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Home Archive for category "International Criminal Law" (Page 23)

Can the ICC Prosecute for Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria?

Published on August 23, 2013        Author: 

Recent reports regarding the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria are very disturbing indeed. If it turns out that there is concrete evidence that chemical weapons have been used, many will hope this will (finally) provoke action by the Security Council. There will inevitably be calls for accountability of those responsible and hopes that the Syrian situation will be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC). But even if the Syrian situation is referred to the ICC, can the Court prosecute for use of chemical weapons in Syria.

As Syria is not a party to the Statute of the International Criminal Court, the ICC will only have jurisdiction over events in Syria if there is a Security Council referral (Arts 12 & 13, ICC Statute). If the Council were to refer the situation in Syria, it is possible that attacks involving the use of chemical weapons may be prosecuted as part of a charge of crimes against humanity or as part of the war crime of intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population. In such a case, the use of chemical weapons would not form part of the core of the charge but would simply be the means by which the attack has taken place. Proving use of chemical weapons would not be necessary to sustain either charge. However, it is interesting to consider whether the use of chemical weapons would itself be a crime under the ICC Statute in the Syrian situation. I think the answer is yes, but, perhaps surprisingly, the answer is not as straightforward as one might have thought or would have hoped.

Does the ICC Statute Specifically Prohibit the Use of Chemical Weapons?

Despite attempts to include a provision that would have specifically and expressly criminalised the use of chemical weapons, the ICC Statute adopted in Rome 1998 did not mention chemical weapons by name (see Bill Schabas’ post here). However, Article 8(2)(b) of the Statute dealing with war crimes includes 3 provisions that might be interpreted as applying to chemical weapons. Art. 8(2)(b)xvii makes it a war crime to employ “poison or poisoned weapons”. Para. xvii refers to “employing asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and all analogous liquids, materials or devices. Para. xx makes it a war crime to employ “weapons, projectiles and material and methods of warfare which are of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering or which are inherently indiscriminate in violation of the international law of armed conflict. . . .” However, that last provision only prohibits those weapons if they are subject to a comprehensive prohibition and included in an annex to the Statute. Unfortunately, no annex to this provision has been agreed so no one can (yet) be prosecuted under para xx.

An argument has been made that the provisions of the ICC Statute listed above do not cover chemical and biological weapons Read the rest of this entry…

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Prlić et al.: The Destruction of the Old Bridge of Mostar and Proportionality

Published on July 31, 2013        Author: 

Picture RogierRogier Bartels is a legal officer in Chambers at the International Criminal Court. The views expressed in this post (and in the article referred to, which was written before he joined the Court) are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of the ICC. He blogs at the Armed Groups and International Law Blog.

 

These last months, most of the blog posts on the ICTY have focused on debatable Appeals Chamber judgements and the associated letter by Judge Harhoff. A significant Trial Judgement (in French) that would normally perhaps have received attention was therefore largely ignored – although the international courts and tribunals’ judgements and decisions in French are often overlooked. The recent judgement in the multi-accused trial Prlić et al. is significant not just because of its length (six volumes totaling almost 2600 pages, including a 576 page dissent) and the time it took to draft (it was rendered more than three years after the end of the Defence case, and well over two years after the closing arguments were held). Most striking perhaps is the Trial Chamber’s determination that the Croatian leadership, including president Tudjman, formed part of a joint criminal enterprise that pursued the establishment of a Croat-only part of Bosnia-Herzegovina (for it to be joined with Croatia); this is especially interesting after the Appeals Chamber’s ruling that the Gotovina Trial Chamber was wrong in its finding in this regard. However, when listening to the delivery of the Prlić Judgement, what really caught my ear was the following “finding” on the destruction of the Old Bridge of Mostar:

On 8 November 1993, as part of the offensive, an HVO tank fired throughout the day at the Old Bridge until it was unusable and on the verge of collapse. The Bridge then collapsed on the morning of 9 November 1993. The Chamber finds, by a majority, with the Presiding Judge dissenting, that although the Bridge was used by the ABiH and thus constituted a legitimate military target for the HVO, its destruction caused disproportionate damage to the Muslim civilian population of Mostar (Judgement Summary, p. 3).

