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The Drafters Knew Best: Corporate Liability and the Alien Tort Statute

by Heather Cohen

[Heather Cohen is a Legal & Policy Associate with the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR), which harnesses the collective power of progressive organizations to push governments to create and enforce rules over corporations that promote human rights and reduce inequality.]

Can corporations be held accountable in the United States for violations of international law? This question is back before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) this fall. On October 11, 2017, SCOTUS will hear oral arguments in Jesner v. Arab Bank, PLC on the question of whether corporations can be held liable under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). In the case, the plaintiffs, victims of terrorism in Israel, allege that Arab Bank knowingly and willfully used its U.S. branch to provide financial services to the terrorist organizations that harmed them and their family members.

On August 21, Arab Bank filed its respondent brief in the proceedings, arguing that corporations should not be held liable for violations of international law under the ATS. This argument is inconsistent with the intent of the drafters of the Constitution who enacted the law, as well as with the legal interpretation that has followed.

An analysis of the language and historical context of the ATS demonstrates that the drafters of the Constitution intended for the ATS to be applied broadly to both individuals and legal persons, such as corporations. By placing no categorical limits on who can be sued under the legislation, it is clear that corporations can and should be held liable for violations of international law under the ATS.

The Enactment of the ATS and its Application to Legal Persons

The ATS was passed by the First Congress in 1789 to demonstrate the commitment of the new country to upholding the “law of nations,” thereby granting the United States legitimacy on the world stage. Its enactment was spurred by two incidents of offences against foreign ambassadors, but the law would also provide merchants plagued by piracy with a legal avenue to obtain remedy for the harm and losses suffered.

In passing the ATS, the First Congress chose not to limit who can be sued under the legislation:

The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.

By choosing not to exclude any particular class of defendant, the ATS places no limitation on who can be sued. This is made even more clear by the contrasting restriction on who can sue, i.e. only “aliens.”

Historical context suggests that the First Congress intended the law to hold both legal persons as well as natural ones accountable. Courts have held legal persons liable for their abuses as far back as the 1600s. A number of piracy cases provide a clear example of this. For instance, in 1666, Thomas Skinner sued the East India Company for “robbing him of a ship and goods of great value.” The U.K. House of Lords ruled in favor of Mr. Skinner and held that the company owed him compensation. Even where piracy was not committed by corporations, courts have imputed corporate form to the ships themselves. Similarly, early American courts held that ships, as entities, could be ordered to pay damages for piracy. They reasoned that it made financial sense to direct judgment against a captured ship, which had substantial value, while pirates were unlikely to pay the compensation ordered.

These piracy cases demonstrate that courts during the era of the drafters of the Constitution were not only familiar with the concept of liability for legal persons, but that they regularly imposed it for violations of international law. In light of this familiarity, the fact that the First Congress did not limit the language of the ATS suggests that it intended for legal persons, such as corporations, to be sued under the statute.

A Modern Interpretation of the ATS

This interpretation has been supported by courts in subsequent decisions. For example, the D.C. Court of Appeals, in Doe VIII v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 654 F.3d 11, 48 (D.C. Cir. 2011), vacated on other grounds, 527 F. App’x 7 (D.C. Cir. 2013) held that “[t]he notion that corporations could be held liable for their torts… would NOT have been surprising to the First Congress that enacted the ATS” [emphasis added]. For decades, corporations have been sued under the ATS “without any indication that the issue [of their liability] was in controversy, whether in ruling that ATS cases could proceed or that they could not on other grounds.

Since its passage in 1789, the ATS has remained the law of the United States for more than two hundred years, without ever being limited, narrowed, or amended by Congress. In contrast, Congress has made it abundantly clear when it does mean to exclude a particular class of defendants, namely corporations, from liability. For instance, the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA) explicitly excludes suits against corporations. While one can argue that failure to amend the ATS does not necessarily mean acceptance, one cannot negate the fact that both times that the issue of corporate liability under the ATS has come before SCOTUS, the U.S. Government has argued in favor of it. The Government has made it clear that it supports the original words and meaning of the ATS.

Arab Bank’s Interpretation of the ATS

Faced with this evidence of the intent of the drafters of the Constitution, all Arab Bank can do is endeavor to chip away at little pieces of it by attempting to undermine the piracy cases raised by the petitioners and their amici. In Arab Bank’s brief, it attacks the British case by claiming that the East India Company functioned more like a sovereign than a corporation, and that the case was ultimately vacated by King Charles II.

While it is beyond the scope of this blog to offer an analysis of the differences between the East India Company and the modern day corporation, the broad power and scope of today’s multinational corporations suggest that these differences may be much smaller than they initially appear. For example, one often cited variance is the power the East India Company had to “operate its own courts and establish its own law.” However, modern corporations likewise operate their own courts through grievance mechanisms, such as that offered by Barrick Gold in response to sexual violence at its mine in Papua New Guinea. In any event, what is relevant is that “the East India Company was on any number of occasions judged by English courts to be a legal person subject to both English common and civil law.

Also problematic with Arab Bank’s critique of the British case is the weight that it places on the intervention of the monarchy, namely, the decision by King Charles II to vacate the case. This decision is simply emblematic of the politics and the central role the Monarch played at the time. Using this political dynamic to criticize the case is unpersuasive.

To undermine the American piracy cases, Arab Bank argues that a ship is not a corporation and that holding a ship liable for the acts committed by the people operating it is not equivalent to accepting the concept of corporate liability. However, this argument is purely a matter of semantics and ignores the very basic concept of corporate liability, which is to hold a legal entity liable for the acts of individuals operating within it. This is exactly what the court did when imposing liability on the ships in these piracy cases.


If SCOTUS rules that corporations cannot be held liable under the ATS, it will be overturning hundreds of years of legal tradition, as well as undermining the chosen words and understanding of the drafters of the Constitution. Such a ruling would similarly undercut the legal interpretation adopted by numerous courts and policymakers following the First Congress. Furthermore, Arab Bank’s arguments are not convincing and fail to undermine the evidence that the ATS was intended to apply to both legal and non-legal persons.

Will SCOTUS respect the wishes of the drafters of the Constitution by holding Arab Bank liable for providing financial services to terrorist organizations? Those of us who believe in the underlying principles of this Nation certainly hope so.

Why the Security Council Should Not be Involved Regarding Al-Bashir’s Immunity

by Alexandre Skander Galand

[Alexandre Skander Galand is a Newton Postdoctoral Researcher at the Center for Global Public Law, Koç University; Ph.D. in Law (EUI).]

In a post published in September 2015, I asked whether the International Criminal Court (ICC) was in need of support to clarify the status of Heads of States’ immunities. My post followed the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber II (PTC II) request for submissions from the Republic of South Africa (RSA) with regards to the stay in its territory of the Head of State of Sudan, Omar Al-Bashir, on June 14-17, 2015.

Following UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1593 (2005), referring the situation in Darfur to the ICC, two warrants of arrest have been issued against Al-Bashir for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Sudan is not a State party to the Rome Statute, and many States have hosted Al-Bashir on the premise that he is protected by his immunity as the Head of a State not party to the Rome Statute. On 6 July 2017, after 2 years of proceedings, PTC II found that RSA failed to abide by its obligation under the Rome Statute to arrest and surrender the most wanted ICC fugitive. Nevertheless, the PTC also opined that a referral of the matter to the Assembly of States (ASP) and/or the UNSC, as provided in article 87(7) Rome Statute, was needless.

In this post I argue that two reasons lie behind PTC II’s decision to not refer the RSA. First, it is an acknowledgment that the ICC case law on the immunity of non-party Heads of States is cloudy. And, second, the PTC II foresaw that such referral would have seriously backfired. A referral would not have led to an environment conducive to the arrest of Al-Bashir, but quite the opposite: it could have incentivized the long called for use of an Article 16 deferral.

  1. Whatever the ratio decidi, Al-Bashir must be arrested and surrendered

On the eve of Al-Bashir’s travel to Johannesburg, Judge Tarfusser (acting as an ICC Single Judge) had affirmed (.pdf) to the RSA’s ambassador that there was nothing to consult upon (under article 97 Rome Statute) with the Court regarding the obligation to arrest Al-Bashir, as there was a very clear ICC case law establishing that Sudan’s Head of State immunities had been implicitly waived by the UNSC. Very intuitively, Judge Tarfusser responded to the Ambassador’s call for revisiting this case law that if the matter went before a full chamber, it “could decide in a slightly different way. I cannot imagine completely opposite but in a slightly different way.”

Judge Tarfusser was right! PTC II (with Tarfusser as Presiding Judge) decided in a different but not opposite way: the obligation to arrest Al-Bashir stands but his immunity has not been waived. In the Decision on South Africa’s failure to arrest and surrender Al-Bashir (South Africa Decision), PTC II exposed three theories on the inapplicability of immunities before the court of a State implementing an ICC arrest warrant.

First, the PTC II completely discarded its previous holding in Decision on Malawi’s Failure to Arrest and Surrender Al-Bashir (.pdf) (Malawi Decision) and the Special Court of Sierra Leone’s Decision on Taylor Immunity (.pdf). Indeed, the PTC II acknowledged to be ”unable to identify a rule in customary international law that would exclude immunity for Heads of State when their arrest is sought for international crimes by another State, even when the arrest is sought on behalf of an international court.” (para. 68) Note that the PTC was cautious enough to underline that this finding did not apply to its own exercise of jurisdiction, but to the arrest and surrender, which is an exercise of jurisdiction that only States can undertake.

Second, the PTC decided not to go by the Decision on DRC’s Cooperation Regarding Al-Bashir’s Arrest and Surrender (.pdf) (DRC Decision) where it held that the UNSC had implicitly waived the immunity of Al-Bashir. Three years earlier, this theory seemed useful as it served to reject the African Union (AU)’s arguments (.pdf) against the Malawi Decision. According to the DRC Decision, Sudan’s obligation under Chapter VII to cooperate fully fitted within the exception provided in article 98 (1) Rome Statute, which reads: ”unless the Court can first obtain the cooperation of that third State [Sudan] for the waiver of the immunity.” The implicit waiver under Chapter VII also tackled, on the premise of Article 103 UN Charter, DRC’s claim that it was bound by the AU resolutions obliging its State parties not to arrest Al-Bashir. On this conflict of norms between the ICC order and the AU order, the PTC II used the Chapter VII’s trumping power to declare that ‘the DRC cannot invoke any other decision, including that of the African Union, providing for any obligation to the contrary.’

