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

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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

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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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