Category Archives: ICC

Unsurprising and unsatisfactory: ICC Pre-Trial Chamber orders joinder of Yekatom and Ngaissona cases

Yesterday, Pre-Trial Chamber II at the International Criminal Court ordered the joinder of the cases against Alfred Yekatom and Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona. There was little doubt that this would happen for any follower of the proceedings, but this does not make the outcome satisfying both in terms of the process followed and the legal framework applied.

1) The process

In relation to the process, the circumstances in which the decision was rendered are more than problematic for two reasons in particular:

  • On 4 February 2019, Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona’s Counsel filed a request to withdraw, indicating his incapacity to treat the case “diligently”. On 7 February 2019, the Pre-Trial Chamber decided that the withdrawal would only take effect on 12 February 2019, after the filing of the Defense submissions on the joinder. So basically, the Pre-Trial Chamber forced a lawyer who admitted himself his incapacity to deal with the case to file observations on a fundamental issues that could affect the entire conduct of the proceedings for years to come, instead of postponing the process to allow the new Counsel to properly assess the situation and file observations. This is incomprehensible. It will be interesting to see if the new Counsel for Ngaissona will make a point of providing observations on the issue for the record or not.
  • According to the filing by Alfred Yekatom’s Counsel, they have not even received  an unredacted version of the arrest warrant against Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona, the OTP requests for arrest warrants against both suspects and the evidence supporting those requests, let alone received a document containing the charges. How could the Defense teams provide any kind of meaningful observations in those conditions?

If this is the attitude that this PTC is going to adopt throughout the process in relation to the exercise by the Defence of their right to participate actively in the proceedings, it is quite worrying.

In that respect, I noticed that throughout the decision, the PTC refers to the suspects solely by their last name (“Yekatom” and “Ngaissona”), not “Mr”, not even their first name. I obviously have not read every filing at the ICC, but I would say that this is unusual practice. This might seem like a detail, but I find that this shows a notable lack of respect for the suspects.

2) The Law.

The reason that the outcome of the decision is unsurprising is that the Pre-Trial Chamber essentially follows the Katanga and Chui precedent. However, this does not make it any more legally convincing today than in 2008. Indeed, the Katanga and Chui precedent is far from convincing from a legal point of view and should not have been followed. It would be too long to explain all the reasons why in detail, I will propose just a few quick thoughts.

But before that, a small caveat: my point here is not to express a normative opinion on the theoretical desirability for Judges to be allowed to join cases during the confirmation of charges process. There are probably, as always, good reasons for and against such a possibility.

My point is more basic: the Rome Statute does not legally allow for such a joinder and the Katanga and Chui and now Yetakom and Ngaissona precedents are unconvincing in that respect. why?

To start with the most obvious point: the PTC in Katanga (as the current PTC) never explained how provisions on joinder explicitly contained in Article 64 relating to the powers of the TRIAL chamber can somehow magically be considered to be applicable by the Pre-Trial Chamber. There isn’t any more clarity in the 8-page (of which only two are operative!) Appeals Judgment on joinder in the Katanga and Chui case. The reasoning of these chambers is a little hard to follow, but there seems to be two main arguments made:

a) The fact that the provisions on joinder are included in the part of the Statute that regulates the “Trial” (rather than the confirmation phase) does not ” does not preclude joint proceedings at the Pre-Trial stage, but rather supports the general rule that there is a presumption of joint proceedings for persons prosecuted jointly”. This is rather strange reasoning. first of all, how can the explicit inclusion of a provision in the “Trial” Part of the Statute (just as Rule 136 is explicitly in the “Trial Procedure” chapter of the RPE) logically be proof that it can be applied in other phases? it does not make sense. Second of all, the reasoning is very obviously circular: there is no “general rule that there is a presumption of joint proceedings for persons prosecuted jointly” in the Statute or the RPE, this is invented by the Judges based on their own interpretation of the first sentence of Rule 136, despite the fact that Rule 136 also only seems to apply to the “trial procedure” (see below on this). They cannot then pretend that they didn’t just do that and say: “look, we’re right, Rule 136 supports the general rule”. Essentially, what the Judges are saying is: “Rule 136 supports the general rule we just invented based on our reading of Rule 136, so this means we can interpret Rule 136 as applying in pre-trial, which in turn supports the general rule we just invented based on our interpretation of Rule 136…etc.”. This is obviously not satisfactory.

