Should the ICC Appeals Chamber have a made a decision on Bashir’s Immunity?

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Readers will probably know by now that the ICC Appeals Chamber handed down a decision on February 3 reversing the Pre-Trial Chamber’s 2009 decision not to issue a warrant of arrest for Sudanese President Bashir with respect to the charge of genocide in Darfur. The Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) issued an arrest warrant with respect to war crimes and crimes against humanity but held that the Prosecutor had failed to satisfy the standard in Art. 58(1) of the Rome Statute that there were “reasonable grounds” to believe that genocide had been committed.  The PTC held that  “if the existence of a . . . genocidal intent is only one of several reasonable conclusions available on the materials provided by the Prosecution, the Prosecution Application in relation to genocide must be rejected as the evidentiary standard provided for in article 58 of the Statute would not have been met.” As Marko commented  here on EJIL:Talk! at the time, the decision by the Pre-Trial Chamber on this issue was highly problematic as it did not in fact apply a reasonable grounds to believe test but seemed to require proof beyond reasonable doubt. The Appeals Chamber agrees and held that

“In the view of the Appeals Chamber, requiring that the existence of genocidal intent must be the only reasonable conclusion amounts to requiring the Prosecutor to disprove any other reasonable conclusions and to eliminate any reasonable doubt. If the only reasonable conclusion based on the evidence is the existence of genocidal intent, then it cannot be said that such a finding establishes merely “reasonable grounds to believe”. Rather, it establishes genocidal intent “beyond reasonable doubt”.” (para. 33)

However, the Appeals Chamber did not itself reinstate the genocide charge, but, rather, remanded the matter to the PTC to make a new decision applying the correct standard.

This is all well and good.  However, I wonder why the Appeals Chamber did not decide to take up the elephant in the room regarding the arrest warrant for Bashir – the issue of whether as a serving head of State he is entitled to immnity from arrest and whether the Court is entitled to order his arrest in the first place.  This is an issue that we have discussed at length here on EJIL:Talk! (see here, herehere and here). Its a matter that has exercised African States and led to a call by the Assembly of Heads of States of the African Union for African States not to cooperate with the ICC with respect to the arrest of  Bashir case.  The length of time taken by the Appeals Chamber to issue a decision in this matter suggested that it was considering a weighty issue (see the excellent post by Prof. Bill Schabas on his blog regarding the time taken by the Appeals Chamber). In the end it came up with a rather brief decision saying what was obvious to most knowlegable observers (though to be fair not obvious to the majority of the PTC). So why that lenghty delay?

To be sure, the issues of immunity and of the competence of the ICC to issue an arrest warrant in the first place was not appealed to the Appeals Chamber. The Prosecutor did not raise them and Bashir did not file any submissions or appeal the decision of the PTC. But I cannot find anything within the Statute or in the Rules of Procedure and Evidence that would prevent the Appeals Chamber from considering an issue of importance related to a matter before it and which would affect the very basis of the matter appealed to the Chamber. Moreover, the case law of ICTY and the ICTR make clear that the Appeals Chambers have an inherent power to take up issues propio motu especially where they are of importance for resolving the issues in the case. In the Erdemovic Appeal (1997), the ICTY Appeals Chamber stated:

“16. The Appeals Chamber has raised preliminary issues proprio motu pursuant to its inherent powers as an appellate body once seised of an appeal lodged by either party pursuant to Article 25 of the Statute. The Appeals Chamber finds nothing in the Statute or the Rules, nor in practices of international institutions or national judicial systems, which would confine its consideration of the appeal to the issues raised formally by the parties.”

In the Bashir case, the issuance of an arrest warrant is coupled with a request for surrender by States parties. However, Art. 98 of the Statute says that “the Court may not proceed with the request for surrender” which would require the requested State to act inconsistently with its immunity obligations. This is a provision which the Court itself has an obligation to take up. The fact that it is not raised by the Prosecution should be irrelevant. There is a particular obligation on the Court in this sort of issue as requests for arrest warrants will usually come to the Court with just the prosecution being heard. In addition, Art. 98 is a provision which is designed not just for the benefit of the accused but for the benefit of the State of the accused and, as importantly, for the benefit of other States who may be put in the position of having inconsistent obligations were the matter not addressed. Thus, the Court ought to address this issue at the earliest opportunity. In fact a failure to address it and the issuance of a request for surrender (as the ICC has done in the Bashir case) may be a breach by the Court of its obligations under Art. 98 in circumstances where that provision would prevent such a request.

My thanks to Hannah Tonkin for her assistance
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