UK Human Rights Expert Emerges ICC Next Chief Prosecutor

Criminal lawyer and the United Kingdom human rights expert, Karim Khan, will on June 16, take office  replace Fatou Bensouda of Ghana as the next Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). He was elected at the weekend.  

President of the Assembly of States Parties, O-Gon Kwon, applauded Khan on Twitter, saying “warm congratulations! Thank you all for your hard work!!”

The 123-member Hague-based court, which began work nearly 20 years ago, is responsible for judgments regarding war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.  

In its second ballot, the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute selected Khan with 72 votes, surpassing the majority requirement of 62.

The other three male candidates, bested by Khan, were Carlos Castresana Fernández, from Spain, Prosecutor of the Court of Auditors of his country; Francesco Lo Voi, of Italy, Chief Prosecutor of Palermo; and Fergal Gaynor, from Ireland, Deputy International Co-Prosecutor at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal and Senior Counsel at the ICC.

In 2018, UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, appointed Khan as Special Adviser to head a UN investigative team assisting the Iraqi government to hold ISIL terrorists accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity and genocide, in accordance with Security Council resolution 2379 (2017).

No stranger to justice 

In his 28-year law career, including as a Queen’s Counsel in the UK, Khan has worked as a prosecutor, victim attorney and defense lawyer in national and international criminal tribunals, including the ICC, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former -Yugoslavia (ICTY), the Extraordinary Chambers within the Cambodian Courts (ECCC), the Special Court for Lebanon and the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

The Prosecutor-elect holds law degrees from King’s College and the University of London and has studied and taught Islamic law.

Moreover, Khan is the author of numerous publications in the field of international criminal justice and human rights.

In 2019, ICC cleared former President of Côte d’Ivoire, Laurent Gbagbo, of crimes against humanity in the country.

The development related to bloody clashes in the West African country that claimed a reported 3,000 lives following the 2010 election in which President Alassane Ouattara defeated Gbagbo.

In June, the Court – which has more than 15 other cases that were either ongoing or yet to commence, including against Gbagbo’s wife, Simone – overturned the war crimes conviction of Jean-Pierre Bemba, former vice-President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

In a statement, the ICC said that both Gbagbo and co-defendant Charles Blé Goudé had been acquitted “from all charges of crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Côte d’Ivoire in 2010 and 2011”, relating to the alleged existence of a “common plan” to keep the former premier in power.

Crimes they were tried, included murder, rape, and persecution.

The Hague-based court added that the order to release both men could be appealed by the prosecution in a new hearing, noting that the Prosecutor had “failed to submit sufficient evidence” showing how both men had committed crimes against civilians, “pursuant to or in furtherance of a State or organisational policy”, nor the existence of “patterns of violence” indicative of a “policy to attack a civilian population”.

ICC also explained that the Prosecutor had been unable to show that speeches by each man “constituted ordering, soliciting or inducing the alleged crimes…accordingly, there is no need for the defence to submit further evidence”.

The Trial Chamber’s decision had been by majority, the ICC added, with Judges Cuno Tarfusser and Geoffrey Henderson in support of the acquittal, and Judge Herrera Carbuccia against.

The court noted that since the trial began in January 2016, some 231 days had been spent hearing the Prosecutor’s evidence and 82 witnesses testified in court and through video link, while thousands of documents had been submitted into evidence, along with “hundreds of motions, requests and decisions”.

After the prosecution’s case was declared closed in June last year, both defendants filed motions for their immediate release, which were heard in October and November 2018.

ICC was established by the Rome Statute of 1998 to prosecute the worst crimes against humanity, including genocide and war crimes.

The United Nations first acknowledged the need to establish such a court based on international cooperation in December 1948, with General Assembly resolution 260, which adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

After the International Law Commission was invited to study the “desirability and possibility” of setting up the court, a draft statute was drawn up in 1951, but not completed until 1998.

At this point, the General Assembly convened the UN Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court, which was held in Rome, Italy, from 15 June to 17 July 1998, “to finalise and adopt a convention on the establishment of an international criminal court”.

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