The DRC Decision had been reiterated by the ICC several times since 2014. However, during the hearing on its non-compliance, the RSA raised a fair point on the interpretation of the UNSC’s resolutions in a way consistent with existing law on immunities, questioning whether the immunities Heads of States are normally entitled to under customary international law can be implicitly waived. The RSA referred to various sources including article 32 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Diplomatic Immunities (.pdf), which specifies that a waiver must always be express. The RSA also argued that ”if the UNSC intended to remove immunity, it could have clarified the situation by adopting another resolution.” This is indeed a suggestion I made in my previous post; not as sine qua non for finding that Al-Bashir’s immunity did not apply but simply as an aid for the ICC to uphold its position.

Despite Judge Tarfusser’s confidence in the DRC Decision’s ratio decidendi, PTC II decided to hold that no such waiver was necessary for the immunity of Al-Bashir to be considered irrelevant. The PTC rationale is simple: Sudan’s obligation to fully cooperate with the Court, which is underpinned by the Chapter VII power character of UNSC Resolution 1593, puts it in a position analogous to those of States Parties to the Rome Statute.

The gist of the reasoning is that the UNSC, when referring the situation in Darfur, submitted Sudan to the Rome Statute legal framework, which includes Article 27 (2) on the irrelevance of official capacity. In the particular situation in Darfur, the immunities to which Sudan’s officials are normally entitled under international law are not waived, they are simply irrelevant – as if it was a State party. As the PTC II put it, Sudan is subjected to “a sui generis regime” that extends ”the effect inter partes of the Statute, an international treaty” to a State that has not voluntarily accepted it. The caveat to this sui generis regime is that Sudan’s analogous position is only for the limited purpose of the situation in Darfur. In other words, the immunities from arrest and surrender of Sudan’s high ranking officials are relevant for crimes committed in, let’s say, Uganda.

This is slightly different from the DRC Decision in that while the PTC still heavily relies on the Chapter VII character of the obligation to cooperate fully, it is not dependent on the UNSC’s intent when adopting a referral to the ICC. The Chamber indeed insisted on this and emphasized:

‘it is immaterial whether the Security Council intended – or even anticipated – that, by virtue of article 27(2) of the Statute, Omar Al-Bashir’s immunity as Head of State of Sudan would not operate to prevent his arrest sought by the Court […]’ (par. 95)

This is a very important point since, as I will show below, the Court cannot count on the UNSC to support it in its prosecution of Al-Bashir.

Furthermore, the South Africa Decision affirms that States cannot rely on Article 98 (1) for justifying non-cooperation, as this provision is addressed to the Court solely. According to PTC II, the option States have if the Court makes a request contrary to Article 98 is to appeal the decision; not to ‘consult’ with the Court as RSA did. In contrast, the DRC Decision had called on the Congolese authorities to consult the Court when there is a problem related to article 98(1) of the Statute. PTC II acknowledged that the DRC Decision misled the RSA. While the OtP argued that the RSA abused the consultation process provided in article 97 to create a legal impediment to rely upon, the Chamber credited this ‘attempt’ to consult as one point in favour of not referring the matter to the ASP and/or UNSC.

  1. This will stay between us!

As anticipated, the PTC II found that it was unwarranted to refer the failure of RSA to arrest Al-Bashir. To justify its decision, the PTC II noted that the RSA’s domestic courts had already found that the State had breached its obligations. Thus, with the RSA domestic courts holding and its decision, PTC II considered that any possible ambiguity as to the law concerning the arrest and surrender of Al-Bashir had now been removed.

The remaining question was whether the ICC could really count on external actors to force compliance with its request to arrest and surrender Al-Bashir. The PTC noted that in all previous instances where a State’s failure to arrest Al-Bashir had been referred to the UNSC, the latter also failed to take any type of measure whatsoever against the non-cooperating State or Sudan. This is indeed the first acceptance from an ICC Chamber that the ‘last resort’ mechanism provided in Article 87(7) is ineffective, at least with regard to the arrest of Al-Bashir.

To tell the truth, a UNSC meeting on the failure of the RSA would have probably turned in a session where the ICC case law on immunity was trashed by some UNSC members. A month before the PTC delivered the South Africa Decision, Fatou Bensouda was admonishing the UNSC for the absence of concrete action in response to decisions of non-compliance referred to it by the Court. In response, the Russian representative affirmed once more that:

‘the obligation to cooperate, as set forth in resolution 1593 (2005), does not mean that the norms of international law governing the immunity of the Government officials of those States not party the Rome Statute can be repealed, and presuming the contrary is unacceptable.’

The AU position on the arrest of Al-Bashir is also well known known. African States sitting at the UNSC constantly remind it of their opposition to the arrest and surrender of Al-Bashir and reiterate their call for the use of an Article 16 deferral. For instance, Egypt declared:

‘we reject any action taken against any African country under the pretext that it has not complied with its obligations under the Rome Statute or on the basis of its non-cooperation pursuant to Security Council resolution 1593 (2005), because it did not arrest President Al-Bashir and hand him over to the ICC’

A referral of the RSA’s non-compliance to the UNSC could have turned to be a meeting where an Article 16 deferral would actually be granted. China, the AU and the Arab League, support a deferral of the proceedings against Al-Bashir. Even the United States have admitted that Sudan has taken meaningful positive steps with respect to the conflict in Darfur, and worked in cooperation with the US government to address regional conflicts. After all, let’s not forget that the RSA is the State that made a proposal for amending Article 16 of the Rome Statute, which would provide for the General Assembly to assume this power where the UNSC fails to respond to a request. Despite the repetitive requests for Article 16 Rome Statute to be triggered, the UNSC has not formally decided upon this matter yet.

On 29 March 2017, Al-Bashir travelled to Jordan, a State party to the Rome Statute, for a meeting of the Arab League and once again he was not arrested. There will be proceedings similar to the ones for RSA to take place at the ICC. The PTC will probably affirm its new case law on how Al-Bashir’s immunity does not apply. However, I very much doubt that the ICC will take the chance to refer Jordan to the UNSC, unless it is ready to accept the possibility of a deferral.

MH17 Downing Suspects to be Prosecuted Before Dutch Domestic Courts – An Obstacle or an Advantage for International Justice?

by Aaron Matta

[Dr. Aaron Matta is an expert in international law with working experience at International Courts. He also recently co-founded The Hague Council on Advancing International Justice, a network for and with practitioners, academics, and policymakers in the area of international justice. I would like to thank Dr. Philip Ambach and Anda Scarlat for their feedback on earlier drafts of this commentary.The views expressed here are of the authors alone]

After nearly three years since the downing of the Malaysia Airlines MH17 flight, the countries comprising the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) – namely Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine – announced on 5 July their decision to initiate domestic investigations and prosecutions in the Netherlands in relation to the incident. To facilitate these procedures, a bilateral treaty on international legal cooperation between Ukraine and the Netherlands was signed on July 7. The treaty provides that those suspected of downing flight MH17 can be prosecuted in the Netherlands in respect of all 298 victims, which originate from 17 different countries. This means that all next of kin will have the same rights in the Dutch criminal proceedings regardless of their nationality.

These new developments are not surprising given that most of the victims were Dutch and the Netherlands has led the investigation and coordinated the international team of investigators thus far. This move also shows the determination of the JIT states to bring to justice those responsible, particularly after failed attempts to establish an ad hoc international MH17 Court had failed due to Russia’s veto in the United Nations Security Council. However, the recent decision to prosecute suspects in a Dutch domestic court raises challenges, particularly in view of the ongoing preliminary examination in Ukraine by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). While international law provides several legal avenues for redress for this incident, in both criminal and civil proceedings, – which I extensively analyzed in an earlier blog post – the avenues analyzed here fall under the category of individual criminal responsibility.

So why can the Netherlands exercise its criminal jurisdiction in this case, if the incident occurred in Ukraine? In principle, Ukraine would retain the primary right to investigate and prosecute those responsible according to the legal principle of territorial jurisdiction – based on where the crime was committed. The Ukrainian leadership determined, however, that it would be very difficult to carry out the investigations and prosecutions due to the ongoing conflict in the Donbass region, where the MH17 incident took place. As a result, Ukraine triggered the ICC’s jurisdiction over crimes allegedly committed on its territory from 20 February 2014 onwards via two declarations under the ICC Statute, requesting the ICC Prosecutor to investigate the matter. Currently, following these requests, the ICC Prosecutor is undertaking a preliminary examination that could lead to the opening of a criminal investigation. Such investigation could potentially include the downing of the MH17 flight as an alleged war crime.

Nonetheless, the other JIT states, including the Netherlands, can also assert their domestic jurisdictions over this matter based on the legal principle of passive personality jurisdiction, due to the fact that their citizens were killed in this incident. In light of last week’s decision, the Dutch domestic criminal specialized courts will now be able to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the downing of MH17 on the basis of four main legal sources: first, as domestic crimes under the Dutch penal code, such as murder or manslaughter; second, as an international crime under the Dutch International Crimes Act of 2003; thirdly, as a crime on the basis of the 1971 Montreal Convention, which allows the domestic prosecution of any person committing unlawful acts against the safety of civil aviation; and finally, the bilateral judicial cooperation agreement recently signed with Ukraine.

However, the concurrent use of multiple criminal prosecution mechanisms, namely the Dutch domestic courts and the ICC, may cause difficulties. First, issues may arise under the basic principle of ‘ne bis in idem’, which states that no person can be tried twice for the same crime. Thus, if a Dutch court prosecutes an individual, this may prevent the ICC from prosecuting the same individual for the same crime. It is therefore essential for the JIT states to coordinate and cooperate with each other, and more importantly with the ICC, when it comes to gathering evidence, selection of suspects and conducting fair trials, to avoid duplication and wasting resources.

In addition, an investigation by the Dutch national authorities will most likely block any investigation by the ICC by virtue of the latter’s complementarity to national courts of its States Parties. According to this principle, states are primarily responsible for investigating and prosecuting international crimes. The ICC only intervenes if states parties to the Rome Statute of the ICC are unable or unwilling to prosecute individuals’ suspected/accused of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community. With this in mind, a division of labor between the different jurisdictions, and among the different actors involved, could be arranged. For example, the Netherlands could focus in prosecuting those most responsible for the MH17 incident, while the ICC concentrates its efforts and limited resources to investigating other crimes committed in the Ukrainian territory.

Other challenges that will be faced by all of the jurisdictions involved are, for example, meeting the high standards of proof required for establishing the suspects’ guilt beyond reasonable doubt. This includes notably the requirement to prove the alleged perpetrator’s ‘knowledge and intent’ to commit a war crime. Additionally, there will be several procedural obstacles when it comes to judicial cooperation and the sharing of crucial potential evidence. Clear examples of this are the thousands of intercepted telephone calls gathered by Ukrainian law enforcement and intelligence agencies. While some of this evidence can easily be shared with the JIT investigators, as well as with the Dutch and ICC prosecutors, in several instances much of this data cannot be shared due to some restrictions in the Ukrainian legal system. This is the case, for example, with evidence that may have been acquired or intercepted following special legal procedures into the downing of the MH17, such as investigations carried out in the interest of state security and the fight against terrorism.

