Eighteen months ago UK Foreign Secretary
William Hague delivered an important
speech at the Hague, home of the
International Criminal Court (ICC).
He was saying all the right things, for example:
He spoke of a growing reliance on a rules-based international
system. “We depend more and more on other countries abiding by
international laws… We need to strengthen the international
awareness and observance of laws and rules…”
Some emerging powers, he said, didn’t agree with us about how to act
when human rights are violated on a colossal scale, while others
didn’t subscribe to the basic values and principles of human rights
in the first place. He was talking about Syria, although many in the
audience must have had Israel in mind.
“The international community came together in an unprecedented way
to address the crisis in Libya last year,” said Hague. “The Arab
League, the UN Security Council, the UN Human Rights Council, the
European Union, NATO and the International Criminal Court all
stepped forward and played their part to protect a civilian
Yeah. Funny how they have never come together for crisis-torn
Palestine these last 65 years.
pledge to fight impunity for grave international crimes wherever
Hague, positively overflowing with fine words and sentiments,
He said referring leaders in Libya and Sudan to the ICC showed that
not signing up to the Rome Statute was no guarantee for escaping
accountability. “If you commit war crimes, crimes against humanity
or genocide you will not be able to rest easily in your bed: the
reach of international justice is long and patient… There is no
expiry date for these crimes…”
…we didn’t hear Hague and his friends call for a reckoning with
the psychopaths of the Israeli regime when they committed
mega-atrocities against Gaza’s civilians just two years earlier.
Instead they tinkered with our laws of universal jurisdiction to
enable suspected war criminals to walk free.
Woweee! Had he told Binyamin Netanyahu this? Was this tough talking
really from the man who watered down Britain’s laws of Universal
Jurisdiction to protect Israel’s war criminals from arrest while
shopping in London’s Bond Street? Israel and the US, after signing
up to the Rome Statute, had second thoughts and “unsigned” in order
to escape the long reach of international justice. At last, it was
beginning to sound like bad news for Tel Aviv’s and Washington’s
At the time of the Libya fiasco Hague announced he had signed a
directive revoking Gaddafi’s diplomatic immunity and also that of
his sons, his family and entire household. He bragged how the UK
“drove” through a Security Council resolution referring what was
happening in Libya to the ICC prosecutor, saying it “sends a clear
message to all involved, in the regime and any other groups that if
they commit crimes and atrocities there will be a day of reckoning
Bravo! What a splendidly high-principled chap Hague suddenly seemed
to be. And how swiftly he managed to get the ICC’s attention when he
wanted to. But we didn’t hear Hague and his friends call for a
reckoning with the psychopaths of the Israeli regime when they
committed mega-atrocities against Gaza’s civilians just two years
earlier. Instead they tinkered with our laws of universal
jurisdiction to enable suspected war criminals to walk free. Gaddafi
wasn’t welcome in London but the Foreign Office happily rolled out
the red carpet for Tzipi Livni, Lieberman, Barak and Netanyahu,
while Hague conducted the brass band.
Our foreign secretary rounded off his speech by saying:
Trampled Palestinians dispossessed by a brutal military occupier and
sitting among the smoking ruins of their homes, or eking out a
squalid existence in their refugee camp, must have been impressed.
UK support for ICC “unswerving”
A year after Hague’s splendidly robust
performance, a policy
paper issued by the Foreign and
Commonwealth Office, dated July 2013, hammered home the points he
had made with these “key messages”:
Our support for international criminal justice and
accountability is a fundamental element of our foreign policy.
Our support for the ICC as a court of last resort and the
importance of its role when national courts have been unwilling
or unable to deliver justice is unswerving.
The document also promised that the UK government would be “a
powerful advocate of the ICC in all our diplomatic relations” and
“encourage more states to ratify and accede to the Rome Statute…
Widening the reach of the Court beyond the current 122 states
parties will increase accountability and help challenge impunity.”
And if nations didn’t play ball, the British government would
consider mechanisms “to enforce cooperation and to take effective
action against those who fail to cooperate”.
What, including Israel?
Heavens, no. Although the Foreign Office
says: “Our support for the ICC is unswerving,” Agent
Cameron, Britain’s prime minister, has
said: “Our support for Israel… is unshakable.” The two opposing
positions, unshakable and unswerving, are hopelessly incompatible.
