Earlier this month, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court requested a warrant for the arrest of the current Sudanese Defense Minister Abdelrahim Mohamed Hussein. He is alleged to have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Darfur from August 2003 to March 2004. In a press release announcing the request for the arrest warrant, the ICC stated that:
“The crimes were perpetrated during attacks upon the towns and villages of Kodoom, Bindisi, Mukjar and Arawala in the Wadi Salih and Mukjar Localities of West Darfur. The attacks followed a common pattern: the Government of Sudan forces surrounded the villages, the Air Force dropped bombs indiscriminately and foot soldiers, including Militia/Janjaweed, killed, raped and looted the entire village, forcing the displacement of 4 million inhabitants. Currently, 2.5 million remain in camps for Internally Displaced Persons.
In the “Prosecution v. Harun & Kushayb” case, Pre-Trial Chamber I ruled that Local Security Committees coordinated these attacks. They were supervised by State Security Committees which reported to Mr. Harun, who in turn, according to the evidence, reported to Mr. Hussein”
These statements regarding the prior Prosecutor v Harun & Kushayb case are simply inaccurate. Moreover, the Office of the Prosecutor at the ICC must know or should know that they are inaccurate. The statement in the press release referring to that earlier decision is to a decision of the Pre-Trial Chamber on a request for an arrest warrant. Those decisions are made ex parte and on the basis of the prosecutor’s application. No detailed arguments are heard and no alternative evidence is led. In these decisions, the Pre- Trial chamber does not (or at least, it should not) make any definitive rulings. The standard that is required under Art. 58 of the ICC Statute for such a decision is that there are “reasonable grounds to believe” that the crime has been committed. This is a low standard. It is lower than the “substantial grounds to believe” that the crime has been committed which is required for a confirmation of charges and lower than the standard of “beyond reasonable doubt” which is required for a conviction (see the ICC Appeals Chamber decision in Prosecutor v. Bashir, (Arrest Warrant Appeal), 2010, para 30). Even after the Pre-Trial Chamber has issued an arrest warrant on the basis of reasonable grounds to believe that an accused has commited crimes, it may then later decide in confirmation of charges proceedings that there are no substantial grounds to believe what it had earlier held there were reasonable grounds to believe. This happened just this month in the Mbarushimana case. And of course, even if it confirms charges it may actually decide to acquit.
It really is quite shocking that the ICC will suggest that a decision for an arrest warrant is a ruling that certain things happened. But this is not the first time this has happened. The ICC Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo wrote an article in the Guardian Newspaper last year saying that the ICC found Sudanese President Bashir and his forces responsible for atrocities in Darfur (see my earlier post here). Of course, all the ICC Chamber had done was to issue a request for a warrant applyng the reasonable gronds to believe standard.
These inaccurate statements about what the ICC has found are troubling because they are issued to the press with the intent that they be disseminated around the world. Issuing false statements about what the Court has held is clearly prejudicial to the accused. A judicial institution should do better than that. The statements are also troubling because they appear to suggest that either those who write these press statements are not knowledgeable about the Court’s own procedure or they are wilfully misrepresenting the facts. I very much doubt that it could be the latter. However, I would call on the ICC to issue a press release correcting their earlier press release. If they don’t want to be regarded as wilfully issuing false information which prejudices defendants, they should issue a correction which is disseminated as widely as the original misleading press release.
PS: In a post on his blog, Bill Schabas has noted that the absence of a genocide charge for the Sudanese Defence Minister is incoherent with the approach taken by the Prosecutor with regard to Sudanese President Omar Bashir given that both are accused of overseeing essentially the same attacks