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Home Articles posted by Kai Ambos

Interests of Justice? The ICC urgently needs reforms

Published on June 11, 2019        Author: 

The demands for an “independent evaluation” through a small group of experts, formulated by four former presidents of the Assembly of State Parties of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and accompanied by several critical blogs (see, inter alia, here, here, here and here) is the outcome of several controversial court decisions and the Court’s manifest problem in its decision-making process, i.e., its serious governance problems.

Probably the most controversial decision, made on 12 April 2019, concerns the rejection by Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) II of the Prosecutor’s application of the initiation of a (formal) investigation into the Afghanistan situation involving crimes allegedly committed by the Taliban, Afghan and US military forces. The PTC based its decision on a broad interpretation of the ambiguous concept of “interests of justice” (Art. 53(1)(c) Rome Statute) and the expected lack of cooperation by Afghanistan and the USA, allegedly resulting in limited chances of a successful investigation. Thereby the Chamber converts the interests of justice concept into a utilitarian efficiency clause which is predicated on the possible success of the proceedings. Not only is this difficult to reconcile with the rationale of the said concept but also incompatible with the wording of Art. 53(1)(c) which links the “interest of justice” to, inter alia, the gravity of the crime and the interests of the victims. Yet, both of these criteria speak for the opposite result than that reached by the Chamber, namely the opening of the formal investigation. For the gravity of the crimes is acknowledged by the Chamber itself and the victims’ interests are reflected by the submission of information by hundreds of them during the preliminary examination. If a Chamber considers that despite the existence of gravity and interests of victims “an investigation would not serve the interests of justice”, i.e. “nonetheless” (Art. 53(1)(c)) the existence of these criteria, it must show that there are more important “substantial reasons” which displace the prima facie interests of justice (derived from gravity and victims’ interests) in favour of opening a formal investigation. In other words, while the term “nonetheless” makes clear that there may be countervailing considerations which may speak against the opening of an investigation despite gravity and victims’ interests, these countervailing considerations must be thoroughly substantiated and, at any rate, do not turn the interests of justice clause into a mere, free floating policy factor which gives a Chamber an unfettered discretion (see also Ambos, Treatise International Criminal Law Vol. III, 2016, p. 390). The present Chamber fails to grasp these complexities and therebyshows a lack of sensibility with regard to the “interests of justice” concept. Thus, it is not surprising that the decision has met serious criticisms in the international criminal law blogsphere (see here, here, here and here) and the Prosecutor filed a leave to appeal request on 7 June 2019. The most recent Appeals Chamber decision from the 6 May 2019, denying the personal immunity of the then Sudanese President Al-Bashir and interpreting the non-immunity rule of Art. 27 Rome Statute as one of customary law, has also received some criticism (see here and here) but ultimately deserves support (see here and here) since it confirms the historical (Nuremberg) trend of non-immunity in international criminal justice. Read the rest of this entry…

 

Colombia: Time for the ICC Prosecutor to Act?

Published on April 2, 2019        Author:  and

The controversy evolving around the role and competence of the Colombian Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz, SJP) has reached a new peak: Colombian President Iván Duque initiated a frontal attack against the Jurisdiction’s statutory law that goes beyond all previous assaults directed against the country’s Transitional Justice (TJ) system. We argue in this post that the current developments are an alarming threat to the Colombian peace process, and that President Duque’s most recent intent to impede the proper functioning of SJP has the potential to challenge any meaningful existence of that jurisdiction. Ultimately, we argue that this highly critical situation could (and probably should) prompt the Prosecutor of the ICC to take action.      

Previous attempts to weaken the Transitional Justice Process

It is not the first time that President Duque has attempted to undermine the country’s TJ-process. During his election campaign in August 2018, he announced that he would seek amendments to the Final Peace Agreement which was reached in 2016 between the Colombian government  and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – Peoples Army (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo, FARC-EP). After his election, Duque’s parliamentary group in the Colombian Congress (Centro Democrático, CD) has turned his words into action launching a proposal for a constitutional amendment that would deny all TJ-organs (including the SJP) access to confidential information affecting national security. The proposal would inhibit the work of all TJ-mechanisms and thus amounts to a frontal attack on the whole system, as has been commented in a previous post.

