International Criminal Court opens preliminary investigation into attack on Mavi Marmara

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Thousands of Turkish protestors greet the Mavi Marmara ship as she returns to Istanbul December 2010 (Photo: EPA)

Yesterday May 14th Fatou Bensouda, Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), released a statement announcing her office would be opening a preliminary investigation into the massacre on board the Mavi Marmara in which the lives of 9 human rights activists were brutally cut short by the Israeli military  on May 31, 2010, in international waters off the coast of Gaza.

The ICC, otherwise known as “The Hague” is the permanent war crimes court in The Hague, Netherlands.

ICC media release, Office of Chief Prosecutor Bensouda:

Today my Office met with a delegation from the Istanbul-based Elmadag Law Firm, acting on behalf of the Government of the Union of the Comoros, a State Party to the International Criminal Court since 18 August 2006.

The delegation transmitted a referral “of the Union of the Comoros with respect to the 31 May 2010 Israeli raid on the Humanitarian Aid Flotilla bound for Gaza Strip, requesting the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court pursuant to Articles 12, 13 and 14 of the Rome Statute to initiate an investigation into the crimes committed within the Court’s jurisdiction, arising from this raid’’.  In accordance with the requirements of the Rome Statute my office will be conducting a preliminary examination in order to establish whether the criteria for opening an investigation are met. After careful analysis of all available information, I shall make a determination that will be made public in due course.

The Mavi Marmara was registered in the sovereign state of the Comoros at the time of the attack. The Union of Comoros, an archipalego island nation off the coast of Africa, is a party to the Rome Statute.

The referral, hand delivered to Prosecutor Bensouda, reads “we kindly request urgent investigation for the purpose of determining whether one or more specific persons should be charged with the commission of alleged crimes.”

The materials respectfully submittted clearly demonstrate that the ICC possess both subject matter and territorial jurisdiction under Article 12 (2) (a) of the Rome statue and further support the position that reasonable basis exist to proceed with an investigation into the said incident.

220px Deputy Prosecutor
ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda

Prosecutor Bensouda is legally bound to open this initial investigation. Comoros is one of the four Arab League ICC state parties. That automatically confers jurisdiction on the Court for crimes committed on vessels flagged in Comoros.

Fatou Bensouda has been ICC Chief Prosecutor since June 2012. Earlier in her career she was Senior Legal Advisor and Head of the Legal Advisory Unit at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Interestingly, she is an expert in international maritime law and the law of the sea. She acquired a Master of Laws from the International Maritime Law Institute in Malta.

Mondoweiss commenter Hostage:

This preliminary investigation will act as a deterrent against similar acts in the future, whether the Prosecutor does anything on the basis of this referral. The attacks on Greek and Cambodian vessels and the attacks on Gaza fishing boats throughout this long-term siege/blockade amount to a situation, not just an isolated crime.

The pending amendments to the Rome Statute on the crime of aggression categorize blockades as illegal acts, and Israel has systematically and forcibly transferred humanitarian aid flotilla passengers across international boundaries to its own territory. So there is ample justification for an investigation and the possibility of indictments.

(Hat tip Mondoweiss commenter Hostage)

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