Canada asks ICC to drop Israeli war crimes lawsuits

The country holds that the ICC does not have the jurisdiction to hear such cases.

Presiding Judge Robert Fremr in the courtroom at the ICC (International Criminal Court) in the Hague, the Netherlands, 2018 (photo credit: BAS CZERWINSKI/POOL VIA REUTERS)
Presiding Judge Robert Fremr in the courtroom at the ICC (International Criminal Court) in the Hague, the Netherlands, 2018
(photo credit: BAS CZERWINSKI/POOL VIA REUTERS)
Canada asked the International Criminal Court not hold hearings regarding Israeli war crimes lawsuits, its Foreign Ministry said on Friday.

The country holds that the ICC does not have the jurisdiction to hear such cases and wrote a letter stating this to the court before the February 14 deadline for such submissions.

It was one of seven countries to send a letter clearly stating that the ICC lacked jurisdiction in this matter. The other countries which did so are Hungary, the Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, Uganda and Brazil. Australia also wrote a letter on the matter, but did not state its position. Israel has said that Australia intends to weigh in on its behalf.

“Canada’s longstanding position is that it does not recognize a Palestinian state and therefore does not recognize the accession of such a state to international treaties, including the Rome Statute. In the absence of a Palestinian state, it is Canada’s view that the Court does not have jurisdiction in this matter under international law,” Canada’s Foreign Ministry told The Jerusalem Post via Email.

“In 2015 and 2018, Canada submitted this official position to the International Criminal Court,” the ministry said. “On February 14, Canada submitted a letter reiterating its position to the ICC. The ICC Prosecutor herself referred to Canada’s position on Palestinian statehood in her request to the Pre-Trial Chamber of the ICC.”

No country has written individually to the court on behalf of the Palestinians. But the Arab League, which represents 22 nations – as well as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which has 57 member states – both wrote to the ICC in support of its jurisdiction to hear such lawsuits.

The ICC’s pretrial chamber is in the midst of adjudicating the issue of jurisdiction, which will include the question of whether Palestine can be considered a member state and thus a party to the court.

The Palestinians first signed the Rome Statute in 2015, a move which has allowed them to request that the court hear war crimes suits against Israelis in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza.

The ICC pre-trial chamber is allowing over 40 parties, including countries, to submit briefs on the issue of jurisdiction until March 16. Half of those who plan to submit briefs will do so on behalf of Israel and the other half on behalf of the Palestinians. The Israeli government has the right to submit a brief, but has not yet stated if it plans to do so.

Canada is not on the ICC’s list of countries and organizations that are expected to submit a brief, but its Foreign Ministry confirmed that it had written a letter to the court on Israel’s behalf.

“As a friend and ally of Israel and friend of the Palestinian people, Canada is firmly committed to the goal of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East, including the creation of a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel, achieved through direction negotiations between the parties,” the ministry said.

PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat tweeted that Canada has joined “Israel’s campaign for impunity.” He added, “It is not about jurisdiction: It’s about war crimes. This is an encouragement to continue the war crimes.”