Mladic Judgment: yet another new finding on genocide in the municipalities?

Today, the ICTY issued its long awaited Judgment in the Mladic trial. Few commentators expected any surprises, especially, as I pointed out at the time, because Mladic was mentioned 1883 times in the Karadzic Judgment.

One issue that was being followed carefully, is whether the Chamber would make a finding of genocide in the Municipalities. This has been one of the most controversial question in the case law of the ICTY, because so far, no Trial Chamber has made a finding of genocide in Bosnia outside of Srebrenica. As noted by Marko Milanovic, “The possibility thus remains that the Mladic and Karadzic trial chambers will disagree on the existence of genocide outside Srebrenica; that possibility is relatively low, but it is not zero.”

Here is how the Chamber dealt with the issue (this is from the summary of the Judgment, the Judgment not being available yet at the time of writing):

The Chamber then examined the specific intent of the physical perpetrators. The Chamber found by majority, Judge Orie, dissenting, that the physical perpetrators in Sanski Most, Vlasenica, and Foča, and certain perpetrators in Kotor Varoš and Prijedor Municipalities intended to destroy the Bosnian Muslims in those Municipalities as a part of the protected group. The Chamber then considered whether the targeted part constituted a substantial part of the protected group, and concluded that the Bosnian Muslims targeted in each municipality formed a relatively small part of the protected group and were also in other ways not a substantial part. Consequently, the Chamber was not satisfied that the only reasonable inference was that the physical perpetrators possessed the required intent to destroy a substantial part of the protected group of Bosnian Muslims.

3 comments can be made on this:

First of all, the outcome of the Chamber that there was no genocide in the Municipalities is consistent with the case law of the ICTY to date. This will of course continue to receive criticism from certain quarters. As I noted after the Karadzic Judgment: “There is now consistent case-law that there was no genocidal intent in the rest of Bosnia and I remain surprised at the criticism levelled at the ICTY on this point: clearly, ICTY Judges, who in the past have stretched the definitions of crimes, modes of liability and acceptable evidence beyond recognition to cast as wide a net as possible in the “fight against impunity”, can hardly be considered as genocide apologists and if they have not found evidence of genocidal intent in so many cases, it must mean something”.

Second of all, it seems that the reasoning of the majority of the Chamber actually departs from the Karadzic Judgment. There, the Chamber found that ” The Chamber is not satisfied, however, that there is evidence establishing, beyond reasonable doubt, that the perpetrators of these crimes possessed intent to destroy the Bosnian Muslim and/or Bosnian Croat groups in the Count 1 Municipalities as such” (Karadzic judgement, par. 2613). We now therefore have two different legal findings in the case law in relation to the intent of the direct perpetrators of the crimes committed in the Municipalities, a discrepancy that will need to be resolved on appeal, both in the Karadzic and Mladic cases.

Third of all, having found, by Majority, that the direct perpetrators did in fact have genocidal intent, the Chamber moved on to find that the intent did not relate to the destruction of a substantial part of the group. This finding re-opens the can of worms that was the definition of “substantial part of the group” in the Srebrenica cases and the ICTR. Indeed, how “substantial” must the part of the group destroyed be, and in relation to what overall group?  Is the calculation of what is substantial based on the Muslims in these municipalities? The summary of the Judgment is not very clear on that, but it seems indeed to suggest that the protected group is “the Bosnian Muslims in those Municipalities”. In that case, it will have to be made clear in the Judgment how the facts differ from the Srebrenica scenario. Is the calculation based on the wider group of muslims in Bosnia? In this case, this would be at odds with the approach in relation to Srebrenica.

