The International Criminal Court’s Lack of Credibility: What Consequences for the Process of Convicting Perpetrators of Mass Atrocities?

By Salomé Wyns

Salomé Wyns is a recent graduate in International Relations and Politics at the University of Sheffield, UK.

Abstract

February 2018 marked the twentieth anniversary of the Rome Statute which established the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC has, since 2002, taken up the daunting challenge of meting out international criminal accountability. As a permanent judicial institution, the ICC seeks to end impunity for the most serious crimes of international concern, namely genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression (UN General Assembly, 1998). Since its implementation sixteen years ago, the ICC has faced a range of criticisms regarding its effectiveness and its alleged bias against African leaders. The purpose of this paper is to identify the factors contributing to the International Criminal Court’s lack of credibility –along the lines of impartiality and independence- and assess how these factors may hinder the process of conviction of perpetrators of mass atrocities. Through an analysis of the case of Kenya (2007-2008), this paper will argue that the ICC’s lack of credibility stems from inherent structural contradictions that limit the Court in its prosecutorial independence and impartiality, rendering it vulnerable to politicisation and manipulation by states, thereby enabling them to justify non-cooperation.

Introduction

In recent years, the credibility of the International Criminal Court (ICC) as an impartial and independent institution has been challenged by African leaders, scholars and human rights advocates alike (Tiemessen, 2014: 444). The perception of the ICC as a credible institution by states and other international actors is crucial to its success, as the Court largely depends on the support of these actors. The focus of this paper, divided into four sections, will be on the ICC’s ability to safeguard its reputation as an impartial and independent judicial institution. The first section briefly provides a background of the ICC, defines the term ‘credibility’ and looks at the claim of inefficiency against the Court. The second section examines the ICC’s lack of police enforcement and its ties with the Security Council to argue that this association leads to politicisation. The third section focuses on the ICC’s case selection partiality and the bias and the double standards that stem from it. Finally, the fourth section turns to the case of Kenya to illustrate the negative effect of the ICC’s lack of credibility on state cooperation.

Background

The Rome Statute was adopted by 120 states in July 1998 and entered into force in July 2002 (Wouters and Basu, 2009: 11). The implementation of a permanent international criminal court prosecuting humanity’s worst crimes constitutes a bold challenge to state sovereignty and was, therefore, likely to generate a certain degree of opposition (Bosco, 2012: 4). Since then, lengthy and costly trials resulting in few convictions have resulted in criticisms concerning the ICC’s credibility and efficiency.

The charge against the ICC

Before proceeding, it is necessary to define the word ‘credible’ in the context of this paper. In the case of the ICC, a credible institution would be independent and impartial, ultimately leading to efficiency (Gegout, 2013: 801). Indeed, if the perception of the ICC as an untrustworthy institution impacts its ability to convict perpetrators of mass atrocities, increasing that credibility depends on one hand on the ICC’s ability to act independently from states, and on the other, on its ability to deliver justice in a fair and impartial manner (Gegout, 2013: 800). However, one must be cautious not to make the assumption that the ICC’s conviction rate is entirely dependent on the Court’s level of credibility (see Davenport, 2014). Measuring the effectiveness of international institutions remains a complex challenge; as such, a number of factors can account for the ICC’s low conviction rate. Firstly, the Court only has territorial jurisdiction in the states parties to the Rome Statute and can only investigate crimes committed after 2002. This significantly limits the ICC’s ability to provide universal justice. Secondly, war crimes cases are extremely complex in nature and require time, since a delay in proceedings is essential to allow the truth to emerge (Whiting, 2009: 335). Moreover, a lack of cooperation usually generates delays in judicial proceedings and can lead to the complete collapse of a case, as with the case of Kenya (2007-2008). Finally, the ICC is a court of ‘last resort’ which means it can only intervene when national courts themselves lack the ability to prosecute perpetrators. As former prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, cited in Nichols (2016: 32), states:

‘as a consequence of complementarity, the number of cases that reach the Court should not be a measure of its efficiency. On the contrary, the absence of trials before this Court, as a consequence of the regular functioning of national institutions, would be a major success.’

One must also be mindful that the institution is fairly young and will only be able to build credibility over time (Cassesse, 1999: 145). Indeed, the creation of such court is truly revolutionary and changes at the international level happen incrementally. It is indisputable that the quality of justice the ICC delivers should continue to be scrutinised, as effectiveness is the only path for the Court to be sustainable. However, the ICC’s credibility should not only be determined by its conviction rate but by the legitimacy of the proceedings, and by the Court’s ability to uphold principles of independence and impartiality, characteristics which will be explored in the next sections. Nonetheless, it can be concluded that the perception of the ICC as an inefficient institution plays a role in undermining its credibility, as each failure undermines the Court’s ability to deliver justice in the eyes of the victims, as well as in those of the international community.

The politicisation of the ICC

This section will argue that the ICC’s dependence on external political actors allows special interests to permeate and influence the law. This dependence ultimately weakens the ICC’s credibility as an independent institution. Indeed, the Court is highly dependent on state cooperation as it does not possess any police force or effective means to enforce states’ cooperation (Kaye and Raustiala, 2016: 7). Whether it be to investigate on the ground, arrest suspects or provide evidence, cooperation from states is crucial. Vinjamuri (2014: 277) labels this phenomenon ‘the authority paradox’. On one hand, the ICC’s authority and credibility reside in the assumption that justice must be independent from politics. But on the other hand, the ICC is structurally dependent on states to enforce its mandate (Vinjamuri, 2014: 277). Although full cooperation with the Court in its investigations and prosecutions is required under Article 86 of the Rome Statute (UN General Assembly, 1998), the ICC’s authority has been blatantly defied by states on multiple occasions.

This structural weakness compels the ICC to seek assistance from powerful states that have coercive power (Kaye and Raustiala, 2016: 7). The challenge for the ICC therefore becomes to balance two opposing inclinations: restraining state power, while relying on their cooperation at the same time. Instead of enhancing the Court’s legitimacy and power, it has been argued that the United Nations Security Council’s (UNSC) special rights of referral under Chapter VII of the UN charter, as well as their right to defer proceedings in the interests of international peace and security under Article 16 of the Rome Statute, open the door for politicisation and double standards (Tiemessen, 2014: 454). This association reflects the strategic political constraints that entangle the UNSC and state parties’ self-interests. This was especially obvious in the early days of the institution when the prosecutor’s office avoided conflicts that involved major-power interests –the cases of Afghanistan and Palestine for instance- (Bosco, 2012: 78). As Bosco (2012) argues, even though major powers like the United States do not directly control international institutions, by adopting ‘marginalising’ or ‘controlling’ behaviours, powerful states can influence the Court. The United States has had a wavering position towards the Court, but some argue that, more recently, it has used the Court to target rogue states such as Sudan and Libya – neither of which are parties to the Rome Statute- (Mamdani, 2008). Particularly in the aftermath of NATO’s intervention in Libya, the proximity between the Security Council, state interests, and international criminal justice became too close for many of the ICC’s proponents. This has quickly resulted in allegations that the ICC had become associated with a Western military policy of regime change (Vinjumura, 2014: 284). Many now worry that the Rome Statute will be used to breach sovereignty through intervention (Mackie, 2012:138). The special privileges granted to a small number of powerful states by international institutions creates obvious tensions with a sovereignty norm that stipulates equal status to all states. The fact that the ICC is intertwined with the UNSC’s network of political and logistical support undermines its independence and ultimately is an important factor for the ICC’s loss of credibility.

An African bias?

