Palestine newest International Criminal Court member amid objections
(dpa) - Palestine became the 123rd member of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Wednesday, with a low-key ceremony at the court's headquarters in the Hague marking the "historic" event. The court has jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. By inducting Palestine, the court now has authority over such crimes committed by anyone - Israelis, but also Palestinians - on Palestinian territory, so long as local courts refuse to or are unable to hear such cases. "Accession to a treaty is, of course, just the first step," ICC Second Vice President Kuniko Ozaki said, as he presented Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Al-Malki with a symbolic special edition of the Rome Statute, the treaty that governs the international body based in the Netherlands. As the statute enters into force, "Palestine acquires all the rights as well as responsibilities that come with being a state party to the statute," said Ozaki. "These are substantive commitments, which cannot be taken lightly." Human Rights Watch said the Palestinian decision to join the court deserved international support, despite strong opposition from the US, Canada and Israel. All countries that support universal acceptance of the court's treaty should welcome the Palestinian membership, said Balkees Jarrah, international justice counsel at the group. The United States has stated it does not believe that Palestine is a state and that it is, therefore, ineligible to join the ICC. Al-Malki said the world was "a step closer to ending a long era of impunity and injustice." Earlier, speaking to Palestinian public radio from The Hague, he spoke of "a turning point." "We have been waiting for this moment since the Nakba," he said. Nakba, "catastrophe" in Arabic, is the Palestinian term for the dispersal of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians as refugees throughout the region when Israel was founded in 1948. Many fled and some were expelled from their homes by the Israelis in the war that erupted as neighbouring Arab states invaded the newly founded state. Saeb Erekat, who heads the Palestinian Authority committee formed to deal with the court and submit documents to it, spoke of a "historic day in the struggle for justice, freedom, and peace for our people and all those seeking justice worldwide." He called on the international community to support the Palestinian quest "to end decades of impunity, occupation and exile" and on "all nations of conscience to recognize the State of Palestine on the 1967 border, with East Jerusalem as its capital." But Israel also charged that Palestine was no state yet and should not have become an ICC member, which means the court had no authority to rule over events in the area. The Palestinian decision to join was "political, cynical and hypocritical," charged Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon. The court, founded to bring to justice those responsible for the worst crimes being committed in the world, was now being exploited to pursue a Palestinian "political agenda," he charged. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed the Rome Statute on December 31. The 2012 General Assembly vote accepting Palestine as a non-member observer state at the United Nations made the Palestinians eligible to join the court, but Abbas did not immediately seek accession due to international pressure. It took three months for the statute to enter into force for Palestine, with the court saying jurisdiction will date back to June 13, 2014. That means the court's prosecutor could investigate the 50-day war between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip in July and August 2014, during which more than 2,100 Palestinians, 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel were killed. Human Rights Watch has documented unlawful attacks during the fighting, which killed more than 1,500 civilians in the Gaza Strip and destroyed the homes of more than 100,000 Palestinians, it said. Palestinian armed groups launched rockets indiscriminately toward Israeli civilian population centres, it added. Both Israel's and the Palestinians' history of accountability for violations by their forces was poor, it noted. The Palestinians also want the court to probe Israel's ongoing settlement building. The ICC has already started a preliminary probe into whether crimes were committed by anyone on Palestinian territory. An official investigation will be announced if a judge agrees that the evidence gathered in the preliminary probe is a "reasonable basis" on which to proceed.