ICC decision on Israel delayed by coronavirus shutdown

March 19, 2020 by Benjamin Brown - TPS
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The International Criminal Court (ICC) will be forced to postpone its decision on whether to open full court proceedings against Israel for alleged war crimes for at least a month after the court building in The Hague was shut down due to fears of a further spreading of the novel Coronavirus (Covid-19).

International Criminal Court. Credit: U.N. Photo.

The building will be closed until at least March 30th but Gambian lawyer and chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has already motioned for an extension of her legal brief until April 30th.

The hearing will likely centre around the question of whether “Palestine” constitutes a country under court rules and proceedings can thus go ahead.

Under ICC rules, only sovereign states can delegate criminal jurisdiction over their territory and citizens to the court. Should the court share Israel’s view that Palestine does not constitute a formal state under international law, the ICC would not be able to hear the case.

Several countries, including the United States, Canada, Germany, Australia, Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Brazil, and Uganda, and multiple NGOs have voiced their support for Israel’s position and argued the court should throw out the case, saying it has no jurisdiction over the case.

Prosecutor Bensouda alleges that “war crimes have been committed or are being committed in the West Bank, especially in East Jerusalem, and in the Gaza Strip,” by both the Israeli military, Hamas and other armed Palestinian organizations.

Israel’s Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz in February stated that Israel “views favourably the fact that important countries, renowned experts and civil society organizations express a clear position that the International Criminal Court does not have the authority to discuss the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” further calling the decision to challenge the court a “responsible position that aligns with international law and prevents the court’s politicization.”

Bensouda has requested three ICC judges rule whether the ICC has the necessary jurisdiction over the case.

Palestine has been a member of the ICC since 2015, while Israel is not a member and has decided to disregard the probe.

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