The Lawyer Who Keeps Failing Palestine: Who is ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan?

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

By Robert Inlakesh

When Karim Khan won a 9-year term as prosecutor, he announced that he would prioritize the cases handed to the court by the UNSC, which the Palestine case was not due to the infamous power of the US veto.

The current ICC prosecutor, Karim Khan, despite touting his Muslim background and quoting the Quran, was the favored candidate of the US and Israel for his current position. 

In March of 2021, Khan’s predecessor announced an investigation into war crimes committed by the Israeli government, however, since the current prosecutor assumed office in June of that same year, there has been no progress.

Karim Khan’s campaign to become the new Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), was successful by a slim margin in 2021. 

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Khan’s Background

Under his belt, he holds three decades of experience as an international criminal law and human rights lawyer.

Graduating from King’s College London, with a Bachelor of Laws, he went on to gain significant experience as a prosecutor, victim’s counsel and defense lawyer. 

More recently, he served as an Assistant Secretary General of the UN and was a Special Adviser and Head of the United Nations Investigative Team to promote accountability for crimes committed by Daesh in Iraq (UNITAD) between 2018 to 2021.

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Ahmadiyya Faith

Described as a “practicing Muslim”, who has often cited the Quran in public statements, Khan comes from the Ahmadiyya faith. 

Ahmadis claim the title of Muslim, and as minority groups in a number of Muslim-majority nations, have been subjected to persecution after being labeled non-Muslims and even agents of Israel. 

Karim Khan has said that his volunteer work in the Ahmaddiya community – which moved its headquarters to the UK in the 1980s after Pakistan passed a law forbidding Ahmadis from calling themselves Muslims – claims the experiences within the community “helped me gravitate to this area (of human rights)”.

Karim Khan has been criticized in the past for having acted as defense counsel for Kenyan Vice-President, William Ruto, when he was charged with crimes against humanity, following post-election violence in 2007 that led to the murder of 1,200 people.

He also drew criticism for defending Charles Taylor, the former Liberian President, who was convicted of war crimes. 

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Support from UK, Israel, US

During his candidacy, as a UK citizen, he received enthusiastic support from the British government, while also receiving backing from Israel and the United States, two non-signatories to the Rome Statute which governs the ICC. 

In fact, the ICC was set to investigate war crimes committed by both the Israelis and Americans, which led to former US President Donald Trump declaring that his government would target the ICC with sanctions, as Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, labeled the court’s decision to investigate potential Israeli war crimes “pure anti-semitism”.

Important for context is that the ICC can only prosecute individuals for war crimes if there is either a direct request from a member/s of the UN Security Council (UNSC), an ICC State member, or if the prosecutor orders it themselves.

When Karim Khan won a 9-year term as prosecutor, he announced that he would prioritize the cases handed to the court by the UNSC, which the Palestine case was not due to the infamous power of the US veto at the Security Council.

 However, seemingly doing the bidding of those who supported his candidacy, Khan broke his own rule by quickly prosecuting Russian President, Vladimir Putin.

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Karim Khan also used the memory of the man he calls his “adopted grandfather”, Muhammad Zafarullah Khan, who was the first foreign minister of Pakistan and gave the strongest speech against UN partition resolution 181 (responsible for the creation of Israel in 1948) at the United Nations in 1947. 

Karim Khan decided to approach Palestinians in an attempt to remind them of his pedigree, during his campaign, in an attempt to assure them that he would act on principle when elected.

Another prominent family member of the prosecutor is his brother, Imran Ahmad Khan, who served as a British Member of Parliament (MP) between 2019 and 2022. 

He remained as an MP for the UK’s Conservative Party, before being expelled from the party and resigning as an elected official, following his conviction for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy.

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Visit to Israel

Karim Khan claimed, without evidence, that following the Hamas-led October 7 attack, he had been denied permission to visit the Gaza Strip, placing himself in front of cameras in Cairo, Egypt, in order to deliver a lengthy condemnation of the attack on Israel. 

In contrast, he has refrained from accusing Israel of war crimes and was later exposed as having traveled to Palestine-Israel, at the request of Israeli families who were affected by the October 7 attack.

Initially, he disingenuously claimed that his visit was “not investigatory in nature”, then quickly organized a trip to occupied Ramallah, in the West Bank, to meet Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas.

However, Palestinian human rights organizations refused to meet with him, publicly denouncing his visit instead. 

(The Palestine Chronicle)

– Robert Inlakesh is a journalist, writer, and documentary filmmaker. He focuses on the Middle East, specializing in Palestine. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

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