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Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Comoros Referral to the ICC of the Israel Flotilla Raid: When a 'situation' is not really a 'situation'

As has been widely reported already, The ICC OTP announced today that it had received a referral from the Comoros "in relation to the event of May 2010 on the vessel Mavi Marmara". You will recall that this boat was part of the group of boats that tried to reach Gaza at the time and which were boarded by the Israeli army, resulting in a number of deaths and injuries.

The usual suspects of the blogosphere have already put up excellent posts on this development: Kevin Heller (here and here), Dapo Akande (here) and William Schabas (here). They already covered a number of more political issues which I won't delve into here, such the perception issues that would flow from the initiation or not of a formal investigation among African States and the international community, the alleged anti-palestinian bias of the ICC OTP or the apparently poor timing of the referral given that Israel and Turkey seem to be getting close to finishing their negotiations on the incident.

I also won't go discussions of certain legal questions that come up in relation to this referral. I would tend to agree with Kevin's evaluation that this would not meet the gravity threshold under Article 17, especially given the response given by the Prosecutor in the Iraq communications. However, I'm wondering if the Abu Garda case, which concerned a single attack on a peace keeping compound, and where it was considered that the gravity threshold was met, is not a indication to the contrary.

Also, I find the referral thoroughly sloppy on the legal characterization of the facts as war crimes and crimes against humanity. It unconvincingly tries to link the events to the Gaza situation (discussions on the Palestinian declaration to the ICC in 2009 are for me beside the point here) and there is a meager two paragraphs on crimes against humanity that would be laughable if not present in a formal State referral to the ICC.

Finally, as an aside, I think too much is being made of the link between the fact that Comoros is the State of registration of the Mavi Marmama and the fact that Comoros is doing the referral, as if the former implied the latter. However, legally, there is no need to make that link. What's important is that the alleged crimes were committed on the territory of a State Party, but after that, any State Party could have made the referral.

But the main point I want to focus on is whether this is really a referral of a "situation" as required by the ICC Statute. Both Dapo and Kevin make strong cases on the fact that this is indeed a "situation", because specific cases have not been referred (which would not be allowed) and because it is not an issue that potentially only one crime has been committed (I'm not entirely sure why both of them make this last point so vocally, as even the referral suggests, even unconvincingly a number of alleged crimes falling within the jurisdiction of the Court...). I'm still not convinced for the following reasons.