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Home Articles posted by Douglas Guilfoyle

A Tale of Two Cases: Lessons for the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (Part III)

Published on August 30, 2019        Author: 

In earlier posts in this series (here and here) I have examined the ICC Office of the Prosecutor’s (OTP) great successes and failures of July 2019. A successful conviction in Ntaganda and a dismissal of its case in Gbagbo and Blé Goudé. I’ve noted a number of important differences between the two cases and in this post I’d like to reflect on the way forward. First, I will ask what lessons appear to have been taken to heart in the OTP’s new strategic plan. Second, I’ll offer a few brief concluding thoughts to this series of posts.

What has the OTP learned? The Strategic Plan 2019-2021

There are a number of encouraging signs in the new OTP Strategic Plan. Broadly, it acknowledges that preparing high-quality cases with the best chances of success in Court will require pursuing fewer cases, those cases may need to be narrower, and there will need to be a process for situations under preliminary investigation to be closed. Read the rest of this entry…

 

A Tale of Two Cases: Lessons for the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (Part II)

Published on August 29, 2019        Author: 

In this three part series of posts I’m reflecting on the lessons to be learned from the sharply contrasting results last month at the International Criminal Court with a conviction entered in Ntaganda and reasons finally being released for the dismissal of the Prosecution case in Gbagbo and Blé GoudéThe former involved a rebel commander accused of being a co-perpetrator of attacks against civilians, including sexual offences and sexual enslavement. Yesterday, I noted that in Ntaganda the ICC Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) benefitted from its long engagement with, and consequent deep knowledge of, the relevant conflict. It also ran a well-prepared case targeting a rebel leader (as both a direct and indirect perpetrator) and had framed charges based in common facts and a limited number of key incidents. Gbagbo and Blé Goudé involved allegations that the former president of Côte D’Ivoire organised attacks upon civilian supporters of his principal political rival in post-election violence. The key question, of course, is what accounts for the difference in outcomes?

Today I will examine Gbagbo and Blé Goudé in some detail, and tomorrow I will ask – looking at the OTP’s new strategy document – whether the right lessons have been learned. 

What went wrong in Gbagbo and Blé Goudé

The majority in the Gbagbo and Blé Goudé Trial Chamber for the no case to answer motion were Judges Henderson and Tarfusser, Judge Herrera-Carbuccia dissenting. For reasons of space, I will focus on the Henderson and Tarfusser separate opinions (although technically, Judge Tarfusser concurs in Judge Henderson’s reasons for dismissing the case which makes his opinion the Chamber’s “reasons”). In sum, though, their account of what went wrong for the Prosecutor was: a poorly conducted investigation was conducted which then had to underpin an inflexible and overly simplistic case theory, which was in turn poorly executed in the courtroom. “In a nutshell, the majority acquitted Mr Gbagbo and Mr Blé Goudé because the way in which the Prosecutor depicted their actions and omissions from a legal point of view could not be sustained by the evidence” (Judge Henderson, Preliminary remarks, para 2). These opinions do not make for comfortable reading. Read the rest of this entry…

 
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A Tale of Two Cases: Lessons for the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court? (Part I)

Published on August 28, 2019        Author: 

Last month was a mixed one for the ICC Office of the Prosecutor. On 8 July 2019 it appeared that the ICC “had found its footing”, with a Trial Chamber delivering a staid, methodical judgment in Ntaganda. This was a double victory for the OTP: a conviction of a rebel leader in a truly horrific conflict; and a public affirmation that it could present a well-run and coherent case. However, on 16 July 2019, reasons for the ‘no case to answer’ decision were released in Gbagbo and Blé Goudé (‘Gbagbo’) in which the majority (Judges Henderson and Tarfusser) were scathing in their assessment of the OTP’s performance. Then on 26 July 2019 the OTP released the final version of its Strategic Plan 2019-2021 which noted, with some understatement, there has been “a period of mixed results in court” and “significant setbacks”. In fairness to the OTP no-one, not even the majority in Gbagbo, doubts that the OTP has hard-working and dedicated staff prosecuting cases of great complexity (see para 9 of the Reasons of Judge Henderson). The question is, how can the same Office produce such different results? A key problem in Gbagbo was that the majority of the Trial Chamber were completely unpersuaded by the Prosecutor’s ‘system of evidence’ and case theory. Yet, this was not a problem in Ntaganda. What accounts for the difference?

