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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sljivancanin Review Judgment at the ICTY

[UPDATE: here is a link to the Review Judgment, which should be online soon]

It's a hectic day for international tribunals. The ICC held the confirmation of charges hearing for two sudanese rebels, Banda and Jerbo (see press release). More to the north, the ICTY Appeals Chamber was rendering its Review Judgment in the Sljivancanin case. Unfortunately, both took place at the same time. Because confirmation of charges take hours, I watched the ICTY hearing and will check out the confirmation of charges later tonight.

I've blogged several times on the ongoing review proceedings of the Appeals Judgment in the Sljivancanin case. Last December, the Appeals Chamber dismissed the motion for revision of the Appeals Judgment by which it had reversed one of the findings of acquital. In July this year, the Appeals Chamber granted the motion to review the Appeals Chamber Judgment based on new facts. Basically, the AC had considered, based on circumstantial evidence, that the Defendant must have been given elements in a conversation that would prove the required mens rea for aiding and abetting murder as a war crime. The new witness that came forward alleged that no such information was exchanged in that specific  conversation. The following comments are based on the hearing (here is the Judgment summary).

The AC first rejected all the Prosecution submissions contesting the credibility of witness and found that the new fact did in fact prove that the required mens rea was not present for the crime under consideration. The AC therefore vacated the additionationl conviction, in order to prevent a miscarriage of justice. The AC then quashed the sentence of 17 years imposed in the Appeals Judgment, reducing it to 10 years. There is a dissenting opinion of Judge Pocar (probably calling for remanding the case to the trial chamber for sentencing...) and separate opinions from judges Gunay and Meron.

The first thing to point out, which is already notable in itself for international tribunals, is that everything went as planned. No "however" coming at a late stage of the judgment to justify not taking into account the new evidence, no procedural sidestep to justify a longer prison sentence. All in a all, a simple and logical judgment.

Hearing it, I couldn't help reflect once more on the mess this procedure turned out to be, even if the miscarriage of justice was avoided in the end, because of the actions of the AC. As I pointed out in previous blogs, we have just witnessed the compound effect of what are, in my opinion, debatable legal choices. 1) I don't think that the AC should be allowed to reverse acquittals 2) if it is allowed to do so, it should not be allowed to "re-judge" the case, and it should be remanded to the trial chamber which is the trier of facts and 3) we have clearly seen the limits of the use of "circumstantial evidence" and "reasonable inferrence" ; indeed, in effect we just witnessed a de facto reversal of the presumption of innocence and corresponding burden of proof, with the AC making a finding based on nothing, and the Defendant having to provide evidence to prove his innocence...

One last point is the question of sentencing. It seems to be such an arbitrary procedure. The Presiding judge clearly states that the sentence for the torture conviction took into account the additional murder conviction, thus justifying today's reduction. But we have two different crimes and I believe there shouldn't be such a link between the two sentences. It's about time, as I've said before, that we stop pretending that there is no hierarchy in international crimes, which in effect creates arbitrariness, and call for a clear scale of sentences in relation to each crime, as any mature system of criminal law should contain.
[UPDATE: There is of course the issue of the powers of the AC itself to increase a sentence imposed by the Trial Chamber. As pointed out by Judge Pocar in his (consistent) dissent on this issue, it is contrary to fundamental human rights for the AC to have this power, because there is no appeal of the new sentence by the Defendant. He would have therefore confirmed the original 5 year sentence, without any increase.]

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Miscellaneous ICC issues: a bit of a stretch...

The ICC has been very visibly active in the past week on a variety of issues. Each one could warrant a separate post, but for lack of time, I thought I'd share some random thoughts in one post.

The first issue is the request for cooperation put to the Central African Republic last week in light of the planned visit of Omar Bashir to the country. I've blogged before on the question of whether States have an automatic obligation under the Statute to give effect to an arrest warrant. I believe that they don't, and that there should be a specific additional request to give rise to such an obligation. In the comments to that post I also wondered whether the general request for cooperation to all State parties was in fact in conformity with the Statute:
I'd still have one question on the use of article 89 by the Court in this wholesale way. 89(1) mentions a possibility to issue a request to "any State on the territory of which that person may be found", rather than just "any State". If the second part of the sentence is to have any legal meaning, it can't just be all the countries in the world preemptively... Shouldn't there be some reasonable indication of the presence of the accused on the territory of a State as a condition of the issuance of the request?
This applies, in my opinion, to the specific request put to CAR. Indeed, I find that the decision is unclear as to what the exact legal basis for the request is. It refers to articles 86, 89 and 97, without specifying what specific provision it relies on to request cooperation from a State on whose territory a person might travel. But I suppose I'm just being picky here...

The second issue relates to the annoucement from the OTP that they have opened a preliminary investigation into North Korea. As reported by Xavier over at International Jurist, Professor Schabas, and Kevin John Heller, this raises interesting  questions both politically and legally. I would tend to agree with KJH that it seems like a very premature announcement, in light of how recent the events are. I also doubt that the gravity threshold would be met. In terms of PR, it also marks a recent trend by the OTP in communicating much more on his work compared to a few years ago. Indeed, it took some years before the public was made aware of the scope of preliminary investigations, and we only saw two letters (Irak and Venezuela) where the OTP actually explained how he conducted his work in this very grey area of the proceedings.

The last issue relates to Ivory Coast. Deputy-Prosecutor Bensouda asked "political leaders to call on their supporters and fellow citizens to show restraint and avoid unrest". I find this statement ironic in its underlying assumption that the ICC can foster peace, given that Ivory Coast made a declaration under 12(3), recognising the Court's jurisdiction in April 2003, following the very serious unrest that took place at the end of 2002, without the OTP doing anything (visible). I'm also not entirely convinced that, as a judicial body, it is the ICC's role, and more particularly the OTP's one, to make such warnings. But I suppose the proponents of "positive complementarity" would disagree with me...
A point of interest is that the communication by Bensouda assumes that the 12(3) declaration still stands today. It certainly seems the case when you read it (in French), because it does say that it is for an "open-ended period". But I find the langage used ambiguous because it refers to the events of september 2002, rather than any crime committed on the territory from that date. But I suppose the interpretation can go both ways and that Ivory Coast should have done a better job on the drafting if it wanted to avoid any ambiguity.

A couple of concluding points on the general impression that transpires from the three issues I considered briefly. I have the impression that the ICC is in a PR frenzy where it might be biting off more that it can chew. The Court is already struggling to conclude its first trial and has only just started its second one [UPDATE: as pointed out by a careful reader, Bemba is actually the 3rd trial, not the second. I forgot about Katanga and Chui.]. With the institution failing in its judicial function, one has to wonder whether it is wise for it to multiply its interventions in the political area (Ivory Coast) and into bordeline cases such as the North Korean one. Maybe I am not ambitious enough for the Court, but I believe that it should be more cautious at this (still) early stage of its existence.

Friday, November 12, 2010

It's alive! Judicial activity (activism?) at The Special Tribunal For Lebanon

In the past week, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, set up in 2007 to prosecute those responsible for the death of Rafik Hariri on the 14 February 2005, has issued several decisions, which, if nothing else, prove that it is still alive. It is however symptomatic of how little progress it is making, at least publicly, that its most important "case" is whether a person arrested and detained for four years in relation to the attack... and then released due to insufficient evidence(!) could request access to his criminal file...