The second factor resulting in the ICC’s lack of credibility is the selectivity in its case selection, which has resulted in an almost exclusive focus on African perpetrators. The mandate of the ICC is very ambitious, but a single institution cannot investigate all situations under its jurisdiction or prosecute the full range of criminal responsibility within them. Therefore, a degree of selectivity is necessary for the ICC to operate. However, the ICC’s apparent focus on Africa -every one of the 32 criminals ever indicted have been African men (Elsheikh, 2015)-clashes with its alleged global mandate. It is in this context that African leaders, such as Paul Kagame, have been very vocal, accusing the ICC of systematically targeting Africa whilst overlooking crimes perpetrated in other parts of the world (Mugabi, 2016). They argue that the ICC reflects a western bias, some even going as far as claiming that the Court is a tool of neo-colonialism (Kenyatta, 2013). According to that argument, the ICC is being used by western countries to exercise influence on the internal affairs of African countries. Mackie’s (2012) analysis of the ICC website’s language is useful to illustrate this argument. On the ICC’s website, fifty-five separate documents contain the word ‘barbaric’ whereas the word ‘savage’ appears forty-seven times in the context of human rights violations (Mackie, 2012: 134). These terms create a dichotomy of ‘us versus them’ and dehumanises perpetrators (Sagan, 2010: 16). The negative connotations of these words and the image of the external actor intervening to save helpless victims from heartless perpetrators seriously hearken back to rationalisations of colonialism. Such rhetoric strengthens African leaders’ argument that the ICC is a form of neo-colonialism institutionalised through international criminal law (Mackie 2012: 134).

However, the ICC’s focus on Africa can, once again, be explained by structural limitations. Firstly, as argued in the second section, the partnership between the ICC and the Security Council creates double standards. Many African countries do not have powerful protectors in the Council—unlike Syria, for example, where Russia has been blocking the ICC’s efforts to prosecute crimes committed there (Rothmyer, 2012). There is also the fact that many countries accused of human rights abuses (the United States, China and Russia amongst them) have refused to be a party to the ICC statute, making it unlikely that their alleged crimes will ever be prosecuted. It is therefore felt that the ICC is going after Africans by default (Rothmyer, 2012). This has resulted in a disengagement by African countries and leaders who feel unjustly targeted. The backlash first surged when an arrest warrant was issued against Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir in 2009. The hostility between the Court and the African Union (AU) then reached new heights when ICC suspects, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, were elected president and deputy president of Kenya, and a potential massive pull-out from the ICC was considered.

There are also arguments against the potential bias of the Court. Firstly, considering that African States constitute the largest regional grouping of state parties, it was statistically more likely that prosecutions would arise from African states. Indeed, in the wake of the genocide in Rwanda, and given the long history of war crimes and impunity in the continent, African countries had a clear interest in joining an international criminal court. Secondly, judging the ICC to be more competent and impartial than their own national courts, many African countries have referred cases to the Court themselves. Hence, these referrals cannot be regarded as external interventions (Mendes, 2010: 168). Therefore, although the Court does reflect the double standards that are deeply rooted in global governance structures (Bosco, 2014: 189), the ICC’s case selection needs to be understood in the context of these limitations. Nonetheless, these allegations of racial bias and neo-colonialism, whether accurate or not, have significantly damaged the ICC’s credibility and hindered cooperation from African states.

The consequences: The case of Kenya

The forceful campaign led by ICC indictees Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto was designed to portray the ICC as an untrustworthy and biased institution and thus delegitimise its authority. This reflects the degree of politicisation involved in ICC cases and the negative effect it has on cooperation. In March 2010, the ICC opened investigations on six individuals for their involvement in the ethnically targeted violence that followed the 2007 Kenyan election (Mueller, 2014: 27). The post-election violence left thousands dead, injured and displaced (Claire, 2012: 641). However, the Kenyan government failed to deliver justice for victims. It was thus the first time a case was referred by the prosecutor himself (‘proprio motu’). Moreover, the judges and the prosecutor tried to stay away from Kenya’s domestic politics (Tiemessen, 2014: 456). However, despite these efforts to remain independent and impartial, rather than accepting the ICC’s authority, Kenyatta and Ruto joined forces to run for the presidency while campaigning against the ICC. Kenyatta employed a populist rhetoric to discredit the Court’s operations in Kenya and ultimately won the election. By recalling Kenya’s colonial past, Kenyatta managed to spin the charges into a powerful narrative implying that the ICC was a ‘toy of imperialism’ (Kenyatta, 2013). Kenyatta claimed before African Heads of State and Government that, since the Court’s budget is largely funded by the EU, ‘Western powers are the key drivers of the ICC’ and that ‘the threat of prosecution’ by this Court is being used as a tool to make ‘pliant states execute policies favourable to these [Western] countries’ (Materu, 2014: 221). Similarly, at the same AU Summit in October 2013, Kenyatta accused the ICC of ‘race-hunting’ Africans (Kenyatta, 2013). Consequently, whereas the African Union’s mediation process following the 2008 violence in Kenya was seen as a locally owned process, granted with support and legitimacy, those seeking to undermine the Court portrayed the ICC’s intervention as an externally driven process imposed by the West (Juma, 2009: 407).

Assessing whether or not the ICC has perceived credibility in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa is highly subjective, but some elements prove that Kenyatta’s campaign has clearly been effective in hindering cooperation with the Court. Indeed, in addition to building domestic support and winning the election, Kenyatta used his newly won platform as President to discourage the African Union from cooperating with the ICC (Mueller, 2014: 31). Between 2011 and 2012, Kenya aggressively lobbied African leaders to get support from the AU in their demand for a UN deferral of ICC investigations and their transfer back to Kenya’s domestic courts (Mueller, 2014: 31). Whilst their efforts were unsuccessful, Kenyatta’s campaign did resonate with the AU. In September 2013, a potential mass pull-out by African countries was even considered by the AU (Mueller, 2014: 32). South Africa and Burundi’s decision to withdraw from the ICC in October 2016 (Sieff and Mahr, 2016) marks another blow to the ICC’s deteriorating relationship with Africa. Cooperation with the Court has also been put at risk by the alleged attempts of intimidation of witnesses for the prosecution (Mueller, 2014: 33). Kenyatta and Ruto successfully postponed their trials until after they gained power. Finding themselves without witnesses, key documents, or political support, prosecutors had no choice but to withdraw charges in December 2015. In September 2016, the ICC issued a finding of non-cooperation to the ICC’s Assembly of States Parties. The failure of the case has resulted in the Kenyan victims feeling a ‘growing loss of faith in the ICC’ (Mueller, 2014: 38). Ultimately, justice for thousands is still to be delivered. Neither Kenya nor the ICC has met its responsibility to hold the perpetrators of war crimes accountable, showing yet again, that politics trumps justice. This attempt to undermine cooperation with the ICC can largely be attributed to the unique structure and jurisdiction of the ICC, which renders it vulnerable to the political interests of those who instrumentalise it. The case of Kenya highlights the ICC’s limited enforcement powers, especially when political power and non-compliance combine to threaten the law (Mueller, 2014: 38).

Conclusion

This essay has attempted to identify the causes of the ICC’s lack of credibility and its effect on the non-cooperation of states by examining the case of Kenya. It has been argued that structural weaknesses in the Rome Statute regime have limited the ICC in its independence and partiality, ultimately weakening the Court as a credible and effective institution. Without support and cooperation, the ICC will perpetuate the vicious circle of loss of credibility and will ultimately be less effective in meting out accountability and positively affecting conflict resolution. At its heart, the ICC reflects deep tensions between peace and justice, politics and law, and power and norms. It embodies strong ambitions and has a broad set of objectives, and balancing legal understandings and political interests, while maintaining credibility and support, will remain the ICC’s biggest challenge to ensure universal human security.

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Torn between political interests and upholding legal responsibilities? A critical examination of African states’ frustrations with the International Criminal Court

By Zeinab Drabu

Zeinab Drabu is a recent graduate from the University of Leeds, where she achieved a First Class Honours in her BA degree in German and International Relations. Her academic and research interests include international politics, international law and international ethics.