In October 2018, a new proposal issued by the Colombian Congress suggested the creation of special chambers within the SJP with the sole competence to try members of the Colombian Armed Forces. As a sort of military jurisdiction, whose impartiality and independence is more than questionable, it would unduly privilege members of the Armed Forces involved in international crimes. Thereby, it further threatens to undermine the SJP’s crucial function as the single mechanism responsible to bring all parties of the conflict to justice.

Even though the Colombian Congress has not adopted both proposals so far, they evince the government’s obvious intent to undermine the SJP’s constitutional framework and hinder its proper functioning.

The latest attack on the Special Jurisdiction for Peace

On 10 March, the government doubled down on its attempts to derail Colombia’s TJ-system: President Duque partially objected to the Statutory Law on the Administration of Justice of the SJP Read the rest of this entry…

 

Another Challenge for Colombia’s Transitional Justice Process: Aggravated Differential Treatment between Armed Forces and FARC

Published on October 19, 2018        Author: 

A new proposal for a constitutional amendment has caused another highly controversial debate in Colombia. The proposal foresees the creation of “special chambers” within the Colombian Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz, SJP) with the exclusive competence to try members of the Armed Forces. Just a quick reminder: The Final Peace Agreement was concluded between the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo, FARC-EP) in November 2016. It introduced the SJP as the Peace Agreement’s single legal mechanism, responsible for bringing all parties to the conflict to justice. The new government and its party in the Colombian Congress (“Centro Democrático”) are keen to make some reforms to the SJP. A few weeks ago we have discussed here a proposal to radically limit the access of the SJP and other organs of the Colombian TJ System to information related to national security. The now proposed constitutional amendment is the result of a debate that had already started earlier this year at the time of the negotiations regarding the SJP’s Rules of Procedure and Evidence (RPE). It evolved around the introduction of Article 75 RPE which provides for a special procedure for the Armed Forces in relation to the crimes committed during the armed conflict. The rule was finally adopted and ultimately paved the way for this recent proposal.

The authors of the proposal (among them former President Alvaro Uribe Vélez, one of the Peace Agreement’s most vocal opponents) consider that the Armed Forces “have fought in the name and in favor of the legitimate State”, including those members  that committed crimes not eligible for amnesty; in contrast, the FARC are characterized as just a “criminal organization pursuing criminal purposes” (Explanatory Statement to the proposal (ES), p. 11 [all translations by the author]). The proposal’s aim is, of course, to strengthen the position of the Armed Forces, especially of those members involved in international crimes and thus possibly subject to national or international proceedings. However, as it stands the proposal will do a disservice to the Armed Forces which should rather stick to the existing mechanisms of the SJP in order to have higher security with regard to the International Criminal Court (ICC). For reasons of space, I cannot explain here the multiple problems of the proposal with regard to the current Colombian constitutional system (especially, but not exclusively regarding the SJP), and its international obligations (regarding the jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the ICC and under International Humanitarian Law). Instead, I will focus on the serious problem that the proposal creates for its presumed beneficiaries with regard to the preliminary examination undertaken by the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor (OTP).

The proposal has implications for the application of the complementarity principle, which regulates the relationship between national jurisdictions and the ICC. Read the rest of this entry…

 
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Transitional Justice Without Truth?

