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al Warafi’s Active Hostilities

by Deborah Pearlstein

Cross-posted at Just Security

As Marty Lederman’s earlier post explains, a D.C. district court is now considering the habeas petition of Guantanamo detainee Mukhtar Yahia Naji al Warafi, found in an earlier habeas case to be a member of the Taliban’s armed forces, who argues that because “hostilities” between the United States and the Taliban have ceased, the domestic statute (the AUMF) on which the United States has relied no longer authorizes his detention. Marty and I are, I believe, in substantial agreement about most aspects of the case. (And thanks to Marty for the link to my article, where I’ve written about the merits of these issues, and the role of the courts in resolving them, at length.)

But because both the briefs and (therefore) Marty’s post devote so much time to parsing the President’s statements about the existence of an armed conflict between the U.S. and the Taliban – statements I think only marginally relevant to the merits of al Warafi’s case – I want to clarify what this case mostly is, or should be, about.

Warafi’s petition is, appropriately, based on Article 118 of the Third Geneva Convention (GCIII), requiring that prisoners “shall be released and repatriated without delay after the cessation of active hostilities.” By its terms, GCIII only applies to international armed conflicts – that is, conflicts between two or more states. As I think all would agree, the conflict in Afghanistan has for some years been a non-international armed conflict – that is, a conflict between states (Afghanistan and the United States) on one side and several non-state parties (including a Taliban insurgency) on the other. But because Justice O’Connor expressly cited Article 118 in explaining the Court’s understanding of the scope of the AUMF in Hamdi, there has been little dispute since Hamdi that Article 118’s limitation on the duration of detention informs the “necessary and appropriate” scope of AUMF detentions.

Article 118 does not require a court (or anyone else) to determine whether the parties are in fact still in a state of “armed conflict” within the meaning of international law. The existence or not of an “armed conflict” can matter a great deal in some circumstances – most commonly, in the determination whether an individual may be tried for war crimes, a question at issue in our own military commission trials as we speak. It may also ultimately matter in al Warafi, for reasons I discuss below. But “armed conflict” (see GCIII Common Article 2) and “active hostilities” (in Article 118) are separate terms in the treaties, and were deliberately designed to refer to separate concepts, as well. As the Commentary to GCIII makes clear, the drafters of Article 118 were interested in hastening the release of prisoners, requiring their release at an earlier point than previously assumed – i.e., in the current version of the Conventions, as soon as the fighting stops. (In an interstate armed conflict, which is what Article 118 addresses directly, this point can occur before the end of the conflict.) The notion was in part to prevent parties from continuing to hold prisoners on some pretext, as some of the Allies did after World War II, keeping prisoners for purposes of forced labor. (For more on how the United States has ended its detention operations in wars of the past century, see here. Notably, the United States has often released prisoners back into conditions of hostilities far more active than what the U.S. brief now describes in Afghanistan.) The Article 118 rule was equally driven by an interest in letting prisoners return home without having to wait for a formal peace agreement to be concluded (or some other manifestation of often unattainable clarity in the relations between the parties).

Because Article 118 is thus aimed directly at the facts on the ground, as it were, claims based solely on what the President (or the Taliban, for that matter) says about the mission of the United States or the existence of an “armed conflict” can hardly be dispositive of whether “active hostilities” actually continue–and that is the relevant question, as the Government suggests in the back end of its brief (see the end of Marty’s post), but that Al Warafi strangely ignores. So what is actually happening on the ground in Afghanistan? Between the DOD General Counsel’s speech at ASIL some weeks back, and the U.S. brief filed in al Warafi, one might expect that we would have important insights into the answer to that question. Alas, we don’t yet know very much. This is no doubt due in part to some significant redactions in the government’s brief – passages the relevance of which is impossible to evaluate. And some unredacted parts of the government’s brief describe circumstances other than fighting: the presence of U.S. troops, for example, or the presence of a threat from Al Qaeda rather than the Taliban. These facts are of limited significance to the question of whether “active hostilities” between the U.S. and the Taliban continue. The U.S. military maintains a presence in numerous countries; that is hardly enough to constitute “active hostilities.” And the existence of a generalized, chronic “threat” from Al Qaeda or the Taliban – a claim the government brief makes repeatedly – likewise should not suffice. U.S. troops, civilian employees and nationals face threats all over the world. There is a difference between the threat of hostilities and actual, “active” hostilities.

What matters here is the handful of unredacted incidents the government notes on pages 14-15 of its brief – incidents involving actual attacks by the Taliban. Interestingly, however, of the four incidents cited, only one appears to involve a Taliban attack on U.S. military forces as such. One incident involves a Taliban infiltration of Afghan forces, in which three American civilian contractors were killed. Two others involve attacks on NATO forces, in which two U.S. troops were killed. The last involves “an attack by a suicide car bomber” near a U.S. military base, which is not reported to have resulted in any American casualties.

Without for a moment discounting the immeasurable human cost of such incidents, it is here that understanding the meaning of “active hostilities” might be informed with reference to the nature of “armed conflict.” Article 118 uses the term “active hostilities” rather than “armed conflict” not to suggest that prisoners could be held even after the conclusion of full-fledged armed conflict, as long as any low level of hostilities exists. Rather, that article makes the continuation of “active hostilities” the condition for continued detention for the opposite reason – that is, to facilitate the release of prisoners as soon as conditions make it possible, whether or not the parties have succeeded in agreeing to a formal end to armed conflict. It is difficult to imagine that the drafters of this provision imagined a condition of zero violence would be required before prisoners would be entitled to release. That is, it is difficult to imagine the drafters wished to replace one too-practically-difficult condition for the termination of detention with another too-practically-difficult condition, given their express concern for the reality, as the Commentary puts it, “that captivity is a painful situation which must be ended as soon as possible.” The “active hostilities” term is better read as embodying a pragmatic standard, with a finger on the scale of release. Whether the redacted passages of the government’s brief reveal that active hostilities are yet over or not, the legal standard should not require conditions of absolute peace to conclude that they are.

