EARLY RELEASE: Has IRMCT President Carmel Agius moved the goalposts? (Part 2)

[W]hile it has been consistently emphasized that the two-thirds point is a mark of eligibility and not an automatic right to release, the Mechanism has inherited a long standing practice of granting requests for early release upon completion of two-thirds of a sentence absent particular circumstances that warrant against it. This practice was initiated by Judge Claude Jorda, during his tenure as President of the ICTY, and continued by subsequent Presidents of the ICTY thereafter.

President Meron in Corić, para. 38

In Part 1 I promised to settle the question of whether International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) President Carmel Agius has moved the goalposts and perhaps even demanded confessions of guilt from convicted persons by adopting additional factors for early release. To answer this question, we must first look at the history of early release at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), and the IRMCT, and how the jurisprudence has evolved over the past 20 plus years. In this post I will deal with the practice directions. I will then end the series in the next post by examining a number of cases, which should provide a good basis to draw some conclusions and some best practices. Continue reading “EARLY RELEASE: Has IRMCT President Carmel Agius moved the goalposts? (Part 2)”

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EARLY RELEASE: Has IRMCT President Carmel Agius moved the goalposts? (Part 1)

1967 Parole Hearings Man: Ellis Boyd Redding, your files say you’ve served 40 years of a life sentence. Do you feel you’ve been rehabilitated?


Red: Rehabilitated? Well, now let me see. You know, I don’t have any idea what that means.


1967 Parole Hearings Man: Well, it means that you’re ready to rejoin society…


Red: I know what you think it means, sonny. To me it’s just a made up word. A politician’s word, so young fellas like yourself can wear a suit and a tie, and have a job. What do you really want to know? Am I sorry for what I did?


1967 Parole Hearings Man: Well, are you?


Red: There’s not a day goes by I don’t feel regret. Not because I’m in here, or because you think I should. I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I want to try and talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone and this old man is all that’s left. I got to live with that. Rehabilitated? It’s just a bullshit word. So you go on and stamp your form, sonny, and stop wasting my time. Because to tell you the truth, I don’t give a shit.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

A sentence imposed by some of the international(ized) criminal tribunals or courts, including the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT), rarely reflects the years a convicted person will end up serving, just as eligibility for early release rarely corresponds with early release. Yet convicted persons, confusingly, consider early release upon eligibility as a given – an entitlement, as if it were a right. You cannot blame them. As they see it (as do many of us on the defense), baked into the sentence is the factor of eligibility for early release after serving the mandatory portion of the sentence, which, at the IRMCT, is 2/3 of the sentence imposed.

Early release is neither novel nor unique practice at the IRMCT. First adopted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) despite the absence of an express statutory provision, it is a time-tested and well-established practice in domestic penal systems. Continue reading “EARLY RELEASE: Has IRMCT President Carmel Agius moved the goalposts? (Part 1)”

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Book Review: EXTRAORDINARY JUSTICE – Law, Politics, and the Khmer Rouge Tribunals

EXTRAORDINARY JUSTICE – Law, Politics, and the Khmer Rouge Tribunals, by Craig Etcheson, Columbia University Press, 2020, 488 pages, $65.00

My central thesis in this work is that the law is at base an ideological enterprise, an ideology we can generally label as “legalism.” But – and this is crucial – the law is not a single, unified ideology. Rather, there are several different approaches to the concept of law, and we can see the animating principles underlying those different approaches in the way that war crimes tribunals are negotiated, operated, and concluded. I call these three approaches to law classical legalism, strategic legalism, and instrumental legalism. All three are long-standing, widespread, potent, and enduring. And the outcome of struggles among proponents of these different approaches determine much about how any particular war crimes tribunal ultimately unfolds.

The establishment of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) is a complex story, beginning in the late 1970s and early 1980s as the atrocities taking place during the Democratic Kampuchea (DK) regime (1975-1979) became known. A show trial took place in August 1979. Pol Pot and my client, Ieng Sary, were held to account for all that had occurred. After the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement – which led to probably the fairest election in Cambodia’s history in 1993 – bringing to book the leaders of the DK regime and other responsible high-level Khmer Rouge cadre started to gain some momentum. Eventually, on 6 June 2003, an Agreement was hammered out between the Cambodian government, controlled by the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), and the United Nations (UN).

Getting to this Agreement, what the parties (purportedly) understood to have agreed to, what emerged from this Agreement – i.e., the procedural framework of an international(ized) criminal tribunal or specialized chamber within a national court system, its jurisdictional contours and applicable law, its hybridity of personnel, personality, and their interactions (national and international) in making the ECCC happen, and how it has operated – is what EXTRAORDINARY JUSTICE – Law, Politics, and the Khmer Rouge Tribunals is all about. Continue reading “Book Review: EXTRAORDINARY JUSTICE – Law, Politics, and the Khmer Rouge Tribunals”

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ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda decides to investigate the situation in the Philippines: was it appropriate to do so two days before the end of her tenure?

