Former ICC Prosecutor Slams U.S. Record on the ICC, International Justice

Former ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo (Photo: Reuters)

Former ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo (Photo: Reuters)

Luis Moreno-Ocampo is still in the game. The former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is involved in a human rights NGO in Libya and, more recently, has worked to bring a case forward to the ICC alleging that the Islamic State (ISIS) has perpetrated genocide against the Yazidis in northern Iraq. In light of his recent efforts, Moreno-Ocampo recently gave a lengthy interview to Richelle Carey of Al Jazeera America in which the former prosecutor ripped into America’s record in supporting the Court – and the project of international criminal justice.

In a segment regarding ongoing crimes perpetrated by ISIS, Moreno-Ocampo was asked if there was any role for the ICC to play in Syria. In response, he almost immediately turned to blaming Washington’s flip-flop policy on an ICC intervention:

In fact, yes, Russia veto[ed] a resolution on Syria. Before that, the U.S. was not interested to send the case to the ICC. They did it just at the end to shame Russia, but not at the beginning. The U.S. was proposing, you remember, striking because of chemical weapons. That will be a wrong policy. Because it’s not about just killing people with chemical weapon. You cannot kill people. So, yes, we lost opportunities.

These comments are honest and welcome, if a bit surprising coming from Moreno-Ocampo. But the former chief prosecutor is absolutely correct in observing both the inconsistent position of the U.S. and the Obama administration’s unfortunate manipulation of its eventual support for a referral as a means to blame Moscow. Following the May 2014 failure to pass a UN Security Council referral of Syria to the ICC, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power delivered a highly questionable speech explaining why Washington had changed its mind on an ICC investigation of war crimes in Syria. Power decried the fact that it was possible for the Court to be active in Africa but not Syria and then blamed Russia and China not only for vetoing the 2014 referral but for Washington’s decision not to previously push for an ICC intervention. In doing so, Power exposed the hypocrisy behind the U.S. position on the ICC in Syria and beyond. As I argued at the time, Power’s comments smacked of a state jumping on the justice bandwagon late in the game only to be the first in line to bully those who hadn’t yet joined.

But Moreno-Ocampo wasn’t done there. He subsequently delivered a fierce assessment of the U.S.’s general position on international criminal justice:

They are against independent justice. That’s the problem. They don’t like an independent procedure deciding to open investigation without their consent…

…With time — I hope before everyone is killed in this country, in this world. Yeah, I hope [it] will change. The problem is, [the] U.S. is the biggest country in the world. They don’t like something checking them. That’s it.

Continue reading

Posted in ICC Prosecutor, International Criminal Court (ICC), International Criminal Justice, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, United States | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Who’s Afraid of the International Criminal Court in Georgia?

 A destroy building in Georgia during its 2008 war with Russia (Photo: photo: Dmitrij Steshin / Wikimedia)

A destroy building in Georgia during its 2008 war with Russia (Photo: photo: Dmitrij Steshin / Wikimedia)

The International Criminal Court (ICC) may have finally found its ‘road out of Africa’. Prosecutors at the ICC have asked the Court’s judges to grant them an official investigation into the allegations of war crimes committed during the August 2008 war between Georgia and Russia over the territory of South Ossetia. This marks the first time that the ICC’s prosecutor has sought to investigate a situation outside of the African continent. It also puts a number of states in the Court’s cross-hairs. So who is – and should be – afraid of the ICC in Georgia?

The most common answer is Russia. After all, many blame Russia for the war in South Ossetia. Moreover, and perhaps more pertinently, a dominant narrative in international relations today pits Russia as a belligerent Goliath against innocent regional Davids. Moscow is up to no good in Ukraine. Moscow is up to no good in Syria. And, in 2008, Moscow was up to no good in South Ossetia. This “Cold War 2.0” rhetoric leads easily to the assumption that if there’s an investigation into a war Russia that is involved in, Russia must be at fault.

