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Home International Organisations Archive for category "The African Union"

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

Published on May 6, 2019        Author: 
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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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Looking for Middle Ground on the Immunity of Al-Bashir? Take the Third ‘Security Council Route’

Published on October 23, 2018        Author: 
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On 10-14 September, the Appeals Chamber (AC) of the International Criminal Court (ICC) held hearings in the appeal of Jordan against the decision of Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) II entitled ‘Decision under article 87(7) of the Rome Statute on the non-compliance by Jordan with the request by the Court for the arrest and surrender o[f] Omar Al-Bashir’ of 11 December 2017’. As Talita De Souza Dias aptly showed in her recent post, one of the most debated issues during the hearings was whether the Security Council (SC) can implicitly waive the immunities of non-party States’ high-ranking officials when it refers a situation to the ICC. I agree with Talita’s findings on the permissibility of implicit derogations from immunities but I will argue that it is not Article 27(2) that renders the immunity of Al-Bashir inapplicable at the domestic level. Rather, it is the effect of Article 89 (1) on ‘Surrender of persons to the Court’ that makes his immunity of no avail before a domestic jurisdiction enforcing the ICC arrest warrant. In making this argument, I will propose a variant of the ‘Security Council Route’ that is different from those hitherto recognised in the literature or by the ICC.

Readers will recall that there are two main theories regarding the (in)applicability of immunities in domestic proceedings for arrest and surrender to the ICC of a state official ordinarily entitled to international law immunities. First, there is the theory that there is a customary exception to the immunity of heads of States for ‘proceedings before certain international criminal courts’. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Rise and Rise of Political Backlash: African Union Executive Council’s decision to review the mandate and working methods of the African Commission

Published on August 2, 2018        Author: 
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The latest African Union (AU) Summit, held in Nouakchott, Mauritania, from 25 June to 2 July 2018, has left the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) severely undermined. The Executive Council adopted Decision EX.CL/Dec.1015(XXIII), which endorses some worrying recommendations that emanated from the joint retreat, held in June, by the ACHPR and the Permanent Representatives’ Committee (PRC). The adoption of the Decision has turned the recommendations into binding AU decisions or directives (see Executive Council Rules of Procedure, Rule 34 and Art. 23(2) of the Constitutive Act of the AU). This post reflects on the political motivations for, the legality of, and potential implications of three of these decisions or directives, namely:

  1. The decision to review the interpretative mandate of the ACHPR “in light of a similar mandate exercised by the African Court [on Human and Peoples’ Rights] and the potential for conflicting jurisprudence”;
  2. The directive to the ACHPR to align its guidelines for granting observer status to NGOs with “the already existing criteria on the accreditation of NGOs to the AU”; and
  3. The directive to the ACHPR formulate a code of conduct, in consultation with the AU Legal Counsel.

These decisions are seemingly noble or harmless. However, their underlying motive and impact dovetail into the broader backlash against human rights bodies in Africa (Alter et al 2016). Indeed, the decisions are based on a misconception about the nature of ACHPR’s independence. Read the rest of this entry…

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Two Times Too Many: Botswana and the Death Penalty

Published on March 30, 2018        Author: 
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Without wanting to trivialise the hard work needed to litigate human rights cases, it is often implementation that is considered the pinnacle of achievement. Put simply, it is one thing to convince a commission or court that a countries’ policies or actions contravene a human rights instrument, it is quite another for that country to implement the decision. A blog post therefore about another failure by another country to implement another human rights decision may not immediately pique the interest of EJIL:Talk! Readers. But I hope this case might just do so.

In November 2015, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights rendered a decision following a case brought by NGOs Interights and Ditshwanelo acting on behalf of detainee Mr Oteng Modisane Ping, challenging Botswana’s use of the death penalty. The complainants alleged, inter alia, that the death penalty is by its very nature a violation of Article 4 (right to life) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. In addition, they argued that Botswana’s specific death penalty procedures also violated of Articles 1, 4 and 5 of the African Charter. In particular, they contended that hanging violated the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under Article 5 of the African Charter.

Whilst the African Commission did not go so far as to declare the death penalty itself in contravention of the African Charter, it did pronounce that the use of hanging as a method of execution violated Article 5 of the African Charter (the decision can be accessed here, see in particular paragraph 87). This pronouncement was lauded by many as a significant step towards the eradication of the death penalty in Africa, since hanging is a form of execution favoured by several African countries. (Although it should be noted that the African Commission does not render binding decisions like its judicial cousin the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, but rather recommendations.) Read the rest of this entry…

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African Union v International Criminal Court: episode MLXIII (?)

Published on March 23, 2018        Author: 
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It never gets boring. At the latest African Union (AU) summit, which wrapped up recently in Addis Ababa, the AU-ICC controversy went into its next round; this time, however, with a rather constructive proposal for easing the tensions that had built up over the past decade or so as a result of the uneven application of international criminal justice. In this post I will reflect upon the implications of the recent summit decision for the future of international criminal justice, including the debate about immunities, the consequences of potential arrest warrants for high-ranking Burundian officials, as well as the debate about an African mass withdrawal. 

