The ICC and Côte d’Ivoire: Is Justice Being Dispatched?

In December 2010, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, then Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), warned protagonists of the post-election crisis in Côte d’Ivoire that “[t]hose leaders who are planning violence will end up in The Hague.” In November 2011, Laurent Gbagbo arrived in The Hague, his transfer to the ICC seen as diffusing tensions after his arrest in April by forces loyal to the internationally recognized winner Alassane Ouattara. Gbagbo was joined by his Minister of Youth, Charles Blé Goudé, in 2014. Having fled to Ghana, Blé Goudé was extradited to Côte d’Ivoire, which sent him to the ICC. At the time, Côte d’Ivoire was not party to the Rome Statute but the country accepted the ICC’s jurisdiction through an Article 12 (3) declaration, reconfirmed in 2010.

Yet, by the time the trial commenced in January 2016, the Ivorian justice system was functioning. Ouattara declared no more Ivorians would be sent to the ICC, insisting on trying Simone Gbagbo at home despite losing an admissibility challenge before the Pre-Trial Chamber, upheld by the Appeals Chamber.

The acquittal of Laurent Gbagbo and Blé Goudé in the ruling on no case to answer of 15 January 2019 spotlights the OTP’s investigation in the Côte d’Ivoire situation. As a written decision is forthcoming, this article will not examine the trial. Rather, it looks at the perception of the ICC at the local level and how it compares to and impacts national justice processes. 

During my research in Côte d’Ivoire, I had the privilege to interview Ivorians from different parts of the country, including victims, witnesses, judges, prosecutors, defense counsel and civil society. Views about the ICC and domestic accountability efforts are polarized. Some strongly support the ICC and maintain high expectations that may now be impossible to meet, while others are adamant Ivorians should be tried by Ivorians, however imperfect the justice.

For many, the ICC has lost credibility. Those who followed the Gbagbo and Blé Goudé trial share concerns as to how it was conducted, from procedural changes, to the OTP’s witnesses turning hostile, suffering memory loss or providing hearsay evidence with low probative weight. Further, the OTP’s sequenced approach­––necessary for securing state co-operation given the limitations of the Part 9 regime––with as yet no public arrest warrants released against supporters of Ouattara who are also suspected of committing crimes during the crisis, has increased the perception of the Court as an instrument for victor’s justice. This credibility deficit has weakened its impact. Early positive developments included domestication of the Rome Statute, with the incorporation of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide into the Ivorian Penal Code in 2015. However, as public perception decreased, related reforms important for local accountability efforts stalled, in particular, a law on witness protection; fortunately, it was passed by the National Assembly in early 2018 but is still to enter into force.

Unfortunately, there has been inadequate reverse co-operation, with requests to the ICC for the exchange of evidence to facilitate domestic investigations substantively unanswered. Further, Côte d’Ivoire lacks technical capacity for DNA and ballistics analysis, with resource limitations among the factors delaying further exhumations. While the OTP has lent some assistance, it would be mutually beneficial to go further. Domestic inquiries are also hampered by witness fatigue, with some witnesses reluctant to co-operate with a Special Investigation Unit (CSEI) after already giving testimony to the ICC and other domestic transitional justice mechanisms previously operating in parallel, including the National Commission of Inquiry (CNE), Commission for Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation (CDVR), and National Commission for Reconciliation and Reparation of Victims (CONARIV). Other ICC witnesses declined to testify in local trials to avoid media exposure.

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‘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.

The Gender Justice Shadow of Complementarity: Lessons from the International Criminal Court’s preliminary examinations in Guinea and Colombia

In early July 2013, Human Rights Watch reported that one of the alleged perpetrators of the 2009 Guinea stadium massacre, Lieutenant-Colonel Claude Pivi, has been charged with murder, rape and destruction of property. This was an important first step towards holding one of primary suspects of this atrocity to account. It was also a significant moment for the International Criminal Court (ICC), which in 2009 had commenced a preliminary examination –under the Rome Statute’s complementarity provisions – into this massacre, and the Guinean authorities efforts to bring to justice the perpetrators. However, as we point out in a forthcoming article in the International Journal of Transitional Justice [forthcoming: Volume 7 (3)] the Guinean case also highlights the existence of a ‘gender justice shadow’ in relation to the ICC’s complementarity processes, especially in relation to the investigation and prosecution of crimes of sexual violence against women.

