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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: 

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

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

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Does the ICC Statute Remove Immunities of State Officials in National Proceedings? Some Observations from the Drafting History of Article 27(2) of the Rome Statute

Published on November 12, 2018        Author:  and

Following oral hearings held in September, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is currently deliberating in Jordan’s Appeal of the Pre-Trial Chamber’s decision holding that it had failed to cooperate with the ICC by refusing to arrest and surrender Sudan’s President, Omar Al-Bashir, when he visited Jordan. Central to the determination of whether Jordan, a party to the ICC Statute, failed to comply with its obligations of cooperation under the Statute is the issue of whether Jordan was obliged to respect the immunity ratione personae that the Sudanese President would ordinarily be entitled to as a serving head of state.

As is well known, when the ICC seeks to exercise its jurisdiction over a state official who ordinarily possesses immunity under international law from foreign criminal jurisdiction, the question of immunity may, potentially, arise at two levels. First, the issue of international law immunity with respect to the ICC may possibly arise at the so-called ‘vertical level’, i.e in the relations between the ICC, on the one hand, and the accused person and his or her state, on the other. The question that arises here is whether the accused person (as a state official entitled to international law immunities) or his or her state, may plead those immunities before the ICC itself, such as to prevent the Court from exercising jurisdiction over him or her. Second, and more commonly, the issue of immunity will arise at the so-called ‘horizontal level’, i.e in the relations between a state that is requested by the ICC to effect an arrest or surrender, on the one hand, and the state of the accused person, on the other. Here, the question is whether a state that is requested by the ICC, to arrest or surrender the official of another state, may do so, where to do so would require the requested state to violate the immunities that the foreign state official ordinarily possesses under international law. In particular, the question at this horizontal level is whether there is something about the ICC’s request for cooperation that would mean that the obligations which a state ordinarily owes to another to consider inviolable the person of a serving foreign head of state no longer apply. This is the main question that the Appeals Chamber is called upon to resolve in the Bashir case. In this post, we do not propose to examine the range of arguments put to the Chamber on this question. Rather this post will consider one specific question that is critical to the Court’s assessment and to the more general question of how the ICC Statute affects the immunity of state officials.

The post considers whether the provision of the Rome Statute that removes immunity – Art. 27(2) – only removes immunity at the ‘vertical level’ (before the Court itself) or whether it does so at the ‘horizontal level’ (before national authorities) as well. In particular, the post throws new light on this question through an examination of the drafting history of that provision. Consideration of the drafting history shows that the drafters of the provision considered, throughout the period of elaboration of the Statute, that what would become Art. 27 was to have effect not just in proceedings before the ICC itself but also in national proceedings related to the ICC’s exercise of jurisdiction. Read the rest of this entry…

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Understanding the State Party Referral of the Situation in Venezuela

Published on November 1, 2018        Author: 

Since 8 February 2018, the situation in Venezuela has been the subject of an ongoing preliminary examination by the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. On Wednesday 26 September 2018, however, a coalition of States Parties to the Rome Statute composed of Argentina, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, and Peru jointly submitted a referral of the situation in Venezuela to the Prosecutor. In this referral, it was requested that the Prosecutor open an investigation into the commission of crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Venezuela under the government of President Nicolás Maduro, beginning on February 12, 2014. This referral, the ninth referral received by the Prosecutor, is not only the first referral to be submitted by a “coalition” of States Parties, but also one (directly) concerning a situation occurring on the territory of another State Party.

Pursuant to article 13 and 14 of the Rome Statute, a referral by a State Party is one of the three triggering mechanisms under which the Court may exercise its jurisdiction. It represents a formal request by a State Party (or in this case States Parties) for the Prosecutor to initiate an investigation on crimes allegedly committed in a situation. Furthermore, it gives the referring State Party the opportunity to present supporting documentation regarding the situation in question. It does not, as explained by the Prosecutor in her response to the Venezuela referral, automatically lead to the opening of an investigation. Instead, as a triggering mechanism, it leads the Prosecutor to apply the statutory criteria to assess whether the referred situation warrants investigation. This process, otherwise referred to as a preliminary examination, entails an evaluation of the criteria set out in article 53(1) of the Statute. In the event that the Prosecutor decides to initiate an investigation on a situation referred to her by a State Party, she is not required to seek authorisation from the Pre-Trial Chamber to proceed.

The legal effect of a State Party referral is therefore limited to three key aspects: it can trigger a preliminary examination by the Prosecutor; it can act as a formal submission of new information vis-à-vis article 14(2); as well as allowing for the initiation of an investigation (if the Prosecutor decides so) without the need for judicial authorization by the Pre-Trial Chamber.