b) All these Judges pretended to apply the Vienna Convention in order to “interpret” the Rome Statute and claimed that their interpretation of the Statute allowed them to advance the “object and purpose” of the Statute. But this is in my view a dishonest application of the “object and purpose” idea in order to ignore what the treaty actually says. Judges can claim that they were just “interpreting” the Statute, but they are essentially rewriting the Statute, which is obviously beyond their mandate. Whatever one thinks of the Rome Statute and its inadequacies (which are numerous and I never shy away from pointing them out), this does not mean that the Judges get to ignore what they don’t like.

Moving on to my second, related, point: how can there be a joinder of “charges” (as per the explicit language of Article 64(5) of the Rome Statute), when the charges are not even known because the Prosecutor has not even filed a Document containing the Charges? The language of the Statute is clear: you need to know what the charges are before you join them. One could even argue that joinder of “charges” can only happen in relation to “charges” actually confirmed by a PTC. This interpretation would be consistent with the fact that power to join charges is only granted to the Trial Chamber, i.e, after the confirmation of charges phase.

And finally a last point: the whole reasoning of the PTC in Katanga and Chui followed here by PTC II in fact revolves around their interpretation of the first sentence of Rule 136 which provides that “Persons accused jointly shall be tried together”, and which led the Judges to consider that this ” establishes a presumption for joint proceedings for persons prosecuted jointly”. There are a number of problems with this “presumption of joint proceedings”: 1) as noted before, Rule 136 applies to the trial phase, not the confirmation of charges phase. Therefore, the term “tried” should be interpreted restrictively to apply to the actual “trial”, not generally to “proceedings” 2) along the same lines, “accused jointly” does not necessarily mean “accused jointly by the Prosecutor“, but whose charges have be joined according to Article 64(5). This interpretation finds support in the French version of the Rules which provides that “Les accusés dont les charges ont été jointes sont jugés ensemble”. This clearly indicates that there should first be a joinder of charges, before a presumption of a joint trial can be considered.

Of course, you could say that I am being a little unfair with the PTC. It’s not this PTC’s fault that there is precedent for what they decided and it should not be controversial for them to follow this precedent. However, with the Rome Statute having celebrated its 20-year birthday last year, it is time for the ICC to grow in maturity and move away from the practices that tarnished its image as a credible legal institution during its youth, rather than reproduce the same mistakes. Otherwise, there is the risk that the institution will move straight from growing pains to midlife crisis…

Immunities and the ICC: my two-cents on three points

Today and the next few days, the Appeals Chamber is hearing oral submissions on the question of whether Bashir, from Sudan, has immunity from arrest and surrender to the ICC, as the sitting head of State of a non-State party. This promises to be a interesting debate, with contributions from Jordan, the AU and a handful of international law professors who are for the most part recognised experts on this question. To move the debate along, the Appeals Chamber has issued a list of questions to be addressed by the participants.

I will obviously not take the time to give my take on all the questions. My views are well know on this issue, as I’ve developed many times in the past (see here and here for example).

I just wanted to react quickly on three particular aspects of the question.

  • Is the “international” character of the ICC relevant ?

A number of the questions put to the participants relate to the question of whether the fact that the ICC is an “international court” can affect the rules that apply in relation to immunities. This argument was put forward explicitly at the Special Court for Sierra Leone to justify the absence of immunities for Taylor and is regularly considered in the litterature, relying on an obiter from the ICJ Immunities where it was said that: “Fourthly, an incumbent or former Minister for Foreign Affairs may be subject to criminal proceedings before certain international criminal courts, where they have jurisdiction” (par. 61).

I’ve never been convinced by this argument. Ascribing an “international court” label to an institutional does not magically displace all rules of international law, allowing such an institution to suddenly do things that the individual States that created it could not do.

Moreover, the ICJ was simply acknowledging the fact that certain international institutions did not provide for head of State immunity. It certainly did not provide a normative view on the matter. interestingly, in its lists of questions, the Appeals Chamber claims that “The International Court of Justice in the Arrest Warrant case refers to a potential exception to Head of State immunity under customary international law”. However, the ICJ does no such thing, and does not even use the word “exception” in the relevant paragraph.

