Ending (some) war crimes impunity, breaking Iran-US stalemate, Int’l Women’s Day and more

International Criminal Court launches investigation into war crimes in Palestine

In our 5 February 2021 blog, we reported on the historic ruling of the International Criminal Court (ICC) that it has jurisdiction over alleged war crimes or atrocities committed in the Palestinian territories.

That ruling has now been followed by the court’s announcement, on 3 March 2021, that it has taken the next step and launched an investigation into alleged war crimes in Palestine. In the words of the ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda:

Today, I confirm the initiation by the Office of the Prosecutor … of the International Criminal Court (ICC) … of an investigation respecting the Situation in Palestine. The investigation will cover crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court that are alleged to have been committed … since 13 June 2014, the date to which reference is made in the Referral of the Situation to my Office.

Her full statement can be accessed here. Complete background information on these historic proceedings can be accessed here and here.

The investigation, which will encompass alleged crimes committed by both Israelis and Palestinians, was welcomed by the Palestinian Authority and denounced by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as an “attack” on Israel and “pure anti-Semitism”.

International law experts and human rights groups have praised the decision as a long overdue step towards justice for Palestinian and Israeli victims:  In the assessment of well-known international law professor Richard Falk:

The decision is welcome because it shows that the ICC will not be intimidated with respect to criminal allegations directed at countries protected by Western geopolitics….

Human Rights Watch Associate Director for International Justice Balkees Jarrah also commented:

The ICC is only a court of last resort, but it has a critical role to play to backstop justice when there is impunity nationally….

On the merits of the case, Israel has every reason to be concerned at an investigation that will look at the 2014 Gaza war, the 2018 Gaza border clashes (in which a Canadian doctor was targeted by Israeli snipers) and Israeli settlement-building in the West Bank.

See, for example, the report of Amnesty International on Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories: War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity. Chapter 3, Israeli Settlements and International Law, begins:

Israel’s policy of settling its civilians in occupied Palestinian territory and displacing the local population contravenes fundamental rules of international humanitarian law.

The Netanyahu government has predictably launched a smear campaign against the ICC, in respect of which Professor Falk stated:

I certainly hope that this effort by Israel to discredit the ICC will fail, and will have the opposite effect of demonstrating the need for a strong and independent international criminal tribunal ready to extend accountability to the strong and weak alike….

For those interested in more information on the sheer brutality of the Israeli illegal settlement efforts, see: While Canadian Parliamentarians focus on what China is doing, they should also take a look at what Israel and its settlers are up to (canadatalksisraelpalestine.ca, 4 March 2021).

Whither Canada?

The Canadian government does not appear to have issued a statement after this latest ICC action, a marked improvement over its response to the 2 February jurisdictional ruling, which Canada disputed, as has the Biden administration, a non-party to the Rome Statute that governs the ICC.

We call on the Government of Canada to demonstrate its commitment to equal justice for all by issuing a statement of support for the court and for the victims of Israeli and Palestinian war crimes.

A way out of stalemate on reinstating the USA–Iran nuclear deal

The International Crisis Group has a new analysis and proposals regarding the Iran nuclear deal, entitled: Bringing the U.S. and Iran out of Suspended Animation (4 March 2021). It begins:

The 2015 Iran nuclear accord is at grave risk of collapse. Despite the new U.S. administration’s pledge to rejoin it, Trump-era sanctions remain in place as Washington and Tehran go around in circles as to who should move first. The EU should break the deadlock.

The Crisis Group statement goes on to point out that Iran and the Biden administration agree on two key points: (1) the failure of the Trumpian policy of “maximum pressure” and (2) the “strategic imperative” to revive the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Despite this agreement:

Washington and Tehran remain locked in an avoidable diplomatic stalemate, each insisting that the other take the first step.

Since even quiet, direct negotiations currently seem impossible, the Crisis Group is urging the European Union (EU) to step in and mediate, encouraging initial good-will measures that “will pave the way for direct multilateral talks”:

Once at the table, all sides can focus on establishing an interim arrangement that stops the standoff from worsening further, followed by an agreement on synchronised steps that bring Iran and the U.S. back into compliance with the deal.

This would set the stage for a follow-on accord that addresses broader concerns.

