Protesters hold a banner reading "Arrest Netanyahu War Criminal" in London

Protesters with a banner calling for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be arrested march through central London to call for a permanent cease-fire in Gaza on November 25, 2023.

(Photo: Mark Kerrison/In Pictures via Getty Images)

Global Rights Groups Back ICC Arrest Warrants for Israel's Netanyahu and Gallant

"The fact that the court is not caving to Israeli or massive U.S. pressure and intends to continue its investigation cannot be praised highly enough," said one advocate.

Human rights defenders around the world on Tuesday welcomed the International Criminal Court's application for arrest warrants targeting Israeli and Hamas leaders for alleged crimes on and after October 7, with Amnesty International hailing the effort as "a crucial step toward justice."

ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan on Monday formally applied to a panel of judges on the 18-member Hague-based tribunal for permission to arrest Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for alleged "crimes of causing extermination, causing starvation as a method of war, including the denial of humanitarian relief supplies, [and] deliberately targeting civilians in conflict."

Khan is also seeking warrants for the arrest of Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Ismail Haniyeh, and Mohammed Deif for alleged "extermination, murder, taking of hostages, rape, and sexual assault in detention."

Responding to the ICC request, Amnesty International secretary general Agnès Callamard said: "No one is above international law: no leaders of armed groups, no government officials—elected or not, no military officials. Regardless of the cause they are pursuing, no one is above the law."

"This move by the ICC prosecutor sends an important message to all parties to the conflict in Gaza and beyond that they will be held accountable for the devastation they have waged on the peoples of Gaza and Israel," Callamard added.

Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch, asserted that Khan's application "reaffirms the crucial role of the International Criminal Court."

"Victims of serious abuses in Israel and Palestine have faced a wall of impunity for decades," she continued. "This principled first step by the prosecutor opens the door to those responsible for the atrocities committed in recent months to answer for their actions at a fair trial."

"ICC member countries should stand ready to resolutely protect the ICC's independence as hostile pressure is likely to increase while the ICC judges consider Khan's request," Jarrah added.

The ICC has endured pressure from the United States—which gives Israel billions of dollars in military aid and diplomatic cover on the world stage—not to pursue charges against Israeli leaders. The Biden administration reportedly worked with the Israeli government to prevent arrest warrants, while some Republican U.S. senators have threatened to retaliate against ICC jurists. Under an existing U.S. law dubbed the Hague Invasion Act, the president may order action up to military intervention to free citizens of the United States or allied nations who are arrested and in ICC custody.

"The fact that the court is not caving to Israeli or massive U.S. pressure and intends to continue its investigation cannot be praised highly enough," said Andreas Schüller, director of the international crimes and accountability program at the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights.

"Just roughly one year ago, the court caused an uproar with its arrest warrant against [Russian President Vladimir] Putin for his responsibility for war crimes in Ukraine," Schüller noted. "By requesting arrest warrants against Israeli politicians and military officers, as well as leading representatives of Hamas, prosecutors in The Hague are making it clear that international criminal law is universal and that everyone who violates it must ultimately face accountability."

Israeli and Hamas leaders decried the ICC request, with Netanyahu calling it "absurd" and antisemitic and a Hamas spokesperson accusing the tribunal of equating "the victim with the executioner."

U.S. President Joe Biden condemned the court's "outrageous" move and reasserted that Israel's 228-day assault "is not genocide," even though it has killed, maimed, or left missing more than 126,000 Gazans, according to Palestinian and international officials.

"What is 'outrageous' is Israel's U.S.-enabled, decadeslong impunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity against Palestinians, which has emboldened it to carry out its wholesale assault against 2.2 million people in Gaza, while increasing attacks and landgrabs in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem," the Center for Constitutional Rights said Tuesday in a statement welcoming Khan's application.

The United Nations' International Court of Justice is currently weighing a case brought by South Africa and supported by more than 30 countries accusing Israel of genocide in Gaza. In March, the U.N. Human Rights Council published a draft report that found "reasonable grounds to believe" Israel is committing the crime of genocide.

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