ICC Gives Israel Month to Ask for War Crimes Probe Delay

The International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AFP) — The International Criminal Court has given Israel and the Palestinians one month to ask the tribunal to postpone its war crimes investigation, provided they can prove they are carrying out their own probes.

The ICC’s chief prosecutor announced on March 3 that she had opened a full investigation into the situation in the Israeli-occupied territories — infuriating Israel, which is not a member of the Hague-based court.

A deferral notice was “sent on March 9 to all member states of the ICC, including all states that would normally exercise jurisdiction — including Israel and Palestine,” an official in the prosecutor’s office told AFP Friday.

The notice, sent under Article 18 of the court’s founding document, the Rome Statute, gives countries a month to tell judges they are investigating crimes similar to those being probed by the ICC, the official said.

States may then reply to the ICC detailing whether they are in fact carrying out their own probe into alleged perpetrators, and can ask the chief prosecutor for a deferral.

The Palestinians, who have been a state party to the ICC since 2015, have welcomed the investigation and said they will not seek any deferral.

The world’s only permanent war crimes tribunal, the ICC was set up in 2002 to try the humanity’s worst crimes where local courts are unwilling or unable to step in.

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has said her investigation will cover the situation in the blockaded Gaza Strip along with the Israeli-occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem since 2014. 

It will mainly focus on the 2014 Gaza War but also look at the deaths of Palestinian demonstrators from 2018 onwards.

There is “reasonable basis” to believe crimes were committed by both sides — by the Israeli Defense Forces and Israeli authorities, and by Hamas and Palestinian armed groups, Bensouda said after concluding a five-year preliminary probe in 2019.

Israel has rejected the investigation, saying the court has no jurisdiction over its citizens.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a vocal critic of the ICC, has said the decision to open the probe was the “essence of anti-Semitism” and declared Israel was “under attack”. 

However, Netanyahu has not made clear whether Israel would fight back through diplomacy and public opinion — or by engaging directly with the ICC.

The United States has also criticized the ICC investigation and voiced support for its ally Israel.


© Agence France-Presse

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