Perceptions of Justice: The ICC Shouldn’t have to Justify meetings with Government Officials Not Wanted by the Court

Carrie McDougall joins JiC for this piece on our continuing conversation regarding the publication and dissemination of photos of the Prosecutor of the ICC and state leaders  Dr. McDougall is a Senior Lecturer at Melbourne Law School and was formerly a legal specialist at the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in which capacity she led on Australia’s engagement with the ICC.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda meeting with (former) DRC President Joseph Kabila in New York, in 2017 (Photo: ICC)

In a thought-provoking post last week, Patryk Labudatook exception to a photo published by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on social media of ProsecutorFatou Bensouda with the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame.  Patryk suggested that the ICC needs a policy on non-essential contacts with what he termed ‘unsavoury personalities’, and any publicity given to such meetings.

Mark Kerstenpublished a reply in which he argued that there were probably good reasons for the meeting and that not publishing the photo would have been to the detriment of the Court.  At the same time, he argued that the ICC needs to do more to manage perceptions, suggesting that the best way of doing this would be to publish meeting read outs.

While I agree with much of what Mark wrote, in my view, there is still more to be said on the matter.

The ICC must meet with its critics

Both Partyk and Mark acknowledged that the ICC must meet with State representatives in order to bolster cooperation. In passing, Patryk also suggested that the opportunity might be used to encourage accession to the Rome Statute.  As important as they are, I suspect that neither cooperation nor accession were the main items on the agenda in the meeting with Kagame.

In the course of his post, Mark noted that the meeting might have been aimed at countering criticisms that the ICC is targeting Africa, which he kindly noted is something that I raised on Twitter in response to Patryk’s original post. This is a point that I believe deserves some elaboration.

Rwanda has been one of the ICC’s most vocal critics, and has been thedriving force behind the African Union’s hostile stance towards the Court. In this context, I suspect that the primary motivation for the meeting was to try to build a more constructive relationship. The Prosecutor has made good use of her status as a Gambian to engage in outreach on the continent, attempting to address misperceptions and encourage African leaders to give more thought to African victims, rather than focusing on alleged African perpetrators.  This is something we should commend. While others also have a role to play, the plain fact is that relations are unlikely to improve without a proactive effort on the Court’s part, regardless of the fact that, at least in my view, it is not to blame for the ire directed at it by detractors like Rwanda.

It is important to note that in engaging in such dialogue, the ICC is not off on a frolic of its own. The annual omnibus resolutionof the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) “emphasizes the need to pursue efforts aimed at intensifying dialogue with the African Union… and calls upon all relevant stakeholders to support strengthening the relationship between the Court and the African Union.”  As someone involved in the negotiation of this text, I say with some confidence that the reference to “the African Union” was not intended to be interpreted narrowly, but to encompass key members of the Union whose views impact on its relationship with the Court.  In other words, the Prosecutor did exactly what States Parties asked her to do.

I would in fact argue that such outreach should not be limited to African interlocutors. Bearing in mind the fundamental principles of both cooperation and complementarity that underpin the Rome Statute, I would argue that the ICC should aim to meet with the Heads of State and Government and relevant ministers of all States in order to promote accountability and discuss the role that the ICC can play – unless a specific individual is wanted by the Court, for reasons outlined below. Continue reading

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Posted in Guest Posts, ICC Prosecutor, International Criminal Court (ICC), International Criminal Justice, Outreach | Tagged | 3 Comments

Perceptions of Justice: When and How the ICC Should Meet with ‘Bad’ Leaders

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari (middle) with the ICC Registrar, President of the Assembly of States Parties, President of the Court, and the chief Prosecutor)

Yesterday, my good friend and colleague Patryk Labuda wrote an important piece on a salient subject: the publication and dissemination of photographs of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) with figures known to be less than favourable to human rights and the international justice project. In his post, Patryk responded with frustration to a photograph published by the ICC of Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda meeting with Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Patryk describes Kagame as “no friend of the ICC… with a questionable human rights record.” In this post, I want to address some of Patryk’s concerns and hopefully add some nuance to the difficult position that ICC staff sometimes find themselves in – especially when dealing with undemocratic states.

Photos O(o)ps

Photographs of the ICC Prosecutor with “unsavoury” figures are nothing new. Most notoriously, former chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo was caught on camera laughing it up with Yoweri Museveni prior to Uganda’s referral of the Lord’s Resistance Army (later the “situation in northern Uganda”) to the ICC. That show of bias still haunts the Court in northern Uganda and unsurprisingly so. That photograph was an unambiguously bad idea.

