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The Immunity of al-Bashir: The Latest Turn in the Jurisprudence of the ICC

Published on November 15, 2017        Author: 

On 6 July 2017, the Pre-Trial Chamber of the ICC issued a new decision in the case of Omar al-Bashir. The Chamber ruled that South Africa failed to comply with its obligation to arrest the President of Sudan by welcoming him for a summit of the African Union two years earlier. This decision did not come as a surprise because the Court had repeatedly ruled before that al-Bashir does not enjoy immunity from arrest and that all states parties have an obligation to arrest him. What makes the decision curious, however, is that the Chamber again adopted a new position on the immunity of al-Bashir:

  • In 2011, the Chamber found that al-Bashir does not enjoy immunity because of an exception under customary international law for the prosecution of international crimes by an international court like the ICC. According to the Chad and Malawi decisions, no sitting Head of State could ever claim immunity before the ICC (for reactions see: here and here).
  • In 2014, the Chamber revised its position and concluded that the Security Council implicitly waived his immunity in Resolution 1593. Al-Bashir would not enjoy immunity because the Council issued a binding decision under Chapter VII of the UN Charter obliging Sudan ‘to cooperate fully with … the Court’ (for reactions to the DRC decision see: here and here).
  • In it most recent decision of 6 July 2017, the Chamber found that al-Bashir does not enjoy immunity because the Security Council’s referral placed Sudan in a similar position as a state party. Al-Bashir would not possess immunity from arrest because of Article 27(2) of the Statute which provides that immunities ‘… shall not bar the Court from exercising its jurisdiction’.

In this post I examine the Chamber’s most recent decision on the case of al-Bashir and make a number of critical observations. Read the rest of this entry…

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War crimes in Afghanistan and Beyond: Will the ICC Weigh in on the “Global Battlefield” Debate?

Published on November 9, 2017        Author: 

The ICC Prosecutor recently announced her decision to request an authorization to open a formal investigation into possible international crimes committed in connection with the conflict in Afghanistan. The outcome of her preliminary examination was long-awaited and expected to be significant because an investigation into the Afghanistan situation would cover all parties involved – that is, not only local actors but also the international coalition, including the US (US nationals would come under the jurisdiction of the Court if they committed crimes in Afghanistan or in any other State party to the Rome Statute).

The Prosecutor’s choice to subject some aspects of the Afghan conflict to judicial scrutiny despite the pressures deserves to be praised as an “act of bravery.” If the Pre-Trial Chamber authorizes this investigation, the road to justice will be long – many have already commented on possible issues of jurisdiction (e.g. here and here), admissibility (e.g. here and here), evidence-gathering and cooperation (e.g. here), etc. In this post, I want to focus on a potential effect of this announcement: the situation in Afghanistan may give the ICC an opportunity to weigh in on the debate over the global applicability of IHL. Fatou Bensouda intends to prosecute acts of torture committed in CIA detention facilities located in Europe, in connection with the armed conflict in Afghanistan, as war crimes. If she does, ICC judges will have to rule on whether IHL applied to those acts and hence more generally on whether IHL applies beyond the territory of a State where a non-international armed conflict (NIAC) is primarily taking place. The geographical scope of IHL remains one of the most vexing debates in international law (as was clear from a heated discussion on this blog and others, just a month ago) but the Afghanistan investigation may help highlight an overlooked aspect of it. Here is why. Read the rest of this entry…

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The scope of ICC jurisdiction over the crime of aggression: a different perspective

Published on September 29, 2017        Author: 

In his post of 26 June 2017 Dapo Akande asks:

“Are nationals of states that do not ratify or accept the Kampala amendments, and which also do not opt out of ICC jurisdiction as provided for in those amendments, subject to ICC jurisdiction over aggression in cases where the situation is referred to the Court by a state, or the prosecutor takes up the matter proprio motu?”

Why does the answer to this question matter? “No” means that an ICC state party that has ratified the amendments will enjoy the Court’s judicial protection only if it falls victim to aggression by one of the other (currently) 33 ratifying states. It would be an opt-in regime for potential aggressor states, and in fact, they could at any time later opt-out again (opt-in-opt-out). “Yes” means that such protection extends to aggression committed by any of the 123 other ICC states parties – of course with the significant caveat they can still opt out. That would be an opt-out regime. All of this of course only in the absence of a referral by the UN Security Council, which would make state consent a moot point.

