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Canada Avoids Indigenous Reconciliation and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Published on July 3, 2019        Author: 
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If you believe that Canada is a country filled with self-effacing and polite people, you may miss the genocidal violence within its borders. First Nations, Inuit, and Métis have always known that the Government of Canada along with the Canadian provincial governments have deliberately implemented and enabled the continuous annihilation of Indigenous peoples. The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls found in its report, released earlier this month, that Indigenous women were 12 times more likely to be killed or to disappear than other women in Canada. The report concluded that this violence is the result of historical and ongoing race-based genocide against Indigenous peoples.

The National Inquiry was commissioned by the Government of Canada in 2015 to launch a public inquiry into the disproportionate levels of violence against Indigenous women and girls. It was the result of long-standing pressure from grassroots family members and survivors, community organizations and national Indigenous organizations, international human rights organizations, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. It took a tragedy in 2014 to lead to a public inquiry: the body of Tina Fontaine, a 15-year-old girl from the Sagkeeng First Nation, was found in the Red River in Winnipeg, Manitoba wrapped in a duvet weighed down with 25 pounds of rocks; when the main murder suspect was acquitted, people across the country were outraged which generated wide-spread calls for an investigation into why Indigenous girls and women were dying at a high rate.

The report’s conclusion was not new news to anyone who understood Canadian politics. What is noteworthy is that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau publicly accepted that Canada has committed and continues to commit genocide. Many citizens and prominent officials in Canada, however, had a visceral reaction against the characterization of the violence as genocidal. It did not match the story that Canadian citizens and government officials tell themselves about Canada as a promoter of international human rights abroad or of what they thought modern genocide looks like.

Never has international law forced Canada to face itself so honestly. Some are arguing that because genocide did not exist as an international crime before the 1948 Geneva Conventions, the colonial violence in Canada’s past may not fall under the gambit of modern international criminal law (here and here) even if they reverberate today. These arguments, however, treat colonialism in Canada as a punctuated historical phenomenon. Read the rest of this entry…

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Symposium on the Genocide Convention: Is the Duty to Prevent Genocide an Obligation of Result or an Obligation of Conduct according to the ICJ?

Published on May 16, 2019        Author: 
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Editor’s note: This is the final post in our blog symposium arising out of the Nottingham International Law and Security Centre conference to mark the 70th Anniversary of the Genocide Convention. Read the other posts in this symposium here and here.

This post questions the findings of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the 2007 Bosnia v. Serbia case, according to which the duty to prevent a genocide is an obligation of conduct that can be assessed only after the occurrence of a genocide. The post first briefly explores the distinction between obligations of conduct and obligations of result on the basis of the International Law Commission (ILC)’s works and judicial practice. The post moves on to emphasise some inconsistencies in the ICJ’s reasoning in relation to the occurrence of a genocide as a prerequisite for the violation of the duty to prevent genocide. Finally, the post advances some possible explanations of the role of the event ‘genocide’ in relation to the duty to prevent genocide.

The 2007 ICJ’s Decision

In the 2007 Bosnia v. Serbia case, the Court for the first time declared that an autonomous obligation of diligent conduct to prevent genocide exists under Article I of the 1948 Genocide Convention (see my reflections here). According to the Court:

It is clear that the obligation in question is one of conduct and not one of result, in the sense that a State cannot be under an obligation to succeed, whatever the circumstances, in preventing the commission of genocide: the obligation of States parties is rather to employ all means reasonably available to them, so as to prevent genocide so far as possible. A State does not incur responsibility simply because the desired result is not achieved; responsibility is however incurred if the State manifestly failed to take all measures to prevent genocide which were within its power, and which might have contributed to preventing the genocide. In this area the notion of “due diligence”, which calls for an assessment in concreto, is of critical importance. (para 430, emphasis added)

The Court went on to affirm that a breach of the duty to prevent genocide can be assessed only after a genocide has occurred. The Court took the view that:

a State can be held responsible for breaching the obligation to prevent genocide only if genocide was actually committed. It is at the time when commission of the prohibited act (genocide or any of the other acts listed in Article III of the Convention) begins that the breach of an obligation of prevention occurs. […] If neither genocide nor any of the other acts listed in Article III of the Convention are ultimately carried out, then a State that omitted to act when it could have done so cannot be held responsible a posteriori, since the event did not happen. (para 431, emphasis added)

However, the view that a genocide must occur before a State’s compliance with the duty to prevent genocide can be assessed ignores the fact that this duty is a due diligence obligation of conduct. This conclusion is supported by the analysis of the evolution of the notion of obligations of conduct. Read the rest of this entry…

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Symposium on the Genocide Convention: Reflecting on the Genocide Convention at 70: How genocide became a crime subject to universal jurisdiction

Published on May 16, 2019        Author: 
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Editor’s note: This is the second post in our blog symposium arising out of the Nottingham International Law and Security Centre conference to mark the 70th Anniversary of the Genocide Convention. Read the first post here.

