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Home Archive for category "International Criminal Law" (Page 4)

To be a Party or not to be a Party: Malaysia’s envisaged ‘withdrawal’ from its (pending) accession to the Rome Statute

Published on May 14, 2019        Author:  and

As inter alia confirmed by its recent judgments concerning the Afghanistan situation and the Al Bashir case, the ICC currently finds itself in truly turbulent times. What is more, is that the Rome Statute has turned out to be a real treasure trove when it comes to the international law of treaties. This includes, inter alia, the ratification of the Rome Statute by Palestine and the ensuing question as to whether the accession by Palestine ought to be counted towards the quorum of 30 ratifications of the Kampala Amendment so as to provide for its entry into force (see here), as well as other intriguing questions of treaty law raised by the Kampala compromise on the crime of aggression and the way in which to eventually amend the Rome Statute (see here). The withdrawals by Gambia and South Africa, which both later, albeit for different reasons, ‘withdrew from their respective withdrawals’ before they even became effective (see here and here), as well as Burundi’s withdrawal in October 2017 (see here), and most recently that by the Phillipines, again raised various issues of treaty law. 

Yet another question of treaty law relating to the Rome Statute is emerging. After having submitted its instrument of accession to the UN Secretary General on 4 March 2019 (see here), which in accordance with Art. 126 (2) of the Rome Statute means that Malaysia would have formally become a State Party on 1 June 2019, the Malaysian Prime Minister announced on 5 April 2019 the Malaysian government’s decision to, as he put it, ‘rescind its membership of the Statute’. 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…

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ICC Appeals Chamber Holds that Heads of State Have No Immunity Under Customary International Law Before International Tribunals

Published on May 6, 2019        Author: 

The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has, this morning, issued what seems to be an extremely controversial decision on Head of State Immunity. At the time of writing, the full written judgment is not yet available in the appeal by Jordan against the decision of the Pre-Trial Chamber referring that state to the UN Security Council for failing to arrest then President of Sudan, Omar Al Bashir when he attended an Arab League Summit in March 2017.  However, in the oral and written summary of the judgment, delivered this morning by the President of the Court, Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji, the Appeals Chamber appears to have held that under customary international law, heads of state have no immunity from criminal prosecution international criminal courts. The provision in Article 27(2) of the ICC Statute that “Immunities or special procedural rules which may attach to the official capacity of a person, whether under national or international law, shall not bar the Court from exercising its jurisdiction over such a person” , according to the summary of the judgment:

“represents more than a stipulation in treaty law. The provision also reflects the status of customary international law, as it concerns the jurisdiction that an international criminal court is properly entitled to exercise.”

In so holding, the Appeals Chamber, once again changes the basis on which the ICC has held that the Sudanese (now former) President was not immune from the arrest in ICC states parties that he visited (for a quick overview of the Court’s previous inconsistent decisions, see this AJIL Unbound piece). Indeed the Appeals Chamber appears to explicitly endorse the much criticised decision of Pre-Trial chamber I in the Malawi Decision. The Summary states that:

“39. In this regard, the Appeals Chamber is fully satisfied that the pronouncements made by the Pre-Trial Chamber I in the Malawi Referral Decision — and those made by the Appeals Chamber of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in the case of Charles Taylor (who was indicted before that international court when he was the sitting President of Liberia) — have adequately and correctly confirmed the absence of a rule of customary international law recognising Head of State immunity before international courts in the exercise of proper jurisdiction. 
40. The effect of absence of a rule of customary law recognising Head of State immunity, in relation to international courts, is not readily avoided through the backdoor: by asserting immunity that operates in the horizontal relationship between States, in a manner that would effectively bar an international court from exercising its jurisdiction over the person whose arrest and surrender it has requested. The law does not readily condone something to be done through the backdoor, if the law has forbidden the thing to be done through the front door.”

