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Response: Strengthening Justice for Victims Through Complementarity

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Editor’s Note: This post is part of our Joint Symposium with Justice in Conflict on Human Rights Watch’s Report, Pressure Point: The ICC’s Impact on National Justice 

Many thanks to the editors and the contributors for making this online symposium possible. Our primary goal with Pressure Point was to identify whether and how the Office of the Prosecutor at the ICC could become more effective in pursuing its policy goal of encouraging national prosecutions through engagement at the preliminary examination stage.

But we also hoped that Pressure Point could play a role in bringing broader awareness about this dimension of the prosecutor’s work, and to stimulate others to consider how they might be able to contribute to efforts to spur national prosecutions as part of expanding the reach of justice. In this response, we address some key areas of agreement among the contributors while also addressing some differences in perspective or conclusions.

As we make clear in the report and as Emeric also emphasizes, pursuing national prosecutions is only a secondary goal of preliminary examinations, which primarily are focused on determining whether the ICC should exercise jurisdiction. When it comes to how the prosecutor should approach those determinations, it is clear there are a number of important considerations that go far beyond our report’s focus on positive complementarity. Carsten Stahn’s contribution here impressively covers that vast terrain, and brings in additional voices from the recently published Quality Control in Preliminary Examinations to set out a number of areas where further consideration is helpful. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Ethos of “Positive Complementarity”

Published on December 11, 2018        Author: 
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Editor’s Note:This post is part of our Joint Symposium with Justice in Conflict on Human Rights Watch’s Report, Pressure Point: The ICC’s Impact on National Justice 

I am grateful to Dapo Akande and Mark Kersten for their invitation to contribute to this “symposium” on HRW’s valuable report on the impact of the preliminary examinations (“PE”) of the ICC Office of the Prosecutor (“OTP” or the “Office”) on national justice. I happen to respond to this invitation in-between “complementarity missions” to two countries selected as case studies by HRW, namely Colombia and Guinea. I therefore hope that my modest input will be seen as being informed by first-hand field experience in the practice of the Office’s “positive approach to complementarity.”

In past years, preliminary examinations have been recognized as a core OTP activity. They have thus become the subject of increased attention by multiple stakeholders and a topic of academic research. To an extent, this new scrutiny is a recognition of the relevance and importance of “PE activities” and has been partly triggered by the OTP’s own transparency as demonstrated by its annual reporting and open-door policy. Inevitably, however, increased scrutiny comes with increased criticism, which are always welcome when constructive and well-informed, less so when they are speculative or based on lack of knowledge and understanding of the OTP’s work in practice. In this regard, I am grateful to the HRW team for engaging substantively with the Office over the course of their project and for taking the time to better understand our modus operandi, as well as the challenges, dilemmas and limitations faced by the OTP in its endeavours.

While the HRW report offers a generally balanced and reasonable assessment, I do not share some of their findings. It is nonetheless comforting to read an acknowledgment of positive changes introduced in the OTP practice in the past years, particularly those under Prosecutor Bensouda’s tenure. It appears that the Office’s efforts to explain its policy and activities have borne fruit over time, as also recognized by the contributions of Sanchez and Stahn to this symposium. Read the rest of this entry…

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A Complementarity Toolkit?

Published on December 10, 2018        Author: 
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Editor’s Note: This post is part of our Joint Symposium with Justice in Conflict on Human Rights Watch’s Report, Pressure Point: The ICC’s Impact on National Justice 

In the long-term, bolstering national proceedings is crucial in the fight against impunity for the most serious crimes, and is fundamental to hopes for the ICC’s broad impact. It can also restore trust in national institutions, which have been severely damaged or have failed completely in a context of armed conflict or systematic repression.

A recent Human Rights Watch report provides a detailed examination of how the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the International Criminal Court (ICC) can trigger domestic investigations and prosecutions into serious crimes, looking at Colombia, Georgia, Guinea and the United Kingdom as case studies. The report discusses a range of practical actions that the OTP can take as part of its complementarity activities during the admissibility phase of its analysis, and how these actions have played out in various contexts.

In and of itself, the report is a fascinating and useful overview of the chronology of the OTPs engagement in Colombia, Georgia, Guinea and the United Kingdom, with insights and analysis from individuals who played a role in each situation – insider accounts from civil society activists, officials from national prosecuting and judicial authorities, diplomats, and OTP staff.

One of the most enlightening elements that comes out from Human Rights Watch’s research is the detailed examples of various actions that the OTP has taken in different situations. Drawing them out and compiling them, it is striking that they comprise a coherent and practicable toolkit of complementarity measures. They also fall squarely in line with the steps that national prosecutors have to take to retain control over proceedings in their countries. Broadly speaking, they fall into five steps — Read the rest of this entry…

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Complementarity (in)action in the UK?