Before deciding on this issue, the President of the Tribunal, Judge Antonio Cassese, had to decide on the motions for disqualification of two Lebanese judges, Judge Riachy and Judge Chamseddine, the former for, among other things, having been involved in the case as a judge on the Lebanese Cour de Cassation before his appointment to the STL, and the latter for having been appointed by an alledgedly biased government. Beyond the legal analysis of the concept of bias in both decisions, and the unsurprising rejection of both motions, there is a noteworthy policy consideration in the  Chamseddine decision:

19. As for the appearance of bias, applying the test commonly employed for ascertaining such an appearance (namely, viewing the facts presented through a hypothetical fair-minded observer with sufficient knowledge of the actual circumstances to make a reasonable judgment), I am satisfied that Judge Chamseddine's nomination by the Lebanese authorities does not create any appearance of bias. Time and again the ICTY and other international tribunals have stated that the nationalities of Judges and the policies of their governments are irrelevant for the purposes of determining impartiality. I only add that the Applicant's submissions, if accepted, would have the deplorable effect that no Lebanese judge could ever sit on any Chamber of the Tribunal - thus frustrating the very nature of its 'hybrid' character, with all of the consequences this entails.
This is certainly true on a case by case analysis, but it still raises the issue of the ambiguity of how international justice intervenes in the first place, especially in "hybrid" fashion. The whole point of international justice is that the national system, presumably including its personnel, is inadequate, because of security, lack of ressources, political pressure, risks of partiality etc. This justified the creation of the ICTY/ICTR removed from local politics. It failed in many ways, but at least the message was clear.
What the "hybrid" model aims at doing is re-introduce some national element to increase "local ownership", but incidentally it also imports within the tribunal, the difficulties that had made its creation necessary (for some) in the first place.Why create a hybrid institution if all is fine (including the judges) with the Lebanese judicial system? Why would the national judges be free of possible pressure when sitting in the Hague? and alternatively, if all it takes is that, why create a hybrid court, rather than just have a lebanese criminal court sit elsewhere than Lebanon? Cassese is right to say that a contrary decision would have defeated the purpose of the tribunal, but one can wonder if the purpose itself need not be rethought...

Moving on to the main decision regarding jurisdiction and standing, the Appeals Chamber had to decide whether, despite the limited scope of its mandate, which is to prosecute those responsible for Hariri's death (and some other related acts), the STL could still have jurisdiction to pronounce itself on the request for access of the criminal file by a formerly detained person which is not a suspect, and whether this person has standing. The answer is "yes" on both counts and I'd like to make two series of remarks on the reasoning.

1. The basis for the decision is the famous "inherent jurisdiction" of the Tribunal to "determine incidental legal issues which arise as a direct consequence of the procedures which the Tribunal is seized by reason of the matter falling under its primary jurisdiction" (§45), even when not explicitely envisioned by the founding documents. This theory has often been used, but its legal foundation has always been unclear. Not so anymore, thanks to Judge Cassese:
"47. The extensive practice of international courts and tribunals to make use of their inherent powers and the lack of any objection by States, non-state actors or other interested parties evince the existence of a general rule of international law granting such inherent jurisdiction. The combination of a string of decisions in this field, coupled with the implicit acceptance or acquiescence of all the international subjects concerned, clearly indicates the existence of the practice and opinio juris necessary for holding that a customary rule of international law has evolved."
This is an extravagantly drafted paragraph on customary law, and shows that the STL will follow in the steps of its predecessors in its approach to this issue, which is unsurprising, given the presence of Antonio Cassese, who started the ball rolling on the "death by judicial activism" of positivism in ICL as President of the ICTY. Still, there are so many unconventional aspects in this statement that I don't know where I could begin.

First of all, since when do non-state actors contribute to the creation of international custom and, linked to this, since when has "State practice" become simply "practice"? International courts have often shown flexibility in assessing the existence of custom and have often resorted to practice of non-State entities (see the recent Cambodia judgement I commented upon). But I don't recall seeing it being so exclusively the basis for the customary norm, with the intervention of States being relegated to having to explicitly oppose such a practice. The core should always be State practice, even if you show more or less flexibility in introducing supporting evidence from other actors.

Second of all, the reasoning is not that clear semantically. The first sentence refers to the existence of a  "general rule of international law" created by international practice, and the second one refers more explicitly to customary law, with slightly different conditions (lack of objection in one case, and implicit acceptance in the other). Several interpretations are possible. 1) We are faced with two different types of norms, which raises the question of the link between the two. 2) Customary law is a sub-category of "general rules of international law", which raises the question of what exactly are "international practice-created" general rules. 3) What seems more likely, is that the judges are using the terms to cover the same thing, which implies, given the different formulations of the two sentences, that the "lack of objection" in the first part of the paragraph is the same as the "implicit acceptance" in the second part of the paragraph. This is an intellectual shortcut (lack of objection might, but does not necessarily mean consent) which would require more elaboration. What is certain, is that this paragraph shows, if not incompetence, at least drafting laziness. It is unprofessional to argue in such a way, such an important issue of international law, with so much unclarity.
Which begs a more general comment on how such an estimed scholar as Antonio Cassese can pen such ill-argued judicial decisions? Or maybe, he has reached such a position in international criminal law that he doesn't need to justify his legal reasoning anymore, just to affirm his legal opinion which passes instantly for legal norms. Which is fair enough, but should he then really be a judge, with the limits that should normally be attached to the function, rather than be an independent (and influential) academic?

Finally, and more fundamentally in my opinion, beyond the debate on the rules relating to the formation of customary law, one has to move back a step and wonder if falls at all in the area of customary law. In the case of inherent powers, we are trying to ascertain an unwritten rule (in a generic sense) relating to the exercise of jurisdiction by international tribunals. How can there ever be national State practice of an international tribunal? it's contextually impossible. The link to States would more logically be found in the establishment of a general principle of law, or, if one wants to show some "progressive thinking", a new category of international procedural principles. Indeed, the STL's drafting is a illustration of a tendency to move towards an autonomised view of the international legal judiciary, but hiding behind a traditional approach. Whether one agrees with this ideology or not, intellectual honesty would require to move away from the traditional notions of sources of international law, and use new ones, rather than trick us into thinking that we are faced with technical changes to the formation of customary law, rather than radical changes in the approach to the international legal order. Methodologically, we must avoid the illusion of thinking that because we use the same term, we are talking about the same thing. It is not because I call a chair a "chair" and a glass a "chair" as well, that you should start comparing them. You will first start by pointing out that this glass, is in fact a glass, not a chair. It is the same here, if we are to speak a common language as scholars and if words are not empty shells, one cannot accept that the "customary law" described by the STL is at all comparable to the "customary law" we had been using before. This is a semantic trap which we should avoid falling into.

[update: Marko Milanovic, over at EJIL Talk!, has also commented on this issue, with the same doubts about the reasoning.]

On the substance of the decision, I'm not entirely convinced by the fact that the STL in fact does have jurisdiction to hear the Applicant on this issue, or that he should have standing. He was arrested in 2005, and was held in custody by Lebanese authorities, not the STL, for 4 years. When the Tribunal started functioning in April 2009, it ordered the release of the person in a little over two weeks. So for the whole period of detention, the STL had some form of authority over him for two weeks, and only through inaction, rather than a positive desire to keep him in custody. My initial reaction would be that it's not the STL's fault or problem if Lebanese authorities violated his rights for so long. Human rights don't exist in an institutional void. The STL never indicted him, considered him as a suspect and more importantly, ordered his detention . He therefore has no procedural rights in relation to that institution. The STL does not technically possess his "criminal" file which he would have a right to access, because it never initiated proceedings of any sort against him. He should turn towards the authorities that did decide on his imprisonment, that is the national ones. If a national judge considers that he should have access to elements in possession of the STL, then it becomes an issue of cooperation between the two orders, which is political and logistical, depending on the arrangements made between the STL and the Lebanese governement, but not judicial in the sense that the Appeals Chamber has considered it as related to the rights of the Applicant, and it therefore certainly doesn't mean that the Applicant should have standing directly before the STL.

This decision is in my view due to a confusion on the exact nature of these international institutions, which are meant to be criminal, but see themselves as human rights institutions. However, in the case of the STL, one can only sympathize with its identity crisis. It's a "hybrid" court, created by treaty/the Security Council, which cannot therefore be considered national, but that has jurisdiction exclusively over crimes contained in the lebanese criminal code, which makes it technically difficult to call it an "international criminal tribunal". The Tribunal is certainly alive, but, torn between different logics, orders and traditions, one has to wonder whether it should have been created at all, and, now that it has, whether is should not be allowed to be "borne away by the waves, and lost in darkness and distance".

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Amnesty law Found Unconstitutional in Uruguay: Victory for Human Rights, but what about popular sovereignty?

