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What lies beneath? The turn to values in international criminal legal discourse

Published on April 23, 2018        Author: 
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On the 9th of April, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the International Criminal Court submitted a request for a ruling by the Pre-Trial Chamber on whether the Court has territorial jurisdiction over the deportation of Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh. This development may impact how the ICC approaches its territorial jurisdiction in future, and raises interesting questions over the legal nature of the crime of deportation. However, the submission also gives rise to questions of a more theoretical nature that relate to the normative basis of international crimes, or more specifically, the acts that constitute them. The Prosecutor’s submission on jurisdiction over deportation into Bangladesh highlights an emerging trend in international criminal law towards identifying and surfacing the individual values or rights underlying international crimes. This coincides with a broader debate on the legal goods protected by these crimes, and invites us to consider the implications of this trend for the communicative function of the law.

Part of the Prosecutor’s submission on jurisdiction in Bangladesh addresses the distinction between the crimes of deportation and forcible transfer. Read the rest of this entry…

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Prosecuting ‘The Beatles’ before the ICC: A Gateway for the Opening of an Investigation in Syria?

Published on April 19, 2018        Author: 
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Calls have been mounting for Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, two fighters captured by the Syrian Kurds, to be tried in the UK, the US, or at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. Kotey and Elsheikh were part of a group of four Islamic State militants known as ‘the Beatles’ (because of their British accents). Although not particularly high ranking within ISIS, the Beatles are infamous for their role in the imprisonment, torture and killing of Western hostages. There is reason to believe that they are responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

The purpose of this post is to examine the feasibility and propriety of bringing the Beatles before the ICC for trial. Kotey and Elsheikh have been stripped of their British citizenship so as to stop them from re-entering the UK. The UK defence minister, Tobias Ellwood, is however arguing that Kotey and Elsheikh should be tried by the ICC. Kotey himself affirmed that a trial at the ICC ‘would be the logical solution.’ As of now, the Syrian Kurds do not seem to have received a request for the surrender of the two fighters to the Court.

The Temporal Scope of the ICC’s Personal Jurisdiction Read the rest of this entry…

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The Prosecutor’s Request for a Ruling on the ICC’s Jurisdiction over the Deportation of Rohingya from Myanmar to Bangladesh: A Gender Perspective

Published on April 18, 2018        Author:  and
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On 9 April 2018, the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor requested a ruling of a pre-trial chamber on the ICC’s jurisdiction over the alleged deportation of the Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh.

While Geoff Curfman in his Just Security post has already aptly commented on the Prosecution’s approach, this post seeks to examine the Prosecution’s request from a different angle, namely a gender perspective.

Background: Sexual violence against Rohingya

Documentation efforts in refugee camps in Bangladesh are exposing the grave nature and vast scale of sexual violence perpetrated against Rohingya in Myanmar, forcing many to flee. Human Rights Watch, for example, stated that it “found that Burmese security forces raped and sexually assaulted women and girls […]”. The report of the OHCHR’s Fact-finding Mission on Myanmar declared that there is “ample and corroborated information on brutal gang rapes and other forms of sexual violence against women”. Finally, Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, told the Security Council that every woman or girl she had spoken with during her visit to Rohingya encampments in Bangladesh “ha[d] either endured or witnessed sexual violence”, including seeing women literally being raped to death. Approximately 80% of those forced into Bangladesh since 25 August 2017 are women and children, and while sexual violence has not be limited to women and girls, it is understood they appear to comprise the majority of victims of sexual violence in this context.

Sexual violence and the Prosecution’s Request: Deportation as a blessing in disguise for gender justice Read the rest of this entry…

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The Katanga and Al Mahdi Appeals Judgments and the Right of Access to Justice for Victims: Missed Opportunity?

