The ICC Prosecutor’s Final Report on the Iraq/UK Investigation: Concerns Over Complementarity and the Court’s Future Legitimacy

Earlier today, the International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor released the Final Report regarding the status of the preliminary investigation into Iraq/United Kingdom (UK).  In this Report, the Prosecutor concluded that 

on the basis of the information available, there is a reasonable basis to believe that, at a minimum, the following war crimes have been committed by members of UK armed forces: wilful killing/murder under article 8(2)(a)(i)) or article 8(2)(c)(i)); torture and inhuman/cruel treatment under article 8(2)(a)(ii) or article 8(2)(c)(i)); outrages upon personal dignity under article 8(2)(b)(xxi) or article 8(2)(c)(ii)); rape and/or other forms of sexual violence under article 8(2)(b)(xxii) or article 8(2)(e)(vi)) (para. 69).  

Despite the above-mentioned finding, and despite the fact that over 3,000 cases of alleged abuse and atrocities by UK troops in Iraq had been referred to the UK national authorities, that many such cases had resulted in favorable settlements in UK civil courts, and that some such cases had been successfully litigated in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the ICC Prosecutor decided to close this investigation. In this post, I will discuss the procedural history of the Iraq investigation, as well as analyze the Prosecutor’s findings in this Report.  In addition, I will discuss the potential impact of this decision on the future of the ICC.  

Procedural History

The Prosecutor initially opened a brief preliminary investigation into Iraq/ UK, but this investigation was closed in 2006. In January 2014, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) together with Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) submitted an Article 15 communication to the Prosecutor, alleging the responsibility of UK armed forces and other UK officials for war crimes involving systematic detainee abuse in Iraq from 2003 until 2008. In light of this new information, the Prosecutor re-opened a preliminary investigation into this situation in May 2014.  In a 2017 Report, the Prosecutor announced that, following a thorough factual and legal assessment of the information available, it had reached the conclusion that there was a reasonable basis to believe that members of UK armed forces committed war crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC against persons in their custody. This second Iraq/UK investigation was just closed today; the Prosecutor’s rationale for reaching this decision was published in the Final Report.

Prosecutor’s 2020 Final Report

In today’s Final Report, the Prosecutor concluded “that the only appropriate decision is to close the preliminary examination without seeking authorisation to initiate an investigation” (para. 1). The Prosecutor reached this decision on admissibility grounds under Article 17 of the Rome Statute.  The Prosecutor focused both on gravity and complementarity under Article 17; this post will focus on the Prosecutor’s analysis of complementarity, which occupied most of the Report (I note that the Prosecutor determined to perform an admissibility analysis in this case, despite the fact that admissibility determinations do not normally form part of Article 15 Pre-Trial Chamber determinations; according to the Prosecutor, “[a]lthough the Appeals Chamber has recently held that admissibility does not form part of the Pre-Trial Chamber’s determination under article 15(4), it nonetheless stressed the persisting duty of the Prosecutor, under rule 48, to be satisfied that all of the factors relevant to the opening an investigation, including admissibility, are met before proceeding with an article 15 application” (para. 156)).

The Prosecutor explained in the Final Report that the complementarity test under article 17 involves a two-step inquiry, “involving a determination of whether the national authorities are active in relation to the same case (first step), and only if so, whether this activity is vitiated by unwillingness or inability of the authorities concerned to carry out the proceeding genuinely (second step)” (para. 154). According to the Prosecutor, the UK authorities had both acted to investigate these alleged abuses and had shown a genuine willingness to investigate.  

First, the Prosecutor detailed in this Report how the UK authorities had shown action regarding the investigation of their troops’ alleged abuses in Iraq.  The Report explained that the UK authorities established the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), whose original mandate was to investigate cases of alleged death or ill-treatment of Iraqis in British custody.  IHAT had an initial caseload of 165 cases, and it was supposed to conclude its work by November 2012. Over time, IHAT’s caseload expanded dramatically,  as new allegations of death or ill-treatment were received and its mandate was extended first to December 2016 and then to December 2019 (as the Report explained, IHAT was deemed necessary both to discharge the UK’s duty to investigate under British law, as well as under the European Convention on Human Rights; in addition, subsequent proceedings before the ECHR in Al Skeini and others v United Kingdom confirmed that the UK Government had a duty under the European Convention to carry out an adequate and effective investigation into allegations involving British service personnel in Iraq ).  The UK considered the IHAT investigations, and potential prosecutions, as necessary to satisfy the admissibility requirements of the Rome Statute.  In early 2017, following complaints over IHAT’s duration and expense, the UK Secretary of State for Defence announced that IHAT would be closed.  Remaining investigations were taken over by a new investigative unit, known as Service Police Legacy Investigations (SPLI).  IHAT and the SPLI referred a total of nine cases to the so-called Service Prosecuting Authority (SPA), the body which had become charged with determining whether a prosecution will take place.  In all nine cases, the SPA recommended that no charges be brought against the accused individuals.  In February 2020, UK authorities explained to the ICC Prosecutor that the SPA had most likely determined not to proceed with these prosecutions because the SPA applies a higher evidentiary threshold than IHAT/SPLI, and that it was likely that lawyers at the latter “might have considered cases were ready to proceed, whereas the SPA found they were not” (para. 200). In light of all of the steps taken by the UK authorities, and despite the fact that no cases resulted in actual prosecutions, the Prosecutor concluded in this Final Report that the UK authorities had acted for the purposes of the Article 17 complementarity analysis. 

