Families of Israeli hostages to file war crimes complaint against Hamas in The Hague

Some 100 relatives of Israelis held in Gaza will submit charges of kidnapping, sexual violence, torture and other allegations to the International Criminal Court on Wednesday

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Hili Cooper (left) and Or Nohomovitch (right), tell protesters how they miss their grandfather, Amiram Cooper, held hostage in Gaza, at a rally for the release of Israelis kidnapped by Hamas terrorists, at Hostages Square in Tel Aviv, February 10, 2024. (Hostage and Missing Families Forum)
Hili Cooper (left) and Or Nohomovitch (right), tell protesters how they miss their grandfather, Amiram Cooper, held hostage in Gaza, at a rally for the release of Israelis kidnapped by Hamas terrorists, at Hostages Square in Tel Aviv, February 10, 2024. (Hostage and Missing Families Forum)

Some 100 family members of Israeli hostages in Hamas captivity in Gaza are set to file a complaint of war crimes Wednesday against the leaders of the terror organization at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Over the past four months, lawyers for the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, which is representing the hostages’ relatives, have prepared a legal submission demanding that arrest warrants be issued against the Hamas leadership for the October 7 atrocities.

Several dozen lawyers together with around 100 representatives of the families of the hostages will file the complaint, while the forum says it expects several thousand Dutch Jews to turn up at the ICC for the submission.

It is believed that 130 hostages abducted by Hamas during its savage October 7 assault remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, and four hostages were released prior to that. Three hostages have been rescued by troops, and the bodies of 11 hostages have been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military.

The complaint will include charges against Hamas leaders of “kidnapping, crimes of sexual violence, torture and other serious allegations,” the forum said in a statement to the press.

Work on the submission to the ICC was led by Dr. Shelly Aviv Yeini of the Minerva Center for the Rule of Law under Extreme Conditions at the University of Haifa along with attorney Yuval Sasson from the Meitar Law Offices firm, which assigned several dozen lawyers to help draft the complaint.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, on March 31, 2021. (Peter Dejong/AP)

The Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights also participated in preparing the submission.

The forum said that the “short-term goal” of the complaint was to obtain arrest warrants against Hamas leaders, which, it added, would “exert significant pressure to have the remaining hostages freed and serve as a mechanism for bringing about justice to the victims and their families.”

Prof. Robbie Sabel of the Faculty of Law at the Hebrew University noted that the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Karim Kahn, has already stated that he is carrying out an investigation into Hamas’s actions, as well as Israel’s military operation in Gaza.

But he added that the submission by the Hostages and Missing Families Forum could help further advance the investigation into Hamas.

“If further evidence can be presented to the ICC then this may encourage the prosecutor to advance the investigation,” said Sabel. “The more information he has the more pressure there is to advance the investigation.”

Sabel said that Khan has “a reputation for being a fair and reasonable lawyer” but added that he was “of course subject to public pressure.”

He also cautioned that it typically takes a significant period of time for the ICC to issue arrest warrants after a complaint is filed.

The ICC can prosecute individuals for serious violations of the Geneva Conventions that amount to war crimes, based on complaints submitted by international organizations, individuals, or parties to the court, while the court itself can also initiate examinations and investigations into possible violations of the laws of armed conflict.

In March 2023, the ICC issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin and Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, the commissioner for children’s rights in the Office of the President, for the war crimes of the unlawful deportation and transfer of children from occupied Ukraine to the Russian Federation, a year after Russia invaded Ukraine.

The Palestinian Authority accepted the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in 2015, giving the court jurisdiction over Palestinian citizens in Palestinian territories, including Gaza. Israel has not ratified the Rome Statute, which established the ICC, and therefore sees itself as not subject to the court’s jurisdiction.

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