Previous AU responses to what was being perceived as neo-colonial interference on the part of the International Criminal Court had not been very constructive – ranging from issuing shrill statements calling the Court “a political instrument targeting Africa and Africans“, threatening mass withdrawal, blocking the opening of the ICC Liaison Office in Addis, and announcing non-cooperation in the arrest of suspects. This time, by contrast, the AU opted for a more constructive, de-escalatory approach, using the tools of international law – instead of international politics – to make its voice heard: It announced that it would seek, through the UN General Assembly, an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the question of immunity. The AU also decided that it would seek an interpretative declaration from the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) on how Article 27 of the Rome Statute of the ICC, which removes immunity for state officials, and Article 98, which addresses cooperation with respect to a waiver of immunity and consent to surrender relate to one another, and the related question of how a Security Council referral affects the enjoyment of immunities of officials of non-state parties. The proposal to seek an advisory opinion from the ICJ was first made several years ago. It is not clear why this proposal was shelved in the meantime. Perhaps the AU feared the ICJ would find in favor of the ICC’s position. Read the rest of this entry…

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Resignation of Mugabe: A Military Coup or a Legitimate Expression of the People’s Will?

Published on December 5, 2017        Author: 
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On 15 November 2017, following a rule of 37 years since the independence of Zimbabwe, President Mugabe was placed under house arrest by the army. A military spokesman appeared on state television to declare that the president was safe and that they were only “targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering”. He further noted that this was not a military coup. Mugabe resisted stepping down for a week but then finally resigned on 21 November when the Parliament initiated impeachment proceedings. Mnangagwa, the former Vice-President, who was fired by Mugabe only a week before the military intervention, was sworn in as president on 24 November, and the military granted Mugabe immunity from prosecution.

As will be discussed below, the African Union (AU) has adopted an uncompromising approach towards military coups. However, in the very recent case of Zimbabwe it preferred a more cautious stance, which stands in contrast with its previous practice. The Zimbabwe episode demonstrates two important things. Firstly, the event proves that the practice of the AU is highly effective in that even if an army wants to overthrow a ruler, it now needs to find the most appropriate way to avoid the application of the AU’s sanction mechanism. Second, the AU did not adopt the same approach it had followed in many other cases, because the target of the military takeover was a long-established president notorious for his authoritarian rule. Read the rest of this entry…

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Post-Election Crisis in The Gambia, the Security Council and the Threat of the Use of Force

Published on February 17, 2017        Author: 
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The Gambian post-election crisis is a gem amongst cases relevant to the law on ius ad bellum – not only because it is a crisis that has been resolved with almost no bloodshed, but also because it offers valuable insights into the interaction between Security Council authorization, the doctrine of intervention by invitation, and the prohibition on the threat to use of force (see for some analysis here, here, here, or here).

Professor Hallo de Wolf has concluded that “the legality of the ECOWAS’ military intervention is dubious”. His analysis primarily focuses on the question of legality of the ECOWAS’ intervention after the inauguration of The Gambia’s new president, Adama Barrow. However, his conclusion may be challenged if one is to read Security Council resolution 2337 (2017) as a non-prohibitive non-authorization, which indirectly opens and strengthens the alternative avenue of the doctrine of intervention by invitation . Elsewhere, I have evaluated this interpretation against State practice and the Council’s resolutions in the Syrian and Yemeni incidents and concluded that the consent of the new president, Barrow, may suffice to justify the military intervention in The Gambia.

If one is ready to follow this line of thought, a question arises as to the effect of the consent; what conduct is justified by the invitation? The post-election crisis in The Gambia, for which the course of events may be recalled here or here, entails temporal complications in this respect. The crisis can be divided in three phases: (1) pre- inauguration (Jammeh’s clinging to power up until the inauguration, and end of the ECOWAS’ ultimatum, 19 January 2017); (2) the time between passage of the ultimatum and official inauguration; (3) post- inauguration. Read the rest of this entry…

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The AU’s Extraordinary Summit decisions on Africa-ICC Relationship

Published on October 28, 2013        Author: 
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Dr Solomon Ayele Dersso is a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, Addis Ababa and Adjunct Professor of Human Rights, College of Governance, Addis Ababa University.

Introduction

The African Union (AU) Assembly, the highest decision making body of the continental organization, took a decision on Africa’sAfrican Union relationship with the International Criminal Court (ICC) at its extraordinary summit held on 12 October 2013. In this commentary I wish to reflect on the details of the major points of the decision, their likely outcome and their implications with respect to a) the on-going Kenyan cases and b) immediate future of Africa-ICC relationship. (photo, African Union headquarters, credit)

As I will show below, the implication of the decision is that not only that Africa-ICC relationship is today worse than before the summit but also there is serious possibility that it would even get much worse.

