ICC Opens ‘War Crimes’ Investigation in West Bank And Gaza
The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor has opened a formal investigation into alleged war crimes in the Palestinian territories.
Last month, the Hague-based court ruled that it could exercise its criminal jurisdiction over the territories.
Israel rejected Ms Bensouda’s decision, while Palestinian officials praised it.
Israel has never ratified the Rome Statute, but the court ruled that it had jurisdiction because the United Nations secretary general accepted the Palestinians’ accession to the treaty in 2015.
What prompted the prosecutor’s decision?
In a statement issued on Wednesday, Ms Bensouda explained that her office was obliged to act “where a state party has referred a situation” to it and “it is determined that a reasonable basis exists to commence an investigation”.
Ms Bensouda said she had carried out a “painstaking preliminary examination” that lasted close to five years and promised that the investigation would be conducted independently, impartially and objectively, without fear or favour.
“We have no agenda other than to meet our statutory duties under the Rome Statute with professional integrity,” she said, noting that she had declined to investigate the 2010 killing by Israeli troops of 10 Turkish activists on the Gaza-bound ship Mavi Marmara.
“In the current situation, however, there is a reasonable basis to proceed and there are admissible potential cases,” she added.
Ms Bensouda also stressed that the “central concern must be for the victims of crimes, both Palestinian and Israeli, arising from the long cycle of violence and insecurity that has caused deep suffering and despair on all sides”.
What has been the reaction?
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the ICC’s decision was “the essence of anti-Semitism and the essence of hypocrisy.”
“It found that our brave and moral soldiers, who are fighting the most brutal terrorists on earth, are, of all people, war criminals.”
“The court, which was established to prevent a recurrence of the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis against the Jewish people, is now turning against the state of the Jewish people,” he asserted.
Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said: “The crimes committed by the leaders of the Israeli occupation against the Palestinian people – which are ongoing, systematic and widespread – make this investigation necessary and urgent.”
The militant Hamas movement, which controls Gaza, welcomed the decision as “step forward on the path of achieving justice”, while also defending its actions as “legitimate resistance”.
Campaign group Human Rights Watch said the opening of an investigation would move “Israeli and Palestinian victims of serious crimes one step closer to obtaining a measure of justice that has for too long eluded them”.
What alleged crimes are being investigated?
When the Palestinians asked to accede to the Rome Statute, they recognised ICC jurisdiction for the purpose of prosecuting alleged perpetrators of crimes from 13 June 2014 onwards.
Following the preliminary examination, Ms Bensouda said there was a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes were committed in the context of the war, and that charges could be filed against Israel Defense Forces (IDF) personnel and members of Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups.