Archive of posts for category
International Criminal Law

Guest Post: Meloni–Can the ICC investigate UK higher echelons’ command responsibility for torture committed by the armed forces against Iraqi detainees?

by Chantal Meloni

[Dr. Chantal Meloni teaches international criminal law at the University of Milan is an Alexander von Humboldt Scholar at Humboldt University of Berlin.]

1. A new complaint (technically a Communication under art. 15 of the Rome Statute) has been lodged on the 10th of January to the Intentional Criminal Court, requesting the Prosecutor to open an investigation into the denounced abuses committed by UK military forces against Iraqi detainees from 2003 to 2008.

The complaint has been presented by the British Public Interest Lawyers (PIL), representing more than 400 Iraqi victims, jointly with the Berlin-based European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR).

The lawyers’ allegation is that grave mistreatments, including torture and other degrading abuse techniques, were commonly used during the six years in which the UK and Multinational Forces operated in Iraq.

According to the victims’ account the mistreatment was so serious, widespread and spanned across all stages of detention as to amount to “systemic torture”. Out of hundreds of allegations, the lawyers focused in particular and in depth on eighty-five cases to represent the mistreatment and abuses inflicted, which would clearly amount to war crimes.

2. This is not the first time that the behaviour of the UK military forces in Iraq is challenged before the ICC. In fact, hundreds of complaints have been brought on various grounds both to domestic courts and to the ICC since the beginning of the war. As for the ICC, after the initial opening of a preliminary examination, following to over 404 communications by Iraqi victims, in 2006 the ICC Prosecutor issued a first decision determining not to open an investigation in the UK responsibilities in Iraq. According to that decision, although there was a reasonable basis to believe that crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court had been committed, namely wilful killing and inhumane treatment, the gravity threshold was not met. Indeed the number of victims that had been taken into account at that time was very limited, totalling in all less than 20 persons, so that the Prosecutor found that the ‘quantitative criteria’, a key consideration of the ICC prosecutorial strategy when assessing the gravity threshold, was not fulfilled.

Therefore, what is there new that in the view of the lawyers warranted the re-proposition of such a request? In the first place it shall be noted in this regard that during the eight years that passed since then many more abuse allegations have emerged (see the Complaint, p. 110 ff.). Most notably, hundreds of torture and mistreatment allegations show a pattern – spanning across time, technique and location – which would indicate the existence of a (criminal) policy adopted by the UK military forces when dealing with the interrogation of Iraqi detainees under their custody.

In the words of the lawyers, “it was not the result of personal misconduct on the part of a few individual soldiers, but rather, constituted widespread and systematic mistreatment perpetrated by the UK forces as a whole”. (more…)

Trial Chamber Conditionally Excuses Ruto from Continuous Presence

by Kevin Jon Heller

The decision was given orally, and no written decision is available yet. But here is what The Standard‘s online platform is reporting:

The International Criminal Court has conditionally excused Deputy President William Ruto from continuos presence at trial but with some conditions.

The judges outlined nine conditions during the Wednesday ruling. ICC Presiding Judge Eboe-Osuji in the oral ruling said: “The Chamber hereby conditionally excuses Mr Ruto from continuous presence at trial on the following conditions: As indicated in the new rule 134, a waiver must be filed. That’s one condition. The further conditions are these: in the case, two, when victims present their views and concerns in person, three, the entirety of the delivery of the judgement in the  case, four, the entirety of the sentencing hearing, if  applicable, five, the entirety of the sentencing, if applicable, six, the entirety of the victim impact hearings, if applicable, seven, the entirety of the reparation hearings, if applicable, seven, the first five days of  hearing starting after a judicial recess as set out in regulation 19 B I S of the regulations of the Court, and nine, any other attendance directed by the Chamber either/or other request of a party or participant as decided by the Chamber. The Chamber considers that the attendance of Mr Ruto pursuant to the requirement indicated in condition number  eight, being attendance and first five days of hearing  starting after a judicial recess, will require him to be present for today’s hearing and the next — sorry — starting  tomorrow and the next five days. However, in view of the need for Mr Ruto to deputise for the president of the Republic of Kenya during his absence from the country from the 16 of January 2014, Mr Ruto is excused from presence at  trial on the 16th and the 17th of January 2014. Mr Ruto shall, however, be present for the remainder of  the period indicated under condition number eight”.