Indeed, remarks from the Russian foreign ministry suggest that Moscow is palpably concerned with what it sees as the ICC’s unfair focus on its role in the war:

Judging from conclusions made by the ICC prosecutor, intentional killings of the South Ossetians will not become an issue of international investigation. [ICC] Prosecutor’s office also has reservations about attacks carried out against the Russian members of the peacekeeping forces. But ICC investigators state their readiness to investigate actions of the South Ossetian militias against ethnic Georgians, as well as of the Russian forces, who, as the prosecutor supposes, ‘possibly participated’ in those actions.

Such interpretation of the August 2008 events, which is far from reality and which actually shields [former President Mikheil] Saakashvili’s regime, will hardly contribute to confidence towards the ICC prosecutor’s office. We hope that while considering the prosecutor’s request, the [ICC] judges will take [a] decision, which meets principles of fairness.

But does Russia really have that much to worry about? Not really. The ICC Prosecutor’s request to open an official investigation into the war in South Ossetia seems primarily focused on two crimes: 1) the alleged ethnic cleansing of Georgians from South Ossetia, and 2) an alleged attack by Georgian forces on a Russian peacekeeping base (which included a medical facility). While the prosecutor’s written request to open the investigation does note that “the information available suggests that Russia continued to exercise overall control over South Ossetian forces during this period”, it also observed that Russian forces set up check-points and acted in such a way as to protect civilian populations from South Ossetian violence. Overall, the prosecutor’s request gave a mixed, rather weak and very much inconclusive assessment of the actions of Russian forces:

The information available indicates that at least some members of the Russian armed forces participated in the commission of the alleged crimes while other members acted passively, and still others acted to prevent and punish such crimes. The issue of whether, additionally, individual criminal responsibility may be attached to members of the Russian armed forces for acts allegedly committed by South Ossetian forces will depend on the evidence collected during the course of any authorised investigation and an examination of the full range of forms of liability under the Statute. As described above, at least in some instances, the Russian armed forces appear to have been able to prevent and punish such acts consistent with the duties of an occupying power.

This isn’t exactly a strong condemnation of Russian forces or even a suggestion that they willfully and systematically perpetrated war crimes. Indeed, none of the above should have Moscow shaking its boots. So why, then, has Russia’s response been so virulent?

The answer is that Russia’s comrades in South Ossetia may be vulnerable to potential warrants of arrest. South Ossetian forces are allegedly responsible for the ethnic cleansing of Georgian citizens, perhaps the most high-profile charge the ICC is likely to levy. Russia, which annexed South Ossetia and which insists that the region is now part of the Russian Federation, will likely pursue a two-pronged strategy to protect its nominal enclave: 1) selectively cooperate with the ICC but deny the Court’s investigators access into South Ossetia and 2) continue to point the finger at Georgian forces and political figures.

Georgia, here, is a bit of a wild card. The country is an ICC member state and views itself as the victim of Russian aggression. It has also long allied itself staunchly with the West. As a result, it has generally welcomed the ICC’s intervention, at least insofar as it fits within that narrative of laying blame for the war – and the wider region’s instability – at Moscow’s feet. Despite the allegations that Georgian forces bombed a peacekeeping camp and targeted a medical facility, Georgian officials welcomed ICC Chief Fatou Bensouda in Tbilisi last week. At a press conference, Bensouda stated that Georgian authorities “are cooperating on everything”. Notably, the country’s justice minister, Tea Tsulukiani, declared that she hoped the Court would proceed in opening an official investigation. But she also openly worried that it wouldn’t “properly” reflect Russia’s role in the war.

While the pressure on Georgia to cooperate is high, it is also important to recognise that Western states, in particular the United States, may be less than keen to have Georgia under the ICC’s microscope. As a trusted American ally, the Georgian military was trained by U.S. troops and the then government of Mikheil Saakashvili propped up by Washington. The fate of Saakashvili, who was roundly defeated in 2012 and subsequently left, perhaps even fled, Georgia for the U.S., may prove a potentially awkward point for Western powers. Fearing “guaranteed imprisonment” in Georgia for charges of “exceeding his authority” as president, the former leader renounced his Georgian citizenship and was subsequently appointed governor of the Odessa Oblast region of Eastern Ukraine, a front-line province in the Ukraine-Russia crisis. Dozens of officials, including one of Saakashvili’s own former prime ministers, have been arrested in Georgia. If the former president comes under the ICC’s scrutiny, will Western powers protect him? Or will Tbilisi’s new governors see their former leader as a useful scapegoat?

