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International Criminal Law

Guest Post: the Zimbabwe Torture Docket Case

by Christopher Gevers

[Christopher Gevers is a lecturer at the School of Law at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Disclaimer: Christopher advised the Southern Africa Litigation Centre and the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum (the Applicants) on the international legal aspects of the case and assisted in the drafting of their written submissions. Twitter: @ChrisGevers]

On May 19, South Africa’s Constitutional Court heard a landmark universal jurisdiction case involving alleged crimes against humanity committed in Zimbabwe in 2007. The so-called ‘Zimbabwe Torture Docket’ case involves an administrative review application brought by two civil society organisations against the South African government’s decision not to open an investigation into the alleged crimes under the country’s Rome Statute Act.

The genesis of the case was a docket hand-delivered by the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) to the Priority Crimes Litigation Unit of the National Proseuting Authority (NPA) on 14 March 2008. The docket contained evidence of acts of torture committed in Zimbabwe following a raid on Harvest House – the headquarters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change – on 28 March 2007. The docket further alleged that the torture was systematic and took place as part of an attack against the civilian population, pursuant to a State policy: elevating it to the level of crimes against humanity. The docket named senior security and government officials that it alleged bore individual criminal responsibility for these crimes under the doctrine of command responsibility. According to the docket, these individuals frequented South Africa regularly on both official and personal business. On this basis SALC requested the authorities investigate, and if necessary prosecute, these crimes under section 4 of the Rome Statute Act on the basis of universal jurisdiction.

On 19 June 2009 – fifteen months after recieving the docket – the NPA wrote to SALC advising it that, after consultation with the Police, it did not intend to pursue the matter, citing various reasons. In December 2009 SALC launched a legal challenge in the North Gauteng High Court to the decision of the NPA and the Police not to pursue the matter on the basis that it was irregular and unlawful under South Africa’s administrative justice principles and contrary to the rule of law (see here and here for further background). SALC was joined by a second Applicant: the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum.

The Applicants were successful in the High Court, and succesfully defended that decision in the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) (for a detailed discussion of these decisions see here and here). In the most recent decision the SCA found that (i) the Police were empowered to investigate the alleged offences irrespective ofwhether or not the alleged perpetrators are present in South Africa, and (ii) in this matter the Police were required  to initiate an investigation under the Rome Statute Act into the alleged offences.

This week’s case involves an appeal by the Police against the SCA’s decision (the NPA elected not to appeal). The Police adopted a twin-attack on the SCA’s decision: (i) challenging the legality of the proposed investigation under international law and South African law, and (ii) challeging the order given by the SCA as both procedurally irregular and ultra vires. OJ readers will most likely be interested in the first challenge.

In the Constitutional Court the written submissions of the Parties – which include no less than seven amici curiae (including an expert brief by inter alia John Dugard and OJ’s Kevin Heller) – raise a number of interesting international and domestic legal questions regarding the exercise of universal jurisdiction. These include: the legality of so-called universal jurisdiction in absentia under international law; the limits (if any) international law places on states’ investigative powers in UJ cases; the correct interpretation of the (domestic) Rome Statute Act’s ’presence’ requirement; whether the Convention Against Torture (and its implementing legislation) is the lex specialis in this matter; the relevance of the fact that Zimbabwe is not a party to the Rome Statute; and the question of whether there is an obligation to prosecute international crimes under international law or domestic Constitutional law.

International law observers will no doubt hope that the Constitutional Court takes up the invitation to consider these arguments fully and, regardless of where it lands on the matter, render a detailed judgment with far-reaching consequences for the exercise of universal jurisdiction by national courts.

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.

Guest Post: The ICC Changes Its Mind on the Immunity from Arrest of President Al Bashir, But It Is Wrong Again

by Paola Gaeta

[Paola Gaeta is a Professor at the Law Faculty of the University of Geneva, Adjunct Professor, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies and the Director of Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights.]

On 9th April, Pre-Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court (‘the ICC’ or ‘the Court’) issued another decision concerning the lack of compliance by a State party with its request to arrest and surrender Sudanese President Al Bashir. The decision thus adds to others on the same matter and all involving African member States of the ICC. This time the State concerned is the Democratic Republic of Congo (‘DRC’), which did not arrest President Al Bashir during an official visit to the country and despite a specific request to that effect by the Court.