The bilateral agreement between the Netherlands and Ukraine addresses some of these issues by reducing or simplifying some procedural hurdles. For example, the agreement tackles the issue of examination of Ukrainian defendants via video link or the transferring of enforcement of prison sentences that may be imposed, due to extradition restrictions in the Ukrainian legal system.

Finally, a major obstacle will prove to be obtaining custody of the potential suspects, particularly if they are Russian nationals and/or located on Russian territory. The Russian Federation will most likely not be willing to extradite potential Russian suspects, in spite of international pressure, in light of the current geopolitical tensions prevailing in the region. In this respect, trials in absentia (where the suspect is absent from the legal proceedings), which are provided for in the Dutch criminal code could prove to be a limited yet practical solution.

Regardless of these numerous challenges, the decision to initiate judicial proceedings in the Netherlands providing a solid avenue for legal redress for the incident should be welcomed. Such an initiative would further show that the JIT states are serious about seeking justice for the victims of this tragic incident and their relatives.

Reply by Gregory S. Gordon: On the General Part, the New Media and the Responsibility to Protect

by Gregory Gordon

[Gregory Gordon is Associate Professor of Law, Associate Dean for Development and External Affairs and Director of the Research Postgraduates Programme at The Chinese University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law.  He was formerly a prosecutor with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Special Investigations.]

I am grateful to Opinio Juris, especially organizers Chris Borgen and Jessica Dorsey, for providing this amazing platform to have a discussion about my new book Atrocity Speech Law: Foundation, Fragmentation, Fruition. And I would like to thank Professors Roger Clark, Mark Drumbl and David Simon for their astute and thought-provoking observations. Each took a different perspective regarding the book so I will respond to each of them ad seriatim.

Roger Clark is one of the great architects of international criminal law (ICL) and his contribution here masterfully situates my central arguments within the larger framework of ICL’s general part. Much is made in my book of incitement’s circumscribed application to the core offenses. But incitement is not ICL’s only marginalized inchoate modality – conspiracy has gotten the same treatment, as Roger indicates in his post. Animus toward that modality, however, arguably comes from different quarters. As Roger suggests, since Justice Jackson negotiated the contours of what would become the Nuremberg Charter, Americans have met with resistance when trying to weave conspiracy, a common count in American charging instruments, into ICL’s doctrinal warp and weft. And that’s not just in relation to the Pinkerton-type conspiracy to which Roger alludes (commonly associated with the controversial third category of joint criminal enterprise or “JCE III”– i.e., assigning criminal liability for offenses that were the “natural and foreseeable consequence” of implementing a common design).

I have very vivid memories of indictment-review meetings at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), where lawyers from Civil Law jurisdictions would gnash their teeth and stoutly object to proposed garden-variety conspiracy counts. This could be the subject of another Symposium but I am still perplexed by this animosity; agreements to engage in group criminality – especially in the mass atrocity context – should be nipped in the bud and that is the object of inchoate conspiracy. And thus, to clear up one of Roger’s points, I am a fan of inchoate conspiracy! Of course, like any penal regulation, it can be abused. But when administered properly it can be a remarkably effective enforcement tool. And there is no doubt that my American-honed criminal law perspective colors my views on this topic!

So it is somewhat ironic that ill feeling toward that other inchoate crime, incitement, is primarily of American origin — owing to a rabid free speech ethos flowing from libertarian impulses. And it is here that I part company with many of my compatriots. As I point out in my book, incitement was nearly left out of the Genocide Convention due to American opposition out of concerns for liberty of expression. In fact, as Roger hints at in his post, it was the American position that there was no need to criminalize incitement separately, as it was already covered by conspiracy. I do not share that view. Provoking others to commit genocide is different from agreeing with them to do so. Conspiracy can be effected through non-verbal means. But incitement is always a verbal delict.

And that’s one of the key points in my book. It is true that we can technically find more general penal provisions to cover oral/written criminality in reference to mass atrocity. We could, for example, charge conspiracy rather than incitement or complicity rather than speech abetting (my proposed new modality). But that would be a mistake, I submit. We must recognize the critical, and unique, role played by verbal provocation in the atrocity context. And the operationalization of my proposed “Unified Liability Theory” does just that. While preserving incitement’s pride of place in reference to genocide, it would untether it from this traditional mooring and link it to the other core crimes. Just to be clear, in relation to Roger’s concern, that necessarily means adding incitement to crimes against humanity (CAH). And, more granularly, it should also entail incitement to the individual enumerated CAH acts. Thus, we should be thinking along the lines of incitement to CAH-extermination, for example.

And this is not such a radical idea. Roger references the little-noticed provision of US Army Field Manual 27-10, cited in my book, which criminalizes incitement to commit genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. And lest we forget, this was the approach taken by the International Law Commission in both the 1954 and 1996 versions of its Draft Code of Offences against the Peace and Security of Mankind. That is why I find baffling the ILC’s exclusion of incitement in the current version of its draft articles for a Convention on Crimes against Humanity.

Like all his work, Mark Drumbl’s analysis here is as brilliant lexically as it is legally! I can think of few other scholars whose work I peruse as much for the art of the prose as for the depth of the ideas. Perhaps it is appropriate that he comments on my book’s length. As it happens, during my darkest days of drafting drudgery, I would turn to the writing in works such as Atrocity, Punishment, and International Law to get inspired. And sure enough, after a few choice Drumblian paragraphs, I was back to my manuscript and the words would start to flow!

But let me state that I don’t believe my manuscript’s heft is for want of proper editing or any other indulgence. The criminal law governing the relationship between speech and atrocity had become such a tangled mess, that a proper genealogy, i.e., a big dig below several strata of botched norm-crafting, was necessary. Mark generously (I think) describes this law-formation process as “bricolage” in its English-language academic sense (i.e., something constructed or created from a diverse range of available things, with no teleological orientation).

But there may be a bit of irony in his use of this word. Per its ordinary Gallic meaning, bricolage refers to home-improvement “do it yourself” projects. And, in light of atrocity speech law’s herky-jerky doctrinal accretion, this is revelatory. For every stage of legislation – the Nuremberg Charter, the Genocide Convention, the ad hoc tribunal statutes, the Rome Statute – one discerns a “do it yourself” mentality (in a solipsistic sense) regarding the laws crafted to deal with discrete situations or problems. There appears to be little thought about what came before or what might follow — the bigger picture simply did not factor in. And deeper etymological analysis yields even more irony. When used pejoratively, bricolage in French means “patch-up job” or “shoddy workmanship.” And that perfectly describes the current atrocity speech law framework (and, to be fair, Mark certainly recognizes “concerns over coherence, predictability, and consistency.”)

Still, Mark intimates this process might have some value given the law’s natural, organic growth. I appreciate his point. But how much does organic growth matter if the ground soil is toxic to begin with? And regardless of soil quality, I highly doubt one could say the growth has been organic in any salutary, Aristotelean sense. Rather, the law has sprouted up pell-mell, like a dense tangle of weeds. And disentangling that mess, as well as explaining how properly to reconstitute it, takes patient parsing and ultimately results in a large Kindle data file. It was high time, I felt, to move past the myopic fragments of scholarship that had failed to offer holistic remedies.

Moreover, as Mark points out, that was not my only task. I also wished to suggest a to do list for future scholarship in this area. And, in this regard, I appreciate Mark’s emphasis on the key issue of sentencing. It simply would not do to adjust the liability misalignments while ignoring the punishment ones. As noted in my book, penalties to date have seemed as random as the contours of the substantive offense architecture that gave rise to them. Mark has generated amazing scholarship in this area and if he could turn his attention to this part of the atrocity speech law mess, we might get the insights needed to fix what is a highly undertheorized part of ICL.

Regarding atrocity and the new media, Mark has homed in on another critical aspect of future work in this area. I can understand his point about how “last century” the focus of my book seems to be. But it’s important to understand the context here. Atrocity Speech Law is mostly about the jurisprudence emanating from the Rwanda/Yugoslavia ad hoc tribunals and Nuremberg. When, to the chorus of RTLM rants, the Land of a Thousand Hills was being drenched in Tutsi blood, newspapers and radios were still the dominant media. When the Balkans convulsed in an orgy of post-Cold War ethnic cleansing, the likes of Slobodan Milošević and Radovan Karadžić were taking to the airwaves, not Twitter or Instagram. And so the jurisprudence to date reflects that.

Still, there are points in my monograph where the new media factor in. For instance, regarding incitement to genocide, I counsel considering media type as an evaluative factor to determine whether the “incitement” element of the offense has been satisfied. A more static medium, such as print, would compel a weaker inference of incitement. Social media, such as Twitter, would call for a polar-opposite inference. And in-between would be radio, a transmission vehicle less viral than social media but far more inherently incendiary than newspapers. Similarly, in respect of persecution, contextual evaluation of the speech in reference to a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population demands consideration of the medium. Use of Instagram raises fewer freedom of expression concerns than, say, distribution of a pamphlet.

That said, Mark is on to something big. The issues raised by the use of new media must be grappled with more fully in the literature. When the next wave of state-sponsored mass violence leads to a new spate of inquests, questions of guilt in relation to internet service providers and social media platforms will no doubt vex future courts. We need to get out ahead of these issues and understand how to resolve them now. If we do, perhaps justice can be meted out far more efficiently and effectively than it was through this now-concluding ad hoc tribunal cycle. And, who knows, maybe good scholarship can contribute toward blunting atrocity rhetoric such that future trials will not even be necessary.

And that is a good segue to David Simon’s outstanding contribution. He focuses on how atrocity speech law coherence can help promote deterrence. But fixing the substantive law, he submits, will not be enough sans meaningful implementation. Given the outsize influence of the US, and the Security Council P5 generally, he questions whether the courts are the ideal enforcement fora in the first instance. But he brilliantly posits an alternative — “a network of non-governmental organizations paired with independent international bodies, perhaps set up at regional levels . . . that could be charged with identifying or responding to atrocity speech complaints.” And if not successful at that level, matters could be referred to higher bodies, such as upper-level regional organizations or perhaps even the ICC.

