Don’t delay in taking Israel to ICC say rights’ groups
News report from Reuters followed by text of letter to President Abbas.
Inside the ICC, the trial of Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga in 2012. The trial resulted in the court’s first successful conviction.
Rights groups urge Palestinians to join International Criminal Court
By Noah Browning and Allyn Fisher-Ilan, Reuters
May 08, 2014
Palestinian and international rights groups urged President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday to join the International Criminal Court (ICC), building on U.N. recognition of Palestinian statehood two years ago.
The 17 organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and prominent Palestinian groups Addameer and al-Haq, said acceding to the court would encourage both Israelis and Palestinians to respect international law and would end impunity for alleged war crimes.
Israel, which is not a party to the court, criticized their move, saying it could damage peace talks. It views the call as part of a unilateral Palestinian push to confront Israel after U.S.-backed peace talks collapsed last month amid mutual blame.
The rights groups said in a joint statement that the court’s oversight would help, not harm, peace efforts.
“The commission of war crimes with impunity has regularly undermined the peace process. A credible prosecution threat would help to advance the cause of peace,” the groups wrote.
“Seeking the ICC’s jurisdiction over serious crimes committed on Palestinian territory should therefore be seen as an apolitical step towards ending impunity,” they added.
Frustrated by two decades of fruitless peace talks, Abbas won Palestine’s recognition by the U.N. General Assembly as a non-member state in 2012.
Palestinians say that move marked out their lands – Gaza, the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem – as a state under occupation and not merely disputed territory.
Abbas hopes the move will gain him leverage outside the context of talks, which have so far failed to produce an independent state, but he has acceded to only 15 of a few dozen international conventions he is entitled to join.
He has so far refrained from approaching the ICC, where he may eventually be able to advance cases against Israeli officials for alleged war crimes and the construction of Jewish settlements deemed illegal by most countries.
The Palestinians’ top peace negotiator Saeb Erekat welcomed the statement but gave no indication of whether the Abbas government would seek to join the court.
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said the call was naive and would undermine peace efforts.
“There’s very little human rights in all this. Only trigger- happy and irresponsible self-proclaimed activists who do not want to see the Palestinians or Israelis take the arduous and difficult road of trying to negotiate a compromise, but rather keep on fighting for the amusement of the crowds,” he said.
Letter from Addameer and others to President Abbas
May 08, 2014
Dear President Abbas,
We, the undersigned Palestinian and international human rights organizations, write to urge you to ensure that Palestine pursues the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) by promptly acceding to the Rome Statute* and/or filing a further declaration accepting the Court’s jurisdiction over crimes committed on Palestinian territory from 1 July 2002.
Taking such steps could ensure access to international justice for victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on Palestinian territories, and would send an important message that such crimes cannot be committed with impunity.
As you know, following the UN General Assembly’s decision in November 2012 to upgrade Palestine’s status to “non-member observer state”, the ICC Office of the Prosecutor stated that the decision “does not cure the legal invalidity of [Palestine’s] 2009 declaration” which accepted the ICC’s jurisdiction over acts committed on its territory since 1 July 2002, and that “at this stage, the Office has no legal basis to open a new preliminary examination.”
The Office stated that it was, therefore, not in a position to consider allegations of serious crimes committed in Palestine without further steps by your government. On this basis, the current ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has said that “the ball is now in the court of Palestine” to seek the court’s jurisdiction.
We understand the pressure that Palestine is under from Israel and the United States not to pursue the jurisdiction of the ICC, whether during or after the current US-sponsored negotiations with Israel. We are aware that even countries such as France, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Canada, which are states parties to the ICC treaty and purport to seek its universal ratification, have, at times, opposed Palestine seeking access to the ICC.
We oppose these efforts to politicize justice for victims of serious crimes under international law, and urge you to resist them. Justice is an important end in its own right, preserving the rights of victims and affected communities regardless of the uncertain prospects for peace. The commission of war crimes with impunity has regularly undermined the peace process. A credible prosecution threat would help to advance the cause of peace.
Palestine’s accession in April to 20 international treaties and conventions was a significant and positive step, obliging the Palestinian government to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights, and requiring Palestinian forces to abide by international rules on armed conflict. Accession to the Rome Statute would be a vital further step towards protecting human rights by ensuring that the ICC can step in to address impunity when domestic authorities are genuinely unable or unwilling to do so.
Seeking the ICC’s jurisdiction over serious crimes committed on Palestinian territory should therefore be seen as an apolitical step towards ending impunity and could help deter future abuses.
The ICC represents an important tool for justice and effective remedies for victims. We urge you to seize it without any further delay.
Sahar Francis, Executive Director
Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association
Khalil Abu Shammala, Executive Director
Al Dameer Association for Human Rights
Shawan Jabarin, General Director
Issam Younis, General Director
Al Mezan Center for Human Rights
Munir Nuseibah, Director
Al-Quds University Human Rights Clinic
Salil Shetty, Secretary General
Nidal Azza, Director
Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights
Rifat Kassis, Director
Defense for Children International – Palestine
Shawqi Issa, Director
Ensan Center for Human Rights and Democracy
Ken Roth, Executive Director
Human Rights Watch
Helmi al-Araj, General Director
Hurryyat Centre for Defense of Liberties and Civil Rights
Said Benarbia, Director, Middle East and North Africa Programme
International Commission of Jurists
Karim Lahidji, President
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
Issam Aruri, Director
Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center
Raji Sourani, Director
Palestinian Center for Human Rights
Iyad Barghouti, Director
Ramallah Center for Human Rights Studies
Maha Abu Dayyeh, General Director
Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling
Notes and links
*Text of the Rome Statute pdf, the treaty which which established the International Criminal Court, was circulated as document A/CONF.183/9 of 17 July 1998 and corrected by process-verbaux of 10 November 1998, 12 July 1999, 30 November1999, 8 May 2000, 17 January 2001 and 1 January 2002. The Statute entered into force on 1 July 2002. It has not yet been ratified by the PNA.
There have been many references in previous postings to this treaty. Put “rome statute” into Search box to check them out.