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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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Unconstitutional and Invalid: South Africa’s Withdrawal from the ICC Barred (For Now)

Published on February 27, 2017        Author: 

On 22 February 2017, the South African High Court handed down a significant decision invalidating South Africa’s notice of withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC). The case was brought by the official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, and joined by a number of civil society actors. The court’s conclusion that prior parliamentary approval was necessary before South Africa could withdraw from the ICC bears similarities to the recent decision of the UK Supreme Court on the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.

The South African judgment concerned the decision of the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation to send a notice of withdrawal to the UN Secretary-General in October 2016 (see my previous post on this for more details), without prior announcement that the government had decided to withdraw from the ICC, nor any public consultation on the matter. The government’s reasons for leaving the ICC, as surveyed by Dapo, had centred on the claim that the Rome Statute and the South African legislation domesticating the Rome Statute (the ‘Implementation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Act of 2002’), required the government to arrest sitting African heads of State, contrary to customary international law rules on immunity. This, it was argued, undermined South Africa’s peace-making efforts on the Continent. These issues had come to a head during President Bashir’s visit to South Africa in June 2015, when South Africa had failed to execute outstanding ICC arrest warrants against him. This led to non-cooperation proceedings against South Africa at the ICC (which will take place in April), and South African High Court and Supreme Court of Appeal decisions holding the government’s failure to arrest President Bashir to be unconstitutional. The pushback was not well received by the South African Executive.

Given the 12-month notice period prescribed in Article 127(1) of the Rome Statute of the ICC, South Africa was set to leave the court in October 2017. However, the High Court decision has, at the very least, pushed back the timeline for withdrawal (absent a rapid successful appeal by the government). It also presents an important, and perhaps final, opportunity to engage the government concerning its decision to leave the ICC. Here I give a brief overview of the decision, highlighting certain issues concerning parliamentary involvement in treaty withdrawal, and discuss some possibilities for persuading South Africa to retain its membership in the ICC.

The High Court Decision

The High Court was faced with a question similar to that decided by the UK Supreme Court in the recent Brexit decision – can the Executive withdraw from an international treaty, which had been ratified and domesticated by Parliament, without prior Parliamentary approval? The question is not directly addressed by the South African Constitution, which contains no explicit provision on treaty withdrawal, and had not yet received judicial attention. Like the UK Supreme Court, the South African High Court answered in the negative. It held that since section 231(2) of the South African Constitution requires Parliamentary approval for treaties subject to ratification, this section also by implication requires the consent of Parliament to withdraw from such treaties. Therefore, the notice of withdrawal was unconstitutional and invalid. Read the rest of this entry…

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Post-Truth and International Criminal Tribunals

Published on February 20, 2017        Author: 

With all the daily going-ons of our new era of resurgent populist nationalism, it’s no wonder that concepts such as ‘post-truth’ and ‘alternative facts’ are so very much en vogue, or that Orwell’s 1984 and other dystopian classics are once more hitting the best-seller lists. But the sad truth is that there’s nothing really new about ‘post-truth’, except that it is today afflicting developed, democratic societies that until now did not experience the phenomenon, or at least did not experience it in full force.

Trump photographed at Mar a Lago with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the news of North Korean missile launch. Photograph: Erika Bain. Source: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/feb/13/mar-a-lago-north-korea-missile-crisis-trump-national-security#img-2

Nor did post-truth start in these societies just out of the blue – it was preceded by decades of democratic de-norming, institutional erosion, increasing polarization and identity politics (think, for example, of how climate change became a point of polarized partisan politics in the US, or of the distorting power and influence of the (mainly right-wing) tabloid press in the UK).

Even in democracies politicians are not a species generally known for its love of the truth. It is no wonder then that in a favourable climate a sub-species of particularly cynical manipulators who are either ready to routinely lie outright or are just simply indifferent to the truth will emerge. Coupled with the natural inclination of the human mind to evaluate evidence in a biased way and to reason about it in a way that confirms pre-existing beliefs and protects one’s sense of identity, in much (most?) of the world post-truth politics are the rule, rather than the exception. Trump may be the most important exponent of the current wave of mendacious populism, but he is hardly avant-garde. For decades now, for example, many of the Balkan states have experienced their own ego-maniacal, soft-authoritarian mini-Trumps, and let’s not even mention all of the Putins, Dutertes and Erdogans out there.

