Category Archives: fair trial

The ICC Katanga Judgment: A Commentary (part 2): Regulation 55 and the modes of liability

This is the second post on the Katanga judgment. The first one, commenting on rules of interpretation of the Rome Statute, the Investigation and the definition of the crimes, can be found here.

In this post, I will discuss the issue of the legal recharacterization that was done by the Chamber and the definition of the modes of liability it adopted.

1. The legal recharacterization under Regulation 55

  • Why Regulation 55 shouldn’t be there in the first place

For those who are not aware of this issue, a short summary of the problem. When drafting the Regulations of the Court, the judges inserted a provision by which:

1. In its decision under article 74, the Chamber may change the legal characterisation of facts to accord with the crimes under articles 6, 7 or 8, or to accord with the form of participation of the accused under articles 25 and 28, without exceeding the facts and circumstances described in the charges and any amendments to the charges.

2. If, at any time during the trial, it appears to the Chamber that the legal characterisation of facts may be subject to change, the Chamber shall give notice to the participants of such a possibility and having heard the evidence, shall, at an appropriate stage of the proceedings, give the participants the opportunity to make oral or written submissions. The Chamber may suspend the hearing to ensure that the participants have adequate time and facilities for effective preparation or, if necessary, it may order a hearing to consider all matters relevant to the proposed change.

Continue reading

The ICC Katanga Judgment: A Commentary (part 1): Investigation, Interpretation and The Crimes

On 7 March 2014, Germain Katanga, a warlord from the DRC, was convicted as an accomplice for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the third Judgment issued by the International Criminal Court. The Judgment was rendered on a number of issues only by  majority, with a dissenting opinion by Judge van den Wyngaert and a concurring opinion by the other two judges.

One of the main reasons why this judgment was expected is that it is the final chapter (pending appeal) of a somewhat controversial process. Indeed, Katanga was initially tried as a co-perpetrator with Chui. However, in November 2012, a month before the judgment, during deliberations, a majority of the trial chamber 1) severed the cases  2) announced that the judgment for Chui would take place as planned (he was acquitted) and 3) informed the defense that there might be a legal recharacterization of the charges. This effectively prolonged the trial of Katanga by more than a year, ending with his conviction under the new legal characterization, whereas he would have been acquitted along with Chui had it not happened.

This is obviously the biggest difficulty with this judgment, but it features other considerations which merit some attention. I offered my first impressions of the judgment after the summary was read out in open court. In the next few days, I will suggest some more detailed considerations, based on plowing through the actual judgment and dissent. A few caveats. First, readers should note that the judgment itself is in French, so I do no reproduce the relevant parts that I discuss, nor did I have time to translate. I try, as much as possible, to indicate paragraph or page numbers so that you can check for yourselves. Second, what follows is obviously a mere selection of issues discussed in the judgment and there is no claim to exhaustivity.

So, let’s start. In this first post, I want to discuss the issue of the quality of the Prosecutor’s investigation, the rules of interpretation and the definition of the crimes. Continue reading

Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal: step forward for the fight against impunity, leap back for the rights of the defense…

I had completely missed the fact that Bangladesh created this year a special Tribunal to prosecute the crimes committed during the 1971 war of independence against Pakistan. The Tribunal started functioning in March this year, at the same time as Bangladesh ratified the Rome Statute, and apparently issued its first arrest warrants this week.

