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International Courts and Dispute Resolution

That “Broad Consensus” for Unwilling/Unable Just Got Less Broad

by Kevin Jon Heller

A few days ago, I pointed out that Kate Martin’s “broad consensus that there is a right to use military force in self-defense when the host country is unable or unwilling to stop the attack” actually includes no more than four of the world’s 194 states. That consensus is not exactly broad — and it looks even shakier now that Russia has apparently rejected the “unwilling or unable” test in the context of Syria:

On Saturday, France launched a campaign of airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria. Commenting on the effort, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova pondered what kind of conception of ‘self-defense’ would drive one country to carry out an operation to bomb another without that country’s explicit permission.

Earlier, Prime Minister Manuel Valls was cited by French media as saying that Paris’s bombing campaign constitutes self-defense. “We are acting in self-defense,” Valls noted, according to Reuters.

In a post on her Facebook page, Zakharova pondered that “it would be nice to know more about this concept of self-defense, in the form of air strikes [on the territory of Syria,] a state which did not attack anyone, and without its consent, and about this concept’s compliance with international law.”

The spokeswoman referred to the fact that in its air campaign against ISIL, the Western coalition never once found the need to consult with Syria’s legitimate government, and on the contrary, has repeatedly declared that the elected government of Bashar Assad cannot be part of Syria’s future.Zakharova noted that she found it entertaining that “the referendum in Crimea is called an annexation, but air strikes conducted without the approval of the Security Council or of the receiving side is self-defense.”

The spokeswoman emphasized that while “it’s clear that the Islamic State is a threat to the entire world,” first two questions must be answered: “First, who was it that created ISIL? And second, on what basis are you acting on the territory of a sovereign state, bypassing a legitimate government which not only does not support, but is selflessly fighting against ISIL?”

Zakharova concluded that “this is not international law; this is its abolition in front of a shocked international community.”

If I was being picky, I would acknowledge that Zakharova did not specifically reject “unwilling or unable.” Her emphasis on the requirement of Syria’s consent nevertheless implicitly rejects “unwilling or unable” far more clearly than the statements by various governments that supposedly — according to Ashley Deeks — support the test. So it is more than fair to count Russia in the anti-“unwilling or unable” camp.

If you’re keeping score at home, that makes it: at most four states that support “unwilling or unable”; at least one state that rejects it.

And yet scholars claim that there is a “broad consensus” in favour of the test. Thus does method die not with a bang, but a whimper.

Why It’s Counterproductive to Discuss an MH17 Tribunal

by Kevin Jon Heller

States whose nationals died in the attack on MH17 were understandably upset when Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution that would have created an ad hoc tribunal to prosecute those responsible for the attack. Their idea to create a treaty-based court, however, is simply not helpful:

Australia’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop, will meet with her counterparts from Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine on Tuesday during the annual United Nations general assembly meeting.

One of the proposals is for a tribunal similar to that established to prosecute Libyan suspects over the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight over Scotland.

Nations that lost some of the 298 passengers and crew in the MalaysiaAirlines disaster over eastern Ukraine in July 2014 are also looking at launching separate prosecutions.

A report by the Dutch led-investigation team, set to be published on 13 October, is understood to include evidence the plane was brought down by a Russian-made Buk missile fired from separatist territory in eastern Ukraine.

Russia has denied any involvement but in July used its veto power at the UN to block a resolution that would have formed a tribunal to bring the perpetrators to justice.

There is no question the victim states could create a tribunal via treaty — they would simply be delegating their passive-personality jurisdiction to the tribunal. The ICC is based on similar pooling of jurisdiction.

But what would creating such a tribunal accomplish? A treaty-based tribunal might have some ability to investigate the attack, given that MH17 was flying over non-Crimea Ukraine when it was shot down. But how would it get its hands on potential defendants? Pro-Russian separatists are almost certainly responsible for the attack, which means that the suspects are likely to be either in Russia-annexed Crimea or in Russia proper. Either way, the tribunal would have to convince Russia to surrender potential defendants to it — and Russia would have no legal obligation to do so as a non-signatory to the treaty creating the tribunal. That’s the primary difference between a treaty-based tribunal and a tribunal created by the Security Council: the latter could at least impose a cooperation obligation on Russia and sanction it for non-compliance. The tribunal being contemplated by the victim states could do no more than say “pretty please.” And we know how that request would turn out.

There is also, of course, that little issue of the ICC. Earlier this month, Ukraine filed a second Art. 12(3) declaration with the Court, this one giving the Court jurisdiction over all crimes committed on Ukrainian territory since 20 February 2014 — which includes the attack on MH17. So why create an ad hoc tribunal that would simply compete with the ICC? To be sure, the Court would also have a difficult time obtaining potential defendants, given that Russia has not ratified the Rome Statute. But it seems reasonable to assume, ceteris paribus, that an international court with 124 members is more likely to achieve results than a multinational court with five members. Moreover, there would be something more than a little unseemly about Australia, Belgium, and the Netherlands creating a treaty-based tribunal to investigate the MH17 attack. After all, unlike Russia, those states have ratified the Rome Statute.

