Category Archives: International Criminal Court

ICC Reverses Jordan Non-Cooperation Referral for Failure to Arrest Al-Bashir

Al-Bashir case: ICC Appeals Chamber hearing submissions on legal matters raised by Jordan
Credit: ICC via Flickr

On May 6, 2019, the International Criminal Court (ICC) reversed an earlier decision seeking intergovernmental follow-up on Jordan’s failure, in March 2017, to arrest then-Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, whom the ICC seeks to prosecute for alleged crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide in Darfur. In a split decision, the Appeals Chamber confirmed that Jordan had violated its international obligations when it failed to arrest Al-Bashir, but concluded that the Pre-Trial Chamber II had improperly exercised its discretion in referring Jordan for non-cooperation because it had not treated South Africa in the same way and because Jordan had sought to consult the Court on whether arresting Al-Bashir would conflict with its other international obligations, specifically regarding respect for Head of State immunity. See ICC, Prosecutor v. Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir, ICC-02/05-01/09-397, Judgment in the Jordan Referral Re Al Bashir Appeal, 6 May 2019, para. 2. Two judges dissented on that final point, arguing that the referral was proper. See ICC, Joint Dissenting Opinion of Judge Liz del Carmen Ibanez Carranza and Judge Solomy Balungi Bossa, ICC-02/05-01/09-397-Anx2, 6 May 2019.

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ICC Decides Not to Investigate War Crimes in Afghanistan Conflict

International Criminal Court 
Credit: ICC via Flickr

On April 12, 2019, the three judges of the Pre-Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court (ICC) unanimously declined to authorize the Prosecutor’s request to conduct an investigation into the situation in Afghanistan. [ICC Press Release] The investigation was set to examine alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity related to the conflict in Afghanistan, and to examine the responsibility of the Taliban and other armed groups, and of Afghan and United States armed forces. See ICC, Situation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, ICC-02/17-33, Decision Pursuant to Article 15 of the Rome Statute on the Authorisation of an Investigation into the Situation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, 12 April 2019, paras. 15, 18-24. Despite the Pre-Trial Chamber’s determination that the Prosecutor’s request was credible and met the jurisdictional and admissibility requirements, the Pre-Trial Chamber rejected her request to proceed because it determined the investigation would not serve the “interests of justice” given the limited prospects of a successful investigation that would lead to prosecutions. See id. at paras. 87, 96. Many observers have described the Court as caving to political pressure from the U.S., while others view the decision as a pragmatic use of the Court’s resources. [Amnesty International; Just Security] The Pre-Trial Chamber’s decision came shortly after the U.S. revoked the ICC Prosecutor’s visa to the U.S. and threatened to sanction the Court should it pursue cases against American citizens. [IJRC] The Office of the Prosecutor indicated it “will further analyse the decision and its implications, and consider all available legal remedies” in response. [ICC Statement]

Procedural Background

A preliminary examination on Afghanistan initially opened in 2006. See Situation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, 12 April 2019, at para. 44. However, the Prosecutor has faced a many obstacles since then, primarily as a result of the lack of cooperation from the authorities under investigation—a reason cited by the Pre-Trial Chamber for rejecting this investigation. See id.

In November 2017, the Prosecutor submitted a request for authorization to initiate an investigation proprio motu pursuant to Article 15 of the Rome Statute. See Situation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, 12 April 2019, at paras. 2, 5, 29. The Prosecutor’s requested authorization to investigate the alleged crimes under the ICC’s jurisdiction that have taken place in Afghanistan since May 1, 2003 (the date that the Rome Statute entered into force in Afghanistan), and alleged crimes that “have a nexus to the armed conflict” but have been committed outside of Afghanistan, in the territory other States parties to the Rome Statute, since July 1, 2002. See id. at para 5.

The Prosecutor provided evidence indicating that since June 19, 2002, the country has been in a state of non-international armed conflict between various armed groups against both the Afghan government and international armed forces supporting the government. See id. at para. 16. Since that time, the evidence shows that in the context of the thousands of civilian deaths that have taken place, many are likely to constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes. See id. at para. 15. The request classifies the crimes into three categories according to the alleged perpetrators: (1) the Taliban and other non-state armed groups, (2) the Afghan armed forces, and (3) U.S. armed forces and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). See id. at paras. 17, 18-24. A fourth category was included addressing “other acts by members of international armed forces,” which held out the possibility of uncovering crimes resulting from military operations or torture committed by international armed forces other those falling within the other three categories, but indicated that more information is required to determine whether these events constitute crimes under the Court’s jurisdiction. See id. at para. 25.

A significant number of victims submitted representations to the Pre-Trial Chamber complimenting the information provided by the Prosecutor. See id. at para. 28. In total, the Pre-Trial Chamber received 794 representations on behalf of 6,220 individuals, 1,690 families, 26 villages, one institution, and millions of victims. See id. at para. 27.

