Author Archive for
Kevin Jon Heller

ICRC President’s Lecture for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

by Kevin Jon Heller

On May 19, the Legal Directorate of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office held their 2nd Annual International Law Lecture. The lecture was delivered by Peter Maurer, the President of the ICRC, who spoke on “War, Protection and the Law: The ICRC’s approach to International Humanitarian Law.” More information about the speech is available at EJIL: Talk!, but I thought it would be worth posting links at OJ:

  • Video of the talk here.
  • Video of the subsequent Q&A here.
  • Transcript of the talk here.

Well worth checking out!

Joining Doughty Street Chambers as an Academic Member

by Kevin Jon Heller

One of the great advantages of being a legal academic is the ability to get involved in actual litigation. I have consulted on a number of cases at the ICTY, ICTR, and ICC over the years, most obviously serving as one of Radovan Karadzic’s legal associates, but it’s been a while, and I’ve been itching to get back in the game. So I am delighted to announce that I have been invited to join Doughty Street Chambers in London as an Academic Member.

Doughty Street, I think it’s safe to say, has one of the world’s best international-law practices. (And excels in many other areas, such as criminal law.) Its roster of barristers includes such luminaries as:

Geoffrey Robertson QC — one of the founders of the set, who needs no introduction to OJ readers.

Sir Keir Starmer, KCB, QC — the former Director of Public Prosecutions and Head of the Crown Prosecution Service, currently serving as Croatia’s counsel at the ICJ in Croatia v Serbia.

John R.W.D. Jones QC — counsel for Saif Gaddafi at the ICC and Mustafa Badreddine at the STL; former counsel for Naser Oric and Ante Gotovina at the ICTY, both of whom were acquitted.

Tim Moloney QC — one of the leading terrorism experts in the UK, having defended numerous IRA members and Muslims accused of terrorist acts (such as the men accused of the attack on the BBC and the plot to blow up the London Stock Exchange).

Wayne Jordash QC — counsel for Baglishema and Bagaragaza at the ICTR and Sesay at the SCSL; currently acting for Libya at the ICC and Jovica Stanišić at the ICTY.

Amal Alamuddin — counsel for al-Senussi at the ICC and for Julian Assange in his extradition case, as well as advisor to Ben Emmerson, UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, in his inquiry into the use of drones.

I could go on, but that list is enough to explain why I’m so excited — and so honoured — to be joining Doughty Street as an Academic Member. It’s a remarkable opportunity, one for which I’m deeply grateful.

I don’t yet know what cases I’ll be working on, but I’ll let readers know as soon as I do!

How Does a Hybrid Tribunal for Iraq and Afghanistan Sound?

by Kevin Jon Heller

Colum Lynch reports today at FP.com that the United States is pushing for the creation of a hybrid international criminal tribunal for Syria by… the UN General Assembly:

[P]eople familiar with the matter say that the United States is already engaged in informal discussions with foreign governments over a plan to seek a mandate from the U.N. General Assembly to establish such a court, which would be comprised of Syrian, regional, and international judges, lawyers, and prosecutors. The two likeliest homes for the tribunal are Jordan and Turkey, these people said.

The plan currently under consideration is for the U.N. General Assembly to adopt a resolution inviting one of Syria’s neighbors, probably Jordan or Turkey, to work with the U.N. Secretary General to establish a so-called hybrid court, comprised of local, international, and Syrian prosecutors and judges. The court would be funded by voluntary contributions from governments that support the effort.

Lynch notes that a hybrid tribunal for Syria would be a first for the UNGA, because — unlike the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia — it would need to be created without the consent of the territorial state. (Syria would obviously never consent to such a court.)

In a recent post, Derek Jinks questions whether the UNGA has the authority to create a hybrid tribunal without Syria’s consent. I find his analysis compelling. But here is what I want to know: does the US really want to lead the charge for such a nonconsensual hybrid tribunal? After all, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander: if the US endorses the UNGA creating a nonconsensual hybrid tribunal for Syria, it will hardly be able to complain if the UNGA later creates, say — just spitballing here — a nonconsensual hybrid tribunal to deal with crimes committed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Either states need to consent to international criminal tribunals or they don’t. So does the US really want to give its blessing to what is an obvious attempt to circumvent P-5’s stranglehold over the Security Council?

