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Middle East

Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales Asks OTP to Investigate Gaza (Updated)

by Kevin Jon Heller

The request is supported by a number of leading QCs and professors in Britain. (Full disclosure: three of the signatories are barrister members and one is an academic member of Doughty Street Chambers, with which I’m associated.) Here is the Bar Human Rights Committee’s summary:

Public international law and criminal law Q.C.s and Professors based in Britain join with the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales to urge the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to initiate a preliminary investigation into crimes being committed in the Gaza Strip.

In response to the extreme gravity of the situation in the Gaza Strip, including spiralling civilian deaths and large scale destruction of homes, hospitals and schools, the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales, supported by leading Q.Cs and Professors, has submitted a formal request, calling upon the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to initiate an investigation, pursuant to Article 15 of the Rome Statute.

The letter of request was submitted to the ICC on 3rd August 2014. It asserts that the 2009 Declaration, submitted by the Government of Palestine pursuant to Article 12(3) of the Rome Statute, provides the prosecutor with the necessary jurisdictional basis on which to act.

Kirsty Brimelow Q.C., Chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee, stated: “The initiation of an investigation would send a clear and unequivocal message to those involved in the commission of these crimes that the accountability and justice called for by the United Nations on the part of victims are not hollow watchwords. It would bring about an end to the impunity which has prevailed in the region to date, fuelling ever increasingly brutal cycles of violence. The international community cannot continue to act simply as witness to such bloodshed and extreme civilian suffering.”

I declined to sign the request, despite my profound respect and admiration for the signatories. Although I have no doubt that serious international crimes have been committed by both Israel and Hamas in Gaza, I find the request problematic. Moreno-Ocampo formally rejected the Palestinian Authority’s 2009 Declaration on behalf of the OTP, and the UNGA did not give Res. 67/19 — which upgraded Palestine to non-member-state status — retroactive effect. In my view, therefore, the 2009 declaration is effectively (and perhaps even legally) void. That conclusion is supported by Fatou Bensouda’s public statement that “the ball is now in the court of Palestine”, “Palestine has to come back,” and “we are waiting for them.”

The bottom line for me is that Palestine needs to submit a new declaration accepting the ICC’s jurisdiction on an ad hoc basis. (Assuming the Palestinian Authority has the authority to do so — about which see my previous post.) That declaration should refer the situation in Gaza, not simply Israel’s crimes, as the 2009 Declaration properly did. (The primary reason I do not believe the complaint filed by the Palestinian Authority’s Justice Minister can be considered an ad hoc declaration is that it singles out Israel for investigation.) The declaration should also clearly specify the temporal parameters of the jurisdiction Palestine is giving to the ICC. Any attempt to accept the Court’s jurisdiction retroactive to 1 July 2002, when the Rome Statute entered into force, is likely to fail, because I seriously doubt that the OTP wants to determine when Palestine became a state. The most plausible date for retroactive jurisdiction would be 29 November 2012, when the UNGA adopted Res. 67/19. (Like many others, I believe Palestine qualified as a state long before that. But I wouldn’t be the one deciding whether to investigate.)

In short, and again with the greatest respect to the signatories of the present request, I do not think it is wise to pursue what seems to me to be a procedural shortcut to ICC jurisdiction over the situation in Gaza. If the ICC is to become involved in the most heavily politicised conflict in recent history — and I think the likelihood the OTP would act on even a proper request is essentially zero — there should be no doubt whatsoever about either Palestine’s desire for an investigation or the ICC’s jurisdictional competence. If we’ve learned anything about the conflict in Gaza, it’s the importance of always crossing the legal “t’s” and dotting the legal “i’s.”

UPDATE: Multiple sources are reporting on Twitter that the ICC has announced it has no jurisdiction over the situation in Gaza. (See here, for example.) That would seem to put beyond doubt that any attempt to rely on the 2009 Declaration will fail.

Can the PA Ratify the Rome Statute? (A Response to Eugene)

by Kevin Jon Heller

As Eugene notes in today’s guest post, the Palestinian Authority (PA) appears to have decided to ratify the Rome Statute. I’ll believe it when I see it: the PA has threatened to ratify before, only to back down at the last moment. But could it? Most observers have assumed it could, but Eugene disagrees. I think his bottom line may well be right, as I will explain at the end of this post. But I have problems with other aspects of it.

