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Amnesty urges Canadian government to support an ICC investigation of war crimes in OPT

    Tuesday, May 12, 2020 - 10:42

    On December 20, 2019, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (“ICC”) concluded its preliminary examination of the situation in Palestine. In her official statement, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensoudaa confirms that pursuant to Articling 53(1) of the Statute, there is a “reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into the Situation in Palestine”. In rendering her conclusion, Prosecutor Bensouda outlines the following position:

    1. war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip (“Gaza”);
    2. potential cases arising from the situation would be admissible; and
    3. there are no substantial reasons to believe that an investigation would not serve the interests of justice.

    Given the unique and special circumstances surrounding this case, the Prosecutor deemed it necessary and appropriate to rely on Article 19(3) of the Statute. This means that the Prosecutor has requested a ruling on the scope of the territorial jurisdiction that the ICC may have on this issue. The main reason for deeming this referral necessary relies on the highly contested territorial disputes involved in this case. As such, the territorial ruling was requested from Pre-Trial Chamber I.

    Pre-Trial Chamber I is expected to make a decision on this matter in due course.

    CANADA MUST SUPPORT THE WORK OF THE ICC PROSECUTOR

    Amnesty International Canada has called for the federal government to support the position taken by the Prosecutor with respect to the motion that has been brought regarding territorial scope, namely that she does have jurisdiction to pursue an investigation regarding the commission of war crimes in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza. More generally we have called on Canada to refrain from taking any position that would oppose the work of the ICC Prosecutor.

    An investigation by the ICC could change the minds of Israeli political and military leaders with regard to the occupation of the Palestinian territories and result in “a decisive and positive impact on breaking the conflict’s logjam where resolutions, peace conferences and diplomatic statements have failed” stated an open letter by Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada’s English branch, and Michael Lynk, the United Nations special rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967.

    In December 2019, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau criticizing Bensouda’s decision. Netanyahu charged that the ICC lacked jurisdiction, and that an investigation by the ICC would only serve to delegitimize the state of Israel and to perpetuate the conflict.

    Amnesty International Canada urged Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister of Foreign Affairs François-Philippe Champagne to support the motion filed by the ICC prosecutor. This would permit Prosecutor Bensouda to exercise territorial jurisdiction over war crimes allegedly committed by Israel in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. The alleged acts include shootings, firing of rockets, the building of illegal settlements, demolitions of homes and many other violations of human rights.

    Unfortunately the federal government has indicated its support for the position taken by the Israeli government. Canada has submitted a letter to the ICC reiterating its position on Palestine’s status. According to an article published by The Canadian Jewish News (CJN), Canada conveyed to the ICC by way of a letter that it does not recognize a Palestinian state and that the ICC has therefore no jurisdiction to hear this matter.

    Amnesty strongly opposes the federal government’s position.

    A CRUCIAL OPPORTUNITY FOR MEANINGFUL ACCOUNTABILITY

    The advancement of the complaints respecting war crimes in the occupied Palestinian territory to a full investigation stage at the ICC offers a crucial opportunity to break the cycle of impunity for war crimes and paves the way for the many thousands who have suffered as a result of these crimes to finally achieve long overdue access to truth, justice and reparations. The ICC is one of the only international forums where Israeli authorities may be held meaningfully accountable for grave violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

    In December 2019, Canada voted in support of Palestinian self-determination at the UN General Assembly. This resolution recognizes both the strong international consensus on this issue as well as the importance of international law as the indispensable framework for a just and durable peace between Israelis and Palestinians. By sending a letter to the ICC at the request of Prime Minister Netanyahu, Canada undermines the strong message that was sent with that vote. Furthermore, Canada effectively fails to uphold the integrity and independence of an ICC investigation.

    Canada is a party to the Rome Statute. As a party to the Statute and a globally recognized champion of the ICC since its establishment, Canada must respect the Court’s process and the independence of the Prosecutor, notwithstanding political pressure from allies.

    Canada was the first country to domestically implement the obligations under the Rome Statute, by enacting the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act. As a leader in human rights, Amnesty Canada urges the federal government to re-evaluate its position regarding Israel and the ICC. The ICC is an independent court of last resort with the jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute the most serious crimes under international law. Canada must keep political considerations to the side.

    Amnesty International urges Canada to reconsider its position. In doing so, Canada would reconfirm its regard for the importance of vital international legal standards, notably in the areas of international human rights, international humanitarian law and international criminal law.

    WHAT YOU CAN DO

    Share our public statement.

    We encourage you to share the report on social media platforms by using the below social media messages:

    For decades crimes under int’l law have taken place in the Occupied Palestinian Territories with impunity. This is at the heart of the continuing human rights crisis in the OPT. Governments must offer their full support to the ICC Prosecutor’s ongoing investigation. https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/mde15/1986/2020/en/

    Governments have an obligation to put an end to crimes being committed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories by supporting an investigation by the @IntlCrimCourt Prosecutor. Opposing an #ICC investigation sends the message that impunity prevails. https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/mde15/1986/2020/en/

    For too long Israel/OPT has been a blind spot for international justice. Breaking the cycle of impunity is the only way to put an end to this legal black hole. We call on governments to offer their full support to the @IntlCrimCourt Prosecutor. https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/mde15/1986/2020/en/

    The @IntlCrimCourt is the main avenue for justice for victims in Israel/OPT. All states parties must safeguard the work of the #ICC and condemn political efforts to undermine its independence. https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/mde15/1986/2020/en/

    Joint statement issued by AI UK and other UK based NGOs calling on the UK government to take action to end UK companies’ involvement in illegal Israeli settlements following the release of the UN database.