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

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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Some Concerns with the Pre-Trial Chamber’s Second Decision in Relation to the Mavi Marmara Incident

Published on December 5, 2018        Author: 

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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Rome Statute at 20: Suggestions to States to Strengthen the ICC

Published on August 6, 2018        Author:  and

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the International Criminal Court (ICC, Court), the world’s only permanent tribunal with a mandate to investigate and prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. The euphoria that greeted its adoption has been tempered by an appreciation of its limits. Disappointment with the Court’s record has led to pessimism about the future of international criminal justice generally. Critics point out that the ICC has spent nearly US$1.5 billion since it began operations in 2002 and, in that time, convicted just three people on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The truth is more nuanced

But the ICC is more active, and its cases more complex, than many of its critics realize. The ICC has brought cases against 42 individuals, resulting in eight convictions (five for witness tampering). Cases have failed, for a variety of reasons – including state obstruction of access to evidence, and bribery and intimidation of witnesses – at the pre-trial, trial and appeal stages. Four persons are currently on trial; another is in ICC custody at the confirmation of charges stage. A large proportion of those charged are fugitives.

Another key point is that the ICC is a court of last resort. It does not have primacy of jurisdiction like the tribunals for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Rwanda (ICTR), Sierra Leone (SCSL), and Cambodia (ECCC). Instead, the ICC’s guiding principle is complementarity: it will not intervene if a State is genuinely investigating or prosecuting. So, by design, the ICC’s duty to investigate and prosecute is deferential to domestic jurisdictions, which can result in challenging circumstances for all involved. Unlike predecessor tribunals, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) must devote considerable resources to encouraging, and assessing the progress of, domestic legal processes.

The Court carries a heavy workload and is forced to spread its resources thinly. Whereas the ICTY, ICTR, SCSL and ECCC had scores of lawyers and analysts poring over evidence from one conflict, the ICC has to deal with many. It is currently carrying out “preliminary examinations” in Afghanistan, Colombia, Gabon, Guinea, Iraq, Nigeria, Palestine, the Philippines, Ukraine and Venezuela. It is conducting investigations in Uganda, the DRC, Darfur, the Central African Republic (CAR), Libya, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Georgia and Burundi. Each requires mastering a complex conflict with shifting alliances, an array of State and non-State actors, and dozens of societal factors central to a proper contextual understanding. Each requires gaining access to reliable evidence necessary to determine which party is responsible for which crimes, and whether the state is genuinely investigating or prosecuting. This requires a great deal of diplomatic engagement with numerous States. Read the rest of this entry…

 

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…

 

Gender Justice and International Criminal Law: Peeking and Peering Beyond Stereotypes. Book Discussion

Published on December 21, 2016        Author: 

Louise Chappell unpacks how gender justice advocacy at the International Criminal Court contests the gendered legacies of international criminal law. Deploying a feminist institutionalist framework, Chappell provides an anatomy of these advocacy efforts in the establishment of the Rome Statute regime as well as in the ICC’s actual operations. Chappell offers a detailed road-map of gender at the ICC, and does so through a powerful (and seamless) synthesis of qualitative, quantitative, and expository methodologies. In short: her superb book is a must-read.

Chappell unfurls how gender advocacy nested within the ICC. The ICC, assuredly, is not an island. Concerns about gender justice animate the work of other international courts and tribunals. Both concurrently and previously to the ICC, these other tribunals advanced goals of equal representation in international institutions and criminalized acts of gender- and sexual-based violence. The ICTY, for example, confirmed in Furundžija that rape and other forms of sexual violence in armed conflict are war crimes. It also ruled that rape and sexual violence could constitute the actus reus of torture. The ICTR held in Akayesu that rape can constitute genocide as an act integral to the destruction of a group.  Furthermore, as Darryl Robinson and Gillian MacNeill note, in addition to defining rape the two ad hoc tribunals also ‘recognized many other forms of sexual and gender based violence, including sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, enforced sterilization, sexual mutilation, and public humiliation of a sexual nature.’ The ad hoc tribunals also developed procedural rules of evidence that promoted gender justice by protecting witnesses who came forward to testify. Finally, the Special Court for Sierra Leone merits mention. Its ground-breaking work on sexual slavery and forced marriage as an ‘other inhumane act’ has informed the proceedings currently underway at the ICC against the LRA’s Dominic Ongwen.

