The Mavi Marmara Raid: How the ICC Decision Sends the Wrong Signal to the International Community

With all the domestic political activity going on in the UK, we must not forget the situation of Palestine. It has been a while since the humanitarian flotillas went over there with basic provisions for the Palestinians during an inordinately severe Israeli attack (we must remember they are attacked every day).  The aid workers were attacked, and some were killed by Israeli armed forces, and not too long ago, the case came up in front of the International Criminal Court. As usual, they got away with their horrific crimes. Here is my commentary on the subject- Yamin Zakaria


The International Criminal Court (ICC) was founded in 2002 by the Rome Statute. Its purpose is to "bring to justice the perpetrators of the worst crimes known to humankind – war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide". If the national courts are unable to deal with such matters then the role of the ICC becomes imperative, even more so if the incident is an international one involving multiple nations.

It may appear that the ICC confines itself to examining events retrospectively, bringing culprits to justice for past crimes, but its judgments also serve to deter others from transgressing in the future. In fact the collective aim of all international organisations, including the ICC, is to prevent the escalation of conflicts between nations, thus preventing war or any other incident that causes large-scale bloodshed and loss of life, which may include war crimes.    

This is why the ICC also has a duty to look at smaller events with a lower casualty rate that may not be classed as war crimes, but that have the potential to escalate into full scale wars and atrocities. Yet, the ICC acted contrary to this spirit with its decision, made in November 2014, not take any further action over the Israeli raid of the Mavi Marmara aid convoy on 31 May, 2010, which resulted in the deaths of nine unarmed civilians. The reason given for this decision by Ms Fatou Bensouda of the ICC is that the incident did not rise to the level of severity of a war crime, which would have involved a much larger number of deaths. Yet she also stated that there was "reasonable basis" to believe that war crimes had been committed.

In short, she was suggesting that although a war crime may have happened, it was not quite severe enough to be investigated by the ICC. Her statement implies that in order for the ICC to mete out justice, a particular level of severity has to be reached.  The nine deaths are not enough, and therefore, a minimum, albeit unspecified, number of killings would need to take place. Surely, any war crime is to be condemned and punished by the ICC regardless of the number of deaths that have occurred?

The fact is that Israel attacked an aid convoy, and not a military ship posing a threat over international waters. In doing so,  it violated International Law and murdered nine civilians. If the incident did not warrant a full ICC investigation because it was seen as a lesser crime, then some alternative measure should have been taken, to provide justice to the victims’ families and help minimise the possibility of the conflict escalating.

Failure to nip international violence and injustice in the bud may trigger a future war. Many commentators argue that some of the decisions made by the League of Nations after the First World War contributed to the Second World War. indeed, seemingly small incidents can lead to bigger events, igniting full-scale conflicts. Human history records many of these incidents. It was the killing of one man in Sarajevo, Archduke Franz Ferdinand that triggered the First World War 100 years ago, resulting in the deaths of millions. When the Caliph in Baghdad killed the ambassador of Genghis Khan, it led to a swift reprisal on a massive scale. When the Israeli ambassador was shot in the head, it triggered the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 that killed thousands of innocent civilians. The point being made is that international incidents of this nature involving killing, must be investigated thoroughly, especially when they occurs in a volatile area where the possibility of conflict is always looming.

The ICC’s decision not to investigate the Mavi Marmara raid sends the wrong signal to this unstable region, especially because Israeli aggression already goes unchecked there. Israel is the only nation in this part of the world that constantly flouts International Law and ignores countless UN resolutions. It needs restraining. Its disproportionate response over Gaza is one of many clear examples of heinous crimes that it has committed against a largely civilian population. Far from having a preventative effect, the ICC’s decision to let Israel off the hook, and will only embolden the nation to commit further aggression in the future.

We see Western powers intervening militarily on a regular basis to assist humanitarian causes.  The Mavi Marmara aid convoy was also supporting a humanitarian cause, but was doing so peacefully without the backing of armed forces. The  convoy, containing people from all parts of the world, was  delivering much needed aid to desperate people who are in what a British minister described as ”the largest open air concentration camp”.  If a similar incident had occurred involving the Iranian armed forces raiding an aid convoy, then there would most certainly have been an outcry, with calls for a full investigation. But, because Israel is an ally, the media interest isn’t there to highlight and scrutinise its actions.

This was also an opportunity to demonstrate that international organisations do not exist primarily to serve the wishes of powerful nations.  Had the ICC taken reasonable measures over the Mavi Marmara, it would have helped to dispel that view. Instead, the ICC gave its tacit approval for Israel to continue operating like pirates on international waters with impunity, and as demonstrated throughout history, this oversight of an apparently lesser crime, may have the unfortunate consequence of triggering a far more serious situation, leading to the unnecessary loss of countless innocent lives.

Yamin Zakaria

London, UK

Last modified on Wednesday, 13 May 2015 06:59

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