Kenya shouldn’t get too excited about the Trial Chamber’s ruling. Remember: the Appeals Chamber reversed the Trial Chamber’s previous decision concerning Ruto’s presence and articulated a very different, and much narrower, interpretation of Art. 63(1) of the Rome Statute. The OTP was never going to win at the trial level; the Appeals Chamber is much more likely to take seriously the differences between Rule 134quater and the multi-part test it previously articulated and to consider whether the Rule is ultra vires.

We shall see.

NOTE: For more on the ruling, please see Alexander’s comment to my previous post. He raises the spectre — skeptically, to be sure — of the Trial Chamber refusing to grant leave to appeal. I agree that’s unlikely, but even the possibility foregrounds the irrationality of permitting a Trial Chamber to decide whether a party can appeal the Trial Chamber’s own adverse decision. Trial Chambers have routinely abused that power, particularly in the context of the legal recharacterization of facts under Regulation 55. I discuss a number of such instances in this essay.

No, the ASP Didn’t Hoodwink Kenya and the AU Concerning RPE 134quater

by Kevin Jon Heller

Standard Digital News, the online platform of The Standard, one of Kenya’s leading newspapers, published a long article yesterday entitled “Did State Parties Hoodwink Kenya, African Union on ICC Attendence?” Here are the opening paragraphs:

KENYA: Did the Rome Statute Assembly of State Parties hoodwink Kenya that the country’s chief executives would be excused from physical presence at their trials? This is the legal question some experts are raising after International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda unveiled a shocker that Deputy President William Ruto must still show up at the ICC and face his accusers in the courtroom.

The Gambian-born prosecutor maintained that Ruto should not be tried in absentia despite recent amendments by the Assembly of State Parties (ASP) that were lauded by African Union as a major diplomatic victory for Kenya’s indicted leaders.

“The state parties amended the rules out of political pressure but in the end totally hoodwinked Kenya by handing over the discretion to the judges to decide only in exceptional circumstances,” said James Aggrey Mwamu, President of East Africa Law Society.

There is a grain of truth to this complaint: with its obsequious desire to placate Kenya, the ASP certainly didn’t go out of its way to highlight the fact that amending the Rules of Procedure and Evidence (RPE) instead of the Rome Statute left the new rules on presence subject to judicial review. That said, it’s not like the difference between amending the Rome Statute and amending the RPE is some kind of secret; after all, Art. 51(4) of the Rome Statue explicitly provides that “[t]he Rules of Procedure and Evidence, amendments thereto, and any provisional Rule shall be consistent with this Statute,” while Art. 51(5) provides that “[i]n the event of conflict between the Statute and the Rules of Procedure and Evidence, the Statute shall prevail.” Presumably, Kenya and the AU have lawyers capable of reading the Rome Statute — so if they believed that the OTP simply had to accept the new rules, they really have no one but themselves to blame.

And, of course, the OTP is challenging Rule 134quater. The motion is here – and it’s one of the best motions to come out of the OTP in quite some time. Two aspects are particularly worth mentioning…

Two Thoughts on Manuel Ventura’s Critique of Specific Direction

by Kevin Jon Heller

Manuel Ventura, the director of the Peace and Justice Initiative, has published two excellent posts at Spreading the Jam (here and here) that criticize the specific-direction requirement — and my defence of it. I cannot possibly address all of the points that Manuel makes, but I do want to respond to his understanding of the role that customary international law plays at the ICTY and his defence of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s (STL) analysis of the general definition of terrorism under customary international law.

Custom at the ICTY

As Manuel notes, the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) rejected Perisic‘s specific-direction requirement because it concluded that the requirement lacked an adequate foundation in customary international law. I criticized the SCSL’s position in a recent post, pointing out that the ICTY did not need to find a customary foundation for the specific-direction requirement:

Ad hoc tribunals are limited to applying customary international law because of the nullem crimen sine lege principle: relying on non-customary principles to convict a defendant would convict a defendant of acts that were not criminal at the time they were committed. The specific-direction requirement, however does not expand criminal liability beyond custom; it narrows it. There is thus no reason why the requirement has to have a customary foundation.