The problem, in short, is not that the international community lacks an institution capable of prosecuting those responsible for the attack on MH17. The problem is that the international community has almost no chance of getting its hands on potential defendants. So until they can figure out how to get Russia to voluntarily assist with an investigation, victim states such as Australia and the Netherlands would be better off remaining silent about the possibility of a treaty-based tribunal. Discussing one will simply raise the hopes of those who lost loved ones in the attack — hopes that will almost certainly never be realised.

ICJ Rules (14-2) It Has Jurisdiction to Hear Bolivia’s Claim Against Chile

by Julian Ku

So the ICJ ruled today (14-2) that the Court does have jurisdiction to hear Bolivia’s claim that Chile has violated its legal obligation to negotiate “sovereign access to the sea” despite a 1904 Treaty that had settled the borders between the two countries.  I have been super-critical of Bolivia’s claim, going so far as to suggest there was a slam-dunk case against admissibility and jurisdiction since the basis of jurisdiction, the Bogotá Treaty, excludes cases where dispute has been settled by “arrangement” between the parties.  I suggested on Tuesday that perhaps the Court would take the case after all, despite the weaknesses of Bolivia’s case, and I received some tough criticism from commenters suggesting Bolivia has a very strong case for jurisdiction.

I still think Bolivia (and the commenters) are wrong, but obviously 14 judges of the ICJ disagree with me.  I’ve said my piece, so I won’t beat a dead horse (for too much longer).  I will only excerpt below Professor Harold Koh’s pithy explanation (from his oral presentation) as to why granting jurisdiction here is going to lead to lots of bad consequences.

10. Under Bolivia’s novel theory, by clever pleading, applicants could manufacture jurisdiction in this Court regarding previously settled matters. And this Court can expect to hear many more preliminary objection sessions like the one yesterday, replete with snippets of speeches, ministerial statements, and diplomatic exchanges as reasons to avoid the jurisdictional bar of Article VI. Notwithstanding Mr. Akhavan’s effort to underplay, Bolivia’s theory would doubtless encourage unilateral attempts to re-litigate the continent’s history and borders. The careful limits established by the Pact of Bogotá would become increasingly meaningless.

11. Mr. President, Members of the Court, the stakes here are larger than the interests of just these two Parties. The two treaties relevant to jurisdiction are part of a larger treaty network that binds Bolivia and Chile. The Pact of Bogotá succeeded in barring existing territorial settlements and other settlement matters from being reopened at the sole initiative of one State. But as Sir Daniel recounted, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, at least 12 separate treaties Bolivia settled disputed boundaries not just with Chile, but also with all four of its other neighbours106. May Bolivia now come before this Court to seek an order directing renegotiation of all of those other borders as well? And even if Bolivia did not, could those other regional partners also come to the Court seeking an order directing renegotiation of their borders?

Poor ICC Outreach — Uganda Edition

by Kevin Jon Heller

The ICC has always had a legitimacy problem in Uganda. In particular, as Mark Kersten ably explained earlier this year, the Court is widely viewed by Ugandans as partial to Museveni, despite the fact that the OTP is supposedly investigating both the government and the LRA:

From the outset, the ICC showcased a bias towards the Government of Yoweri Museveni. In 2004 and following months of negotiations, then ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo infamously held a joint press conference with Museveni to announce that Kampala had referred the LRA to the ICC. This was no accident. Moreno-Ocampo was made aware by his staff of the appearance of partiality that this would create. Moreover, while the referral was later amended to cover the “situation in northern Uganda”, severe damage to the independence of the Court had been done. To many in northern Uganda as well as the Court’s supporters, the Prosecutor had shown his true colours: he would only prosecute the LRA and only the LRA. In 2005, five arrest warrants were issued, all for senior LRA commanders, including leader Joseph Kony. To this day, the ICC has never emerged from under this cloud of apparent bias towards the Museveni Government. Recent events won’t foster much hope that it ever will.

Given this history, you would think the Court would go out of its way to make sure people understand that it is not investigating only the LRA. You would be wrong. As I was perusing the ICC website yesterday, I found myself on the page dedicated to the Uganda situation. Other than providing information about ongoing cases, the page simply links to two press releases — one reporting the 29 January 2004 self-referral, and one reporting the OTP’s 29 July 2004 decision to open a formal investigation. Here is the self-referral press release:

President of Uganda refers situation concerning the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to the ICC


Situation: Uganda

In December 2003 the President Yoweri Museveni took the decision to refer the situation concerning the Lord’s Resistance Army to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. The Prosecutor has determined that there is a sufficient basis to start planning for the first investigation of the International Criminal Court. Determination to initiate the investigation will take place in the coming months.