  • What role for the “fight against impunity” in the interpretation of the Rome Statute?

One of the Appeals Chamber’s questions reads as follows:

According to  article  31  of  the Vienna  Convention  on  the Law of Treaties,  the  provisions  of  a  treaty  must  be  interpreted  in  the  light  of  its  context,  including  the  preamble,  and  its  object  and  purpose. What  is  the  significance  of  such  a  contextual interpretation of the Statute, in the light of its object and purpose as set out in its preamble,  namely  ‘to put  an  end  to  impunity  for  the perpetrators  of  [the  most  serious  crimes  of  concern  to  the  international community  as  a  whole]  and  thus  contribute  to  the  prevention  of  such crimes’, in the determination of the appeal?

My short answer is: none. I’ve always objected to the use of the vague notion of the “end of impunity” to justify any particular interpretation of the Rome Statute. Not only is it more often than not justified to adopt interpretations of the Statute which are against the Accused, but, more importantly, I do not think the “fight against impunity” is technically an object and purpose of the Statute to be taken into account for the purposes of Article 31 of the Vienna Convention (a minority view on this topic, I know). Saying this confuses the specific object and purpose of the Rome Statute as a legal instrument (conducting criminal trials) and the more general moral/political goal (ending impunity).

Confusing the two is like claiming that the object and purpose of a hammer is to build a house, rather than specifically to put nails in a wall. Focusing on the “build a house” aspect tells you absolutely nothing on what a hammer is actually meant to do concretely, because what is actually important to understand the hammer is the “put nails in the wall” aspect. The same is true of the ICC: relying on the “fight against impunity” gives you no indication on how the ICC is actually meant to work, and therefore is simply an excuse for Judges to put their own moral agenda in the mix. This should of course not be allowed.

  • Interpreting UNSC Resolutions

The immunities debate has involved a great deal of discussion on what the UNSC actually intended to do when it adopted UNSC Resolution 1593. Irrespective of my own interpretation of the Resolution, I’ve always found it puzzling that we need to fill pages and pages of cabbalistic linguistic intepretations of the Resolution, when all we need to do is ask the UNSC what it actually meant to say. The UNSC is just there! Just put the question to it, or at least to some of its member States. It shouldn’t have to be that complicated: “Did you intend to displace international rules of immunity, or not?”. Whether the UNSC has the power to do so is an entirely different question (I would argue that it doesn’t), but maybe is there no issue to discuss in the first place. In this sense, it would have been interesting for the Appeals Chamber to specifically invite the UNSC and /or its member States at the time of the adoption of the Resolution to provide the Judges with some clarity on the matter.

In that respect, Benjamin Durr recently reported that:

With Patryk Labuda rightly commenting that:

Indeed, the Foreign Ministry statement, although couched in diplomatic terms, could suggest that the Chinese do no agree with the removal of Bashir’s immunity. This is not definitive proof of what the Resolution actually means, especially because China does not speak for the other members of the UNSC, but it could definitely be taken into account in the decision making process.

[UPDATE: Alex Galand has kindly pointed out to me on twitter that in fact both China and Russia have recently clearly stated that Head of State immunity remains, irrespective of a UNSC Resolution:

More food for thought for the Appeals Chamber which should absolutely be taken into account!]

ICC PTC issues advisory opinion (yes, yes) on ICC jurisdiction over Rohingya deportation

Today, 6 september 2018, PTC I issued a decision finding that the ICC can have jurisdiction over the deportation of Rohingya from Myanmar to Bangladesh, despite the fact that Myanmar is not a State party, because at least one element of the crime of deportation (the crossing of a border) took place on the territory of a State party (Bangladesh).

While I would tend to disagree with the “you put a toe on a border” theory of territorial jurisdiction, I will leave my more knowledgeable colleagues on the definition of the crime of deportation to debate whether the PTC is really convincing on this point. I wanted to briefly address a few other issues that arise from the decision and which I find interesting.

  • The procedural framework

I have been skeptical from the start on the use of Article 19(3) to allow the OTP to address a Chamber at such an early stage with a question of jurisdiction and the decision just issued does not convince me.

