Gaza Flotilla Attack: Calls for International Criminal Court to Step In

Published on
by
the Guardian/UK

Gaza Flotilla Attack: Calls for International Criminal Court to Step In

Turkish victims ask international criminal court to pursue Israeli gunmen over raid on ship

by
Afua Hirsch, legal affairs correspondent

Israeli navy commandos intercept the Mavi Marmara on its way to Gaza in May. (Kate Geraghty/Sydney Morning Herald)

The international criminal court is being urged to prosecute members of the Israeli defence force for the raid on a Gaza-bound aid ship. Turkish victims have formally requested an investigation, the Guardian has learned.

Lawyers acting for Turkish citizens injured or killed when Israel
intercepted the flotilla in May have written to Luis Moreno Ocampo, the
court's prosecutor, claiming there is an "overwhelming" case for
prosecution.

The request is a significant step towards a
criminal investigation by the court, which experts say has jurisdiction
to prosecute those involved in the raid despite Israel not recognising
its jurisdiction.

"The attack on the flotilla occurred in
international waters, which directly violated many parts of
international law as well as international public and criminal law,"
said Ramazan Ariturk, a partner at Elmadag Law Office, the Turkish legal
body that is representing the Turkish victims and the human rights
group IHH. "The crimes committed by Israeli Defence Forces should be
prosecuted and the International Criminal Court is the sole authority
which is able to do that."

There is mounting pressure on Israel after a UN report into the incident, in which nine Turkish activists were killed, accused Israel of violating international law.

The
report, published last month, said Israel "betrayed an unacceptable
level of brutality" during the raid on the flotilla and it "constituted
grave violations of human rights law and international humanitarian
law".

Israel condemned the report as "biased and
distorted". It has created its own state-appointed inquiry, headed by
retired supreme court justice Jacob Turkel.

An Israeli
government spokesperson said: "The event is being investigated by Israel
including international observers, as well as a UN investigation
initiated by the UN secretary general. Further investigations are
redundant and unnecessary, and will contribute to further alienation
between otherwise friendly countries."

The likelihood of
Israel being prosecuted for its actions in Gaza has long attracted
controversy. Last year a group of leading lawyers publicly accused Israel of war crimes following Operation Cast Lead, citing the blockade and destruction of civilian infrastructure in Gaza as evidence.

Neither Isreal nor the Palestinian territories
are parties to the Rome statute, which established the international
criminal court. An investigation of incidents involving the two
countries is possible only after a reference from the UN security
council.

But the Turkish victims' lawyers say the involvement of Turkey
with the Mavi Marmara and the fact it was sailing under the flag of the
Comoros Islands give the court with jurisdiction. Both countries are
members of the ICC.

"Based on the overwhelming volume of
materials and evidence in our possession, amassed since the date of the
incident itself, including expert opinions obtained from prominent
specialists in international criminal law, we are of the view that the
Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla involves crimes which fall unambiguously within the jurisdiction of the court," the letter says.

The
victims' calls were backed up last week by Desmond da Silva, a QC and
former UN war crimes prosecutor who said there were technical grounds
for asking the ICC to intervene.

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