An independent UN human rights expert hailed on Tuesday, the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) decision to consider a formal criminal investigation into allegations of war crimes in Palestine as a “momentous step forward in the quest for accountability” in the five-decade-long Israeli occupation.
“Accountability has, until now, been largely missing in action throughout the 52-year-old occupation,” said Michael Lynk, the Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967.
On 20 December, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced that she was “satisfied that there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into the situation in Palestine”.
Mr. Lynk maintained that although the international community has adopted hundreds of UN resolutions condemning various features of “Israel’s entrenched occupation of the Palestinian territory…rarely has it ever combined criticism with consequences for Israel”.
“Now, the possibility of accountability is finally on the horizon”, the UN expert said.
Ms. Bensouda has spent the past five years reviewing the initial evidence as part of a preliminary investigation in the 2014 war on Gaza, the IsraeIi settlements and, more recently, the killing and wounding of Palestinian demonstrators near the Gaza frontier.
The ICC prosecutor said that before initiating a formal investigation, she would ask for a ruling by the Pre-Trial Chamber to confirm that the territory over which the Court may exercise its jurisdiction comprises the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza.
“In a world that proclaims its devotion to human rights and a rules-based international order, it is vital that the international community defend the decision of the ICC Prosecutor to advance her investigation and to seek a favourable ruling from the Pre-Trial Chamber on the issue of territorial jurisdiction,” said the Special Rapporteur.
“International law must be the basis for seeking justice for the victims of war crimes in this interminable conflict, and the international community must resolutely support the laws and the institutions that it has created and nurtured.”
‘Justice delayed is justice denied’
The UN expert noted that the Prosecutor also intended to investigate whether members of Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups had committed war crimes in the period since June 2014.
“If the evidence gathered by the ICC Prosecutor leads her to make findings against these organizations, then her efforts must also be supported,” he continued, adding that the Rome Statute is meant to be applied “dispassionately”, as “the only way to build the necessary political and popular support for its mission.”
Addressing the long-standing concern about how slowly the wheels of justice have turned in this matter, Mr. Lynk urged that the Pre-Trial Chamber present and resolve territorial jurisdiction issue as expeditiously as possible.
“Justice delayed is justice denied”, he spelled out.
“Should the allegations of war crimes then proceed to the formal investigation stage, every effort must be made to advance the work of the Prosecutor’s office in a reasonably speedy manner consistent with legal fairness, so that the many victims of this conflict can realistically hope that justice might yet prevail within their lifetimes”, concluded the UN Special Rapporteur.
Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.
Mr. Lynk was designated in 2016.