In applying these aspects to the Venezuela referral, it appears that its legal effect is rather limited. Read the rest of this entry…

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Looking for Middle Ground on the Immunity of Al-Bashir? Take the Third ‘Security Council Route’

Published on October 23, 2018        Author: 

On 10-14 September, the Appeals Chamber (AC) of the International Criminal Court (ICC) held hearings in the appeal of Jordan against the decision of Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) II entitled ‘Decision under article 87(7) of the Rome Statute on the non-compliance by Jordan with the request by the Court for the arrest and surrender o[f] Omar Al-Bashir’ of 11 December 2017’. As Talita De Souza Dias aptly showed in her recent post, one of the most debated issues during the hearings was whether the Security Council (SC) can implicitly waive the immunities of non-party States’ high-ranking officials when it refers a situation to the ICC. I agree with Talita’s findings on the permissibility of implicit derogations from immunities but I will argue that it is not Article 27(2) that renders the immunity of Al-Bashir inapplicable at the domestic level. Rather, it is the effect of Article 89 (1) on ‘Surrender of persons to the Court’ that makes his immunity of no avail before a domestic jurisdiction enforcing the ICC arrest warrant. In making this argument, I will propose a variant of the ‘Security Council Route’ that is different from those hitherto recognised in the literature or by the ICC.

Readers will recall that there are two main theories regarding the (in)applicability of immunities in domestic proceedings for arrest and surrender to the ICC of a state official ordinarily entitled to international law immunities. First, there is the theory that there is a customary exception to the immunity of heads of States for ‘proceedings before certain international criminal courts’. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Duty to Investigate Civilian Deaths in Armed Conflict: Looking Beyond Criminal Investigations

Published on October 22, 2018        Author: 

Writing in the Times last Friday, General David Petraeus, former commander of US Central Command, added his voice to the familiar refrain that ‘European human rights law’ has given rise to the ‘judicial pursuit of British soldiers and veterans’. Petraeus may be correct in stating that the British emphasis on criminal investigations would never obtain in the US, but looking at some of the legal issues behind his claims undercuts his assumption that ‘restoring the primacy of the law of armed conflict’ would remove scrutiny over the actions of military personnel on the battlefield.

A year after the winding up of the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), the controversies over accountability for the UK’s military action in Iraq certainly show few signs of going away. Sections of the press continue to mount a vociferous campaign against the residual work of the Iraq Fatality Investigations (IFI), while calls for investigations into alleged civilian fatalities from more recent UK military action over Mosul are growing.

I reflected on this experience in the course of completing a chapter on international legal obligations to investigate civilian deaths for a new book just published, The Grey Zone: Civilian protection between human rights and the laws of war. The many years of investigations in the UK have arguably resulted in a failure either to deal effectively with outstanding allegations or to deliver justice to many Iraqi victims. This perception may of course be influenced by continuing political disagreement over international military action in Iraq, but it also stems from the particular approach the UK has taken to investigating violations, including the heavy reliance on criminal law. In the current generation of devastating air campaigns, what lessons can be learnt?

UK practice

Beside the need to address public concern about the conduct of military action in Iraq, UK practice on investigations has been driven largely by duties under the International Criminal Court Act 2001 and the Human Rights Act 1998.

The UK’s approach was established early in Iraq (and later applied to UK operations in Afghanistan), with all incidents involving civilian casualties being referred for investigation to the Service Investigation Branch of the Royal Military Police. Comparing US military investigations with those of other states in Naval Law Review in 2015, Commander Sylvaine Wong of the US Navy JAGC noted that the UK had, ‘as a matter of domestic policy, taken the most dramatic steps to rely solely on criminal law enforcement investigations for incidences of civilian casualties.’ Read the rest of this entry…

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Another Challenge for Colombia’s Transitional Justice Process: Aggravated Differential Treatment between Armed Forces and FARC

Published on October 19, 2018        Author: 

A new proposal for a constitutional amendment has caused another highly controversial debate in Colombia. The proposal foresees the creation of “special chambers” within the Colombian Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz, SJP) with the exclusive competence to try members of the Armed Forces. Just a quick reminder: The Final Peace Agreement was concluded between the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo, FARC-EP) in November 2016. It introduced the SJP as the Peace Agreement’s single legal mechanism, responsible for bringing all parties to the conflict to justice. The new government and its party in the Colombian Congress (“Centro Democrático”) are keen to make some reforms to the SJP. A few weeks ago we have discussed here a proposal to radically limit the access of the SJP and other organs of the Colombian TJ System to information related to national security. The now proposed constitutional amendment is the result of a debate that had already started earlier this year at the time of the negotiations regarding the SJP’s Rules of Procedure and Evidence (RPE). It evolved around the introduction of Article 75 RPE which provides for a special procedure for the Armed Forces in relation to the crimes committed during the armed conflict. The rule was finally adopted and ultimately paved the way for this recent proposal.