I have recently published an article in the Israel Law Review (open access until half August) on the use of the principle of proportionality in international criminal law, which discusses extensively the ICTY practice with respect to the principle. When listening to (the English translation of) Judge Antonetti reading out the summary of the judgement, I feared that my article was outdated already, as it appeared that theDestruction Mostar Bridge - BBC Majority had applied the proportionality principle in coming to this finding. And not just any finding: one that appeared to include a dual use object and a novel determination on the weighing of the long-term expected incidental damage. I say “appeared” twice because, as will be explained below, the summary was actually quite deceiving in this respect and no such finding was in fact made. (Old Mostar Bridge pictured right, credit)

In the article referred to above, I show that the Tribunal’s practice can be divided into three categories of cases where the different chambers: i) state and clarify the principle, but do not apply it to the facts of the case; ii) make findings on disproportionate or excessive use of force that cannot actually have resulted from an application of the principle; iii) the Gotovina case, in which the Trial Chamber did apply the principle to the evidence, but was then quashed by the Appeals Chamber. In this post, I will briefly discuss the ways in which the principle has been addressed in the ICTY’s case law in order to see where the Prlić case fits in. Read the rest of this entry…

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ICTY Appeals Chamber Reinstates Genocide Charges in the Karadzic Case

Published on July 11, 2013        Author: 

Just a couple of minutes ago the ICTY Appeals Chamber sitting in the Karadzic case reversed the Rule 98 bis judgment of acquittal rendered by the Trial Chamber last year (see my post on that decision for more background; the Appeals Chamber’s decision is not yet available at the time of writing, but a summary can be found here). The Trial Chamber had earlier decided that on the evidence presented by the prosecution, taken at its highest, no reasonable trier of fact could have found Karadzic guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of genocide committed by Bosnian Serb forces against Bosnian Muslims and/or Croats in a number of Bosnian municipalities in 1992, the bloodiest year of the war. In essence, the Trial Chamber had decided that ‘only’ the 1995 Srebrenica massacre could be legally qualified as genocide, and Karadzic’s trial proceeded on that basis.

The Appeals Chamber now ruled that the Trial Chamber erred in fact when it made its findings with regard to the actus reus and mens rea of genocide in the municipalities other than Srebrenica. In particular, the Trial Chamber failed to take at its highest the evidence presented by the prosecution with regard to the existence of genocide intent, which it had to do when deciding on a Rule 98 bis, ‘no case to answer’ motion for acquittal. Accordingly, the Appeals Chamber reinstated the genocide charge for the municipalities and remanded further proceedings to the Trial Chamber, which will now have to try Karadzic for genocide beyond Srebrenica. (Appropriately enough, the judgment was rendered on the 18th anniversary of the start of the Srebrenica genocide; for the avoidance of doubt, I myself see no moral distinction between genocide and ‘mere’ crimes against humanity, and Karadzic would have been no less the villain even if his acquittal was affirmed, but of course politically the G-word is a whole different story.)

The Appeals Chamber’s decision has a number of implications. First, most obviously, there will now need to be some reconfiguring of the Karadzic trial proceedings. Second, one can now foreshadow the fate of a possible Rule 98 bis motion in the ongoing Mladic case, which contains similar charges. Third, more importantly, it remains very unlikely, in my view, that in its final judgment the Trial Chamber will actually convict Karadzic for genocide in the municipalities – the standard for conviction is of course much higher than for rejecting a Rule 98 bis motion, the prosecution’s evidence need not be taken at its highest, and the same trial judges who previously said that no reasonable trier of fact could convict Karadzic are now hardly going to say that he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Fourth, consequently, despite today’s ruling it is also unlikely that an eventual acquittal will be reversed on the facts by the Appeals Chamber, because of the deference that the Trial Chamber will be due on its own findings of fact. Fifth, today’s judgment will receive a lot of political play in the region, especially in Bosnia. Finally, the whole thing may have repercussions on a possible Bosnian request for revision of the ICJ’s 2007 Bosnian Genocide judgment, which found genocide ‘only’ in Srebrenica. As explained in my previous post, I don’t think such a request would either be wise or likely to succeed, but today’s judgment leaves the doors open, at least for the time being.

