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Palestinian Organizations Welcome Statement by ICC Prosecutor, and Reiterate the Need for Immediate Issuance of Arrest Warrants

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14 February 2024

Al Mezan, Al-Haq, and Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) welcome the recent statement made by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Karim A. A. Khan KC, concerning the reported impending expansion of the ground offensive by Israeli forces in Rafah and the recurrent bombardments of the area. Our organizations emphasize that while this statement is significant, the catastrophic conditions faced by 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza demand concrete action.

In his statement, the Prosecutor asserted: “[m]y Office has an ongoing and active investigation into the situation in the State of Palestine. This is being taken forward as a matter of the utmost urgency […]. Since [the visit to Palestine in December 2023], I have not seen any discernible change in conduct by Israel. As I have repeatedly emphasised, those who do not comply with the law should not complain later when my Office takes action pursuant to its mandate.” The Prosecutor's own words underscore the urgency of addressing the potential catastrophic consequences of advancing the Rafah ground offensive. They also highlight the necessity for immediate international intervention to safeguard the Palestinian population in Gaza from irreparable harm.

On 12 February 2024, our organizations warned the international community regarding the grave consequences of Israel's plans to escalate its ground assault on Rafah, previously unilaterally declared a ‘safe zone’ by the Israeli military. We highlighted the imminent risk of mass forcible transfer affecting over 1.4 million Palestinians in Rafah, potentially leading to their mass deportation into Egypt. In the immediate aftermath of the Israeli Prime Minister’s 9 February announcement that an invasion of Rafah was imminent, Israeli airstrikes in Rafah killed at least 28 Palestinians, including ten children. On the night of 12 February, Rafah experienced one of the deadliest Israeli bombing campaigns in recent months. Over the span of approximately two hours, Israeli attacks killed at least 68 Palestinians, including 19 children and 13 women, according to initial reports. Among those killed were numerous internally displaced persons who had sought shelter in Rafah, many of whom were killed while asleep in their makeshift tents. 

While the Prosecutor’s statement signals a positive step towards accountability for Israeli crimes against Palestinians, our organizations emphasize the urgent need for concrete action to accompany these words, particularly the issuance of arrest warrants against individuals implicated in these crimes. Specifically, we call for the issuance of arrest warrants against the Israeli Prime Minister, who ordered the expansion of the ground invasion into Rafah, the Israeli Defense Minister, and the Chief of Staff of the Israeli military, who are responsible for grave violations of international law. 

The issuance of arrest warrants is a necessary step towards ensuring justice and accountability for the victims of these crimes, and deterring and preventing the commission of further crimes. We urge the ICC to expedite the process of issuing these warrants and to pursue all necessary measures to hold those responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of genocide accountable for their actions. 

In November 2023, South Africa, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Comoros, and Djibouti took a significant step by making a state party referral to the Court under Article 13(a) and 14. This referral requested the ICC to investigate various alleged crimes taking place in the territory of the State of Palestine since June 2014, including the crime of genocide. Furthermore, in January, Mexico and Chile added to this momentum by making another referral. These referrals, along with the substantial financial contributions of Ireland and  Belgium to the Court to advance accountability in Palestine, highlight the imperative of the ICC Prosecutor to prioritize these matters in light of the gravity of the situation. It is essential that the ICC remains steadfast in its commitment to investigating these serious allegations and delivers justice for the victims and survivors of these grave crimes.

As we previously outlined in a correspondence to the Court on 20 October 2023, the work of our organizations has been seriously compromised on the ground. Our staff remain displaced from their homes, unable to conduct the extensive fieldwork that we had previously communicated to the Court, as it continues to be too dangerous to move safely around the Gaza Strip. Civilians, including journalists and paramedics, are sniped at and targeted. A member of PCHR, Ayman Lubadd, was detained, interrogated, threatened and subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment by the Israeli military. 

Since 7 October,  airstrikes and tank shells have completely destroyed the three PCHR offices in Gaza, Jabaliya, and Khan Younis. The premises and all their contents no longer exist. Al Mezan headquarters in Gaza have also sustained damage. Al-Haq, Al Mezan and PCHR staff continue to be displaced with their families, many of them multiple times. The situation on the ground has now deteriorated to the point that our investigative field work has come to a standstill. There is very serious urgency for the Prosecutor to move quickly to ensure the preservation of evidence to prevent impunity.

We remind the ICC Prosecutor that justice delayed is justice denied. As we have previously warned, the international impunity enjoyed by Israeli authorities due to prolonged delays in issuing arrest warrants is fuelling more aggressive and unconstrained attacks, with mounting civilian victims. We call on the Office of the Prosecutor to take immediate action, primarily by issuing arrest warrants for those most responsible for the crimes committed against the Palestinian people. We also urge the ICC Prosecutor to publish his important warning statements on the Court’s official website for the official record.

As Palestinian organizations continue their tireless efforts to advocate for the rights of the Palestinian people, Al Mezan, Al-Haq, and PCHR express readiness to cooperate fully with the ICC and other international bodies in the pursuit of justice and accountability.