This is stunning and appears to be deeply misguided. It is also, in my opinion, a very dangerous and unwise move for the Court to make. This reasoning appears to assert that parties to the Rome Statute, have, by creating the Court, taken away the rights of non-party states under international law. Dangerous because this reasoning is likely to stiffen opposition to the Court by non-parties. The John Bolton’s of this world and many people far more reasonable will point to this ruling to set out precisely why it is important to oppose this court and other international criminal courts. As I stated here many years ago, the Malawi decision was a terrible one.  It was very poorly reasoned and roundly criticised by others as well (see Bill Schabas and Dov Jacobs). It is extremely disappointing to see it resurrected. Not least because the issue of the immunity of heads of state before international criminal courts is not what is at issue in these cases. What was is at issue is the immunity of heads of states from arrest by other states acting at the request of an international criminal court. That the head of state may not have immunity before the international criminal court does not, without more, say anything about whether he or she may have immunity before a foreign state.

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Afghanistan and the ‘interests of justice’; an unwise exercise?

Published on April 26, 2019        Author: 

It has been more than a week now that a reference to the ‘interests of justice’ has highjacked the international criminal law blogosphere. The recent decision by the International Criminal Court’s Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) to reject the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP)’s request for authorization to open an investigation in the Afghanistan situation, solely on the basis of interests of justice, not only has triggered ‘outcry’, but it has also united various scholars and experts from very different backgrounds. Characteristically enough, this decision has been described as problematic for the legitimacy of the Court, especially in a period in which the Court needs a credibility boosting (see Vasiliev), as legally wrong, either due to the PTC’s review without prior invocation of interests of justice by the Prosecutor (see Jacobs ) or due to its de novo review (see Heller ), and as dangerous for the entire feasibility of the project, given the message it conveys in cases of no cooperation. In simple words, there is a striking consensus that this is a very bad decision (see De Vos and Kersten).

Several legal aspects of the decision have been already addressed by a series of commentators (see Jacobs and Akande and Labuda) and in the interests of  justice for the readers, I will refrain from repeating them. I have also suggested in the past the revision of the very narrow OTP policy paper (see JICJ) and recommended the consideration of the interests of justice via the angle of a fairness based theory of prosecutorial legitimacy (see EJIL). However, for the purposes of this very short intervention I would like solely to question the judicial wisdom, or mainly the lack thereof, to utilize this controversial tool in this particular moment of time.  In other words, was the invocation by the judges of this concept for the very first time a wise exercise of their judgment or not?  

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The ICC and US Retaliatory Visa Measures: Can the UN Do More to Support the Privileges & Immunities of the Prosecutor?

Published on April 23, 2019        Author:  and

On 12 April 2019, the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber II decided to reject the Prosecutor’s request to open an investigation into the situation in Afghanistan on the grounds that an investigation would not be “in the interests of justice,” though it found that the case otherwise satisfied the requirements of jurisdiction and admissibility set forth in the Rome Statute (see recent posts here). The ruling came on the heels of the US revocation on 5 April of ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s visa for entry to the US, and prior US threats to take action against the ICC for examining the situations in Afghanistan and Palestine.

While the Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) made no direct mention of recent US hostility towards the ICC, it appears to have implied, and others have suggested (here, here, and here), that such pressure played a role in the decision. As the PTC noted, “subsequent changes within the relevant political landscape both in Afghanistan and in key States (both Parties and non-Parties to the Statute), coupled with the complexity and volatility of the political climate still surrounding the Afghan scenario, make it extremely difficult to gauge the prospects of securing meaningful cooperation from relevant authorities for the future […]” (para. 94).

Senior US officials were quick to claim victory and take credit for the development, ostensibly linking US pressure to the outcome. Alluding to a potential appeal of the PTC decision, as well as the Prosecutor’s preliminary examination into the situation in Palestine, President Trump menaced that US actions against the ICC could continue: “any attempt to target American, Israeli or allied personnel for prosecution will be met with a swift and vigorous response.”