Of course, it may take years before we know the answers to these questions. Crucially, there have been suggestions that the ICC would have preferred to have never opened an official investigation in the first place. As Alex Whiting, a professor of practice at Harvard University and the former investigations coordinator in the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor has observed: “The Prosecutor is moving forward on Georgia not because she is necessarily eager to do so, but because after seven years the case demands it.” It is almost certain that Court officials will continue to push both Russian and Georgian officials to conduct genuine and credible investigations into the alleged crimes themselves.

Every ICC intervention is complicated. But the potential investigation into war crimes committed during the conflict in South Ossetia seems particularly complex. Western states, an aggressive regional and former global superpower, an annexed territory, a Western-looking country and a cautious Court. All have their own stakes in the ICC’s investigation. All are potentially vulnerable. And all should fear the Court’s intervention going awry.

Posted in Ethnic Cleansing, Georgia, International Criminal Court (ICC), International Criminal Justice, Russia, South Ossetia, War crimes | 3 Comments

Canada’s Back: Let it be – and have – an Ambassador of International Justice

It is often said that Canada historically punched above it's weight in international relations. Will it again? (Photo: CP)

Incoming Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes time out to box during the recent federal election campaign. It is often said that Canada historically punched above it’s weight in international relations. Will it again? (Photo: CP)

Human rights and international justice advocates around the world breathed a collective sigh of relief this past week. After ten years in power, the Conservative government of Stephen Harper was replaced in a massive defeat at the hands of the Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party in the 42nd Canadian federal election. But after a decade that has seen Canada’s reputation on human rights and international justice erode, the expectations of the new government are soaring. How will the Liberal Party’s slogan of “real change” translate in international relations?

In the coming weeks and months, the Liberal government will have to start meeting the expectations it set during the election. When it comes to international justice, there are many policies the new Canadian government could implement in order do so, as outlined in a public letter published two weeks ago. One specific policy that would dramatically improve Canada’s standing, impact, and influence in the international arena is to create and appoint a Canadian Ambassador of International Justice in the country’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. Here are four reasons why.

1) Creating the post of an International Justice Ambassador would signal to the rest of the world that Canada has turned a page and is once again serious about international justice. The failings of the previous government are well known and well documented. But any attempt to justify power by relying on the fact that “we’re not Harper” will quickly become old and insufficient. Moving forward, significant investments in restoring Canada’s international reputation need to be made. There is, of course, precedence for such a position. The United States has as Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues. Canada could emulate the mandate of its own International Justice Ambassador after the American model. In doing so, Canada could become a leader in instigating a movement whereby countries around the world do likewise and collectively elevate the diplomatic importance of international justice and accountability issues.

2) Canada has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to qualified candidates for such a post. These individuals deserve to not only be celebrated but empowered. There are many potential candidates but one that sticks out is Louise Arbour. Her qualifications are astounding. She has been the former Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, a Canadian Supreme Court Justice, and the Executive Director of the International Crisis Group. When Arbour speaks, people listen – and if they don’t they should. Imagine her, or someone of a similar ilk, advocating for justice issues and representing Canada abroad. It just makes sense. Whether it is as an Ambassador of International Justice or otherwise, the government should do everything in its power to tap into Arbour’s diplomatic, legal and intellectual expertise.

3) Creating an International Justice Ambassadorship would serve the government’s interests. This isn’t simply an issue of rescuing Canada’s reputation on issues of international accountability for its own sake. The new government would clearly benefit from doing so. The position would help to recast Canada as a middle power investing in its soft-power capacities, something that the Liberal Party has said it will seek to do. Relatedly, it would garner the country prestige which Canada historically counted on in order to punch above its weight in other diplomatic and international political circles. It would also allow Canada to reclaim its expertise in understanding how respond effectively with accountability measures in times of conflict. The Ambassadorship’s would create an office of expertise for various and complementary approaches to justice and accountability issues as well as the various tribunals in one place. Finally, it would get the government into diplomatic circles and rooms that the Conservatives refused to enter or were ignored by and facilitate the government’s desire to have its finger on the pulse of issues far beyond those of international justice. Continue reading

Posted in Canada, Human Rights, International Criminal Justice, International Law | Tagged , | 3 Comments

The Price of War – Economic Crimes and Justice in the Central African Republic

Alain-Guy Sipowo join JiC for this post on the need to address economic crimes and injustice in the Central African Republic. Alain-Guy is Social Science and Humanities Research Council fellow at the McGill Centre on Human Rights and Legal Pluralism.

