Ottawa says Canada respects ICC independence, but rejects comparison between Hamas and Israel

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Foreign Minister Melanie Joly speaks to journalists in the foyer of the House of Commons, Tuesday, May 21, 2024.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly says Canada respects the independence of the International Criminal Court, after the ICC’s chief prosecutor requested arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his Defense Minister and senior members of Hamas.

But speaking to reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday, Joly also said there was no “equivalence” between Hamas and Israel, “because one organization is a terrorist organization and the other is a state.”

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan is pursuing arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Yoav Gallant, Israel’s Defense Minister, as well as three senior Hamas figures: Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Diab Ibrahim al-Masri – also known as Mohammed Deif – and Ismail Haniyeh, the Islamic leader. leader of the militant group, which is based in Qatar.

In a statement, Khan said his office had “reasonable grounds” to believe that Hamas leaders bear criminal responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, hostage-taking, rape and other acts of sexual violence and torture. .

He also said his office had reason to believe that Netanyahu and Gallant bear criminal responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip, including the starvation of civilians as a method of warfare, intentionally causing great suffering or serious injury. against the body or health and intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population.

The statement said the war crimes alleged in their applications were committed in the context of an armed conflict.

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Displaced Palestinians queue for water at a camp west of Deir al-Balah in the Gaza Strip on May 21, 2024.-/Getty Images

Israel’s ambassador to Canada, Iddo Moed, said Israel hopes Canada “will not cooperate with this ICC investigation.”

He said he had expressed the expectation that Canada would “clearly and publicly reject in the strongest words the prosecutor’s request for arrest warrants and his accusations against Israel.”

“Israel took note of the Canadian government’s condemnation of Israel’s false equivalence with the leaders of a terrorist organization. However, Israel hopes that the fact that the court does not have jurisdiction will be recognized, since Israel has a legal system that is willing and able to investigate itself,” he said.

At a news conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said “it is wholly inappropriate to equate the leaders of a terrorist organization with the democratically elected leaders of a democracy.”

Hamas is listed as a terrorist organization under Canadian law.

Freeland also offered support to the ICC, saying Canada respects its independence and calling it an “important multilateral institution.”

He said Canada “unequivocally condemns the October 7 attack by Hamas,” adding: “We urgently call for a ceasefire, including in Rafah. “The current humanitarian tragedy in Gaza is totally unacceptable.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh accused the government of not taking a strong enough stance by not saying whether it would execute the arrest warrants if they were issued.

He told reporters that Canada, which supported the founding of the ICC, should support any decision it makes.

“That means that if the court rules on the arrest warrants, then Canada should clearly state that we will not only respect, but support the decision and then execute the warrant in accordance with international law,” he said.

A panel of ICC judges will consider Mr Khan’s request for arrest warrants.

US President Joe Biden described the ICC’s request for arrest warrants as “scandalous”.

“The ICC prosecutor’s request for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders is outrageous,” Biden said in a statement. “And let me be clear: regardless of what this prosecutor may imply, there is no equivalence – none – between Israel and Hamas. “We will always stand with Israel against threats to its security.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also condemned the ICC prosecutor’s search for arrest warrants as “shameful”.

“Hamas is a brutal terrorist organization that carried out the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust and is still holding dozens of people, including Americans, hostage,” he said.

In a statement late Monday, France said it “supports the International Criminal Court, its independence and the fight against impunity in all situations.”

“France has been warning for many months about the imperative of strict compliance with international humanitarian law and, in particular, about the unacceptable nature of civilian losses in the Gaza Strip and the insufficient humanitarian access,” the statement said.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Tuesday that the ICC’s action “is not helpful in relation to achieving a pause in the fighting, removing hostages or delivering humanitarian aid.”

With files from Reuters