Category Archives: bashir

The EU supports Bashir’s arrest by South Africa… and get the law somewhat confused

The EU has just released a press statement supporting the idea that South Africa should arrest Bashir and send him to the ICC. The statement reads as follows:

Committed to preventing crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide, and to avoiding impunity for the perpetrators of such crimes, the EU confirms its continuing support for the ICC and its work.

Full cooperation with the ICC is a prerequisite for the Court’s effective functioning.

In accordance with established approach of the EU and its Member States, the EU expects South Africa, a founding State Party of the Court, to act in accordance with UN Security Council 1593, in executing the arrest warrant against any ICC indictee present in the country.

This press release shows some of the confusion on the applicable legal framework when it comes to the ICC and Security Council referrals. Indeed, a Security Council referral simply allows the Court to exercise jurisdiction in a given situation and from then on, it is the Rome Statute that kicks in. Therefore, if South Africa were to arrest and surrender Bashir (which I think it doesn’t have to as argued previously), it would be acting “in accordance” with the Rome Statute, not the UN Security Council Resolution. In fact, if you read the UNSC Resolution, it does not create any obligations for any State other than Sudan (whether it could in fact create obligations even for Sudan under the Rome Statute is another debate).

So, irrespective of the political dimensions of this situation, it seems that as usual, there is not much attention to being precise on the law…

Does South Africa have an obligation to arrest and surrender Bashir to the ICC? no

I’ve been unable to blog in the past few months due to work, but I could not avoid the ongoing story about Sudan’s Bashir current visit to South Africa for the AU summit and whether he will/should be arrested to be sent to the ICC. A few hours ago a South African judge ordered that Bashir not leave the country until it rules on whether to send him the The Hague. This is obviously a momentous decision politically, and will be even more so if he is indeed arrested.

What interests me here is the legal situation under international law and the Rome Statute (I should point out that I am not familiar with South African law and whether under domestic legislation there would be an obligation to arrest and surrender Bashir). In that respect, the twittosphere is replete with claims that South Africa is indeed under an obligation to arrest Bashir.

The ICC has said so much on a number of occasions. Regular readers of this blog will remember how in 2011, the ICC unconvincingly relied on a flimsy customary law argument to conclude that Malawi was under an obligation to arrest Bashir. In 2014, the ICC changed its approached and adopted a marginally more compelling argument based on the compulsory nature of Chapter VII resolutions and repeated it just a few days ago.

However, I think this is legally inaccurate, or at least not as clear as everybody says it is, as I argued in a paper that was just published in a new edited collection on the ICC (you can download the SSRN version here). I am not going to reproduce the whole argumentation here and invite you to read the paper.

The bottom line of my argumentation is that the fact that the situation of Darfur was referred to the ICC through a UNSC Resolution does not change the fact that the original source for the removal of immunity, if any, is the Rome Statute itself and more particularly its article 27. As a result, invoking chapter VII powers does not solve the problem that Sudan is not a party to the Rome Statute and has therefore not accepted the removal of Bashir’s immunity for the purposes of ICC prosecution. Moreover, Article 98 of the Rome Statute requires that existing rules of immunity under international law be respected when cooperating with the Court. As I believe, contrary to what some NGOs and some scholars would like us to think, that there still exists an absolute immunity for sitting heads of state under international law, even for international crimes, South Africa is barred from arresting Bashir.

As I note in my article, the question of immunities and the ICC, and more generally the question of immunities and international crimes, is a typical example of wishful thinking human rights activism, with a massive disconnect between the reality of international law and the way some would prefer it to be. That is not in itself a problem. There is no harm in advocating for change. What I find disingenuous is when it is argued that things have already changed. That is simply not true.

I don’t know if anyone in the South African judiciary reads this blog, but they have until tomorrow to get up to speed on the actual applicable law (from me and others) in order for any decision they adopt to be legally accurate, if not politically fashionable. To be continued…

A Sad Hommage to Antonio Cassese: The ICC’s confused pronouncements on State Compliance and Head of State Immunity

This week, Pre-Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court has been busy reprimanding African States for non-cooperation in executing the Arrest Warrant against Sudan President, Omar Al Bashir. On Monday it issued a decision on the failure of Malawi to comply and yesterday, a similar decision was issued in relation to Chad (decision in French).

