The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) said on Wednesday that her Office has started an investigation into crimes allegedly committed in Occupied Palestinian Territory.
“I confirm the initiation by the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court of an investigation respecting the Situation in Palestine”, Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a statement.
“The investigation will cover crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court that are alleged to have been committed in the Situation since 13 June 2014, the date to which reference is made in the Referral of the Situation to my Office”, she added.
The probe follows the 5 February 2021 decision, by majority, of ICC’s Pre Trial Chamber I, that the Court may exercise its criminal jurisdiction in the Situation in Palestine, and that the territorial scope of this jurisdiction extends to Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
In that ruling, the Chamber stressed that it was not determining whether Palestine fulfilled the requirements of statehood under public international law, or adjudicating a border dispute, or prejudging the question of any future borders; it was solely determining the scope of the Court’s territorial jurisdiction for the purposes of the Rome Statute, as requested, Ms. Bensouda said.
“Such matters, which the Chamber did not decide, and on which my Office took no position, remain to be determined in bilateral discussions between Israeli and Palestinian authorities in the context of a negotiated agreement”, she added.
Investigation ‘without fear or favour’
Ms. Bensouda said that the Rome Statute – the international treaty that established the ICC – obliges the Office of the Prosecutor, in order to establish the truth, to extend its investigation to “cover all facts and evidence relevant to an assessment of whether there is individual criminal responsibility under the Statute and, in doing so, to investigate incriminating and exonerating circumstances equally”.
“Any investigation undertaken by the Office will be conducted independently, impartially and objectively, without fear or favour”, she added.
The Prosecutor also went on to note that investigations take time and that they must be grounded objectively in facts and law.
“In discharging its responsibilities, my Office will take the same principled, non-partisan, approach that it has adopted in all situations over which its jurisdiction is seized. We have no agenda other than to meet our statutory duties under the Rome Statute with professional integrity”, she added.
‘Central concern’ for victims of crime
Ms. Bensouda also highlighted that the “central concern” must be for the victims of crime, both Palestinian and Israeli, arising from the long cycle of violence and insecurity that has caused deep suffering and despair on all sides.
“The Office is aware of the wider concern, respecting this Situation, for international peace and security”, she continued.
“Through the creation of the ICC, States Parties recognised that atrocity crimes are ‘a threat to peace, security and wellbeing of the world’, and resolved ‘to guarantee lasting respect for and the enforcement of international justice.’ The pursuit of peace and justice should be seen as mutually reinforcing imperatives”, she added.
Counting on support of the parties
Ms. Bensouda also said that her Office counted on the support and cooperation of the parties, as well as all States Parties to the Rome Statute, in carrying out its work.
“My Office welcomes the opportunity to engage with both the Government of Palestine and the Government of Israel, to determine how justice may best be served within a framework of complementary domestic and international action”, she said.
“In this way, we can hope to achieve some measure of accountability and justice for the benefit of Palestinian and Israeli victims of Rome Statute crimes”, added the ICC Prosecutor.