Today the Appeals Chamber of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon delivered an interlocutory decision on several points of applicable law before the Tribunal. It has essentially done so in an advisory fashion, at the request of the pre-trial judge, in order to provide him with adequate guidance with respect to 15 questions of law. In other words, the Appeals Chamber rendered this decision without actually having a concrete case before it, after having heard the submissions of the prosecution and the defense office on the legal issues in question. The 150-page decision is available here; a summary read out by President Cassese is available here.
This is an incredibly rich decision – if you will (and appropriately enough bearing in mind Judge Cassese’s involvement), the STL’s Tadic. I am sure that it will provoke much discussion, and not a little bit of controversy. I had so far only given the decision a very quick skim, but let me try to point out some of the most interesting developments.
The Appeals Chamber held, inter alia, that customary international law now recognizes a distinct crime of terrorism in peacetime. Notably, the Chamber held not only that a customary rule exists between states that they need to suppress terrorist crimes, but that a customary rule applicable to individuals has evolved, directly creating a true international crime. This is of course a position that Judge Cassese has been advocating for some time extra-curially – see e.g. his International Criminal Law textbook. That position is however controversial to say the least – see e.g. the textbook by Cryer et al, 2nd ed., at p. 338 ff. Now, note that the STL is actually bound by its Statute to apply Lebanese substantive criminal law, and its own definition of terrorism (on which the Chamber has several things to say); to that extent whether or not customary international law recognizes a distinct crime of terrorism is beside the point. Its only relevance is that the Chamber has held that in cases of doubt it will interpret Lebanese law so that it conforms with international law, but it was hardly necessary for it to reach the very ‘activist’ conclusion that terrorism has now become a true international crime, like genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Whether the Chamber’s analysis of the relevant state practice and opinio juris is to be considered persuasive outside the STL remains to be seen.
Several years ago, I published an article in the JICJ in which I anticipated another problem which the Chamber had to deal with today. Namely, while the STL Statute provides that the only body of applicable law is Lebanese law, it at the same time allows the application of uniquely international forms of individual criminal responsibility, namely common purpose (or joint criminal enterprise, particularly its third or extended type) and command responsibility. I argued that applying these forms responsibility to the individuals accused of assassinating Hariri would violate the principle of legality, nullum crimen sine lege, as it would allow for the punishment of individuals who could not be punished under Lebanese law, the only relevant body of substantive law. Before the Appeals Chamber, the defense office developed this legality argument in great detail, while the prosecution argued that under the plain language of the Statute it could rely on international forms of responsibility in all circumstances.