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International Criminal Court to probe alleged war crimes in Palestinian territories

31st Jan 2020
International Criminal Court to probe alleged war crimes in Palestinian territories

Corpses of Palestinians, killed in Israeli airstrikes over Deir al Balah, are seen at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, in Deir al Balah, Gaza on November 14, 2019.  (Credit: Mustafa Hassona/Anadolu Agency)

Elham Asaad Buaras

Palestinian leaders have welcomed the International Criminal Court (ICC) announcement that an investigation into alleged war crimes in the Palestinian territories will be launched as a “long-overdue step.”

ICC Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said she would launch a full investigation as soon as the court’s jurisdiction had been established.

“I am satisfied that there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into the situation in Palestine,” announced Bensouda on December 20.

“I am satisfied that war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip,” she added, without specifying the perpetrators of the alleged crimes.

Bensouda said before opening a full probe, she would ask The Hague-based tribunal to rule on the territory over which it has jurisdiction, as Israel is not a member of the court.
She urged judges to rule on the court’s jurisdiction “without undue delay.”

The prosecutor added however that she did not require any authorisation from judges to open a probe as there had been a referral from the Palestinians, who joined the court in 2015.

“Palestine welcomes this step as a long-overdue step to move the process forward towards an investigation, after nearly five long and difficult years of a preliminary examination,” said the Palestinian foreign ministry.

Bensouda launched a preliminary probe in January 2015 into allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Israel and the Palestinian territories, in the wake of the 2014 Gaza war which left 2,251 dead on the Palestinian side, the majority civilians and 74 on the Israeli side, most of them soldiers.

Israel and its ally, the US, have both refused to sign up to the court, which was set up in 2002 to be the only global tribunal trying the world’s worst crimes, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Palestinians, who signed up to the ICC in 2015, already accepted the court’s jurisdiction, repeatedly urged the court to move faster.

A full ICC investigation could lead to charges against individuals being brought. States cannot be charged by the ICC.

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat called the decision a “positive and encouraging step that brings us closer to the opening of a criminal investigation into the crimes committed in Palestine in accordance with the Rome Statute, putting an end to the impunity of the perpetrators and contributing to the achievement of justice.”

Following Bensouda’s announcement, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, lashed out at what he called “a dark day for truth and justice.”

“The court has no jurisdiction in this case. The ICC only has jurisdiction over petitions submitted by sovereign states. But there has never been a Palestinian state, the ICC prosecutor’s decision has turned the International Criminal Court into a political tool to delegitimise the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said.

Ammar Hijazi, Assistant Minister For Multilateral Affairs for the state of Palestine, said: “The international community and all relevant international bodies have determined that there is the jurisdiction for international law, for international courts and human rights law and they are all applicable.”

Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research and Advocacy Director, called the announcement a “historic step towards justice after decades of war crimes” that, “offers a crucial opportunity to break the cycle of impunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

 

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