Lebanon moves towards accepting ICC jurisdiction for war crimes on its soil

Smoke billows from the site of an Israeli airstrike on the southern Lebanese village of Tayr Harfa near the border on April 26, 2024 amid ongoing cross-border tensions. KAWNAT HAJU / AFP

Lebanon has moved towards accepting the International Criminal Court's jurisdiction to prosecute violations on Lebanese territory since October, in what Human Rights Watch said on Saturday was a "landmark step" towards justice for war crimes.

Lebanon has accused Israel of repeatedly violating its sovereignty and committing breaches of international law over the last six months, during which the Israeli military and Lebanese armed group Hezbollah have traded fire across Lebanon's southern border in parallel with the Gaza War.

That cross-border shelling has killed at least 70 civilians, including children, rescue workers and journalists, among them Reuters visuals reporter Issam Abdallah, who was killed by an Israeli tank on Oct. 13, a Reuters investigation found.

Lebanon's caretaker cabinet voted on Friday to instruct the foreign affairs ministry to file a declaration with the ICC accepting the court's jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute crimes committed on Lebanese territory since Oct. 7.

The decree also instructed the foreign ministry to include in its complaints about Israel to the United Nations a report prepared by the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), an independent research institute.

That report looked specifically into Abdallah's killing, and was produced by examining shrapnel, flak jackets, a camera, tripod and a large piece of metal that were gathered by Reuters from the scene, as well as video and audio material.

Neither Lebanon nor Israel are members of the ICC, which is based in The Hague. But filing a declaration to the court would grant it jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute relevant crimes in a particular period.

Ukraine has twice filed such declarations, which allowed for the court to investigate alleged Russian war crimes.

"The Lebanese government has taken a landmark step toward securing justice for war crimes in the country," said Lama Fakih, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, urging the foreign minister to "swiftly" formalise the move by filing a declaration to the ICC.

"This is an important reminder to those who flout their obligations under the laws of war that they may find themselves in the dock," Fakih said.

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