Will proposed ICC arrest warrants for Gaza war figures deliver justice for Palestinians?

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Combo image showing Palestinians reeling from the impact of the Israeli bombardment of their homes in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 28, 2024, as the Netanyahu government ignored pleas by the UN and Israel's own allies not to invade the enclave to spare civilians of more sufferings. (REUTERS photos)
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=Israeli soldiers gather near the border with the Gaza Strip in Israel after their return from the Gaza Strip on December 31, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 30 May 2024

Will proposed ICC arrest warrants for Gaza war figures deliver justice for Palestinians?

  • International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Karim Khan hopes to bring senior Israeli and Hamas leaders to trial
  • Some experts think the move is intended to nudge the warring parties toward a hostage deal and a ceasefire

LONDON: By applying for arrest warrants for senior Israeli ministers and Hamas commanders, Karim Khan, prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, has thrust the court itself into the spotlight, raising questions about the move’s likelihood of success and timing.

Calling it “totally absurd” and “a travesty of justice,” Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed Khan’s decision to seek arrest warrants against him and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, together with several Hamas commanders, for war crimes.

A protester shows a sign bearing portraits of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu transformed to Nazi Germany's leader Adolf Hitler during a demonstration called by French organization "France Palestine Solidarite" in Paris, on May 27, 2024. (AFP)

For his part, Gallant labeled the proposed warrants against him and his prime minister as “disgraceful,” claiming that it was motivated by a desire to reverse the foundation of the state of Israel.

Considering the scant likelihood in this case of an ICC arrest warrant being acted upon — a move Hassan Imran, a senior legal adviser at human rights organization Law for Palestine, told Arab News would be “precedent-making” — it raises the question: What is motivating Khan?

Exterior view of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, on April 30, 2024.  (AP/File) 

Julie Norman, a senior associate fellow at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, believes the proposed arrest warrants could be intended to nudge the warring parties toward a deal.

“Supporters of the move are hoping the charges will add pressure for both sides to end the conflict, for Hamas to release the hostages, and for Israel to increase access to humanitarian aid in Gaza,” said Norman.

Although some have said the ICC’s action would complicate any ceasefire negotiations, Mark Kersten, assistant professor of criminal justice and criminology at Canada’s University of the Fraser Valley, told a Middle Eastern news outlet that “complicated” did not necessarily equate to “worse” negotiations.


• The International Criminal Court is an intergovernmental organization and tribunal seat in The Hague, Netherlands.

• The ICC is distinct from the International Court of Justice, a UN organ that hears disputes between states.

• The ICC was established in 2002 in a follow-up of the multilateral Rome Statute.

“Take Colombia, where the ICC had a decade-long preliminary examination,” he said. “Accountability processes negotiated during the peace process there translated into meaningful justice for many of the wartime atrocities committed by the government and the rebels.

“Moreover, for the ICC to undermine negotiations, there must be a realistic prospect of a peace process. If such negotiations do not exist, the claim that pursuing accountability will ruin them is likely a red herring — an argument intended to shield the perpetrators of atrocities.”

Palestinians gather at the site of an Israeli strike on a camp area housing internally displaced people in Rafah on May 27. (AFP)

Khan’s request has gone to the ICC’s pre-trial chamber, where it will now be down to the three sitting judges — Romania’s Iulia Motoc, Benin’s Reine Alapini-Gansou, and France’s Nicolas Guillou — to determine whether to take action or not.

After seven months of fact-finding, lawyers believe Khan’s case is strong: Netanyahu and Gallant have been accused of using starvation as a weapon of war, willfully causing suffering, willfully killing, intentionally attacking civilian populations, extermination and persecution.

Sergey Vasiliev, associate professor of law at the University of Amsterdam, told Turkiye’s Anadolu news agency that the ICC judges now have to decide whether there are reasonable grounds the accused committed the crimes and if an arrest, as opposed to a summons, is necessary.

“I expect the judges to grant the request. I assume the investigation has been conducted thoroughly over the past seven months, the evidence amply sufficient to meet the threshold and it to be a concise yet compelling legal narrative,” said Vasiliev. 