And in this case unshakable trumps unswerving. Sorry folks,
international justice automatically switches off when it comes to
Israel’s war crimes.
Every state should join the ICC – except Palestine?
In a masterly
critique, analyst Dr David Morrison
exposes Hague’s dishonesty. The occupying power in Palestine –
Israel – has long been committing acts that Britain regards as
illegal. “Our position on Israeli settlements in the occupied
Palestinian territories is clear: they are illegal under
international law, an obstacle to peace and make a two-state
solution harder to achieve,” states the FCO’s website.
Not just illegal, settlement building is actually a war crime under
the Rome Statute. “It involves the occupying power transferring some
of its own civilian population to the territory it occupies,”
explains Dr Morrison. “And under Article 8.2(b)(viii) of the Rome
Statute the transfer, directly or indirectly, by the occupying power
of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it
occupies is a war crime.”
Since Israel has transferred well over
500,000 Israeli civilians into territory it occupies, and is still
doing so, there is a prima
facie case that Israelis responsible
for the settlement programme, including the present prime minister,
Binyamin Netanyahu, are guilty of war crimes. Americans and others
who fund settlement projects may be guilty of aiding and abetting
As we’ve seen, the FCO’s strategy paper
talks about extending the ICC’s jurisdiction so that it can more
easily challenge impunity. But, says Morrison, eagerness to
challenge Israeli impunity was conspicuously absent when Hague spoke
in the House of Commons on 28 November 2012. Then, he offered UK
support for a UN General Assembly resolution granting Palestine
statehood on condition that Palestinian leaders promised they would not become
party to the Rome Statute. Hague told MPs that if the Palestinians
pursued ICC jurisdiction over the occupied territories at this
stage, it could make a return to negotiations impossible.
Since Israel has transferred well over 500,000 Israeli civilians
into territory it occupies, and is still doing so, there is a
prima facie case that Israelis responsible for the settlement
programme, including the present prime minister, Binyamin
Netanyahu, are guilty of war crimes.
“Believe it or believe it not,” says Dr
Morrison, “it is British policy to extend the jurisdiction of the
ICC to every corner of the earth, except
the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967.
There it is apparently inappropriate for Britain to challenge
Two days later, Israel retaliated against the UN granting statehood
to Palestine by announcing plans for yet more settlement building in
the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Hague’s response was the same old
mantra: “Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and
undermine trust between the parties.” If settlements are illegal
under international law, then those responsible should be tried in
an international court and, if found guilty, punished appropriately.
“Dare I suggest,” asks Dr Morrison, “that, to this end, Palestine
should be encouraged to accept the jurisdiction of the ICC?”
A state can grant jurisdiction to the
court by becoming a party to the Rome Statute (Article 12(1)) or by
making an ad
hoc declaration accepting the court’s
jurisdiction (Article 12(3)). The Palestinian Authority in January
2009 tried to grant the ICC jurisdiction over the occupied
territories by making an ad
hoc declaration, so that Israelis
could be prosecuted for atrocities against Gaza during Operation
Cast Lead. But the ICC Prosecutor took more than three years to
decide that the court couldn’t accept the jurisdiction. Whether or
not Palestine was a “state” within the meaning of Article 12(3) was
a question for the UN secretary-general who, in case of doubt, would
defer to the guidance of General Assembly.
The UN General Assembly shortly afterwards passed resolution
A/RES/67/19 accepting Palestine as a state, apparently settling the
question. However, the ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has said,
reportedly, that she doesn’t think retrospective claims could be
considered going all the way back to the founding of the court in
2002. The earliest would most likely be 29 November 2012, the date
when the UN recognized Palestine as a state.
Nearly 14 months have gone by and the Palestinians still haven’t
joined the ICC because they’ve come under fierce pressure,
especially from the US, not to do so. They promised the US not to
apply for membership of any of the UN’s bodies until April 2014 when
the present round of US-brokered “negotiations” with Israel is due
“It is absolutely outrageous,” says Dr Morrison, “that the US, with
the support of Britain and others, has pressurized Palestinians into
forgoing a possible legal means of redress against the illegal
actions by the power that has held them under military occupation
for almost 50 years”.