I was really excited when I read David’s post because, in certain important respects, it aligns well with another project I’m now working on concerning the philosophical foundations of international criminal law. In my new piece, tentatively titled Transnational Governmentality Networking: A Neo-Foucauldian Account of International Criminal Law, I rely on Michel Foucault’s later-stage theory of “governmentality” to help theorize the origins of international criminal law (ICL). Governmentality can roughly be defined as a non-disciplinary form of power arising from an amalgamation of institutions, procedures, analyses, and tactics that enable governance. I contend that ICL grew organically (there’s that word again!) from low-level, often informal, transnational networks enabled through the intercession of nongovernmental and international organizations. These networks ultimately facilitated the series of procedures, analyses and tactics that have reached critical mass in the formation of ICL.

Per this account, we can see David’s proposal as essentially suggesting a return to ICL roots (a bit of “reverse engineering” on his part as well!). But here the context is hate speech with a view toward atrocity prevention (via the emerging Responsibility to Protect norm). Obviously, on a personal level, I could not be more pleased to see two key branches of my scholarship brought together for such a meaningful purpose. And to have it coming from one of our finest genocide scholars is an incredible honor. Clearly, we need more of this sort of outside-the-box thinking if we ever realistically hope to redeem that “never again” pledge.

Comments on Atrocity Speech Law by Gregory Gordon

by David Simon

[David J. Simon is the Director of the Genocide Studies Program at Yale University.]

It is something of a cliché to call a newly published book an “achievement.”  I can think of no better word, however, to describe Gregory Gordon’s Atrocity Speech Law.  This is the rare book on legal doctrine that is engaging and digestible to lawyers, legal academics, and non-lawyers alike.  Professor Gordon describes horrifying episodes of atrocity speech in recent history, meticulously develops and dissects the ensuing case law that unfolded, and cogently argues for a more comprehensive vision of future standards by which atrocity speech should be proscribed, prosecuted, and adjudicated upon.  These quite different component parts are so well executed that it is almost easy to forget by the magisterial end that the whole project begins with the coining of the term “Atrocity Speech Law.”  Gordon has set an extremely high standard for future books on the subject.

Gordon begins the task of elaborating what this field encompasses by surveying a disparate/scattered set of jurisprudential concerns surrounding speech related to the commission of atrocity crimes.  Finding coherence lacking, he proceeds to articulate both a jurisprudential fix and a set of real life motivations for doing so.  Not being a legal academic myself, I will mostly refrain from commenting upon the former.  Suffice it to say that Gordon’s reverse engineering of atrocity speech case law exposes and illustrates an unholy trinity of haste, political expediency, and under-competent judging that all too frequently characterizes the formation (and execution) of international humanitarian and criminal law.

The fix he proposes to the doctrinal mess he describes is not merely a matter of bringing order to a chaotic corner of the legal world.  For Gordon,

…folding all speech-related delicts into a single provision provides for a better organized exposition of the law and calls greater attention to speech as a potent factor in provoking and fueling atrocity.  As a practical matter, rather than having a fragmented collection of rules scattered in different parts of a statute, the proposed consolidated provision puts the proper emphasis on speech crimes and facilitates simultaneous consideration of the offenses so that prosecutors can make more efficient and effective charging decisions (385).

However, as my own interests and expertise, such as it is, lie in the field of atrocity prevention, I focus on the implications of Gordon’s work there.  In a narrow reading, there is benefit – indirect but important – to doctrinal coherence:  too much of international prevention efforts are ad hoc, uncoordinated, and therefore come off as collectively amateurish.  Like its international post-conflict justice component, the prevention regime itself, therefore, seems easily circumventable, characterizable as the project of one-world dreamers with little bite except in occasional instances of post hoc convenience.  One might reasonably expect a legal code to be the exception, but as Gordon shows in his survey of the field’s fragmentation, this is far from the case.  The call of coherence is also a call for the prevention project to be taken seriously, and for it to have the tools necessary for that to be so.

Displaying the righteous zeal of a former prosecutor (and I mean that as an unmitigated compliment), Gordon offers a more direct payoff projected from this project.  He notes that the operationalization of his doctrinal fixes

would promote greater consistency in prosecuting atrocity speech in both municipal and transnational fora around the world.  And it would more effectively put would-be verbal hatemongers on notice that speech in atrocity contexts will not be the collateral postscript to filling mass graves.  Rather, it will serve as humanity’s alarm bell, auguring and triggering punishment before it is too late (395).

The logic underpinning this bold claim is straightforward:  several efforts to establish constructs by which to understand genocide have, as Gordon cites, emphasized the role that speech plays in the process of effecting genocide and other atrocities. For example, Gregory Stanton’s “Ten Stages” theory gives significant weight to the role of speech acts in fomenting atrocities.  Nearly half of Stanton’s stages may substantially involve speech: Classification (Step 1), Symbolization (2), Dehumanization (4), Polarization (6), and – controversially, as Gordon acknowledges, Denial (10) (see here).

If conceptualizations like these are accurate, to prevent genocide requires disrupting the willful acts core to each step of the process.  And when those acts include speech acts, a framework for prevention necessarily must include a strategy for identifying speech that has the potential to cause atrocity – and doing something about it. A comprehensive and consistent framework for defining atrocity speech, as Gordon provides, enables the first task.

The second, however, remains a challenge, particularly as one moves away from relying on the knowledge of the possibility of ex post adjudication and punishment having a deterrent effect, and towards ex ante identification and intercession.

At the basis of the difficulty of ex ante intercession is Gordon’s completely accurate conclusion that the harm of atrocity speech is not necessarily a product of the injury (or violence) it causes, but in its very potential to cause violence.  Thus, Gordon rightly argues that to respond appropriately (i.e., preventively) to incitement, the doctrine must recognize its inchoate nature. To invoke a phrase from another field, the anti-atrocity speech regime must feature (proactive) police patrols as well as (reactive) fire alarms.  However, convincing courts to play their proactive role is a tough sell on the criminal side.  International courts can barely maintain their capacity to render ex post judgments, much less take on ex ante cases.  Both international and national courts have been loath to separate guilt from the causation of harm, even when statutes dictate otherwise.  Furthermore, it is hard to imagine atrocity speech, which for better or for worse always has a tentacle in the realm of politics, being given a hearing which itself would not be accused of being political.  In most countries, a state, through its municipal courts, would be unlikely to look into the alleged speech transgressions of (fellow) state actors out of concern for its own legitimacy.  Prosecutions of non-state actors would be more likely to occur, but inevitably smack of overreach, an attempt of to use the power of the state to quash dissent.

The guidance Gordon gives, while delineating with remarkable clarity the nature of speech that should elicit a response anterior to atrocity actions, leaves unanswered questions  as to who ought to identify the transgressions and who ought to initiate the prosecutions.  As with much of the genocide prevention effort, political expedience concerns will likely override implementation even where municipal jurisdictions have adopted it.  Skepticism of internationalism combined with realist conceptions of foreign policy will mute its application at the international level. The outsize role the United States plays in establishing global norms is especially challenging for the implementation of a prevention agenda around atrocity speech:  not only is skepticism of global governance high, but there is extreme reluctance on the part of the United States to countenance ex ante speech limitations of any sort, a handicap to the adoption of anti-atrocity speech norms.

I suspect – and by that I mean ‘fear’ – that the arc of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) norm may represent the most likely trajectory.  R2P emerged from an idealistic set of principles, gained life as a body of UN-elaborated language, and withered to something that is cited in international policy when not significantly inconvenient to major powers.  The unwillingness to place principle above politics (and, barring that, fiscal constraints) relegates R2P to the status of secondary concern.

And yet the story of R2P offers a glimmer of hope, as well.  The advent of R2P has introduced language of responsibility into the proceedings of various junctures of global governance.  When global actors use or endorse the language disingenuously, that disingenuousness comes with a price in terms of reputation and credibility (albeit one that countries, over and over again, have been willing to pay.)  Where R2P tends to succeed is below the Security Council level, in the rhetoric of middle powers, in the actions of young regional organizations like the African Union’s Peace and Security Council, or the Office of Security and Co-operation in Europe.  Politics and other concerns can still supersede the sway of the norm at this level, but with fewer veto players holding trump cards at higher levels, the doctrine stands a greater chance of gaining a foothold.

I would argue that the task for the atrocity speech crimes project is to build an implementation infrastructure that does not rely solely on judges and criminal complaints.  The architecture of atrocity speech policy must acknowledge legal realism, which recognizes the enduring political barriers to implementation of a regime based solely on ideals. In doing so, the goal would not be to pare back, or make less inclusive, the anti-atrocity speech framework.  Rather, the task is to populate the regime with institutions other than politically disinterested municipal courts or under-empowered international ones.

The task is to develop an administrative architecture that could preside over an essentially civil law application of Gordon’s framework.  The architecture might involve a network of non-governmental organizations paired with independent international bodies, perhaps set up at regional levels.  A core mandate of these bodies would be to hear such cases of alleged atrocity speech, and deliver injunctions accordingly.  While the bodies would possess no policy power, the failure of the enjoined to adhere to the injunctions then would become legal matter in its own right, triggering referral to either a higher juridical body (like the ICC) or a political one (like the Security Council, or its equivalents on regional government organizations).

There exist blueprints in the world of global governance for such a mid-level institution. The European Court of Human Rights has injunctive powers (albeit among others). Alternatively, treaty-derived institutions like the International Criminal Court or the International Atomic Energy Agency interface with the United Nations but were separately established, and thereby exercise a measure of independence.  Thus Article 6 of Gordon’s proposed treaty could be expanded to specify a mid-level international organization that could be charged with identifying or responding to atrocity speech complaints.  Certainly, this would not be without controversy, and the institution(s) would be vulnerable to capture.  Yet compromisable new institutions remain preferable to vesting all anti-atrocity speech prerogatives with national and international organs that have, to this point, created a muddled body of law, and whose politicization is already manifest.

Technology, Speech, Hate, Virtuality … and the Path of the Law

by Mark Drumbl

[Mark A. Drumbl is the Class of 1975 Alumni Professor of Law and Director, Transnational Law Institute at Washington and Lee University.]

Atrocity Speech Law is a hefty book. It is, as Professor Gordon himself describes it, a ‘tome’. Atrocity Speech Law is rigorous and ambitious: packed with information, breathtakingly detailed, brimming with integrity, and vivified by important themes of law reform. In contrast to the absurd invective it seeks to deter, Gregory’s arguments are measured and modulated, poised and principled.

Although Gregory has invested so much in this book, and the book contains so much, he also is wisely modest that much more remains to be said. So I want to say something about one thing Gregory has identified as something that remains to be said, and then I want to say something about something else that he hasn’t identified as such.