Inquiring minds want to know…

ICRC Customary Study Online

by Kevin Jon Heller

Just a reminder to readers: the ICRC’s phenomenal database of customary international humanitarian law is available for free online — and includes a great deal of information that is not available in the two printed volumes. Here is the ICRC’s description:

Today, the ICRC has made available on its online, free of charge Customary IHL database an update of State practice of 7 countries and 3 tribunals relating to armed conflicts and humanitarian issues such as the distinction between combatants and civilians, the use of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, the protection of internally displaced persons, the protection of children and in particular child soldiers, the prohibition of sexual violence and slavery, the integration of international humanitarian law (IHL) into the training and operations of armed forces, and the prosecution of war crimes.   

Practice up till the end of 2010 of the following countries has been included for this most recent update of the Database: Armenia, Brazil, Cuba, El Salvador, Georgia, Nepal and New Zealand. Case-law of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice dealing with questions of IHL has also been updated. New practice is marked in green throughout the Database. 

The purpose of the Customary IHL database is to make not only the rules of customary IHL but also the underlying State and international practice easily accessible by everyone interested in the interpretation and application of IHL. The information in the database is easily accessible by means of three search parameters: subject matter, type of practice and country, which can be used separately or can be combined in a powerful search engine. 

The formation of customary law is an on-going process, as practice keeps evolving. That practice therefore has to be updated regularly to identify the rules of customary law, monitor their potential evolution and assess the extent to which they enhance protection for victims of armed conflict by confirming or filling in gaps in treaty-based law. We will continue to update the database with practice from about 100 countries and a number of relevant international bodies. The next updates of both national and international practice are scheduled for June and July 2014.

The database is updated through a partnership between the ICRC and the British Red Cross. A wide network of ICRC delegations and a number of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies gather source material for the Database, which is processed under the supervision of the ICRC by a joint ICRC-BRCS research team based in the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law.

The database is an invaluable resource, one I use often. If you’re not using it, you should!

Quote of the Day — Katanga Dissent

by Kevin Jon Heller

Germain Katanga will be sentenced tomorrow, having been convicted of crimes on the basis of an uncharged, unlitigated mode of participation that the Pre-Trial Chamber assured the defence would not be at issue in the trial and that the Trial Chamber first mentioned more than six months after the 30-month trial ended. The Trial Judgment is a horrorshow, replete with statements by the majority blaming the defence team for not having the Kreskin-like ability to anticipate its recharacterization years before it happened and investigate accordingly. In anticipation of what will no doubt be a lengthy sentence, therefore, I offer the following quote from Judge Van den Wyngaert’s dissent:

I find it particularly striking that my colleagues of the Majority, who have needed more than twenty months to produce a judgment in a case of relatively limited dimensions on the basis of a limited amount of evidence that had been, for the most part, known to it for a long time, now find it fitting to criticise the Defence for not being able to conduct a complex investigation with limited resources and under very difficult circumstances in less than two months.

Anyone interested in the ICC should pore carefully over Judge Van den Wyngaert’s dissent, which simply lays waste to the trial judgment. The dissent stands as the lone bright spot in an otherwise dismal case — one that has resulted in perhaps the most unfair conviction in the history of international criminal law.

PS. Readers who are interested in my critique of Regulation 55, governing legal “recharacterization” of facts, might want to read this (updated in light of the Katanga trial judgment).

Ukraine Parliament to Amend Constitution Re: the Rome Statute

by Kevin Jon Heller

As I’ve noted before, Ukraine’s Constitutional Court has held that the Ukraine cannot ratify the Rome Statute because — in the words of the ICRC — “the administration of justice is the exclusive competence of the courts and… judicial functions cannot be delegated to other bodies or officials.” According to the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (on twitter), the Rada is now considering a bill that would amend Ukraine’s constitution to make ratification possible. The text of the bill is in Ukrainian; if anyone out there would like to provide a translation (the bill is short), I’d be most appreciative:

Проект
вноситься народним депутатом України
Ю. Б. Дерев’янком
та іншими народними депутатами України

ЗАКОН УКРАЇНИ
Про внесення змін до статті 124 Конституції України

Верховна Рада України постановляє:

1. Доповнити статтю 124 Конституції України (Відомості Верховної Ради України, 1996 р., № 30, ст. 141) частиною шостою такого змісту:

“Україна може визнати юрисдикцію Міжнародного кримінального суду на умовах, передбачених Римським статутом Міжнародного кримінального суду.”

2. Цей Закон набирає чинності з дня, наступного за днем його опублікування.

