Ukraine and Gaza, high points of Karim Khan’s mandate as head of the ICC

Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, during a visit to Vyshhorod (Ukraine), February 28, 2023. VALENTYN OGIRENKO / REUTERS

Only law, God or history will be able to judge the office of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Karim Khan likes to say. While the international community is waiting for the three judges of the Court to rule on the arrest warrants that it requested on May 20 against the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, against his Minister of Defense and against three political leaders and Hamas soldiers, the prosecutor’s record will remain, whatever the outcome, marked by this case.

As if to forestall criticism and highlight the difficulties of his mandate, the Briton again assured, on May 14, before the United Nations Security Council in New York: “I am fully aware that there are Goliaths in this room; Goliaths who have power and influence…” He came to present the biannual report of the investigation into Libya, opened a few months before the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, in 2011. This meeting is generally an opportunity for diplomats to state their positions on international justice and on the Court in particular.

That day, the Russian ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, castigated a “puppet institution which openly serves the interests of Western states”. The Russian delegate accuses the prosecutor of having given in to threats from American elected officials who, in an open letter, opposed the investigation against Israeli officials. Nothing will stop his office’s investigations, retorts scathingly, Karim Khan, not even the “arrest warrants issued by the Russian Federation” against him and several judges in retaliation for the indictment of Russian President Vladimir Putin in March 2023. In The Hague, the prosecutor was invited in the fall to “abandon your Bentley for an armored model”, assures a Court employee. In recent months, Russian pressure has been added to that of Israel. At the beginning of May, as he prepared to indict Benjamin Netanyahu, Karim Khan warned against any attempt to obstruct justice. Facts punishable by five years in prison.

An almost empty prison

Attempts to influence this Court, established in 2002, to prosecute the perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and aggression punctuate its history. The trials are by nature very sensitive and the States intend to influence its investigations. Israel, like the United States and Russia, which are not members of the ICC, uses the most brutal threats. Created by a treaty adopted in 1998 and joined by 124 states, the Court has rarely shown its authority. The Briton intends to reaffirm the rules of the game. “I warned you,” Karim Khan said in substance on May 20, announcing that he had requested arrest warrants against Israeli and Palestinian officials.

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