Over three blog posts I propose to look at: first, what went right in Ntaganda; second, what went wrong in Gbagbo; and, third, to ask whether the new OTP Strategic Plan has learned the right lessons and set the right priorities. I will also reflect in that final post on whether these results pose a significant challenge to my recent posts critical of ICC performance (spoiler alert: no, they do not). Read the rest of this entry…

 
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The Future of International Law in an Authoritarian World

Published on June 3, 2019        Author: 

In this short review essay, I would like to offer some thoughts on the future of international law in an increasingly authoritarian world. Even for a discipline which loves a crisis, these are perhaps challenging times. The liberal cosmopolitan project of global governance through international law and multilateral institutions has, at the very least, hit a bump in the road. There is a widespread sense that a change in direction is likely. It is a reasonable time to reflect on questions such as: is international law in trouble? How concerned should we be at attempts to revise the international system? And what might a more authoritarian version of international law look like?

In reflecting on the questions I’d like to offer my readings of three scholars I’ve recently found thought-provoking. These are personal reflections and interpretations, not an effort to capture every nuance of their work. Nonetheless, each has had an impact on my thinking.

  1. Shirley Scott, “The Decline of International Law as a Normative Ideal

In this piece, Scott contrasts her view of international law with what she considers the dangers in the turn to speaking about a “rules-based order”. Scott sees the project of international law as historically containing a commitment to several major principles.

First, the principle that law is politically neutral: a conception that law stands aside from politics, and creates a level playing field for state actors, to engage and to argue with each other. This principle includes the idea of formal sovereign equality.

Second, a commitment to peace through law: the idea that law contains within it the potential for objective dispute settlement, and that this is a contribution to world peace. Read the rest of this entry…

 
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Reforming the International Criminal Court: Is it Time for the Assembly of State Parties to be the adults in the room?

Published on May 8, 2019        Author: 

The self-inflicted misfortunes of the International Criminal Court continue. The recent Pre-Trial Chamber decision not to authorise the opening of an investigation in Afghanistan has already generated considerable controversy (see here, here, here, here and here). The rather surprising news that Judge Ozaki would be allowed to continue to serve part time on the Court while becoming Japan’s ambassador to Estonia has also drawn criticism. And, of course, on Monday the Al Bashir immunity decision was handed down. Amidst the hubbub, one other development has gone relatively unremarked. The first four presidents of the ICC Assembly of States Parties (ASP) have released a joint op-ed through the Atlantic Council entitled “the International criminal court needs fixing”. For present purposes, it is enough to note several key points.

The op-ed calls for “an independent assessment of the court’s functioning by a small group of international experts”. This call appears triggered by the Afghanistan decision which they see as expressing “a lack of confidence that the Court could successfully carry out the job.” The rest of the piece pursues two central points – and a cluster of worrying claims. Read the rest of this entry…

 

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

Published on March 25, 2019        Author: 

Editor’s note: This is the final post in a three-part series. Parts I and II are available here and here.

In this final reflection I would like to offer some concluding remarks based on my previous two posts. Those posts do not break any new ground for those who follow the International Criminal Court closely. However, they represent my attempt to step back and examine some of the Court’s troubles more holistically. Indeed, they barely scratch the surface of various matters one could explore in such a series.

The basic fact remains that in 20 years and almost two complete prosecutorial terms, the Court that ostensibly exists to fight impunity and prosecute those most responsible for the crimes of greatest concern to the international community has managed only three convictions for core international crimes. Of these one was a guilty plea (Al Mahdi), one controversially involved the Court’s judges saving a collapsing case by recharacterizing the mode of liability after the presentation of argument and evidence had concluded and without hearing further argument on point (Katanga), and one took six years to result in a single conviction for the recruitment of child soldiers (Lubanga).

