Category Archives: prosecutorial discretion

Some thoughts on what happened at the ASP of the ICC: change the policies before discussing people or budget

The Assembly of State Parties just finished its 10th session in New York. The high point of this session was the selection of the next ICC Prosecutor, to replace Luis Moreno Ocampo, and the winner, unsurprisingly, was Fatou Besouda, the current Deputy Prosecutor. Another issue was the election of new judges and determination of the 2012 budget. At the end of this session, I wanted to share a few thoughts.

On the choice of Fatou Bensouda as prosecutor, I broadly share the enthusiasm of a number of commentators, such as Kevin Heller over at Opinio Juris, Mark Kersten at Justice in Conflict or Bill Schabas. In the few times I have met her, she has come across as thoughtful and pleasant, and seems to have a decidedly less “gritty” style than her soon-to-be-predecessor.
But I do have some lingering concerns. As I said when her name started floating around (see comments section here), I don’t think we can just brush under the carpet the fact that she has worked with Luis Moreno Ocampo for the past 8 years. He is certainly personally to blame for a number of errors of the OTP, most notably in terms of communication, but I cannot believe that he is alone responsible for all the blunders of his office. Under his mandate, 2 cases have not been confirmed by a Pre-Trial Chamber (Abu Garda, and more recently Mbarushimana) and the conduct of the OTP in the Lubanga trial should have led to the suspect’s release in a number of situations and possibly the removal or at least sanction of the prosecutor. I can’t imagine that Ocampo did not have some support from his office, including Bensouda, for a number of these disasters. In this sense, I’m not sure that continuity is such a good thing.
More generally, I’m not entirely convinced that the general rhetoric of having an African Prosecutor is convincing. I don’t see how the criticism of the ICC being an “African Court to Prosecute Africans” is addressed by the designation of Bensouda. This will just be an “African Court to Prosecute Africans by an African”… The real issue is not the nationality of the Prosecutor, it is the policies that are implemented. In this sense I perfectly agree with Bill Schabas, that the nomination of Bensouda can only go so far to mend the perceptions of the Court. Only a change in policy will make any real change in perceptions.

I also wanted to share a few thoughts in relation to the public outcry on the only marginal increase of the budget of the Court. These concerns are relayed here by Mark Kersten.
On the face of it, the 117 million euro budget that was requested by the Court does not seem unreasonable for a permanent international criminal tribunal that is currently involved in 7 countries, with a number of others on the waiting list. As a comparison, this is about the recent yearly budget of the ICTY, involved in only one country, and which is winding down its activities. Certainly, the CICC and Mark are right to express doubts at whether the Court will be able to perform in the future if the increase in activity is not followed by an increase in budget.
But this legitimate question must not prevent us from questioning the way the money is spent. There are some rather futile examples of misspending, such as a full page ad in the Economist. Equally, one could bicker about the salaries that are paid at the Court, which sometimes seem extravagant, especially to the humble university Professor that I am. But more fundamental questions should be raised in terms of priorities and mistakes. How much did the Mbarushimana and Abu Garda investigations cost, for such a poor result? How much has the poorly designed (and made worse by the judges) victim participation system cost the court in money and in time (and therefore in money)? Also, the Court complains that the UNSC is referring situations without contributing to the budget. I have a solution for that. Don’t take referrals from the UNSC anymore. For one, they are in some respect contrary to international law, but more pragmatically, doesn’t the Court have enough on its plate with State Parties, without delving into the affairs of non-State Parties? These are just a few policy considerations that need to be addressed in order to have a full and comprehensive discussion on the budget.

On a final note, I couldn’t help but react at Mark’s conclusion:

In the end, there is a grave danger that money determines who receives justice and who doesn’t; that funding defines the quality and extent of justice served. It would be a sad world to live in and one in which international criminal justice’s skeptics and cynics win.