President Museveni met with the Prosecutor in London to establish the basis for future co-operation between Uganda and the International Criminal Court. A key issue will be locating and arresting the LRA leadership. This will require the active co-operation of states and international institutions in supporting the efforts of the Ugandan authorities.

Many of the members of the LRA are themselves victims, having been abducted and brutalised by the LRA leadership. The reintegration of these individuals into Ugandan society is key to the future stability of Northern Uganda. This will require the concerted support of the international community – Uganda and the Court cannot do this alone.

In a bid to encourage members of the LRA to return to normal life, the Ugandan authorities have enacted an amnesty law. President Museveni has indicated to the Prosecutor his intention to amend this amnesty so as to exclude the leadership of the LRA, ensuring that those bearing the greatest responsibility for the crimes against humanity committed in Northern Uganda are brought to justice.

According to the Rome Statute, the Prosecutor has to inform all States Parties to the Statute of the formal initiation of an investigation. Following this the Prosecutor may seek an arrest warrant from the Pre-trial Chamber. To take this step, the Prosecutor must determine that there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation. The Prosecutor will work with Ugandan authorities, other states and international organisations in gathering the necessary information to make this determination.

President Museveni and the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court will hold a press conference on Thursday 29 January 2004 at 18:00 at the Hotel Intercontinental Hyde Park, London.

And here is the investigation press release:

Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court opens an investigation into Nothern Uganda


Situation: Uganda

The Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno-Ocampo, has determined that there is a reasonable basis to open an investigation into the situation concerning Northern Uganda, following the referral of the situation by Uganda in December 2003. The decision to open an investigation was taken after thorough analysis of available information in order to ensure that requirements of the Rome Statute are satisfied.

The Prosecutor has notified the States Parties to the ICC and other concerned states of his intention to start an investigation, in accordance with article 18 of the Rome Statute.

Notice the subtle change of language: whereas the first press release refers to “the situation concerning the Lord’s Resistance Army,” the second press release refers to “the situation concerning Northern Uganda.” That change reflects the OTP’s rejection of the one-sided nature of Uganda’s first self-referral, as Mark discusses above. But it’s a subtle change — and the Court does not explain it on the Uganda page or anywhere else on the website. If you’re an ICC expert, you will probably pick up on the difference yourself. But if you’re a layperson, you will come away from reading about the Uganda situation believing precisely what Mark accurately describes as being so devastating to the Court’s legitimacy: namely, that the ICC is investigating the LRA — and only the LRA.

Mark and I have each complained (see here and here) about the ICC’s inability to maintain an accessible and useful website. But at least those complains were just about how difficult it is to get documents in a timely fashion. The issue with regard to Uganda goes much deeper than that — the webpage affirmatively (if unintentionally) misleads the reader about the Court’s work in a manner that can only harm the Court.

For a struggling institution, that’s simply unacceptable.

Here Comes the ICJ’s Chile-Bolivia Ruling

by Julian Ku

Latin  America is a trendy place for ICJ litigation these days with Colombia, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Chile and Bolivia all currently embroiled in ICJ cases.  Indeed, it seems like Nicaragua alone is generating almost half of the ICJ’s current docket.  On Thursday (September 24), the ICJ will (finally) issue its ruling on Chile’s preliminary objections to its jurisdiction over Bolivia’s demand that Chile open negotiations to grant Bolivia sovereign access to the sea.

I have been harshly critical of Bolivia’s case calling it a slam dunk case for Chile on admissibility. To summarize briefly, Chile and Bolivia agreed in a 1904 treaty on a territorial settlement. Bolivia alleges that Chile has subsequently undertaken a legal obligation to “negotiate sovereign access to the sea” for Bolivia.  I found Bolivia’s evidence that Chile has undertaken such an obligation to negotiate extremely thin.

Having scanned the memorials, I am not very much more impressed by Bolivia’s arguments. On the other hand, I see that Chile has retained a pretty high-powered set of international lawyers including U.S-based law professors Claudio Grossman, Dean at American University, Harold Koh, former Dean at Yale Law and U.S. Legal Adviser, and Nienke Grossman, Professor, University of Baltimore.  And this list does not even mention well-known Europeans such as Sir Daniel Bethlehem, Q.C., Barrister, Bar of England and Wales, 20 Essex Street Chambers and Pierre-Marie Dupuy, Professor at the Graduate Institute of International Studies and Development, Geneva. And I haven’t even mentioned the dozen other high-powered folks on Chile’s legal team.   I totally agree with their arguments (even Harold Koh and I agree!).