The Pre-Trial Chamber’s Analysis

In deciding whether or not to authorize the Prosecutor’s request proprio motu, the Pre-Trial Chamber must make a determination as to whether there is a “reasonable basis” to initiate an investigation and whether the jurisdictional requirements are met before authorizing the investigation. See id. at para. 29. This scenario is distinct from situations in which a State or the United Nations Security Council refers a situation in that the Pre-Trial Chamber exercises heightened discretion, ensuring that all requirements set out in Article 53(1) of the Statute are met. See id. para. 30. In addition to determining whether a “reasonable basis” exists, the Pre-Trial Chamber will consider whether an investigation would “serve the interests of justice,” which requires a consideration of the gravity of the crimes alleged, the interests of the victims, and the feasibility of the investigation under the circumstances. See id. at paras. 33-35.

Jurisdiction & Admissibility

Before addressing these issues, the Pre-Trial Chamber determined whether the crimes alleged fall within the jurisdiction of the Court and whether the request met the admissibility requirements laid out in the Rome Statute. The Pre-Trial Chamber acknowledged that nearly all of the information the Prosecutor provided was based on credible sources and was well-corroborated, stating that “there is reasonable basis to believe that the incidents underlying the Request have occurred.” See id. at paras. 46, 48. It further found that the jurisdictional requirements of ratione loci (the crimes alleged occurred in the territory of a State that is party to the Rome Statute or has accepted the Court’s jurisdiction), ratione materiae (the crimes alleged constitute crimes within the Court’s jurisdiction), and ratione temporis (the crimes alleged occurred after the Rome Statute came into force in the State) had all been met. See id. at paras. 45, 49, 60, 87. With respect to admissibility, the Pre-Trial Chamber was satisfied that the two-fold assessment required under Article 17 of the Rome Statute had also been met: whether the States involved are not or have not conducted their own judicial proceedings on these issues (complementarity), and whether the crimes alleged meet the Court’s severity threshold (gravity). See id. at paras. 71, 75, 77, 79, 86.

Interest of Justice

The final area of assessment the Pre-Trial Chamber undertook was to determine whether under Article 53(1)(c) there are “substantial reasons to believe that an investigation would not serve the interests of justice.” See id. at para. 87. The Pre-Trial Chamber noted that without the existence of a clear definition or other statutory guidance on this matter, it would make the consideration based on the “overarching objectives” of the Rome Statute—that the investigation would aid in “the effective prosecution of the most serious international crimes, the fight against impunity and the prevention of mass atrocities.” See id. at para. 89. It then stated that an investigation could only be considered to serve the interests of justice if it appears likely to result in a legitimate investigation and prosecution of cases within a suitable time frame. See id.

Here the Pre-Trial Chamber stated that three issues were of particular importance to this assessment in the Afghanistan investigation. See id. at para. 91. First, the Pre-Trial Chamber concluded that the amount of time that had passed between when most of the crimes were committed and the submission of the request would make it unlikely that viable evidence would be available. See id. at para. 93. Second, the Pre-Trial Chamber determined that changing political situations in the relevant States, including in States not parties to the Statute, make the prospect of cooperation from the governments involved and the surrender of suspects substantially unlikely. See id. at para. 94. Finally, the Pre-Trial Chamber noted that given the realities of the situation, the investigation would be costly and that this would detract from resources that could be allocated to investigations more likely to result in prosecutions. See id. at para. 95.

Thus, the Pre-Trial Chamber concluded that the potential for a successful investigation was significantly limited and that there was little chance that the objectives of the victims would be furthered by continuing. See id. at para. 96. It also indicated that pursuing an investigation that did not fulfill these aims and would possibly incite “hostility vis-a-vis the Court” and undermine its overall credibility. See id. It ultimately decided the investigation into the situation in Afghanistan would not serve the interests of justice and for that reason, declined the request. See id.

International Reaction

The Pre-Trial Chamber’s rejection of the investigation has been particularly controversial given the implication of U.S. forces in the crimes outlined. The Prosecutor’s information, based primarily on the findings of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee and the U.S. Department of defense, provided evidence that U.S. forces and the CIA had committed war crimes including torture and cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and rape and other forms of sexual violence “pursuant to a policy approved by the US authorities.” See id. 24.

