Australia’s anti-ICC lobby

May 28, 2024
Opposition leader Peter Dutton is urging Labor to ignore the ICC if it issues arrest warrants against senior Israeli officials. Left: Gaza last October. Photo: Palestinian News & Information Agency (Wafa) in contract with APAimages/CC BY-SA 3.0 DE

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton believes Israel’s leaders have been hard done by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and suggests Australia cut ties to show its solidarity.

Dutton has taken strong issue with ICC prosecutor Karim AA Khan announcing on May 20 that it was seeking approval for five arrest warrants in relation to the Israel-Hamas war.

They included Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar; the commander-in-chief of the Al-Assam Brigades, Mohammed Al-Masri; Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas Political Bureau; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; and Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant.

The measure was roundly condemned by Israel’s closest ally, the United States.

US President Joe Biden described the inclusion of Israeli leaders “outrageous”. He claimed there is “no equivalence — none — between Israel and Hamas”.

US lawmakers are debating steps to sanction ICC officials, while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has promised to cooperate with any such measure.

Britain struck the same note. “There is no moral equivalence between a democratically elected government exercising its lawful right to self-defence and the actions of a terrorist group,” declared Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

When asked if, in the event of the warrants being issued, he would comply with the ICC and arrest the individuals named, he replied: “When it comes to the ICC, this is a deeply unhelpful development … which of course is still subject to final decision.”

Australia, another close ally of Israel, has adopted a confused response.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told journalists: “I don’t comment on court processes in Australia, let alone court processes globally, that which Australia is not a party.”

Following that fudge, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said: “there is no equivalence between Israel and Hamas”.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers followed suit: “There is no equivalence between Hamas the terrorist organisation and Israel, we have it really clear in condemning the actions of Hamas on October 7, we have made it clear we want to see hostages released, and we want to see the Israeli response comply completely with international humanitarian law.”

Dutton preferred a punchier formula, coming out firmly on the side of Israel and donning gloves against the ICC for its “anti-Semitic" stance.

The PM had “squibbed it”, Dutton said, adding that Albanese’s response had damaged Australia’s “international relationships with like-minded nations”.

“The ICC,” Dutton insisted on May 23, “should reverse their decision and the prime minister should come out today to call for that instead of continuing to remain in hiding or continuing to dig a deeper hole for himself.”

Dave Sharma, a Liberal MP and former Australian ambassador to Israel, said Australia must examine “our options and our future co-operation with the court” if the arrest warrants were issued.

He told Sky News that everything he had seen indicates that "Israel is doing its utmost to comply with the principles of international humanitarian law”.

Ron Dermer, Israel’s Strategic Affairs Minister and Observer of its War Cabinet, was delighted to hear Dutton’s views. “I didn’t know the head of your opposition had said that,” Dermer told 7.30, adding, “I applaud him for doing it”.

Dutton and his conservative colleague are expressing an unintended, brute honesty about Australia’s troubled relationship with international law and human rights.

Despite being an enthusiastic signatory and ratifier of conventions — on paper — Canberra has tended, over the years, to ignore them when politically expedient.

The contempt, for instance, Australian governments have shown for protections guaranteed by the UN Refugee Convention (the “turn back the boats” policy; the concentration camps in sweltering Pacific outposts; and breaching the principle of non-refoulement) is plain for all to see.

On the subject of genocide, Australian governments had no appetite to domestically criminalise it until 2002, despite ratifying the UN Genocide Convention in 1949.

As for the ICC itself, the John Howard Coalition government was wary about what it would actually mean for Australia’s sovereignty.

Despite eventually ratifying the Rome Statute establishing the court, the scepticism continued. Then-shadow foreign affairs minister Kevin Rudd noted that “John Howard is neither Arthur nor Martha on ratification of the International Criminal Court”.

When he was home affairs minister, Dutton preferred to treat his department as an annex of selective law and order, indifferent to people’s rights and liberties.

For him, bodies like the ICC exist like a troublesome reminder that human rights do exist, and should be the subject of protection, even at the international level.

[Binoy Kampmark lectures at RMIT University.]

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.