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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.

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The ICC Pre-Trial Chamber Decision on the Situation in Afghanistan: A Few Thoughts on the Interests of Justice

Published on April 18, 2019        Author:  and
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There has been a storm of criticism of the decision of Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) II of the International Criminal Court (ICC, the Court) to reject the Prosecutor’s request for authorisation of an investigation into the situation of Afghanistan. As discussed previously on this blog (see here), the basis of the PTC’s decision was that the initiation of said investigation was not in the ‘interests of justice’, in accordance with Articles 15(4) and 53(1)(c) of the Rome Statute. The criticisms have targeted almost every aspect of this decision. In particular, questions have been raised as to whether the PTC has the power to review the Prosecutor’s decision to initiate an investigation which she considered was in the interests of justice, as opposed to a decision that it an investigation is not (see here, and here). Some have also challenged the merits of this decision on various grounds, in particular, that it would introduce non-legal considerations into an assessment that has been and ought to be narrowly circumscribed, or that the PTC could not simply conduct a de novo review of the Prosecutor’s inherently discretionary decision (see here and here). Others have presented a more systemic critique that underlying this decision is the message that all that states need to do in order to avoid an ICC investigation is to refuse to cooperate with the Court (see here and here). It has also been suggested that this decision is part of a broader effort by ICC judges to control the Prosecutor’s investigative priorities (see here).  

In this two-part post, we seek to contribute to the ongoing discussions by offering some thoughts on two particular points of contention. In this first post, we offer some comments on the PTC’s decision regarding the interests of justice. In particular, (a) we argue that the PTC did have the power, under Art. 15(4) of the Statute, to review whether the interests of justice should bar the opening of an investigation, and (b) while noting the problems with taking lack of state cooperation and budgetary issues into account in this decision, we argue (building on our earlier work here and here) that there might be circumstances where it is appropriate for the PTC and the Prosecutor to take such issues into account as a part of the interests of justice analysis.

Our second post will consider the way in which the PTC decision dealt with international humanitarian law, and more specifically, the territorial scope of application of war crimes in non-international armed conflicts (NIAC).  Read the rest of this entry…

 

Additions to the EJIL:Talk! Editorial Team

Published on March 19, 2019        Author: 
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We area delighted to announce additions to the EJIL:Talk! team. From this month, we welcome three new Contributing Editors (well, 2 brand new contributing editors and one who is returning to the team):

Freya Baetens is Professor of Public International Law at the University of Oslo and affiliated with the Europa Institute at the Faculty of Law, Leiden University. As a member of the PluriCourts Centre at Oslo, she works on an interdisciplinary research project evaluating the legitimacy of international courts and tribunals.  Freya has acted as counsel or expert in international and European disputes and is listed on the Panel of Arbitrators and Conciliators of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), the South China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (Shenzhen Court of International Arbitration) and the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (HKIAC). She is a member of the Executive Council of the Society of International Law (SIEL).

Michael Fakhri is an Associate Professor at the University of Oregon School of Law where he teaches in the areas of international economic law, commercial law, and food and agriculture. He is a faculty member of the Environmental and Natural Resource Program where he co-leads the Food Resiliency Project .  His current research focuses on questions of food sovereignty, indigenous sovereignty, and agroecology – all in an effort to work through legal accounts of imperialism, race, and capitalism. Professor Fakhri’s other research interests include Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL) and international legal history. 

Douglas Guilfoyle, Associate Professor of International and Security Law at the University of New South Wales, Canberra returns to the blog as a Contributing Editor, having served in a similar capacity from 2012 to 2013. He was previously a Professor of Law at Monash University, Reader in Law at University College London, and has worked as a judicial associate in the Australian Federal Court and the Australian Administrative Appeals Tribunal. He has also practised as a commercial litigation solicitor in Sydney. His principal areas of research are maritime security, the international law of the sea, and international and transnational criminal law. Particular areas of specialism include maritime law-enforcement, the law of naval warfare, international courts and tribunals, and the history of international law. His research work is informed by his consultancy to various government and international organisations

The three new Contributing Editors will join Professors Monica Hakimi, Lorna McGregor and Anthea Roberts who will remain on the editorial team. 

