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Home Archive for category "International Criminal Law"

On the Entirely Predictable Outcome of Croatia v. Serbia

Published on February 6, 2015        Author: 

This week the International Court of Justice delivered its judgment in the genocide case brought by Croatia against Serbia. The result was entirely predictable: the Court quite correctly dismissed both the Croatian claim and the Serbian counterclaim. I wrote about this on the blog before (here and here), and have also written a reaction piece intended for a lay audience for the Serbian online magazine Pescanik, which is available in English here. The nationalist reactions to and misinterpretations of the judgment in Croatia and Serbia have been equally predictable, if no less tiresome.

For its part, the Court displayed a laudable degree of both restraint (which is after all de rigueur for the ICJ) and consensus (not so much). The Court’s general approach was entirely consistent with its 2007 Bosnian Genocide judgment: repeatedly finding that acts that qualified as the actus reus of genocide were committed, but without the necessary mens rea (genocidal intent), so that there was no genocide, while the Court had no jurisdiction to determine state responsibility for any other internationally wrongful act. While there are some interesting paragraphs regarding the assessment of evidence etc, the Court basically completely followed the factual findings of the ICTY (including the controversial Gotovina appeals judgment), and rightly so. By following this general approach the Court entirely avoided some of the most interesting legal issues raised in the case, for example the question of state succession to responsibility (i.e. whether Serbia could have succeeded to the responsibility for a wrongful act of its predecessor state, the SFRY), or the question of the attribution to Serbia of the conduct of the Croatian Serb separatists by virtue of the relevant control tests.

The one question that did divide the Court was the issue of its temporal jurisdiction under the compromissory clause in Article IX of the Genocide Convention. By 11 votes to 6 the Court found that it did have the jurisdiction to examine Serbia’s responsibility for genocide allegedly committed by the SFRY (i.e. before Serbia’s independence) by virtue of succession to responsibility, while finding that it ultimately did not need to decide on the succession question because no genocide was committed (most notably during the destruction of the town of Vukovar by the Yugoslav National Army). A number of judges wrote separately on this point of the temporal extent of the Court’s jurisdiction.

On all other matters the judges were either unanimous or virtually unanimous. Even the Serbian judge ad hoc voted for the dismissal of the Serbian counterclaim, while the Croatian claim was rejected by 15 votes to 2, the two being the Croatian judge ad hoc (who wrote a rather half-hearted three-page dissenting opinion, which doesn’t really say much except that he dissents) and Judge Cancado Trindade. Judge Cancado Trindade indeed did not disappoint; in an awesome display of his Cancadotrindadeness he wrote an opinion of some 142 pages (the Court having written a total of 153), dissenting about, well, everything. The summary of his conclusions runs from ‘first’ to ‘fourty-fifth,’ and in Latin, as is only proper (that’s quadragesimus quintus for you h8ers out there).

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Two Cheers for the ICTY Popovic et al. Appeals Judgement: Some Words on the Interplay Between IHL and ICL

Published on February 4, 2015        Author: 

Two years ago, I criticised the Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) seized of the Prosecutor v. Popovic et al. for incorrectly applying international humanitarian law (IHL). In a publication dealing with the challenging interplay between IHL and international criminal law (ICL), I referred to the Popovic et al. Trial Judgement as an example of “problematic rulings” that “qualify acts as crimes against humanity although they would be legitimate under IHL, thereby penalising the behaviour of warring parties in times of armed conflict, if such behaviour formed part of a larger, criminal plan”. Now, I am happy to note that the Appeals Chamber has set the IHL-record straight.

