by Iqbal Jassat
Was it a “sick joke”, as one commentator suggested, for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to issue an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin on the 20th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq?
It certainly raises serious questions about the partiality of the ICC.
How was it able to conclude and determine Putin’s culpability as a war criminal within a year of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?
While two decades later, and despite overwhelming evidence of gross human rights violations leading to the deaths of millions in Iraq, two of the arch-villains, George W. Bush and Tony Blair, remain untouched by the ICC.
Bias of this type has given rise to public perception of the ICC as a NATO-allied body that is used as a political tool to serve western interests.
Indeed, thus far not a single American of European ruler, however egregious their crimes, has been indicted for war crimes while many African leaders have been accused.
The same can be said of Israel.
Rulers of the settler colonial entity have and continue to perpetrate the most horrific war crimes against native Palestinians, yet not one has faced charges let alone an arrest warrant.
ICC prosecutors can neither claim ignorance of Israel’s war on the Palestinian population nor that no one has lodged a complaint at their door in respect of atrocities stretching from 1948 to the present.
The question that arises is, what makes the ICC run with such haste to indict Putin within a short period of time and at whose bidding?
If the prosecution team values a need for integrity, impartiality and commitment to justice without fear or favour, it should announce that an arrest warrant for Benjamin Netanyahu has been issued.
Apart from a long list of charges for war crimes against Palestinians he is responsible for over the many years that he held sway over Israel as prime minister, consistency by ICC requires that he be formally charged with such crimes.
Experts point out that Netanyahu should be worried given that Putin is accused of violating prohibitions set in International Laws of Occupation.
“The arrest warrant alleges the crime of deportation of a population from the occupied territory to the territory of the occupier was committed. The crime of transfer of civilians from the occupying power to the occupied territory is defined in the Rome Statute.”
In other words, America and the west who have excitedly welcomed and rallied behind the arrest warrant against Putin, will find their joy short-lived if the ICC finds the courage to charge Netanyahu and his thugs for exactly the same crimes.
Violation of the laws of occupation and especially about the ban on the transfer of the occupier’s population to the occupied Palestinian territories turned into Jewish enclaves known as settlements, renders Israel guilty.
And it doesn’t end there.
Forced transfers of Palestinian populations such as the Khan Al Ahmar, and of communities in Masafer Yatta, if executed “will fall under the same crime that Putin is accused of—deportation of an occupied population outside the occupied territory or forced transfer inside it,” according to legal experts.
Indeed, to the disappointment of many lawfare campaigners who had expected that the ICC would be keenly aware of Israel’s deliberate and defiant violations of the prohibition on population transfer, are surprised that Putin has been hastily pursued while Netanyahu and his ilk go scot-free.
ICC’s failure to prosecute Israeli rulers is not only to the detriment of Palestinians, but to universal justice.
What explains this failure of the ICC?
Could its reluctance to move against Israel be explained by threats issued by former US president Donald Trump which to date have not been repudiated by the current incumbent Joe Biden?
“We will not cooperate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC. We certainly will not join the ICC. We will let the ICC die on its own.”
Trump’s discredited National Security guru John Bolton was equally harsh and critical of the ICC.
He referred to it as “outright dangerous” to the United States, Israel and other allies.
He also threatened that “If the court comes after us, Israel or other US allies, we will not sit quietly.”
The official line from the White House as explained by Bolton was that the US was prepared to slap financial sanctions and criminal charges on officials of the ICC if they proceed against any American.
Though South Africa may face a conundrum if and when Putin lands in Johannesburg to attend a BRICS summit, it may well argue that applying selective prosecution and the haste whereby ICC has fast tracked the arrest warrant, betrays clear political bias.
Iqbal Jassat is Executive Member at the Media Review Network, Johannesburg, South Africa