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War on Gaza: Mexico and Chile request ICC probe over possible Israeli war crimes in Gaza

Referral by Latin American states comes amid mounting global criticism of Israel's actions against Palestinian civilians
Participants attend a march from Leiden to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, in solidarity with Palestinians of the Gaza Strip, in Leiden, on December 17
Supporters march from Leiden to the International Criminal Court in The Hague in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, 17 December 2023 (AFP)

Mexico and Chile have asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to probe possible war crimes committed by Israel against Palestinians in its ongoing war on Gaza.

The referral was "due to the growing concern over the latest escalation of violence, particularly against civilian targets," the Mexican foreign ministry said in a statement on Thursday. 

It added that the ICC was a “crucial platform for determining international criminal responsibility”.

The move comes as the death toll from Israel’s onslaught in Gaza reached nearly 25,000, the majority of whom are children and women.  

The assault, which has turned much of the Gaza Strip into a wasteland, came following a Hamas-led attack that killed over 1,100 Israelis on 7 October. 

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Alberto van Klaveren, Chile’s foreign minister, said his country stands by “investigation of any possible war crime” committed by either side of the conflict. 

The ICC, based in The Hague, is an international court with jurisdiction to prosecute and try individuals for committing international crimes, including the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

Its proceedings are different from that of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which is a UN court that settles disputes between countries.

Israel is not a member of the ICC and does not recognise its jurisdiction or formally engage with it. 

The Palestinian foreign ministry welcomed Mexico and Chile’s referral on Friday. 

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“The referral confirms the urgent need for the court to fulfill its mandate, to deter, investigate, and prosecute the most serious crimes of concern for the international community,” the ministry said in a statement

“Israeli officials are not deterred as they continue with their genocidal war,” it added.

Palestine joined the ICC in 2015, giving the court jurisdiction in occupied Palestinian territory. Many hoped the move would pave the way for possible war crime indictments against Israeli officials. 

In 2021, the ICC prosecutor launched an investigation into possible war crimes committed from 2014 onwards by Israel and Palestinian groups in Palestinian territories. 

Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan said in November the investigations now “extend to the escalation of hostilities and violence” committed since 7 October. 

Khan's statement came after referrals made to the court by Bangladesh, Bolivia, Comoros, Djibouti, and South Africa to probe the current war. 

However, Khan has been accused by Palestinians of showing bias towards Israel and dragging his feet in the ongoing investigations. 

Global criticism of Israel

The move by Mexico and Chile comes amid growing criticism of Israel’s actions in Gaza, as daily footage of death and devastation shocks the world.

Earlier this month, Indonesia and Slovenia said they plan to join proceedings at the ICJ that seek an advisory opinion on whether the Israeli control of occupied Palestinian territory is breaching international law.

The non-binding advisory opinion was requested by the UN General Assembly in December 2022.

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"In the light of recent events in Gaza and the West Bank, Slovenia, as one of the few EU countries, has decided to actively participate and present its views in these proceedings before the International Court of Justice, which has been asked to give an advisory opinion," said Tanja Fajon, the Slovenian foreign minister, on 11 January. 

Retno Marsudi, the Indonesian foreign minister, said on Tuesday that “Israel’s occupation of Palestine, which has lasted for more than 70 years, will not erase the right of the Palestinian people to independence.”

The case is separate from that brought by South Africa last month before the ICJ, which accused Israel of committing genocide in Gaza and demanded an immediate halt to all military operations. 

Israel rejects accusations of genocide, saying its actions are compliant with international law. 

A two-day public hearing of South Africa’s case was held at The Hague last week. 

A provisional ruling on the suspension of military activity before the main case starts is expected within weeks. 

ICJ rulings are legally binding in theory, but they are usually unenforceable.

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