U.S. also is meeting with the ICC’s Prosecutor and other officials to find ways the U.S. can support current prosecutions (consistent with U.S. laws). [14]

As another means of positive engagement with the ICC,  the U.S. has continued to support the March 2005 U.N. Security Council referral of the Sudan (Darfur) situation to the ICC, and the U.S. has refused to support any effort to exercise the Council’s authority to suspend any ICC investigations or prosecutions of Sudanese officials for a 12-month period. In January 2009, Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., stated that the U.S. supports “the ICC investigation and the prosecution of war crimes in Sudan, and we see no reason for an Article 16 deferral” by the Council. Following the ICC’s issuance of an arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir, President of Sudan, in March 2009, Ambassador Rice reiterated U.S. support for the Court on Darfur and the requirement of Sudan to cooperate with the ICC. [15]

More recently, the U.S. supported the use of the ICC with respect to Libya. The previously discussed U.N. Security Council Resolution 1970 that referred the Libyan situation to the ICC Prosecutor was prepared by the U.S. and 10 other Council members.[16] During the Council’s discussion of the resolution, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice stated, “For the first time ever, the Security Council has unanimously referred an egregious human rights situation to the [ICC].”[17]

Three days after the Security Council resolution on Libya, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved a resolution deploring the situation in Libya and Colonel Gadhafi. This resolution also stated that the Senate “welcomes the unanimous vote of the United Nations Security Council on resolution 1970 referring the situation in Libya to the [ICC] . . . .”[18]

Another means of the U.S.’ positive engagement with the ICC is U.S. public diplomacy supporting the Court–publicly support the arrest and prosecution of those accused by the ICC’s Prosecutor and publicly criticizing those who seek to thwart such arrests. In any event, the U.S. has ceased its hostility and harsh rhetoric against the Court.[19]

Fourth, the U.S. will continue to offer financial support and advice to strengthen other national court systems, particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo. As previously mentioned, this policy is part of the U.S. positive engagement with the ICC, but it is also part of the broader approach to international criminal justice.[20]

Fifth, the U.S. will continue to support the final work of the ad hoc criminal tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia that were established by the U.N. Security Council with limited time periods of existence. The U.S. will do so by providing funding, by supporting their work diplomatically and politically and by providing evidence and concrete support to the prosecutors and defendants. In particular, the U.S. will work in the Security Council “to create a residual mechanism for the ad hoc tribunals that will safeguard their legacy and ensure against impunity for fugitives still at large” after those tribunals cease to exist.[21]

Ambassador Rapp also has noted that the era of the U.N.’s establishing ad hoc and short-lived tribunals like the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to address specific problems was over. Only the ICC would be in business for future problems. Therefore, the U.S. needed to be positively engaged with the ICC.[22]

Sixth, the U.S. has said that it must work with countries that exercise universal jurisdiction (like Spain) when there is some relation between the country and the crime. Exactly what that means is not clear. Ambassador Rapp publicly has endorsed the principle of universal jurisdiction as another way to hold human rights violators accountable. On the other hand, as will be discussed in a future post, Spain has at least two pending criminal cases against high-level U.S. officials under Spain’s statute implementing this jurisdictional principle.[23]

In conclusion, we have seen that there is substance to the claim that the Obama Administration has developed “an integrated approach to international criminal justice.” Although I personally believe the U.S. should become a full-fledged member of the ICC, I recognize the current political impossibility of that happening and believe that the U.S. is doing everything that it can to support the important work of the ICC and other courts that are tackling, in the words of Article 1 of the Rome Statute, the “most serious crimes of international concern.”


[1] Koh, The Challenges and Future of International Justice (Oct. 27, 2010), http://www.state.gov/s/l/releases/remarks/150497.htm; U.S. White House, National Security Strategy at 48 (May 2010), http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/rss_viewer/national_security_strategy.pdf. See Post: The International Criminal Court: Introduction (April 28, 2011)(overview of structure and operation of ICC).

[2] Belczyk, US war crimes ambassador says US unlikely to join ICC in ‘forseeable future,’ Jurist (Jan. 28, 2010), http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/paperchase/2010/01/us-war-crimes-ambassador-says-us.php.

