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ICC makes unprecedented move seeking arrest warrant for close U.S. ally Israel

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor Karim Khan is seeking arrest warrants for Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his defense minister, as well as three Hamas leaders. Khan says they are all accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. To discuss the court's next moves, Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji joins me now. He's a former president of the International Criminal Court. Good morning, Judge, and thanks for being on the program.

CHILE EBOE-OSUJI: Thank you very much.

FADEL: I want to start with how unprecedented this move is. It's the first time we've seen an ICC prosecutor seek arrest warrants for a close U.S. ally in a country that is seen as a Western democracy. What message does this send?

EBOE-OSUJI: The message is that international law must be applied equally, even-handedly, no one is above the law.

FADEL: Now, the U.S. government has condemned Khan's move. Congressional Republicans have warned of, quote, severe sanctions if there's a warrant against an Israeli official. President Biden is calling the move outrageous. Does this political pressure impact the ICC's next moves?

EBOE-OSUJI: It will not and nor should it. These are political statements. No one has come out and said that the move is unwarranted in law. It's all saying what their political base would like them to say. We have here Mr. Khan did not just storm out of the pond. He had issued warnings from the beginning that people should be careful in this war. He said that when this war started back at his Rafah gate visit.

FADEL: A few months ago.

EBOE-OSUJI: But the war had been fought as if international law didn't exist. And six months on, he now made this announcement. And he did just not make it on the cuff. We have experts he collected from outside his office, including seasoned, experienced international law jurists, one of them, mister - or rather Professor Ted Meron, who himself used to work in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs as legal adviser many years, professor of law, judge at the International Criminal Tribunal for president of - sorry, of former Yugoslavia, president of that institution for a long, long time.

This is one of the stalwarts we have on Mr. Khan's team who reviewed this material and came and said that he had been careful, rigorous in his material and that they have reviewed it. Unanimously, this panel said they reviewed the material he put together, and they have been fair, rigorous and even-handed. And they unanimously support the view that - those indicated in the application, that reasonable grounds to believe that they committed crimes within the Rome Statute. So I don't see the basis upon which they use, you know, things we're hearing being said. They're not granted in the law at all.

FADEL: Now, to be clear, the ICC chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, has requested the court to issue these arrest warrants, but they haven't been issued yet. So it's not a done deal at this point, right?

EBOE-OSUJI: It isn't a done deal. It's up to the judges. There'll be three judges who review the application and the materials tendered in support of the application. And then they'll make a decision of whether or not to issue the arrest warrant. But again, keep in mind here we have experienced lawyers, jurors, former international court judges. Sir Adrian Fulford used to be a judge of that court, ICC. So they're the ones who helped to review this thing and give it the OK and say it was OK to proceed.

FADEL: Now, just in the few seconds we have left, I mean, how do they enforce an arrest warrant when Hamas, Israel are not parties to this court, even the U.S. or Russia, who they've issued a warrant in the past, for Vladimir Putin? How do they enforce it?

EBOE-OSUJI: It will be up to the states parties. There are 124 countries who have to have an obligation now to arrest anybody that tries to - once they try to issue the arrest warrant.

FADEL: That's Chile Eboe-Osuji, former president of the International Criminal Court. Thank you for your time, Judge.

EBOE-OSUJI: You're welcome. Bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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