The International Criminal Court is currently facing its most serious reputational crisis concerning its role and impact in relation to international criminal justice within the international arena. Nowhere is this crisis more profound than amongst African States that are both party to the International Criminal Court as well as the Constitutive Act of the African Union. Criticisms articulated by African states, including the labelling of the International Criminal Court as an ‘International Caucasian Court for the persecution and humiliation of people of colour, especially Africans’ (Al Jazeera, 2016) by the Gambian Information Minister Sheriff Bojang, are above all symbolic of the mounting frustrations that African states exhibit towards the Court. This essay will assess whether and to what extent such frustrations are justified in terms of their credibility and legitimacy. For this, the analysis will seek to determine whether these frustrations have been elicited due to the Court’s inability to fulfil its aims and objectives as outlined in the Rome Statute. Firstly, frustrations surrounding the Court’s alleged bias in terms of its selection of predominantly African cases will be reviewed. This essay will then critique frustrations regarding the International Criminal Court’s relationship to the United Nations Security Council, particularly through an examination of the case of the indictment of Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir. As the ‘Court operates at a crossroads between law and politics’ as noted by scholars such as Arbour (2014, p.201), this essay will contend that existing frustrations articulated by African states towards the International Criminal Court are on the whole juridically unjustified, as they stand in opposition to structural limitations imposed by the Court’s jurisdiction as outlined in the Rome Statute. Furthermore, this essay will demonstrate that existing frustrations are principally politically motivated, with the purpose of delegitimising the Court to serve the political interests and objectives of African states inherent in the Court’s handled cases.

Is the International Criminal Court exclusively targeting Africa? 

In view of the submission of withdrawal notices from the International Criminal Court by the African states of Burundi, Gambia and South Africa in October 2016, despite eventual revocations in the cases of the latter two, scholars such as Werle and Vormbaum (2014, p.181) contend that the ‘Afro-centric focus of the International Criminal Court has created a distorted perception within the African continent about the intentions underlying the establishment of the Court’. The Court was initially founded to prosecute the most serious crimes facing the international community, including ‘the crime of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity’ (ICC, 2011, p.3), following the entry into force of the Rome Statute on the 1st July 2002. Objectively it is evident that all cases pursued to date have been directed towards African nationals. Specifically, submissions have included ‘those by individual governments in the cases of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo [DRC] and the Central African Republic [CAR], self-initiated interventions by the ICC chief prosecutor, Louis Moreno Ocampo in Kenya and Côte d’Ivoire and two UN Security Council referrals in Sudan and Libya’ (Murithi, 2012, p.4). Taking such observations into account, frustrations concerning the Court’s disproportionate focus on Africa are empirically justifiable. However, the first three situations outlined were self-referrals and therefore investigated at the request of the respective states themselves. In addition, crimes committed in all cases fell under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

Currently there are 124 State Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, of which 34 are African. Hence, quantitatively, Africa constitutes the most heavily represented region in the International Criminal Court, which not only recognises its permanency and legitimacy, but also accepts and emulates its jurisdiction. In addition, the International Criminal Court benefits extensively from the expertise of African professionals, with numerous Africans occupying high-level positions in all its organs. This includes Ms. Fatou Bensouda of the Gambia, who was instated as the Chief Prosecutor of the Court in 2012. In light of these structural and demographic contributions, African recognition of the legitimacy and authority of the International Criminal Court as an institution is significant.

The contributions of African states during the establishment of the International Criminal Court are also imperative to consider when assessing the extent to which their frustrations with the Court’s allegedly selective approach are justified. Indeed, whilst numerous African states were present for the drafting of the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court at the Rome Conference in July 1998, the clear majority voted in favour of adopting the Rome Statute and establishing the International Criminal Court. Such extensive support suggests that the objectives and purpose of the Court at the time of its establishment aligned with the interests of the majority of African states. In addition, on the 2nd February 1999, Senegal ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, becoming the first State Party to ratify the Statute (United Nations, 2014), encapsulating and reaffirming African support for the Court. Furthermore, it is important to note that current efforts by the International Criminal Court to expand its international outreach are actively being pursued in terms of its prosecution of mass atrocity crimes. As well as the recent initiation of a proprio motu investigation into crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Georgia in 2008, a Report on Preliminary Examination Activities (2016, p.6) issued by the Chief Prosecutor outlines ‘preliminary examinations currently underway in a number of states across different continents including Afghanistan, Colombia, Guinea, Iraq/UK, Nigeria, Palestine, Ukraine’.

Nevertheless, dismissals to date by the International Criminal Court of cases outside Africa have triggered frustrations from African states that the ‘International Criminal Court is practicing a form of “selective justice” which purposely avoids the prosecution of diplomatically, economically, financially and politically strong countries’ (Mbaku, 2014, p.10). A key example highlighted by Dugard (2013, p.563) which illustrates this is the Prosecutor’s failure to investigate alleged war crimes committed by Israel and Hamas during Operation Cast Lead in 2008. Whilst Dugard (2013, pp.567-569) emphasises the Prosecutor’s weakness in confronting Israel and its allies such as the United States as a key causal factor in the case’s dismissal, what is most interesting to note is the Prosecutor’s decision to investigate crimes committed in Mali instead, where the evidence is less clear. Whilst this example bolsters the credibility of frustrations regarding the International Criminal Court’s active preference in prosecuting African cases, scholars such as Saltzman (2013, p.164) counter this contention. Saltzman contends that at the time of the offensive, although the Palestinian National Authority had recognised the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction, it was not a party to the Rome Statute and therefore not under the Court’s jurisdiction. Thus, although the structural limitations of the Rome Statute can be universally applied to different cases in assessing whether African state frustrations are justified, this example highlights the necessity to equally explore case-specific political dynamics in conjunction with the subject matter of the case. It further illustrates an instance where structural limitations of the International Criminal Court have delegitimised rhetoric regarding the selective targeting of African states by the International Criminal Court.

The Paradox of state co-operation: an analysis of the case of Omar Al-Bashir

On the 4th March 2009, the International Criminal Court issued a warrant of arrest for President Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan on charges including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. As these are all crimes that fall within the jurisdiction of the Court in accordance with the Rome Statute, the case possesses legitimate prerequisites for investigation. As well as being the first case in which a sitting head of State has been issued with an arrest warrant, scholars such as Mills (2012, p.407) acknowledge that it is also the first in which a ‘case before the ICC has forced states to confront their multiple interests and responsibilities in light of global power dynamics’. This is due to the fact that African states are required to overcome the conflict between their legal obligations under the Rome Statute and their political commitments as member states of the African Union in determining their involvement and approach respective to the case of the indictment of Al-Bashir. 

Frustrations concerning the alleged ‘political abuse of universal jurisdiction against African officials by Western states’ (Van der Wilt, 2011, p.1044) appear to oppose the African Union’s policy asserting that ‘heads of state enjoy diplomatic immunity’ when confronted with arrest warrants (Akande and Shah, 2010, p.815).  The case of the South African government’s failure to arrest Al-Bashir during his visit to an African Union summit in Johannesburg in 2015 highlights the discrepancies between Article 27 and Article 98 (1) of the Rome Statute in relation to diplomatic immunity. It further demonstrates South Africa’s voluntary violations of its legal responsibilities as outlined by the Rome Statute in favour of complying with the African Union’s policy of non-cooperation, which provides support for the contention that African State frustrations towards the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction are not justified. 