Article 19(3) is situated in Article 19 entitled “Challenges to the jurisdiction of the Court or the admissibility of a case” and it should be read in this context. This clearly suggests that there needs to be a “case” (or at least a “situation”, if we accept the expansive definition of “case” in the practice of the Court). Moreover, we find similar language in the second sentence of Article 19(3) itself, which refers to a State which has refered the situation.

We have neither here. If the drafters had wanted to create a possibility for the OTP to obtain a ruling on jurisdiction as early as the PE phase, it would have more likely created a distinct provision on this. As things stand, I find it unlikely that Article 19(3) can be interpreted in this way.

I am equally unconvinced by the Compétence de la Compétence argument, which seems entirely beside the point. The question here was not whether the Court can determine its own competence (which does not seem an issue) but when. In that respect, I don’t see how invoking the principle helps in any way in determining at what stage of the proceedings the Judges come into play (see the very interesting dissent of Judge Brichambaut on this point).

As for Article 119, it should not be able to create a new procedure out of thin air…

[UPDATE: I hadn’t taken the time to analyse in detail the dissent of Judge Perrin de Brichambaut earlier, but I must say that I fully agree with him on these issues.

The contextual interpretation of Article 19(3) is clearly contrary to what the Prosecutor has argued and this is clearly demonstrated by the dissenting Judge.

As for Article 119(1), the Judge is equally convincing. The Majority’s definition of a “dispute”, based on a press release by a Myanmar governement official is laughable. By that token, the Prosecutor could use Article 119(1) whenever anyone (why just a State?) expresses disagreement with a position held by the OTP. I am regularly in “dispute” with the OTP when I comment on this blog. Let’s merrily go before the Chambers to resolve it !

Moreover, Article 119(3) is in a totally different part of the Statute, the “final clauses”, which in no way relate to the powers of the Prosecutor or create a specific procedure. In this sense, while the dissenting Judge is cautious in saying that “uncertainty remains as to knowing whether the “dispute” must arise between States or from a disagreement among the parties to judicial proceedings or even third parties”, I would not show such restraint: I think it is pretty obvious Article 119(3) relates to inter-State disputes only]

I believe that the decision is merely an advisory opinion at this stage. It is only when a PTC considers jurisdiction as part of a formal request to open an investigation will the Judges truly be in a position to issue a binding decision on such matters. As an aside, if such request where filed, I would suggest that the two Judges who ruled on the issue be disqualified from sitting on a PTC constituted to deal with the matter.

From a policy perspective, I’m not entirely sure the OTP made a smart move here. I’ve often argued that there is an underlying power struggle between Judges and the OTP to take control of the procedure at the Court. The OTP has essentially let the Judges in to what was arguably the last remaining bastion of discretion it has under the Statute, allowing them to dictate the OTP’s conduct during PEs. This is apparent from the decision itself, where the Judges take the opportunity to lecture the OTP on the way it defines a PE and warn her on the fact that she should proceed swiftly (based on the Comoros decision). You would have expected the OTP to learn the lessons of the Comoros litigation, but they took the shortsighted view here in my opinion, and I believe that Judges will continue to eat into the OTP’s discretion at the PE phase…

  • The objective legal personality of the Court

In the decision, the PTC engages in a lengthy discussion on whether the ICC has an objective legal personality (while admitting that such finding is irrelevant to determine the question of jurisdiction, which begs the question of why they delved into this issue as well).

I will not bore the readers with a detailed explanation of why every example the PTC gives to justify their position is unconvincing. Ultimately, the PTC relies on the ICJ Reparations case (where the ICJ proclaimed that the UN had an objective personality solely on the fact that it had a lot of member states…) and, paraphrasing unashamedly the ICJ Judgment, declares (par. 48):

In the light of the foregoing, it is the view of the Chamber that more than 120 States, representing the vast majority of the members of the international community, had the power, in conformity with international law, to bring into being an entity called the “International Criminal Court”, possessing objective international personality, and not merely personality recognized by them alone, together with the capacity to act against impunity for the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole and which is complementary to national criminal jurisdictions. Thus, the existence of the ICC is an objective fact. In other words, it is a legal-judicial-institutional entity which has engaged and cooperated not only with States Parties, but with a large number of States not Party to the Statute as well, whether signatories or not.

