15 May Questions About the Mavi Marmara Referral
In my previous post, I expressed my skepticism that the OTP will open a formal investigation into the situation — loosely defined — involving Israel’s attack on the MV Mavi Marmara. In this post, I want to raise two issues concerning Comoros’ referral that I find particularly troubling.
First, why is Comoros being represented by Turkish lawyers, the Elmadag Law Firm Istanbul? There is nothing wrong with a state outsourcing its legal work, of course, and most of the victims of the attack on the MV Mavi Marmara were Turkish. But if the referral is really being driven by Comoros, you’d think the government would be relying on lawyers in its Ministry of Justice — or at least on a Comorian law firm. Instead, the Comoros hired a foreign law firm that has already unsuccessfully requested, on behalf of victims and a Turkish NGO, the OTP to investigate the attack on the flotilla. (See para. 9 of the referral.) That suggests, in my view, that this new request is a “state referral” in name only — a smart litigation strategy, but a curious one.
Second, why now? The attack on the flotilla took place nearly three years ago, yet Comoros is only now referring the situation to the Court. The timing seems particularly curious given that Israel and Turkey appear to be making genuine diplomatic progress in resolving the Mavi Marmara crisis. Just a few weeks ago, Haaretz reported that Israel has agreed to pay “as much as tens of millions of dollars” in compensation to the Turkish citizens wounded and killed during the attack. This latest effort to get the ICC to investigate will not only fail, it could well harm negotiations between Israel and Turkey — especially as one of the points that apparently remains to be resolved is whether Turkey is willing to immunize the IDF soldiers involved in the attack. Indeed, a cynic might suggest that this new referral is designed to undermine those negotiations.
This referral clearly puts Fatou Bensouda in a difficult situation. My hope is that she will conclude her preliminary examination quickly and will release a detailed explain of why (I predict) the OTP is not opening a formal investigation into the attack on the flotilla. Doing so would provide Bensouda with an opportunity to affirm the Court’s potential jurisdiction over the attack — Article 12(2) means what it says about a ship qualifying as a state’s territory, although I assume the drafters of the article assumed that the OTP would investigate crimes committed at sea only as part of a larger situation — while explaining why it would not be appropriate for the OTP to investigate only one small aspect, and only one side, of the Israel-Palestine conflict.