Human rights groups urge Abbas to seek redress at International Criminal Court

Open letter from 17 organisations says allegations of war crimes should be pursued

International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. Photograph: Toussaint Kluiters/AFP/Getty Images

International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. Photograph: Toussaint Kluiters/AFP/Getty Images

Tue, Jul 29, 2014, 01:00

With more than 1,030 people now dead in Gaza, mostly civilians, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has been urged by human rights organisations to urgently seek access to the (ICC) – so that it can pursue allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In an open letter to Mr Abbas, 17 organisations – including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International – said impunity had “regularly undermined” the Middle East peace process and they believed “a credible prosecution threat would help to advance the cause of peace”.

The relationship between the Palestinians and the ICC has been complex. In 2009 it lodged a declaration recognising the jurisdiction of the ICC but the court ruled the declaration was not valid because issues over the definition of Palestinian statehood were unresolved.

However, in November 2012 the UN general assembly voted to grant Palestine the status of “non-member observer state”. As recently as May, former ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, said that had changed the Palestinians’ position radically: “Today they are recognised and can choose to turn to the court.”

In their letter, the human rights organisations – which made this call before but say they are repeating it “urgently” in the context of the Gaza crisis – are of the same opinion, urging Mr Abbas and his government to apply again to accede to the Rome Statute that set up the ICC in The Hague.

“On this basis, the current ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has said that ‘The ball is now in the court of Palestine’ to seek the court’s jurisdiction,” says the letter.

It goes on: “While we understand the pressure that Palestine is under from Israel and the United States not to pursue the jurisdiction of the ICC . . . we oppose these efforts to politicise justice for victims of serious crimes under international law, and urge you to resist them.”

And it concludes: “The ICC represents an important tool for justice . . . We urge you to seize it without any further delay.”

Meanwhile, the mayor of The Hague, Jozias van Aartsen, has been urged to investigate allegations that some demonstrators at a pro-Palestinian rally last Thursday chanted “Death to Jews”, carried black pro- Islamic State or Isis flags, and had their faces covered, which is illegal under Dutch law.

The Dutch public prosecution department says it will examine video footage of the march to see if anything illegal happened.

It said the police had intervened once only, on behalf of a female journalist who was verbally attacked, but no arrests were made.

Earlier this month, Mr van Aartsen met Jewish organisations who wanted him to take a tougher line with “those who promote the spread of hatred and calls to violence”.