The Worldwide Legal Courtroom decides that it has jurisdiction over Palestinian territories
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Militant Malian Islamist Al-Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud at his trial in The Hague
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – The International Criminal Court ruled Friday that it has jurisdiction over war crimes or atrocities in the Palestinian Territories, paving the way for criminal investigations despite Israeli objections.
The judges said their decision was based on the jurisdiction rules in the founding documents of the Hague-based court and did not imply any attempt to determine statehood or legal limits.
Israel, which is not a member of the court, has declined its jurisdiction.
The court’s prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in December 2019 that there was “a reasonable basis for believing that war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip”.
She named both the Israeli armed forces and armed Palestinian groups like Hamas as possible perpetrators.
She said she wanted to open an investigation – once the judges had decided whether or not the situation came under the jurisdiction of the court.
In a majority decision published on Friday evening, the judges said this is the case.
“The Court’s territorial jurisdiction over the situation in Palestine … extends to the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, namely Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem,” they said.
It does not matter that Palestine’s status under international law is still uncertain, the judges said.
In response, Human Rights Watch called the decision “crucial” and said it “finally offers real hope for justice to victims of serious crimes after half a century of impunity,” said Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director.
“It is high time that Israeli and Palestinian perpetrators of the most serious abuses – whether war crimes during hostilities or the expansion of illegal settlements – are brought to justice.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded, saying: “The court is ignoring the real war crimes and instead prosecuting Israel, a county with a strong democratic regime that sanctifies the rule of law and is not a member of the tribunal.”
He added that Israel would “protect all of our citizens and soldiers” from prosecution.
“In its decision, the court interferes with the right of democratic countries to defend themselves,” said Netanyahu.
Hussein al-Sheikh, Minister of Civil Affairs of the Palestinian Authority, said on Twitter: “The decision of the International Criminal Court to consider Palestine as a Member State under the Treaty of Rome and responsibility for examining issues related to the Palestinian Territories and Complaints raised by the (PA) are a victory for rights, justice, freedom and moral values in the world. “
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