BOOK REVIEW: International Criminal Tribunals and Domestic Accountability – In the Court’s Shadow

International Criminal Tribunals and Domestic Accountability – In the Court’s Shadow, Patryk I. Labuda, Oxford University Press, 2023, 368 pages, £110

Complementarity has emerged as a byword for international criminal law’s preoccupation with domestic accountability.… But the word complementarity, derived from the Rome Statute, designates not merely the ICC’s institutional design vis-à-vis states. More importantly, it has come to embody diverse assumptions, expectations, and beliefs about how international and domestic actors should interact with one another in the anti-impunity project. One especially prominent idea is that international tribunals exist not just to hold trials but also to cast a shadow over states and to serve as a ‘catalyst’ for the domestic rule of law. (p. 258)

Complementarity, positive complementarity, and to a lesser extent, court shadow or shadow of the court are words and phrases of malleable and nebulous substance. Their invocation inspires as much as they perplex. Injected into the lexicon of international criminal law practice and procedure, these words and phrases have become ubiquitous, if not indispensable, when considering the works of the International Criminal Tribunals (ICTs). Lately, positive complementarity – the notion that the International Criminal Court (ICC) should be engaging national jurisdictions in prosecutions of international crimes and encouraging states to prosecute cases domestically when possible (shifting enforcement of international criminal law from ICTs to domestic courts)  seems to be dominating at conferences and legal writings, often referenced in regards to the court’s shadow (a multi-definitional phase, ranging from positive affects to swords of Damocles).

When the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) were established by the United Nations Security Counsil (UNSC) with primacy as to who would be prosecuted, it was understood that once these courts ceased to operate, anti-impunity trials would have to continue through domestic courts. Of course, it was also understood that before cases under ICTY and ICTR jurisdiction could be transferred to or allowed to proceed in domestic courts, significant legal and judicial reforms would be required.  Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: International Criminal Tribunals and Domestic Accountability – In the Court’s Shadow”


ICC Prosecutor Withdraws Charges Against Mokom: Commendable, Yet Questions Abound

Code of Conduct for the Office of the Prosecutor

Chapter 3. Specific duties

Section 1. Objective truth-seeking

49.  In compliance with the duty to establish the truth under article 54(1)(a) of the Statute, the Office shall investigate incriminating and exonerating circumstances equally in all steps involved in the planning and conduct of investigative and prosecutorial activities. In particular, Members of the Office shall:

(a) conduct investigations with the goal of establishing the truth, and in the interests of justice;

(b) consider all relevant circumstances when assessing evidence, irrespective of whether they are to the advantage or the disadvantage of the prosecution;

(c) ensure that all necessary and reasonable enquiries are made and the results disclosed in accordance with the requirements of a fair trial, whether they point to the guilt or the innocence of the suspect.

50.  Staff members shall report to the Prosecutor concerns which, if substantiated, would tend to render a previous conviction made by the Court unsafe, bring the administration of justice into disrepute or constitute a miscarriage of justice.

It should be an article of faith that before the International Criminal Court’s Office of the Prosecutor (ICC OTP) seeks an arrest warrant on a person, it has reliable, authentic, and relevant evidence to achieve a conviction. Put differently, the prosecution must not only have evidence to overcome the low hurdle of sufficient evidence to establish substantial grounds to believe that the person committed each of the crimes charged for confirmation, but evidence that would: (a) overcome any challenges raised in a motion for a directed verdict (judgment of acquittal) at the end of the prosecution’s case-in-chief; and (b) secure a conviction at the end of trial, having met its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Nothing is guaranteed. The evidence gathered by the prosecution between the arrest and trial can alter or even be lost – as witnesses become unavailable or with the discovery of new evidence that was previously unknown or unavailable. Of course, with the opportunity to collect additional evidence during this interim period, the prosecution can and usually does enhance its case. Continue reading “ICC Prosecutor Withdraws Charges Against Mokom: Commendable, Yet Questions Abound”



It is possible to grieve and honor the hundreds of Israeli women, children, and men killed or injured in last Saturday’s brutal attack without simultaneously devaluing the lives, suffering and basic humanity of Palestinians.

Khaled Elgindy, Senior Fellow Middle East Institute.

News cycles shift attention.

Russian rockets brazenly demolished Hroza, a Ukrainian village on 5 October 2023. Hroza was not a legitimate military target. It posed no military threat and was of no military significance. 50 civilians were killed, hundreds more wounded. One of the deadliest attacks of unarmed, unthreatening, uninvolved citizens, it got worldwide attention. The attack was of a harmless village with harmless men, women, children, and elderly, away from the front, and far removed from any military objective. With no disclaimers of this being the handiwork of an undisciplined and uncontrolled rogue unit, or of a barrage of rockets gone astray, or of a mistaken target, this has all the hallmarks of a calculated, deliberated, and targeted attack to kill Ukrainian civilians. Outcries of genocide followed. As hard as it may be to shock the conscience after witnessing on media outlets unrelenting and indiscriminate Russian attacks, this one seemed different – maybe a game-changer. Until two days later.

