Call for Papers!

Submit Your Work to the 2019 Human Rights Essay Award Competition: The Human Rights Essay Award, sponsored by the Academy on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at the American University Washington College of Law, seeks to stimulate the production of scholarly work in international human rights law. The topic of the 2019 competition is as follows: The Protection of Migrants Under International Human Rights Law. Participants have the flexibility to choose any subject related to this topic, however, the scope of the submission must directly relate to this year’s topic or it will be disqualified. In addition, we would like to note we believe that international human rights law can be understood to include international humanitarian law and international criminal law. We will award two winners—one for a submission in English and one for a submission in Spanish—with a full scholarship (including lodging and transportation to and from Washington, D.C.) to complete the Certificate of Attendance or Diploma in the 2019 Program of Advanced Studies on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law which will take place from May 27 to June 14, 2019. The deadline to enter your submission to the Human Rights Essay Award competition is February 1, 2019. Please note that ONLY participants with a law degree are eligible to enter this competition. We look forward to receiving your submission!

If you would like additional information or have any questions, we invite you to contact us via email at and via phone at (202) 274-4295.


Call for Applications!

The Academy on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law is happy to announce its call for applications to the 2019 Program of Advanced Studies on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law which will take place from May 28 – June 14. This annual Program offers 18 courses in English and Spanish lectured by over 40 scholars of relevance in the field of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law and gathers more than 125 participants from over 25 different countries and with different levels of professional experience. The Academy on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law provides, through this Program, the unique opportunity to learn and interact with judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Special Rapporteurs of United Nations, members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, experts from prominent NGO’s and professors from all over the world. The application form for this program is available at All courses can be taken for ABA credits. For more information please contact us at:

‘Last resort:’ A final course of action, used only when all else has failed (Oxford Dictionary).

The Seventeenth Assembly of States Parties (ASP) has closed and one key takeaway is the need to have realistic expectations with respect to the role and capacity of the International Criminal Court (ICC) or ‘Court.’ This theme was woven into numerous side-events, especially those concerning complementarity and universal jurisdiction. 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the Rome Statute. While the ICC continues to grow in its reach and impact, the institution has inherent and purposeful limitations. A fair assessment of the Court needs to be couched in terms of its intended scope, purpose, and place in the global landscape, which is highly specific. 

At the side-event “Justice, peace and security in Africa: deepening the role of the ICC,” hosted by the Coalition for the International Criminal Court and the African Network on International Criminal Justice, Phakiso Mochochoko (Office of the Prosecutor [OTP]) emphasized that the first question should never be, “Why isn’t the ICC doing something?” Such questions can and should be asked of the state and its institutions first. The ICC was never intended to be a first-responder or a sole responder.[1]The trigger mechanism for the Court’s involvement relies on the unwillingness or inability of the concerned state to investigate and prosecute those most responsible for atrocious crimes. This requires a lack of political will, a lack of capacity, or both. The scope is intentionally and inherently limited. Several side-events at the ASP reiterated that the ICC is one judicial mechanism for accountability, and one of last resort.[2]Scholars and practitioners need to focus on states, which have a primary obligation to investigate and prosecute these crimes in the interest of peace and security.

To this end, at the side-event “Complementarity and Cooperation Revisited: What role for the ICC in supporting national and hybrid investigations and prosecutions?” hosted by Luxembourg, North Korea, and Open Society Justice Initiative, Pascal Turlan (OTP) highlighted the importance of capacity building. Capacity building refers to both the legal framework and training of personnel in domestic institutions. Pascal sketched a coordinated relationship between the ICC and national mechanisms under the auspice of ‘positive complementarity.’ The ICC is willing to engage in cooperation measures such as information sharing or to engage in mutual assistance strategies in an effort to encourage national authorities to develop cases, or to assist in the investigation or prosecution of cases.[3]As noted above, if the ICC can prosecute, they can only do so against persons who bear the greatest responsibility for the alleged crimes. It would be up to national institutions to investigate and prosecute all others responsible and hold them criminally accountable. Theoretically, positive complementarity is highly useful in this regard and it should contribute to the proliferation of accountability and justice. 