Although the initial assessment of a claim might not lead to a fully-fledged investigation being undertaken (based on the screening criteria), or an investigation or prosecution might be abandoned after a subsequent assessment, the Office considers that it is difficult to argue that the State had remained inactive in relation to such a claim, since such assessments form part of the investigative and prosecutorial process (para. 276)

Second, the Prosecutor determined in the Final Report that the UK authorities had shown a genuine willingness to investigate alleged crimes committed by their forces in Iraq. As the Prosecutor explained, the determination of unwillingness requires, “having regard to the principles of due process recognized by international law”, that “[t]he proceedings were or are being undertaken or the national decision was made for the purpose of shielding the person concerned from criminal responsibility for crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court referred to in article 5” (para. 294). The Prosecutor further emphasized that the concept of being “unwilling” genuinely to investigate is “concerned with a situation in which proceedings are conducted in a manner which would lead to a suspect evading justice as a result of a State not being willing genuinely to investigate or prosecute” (para. 284). The Prosecutor thus reviewed various UK authorities’ actions in this case through the lens of willingness. Serious concerns had been raised against UK authorities, alleging that they did not genuinely intend to pursue prosecutions against their own service members and higher-level officials.  As the Final Report described, despite the fact that over 3,000 potential cases had been referred to UK authorities, the latter failed to initiate a single prosecution.  In addition, former IHAT staff members had raised concerns that this mechanism lacked proper access to evidence and to witnesses, due to UK government interference.  Finally, concerns over undue delays in the proceedings had been flagged as a potential violation of the victims’ rights; such delays, according to some allegations, were the result of the UK authorities’ purposeful policy not to seriously investigate and/or prosecute cases.  Despite such serious concerns regarding the UK government’s “willingness” to genuinely prosecute, the Prosecutor concluded that “the information available does not demonstrate a lack of willingness to genuinely carry out the proceedings, pursuant to article 17(2)(b)” (para. 433).  In fact, the Final Report emphasized that it was not sufficient for the Prosecutor to have concerns over the genuineness of a national authority’s willingness to investigate and prosecute, but that instead it must be demonstrated that such authorities acted in bad faith. According to the Prosecutor,

The primary task of the Office is not to express its view on how it might have proceeded differently in the circumstances, nor to identify areas of disagreement with IHAT/SPLI and SPA’s decision-making and operational assessments of whether cases presented a realistic prospect of obtaining sufficient evidence at the investigative stage or a realistic prospect of conviction to support a prosecution. Nor is it the Office or the Court’s mandate to pronounce on whether a State complied with its duties to provide an effective remedy and fulfilled its procedural obligation to give effect to fundamental human rights enshrined in instruments such as the ECHR. The question is whether there is evidence to establish that the State concerned was unwilling to investigate or prosecute (para. 458).  

In sum, the Prosecutor concluded that the case of Iraq/UK was inadmissible under Article 17’s complementarity requirement, because the UK authorities had sufficiently demonstrated that they had acted to investigate and that they were genuinely willing to investigate.

Potential Impact of the Final Report on the ICC’s Legitimacy

It is possible, and relatively easy, to criticize some of the Prosecutor’s findings, particularly on “willingness” grounds.  It could be argued that the record established sufficient evidence that the UK authorities had reluctantly established IHAT and subsequent mechanisms; that they interfered with the mechanisms’ access to evidence; that they caused undue delays and demonstrated a significant bias against initiating any prosecutions – in sum, that they acted purposefully to shield their own service members and officials from any possibility of prosecution.   Yet, while such concerns are serious, the more fundamental issues raised by this decision to close the Iraq/UK investigation involve future cases and the ICC’s legitimacy.

In light of this decision, it may become relatively easy for other powerful states to evade the ICC’s reach by launching their own “genuine” investigations which result in zero prosecutions.  States such as the United States and Israel may welcome the court’s analysis of complementarity in this Final Report and its conclusion that the UK has been “willing” to prosecute its own soldiers and officials, despite a decade-long investigation which has yielded no cases. Complementarity may become a shield in and of itself, despite the fact that complementarity is actually supposed to ensure that perpetrators aren’t shielded from ICC’s prosecutorial reach. If states are able to avoid the ICC on complementarity grounds in the future, this could seriously undermine the court’s legitimacy. The ICC was established in order to ensure that accountability is imposed on perpetrators of atrocities; despite its relatively weak prosecutorial record, judicial squabbles on its bench, several state withdrawals from its jurisdiction, and some powerful states’ open hostility, the Court could be objectively defended in light of the importance of its fundamental mission.  The imposition of accountability on those who commit genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes is objectively one of the most important goals of international criminal justice; an imperfect institution which nonetheless contributes to this goal remains important and legitimate.  If the ICC were to become an easily-avoided forum, which states can bypass by launching sham but “genuinely willing” investigations, then the Court’s fundamental purpose comes into question.  In such circumstances, it becomes difficult to continue to defend the ICC.  For those of us who believe in the pursuit of international justice and in its institutions, including the ICC, the possibility of this type of a complementarity-based challenge to the court’s legitimacy is troubling.

How the 2020 Guinean Elections Might Impact Justice for the 28 September 2009 Massacre. (Part 1)

On the third day of the 18th Assembly of States Parties (ASP) to the International Criminal Court (ICC), held in The Hague from 2 to 7 December 2019, a side event named “Guinea: A decade after, victims of the 2019 massacre are still waiting for justice” took place. It was co-organized by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Guinean civil society organizations Organisation guinéenne de défense des droits de l’homme et du citoyenMêmes droits pour tous and the Association des victimes, parents et amis du 11 septembre 2009. Moderated by Delphine Carlens, Head of the International Justice section at FIDH, the event featured panelists Drissa Traoré, FIDH Under-Secretary; Asmaou Diallo, President of the Association of Victims, Parents and Friends of the September 28 Massacre; and Franco Matillana, from the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor (OTP). As panelists shared their views on the prospects for justice for the September 2009 Massacre in Guinea, this blog post will elaborate on the key aspects of this enriching discussion. Specifically, it will summarize the context of the September 2009 Massacre, before turning to explore the ongoing judicial proceedings within the Guinean domestic legal system, victims’ perceptions of these proceedings, and the ongoing ICC preliminary examination.