But, first, to the core argument: Gregory posits that atrocity speech law exists but is hampered by the fact it is fragmented. The fragmentation, I would hasten to add, is not deliberate or intentional. Like much of law, the law regulating atrocity speech emerged by virtue of bricolage. That said, and however charmingly organic, bricolage quickly brushes up against important limits: concerns over coherence, predictability, and consistency. In fact, simply by labeling the issue at hand as ‘atrocity speech’, Gregory already contributes structure and parsimony, in that the regulation of speech that encourages violence currently remains cobbled together from various specific crimes such as incitement to genocide, hate speech, ordering, instigation, and persecution as a crime against humanity. By advancing arguments of unification and codification (he proposes a draft convention on atrocity speech), Gregory situates himself within a venerable tradition of international law-making. Although I often find myself attracted to (a bit of) messiness, and believe the value of Cartesian organization in the world of law may be overrated and too hungrily stated, Gregory makes a very compelling case for his vision.

Gregory gestures ahead near the end of the book. He points to historical research, denial, sentencing, and empirical inquiry on the actual effects of hate speech as areas for further research. Among these, I think that sentencing is of particular salience. Gregory finds unexplainable variation among sentences issued for hate speech crimes at the international level.  I am not surprised. I have long questioned the rationalities of sentencing at the international criminal courts and tribunals and the operational coherence of the sentences that actually are issued. Although greater predictability has arisen over time, which is good to see, pockets of concern persist. Assembling together the various crimes that involve speech, which Gregory has done, and providing a heuristic of sentences for these crimes, which Gregory also has done, exposes these underdeveloped aspects of sentencing. Although retribution and deterrence are taken as the two major goal of international sentencing, as re-announced recently by the ICC in Bemba and Al Mahdi, how would these goals apply in the case of atrocity speech? Can persons convicted for speech crimes be rehabilitated? Are they in a position, unlike other criminals, to undo what they had done, to disclaim what they had claimed, to correct the record, to retract, to unwind? If so, how could these remedies form part of the punitive schematic?

Turning now to the something not spoken of: Atrocity Speech Law largely absents conversations about technology. This surprises me. The book has a bit of a last century vibe to it. Sure, some societies are more technologically embedded and uploaded than others, but we are all well beyond newspapers and radio broadcasts. Our world is less one of RTML and Kangura and megaphones and Nuremberg rallies than it is one of social media, anonymous (and instantaneous) information, and virality; of YouTube and the internet; of ‘fake news’ and doctored events; of Instagram and Facebook and  Twitter and Whatsapp and Iphones. Widespread and systematic access to the Web, so to speak, permits everyone to become a speaker (anonymous or otherwise) and to be heard. So hate speech metastasizes much faster than ever before, it can stain so many listeners so quickly, and can become pandemic. Anyone with an internet connection can start it.  State-run television, cable given over to the interests of an ideology, and the press each certainly and assuredly is important. But I would wish to hear from Gregory as to how his (re)construction of atrocity speech law would map onto these new virtual media which definitively change how and through whom and from where ‘information’ is obtained.  How does technology challenge (or not) the many legal elements of the crime?

Gregory closes his book with an appeal for both application of penal law and preventative measures. So, then, preventatively, how to ventilate the spaces of the Web in which ‘speakers’ vent their furor? Is social host liability, liability for providing space, an answer? If so, what further cascades might such liability present for freedom of expression? Any vexation? What opportunities for reparations? What can we learn from internet regulation domestically, for example, when virtuality is used to cyberbully or humiliate individuals?

Gregory’s book is a tour-de-force. We are all the better for it. We are lucky to have him, and his work, to guide us through these rapidly growing thickets.

Comment on Atrocity Speech Law by Gregory Gordon

by Roger S. Clark

[Roger S. Clark is the Board of Governors Professor of Law at Rutgers Law School.]

Several important themes are developed alongside one another in Gregory Gordon’s remarkable book on the activity for which he coins the term “atrocity speech law.”  They are captured largely in his sub-title “Foundation, Fragmentation and Fruition” and in his summary of the “fruition” points at pp. 16-24 of the work.  I cannot do justice to all his exhaustive scholarship and his insights in a short blog post,  so I shall comment on the general picture and then outline, idiosyncratically no doubt, a couple of the points that particularly struck me.

Gordon assays a concrete legal definition of his subject area in the text of a creative proposed “Convention on the Classification and Criminalization of Atrocity Speech Offenses” (pp. 378-81).  Article 1 of the treaty has the Parties confirming that “hate speech, when uttered for purposes of triggering or supporting atrocity crimes, should be accurately categorized in its different penal forms and criminalized and punished according to the actual form it takes.”  “Such speech,” it adds, shall be considered to give rise to what is known as ‘atrocity speech liability’”.  Article 2 states that “[f]or purposes of this Convention, ‘atrocity crimes’ means genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, as defined respectively in Articles 6, 7, and 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.”  Obviously, I admire his boldness in trying his hand at treaty drafting, which is why I mention at the outset his global solution to the problems elucidated in the previous three hundred-odd pages.  I’ll return to the Convention later.

The “foundation” part of the argument expands on his understanding of the “historical record,” namely that “instances of mass atrocity have always been accompanied by communications campaigns designed to demonize the intended victims and inflame the passions of would-be perpetrators.”  (P. 5, and see his excellent typography of the various forms of demonization at pp. 284-91, where he relates them especially to the “direct” requirement in respect of public incitement to genocide.)

The first attempt to deal with such activities through the criminal law was at Nuremberg where Julius Streicher was charged, convicted and executed on the basis of the persecution leg of crimes against humanity.  The confusion about whether an inchoate incitement theory, which Gordon espouses, would be appropriate in such cases begins with Streicher, although the issue was not pressing there, as the evil deeds had occurred at the time of trial and could be attributed to him and persecution filled the bill.

It should be noted, though, that the Nuremberg prosecution also sought to use an inchoate conspiracy theory.  Had it been developed further, that might have been a viable way to deal with situations which are of concern to Gordon, where there is no necessary causal link between what the accused did and the atrocities actually committed.  But the Tribunal held that the inchoate conspiracy provision in the Charter applied only to crimes against peace (aggression).

The London drafters of Nuremberg had grappled in a desultory fashion with conspiracy, an important feature of the enterprise for Justice Jackson that was not well understood by the others drafters, even the British.  Sometimes, as I read his transcript of the proceedings, I wonder if Jackson himself really understood what he was doing.  In particular, he and the British were not always clear whether they were talking about the inchoate conspiracy doctrine that the British and American legal systems share, or the peculiarly American doctrine that a conspirator may become liable for the crimes committed by other conspirators in somewhat peripheral situations where they would not be held liable by virtue of basic complicity principles (the “Pinkerton” doctrine which remains a feature of federal law).  More on this later too.

Streicher’s persecution leg of crimes against humanity, which might not necessarily include violence, was essentially spun off to become the core of genocide, as defined in the Genocide Convention.  Genocide appears almost identically in the later Statutes of the ad hoc Tribunals for Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and of the ICC, although it still finds an overlapping place in definitions of crimes against humanity.

The Nuremberg Charter contains no suggestion that there should be responsibility for attempted crimes under international law; the Tribunal itself was not enthusiastic about conspiracies to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Genocide Convention, however, picks up both attempt and conspiracy responsibility, along with direct and public incitement — three inchoate offenses. It included in its definition not only genocide (as a principal) and complicity in genocide, but also that trio of preparatory offenses. These inchoate offenses travelled, uniquely with reference to genocide, into the Statutes of the ad hoc Tribunals.

If this can be regarded simply as an example of the vagaries of the drafting process, the drafting of the Rome Statute is even more curious.  In Article 25 of the Statute, dealing with “individual criminal responsibility,” attempts (defined essentially in the Model Penal Code language of “a substantial step”) can be prosecuted for all Statute offenses (Article 25 (3) (f)).  This, as I see it, includes not only genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, but also the crime of aggression, whose inclusion within the effective jurisdiction of the Court is on the horizon.  Direct and public incitement of others to commit genocide is also included (Article 25 (3) (e)).

This type of criminality is, however, not extended to the other crimes within the Court’s jurisdiction.  I was involved as a representative of Samoa in the negotiations on Article 25.  As best I understood the argument, in a process that proceeded on the basis of consensus, it was that genocide was unique and the type of incitement involved did not need to be extended to the other offenses.

Gordon disagrees with this result and I am inclined to think that he has a point. Conspiracy was even more puzzling for the negotiators.  This time, no reference to inchoate conspiracy for genocide based on the Genocide Convention was carried forward into the Rome Statute.  My impression here was that many players, like their predecessors in London in 1945, had no clue about the difference between inchoate conspiracy and conspiracy as a form of complicity.  They thought they had solved the problem with Article 25 (3) (d) of the Statute, a kind of residual complicity provision which renders criminally responsible a person who:

“In any other way contributes to the commission or attempted commission of such a crime by a group or persons acting with a common purpose.  Such contribution shall be intentional and shall either: (i) Be made with the aim of furthering the criminal activity or criminal purpose of the group … or (ii) Be made in the knowledge of the intention of the group to commit the crime.”

This is a mode of participation in a crime (or an attempt) when that crime or attempted crime actually occurs, not an inchoate offense for which there is responsibility regardless of what happens afterwards.  If it is a “conspiracy” theory, it is one closer to the Pinkerton doctrine (and its international counterpart Joint Criminal Enterprise) but one which, unlike some versions of those, requires a minimum mens rea of knowledge on the part of the “co-conspirator.”  (Inchoate) conspiracy to commit genocide, from the Genocide Convention, got lost in the shuffle.  Those who worked on defining the crime of aggression, in fulfillment of the expectations of Rome that it would be finalized later, saw no reason to carry forward Nuremberg’s conspiracy to commit aggression, given that it had disappeared in Rome in respect of genocide.  (They did think that Article 25 (3) (d) might apply to aggressors in some cases, as long as they were leaders; see Article 25 (3 bis).)

The “fragmentation” part of the book analyzes, in particular, the relative incoherence of the jurisprudence, especially that of the Rwanda Tribunal.  There are difficulties especially with the ways in which the Tribunals have dealt with the “public” and “direct” aspects of incitement to genocide, and with the definitions of persecution and of the complicity words “ordering” and “instigation.”  There is, moreover, the absence of the crime of incitement to commit war crimes.  Gordon argues for improved definitions and for creating the crime of incitement to commit war crimes.  I think he should probably argue for the sake of consistency for responsibility for inciting crimes against humanity also, but I could not find him doing so explicitly.  He has argued in a separate book chapter for a kind of incitement to commit aggression.  He does not appear to be a fan of conspiracy as an inchoate offense, in spite of its tenuous history in relation to aggression at Nuremberg or in the Genocide Convention.

