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International Criminal Court must prosecute perpetrators of genocide in the Middle East. Recent evidence suggests the Court has jurisdiction to act.

STRASBOURG –This week, three leading European Parliamentarians addressed an open letter to International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Ms Fatou Bensouda, urging her to launch prosecutions against ISIS foreign fighters. As the letter details, recent evidence indicates that the ICC has jurisdiction to launch investigations. So far the ICC has refused to take action against ISIS and instead stated it would only act upon a referral from the United Nations Security Council.  

“Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities in the Middle East are being deliberately targeted by ISIS for destruction. The International Criminal Court must take action. The presence of thousands of European foreign fighters clearly places the ongoing genocide under the jurisdiction of the ICC Prosecutor. The impunity must end. Action must be taken before it is too late to save the remnant and before the evidence has been destroyed,” said Ewelina Ochab, Legal Counsel for ADF International and co-signatory of the letter to the Prosecutor.

The signatories of the letter are Pieter Omtzigt, Lord Alton of Liverpool, and Lars Adaktusson – leading figures in the ongoing campaign to recognize the ISIS atrocities as genocide. All three parliamentarians have worked tirelessly to highlight the plight of religious minorities in Syria and Iraq in their own respective parliaments.

Political stalemate at the UN Security Council, ICC action needed 

In April 2015, the ICC Prosecutor decided not to launch preliminary examinations into crimes committed by ISIS foreign fighters. She stated that she would become engaged once the United Nations Security Council officially referred the situation in the Middle East to the ICC. Considering the current political stalemate at the UN Security Council, such a referral in the near future seems highly unlikely.

On 12 October 2016, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) passed a resolution urging the ICC Prosecutor to recognize her jurisdiction over the perpetrators of genocide in Syria and Iraq as far as possible. Reports indicate that there are more than 5,000 Europeans fighting in the Middle East. The Court would have jurisdiction over these foreign fighters, as their countries of origin are signatories to the Rome Statute.

“The point of the International Criminal Court is to prosecute the gravest of all international crimes – it is highly disappointing that they have failed to act when a genocide has been ongoing in the region since 2014,” said Laurence Wilkinson, Legal Counsel for ADF International in Strasbourg. “There is irrefutable evidence and the legal jurisdiction in this instance is clear. It is important to secure evidence while it is still obtainable. We must act with urgency, seek justice for the victims of genocide and prosecute the perpetrators.”

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