Moreno-Ocampo was also caught on camera cozying up on a couch with Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara in Paris, in 2011, just a few days before Ouattara shipped out his rival, Laurent Gbagbo, to The Hague. Current ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has also appeared with Museveni (despite his rather vicious attacks on the ICC) as well as DRC President Joseph Kabila.

According to Patryk, these photo ops hurt the perceived legitimacy of the ICC in the eyes of the victims of these leaders. One might also add that it is confusing to see the chief Prosecutor pose happily with some of the harshest critics of the Court. Less than a year ago, Kagame stated that “[f]rom the time of its inception, I said there was a fraud basis on which it was set up and how it was going to be used. I told people that this would be a court to try Africans, not people from across the world. And I don’t believe I have been proven wrong.” At his swearing-in in 2016, Museveni famously called the ICC “a bunch of useless people.”

So why meet and pose for photos with such figures?

The Prosecutor and her team surely make some form of cost-benefit analysis prior to accepting or convening these meetings. What costs and benefits they measure is not clear, and more openness or a policy paper on the subject would be useful. They are, however, certainyl aware of the allegations facing these leaders and what they’ve said about the ICC. The Prosecutor’s team therefore clearly views meeting these figures as beneficial to the mandate of the Court. It could be, as pointed outastutely by Carrie McDougall, that “such photo ops help counter criticisms that the ICC is targeting Africa”. Among audiences who are exposed to photos of Kagame or Museveni engaging with the ICC Prosecutor, it becomes less tenable to believe their anti-ICC antics.

In general, such meetings will almost certainly boil down to an attempt by the Prosecutor to bolster state cooperation with the Court. As Patryk writes, “the ICC relies on states for cooperation, so the Prosecutor has no choice but to work with official state representatives… This will inevitably include unsavory personalities.” This could include cooperation in investigations, but it could also mean cooperation in witness protection programming. Continue reading

Posted in International Criminal Court (ICC), International Criminal Justice, Ivory Coast / Côte d'Ivoire, Ivory Coast and the ICC, northern Uganda, Outreach, Rwanda | 4 Comments

Perceptions of Justice: Does the ICC Need A Policy on Non-Essential Contacts with Government Officials?

Patryk I. Labuda joins JiC for this guest-post on the publication and dissemination of photos of meetings between the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and world leaders. Patryk is a Hauser Global Fellow at New York University.

(Photo: ICC Twitter account)

The image is troubling. On 16 February, the International Criminal Court (ICC) tweeted a photo of Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda shaking hands with the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame. The photo was taken at the Munich Security Conference, an annual gathering whichaims“to build trust and to contribute to the peaceful resolution of conflicts”. Kagame can be seen grinning, while Bensouda sports an awkward half-smile, half-cringe.

As noted by Dov Jacobs, similarly awkward photos exist of the first ICC Prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, trading laughs with Yoweri Museveni, the President of Uganda. Here is one of the current Prosecutor shaking hands with Museveni a few years ago. And last September, the ICC tweeted a photo of Bensouda meeting with the then ‘President’ of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Joseph Kabila, at the UN General Assembly.

It is hard not to feel some discomfort looking at these images. To state the obvious: these three men are not known for their human rights credentials. At the same time, it is a fact of life that the ICC relies on states for cooperation. Sois there something inappropriate about these photos? Or is this just (an unpleasant) part of the job? In this post, I argue that the ICC should do a better job of managing public perceptions. It may also want to adopt a policy on non-essential contacts with government officials to avoid public relations mishaps in the future.

Perceptions of (In)-Justice

Why are these photos a problem? When they were announced in 2004, Uganda and Congo’s invitations to the Prosecutor to launch investigations in their territories were quite a surprise. At the time, few expected states would affirmatively encourage ICC scrutiny. Self-referrals, as these invitations came to be known, came under sharp criticism almost immediately, with academics and civil society worrying that the first Prosecutor had cut a deal with the leaders of self-referring countries in exchange for their cooperation.

That criticism has not abated since then. It does not help that fifteen years later the Prosecutor has failed to bring a single case against a sitting government official from any self-referring state (in addition to Uganda and Congo, that includes the Central African Republic (CAR), Mali and Cote d’Ivoire). Not only has there not been a single trial of a sitting government actor – there are no publicly available arrest warrants, which couldmean that the ICC has never even tried toinvestigate government crimes in these contexts. Continue reading

Posted in Guest Posts, International Criminal Court (ICC), Rwanda | Tagged | 7 Comments

Transitional Justice at Sites of ‘Dark Tourism’: The Case of Genocide Memorials in Cambodia

Cheryl Lawther, Rachel Killean, and Lauren Dempster join JiC for this post on sites of ‘dark tourism’ in Cambodia. Cheryl, Rachel, and Lauren are Lecturers at the School of Law, Queen’s University Belfast. Their post draws on a period of fieldwork in Cambodia conducted by them in January 2018, with the team carrying out over 30 interviews with survivors, members of staff at Tuol Sleng and Choeung-Ek, representatives of NGOs and other stakeholders to examine how victims and survivors are represented at these sites. In addition to Tuol Sleng and Choeung-Ek, the team visited a number of former prison sites in the provinces. Using a transitional justice lens and drawing on the interviews conducted, this blog examines how these sites can be argued to be, and be critiqued as, spaces of: truth, justice, and reparations.

