Archive of posts for category
International Criminal Law

AJIL Unbound Symposium on Third World Approaches to International Law

by Kevin Jon Heller

AJIL Unbound has just published a fantastic symposium entitled “TWAIL Perspectives on ICL, IHL, and Intervention.” The symposium includes an introduction by James Gathii (Loyola-Chicago) and essays by Asad Kiyani (Western), Parvathi Menon (Max Planck), Ntina Tzouvala (Durham), and Corri Zoli (Syracuse). All of the essays are excellent and worth a read, but I want to call special attention to Ntina’s essay, which is entitled “TWAIL and the ‘Unwilling or Unable’ Doctrine: Continuities and Ruptures.” Here is a snippet that reflects her central thesis:

The similarities between this practice and the prominent role of nineteenth-century international legal scholars in the construction of the “civilizing” discourse of the time are striking, even if “[s]ubsequent generations of international lawyers have strenuously attempted to distance the discipline from that period.” Imperial aspirations tied to such arguments also form a “red thread” that connect “the standard of civilization” with the “unwilling or unable” doctrine. The unequal international legal structure promoted by these arguments is intimately linked to an unequal political structure, characterized by the dominance of the Global North over the Global South. More specifically, states of the Global North are enabled to use force against the sovereignty and—importantly—the life and security of the citizens of states of the Global South in pursuing the former’s “war on terror” and the political and economic agendas accompanying it. Moreover, pressure is exerted upon states of the Global South to transform themselves and adopt policies appealing to powerful states, if they want to avoid being branded “unwilling or unable.” A strong parallel can be detected between this transformative process and the pressure exerted upon peripheral states during the nineteenth century to introduce reforms that would render them “civilized” and, hence, equal to Western states.

Ntina makes a number of points in the essay that I’ve tried to make over the years — but she does so far better than I ever have or could. For anyone interested in the “unwilling or unable” doctrine, her essay is a must read.

Article 87(5) of the Rome Statute — Bizarre and Possibly Counterproductive

by Kevin Jon Heller

In a recent post, I noted my puzzlement at Russia’s recent announcement that it will not cooperate with the ICC’s investigation in Georgia. Noting that “Russia has very little to fear” from the investigation, I asked why it would not “milk a little goodwill by at least pretending to cooperate with the ICC” — especially as Russia could simply stop cooperating with the ICC if the OTP ever found evidence that incriminated it.

My post elicited the following response from Patricia Jimenez Kwast on her personal blog:

This might be true in political terms. However, the legal picture is more complicated than this. Once Russia agrees to cooperate with the Court, it can face decisions of non-cooperation if it would simply stop cooperating and might lead to steps under Article 87(5)(b) of the Statute. As a permanent member of the Security Council, Russia would probably block any meaningful Security Council engagement under 87(5)(b), but the point is that ‘pretending to cooperate’ or stopping cooperation after agreeing to cooperate does carry legal consequences. It is not a decision that should be taken lightly.

To be perfectly honest, I had never paid any attention to Art. 87(5) until I read Kwast’s post. Here is what it says:

(a) The Court may invite any State not party to this Statute to provide assistance under this Part on the basis of an ad hoc arrangement, an agreement with such State or any other appropriate basis.

(b) Where a State not party to this Statute, which has entered into an ad hoc arrangement or an agreement with the Court, fails to cooperate with requests pursuant to any such arrangement or agreement, the Court may so inform the Assembly of States Parties or, where the Security Council referred the matter to the Court, the Security Council.

I am much less sure than Kwast that Art. 87(5) would apply if Russia cooperated with the ICC and then stopped cooperating. The article seems to contemplate some kind of formal relationship between the Court and a non-party State — an “arrangement” or an “agreement” or something similar (ejusdem generis). After all, Art. 87(5)(b) addresses non-cooperation when a State “enters into” such an arrangement or agreement with the Court, language that we would normally associate with the law of contract. So I think the best reading of Art. 87(5) is that it applies only when a non-party State makes a formal commitment to cooperate with the Court and then breaks that commitment. I don’t think it applies any time a non-party State voluntarily provides the Court with information and then decides to stop providing it. After all, if Art. 87(5) does apply in such situations, it is profoundly counterproductive. Why would any non-party State ever voluntarily cooperate with the Court if doing so means that it cannot stop cooperating? I think the drafters of the Rome Statute were smart enough not to provide non-party States with such a powerful incentive to avoid the Court like the plague.

