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Home International Tribunals Archive for category "International Criminal Court"

The ICC’s Al Mahdi case is (also) a political trial, and that’s fine!

Published on August 31, 2016        Author: 

Last week, the International Criminal Court (ICC or Court) in The Hague commenced and concluded a historically short trial against Ahmad Al-Faqi Al-Mahdi. Al Mahdi was prosecuted for the war crime of intentionally destroying cultural, religious and historic monuments, namely the mausoleums in Timbuktu. This is the first time that the ICC has prosecuted crimes relating to the protection of cultural heritage. It is also a first for the Court to prosecute an Islamic extremist, and the first time that a defendant has pleaded guilty, significantly simplifying and shortening the trial.

After all the ICC’s recent problems with lack of evidence, witness intimidations, and protracted procedures, this short and in all likelihood successful case (the decision is expected on 27 September) can easily be called a resounding win. At the same time, even this case has not escaped criticism (see for example here and here). Why was Al Mahdi only prosecuted for destroying cultural heritage, even though he also allegedly committed murder and rape? And why is the Court spending its scarce resources prosecuting this mid-level militiaman rather than on the leaders behind the violence in Mali?

Questions like these are justified, because the ICC fails to explain why it makes the choices it does. This is a missed opportunity. In recent years, the Court has increasingly been the subject of sharp critique. Scholars, activists, and politicians have accused the ICC of being anti-African, of failing to meet the needs of victims, and of being a “political” court. It is true that the complaint that the Court is “political” cannot always be separated from the self-interest of leaders attempting to evade the Court’s docket. But we should not dismiss this critique, as the Court tends to do. Instead, we should recognize that the ICC is indeed (also) a political court. Read the rest of this entry…

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The ICC and Extrajudicial Executions in the Philippines

Published on August 30, 2016        Author: 

Below are two possible exam questions for the students and cognoscenti of international criminal law with regard to the possible involvement of the International Criminal Court in the ongoing campaign of state-sanctioned extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, a manifest violation of the right to life under customary international law and Article 6 ICCPR that has so far claimed almost 2,000 lives with no sign of abating (see, e.g, here and here). I would just note, by way of preface, that we have devoted a lot of attention on the blog to the recent arbitral award on the South China Sea dispute, but are yet to comment on the sheer irony of a state claiming the protection of international law while simultaneously proceeding to violate that law so thoroughly and so tragically – I imagine because the irony is so obvious, so depressing, and so familiar. We shall see whether a significant cost will be exacted internationally from the Duterte regime for its violation of the most fundamental of human rights, but I’m not holding my breath.

In the meantime, note that the Philippines have been a party of the Rome Statute since 2011 and consider – if you were the ICC Prosecutor, what would you do now? Should you intervene, how, to what benefit and at what cost? Then ponder these two little exam questions:

  1. “Despite plausible evidence that 2,000 individuals have been killed in the Philippines with the support of the government, these killings do not satisfy the ‘widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population’ chapeau requirement for crimes against humanity under Article 7 of the Rome Statute. In the absence of an armed conflict they equally cannot constitute war crimes, even if the government rhetorically claims to be fighting a ‘war against drugs.’ Accordingly, the ICC is without jurisdiction with respect to this situation, no matter how tragic.” Discuss.
  2. “Even if the substantive elements of crimes against humanity or war crimes were met, President Duterte could not be qualified as their ‘indirect co-perpetrator.’ Shame – because we totally could have nabbed him under the ICTY/R doctrine of joint criminal enterprise!” Discuss.
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29 + 1 = 30 – The Kampala Amendment on the Crime of Aggression and the Recent Accession by Palestine

Published on June 29, 2016        Author: 

Some time ago, I wrote a contribution entitled ‘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’ on the question as to whether those States that ratified the Rome Statute after the Kampala amendment on the crime of aggression was adopted ought to be counted towards the 30 acceptances required for the activation of Kampala amendments.

On 22 June 2016 Iceland became the 29th State to ratify the amendment, and, most recently, on June 26, 2016 Palestine ratified the said amendment (see also here for the text of the relevant depositary notification), rendering the issue just mentioned possibly moot. The 30th ratification of the Kampala amendment on the crime of aggression by Palestine now seems to open the possibility for the Assembly of States Parties, to adopt after January 1st 2017 the decision to activate the Court’s treaty-based aggression-related jurisdiction provided for in Art. 15bis para. 3 Rome Statute with all its possible repercussions for both the Court, but also for the international legal system at large.

