THE BIG PIVOT: ICC Prosecutor Khan’s not so slight, Afghan slight sleight of hand

In preparing to resume my investigation, if authorisation is granted, I am cognizant of the limited resources available to my Office relative to the scale and nature of crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court that are being or have been committed in various parts of the world. I have therefore decided to focus my Office’s investigations in Afghanistan on crimes allegedly committed by the Taliban and the Islamic State – Khorasan Province (“IS-K”) and to deprioritise other aspects of this investigation. Karim A. A. Khan QC, 27 September 2021

ICC Prosecutor Karim A. A. Khan, Q.C.

In a well-crafted public relations message, ICC Prosecutor Karim A. A. Khan QC keeps hope alive for the Afghan victims of Article 5 crimes and atrocities suffered over the past twenty years. What a relief. Hooray!

But hold on. Continue reading “THE BIG PIVOT: ICC Prosecutor Khan’s not so slight, Afghan slight sleight of hand”

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Ecocide: the environmental crime of crimes or ill-conceived concept?

… man has consciously and unconsciously inflicted irreparable damage to the environment in times of war and peace.  Richard A. Falk, 1973

And will continue to inflict irreparable harm. Environmental degradation and climate change are coming to the forefront of global anxieties with reports of CO2 emissions hitting record levels in 2020 (with a minor dip thanks to COVID), 178 million hectares of forest – an area the size of Libya – being deforested since 1990 (and continuing with impunity), and oil pipelines bursting, leaking into the sea, and causing massive damage to coastal communities (while underneath, 70% of the earth’s coral reefs are at risk due to long-term threats). More desertification, drought, fires, and floods are only expected – at least by the majority of 1.2 million people surveyed worldwide by the United Nations Development Programme who consider that climate change is a global emergency. And this is just peace time pollution. Aside from the obvious environmental damage caused during conflicts, War Junk – weapons and military materials such as landmines, cluster munitions, chemical and radiological weapons – also leaves environmental legacies post-conflict, restricting the use of agricultural land and polluting soil and water sources with explosives and deadly chemicals such as TNT, adamsite, Clark I and Clark II, tabun, and mustard gas, just to name a few.

Claiming that “scientific evidence points to the conclusion that the emission of greenhouse gasses and the destruction of ecosystems at their current rates will have catastrophic consequences for our common environment,” the Independent Expert Panel for the Legal Definition of Ecocide (IEP) assembled by the Stop Ecocide Foundation proposes that the Rome Statute be amended to include the crime of ecocide. Bold, impressive, even alluring. But is the proposed crime necessary, is the definition of it sound, and more pragmatically, how realistic is it that the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) will adopt a fifth international core crime – even if the proposed Article 8 ter crime of ecocide is considered necessary and sound? Continue reading “Ecocide: the environmental crime of crimes or ill-conceived concept?”

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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 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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Book Review: SHOCKING THE CONSCIENCE OF HUMANITY

SHOCKING THE CONSCIENCE OF HUMANITY – Gravity and the Legitimacy of International Criminal Law, by Margaret M. deGuzman, Oxford University Press, 2020, 217 pages, £80.00/$90.00

Global adjudicative authority is the authority that national and supranational institutions exercise when they adjudicate crimes on behalf of the global community…. [T]he moral justification for global prescription is the global community’s interest in preventing harm to human dignity. Global prescription is thus justified for all non-minimal harms to human dignity, and is most strongly legitimate for those in which the global community has the greatest interest. In contrast, the legitimacy of global adjudication depends not only on the strength of the global community’s interest in adjudication, but also on whether that interest outweighs any countervailing interests. (p. 98)

