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What it means if the International Criminal Court issues arrest warrant for Netanyahu

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And growing concern among Israel officials that the International Criminal Court may be preparing to issue arrest warrants for senior Israel government officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Both Israel and the U.S. are reportedly calling on the court to hold off on issuing these warrants. The ICC - it's based in The Hague in the Netherlands. It has jurisdiction to prosecute international crimes of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity. But here's the thing. Neither the U.S. nor Israel recognizes the court's jurisdiction. Well, joining us to talk about what an arrest warrant would mean is David Scheffer, former ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues during the Clinton administration. Ambassador, welcome.

DAVID SCHEFFER: Thank you very much, Mary Louise.

KELLY: I want to stress these arrest warrants have not been issued yet. The court isn't commenting. We do gather Hamas leaders might also be charged. But if this were to go ahead, if the ICC were to issue arrest warrants, what would that look like?

SCHEFFER: Well, first of all, a panel of judges at the court would have had to have approved those arrest warrants, and that's a very rigorous exercise for the prosecutor. He has to achieve persuasion with his evidence and then to move forward. So that has to happen first.

And then once the arrest warrants are actually issued, the parties of the Rome Statute - the 124 countries - would be obligated to arrest anyone who is under an arrest warrant if that individual arrived on their territory. In this case, Israel is not a state party. The United States is not a state party. But all of Europe is. All of Latin America is. Most of Africa is, but most of the Middle East and the Arab world is not. So it would be a damaging prospect, I think, for the Israeli leadership to see any of these arrest warrants delivered against them, but I don't think it would cripple them.

KELLY: This would - you know, if arrest warrants were to come down, it would result in obstacles to travel, for example, for officials who had been charged. Would it, though, be more than a symbolic gesture? As I noted, Israel doesn't recognize the ICC. It's not like Benjamin Netanyahu would be rushing to turn himself in.

SCHEFFER: That's correct. And for example, President Putin of Russia has not been arrested yet, and his arrest warrant was issued much earlier this year. For Mr. Netanyahu, if there were to be an arrest warrant or perhaps for the defense minister or anyone else in the Israeli leadership, they could travel to a whole host of Middle East countries without fear of arrest because they're not party to the Rome Statute. Egypt is not. Saudi Arabia is not. Only Jordan is within their neighborhood. And so they have that flexibility still to maneuver diplomatically.

But I do think it is important to recognize the significance of the arrest warrants when and if they are actually issued. They send a very strong signal against impunity and a very strong signal to all sides to comply with international humanitarian law, international criminal law and to, above all, protect the rights and safety of civilians.

KELLY: One last piece of this to ask about, and it's the U.S. piece. I know you led the U.S. delegation in talks back in the '90s that established the Rome Statute, set up the ICC. And the U.S. signed the treaty but then never ratified it. Today, does the U.S. have the moral authority to wade into all this?

SCHEFFER: Oh, I think its moral authority is quite eroded because it has not ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. We were a major force in the negotiations. A lot of that Rome Statute was written in Washington, quite frankly. And the fact that we are not part of that enterprise is a problem because it elicits immediately the double standards argument whenever we do try to speak with morality and with justice and rule of law - that we're not part of the game. We're not part of the process. We're outside of it. And over the years, ultimately, it severely erodes our credibility to make a difference in these situations.

KELLY: David Scheffer of the Council on Foreign Relations. He's the former U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues. Ambassador, thank you.

SCHEFFER: Thank you, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Rachel Faulkner White
Rachel Faulkner is a producer and editor for TED Radio Hour.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.

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