The Jerusalem Post

Karim Khan replaces Fatou Bensouda as ICC prosecutor

Israel’s legal fate rests in new chief ’s hands


In a ceremony on Wednesday, British-Muslim internatio­nal lawyer Karim Khan replaced Fatou Bensouda, after the latter’s nineyear term as the chief prosecutor at the Internatio­nal Criminal Court in The Hague.

In Bensouda’s place, Khan will be left to determine Israel’s fate in the criminal probe that Bensouda opened in March.

Bensouda’s decision to open a full war crimes investigat­ion against Israelis relating to the 2014 Gaza war, the settlement enterprise and the 2018 Gaza border conflict came after a legal battle dating back to January 2015.

The outgoing chief prosecutor also threatened Israel and Hamas with new allegation­s of war crimes during the May 10-21 Guardian of the Walls conflict with Gaza.

Still, Bensouda had strongly hinted at the possibilit­y of her office eventually closing the probe against the IDF on the grounds that the Israeli military performs its own investigat­ions, however imperfect, of alleged war crimes.

Views are mixed about what to expect from Khan.

He has past associatio­ns with Muslim human rights groups and Pakistani officials, but has also said the ICC is overextend­ed and should be fighting only battles that it can win and for which it has the resources to fight. He has both defended alleged war criminals from Kenya and represente­d victims of ISIS.

All of the ICC’s judges were present for the dramatic ceremony, which occurs only once every nine years, either in person or virtually by Zoom due to covid health considerat­ions.

ICC President Judge Piotr Hofmanski and Assembly of State Parties Vice President Katerina Sequensová extolled Khan’s wide-ranging accomplish­ments and qualificat­ions.

In his acceptance speech, Khan bemoaned the fact that while humanity has the wherewitha­l to travel to Mars, it still commits genocide and other crimes against humanity.

Transition­ing to a more hopeful message, he said, “Tomorrow need not be as bleak, as sorrowful, as yesterday” and expressed optimism that humanity can improve.

Khan said he is less concerned that the ICC itself try war criminals than that war criminals be tried somewhere, even if in their home countries where they perpetrate­d their crimes.

The incoming prosecutor said he would correct gender imbalances in the office favoring men and confront sexual harassment allegation­s.

Regarding ongoing cases, Khan said, “Requesting preliminar­y investigat­ions is a start. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating .... We cannot invest so much [in trials], raise expectatio­ns so high,” while achieving so little, so often, in terms of conviction­s.

A recent decision Bensouda issued regarding the Philippine­s may provide some hope for Israel. Although Bensouda has moved to open a full criminal probe against the Philippine­s, she also issued her most pragmatic statement to date about possible limits on the probe in light of the ICC’s limited diplomatic support and resources.

Looking into the future, she wrote earlier, “Any authorized investigat­ion in the Philippine­s will fall to my able successor, Mr. Karim Khan, to take forward .... It is clear... the office, under his leadership, will... take into account the operationa­l challenges arising from the continuing pandemic, the severe limitation­s on the ICC’s available resources, and the office’s current heavy work commitment­s,” she said.

“There is a serious mismatch between situations where the Rome Statute demands action by the prosecutor and the resources made available to the office,” she said.

Bensouda’s term was characteri­zed by slow-moving cases, only around 10 conviction­s, and criticism from all sides.

 ?? KARIM KHAN (Michael Kooren/Reuters) ??
KARIM KHAN (Michael Kooren/Reuters)

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