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LEBANON–ISRAEL

Lebanon backtracks on ICC jurisdiction to probe alleged war crimes

Lebanon backtracks on ICC jurisdiction to probe alleged war crimes

Smoke billows over northern Israel after rockets were fired from Lebanon, amid ongoing cross-border hostilities between Hezbollah and Israeli forces, by Israel's border with Lebanon, May 16, 2024. (Credit: Ayal Margolin/Reuters)

BEIRUT – Lebanon has reversed a move to authorize the International Criminal Court to investigate alleged war crimes on its soil, prompting a prominent rights group to deplore what it called the loss of an "historic opportunity" for justice.

Lebanon has accused Israel of repeatedly violating international law since October, when the Israeli military and Lebanese armed group Hezbollah began trading fire in parallel with the Gaza war. Israeli shelling has since killed around 80 civilians in Lebanon, including children, medics and reporters.

Neither Lebanon nor Israel are members of the ICC, so a formal declaration to the court would be required from either to give it jurisdiction to launch probes into a particular period.

In April, Lebanon's caretaker cabinet voted to instruct the foreign ministry to file a declaration with the ICC authorizing it to investigate and prosecute alleged war crimes on Lebanese territory since Oct. 7.

Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib never filed the requested declaration and on Tuesday the cabinet published an amended decision that omitted mention of the ICC, saying Lebanon would file complaints to the United Nations instead.

Lebanon has regularly lodged complaints with the UN Security Council about Israeli bombardments over the past seven months, but they have yielded no binding UN decisions.

Habib did not respond to a Reuters question on why he did not file the requested declaration.

A Lebanese official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the initial cabinet decision raised "confusion" over whether a declaration would "open the door for the court to investigate whatever it wanted across different files."

The official said the request to revisit the decision came from George Kallas, a cabinet minister close to parliament speaker Nabih Berri, who heads the Amal Movement that is allied with the politically powerful Hezbollah.

Since October, Hezbollah and Amal have both fired rockets into Israel, killing 10 civilians, according to the Israeli army, and displacing around 60,000 residents near the border.

Contacted by Reuters, Kallas confirmed he requested a review of the cabinet's initial decision but denied it was out of fear Hezbollah or Amal could become subject to ICC arrest warrants.

Human Rights Watch condemned the cabinet's reversal.

"The Lebanese government had a historic opportunity to ensure there was justice and accountability for war crimes in Lebanon. It's shameful that they are forgoing this opportunity," said HRW's Lebanon researcher Ramzi Kaiss.

"Rescinding this decision shows that Lebanon's calls for accountability ring hollow," he told Reuters.

Information Minister Ziad Makary, the government spokesman, said that he had backed the initial decision and would "continue to explore other international tribunals to render justice" despite the reversal.

Lebanon backtracked a few days after the ICC requested arrest warrants over alleged war crimes for Israel's prime minister and defense minister and three Hamas leaders.

The initial push to file an ICC declaration came from MP Halima Kaakour, who holds a PhD in public international law. She recommended the measure to parliament's justice committee, which unanimously endorsed it. The cabinet approved it in late April.

"The political parties that backed this initiative at first seem to have changed their mind. But they never explained the reason to us or the Lebanese people," Kaakour told Reuters.

"Lebanon's complaints to the U.N. Security Council don't get anywhere. We had an opportunity to give the ICC a period of time to look at it, we have the documentation - if we can use these international mechanisms, why not?"

(Reporting by Maya Gebeily; editing by Mark Heinrich)

BEIRUT – Lebanon has reversed a move
to authorize the International Criminal Court to investigate
alleged war crimes on its soil, prompting a prominent rights
group to deplore what it called the loss of an "historic
opportunity" for justice.
Lebanon has accused Israel of repeatedly violating
international law since October, when the Israeli military...