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ICC Prosecutor Formally Applies for Arrest Warrants for Israeli, Hamas Leaders

A panel of ICC judges will determine whether to issue the warrants, which charge war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, speaks at the headquarters of the National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela, on April 22, 2024.

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court on Monday announced he has “formally applied” for arrest warrants for the top political and military leaders of Hamas as well as the Israeli government on “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity” charges related to the October 7 attack by Palestinian militants and the brutal assault on the people of Gaza that Israel unleashed in response.

In a world exclusive carried by CNN, the ICC’s chief prosecutor Karim Khan told correspondent Christiana Amanpour that arrest warrants are being sought for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for their role “in the crimes of causing extermination, causing starvation as a method of war, including the denial of humanitarian relief supplies, [and] deliberately targeting civilians in conflict.”

“Nobody is above the law,” said Khan.

Khan and his team also announced the charges formally in a statement as well as a video address.

“Israel, like all States, has a right to take action to defend its population,” said Khan in his statement. “That right, however, does not absolve Israel or any State of its obligation to comply with international humanitarian law. Notwithstanding any military goals they may have, the means Israel chose to achieve them in Gaza — namely, intentionally causing death, starvation, great suffering, and serious injury to body or health of the civilian population — are criminal.”

In Khan’s application, the official “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity” alleged — based on “evidence collected and examined” by his office — include:

  • Starvation of civilians as a method of warfare as a war crime contrary to article 8(2)(b)(xxv) of the Statute;
  • Wilfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health contrary to article 8(2)(a)(iii), or cruel treatment as a war crime contrary to article 8(2)(c)(i);
  • Wilful killing contrary to article 8(2)(a)(i), or Murder as a war crime contrary to article 8(2)(c)(i);
  • Intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population as a war crime contrary to articles 8(2)(b)(i), or 8(2)(e)(i);
  • Extermination and/or murder contrary to articles 7(1)(b) and 7(1)(a), including in the context of deaths caused by starvation, as a crime against humanity;
  • Persecution as a crime against humanity contrary to article 7(1)(h);
  • Other inhumane acts as crimes against humanity contrary to article 7(1)(k).

“There’s no spinning this one: Israel’s President and Minister of Defense are formally accused at the ICC of ‘exterminating’ Palestinians in the course of a starvation campaign,” said Alonso Gurmendi, a lecturer on international relations at Kings College, London, in response to the announcement.

Beatrice Fihn, former head of the Nobel Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolition Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and an expert on international law, called the development “absolutely massive.”

“The Prime Minister of Israel is a war criminal,” Fihn said on social media, “and the impact of this will be very significant for all western countries that sell weapons to Israel.”

In addition to the Israeli officials, Khan also announced arrest warrant applications for three Palestinian leaders: Yahya Sinwar, head of the Islamic Resistance Movement (“Hamas”) in the Gaza Strip, Mohammed Diab Ibrahim Al-Masri (also known as Deif), Commander-in-Chief of the Al-Qassam Brigades (Hamas’ military arm), and Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas’ Political Bureau based in Doha, Qatar.

Also based on “evidence collected,” Khan’s specific charges against the Hamas officials include:

  • Extermination as a crime against humanity, contrary to article 7(1)(b) of the Rome Statute;
  • Murder as a crime against humanity, contrary to article 7(1)(a), and as a war crime, contrary to article 8(2)(c)(i);
  • Taking hostages as a war crime, contrary to article 8(2)(c)(iii);
  • Rape and other acts of sexual violence as crimes against humanity, contrary to article 7(1)(g), and also as war crimes pursuant to article 8(2)(e)(vi) in the context of captivity;
  • Torture as a crime against humanity, contrary to article 7(1)(f), and also as a war crime, contrary to article 8(2)(c)(i), in the context of captivity;
  • Other inhumane acts as a crime against humanity, contrary to article 7(l)(k), in the context of captivity;
  • Cruel treatment as a war crime contrary to article 8(2)(c)(i), in the context of captivity; and
  • Outrages upon personal dignity as a war crime, contrary to article 8(2)(c)(ii), in the context of captivity.

Khan alleged in his statement that Sinwar, Deif, and Haniyeh are each “criminally responsible for the killing of hundreds of Israeli civilians in attacks perpetrated by Hamas (in particular its military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades) and other armed groups on 7 October 2023 and the taking of at least 245 hostages.”

Watch Amanpour’s interview with Khan:

Khan emphasized that the charges against both Israeli and Palestinian leaders in the case were based on documented evidence and that the charges simply follow on the mandates set by international law and legal standards that must be administered equally, regardless of the identity of the alleged perpetrator.

“Let us today be clear on one core issue: if we do not demonstrate our willingness to apply the law equally, if it is seen as being applied selectively, we will be creating the conditions for its collapse,” Khan said. “In doing so, we will be loosening the remaining bonds that hold us together, the stabilizing connections between all communities and individuals, the safety net to which all victims look in times of suffering. This is the true risk we face in this moment.”

“Now, more than ever,” he continued, “we must collectively demonstrate that international humanitarian law, the foundational baseline for human conduct during conflict, applies to all individuals and applies equally across the situations addressed by my Office and the Court. This is how we will prove, tangibly, that the lives of all human beings have equal value.”

The application for the warrants by Khan does not mean they have been issued, a determination that will be made by the panel of ICC judges who oversee such decisions for the court.

Heidi Matthews, assistant professor at Harvard Law School with a focus on the law of war, said Monday “will go down in the history of international law” because of what Khan and his team have done.

Citing the Rome Statute, Matthews explained that the Pre-Trial Chamber at the ICC “must now consider the prosecutor’s evidence to assess whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that they have committed the alleged crimes.”

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