The ILC takes up Jus Cogens

by Kristen Boon

On May 27, 2015 Mr. Dire Tladi of South Africa was appointed Special Rapporteur for a new topic on the International Law Commission’s agenda:  jus cogens.  The progressive development and codification of jus cogens principles marks a significant step forward.  For many years it was considered, as Ian Brownlie once quipped, “like the car that never left the garage.”  The ILC’s syllabus, available here, suggests a bright new future lies ahead.

The scope of the Commission’s inquiry is likely to focus on the following elements:  the nature of jus cogens; requirements for the identification of a norm as jus cogens; an illustrative list of norms which have achieved the status of jus cogens; consequences or effects of jus cogens.

If you are interested in updates on the ILC’s work such as this one, I encourage you to sign up for Arnold Pronto’s new twitter feed. Arnold is a Senior Legal Officer in the Codification Division in the Office of Legal Affairs, and is the new UN Representative for an ILA group that will be preparing a report on international law activities at the UN twice a year.   Arnold will be tweeting out international law related events as they happen here at the UN. If you’re interested, he is at @arnoldpronto 

The nature and scope of the war in Afghanistan

by Jens David Ohlin

Two recent court filings bring to light important questions about the scope and nature of the armed conflict in Afghanistan. Who would have thought that so many years after 9/11 we would still be asking important questions about the nature of the hostilities there.

First, on May 20, 1995, counsel for detainee Al Warafi filed a reply brief in his habeas litigation in the D.C. district court. Warafi argues that his law of war detention is illegal under international law because the war in Afghanistan is over. Under applicable international law, detainees held pursuant to the law of armed conflict should be repatriated upon the conclusion of the armed conflict that served as the factual and legal predicate for their detention. As evidence that the war in Afghanistan is over, Warafi points — as he has in previous filings — to declarations made by President Obama that the war in Afghanistan is over. This is a clever argument because it appeals to a pre-existing tenet of the separation-of-powers jurisprudence that federal courts, and especially the D.C. Circuit, have respected before: that the judiciary should defer to executive branch judgments about matters pertaining to national security and armed conflict. If the President believes that the war in Afghanistan is over, why should a federal judge decide differently? See Ludecke v. Watkins (1948).

In the government’s opposition brief filed in April, the Justice Department makes a distinction between the existence of an armed conflict and the existence of ongoing hostilities. If I understand the government’s position correctly, the Justice Department is arguing that irrespective of what President Obama has said publicly about the end of the “war” in Afghanistan, executive branch officials have consistently noted that there are ongoing hostilities in Afghanistan and that U.S. DoD personnel continue to be engaged in military operations there. (Indeed, the Defense Department General Counsel gave a major policy address at the American Society of International Law Annual Meeting in April 2015, which many OJ readers attended, where he specifically noted that the U.S. military continues to operate in Afghanistan in offensive military operations).

This argument can be interpreted in multiple ways. First, it could mean that the foundation for law-of-war detention is not the existence of a state of armed conflict between the parties but rather the existence of ongoing hostilities; these two factors usually coincide but at their margins they might diverge, especially before and after an armed conflict. Second, it could mean that the President was talking about war in a political or even constitutional sense, but was not making a statement regarding the formal existence of an armed conflict in the sense that it is meaningful for IHL lawyers.

In his reply brief, Al Warafi argues that “war”, “combat mission”, and “hostilities” are co-extensive terms, so that the President’s announcement of the end of the combat mission is logically the same as announcing the end of the armed conflict in Afghanistan. Also, Al Warafi argues that the ASIL policy address by DoD is irrelevant to the analysis because it came after Al Warafi filed his petition. Indeed, the reply brief refers to the ASIL speech as “self-serving” — implying that the DoD was motivated to make those statements by a legal need to justify Al Warafi’s continued detention (and any others who are similarly situated).

Now for the second litigation. Hamidullin was a Taliban commander in Afghanistan who engaged in military action against US forces. He was captured, brought to the US, and then indicted in federal court in Virginia for providing material support to terrorism and other charges. On May 4, 2015, he filed a motion to have the indictment dismissed, arguing among other things that he was protected by combatant immunity while engaged in hostilities in Afghanistan. His motion will require the court to pass judgment on the nature of the armed conflict in Afghanistan at the time he engaged in his acts of belligerency (2009).

Clearly, the armed conflict between the US and Afghanistan began as an international armed conflict (IAC). Everyone agrees on that. However, I think the US government position is that once the Taliban were defeated and removed from power, the conflict transformed into a non-international armed conflict (NIAC) between the new government of Afghanistan and the Taliban acting as a non-state actor. The U.S. is a party to this conflict as a co-belligerent fighting alongside the “new” government of Afghanistan, helping them to fight their NIAC against the Taliban.

However, Hamidullin has an innovative argument. He contends that the Geneva Conventions extend combatant immunity to deposed government forces who were protected by the privilege before they were removed from power. Here is the bulk of the argument:

Given the ongoing protracted conflict in Afghanistan, the displacement of the Taliban government in December 2001 did not fundamentally alter the fact that the conflict began as an international armed conflict between two contracting parties to the Geneva Conventions. Indeed, article 4(A)(3) of the GPW was designed to encompass the armed forces of a government that was deposed by an invading state. Specifically, the language defines prisoners of war to include
“members of regular armed forces who profess allegiance to a government or an authority not recognized by the Detaining Power.” GPW, art. 4(A)(3), 6 U.S.T. at 3320, 75 U.N.T.S. at 138. This provision was an innovation over previous international treaties, and was specifically drafted to cover “members of regular armed forces, like the Free French in the Second World War.” George Aldrich, Symposium: the Hague Peace Conferences: the Laws of War on Land, 94 Am. J. Int’l L. 42, 43 (Jan. 2000). In other words, the GPW was intentionally crafted to
include the armed forces of a deposed government as prisoners of war, even when a successor government (i.e., the Vichy regime or the government of Hamid Karzai) is recognized by the detaining power (i.e., Germany or the United States) as the legitimate government of the territory.

