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Who is Unwilling and Unable to Prosecute Crimes Against Humanity in Syria?

Published on May 29, 2014        Author: 

2014.05.26.AbdulhayAbdulhay Sayed is an independent Syrian lawyer, and has been a lecturer in law in the Damascus Faculty of Law from 2005 to 2011.

For Syrians, who are caught between totalitarian arrogance and human folly, the debate in the Security Council on 22 May 2014, over the French-sponsored Chapter VII draft resolution to refer the situation of Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC), was marked by a tragicomic mix of global point scoring and political impotence. The defeat of the resolution is a major disappointment to Syrians. By refusing to address impunity for crimes against humanity in Syria irrespective of perpetrators’ political affiliations, the Security Council has failed to uphold the basic principles for which the UN is supposed to stand—including saving “generations from the scourge of war” and affirming fundamental human rights and dignity.

The French initiative followed a year-long Swiss-led campaign, which called upon UN member States to refer the Syrian situation to the ICC, because Syria has not ratified the Rome Statute of 1998. The initiative’s failure follows the declaration of the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights in January 2014 that it is no longer able to count casualties in Syria. Together, these developments raise the frightening possibility that the problem of impunity in Syria will gradually fade from the UN agenda.

The international community has sought to traverse historic distances since the atrocities of Yugoslavia and Rwanda in the 1990s. There is now a permanent and purportedly universal system of criminal justice, which, in the present tremendously polarized Syrian context, could, at least, provide a structure for the objective naming of atrocious acts of violence as crimes. Surely, this system cannot by itself resolve the conflict or bring solace to the victims. Nonetheless, it could offer some measure of justice, letting victims know that a process could be put in motion to underwrite their long and arduous procession from naming the crimes against them to healing the wounds they inflicted. To demonstrate its credibility, however, this system of justice needed to act in the face of grave crimes in Syria by enabling the ICC to exercise jurisdiction.

Instead, the Security Council showed, yet again, its structural inability to see the Syrian question through the prism of Justice. Accountability for the gravest crimes ranked as less important than the pursuit of a political solution. Through Geneva I and II, the motto was: give priority to the restoration of peace through political negotiation, and let the Syrians address the question of impunity themselves. This approach is blind to the reality of the Syrian tragedy. For many Syrians, the escalation of the conflict is inextricably connected to the persistence of impunity. The failure of the international community to seriously address the question of impunity in Syria for so long has normalized the proliferation of violence in the country and seriously undermined the prospect of a political solution. By failing to pass a resolution addressing impunity, the Security Council has sent a chillingly straightforward message to the perpetrators of violations of International Humanitarian Law in Syria and in other regions: escalating violence improves your chances of securing a seat at the negotiating table. A Syrian political process that is negotiated at the expense of accountability is impossible. It carries the seeds of further atrocities and injustice. Instead, addressing impunity must become a defining criterion for any political process.

It is now very difficult to predict the consequences for Syria, of the Security Council’s failure. For Syrians, the international community has shown itself to be unwilling and unable to genuinely prosecute the grave crimes occurring in the present degenerative state of barbarism in their country.

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Disentangling the Knots: A Comment on Ambos’ ‘Palestine, ‘Non-Member Observer’ Status and ICC Jurisdiction’

Published on May 27, 2014        Author: 

2014.05.25.Valentina PhotoValentina Azarov (pictured left) is Lecturer in Human Rights and International Law, Al-Quds Bard College, Al-Quds University, Palestine. Chantal Meloni2014.05.22.FotoTessera2 (pictured right) is Adjunct Professor of International Criminal Law, University of Milan, Italy and Alexander von Humboldt fellow, Humboldt University of Berlin.

In a recent post on ‘Palestine, non-Member Observer Status and ICC Jurisdiction’, Kai Ambos raises important points that require, in our view, some basic clarifications. While many of these arguments have been made previously by eminent experts and practitioners, they have become particularly relevant with the recent accessions by Palestine to 20 international treaties (see here and here) including some of the most important international human rights and humanitarian law instruments, as well as a letter dated 8 May 2014 addressed to President Abbas by 17 human rights groups calling for Palestine to seek access to the ICC.