Provided there will be no more ratifications forthcoming between now and early 2017 (which however might still be the case given the fact that the process of ratifying the Kampala amendment is ongoing in some States), any such possible ‘activation’ of the Court’s jurisdiction would however depend on the question whether the recent submission by ‘Palestine’ of its instrument of accession of the Kampala amendment ought to indeed be counted towards the necessary quorum of 30 ratifications. Read the rest of this entry…

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A “Hybrid” Tribunal for Daesh?

Published on May 4, 2016        Author: 

On 21 April 2016, Professor Robert Cryer published a concise analysis of the possible consequences of a resolution adopted by the UK House of Commons a day earlier, including of a possible referral of the situation involving crimes – war crimes, crimes against humanity, and, in particular, genocide – committed by members of Daesh to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Although Professor Cryer noted, quite appropriately, that “political realities in the S[ecurity] C[ouncil] mean that there may be a veto on a resolution sending the matter to the ICC”, there are even more limitations to the likelihood of this proposal. This post briefly discusses these other limitations and suggests an alternative way to proceed.

Legal and Practical Limitations of the ICC Jurisdiction

It is unlikely that the ICC would get to deal with Daesh’s crimes in the foreseeable future. The Court does not presently have territorial jurisdiction with respect to the situation in Syria and Iraq, since neither of these States is a Party to the Rome Statute. Theoretically, the Court might exercise personal jurisdiction with respect to crimes committed by foreign members of Daesh who are nationals of States Parties to the Statute – but this is also unlikely, by virtue of the ICC principle of complementarity: if such individuals are found in the territory of a State Party to the Rome Statute, they are likely to be handed over to the States of which they are nationals, or to be tried in the State where they are apprehended (aut dedere aut judicare).

In turn, the likelihood of the situation in Syria being referred to the ICC by the UN Security Council is close to zero, because such a referral would imply the Court’s jurisdiction not only with respect to crimes under international law committed by members of Daesh (for the concept of crimes under international law, see: G. Werle and F. Jessberger, Principles of International Criminal Law, p. 32) but also with respect to those committed by Syrian armed forces, their internal opponents, and – last but not least – by members of foreign armed forces currently present in the country. Yet, there seem to be further good reasons not to refer the situation involving crimes committed by members of Daesh to the ICC at all, but to follow an alternative route. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Assembly of State Parties to the International Criminal Court Decides to Delete Article 124 of the Rome Statute

Published on April 12, 2016        Author: 

A little noticed but still significant event during last year’s Assembly of State Parties of the International Criminal Court (ICC) was the decision to delete article 124 of the Rome Statute. Article 124, titled “Transitional Provision”, reads as follows:

Notwithstanding article 12, paragraphs 1 and 2, a State, on becoming a party to this Statute, may declare that, for a period of seven years after the entry into force of this Statute for the State concerned, it does not accept the jurisdiction of the Court with respect to the category of crimes referred to in article 8 when a crime is alleged to have been committed by its nationals or on its territory. A declaration under this article may be withdrawn at any time. The provisions of this article shall be reviewed at the Review Conference convened in accordance with article 123, paragraph 1.

The gist of article 124 was to allow State Parties, upon becoming Party to the Rome Statute, to preclude the Court from exercising jurisdiction over war crimes (article 8) for a period of seven years. Only France and Colombia ever made use of article 124, and each country did so for very particular reasons, which I will not elaborate further here. Suffice it to note that France withdrew its declaration under article 124 in 2008 and that the Columbian declaration made in 2002 expired in 2009. Still, for a court that prides itself on permitting no reservations, no statute of limitations, and no immunities from prosecution, even for heads of state, many have considered article 124 as an inappropriate exemption from the Court’s quintessential principle that there shall be no impunity for any of the crimes under its jurisdiction.

The deletion of article 124 is important not only in its own right, but also because of how it occurred. State Parties deliberated extensively about whether to adhere to the standard amendment procedure outlined in article 121 or if a simple decision by the Assembly would suffice. The result of this debate can be indicative of how States will approach procedural questions of a similar nature in the future, not least when the Assembly in 2017 moves to activating the crime of aggression (on which see this post). Read the rest of this entry…

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An International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion on the ICC Head of State Immunity Issue

Published on March 31, 2016        Author: 

