The Crime of Aggression: Still a live issue

Liechtenstein hosted a panel this morning at the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) titled “The ICC’s Jurisdiction Over the Crime of Aggression”. This panel sought to discuss the significance and broader context of the crime of aggression. Panelists included IntLawGrrl Jennifer Trahan, Professor at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University, David Donat Cattin, Secretary-General of Parliamentarians for Global Action, and Donald Ferencz, the Convenor of the Global Institute on the Prevention of Aggression. This panel complemented many of the comments that States made at the General Debate session held yesterday that continued after this panel on the activation of the crime of aggression.

Many States Parties made supportive statements on the activation of the crime of aggression during the General Debate on Day 1 that continued after Liechtenstein’s panel today on Day 2. Austria spoke on behalf of the European Union (EU) in support of the activation of the crime of aggression, and all EU member states commented that they supported Austria’s statement. Most notably, however, France was quite critical of the Kampala Amendments as promoting division amongst States Parties when the focus should be universality. China as well was critical of the Amendments, stating that the International Criminal Court (ICC) should not undermine the Security Council, as it is this body that is responsible for upholding international peace and security. Given that China is a permanent member of the Security Council and is not a party to the ICC, this comment is not surprising. Many states commented that they are in the process of ratifying the Amendments, which was a welcome announcement, including Paraguay and Greece.

During the panel, Jennifer Trahan began the discussion with an analysis of the text of Article 8bis of the Rome Statute which enumerates the crime of aggression. As discussed in my previous post, Trahan stated that the language in Article 8bis derives from the London Statute of the Nuremberg Tribunal and that the crime of aggression is not meant to encompass all violations of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter, but manifest violations. Manifest violations, she clarified, are those that are super clear and not in a grey zone. She also discussed the novel jurisdictional regime that exists within the crime of aggression with regard to state and proprio motu referrals compared to the other three international crimes:  non-States Parties to the Rome Statute are completely excluded from the Court’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression; not all States Parties are automatically covered by 15bis jurisdiction; and there is an opt-out method for States to opt out of the Court’s jurisdiction over the crime.

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David Donat Cattin held a very positive view on the activation of the crime of aggression and discussed some of the progress being made for further ratifications. He referenced the Austrian delegate’s support for the activation of the crime of aggression on behalf of the EU and hoped that this statement would have an impact on other EU member states to encourage their ratification. He also mentioned that the Dominican Republic will be voting on whether to ratify the amendment in the next year. He added that the Central African Republic is likely to join because they are subjected to foreign interference on all sides. He also mentioned that South Africa highlighted the historic significance of the Kampala Amendments at the General Debate, so this may indicate its ratification in the next year.

Donald Ferencz completed the panel with some very engaging comments that started with this statement: “the rule of law is for the little people”. He commented that a state like Liechtenstein, who has ratified the Amendments, is likely not about to commit the crime of aggression, but two permanent members of the Security Council who are also States Parties to the Rome Statute (referencing the UK and France) have not ratified the Amendments. This sends the message that this law/crime is not for bigger states like the UK and France, but is for the smaller states, who are unlikely to be the ones committing the crime in the first place. This was quite an interesting comment in light of France’s statement regarding the Kampala Amendments promoting division at the General Debate yesterday.

One quite interesting debate that evolved out of the panel concerned how to hold state officials liable for the crime of aggression when the state is not a party to the Rome Statute, with specific reference to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This question was first brought up by Sabine Nolke, Canadian Ambassador to the Netherlands. A few intervenors were of the view that, in the case of Russia, war crimes committed in Ukraine (because Ukraine is a party to the Rome Statute) can be prosecuted and the Court could consider the fact that Russia committed an act of aggression as an aggravating factor in the prosecution of war crimes and in sentencing. Nolke and members of the panel, however, cautioned against this view because it suggests that war crimes committed in non-aggressive wars are less grave or less prosecutable. She and the panelists stressed that war crimes are war crimes no matter the context, and they should not be treated differently based on whether or not there is an aggressive war.

States’ comments during the General Debate and the discussion during this panel indicate that, although there seems to be a large degree of support for the activation of the crime, ratification is still a live issue and questions of jurisdiction are far from settled.

This blogpost and the author’s attendance to the 17thAssembly of States Parties to the International Criminal Court are supported by the Canadian Partnership for International Justice and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

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The Crime of Aggression: 1 Year Later

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Photo credit: BBC: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-29548753

This year’s Assembly of States Parties (ASP) marks the first time the Court and States Parties will discuss the crime of aggression since its activation last year, and it will be interesting to hear what States Parties have to say about it. One issue that may be addressed includes the relationship between the Court and the Security Council given that the Security Council must first determine that an act of aggression has occurred before the Court can prosecute the crime of aggression (there is, however, an exception to this if 6 months have passed since the Security Council was made aware that an alleged act of aggression has occurred and has not made a determination). The implementation of the Kampala Amendments is another potential issue because there has been debate surrounding whether the amendments should be universally implemented for all States Parties to the Rome Statute or only for those that ratify the amendment. A third potential issue of discussion is how the Court will fund the addition of this crime to its jurisdiction given the already constrained budget.

