Huge job for new war crimes court chief

World | AGENCIES 17 Jun 2021

Britain's Karim Khan was sworn in yesterday as the new chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, facing huge challenges including investigations involving Gaza, Afghanistan and the Philippines.

A former defense lawyer for the Hague-based tribunal, Khan, 51, was elected by ICC member states in February to serve a nine-year tenure at the world's only permanent war crimes court.

He was left with a bulging case file by predecessor Fatou Bensouda, who extended the ICC's reach so dramatically that she was hit by US sanctions. She also suffered some high-profile failures.

Khan pledged to improve the ICC's track record by taking only its strongest cases to trial.

"We cannot invest so much, we cannot raise expectations so high and achieve so little, so often in the courtroom," he said. "We need a greater realization of what is required. Building stronger cases and getting better cases in the courtroom."

Carsten Stahn, an international criminal law professor at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, said Khan has a "window of opportunity to amend the functioning" of the court, which has also been criticized for the high salaries of its judges and its slow-moving processes.

Khan is just the court's third prosecutor since it was founded in 2002 to try people for the world's worst crimes.

Gambian Bensouda has left him with a full in-tray, including a probe into the Philippines' deadly war on drugs that she announced on Monday, an investigation into alleged US war crimes in Afghanistan, and the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

The investigation into the 2014 Israel-Palestinian conflict in Gaza promises to be the most contentious in the court's history.

Khan will also have to contend with the outright opposition of key countries that have refused to join the ICC, including the United States, China, Russia and Israel.

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