Incidentally, Professor Gordon notes (p. 357) “Conspiracy, direct incitement, and attempts to commit, as well as complicity in the commission of, crimes against peace, crimes against humanity and war crimes” are defined as criminal in the United States Army Field Manual 27-10.  He also notes the complete absence of application or of expert commentary on this provision.  Note also that the Military Commissions Act of 2009 (echoing the earlier 2006 version) claims jurisdiction in Commissions for attempts, conspiracy and (inchoate) “solicitation” to commit the motley bunch of substantive offenses (not including aggression) outlined in the statute.  I assume that ‘solicitation” here is the same as “direct incitement” in the Field Manual.  The requirement of directness perhaps protects some speech, a legitimate concern for Gordon.  The conspiracy part of the MCA has been the subject of extensive litigation, not least in the Hamdan saga.  The legislative assertion that “[t]he provisions of this subchapter codify offenses that have traditionally been triable by military commission” has to be taken with a large dose of salt.

So, to the “fruition” part of the argument.  I think that his modest proposal is to fix Article 25 (3) of the Rome Statute, at least extending incitement (without the public requirement which the case-law suggests is unnecessary) to cover war crimes (p. 351) and presumably crimes against humanity.  The more radical proposal is the proposed treaty on Atrocity Speech Offenses, noted above, which would replace (or run parallel?) to the present less than coherent assemblage of offenses.  The basic idea is apparent from the definition that I quoted earlier.  Article 5 of the draft includes the gamut of different kinds of conduct involving hate offenses which the parties are required to criminalize: “Incitement,” “speech abetting” (encouragement during ongoing atrocities without proof of causation), “instigation” and “ordering” with freshened definitions in each case.

There is plenty to mull over here and examining the Convention in detail would take up a book of blogs, not a mere 1800 words.

A Set of International Crimes without Coherence or a Proper Name: The Origins of “Atrocity Speech Law”

by Gregory Gordon

[Gregory Gordon is Associate Professor of Law, Associate Dean for Development and External Affairs and Director of the Research Postgraduates Programme at The Chinese University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law.  He was formerly a prosecutor with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Special Investigations.]

I have always felt that great scholarship is born of great frustration. And that’s what inspired me to write Atrocity Speech Law: Foundation, Fragmentation, Fruition (Oxford University Press 2017). Why was I so frustrated? The answer goes back to my salad days as a lawyer with the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, when I was assigned to the “Media” team. We investigated, and eventually indicted, certain newspaper and radio executives/employees responsible for inflammatory rhetoric disseminated in the lead up to and execution of the Rwandan Genocide. But there were few legal precepts, and even less jurisprudence, available to guide us. What little there was emanated from Nuremberg, where rabid Jew-hating journalist Julius Streicher, Nazi Radio Division head Hans Fritzsche and Reich Press Chief Otto Dietrich had been prosecuted. So, from a legal perspective, we had to be resourceful as we constructed our ICTR media cases centering on charges of direct and public incitement to commit genocide and hate speech as the crime against humanity of persecution – only the latter having been charged against the just-mentioned Nazi propagandists (other possible speech-related charges available to us were instigation and ordering). But given that we were venturing onto what was largely legal terra nullius (especially with respect to incitement), we often had to grope in the doctrinal dark. So that was the first stage of frustration.

Still, from a law development perspective, I remained sanguine. The key “Media” defendants were ultimately convicted – Ferdinand Nahimana and Jean Bosco Barayagwiza (founders of the infamous Radio Télévision Libre des Milles Collines or RTLM, otherwise known as “Radio Machete”), RTLM announcer Georges Ruggiu, and extremist Hutu newspaper editor Hassan Ngeze. The judgments against them, along with that of Mayor Jean-Paul Akayesu for incitement to genocide (the first in history) – offered hope that a decent foundation had been laid for a law that could effectively govern the relationship between speech and atrocity. But that hope turned out to be misplaced.

Over time, for example, it became clear that there were problems with the formulation and application of the incitement crime, comprising the elements of “direct,” public,” “mens rea,” “incitement” and, possibly causation. Issues arose with respect to each of these. I will not deal with each of them here but will provide some brief examples for illustrative purposes. For instance, thanks in large part to the Akayesu judgment’s paying wishy-washy obeisance to both French- and English-language sources, treatment of the “direct” element was schizophrenically situated somewhere between Common Law and Civil Law conceptions. Unfortunately, the French word for “incitement” – inciter – was also the French word for “instigation” – one of whose elements is resultant violence. So that seemed to engender confusion with respect to causation. Incitement, as an inchoate crime, should not require causation. But Akayesu and its progeny were examining causation in the factual portions all the same and the Akayesu judges even went so far as to assert the need to prove “a possible causal link” between the relevant speech and subsequent violence in that case.

As for the “public” element, its inadequacies were exposed in the so-called “roadblock cases” at the ICTR. Even though inflammatory speech uttered at roadblocks was in a “public” place — because on public roads accessible to all citizens — the speech was held not to be “incitement” because “members of the public” were not present. But if enough persons were present at the roadblock, then “members of the public” could be considered in attendance and the speech could be considered “incitement.” This was a distinction without principle and did not seem to be justified from a policy perspective. Moreover, an advocate’s voice in closer proximity to a listener is arguably more compelling than one from a distance. In other words, private incitement can be just as lethal, if not more, than public.

There were problems with crimes against humanity(CAH)-persecution too. That crime consists of (1) knowingly uttering speech as part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population; (2) resulting in a severe fundamental group-rights deprivation (motivated by group-status); and (3) considered as being of the same gravity level as the other CAH acts. Unfortunately, the ICTR and ICTY have adopted polar opposite positions regarding the issue of whether hate speech not calling for violence can serve as the actus reus for persecution as a crime against humanity. The ICTR concluded that such rhetoric blatantly deprives the target ethnic group of fundamental rights and thus could be the basis for charging persecution. But the ICTY, in the Kordić judgment, found that hate speech not directly calling for violence did not constitute persecution because it failed to rise to the same level of gravity as the other enumerated crimes against humanity acts (such as imprisonment or deportation, for example). And so doctrinal gridlock ensued.

Instigation, the prompting of another to commit an offense (resulting in commission of the offence) – with a connection between the prompting and the crime (i.e. a “contribution”) has also been plagued with problems. As we have seen, it has been consistently confused with incitement and this has exacerbated the muddled jurisprudence regarding causation in both bodies of law. Moreover, there is no consistent approach to the crime’s “contribution” requirement, leading to a series of disjointed pronouncements regarding the degree of contribution and, reading last year’s horrid Šešelj judgment, arguably importing a “but for” causation requirement into the jurisprudence. Ordering, essentially instigation in the context of a superior-subordinate relationship, has been deficient as it permits the superior to escape liability if the command is not carried out (clearly problematic when juxtaposed with incitement to genocide, where there is no superior-subordinate relationship between speaker and listener but the speech utterance itself – regardless of resultant violence — carries liability).

In addition to such individual offense problems, I was also beginning to realize these modalities did not function well together as an ensemble, thus creating significant liability loopholes. For example, in the law’s current state, liability for “incitement” — an inchoate crime — is limited to genocide. Crimes against humanity and war crimes are also horrific atrocity offenses. Why was there no incitement liability connected to those crimes? Similarly, speech uttered in support of contemporaneous mass violence — and with knowledge that the violence is occurring — is limited to the offense of persecution as a crime against humanity. Why was there no speech-specific liability for rhetoric uttered knowingly in support of ongoing acts of genocide or war crimes? The answer could not lie in generic accomplice liability, as it does not recognize the unique power of speech to provoke mass atrocity in the first place.

Upon deeper reflection, it occurred to me that this problem owed to the piecemeal development of the entire body of the law from its inception. On an ad hoc basis, according to individual exigencies at different times, this doctrinal assemblage had been cobbled together by taking a hodgepodge of legal concepts, such as inchoate or accomplice liability, and willy-nilly fastening them to different speech activities. Thus, it is only by historical chance that incitement, a form of inchoate liability, only applies to genocide and not to crimes against humanity or war crimes. The resulting gaps frustrate prevention efforts and help encourage repressive regimes to take advantage of the ambiguity and suppress legitimate speech.

So, in the full measure of time, the growing body of jurisprudence was clearly not allaying my initial sense of frustration. Perhaps, I began thinking, fellow academics and other experts were also noticing these problems and offering solutions. But a review of the literature also left me disappointed – it was as fragmented as the doctrine. Despite excellent individual pieces by talented scholars such as Susan Benesch, Carol Pauli, Wibke Timmermann, Diane Orentlicher and Richard Wilson, among others (myself included – guilty as charged!), there had been no comprehensive study of this body of law. Some articles and books had dealt with parts of it but no single volume had furnished a comprehensive analysis of the entire jurisprudential output and the relation of each of its parts to one another and to the whole (although Wibke’s monograph Incitement in International Law, published after I started writing my book, came closest). No one had yet bothered to step back, systematically consider what has been produced, and provide holistic, constructive analysis and suggestions for change.

And thus was the Atrocity Speech Law project born. After completing my research, I found the book logically divided into the three components of its subtitle. Part 1, “Foundation,” begins with a brief history of atrocity speech, focusing on the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, and mass killing in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda in the 1990s. It then looks at the modern treatment of hate speech in international human rights treaties (such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) and in domestic jurisdictions. This serves as a bridge to a history of atrocity speech law focusing on its origins at the Nuremberg trials. Flowing from this, the book examines the development of speech crimes as formulated in the Genocide Convention and the statutes of the ICTR, ICTY and ICC. It then analyzes the relevant decisions issued by these courts, including the seminal ICTR Akayesu, Ruggiu, and Media Case judgments as well as the ICTY’s Kordić decision. It concludes by considering the general framework and the elements of the crimes established by these decisions.

Part 2, “Fragmentation,” goes on to identify the discrepancies within that framework, its inconsistent applications and other problems the framework engenders, as discussed above. Finally, Part 3, “Fruition,” recommends how the law should be developed going forward to deal with these issues. It begins by proposing how to fix the various problems within each individual speech offense. Then it suggests a more comprehensive and elegant solution: a “Unified Liability Theory” that would replace the current patchwork of speech offenses surrounding atrocity — e.g., incitement only applying to genocide, speech-specific inchoate liability not applying to crimes against humanity or war crimes, and speech offenses related to war crimes being limited to instigation/ordering — and create four general categories of speech offenses: (1) “incitement” (an inchoate mode of liability applying to all three core crimes — genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes — but eliminating the “public” element from the liability portion of the crime and attaching it to sentencing considerations — while removing “direct” from the title only, not the prima facie elements to help protect free speech); (2) “speech-abetting” (a type of accomplice liability for speech knowingly delivered simultaneously with commission of atrocities, and also applying to all three core crimes); (3) “instigation” (a form of commission liability applying to all speech causally related to subsequent atrocity and thus also linked to the three core crimes); and (4) ordering (criminalizing commands to commit atrocity within a superior-subordinate relationship and incorporating inchoate liability).