Which brings me to my point. Post-truth and alternative facts have historically been perfectly standard when it comes to inter-group conflicts, especially in societies which are not genuinely pluralist. Pick any random group conflict in the world, and you are likely to find that each group lives and breaths its own particular truth. In our international legal community, many have thought that it is the role of international criminal courts and tribunals to generate the ‘real’ truths that will eventually garner acceptance in societies riven by conflict. Unfortunately, however, there is little evidence that such truth-generating potential is anything but theoretical.

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The African Union’s Collective Withdrawal from the ICC: Does Bad Law make for Good Politics?

Published on February 15, 2017        Author: 

A number of news outlets reported last week that the African Union (AU) had adopted a strategy for collective withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC) (see here, here and here). This follows withdrawals by three African states late last year, which in turn generated much debate at last November’s Assembly of States Parties and yet more calls for a re-assessment of the relationship between Africa and the Court. Although the prospect of collective withdrawal has been in the works for some time, what emerged from last week’s AU summit appears to be a politically benign and legally confused form of collective resistance. Despite the alarmist headlines, the withdrawal strategy may symbolize the high-water mark of AU opposition to the ICC.

Africa v. the ICC

The conflict between the ICC and the AU has been in the news for many years. It is hard to keep track of all the denunciations, threats and accusations that various African state representatives have leveled at the Hague-based court and yet, even by these standards, the year 2016 seemed to mark a nadir in the ICC-Africa relationship. In January, the AU requested the open-ended committee of Ministers of Foreign Affairs to develop ‘a comprehensive strategy’ for ‘collective withdrawal’, which would serve as guidance to African states wishing to re-assess their relationship to the ICC. After an inconclusive mid-year summit in Kigali in July 2016, where a few African states expressed doubts about withdrawal, the international justice community experienced something of a rude awakening when three states withdrew from the Rome Statute in quick succession. Burundi went first, followed by South Africa and the Gambia. While the precise trigger for their sudden departures in October 2016 remains a mystery, the taboo of treaty withdrawal had been shattered and a re-assessment of the ICC-Africa relationship acquired renewed urgency. Read the rest of this entry…

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Security Council Resolution 2334 (2016) and its Legal Repercussions Revisited

Published on January 20, 2017        Author: 

Security Council 2334 (2016), adopted by the Security Council on December 23, 2016 with 14:0:1 votes, the United States abstaining, and dealing with the issue of Israel’s settlement policy in the occupied Palestinian territory, and the broader issue of the international legal status of the West Bank and East Jerusalem will, just like Security Council resolution 242 (1967) beforehand, probably become one of those seminal Security Council resolutions every international law professor will have to deal as part of his or her international law class since, apart from its immediate context and its political repercussions, it by the same token raises, and relates to, fundamental issues of international law.

While various of those issues, and namely the question of its binding effect have already been dealt with here, there still remain quite a number of open issues that require further clarification, some of which will be discussed hereinafter.

  1. Relationship of Security Council resolution 2334 (2016) with prior Security Council resolutions, in particular Security Council resolution 242 (1967)

The claim has been made that Security Council resolution 2334 (2016), as adopted, is incompatible with the content of Security Council resolution 242 (1967) (see here) given that Security Council resolution 2334 (2016) in its preambular paragraph 5, as well as in its operative paragraph 3, takes as a starting point for any final territorial arrangements between the parties to the conflict the 4 June 1967 lines, i.e. the so-called ‘Green line’, any changes to which would require a negotiated agreement between the two sides. Read the rest of this entry…

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Author’s Response: The Politics of Gender Justice at the ICC: Legacies and Legitimacy

Published on December 22, 2016        Author: 

I am immensely grateful to the EJIL:Talk! Editors for sponsoring this discussion and to Mark Drumbl, Patricia Viseur Sellers and Valerie Oosterveld for their thoughtful and detailed responses to my book The Politics of Gender Justice at the International Criminal Court: Legacies and Legitimacy. It is a true honour for me to have had these three esteemed international law experts carefully read and comment on my work. Their eloquent responses captured aspects of my argument better than I ever could, and I thank them for helping me to think more clearly about how the different facets of the book speak to various audiences, and the work that still needs to be done in understanding gender and other intersecting injustices under ICL.