Rotating off the team of Contributing Editors are Professors Anne Peters, Christian Tams and Andreas Zimmermann. We are greatly appreciative of their service to the blog over the past few years. The quality and quantity of their contributions have been of great significance. We hope that they will continue to contribute posts to the blog. Read the rest of this entry…

 

Trivia: International Lawyers in Senior State Positions

Published on January 4, 2019        Author: 
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Many thanks to those who suggested answers to my trivia question of earlier this week. I have put my responses as a comment to that post. I now have another question which relates to international lawyers who have held the highest offices of state.

There are quite a number of international lawyers who have gone on to hold cabinet level ministerial positions in national government. In the UK, we recently had the example of Dominic Raab who was Minister for Exiting the European Union in the second half of last year. He spent the early part of his career as a lawyer in the UK Foreign and Commonwealth office, including spending some time as Legal Adviser at the UK Embassy in The Hague. I do not know of another UK cabinet member who had authored articles in international law journals (the Leiden Journal of International Law and Journal of International Criminal Justice) en route to being in the Cabinet.

Elsewhere, there have been a number of Foreign Ministers who had previously been academic or practising international lawyers. A prominent example is Hans Blix, who went on to be Director of the International Atomic Agency, had a PhD in international law from Cambridge University, was an academic international lawyer at the University of Stockholm, before he became Foreign Minister of Sweden from 1978-79. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who later became UN Secretary-General, had been Professor of International Law at Cairo University (and Visiting Professor in Paris) before becoming Acting Foreign Minister of Egypt also in the late 1970s. A couple of judges of the International Court of Justice have gone on to be Foreign Ministers of their countries. Nabil Elaraby, who had been a Judge at the ICJ (and before that member of the International Law Commission & Legal Adviser to the Egyptian Foreign Ministry) subsequently became Foreign Minister of Egypt for a brief period in 2011, before becoming Secretary-General of the Arab League that same year. Mohammed Bedjaoui, was President of the ICJ before becoming Foreign Minister of Algeria in 2005. Susana Ruiz Cerutti who was recently a candidate for election to the ICJ was briefly Foreign Minister of Argentina after (and before) spells as Legal Adviser to the Foreign Ministry.

These are all cabinet level government officials who previously had a career in international law. My question is whether there has been a head of state or head of government who before becoming such had been an academic or practising international lawyer. One has to define international lawyer though. My definition is that the person must either have published a book or article(s) on public international law; taught international law in a university; or practised public international law by holding a position that involves regularly advising on this branch of law.

To clarify, my question asks for people who were international lawyers before becoming head of state or government. I exclude those who turned to international law after holding these high offices. Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC who was Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1989 to 1990 later sat as an ad hoc Judge on the ICJ in the Request for an Examination of the Situation in Accordance with Paragraph 63 of the Court’s Judgment of 20 December 1974 in the Nuclear Tests (New Zealand v. France) Case (1995). After his political career, he wrote extensively on international law (see his SSRN page) on his return to academia, in addition to undertaking other international appointments that involved the application of international law. Though he had an academic career before going into the New Zealand Parliament, I do not think he had written on international law before his political career. One of the answers to my last set of trivia questions was Judge Mohamed Shahabuddeen who had a distinguished career in government in Guyana before embarking on his international judicial career. In addition to being Attorney General and Minister for Legal Affairs, he served as acting Foreign Minister from time to time and was also First Deputy Prime Minister and Vice-President of his country. However, as far as I can tell Judge Shahabuddeen only turned to international law after holding those senior positions in national government. So neither he nor Sir Geoffrey would be suitable answers to my question.