The Commentary to the GPW likewise explains that this provision “covers armed forces which continue to fight in a ‘national redoubt’, under the orders of an authority or Government which has its headquarters in that part of the country while the occupying authorities may have recognized a Government, which may or may not support them, in that part of the country occupied by their troops.” Commentary on III Geneva Convention at 63-64 (Jean Pictet ed. 1960). Article 4(A)(3) thus applies in the context of a “partial or total occupation of the territory
of a High Contracting Party,” GPW art. 2, 6 U.S.T. at 3318, 75 U.N.T.S. at 136, a condition under which the provisions of the Third Geneva Convention “shall apply.” Id

Does this argument work? As readers now, I am very interested in arguments regarding the extension of the combatant’s privilege to non-state actors in some very limited circumstances. (In general, I believe that the current literature over-simplifies the dichotomy between IAC and NIAC and falsely assumes that the privilege is never available outside full-blown IACs). It seems intuitively correct to me that it would be absurd for IHL to withdraw the privilege of combatancy the minute the government forces are forced from power and are rebranded–by their opponents–as rebels and non-state actors. On the other hand, does this grace period last forever? Say what you will about this argument, but the Taliban were forced from power a long time ago in Afghanistan.

I would note that the Pictet Commentary also includes the following passages, not quoted in the brief above:

It is not expressly stated that this Government or authority must, as a minimum requirement, be recognized by third States, but this condition is consistent with the spirit of the provision, which was founded on the specific case of the forces of General de Gaulle. It is also necessary that this authority, which is not recognized by the adversary, should either consider itself as representing one of the High Contracting Parties, or declare that it accepts the obligations stipulated in the Convention and wishes to apply them.

This latter paragraph raises two important questions that I direct to OJ readers. First, has the Taliban formally declared that it accepts the obligations of the Geneva Convention and wishes to apply them? Second, and more importantly, is the Taliban recognized as the legitimate authority of Afghanistan by third parties? I honestly do not know the answer to that question and would like to hear from readers on this point. I think the Pictet Commentary is suggesting here that this Geneva provision should not apply in the case of non-recognized forces whose lack of recognition flows not just from their adversary in the armed conflict but is, rather, universal non-recognition from everyone. This would seem to be an important qualification to prevent the provision from being manipulated.

 

Don’t Cry for Sovereign Debtors: Why Argentina’s Defeat in U.S. Courts Does Not Justify a Sovereign Debt Treaty

by Julian Ku

The Argentina sovereign debt mess is still not resolved, but already folks are debating its larger consequences for international economic governance. In particular, there continue to be calls for a new international sovereign debt mechanism to prevent another Argentina-style U.S. litigation. But although I agree that there are decent arguments for some sort of international treaty-based mechanism for sovereign debt restructuring, I disagree that the Argentina-debt litigation in the U.S. is one of them.  You can read a fuller (much longer) version of this argument in  the just posted issue of the University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law.  

Dear World Media: The U.S. is NOT Challenging China’s Territorial Claims in the South China Sea (Yet)

by Julian Ku

I have been following closely the U.S. Navy’s plans to use military ships and aircraft to challenge China’s aggressive land reclamation activities in the South China Sea, and China’s not very positive reaction to these plans.  But although there is a real dispute brewing here that could escalate into a sovereignty fight, I think media reports are making this dispute more serious than it actually is.

Contrary to some media reports, the U.S. Navy plans do NOT intend to challenge China’s “sovereignty” claims in the South China Sea. Instead, the U.S. Navy is asserting its rights to freedom of navigation under international law. If we understand the U.S. Navy plans in this context, it may help us defuse (at least somewhat) the growing tensions between the U.S. and China in this region, if only the media would help us out with better reporting.

From CNN, here is an example of how media reporting is making this dispute seem worse than it is.

Above the South China Sea (CNN)The Chinese navy issued warnings eight times as a U.S. surveillance plane on Wednesday swooped over islands that Beijing is using to extend its zone of influence.

The series of man-made islands and the massive Chinese military build-up on them have alarmed the Pentagon, which is carrying out the surveillance flights in order to make clear the U.S. does not recognize China’s territorial claims.

(Emphasis added). This report feeds into the (accurate) narrative about growing tensions between the US and Chinese navies.  In this story, the US Navy is flying “over” the Chinese islands in order to challenge or reject China’s territorial claims.  But later in that same report, CNN says that U.S. Navy is considering “flying such surveillance missions even closer over the islands, as well as sailing U.S. warships within miles of them, as part of the new, more robust U.S. military posture in the area.” (emphasis added).

Here’s the problem.  If the U.S. Navy aircraft featured in the CNN video (a military surveillance plane and “sub hunter”) actually flew “over” the Chinese artificial islands, then why would they consider flying even closer “over” the islands and what would be the significance of sending naval ships?

In fact, the US Navy has tried to make it clear to reporters that they are merely conducting freedom of navigation operations and “that U.S. military aircraft do not fly directly over areas claimed by China in the Spratly Islands.” (in the washington post).  It’s my guess that the Navy hasn’t even flown within 12 nautical miles of the artificial islands.

Why? Because as far as I can tell, this is a standard US Navy “freedom of navigation” operation that it uses to assert international law rights of navigation against numerous countries around the world.  It is NOT, as the CNN and other reports suggest, a challenge to China’s territorial claims.

