Lindsey Graham wants Russia held accountable for war crimes by the International Criminal Court even though the US doesn't recognize its authority

Lindsey Graham wants Russia held accountable for war crimes by the International Criminal Court even though the US doesn't recognize its authority
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina at the Capitol on October 27, 2021.Samuel Corum/Getty Images
  • Sen. Lindsey Graham is promoting a resolution in support of charging Russia with war crimes at the ICC.
  • But the US doesn't recognize the court's authority, and Trump even sanctioned it when he was President.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham is promoting a Senate resolution in support of Ukraine's complaint against Russia in the International Criminal Court even though the United States does not recognize the court's authority.

At a press conference at the Capitol on Wednesday, Graham spoke alongside Republican Rep. Victoria Spartz of Indiana, who immigrated to the US from Ukraine in 2000. Spartz has quickly become a powerful Republican voice calling for the US to do more to help the country following recent the Russian invasion.

The draft text of the resolution takes aim at the Russian Federation, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and other high-ranking Russian officials, accusing them of committing "flagrant acts of aggression and other atrocities rising to the level of crimes against humanity."

After listing off several instances in which Russia violated laws of armed conflict — including using cluster bombs in Chechnya in 1999 and Georgia in 2008, seizing Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine in 2014, using bunker-busting bombs in Syria, and the most recent invasion of Ukraine — the resolution calls for ICC members states to petition the court to authorize war crimes investigations against Russia and declares that the Senate "supports any investigation into war crimes, crimes against humanity, and systematic human rights abuses levied by President Vladimir Putin."

But the United States is not an ICC member state, and former President Donald Trump even sanctioned the organization, which is tasked with trying individuals accused of committing genocide, war crimes, and other crimes against humanity in according with international law.


When asked by Insider whether the country's fraught history with the court might undermine the credibility of the resolution Graham said that the court was useful only in certain context.

"I think there was an effort by some to hold [former Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld accountable as a war criminal," said Graham. "We have a very robust rule of law system in America. Nobody's above the law. Everybody's being investigated. You know, President Trump is being investigated by multiple organizations."

He specifically mentioned Israel, the closest ally of the US in the Middle East. The US has often downplayed allegations of war crimes against Israel and opposed ICC probes into such accusations. "There are IDF members who get prosecuted at times for for unlawful use of force," said Graham.

"This is the Balkans," said Graham, in an apparent reference to the prosecution of war criminals following conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990s. "This court doesn't make sense when it comes to America or Israel. It makes perfect sense when it comes to places where there is no rule of law. So, I can discern as a lawyer that it makes sense here, doesn't make sense there."

The US is not party to the ICC's Rome Statute, or founding treaty, and therefore does not recognize its authority. There are currently 123 countries that are ICC members. Russia and Ukraine are not ICC members, but Ukraine has "accepted the court's jurisdiction over alleged crimes committed on its territory since November 2013, and in so doing, the obligation to cooperate with the court," per Human Rights Watch.


"This complaint, I think, is legitimate," Graham said at the press conference. "It doesn't mean I'm going to join the International Criminal Court anytime soon."

Back in 1998, the US was among seven countries — including China, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Qatar, and Yemen — to vote against the Rome Statute. In 2000, President Bill Clinton signed the Rome Statute, but it was never ratified in the Senate. President George W. Bush "unsigned" the treaty in 2002.

"If you don't have a venue like this, there is no place to hold Putin accountable," said Graham. "And that's the point."

The US has at times been openly hostile to the ICC, and pushed hard against an investigation into allegations of war crimes committed by US forces in Afghanistan. In spite of US opposition to the court, Graham says the ICC is the appropriate place for Russia to be prosecuted for war crimes in Ukraine.

"Putin has destroyed the Rule of Law in Russia, jailing his opponents and killing those who dissent. The ICC is a venue to bring bad actors to justice in those areas where the Rule of Law is absent as they did in the Balkan War during the 1990s," Graham said in a press release on Wednesday, which got some history wrong. The prosecutions of people accused of war crimes in the Balkans conflicts actually occurred via the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, a United Nations court. The ICC was not established until 2002.