This could have been a fairly innocuous event. In the past 18 months, the PTC has on several occasions taken notice of the presence of Bashir in an African country (Tchad and Kenya in August 2010, Djibouti in May 2011). Each time, in short decisions, the judges found that these countries had not complied with their obligation under the statute as State parties to enforce the arrest warrant against the Sudanese president. So the two decisions this week would seem to fall in line with these previous findings, a normal day at the office so to speak.
Of course, the question still remains whether State parties are 1) actually under an automatic obligation under the Statute to execute an arrest warrant and 2) whether the general requests for the arrest and surrender of Bashir to all States that the Pre-Trial Chamber issued in 2009 and 2010 (respectively here and here) are actually in conformity with the Statute. I have already argued that the answer is negative on both counts because Article 89(1) provides that you need a request from the Court to have an obligation under the Statute and that, for the sentence “…any State on the territory of which that person may be found” (as opposed to just “any State”) to make any sense, the request must be specific and specifically justified, rather than be general and preemptive. This is confirmed by the very specific information that must be provided with the request under Article 91.
But again, the two recent decisions would generally be old news already if they had followed the exact same approach as previous ones.

However, the Pre-Trial Chamber has decided to be bolder this time and address the question of head of State immunities, both under Article 27(2) of the Statute and in relation to Article 98(1) of the Statute, and the articulation between the two. The reasoning of the Chamber is so confused and unsatisfactory that it is difficult to know where to start.

Before I move to the heart of the discussion, I wanted to point a minor procedural issue, but that is illustrative of the general sloppiness of the drafting. When a Chamber makes a finding of non-compliance with a request for cooperation under Article 87(7), Regulation 109 of the Regulations of the Court (drafted by the Judges themselves) provides that the President shall refer the matter to the ASP or the UNSC. However, the Malawi decision ignores this and orders that the Registrar transmit the decision. This is all the more surprising, that the Chad decision (in French) actually uses the correct procedure and explicitly refers to Regulation 109 to ask the president to transmit the decision. This inconsistency comes up, despite the bench being composed of the same judges. Apparently, the francophone Assistant Legal Advisers at the Court are more knowledgeable than the anglophone ones…

But let’s now come to the question of Articles 27 and 98(1), relating to head of State immunities.

  • The discussion of Article 27

First of all, the judges consider the issue of Immunity of Heads of States in International Proceedings (§§22-36 of the Malawi decision. In the remainder of the post, I will refer to this decision, which is broadly reproduced in the Chad one).
Going back as far as 1919, the PTC refers to a string of international judgments (Nuremberg, Tokyo, ICTY and even ICJ), statutes of international tribunals (ICTY, ICTR, SCSL) and other documents (Principles of International Law recognised in the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal, Draft Code of Crimes against the Peace and Security of Mankind) to conclude that (§36):

“Therefore, the Chamber finds that the principle in international law is that immunity of either former or sitting Heads of State can not be invoked to oppose a prosecution by an international court. This is equally applicable to former or sitting Heads of States not Parties to the Statute whenever the Court may exercise jurisdiction.”

 The Chamber seems to think that the sheer number of references will make their argument compelling. But this is a typical judicial application of the “cheerleader effect“: all the references look good together, but taken separately might not be so convincing. Indeed, the references actually concern two distinct issues. The first one, which is dealt with in Article 27(1) of the ICC Statute, is whether official capacity can remove the criminal responsibility of a person. The second one, dealt with under Article 27(2) of the ICC Statute, is whether head of State immunity can prevent an international Court from exercising jurisdiction. There is no debate about the first question in the current case, only about the second one so the following references are just irrelevant: Statute of the IMT, Statute of the Tokyo Tribunal, UN Principles, Code of Crimes, ICTY Statute, ICTR Statute and SCSL Statute. Which leaves us with more or less one relevant source, which is the ICJ Arrest Warrants Case.

