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The International Court of Justice and the Concept of Aggression: Lessons for the ICC?

Published on July 3, 2015        Author: 

The Kampala Amendments to the Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) adopted in June 2010 define the crime of aggression for the purposes of the ICC Statute and set out the conditions under which the ICC will exercise jurisdiction with respect to that crime. It was decided in Kampala that the aggression amendments will only become operational, in the sense that the ICC can only exercise jurisdiction over the crime of aggression: (i) one year after the aggression amendments have come into force for at least 30 States and (ii) if the ICC Assembly of State Parties adopts a further decision to activate that jurisdiction, with 1 January 2017 being the earliest date for the adoption of that decision [Arts. 15 bis (2) & (3) & 15ter (2) & (3), ICC Statute]. Given that 23 states have now ratified or accepted the aggression amendments and that 1 January 2017 is under 18 months away, the activation of the ICC’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression is not very far away at all [see this report on action by other states considering ratification]. As that moment – when the ICC is able to exercise jurisdiction over aggression approaches – attention will turn (back) to a couple of issues that remain unresolved with respect to the interpretation of the Kampala amendments. One of those issues is whether the Court will be entitled to exercise jurisdiction over the nationals of a party to the Rome Statute which has not accepted the aggression amendments but which is alleged to have committed aggression on the territory of a state party that has ratified or accepted those amendments (see previous discussion here & here). The second issue is the interpretation to be given to the definition of the crime of aggression under the Kampala amendments.

Article 8 bis(1), of the ICC Statute provides that: “For the purpose of this Statute, “crime of aggression” means the planning, preparation, initiation or execution, by a person in a position effectively to exercise control over or to direct the political or military action of a State, of an act of aggression which, by its character, gravity and scale, constitutes a manifest violation of the Charter of the United Nations.”

The relationship between the concept of the “crime of aggression” and of “act of aggression” under the ICC Statute and under general international law respectively remains unclear. Under the Kampala amendment only an “act of aggression” which by “character, gravity and scale, constitutes a manifest violation of the Charter of the United Nations” can amount to the “crime of aggression” attracting individual criminal responsibility. Despite attempts in interpretive Understandings adopted in Kampala to give guidance with respect to the definition of the crime, the ICC will have its work cut out in establishing what amounts to a manifest violation of the UN Charter such that it should be regarded as the crime of aggression.

As the concept of aggression is one which relates not merely to individual criminal responsibility but builds on state responsibility for unlawful uses of force, it is instructive to examine how the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has dealt with the concept of aggression. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Emerging Reparations Case-Law of the ICC Appeals Chamber in Comparative Perspective

Published on June 12, 2015        Author: 

Reparations for victims of international crimes or serious human rights violations have received increasing attention from international courts. The most recent example is the Judgment on the Appeals against the “Decision establishing the principles and procedures to be applied to reparations” rendered by the Appeals Chamber (AC) of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in Lubanga on 3 March 2015. (See this previous post.) The present contribution compares how three key reparations issues are addressed by the ICC Appeals Chamber and by two other courts: the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR). Besides the ICC, the ECCC is the only international or hybrid criminal court where victims can claim reparations. The IACtHR’s reparations case-law has been seminal for decades, and references to its case-law by the ICC and ECCC reflect an ongoing dialogue. The three issues on which the courts are compared are: who can claim reparations, who is obliged to pay reparations, and what reparations can victims obtain

Who can claim and benefit from reparations?

Under rule 85(a) of the ICC Rules of Procedure and Evidence (RPE), victims are “natural persons who have suffered harm as a result of the commission of any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court”. Only victims who suffered harm as a result of the crimes for which the accused was convicted are eligible to claim reparations against him/her (AC Judgment, para. 8). At the ECCC, rule 23bis(1) is the equivalent rule 85(a) defining victims. However, unlike the ICC, the ECCC rules and case-law require a direct causal link between the victim’s harm and the crimes for which the accused was convicted (rule 23bis(1); Case 002/01, Trial Chamber Judgment, para. 1114).