Published on April 9, 2018        Author: 
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On 9 March 2018, the International Criminal Court (ICC) Appeals Chamber rendered two judgments on reparations, namely the Al Mahdi and Katanga cases. The general principles and approaches of ICC reparations have been previously addressed in this blog (here and here). This time, the two appeals judgments were the first occasions for the Court to review the right of access to justice for victims during these reparations proceedings. InAl Mahdi, the Trial Chamber delegated the task of eligibility screening to the Trust Fund for Victims (TFV), thereby allegedly failing to accord victims a right to judicial assessment of their applications for reparations by a competent tribunal. In Katanga, it was argued that the right of victims to receive continuous legal representation was essential for a meaningful and practical right to claim reparations, given the complexity of the proceedings.    

At the outset, both rights to judicial assessment by a tribunal and to legal representation come within the purview of the right of access to justice, a right guaranteed in international human rights instruments (ICCPR article 14(1); ECHR article 6(1); ACHR article 8(1); ACHPR article 7(1)). The purpose of this post is not to say that the appeals judgments were incorrect in affirming the Trial Chamber’s decisions on these issues because the rights of victims had been violated. Rather, it takes a helicopter view on the way these issues have been dealt with. Whereas the Al Mahdi judgment recognises that the judicial assessment of reparations must ultimately be before trial chambers, the Katanga judgment dodged the relevance of continuous legal representation of victims to their right of access to justice during the reparations proceedings.

Bearing in mind that chambers are obliged to ensure the compliance of international human rights law (Rome Statute, article 21(3); ICC Rules of Procedure and Evidence, Rule 97(3)), both judgments may have indicated a judicial practice of non-interventionism within the Court by over-relying on procedural discretions.

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Time to Investigate European Agents for Crimes against Migrants in Libya

Published on March 29, 2018        Author: , and
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In March 2011, the ICC Office of the Prosecutor of the international criminal court opened its investigation into the situation in Libya, following a referral by the UN Security Council. The investigation concerns crimes against humanity in Libya starting 15 February 2011, including the crimes against humanity of murder and persecution, allegedly committed by Libyan agents. As the ICC Prosecutor explained to the UN Security Council in her statement of 8 May 2017, the investigation also concerns “serious and widespread crimes against migrants attempting to transit through Libya.” Fatou Bensouda labels Libya as a “marketplace for the trafficking of human beings.” As she says, “thousands of vulnerable migrants, including women and children, are being held in detention centres across Libya in often inhumane condition.” The findings are corroborated by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNMSIL) and the Panel of Experts established pursuant to Resolution 1973 (2011). Both report on the atrocities to which migrants are subjected, not only by armed militias, smugglers and traffickers, but also by the new Libyan Coast Guard and the Department for Combatting Illegal Migration of the UN-backed Al Sarraj’s Government of National Accord – established with EU and Italian support.

These acts are not usually regarded as the bread and butter of international criminal law. Yet, for influential observers, they have seemed to reinstitute a modern form of slavery and to conjure images of mass arbitrary killings reminiscent of atrocity. For example, in a statement from November 22, 2017, French President Emmanuel Macron invoked slavery, explaining that trafficking in Libya has become a crime against humanity. For its part, the International Organisation for Migration, via its Missing Migrant project, has documented 46,000 cases of dead or missing worldwide since 2000.

During the whole time, however, various observers have pointed to the complicity of European countries with the relevant acts. Since 2011, Forensic Oceanography has been doing important investigative work in which the ethically fraught European involvement in preventing migration from Libya has been unfolded. Amnesty International has exposed a dark web of collusion, whereby EU states and Italy in particular have used Libyan militia to ensure migrants do not make it across the Mediterranean. Last December, John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe Director, denounced European governments for:

“not just be[ing] fully aware of these abuses; by actively supporting the Libyan authorities in stopping sea crossings and containing people in Libya, they are complicit in these abuses.”