Similarly, at the event titled “Commemorating the 20thanniversary of the Rome Statute,” H.E. Kimberly Prost expressed that complementarity should involve domestic, regional, and extra-territorial jurisdictions to battle impunity. She explained that this may require innovative solutions, such as those like the new court in Central African Republic and the IIIM in Syria, for example. Judge Prost said that productive dialogue cannot begin and end with a critique of the Court. Since no state can credibly oppose justice, alternative solutions need to be pursued. The capacity of states needs to be built so that the ICC becomes redundant, as intended by the drafters of the Rome Statute. Judge Prost’s contributions reflect a ‘back to basics’ approach. Complementarity is the bedrock of the Rome Statute System but is often neglected. This subjects the ICC to criticism and claims that it is not doing enough. States should look inward first to find ways to investigate and prosecute, either independently or with cooperative assistance and support from the ICC and/or other institutional mechanisms and/or organizations.  

Similar views were expressed by Karim Kham, Alain Werner and Carmen Cheung at the side-event “Closing the impunity gap: a pragmatic approach to universal jurisdiction.” Each one of these panelists explained that extra-territorial/judicial mechanisms, ad hoc tribunals, or other similar mechanisms are not mutually exclusive with the ICC. Karim said that it is important to reiterate that the ICC does not have a monopoly on justice. He explained that the goal is to close the impunity gap by whichever way(s) possible because justice is not politicized, it is ‘everybody’s business.’ 

The ICC plays an important role in the global landscape, but as pointed out by the intervention of Elise Keppler of Human Rights Watch at the side-event, “From Bemba to Rombhot: Reflections & Perspectives for the ICC in the Central African Republic,” the ‘one case, one suspect’ approach is likely insufficient for dealing with the broader realities of conflict. It is posed here that an ideal complementary schema might have national courts investigate and prosecute foot soldiers, a special/hybrid tribunal address mid-level officers and commanders, and the ICC deal with those most responsible for organizing and orchestrating the crime(s). This would be comprehensive and provide a greater possibility for accountability at all levels and sides of the conflict. Although social justice and legal justice are not the same, greater accountability and a strengthening of the rule of law at the local level can contribute to a (more) stable post-conflict environment. 

A holistic approach to justice will demand more than the ICC can provide. The Court is limited in its monetary and human resources, as well as its jurisdiction and scope. This is not to say that it has no utility or value. Rather, a more nuanced approach to complementarity can present important opportunities for justice and accountability by capacity building, strengthening domestic legal systems, and closing impunity gaps. This is an important step towards the goal of universal jurisdiction for atrocious crime. Framing critiques of the ICC within the principle of complementarity and universal jurisdiction can change the conversation in some significant and important ways. The ICC cannot do everything, nor is it supposed to. The potential role for complementary mechanisms to the ICC may be the best way to move the conversation (and the international criminal justice project) forward.   

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

[1]The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, A/CONF.183/9 (17 July 1998): Preamble, Article 17, “The case is being investigated or prosecuted by a State which has jurisdiction over it, unless the State is unwilling or unable genuinely to carry out the investigation or prosecution.”  

[2]This was a strong focus at the December 5 side-event, “Commemorating the 20thanniversary of the Rome Statute,” co-hosted by the Netherlands, Uganda, and Africa Legal Aid. This was a focus of H.E Kimberly Prost.

[3]There are limitations to this, for example the ICC will not share information if the alleged suspect could receive the death penalty, or if basic rule-of-law principles such as a right to a fair trial are not firmly established in the domestic context.