And all of these reforms can be operationalized through promulgation of a new treaty, “The Convention on the Classification and Criminalization of Atrocity Speech Offenses,” and/or through amendment of the Rome Statute to include Article 25bis — “Liability Related to Speech.” That new provision, whose equivalent could also be placed in domestic statutes as well as the constituent instruments of existing and/or new ad hoc international tribunals, would contain all four types of speech liability — incitement, speech abetting, instigation and ordering — connected to all three core international offenses — genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The point is that speech’s unique and potent contribution to atrocity should be recognized and criminalized in its own right. It should not become lost in a set of scattered provisions, relegated as a functionally invisible adjunct to other criminal law concepts in the general “modes of responsibility” sections of statutes, charters and codes. And the set of principles it gives rise to should have a name commensurate with its elevated status. That name should capture the entire range of the doctrine and its intimate relationship with mass violence. And this book coins that name: “atrocity speech law.”

Symposium: Gregory Gordon’s “Atrocity Speech Law”

by Chris Borgen

Over the next three days we will have an online discussion concerning Gregory Gordon’s new book Atrocity Speech Law: Foundation, Fragmentation, Fruition (Oxford 2017).

We welcome Professor Gordon (The Chinese University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law), as well as Roger Clark (Rutgers Law), Mark Drumbl (Washington and Lee School of Law), and David Simon (Yale Dept. of Political Science), who will comment on themes from the book.

We look forward to the conversation!

The Conundrum of International Organisations Immunities: Jam et al v International Finance Corporation  (Part 2 of 2)

by Rishi Gulati

[Rishi Gulati is a Barrister at the Victorian Bar, Australia; Dickson Poon Scholar of Law at King’s College London; and Academic Expert, Bretton Woods Law, London. This is the second of a two part post concerning recent litigation against the International Finance Corporation (‘IFC’) in US courts. Part I is available here.]

The recent case of Jam et al v International Finance Corporation (.pdf) is significant jurisprudence testing the boundaries of the express waiver of immunities granted to multilateral financial institutions. The 24 March 2016 decision of the US District Court for the District of Columbia can be found here (.pdf) (‘First Instance decision’); and the decision of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit delivered recently on 23 June 2017 is here. Both those decisions are discussed below.

The First Instance decision– propagating the ‘1945’ approach to IO immunities

As discussed in my previous post, after being denied justice within the IFC’s institutional structures, the plaintiffs approached the national courts of the US to seek a remedy against the IFC for the injury caused due to the development and construction of the Tata Mundra Plant (the ‘Plant’).

Unsurprisingly, the IFC asserted its immunities under the US International Organisations Immunities Act of 1945 (‘IOIA’). The District Court upheld its immunity. Two matters are crucial for understanding the decision.

The first issue concerned the interpretation of the IOIA in terms of the standard of immunities that applies to international organisations such as the IFC. Specifically, does the IFC enjoy ‘absolute’ or ‘restricted’ immunity? Notably, the IOIA grants IOs immunities similar to those enjoyed by states. In 1945, states enjoyed virtually absolute immunity, and thus IOs enjoyed similar immunities. However, the evolution of the restrictive doctrine of State immunity culminating in the introduction of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act in 1976 (‘FSIA’) provided that states were only entitled to immunities in respect of their sovereign or governmental functions, not their commercial acts. The question then became whether this restricted view of state immunity was transposable to the immunities of IOs subject to the IOIA regime? Relying on precedent (Atkinson v Inter-American Development Bank, 156 F.3d 1335 (DC Cir 1998), the decision at First Instance (.pdf) concluded that under the IOIA, IOs continued to enjoy immunities  as envisaged in 1945. Thus, the restrictive doctrine did not apply  to IOs such as the IFC.

Second, there was the question of how the IFC’s broadly phrased express immunity waiver was to be interpreted. The court used the language of a ‘corresponding benefit’ to read the IFC’s express waiver provision narrowly, ‘with careful attention to “the interrelationship between the functions of the [IFC] set forth in the Articles of Agreement and the underlying purposes of international immunities.”’ (First Instance decision, p. 8). The language of a ‘corresponding benefit’ has been presumably developed by the courts to address the problematic drafting of the express immunity waivers included in the constituent instruments of several international financial institutions. In Mendaro, it was said that ‘most organizations would be unwilling to relinquish their immunity without receiving a corresponding benefit which would further the organization’s goals’. Immunity in that case was only restricted for ‘actions arising out of [an organisation’s] external commercial contracts and activities’. The rationale is that if external parties do not have an option to seek legal redress against an organisation concerning such actions, they might not be minded to do business with it. Hence, the corresponding benefit to the IO would demand a waiver in such circumstances.

In Jam v IFC, the plaintiffs argued that as the claims arose out of the IFC’s external activity, the express waiver of immunities was triggered. The Court rejected this argument, distinguishing the current case from other examples, and read the express waiver very narrowly as applying only when the claimant is an external party in a direct contractual or business-like relationship with the organisation (First Instance decision, p. 9). The Court went on to weigh the costs and benefits of any waiver. It is apparent that the more the Court is required to scrutinise the internal functioning of an organisation, the less likely a waiver would apply, with the court concluding  that ‘suits like the plaintiffs’ are likely to impose considerable costs upon IFC without providing commensurate benefits. Hence, IFC has not waived its immunity to this suit’ (First Instance decision, pp 11-12).

The Appeal decision: The disjunction of State and IO immunities

On 23 June 2017, in Jam et al v International Finance Corporation, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dismissed the plaintiffs’ appeal (‘Appeal Decision’). Despite noting that the IFC did not deny the harm caused to the plaintiffs, two out of the three judges endorsed the reasoning of the District Court (Appeal decision, p.1). Although concurring with the result, Judge Pillard’s reasons deserve a special focus for they demonstrate the need for a fundamental shift in approach. Judge Pillard observed: ‘I agree that Atkinson and Mendaro, which remain binding law in this circuit, control this case. I write separately to note that those decisions have left the law of international organizations’ immunity in a perplexing state. I believe both cases were wrongly decided, and our circuit may wish to revisit them.’ (Appeal decision, p. 11)

First, on the question whether the FSIA’s restrictive doctrine of State immunity should also apply to IOs, preferring the approach taken by the Third Circuit, in the Appeal Decision, Judge Pillard said:

We took a wrong turn in Atkinson when we read the IOIA to grant international organizations a static, absolute immunity that is, by now, not at all the same “as is enjoyed by foreign governments,” but substantially broader. Reading the IOIA to dynamically link organizations’ immunity to that of their member states makes sense. The contrary view we adopted in Atkinson appears to allow states, subject to suit under the commercial activity exception of the FSIA, to carry on commercial activities with immunity through international organizations…Were I not bound by Atkinson, I would hold that international organizations’ immunity under the IOIA is the same as the immunity enjoyed by foreign states. Accord OSS Nokalva, Inc. v. European Space Agency, 617 F.3d 756, 762¬64 (3d Cir. 2010) (declining to follow Atkinson and holding that restricted immunity as codified in the FSIA, including its commercial activity exception, applies to international organizations under the IOIA).

Judge Pillard’s preference for restricting IO immunity may yield some benefits for plaintiffs seeking justice against international organisations in the US. However, if eventually adopted, it should be limited to the specific context of the IOIA. Brief remarks on the issue are warranted here.

It is unfortunate that the IOIA links the immunities of IOs to that of states. The basis of state and IO immunity is different. It is well known that state immunity is a basic tenet of international law justified by sovereign equality, whereas IO immunities are treaty-based and functional. Equating state immunity with IO immunity confuses the regime. The immunity of an IO is to be determined with reference to its functions, which may be commercial in nature, as is the case with the multilateral development banks. That is perhaps the reason why the express waiver is written into the IFC’s Articles of Agreement. Thus, the scope of IO immunities ought to be determined by reference to their underlying rationale – functional necessity. Indeed, the problematic nature of using the commercial v non-commercial exception to assess the IFC’s immunity was pointed out by Judge Silberman (with Judge Edwards agreeing):

Ironically, the line of cases applying Mendaro ended up tying waiver to commercial transactions, so there is a superficial similarity to the commercial activities test that appellants would urge us to accept. But whatever the scope of the commercial activities exception to sovereign immunity, that standard is necessarily broader than the Mendaro test; if that exception applied to the IFC, the organization would never retain immunity since its operations are solely “commercial,” i.e., the IFC does not undertake any “sovereign” activities (Appeal Decision, p. 7).

Clearly, the linking of state immunity with IO immunity in the IOIA is a structural problem that remains. Be that as it may, the judiciary must work within the statutory framework. Judge Pillard’s views highlight the bizarre state of affairs where states, the creators of IOs, possess less immunities than IOs. When seen in that light, and taking into account the unsatisfactory structural framework of the IOIA, one can have much sympathy for Judge Pillard’s call for a new approach.

Importantly though, in the case at hand, it is the operation of the IFC’s express waiver provision that ought to be closely scrutinised. According to the criterion set out by the corresponding benefit test, the fundamental question is whether the IFC would receive a sufficient enough benefit should its immunity be restricted, and the plaintiffs’ claims be allowed to proceed to a hearing of the merits? Interestingly, while Judge Silberman (with Judge Edwards agreeing) acknowledged that ‘the term “benefit” is something of a misnomer’, it was concluded that the plaintiffs could not satisfy the substance of the corresponding benefit test set out in Mendaro (Appeal Decision, p. 9). However, Judge Pillard sought to demonstrate the arbitrariness of the corresponding benefit test, stating: ‘It is not entirely clear why we have drawn the particular line we have pursuant to Mendaro. Why are suits by a consultant, a potential investor, and a corporate borrower in an international organization’s interest, but suits by employees and their dependents not?’ (Decision of Judge Pillard in Appeal decision, p. 7)

Some brief conclusions

Ultimately, the concept of a ‘corresponding benefit’ is an attempt by a national judiciary to undo the consequences of problematic treaty language. The Court speculates whether or not a particular waiver will promote or restrict the goals or functions of an IO. It weighs the costs and benefits of any waiver of immunity to the IO. Overall, the more the courts are required to pass judgment on the internal operations and policies of an IO, the less likely it is that a waiver would apply. Critically though, the key problem with the corresponding benefit test is that costs and benefits can be perceived in different ways depending on the preferences of individual judges. Further, any suit against an IO will impact on the internal decision making of an IO in some way. The question will always be of degrees. So far, the courts seem to have addressed the risk of arbitrariness by reading the exception as narrowly as possible, with claims raising issues that would cause any intrusion into an IO’s policy sphere jurisdictionally barred. This narrow approach results in a denial of justice to already vulnerable plaintiffs.