Judges of the committee of the International Criminal Court Committee are assembled at the ICC headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands. (ICC file photo)

Justifying his position, Vasiliev said the standard for “reasonable grounds” was not as demanding as the more onerous “substantial grounds to believe,” adding that applications for arrest warrants were not “generally expected to provide elaborate analysis of the evidence.”

As to the timeline, some commentators expect the judges will make their decision in the near future.

“I think it is a matter of days until we know if the arrest warrants will be issued and then all 124 states that are members of the court are obligated to take action on them,” Gershon Baskin, Middle East director at the International Communities Organization, told Arab News. 

Children enjoy the luxury of riding atop a vehicle as many other Palestinians travel on foot along with their belongings to flee Rafah on May 28, 2024 , due to an Israeli military operation on May 28, 2024. (REUTERS)

Given that the ICC neither carries out arrests nor tries people in absentia, the question then becomes one of enforcement. There has been little sign of Israel handing over its own people, with Gallant stressing “it is not a party and does not recognize its authority.”

Nor do Gallant and Netanyahu have to worry about the US turning them over to the ICC. Khan’s move has engendered a rare moment of concord across the aisle, with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham pushing to censure the ICC.

Graham received a positive response from Secretary of State Antony Blinken after asking: “I want to take actions, not just words. Will you support a bipartisan effort to sanction the ICC — not only for the outrage against Israel but to protect, in the future, our own interests?”

US Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) gives a statement to the press during his visit in Tel Aviv, Israel, on May 29, 2024. (REUTERS)

Catching some off-guard, particularly given its vocal support for Israel and having echoed other European states in describing the ICC move as “deeply unhelpful,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz confirmed Germany would not defy an ICC arrest warrant were one to be issued.

On Monday, Israel’s Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara said Israel’s legal system is actively investigating allegations of possible criminal misconduct during the war in Gaza and that Khan’s request for arrest warrants was therefore hasty and inappropriate. 

“The states that established the court saw it as a tool for dealing with situations where there is ‘no law and no judge.’ That is not our situation,” Baharav-Miara told a conference of the Israel Bar Association.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

“It would have been more correct for the prosecutor to wait until the internal state procedures were completed before making a decision. It would have been right to give the state of Israel a fair opportunity in this regard.”

Julia Roknifard, an assistant professor at the University of Nottingham’s School of Politics, History, and International Relations, says that in all likelihood, the ICC will not see a case actioned given the lack of jurisdiction it has over Israel itself.

“Netanyahu liked to travel to the US, but I don’t think he is welcome there now, and I don’t think he is in the mood right now to travel at all, so I think it is very unlikely that we would see an arrest were a warrant issued,” Roknifard told Arab News.

Echoing Roknifard, Baskin said it was highly unlikely that Gallant and Netanyahu would travel to any country in which they had any concern of being arrested and handed over to the ICC, describing warrants as “kind of a moot point.”

Roknifard does not believe Khan is pursuing warrants for mere symbolic reasons. “I wouldn’t read into the ICC motion more than it is supposed to be — to charge individuals with the crimes they have (allegedly) committed,” she said

International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan. (AFP)

Instead, like Imran, Roknifard touts the importance of the case brought by South Africa to the International Court of Justice, which last week ordered Israel to cease its offensive in Rafah — an order that Israel has ignored.

Commenting on Khan’s proposed arrest warrants, Imran said he saw it as less about a particular case and more about the future, or lack thereof, of the ICC.

“European states, I think, now have to make a choice between the institutions they have been supporting financially and their calls for a rules-based order modeled around international law and their support for Israel,” Imran told Arab News.

“We have seen many of them criticize the court in the wake of Khan’s announcement, and now we see some stating they will respect the decision, but it’s hard to tell what they will do were Netanyahu to actually travel to their territory with an arrest warrant out for him.

“Some will try and beat around the bush. But if they did not apply the decision, they would be essentially disowning this international institution and basically disintegrating the ICC and, if they do, that means they will have to change their policy goals.”