Militants watch as young men work in a mine in the CAR (Photo: Reuters)

Militants watch as young men work in a mine in the CAR (Photo: Reuters)

The resurgence of armed violence in Central African Republic (CAR) since the end of September 2015 came as a reminder to the international community that the conflict in that country is far from over. Yet, this new escalation comes after a period of relative calm. It has been announced that general elections will take place on 18 October and 22 November 2015. The recent uptick in violence thus raises serious concerns. But one cannot understand the CAR’s conflict if we do not also understand the war economy that feeds it. As such, any successful transitional justice process in the CAR must address economic crimes and the cycle of violence they fuel.

The Economy of War in the Central African Republic’s Conflict

We are currently witnessing what I would call the “Congolization” of the CAR – that the situation in CAR is looking more and more like the one in which the Democratic Republic of Congo has been trapped for decades: a vast country, heavily endowed with natural resources but whose governance is characterized by patrimonialization, the perpetuation of economic inequalities, and the strong ethnicization of politics. In this context, where the livid populations are neglected, citizen allegiance gradually slipped from the state to closer identity constructions such as the ethnic, religious, or armed groups. The intercommunal wars take precedence over the war against the central government, which is essentially nonexistent. Within this logic of violence, control over natural resources becomes synonymous to survival.

The report of the December 2014 Security Council Panel of Experts is scathing in its indictment of the place of the trafficking of natural resources in the CAR conflict. In May 2013, the country was suspended from the Kimberley Process. The year after, however, the Kimberley Process itself made the bitter observation that its earlier decision was ineffective, noting “cases of international shipment of diamonds of CAR origin”. According to the report of the Panel of Experts, since the exclusion of CAR from the Kimberley Process, 140,000 carats of diamonds totalizing US $ 24,000,000 clandestinely left the CAR, taking the road of Kinshasa and Dubai to meet up partly in a Belgian company.

Rebel groups are involved in the illegal trade of diamonds both directly or indirectly. The Anti-Balaka conduct artisanal production in the west of the CAR while in the east, members of the ex-Seleka armed group secure a financial windfall by protecting and taxing diamond collectors. The traffic of gold, another important determinant of the CAR’s wealth, follows the same pattern. After chasing the usual gold collectors, Anti-Balaka have taken over the mines of Lobaye since January 2014. In the prefecture of Ouaka, ex-Seleka militiamen receive $150,000 a year of the local production, which approximates 180 kg.

In July 2015, Global Witness pointed to the complicity of Lebanese, French and Chinese logging companies in the crimes committed by CAR’s armed groups. Under Michel Djotodia, these companies would have been entitled to pursue their activities only by making payments to ex-Seleka totaling €3.4 million for protection services. In 2014, the anti-Balaka benefited the same system, albeit to a lesser extent. How does this contribute to the economy of war?

In its report, Global Witness confirmed that looted resources enable armed groups to maintain their forces and acquire weapons. The UN Panel of experts was more reserved, affirming no breach of arms embargo by armed groups. However, the panel did stress that it had identified the presence of western mercenaries providing training and assistance to armed groups.

The situation described seems to be an iceberg of a much deeper scourge, one in which the CAR has repeatedly broken down under successive regimes. A Crisis Group report of June 2014 describes with meticulous detail how the country is trapped in the collapse of the formal economy to the benefit of illegal and parallel economy. In this light, a dose of economic justice must be introduced into the transitional justice process already underway.