Freedom of Navigation” operations involve sending US Navy warships into both the 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone and the 12 nautical mile territorial seas recognized under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.  In the view of  the U.S., military warships and aircraft are free to conduct surveillance operations (e.g. spying) in any country’s 200 nm EEZ and surface warships (but not military aircraft or submarines) have the right to “innocent passage” through a country’s 12 nautical mile territorial waters.

The U.S. Navy has been conducting  “freedom of navigation” operations for decades to enforce these views of international law, and it even has a “Freedom of Navigation” website making public where it has been operating. The point of these operations it to publicly challenge a country which is making (in the U.S. view) unjustified legal rights under UNCLOS.  China has a longstanding disagreement with this U.S. interpretation of UNCLOS. So they always make protests, and China has sometimes sent its fighter jets out to harass or challenge US spy aircraft.

But the bottom line: pace CNN, freedom of navigation operations are not challenges to “territorial claims” or “sovereignty.” The US Navy operations assume that the other nation has “sovereignty” over the relevant coastline or island.  So the US Navy operations near China’s artificial islands can assume that China has sovereignty but still demand China allow US military aircraft and ships  transit rights etc. under UNCLOS.

It is worth noting that the U.S. could escalate the dispute with China.  The U.S. might take the view that China is building artificial islands on top  of reefs or submerged features which do not entitle China to any legal rights at all (See UNCLOS, Art.60(8): “Artificial islands, installations and structures do not possess the status of islands. They have no territorial sea of their own, and their presence does not affect the delimitation of the territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone or the continental shelf.”).  If so, then the US would fly within 12 nm miles or even directly “over” the artificial islands. Such operations would effectively be a direct challenge  to a China’s territorial claims, because the U.S. would be taking the view that China has no territorial basis at all for claims in the South China Sea.

“Challenging legal rights under UNCLOS” doesn’t make for very sexy headlines or get many clicks as compared to “challenging China’s territorial claims”. But it is worth parsing media reports about US Navy activities in the South China Sea very carefully, and it would be nice of those well-sourced reporters would clarify just how close the US Navy is going to fly/sail to China’s reclaimed islands.

Maybe the U.S. government should directly challenge China’s territorial claims and sovereignty claims.  I am not sure in my own mind whether the U.S. should take that next step.   But for now, the U.S. hasn’t challenged China’s territorial claims yet, and I wish reporters would stop making it seem like it is doing so.

Guest Post: Five Questions on the Colombian Sentencing Practice and the Principle of Complementarity under the Rome Statue

by Marina Aksenova

[Marina Aksenova is a post-doc in the Centre for Excellence for International Courts, Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen.]

The ICC prosecution team has been conducting preliminary examinations in Colombia for over ten years and has yet to decide whether to move to the stage of formal investigations. In doing so, it must assess, among other things, whether reduced or suspended sentences rendered to senior perpetrators by the local judiciary are adequate in light of the gravity of the crimes committed during the continuing civil war. The ICC prosecution noted in its 2012 report on Colombia that some paramilitaries may benefit from the sentences of 5 to 8 years imprisonment if convicted of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes provided they demobilize. The matter is further complicated by the ICC’s capacity to frustrate the ongoing peace negotiations between the government and the FARC guerrillas. These talks aim at ending a conflict disrupting the country for over fifty years.

The issue of sentencing in Colombia illustrates the difficulties the Court faces in applying the principle of complementarity in practice. What are the exact criteria of assessing the state’s willingness to undertake genuine prosecutions? The ICC will evaluate domestic penalties with the reference to two different legal regimes provided by the Rome Statute – admissibility and sentencing. Up until now, the Court has not treated these two issues in conjunction with each other. The post discusses five specific concerns that this exercise may produce. This working paper elaborates on the context surrounding the questions presented below.

  1. Proportionality of sentences

The idea that a penalty must be in proportion to the gravity of the crime is widely accepted in international criminal law. In the Lubanga sentencing decision (para. 36), the ICC held that the ‘gravity of the crime’ is one of the principal factors to be considered in the determination of sentence, which should be in proportion to the offence and reflect the culpability of the convicted person. How will this consideration play out in the complementarity analysis? Will a sentence of 5 to 8 years of imprisonment for crimes against humanity and war crimes be considered grossly disproportionate?

The principle of complementarity presupposes the primacy of states in handling cases domestically. Thus, according to Article 17 of the Rome Statute, a case comes within the purview of the Court only if the crimes are of sufficient gravity and the country in question is unable or unwilling to address them via its national criminal justice system. Article 17(2) specifies that the state is ‘unwilling’ if it initiates the proceedings with an unjustified delay or with the purpose of shielding the person concerned from criminal responsibility or fails to conduct the proceedings independently or impartially – all of which signals lack of intent to bring the person concerned to justice. It is important that the offences allegedly prosecuted and investigated on a national level cover substantially the same conduct as those charged by the ICC, while legal characterization of the underlying incidents matters less.

Consequently, even if domestic prosecutions cover the ‘same conduct’ but result in disproportionately light penalties, this may evidence the state’s intent to shield some persons from responsibility, and, thus, render the case admissible to the ICC. There are three caveats to this argument. First, the ICC’s own sentencing practice so far has been rather lenient: Thomas Lubanga received a sentence of 14 years of imprisonment and Germain Katanga received a sentence of 12 years. The Lubanga analysis of proportionality suggests that no rigid guidelines are available for measuring the correlation between the gravity of the offence and the sentence. The Chamber in its sentencing decision (paras. 92-93) rejected the strict numerical approach suggested by the OTP and upheld its own discretion to assess the totality of factors when deciding on the ultimate number of years of imprisonment. The deficiencies in Mr. Lunbanga’s mens rea and his cooperation with the Court played an important role in the determination of his sentence.

Secondly, in the Al Senussi admissibility decision (paras. 218-219), the ICC dealt with the reverse situation  – the Defence argued that the threat of a death penalty, which the accused faced in Libya, rendered the case admissible because of the adverse effect on the accused. The ICC rejected this plea and granted local authorities a wide margin of appreciation when it comes to punishment, claiming it is not a human rights court. One might expect similar flexibility in cases on the other side of the spectrum.

