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Home Articles posted by Eugene Kontorovich

ICC Prosecutor Says Full Inquiry into Russian War Crimes Might Come Soon, But Omits Some Crimes

Published on December 10, 2014        Author: 

The ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor recently released its annual report on preliminary examinations. The big news, analyzed by many commentators, is that the OTP is conducting a preliminary examination of alleged crimes of torture by U.S. forces in Afghanistan. In the highly unlikely eventuality that the OTP does not close the investigation on one of a variety of procedural grounds, it could be the Court’s first confrontation with a powerful Western state, and its first proceedings against nationals of a non-member state for actions on the territory of a member state.

But the U.S. is not the only major power and non-state party that the report throws down the gauntlet to. The 2014 report announced that a full investigation of potential Russian crimes committed in Georgia may be opened “in the near future.” Since 2008, the OTP has been investigating “the situation in Georgia,” that is, the 2008 Russo-Georgian war, that resulted in Russia cementing its control over occupied parts of Georgia while also conquering new territory. The investigation focuses on ethnic cleansing by Russian-backed forces of ethnic Georgians from Russian-occupied territory in Georgia (South Ossetia). The OTP has concluded that there is a reasonable basis to believe that these actions “amounted to the crime against humanity  of forcible transfer of ethnic Georgians under article 7(1)(d).”

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Settlements, Territory, and the ICC

Published on January 3, 2013        Author: 

The President of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, has threatened to accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in order to pursue a case against Israeli settlement construction. At first, this seems an odd choice. One might expect suits over more classic war crimes involving military forces, of the kind dealt with by the Goldstone Commission, to be a be a safer course.

Such cases have been repeatedly tried in international and national tribunals, and have a well-established jurisprudence. But the rule against “deporting or transferring” one’s civilian population into occupied territory would be a case of first impression, and thus pose potentially daunting obstacles. The attraction of settlements, however, is that the issue is not bilateral. Israel could not counter-claim, as it were.

The talk of taking settlements to the Court is difficult to understand. States refer “situations” to the ICC, not cases. Countries cannot simply engage in strategic claim-splitting, referring the alleged crimes of their enemies and not their own. What is the “situation” here? The scope of the term is not well understood. One might say, at the broadest level, it would seem be the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, of which settlements is a part – and Palestinian violence is another part. More narrowly, given the security buffer justification of many settlements, it would still be artificial to split the situation into an Israel-only offense.

However, while the GA vote makes the path to such a referral easier, there remains an under-underappreciated hurdle that a settlements-suit would have to clear. If Palestine accepts the jurisdiction of the ICC under Art. 12(2)(a) of the Rome Statute, the Court would only have jurisdiction over Israel for conduct that occurred “on the territory” of Palestine. Thus exercising jurisdiction requires determining Palestine’s territory.

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