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‘Open for Business’: The Special Criminal Court Launches Investigations in the Central African Republic

Published on February 8, 2019        Author: 
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On 22 October 2018, the Special Criminal Court (SCC) held its inaugural session in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR). Several weeks later, the Special Prosecutor, Col. Toussaint Muntazini, announced his long-awaited prosecutorial strategy. Coming three years after Parliament initially requested a specialist ‘war crimes’ tribunal for CAR, these two acts mark a watershed in the country’s fight against impunity. After providing some background on the SCC, this post examines the prosecutorial strategy and the prospects of accountability in CAR.

The Legal Framework

Established by domestic legislation in June 2015, the SCC is a hybrid tribunal fully integrated into the Central African justice system. It is staffed by national and international prosecutors and judges, and relies on logistical and technical support from the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR. Funded by voluntary contributions, the SCC is functionally independent from both the United Nations and CAR government. Its five-year mandate, which officially began on 22 October 2018, is renewable.

Prosecutorial Strategy

Why did the SCC publicize its prosecutorial strategy? Other tribunals, for instance the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, never made their strategies public (to the extent such strategies existed). The SCC’s decision to ‘go public’ is more in line with the International Criminal Court (ICC)’s practice of adopting formal policies on a variety of matters. Read the rest of this entry…

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Acquittals by the International Criminal Court

Published on January 18, 2019        Author: 
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Earlier this week, a Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court acquitted Laurent Gbago, former President of Côte d’Ivoire, and his right-hand man, Charles Blé Goudé. (In what follows, I will refer only to Gbagbo). By a majority of two to one, the judges held that there was insufficient evidence to place Gbagbo on his defense. The Prosecutor has indicated that she will appeal this decision.

Critics of the ICC claim that this track record constitutes an indictment of the Court. They point, in comparison, to the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). During its active life from 1995 to 2017, it indicted 161 individuals of whom 99 were sentenced, 19 acquitted and 13 referred to domestic courts.  The United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, during its period of activity indicted 96 individuals of whom 62 were sentenced, 14 acquitted and 10 referred to domestic courts.  

I would suggest, however, that the comparison is not a fair one. In the case of the UN tribunals, each court was given a specific mandate that extended over a defined territory – the states that comprised the former Yugoslavia in the case of the first and Rwanda in the second. They were supported by resolutions of the Security Council that were legally binding on all members of the United Nations. They had the full and active support of the United States that brought its political and economic muscle to back that support. On the other side, the ICC has jurisdiction over war crimes perpetrated in 123 States or committed anywhere by a person who is a national of one of those 123 States. On this ground alone the differences become manifest.

That mistakes have been made by organs of the ICC cannot be doubted. However, it is always easy to criticise in hindsight. Some proceedings have taken too long. Some of the judges have been less than prompt in issuing their decisions. Criticism of, as well as praise for, the ICC has come both from civil society and from governments.

In June 2018, there was a massive outpouring of criticism at the decision of a majority of the ICC Appeals Chamber acquitting the former Vice-President of the Central African Republic, Jean-Pierre Bemba. 

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The Decentralisation of International Crimes: A shift from the central criminal apparatus at the ICC?

Published on December 27, 2018        Author: 
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In her statement to the UN Security Council on November 2018, Fatou Bensouda vowed to search ‘outside of Libya’ for accountability of global actors in the migration context. This is one of the many moves by the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) in their prosecutorial trajectory towards a more holistic approach. Such an approach widens the accountability net to capture crimes and potentially responsible actors, which would otherwise fall outside the geographical scope of the ICC’s “situations”.

In this post, I argue that this new approach, which has largely passed under the radar, is both desirable and justified. In what follows, I make three propositions. First, the ICC has by far adopted, in practice, a localised approach stressing system criminality. Second, in light of the globalisation of international crimes, this orthodox approach may be obsolete by failing to reflect and assert accountability comprehensively. The proliferation of cross-border transactions and the enhanced risk of transnational harms would require no less than modernising current prosecutorial strategies to properly respond to the changing faces of international crimes. The last proposition suggests that this new approach is justified and imminent out of practicality to fulfil the Court’s mandate.

The Orthodox Approach

Since the first case in Lubanga, it has been the customary practice of the ICC to localise liabilities. This means the Court would ordinarily zoom in on a particular (non-)State structural apparatus of power, and build a case theory upon it. The natural task of the Prosecution would be to identify and re-construct in abstracto the hierarchical structure that sustained the commission of crimes, and to translate it into respective responsibilities of criminal participants in concreto. Terms such as ‘organised apparatus’ and ‘hierarchical criminal network’ are common languages replete in the work of the Prosecution and Chambers. Read the rest of this entry…

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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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