About Michael G. Karnavas

photogallery6-michael-courtroom-18-jul-12-3Michael G. Karnavas is an American trained lawyer. He is licensed in Alaska and Massachusetts and is qualified to appear before the various international tribunals, including the International Criminal Court (ICC). Residing and practicing primarily in The Hague, he is recognized as an expert in international criminal defence, including, pre-trial, trial, and appellate advocacy.  Click here to visit Michael’s web site.

Michael G. Karnavas lectures students at the Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies on the role of defence counsel:


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News and Events

  • On 29 June 2023, Michael G. Karnavas was a member of a panel on legal professional ethics before the international criminal tribunals, hosted in London by the International Committee of the Inner Temple.
  • On May 8 to May 9, 2023, Michael G. Karnavas taught at a Training of Trainers and Advocacy Training Program organized by International Bridges to Justice (IBJ) in Gaziantep, Turkey, for Syrian criminal defense lawyers living and working in northwest Syria, notably, in and around Aleppo.
  • On 9 and 10 January 2023, Michael G. Karnavas conducted a virtual training for Chinese lawyers, at the Defender Advocacy Workshop, hosted by the University of Tokyo, Research Center for Sustainable Peace.  The topics of his presentations were:  Building Rapport and Trust with Clients from Vulnerable Populations through the Initial Client Interview; and Skills in Cross-Cultural Representation.

  • On 7 November 2022, Michael G. Karnavas participated in a discussion on transitional justice in Myanmar, focusing his remarks on the legacy of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (“ECCC”) and the role of the defence in hybrid international(ized) criminal tribunals.
  • In July 2020, the Oxford University Press published Codes of Conduct for Counsel in International Criminal Proceedings, by Michael G. Karnavas, as part of the Max Planck Encyclopedia of International Procedural Law. The volume provides a detailed overview of the codes of conduct at international criminal tribunals and the challenges counsel face in meeting their ethical and professional obligations.
  • Prof. Dr. h.c. Wolfgang Schomburg

    Michael G. Karnavaswrote a chapter entitled The Serendipitous Nature of the ICC Trial Proceedings Risks the ICC’s Credibility (pp.: 202–247), in Justice Without Borders a collection of essays on international criminal law, European criminal law and international cooperation, honoring Judge Wolfgang Schomburg on the occasion of his 70th birthday on 9 April 2018.

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THE DELAY IN PRONOUNCING THE AL-HASSAN TRIAL JUDGMENT – Inquiring minds want to know more!!!

Justice delayed is justice denied.

William E. Gladstone

Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.

Louis Brandeis

The written decision under Article 74 of the Statute shall be delivered within 10 months from the date the closing statements end.

ICC Chambers Practice Manual, Seventh Edition (2023), para. 88.

On 6 December 2023, Trial Chamber X of the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an order scheduling the pronouncement of its trial judgment in the Al Hassan case for 14:00 on Thursday, 18 January 2024 — over a month ago. Closing arguments had ended on 25 May 2023. With plenty of recesses during the trial proceedings, 10 months to render a decision (as required by the Chambers Practice Manual) is more than reasonable – assuming the Chamber is organized and efficient. Not being rocket science, and with plenty of best practices developed over the decades since the first ad hoc and successive international(ized) criminal tribunals and courts (ICTs) were established, drafting a judgment within this period should be no challenge. Continue reading “THE DELAY IN PRONOUNCING THE AL-HASSAN TRIAL JUDGMENT – Inquiring minds want to know more!!!”


War Crimes and the Meaning of Genocide: A conversation with war crimes lawyer Michael Karnavas.

Michael G Karnavas spoke with The Diplomat’s Luke Hunt about the meaning of genocide and the legal precedents established in Cambodia, including the relatively new charge of aggression, which is reserved for crimes committed by those holding the highest levels of power.

Listen to the interview here.

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REALITY CHECK: Conference on special international tribunal for the crime of aggression against Ukraine exposes fatal defects

There is a difference between two competing groups as to the nature of the institution that should be set up – on the one side led by Ukraine but with strong support from Baltic countries and Poland and various other countries, a full on international criminal tribunal with exclusive competence in relation to the crime of aggression to be set up in The Hague à la Nuremberg – and on the other side the G7 led in particular (by no particular order), the UK, the US, and France who have sort of given a thumbs up to the idea but want uh an institution which is sort of more hybrid and in particular which is not going to set a clear precedent in relation to future tribunals of this kind being set up for other P5 members, their minds having been concentrated by the prospect that if you create a special criminal tribunal for one permanent member of the Security Council today why can’t you do it for another one tomorrow.

Philippe Sands at the Conference on Special Tribunal for the crime of aggression against Ukraine, London, 1 February 2024.