The 9th of December 2018 marked the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide 1948 by the United Nations General Assembly. Article 6 of the Convention expressly grants adjudicatory jurisdiction to the territorial State (the State where the crime occurred) and to an international penal tribunal with the acceptance of the Contracting Parties. However, the textual content of the Article has not prevented the application of extraterritorial jurisdiction to the crime, including universal criminal jurisdiction. Reflecting on the Genocide Convention at 70, this post briefly analyses the development of universal jurisdiction over the crime of genocide. It explains how Article 6 has led to the application of the universality principle to the crime, and considers what can be learned from this phenomenon in the context of the legacy of the Genocide Convention.

The origins of the application of universal jurisdiction to genocide began decades before the drafting of the Genocide Convention in 1947. Read the rest of this entry…

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Symposium on the Genocide Convention: Codification of the Crime of Genocide – a Blessing or a Curse?

Published on May 15, 2019        Author: 
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Editor’s note: This is the first post in our blog symposium arising out of the Nottingham International Law and Security Centre conference to mark the 70th Anniversary of the Genocide Convention. 

Codification of the crime of genocide

A lot has been written about the origins of the crime of genocide that need not be repeated here. It is well known that Lemkin originally saw genocide as a broad concept, i.e. as different acts aimed at destroying the culture and livelihood of groups (Axis Rule in Occupied Power, pp. 79-82). Along the same lines, the 1946 UN General Assembly Resolution 96 described genocide as the denial of the right of existence of entire human groups – including political ones. However, the scope of the definition adopted in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was significantly narrower. Cultural destruction and forcible population transfer were not included in the final text, protected groups were restricted, and jurisdictional reach limited. Yet, the Convention must be understood in the context of time. Indeed, having in mind the historical background, it is quite remarkable that the Convention was adopted at all – and broad support was generated by making concessions and imposing more stringent requirements.

Since the Genocide Convention defined and codified the crime of genocide as an independent crime, the definition of genocide has remained firmly settled in international law. Perhaps prematurely, the ICJ had already proclaimed its customary status in 1951, which was subsequently fortified by the verbatim reproduction of Article II of the Genocide Convention in the statutes of international ad hoc tribunals (here and here) as well as the Rome Statute of the ICC. This surely contributed to legal certainty and, from this perspective, codification can be viewed as a blessing for the relatively consistent application of the definition of genocide at the international level. Yet, simultaneously, it was a curse, preventing the crime from undergoing a development similar to that of crimes against humanity and even war crimes. This downside of the early codification could have been at least partially addressed through teleological and evolutive interpretation of the offence. The international tribunals, however, failed to realize the potential of the definition and thus contributed to frustrations surrounding prosecutions of genocide as well as to claims that genocide today is a redundant crime. Read the rest of this entry…

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Introducing Upcoming Blog Symposium on the Genocide Convention

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Editor’s note: Starting this afternoon, the blog will host a symposium arising out of the Nottingham International Law and Security Centre conference to mark the 70th Anniversary of the Genocide Convention.

On 9 December 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in response to the Holocaust. It was designed to prevent and punish ‘acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group’. At present, 150 states have ratified this treaty in the hope that current and future generations would not have to experience such heinous atrocities as committed during the Second World War.

Over the past seventy years, the legal concept of genocide has had time to evolve and mature. States and the international community have been given the impetus to prevent, prosecute and punish genocide to deliver on their historic promise that it would happen ‘never again’. The recent 70th anniversary of the Genocide Convention inspires reflection on its development and critical assessment of its legacy.

The Nottingham International Law and Security Centre, co-directed by Professors Mary Footer and Nigel White, organised and sponsored an interdisciplinary conference to mark the ‘70th Anniversary of the Genocide Convention’ in November 2018. In three panels, the participants focused on the conceptualisation of genocide, jurisdictional matters and universality, and responsibility. Three of the best papers, one for each panel, were then selected for this small blog symposium on EJIL: Talk!. Read the rest of this entry…

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ICC Appeals Chamber Holds that Heads of State Have No Immunity Under Customary International Law Before International Tribunals

Published on May 6, 2019        Author: 
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The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has, this morning, issued what seems to be an extremely controversial decision on Head of State Immunity. At the time of writing, the full written judgment is not yet available in the appeal by Jordan against the decision of the Pre-Trial Chamber referring that state to the UN Security Council for failing to arrest then President of Sudan, Omar Al Bashir when he attended an Arab League Summit in March 2017.  However, in the oral and written summary of the judgment, delivered this morning by the President of the Court, Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji, the Appeals Chamber appears to have held that under customary international law, heads of state have no immunity from criminal prosecution international criminal courts. The provision in Article 27(2) of the ICC Statute that “Immunities or special procedural rules which may attach to the official capacity of a person, whether under national or international law, shall not bar the Court from exercising its jurisdiction over such a person” , according to the summary of the judgment:

“represents more than a stipulation in treaty law. The provision also reflects the status of customary international law, as it concerns the jurisdiction that an international criminal court is properly entitled to exercise.”