Preliminary Examinations and the ICC: What hope for the Rohingya? (Part 1 of 3)

On this last day of the 17th Assembly of State Parties (ASP) to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which took place in The Hague (Netherlands) from 5 to 12 December 2018, it is fair to affirm that the 20th anniversary of the ICC witnessed a generally uncontroversial ASP. Contrary to the effervescent negotiations that took place during the 16th ASP, ultimately leading to the activation of the Court’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression, those of the 17th edition showcased global placidity and flexibility from states, thus creating an illusion of calm after the storm. Nevertheless, one important aspect of the Court’s work was at the core of many discussions, both within the Assembly and during the various side-events that took place: the preliminary examinations (PEs), carried out by the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP).

On the first day of the ASP, the launch of the Prosecutor’s Report on Preliminary Examination Activities for the year 2018 allowed members and organizations of civil society to express various concerns regarding the PEs currently carried out by the OTP. Then, various side-events through the seven-day long ASP allowed further suggestions to be made concerning ways to improve the PEs. Interestingly, the most recent PE opened by the OTP, which concerns the alleged deportation of the Rohingya from Myanmar to Bangladesh, was barely mentioned. This silence is even more surprising given the fact that international community has been widely calling for the ICC to act in relation to what has been qualified by many as a genocide.

This three-part blogpost aims at filling this silence by exploring the possible outcomes of this PE in the light of the recent discussions that took place at the 17th ICC ASP. The first post will detail the legal framework of PEs before the ICC, while the second will analyze the situation in Myanmar and Bangladesh, including the legal procedures that led to the opening of the PE. Finally, the third post will provide an overview of the most salient debates pertaining to PEs before the ICC in order to feed the discussions related to the fight against impunity with respect to the Rohingya situation.

Preliminary examination and the ICC: an innovative legal framework

The preliminary examination process is idiosyncratic to the ICC. While the International Military Tribunals of Nuremberg and Tokyo as well as ad hoc and hybrid tribunals were given jurisdiction over specific situations (see here, p. 6), the Rome Statute does not provide for any specific situation to be considered by the ICC. The OTP holds the important power to determine whether a situation meets the legal criteria established by the Rome Statute to warrant an investigation, which could later lead to the opening of a case. This assessment is at the core of the preliminary examination process (see here, pp. 6-7).

In 2013, the OTP produced a Policy Paper on Preliminary Examinations. This Policy Paper highlights that the PEs must respect the core principles of independence, impartiality and objectivity, pursuant to Articles 42, 21(3) and 54(1) of the Statute (see pp. 7-8). To be sure, it laid down that the innovative process provided for in the Rome Statute shall be divided in four phases. First, pursuant to Article 15(2) of the Rome Statute, the OTP receives “information from States, organs of the United Nations, intergovernmental or non-governmental organizations, or other reliable sources that he or she deems appropriate”. It may also receive written or oral testimony at the seat of the Court. The OTP analyses the seriousness of the information received (see here, p. 8). The second phase marks the proper beginning of the PE: the OTP proceeds to a thorough factual and legal assessment to determine if the alleged crimes fall within the jurisdiction of the Court (see here). Phase 3 questions the admissibility of the case with respect to complementarity and gravity (see here and here, p. 8). The fourth and last phase addresses the question of the interests of justice: the OTP will not initiate an investigation if it considers that it would not serve the interests of justice, taking into account the gravity of the crimes and the interests of the victims (here).

It has to be mentioned that PEs serve additional purposes. According to the OTP, more than simply assessing whether there is sufficient basis to open an investigation, PEs also contribute to two overarching goals of the Statute (see here, p. 8). First, they contribute to ending impunity since they encourage national proceedings. Past experiences have shown that states often seek to avoid the exercise of the Court’s jurisdiction by initiating judicial prosecutions at a national level. When they do so, pursuant to Article 17(1)(a), the situation becomes inadmissible before the ICC, since the Court is complementary to national jurisdictions. Second, PEs also deter the prevention of future crimes, thus limiting the need for the Court’s intervention. The opening of PEs are very public and widely publicized, including through international and national media. Further, the annual publication of the OTP’s Report on Preliminary Examinations, which is made public and available on the Internet, contributes to share the outcomes of the ongoing PEs. Even if the dissuasive effect of the PEs is difficult to assess, as it would require measuring the prevalence of crimes that have not been committed, there is little doubt that it is real and strong in most of the examined countries.