In any case, from a methodological point of view, it is puzzling why the Chamber actually engages in these developments. As is often the case in international criminal decisions, there is a very “flexible” approach to the sources of law. The PTC does not, at any point, justify why these references are even invoked. This is especially troubling at the ICC, because the drafters of the Rome Statute, contrary to those of others Statutes of international criminal tribunals, actually chose to include an explicit provision on the Applicable law, which clearly provides (Article 21(1)(a)) that the Statute, RPE and Elements of Crimes are the first documents to be considered. Article 27(2) clearly says that head of State immmunity “shall not bar the Court from exercising its jurisdiction over such a person”. There was no reason whatsoever to give a lecture in the history of international prosecutions to reach the conclusion that is already mandated by the Statute.

One could of course question whether applying 27(2) to the Heads of States of non-State parties is contrary to international law, but that is not the judges’ problem. I’ve argued elsewhere that the whole UNSC referral mechanism is somewhat contrary to international law. But once the case actually comes before a Chamber, the judges are bound by the Statute and should apply 27(2). Should this mean that the ICC, as an institution, would be violating international law is not the judge’s concern. Sudan should raise the question of the responsibility of the ICC, as an International organization, or even its member States, which would be a nice case of Shared Responsibility. But again, not an issue for the judges. In this sense I actually agree with the Tadic Trial Chamber, which refused to consider the legality of the creation of the ICTY. It was not its function to do so.
But I digress. In a nutshell, the PTC could have just referred to 27(2) and moved on (although the whole discussion on 27(2) is in my opinion irrelevant, but more on that later).

  • Articulation with 98(1)

Article 98(1)provides that:

“The Court may not proceed with a request for surrender or assistance which would require the requested State to act inconsistently with its obligations under international law with respect to the State or diplomatic immunity of a person or property of a third State, unless the Court can first obtain the cooperation of that third State for the waiver of the immunity.”

 The Chamber considers that there is a tension between 27(2) and 98(1) (§37). To solve this tension, it further pushes its reasoning in relation to international prosecutions of heads of States. Stating that there has been an increase in Head of State prosecutions by international courts (citing Taylor, Gbagbo and Gaddafi), the PTC says that this has gained “widespread recognition as accepted practice” (§39). This practice is further illustrated by the ratification by 120 States to the Rome Statute (and therefore to article 27(2)) and by the fact that some Security Council members who have not joined the Court have agreed to refer situations to the Court. The judges therefore conclude, in what can only be described as “armchair legal reasoning”, that (§42):

“The  Chamber  considers  that  the  international  community’s  commitment to rejecting  immunity in  circumstances  where  international  courts seek  arrest for international crimes  has  reached a critical mass. If it ever was  appropriate to say so, it is certainly no longer appropriate to say that customary international law immunity applies in the present context.”

 There would certainly be a lot to say about the Chamber’s approach to determining the content of customary law, although it does at least refer to State practice, which is far less egregious than what the Special Tribunal for Lebanon did last year, when referring to the practice of international courts not contested by “States, non-state actors and other interested parties”, to determine the existence of a customary norm. The key point, however, is that the practice that is referred to, is only evidence of the potentially customary nature of Article 27(2). It does not, as the Court affirms, relate to the question of the arrest and surrender  of an accused.

In this sense, I believe that there is in fact no tension between 27(2) and 98(1), because these two provisions are not about the same thing! Article 27(2) relates to the jurisdiction of the Court itself and 98(1) to obligations of States in relation to other States in general international law. Moreover, if the drafters of the Rome Statute believed that the inclusion of Article 27(2) meant automatically that there was an obligation to cooperate with the ICC irrespective of head of State immunity of non-State parties, why include Article 98(1) at all? It would make no sense.

So clearly, the Court has in fact brought into the discussion Article 27(2), when it should have kept its discussion limited to 98(1). The only relevant reasoning that would have been acceptable was whether, given the phrasing of 98(1), there is a crystallizing rule under international law that head of State immunity does not carry in the national context, which would therefore remove the difficulty with 98(1). This would have involved a more serious discussion of the Arrest Warrant Case, and evolution since then. But again, this is sadly not what the Chamber did, instead rendering a muddled and inappropriate decision.