I don’t know in what world my esteemed colleague has indeed been living in to make such a statement, but in the one I live in, this is already the case, and not just at international tribunals. We live in a worlds of limited means and ressources and there is always a limited budget for any institution, both nationally and internationally, and, in other words, never enough money. I think that one can say that without being labelled as a “cynic” or “skeptic”. That’s just the nature of things. More specifically, all the national examples of criminal systems are suffering from too many cases, where the exercise of discretion is necessarily also based on the question of limited means, and where release decisions from prison are for example based on them being too full, rather than on criminological reasons. And one criteria to discriminate one case from another, is gravity, which is either ignored or misapplied at the ICC. Again, for me, neither Lubanga (at least for these charges), nor Abu Garda, should have been prosecuted before the Court, irrespective of money.

In this sense, I would conclude in the same way as for the nomination of Fatou Bensouda: change the policies, in order to change anything. One can pour in as much money as one wants in the institution, if the policies are unsound, it won’t make a difference to the objectives of justice of the Court.

The Lubanga Trial is stayed, the slapstick comedy continues… but isn’t the joke wearing a little thin?

Yesterday, Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court ordered another stay of proceedings in the Lubanga case because the Prosecutor is consistently refusing to apply orders made by the Court to disclose to the Defense the identity of an victims intermediary, following claims of misconduct. The Chamber had found that there was no security risk for the intermediary in the event of a partial disclosure to selected persons, confirmed by the Victims and Witnesses Unit. Despite this, the Prosecutor argued that:

The Prosecution is sensitive to its obligation to comply with the Chamber’s instructions. However, it also has an independent statutory obligation to protect persons put at risk on account of the Prosecution’s actions. It should not comply, or be asked to comply, with an Order that may require it to violate its separate statutory obligation by subjecting the person to foreseeable risk. The Prosecutor accordingly has made a determination that the Prosecution would rather face adverse consequences in its litigation than expose a person to risk on account of prior interaction with this Office. This is not a challenge to the authority of the Chamber, it is instead a reflection of the Prosecution’s own legal duty under the Statute.

 To which the Chamber answered:

27. No criminal court can operate on the basis that whenever it makes an order in a particular area, it is for the Prosecutor to elect whether or not to implement it, depending on his interpretation of his obligations. The judges, not the Prosecutor, decide on protective measures during the trial, once the Chamber is seized of the relevant issue, as regards victims, witnesses and others affected by the work of the Court, and the prosecution cannot choose to ignore its rulings. It is for the Chamber to determine whether protective measures are necessary (following consultation with the VWU under Article 68(4) of the Statute); their nature; and whether they are consistent with the accused’s right to a fair trial. These are issues for the Court, and the Court alone, to determine, having heard submissions and having considered all the information the judges consider necessary and relevant. The Prosecutor now claims a separate authority which can defeat the orders of the Court, and which thereby involves a profound, unacceptable and unjustified intrusion into the role of the judiciary.

28. The Prosecutor has chosen to prosecute this accused. In the Chamber’s judgment, he cannot be allowed to continue with this prosecution if he seeks to reserve to himself the right to avoid the Court’s orders whenever he decides that they are inconsistent with his interpretation of his other obligations. In order for the Chamber to ensure that the accused receives a fair trial, it is necessary that its orders, decisions and rulings are respected, unless and until they are overturned on appeal, or suspended by order of the Court.

 As a consequence:

31. Therefore, the Prosecutor has elected to act unilaterally in the present circumstances, and he declines to be “checked” by the Chamber. In these overall circumstances, it is necessary to stay these proceedings as an abuse of the process of the Court because of the material non-compliance with the Chamber’s orders of 7 July 2010, and more generally, because of the Prosecutor’s clearly evinced intention not to implement the Chamber’s orders that are made in an Article 68 context, if he considers they conflict with his interpretation of the prosecution’s other obligations. Whilst these circumstances endure, the fair trial of the accused is no longer possible, and justice cannot be done, not least because the judges will have lost control of a significant aspect of the trial proceedings as provided under the Rome Statute framework.