As is demonstrated   by the case at hand, the IFC does not deny the harm caused to the plaintiffs by breach of the loan agreement. Further, it is apparent that the IFC disregarded the recommendations of the CAO, its very own accountability mechanism. In such circumstances, the effect of the decision of the national courts is that the plaintiffs, despite bringing a claim in the home forum of the IFC, have been denied justice and a fair hearing of their claims, which on all accounts appear to have significant merit. The plaintiffs have suffered grave injury, and their injury has now been compounded by denial of access to a remedy. The present case is another example of IO immunities prevailing over access to justice. Significantly, access to justice concerns have clearly seemed too impact Judge Pillard’s views:

Our cases seem to construe charter-document immunity waivers to allow suits only by commercial parties likely to be repeat players, or by parties with substantial bargaining power. But the opposite would make more sense: Entities doing regular business with international organizations can write waivers of immunity into their contracts with the organizations…Sophisticated commercial actors that fail to bargain for such terms are surely less entitled to benefit from broad immunity waivers than victims of torts or takings who lacked any bargaining opportunity, or unsophisticated parties unlikely to anticipate and bargain around an immunity bar (Decision of Judge Pillard in Appeal decision, p. 7).

Jam et al v International Finance Corporation joins a long line of cases where individuals suffering grave harm have been denied justice both at the institutional and the national level. Had the IFC positively responded to the CAO’s recommendations, national proceedings would not have been needed. But where justice is denied within the institutional legal order, considerations around the perceived independence of an organisation continue to trump the individual right to access justice generally, and a fair trial specifically. It is most unfortunate that international organisations such as the IFC who purport to deliver ‘lasting solutions for development’ choose to engage in conduct that leads to grave denials of justice to already vulnerable people who ought to be the very beneficiaries of their development activity.

The Conundrum of International Organisations Immunities: Jam et al v International Finance Corporation  (Part 1 of 2)

by Rishi Gulati

[Rishi Gulati is a Barrister at the Victorian Bar, Australia; Dickson Poon Scholar of Law at King’s College London; and Academic Expert, Bretton Woods Law, London]

Following the conclusion of the much discussed Haiti Cholera Class Action in US courts, the immunities of international organisations (IOs) have again been tested in the courts of that country in claims filed against the International Finance Corporation (‘IFC’), a financial institution within the World Bank Group. This is the first of a two part post. In Part I, I canvass some general matters around the IFC’s immunities, and provide the context to the litigation. In Part II of this post, I will discuss the jurisprudence arising out of this litigation so far.

The IFC’s immunities under the IOIA

The provisions of the US International Organisations Immunities Act 1945 (‘IOIA’) provide the applicable immunities regime for the IFC. Pursuant to 22 USC § 288a(b) of the IOIA, ‘[i]nternational organizations, their property, and their assets, wherever located and by whomsoever held, shall enjoy the same immunity from suit and every form of judicial process as enjoyed by foreign governments, except to the extent that such organizations may expressly waive their immunity for the purpose of any proceeding or by the terms of any contract’.

With international financial institutions such as the IFC essentially operating in the commercial marketplace, their founding instruments expressly allow for waivers for immunities from suits brought by private litigants in certain types of claims. In the case of the IFC, Article VI, Section 1 of the IFC’s Articles of Agreement grants immunities in classical functional terms. However, Article VI, Section 3 contains an express waiver, stating:

Actions may be brought against the Corporation only in a court of competent jurisdiction in the territories of a member in which the Corporation has an office, has appointed an agent for the purpose of accepting service of process, or has issued or guaranteed securities. No actions shall, however, be brought by members or persons acting for or deriving claims from members…

On its face, the express waiver to the IFC’s immunity is broad. According to the plain meaning of the words, the functional immunities of the IFC or similarly situated organisations will have little work to do. Indeed, courts have referred to such treaty language as ‘somewhat clumsy and inartfully drafted’ (Mendaro v World Bank, 717 F2d 610 (DC Cir 1983) (‘Mendaro’). Such criticism is well justified. This is because the language used in the express waiver contained in Article VI, Section 3 seemingly provides for a blanket waiver of immunity in respect of all suits save for the ones expressly prohibited. Should the words used be given effect to in accordance with their plain meaning, the IFC, and similarly situated organisations, would lose  their immunities even in respect of claims arising out of their functional activity. Thus defeating the very grant of functional immunities in the first place. To deal with this anomaly, courts have employed creative but unsatisfactory ways of addressing the challenge presented. The recent case of Jam et al v International Finance Corporation (.pdf), considered below, is just one example where the limits of the express waiver of immunities has been tested. The 24 March 2016 decision of the US District Court for the District of Columbia is here (.pdf) (‘First Instance decision’); and the decision of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit delivered recently on 23 June 2017 is here. Note again, I discuss both these decisions in Part II of this post.

Jam et al v International Finance Corporation – a background

The IFC loaned USD 450 million to Coastal Gujarat Power Limited (‘CGPL’), a subsidiary of Tata Power. The loan was towards the construction of the coal-fired Tata Mundra Power Plant in India (the ‘Plant’). Critically, though, the IFC remains responsible for the monitoring and supervision of CGPL. This is to ensure CGPL’s compliance with internal IFC policies, including those set out in its ‘Performance Standards on Environmental and Social Sustainability’ (‘IFC Standards’). Those Standards established a mechanism for ‘the assessment, avoidance, minimization, and mitigation of environmental and social risks’ (First Instance decision, p. 3). The detailed facts are set out in the First Instance decision here (.pdf).

In summary, the complainants, a group of Indian nationals, who live, fish and farm within proximity of the Plant allege that the main legacy of the Plant has been ’environmental and social harm—to the marine ecosystem, to the quality of the air, to plaintiffs’ health, and to their way of life’ (First Instance decision, p. 1). Seeking justice within the IFC’s institutional structures, a group of Indian persons filed a complaint with the IFC’s Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (‘CAO’), the IFC’s ‘independent recourse and accountability mechanism’. Tellingly, with respect to the complaint of the affected individuals in the Plant, as was pointed out at First Instance, the CAO concluded that: ‘IFC had failed adequately to consider the environmental and social risks to which plaintiffs would be exposed as a result of the Plant’s development’; and that in ‘the CAO’s estimation, IFC then compounded that error by failing to perform an environmental and social impact assessment “commensurate with project risk,” and by failing to “address [subsequent] compliance issues during [project] supervision.”’

Ultimately, it is apparent that the CAO was not satisfied with the steps taken by the IFC to address the plaintiffs’ grievances. Nevertheless, as the CAO does not have enforcement powers, its views were not binding on the IFC, and the grievance remained unaddressed (First Instance decision, p. 4).

The plaintiffs finally resorted to the national courts, contending that the IFC was liable for the injuries caused by failing to comply with its own policies and standards, and failing to enforce the terms of its loan agreement with the CGPL. The plaintiffs sought equitable relief or, alternatively, compensatory and punitive damages before the US District Court for the District of Columbia (First Instance decision, p. 1). More specifically, the plaintiffs contended that ‘the irresponsible and negligent conduct of the International Finance Corporation in appraising, financing, advising, supervising and monitoring its significant loan to enable the development of the Tata Mundra Project in Gujarat, India’ caused them injury. The plaintiffs pursued claims in ‘negligence, negligent supervision, public nuisance, private nuisance, trespass, and breach of contract.’ (First Instance decision, p. 5).

More to follow in Part II of this entry.

Amicus Brief in Al Bahlul Military Commission Case

by Jens David Ohlin

I have filed an amicus brief in the Al Bahlul case.  Al Bahlul was charged and convicted before a military commission for multiple offenses including conspiracy. On appeal, several of the charges were thrown out, but the conspiracy conviction remains and is the subject of his cert petition before the U.S. Supreme Court. Although the government once held the position that conspiracy is an offense under the international law of war, the government eventually switched legal theories and argued that conspiracy is a domestic law offense triable before a military commission. As should be clear from the excerpt below, my own view is that the jurisdiction of military commissions is limited to international offenses under the law of war.

Here is a summary of the brief’s argument:

In this case, petitioner Al Bahlul was convicted of multiple offenses before a military commission, including conspiracy, solicitation, and material support for terrorism. See United States v. Al Bahlul, 820 F. Supp. 2d 1141, 1167, 1183 (U.S.C.M.C.R. 2011). On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit vacated the convictions for solicitation and material support. Al Bahlul v. United States, 767 F.3d 1, 5 (D.C. Cir. 2014). The sole remaining charge at issue in this litigation is Bahlul’s conviction for conspiracy.

In Hamdan, Justice Stevens’s four-vote plurality opinion concluded that a stand-alone conspiracy charge was not prosecutable at a military commission because it was not a violation of international law. Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U.S. 557, 604 (2006). In this case, however, the U.S. government has not relied on the classification of conspiracy as an international law offense. Instead, the government maintains that military commissions have jurisdiction to adjudicate the charge of inchoate conspiracy, despite the incongruity between that criminal offense and international law.

In proceedings below, counsel for the U.S. government has advanced various arguments for why military commissions have jurisdiction to try conspiracy – a domestic offense – even though the Supreme Court has made clear in prior decisions that the jurisdiction of military commissions is limited to the adjudication of violations of the law of war. These arguments all rely on the implausible suggestion that the “law of war” straddles the divide between international and domestic law, and that there exists a little-known domestic body of law called the American common law of war. According to the government, conspiracy is consistent with this newly re-discovered American law of war because the offence is entrenched in the common law, the legal culture of the United States, and Civil War commission practice.

This domestic “law of war” argument is problematic for multiple reasons. Although prior cases in this Court and elsewhere include references to something called the “common law of war,” see, e.g., Quirin, 317 U.S. 1, at 34, it would be legally and historically inaccurate to conclude that this phrase refers to a domestic body of law. Rather, an analysis of every mention of this phrase over the last 200 years demonstrates that the “common law of war” refers to international law – a law “common” to all mankind.

Determining the proper scope of the “law of war” in this context – i.e., whether it is international or domestic – has large implications for establishing the outer contours of the jurisdiction of military commissions. Given that military commissions operate outside of Article III, without the right to a jury trial protected by the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, the resolution of this case is essential for demarcating the proper boundaries between a civilian system of criminal justice and a military system for prosecuting detainees captured pursuant to the laws of war. For these reasons, it is imperative for this Court to grant certiorari to resolve this fundamental federal question pursuant to Rule 10(c).

The full amicus brief can be found here.