ICC Condemns Efforts to ‘Intimidate’ the Court as Netanyahu Arrest Warrant Looms

in Palestine

by Jake Johnson 03/05/2024 / https://countercurrents.org/

The office of International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan issued a statement Friday denouncing threats of retaliation after Israel’s prime minister and U.S. lawmakers attacked the intergovernmental body over reports that it is preparing arrest warrants for senior Israeli officials related to the war on Gaza.

The ICC statement, which does not mention any individual or country by name, says the court’s “independence and impartiality are undermined” when “individuals threaten to retaliate against the court or against court personnel should the office, in fulfillment of its mandate, make decisions about investigations or cases falling within its jurisdiction.”

“Such threats, even when not acted upon, may also constitute an offense against the administration of justice under Art. 70 of the Rome Statute,” the statement continues. “The office insists that all attempts to impede, intimidate, or improperly influence its officials cease immediately.”

The statement comes days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he “expects the leaders of the free world to stand firmly against” any ICC arrest warrants for officials in Israel’s government.

“We expect them to use all the means at their disposal to stop this dangerous move,” said Netanyahu.

The New York Timesreported over the weekend that Israeli officials “increasingly believe” that the ICC, which is based in The Hague, is preparing arrest warrants for top members of the country’s government, including Netanyahu. The ICC is also believed to be weighing arrest warrants for Hamas leaders.

“If the court proceeds, the Israeli officials could potentially be accused of preventing the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip and pursuing an excessively harsh response to the Hamas-led October 7 attacks on Israel,” the Times reported.

Bipartisan members of the U.S. Congress who have supported Israel’s devastating assault on Gaza have joined Netanyahu in condemning the ICC in recent days, pushing the Biden administration to fight any arrest warrants even though—like Israel—the U.S. is not a state party to the statute that created the court. Palestine joined the ICC in 2015.

“If unchallenged by the Biden administration, the ICC could create and assume unprecedented power to issue arrest warrants against American political leaders, American diplomats, and American military personnel,” House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) said in a statement earlier this week.

On Wednesday, according toAxios, a bipartisan group of senators held a virtual meeting with senior ICC officials to voice “their concern about possible arrest warrants being issued for Israeli leaders over the war in Gaza.”

“If this is true, it should never have happened,” said Mark Kersten, an assistant professor focusing on human rights law, international criminal law, and Canadian law at the University of the Fraser Valley. “The U.S. is not a member-state of the ICC, and the court should not be holding meetings or accepting calls from the senators of a non-member state trying to undermine the institution’s independence and interfere with its work.”

Axios noted that Republican lawmakers have “threatened to pass legislation against the ICC if it moves forward with the arrest warrants, which the Biden administration has said it opposes.”

The Israeli government, for its part, has reportedly told the Biden administration that it would retaliate against the Palestinian Authority if the ICC issues arrest warrants for Israeli leaders.

The Biden White House has publicly spoken out against the ICC’s probe of Israeli war crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories, an investigation that began in 2021.

The U.S. stance has been slammed as hypocritical given the Biden administration’s vocal support for the ICC’s decision last year to issue an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin over war crimes committed in Ukraine. Neither Russia nor Ukraine are parties to the Rome Statute, which established the ICC.

In an op-ed for The Guardian earlier this week, former Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth wrote that while “the Israeli government is not about to surrender Netanyahu or his deputies for trial,” their “travel would suddenly be limited” if the ICC moves ahead with arrest warrants.

“Although the U.S. never joined the court, European governments have, meaning that suddenly Europe and much of the rest of the world would be out of bounds for those charged without risking arrest,” Roth observed. “It would also make it more difficult for Washington and London to pretend that their ongoing arming of the Israeli military is not contributing to war crimes.”

“In addition, an initial round of charges would be an implicit threat of more,” he continued. “As Netanyahu contemplates a potential invasion of Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah despite 1.4 million Palestinians sheltering there, he must worry about whether more civilian deaths would spur Khan to intensify investigation of Israel’s apparently indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks on civilians. The ICC thus may live up to its potential not only to provide retrospective justice, but also to deter future war crimes.”

Jake Johnson is a senior editor and staff writer for Common Dreams.

Originally published in CommonDreams.org