ICC Announces Investigation Into Israeli, Palestinian War Crimes

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On 23 January 2020, the International Criminal Court ("ICC" or "Court") marked the opening of its judicial year with a Special Session at the seat of the Court in The Hague, Netherlands, featuring keynote speaker Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Hon. Patricia Scotland QC. The event gathered senior judges representing national jurisdictions as well as regional or international courts, and members of the diplomatic corps, civil society and international organisations.

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said Wednesday she has launched an investigation into alleged crimes in the Palestinian territories, plunging the court into the midst of one of the most fraught conflicts of the past half century.

Fatou Bensouda said in a statement the probe will be conducted “independently, impartially and objectively, without fear or favor.”

Bensouda said in 2019 there was a “reasonable basis” to open a war crimes probe into Israeli military actions in the Gaza Strip as well as Israeli settlement activity in the occupied West Bank.

Following that assessment, she asked judges to rule on the extent of the court’s jurisdiction in the troubled region. They did that last month, saying that the court’s jurisdiction extends to territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war.

There was no immediate reaction from Israel.

The Palestinians joined the court in 2015 and have long pushed for an investigation of Israel, which is not a member of the court. The Palestinians asked the court to probe Israeli actions during its 2014 war against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, as well as Israel’s construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem.

In the past, Israeli officials have accused the court of overstepping its bounds, saying the Palestinians are not an independent sovereign state. Officials say that Israel has been unfairly singled out and reject the allegations. They say military actions in Gaza were acts of self-defense and the status of the West Bank is disputed and must be resolved through negotiations.

The investigation will likely also look into alleged crimes by Palestinian militants. Bensouda has said her probe would look into the actions of Hamas, which fired rockets indiscriminately into Israel during the 2014 war.

Bensouda said how prosecutors prioritize their work will be “determined in due time” based on constraints including the coronavirus pandemic, limited resources and their existing heavy workload.

“Such challenges, however, as daunting and complex as they are, cannot divert us from ultimately discharging the responsibilities that the Rome Statute places upon the Office,” she said, referring to the court’s founding treaty.


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