This could be called the “Bully theory” of the objective personality international organizations: “there’s a lot of us, and we think we’re Morally Superior, so you have to objectively recognise us. Sorry? the Relative effect of what? treaties? No, not important. Haven’t you been listening? we’re morally superior, and that trumps everything else” (This, for some, applies mutadis mutandis to immunities, but that will be for another time). Needless to say this is far removed from serious legal argumentation.

  • Concluding thought

Whether the PTC is correct in finding that the ICC might have jurisdiction over the deportation of Rohingya or not, I’m not sure how helpful this whole procedure is, either for the OTP (see above) or even “victims”. Even if the Judges go out of the way to try and argue that such jurisdiction over deportation would open the door for the ICC to have jurisdiction over other related crimes (persecution for example), the decision is bound to create unreasonable expectations on the part of victims in relation to the relief that the ICC can effectively bring as regards what is going on more generally in Myanmar, and over which, for the most part, the ICC will not have jurisdiction. Here, as often,  the ICC and its defenders will be quick to challenge those who criticise them, without realising that they are setting themselves up to fail…

 

 

 

Peek-A-Boo: ICC authorises investigation in Burundi, some thoughts on legality and cooperation

jack in the box

On 27 October 2017, Burundi’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court became effective, making it the first State to leave the Court. This led to a flurry of commentaries on whether the OTP would be able to open an investigation into the situation after the withdrawal (see here for my own post, here for Kevin Jon Heller at opinio juris and here and here for Sergey Vassiliev also at opinio juris).

I was quietly preparing to engage in a debate with Sergey about his arguments, when the ICC decided to make all our posts irrelevant, or at least mostly theoretical in one dramatic peek-a-boo moment: on 9 november 2017, PTC III of the ICC made public a decision that was rendered on 25 octobre 2017 (so 2 days before the withdrawal) authorising the OTP to open a formal investigation in the situation of Burundi, based on a request filed ex parte by the OTP on 5 september 2017.

This of course radically changes the situation, because we all assumed that there was little likelihood that such an ex parte request did exist, let alone did we expect that a decision had already been rendered.

There is a lot to say about the decision and I just want to share a few first thoughts. Continue reading

Burundi withdraws from the ICC: what next for a possible investigation?

On the 26 october 2017, Burundi’s withdrawal from the Rome statute became effective, making it the first State ever to leave the Court. Strangely, there has been no official declaration from either the Court or the OTP at this point.

Al Jazeera reports that : “Burundi’s withdrawal doesn’t affect the preliminary examination of the country’s situation already under way by the court’s prosecutor, ICC spokesman Fadi El Abdallah told The Associated Press.”.

Moreover, Benjamin Durr got the following email from the Public Affairs unit of the ICC:

ICC reaction to burundi

Despite what some have called the defeaning silence coming from the OTP, the withdrawal is widely commented upon by ICL observers and stakeholders who, for the most part, regret that Burundi has chosen the path of impunity. The withdrawal raises a certain number of legal questions that have been at the heart of discussions on the social media in the past few days and which I want to address briefly here.

  • What happens to the existing preliminary examination?

As is well known, Burundi has been under a preliminary examination by the OTP since April 2015. From a legal perspective, the withdrawal does not affect the preliminary examination. It does not put an end to it automatically, nor does it force the OTP to end it.

The real question is whether the withdrawal affects the possibility for the OTP to actually open a formal investigation at a later stage, which is my next point.

  • Does the withdrawal affect the capacity of the OTP to request the opening of a formal investigation?

The answer to this question depends on the interpretation one adopts of Article 127(2) of the Rome Statute, which provides that:

Its withdrawal shall not affect any cooperation with the Court in connection with criminal investigations and proceedings in relation to which the withdrawing State had a duty to cooperate and which were commenced prior to the date on which the withdrawal became effective, nor shall it prejudice in any way the continued consideration of any matter which was already under consideration by the Court prior to the date on which the withdrawal became effective.

I should note at this point that I’m assuming that no steps have indeed been taken by the OTP to obtain a decision from a Pre-Trial Chamber to be able to open a formal investigation. There has been some speculation on whether the OTP might have made such a request confidentially. However, this has not been done in the past to my knowledge (Kenya, Georgia, Côte d’Ivoire), and I wonder what would be the justification for that.