This is not the first time that the proceedings are slowed down due to prosecutorial delay. Some years ago, he had failed to disclose evidence obtained through the UN, which had led to a stay of proceedings, and even a decision on the release of Lubanga (which was of course overturned on appeal). The Prosecutor had grudgingly complied with the order at the time, but this time clearly claims that he would be under a Statutory obligation not to comply.
The Chamber’s irritation with the Prosecutor is apparently reaching new levels, and it is interesting that it evokes the possibility of applying Article 71 of the Statute, which provides that

“the Court may sanction persons present before it who commit misconduct, including disruption of its proceedings or deliberate refusal to comply with its directions, by administrative measures other than imprisonment, such as temporary or permanent removal from the courtroom, a fine or other similar measures provided for in the Rules of Procedure and Evidence.”

The possible sanction, according to the RPE (rule 171), are up to 30 days of removal from the proceedings and even, if the person is an official of the Court, up to 30 days of interdiction of exercising their function before the Court. In the unlikely event that the Chamber did apply this to Mr. Ocampo, he could swap stories with Garzon on the scandalous limitations to judicial independence for those untiring defenders of universal rights… But it would be unfair to put all the blame on the Prosecutor for the delays in the Lubanga Trial. The judges, with the Requalification of Charges fiasco, also have contributed to turning this first ICC Trial in a textbook case of poor judicial management.

Indeed, beyond this case, is highlighted once again the difficult interaction between the Prosecutor and the Chambers, and the continuing struggle for “power” over the proceedings, which has not failed to come up at every step of the proceedings, whether at the pre-investigative phase, when the PTCs tried to force OTP  decisions in CAR and Sudan, in the investigative phase, with the issue of victim participation, in the case selection, with the prosecution wrestling full control over gravity from spineless chambers, and now in the trial phase. It’s difficult to know if the problem is structural (multiplying institutions with more, and therefore conflicting powers), or personal, due to the particular approach adopted by the OTP. But if it does last, it can only end badly, for the defendants, for victims, for the long-term legitimacy of the Court, and ultimately for the credibility of international justice…

Bring your Appeal to School Week: International Justice marches on for Lubanga, Bemba and Sljivancanin

Early December has been quite busy in the Hague international tribunals. The Karadzic flying circus has gotten all the attention in recent weeks, but other decisions require at least being mentionned.

At the ICC, on 2 December, the Appeals Chamber reversed the decision on the interim release of Jean-Pierre Bemba issued last August and where a single judge had decided that changed circumstances allowed for such a release. In its Judgment, the Appeals Chamber found that the pre-trial chamber had misapplied the conditions under which a person could be considered for interim release. We won’t go into the details of the reversal, which is in line with the case-law of the ICC up to now, namely, that it is extremely unlikely that any defendant will ever be granted interim release, given the conditions imposed and that the Court, although pretending to apply Human Rights standards, has in effect reversed the principle of liberty and imposes incarceration as a rule.
More specifically, by taking into account the gravity of the crime and possible sentence, a condition which is not contained in article 58, the Appeals Chamber tips the balance in favour of detention. Indeed, All crimes are “grave”. That is the whole point of the ICC in the first place. But the day-to-day application of the Statute leads to the fact that we have to accept a hierarchy of gravity between the crimes if the use of gravity within the Statute is to have any sense. Generally, gravity is a continuing thorn is the side of the Judges at the ICC. This is obvious in the interim release decisions, but also in the admissibility case-law where pre-trial, trial and appeal chamber have in effect given up on putting into effect article 17.1)d) of the Statute and left a total discretion to the prosecutor on the evaluation of gravity.

