ICC Assembly of States Parties: Children and Conflict

An estimated 230 million children live in armed conflict-affected countries. Of these, approximately 250,000 children are involved in the conflicts themselves. Some are used for fighting; they themselves turned in to tools of war. Others may act as messengers, porters, cooks, or sex slaves. The UN Secretary-General’s 2016 report on children and armed conflict identified 58 parties to current conflicts that recruit and use children. This includes 7 government security forces and 51 non-state armed groups in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Nigeria, and Syria. As some of the most vulnerable members of society, children deserve and require concentrated efforts from the international community to protect them in times of conflict, to prevent their use in war, and to aggressively go after those who violate international law by victimising them in conflicts.

On 16 November 2016, the ICC Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) launched its Policy on Children aimed at strengthening ongoing efforts to address atrocity crimes against children as well as providing a framework for helping the OTP in their interactions with children from preliminary investigations to post-trial. On 18 November 2016, Canada hosted a side event at the ICC Assembly of States Parties (ASP) on “Child Soldiers: Prevention and Accountability”. This event united speakers on the preventative efforts of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative with ones on the accountability measures (from preliminary investigation to post-trial) of the ICC OTP.

“War has changed,” began LGen Dallaire (Ret’d), “therefore our tactics need to change.” As Commander of the UN Mission to Rwanda during the Rwanadan Genocide, LGen Dallaire faced first-hand the horror of children turned into weapons of war and the fundamental moral dilemma all soldiers and police forces face when confronted with an enemy combatant that is not merely a combatant, but also a child. These members of professional forces face the choice: don’t react and either take casualties or give up ground; or, react and have to live with the fact that they have used armed force against a child, they suffer. The Dallaire Initiative aims to address this gap that professional forces have in addressing the child dimension as well as to address the recruitment of children as tools of war. To achieve these ends, it focuses on training, research, and advocacy. Training to military, police, and peacekeepers to provide the necessary tools and knowledge to recognize and prevent the recruitment and use of child soldiers. Research to understand patterns of child recruitment, to identify that such recruitment and use can be a warning sign for mass atrocity and genocide, and to gain insights from former child soldiers. High-level advocacy with states, the United Nations, NATO, the African Union and so on, in an effort to have a direct impact on policy and procedures relating to child soldiers. Critically, the Dallaire Initiative takes a very practical approach to the issue rather than a legalistic approach. In other words, it focuses on practical reasoning for breaking down support among armed forces that recruit and use children, rather than merely on what the law says.  Ultimately, the organization seeks to prevent the recruitment of children before they suffer the horrors of being used as tools of war.

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La possibilité tangible de l’amorce d’une enquête relative aux crimes internationaux commis sur le territoire afghan

À l’aube de l’ouverture de la 15e session de l’Assemblée des États parties au Statut de Rome de la Cour pénale internationale (AÉP), la Procureure la Cour pénale internationale (CPI), Fatou Bensouda, a annoncé publiquement que l’examen préliminaire de son Bureau concernant la situation en Afghanistan pourrait déboucher de façon imminente sur l’ouverture d’une enquête relative aux allégations de crimes contre l’humanité et crimes de guerres qui auraient été commis par les Talibans, les services de sécurité afghans et le personnel des forces armées américaines dans le cadre du conflit armé opposant les forces progouvernementales et antigouvernementales.

Quelques jours plus tard, le Bureau du Procureur a publié le Rapport sur les enquêtes menées en 2016 en matière d’examen préliminaire (« Rapport 2016 ») dans lequel la Procureure Bensouda réitère que toutes les conditions requises pour ouvrir une enquête sont présentes et indique que « le Bureau [étant arrivé] au terme de son évaluation des facteurs énoncés aux alinéas a à c de l’article 53-1 du Statut, [il] s’apprête à décider, de façon imminente, de demander ou non à la Chambre préliminaire l’autorisation d’ouvrir une enquête sur la situation en République islamique d’Afghanistan à compter du 1er mai 2003 ».