[3] On January 4, 2011, the Human Rights Council’s Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of the U.S. issued its final report on the UPR of the U.S. It set forth all the recommendations of the States without endorsement by the Working Group as a whole. This report again included the specific recommendations for the U.S. to ratify the Rome Statute. (U.N. Human Rights Council, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review–United States of America ¶¶ 92.1, 92.2, 92.16, 92.25, 92.28, 92.36 (Jan. 8, 2011), http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G11/100/69/PDF/G1110069.pdf?OpenElement.) On March 8, 2011, the U.S. submitted its response to this final report. Among other things, the U.S. specifically rejected the recommendations that the U.S. ratify the Rome Statute. (U.N. Human Rights Council, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review–United States of America: Addendum: Views on conclusions and/or recommendations, voluntary commitments and replies presented by the State under review ¶¶  29, 30  (March 8, 2011), http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G11/116/28/PDF/G1111628.pdf?OpenElement.) Nevertheless, the Council adopted the Working Group report in March 2011. (U.N. Human Rights Council, HR Council Media: Human Rights Council concludes sixteenth session (March 25, 2011).)

[4] AMICC, The Obama’s Administration’s Evolving Policy Toward the International Criminal Court  (March 4, 2011), http://www.amicc.org/docs/ObamaPolicy.pdf; Congressional Research Service, International Criminal Court Cases in Africa: Status and Policy Issues (March 7, 2011), http://fpc.state.gov/documents/organization/158489.pdf. See Post: The International Criminal Court and the G. W. Bush Administration (May 12, 2011).

[5] U.S. White House, National Security Strategy at 48 (May 2010), http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/rss_viewer/national_security_strategy.pdf.

[6] AMICC, Report on the Eighth Session of the Assembly of States Parties, The Hague, November 2009 http://www.amicc.org/docs/ASP8.pdf; Stephen J. Rapp, Speech to Assembly of States Parties (Nov. 19, 2009), http://www.icc-cpi.int/iccdocs/asp_docs/ASP8/Statements/ICC-ASP-ASP8-GenDeba-USA-ENG.pdf.

[7] AMICC, Report on the Resumed Eighth Session of the Assembly of States Parties, New York, March 2010 (March 31, 2010), http://www.amicc.org/docs/ASP8r.pdf; U.S. Dep’t of State, Statement by Stephen J. Rapp . . . at the Session of the Assembly of States Parties of the [ICC], (March 23, 2010), http://usun.state.gov/briefing/statements/2010/138999.htm; U.S. Dep’t of State, Statement by Harold Honju Koh . . . at the . . . Session of the Assembly of States Parties of the [ICC], (March 23, 2010), http://usun.state.gov/briefing/statements/2010/139000.htm.

[8] AMICC, Report on the Review Conference of the International Criminal Court (June 25, 2010), http://www2.icc-cpi.int/Menus/ICC/Home; http://www.amicc.org.

[9]  U.S. Mission to the U.N., Statement of the U.S.A. by Ambassador Stephen Rapp  to the Assembly of States Parties, (Dec. 7, 2010), http://www.amicc.org/docs/ASP_Rapp_Statement_12072010.pdf;  AMICC, Report on the Ninth Session of the Assembly of States Parties, December 2010, http://www.amicc.org/docs/ASP9.pdf.

[10] AMICC, Report on the Resumed Eighth Session of the Assembly of States Parties, New York, March 2010 (March 31, 2010), http://www.amicc.org/docs/ASP8r.pdf; U.S. Dep’t of State, Statement by Stephen J. Rapp . . . at the Session of the Assembly of States Parties of the [ICC], (March 23, 2010), http://usun.state.gov/briefing/statements/2010/138999.htm; U.S. Dep’t of State, Statement by Harold Honju Koh . . . at the . . . Session of the Assembly of States Parties of the [ICC], (March 23, 2010), http://usun.state.gov/briefing/statements/2010/139000.htm.

[11] AMICC, Report on the Review Conference of the International Criminal Court (June 25, 2010), http://www2.icc-cpi.int/Menus/ICC/Home; http://www.amicc.org. The U.S. pledge about the LRA was prompted by the enactment of the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009. (Wikisource, Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009, http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/ Lord’s_Resistance_Army_Disarmament_and_Northern_Uganda_Recovery_Act_of_2009; U.S. White House, Statement by the President on the Signing of the Lord’s ResistanceArmy Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009 (May 24, 2010), http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/statement-president-signing-

Lords-resistance-army-disarmament-and-northern-uganda-r.