Earlier this week, I wrote about the recent decision of the South African Supreme Court of Appeal holding that the South African government had violated its obligations in failing to arrest Sudanese President Bashir when he attended the African Union Summit in South Africa last June. That decision is just the latest in the ongong saga about whether serving heads of States, particularly heads of states not party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), have immunity when they are wanted by the ICC. The issue has been a particularly toxic one in the relations between the African Union (AU) and the ICC. The AU continues to insist that Bashir and all serving heads of states are immune from arrest and prosecution and Bashir has now travelled to numerous African (and other states) including a number of states that are party to the ICC Statute (see the Bashir Watch website – and also here – for information on the states that Bashir has travelled to, as well as those which have denied him access). The AU Assembly (of heads of states and governments) has made a number of proposals in an attempt to put an end to the prosecution of Bashir, including a proposal for deferral of the case under Article 16 of the Rome Statute ( see Assembly/AU/Dec.547(XXIV) (June 2015)). It has also encouraged African states to put forward amendments to the Rome Statute (see Ext/Assembly/AU/Dec.1(Oct.2013). Following that suggestion, Kenya proposed an amendment to Article 27 of the Rome Statute which would provide for immunity of heads of states and their deputies (see p. 16 of this report of the ICC Assembly of States Parties Working Group on Amendments). I am sure that everyone knows that the chances of success on such an amendment is precisely zero. For the amendment to come into force, seven-eights of the parties to the ICC Statute would have to ratify it (under Art. 121(4) of the Statute) and it is inconceivable that this will happen.

However, the AU has made one suggestion which I think ought to be taken up. This is the proposal (see p. 9-10 of this document) that the International Court of Justice be asked to render an advisory opinion on the immunity of heads of states or other senior officials of states not party to the ICC (for earlier discussion of this proposal see my posts here and here). Despite the fact that the ICC has ruled on the question of Bashir’s immunity on several occasions (including in cases regarding non-cooperation by Malawi and Chad, DRC and South Africa), there are, in my view, good reasons to try to have the ICJ address the issue. Some of those reasons are legal and others political. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Situation Concerning the Mavi Marmara at the ICC: What might the next move of the Prosecutor be?

Published on March 22, 2016        Author: 

In early summer 2010, around fifty people were seriously injured and ten Turkish nationals died on a vessel which was part of the ‘Freedom Flotilla’: the Mavi Marmara ship. The incident saw the establishment of a UN Human Rights Council fact-finding mission, a separate panel of inquiry appointed by the UN Secretary-General, a Turkish Commission and a Israeli Commission of Inquiry (aka “Turkel Commission”). The Israeli Defense Force (IDF)’s storming of the ‘Freedom Flotilla’, have subsequently been subject to judicial proceedings both domestically in Turkey, and internationally at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In May 2014, four arrest warrants were released by Istanbul’s Seventh High Criminal Court against former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, former Navy Chief Eliezer Marom, former Military Intelligence Chief Amos Yadlin and former Naval Intelligence chief Avishai Levy. A year earlier, on 14 May 2013, a referral was received by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) from the authorities of the Comoros, a State Party to the Rome Statute of the ICC, in relation to the Humanitarian Aid Flotilla’s incident (registered vessels situation). Six months after Turkey issued its arrest warrants, the OTP announced in its report under Article 53 (1) Rome Statute that it had decided not to investigate the registered vessels situation.

OTP’s decision not to investigate was based on the ‘gravity’ criteria of the Rome Statute. According to the OTP, ‘the potential case(s) likely arising from an investigation into this incident would not be of “sufficient gravity” to justify further action by the ICC.’ In so doing, the OTP did not consider the other two criteria for declining to investigate, namely, complementarity and the interests of justice. As Kevin Jon Heller predicted, the Comoros ‘appealed’ the OTP’s decision and on 16 July 2015, the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) requested the Prosecutor to reconsider its decision not to open an investigation. Acting under Article 53 (3) (a), the PTC took issue with several aspects of the OTP’s decision not to investigate (see comments here and here).

In this post, my aim is to analyze the OTP’s decision not to investigate on the basis of gravity and the PTC’s request to the OTP to reconsider its decision. I argue that OTP’s gravity assessment was hasty and came at the expense of assessing the potential complementarity of the Turkish proceedings. Read the rest of this entry…

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Ukraine vs. Russia in International Courts and Tribunals

Published on March 9, 2016        Author: 

In early January 2016, Ukraine affirmed its intention to bring a claim against Russia before the ICJ under the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (‘Financing of Terrorism Convention’). Further announcements were made in late January and February 2016 as to both an additional claim in the ICJ under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), and a claim under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This post provides a brief overview of pending and prospective cases originating from the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

Cases pending before international court and tribunals

Ukraine is currently seeking to challenge Russia’s actions on its territory in the European Court of Human Rights and the International Criminal Court. Three inter-State cases initiated by Ukraine concerning Russia’s actions in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine are currently pending before the ECtHR (the first inter-State case by Ukraine against Russia was discussed here). In September 2015, Ukraine also lodged a Declaration under Article 12(3) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court recognising its jurisdiction with respect to the acts committed on its territory since 20 February 2014. It is true that acceptance of the jurisdiction of the ICC by Ukraine may not necessarily lead to the prosecution of Russian citizens fighting in the Eastern Regions. It is, nonetheless, another avenue used by Ukraine to put the conflict between the two States before international judges.

