THE Scottish-born chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, has requested an arrest warrant for Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel.

Khan, who was sworn in for a nine-year term as the chief prosecutor in June 2021, said he believes the Israeli leader to be responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel.

Khan’s announcement deepens Israel’s isolation as it presses ahead with its war, and the threat of arrest could make it difficult for the Israeli leaders to travel abroad.

So who is the Scottish-born Khan who has today made headlines across the globe?

The National: Karim Khan, Prosecutor of International Criminal Court, addresses a Security Council meeting on the situation in Sudan (Mary Altaffer/AP/PA)

Karim Khan was born in Edinburgh in 1970, however he was educated at the private Silcoates School in Wakefield, England.

His brother, former Tory MP and convicted child sex offender Imran Ahmad Khan, attended the same school. He represented Wakefield for the Conservatives from 2019 to 2022, stepping down after his conviction.

Khan went on to graduate from King’s College London before being called to the bar in England and Wales in 1992. He worked as a crown prosecutor at the Crown Prosecution Service of England and Wales, before becoming a senior prosecutor.

Legal career

In 1997, Khan began work for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which was set up at The Hague in the Netherlands to prosecute war crimes during the Yugoslav Wars.

He would then go on to controversially act as defence counsel for former president of Liberia Charles Taylor – who was eventually found guilty of charges including terror, murder and rape – and later for Kenyan vice-president William Ruto.

Ruto was charged with crimes against humanity after post-election violence in Kenya in 2007 left 1200 dead.

In 2018, Khan was appointed by UN secretary general António Guterres to lead the Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da'esh/ISIL.

Known as UNITAD, this team investigated the international crimes committed by the Isil terror group.

Election as International Criminal Court chief prosecutor

Khan was elected to be the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor in June 2021. He will serve a nine-year term. He was the third elected in ICC history and the first in a blind ballot.

He had not initially been on the short-list, but his nomination by the UK Government was supported by Kenya, the US, and Israel.

Khan was elected by 72 of the 131 ICC member states in the second round, defeating other candidates from Ireland, Spain, and Italy to win.

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He replaced Fatou Bensouda, the former ICC chief prosecutor who was sanctioned by Donald Trump’s US administration over her investigation into whether American forces committed war crimes in Afghanistan.

The US does not sign up to the ICC, and neither does Israel. Both have been critical of its investigations into Palestine.

The court does have jurisdiction over alleged crimes committed in Palestine after a ruling in 2021.

What has Khan done about Israel, Palestine, and Hamas?

On Monday, Khan said he believes Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, defence minister Yoav Gallant, and three Hamas leaders — Yehia Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh — are responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel.

In an official statement, Khan said: "I have reasonable grounds to believe that Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, and Yoav Galliant, the minister of defence of Israel, bear criminal responsibility for  the following war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on the territory of the State of Palestine (in the Gaza strip) from at least October 8, 2023:

  • Starvation of civilians as a method of warfare as a war crime contrary to article 8(2)(b)(xxv) of the Statute;
  • Wilfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health contrary to article 8(2)(a)(iii), or cruel treatment as a war crime contrary to article 8(2)(c)(i);
  • Wilful killing contrary to article 8(2)(a)(i), or Murder as a war crime contrary to article 8(2)(c)(i);
  • Intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population as a war crime contrary to articles 8(2)(b)(i), or 8(2)(e)(i);
  • Extermination and/or murder contrary to articles 7(1)(b) and 7(1)(a), including in the context of deaths caused by starvation, as a crime against humanity;
  • Persecution as a crime against humanity contrary to article 7(1)(h);
  • Other inhumane acts as crimes against humanity contrary to article 7(1)(k)."

Khan must request the arrest warrants from a pre-trial panel of three judges, who take two months on average to consider the evidence and determine if the proceedings can move forward.

Israel is not a member of the court, and even if the arrest warrants are issued, Netanyahu and Gallant do not face any immediate risk of prosecution.

But Khan’s announcement deepens Israel’s isolation as it presses ahead with its war, and the threat of arrest could make it difficult for the Israeli leaders to travel abroad.

What has the international reaction been?

Countries around the globe have reacted differently to news that Khan would seek arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Gallant, while condemnation of Hamas remains more universal.

US president Joe Biden has condemned the arrest warrant request as “outrageous”, echoing language from Israel itself.

The UK Government has claimed the ICC does not have “jurisdiction” needed to request the warrants.

Human Rights Watch called the request for arrest warrants “principled”, and warned that “ICC member countries should stand ready to resolutely protect the ICC's independence as hostile pressure is likely to increase while the ICC judges consider Khan's request”.