UN experts say firms sending arms to Israel could be complicit in abuses

Updated 4 sec ago

UN experts say firms sending arms to Israel could be complicit in abuses

The group of 30 experts, including several UN Special Rapporteurs, said arms manufacturers supplying Israel should halt their transfers of war materiel
The UN experts said on Thursday the risk to arms firms had increased since the International Court of Justice ordered Israel last month to halt its military offensive in Rafah

GENEVA: A group of United Nations experts on Thursday warned arms and ammunitions manufacturers against taking part in the transfer of weapons to Israel, saying it could make them complicit in human rights abuses and violations of international law.
The group of 30 experts, including several UN Special Rapporteurs, said arms manufacturers supplying Israel should halt their transfers of war materiel, “even if they are executed under existing export licenses.”
“These companies, by sending weapons, parts, components, and ammunition to Israeli forces, risk being complicit in serious violations of international human rights and international humanitarian laws,” the experts said in a statement.
There was no immediate comment from Israel which has repeatedly denied carrying out abuses during its Gaza operations, saying it is acting to defend itself and is fighting Hamas militants, not the Palestinian population.
The UN experts said on Thursday the risk to arms firms had increased since the International Court of Justice ordered Israel last month to halt its military offensive in Rafah in the southern tip of the Gaza Strip, in a landmark emergency ruling in South Africa’s case accusing Israel of genocide.
“In this context, continuing arms transfers to Israel may be seen as knowingly providing assistance for operations that contravene international human rights and international humanitarian laws and may result in profit from such assistance,” the experts said.
Israel has rejected the genocide accusations as false and grossly distorted.
The UN human rights office said on Wednesday that Israeli forces may have repeatedly violated the laws of war and failed to distinguish between civilians and fighters in the Gaza conflict. Israel dismissed the findings as flawed.
Israel’s air and ground offensive has killed more than 37,400 people in the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory, according to health authorities there.
Israel launched its assault after Hamas fighters stormed across the border into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and taking more than 250 people hostage, according to Israeli tallies.

Hezbollah fires rockets at Israel after fighter killed

Updated 57 min ago

Hezbollah fires rockets at Israel after fighter killed

  • Hezbollah announced that one of its fighters had been killed
  • A source close to the group told AFP he was killed in the Deir Kifa strike

BEIRUT: Hezbollah said it fired “dozens” of rockets into northern Israel Thursday in retaliation for a deadly strike in south Lebanon, a day after a fiery speech from the group’s leader.
Israel and Hezbollah, a powerful Lebanese movement allied with Hamas, have traded near-daily cross-border fire since the Palestinian militant group’s October 7 attack on Israel which triggered war in the Gaza Strip.
Fears of a regional war rose after Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah warned Wednesday “no place” in Israel would be spared in case of all-out war against his group, and threatened the nearby island nation of Cyprus if it opened its airports to Israel.
Hezbollah on Thursday said that “in response to the assassination that the Israeli enemy carried out in the village of Deir Kifa,” fighters targeted an Israeli barracks “with dozens of Katyusha rockets.”
Lebanon’s official National News Agency (NNA) had reported one dead after an “enemy drone” struck a vehicle in south Lebanon’s Deir Kifa area.
Hezbollah announced that one of its fighters had been killed. A source close to the group, requesting anonymity, told AFP he was killed in the Deir Kifa strike.
The Israeli military said an air strike “eliminated” a Hezbollah operative in the Deir Kifa area, saying he was “responsible for planning and carrying out terror attacks against Israel and commanding Hezbollah ground forces” in south Lebanon’s Jouaiyya area.
Elsewhere, Israeli fighter jets struck “a Hezbollah surface-to-air missile launcher that posed a threat to aircraft operating over Lebanon,” the army statement added.
The exchanges between the foes, which last went to war in 2006, have escalated in recent weeks, and the Israeli military said Tuesday that “operational plans for an offensive in Lebanon were approved and validated.”
After the Hezbollah leader’s threats against Cyprus, Lebanon’s foreign ministry said Thursday that “relations between Lebanon and Cyprus are based on a rich history of diplomatic cooperation.”
Contacts and consultations continue between the two countries “at the highest levels,” a foreign ministry statement said, without making specific reference to Nasrallah’s remarks.
In a conversation with his Cyprus counterpart, Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib expressed “Lebanon’s constant reliance on the positive role that Cyprus plays in supporting regional stability,” the NNA reported.
Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides had denied his country’s involvement in the war and said it was “part of the solution.”
The cross-border violence has killed at least 479 people in Lebanon, most of them fighters but also including 93 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
Israeli authorities say at least 15 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed in the country’s north.