 

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Prosecution of Former Nazi Camp Guards: About Restoring Society’s Trust in Law and Participation in a Criminal Enterprise

Published on May 20, 2013        Author: 

The recent debate in Germany about the prosecution of former Nazi concentration camp guards – all about 90 years old – and the detention of one on 6 May near Stuttgart reminds us of the controversy about the trial against John Demjanjuk in the district court (Landgericht) of Munich in 2011. The controversy is by no means limited to Germany but takes place in all countries (for example Cambodia) where old men and sometimes women are held accountable for long passed crimes (for example the crimes of the Khmer Rouge). What these trials have in common is the old age of the accused, who may not survive to the end of their trials. Indeed, Demjanjuk died before the appeal against his conviction was decided. More recently, former Khmer Rouge senior official  Ien Sary died on 14 March 2013, during his trial by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia . Typical of these trials are also the enormous difficulties in finding appropriate evidence such a long time after the facts. Moreover, given that camp guards normally just follow orders of mid- or top-level responsible they are only small cogs in the machinery of destruction set up by the criminal system and their individual criminal responsibility is difficult to establish. We will return to this problem at the end of this essay.

On a more fundamental level, one is always confronted with the question of the justification or rationale of such trials in terms of the purposes of punishment. Offender-related rationales, especially re-socialization or rehabilitation, are hardly plausible in the context of system criminality, especially when the perpetrators are facing death anyway. The likelihood of convicted system criminals re-offending in a new system is next to zero. System criminals do not need to be re-socialized through punishment since they have not been deviant in the societies in which they lived in . Indeed, they carried out the atrocities demanded by the former criminal system, for example keep running a concentration camp. If this (their) system is replaced by a new one they usually quickly adapt to this one too and turn into the normal citizens they have always been, except for the period of the criminal system. These citizens are good neighbours who do not come into conflict with the law. Their conflict concerns their conduct in the former criminal system. Thus, they are investigated for past instead of present conduct. In sum, former system criminals neither have to be reintegrated into the new society nor is it necessary that this society must be protected against them, especially if they are harmless old men today.

What about retribution (just deserts) then? Does it justify prosecuting these people? Read the rest of this entry…

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James Stewart on Perisic

Published on April 7, 2013        Author: 

Readers might be interested in James Stewart’s analysis on OJ (here and here) of the ICTY Appeals Chamber’s Perisic judgment – James is rightly highly critical of the Chamber’s analysis with regard to aiding and abetting liability and specific direction. For my own take on the judgment and an outline of the issues see my earlier post here.

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The Limits of Aiding and Abetting Liability: The ICTY Appeals Chamber Acquits Momcilo Perisic

Published on March 11, 2013        Author: 

On 28 February by 4 votes to 1 the ICTY Appeals Chamber acquitted Momcilo Perisic (judgment; summary), the former chief of staff of the FRY army and one of Slobodan Milosevic’s pet generals.  With the recent acquittal of Croatian generals Gotovina and Markac, the Appeals Chamber seems to be in something of a forgiving mood. Perisic was previously convicted by a divided Trial Chamber (voting 2 to 1) for aiding and abetting crimes in Sarajevo and Srebrenica committed by Bosnian Serbs, and on the basis of superior responsibility for crimes in Croatia committed by Croatian Serbs, and was sentenced to 27 years in prison.  The Appeals Chamber’s decision is in my view unfortunate for a number of reasons, even though it is not as utterly shambolic as was the Gotovina acquittal.

Some differences between Perisic and Gotovina are readily apparent. While Gotovina and Markac were convicted by a unanimous Trial Chamber and then had their convictions set aside by the Appeals Chamber on the facts (and at that by 3 votes to 2), with regard to Perisic there was already one dissenting opinion in the Trial Chamber on which an appeal could naturally latch itself on, and the Appeals Chamber reversed (mainly, but not exclusively) on points of law rather than fact, as I will now briefly explain.

