The Pre-Trial Chamber of International Criminal Court (ICC) has decided to hear the testimony of relatives and attorneys of the Mavi Marmara victims after Turkish attorneys appealed against the previous decision by the court’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, not to pursue the case.
The Mavi Marmara was a Comoros-flagged passenger ship owned by a Turkish NGO - the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) - and was one of the six civilian ships of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla targeted by an Israeli military operation on May 31, 2010.
Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla took place in international waters in the Mediterranean Sea. Nine Turkish citizens were killed when Israeli commandos board the Mavi Marmara in a bungled raid, and a 10th activist later died from heavy wounds.
The flotilla was set up by an international coalition called the Free Gaza Movement, which included the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and the IHH. Its aim was announced to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, which was strengthened in 2007 when Hamas took over Gaza.
The maritime raid drew widespread condemnation internationally, and damaged Israel-Turkey relations. The governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) demanded an official apology and compensation for the relatives of the Mavi Marmara victims.
IHH attorneys made an application to the ICC following the incident and demanded the court prosecute Israel’s raid on the Mavi Marmara and the Gaza flotilla, and the country’s subsequent actions.
Fatou Bensouda, Chief Prosecutor for the ICC, made a decision about the request in November 2014. She stated then that “the information available provides a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court were committed on the Comorian-registered vessel, the Mavi Marmara, when Israeli Defence Forces intercepted the 'Gaza Freedom Flotilla.'"
“However, after carefully assessing all relevant considerations, I have concluded that the potential cases likely arising from an investigation into this incident would not be of ‘sufficient gravity’ to justify further action by the ICC,” she added. By her decision, she ruled to decline to further pursue the case, and rejected the Turkish attorneys’ application to the ICC.
In a new development, the Turkish lawyers said their latest application to the court representing the Comoros islands, which is a member of the ICC, has been accepted. Previously, the lawyers made the request in the name of the Mavi Marmara victims.
Turkey itself could not demand the court investigate the Mavi Marmara incident because Turkey is not a party to the ICC. Israel is not a party to the court either.
The Pre-Chamber of the ICC will hear arguments of the relatives and attorneys of those who were injured and killed, and could open the road for the prosecution of Israeli actions during the raid by the court.
Cihad Gokdemir, one of the Turkish attorneys, who is pursuing the case since the beginning, said the decision was “A very important development. The victims will go to the court, and testify in it,” following the new decision. He also commented that the decision represents a change in terms of the procedures of the ICC.
There were two international probes into the incident. The first inquiry was the UN Human Rights Council Fact Finding Mission (UNHRC) report which found that Israeli actions were “disproportionate” and “betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality," and displayed “willful killing."
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also announced another investigation called the Palmer Report which concluded the Israeli actions against the Mavi Marmara was "excessive and unreasonable.”
The Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office of Turkey also filed charges against leading members of the Israeli Army who were implicated in planning and implementing the attack in May 2012.
The Israeli government, following a telephone conversation between Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, apologised to Turkey in March 2013. The Israelis also offered $20 million in compensation for the attack, but the two countries have not yet reached any agreement.
Israel, following the incident, eased its blockade on the Gaza Strip.