As illustrated by Article 27 of the Rome Statute, there is an ‘absolute prohibition on immunities for crimes falling within the jurisdiction of the ICC at the international level’ (Bekou and Shah, 2006, p.513). South Africa is also a State Party to the Rome Statute and therefore falls under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. Hence some scholars argue that the removal of diplomatic immunity for perpetrators of mass atrocities is also mandatory at the national level. From this, it is evident that there is a comprehensive legal basis obligating the South African government to arrest Al-Bashir. Yet upon examination of Article 98 (1) of the Rome Statute, it can be argued that the removal of diplomatic immunity from a head of State such as Al-Bashir violates other key principles of international law, including territorial sovereignty and non-interference, producing a ‘scenario of forced regime change by one country on another’ in the words of South Africa’s Masutha (Feldman, 2016). Article 98 (1) states that

‘the Court may not proceed with a request for surrender or assistance which would require the requested State to act inconsistently with its obligations under international law with respect to the State or diplomatic immunity of a person or property of a third State, unless the Court can first obtain the cooperation of that third State for the waiver of the immunity’ (International Criminal Court, 2011, p.69).  

That said, according to scholars such as Van der Vyver (2015, p.574), ‘the obligation of non-party states to execute the arrest warrant of President Al Bashir should rest with Security Council, acting under its Chapter VII powers, which has instructed all states and non-party-states included’. From this perspective, it can be contended that the ultimate authority and legitimacy of State Parties legal obligations take precedence, delegitimising African state frustrations’ regarding the diplomatic immunity of Heads of State such as Al-Bashir.  

The obligations of non-state party co-operation within the Rome Statute further highlight weaknesses regarding African state frustrations concerning the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in its relationship with the United Nations Security Council. On one hand, contentions regarding the obligations of non-state parties, specifically in situations where they have been referred to by the United Nations Security Council to co-operate with the Court, have often been manipulated by African states, as in the case of Al-Bashir, to justify and legitimise such frustrations. Firstly, Bekou and Shah (2006, p.541) assert that as ‘Sudan is not a State Party to the Rome Statute, there is no obligation for the state to fulfil requests for cooperation from the Court’. However, due to the referral mechanism used in the case to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court through U.N. Security Council Resolution 1593 under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, scholars such as Schabas (2011, p.418) draw attention to Article 12 of the Rome Statute which ‘opens up the possibility for the Court to exercise jurisdiction if a matter is referred to it by the Security Council’. This obligates Sudan as a non-state party to cooperate with the Court by placing it under the same jurisdictional obligations as existing State Parties of the International Criminal Court. However, it can be contended that a closer examination of the duties entailed in the resolution reveal a degree of ambiguity. As stated in Paragraph 2 of the resolution, ‘Darfur shall cooperate fully with and provide any necessary assistance to the Court and the Prosecutor pursuant to this resolution’ (United Nations Security Council, 2005). Additionally, the resolution ‘urges all States and concerned regional and other international organizations to cooperate fully’ (United Nations Security Council, 2005). 

Taking this into account, it can be argued that the wording of the resolution merely encourages states to cooperate with the Court but does not necessarily compel them to do so. This exhibits weakness in the Court’s power of enforcement of state co-operation for the successful resolution of cases. However, when considering the votes in favour of the resolution by African states that were members of the Security Council at the time, it can be argued that the majority were supportive of the resolution. Both Benin and the United Republic of Tanzania voted in favour of the resolution, with Algeria abstaining. Although Algeria’s abstention stands contrary to African states’ support for the resolution, it appears principally politically driven, favouring alternative prosecution options to be determined by the African Union. In contrast, Benin refers to the ‘Ezulwini Consensus of 8 March 2005 in which the AU recognizes the right of the UNSC to protect a population when its government cannot or will not do so’ (Mutton, 2015) in its defence of the International Criminal Court’s decision following the U.N. Security Council resolution vote. Benin’s stance not only highlights the legal obligation of African states’ to act in accordance with the U.N. Security Council in this case but also affirms African states’ collective recognition of the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction over Sudan. 

At the time that the arrest warrant against Al-Bashir was issued in Sudan, African states requested for the arrest warrant against Al-Bashir to be deferred. According to scholars such as Oette (2010, p.348) this was due to concerns regarding the arrest warrant’s impact on the peace process being mediated by the African Union and on Sudan’s political stability in accordance with Article 16 of the Rome Statute. Yet the rejection of the deferral request by the United Nations Security Council triggered notable frustrations from African states, who turned to label the International Court as a ‘neo-colonial Court’ (Wegner, 2015, p.297) used as a tool to impose Western imperialism, as well as an institution that practices double standards regarding its relationship with the United Nations Security Council.  

Although examples such as the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1422 following Article 16 of the Rome Statute to grant immunity for U.S. soldiers in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Heyder, 2006, p.657) legitimate such frustrations, when examining the conflict between the pursuit of retributive justice in the attainment of peace in the Court’s prosecution of Al-Bashir juxtaposed with the structural limitations of the Court, such frustrations are not entirely justified. As Bensouda has pointed out, the ‘ICC is a judicial institution and cannot take into consideration the interests of peace’ (Buchanan, 2015). Thus, the United Nations Security Council’s decision to avoid accommodating political considerations in its decision to reject the deferral request is arguably valid in order to avoid the politicisation of justice, thereby safeguarding the legitimacy of the Court. However, as the case remains deadlocked at the Pre-Trial stage, although African State frustrations’ in general may have been unjustified, their implications on State cooperation appear to have had a profound, delegitimising effect on achieving progress within the case.

To conclude, over the course of this essay, the justification of various African states’ frustrations regarding the functionality and objectives of the International Criminal Court, in addition to frustrations that have arisen as a result of the Court’s interaction with international political organisations including the United Nations Security Council and the African Union, have been analysed. Whilst the first section does, to an extent, concur with frustrations concerning the International Criminal Court’s exclusive selection of cases within Africa, it also highlights the progress of the Court, which has begun to expand preliminary examinations and investigations into other continents. The second section of the essay focuses on the case of Omar Al-Bashir. Despite State Parties’ entailed obligations within the Rome Statute, this section illustrates that frustrations regarding sovereign immunity and universal jurisdiction are prevalent. This is due to African states’ conflicted and often politicised interpretations of these concepts, despite on the whole being juridically unjustified, which has provided impetus to a lack of State Party cooperation.

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Arbour, L. 2014.The Relationship Between the ICC and the UN Security Council. Global Governance: A Review of Multilateralism and International Organizations. 20(2), pp.195-201. 

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Heyder, C. 2006. The U.N. Security Council’s Referral of the Crimes in Darfur to the International Criminal Court in Light of U.S. Opposition to the Court: Implications for the International Criminal Court’s Functions and Status. Berkeley Journal of International Law, 24 (2), pp. 650-671.

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African states’ frustrations with the ICC: justifiable or misdirected and overstated?

By Oliver Cotton

Oliver Cotton is a law conversion course student. He graduated with a BA degree in International Relations from the University of Leeds in 2017, with a particular interest in terrorism, R2P and humanitarian law. 

Despite the significant role that African states have had in both the creation of the ICC and its ongoing support, African nations and as a collective, the African Union (AU) have become increasingly frustrated with the International Criminal Court (ICC). This essay, primarily focusing on the ICC’s Sudan investigation, posits that African states have two core complaints and that neither is justified. The first complaint is that the ICC undermines African peace and violates the immunity of heads of state, particularly those not party to the ICC’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute, through continuing to investigate African conflicts when the African Union requests deferral. For instance, several African states’ have argued that the ICC hampers peace processes by compromising leaders’ immunity through indictment. It will be asserted, however, that this frustration is unjustified in two ways. Firstly, the structural inequalities of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) would be a more appropriate target for criticism, because African states were primarily concerned with deferral in the case of Darfur, which was a UNSC failing. Secondly, the AU’s request for deferrals of ICC investigations on the grounds of stability are unjustified because their premises are ill-defined and erroneous. The second core complaint from African states is that the Court unfairly targets and discriminates against Africans. However, despite the disproportionate number of investigations within Africa, the fact that many African states trust the ICC’s judgement brings this claim into question.  

