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A War Crimes Trial That Needs More Attention

Published on November 15, 2018        Author: 
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Introduction

There is an ongoing landmark domestic trial for international crimes that is steadily progressing at this very moment in relative obscurity. The case is about one of the worst single-event crimes that has occurred since the Second World War and was matched in its methods and gravity only by the likes of the Nyarubuye, Gikondo, and Srebrenica Massacres of 1994 and 1995. In 3 days, 1000 people from several neighboring villages were rounded-up, imprisoned, tortured, raped and killed. More than 500 of them were children. The crime was committed during an internal armed conflict that lasted 12 years during the final decade of the Cold War. The crime was then denied, forgotten and eventually literally exhumated by Argentinian forensic experts in 1992. The crime took place between 11 and 13 December 1981 in a cluster of small villages in North-East El Salvador. The crime is remembered as the El Mozote Massacre.

It will be 37 years in December since this massacre took place. So far, nobody has been held criminally responsible for it, despite the fact that the details of the incident were well documented in the 1993 Report of the UN Truth Commission for El Salvador. This is largely because of the General Amnesty Law which was passed in 1993, shortly after the signing of the Chapultepec Peace Accord by which the Salvadoran civil war ended. However, in 2012, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights passed the Judgment in the Case of the Massacres of El Mozote and Nearby Places v. El Salvador in which it declared the Amnesty Law incompatible with the Inter-American Convention of Human Rights and with the peace accord itself.

It took some 4 years for the Salvadoran Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court to declare the Amnesty Law unconstitutional. Shortly after the law was derogated, the investigation into the El Mozote Massacre continued, and in March 2017 charges against 18 high-ranking military officers were brought before the criminal court of first instance in San Francisco Gotera, a small municipality in Morazán department. The charges were not brought by the Salvadoran Attorney General (Fiscalia), but by two NGOs – Fundacion Cristosal and Tutela Legal Maria Julia. The Attorney General initially claimed that the case was res judicata and that, therefore, it should be rejected. The trial judge, Guzman Urquilla, disagreed and let the proceedings continue. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Situation of the Rohingya: Is there a role for the International Court of Justice?

Published on November 14, 2018        Author: 
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In April 2017, the UN Human Rights Council established the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar to investigate alleged human rights abuses by military and security forces. The Fact-Finding Mission issued an initial summary reportin August 2018, followed by a 444-page report of detailed findingsin September.

Among other things, the Fact-Finding Mission found that after an armed group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army launched a series of small-scale attacks against government military outposts on 25 August 2017, a government campaign aimed at Rohingya communities in Rakhine State resulted in at least 10,000 deaths and caused 725,000 Rohingya to flee, mainly to neighbouring Bangladesh. The Myanmar authorities termed their actions “clearance operations” meant to eliminate a terrorist threat. The Fact-Finding Mission described a campaign of indiscriminate killing and maiming, rampant sexual violence, and widespread destruction of Rohingya villages—a “human rights catastrophe”, but one long in the making because of a history of state-sanctioned discrimination against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in a predominantly Buddhist country.

The Fact-Finding Mission (which Myanmar refused to admit into its territory) concluded that the actions of Myanmar’s forces constituted crimes against humanity and war crimes. It also found sufficient evidence to warrant the investigation and prosecution of senior officials for the crime of genocide. Among other recommendations, the Fact-Finding Mission urged the UN Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC) (Myanmar is not a party to the Rome Statute) or to establish an ad hoc international criminal tribunal. (After the Fact-Finding Mission issued its August report, a Pre-Trial Chamber of the ICC determinedthat the ICC has jurisdiction over the alleged deportation of Rohingya individuals from Myanmar to Bangladesh, and possibly over additional other crimes; ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has since announceda preliminary examination into the situation.) The Fact-Finding Mission also recommended targeted sanctions against government officials and an arms embargo. The Chair of the Fact-Finding Mission, Marzuki Darusman, addressed the Security Council last month (over the objections of China and Russia) to reiterate these conclusions. In the meantime, the UN Human Rights Council responded by establishing a mechanismto collect and preserve evidence of international law violations in Myanmar (discussed here).