Голова Верховної Ради  О. ТУРЧИНОВ
України

I’m intrigued by the fact that Ukraine’s parliament believes it has to amend the constitution in order to ratify the Rome Statute, but is free to accept the ICC’s jurisdiction on an ad hoc basis. The decision of the Constitutional Court prohibits any delegation of Ukraine’s jurisdiction to an international tribunal — which would seem to include ad hoc delegations as well as permanent delegations. But I’m obviously not an expert on Ukrainian law!

The Security Council Won’t Even Go Dutch with the ICC on Syria

by Kevin Jon Heller

There are many reasons to be skeptical of the Security Council referring the situation in Syria to the ICC, not the least of which is that an ICC investigation is unlikely to accomplish anything given the ongoing conflict. (One that Assad is almost certainly going to win.) But just in case that’s not enough, take a gander at this provision in the draft referral:

[The Security Council] recognizes that none of the expenses incurred in connection with the referral, including expenses related to investigations or prosecutions in connection with that referral, shall be borne by the United Nations and that such costs shall be borne by the parties to the Rome Statute and those States that wish to contribute voluntarily and encourages States to make such contributions.

In other words, the UN just wants to refer the situation; it doesn’t want to pay for the ICC’s investigation. So much for Art. 115 of the Rome Statute, which provides that “[t]he expenses of the Court and the Assembly of States Parties… shall be provided by the following sources… Funds provided by the United Nations, subject to the approval of the General Assembly, in particular in relation to the expenses incurred due to referrals by the Security Council”…

I have previously urged the Prosecutor to refuse to open an investigation into the situation in Syria unless the Security Council is willing to fund it. The draft referral makes clear that the Security Council has no intention of doing so. In the unlikely event that the referral ever passes, I hope the Prosecutor will consider my suggestion.

Did You Know Hazarding a Vessel Was a War Crime? Me Neither.

by Kevin Jon Heller

We have a new challenger in the competition for worst decision by a military commission ever! Judge Pohl has now issued an order in al-Nashiri concluding that Charge IX, Hijacking or Hazarding a Vessel or Aircraft, states a violation of the international laws of war. Here is the definition of that “war crime,” 10 U.S.C. § 950t(23):

(23) Hijacking or hazarding a vessel or aircraft.— Any person subject to this chapter who intentionally seizes, exercises unauthorized control over, or endangers the safe navigation of a vessel or aircraft that is not a legitimate military objective shall be punished, if death results to one or more of the victims, by death or such other punishment as a military commission under this chapter may direct, and, if death does not result to any of the victims, by such punishment, other than death, as a military commission under this chapter may direct.

Hijacking or hazarding a vessel is not a grave breach of either the Geneva Conventions or the First Additional Protocol. The Rome Statute does not criminalise hijacking or hazarding a vessel. No international tribunal has ever prosecuted the hijacking or hazarding a vessel as a war crime — not the IMT, not the ad hocs, not the ICC. The ICRC’s study of customary IHL does not mention hijacking or hazarding a vessel — although it does note that both the US Naval Handbook (Vol. II, p. 3893)  and The Restatement (Third) of the Foreign Relations Law of the United States (Vol. II, p. 3938) specifically distinguish between hijacking and war crimes. And so on.

How, then, does Judge Pohl somehow conclude that hijacking or hazarding a vessel is a war crime — as opposed to attacking civilians or civilian objects, both of which are war crimes and are both of which are also detailed in al-Nashiri’s charge sheet? By citing the widespread ratification of the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts of Violence Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation.

Seriously. By citing the widespread ratification of the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts of Violence Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation.

Here is what Judge Pohl says (emphasis mine):

The M.C.A. prohibits conduct that “endangers the safe navigation of a vessel.” The similarity between the M.C.A. and the SUA Convention is plain and unambiguous. The SUA Convention proscribes the same conduct the M.C.A. proscribes and of which the Accused is charged… The Commission finds by a preponderance of the evidence the Prosecution has demonstrated the crime of Hijacking or Hazarding a Vessel or Aircraft is based on norms firmly grounded in international law and can be plainly drawn from established precedent. Therefore, the Commission concludes the offense of Hijacking or Hazarding a Vessel or Aircraft was an international law of war crime at the time the Accused allegedly engaged in the conduct, thus conferring jurisdiction over the offense.