In perhaps the most recent evidence of such complicity, Italian authorities have seized the Spanish NGO rescue boat Open Arms and initiated a criminal investigation against members of its crew. The Open Arms, in response to a call from MRCC Rome of March 15, 2018, had rescued 218 people on the high seas and subsequently refused to deliver them to the (so-called) Libyan Coast Guard. After a row lasting several hours and including death threats, the vessel headed north for a medical evacuation in Malta, before requesting permission to disembark in Sicily. Despite Italy’s authorization, the captain and mission coordinator have been charged on counts of “criminal association” and “facilitation of irregular migration”. Italy claims they were obliged to hand over the survivors to Libya under its NGO Code of Conduct, disregarding that that would have amounted to refoulement. Italy thus flouted the requirement of delivery to a “place of safety” under the maritime conventions. It has become overwhelmingly clear that Libyan rescue operations in the Mediterranean are tantamount, as Charles Heller put it, to a plan of “rescue at gunpoint.”

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

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

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

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The Role of the ICC in Protecting the Rights of Children Born of Rape in War

Published on February 12, 2018        Author: 
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The trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) of Dominic Ongwen, commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), has attracted widespread legal and political debate.  Much of the commentary has focused on the former child soldier’s status as a victim-perpetrator. Missing from mainstream legal discourse is consideration of another status Ongwen holds as a result of his alleged crimes: fatherhood.  Relatedly, and more importantly, also overlooked is a group of victims of his crimes: children born as a result of rape.  Within the LRA “forced marriage” system, thousands of children were born from the rape of girls held in captivity.

Drawing primarily upon the Ongwen case and the crime of forced pregnancy, this post considers the ICC’s role in recognising the rights of children born of rape and repairing harms against them, consistent with their right to reparation under international law.  Stigmatisation within “post-conflict” communities is a key harm suffered by children born of rape, often driven by their perceived association with perpetrator fathers.  The ICC’s capacity to redress or, inadvertently, exacerbate stigma against this group of victims requires attention. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Activation of the Crime of Aggression in Perspective

Published on January 26, 2018        Author: 
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In its final hours soon after midnight of 14 December 2017, the 16th Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court decided to activate the Court‘s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression. This is the effect of operational paragraph 1 of resolution ICC-ASP/16/Res.5. But in the same breath, the Assembly in operative paragraph 2 confirmed “that in the case of a State referral or propio motu investigation the Court shall not exercise its jurisdiction regarding a crime of aggression when committed by a national or on the territory of a State Party that has not ratified or accepted these amendments.”

As is well known, whether or not the Court can exercise its jurisdiction over a crime of aggression committed by a national or on the territory of a State Party to the Rome Statute that has not ratified the crime of aggression amendments was subject to intense controversy and negotiations in the run-up to the activation decision. In fact, the Assembly recognized this in preambular paragraph 4 of the resolution, where it made approving reference to the report of the facilitation process led by the Austrian delegation summarizing the diverging legal views held by States Parties on this issue. (In the following, I assume some familiarity with the controversy between what could be called the adherents of the “restrictive” and “extensive” positions. For more explanations see the posts prior to the activation decision by Dapo Akande, Stefan Barriga and Astrid Reisinger Coracini).

So how did the Assembly arrive at operative paragraph 2? What is the Court to make of a resolution that, on the one hand, confirms one legal view while, on the other hand, notes with appreciation the summary of the diverging views of States Parties, and finally, in operative paragraph 3, reaffirms the independence of the judges of the Court? Dapo Akande, Kevin Jon Heller and Jennifer Trahan have already commented on this outcome. The following is an account from the viewpoint of the Swiss delegation witnessing and engaging in the negotiations. Read the rest of this entry…

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EJIL Debate. Thirlway’s Rejoinder

Published on January 19, 2018        Author: 
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I am grateful to Professor d’Aspremont for his interesting and courteous response to my somewhat critical piece. I think we agree . . . that there is plenty on which we agree to differ! However, may I mention a few points?

A minor linguistic matter: the terms ‘the logic of sources’ and ‘the logic of interpretation’ seem to me unfortunate. I trust that Prof. d’Aspremont will agree that the rules of logic, or if you like of logical argument, are surely identical whatever the subject under discussion. The postulates and the facts are unique to the context and the problem examined, but to arrive at an intellectually correct result, the reasoning processes must follow the universal rules of logic; the expressions quoted seem to undermine this universality.

