ICC must be allowed to carry out work ‘without intimidation’, say 93 member states

<span>The international criminal court has been the subject of efforts by Israel and its intelligence agencies to undermine, influence and intimidate.</span><span>Photograph: Peter Dejong/AP</span>
The international criminal court has been the subject of efforts by Israel and its intelligence agencies to undermine, influence and intimidate.Photograph: Peter Dejong/AP

The international criminal court must be allowed to carry out its work “without intimidation”, a group of 93 states has said in a significant public intervention intended to reinforce support for the judicial body.

In a joint statement issued late on Friday, the large group of ICC member states vowed to defend the institution and “preserve its integrity from any political interference and pressure against the court, its officials and those cooperating with it”.

The show of unity for the court and its staff comes in the wake of revelations published by the Guardian about efforts by Israel and its intelligence agencies to undermine, influence and intimidate the court as part of a nine-year campaign of surveillance and espionage.

It also follows recent warnings by the office of the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, that it has been subjected to “several forms of threats” and hostile intelligence activity apparently intended to interfere with and improperly influence the prosecutor’s work.

Last month, Khan announced that he has filed applications for arrest warrants against senior Hamas and Israeli officials for war crimes and crimes against humanity, which he alleged had been committed during Hamas’s 7 October attack and the ensuing war in Gaza.

Khan’s decision to seek arrest warrants against Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and defence minister, Yoav Gallant, is the first time an ICC prosecutor has taken such action against the leaders of a close western ally. The move provoked a fierce response from Israel and its allies in the US.

The statement supporting the ICC was drafted by five of the court’s member states – Belgium, Chile, Jordan, Senegal and Slovenia – and is understood to have been presented to the rest of the court’s state parties last week for their endorsement.

A diplomatic source familiar with the effort said the disclosures about Israeli intelligence operations against the court had been “really eye-opening for a lot of diplomats” and “made some realise that it’s time to put out some sort of statement from the states that belong to the court responding to what has now come to light”.

However, they said the statement was also a response to other recent forms of hostile activity against the ICC, such as a cyber-attack last year, and came as the prosecutor is conducting an investigation into senior Russian political and military figures allegedly involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine.

“The court is going after some very powerful people, not just in the Palestine investigation, and it’s time to send a message that the state parties are there to defend it,” the source said.

Longtime ICC observers said it was notable that major western powers such as Germany, France, Canada and the UK had supported the statement, which called on “all states to ensure full cooperation with the court for it to carry out its important mandate”.

They also pointed to the large number of endorsing states – 93 of the ICC’s 124 members – and noted that previous statements rallying around the court had not garnered as much support.

“This is a unique moment of international solidarity, with 93 ICC states parties standing up for global justice and accountability for mass atrocities,” Danya Chaikel, the International Federation for Human Rights’s representative to the ICC, said.

“They are collectively opposing the egregious threats to the court from powerful countries including Israel, the US and Russia, and strongly rejecting their efforts to manipulate the rule of law for political gains,” she added.