Human rights experts and legal scholars have denounced the decision to stop the investigation. Human Rights Watch’s Param-Preet Singh said in a statement that the “ICC judges’ decision to reject an investigation in Afghanistan is a devastating blow for victims,” and that “[i]t sends a dangerous message to perpetrators that they can put themselves beyond the reach of the law just by being uncooperative.” [NPR] Biraj Patnaik, of Amnesty International stated that “the decision ultimately will be seen as a craven capitulation to Washington’s bullying and threats,” further weakening the Court’s credibility. [Amnesty International] Legal scholars have expressed their skepticism regarding the Court’s reasoning with respect to “the interest of justice” determination. [Opinio Juris]

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 States’ human rights obligations, see IJRC’s Afghanistan Factsheet and United States Factsheet. To stay up-to-date on international human rights law news, visit IJRC’s News Room and subscribe to the IJRC Daily.

U.S. Resists International Oversight, Reduces IACHR Funding over Reproductive Rights

Secretary Pompeo Delivers Remarks on the Release of the 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices

In another effort to both curtail international human rights oversight and advance a regressive view of reproductive rights, the United States Department of State indicated in late March 2019 that it would reduce its financial support for the region’s human rights bodies, which have urged States to repeal laws that criminalize abortion without any exceptions. [Washington Post; PAI] U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced that the U.S. would reduce its regular contribution to the Organization of American States (OAS), a regional intergovernmental organization with 35 Member States, in an effort to target the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM). See U.S. Department of State, Remarks to the Press (Michael R. Pompeo, 26 March 2019); Letter from Lankford et al., U.S. Senators, to Michael Pompeo, U.S. Secretary of State, United States Senate (Dec. 21, 2018).

The announcement follows other recent efforts by the U.S. to undermine international human rights protections or oversight, including revoking the International Criminal Court prosecutor’s visa to enter the U.S., and efforts to weaken the recommendations on women’s reproductive health and rights during the 63rd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women. [Reuters: Prosecutor; The Guardian] Read more

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.

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ICC Acquits Former Ivory Coast President of Crimes Against Humanity

Laurent Gbagbo at the International Criminal Court
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). Read more

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]

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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]

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ICC Orders Reparations for Destruction of Timbuktu Cultural Sites

The former site of a mausoleum in Timbuktu that was destroyed in 2012
Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

On August 17, 2017, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a Reparations Order in the case of Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, who in September 2016, upon pleading guilty to the destruction of 10 religious and historic sites in Timbuktu, Mali, was sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment. [ICC Press Release; IJRC] In its Reparations Order, Trial Chamber VIII of the ICC found Al Mahdi liable for 2.7 million euros (or approximately 3.18 million USD) in both individual and collective reparations for the community affected by the 2012 attacks, which occurred in the context of Mali’s internal armed conflict. [ICC Press Release] The Court, emphasizing the cultural and sentimental value of the destroyed property, ordered reparations for three categories of harm: damage to the targeted buildings, resulting economic loss, and moral harm. [ICC Press Release] The reparations are designed to rehabilitate the attacked sites, address the community’s financial losses, and potentially fund symbolic measures, such as memorials, to serve as public recognition of the harms incurred by the Timbuktu community. [ICC Press Release] Given Al Mahdi’s indigence, the Court encourages the Trust Fund for Victims (TFV), an agency that will implement the order, to supplement the reparations to the extent possible. [ICC Press Release; Guardian] Read more

UN Reports Civilian Casualties, Rights Abuses Remain High in Afghanistan

Tadamichi Yamamoto, head of UNAMA, at the UN Security Council
Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

On July 17, 2017, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released its mid-year report on the situation of civilians in Afghanistan, revealing that the level of civilian casualties remains high. [UNAMA Press Release] UNAMA confirmed a total of 5,243 civilian casualties (1,662 deaths and 3,581 injured) from January 1 to June 30, 2017, which represents a decrease of less than one percent from the same period in 2016, but reported an increase in deaths. See UNAMA, Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: Mid-Year Report 2017 (2017), at 3. The number of women and children killed and injured has increased this year, despite a decline in women and children casualties in 2016. [UNAMA Press Release] Civilian casualties in the first half of the year were primarily the result of anti-government forces’ use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), such as suicide bombs, in civilian-populated areas. See UNAMA, Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: Mid-Year Report 2017, at 3–4. Medical facilities and schools continue to be targeted, impeding Afghans’ access to health care and education. See id. at 13, 17–19.

In consideration of its findings, UNAMA recommends that anti-government forces stop targeting civilians, that government forces stop using weapons such as mortars and rockets that can have devastating effects in civilian areas, and that international militaries support and train Afghanistan’s national army, among other recommendations. [UNAMA Press Release] In a statement recognizing the high rates of death and injury recorded in the report, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights noted that the statistics on casualties do not depict the full extent of the loss and suffering, such as psychological trauma and displacement. [OHCHR Press Release] Afghanistan is a State party to the Rome Statute, Geneva Conventions, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and, therefore, the State must refrain from targeting civilians during non-international armed conflict and respect and protect the right to life.

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