Britain's Karim Khan Elected International Criminal Court Prosecutor

Khan will replace Fatou Bensouda on June 16, and is bound to have a decisive role in deciding the future of the investigation she requested into alleged war crimes by Israel and Hamas

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New ICC prosecutor Karim Khan in Baghdad in 2019.
New ICC prosecutor Karim Khan in Baghdad in 2019.Credit: SABAH ARAR - AFP

Parties to the International Criminal Court on Friday elected Britain's Karim Khan as the new prosecutor for a nine-year term starting June 16.

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Khan won a secret ballot, beating out three other candidates to replace lead prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.

The 123-member Hague-based court, which began work nearly 20 years ago, handles war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and crimes of aggression.

British barrister Karim Khan is best known for heading the United Nations' special investigative team looking into Islamic State crimes in Iraq.

In his 27-year law career, Khan, who is also Queens Counsel, has worked for almost every international criminal tribunal in roles in prosecution, defence and as counsel for victims. At the ICC, Khan is best known for being a lead defence counsel who has worked on cases from Kenya, Sudan and Libya.

There was intense political jostling for the top ICC job at a time of heightened scrutiny of the prosecutor's office.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump's administration imposed sanctions last year on court staff including Bensouda over investigations by her office into possible war crimes committed in Afghanistan, including by American troops. The United States is not a member of the court.

New U.S. President Joe Biden's administration will "thoroughly review" the sanctions on ICC officials, a State Department spokesman said last month.

Last week, the international court approved the prosecutor's request to open legal proceedings against Israel and Hamas on suspicion of committing war crimes in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

On Monday, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi launched a round of talks with his counterparts from around the world with the aim of pressuring the court to keep it from taking any additional steps against Israel.

The decision on jurisdiction came despite Israel’s objections, and the issue came up in telephone conversations Ashkenazi had on Monday with Germany's Heiko Maas, Russia's Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The United States and Russia, like Israel, are not members of the ICC. Germany, however, is a member, and was one of seven member states to present an opinion supportive of Israel’s position that the court does not have any legal jurisdiction in the territories occupied during the 1967 Six-Day War.

"Karim's extensive experience in international law will be pivotal in ensuring we hold those responsible for the most heinous crimes to account and gain justice for their victims," Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab posted on Twitter.

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