Flyer of the event co-organized by the FIDH and Guinean civil society organizations, held in The Hague on 4 December 2019. 

1. What happened in Guinea on 28 September 2009?

On 14 October 2009, the ICC OTP announced the opening of a preliminary examination with respect to the situation in Guinea. It stated that this “preliminary examination focusses on alleged Rome Statute crimes committed in the context of the 28 September 2009 events at the Conakry stadium.” As Guinea is a State Party to the Rome Statute, having deposited its instrument of ratification on 14 July 2003, the OTP announced that it would investigate international crimes committed on the territory of Guinea or by Guinean nationals from 1 October 2003 onwards (Rome Statute, article 11). 

 The contextual background of the September 2009 Massacre is described in the subsequent OTP Reports on Preliminary Examination Activities (see e.g the 2019 report here). In December 2008, after the death of President Lansana Conté, who had ruled Guinea since 1984, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara seized power in a military coup. As the new head of State, he established a military junta, the Conseil national pour la démocratie et le développement (CNDD, orNational Council for Democracy and Development), and promised that this body would ensure that power is handed to a civilian president following presidential and parliamentary elections. However, as time went by, Captain Camara’s attitude and statements seemed to suggest that he might actually run for president, which led to protests by its political opponents and civil society groups. 

On 28 September 2009, the Independence Day of Guinea, an opposition group gathering at the national stadium in Conakry was violently repressed by national security forces. According to Human Rights Watch, they opened fire on civilians that were peacefully calling for transparent elections. Some civilians were shot, beaten, and even raped in daylight. According to the OTP’s 2019 Report on Preliminary Examination Activities, more than 150 people died or disappeared, at least 109 women were victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence, including sexual mutilations and sexual slavery, and more than 1000 persons were injured. Cases of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment during arrests, arbitrary detentions, and attacks against civilians based on their perceived ethnic or political affiliation are also mentioned in the 2019 OTP Report.

Ten years after the massacre, are Guinean victims any closer to see their tormentors be held accountable? One after the other, panelists at the ASP side event shared their points of view. 

2. Drissa Traoré, FIDH Under-Secretary, depicted the judicial landscape and pointed key issues

At the ASP side event, FIDH Under-Secretary Drissa Traoré critically depicted the ongoing judicial proceedings taking place within the Guinean domestic legal system with respect to the 28 September massacre. In February 2010, the case was referred by Guinean Prosecutors to a group of magistrates, before whom it progressed slowly amid political, financial, and logistical obstacles. Despite being charged, many senior officials remained in office. During the investigation, judges have heard the testimony of 450 victims and their their family members. The judicial process was still ongoing when, in 2018, the Minister of Justice Cheick Sako set up a steering committee tasked with the practical organization of the trial. Conakry’s Court of Appeal was identified as the final location for the trial. However, Minister Sako resigned from his position as Minister of Justice in May 2019, causing further delays in the organization of the trial.

In 2019, the newly appointed Minister of Justice, Mohamed Lamine Fofana, decided to reform the steering committee: even though this committee was supposed to meet once a week, in practice, it had met only intermittently. Mr. Fofana also announced that the trial would take place in June 2020, and the government decided to build a new courtroom for this trial to be held. Drissa Traoré stressed that the construction of this courtroom could be a pretext to delay the trial once again. At the time of the ASP, in December 2019, the construction had not begun, and the judges presiding over the trial had yet to be appointed and trained for a such a trial. 

To Drissa Traoré, it is imperative that the charged civil servants who remain in office be dismissed from their positions before the beginning of the trial. He also emphasized the necessity for victims and witnesses to be protected from and any undue pressure that could be exerted against them. 

Mr. Traoré also highlighted that the sociopolitical context in Guinea is currently strained. Guinean presidential elections will take place in 2020, and demonstrations are regularly taking place, accompanied by daily arrests and deaths. To Mr. Traoré, it is crucial that this trial takes place, as it would send a message that impunity for grave crimes is not tolerated in Guinea. 

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You can read the second part of the blogpost here:  How the 2020 Guinean Elections Might Impact Justice for the 28 September 2009 Massacre. (Part 2)

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This blogpost and the author’s attendance to the 18th Assembly 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.

ICC Assembly of States Parties Symposium: Overall Update and Reflections & the Afghanistan Hearing

Guest Post By Jennifer Trahan, Clinical Professor, NYU Center for Global Affairs

ASP Photo 1

Members of Civil Society Organizations at the 2019 ICC Assembly of States Parties 

Milena Sterio has already blogged about two of the side-events held, and Valerie Oosterveld has provided an update on the progress made during various days of the ASP.  This blog post will provide an update on a few issues covered during the ASP, and on the hearings held simultaneously (December 4-6) at the International Criminal Court regarding the appeal of the rejection of the Prosecutor’s application to proceed with the Afghanistan investigation.  I was able to attend both the ASP as well as segments of the Afghanistan hearing, and also serve as an amicus on the Afghanistan appeal.

The ASP, chaired by ASP President Judge O-Gon Kwon, culminated in the adoption of seven resolutions by consensus on:  amendments to article 8 of the Rome Statute (adding starvation as a war crime when committed in non-international armed conflict), cooperation, the nomination and election of judges, the proposed programme budget for 2020, the remuneration of judges, review of the International Criminal Court and the Rome Statute system, and strengthening the International Criminal Court and the Assembly of States Parties (a/k/a the “omnibus resolution”).  The Assembly also elected six members of the Committee on Budget and Finance and a member to fill a vacancy, and a member of the Advisory Committee on nominations of judges.  In addition to the General Debate, there were thematic plenary sessions on cooperation and the review of the Court, and a large number of civil society and State Party-sponsored “side-events.”  (Press release, ICC-CPI-20191206-PR1505.)