In any case, I doubt Russia is trembling in its boots at the thought of a non-cooperation finding. The Security Council did not refer the situation in Georgia, so the most the Court can do is complain about Russian non-cooperation to the Assembly of States Parties. And the Assembly of States Parties has no authority over Russia — because it’s a non-party State…

I’m more than a little baffled by Art. 87(5). Comments from readers would be most appreciated.

Russia’s Short-Sighted Approach to the Georgia Investigation

by Kevin Jon Heller

According to a recent article in Agenda.ge, Russia has announced that it will not cooperate with the ICC’s formal investigation into the situation in Georgia:

Russia’s Ministry of Justice issued a statement confirming it would not cooperate with the investigation, reported Russian media today.

Tbilisi was not surprised by Moscow’s decision. The Georgian side believed it would not be in Russia’s best interests for this case to be investigated.

Russian officials stated it would not collaborate with The Hague Court since the Russian parliament had not ratified the Rome Statue, which Russia signed in 2000.

“As of February 1, 2016, the Russia Federation has not ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and the document has not come into power,” Russia’s Justice Ministry said.

[snip]

Earlier, spokesperson for Russia’s Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova said Moscow was disappointed with ICC’s recent activities and would be forced to “fundamentally review its attitude towards the ICC”.

Zakharova said ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda had taken Georgia’s side and started an investigation aimed against Russia and South Ossetia.

“Such actions hardly reflect the ideals of justice,” she said.

Assuming the article is correct — and Agenda.ge is, of course, a Georgian news organization — the statement represents a rather baffling shift in Russia’s approach to the Georgia investigation. According to the OTP’s request for authorization to open the investigation, Russia generally cooperated with the ICC during the preliminary examination, including providing the OTP with 28 volumes of evidence concerning Georgian attacks on Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia. Given that the Pre-Trial Chamber has authorized the OTP to investigate those attacks (para. 29), Russia’s cooperation seems to have paid off, at least to some extent.

More fundamentally, though, Russia doesn’t seem to have much to fear from the ICC. The OTP’s most sensational allegation is probably that Russia had “overall control” of South Ossetia’s forces during the 2008 conflict…

Al Jazeera Panel Discussion on Siege Warfare in Syria

by Kevin Jon Heller

Sorry for the endless self-promotion, but I thought readers might be interested in the following episode of Al Jazeera’s Inside Story, which includes a 30-minute panel on siege warfare in Syria that I participated in. It was quite a wide-ranging discussion, focusing less on international law than I expected.

As always, comments welcome! I hope readers don’t think I was too soft on either Assad or the UN…

Discussing Gbagbo on BBC World News

by Kevin Jon Heller

I had the pleasure of going on BBC World News a couple of days ago to discuss the opening of Laurent Gbagbo’s trial at the ICC. The clip they sent me is very low quality; the sound isn’t even synced correctly. But I’m posting it just in case anyone wants to hear what I had to say. It’s about three minutes long.

I have to admit, being in that giant BBC studio was intimidating. I’ve done television before, but it was always remote from a tiny recording room. I hope I acquitted myself okay!

Navy SEAL Who Supposedly Killed Bin Laden Under Investigation

by Kevin Jon Heller

The SEAL in question is Matthew Bissonnette, who published the bestselling No Easy Day under the pseudonym Mark Owen. According to the Intercept, the federal government is investigating Bissonnette for revealing classified information and using his position to make money while still on active duty:

A former Navy SEAL who shot Osama bin Laden and wrote a bestselling book about the raid is now the subject of a widening federal criminal investigation into whether he used his position as an elite commando for personal profit while on active duty, according to two people familiar with the case.

Matthew Bissonnette, the former SEAL and author of No Easy Day, a firsthand account of the 2011 bin Laden operation, had already been under investigation by both the Justice Department and the Navy for revealing classified information. The two people familiar with the probe said the current investigation, led by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, expanded after Bissonnette agreed to hand over a hard drive containing an unauthorized photo of the al Qaeda leader’s corpse. The government has fought to keep pictures of bin Laden’s body from being made public for what it claims are national security reasons.

