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What is the purpose of the International Criminal Court?

What is the purpose of the International Criminal Court?
Exterior view of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, December 6, 2022   -  
Copyright © africanews
Peter Dejong/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved


The International Criminal Court could soon issue arrest warrants for leaders of Israel and Hamas, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, more than seven months after the start of the war between the two camps, on the basis of a request from the Attorney General of the Court.

Karim Khan said he believed Mr Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and three Hamas leaders - Yehia Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh - were responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel.

The ICC was established in 2002 as a permanent court of last resort to prosecute those responsible for the world's most heinous atrocities: war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and the crime of aggression .

The Rome Statute creating the ICC was adopted in 1998 and came into force when it received 60 ratifications on July 1, 2002. The United Nations General Assembly approved the creation of the ICC, but the Court is independent.

Without a police force, the ICC relies on member states to arrest suspects, which has proven to be a major obstacle to prosecutions.

Last month, Mr. Netanyahu said that Israel "will never accept that the ICC attempts to undermine its inherent right to self-defence. " He added that the ICC would not affect Israel's actions, but would "set a dangerous precedent. "

What is the ICC?

All 124 member states of the ICC have signed the Rome Statute. Dozens of countries have not signed and do not accept the Court's jurisdiction over war crimes, genocide and other crimes. These include Israel, the United States, Russia and China.

The ICC intervenes when countries are unable or unwilling to prosecute crimes committed on their territory. Israel argues that it has a functioning justice system, and disputes over a country's ability or willingness to prosecute have fueled conflicts between the court and individual countries in the past.

In 2020, then-US President Donald Trump authorized economic sanctions and travel sanctions against the ICC prosecutor and another senior prosecution office official. ICC staff were investigating troops and intelligence officials from the United States and its allies for possible war crimes in Afghanistan.

US President Joe Biden, whose administration provided crucial military and political support for the Gaza offensive, lifted sanctions in 2021.

The ICC has 17 ongoing investigations, has issued 42 arrest warrants and detained 21 suspects. Its judges convicted 10 suspects and acquitted four.

During its early years, the Court was criticized for focusing on crimes committed in Africa. Today, she conducts investigations in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Latin America.

The ICC's relationship with Israel and the Palestinian Territories?

In 2012, the United Nations General Assembly upgraded the status of the Palestinians from observer to non-member observer state. This allowed the Palestinian territories to join international organizations, including the ICC.

The ICC accepted "the State of Palestine" as a member in 2015, a year after the Palestinians accepted the court's authority.

The Court's Attorney General announced in 2021 that she was opening an investigation into possible crimes committed in Palestinian territory. Israel often accuses the United Nations and international bodies of bias, and Mr. Netanyahu condemned the decision as hypocritical and anti-Semitic.

Mr. Khan, the current ICC prosecutor, visited Ramallah and Israel in December, where he met with Palestinian officials and families of Israelis killed or taken hostage by Hamas militants during the The October 7 attack which sparked the war between Israel and Hamas.

Mr. Khan called Hamas' actions "some of the most serious international crimes that shock the conscience of humanity, crimes for which the ICC was created ," and called for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages.

Mr. Khan said that "international humanitarian law must always apply" in the war between Israel and Hamas and that "the Israeli army knows the law that must be applied . " After the visit, Mr. Khan said that an ICC investigation into possible crimes committed by Hamas militants and Israeli forces "is a priority for my office . "

Who else has the ICC indicted?

Last year, the court issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin , accused of being responsible for the kidnapping of children in Ukraine. Russia responded by issuing its own arrest warrants for Mr Khan and the ICC judges.

Other prominent leaders indicted by the Court include Sudanese strongman Omar al-Bashir, who is notably accused of genocide in his country's Darfur region. Former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was captured and killed by rebels shortly after the ICC issued an arrest warrant for him on charges related to the brutal crackdown on anti-government protests in 2011.

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