Published on December 7, 2018        Author: 
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Editor’s Note: This post is part of our Joint Symposium with Justice in Conflict on Human Rights Watch’s Report, Pressure Point: The ICC’s Impact on National Justice 

In response to the 2014 re-opening of an International Criminal Court (ICC) preliminary examination into the situation in Iraq, Britain put in place legal measures to address the alleged crimes committed by UK forces in Iraq currently being examined by the ICC. These measures include a specialized investigatory unit, known as the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), replaced last year by a smaller service police investigation, known as SPLI. British authorities argue that their efforts represent “a clear demonstration of complementarity in action”, therefore precluding an ICC investigation.

In Pressure Point – a recent research report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) investigating the claims made about positive complementarity in four case studies, including the Iraq / UK situation – HRW rightly paints a more murky picture of the legal processes in Britain as well as the ICC’s ability to influence them. Indeed, HRW observes that legal responses in Britain have been “piecemeal, ad-hoc, and almost exclusively driven by the efforts of individual victims, their families, and legal representatives”. It also concludes that the ICC’s examination “neither catalyzed national investigative activities in the UK, nor impacted the existing domestic structure established to address allegations of abuses by British armed forces in Iraq” in any significant way. My own research similarly points to significant challenges in making positive complementarity work in the Iraq / UK situation.

In this post, I consider some of the key challenges for ensuring positive complementarity in Britain and reflect on what this tells us more broadly about the ICC’s complementarity regime. Read the rest of this entry…

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The ICC’s Impact on National Justice: Can the ICC Prosecutor Catalyze Domestic Cases?

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Editor’s Note: This post is part of our Joint Symposium with Justice in Conflict on Human Rights Watch’s Report, Pressure Point: The ICC’s Impact on National Justice 

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is a court of last resort. Under the court’s treaty, the Rome Statute, which marks its 20th anniversary this year, the world’s worst crimes are admissible before the ICC only if national authorities do not genuinely investigate and prosecute cases. Far from simply a jurisdictional limitation, this principle of “complementarity” transforms the ICC from a single institution into a broader system for prosecuting international crimes, rooted in national courts.

Bolstering national proceedings is crucial to giving full effect to the Rome Statute system. It’s also necessary to broaden victims’ access to justice. The number of situations in which the ICC should act is probably far greater than the court’s founders envisioned. The ICC’s limited resources—provided all too sparingly by its member countries—mean it is struggling to keep up.

More attention should be paid to the ICC’s potential as an active player on national justice. Under the concept of “positive complementarity” it can serve as part of a wide array of efforts to press and support national authorities to carry out genuine investigations and prosecutions. The ICC is not a development agency, but it can lend expertise, broker assistance between other actors, and maintain focus on the need for accountability.

This is the case when the ICC opens its own investigations, as there will be a need for additional domestic investigations and prosecutions to bring comprehensive accountability. But the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor has a particularly important role to play when it is still considering whether to open an investigation, during “preliminary examinations.”

This is because the prosecutor’s office has unique leverage in some of these preliminary examinations. If national authorities have an interest in avoiding ICC intervention, they can do that by conducting genuine national proceedings. By making the most of this leverage, the prosecutor’s office can be an effective catalyst for justice. The office recognizes that opportunity and has made it a policy goal to encourage national proceedings when it is feasible.

Human Rights Watch supports these efforts, given that they could help extend the reach of justice. But building on a set of 2011 recommendations, we wanted to take a fresh look at whether and how this policy is working, with a view toward strengthening its effect.

Our findings are set out in a May 2018 report, Pressure Point: The ICC’s Impact on National Justice; Lessons from Colombia, Georgia, Guinea, and the United Kingdom. 

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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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A propos Book Reviewing

Published on February 17, 2018        Author: 
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I am sure that many of our readers have their own views on their preferred international legal journal. But it is hard for me to believe that there will be many who do not assign pride of place to EJIL’s Book Review section under the editorship and curatorship of Isabel Feichtner. In the selection of books for review, in the rigour imposed on reviewers, in the exploration of different forms for featuring books she has made EJIL second to none. Isabel Feichtner is stepping down as Book Review Editor, though happily she will remain a member of the Board of Editors. She deserves our deep gratitude. Christian Tams has generously agreed to take over from her. We wish him every success.

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10 Good Reads 

Published on February 17, 2018        Author: 
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It is the time of the year once more when I publish my pick from some of the books that came my way since my last ‘Good Reads’ listing. These are not book reviews in the classical and rigorous sense of the word, for which you should turn to our Book Review section. I do not attempt to analyse or critique, but rather to explain why the books appealed to me and why I think you, too, may find them well worth reading. They are listed in no particular order, except for the first one which is definitely my choice for the year.