The Review Process

One of the aspects that made this ASP different from past ASPs was the creation of a review process for review of the work of the Court and the Rome Statute system.  Calls for the creation of such a process came after the launch of politically-motivated attacks against the Court, as well as a motivation to strengthen certain aspects of the ICC’s work.  After many drafts this fall of the terms of reference for an independent expert review, it was determined that the review would focus on three areas: (1) governance, (2) judiciary, and (3) prosecution and investigation.  After submissions to the ASP President of nominations of the names of over 60 experts, President Kwon selected the final list of names, with three experts nominated under each category.  This list was then approved at the final ASP session.  This review process will run in parallel with certain review efforts to be addressed directly by the ASP.  There was debate both during the ASP about how the expert review would be implemented, and at least some concern that not all states necessarily seem to fully share the goal of strengthening the ICC.  It was noticeable that some states during the ASP and this past fall were calling for a “reform” process, whereas most agreed that the process was to be a “review” process aimed at strengthening the Court.  NGOs and States Parties have also undertaken to strengthen the process for the nomination and election of ICC judges, with some modest progress made in a resolution adopted on the topic.

 The Afghanistan hearing

ASP Photo 2

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda addressing delegates at the ICC Assembly of States Parties 

Prosecutor Fatou Bensounda and ICC President Chile Eboe-Osuji had opened the ASP Plenary Session on December 2 with frank calls about the need to support the ICC as it faced politically-motivated attacks against its work, with the Prosecutor expressing her firm commitment to proceeding notwithstanding.  The timing was such that the ICC Appeals Chamber would simultaneously during the ASP conduct hearings on the appeal of the dismissal of the Prosecutor’s request that the Afghanistan preliminary examination proceed to the investigation phase.

The Pre-Trial Chamber had on April 12, 2019 determine that the Afghanistan preliminary examination met the grounds to proceed under Rome Statute Article 15—that there was a “reasonable basis to believe that the incidents underlying the [Prosecutor’s] [r]equest occurred” and “may constitute crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court” (Decision Pursuant to Article 15 of the Rome Statute on the Authorisation of an Investigation into the Situation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’ of 12 April 2019, para. 60).  Yet, the Pre-Trial Chamber notwithstanding held that it was not “in the interests of justice” under Rome Statute Article 53 (1) (c) to open the investigation based on the Pre-Trial Chamber’s de novo assessment of the application of that phrase (paras. 91-96).

The first day of the appeals hearing (December 4) focused on two procedural questions – whether “victims” had standing to be part of the appeal, and whether the appeal was one related to “jurisdiction.”  The second two days (December 5 and 6) focused on the merits of the argument—what the phrase “the interests of justice” was meant to address, and whether the Pre-Trial Chamber properly assessed the issue, and whether it properly construed the factors by which to evaluate application of the phrase.  This blog post won’t cover all the arguments, but on the day I attended (December 6), the amici present presented extremely persuasive cases that the Pre-Trial Chamber erred in its assessment, including a strong presentation by former US War Crimes Ambassador David Scheffer.

The Appeals Chamber’s ruling is extremely significant not only as to whether the Afghanistan investigation—involving alleged crimes by the Taliban, Afghan authorities, as well as US nationals—may proceed, but some of the criteria utilized by the Pre-Trial Chamber in evaluating whether to open the investigation represent extremely unworkable ones that potentially could jeopardize whether many of the ICC’s preliminary examinations are able to proceed.  Thus, the ruling has potential importance far beyond the Afghanistan situation.  I was privileged to submit a written amicus brief—as amici were asked to present either a brief or to present oral arguments.  All the written amicus submissions addressing “the interests of justice” agreed that the Pre-Trial Chamber had erred in its assessment.

The release of the annual report on Preliminary Examinations

While Valerie Oosterveld has already blogged about the Prosecutor’s release on Thursday, December 5, 2019, of her office’s annual Report on Preliminary Examination Activities, I will just note that the report has a new section covering “Phase 1” of Preliminary Examinations.  The Report (para. 23) explains that during “Phase 1”, the OTP analyzes all communications received pursuant to Article 15 of the Rome Statute using the following criteria:

whether the allegations contained therein concerned: (i) matters which are manifestly outside of the jurisdiction of the Court; (ii) a situation already under preliminary examination; (iii) a situation already under investigation or forming the basis of a prosecution; or (iv) matters which are neither manifestly outside of the Court’s jurisdiction nor related to an existing preliminary examination, investigation or prosecution, and therefore warrant further factual and legal analysis by the Office.

This new section contains discussion of:  North Korea (dual nationals), North Korea (overseas laborers on the territories of States Parties), and Philippines (South China Sea).

At the Prosecutor’s accompanying briefing on Friday December 6, 2019, many representatives of States Parties and members of civil society were present.  Civil society members voiced several extremely heartfelt pleas for the OTP to make more progress in various of the situation countries.  While being sensitive to these interventions, the Prosecutor also explained the reality that the current budget and the limitations it imposes will force her office to “prioritize,” thereby delaying the OTP’s work in some situations.

 The impressive number and diversity of side-events & civil society engagement

While a few side-events have already been covered by prior blog posts, the sheer number of events (related to justice in Myanmar, Darfur, Syria, and many, many more) was extremely impressive.  My only regret was that (with the ASP shortened to 5 actual and 6 scheduled days), it was impossible to attend many of the side-events as a number occurred simultaneously.  The ASP has become quite a gathering place for civil society members from around the world and States Parties interested in advancing (through many different approaches) the pursuit of international justice as well as prosecution of core crimes within national court systems.