This post considers how the United Nations can—and may be obliged to—play a bigger role in helping to protect the Prosecutor and her team from one form of this US hostility towards the Court: visa restrictions. Despite US obligations under the US-UN Headquarters Agreement to allow the transit of individuals conducting business at UN Headquarters, some ambiguity surrounds the question of when and under what conditions the US will allow the Prosecutor access to Headquarters now that her visa has been revoked. Read the rest of this entry…

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Not just another ‘crisis’: Could the blocking of the Afghanistan investigation spell the end of the ICC? (Part II)

Published on April 20, 2019        Author: 

Part II of this post addresses the larger implications of the PTC’s decision. For part I discussing its treatment of the ‘interests of justice’, see here .

Justice and pragmatism

In my previous post, I argued that, as a result of the Pre-Trial Chamber’s incorrect interpretation of the ‘interests of justice’ standard, extra-legal considerations controlled the outcome of its determination. This part shows why this is problematic in terms of the legitimacy of the Court and of the broader project it symbolizes. 

But first, is there no silver lining and nothing to defend in the PTC’s decision to deny authorization of the investigation in Afghanistan? As noted elsewhere, the ‘crises’ in international criminal justice tend to consolidate members of the epistemic and support communities around the institutions while also bringing the existing ideological and other fault lines into sharper relief. There is no uniform consensus on the PTC decision either.

Some (mostly US-based) commentators suggest that the PTC’s decision on the Afghanistan probe was overdetermined, understandable, and thus, in a way, justifiable. After all, it was a well-known fact—even prior to the unequivocal statements by John Bolton in September 2018 and Mike Pompeo in March 2019—that the US would not tolerate the prospect of the ICC Prosecutor investigating the conduct of its armed forces and CIA personnel. Most recently, the US government’s hostility towards the Court took the form of overt pressure and visa restrictions meant to dissuade the ICC staff from (and punish it for) pursuing that course of action. The judges’ blocking the investigation is not merely caving to pressure, the argument goes, but it is ‘caving to reality’: a prudent step towards de-escalation and much-needed institutional adjustment (see Bosco and Buchwald). This is what the triumph of pragmatism over the idealistic and over-reaching attempts to bring accountability for the alleged crimes in Afghanistan looks like. It is warranted by the need for the Court to better prioritize its work, focus on the more tangible goals, and direct its scarce resources to situations ‘where there exists some meaningful prospect of success’ (Whiting). This makes sense, particularly considering the Court’s poor track record in terms of securing convictions over the past years in situations seemingly less complex than that of Afghanistan.

It may well be that the Afghanistan investigation would not have led to prosecutorial success or even any cases at all. There is also no doubt that the opening of the investigation would have led to further escalation with the US and seriously complicated the situation for the Court and for its employees. It is also highly likely that the Prosecutor would continue facing serious difficulties obtaining cooperation of the relevant actors in the situation – the factor of some pertinence to the interests of justice. That said, this remains an assumption – and a questionable one at that when it comes to the investigation of the Taliban crimes.

The realist arguments are not patently misconceived or groundless (or at least, not all of them). The problem is that, even assuming arguendo that those concerns may be considered as validly falling within the ‘interests of justice’ (which they arguably may not), they are still hard to accept from a normative and legal policy angles. Importantly, as already noted in the debates, the non-authorization of the Afghanistan investigation effectively rewards non-cooperation and political pressure by states.Furthermore, while it might be more appropriate for those considerations to inform the discretionary decisions of the Prosecutor, it is disconcerting to see their trickling into the key paragraphs of the PTC Decision (paras 91-95). As the more diplomatic Alex Whiting put it, ‘[t]he ICC judges grappled with these realities more openly than we’re often accustomed’.

The implications of this are consequential and problematic. 

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Not just another ‘crisis’: Could the blocking of the Afghanistan investigation spell the end of the ICC? (Part I)

Published on April 19, 2019        Author: 

This is a two-part post on the PTC’s Afghanistan non-investigation decision. Part I discusses the PTC’s analysis of the interests of justice requirement. Part II will focus on the decision’s broader implications.  