The investigation is a perfect example of the US government’s bipartisan unwillingness to address crimes committed by the military as part of the war on terror. As I noted more than three years ago, Bissonnette openly admits to committing the war crime of willful killing — a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions — in No Easy Day. Here is his description of how he and a fellow SEAL killed bin Laden (p. 315):

“The point man reached the landing first and slowly moved toward the door. Unlike in the movies, we didn’t bound up the final few steps and rush into the room with guns blazing. We took our time.

The point man kept his rifle trained into the room as we slowly crept toward the open door. Again, we didn’t rush. Instead, we waited at the threshold and peered inside. We could see two women standing over a man lying at the foot of a bed. Both women were dressed in long gowns and their hair was a tangled mess like they had been sleeping. The women were hysterically crying and wailing in Arabic. The younger one looked up and saw us at the door.

She yelled out in Arabic and rushed the point man. We were less than five feet apart. Swinging his gun to the side, the point man grabbed both women and drove them toward the corner of the room. If either woman had on a suicide vest, he probably saved our lives, but it would have cost him his own. It was a selfless decision made in a split second.”

With the women out of the way, I entered the room with a third SEAL. We saw the man lying on the floor at the foot of his bed. He was wearing a white sleeveless T-shirt, loose tan pants, and a tan tunic. The point man’s shots had entered the right side of his head. Blood and brains spilled out of the side of his skull. In his death throes, he was still twitching and convulsing. Another assaulter and I trained our lasers on his chest and fired several rounds. The bullets tore into him, slamming his body into the floor until he was motionless.

This is about as clear-cut as IHL and ICL get in a combat situation. Bissonnette did not make a split-second decision to shoot bin Laden; his account makes clear that he had plenty of time to assess the situation. And there is no question bin Laden was hors de combat when Bissonnette pointed his weapon at him and finished him off. Bissonnette wasn’t even the SEAL who first shot bin Laden in the head, so he can’t argue that this was some kind of continuous action designed to eliminate any possibility that bin Laden remained a threat. Ergo: a war crime.

But it’s bin Laden, of course. Inter malum enim silent leges. So instead of prosecuting Bissonnette for murder under the UCMJ, the US government investigates him for hanging onto a trophy of his kill and profiting from his notoriety.

Behold impunity.

PS: In case anyone is wondering, “death throes” refers to the agonal phase of dying, when the body is shutting down. The agonal phase precedes clinical death (when the heart stops and respiration ceases), brain death, and biological death.

New Article on SSRN: “Radical Complementarity” (Updated)

by Kevin Jon Heller

The article is forthcoming in the Journal of International Criminal Justice. Here is the abstract:

In March 2015, Simone Gbagbo, the former First Lady of Côte d’Ivoire, was convicted of various crimes in an Ivorian court and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Despite her conviction and sentence, however, the Appeals Chamber has held that her case is admissible before the ICC. The reason: the national proceeding was not based on “substantially the same conduct” as the international one. Whereas the OTP intended to prosecute Gbagbo for the crimes against humanity of murder, rape, other inhumane acts, and persecution, the Ivorian court convicted her for the ordinary domestic crimes of disturbing the peace, organising armed gangs, and undermining state security.

This Article argues that the Appeals Chamber’s decision in Simone Gbagbo undermines the principle of complementarity – and that, in general, the ICC has used complementarity to impose structural limits on national proceedings that are inconsistent with the Rome Statute and counterproductive in practice. The Article thus defends ‘radical complementarity’: the idea that as long as a state is making a genuine effort to bring a suspect to justice, the ICC should find his or her case inadmissible regardless of the prosecutorial strategy the state pursues, regardless of the conduct the state investigates, and regardless of the crimes the state charges.

The Article is divided into three sections. Section 1 defends the Appeals Chamber’s recent conclusion in Al-Senussi that the principle of complementarity does not require states to charge international crimes as international crimes, because charging ‘ordinary’ domestic crimes is enough. Section 2 then criticises the Court’s jurisprudence concerning Art. 17’s ‘same perpetrator’ requirement, arguing that the test the judges use to determine whether a state is investigating a particular suspect is both inconsistent with the Rome Statute and far too restrictive in practice. Finally, using Simone Gbagbo as its touchstone, Section 3 explains why the ‘same conduct’ requirement, though textually defensible, is antithetical to the goals underlying complementarity and should be eliminated.

