House passes International Criminal Court sanctions bill after prosecutor seeks Netanyahu warrant

The House voted Tuesday to pass a bill to sanction International Criminal Court officials – House Republicans’ response to the court seeking an arrest warrant for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The ICC’s targeting of Netanyahu has sparked widespread backlash from Republicans and Democrats in Congress. President Joe Biden has also forcefully denounced the ICC move, saying “there is no equivalence” between Israel and Hamas, but the administration has said it does not support the GOP-led effort to sanction the court.

It is unlikely that the Senate will take up the sanctions bill. The House passed the bill in a 247 to 155 vote, with 42 Democrats joining Republicans in support. Two GOP members voted present.

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview last month that the court is seeking arrest warrants for the Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, and Netanyahu on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity over the October 7 attacks on Israel and the subsequent war in Gaza.

According to the legislative text, the bill would impose sanctions on individuals “engaged in any effort to investigate, arrest, detain or prosecute any protected person of the United States and its allies.” The sanctions include prohibiting US property transactions and blocking and revoking visas.

Headquartered at The Hague in the Netherlands, the ICC was established in 2002 and is tasked with prosecuting individuals for crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The ICC does not have its own enforcement mechanism and has relied on countries’ support for arrests. A decision to seek arrest warrants doesn’t immediately mean an individual is guilty, but is the first stage in a process that could lead to a lengthy trial.

Both Hamas and Israeli politicians denounced the ICC’s move.

House Speaker Mike Johnson has condemned the ICC over its move to seek warrants for top Israeli officials, saying at the end of last month that Congress would take action “to punish the ICC and ensure its leadership faces consequences if they proceed.”

The move against the Israeli politicians mark the first time the ICC has targeted the top leader of a close ally of the United States. A panel of ICC judges will consider Khan’s application for the arrest warrants.

A Biden administration statement of policy on the bill states that the administration “strongly opposes” the legislation.

“The Administration is deeply concerned about the ICC Prosecutor’s heedless rush to apply for arrest warrants for senior Israeli officials. At the same time, the Administration opposes the imposition of sanctions against the ICC, its personnel, its judges, or those who assist its work. There are more effective ways to defend Israel, preserve U.S. positions on the ICC, and promote international justice and accountability, and the Administration stands ready to work with the Congress on those options,” the statement reads.

Congressional Democrats and Biden continue to face intense pressure from different constituencies over the ongoing Israel-Hamas war and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

“It’s shameful to see 42 Democrats in the House vote with Republicans to undermine human rights around the world by sanctioning the ICC, all to shield Netanyahu from arrest,” Josh Ruebner, the policy director for the Institute for Middle East Understanding Policy Project, a pro-Palestinian advocacy group, said in a statement.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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