On monday, the Supreme Court of Uruguay issued a decision condemning the 1986 amnesty law for crimes commited under the military regime that was in power until 1985. I'm not familiar with the constitutional framework in Uruguay and the legal consequences of the decisions. Some report that the law was declared "unconstitutional" (see here): does it mean that the law is immediately inapplicable? Others report that the law was "annuled" (see here). I haven't read the decision (if someone has it in English, i'd appreciate receiving it!) but apparently, the Court invoked Uruguay's human rights obligations to respect victim's right to reparations and to know the truth.

This is a new decision in the trend against amnisties in international law, and is, in this sense not particularly groudbreaking. I won't go into a debate here on the general question of Amnisties (I invite you to read my forthcoming paper on this). What strikes me more particularly in this case, beyond the legal technicalities, is that the law was upheld by referendum, not once, but twice, the last time as recently as 2009, despite strong opposition from rights groups. I find it a little disturbing, in the broader political scheme of things, that the democratic popular expression of opinion be given so little consideration. In 2009, after the referendum, the regional director of HRW said that: "let's not forget that  accountability is not a popular contest that should be decided by majorities". Actually, it kind of is. Society makes a choice to criminalize some conducts and not others. And the least worst way we have come up to evaluate support for such choices is requiring a majority. In other words democracy. What kind of arbitrary criteria allows HRW to decree that democracy is a good thing, except when people don't vote "right"? If the referendum had gone the other way, I'm sure that same person would have applauded the popular support against amnisties.

It is a difficult balance to be struck between majority decisions and minority opinions in any democracy, and a harder balance even between human rights and political compromise in situations of transitions, and I  certainly do not claim to have the answer. But as a rule, I would tend to give quite some credit to the free expression of public opinion as a starting point. The majority principle (with qualifiers or not), is effective in that it allows institutions to move forward. Whereas, minority power can only lead to political stalemate. This is of course schematic, and doesn't mean that there shouldn't be any normative framework (both procedural and substantial) surrounding the exercice of democratic expression. But as a rule of thumb, I have difficulty seeing how a law disapproved by a majority can be politically legitimate.

This reasoning of course implies adopting a collective/social contract approach to political analysis, which is a little removed from the individual approach, where rights emerge from above and social relationships are totally depoliticised. Indeed, how could they not be where the origin of rights is transcendental, rather than emerging from some form of popular consensus? you cannot argue with a priori morality. I find it ironic that such effort was put by intellectual and political leaders over the centuries to free themselves from the Church by breaking down the conflation between the temporal power and the spiritual power, only to see the latter re-enter through the prism of Universal Human Rights in recent years. Apparently, nothing much has changed since the Middle Ages...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Defence counsel immunity at the ICTR: there in theory but harmless in practice?

As you may recall, Peter Erlinder, a defense counsel at the ICTR, made the headlines a few months back (in June) for having been arrested in Rwanda, along with Kagame political opponent Victoire Ingabire, on charges of genocide denial under Rwandan law. The detention did not go well, to say the least, Erlinder having alledgedly tried to commit suicide, and he was released some time later, with charges still pending. At the time, this sparked some interesting debates on the nature of laws prohibiting denial of genocide, and the political use of the such laws in Rwanda (including on this blog).

One key legal question that remained to be answered was the existence and extent of any immunity afforded to Erlinder as a defence counsel, given that, at the time it wasn't entirely clear if the statements that were considered for the charges were made in the course of his work at the tribunal or not. Some weeks ago, on the 6th of October, the Appeals Chamber of the ICTR issued his decision on the immunity of Peter Erlinder, the defense counsel for one of the accused. I didn't have time back then to comment on it, but still wanted to say a few words.

As to the existence of an immunity:

26. [...] Defence Counsel benefit from immunity from personal arrest or detention while performing their duties assigned by the Tribunal and also with respect to words spoken or written and acts done by them in the course of the performance of their duties as Defence counsel before the Tribunal, in order to allow for the proper functioning of the Tribunal in accordance with Article 29 of the Statute.

This decision is based on an interpretation on the MOU between Rwanda and the ICTR, and an application of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunitities of the United Nations. In light of the latter document, Defense Counsel are to be considered experts and
23. [...] While Defence Counsel are not officials of the Tribunal, some guarantee is necessary for the independent exercise of their Tribunal assigned functions which are integral to its functioning. Accordingly, the nature of their mission, which is to engage in preparations for proceedings before the Tribunal, is the defining factor in granting them such privileges and immunities as granted to experts on mission - not their administrative status with the Tribunal. 
This recognition that Defense lawyers should benefit of some form of immunity is welcome, as it would be incompatible with principles that they not benefit from equivalent protection as the Prosecutor.

Where the decision is more problematic is on the extent of the immunity. Indeed, they adopt a narrow reading of the immunity. Basically, the Court finds that because Erlinder is being essentially charged with statements done as an academic or a commentator (except for one of them), and not done directly in the context of the representation of his clients, he was not covered by the immunity. There is some logic to the statement... but it is extremely short-sighted in light of the rationale behind the immunity in the first place. Indeed, The ICTR holds that

30. [...] Ntabakuze's right to a fair trial cannot be protected where Erlinder faces investigation or prosecution in Rwanda on the basis of words spoken or written in the course of his representation of Ntabakuze before the Tribunal.

But how can Erlinder adequately prepare for the defense of his client if he is in jail, whatever the charges? Or if he cannot set foot in Rwanda for fear of being arrested? This completely defeats the purpose of immunity.

This result is due to the in fact suprisingly unsophisticated discussion on the concept of functional immunity in the decision, especially by not taking into account the temporal dimension. On this point, one can refer to the ICJ Arrest warrant case, where it went into some detail on the scope of official immunities. It found, among other things, that (§61):

after a person ceases to hold the office of Minister for Foreign Affairs, he or she will no longer enjoy al1 of the iinmunities accorded by international law in other States. Provided that it has jurisdiction under international law, a court of one State may try a former Minister for Foreign Affairs of another State in respect of acts committed prior or subsequent to his oir her period of office, as well as in respect of acts committed during that period of office in a private capacity.

I know this judgment was strongly criticised in relation to the extent of immunities applying to crimes that fall under the jus cogens category, but for the purposes of our situation it seems to be a perfectly sensible solution. The immunity stands during the time a person is in "function", both for personal and professional activities, in order to allow the good exercise of the function. Once the function seizes, the immunity from prosecution falls in relation to private acts, but remains in place for acts done in an official capacity. This would mean that Erlinder would be immune from prosecution altogether now, but could face charges for his "private" comments later, while still being protected for statements made in the course of his defense, thus continuing to protect the current functioning of the Tribunal, "which requires that Defence Counsel be free to advance arguments in their client's case without fear of prosecution" (§29 of the decision).
It should be point out, as did the ICJ in the Arrest Warrant case (§60) that immunity does not mean impunity. It is mostly a temporary obstacle to prosecution, but does not remove individual responsibility once it is lifted.

It is intellectually puzzling that the Tribunal, having so clearly recognised the necessity for functional immunity, so dramatically fails to recognise the logical practical requirements to give it full effect. As a result, the Appeals Chamber has  proposed a wobbly, and I believe ultimately inefficient system of protection for defense counsel in international tribunals and at the end of day of protection of fair trial rights. This is not the first time, and therefore unsurprsing, but disappointing nonetheless.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Follow-up on Lubanga and the possible removal of ICC Prosecutor by the ASP: it's "definitely" not going to happen, says the President of the ASP.

I ended my previous post on the possible next steps after the Appeals Chamber Judgment reversing the stay of proceedings in the Lubanga case. I would like to make a couple of follow-up comments on this point.

For one, it is likely that contempt proceedings be initiated by the Court in accordance with article 71 of the Statute. In accordance to Rule 171 of the RPE, the Chamber can pronounce the removal from the proceedings of a person who has failed to comply with an order of the Court, or even, if the person is an official of the Court, order an interdiction to exercise their function for a period up to 30 days. And of course, they can fine the person as well.
I still don't see how this is linked to the opportunity of staying the proceedings or not. If the prosecutor were being accused of bribing witnesses (which is not far removed from the underlying accusations against the OTP intermediaries in this case...), would the Chamber have an obligation to keep the trial going while it initiated proceedings under 71, even if it means that corrupt witnesses are testifying? It wouldn't make sense. You have to make sure that the underlying cause justifying the stay has ceased to exist before you can resume the trial.