Arguably the most critical issue raised by Ambos concerns the 2009 Declaration lodged by the Palestinian government pursuant to Article 12(3) of the International Criminal Court Statute accepting the jurisdiction of the ICC. Ambos claims that this Declaration is void because, in his view UN General Assembly Resolution 67/19 (2012), which granted “non-member observer state status” to Palestine does not possess retroactive effect. However, as explained below, a GA resolution is not constitutive, nor even declarative of the existence of a ‘State’, since, strictly speaking, formal recognition is a state act (Crawford 2006, 27-28). It merely provides further indication of Palestine’s treatment as a ‘State’ by international actors. In fact, as will be argued, the ICC could have exercised its jurisdiction over Palestine on the basis of the 2009 Declaration, even prior to the UN GA Res 67/19.

Validity and ‘Retroactivity’ of the 2009 Declaration 

At the outset, Ambos claims that the 2009 Declaration was “not validly lodged,” citing a November 2013 Report on Preliminary Examination Activities by the ICC Prosecutor’s Office (OTP). However, there are conspicuous differences in the language used by the ICC Prosecutor in this report and in its decision of 3 April 2012 not to open an investigation. The official 2012 decision does not hold that the declaration was not validly lodged. Rather, in that ‘decision not to decide’ (see Dapo Akande), the Prosecutor stated that the ‘Office could in the future consider allegations of crimes committed in Palestine, should competent organs of the United Nations or eventually the Assembly of States Parties resolve the legal issue relevant to an assessment of article 12.’  The 2013 report quoted by Ambos is a communication of the office’s activities that clearly carries less weight than an official decision. It is not meant to have dispositive value but is merely part of the OTP’s regular reporting duties: “In order to promote transparency of the preliminary examination process the Office aims to issue regular reports on its activities and provides reasoned responses for its decisions either to proceed or not proceed with investigations” (par. 13).

As pointed out elsewhere, there are well-grounded reasons to believe that the Prosecutor’s 2012 decision was wrong.   Read the rest of this entry…

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Palestine, UN Non-Member Observer Status and ICC Jurisdiction

Published on May 6, 2014        Author: 

ICCOn 22 January 2009, the Palestinian Minister of Justice, on behalf of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), lodged a declaration recognizing the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) (pictured left) ‘for the purpose of identifying, prosecuting and judging the authors and accomplices of acts committed on the territory of Palestine since 1 July 2002.’ On 3 April 2012, the ICC Office of the Prosecutor concluded that the preconditions to the exercise of jurisdictionwere not met, arguing that Palestine had only been granted ‘observer’, not ‘Non-member State’ status by General Assembly (GA). The Prosecutor considered that the Declaration ‘was not validly lodged’ (Report on Preliminary Examinations Activities 2013, para. 236). However, the Prosecutor also said that ‘allegations of crimes committed in Palestine’ could be considered ‘in the future’ if the ‘competent organs of United Nations … resolve the legal issue relevant to an assessment of article 12 …’. On 29 November 2012 the UN GA – by 138 votes to 9, with 41 abstentions – decided ‘to accord to Palestine non-member observer State status.’ (GA Res. 67/19 of 4 Dec. 2012, para. 2) (see previous EJIL:Talk! Posts here, here and here)

