Fatou Bensouda
Fatou BensoudaReuters

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday slapped sanctions on the top prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, AFP reports.

The economic sanctions against Bensouda and another senior ICC official, Phakiso Mochochoko, come after earlier visa bans on Bensouda and others failed to head off the court's war crimes probe into US military personnel in Afghanistan.

"Today we take the next step, because the ICC continues to target Americans, sadly," Pompeo said.

The ICC quickly fired back, calling the move a "serious" attack against the rule of law.

"These coercive acts, directed at an international judicial institution and its civil servants, are unprecedented and constitute serious attacks against the court, the Rome Statute system of international criminal justice, and the rule of law more generally," it said in a statement quoted by AFP.

The sanctions freeze the US assets of the two officials, and bar any US individuals from doing business with them.

In June, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order imposing sanctions on individuals involved in the ICC investigation into alleged US war crimes in Afghanistan.

The order authorizes Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to freeze assets of ICC officials involved in the investigation. In addition, Pompeo is authorized to block these officials from entering the US.

Trump also cited the ICC's war crimes investigations against Israel when signing the order.

Bensouda announced last December that she intends to open a full investigation into alleged Israeli “war crimes”, and later ruled that “Palestine” is a state and the ICC has jurisdiction involving its cases.

Despite the new sanctions, the ICC appeared to give no ground on the issue of probing alleged US war crimes, saying it "continues to stand firmly by its personnel and its mission of fighting impunity for the world's most serious crimes."

The head of the ICC's Assembly of States Parties, O-Gon Kwon, said the oversight body would meet to discuss how to support the tribunal in the face of the US measures.

The US measures "only serve to weaken our common endeavor to fight impunity for mass atrocities," Kwon said.