UNHCR chief warns of ‘insufficent’ humanitarian access to Sudan

Updated 20 June 2024

UNHCR chief warns of ‘insufficent’ humanitarian access to Sudan

  • Grandi said that although he had “seen a little bit of progress in the last few weeks,” much more action was needed to improve access
  • The global community had to continue lobbying for aid access, he said

JUBA: Humanitarian access to war-torn Sudan remains woefully “insufficient,” raising the risk of starvation among its population, Filippo Grandi, the head of the UN refugee agency, warned.
War has raged since April 2023 between the regular military under army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces led by his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
The conflict has left tens of thousands dead and displaced more than ten million people, according to the United Nations.
In an interview with AFP on Wednesday, Grandi, who leads the United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR, said that although he had “seen a little bit of progress in the last few weeks,” much more action was needed to improve access.
“We are asking all the parties to give access to humanitarians because our presence there is insufficient to help the people in need, and especially to bring the food and the other supplies that are needed for people that otherwise risk starvation,” he said.
Aid workers were able to get “a bit more” access than before, due to “insistence... on the part of the international community,” said Grandi, during a visit to South Sudan, which has seen a huge influx of returnees from Sudan since April last year.
The global community had to continue lobbying for aid access, he said, “because otherwise we risk having more displacement, and even worse, we risk seeing people dying of hunger.”
“I am very worried because I was hoping at the beginning like many Sudanese did, that this would be a short-lived conflict.”
Both sides have been accused of war crimes including deliberately targeting civilians, indiscriminate shelling of residential areas and blocking humanitarian aid, despite warnings that millions are on the brink of starvation.
Rights groups and the United States have also accused the paramilitaries of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
Christos Christou, the international chief of the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, on Thursday described Sudan as “one of the worst crises the world has seen for decades... yet the humanitarian response is profoundly inadequate.”
“There are extreme levels of suffering across the country, and the needs are growing by the day,” he said on X.

Kuwait announces power cuts as demand spikes in summer heat

Updated 20 June 2024

Kuwait announces power cuts as demand spikes in summer heat

  • Temperatures are expected to climb above the 50 degree Celsius mark in the coming days.
  • Kuwait signed short-term contracts to buy 500 megawatts of electricity, including 300 MW from Oman and 200 MW from Qatar

Kuwait City: Kuwait has announced temporary power cuts in some parts of the country during peak consumption hours, saying it is struggling to meet increased demand spurred by extreme summer heat.
In a statement on Wednesday, Kuwait’s Ministry of Electricity, Water and Renewable Energy said the scheduled cuts would occur for up to two hours a day, in the first such step for the OPEC member state as climate change causes temperatures to rise.
It blamed the cuts on “the inability of power plants to meet increased demand” during peak hours amid “a rise in temperatures compared to the same period in previous years.”
On Thursday, the ministry published a schedule of expected cuts across several parts of the country, after urging residents to ration consumption to ease the load on power plants.
Kuwait, one of the largest crude producers in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), is considered one of the world’s hottest desert countries.
In recent years, climate change has made summer peaks hotter and longer.
The extreme heat raises reliance on energy-guzzling air conditioners which are ubiquitous in Kuwait during the summer months.
Temperatures neared 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) on Thursday, according to Kuwait’s Meteorological Department.
“What we are experiencing today is the result of climate change,” said Kuwaiti astronomer and scientist Adel Al-Saadoun, noting that temperatures are expected to climb above the 50 degree Celsius mark in the coming days.
Last month, Kuwait signed short-term contracts to buy 500 megawatts of electricity, including 300 MW from Oman and 200 MW from Qatar, during the summer months. The contracts would last from June 1 to August 31.
Kamel Harami, a Kuwaiti energy expert, said that the Gulf state needed to revamp its energy infrastructure.
“The available energy is not sufficient, and instead of relying on oil and gas, we must go toward nuclear, solar and wind energy,” he told AFP.
“This is only the beginning of the crisis, and the programmed cuts of electricity will continue in the coming years if we do not accelerate the construction of power stations.”
Umm Mohammed, a Kuwaiti woman in her sixties, said she was left without power for two hours on Wednesday.
“We weren’t severely affected,” she told AFP, noting that the house remained cool during the brief outage.
“Some turn their homes into refrigerators, even when they are not inside, and this raises the load” on power plants, she said.