Still at the ICC, the Appeals Chamber yesterday, the 8 December, reversed the Trial Chamber decision on the legal recharacterisation of facts, on which I had commented on in a previous post. The Trial Chamber had decided to use Regulation 55(2) of the Regulations of the Court to pronounce of the possible change in the legal characterisation of the facts in order to include charges of sexual violence in the indictment. The Appeals Judgment is fairly uncontroversial, in the sense that it reverses a criticised decision, but its reasoning is not beyond reproach.
It first finds that Regulation 55 is not in principle incompatible with the Statute of the Court, especially with Article 61(9) on the modification of the charges after the confirmation of charges, or with general principles of international law.
The Appeals Chamber however considers that the Trial Chamber misinterpreted the Regulation because it cannot be read as allowing the Trial Chamber to take into account in its decision facts and circumstances not contained in the charges, as prescribed in article 74(2) of the Statute. Moreover, according to the Appeals Chamber, the addition of new facts and circumstances can only be done in accordance with article 61(9), which gives the prosecutor power to do so. In the words of the Appeals Chamber:

The Trial Chamber’s interpretation of Regulation 55 would circumvent article 61 (9) of the Statute and would blur the distinction between the two provisions. As the Prosecutor notes, the incorporation of new facts and circumstances into the subject matter of the trial would alter the fundamental scope of the trial. The Appeals Chamber observes that it is the Prosecutor who, pursuant to article 54 (1) of the Statute, is tasked with the investigation of crimes under the jurisdiction of the Court and who, pursuant to article 61 (1) and (3) of the Statute, proffers charges against suspects. To give the Trial Chamber the power to extend proprio motu the scope of a trial to facts and circumstances not alleged by the Prosecutor would be contrary to the distribution of powers under the Statute.

In deciding that Regulation 55 is not incompatible with article 61(9), but by interpreting article 61(9) as it does, the Appeals Chambers is threading a tight interpetrative rope. Indeed, 1) the article only mentions new charges, not new facts and circumstances and 2) the distinction between the two is difficult in practice. Indeed, what would be the point of a recharacterisation if it didn’t affect the charges? Even if trial judges were to recharacterise facts already contained in the charges, it would probably affect the charges themselves, for example by affecting the criminal liability, from direct responsibility to command responsibility. In effect, I do think there is some tension between the two provisions.
Which brings us back to the broader overarching problem of the interaction of civil law and common law in the founding documents. As I pointed out in my earlier post, Article 61(9) is a common law approach, giving discretion to the Prosecutor, whereas Regulation 55 is civil law inspired by giving more power to the judges. Despite the wishful thinking of many, I don’t believe that the two approaches are compatible when drafted this way on a case-by-case basis with no clear and explicit relationship between the two.
Finally, a short comment on prosecutorial strategy. This is not discussed in the Appeal, but the Trial Chamber decision was a clear result of the Prosecutor wanting to have his cake and eat it. Indeed, a lot of attention has been devoted to the role of victims in that decision or the tendencies of the Judges, but the Prosecutor is also partly to blame. He chose to prosecute “only” the enlisting of child soldiers, but all through the trial, as early as his opening statement, he insisted on the conditions under which these children operated, especially in relation to sexual abuse. Despite it not being directly relevant, this was obviously done to give some extra gravitas  to the proceedings and the strategy nearly backfired. Maybe the Prosecutor will show more caution in the future.

