Category Archives: international criminal law

ECtHR’s Second Inter-State Reparations Judgment Orders Russia Compensate Expelled Georgians

Courtroom of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg
Credit: Adrian Grycuk via Wikimedia Commons

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has issued its second ever monetary judgment in an inter-State case, ordering Russia to pay the Georgian government 10 million euros as reparations for Russia’s collective expulsion of thousands of Georgian nationals between 2006 and 2007. See ECtHR, Georgia v. Russia (I) [GC], no. 13255/07, ECHR 2019, Judgment of 31 January 2019 (Just Satisfaction). The judgment on reparations follows the Court’s 2014 judgment on the merits of the case, in which it found that Russia’s mass expulsion of Georgians violated the European Convention on Human Rights. See id. at para. 2. If Russia complies with the judgment, Georgia will be responsible for distributing the 10 million euros to a group of 1,500 identified victims, awarding 2,000 euros to each person who was expelled and awarding an additional 10,000 to 15,000 euros to those who had also been detained and ill-treated. See id. at paras. 77, 79. This judgment applies and builds on the Grand Chamber’s 2014 just satisfaction judgment in Cyprus v. Turkey, in which it ordered Turkey to pay 90 million euros in just satisfaction for the enforced disappearance of 1,456 people and various violations against the Greek Cypriots of the Karpas peninsula, by Turkish authorities, dating to 1974. See ECtHR, Cyprus v. Turkey, [GC], no. 25781/94, Judgment of 12 May 2014 (Just Satisfaction).

This case is the first of four cases that Georgia has brought to the ECtHR against Russia since 2007. The second case, concerning Russia’s alleged violation of the European Convention during the 2008 Russo-Georgian conflict, is currently pending before a Grand Chamber. See ECtHR, Cases pending before the Grand Chamber. The third case, which concerned Russia’s detention of several Georgian nationals, was voluntarily dropped by Georgia after Russia released the individuals from detention. [ECtHR: New Complaint] The fourth case, filed in August 2018, concerns alleged violations of rights along the border between Georgian-controlled territory and Abkhazia and South Ossetia. [ECtHR: New Complaint] The International Criminal Court (ICC) has also opened an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the 2008 Russo-Georgian conflict. See ICC, Situation in Georgia.

Read more

ICC Acquits Former Ivory Coast President of Crimes Against Humanity

ICC Trial Chamber I acquits Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé from all charges
Credit: ICC via Flickr

Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo was acquitted of crimes against humanity earlier this month when the International Criminal Court (ICC) found insufficient evidence of a common plan or policy to attack civilians during the 2010-2011 post-election violence in the Ivory Coast. See ICC, Prosecutor v. Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé, ICC-02/11-01/15, Oral Decision of Trial Chamber I on the Prosecutor’s Request under Article 81(3)(c)(i) of the Rome Statute, 16 January 2019. The ICC Appeals Chamber has decided Gbagbo and his co-defendant Charles Blé Goudé must remain in custody at least until it reviews the Trial Chamber I’s order to release them, at a hearing scheduled for February 1. [ICC Press Release: Delay] Once the Trial Chamber’s written judgment is filed, the Office of the Prosecutor may appeal the acquittals. [ICC Press Release: Acquittal] ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has confirmed her office will continue its investigations into the Ivory Coast situation, which currently includes pre-trial proceedings against Simone Gbagbo, wife of Laurent Gbagbo, who was granted amnesty for her role in the conflict by current Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara last year. [ICC: Bensouda; Guardian: Simone Gbagbo; BBC]

The Gbagbo judgment is the most recent in a line of prominent losses by the ICC Prosecutor, including the acquittal, on appeal, of former Congolese Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba in 2018 and the Court’s dismissal of charges of crimes against humanity against Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice-President William Ruto in 2015 and 2016, respectively. [IJRC: KenyaIJMonitor: Gbagbo; IJMonitor: Bemba] The ICC Prosecution’s recent failures have raised concerns among some about the Court’s ability to hold accountable those individuals who violate international criminal law. [IJRC: YekatomGuardian: ICC; Guardian: Gbagbo] Gbagbo, the first former head of State to be taken into ICC custody, has the right to request compensation for the seven years that he has spent in detention. See Rome Statute, art. 85(3).