Iraqis flock to river or ice rink to escape searing heat

Updated 20 June 2024

Iraqis flock to river or ice rink to escape searing heat

  • Iraq is grappling with a blistering summer, with temperatures often exceeding 50 degrees Celsius
  • The United Nations ranks Iraq among the world’s five most climate-vulnerable nations

Baghdad: In the sizzling Baghdad heat, Mussa Abdallah takes to the Tigris river during the day to cool off, while others opt for ice skating to escape the relentless temperatures.
“At the end of the day, I’m sweaty and exhausted because of the sun,” said Abdallah, a 21-year-old house painter in the Iraqi capital.
“At home, there’s no electricity. If I want to wash, the water is scalding hot,” he added, describing how water stored above ground virtually boils at this time of year.
Iraq is grappling with a blistering summer, with temperatures often exceeding 50 degrees Celsius, exacerbated by declining rainfall, rampant desertification and frequent dust storms.
The United Nations ranks Iraq among the world’s five most climate-vulnerable nations.
Almost every day after work, Abdallah retreats to the Tigris to escape the sweltering heat.
“We’re young and want to have a good time — where else can we go?” the decorator said on the banks of the river, traces of white paint still visible on his temples and long-sleeved T-shirt.
While Abdallah puts his sandals back on, nearby others are taking the plunge and two bathers are washing their hair with soap.
As night brings little relief from the sweltering gusts, residents of Baghdad flock to the city’s lone indoor ice rink to find respite.
The rink is in one of the air-conditioned shopping malls that have sprung up in the capital in recent years, attracting up to 100 visitors on busy days, 25-year-old instructor Sajjad Mohamed said.
“Twenty-four hours a day, the electricity never goes out. There’s a cooling system” for the ice, Mohamed said.
Abbas, 26, discovered ice skating in Turkiye. Now back in Iraq, he is pursuing it enthusiastically.
“When we finish work in the afternoon, it’s either go home, or go to shopping malls and other places where it’s cold,” he said.
The soaring seasonal temperatures have become a troubling fact of life for the overwhelming majority of Iraq’s 43 million inhabitants.
Although it is rich in oil, Iraq has seen its infrastructure suffer after decades of conflict and failed public policy that has resulted in long power cuts on the public grid with generators unable to handle the strain.
On the banks of the Tigris, Rashid Al-Rashed takes off his T-shirt to dive into the Tigris.
“At home it’s hot, I can’t stay there for long. The public electricity is inadequate,” the 17-year-old garbage collector said.
To escape the heat, “I bathe every day, for 10 minutes or a quarter of an hour,” he added.
Elsewhere on the river, a police boat moves along a dozen bathers from the water for their safety.
“When we make them leave, they come back,” said a policeman, seeking to explain everything was being done to prevent deaths from drownings.
But the danger is evident. On his phone, he displays the body of an 11-year-old boy found nearly 48 hours after drowning.
While the river — despite its danger — is free, those with more means can pay $10 for an afternoon with family or friends at Baghdad Aqua Park.
“This year summer came earlier, so we have more visitors,” one of the water park’s administrators Ali Yussef said. “People are coming after work or school,” he added.
Maitham Mahdi, 31, was on his second visit of the month. “I think I’ll be coming a lot during the summer,” the civil servant, still dressed in his swimsuit, said as he departed the indoor pool.
Mahdi also complained about the electricity at home. “We come here to get a bit of fresh air,” he explained.
Iraq has just gone through four years of drought, marked by water shortages and a drastic drop in river flow.
But on the back of a wet winter, officials are hoping the more generous rainfall will have a knock-on effect over the summer.
Despite those hopes, however, the thermometer continues to climb.
The meteorological service is forecasting 50 degrees Celsius this week in the capital and southern cities such as Basra and Nasiriyah.
Its director, Amer Al-Jaberi, said with its semi-desert climate, Iraq is expecting “heat waves,” particularly in the south, adding these intensifying phenomena are also the result of climate change.