Published on August 27, 2018        Author: 

During his election campaign, Colombia’s new president Iván Duque announced that he would seek amendments to the peace agreement with the FARC-EP of 24 November 2016 and the ensuing unique Colombian system of Transitional Justice (TJ) (Sistema Integral de Verdad, Justicia, Reparación y No Repetición, SIVJRNR– see here for details of that system). Now, the parliamentary group of his party (Centro Democrático, CD) in the Colombian Congress has followed his words with deeds and launched a proposal for a constitutional amendment (Transitional Article 5A) (of which the government, however, was, according to its spokesperson, not aware). Under this amendment, all the TJ-organs, in particular the Truth Commission (Comisión para el Esclarecimiento de la Verdad, la Convivencia y la No Repetición) and the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz, JEP), will be denied access to confidential information affecting national security. This proposed amendment follows another change that the CD  has proposed to the procedural regime of the Special Jurisdiciton for Peace, shortly after the presidential election (still in the former Congress). Under that change, surrender of military personnel to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace would be voluntary and there would be a separate jurisdiction for the military. However, the constitutionality of this rule is very doubtful because it would undermine the constitutional TJ framework. From this perspective, it is consistent that the new government is now preparing an amendment of the Constitution itself, by denying the TJ organs access to information.

Of course, the new proposal amounts to a frontal attack on any TJ-system, because its central component is the establishment of (historical) truth and, based on this, a cultural memory. Such a cultural memory is important for any transitional society in its entirety, both for victims and perpetrators, as both groups are part of this society. But how can a proposal that practically hinders the establishment of truth and memory be reconciled with victims’ rights that the new government has repeatedly called for, in particular the right to truth? How can historical truth be established without access to the information in question? Read the rest of this entry…

 

Pardons for Crimes Against Humanity: Some Critical Considerations Regarding the Pardon of Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori

Published on January 8, 2018        Author:  and

On Christmas eve the current President of Peru, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, pardoned the former president Fujimori who had served about 12 years of a sentence of 25 years for crimes against humanity (Resolución Suprema n° 281-2017-JUS of 24.12.2017). Leaving aside the particular political context in which this pardon was issued (a few days before a parliamentary motion to remove President Kuczynski for corruption allegations failed because members of Fuerza Popular, the political movement of Fujimori’s daughter, voted against it), the decision raises several legal questions under Peruvian and international law. One of the questions, which this post will consider is the legality of pardons for persons convicted of crimes against humanity, an issue that raises similar considerations to amnesties for such crimes. To start with, it is important to note that in Peru, in general, pardons cannot be issued arbitrarily. In the case of the so-called humanitarian pardon, there are two generic circumstances that deserve closer attention.

On the one hand, the decision is, of course, only legitimate if it is based on a genuine and sufficient humanitarian reason. Read the rest of this entry…

 
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Foreign Jurists in the Colombian Special Jurisdiction for Peace: A New Concept of Amicus Curiae?

Published on December 19, 2017        Author:  and

One year after the conclusion, on 24 November 2016, of the Final Peace Agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC-EP (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo/ Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army), the implementation of that Agreement now enters a decisive phase. That Agreement was reached after the rejection of the first version of 24 August 2016 by a slim majority of 50.2% of votes. Last month, the Constitutional Court, by unanimous vote, approved the constitutional reform that implements the Agreement through a special legislative act (Acto Legislativo 01 of 4 April 2017). However, the Court objected to some articles concerning the Special Jurisdiction for Peace ( SPJ or JEP – Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz) which is the judicial cornerstone of the Agreement. The judges of the JEP have recently been selected in a transparent and competitive procedure by a fully independent and mixed Selection Committee (Comité de Escogencia).

While the Final Agreement no longer provides for foreign judges – this was one of the points that proved unacceptable to those who opposed the original Agreement, led by former President Uribe – these have now been substituted by foreign jurists called amici curiae. These, too, were recently selected by the Comité de Escogencia on 6 December 2017, with10 in total for the two JEP organs (four for the “Tribunal para la Paz” and six for the “Salas de Justicia”) with two reserve amici for each organ (the first author of this blog was selected for the Tribunal for Peace). However, it is not quite clear what role these amici will ultimately play before the JEP. We will argue in this post that the Colombian concept of amicus curiae differs from the usual international understanding. This can be explained by the particular Colombian context, where, on the one hand, the parties to the Peace Agreement favored the participation of foreign judges in the JEP, but, on the other hand, the strong opposition to the agreement forced the government to even limit the influence of the substitute foreign jurists (amici). While the ‘Colombian model’ is unique and innovative, only practice will show whether the foreign jurists are mere advisors to the different JEP organs or if they will be able to play a more important and influential role by directly participating in the deliberation of the exclusively Colombian judges. Read the rest of this entry…