If the OTP has indeed proceeding confidentially, then one might very well consider that the pending decision could indeed be a matter under consideration by the Court for the purposes of Article 127(2).

If no steps have been taken, I refer you, for the interpretation of Article 127(2), to the excellent post done by Alex Whiting last year and my own thought on the matter which I published here at the time.

I noted in that respect that:

The key issue is what is covered by the expression “any matter already under consideration by the Court”. Alex Whiting makes the argument that this expression is broad enough to cover preliminary examinations by the OTP. Possibly, he is right from a linguistic point of view. However, I have a difficulty with the idea that such an informal phase as a preliminary examination (which might simply involve an OTP investigator sitting in front of his computer in The Hague downloading HRW and Amnesty International reports) might have such massive consequences as trumping the decision of a State to withdraw from the Rome Statute.

I also noted that:

One last point that could favour a more limited, rather than broad interpretation of Article 127(2), is the formulation used in other versions of the Rome Statute. For example, the French version of the Statute says that: “le retrait n’affecte en rien la poursuite de l’examen des affaires que la Cour avait déjà commencé à examiner avant la date à laquelle il a pris effet”. The word “affaires” (cases) seems narrower that “any matter”. This is obviously not decisive and a comparison in the other official language could be interesting.

I continue to believe that one year later. I don’t believe a PE initiated unilaterally by the OTP, with no particular applicable legal framework and no direct legal consequences can decently be considered as a “matter already under consideration by the Court”. The OTP is not the Court, it is one organ of the Court

[UPDATE: Over at opinio juris, Kevin Jon Heller provides a very useful detailed analysis of whether the “Court” in Article 127(2) refers to the judiciary, or includes the OTP as well. I think he convincingly shows that one cannot assume that Article 127(2) applies to matters under consideration by the OTP, rather than more strictly by the Judges by listing a number of provisions of the Rome Statute where the “Court” refers to the judiciary in a more narrow sense when it comes to procedural matters.]

The OTP is simply doing its basic job of looking at various events going on worldwide to see if actual formal action under the Rome Statute is required. That cannot possibly have as a consequence to negate the effect of Article 127(2). If such a broad interpretation of Article 127(2) were to be adopted, nothing would prevent the OTP from announcing that it is conducting preliminary examinations into all State parties, thus making sure that there would be no legal consequences of a withdrawal whatsoever. That seems a little far fetched.

It should also be noted that nothing prevents the OTP from technically opening an PE into a situation involving a none State party, or even only none State parties. This would arguably be a waste of time, but there is no legal impediment with that. And the reason is that PE don’t have a formal legal existence and, more importantly, do not create obligations on anyone, States included.

Delphine Carlens, of FIDH, with whom I discussed the matter briefly on twitter suggested the following supporting argument:

Article 70 of the Vienna Convention provides that:

Consequences of the termination of a treaty

1. Unless the treaty otherwise provides or the parties otherwise agree, the termination of a treaty under its provisions or in accordance with the present Convention:

(a) releases the parties from any obligation further to perform the treaty;

(b) does not affect any right, obligation or legal situation of the parties created through the execution of the treaty prior to its termination.

2. If a State denounces or withdraws from a multilateral treaty, paragraph 1 applies in the relations between that State and each of the other parties to the treaty from the date when such denunciation or withdrawal takes effect.

On principle, I very much like the idea of bringing the VCLT into play, because one tends to forget that the Rome Statute is after all a treaty, and does not exist, particularly when it comes to the relationship between States and the international organisation, in a legal vacuum.

My initial reaction here is to consider that the reference to the VCLT might not be very useful. Indeed, it does not help interpret Article 127 per se, because if one agrees with me that the OTP declaring that it is conducting a preliminary examination does not create any “right, obligation or legal situation” under the Rome Statute, then Article 70(1)(b) simply does not apply.

However, on second thought I wonder if I might not be framing the question in wrong terms. Indeed, if one forgets the issue of the existence of a PE for one second, one could wonder if the “legal situation” that was created through the execution of the treaty is not simply the fact that, under Article 12, the ICC would have jurisdiction over crimes committed in the territory of Burundi or by nationals of that State because Burundi was a State party at the time of the commission of the alleged crimes. As a consequence, of this approach the ICC would still have jurisdiction even after withdrawal, irrespective of the existence of a PE or not.

