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ICC just for Africans and Putin, 'senior leader' told court prosecutor

Karim Khan defends court's remit following criticism of Israeli and Hamas arrest warrants
International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Karim Khan speaks during a press conference at the San Carlos Palace in Bogota, on 25 April 2024 (Luis Acosta / AFP)

The International Criminal Court (ICC) was established for Africans and "thugs" like Russian President Vladimir Putin, the court's prosecutor says he was told by senior elected leaders.

Speaking to CNN a day after announcing he was seeking arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant and three leaders of the Palestinian group Hamas, ICC prosecutor Karim Khan defended the court's remit for targeting war criminals without discrimination.

“Of course, I have heard some elected leaders speak to me and be very blunt: 'This court is built for Africa and for thugs like Putin', was what a senior leader told me," Khan said.

"We don't view it like that. This court is the legacy of Nuremberg. This court is a certain indictment of humanity. This court should be the triumph of law over power and brute force; grab what you can, take what you want, do what you will, and we are not going to be dissuaded by threats,” he told Christiane Amanpour.

The prosecutor's office announced on Monday that it was seeking arrest warrants for the two Israeli leaders and three Hamas leaders on the grounds of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

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Alongside Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader in Gaza, the ICC issued warrants for its military wing's commander-in-chief Mohammed Diab Ibrahim al-Masri, better known as Mohammed Deif, and its political leader Ismail Haniyeh.

The warrants have been condemned by Israel and its allies, with the US - which is not a member of the ICC - branding the move "outrageous".

Khan's comments to CNN reflect a longstanding criticism of the ICC for focusing mainly on prosecuting war crimes in the developing world, primarily Africa, while ignoring similar accusations against politicians from wealthier countries.

So far, the vast majority of those indicted by the ICC are from Africa.

A number of social media commentators pointed out the apparent hypocrisy of the unnamed official's remarks.

The arrest warrants sought by Khan will be submitted to the judges at the ICC, who will then determine whether to grant them.

Monday's announcement is the most significant diplomatic setback for Israel in decades and comes as it tries desperately to protect its international reputation while continuing to prosecute its devastating war in Gaza.

More than 35,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed since Israel began military operations there on 7 October. The majority of those are women and children.

At least 10,000 people are missing under the rubble and presumed dead, according to Palestinian civil defence officials.

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