Two Palestinian human rights groups are calling on the international criminal court to launch an investigation into the commission of crimes under international law in the occupied territories.
Any such move by the ICC would be fiercely opposed by Israel and the US, and would be likely to scupper the recently revived peace process.
Al-Haq and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights have presented a legal opinion to the ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, at The Hague, arguing that the court can take action without Palestine formally signing up to the body. The two rights groups are calling for the court to begin an investigation based on “the mass of evidence and documentation attesting to the widespread commission of crimes in Palestine, and the environment of total impunity for the perpetrators”.
Israel has not ratified the Rome statute, which established the ICC, and although the Palestinians have raised the prospect of signing the treaty, they have not yet taken concrete steps to do so.
But the legal opinion said the ICC had grounds to extend its jurisdiction without ratification by Palestine. It could do this on the basis of a declaration submitted by the Palestinian leadership in 2009, which accepted the jurisdiction of the court under article 12 (3) of the Rome statute.
“The purpose of the court being to combat impunity by ensuring that ‘the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole must not go unpunished’ and ‘to put an end to impunity for the perpetrators of these crimes and thus to contribute to the prevention of such crimes’, it is now incumbent on the office of the prosecutor to confront the temporal and territorial ‘black hole’ in which the people of the state of Palestine have been locked for the past several decades,” the legal opinion said.
The Palestinian leadership has signalled its intent to sign up to international bodies and treaties, including the ICC, since the UN general assembly voted overwhelmingly to recognise the state of Palestine almost a year ago.
But the US has put intense pressure on the Palestinians to freeze any such moves while renewed peace negotiations are under way. Israel would be expected to walk out of talks at any sign of what it and the US describe as unilateral actions by the Palestinians to advance their state.
Israel is particularly alarmed at the prospect of the Palestinians joining the ICC as such a move could pave the way for possible prosecution of Israel for breaches of international law, including war crimes.
“The rights of Palestinian victims are not subject to compromise,” said Shawan Jabarin, director of Al-Haq. “Our role as Palestinian human rights organisations is to pursue justice and accountability regardless of negotiations and we condemn any pressure exerted to the contrary. This is especially important in light of the fact that violations of international law continue unabated despite ongoing negotiations.”
Jabarin called on the ICC prosecutor to proceed on the basis of the 2009 Palestinian declaration, urging the Palestinian leadership to support such a move without regard to the peace talks. “Any negotiated agreement that sidelines the pursuit of justice through the ICC, is an agreement that lacks the representative support of Palestinian civil society,” he said.
Palestinian negotiators have not formally agreed to forego moves to join international bodies and treaties while peace talks are in progress, one official said. A shortlist of 16 relatively noncontroversial treaties has been drawn up, which Palestine intends to ratify unless clear progress is made in negotiations, the official added.
source: Guardian UK