In so holding, the Appeals Chamber, once again changes the basis on which the ICC has held that the Sudanese (now former) President was not immune from the arrest in ICC states parties that he visited (for a quick overview of the Court’s previous inconsistent decisions, see this AJIL Unbound piece). Indeed the Appeals Chamber appears to explicitly endorse the much criticised decision of Pre-Trial chamber I in the Malawi Decision. The Summary states that:

“39. In this regard, the Appeals Chamber is fully satisfied that the pronouncements made by the Pre-Trial Chamber I in the Malawi Referral Decision — and those made by the Appeals Chamber of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in the case of Charles Taylor (who was indicted before that international court when he was the sitting President of Liberia) — have adequately and correctly confirmed the absence of a rule of customary international law recognising Head of State immunity before international courts in the exercise of proper jurisdiction. 
40. The effect of absence of a rule of customary law recognising Head of State immunity, in relation to international courts, is not readily avoided through the backdoor: by asserting immunity that operates in the horizontal relationship between States, in a manner that would effectively bar an international court from exercising its jurisdiction over the person whose arrest and surrender it has requested. The law does not readily condone something to be done through the backdoor, if the law has forbidden the thing to be done through the front door.”

This is stunning and appears to be deeply misguided. It is also, in my opinion, a very dangerous and unwise move for the Court to make. This reasoning appears to assert that parties to the Rome Statute, have, by creating the Court, taken away the rights of non-party states under international law. Dangerous because this reasoning is likely to stiffen opposition to the Court by non-parties. The John Bolton’s of this world and many people far more reasonable will point to this ruling to set out precisely why it is important to oppose this court and other international criminal courts. As I stated here many years ago, the Malawi decision was a terrible one.  It was very poorly reasoned and roundly criticised by others as well (see Bill Schabas and Dov Jacobs). It is extremely disappointing to see it resurrected. Not least because the issue of the immunity of heads of state before international criminal courts is not what is at issue in these cases. What was is at issue is the immunity of heads of states from arrest by other states acting at the request of an international criminal court. That the head of state may not have immunity before the international criminal court does not, without more, say anything about whether he or she may have immunity before a foreign state.

Read the rest of this entry…

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Drėlingas v. Lithuania (ECHR): Ethno-Political Genocide Confirmed?

Published on April 15, 2019        Author: 
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The European Court of Human Rights on 12th of March issued a judgment in the case of Drėlingas v. Lithuania (Application no. 28859/16). The case at the ECHR was considered under Article 7 and focused on the principle of nullum crimen sine lege. However, in broader terms this case dealt with the definition of genocide, and the protected group issue in particular. This judgement continues a series of judgements related to Soviet mass repressions in the Baltic States after they were occupied and annexed by the Soviet Union and “sovietised” in a most brutal way from 1940 up to Stalin’s death in 1953. In fact, this case is a continuation of the case Vasiliauskas v. Lithuania (Application no. 35343/05), discussed on this blog previously

The main facts of the Drėlingas case are as follows: Drėlingas was an operative of the soviet repression structures (MGB/KGB) and in 1956 he participated in the arrest of one of the most famous anti-soviet armed resistance (partisans) leaders – A. R. (nome de guerre “Vanagas”) and his wife B. M. “Vanda”. After being captured, Vanagas was horribly tortured, maimed, then tried by the Soviet court and eventually executed, his wife was deported to Siberia. These events happened after the active armed resistance was almost over, while Vanagas and his wife were still on the run. After restoring Lithuania’s independence in 1990, Drėlingas was put on trial in 2014 and sentenced for his participation in genocide, as an accessory to the crime.

The last sentence perhaps needs further explanation. Back in the 1990s, Lithuania was one of a handful of countries that adopted a broader definition of genocide in its national laws; it included political and social groups together with national, ethnic, racial and religious. The main aim of this was to address the historic Soviet crimes. However, it soon became clear that the direct inclusion of political and social groups in the genocide definition created a conflict with the internationally accepted definition of genocide. Another approach was needed, and it was tested in the case of Vasiliauskas (mentioned above). Read the rest of this entry…

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Part I- This is not fine: The International Criminal Court in Trouble

Published on March 21, 2019        Author: 
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Editor’s note: This is Part I of a three-part series.

There is now a real sense that the International Criminal Court is in trouble. The questions are: how much, why and what is to be done?

