BC-UN--United Nations-Palestinians-International Court, 1st Ld-Writethru,327< >Palestinians become observers at ICC meeting

The decision means the Palestinians are now free to sign the Rome Statute that established the permanent war crimes tribunal. If they choose to do so then the ICC will have jurisdiction over crimes committed in the occupied territories.

THE HAGUE // The International Criminal Court has accepted the status of Palestine as observer, a move that makes it possible for war crimes to be investigated in the occupied territories.

The Palestinians gained their new status at a meeting of the ICC’s 122 countries on Monday.

The decision means the Palestinians are now free to sign the Rome Statute that established the permanent war crimes tribunal and become a member. If they do so then the tribunal will have the jurisdiction to investigate war crimes in the occupied territories.

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has previously threatened to seek membership of the ICC in order to press charges against Israel for alleged war crimes.

The Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, said his government is moving in that direction “but that’s another step in that process”.

The timing will be decided by Mr Abbas, he said.

Balkees Jarrah, an international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch, said the Palestinians have repeatedly delayed action on becoming a member of the tribunal.

On Tuesday, Amnesty International said the Israeli military committed war crimes during its summer offensive in Gaza, which must be investigated.

The destruction of four multi-story buildings during the last four days of the 50-day war were in breach of international humanitarian law, the human rights monitor said in a report.

“All the evidence we have shows this large-scale destruction was carried out deliberately and with no military justification,” said Philip Luther, director of Amnesty’s middle east and north africa programme.

“War crimes must be independently and impartially investigated and those responsible should be brought to justice in fair trials.”

Jerusalem has refused to cooperate with a UN inquiry into possible war crimes during the offensive, accusing it of bias.

The ICC’s acceptance of Palestine as an observer came during a procedural move at the opening session of a two-week-long summit involving all members, officially known as the Assembly of States Parties to the Roman Statute.

During the session a list was read out of all states that have not signed or ratified the Rome Statute, but which have requested to participate as observers. The list included Russia, China, India and Palestine, and essentially recognised Palestine as a state.

With a bang of the gavel, all those on the list were approved by consensus.

William Pace, the convener of the coalition for the ICC, which includes 2,500 civil society organisations in 150 countries, said, “The significance is both the request and approval without objection,” although he said there were no grounds to object.

That’s because the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in November 2012 to upgrade the Palestinians’ status from UN observer to a non-voting member state.

Following that move the Palestinians are now allowed to be an observer of the ICC, under the rules of the Assembly of States Parties, and to ratify the Rome Statute and accept its jurisdiction, Mr Pace said. Previously, the Palestinians could attend the assembly as an “entity” without such rights.

* Associated Press

Published: December 9, 2014 04:00 AM

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