Given the specific legal framework pertaining to PEs before the ICC, how has it been applied with respect to the situation of the Rohingya in Myanmar and Bangladesh? The second post will explain the novel jurisdictional issues that were faced by the ICC in this regard before it declared itself competent in a decision warmly saluted by civil society. However, the international community should not be too hasty with its rejoicing, as will be discussed in the third and final post.

This blogpost and Catherine Savard’s attendance at 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.



ICC Assembly of States Parties 2018: Final Day



[photo credit: @NLatICC via Twitter]

The final day of the ICC Assembly of States Parties was marked by highs and lows.

In positive news, Assembly attendees learned that Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona had been arrested by French authorities pursuant to an arrest warrant issued by Pre-Trial Chamber II on December 7. The warrant alleges that Ngaïssona bears criminal responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the western part of the Central African Republic (CAR) between at least December 5, 2013 and at least December 2014. The Chamber was satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to believe that an internal armed conflict was ongoing in the CAR between the Seleka – a coalition of armed groups predominantly composed of Muslim fighters – and the Anti-Balaka – a predominantly Christian countermovement to the Seleka. The Chamber also found that there are reasonable grounds to believe that, from at least September 2013 until at least December 2014, a widespread and systematic attack was carried out by the Anti-Balaka against the Muslim civilian population and anyone perceived to support the Seleka. Ngaïssona was the most senior leader and the National General Coordinator of the Anti-Balaka.

In less positive news, the Assembly approved the 2019 budget of the ICC at €148,135,100. This represents a very small increase over 2018 of .49%. The Committee on Budget and Finance (CBF) had recommended a .6% increase, and therefore the approved budget is lower than the CBF recommendation by €150,000. For those inside and outside of the Court who felt that the CBF recommendation should represent a floor, this further cut was worrisome. The Court had requested a 2.4% increase. In real terms, this .49% increase does not keep pace with inflation, is a de facto budget decrease, and severely limits the number of preliminary examinations, situations and cases the Prosecutor can pursue on an annual basis. Ten states – Argentina, Belgium, Costa Rica, Finland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Slovenia, Sweden and Switzerland – issued a strong statement of disappointment with the annual Assembly budgetary process as continually leading to the underfunding of key ICC roles.

States Parties also adopted the Omnibus resolution, which states:

“The Assembly of States Parties reconfirms its unwavering support for the Court as an independent and impartial judicial institution, reiterates its commitment to uphold and defend the principles and values enshrined in the Rome Statute and to preserve its integrity undeterred by any threats against the Court, its officials and those cooperating with it, and renews its resolve to stand united against impunity.”

States Parties additionally adopted the Report of the Credentials Committee and the Report on the 17th session of the Assembly. The dates of the 2019 ASP have not yet been decided, but the date and venue should be announced by January 31, 2019.

Today, Catherine Savard returns to blogging for the IntLawGrrls symposium, having also participated in 2017. Her three-part blog post focuses on the ICC Prosecutor’s preliminary examinations.

Catherine is Assistant Coordinator with the Canadian Partnership for International Justice and member of the Canada Research Chair on International Criminal Justice and Human Rights. She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in international law at Université Laval (Canada) under the supervision of Prof. Fannie Lafontaine. Her research interests are international criminal, humanitarian and humanCatherine rights law. She recently represented her university at the Jean-Pictet international humanitarian law competition and will represent it again in 2019 the context of the Charles-Rousseau public international law competition. She has also been very involved with the Université Laval’s International Criminal and Humanitarian Law Clinic, for which she has completed nearly 10 research mandates. Her research focusses on modes of liability in international criminal law, sexual and gender-based violence and cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples in Canada.