Given the absence of a direct causal link requirement before the ICC, the AC should have considered sexual and gender-based violence as harm resulting from the crimes for which Lubanga was convicted (AC Judgment, paras. 196-198). During his trial, there was robust evidence of sexual exploitation of minors by armed forces or groups. The UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict considered such sexual exploitation as providing essential support to the armed groups and, thus, as active participation in hostilities (Lubanga, Trial Judgment, para. 630). Accordingly, this sexual exploitation was arguably linked to the child soldiers-related crimes for which Lubanga was convicted. The AC should therefore have upheld the Trial Chamber’s finding of reparable harm from sexual and gender violence (paras. 207-209). Read the rest of this entry…

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What Lies Beneath the ‘G’ Word? Genocide-Labelling and Fact-Finding at the UN

Published on May 28, 2015        Author: 

In late 2013, the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide warned that “there is a risk of genocide” in the Central African Republic (CAR). A year later, with thousands dead and hundreds of thousands displaced, a UN-mandated Commission of Inquiry (CoI) determined that genocide had not occurred because “the threshold requirement to prove the existence of the necessary element of genocidal intent ha[d] not been established…” (Executive Summary). Their answer seems clear, and yet this post will argue the Commission may have reached the wrong conclusion. In doing so, it will also draw attention to discrepancies between the UN’s classifications of genocide and raise questions about the powers of fact-finding bodies more generally.

It should be noted at the outset that the CoI left little doubt that serious crimes had been committed in CAR. Established at the request of the Security Council, the Commission had a mandate to investigate violations dating back to January 2013 when Séléka fighters began their march on CAR’s capital, Bangui. Though some of the worst violence took place on its watch, the Commission could not “establish with any degree of accuracy the number of people who were killed in the conflict.” Conceding that the available estimates “fail to capture the full magnitude of the killings that occurred”, it nevertheless concluded that “all the parties were involved in serious violations of international humanitarian law and gross abuses of human rights including rape and other gender based sexual offences and violations.”

What about genocide?

The CoI’s analysis of this key question begins with the applicable law, where it notes that genocide requires the actus reus (‘specific acts committed against specific groups’), the mens rea of specific (genocidal) intent, and – in line with the Rome Statute’s Elements of Crimes – ‘a manifest pattern of similar conduct directed against the targeted group’ (para. 450). Against this backdrop, the report establishes that the genocide label would prima facie apply only to acts committed by the Christian anti-balaka against CAR’s Muslims. Crucially, genocide would not be applicable to attacks committed by Muslims against Christians. The Commission then assesses the case law of several tribunals in order to distinguish ethnic cleansing from genocide.

This is where the legal analysis takes a perplexing turn. Before it has a chance to examine the legal elements of genocide, the CoI says (para. 452):

…the information available to it reveals repeated instances of crimes against humanity amounting to the fact pattern of ethnic cleansing committed by the anti-balaka in the areas in which Muslims had been living. In terms of criminal responsibility, however, the Commission is of the view that these acts of ethnic cleansing would best be prosecuted with (sic) under the rubric of crimes against humanity, which is the crime category that is explicitly recognized in the Rome Statute and in the relevant legislation of the CAR… [T]he facts of the situation indicated that… crimes against humanity… capture the full essence of the policy of ethnic cleansing that was pursued.

There are two problems with this conclusion. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Situation Concerning the Islamic State: Carte Blanche for the ICC if the Security Council Refers?

Published on May 27, 2015        Author: 

At a meeting of the UN Security Council held on 27 March 2015, the possibility of a referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) of the situation relating to the so-called Islamic State (IS aka ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh) was vigorously discussed. At that meeting, which was convened by France and chaired by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (who had travelled to New York specifically to preside over the meeting), more than a dozen of States lined up to call for a Council referral. However, confusion seemed to rein over what should be referred to the ICC. While most States appealed for a referral of the situation in Syria, some urged a referral of the situation in Iraq, others called for a referral of the situation in both States, and, finally, a few remained purposefully vague by calling for a referral of ‘the situation’, ‘the matter’, and even ‘the cases’ to the ICC. One issue was, however, clear: the reason to refer a situation to the ICC would be to make members of IS accountable for the crimes they committed.

This discussion about the possibility of prosecuting IS members at the ICC raises the question whether “situations” referred to the ICC must be defined by reference to a given territory. Is it possible to refer a worldwide situation relating to a group to the Court? Or must the situation referred be one occurring in a particular geographical location or in a particular state?

On 8th April 2015, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda stated that she will not open a preliminary examination concerning alleged crimes committed by IS, unless Iraq or Syria or the Security Council (SC) provide jurisdiction to the ICC. As Barrie Sander has noted this statement was an attempt by the Prosecutor to pressure States and, especially, the Security Council, to assume their responsibility and confer jurisdiction on the ICC over this situation.