To begin with, let’s dispense with Eugene’s claim that Abbas’s lack of control has an upside for him, because it “prevents him from being held responsible for the war crimes there. If he does control the territory, and has allowed it to be a rocket launching base for years, he would be in trouble.” Abbas has neither de jure nor de facto effective control over the members of the groups (especially Hamas) that are responsible for the rocket attacks on Israel. Nor does it seem likely that he would be part of the military chain of command in a Fatah-Hamas unity government. So whatever the state of Palestine’s responsibility for the rocket attacks might be, it is extraordinarily unlikely that Abbas would ever be held individually criminally responsible for them — now or in the future.

I also think that Eugene is overreading the OTP’s rejection of Mohammed Morsi’s attempt to accept the ICC’s jurisdiction. In particular, I think he is eliding the difference between two different concepts of “effective control”: for purposes of determining the government of a state, and for purposes of determining whether part or all of a state’s territory is belligerently occupied. Here is the relevant paragraph of the ICC press release concerning the decision:

In accordance with the legal test of “effective control,” the entity which is in fact in control of a State’s territory, enjoys the habitual obedience of the bulk of the population, and has a reasonable expectancy of permanence, is recognized as the government of that State under international law. Application of that test, on both the date that the purported declaration was signed and the date it was submitted, lead to the conclusion that Dr Morsi was no longer the governmental authority with the legal capacity to incur new international legal obligations on behalf of the State of Egypt. The information available indicates that, at all material times, the applicants did not exercise effective control over any part of Egyptian territory, including on the date the declaration was signed. Nor would it be consistent with the “effective control” test to have one putative authority exercising effective control over the territory of a State, and the other competing authority retaining international treaty-making capacity.

As the paragraph indicates, the OTP relied on effective control to determine which of two rival domestic Egyptian entities represented the government of Egypt. In that context, the OTP quite rightly decided that “the entity which is in fact in control of a State’s territory, enjoys the habitual obedience of the bulk of the population, and has a reasonable expectancy of permanence, is recognized as the government of that State under international law.” Morsi lost under that test, because his claimed failed all three conditions.

That concept of effective control has little to do with the concept of effective control in the law of occupation. Effective control in the latter context determines whether the law of occupation applies; it does not determine who the sovereign is in the occupied state. On the contrary, one state’s effective control over the territory of another state does not transfer sovereignty from the government of the occupied state to the occupying state; the government in the occupied state remains the occupied state’s government, even if it loses some of its powers of governance for the duration of the (ostensibly temporary) occupation.

I see no reason, therefore, why Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and possible occupation of Gaza would have any impact on the OTP’s decision to accept or reject the Palestinian Authority’s ratification of the Rome Statute. Even if the state of Palestine is completely occupied by Israel — which Israel obviously rejects — the government of Palestine is still the government of Palestine. Indeed, the only way that wouldn’t be true is if the state of Palestine suffered debellatio, understood as the complete destruction of a state’s sovereignty through conquest. If that were the case, then Israel would be the government of Palestine and would be entitled (exclusively) to make decisions on its behalf. That was the situation after World War II: because of the debellatio of the German state, the Allies, via the Control Council, exercised supreme legislative authority in Germany as a condominium. But that is hardly the case in Palestine, as both sides agree. (And in any case, the concept of debellatio may well have fallen into desuetude.)

All that said, I agree with Eugene’s claim that the Palestinian Authority may not qualify as the government of Palestine — at least without the inclusion of Hamas. According to Eugene, “Hamas came to power in a coup against Abbas’s government, and since the ‘statehood’ of Palestine, the latter has never exercise ‘effective control’ over the area. Indeed, the Hamas authorities in Gaza, such as Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, dispute Abbas’s standing as president.” That’s an inaccurate description of the situation: Hamas was democratically elected by Palestinians in 2006, but was prevented from governing by Fatah until it seized control of Gaza in the 2007 civil war. Hamas’s election, however, only strengthens Eugene’s point, because it indicates that the Palestinian Authority may well have a Morsi problem if it attempts to ratify the Rome Statute without Hamas’s consent. The Palestinian Authority fails all of the elements of the OTP’s “effective control” test in the context of rival governments: it does not control all of the state of Palestine, it does not enjoy the “habitual obedience of the bulk of the population,” and it does not have “a reasonable expectancy of permanence.”