A heartfelt welcome back, Catherine!

Amazing ATLAS Advice

Just a short note to call our readers’ attention to the new profiles up on the fabulous ATLAS website.  ATLAS–Acting Together: Law, Advice, Support–started as a Facebook group of women in international law before launching an open source site. The brainchild of the indomitable Sareta Ashraph, herself a brilliant international lawyer, ATLAS has been an invaluable source of information and support for women in the field.

ATLAS is currently featuring profiles of prominent women international lawyers (yours truly is honored to be included). The most recent, by Bec Hamilton, offers another must read. Prior profiles are equally compelling:

Check it out and be sure to attend one of the ATLAS hangouts if one happens to be in your neighborhood!

Impunité et droits des victimes : Les défis principaux de la Juridiction spéciale pour la paix en Colombie

Après 50 années de conflit entre les groupes paramilitaires, guérilleros et forces gouvernementales marquées par le crime et l’impunité, un accord de paix a été signé en Colombie en 2016 pour mettre fin aux hostilités et construire une paix stable et durable.

 À la suite de cet accord, le gouvernement colombien a institué un système intégral de vérité, justice,réparation et non répétition. Ce dernier contribue à lutter contre l’impunité en combinant des mécanismes judiciaires (investigation et condamnation pour les violations des droits de l’Homme et graves infractions au droit international humanitaire) et extrajudiciaires (élucidation de la vérité, recherche des disparus et réparation). L’une des composantes de ce système est la Juridiction spéciale pour la paix (Jurisdicción especial para la paz) (JEP), qui était au cœur d’un événement organisé le 11 décembre 2018 dans le cadre de la 17eAssemblée des États Parties (AÉP17) de la Cour pénale internationale (CPI), à La Haye.

Intitulé Colombia : contexto y desafíos ¿Hacia un nuevo informe intermedio? (Colombie : Contexte et défis : vers un nouveau rapport intermédiaire) et organisé par Avocats sans frontières Canada, Humanas et la Comision colombiana de juristas (Commission colombienne des juristes), le but de cet événement était d’analyser l’état de cette juridiction.

L’inquiétude des experts présents lors de cet évènement portait sur le non-respect des standards internationaux par la JEP, notamment ceux relatifs à la responsabilité du supérieur hiérarchique (article 86-2 du premier Protocole additionnel aux Conventions de Genève et article 28 du Statut de Rome).

En droit international, les supérieurs hiérarchiques doivent répondre des crimes commis par leurs subordonnés « s’ils savaient ou possédaient des informations leur permettant de conclure, dans les circonstances du moment,que ce subordonné commettait ou allait commettre une telle infraction, et s’ils n’ont pas pris toutes les mesures pratiquement possibles en leur pouvoir pour empêcher ou réprimer cette infraction » (article86-2 du premier Protocole additionnel aux Conventions de Genève). Ce mécanisme permet de remonter la chaine de commandement jusqu’au plus haut responsable lorsque les conditions d’existence d’un lien de subordination, d’un acte d’omission et de connaissance des atrocités sont respectées.

La société civile, d’une part, et le Bureau du Procureur de la CPI dans son rapport sur les activités menées en 2018 en matière d’examen préliminaire, d’autre part, regrettent la définition de la responsabilité du supérieur hiérarchique choisie en Colombie.

Dans le cadre de la JEP, le supérieur ne peut être reconnu responsable que pour les faits commis par son subordonné dans son domaine de responsabilité, pour des activités sous sa responsabilité. Cette définition ne prend pas en compte le pouvoir d’influence qu’un supérieur peut avoir en dehors de sa zone de responsabilité. La loi prévoit également que le supérieur doit avoir la capacité légale et matérielle de donner des ordres (article24-a) et la capacité effective et directe de prendre les mesures nécessaires pour éviter ou sanctionner la commission de faits répréhensibles de ses subordonnés lorsqu’il avait connaissance de ces faits (article24-d).