The article brings together thoughts I’ve developed both here at Opinio Juris and in my academic writing. In terms of the latter, it’s something of a sequel to my article “A Sentence-Based Theory of Complementarity.” (Double self-promotion!)

As always, thoughts are most welcome!

NOTE: I have uploaded a revised version of the article to SSRN. Chris’s comment below made me realise I should note my sentence-based theory of complementarity. It’s not a radical change, but — at the risk of seeming like I’m trolling for downloads — you should get the new version if you want to read the article but haven’t already.

Guest Post: Merry-Go-Round Justice–The Retrial of Stanišić and Simatović

by Wayne Jordash

[Wayne Jordash , QC, is a Managing Partner of Global Rights Compliance LLP and a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers. He served as counsel for Jovica Stanišić in the proceedings described in this post and has been temporarily assigned for the new proceedings.]

On the 15 December 2015, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (“ICTY”) Appeals Chamber ordered a retrial of Jovica Stanišić and Franko Simatović. The Appeals Chamber granted the Prosecution’s request that the decision to acquit be quashed because the Trial Chamber’s approach to joint criminal enterprise (“JCE”) and aiding and abetting were deficient. The retrial will take place under ICTY’s successor, the United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (“MICT”).

Before launching headlong into a discussion on the merits of the decision to order a retrial, it is worthwhile noting that intelligent minds often reasonably disagree on complex ICTY appellate issues. As the ICTY has learnt to its chagrin over the last few years, this is the nature of appeals and sometimes the storms must just be weathered. That said, in the final analysis, some minds might turn out to be more reasonable than others and the quality of the reasoning is as good as signpost as any of the true merits and bona fides of a decision and the prospects of it contributing to our understanding of the law. Accordingly, in the circumstances of the Stanišić and Simatović appeal, it is worthwhile beginning any discussion concerning the merits of the order for retrial with a discussion of the merits and reasoning of the substantive aspects of the appeal. It is instructive to contrast the arguable before moving to the indefensible.

First, for the JCE ground, the Majority of the Appeals Chamber concluded that the Majority in the Trial Chamber had made an error in the course of finding that Mr. Stanišić had not intended to pursue any criminal purpose. They argued that the Trial Chamber should have first considered whether the Serbian leadership had a plan to commit crimes in Croatia and Bosnia, what the scope of that plan was, who was involved and whether Mr. Stanišić’s acts contributed to the plan. They concluded that it was only by first reaching these definitive conclusions about the alleged criminal plan could Mr. Stanišić’s JCE intent be properly adjudicated. At first glance, this approach surely has a superficial attractiveness that warrants further consideration.

However, a closer examination of the underlying premise of this ground reminds us that all that glitters is not gold. The reasoning of the Appeals Chamber appears to suggest that it is not possible for a Trial Chamber to take a holistic view of the evidence and recognise an accused’s consistent avoidance of crime in order to reach a conclusion that the accused did not make a significant contribution to any criminal plan and had no criminal intent. Instead, it seems, the Trial Chamber should painstakingly describe the criminal plan in all its florid detail – even though they are convinced from an examination of the accused’s established conduct that he was consistently engaged in conduct that did not advance or further crime.

Logic suggests that if Mr. Stanišić was alleged to have taken part in a robbery of a bank, a trier of fact would be well-equipped to acquit on the basis that he established a solid alibi that showed he was elsewhere, involved in lawful activity and made no contribution to the specific acts alleged to be within the robbers’ plan. On the Majority view in the Stanišić appeal, it was impossible to be satisfied that Stanišić was acting lawfully without describing all of the robbery, even though he was not there, did not contribute to any aspect of it and was shown to be contemporaneously pursuing legitimate purposes.

The fact that the Majority in the Appeals Chamber eschews this type of analytical discussion in favour of bald assertions that JCE intent may only be inferred through a rigidly linear, calculative approach tells us something about the merits of the conclusion, even if reasonable minds could agree or disagree about some of the arguable points. As does the fact, as pointed out by Judge Afanđe in his eloquent dissent, that such an approach is a departure from previous analytical frameworks employed in cases such as Popović, Pandurević, Milutinović and others and Prlić and others. Whichever way it is spun, and however arguable the issues are, it does seem a little late in the day to be overturning acquittals on the basis that unbeknownst there is only one way to assess JCE intent.