The emphasis of the Fact-Finding Mission and the UN Human Rights Council on individual criminal accountability is unsurprising. Many other fact-finding missions and commissions of inquiry that have investigated large-scale human rights violations have been similarly focused—a reflection of the extent to which international criminal law has become the central or even dominant narrative of the international response to so many crises. Indeed, advocacy groups have long campaigned for an ICC-focused response to the Rohingya crisis, alongside the urgent need to provide humanitarian assistance to the thousands of Rohingya refugees now living in difficult conditions in camps across the border in Bangladesh. (A dealnegotiated by UNHCR and UNDP with Myanmar in May 2018 to facilitate the repatriation of the Rohingya has been widely criticizedand remains unimplemented.)

The increased focus on Myanmar in 2018 is to be welcomed. UN officials and some governments have already characterized the conduct of the Myanmar authorities as acts of genocide (see herehere, here, and here), and the reputation and credibility of Myanmar’s de facto leader, the Nobel peace laureate Aung Sung Suu Kyi, has seen a rapid and precipitous decline (see here, here, and here). Yet amidst all of these developments, the almost singular focus on an international criminal justice response to the plight of the Rohingya is striking. The idea of seeking legal accountability at the level of State responsibility has gone largely unmentioned, a further example of what Laurel Fletcher has called the “effacement of state accountability for international crimes”. In that vein, the remainder of this post will consider the prospects for a case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Read the rest of this entry…

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Does the ICC Statute Remove Immunities of State Officials in National Proceedings? Some Observations from the Drafting History of Article 27(2) of the Rome Statute

Published on November 12, 2018        Author:  and
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Following oral hearings held in September, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is currently deliberating in Jordan’s Appeal of the Pre-Trial Chamber’s decision holding that it had failed to cooperate with the ICC by refusing to arrest and surrender Sudan’s President, Omar Al-Bashir, when he visited Jordan. Central to the determination of whether Jordan, a party to the ICC Statute, failed to comply with its obligations of cooperation under the Statute is the issue of whether Jordan was obliged to respect the immunity ratione personae that the Sudanese President would ordinarily be entitled to as a serving head of state.

As is well known, when the ICC seeks to exercise its jurisdiction over a state official who ordinarily possesses immunity under international law from foreign criminal jurisdiction, the question of immunity may, potentially, arise at two levels. First, the issue of international law immunity with respect to the ICC may possibly arise at the so-called ‘vertical level’, i.e in the relations between the ICC, on the one hand, and the accused person and his or her state, on the other. The question that arises here is whether the accused person (as a state official entitled to international law immunities) or his or her state, may plead those immunities before the ICC itself, such as to prevent the Court from exercising jurisdiction over him or her. Second, and more commonly, the issue of immunity will arise at the so-called ‘horizontal level’, i.e in the relations between a state that is requested by the ICC to effect an arrest or surrender, on the one hand, and the state of the accused person, on the other. Here, the question is whether a state that is requested by the ICC, to arrest or surrender the official of another state, may do so, where to do so would require the requested state to violate the immunities that the foreign state official ordinarily possesses under international law. In particular, the question at this horizontal level is whether there is something about the ICC’s request for cooperation that would mean that the obligations which a state ordinarily owes to another to consider inviolable the person of a serving foreign head of state no longer apply. This is the main question that the Appeals Chamber is called upon to resolve in the Bashir case. In this post, we do not propose to examine the range of arguments put to the Chamber on this question. Rather this post will consider one specific question that is critical to the Court’s assessment and to the more general question of how the ICC Statute affects the immunity of state officials.