The DRC argued, among other things, that it was not obliged to execute the request for arrest and surrender of Al Bashir on the basis of Article 98 (1) of the Rome Statute. This provision provides that the Court may not proceed with a request of cooperation or assistance whenever the requested State, in order to execute such a request, would have to breach –with respect to a third State—its international legal undertakings in the area of immunities, including personal immunities. In such cases, the Court may issue a request for assistance or co-operation to a member State only after obtaining a waiver of the relevant immunities from the third State concerned. Since the Court had not obtained the waiver of immunities, the DRC contended that it was not obliged to comply with the request of the Court.

The Pre-Trial Chamber rejected this argument. Surprisingly, it did not do so by referring to the two decisions of 2011 (against Malawi and Chad, respectively) that had already tackled the matter. Not at all: the Pre-Trial Chamber did not dedicate one word to this case law, as if these two decisions were never delivered. True, the Court is not bound by its own decisions, as Article 21(2) of the Rome Statute makes clear in providing that the Court ‘may apply principles and rules of law as interpreted in its previous decisions’. Nevertheless, this provision certainly does not mean that the Court can change its jurisprudence without even clarifying the reasons why. This is particularly true when the criminal responsibility of an individual accused of very serious international crimes is at stake. But it is also true with respect to a highly sensitive issue such as that of immunities of Al Bashir as head of State of a State not party to the Rome Statute, and the more so in light of the stand taken by the African Union on that matter on multiple occasions. The highly political tension between the African Union and the Court on this and other matters is far from being settled and the jurisprudence of the Court, which is not impeccable, certainly won’t help to alleviate it.

I do not want to say that the 2011 Pre-Trial Chamber decisions on the question of immunities of Al Bashir were convincing. Quite the contrary:  as correctly emphasized by Dapo Akande in a post on EJIL Talk! those decisions adopted a stand which made Article 98 (1) of the Rome Statute redundant, something which is ‘contrary to a basic principle of treaty interpretation’.

Unfortunately, this last of Pre-Trial Chamber II is not more convincing than those issued in 2011. This decision correctly recognizes that Article 98 (1) of the Statute directs the Court to secure the cooperation of a State not party to the Rome Statute for the waiver or lifting of the immunity of its Head of State. This in order to prevent ‘the requested State from acting inconsistently with its international obligations towards the non-State party with respect to the immunities attached to the latter’s Head of State’. However, according to the Chamber, the Court does not need to obtain the cooperation of Sudan to remove the immunities of Al Bashir. This is so because the Security Council, in obliging Sudan to cooperate fully with and provide any necessary assistance to the Court and the Prosecutor’, eliminated ‘any impediment to the proceedings before the Court, including the lifting of immunities’. For the Chamber, any other interpretation would be ‘senseless’. The Chamber thus concludes that the requirement under Article 98(1) of the Statute was already ensured by the relevant Security Council’s Resolution, by virtue of which it ‘implicitly waived the immunities granted to Omar Al Bashir under international law’. Consequently, for the Chamber the DRC was obliged under the Rome Statute to arrest and surrender Al Bashir, which it failed to do and hence violated its obligations as a State party to the Rome Statute.

It appears clear to me that the reasoning followed by the Pre-Trial Chamber is based on a wrong interpretation of Article 98(1) of the Rome Statute. This provision is not concerned with whether a State that is not party to the Rome Statute is obliged to cooperate with the Court. Article 98(1) says that the Court may not proceed with requests of cooperation which would put the requested State in the position to act inconsistently with its obligations on immunities vis-à-vis third States ‘unless the Court can first obtain the cooperation of that third State for the waiver of immunity’ (emphasis added). The question here is not the existence of a legal obligation upon the third State to cooperate, but the actual cooperation that the Court must obtain from the third State to waive the immunity.

In addition, I do not see how the obligation of cooperation imposed on Sudan by the Security Council can modify the powers and competence of the Court, including the powers of the Court vis-à-vis member States in the matter of judicial cooperation. The Court is an international organization, created by a treaty and exercising, as all international organizations, the powers and competences attributed to it by its member States. The obligations set forth by the Security Council upon a UN member State with a binding decision under Chapter VII of the UN Charter cannot affect the rights and powers of another international organization, in this case the ICC, as they are regulated in the respective constitutive instrument of such other international organization. The decision of the Security Council on the obligation of Sudan to cooperate cannot relieve the Court from the necessity to implement a requirement for the correct exercise of a power as it is the case of Article 98 (1) of the Rome Statute.  The Court has not obtained the cooperation of Sudan for the waiver of immunity of Al Bashir, as Article 98 (1) provides. To the best of my knowledge, the Court has not even attempted to obtain from Sudan such a waiver. The fact that Sudan would be legally obliged to comply with such a request – should the Court decide to submit one to Sudan – does not imply that the terms of Article 98 (1) are respected, should Sudan refuse to provide the waiver of immunities.

