image Photo: Reuters

ICC elects new prosecutor

Member states of the International Criminal Court (ICC) elected Britain’s Karim Ahmad A. Khan as the new chief prosecutor for a 9-year term. The 50-year-old attorney won a secret ballot against three other candidates.

The 123-member Hague-based court, which began work nearly 20 years ago, handles war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and crimes of aggression.

“Karim’s extensive experience in international law will be pivotal in ensuring we hold those responsible for the most heinous crimes to account and gain justice for their victims,” Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab posted on Twitter.

Khan has worked for almost every international criminal tribunal in his 27-year law career, including representations for both the prosecution and defense, as well as on behalf of victims. He previously served as lead defense counsel on ICC cases pertaining to Kenya, Sudan and Libya; and is perhaps best known for heading the special United Nations investigative team probing Islamic State crimes in Iraq.

The first major issues Karim will face involve the recent call from the European parliament for an ICC war crimes investigation into the civil war in Yemen and worldwide halt of weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.

There was intense political jostling for the top ICC job at a time of heightened scrutiny of the prosecutor’s office. Khan will assume the position on 16 June, at the end of term of his controversial predecessor Fatou Bensouda.

Bensouda faced intense criticism from the United States and Israel, neither of which belong to the court.

The US State Department revoked the Gambian ICC prosecutor’s visa in early April 2019 over her intent to investigate the alleged commission of war crimes by US servicemembers or officials in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

In June 2020, then-President Donald Trump issued an executive order permitting the blocking of assets belonging to ICC employees and prevention of them from entering the country.

This was followed by US classification of Bensouda and senior ICC official Phakiso Mochochoko as “Specially Designated Nationals” in September 2020, enabling sanctions such as travel bans and asset freezing. The State Department also warned that any parties who “materially support those individuals risk exposure to sanctions as well.”

After taking office in January 2021, US President Joe Biden’s administration announced intent to “thoroughly review” the sanctions against Bensouda and Mochochoko.

The ICC has also long been accused of discriminatory bias against the Jewish State. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu charged the court is anti-Semitic for validating Palestinian claims, particularly when Bensouda in 2015 authorized the opening of a preliminary inquiry into alleged war crimes during the Gaza-Israel war the previous year.

Israeli officials were furious after the ICC issued a ruling on 13 February 2021 that it has jurisdiction over the Palestinian territories, empowering the formation of a full investigation.