There has been strong international support in reaction to the decision by the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor to initiate an investigation into war crimes committed by Israel.
After five years of deliberation, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s decision was welcomed by Michael Lynk, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.
Lynk said that the two counts that Bensouda had identified, namely over settlements and armed conflict in Gaza, could lead to a trial in the Hague. The continued illegal settlement activity in the occupied territories are the very definition of a war crime, he said, and moving civilian populations to occupied areas was a clear violation of international humanitarian law.
Lynk, a professor of international law, said if convicted, every official who had facilitated the moving of civilians to occupied areas would be held accountable. Accountability “would apply to Israeli political and military leaders as well as settlers” involved in obtaining funds to build illegal dwellings, he said.
“On the settlement issue, it is an open and shut case: There is a strong argument that settlements are a violation of international law,” Lynk said, adding that similar considerations would also apply to the 2014 war in Gaza, which led to the deaths of 1,500 Palestinians.
Omar Shakir, director of Human Rights Watch in Israel and Palestine, said it was quite clear that the prosecutor had identified the ICC could “move forward with a probe of crimes (committed in) settlements and (the) armed escalation in Gaza by both armed groups and the Israeli army.”
Shakir, who is currently residing in Amman after he was deported from Israel last month, said that the decision, though important, was still at too early a stage to tell whether or not the investigation would lead to accountability.
One of the reasons for the hesitation among experts is that the Bensouda is dependent on the outcome of a criminal jurisdiction test. Shakir called the delay “an unnecessary procedural move which will only delay justice for the victims.”
Lynk added: “The prosecutor could have moved directly without asking for jurisdiction. It is Indefensible to ask procedural questions five years into a preliminary inquiry. At the same time, the report makes clear the need for accountability precisely where impunity continues to reign.”
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Malki told Palestinian TV that the delay would be settled within 120 days, stating: “A decision will be made before April 2020.”
However, Shakir argued it could allow the issue to drag. “I think the timeline questions are tricky — it is difficult to project the timeline for justice and accountability. Victims are facing a wall of impunity; one day more is too long. Perpetrators of serious crimes must face justice immediately,” he said.
US and Israeli officials have spoken against the decision, while the Palestinian leadership has welcomed it. Shakir argued that the US had for a number of years taken a problematic position on the issue of alleged Israeli crimes, but noted that the ICC had now sent a strong message to the current Israeli government, and its allies abroad, that further annexation of territory, in the Jordan Valley, for instance, would not be tolerated by the international community.
“Israel should be put on notice. This should be a clear message to the Israeli government that their efforts to rewrite international law have failed, and the arc of justice will prevail. Israelis should realize the world will no longer fall for their excuses.”
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