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ICC prosecutor faces demand for action against Israeli leaders and Russian attack over Putin warrant

UNITED NATIONS — (AP) — The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor faced demands Tuesday for speedy action against Israeli leaders and a blistering Russian attack over the ICC’s arrest warrant for President Vladimir Putin stemming from Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Karim Khan responded by telling the U.N. Security Council that he will not be swayed or intimidated as his team investigates possible war crimes or crimes against humanity in Gaza and the Palestinian territories as well as in Ukraine.

Libya's U.N. ambassador, Taher El-Sonni, told Khan that if the Libyan cases the ICC is investigating are so complex that they won't be completed until the end of 2025, he should allocate the court's efforts to the war in Gaza.

El-Sonni claimed genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity are being perpetrated by Israeli forces.

The world expects the ICC “to be courageous and to issue arrest warrants against officials of the Israeli regime who have repeated again and again that they want to commit genocidal actions against Palestinians,” El-Sonni said.

"What are you waiting for, Mr. Khan?," he added. "Don't you see the threats against civilians, the potential threats against civilians in Rafah and the massacre that would happen at any time?"

El-Sonni was referring to the latest Israeli offensive in Gaza’s southern city of Rafah, where 1.2 million Palestinians had fled seeking safety. The U.N. agency helping Palestinian refugees said Tuesday that nearly 450,000 have fled Rafah in the past week, and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated that there is no safe place anywhere in Gaza.

“This is the actual test of the ICC,” El-Sonni said. “Is the ICC politicized or is it independent and neutral?”

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia called the ICC a politicized “puppet body” controlled by the West that “has absolutely nothing to do with justice.”

The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Putin for alleged war crimes in March 2023, accusing the Russian president of personal responsibility for the abduction of children from Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

Two months later, Russia issued an arrest warrant for Khan. The ICC called that warrant “unacceptable” and said the court “will remain undeterred in the conduct of its lawful mandate to ensure accountability for the gravest crimes of concern to the international community as a whole.”

Nebenzia also accused the ICC of accomplishing nothing since it began a preliminary examination of the situation in the Palestinian territories in 2015 and a formal investigation in 2021.

“In this regard, one wonders if the effectiveness of the ICC on this track has been affected by the fact that a new bipartisan bill has been submitted to the U.S. Congress to sanction ICC officials involved in investigating not only the U.S. but its allies,” he told the Security Council.

Last week, two Republican congressmen introduced the “Illegitimate Court Counteraction Act” to impose sanctions on ICC officials that go after the United States or its allies including Israel.

They cited reports the ICC is poised to issue arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other high-ranking Israeli officials for their military offensive in Gaza following Hamas' Oct. 7 surprise attack in southern Israel that killed about 1,200 people and saw about 250 people taken hostage. The act's supporters said that if the ICC was a legitimate tribunal it should have issued arrest warrants for Hamas leaders.

Israel's military retaliation, now in its eighth month, has killed over 35,000 Palestinians, the majority of them women and children according to Gaza health officials, and it has sparked worldwide protests.

Algeria’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Nacim Gaouaoui, expressed hope the ICC will take “a serious approach” to its Palestinian investigations and “demonstrate that it is not a tool used by some members of the international community to threaten whoever they want, whenever they want.”

Khan said he wanted to assure Russia’s ambassador that “we will not be swayed, whether it’s by warrants for my arrest or the arrest of elected officials of the court by the Russian Federation, or whether it’s by other elected officials in any other jurisdiction.”

Khan said the ICC endeavors to be "deaf to the noise" and this should be a time "for the law to be allowed to breathe," whether dealing with world crises like Ukraine, Gaza and the Palestinians, Libya or the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar.

“We have a duty to stand up for justice, to stand up for victims,” Khan said. “We will stand up and apply the law with integrity, with independence.”

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