This is not a record of success. The argument I have put forward is first that there are real questions as to whether the Court’s job is possible to do on the present conditions. In my first post I argued that many of the defences made of the Court are simply articulations of the structural requirements for success which are not present. In my second post, I argued that even given those structural limitations it is not obvious that the Court as presently constituted is up to the task. The OTP appears unable to consistently mount successful and convincing cases. While the first Prosecutor must certainly take much of the blame, the second does not appear to have had much success righting the ship. Just as worrying, however, appears to be the breakdown in trust between the OTP and Chambers. Beyond the examples given in my second post, the Pre-Trial Chamber has attempted to circumscribe prosecutorial discretion or direct the course of investigations both in relation to the Cormoros and Bangladesh situations. Further, there are very worrying signs of a breakdown in collegiality among the ICC judges which is damaging both the formal coherence of court decisions and its wider legitimacy. This is before we even touch on the Court’s unsightly history of internal employment litigation and pay disputes, and now reports that the ICC mismanaged property in the Bemba case frozen to provide for any reparation orders. The allegation is that over 10 years Mr Bemba’s property was “left to devalue, dissipate or simply rot.” From the outside, the picture is one of dysfunction.

What is to be done? As foreshadowed, I think the answer has to be found in a guiding ethic of modesty and collegiality. I will address this in terms of institutional design, investigations and evidence, and judicial culture. The temptation will be to double down and push harder in the present direction of travel. This would be a mistake. The Court is facing a legitimacy crisis. To survive as an institution, the court is going to need to start making some compromises with reality.

Institutional design

In retrospect, elements of the Court’s design were from the outset overambitious or over-complicated. 

Read the rest of this entry…

 

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

Published on March 22, 2019        Author: 

Editor’s note: This is Part II of a three-part series. Part I is available here.

Part I of these reflections focused upon the structural constraints faced by the International Criminal Court as a whole. Within this framework, I wish to focus upon the role of individuals and officeholders in the courts success or failure within those constraints, with a focus on the office of the prosecutor and the judges of the court (Chambers). This post thus sets out to address questions of the Court’s internal workings, practices and culture. In relation to the OTP, I will focus on questions of strategy and management; in respect of chambers, questions of collegiality and assessment of evidence. Space precludes an evaluation of the Registry’s contribution to the court’s present woes beyond my earlier allusion to the well-known, long and expensive series of employment law cases brought against it which followed from a previous registrar’s restructuring exercise. Again, little here will seem especially new to close observers of the Court, the point is to pull together a worrying cluster of issues for a broader audience. Warning: long post ahead.

The Office of the Prosecutor (OTP)

It is worth acknowledging both the enormous power of the role of an international prosecutor, and the very great difficulties in doing the job successfully. As Stahn notes, the Prosecutor is the engine of international criminal tribunal proceedings. He or she conducts investigations, selects defendants, brings cases to trial. In doing so, it is common for prosecutors to say that they are only following the law or evidence, but in practice they have substantial discretion in case and defendant selection. In addition, obtaining defendants and evidence requires, in practice, the cooperation of States. Thus, prosecutors’ work ‘is inherently linked to politics due to the political context of crimes, the politics behind institutional engagement and their large degree of choice.’ That said, international prosecutions are hard. Gathering evidence in conflict zones is hard. Operating in the face of government obstruction is hard. And the reality of selective justice at the international level means prosecutors will always be open to criticisms of partiality or lacking independence. It’s a challenging job. Much was going to depend on the ICC Assembly of State Party’s choice of prosecutor in 2003.

The first Prosecutor

The first Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, was during his tenure an Olympian figure; though the verdict of history on his achievements looks increasingly likely to be that of Ozymandias. 

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: 

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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Canute’s Kingdoms: Can small island states legislate against their own disappearance?

Published on February 20, 2019        Author: 

It was recently drawn to my attention that Tuvalu and Kiribati have in recent years passed legislation, following a relatively common scheme, that removes reference to the low tide line as the baseline for measuring maritime zones and replaces it with a system of fixed geographic coordinates. (The Marshall Islands has taken a somewhat similar approach.) On its face, this may constitute a claim that their maritime baselines are permanently fixed. That is, they will not retreat or be redrawn with rising sea levels.

This might seem a small matter in the range of legal issues implicated by climate change – it is not.

As every public international lawyer probably recalls, at least after the South China Sea arbitration, an island (within the meaning of article 121 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) generates a full suite of maritime zones but must be more than a mere rock incapable of sustaining human habitation or a maritime feature which is only above water at low tide. Imagine your national territory is composed of a series of islands, some of them quite small but generating extensive maritime zones. Long before you risk becoming completely “de-territorialised” by rising sea levels you might lose much of your national livelihood if islands previously generating exclusive economic zones become mere low tide elevations.

