Palestine’s accession to the ICC Rome Statute last week is a crucial step towards accountability for grave crimes in the region and a peaceful resolution of one of the world’s longest running conflicts.
After depositing the instruments of accession with the UN Secretary General on 2 January, Palestine will become the 123rd state to join the world’s only permanent international court capable of trying individuals for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
The ICC’s jurisdiction over grave crimes committed in Palestine will take effect on 1 April 2015. Palestine also submitted a declaration to the ICC under Article 12.3 of the Rome Statute granting the Court jurisdiction over alleged crimes committed on Palestinian territory since 13 June 2014—the date of the initiation of the Israel-Gaza hostilities this past summer.
Civil society has long urged both Israel and Palestine to join the ICC in order to stem well-documented mass violations of human rights during the course of the decades-long conflict between the two.
William R. Pace, convenor of the Coalition for the ICC:
“The Coalition fully supports Palestine’s accession to the Rome Statute. For 12 years, the Coalition has urged all states to exercise their right to join the ICC, and key members have made special appeals to both Israel and Palestine to join the Court during the last year, which saw some of the deadliest and most destructive armed conflict between the two countries. We hope this move will contribute to ending the cycles of violence between Israel and Palestine. Contrary to the position of some, Coalition members argue that enforcing international humanitarian law strengthens the peace process, while also giving victims recourse to legal remedy.”
Shawan Jabarin, general director of Al-Haq:
“President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to finally accede to the Rome Statute is groundbreaking; it makes it possible for the ICC to prosecute and punish those most responsible for committing serious crimes. As such, the Court can ultimately erase the immunity that Israel has effectively afforded to its own soldiers, officials and politicians. There is no doubt that Palestine’s accession will fundamentally change the way that Israel carries out its occupation and treats Palestinians.”
Katherine Gallagher, vice president of the International Federation for Human Rights and senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights:
“We call upon Israel, rather than sanctioning Palestine for such a move, to ratify the Rome Statute as well. We call upon the U.S. and all States publicly opposed to Palestinian accession to the international justice system to end their efforts to block accountability access and instead support the rights of victims to justice and redress.”
Ishai Menuhin, executive director of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel:
“[A]ll Israeli citizens who hold human rights and democratic values dear should support Palestine’s bid to join the ICC, and be disheartened by their own government’s response. It is time that universal values and norms become the framework through which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is viewed and resolved. It is time that complaints of torture and suspicions of war crimes be examined by the Israeli justice system. Otherwise, they will be investigated by The Hague.”
“With the move to grant the ICC jurisdiction over war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Palestine, a new door is open to hold Israeli officials accountable for the serious violations committed against Palestinians. This is one avenue the United States cannot block. U.S. and Israeli efforts to keep Palestine from accepting both the protections and responsibilities of the ICC – a court neither country will join – have failed. We hope this marks the end of the era of Israeli impunity and U.S. complicity.”
“PHROC heartedly welcome this significant decision as it allows the Court to hold to account persons responsible for committing serious international crimes against the occupied Palestinian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). As such, the Court will be in a position to afford Palestinian victims the justice that they have been denied through the Israel domestic judicial system. Furthermore, the Court, being able to exercise jurisdiction over crimes committed in the OPT following Palestine’s accession, could deter the commission of future crimes.”
While the ICC will have jurisdiction over grave crimes committed on the territory of Palestine irrespective of the nationality of the alleged perpetrators, or by Palestinian nationals anywhere, the prosecutor will only investigate and/or prosecute if domestic authorities are genuinely unable or unwilling to do so. Should the prosecutor decide to open an investigation, it would be subject to authorization by ICC judges.
In April 2012, the ICC Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) rejected a special ad-hoc declaration made by Palestine in 2009 accepting the Court’s jurisdiction over acts committed on its territory since 1 July 2002. Such declarations are reserved for states only. The OTP said that it was unable to proceed with a preliminary examination into whether to open an investigation because it did not have the competence to decide whether Palestine was a state under the Rome Statute, leaving it to the competent UN bodies or eventually the Assembly of States Parties—the ICC’s governing body—to resolve the legal issue relevant to Palestine’s statehood for the purpose of the Court’s jurisdiction.
In November 2012, by UN General Assembly Resolution 67/19, Palestine’s status at the UN was upgraded from observer entity to non-member observer state, allowing it to join a number of international treaties.
At the December 2014 session of the Assembly of States Parties, Palestine was for the first time invited to participate with non-state party observer status.