Despite the Prosecutor’s ‘clarification’, neither Iraq nor Syria or the Security Council has yet taken action. Subsequent to her statement, Lithuania, Chile and the UK’ representatives at the UN have continued to push for a Council referral of the situation in Syria to the ICC – but to no avail. The position of Russia and China concerning a referral of Syria is known. They vetoed a similar attempt last year. One may think that the recent attempts to refer IS are trying to push through the window what some members of the Council were unable to push through the door in 2014. However, there is a difference. A Security Council referral of the crimes committed by IS tout court would enable the Prosecutor to charge members of IS not only for crimes committed in Syria or in Iraq but also for crimes committed in Libya, Yemen, Tunisia, France, and why not in the United States. Read the rest of this entry…

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Reparative Justice after the Lubanga Appeals Judgment on Principles and Procedures of Reparation

Published on April 7, 2015        Author: 

On 3 March 2015, the Appeals Chamber (AC) of the International Criminal Court (ICC) rendered its judgment on the principles and procedures of reparation. The decision is of systemic significance for international criminal justice, since it establishes a liability regime for reparations that is grounded in the principle of accountability of the convicted person towards victims. This new “principle of liability to remedy harm’ complements the punitive dimensions of ICC justice (e.g. conviction, sentence). It differs from purely civil forms of liability due to its connection to criminal proceedings which requires reconciliation of both, the rights of victims and the rights of the convicted person. This contribution analyzes the merits and risks of the judgment It argues that the decision marks significant progress over the initial Trial Chamber decision (TC), since it increases the expressivist dimensions of reparation proceedings and the prospects of participatory justice. But it also highlights existing tensions in the decision, such as its limited attention to societal frictions created through reparations, and its minimalist approach to non-accountability related objectives of reparation.

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Double Duty at the ICC

Published on January 12, 2015        Author: 

After days of speculation, the clouds have begun to clear over Palestine’s strategy at the ICC. Ever since the Security Council rejected a draft resolution on December 30, 2014 designed to upgrade Palestine’s status to full Member State of the UN and imposing a 12-month deadline on a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the media overwhelmingly reported that Palestine signed the Rome Statute. Yet there was no word on the ICC website and no official information confirming these reports.

The uncertainty grew as the holidays came to an end. Finally, on January 5th, the ICC issued a press release. Contrary to all expectations, however, it appeared that Palestine had submitted a declaration under Article 12(3) of the Statute on December 31st. When using this procedure, states confer jurisdiction to the Court on a one-time, ad hoc, basis. By using this procedure, states do not become party to the Rome Statute, the founding document of the International Criminal Court.

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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).”

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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’.

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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.

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Does 19 + 11 Equal 30?: the Nitty Gritty of the Law of Treaties and the Kampala Amendment to the Rome Statute on the Crime of Aggression

Published on November 27, 2014        Author: 

Sometimes, it seems that it is the reality of international law that provides one with questions of treaty law that probably even a sophisticated international law professor would have had problems inventing.

On November 19, 2014, San Marino became the 19th State to have ratified the amendments to the Rome Statute on the crime of aggression. At the same time, Art. 15bis, para 2 and Art. 15ter, para. 2 of the Rome Statute in identical terms provide that “[t]he Court may exercise jurisdiction only with respect to crimes of aggression committed one year after the ratification or acceptance of the amendments by thirty States Parties” and further provided that under Art. 15bis, para. 3 and Art. 15ter, para. 3 respectively, a decision has been adopted by the Assembly of States Parties to activate the Court’s jurisdiction concerning the crime of aggression, such decision to be taken at the earliest in 2017.

What is worth noting, however, is that by now there are also eleven States, namely Cabo Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Grenada, Guatemala, the Maldives, the Phillipines, St. Lucia, Tunisia, Vanuatu, Moldova and the Seychelles that have ratified the Rome Statute after the Kampala amendment on the crime of aggression was adopted. All of those States, when ratifying the post-Kampala Rome Statute, did so without expressing an intention not to be bound by the treaty as amended. This raises the intriguing question whether 19 + 11 equal 30, i.e. whether these new contracting parties ought to be counted towards the quorum required, as mentioned, by Art. 15bis, para 2 and Art. 15ter, para. 2 of the Rome Statute in order for the Court to exercise its jurisdiction.

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