Though I think Chile has very good arguments, the fact that Chile has retained (and presumably paid) so many top international lawyers suggests Chile is worried the Court will allow Bolivia’s claim to proceed.  So even though I think Bolivia’s claim is very weak, it is probably true that courts, international or domestic, hate giving up cases on jurisdiction if there is the thinnest basis for taking the case.  Given the ICJ is not all that busy these days, this could be tempting for the court, and that could be trouble for Chile.

The Post-Incarceration Life of International Criminals

by Kevin Jon Heller

The inestimable Mark Kersten devotes his new column at Justice Hub (ignore the scary portrait) to an unusual issue: whether international criminals should be able to pursue higher education once they are released from prison. The column focuses on Thomas Lubanga, who recently stated his desire to complete a PhD at Kisengani University after he is released. Here is Mark’s takeaway, reached after he discusses the (very different) examples of Saif Gaddafi and Sam Kolo:

Still, these stories raise important questions: should convicted and alleged war criminals be allowed – perhaps even encouraged – to pursue higher education? Is there, as many believe, something curative in the pursuit of education that might help to deter relapses into criminality? Is there something morally egregious when former perpetrators of mass atrocities are afforded educational opportunities that they have – by their very actions – denied thousands of others? Is the best alternative to prevent them from pursuing any education and thus letting them ‘rot in prison’ or turning a blind eye and sending them back into the world without any support? What would be the risks in doing so? Do tribunals have any responsibilities for supporting released convicts? Should the tribunals and the international community consider the strategies of domestic prison systems, where education is often encouraged as a means of healing and skills development?

As the world of international criminal justice plods along and matures, new and uncomfortable questions will undoubtedly emerge, including what the post-incarceration life of war criminals should look like. There are no easy answers. The pursuit of higher education may leave a bitter taste in the mouths of some. But given all of the options and the ever-present risk of war criminals returning to their old habits, encouraging them to pursue an education may be a least-worst option.

I confess that I don’t find this a difficult issue at all. In my view, once an international criminal has served his sentence, he should be treated no differently than any other citizen. That’s the way we treat domestic criminals, as Mark notes. Why should international criminals be treated differently? Because their crimes are worse? That may be so — but once they have paid their debt to the international community, what is the basis for continuing to punish them by denying them educational opportunities? Human-rights groups and victims may believe that Lubanga got off easy; I might agree with them. But it’s not Lubanga’s fault that Moreno-Ocampo undercharged him. And it’s not Lubanga’s fault that the Trial Chamber arguably (I don’t agree) gave him too lenient of a sentence. He did the crime and served the time. That should be the end of the story. So I don’t like Mark’s question about whether Lubanga should be “allowed” to pursue a PhD. He would no more be “allowed” to pursue a PhD after his release than I would. There is no legal basis to deny him one. (Admission requirements, of course, are another story…)

For similar reasons, I don’t like the way Mark phrases his final takeaway: that encouraging international criminals to pursue an education “may be a least-worst option.” Nothing in Mark’s column indicates that anything negative will result from an international criminal getting a PhD. Saif Gaddafi is a poor example, because he didn’t actually write his own dissertation. And Sam Kolo’s post-LRA life indicates that Mark should have concluded encouraging international criminals to pursue an education may well be the very best option. So what is the basis for describing post-incarceration education as one of the “least worst” options? Is the fear that the international criminal will write a dissertation entitled “A Step-by-Step Guide to Committing Genocide”? It seems far more likely that the international criminal — if successful in, say, a PhD program — will rely on his previous actions to illuminate an aspect of conflict that we “peaceable” types cannot possibly understand in the same way.

Indeed, as I was  reading Mark’s column, I couldn’t get Albert Speer out of my mind. Speer did not pursue a PhD after he was released from Spandau prison in 1966, but there is no denying that he used both his incarceration and his post-incarceration life productively. He wrote Inside the Third Reich and Spandau: The Secret Diaries while in prison, and after his release he wrote Infiltration, a seminal work on Himmler’s SS. How much less would we know about the Third Reich if Speer had not been “allowed” to write and publish books on account of his crimes?

I’m not suggesting, of course, that Lubanga is likely to follow in Speer’s academic footsteps. But Lubanga’s proposed focus for his graduate studies does, in fact, seem worthwhile: “I hope to help identify a new form of sociology that will help the tribal groups to live together in harmony.” If anyone has something to say about that topic, isn’t it someone who knows tribal conflict all too well?