Hamas’ merciless and vicious and deliberated killing and kidnapping spree of innocent Israeli civilians shifted the world’s attention. Just as the Hroza rocket attack was seemingly designed to eliminate a part of the Ukrainian people because of their ethnicity, so too the attacks by Hamas, especially at Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Kibbutz Beeri, Kibbutz Nir Oz and the Nova Music Festival, were seemingly designed to eliminate a part of the Israeli people because of their ethnicity and religion. Continue reading “RESPONDING TO ACTS OF GENOCIDE WITH CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY IS NOT THE ANSWER”


Palestine has responsibilities just as any other State Party: it can’t have it both ways

The Chamber notes that Palestine acceded to the Statute in accordance with the procedure defined in article 125(3) of the Statute. On 2 January 2015, Palestine submitted its instrument of accession to the Statute, and became a State Party to the ICC on 1 April 2015, following the entry into force of the Statute in its territory.1

Palestine cannot have it both ways. As a State Party, it cannot expect the ICC to investigate crimes alleged to have been committed against Palestinians by Israel (through the Israeli Defense Forces), yet not be held to account for crimes alleged to have been committed by Hamas against Israelis.   Continue reading “Palestine has responsibilities just as any other State Party: it can’t have it both ways”

  1. Situation in the State of Palestine, ICC-01/18-143 05-02-2021, Decision on the ‘Prosecution request pursuant to article 19(3) for a ruling on the Court’s territorial jurisdiction in Palestine’, 5 February 2021.[]

AN ARAB SPRING REVIVAL: Sharing adversarial techniques with Tunisian criminal defense lawyers for advancing their clients’ fair trial rights and greater access to justice

Take courage friends. The way is often hard, the path is never clear, and the stakes are very high. Take courage. For deep down, there is another truth: you are not alone.

Rev. Wayne B. Arnason

Exquisite timing.

Michael G. Karnavas at IBJ AAJT Training in Tunis

I was returning to The Hague from Tunis following a three-day training of Tunisian lawyers (29 September to 1 October), when I read that family members of seven imprisoned Tunisian opposition figures submitted a communication to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate political persecution and human rights violations by President Kais Saied’s administration – not that I expect the ICC’s Office of the Prosecution (OTP) to do anything soon, if it decides to do anything at all. Rare is the occasion where a communication is acted upon, even when meritorious. The OTP can only do so much. And if perhaps it decides to do something, expect a frustratingly long preliminary examination, which, for all intents and purposes, can be nothing more than internet surfing and looking at open-source material. Even if the matter progresses, the journey leading to potential charges takes years. Communications, however, do serve a purpose beyond their intended design – they bring international attention, occasionally contributing to a tempering by those who could find themselves in the OTP’s crosshairs.

I was in Tunis playing a small part in the International Bridges of Justice’s (IBJ) Advancing Access to Justice in Tunisia (AAJT) initiative, funded by the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDF), and hosted by the Tunisian National Bar Association (Ordre National des Avocats de Tunisie) and Tunisian Association of Young Lawyers (Association Tunisienne des Jeunes Avocats). Continue reading “AN ARAB SPRING REVIVAL: Sharing adversarial techniques with Tunisian criminal defense lawyers for advancing their clients’ fair trial rights and greater access to justice”


BOOK REVIEW – HELENA STAR – an Epic Adventure Through the Murky Underworld of International Drug Smuggling

HELENA STAR an Epic Adventure Through the Murky Underworld of International Drug Smuggling, Stewart Riley, Robert D. Reed Publishers, 2021, 228 pages, $17.95

I was never known for having a great bedside manner when meeting with clients. I wasn’t going to be their social worker. Some attorneys in my view get too close to their clients. I tried to avoid that. I was not their friend. I was their lawyer. Becoming good friends with one’s client eliminates perspective and may color one’s objectivity. I was not about to invite a client home for dinner while his future was in my hands, even my white-collar clients. 