The issue is currently discussed by ICC states parties in view of the activation decision to be taken in December 2017. I am therefore happy to explain why I think the answer is “yes”, even though Dapo gave a thoughtful argument for “no”. Read the rest of this entry…

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Who is the victim of cultural heritage destruction? The Reparations Order in the case of the Prosecutor v Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi

Published on August 25, 2017        Author: 

On 17 August 2017, Trial Chamber VIII of the ICC issued its Reparations Order in the Al Mahdi case. The Chamber found that Al Mahdi was liable for 2.7 million euros for (a) the damage caused by the attack of nine mosques and the Sidi Yahia Mosque door; (b) the economic loss caused to the individuals whose livelihoods depended upon the tourism and maintenance of these ‘Protected Buildings’ and to the community of Timbuktu as a whole; and (c) the moral harm caused by the attacks, as illustrated by one of the victims quoted in the order: “My faith is shattered. My family fled [.] […] I lost everything and all my faith” (at §85).

The Reparations Order builds upon the reparations principles established in Lubanga and Katanga. However, it is also one of the few opportunities public international law has had to pronounce upon appropriate reparations for heritage destruction—forming part of the string of ‘firsts’ involved in Al Mahdi thus far.

Who is a ‘relevant victim’ of cultural heritage destruction?

The Chamber identified three groups of victims: the inhabitants of Timbuktu, as the direct victims of the crime; the population of Mali; and, notably, the international community. The latter category is a new element in the reparations jurisprudence of the Court, and its inclusion in the present Order seems to be mostly a consequence of the particular category of crime the Chamber was dealing with. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Al-Werfalli Arrest Warrant: Denial of Fair Trial as an Additional Allegation and a Hint at a Possible Defence

Published on August 23, 2017        Author: 

Last week, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant in the Libya Situation against Mahmoud Al-Werfalli. The arrest warrant alleges that Al-Werfalli is criminally responsible for the war crime of Murder, in a non-international armed conflict, pursuant to Article 8(2)(c)(i) of the Rome Statute, in relation to the alleged summary execution of 33 persons. Based on the facts laid out in the arrest warrant, the ICC Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) could also have alleged that Al-Werfalli is criminally responsible for the war crime of “sentencing or executing without due process” (“denial of fair trial”) pursuant to Article 8(2)(c)(iv) of the Rome Statute. This choice would be novel in modern international criminal law practice. However, it has been done in other jurisdictions (See J. DePiazza, “Denial of Fair Trial as an International Crime — Precedent for Pleading and Proving it under the Rome Statute” 15 Journal of International Criminal Justice (2017)). Another interesting element of the arrest warrant is that it hints at a possible defence to any eventual charge of murder or denial of fair trial – mistake of fact.

According to the arrest warrant, Al-Werfalli is a Commander in the Al-Saiqa Brigade, an elite unit reported to comprise 5,000 soldiers. In May 2014, the Brigade joined “Operation Dignity”, with other armed elements, for the reported purpose of fighting terrorist groups in Benghazi. The operation continued until at least 18 March 2017. In this context, the arrest warrant alleges that, in seven separate incidents, 33 persons who were either civilians or persons hors de combat, were detained and then executed. It is alleged that they were either executed personally by Al-Werfalli or on his orders. The arrest warrant further alleges that “[t]here is no information in the evidence to show that they have been afforded a trial by a legitimate court, whether military or otherwise” (Arrest Warrant, para. 10). Read the rest of this entry…

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The ICC’s immunity debate – the need for finality

Published on August 11, 2017        Author:  and

In a judgment given last month, on 6 July, the Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) confronted the vexed legal question of immunities for heads of state who are alleged to have committed international crimes. It did so in a case involving South Africa’s failure to arrest President Bashir of Sudan when he attended the AU heads of summit meeting in Johannesburg in June 2015.

While Judge Marc Perrin de Brichambaut wrote a separate opinion, the three-panel Pre-trial Chamber (PTC) reached the unanimous conclusion that South Africa had failed to comply with the request that had been issued by the ICC to arrest Bashir for serious crimes allegedly committed in the Darfur region of Sudan. The PTC found that states parties to the Rome Statute, such as South Africa, are required to arrest and surrender Bashir to the ICC where he is found in their territory.

We are not here debating the merits or otherwise of the PTC decision. It is enough to stress that the judgment comes at a fraught political time for the ICC, and its relationship with African states and the AU. The impetus for this joint piece arises from the legitimate and expressed concerns of African states parties (like South Africa) regarding their obligations to cooperate with the ICC in surrendering heads of states of non-state parties (like Sudan) to the Court in the light of, inter alia, the rules of customary international law on immunities.

