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Response: Strengthening Justice for Victims Through Complementarity

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

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

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

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

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The Ethos of “Positive Complementarity”

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

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

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

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

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A Complementarity Toolkit?

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

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

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

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

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

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Complementarity (in)action in the UK?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Joint Symposium with Justice in Conflict on Human Rights Watch’s Report on The ICC’s Impact on National Justice

Published on December 6, 2018        Author:  and
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While investigations by the International Criminal Court (ICC) have received the lions’ share of attention and scrutiny from scholars and observers, there has been a growing interest in the impact of the ICC’s preliminary examinations. The preliminary examination stage requires the ICC Prosecutor to ascertain whether alleged crimes fall within the Court’s jurisdiction, whether the crimes are of sufficient gravity to warrant investigation, whether there are ongoing proceedings related to those alleged crimes, and whether an investigation into alleged atrocities would be in the “interests of justice”. If the answer to each is ‘yes’, then the Prosecutor can seek an official investigation.

There are currently ten open preliminary examinations across four continents: Afghanistan, Colombia, Guinea, Iraq/UK, Nigeria, Palestine, the Philippines, Bangladesh/Myanmar, Ukraine, and Venezuela. But what have the political and legal impacts of these preliminary examinations been? Have they galvanized greater interest in achieving accountability? What lessons can be drawn from preliminary examinations to date in order to improve the prospects of justice?

To answer these and other questions, EJIL:Talk! and Justice in Conflict are delighted to host a discussion of the Human Rights Watch report, Pressure Point: The ICC’s Impact on National Justice – Lessons from Colombia, Georgia, Guinea, and the United Kingdom, and of ICC Preliminary Examinations more generally.

The symposium coincides with the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) to the ICC, which begins its annual session this week. One of the highlights of the ASP is the release of the Office of the Prosecutor’s (OTP) 2018 Report on Preliminary Examination Activities. The report summarises the activities of the Office with regard to situations which are under preliminary examination by the Prosecutor.  

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Some Concerns with the Pre-Trial Chamber’s Second Decision in Relation to the Mavi Marmara Incident

Published on December 5, 2018        Author: 
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On 15 November 2018, Pre-Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a decision in response to an application by The Comoros seeking judicial review of the Prosecutor’s ‘final decision’ not to proceed with the investigation of the Situation on the Registered Vessels of the Union of The Comoros, The Hellenic Republic of Greece and Cambodia (Mavi Marmara incident). This decision is the most recent in a string of proceedings since The Comoros first referred the situation to the Court in 2013. In brief: following the publication of the Prosecutor’s 2014 report declining to initiate an investigation on grounds of insufficient gravity, The Comoros sought review under Article 53(3)(a) of the Rome Statute. The Pre-Trial Chamber’s 2015 decision found several errors in the Prosecutor’s application of gravity and requested her to reconsider her decision not to investigate. In response, the Prosecutor sought to appeal the decision under Article 82(1)(a) by characterising it as one pertaining to admissibility. The appeal was dismissed in limine on the ground that the Pre-Trial Chamber had not ruled on the admissibility of the situation; ‘the final decision in this regard being reserved for the Prosecutor’ (para 64).

When in 2017 the Prosecutor published her ‘final decision’ detailing the reasons for her decision (upon reconsideration) not to investigate, The Comoros sought a second review under Article 53(3)(a) and the decision of the Pre-Trial Chamber this November was issued in response. The decision relies on the finding that the Pre-Trial Chamber’s 2015 decision constituted a ‘final judicial decision’ (para 96). From this, the Court draws the following consequences: (1) that the Prosecutor is obliged to comply with its 2015 decision, (2) that the 2015 decision must constitute the basis for the Prosecutor’s reconsideration, and (3) that the Prosecutor’s ‘final decision’ – by failing to do so – is not final at all. These proceedings have tested the limits of prosecutorial discretion in the initiation of investigations under Article 53(1) of the Rome Statute, and it is in this context that this post identifies three problematic aspects of the Pre-Trial Chamber’s decision. 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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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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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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