 

Evacuation of Civilian Populations and Criminal Complicity: A Critical Appraisal of the February 2017 Report of the Syria Commission of Inquiry

Published on May 24, 2017        Author: 

In its February 2017 Report (A/HRC/34/64), the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria made the bold statement that the evacuation of the civilian population from Eastern Aleppo, pursuant to an agreement between the Syrian government and the armed groups “amounts to the war crime of forced displacement” since it was made “for strategic reasons” and “not for the security of civilians or imperative military necessity.” (para. 93). A – perhaps unintended – consequence of this proposition would be that staff of NGOs or other non-state actors who assisted in this evacuation may be criminally liable as accomplices in this war crime.

I will argue here that this proposition is incorrect for basically two reasons. First, the Report does not make a persuasive argument that a war crime has been committed and thus there is no criminal conduct to which other individuals could have been contributed. Secondly, even if, arguendo, one assumes that the evacuation amounted to a war crime, to provide assistance in the evacuation of civilians does not constitute criminally relevant complicity.

Read the rest of this entry…

 

Karadzic’s Genocidal Intent as the “Only Reasonable Inference”?

Published on April 1, 2016        Author: 

As a follow-up to Marko Milanovic’s excellent post, I have some further comments on the recent Karadzic judgment, especially on the Trial Chamber’s bifurcated approach to the two genocide charges (acquittal re the municipalities joint criminal enterprise [JCE] and conviction re the Srebrencia JCE, see paras. 2571 et seq. and 5655 et seq. respectively). Before turning to the concrete points, I must present a caveat and a general commentary on the evidentiary standard.

The caveat refers to the quite delicate position of an academic commentator when analysing a trial judgment. Being myself a trial judge (albeit only in my second profession as the majority of my time is dedicated to my academic work) in a procedural system where the actual trial, governed by the principles of orality and immediacy, is considered the height of the proceedings, I am aware that nothing can substitute the direct impressions taken from the actual trial hearings, especially regarding the oral and immediate presentation of evidence. The academic commentator is more in the position of a judge at the appeal stage, in the sense of the French cassation or the German Revision, where the ensuing legal review of the trial court’s sentence is essentially based on the critical legal analysis of this court’s written judgment. Thus, my comments are the mere product of a critical reading of the respective parts of the Karadzic trial judgment, further limited by the natural margin of deference to be given to any trial court, and the restrictive ‘reasonable trier of fact’ appeal standard of international criminal proceedings.

This brings me to the evidentiary standard with regard to the proof of the subjective element (mens rea) of criminal law offences captured in the old Roman maxim, dolus ex re, i.e. the intent (mental element) (is to be) inferred from the external circumstances of the objective act (actus reus). This is nothing other than the modern indirect or circumstantial evidence which has taken centre stage in international criminal proceedings, especially as regards the proof of the special intent to destroy a protected group in the crime of genocide (paras. 550, 5825). Indeed, the whole genocidal case against Karadzic is based on circumstantial evidence, defined by the Chamber, referring to settled case law, as “evidence of a number of different circumstances surrounding an event from which a fact at issue may be reasonably inferred” (para. 14) and, in addition, requiring a highly demanding ‘only reasonable inference’ standard (paras. 10, 14). In concrete terms, this entails a double evidentiary test as the trial chamber must first be convinced that a certain inference is the only reasonable one and second, that all reasonable inferences taken together – as the totality of (indirect) evidence – prove beyond reasonable doubt the respective mental element and thus, ultimately, the guilt of the accused.