Russia’s actions in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine have also resulted in individual cases brought against Russia at the international level under international human rights law and international foreign investment law. As of October 2015, more than 1,400 applications seemingly related to the events in Crimea or Eastern Ukraine, lodged against both Russia and Ukraine or against one of those States, are pending before the ECtHR.

Several cases were initiated before the PCA against Russia under UNCITRAL rules apparently concerning investments located in Crimea. One of these cases, for instance, concerned interference with property situated in Crimea. Incidentally, in reply to the commencement of the arbitral proceedings in this case, Russia sent a letter stating that it did not recognise the jurisdiction of the arbitral tribunal. Despite Russia’s request not to regard the letter as consent to participation in arbitral proceedings, Read the rest of this entry…

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AJIL Unbound Symposium on the Crime of Aggression

Published on March 3, 2016        Author: 

In June 2010, parties to the Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) meeting in Kampala, Uganda agreed amendments to the ICC Statute which would allow the ICC to prosecute the crime of aggression. However, they also agreed that the Court would only be able to exercise jurisdiction with respect to the crime of aggression subject to a further decision to be taken after 1 January 2017 and only after the ratification or acceptance of the amendments by thirty States Parties [Arts. 15bis(2) & (3); Arts. 15ter(2) & (3), ICC Statute].  In 2010, this may have seemed a long delay before the Court would be able to exercise jurisdiction over the crime. However, with 26 ratifications or acceptances of the amendments and more seemingly to follow, ICC jurisdiction over aggression appears to be just round the corner. This is therefore a good time to give serious consideration to the implications that ICC jurisdiction over the crime of aggression will have both with regard to international law but also in international politics.

The American Journal of International Law’s online Companion AJIL Unbound has just published a symposium on the crime of aggression under the Statute of the International Criminal Court, which I had the pleasure of editing. The symposium publishes a number of responses to the lead article in the April 2015 issue of the American Journal of International Law by Harold Koh and Todd Buchwald: “The Crime of Aggression: The United States Perspective“, 109 AJIL 257, 292 (2015). In that piece, Harold Koh and Todd Buchwald, both of whom were leaders of the U.S. delegation at the Kampala review Conference, consider a range of issues raised by the impending activation of the ICC’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression. They provide a critique of the definition of the crime of aggression provided for in the amendments to the ICC Statute agreed in Kampala, Uganda in 2010; examine issues relating to the jurisdiction of the Court and domestic courts over that crime; and consider the role of the Security Council with respect to aggression. One of the main focuses of their piece is a consideration of how best to prevent the new jurisdiction over the crime of aggression from chilling uses of force they consider legitimate, particularly humanitarian intervention that is not authorized by the Security Council. In the July 2015 issue of the American Journal of International Law, Alain Pellet and Bing Bing Jia respond to Koh and Buchwald. The AJIL Unbound symposium, in addition to an introduction by me, includes four pieces which provide further consideration of issues relating to the crime of aggression and some responses to the Koh & Buchwald article.   Read the rest of this entry…

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Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court Authorizes Initiation of Investigation in Georgia

Published on February 1, 2016        Author: 

On 27 January 2016, the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber I (PTC) authorized the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open an investigation into the situation in Georgia, specifically focusing on allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity during and in the immediate aftermath of the August 2008 armed conflict. In the absence of a state party or the Security Council referral, the OTP filed the request for authorization in October 2015, seven years after initiating its preliminary examination. The investigation can cover alleged crimes by three groups: South Ossetian forces, armed forces of Georgia and armed forces of the Russian Federation. Georgia is a party to the Rome Statute, while the Russian Federation is not.

This post focuses only on the aspects of the PTC decision and the OTP’s request that raise the most questions, namely selection of crimes and of potential cases and admissibility of those cases, with specific emphasis on complementarity.

Crimes within the Jurisdiction of the ICC

The primary targets for the OTP’s investigation appear to be alleged crimes against ethnic Georgians, including forcible displacement and destruction of property, between 8 August and 10 October 2008 in the Russian occupied South Ossetia and adjacent areas. Read the rest of this entry…

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