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War crimes prosecutor receives Israel complaint

Updated at: 05/14/2013 5:36 PM
By TOBY STERLING

(AP) AMSTERDAM - The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court _ the permanent war crimes court in The Hague, Netherlands _ says she has received a complaint about Israel’s 2010 raid on a humanitarian aid flotilla bound for Gaza, and she will open a preliminary investigation.

The complaint comes from the tiny African state of Comoros, a member of the court, though Israel is not. Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said she met Tuesday with lawyers from a Turkish law firm that is representing Comoros.

Eight Turks and one Turkish-American were killed and several other pro-Palestinian activists were wounded when Israeli commandos stormed the ship Mavi Marmara on May 31, 2010. The Mavi Marmari was registered in Comoros, an archipelago off the African coast near Madagascar with a population of around 800,000.

As required by the court’s rules when a member state complains, "my office will be conducting a preliminary examination in order to establish whether the criteria for opening an investigation are met," Bensouda said in a statement. "After careful analysis of all available information, I shall make a determination that will be made public in due course."

Previous attempts to engage prosecutors in an investigation of Israel have stalled due to lack of jurisdiction.

The ICC has jurisdiction over its members, over cases that are referred to it by the U.N. Security Council and over events that take place on the territory of member states.

In a filing, lawyers from the Istanbul-based law firm Elmadag argued that the events that took place on the Mavi Marmari should be considered as having occurred on the territory of Comoros. Elmadag lawyers submitted an earlier complaint to the ICC on behalf of victims, in October 2010, but prosecutors didn’t act on it. Turkey is not a member of the court.

The ICC, which is not part of the United Nations, relies on assistance from member states and other governments to enforce its rulings. The United States, Russia and China are also not members, but 122 other countries are.

"By standing up to impunity, the Prosecutor of the ICC can facilitate the emergence of a global legal order which ultimately fosters international peace and security," said the filing Tuesday, signed by lawyer Cihat Gokdemir.

In addition to questions of jurisdiction, ICC prosecutors will also have to weigh other questions before opening a formal investigation. They will need to look at whether there is a reasonable suspicion crimes were committed, and, given their limited resources, whether the impact any crimes had is great enough to merit prosecution.

A U.N. report in July 2011 found that the raid was justified, but that Israel used excessive force.

In their filing, lawyers for Elmadag pointed to a 2010 United Nations Human Rights Council report that found Israeli actions violated elements of the Geneva Conventions. The conventions lay out humanitarian rules during wartime, such as treatment of prisoners, wounded soldiers and civilians.

Relations between Turkey and Israel were badly strained by the Mavi Marmara incident.

The two countries have since taken some steps toward a rapprochement. Israel offered an apology and compensation, and the Turkish and Israeli leaders agreed to try to normalize their relationship.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that full diplomatic ties can only be resumed after compensation is paid to the surviving victims of the flotilla raids and the relatives of the dead. In addition, Israel must end all commercial restrictions on the Palestinians, he said.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)