The Bosnian part of the case indeed turned on a point of law: whether the actus reus of aiding and abetting as a form of liability requires assistance given by the accused to the perpetrators of the crime to have been specifically directed to aiding the commission of the crime. The jurisprudence of the ICTY on this point has not been clear; the majority of the Trial Chamber considered that specific direction should not be a requirement for aiding and abetting, whereas Judge Moloto in dissent did. In essence the majority’s argument was this – the aid given by the FRY as a state and Perisic as an individual to the Bosnian Serbs was instrumental for their war effort, and was given in full knowledge that their forces were committing crimes, with knowledge that the aid given will assist the commission of the crimes satisfying the needed level of mens rea. Therefore, Perisic  was an aidor and abettor. For Judge Moloto, on the other hand, the majority’s approach failed to distinguish between aid to the commission of specific crimes and aid to the war effort generally, which was not intrinsically criminal for the purposes of the ICTY’s Statute (even though, as a matter of general international law, the FRY’s intervention in Bosnia amounted to aggression). In Judge Moloto’s view, there was no evidence that the aid provided by Perisic was specifically directed to the commission of the crimes for which he was indicted.

The Appeals Chamber, Judge Liu dissenting, basically followed Judge Moloto’s approach, finding that specific direction was an essential element of the actus reus of aiding and abetting liability, and that it could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the aid given by Perisic was specifically directed to the commission of crimes in Sarajevo and Srebrenica, particularly bearing in mind the general nature of the aid given in terms of logistics and personnel and Perisic’s lack of proximity to the crimes themselves.

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The Mysterious Art of Drafting International Criminal Trial Judgments

Published on January 21, 2013        Author: 

 Marko Divac Öberg is a Legal Officer in Chambers at the ICTY.The opinions expressed here are made in individual capacity and do not necessarily correspond to those of the Tribunal, or the United Nations in general.

The drafting of international criminal trial judgments remains largely shrouded in mystery. There is almost no academic literature on the topic. Of course, the secrecy of deliberations should be respected. However, it takes skill to make a high quality product. Skills need to be learned and it is hard to learn from mystery, so it is worth giving this issue some systematic thought.

Drafting an international criminal trial judgment is a dangerously difficult task. The cases are often very complex. The parties tend to err on the side of tendering more evidence than needed, and in the heat of the action the judges are rarely in a position to deny admission to all the evidence that later turns out to be irrelevant or redundant. Witness testimony and documentary evidence accumulate, at times quite rapidly, for many months if not years. For instance, the trial phase of the Prlić et al. case lasted over four years. The witness transcripts and documentary evidence can easily add up to tens of thousands of pages. In the Popović et al. case, the evidence comprised more than 58,000 exhibit pages and 34,000 transcript pages of trial hearings.

When finally all the evidence has been received, the accused – who are presumed innocent – have often spent years in detention. They are entitled to an expeditious trial, so there is no time to lose before issuing the trial judgment. However, the judges need sufficient time to recall and deliberate on the massive amounts of evidence received over a long period. They also need time to prepare a reasoned, written judgment. In the Nyiramasuhuko et al. case, more than two and a half years passed between the close of evidence and the issuing of the trial judgment.

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Settlements, Territory, and the ICC

Published on January 3, 2013        Author: 

The President of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, has threatened to accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in order to pursue a case against Israeli settlement construction. At first, this seems an odd choice. One might expect suits over more classic war crimes involving military forces, of the kind dealt with by the Goldstone Commission, to be a be a safer course.

Such cases have been repeatedly tried in international and national tribunals, and have a well-established jurisprudence. But the rule against “deporting or transferring” one’s civilian population into occupied territory would be a case of first impression, and thus pose potentially daunting obstacles. The attraction of settlements, however, is that the issue is not bilateral. Israel could not counter-claim, as it were.

The talk of taking settlements to the Court is difficult to understand. States refer “situations” to the ICC, not cases. Countries cannot simply engage in strategic claim-splitting, referring the alleged crimes of their enemies and not their own. What is the “situation” here? The scope of the term is not well understood. One might say, at the broadest level, it would seem be the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, of which settlements is a part – and Palestinian violence is another part. More narrowly, given the security buffer justification of many settlements, it would still be artificial to split the situation into an Israel-only offense.