International Criminal Justice in the CAR

The situation in CAR was referred to the ICC in 2005. To date, only one case has been selected, which concerned a Congolese accused of crimes resulting from the support of his armed group to former President Ange-Félix Patassé. The current Prosecutor announced the opening of a second investigation on 24 September 2014. So far, no other alleged perpetrators have been indicted. Notably, in neighbouring DRC, the ICC did not address the economic dimension of the crimes it has investigated. This makes the role of the CAR’s Special Criminal Court even more vital. Continue reading

Posted in Central African Republic (CAR), Economics of Conflict, Guest Posts, Special Criminal Court | 3 Comments

“Without Fear or Favour” – An Interview with the ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda

Shehzad Charania joins JiC for this article reviewing his recent interview with the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda. Shehzad is the Legal Advisor and Head of the International Law Team for the British Embassy in The Hague. You can follow him on Twitter here.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda speaks with Shehzad Charania (Photo: Sam Shoamanesh)

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda speaks with Shehzad Charania

In my interview with Fatou Bensouda, I found the Chief Prosecutor to be open, frank and honest as she reflected on the challenges that she has faced in the three years since she assumed her role as well as some of the changes she has put in place since taking office.  We also spoke of her hopes for the future.

Why She Took the Job

I began by asking her to look back over her career.  The role of ICC Prosecutor is often billed as the hardest in the world. Why did she want the job?  The Prosecutor was clear: this was about her conviction for justice and accountability for the most serious crimes, in particular for victims. Her passion for justice developed from a young age when as a child she would skip school to sit in the law courts in Gambia.

As she observed the proceedings, she couldn’t help but feel that the victims – in particular, women – were not getting the justice they deserved. She felt a calling. Years later, she would jump at the chance to move to Arusha and work at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, leaving behind a comfortable and well-paid job as a banker.  Despite the huge challenges she and the Court face today, not a day passed that she has regretted her decision.

Challenges of the Job

I asked her about the challenges she referred to. Cooperation was clearly one of them.  The Prosecutor praised the authorities of Niger and Mali for their efforts in the recent transfer and surrender of Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi (Abu Tourab), in which she had personally intervened at the highest level: it was the fastest transfer in the Court’s history from the issuance of the arrest warrant. Cooperation among individual African States was for the most part very good. But, equally, she lamented the fact that it was not always forthcoming, as the non-arrest of President Bashir of Sudan indicates.

The ICC without cooperation is a “moot Court”: the institution needed the support of States – they were the governing body, the financiers and the executing arm. Without full and timely cooperation, the Rome Statute system would collapse. In this respect, Bensouda had a very personal role: she had intervened many times over the years with Heads of State, governments and ministers in order to persuade them to execute requests for information and warrants of arrest. She reiterated the need for the UN Security Council to follow up on its referrals, and to ensure that those referrals came with funding.

Another challenge was Kenya. The Prosecutor described it as a “huge challenge”, and one that the Court was still dealing with. She recalled that the charges in the Kenyatta case were confirmed at the pre-trial stage, which demonstrated that there had been a solid body of evidence at one point. But, over time, this had eroded because of interference with witnesses – individuals recanting or disappearing. It was her professional responsibility as a Prosecutor to withdraw the charges when it was clear by the deadline given by the Trial Chamber that she would not have the evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. At the point of withdrawal, she still had crime-based witnesses; but she had lost the key “linkage witnesses” – those who could testify directly to the guilt of the accused. Lessons had been learnt across her office’s cases, and these were now being implemented, including through the new Strategic Plan.

It was unfortunate, and personally very hurtful, that the victims of the post-election violence had been unable to receive the justice they were craving – yet. She added “yet”, because Kenyatta had not been acquitted; the case could be resuscitated if more evidence becomes available, even once she and Kenyatta had left their respective offices. It would, however, have been irresponsible to have continued with a case where she did not have sufficient evidence to continue to trial.

I asked the Prosecutor whether this case revealed something more fundamental about the Rome Statute system: that it would be impossible to obtain full cooperation from a government whose Head of State was being prosecuted at the ICC, and therefore it would never be possible to prosecute such a person. The Prosecutor vehemently disagreed.  It would clearly be difficult: those in positions of power would make the process as tough as possible, and resist being held accountable. But States knew that this would be a problem when negotiating the Rome Statute. This was exactly why the institution was created: to deliver accountability where the State could not investigate and prosecute itself.  She emphasised the importance of state cooperation.