Gender justice at the ICC cannot be disentangled from gender justice in the enforcement of international criminal law generally. Read the rest of this entry…

 
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Gender Justice Legacies at the ICC. Book Discussion

Published on December 20, 2016        Author: 

Louise Chappell’s The Politics of Gender Justice at the International Criminal Court: Legacies and Legitimacy is a wonderfully-written account of the recent history of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC’s) role in promoting gender-inclusive justice. Her book demonstrates deep thinking and cogent analysis. It brings together three strands of political and legal theory – gender justice, feminist institutionalism, and the legitimacy of international organizations – to provide a unique analytical perspective on the mandate of the ICC and its implementation of the gender-related provisions in the Rome Statute. Ultimately, her interdisciplinary analysis provides a convincing analysis of gender-related developments within the Rome Statute and within the ICC.

Adopting a definition of gender justice from social theorist Nancy Fraser (p. 5), Chappell approaches the term from three directions: redistribution; identity recognition; and representation. Quoting Fraser, Chappell explains that redistribution focuses on addressing women’s exploitation, deprivation and marginalization (p. 6). Recognition involves instilling institutional patterns that express equal respect and opportunity for women and men (p. 6). Representation is focused on creating new rules and structures of inclusion, often through procedural means (p. 6).

Throughout the book, Chappell approaches her analysis from the point of view of “critical friendship”. Chappell and Mackay define critical friends as those who offer “sympathetic critique and make contextual judgment. They celebrate the ‘small wins’ that feminist insiders may make against the odds, and expose the gendered obstacles and power asymmetries that blunt reformist potential” (p. 9). Read the rest of this entry…

 
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Beyond a Recitation of Sexual Violence Provisions: A Mature Social Science Evaluation of the ICC. Book Discussion

Published on December 20, 2016        Author: 

Louise Chappell has penned a significant book – The Politics of Gender Justice at the International Criminal Court: Legacies and Legitimacy.  Far removed from a recitation of expanded sexual violence provisions within the Rome Statute, or a reiteration of the constricted definition of gender, Chappell sharply defies how to tally whether the International Criminal Court has delivered upon a gender justice mandate that is inextricable from its very institutional legitimacy.  The book tenaciously grapples with Nancy Fraser’s tripartite model of gender justice that necessitates redistribution, recognition and representation in order to generate a transformative justice that can address transnational injustices in a post-Westphalian context.   The author applies a decidedly feminist institutionalism to examine the Court, an innovative judicial mechanism that has inherited legacies from the law and from other international tribunals and courts.  Starting with the vaulted design of the Rome Statute, the book explores the formal and informal functioning of the rules and of the Court as well as the nested or international spatial context in which the ICC operates.

Importantly, throughout this exploration, Chappell identifies as a critical friend, but not an identical twin of the “feminist international legal project” nor is she an adept of the linear triumphalist approach to transitional justice.  She refrains from any attempts to embody an androcentric reasonable person stance. The author acknowledges that the book under-develops the impact of inter-sectional fault lines other than gender, in its “captured” state.  It also consigns the gender jurisprudence to being synonymous with female-related sexual assault cases. Notwithstanding, through the deployment of finely honed theoretical frameworks emerge measured, human-centered and keen observations of the Court’s initial decade as a supra-national provider of gender justice. Two eminent themes that Chappell unwraps, legitimacy of female presence at international judicial mechanisms and ramifications of the Women’s Caucus’ negotiation of the Rome Statute and, another sub silentio theme, the verve of a complex feminist critique of the ICC, merit sustained public attention.  Read the rest of this entry…

 
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Negotiating Justice at the ASP: From Crisis to Constructive Dialogue

Published on November 29, 2016        Author: 

During the past two weeks, the world came together in The Hague for the Assembly of States Parties (ASP), the annual diplomatic meeting on the International Criminal Court (ICC). It was clear that this session would be crucial for the ICC’s future and its place in the geopolitical constellation. The weeks before had thrown the Court in somewhat of an existential crisis: Burundi, South Africa and Gambia announced their withdrawal from the ICC. Several other states, such as Uganda and the Philippines, announced that they might leave too. Russia withdrew their signature from the ICC a day after the Court called the Crimea situation an international armed conflict and occupation. And US mobilization against the ICC is anticipated following the Court’s announcement that it may soon open full investigation into Afghanistan, including US conduct. Not surprisingly therefore, the main theme of this year’s ASP was (African) critique, cooperation and complementarity (i.e. the relationship between national prosecutions and the ICC as a court of last resort). However, observers of this year’s ASP also noticed a remarkable turn of attitude, language, tone and body language by representatives of the ICC and most state delegations. Like Darryl Robinson pointed out in his post, the discussion on the critique of the ICC during this ASP session could be described as “groundbreaking” – open, respecting and mature – while “constructive”, “dialogue” and “common ground” became this year’s sound-bites.

