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The ICC’s Impact on National Justice: Can the ICC Prosecutor Catalyze Domestic Cases?

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Editor’s Note: This post is part of our Joint Symposium with Justice in Conflict on Human Rights Watch’s Report, Pressure Point: The ICC’s Impact on National Justice 

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is a court of last resort. Under the court’s treaty, the Rome Statute, which marks its 20th anniversary this year, the world’s worst crimes are admissible before the ICC only if national authorities do not genuinely investigate and prosecute cases. Far from simply a jurisdictional limitation, this principle of “complementarity” transforms the ICC from a single institution into a broader system for prosecuting international crimes, rooted in national courts.

Bolstering national proceedings is crucial to giving full effect to the Rome Statute system. It’s also necessary to broaden victims’ access to justice. The number of situations in which the ICC should act is probably far greater than the court’s founders envisioned. The ICC’s limited resources—provided all too sparingly by its member countries—mean it is struggling to keep up.

More attention should be paid to the ICC’s potential as an active player on national justice. Under the concept of “positive complementarity” it can serve as part of a wide array of efforts to press and support national authorities to carry out genuine investigations and prosecutions. The ICC is not a development agency, but it can lend expertise, broker assistance between other actors, and maintain focus on the need for accountability.

This is the case when the ICC opens its own investigations, as there will be a need for additional domestic investigations and prosecutions to bring comprehensive accountability. But the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor has a particularly important role to play when it is still considering whether to open an investigation, during “preliminary examinations.”

This is because the prosecutor’s office has unique leverage in some of these preliminary examinations. If national authorities have an interest in avoiding ICC intervention, they can do that by conducting genuine national proceedings. By making the most of this leverage, the prosecutor’s office can be an effective catalyst for justice. The office recognizes that opportunity and has made it a policy goal to encourage national proceedings when it is feasible.

Human Rights Watch supports these efforts, given that they could help extend the reach of justice. But building on a set of 2011 recommendations, we wanted to take a fresh look at whether and how this policy is working, with a view toward strengthening its effect.

Our findings are set out in a May 2018 report, Pressure Point: The ICC’s Impact on National Justice; Lessons from Colombia, Georgia, Guinea, and the United Kingdom. 

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Joint Symposium with Justice in Conflict on Human Rights Watch’s Report on The ICC’s Impact on National Justice

Published on December 6, 2018        Author:  and
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While investigations by the International Criminal Court (ICC) have received the lions’ share of attention and scrutiny from scholars and observers, there has been a growing interest in the impact of the ICC’s preliminary examinations. The preliminary examination stage requires the ICC Prosecutor to ascertain whether alleged crimes fall within the Court’s jurisdiction, whether the crimes are of sufficient gravity to warrant investigation, whether there are ongoing proceedings related to those alleged crimes, and whether an investigation into alleged atrocities would be in the “interests of justice”. If the answer to each is ‘yes’, then the Prosecutor can seek an official investigation.

There are currently ten open preliminary examinations across four continents: Afghanistan, Colombia, Guinea, Iraq/UK, Nigeria, Palestine, the Philippines, Bangladesh/Myanmar, Ukraine, and Venezuela. But what have the political and legal impacts of these preliminary examinations been? Have they galvanized greater interest in achieving accountability? What lessons can be drawn from preliminary examinations to date in order to improve the prospects of justice?

To answer these and other questions, EJIL:Talk! and Justice in Conflict are delighted to host a discussion of the Human Rights Watch report, Pressure Point: The ICC’s Impact on National Justice – Lessons from Colombia, Georgia, Guinea, and the United Kingdom, and of ICC Preliminary Examinations more generally.

The symposium coincides with the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) to the ICC, which begins its annual session this week. One of the highlights of the ASP is the release of the Office of the Prosecutor’s (OTP) 2018 Report on Preliminary Examination Activities. The report summarises the activities of the Office with regard to situations which are under preliminary examination by the Prosecutor.  

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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: 
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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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The Kerch Strait Incident: Law of the Sea or Law of Naval Warfare?

Published on December 3, 2018        Author: 
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On Sunday 25 November 2018 Russian coast guard patrol boats, including the Don and the 630-ton Izumrud, first intercepted and later fired on three Ukrainian naval ships near the entrance to the Kerch Strait. Two Ukrainian sailors were injured, the Ukrainian ships seized and the crews arrested. The attack has been roundly condemned in the United States and around the world.

The Russian ships intercepted two Ukrainian Gyurza-M-class artillery boats, Berdyansk and Nikopol and a tugboat, Yany Kapu, as they sailed toward the Ukrainian port of Mariupol. Russian forces seized the vessels and arrested 24 crew members. The Don twice rammed the tugboat and the Russian vessels opened fire on the two smaller Ukrainian warships. The incident occurred in the territorial sea along the approaches to the Kerch Strait, which is bordered in the east by Russia and in the west by Russian-occupied Ukrainian Crimea. The Russian government stated that its forces fired only after the Ukrainian ships violated articles 19 and 21 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) concerning innocent passage in the territorial sea.