The crime of aggression is the fourth crime enumerated under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Twenty years ago, States could not agree upon the definition of the crime of aggression when the text of the Rome Statute was negotiated, thereby excluding crimes of aggression from the Court’s jurisdiction.

The definition was finally agreed upon in 2010 through the Kampala Amendments, but negotiating States decided that the Court would still not have jurisdiction over the crime of aggression until one year after 30 member states had ratified the Amendments and it was promulgated by the Assembly of States Parties (ASP).

As Palestine was the 30th State to ratify the Amendments in June 2016, the ASP agreed to activate the Court’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression during their meetings in December of 2017. The Court’s jurisdiction officially became active on July 17, 2018.

The key issue and reason for the delay in agreeing to the text of the crime was the lack of agreement on whether the Court could exercise jurisdiction for the crime of aggression over the nationals of States Parties to the Rome Statute who had not ratified the Amendments. The wide view on this issue is that the Court has jurisdiction when the crime occurs on the territory of a State which has ratified the Amendment. Still, there are those, including Canada, that believe that the Court would not have jurisdiction over state referrals or proprio motu investigations when the alleged crime is committed by nationals of non-ratifying States or on their territory.

The crime of aggression essentially allows for individual criminal responsibility for violations of Article 2(4) of the Charter of the United Nations. Article 2(4) prohibits “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”. However, not all violations of the prohibition on the use of force will constitute a crime of aggression: only the most serious and dangerous forms.

The Rome Statute is the first modern criminal tribunal to include the crime of aggression, but the International Military Tribunals (IMT) in Nuremberg and Tokyo included prosecutions and convictions for crimes against peace, which criminalized those involved in waging wars of aggression or wars in violation of international treaties. The language of the crime of aggression was borne out of and based on the Charter of the IMT.

The crime of aggression has not been prosecuted yet and there is no precedent for the Court to follow. It will be interesting to see how the Court interprets the crime once the first charges are made, and if it takes any guidance from the IMTs or develops its own interpretation.

Stay tuned for updates!

This blogpost and my attendance to the 17th Assembly of States Parties are supported by the Canadian Partnership for International Justice and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

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CCIL 2018: “The Role of International Criminal Law and the ICC in Responding to the Alleged Crimes Perpetrated Against the Rohingya”

On November 1 and 2, 2018, the Canadian Council on International Law (CCIL) held its annual conference in Ottawa, Canada. This conference is touted as one of the premier international law conferences in the world, bringing together scholars and practitioners from across Canada, the United States and Europe. This year’s topic was “International Law at the Boundaries,” which recognized the role of non-state actors and ideas that seek to push international law to its limits.

One particular panel discussed three important, and even novel, issues within international criminal law: (1) jurisdiction over crimes committed by a non-state party; (2) sexual and gender-based violence; and (3) the role of social media in contributing to these crimes. “The Role of International Criminal Law and the International Criminal Court (ICC) in Responding to the Alleged Crimes Perpetrated against the Rohingya,” examined the ongoing situation in Myanmar and the ICC’s role in holding perpetrators of international crimes accountable. Fannie Lafontaine of Laval University’s Faculty of Law and the Canadian Partnership for International Justice chaired the panel of three speakers: Payam Akhavan of McGill University’s Faculty of Law, Valerie Oosterveld of Western University’s Faculty of Law, and Kyle Matthews of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies.

Akhavan discussed the ICC’s jurisdiction over the crimes committed against the Rohingya. This has been an area that has required some thought because Myanmar is not a party to the Rome Statute of the ICC, and therefore the Court does not have jurisdiction over crimes committed on its territory unless a referral by the United Nations Security Council is made (which has not happened yet and has been suggested to be unlikely). Akhavan highlighted how the ICC’s jurisdiction is currently being established through the crime of forced deportation as an underlying act of the crime against humanity. Forced deportation involves the crossing of international borders, and because the act of deporting the Rohingya ended on the territory of a state that is a party to the Rome Statute—Bangladesh—the Court has jurisdiction to try those responsible for forcing the Rohingya into Bangladesh.

Oosterveld ended the panel with a discussion of sexual and gender-based violence in the context of the Rohingya. She discussed the many ways that Rohingya women and girls are targeted and then humiliated through public gang-rapes to promote terror, and even ‘branded’ by their perpetrators biting them. Men and boys suffered similar treatment in detention from their captors trying to gain information.

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