Nor, for that matter, does Hamas — for similar reasons. So it may well be that only a unity government between Fatah and Hamas, such as the one that Israel desperately tried to undermine prior to its invasion of Gaza, is competent to ratify the Rome Statute. Whether the Palestinians will still be able to form such a unity government remains to be seen.

Guest Post: Effective Control and Accepting ICC Jurisdiction

by Eugene Kontorovich

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

New reports say the Palestinian leadership has decided to seek to join the International Criminal Court as a member state. The PA has been threatening such action fairly constantly for several years, and it remains to be seen whether they mean it this time.

A recent and little-noticed development at the ICC suggests the Palestinian Authority may have a harder time getting the Court to accept its accession than many previously thought. A few months ago, in a situation quite analogous to the Palestinians’, the Court rejected an attempted accession.

Recall that the ICC rejected a 2009 Palestinian attempt to invoke its jurisdiction by saying that it lacked the competence to determine if Palestine was a “state” under international law. A main motive for the last year’s General Assembly’s vote to treat Palestine as a non-member state was to bolster its case for ICC membership. The idea was that the OTP would look only to the formal, “political” action of the General Assembly, rather the the objective factors of whether Palestine satisfies the criteria of statehood, such as whether they control their own territory.

Whether that is true or not, recent developments show that even if the OTP accepts that Palestine is a state – ignoring objective tests – it would conclude that the PA cannot accept jurisdiction on behalf of that state, certainly not for Gaza. (more…)

Guest Post: The Use of Human Shields and International Criminal Law

by Tali Kolesov Har-Oz and Ori Pomson

[Ori Pomson and Tali Kolesov Har-Oz are both teaching assistants and LL.B. candidates at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Law Faculty.] 

Introduction

The recent hostilities between Israel and Hamas have attracted a great deal of media and public attention. However, while a number of media reports have alluded to the legality vel non of certain actions committed by both sides, they have thus far contained little in-depth legal analysis.

One practice that has attracted significant attention is the purported use of “human shields” by Hamas. This post will present a legal analysis of such practices, and examine the possible implications of that analysis on the current situation in Gaza. Although it would be interesting to examine as well the possible criminal responsibility for statements endorsing or encouraging this conduct, that question will not be examined in the framework of this post.

The Use of Human Shields under International Law

In international humanitarian law (IHL), the term “human shields” concerns “civilians or other protected persons, whose presence or movement is aimed or used to render military targets immune from military operations.” The use of human shields both in international armed conflicts (IACs) and in non-international armed conflicts (NIACs) is considered a violation of customary international law (von Leeb, 15 ILR 395, n.1; ICRC, Rule 97). Treaty law directly prohibits such practice in IACs (GCIV 28; API, art. 51(7)) and indirectly in NIACs (e.g., CA 3 with Category ‘C’ Claims, 109 ILR 441).

Post-Second World War tribunals considered the use of human shields – focusing on POWs – to be a war crime (Student, 118-120; von Leeb,15 ILR 395, n.1). This was codified in the Rome Statute, which explicitly prohibits the use of human shields in IACs in art. 8(2)(xxiii), criminalizing utilization of “the presence of a civilian or other protected person to render certain points, areas or military forces immune from military operations.” There lacks such a provision concerning the customary prohibition of the use of human shields in NIACs. Yet, considering the famous Tadić dicta that the dichotomy between IAC and NIAC crimes “should gradually lose its weight” and that “the current trend has been to abolish the distinction and to have simply one corpus of law applicable to all conflicts,” it could be argued that the analysis of Rome Statute’s provision concerning human shields in IACs is relevant to the analysis of the customary prohibition of the use of human shields in NIACs as well.