Prosecutors in national jurisdictions exercise their authority on what to charge or not charge, based on several variables, with gravity not playing much of a role – at least not in the context understood and applied in charging international crimes. Gravity is more likely to come to the fore at sentencing. It makes sense. The legislature criminalizes conduct based on societal/community norms. Thus, whether a particular set of circumstances should be prosecuted generally does not factor gravity into the mix, as such, when the evidence supports a reasonable assessment that the requisite elements in establishing the commission of a crime are met. Put differently, if in the prosecutor’s opinion, the evidence is qualitatively sufficient to meet his or her burden of proof in establishing that a particular individual committed crimes, save for ancillary factors that militate against prosecution, the prosecutor is expected to charge and prosecute that individual. I am oversimplifying for the sake of brevity, but the point is that in national prosecutions, “gravity” plays a lesser role on whether to charge or not. Even then, usually, there are criteria that guide prosecutors and judges – as readily apparent when fashioning sentences. Continue reading “Book Review: SHOCKING THE CONSCIENCE OF HUMANITY”

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MISAPPREHENDING THE ESSENCE OF NO CASE TO ANSWER & WHY IT IS INTRINSIC TO ICC TRIAL PROCEEDINGS: interpreting an accused’s fair trial rights through an inquisitorial victim-oriented humanitarian-centered prism  

In my view, the rights of these 700 plus victims to express their views and concerns, as well as their rights to truth, justice and reparations, and to have an effective remedy, were at stake in this case. Having placed emphasis only on the rights of the accused, Judges Henderson and Tarfusser prematurely terminated the proceedings, without providing reasons. In doing so, they did not seem to have considered the rights of the victims. I recall the human rights are interconnected and indivisible, and there is no one human right that is more important than another. In my view, in no case can the rights of two accused be preferred over the rights of more than 700 victims without more, especially through a procedure that is not envisioned in the Statute, while the rights of the victims are duly established under the Statute.… [E]ven if Judges Henderson and Tarfusser, being minded to acquit, had concerns as to the liberty of the accused, there was no need to terminate the trial prematurely as the Trial Chamber had been seized of submissions on the continued detention of the accused and the judges could have granted provisional release. Instead, Judges Henderson and Tarfusser decided not to entertain such submissions and rather acquit the accused, halfway through the trial, under the no case to answer motions.

Dissenting Opinion of Judge Luz del Carmen Ibáñez Carranza

 

Occasionally a circumstance comes along when not correcting the record, when not speaking truth to power, when remaining silent out of fear of ruffling powerful feathers, is as uncomfortable as trekking in shoes a half-size too small, with a stone, or worse yet, a sharp thorn, in them. Here is one of those occasions. Aside from finding Judge Luz del Carmen Ibáñez Carranza’s understanding of no case to answer procedure at the ICC flawed and ill-conceived, as a defence lawyer I find her above quoted dissenting remarks shocking, even scandalous. So, let me bring some clarity on the seemingly pesky no case to answer procedure by discussing its purpose and why under the adopted ICC regime it is not only appropriate, but indispensable. I will then deal with Judge Ibáñez Carranza’s comments which seemingly suggest that judges should, in some instances, apply a utilitarianism test when deciding to what extent they should afford an accused their right to the presumption of innocence and whether, for the sake of the victims, the prosecution should be given a pass when unable to meet its burden of proof. Continue reading “MISAPPREHENDING THE ESSENCE OF NO CASE TO ANSWER & WHY IT IS INTRINSIC TO ICC TRIAL PROCEEDINGS: interpreting an accused’s fair trial rights through an inquisitorial victim-oriented humanitarian-centered prism  “

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BORIS JOHNSON’S IMPRUDENT LETTER: irresponsibly fostering misperceptions

The election of two highly qualified UK nationals, Judge Joanna Korner QC and Karim Khan QC, to the roles of Judge and Prosecutor to the ICC respectively, will help serve reform. … As a founder member of the ICC, we have been one of its strongest supporters and continue to respect the independence of the institutions. We oppose the ICC’s investigation into war crimes in Palestine. We do not accept that the ICC has jurisdiction in this instance, given that Israel is not a party to the Statute of Rome and Palestine is not a sovereign state.

Beneath his frat-boy antics, disheveled looks, and bumbling affectations, lies a cunning, calculating, consummate political operator par excellence – even if many of his policies and positions reflect short-term, myopic, tactical jockeying and half-baked ideas. Boris Johnson may have written a (mediocre at best) biography of Winston Churchill, but Winston Churchill he is not. He also seems without a clue as to the concepts of judicial and prosecutorial independence, and that words coming from a Head of State, when imprudent, ill-conceived, and injudicious, create perceptions. Negative ones.