I was heartened that both Patricia and Valerie responded favourably to my positioning as a ‘critical friend’ of the ICC, and the ICL feminist legal project more broadly. Immersing myself in the critical feminist law literature in recent years, I quickly realised many of its core critiques are similar to those of some feminist political scientists and sociologists who regard feminist engagement with ‘the state’ as a dangerous project, likely only to lead to co-option and shoring up a patriarchal institution (see my analysis of these debates here). While not dismissing the limitations, compromises, challenges, and indeed losses that can come with engagement with any aspect of the law – including ICL – I have also felt some unease with arguments that recommend rejecting the feminist legal project in its entirety. This comes from my deep pragmatic impulse. If gender justice advocates withdraw from engagement with powerful institutions – be they courts, state bureaucracies, or legislatures – these institutions won’t stop regulating our lives. Read the rest of this entry…

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Gender Justice and International Criminal Law: Peeking and Peering Beyond Stereotypes. Book Discussion

Published on December 21, 2016        Author: 

Louise Chappell unpacks how gender justice advocacy at the International Criminal Court contests the gendered legacies of international criminal law. Deploying a feminist institutionalist framework, Chappell provides an anatomy of these advocacy efforts in the establishment of the Rome Statute regime as well as in the ICC’s actual operations. Chappell offers a detailed road-map of gender at the ICC, and does so through a powerful (and seamless) synthesis of qualitative, quantitative, and expository methodologies. In short: her superb book is a must-read.

Chappell unfurls how gender advocacy nested within the ICC. The ICC, assuredly, is not an island. Concerns about gender justice animate the work of other international courts and tribunals. Both concurrently and previously to the ICC, these other tribunals advanced goals of equal representation in international institutions and criminalized acts of gender- and sexual-based violence. The ICTY, for example, confirmed in Furundžija that rape and other forms of sexual violence in armed conflict are war crimes. It also ruled that rape and sexual violence could constitute the actus reus of torture. The ICTR held in Akayesu that rape can constitute genocide as an act integral to the destruction of a group.  Furthermore, as Darryl Robinson and Gillian MacNeill note, in addition to defining rape the two ad hoc tribunals also ‘recognized many other forms of sexual and gender based violence, including sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, enforced sterilization, sexual mutilation, and public humiliation of a sexual nature.’ The ad hoc tribunals also developed procedural rules of evidence that promoted gender justice by protecting witnesses who came forward to testify. Finally, the Special Court for Sierra Leone merits mention. Its ground-breaking work on sexual slavery and forced marriage as an ‘other inhumane act’ has informed the proceedings currently underway at the ICC against the LRA’s Dominic Ongwen.

Gender justice at the ICC cannot be disentangled from gender justice in the enforcement of international criminal law generally. Read the rest of this entry…

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Gender Justice Legacies at the ICC. Book Discussion

Published on December 20, 2016        Author: 

Louise Chappell’s The Politics of Gender Justice at the International Criminal Court: Legacies and Legitimacy is a wonderfully-written account of the recent history of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC’s) role in promoting gender-inclusive justice. Her book demonstrates deep thinking and cogent analysis. It brings together three strands of political and legal theory – gender justice, feminist institutionalism, and the legitimacy of international organizations – to provide a unique analytical perspective on the mandate of the ICC and its implementation of the gender-related provisions in the Rome Statute. Ultimately, her interdisciplinary analysis provides a convincing analysis of gender-related developments within the Rome Statute and within the ICC.