Finally, I do not understand how the Pre-Trial Chamber could claim that the obligation of Sudan to cooperate with the Court, by virtue of the relevant resolution of the Security Council, would be ‘senseless’ if not interpreted as implying the waiver of immunities of the Head of State of Sudan. The fact that Sudan is obliged to cooperate with the Court is not deprived of sense if one recognizes that its head of State is protected by immunities under international law in the territory of foreign states.  After all, extradition treaties are not deprived of sense simply because, as the ICJ has clarified, a state may not even circulate internationally an arrest warrant against a foreign sitting head of state or government, or ministers for foreign affairs.

Commentators who have argued that the Security Council’s decision has a bearing on the matter of immunities have been not so naïve to claim that the inapplicability of Article 98(1) of the Rome Statute stems from the obligation of Sudan to cooperate with the Court. They have been much more sophisticated than the Pre-Trial Chamber. For instance, in a paper published in the JICJ, Dapo Akande argues that whenever the Security Council triggers the jurisdiction of the Court (as in the case of Darfur, Sudan), States that are not members of the Rome Statute become bound by the latter since the referral by the Security Council ‘is a decision to confer jurisdiction on the Court (in circumstances where such jurisdiction may otherwise not exist)’. Therefore Sudan, and other non-member States of the ICC, would be obliged to accept that the Court exercises its jurisdiction in accordance with the Statute. Sudan would therefore be obliged by Article 27(2) of the Rome Statute, and its State officials would not be entitled to personal immunities before national jurisdictions that could therefore arrest and surrender incriminated officials to the ICC to comply with its request.

I do not find this argument convincing. I contend that the referral of a situation to the Court by the Security Council constitutes just one of the conditions for the exercise by the Court of its criminal jurisdiction, and does not constitute the source of the jurisdiction of the Court. This applies also when the Security Council refers to the Court a situation where the crimes are committed in the territory or by a national of a state not party to the Rome Statute. This is however not the point here. The point is that the Court cannot take the luxury of changing its mind on a sensitive issue such as that of the immunities of Al Bashir without even saying why; and in addition to issuing another unconvincing decision on the matter.

I have personally no sympathy for President Al Bashir. I do hope, as many do, that sooner or later he will be brought before the Court, or at least induced to surrender, to respond to the serious allegations brought against him. I do not believe, however, that the Court is making justice to international law by delivering decisions that, at least with respect to issue of the obligation of States parties to arrest Al Bashir, are, with all due respect, frankly wrong.

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!

How to Get Yourself Convicted of Terrorism

by Kevin Jon Heller

Just follow the lead of Henry Okah, a Nigerian national recently convicted in South Africa (under universal jurisdiction) of terrorism-related offences in the Niger delta. Here are the key paragraphs from the trial court’s decision:

[28] The correctness of copies of 3 journals kept by the accused in his own handwriting was admitted. In these journals the accused made notes in from January to September 2010 of names, military clothing, equipment and hardware. For example, he writes:

“Battle jackets… boots… boats, rounds… walkies…engines… balaklavas… water bottles… tee shirts, caps, belts, camo(flage) shorts… TNT… backpacks… binoculars nightvision… badges… bulletproof vests… tents… VHF radios … generators… rechargeable lamps… fuel… ordering through [another] the construction of a gunboat with protector plates for the gunmen… rifle slings… the contact numbers of Military Surplus Stores CC… compasses… BMG assault weapons… RPG …SAM …grenade launchers… mortars… landmines… anti-tank missiles… shotguns… handguns… notes on military tactics inter alia the use of explosives, weaponry and sabotage… and notes on counter insurgency.. names of his co-militants like Tompolo, Stoneface, Boyloaf, Moses, Chima, Raphael, VIP, Stanley…”

[29] Also admitted is the fact that an email address and account was registered with Yahoo with a login name “nigdelunrest” in the name of “Mr. Jomo Gbomo.”

I hear iamalqaeda [at] gmail [dot] com and loyaltalibansoldier [at] mac [dot] com are still available. Any takers?

Hat-Tip: Chris Gevers, University of KwaZulu-Natal, who blogs at War and Law.

Could Moreno-Ocampo Represent LRA Victims at the ICC?

by Kevin Jon Heller

John Louth at OUP passes along the latest potential twist in Moreno-Ocampo’s career path:

The former prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Mr Luis Moreno Ocampo, has offered to represent the victims of Barlonyo Massacre in the court.Barlonyo village in Agweng Sub-county, Lira District is where more than 400 people were massacred by suspected Lord’s Resistance Army rebels on February 21, 2004. A total of 301 people are buried at the memorial site in a mass grave.