The AU’s frustration with the UNSC’s role and deferral process

A principal frustration that some African states and the AU have directed towards the ICC, is their vexation towards the Security Council’s and, concomitantly, the ICC’s dismissal of their demands for a deferral of African investigations for a year long period, in line with Article 16 of the Rome Statute (1998). The effect of which has been the perceived marginalisation and lack of authority that African states consider themselves to have over the justice proceedings of their own affairs and crimes, despite their influence in the formation of the Court (Mills, 2012). This frustration should be directed towards the role of the Security Council and the structural inequalities and power imbalances that it represents, underscored by all five of the permanent UNSC members emanating from outside of Africa. Beyond their misplaced frustration with the role of the ICC instead of that of the UNSC, this essay asserts that the necessity of deferrals, notably in Sudan, was not adequately established. At its 2009 Summit in Sirte, the AU expressed and posited two principal reasons for its non-cooperation stance towards the ICC in reaction to the Security Council’s decision not to defer the Sudan investigation that it referred to the Court in 2005 (Jalloh et al, 2011; Ssenyonjo, 2013). They are: the belief that incumbent heads of state not party to the Rome Statute are immune from the Court’s jurisdiction under Article 98(1) (Rome Statute, 1998); and the perspective that prosecutions during ongoing conflicts hinder the achievement of peace. In terms of the former, the AU argued that the ICC’s jurisdiction should not extend to states that have not ratified the Rome Statute, in line with the sovereign principle of non-intervention (Akande and Shah, 2011). This argument is premised on the logic that in international law, ‘generally only parties to a treaty are bound by its provision’ (Sirleaf, 2016, p.751). There is significant contestation regarding the complexity of whether senior members of governments should be immune from ICC prosecution if they have not consented to the Court’s jurisdiction. However, given that the Security Council referred the case to the ICC under Resolution 1593 (UNSC, 2005) and that Sudan is a member of the UN and thus subject to the UN Charter, it is posited that Sudan’s immunity has been waived in a similar way to those of state parties, pursuant to Article 27 (Rome Statute, 1998), thereby legitimising the indictment (Du Plessis, 2010; Ciampi, 2008).  

It is also important to stress that African states are not just frustrated with the UNSC’s and the Court’s role in by-passing the lack of jurisdiction that the ICC has over non-state parties, but also the more general indictment of incumbent heads of state. African leaders, party to the Rome Statute, for instance Malawi’s president, Bingu wa Mutharika expressed that, ‘to subject a sovereign head of state to a warrant of arrest is undermining African solidarity’ (Mills, 2012, p.436). African states’ criticism of the indictment of incumbent leaders, whether party or not to the ICC, is premised on the crippling effects that arresting a head of state has upon the credibility of the states themselves. However, implicit in the opposition of African countries to the ending of the impunity that leaders enjoy is also the fear amongst heads of state who have committed mass atrocities that ‘their number might be next’ (Mills, 2012, p.430). This is exemplified by the AU’s formation of the Malabo regional court in 2014 and its incorporation of an immunities provision, which states that ‘no charges shall be commenced or continued before the Court against any serving African Union Head of State or Government’ (Amnesty International, 2016). This veiled effort to further embed the impunity of African leaders is unjustifiable and starkly inconsistent with the ICC’s principal aim to eradicate the immunity of all individuals under its jurisdiction, set out in the Rome Statute (Sirleaf, 2016). 

The principal reasoning expounded by the AU for the deferral of African cases is that the arrest of officials or even leaders of African governments during conflict situations is detrimental to the brokering of peace, which African governments argue should be the primary concern of the international community. The AU expressed that its objection to the prosecution of Sudanese leader, Omar al-Bashir and other officials lay in the timing of Bashir’s indictment as opposed to the case itself. Indeed, in line with the AU’s opposition to external interference and desire for greater autonomy, the regional institution discussed whether, instead of the ICC, it could alternatively prosecute Bashir, implying that African states are willing to prosecute war criminals themselves (Mills, 2012). The organisation nonetheless called for the arrest of Bashir to be deferred in the interest of establishing peace in Sudan. It cited that the investigation could ‘seriously undermine the ongoing efforts aimed at facilitating the early resolution of the conflict in Darfur and the promotion of long-lasting peace and reconciliation’ (AU, 2008, p.2). Support for a deferral in order to benefit the Sudanese peace efforts extended beyond African states. Russia, for instance stressed its opposition to the ICC’s interference in Sudan, instead emphasising the importance of Sudan investigating its own crimes and the ICC acting as a court of last resort, in line with the principle of complementarity (UNSC, 2008). 

The elevation of peace above judicial action in order to end immunity, and the perception of irreconcilability between them are popular views among academics. It is contended that the ICC’s involvement acts as an obstacle to establishing peace (Rothe and Collins, 2013; Kastner, 2007) on the basis that its indictments have incentivised violence in: Sudan, Colombia and Uganda (Sirleaf, 2016; Riveros, 2009; Belloni, 2006). For instance, in Uganda, the ICC’s indictment of Joseph Kony was conceptualised as leading to the cessation of the Juba peace negotiations (Rothe and Collins, 2013). Likewise, in Sudan, it is noted that the arrest warrant for Bashir plausibly reinforced the rebels’ cause, in turn, resulting in the Justice and Equality Movement eliminating the possibility of negotiations (Simons et al, 2008). Despite the relative credibility of this argument in theory, in practice, there was little tangible evidence to validate the necessity of a deferral (Oette, 2010). It is important to stress that the legitimacy of a deferral following a UNSC referral of a situation to the ICC is dependent upon a change in the circumstances of a case. That is, from one that has already been considered to warrant ‘effective prosecution by the ICC into one in which the Court’s exercise of jurisdiction threatens the peace and security of the world’ (Ciampi, 2008, p.891). The Sudan situation did not merit a deferral as the AU failed to highlight any tangible change in circumstances that could plausibly justify the postponement of the ICC’s investigation in Darfur. Equally, there was no clear evidence that the ICC’s involvement obstructed peace processes or that peace would be more likely to prosper in the case of a deferral, undermining the AU’s frustration. Indeed, the Darfur conflict has persisted since 2003, highlighting the opportunity that Sudan’s government has had to foster peace and to prevent the direct involvement of the ICC through the prosecution of its own offenders, under the principle of complementarity (Jalloh et al, 2011; Fritz, 2012). Yet, it has failed to do so, illustrated by the failure of the 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement (Oette, 2010) and the unstable, violent conditions prior to the ICC indictment, underscored by the eruption of conflict in Omdurman and Abyei in 2008 (HRW, 2008). The failure of Sudan’s domestic proceedings, or more fittingly, its lack of willingness to indict its own officials, justifies the need for the ICC’s external involvement (Jalloh et al, 2011). 

The ICC’s credibility has been weakened by the lack of support from the Security Council and African states in arresting Bashir. Nonetheless, as has been argued, in the absence of a justifiable explanation for a deferral of the Sudan case, the ICC’s continued investigation was warranted and prevented the Court from setting a precedent of subordinating impunity in favour of political expediency (Oette, 2010). Furthermore, in contrast to the argument that peace should be prioritised above the prosecutorial duties of the ICC, this essay elucidates that alternatively, peace and justice are inseparable goals. As opposed to facilitating the establishment of peace, deferring cases against heads of state in the absence of exceptional circumstances would have the perverse effect of encouraging leaders to sustain conflict in order to delay their prosecution indefinitely (Oette, 2010). 