Moreover, the trenchant critique of their fellow judges, Judge Agius and Judge Alfanđe, tells us how the Majority got to where they wanted to go and why there may be little that resembles adequate explanation or express reasoning. As stated by Judge Agius:

[i]t is unfortunate that the Majority’s approach contains a number of shortcomings. Not only is it difficult to identify and understand the Majority’s reasons from the text of Judgment, but in its limited discussion, I respectfully submit that the Majority: (i) misstates the applicable law; (ii) fails to reconcile its analysis, in any meaningful fashion with the learned submissions advanced by counsel for the parties; and (iii) takes the practice of the Appeals Chamber dramatically out of context when applying it to the circumstances of this case.

He finds the “lack of transparency” in the Majority’s approach “particularly troubling, in light of its own obligation to provide a reasoned judgment in writing.” That irony was also not lost on Judge Afanđe, who, whilst discussing the flaws in the Majority’s approach, mused on the Majority criticising the Trial Chamber for failing to provide adequate reasoning for its decisions while doing precisely the same thing: a classic case of kettle calling the pot.

Considering the other aspect of the substantive merits, the decision to reverse the acquittals rested on the Trial Chamber’s analysis of Stanišić’s mens rea that was arguably assessed through the lens of the much-debated ‘specific direction’ requirement. Even if one can once again bemoan the lack of reasoning and legal engagement, as with the JCE ground, one can at least see how the Majority of the Appeals Chamber got to where it wanted to go, even if reasonable minds might have queried whether in the particular analytical circumstances the application of specific direction had any meaningful impact on Stanišić’s aiding and abetting acquittals. Nonetheless, as many stakeholders in the international criminal process learn to their cost, this is sometimes the way the die is cast: discretion is discretion and that is the day-to-day business of criminal courts. (more…)

Why All the Hate Toward Breaking the Silence?

by Kevin Jon Heller

Although anything I post about Israel invariably elicits angry comments, nothing makes Israel’s supposed “defenders” more angry than my posts — see here and here — about Breaking the Silence, the Israeli organisation that collects testimonies by IDF soldiers about their experiences in combat. I’m obviously not the only one who has noticed the anger toward the organisation; Haggai Mattar recently published a superb article at +972 entitled simply, “Why Do So Many Israeli’s Hate Breaking the Silence?” Here are a couple of key paragraphs:

The first claim, which in my mind is the most important and critical accusation to refute, is that Breaking the Silence is not credible. The organization’s critics come up with all sorts of reasons why the organization isn’t credible, but there is one rebuttal that is awfully difficult to refute: In the 11 years that Breaking the Silence has collected and published testimonies, there has not been one instance in which a serious error — not to mention a fabrication — has been found in their published testimonies.

This is no insignificant point — it needs to be the heart of the debate. An organization that publishes hundreds of testimonies, which works with more than 1,000 soldiers, which has dealt with very complicated subject matter for 11 years — and not a single fabricated published testimony has ever been found. No court of law in any land can boast of such a record. And that is despite a number of attempts to fool the organization by giving them false testimonies. Their researchers and fact-checkers seem to have a perfect record of catching fabrications before publication.

That astounding success is the result of the massive investment Breaking the Silence makes in every single testimony. As the organization’s director of research has written here in the past, every testimony given by a soldier or former soldier is fact-checked, and the background of the incident or testimony is verified along with the identity of the testifier him or herself (and that they are not an aspiring politician looking to make a name for himself). The entire testimony is then corroborated with any available information — both from other soldiers’ testimonies and open source information. Some of the most hair-raising testimonies collected by Breaking the Silence were never published because the organization could not independently corroborate them. Just imagine if journalists who published attack pieces on the organization applied their strict verification standards to their own work and the malicious things that are said about it.

The article goes on to explain why Breaking the Silence does not give its testimonies to the IDF (they used to — and were investigated by the IDF for their trouble); why the testimonies are anonymous (similar reasons); why the organisation’s foreign funding is a non-issue (duh); and why it engages in events overseas (double duh).