How the ICC and the project of international criminal justice will affect and be affected by this shifting geopolitical landscape remains to be seen. However, more than merely a technocratic meeting between states on the management and budget of the institution, the ASP functions as an annual diplomatic ritual where stakeholders reconstitute and renegotiate the ICC, and the international criminal justice field more broadly. It is a site of continuous (re)negotiation and political proxy battles on the law and politics, practice and development of international criminal justice. As such, the ASP offers an ethnographic prism for understanding how consensus and contestation in global deliberation processes forms part of the identity project of international criminal justice.

Lost amid polarization

This year was decidedly different from previous years, when polarization grew increasingly tense. Read the rest of this entry…

 
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Africa and the ICC: Shattered Taboos, and the Status Quo

Published on November 23, 2016        Author: 

The withdrawals of South Africa, Burundi and the Gambia from the International Criminal Court have generated much discussion in the past few weeks. After shock and despondency, commentary has shifted to new and creative ways of dealing with the ICC’s ‘Africa problem’. Some of these proposals are truly original, for instance Ambassador Scheffer’s suggestion that African states should target non-African states to balance the ICC’s case docket, while others strike a more measured (Mark Kersten here) but ultimately hopeful (Darryl Robinson here and here) tone about the prospects of salvaging the international criminal justice project. As far as I can tell, only one commentator engages head on with the full spectrum of critiques and problems that the ICC faces, making Tor Krever’s conclusion that “little has changed” particularly noteworthy. In this post, I want to suggest that the conflict between the ICC and African states has poisoned the debate in subtle and imperceptible ways that raise troubling questions about the future of the international criminal justice project.

The Shifting Debate

The debate about the ICC’s role in Africa has certainly shifted in the past few weeks. At the ongoing Assembly of States Parties (ASP) in The Hague, civil society representatives are, for the first time, voicing formerly taboo opinions, like the suggestion that Al-Bashir may benefit from immunity under customary international law. To be sure, civil society groups are not endorsing this legalistic argument, which has long been put forward by prominent scholars of international law (see here, here and here), but it is certainly a revolution of sorts when NGOs acknowledge that the African Union (AU)’s denunciation of the ICC’s conflicting case law on Head of State immunity is more than just Machiavellian politicking aimed at shielding dictators.

Whatever the merits of the AU and South Africa’s legalistic position on Bashir’s immunity, it is hard to deny that a major shift may be afoot when the ICC’s President rushes to welcome the justice minister of South Africa, which just repudiated its membership of the Court, in a last-ditch attempt to accommodate his government’s concerns and, hopefully, find a way out of ‘the impasse’.

This is not to suggest that the ICC should not engage in diplomacy. If there is a way to change South Africa’s withdrawal decision, then the Court’s representatives should certainly try. However, in the rush to stem the prospect of diminished membership, the ICC must not lose sight of the bigger picture and the ideals on which it is premised. The real danger is that the ICC vs. Africa quagmire has already irreversibly changed the debate, with negative long-term consequences for the Court and its supporters. Read the rest of this entry…

 
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Russia’s Withdrawal of Signature from the Rome Statute Would not Shield its Nationals from Potential Prosecution at the ICC

Published on November 21, 2016        Author: 

On 16 November 2016, the president of the Russian Federation issued bylaw № 361-rp “On the Russian Federation’s intention not to become a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court”.

It follows from paragraph 1 of the bylaw that the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation, after consultations with a number of State organs, including the Supreme Court, the Prosecutor-General’s Office and others, suggested to:

dispatch a notification to the Secretary-General of the United Nations about the Russian Federation’s intention not to become a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which was adopted by a Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries under the auspice of the UN in the city of Rome, on 17 July 1998, and which was signed on behalf of the Russian Federation on 13 September 2000.

As Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) explained in an official statement on the same day, the most immediate effect of bylaw № 361-rp would be the withdrawal of Russia’s signature of 13 September 2000 from, and not proceeding to the ratification of, the Rome Statute in accordance with its Article 126. Officially, the MFA criticised the ICC for its alleged lack of efficiency and independence, biased attitude and high cost:

The ICC as the first permanent body of international criminal justice inspired high hopes of the international community in the fight against impunity in the context of common efforts to maintain international peace and security, to settle ongoing conflicts and to prevent new tensions.

Unfortunately the Court failed to meet the expectations to become a truly independent, authoritative international tribunal. The work of the Court is characterized in a principled way as ineffective and one-sided in different fora, including the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council. It is worth noting that during the 14 years of the Court’s work it passed only four sentences having spent over a billion dollars.

In this regard the demarche of the African Union which has decided to develop measures on a coordinated withdrawal of African States from the Rome Statute is understandable. Some of these States are already conducting such procedures.

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