One aspect that caught my attention is the denomination given in one article: “International Criminal Tribunal”, and the fact that it was set up with the assistance of the UN. Are we therefore in the presence of a new hybrid Court? In fact, the denomination is not the official name of the court, and there was no formal agreement between the UN and the country, so it’s a purely national tribunal.
[UPDATE: The confusion on the name of the tribunal is due to a mistake by the JURIST: ICT stands for “International Crimes Tribunal”, not “International Criminal Tribunal”. See ICTJ report issued July 30th]
[UPDATE: The JURIST has corrected the mistake]
Another interesting aspect is the applicable law, the 1973 International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, which was amended in 2009. As pointed out by Steven Kay at ICLB, it’s an interesting and little known piece of post-Nuremberg and pre-UN war crimes tribunal legislation”.
It gives the tribunal jurisdiction over crimes against humanity, genocide, crimes against peace, violations of the Geneva Conventions, and “any other crimes under international law”, the last one raising obvious questions in respect to the principle of legality.
Apart from jurisdiction, I saw three other notable features of the procedure. 
The section on the rights of the accused is quite succinct. It reads as follows:

17. (1) During trial of an accused person he shall have the right to give any explanation relevant to the charge made against him.


(3) An accused person shall have the right to present evidence at the trial in support of his defence, and to cross-examine any witness called by the prosecution.

The accused basically has a right to defend himself against the charges. What a relief… and there is no mention of the presumption of innocence.

The section on evidence is also quite striking:

19. (1) A Tribunal shall not be bound by technical rules of evidence; and it shall adopt and apply to the greatest possible extent expeditious and non-technical procedure, and may admit any evidence, including reports and photographs published in newspapers, periodicals and magazines, films and tape-recordings and other materials as may be tendered before it, which it deems to have probative value.


(3) A Tribunal shall not require proof of facts of common knowledge but shall take judicial notice thereof. 

(4) A Tribunal shall take judicial notice of official governmental documents and reports of the United Nations and its subsidiary agencies or other international bodies including non-governmental organisations.

 At least, the Act is honest about its desire for expeditiousness. I’m just a little curious as to what “non-technical procedure” is… It sounds like a nice way of saying “absence of procedure”… Also, the scope of possible judicial notice is quite wide, to say the least. The Bangladesh Government is well know for its spotless and impartial record in reporting, and the UN and NGOs always get it right. Why not just take judicial notice of the accused’s guilt (everybody probably knows he’s guilty) and not have a trial at all…

Finally, in terms of judgment and sentence (Article 20), there is no mention of the burden of proof for conviction and the Act provides for the application of the death penalty.

Once again, the rights to a fair trial take a back seat to the fight against impunity, despite the legitimacy of the latter depending in large part on the respect of the former. In this case, the UN and NGOs should distance themselves from this endeavor (I’ve done a rapid search on google, but failed to find any condemnation. If anybody cares to point me towards them if they exist? to be fair, a HRW report does call for respect of the rights of the defense and non-application of the death penalty) which appears to be a mockery of justice.

Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that Bangladesh can’t do want it wants. If that is what the Bangladesh population want, fair enough. But the international community cannot and should not officially support it.

[UPDATE: The Criminal Law Forum has a Special Issue on the Bangladesh Tribunal this month]

[UPDATE: I was using the version of the Act before the 2009 amendments (i’ve updated the link to the law with the correct version now). The parts I analyse are however unchanged. But to be fair and comprehensive, I should point out that they did add a new provision which states that:

(2A) The Tribunal shall be independent in the exercise of its judicial functions and shall ensure fair trial.

And to think that I was doubting that in light of the rest of the Act… I’m totally reassured now…]

Partial retrial ordered in Haradinaj

The ICTY Appeals Chamber just released its Judgment in the Haradinaj, Balaj and Brahimaj case. The Trial Chamber, in its April 2008 Judgment had acquitted the first two, and convicted the third for two counts of torture. The Appeals Chamber decided, with the President Judge Robinson dissenting, to partially quash the two acquittals and order a partial re-trial, because:

49. […] the Trial Chamber failed to take sufficient steps to counter the witness intimidation that permeated the trial and, in particular, to facilitate the Prosecution’s requests to secure the testimony of Kabashi and the other witness. Given the potential importance of these witnesses to the Prosecution’s case, the Appeals Chamber finds that, in the context of this case [of systematic witness intimidation], the error undermined the fairness of the proceedings as guaranteed by the Statute and Rules and resulted in a miscarriage of justice.