The authors of the proposal (among them former President Alvaro Uribe Vélez, one of the Peace Agreement’s most vocal opponents) consider that the Armed Forces “have fought in the name and in favor of the legitimate State”, including those members  that committed crimes not eligible for amnesty; in contrast, the FARC are characterized as just a “criminal organization pursuing criminal purposes” (Explanatory Statement to the proposal (ES), p. 11 [all translations by the author]). The proposal’s aim is, of course, to strengthen the position of the Armed Forces, especially of those members involved in international crimes and thus possibly subject to national or international proceedings. However, as it stands the proposal will do a disservice to the Armed Forces which should rather stick to the existing mechanisms of the SJP in order to have higher security with regard to the International Criminal Court (ICC). For reasons of space, I cannot explain here the multiple problems of the proposal with regard to the current Colombian constitutional system (especially, but not exclusively regarding the SJP), and its international obligations (regarding the jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the ICC and under International Humanitarian Law). Instead, I will focus on the serious problem that the proposal creates for its presumed beneficiaries with regard to the preliminary examination undertaken by the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor (OTP).

The proposal has implications for the application of the complementarity principle, which regulates the relationship between national jurisdictions and the ICC. Read the rest of this entry…

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The ICC Pre-Trial Chamber’s Reading of “or” in the Myanmar Jurisdiction Ruling: On the Relevance of Linguistics to Interpretation

Published on October 2, 2018        Author:  and

Linguistics continues to be a blind spot for international lawyers. Despite the self-perception that lawyers work predominantly with language, an in-depth inquiry into the actual science dealing with the phenomenon of language remains, to a large extent, a desideratum. Linguistics can, however, be very helpful in understanding the intended meaning of a word or phrase, as we will try to argue in this post. A good example of its usefulness and significance is provided in the recent decision of the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber on the Prosecutor’s request for a ruling on whether the Court may exercise jurisdiction over the alleged deportation of members of the Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh. In paras 52 ff., the Chamber had to interpret Article 7(1)(d) of the Rome Statute to establish whether the Article embodies either a single or two separate crimes, in light of the use of the word “or”. As will be be shown, the resulting interpretation of the word “or” demonstrates the usefulness of linguistic knowledge from which international law could draw in the future.

We hope that we are not seen as using a case featuring harrowing events as a mere façade for legal-intellectual exchanges. We suggest that a narrow technical approach is justified, particularly, in such important cases where so much depends on interpretation (e.g., the exact contours of jurisdiction of an international court).

Linguistics, semantics, pragmatics

International lawyers’ relationship with linguistics has been somewhat selective. In recent writing, some have used elements of corpus linguistics or discourse analysis to gain insights into international law. However, other modern aspects of studying meaning as a phenomenon in language seem to continuously escape international lawyers’ attention. For example, there is a certain tendency to refer to Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations (1953) and his argument that words are defined by how they are used without putting his work in context (see e.g. recently Klabbers, International Law, Cambridge University Press 2017, p. 56). The progress that linguistics has made in the decades following the 1950s, in particular with regard to the semantics-pragmatics divide, is left aside as a consequence. Read the rest of this entry…

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The ‘Security Council Route’ to the Derogation from Personal Head of State Immunity in the Al-Bashir Case: How Explicit must Security Council Resolutions be?

Published on September 19, 2018        Author: 

Last week, the Appeals Court of the International Criminal Court (ICC, the Court) held hearings in relation to Jordan’s Appeal from a decision of Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) II holding that it has failed to cooperate with the Court in the arrest and surrender of Sudan’s President, Omar Al-Bashir. As is well known, Al-Bashir is presently subject to an ICC Arrest Warrant for committing war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur, following the referral of the situation by the Security Council (SC) to the Court. He has made a series official visits to Jordan and other states parties to the ICC Statute (the Rome Statute). However, none of those states has dared to arrest him to date. Their principal argument is that Al-Bashir enjoys personal immunities from foreign domestic jurisdiction under treaties and customary international law, that these are not covered by the removal of immunity in Art. 27(2) of the Rome Statute, and are thereby safeguarded by Art. 98 of the Statute.