The full statement provides a clear analysis of the reasons behind the current dangerous diplomatic impasse, including:

  • Inflated expectations on both sides as to the “leverage” each could exert over the other;
  • European signatories (France, Germany and UK) failing to take an even-handed approach in urging both sides, not just Iran, to return to full JCPOA compliance;
  • Important conciliatory moves by U.S. overshadowed by more hawkish ones, including unduly tough rhetoric on Iran; and perhaps most serious
  • Washington’s failure to take even limited actions such as facilitating an IMF emergency loan or the transfer of frozen Iranian assets held abroad.

In the view of the Crisis Group, Iran rejected the EU’s offer of an informal meeting of JCPOA participants because of the utter failure of the US to redress any aspect of the “maximum pressure policy”.

Iran expert and Quincy Institute Executive Vice-President Trita Parsi also believes the EU has lost credibility with Iran because of its abject failure, despite repeated promises, to provide any meaningful relief, even humanitarian relief, to the draconian unilateral economic sanctions imposed by the Trump administration. However, he does see a way forward.

Writing on the Quincy Institute website, he states:

What could potentially break the deadlock now is if Washington urges the EU to walk back from its threatened IAEA censure, and releases the Iranian funds in South Korea, while Iran joins the talks and reverses one or more of its recent moves to accelerate its uranium enrichment program.

See also the 23 February 2021 webinar featuring Dr. Trita Parsi, sponsored by the National Capital Branch of the Canadian International Council and moderated by RI President Peggy Mason, by clicking the arrow below:

Whither Canada?

Even initial steps by Canada to re-establish diplomatic relations with Iran, a complicated effort, as we have written about in the past, would be an important signal that we too wish to put diplomacy at the forefront of our Iran policy. But, in the view of RI President Peggy Mason, any such steps are highly unlikely right now:

Any softening of the current Liberal government approach to Iran is likely too much to ask of a Covid-focused minority government, facing unrelenting right-wing, populist pandering from the O’Toole Conservatives, and an NDP that is seemingly more fixated on high-profile, tweet-generating denunciations of selective human rights violations, than on championing diplomacy and constructive engagement on common global problems.

Interim US National Security Guidance issued 4 March 2021

The headline in the Defense News story announcing the new interim national security guidance issued on 4 March by the Biden administration well encapsulates a welcome change from the Trump approach:

Biden national security guidance calls to increase diplomacy, downplay nukes, end Afghanistan conflict.

The specific section on nuclear weapons in the interim guidance reads:

As we re-engage the international system, we will address the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons. We will head off costly arms races and re-establish our credibility as a leader in arms control. That is why we moved quickly to extend the New START Treaty with Russia. Where possible, we will also pursue new arms control arrangements.

We will take steps to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, while ensuring our strategic deterrent remains safe, secure, and effective and that our extended deterrence commitments to our allies remain strong and credible. And we will engage in meaningful dialogue with Russia and China on a range of emerging military technological developments that implicate strategic stability.

Renewed American nonproliferation leadership will also be essential to reducing the dangers posed by nuclear weapons. Working with allies and partners, we will pursue principled diplomacy to address the Iranian nuclear program and its other destabilizing activities.

The full version of the interim guidance can be obtained here.

Whither Canada

We call on Global Affairs to reinstate consultations with non-governmental organizations forthwith as a necessary part of Canada’s renewed commitment to nuclear and conventional arms control and confidence building.  

March 8th is International Women’s Day (IWD)

Monday, March 8th is International Women’s Day, and this year’s theme is #ChooseToChallenge.  A great video launching that campaign can be accessed here:

See also the IWD theme of UN Women: Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.

There are so many wonderful activities planned for the week of March 8th to celebrate IWD, it is hard to know where to begin. But here are a few of our favourites:

  • United Nations observance of International Women’s Day 2021 on 8 March at 10 am EST, details of which can be obtained here.
  • PNND inter-generational dialogue on gender, peace and nuclear disarmament. For details click here.
  • HERspective Speaker Series celebrating leading womxn in Canadian media 03-09 March, conducted by Catherine Clark. Click here for details and registration.
  • Canadian Women in Cybersecurity conference, 8 March at 10 am. Click here for registration details; and for the companion conference, see:
  •  Women in Cybersecurity beyond borders, on 22 March at 10 am, details for which can be accessed here.
  • Feminist Response and Recovery Summit hosted by the Government of Canada. Details here.

Photo credit: ICC (Prosecutor Bensouda)

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