#GlobalJusticeWeekly - Civil society welcomes Palestine as 123rd ICC member state

After depositing the instruments of accession with the UN Secretary General on 2 January, Palestine became the 123rd state to join the world’s only permanent international court capable of trying individuals for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Palestine also submitted a declaration to the ICC under Article 12.3 of the Rome Statute granting the Court jurisdiction over alleged crimes committed on Palestinian territory since 13 June 2014—the date of the initiation of the Israel-Gaza hostilities this past summer.

“The Coalition fully supports Palestine’s accession to the Rome Statute,” said William Pace, convenor of the Coalition for the ICC. “For 12 years, the Coalition has urged all states to exercise their right to join the ICC, and key members have made special appeals to both Israel and Palestine to join the Court during the last year, which saw some of the deadliest and most destructive armed conflict between the two countries.”

“We hope this move will contribute to ending the cycles of violence between Israel and Palestine,”Pace continued. “Contrary to the position of some, Coalition members argue that enforcing international humanitarian law strengthens the peace process, while also giving victims recourse to legal remedy.”

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LRA senior commander in custody
Dominic Ongwen, a senior commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army, was detained by US forces in the Central African Republic (CAR) this week. Ongwen is accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes allegedly committed in northern Uganda.

A general in the CAR’s Seleka rebel militia said that his forces captured Ongwen and turned him over to the US, in return for which he was offered a monetary reward. The Ugandan military said that Ongwen is now in their custody.

Amnesty International (AI) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) each called for Ongwen to be transferred to the ICC to face trialParliamentarians for Global Action also welcomed Ongwen’s arrest. A Daily Monitor (Uganda) editorial called for Ongwen to be transferred to the ICC or Uganda’s International Crimes Division, and a group of Acholi leaders asked the Ugandan government to treat him with leniency. Blogger and academic Mark Kersten discussed possible scenarios for the ICC now that Ongwen is in custody.

Central African Republic
Refugees continue to move into Cameroon to escape violence in the CAR.

A defense witness in the case against Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto and broadcaster Joshua Sang was killed. The ICC expressed regret over the killing and offered support to the Kenyan authorities. Kenya’s director of public prosecutions ordered an investigation into the witness’s death, and Ruto’s defense counsel asked for a DNA test to confirm his identity. Meanwhile, Jubilee MPs demanded the arrest of human rights activist Ken Wafula as a suspect in killing. According to a Kenyan NGO, four ICC witnesses are also missing.

Ten people were killed in militia raids in North Darfur. Darfur expert Eric Reeves reported that government-aligned militia forces have been massing in North Darfur and warned of a new wave of violence. Gunmen launched two attacks on peacekeepers in Darfur.

Democratic Republic of Congo
A Congolese radio station heard local reactions to the final judgment in the Thomas Lubanga case.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on Congolese authorities to bring to justice a rebel leader accused of killings, mass rapes and other crimes in eastern DRC. The UN secretary general called for a reduction of the DRC peacekeeping force, while UN troops are planning an offensive against the FDLR rebels.

Côte d’Ivoire
The trial of Simone Gbagbo and 82 others resumed in Abidjan. Deutsche Welle reported that the trial has exposed rifts in Ivoirian society.

Preliminary Examinations
The Boko Haram killed as many as 2,000 in raids on the northeastern town of Baga, Nigeria.

A coalition of NGOs with the support of FIDH called on the ICC to open an investigation of the Maidan protest violence in Ukraine.

Campaign for Global Justice
Palestine’s accession to the ICC Rome Statute was welcomed by FIDH, the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Al Haq. Assembly of States Parties President Sidiki Kaba also welcomed Palestine as the newest member of the ICC. A group of human rights organizations including FIDH and AI, as well as the Coalition for the ICCwelcomed Palestine’s accession and urged Europe’s support. AI also called on Israel, the US and the EU to refrain from punishing Palestine for joining the Court. The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel’s Ishai Menuchin argued that Israelis should welcome Palestine’s bid to join the ICC. Al Haq’s Shawan Jabarin told the New York Times that the ICC could investigate not only widespread killing in Palestine, but also the forcible transfer of civilians, confiscation of land and destruction of property. Yazen Abed, the Coalition’s Middle East and North Africa fellowtold Vice News that the ICC prosecutor could prosecute alleged crimes committed on Palestinian territory committed by Palestinians as well as Israelis.

In response to Palestine’s accession, Israel froze Palestine’s tax revenue and the Israeli prime minister said that he will not allow Israeli soldiers to appear before the ICC. The US State Dept. said that Palestine cannot join the ICC because it is not a sovereign state, while the White House is reportedly considering cutting foreign aid to the Palestinian government. US Senator Rand Paul also introduced legislation that would cut US aid to Palestine until it withdraws from the ICC. Foreign Policy reported that while Israel historically lobbies against such measures by the US government, it has stopped doing so this time around.

In a Lawfare blog post, law professor and former ICC investigations and prosecutions coordinator Alex Whiting speculated on how a preliminary examination in Palestine might proceed. Whiting also argued that the Palestine accession should not cause the US to disengage from the ICC. A Washington Post columnist questioned whether the ICC is biased against Israel, and a Chicago Tribune editorial called Palestine’s move to join the ICC a big mistake.

Other News
HRW’s Richard Dicker argued against a proposal to redefine the “interests of justice” more broadly in order to allow the ICC prosecutor greater discretion to delay or forgo prosecutions, saying that it asks the prosecutor to make inappropriate, political decisions. In a letter to the Washington Post, the American NGO Coalition for the ICC’s John Washburn defended the Court’s credibility.

Ethiopia’s prime minister called on African countries to leave the ICC. The opening of the retrial of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt was postponed. A Bosnian Serb member of parliament was charged with taking part in the Srebrenica genocide by a Bosnian court.

The Zimbabwe Exiles Forum welcomed the suspension of South African police allegedly involved in renditions to Zimbabwe and cautioned that they would approach the ICC if investigations into alleged torture were interfered with.

Justice Hub examined the qualifications of the six new ICC judges elected by the Assembly of States Parties last month. Mark Kersten offered predictions for developments at the ICC in 2015. Alex Whiting argued that while the ICC has experienced ups and downs, the Court is here to stay.

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