Finally, on the same date, 8 December, the Appeals Chamber of the ICTY dismissed the motion filed on behalf of Sljivancanin for the Judgment rendered by the Appeals Chamber. In that Judgment, the Appeals Chamber had reversed the finding of acquittal against the Defendant on one of the counts and consequently imposed a sentence in relation to the finding of guilt. Judge Pocar dissented, considering that once the error of the Trial Chamber identified, the case should have been remitted the case to the Trial Chamber for a re-evaluation of the facts in light of the correct application of the law.
The main issue, as argued carefully in the motion, was whether the reversal of the finding of acquittal by the Appeals Chamber and subsequent sentencing, violated the right of Appeal of the Defendant as recognised in Article 14(5) of the ICCPR. The Appeals Chamber, in a short and undocumented decision declines to even consider the motion, considering that “the Appeals Chamber has no power to reconsider its final Judgments”.
You can read the motion if you want more details on the reasoning of the Defendant’s counsel, but generally I find the decision puzzling. Let’s not insist on the whole idea that an acquittal can be appealed by the prosecutor in the first place. I would tend to agree that this should be barred, as in the US constitution, if only because the State (or institution) has unlimited means to get things right the first time, as opposed to the Defence, but apparently, the practice at the ad hoc tribunals is different. What is specifically puzzling here is that, on the face of it, it does appear like a clear violation of the right of Appeal as protected by Human Rights Standards. The Appeals Chamber clearly embarks on a very specific factual analysis of the evidence which is more of a First Instance role than an Appelate role, and apparently didn’t recall witnesses or allow “adversarial” discussion. As pointed out by Pocar in his dissent:

The Appeals Chamber enters a conviction based on the trial record without having observed the witness testimony or the presentation of evidence, factors which may be particularly important in assessing witness credibility. In so doing, the Appeals Chamber enters, for the first time in this case, findings on matters which are primarily within the responsibility of the Trial Chamber, such as finding on issues of fact that are crucial to a verdict of guilt. Such findings are now destined to remain unchallenged, in clear violation of Sljivancanin’s right to appeal against convictions.

I don’t see how it would not be in the interests of justice for the Appeals Chamber (with the exact same composition as in the impugned Judgment… hum…) to pronounce on the motion, especially when out of the 5 appelate judges, one (Pocar) wanted to send the case back to the Trial Chamber and another (Vaz) actually concurred with the finding of acquittal at the trial level.

All in all, a good week for commentators where international justice marches on, irrespective of the rights of Defence (Bemba, Sljivancanin) and setting aside the requirements of consistency in the intepretation of criminal statutes (Lubanga)…

The Never-Ending Lubanga Trial : A Legacy for Our Children… who will have reached old-age before it concludes!

On the French Bastille day, July 14th, the Trial Chamber in the Lubanga case issued a Decision giving notice to the parties and participants that the legal characterisation of the facts may be subject to change in accordance with Regulation 55(2) of the Regulations of the Court“. Under this fairly enigmatic title, the Chamber, by a 2-1 vote, with a strong dissent from the Presiding Judge Fulford, considers that the facts underlying the case against Thomas Lubanga could characterise 5 new crimes under the statute of the ICC (3 of sexual slavery (both as a war crime and a crime against humanity), one of inhuman treatment and one of cruel treatment). It should be recalled that Lubanga was up to now charged with 6 counts linked to child soldiers.

In order to reach its decision, the Court relies on Regulation 55(2) of the Court’s Regulations, according to which:

“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.”