Another (independent) avenue is action by the ASP. This could lead to disciplinary measures (Article 47) which may be (very scary) "(a) A reprimand; or (b) A pecuniary sanction that may not exceed six months of the salary paid by the Court to the person concerned" (RPE, Rule 32). Or, if the conduct is sufficiently serious, the ASP can vote by an absolute majority of States a removal from office (Article 46). There is no middle-ground between the two, such as a temporary suspension. However, this oversight is partly compensated by the fact that the Chamber can suspend the person temporarily. It should also be pointed out that the proceedings are not initiated directly by the ASP, but should be triggered through a formal complaint to the Presidency, or proprio motu by the Presidency (Rule 26 RPE).

In relation to the latter possible proceedings at the ASP, the Asser Institute hosted a lecture by Ambassador Wenaweser last night, where the President of the ASP shared some of his thoughts on the Kampala Conference and more generally on what lies ahead for the ICC. In response to a comment he made on strenghtening the role of the ASP, I asked him if he had any thoughts on the ASP using its powers to sanction or even remove Prosecutor Ocampo. He was fairly evasive on the ASP looking into things more generally, but his answer was crystal clear on the removal aspect: this will definitely not happen. Of course, this is unsurprising politically. But this statement is problematic, both substantially and procedurally.

From a substantial point of view, you have to wonder what the Prosecutor must do to be removed, if his conduct in the Lubanga case is not sufficient to at least consider the possibility. In Lubanga alone, he has voluntarily misrepresented the Statute not to communicate UN documents to the defense. He has refused to obey Court orders. Also, we mustn't forget the underlying situation behind the recent current events, which have taken a backseat to the procedural drama of the stay of proceedings : his intermediaries are alleged to have interfered with witnesses, which, if established, would be a massive breach of the fairness of the proceedings.

Beyond this substantial aspect, it is problematic that the President of the ASP would express a preconceived opinion about the possible outcome of a formal procedure provided for by the Statute and the Rules of Procedure and Evidence. This is just as inappropriate as a judge saying in advance that a defendant will go free before his hypothetical trial takes place.

This is a sign of the general impunity for the organs of international tribunals, which is ironic given that their overarching mandate is specifically to fight impunity. Judges have been caught sleeping. Prosecutors have been accused of paying witnesses. Decisions have been taken that clearly undermine the rights of the defense on a daily basis, both subanstially (for example new crimes being added through the haphazard use of customary law) and procedurally (for example the very lax rules on the admission of evidence). All these events would constitute serious miscarriages of justice by any normal standard, but end up having little to no consequences in international tribunals under the guise of the superior moral objective of these institutions. Of course, I'm not equating some of the procedural improprieties that I mention previously, to the serious crimes alledgedly committed by the defendants. But the underlying principle behind these tribunals should apply in their daily working: if there is no accountability, there cannot be justice.

To come back to the specific issue at hand, one could argue that it wouldn't look good and would be a sign of weakness for the ICC to remove (or sanction) its Prosecutor. But for me, this is a short-sighted analysis. On the long-run, the legitimacy of the Court will depend on its capacity to publicize its successes, but also to accept the consequences of its failures. It is a sign of the maturity of an institution that it can acknowledge its mistakes, rather than sweep them under the carpet, as it keeps doing in the Lubanga case. All they will achieve is to create this increasing mound of dust over which Justice, as the long-term goal of the institution, can only stumble eventually.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Self Promotion: the ICJ, Kosovo and the Twilight Zone Effect

The Hague Justice Portal has just published my new commentary on the ICJ Kosovo advisory opinion. It's part of an online series discussing the issue, with Jean d'Aspremont, Eric de Brabandere, Jure Vidmar and Tarcissio Gazzini.

I basically argue that the difficulties arising from the decision come from the fact that the Court accepted to answer a question about the legality of the conduct of individuals under international law, which is outside its natural jurisdiction. It should have refused to answer the question asked, or, alternatively, tried to attribute the conduct to the ultimate entity in charge, in this case, the UN.  

Friday, October 8, 2010

International Justice marches (limps...) on (again): ICC Appeals Chamber reverses stay of proceedings in Lubanga

In July, Trial Chamber I ordered a stay of proceedings in the Lubanga case because the OTP was refusing to comply with an order to disclose the name of an intermediary to the defense. As I related at the time, the TC considered that it had lost control over its capacity to insure the fairness of the proceedings if the OTP could decide unilaterally to not comply with an order of the Court. A few days later it ordered the release of Lubanga.

The Appeals Chamber just issued its Judgment on the Prosecutor's appeal, and the result is unfortunately not surprising. Once again the AC recognises that the OTP has violated its obligations under the Statute... but there is no immediate consequences and Lubanga remains in jail (see separate Judgment on that)!
More specifically, the OTP had raised three issues.

The first one was that the OTP was under an autonomous duty to protect witnesses and should be able to not comply with a TC order, should it consider that it would violate this autonomous duty. The AC rightly recalled that orders of the TC are binding on all the parties until changed or suspended by the AC.

The second related issue was that the burden to insure fair trial was a shared one between the Court's organs, and that in case of contradiction between OTP and TC, there should be a coordination of the two until accepted adjustments are reached. On this, the AC affirmed that the the TC is the ultimate guardian of fair trial and that the OTP cannot supplant TC orders. Any conflict between the two should be resolved in favour of the TC. I of course agree with the AC and I find it a little shocking that the Prosecutor, who has so often shown his attachment to fairness by, for example, publicly misrepresenting Court decisions to imply that the issuance of an arrest warrant is tantamount to a finding of guilt, as in the Bashir case, should have the chutzpah to claim that the duty to insure the fairness of the proceedings also rests on his office...

Finally, the OTP argued that the stay of proceedings was a "premature and excessive" remedy and that the TC could have used its powers under article 70(1) to punish the Prosecutor and find alternative ways to compensate Lubanga. The AC agreed with the TC that the conduct of the Prosecutor, who claimed that he could decide not to implement a Court order based on his own interpretation of the Statute, could indeed constitute a grave enough situation where it would be impossible to insure a fair trial and could therefore justify a stay of proceedings. HOWEVER (of course, however...), the TC erred in concluding that it had lost control over the trial in this specific instance. It could have used Article 71 and impose sanctions on the Prosecutor to try and obtain compliance BEFORE ordering the stay of proceedings. The decision of the TC is consequently reversed. As a result, the decision to release Lubanga is also reversed, and the AC considered that it was not appropriate to make a finding on whether the Prosecutor's actions constituted an "inexcusable delay" that might justify release under Article 60(4) of the Statute.

So, as usual, the Appeals Chamber is entirely predictable in his reasoning, ultimately not wanting to jeopardize the ICC's first trial too much, despite the Prosecutor's continued best efforts to sabotage it. Although it is disappointing that the Prosecutor is once again given a chance to repair the damage, rather than reaping the consequences of what he sowed, there is some satisfaction to be found in the clear slap of the wrist received by the OTP for its conduct. I do have an issue with the reasoning of the Court on the last point raised by the Prosecutor. I'm not sure I see the link between the order of a stay of proceedings and the possible sanctions under Article 70(1) and 71. Indeed, whether or not sanctions are possible, the fact remains that the official position of the OTP is still that he doesn't have to comply with TC decisions and that is the basis for the stay of proceedings. Until that position changes, whether through a voluntary change of mind, or sanctions, the trial cannot go on and the stay is justified in my opinion.

In any case, the next step is twofold. First, the TC should definitely initiate proceedings under 70(1) and 71 for offences against the administration of justice, which could even justify, according to KJH at Opinio Juris, his removal by the ASP. Second, the defense should file a new motion under article 60(3) to obtain Lubanga's release. If this doesn't constitute "inexcusable delay" on the part of the Prosecutor, I don't know what does. Until then, international justice marches (limps...) on...