However, more people are believed to have been killed in the attack as 11,000 people were in the camp at the time. “I have something to offer you, I want to be your lawyer,” Mr Ocampo told the survivors who gathered at Barlonyo to welcome him on Friday.

He then asked those in the crowd who lost relatives in Barlonyo massacre to raise their hands and all did. He then offered to represent them in court. Mr Ocampo said initially, it was thought only 200 were killed in Barlonyo but now he knows more people were killed.

“We can document that. The killing, abduction and the looting and we can present this to the ICC. We can request to expand the arrest warrant, the number of victims and the number of crimes and document well what happened here,” he said.

“We can present this to the ICC we can request to expand the arrest warrant we can expand the number of victims and number of crimes.” Mr Ocampo was invited to Lango region by Children of Peace, an NGO supporting the vulnerable and victims of the Barlonyo in Lira District

I have no idea whether Moreno-Ocampo actually intends to represent Barlonyo victims at the ICC, but it’s worth thinking about some of the potential ethical issues that such representation would involve. Like all counsel who are involved with the Court, Moreno-Ocampo would be subject to the Code of Professional Conduct for Counsel. The most relevant provision is Art. 12, “Impediments to representation”:

1. Counsel shall not represent a client in a case:

(a) If the case is the same as or substantially related to another case in which counsel or his or her associates represents or formerly represented another client and the interests of the client are incompatible with the interests of the former client, unless the client and the former client consent after consultation; or

(b) In which counsel was involved or was privy to confidential information as a staff member of the Court relating to the case in which counsel seeks to appear. The lifting of this impediment may, however, at counsel’s request, be ordered by the Court if deemed justified in the interests of justice. Counsel shall still be bound by the duties of confidentiality stemming from his or her former position as a staff member of the Court.

I don’t think Art. 12(1)(a) would apply, because the OTP doesn’t have “clients” in the sense of private counsel — especially given that the victims of crimes have their own counsel, making clear that they are not represented by the OTP. But it would be interesting to see the OTP’s position, because it could at least plausibly argue that the provision would require Moreno-Ocampo to get its permission to represent the Barlonyo victims. There is no question that the Barlonyo case is “substantially related” to Moreno-Ocampo’s previous work on the LRA cases; after all, the OTP pursued those cases on his watch and Moreno-Ocampo was responsible for opening the Uganda investigation in the first place. And although the interests of the OTP and the victims often align, that is certainly not necessarily the case — see, e.g., the Lubanga controversy over sexual violence. So I could see Bensouda worrying that Moreno-Ocampo might pursue a strategy for the Barlonyo victims that was inconsistent with his previous work on the LRA cases.

Which leads to Art. 12(1)(b), the confidentiality provision. That provision could easily be fatal to Moreno-Ocampo’s potential representation of the Barlonyo victims, even if the OTP didn’t oppose it. No former member of the OTP could have had greater access to confidential information than Moreno-Ocampo; after all, he was the Prosecutor for eight years. Could he represent the victims without in any way revealing or relying on confidential information he had access to while he was the Prosecutor? I’m willing to give Moreno-Ocampo the benefit of the doubt that he would take his confidentiality obligation seriously, but I’m skeptical that he — or anyone in a similar position — could maintain the mental “Chinese wall” necessary to avoid information bleed. So I could very easily see the Court deciding that it would not be in the “interests of justice” — or in the interests of the victims themselves — to permit Moreno-Ocamo to represent the Barlonyo victims given his previous role in the Court.

I have no problem with Moreno-Ocampo using his clout and visibility to promote the interests of the Barlonyo victims. But I’m not sure whether he should actually represent them at the ICC. In my view, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for Moreno-Ocampo to navigate the exceptionally complicated confidentiality issues that would be involved in working on behalf of victims in a situation he was once responsible for investigating. We’ll see what happens.

Al-Senussi, Gaddafi Show Trial to Begin Next Month

by Kevin Jon Heller

According to Lebanon’s Daily Star, Libya intends to begin the trial on April 14, just a few weeks from now:

Seif al-Islam Kadhafi, Saadi Kadhafi and former spy chief Abdullah Senussi are among more than 30 officials from the ousted regime who are to stand trial on charges ranging from murder to embezzlement.

Former premiers Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmudi and Bouzid Dorda are also among those going on trial from April 14, Seddik al-Sour, spokesman for the state prosecutor’s office, told a news conference.

