The Palestinians have deposited copies of the legal instruments to join the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the world’s single permanent judicial body to try war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. If Palestine is accepted as a member of the court, it will be the 123rd state party to do so. Until now, Palestine has held observer status at the court, a similar status it holds at the United Nations.
On Jan. 2, Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the UN, delivered copies of the documents of accession to the Rome Statute, the court’s governing treaty, signed by President Mahmoud Abbas. The copies were handed to the UN’s legal affairs officer in New York, along with 15 other treaty, conventions and protocol instruments of accession.
These include treaties on nuclear nonproliferation, protection of UN personnel and rights of women as well as protocols to the Geneva Convention, Mansour told the press soon after the deliveries occurred, wearing an overcoat in his rush to push the process along in an unusually quiet day at the UN headquarters. The handover was videotaped.
“It has happened,” Mansour told the press, referring to the signing of the Rome Statute, adding that “this is a very significant step” for Palestinians to seek justice through an international legal institution.
The next step for the Palestinians is to wait 60 days for processing of the instruments, or until the treaty enters into force on the first day of the month after the 60th day following date of the deposit. That process involves the court’s members reviewing the documents and other administrative requirements. The UN noted in a statement that the original 16 treaty instruments to accession signed by Abbas were delivered on Jan. 1 to a UN representative in Ramallah, the de facto capital of Palestine; a court spokesman in The Hague said the membership would most likely begin on April 1.
Once it becomes a state party, the Palestinians can file a complaint with the court, which Mansour said would focus on claims of war crimes committed by Israelis against Palestinians, specifically concerning last summer’s 50-day war in Gaza between the two sides that killed more than 2,200 people, the majority of them Palestinians.
Mansour also said that the Israeli settlements in Palestine constituted a war crime and that it would pursue that claim in the court, too. The United States has condemned Israel’s settlements in Palestinian territories, more recently calling them “illegitimate.” Many other countries have declared the settlements illegal.
Mansour also said that he was meeting with a member of the registrar of the International Criminal Court in New York to deliver a letter requesting retroactivity to enact an investigation into last summer’s war and the settlements by Israel. (Israel has signed the Rome Statute but has not ratified it.)
The US and Israel, close allies, have in the last few days repeatedly criticized the Palestinians, including Abbas, for joining the court. The US has called the action an “escalatory step” that will hurt further chances for peace talks. The Palestinians contend, however, that they are seeking justice through a legally approved apparatus, Mansour said, adding that Israel’s condemnation of the Palestinian membership in the court was “highly political.”
“The Palestinians should be commended for joining the ICC and seeking this peaceful, legal, civilized option to seek justice and should not be punished for doing so,” Mansour added.
The move by the Palestinians follows the rejection of a UN Security Council resolution on Dec. 30 demanding an end to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories by late 2017 and more immediate requests. The resolution failed to pass, as only eight members voted yes, leaving it one vote short of approval. The US voted against it – technically not a veto in this instance – and numerous other countries abstained, including Britain.
Nigeria, an otherwise steady supporter of Palestine, abstained as well, signaling a warming relationship with Israel, an Israeli newspaper suggested. Abbas said that the Palestinians had expected Nigeria to vote for the resolution, saying they thought the country was a “friend.”
Mansour also said that the Palestinians were leaving other options open in striving to become a full-fledged nation. It has not closed the door on, for example, returning to the Security Council with another resolution to “end occupation” by Israel, Mansour noted.
Britain, a permanent member of the council, said in a statement regarding its abstention on the resolution that it would nevertheless “like to work with partners to revisit the idea of a parameters resolution on the Middle East Peace Process in 2015.”
“We are convinced that it is possible, with further time and effort, to secure for the first time ever a resolution which commands full Security Council support,” said Mark Lyall Grant, the British ambassador to the UN.