To repeat, the question is this:

Has there been a head of state or head of government who has been an academic or practising international lawyer before holding these high offices?

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Trivia: Judges on Multiple International Tribunals

Published on January 2, 2019        Author: 
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In previous posts (here and here) of some years ago, I noted the increasing number of judges elected to the International Court of Justice who had prior experience on another international tribunal. With the proliferation of international tribunals over the past couple of decades, this phenomenon of judges being elected to one international tribunal after having served in some judicial capacity on another appears to be on the increase. About 10 days ago, the United Nations General Assembly held elections for two judicial vacancies on the International Residual Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals. The Assembly elected Yusuf Aksar of Turkey as a judge, but after  six rounds of balloting was unable to elect the second judge, with a further round of balloting to be held at date to be announced. Professor Aksar currently serves as an ad hoc judge of the European Court of Human Rights. This is the latest example of an international judge with prior international judicial experience. 

All of this leads me to wonder which international judge (by which I mean, judge of a standing international tribunal) has served on the most number of (standing) international tribunals. I can think of one judge who has sat on three international tribunals and two judges who have served on/been elected to  four.

My opening trivia questions for the new year are these:

  1. Which judge has served on the International Court of Justice; the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Court?

  2. Which judge has been elected to the  International Court of Justice; the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia; the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda; and the International Criminal Court?

  3. Which judge has served on the  International Court of Justice; the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia; the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda; and the Appellate Body of the World Trade Organisation?

  4. Can anyone think of an international judge who has served on 5 or more standing international tribunals?

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Happy New Year and Most Read Posts of 2018!

Published on December 31, 2018        Author: 
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I would like to wish our readers a very Happy 2019! Before we close out 2018, I would like to set out our most read posts of the year. These give a snapshot of the some of the key developments in international law over the course of the year, and/or of key incidents in international affairs with consequences for international law.

The top 10 posts are presented here with the numbers 11 to 20 below the fold.

Many thanks to all of our contributors in 2018, and, to you, our readers 

1) Diane Desierto, Young Philippine Lawyers Arrested Today for “Obstruction of Justice” in the Philippines’ Drug War(Aug. 2018)

2) Marko Milanovic, The Syria Strikes: Still Clearly Illegal, (April 2018)

3) Dapo Akande, The International Criminal Court Gets Jurisdiction Over the Crime of Aggression(Dec. 2017)

4) Marko Milanovic, Palestine Sues the United States in the ICJ re Jerusalem Embassy, (Sept. 2018)

5) Leila N. Sadat, Fiddling While Rome Burns?  The Appeals Chamber’s Curious Decision in Prosecutor v. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, (June, 2018)

6) Marc Weller, An International Use of Force in Salisbury?, (Mar. 2018)

7) Dapo Akande, Ecuador Seeks to Confer Diplomatic Status on Julian Assange: Does this Oblige the UK to Allow Him to Leave the Embassy & Is the Matter Headed to the ICJ?(Jan. 2018)

8) Monica Hakimi, The Attack on Syria and the Contemporary Jus ad Bellum, (April 2018)

9) Joseph Weiler, Publish and Perish: A Plea to Deans, Faculty Chairpersons, University Authorities, (Nov. 2018)

10) Koldo Casla, Supreme Court of Spain: UN Treaty Body individual decisions are legally binding(Aug. 2018) Read the rest of this entry…

Filed under: EJIL
 

EJIL:Talk! Is 10 Years Old

Published on December 10, 2018        Author: 
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Yesterday and today saw the marking of a couple of significant anniversaries in international law. 9 December was the 70th anniversary of the adoption, by the United Nations General Assembly of the Genocide Convention. Today is Human Rights Day and is the 70th anniversary of the adoption, also by the General Assembly, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).  We are at EJIL are also marking are own anniversaries. The Journal was founded in 1989 and will  have been published for 30 years in the New Year (see this call for papers). EJIL:Talk! is a decade old this week!

