It looks like the remarkably speedy investigation of the ICC Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) will produce its first request for arrest warrants for Libyan officials tomorrow. The Prosecutor of the ICC will be holding a press conference tomorrow, May 16th 2011. As the press release states:
The Prosecutor will announce his findings following the ongoing investigations of crimes allegedly committed since 15 February 2011 in the situation in Libya.
You can see live streaming of the announcements, in various languages, by choosing from the links here.
It is unlikely that we will see any surprises tomorrow. Given his report to the UN Security Council earlier this month, the Prosecutor will be seeking arrest warrants for three Libya officials ”most responsible” for breaches of international criminal law. Luis Moreno-Ocampo has made it clear that, at least amongst this first batch of arrest warrants, no Libyan rebels will be targeted.
Interestingly, Julian Borger reports that there has been a game of tattletale going on: senior members of Gaddafi’s regime have apparently contacted the ICC in order to apportion blame on each other for war crimes. Moreno-Ocampo has also been quoted as saying that his investigation is so advanced that it is “almost ready for trial.”
Will anything change once the investigation churns out an arrest warrant? The short answer is: yes, absolutely. The divergent effects of investigations in contrast to arrest warrants and indictments remain largely under-explored. Here are some initial thoughts on what an arrest warrant will mean.
First of all, it must be made clear: until an arrest warrant is issued, no member-state is under any legal obligation to arrest Gaddafi. There seems to be a misunderstanding of the obligations that member-states have to the ICC during an investigation. Until the Pre-Trial Chamber issues an indictment, no state has any obligation to detain Gaddafi. The game changes when an arrest warrant comes into play.
An arrest warrant will alter the political landscape as well as shift the political calculations of all actors involved: member-states of the ICC, non-member states, Gaddafi and the Court itself.
For the ICC, the unprecedented speed of the OTP’s investigation is telling. It appears to be, at least in part, the result of a desire to get an arrest warrant issued against Gaddafi before he goes into exile. Another reason for the speed may be the increasing recognition that Gaddafi may be killed by a targeted strike by coalition forces. It serves the interests of the Court to get an arrest warrant before Gaddafi is killed. If he were to die, the investigation into the Libyan leader would stop immediately.
An arrest warrant is permanent. At least theoretically, an investigation can drag on. By virtue of being a process, it can also be suspended if the ICC’s OTP decides prosecuting is not in the interests of justice. However, an arrest warrant, once issued, can only be removed temporarily – if the UN Security Council invokes Article 16 of the ICC Rome Statute to defer a prosecution for up to 12 months. The Council can repeatedly defer a prosecution, but must commit to doing so yearly.
The permanence of arrest warrants is important in its implications for the process of negotiating peace. If Gaddafi thought that, despite the investigation, he had room to manoeuvre, as well as time to wage his war in an attempt to swing the momentum in his favour, he is likely to feel even more squeezed with an arrest warrant. In other words, his flexibility to leave Libya will be severely hampered. This is precisely what the Italian Foreign Minister implied when he declared that once the arrest warrant was issued,
“from that moment on an exit from power or from the country will no longer be imaginable” because “after the arrest warrant is issued all the international community would have legal obligations.”
Will Gaddafi have a harder time finding sanctuary/asylum elsewhere if there is an arrest warrant against him? With an arrest warrant, it would be significantly less likely that a member-state of the ICC would accept him for exile. During earlier phases of negotiations, the US and others actively explored finding a state that would be willing to grant Gaddafi asylum, if he chose to leave Libya, including a member-state. Uganda, a member-state of the ICC, offered itself up as a possible destination for the Libyan leader. With an arrest warrant this option would surely be exhausted. The pressure by the court’s most ardent supporters in the international community as well as by domestic and international human rights groups on member-states considering an offer of asylum to Gaddafi would likely be unbearable. The persistent stream of criticism that human rights groups levy on those who don’t conform can have remarkably powerful effects on the behaviour of states.
As for non member-states, it will be argued that they too have an obligation to arrest Gaddafi. The case will be made that because the UN Security Council, a legal body whose decisions are binding for all members of the UN, referred the situation to the Court, all states of the UN, and not only member-states of the ICC, have an obligation to arrest him. It is unlikely that this argument will affect any states’ behaviour – it certainly has not affected the decision of states in the case of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who was indicted by the ICC following the Security Council’s first referral of a situation to the Court in 2005.
It thus seems unlikely that non member-states would be deterred from accepting Gaddafi. Further, there are some states which have taken joy in being a pain in the side of international criminal justice and which would relish the infamy of being “the country that took Gaddafi”. Venezuela, Sudan, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia remain possible destinations. In a few of these states, it should be noted, Gaddafi holds significant investments.
What of the coalition forces and NATO? In his piece on the meaning of an arrest warrant against Gaddafi, David Bosco writes:
“An indictment would certainly complicate exile because it wouldn’t be easy for Qaddafi to leave Libya without the acquiescence of NATO forces, almost all of whom are members of the ICC and have a legal obligation to assist the court. But assuming that Qaddafi were to cross by land (rather than test the no-fly zone) into another non-ICC state (Egypt or Algeria, for example), it’s doubtful that coalition forces who belong to the ICC would be under an affirmative legal obligation to seize him.”
It would seem to me that Gaddafi, should he so desire, wouldn’t have a problem paying his way into exile, even if he had to do so by land. But the more important question is, if he fled, what would the international community do?
Bosco points out that key states on the UN Security Council – India, China, South Africa and Nigeria – have all said that peace and security remain their priority. Justice, in their eyes, must follow rather than lead. During the negotiations in the Council to refer the situation in Libya to the ICC, many of these same states declared their preference for a “calibrated approach” wherein peace and justice are sequenced. The negotiations also included a reference to Article 16, leaving the door open for the Council to defer any investigation or prosecution in case they deemed a deferral to be in the interests of international peace and security.
Both Gaddafi and NATO forces will feel an additional pressure when an arrest warrant is issued for Gaddafi, which will presumably come a few weeks after the OTP’s request tomorrow.
Squeezing key actors is precisely the intention of the Court and its most fervent of champions. The ICC has always sought to restrict and regulate the behaviour of states and individual actors. Its investigations and indictments are intended to isolate and marginalize anyone within its cross-hairs. The hope is that they will be deterred from committing future crimes or will end up in the dock, or – in a perfect world – both. By pinning “international criminal” on the heads of individuals like Gaddafi, the ICC seeks to make them unfit to negotiate peace. Referring to ongoing peace negotiations on Darfur with al-Bashir, Prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo simply says that the ICC is a reality that negotiators must adjust to:
“We need negotiations, but if Bashir…is not the person to negotiate with. Mr. Bashir could not be an option for [negotiations on] Darfur…I believe negotiators have to learn how to adjust to the reality. The court is a reality.”
The ICC and the network of global civil society organizations who are its lifeblood also seek to apportion blame on those states which bend its rules or break with their obligations to the Court. Without an effective police force to enforce its arrest warrants and without any significant sanctions to levy against member-states who violate the Rome Statute, naming and shaming has become the Court’s go-to tool against states who play fast-and-loose with their obligations to the ICC.
In some cases, especially Sudan, the Court has done poorly on both fronts – it hasn’t managed to marginalize its biggest fish like Joseph Kony in Uganda and al-Bashir in Sudan. Its ability to deter them from violence is also, at best, questionable. The Court also hasn’t prevented states from inviting indicted leaders to various ceremonies in member and non-member states alike. Almost a decade after it became a functioning Court, the ICC seems desperate to show not only that it has teeth, but that it can use them. Getting Gaddafi in the dock would prove just that.