This year, we celebrated the ten year anniversary of the International Criminal Court, the institution created to put an end to impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole.
It took more than 50 years in order to see the birth of this institution, a true revolution in international justice.
The drafters of the Rome Statute were conscious that “all people are united by common bonds, their cultures pieced together in a shared heritage”. The values that form the Court are indeed universal, building upon the rights that were proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. As article 2 states, “… no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.”
As beautiful as these words may sound, 64 years after that solemn declaration, we are facing a completely different reality. Countless peoples are still discriminated against and huge distinctions are made between individuals, simply because of the political status of the land into which they are born.
The Palestinian people have consistently been discriminated against precisely because of the lack of independence in their territory and the limitation of sovereignty imposed on them since the creation of the State of Israel – that very same year.
The human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory is worsening year after year. The right to self-determination and the achievement of a Palestinian State appear as lofty ideals vis-a-vis the reality on the ground.
The Palestinian people are forced to demand the basic building blocks of survival: Freedom of movement, the right to food, to health, to education, to work, and even the right to life.
Israel: A ‘democratic’ violator of rights?
The situation in the West Bank and in Jerusalem is deteriorating under occupation and expanding settlements, with the entire world as a witness.
In the Gaza Strip, 1.7 million people are subjected to a heinous form of collective punishment, cut off from the outside world and forced into de-development.
These same people, protected persons of international humanitarian law, are subjected to relentless attacks. During the so-called “Operation Cast Lead”, it was the civilian population in the eye of the storm, denied even the possibility to flee. Over 80 per cent of all casualties were civilians. All this happened under the eyes of the international community.
The UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict found that war crimes and crimes against humanity had been committed. Most importantly, the Report outlined mechanisms of accountability at the national and, in case of failure, the international level.
Nearly 4 years later, we have not seen any proper investigation at the national level.
As concluded by the UN Committee of Experts, “the official inquiry must be conducted by a truly independent body, given the obvious conflict inherent in the military’s examining its own role in designing and executing ‘Operation Cast Lead’.”
Worse still, the international community has looked on once more as Israel carried out yet another offensive involving disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks which caused the loss of many civilians lives. Almost two-thirds of those killed and 97 per cent of those injured during “Operation Pillar of Defence” were civilians.
Even before “Operation Cast Lead” has been properly investigated, yet another large-scale offensive has left many more victims in its wake.
Now, I ask you, which independent body shall investigate both of these offensives if not the ICC?
It was in January 2009 when the Government of Palestine lodged its declaration under article 12(3) of the Rome Statute accepting the jurisdiction of the Court. Thirty six months later, the result of the preliminary examination of the Prosecutor was a deceptive two page decision.
The States that have ratified the Rome Statute have stated their commitment to the rule of law as the basis of global society. The States partied to the Rome Statute have the power to put an end to impunity for the systematic crimes committed in our territory.
There can be no exception to the rule of law, leaving people without the protection they are entitled to. Violations of international law must be addressed. Not only for the sake of victims, but for the very credibility of international law, and of this institution, the ICC itself.
Raji Sourani is Director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, based in Gaza.