Whatever the approach, still remains open the question of how intent to commit genocide can be “split”, when it comes to the actions of a group over a given territory, that it controls, depending on the specific town or village involved. For me, there is either genocidal intent, or there isn’t…

As an aside, I’m curious to know how the Chamber came to the conclusion that life imprisonment was warranted, especially compared to the 40 years that Karadzic received. I’m not particularly impressed with the finding that “the crimes committed rank among the most heinous known to mankind”. Isn’t that the case for all crimes within the jurisdiction of the tribunal? More generally, I would expect the Judgment to be as imprecise and as unuseful as all other international judgments which provide dozens of pages of discussion on the criteria to be used in sentencing… before dishing out a lump sentence which usually comes out of nowhere… (see my thoughts on this in relation to the Taylor Judgment here)

On a concluding note, and because I like to be consistent, I remain irritated by claims that the Judgment is a “victory for justice“. As I’ve said in the past, if you have trust in the legitimacy of the legal system, any outcome should be considered a “victory for justice”, even if it is an acquittal…

 

Guest Post: Preliminary Admissibility Rulings: An Additional Hurdle in the ICC’s Race to Justice

[By Santiago Vargas Niño, LLB & BA in Political Science, Universidad de los Andes, Colombia; LLM (Cum Laude), Universiteit Leiden, The Netherlands; Former Intern, Legal Assistant & Assistant Legal Officer of the OTP of the ICC]

Last Thursday, 9 November 2017, Pre-Trial Chamber (“PTC”) III of the International Criminal Court (“Court”) issued a public redacted version of its 25 October 2017 decision authorising the Office of the Prosecutor (“Prosecution”) to commence an investigation into the situation in Burundi. While this possibility had been anticipated by Sergey Vasiliev, it has received the kind of attention that is usually reserved for big surprises. And rightly so. Pursuant to Article 127 of the Rome Statute (“Statute”), the notice of withdrawal deposited by Burundi on 27 October 2016 would have become effective a mere two days after PTC-III decided to grant the  Prosecution’s request. The Court’s ability to exercise its jurisdiction over crimes allegedly committed in Burundi while it was a State Party was saved at the eleventh hour. Naturally, this has raised some eyebrows.

Of particular note is the interesting debate between Kevin Jon Heller and Dov Jacobs on the interpretation of Article 18 in the context of a proprio motu investigation, which I encourage the reader to consult in full. In a nutshell, professor Heller suggests that the Prosecution must notify a State Party of its decision to request authorisation to commence an investigation. This would afford the concerned State an opportunity to challenge the Prosecution’s finding with regard to the admissibility of a situation before a formal investigation is launched, while preventing duplicative considerations of the matter by the PTC. Professor Jacobs replies that such notification should be requested only after the PTC has granted the Prosecutions application under Article 15. In his view, Article 18 contains a limited procedure aimed at obtaining a preliminary ruling on admissibility which is independent from the authorisation to initiate an investigation. Naturally, this would allow the State to avail itself of a request for deferral of an already authorised investigation on constantly evolving complementarity grounds.

I wish to devote a few lines to my understanding of Article 18 before presenting three thoughts on the continuing discussion about its application: (i) the lack of foundation, in the Court’s core legal documents and its jurisprudence, for what may seem like a sound policy; (ii) the importance of maintaining the clear statutory distinction between preliminary examinations and investigations, and; (iii) the checks on the Prosecution’s discretion to initiate proprio motu investigations.

Continue reading

A short rejoinder to Kevin Jon Heller on Burundi and the ICC [UPDATED]

Following my post yesterday where I raised doubt about Kevin’s interpretation of Article 18 of the Rome Statute as requiring the OTP to inform Burundi that it intended to file a request to open a formal investigation prior to the filing of such request, Kevin has kindly taken the time to respond (disagree).

This seems like one of those rare times where I’m sure we’ll have to agree to disagree, but I just want to make three short points.

First of all, in relation to this point raised by Kevin:

As I pointed out in my previous post, Art. 15 not only specifically distinguishes between the OTP initiating an investigation proprio motu (paragraph 1) and the PTC authorizing the commencement of that investigation (paragraph 4), it specifically deems the former but not the latter part of the preliminary-examination process (paragraph 6). Paragraph 6 makes no sense if “initiates” in paragraph 1 refers to all of the steps in Art. 15, including authorization.

I agree with Kevin that, textually, Article 15(6) seems to suggest that the “initiation of an investigation” seems to be part of the PE, while the authorisation is something else. But I think that if that is really what the drafters had in mind, then I have two follow up questions :

Continue reading

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…