The blog was launched on 9 December 2008. Our first posts on that day (here and here) followed on from a special issue of EJIL marking the 60th anniversary of the UDHR and contained a, shall we say ‘spicy’, exchange on relationship between human rights and international economic law.  We followed up that same day with an editorial by EJIL’s Editor-in-Chief, Joseph Weiler, in which he also marked the UDHR and reflected on the crisis of the day in the European Union – the demise of the European ‘Constitution’ and the troubles then caused to entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon by the Irish vote of ‘No’ in a referendum. There were calls then for the Irish to be asked to vote again! My own first post on this blog was on 12 December and sticking with the human rights theme, I opened with a post on ‘The Application of Human Rights Treaties in Wartime’.

We will be celebrating the decade old existence of the blog properly in the New Year. For now, I would simply like to remind readers that when the blog started 10 years ago, it was a venture into the unknown. There were a number of blogs around but the combination of a leading journal (or even any journal) having its own blog and having the aim of making it a scholarly blog which would carry on the project of serious reflection on legal issues was rare, if not completely unknown. EJIL:Talk! was thus an experiment. 

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Filed under: EJIL
 

Joint Symposium with Justice in Conflict on Human Rights Watch’s Report on The ICC’s Impact on National Justice

Published on December 6, 2018        Author:  and
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While investigations by the International Criminal Court (ICC) have received the lions’ share of attention and scrutiny from scholars and observers, there has been a growing interest in the impact of the ICC’s preliminary examinations. The preliminary examination stage requires the ICC Prosecutor to ascertain whether alleged crimes fall within the Court’s jurisdiction, whether the crimes are of sufficient gravity to warrant investigation, whether there are ongoing proceedings related to those alleged crimes, and whether an investigation into alleged atrocities would be in the “interests of justice”. If the answer to each is ‘yes’, then the Prosecutor can seek an official investigation.

There are currently ten open preliminary examinations across four continents: Afghanistan, Colombia, Guinea, Iraq/UK, Nigeria, Palestine, the Philippines, Bangladesh/Myanmar, Ukraine, and Venezuela. But what have the political and legal impacts of these preliminary examinations been? Have they galvanized greater interest in achieving accountability? What lessons can be drawn from preliminary examinations to date in order to improve the prospects of justice?

To answer these and other questions, EJIL:Talk! and Justice in Conflict are delighted to host a discussion of the Human Rights Watch report, Pressure Point: The ICC’s Impact on National Justice – Lessons from Colombia, Georgia, Guinea, and the United Kingdom, and of ICC Preliminary Examinations more generally.

The symposium coincides with the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) to the ICC, which begins its annual session this week. One of the highlights of the ASP is the release of the Office of the Prosecutor’s (OTP) 2018 Report on Preliminary Examination Activities. The report summarises the activities of the Office with regard to situations which are under preliminary examination by the Prosecutor.  

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Does the ICC Statute Remove Immunities of State Officials in National Proceedings? Some Observations from the Drafting History of Article 27(2) of the Rome Statute

Published on November 12, 2018        Author:  and
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Following oral hearings held in September, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is currently deliberating in Jordan’s Appeal of the Pre-Trial Chamber’s decision holding that it had failed to cooperate with the ICC by refusing to arrest and surrender Sudan’s President, Omar Al-Bashir, when he visited Jordan. Central to the determination of whether Jordan, a party to the ICC Statute, failed to comply with its obligations of cooperation under the Statute is the issue of whether Jordan was obliged to respect the immunity ratione personae that the Sudanese President would ordinarily be entitled to as a serving head of state.