The article ultimately concludes by answering the question asked by its title: because Breaking the Silence involves Israeli soldiers laying bare the ugly reality of how the IDF actually conducts its biennial destruction of Gaza — a necessary counterpoint to the endless Israeli propaganda about how the IDF is the “most moral army” in the world. The IDF regularly violates IHL and commits war crimes, and no number of self-interested secret briefings by the IDF about its targeting procedures can change that basic fact.

The Arbitrariness of ICTY Jurisprudence (Specific-Direction Style)

by Kevin Jon Heller

Last week, the ICTY Appeals Chamber reversed the acquittals of Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic, the former head and deputy head of the Serbian secret police under Milosevic, and ordered them retried. One of the two grounds for reversal was the Trial Chamber’s adoption of the specific-direction requirement; in the majority’s view (the vote was 3-2), specific direction is not an element of the actus reus of aiding and abetting.

As Marko Milanovic notes today at EJIL: Talk!, the outcome of the Stanisic & Simatovic appeal was completely predictable, because all three of the judges in the majority — Pocar, Liu, and Ramaroson — were also in the majority in Sainovic, in which the Appeals Chamber first rejected its earlier decision in Perisic to adopt the specific-direction requirement. Indeed, Liu and Ramaroson had each rejected the requirement in Perisic, as well.

But here is what’s interesting: Stanisic & Simatovic was completely predictable only because Judge Meron replaced two judges that were originally assigned to the appeal. The original five judges were Meron himself, Agius, Pocar, Liu, and Khan. Two of those judges were in the majority in Perisic (Meron and Agius) and two, as noted, were in the majority in Sainovic (Pocar and Liu). Assuming that none of those judges changed his mind about specific direction, the deciding vote would thus have been Khan, who had not yet expressed an opinion on the doctrine.

The calculus changed, however, when Meron made the first change — replacing himself with Judge Afande. That change meant that there was now only one judge in favour of specific direction (Agius), two judges against it (Pocar and Liu) and two judges who had not yet taken a position (Khan and Afande). That was still an unpredictable panel, even though it now leaned toward rejecting specific direction.

And then came Meron’s second change: replacing Judge Khan with Judge Ramaroson. That change meant the writing was on the wall, because the lineup now included one judge in favour of specific direction (Agius), three judges against it (Pocar, Liu, and Ramaroson), and one judge who had not taken a position (Afande). So it no longer mattered what Judge Afande thought.

There is no reason to believe anything untoward explains Meron’s changes; after all, he supported specific direction in Perisic. But it’s regrettable that it was so easy to predict the outcome of the Stanisic & Simatovic appeal simply by counting judges — as Marko notes, “this unfortunately exposes some of the arbitrariness inherent in judicial decision-making in borderline cases.” The substance of ICTY jurisprudence should not be decided by which judges the President decides to appoint to an Appellate Bench. (In this regard, the structure of the ICC’s judiciary is vastly superior. At the ICC, all five judges in the Appeals Division hear every appeal.)

My position on the specific-direction requirement is well known, so I won’t rehash it here. But I will end this post by noting that the only unknown quantity in Stanisic & Simatovic, Judge Afande, concluded in his dissent that specific direction is an inherent aspect of aiding and abetting — precisely what I’ve been arguing. Win the battle, lose the war…

Moreno-Ocampo Needs a Remedial Criminal Law Course

by Kevin Jon Heller

Here is Moreno-Ocampo’s latest doozy, concerning the possibility of Israelis being prosecuted for war crimes related to Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank:

Where the Israeli High Court of Justice has approved specific settlements as legal, this could provide a complete defense to any allegations that they are war crimes, former International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told the Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

Moreno-Ocampo is in Jerusalem lecturing at the The Fried-Gal Transitional Justice Initiative at the Hebrew University Law School.

Although Moreno-Ocampo has stepped down from his post, he was the boss of the current ICC chief prosecutor who will decide whether or not the settlements qualify as a war crime, is considered highly influential internationally and his statement could be a major coup in the debate over the issue.

Moreno-Ocampo did not by any means say that the settlements were legal under international law.

But he did say that “Israel’s High Court is highly respected internationally” and that anyone prosecuting Israelis regarding settlement activity would be incapable of proving criminal intent if those Israelis explained that they honestly believed their actions were legal once ratified by the country’s top court.