New Essay on Perfidy and Permissible Ruses of War

by Kevin Jon Heller

Regular readers might remember a debate here and at Just Security (links here) in which I and a number of others debated whether it was perfidious for Mossad to use a booby-trapped civilian SUV to kill Imad Mughniyah, Hezbollah’s intelligence chief, in a Damascus suburb. I am pleased to announce that International Law Studies, the official journal of the US Naval War College, has just published an essay in which I explore the underlying legal issue at much greater length. Here is the brief abstract:

A number of scholars have claimed that it is inherently perfidious to kill an enemy soldier by disguising a military object as a civilian object. This essay disagrees, noting that conventional and customary IHL deem at least five military practices that involve making a military object appear to be a civilian object permissible ruses of war, not prohibited acts of perfidy: camouflage, ambush, cover, booby-traps, and landmines. The essay thus argues that attackers are free to disguise a military object as a civilian object as long as the civilian object in question does not receive special protection under IHL.

You can download the essay for free here. As you will see, although I disagreed with Rogier Bartels during the blog debate, I have since changed my mind — because of spatial limits conventional and customary IHL imposes on the use of booby-traps in particular, I now agree with Rogier that Mughniyah’s killing was, in fact, perfidious.

As always, comments more than welcome. My thanks to ILS for such an enjoyable publication experience!

Touchy, Touchy. What China’s Sensitivity About the Philippines Arbitration Reveals About the Strength of Its Legal Position

by Julian Ku

While I was on (my completely undeserved) vacation in California recently, I noticed more evidence that China’s government is becoming hyper-sensitive about criticism of its non-participation in the Philippines-China arbitration at the Hague.

First, a top U.S. government official stated at a conference on July 21 that, among other things, “…[W]hen they became parties to the Convention, both the Philippines and China agreed to its compulsory dispute settlement regime. Under this regime, the decision of the arbitral tribunal is legally binding on the parties to the dispute. It’s a treaty. In keeping with the rule of law, both the Philippines and China are obligated to abide by whatever decision may be rendered in the case, whether they like it or not. ”

On July 17, the New York Times published a rather bland staff editorial on the China-Philippines arbitration gently chiding China for failing to participate in that arbitral process.  Noting that China was likely to ignore the arbitration’s outcome, the NYT opined: “[China] should participate in the tribunal process if China wants to be recognized as a leader in a world that values the resolution of disputes within a legal framework.”

Both statements are pretty gentle, in my view, and Russel’s point about China’s obligation to abide by the arbitral tribunal’s rulings on jurisdiction is quite correct as a matter of law.  But it is China’s rather vociferous response that is more striking.

First, the Chinese Foreign Ministry sharply rejected Russel’s remarks.  Most curiously, it charged that the U.S. was, by “[a]ttempting to push forward the arbitration unilaterally initiated by the Philippines, [acting] like an ‘arbitrator outside the tribunal’, designating the direction for the arbitral tribunal established at the request of the Philippines.”  The spokesperson went on to say “This is inconsistent with the position the US side claims to uphold on issues concerning the South China Sea disputes.”

Second, the Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. wrote a letter to the editor of the NYT, calling its editorial “unfair.”  It also concluded that  “we do not believe that the arbitration court has jurisdiction, and as a member of United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, China is entitled to exclude any third-party compulsory settlement.”

I am sympathetic to China’s position that compulsory arbitration is not the way to go here, but as a legal matter, their views are hard to understand.  The UNCLOS does NOT give China the right to exclude any “third-party compulsory settlement.”  It does the opposite, and allows very limited exceptions to compulsory dispute resolution which may or may not apply here.  Furthermore, as numerous commentators have explained but which China continues to ignore, Article 288 of UNCLOS plainly gives the UNCLOS arbitral tribunal the final say on jurisdiction.  Russel was only repeating what is in the plain text of the treaty (UNCLOS) that China signed and ratified.

China’s sharply worded but legally incoherent responses are a sign that it is more nervous about the Philippines arbitration than it has let on in the past. China should just stop complaining about the arbitration and move on. It should have enough diplomatic, military, and political leverage to get past this.  It will get nowhere with its legal arguments.

The Most Distressing Paragraph in the Comoros Review Decision

by Kevin Jon Heller

No matter how many times I read the decision, I keep coming back to this paragraph:

51. As a final note, the Chamber cannot overlook the discrepancy between, on the one hand, the Prosecutor’s conclusion that the identified crimes were so evidently not grave enough to justify action by the Court, of which the raison d’être is to investigate and prosecute international crimes of concern to the international community, and, on the other hand, the attention and concern that these events attracted from the parties involved, also leading to several fact-finding efforts on behalf of States and the United Nations in order to shed light on the events. The Chamber is confident that, when reconsidering her decision, the Prosecutor will fully uphold her mandate under the Statute.

The Pre-Trial Chamber’s comment is mere dicta. But oy gevalt is it dangerous dicta — a dream come true for the ICC’s critics, who have always insisted that the Court’s work will be driven by politics, not law. The paragraph does indeed seem to suggest that the gravity of particular crimes is a function, at least in part, of how much attention the international community pays to them. Such a consideration not only makes a mockery of the Court’s independence, it defies common sense: just as crimes the world obsesses over might be insufficiently grave to warrant investigation, crimes the world ignores could be more than grave enough. You don’t have to be an Israel apologist to see that.