Manuel takes issue with my argument in an interesting way — by insisting that the ICTY can only apply legal principles that have a customary foundation, because customary international law is the only source of law that the Tribunal is empowered to apply:

But, says Kevin Jon Heller here and here, this is all irrelevant, as specific direction need not have a customary law basis since it only serves to narrow criminal responsibility rather than expand it. In his view only in the latter is nullum crimen engaged – the reason why the ICTY was mandated to apply customary international law. However, this view misses an important and very basic point. As he acknowledges, the mandate of the ICTY is to apply custom, and while it is true that nullum crimen is not engaged when criminal liability is contracted rather than expanded, it is also true that in not applying custom the ICTY is not applying the law it was specifically mandated and empowered by the UN Security Council to apply. If specific direction is not custom, then it is still applying something, but it cannot be called customary international law. In other words, it went beyond applying its governing law, and into a realm that is was not expressly empowered to go. In short, if specific direction is not customary, then it acted ultra vires and that is as problematic as a nullum crimen violation. It is not simply a bad policy decision that only engages ‘criminal law theory’.

There are two basic problems with Manuel’s argument. First, it is based on a misunderstanding of the ICTY’s mandate. Manuel claims that the Tribunal is empowered to apply one source of law and only one source of law: custom. But the Secretary-General’s report on SC Res. 808 does not say that. Here is the relevant paragraph about custom (para. 34)…

Why the Muslim Brotherhood (Wrongly) Believes the ICC Can Investigate

by Kevin Jon Heller

Gidon Shaviv called it. The Muslim Brotherhood does indeed believe that it can accept the ICC’s jurisdiction on an ad hoc basis because it is still the legitimate government of Egypt:

Just how successful the ICC action will be is unclear. Egypt is one of the few countries that have not accepted the ICC’s jurisdiction. However, Mr. Dixon and other members of the legal team said the court can act if it receives a declaration from the government accepting the court’s jurisdiction in a particular case. They argued that Mr. Morsi’s government is the still only legitimate ruler in Egypt and it has issued that declaration to the ICC.

“We hope, and we have good reason to believe, that the court will take this declaration seriously,” said John Dugard, a human rights lawyer from South Africa who is involved with the case and who has also worked with the United Nations.

With respect to Dugard, I think the Brotherhood’s efforts are doomed to fail. Had the Morsi government filed its declaration while it was still in power (as in the Cote d’Ivoire situation), that would have been one thing. But it didn’t — and although there are interesting political questions about the legitimacy of the military-led coup/revolution, I don’t think there is much question that the Brotherhood is no longer the government of Egypt. A number of states have condemned the Egyptian military’s actions (see Wikipedia here for a nice rundown pro and con), but none to my knowledge have refused to recognize the Mansour government. And just as importantly, representatives of the Mansour government have continued to represent Egypt at the UN.

Readers who know more about the recognition of governments after coups/revolutions should feel free to weigh in. But even if I’ve understated the legal strength of the Brotherhood’s position, I still find it inconceivable that the OTP will conclude that it has jurisdiction over the situation in Egypt. At the very least, the OTP will likely do what it did with Palestine’s ad hoc declaration — say that the issue is for the Assembly of States Parties, not the Office of the Prosecutor, to resolve.

Good Luck with the ICC, Muslim Brotherhood (Updated)

by Kevin Jon Heller

So this is baffling:

The international legal team representing the Muslim Brotherhood has filed a complaint to the International Criminal Court, reported state-owned media agency MENA.

The team has previously said on 16 August and on 15 November that, following their investigations, they have gathered evidence showing that members of the “military, police and political members of the military regime have committed crimes against humanity”.

[snip]

The Brotherhood’s legal team includes former Director of Public Prosecutions of England and Wales Lord Ken MacDonald, South African International Lawyer and former UN Human Rights Special Rapporteur Professor John Dugard and human rights specialist Michael Mansfield.

A press conference will be held in London on Monday to detail further information concerning the complaint.

I hope the press conference will explain how the ICC has jurisdiction over the situation, given that Egypt has not ratified the Rome Statute. Doesn’t the Brotherhood’s capable legal team know that?

UPDATE: Gidon Shaviv suggests on Twitter that perhaps the Brotherhood will argue that it can accept the ICC’s jurisdiction on an ad hoc basis, because it remains the legitimate government of Egypt. That’s clever, but I would be shocked if the OTP would be willing to wade into that particular political thicket. If it refused to accept Palestine’s ad hoc acceptance, which I think would have been legally more straightforward (Shaviv disagrees), I think there is no chance it would accept the Brotherhood’s.