Finally, Article 53(1)(c) of the Rome Statute allows some room for a manoeuvre granting the prosecution the power not to commence an investigation even where the situation is formally admissible if it serves the ‘interests of justice’. The ‘interests of justice’ is a broad category open to various interpretations, but ultimately it leaves the door open for a political compromise. The fragility of the Colombian peace talks is likely to fall within this category because arguably it provides for a valid reason not to proceed to the official investigations by the ICC.

  1. Participation of the convicted persons in political life

Participation of convicted persons in political life is a burning issue in the peace talks in Colombia. Many senior perpetrators have links to the government or the FARC and hope to remain in power after a deal has been reached. Even if certain leaders from both sides receive formal punishment, the question still remains whether these people will be allowed to form part of a future government. Is it possible to conceive of suspended or lenient sentences as sufficiently reflecting public censure if the convicted person re-enters politics? Can such punishment deter future violations by senior perpetrators?

The Rome Statute does not give any guidance as to whether convicted persons may participate in political life; it restricts the types of punishment to a maximum sentence of 30 years of imprisonment, fine and forfeiture of assets. If one looks at the broader picture, Article 27 renders the official capacity as is generally irrelevant to the ICC prosecutions. This provision is not directly relevant to sentencing, but it reflects the spirit of the Rome Statute. One might argue that for this reason alone the ICC may criticize participation of the convicted person’s in political life.

In its complementarity analysis, the ICC may also refer to the general sentencing practice of the respective state. The Colombian Criminal Code appears rather flexible in this regard; it leaves it up to the judges to decide whether to ban the offender from political life. The law provides for the suspension of rights and public functions as well as the loss of public office as an additional punishment for various offences, such as, murder of certain persons. Loss of public office can last up to 5 years, while suspension of other rights can vary from 5 to 20 years. In certain circumstances, rights can be restored at an earlier date (Articles 43(1), 43(2), 92, 135 of the Colombian Criminal Code).

The ICC is unlikely to be guided solely by the provisions of Colombian law, however. Instead, it is may look at the standards applicable in other states in an attempt to discern generally recognized principles of law deriving from the multitude of domestic legal systems. This is one of the sources of international law along with treaty and custom. It seems that in some jurisdictions there is a blanket prohibition to occupy public posts for those convicted of serious offences. For example, Article 45 of the German Criminal Code reads as follows: ‘Whoever is sentenced for a serious criminal offense to imprisonment for at least one year shall lose for a period of five years the capacity to hold public office and attain public electoral rights.’ This provision reflects an understanding that the public censure element of punishment is severely compromised if someone convicted of a grave offence is allowed to re-enter public life.

  1. Relevance of domestic law for the ICC complementarity analysis

The Rome Statute does not suggest that the ICC should consider the scale of penalties of the relevant state. Its determination of sentences shall solely be guided by the gravity of the crime, individual circumstances of the accused, and mitigating and aggravating factors. It is in contrast to the statutes of the ad hoc tribunals, which allow recourse to domestic law; although, it has rarely been seen in practice.

The ICC will assess Colombian criminal law in its complementarity analysis in the light of the principles enshrined in the Rome Statute and international law. The general principle is that the person cannot invoke domestic law to avoid responsibility under international criminal law. When it comes to the admissibility test, it is essential that the penalty imposed at the national level is not intended to shield the person from criminal responsibility.

  1. Disparity of sentences

The sentencing practice of the Colombian courts shows some disparity in sentences meted out to various parties to the conflict. Colombia attempts to bring to justice different responsible actors, but their penalties are significantly different. How will this aspect play out in the complementarity analysis of the ICC? The question of disparate sentences is tightly linked with the idea of individualized punishments and judicial discretion widely accepted at the ICC. There are a number of factors that might support Colombia’s claim for lenient (and, to a lesser extent, suspended) and/or disparate sentences.

Firstly, it seems that the ICC prosecution already pointed to broad discretion of the Colombian judiciary in its 2012 report (para. 206), when it confirmed that the ICC would examine local sentences individually on the basis of particular factors, such as, the intent to bring perpetrators to justice, the gravity of the crimes and the efforts to establish the truth. Secondly, the ICC practice itself shows relative leniency in its two available sentencing rulings. Thirdly, the reasoning in the Katanga sentencing decision (para. 38) exhibits a trend of integrating reconciliatory aims in sentencing considerations. Fourthly, the Rome Statute upholds the power of the prosecution to halt investigations if it is not in the ‘interests of justice’ in light of the gravity of the crimes and the interests of victims.

  1. Remedy to the victims

When combining two legal frameworks for the purposes of complementarity analysis, the ICC might have to decide where it stands on the issue of enforcement of human rights and victims’ rights. In the recent complementarity decision in the Al Senussi case (paras. 218-219), the ICC refused to act as a human rights court and rendered the case inadmissible, notwithstanding the death penalty threatening the accused. The Court’s view might be altered when victims’ rights are at stake, as is the case in Colombia. Both the Colombian national legislation and the Rome Statute contain provisions upholding victims’ rights in the process of criminal adjudication. Reduced sentences for war crimes and crimes against humanity may be at odds with the victims’ quest for justice. One way to resolve this contradiction is to ensure that victims receive adequate reparations for their suffering. It will not ‘offset’ the perceived impunity of senior perpetrators entirely, but it will help in mitigating the concern.