Le premier Procureur de la CPI, Louis Moreno Ocampo, avait annoncé publiquement en 2007 l’ouverture d’un examen préliminaire en Afghanistan, qui a ratifié le Statut de Rome le 10 février 2003, donnant ainsi à la CPI une compétence sur les faits commis sur le territoire afghan ou par des ressortissants de ce pays à compter de 2003 pouvant constituer des crimes au sens de ce traité international.

Elle s’insérait alors dans le contexte du conflit en Afghanistan, amorcé dans la foulée des attaques terroristes du 11 septembre 2001, aux États-Unis. À la suite à ces attaques, une coalition de pays dirigée par les États-Unis a procédé à des frappes aériennes et à de multiples opérations terrestres en Afghanistan afin de déloger les Talibans, associés au réseau d’Al Qaeda. Ces opérations ont permis d’évincer les Talibans du pouvoir et de former un gouvernement provisoire en décembre 2001 sous les auspices de l’ONU, avant d’être remplacé en 2002 par un nouveau gouvernement afghan de transition. Les affrontements se sont néanmoins poursuivis et les Talibans et autres groupes armés opposés aux forces gouvernementales ainsi qu’à leurs alliés occidentaux ont regagné du terrain dans le sud et l’est du pays. Le conflit armé s’est par la suite intensifié et s’est étendu au nord et à l’ouest, alors qu’ont persisté de violents combats qui, entre 2007 et juin 2015, ont causé la mort de plus de 23 000 civils conformément aux chiffres révélés par la Mission d’assistance des Nations Unies en Afghanistan (MANUA)[1].

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Prosecutorial conduct in question (again) at the International Criminal Court

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Uhuru Kenyatta (photo credit: Wikipedia)

Readers of this blog will probably be aware that the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court spectacularly dropped the charges against Francis Muthaura, co-accused to Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, last month. This occurred after it was revealed that a key prosecution witness (known as Witness 4) had admitted to lying in earlier testimony and had recanted his testimony. This important piece of exculpatory evidence was not disclosed to the defence until after the confirmation of the charges hearing in January 2012, even though the admission had been made in 2010.

On the basis of the Muthaura acquittal and the fact of the non-disclosure, Kenyatta asked for the charges against him to also be dropped. The Kenyatta defence team further pointed to the fact that large swathes of prosecution evidence (including an estimated 24 of the 31 fact witnesses for the prosecution) had been gathered after the confirmation of charges hearing. In the alternative, Kenyatta submitted, the matter should be referred back to the Pre-Trial Chamber for reconsideration of the confirmation of the charges decision.

Last Friday, Kenyatta’s request was denied. Trial Chamber V held that a stay or termination of proceedings would be a disproportionate response. It also held that to refer the case back to the Pre-Trial Chamber on the basis of changes in evidence would exceed the Chamber’s statutory powers, insofar as it would essentially be exercising appellate functions over the original confirmation decision. Nonetheless, the Office of the Prosecutor did not escape censure in the decision. The majority noted its concern at:

the considerable volume of evidence collected by the Prosecution post-confirmation and the delays in disclosing all relevant evidence to the Defence.

Judge van den Wyngaert put her criticisms in even stronger terms, referring to the Prosecution’s ‘negligent attitude’. In a very strong separate opinion, Judge van den Wyngaert pointed out that the prosecution had failed to give any proper justification for the large amount of evidence collected post-confirmation, besides vaguely referring to the security situation in Kenya.

This incident is not the first time the Office of the Prosecutor has been criticised for its investigative conduct, of course. But this decision calls into question the appropriateness and effectiveness of reprimands as remedies, and whether reprimands are sufficiently punitive to deter carelessness when it comes to prosecutorial obligations.  A number of alternative sanctions may serve a greater deterrent function. For example, Caianiello has suggested that repeated violations of the disclosure obligation should, in exceptional cases, lead to a permanent stay of proceedings. But, as pointed out in the present decision, this remedy will often be disproportionate to the harm suffered. So what are the alternatives? Continue reading