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War crimes Prosecutor: ICC should prosecute aggression, can try heads of state

War crimes Prosecutor: ICC should prosecute aggression, can try heads of state
War crimes Prosecutor: ICC should prosecute aggression, can try heads of state Copyright Thomson Reuters 2022
Copyright Thomson Reuters 2022
By Reuters
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By Toby Sterling

THE HAGUE - The International Criminal Court (ICC) is the right place to prosecute the crime of "aggression", the act of attacking another country, and it has the power to try heads of state, Prosecutor Karim Khan said on Monday.

Khan, whose office is investigating alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine, did not directly mention the possibility of prosecuting Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Speaking on the sidelines of the annual gathering of ICC member states in The Hague, Khan at times sharply contradicted statements made by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen last week in which she pushed for the establishment of a new, separate, U.N.-backed tribunal to try crimes of aggression.

"We should avoid fragmentation and instead prefer consolidation" of courts, Khan said at a meeting with journalists and rights groups reviewing his office's work in 2022.

He said the court's founding document, the Rome Statute, "has provisions for aggression. I think it's not beyond the wit of states to look at ways of dealing with gaps that are said to exist".

An act of aggression is defined by the United Nations as the "invasion or attack by the armed forces of a state of the territory of another state, or any military occupation ..."

Despite the crime's recognition under international law, legal experts say the ICC's jurisdiction on aggression only extends to member states and states that have agreed to its jurisdiction, such as Ukraine but not Russia.

Ukraine has sought political backing in Brussels for the creation of a special tribunal to prosecute Russian military and political leaders following the Feb. 24 invasion, which would operate in addition to the ICC.

Khan was separately asked about EU communications that seemed to suggest heads of state enjoyed immunity from war crimes prosecution at the ICC.

He said that was not the case.

"Well, that's an important point. The EU has misstated the law," Khan said. "I think they seem not to have been blessed with complete understanding of the Rome Statute."

"I'll communicate with the president (von der Leyen) to make that clear. If you just read the statute, it's clear ... regarding the jurisdiction."

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