I don’t know if this argument would be persuasive in front of Judges, or would have the support of other State parties. Indeed, Article 127 is a lex specialis on the consequences of withdrawal, a situation which, it could be argued, removes completely the applicability of Article 70 of the VCLT. And because Article 127 makes no mention of surviving jurisdiction, then it might be a little far-fetched to read it back into it.

[UPDATE: Another difficulty that would need to be addressed is the time when jurisdiction is to be determined. Is it determined at the time of the commission of the crimes or at the time of the judicial decision to exercise jurisdiction? This is important to establish, because if it is the latter, then the Burundi withdrawal would in fact remove the capacity for the Court to exercise jurisdiction. Despite the basic nature of the question, I’m not aware of any judicial pronouncements on the matter at the ICC (readers, feel free to point me in the right direction).

Does the wording of the Statute help in any way? To some extent.

Indeed, it should be recalled that through a weird semantic trick, Article 12 turns out to be not strictly a jurisdictional provision: it is titled “preconditions to the exercise of jurisdiction”, which makes it out to be more of a procedural provision that a jurisdictional one. As a result, Article 12 does not actually say that the Court has jurisdiction over crimes committed on the territory of a State party or by a national of a State party, which is what you would expect from a jurisdictional provision. Article 12 says that the Court can only exercise jurisdiction if the State of nationality or the territorial State is a Party to the Statute. This would logically suggest that the adequate time to determine whether the pre-conditions of Article 12 are met, is when the Court is considering exercising jurisdiction, not when the crimes were actually allegedly committed.

I also want to point out that I’m in no way advocating a teleological interpretation of Article 12, or jurisdiction more generally, along the lines that not interpreting it in a certain way would lead to impunity, and therefore would not be acceptable. Whatever some people may think of sovereignty as an archaic concept in international law, it is still a fundamental right of States to decide whether they want to be bound by a treaty or not and I don’t believe that the “fight against impunity” can trump that.]

Despite these difficulties, the jurisdictional approach might be worth a try, as it is somewhat more convincing that the “PE = matter under consideration” approach. Moreover, everybody I know, academics and Judges alike, does consider Article 12 as a jurisdictional clause, despite its clear wording to the contrary. So, even if I’m right, nobody might actually care. Therefore this approach might actually provide the “progressive approach” of the interpretation of the Statute that HRW is calling for.

I should note that I’m not sure this is the argument actually put forward by the FIDH, because it seems to rely, in its press release, on the existence of a PE: “Since proceedings (a preliminary examination in this case) were initiated prior to the date of Burundi’s effective withdrawal, the Prosecutor could request the opening of an investigation into international crimes committed before 27 October 2017 ( Article 127(2) of the ICC Statute)”. So FIDH is welcome to use this new argument from now on!

[UPDATE: i’ve just come accross this analysis from Amnesty International which puts forward the same idea, but still seems to link jurisdiction and the existence of a PE, which I think in fact possibly weakens the argument. And I strongly disagree with the suggestion that a PE creates an obligation to cooperate on the part of States.]

One last note on this: if the Public Affairs email reproduced above is to be believed, it seems that someone at the Court thinks this is a viable interpretation of Article 127(2), when it is said that: ” In accordance with Article 127.2 of the Rome Statute, Burundi’s withdrawal does not affect the jurisdiction of the Court with respect to crimes alleged to have been committed during the time it was a State Party, namely up until 27 October 2017″.

This is a strong position to put forward, and I’m surprised it is not shared officially by someone more “senior” at the Court. Right now, it remains unclear whether this is a shared court-wide position, more particularly if it is the official position of the OTP. Some formal declaration would be welcome in that respect.

  • What about other cooperation obligations which Burundi might have?

It should be noted as an aside that Burundi still has an obligation to cooperate in relation to criminal investigations and proceedings which were commenced prior to the date on which the withdrawal became effective.

Which means that if a matter of cooperation arises in any current case or situation at the Court, Burundi would have to cooperate with the ICC, for example in assisting a current investigation.

Arguably, this would also apply in relation to the execution of an arrest warrant, for example of Omar Al Bashir of Sudan. This is of course particularly ironic, given the fact that the withdrawal was surely in part justified on the basis of opposition to that specific arrest warrant…