The UK pulled no punches in its statement to the 17th International Criminal Court Assembly of State Parties:

The United Kingdom strongly supports the aims of the ICC and believes there is an essential role for an international institution like the Court in delivery of justice at the international level. But as an Assembly of States Parties to the Statute, we cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend everything is fine when it isn’t. The statistics are sobering. After [nearly] 20 years, and 1.5 billion Euros spent we have only three core crime convictions. As others have said, and I quote “it is undeniable that the Rome project still falls short of the expectations of the participants at that ground-breaking conference in Rome”. The time has come for States to take a fundamental look at how the Court is operating. We need to work together to address the challenges, for the future health of the Court, a Court that we care about deeply.

The UK statement, delivered by Legal Director Andrew Murdoch,* ‘welcome[d] the steps taken by the Prosecutor to investigate the media allegations surrounding the former Prosecutor that surfaced twelve months ago’ and noted that the ‘Court is in danger of spending more money on internal litigation, including litigation on salaries, than on victims’.

Some will no doubt point to ongoing ICC investigations into the actions of UK personnel in Iraq, to impugn the UK’s motives in making these points. Its criticisms, however, are undeniably grounded in fact. Things are not fine. In April it will be 16 years since the Court’s first prosecutor was sworn in. A widespread sense among the ICC’s supporters that there is some soul-searching to be done about the future direction of the Court has only been heightened in the weeks since the Gbagbo acquittal.

Let’s be clear about the paucity of concrete results. There have been eight convictions, one overturned on appeal, one arising from a guilty plea and four relating to Article 70 administration of justice offences. The four convictions for offences against the administration of justice all arise out of the Central African Republic investigation and involve sentences of 6 months to 3 years. The other convictions may be summarised as:

  • Bemba (CAR) – sentenced to 18 years, overturned on appeal; an administration of justice case continues;
  • Katanga (DRC) – sentenced to 12 years, transferred back to DRC custody with ‘sentence served’ after 8 years;
  • Lubanga (DRC) – convicted to 14 years;
  • Al-Mahdi (Mali) – proceeded on a guilty plea and was sentenced to 9 years.

This is to set aside the very considerable disquiet expressed regarding the Katanga conviction, involving the dismissal of charges against his alleged co-perpetrator and judicial recharacterization of the relevant mode of liability after the close of proceedings. There is also now the very public embarrassment of both the collapse of the Kenya situation prosecutions and now the entry of acquittals on a “no case to answer” motion by the Trial Chamber in Gbagbo. As Labuda notes, if the Gbagbo acquittal is upheld on appeal, the ICC will be in the ‘rather awkward’ position of having acquitted more alleged international criminal than it has convicted. Indeed, as Dürr points out, to have more acquittals and terminated proceedings than convictions is unique among international criminal tribunals.

There are certainly more complex, and arguably more important, metrics by which to judge the success or failure of an international criminal tribunal than the number of its convictions. Indeed, we would rightly be sceptical of the fairness of proceedings that only resulted in conviction. However, to the extent that the Court is meant to serve expressivist goals, fight impunity, or deter atrocity – it must present some credible threat to those who should fear accountability. It is often argued that the simple possibility of ICC accountability may deter atrocity and that the existence of institutions may change behaviour. As lawyers we know that behaviour changes in the ‘shadow of the court’, but that court must first cast a shadow.

In a series of reflections, I will argue that we should now be very worried about the extent to which the Court is casting much of a shadow at all. In exploring who and what is to blame for this situation, I will pursue two themes: conditions and culture. Read the rest of this entry…

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‘Open for Business’: The Special Criminal Court Launches Investigations in the Central African Republic

Published on February 8, 2019        Author: 
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On 22 October 2018, the Special Criminal Court (SCC) held its inaugural session in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR). Several weeks later, the Special Prosecutor, Col. Toussaint Muntazini, announced his long-awaited prosecutorial strategy. Coming three years after Parliament initially requested a specialist ‘war crimes’ tribunal for CAR, these two acts mark a watershed in the country’s fight against impunity. After providing some background on the SCC, this post examines the prosecutorial strategy and the prospects of accountability in CAR.

The Legal Framework

Established by domestic legislation in June 2015, the SCC is a hybrid tribunal fully integrated into the Central African justice system. It is staffed by national and international prosecutors and judges, and relies on logistical and technical support from the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR. Funded by voluntary contributions, the SCC is functionally independent from both the United Nations and CAR government. Its five-year mandate, which officially began on 22 October 2018, is renewable.

Prosecutorial Strategy

Why did the SCC publicize its prosecutorial strategy? Other tribunals, for instance the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, never made their strategies public (to the extent such strategies existed). The SCC’s decision to ‘go public’ is more in line with the International Criminal Court (ICC)’s practice of adopting formal policies on a variety of matters. Read the rest of this entry…

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