A visit walks past photographs of some of those killed in Prison 21, now the Tuol Sleng Genocide Musem (Photo: Tang Chhin Sothy / AFP / Getty Images)

The practice of ‘dark tourism’, whereby members of the public visit sites associated with atrocity and violence, has received growing attention in recent years. Thousands of visitors travel to Auschwitz, Cambodia’s ‘Killing Fields,’ ports used in the global slave trade, and to other sites of mass atrocity. While these sites appeal to (some) tourists, how do those impacted by the violence perpetrated in these places view them? And what do these sites say – or not say – about those harmed there? Focussing on two sites associated with such activity in Cambodia, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the ‘killing fields’ of Choeung-Ek, this blog post explores how transitional justice can provide a framework for analysing the value of these sites to survivors of the genocide, and for unpicking whose, and what, experiences are represented there.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh is a former site of torture and detention run by the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979. Those detained at Tuol Sleng were transported to Choeung-Ek, a site to the south of the city, where they were executed and buried in mass graves. Both sites have become popular places for tourists to visit.

Sites of Truth

For many interviewees, Tuol Sleng and Choeung-Ek are considered to be places where the truth of past harms is acknowledged. Tuol Sleng is used as a space of truth-telling by survivors, often working with NGOs and victim support organisations. Survivors at the sites spoke of the importance of telling their stories, of theirrole as ‘living documents’ of what had happened, and in some cases of feeling a ‘duty’ to share their stories with researchers and visitors. At a more instrumental level, Tuol Sleng’s iconic photographic exhibition of former detainees has been a place where relatives of those killed in the detention centre can learn the fate of their loved ones. One survivor told us of visiting Tuol Sleng in order to ‘search for the truth.’

While playing an important truth telling function, neither site is viewed as telling the ‘full’ ‘truth’ about Cambodia’s past. For example, some interviewees drew attention to the fact that many of those tortured at Tuol Sleng and subsequently killed at Choeung-Ek were themselves former Khmer Rouge cadres subsequently detained by the regime. We found thatsuch complexities of victimhood are not fully engaged with at the sites. Increased representation of the ‘shades of grey’ of victims and perpetrators might facilitate the telling of a more comprehensive and nuanced truth. Others drew attention to the harms that are less visible within the sites, such as the widespread death caused by overwork, exhaustion and starvation during the regime. Some suggested that the development of other sites associated with the regime might help highlight these abuses. We found that the sites created a hierarchy of harm which prioritised violent death, rather than exposing a more comprehensive truth of the harms experienced during the regime. A number of interviewees expressed a desire for these stories to be amplified.

Sites of Justice

The sites are very much viewed as places of evidence, where the proof of past crimes is preserved and presented. The role of these sites as repositories of evidence was raised by interviewees in two ways. Firstly, many of our respondents emphasised the importance of these sites in authenticating the experience of those who suffered under the Khmer Rouge regime and ‘showing the world’ what happened. One interviewee described the sites as ‘the best place to show the public about the crime committed during the Khmer Rouge regime.’ Continue reading

Posted in Cambodia, Genocide, Guest Posts, Transitional Justice | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Some Quick Reflections on the Gbagbo Acquittal at the ICC

Over the last few days, I have had the opportunity to contribute to a few articles and programmes covering the acquittal of former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo and his political ally Charles Blé Goudé at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Here are some quick reflections on the case based largely on the contributions I’ve made to the media over the past week. Above is also an interview with Al Jazeera Inside Story that I gave, alongside Jim Wormington and Yabi Gilles. I hope that readers will find it interesting.

Why did it happen? Put simply, the judges are not convinced that the prosecution’s evidence is sufficient to warrant the trial continuing. The Trial Chamber asked the prosecution for a “mid-trial brief” last year. In doing so, they cast a pall of doubt on the ability of the prosecution to prove Gbagbo and Blé Goudé’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt as well as on the narrative put forward by the prosecution regarding their alleged common plan to commit crimes.

