A US State Department ambassador told senators during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Wednesday that the Department of Defense (DOD) continues to block the US’s cooperation in the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) case against Russian President Vladimir Putin. Global Criminal Justice Ambassador-at-large Beth Van Schaack told senators that, despite recent changes to legislation, the DOD refuses to give consent for the US to cooperate in the international effort to hold Putin accountable for war crimes committed in Ukraine.
At the hearing, senators inquired about the US’s involvement in international efforts to hold Russia accountable for the ongoing war in Ukraine. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) spoke of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, stating, “Make no mistake, these acts are war crimes and crimes against humanity,” with which all of the committee’s senators and Van Schaack appeared to agree. They also all seemed to agree that the US must do everything it can to assist in holding Russia, particularly Putin, to account for these crimes.
Notably absent from the hearing and assent in Wednesday’s agreement was the DOD. Senators applauded Van Schaack for appearing and voicing support for ICC cooperation. But as Menendez noted, “It is no secret that Department of Defense is the holdup.” Both Senator James Risch (R-ID) and Menendez expressed that they invited DOD officials to appear at the hearing, to no avail.
Van Schaack explained that the US currently operates on a consensus basis. In order for US executive agencies—such as the State Department and the DOD—to turn over the information they have gathered on Ukraine and Russia to the ICC, all agencies must consent. While Van Schaack was reluctant to point the finger at the DOD, Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) eventually got her to concede that DOD was the agency preventing the US from cooperating with the ICC.
Van Schaack admitted, “There is a range of very actionable information that [the US has] been able to collect that might be very helpful to a justice process anywhere.” But, without the DOD’s consent, “we can’t share it with the ICC.”
According to a March report from the New York Times, the DOD has expressed concerns that US cooperation with the ICC on this matter may open the US to potential ICC jurisdiction in future cases. As it stands now, the US—like Russia—is not a signatory to the Rome Statute of the ICC, which means the ICC technically has no jurisdiction over the US. But the ICC has reassured that they would not consider cooperation on this matter a concession on the matter, and Van Schaack said Wednesday, “I do not think that that is an acute risk at this time.”