ICC must investigate Israeli war crimes, human rights groups say

More than 40 countries including the US and Israel refuse to join and reject the ICC’s authority because of investigations into Israel’s military policies. (AFP/File)
More than 40 countries including the US and Israel refuse to join and reject the ICC’s authority because of investigations into Israel’s military policies. (AFP/File)
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Updated 26 February 2021

ICC must investigate Israeli war crimes, human rights groups say

ICC must investigate Israeli war crimes, human rights groups say
  • After Trump sanctions, US seeks election to seat on Human Rights Council in 2022

Officials representing leading human rights groups on Thursday urged US President Joe Biden to remove sanctions imposed by his predecessor against International Criminal Court (ICC) officials, arguing war crimes committed by Israel against Palestinians must be investigated.

The ICC was created in 2002 based on the principles of the Rome Statute drawn up by the United Nations in 1998, and on legal precedents defined during the Nuremberg Trials after Second World War which prosecuted Nazi war crimes.

Although 123 nations have joined the ICC, more than 40 countries including the US and Israel, which originally supported the Rome Statutes, refuse to join and reject the ICC’s authority because of investigations into Israel’s military policies.

Katherine Gallagher, a senior staff attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, and other human rights activists from around the world took part in a webinar panel on Thursday. The forum was hosted by the Foundation for Middle East Peace and its president, Lara Friedman.

“What we saw (Wednesday) in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva is the US expressing its intention to rejoin,” said Dr. Michael Kearney, a legal researcher for Al-Haq, the Palestinian human rights agency based in Ramallah.

“But it is doing so on the condition that Palestine is removed from the agenda of the Human Rights Council. We have to be cautious about what the US is basing that re-engagement.”

Former US President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the council in 2018. Biden’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Wednesday the US would seek re-election to the council in 2022. He said probes into Syria and North Korea along with preserving LGBTQI rights and combating racism should be priorities.

“The Human Rights Council must support those fighting against injustice and tyranny,” Blinken said.

“We acknowledge the challenges at the Council as well, including unacceptable bias against Israel and membership rules that allow countries with atrocious human rights records to occupy seats they do not merit.”

The sanctions imposed on the ICC by Trump and mixed signals from the Biden administration have not dissuaded the organization from investigating allegations of Israeli war crimes in Palestine.

On Feb. 5, the ICC “pre-trial chamber” found that “the court’s territorial jurisdiction in the situation in Palestine, a state party to the ICC Rome Statute, extends to the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, namely Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.”

This ruling opened the door for investigations into alleged war crimes perpetrated by “members of the Israeli Defense Forces, Israeli authorities, Hamas, and Palestinian armed groups,” Friedman said.

The panelists agreed that Israel has engaged in political policies to deny Palestine of any protected rights under ICC authority.

The ICC decision to move forward in its investigation came despite threats from the Trump administration, former Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton. Trump issued an executive order imposing sanctions against top ICC officials, along with individuals and corporate entities assisting the ICC probe.

Yael Stein, a research director at the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights (B’Tselem), argued that Israel has created a sophisticated legal system to confuse the international rule of law as it applies to the actions of Israeli soldiers.

“Israel claims that it will investigate itself,” Stein said. “But it is not investigating the charges against itself. The Israelis do not investigate the orders. They only address the question, ‘Did the soldiers obey the legal orders they were given?’”

She said charges are watered down to “insignificant claims.”

“If a soldier kills a civilian, he is charged with not obeying an order so he can avoid a murder charge,” she said. “(Israeli authorities) are able to assert that they in fact do investigate cases.”

Hassan Jabareen, the founder of the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah), referred to this as “Israel’s legal black hole.”

“Israel creates a situation in which there is a black hole of legality where they ensure that legality is applied, and as a consequence, no one is charged or held to be responsible,” Jabareen said.

“One way they did this was in 2007 when Israel declared that Gaza is an ‘enemy.’ Therefore, everyone in Gaza is an enemy and even if someone is injured illegally, there will be no consequences against Israeli soldiers.”

The victims in Gaza, he said, are legally denied access to Israeli courts because they are all defined as “enemies” of Israel.

Kearney said that the significance of the ICC ruling this month applies directly to the illegal establishment of Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem that were occupied by Israel in 1967.

He said Israel tried to exclude the issue of war crimes in the Rome Statutes in 1998, specifically to prevent the inclusion of settlements and population transfers.

Gallagher noted that Biden has not yet lifted the Trump administration sanctions on the ICC because Israel is lobbying to keep them in place.
 


Sudanese commander says forces secured eastern border with Ethiopia

Sudanese commander says forces secured eastern border with Ethiopia
Updated 21 April 2021

Sudanese commander says forces secured eastern border with Ethiopia

Sudanese commander says forces secured eastern border with Ethiopia
  • Karar reaffirmed Sudan’s commitment to non-aggression towards neighboring countries

DUBAI: A senior Sudanese commander said on Wednesday that his forces have secured the eastern border with Ethiopia, state news agency SUNA reported.
Lieutenant General Issam Mohammad Hassan Karar said the army was deployed within the borders to secure agricultural areas and retrieve all Sudanese lands in accordance with the 1902 border.
Karar also reaffirmed Sudan’s commitment to non-aggression towards neighboring countries.
Member of the council and head of the Revolutionary Front, Idris Al-Hadi, reconfirmed the statement.
“We will not seek the military solution to resolve the two issues of borders and water as there’s a possibility of resolving them peacefully,” he said.
The fertile Tigray region claimed by both countries has seen a rise in fights as Sudan sends in troops, which Ethiopia has described as an invasion.
The farmland borders Ethiopia’s Tigray region where Addis Ababa launched an offensive against the local leadership in November, sending some 60,000 refugees fleeing into Sudan.