Judicial meltdown

The Decision of Pre-Trial Chamber II of 12 April 2019 to turn down the Prosecutor’s 20 November 2017 Request for authorization to commence an investigation in Afghanistan came as a shock to many observers. It is the anti-climax of more than a decade-long preliminary examination by the Office of the Prosecutor and one-and-a-half years of judicial deliberations. Although it was always within the range of possibilities that the PTC would decline, it was the least expected outcome. In her Request, the Prosecutor had shown—and the Chamber agreed—that there existed reasonable grounds to believe that crimes within the ICC’s jurisdiction had been committed in the situation since 1 May 2003 and the potential cases would have been admissible before the Court. The judges differed from the Prosecutor in one decisive respect on which the rejection essentially—and problematically—rests: the opening of the investigation would not have satisfied Article 53.1.c of the Statute, i.e. there were substantial reasons to believe that the investigation would not serve the “interests of justice”.

It is far from clear whether the Prosecutor will be able or indeed willing to appeal the PTC Decision (my preliminary answer is no on both points). Moreover, Article 15.4 authorizes the Prosecutor to file a new request ‘based on new facts or evidence regarding the same situation’. While this could be the way to resuscitate the procedure, it is uncertain whether the OTP would consider using it – or whether ‘new’ facts or evidence could show a change in relevant circumstances (see para. 94) and reverse the PTC’s ‘interests of justice’ assessment. The other avenue discussed on Twitter would be for one or more of the States Parties to refer the situation in Afghanistan to the Prosecutor, thus enabling her to circumvent the authorization obstacle. The problem would be to find such a State Party, that would be prepared to take on the wrath of the US. Palestine and Venezuela come to mind but the discussion whether hinging this investigation on those states’ referral is optimal or desirable is rather left for another day. As matters stand, it is more likely than not that the PTC’s decision has effectively sealed the fate of situation in Afghanistan before the ICC.

‘Crisis’ has been the buzzword courtesy the ICC for some time now. But this is not your average ‘crisis’. Many of the flaws in the PTC’s decision have been helpfully dissected by Heller, Jacobs, Labuda, Rona, de Vos and other commentators. However, the ruling is not just unnerving on multiple counts of form and substance. A thinly-guised surrender to power politics, it is nothing short of a judicial meltdown. Its significance and implications for the institution and international criminal justice more generally are profound, fitting neatly in the patterns decried in the ‘radical critiques’ of international criminal law.

This (first) part of the post shows how the PTC’s treatment of the ‘interests of justice’ requirement went astray, bringing legally irrelevant desiderata within the judicial determination. Part II of the post offers a few unconsoling thoughts on the impact of the Afghanistan decision on the ICC’s credibility and what it may bode for the future of international criminal justice.   Read the rest of this entry…

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The ICC Pre-Trial Chamber Decision on the Situation in Afghanistan: A Few Thoughts on the Interests of Justice

Published on April 18, 2019        Author:  and

There has been a storm of criticism of the decision of Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) II of the International Criminal Court (ICC, the Court) to reject the Prosecutor’s request for authorisation of an investigation into the situation of Afghanistan. As discussed previously on this blog (see here), the basis of the PTC’s decision was that the initiation of said investigation was not in the ‘interests of justice’, in accordance with Articles 15(4) and 53(1)(c) of the Rome Statute. The criticisms have targeted almost every aspect of this decision. In particular, questions have been raised as to whether the PTC has the power to review the Prosecutor’s decision to initiate an investigation which she considered was in the interests of justice, as opposed to a decision that it an investigation is not (see here, and here). Some have also challenged the merits of this decision on various grounds, in particular, that it would introduce non-legal considerations into an assessment that has been and ought to be narrowly circumscribed, or that the PTC could not simply conduct a de novo review of the Prosecutor’s inherently discretionary decision (see here and here). Others have presented a more systemic critique that underlying this decision is the message that all that states need to do in order to avoid an ICC investigation is to refuse to cooperate with the Court (see here and here). It has also been suggested that this decision is part of a broader effort by ICC judges to control the Prosecutor’s investigative priorities (see here).  