The technical legal issues relate to the relationship between Articles 27 and 98 of the Rome Statute, which has been raised by a number of African states, particularly South Africa in relation to the Bashir case, as well as the African Union (AU). The subject has been a central concern of the AU as well as ICC member-states seeking measures to reform and improve the ICC. The concern, in a nutshell, is how to balance the obligations owed to the ICC to arrest heads of state, with the customary international law immunities that are ordinarily accorded to such officials. African states have felt the brunt of what have been described as “competing obligations” – being pulled in one direction to assist the ICC, and in the other direction by customary international law duty to respect official immunities. In recent times, Jordan, regarded by many as a friend of the ICC and the first Arab state to ratify the Rome Statute, has also had to confront the tension between the Rome Statute duty to arrest Al Bashir and the duty under customary international law to respect his immunities.

In the lead-up to the PTC’s finding on 6 July, South Africa had been invited by the ICC to make submissions to the PTC explaining its reasons for failing to arrest Bashir. The Prosecutor of the ICC filed submissions in response. And the PTC also admitted the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (the NGO that had brought cases in South Africa’s courts successfully challenging the government’s failure to arrest Bashir) to make submissions [all available here].

We were on opposing sides as lawyers in that dispute (with Tladi acting for the government, and du Plessis acting as counsel for SALC). We nevertheless now write jointly (and in our personal capacities) because of a shared belief that there remains a need for the dispute to be resolved finally through judicial means.  Read the rest of this entry…

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Why the ICC won’t get it right – The Legal Nature of UN Security Council Referrals and Al-Bashir Immunities

Published on July 24, 2017        Author: 

As readers of this blog probably know, the issue of personal immunities of Sudanese President Al-Bashir is highly controversial (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here). In particular, previous rulings by the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chambers have been criticized for their incorrect, inadequate and/or inconsistent reasoning for concluding that personal immunities do not apply in case of Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir.

On 6 July 2017, the Pre-Trial Chamber II issued yet another set of arguments for the same conclusion (here), while Judge Marc Perrin de Brichambaut issued a minority opinion disagreeing with the majority’s reasoning (here). In essence, the PTC II, by majority, held that

because the rights and obligations as provided for in the Statute, including article 27(2), are applicable to Sudan (by imposition of the Security Council acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter), the immunities of Omar Al-Bashir as Head of State do not bar States Parties to the Rome Statute from executing the Court’s request of his arrest and surrender (para 107)

Disagreeing with the majority decision, Judge Brichambaut found that “the current state of the law does not allow a definite answer to be reached in relation to the question of whether this resolution removes the immunities of Omar Al Bashir” (para 83). However, Judge Brichambaut finds that

The combined effect of a literal and contextual interpretation of article IV of the Genocide Convention, in conjunction with an assessment of the object and purpose of this treaty, lead to the conclusion that Omar Al-Bashir does not enjoy personal immunity, having been “charged” with genocide within the meaning of article VI of the Genocide Convention. (para 100)

In this blog post, I am not addressing the decision or the minority opinion specifically (as I am sure others will do so shortly). Rather, I wish to present a theory of the legal nature of SC referrals, without which, the ICC will not get the issues surrounding Bashir’s immunities right. Read the rest of this entry…

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The ICC Assembly of States Parties Prepares to Activate the ICC’s Jurisdiction over the Crime of Aggression: But Who Will be Covered by that Jurisdiction?

Published on June 26, 2017        Author: 

The states parties to the Statute of the International Criminal Court have been meeting in New York recently to begin discussions that it is hoped will lead to a decision at this December’s Assembly of States Parties to activate the Court’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression. These discussions are taking place seven years after the ICC states parties, meeting in Kampala, Uganda, adopted a series of amendments to the ICC Statute dealing with the crime of aggression. Those amendments remedied the failure to agree in 1998 in Rome on the definition of the crime of aggression and the conditions under which the Court can exercise jurisdiction over aggression. However in Kampala, states parties decided that the Court’s exercise of jurisdiction over aggression would require 30 ratifications or acceptances [(Arts. 15 bis (2); Arts. 15ter (2), ICC Statute], and could not happen prior to the taking of a decision by the states parties to activate that jurisdiction, with such decision not to be taken before 1 January 2017 [(Arts. 15bis (3); Arts. 15ter (3), ICC Statute]. In Kampala states parties “Resolved to activate the Court’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression as early as possible” [Resolution RC/Res. 6]. States parties now face the moment of decision.