Weekly News Wrap: Monday, May 25, 2015

by Jessica Dorsey

Africa

Middle East and Northern Africa

Asia

Europe

Americas

Oceania

UN/World

Events and Announcements: May 24, 2015

by Jessica Dorsey

Events

  • The University of Essex is hosting the Spring Conference of the International Law Association (British Branch) on 29th – 30th May 2015, on the theme of ‘International Law as a Mechanism for Justice’. The keynote speakers will be Howard Morrison CBE QC, Judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and Professor Francesco Francioni, European University Institute. The programme and information on registration and accommodation are available here. Should you have any queries about the conference, please feel free to get in touch at the following address: ilaconference2015 [at] essex [dot] ac [dot] uk.
  • On 28 May 2015, the British Institute of International and Comparative Law (BIICL) will host a seminar entitled ‘Ethics in the “International Bar”: Rules, Gaps and Improvements in the Regulation of the Professional Ethics before International Courts and Tribunals’. This event is part of the Temple Garden Chambers Seminar Series in International Adjudication. While there is no universally accepted code on ethical requirements in proceedings before international courts and tribunals, ethical conduct in the “International Bar” is one of the most important issues in contemporary international adjudication. Many international courts (such as the ECHR, the ICC, the ICTY and ICTR) have adopted rules that regulate the behaviour of prosecutors, counsels and judges. Similarly, several professional associations (such as the IBA, the ILA and the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe) have adopted non-binding codes of conduct for litigants and judges. This seminar will focus on the need to uphold the highest ethical standards in international adjudication. In addition, it will identify gaps in the existing documents and mechanisms for the maintenance of professional integrity in the “International Bar” and suggest improvements. This event will be chaired by Karim Khan QC with keynote speaker, Judge Jean-Pierre Cot (ITLOS). Discussants include Dr Arman Sarvarian (University of Surrey) and José María Alonso (Baker & McKenzie – Madrid). Download the Event Flyer here.

Calls for Papers

  • Call for Papers – International Organisations and the Rule of Law: Perils and Promise, Victoria University of Wellington Faculty of Law, New Zealand, 7-8 December 2015. This workshop will take a fresh look at the resources that international law possesses to ensure that international organisations (IOs) are held accountable for their errors and excesses, while remaining relevant and effective in the face of ever growing global challenges. How can international law develop in a way that preserves and enhances the dynamic possibilities of IOs while making sure that they comply with the rule of law? Can international law offer solutions, or is it part of the problem? The workshop organisers welcome papers that present original legal or empirical research; theoretical reflections; case studies from practice; and critical and historical perspectives. For more details see the call for papers.
  • Call for Papers: Development and the Rule of Law: from Research to Practice. The Global Rule of Law Exchange, a new project at the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, seeks to address key challenges posed by global development and its relationship to the rule of law. It will consider the challenges in respect of developing the rule of law in emerging economies, with regard to issues such as access to justice, corruption, legal certainty, government decision-making and the measurement of success in rule of law interventions. Other issues include – but are not limited to – growth, investment and the effects on national economies and local communities; the relationship between formal and informal legal systems; and the extent to which access to justice is or could be an instrument of empowerment and of more equal distribution of resources. Among its work, the Exchange is keen to foster empirical and comparative knowledge on what works and what does not in rule of law interventions, encourage discussions on their impact, as well as to identify good practice, research gaps, and ways forward. To this end, the Exchange will compile a list of short papers (such as think pieces, practice notes, policy documents, etc.) of around 1,500 – 3,000 words presenting research, case-studies and evidence from the field. Multidisciplinary analyses are encouraged, as are quantitative and qualitative studies. Conferences will be organised in London and in the United States in late 2015 and early 2016 to discuss the papers (date TBA). Shortlisted papers will feature in an edited publication, but the Exchange is also exploring opportunities of publishing a collection of these articles in a peer-reviewed journal. A 150-300 word abstract of the paper should be submitted by 30 June 2015, with final papers by 30 September 2015. (more information here.)

Announcements

  • The American Society of International Law (ASIL) and its Women in International Law Interest Group (WILIG) are now launching the third year of the Women in International Law Mentoring Program. Since 2013, over 240 women have participated in ASIL’s mentoring program as both mentors and mentees in 17 cities from Tucson to Singapore. The feedback has been extremely positive, and with the enthusiasm of our current participants, we have built a strong, inter-connected, and global network. We hope to reach more women for the 2015-16 program! The Women in International Law Mentoring Program is the first of its kind in international law and is designed to foster the next generation of female international lawyers. The program connects experienced female international law professionals with female law students and new attorneys interested in professional development in the field of international law. Mentoring takes place locally, in a group setting, with a maximum of four mentees for every mentor. Mentors and mentees meet in person every other month during the course of an academic year to discuss topics and engage in activities designed to help junior women enter and be successful in the field of international law. Mentors will be provided with optional pre-planned meeting topics to structure meetings for their groups. Upon finishing the requirements of the one-year program, all participants receive a certificate of completion.

Our previous events and announcements post can be found here. If you would like to post an announcement on Opinio Juris, please contact us with a one-paragraph description of your announcement along with hyperlinks to more information.

When the Left Shoots Itself in the Foot (IHL Version)

by Kevin Jon Heller

Last week, I made the mistake of relying on an article in Electronic Intifada about a recent speech by Moshe Ya’alon, the Israeli Defense Minister. Here are the relevant paragraphs in the article:

Israeli defense minister Moshe Yaalon on Tuesday said Israel would attack entire civilian neighborhoods during any future assault on Gaza or Lebanon.

Speaking at a conference in Jerusalem, Yaalon threatened that “we are going to hurt Lebanese civilians to include kids of the family. We went through a very long deep discussion … we did it then, we did it in [the] Gaza Strip, we are going to do it in any round of hostilities in the future.”

I probably should have known better than to rely on an article entitled, in relevant part, “Israeli defense minister promises to kill more civilians.” Prompted by a skeptical commenter, I watched the video of Ya’alon’s speech. And the video makes clear that the author of the article, Asa Winstanley, selectively quoted what Ya’alon said in order to make it seem like Ya’alon was advocating deliberately attacking civilians. In fact, Ya’alon was discussing a possible attack on a rocket launcher located in a civilian house and acknowledging that, if the IDF launched the attack, it was clear they were “going to hurt Lebanese civilians to include kids of the family.” The IDF launched the attack anyway, believing that the military advantage outweighed the certain civilian damage.