The ICC and Africa

On the broader challenges facing the Court, I asked her about the criticism that the Court was targeting Africa. As an African, how did she react to this?  Furthermore, how did she respond to accusations that, of all of the self-referrals and Article 12(3) declarations, the Court had only brought cases against the opposition side? Continue reading

Posted in Fatou Bensouda, Guest Posts, International Criminal Court (ICC), Interview | 1 Comment

Sudan, South Africa and the future of the International Criminal Court in Africa

South African President Jacob Zuma with his Sudanese counterpart Omar al-Bashir (Photo: Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah / Reuters)

South African President Jacob Zuma with his Sudanese counterpart Omar al-Bashir (Photo: Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah / Reuters)

Many believe Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir is the person most responsible for the alleged genocide in Darfur. As such, he isn’t supposed to travel freely around the world. But this past June, Bashir visited South Africa for an African Union summit. His trip flew in the face of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has issued orders for his arrest on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. South African officials now openly talk about leaving the ICC over a perception that it is biased against Africa. What will the political fall-out of Bashir’s visit mean for South Africa, its role in international relations and its relationship with the ICC?

The South African government’s response to Bashir’s visit carried significant reputational costs, and sparked a domestic political crisis. The country was the target of widespread condemnation and criticism. The New York Times described South Africa’s behavior as “disgraceful,” while the Economist wrote that the episode signaled that “Nelson Mandela’s legacy has been soiled.” But why has South Africa risked besmirching its international reputation? And why, in the legal and political maneuvering that followed, has it thought it necessary to jump through all of these legal hoops in order to satisfy the international community and the ICC that it is in the right?

South Africa’s approach to the ICC is part of a larger set of questions about the place of emerging states in the world order. How will the rise of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) affect the foundational norms of the international criminal justice? The Bashir visit brings these long-simmering questions into sharp focus. Many proponents of international criminal justice viewed South Africa’s decision to host Bashir in June as nothing short of a tragic betrayal. For skeptics and critics, however, it signaled another in a long series of crises for the court. There is more going on here than the traditional debates over state interests versus the law or the impotency of international criminal justice. Both of these positions occlude a more important story: how South Africa engages with the ICC while balancing its emergence as an international power and a regional leader.

Part of the promise of a permanent regime of international criminal justice is that it will isolate the world’s worst perpetrators of mass atrocities. The marginalization of Bashir was supposed to be a success for the organization. Not long ago, the Court’s former chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo proudly declared that Bashir “is not under house arrest, he is under country arrest.” In the past few weeks, however, Bashir has visited two of the BRICS (South Africa and China) and been invited to a third (India). His recent state visit to Pretoria presents a stark challenge both for diplomats as well as scholars and observers of international criminal justice.

During and since Bashir’s visit, South Africa has been seeped in legal and political controversy. Domestic actors and institutions, including human rights advocates and legal clinics, have demanded action. A local high court subsequently ruled that the government had violated not only its international obligations to the ICC but, crucially, its own domestic statutes. That ruling was upheld on appeal. The crisis precipitated an unprecedented tête-à-tête between the country’s judiciary and executive leaders, and has seen the word “impeachment” bandied about. Taken together, South Africa’s responses, both legal and political, have been, to put it politely, creative.

First, the government’s legal representatives proclaimed that they didn’t know where Bashir was, even as Bashir’s official convoy drove through the cleared-out and closed streets of Pretoria. As proceedings endured and Bashir’s plane lifted off, those same lawyers finally admitted that Bashir had fled.

Then, the South African government insisted that its obligations to the ICC to arrest Bashir are in conflict with its obligations to the African Union to grant all AU heads of state diplomatic immunity. This, however, contradicts the government’s own practice. South African President Jacob Zuma had previously declared that the Sudanese president was unwelcome in the country and that he would be arrested if he stepped on South African soil.

