UK lawyer leading UN ISIS investigations in Iraq is favourite to be next ICC prosecutor

Elections for the next International Criminal Court prosecutor are this week

British lawyer Karim Asad Ahmad Khan walks in the streets of the holy city of Najaf in central Iraq during his visit to the war-torn country's Shiite Muslim Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani on January 23, 2019. - Khan, an ex defence lawyer of Liberian former President Charles Taylor, heads a United Nations team authorized over a year ago to investigate the massacre of the Yazidi minority and other atrocities by jihadists in Iraq. 
The UN Security Council adopted a resolution in September 2017 to bring those responsible for Islamic State group war crimes to justice -- a cause championed by Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad and international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney. (Photo by Haidar HAMDANI / AFP)
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A British lawyer investigating ISIS atrocities for the UN is tipped to be the next chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court.

Karim Khan QC is one of the favourites for the position when elections are held this week.

The process to fill the most important post in the field of international criminal justice was deadlocked for several months.

The successor to Gambia's Fatou Bensouda was supposed to be chosen last year but the court’s 123 member countries were unable to agree on one of the four original names shortlisted.

In November, Mr Khan and four other candidates were added to the shortlist.

For the past few years Mr Khan, 50, led the UN's ISIS war crimes unit investigating genocides by the terrorist group in Iraq.

Last week, his work led to the return of the bodies of loved ones massacred by ISIS to Yazidi relatives. The bodies were recovered from mass graves.

On Monday, the ICC announced it would hold an election this week after failing to come to a unanimous agreement.

Another close contender for the role is Irish lawyer Fergal Gaynor.

Ms Bensouda will complete her nine-year term in June. She is the ICC’s second chief prosecutor and previously served as deputy prosecutor under first chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo.

"Bensouda set the table for the next chief prosecutor with quite a few sharp objects," Mark Kersten, an international law expert at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, told The Telegraph.

“The biggest challenge to whoever is the next chief prosecutor over the next nine years is to figure out how to ensure that those sharp objects cut the right way.

“Are you going to have a prosecutor who is meek and will kowtow to the West or are you going to get someone who is willing to stand up to major powers and is willing to risk very little co-operation in response?

“Both Khan and Gaynor have traits that could be good for the ICC, both would be willing to stand up to world powers, whether they would end up doing that is another question.”

Last year, the United States imposed sanctions on Ms Bensouda and one of her top aides for investigating the actions of American troops in Afghanistan.

Although former president Donald Trump's administration rejected the court, President Joe Biden is expected to take a less confrontational stance, but Washington is unlikely to lift its objections to the Afghanistan investigation.

Last week, the ICC announced that it had jurisdiction over the occupied Palestinian territories, allowing it to investigate war-crime allegations against Israeli forces, leading Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to label the ruling as "pure anti-Semitism".

The aim of the International Criminal Court is to prosecute and bring to justice those responsible for the worst crimes – genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and it is a court of last resort, intervening only when national authorities cannot or will not prosecute.