With this decision, the legal issue raised in the Prosecutor’s decision has been resolved. Palestine has been ‘upgraded’ from a mere ‘observer’ to a ‘Non-member State’. The formal declaration of statehood, which some previously considered a missing precondition to Palestine’s status as a State (Ronen, JICJ 8(2010), 26; Shany, JICJ 8 (2010), 337), has been produced by the GA. And this notwithstanding the possible lack of complete fulfilment of the Montevideo criteria (in particular the effective government criterion; cf. Shaw, JICJ 9 (2011), 307 ff.). The view that Palestine is now a State is not only the prevailing view among scholars (Zimmermann, JICJ 11(2013), 303; Ronen, JICJ 12 (2014) 8; contra still Kontorovich, JICJ 11 (2013), 979), but above all has been confirmed by treaty practice since the GA Resolution, i.e., the accession of Palestine to at least 15 international treaties (accepted by the respective depositaries). This means that Palestine, represented by its government, can now not only trigger ICC jurisdiction by way of a declaration under Article 12(3) of the ICC Statute but also directly accede to the ICC Statute (albeit without retroactive effect, cf. Articles 11(2), 126(2)). While there is no longer a need to overcome the lack of statehood by way of a functional interpretation of Article 12(3) (Shany, JICJ 8 (2010), 329; Pellet, JICJ 8(2010), 981, the new Article 12(3) power suffers from several limitations. Those limitations will be the focus of this post (leaving aside the subsequent ‘ordinary’ obstacles, especially gravity, admissibility and interests of justice, to turn an ICC situation into a formal investigation of a case). Here are the four problems with Article 12(3) that I see.

First, Article 12(3) is premised on a delegation-based theory of jurisdiction (Shany, JICJ 8(2010), 331-2), i.e., the ‘State’ within the meaning of the provision delegates a part of its jurisdiction to the ICC. Of course, this presupposes that the State possesses the jurisdiction it wants to delegate in the first place. Here Annex II of the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement (‘Oslo II’) comes into play. According to its Article I, the Palestinian criminal jurisdiction is limited to ‘offenses committed by Palestinians and/or non-Israelis in the Territory’. ‘Territory’ refers to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, in principle including East Jerusalem. Indeed, this is the Palestinian territory internationally recognized as a ‘single territorial unit’ (Art. IV Declaration of Principles 1993 [Oslo I]; Art  XI(1) Oslo II). Of course, on the one hand, Palestinian jurisdiction does not extend to the Area C in the West Bank (including Israeli settlements and military installations). On the other hand, while Israel does not, in principle, claim sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza, it does so with regard to East Jerusalem. Thus, on the basis of Oslo, Palestinian criminal jurisdiction is severely limited both ratione personae and ratione loci.

To get around these limitations one may argue that Oslo, having been agreed between Israel and the PLO, as the representative of the Palestinian people (GA Res. 67/19, para. 2), can neither bind the PNA, which only came into existence with Oslo, nor, a fortiori, the government of the now formally recognized State of Palestine. Read the rest of this entry…

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ICC Issues New Decision on Al-Bashir’s Immunities ‒ But Gets the Law Wrong … Again

Published on April 18, 2014        Author: 

André de Hoogh.croppedAbel Knottnerus.croppedAndré de Hoogh (pictured left) is a Senior Lecturer in International Law in the Faculty of Law of the University of Groningen. Abel S. Knottnerus (pictured right) is a PhD Researcher at the Legal Theory Department of the University of Groningen.

Last week Pre-Trial Chamber II (PTC) issued a new decision on the obligation of ICC States Parties to arrest President Omar Al-Bashir irrespective of his immunities as Head of State (here). The PTC found that the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) failed to cooperate with the Court by not arresting the Sudanese President during his visit to the country earlier this year and decided to refer the matter to the Assembly of States Parties and the Security Council.

This finding does not come as surprise. The PTC established in previous decisions that all States Parties have an obligation to arrest Al-Bashir and found that Chad and Malawi failed to comply with this obligation by welcoming Al-Bashir on their territory in 2011. However, the motivation underlying the Court’s latest decision is novel. In contrast to the much debated rulings on the non-cooperation of Malawi (here) and Chad (here), the PTC did not base its new decision on an exception existing under customary international law to the personal immunities of Heads of State when they face prosecution before an international criminal tribunal. Instead, the PTC held that Security Council Resolution 1593, which referred the situation in Darfur to the Court, “implicitly waived the immunities granted to Omar Al-Bashir under international law and attached to his position as a Head of State” (para. 29).