Our article considers the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) preliminary examinations of both the Guinean massacre and the Colombian conflict and argues that, on an analysis of  publically available information, the OTP has applied a low threshold when assessing crimes of sexual violence against women against the three core criteria – state action, willingness and ability – of the Rome Statute’s complementarity test, effectively leaving intact impunity for these crimes.

Our argument here mirrors the work of Kevin Heller, who has shown that while the Rome Statute establishes the highest standards of due process for cases before the ICC, its complementarity provisions do not extend due process rights in national jurisdictions. Similarly, we suggest that there is a ‘gender justice shadow’ side to complementarity: the Rome Statute provides the most developed articulation of gender justice of any instrument of international criminal law, yet complementarity does little to extend these measures to the domestic level.

Members of the Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice, who were so influential in shaping the ground-breaking gender justice aspects of the Rome Statue, were the first to highlight this gender justice shadow. During the negotiations process in the late 1990s, the Caucus cautioned that unless the Rome Statute recognised in its complementarity tests of action, willingness and inability the gender biased features of national penal codes, especially weak substantive and procedural laws to address sexual violence against women, it ‘could result in impunity for crimes of sexual and gender violence’ (Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice, ‘Gender Justice and the ICC’, paper presented at the Rome Conference, Italy, 15 June – 17 July 1998, 24; document with the authors). This argument has since reiterated by other commentators and academics (see Women’s Initiative for Gender Justice, Susana SáCouto and Katherine Clearly, and Amrita Kapur).

Our analysis shows that the OTP’s preliminary conclusions about complementarity in Guinea and Colombia have failed to take adequate account of crimes of sexual violence against women. There are questions as to whether the domestic proceedings have addressed either the same persons or the same crimes, particularly where sexual violence is involved. In both Guinea and Colombia, some of the sexual violence crimes documented by the OTP are not included in the domestic penal codes, and a lack of transparency makes it difficult to assess which individuals the OTP is investigating, and whether they have been charged for sexual violence at the national level.

Similarly, it appears that in the OTP’s application of the willingness and ability criteria in these two sites, gender biases in domestic law have been overlooked. Based on the available documentation, it seems there has been minimal, if any, attention given to impartiality in proceedings for victims of sexual and gender-based crimes or the limitations in local laws to allow for investigation and prosecution of a full range of sexual and gender-based crimes.

These problems of apparent non-recognition of gender justice issues in Guinea and Colombia are a legacy of the failure of States to include the Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice’s suggestions to expressly integrate gender justice concerns in the complementarity provisions. The prediction made in the 1990s by the Women’s Caucus appears to have become a reality at least in Guinea and Colombia: ongoing impunity for many perpetrators of sexual violence, and little justice for the victims of these crimes. This is, we argue, the gender justice shadow of complementarity.

The positive side of the story is that the ICC’s second Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has professed a strong commitment to gender justice; building around her a team of advisors including Brigid Inder, Patricia Viseur Sellers and Diane Amann, who have high-level gender justice expertise. The creation of an overarching OTP gender policy, slated for release in 2013, will provide the chance for the Office to draw on lessons from its first decade in operation and establish new procedures which embed core gender justice concerns in ongoing and future complementarity assessments. At minimum is hoped that the OTP will provide clear criteria for evaluating action, willingness and ability at the preliminary examination stage in ways that capture existing gender biases in the law. In implementing this policy it will be important that the OTP, and the other arms of the Court, are as transparent as they can possibly be (within a highly sensitive legal context) about their recognition of gender biases when undertaking preliminary examinations and throughout the complementarity process. It is only when such information is available that a complete assessment can be made of the impact of the gender justice shadow of complementarity.

— Co-authored with Louise Chappell and Rosemary Grey.

Symposium: Ashgate Research Companion to International Criminal Law: Critical Perspectives

SCHABAS JKT(250X172)path Over the next week, we will be featuring guest posts from contributors to the Ashgate Research Companion to  International Criminal Law: Critical Perspectives, which was published earlier this month. It was edited by myself, William A. Schabas, and Niamh Hayes. The book aims to take  a critical approach to a wide variety of theoretical, practical, legal and policy issues surrounding and underpinning the operation of international criminal law as applied by international criminal tribunals.

Judge Chile-Eboe-Osuji (picture credit)

 

The book’s 23 chapters, written by well-known authorities in the field of international criminal justice, cover a wide variety of issues, from modes of liability to complementarity and from procedure to politics. The preface is by Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji.

We hope that the forthcoming guest posts, and the book itself, will provide an insight into the continuing challenges of international criminal justice. Thanks to all of our fantastic authors for helping to make this happen!