Home Articles posted by Carsten Stahn

Tribunals are Dead, Long Live Tribunals: MICT, the Kosovo Specialist Chambers and the Turn to New Hybridity

Published on September 23, 2016        Author: 

Many say that there is “tribunal fatigue”. International tribunals have been said to be too costly and too slow. It has become clear that the ICC can only deal with a few situations. Calls for the establishment of new ad hoc tribunals, for instance in relation to MH17 or Syria, have not succeeded. Instead, we have seen a trend towards “new hybridity”, namely the establishment of special judicial mechanisms. The United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (the ‘Mechanism’) and the newly established Kosovo Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor’s Office (formally Kosovo Relocated Specialist Judicial Institution) are part of this trend. The name of both institutions indicates caution and compromise. The title “tribunal” was avoided. The two institutions are representative of a broader turn to hybridity in international criminal justice. In this post, I will discuss some of their distinct features and challenges.

I. The status quo: International justice 4D

Let us start with the status quo. International criminal justice has traditionally recognized two main forums to investigate and try international crimes, namely domestic and international jurisdiction.

National courts have traditionally been the main forum, given that international crimes have domestic roots. In recent years, more and more States have adopted specialized laws or special prosecution units to investigate and prosecute international crimes (e.g., Guatemala, Colombia, Uganda).

The second forum is international jurisdiction. International institutions have been seen as necessary corollary to domestic jurisdiction in specific circumstances. As Judge Röling argued, international crimes are violations of “international law”, hence “an international judge should try the international offences”. This led to the turn to fully international courts and tribunals, such as the ad hoc tribunals and the ICC. Read the rest of this entry…


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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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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Syria, Security Resolution 2118 (2013) and Peace versus Justice: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back?

Published on October 3, 2013        Author: 

Chemical weaponsOn 27 September 2013, the Security Council adopted Resolution 2118 (2013). The resolution broke the diplomatic impasse over Syria in the Security Council. It was celebrated as a diplomatic success and as a ‘precedent-setting’ resolution. It marks fundamental progress, on at least two fronts: (i) It shifted the debate on the use of force from claims of unilateral intervention to collective security action (which is in line with the spirit of the Responsibility to Protect idea under the World Summit Outcome Document); and (ii) it reinforced of the normative regime regarding the ban of the use of chemical weapons. (photo: mustard gas shells, credit)

As has been aptly noted,  the text of resolution has not been expressly adopted under Chapter VII. But this does not detract from its binding force (Article 25 of the UN Charter) and its legal significance. The most immediate consequence of Resolution 2118 (2013) is that averted the threat of unilateral military strikes. The text of the resolution makes it makes it clear that military action to enforce compliance with obligations under the Resolution needs to be channelled through the Security Council. The wording differs from Security Council Resolution 1441 (2002) which afforded Iraq ‘a final opportunity to comply with … disarmament obligations under relevant resolutions of the Council’ (para. 2), and recalled that ‘Iraq […] will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations’ (para. 13). Resolution 2118 (2013) maintains the prerogative of the Council to decide on future action. It states that the Security Council ‘decides’ on measures ‘in the event of non-compliance with’ the resolution (para. 22). This makes it hard to justify unilateral strikes, based on the interpretation of the Resolution, as argued in the context of Iraq, where Resolution 1441 was invoked in conjunction with Resolution 678 (1990) to justify the use of force. The wording of Resolution 2118 adopts a different approach. It suggests that the burden lies on the Council to reach agreement.  It leaves some choice as to the type of measure to be adopted (e.g., sanctions or other measures under Article 41, or coercive measures under Article 42). But the wording (‘The Security Council ‘[d]ecides […] to impose measures under Chapter VII’)  seems to reflect an implied pre-commitment to act which is visibly designed to prevent risks of future inaction by the Council.

Secondly, the resolution marks new ground since it proclaims a ‘new’ norm regarding the universal ban on the use of chemical weapons. It clarifies that ‘the use of chemical weapons anywhere constitutes a threat to international peace and security’ (para. 1).It thus embraces a new commitment by the Security Council to the prohibition of the use of chemical weapons ‘anywhere’, ‘anytime’ and ‘under any circumstances’. As argued by Marko Milanovic, this universal ban bears resemblance with the generic finding in the preamble of Resolution 1373 (2001) that ‘acts, like any act of international terrorism, constitute a threat to international peace and security’. It puts pressure on the Council to deal with such incidents in the future. It coincides with parallel developments in international criminal law, i.e. the extension of the war crime of employing poison, poisonous weapons or prohibited gases, liquids, materials or devices to non-international armed conflicts at Kampala, as discussed by Dapo Akande.

But like the preceding discourse on intervention, the resolution contains a fundamental contradiction. Read the rest of this entry…


Syria and the Semantics of Intervention, Aggression and Punishment

Published on September 19, 2013        Author: 

untitledCarsten Stahn is Professor of International Criminal Law and Global Justice and Programme Director, Grotius Centre of International Legal Studies, University of Leiden

As I have tried to argue in a draft paper to be published in  the Journal of International Criminal Justice (Vol. 11, Issue 5) one of the most striking features of discussion concerning the legality of strikes against Syria has been the mixture of semantics relating to intervention. The justification of intervention in Syria has been replete with references to notions of accountability, deterrence and punishment. For example, US Secretary of State John Kerry linked the moral legitimacy of the proposed response to the idea that ‘there must be accountability for those who would use the world’s most heinous weapons against the world’s most vulnerable people’.  Also, the United Kingdom Legal Memorandum speaks of the objective of ‘deterring or disrupting the further use of chemical weapons’. Section 2 of the Resolution of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee invokes three rationales of the authorization of military intervention: (i) ‘respond to the use of weapons of mass destruction by the Syrian government’; (ii) ‘deter Syria’s use of such weapons’; and1 ‘degrade Syria’s capacity to use such weapons in the future’.

This language associates military intervention with notions of ‘retribution’ and  ‘punishment’. The justification seems to be predominantly linked to the ‘gravity’ of the violation. The Obama Administration has translated this imagery into the notion of the ‘red line’. The  metaphor seems to suggest that such a breach of international law is so severe that it cannot be tolerated by the international community and warrants a repressive response. The concept that certain acts might trigger international responsibility and are of concern to the ‘international community as a whole’ is of course well-known (ICJ,  Barcelona Traction) and reflected in the ILC Draft Articles of State Responsibility (Art. 48).

The use of chemical weapons against civilians is both a violation of customary law and an international crime (UK Legal Memorandum, para 2).  But the consequence of this approach, i.e., the idea to ‘punish’ a regime for unlawful action under jus in bello through resort to the use of force, is highly controversial. There are other competing, and at least similarly important ‘red lines’ that require respect, i.e., Articles 2 (1) and (4) of the UN Charter, the prohibition of aggression and the viability of the collective security system, as argued by others.

The policy case in favor of intervention mixes two levels of discussions that have been separated in past decades: state responsibility for an international wrongful act, and individual criminal responsibility for international crimes. The idea that another state (rather than individuals) might be ‘punished’ has been banished from contemporary international law, in contexts such as sanctions, the ban on reprisals against civilians or the prohibition of collective punishment in international criminal law (e.g., Article 4, paragraph 2(b), of Additional Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions), since it has an indiscriminate effect. The current discourse on intervention appears to re-open this principle. Read the rest of this entry…

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