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Internal Investigation Opened against members of the Prosecutor's office at the ICTY

The conduct of the OTPs of international tribunals has often been questioned with regards to witnesses. I recently blogged about the stay of proceedings in the Lubanga trial at the ICC, following the Prosecutor's refusal to follow the court order requiring him to provide a list of certain intermediaries whose conduct in relation to witnesses had been questioned by the defense. At the Special Court for Sierra Leone, there have been allegations that prosecution witnesses were bribed to obtain their testimony.

In relation to this, I have just become aware of this order from Trial Chamber III in the Seselj case, ordering an independent amicus curiae investigations into allegations by the defendant that the Prosecutor exercised pressure on a certain number of witnesses to secure evidence against him.

The motion for contempt proceedings against, among others, Carla del Ponte was initially filed confidentially in 2007 and the Chamber had ordered "ordered a stay for purposes of ruling on the Motion for Contempt until the conclusion of the trial in order to avoid delaying the start of the trial". However, in light of new evidence, the Chamber decided to exercise its proprio motu powers to reconsider its decision.

The Defense provided a list of alleged misconduct by the Prosecution, as illustrated in the following paragraph:

17. The Statements allege as fact that the Prosecution indeed contacted these persons and that interviews were indeed conducted by investigators working for the Prosecution. As such, the Statements mention sleep deprivation during interviews, psychological pressuring, an instance of blackmail (the investigators offered relocation in exchange for the testimony they hoped to obtain), threats (one, for example, about preparing an indictment against a witness if he refused to testify), or even illegal payments of money. According to certain Statements, the testimony produced from the interviews with the investigators from the Prosecution was not (or almost never) re-read by the persons signing it. In the Statement signed by [redacted], there is even an account of him allegedly signing the first page and the members of the Prosecution allegedly signing his initials on the other pages themselves. In the Statement signed by [redacted], there is mention that he allegedly had an interview with the members of the Prosecution in a public place. Lastly, in the Statement signed by [redacted], it is mentioned that he was allegedly poisoned.
 In light of this, the Chamber held that:

29. This information is taken quite seriously by the Chamber, which refuses to allow any doubt to fester concerning a possible violation of the rights of the Accused and concerning the investigation techniques employed by certain members of the Prosecution in this case.
 and therefore "the Chamber finds that an amicus curiae ought to investigate the Motion for Contempt and inform the Chamber whether there exist prima facie sufficient grounds to initiate a proceeding for contempt against certain members of the Prosecution." The investigator should be designated by the Registrar (which hasn't done it yet, to the best of my knowledge) and will be given 6 months to investigate.

Given the gravity of the alleged conduct, one would also expect the proceedings to be stayed until the conclusion of the investigation, but apparently this has not been ordered.

Hat-tip to Priyanka

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal: step forward for the fight against impunity, leap back for the rights of the defense...

I had completely missed the fact that Bangladesh created this year a special Tribunal to prosecute the crimes committed during the 1971 war of independence against Pakistan. The Tribunal started functioning in March this year, at the same time as Bangladesh ratified the Rome Statute, and apparently issued its first arrest warrants this week.

One aspect that caught my attention is the denomination given in one article: "International Criminal Tribunal", and the fact that it was set up with the assistance of the UN. Are we therefore in the presence of a new hybrid Court? In fact, the denomination is not the official name of the court, and there was no formal agreement between the UN and the country, so it's a purely national tribunal.
[UPDATE: The confusion on the name of the tribunal is due to a mistake by the JURIST: ICT stands for "International Crimes Tribunal", not "International Criminal Tribunal". See ICTJ report issued July 30th]
[UPDATE: The JURIST has corrected the mistake]

Another interesting aspect is the applicable law, the 1973 International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, which was amended in 2009. As pointed out by Steven Kay at ICLB, it's an interesting and little known piece of post-Nuremberg and pre-UN war crimes tribunal legislation".
It gives the tribunal jurisdiction over crimes against humanity, genocide, crimes against peace, violations of the Geneva Conventions, and "any other crimes under international law", the last one raising obvious questions in respect to the principle of legality.

Apart from jurisdiction, I saw three other notable features of the procedure. 

The section on the rights of the accused is quite succinct. It reads as follows:
17. (1) During trial of an accused person he shall have the right to give any explanation relevant to the charge made against him.
(3) An accused person shall have the right to present evidence at the trial in support of his defence, and to cross-examine any witness called by the prosecution.
The accused basically has a right to defend himself against the charges. What a relief... and there is no mention of the presumption of innocence.

The section on evidence is also quite striking:

19. (1) A Tribunal shall not be bound by technical rules of evidence; and it shall adopt and apply to the greatest possible extent expeditious and non-technical procedure, and may admit any evidence, including reports and photographs published in newspapers, periodicals and magazines, films and tape-recordings and other materials as may be tendered before it, which it deems to have probative value.
(3) A Tribunal shall not require proof of facts of common knowledge but shall take judicial notice thereof. 

(4) A Tribunal shall take judicial notice of official governmental documents and reports of the United Nations and its subsidiary agencies or other international bodies including non-governmental organisations.
 At least, the Act is honest about its desire for expeditiousness. I'm just a little curious as to what "non-technical procedure" is... It sounds like a nice way of saying "absence of procedure"... Also, the scope of possible judicial notice is quite wide, to say the least. The Bangladesh Government is well know for its spotless and impartial record in reporting, and the UN and NGOs always get it right. Why not just take judicial notice of the accused's guilt (everybody probably knows he's guilty) and not have a trial at all...

Finally, in terms of judgment and sentence (Article 20), there is no mention of the burden of proof for conviction and the Act provides for the application of the death penalty.

Once again, the rights to a fair trial take a back seat to the fight against impunity, despite the legitimacy of the latter depending in large part on the respect of the former. In this case, the UN and NGOs should distance themselves from this endeavor (I've done a rapid search on google, but failed to find any condemnation. If anybody cares to point me towards them if they exist? to be fair, a HRW report does call for respect of the rights of the defense and non-application of the death penalty) which appears to be a mockery of justice.

Just to be clear, I'm not suggesting that Bangladesh can't do want it wants. If that is what the Bangladesh population want, fair enough. But the international community cannot and should not officially support it.

[UPDATE: The Criminal Law Forum has a Special Issue on the Bangladesh Tribunal this month]

[UPDATE: I was using the version of the Act before the 2009 amendments (i've updated the link to the law with the correct version now). The parts I analyse are however unchanged. But to be fair and comprehensive, I should point out that they did add a new provision which states that:

(2A) The Tribunal shall be independent in the exercise of its judicial functions and shall ensure fair trial.
And to think that I was doubting that in light of the rest of the Act... I'm totally reassured now...]

Monday, July 26, 2010

The First Judgment at the (un)Extraordinary Chambers in Cambodia and the question of Crimes against Humanity

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), which started functioning in 2006 after lengthy negotiations to try the (remaining) leaders of the Khmer Rouge Regime, issued its first Judgment today in the trial of KAING Guek Eav alias "Duch", the former commander of the infamous S21 prison.

The Judgment was going to have a tough time to maintain the drama of the end of the trial which saw some  extraordinary (no pun intended) bickering between the co-counsels, with one of them being fired and the other suddenly launching in a virulent challenge to the jurisdiction and the legitimacy of the Chamber, despite apparently not having raised the issue previously, and then creating some confusion on the plea entered by his client.

Various comments can be made on this Judgment, for example on victim reparations, and on sentencing. I'd like to briefly focus on its discussion of crimes against humanity.

Indeed, One question which was going to be an issue from the start was the content of customary law at the time the crimes were committed, more specifically in relation to crimes against humanity and the link with the existence of an armed conflict. If today, there is really no doubt, after the case-law of the ad hoc tribunals and the Statute of the ICC, that crimes against humanity can be committed in time of peace, things are not so clear for1975-1979, which is the scope of the temporal jurisdiction of the ECCC.