Critically, we don’t know why the prosecution wasn’t able to gather sufficient evidence to proceed with the trial. A number of theories have been floated: political interference in the trial on behalf of Gbagbo and his supporters, insufficient cooperation from the government of the administration of current President Alassane Ouattara, and poor case construction by the ICC. It’s entirely possible that it is all of the above. Moving forward, one challenge for the Prosecutor is to better understand how political actors opposed to the Court can undermine investigations and, therefore, how to build cases that compensate for severe interference and avoid being eviscerated at the trial stage.

Acquittals are part and parcel of any normal criminal court. They are integral to the credibility of such institutions. As is an effective defence of any suspect brought before the ICC. However, whenever a case involving mass atrocities essentially collapses at the ICC, it does damage to the perception of the Court as a credible and effective institution of international justice. This is particularly true given that the ICC is still reeling from the bombshell acquittal of former Vice President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jean-Pierre Bemba, for alleged atrocities perpetrated in the Central African Republic. The ICC needs wins and it’s racking up losses. States are nervous about the record of the ICC and what they see as the return on the investment they make in terms of funding the Court. Victims will be deeply disappointed. Expectations of the ICC are being left unmet. The Prosecutor’s office needs to convince the Court’s constituencies – especially victims, survivors, and states – that their personal, financial, and political investments into the ICC are worth it.

I want to stress here that saying that such acquittals hurt the credibility of the ICC should not take anything away from the importance of acquittals to a criminal court or the work of defence counsel. Moreover, as Rachel Kerr stresses, we shouldn’t conflate ICC credibility with the credibility of the ICC Office of the Prosecutor. In my view, however, the perception of the credibility and legitimacy of an institution is a measure of the expectations actors have for it. When expectations are met, credibility is high; when there is a gap between expectations and reality, credibility will be lower. The ICC has multiple constituencies, meaning it has different sources of credibility. For victims and survivors who dedicate themselves and put so much of their time and energy into participating in trials — and hoping for justice — acquittals dash the expectations that the Court, and especially the Prosecutor, set for them. For states that want, rightly or wrongly, particular trial outcomes, the credibility of the Court is also damaged with multiple high-profile acquittals. The Gbagbo decision is yet another reminder of the need to exercise expectations management from the very outset of investigations. Continue reading

Posted in ICC Prosecutor, International Criminal Court (ICC), International Criminal Justice, Ivory Coast / Côte d'Ivoire, Ivory Coast and the ICC, Laurent Gbagbo | 10 Comments

A Special Declaration: Towards a Culture of Accountability in The Gambia?

Tetevi Davi joins JiC for this post on The Gambia’s recent decision to permit individuals and NGOs direct access to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights – and its implications. Tetevi is a visiting Lincoln’s Inn scholar at the European Court of Human Rights. He regularly writes on the work of the African Court and other regional courts in Africa and is a consultant for the African Foundation of International Law.

Gambia President Adama Barrow following his return to the country and his electoral victory (Photo: EPA)

On 23 October 2018, the Republic of The Gambia deposited its special declaration with the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (‘the Court’). For those who may be unfamiliar with this process, in addition to ratifying the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (‘ACHPR’) and the Protocol to the Charter, states must also deposit an additional or “special” declaration with the Court in order to allow it to receive applications directly from individuals and NGOs. The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights is a continental court that was established by the African Union in 1998 to ensure the protection of human rights in Africa. With the deposition of its declaration, The Gambia becomes the 9th country to permit individuals and NGOs direct access to the Court, following Tunisia, which deposited its declaration in April 2017. A host of interesting implications arise from The Gambia’s deposition of its special declaration.

Growing State Engagement with the Court?

To begin with, it can be argued that The Gambia’s decision to deposit its declaration reflects an increasing willingness of African states to engage with the Court. Although the number of declarations that have been deposited is still low overall, it has recently grown at an increased pace, with 3 out of the 9 states who have deposited their declarations (Benin, Tunisia, The Gambia) having done so since 2016. Prior to this, only 6 declarations had been deposited over the span of almost 20 years. Whilst there was concern that Rwanda’s withdrawal of its 2013 declaration in the wake of the Ingabire affair  would lead to more states following suit, it appears that the reverse has been true, with three more nations depositing their declarations since then. In addition to this, the Court has been coordinating awareness-raising missions with a growing number of African states, which again is indicative of their increasing willingness to engage.