On 1 February 2024, the London-based independent human rights NGO Justice and Accountability for Ukraine (JAFUA) – “which seeks to establish legal channels of accountability for violations of international law in Ukraine” – hosted a conference on establishing a special international tribunal for the crime of aggression. As argued, given the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) lack of jurisdiction over the crime of aggression with respect to the Russo-Ukrainian war, resulting in a supposed impunity gap, this special tribunal would be empowered to charge only this crime. Ostensibly, it would only try three individuals – Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Other crimes that may have been committed by them could be tried by the ICC – assuming, of course, they are ever arrested. Continue reading “REALITY CHECK: Conference on special international tribunal for the crime of aggression against Ukraine exposes fatal defects”


Cambodia Needs a Genocide Museum

Published in the Diplomat 2 February 2024

Cambodia Needs a Genocide Museum

By Michael G. Karnavas
February 03, 2024

An artistic rendering of the planned Sleuk Rith Institute, as envisioned by late architect Zaha Hadid. Credit: Image courtesy of DC-Cam

Continue reading “Cambodia Needs a Genocide Museum”



Even though I do not find it plausible that the military operation is being conducted with genocidal intent, I voted in favour of the measures indicated by the Court. To indicate those measures, it is not necessary for the Court to find that the military operation as such implicates plausible rights of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. My decision to vote in favour of the measures indicated rests on the plausible claims by South Africa that certain statements by Israeli State officials, including members of its military, give rise to a real and imminent risk of irreparable prejudice to the rights of Palestinians under the Genocide Convention (see paragraphs 50-52 of the Order).

Judge Georg Nolte, Declaration (para. 15)

The celebrated French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre is credited with having coined the incisive aphorism “Words are loaded pistols”. Like weapons, when hitting the intended target, words have the capacity to affect opinions and behavior. And like bullets, once they leave the chamber, once uttered and heard by the intended audience, they are irretrievable. Yes, they can be retracted and repackaged and recalibrated, followed by a contrite mea culpa or transparently trite excuse, but effectively the desired effect in uttering the words in the first place remains. Ominously, when words are uttered – intentionally, recklessly, or carelessly – by high-level officials and respected members of a community and revered military officers (whether active or retired), the potential to inspire, induce, and incite to act in a desired fashioned is rather high. Unintended interpretations of words can also lead to unintended greenlighting of impermissible actions, not to mention unavoidable implied impressions generally formed from actions followed from words. Continue reading “MY TAKE ON THE ICJ’S SOUTH AFRICA v. ISRAEL ORDER”



Heritage Destruction, Human Rights and International Law, edited by Amy Strecker and Joseph Powderly, Brill 2023, 502 pages, €216

If law mirrors the general norms of society, then the increasing recognition by international law can be read as a reflection of a general public consensus that finds heritage destruction unacceptable, even if violations occur. Yet, despite the proclamation of heritage destruction in situations of conflict as an international wrong, no such assertion can be made for the equivalent in peacetime. The most developed jurisprudence on cultural heritage destruction has been made in the context of international criminal law, yet conversely it is the area with the most limited conceptualization of cultural heritage. (p. 1)     


In Spring 2018, an international symposium on Heritage Destruction, Human Rights and International Law was held at Leiden University, funded by Leiden Global Interactions and the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for Global Heritage and Development. The hosts, Professor Amy Strecker of Sutherland School of Law and Joseph Powderly of Leiden University, with an impressive ensemble of academics with deep knowledge and practical experience in international cultural heritage law and heritage studies, examined various branches of international law understood to relate to heritage destruction from human rights perspectives during armed conflict and in peacetime. Among the questions explored were:

      • What is the level of state responsibility regarding heritage destruction in times of conflict and in peace?
      • What are the corresponding rights relating to cultural heritage and what are the recent developments in the field?
      • What is the appropriate level for balancing heritage protection imperatives with development and investment interests such as resource extraction or infrastructural projects?
      • Does the concept of universality continue to be useful in relation to cultural heritage?

The answers to these questions and more resulting from the symposium are found in Heritage Destruction, Human Rights and International Law, edited by Strecker and Powderly.





CONFRONTING COLONIAL OBJECTS: Histories, Legalities, and Access to Culture, Carsten Stahn, Oxford University Press, 2023, 556 pages, $180

Critics of restitution have challenged the turn to cultural justice based on the argument that atonement for the past may politicize material culture, detract from the original meaning of artifacts, or sensualize looted object to the detriment of less visible items.… Some of these risks may be mitigated through the application of transitional justice principles (e.g. historical truth-seeking access to justice, recognition of the harm, memory or non-repetition) to processes of restitution and return. They are inherently reflected in some reports and principles. (pp. 417-418)

Admittedly, my personal views on the return of cultural objects reflected in Part One are rather rigid: anything inappropriately or unlawfully taken must be returned when requested. Getting to Yes (the formula for a win-win outcome explicated by Roger Fisher and William Ury in their seminal book on negotiating), however, is not easy. The disputing parties generally must agree to an acceptable historical narrative that accurately reflects the provenance (chain of custody) and biography of the disputed cultural objects before considering/agreeing to return them (a feat in itself). One of the main stumbling blocks is the absence of clarity in the law. Which law applies? How far back does today’s law apply, and if not, then what? Can the original owner’s title claim based on heritage (I am mostly thinking of communities) trump domestic acquisition laws giving lawful title to a purchaser? Are there enforceable remedies? Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ON RETURNING CULTURAL OBJECTS & HERITAGE DESTRUCTION – PART TWO”




To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth.


