ICC: New prosecutor takes over

(The Hague) – The new prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) should seize every opportunity to strengthen this tribunal’s ability to bring justice to victims of serious crimes, Human Rights Watch said today. Karim Khan, who became the Court’s third prosecutor, is to be sworn in on June 16, 2021, beginning a nine-year term, following his election by ICC member states.

A United Kingdom citizen, Khan has served as legal advisor to prosecutors at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. He has also served as a defense counsel in several cases by the ICC, the Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Most recently, he led a UN Security Council-mandated investigation into crimes committed in Iraq by the extremist Islamic State (IS) armed group. In the ICC, he will replace Fato Bensouda of Gambian nationality, who has been a prosecutor since 2012.

« The decision by the outgoing ICC prosecutor to authorize the launch of an investigation into one in Afghanistan and one in Palestine, despite intense political pressure, has had the effect of bolstering his independence of office. Liz Evenson, deputy director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch. “ Karim Khan should build on the efforts of his predecessor to ensure that those with the greatest responsibility for serious crimes are brought to justice, regardless of their power or rank. »

Fatou Bensouda’s tenure was marked by decisive efforts to increase the reach of the Court around the world to deal with serious international crimes. During his tenure as ICC Prosecutor, in addition to Afghanistan and Palestine, his office launched investigations in Bangladesh and Myanmar (coupled investigations), Burundi, Georgia and Mali, as well as a second investigation in the Central African Republic. The Bureau also announced that the situations in Nigeria, the Philippines and Ukraine should also be thoroughly investigated. The prosecutor continued his efforts to launch an investigation into situations in Afghanistan and Palestine as the subject of a hostile campaign by previous United States administrations, including the adoption of sanctions against him and another court official. Obstructing an ICC investigation into alleged abuses committed by American and Israeli citizens.

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Human Rights Watch calls on the new prosecutor to ensure the independence and impartiality of his office, while giving high priority to increasing his resources, a necessary condition for a strong exercise of the court’s mandate. The Court’s 123 member states, which fund its budget, have narrowed it down to almost zero growth since 2017, despite the expanded workload. This has slowed progress in some investigations and Fatou Bensouda cited funding issues as a factor in his decision to postpone the opening of official investigations in Ukraine and Nigeria.

Human Rights Watch said Khan could also enhance the effectiveness of the court by following an ongoing review of the ICC’s functioning, which aims to strengthen its ability to deliver justice. Member States, supported by the hierarchy of the Court, initiated this review by a group of independent experts. The decision came after the dismal setbacks recorded by the Court in several cases as well as the discovery of other deficiencies in its functioning. The experts made several recommendations to the prosecutor’s office to make the investigation more efficient and to ensure that its work was evaluated and executed in a more strategic manner, in all types of situations.

Human Rights Watch intends to release its opening remarks on the recommendations of experts on some key issues for the Prosecutor’s Office in the near future. The new prosecutor and his team should assess these recommendations, among others.

Khan will submit a list of candidates to the ICC state parties for the deputy prosecutor’s election in December. The independent expert review uncovered numerous incidents and acts of harassment and intimidation within the court, particularly within the prosecutor’s office. Responding to a questionnaire, Khan reaffirmed his determination to ensure a safe work environment for all employees. Must ensure that Member States make it possible to examine and evaluate candidates for the post of Deputy Prosecutor, drawing on recognized good practices, in particular to verify that the candidate has not been the subject of allegations. Inappropriate behavior in the workplace in the past.

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« States parties must change their conception of the ICC, otherwise financial and political pressures could result in severe limitations on the scope of the court and cut off victims’ access to justice. Liz Evansson said. Khan should urge member states to increase the budget of the Court so that it can meet its operational needs, while providing the Prosecutor’s Office a vision that enables it to intelligently fulfill its mandate in its operations . »

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