The Trial of Laurent Gbagbo

On October 3, 2011, the ICC Office of the Prosecutor began its investigation into the Ivory Coast’s 2010 post-election crisis. See ICC, Gbagbo and Blé Goudé Case. Within two months, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Gbagbo, and Ivorian and French troops quickly arrested and transferred him to The Hague in November of 2011. [IJMonitor: Gbagbo] Gbagbo remained in pre-trial detention in The Hague for over four years before the ICC trial officially began on January 28, 2016. [ICC Press Release: Opening]. The Court joined Gbagbo’s case with that of another Ivorian politician involved in the conflict, Blé Goudé, and charged both defendants with four counts of crimes against humanity, for acts of murder, rape, other inhumane acts (or in the alternative attempted murder), and persecution. See ICC, Gbagbo and Blé Goudé Case.

The trial spanned approximately three years, with the Prosecutor taking 231 hearing days to present evidence and calling 82 witnesses to testify on behalf of the prosecution’s case. [ICC Press Release: Acquittal] Once the Prosecutor concluded the presentation of evidence, Gbagbo’s defense team filed a motion for acquittal and immediate release of the defendant without presenting any evidence, alleging that the prosecution did not meet its burden of proof. [ICC Press Release: Acquittal] Similarly, Blé Goudé’s defense team presented a motion alleging that there was no case for the defense to answer to with respect to the charges against Blé Goudé and seeking that the charges be dismissed. [ICC Press Release: Acquittal]

On January 15, 2019, the judges, with one dissenting, announced their judgement finding that the Prosecutor’s evidence was insufficient to sustain a conviction and that the Prosecutor failed to demonstrate several elements of the crimes as charged, “including the existence of a ‘common plan’ to keep Mr Gbagbo in power, which included the commission of crimes against civilians ‘pursuant to or in furtherance of a State or organisational policy’; and the existence of patterns of violence from which it could be inferred that there was a ‘policy to attack a civilian population’.” [ICC Press Release: Acquittal] As a result, both Gbagbo and Blé Goudé were acquitted on all counts. [ICC Press Release: Acquittal]

Response to the Acquittal

Prominent human rights organizations have called the acquittal “disastrous” and a “crushing disappointment” for the victims, and some are worried that the acquittal could lead to further violence. [Guardian: Gbagbo; Amnesty] The news of Gbagbo’s acquittal has already sparked scattered protests in the Ivory Coast’s capital, Abidjan. [Al Jazeera] While supporters celebrate the Court’s announcement, victims express frustration and disappointment with what rights groups perceive to be a denial of justice. [Reuters: Politics] The Ivorian government has stated that they will allow Gbagbo’s return, and have “urged calm, forgiveness and reconciliation.” [Al Jazeera]

Background on the 2010-11 Ivory Coast Conflict

The case against Gbagbo concerned his alleged involvement in a four-month conflict that arose Gbagbo refused to transfer power to the current Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara after losing the 2010 elections. [Guardian: Gbagbo] Approximately 3,000 people were reported to have died during the conflict, and hundreds of thousands were forced to flee. [Reuters] It was alleged that Gbagbo ordered murders and gang-rape in his bid to retain control of the country. [Guardian: Gbagbo] The conflict came to an end when French and United Nations forces intervened and apprehended Gbagbo. [Guardian: Surrender]

Gbagbo’s capture marked the end of his 10-year rule of the Ivory Coast. [Guardian: Gbagbo] Now that he is free to return to the Ivory Coast, there is some indication that he intends to run in the next election in 2020. [Reuters: Politics] Despite the ICC acquittal, Gbagbo may nonetheless have to serve a 20-year sentence upon returning to the Ivory Coast due to a conviction for misappropriating funds that a domestic court entered against him in absentia while he was detained in The Hague. [Reuters]