“At least they could show no intention” to commit a crime said the former chief ICC prosecutor.

Few ICL scholars are more sympathetic to mistake defences than I am (see this article), but Moreno-Ocampo’s statements simply make no sense. Most obviously, Art. 32(2) of the Rome Statute specifically recognises the principle ignorantia legis neminem excusat — ignorance of the law excuses no one:

A mistake of law as to whether a particular type of conduct is a crime within the jurisdiction of the Court shall not be a ground for excluding criminal responsibility.

Art. 32(2) applies regardless of whether a defendant was simply unaware that his actions were illegal (ignorance) or affirmatively believed that they were legal (mistaken belief). So if an Israeli was prosecuted for committing a settlement-related war crime — transfer of civilians into occupied territory, forcible transfer, pillaging, etc. — it would not matter that he either did not know international law criminalised his actions or believed that his actions were legal because the Israeli Supreme Court had approved the legality of settlements. The only question would be whether he committed the actus reus of the war crime in question with the necessary mens rea.

To be sure, some common-law systems provide an exception to the ignorantia legis principle where the defendant has reasonably relied on an official interpretation of the law. Moreno-Ocampo’s emphasis on the reputation of the Israeli Supreme Court suggests he might be thinking about that exception. But there are two significant problems here. First, no such exception exists in the Rome Statute, as the text of Art. 32(2) makes clear. Second, even if there was one, the ICC would be very unlikely to conclude that an Israeli defendant could reasonably rely on a statement by an Israeli court — even a supposedly “highly respected” one (which is questionable) — that settlements are legal. That would obviously be the case if the Israeli Supreme Court affirmed that the settlements were legal under Israeli law; no international tribunal has ever allowed such a “domestic legality” defence. And I seriously doubt that the ICC would find it any more reasonable for an Israeli defendant to rely on an Israeli court’s interpretation of international law, given the widespread international rejection of official Israeli positions on a variety of international-law issues.

Finally, we might be generous and assume that Moreno-Ocampo was actually thinking not about Art. 32(2) of the Rome Statute, but about Art. 32(1), which recognises mistakes that negative mens rea:

A mistake of fact shall be a ground for excluding criminal responsibility only if it negates the mental element required by the crime.

In this interpretation, Moreno-Ocamp is actually arguing that an Israeli defendant who knew the Israeli Supreme Court had approved the legality of the settlements would not have the mental states required by any of the various settlement-related war crimes. But that is a flawed argument, because none of those war crimes require a mens rea that would be negated by a belief in settlement legality. Consider, for example, the elements of the war crime of direct or indirect transfer, Art. 8(2)(b)(viii) of the Rome Statute:

1. The perpetrator: (a) Transferred, directly or indirectly, parts of its own population into the territory it occupies…

2. The conduct took place in the context of and was associated with an international armed conflict.

3. The perpetrator was aware of factual circumstances that established the existence of an armed conflict.

In terms of mens rea, Art. 8(2)(b)(viii) requires the prosecution to prove that the defendant (1) intentionally engaged in the acts that qualified as direct or indirect transfer; (2) knew that Israeli civilians were moving into occupied territory; and (3) knew that Israel exercised effective control over the West Bank at the time of the transfer. The defendant’s belief that settlements are legal would not negate either of those mental elements, so Art. 32(1) would not apply.

No matter how we interpret it, then, Moreno-Ocampo’s statement about the Israeli Supreme Court makes no sense as a matter of substantive international criminal law. Israel relies on the “expertise” of this “highly influential” former prosecutor at its own peril…

The International Criminal Court’s Assembly of States Parties Meetings: Challenges to the Work of the Court

by Jennifer Trahan

[Jennifer Trahan is Associate Clinical Professor, The Center for Global Affairs, NYU-SPS. She attended ICC ASP 14 on behalf of the American NGO Coalition for the ICC and the American Branch of the International Law Association International Criminal Court Committee. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of AMICC or the ABILA.]

From November 18-27, delegates of states that are parties to the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute, as well as NGOs and delegates of non-State Parties gathered in The Hague for the 14th annual Assembly of States Parties meetings.

