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ICJ Indicates Provisional Measures in the Myanmar Genocide Case

Published on January 23, 2020        Author: 

 

Today the International Court unanimously issued its provisional measures order in the case brought by The Gambia against Myanmar under the Genocide Convention. The order is available here, the three separate opinions here. For our previous coverage of the case, see here. The fact that the Court ordered provisional measures and did so unanimously is obviously a win for The Gambia, and for the Rohingya cause more generally, but its impact should not be overstated. A couple of quick noteworthy points:

(1) The Court adopts a rather flexible approach to the issue of plausibility, and relies mainly on the reports of UN fact-finding commission to support the issuance of provisional measures (on the fact-finding commission reports see in particular Mike Becker’s earlier post). The Court specifically rejects Myanmar’s argument that a more rigorous standard of proof should be required at the provisional measures stage of a genocide claim (para. 56). However that doesn’t mean at all that Gambia will succeed on the merits (it likely won’t, as I’ll explain below).

(2) The Court indicated all but two of the provisional measures that Gambia had requested, but it’s interesting how exactly it did so.

(3) First, the principal measures it indicated, at para. 86 (1) and (2), effectively replicate state obligations under the Genocide Convention, i.e. they do not strictly legally speaking add anything new to the corpus of obligations that Myanmar already has. Second, in indicating these measures the Court omitted the references to more specific acts (e.g. rape or the burning of villages) from Gambia’s request (compare at para. 5) – basically the Court didn’t want to give the impression that any of such specific acts were proven, and the final language is more palatable and diplomatic.

Third, the Court specifically ordered Myanmar (para. 86(3)) to ‘take effective measures to prevent the destruction and ensure the preservation of evidence,’ but again it avoided the more explicit and specific language from Gambia’s request. Fourth, the Court rather laconically rejected Gambia’s (late) request for a specific measure requiring Myanmar to provide access to UN investigators, saying simply (para. 62) that it ‘does not consider that its indication is necessary in the circumstances of the case.’ This is hardly a surprising result, bearing in mind sovereignty concerns and the intrusiveness of such a measure, but the paucity of the reasoning is difficult to justify. Fifth, the Court (rather surprisingly) decided not to indicate the general, innocuous non-aggravation measure, saying that it was unnecessary due to the specific measures that it did indicate (para. 83). Finally, the Court ordered Myanmar to provide it with periodic reports on its implementation of the measures indicated – this has the potential for some bite, but obviously it remains to be seen with what rigour the Court and the parties will observe this requirement.

(4) Bearing in mind how it handled the prima facie jurisdiction analysis in this order, it seems extremely unlikely that the Court will dismiss this case at the jurisdictional stage. I see no reasonable way in which Myanmar could win on jurisdiction, but its contestation of jurisdiction will of course prolong the Court’s examination of the case.

(5) That said, the most likely outcome of the merits stage is still that Myanmar will win, i.e. that Gambia will not be able to provide clear and convincing evidence that genocide (as opposed to crimes against humanity or war crimes) were committed against the Rohingya – basically the same outcome as in the Bosnian and the Croatian genocide cases. The evidentiary requirements were set so high in those cases (in my view rightly so), that they could not be met even with the existence of a fully-fledged international criminal tribunal that could reliably establish the facts. The Court will not have the luxury of the ICTY’s assistance in this case, and once counsel for Myanmar start probing the specific evidence behind the UN fact-finding reports bit by little bit it seems probable that they’ll raise sufficient doubt as to the existence of genocidal intent. But this outcome, even though in my view highly likely, is still many years down the line.