Prof. d’Aspremont does not find my use of the concept of opposability helpful. Maybe my point will be clearer if expressed in this way: in the relevant part of the ICJ Whaling judgment, the Court was, in his view engaged in a process of interpretation, but applied to it the intellectual approach appropriate to a problem of sources.  But was it a process of interpretation? Before the Court could enquire into what exactly were the obligations of Japan under the Whaling Convention as interpreted by the challenged resolution – a matter of interpretation – it had to decide whether the resolution was relevant at all – a question of sources (consent to a treaty-instrument). If the resolution was relevant, its effect on the reading of the Convention would be a matter of interpretation; but that stage was never reached.

Prof. d’Aspremont denies that he is ‘thinking from the Bench’; but surely whenever a scholar criticises a judicial decision, he is in effect saying ‘This is what the Court ought to have said: this is what my dissenting opinion would have said had I been among the judges?’ And to my mind this is so whether the critic is saying ‘The Court was wrong on its own premises’, or contending that ‘The matter should have been approached in a different way, viz. .  . .’

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Formal, Functional, and Intermediate Approaches to Reparations Liability: Situating the ICC’s 15 December 2017 Lubanga Reparations Decision

Published on January 4, 2018        Author:  and
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On 15 December 2017, the International Criminal Court (ICC) Trial Chamber II found Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, former President and Commander-in-Chief of the UPC/FPLC, responsible for reparations in the amount of USD 10,000,000 — the largest ICC reparations order issued to-date. The Lubanga case was the first to reach the reparations stage — yet controversy surrounding procedural requirements delayed the Chamber’s determination of Lubanga’s monetary liability. Last month’s decision answered some of these procedural questions, and raised new ones. This piece breaks down Trial Chamber II’s 15 December 2017 decision, and situates it alongside Trial Chambers’ recent assessments of monetary liability in the Katanga and Al Mahdi cases. We suggest that we have now seen ICC Trial Chambers assess defendants’ monetary liability for reparations via formal, functional, and intermediate approaches.

Lubanga was convicted on 14 March 2012 of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15, and using them to actively participate in hostilities from 1 September 2002 until 13 August 2003. On 7 August 2012, Trial Chamber I delivered the ICC’s first-ever order for reparations, authorising only collective reparations. On 3 March 2015, the Appeals Chamber overturned part of the Trial Chamber’s decision and issued an amended order for reparations, giving a newly constituted Trial Chamber II (composed of Judges Brichambaut, Herrera Carbuccia and Kovács) the confined tasks of a) determining the amount for which Lubanga was responsible, and b) monitoring and overseeing the implementation of the order. In its Judgment and order, the Appeals Chamber did not identify the number of victims who suffered harm as a result of Lubanga’s crimes. Nor had Trial Chamber I provided a figure in its original Judgment, although it found the crimes were widespread.

As explained in an article published last year, heated procedural debates soon emerged, as Trial Chamber II and the Trust Fund for Victims (TFV) clashed in their understandings of their respective mandates: while the Chamber believed it needed to identify and “approve” victims entitled to reparations as a prerequisite to determining Lubanga’s monetary liability, the TFV believed this was unnecessary, and something the TFV should do during implementation (the TFV had estimated there were 3,000 potentially eligible victims). Similarly, while the Trial Chamber believed that it needed to determine the extent of the harm caused to victims to establish Lubanga’s liability, the TFV thought that the extent of the harm was already described adequately in the Judgment, Sentencing Decision, and decisions on victims participation. However, in what appeared to be a change of its original position, the Trial Chamber acknowledged mid-proceedings that the victims identified by the TFV were a sample, but did not comprise the totality, of victims potentially eligible for reparations, namely those who suffered harm as a result of the crimes for which Lubanga was convicted. This shift proved foundational to the Trial Chamber’s 15 December 2017 decision. Read the rest of this entry…

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