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Contributing to international criminal justice for alleged war crimes in Palestine

On 3 March 2021, International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, announced that an investigation into the Situation in Palestine will be opened. This is the first time that the ICC will be investigating alleged human rights abuses and war crimes in occupied Palestinian territory. The decision comes after a preliminary examination lasting almost six years and a Pre-Trial Chamber ruling regarding the ICC’s territorial jurisdiction.

eyeWitness to Atrocities contributed to this milestone by submitting almost 2700 photos, videos and audio files as evidence of potential violations to the preliminary examination, as well as an additional dossier of evidence in February 2021. All footage was captured using the eyeWitness to Atrocities App by human rights documenters – including Palestinian human rights organisation, Al-Haq.*

Truth Hounds via the eyeWitness App

Examining alleged Israeli and Palestinian war crimes

In 2015, the Office of the Prosecutor (Office) at the ICC launched a preliminary examination into the situation in Palestine, including East Jerusalem,“to establish whether the Rome Statute criteria for opening an investigation” were met.

With the support of eyeWitness’ technical and legal teams, several eyeWitness partners contributed footage to this preliminary examination. After capturing thousands of images using the eyeWitness camera app, the documenters uploaded their footage to eyeWitness’ encrypted server, where the eyeWitness team manually analysed and catalogued each file. The footage related to 669 potential violations, with recurrent themes of property damage, injuries and fatalities, environmental damage, protests, military exercises, and searches and arrests.

Between November 2018 and March 2019, eyeWitness’ legal experts submitted 2550 photos, 145 videos and one audio file of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity to the ICC. The location date, and integrity of the footage was ensured by eyeWitness’ technology and chain of custody protections.

The International Criminal Court: a road to international criminal justice in Palestine?

On 20 December 2019, ICC Prosecutor, Bensouda, made a statement announcing that after reviewing all of the available evidence in the preliminary examination, there was “a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into the situation in Palestine, pursuant to article 53(1) of the Statute”. She also stated that, in her judgement, war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza.

However, given the “highly contested legal and factual issues” surrounding the question of territory, the Prosecutor also requested Pre-Trial Chamber I to verify the ICC’s territorial jurisdiction in the Situation in Palestine.

On 4 February 2021, Pre-Trial Chamber I ruled by majoritythat the ICC’s jurisdiction “extends to the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, namely Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.” This ruling provided the Prosecutor, Bensouda, with the territorial jurisdiction to launch an investigation into alleged atrocities committed in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In response to Pre-Trial Chamber I’s ruling, eyeWitness’ legal team submitted an additional dossier of evidence regarding potential violations occurring between 2019 and 2020 in Palestine.

Just one month later, ICC Prosecutor, Bensouda, confirmed the decision to open an investigation into the Situation in Palestine. “Any investigation undertaken by the Office will be conducted independently, impartially and objectively, without fear or favour,” Bensouda stated. “In the end, our central concern must be for the victims of crimes, both Palestinian and Israeli, arising from the long cycle of violence and insecurity that has caused deep suffering and despair on all sides.”

“The Office is aware of the wider concern, respecting this Situation, for international peace and security,” noted Bensouda in her statement. “Through the creation of the ICC, States Parties recognised that atrocity crimes are ‘a threat to peace, security and wellbeing of the world’, and resolved ‘to guarantee lasting respect for and the enforcement of international justice.’ The pursuit of peace and justice should be seen as mutually reinforcing imperatives.”

*Note – some of the identities and locations of these documenters are withheld for security reasons.