Adopting a definition of gender justice from social theorist Nancy Fraser (p. 5), Chappell approaches the term from three directions: redistribution; identity recognition; and representation. Quoting Fraser, Chappell explains that redistribution focuses on addressing women’s exploitation, deprivation and marginalization (p. 6). Recognition involves instilling institutional patterns that express equal respect and opportunity for women and men (p. 6). Representation is focused on creating new rules and structures of inclusion, often through procedural means (p. 6).

Throughout the book, Chappell approaches her analysis from the point of view of “critical friendship”. Chappell and Mackay define critical friends as those who offer “sympathetic critique and make contextual judgment. They celebrate the ‘small wins’ that feminist insiders may make against the odds, and expose the gendered obstacles and power asymmetries that blunt reformist potential” (p. 9). Read the rest of this entry…

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Beyond a Recitation of Sexual Violence Provisions: A Mature Social Science Evaluation of the ICC. Book Discussion

Published on December 20, 2016        Author: 

Louise Chappell has penned a significant book – The Politics of Gender Justice at the International Criminal Court: Legacies and Legitimacy.  Far removed from a recitation of expanded sexual violence provisions within the Rome Statute, or a reiteration of the constricted definition of gender, Chappell sharply defies how to tally whether the International Criminal Court has delivered upon a gender justice mandate that is inextricable from its very institutional legitimacy.  The book tenaciously grapples with Nancy Fraser’s tripartite model of gender justice that necessitates redistribution, recognition and representation in order to generate a transformative justice that can address transnational injustices in a post-Westphalian context.   The author applies a decidedly feminist institutionalism to examine the Court, an innovative judicial mechanism that has inherited legacies from the law and from other international tribunals and courts.  Starting with the vaulted design of the Rome Statute, the book explores the formal and informal functioning of the rules and of the Court as well as the nested or international spatial context in which the ICC operates.

Importantly, throughout this exploration, Chappell identifies as a critical friend, but not an identical twin of the “feminist international legal project” nor is she an adept of the linear triumphalist approach to transitional justice.  She refrains from any attempts to embody an androcentric reasonable person stance. The author acknowledges that the book under-develops the impact of inter-sectional fault lines other than gender, in its “captured” state.  It also consigns the gender jurisprudence to being synonymous with female-related sexual assault cases. Notwithstanding, through the deployment of finely honed theoretical frameworks emerge measured, human-centered and keen observations of the Court’s initial decade as a supra-national provider of gender justice. Two eminent themes that Chappell unwraps, legitimacy of female presence at international judicial mechanisms and ramifications of the Women’s Caucus’ negotiation of the Rome Statute and, another sub silentio theme, the verve of a complex feminist critique of the ICC, merit sustained public attention.  Read the rest of this entry…

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The Politics of Gender Justice at the ICC: Legacies and Legitimacy

Published on December 19, 2016        Author: 

book-4The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court provides the most advanced articulation ever of gender justice under international law. In designing this aspect of the Rome Statute, states were influenced by the Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice, a dynamic international feminist advocacy network who used the creation of the Court as an opportunity to challenge the existing gender biases of the law and ensure the (mostly negative) lessons from the existing tribunals for Rwanda (ICTR) and the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) were not repeated at the ICC.

The pioneering gender justice mandate of the Rome Statute has three core elements. The first element relates to recognition of a range of sexual and gender crimes commonly, but not exclusively, experienced by women in conflict settings that had never before been treated with equal gravity to other war crimes or crimes against humanity. The second element relates to the provision for fair representation of women on the bench, and of experts in sexual and gender based violence across all the organs of the Court. The third element relates to redistribution through the ICC’s innovative reparations and assistance mandate, and administered via the Trust Fund for Victims. Another unique aspect of the Statute – and one that has its own underlying gender dimensions – is the complementarity framework, ensuring that states maintain jurisdiction over international crimes unless they demonstrate an inability or unwillingness to do so.

With these provisions, states parties established a potentially ground-breaking Court, capable of overturning some of embedded gender legacies of the law. The question raised in The Politics of Gender Justice at the International Criminal Court: Legacies and Legitimacy is how well in its early years has the ICC reached this potential? And, where the Court has missed the mark, what injury has it caused to its legitimacy with its key gender justice constituency? Read the rest of this entry…

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