2/2 © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Malian Islamist militant Al-Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud at his trial in The Hague 2/2
By Toby Sterling and Stephanie van den Berg THE HAGUE (Reuters) – Judges at the International Criminal Court ruled on Friday that the court has jurisdiction over war crimes committed in the Palestinian territories, paving the way for a possible criminal investigation, a despite Israeli objections. The decision elicited swift reactions from both Israel, which is not a member of the court and rejects its jurisdiction, and the Palestinian Authority, which welcomed the ruling. ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said her office was studying the decision and would decide what to do next “strictly guided by her independent and impartial mandate” to prosecute serious war crimes and atrocities when countries are unable or unwilling to do so. for themselves. The ICC judges said their decision was based on the fact that Palestine was granted membership in the court’s founding treaty, and had referred the situation to the court. The judges said the decision on jurisdiction does not involve any attempt to determine the Palestinian status, which is uncertain, or national borders. “The territorial jurisdiction of the Court in the situation in Palestine … extends to the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, namely Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem,” they said. Bensouda discovered in December 2019 that “war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.” She named both the Israel Defense Forces and Palestinian armed groups such as Hamas as possible perpetrators. She said at the time that she saw no reason not to open an investigation, but asked the judges to first rule whether the situation fell under the jurisdiction of the court. In reaction, Human Rights Watch called the decision “fundamental” and said it “finally offers victims of serious crimes real hope of justice after half a century of impunity,” said Balkees Jarrah, associate director for international justice. “It is high time that the Israeli and Palestinian perpetrators of the gravest abuses, whether they be war crimes committed during hostilities or the expansion of illegal settlements, were brought to justice.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted by saying that “the court is ignoring true war crimes and is instead going after Israel, a country with a strong democratic regime, which sanctifies the rule of law and is not a member of the court”. He added that Israel would “protect all of our citizens and soldiers” from prosecution. “The court in its decision undermines the right of democratic countries to defend themselves,” Netanyahu said. The Palestinian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it was a “historic day for the principle of responsibility.” Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas official, described the decision as “an important advance that helps protect the Palestinian people.” “We urge the international court to launch an investigation into Israeli war crimes against the Palestinian people,” said Abu Zuhri, who is currently out of Gaza. The United States has “serious concerns” about the ICC’s effort to assert jurisdiction over Israeli personnel in the Palestinian territories, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said. He added that the US government shares “the goals of the ICC to promote accountability for the worst crimes known to mankind.” The Trump administration had vehemently opposed the ICC. Jamil Dakwar, director of the Human Rights Program of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that US President Joe Biden should do nothing to undermine the independence of the ICC. “It is important to remember that the ICC investigation will also target Palestinian perpetrators of war crimes in the context of hostilities between Israel and Palestinian armed groups, especially in the Gaza Strip,” Dakwar said on Twitter.