The specific elements relevant to the definition of the crime of using human shields in the International Criminal Court’s Elements of Crimes document are as follows…

Emerging Voices: The Preliminary Examinations in Iraq: A Net Loss for the ICC’s Political Capital

by David Benger

[David Benger is the Course Assistant for the Brandeis University in The Hague intensive summer school in International Criminal Law. He may be reached at dabenger [at] gmail [dot] com.]

The International Criminal Court, an ostensibly purely legal organization, is nevertheless plagued by a wide variety of political pressures. For example, the attempt to balance The Court’s relationship with The African Union (widely considered to be deteriorating) and its relationship with the United States (widely considered to be improving) is an important thorn in the side of the Court’s daily operations. This post will examine the re-opening of the preliminary examination of British soldiers in Iraq through the lens of the potential political fallout of that decision. The re-opening of the preliminary examination in Iraq is not a signal of sufficient substance to appease the African anti-ICC lobby. Unless and until there are actual trials of European commanders in The Hague (not likely in the near future), the characterization of the ICC by African leaders as a neo-imperialist Western tool is not likely to dissipate based on a mere preliminary examination. With regard to the United States, however, the impact of this decision will almost certainly resonate. Though many observers of the USA-ICC relationship subscribe to the narrative of a steadily improving rapport between the two, this post will argue that this is not quite the case. In fact, the relationship between the Court and the USA is in a decidedly precarious position, and the re-opened Iraq investigation may have a decisive and damning impact on America’s potential support for The Court.

(more…)

Joint Declaration Charging Legal Violations in Israel’s Gaza Offensive

by Julian Ku

A group of international law and criminal law scholars have issued a joint declaration denouncing Israel’s Gaza offensive for causing “grave violations…of the most basic principles of the laws of armed conflict and of the fundamental rights of the entire Palestinian population.” It is the latest front in the public debate over legal violations arising out of the Gaza conflict, some of which we have noted here at Opinio Juris (the legality of denying electricity to Gaza and the legal effect of Israeli warnings to civilians).Personally, I don’t think there is enough evidence in UN and media reports to support the Joint Declaration’s main claim: that Israel is intentionally trying to target, terrorize, and collectively punish the civilian population of Gaza. Rather, my view is that Israel is conducting an aggressive military operation which is resulting in civilian deaths, and that those deaths may or may not be legal violations of the law of armed conflict (it is hard to say based on media reports at this time).   But I am not convinced (as the Joint Declaration seems to allege) that killing civilians is actually the basic intention and goal of the Israeli government.

Still, the Gaza conflict has plainly drawn the attention of the global community of international and criminal law scholars. I think these kinds of statements will have, and are already having, an impact on world opinion and the Israeli government. So it is worth taking a look.

Guest Post: Israel’s Use of Law and Warnings in Gaza

by Janina Dill

[Janina Dill is a Lecturer at the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford.]

In the ongoing military campaign ‘Protective Edge’ the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) consistently issues warnings before air strikes against targets in Gaza. The population is warned of impending attacks with phone calls, text messages or so called ‘knocks on the roof’ (dropping of non- or low-impact explosives on the intended target). The warnings play a central role in Israel’s claim that, contrary to Palestinian armed groups, namely Hamas; it obeys the strictures of international law. ‘While the IDF goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid civilian casualties, Hamas deliberately puts civilians in the line of fire, the IDF maintains on its official blog. The First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions, the relevant sections of which have the status of customary international law, in Article 57(2) c indeed prescribes that ‘effective advance warning shall be given of attacks which may affect the civilian population, unless circumstances do not permit’.

Warnings, their frequency and form, are at the centre of a narrative that Israel does not simply comply with, but goes beyond the call of international law in its care for the civilians of Gaza. ‘Israel’s use in the Gaza Strip of non-lethal warning shots to the roofs of buildings which constitute military targets … is not legally obligated’, the Military Advocate General’s Corps holds. Media commentary commends Israel for giving civilians a way out without even being obliged to do so. This is a misunderstanding of Article 57. The provision establishes an unequivocal obligation to warn before attacks that implicate the civilian population – as air strikes against a territory as densely populated as Gaza will regularly do. Granted, it is not an absolute obligation. The law recognizes that sometimes it may not be possible to warn. Crucially the provision does not say ‘warn if possible’, but ‘warn unless impossible’. It is open to interpretation when that is the case and reasonable people may disagree, but the default is to issue a warning and it is a failure to do so that requires explanation. Warnings are not acts of charity.