I share the PTC’s confidence the Prosecutor will indeed fully uphold her mandate. And that means she will assess the IDF’s crimes on the Mavi Marmara without regard to what the international community thinks about them.

The Pre-Trial Chamber’s Dangerous Comoros Review Decision

by Kevin Jon Heller

In late 2014, the Office of the Prosecutor rejected a request by Comoros to open a formal investigation into Israel’s attack on the Mavi Marmara. To my great surprise, the Pre-Trial Chamber (Judge Kovacs dissenting) has now ordered the OTP to reconsider its decision. The order does not require the OTP to open a formal investigation, because the declination was based on gravity, not on the interests of justice — a critical distinction under Art. 53 of the Rome Statute, as I explain here. But the PTC’s decision leaves little doubt that it expects the OTP to open one. Moreover, the PTC’s decision appears designed to push the OTP to decline to formally investigate a second time (assuming it doesn’t change its mind about the Comoros situation) on the basis of the interests of justice, which would then give the PTC the right to demand the OTP investigate.

To put it simply, this is a deeply problematic and extremely dangerous decision — nothing less than a frontal assault on the OTP’s prosecutorial discretion, despite the PTC’s claims to the contrary. I will explain why in this (very long) post.

At the outset, it is important to emphasise that we are dealing here with situational gravity, not case gravity. In other words, the question is not whether the OTP should have opened a case against specific members of the IDF who were responsible for crimes on the Mavi Marmara, but whether the OTP should have opened a situation into the Comoros situation as a whole. The Rome Statute is notoriously vague about the difference between situational gravity and case gravity, even though it formally adopts the distinction in Art. 53. But it is a critical distinction, because the OTP obviously cannot assess the gravity of an entire situation in the same way that it assesses the gravity of a specific crime within a situation.

The PTC disagrees with nearly every aspect of the OTP’s gravity analysis. It begins by rejecting the OTP’s insistence (in ¶ 62 of its response to Comoro’s request for review) that the gravity of the Comoros situation is limited by the fact that there is no “reasonable basis to believe that ‘senior IDF commanders and Israeli leaders’ were responsible as perpetrators or planners of the apparent war crimes’.” Here is how the PTC responds to that claim:

23. The Chamber is of the view that the Prosecutor erred in the Decision Not to Investigate by failing to consider whether the persons likely to be the object of the investigation into the situation would include those who bear the greatest responsibility for the identified crimes. Contrary to the Prosecutor’s argument at paragraph 62 of her Response, the conclusion in the Decision Not to Investigate that there was not a reasonable basis to believe that “senior IDF commanders and Israeli leaders” were responsible as perpetrators or planners of the identified crimes does not answer the question at issue, which relates to the Prosecutor’s ability to investigate and prosecute those being the most responsible for the crimes under consideration and not as such to the seniority or hierarchical position of those who may be responsible for such crimes.

These are fundamentally irreconcilable conceptions of “potential perpetrator” gravity. The OTP is taking the traditional ICTY/ICTR approach, asking whether the Israeli perpetrators of the crimes on the Mavi Marmara are militarily or politically important enough to justify the time and expense of a formal investigation. The PTC, by contrast, does not care about the relative importance of the perpetrators; it simply wants to know whether the OTP can prosecute the individuals who are most responsible for committing the crimes in question.

To see the difference between the two approaches — and to see why the OTP’s approach is far better — consider a hypothetical situation involving only one crime: a group of the lowest-ranking soldiers from State X executes, against the stated wishes of their commanders, 10 civilians from State Y. The OTP would conclude that the “potential perpetrator” gravity factor militates against opening a formal investigation in State Y, because the crime in question, though terrible, did not involve militarily important perpetrators. The PTC, by contrast, would reach precisely the opposite conclusion concerning gravity, deeming the soldiers “most responsible” for the crime by virtue of the fact that they acted against orders. After all, no one else was responsible for the decision to execute the civilians.

The PTC’s approach to “potential perpetrator” gravity is simply bizarre….

A Legitimate Need for Disqualification in the Lubanga Case

by Kevin Jon Heller

Thomas Lubanga’s lawyer, Catherine Mabille, has moved to disqualify Judge Silvia Fernández de Gurmendi from Lubanga’s upcoming sentence review on the ground that the judge was involved in the case while working in the Office of the Prosecutor. Here are the relevant paragraphs from the motion:

11… [O]fficial Court documents show that Judge Silvia Fernández de Gurmendi acted as Chef de Cabinet for the Prosecutor, Mr Moreno Ocampo.

12. In particular, Judge Silvia Fernández de Gurmendi was engaged in that capacity during the period between the application for a warrant of arrest against Mr Tomas Lubanga and the confirmation of charges hearing in that case.

