THE HAGUE, Sept 19 (Reuters) – The International Criminal Court (ICC) said on Tuesday its computer system had been hacked, a breach at one of the world’s most important international institutions that handles highly sensitive information on war crimes.
The ICC said it detected unusual activity on its computer network late last week, prompting a response that is still ongoing. A spokesman declined to comment on how serious the hack was, whether it had been fully resolved or who might be behind it.
“Immediate measures have been taken to respond to this cyber security incident and mitigate its impact,” the ICC said in a brief statement.
The ICC is a permanent war crimes tribunal in the Dutch city of The Hague that was established in 2002 to try war crimes and crimes against humanity. Prosecutors in the court are currently leading 17 investigations into situations in Ukraine, Uganda, Venezuela, Afghanistan and the Philippines, among others.
In March, the court made headlines when it issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin on suspicion of illegally deporting children from Ukraine. The Kremlin rejects the accusations and the court’s jurisdiction.
The highly sensitive documents at the ICC could include anything from criminal evidence to the names of protected witnesses, although the court did not disclose what part of its systems was accessed.
In a statement, the court said it was continuing to “analyze and mitigate the impact of this incident” with the help of the Dutch government. It also said it is taking steps to strengthen its cyber security.
A spokesman for the Dutch Ministry of Justice confirmed that the country’s National Center for Cyber Security was supporting the investigation, but declined further comment.
ICC Bar President Marie-Hélène Proulx said lawyers for defendants and victims were affected “in the same way as court staff” by unspecified security measures taken in response to the incident.
“We commend the efforts … in securing the court’s information systems and hope that the situation will be resolved quickly,” she said.
The Dutch Intelligence Service (AIVD) said in its 2022 annual report that the ICC is “in Russia’s interest as it investigates possible Russian war crimes in Georgia and Ukraine”. In June 2022, the AIVD revealed that it had found a Russian military agent posing as a Brazilian in an attempt to infiltrate the court.
In August 2023, ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan said cyber attacks could be part of future war crimes investigations. He warned that the ICC itself could be vulnerable and should strengthen its defences.
“Disinformation, destruction, alteration of data and leakage of confidential information can obstruct the administration of justice at the ICC and as such constitute crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC that can be investigated or prosecuted,” he wrote in a statement. Foreign Policy Analytics report funded by Microsoft.
“But prevention remains better than cure.”
Reporting by Toby Sterling, Stephanie van den Berg, Anthony Deutsch and Bart Meijer; Editing by Gareth Jones, Andrea Ricci and Mark Potter
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