As readers might recall from previous posts (here), Dapo Akande has advised the PTC to follow a similar “route” on this issue. In his posts and publications (here, for other commentators see here and here), he has maintained that the Court could decide:

“[that the Security Council’s referral] has the consequence that Sudan (or Libya) is bound by the Statute (including Article 27)… [T]his would therefore mean that those States are to be regarded as in the same position as a State party to the Rome Statute” (here).

In this post, we want to make a number of provisional – but already quite critical – observations on the Chamber’s new decision. Most importantly, this post is meant to give a kick-start to the discussion on the Court’s remarkable change of heart. Read the rest of this entry…

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ICJ Opens Hearings in Croatia v. Serbia

Published on March 3, 2014        Author: 
http://pescanik.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/01.03.14-Danas.jpg

Cartoon by Corax, in the Danas newspaper.

Today the International Court of Justice opens a month of hearings in the pending case between Croatia and Serbia for state responsibility for genocide allegedly committed during the 1990s conflict. In the afternoon the Court will also be delivering its provisional measures order in Timor Leste v. Australia. The latter will at least to my mind be vastly more interesting than the former. Why? Because the outcome of the Croatia/Serbia case is a foregone conclusion, bearing in mind that the Court’s jurisdiction is limited solely to breaches of the Genocide Convention, and that it cannot rule on either party’s responsibility for any other wrongful acts, be it war crimes, crimes against humanity, or aggression.

In its 2007 Bosnian Genocide judgment the Court, relying on the findings of the ICTY, found that the ‘only’ instance of genocide in the otherwise far more brutal Bosnian conflict was Srebrenica, for which Serbia was not responsible, and did so by 13 votes to 2. It seems extremely unlikely that the Court will adopt a different methodological approach in the Croatian case, especially because nobody was even charged, let alone convicted, for genocide in Croatia by the ICTY. The (many) acts of ethnic cleansing committed by both sides in the Croatian conflict simply lack the requisite specific intent to physically or biologically destroy a protected group, and thus cannot reasonably be qualified as genocide. And without genocide, the Court is without jurisdiction.

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The Self-Fragmentation of the ICTY Appeals Chamber

Published on January 23, 2014        Author: 

Today the ICTY Appeals Chamber (thankfully) affirmed the convictions of high-ranking Serbian leaders for crimes in Kosovo in Sainovic et al, even though it somewhat reduced the sentences. The judg(e)ment is gigantic, especially for an appeals decision, at 800 pages+, and obviously I haven’t read it. But buried in all that is one very important development in the whole ‘specific direction’ saga – by 4 votes to 1, the Chamber decided that the Appeals Chamber in Perisic was wrong in holding that specific direction was an essential element of the actus reus of aiding and abetting liability. The Chamber discussed the issue extensively at more than 20 pages, starting at p. 643, and here are the choice concluding paragraphs:

1649. Based on the foregoing, the Appeals Chamber, Judge Tuzmukhamedov dissenting, comes to the compelling conclusion that “specific direction” is not an element of aiding and abetting liability under customary international law. Rather, as correctly stated in the Furundzija Trial Judgement and confirmed by the Blaskic Appeal Judgement, under customary international law, the actus reus of aiding and abetting “consists of practical assistance, encouragement, or moral support which has a substantial effect on the perpetration of the crime.” The required mens rea is “the knowledge that these acts assist the commission of the offense”. The Appeals Chamber reaffirms the position taken by the Blaskic Appeal Judgement in this regard.

1650. Accordingly, the Appeals Chamber confirms that the Mrksic and Sljivancanin and Lukic and Lukic Appeal Judgements stated the prevailing law in holding that “‘specific direction’ is not an essential ingredient of the actus reus of aiding and abetting”, accurately reflecting customary international law and the legal standard that has been constantly and consistently applied in determining aiding and abetting liability. Consequently, the Appeals Chamber, Judge Tuzmukhamedov dissenting, unequivocally rejects the approach adopted in the Perisic Appeal Judgement as it is in direct and material conflict with the prevailing jurisprudence on the actus reus of aiding and abetting liability and with customary international law in this regard.