The participation of civil society in large numbers at each ASP is largely attributable to the tireless work of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (“CICC”).  The CICC was ably convened this year by Melinda Reed as Acting Convenor following the retirement of William R. Pace.

The Rome Statute and Cyberwarfare

While many side-events deserve their own blog posts, I will call attention to one that addresses a relatively new area (for ICC followers at least).  It was a side-event held Monday December 2 entitled “The Application of the Rome Statute to Cyberwarfare:  The International Criminal Court’s Jurisdiction over the Crime of Aggression.”  The panel featured Stefan Barriga (Minister and Deputy Ambassador, Liechtenstein Embassy in Brussels) as moderator, and myself and Don Ferencz (Convenor of the Global Institute for the Prevention of Aggression) as panelists.  It was sponsored by Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Liechtenstein, and The Global Institute for the Prevention of Aggression.

The discussion focused on how a cyberattack (if it reached a certain threshold of gravity) could potentially be covered by the ICC’s crime of aggression, particularly if launched by a state actor, and how a cyberattack by a non-state actor potentially could be covered by Article 8 war crimes and Article 7 crimes against humanity.  These issues will be pursued further in meetings of the newly formed Council of Advisors on the Application of the Rome Statute to Cyberwarfare, co-sponsored by Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Estonia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Spain, Switzerland, and The Global Institute for the Prevention of Aggression, and Chaired by Ambassador Christian Wenaweser, Permanent Representative of Liechtenstein to the United Nations.  Focus on the application of the Rome Statute to cyberwarfare illustrates one of the ways that the Rome Statute is potentially broad enough to address new challenges and new forms of warfare, and presents an area that should be of interest to many states that are increasingly facing such attacks.  It might even persuade some States Parties that have not yet ratified the ICC crime of aggression amendment, to see it in a potentially new light.

 Challenges ahead

With a huge number of preliminary examinations and investigations, the ICC has much work facing it, and it will be a challenge how much can be accomplished both due to budgetary limitations but also a frequently hostile political landscape.  For example, when both the Philippines and Burundi withdrew from the Rome Statute, while those countries are supposed to have continuing obligations to cooperate with the ICC, for the OTP to move forward most certainly becomes much more difficult.  While the reasoning contained within the Pre-Trial Chamber’s decision dismissing the OTP’s request to proceed with the Afghanistan investigation seems weak, if the Appeals Chamber reverses the decision and the Court proceeds, there undoubtedly will be significant hurdles to face.  Yet, at the end of the day, that seems exactly what the Court was designed to do:  to pursue difficult cases, particularly against high-level accused, where national systems are unwilling or unable to do so—remembering that there is always the initial choice for national authorities to conduct their own investigations and/or prosecutions, obviating the need for the ICC to play any role.  Additional challenges will be to ensure that at the conclusion of the review process, the ICC and ASP ensure that recommendations designed to strengthen the Court are effectively implemented.

ICC Assembly of States Parties Symposium: A Recap of Two Excellent Side Events

As a delegate of the Public International Law and Policy Group, I recently attended the 18th Assembly of States Parties (ASP) to the International Criminal Court (ICC).  In addition to general debates among states parties regarding issues such as funding, election of new judges, and the general well-being of the court, various interesting side events took place, sponsored by states and NGOs.  This post will briefly highlight two such side events – the first on The Hague Principles on Sexual Violence, and the second on Timing and Duration of Decision-Making at the ICC.

The first side event, “The Hague Principles on Sexual Violence – Translating the lived experience of sexual violence survivors into law and policy,” was sponsored by Women’s Initiative for Gender Justice (WIGJ) and by Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Finland, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway, the Republic of Korea, Romania, Senegal, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and Uruguay.

The panel was moderated by Melinda Reed from WIGJ, and panelists included Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor of the ICC, Patricia Sellers, Special Advisor on Gender to the Office of the Prosecutor, Toufah Jallow, Toufah Foundation, Wayne Jordash, Global Rights Compliance, and Howard Morrison, ICC Judge.  Opening remarks were delivered by the Swedish Director-General for Legal Affairs, H.E., Mr. Carl Magnus Nesser, and closing remarks were delivered by the Ambassador of Australia to the Netherlands, H.E. Mr. Matthew Neuhaus.  Prosecutor Bensouda briefly spoke about her office’s efforts in prosecuting sexual violence offenders, and she emphasized the importance of the Ntaganda case, and this defendant’s conviction for crimes of sexual violence.  Judge Morrison spoke about the difficulty of prosecuting and judging cases involving survivors of sexual violence, who may be unwilling to come forward and testify because of their culture and/or because of the inherent necessity of reliving the trauma which court testimony would entail.  Special Advisor Seller highlighted the importance of case law in understanding how to prosecute future crimes of sexual violence, and Wayne Jordash described some of the difficulties associated with the international prosecution of crimes of sexual violence, as well as the failure to prosecute sexual crimes in the Lubanga cases.  The most poignant moments of this panel, however, included remarks by Toufah Jallow, a young Gambian woman who recently came forward and accused the former Gambian president of rape and sexual violence.  Ms. Jallow, who presently lives in Canada, spoke candidly about the assault, violence, and rape which she suffered at the hands of the then-Gambian president, who, according to Ms. Jallow, used sexual violence against her in order to punish her because she had rejected his offer of employment.  Ms. Jallow emphasized the necessity to use concrete language when describing circumstances of sexual assault, as well as the need to overcome cultural barriers and speak out against rape and sexual assault.  Ms. Jallow described how her own mother, who still lives in the Gambia, presently needed security, and how her mother may still believe that “a good African woman is supposed to remain silent” – event if subjected to rape and sexual violence.  Ms. Jallow confirmed that she has already testified before the Gambian national truth commission, where she has repeated the same accusation against the former president.  Finally, Ms. Jallow urged everyone to consider survivors of sexual violence as activists, and not simply as victims.