When it comes to confronting historical facts of how colonial objects were taken – from marbles and statutes removed from ancient temples to religious and cultural artifacts taken as war booty or unrestrained rapaciousness or trickery or coercion, to grave robbing for ‘scientific’ reasons or for (curiosity) display – reversing Voltaire’s quote seems more appropriate. The dead are owed respect; the living the truth. With the truth the dead are not just honored, but culture and heritage pass on through memory, created and sustained. But whose truth? Whose historical facts? And what of cultural heritage? One overarching question that touches on both the return of claimed cultural objects found in museums and cultural heritage is who owns cultural objects or to whom they belong? This short series will attempt to address this and other relevant questions. It will do so by reviewing two recently published books. First, my take on the return of claimed cultural objects. Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ON RETURNING CULTURAL OBJECTS & HERITAGE DESTRUCTION – PART ONE”


SOUTH AFRICA’S ICJ APPLICATION: A convincing genocide claim or a compelling off-ramp for Israel (and cautionary refrain for the US)


South Africa is highly cognisant of the fact that acts of genocide are distinct from other violations of international law sanctioned or perpetrated by the Israeli government and military in Gaza — including intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population, civilian objects and buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science, historic monuments, hospitals, and places where the sick and wounded are collected; torture; the starvation of civilians as a method of warfare; and other war crimes and crimes against humanity — though there is often a close connection between all such acts. South Africa is also aware that acts of genocide inevitably form part of a continuum — as Raphael Lemkin who coined the term ‘genocide’ himself recognised. For this reason it is important to place the acts of genocide in the broader context of Israel’s conduct towards Palestinians during its 75-year-long apartheid, its 56-yearlong belligerent occupation of Palestinian territory and its 16-year-long blockade of Gaza, including the serious and ongoing violations of international law associated there,,,with, including grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and other war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, when referring in this Application to acts and omissions by Israel which are capable of amounting to other violations of international law, South Africa’s case is that those acts and omissions are genocidal in character, as they are committed with the requisite specific intent (dolus specialis) to destroy Palestinians in Gaza as a part of the broader Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group.

Application Instituting Proceedings (para. 2).

Relying on the Genocide Convention, South Africa in its Application Instituting Proceedings (SA Application) to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) seeks a finding of the existence of genocidal intent, and injunctive relief as provisional measures – an order requiring Israel to cease or limit its military operations in Gaza. I expected a cogent, balanced, and persuasive submission – to perhaps even be convinced since I’ve not seen evidence from which to conclude the existence of the requisite dolus specialis (genocidal intent). Disappointingly, the SA Application ignores or glosses over critical context as it relates to Israel’s right of self-defense – relevant to objectively assessing the SA Application. The legal analysis is also less than impressive. Suffice it to say, the facts as marshalled, and the arguments as crafted in the SA Application have not nudged me one iota towards the more vocal and ostensibly conformist assessment. I remain unmoved that a genocide, strictly in the legal sense, is ongoing in Gaza, just as I remain unpersuaded that the ICJ can order provisional measures which may infringe on Israel’s right of self-defense. Hence this post. Continue reading “SOUTH AFRICA’S ICJ APPLICATION: A convincing genocide claim or a compelling off-ramp for Israel (and cautionary refrain for the US)”


Book Review Series: Musings and meanderings from my 2023 reading explorations – Part 5

It was never my intention to be a reporter, a critic, an advocate. It was also never my intention to provide audiences with “everything” they needed to know about a place – or even a balanced or comprehensive overview. I am a storyteller. I go places, I come back. I tell you how the places made me feel.

Anthony Bourdain

I’m a criminal defense lawyer. I do some training and lecturing, and occasionally work on rule of law and development projects. I claim no particular expertise other than in my narrow field of work. I claim no Delphic insight on history, international relations, geopolitics, or on many of the areas that interest me. “All men by nature desire to know,” according to Aristotle. I know I do. So, I read, sometimes writing about what I read. My intention was never to be a book reviewer, a critic, a blogger. Like Anthony Bourdain, that wonderful, quirky, irreverent globetrotting chronicler, it has not been (nor will ever be) my intention to provide you “everything” you need to know about the books reviewed in this series or in previous posts (or future ones). I try to be balanced but by no means comprehensive. I try to convey how visiting a particular book made me feel, and in some small measure, vicariously take you, the reader, the audience, to places you may wish to visit. In this last post of the series, I will recommend some of the memorable books I read this year for pleasure and just to know. I have loosely categorized them with a brief commentary. Continue reading “Book Review Series: Musings and meanderings from my 2023 reading explorations – Part 5”