Robert Caro, The Years of Lyndon Johnson, 4 Volumes (Alfred A. Knopf, 1982-2012)

I have a certain passion for political biography and like to think of myself as something of a connoisseur. Why it has taken me so long to finally sit down and read this much acclaimed treatment of Johnson might be because of its daunting length. A fifth and final volume covering his post-elections years in the Vietnam White House is eagerly awaited and apparently imminent. I am not going to prevaricate with the ‘one of the most’ formula. This is undoubtedly the finest of this genre that I have ever read. For those who might wonder why they should spend precious reading time on Johnson I would like to say that the “years” in the title are not just his years but a political and social history of the USA over half a century. Not many would be willing to set aside time to plough through all four volumes, though they amply repay the effort. But I most strongly recommend, as a second best, to read just Volume 4 (The Passage of Power). It essentially covers the period from Kennedy’s assassination to Johnson’s first year in office. It becomes a microcosm of the Johnson phenomenon. On the one hand, he was undoubtedly, and this is meticulously documented, entirely ruthless and politically (and in some measure financially) corrupt from his early days as a student through his days in Congress until his accidental ascent to the presidency. From those early days one gets the impression of a person interested in power (and winning, winning, winning) for almost its own sake. He understood the power of procedural command from his early elections in college politics until his commanding mastery as Majority Leader in the Senate. And the lessons we as readers learn about congressional politics remain illuminating, even essential, 60 years later, in understanding the tortured relations of, say, Obama and Trump with Congress. I would say an indispensable lesson. You don’t know what you don’t know until you have read such. And, of course, in our minds there is always the Johnson of ‘Hey hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today’.

Now comes the ‘On the other hand’ which makes both the personality of Johnson so intriguingly complex and our judgment of him so difficult. He grew up in abject poverty – no exaggeration. He pined for the ham sandwich at school but could only afford the cheese one. He and his family literally scratched a living out of the barren soil on which they lived. Like Clinton decades later, he grew up with and alongside a black and Hispanic population in the most natural way. The result was, his greed for power and avarice notwithstanding, a person with a huge and genuine commitment to social justice and, miracle of miracles for a son of Texas, bereft of that visceral racism, not mere disdain for but real disgust towards blacks, which was so present in the South (and not only the South) of that era and indeed has not been fully eradicated today. In his deep feeling for the poor, he made no distinction between black and white. Read the rest of this entry…

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Is International Law International? Continuing the Conversation

Published on February 9, 2018        Author: 
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This post is part of the Joint Symposium that we are co-hosting with Opinio Juris on Anthea Roberts’ new book Is International Law International? (OUP, 2017). 

In the movie Shadowlands, the character C. S. Lewis says, “We read to know that we’re not alone.” For me, perhaps it is also true to say, “I write to know that I am not alone.” Implicit in Is International Law International? is a series of questions: Have you seen what I have seen? Do you analyze it in the same way? If not, what has your experience been and what do you make of that? How and why are your reactions similar to or different from mine? And what does that mean regarding whether international law is, should be and can be international?

I want to thank EJIL: Talk! and Opinio Juris for hosting, and the contributors for engaging in, this sort of dialogue. Two common themes of the contributions are that my book represents the start of a conversation rather than the final word and that it provides a platform for future research. I agree. My book is a big-picture macrosketch based on detailed microobservations that seeks to challenge existing understandings. A lot of details need to completed, analyses tested, additional points noted and implications thought through. In the spirit of continuing this exchange, I offer some reflections below.

Before doing so, I wanted to note that, reading the comments, I was struck once more by how much we approach international law from our particular national perspectives. Whether it is Vera Rusinova reflecting on international law through the iron curtain, Hélène Ruiz Fabri drawing connections with debates in the French literature, Marko Milanovic considering the differences he has experienced in the US and UK academies, or Bing Bing Jia providing insights into Chinese international law textbooks, each of us brings our biography into play when analyzing our field. Of course, this observation is part of the point of my book. But it also means that we won’t be able to access the richness of this variety, in both sources and perspectives, unless we diversify our interactions and networks. Read the rest of this entry…

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A Word on the Comparative Approach of International Law and a Proposed Direction for Chinese Textbooks of International Law

Published on February 9, 2018        Author: 
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This post is part of the Joint Symposium that we are co-hosting with Opinio Juris on Anthea Roberts’ new book Is International Law International? (OUP, 2017). 

Professor Roberts’s thought-provoking book prompts many questions. My preliminary thoughts consist of two strands: one concerning the comparative approach endorsed in the book with regard to identifying similarities and differences in national and regional approaches and seeking to understand why and when these occur (Roberts, p. 33); and the other, concerning Chinese textbooks on the subject of international law. It is presumed that the word “approach” (ibid, p. 36) in this context chiefly refers to that of states, rather than that of academics and textbooks written in those states, unless the approach taken in the latter coincides with that in the former. Such coincidence, it is submitted, requires the adoption by textbook writers of a practice-centred methodology which, however, may not be prevalent at all law schools and at all times. Where the coincidence does not exist, the textbooks could be unhelpful in explaining the reasons underpinning the approach of the country, due to the proverbial gulf between practice and academia that exists in many countries. Such textbooks may never become more than attempts at second guessing of the approach of the country.

The Comparative Approach

The wise call for international lawyers to become “more humble, open and reflexive in their engagement with international law” by adopting the comparative international law approach (ibid., p. 325), is sounded after an in-depth survey of the works of a select group of lawyers, academic or practising, of the five permanent member states of the UNSC (“Big Five countries”), sometimes based on direct contact with some of those lawyers.

I wish to make four general points, with the caveat that, although these points may have been touched upon in the book, further reflection is warranted from the reader’s perspective due to their importance. Read the rest of this entry…

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