The post considers whether the provision of the Rome Statute that removes immunity – Art. 27(2) – only removes immunity at the ‘vertical level’ (before the Court itself) or whether it does so at the ‘horizontal level’ (before national authorities) as well. In particular, the post throws new light on this question through an examination of the drafting history of that provision. Consideration of the drafting history shows that the drafters of the provision considered, throughout the period of elaboration of the Statute, that what would become Art. 27 was to have effect not just in proceedings before the ICC itself but also in national proceedings related to the ICC’s exercise of jurisdiction. Read the rest of this entry…

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UNCITRAL and ISDS Reforms: Moving to Reform Options … the Politics

Published on November 8, 2018        Author: 
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In the last blog, I provided an update on the UNCITRAL process, including the consensus decision from Vienna last week to move forward to consider possible reforms of investor-state arbitration. This decision is very significant. But to get a sense of how this decision was reached and where the process might be heading, I thought it would be helpful to provide my sense of the politics of the process as well as some projections about how it might move forward.

As stated previously, I am a member of the Australian delegation but I am included in that delegation in my independent academic capacity, so nothing in my writings or talks should be taken to reflect Australia’s views. My academic views are exactly that: mine and academic. Nevertheless, I hope that these views are informed. These blogs are based on official interventions during the UNCITRAL plenary sessions as well as discussions with a diverse range of actors from the process.

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UNCITRAL and ISDS Reforms: Moving to Reform Options … the Process

Published on November 7, 2018        Author: 
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Last week has been described as a watershed moment for ISDS reform. During a meeting in Vienna, states decided by consensus on the desirability of developing reforms in UNCITRAL with respect to investor-state arbitration. States now have an opportunity to make proposals for a work plan about what reforms to consider and how to go about considering them. To the extent that the tide has turned on traditional investor-state arbitration, it is now up to states to tell us where they want to sail.

As you might imagine, reaching a decision like this involved quite a process, along with a lot of politics. In this blog, I set out the process in terms of what was decided in Vienna, what was not decided, and what the next steps will be for moving forward in 2019. In the next blog, I will provide some context to this development, giving some insights into the politics of the process as well as some projections about how this process might develop.

This reform process will be long and its ultimate outcome remains unknowable. But the momentum for and direction of reforms are becoming increasingly clear. The calls for systemic reform are rising, though different states may mean different things by “systemic.”

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Failing the Hague Stress Test

Published on November 6, 2018        Author: 
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On 25 October 2018, the President of the International Court of Justice, Judge Abdulqawi A. Yusuf, made an apparently ordinary announcement in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly. In light of the increasing workload of the Court, Judge Yusuf reported towards the end of his speech, “[m]embers of the Court have come to the decision, last month, that they will not normally accept to participate in international arbitration.” This decision appeared on its face simply to add clarity to the mandate set out in the Statute of the Court that judges may not “engage in any other occupation of a professional nature.” But Judge Yusuf went on with his remarks to specify that “[i]n particular, [members of the Court] will not participate in investor-State arbitration or in commercial arbitration.” Neatly separated from this withdrawal, Judge Yusuf confirmed that the Court will “if the circumstances so warrant, authorize its Members to participate in inter-State arbitration cases.”

Here was the signal international legal observers had been waiting for. The reaction on social media belied the apparently ordinary nature of the statement. The Court had taken a stance on one of the partisan issues of international legal politics – the hot potato of investor-State arbitration.

The events surrounding Judge Sir Christopher Greenwood’s re-election bid to the Court brought that hot potato to the Court’s doorstep. Days after Judge Greenwood conceded defeat in his re-election bid to the Court, a think tank associated with opposition to investor-state arbitration, published a study that called out “moonlighting” by ICJ judges in investor-state arbitrations. One of the judges the think tank focused upon was Judge Greenwood. Its reporting more than implied that Judge Greenwood’s work as arbitrator was a further reason speaking against his re-election. One can only imagine that with the political opposition to investor-State arbitration in Europe and elsewhere, this implication landed with rather a loud thud at the Court. The context thus may have been one of judicial acquiescence to the political headwinds rather than one that was purely a question of workload. After all, while resigning politicians do certainly like to spend more time with their families, this desire is hardly if ever the whole story behind their departure. So, too, the Court’s reasoning appears a little too casual when viewed in context. In fact, this topic was one of the most hotly debated issues at the recent Oxford Investment Claims Summer Academy convened by the Oxford University Press at Kellogg College this July. Read the rest of this entry…

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Can’t Fight the Moonlight? Actually, You Can: ICJ Judges to Stop Acting as Arbitrators in Investor-State Disputes

Published on November 5, 2018        Author: 
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The earthquake started in earnest in November 2017. At its epicentre was a report, published in November 2017 by two researchers at the International Institute for Sustainable Development (“IISD“).

