Main Menu
Commemorating International Justice Day and the 25th Anniversary of the Adoption of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court
17، Jul 2023

Today marks International Justice Day, which commemorates the historic adoption of the Rome Statute 25 years ago, on 17 July 1998. As the founding treaty of the world’s first and only permanent International Criminal Court (ICC or the Court), the adoption of the Rome Statutes represents a beacon of hope for victims of the most serious international crimes of concern to the international community. Today provides a significant opportunity to renew our shared commitment to, and support for all, accountability efforts contributing to the global action against impunity, and to highlight the heavy price Civil Society Organizations pay as a result of their work on accountability.

Palestine’s interest in, and support of the creation of the ICC dates back to the 1998 UN Diplomatic Conference in Rome. This stems from the Palestinian people’s aspiration for liberation and justice, as they struggle to end Israel’s settler-colonialism, apartheid, and illegal occupation. Within this framework, Israeli authorities have been systematically denying the Palestinian people’s exercise of their inalienable rights, especially the right to self-determination and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, lands, and properties. Countless international crimes and human rights violations have been perpetrated against the Palestinian people, forcibly expelled by Zionist militias during and since the 1948 Nakba, including their suffering of 75 years of Israeli impunity and denial of justice.

Palestinian civil society organisations (CSOs) have been playing a pivotal role in the pursuit of accountability for Israeli crimes before the ICC, from advocating for the State of Palestine’s accession to the Rome Statute, which started in 2009, to supporting the work of the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) during both the preliminary examination and the investigation stages by submitting vital communications, especially in light of the OTP’s lack of physical access to Palestine thus far. Notably, Israel systematically denies international organisations and investigative bodies access to the occupied Palestinian territory, including the UN Special Rapporteurs and Commissions of Inquiry. As a result, the international community and the relevant investigative bodies, including the ICC, rely heavily on Palestinian CSOs to access victims and affected communities in Palestine.

However, Palestinian CSOs are paying a heavy price for their engagement with the Court. On 19 October 2021, Israel’s Defence Minister outlawed the legitimate work of six prominent Palestinian civil society and human rights organisations, including Al-Haq, designating them as “terrorist organisations”. On 18 August 2022, Israeli forces raided the headquarters of these organisations and confiscated computers and equipment, sealed entrance doors and formally closed the organisations under military orders. Such acts of “tampering with or interfering with the collection of evidence” by the Israeli military, at the trial stage for example, may amount to “offences against the administration of justice” as stipulated under Article 70 of the Rome Statute.

These designations form part of an orchestrated campaign of Israeli repression against Palestinian CSOs, in large part because of their constructive engagement with the Court. Three of the organisations, namely Al-Haq, Addameer, and Defense for Children International – Palestine, have provided the OTP with information regarding alleged serious crimes committed by Israeli nationals within the jurisdiction of the Court. We note that the Apartheid Convention, which should constitute a reference in interpreting the crime of apartheid under the Rome Statute, specifically lists as an “inhuman act” of apartheid, the “persecution of organizations and persons by depriving them of fundamental rights and freedoms, because they oppose apartheid”. Accordingly, we call on the Prosecutor of the ICC to investigate the designations as inhumane acts of apartheid.

These designations have been internationally condemned, including by the European Union, several States Parties, and UN Experts including the UN Special Rapporteur on Counter Terrorism, and the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, amongst others.

Notably, the presidency of the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) has affirmed, including in its proposal for the implementation of recommendation 169 of the Independent Expert Review, its commitment to “uphold and defend the principles and values enshrined in the Rome Statute and to preserve its integrity undeterred by any threats or measures against the Court, its officials and those cooperating with it, and renew[ed] its resolve to stand united against impunity.” Moreover, the proposal reiterated that the Presidency of the ASP, “bears the main responsibility for coordinating an appropriate response from the Assembly to any threat or attack against the Court, its officials and those cooperating with it, which has the potential to undermine the integrity, effectiveness or impartiality of the Court.” The proposal lists concrete steps that the ASP can take to ensure an immediate response to such attacks, including, issuing a statement, convening an urgent meeting of the Bureau, and proposing additional measures to be adopted by the Bureau, which could include individual or joint statements and other forms of communication and outreach, and other private or public diplomacy initiatives.

The OTP had previously acknowledged, in its 2016 report on preliminary examination activities, that “staff members of certain [Palestinian] organisations that have gathered information of relevance to the Office of the Prosecutor’s preliminary examination, such as Al-Haq and Al Mezan, have been subjected to threats and other apparent acts of intimidation and interference”. Regrettably, however, there has been no public reaction by the Court, the OTP or the ASP in relation to Israel’s outlawing of the six Palestinian CSOs. We recall that civil society and human rights defenders from across the world, including Palestinian CSOs, have stood up for the ICC when the Court and its staff were threatened and sanctioned by the Trump administration under US Executive Order 13928, and again more recently, when the Russian representatives took coercive measures against the ICC Prosecutor and judges in relation to their work in the Situation in Ukraine.

Al-Haq takes this occasion to call on the Court and the OTP to respond to Israel’s latest attacks on Palestinian CSOs, and on the ASP to implement the proposal on recommendation 169 in defence of CSOs and human rights defenders threatened and attacked for their engagement with the ICC across situations. Moreover, Al-Haq reiterates its call to the ICC Prosecutor to expedite his investigation into the situation in Palestine, which began in March 2021, and start issuing arrest warrants against perpetrators of atrocity crimes, including those that encapsulate the root causes of the Palestinian struggle, such as the crime against humanity of apartheid and the war crime of population transfer. Though mindful of the Court’s limited resources and budgetary complications, as well as the OTP’s workload and challenges, Al-Haq is compelled to stress that Palestinian victims deserve justice and require equal attention to those in other situations.

On this International Justice Day commemorating the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the ICC Rome Statute, Al-Haq wishes to recall the words of the late Benjamin Ferencz, Former Nuremberg Prosecutor and advocate for international justice: “There can be no peace without justice, no justice without law, and no meaningful law without a court to decide what is just and lawful under any given circumstance.” Al-Haq believes it is incumbent upon the ICC to live up to the expectations of victims and to deliver on its mandate to ensure accountability and justice for victims of atrocity crimes around the world.

Photo by Activestills Collective.