Ces conditions très restrictives vont à l’encontre des standards de droit international et limitent considérablement la reconnaissance de la responsabilité des hauts responsables colombiens lorsque les forces armées du pays sont accusées d’exécutions extrajudiciaires (falsos positivos) et bénéficient d’une présomption d’innocence.

Tous ces éléments contribuent aujourd’hui à l’impunité des crimes commis depuis cinquante ans et affaiblissent le droit des victimes à la justice. À cette difficulté, s’ajoutent celles spécifiques à la reconnaissance, l’investigation et le jugement des violences sexuelles.

Justice pour les victimes de violences sexuelles

La JEP reconnait le droit des victimes à la vérité pleine et entière, la justice, la réparation, la non répétition et la reconnaissance de la responsabilité des auteurs directs et indirects des violations graves des droits humains ou du droit humanitaire commises pendant le conflit (article1).

Cependant,les panélistes de l’événement Colombia : contexto y desafíos ¿Hacia un nuevo informe intermedio? ont révélé être préoccupés parle degré de participation laissé aux victimes de violences sexuelles commises parles forces armées et paramilitaires au sein de la JEP, car si l’acte législatif instaurant la JEP inclut une perspective de genre, le constat de la société civile sur le terrain est différent.  

En effet, la société civile dénonce la difficile judiciarisation des affaires de violences sexuelles devant la JEP et les juridictions ordinaires. Ces violences ne font généralement pas l’objet d’enquêtes, faute d’organe spécialisé à la JEP dans ce domaine, et ne sont donc pas jugées.

Ce manque de moyens oblige les victimes à apporter elles-mêmes l’information nécessaire à la poursuite de leur affaire devant la JEP, c’est-à-dire communiquer le nom de l’auteur des violences et le groupe armé auquel il appartient, ce qui est extrêmement difficile pour les victimes et les organisations de la société civile qui les accompagnent.

Quand bien même les violences sexuelles sont présentées devant la JEP, rien n’indique qu’elles feront l’objet d’un jugement. Des critères de sélection et priorisation des affaires devant la JEP doivent en effet être respectés. Ils ne sont cependant pas établis clairement et ne sont pas uniformisés d’une salle à l’autre. Cette situation représente un risque pour les victimes de voir leur affaire ne pas être sélectionnée à ce stade de la procédure et de n’obtenir aucune autre chance de jugement.

Ces observations rendent compte du manque d’opportunité qu’ont les violations sexuelles d’être connues par la JEP et des conditions difficiles de participation des victimes dont les droits à la vérité, la justice, la réparation et la non-répétition sont altérés par la JEP dans ces conditions actuelles de fonctionnement. 

Bien qu’aujourd’hui, la CPI se félicite du respect du principe de complémentarité (article 17 du Statut de Rome), l’espoir de la société civile de voir les droits des victimes respectés et la lutte contre l’impunité prospérer repose sur le contrôle minutieux de ces points spécifiques par la CPI. Dans le cas où la juridiction spéciale pour la paix ne respecte pas les standards internationaux de responsabilité du supérieur hiérarchique et de participation des victimes, la CPI pourra se reconnaitre compétente pour juger les crimes les plus graves commis en Colombie. Cette conclusion n’est cependant pas recherchée par la société civile qui veut croire en la réussite de la justice transitionnelle.

L’auteure participe à la 17ème Assemblée des États Parties au Statut de Rome de la Cour pénale internationale au sein de la délégation du Partenariat canadien pour la justice internationale soutenue financièrement par le Conseil de recherches en sciences humaines du Canada grâce à un financement de la Clinique de droit international pénal et humanitaire de la Faculté de droit de l’Université Laval.