So the question becomes, can a state freeze the baselines from which its maritime zones are projected? Read the rest of this entry…

 
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Taking the party line on the South China Sea Arbitration

Published on May 28, 2018        Author: 

I recently posted here on the extraordinary 500-page “Critical Study” of the Awards in the South China Sea Arbitration published by the Chinese Society of International Law (CSIL) in Oxford University Press’ Chinese Journal of International Law.

The piece drew a number of interesting comments, the most interesting from Professor Bing Ling of the University of Sydney:

This Critical Study is not some spontaneous work by individual academics, but clearly a government-orchestrated project produced in the name of a learned society. The Working Report of the Board of CSIL (2013-18) reports that the work of CSIL, including the Critical Study, was carried out “under the supervision and leadership of the Foreign Ministry” (https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/Xv8Kij_bDuqMETULvUfMqg).

That CSIL Working Report makes for interesting reading in Google Translate. It opens with:

In the past five years, under the guidance of the socialist ideology with Chinese characteristics in the new era of Xi Jinping, the current council has united and led the members to work together under the leadership of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to earnestly implement the spirit of the 18th and 19th National Party Congress and the Party Central Committee … [including through] adherence to the correct political direction …

In terms of the five years of work the first heading is “Serving the State’s Foreign Affairs and Foreign Affairs Bureau to Promote the International Influence of the Society” and achievement (A)(II) is listed as:

Actively respond to the “Southern Gulf [sic] arbitration case proposed by the Philippines”. From 2016 to 2018 , the Society made a multi-level, multi-channel and multi-perspective speech by organizing domestic and international seminars, writing reports, publishing series of articles, publishing special issues, receiving television interviews, and writing criticism reports. They refuted and exposed the Philippine arbitral tribunal for the South China Sea arbitration case to expand powers, ultra vires, and abuse of power. … Including: 1. Organization of domestic experts and scholars, organized the “Philippine South China Sea Arbitration” academic seminar. 2. Organize domestic experts and scholars to write a report on the “Arbitral Tribunal of the South China Sea Arbitration Court has no legal effect” report and publish it in both Chinese and English; 3. Organize domestic experts and scholars to write a “Critique of the South China Sea Arbitration Award” report in both Chinese and English publishing.  … (Emphasis added.)

A further important piece of context is the following passage:

… [W]e always adhere to the overall situation of serving the country’s diplomacy and foreign affairs. Diplomatic foreign affairs work is an important part of the overall work guilof the party and the country. The work of international law teaching research and associations is also an important component of foreign affairs. In the past five years, the Institute has guided the Chinese international law community to focus on the research direction of the focus of diplomatic work. It closely identifies the actual needs of diplomatic work when organizing various academic conferences to determine the theme of the conference, and effectively plays a role as a bridge between the theoretical and practical world of international law. Under the leadership of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Society has always adhered to the mission of the National Foreign Affairs and Foreign Affairs Center, paid close attention to the evolution of the international situation, strengthened theoretical and empirical studies of international law in related fields, and scored a series of important achievements. In particular, in 2016, the Society mobilized the academic community to cooperate with the overall deployment of diplomacy to carry out the juridical struggle and actively responded to the “Philippine South China Sea Arbitration Case” in various ways, effectively refuting and exposing the unlawful practices of the temporary arbitration tribunal. (Emphasis added.)

Allowing for the vagaries of Google Translate, this five year Working Report raises a number of interesting questions including:

  • Given the close association of the CSIL and the Chinese Foreign Ministry – and the apparent integration of the CSIL into the diplomatic effort on this issue – should Foreign Ministry “leadership” of the Critical Study have been acknowledged in a first footnote?
  • Did the CSIL’s self-professed “mobiliz[ation of] the academic community” have any impact (directly or indirectly) on the peer review process for the Critical Study?
  • OUP lists the Chinese Journal of International Law as “An independent, peer-reviewed research journal edited primarily by scholars from mainland China, and published in association with the Chinese Society of International Law, Beijing, and Wuhan University Institute of International Law, Wuhan …” Should that description make some acknowledgement of the seemingly close links between the CSIL and the Foreign Ministry?

In addition, the editorial board includes a substantial number of distinguished scholars who are resident outside China. It would be interesting to know how many of them were involved in the editorial decision-making and peer review process which has resulted in what could potentially be seen as a 500 page government-commissioned or -vetted report being published in a scholarly journal.

If anyone would wish to correct auto-translated passages, please let me know.