Palestinian human rights groups called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Thursday to begin an investigation "to pursue justice and accountability" for Israel's "widespread crimes and violations of international law."
In a legal opinion presented to the ICC Prosecutor, Fatou B. Bensouda, Al-Haq and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights write that "it is now incumbent upon the Office of the Prosecutor to confront the temporal and territorial ‘black hole’ of impunity in which the people of the state of Palestine have been locked for the past several decades."
Al-Haq explains that the United Nations' granting of Palestine Non-Member State status in November of 2012 removed any doubts about the ICC's jurisdiction, a question the previous prosecutor had raised, and that Palestinian leadership had in a 2009 declaration already accepted jurisdiction of the Court.
The legal opinion reads, in part:
...the situation in Palestine, even prior to 2002, has been characterized by continuous violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed in a widespread and systematic manner within a political struggle between the Israeli occupation forces and the Palestinian people. As stressed by the former UN Special Rapporteur John Dugard in January 2007; “ Israel is clearly in military occupation of the OPT. At the same time, elements of the occupation constitute forms of colonialism and of apartheid, which are contrary to international law. What are the legal consequences of a regime of prolonged occupation with features of colonialism and apartheid for the occupied people, the Occupying Power and third States? ” Al - Haq and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights submit therefore, that in light of the pertinent similarities between the Court’s engagement with the Situation in Cote d’Ivoire and the approach taken by Palestine, a strong, indeed powerful, case can be made for the Prosecutor, acting on the basis of the 2009 Article 12 ( 3 ) Declaration, to request authorization from a Pre - Trial Chamber to commence an investigation into the Situation in Palestine within a temporal jurisdiction that commences from 1 July 2002
“With this opinion we are putting forward our position that the rights of Palestinian victims are not subject to compromise," Shawan Jabarin, the General Director of Al-Haq, said in a statement.
"Any negotiated agreement that sidelines the pursuit of justice through the ICC is an agreement that lacks the representative support of Palestinian civil society. Our role as Palestinian human rights organizations is to pursue justice and accountability regardless of negotiations and we condemn any pressure exerted to the contrary. This is especially important in light of the fact that violations of international law continue unabated despite ongoing negotiations. We call on the Prosecutor to move forward on the 2009 Palestinian declaration and simultaneously urge the Palestinian leadership to support such a move, in addition to acceding to other international instruments,” Jabarin continued.
Reporting on the rights groups' appeal to the ICC, the Guardian notes that "any such move by the ICC would be fiercely opposed by Israel and the US, and would be likely to scupper the recently revived peace process."
The groups' letter to the Office of the Prosecutor concludes:
It is vital that the people and the state of Palestine get a fair hearing and opportunity to present their case before the Court in an effort to ensure accountability for the widespread crimes and violations of international law that have characterized Israel’s occupation of Palestine since the Court’s jurisdiction was triggered in July 2002. Given the mass of evidence and documentation attesting to the widespread commission of crimes in Palestine, and the environment of total impunity for the perpetrators, the Office of the Prosecutor should immediately move to place a request before the Court’s Pre - Trial Chamber for authorization to commence an investigation into the Situation in Palestine from 1 July 2002. In doing so, the Office of the Prosecutor will demonstrate a commitment to seeking the broadest form of accountability for the Palestinians that remain subject to foreign military occupation and deprived of fundamental human rights and of independence