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Home Archive for category "Universal Jurisdiction"

Chechnya’s Anti-Gay Purge: Crimes Against Humanity

Published on May 9, 2017        Author: 

Despite widespread condemnation from the U.N., Council of Europe, E.U., United States, and other countries, a brutal campaign against gay men in Chechnya continues. The abuses take the form of abduction-style detention, enforced disappearances, torture, and killings. Considering the systematic features and the brutality of the abuses, Chechnya’s anti-gay campaign amounts to crimes against humanity, and it demands proper condemnation and response from the international community.

Crimes against humanity, as an international crime, has been defined in various statues and law commissions’ proposals since 1945. They each have their own distinctive feature tailored to the specific historical context during which they were drafted. For example, the Nuremberg Charter and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) Statute’s definition require the element “in armed conflicts”, while the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) Statute requires a discriminatory intent. This note uses the definition in Article 7 of the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court (ICC): “any of the acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack,” followed by specific acts listed in sub-paragraphs. This definition has been almost entirely adopted by the International Law Commission in its latest version of draft articles on crimes against humanity (note: the proposed draft articles are still in work progress).

Murder, Imprisonment, Torture, Enforced Disappearance, and Other Inhumane Acts

The argument that the Chechnya’s campaign against gay men constitutes crimes against humanity as the criminal acts listed in Article 7.1 (a), (e), (f), and (i) is quite straightforward. There has been credible reporting on abuses committed against gay men in Chechnya, including abduction, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, torture, and killings. All the described abuses have been approved by Chechen local government, with Moscow turning a blind eye to them. In many cases, violations were directly committed by Chechen security forces. Read the rest of this entry…

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The ‘Mistrial’ of Kumar Lama: Problematizing Universal Jurisdiction

Published on April 6, 2017        Author: 

‘We know the grave can cry out after 50 years’. Kumar Lama, a colonel in the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA), sat in his hut in Gorusinghe Barracks opposite Amnesty official Daniel Alderman in May 2005. The Amnesty visit was prompted by on-going reports of serious human rights violations in the course of the people’s war between the CPN (Maoist) and the RNA. Alderman described the colonel as ‘a man of the world’, friendly and forthcoming, who clearly understood the laws of war and (as his comment to Alderman reflected) the possibility of bringing violators to justice, even many years later. In 2009, years after his visit to Nepal, Alderman received an email with the title ‘From a Nepalese friend’. The email was from Lama, then doing an MA in International Relations at Sussex University, inquiring about an Amnesty research job on Nepal, ‘a job’, Lama wrote confidently, ‘I could easily do’.

Colonel Lama was never offered the Amnesty job. In January 2013, he was arrested at his home in East Sussex and charged with two counts of torture under section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act, relating to incidents that had allegedly occurred between April and May 2005 at the Gorusinghe Barracks. The Act vested British courts with ‘universal jurisdiction’ over the offence of torture, meaning the offence could be prosecuted in the UK whatever the offender’s nationality and wherever the crime was committed. The arrest was the result of a sensible wager on the UK’s part, bargaining relatively low diplomatic cost for diplomatic credit in fulfilling its obligation under the Torture Convention to prosecute those suspected of torture found on its territory. While Nepal reacted angrily to the arrest, this served merely to expose the unholy (and inverse) relationship between justice and power. The most the Nepalese government could do in reaction to Lama’s arrest was to reject the offer of RAF chinook helicopters to help in the relief effort following the devastating earthquake in Nepal in April 2015.

The trial of Kumar Lama took place in the Old Bailey from June to July 2016. It can hardly be said there was a public appetite for the trial. Public and press galleries were consistently empty – I often sat there alone with Lama’s wife and daughters (disrupted occasionally by bored and bemused school groups, interested pensioners or tourists who had taken a wrong turn in the Lonely Planet guide). The Lama trial proceeded, like many trials in the Old Bailey, as something of a private conversation between judge and lawyers, upon which the public gallery were intrusive eavesdroppers. Trial observation is not easy in a system increasingly geared to see public access as less an aspiration of than a threat to the justice system. Even the jury seemed cast in the role of vexatious bystanders in a trial in which they were ultimately expected to be judges of facts affecting a family, victims, a country in which they had no apparent interest and of which they had no apparent knowledge. Read the rest of this entry…

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Justice for Syria? Opportunities and Limitations of Universal Jurisdiction Trials in Germany

Published on August 12, 2016        Author: 

During the ongoing conflict in Syria, horrific international crimes are being committed on a daily basis. With impunity for these crimes prevailing on an international level, the attention of Syrian and international actors is turning towards trials under the principle of universal jurisdiction in national courts. This blog post provides a systematic overview of current trials and investigations in Germany relating to Syria and discusses the possibilities and limitations of such trials.

