The International Criminal Court (ICC) has rejected Australia's demand that the tribunal halt an investigation into war crimes committed by the Israeli regime in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Australia's argument that the court has no jurisdiction to conduct the investigation is "misled and unfounded", the court said on Saturday.
Under the Israeli lobbying, the Australian government in February filed a request to intervene in proceedings at the ICC, arguing that the court lacked jurisdiction to conduct an investigation because Palestine was "not a state".
ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda dismissed the challenge as she chastised "misinformation and smear campaigns" which she said would not change facts about the conduct of the court.
"Fact: my Office is executing its mandate concerning Palestine situation with utmost professionalism, independence and objectivity in strict conformity with the Rome Statute. Any insinuation or assertion to the contrary is simply misled and unfounded," Bensouda tweeted.
Dismissing Australia's argument that the ICC's jurisdiction did not extend to the Palestinian territories, the office of the prosecutor said Canberra had not formally challenged Palestine’s right to be a party to the court before.
At the end of April, Bensouda issued a legal brief stating that Palestine is considered a state.
Israeli, American, Australian and European officials, among others, have spoken out against the move by Bensouda. Israel is not a member of the Rome Statute and has not accepted ICC jurisdiction.
In December, Bensouda announced that a five-year preliminary examination of the “situation in the state of Palestine” had found sufficient evidence of war crimes committed by Israel to proceed with a full investigation.
“I am satisfied that war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem [al-Quds], and the Gaza Strip,” she said.
“There are no substantial reasons to believe that an investigation would not serve the interests of justice.”
Palestine was accepted as an ICC member in 2015, three years after signing the court's founding Rome Statute, based on their United Nations "observer state" status.
Israel and the US have both refused to sign up to the ICC, which was set up in 2002 to be the only global tribunal trying the world's worst crimes, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Both have claimed they have credible legal systems that can properly adjudicate human rights violations which make ICC intervention dispensable.
Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump’s administration has backed Israel in its battle against the court.
Australia's move has been welcomed by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Rawan Arraf, director of the Australian Center for International Justice, expressed disappointment and called on the government to let the investigation continue.
“Australia is trying to block a full and proper investigation of crimes that the international community think are most egregious,” she said.
Bishop George Browning, president of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network, hit out at the government, saying it was “getting in the way of justice”.
“Australia’s request to make a submission to the International Criminal Court is a shameful support of the Trump and Netanyahu agenda to sabotage progress towards justice and freedom for Palestinians,” Browning said.
According to Browning, Australia’s intervention in the ICC was further evidence that “we’ve never had a more frankly anti-Palestinian government”.
Gaza, with a population of more than 1.8 million, has been under an all-out siege by the Israeli regime since June 2007. The blockade has caused a decline in the standards of living as well as unprecedented levels of unemployment and unrelenting poverty.
Millions of Palestinians have suffered under heightening Israeli controls and rights violations in the occupied West Bank.
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