Exploring International Law with Opinio Juris in 2013: Highways, Back Roads, and Uncharted Territories…

by Chris Borgen

There’s never a boring year in international law and 2013 turned out to be particularly eventful: Syria, major cases in front of national and international courts, a possible nuclear deal with Iran, and turmoil in Eastern Europe, Egypt, and South Sudan, to name but a few reasons.

This post is not an attempt to log all that we have written about on Opinio Juris this year. There’s just too much.  If any of these topics (or others) are of particular interest to you, you can use our search function to find the posts related to them.  Rather, this post is an idiosyncratic tour of some of the highways, back roads, and other territory that we traversed in 2013… (Continue Reading)

Guest Post: W(h)ither now the reputation of the ICTY?

by Megan Fairlie

[Dr. Megan Fairlie is Associate Professor of Law at Florida International University]

A brief consideration of the history of replacement judges at the ICTY reveals an increasing disregard for the rights of the accused in favor of avoiding costly and time-consuming re-hearings. Initially, part-heard cases could not continue with a replacement judge without the accused’s consent. Then, as “consent was only a safeguard,” the rules were amended to permit the two remaining judges to independently decide when continuing a part-heard case “would serve the interests of justice.”

Now, the Tribunal’s mismanagement of its first ever judicial disqualification has taken the matter to a new low, with Vojislav Šešelj’s responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity set to be decided  by three judges, one of whom joined the case nearly two years after closing arguments were heard.

Although apparently united in their aim to see that the case continues no matter what, neither the Tribunal’s Acting President nor Šešelj’s newly constituted Trial Chamber can plausibly explain why allowing a new judge to enter the picture part-way through deliberations is in any way tenable under the ICTY Rules or compatible with Šešelj’s statutory guarantee of a fair trial.

Back in September, the Acting President decided that when a new judge replaces a disqualified one pursuant to Rule 15, Rule 15 bis should govern the procedures to be followed post-replacement. The latter rule permits ongoing proceedings to continue with a replacement judge pursuant to the accused’s consent or by judicial fiat. Problematically, however, 15 bis is limited to part-heard cases, a description that hardly pertains to the “more advanced stage” of Šešelj’s proceedings. As a result, the September order concluded that the provision ought to be applied mutatis mutandis.

The Šešelj facts, however, illustrate why this proposal was deeply flawed. (more…)

Daphne Eviatar on the Military Commission Train Wreck

by Kevin Jon Heller

Train wreck, fiasco, disaster, dumpster fire, bad joke, kangaroo court, show trial — take your pick, the description applies. Eviatar’s post at Just Security a while back is a must-read; here is but one particularly disturbing snippet:

Recent pre-trial hearings have revealed, for example, that the Guantanamo courtroom was equipped with microphones able to eavesdrop on privileged attorney-client communications; that the CIA was secretly monitoring the hearings and, unbeknownst to the judge, had the ability to censor the audio feed heard by observers; and that the meeting rooms where defense lawyers met their clients had been secretly wired with video and audio monitors, hidden in devices made to look like smoke detectors. In addition, all legal mail is screened by government security personnel, and documents previously deemed acceptable were later confiscated from the defendants’ prison cells without explanation; those documents included a detainee’s own hand-written notes or a photograph of the grand mosque in Mecca.

Seventy years ago, the United States bent over backwards to provide high-ranking Nazis with fair trials. These days, a fair trial for someone as unimportant as bin Laden’s driver is nothing but a dream. How far the mighty have fallen.

Another Round in the Amnesty-Goodman-Heller Debate over Universal Jurisdiction

by Kevin Jon Heller

At long last, Amnesty has weighed in on the debate between me and Ryan about its methodology for determining whether a state exercises universal jurisdiction over at least one international crime. As I expected, and contrary to Ryan’s claim, Amnesty does not consider it sufficient for a state to have incorporated the Rome Statute into its domestic legislation. On the contrary, it requires the existence of domestic legislation that extends universal jurisdiction over an international crime, whether specifically (“this legislation provides universal jurisdiction over international crime X”) or generically (“this legislation provides universal jurisdiciton over all international crimes defined in ratified treaties”). Here is the key statement from Amnesty’s response:

[T]he above mentioned conclusions are not based on counting “[s]tates as having enacted universal jurisdiction if the state is a party to the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court or, more precisely, if the state has adopted a form of implementing legislation along with ratification of the treaty”. That would be a mistake. For example: Chad, Gabon, Maldivas, Nauru, and Zambia – which are states party to the Rome Statute are enlisted in the report as not providing for universal jurisdiction for any of the crimes defined in the Rome Statute. And Ireland and Liechtenstein – which have ratified the Rome Statute and enacted legislation implementing it into national law — are also both considered as not providing for universal jurisdiction with regard to crimes against humanity and genocide. In sum, Amnesty International considers that the domestic law in these countries has the effect of conferring universal jurisdiction over crimes defined in, for example, the Rome Statute. Therefore Amnesty International are not basing the claim that such countries have universal jurisdiction on the fact of their ratification of the Rome Statute alone but rather on domestic legislation that enacts universal jurisdiction for all crimes in treaties (including for example the Rome Statute) that they have ratified.

Unfortunately, Ryan still insists that Amnesty is overcounting the number of universal jurisdiction states. Here is his response, in relevant part:

In other words, the problem with the coding procedure is that it appears to involve the following two steps:

Step 1: the proposition that the Rome Statute obligates state parties to enact universal jurisdiction for ICC crimes

Step 2: the decision to code a state as having enacted universal jurisdiction if it (a) is a party to the Rome Statute and (b) its domestic law provides for jurisdiction over crimes obligated by international treaty

As I explained in my original post, Step 1 is flawed. The Rome Statute does not include universal jurisdiction, and has no obligation whatsoever for state parties to provide (extraterritorial) jurisdiction for ICC crimes.

I suspect that the reason Amnesty sets forth the two steps as a part of its coding procedure is because it is meaningful – i.e., that it makes a difference in their results. It is difficult to discern, from the Annexes of the study, which particular states might be affected, because the relevant information is not provided.

There are a number of problems with this response. To begin with, there is no “Step 1″ in Amnesty’s analysis…

Banksy Comments on the Wall — As Only He Can

by Kevin Jon Heller

British artist Banksy knocks it out of the park again, with a rather unusual rendering of a Nativity scene:

banksyx-mas

As ArtInfo notes, this is not Banksy’s first comment on the Israel/Palestine conflict. He painted nine amazing murals directly on the wall in 2005, including a boy drawing a chalk ladder over the wall and a girl floating over the wall with a bouquet of balloons.

Is there a more brilliant and politically insightful artist working today than Banksy? I’m still blown away by the meat truck filled with wailing stuffed animals that he had driving around Manhattan. It’s one of the most powerful pro-vegetarian statements I’ve ever seen. Watch the video here.

Guest Post: Kontorovich on Missing Judges as a Design Choice

by Eugene Kontorovich

[Eugene Kontorovich is a Professor of Law at Northwestern University School of Law.]

What should an international court do when the judges hearing a case are not around to decide it, as has happened on the ICTY in the Seselj case that Kevin has written about?

The death or serious illness of an international judge during the pendency of a case is an entirely foreseeable matter. International criminal trials are quite long (an average of three years from the start of trial to judgement). At the ICTY, the length can be as long as nine years. The average age of judges on the Court is 62 at appointment. See the Realities of International Criminal Justice for these and other figures.

Given that proceedings are long and judges old, an empty seat on the bench should, from an institutional perspective, not be a surprise. The best way to deal with this, if one is concerned about the issue, is the designation of alternate judges. This happened at Nuremberg, and is provide for in Art 74(1) of the Rome Statute, and in the Special Courts for Sierra Leone and Lebanon, where they shall be present at each stage of the trial or appeal to which he or she has been designated.”

So the lack of a provision for such supernumeraries is a design choice or error. Certainly alternates burden an already expensive system. On the other hand, alternates are a known form of “insurance” for the continuance and integrity of international criminal trials.

So the question is who should bear the risk if the Tribunal does not “purchase” such insurance and the feared contingency occurs – the defendant or the Court (and perhaps justice). The general principle of strict construction in favor of the defendant in criminal matters would suggest imposing the costs on the Court, and yes, on international justice, which is more risk-averse (diversified across multiple cases).

Most fundamentally, because it is the officers of the Court that can best avoid such problems (by expediting proceedings) the consequences should fall on them. Of course, one does not wish to encourage hurried proceedings. So if the cost of such errors is seen as unacceptably high, alternates should be provided for in the future, or the rules requiring judicial presence relaxed.