Australia respects ICC’s independence after Netanyahu arrest warrant request, government says

<span>The Australian government says it respects the independence of the international criminal court after it requested arrest warrants for Hamas and Israeli officials for war crimes.</span><span>Photograph: Anadolu/Getty Images</span>
The Australian government says it respects the independence of the international criminal court after it requested arrest warrants for Hamas and Israeli officials for war crimes.Photograph: Anadolu/Getty Images

The Albanese government says it respects the international criminal court’s “important” and “independent” role in upholding the law after its chief prosecutor requested arrest warrants for Hamas and Israeli officials for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

A foreign affairs spokesperson said it was not appropriate to comment on matters before the court but added that Israel must comply with international laws, noting “every country is bound by the same fundamental rules” while defending itself.

“Australia respects the ICC and the important role it has in upholding international law,” the spokesperson said. “The decision on whether to issue arrest warrants is a matter for the Court in the independent exercise of its functions.”

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The Labor cabinet minister Chris Bowen made the point more bluntly on Tuesday, telling reporters “international law must always be observed and nobody gets a free pass for that”.

The Coalition on Tuesday criticised the Albanese government for not backing comments from the US president, Joe Biden, who said he rejected claims that Israel was committing genocide.

Bowen described the criticism from Peter Dutton as “highly irresponsible”, saying the opposition leader was seeking to “drag this through a domestic political debate”.

It comes as the British ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said on Monday his office had applied to the world court’s pre-trial chamber for the arrest warrants for Netanyahu, his defence minister, Yoav Gallant, along with the senior Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh. A panel of three judges would consider the evidence and determine if the proceedings can move forward.

Anthony Albanese would not be drawn on the development on Tuesday morning, saying he does not comment on court proceedings.

But Dutton told reporters in Melbourne that “Australia should stand shoulder to shoulder with President Biden” in standing against a moral “equivalence” he claimed had been drawn by the ICC.

The opposition leader said it was “utterly repugnant to compare the Israeli prime minister to a terrorist organisation leader”.

“The prime minister squibbed it today when he was asked about this issue,” Dutton said.

“I very strongly support the comments of President Biden today in relation to the ICC, it’s an abomination and it needs to be ceased.”

The former prime minister Scott Morrison was similarly critical of the ICC chief prosecutor’s decision, accusing the court of surrendering “its legitimacy in creating a moral equivalence between terrorists and a nation”.

“The ICC has defined the victim as the perpetrator. That is not justice,” Morrison posted on X.

The Greens leader, Adam Bandt, said Labor should actively support the decision to issue warrants.

Khan’s official statement said Israel had a right to defend its population but it did not “absolve Israel or any state of its obligation to comply with international humanitarian law”.

There is no imminent likelihood of prosecution, since Israel is not a member of the court, but ICC warrants could put Israeli officials at risk of arrest abroad.

Palestinian authorities reported last week that 35,000 people had been killed in Gaza since Israel began its military response to the 7 October Hamas attack.

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A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade noted the request for arrest warrants and reiterated calls for a humanitarian ceasefire, the release of hostages and increased humanitarian access.

“There is no equivalence between Israel and Hamas. Hamas is a terrorist organisation. It is proscribed as such in Australia. Australia has been clear and unequivocal in our condemnation of its terrorist actions. We continue to call for the release of hostages immediately and unconditionally,” the spokesperson said.

“Any country under attack by Hamas would defend itself. And in defending itself, every country is bound by the same fundamental rules. Israel must comply with international humanitarian law.”

Australia’s peak Jewish representative group, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, called the ICC’s announcement a “dangerous politicisation” of the international tribunal and urged Albanese to rebuke it.

Rawan Arraf, the head of the Australian Centre for International Justice, said it was a “welcome step to end Israel’s entrenched impunity and to hold those responsible for the commission of international crimes accountable and to bring them to justice”.