13. It follows that a reasonable observer, properly informed, must necessarily conclude that she participated in person in the investigations concerning Mr Thomas Lubanga, participated in the drafting of the application for his arrest, participated in the drafting of the detailed list of charges submitted to the Pre-Trial Chamber for examination and, in general, that she participated at the highest level of the organisation in the proceedings against Mr Thomas Lubanga until December 2006.

14. Witnesses Bernard Lavigne (P-0582) and Nicolas Sebire (P-0583) were called in this case by Trial Chamber I to “testify as to the approach and the procedures applied to intermediaries” to assist the Chamber in ruling on the Defence’s abuse of process application. They confirm that the executive committee established within the Office of the Prosecutor, of which Judge Silvia Fernández de Gurmendi was a member, was regularly consulted on the conduct of investigations and that it directed the course of those investigations.

15. Mr Sebire stated that he had himself attended two meetings of the executive committee, the purpose of which was “[TRANSLATION] to report on the investigation, the progress of the investigation and the evidence gathered by … by the time of appearing before the committee.”

The OTP does not deny that Judge Fernandez was previously involved in the Lubanga case. On the contrary, it simply insists that the test for recusal is whether “a reasonable and properly informed observer would apprehend bias by Judge Fernández in deciding on the early release of Mr Lubanga” — and that the Judge’s “sporadic and general” involvement in the case does not satisfy the test:

13. Finally, the Presidency should consider Judge Fernández’s non-operational and relatively circumscribed role in the Lubanga case resulting from her position as head of JCCD and as a member of ExCom from June 2003 to December 2006. Judge Fernandez was never directly responsible for the investigation and prosecution of the Lubanga case. JCCD is a division of the Office of the Prosecutor entrusted with conducting preliminary examinations; evaluating information pursuant to articles 15 and 53(1); providing advice on whether a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation exists, and providing advice on issues related to jurisdiction and admissibility, and on cooperation matters. Thus, Judge Fernández would have been involved in the early stages of the proceedings in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (including the Lubanga case), in particular, in the decision to commence an investigation, and in transmitting requests for cooperation, including arrest warrants and investigative missions in the field.

14. As a member of ExCom, Judge Fernández would have participated in the general discussion and approval of the main legal and strategic documents and major investigative and prosecution activities developed by the Investigation and Prosecution Divisions with respect to all the cases from June 2003 to December 2006, including that against Mr Lubanga. However, her intervention would have necessarily been sporadic and general in nature. She was not one of the lawyers involved in investigating or prosecuting the case against Mr Lubanga; although she would have been kept apprised of and approved of various steps as the case proceeded against him during the period of her tenure at the Office of the Prosecutor, her situation is not comparable to that of a prosecution lawyer deeply involved in the case and knowledgeable of its details.

I have great respect for Judge Fernandez. I’m thrilled that she was recently elected President of the Court. And I have no doubt whatsoever that she would not be biased against Lubanga in the sentence review. But that’s irrelevant — because Art. 41(2)(a) of the Rome Statute still requires her disqualification. Here is the text of the provision (emphasis mine):

A judge shall not participate in any case in which his or her impartiality might reasonably be doubted on any ground. A judge shall be disqualified from a case in accordance with this paragraph if, inter alia, that judge has previously been involved in any capacity in that case before the Court or in a related criminal case at the national level involving the person being investigated or prosecuted.

The OTP admits that Judge Fernandez has previously been involved in the Lubanga case. Art. 41(2)(a) thus prohibits her from participating in the sentence review as a member of the Appeals Chamber — a judge “shall” be disqualified (not “may” be disqualified) if she has previously been involved “in any capacity” (not in a significant capacity) in the case. End of story.

The OTP, of course, disagrees. Most obviously, it insists that previous involvement in a case requires disqualification only if that involvement would lead a reasonable observer to doubt the judge’s impartiality. But that is not what Art. 41(2)(a) says. There are only two ways to read the provision: (1) as providing two different grounds requiring disqualification — appearance of bias or previous participation in the case; or (2) as establishing an irrebuttable presumption that previous participation gives rise to a reasonable doubt of a judge’s impartiality. The second interpretation is likely correct, given that the provision mentions previous participation “inter alia” as a situation in which a judge “shall” (not “may”) be disqualified from a case. Either way, though, Judge Fernandez must be disqualified from Lubanga’s sentence review.

The OTP seems to recognise that, despite its argument, nothing in the wording of Art. 41(2)(a) actually suggests that previous participation requires disqualification only if a reasonable observer would doubt a judge’s impartiality. It thus insists (para. 7) that “[t]he relevant provisions must be contextually and purposively interpreted according to the rules on interpretation of treaties in the Vienna Convention, and must be applied on a case-by-case basis.” This is typical ICC double-speak, a nudge-nudge, wink-wink to the judges asking them to ignore a clear provision of the Rome Statute simply because the OTP finds it inconvenient. The judges need to say no — although, given their history (Regulation 55, anyone?), there is reason to suspect they’ll simply do what the OTP wants.