However, while the GA vote makes the path to such a referral easier, there remains an under-underappreciated hurdle that a settlements-suit would have to clear. If Palestine accepts the jurisdiction of the ICC under Art. 12(2)(a) of the Rome Statute, the Court would only have jurisdiction over Israel for conduct that occurred “on the territory” of Palestine. Thus exercising jurisdiction requires determining Palestine’s territory.

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Why the Gotovina Appeals Judgment Matters

Published on December 21, 2012        Author: 

Jens David Ohlin is Associate Professor of Law at Cornell Law School. He is the co-editor of Targeted Killings: Law and Morality in an Asymmetrical World (OUP 2012).  Cross-posted at LieberCode.

When the ICTY Appeals Chamber issued its ruling exonerating Gen. Gotovina, and ordering him released, the decision sent shock waves throughout the region.  In Serbia, the decision was met with consternation, anger and resentment.  In Croatia, the decision was met with jubilation and relief, and Gotovina was given a hero’s welcome upon his return to the country.

As Marko Milanovic has ably articulated, this dualistic popular sentiment is cause for concern among those who care about the tribunal’s long-term legitimacy and success.  The decision fueled resentment among Serbs who view the tribunal as victors’ justice.  And more concerning, according to Marko, it reinforces a Croatian narrative that the Croats were pure victims of Serbian aggression who fought back with only legitimate and lawful methods of warfare. For Marko, this constructed narrative whitewashes a much more complicated reality on the ground.

From a legal perspective, the Appeals decision is also a worrisome development.  The two most important principles of the Law of Armed Conflict are the principles of distinction and proportionality.  The principle of distinction outlaws the direct targeting of civilians, while the principle of proportionality outlaws the launching of attacks against legitimate military targets that will cause civilian deaths that are disproportionate to the military value of the legitimate target.  These are simple principles, but they are difficult for courts to apply in practice.  Although one might have predicted otherwise, there have been virtually no guilty verdicts for launching disproportionate attacks at the ICTY.  The Gotovina Trial Chamber Judgment was one of the few.  And now that verdict has been overturned.

I am not saying that the Appeals Chamber was wrong in making this decision, but I am saying that the jurisprudence as a whole has taken a wrong turn when proportionality is almost entirely absent from the ICTY’s case law.

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Palestine as a UN Observer State: Does this Make Palestine a State?

Published on December 3, 2012        Author: 

Last week, the UN General Assembly voted by 138 to 9 (with 41 abstaining) “to accord to Palestine non-member observer State status in the United Nations”. Thus, Palestine which has been an observer at the UN since 1974 has had its status within the UN upgraded to being an observer State. There has been much euphoria on one side as a result of this decision, and dismay on the other side. However, what are the implications, if any, of this decision. It is thought that one reason why Israel opposed the change, though it asserts that the decision achieves nothing, is that characterising the Palestinian as an observer State would give Palestine access to legal, particularly judicial, remedies that it otherwise would not have (see BBC Q & A report here). It was reported that the United Kingdom, which in the end abstained from voting, was prepared to vote in favour of the resolution, if Palestine had been prepared to pledge not to ratify the Rome Statute of the ICC or to seek to utilise the International Court of Justice. So though the granting of observer Status does not change “the facts on the ground”, it is thought that it would change the legal position of Palestine under international law. But does it? Are there new legal options open to Palestine as a result of the resolution and does the resolution constitute Palestine as a State?

Any student of international law will be familiar with the debate between the declaratory theory of recognition of States and the constitutive theory. Theory, practice and judicial decisions favour the declaratory theory and assert that recognition does not create Statehood. Although last week’s decision does not grant Palestine membership of the UN (which would require Security Council approval), the decision to grant observer State status to Palestine is an act of collective recognition of the statehood of Palestine. If that decision is capable of effecting the legal changes hoped for (by proponents) or feared (by those oppose the decision), this will provide strong support to the view that collective recognition is capable of creating Statehood. Read the rest of this entry…

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