In the report, titled “Is ‘Moonlighting’ a Problem? The role of ICJ Judges in ISDS”, researchers Nathalie Bernasconi-Osterwalder and Martin Dietrich Brauch analysed the contents of several public databases of ISDS cases, and found that at least seven judges at the International Court of Justice (“ICJ” or the “Court“) at the time of publishing (and 13 former judges) had worked (or were working at the time of the report) as arbitrators in treaty-based investor state dispute settlement cases during their terms at the ICJ.

Crunching the numbers further, the two IISD researchers looked at the amount of treaty-based cases in which ICJ judges had served as arbitrators. They compared the number against the 817 treaty-based ISDS cases known as of July 2017. The results were surprising: ICJ judges had sat as arbitrators in roughly 10% of all known investment treaty cases during their tenure.

This raises three types of concerns.

First, it seems to contravene the prohibition for ICJ judges to “engage in any other occupation of a professional nature” contained in the Statute of the International Court of Justice (the “ICJ Statute“).

Second, arbitrators are usually paid according to the time (calculated in days or hours) spent working on a case. This means that any ICJ judge who is also appointed as an arbitrator would have an economic incentive to spend more time on the investment treaty case, to the potential detriment of the judge’s Court-related work.

Third, cumulating the roles of ICJ judge and arbitrator (or, as the report called it, “moonlighting”) could potentially impact, or be perceived to impact, the judge’s independence and impartiality. Read the rest of this entry…

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New Restrictions on Arbitral Appointments for Sitting ICJ Judges

Published on November 5, 2018        Author: 
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Editor’s Note: This week, in a trio of posts by Callum Musto, Marie Davoise, and Frederic Sourgens, we facilitate discussion on the nature of the International Court of Justice’s judicial function, and the occasional international arbitration appointments accepted by individual judges of the World Court. In view of H.E. President Yusuf’s October 2018 report to the U.N. General Assembly, what can be expected of the Court with respect to managing future arbitral appointments that could be issued by appointing authorities or party nominations for the Court’s individual jurists – whether in inter-State or mixed arbitral disputes?

On 25 October, in the annual address of the President of the International Court of Justice to the General Assembly, President Yusuf announced that the Court had decided to adopt new restrictions on its sitting Members acting as arbitrators in inter-State and mixed arbitration. He said:

The Court is cognizant of the fact that, while the judicial settlement of disputes offered by the Court is enshrined in the Charter, States may, for several reasons, be interested in settling their disputes by arbitration. In such instances, Members of the Court have sometimes been called upon by States to sit on the arbitral tribunals in question dealing in some cases with inter-State disputes while in others with investor-State disputes – a testament, of course, to the high esteem in which the Court’s Judges are held by the international community. Over the years, the Court has taken the view that, in certain circumstances, its Members may participate in arbitration proceedings. However, in light of its ever-increasing workload, the Court decided a few months ago to review this practice and to set out clearly defined rules regulating such activities. As a result, Members of the Court have come to the decision, last month, that they will not normally accept to participate in international arbitration. In particular, they will not participate in investor-State arbitration or in commercial arbitration. [pp. 11-12, my emphasis]

President Yusuf elaborated that while sitting judges would no longer be allowed to arbitrate in mixed proceedings, they would be permitted to do so in ‘exceptional’ circumstances in inter-State disputes, provided that their judicial activities are given ‘absolute precedence’:

… in the event that they are called upon, exceptionally, by one or more States that would prefer to resort to arbitration, instead of judicial settlement, the Court has decided that, in order to render service to those States, it will, if the circumstances so warrant, authorize its Members to participate in inter-State arbitration cases. Even in such exceptional cases, a Member of the Court will only participate, if authorized, in one arbitration procedure at a time. Prior authorization must have been granted, for that purpose, in accordance with the mechanism put in place by the Court. Members of the Court, will, however, decline to be appointed as arbitrators by a State that is a party in a case pending before the Court, even if there is no substantial interference between that case and the case submitted to arbitration. [pp. 11-12, my emphasis]