Charges against Kadhafi’s sons and aides include murder, kidnapping, complicity in incitement to rape, plunder, sabotage, embezzlement of public funds and acts harmful to national unity.

Saadi Kadhafi, who was extradited from Mali earlier this month, is to stand trial in the same case, said Sour.

His older brother Seif al-Islam, Kadhafi’s former heir apparent, is being held by rebels in the western city of Zintan who have refused to transfer him to Tripoli for the trial.

Sour said he could stand trial via video conference from his detention cell in Zintan.

There is still no evidence that either al-Senussi or Gaddafi have ever had access to a lawyer, despite Libya’s constant assertions to the ICC that the government is doing everything in its power to arrange representation for them. Can’t let a little thing like Libyan law get in the way of a good show trial. And, of course, the nice thing about a show trial is that there really isn’t any need for the defendants to prepare a defence.

It’s also difficult to avoid noting the irony of Sour’s suggestion that Gaddafi could be tried via video link — exactly what the Assembly of States Parties and the Trial Chamber (though not yet the Appeals Chamber) have said is fine in the Kenya cases. To be fair, Libya would use videoconferencing without Gaddafi’s consent, whereas the ASP’s backdoor amendment of the Rome Statute was designed to placate Kenyatta and Ruto. But once the ASP and TC proved willing to dilute the clear presence requirement in Art. 63(1) of the Rome Statute, it was only a matter of time before states began taking liberties with presence, as well.

The ICC Fiddles While Libya Burns

by Kevin Jon Heller

For quite some time I zealously followed all of the various filings in the Libya cases — by Libya, al-Senussi and Gaddafi, the Registry, the OPCV, everyone. I also regularly blogged about those filings. But I haven’t lately, as consistent readers will know. The reason?

The ICC judges seem to have lost all interest in actually making decisions.

The record is quite shocking. Take the admissibility challenges. The Pre-Trial Chamber rejected Libya’s admissibility challenge to the case against Saif Gaddafi on 31 May 2013, nearly ten months ago. And it granted Libya’s admissibility challenge to the case against al-Senussi on 11 October 2013, more than five months ago. Both sides immediately appealed the decisions, yet the Appeals Chamber has done nothing since. I’ve been hearing rumours lately that the Appeals Chamber is planning on resolving both appeals at the same time. That may reduce the judges’ workload, but it doesn’t justify letting the appeals languish well beyond what is reasonable.

But it’s not just the Appeals Chamber that is failing to do its job. Pre-Trial Chamber I deserves even harsher criticism. Not surprisingly, Gaddafi’s defence team has been trying desperately to convince the Pre-Trial Chamber to issue a finding of non-compliance against Libya regarding its failure to surrender Gaddafi to the Court. (Or to at least try to surrender him, given that he is still being held in Zintan.) The defence filed its its first request for a finding of non-compliance on 7 May 2013, and it has filed numerous similar requests since. Yet the Pre-Trial Chamber has still not issued a decision on any of the defence’s requests.

So what has Pre-Trial Chamber I been doing in the Libya cases? Not much. It has issued a grand total of three decisions in the past five months, none of which have been substantive. Here they are:

13/02/2014 ICC-01/11-01/11-511 Pre-Trial Chamber I Decision designating a single judge
11/12/2013 ICC-01/11-01/11-490 Pre-Trial Chamber I Decision on the “Request for Leave to Appeal against the ‘Decision on the Request for an order for the commencement of the pre-confirmation phase by the Defence of Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi’”
13/11/2013 ICC-01/11-01/11-477 Pre-Trial Chamber I Decision on the “Defence application on behalf of Mr. Abdullah Al Senussi for leave to appeal against the ‘Decision on the request of the Defence of Abdullah Al-Senussi to make a finding of non-cooperation by the Islamic Republic of Mauritania and refer

Although it’s bad enough that the Court’s judges feel no urgency to address al-Senussi’s situation, their willingness to turn a blind eye to Gaddafi’s detention is simply unconscionable. As his defence team notes in its most recent — and certain to be equally ignored — request for a finding of non-compliance, Gaddafi has now been held in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer (at least one not subsequently imprisoned unlawfully by the Libyan government) for more than two years. (27 months, to be precise.) That situation has been condemned not only by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, but also by the African Court of Human Rights, which determined more than a year ago with regard to Gaddafi’s detention that “there exists a situation of extreme gravity and urgency, as well as a risk of irreparable harm to the Detainee.”

Yet still the judges do nothing — fiddling while Libya burns.