As is well known, when the ICC seeks to exercise its jurisdiction over a state official who ordinarily possesses immunity under international law from foreign criminal jurisdiction, the question of immunity may, potentially, arise at two levels. First, the issue of international law immunity with respect to the ICC may possibly arise at the so-called ‘vertical level’, i.e in the relations between the ICC, on the one hand, and the accused person and his or her state, on the other. The question that arises here is whether the accused person (as a state official entitled to international law immunities) or his or her state, may plead those immunities before the ICC itself, such as to prevent the Court from exercising jurisdiction over him or her. Second, and more commonly, the issue of immunity will arise at the so-called ‘horizontal level’, i.e in the relations between a state that is requested by the ICC to effect an arrest or surrender, on the one hand, and the state of the accused person, on the other. Here, the question is whether a state that is requested by the ICC, to arrest or surrender the official of another state, may do so, where to do so would require the requested state to violate the immunities that the foreign state official ordinarily possesses under international law. In particular, the question at this horizontal level is whether there is something about the ICC’s request for cooperation that would mean that the obligations which a state ordinarily owes to another to consider inviolable the person of a serving foreign head of state no longer apply. This is the main question that the Appeals Chamber is called upon to resolve in the Bashir case. In this post, we do not propose to examine the range of arguments put to the Chamber on this question. Rather this post will consider one specific question that is critical to the Court’s assessment and to the more general question of how the ICC Statute affects the immunity of state officials.

The post considers whether the provision of the Rome Statute that removes immunity – Art. 27(2) – only removes immunity at the ‘vertical level’ (before the Court itself) or whether it does so at the ‘horizontal level’ (before national authorities) as well. In particular, the post throws new light on this question through an examination of the drafting history of that provision. Consideration of the drafting history shows that the drafters of the provision considered, throughout the period of elaboration of the Statute, that what would become Art. 27 was to have effect not just in proceedings before the ICC itself but also in national proceedings related to the ICC’s exercise of jurisdiction. Read the rest of this entry…

 

The Bolton Speech: The Legality of US Retaliatory Action Against Judges and Officials of the International Criminal Court?

Published on September 14, 2018        Author: 
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The speech given on Monday by John Bolton, US National Security Adviser, threatening action by the US against the International Criminal Court (ICC) in response to potential ICC investigation of US personnel with regard to the situation in Afghanistan has generated a lot of interest (see herehere, here and here). There are a plethora of policy and political issues raised by the looming clash between the ICC and the US which have been set out on other blogs in recent days (here and here). In terms of the legal issues, we are back to the old debate about whether the ICC is entitled to exercise jurisdiction over nationals of non-party states, in the absence of a referral by the UN Security Council (on which see this 2003 article of mine and this recent post in response). This post addresses whether the actions that Bolton says the US will take against Judges and ICC officials would be lawful under international law. Bolton says that the US:

“… will respond against the ICC and its personnel to the extent permitted by U.S. law.  We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States. We will sanction their funds in the U.S. financial system, and, we will prosecute them in the U.S. criminal system. We will do the same for any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans.”

In particular, I wish to focus on whether the US would violate international law by banning ICC judges and officials from entering the US. Even if the US were to seek to prosecute ICC personnel, it is unlikely that it would obtain custody over them (unless other states cooperate with the US). The primary effect of such attempted prosecutions would be to prevent those people from entering the US, in fear of being arrested.

Barring ICC personnel from entry into the US is a significant issue because (i) the meetings of the ICC Assembly of States Parties are held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York every other year; (ii) the ICC Prosecutor goes to the Security Council, at its request, to report to the Council on the situations referred to the Court by the Council; and (iii) the President of the ICC presents a report, on the work of the Court, to the UN General Assembly annually. All of these activities and visits will have to stop if the threat by John Bolton (either to prosecute or to ban ICC judges and officials) were to be carried out.

Does the US have International Legal Obligations Preventing  it from taking Retaliatory Action  Against ICC Personnel?

To the extent that US retaliatory actions against ICC personnel  take place within the US, the starting position would be the US can control entry into the US, prosecute people who in its view threaten US security (probably based on the protective principle of jurisdiction) and sanction funds in the US unless such acts are inconsistent with contrary obligations under international law.

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