It was a privilege to be invited to a meeting of states parties held on June 2, at the UN Headquarters in NY, to present my views on what has turned out to be the most contentious question in the current discussions about aggression: who will be subject to the ICC’s jurisdiction with respect to the crime of aggression? It should be recalled that states parties to the Rome Statute may choose to opt out of the ICC’s jurisdiction over aggression under Art. 15bis (4) of the amended ICC Statute by simply lodging a declaration with the Registrar of the Court. However, some states that have not yet ratified the amendments are of the view they should not be required to opt out in order for their nationals to be exempt from ICC jurisdiction over aggression. Thus, the most important question on which there are different views among state parties is this:

Are nationals of states that do not ratify or accept the Kampala amendments, and which also do not opt out of ICC jurisdiction as provided for in those amendments, subject to ICC jurisdiction over aggression in cases where the situation is referred to the Court by a state, or the prosecutor takes up the matter propio motu?

In summary, my view on that question, which I will set out below, is that the Court will not have jurisdiction in such a situation. Read the rest of this entry…

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Chechnya’s Anti-Gay Purge: Crimes Against Humanity

Published on May 9, 2017        Author: 

Despite widespread condemnation from the U.N., Council of Europe, E.U., United States, and other countries, a brutal campaign against gay men in Chechnya continues. The abuses take the form of abduction-style detention, enforced disappearances, torture, and killings. Considering the systematic features and the brutality of the abuses, Chechnya’s anti-gay campaign amounts to crimes against humanity, and it demands proper condemnation and response from the international community.

Crimes against humanity, as an international crime, has been defined in various statues and law commissions’ proposals since 1945. They each have their own distinctive feature tailored to the specific historical context during which they were drafted. For example, the Nuremberg Charter and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) Statute’s definition require the element “in armed conflicts”, while the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) Statute requires a discriminatory intent. This note uses the definition in Article 7 of the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court (ICC): “any of the acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack,” followed by specific acts listed in sub-paragraphs. This definition has been almost entirely adopted by the International Law Commission in its latest version of draft articles on crimes against humanity (note: the proposed draft articles are still in work progress).

Murder, Imprisonment, Torture, Enforced Disappearance, and Other Inhumane Acts

The argument that the Chechnya’s campaign against gay men constitutes crimes against humanity as the criminal acts listed in Article 7.1 (a), (e), (f), and (i) is quite straightforward. There has been credible reporting on abuses committed against gay men in Chechnya, including abduction, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, torture, and killings. All the described abuses have been approved by Chechen local government, with Moscow turning a blind eye to them. In many cases, violations were directly committed by Chechen security forces. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Evacuation of Eastern Aleppo: Humanitarian Obligation or War Crime?

Published on March 14, 2017        Author: 

On March 1, the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (“the Commission”) released a report on the horrific events that unfolded in Aleppo last year until it was captured by the Syrian governmental forces. The Aleppo report covers acts which may amount to violations of international human rights law or international humanitarian law (IHL), committed by all warring parties between 21 July and 22 December 2016. The Commission, whose reports will be instrumental for ongoing and future efforts to hold perpetrators accountable, should be commended for collecting and analyzing such an impressive amount of information in so little time.

The Aleppo report contains an appalling catalogue of allegations of egregious violations, including attacks against civilian infrastructures, hospitals, a UN/SARC humanitarian convoy and the use of chemical weapons. One allegation in particular caught the attention of the media: the Commission argues that the evacuation of eastern Aleppo amounts to the war crime of forced displacement. The Commission’s claim may at first seem astonishing not only because it stands in stark contrast with the then prevailing narrative of a humanitarian evacuation designed to alleviate human suffering, but also because the evacuation was based on an agreement between the warring parties – which means that opposing parties would have jointly committed a war crime. This post examines, on the basis of publicly available information, the legal foundation of this serious allegation.

The evacuation agreement

The evacuation of the rebel-held parts of the eastern districts of Aleppo was agreed between the warring parties as part of a cease-fire deal brokered by Russia and Turkey on 15 December 2016. The fall of this key rebel stronghold marked a major victory for the government forces, but it also offered rebels a safe passage into other rebel-held areas elsewhere in Syria. By 22 December, more than 35,000 people had been evacuated from the besieged areas of Aleppo to Idlib province (for the most part) or to western Aleppo. Read the rest of this entry…

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