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ICC prosecutor: Slim chance of ISIS leaders facing war crimes inquiry

Many citizens of ICC member states are suspected of committing atrocities while fighting for ISIS

Published: Updated:

The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor said on Wednesday there is evidence of war crimes by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) insurgents in Iraq and Syria but little prospect yet that their leaders will be investigated by the ICC.

Crimes attributed to the ultra-radical Sunni militant group range from mass executions, sexual slavery, rape and torture to forced recruitment of children and even genocide, Fatou Bensouda said in a statement.

But she said that while she had jurisdiction over crimes committed by fighters who are nationals of ICC member states, ISIS’ leaders appeared mainly to be from Iraq and Syria, which are not ICC members.

"At this stage, the prospects of my office investigating and prosecuting those most responsible, within the leadership of ISIS, appear limited," Bensouda said.

The court could exercise "personal jurisdiction" over individuals who were citizens of member states, she added. Wider jurisdiction could also be referred to The Hague by the U.N. Security Council.

Many citizens of ICC member states are suspected of committing atrocities while fighting for ISIS, including "Jihadi John", notorious for beheading hostages, who is believed to be a British citizen.

Bensouda said the court had received reports of thousands of foreign fighters joining ISIS, many from ICC member states including Tunisia, Jordan, France, Britain, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Australia.

"Some of these individuals (from member states) may have been involved in the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes," she added.

ISIS overran wide areas of northern and western Iraq last year, and hold a large part of neighboring eastern Syria four years into that country's civil war, but have since lost some ground to an Iraqi government offensive.

Set up in 2002 to try serious crimes where national authorities are unable or unwilling to act, the ICC can only intervene in non-member countries if it receives a U.N. Security Council referral, such as in Sudan's case.

The court has been criticized for its inability to act in some of the world's most serious conflicts, including Syria's civil war, now in its fourth year, which has costs hundreds of thousands of lives and forced millions to flee.

Bensouda called on world to show a "renewed commitment" to finding ways of prosecuting alleged perpetrators of atrocities in the region.

"ISIS continues to spread terror on a massive scale in the territories it occupies. The international community pledged that appalling crimes that deeply shock the conscience of humanity must not go unpunished."

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