New ICC Prosecutor urged to rise to challenge facing court
February 18, 2020
THE new Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Karim Khan, has been urged by human rights bodies to rise to the challenge facing the court when he takes over in June from Fatou Bensouda from The Gambia who is stepping down after a non-renewable term of nine years.
Khan, a British lawyer, is currently the head of the UN Security Council-mandated investigation of crimes committed by the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq.
He successfully defended Kenyan Deputy President Ruto who was facing charges at the ICC of murder, deportation and persecution during the violence that followed the country’s 2007 election.
He was also a legal adviser in the prosecutor’s office at the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
Khan also served as defence counsel on various cases at the Yugoslav tribunal, and the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
He was elected Prosecutor at the recent Assembly of State Parties to the Rome Statute of the ICC in New York during the second round of voting, the first time the vote was held by secret ballot.
He garnered 72 votes out of the 123 States Parties, with the second candidate, Irish lawyer Fergal Gaynor, receiving 42 votes.
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) said that at a time when the ICC was beginning a process of changes to strengthen its performance, it still faced “unprecedented attacks and challenges”.
FIDH said Karim’s election represented “a key opportunity to reaffirm the Court as an essential actor in the fight against impunity for international crimes, and strengthen its impact on victims and affected communities”.
Alice Mogwe, President of FIDH, said: “We stand ready to assist the next Prosecutor and his office to face the challenges of bringing justice to victims and affected communities: the essence of the Court’s existence.”
Shawan Jabareen, FIDH Secretary General, said: “Numerous challenges await the new Prosecutor: limited financial and human resources, lack of cooperation from States Parties, direct attacks against the Court and its personnel, and in-depth reform of the Court’s work, to name a few.
“We are sure that Karim Khan will continue to defend strongly the independence of the Office of the Prosecutor and the Court in face of all these challenges, while making it a priority for his Office to strengthen the link between the Court and survivors, who should be at the centre of ICC processes.”
Khan is a criminal lawyer and human rights expert with a defence and investigative background, according to international justice advocates, attributes that they believe would stand him in good stead as Prosecutor
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it expected Khan to “rise to the challenge” facing the ICC.
“Addressing the obstacles he faces is the only way to build support among all the court’s stakeholders for his mandate and the ICC as a whole,” said Richard Dicker, international justice director at HRW.
“Karim Khan’s election as prosecutor is occurring at a time when the ICC is needed more than ever but has faced significant challenges and pressure on its role.
“We will be looking to Khan to address shortcomings in the court’s performance, while demonstrating firm independence in seeking to hold even the most powerful rights abusers to account,” Dicker added.
HRW said Khan should “grapple with [the ICC’s] sizable workload in light of the failure of some ICC member countries to recognise the need for additional resources”.
It added: “He should improve the prosecution’s performance in court and grapple with its sizable workload in light of the failure of some ICC member countries to recognise the need for additional resources.
“Ongoing follow-up to the independent expert review of the court’s operations will serve as one important framework.
“With his election, Khan should work with the outgoing prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, during the transition period to ensure that the review’s recommendations receive careful scrutiny,” HRW said.
ICC member countries created a new system to guide the election, the third in the court’s history.
This included creating a Committee on the Election of the Prosecutor, assisted by a panel of independent experts, to assess applications, establish and interview a longlist of candidates, and produce a shortlist of candidates.
Dissatisfaction among some member countries with the shortlist, however, led to its expansion to include additional candidates in November from among those longlisted by the committee and a delay in the election, initially scheduled for December.
The February 12 election resulted from four rounds of consultations on the expanded list of candidates among member countries, aimed at reaching the decision by consensus, rather than voting.
In the absence of a consensus, member countries convened a vote, which was contested by four candidates.