Exploring the legal circumstances of the incident requires selection between peacetime rules of the law of the sea and the law of naval warfare, which applies to international armed conflicts. This post concludes that the actual incident on the water is part of a continuing aggression by Russia against Ukraine, in violation of the UN Charter. While unlawful as a matter of the jus ad bellum, the incident would be a lawful in bello use of force by Russia in accordance with the law of naval warfare, notwithstanding Russia’s unlawful invasion of Crimea in 2014 or subsequent unlawful treatment of the Ukrainian sailors as common criminals rather than prisoners of war. In this case the law of naval warfare is lex specialis and supplants mutatis mutandis the peacetime rules of the international law of the sea for Russia and the Ukraine.

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Announcements: CfP Ethiopian Yearbook of International Law; University of Michigan Junior Scholars Conference; Implications of Brexit for Trade Relations; ASIL IOIG Workshop

Published on December 2, 2018        Author: 
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1. Call for Papers: The Ethiopian Yearbook of International Law. The Ethiopian Yearbook of International Law (EtYIL), which is motivated by the need to ‘rebalancing the narrative of international law’, was launched in 2015. The first volume, EtYIL 2016 was successfully published in 2017; building upon the successes of the first volume the second volume of EtYIL 2017 came out in 2018 covering topics ranging from African continental free trade area, foreign direct investment law, and contributions to UN peacekeeping from the global south. We are now finalising the third (2018) volume which will come out in early 2019, covering a range of cutting-edge international law issues of regional and global significance. We are pleased to invite interested scholars  to consider submitting long or short articles, current development pieces, case reports and book reviews for consideration for the fourth (2019) volume of the Yearbook (submission guidelines and other details available here). Submission deadline for this volume is 30 November 2019. We would like to hear your potential ideas and topics at ethiopianyearbook {at} gmail(.)com.
 
2. University of Michigan Law School 5th Annual Junior Scholars Conference. The University of Michigan Law School invites junior scholars to attend the 5th Annual Junior Scholars Conference, which will be held on 26 – 27 April 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The conference provides junior scholars with a platform to present and discuss their work with peers, and to receive detailed feedback from senior members of the Michigan Law faculty. The Conference aims to promote fruitful collaboration between participants and to encourage their integration into a community of legal scholars. The Junior Scholars Conference is intended for academics in both law and related disciplines. Applications from postdoctoral researchers, lecturers, fellows, SJD/PhD candidates, and assistant professors (pre-tenure) who have not held an academic position for more than four years, are welcomed. Applications are due by 12 January 2019. Further information can be found at the Conference website.

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Appealing the High Court’s Judgment in the Public Law Challenge against UK Arms Export Licenses to Saudi Arabia

Published on November 29, 2018        Author: 
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In May of this year, the Court of Appeal granted leave to appeal the 2017 High Court ruling in Campaign Against the Arms Trade v Secretary of State for International Trade.

The case and the High Court’s 2017 judgment have already received some commentary (see here). Simply put, the case concerns a public law challenge against the government’s continued approval of licenses for arms exports to Saudi Arabia, on the grounds, inter alia, that the Secretary of State’s conclusion that there is not a ‘clear risk that the items might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law’, in the context of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, was irrational (criterion 2(c) of the Consolidated Criteria set out in European Council Common Position 2008/944/CFSP and adopted by the Secretary of State as the policy to be followed in granting or refusing export licenses). The High Court found against the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, concluding that the determinations made by the Secretary of State permitting continued export of arms to Saudi Arabia were rational.

The present post focuses on what is submitted is an error of law made both by the government in its determinations as to whether to grant or refuse export licenses and by the High Court in its judgment. Specifically, both the government and the High Court appear to have mistakenly taken the view that a certain subjective mens rea threshold necessarily applies before one can say that there has been a serious violation of international humanitarian law. Read the rest of this entry…

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How Trump’s Migration Policy Erodes National and International Standards of Protection for Migrants and Asylum Seekers

Published on November 28, 2018        Author: 
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Early this month, 5,600 US soldiers were deployed to the southern border as a response to an approaching migrant caravan consisting of several thousand Central Americans. U.S. President Donald Trump called the advancing group in official statements a foreign “invasion” that warrants deploying up to 15,000 army members to support the border patrol. He further publicly warned that “nobody is coming in” and once more clarified his stance on migration stating that “immigration is a very, very big and very dangerous, a really dangerous topic”. The latest footage of U.S. officers firing tear gas at migrants of the caravan-including at children- that tried to enter the country, is the disturbing result of Trump’s sketched horror scenario of a violent invasion of Central Americans.

This strict stance on migration is just the most recent example, the tip of an iceberg of the Trump administration’s aim to establish, step by step, a migration policy that erodes national and international standards of protection.

The comprehensive new migration strategy seemingly builds on a set of immediate, as well as long-term measures aiming at those who attempt to enter the United States as well as at those who are already within the state’s territory. For example, last month a new immigration policy was introduced that aimed at restricting immigrants from using public benefits, or else they may be illegible for permanent residency later on. This is just one of numerous examples of how the Trump administration severely restricted or just completely abandoned given standards such as the abolishment of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the prevention of dreamers from living and working in the U.S.A., as well as the abrogation of the temporary protective status programs. These turnovers of existing standards affected more than two million regularly residing migrants in the U.S.A. and fostered sentiments of fear, nationalism and division.