As much as I would like to disagree with it entirely on principle, I have to agree partially with the Chamber, or at least admit that their interpretation of the Statute and Regulations is possible. According to the Dissenting Opinion, as well as Kevin Heller at Opinio Juris, the use of Regulation 55(2) is contrary to both Article 61(9) of the Statute and Article 74(2) of the Statute.
Let’s start with Article 61(9), dealing with the confirmation of charges and according to which “After the commencement of the trial, the Prosecutor may, with the permission of the Trial Chamber, withdraw the charges”. The dissenting analysis is that this means that the Trial Chamber’s only power in relation to the charges is to allow the Prosecutor to withdraw them. This makes sense, but it is also possible to read this provision as laying down the powers of the Prosecutor, not the Trial Chamber. This could be confirmed by the grammatical constructionof the Article, which states that “The Prosecutor may…” rather than “the Trial Chamber may not…” Moreover, Regulation 55(2) relates the legal qualification of facts, not the question of charges. Of course this sounds like semantic hair-splitting, and I agree, but unfortunately, the multiplication of terms is the drafters’ fault, not mine.
As for Article 74(2), it relates the requirements for the decision: “the decision shall not exceed the facts and circumstances described in the charges. the Court may base its decision only on evidence submitted and discussed before it at trial”. The Trial Chamber contends that this requirement does not apply to Regulation 55(2), because it comes into play during the trial, and not in taking the decision. It bases its argumentation on a comparison with Regulation 55(1), which expressly refers to Article 74(2) and its conditions. Again, as much as I would like to disagree with the Majority Decision, their interpretation, even if it doesn’t make sense, is possible given the drafting of the various provisions. If the drafters wanted to include the Article 74(2) safeguard in Regulation 55(2), they shoud have included it!
Where I do have a major issue with the decision, and this is where the criticism should focus, is on the definition of “legal characterisation”. On this point, I perfectly agree with the minority opinion. The new crimes brought forward are so removed from the ones in the original charges, that the facts already brought forward would not be sufficient to be able to rely on them for a conviction. New facts would necessarily be needed, especially in relation to the widespread and systematic character of the proposed crimes against humanity charge of sexual slavery and the proof of Lubanga’s mens rea in relation to that, which is different that the one for the war crime of enlisting child soldiers. Such a broad definition of “legal characterisation” basically allows the Trial Chamber, nudged forward by the victims, to bring entirely new charges against a defendant during the Trial, which is extremely problematic for the rights of the defense, even if the Trial Chamber did recognise that it needs to give sufficient time to Lubanga to respond, hence the notice under Regulation 55(2).
In conclusion, what to make of this decision?
In my opinion, the only real bad decision-making is in relation to the the legal definition of “legal characterisation”. If not, they make use of the poor drafting of the Statute, RPE and Regulations. Some authors call this “constructive ambiguity”, which is often lauded as allowing the judges some leeway in adapting the statute to new situations. But, even accepting, for the sake of argument, that it is a good thing to allow criminal judges to makes up rules as they go along, one must accept in consequence that this “flexibility” can go both ways, depending on the agendas of the judges (more on this below).
This problematic articulation of the different rules of the ICC legal framework is often due to a pick-and-choose mixture of common law and civil law systems. Both of them have their own logic. But when you take two conflicting rules from each system (in our case prosecutorial discretion, and judge-led trials) without thinking through how to articulate them, you will necessarily be faced with problematic decisions as this one.
Which brings me back to the more general policy considerations.
The first one is one of efficiency. Whatever one thinks of the decision, there is no denying that the use of this procedure will considerably lenghten a trial which has already been going on for far too long.
Secondly, this is not a suprising decision in light of the ongoing struggle between OTP and Chambers since the inception of the Court on who is in charge. This went on at the pre-trial phase, in relation to investigations, participation of victims, qualification of charges, and is obviously continuing in the trial phase.
Third of all, it shows the continuing, increasing and in my opinion problematic influence of victim participation in the proceedings. They had criticised (together with powerful NGOs) the fact that Lubanga was only charged with enlisting of Child Soldiers. And I had partly agreed with this criticism. But it is one thing to critisize and disagree with prosecutorial choices, it is another to actually allow the victims a procedural right to contest (or even change) the charges during the trial. As Kevin Heller points out, “that ship had sailed”, and the trial itself is not necessarily the moment to come back on it.
Finally, related to this issue of victims’ rights, i can’t help but notice that once again the impetus in giving the victims more power comes from latin-american judges (Odio Benito, from Costa-Rica, and Blattman, from Bolivia), just as the first progressive decisions on victim participation had involved Judge Steiner from Brazil. This is not suprising, given the influence of the inter-american system in the development of victims’ rights, through the recognition of an army of rights that have then be exported as unchallenged gospel in the realm of international criminal law, despite the sometimes flimsy legal justification of some of these rights (like the fabled right to truth) that blurs to the point of extinction the distinction between law and morals.
But lets keep this debate for another time…