What Is the International Criminal Court?

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court on Wednesday opened a formal investigation into possible war crimes committed in the Palestinian Territories.

Below are some facts about the court, based in The Hague, Netherlands.

* The ICC was established in 2002 to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and the crime of aggression when member states are unwilling or unable to do so themselves. It can prosecute crimes committed by nationals of member states or on the territory of member states by other actors. It has 123 member states and an annual budget of roughly 150 million euros ($180 million).

* The ICC has convicted five men for war crimes and crimes against humanity, all African militia leaders from DR Congo, Mali and Uganda. Sentences range from nine to 30 years in prison. The maximum possible sentence is life imprisonment.

* The ICC is currently conducting 13 other formal investigations, including into Afghanistan, Bangladesh/Myanmar and Georgia. It has a further 13 so-called preliminary examinations, including in Venezuela, Philippines and Ukraine.

* The ICC’s most wanted fugitive is former Sudanese leader Omar al Bashir, wanted for genocide in Darfur. The first former head of state ever to appear before the ICC, former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo, was acquitted of all charges in 2019 after a 3-year trial.

*Although the court is supported by many United Nations members and the European Union, other major powers like the United States, China, Russia and Israel are not members, and argue it could be used for politically motivated prosecutions.

*The court’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, finishes a nine-year term on June 15 and will be replaced by British barrister Karim Khan, known for heading the U.N. special investigative team looking into Islamic State crimes in Iraq.

* A five-year preliminary examination by Bensouda’s office into the Palestinian Territories concluded that there is a reasonable basis to believe:

  • Israeli forces committed war crimes during Gaza hostilities in 2014, including disproportionate attacks and wilful killing.
  • “In the context of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, members of the Israeli authorities have committed war crimes” by allowing settlers to live there.
  • Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups committed intentional attacks on civilians, wilful killing and torture in Gaza in the same period since 2014.
  • Israeli forces used lethal and non-lethal force against demonstrators in March 2018 near the border fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel which allegedly resulted in the killing of over 200 people and the wounding of thousands of others.

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