ICC Prosecutor Visits Israel/Palestine: ‘Don’t Complain When I Act’

ICC Prosecutor Karim Asad Ahmad Khan QC was sworn in on 16 June 2021. He wants to “ensure that the protection of the law is felt by all.” ICC photo.
ICC Prosecutor Karim Asad Ahmad Khan QC was sworn in on 16 June 2021. He wants to “ensure that the protection of the law is felt by all.” ICC photo.

“As I have repeatedly emphasised, civilians must have access to basic food, water and desperately needed medical supplies, without further delay, and at pace and at scale. And when such aid arrives, it must not be diverted or misused by Hamas. I cannot be more clear about this. All actors must comply with international humanitarian law. If you do not do so, do not complain when my Office is required to act.” So said Karim Khan, Chief Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Israel said on December 4 that it wiped out 200 targets in Gaza after the truce ended. This likely also means hundreds of civilians dead, but the numbers aren’t being reported. This is while US government officials “made clear that after the pause it was imperative that Israel put in place clear protections for civilians” on December 1.

The ICC, which has been investigating Palestine since 2014, sent Prosecutor Karim Khan on his first visit to the country last week, although it was not investigatory in nature. 

Khan said in a press release, “My Office is here to ensure that the protection of the law is felt by all…

“In relation to Gaza, and notwithstanding any ongoing violations of international humanitarian law by Hamas and other armed groups in the Gaza Strip, the manner in which Israel responds to these attacks is subject to clear legal parameters that govern armed conflict. Conflict in densely populated areas where fighters are alleged to be unlawfully embedded in the civilian population is inherently complex, but international humanitarian must still apply and the Israeli military knows the law that must be applied.  

“As I have stated previously, Israel has trained lawyers who advise commanders and a robust system intended to ensure compliance with international humanitarian law. Credible allegations of crimes during the current conflict should be the subject of timely, independent examination and investigation. On this visit, I again stressed that the clear legal principles of distinction, precaution and proportionality must be complied with so that the protection of the law is rendered meaningful for those who need it. I emphasised that not only must the letter of the law be complied with, but also the spirit upheld.  International humanitarian law and the provisions of the Rome Statute are there to protect the most vulnerable…

“I also, yet again, emphasised my profound concern with the significant increase in incidents of attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank. I stated that no Israeli armed with an extreme ideology and a gun can feel they can act with impunity against Palestinian civilians. In Ramallah, I heard directly from those affected by such attacks. I underlined that we are continuing to investigate these incidents with focus and urgency. I wish to emphasise that all such attacks must cease immediately. No person should feel any sense of impunity for such attacks.”

In an article for Department of Defense News around the same time, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was cited as saying, “U.S. leadership with Israel includes reinforcing important values, such as those embodied in the law of war. And one of those values is that civilians must be protected.” 

The article continues, “It’s something Austin said he had experience with during his time as an Army general operating in Iraq, and it’s something he said the U.S. continues to remind Israel of as it fights against Hamas.”  

When US State Department director Josh Paul resigned because his duties were sending US shipments of arms to Israel he said, “If we want a world shaped by what we perceive to be our values, it is only by conditioning strategic imperatives with moral ones, by holding our partners, and above all by holding ourselves, to those values, that we will see it.”

IP Correspondent