Stay tuned…

UPDATE: I made similar points a few years ago. See here.

Appeals Chamber Fails To See the Forest — Complementarity Edition

by Kevin Jon Heller

Earlier this week, the Appeals Chamber rejected Cote d’Ivoire’s challenge to the admissibility of the case against Simone Gbagbo. The challenge was based on Gbagbo’s 20-year sentence for disturbing the peace, forming and organising armed gangs, and undermining state security. Like the Pre-Trial Chamber, the Appeals Chamber concluded that Gbagbo’s domestic convictions failed to satisfy Art. 17’s “same conduct” requirement, making her case admissible. Here are the key paragraphs:

99. The Pre-Trial Chamber found that the conduct underlying the alleged economic crimes was “clearly of a different nature” from the conduct alleged in the proceedings before the Court, and therefore “irrelevant”.171 The Pre-Trial Chamber further found that according to the documentation provided by Côte d’Ivoire, in particular Annex 8 to the Admissibility Challenge, the alleged conduct was characterised as [REDACTED].172 In view of the description of the alleged acts provided in the material submitted by Côte d’Ivoire, the Appeals Chamber finds that it was not unreasonable for the Pre-Trial Chamber to find this conduct to be of a different nature to Ms Gbagbo’s alleged conduct in relation to the crimes against humanity of murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, persecution and other inhumane acts, on the basis of which the Warrant of Arrest was issued against her by the Court. In addition, Côte d’Ivoire does not explain why “excessively rigid distinction” between the crimes allegedly investigated domestically and those before the Court is erroneous.

100. As regards crimes against the State, the Pre-Trial Chamber noted that in the domestic proceedings it is alleged that Ms Gbagbo [REDACTED].173 The Pre-Trial Chamber further noted that, in the domestic proceedings, “there are references to, inter alia, the allegations of [REDACTED].174 The Pre-Trial Chamber observed that the provisions criminalising such alleged conduct are included in the section of the Ivorian Criminal Code concerning felonies and misdemeanours against the safety of the State, the national defence and the public security.175 The Pre-Trial Chamber concluded that the alleged conduct only includes [REDACTED] and therefore the domestic proceedings in question “do not cover the same conduct” that is alleged in the case before the Court.176 The Appeals Chamber finds that it was not unreasonable for the Pre-Trial Chamber to find, on the basis of the description of the alleged conduct contained in the documents provided by Côte d’Ivoire, read in light of the applicable provisions of the Ivorian Criminal Code, that this conduct, characterised as infringing [REDACTED], is not the same as that alleged before the Court. In addition, as indicated earlier, Côte d’Ivoire does not explain why “excessively rigid distinction” between the crimes allegedly investigated domestically and those before the Court is erroneous.

I have no doubt that the Appeals Chamber’s application of the “same conduct” requirement is correct. But I think it is important to once again ask a basic question about the requirement: what does the ICC gain by insisting that Cote d’Ivoire surrender Gbagbo to the Court to face a second prosecution? 20 years is a significant sentence — five years longer than Lubanga’s, and eight years longer than Katanga’s. Even if the OTP manages to convict Gbagbo, she is very unlikely to receive a substantially longer sentence. So why should the ICC waste the OTP’s precious and overstretched resources by trying Gbagbo again?

My answer, not surprisingly, remains the same: it shouldn’t. The ICC simply cannot afford the kind of hyper-formalism that underlies the “same conduct” requirement. As I have argued elsewhere, the Court should defer to any national prosecution that results in a sentence equal to or longer than the sentence the suspect could expect to receive at the ICC, even if the national prosecution is based on completely different conduct than the ICC’s prosecution.

In fairness to the Appeals Chamber, it’s worth noting that Gbagbo’s attorney challenged the Pre-Trial Chamber’s application of the “same conduct” requirement; she did not challenge the requirement itself. That’s a shame, because I think Gbagbo’s case perfectly illustrates why the Appeals Chamber should jettison the “same conduct” requirement. Would it? Probably not — as I note in my article, the requirement does have a clear textual basis in Art. 20 of the Rome Statute (“upward” ne bis in idem). But the Appeals Chamber has proven remarkably willing to ignore the Rome Statute when it proves inconvenient, so it would have been worth a shot — especially as the “same conduct” requirement is fundamentally inconsistent with the principle of complementarity’s emphasis on the ICC being a court of last resort . At the very least, challenging the requirement would have forced the Appeals Chamber to explain why the requirement’s waste of OTP resources is warranted. I would have liked to read that explanation.