That’s it. That’s Judge Pohl’s entire argument. Never mind that the SUA Convention says nothing about the laws of war, applying equally in armed conflict and peacetime. Never mind that the SUA Convention does not even purport to create an international crime — it is, of course, a suppression convention that simply obligates States Parties to domestically criminalise certain acts. Never mind that, even if it is possible to argue that the widespread ratification of the SUA Convention somehow creates a customary rule prohibiting hijacking or hazarding a vessel (difficult in itself), such a customary rule would still not create “an international law of war crime.”

I hope I don’t need to explain in more detail why the widespread ratification of a suppression convention doesn’t create a war crime. But let’s take Judge Pohl’s methodology seriously. Want to know what other kinds of acts are also war crimes prosecutable in a military commission?

  • Nuclear proliferation (NPT — 190 ratifications)
  • Threatening civilian aviation (Safety of Civilian Aviation Convention – 188 ratifications)
  • Drug trafficking (Illicit Traffic in Narcotics Convention – 188 ratifications)
  • Manufacturing hallucinogenic drugs (Psychotropic Substances Convention – 182 ratifications)
  • Using child labor (Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention – 177 ratifications)
  • Transnational organised crime (Transnational Organized Crime Convention – 176 ratifications)
  • Kidnapping diplomats (Internationally Protected Persons Convention – 176 ratifications)
  • Corruption (Anti-Corruption Convention – 167 ratifications)
All of those conventions are suppression conventions — and each has been much more widely ratified than the SUA Convention. According to Judge Pohl’s logic, therefore, all of those acts are also violations of the international laws of war.In the off chance you needed additional proof that the military commissions are a joke, Judge Pohl’s decision is Exhibit A.

No, the Attack on the USS Cole Did Not Take Place in Armed Conflict

by Kevin Jon Heller

I argued more than three years ago that the US decision to prosecute Abd al-Rahim Abdul al-Nashiri in a military commission was illegitimate, because the attack on the USS Cole did not take place during an armed conflict. (I also pointed out that al-Nashiri was systematically tortured, including through the use of mock executions and waterboarding.) Peter Margulies takes a whack at the contrary position today at Lawfare, and the results aren’t pretty. Here, for example, is what he says about the Tadic test:

Under international law, the existence of a noninternational armed conflict depends on the intensity and duration of violence and the existence of an organized armed group (OAG) responsible for the violence. The OAG criterion is readily met: “core” Al Qaeda ordered the Cole attack and used it as a basis for recruiting more terrorists. The geographic distance between Yemen and Afghanistan is irrelevant given the centrality of Al Qaeda’s planning, which placed Osama bin Laden and Al-Nashiri in the same OAG.

The duration and hostility factors also break against Al-Nashiri. In the MCA, Congress gave military commissions jurisdiction over acts committed before September 11, recognizing that Al Qaeda’s military efforts against the US predated that event. The conduct of the US prior to the Cole bombing buttresses Congress’s finding. In August, 1998, President Clinton responded to the Al Qaeda-planned East African Embassy bombings, which killed over 250 persons, with a wave of Cruise missile strikes in Afghanistan and Sudan. That sounds pretty intense to me, although the intensity seems lost on Al-Nashiri’s advocates.

Margulies gets the NIAC test right, and he is even likely right that al-Nashiri was part of “core” al-Qaeda at the time of the attack on the USS Cole. But his discussion of the duration and intensity factors is deeply flawed. To begin with, as I have pointed out before (numerous times), the existence of a NIAC is a purely objective question, one determined by the facts on the ground, irrespective of the subjective perception of the parties to the hostilities. The MCA’s jurisdictional provisions are thus irrelevant to whether the US was involved in a NIAC with core al-Qaeda when the USS Cole was attacked.

More importantly, it is clear that no such NIAC existed at the time of the attack…

PTC II to Defence Attorneys: You Are All Criminals

by Kevin Jon Heller

I’ve been remiss in my blogging lately for a variety of reasons, but I can’t let pass two interrelated decisions by Pre-Trial Chamber II (sitting as a single judge) in the criminal proceedings against Aimé Kilolo Musamba and Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo — Bemba’s lead defence attorney and case manager, respectively. The two men, who are currently in custody, are accused of tampering with witnesses and manufacturing evidence.

