(JTA) – The Palestinian Authority (PA) officially became a member of the Geneva-based International Criminal Court (ICC).
A ceremony was held at the court on Wednesday to mark the PA’s ascension to the court.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas signed the requests to join the ICC and other international conventions at the end of December, after the United Nations Security Council failed to pass a Palestinian statehood proposal. Israel, retaliated by withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in tax payments it had collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. Last week Israel announced that it would send the tax payments to the PA.
In a statement at the welcoming ceremony at the court in Geneva, Sidiki Kaba, president of the Assembly of States Parties, said the accession of “Palestine,” the second state from the Middle East, “is a new stage in the quest for universality for the Statute. We hope that it will pave the way for other countries in the Middle East who, by adopting the Rome Statute, will strengthen the International Criminal Court in its fight against impunity for mass crimes.”
Kaba said: “I believe this is possible, because the Middle-East is a region of great civilizations which have always placed a high value on human dignity. Lying at the cross-roads between Eurasia and Africa, the region has also played a crucial role in global affairs at a strategic, economic, political, cultural and religious level. Unfortunately, as is the case in many other regions, it is marred at present by a number of conflicts which have caused grave suffering.
“The voices of the victims in this part of the world are crying out for justice and peace,” he said.
In January, prosecutors at the ICC opened a preliminary inquiry into possible war crimes in Gaza and the West Bank, The move is the first formal step that could lead to charges against Palestinian or Israeli officials. The prosecutors will determine whether preliminary findings merit a full investigation into alleged atrocities which could result in charges against individuals on either the Israeli or Palestinian side.
PA Foreign Minister Riad Malki, who met with ICC officials on Wednesday, in what was characterized as ceremonial talks, cautioned in an interview on Palestinian radio that “ICC procedures are slow and long and might face lots of obstacles and challenges and might take years.”