On 9 April 2021, the UK Prime Minister sent a letter to the Conservative Friends of Israel, noting its concerns about the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) recent ruling on the Palestine situation where the Pre-Trial Chamber found that the ICC has jurisdiction to investigate crimes committed in Palestine (see my recent review here). Understandably, the ruling on the Palestine situation has caused a fair amount of consternation or euphoria, depending on where one lines up on the issues involved. The UK had its chance to make amici submissions before the Pre-Trial Chamber. A ruling was issued. To now publicly pressurize the ICC to reverse course (no other way to view Johnson’s remarks), is pure, naked, crude political interference. Continue reading “BORIS JOHNSON’S IMPRUDENT LETTER: irresponsibly fostering misperceptions”

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Book Review: Imagining Justice for Syria

Imagining Justice for Syria, by Beth Van Schaack, Oxford University Press, 2020, 476 pages, £64

It is tempting to conclude that our multilateral institutions do not have the capacity to address tragedies like Syria. However, the fault is not necessarily in the institutions themselves but with those who have the power to act. The law exists, as does a cadre of professionals with the necessary skills and a ready set of justice models; what is lacking is the ability to achieve a political consensus on a path forward, or a willingness to proceed without such a consensus, with respect to situations like Syria, where there has been no regime change, where atrocities are ongoing, and – most importantly – where the great powers find themselves at odds with each other. The long-standing weakness in our system of international justice is made all more pronounced by the situation in Syria.

It has been over a decade since we last went about our daily lives without having to hear about, or see on the news or social media, atrocities being committed in Syria. Just reflect on all that has happened to you since 2011 (what you accomplished at university or work, the events in your personal life, your travels, your joys and your losses), and just imagine what your life would have been like were you to trade all of those memories and experiences for a decade of living in Syria, under or in flight from the Assad Regime, gassed and poisoned, terrorized by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), deprived of virtually every human right and human dignity, constantly under fear or on the run, watching loved ones and friends being tortured, maimed, killed, living in refugee camps, crossing dangerous lands and waters in search for safety only to find closed border-crossings by hostile governments, and so on. Continue reading “Book Review: Imagining Justice for Syria”

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THE ICC PROSECUTOR’S GUIDELINES ON PLEA AGREEMENTS – let’s make a deal    

The Prosecutor should exercise particular caution before agreeing to seek the withdrawal or amendment of charges which have been traditionally under-prosecuted, such as crimes against or affecting children, sexual and gender-based crimes, attacks against cultural, religious, historical and other protected objects, as well as attacks against humanitarian and peacekeeping personnel.

Guidelines for Agreements Regarding Admission of Guilt, October 2020, para. 20

Some four years after Al Mahdi’s guilty plea was accepted based on an agreement reached with the Prosecutor for a nine-year sentence for one count of destruction of cultural heritage (mausoleums and mosques in Timbuktu) – and no other charges such as killings for which there seemed to be sufficient evidence to charge (see my prior posts here and here) – the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) issued its Guidelines for Agreements Regarding Admission of Guilt (Guidelines) on 12 November 2020. Why now? It is not as if plea agreements have been a much sought-after commodity by the OTP. Lamentably.

The Guidelines are somewhat wanting. More of a basic policy paper for internal use and a PR piece for external purposes, the Guidelines provide vague “guidance” on whether, when, under what circumstances and subject to which terms the OTP will enter into plea agreements. Rather than drilling down on the specifics of the Guidelines (a pithy seven-pages), I will be providing some practical considerations and guidance for a more robust practice in negotiating plea agreements. But first, some prefatory remarks on why “plea bargaining” is misunderstood and gets a bad rap at the international(ized) criminal tribunals and courts.  Continue reading “THE ICC PROSECUTOR’S GUIDELINES ON PLEA AGREEMENTS – let’s make a deal    “

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