The perception of the ICC as a Western tool of African oppression 

African leaders and academics alike have cited the ICC as a tool of Western oppression that selectively and unfairly discriminates against African nations, particularly in the wake of Bashir’s 2008 indictment. Indeed, the African scholar Eberechi (2011) stressed that the ‘ICC is rapidly turning into a Western court to try African crimes against humanity’ (p.55). Rwandan president, Paul Kagame even stressed that the ICC’s unfair targeting of Africans has colonialist and racist overtones (Steinberg, 2016; Sudan Tribune, 2009). The extent of this frustration is encapsulated by the African Union passing a resolution in 2008 to appeal to the European community to halt the indictment of Africans (Mills, 2012). The pinnacle of this frustration and subsequent opposition to the ICC’s operational functioning by African states came with South Africa’s, the Gambia’s and Burundi’s announcement of their plans to withdraw from the Court (Keppler, 2017). Although the AU has consistently found issue with the Court’s work, its endorsement of the withdrawal of African states collectively from the ICC at the 2017 AU summit signaled the culmination of the continent’s frustrations with universal jurisdiction and the role of the ICC (Jalloh et al, 2011; Maasho, 2017). This has even prompted commentators to question whether such action signals the end of the ICC (Allen, 2016; Cronin-Furman and Schwartz, 2016). This is grounded in the logic that international institutions, such as the League of Nations have historically become redundant and perished once members have flouted their jurisdictions and withdrawn their membership (Murithi, 2012). 

Both Gambia’s and South Africa’s decision to withdraw from the Court have since been revoked, however, it is clear that the frustration amongst African governments regarding its perceived biased targeting has damaged the ICC’s credibility. This is particularly apparent, given that African membership and support for both the ICC’s founding and ongoing execution have been integral to its relative success as an institution to date. Nevertheless, upon analysis, the perspective that such frustration could beckon the ICC’s demise is thoroughly futile and simplistic. It obscures the disparity and disagreement amongst African states regarding their support for the ICC. For instance, the majority of African states either opposed the decision by Gambia, South Africa and Burundi to declare their withdrawal from the ICC or reaffirmed their support for the Court (Momoh, 2017; AU Summit, 2017). Thus, the AU’s declaration of non-cooperation and withdrawal from the ICC did not represent the majority view.

The ICC’s selectivity and Western bias is supported by nine out of ten of the situations under investigation by the Court residing on the African continent (ICC, 2017a). Nonetheless, the African frustration regarding the perceived oppression of the ICC grossly misrepresents the reality. Although Western, powerful states are more capable of averting the Court’s jurisdiction and justice, the ICC is far from a Western institution, represented by the Gambian nationality of its incumbent prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda (Smith, 2012). Furthermore, it is clear that this perceived Western oppression of Africans masks the accountability, autonomy and transparency inherent in the ICC (Du Plessis, 2010). The frustration is additionally flawed, given that far from unfairly targeting the continent, African states have, in fact, requested the ICC’s investigation into their own affairs, confirming that the ICC purely acts in the interests of African victims. This is signified by self-referrals marking five out of the nine African situations under investigation (ICC, 2017a). The fact that the Security Council has only referred two out of these nine cases to the ICC brings into question Mamdani’s (2009) narrative of the ICC as a tool of the West. The imbalance in the Court’s prosecutions and investigations into African situations is predominantly explained by factors outside of its control and its limited jurisdiction, marked by neither America, China, nor Russia being party to the ICC Statute (ICC, 2017b). Notably, in the absence of a Security Council referral, the ICC can solely prosecute individuals from its state parties via self-referrals or the proprio motu capabilities of the ICC Prosecutor. The Court is thereby heavily dependent upon state support and power politics. Nonetheless, the frustration of African states is further undermined by the ICC’s evident willingness and intent to prosecute the most heinous war crimes wherever they occur when the Court has both the jurisdiction and the authority to do so (Jalloh, 2010). This is evidenced by five of the ten situations under preliminary investigation coming from outside of Africa, notably, Bensouda’s reopening of the case against British nationals in Iraq, previously closed by her predecessor, Ocampo in 2006 (ICC, 2017c). The higher prevalence of conflict and, concurrently, war crimes, coupled with Africa representing the region with the most signatory states to the Rome Statute, further justifies the disproportionate number of African cases investigated by the ICC (Jalloh et al, 2011; Brock-Utne, 2001). 

Conclusion 

In examining the justifiability of African states’ frustrations with the ICC, this essay has evaluated two overarching dissatisfactions which have impaired the relationship between the ICC and the African Union. It has concluded that neither frustration, nor the broader discontent that African governments have directed towards the ICC are justifiable. The AU’s frustration regarding the overlooking of its appeal for the deferral of African cases under ICC investigation should be re-directed towards the role of the Security Council and its embodiment of structural inequalities. African governments’ vexation towards the ICC for pursuing cases despite AU opposition is additionally unwarranted, premised on two shortcomings. They are: The African Union’s failure to expound the necessity of deferrals in the interest of peace; and some African states’ incompatible and flawed belief that incumbent heads of state should enjoy impunity, given that the ICC was definitively set up to end the immunity of all individuals under its jurisdiction and remit. African states’ criticism of the Court as a Western tool that is biased against and seeks to oppress Africans is an equally misplaced frustration. For, the ICC’s sizeable jurisdiction within Africa, coupled with the greater willingness of African states to self-refer cases justifies the disproportionate number of prosecutions and investigations on the continent. Nevertheless, going forward, it is important that the ICC builds upon and translates some of its five preliminary examinations from situations outside of Africa into fully fledged investigations. Pursuing cases beyond Africa more diligently and purposefully would advance the ICC’s inherent goals of ending the immunity of war criminals and protecting victims globally, whilst simultaneously acting to thwart African states’ increasing opposition towards the Court. In a similar vein, African governments can alleviate their frustrations by increasingly adhering to the ICC’s role as a court of last resort and its principle of complementarity by emboldening their domestic judicial systems and, concurrently, progressively prosecuting their own crimes. 

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The Responsibility to Protect in Africa: Normative Progress or Sound and Fury Signifying Nothing?

Luc Hinson, University of Leeds, UK

Luc Hinson is a final year student of International Relations and Spanish at the University of Leeds. He is interested in security studies, the RtoP and specifically the RtoP on the continent of Africa.

The Responsibility to Protect (hereafter R2P) is a concept heavily contested by a range of scholars including sceptics such as Hehir and Reinhold. For Hehir and Reinhold, the progress it represents is illusionary; by failing to change international law and order it is a continuation of the status-quo. They state that the current form of RtoP has not changed the powers of the UN Security Council (hereafter UNSC), nor has it ascribed any “new competencies or procedural laws” (Hehir, 2013, p. 152). To dispute these claims, I will call upon arguments of varying levels of advocacy including Bellamy, Ralph, Gallagher, Thakur, Welsh and Williams, and dispel the three challenges of RtoP being ‘business as usual’, a “permanency of inconsistency” (Hehir, 2013) and “sound and fury signifying nothing” (2010), whilst acknowledging the limitations of R2P. A further acknowledgement of the limitations of the word count of this essay explains the focus on exclusively sceptics and advocates. In addition to using the arguments preponed by advocates of the RtoP this essay will focus on the role of the African Union (hereafter AU) in implementing and contesting RtoP, and demonstrating how, to this continent R2P represents anything but progress.

To many, R2P is an African concept. Edward Luck stated that “the concept emerged, quite literally, from the soil and soul of Africa” (Williams, 2009, p. 397). Arguably, the R2P was a direct response to the Rwandan genocide of 1994, and a challenge to the inertia of the UNSC to protect civilians where the state was manifestly failing to uphold its Pillar I responsibilities. As Evans noted in 2007, “nearly 60% of the Security Council’s agenda concerned either specific crises in Africa or thematic issues of concern to the continent” (Evans, 2008, p. 189). There is a clear focus on the continent for the UNSC, and therefore R2P carries the most weight in Africa, both in implementation and contestation. It is currently host to several crises where RtoP has been used as a framework of response; in Sudan, Mali and CAR. Additionally, the AU has been “eulogized for preciously enshrining certain principles of R2P in Article 4h of its constitutive act” (Abbas, 2012, p. 109), being the first regional organisation to fully codify ideas of RtoP in its constitutive document.