It does not appear that the Court has elected to make formal amendments to its Rules or to include a Practice Direction reflecting the new appointment policy, but rather for individual judges and the President to manage appointment requests on an individual basis. The difference in approaches taken between inter-State and mixed arbitration presumably reflects the significant jurisdictional and substantive overlaps between the Court’s activities and many inter-State arbitrations — especially under Annex VII UNCLOS — and the comparatively smaller pool of eligible arbitrators to fill these roles.

Read the rest of this entry…

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Understanding the State Party Referral of the Situation in Venezuela

Published on November 1, 2018        Author: 
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Since 8 February 2018, the situation in Venezuela has been the subject of an ongoing preliminary examination by the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. On Wednesday 26 September 2018, however, a coalition of States Parties to the Rome Statute composed of Argentina, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, and Peru jointly submitted a referral of the situation in Venezuela to the Prosecutor. In this referral, it was requested that the Prosecutor open an investigation into the commission of crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Venezuela under the government of President Nicolás Maduro, beginning on February 12, 2014. This referral, the ninth referral received by the Prosecutor, is not only the first referral to be submitted by a “coalition” of States Parties, but also one (directly) concerning a situation occurring on the territory of another State Party.

Pursuant to article 13 and 14 of the Rome Statute, a referral by a State Party is one of the three triggering mechanisms under which the Court may exercise its jurisdiction. It represents a formal request by a State Party (or in this case States Parties) for the Prosecutor to initiate an investigation on crimes allegedly committed in a situation. Furthermore, it gives the referring State Party the opportunity to present supporting documentation regarding the situation in question. It does not, as explained by the Prosecutor in her response to the Venezuela referral, automatically lead to the opening of an investigation. Instead, as a triggering mechanism, it leads the Prosecutor to apply the statutory criteria to assess whether the referred situation warrants investigation. This process, otherwise referred to as a preliminary examination, entails an evaluation of the criteria set out in article 53(1) of the Statute. In the event that the Prosecutor decides to initiate an investigation on a situation referred to her by a State Party, she is not required to seek authorisation from the Pre-Trial Chamber to proceed.

The legal effect of a State Party referral is therefore limited to three key aspects: it can trigger a preliminary examination by the Prosecutor; it can act as a formal submission of new information vis-à-vis article 14(2); as well as allowing for the initiation of an investigation (if the Prosecutor decides so) without the need for judicial authorization by the Pre-Trial Chamber.

In applying these aspects to the Venezuela referral, it appears that its legal effect is rather limited. Read the rest of this entry…

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Can Investment Arbitration Fix Itself?

Published on October 31, 2018        Author:  and
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This week, States have descended on UNCITRAL in Vienna to discuss potential reform of the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system. Many are in a critical mood. During the April session in New York, delegates raised concerns over excessive costs, lack of arbitral diversity, conflicts of interests, inconsistent outcomes, and bias against developing states. More surprising – for many observers – was the appetite for ‘systemic’ reform. Many states have signalled openness to an appellate mechanism and the EU is mobilising support for a more ambitious multilateral investment court. The result is that the pros and cons of different reform models is an emerging field of research.

A question less considered is whether the system might reform itself in the face of state backlash. Could the threat of reform be enough? Elsewhere, we have seen that international courts are sensitive to stakeholder opinion – they can read the writing on the wall. In the WTO, Creamer found that a 10 percent rise in state criticism increases the average panel validation of trade restrictions by 17 percent. Larrson and Naurin found that the probability of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruling for a pro-European position is highly dependent on the direction of third-party state observations. Stiansen and Voeten found similar trends for the European Court of Human Rights after a rising state backlash, although not in the same magnitude.

Could the same pattern apply to international investment arbitration? Might arbitrators sniff the wind and change course lest the system fall into disrepute and disuse? In a newly published article in the European Journal of International Law, we try to answer this question. Read the rest of this entry…

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