More than 120 countries elected British attorney Karim Khan as the next prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), one of the toughest tasks in international law as the tribunal seeks justice for the world’s worst atrocities – war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
The 50-year-old Khan, who led a United Nations investigation into atrocities by the ISIL (ISIS) group, won a second round of voting at the United Nations in New York on Friday with the support of 72 nations, 10 more than the 62 needed .
His election to the second secret ballot by the 123 parties of the Rome Statute that established the court ends a lengthy and divisive process to replace Fatou Bensouda when her nine-year term expires in June.
Khan, who specializes in international criminal law and international human rights law, has been widely viewed as a favorite for the job. But neither he nor any of the other candidates received enough support to be named by consensus, which led to Friday’s general assembly elections at the United Nations.
Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from UN headquarters in New York, said it was the first time since the ICC began working nearly 20 years ago that the 123 countries that are part of the court elected the new attorney general had agreed after a candidate could not be in consensus.
Although this is an independent legal position, Bays said, everything about the ICC is “politically charged”.
“Some of his early decisions are certainly controversial depending on which path he goes.”
Correction of defects
After Khan, Fergal Gaynor from Ireland came second with 42 votes, followed by Carlos Castresana Fernandez from Spain with five votes and Francesco Lo Voi from Italy with three votes. One member did not vote.
Khan, who holds the rank of Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, has also served as a prosecutor at the tribunal prosecuting war crimes in the former Yugoslavia and crimes against humanity and genocide in Rwanda.
He is no stranger to the ICC as he serves as the defense lawyer for Kenyan Vice President William Ruto and has convinced Richter to bring charges against his client. Gaynor acted as the legal representative of the victims in the Ruto case, which focused on post-election violence.
Khan also served as an attorney for Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who is still wanted by the ICC for crimes against humanity.
“Karim Khan’s election as prosecutor comes at a time when the ICC is needed more than ever, but has faced great challenges and pressures on its role,” said Richard Dicker, director of international justice for Human Rights Watch.
“We will reach out to Mr. Khan to remedy deficiencies in the court’s performance while demonstrating independence to hold even the most powerful infringers accountable.”
While the Security Council has used its power under the Rome Statute to refer conflicts in the western Darfur region of Sudan and Libya to the ICC, the demand that the most powerful organ of the United Nations bring Syria and, more recently, Myanmar to the Tribunal should refer, failed.
“An Existential Threat”
In recent years, Bensouda had sought to expand its reach beyond its early all-African focus, including Afghanistan, Palestine, which is a party to the Rome Statute, and Georgia.
The ICC is needed more than ever, Dicker said, “because of the spread of these horrific crimes,” but the court faced “an existential threat” from the administration of former US President Donald Trump.
It imposed sanctions on Bensouda and one of its best aides last year for continuing to investigate war crimes allegations against Americans, although the court has received frequent criticism in the past for its focus on African crimes.
Last week, ICC judges angered Israel by saying the court’s jurisdiction extends to territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 war and may pave the way for the prosecutor to investigate Israeli military actions and the construction of illegal Jewish ones Settlements in the occupied west through the country institute bank and annexed East Jerusalem.
While Palestinian rights groups welcomed the move, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the decision a “perversion of justice”.
The prosecutor’s selection process and the ICC’s alleged failure to conduct rigorous background checks on candidates to ensure they meet the requirement of “high moral character” have been criticized by civil society groups working with the court.
A diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity about details of closed meetings, said the fact that many of the meetings were held to discuss possible successors to Bensouda made it practically difficult for member states to discuss concerns during informal “corridor” meetings .