Egypt cannot be allowed to act with complete impunity, under the thinly veiled guise of the fight against terrorism.
Originally published on Al Jazeera Opinion
A state’s commitment to the rule of law and principles of democracy are measured by its commitment to end impunity and to hold accountable those persons accused of atrocity crimes. The Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) is now being asked to do just that and investigate Egypt’s role in committing atrocities in Palestine.
It is much the same as can be said for an individual, yet admittedly on a much larger scale. When a state behaves in an inappropriate manner and is not challenged, impunity raises its ugly head.
By not challenging this behaviour, a message is sent to the perpetrator that a metaphorical blind eye will be turned. This can then be interpreted as tacit permission, and thus those that do not challenge can be seen as facilitators.
The position is no different when dealing with an individual or at the state level, and unfortunately this is exactly what we see when we consider Egypt and the steps it has taken since the removal of Mohamed Morsi.
Callous policy towards Gaza Strip
The issues that ought to have been challenged and addressed by the international community are widespread when we consider Egypt.
Actions such as the Rabaa al-Adawiya Square and al-Nahda Square massacres, the mass trials, the death sentences imposed on political opponents, all ought to have been met with outright condemnation and appropriate action. Unfortunately, this has not been forthcoming.
An issue that has not necessarily received the same level of media coverage but is equally disturbing in terms of its consequences is Egypt’s callous policy towards its border with the Gaza Strip.
On January 25, the Arab Organisation for Human Rights in the UK filed two submissions with the ICC Office of the Prosecutor, requesting that a formal investigation be opened in respect of two separate matters.
The first concerns the all-but-permanent closure of the Rafah Border Crossing during and after “Operation Protective Edge” which has resulted in significant suffering of the civilian population and has exacerbated an already desperate humanitarian crisis.
The second submission concerns the “flooding” of the border area, known as the Philadelphia Corridor, with sea water. Egypt justifies this by suggesting it is creating a “buffer zone” and therefore is required on a security basis.
The reality, however, is that it is permanently damaged arable land, and that flooding is polluting the fresh water aquifer upon which much of Gaza relies for its fresh water needs, thereby causing catastrophic consequences to the civilian population – conduct which is undoubtedly a crime under the jurisdiction of the ICC when one considers the intent.
The two actions complained of are yet further examples of the impunity with which Egypt believes it can operate.
Tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Gazan civilians are affected by these policies and the net result is far-reaching.
It is beyond doubt that such actions will cause irreparable harm, and arguably render Gaza uninhabitable before the 2020 date suggested by the United Nations.
The international community cannot justify the turning of a blind eye, or feigning indifference towards Egypt and the crimes it is committing.
It is anticipated that the ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, as the ultimate custodian of international justice, will accede to the request and open a formal investigation into these events. In holding this hope, it is acknowledged that Egypt is not a State Party to the Rome Statute.
However, the effects are felt within Palestinian territory, which, by virtue of its 2014 declaration, is a state party, and thus it is convincingly argued that the ICC does have jurisdiction on the basis of territorial jurisdiction.
Egypt cannot be allowed to continue to act with complete impunity, under the thinly veiled guise of what it suggests is the fight against terrorism, but in reality is an attempt to eradicate those that may seek to oppose the ruling party.
It is not suggested that there have not been instances of terrorism in Egypt, as clearly there have. However, this does not justify action that results in and compounds the already dire straits in which the population of Gaza finds itself.
The closure of the Rafah Crossing resulted in thousands being unable to escape the military action during Operation Protective Edge, and subsequently has led to thousands more being prevented from accessing medical care. Thousands of tonnes of humanitarian aid have been prevented from entering Gaza where there is a clear and desperate need, and further, families remain fractured, with members on either side of the border being prevented from reuniting.
Such actions, as noted above, can no longer be tolerated. The international community is strong on rhetoric, but weak when it comes to action.
There is a distinct feeling that states that find themselves the target of the international community’s ire are an easy target, whereas states with demonstrable and disgraceful human rights records are allowed to prosper.
The ICC, admittedly, cannot necessarily seek to police the globe as its jurisdiction is restricted to those that have ratified the Rome Statute. However, where there is the opportunity for the ICC to examine an issue, it must ensure that it does so, and thus play its envisaged part in international justice, to investigate and, where appropriate, prosecute the most heinous of crimes.
Crimes of which Egypt arguably bares responsibility.
Toby Cadman is an international criminal law specialist. He is a barrister member at Nine Bedford Row International Chambers in London and a member of the International Criminal Bureau in The Hague.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.