Finally, several panelists spoke about The Hague Principles on Sexual Violence, which can be found here: https://4genderjustice.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/The-Hague-Principles-on-Sexual-Violence.pdf 

According to some of the panelists, these Principles will hopefully become an important tool in prosecuting crimes of sexual violence.

The second side event, “It’s about time – revising the timing and duration of decision-making at the ICC,” was sponsored by the Wayamo Foundation and Austria, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, and the United Kingdom.  Speakers included Christian Wenaweser, Permanent Representative of Lichtenstein to the United Nations, Elizabeth Evenson, Associate Director, Human Rights Watch, Lorraine Smith Van Lin, Post-conflict justice advisor, REDRESS, Shehzad Charania, Director of the UK Attorney General’s Office and International Law Advisor to the Prime Minister’s Office, and Mark Kersten, Senior Consultant, Wayamo Foundation, as moderator.  Panelists addressed the ICC’s perceived inefficiency – the court’s seemingly long disposition of various investigations and cases.  The panelists acknowledged that the ICC has handled a relatively small number of cases since its inception, and that some investigations and cases have taken a long time.  At the same time, the panelists nuanced these remarks by noting that the court was an international adjudicative body with a wide mandate and complex cases, and that because of these unique characteristics, the ICC could not be easily compared to a domestic jurisdiction which may handle cases much more speedily.  The panelists also warned that efficiency should not trump due process rights and that cutting corners within investigations, for the sake of speeding up proceedings, would not be a desirable result.

In addition to the above-described events, this year’s ASP will feature dozens of equally fascinating side events and more general debate among states parties.  Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gender-based crimes: A monumental day for the ICC

When it comes to prosecuting sexual and gender-based crimes, there have been few days as significant as today in the ICC’s twenty-one-year long history. The day began with a conviction for sexual violence crimes against male and female victims in the Ntaganda case, followed by the first attempt in any international criminal court or tribunal to prosecute gender-based persecution.

Rosemary Grey (University of Sydney) and Indira Rosenthal (University of Tasmania)[1]

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Ethics and the Law: Journalists and International Criminal Tribunals (part 2)

LONDON – Can journalists give evidence at international criminal trials without compromising their objectivity? What is the probative value of journalistic evidence? What does it feel like to be cross-examined by Slobodan Milošević?

These were some of the questions discussed at the event Ethics and the Law: Journalists and International Criminal Tribunals hosted on 25 October at London’s Frontline Club. The fourth of a series of events on “Ethics and the News”, the panel discussion was organised by the Ethical Journalism Network and Global Rights Compliance, and chaired by Channel 4 Head of News and Current Affairs Dorothy Byrne.

In part 1 of this post, we described how journalists recounted their experience of testifying at high-profile international criminal trials. At the same event, legal practitioners also gave their thoughts on the role of journalists in such trials.

The lawyers’ view

The next speaker is the Rt Hon. Lord Justice Adrian Fulford, who was elected to serve as a judge before the ICC for a term of 9 years. Tapping into his wealth of experience, Sir Adrian acknowledges the shortcomings of international justice: trials are too lengthy, trials are too costly, not enough cases are brought before the ICC. The current system of international criminal trials, he says, is an intimidating slow-moving machine, something akin to “a Gilbert & Sullivan operetto” taking place in large surroundings, and could benefit from more imaginative ways of giving evidence to make the process less intimidating for witnesses. It is increasingly difficult to get people to testify, Sir Adrien says, but journalists tend to make good witnesses, as the essence of their role is to bear witness to events.

Wayne Jordash QC, of Global Rights Compliance, is more ambivalent: to him, journalistic evidence does not have any heightened probative value. While Jordash emphasizes the role of journalists as watchdogs as crucial (perhaps now more than ever), and agrees that photo and video evidence is critical, he suggests that journalists’ additional testimony does not have a huge bearing on a case. However, journalism is crucial in another, often ignored way: in pushing the information out and catching society’s attention. Through their reporting on human rights violations in the news, war journalists help keep human rights violations in the news cycle – this, Jordash says, helps mount and maintain support, which can in turn lead to better funding to combat such violations.

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Ethics and the Law: Journalists and International Criminal Tribunals (part 1)

Seyi Rhodes Journalists Event

Seyi Rhodes recalls giving evidence at the Gbagbo trial before the International Criminal Court.

LONDON – Can journalists give evidence at international criminal trials without compromising their objectivity? What is the probative value of journalistic evidence? What does it feel like to be cross-examined by Slobodan Milošević?

These were some of the questions discussed at the event Ethics and the Law: Journalists and International Criminal Tribunals hosted on 25 October at London’s Frontline Club. The fourth of a series of events on “Ethics and the News”, the panel discussion was organised by the Ethical Journalism Network and Global Rights Compliance, and chaired by Channel 4 Head of News and Current Affairs Dorothy Byrne.

The toll it takes to testify

The event started with the screening of a short, harrowing extract of the 1992 documentary Omarska’s Survivors: Bosnia 1992.

As the lights come back on, we hear from the first panelist, former Guardian and Observer reporter Ed Vulliamy. He is familiar with those images – in fact, he was there when they were filmed, as he and British journalist Penny Marshall managed to gain access to the infamous Omarska concentration camp and exposed the dire conditions of living for prisoners there.

