Israeli hostage families seek justice with war crimes complaint against Hamas

About 100 family members of Israeli hostages, including two former hostages, arrived in the Dutch city of The Hague on Wednesday to file a legal complaint against Hamas at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The complaint, spearheaded by the Hostage and Missing Families Forum (HMFF), calls for the ICC to prosecute Hamas’s leaders for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity over the killing, kidnapping and sexual violence carried out during the October 7 terrorist attack.

The ICC’s chief prosecutor Karim Khan is already investigating potential war crimes committed by both Hamas and Israel since October 7, but has yet to file any charges.

For many of the families, lodging the complaint is about accountability as well as their latest effort to call attention to the captivity of their loved ones.

Israel believes that 130 hostages remain in Gaza from the October 7 attack – with 29 dead and 101 believed to be alive.

Aboard El Al flight 131 – named for the number of days the hostages have spent in captivity – family members told CNN about their desire to hold Hamas accountable for the crimes committed against their families as well as how they hope to continue building public pressure in order to secure a deal to free their loved ones from captivity.

“We hope that prosecutor Karim Khan will help us to achieve justice,” said Hagit Chen, the mother of Itay Chen, a 20-year-old Israeli soldier who is also a US citizen. “I need my kid back home. So we hope to get the justice and also that the world will help us to get justice. This situation cannot go on anymore.”

CNN was the only US news outlet to travel with the hostage families from Israel to the Netherlands.

“We hope we’ll start some action against those terrorists,” said Moran Ben Ishay, the daughter of 80-year-old hostage Gadi Moses. “I hope we will stop this evil and get justice, for our family and for all the families that are waiting for their loved ones that are there – the ones that are still alive and the ones that unfortunately are not.”

Israel is not a party to the Rome Statute, which established the ICC, and does not recognize its jurisdiction. But the court’s judges have ruled that it does have jurisdiction over actors in Gaza and other Palestinian territories.

For that reason, said Shelly Aviv Yeini, head of the international law department at the HMFF, the ICC could make Hamas accountable.

“We are an NGO, a private entity,” Yeini said. “We can bring about a claim in the name of the hostages even if the state [Israel] doesn’t recognize its [the ICC’s] jurisdiction.”

Muhammad Nazzal, a member of the Hamas political bureau, told CNN that going to the ICC was “a mistake,” adding: “The shortest way to return their prisoners is to complete the ongoing negotiating process.”

The ICC told CNN in a statement that while it would not comment on particular cases, “any individual or group from anywhere in the world” can submit information on alleged crimes to the court. Any information linked to current investigations would be “shared with the relevant investigation team.”

“In the event that the information submitted is (potentially) linked to a situation already under investigation (such as the State of Palestine), this information is shared with the relevant investigation team which will consider the information in the context of the team’s ongoing investigative efforts.”

The hostage families’ trip also comes as negotiations over a potential ceasefire deal are ongoing, with top Israeli officials traveling to Cairo on Tuesday to meet with American, Egyptian and Qatari officials.

Those negotiations weighed heavily on the families, many of whom remain frustrated by the slow pace of negotiations and wary of getting too hopeful amid signs of progress in the talks.

The action comes amid an ongoing case brought by South Africa against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), a different court also based at The Hague.

South Africa has accused Israel of being “in violation of its obligations under the Genocide Convention” during the Gaza war, which Israel vehemently denies.

Israel repeatedly raised Hamas’ actions during the genocide case hearing at the ICJ last month, but it cannot file a case against the militant group there as Hamas is not a state. Israel does recognize the ICJ’s jurisdiction, which only seeks to settle disputes between states.

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