 

The Challenges for the ICJ in the Reliance on UN Fact-Finding Reports in the Case against Myanmar

Published on December 14, 2019        Author: 

 

This past week’s provisional measures hearing in the case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) made for a remarkable spectacle (see here, here, and here). Acting as the head of her country’s delegation, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi sat silently as The Gambia’s legal team laid out its case alleging violations of the 1948 Genocide Convention, including brutal descriptions of the atrocities that have been exacted upon the Rohingya minority. When Aung San Suu Kyi addressed the Court herself, she pointedly did not utter the word “Rohingya”—except in a sole reference to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, an insurgent group that Myanmar places at the center of what it frames as an internal armed conflict. Instead, she asked the Court to reject the provisional measures request and to resist the efforts by The Gambia and others to “externalize accountability” for alleged war crimes, leaving Myanmar to addresses these matters itself (CR 2019/19, pp 17-18, paras 24-25) .

In brief, The Gambia accuses Myanmar of engaging in a systematic policy of oppression and persecution against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in a predominantly Buddhist country, that reaches back decades. Based on the Application, the ICJ will be asked to focus on military campaigns (termed “clearance operations” by Myanmar) carried out against the Rohingya since 2016, which are estimated to have caused more than 10,000 deaths and more than 700,000 people to seek refuge in Bangladesh. This is not the first time that a non-injured State has sought to enforce obligations erga omnes partes at the ICJ, but it is the first such case brought under the Genocide Convention.

I wrote previously about the possibility of an ICJ case against Myanmar and some of the attendant challenges. This post aims to highlight a specific challenge that these proceedings will pose for the Court: The Gambia’s extensive reliance on UN fact-finding reports, combined with the absence of prior or parallel international criminal proceedings relating to these events. Read the rest of this entry…

 

The Other Poisoned Chalice: Unprecedented Evidentiary Standards in the Gbagbo case? (Part 3)

Published on November 6, 2019        Author: 

In this three-part series I seek to draw attention to legally-unprecedented and epistemologically-unsound evidentiary standards emerging at the ICC, particularly in the Gbagbo case.  The mainstream reaction to the Gbagbo case has been to accept the narrative that the problem lies entirely with evidence.  However, when the majority derides the “questionable quality of much of the evidence” (§1608), it speaks from a lens of Cartesian standards. If one reads the judgment instead through the lens of more typical legal standards, the evidence is harrowing.  Thousands of diverse items of evidence – eye-witnesses, videos, insiders, experts, and forensic and documentary evidence – attest to hundreds of instances of killing, wounding, raping, torturing and burning of civilians by police and other pro-Gbagbo forces.

At Nuremberg, Robert Jackson warned that giving the defendants an unfair trial would be a poisoned chalice for the tribunal itself.  My concern is that opposite extreme is also a poisoned chalice.  An exclusive focus on the interests of the accused, to the exclusion of all other considerations, leading to rarified and ungrounded standards, will also collapse the system.  If unchecked, these standards can only lead to repeated collapses of investigations and prosecutions.  We are at an interesting moment, because scholars are rightly warning against ‘crisis narratives’, and I myself have appealed for less alarmism.   Nonetheless I think that evidentiary standards are now one of the most crucial topics for study and reform.

The previous two posts (see Part I here and Part II here) gave only a cursory outline of problematic approaches to evidence and examples thereof. I will now touch on two related points, (1) evidentiary expectations for crimes against humanity and (2) investigative criticisms that overlook the applicable legal regime, and then I will conclude. Read the rest of this entry…

 
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The Other Poisoned Chalice: Unprecedented Evidentiary Standards in the Gbagbo Case? (Part 2)

Published on November 6, 2019        Author: 

My aim in this three-part series is to start a conversation about unusual and problematic evidentiary standards emerging at the ICC.  These standards flow from a commendable impulse to uphold the highest standards, but they entail an unprecedented and unattainable exactitude. In my view, if these standards take hold, they will result in the repeated crashing of complex cases, making them especially poorly suited for precisely the types of cases the ICC is mandated to deal with. 

In my view, the more common and appropriate approach, seen in national and international practice, is even-handed, holistic, experiential and practical.  The experiential approach draws on human experience.  It employs sound methods of reasoning, such as triangulation, extrapolation, interpolation, and inference to best explanation, and thus it is can work judiciously with patterns and inferences.  It is also practical: it bears in mind feasibility and procedural economy.