Syria loses chemical weapons watchdog voting rights after poison gas findings

Syria loses chemical weapons watchdog voting rights after poison gas findings
Updated 21 April 2021

Syria loses chemical weapons watchdog voting rights after poison gas findings

Syria loses chemical weapons watchdog voting rights after poison gas findings
AMSTERDAM: Syria on Wednesday was stripped of its voting rights at the global chemical weapons watchdog by member states after its forces were found to have repeatedly used poison gas during the civil war.
A majority of nations voting at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) supported a decision to immediately revoke Syria’s privileges at the agency.

Syrian President Assad to run for re-election in May — state media

Syrian President Assad to run for re-election in May — state media
Updated 21 April 2021

Syrian President Assad to run for re-election in May — state media

Syrian President Assad to run for re-election in May — state media

AMMAN: Syrian President Bashar Assad on Wednesday submitted documents to run for a third term in an election scheduled for May 26, parliament’s speaker said on state media.
Parliament announced the election on Sunday. Washington and the Syrian opposition have denounced it as a farce designed to cement Assad’s authoritarian rule.
Assad’s family and his Baath party have ruled Syria for five decades with the help of the security forces and the army, where his Alawite minority dominate.
This year is the 10th anniversary of a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters which triggered a civil war that has left much of Syria in ruins.
The multi-sided conflict has sucked in world powers, killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions more, but is now nearing its end with Assad, supported by Russian and Iranian allies, back in control of most of the country.
Candidates must have lived in Syria for the last 10 years, which prevents opposition figures in exile from standing.


Syria’s Idlib to get first batch of COVID-19 vaccines

Syria’s Idlib to get first batch of COVID-19 vaccines
Updated 21 April 2021

Syria’s Idlib to get first batch of COVID-19 vaccines

Syria’s Idlib to get first batch of COVID-19 vaccines
  • The delivery will be the first to Syria as part of the Covax program
  • 912,000 doses have been allocated to Syria for a first phase of vaccination

BAB AL-HAWA: A first batch of COVID-19 vaccine doses was expected to arrive Wednesday in war-torn northwestern Syria, where millions of people live in dire humanitarian conditions, a UN official said.

The 53,800 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were dispatched to the rebel-dominated region as part of the Covax facility, which ensures the world’s poorest economies get access to jabs for free.

“Once the vaccines arrive, we are prepared to start vaccination to priority groups through our implementing partners,” said Mahmoud Daher, a senior official with the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO).

The delivery will be the first to Syria as part of the Covax program, which has already sent vaccine doses to more than 100 different territories worldwide.

The vaccine doses are intended for the extended northwestern Syrian region, which includes the jihadist-dominated Idlib enclave.

The first categories of people to be vaccinated in the coming days in the Idlib region will be medical personnel involved in the battle against the pandemic and first aid responders.

The next group will be people above the age of 60, followed by people from younger age groups with chronic diseases, said Daher, who is based in the Turkish city of Gaziantep.

Much of the Idlib enclave is controlled by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, a jihadist organization that includes ex-members of Syria’s former Al-Qaeda franchise.

Other regions of Syria will also receive vaccine doses through Covax, under which 92 countries are eligible.

Imad Zahran, a media officer for the Idlib region’s health department, told AFP that the vaccination campaign was expected to begin early next month and would last approximately three weeks.

According to the WHO, a separate 912,000 doses have been allocated to Syria for a first phase of vaccination in regime controlled and semi-autonomous Kurdish areas.

The aim is to vaccinate 20 percent of the population by year’s end.

Vaccination for health workers has started in government-controlled areas but not with doses received as part of the Covax program.

The official COVID-19 death toll in Syria is low compared to some other countries in the region but credible data collection across the conflict-ravaged country is almost impossible.

Syria’s war has killed more than 388,000 people since it started in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests.


UAE receives Israeli envoy to Gulf states

UAE receives Israeli envoy to Gulf states
Updated 21 April 2021

UAE receives Israeli envoy to Gulf states

UAE receives Israeli envoy to Gulf states
  • Both sides discussed mutual cooperation in areas such as trade, investment and tourism
  • The two countries lead the COVID-19 vaccination rollout

RIYADH: The UAE received Zvi Heifetz, Israel’s special envoy to the GCC states, in Abu Dhabi as both countries reviewed the progress of their bilateral relations since signing a peace agreement last September.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, welcomed the Israeli official to explore further UAE-Israeli relations and mutual cooperation in areas such as trade, investment and tourism, state news agency WAM reported on Wednesday.

The two countries lead the COVID-19 vaccination rollout and during the meeting underlined the importance of accelerating efforts to ensure recovery from the crisis.

Last month, the UAE established a $10 billion fund to invest in strategic sectors in Israel that include energy, manufacturing and healthcare.

Since the signing of the Abraham Accords, both countries have established reciprocal diplomatic missions, launched direct flights and held several trade visits – with the UAE attracting over 50,000 Israeli tourists.