CNN regularly relies on statements by actors from the United Nations and similar international organizations when reporting on matters relevant to international law. What CNN fails to explain to its audience, however, is that these statements are rarely honest reflections of international law, but instead political declarations. Worse, they come from institutions known for their extreme anti-Israel bias, which apply one standard of law to Israel and another standard everywhere else.
The latest example comes from a statement given to CNN by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan. According to the October 29 article, titled “International Criminal Court prosecutor says strikes on civilian infrastructure always have to be justified”:
“There should be no doubt that every decision-maker, from head of government, to military advisors, to lawyers that have targeting-making decisions, should be on clear notice that they will be required to justify every strike against every civilian object,” Khan said.
“In all circumstances, human objects have to be protected, unless you can establish that they’ve lost their protection,” he continued.
Khan said civilian targets, such as a “house or school or hospital or a church or a mosque,” are required to be protected under international law unless they become military objectives.
He said to determine whether those targets are military objectives is “complex” and will require analysis and information.
“You’ve got to prove that — you can’t assume it. And the burden of proof is on the person that is firing at, or targeting the dwelling house, or the school or the hospital or the church or the mosque,” Khan outlined.
This is another deeply misleading and frankly inaccurate description of the law from the chief prosecutor. As explained by legal expert and UKLFI Charitable Trust Legal Director Natasha Hausdorff, Khan’s recent statements are “attributing an evil intent to Israel without an evidentiary basis.”
Avi Bell, a professor of law at San Diego School of Law and Bar-Ilan University, explains in more detail what Khan’s recent statements on Israel get wrong:
Mr. Khan’s statement is outrageous and false in three different respects.
First, nothing in the laws of war requires warring parties to “prove” to the ICC or to anyone else the legitimacy of their targeting decisions. In a war, combatting parties are required to aim their fire at legitimate targets based on the information they have available at the time. Israel does this in all cases; Hamas and other Palestinian combatants never do this. There is no doctrine in international law requiring that Israel or any other party share its intelligence with the ICC or any other actor; there is certainly nothing requiring Israel to prove the validity of its decisions to the satisfaction of the ICC or any other party.
Second, Mr. Khan’s role is that of a criminal prosecutor, not a grand overseer over military operations. Criminal law place the burden of proof on the prosecutor, who must prove all elements of his case beyond a reasonable doubt. The suggestion that the ICC prosecutor can simply shake off the burden of proof and assign it to Israel due to his bias or laziness is presumptuous, at best, and willfully ignorant of the most basic principles of international criminal law.
Third, and most striking, Mr. Khan’s statement must be evaluated in relation to his exceptional caution in referring to Hamas’ numerous and ongoing severe crimes against humanity, crimes of genocide and war crimes. Hamas is daily and openly targeting civilians, committing acts of genocide, using human shields, holding hostages, engaging in persecution, abusing humanitarian symbols and institutions, and committing numerous other crimes. Mr. Khan has mentioned publicly only some of Hamas’ crimes, and in every mention, he has taken care to describe the crimes as “alleged,” while stating that the crimes must be “proved” by the court. By contrast, when discussing Israel, Mr. Khan places the burden of proof not on the court but on Israel. It is clear that Mr. Khan is creating and attempting to enforce a double standard in which Israeli Jews are guilty until proven innocent and Palestinian Arabs are innocent until proven guilty. This is bigoted and a fundamental betrayal of the rule of law.
Khan also misled when he “warned that denying humanitarian assistance to civilians is a crime.” As has been articulated in several articles by legal experts recently, it’s not that simple. In a 2022 article, United States Military Academy law professor Sean Watts explained that siege law rules “reflect a compromise between human needs and military demands,” And while there is debate about how the rules around starvation in siege work, another United States Military Academy professor, Thomas Wheatley, explained: “To interpret the law to categorically outlaw even incidental civilian starvation would be to create an exception that swallows the rule, which ‘could well render siege impossible as it has historically been known…’”
Unfortunately, this is far from the first time CNN has platformed UN or ICC figures who make legally and factually dubious claims. In March, for example, CNN’s Isa Soares platformed the UN’s Francesca Albanese. At no point did Soares inform her audience of Albanese’s long history of antisemitism and of her open acknowledgement that she is biased on the matter. Several days ago, CNN similarly aired the accusations of a UN Commission of Inquiry without informing its audience that the three commissioners have been widely condemned for antisemitic remarks.
Still think the @UN is credible?@FranceskAlbs, the UN’s resident “expert” on “human rights” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is a shameless antisemite who believes Israel has no right to defend itself. pic.twitter.com/spGGyvGgDq
— CAMERAorg (@CAMERAorg) April 11, 2023
While the UN is widely known for its extraordinary bias against Israel, the ICC has similarly engaged in double standards. For example, while the previous chief prosecutor decided to go after Israeli settlements, she simultaneously refused to go after Turkish settlements in Cyprus.
Media outlets, including CNN, cannot simply treat UN and ICC figures as neutral, unbiased sources whose claims can be left uncontextualized or unchallenged. In times of war, journalists must be extra careful, too. To do otherwise is to risk playing a part in Hamas’s cynical use of human shields and civilian deaths.