[12] U.S. Dep’t of State, U.S. Engagement with The International Criminal Court and The Outcome of The Recently Concluded Review Conference (June 15, 2010), http://www.state.gov/s/wci/us_releases/remarks/143178.htm.

[13] Id. The ICC currently is investigating and prosecuting cases from the DRC. See Post: The International Criminal Court: Investigations and Prosecutions (April 28, 2011).

[14]  Id.

[15]    E.g., Statement by President Obama on the Promulgation of Kenya’s New Constitution (Aug. 27,2010), http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2010/08/27/statement-president-obama-promulgation-kenyas-new-constitution(“I am disappointed that Kenya hosted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in defiance of International Criminal Court arrest warrants for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The Government of Kenya has committed itself to full cooperation with the ICC, and we consider it important that Kenya honor its commitments to the ICC and to international justice, along with all nations that share those responsibilities”); U.N. Security Council, Press Release: Briefing Security Council on Sudan, United Nations, African Union Officials Tout Unified Strategy, Linking Peace in Darfur to Southern Sudan Referendum (June 14, 2010),  (U.S. Ambassador Rice told Security Council that there was a need “to bring to justice all those responsible for crimes in Darfur, calling on Sudan to cooperate with the [ICC] and expressing deep concern at the Court’s Pretrial Chamber judges recent decision to refer the issue of Sudan’s non-cooperation to the Council”).

[16] U.N. Security Council  6491st meeting (Feb. 26, 2011). Other Council members (Bosnia & Herzogiva, Colombia, France, Germany, Libya and the U.K.) specifically commended the reference to the ICC. The other four Council members who did not join in drafting the resolution were Brazil, China, India and the Russian Federation. In the meeting, the Indian representative noted that “only” 114 of the 192 U.N. Members were parties to the Rome Statute and that five of the 15 Council members, including three permanent members (China, Russia and U.S.), were not such parties. He went on to emphasize the importance of Article 6 of the resolution’s exempting from ICC jurisdiction nationals of States like India that were not parties to the Rome Statute and its preamble’s stating that the Statute’s Article 16 allowed the Council to postpone any investigation or prosecution for 12 months. (Id.) The Brazilian representative was serving as President of the Council and, therefore, may not have participated in drafting the resolution, but she noted that Brazil was a “long-standing supporter of the integrity and universality of the Rome Statute” and expressed Brazil’s “strong reservation” about Article 6’s exemption of nationals of non-States Parties. (Id.) This suggests that the inclusion of Article 6 was the price of obtaining “yes” votes for the resolution from India, China and the Russian Federation. See Post: The International Criminal Court: Investigations and Prosecutions (April 28, 2011).

[17] U.N. Security Council  6491st meeting (Feb. 26, 2011).

[18]  ___Cong. Record S1068-69 (March 1, 2011) (S. Res. 85).

[19] Koh, The Challenges and Future of International Justice (Oct. 27, 2010), http://www.state.gov/s/l/releases/remarks/150497.htm.

[20] ICC, Review Conference of the Rome Statute: Pledges (July 15, 2010), http://www2.icc-cpi.int/iccdocs/asp_docs/RC2010/RC-9-ENG-FRA-SPA.pdf.

[21] Belczyk, US war crimes ambassador says US unlikely to join ICC in ‘forseeable future,’ Jurist (Jan. 28, 2010), http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/paperchase/2010/01/us-war-crimes-ambassador-says-us.php.

[22] Id. With the existence of the ICC, there is no need to create future ad hoc tribunals. This fact also avoids the administrative problems ad hoc tribunals face when they near the end of their lives and professional and other staff leave to pursue other opportunities with greater future prospects. (See Amann, Prosecutorial Parlance (9/12/10), http://intlawgrrls.blogspot.com (comments by officials of ICTY and ICTR).)

[23] Belczyk, US war crimes ambassador says US unlikely to join ICC in ‘forseeable future,’ Jurist (Jan. 28, 2010), http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/paperchase/2010/01/us-war-crimes-ambassador-says-us.php.