Several comments about this decision.

For one, the basis for the motion by the Prosecutor was a “breach of the Prosecution’s right to a fair trial”. But since when does a Prosecutor have fair trial rights? He’s an organ of the judicial system. Fair Trial rights exist to protect the defendants in their relation with the judiciary, not one organ of the judiciary against another organ of the judiciary. As Patrick Robinson puts it in his dissenting opinion:

17. By virtue of the burden placed on the Prosecution to prove the guilt of the accused person beyond reasonable doubt, the position of the Prosecution is in many ways different from the position of the accused person. Thus, the Prosecution has duties, which the Defence does not have, and the Defence has rights, which the Prosecution does not have. Properly analysed, the relationship between the Prosecution and Defence is not symmetrical; it is, because of the aforementioned burden, asymmetrical.

This is yet another example of a misapplication of human rights principles due to the decontextualisation of the reason of their existence and therefore a complete misunderstanding of their ethos and telos. In a similar fashion, the ICC Prosecutor had claimed a “right of appeal” when leave to appeal had been refused in the early witness participation decisions in the DRC situations. The Appeals Chamber at the time had rejected the motion.
It should be pointed out, however, that in the course of its reasoning, the Chamber does not really take up this idea of “prosecution fair trial rights”. It does so once:

46. this decision again inappropriately prioritised logistical considerations over the Prosecution’s right to a fair trial.

[UPDATE: The Chamber issued on 23 July a corrigendum where it says that in paragraph 46, it meant to say “fairness of the proceedings” and that the mistake is due to a “clerical error”. Blame it on the clerks… I’m sure that explains Tadic as well…]

but refers more generally to the “fairness of the proceedings”, as illustrated by the above quoted passage. This is far less controversial, and shows that the issue could have been solved without opening the can of worms of Prosecution rights. And it therefore begs the question of why the Prosecution framed the question in this way in the first place. One worrying conclusion is that the OTP (and the Chamber when it picks up on it that one time) didn’t see the semantic difference between “interests” (which the Prosecutor has), “rights” (which the Prosecutor doesn’t have) and “the fairness of the proceedings” (as a general principle of good administration of justice). You would expect professional jurists to know that words have a meaning…

The Appeals Chamber missed an opportunity to explicitly reject the Prosecutor’s reasoning. What it does here is a little more confusing, because it agrees with the Prosecutor, but doesn’t clearly indicate that it is so doing on a different (and more accurate) reasoning, as you generally see in decisions. [Reading the judgment too fast the first time around, I actually got confused and, in the absence of a clear rejection of the OTP’s reasoning, attributed the Prosecution argument to the Appeals Chamber. Thank you to my anonymous commentator for setting the record straight! And in my defense, the Chamber does refer to “Prosecution fair trial rights” once and Robinson himself must have considered the majority decision unclear, because he takes upon himself to clarify the situation.]

A problematic aspect is the standard of review. Given that the Trial Chamber was exercising a discretionary power, it has a certain leeway in its decision-making which in turn usually means that the Appeals Chamber only interferes when there is an obvious misuse of discretion. However, what the Appeals Chamber does here is substitute what it would have done if it had been the Trial Chamber. This is beyond the scope of the function of the Appeals Chamber, as highlighted in Judge Robinson’s dissent:

7. The question of how many extensions to grant, whether one, two, or one hundred, or whether to stay or adjourn the proceedings, relates to the detailed day-to-day management of the case and is a matter best determined by the Trial Chamber in light of all the relevant circumstances. This is not a judgement for the Appeals Chamber to make. I would have granted more than three extensions or adjourned or stayed the proceedings, and the Majority itself might have done the same, but that is irrelevant. For it is not the appellate function to determine the sufficiency of the extensions granted by the Trial Chamber absent a clear indication of an abuse of the Trial Chamber’s discretion. And were we to do so, we would simply be substituting our own exercise of discretion for that of the Trial Chamber without any proper basis.

