UK lawyer Karim Khan elected as global war crimes prosecutor

The new ICC prosecutor will be scrutinised for his moves on Palestinian abuses

FILE PHOTO: Defence Counsel for Kenya's Deputy President William Ruto, Karim Khan attends a news conference before the trial of Ruto and Joshua arap Sang at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague September 9, 2013. REUTERS/Michael Kooren (NETHERLANDS - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)/File Photo
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British lawyer Karim Khan was on Friday elected as the next chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

Mr Khan will take chargeof a tribunal dogged by controversial investigations into alleged abuses committed by Americans in Afghanistan and Israelis in the Palestinian territories.

Mr Khan gained 72 votes in the second round of secret voting in New York, putting him over the threshold needed to beat Ireland’s Fergal Gaynor and two others in a race that attracted unusually fierce competition.

The lawyer, who currently leads Unitad, the UN investigative team that prosecutes former ISIS militants in Iraq, will replace Gambian Fatou Bensouda for a nine-year term when she steps down in June.

Mr Khan has previously worked at other big war crimes courts as both prosecutor and defence counsel. At the International Criminal Court, he defended alleged abusers from Sudan, Libya and Kenya, after the country's 2007-08 post-election violence.

He will start work in a court that has battled controversy in recent months.

Last week it ruled it has jurisdiction over crimes committed on Palestinian land, a move that angered Israel. An investigation into alleged atrocities committed by Americans in Afghanistan led the Trump administration to impose sanctions on Ms Bensouda and other court officials last year.

Those sanctions are being reviewed by the Biden administration.

In the run-up to the vote, Mr Khan faced questions over Britain's colonial record and whether he would pursue politically challenging cases of alleged abuses committed by Israelis or Americans.

Liz Evenson, a justice campaigner at Human Rights Watch, said Mr Khan’s election came as the “court is needed more than ever and faces both internal performance shortcomings and external pressure”.

“We will be looking to Karim Khan to tackle the failings while demonstrating firm independence to hold even the most powerful to account,” said Ms Evenson.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Mr Khan would be "pivotal in ensuring we hold those responsible for the most heinous crimes to account and gain justice for their victims".

Based in The Hague in the Netherlands, the International Criminal Court was established in 1998 to prosecute those behind genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is currently pursuing more than a dozen cases across Africa, Asia and Europe.