But are the kinds of warnings issued as part of Operation Protective Edge manifestations of the IDF’s commitment to the laws of war? The practice raises two distinct concerns. The first is that the air strikes the IDF carries out after issuing warnings are indicative of a misunderstanding of the legal implications warning before an attack. It has none! The second is the concern that the practice itself violates international law. I discuss them in turn. (more…)

Can Israel Cut Off Water and Power to Gaza?

by Kevin Jon Heller

That’s the question at the heart of a complicated debate between a variety of IHL scholars. The debate began with a legal opinion that Avi Bell submitted to the Knesset, in which he argued that nothing in international law prohibits Israel from cutting off the water and power it provides to Gaza. Although the opinion is dense — and has been updated in response to a document criticising an earlier published version — the bottom line is that Bell rejects the idea that Gaza is still occupied and believes it is thus impossible to find a positive obligation on Israel to continue to provide water and power (p. 5):

Some have argued that Israel is required to supply the Gaza Strip because Israel allegedly maintains control over Gaza. There are two versions of this claim: one version claims that Israel belligerently occupies the Gaza Strip; the other claims that Israel “controls” the Gaza Strip for purposes of human rights treaties or “post-occupation” duties even though it neither occupies nor exercises sovereignty over the Gaza Strip. When it controls territory through belligerent occupation, a state may have the duty supply certain goods to a civilian population if there is no other way to ensure access to the goods. Similarly, when it controls territory over which it has lawful sovereignty, a state may have the duty to supply certain goods when human rights treaties demand their provision to the civilian population. However, Israel does not control the Gaza Strip for purposes of the law of belligerent occupation or human rights  duties. Thus, Israel cannot be held to a duty to supply.

Bell’s legal opinion led a group of leading Israeli international-law scholars, including Eyal Benvenisti, Aeyal Gross (also at SOAS), David Kretzmer, and Yuval Shany, to submit a response to the Knesset. The essence of the response is that even if Israel is no longer occupying Gaza (on which the experts do not take an opinion), its ongoing control over basic features of Gazan life means that it is not free to completely ignore basic Palestinian humanitarian needs. Here is the key paragraph (pp. 10-11):

Israel and Gaza are not equal sovereign entities. Israel has controlled Gaza for decades, which resulted in significant dependence on Israeli infrastructure. Even after the disengagement, it still holds certain powers over the population in Gaza – including by its control over essential infrastructure. Since Israel does not allow, de facto, the development of independent infrastructure in Gaza, it cannot completely deny the responsibility to provide these essential supplies. Therefore, the interpretation suggested in the Opinion does not reflect a proper balance between the different objectives of IHL – even when considering the special challenges of asymmetric warfare. Chiefly, this is because it results in a legal “black hole” which deprives the civilian population of the effective protection of international law.

The debate between Bell and the other experts led Diakonia, a Swedish NGO, to commission a third report from Michael Bothe, one of the world’s foremost IHL experts. Bothe concludes, like the group of experts, that cutting off water and power to Gaza could (in certain circumstances) violate IHL. But he offers two independent bases for that conclusion…

The al-Senussi Admissibility Decision in Two Quotes

by Kevin Jon Heller

Libya’s Foreign Minister, 21 May 2014:

There is a complete absence of the army and the police [in Libya], which are responsible for the security of the state. Armed groups are not under control…. State-building needs to build security institutions first and foremost because with no security there can be no investments, building a real state, nor an effective criminal justice system to protect rights and freedoms.

ICC Appeals Chamber, 24 July 2014:

The Appeals Chamber concluded that there were no errors in the findings of the Pre-Trial Chamber that Libya is not unwilling or unable to genuinely prosecute Mr Al-Senussi.