The Chamber finds that the nexus was no longer required in 1975. Maybe it is right, but it is not convincing. Indeed, the reasoning is just as poor as it was in Tadic. I reproduce the (concise) argumentation of the Chamber for the sake of clarity:

291. In particular, the Chamber notes that Article 5 of the ECCC Law does not require a link between crimes against humanity and armed conflict. Although Article 6(c) of the Nuremberg Charter required a nexus between crimes against humanity and armed conflict, such a nexus was not included in the 1945 Control Council Law No. 10, the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the 1954 International Law Commission’s Draft Code of Offenses against the Peace and Security of Mankind, the 1968 Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity, and the 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. The notion of armed conflict also does not form part of the current-day customary definition of crimes against humanity.
292. International tribunals that have subsequently considered the issue have also found that the notion of crimes against humanity existed independently from that of armed conflict under customary international law prior to 1975. The ICTY Appeals Chamber has stated that the armed conflict requirement in Article 6(c) of the Nuremberg Charter was a jurisdictional issue, thus implying that it was not required under customary international law even in 1945. The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has noted that, while the nexus with armed conflict initially formed part of the customary definition of crimes against humanity, this nexus may no longer have been relevant as of 1956. The Group of Experts for Cambodia appointed pursuant to General Assembly Resolution 52/135 similarly concluded that “[t]he bond between crimes against humanity and armed conflict appears to have been severed by 1975.” The Chamber therefore considers that the lack of any nexus with armed conflict in Article 5 of the ECCC Law comports with the customary definition of crimes against humanity during the 1975 to 1979 period.

Let's analyse this in order:

  • Control Council Law N°10: Yes, the definition of crimes against humanity does not include the nexus with armed conflict (Article II.1.a). However, article I makes the London agreement, which enacts the Nuremberg Statute and which does contain the nexus, an "integral part of this Law". So it is not that clear. Especially as the Nuremberg Principles adopted by the ILC reproduce the Charter of Nuremberg, with the armed conflict nexus, not Control Council Law N°10...
  • 1948 Genocide Convention: even if conceptually, I'm in favor of considering genocide as a sub-category of Crimes against Humanity, it was not legally conceived in this way at the time. Genocide is a discrete crime and the fact that the armed conflict nexus is not contained in the definition of genocide is not relevant for knowing if it is still contained in the definition of crimes against humanity. And even if one considers that Genocide is a sub-category of crimes against humanity, the disappearance of the nexus for one form of a crime, does not logically necessarily indicate disappearance for the totality.
  • 1954 Code of Crimes: does not even mention crimes against humanity!
  • 1968 Convention on non applicability of Statute of limitations: more tricky, as it, at the same time, says that it can be committed both in time of war and in time of peace, and says that it is defined by the Nuremberg Charter which does include the nexus. 
  • 1973 Convention on Apartheid: Same as for genocide, the absence of the nexus for one occurrence of crimes against humanity, does not logically imply the absence of the nexus for all crimes against humanity. You could even argue that it the specific nature of Apartheid that justifies the exclusion of the nexus. Also, the Convention only came into force in 1976, so one can wonder at the customary nature of the content of the treaty at that point in time...  
  • Tadic: The Appeals Chamber in Tadic deals with the issue in the same way. Affirming with little evidence that the nexus no longer exists. More specifically, it considers that it "was peculiar to the jurisdiction of the Nuremberg Tribunal" and that "there is no logical or legal basis for this requirement" (§140). For one, it doesn't explain why it was "peculiar". Second of all, the question of the "logical" basis is not relevant for a court of law the function of which is to apply the law, not question its logic. I could point out several instances of lack of logic in the drafting of the ICC Statute, but it doesn't mean that Judges should be allowed to change it as they see fit. And thirdly, linked to the second point, the "legal" basis is that it is in the law! The drafters of the Nuremberg Statute decided to put the nexus there, so that constitutes the legal basis for the nexus.
  • ECHR and group of experts: nothing much to add to this, apart from 1) questioning the relevance of these statements for the ECCC and 2) pointing out that "may no longer have been relevant" and "appears to have been severed" hardly seems like strong enough evidence to rely on to establish the content of a customary norm with sufficient certainty as to conform with the principle of legality.
But even if one were to accept these references, what is notable is the absence of evidence relating to the traditional components of customary law. I was taught in university that you needed to establish both opinio juris and state practice in order to identify the existence of a customary rule, not international case law or pronouncements by experts. However, the expression "opinio juris" appears nowhere in the reasoning and there is no mention of state practice whatsoever at this point in the argumentation (Eichmann is given as the sole example of  State practice for prosecution of crimes against humanity earlier on in the Judgment). The ECCC therefore managed, and it is quite a feat, to be even less convincing than Tadic, which at least formally claimed that the nexus "has been abandoned in subsequent State practice with respect to crimes against humanity", without however quoting even one relevant national criminal code...

I suppose that after the slamming of JCE by the ECCC Pre-Trial Chamber in the Ieng Sary Case, I had unreasonable expectations, but it turns out that in fact, there is nothing extraordinary about the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia...

Friday, July 23, 2010

Some Additional Thoughts on the ICJ Advisory Opinion

I've read through the main opinion and the other opinions and it confirms my initial impressions during the issuance of the Opinion yesterday afternoon.

On jurisdiction, I was a little puzzled by the length of the discussion on the question of whether the Court should exercise its discretion in relation to the question. It all seemed quite basic stuff, given past case-law of the Court which has generally said that 1) the fact that the Security Council is dealing with something doesn't mean another organ can't discuss it and 2) the political dimensions of a question do not prevent a legal analysis. However, some dissenting opinions (Bennouna, Skotnikov, Keith, Tomka) actually thought that the Court should have declined to answer the question.

On the scope of the question, I'm generally not in disagreement with the opinion. Some separate opinions consider that it was too narrow. Judge Simma said it applied too strictly a "tired" version of the Lotus logic that what is not proscribed is allowed. For him, there is a more public law aspect to international law today, and the Court should have done a more thorough search of the relevant law on independence before answering the specific question. Judge Trindade, in a separate opinion 1,5 times the size of the majority opinion, launched himself in a emotional, but in my opinion ultimately irrelevant plea for taking into account "human suffering" as a criteria for independence. Equally, Judge Yussuf thought the Court could have taken the opportunity to define the scope of self-determination in a post-colonial world. Others (Koroma) thought that it was still too broad and that the Court went beyond its powers in considering that when the GA explicitly mentioned the authors of the UDI as the "Provisional Institutions of Self-Government of Kosovo", they actually didn't mean that, and wanted to know who the authors are. I would tend to agree with that actually. The fact, as the Court points out, that this was not discussed in the GA debates, doesn't necessarily mean that it was an open issue, it might just mean that it was a settled issue. By second guessing the GA like it does, the Court is opening itself to the criticism of why it is re-interpreting the question in this instance, and not in another (for example, by saying that the GA really wanted to know if Kosovo was an independent State).

Which brings me to my main point of contention with the decision: that the authors of the UDI were not acting in their official capacity as Members of the Assembly. The reasoning is just as unconvincing as I thought. The authors of the declaration met in the Assembly, called a special session of that Assembly, and met as the democratically elected representatives of the people in elections set up under the control of the Constitutional Framework, which is the only basis for their right to be present in the assembly to make the UDI in the first place. But they are still considered as private citizens by the Court, based on their intent to be so considered. How can you evaluate whether someone is bound by a legal framework based on the subjective desire not to be bound?
In this sense, I can only agree with Koroma:
5. It is also question-begging to identify the authors of the unilateral declaration of independence on the basis of their perceived intent, for it predetermines the very answer the Court is trying to develop: there can be no question that the authors wish to be perceived as the legitimate, democratically elected leaders of the newly-independent Kosovo, but their subjective intent does not make it so. Relying on such intent leads to absurd results, as any given group ⎯ secessionists, insurgents could circumvent international norms specifically targeting them by claiming to have reorganized themselves under another name. Under an intent-oriented approach, such groups merely have to show that they intended to be someone else when carrying out a given act, and that act would no longer be subject to international law specifically developed to prevent it.
 And Bennouna:

44. The facts that the authors of the Declaration, members of the Assembly of the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government of Kosovo, cited the breakdown of negotiations and that they did not intend to act within the framework of the interim régime of self-government (Advisory Opinion, paragraph 105) do not by themselves change the legal nature of an act adopted by the Assembly of the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government of Kosovo. In law, it is not merely because an institution has adopted an act exceeding its powers (ultra vires) that the legal bond between the institution and the act is broken. In such a case, the institution must be considered to be in breach of the legal framework that justifies and legitimizes it.
45. Similarly, it is not because the Assembly trespassed on the powers of the Special Representative (Advisory Opinion, paragraph 106) by involving itself in matters of Kosovo’s external relations that it must be considered as acting in a different capacity or as an entity no longer related to the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government of Kosovo. Here as well, the Assembly simply committed an act which is illegal under international law.

