The Australian government has submitted a petition to the International Criminal Court (ICC) not to investigate alleged war crimes in Palestine because Palestine is “not a state”. Australia was lobbied by Israel, which is not a party to the court, to make the submission.
The government in Canberra argued, the ICC prosecutor’s investigation into alleged attacks on civilians, torture, attacks on hospitals, and the use of human shields, should be halted on jurisdictional grounds.
But the office of the prosecutor has rejected Australia’s argument, saying it had not formally challenged Palestine’s right to be a party to the court before.
In December, the ICC’s office of the prosecutor concluded a five-year preliminary examination of the “situation in the state of Palestine”, concluding there were reasonable grounds to believe that war crimes have been, or are being, committed.
“I am satisfied that war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip,” the prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said. “There are no substantial reasons to believe that an investigation would not serve the interests of justice.”
Palestine’s accession to the ICC in 2015 as a party to the court was accepted by the UN secretary general.
Australia is one of only six countries that are not directly involved to have made submissions to the court.
Australia’s submission, filed by Australia’s ambassador to the Netherlands, Matthew Neuhaus, at The Hague, states: “Australia’s position is clear: Australia does not recognise the ‘State of Palestine’.
“As such, Australia does not recognise the right of the Palestinians to accede to the Rome Statute” (the treaty which established the ICC – to investigate the crimes of genocide, aggression, war crimes and crimes against humanity – in 2002).
Australia argues Palestine’s accession to the Rome Statute in 2015 did not make it a state, and that the UN secretary general’s acceptance of that accession is an “administrative act that does not confer a particular status, including statehood”.
Australia’s position is that a two-state solution must be advanced through direct negotiations between the parties and that the question of Palestinian statehood cannot be resolved before a negotiated peace settlement.
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, told his cabinet in February friendly countries had responded to Israeli lobbying over the case.
He labelled the ICC “a political instrument in the war against Israel”, and said “I would like to commend Germany, Australia, Austria, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Uganda, which have joined the US in a steadfast stand alongside Israel.” Israel is not a party to the ICC.
The ICC’s pre-trial chamber is expected to respond on the jurisdiction question in coming weeks.
Australia’s position has been condemned by international law organisations and Palestinian advocacy groups.
Rawan Arraf, the director of the Australian Centre for International Justice, said Australia’s intervention in the court process was unprecedented.
“Why is Australia going out of its way to hold back an investigation into Palestine? Australia has always been a strong supporter of accountability and the fight to end impunity. It should not stop now and it should withdraw its request.”
Arraf said with the ICC at a critical juncture in its history, Australia should support the court in providing justice for all people around the world.
She argued the court’s investigation wasn’t “just some academic exercise on questions of law” but that there were real victims and ongoing abuses. (Source: The Guardian)