A certain weariness shows on the face of Vulliamy, who explains that they reported the atrocities in Bosnia for “three effing years” before things started to change. Vulliamy bore witness to many human rights violations on the ground, and later repeated that exercise in a different, more judicial setting years later, as he became the first journalist since the Nuremberg trials to testify at an international war crimes tribunal. In total, he testified in ten trials for the prosecution at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (“ICTY”), including those of Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadžić and General Ratko Mladić.

Would I do it all again?“, Vulliamy wonders out loud. He seems ambivalent. He stresses the difference between objectivity and neutrality; journalists have a duty to be objective, he notes, but as human beings they also cannot stay neutral in the face of horrors and wrongdoing. His answers, however also reveal the personal and mental toll it takes to re-live those experiences in front of a tribunal.

That personal toll is something that two other journalists present that night are all too familiar with.

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Commentary on John Bolton’s Speech Regarding New American Policy on the International Criminal Court

National Security Advisor, John Bolton, delivered remarks today on “Protecting American Constitutionalism and Sovereignty from International Threats.”  In his remarks, Bolton announced a new American policy vis-a-vis the International Criminal Court (ICC or Court).  According to Bolton, the ICC “has been ineffective, unaccountable, and indeed, outright dangerous.”  While Bolton, and others in the Trump Administration, are certainly allowed to express their opinion and to craft new policies, it is important that such policies be based on accurate (and not alternative) facts.  The purpose of this post is to highlight some of the most egregious factual errors from Bolton’s remarks.  Any government policy based on inaccurate information and “advertised” through reliance on misleading and inaccurate claims is “ineffective, unaccountable… and outright dangerous.”  In addition, this post will criticize some of Bolton’s arguments as misguided and contrary to the United States’ interests.

Bolton argues in his speech that “[t]he ICC and its Prosecutor had been granted potentially enormous, essentially unaccountable powers, and alongside numerous other glaring and significant flaws, the International Criminal Court constituted an assault on the constitutional rights of the American People and the sovereignty of the United States.”  It is incorrect that the ICC and its Prosecutor have “enormous” or “unaccountable powers.”  The ICC’s jurisdiction is limited temporally as well as rationae materiae (the court can only exercise jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes – and in very limited instances, aggression); the court is also constrained by the application of principles of gravity and complementarity.  Moreover, the Assembly of States Parties is an important accountability mechanism over the court – as many readers know, judges can be removed by a two-thirds vote of states parties to the Rome Statute, and a prosecutor can be removed by a majority vote of states parties. Thus, to claim that the ICC somehow wields Harry Potter-like powers which transcend any accountability is simply false.  And, it is unclear why the establishment of the ICC constitutes a constitutional and sovereignty assault against the United States.  The ICC is a treaty-based body; any state, including the United States,  is free to join or not to join this treaty.  If the United States chooses to join the ICC, or any other treaty, potential conflicts with the U.S. Constitution would be resolved through the Supremacy Clause, which establishes the primacy of the Constitution over any inconsistent treaty obligations.  Thus, it is surprising and misleading to claim that the negotiation of a new treaty, like the ICC, is somehow a threat to the United States’ sovereignty or the role of its Constitution.

In addition, Bolton argues that “the Court’s structure is contrary to fundamental American principles, including checks and balances on authority and the separation of powers…..The International Criminal Court, however, melds two of these branches together: the judicial and the executive. In the ICC structure, the executive branch—the Office of the Prosecutor—is an organ of the Court. The Framers of our Constitution considered such a melding of powers unacceptable for our own government, and we should certainly not accept it in the ICC. ”  This is a curious argument: while it may be true that the ICC does not espouse the same separation of powers structure that the United States government does, the United States cannot possibly expect that every treaty-based organization adopt American governance principles.  Multilateral treaties bind multiple nations together and often adopt compromise positions and the “lowest common denominator” of norms; it is not reasonable to expect that treaties would replicate Unites States’ constitutional structures.  And, such replication is not constitutionally mandated.  The United States can become a member of various treaty-based bodies, so long as its obligations under such treaty mechanisms do not directly conflict with the Constitution.  Nothing in the ICC Statute would create such a constitutional conflict.  Thus, Bolton’s argument here is both surprising and unsupported by the Constitution.

Bolton also argues that the ICC “claims ‘automatic jurisdiction,’ meaning that it can prosecute individuals even if their own governments have not recognized, signed, or ratified the treaty.”  This is not true either: the ICC does not have automatic jurisdiction, and Article 12 of its Rome Statute posits that a precondition to the court’s exercise of jurisdiction is that the alleged crimes be committed by a national of a state party, or on the territory of a state party (or if a state accepts the court’s jurisdiction).  Thus, while the ICC may be able to prosecute nationals of a non-party state, this situation is far from automatic, and may only occur if such nationals commit crimes on the territory of a state party.

Bolton claims that the ICC Prosecutor’s request  to investigate Americans for alleged detainee abuse in Afghanistan is “an utterly unfounded, unjustifiable investigation.”  This investigation is not unfounded in and of itself; the investigation will permit the Prosecutor to ascertain enough facts to decide whether to go forward with any possible prosecutions.  Moreover, the investigation is not unjustifiable, as it falls within the Court’s mandate, and as potential prosecutions would satisfy the Court’s temporal and subject-matter jurisdiction.