Ban Ki-moon has stressed the importance of regional organisations. In his 2011 report on the R2P, he stated that “the surest path for advancing the responsibility to protect is through global-regional-sub-regional partnership” (Ki-moon, 2011, p. 13), giving credence to the cascading norm of RtoP and its regional dimension. By pairing the voices of different advocates with the presence of RtoP in AU protocol, direct evidence of the progress of RtoP will be given.

Business as usual

The notion of R2P as ‘business as usual’ is based on the belief that R2P has failed to achieve any significant changes to international law. However, the discourse surrounding R2P has achieved significant changes to how intervention is discussed.  Bellamy states that “the key debates now are ones about how best to implement R2P, not about whether to accept the principle itself” (2014, p. 12). Ralph and Gallagher echo this sentiment that “the RtoP is now in the room” (2015, p. 241). Furthermore, the debate surrounding sovereignty has been reconceptualised. Deng wrote in 1996 that “sovereignty carries with it certain responsibilities for which governments must be held accountable” (Deng, 1996, p. 1). Those responsibilities have, with the advent of RtoP, been clarified as protection against the four crimes as identified in the World Summit Outcome Document of 2005 (hereafter WSOD).

Business as usual identifies R2P as a continuation of western-led interventions and imperialism, a criticism pegged to humanitarian intervention (HI). The distinctions between HI and RtoP will be further outlined in “sound and fury signifying nothing”, but it is used here to outline two key points to the argument. Firstly, R2P has seen a shift in who controls the invocation of R2P. Bellamy identified that “U.S. diplomats understand that, owing to lingering concerns about U.S. tendencies toward unilateralism on the use of force, R2P would be better served by the leadership of others” (Bellamy, 2015, p. 174). Secondly, western powers have been met with outcry when attempting to abuse R2P as a justification for the use of force, outside of that outlined in the WSOD, notably when Russia (a P5 member) attempted to invoke R2P as justification to invade Georgia (Ibid, 2014, p. 176). This counters the notion by Hehir that R2P can easily be hijacked by the great powers to further their imperialist agendas, as was possible under the guise of HI.

To further challenge the assertion of R2P as business as usual I point to the normative qualities of R2P and its contestation. Both Welsh and Hofmann have pointed to the usefulness of contestation in the development of a norm. Welsh states contestation “should be seen as part and parcel of normative evolution” (2013, p. 395). Hofmann reiterates this: “Contestation is in this sense not a sign of normative regress; it is in fact intrinsic to the normativity or legitimacy of a norm” (Hofmann, cited in Ralph and Gallagher, 2015, p. 245). With R2P, most of this contestation comes from within. States have been vocally critical of the norm and have been involved in developing proposals and amendments to the R2P adding regional input to the norm. Two examples of these proposals would be “Responsibility while protecting” (RWP) emerging from Brazil and “Responsible protection” (RP) emerging from China (Bellamy, 2015, p. 180). Thakur and Orchard identify a process called “Norm Localisation”, which describes how in different international societies norms gain traction and develop at different rates. An example of this is present in the AU policy regarding IDPs. Notably, this is an aspect of the R2P that was outlined by Ban Ki-moon in his 2009 UNSG report where he stated: “The protection of refugees and internally displaced person was a direct goal of the R2P” (Orchard, 2016, p. 297). This entered into hard law on two occasions: Firstly, with the Great Lakes Protocol, and then furthered by the Kampala Convention. These initiatives have seen the protection of IDPs against atrocity crimes enter hard law, demonstrating progress that is far from illusionary (Orchard, 2016, p. 315). These concepts demonstrate how the norm is (a) still undergoing transformation, and (b) that control of the norm is far from unipolar in contrast to HI. This demonstrates clear normative progress.

Permanency of Inconsistency

Hehir points to the “permanency of inconsistency” as one shortcoming of RtoP, specifically focusing on the inertia of the P5, the Veto and the influence national interest still has in shaping foreign policy. Hehir reduces the application of R2P by the P5 to “whether the members of the P5 have a collective interest in – or are at least not opposed to – halting a particular looming or actual mass atrocity” (2013, p. 152). One of the more nuanced advocacy arguments comes from Gallagher, and sets out a “call to manage the expectations” of R2P (2015, p. 256). This is centred around paragraph 139 of the WSOD, which calls for “collective action in a timely and decisive manner through the security council …  on a case-by-case basis” (UNGA, 2005). Integral here is the case-by-case clause. R2P does not represent a linear policy decision making system, rather it is a framework used to address atrocity crimes and their prevention. As each case vastly differs, differing outcomes and decisions are to be expected. Ralph and Gallagher further this: “When states signed up to the World Summit Outcome Document they did not expect a consistent response because they recognised that each situation was different” (2015, p. 244). Expectations of what R2P can do and what R2P itself is, need furthering to fully understand what is achievable in the name of R2P. It is not a catch-all linear decision making process, but instead a framework used on an ad-hoc basis recognizing that each case differs vastly in scope and scale.

To counter ‘permanency of inconsistency’, I look again to the AU and its institutions. Sceptics such as Hehir point to the UNSC’s veto as “the biggest issue regarding the UNSC’s record on humanitarian intervention” (2010, p. 220). As Williams affirms, “Africa is one of the most important crucibles in which the R2P was forged” (2009, p. 413), and has been one of the most dynamic reformers in countering the inertia of the UNSC. The PSC (Peace and Security Council) of the AU has no veto, and therefore no ability “to hold the fate of nearly one billion Africans hostage” (Abbas, 2012, p. 131). Moreover, within the AU we have seen developments in regional military capabilities such as the African Stand-by-Force identified by Ban Ki-moon in his 2011 report (p. 9), encouraging them as an alternative to the at times paralysed and gridlocked UNSC. Essentially, the AU is taking steps to reform the organs responsible for the invocation of R2P in Africa.

The permanency of inconsistency talks of the UNSC as if it were the only organ responsible for invoking R2P. The growing power and responsibilities of regional organisations is apparent. Perhaps of most value in countering the inertia of the UNSC is article 4 of the AU’s constitutive act. Article 4(h) allows for “the right of the Union to intervene in a Member State pursuant to a decision of the Assembly in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity” (Abbas, 2012, p. 110). Notably, with no power of veto in the PSC and only a required 2/3 supra-majority to achieve consensus, the mechanisms exist for timely and decisive action (Abbas, 2012, p. 131). The AU and PSC (theoretically) can act in a timely and decisive manner to respond to atrocity crimes on the continent of Africa without UNSC approval, and subsequently seek “retrospective approval” (Abbas, 2012, p. 125). Whilst the AU has never acted in such a manner, the mechanisms are in place to circumvent UNSC inertia.

Development of AU IDP legislation further specifies how the RtoP has made genuine progress. States can fulfil RtoP responsibilities by taking in IDPs and refugees, an idea advanced by Ralph and Souter as a “special responsibility” (2015, p. 713). Both the Kampala Convention and Great Lakes Protocol have been ratified by AU member states indicating successes at the regional level, with aspects of R2P entering hard law and the “internalization” stage of Finnemore and Sikkink’s norm-life-cycle theory., which is useful here in analysing the current trajectory of R2P as a norm. The three stages of a life cycle for a norm are: norm emergence where it begins to gain recognition, norm cascade once the norm passes a tipping point and institutions such as states and INGOs recognize the norm, and finally norm internalization which they define as reaching a “taken-for-granted quality”. They note that the actors responsible for reaching internalization are (notably to the AU and IDP legislation) (1) law, (2) professions and (3) bureaucracy (Finnemore & Sikkink, 1998, pp. 895, 898). Finnemore and Sikkink also discuss the mechanisms integral to internalization as being institutionalization and habit. Williams argues R2P has “found an institutional home in Africa” (2009, p. 416).