Immediate context for the extraordinary summit

With the ascendance of Uhuru Kenyata and William Ruto to power in Kenya through generally free and fair elections taking advantage of the cases opened against them at the ICC, a clear case of tension between popular sovereignty (expressed through the ballot) and the demands of international justice arose. This issue predictably emerged on the agenda of the African Union when Uhuru Kenyata attended for the first time as President of Kenya the summit of the AU Assembly held in May 2013.

During the debate at the AU Assembly, many expressed the view that the continuation of the ICC cases against President Kenyata and his deputy Ruto undermines the sovereignty of the people of Kenya who expressed their will in a vote to represent them as their leaders and threatens the process of reconciliation in the country. The 21st summit of the AU Assembly accordingly adopted a decision (at p. 14) requesting the ICC to refer back to Kenya its cases against Kenyan President Kenyata and his deputy. Read the rest of this entry…

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The African Union, the ICC and Universal Jurisdiction: Some Recent Developments

Published on August 29, 2012        Author: 
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Over the last few years, the African Union (AU) Assembly, (composed of Heads of States and Governments), has concerned itself with a number of issues relating to international criminal law (see previous posts by me here, here, and here; and by Max Du Plessis and Chris Gevers here and here). Last month, the AU Assembly held its 19th Summit and continued the trend of making decisions with regard to international criminal justice (see here for the full text of the Assembly decisions). Earlier this week, Max Du Plessis wrote about the decision of the AU Assembly at this summit to postpone consideration of a draft protocol that would amend the Statute of the African Court of Human Rights and Justice to give it jurisdiction to try international crimes. As has now become usual, the AU Assembly, at this latest summit, also adopted decisions on the International Criminal Court and on the Abuse of the Principle of Universal Jurisdiction. Both of these decisions contain new developments from previous decisions which are analysed below. There is a call for African States to conclude bilateral immunity agreements and the AU has adopted a Model Law on Universal Jurisdiction.

The Impact of the ICC on the Venue of the Summit

The question of where the AU summit would be held was dominated by the fallout of the strained relationship between the AU and the International Criminal Court. The venue of the Summit was changed from Malawi to Addis Ababa, the seat of the AU, just one month before the meeting as the AU refused Malawi’s request for Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir not to be invited to the meeting. Malawi, a party to the Statute of the International Criminal Court, stated that it had an obligation to arrest Bashir, who is wanted by the ICC, were he to visit Malawi. Read the rest of this entry…

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Head of State Immunity is not the same as State Immunity: A Response to the African Union’s Position on Article 98 of the ICC Statute

Published on February 13, 2012        Author: 
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Jens Iverson is a researcher for the Jus Post Bellum Project at the Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies, University of Leiden, the Netherlands.

On 9 January 2012, the African Union (AU) Commission issued a press release responding to the decisions (see here and here) issued by Pre-Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court (ICC) last December regarding the “alleged” failure by Chad and Malawi to comply with the cooperation requests with respect to the arrest and surrender of President Al Bashir of Sudan (For previous EJIL:Talk! Commentary on the ICC decisions and the AU response see here and here). In the press release, the AU makes the  assertion that the decision has the effect, inter alia, of:

“Rendering Article 98 of the Rome Statute redundant, non-operational and meaningless.”

There has been much discussion (including by Dapo Akande on this blog and elsewhere) regarding the meaning and effect of Article 98 of the Rome Statute. Paragraph 1 of that provision states that:

 “The Court may not proceed with a request for surrender or assistance which would require the requested State to act inconsistently with its obligations under international law with respect to the State or diplomatic immunity of a person or property of a third State, unless the Court can first obtain the cooperation of that third State for the waiver of the immunity.”

 Unfortunately, the following points are often not emphasised in discussions or rulings on Article 98(1) and are entirely overlooked by the AU Commission:

i.          Article 98(1) only covers “State or diplomatic immunity of a person or property of a third State”;

ii.         Head of state immunity is not the same thing as either a) state immunity or b) diplomatic immunity; and

iii.       Head of state immunity is the relevant immunity in this case. 

Nowhere does the Rome Statute explicitly recognize head of state immunity as a reason not to comply with obligations under the Statute.  As is well known, Article 27(2) clearly and unambiguously states that immunities which may attach to the official capacity of a person do not bar the Court from exercising jurisdiction over such a person.  Particularly in light of Article 27(2) and the obvious importance of the question of head of state immunity, if the framers of the Rome Statute intended Article 98(1) to apply to heads of state, one might have expected that explicit language to that effect would have been negotiated at the Rome Conference.  It was not.  Rather, as this analysis will briefly elaborate, it appears that Article 98 was crafted not to interfere with States qua States and with the efficient performance of the functions of diplomatic missions, while retaining the capacity to hold heads of state to account. 

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