Although I'm the first one to defend the ICJ against those who claim that it says what it didn't say, in this part of the decision, i'm struggling to see how the reliance of the ICJ on the intent of the authors of the UDI, and is not an implicit endorsement of the declaration itself.

One final comment on the applicable law. I've read in some comments already that the Constitutional Framework and UNMIK resolutions should not necessarily be considered as applicable international law because "after all they are intended to take effect only within a particular domestic system of law". I would actually side with the ICJ on that one. The question is not the setting (all law is meant to be applied in a specific setting), it's the nature of the norm and the applicable legal order. For me, a territory under UN administration cannot be seen as a national legal order. There's no "national" at this point, or "domestic". Moreover, the source of legal, judicial and even constitutional authority in Kosovo clearly derived from a Security Council Resolution. I don't find it therefore scandalous to conclude that the norms adopted in this context are at least international enough, and sufficiently integrated in the international legal order, to be considered as relevant international law for the ICJ. But I'll have to consider this "hybrid" issue further in my PhD (forthcoming...).

And to conclude on a little poetic note, showing that law needn't necessarily be dry, I love the final line of Bennouna's opinion:
Such declarations are no more than foam on the tide of time; they cannot allow the past to be forgotten nor a future to be built on fragments of the present. 

ICJ Kosovo Opinion Files for Download

The ICJ Website still seems to be unavailable. Here is a link to the opinion, and the separate and/or dissenting opinions by Judges Bennouna, Koroma, Skotnikov, Keith, Sepulveda-Amor, Trindade, Yusuf, Simma and Tomka.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Live from ICJ: Kosovo declaration of independence not in violation of international law, but the Court DOES NOT validate Kosovo independence!

I'm at the ICJ right now with my iphone, so sorry for the typos.
The Court just finished delivering its advisory opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.
Having established jurisdiction, it Unsurprisingly adopted a very narrow reading of the question, considering  that it was not asked:
1) to evaluate the legal consequences of declaration
2) whether Kosovo has actually obtained Statehood
3) whether the recognition by other States was legal
4) whether there is a general right under international law to declare independence or secession.
Therefore: the question is really whether the specific declaration was in accordance with international law (both general and specific)?

The Court found that in general international law, there is no prohibition of declarations of independence and that issues of territorial sovereignty or secession are not relevant within the strict boundaries of the question to be answered on the legality of the declaration.

Moving to the lex specialis of SC Res. 1244 and the Constitutional Framework, the Court considered that they were the international law basis for the authority of Kosovo institutions and the boundaries of their powers, at the time of the declaration of independence.

Moving to the interpretation of this applicable international law, it was meant at a temporary solution for the stabilisation of Kosovo.

Illogically, the Court then considers the author of the declaration BEFORE analysing whether the lex specialis contained a clear prohibition of declaration of independence. Here the judgment appears a little hazy (i'll have to to read the decision). The Court seems to consider the subjective perception of the authors of the declaration as not acting under the established legal framework. But whether you are bound by a legal framework doesn't depend on your subjective desire to be or not to be bound. It's an objective test. This is the whole point of ultra vires challenges! The Court in any case finds that the authors were just individuals, rather than the Kosovo Assembly! I'm not convinced at the reasoning at this point. If the French MPs meet in the French Parliament, to which they have access by virtue of their parliamentary Status, i think there is a presumption that they are acting in their official capacity.
Coming back to the contet of the lex specialis, the Court considered that it is silent as to the final Status of Kosovo, suggesting negotiation rather than requiring it, thus not explicitly excluding unilateral declarations. Moreover, a Resolution is only binding on its recipients, which don't include the authors of the declaration as
defined above.

All in all, not a surprising decision. The jurisdictional part and the framing of the question were to be expected. It also makes some interesting comments on the relationship between the various organs of the UN. The key point turned out to be the exact author of the declaration. The conclusion in itself is not that shocking, but the reasoning seems a little poor. In any case, as it stands, the Opinion isn't very useful. Basically, any group of random individuals can declare independence without violating international law... Fantastic...

[UPDATE: the press is characteristically getting it wrong, with for example, Le Monde's headline saying that the ICJ "validates Kosovo Independence", the BCC's headline being, in a slightly less inaccurate way that "Kosovo Independence not illegal", or CNN saying that "Kosovo Independence Legal"... Unsurprinsingly, Serbian websites are more accurate... ]

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Is Chad really under an obligation to arrest Bashir?

The news today has been filled with reports about the visit of President of Sudan, Omar Bashir, to Chad, and calls for Chad, which is a State Party to the ICC to arrest him. Beyond any discussion of the political opportunity of such an act, every commentary seems to take for granted that Chad is under a legal obligation to do so.

CNN has a "Court official" (probably OTP...) on the record saying that:
Chad is legally obliged to arrest Omar al-Bashir and hand him over to the International Criminal Court.
According to Human Rights Watch:
Chad should not flout its obligations to arrest al-Bashir if he enters Chad. 
 Same tune at Amnesty International:
If it were not to arrest him, Chad would violate its obligations under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which it ratified in November 2006.
 I'm not sure that's actually true. Sure, the Statute, at Article 86 provides that (my emphasis):

States Parties shall, in accordance with the provisions of this Statute, cooperate fully with the Court in its investigation and prosecution of crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court.
 However, "in accordance with the provisions of the Statute", there is in fact no automatic obligation to cooperate in relation to the execution of an arrest warrant. Indeed, Article 89 provides that the Court must make a request for cooperation to a State. The request must contain specific information outlined in Article 91 (such as a copy of the arrest warrant). Only then does the Statute provide (Article 89(1)) that (my emphasis):

States Parties shall, in accordance with the provisions of this Part and the procedure under their national law, comply with requests for arrest and surrender.
To my knowledge, there hasn't been such a request.

Second of all, even if the ICC had made a request for cooperation, the fact that Sudan is not a State Party can trigger the application of Article 98(1), according to which:
The Court may not proceed with a request for surrender or assistance which would require the requested State to act inconsistently with its obligations under international law with respect to the State or diplomatic immunity of a person or property of a third State, unless the Court can first obtain the cooperation of that third State for the waiver of the immunity.
It's arguable that Bashir, as an acting head of State, does benefit from diplomatic immunity, in application of the ICJ Arrest Warrant Case (for a discussion of the immunity question in the Bashir case, see here). If that were the case, not only would Chad not be under an obligation to cooperate, but the request itself would be contrary to the Statute.

So, all in all it's far less obvious than claimed, that Chad is in fact under an automatic obligation to arrest and surrender Bashir. Of course, in a week where the Prosecutor himself has publicly considered that the issuance of an arrest warrant is proof of guilt (See commentaries of this by William Schabas and Kevin John Heller), one stops being surprised by poor legal argumentation...

Partial retrial ordered in Haradinaj

The ICTY Appeals Chamber just released its Judgment in the Haradinaj, Balaj and Brahimaj case. The Trial Chamber, in its April 2008 Judgment had acquitted the first two, and convicted the third for two counts of torture. The Appeals Chamber decided, with the President Judge Robinson dissenting, to partially quash the two acquittals and order a partial re-trial, because:

49. [...] the Trial Chamber failed to take sufficient steps to counter the witness intimidation that permeated the trial and, in particular, to facilitate the Prosecution’s requests to secure the testimony of Kabashi and the other witness. Given the potential importance of these witnesses to the Prosecution’s case, the Appeals Chamber finds that, in the context of this case [of systematic witness intimidation], the error undermined the fairness of the proceedings as guaranteed by the Statute and Rules and resulted in a miscarriage of justice.
Several comments about this decision.

