Before Monday May 20, Karim Khan was not unknown. But by requesting arrest warrants against several Hamas leaders and against Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has attracted new light. This decision earned him the support of several countries, including France, but also criticism from the United States and Italy, who considered it “unacceptable” to put Hamas and the Jewish state on the same level. The head of the Israeli government “rejected with disgust the comparison of the Hague prosecutor”.

This request represents a strong gesture on the part of Karim Khan. “No one is above the law,” he argued to our colleagues at CNN. Elected president of the high court in February 2021, Karim Khan has since demonstrated his desire to fight without discrimination against the powerful. In March 2023, he also issued an arrest warrant against Vladimir Putin, accusing him of war crimes for the “illegal deportation” of thousands of Ukrainian children as part of the conflict between Moscow and kyiv. In return, the Russian Interior Ministry placed him on its wanted list.

A former student of the prestigious King’s College London, this native of Edinburgh, Scotland, trained as a special advisor in the prosecutor’s office of the two international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, between 1997 and 2000 He owes this attraction to international law to his membership in the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, a persecuted reformist movement in Islam. This movement settled in the United Kingdom in the 1980s, after being expelled from Pakistan for a law prohibiting its followers from calling themselves Muslims and limiting their religious practices.

During his career as a lawyer, Karim Khan did not always take the side of the victims. In the 2000s, he notably defended the former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, accused by a special UN tribunal of murder, rape and the use of child soldiers. Without success, since the autocrat was found guilty and sentenced to 50 years in prison.

During the 2010s, Karim Khan was also the lawyer of Saif al-Islam, the second son of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Sentenced to death in absentia in 2015, for war crimes and crimes against humanity, he was finally released in 2016 and ran in the 2021 Libyan presidential election, supported by the Wagner militia. He will not be elected. Another dictator defended by Karim Khan: William Ruto, now president of Kenya. He is accused of crimes against humanity, following post-election violence in 2007, which left 1,200 dead. Khan managed to have him acquitted, but not without facing allegations of witness intimidation, after one of them was found dead in 2014.

The defense of William Ruto then greatly benefited the British lawyer. Before being elected president of the ICC in February 2021, he was not on the list of candidates. His name was added at the insistence of the Kenyan government, according to The Guardian. Khan was elected there by obtaining 72 votes out of the 62 required, ahead of Irish, Spanish and Italian candidates, with notable support from the African continent. He then becomes the third prosecutor of the ICC since its implementation in 2002, for a mandate of nine years.

His first feat of arms was to resume, in September 2021, the investigation relating to crimes committed by the Taliban and the Islamic State in Khorasan in Afghanistan, which had been suspended in spring 2020, at the request of the government of Kabul, which was then striving to prove that its judicial system was capable of prosecuting the perpetrators of the acts. Karim Khan, on the other hand, decided to “deprioritize” investigations into crimes committed by international forces, particularly American forces, in Afghanistan. But also to suspend the investigation into torture in the secret prisons of the CIA, installed in the early 2000s in Poland, Romania and Lithuania, where dozens of individuals suspected of belonging to the Taliban or al -Qaeda.