Under cover of dark on 4 April 1978, the Joli, a sleek electric blue 61-foot racing yacht with swollen sails gracing its 90-foot masts is rapidly, perhaps too rapidly, headed towards the nearly exhausted 161-foot freighter, the M/V Helena Star, in the high seas of the North Pacific, some 70 miles off the coast of Washington State and British Columbia. As the skipper of the Joli approached the Helena Star, it becomes obvious that the purpose of the rendezvous – offloading “Colombian Gold” – is too dangerous at that location; calmer waters were needed to compensate for the incompatibility of the two vessels for offloading the precious and very illegal cargo. Nearly two weeks later, the US Coast Guard would board and seize the Helena Star about 140 miles from the coast of Washington State laden with 37 tons of marijuana, valued at the time at around $74 million.

Enter Stewart Riley for the defense for Helena Star Captain Roman Rubies. The subtitle may seem like a plot-spoiler, but this little gem is about much more – an intriguing story that entertains as much as it instructs us defense lawyers. Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW – HELENA STAR – an Epic Adventure Through the Murky Underworld of International Drug Smuggling”


A CLARION CALL TO THE ICC COUNSEL SUPPORT SECTION: training for counsel and assistants should be practical and skill-developing

You have to know the why in order to know the when,

But if you don’t know the how

Knowing the why and when won’t help you.

Training Moto, Michael G. Karnavas

Reality Check

Article 7(2) of the ICC Code of Professional Conduct for Counsel (Code) presumes that list counsel possess a high level of knowledge of the applicable law and a high level of skills required for the adopted party-driven, adversarial hybrid procedure, and thus must “participate in training initiatives required to maintain such competence.” This presumption is fanciful. Not all list counsel are sufficiently competent – let alone to a high level – simply because they have managed to get themselves on the list. Counsel cannot “maintain a high level of competence” unless they are already competent to a high level. Query whose responsibility is it to ensure that at least those counsel appearing in proceedings before the ICC have a high level of competence. In no small measure I suggest it is the ICC Registrar, through the Counsel Support Section (CSS), which is responsible for setting the standards for the admission of counsel. Continue reading “A CLARION CALL TO THE ICC COUNSEL SUPPORT SECTION: training for counsel and assistants should be practical and skill-developing”


THE DILIGENCE THAT IS DUE: ICC Counsel Ethics Training

In the nature of law practice, … conflicting responsibilities are encountered. Virtually all difficult ethical problems arise from conflict between a lawyer’s responsibilities to clients, to the legal system and to the lawyer’s own interest in remaining an ethical person while earning a satisfactory living. The Rules of Professional Conduct often prescribe terms for resolving such conflicts. Within the framework of these Rules, however, many difficult issues of professional discretion can arise. Such issues must be resolved through the exercise of sensitive professional and moral judgment guided by the basic principles underlying the Rules. These principles include the lawyer’s obligation zealously to protect and pursue a client’s legitimate interests, within the bounds of the law, while maintaining a professional, courteous and civil attitude toward all persons involved in the legal system.

Preamble to the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct

On 21 September 2023 I gave a presentation on Professional Conduct at the  Hybrid Training for ICC List Counsel, organized by the ICC Counsel Support Section (CSS) and sponsored by the European Commission.  It is always daunting to stand before fellow counsel to try to engage them in a discussion on matters of ethics, professional responsibility, and the disciplinary measures and consequences that result when we fall short of what is expected of us, or when we defend ourselves against allegations of ethical breaches. Also, there is only so much that can be covered in a couple of hours. Ethics training should be conducted on a regular basis. Might it also be prudent for ICC CSS to consider making it mandatory to take a modest number of hours of continuing legal education on ethics per year in order to be in good standing and remain on the List of Counsel? I think so.

With the Code being a skimpy 14 pages of 46 concise articles, anyone on the list could go over it while having a cup of coffee, even before it gets cold. Not to mention, one would think that expressing an interest in getting on the List of Counsel and eventually having a client would motivate one to read the Code, along with the Rome Statute and ICC Rules of Procedure and Evidence. So, rather than do an article-by-article commentary, I highlighted aspects of the code to show how, in no small measure, we are guided by the code in our day-to-day activities in representing a client before the ICC. Much of what I covered also applies to other international(ized) criminal tribunals, and except where the Code might conflict with one’s national code, to representing clients in criminal matters before domestic courts. Here is the gist of my presentation. Continue reading “THE DILIGENCE THAT IS DUE: ICC Counsel Ethics Training”


Book Review: Kennedy’s Avenger – Assassination, Conspiracy, and the Forgotten Trial of Jack Ruby,

Kennedy’s Avenger – Assassination, Conspiracy, and the Forgotten Trial of Jack Ruby, Dan Abrams & David Fisher, Hanover Square Press, 2022, 400 pages, $17.99

May I thank this jury for a verdict that is a victory for bigotry.…

I want to assure you we will appeal this to a court where there is justice and impartiality. This is one of the most shocking things I’ve seen in my lifetime. We have a little bit of Russia…. The festering sore that is now the most shocking place in the nation. If the venomous infection spreads throughout the country, God save us all!!!…. I hope the people of Dallas are proud of this jury … this is a kangaroo court, a railroad court and everybody knew it…. We are back a thousand years. The jury has made this city a shame forever… You talk of the shame of Dallas; now you see it in full glory.