Friday, some 4.5 years after the rendering of the Trial Judgement, the Appeals Chamber rendered its long-awaited judgement in Prosecutor v. Popovic et al. The case concerned the take-over by the Bosnian-Serb army (VRS) of the Bosnian-Muslim enclaves Srebrenica and Zepa and the crimes committed by the VRS in the aftermath, including the (genocidal) murder of several thousand (the actual number was disputed) able-bodied Muslim men. Of the various ICTY cases dealing with these events, this multi-accused case was known as theSrebrenica case”. Since the trial, one of the accused has passed away and another did not appeal his conviction. The remaining five men saw their convictions mostly upheld, bringing to a close this interesting case with accused from different components and various hierarchical levels of the Bosnian-Serb forces. Two life sentences, one 35-year sentence, and one 13-year sentence were affirmed. One sentence was reduced by one year to 18 years.

All in all, this is a good result for the Tribunal, which noted in its press release that this completes the ICTY’s largest case to date. But it is an especially good outcome for the Prosecution, as the convictions at trial were mostly upheld, with a couple of exceptions: Read the rest of this entry…

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ICJ to Hand Down Croatia v. Serbia Genocide Judgment on 3 February

Published on January 22, 2015        Author: 

As reported in Serbian and Croatian media yesterday, and officially confirmed by the Court today (press release). As for what the Court will decide, it will most likely find that no crime in the conflict in Croatia constitutes genocide, that it lacks the jurisdiction to decide on the responsibility of either state for any other crime, and that accordingly it has to reject both Croatia’s claim and Serbia’s counterclaim. By ‘most likely’ read ‘virtually inevitable, so that I would fall of my chair if the Court did anything else’ – see more here.  We’ll see whether the Court will say something interesting on various ancillary substantive questions before it reaches its main conclusion.

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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).”

Read the rest of this entry…

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‘Temporary Exclusion Orders’ and their Implications for the United Kingdom’s International Legal Obligations, Part II

Published on December 9, 2014        Author: 

This is Part II of a two-part post, a modified version of a legal opinion submitted to the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights on the proposal to introduce temporary exclusion orders of British citizens suspected of engaging in terrorist activities. Part I discussed the implications of temporary exclusion orders (TEOs) for the UK’s international legal obligations to British citizens. This Part discusses the implications for its obligations to other States.

Responsibility to other States

There is no justification in international law for the exclusion, even temporarily, of British citizens from the United Kingdom. So far as such exclusion engages the legal interests of other States, there may be some scope for agreements with the UK. However, no such agreement can avoid the UK’s international legal obligations towards its citizens – they continue and cannot be outsourced.

The unstated premise of ‘host State’ assistance is, necessarily, the existence of an agreement between the United Kingdom and any such State. The Home Office Impact Assessment on temporary exclusion orders refers briefly and on just a few occasions to ‘host’ States, to describe those which will be expected to carry the burden of the TEO policy, including the risks which presumably accompany harbouring individuals suspected of terrorist associations. The Impact Assessment refers repeatedly to the risk which terrorism might pose to the United Kingdom, but not at all to any such risk to ‘host’ States. Moreover, apart from one reference to discussions with France in relation to juxtaposed controls, neither this document nor any other mentions the necessity for agreements, or considers the elements which might well be considered essential. Read the rest of this entry…

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Why the ICC Should Be Cautious to Use the Islamic State to Get Out of Africa: Part 2

Published on December 4, 2014        Author: 

Leadership accountability or symbolic responsibility?

Using nationality jurisdiction to focus on the accountability of ‘foreign fighters’ is likely to entail a fundamental shift in prosecutorial policy. The OTP has traditionally defended a focus on leadership accountability, i.e. prosecution of ‘those who bear the greatest responsibility for the most serious crimes’. This concept was a cornerstone of prosecutorial strategy during the Ocampo era, and has been applied in early prosecutorial practice (e.g., Prosecutorial Strategy 2009-2012). The OTP has slightly adjusted its strategy in its Strategic Plan 2012-2015 (para. 22) where it recognized the need to gradually build cases upwards. It defended a bottom-up approach based on ‘limitations in investigative possibilities and/or a lack of cooperation and the required evidentiary standards’. It argued that the Office would first investigate and prosecute ‘a limited number of mid- and high-level perpetrators’ in order to ultimately ‘have a reasonable chance to convict the most responsible’. It also noted that the Office would consider ‘prosecuting lower level perpetrators where their conduct has been particularly grave and has acquired extensive notoriety’ since such a strategy would ‘in the end be more cost-effective than having unsuccessful or no prosecutions against the highest placed perpetrators’.