The decisions in question concern the requests by Kilolo and Mangenda for release pending trial. To justify denying a suspect pre-trial release, the PTC must find (1) that there are reasonable grounds to believe the suspect committed the crimes alleged by the OTP, and (2) that ongoing detention is necessary for one of the reasons set forth in Art. 58(1)(b) of the Rome Statute — namely, to ensure that the suspect appears at trial, to prevent the suspect from obstructing the OTP’s investigation, or to prevent the suspect from continuing to commit crimes.

In both cases, and essentially on exactly the same grounds, the PTC found that continued detention was warranted. I’m willing to accept the PTC’s conclusion regarding the first limb of the detention test; although I’m skeptical the OTP can prove the allegations at trial for a variety of substantive and procedural reasons, a judge could find that there are reasonable grounds to believe Kilolo and Mangenda tampered with witnesses and/or manufactured evidence. But I am appalled by the PTC’s approach to the second limb of the detention test, where it concludes that Kilolo and Mangenda are both flight risks and are likely to obstruct the OTP’s investigation. The PTC’s reasoning exhibits a truly breathtaking contempt for the role that defence attorneys and case managers play at the ICC. Here is what the PTC says about Kilolo being a flight risk (and the PTC makes the same argument for Mangenda) (emphasis added):

22. Whilst acknowledging the handing over of Mr Kilolo’s passport to the authorities of the Detention Centre, the Single Judge observes that this does not detract from the risks of flight which are inherent in the very connection of Aimé Kilolo to the network of Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo and to the ensuing likelihood that he might be made available resources enabling him to abscond from the jurisdiction of the Court. Furthermore, it is to be noted that Mr Kilolo requests to be released in Belgium, i.e. in a country within the Schengen area, where travel is to a great extent possible without the need that identity documents be shown or relied upon.

[snip]

24. The Single Judge is likewise not persuaded that Aimé Kilolo’s withdrawal from his role as lead counsel for Jean-Pierre Bemba in the Main Case entails per se the severance of all of his ties to the latter’s vast network and hence to the concrete risk that resources be made available to him for the purpose of evading justice. The fact that “depuis le 6 décembre 2013, le requérant n’a plus de contacts privilégiés avec M. Bemba” (emphasis added) does not mean that the long-established relationship between Mr Bemba and Mr Kilolo by virtue of the latter’s role as lead counsel in the Main Case has ceased to exist. Contrary to what stated by the Defence the absence of documents witnessing to the existence of a “relation personnelle” between the two cannot be considered as mitigating or otherwise affecting this conclusion. Similarly, if it is true that assets pertaining to Mr Bemba and Mr Babala have been seized by way of implementation of the Chamber’s order, such assets obviously form but a small part of the assets which are or might be made available to the network as a whole, which comprises a number of individuals by far exceeding the suspects in this case.

Notice what the PTC is claiming here: Kilolo is part of Bemba’s “network” simply because he served as Bemba’s defence attorney. Kilolo is thus “inherently” a flight risk, despite not having been convicted of any crime — presumably the presumption of innocence still applies to the pending charges — because he has access to the vast resources of Bemba’s criminal organisation. In short: Bemba’s defence attorney is no different than Bemba’s henchmen and enforcers. He just plays a different role in Bemba’s organisation.

The PTC’s argument is disturbingly reminiscent of the post-9/11 demonisation of defence attorneys in the US who had the temerity to represent individuals accused of terrorism. Marc Thiessen, for example, (in)famously claimed that “[t]he habeas lawyers were not doing their constitutional duty to defend unpopular criminal defendants. They were using the federal courts as a tool to undermine our military’s ability to keep dangerous enemy combatants off the battlefield in a time of war.” Such despicable claims led to significant pushback from both progressives and (to their credit) many conservatives — and rightfully so. Yet now we witness the unseemly spectacle of an international judge engaging in precisely the same kind of demonisation.

Nor is that all. The PTC’s explanation of why Mangenda is likely to obstruct the OTP’s investigation is just as offensive (emphasis added):

As stated by the Prosecutor, Mangenda’s former role as case manager for Jean-Pierre Bemba entails that he is likely to know the identity of most of the potential witnesses; moreover, given the precise information disclosed to him, now he is even in a better position to obstruct or endanger the investigations. As regards the fact that the Prosecutor’s investigation is close to completion, it cannot be reasonably excluded that additional action might be taken, in respect of other evidentiary items which might still be outstanding, whether in relation to the Main Case or to these proceedings, in spite of the fact that some pieces of evidence are indeed in the possession of the Court or of the relevant national authorities and as such beyond the suspects’ reach.

