Photo Credit: US Department of State
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne

Human Rights Watch on Saturday strongly condemned remarks made by Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne saying the International Criminal Court in the Hague had no jurisdiction to investigate “Israeli war crimes in Palestine.”

Marise Ann Payne, who has been Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Morrison Government since 2018, said a week ago that “Australia does not recognize a ‘State of Palestine,’” and so “matters relating to territory and borders can only be resolved through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.”


Therefore, according to Payne, “Australia has deep concerns with the ruling of the Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court that it has jurisdiction in relation to the ‘Situation in Palestine.’”

“We made clear in our observations submitted to the Pre-Trial Chamber that Australia does not, therefore, recognize the right of any so-called ‘State of Palestine’ to accede to the Rome Statute. The International Criminal Court should not exercise jurisdiction in this matter.”

Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court is the treaty that established the International Criminal Court in 1998. Under the Rome Statute, the ICC can only investigate and prosecute the four core international crimes in situations where states are “unable” or “unwilling” to do so themselves. The jurisdiction of the court is complementary to jurisdictions of domestic courts. The court has jurisdiction over crimes only if they are committed in the territory of a state party or if they are committed by a national of a state party; an exception to this rule is that the ICC may also have jurisdiction over crimes if its jurisdiction is authorized by the United Nations Security Council.

Payne’s argument—matching similar arguments made by the US and Israel—is that since the Palestinian Authority never received statehood, it cannot be a party to the ICC.

Human Rights Watch researcher Sophie McNeill said in response that “It was alarming to hear Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne slam the ICC’s decision, saying that Australia ‘does not recognize a State of Palestine,’ has ‘deep concerns’ with the ruling, and that the ICC ‘should not exercise jurisdiction in this matter.”

Sophie McNeill is an Australian journalist, television presenter, author, and human rights activist. She was Australia’s national public TV channel ABC’s former Middle East News Correspondent in Afghanistan, Israel, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, Egypt, Turkey, and Gaza. She resigned from ABC in 2020 to work as a researcher for Human Rights Watch.

McNeill argued that the FM’s comments will have serious repercussions because while other states have signaled their disagreement with the ICC ruling, no country has argued that the ICC should not exercise jurisdiction in the case. “Australia regularly supports and defends Israel’s actions on the international stage,” McNeill complained.

McNeill concluded: “Instead of undermining the ICC, Australia should voice its support for the court, protect its independence, and stop trying to block a Palestine investigation.”

As of November 2019, 123 states are parties to the Statute of the Court, including all the countries of South America, nearly all of Europe, most of Oceania, and roughly half of Africa. Burundi and the Philippines withdrew from the ICC in 2017 and 2019, respectively. Another 31 countries have signed but not ratified the Rome Statute. Four signatory states—Israel, Sudan, the United States, and Russia—have informed the UN Secretary-General that they no longer intend to become state parties and, as such, have no legal obligations arising from their signature of the Statute.


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