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ICC prosecutor-elect has impressive credential but will face tough challenges

Crescent International

Karim Khan, International human rights lawyer, elected to replace Fatou Bensouda as Chief Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. He will take up his assignment in June 2021.

Karim Asad Ahmed Khan will succeed Fatou Bensouda, as chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in June 2021.

A British citizen, Khan won on a second round of voting at the UN after the 123-member ICC board failed to arrive at a consensus.

He won the support of 72 countries, 10 more than the 62 needed to secure the position, on February 12.

The 50-year-old Khan who has specialised in international criminal law and international human rights law, was widely seen as the favorite.

He beat three other contenders—Fergal Gaynor of Ireland (42 votes), Spain’s Carlos Castresana Fernandez (5 votes) and Francesco Lo Voi of Italy (3 votes)—to secure a post that is known to be one of the toughest in the world.

The President of the Assembly of States Parties, O-Gon Kwon, applauded Khan on Twitter, saying “Warm congratulations! Thank you all for your hard work!!”

While Khan is no stranger to the job, he will step into the position amid both great expectations and immense challenges.

In 2018, UN Secretary-General  António Guterres  appointed Khan as Special Adviser to head a UN investigative team.

He was tasked with assisting the Iraqi Government to hold ISIS terrorists accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity and genocide, in accordance with Security Council resolution 2379 (2017).

The newly-elected special prosecutor was in Baghdad when the news of his victory broke out.

Khan holds the rank of a UN assistant secretary-general and has worked as a prosecutor at the tribunal prosecuting war crimes in the former Yugoslavia and crimes against humanity and genocide in Rwanda.

His other roles at the ICC included acting as defence lawyer for Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto.

Khan also served as counsel for Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, son of the Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, who was lynched by a Western-backed mob in October 2011.

“Karim Khan’s election as prosecutor is occurring at a time when the ICC is needed more than ever but has faced significant challenges and pressure on its role,” Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch was quoted by al Jazeera as saying.

“We will be looking to Mr Khan to address shortcomings in the court’s performance while demonstrating firm independence in seeking to hold even the most powerful rights abusers to account.”

Hitherto most of the people hauled before the ICC accused of war crimes have been from Africa.

While the West has applauded such charges and trials, it has reacted angrily now that the ICC special prosecutor Ms. Bensouda has named Israel for possible war crimes.

The new prosecutor’s toughest decision will be whether to proceed with prosecuting alleged Israeli war crimes in the 2014 War on Gaza, in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

His job may be cut out for him if the outgoing chief prosecutor makes the decision.

Should Khan proceed with the Israeli war crimes charges, he will bring impressive credentials to the job.

Between 1996 and 1997 he was a member of the Law Commission of England and Wales.

He is a Life Member of the Human Rights Institute, International Bar Association (IBA), and a founding Director of Peace and Justice Initiative, a Hague-based NGO focused on effective implementation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court at national levels.

Khan is also a member of the Executive Council, and the Victims Committee of the International Criminal Court Bar Association (ICCBA-ABCPI).

He was the President of the ICCBA from June 2017 - June 2018.

At the end of his tenure as President of the ICCBA, Khan was appointed the first Honorary President of the ICCBA at the ICCBA General Assembly Meeting in 2018.

In July 2018, he was recognised as a Worldwide Ambassador of the African Bar Association.

Khan was appointed Queen's Counsel in 2011.

Many human rights activists repose high hopes in him but it is yet to be seen whether he will be able to deliver justice or become victim to the political machinations of global war criminals.

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