Israel families of Hamas victims file ICC complaint as accusations of war crimes, genocide exchanged

The families of nine civilian victims of Hamas’s October 7 attacks on Israel filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC), their lawyer François Zimeray told the media last week. The complaint asks the ICC to prosecute Hamas leaders for genocide and war crimes and to issue an international arrest warrant for Hamas leadership.

“The complaint concerns victims who were all civilians,” Zimeray said, going on to argue that because “Hamas terrorists do not deny the crimes committed, which they have amply documented and broadcast … facts cannot therefore be disputed”

Zimeray said the complaint included charges of war crimes and genocide. The Hamas attack killed over 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and resulted in over 200 people being taken hostage in Gaza. International law experts have said that the attacks on civilians and hostage-taking violated international law and constituted war crimes.

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, commonly referred to as the Genocide Convention, is the governing international law document for genocide. Article II defines genocide as certain acts that are committed “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” including:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; or

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Last month, a group of experts released a letter saying that the Hamas attacks were clear war crimes and amounted to genocide, explaining:

As these widespread, horrendous acts appear to have been carried out with an ‘intent to destroy, in whole or in part’ a national group – Israelis – a goal explicitly declared by Hamas, they most probably constitute an international crime of genocide, proscribed by the Genocide Convention and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

The complaint comes as Hamas officials promise more attacks, Israel continues its siege of Gaza, and tensions boil over in the West Bank. The international community has expressed concern about civilians in Israel and Palestine as the war continues to escalate; more than 10,000 Palestinians and 1,400 Israelis have been killed, mostly civilians. The UN has called for a humanitarian ceasefire to protect civilians, ensure the release of hostages, and address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

As Israel has responded to Hamas’s attack, it has been accused of its own war crimes, with critics and experts pointing to Israel’s restrictions on humanitarian aid and air strikes, like the ones on the Jabalia refugee camp and ambulances near the Al-Shifa hospital. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has denounced Israel’s actions in Gaza, saying they amount to genocide. A group of genocide and international law scholars expressed similar worries, saying:

As scholars and practitioners of international law, conflict studies and genocide studies, we are compelled to sound the alarm about the possibility of the crime of genocide being perpetrated by Israeli forces against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. We do not do so lightly, recognising the weight of this crime, but the gravity of the current situation demands it.

With accusations of war crimes and genocide on both sides of the conflict, ICC Prosecutor Karim A. A. Khan KC previously said he would investigate allegations coming from both Israel and Gaza. Khan also urged restraint to protect civilians and urged the international community to ensure international law is enforced:

My message at this time is a consistent one that I have given in numerous parts of the world. It flows from the common yardstick of legality that we have to enforce, and it flows from the principle that justice is every child’s birthright, every civilian’s entitlement. The message is that any person with their finger on the trigger of a gun or controls a missile, has certain responsibilities.  My Office will look closely to see whether those responsibilities are being adhered to or not.