Impunity Prevailing on International Level

Many of the grave human rights violations in Syria are well documented by international bodies, international NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (which rely on evidence from Syrian activists who are documenting these kind of crimes under great personal risk), and national organizations such as the Syrian Network for Human Rights, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Violations Documentations Centre.

However, geopolitical concerns impede effective and timely prosecution of human rights violations and international crimes: The hands of the International Criminal Court (ICC) appear to be tied and a double Security Council Veto by the permanent members, Russia and China, blocked a resolution to refer the situation to the Court. Despite the draft of a Statute as early as 2013, the call for the establishment of a hybrid tribunal by the UN Commission of Inquiry and academic support for this approach as the next best alternative (Van Schaack, Just Security; Sayapin, EJIL Talk), no tangible mechanism has resulted thus far. It follows that the only remaining and realistic avenue to seek justice for international crimes perpetrated in Syria is for other countries to prosecute these crimes by way of universal jurisdiction. Read the rest of this entry…

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Universal Jurisdiction or Regional Lawfare

Published on June 1, 2016        Author: 

This article reflects on Relja Radović’s article “A Comment on Croatia’s Concerns over Serbia’s So-Called “Mini-Hague.

The major point of contention

As a major point of contention between Croatia and Serbia in the current “jurisdictional debate”, Radović rightly pinpoints Article 3 of the Law on the Organization and Competence of State Authorities in War Crime Proceedings (the “LWC”) (see here) by which Serbia extended its criminal jurisdiction in proceedings for the most serious violations of IHL committed on the territory of the former SFRY (LWC Article 2), regardless of the citizenship of the perpetrator or victim (LWC Article 3). Radović also summarizes Croatia’s objections to LWC Article 3 and the jurisdiction it introduced, which argue that it is incompatible with international law (including international criminal law) and “European standards”, as well as contrary to the very notion and basic principles of universal jurisdiction. For the sake of clarity, it should be noted that LWC Article 2, which introduces the aforementioned territorial extension of the Serbian criminal jurisdiction, and Article 3, which reasserts this extension and simultaneously cuts any links to the citizenship of the perpetrator or victim, must be read in conjunction. However, for the purposes of this article, reference will be made to Article 3 to cover both, as was Radović’s approach.

In his analysis of the dispute, Radović fully and unreservedly accepts the official Serbian narrative, which equates LWC Article 3 to universal jurisdiction as it is commonly understood or – as Radović later in his contribution dubs it – to “real” universal jurisdiction. Namely, according to Radović:

“the contested Article 3 does not, in itself, create Serbian criminal jurisdiction over crimes committed during the Yugoslav conflict based on the universality principle” … but “… this jurisdiction exists independently of the contested Law … and is provided by the virtue of … Article 9 para 2 in conjunction with Article 10 para 3 of the Serbian Criminal Code … regulating “real” universal jurisdiction for international crimes”.

The author therefore concludes that there is no difference between the two (LWC Article 3 and “real” universal jurisdiction), that “it seems that Croatia has totally misinterpreted the whole issue”, and that by opposing LWC Article 3 Croatia is blindly and unreasonably opposing a form of jurisdiction (“real” universal jurisdiction) accepted in criminal legislation in many EU Member States, as well as other States, including Croatia’s own criminal legislation. Read the rest of this entry…

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A Comment on Croatia’s Concerns over Serbia’s So-Called “Mini-Hague”

Published on April 22, 2016        Author: 

As recently reported, Croatia has blocked the opening of Chapters 23 and 24 of the accession negotiations between Serbia and the European Union (EU). One of the reasons given relates to Serbia’s law establishing the jurisdiction of Serbian prosecutors and courts over war crimes committed anywhere on the territory of the former Yugoslavia. Justifying their actions, Croatian officials have said that Serbia must follow “European standards”, with some Croatian officials and media reports referring to Serbia’s extension of jurisdiction as the creation of a “mini-Hague” (a media report in Serbo-Croatian is available here). Croatia has asserted that such jurisdiction is incompatible with international law and that it actually constitutes a “hybrid”, rather than universal, jurisdiction (available here in Serbo-Croatian). From the perspective of States whose national legislation provides for universal jurisdiction over international crimes, the issues arising here are quite interesting.

The involvement of the European Commission and its request that the Croatian government cease its opposition has added further complexity to the matter. In a ‘non-paper’, the European Commission has expressed its opinion that the arguments advanced by Croatia are not justified. Commenting on the document, a Croatian official has described it as an old document meant for internal use, and one that the Croatian public should not be bothered with.