Let us now turn to my concrete queries. Read the rest of this entry…

 

The new enemy of mankind: The Jurisdiction of the ICC over members of “Islamic State”

Published on November 26, 2015        Author: 

President Obama has called the recent Paris terror attacks an “attack on all of humanity”. In doing so, he has touched upon the core of so-called crimes against humanity. Due to their quantitative and qualitative dimensions and their utter disregard for fundamental values, such crimes are directed not only against individual persons, but against humanity as a whole. The link to a State was abandoned in the Statutes of the UN Ad Hoc Tribunals in 1993 (ICTY) and 1994 (ICTR) and then, with a universal claim,  in 1998 with the definition adopted in Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Since then, it has been possible for crimes against humanity to be committed by non-state actors. Their traditional State-based rationale – punishing the representatives of the morally perverted State that uses its power against its own citizens without restraint – can be transferred to non-state actors. When these actors, like the so-called Islamic State (IS), send suicide assassins into a concert hall to execute innocent civilians, this reveals a level of moral perversion that is typical of crimes against humanity. That the perpetrators invoke God when doing so makes the matter even worse. Religiously motivated perpetrators of crimes against humanity not only deny their victims’ right to exist, but in doing so place themselves above us “unbelievers” as part of a supposedly divine mission; in fact, they act in the same manner as the crusaders they claim to be fighting against.

A perpetrator of a crime against humanity is “hostis humani generis”, an enemy of mankind. The concept was used to refer to pirates long before crimes against humanity existed. The IS is far worse than pirates, and its acts carry all of the hallmarks of crimes against humanity. While this may have been doubted before Paris, after the attacks these doubts are gone with the wind. In the dry technical language of the so-called context element of crimes against humanity, the attacks represent a widespread and systematic attack directed against the civilian population. The attack targeted a large number of civilians and had been planned in a premeditated fashion. The intentional killing of more than 100 people constitutes the required single act of ‘murder’. As a consequence, the ICC has jurisdiction ratione materiae, without any need for recourse to war crimes. This makes the matter simpler, as it is highly controversial – despite the unambiguous language of the French President Hollande (“acte de guerre”) – whether an armed conflict can actually exist between a transnational non-state actor and a State under current International Humanitarian Law.

However, does the ICC also have formal jurisdiction over acts committed by members of Islamic State? Read the rest of this entry…

 

The Armenian “Genocide”?

Published on May 11, 2015        Author: 

Given the difficulty in proving the special intent to destroy, the charge of genocide is not one to be brought lightly.

No-one can reasonably argue with the clear statements made by German President Joachim Gauck in his speech on Armenia held on 23 April 2015: “one hundred years ago, hundreds of thousands of members of the Armenian people” became “the victims of planned and systematic murder”. It is probably also accurate to say that these acts, for which the Ottoman Empire was responsible, were perpetrated against the Armenians “because they were Armenians”. But did these acts really constitute “genocide”, as Gauck further stated, in a legal sense?

According to the Convention on Genocide adopted in 1948, we are facing a genocide when certain acts are committed against a “national, ethnical, racial or religious group” with “the intent to destroy [it] in whole or in part”. The term derives from the Greek γένος (race, tribe) and the Latin caedere (to kill). The Armenians doubtlessly constitute such an (ethnic and religious) group; however, did the Turkish perpetrators really act with the required intent to destroy? Is it even possible to designate prior conduct using a legal category that did not exist at the time said conduct occurred?

These are by no means mere juristic quibbles. The prohibition of genocide constitutes so-called peremptory international law (ius cogens). The “prevention and punishment” demanded by the Convention is thus directed not only at the perpetrating and territorial State, but at all States on our planet. They are all called to prevent genocide and – if prevention is unsuccessful – to punish it. The extraordinary degree of wrongdoing inherent in genocide – the attack on one of the abovementioned groups and the denial of its right to exist implicit in this attack – makes it the “crime of crimes”, to which particular stigma is attached. Thus it is quite understandable that a State should try to defend itself against the stigmatisation associated with genocide. Read the rest of this entry…