Meanwhile, over at ABC News…

by Kevin Jon Heller

BsJXdWkCYAEhdi_Diane Sawyer had a hard-hitting report tonight at ABC News on the recent hostilities between Israel and Palestine. The segment opens with her saying, “We take you overseas now to the rockets raining down on Israel today as Israel tried to shoot them out of the sky.” As she speaks, a video box next to her shows explosions on an urban landscape. Sawyer then shows a still photo of two haggard men carrying clothes in front of a destroyed building and says, “here is an Israeli family trying to salvage what they can.”

There’s only one problem with Sawyer’s report: the explosions are in Gaza, the result of IDF airstrikes, and the men are Palestinian, not Israeli.

Welcome to the mainstream media’s even-handed coverage of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Name That Pinko!

by Kevin Jon Heller

What Israel-hating, Hamas-loving lefty said the following on Facebook?

Dear friends: Take a few moments to read the following words and share them with others. I see the severe and rapid deterioration of the security situation in the territories, Jerusalem and the Triangle and I’m not surprised. Don’t be confused for a moment. This is the result of the policy conducted by the current government, whose essence is: Let’s frighten the public over everything that’s happening around us in the Middle East, let’s prove that there’s no Palestinian partner, let’s build more and more settlements and create a reality that can’t be changed, let’s continue not dealing with the severe problems of the Arab sector in Israel, let’s continue not solving the severe social gaps in Israeli society. This illusion worked wonderfully as long as the security establishment was able to provide impressive calm on the security front over the last few years as a result of the high-quality, dedicated work of the people of the Shin Bet, the IDF and the Israel Police as well as the Palestinians whose significant contribution to the relative calm in the West Bank should not be taken lightly.

However, the rapid deterioration we’re experiencing in the security situation did not come because of the vile murder of Naftali, Eyal and Gil-Ad, may their memories be blessed. The deterioration is first and foremost a result of the illusion that the government’s inaction on every front can actually freeze the situation in place, the illusion that “price tag” is simply a few slogans on the wall and not pure racism, the illusion that everything can be solved with a little more force, the illusion that the Palestinians will accept everything that’s done in the West Bank and won’t respond despite the rage and frustration and the worsening economic situation, the illusion that the international community won’t impose sanctions on us, that the Arab citizens of Israel won’t take to the streets at the end of the day because of the lack of care for their problems, and that the Israeli public will continue submissively to accept the government’s helplessness in dealing with the social gaps that its policies have created and are worsening, while corruption continues to poison everything good, and so on and so on.

But anyone who thinks the situation can tread water over the long run is making a mistake, and a big one. What’s been happening in the last few days can get much worse — even if things calm down momentarily. Don’t be fooled for a moment, because the enormous internal pressure will still be there, the combustible fumes in the air won’t diminish and if we don’t learn to lessen them the situation will get much worse.

The pinko in question would be Yuval Diskin, the director of Israel’s Shin Bet from 2005 to 2011. Further proof that being outside of government is conducive to honesty — especially when the government in question is overseen by someone like Netanyahu.

Syria and International Justice at the LSE

by Kevin Jon Heller

I will be participating in a roundtable about Syria and international justice next Monday night at the LSE. It’s free and open to the public, so I hope at least a few OJ readers will come. You can also send questions to the following hashtag: #LSESyriaICC. We will try to answer at least a few of them!

Here are the event details:

Syria and International Justice
LSE Centre for International Studies Dialogue
30 June 2014
6.30-8pm at LSE
Thai Theatre
New Academic Building

With a draft Security Council resolution to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court vetoed, what, if anything, should the international community or other interested actors do to achieve justice in Syria?

SPEAKERS

Kevin Jon Heller, Professor of Criminal Law, SOAS. @kevinjonheller
Dov Jacobs, Asst Professor of Int’l Law, Grotius Centre. @dovjacobs
Mark Kersten, Researcher, LSE. Justiceinconflict.org. @MarkKersten
Jason Ralph, Professor of Int’l Relations, University of Leeds. @JasonRalph4
Leslie Vinjamuri, Senior Lecturer in IR, SOAS. @londonvinjamuri

CHAIR

Kirsten Ainley, Director of LSE CIS. @kirstenainley