Jurisdiction over Croatian Nationals

Croatia’s criticism seems to be aimed at the statutory provisions themselves. In particular, Croatia takes issue with Article 3 of the Serbian Law on Organization and Jurisdiction of State Organs in War Crimes Proceedings, which provides:

The government authorities of the Republic of Serbia set out under this Law shall have jurisdiction in proceedings for criminal offences specified in Article 2 hereof, committed on the territory of the former Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, regardless of the citizenship of the perpetrator or victim. (An older English version of the law is available here; the quoted provision remains unchanged.)

Croatia thus appears concerned with the possibility of Serbia exercising its jurisdiction over Croatian nationals. No accusations of discriminatory or systematic prosecutions by Serbian prosecutors against Croatian nationals have been advanced by Croatia.  To date, universal jurisdiction has not been extensively used to prosecute foreign nationals for war crimes allegedly perpetrated in the Yugoslav conflict; reported cases include both an acquittal and a rejection of a request for extradition (for the reason of an allegedly politically motivated process) of two Bosnians. In 2015, a Croatian national sentenced in Serbia for war crimes was transferred to serve his sentence in Croatia.

Compliance with “European Standards” and International Law

The Croatian government is targeting a particular statutory provision, which in its opinion, marks Serbia’s intention to act as a “regional policeman”. Read the rest of this entry…

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Domesticating the Law of Immunity: The Supreme Court of Canada in Kazemi v Iran

Published on November 7, 2014        Author: 

International lawyers typically think that when a case deals with a matter of international law, once you know the position under international law, then this will give you the answer. Unfortunately, before domestic courts, that is not always the case. Late last month, the Canadian Supreme Court issued its judgment in Kazemi Estate v. Islamic Republic of Iran [2014] SCC 62 (the Quebec Superior Court Judgment was discussed on the blog here). The case, following on the Ontario Court of Appeal’s earlier judgment in Bouzari, serves as a stark reminder that the application of international legal principles in domestic proceedings will frequently be governed or mediated by domestic legislation, which often reflects domestic priorities in addition to international principles. The role that international law should play in such cases, as either a source or a means of interpretation, may be contested. The Kazemi v Iran Judgment is the latest instalment in a series of important domestic court decisions on the law of State immunity.

Background

Ms. Zahra Kazemi was a Canadian citizen and freelance photographer and journalist who died in custody in Iran in 2003, following her detention, torture and sexual assault in prison The authorities refused to return her body to Canada and buried her in Iran. Although a domestic investigation reported links between the Iranian authorities and her torture and death, only one person was charged and he was acquitted after a trial which lacked transparency.

Seeking justice for his mother’s death, Ms. Kazemi’s son, Mr. Stephan Hashemi, sued the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei (Iran’s Head of State), Mr. Mortazavi (Chief Public Prosecutor of Tehran), and Mr. Bakhshi (former Deputy Chief of Intelligence at the prison where Ms. Kazemi was detained), claiming damages for his mother’s suffering and death, and for the emotional and psychological harm that this caused him. Predictably, the defendants sought to dismiss the motion based on claims of state immunity, which is implemented in Canada by the State Immunity Act (SIA). This challenge ultimately reached the Supreme Court of Canada, Read the rest of this entry…

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From Targeted Sanctions to Targeted Settlements: International Law-Making Through Effective Means

Published on July 22, 2014        Author: 

2014.08.06.Marijanew pictureMarija Đorđeska, LL.M., is a Thomas Buergenthal Scholar and an S.J.D. Candidate at the George Washington University Law School, in Washington D.C.

The U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control of the Department of Treasury (OFAC) has again shocked the international financial community with a recent settlement with BNP Paribas, France’s largest financial institution. BNP Paribas was accused of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran, Sudan, Burma and Cuba from 2005 to 2012. For $8.9 billion in compensation – the priciest settlement to date – OFAC pardoned BNP Paribas and its subsidiaries from their civil liability under U.S. law. (Settlement Agreement [30], see also Enforcement Information for June 30, 2014).

OFAC is aggressively and effectively applying U.S. sanctions law to foreign institutions incorporated and doing business abroad, without taking into consideration foreign domestic legal regimes or international standards. French President François Hollande expressed his disapproval of the penalty imposed on BNP Paribas. The settlement should also cause concern among European and international lawyers, as BNP Paribas is the ninth European financial institution to be sanctioned since 2006 for processing funds for entities subject to U.S. sanctions. By threatening to cut off foreign financial institutions from the U.S. market, OFAC precludes these financial institutions from publicly and transparently arguing their case in legal proceedings (Settlement Agreement [31]). OFAC is establishing a precedent of a new, efficient, and not yet legal method for asserting U.S. laws abroad, bypassing the traditional territoriality principle of jurisdiction.