There have also been suggestions that Sudanese troops surrounded a contingent of South African peacekeepers based in Darfur and strong-armed South Africa into ensuring Bashir’s safe departure. The government wisely chose not to promote this as an excuse for its actions, as it would have portrayed South Africa as a vulnerable and impotent state at the whim of Khartoum’s belligerence. Continue reading

Posted in Africa, African Union (AU), Darfur, International Criminal Court (ICC), International Criminal Justice, International Law, South Africa, Sudan | 5 Comments

Public Letter: How Canada Can Reclaim Its Reputation for International Justice

As scholars and observers of international criminal justice, the easiest thing for us to do is to point out the project’s shortcomings and flaws. It is easy to criticize states that don’t support the Court when they should, to condemn countries that don’t meet their obligations when we believe they must. This is, of course, important work. But we too seldom think through what states could do to repair their impact on international justice beyond complying with international law.

It is safe to say that Canadians have been particularly frustrated with Canada’s diminished role and interest in international criminal justice. In particular, the country’s relationship with the International Criminal Court (ICC) has soured in recent years. All too often in the halls of The Hague, you can hear “what happened?” or even “let’s not go there” when Canada’s engagement with the ICC is brought up. But Canada is now in the midst of an election, one that holds out the promise that a newly elected government could re-visit its relationship with international justice and would dedicate energy to rescuing its reputation in the field.

To this end, last spring I drafted an article focused on the policies that a new Canadian government could adopt to improve its global image and impact on issues of global justice. Over the last few weeks, these issues have been the subject of an ongoing discussion with the undersigned scholars and experts. The result of this collaborative effort is the following public letter, signed by twenty Canadian academics and civil society leaders in international criminal justice. The letter, which has also been published at Huffington Post and which will be published in French in Le Devoir and La Presse next week, can be found below.

We would love your thoughts on the letter and, if you agree, to have you share it.

Thanks for reading!

(Photo: Piotr Drabik / Flickr)

(Photo: Piotr Drabik / Flickr)

This election’s debates on Canada’s role in the world have been refreshing for those of us concerned about Canada’s foreign policy record. One crucial issue, however, has not been mentioned during the campaign: Canada’s commitment to international justice.

As Canadian scholars and practitioners committed to strengthening access to justice for victims and survivors of international crimes, we urge whichever party forms the next government to commit to making global justice a priority and to return Canada as a leading voice in the fight against impunity.

Canada has historically been a leading voice for international accountability. Because of its efforts, as well as those of like-minded states, there is an increasing expectation around the world that the perpetration of international crimes will be met with efforts to achieve justice.

Mass violence and mass atrocities being committed in Syria, Ukraine, the Central African Republic and North Korea suggest that states are falling short of their obligations. Expectations are not being met. Canada can and should resuscitate its leadership on this front.

But the recent record is grim. Despite calls by dozens of states and the United Nations Secretary General, Canada was the last Western state to lend its support to a UN Security Council referral of the crisis in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The government has led calls to punish Palestinians with “consequences” for joining the ICC. In 2014, Canada was the only state party of the ICC to oppose the consensus on expanding the ICC’s budget. We hope that the next government will take the opportunity to rescue Canada’s impact and reputation on international justice.

Changing the Rhetoric

Changing Ottawa’s tone and attitude towards international justice is the easiest and most obvious shift that a new government could make. But it is also the most important.

A change in rhetoric could be spearheaded by a celebration of the remarkable role Canadians have played and are playing in shaping the project of international criminal justice. Louise Arbour was the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and remains amongst the most influential international legal minds in the world. Philippe Kirsch, a former ICC Judge, was the court’s first-ever president, serving until 2009. Since 2012, James Stewart has been the Deputy Prosecutor of the ICC. In addition, Canada has spawned some of the leading practitioners in international courts the world over and played an indispensable role at the 1998 Rome Conference which established the ICC.

The contributions of all of these figures should be openly and widely celebrated. The tone of the new government’s rhetoric should be propelled by a desire to take pride in Canada’s role in pushing the project of international justice forward.

Make Justice a Diplomatic Priority

To walk the walk as well as talk the talk, Canada could appoint an International Justice Ambassador to take up the task of representing Canada’s positions abroad on matters relating to international accountability. Here, Canada can look to the U.S. for inspiration.

Since 1997, Washington has had an ambassador-at-large for war crimes Issues. The Canadian government could create a similar position, establishing a public, political and legal office to represent the country in international fora and to carry the baton of Canada’s commitment to international justice. Continue reading

Posted in Canada, International Criminal Court (ICC), International Criminal Justice | 1 Comment