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Can the International Criminal Court arrest someone? List of persons named by ICC in the past

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan requested arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders, including PM Benjamin Netanyahu, for alleged war crimes. If these warrants are issued, it would mark an unprecedented intervention in the ongoing war in Gaza and deepen Israel's international isolation.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee The Hague (Netherlands) Published on: May 21, 2024 13:02 IST
International Criminal Court
Image Source : REUTERS The International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.

The Hague: The International Criminal Court (ICC) has made a dramatic move by making a request for the arrest warrants of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his defence chief Yoav Gallant, along with three Hamas leaders for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. The request comes after mounting calls for action after over seven months of the war in Gaza that has killed thousands and triggered a humanitarian catastrophe.

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said he had "reasonable grounds" to believe that Netanyahu, Gallant and Hamas leaders - Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh - "bear criminal responsibility" for alleged war crimes. Sinwar and Deif are believed to be hiding in Gaza, while Haniyeh is currently based in Qatar, which is involved in ongoing ceasefire negotiations between Israel and Hamas.

Israel and Hamas have both reacted furiously to the allegations put forth by Khan. Netanyahu said the ICC decision was a "moral outrage of historic proportions" and a "complete distortion of reality". He also vowed to press ahead with Israel’s war against the Palestinian militant group. Hamas also rejected the equation "of the victim with the executioner" and called for the cancellation of the arrest warrants.

What did the ICC say on Israel and Hamas?

Monday's announcement marks the first time the ICC prosecutor sought to intervene in the escalating conflict in the Middle East, heightened by Israel's ongoing operations in the southern city of Rafah, where over a million Palestinians have taken refuge from the war. Khan said, "Israel, like all States, has a right to take action to defend its population. That right, however, does not absolve Israel or any state of its obligation to comply with international humanitarian law."

He also said crimes against humanity allegedly carried out by Israel were part of "a widespread and systematic attack against the Palestinian civilian population pursuant to State policy." His office collected evidence that showed Israel systematically depriving civilians of "objects indispensable to human survival" like food, water, medicine and energy, he said, adding that Netanyahu and Gallant bore responsibility for willfully causing great suffering and committing war crimes.

On the other hand, the Hamas leaders face allegations of bearing responsibility for crimes committed by Hamas including extermination and murder, the taking of hostages, torture, rape and other acts of sexual violence. Khan said Hamas leaders gunned down several people at a dance party and killed entire families, adding that he himself witnessed "devastating scenes of these attacks and the profound impact of the unconscionable crimes".

Can the ICC arrest someone?

Karim Khan's request will now go to a pre-trial chamber consisting of three judges. If the judges agree with Khan on "reasonable grounds" of alleged war crimes, they will issue an arrest warrant naming the person and the specific crimes for which the warrant has been sought. This process can take several months and the warrants can be amended later.

The founding Rome Statute of the ICC obliges all 124 signatory states to arrest and hand over any individual subject to an arrest warrant if they set foot on their territory. However, the court has no means to enforce an arrest, although member states ignoring the arrest calls can be sanctioned. However, an ICC warrant against Netanyahu is expected to dent his international standing and could strengthen legal challenges such as an arms embargo on Israel.

The ICC is the permanent court of last resort, established in 2002 to prosecute individuals for war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and the crime of aggression. Several countries don't accept the court's jurisdiction, including the United States, China and Russia.

Israel is not a member of the court, so even if the arrest warrants are issued, Netanyahu and Gallant do not face any immediate risk of prosecution. Even Qatar, where Haniyeh is residing, is not a member of the ICC. However, Khan's announcement deepens Israel's isolation as it presses ahead in Gaza, and the threat of arrest could make it difficult for the Israeli leaders to travel abroad. This would particularly put most European Union states in a diplomatically awkward position. 

Which leaders have been named in arrest warrants?

Vladimir Putin: The ICC issued an arrest warrant for the 71-year-old Russian President for alleged war crimes committed by Russian forces in Ukraine, including abduction of children. Putin was charged along with Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, the Russian Commissioner for Children's Rights. Russia rejected the allegations and imposed sanctions on Khan and British ministers in August last year in a tit-for-tat move.

Muammar Gaddafi: The infamous Libyan dictator was named in an arrest warrant with two counts of crimes against humanity during his brutal crackdown on the rebels during the Arab Spring in 2011, which eventually descended into a full-blown civil war. The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Gadhafi in June 2011, but closed the case after his assassination in October. his son Seif al-Islam Gadhafi was also charged and remains at large.

Omar Al-Bashir: Sudan's ousted president Omar Al-Bashir is wanted by the ICC for five counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of genocide in an aggressive response to rebels during the Darfur conflict that has been raging since 2003. Despite an international travel ban, Bashir won consecutive elections in 2010 and 2015 but was later ousted by the Sudanese military. He remains at large, although the ICC has noted "progress" in the case against Bashir.

Joseph Kony: One of Africa's most notorious warlords, Kony was issued an arrest warrant from the ICC in 2005 for 12 counts of crimes against humanity including murder, sexual enslavement and rape, and 21 counts of war crimes. Kony led the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group that was responsible for Africa's longest-running armed conflict by kidnapping children. He has so far managed to evade capture and remains at large, and the ICC is expected to begin the court's first in absentia hearing in October.

(with inputs from agencies)

ALSO READ | ICC seeks arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders for war crimes, Netanyahu decries 'outrageous' move

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