In the documents that are publicly available, OFAC does not mention any legal grounds on which it claims jurisdiction, leaving it unclear on what basis the U.S. can sanction transactions initiated abroad by foreign entities or the clearing of US dollars outside the U.S. (Factual Statement [34]) or regulate foreign exchange transactions (Settlement Agreement [12, 13]). Because the settlement negotiations were not made public, and BNP Paribas also waived its right to “any possible legal objection,” (Settlement Agreement [31]) the substantive public debate on the issue is necessarily limited.

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After a Brief Hiatus, Kenya Once Again Has Universal Jurisdiction Over Pirates

Published on October 24, 2012        Author: 

 Jon Bellish is a Project Officer at the Oceans Beyond Piracy project just outside Denver, Colorado, though the views expressed are solely those of the author. You can follow him on Twitter.

On October 18, the Kenyan Court of Appeal in Nairobi handed down a pivotal decision in In re Mohamud Mohammed Hashi, et al. It held that Kenya has jurisdiction to try piracy suspects whose alleged acts occurred beyond the country’s territorial waters. Due to Kenya’s central role in the emerging global network of piracy prosecutions, the Court’s ruling in Hashi will have positive implications both within and outside of Kenya.

The Court of Appeal decision overturns a ruling from the High Court of Mombasa, which concluded that, “[Kenyan] Courts can only deal with offences or criminal incidents that take place within the territorial jurisdiction of Kenya.” For an excellent analysis of the lower court’s decision, I would point readers to this post on Communis Hostis Omnium.

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Breaking News from 1932: Pirate Facilitators Must Be Physically Present on the High Seas

Published on September 19, 2012        Author: 

Jon Bellish is a Project Officer at the Oceans Beyond Piracy project outside Denver, Colorado (though all of his views are his own). He has experience in United States piracy trials and just got on Twitter.

In the two years since the United States Justice Department began prosecuting Somalis for their alleged roles as pirate hostage negotiators, a debate has emerged as to whether UNCLOS requires facilitators of piracy to be physically present on the high seas in order to have committed piracy jure gentium and thus be subject to universal jurisdiction.

Highly reputable scholars and jurists have come out on different sides of this debate, due in large part to a lack of context surrounding UNCLOS art. 101, which provides the definition of piracy. Professor Douglas Guilfoyle takes the more expansive view that facilitation can take place within the jurisdiction of a state because UNCLOS art. 101(c), the section concerning facilitation, does not contain an explicit high seas limitation, as does art. 101(a)(1), which deals with the direct commission of piracy.

Advancing a narrower view, which I myself shared until recently, Professor Eugene Kontorovich argues that either an ex ante agreement to facilitate piracy ex post or concurrent facilitation while on the high seas is enough to commit piracy under the law of nations.

To an extent, this academic debate played out in practice when Judge Ellen Huevelle of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia held that a lack of high seas conduct kept an alleged pirate hostage negotiator outside the reach of universal jurisdiction. Although she was not presented with the question of whether an ex ante argument to facilitate subjected a facilitator to common jurisdiction, Judge Huevelle appears to side with the narrower conception of universal jurisdiction over pirate facilitators.

Because of the absence of historical insight into the bounds of universal jurisdiction over facilitators of piracy, most commentary to date has tended towards policy-heavy speculation based primarily on the text of UNCLOS itself. It appears, however, that the Harvard’s 1932 Draft Convention on Piracy has provided some much needed context for the debate.

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The African Union, the ICC and Universal Jurisdiction: Some Recent Developments

Published on August 29, 2012        Author: 

Over the last few years, the African Union (AU) Assembly, (composed of Heads of States and Governments), has concerned itself with a number of issues relating to international criminal law (see previous posts by me here, here, and here; and by Max Du Plessis and Chris Gevers here and here). Last month, the AU Assembly held its 19th Summit and continued the trend of making decisions with regard to international criminal justice (see here for the full text of the Assembly decisions). Earlier this week, Max Du Plessis wrote about the decision of the AU Assembly at this summit to postpone consideration of a draft protocol that would amend the Statute of the African Court of Human Rights and Justice to give it jurisdiction to try international crimes. As has now become usual, the AU Assembly, at this latest summit, also adopted decisions on the International Criminal Court and on the Abuse of the Principle of Universal Jurisdiction. Both of these decisions contain new developments from previous decisions which are analysed below. There is a call for African States to conclude bilateral immunity agreements and the AU has adopted a Model Law on Universal Jurisdiction.

The Impact of the ICC on the Venue of the Summit

The question of where the AU summit would be held was dominated by the fallout of the strained relationship between the AU and the International Criminal Court. The venue of the Summit was changed from Malawi to Addis Ababa, the seat of the AU, just one month before the meeting as the AU refused Malawi’s request for Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir not to be invited to the meeting. Malawi, a party to the Statute of the International Criminal Court, stated that it had an obligation to arrest Bashir, who is wanted by the ICC, were he to visit Malawi. Read the rest of this entry…

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