In this two-part post, we seek to contribute to the ongoing discussions by offering some thoughts on two particular points of contention. In this first post, we offer some comments on the PTC’s decision regarding the interests of justice. In particular, (a) we argue that the PTC did have the power, under Art. 15(4) of the Statute, to review whether the interests of justice should bar the opening of an investigation, and (b) while noting the problems with taking lack of state cooperation and budgetary issues into account in this decision, we argue (building on our earlier work here and here) that there might be circumstances where it is appropriate for the PTC and the Prosecutor to take such issues into account as a part of the interests of justice analysis.

Our second post will consider the way in which the PTC decision dealt with international humanitarian law, and more specifically, the territorial scope of application of war crimes in non-international armed conflicts (NIAC).  Read the rest of this entry…

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Drėlingas v. Lithuania (ECHR): Ethno-Political Genocide Confirmed?

Published on April 15, 2019        Author: 

The European Court of Human Rights on 12th of March issued a judgment in the case of Drėlingas v. Lithuania (Application no. 28859/16). The case at the ECHR was considered under Article 7 and focused on the principle of nullum crimen sine lege. However, in broader terms this case dealt with the definition of genocide, and the protected group issue in particular. This judgement continues a series of judgements related to Soviet mass repressions in the Baltic States after they were occupied and annexed by the Soviet Union and “sovietised” in a most brutal way from 1940 up to Stalin’s death in 1953. In fact, this case is a continuation of the case Vasiliauskas v. Lithuania (Application no. 35343/05), discussed on this blog previously

The main facts of the Drėlingas case are as follows: Drėlingas was an operative of the soviet repression structures (MGB/KGB) and in 1956 he participated in the arrest of one of the most famous anti-soviet armed resistance (partisans) leaders – A. R. (nome de guerre “Vanagas”) and his wife B. M. “Vanda”. After being captured, Vanagas was horribly tortured, maimed, then tried by the Soviet court and eventually executed, his wife was deported to Siberia. These events happened after the active armed resistance was almost over, while Vanagas and his wife were still on the run. After restoring Lithuania’s independence in 1990, Drėlingas was put on trial in 2014 and sentenced for his participation in genocide, as an accessory to the crime.

The last sentence perhaps needs further explanation. Back in the 1990s, Lithuania was one of a handful of countries that adopted a broader definition of genocide in its national laws; it included political and social groups together with national, ethnic, racial and religious. The main aim of this was to address the historic Soviet crimes. However, it soon became clear that the direct inclusion of political and social groups in the genocide definition created a conflict with the internationally accepted definition of genocide. Another approach was needed, and it was tested in the case of Vasiliauskas (mentioned above). Read the rest of this entry…

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A Neo-Colonial Court for Weak States? Not Quite. Making Sense of the International Criminal Court’s Afghanistan Decision

Published on April 13, 2019        Author: 

The International Criminal Court (ICC)’s involvement in Afghanistan has received a great deal of attention ever since the Prosecutor announced she would seek to initiate an investigation in November 2017. Rightly or wrongly, what made this inquiry so contentious was not the suffering of millions of Afghan people, but rather the alleged war crimes of a few dozen American nationals. Judging by most of the commentary, analysts worried primarily about one question: would the ICC be able to hold to account powerful states and their citizens?

Yesterday’s decision does not inspire confidence in that regard. Pre-Trial Chamber II unanimously agreed that an investigation into crimes against humanity and war crimes allegedly committed on the territory of Afghanistan was not in the ‘interests of justice’. This came as a surprise, to put it mildly. Against the backdrop of the ICC’s evolving institutional dynamics, this post will argue that, while the Afghanistan decision should not be viewed simply as a capitulation to great power interests, it foreshadows a reckoning with various assumptions that have guided the Prosecutor’s work and civil society support for the Court since 2003.

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