In effect, it appears from the Judgment that the Trial Chamber did in fact take into account the circumstances of the case and the importance of the witnesses by granting three consecutive extensions to the Prosecutor in order to allow him to secure witness testimony, so clearly, on the face of it, it did take into account relevant factors for the exercise of its discretion.
More generally, given the length of proceedings at the ICTY, the idea that the Prosecutor is not given enough time seems slightly puzzling. In this case, the indictments were issued in March 2005 (so presumably, the investigation had already been going on for a while), it took 2 years for the trial to begin in March 2007, and it lasted about 10 months, until January 2008. Even accounting for the specific difficulties of international investigations in difficult circumstances, you’d expect the Prosecutor to have had enough time to prepare a good case in that time and that its solidity would not depend on a last minute hiccup with a couple of witnesses… and even in this event, there comes a moment when it is legitimate for a Trial Chamber to move the proceedings forward in the interests of the defendants and in light of the right to be judged without undue delay. In the absence of proof of witness intimidation or tampering, at some reasonable point in time, the Defendant should not bear the consequences of the Prosecution’s failure to secure sufficient evidence for a conviction.

A final general comment. Once again, we have a dissenting opinion which seems to make more sense than the majority decision. I’m not familiar enough with all the case-law of the tribunal to claim that dissenters always get it right, but my empirical experience is that I generally agree with the dissents (Schomburg on JCE, Pocar on reversal of acquitals). I think it might have to do with the fact that once a judge has taken the step towards dissent, he frees himself of the shackles of the internal politics of consensus which leads to sometimes inconsistently argued collective decisions, as illustrated in the present case, whereas dissenting opinions will have more chances of being intellectually consistent, and therefore make more sense. Any thoughts on that?

Another Fair Trial issue for today: Sljivancanin Appeals Judgment to be revised

In one of the ongoing sagas of this blog, and on a day apparently dedicated to fair trial issues (see previous post), the Appeals Chamber of the ICTY issued a decision today granting the motion to review of the Appeals Judgment in the Slivancanin case. The Judgment had controversially added, with two judges dissenting, a new conviction for aiding and abetting murder as a violation of the laws and customs of war. As I commented in the past, a first request for review for initially rejected. However, Counsel made a new motion based on the existence of new evidence, which was heard early June. It is this new fact as defined by article 26 of the Statute that compels the Chamber to allow the possible revision of the Judgment. 
The new fact, which is witness evidence that the accused did not in fact express the mens rea for the crime in a conversation, contrary to what had been found by the Appeals Chamber. In accepting this, the Chamber finds that (p. 4):

Although the Panic New Fact was discoverable through due diligence by Sljivančanin’s counsel, review of the Mrksic and Sljivančanin Appeal Judgement is necessary because the impact of the Panic New Fact, if proved, is such that to ignore it would lead to a miscarriage of justice.

This is of course perfectly reasonable… but is a little ironic given the way the case unfolded. Indeed, the Trial Chamber had drawn no conclusion from the conversation between Mrksic and Sljivancanin under consideration. It was only the Appeals Chamber which inferred from the conversation that Mrkšić must have told Šljivančanin that he had withdrawn the “JNA” protection from the prisoners of war held at Ovčara, subsequently “relied on these findings to conclude that Sljivančanin possessed the mens rea for aiding and abetting murder as a violation of the laws or customs of war” (p. 3). How could the defense be expected to provide evidence on an event that the Trial Chamber had not even found as being relevant? It is only with the Appeals Judgment, where the judges are basically reviewing evidence as if they were the trial chamber, that the Defense can actually know what evidence it has to contest. That’s hardly compliant with fair trial rights!
The granting of the motion is obviously a step in the right direction for making sure those rights are respected, but it doesn’t remedy the profound flaw of a process which allows the Appeals Chamber to de facto review evidence as a Trial Chamber would and reverse acquittals without any possible appeal from the new conviction in clear contradiction with human rights standards.