For one, the basis for the motion by the Prosecutor was a "breach of the Prosecution's right to a fair trial". But since when does a Prosecutor have fair trial rights? He's an organ of the judicial system. Fair Trial rights exist to protect the defendants in their relation with the judiciary, not one organ of the judiciary against another organ of the judiciary. As Patrick Robinson puts it in his dissenting opinion:

17. By virtue of the burden placed on the Prosecution to prove the guilt of the accused person beyond reasonable doubt, the position of the Prosecution is in many ways different from the position of the accused person. Thus, the Prosecution has duties, which the Defence does not have, and the Defence has rights, which the Prosecution does not have. Properly analysed, the relationship between the Prosecution and Defence is not symmetrical; it is, because of the aforementioned burden, asymmetrical.
This is yet another example of a misapplication of human rights principles due to the decontextualisation of the reason of their existence and therefore a complete misunderstanding of their ethos and telos. In a similar fashion, the ICC Prosecutor had claimed a "right of appeal" when leave to appeal had been refused in the early witness participation decisions in the DRC situations. The Appeals Chamber at the time had rejected the motion.
It should be pointed out, however, that in the course of its reasoning, the Chamber does not really take up this idea of "prosecution fair trial rights". It does so once:

46. this decision again inappropriately prioritised logistical considerations over the Prosecution’s right to a fair trial.
[UPDATE: The Chamber issued on 23 July a corrigendum where it says that in paragraph 46, it meant to say "fairness of the proceedings" and that the mistake is due to a "clerical error". Blame it on the clerks... I'm sure that explains Tadic as well...]

but refers more generally to the "fairness of the proceedings", as illustrated by the above quoted passage. This is far less controversial, and shows that the issue could have been solved without opening the can of worms of Prosecution rights. And it therefore begs the question of why the Prosecution framed the question in this way in the first place. One worrying conclusion is that the OTP (and the Chamber when it picks up on it that one time) didn't see the semantic difference between "interests" (which the Prosecutor has), "rights" (which the Prosecutor doesn't have) and "the fairness of the proceedings" (as a general principle of good administration of justice). You would expect professional jurists to know that words have a meaning...

The Appeals Chamber missed an opportunity to explicitly reject the Prosecutor's reasoning. What it does here is a little more confusing, because it agrees with the Prosecutor, but doesn't clearly indicate that it is so doing on a different (and more accurate) reasoning, as you generally see in decisions. [Reading the judgment too fast the first time around, I actually got confused and, in the absence of a clear rejection of the OTP's reasoning, attributed the Prosecution argument to the Appeals Chamber. Thank you to my anonymous commentator for setting the record straight! And in my defense, the Chamber does refer to "Prosecution fair trial rights" once and Robinson himself must have considered the majority decision unclear, because he takes upon himself to clarify the situation.]

A problematic aspect is the standard of review. Given that the Trial Chamber was exercising a discretionary power, it has a certain leeway in its decision-making which in turn usually means that the Appeals Chamber only interferes when there is an obvious misuse of discretion. However, what the Appeals Chamber does here is substitute what it would have done if it had been the Trial Chamber. This is beyond the scope of the function of the Appeals Chamber, as highlighted in Judge Robinson's dissent:

7. The question of how many extensions to grant, whether one, two, or one hundred, or whether to stay or adjourn the proceedings, relates to the detailed day-to-day management of the case and is a matter best determined by the Trial Chamber in light of all the relevant circumstances. This is not a judgement for the Appeals Chamber to make. I would have granted more than three extensions or adjourned or stayed the proceedings, and the Majority itself might have done the same, but that is irrelevant. For it is not the appellate function to determine the sufficiency of the extensions granted by the Trial Chamber absent a clear indication of an abuse of the Trial Chamber’s discretion. And were we to do so, we would simply be substituting our own exercise of discretion for that of the Trial Chamber without any proper basis.
In effect, it appears from the Judgment that the Trial Chamber did in fact take into account the circumstances of the case and the importance of the witnesses by granting three consecutive extensions to the Prosecutor in order to allow him to secure witness testimony, so clearly, on the face of it, it did take into account relevant factors for the exercise of its discretion.
More generally, given the length of proceedings at the ICTY, the idea that the Prosecutor is not given enough time seems slightly puzzling. In this case, the indictments were issued in March 2005 (so presumably, the investigation had already been going on for a while), it took 2 years for the trial to begin in March 2007, and it lasted about 10 months, until January 2008. Even accounting for the specific difficulties of international investigations in difficult circumstances, you'd expect the Prosecutor to have had enough time to prepare a good case in that time and that its solidity would not depend on a last minute hiccup with a couple of witnesses... and even in this event, there comes a moment when it is legitimate for a Trial Chamber to move the proceedings forward in the interests of the defendants and in light of the right to be judged without undue delay. In the absence of proof of witness intimidation or tampering, at some reasonable point in time, the Defendant should not bear the consequences of the Prosecution's failure to secure sufficient evidence for a conviction.

A final general comment. Once again, we have a dissenting opinion which seems to make more sense than the majority decision. I'm not familiar enough with all the case-law of the tribunal to claim that dissenters always get it right, but my empirical experience is that I generally agree with the dissents (Schomburg on JCE, Pocar on reversal of acquitals). I think it might have to do with the fact that once a judge has taken the step towards dissent, he frees himself of the shackles of the internal politics of consensus which leads to sometimes inconsistently argued collective decisions, as illustrated in the present case, whereas dissenting opinions will have more chances of being intellectually consistent, and therefore make more sense. Any thoughts on that?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Another Fair Trial issue for today: Sljivancanin Appeals Judgment to be revised

In one of the ongoing sagas of this blog, and on a day apparently dedicated to fair trial issues (see previous post), the Appeals Chamber of the ICTY issued a decision today granting the motion to review of the Appeals Judgment in the Slivancanin case. The Judgment had controversially added, with two judges dissenting, a new conviction for aiding and abetting murder as a violation of the laws and customs of war. As I commented in the past, a first request for review for initially rejected. However, Counsel made a new motion based on the existence of new evidence, which was heard early June. It is this new fact as defined by article 26 of the Statute that compels the Chamber to allow the possible revision of the Judgment. 

The new fact, which is witness evidence that the accused did not in fact express the mens rea for the crime in a conversation, contrary to what had been found by the Appeals Chamber. In accepting this, the Chamber finds that (p. 4):

Although the Panic New Fact was discoverable through due diligence by Sljivančanin’s counsel, review of the Mrksic and Sljivančanin Appeal Judgement is necessary because the impact of the Panic New Fact, if proved, is such that to ignore it would lead to a miscarriage of justice.

This is of course perfectly reasonable... but is a little ironic given the way the case unfolded. Indeed, the Trial Chamber had drawn no conclusion from the conversation between Mrksic and Sljivancanin under consideration. It was only the Appeals Chamber which inferred from the conversation that Mrkšić must have told Šljivančanin that he had withdrawn the “JNA” protection from the prisoners of war held at Ovčara, subsequently "relied on these findings to conclude that Sljivančanin possessed the mens rea for aiding and abetting murder as a violation of the laws or customs of war" (p. 3). How could the defense be expected to provide evidence on an event that the Trial Chamber had not even found as being relevant? It is only with the Appeals Judgment, where the judges are basically reviewing evidence as if they were the trial chamber, that the Defense can actually know what evidence it has to contest. That's hardly compliant with fair trial rights!

The granting of the motion is obviously a step in the right direction for making sure those rights are respected, but it doesn't remedy the profound flaw of a process which allows the Appeals Chamber to de facto review evidence as a Trial Chamber would and reverse acquittals without any possible appeal from the new conviction in clear contradiction with human rights standards.