In so holding, the Chamber did not rely just on the ICTY’s prior case law, but also on the recent Taylor judgment of the SCSL, which had also rejected specific direction. Note also how the Chamber did not mince words – it came to a ‘compelling conclusion’ to ‘unequivocally reject’ Perisic as wrongly decided. In his dissent, Judge Tuzmukhamedov is of the view that it is unnecessary on the facts of the case to get into the specific direction issue, and that Chamber should not have done so, especially in order to avoid a conflict with a prior decision of the Appeals Chamber. He however takes no position on the specific direction issue itself.

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The Impact of the ECtHR’s Judgment in Maktouf-Damjanović on Accountability and Punishment for War Crimes in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Published on November 12, 2013        Author: 

Francesco De SantisFrancesco de Sanctis is assistant professor at the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology and works as consultant on justice sector monitoring and reform.

 

The BiH War Crimes Chamber and the laws applicable to war crimes trials in BiH

The War Crimes Chamber of Bosnia-Herzegovina (WCC) has been generally considered as a successful effort to prosecute crimes committed during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia at the domestic level (see, in this regard, reports from OSCE and ICTJ). The WCC closely cooperates with the ICTY and received most of the cases transferred by the Hague Tribunal to domestic jurisdiction as part of its completion strategy; it is established within the Court of BiH and is a wholly domestic institution. As such, its work falls under the review of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which in  a Judgment by the Grand Chamber in Maktouf-Damjanović vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina issued in July 2013 found that the WCC had violated Art. 7 of the ECHR in connection with the convictions of the applicants due to the retroactive application of criminal legislation in their war crimes cases. This post will underline some serious problems related to the interpretation of this Judgment and to its implementation by the WCC with regard to the processing of future cases and the re-opening of adjudicated cases which may be deemed to fall under the Judgment’s scope.

In order to understand the content and relevance of Maktouf-Damjanović it is necessary to briefly outline the substantial criminal laws applied in atrocity crimes proceedings held in BiH. The 1976 Criminal Code of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY CC) was in force throughout the 1992-1995 conflict. Under this Code, war crimes and genocide could be punished with imprisonment from a minimum of 5 years (1 year in case of extraordinary mitigating circumstances) to a maximum of 15 years or, in the most serious cases, with the death penalty, which could be commuted to 20 years imprisonment. This Code has been and is still generally applied by courts at the entity level in war crimes cases; since the death penalty is not anymore applicable in BiH after the 1995 Dayton Agreement, these courts have been imposing sentences up to 15 years for war crimes. In 2003 this legal framework changed as the Office of the High Representative (OHR) imposed a Criminal Code at the State level (BiH CC) which punishes war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity with imprisonment from a minimum of 10 years (5 years in case of extraordinary mitigating circumstances) to a maximum of 45 years. This Code has been applied in the overwhelming majority of cases processed by the WCC. Since the beginning, however, the lawfulness of its application by the WCC has been a matter of intense legal discussion and controversy at the political level, to the extent of becoming one of the issues at the center of the EU-BiH Structured  Dialogue on Justice. Read the rest of this entry…

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Lieber Prize 2014: Call for Submissions

Published on November 10, 2013        Author: 

It’s that time of the year again…

The Francis Lieber Prize is awarded annually by the American Society of International Law’s Lieber Society on the Law of Armed Conflict to the authors of publications which the judges consider to be outstanding in the field of law and armed conflict.  Both monographs and articles (including chapters in books of essays) are eligible for consideration, as the prize is awarded to the best submission in each of these two categories.

  Read the rest of this entry…

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The AU’s Extraordinary Summit decisions on Africa-ICC Relationship

Published on October 28, 2013        Author: 

Dr Solomon Ayele Dersso is a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, Addis Ababa and Adjunct Professor of Human Rights, College of Governance, Addis Ababa University.