Additional Information

The ICC was established by the Rome Statute, and officially opened in 2002. See ICC, About. The Court has the competence to hear four types of crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. See Id. The ICC has had a total of 28 cases, of which the Court issued final convictions in six cases (eight trial convictions, two of which were overturned on appeal). See id. For more information on the International Criminal Court, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub. To learn more about the Ivory Coast’s human rights obligations, see IJRC’s Ivory Coast Factsheet. To stay up-to-date on international human rights law news, visit IJRC’s News Room and subscribe to the IJRC Daily.

Suspected War Criminal Arrested in Central African Republic, Transferred to ICC

Alfred Yekatom makes first appearance before the ICC
Credit: ICC-CPI via Flickr

Alfred Yekatom, the first person to be transferred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in connection with the Court’s investigation into crimes committed in the Central African Republic (CAR) since 2012, made an initial appearance before the Court’s Pre-Trial Chamber II on November 23. [ICC Press Release: Alfred; FIDH] Mr. Yekatom is alleged to have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity between December 2013 and August 2014 in the context of the CAR’s ongoing conflict between the Seleka and the Anti-Balaka armed groups. [ICC Press Release: Yekatom] Yekatom is accused of having commanded an anti-balaka group that carried out killings, torture, forced displacement of Muslim civilians and looting and destruction of Muslim homes and places of worship, in western CAR. CAR authorities delivered Yekatom to the ICC on November 17 in compliance with the ICC’s November 11 warrant for his arrest. [ICC Press Release: Situation] On April 30, 2019, the Court will hold a hearing to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to support the allegations against him and, if so, to transfer his case to the Trial Chamber. [ICC Press Release: Yekatom]

Read more

ICC Seeks Victim Participation in Palestine Situation

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda
Credit: ICC via Flickr

Earlier this month, the International Criminal Court (ICC) pre-trial chamber ordered the ICC to establish a system of disseminating public information to and conducting outreach activities with the affected communities and victims of the situation in Palestine, a situation currently undergoing preliminary examination at the Court. The decision recognizes victims’ right to be heard in the context of the ICC’s work, and requires that outreach activities explain the ICC’s jurisdiction with regards to the situation in Palestine; provide information on the Court, including on the role of victims at each stage of proceedings; and respond to victims’ concerns. See ICC, Situation in the State of Palestine, ICC-01/18, Decision on Information and Outreach for the Victims of the Situation, 13 July 2018, paras. 14-16. The pre-trial chamber’s order marks the first time that the Court has promoted information and outreach activities as early as the preliminary examination stage. [Al Jazeera]

Read more

U.S. Supreme Court Limits Corporate Liability for Human Rights Abuses

Arab Bank, the defendant in Jesner v. Arab Bank
Credit: jo.schz via Flickr

On April 24, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Jesner v. Arab Bank that foreign citizens cannot sue foreign corporations for civil damages in U.S. federal courts for serious violations of international law, such as torture or extrajudicial killings. See Jesner et al. v. Arab Bank, PLC, No. 16–499, slip op. (April 24, 2018). The case was brought against Arab Bank by victims of several terrorist attacks occurring in Israel and the occupied territories. See id. at 1. The plaintiffs alleged that Arab Bank supported numerous terrorist attacks, including those that harmed the victims, by knowingly providing financial services to terrorists, such as accepting deposits it knew were donations used to fund the attacks and pay money to the families of suicide bombers. See id. at 1-3. The plaintiffs brought their case under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), which provides that United States federal courts may hear cases, brought by non-nationals, of tort committed in violation of international law. See id. at 1-2. The ATS is an exercise in universal civil jurisdiction, as it extends domestic judicial jurisdiction over actions that occurred abroad to foreign plaintiffs; it has historically been a means for non-U.S. citizens to seek redress for serious human rights violations committed outside of the U.S., although the Jesner decision and previous rulings limit the scope of the statute. See, e.g., Jesner, No. 16–499, slip op. at 1; Filártiga v. Peña-Irala, 630 F.2d 876 (2d Cir. 1980). Notably, the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum limited the scope of the ATS to cases that touch and concern the United States with sufficient force to overcome a presumption against the U.S. extending jurisdiction extraterritorially. See Kiobel et al. v. Royal Dutch Petroleum et al., 569 U.S. 108 (2013); Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, 542 U.S. 692 (2004). International human rights bodies disagree over whether States must exercise universal civil jurisdiction over specific human rights abuses, mainly torture, that occurred abroad and by a foreign defendant. [IJRCSee Naït-Liman v. Switzerland [GC], Judgment of 15 March 2018; CAT, General Comment No. 3 (2012), UN Doc. CAT/C/GC/3, 13 Dec. 2012, paras. 22, 26.