Is it possible to imagine greater contempt for the role — absolutely critical, as any defence attorney knows — of a case manager? Of course Mangenda will obstruct the OTP’s investigation (now the presumption of innocence is jettisoned completely); after all, what member of Bemba’s “network” would be better placed to do so than his case manager, who has access to all kinds of insider information?

Again, the PTC’s contempt for the defence function is truly shocking. Unfortunately, it seems to be a pattern at the ICC — let’s not forget how the Court essentially abandoned and apologized for Melinda Taylor when Libya imprisoned her on the basis of truly ludicrous allegations. Defence attorneys and case managers, even those accused of serious crimes, deserve better.

Thoughts on the Ukraine Ad Hoc Self-Referral

by Kevin Jon Heller

As readers no doubt know, Ukraine has accepted the ICC’s jurisdiction on an ad hoc basis for acts committed between 21 November 2013 and 22 February 2014. The self-referral has already led to a good deal of intelligent commentary — see, for example, Mark Leon Goldberg’s discussion of the politics of an ICC investigation here and Mark Kersten’s convincing argument that Russia may not be particularly opposed to an ICC investigation here. I just want to add a few additional thoughts.

To begin with, I remain troubled by the insistence of Ukraine’s Constitutional Court that Ukraine cannot delegate its adjudicative jurisdiction to an international court. As it said in 2001:

Article 124 of the Ukrainian Constitution states that the administration of justice is the exclusive competence of the courts and that judicial functions cannot be delegated to other bodies or officials. The Constitutional Court noted that the jurisdiction of the ICC under the Rome Statute is complementary to national judicial systems. However, under Article 4(2) of the Rome Statute, the ICC may exercise its functions and powers on the territory of any State party, and under Article 17, the ICC may find a case to be admissible if the State is unwilling or unable genuinely to carry out the investigation or prosecution. The Court concluded that jurisdiction supplementary to the national system was not contemplated by the Ukrainian Constitution. Hence, the amendment of the Constitution is required before the Statute can be ratified.

Parliament’s acceptance of the ICC’s jurisdiction, even on an ad hoc basis, seems specifically foreclosed by the Constitutional Court’s judgment. Ukraine’s President and Parliament clearly don’t care about that inconvenient fact; will the ICC? Martin Holtermann may be right — the ICC may simply defer to Ukraine’s President and Parliament. But I can help but think it would be unseemly for an international court like the ICC to simply ignore a clear judgment issued by the highest court in a state purporting to accept its jurisdiction. At the very least, Fatou Bensouda should take the Ukraine’s internal conflict into account when she decides whether to open a formal investigation — you can bet that any suspect wanted by the ICC would challenge the legality of the self-referral in Ukraine’s domestic courts, litigation that could make it very difficult for ICC proceedings to go forward.

Relatedly, I think it’s important to remind ourselves that Ukraine’s self-referral does not mean the OTP will open a formal investigation into the situation. Diane Amann writes today that the self-referral shows “Europe is on [the] ICC docket.” That’s true — but only in the formal sense. As Mark Kersten noted in February, Europe has been on the ICC docket for a long time in terms of preliminary investigations. After all, the OTP announced the Georgia investigation in August 2008 — nearly six years ago. (Its Afghanistan investigation has been plodding along even longer, since 2007.) That hasn’t quelled the voices that have been complaining — with justification — that the ICC has been overly obsessed with Africa. So unless and until the OTP decides to open a formal investigation into the situation in Ukraine, the country’s self-referral is unlikely to have any positive effect whatsoever on the Court’s African reputation.

