Pretoria, South Africa – The decision by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to examine the Palestine situation marks the first global effort to seek justice for victims of the Israel-Palestine conflict. But it is unlikely to ease tensions between the African Union (AU) and the ICC. These were the main conclusions of an ISS seminar today.
Palestine signed up to the ICC’s Rome Statute in January 2015. Shortly afterwards the court’s chief prosecutor announced that the ICC would examine whether genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity were committed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This could lead to investigations and prosecutions of those allegedly most responsible, and would bring accused from outside Africa before the Hague-based court for the first time.
Legal experts at the seminar considered whether the Palestinian referral might improve the strained relations between the ICC and the AU. The ICC has faced heavy criticism for its apparent focus on Africa, and the prosecutor’s latest decision could be the first step in changing perceptions.
But the Palestinian referral has not received much attention from the AU and according to University of Pretoria professor, Dire Tladi, it is unlikely to influence the AU’s views of the international court.
‘We often think about the ICC-AU relationship as being a contestation between forces of good and forces of evil; protagonists and villains. The truth is much more complicated and nuanced. The ICC experience with the Palestinian question is a reflection of that.’
Legal experts speaking at the seminar also debated the practical, legal and political implications of the new situation before the ICC.
Palestine’s statehood is still being contested by Israel and other countries. Moreover, the ICC’s investigation could implicate both Israelis and Palestinians, which would affect efforts to resolve the conflict.
‘The Israel-Palestine conflict is at the nexus of one of the most politically sensitive, and geopolitically critical conflicts in the world, which means that political pressure will be immense’ said Kelly-Jo Bluen, Project Leader at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation.
While justice may be served for the victims of the specific crimes the ICC might investigate, it will not solve the systemic injustice afflicting Palestine. ‘Criminal justice alone cannot eradicate structural violence and legacies of oppression’ said Bluen.
How the ICC and international community respond to the Palestinian case will affect international criminal justice and conflict resolution globally. ‘The road to justice for Palestine is a long one. There are many political and practical obstacles’ observed Bluen.
One obstacle is that the ICC relies on governments to help carry out its work. Israel is unlikely to cooperate because it has not signed the ICC’s Rome Statute and strongly opposes the Palestinian referral. Israel has even reportedly lobbied like-minded states to withdraw financial support to the ICC.
‘The ICC’s experience in Kenya and Sudan has illustrated that without state cooperation, there are serious challenges to prosecution’ said Bluen, who sees this as the largest hurdle facing the international court.
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The ISS is an African organisation that aims to enhance human security on the continent. It does independent and authoritative research, provides expert policy analysis and advice, and delivers practical training and technical assistance.