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Justice for Bashir: What’s Different Today?

Published on March 5, 2009        Author: 

Christine Chung is a Senior Fellow at the Schell Center for International Human Rights, Yale Law School where she teaches “The International Criminal Court: Prospects for Global Justice.” Ms. Chung was the first senior trial attorney appointed at the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and worked in The Hague from 2004 to 2007.

If you’re looking for the justification for the front-page media headlines about the ICC warrant naming Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, there are two, to my mind. First, the world’s permanent international criminal court has charged a sitting head of State, and sister States aren’t close to hand-wringing over immunity. (My academic colleagues are a different matter – read, for example, Marko and Dapo). Yesterday’s decision might be the nail in the coffin of the era in which heads of State escaped being called to account for perpetrating atrocities.

Second, the decision of Pre-Trial Chamber I to decline to include the charge of genocide requested by Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo (by a 2-1 vote) reinforced that pursuing a genocide charge is, for an international prosecutor, fraught with peril. The old legal issues of how to define an “ethnic” group and where to find the specific intent to destroy a group (in the usual case, where there is no direct evidence) were very much in evidence in the Chamber’s split opinions. On top of those, the Judges wrestled with questions about the degree to which the ICC should adopt or follow genocide jurisprudence from the ICJ and the ad hoc tribunals, the proper interpretation of the “reasonable grounds” standard applicable at the stage of evaluating a request for an ICC arrest warrant, and how to reconcile the Rome Statute provisions with the ICC Elements of Crimes. Bottom line: the need to settle the law of this new Court, if anything, further complicates the already extremely difficult business of proving genocide.

As fascinated as we lawyers are by judicial decision-making, though, it’s more important in Bashir’s case to identify what did not change yesterday. Read the rest of this entry…

 
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