The ICC Paralysis – Why Does Karim Khan Continue to Fail Palestine?

Why does the ICC keep failing Palestine? (Image: Palestine Chronicle)

By Nurah Tape – The Palestine Chronicle  

With the annual session of the International Criminal Court’s Assembly of States Parties underway in New York, a key case for Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan is occupied Palestine. 

On November 17, Khan’s office received a referral of the situation in Palestine from five ICC member countries, including South Africa, Bolivia, and Djibouti.

He was called upon to investigate Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip. As South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa put it, “…we believe war crimes are being committed there”.

First Official Visit

Khan recently visited Israel at the request of families and friends of the Israelis who were either killed or taken captive by the resistance movement, Hamas, on October 7. He met with them during the visit. 

Some Palestinian activists however refused to meet him, with Ammar Al-Dwaik, director-general of the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) reportedly quoted as saying that “as Palestinian human rights organizations, we decided not to meet him,” citing what they saw as unequal treatment of Israeli and Palestinian cases.

“I think the way this visit was handled shows that Mr Khan is not handling his work in an independent and professional manner.”

Although the ICC’s investigation into the situation in occupied Palestine began in 2021, it was Khan’s first official visit to the occupied West Bank and Israel.

He met with Palestinian officials in Ramallah, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, as well as Palestinian families of “victims” of the Israeli occupation. 

Eman Nafi, the wife of the longest-serving Palestinian prisoner in Israel, expressed her frustration after his visit. She reportedly told Al Jazeera that “people got angry. They told him, ‘You are coming to listen to us for 10 minutes? How are we going to tell you about our stories in 10 minutes?”

Nafi is further reported as saying that “one of the women (with us) was from Gaza. She lost 30 members of her family in the (ongoing war). She shouted, ‘How can we explain this in 10 minutes?’”

Double Standards 

The Al Jazeera report further states that “Palestinians fear that he is applying a double standard by solely focusing his efforts on Hamas and ignoring the grave crimes Israel is accused of having perpetrated over two months of a deadly war.”

Many were reportedly disappointed that Khan accepted an Israeli invitation to visit Israeli communities and areas that Hamas targeted on October 7, “while declining an offer from Palestinians to visit the hundreds of illegal Israeli settlements, checkpoints and refugee camps in the occupied West Bank.”

During his three-day visit Israel reportedly did not allow Khan to enter Gaza, where more than 18,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s onslaught since October 7, according to figures provided by the Gaza Ministry of Health. 

Khan said in a written statement issued after his visit that he witnessed “scenes of calculated cruelty” at locations of the October 7 operation by Hamas.  

“The attacks against innocent Israeli civilians on October 7 represent some of the most serious international crimes that shock the conscience of humanity, crimes which the ICC was established to address,” he said.

Khan also said he “spoke with the families of Palestinian victims. I was grateful to hear such personal accounts of their experiences in Gaza and the West Bank. We must never become numb to such suffering.”

Khan’s statement reportedly angered the Palestinians that he briefly met in Ramallah.

Nafi told Al Jazeera that “what made us really unhappy was what he wrote after the visit.

“He is not supposed to draw an equivalence between the victim and their killers. We wanted him to tell the Israelis to stop what they are doing to detainees and to (stop) what they’re doing to Gaza,” Al Jazeera reported her as saying.

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Israel’s ‘Robust System’

In relation to Gaza, Khan said “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.”

He said “international humanitarian law must still apply and the Israeli military knows the law that must be applied.”

Khan said “Israel has trained lawyers who advise commanders and a robust system intended to ensure compliance with international humanitarian law.”

On the humanitarian situation in Gaza, he said “civilians must have access to basic food, water and desperately needed medical supplies, without delay…”

He also expressed “profound concern” at the increase in attacks on Palestinians by settlers 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,” he said. 

Khan’s ‘Selective Vision’ 

The Geneva-based Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor expressed shock at what it said was Khan’s “failure to take any practical action regarding the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, particularly the Gaza Strip, in what appears to be a case of clear double standards and possible political subordination.”

Euro-Med Monitor said that “in light of the extraordinarily high level of documentation—unparalleled in history—of the Israeli wars on Gaza, which fit the definition of a genocide in the making under international law, Khan’s selective vision is a shameful affront to justice.”

Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, said “only a few ICC member countries have addressed the ICC’s role in the Palestine situation.”

This, the organization stated, contrasts with the responses of many governments to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

“It has led to perceptions of double standards in government support for international justice, putting the ICC’s legitimacy at risk,” it added in a statement on the HRW website. 

In November, the South African government called for the ICC to issue an arrest warrant for Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, saying it would signal a “total failure” of global governance if the international court does not do so.  

Palestinian legal scholar, Diana Battu, reportedly told Al Jazeera that “the ICC has become a very political court that managed to issue indictments against (Vladimir) Putin.”

But weeks into “what is presumably the worst man-made disaster (in Gaza) and the prosecutor has remained silent and only comes (to visit) at the request of Israel,” Battu is reported as saying.

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She cited Khan’s decision to indict the Russian president on account of war crimes committed during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the report added. 

Khan expressed “hope” that his visit “represents my first but not my last to both Israel and Palestine.”

“At this time of significant turbulence, the law is needed more than ever. I wish to emphasize that we are working intensively to ensure the law is protected and upheld, for all,” he concluded.

The Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court is to hold its twenty-second session at UN Headquarters in New York, from  December 4 to 14, 2023. 

During the session, the Assembly will, inter alia, elect the new President of the Assembly for the twenty-third to twenty-fifth sessions, six new judges, and six members of the Committee on Budget and Finance.

(Palestine Chronicle)

– Nurah Tape is a South Africa-based journalist. She is an editor with The Palestine Chronicle.

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
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1 Comment

  1. Putin adopted thousands of Ukrainian orphans and ICC ordered him arrested. Netanyahu killed thousands of Palestinians children and he is a free man. Mr. Karim needs to go, and investigated.

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