Read the rest of this entry…

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Why the ICC Should Be Cautious to Use the Islamic State to Get Out of Africa: Part 1

Published on December 3, 2014        Author: 

It is tempting to say that the International Criminal Court (ICC) should open a preliminary examination into the violence of the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (‘Islamic State’, hereinafter IS). IS has branded itself as an enemy of the West. Its atrocities are attacks on the very foundation of human dignity and conceptions of civilization. They shock the conscience of humankind. Some of the rhetoric denies the very norms and rules on which international law has been built for centuries. Evidence of atrocities is displayed publicly to illustrate power and spread fear. Records indicate that high numbers of nationals of ICC State Parties have been mobilized as so-called foreign fighters, including nationals of Western countries, North Africa (e.g., Tunisia) and the Middle East (e.g., Jordan). The ICC is in a position of vulnerability. It is under perceived pressure to ‘get out of Africa’.

At first sight, all of the factors make IS a perfect target for ICC intervention. Prosecutor Bensouda noted in an interview on 20 November that the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) would consider options of ICC engagement. ICC assessment is at an early stage, i.e. Phase 1 of preliminary examinations where the OTP makes an initial assessment of all information to analyse the seriousness of information received and identify the crime base. But taking IS crimes to the ICC poses particular problems that deserve careful consideration. Starting it on a wrong premise might compromise some of the very foundations on which the legitimacy of the ICC is based.

Read the rest of this entry…

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Some Reflections on the Legal Treatment of Terrorism: Marking the 11th Seminar of the Latin American Study Group on International Criminal Law

At its last seminar, which took place in Lima from 27 to 29 October 2014, the Latin American Study Group on International Criminal Law (Link KAS/Link CEDPAL) discussed the complex phenomenon of terrorism in its Latin American context. Taking group members’ presentations as its starting point, the debate focused on how this phenomenon is being dealt with in some Latin American states and the transnational and international issues arising in consequence. The following main problems were identified: the lack of conceptual clarity in the definition of terrorism as a criminal offence, the flexibilisation of the principle of legality, the disproportionality of punishments, forms of procedure that seem dubious from the perspective of the rule of law, and a populist, warlike discourse (“guerra al terrorismo”). The most important conclusions were included in the so-called Declaration of Lima, which is printed at the end of this brief report.

Over and above aspects of criminal law in a narrower sense, the fight against terrorism challenges states from a criminological and socioeconomic point of view, as well as from the perspective of criminal policy. Furthermore, the political populist discourse on terrorism has influenced the way terrorism is treated in criminal law. This topic’s complexity starts with the lack of conceptual and terminological clarity concerning what is actually to be understood as terrorism and accordingly what is to be prosecuted and punished. The lack of a definition of terrorism that has been mutually agreed upon at an international level has led to (the possibility of) very different acts – ranging from social protest to the undifferentiated use of weapons of great destructive power – being called terrorist.

In the Declaration of Lima, the study group explicitly acknowledges that terrorism is a serious crime; however, this does not free the states in question from their obligation to observe the boundaries set by the rule of law. This is why it is necessary to create a very precise legal definition of the relevant punishable conduct and observe the principle of proportionality when determining the extent of the punishment and the concrete sanction to be applied. Furthermore, no special jurisidiction may be created. In addition, the principles and rules of fair trial under the rule of law must apply in the same way they do to other criminal offences. Read the rest of this entry…

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Geoff Corn and Guglielmo Verdirame take part in Transatlantic Dialogue on International Law and Armed Conflict

Published on September 19, 2014        Author: 

This week guglielmo-verdirame_0 Professors Geoff Corn (left, South Texas College of Law)j-corn and Guglielmo Verdirame (right, Kings College London & barrister at 20 Essex Street) contributed pieces in the joint blog series arising out of the Transatlantic Workshop on International Law and Armed Conflict held in Oxford this past July.