As I stated many times before, the Court today stands at a cross-roads in several concurrent situations, where the basis to proceed is legally and factually clear, but the operational means to do so are severely lacking. It is a situation that requires not only prioritization by the Office, which is constantly being undertaken, but also open and frank discussions with the Assembly of States Parties, and other stakeholders of the Rome Statute system, on the real resource needs of the Court that will allow it effectively to execute its statutory mandate. There is a serious mismatch between situations where the Rome Statute demands action by the Prosecutor and the resources made available to the Office. As the end of my term approaches, I reiterate my call for a broader strategic and operational reflection on the needs of the institution, and what it is intended to achieve – in short, an honest reflection on our collective responsibility under the Rome Statute to advance the fight against impunity for atrocity crimes. The victims of these egregious crimes deserve nothing less.  —  Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, 14 June 2021

Former ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda

Before the virtual ink was dry on the press release, questions were being raised as to whether it was appropriate for ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to forward a request to investigate the situation in the Philippines pursuant to Article 15 of the Rome Statute just two days before the end of her tenure. The request was actually filed on 24 May 2021, but for some, even that was too close for comfort – believing that such a momentous decision (making a request to investigate a situation) should be left for her successor, Mr. Karim A. Khan, QC. The short answer is yes, Prosecutor Bensouda acted appropriately. Here is why. Continue reading “ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda decides to investigate the situation in the Philippines: was it appropriate to do so two days before the end of her tenure?”

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Book Review: ADAPTING INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL JUSTICE IN SOUTHEAST ASIA – Beyond the International Criminal Court

ADAPTING INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL JUSTICE IN SOUTHEAST ASIA – Beyond the International Criminal Court, by Emma Palmer, Cambridge University Press, 2020, 325 pages, $85.00

Principles of sovereignty, related fears of international interference or selective prosecutions, a preference for domestic proceedings, the influence of other states such as the United States, and the existence of other priorities – including development and threats to stability arising from armed conflict – are all features of the debate about international criminal justice in Southeast Asia, although they may also be relevant beyond the region. (p. 237)

When I first arrived in Cambodia in 1994 to train human rights advocates to act as public defenders for the Cambodia Defenders Project, followed by a year of training judges and prosecutors (1995-1996), foreigners working at NGOs and international organizations were beating the drums of accountability – raising the prospect of bringing to trial those responsible for the atrocities that had occurred before, during, and after the Democratic Kampuchea (DK) period. The NGO industry was flourishing. It was like the wild West with experts, much like out-of-town hired guns, offering their services – much of which I would say was half-baked at best. I rarely heard local Cambodians calling for trials or justice; the primary, if not exclusive, preoccupation was having a roof over one’s head, food on the table, and schooling for the children.

Back then Cambodia was much different, though some things, as in the rule of law, have remained the same. There were only a handful of Cambodian lawyers (mainly from abroad), no bar association, a medley of applicable criminal codes and procedures, an untrained and unsophisticated judiciary (ditto for prosecutors), ethically challenged police (highly corrupt), and an exhausted yet hopeful population looking to promising days ahead. Continue reading “Book Review: ADAPTING INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL JUSTICE IN SOUTHEAST ASIA – Beyond the International Criminal Court”

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THE STL BILLION DOLLAR RULE 61 PROCEEDING: a charade of consequence to ICL 

Even if your goose habitually lays golden eggs, it will still be cooked. — Neil Gaiman

It was not curiosity that killed the goose who laid the golden egg, but an insatiable greed that devoured common sense. — E.A. Bucchianeri

In my previous post I discussed how the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) has squandered not just time and money, but also the good will of its funders who bought into the idea of establishing an international(ized) ad hoc tribunal to effectively prosecute domestic crimes, and in so doing, benefit International Criminal Law (ICL) by adding to its list of crimes under Customary International Law (CIL), the crime of terrorism.

I may be oversimplifying things. But when you cut through the fog of how and why the STL was established (aside from expected knee-jerk reactions at the domestic level by interested/subjective parties such as the victims’ family, friends, and political allies) it is what it is. Less charitably, it would appear to have been a vanity/ego project of the late professor, turned judge, Antonio Cassese, who aside from trying to solidify into ICL his concoction of Joint Criminal Enterprise (JCE) – now discredited, in part, due to his (and his colleagues’ who went along) reliance on bogus supporting jurisprudence – wished to further place his mark in ICL history by heralding a new crime in CIL, to wit: terrorism. I’m calling it bluntly as I see it. Continue reading “THE STL BILLION DOLLAR RULE 61 PROCEEDING: a charade of consequence to ICL “

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Happy STL Begging Games! And may the odds be in justice’s favor

‘Mr. Limbkins, I beg your pardon, sir! Oliver Twist has asked for more!’


‘FOR MORE’ said Mr. Limbkins. ‘Compose yourself, Bumble, and answer me distinctly. Do I understand that he asked for more, after he had eaten the supper allotted by the dietary?’


‘He did, sir,’ replied Bumble.


