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ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan’s Bold Moves Against Global Leaders Stir International Tensions

Karim Khan, the International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor, has again attracted global attention, this time with his actions regarding the war in Gaza following his involvement in Ukraine. This request marks an unprecedented move by the ICC, as it involves leaders who are traditionally seen as close allies of the West, notably the USA.

The ICC’s history of issuing arrest warrants includes prominent cases like the 2011 arrest warrant for Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi for crimes against humanity, and earlier, multiple warrants against Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir in 2009 and 2010 for torture and forced displacement.

Khan’s recent actions sparked a significant backlash from Israel and its staunch ally, the USA. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Khan of exacerbating global anti-Semitism by daring to compare Israel with Hamas. U.S. President Joe Biden defended Israel, emphasizing that the U.S. would always stand with Israel against threats to its security.

The pushback against ICC decisions isn’t new for Khan. Approximately a year prior, the ICC issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Children’s Rights Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova for their alleged roles in the illegal deportation and transfer of individuals from Ukraine and occupied territories. Following these warrants, Russia retaliated by starting investigations against Khan and three ICC judges, later adding them to its list of wanted criminals.

During Donald Trump’s presidency in 2020, the U.S. imposed sanctions on ICC officials probing allegations of war crimes by American soldiers in Afghanistan.

Karim Khan, born in 1970 in Edinburgh, Scotland, is a seasoned attorney with more than three decades of experience in international criminal law and human rights. His father, a dermatologist, hailed from Mardan, Pakistan, while his mother, a nurse, was born in England. Khan is a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, which follows Mirza Ghulam Ahmed, who declared himself a prophet in Punjab in 1900. The group, which views itself as part of Islam in a manner similar to Christianity’s recognition of Jesus after Moses, is considered non-Islamic by mainstream Islamic circles, leading to persecution and migration of its members to the West.

Khan’s legal career kicked off between 1997 and 1998 at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, extending to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda until 2000.

In 2008, he became the chief spokesperson for Carla del Ponte, the prosecutor in the Milosevic trials, and participated in special courts in Cambodia and Lebanon.

Khan has represented notable figures such as former Liberian President Charles Taylor, Deputy President of Kenya William Ruto, Deputy Prime Minister of Kosovo Fatmir Limaj, and Saif al-Islam Gaddafi in various international courts.

Leading up to 2017, he represented over 100,000 victims claiming compensation for alleged human rights violations during British colonial rule in Kenya. Until June 2021, Khan served in Baghdad as the head of the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD), following a UN Security Council resolution.

Appointed by UN Secretary-General António Guterres as a Deputy Secretary-General, Khan was elected as the ICC’s Prosecutor in February 2021.

In April 2022, he issued an arrest warrant for Putin over alleged violations involving “systematic deportation, transfer, and detention” in Ukraine, prompting a stern response and a retaliatory arrest warrant from Russia.

In 2023, Khan announced the ICC had received a joint request from countries including South Africa, Bangladesh, Bolivia, the Comoros, and Djibouti to investigate alleged war crimes by Israel. This led to urgent meetings by the Israeli government, fearing ICC arrest warrants against Netanyahu and other officials. The situation escalated when Netanyahu sought assistance from international figures like the UK’s David Cameron and Germany’s Annalena Baerbock.

On April 24, 2024, 12 Republican U.S. senators warned Khan of personal consequences if the ICC proceeded with an arrest warrant against Netanyahu or other Israeli government members. They viewed any such action as a threat to both Israeli and U.S. sovereignty and threatened Khan and ICC staff with a U.S. entry ban.

Following the advice of ICC experts, including Lord Justice Fulford, Baroness Helena Kennedy, and others, Khan applied for arrest warrants against Netanyahu, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and Hamas leaders in Gaza on May 20, 2024.

Khan remains committed to addressing historical injustices, stating, “This is something I feel very passionate about and it’s truly valuable.”

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