Geoff Corn’s piece, “Squaring the Circle: The Intersection of Battlefield Regulation and Criminal Responsibility”, was posted at Lawfare at the start of this week. In this thoughtful pose, Geoff says:

“I sought to highlight what I believe are several evidentiary and institutional complexities associated with subjecting commanders and other operational decision-makers to criminal accountability for battle-command judgments – complexities that will become more significant as cases focus increasingly on complex operational decision-making, particularly in relation to targeting.”

He raises a number of important issues relating to the feasibility of international criminal prosecutions to produce credible accountability decisions in relation to battlefield decision-making. One question he addresses, which is particularly novel but really important is this:

“[A] complicated aspect of criminal prosecution based on alleged unlawful targeting decisions is the relationship between LOAC/IHL presumptions and criminal burdens of proof. The presumption of innocence an axiomatic component of any fundamentally fair trial, and imposes on the prosecution the burden of production and the burden of persuasion. However, several LOAC/IHL targeting rules are based on presumptions which, when applied in the criminal context, arguably shift the burden of production to the defense.”

At the the end of the week, Guglielmo’s piece, “Taming War through Law – A Philosophical & Legal Perspective” , was posted on InterCross (the blog of the ICRC. Guglielmo begins his post in this way:

“The relationship between theory and practice in international law eludes easy explanations. In the history of international law there are examples of ideas shaping practice. But at times the phenomenon of international law – with its complex mix of state practice, adjudication and politics – finds directions not foreseen by any theory.

The application of human rights law to armed conflict may be a case in point. It emerged over the last two decades from the decisions of international and domestic courts without being preceded by a reflection – by jurists, policy-makers or others – on how human rights could contribute to regulating armed conflict. Can this development be accommodated within the system of international law or does it in some way challenge its architecture?”

His post then examines the work of Kant, Grotius and Hobbes, together with decisions of the European Court of Human Rights and the UK courts, in his survey of the question whether human rights law should apply to armed conflicts.

 

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The Conviction of Cambodian Khmer Rouge Leaders– Justice at last?

Published on September 18, 2014        Author: 

On 7 August 2014, the Trial Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) delivered its second trial judgment. This lengthy decision addressed the criminal responsibility of the two remaining ‘senior leaders’ of the Democratic Kampuchea regime that are the subject of Case 002: Noun Chea (Pol Pot’s second in command) and Khieu Samphan (the President of the State Presidium and the ‘public face’ of the regime). Both were convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life imprisonment, the maximum penalty available under the ECCC Law. The Chamber also endorsed a number of reparations projects requested by civil parties. The judgment is significant for its detailed consideration of one of the most vivid images of the Khmer Rouge era – the evacuation of Phnom Penh and other cities, and whether this population movement was contrary to international law.

Case 002 concerns crimes committed throughout Cambodia during the entire period of the Democratic Kampuchea regime, which existed from 17 April 1975 to 6 January 1979. It is one of the most complex cases to be conducted before an international or internationalised criminal tribunal. Recognising this, as well the uncertain nature of funding for the ECCC and the fear that the advanced age of the accused meant there was a real possibility that they would not live to judgment, the Trial Chamber severed Case 002 into separate trials in September 2011. The judgment delivered in August is the first in this series of trials (hence Case 002/01), and is limited to considering three crime ‘sites’ only: the evacuation of the population of Phnom Penh (and other cities) into the countryside in April 1975 (first population movement); a further movement of the population between various zones from September 1975 to at least December 1977 (second population movement); and the execution of former Khmer Republic officials and soldiers in connection with the first population movement, in particular the executions committed at Tuol Po Chrey in April 1975. All other crime sites and policies are to be considered in future ‘mini-trials’. Read the rest of this entry…

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