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Towards Universality: Activities Impacting the Enjoyment of the Right to Life and the Extraterritorial Application of the ICCPR

Published on November 27, 2018        Author: 
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On October 31st, the Human Rights Committee (HRC) adopted General Comment no 36 on the right to life (GC36, available here) to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR/the Covenant). The Comment includes a number of interesting elements including, the introduction of the right to life as the ‘supreme’ right, and the relationship between the right to life and the environment. This post examines the endorsement in GC36 of the notion of ‘impact’ as constitutive of jurisdiction for the purpose of the extraterritorial application of the Covenant.

Impact as Exercise of Jurisdiction

In para. 63 of GC36, the Human Rights Committee adopts the ‘impact’-approach to the interpretation of Art. 6 in conjunction with Art. 2 (1) of the Covenant:

In light of article 2, paragraph 1, of the Covenant, a State party has an obligation to respect and to ensure the rights under article 6 of all persons who are within its territory and all persons subject to its jurisdiction, that is, all persons over whose enjoyment of the right to life it exercises power or effective control.  This includes persons located outside any territory effectively controlled by the State, whose right to life is nonetheless impacted by its military or other activities in a direct and reasonably foreseeable manner. […]

Readers of this blog will be familiar with the debates on the extraterritorial application of human rights treaties. To quickly recap, the application of human rights treaties Read the rest of this entry…

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A Second Brexit Referendum – What Makes You Think They Will Have You Back?

Published on November 26, 2018        Author: 
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The call for a second Brexit Referendum is still alive, some say more than ever. It is probably unlikely and, even if it were to take place, there is no certainty that the Remain camp would win. But it is somehow based on the assumption that if such a referendum were held, and the Remainers would win (probably a narrow victory) and that if, as a result, the UK Parliament were to change its mind and elect to remain, that on the basis of this unilateral decision of the UK the status quo ante would be restored and British membership of the Union would continue unabated.

This is very unlikely to be the case.

First there is the legal issue regarding such a unilateral withdrawal of the Article 50 notice.

As is well known, a Preliminary Reference from Scotland will be decided this month in an expedited procedure and before a plenary forum of the ECJ, trying to clarify the legal parameters of a British change of mind whether through a referendum or otherwise.

The Reference definitely has some elements of an Affaire Bidon but I predict the ECJ will not opt for inadmissibility in this case. On the merits it is likely that it will  reject the two ‘bookend’ arguments and instead go for the centre. It is most unlikely that it will hold that once Article 50 notice has been served the process is irreversible and that the only way back, even before the deadline for formal exit arrived, is an Article 49 admission procedure. It is, in my view, equally or even more unlikely that it would hold that the UK could unilaterally withdraw its notice and that, with no more, its Membership would continue unabated. The UK drives everyone crazy for close to three years and then, oops, just as the Clock Strikes One, the Mouse is to run down as if nothing happened?

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UNCLOS, CITES and the IWC – A Tailored International Duty to Cooperate?

Published on November 26, 2018        Author: 
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In October 2018, the Standing Committee (SC) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITESconcluded that Japan had failed to comply with certain CITES provisions regarding the trade in Appendix I species (namely, sei whales). This blog post seeks to evaluate the relationship that such a conclusion could have on Japan’s duty to cooperate regarding the conservation of marine mammals (as required under Article 65 of the Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS)), and the duty to cooperate with non-binding resolutions made by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) – especially in light of the findings in the Whaling in the Antarctic (Australia v. Japan: New Zealand intervening) Case.

The Whaling Case

In 2014, Australia took Japan to the ICJ, alleging that Japan’s Southern Ocean scientific whaling programme (JARPAII) was inconsistent with Article VIII of the ICRW. The Court concluded that JARPAII involved activities that, broadly speaking, could be scientific research but that JARPAII’s design and implementation was not ‘for purposes of scientific research’ as required by Article VIII (para. 227). In arriving at this conclusion, the Court held that Japan has a ‘duty to cooperate’ with the IWC and the Scientific Committee (para. 83). As stated by Meguro, the ICJ effectively shaped the duty to cooperate as a mechanism to bind Member States – who do not support a particular resolution – to the standards/recommendations under IWC resolutions (which, by nature, are non-binding).

Japan’s Recent Relationship with the IWC

In September 2014, the IWC (having regard to the findings in the Whaling Case) adopted a resolution indicating that no further special whaling permits be issued until they had been reviewed by the Scientific Committee and had received recommendations by the IWC. In November 2014, Japan submitted a proposal for NEWREP-A (a new research whaling programme in the Southern Ocean) in which Japan acknowledged that it had ‘taken seriously the Court’s finding that the decision to grant special permits under Article VIII, paragraph 1, of the ICRW, “cannot depend simply on that State’s perception”’. Read the rest of this entry…

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