Bolton proceeds to criticize the ICC because it “claims jurisdiction over crimes that have disputed and ambiguous definitions, exacerbating the Court’s unfettered powers.  The definitions of crimes, especially crimes of aggression, are vague and subject to wide-ranging interpretation by the ICC.”  This claim is inaccurate: the ICC Statute specifically defines the crimes over which the Court has jurisdiction, and the interpretation and application of these definitions is appropriately left in the hands of the Court’s judiciary, in the same manner that the interpretation and application of domestic statutes is bestowed upon domestic judiciaries.  In addition, Bolton then argues that the ICC would somehow claim universal jurisdiction.  “The next obvious step is to claim complete, universal jurisdiction: the ability to prosecute anyone, anywhere for vague crimes identified by The Hague’s bureaucrats.”  There is nothing in the ICC’s Statute to support this conclusion, and while the Rome Statute negotiating record reveals that different states held different views regarding the Court’s reach and structure, it is false to claim that any serious intentions existed to provide the Court with universal jurisdiction over “anyone” or over “vague crimes.”

Finally, some of Bolton’s claims are, while not completely factually inaccurate, misguided and contrary to United States’ interests.  First, Bolton claims that the ICC is ineffective, as it has spent too much money, has prosecuted few individuals, and has not deterred the commission of atrocities in places such as the DRC, Sudan, Libya, or Syria.  This may be a fair criticism of the Court, but accepting such criticism could lead one to adopt a pro-ICC policy, to support the Court, and to ensure that the Court has better funding and better opportunities to truly deter the commission of atrocities, through its investigative and prosecutorial mechanisms.  This approach would benefit both the Court and all states which are committed to principles of accountability and individual criminal responsibility (United States should be positioned as a leader within this group of countries).  Second, Bolton believes that the ICC is superfluous, because of superior United States’ judicial and ethical standards.  According to Bolton, we do not need the ICC because the United States can handle its own investigations much better.  Bolton argues that the ICC’s application of the complementarity principle is “farcical” and  that the Prosecutor will decide which investigation to pursue based on political motives.  While the ICC has been criticized on complementarity grounds (in the Libya case in particular), there is nothing to suggest that the Prosecutor does not consider complementarity issues seriously, in each case that has been initiated with the Court.  And, even accepting that the United States’ judicial system is superior to the ICC, one could imagine a situation where the United States is unwilling to investigate its own wrongdoing; the ICC’s role is to act in such situations and to provide justice and accountability against perpetrators whose home countries choose to shield them.

Last but not least, most troubling is Bolton’s threat against those who cooperate with the ICC.  “We will respond against the ICC and its personnel to the extent permitted by U.S. law.  We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States. We will sanction their funds in the U.S. financial system, and, we will prosecute them in the U.S. criminal system. We will do the same for any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans.”  It is absolutely within the United States’ sovereignty to refuse to issue visas/entry to ICC officials who may be foreign nationals (although this would be terrible policy).  However, it is simply unbelievable to announce that the United States would prosecute ICC officials, and other companies or states who assist the ICC, in the U.S. domestic system.  ICC officials are highly respected experts in international criminal law; judges, prosecutors, investigators, and other individuals who have committed their careers to the pursuit of international justice.  Those who assist or have assisted the ICC include our colleagues – the most prominent experts in international criminal law, who have provided advice and expertise to the Court.  What crimes have such individuals committed under United States law? And, how would such prosecutions (even if grounded in U.S. law) affect the United States’ role in international relations and in the world community? John Bolton’s speech is both factually inaccurate as well as misguided, and a new American policy vis-a-vis the ICC, built on Bolton’s remarks, will be detrimental to our own interests and our position in the global community.

For other commentary regarding Bolton’s speech, see here and here.

 

John Bolton is right (sort of)—the ICC should not be able to prosecute Americans. How US law has major gaps in domestic accountability for war crimes.

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US National Security Advisor John Bolton. Photo Credit Gage Skidmore.

It has long been known that US National Security Advisor John Bolton is no fan of the International Criminal Court (ICC). But today marked a dramatic step up in his rhetoric, ahead of the ICC’s decision about an investigation into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan. Despite the fact than any ICC investigation will probably focus on the Taliban, the US is worried that American troops stationed in the country may be vulnerable to prosecution.

Ahead of the ICC’s announcement, Bolton claimed that the US will “ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States. We will sanction their funds in the U.S. financial system, and, we will prosecute them in the U.S. criminal system. We will do the same for any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans.” (However, it seems unclear if the President actually has the legal authority to do this.)

John Bolton is right about one thing: the ICC should not be able to prosecute Americans for war crimes or crimes against humanity. The fact that the ICC can reveals huge gaps in the American domestic legal system’s ability to hold citizens and foreign nations residing in the US accountable for mass atrocities.

Bolton’s pronouncements to the contrary, the ICC only has jurisdiction over crimes included in its statute committed by citizens or in the territory of states party to the Rome Statute. That is why the ICC only theoretically has jurisdiction over Americans for crimes committed in Afghanistan (and not, for instance, Yemen). Furthermore, the ICC is a court of last resort. The principle of complementarity means that the ICC can only prosecute individuals if other states are unwilling or unable to prosecute them first.

Despite Bolton’s claim that his opposition to the ICC is to protect American service members, US military personnel are arguably more protected from ICC prosecution by the principle of complementarity than other American civilians. The US military’s court martial system is generally ‘willing and able’ to hold service members accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, there is a huge gap in the American legal systems’ ability to hold American civilians and foreign nationals residing in the United States accountable for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed abroad.

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International Criminal Court poised to interpret the crime of ‘gender-based persecution’ for the first time

20 years after the ICC was established, the Court is poised to rule on the meaning of one of the most controversial words in its statute: ‘gender’.

Until recently, it didn’t look as if the Court would be interpreting the g-word any time soon. But in November 2017, Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda cited evidence of gender-based persecution in her request to open an investigation in Afghanistan, suggesting that the Pre-Trial Chamber would need to interpret this crime in the foreseeable future.

Jurisprudence on this point looks even more imminent now, following the arrest of Al-Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud, who the Prosecutor alleges was the chief of the Islamic police in Timbuktu, Mali, in 2012 and 2013.

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