Bothered by being suckered into making such a significant mistake, I tweeted Winstanley about his selective quotation. Perhaps he had not actually seen the video? His response was disappointing, to put it mildly. Instead of acknowledging his mistake, he repeated the selective quote. I replied that the video made clear Ya’alon was talking about Israel’s proportionality calculation, not deliberate attacks on civilians, and pointed out that civilian damage is permissible under IHL unless the anticipated civilian damage caused by an attack is excessive in relation to the expected military advantage. I also noted that I thought the attack Ya’alon was discussing was still illegal, because in my view killing a number of civilians in order to take out one rocket launcher was disproportionate.

At that point, it’s safe to say, Winstanley simply lost it. Here are some of his tweets, with my thoughts in the parentheticals…

Guest Post: The Death Penalty for Drug Offences: ‘Asian Values’ or Drug Treaty Influence?

by Rick Lines, Damon Barrett and Patrick Gallahue

[Dr Rick Lines is Executive Director of Harm Reduction International, and a Visiting Fellow at the Human Rights Centre, University of Essex. Damon Barrett is the Director of the International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy at the Human Rights Centre, University of Essex and a doctoral candidate in the Department of Law, Stockholm University. Patrick Gallahue is the Communications Director at the ACLU-Connecticut, and former Coordinator of the Death Penalty Project at Harm Reduction International. He is a doctoral candidate in the Human Rights Centre, University of Essex.]

Recent mass executions by the Government of Indonesia have thrown the international spotlight on the death penalty for drug offences, and ignited debates between abolitionist and retentionist States on the legality and efficacy of this sanction. This international attention is to be welcomed.

When we established the death penalty for drugs project in 2007 at the NGO Harm Reduction International, it was the first and only project specifically dedicated to research, analysis and advocacy on what at the time was a little understood issue. Our reports tracked State practice, estimating that up to 1,000 people a year were executed for drug offences worldwide, promoted the case that the death penalty for drugs constitutes a violation of international human rights law and documented direct links between UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) country assistance programmes and executions for drug offences.

But despite the clear evidence of the illegal nature of the sanction, and the growing chorus of voices calling for its abolition, a small and increasingly isolated group of countries continues to kill people for drug offences. In executing fourteen people in a matter of months, the Government of Indonesia has aligned itself with the extreme fringe of even this isolated group, joining just four other States (China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam) that execute people for drug offences with regularity and/or in great numbers.

Political leaders and commentators often try to excuse or explain the death penalty for drug offences in Asian or Middle Eastern countries on the basis that the practice reflects unique values and traditions of the regions, or that the application of international human rights law represents a foreign intervention into domestic matters. However, like so many defenses of this indefensible practice, this one crumbles under scrutiny.

For the majority of States actively executing drug offenders, the practice is about as ‘traditional’ in legal or historical legal terms as the microwave oven is in cooking terms, and in most cases even less so. Most of the dozen States that actively execute drug offenders adopted these laws from the 1980s onwards, suggesting that rather than reflecting traditional ‘values’ of the region these policies are instead a response to the anti-drugs climate of the period, and the drafting and adoption of the 1988 United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, the third UN drug treaty that established State obligations in international law to enact harsh penal provisions for drug offences at domestic level.

Consider some of those States actively executing drug offenders, and compare the dates of enacting these laws against their signing or ratification of the 1988 drug treaty.

State Treaty Signed Treaty Ratified Capital Drug Law
Indonesia 1989 1999 1995
Viet Nam 1997 1999
Saudi Arabia 1992 1987
Kuwait 1989 2000 1995
Thailand 2002 1979
Pakistan 1989 1991 1997
Egypt 1988 1991 1989
Yemen 1988 1996 1993
Singapore 1997 1975
Malaysia 1988 1993 1975

With the exception of China and Iran, which have had capital punishment for drug offences since the 1940s and 1950s respectively, only Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand have capital drug laws that predate the drafting process of the 1988 drug treaty. Even then, those 1970s laws fall squarely with the era of the modern international drug control treaty regime, in which penal approaches to drug suppression were increasingly prioritised. More specifically, they fall within the period of the global ‘war on drugs’, launched by the U.S. in the early 1970s, which formed the international political backdrop for the drafting of the 1988 treaty.

Indonesia is actually a case that neatly proves the fallacy of this argument. Far from being a longstanding ‘traditional’ part of the domestic criminal justice system, the first person executed for drug offences in Indonesia was in 1995, six years after the State signed the 1988 convention. Indonesia executed five people in total for all offences between 2009 and 2014, all in the year 2013. In the other five years, the Government executed no one at all. Yet now in the first few months of 2015, the Government has executed fourteen people, all for drug offences. How to we explain this pattern? Did Indonesian ‘traditions’ or ‘values’ change between 1995 and 2009, then change again in 2009, and again in 2015? Or did the Government, and Government policy, change in response to domestic political considerations and the perceived political weakness of its leader?

A 2001 UN report recorded a more than 50% increase in the number of countries prescribing the death penalty for drugs into domestic law between 1985 and 2000. Surely this dramatic shift in State practice in a relatively short span of fifteen years did not reflect changes in national traditions or cultures.   Rather, the use of the death penalty for drug offences reflected developments in international drug control law, and the increasingly punitive nature of the regime throughout the 1970s, as codified in the 1988 drug convention. As we have pointed out elsewhere, this dramatic increase in States prescribing the death penalty for drug offences runs exactly opposite to the overall international trend towards the abolition of capital punishment documented during that same period. The irony here is obvious, as many death penalty States are all-too-happy to amend domestic laws based on UN drug control treaties, while at the same time claiming that UN human rights treaties represent an inappropriate infringement on domestic affairs.