This is all the more inappropriate given the fact that the Chamber, in considering the obligations of Malawi, makes a key finding (even if it had been said before) on the application of Head of State immunity to a defendant in a procedure that is not designed for that, which raises questions in relation to the rights of the defense, given that the Office of the Public Counsel for the Defense does not seem to have been involved in the discussions and that this is not a decision which is subject to appeal under Article 82. In that respect, one can even question whether the term “decision” is appropriate for such a document. Indeed, Article 87(7) does not even seem to describe a formal procedure. It refers to “a finding” of non-compliance, rather than a “decision”, whereas the Statute uses the word “decision” in most of the Statute, and only uses the term “finding” twice, in relation to evidence, and in the context of Article 87(7). The French version, which says that the Court “peut prendre acte” of the non-compliance, leans even more to the less formal nature of the determination. As for the question of Regulation 109, this might seem like a detail, but it does contribute to the general impression of a less than precise job that is reflected in the heart of the discussion, as illustrated previously.

  • A sad hommage to Antonio Cassese?

The explicit reference to the late Antonio Cassese, not only in a footnote, but in the main text (§34), can only mean that this decision is seen as an hommage to one of the most active proponents of judicial creativity. But it is likely that the former President of the ICTY and STL, although he might agree with the final result, would himself cringe at the less than convincing legal reasoning of the Pre-Trial Chamber.

This Decision might be a testimony that his legacy of creativity lives on, but without his talent, judgments that were, despite the criticism that could be leveled at them, judicial symphonies, when crafted by him, sound like children randomly hitting the keys of an out-of-tune piano, when crafted by others.

UPDATE 1: For other critical assessments of the decisions, see Professor Schabas and Dapo Akande, who are both skeptical about the court’s reasoning.

UPDATE 2: in relation to Regulation 109, there has been a corrigendum to the original decision which correctly asks the President (and not the Registry) to refer the matter to the ASP and UNSC.

Miscellaneous ICC issues: a bit of a stretch…

The ICC has been very visibly active in the past week on a variety of issues. Each one could warrant a separate post, but for lack of time, I thought I’d share some random thoughts in one post.

The first issue is the request for cooperation put to the Central African Republic last week in light of the planned visit of Omar Bashir to the country. I’ve blogged before on the question of whether States have an automatic obligation under the Statute to give effect to an arrest warrant. I believe that they don’t, and that there should be a specific additional request to give rise to such an obligation. In the comments to that post I also wondered whether the general request for cooperation to all State parties was in fact in conformity with the Statute:

I’d still have one question on the use of article 89 by the Court in this wholesale way. 89(1) mentions a possibility to issue a request to “any State on the territory of which that person may be found”, rather than just “any State”. If the second part of the sentence is to have any legal meaning, it can’t just be all the countries in the world preemptively… Shouldn’t there be some reasonable indication of the presence of the accused on the territory of a State as a condition of the issuance of the request?

This applies, in my opinion, to the specific request put to CAR. Indeed, I find that the decision is unclear as to what the exact legal basis for the request is. It refers to articles 86, 89 and 97, without specifying what specific provision it relies on to request cooperation from a State on whose territory a person might travel. But I suppose I’m just being picky here…

The second issue relates to the annoucement from the OTP that they have opened a preliminary investigation into North Korea. As reported by Xavier over at International Jurist, Professor Schabas, and Kevin John Heller, this raises interesting  questions both politically and legally. I would tend to agree with KJH that it seems like a very premature announcement, in light of how recent the events are. I also doubt that the gravity threshold would be met. In terms of PR, it also marks a recent trend by the OTP in communicating much more on his work compared to a few years ago. Indeed, it took some years before the public was made aware of the scope of preliminary investigations, and we only saw two letters (Irak and Venezuela) where the OTP actually explained how he conducted his work in this very grey area of the proceedings.