The hearings, together with the Appeals Chamber’s decisions leading to them, represent a unique moment in the history of international criminal law for two main reasons. First, this is the first time in which the ICC has invited, accepted and heard submissions from leading international law scholars as amici curiae, as well as engaged in direct (and sometimes heated!) oral discussions with them. Secondly, some of the legal and policy issues discussed in the hearings are of fundamental importance to international criminal law and public international law in general. They include questions such as the extent of the SC’s powers, a possible customary international law exception to personal immunities before international criminal tribunals, and the practical importance of preserving such immunities for international peace and security. Thus, watching the hearings online has certainly kept some of us entranced during the entire week.

However, aside from the special role attached to academic commentary and from the systemic issues discussed in the hearings and in the written observations, one question seems to have been at the heart of the debates on Al-Bashir’s immunities. This question is whether the SC can implicitly derogate from personal immunities otherwise applicable under treaties or customary international law, or whether it must do so explicitly. Indeed, all parties and participants seem to agree that the SC has the power to displace personal immunities and other rules of treaty or general international law, except for jus cogens norms. Yet they disagree as to how clear the Council must be in order to do so. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Bolton Speech: The Legality of US Retaliatory Action Against Judges and Officials of the International Criminal Court?

Published on September 14, 2018        Author: 

The speech given on Monday by John Bolton, US National Security Adviser, threatening action by the US against the International Criminal Court (ICC) in response to potential ICC investigation of US personnel with regard to the situation in Afghanistan has generated a lot of interest (see herehere, here and here). There are a plethora of policy and political issues raised by the looming clash between the ICC and the US which have been set out on other blogs in recent days (here and here). In terms of the legal issues, we are back to the old debate about whether the ICC is entitled to exercise jurisdiction over nationals of non-party states, in the absence of a referral by the UN Security Council (on which see this 2003 article of mine and this recent post in response). This post addresses whether the actions that Bolton says the US will take against Judges and ICC officials would be lawful under international law. Bolton says that the US:

“… will respond against the ICC and its personnel to the extent permitted by U.S. law.  We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States. We will sanction their funds in the U.S. financial system, and, we will prosecute them in the U.S. criminal system. We will do the same for any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans.”

In particular, I wish to focus on whether the US would violate international law by banning ICC judges and officials from entering the US. Even if the US were to seek to prosecute ICC personnel, it is unlikely that it would obtain custody over them (unless other states cooperate with the US). The primary effect of such attempted prosecutions would be to prevent those people from entering the US, in fear of being arrested.

Barring ICC personnel from entry into the US is a significant issue because (i) the meetings of the ICC Assembly of States Parties are held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York every other year; (ii) the ICC Prosecutor goes to the Security Council, at its request, to report to the Council on the situations referred to the Court by the Council; and (iii) the President of the ICC presents a report, on the work of the Court, to the UN General Assembly annually. All of these activities and visits will have to stop if the threat by John Bolton (either to prosecute or to ban ICC judges and officials) were to be carried out.

Does the US have International Legal Obligations Preventing  it from taking Retaliatory Action  Against ICC Personnel?

To the extent that US retaliatory actions against ICC personnel  take place within the US, the starting position would be the US can control entry into the US, prosecute people who in its view threaten US security (probably based on the protective principle of jurisdiction) and sanction funds in the US unless such acts are inconsistent with contrary obligations under international law.

Read the rest of this entry…

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The Bashir Appeal at the ICC

Published on September 10, 2018        Author: 

This morning, the ICC Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) begin its hearings in the appeal of Jordan against the decision of the Pre-Trial Chamber that Jordan failed to comply with its obligations under the ICC Statute by failing to arrest Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir when he visited Jordan. The hearings raise the question whether a party to the Statute must respect the immunity of the head of state of a non-party to the statute when the arrest of the latter is sought by the ICC. These are issues that have been discussed with respect to President Bashir from the moment when the warrant for his arrest was issued by the ICC. They have also been the subject of four (conflicting) decisions by the Pre Trial Chambers. It is now hoped that the Appeals Chamber will issue a decision that will settle the position of the ICC with respect to this issue. Over the course of this week, the Appeals Chamber will hear not only from Jordan and the Prosecutor but also from the African Union, the League of Arab States, and a number of academics that have been permitted to make submissions to the Chamber.

In July, AJIL Unbound, the online supplement to the American Journal of International Law, published a symposium on “The Rome Statute of Twenty”. That symposium, edited by Judge Theodor Meron & Professor Maggie Gardner, is composed of essays mostly by serving and past judges of the ICC and the ad hoc tribunals. It was a pleasure to be asked to contribute to that symposium. In my contribution, titled, “The Immunity of Heads of States of Non-Parties in the Early Years of the ICC”, I chose to write on the issues that have arisen in the Bashir Appeal. I have written on these issues before and summarise my views in the limited space I had in the AJIL Unbound essay. My introduction to the essay is as follows: Read the rest of this entry…

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