Introduction

The African Union (AU) Assembly, the highest decision making body of the continental organization, took a decision on Africa’sAfrican Union relationship with the International Criminal Court (ICC) at its extraordinary summit held on 12 October 2013. In this commentary I wish to reflect on the details of the major points of the decision, their likely outcome and their implications with respect to a) the on-going Kenyan cases and b) immediate future of Africa-ICC relationship. (photo, African Union headquarters, credit)

As I will show below, the implication of the decision is that not only that Africa-ICC relationship is today worse than before the summit but also there is serious possibility that it would even get much worse.

Immediate context for the extraordinary summit

With the ascendance of Uhuru Kenyata and William Ruto to power in Kenya through generally free and fair elections taking advantage of the cases opened against them at the ICC, a clear case of tension between popular sovereignty (expressed through the ballot) and the demands of international justice arose. This issue predictably emerged on the agenda of the African Union when Uhuru Kenyata attended for the first time as President of Kenya the summit of the AU Assembly held in May 2013.

During the debate at the AU Assembly, many expressed the view that the continuation of the ICC cases against President Kenyata and his deputy Ruto undermines the sovereignty of the people of Kenya who expressed their will in a vote to represent them as their leaders and threatens the process of reconciliation in the country. The 21st summit of the AU Assembly accordingly adopted a decision (at p. 14) requesting the ICC to refer back to Kenya its cases against Kenyan President Kenyata and his deputy. Read the rest of this entry…

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Better Get A Lawyer: Are Legal Constraints Defeating Britain’s Armed Forces on the Battlefield?

Published on October 25, 2013        Author: 

Aurel SariAurel Sari is a Lecturer in Law at the University of Exeter and an affiliated member of its Strategy and Security Institute.

Last Friday, the Policy Exchange, a British think tank dedicated to the development and promotion of new policy ideas, published a Report entitled ‘The Fog of Law: An Introduction to the Legal Erosion of British Fighting Power’. The Report makes fascinating reading and deserves serious attention. Written by Thomas Tugendhat and Laura Croft, its aim is to explain how the cumulative effect of legal developments taking place over the past decade has undermined the ability of Britain’s armed forces to operate effectively on the battlefield. The Report questions the desirability of what it calls ‘legal mission creep’ and offers seven policy recommendations designed to reverse it or at least arrest its future development.

Undermining the warfighting ethos

Flexibility, initiative and the acceptance of risk and responsibility are central to British military doctrine. As the British Defence Doctrine puts it, one of the key components of the ‘British way of war’ is ‘a style of command that promotes decentralised command, freedom and speed of action and initiative’. ‘The Fog of Law’ brings together a considerable body of examples to suggests that the growing legal regulation and civilian oversight of the armed forces—in particular the spread of inquiries, the extension of civilian duty of care standards and the constant threat of litigation—have begun to undermine the warfighting ethos of the military and restrict commanders’ freedom to act. A series of legal developments have contributed to this change. However, Tugendhat and Croft direct their fiercest criticism against the European Convention on Human Rights, which they describe as the ‘main weapon used in the legal challenge against the [UK Ministry of Defence]’ (p. 17). In their view, the extension of ‘a civilian understanding of duty of care and rights guaranteed by the ECHR’ to combat operations represents a ‘legal intrusion into decisions made in a time of war’ (p. 28).

It is important to stress that ‘The Fog of Law’ does not advocate the complete exemption of the armed forces from the rule of law. The Report makes abundantly clear Tugendhat and Croft’s view that the problem is not the imposition of legal constraints on the armed forces as such, but the extension of civilian law to the military. Indeed, their entire discussion seems to be predicated on an underlying assumption that civilian law and military law are distinct normative regimes and that their respective spheres of application can, and should, be neatly separated from one another. Civilian law and oversight are thus depicted as alien forces which ‘intrude’, ‘assault’ and ‘intervene’ into the military sphere, ‘encircling’ it and ‘encroaching’ upon its autonomy. This is the stuff of high drama, but the accuracy of the picture painted is open to question. The assumption that there is law for civilians and law for the military seems to mistake both the nature of the problem and its solution. Read the rest of this entry…

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