Finally, a brief thought on the temporal limits of the self-referral. I don’t think the ICC will reject the referral on the ground that it is too carefully tailored to ensure only one side of the conflict. (A major problem with Comoros’s Mavi Marmara state referral.) The temporal limits, however narrow, make some sense — the referral begins when Yanukovych announced Ukraine was abandoning the agreement with the European Union and ends when Yanukovych fled the country. Should Ukraine have accepted the ICC’s jurisdiction for a longer period — most notably, to include Russia’s invasion of Crimea? I had an interesting twitter debate earlier today on that issue with a bunch of smart Court-watchers, including Ryan Goodman, Eugene Kontorovich, Mark Kersten, Martin Holtermann, and David Kaye. I pointed out that it’s difficult to see what international crimes Russia committed during the invasion, other than the non-prosecutable crime of aggression. Ryan replied that a longer self-referral could give the ICC an opportunity to address important issues in the law of occupation. (See also his post here.) That’s absolutely true — but only if Russia actually violates the law of occupation, which seems unlikely given the popularity (certainly not uniform) of the invasion and annexation within Crimea itself. The wildcard is the crime that Eugene mentioned during our discussion — the transfer of civilians into occupied territory. I have no idea whether Russia intends to directly or indirectly transfer Russians into Crimea; Eugene seems to think it does, and I will defer to his greater knowledge of the situation. But my position with regard to that possibility is the same as my position on Israel’s transfer of civilians into the West Bank: whatever the merits of the allegations, the war crime is legally uncertain and factually difficult to prove, especially when the transfer is indirect instead of direct — which it is in the West Bank and would almost certainly be in Crimea. In the absence of other violations of the law of occupation, therefore, I am not sure the OTP would get involved.

I imagine we will have much more to discuss concerning the ICC and Ukraine in the weeks to come!

There Is No General “Security Exception” in the UNHQ Agreement Act

by Kevin Jon Heller

I fully concur with Julian’s recent post about the United Nations Headquarters Agreement. There is no question that the US decision to deny Aboutalebi a visa violates the Agreement itself. But I’ve seen suggestions, most notably by my friend John Bellinger, that the US is not violating domestic US law because the 1947 United Nations Headquarters Agreement Act (scroll down) contains a “security exception” to the visa requirement. Here is what John said, according to Bloomberg:

President Barack Obama has authority to deny a visa to Iran’s newest choice as envoy to the UN, yet doing so would open up risks for U.S. foreign policy.

The decision in the case of Hamid Aboutalebi, who was part of the group that took over the American embassy in Tehran in 1979, is being made at a delicate point in U.S.-led negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.

Under the United Nations Headquarters Agreement Act approved by Congress in 1947, the president has authority to deny visas to individuals deemed to pose a security threat to the U.S., said John Bellinger, a former State Department legal adviser who is now partner at Arnold and Porter LLP in Washington.

If Obama decides a person is a threat “then we’re not required to give that person a visa, and that would be consistent with our obligations under the headquarters agreement,” Bellinger said. “Whether that’s good policy or not that would be up to others to decide.”

“The short answer is, it’s complicated,” he said.

I disagree. With respect to John, nothing in the Headquarters Agreement Act permits the US to deny a visa to anyone it considers a “security threat.” The relevant provision is section 6, which Julian did not quote in full in his post (emphasis mine):

Nothing in the agreement shall be construed as in any way diminishing, abridging, or weakening the right of the United States to safeguard its own security and completely to control the entrance of aliens into any territory of the United States other than the headquarters district and its immediate vicinity, as to be defined and fixed in a supplementary agreement between the Government of the United States and the United Nations in pursuance of section 13 (3) (e) of the agreement, and such areas as it is reasonably necessary to traverse in transit between the same and foreign countries. Moreover, nothing in section 14 of the agreement with respect to facilitating entrance into the United States by persons who wish to visit the headquarters district and do not enjoy the right of entry provided in section 11 of the agreement shall be construed to amend or suspend in any way the immigration laws of the United States or to commit the United States in any way to effect any amendment or suspension of such laws.

Section 6 contains two separate provisions. Provision 1 permits the US to prohibit individuals who have a right of entry under the Headquarters Agreement but are considered a security threat from traveling anywhere other than other than “the [UN] headquarters district and its immediate vicinity.” Provision 2 then permits the US to deny entry completely to anyone who does not have a right of entry under the Headquarters Agreement. Section 6 thus does not permit the US to deny entry completely to someone who has a right of entry.

I think this is the only plausible reading of section 6. To find a general “security exception,” we have to read “safeguard its own security” (1) in isolation from the rest of the sentence in which it is placed (in which case we must still infer that the US is entitled to deny entry completely to individuals who are security threats, because Provision 1 does not specify any remedy other than limitation to the UN area), and (2) in isolation from Provision 2, which does explicitly permit denying entry completely but limits that remedy to individuals who do not have a right of entry under the Headquarters Agreement. Moreover, as Julian notes, it is extremely unlikely the UN would have accepted a general security exception if that had been Congress’s intent, because such an exception would have effectively rendered section 11 of the Headquarters Agreement moot.

Thanks to Tyler Cullis for calling the “security exception” problem to my attention.