ICC ruling on jurisdiction in occupied Palestinian territory welcome step towards justice: UN expert
09 February 2021
GENEVA (9 February 2021) – A UN human rights expert said today the International Criminal Court's (ICC) ruling that it has jurisdiction over grave crimes committed in occupied Palestinian territory, including potential war crimes, is a major move towards ending impunity and ensuring justice.
"This is a significant step forward in the quest for justice and accountability involving the unaccountable 53-year-old occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza," said Michael Lynk, the Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967.
"The leading political organs of the United Nations have repeatedly failed to enforce their own significant body of resolutions on the Israeli occupation," the independent expert said. "This ruling opens the door for credible allegations of Rome Statute crimes to finally be investigated and potentially reach the trial stage at the ICC. This offers profound hope to those who believe that consequences, not condonation, must be the answer to the commission of grave crimes."
The allegations of grave crimes that could be investigated by the Prosecutor of the ICC include Israel's actions during the 2014 war against Gaza, the killing and wounding of thousands of largely unarmed demonstrators during the Great March of Return in 2018-9, and Israel's settlement activities in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. As well, the Prosecutor can also look into allegations of grave crimes involving Palestinian armed groups.
"In adopting the Rome Statute and creating the International Criminal Court, the international community pledged its determination to end impunity for the perpetrators of grave crimes," the Special Rapporteur stated. "Yet, in the context of Israel's protracted occupation, the international community has permitted a culture of exceptionalism to prevail. Had international legal obligations been purposively enforced years ago, the occupation and the conflict would have been justly resolved and there would have been no need for the ICC process."
The Special Rapporteur noted that a number of authoritative UN reports in recent years have called for accountability and for Israel to meaningfully investigate credible allegations of grave crimes:
· A report into the 2008-09 Gaza conflict stated that: "…justice and respect for the rule of law are the indispensable basis for peace. The prolonged situation of impunity has created a justice crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory that warrants action."
· A 2013 report into the implications of the Israeli settlements called upon Israel: "…to ensure full accountability for all violations…and to put an end to the policy of impunity."
· A report into the 2014 Gaza conflict expressed concerned that: "… impunity prevails across the board for violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law allegedly committed by Israeli forces…Israel must break with its recent lamentable track record in holding wrongdoers accountable…"
· A 2019 report into the Gaza protests found that: "To date, the Government of Israel has consistently failed to meaningfully investigate and prosecute commanders and soldiers for crimes and violations…Scarce accountability measures arising out of Operations Cast Lead (2008-09) and Protective Edge (2014)…cast doubt over the State's willingness to scrutinise the actions of military and civilian leadership…."
The Special Rapporteur said none of these calls for justice and accountability have been implemented.
He urged the international community to support the ICC process. "The preamble of the Rome Statute calls for 'international cooperation' to ensure the 'lasting respect for and the enforcement of international justice,'' Lynk said. "Ending impunity and pursuing justice can only bring us closer to peace in the Middle East."
The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures' experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.