Jean-Yves Le Drian
Jean-Yves Le DrianReuters

France on Thursday led criticism of US sanctions on the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), saying Washington had launched a "serious attack" on the global body.

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slapped sanctions on the top prosecutor of the ICC, Fatou Bensouda, and another senior ICC official, Phakiso Mochochoko, after earlier visa bans on Bensouda and others failed to head off the court's war crimes probe into US military personnel in Afghanistan.

"The measures announced on September 2 amount to a serious attack on the court and signatory states of the Treaty of Rome and, beyond this, a challenge to multilateralism and the independence of the judiciary," French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Thursday, according to AFP.

Reacting to the US sanctions, the European Union said it would defend the court against attempts to undermine it.

"The International Criminal Court is facing persistent external challenges and the European Union stands firm against all attempts to undermine the international system of criminal justice by hindering the work of its core institutions," Peter Stano, spokesman for EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell, told reporters.

Human Rights Watch said that the Trump administration’s action showed "an egregious disregard for victims of the world’s worst crimes."

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.