Read more

European Court Delivers Landmark Judgment on Universal Jurisdiction & Torture

European Court of Human Rights
Credit: Adrian Grycuk via Wikimedia Commons

On March 15, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) issued a landmark decision finding that States are not required to allow victims of torture to sue perpetrators in civil proceedings, in the absence of criminal proceedings, for compensation when the act of torture occurred outside of the territory of the State and the perpetrators are not nationals and are domiciled abroad. See ECtHR, Naït-Liman v. Switzerland [GC], no. 51357/07, ECHR 2018, Judgment of 15 March 2018, paras. 97, 217. Accordingly, the ECtHR Grand Chamber held that States are not obligated under international law to exercise universal civil jurisdiction over acts of torture. See id. at para. 203. Universal civil jurisdiction is the power of a domestic court to resolve claims for monetary compensation without there being any connection between the State where the case is brought and the underlying facts of the case. See id. at para. 177. Although the ECtHR recognized that States were obligated to exercise universal criminal jurisdiction over acts of torture, the ECtHR found that there was no similar obligation for civil claims that are wholly separate from a criminal proceeding. See id. at para. 97. This decision diverges from the position taken by the United Nations Committee against Torture (CAT) and various international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists, Redress Trust, and the World Organization Against Torture. See id. at paras. 52-53, 161, 167-68. The CAT maintains that States are obligated to award reparations for acts of torture, even if the torture occurs outside of the territory of the State, and to ensure that civil liability and redress is “available independently of criminal proceedings.” See id. at paras. 52-53, 161, 167-68; CAT, General Comment No. 3 (2012), UN Doc. CAT/C/GC/3, 13 Dec. 2012, paras. 22, 26. Read more

Pardon of Former Peruvian President Fujimori Raises Legal Questions

President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski
Credit: Cobot156 via Wikimedia Commons

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), two United Nations special rapporteurs, and one UN working group recently condemned Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski’s decision to issue a humanitarian pardon on December 24, 2017 to former President Alberto Fujimori, who was convicted and sentenced in 2009 to 25 years in prison for murder, kidnapping, and crimes against humanity during his presidency; the IACHR and the UN human rights experts question whether the decision meets international human rights legal requirements, and asserts that it undermines the efforts of victims and witnesses who brought Fujimori to justice. [IACHR Press Release; OHCHR Press Release; HRW: Pardon] See Resolución Suprema No. 281-2017-JUS (2017) [Spanish Only]. The pardon, issued officially for humanitarian reasons due to Fujimori’s health, absolves Fujimori of his convictions and releases him from his sentence. [IACHR Press Release] Peru is obligated under international human rights law to investigate alleged rights violations and punish perpetrators, and not to implement pardons or amnesty laws that undermine the rights to a fair trial and to judicial protection. [IACHR Press Release; OHCHR Press Release]