For brevity, I will call the alternative, emerging approach the “Cartesian” approach. I introduced its features in part 1 of this series, such as its hyperscepticality, atomism, and fixation with certainty and speculative doubts.  In this post I will give some additional examples of problematic evidentiary approaches as seen in the Gbagbo trial decision.  As the judgments are over 1300 pages, I am only able to outline some of the concerns and some examples in the most general and cursory.  My hope is to trigger an invigorated discussion of international criminal evidence law.

Read the rest of this entry…

 
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The Other Poisoned Chalice: Unprecedented Evidentiary Standards in the Gbagbo Case? (Part 1)

Published on November 5, 2019        Author: 

The aim of this post is to start a conversation about unusual evidentiary standards emerging in some judgments at the ICC.  Although the underlying impetus is commendable, these standards pose legally unprecedented and epistemologically unsound demands.  Remarkably, these novel evidentiary approaches, which depart significantly from national and international practice, have not yet triggered much conversation.  As recent cases (such as Gbagbo) have ended in acquittals, the Court-watching community has largely simply echoed the judicial criticisms of the evidence, and hence blamed inadequate investigations.  While investigative improvements are likely part of the solution, any serious effort to repair the ICC has to consider these evidentiary standards.  These standards will significantly increase the costs and delays of ICC proceedings.  In cases of any complexity, the standards can only result in failed cases.  An invigorated sub-discipline – international criminal evidence law – is urgently needed.

In this three-part series of posts, I will focus on the Gbagbo acquittal judgment.  Douglas Guilfoyle’s thoughtful ‘tale of two cases’ advances a hypothesis that the different outcome between the Gbagbo acquittal and Ntaganda conviction is because the latter focused on an easier, smaller case.  That may be true, but I want to place alongside that another hypothesis, that the difference between the two outcomes may in part be the very different approaches by the judges.

I open with a word of sympathy for judges.  At an earlier stage of international criminal law, Tribunal judges were often criticized by academics (including me) for adopting approaches that were too pro-conviction and that overlooked rights of the accused.  Hence it is entirely understandable that judges and legal officers may have lurched in the other direction, with an eagerness to demonstrate their unparalleled care for the accused. 

The problem is when the zeal for impeccable standards swings too far, and produces a method that is so rigid, formalistic, and hypersceptical that it loses sight of substance and feasibility. Read the rest of this entry…

 
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Wikileaks Documents are Admissible in a Domestic Court

Published on February 21, 2018        Author: 

On 8 February 2017, the UK Supreme Court held unanimously that a Wikileaks document is admissible in a domestic court. The Wikileaks document in issue purported to be a copy of a diplomatic cable from the US Embassy in London summarising a meeting between US and British officials. In reaching their decision, the Court had to interpret the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961, which provides that a document and archive of a diplomatic mission is “inviolable”. The importance of this case, the lack of any strong precedent anywhere in the world, and its broad ramifications, led the Court, unusually, to sit as a 7 member panel.

The case, R (Bancoult) v. the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Bancoult 3), was part of a series of cases brought by representatives of Chagossians, who were removed by the UK government from the Chagos Islands (a British colony) in the 1970s. A factor in their removal was the leasing of the main island (Diego Garcia) to the US government for a military base. Several actions by successive British governments have prevented the Chagossians from returning to the Chagos Islands and these actions have, to date, eventually been held to be lawful by the highest UK courts. The publication of the Wikileaks document, which was then published in The Guardian and The Telegraph, arguably brought into question the legality of one of these actions: the decision in 2010 by the then Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, David Miliband, to impose a Marine Protected Area (MPA) around the Chagos Islands.

The claim against the government by the Appellant was that this decision to impose an MPA was undertaken not for environmental purposes, but to prevent the return of the Chagossians, which was an improper purpose. Read the rest of this entry…

Filed under: EJIL Analysis, Treaty Law