France led criticism of US sanctions on the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court on Thursday, saying Washington had launched a serious attack on the global body.
The ICC, a special multilateral court set up to try genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity cases, has become the latest issue to split Europe and United States under President Donald Trump.
Since its creation, the US has never recognized the court's authority, but the Trump administration took the unprecedented step of sanctioning its chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, on Wednesday along with another senior ICC official.
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.
A total of 120 states signed up to the Treaty of Rome in 1998 which laid the basis for the creation of the ICC four years later. The US was not among them, unlike its Western partners, putting it alongside a handful of states such as Russia, China and Israel which refused the ICC's authority.
Reacting to the US sanctions on Thursday, 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.
At the heart of the dispute are efforts by prosecutor Bensouda to pursue an investigation into alleged war crimes committed in Afghanistan, which could implicate US soldiers