MPs urge Britain to back ICC bid to 'hold Israel to account'

More than 100 parliamentarians demand UK defends court as Rishi Sunak calls its arrest warrant bid 'unhelpful'

Karim Khan, the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor, is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders. AFP
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest on Israel-Gaza

Britain has been urged to back the International Criminal Court after its chief prosecutor sought arrest warrants for leaders of Israel and Hamas.

A letter from more than 100 mostly left-wing parliamentarians said the Israeli leadership “must be held to account” over the war in Gaza.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has described the arrest warrant move as a “deeply unhelpful development” that will not help bring peace.

But the letter to Foreign Secretary David Cameron said the government should “take a clear stance” against attempts to influence the court.

“We also call on the UK government to do all it can to support the court in ensuring accountability and justice for the victims of these crimes,” it said.

The letter was organised by Labour MPs Richard Burgon and Imran Hussain and signed by more than 100 MPs and peers from 11 parties.

Most represent Labour or Scottish and Irish nationalist parties. Members of the Labour leadership such as Keir Starmer and shadow foreign secretary David Lammy did not sign the letter.

Mr Lammy has said that “the independence of international courts must be respected and that all sides must be accountable for their actions”.

One Conservative MP, Mark Logan, put his name to the letter, which was shared on social media by the Palestinian mission in the UK.

“We believe that there is mounting evidence that Israel has committed clear and obvious violations of international law in Gaza and strongly believe that those responsible must be held to account,” it said.

The ICC's chief prosecutor is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, and Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh.

A panel of three ICC judges must consider British prosecutor Karim Khan's application, in a process that takes typically takes about two months.

Although Israel is not a member of the ICC, it could become difficult for Mr Netanyahu or Mr Gallant to travel abroad if the warrants are issued.

Zarah Sultana, one of the letter's Labour signatories, asked the Prime Minister on Wednesday whether they would be arrested in the UK.

Mr Sunak replied that “this is a deeply unhelpful development, which of course is still subject to a final decision”.

“There is no moral equivalence between a democratically elected government exercising their lawful right to self-defence and the actions of a terrorist group,” he told the House of Commons.

“The actions of the ICC do absolutely nothing to get a pause in the fighting, or to get the hostages out or aid in.”

Mr Khan, who took up his ICC role in 2021, accused Israel of carrying out collective punishment and using starvation as a method of warfare.

Regarding Hamas's attack on Israel on October 7, he said the terrorist actions were “unconscionable crimes” that “demand accountability”.

Updated: May 22, 2024, 2:53 PM