The last issue relates to Ivory Coast. Deputy-Prosecutor Bensouda asked “political leaders to call on their supporters and fellow citizens to show restraint and avoid unrest”. I find this statement ironic in its underlying assumption that the ICC can foster peace, given that Ivory Coast made a declaration under 12(3), recognising the Court’s jurisdiction in April 2003, following the very serious unrest that took place at the end of 2002, without the OTP doing anything (visible). I’m also not entirely convinced that, as a judicial body, it is the ICC’s role, and more particularly the OTP’s one, to make such warnings. But I suppose the proponents of “positive complementarity” would disagree with me…
A point of interest is that the communication by Bensouda assumes that the 12(3) declaration still stands today. It certainly seems the case when you read it (in French), because it does say that it is for an “open-ended period”. But I find the langage used ambiguous because it refers to the events of september 2002, rather than any crime committed on the territory from that date. But I suppose the interpretation can go both ways and that Ivory Coast should have done a better job on the drafting if it wanted to avoid any ambiguity.

A couple of concluding points on the general impression that transpires from the three issues I considered briefly. I have the impression that the ICC is in a PR frenzy where it might be biting off more that it can chew. The Court is already struggling to conclude its first trial and has only just started its second one [UPDATE: as pointed out by a careful reader, Bemba is actually the 3rd trial, not the second. I forgot about Katanga and Chui.]. With the institution failing in its judicial function, one has to wonder whether it is wise for it to multiply its interventions in the political area (Ivory Coast) and into bordeline cases such as the North Korean one. Maybe I am not ambitious enough for the Court, but I believe that it should be more cautious at this (still) early stage of its existence.

Is Chad really under an obligation to arrest Bashir?

The news today has been filled with reports about the visit of President of Sudan, Omar Bashir, to Chad, and calls for Chad, which is a State Party to the ICC to arrest him. Beyond any discussion of the political opportunity of such an act, every commentary seems to take for granted that Chad is under a legal obligation to do so.

CNN has a “Court official” (probably OTP…) on the record saying that:

Chad is legally obliged to arrest Omar al-Bashir and hand him over to the International Criminal Court.

According to Human Rights Watch:

Chad should not flout its obligations to arrest al-Bashir if he enters Chad. 

 Same tune at Amnesty International:

If it were not to arrest him, Chad would violate its obligations under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which it ratified in November 2006.

 I’m not sure that’s actually true. Sure, the Statute, at Article 86 provides that (my emphasis):

States Parties shall, in accordance with the provisions of this Statute, cooperate fully with the Court in its investigation and prosecution of crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court.

 However, “in accordance with the provisions of the Statute”, there is in fact no automatic obligation to cooperate in relation to the execution of an arrest warrant. Indeed, Article 89 provides that the Court must make a request for cooperation to a State. The request must contain specific information outlined in Article 91 (such as a copy of the arrest warrant). Only then does the Statute provide (Article 89(1)) that (my emphasis):

States Parties shall, in accordance with the provisions of this Part and the procedure under their national law, comply with requests for arrest and surrender.

To my knowledge, there hasn’t been such a request.

Second of all, even if the ICC had made a request for cooperation, the fact that Sudan is not a State Party can trigger the application of Article 98(1), according to which:

The Court may not proceed with a request for surrender or assistance which would require the requested State to act inconsistently with its obligations under international law with respect to the State or diplomatic immunity of a person or property of a third State, unless the Court can first obtain the cooperation of that third State for the waiver of the immunity.

It’s arguable that Bashir, as an acting head of State, does benefit from diplomatic immunity, in application of the ICJ Arrest Warrant Case (for a discussion of the immunity question in the Bashir case, see here). If that were the case, not only would Chad not be under an obligation to cooperate, but the request itself would be contrary to the Statute.

So, all in all it’s far less obvious than claimed, that Chad is in fact under an automatic obligation to arrest and surrender Bashir. Of course, in a week where the Prosecutor himself has publicly considered that the issuance of an arrest warrant is proof of guilt (See commentaries of this by William Schabas and Kevin John Heller), one stops being surprised by poor legal argumentation…