Senior British lawyers have written to the international criminal court (ICC) in The Hague, urging it to investigate “crimes” committed in Gaza, including the destruction of homes, hospitals and schools.
The letter was sent by Kirsty Brimelow QC, the chair of the Bar Council’s human rights committee, and was signed by a host of senior British barristers and law professors.
Addressed to the ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, it calls on the court to launch a preliminary inquiry into abuses committed during the conflict.
“The initiation of an investigation would send a clear and unequivocal message to those involved in the commission of these crimes that the accountability and justice called for by the United Nations on the part of victims are not hollow watchwords,” the letter states.
“It would bring about an end to the impunity which has prevailed in the region to date, fuelling ever increasingly brutal cycles of violence. The international community cannot continue to act simply as witness to such bloodshed and extreme civilian suffering.”
The lawyers say that it is within the ICC’s jurisdiction to act because the government of Palestine made a declaration in 2009 accepting the court’s role and the UN has since acknowledged Palestine as a non-member observer state.
The request is “in response to the extreme gravity of the situation in the Gaza Strip, including spiralling civilian deaths and large scale destruction of homes, hospitals and schools”, the letter says.
It refers both to attacks by Israeli forces and the firing of rockets into Israel by Palestinian militants.
“United Nations reports record that an estimated 23,304 air-to-surface missiles, tank shells and naval shells have been fired by Israel at the Gaza Strip since Israel launched its latest military assault on the territory on 7 July 2014,” the letter says. “During the same period, 3,008 rockets have been fired by Palestinian armed groups at Israel, according to Israeli military sources, in addition to over 886 mortars, reported by the United Nations.
“The fatalities include entire families killed in their homes, patients killed in their hospital beds, doctors, paramedics, United Nations humanitarian workers and members of the press … Reports produced by non-governmental organisations following preliminary investigations strongly suggest that crimes within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court have been and are being committed.”
Among the many other signatories are Baroness Helena Kennedy QC; Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC; Roy Amlot QC, the former chair of the Bar Council of England and Wales; Professor Bill Bowring of Birkbeck College; Edward Fitzgerald QC and Philippa Kaufman QC.