Perhaps the most obvious fact exposing these arguments as baseless is that the vast majority of countries in the region do not execute people for drug crimes. There are 49 countries in the huge region of Asia and the Middle East. Of these, only a dozen actively execute people of drug offences, and only four or five execute people with any regularity or in any great number. Rather than capital punishment being a ‘shared’ regional approach to drugs, the countries executing drug offenders are a minority, and those executing with regularity represent a tiny minority of only one in ten.

If we take State practice as a guide, the true regional approach to drug enforcement is the non-use of capital punishment. Placed in this broader context, the tiny group of high-executing States can be seen as the extreme fringe their policies actually represent.

Regulation 55 and the Irrelevance of the Confirmation Hearing

by Kevin Jon Heller

It’s becoming an old story: the Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) rejects a charged mode of liability after a confirmation hearing, so the OTP simply asks the Trial Chamber (TC) to give the defendant notice that it will consider convicting him on the basis of the rejected mode anyway. This time, the defendant is Laurent Gbagbo. The OTP initially alleged that Gbagbo is responsible for various crimes against humanity on the basis of Art. 25 in the Rome Statute — indirect co-perpetration; ordering, soliciting or inducing; and otherwise contributing to the commission of crimes — as well as command responsibility and superior responsibility. Following the confirmation hearing, the PTC confirmed all of the modes of liability in Art. 25, but declined to confirm command and superior responsibility, because those modes “would require the Chamber to depart significantly from its understanding of how events unfolded in Cote d’Ivoire during the post-electoral crisis and Laurent Gbagbo’s involvement therein.” Undeterred, the OTP then asked the TC to invoke Regulation 55:

The Office of the Prosecutor (“Prosecution”) requests that Trial Chamber I (“Chamber”) give notice to the Parties and participants pursuant to regulation 55(2) of the Regulations of the Court (“RoC”) that the legal characterisation of the facts confirmed by Pre-Trial Chamber I (“Pre-Trial Chamber”) may be subject to change to accord with a further alternative form of participation of the Accused Laurent Gbagbo (“Gbagbo”): superior responsibility under article 28(a) and (b) of the Rome Statute (“Statute”) for all crimes (“Request”).

I have explained at length in this article why the Rome Statute — Art. 61 in particular — does not permit the Trial Chamber to convict a defendant on the basis of an unconfirmed mode of liability, so there is no need to repeat the argument here. Suffice it to say that the OTP’s request, which will almost certainly be granted by the TC (if past practice is any guide), continues the confirmation hearing’s long, slow slide into irrelevance. Given how the TC and Appeals Chamber have (wrongly) interpreted Regulation 55, the confirmation hearing actually “confirms” nothing; it just provides suggestions to the TC concerning how it might choose to convict the defendant. If the TC wants to go a different direction and convict the defendant on the basis of an unconfirmed mode of participation, no problem. It can simply “recharacterize” the facts and circumstances proven at trial.

Discerning readers might wonder how a defendant is supposed to prepare his defence in such a situation. Isn’t the entire point of the confirmation hearing to inform the defendant of the crimes and modes of liability he will have to rebut during trial? Yes — which is the fundamental problem with Regulation 55 as the judges have interpreted it. Because of their interpretation, defendants now have only two potential strategies at trial: (1) prepare a defence to every possible legal characterization of the facts and circumstances in the charge sheet — all possible crimes and all possible modes of liability; or (2) ignore the law entirely and focus solely on rebutting the facts and circumstances themselves. The first strategy is effectively impossible — and it’s very unlikely the TC would even let a defendant do it. (“Sorry, you have to pick one or two theories of the case — even though we can pick any theory we want down the track.”) And the second strategy is inconsistent with the nature of the adversarial trial contemplated by the Rome Statute. Defendants are (supposed to be) charged with specific crimes on the basis of specific modes of liability; they are not charged with bare facts and circumstances.

It’s a shame that the ICC’s judges have allowed Regulation 55 to metastasise into the ultimate judicial hammer — a one-size-fits-all tool for saving the OTP from its own poor charging decisions and ineffective trial advocacy. (See, e.g., Katanga.) But, of course, it’s not a surprise. After all, the judges wrote the Regulation themselves.

Two Interesting New Reports on ILC Website

by Kristen Boon

There are two important new reports up on the International Law Commission’s website.

First, Sean Murphy’s First Report on Crimes Against Humanity is now available.  The UN Doc symbol is A/CN.4/680; link to the report here.

The report is a terrific overview of the current gaps in the international legal architecture, and maps out steps towards a future convention.   The report also proposes two draft articles: one on prevention and punishment of crimes against humanity and the other on the definition of such crimes.   For background, see Leila Sadat’s Crimes Against Humanity Initiative here.

Hat tip to James Stewart for flagging this report.

Second, Sir Michael Wood’s Third Report on the Identification of Customary International Law is available now as well. The UN Doc symbol is A/CN.4/682, and the link is available here.    Readers may recall that last summer I asked whether Security Council acts are relevant to Customary International Law, and noted that the ILC’s treatment of the topic to date had not included a discussion of IOs.   This report remedies this lacuna in part in that it specifically addresses the acts of IOs.  However, its conclusion is that acts of IOs are generally irrelevant to the formation of custom.  Instead, the Report’s guiding assumption is that the practice of IOs is to be attributed to the states themselves, not to the IOs. As the report notes:

if one were not to equate the practice of such international organizations with that of States, this would mean not only that the organization’s practice would not be taken into account, but also that its Member States would themselves be deprived of or reduced in their ability to contribute to State practice.

This conclusion will be controversial:  even the report’s footnotes cite numerous scholars and states that express opposing views.

Both of these reports are likely to spur important scholarly debates.