Whilst states’ improved engagement with the Court can be said to be a positive development, any optimism must be tempered by the persistent problem of the weak implementation of the Court’s judgments at the domestic level. The Court’s judgments are binding on states and its Protocol places an obligation on them to execute these judgments. Despite this, the Court’s most recent report on the status of implementation of its judgments shows that, in the majority of cases, states have either outright refused to comply with its rulings or have offered no update on the status of implementation. It is not sufficient for states to provide access to the Court for individuals and NGOs without redressing violations once they have been identified. Much more needs to be done, both by states and also by the African Union at an institutional level, to ensure that Court judgments are complied with.

Shift Towards a Culture of Accountability in The Gambia?

The Gambia’s deposition of its special declaration can also be seen as a manifestation of its desire to bring an end to the culture of impunity which existed during the 22 year rule of former President, Yahya Jammeh. Large-scale human rights abuses are reported to have been committed under the Jammeh regime including extra-judicial killings, torture, rape, and enforced disappearances. The nation’s media were also silenced through a campaign of violence and repressive laws. This repression led to a landmark judgment of the ECOWAS Court in 2015, in which it held that The Gambia’s sedition and libel laws, which had been principally used to stifle the media, were a violation of the right to freedom of expression enshrined in the African Charter, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and in the Revised ECOWAS Treaty. In addition to these egregious human rights violations, it must be recalled that in 2016 The Gambia was on the verge of leaving the International Criminal Court, having notified its decision to withdraw from the Rome Statute to the Secretary-General of the United Nations. This move was interpreted by many as a flagrant attempt to shield the presidentfrom international prosecution for gross human rights abuses, as opposed to being based on any legitimate gripes with the ICC’s functioning. Continue reading

Posted in African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, African Union (AU), Gambia, Guest Posts | Tagged | 6 Comments

Between Ordinary and Extraordinary Justice – The Contentious First Steps of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace in Colombia

Shoshana Levy joins JiC for this post on the Special Jurisdiction for Peace and the ongoing struggle to achieve justice and accountability for mass atrocities committed in Colombia. Shoshana is a lawyer in International Criminal Law and International Humanitarian law, expert on the Colombian conflict and its transition to peace. The opinions expressed in this article are solely her own.

Special Jurisdiction for Peace President Patricia Linares and Attorney General Néstor Humberto Martínez. (Photo: Revista Semana)

Back in October of 2016, then-Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos asked the people of Colombia to vote in a referendum on the Peace Agreement that he had arduously negotiated for five years in Havana with the armed guerrilla FARC-EP. Santos may have not expected that this referendum would launch a divisive electoral campaign, one that would cause a deep fracture in Colombian society between supporters and opponents to the peace deal. This tense and polarised social context foresaw the difficulties in concretely applying the agreement, particularly one of its most contentious provisions: the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP).

Officially set up in March 2018, the SJP is comprised of a 38 judges court whose mandate is to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of crimes committed “because of and in the context the armed conflict in Colombia”. Its temporal jurisdiction covers crimes committed since the beginning of the conflict until 1 December 2016, the date of the final ratification of the Peace Agreement. Onlythose most responsible for serious crimes under the Rome Statute and international conventions ratified by Colombia will be prosecuted; political crimes are covered by an amnesty law. The SJP is a court negotiated bilaterally between the FARC and Colombian government and it will hand down lighter sentences to those who confess their crimes and become involved in reparatory activities for victims.

Tensions around the SJP’s work peaked only a few weeks after its entry into function, when Jesus Santrich, one of the highest FARC representatives in Havana and who had been appointed as a congressman in March 2018, was arrested in Bogota on charges of exporting cocaine to the United States. The alleged crime was allegedly committed in January 2017 – after the signature of the Peace Agreement – meaning the crime was outside the SJP´s jurisdiction and could not be covered by the amnesty law. Denying his implication in any criminal activities after his demobilization, Jesus Santrich went on hunger strike. The SJP, which had been specially designed to hear former FARC combatants such as Jesus Santrich, requested access to evidence purportedly incriminating the congressman in order to ascertain whether it had jurisdiction over the case.

A legal controversy thus arose over the question of which court had la compétence de la compétence, i.e.the authority to decide whether the SJP has jurisdiction over cases such as this Santrich’s. In other words: could the SJP claim access to the case and decide for itself whether it had jurisdiction over it?

In June 2018, the Constitutional Court decided that the SJP, as an exceptional tribunal, has jurisdiction to decide upon its jurisdiction and that the General Attorney had to handover Santrich’s file to the SJP.Despite this clear decision, General Attorney Nestor Humberto Martinez refused to release Santrich. Various legal arguments have been proffered to defend this position, among which is the fact that an extradition procedure to the United States had already been launched. Continue reading

Posted in Colombia, FARC, Guest Posts, International Criminal Court (ICC), Special Jurisdiction for Peace, Transitional Justice | Tagged | 5 Comments