More than 50 former foreign ministers, prime ministers and senior international officials, including two British Conservative former ministers, have signed an open letter condemning political interference in efforts by the international criminal court (ICC) to investigate alleged war crimes in Palestine.
The letter follows moves by the Trump administration to sanction court officials – orders that have since been reversed by the Biden administration – and is also seen as a rebuke of Boris Johnson, the British prime minister.
Johnson said last month that an ICC investigation opened in March gave “the impression of being a partial and prejudicial attack on a friend and ally of the UK’s”, referring to Israel. The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has said that any ICC investigation would be “pure antisemitism”.
Condemning the “increasing attacks on the ICC, its staff and cooperating civil society groups”, the letter identifies the Trump administration’s moves against the court as part of a wider trend.
“We witnessed with serious concern the executive order issued in the United States by the former president Donald Trump and the sanctions designated against the court’s staff and their family members,” the letter says.
“Deeply worrying is now the unwarranted public criticism of the court regarding its investigation of alleged crimes committed in the occupied Palestinian territory, including unfounded accusations of antisemitism.”
“It is well established and recognised that accountability for serious rights violations by all sides to a conflict is essential for achieving a sustainable and lasting peace. This is the case in Israel-Palestine, just as in Sudan, Libya, Afghanistan, Mali, Bangladesh/Myanmar, Colombia, and Ukraine.
“Attempts to discredit the court and obstruct its work cannot be tolerated if we are serious about promoting and upholding justice globally,” the signatories add while pushing back against complaints of the kind levelled by Johnson, which he made in a letter to the Conservative Friends of Israel.
“We understand fears of politically motivated complaints and investigations. Yet we strongly believe that the Rome statute guarantees the highest criteria of justice and provides a crucial avenue to address impunity for the world’s most serious crimes. Failure to act would have grave consequences.”
The ICC’s investigation has also run into opposition from other European countries, including Germany, whose foreign minister, Heiko Maas, has said that the “court has no jurisdiction because of the absence of the element of Palestinian statehood required by international law”.
The signatories to the letter come from across Europe’s political spectrum, and include the Conservative former cabinet ministers Sayeeda Warsi and Chris Patten; Douglas Alexander, former Labour secretary of state for international development; Sir Menzies Campbell, former leader of the Liberal Democrat party; and Ben Bradshaw, a Labour former minister of state at the Foreign Office.
Among international signatories are a number of former prime ministers, including Jean-Marc Ayrault of France, Gro Harlem Brundtland of Norway, John Bruton of Ireland, Ingvar Carlsson of Sweden, and Massimo d’Alema of Italy. Others who have signed the letter include the former Nato secretary general Javier Solana, and Hans Blix, former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Defending the current investigation into alleged war crimes in Palestine, the Danish former foreign minister and former president of the UN general assembly, Mogens Lykketoft, told the Guardian: “A rules-based global order is predicated upon the idea that violations of international law must be met with consequences.
“The international criminal court is a crucial tool to that end, and it is incumbent upon us to protect its independence and strengthen its ability to work. Challenging the independence of the court, on the contrary, challenges the protection of a global rules-based order.
“The current investigation of the international criminal court can be an important component of this, and the international community must do what it can to protect the independence of the court in carrying out its work.”
While the letter does not mention Johnson by name, his intervention underlined concerns over attempts to hobble the ICC’s investigation, which was formally announced earlier this year.
The Palestinian mission to the UK described Johnson’s letter as a “deeply regrettable” contradiction of international law and previous British policy.
“It marks a low point in UK-Palestine relations and undermines the UK’s credibility on the international stage,” it said. “It is clear that the UK now believes Israel is above the law. There is no other interpretation of a statement that gives carte blanche to Israel.”