Some Peruvians and UN experts believe that the pardon was politically motivated because of a potential connection between Fujimori’s pardon and the cancelled impeachment proceedings against President Kuczynski; the impeachment proceedings were dropped just three days after the impeachment hearing of President Kuczynski, who survived a removal vote with the help of a 10-person coalition that crossed party lines to abstain from the removal vote, led by Fujimori’s son Kenji Fujimori. Seven of the 10 lawmakers communicated with Fujimori leading up to the vote. [Reuters; HRW: Pardon; OHCHR Press Release] President Kuczynski’s decision triggered street protests and unrest in Peru. [OHCHR Press Release; Guardian: Pardon] Read more

ICTY Delivers Ruling on Two Landmark Cases Before Shutting Its Doors

Genocide memorial near Srebrenica
Credit: Michael Büker via Wikimedia Commons

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has issued judgments in its final two cases ahead of the tribunal’s scheduled closure in December. On November 22, 2017, the ICTY – the ad hoc tribunal established by the United Nations to address war crimes committed after 1991 in the territory of the former Yugoslavia – convicted and sentenced Ratko Mladić, also known as the “Butcher of Bosnia,” to life imprisonment for genocide, crimes against humanity, and other war crimes. [ICTY Press Release: Mladić; HRW] In the wake of his conviction, the international human rights community has shown strong support for the Mladić decision, with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein hailing the judgment as a momentous conviction and describing Mladić as the “epitome of evil.” [OHCHR Press Release] On November 29, 2017, the ICTY issued a judgment on appeal in the case Prosecutor v. Prlić et al., which will be the Tribunal’s final decision. [ICTY Press Release: Prlić et al.] The Appeals Chamber upheld the sentences of the six individuals, who remain convicted of crimes against humanity, violations of the laws or customs of war, and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions for crimes committed against Bosnian Muslims. [ICTY Press Release: Prlić et al.] The ICTY, which has its seat in The Hague, Netherlands, will formally close on December 31, 2017 after 24 years of operation and concluding proceedings for 161 accused. [ICTY Press Release: Prlić et al.] See ICTY, Key Figures of the Cases. Read more

UN Committee Considers State Officials’ Immunity for Grave International Crimes

United Nations General Assembly hall
Credit: UN Photo/Sophia Paris

The Sixth Committee – an intergovernmental committee that considers legal questions in the United Nations General Assembly – finished late last month its consideration of a draft article that asserts State officials do not have immunity from the prosecution of crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, crimes of apartheid, torture, and enforced disappearance in a foreign criminal jurisdiction; the debate arose from a draft article from the International Law Commission (ILC), a group of international legal experts who prepare draft conventions and codify existing rules of international law. The ILC will put forth the draft article as a recognition of existing State practice or as a proposal for a future international convention. See ILC, About the Commission. [UN Press Release: Debate Ends] The Sixth Committee debated the contents of the ILC’s most recent report released during its 69th Session, which included the ILC’s draft of its provisionally adopted Article 7 on international crimes for which immunity from rationae materiae jurisdiction (subject matter jurisdiction) does not apply. See International Law Commission, Report of the International Law Commission at its sixty-ninth session, UN Doc. A/72/10, 4 August 2017, para. 140.

The draft of Article 7 originated from the report of a special rapporteur – a member of the ILC – appointed to address the issue of State officials’ immunity. Some ILC members expressed disagreement with the special rapporteur’s position that States’ practice supports the finding of exceptions to State officials’ immunity – the substance of Article 7. The ILC provisionally adopted the text with only 21 of the 34 members voting in favor of it. [UN Press Release: Immunity] The Sixth Committee’s two-day discussion on the draft law mirrored many of the arguments that were debated within the ILC before its provisional adoption of Article 7, namely whether the basis for the Article is supported by customary international law, whether procedural requirements may address impunity, the balance between prosecution of State officials and State sovereignty, and the ILC’s view of Article 7’s function as either the codification of existing law or the development of law. See Report of the International Law Commission, at VII.C., 180–183. [UN Press Release: ImmunityRead more

« Older Entries