Britain’s Karim Khan takes on daunting caseload as ICC chief prosecutor

Karim Khan has taken over the role of chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.
Karim Khan has taken over the role of chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. REUTERS - Michael Kooren

British barrister Karim Khan was on Wednesday sworn in as chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, replacing Gambia’s Fatou Bensouda.


The 51-year-old, who made a name for himself as an international defence lawyer, becomes the third prosecutor of the world's only permanent war crimes court.

He takes on a daunting caseload at the start of his nine-year term, including investigations into the Israel-Palestinian conflict, alleged US war crimes in Afghanistan and the Philippine war on drugs.

While Khan most recently spent time in Iraq building war crimes cases against more than 150 insurgents from the Islamic State, he is a controversial figure, having also defended accused war criminals.

At the ICC Khan represented Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto, charged with crimes against humanity during post-election violence in 2007. He also defended Seif al-Islam, the son of late Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi.

Ruto’s case ended in a mistrial in 2016 after Khan convinced the judges that evidence tabled by the prosecution was insufficient. Because of this, Kenyan civil society groups were staunchly opposed to his candidature for the ICC’s top job.

Pivotal moment

Khan takes the reins at a pivotal time for the ICC, with predecessor Bensouda both winning and losing high-profile cases.

The US, Russia, China and Israel do not recognise the court, which has been criticised for the high salaries of its judges and its slow moving processes.   

Amnesty International said Khan's appointment was a chance for "revitalisation" of the ICC, but that he would face challenges in the job.

"He will be under pressure and we hope he will proceed as Fatou Bensouda in independence and without fear or favour," Matthew Cannock, head of Amnesty's Center for International Justice, told AFP.

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