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Remarks by Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper at ICC Press Conference

Good morning everyone, and thank you for being here for this important announcement. Today, the President took necessary and decisive action with an Executive Order that will protect American citizens and our Nation’s sovereignty, and defend our national security interests and those of our allies.

The International Criminal Court’s efforts to investigate and prosecute Americans are inconsistent with fundamental principles of international law and the practice of international courts. As the Executive Order notes, the United States is not a party to the Rome Statute that created the ICC, nor have we ever accepted its jurisdiction over our personnel. 

That is why our Nation, and this administration, will not allow American citizens who have served our country to be subjected to illegitimate investigations. Instead, we expect information about alleged misconduct by our people to be turned over to U.S. authorities, so that we can take the appropriate action, as we have consistently done in the past.

The United States maintains the sovereign right and obligation to properly investigate and address any of our personnel’s alleged violations of the laws of war. We have a proven record of doing just that, through an American justice system that is eminently capable of handling such cases. This includes investigating and prosecuting the alleged abuse of detainees, or any other misconduct. Ultimately, our justice system ensures that our people are held to account under the United States Constitution – not the International Criminal Court or other overreaching, intergovernmental bodies.

Moreover, there is no other force more disciplined and committed to compliance with the laws of war than the United States military, which has made lasting contributions to the cause of justice and accountability in armed conflict. For example, our military led prosecutions in historic International Military Tribunals, including at Nuremburg, in addition to providing critical support to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

We have consistently provided training on the rule of law and given related assistance to scores of partners and allies around the globe. Additionally, since our founding, the United States military has fought to liberate the oppressed and defeat the enemies of justice, from Tripoli to Normandy, from Korea to Kandahar. 

In fact, nearly 800,000 U.S. troops have served in Afghanistan over the past 19 years. More than 20,000 of them were wounded in combat. And, nearly 2,000 brave Americans laid down their lives to stop terrorism, to protect U.S. and allied citizens – including those in The Hague – and to give the Afghan people a chance at a better life. We will not allow the unjust treatment of these or any other American personnel who have dedicated themselves to the cause of justice, security, and opportunity, for all.

Today, our Service members remain on the frontlines of the fight against terrorists, war criminals, and perpetrators of genocide, such as ISIS. I am proud of the work the United States military conducts every day to protect human rights, safeguard liberty, and uphold the international rules-based order. That is why the Department of Defense fully supports the President’s Executive Order, and will take every action to defend our Service members. 

Rest assured that the men and women of the United States Armed Forces will never appear before the ICC – nor will they ever be subjected to the judgments of unaccountable international bodies.

In short, I’d like to thank the President for sending a clear message to the international community that we will always protect Americans, no matter where they serve, from harassment, abuse, and overreach by organizations outside of our own justice system. 

I’d also like to thank my colleagues here today, who play an instrumental role in that effort. Together, we once again call on the ICC to respect international law and American sovereignty. We also ask states parties to the Rome Statute to ensure the ICC respects our decision. And, we reaffirm that the United States will continue to uphold the rule of law, honor our commitments, and defend our core values.

Thank you.