I can’t shake hands with you, judge. You’ve got blood on your hands.

Melvin Belli, on hearing the verdict in The State of Texas v. Jacob Rubenstein, (p. 349)

At 8:22 p.m., after hearing 66 witnesses over a 10-day period, including complex testimony from a dozen or so medical and mental health experts, the jury begin hearing closing arguments. Melvin Belli, lead defense lawyer for Jacob Rubenstein alias Jack Ruby, began his closing argument at midnight. Minutes after 1:00 am Judge Joseph Brantley Brown, Sr., gave final instructions. The jury of eight men and four women, selected over 14 intense days of voir dire and a fair amount of crystal gazing, deliberated for two hours and nineteen minutes later that morning.

In the jury room, with little discussion or debate, the jurors had agreed unanimously that Jack Ruby was guilty of murder. They agreed unanimously he was sane when he shot Lee Harvey Oswald. They agreed unanimously that he was sane at the present time. They agreed unanimously that he had committed murder with malice. When they began deliberating the sentence, however, the initial vote was nine to three for the death penalty. (p. 351)

Death it was.

Ruby shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald who shot US President John F. Kennedy.

As detectives escort a handcuffed Oswald through the basement of the Dallas Municipal Court Building, dozens of journalists, anxiously waiting to get a glimpse of Oswald, shout questions. Ruby, a Dallas striptease nightclub owner, is in the scrum. With neither finesse nor concealment, Ruby pulls out his gun and fires, letting Oswald have it in the gut.

The shooting is captured in film, still photos, and national television. Next to the shooting of President Kennedy two days earlier on 22 November 1963 (also captured on national television), this is the most celebrated news event in Dallas, a.k.a. Big D. Those who do not witness it live on television later see it again and again and again on the news.

Conspiracies to this day run amok. Was Ruby Oswald’s collaborator? Was he a pinko commie (communist) like Oswald? Did Ruby kill Oswald to silence him? Was Ruby part of or connected to the mafia underworld that might have been behind President Kennedy’s assassination?

The actus reas was never seriously in dispute. Ruby’s means rea was. Did he act with malice? If yes, he faced death. If not, he faced a maximum of five years in prison. Death is different. Good, qualified, experienced defense lawyers tend to play it safe when imposing the death penalty is in the jury’s (or judge’s) hands. With suicide, accident, natural causes, and self-defense not available as defenses, Ruby had two viable defenses: acting without malice – killing Oswald in a moment of insanity or passion (acting in the heat of passion), and insanity – not appreciating the difference between right and wrong when he shot Oswald, not being capable of understanding the consequences of his actions. The former a partial defense, the latter a complete (affirmative) defense. Continue reading “Book Review: Kennedy’s Avenger – Assassination, Conspiracy, and the Forgotten Trial of Jack Ruby,”


Book Review: Raylan, Desert Star, The Boys From Biloxi, and Golden Age Bibliomysteries

Raylan, Elmore Leonard, William Morrow, 2012, 228 pages, $15.53

Desert Star, Michael Connelly, Little-Brown, 2022, 395 pages, $10.99

The Boys from Biloxi, John Grisham, Penguin Random House, 2022, 464 pages, $18.00

Golden Age Bibliomysteries, Otto Penzler, editor, Penzler Publishers, 2023, 426 pages, $17.95

Being at a beach without a good crime novel is like showing up to a party in no mood for partying.

Whether pulp fiction, short crime stories, or who-done-it mysteries, nothing better vacates the mind while on vacation from the drudgery, grind and toll of plowing through disclosure material, expert reports, witness statements, or the ever so très fashionable open-source material with all its foundational challenges.

Occasionally (or not so occasionally) we indulge in the guilty pleasure of reading a fast-paced page-turner during our busy schedules when we should be working or getting a proper rest before a busy day ahead. This pleasurable diversionary frolic is frequently followed with ex post facto lament, much like that experienced after decadently enjoying a nutrition-less, calorie-dense, artery-clogging, fast-food favorite. Not so when we leave for the beaches or the mountains or wherever you escape to when court is in recess or when vacation leave arrives with all the promises of rest, relaxation, and revelry. Continue reading “Book Review: Raylan, Desert Star, The Boys From Biloxi, and Golden Age Bibliomysteries”