While much of the ASP’s business carried on as usual, two threats to the Court’s work emerged.
The first came in the form of a Kenyan proposal seeking an interpretation or reaffirmation that Rule 68’s amendment made at the ASP in 2013 would not apply retroactively. On its face, the measure Kenya proposed looked harmless enough. The ASP is indeed the body before which amendments to the ICC’s Rome Statute and Rules of Procedure and Evidence are to be brought after prior presentation to the New York working group on amendments.

But the unstated purpose behind Kenya’s proposal appeared to relate to the pending cases against Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto, and Joshua Arap Sang. Each is charged with crimes against humanity in connection with post-election violence in Kenya’s 2007-8 presidential elections in which over 1,000 persons died. (The measure may also have been indirectly aimed at insuring that a prior case against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta – as to whom the charges have been withdrawn without prejudice – will not be reinstated.) A likely goal is to ensure that prior recorded witness testimony of witnesses who subsequently became “unavailable” could not be used in evidence. Given serious and credible allegations of witness tampering and disappearances—there are pending proceedings related to attempts to corrupt ICC witnesses in the Kenya cases—the proposal could be aimed at keeping out information potentially relevant to pending trials. To make matters worse, the issue of whether the Rule 68 amendment applies retroactively is currently pending before the ICC’s Appeals Chamber in the Ruto & Sang case.

In oral remarks responding to Kenya’s proposal on Thursday November 19 and then again in the closing plenary session, various States made strong statements about the need to preserve the Court’s independence and not interfere in matters pending before the Court. Yet, it was disheartening to later see delegates willing to attempt to mollify the Kenyan delegation by negotiating language favorable to the Kenyan position. If a matter really is sub judice, there should be no ASP role, period. (The only bright spot is that the language negotiated was included in a final report summarizing discussions of the Assembly, and not in a formal assembly resolution.) What the Court will eventually make of all of this, is, of course, another matter – as the judges do not necessarily need to accept even Rule or Statutory amendments from the ASP if they deem them inconsistent with the Rome Statute or beyond the ASP’s authority. Moreover, judges would likely accord language from a report little weight, if any.

Kenya’s second proposal was to develop an ad hoc mechanism of independent jurists to advise the Prosecutor in her selection of Prosecution witnesses. There is absolutely no precedent for such a measure, which clearly is aimed at stymying the Prosecutor’s work. Such an attempt to interfere with Prosecutorial independence appropriately met with little enthusiasm from other state delegations.

The theatrics of Kenya’s presentation of these proposals on November 19 were amplified when the more than 80-person Kenyan delegation applauded loudly to all of Kenya’s statements. Most of the rest of the room then applauded the interventions by other states who insisted on the Court’s independence, and not interfering in matters pending before the Court. The effect was somewhat like an audience at a sporting event, cheering their two respective teams. It seemed unseemly to say the least, and one can only wonder at the choice of allowing a delegation to be that large. Most other States sent at most a handful of representatives.

Another threat to the Court’s work was far more ordinary and predictable but also serious: seven States Parties holding out not to give the Prosecutor the budget she requested as necessary to do her work. With the Court active in 8 situation countries, with 23 pending cases, and preliminary examinations across the globe, now is not the time to nickel and dime the Prosecutor of the world’s worst atrocity crimes. The Court has a bigger docket than it ever has had before. The blame here also should be extended to the U.N. Security Council, which referred two situations to the Court (those in Libya and Darfur) but refused to pay for them, and has failed to insure that any of the outstanding arrest warrants or other transfers related to the cases are executed. At the ASP, the Prosecutor had requested a budget increase of 17%, but only received a 7.1% increase. If she now has to curtail meritorious investigations, which is anticipated, we have only States to blame, and not the Prosecutor.

These ASP gatherings of NGO’s and State delegates from around the world are in some ways heartening – to see a global network of individuals committed to international criminal justice, and the prosecution of the worse atrocity crimes through the ICC. Complementing the formal sessions are numerous “side events” that range the gamut from attempting to ensure justice locally in Africa, to strengthening the ICC’s work related to victims, and attempting to ensure accountability for crimes in Syria. Yet, the ASP meetings are also disheartening to see such attempts at political interference in the Court’s work (and budgetary shortsightedness). It is also disappointing, although perhaps understandable, to see States attempting to pacify delegates in order to avoid having their State potentially withdraw from the Rome Statute. One wonders whether that Faustian bargain is worth striking.