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Voice of America – English: International Criminal Court Says It Has Jurisdiction in Palestinian Territories

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Judges at the International Criminal Court on Friday found the court has jurisdiction over war crimes committed in the Palestinian territories, paving the way for a possible criminal investigation, despite Israeli objections.

The decision prompted swift reactions from 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 “guided strictly by its independent and impartial mandate” to prosecute grave war crimes and atrocities when countries are unable or unwilling to do so themselves.

FILE – Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda is pictured in the courtroom of the International Criminal Court at The Hague, Netherlands, Sept. 29, 2015.

The ICC judges said their decision was based on the fact that Palestine has been granted membership to the tribunal’s founding treaty and had referred the situation to the court. The judges said the jurisdiction decision did not imply any attempt to determine Palestinian statehood, which is uncertain, or national borders.

“The court’s territorial jurisdiction 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.

Finding from 2019

Bensouda had found 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 Israeli Defense Forces and armed Palestinian groups such as Hamas as possible perpetrators.

She said then that she saw no reason not to open an investigation, but asked judges to first rule on whether the situation fell under the court’s jurisdiction.

In a reaction, Human Rights Watch called the decision pivotal and said it “finally offers victims of serious crimes some real hope for justice after a half century of impunity,” said Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director.

“It’s high time that Israeli and Palestinian perpetrators of the gravest abuses — whether war crimes committed during hostilities or the expansion of unlawful settlements — face justice,” Jarrah added.

FILE – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to fellow Likud party members in Israel’s parliament in Jerusalem, Dec. 2, 2020.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted, saying “the court is ignoring the real war crimes and instead is pursuing Israel, a country with a strong democratic regime that sanctifies the rule of law and is not a member of the tribunal.”

He added Israel would “protect all of our citizens and soldiers” from prosecution.

“The court in its decision impairs the right of democratic countries to defend themselves,” Netanyahu said.

‘Historic day’

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it was a “historic day for the principle of accountability.”

FILE – Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas official, described the decision as “an important development that contributes in protecting 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 not in Gaza.

The United States has “serious concerns” about the ICC’s effort to assert jurisdiction over Israeli personnel in the Palestinian territories, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said. He added the U.S. government shares “the goals of the ICC in promoting accountability for the worst crimes known to humanity.”

The Trump administration had vehemently opposed the ICC.

Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Human Rights Program, said U.S. President Joe Biden should do nothing to undermine the ICC’s independence.

“It’s important to remember that the ICC investigation would 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.

 

Voice of America – English


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