‘That boy will be hung’ said the gentleman in the white waistcoat. ‘I know that boy will be hung.’


Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens

Due to the severe financial situation currently facing the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), on 3 June 2021, Trial Chamber II canceled the commencement of the Ayyash trial scheduled for 16 June 2021. It also suspended all decisions on filings presently before it, and any future filings, until further notice. Mr. Salim Jamil Ayyash is charged with five counts, including acts of terrorism in relation to three attacks against prominent Lebanese political figures, Mr. Marwan Hamade, Mr. Georges Hawi, and Mr. Elias El-Murr, carried out on 1 October 2004, 21 June 2005, and 12 July 2005 respectively, connected with the terrorist attack that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Poor thing, the STL. The inevitable has arrived. After years of being on an extravagantly gluttonous diet, the STL, with cap in one hand and bowl in the other, is forced to beg for more funds so it can carry on. Whether the STL should have been set up in the first place (I think not) is debatable, though it cannot complain that it has not had sufficient time and resources to carry out its mandate.

What does not seem debatable, however, is its failure to live up to the hype of those who promoted its creation and the expectations of those funding it. With the deepest of sympathies to the victims, the STL has proved to be an expensive, unrewarding, and ill-conceived boondoggle. Perhaps this is a watershed moment, an exquisite time to re-think whether the STL should declare victory and close its doors (revisionist legacy narrative to follow). Continue reading “Happy STL Begging Games! And may the odds be in justice’s favor”

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Book Review: JUSTICE IN EXTREME CASES – Criminal Law Theory Meets International Criminal Law

JUSTICE IN EXTREME CASES – Criminal Law Theory Meets International Criminal Law, by Darryl Robinson, Cambridge University Press, 2020, 304 pages, £85.00

Law is an enterprise of reasoning, and thus I believe that we must pay careful attention not only to the legal conclusions reached, but also to the structure of arguments employed. A judgement might employ problematic reasoning and still reach a defensible result. Nonetheless, the reasoning matters, because replication of faulty structure of arguments will eventually produce faulty outcomes. Our reasoning is our “math,” and systemic distortions in our math will eventually throw off our calculations in significant ways. (p. 54)

Some twenty years ago when I found myself at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), I was rather puzzled. I expected (not sure why) to have judges on the bench who, like myself, had cut their teeth in criminal courts, and who, of course, would also have a deep appreciation of international criminal law (ICL) as well as human rights and humanitarian law. I say this because in some of the legal reasonings I noticed how certain fundamental principles were being loosely interpreted to achieve or explain a pre-ordained decision. Eventually it dawned on me. A judge’s understanding of and experience with criminal law (or lack thereof) prior to donning the crimson robe informed their approach to applying fundamental principles intrinsic to criminal law and ICL.  Continue reading “Book Review: JUSTICE IN EXTREME CASES – Criminal Law Theory Meets International Criminal Law”

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The ICC OTP’s Draft Policy on Situation Completion: rounding out the policy trilogy

The Prosecutor’s decision whether to prosecute a case, or otherwise how to manage it, will be informed by a rigorous process of internal peer review of the evidence, including the participation of senior members of the Office assigned to other situations as well as relevant subject-matter specialists (law, analysis, sexual and gender-based crimes, children, etc.).  (para. 28)

Nearly two decades after the International Criminal Court (ICC) was founded, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) circulated its Draft Policy on Situation Completion. It “completes a trilogy of policy papers describing the life cycle of the Office’s operations in a situation,” to be read along with the other two policy papers, the Policy Paper on Preliminary Examinations (2013) and the Policy paper on case selection and prioritisation (2016). It runs just over 21 pages. Less is generally more, but in this case, less is because more (as in substance) is wanting.

Some initial observations. Continue reading “The ICC OTP’s Draft Policy on Situation Completion: rounding out the policy trilogy”

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The ICC OTP’s Draft Policy on Cultural Heritage: think boldly, worry about specifics later

The Office applies a holistic approach to the consideration of crimes against or affecting cultural heritage at all stages of its operations. They may constitute crimes under the Statute or otherwise be relevant, for example, in the assessment of gravity, which takes into account the scale, nature, manner of commission and impact of the crimes; in the assessment of the contextual elements of the crimes; as evidence in establishing the intent or motivation of the perpetrators; and during sentencing. The Office aims at considering the broadest scope of criminality, taking guidance from both the specific and general provisions of the Statute while recalling the principle of legality requirements. This will enable it to present the multifaceted nature and impact of crimes against or affecting criminal heritage, both tangible and intangible. (para. 30)

A policy, like a compass, helps set the course of direction. Unlike a GPS navigation system, however, a compass offers no guidance on available routes in reaching a desired destination. Neither guarantee an arrival.

So just how much stock should be given to a policy? It depends. As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Meaning, what is the genuine level of commitment in pursuing the policy, and even if the level of commitment is high, how implementable is it? Can and will the goods be delivered? Continue reading “The ICC OTP’s Draft Policy on Cultural Heritage: think boldly, worry about specifics later”

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