Sound and Fury Signifying Nothing 

A further critique by Hehir is that RtoP lacks “substance” and is no more than a “slogan employed for differing purposes shorn of any real meaning” (2010, p, 219). This implies there have not been substantive changes to UNSC practice. Ban Ki-moon appeared to acknowledge the discourse-policy gap when, in his first address as UNSG, he promised to turn R2P from “promise to practice” (Ban, 2009, p. 28). To counter this critique, we look to the normative transition from the doctrine of HI to R2P. Thakur himself states that “R2P was the ICISS answer to reconciling the neuralgic rejection of humanitarian intervention by the global south, with the determination by the north to end atrocities” (2016, p. 417). This highlights two arguments. Firstly, that R2P in substance is vastly different from HI, because it shifts the focus from the intervening states, to that of “the perspective of the victim” (Thakur, 2016, p. 418). Secondly, that R2P is no extension of Western Exceptionalism, with contestation coming from a wide range of non-western states and actors.

Evans further outlines dissimilarities between HI and R2P. Referring to the coercive measures ascribed to Pillar III he states “it is a travesty of the responsibility to protect principle to say that it’s about military force and nothing else” adding “that’s what humanitarian intervention is about, but it’s not R2P” (Evans, 2012, p. 378). Evans describes the dimensions of R2P as being “political, diplomatic, legal, economic or in the security sector” (Evans, 2012, p. 377). This argument is to a certain extent useful in distinguishing between HI and R2P, and demonstrating the successes R2P has achieved. However, simultaneously it provides fodder for sceptics such as Hehir: Evans, by claiming R2P possesses those catch-all dimensions, enables the application of lofty ambitions to the principle. While it is important to emphasise the differences between the two, for the norm to be internalised expectations need to be managed and the limitations of the principle need to be understood. This cannot be achieved through ascribing it the catch all dimensions of Evans. Peter Hilpold supports this: “The shared understandings of R2P to date are not deep enough and its practice remains too inconsistent” (Hilpold cited in Thakur, 2016, p. 421). The norm is still young in comparison to other international norms. With increased use deeper understanding of the limitations will be gained. Currently there are many varying degrees of advocacy for the norm, but when a shared and realistic understanding of what it can achieve is reached, the norm will truly be able to flourish.

Externally to the debates surrounding managing expectations of R2P it is important to note there have been success of R2P that dispel it being merely a slogan. Notably, prior to Resolution 1973 on Libya the UNSC had never “authorized the use of force to protect populations without the consent of the de jure authorities” (Bellamy, 2010, p. 171). This is an invocation of RtoP in the new reconceptualised era of sovereignty as a responsibility, not a right, and a clear demonstration of Pillar III at work. Hehir may dismiss this resolution as the “aberrant ashes of resolve and timely action” (2013, p. 137), but the commitment of the international community to intervene in a state manifestly failing to uphold its responsibilities as sovereign indicate a clear success for the R2P in the fore of intervening, as contentious as its reception may now be.

The AU reinforces these claims. Within the AU there has been direct action in accordance with R2P; in 2009 the AU cited R2P in imposing arms embargos on both Guinea and Niger (Abbas, 2012, p. 129). Moreover, Resolution 1962 by the UNSC upgraded an existing regional peacekeeping operation (UNOCI) to use “all necessary means to carry out its mandate” (Abbas, 2012, p. 128), highlighting again the integral nature of regional organisational cooperation in implementing R2P. Additionally, to counter P5 inertia ECOWAS have adopted a protocol that “allows it to take enforcement actions in any of its member states without their consent” (Abbas, 2012, p. 128), indicative of the reconceptualised notion of sovereignty.

Conclusion

An undeniable shift has occurred in the discourse surrounding sovereignty and intervention. In the wake of Resolution 1973 it is clear to states that sovereignty is not an absolute right, but a responsibility that must be upheld. The focus on the AU displays how on one continent, the normative journey of RtoP has faced strong contestation and reform, but now, on a continent gripped by instances of mass violence, R2P is used as a guiding framework to respond to these crises. The original ICISS report of 2005 stressed that R2P was to be a “guiding principle for the international community” rather than a singular doctrine on intervention (ICISS, 2005, p. XI).

The Ezulwini consensus embodies an African response to African problems, and denotes a proactive approach to regional invocation of R2P. In 2008 the AU chairperson said “the AU would no longer sit and do nothing just because the international community decides to do nothing” (Abbas, 2012, p. 126). This readiness and proactivity is refreshing, and important in a debate dominated by P5 inaction. The UN as a large transnational body suffers from plurality of opinion; it must account for all voices of member states and must debate, at length, every issue brought before it.

This can and does provide a roadblock to the timely action of paragraph 139 of the WSOD. This however, is a logistical problem within the UN, not a substantive issue with R2P. Reiterating Bellamy: the debate is now about implementation, not acceptance. The role regional organisations play is paramount in the progress R2P makes over the next decade. Ban Ki-moon identified them as the “surest path” in ensuring the progress of RtoP. The AU has taken steps of internalization with the enshrining of IDP protection in hard law, the creation of its own SC, stand-by-force and early warning system. The AU is in some respects exemplary progress of R2P internalization on the continent of Africa.

To conclude, this essay has argued that while clear progress of the R2P has been made, it is young and still cascading, to be internalized and enshrined in law. Expectations of what it can do need to be managed. A call for a more nuanced advocacy of the norm that engages with the obstacles to internalization and a deeper understanding of the limits of the norm is needed. If obstacles to internalization can be overcome, great potential for the norm in international society is a certainty.

Bibliography

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The International Criminal Court: A Shackled Elephant in the Court Room?

Enyeribe Oguh, University of York, United Kingdom

Enyeribe is a postgraduate law student at the York Law School. He graduated magna cum laude in law (LLB) from the University of Leeds in 2015. He is interested in international criminal justice and he is currently working on secession and the use of force.

It is not in the interests of international justice that the ICC should have jurisdiction over nationals of small and weak nations but not those of the large and powerful. (Goldstone, 2012)

The Rome Statute (the Statute) entered into force on 1st July 2002, but has since been subject to much controversy. Yet, recently the Court was described as ‘the jewel in the crown’ of international criminal justice (Stephen, 2012, p.73). This ‘jewel’ is the outcome of several weeks of heated debate and compromise that culminated in the creation of the Statute on 17th July 1998 (Lee, 1999; Conso, 1999). While marking that historic event, Kofi Annan (1999) as UN Secretary General, declared the Statute to be ‘a gift of hope to future generations’ and ‘a giant step forward in the march towards universal human rights and the rule of law’. The Statute, according to Luis Moreno-Ocampo (2008), also signified a major shift ‘from an era of ad hoc international tribunals to … an independent and potentially worldwide system of international criminal justice … aiming to protect each citizen in the world’.

Barely two decades after its creation however, the Court is heavily pilloried in some circles (Robinson, 2015). Critics call it a tool to e exploited by Western powers to humiliate maverick leaders and citizens of weaker states (Goldstone, 2012). This perception swelled in the wake of the UN Security Council (UNSC) referral of the Darfur situation to the Court. The legality of that referral was questioned by former African Union (AU) commissioner, Ramtane Lamamra, in light of the fact that three of the UNSC Permanent Five (P-5) members have not yet ratified the Statute and as such do not belong to the Court’s jurisdiction (BBC News, 2013). Consequently, some leaders, such as Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, have dismissed the Court as flawed and ‘fraudulent’ (Kezio-Musoke, 2013) while others, including Prime Minister Desalegn of Ethiopia, believe that it is engaged in ‘race hunting’ (BBC News, 2013). The Court has also been accused of lacking universality in its application and choice of legal systems (Badar, 2011).

Against this backdrop, this paper carefully evaluates the merits of some of the above criticisms in relation to the Court’s credibility. To begin with, it examines, in section II, the extent of the Court’s jurisdiction as established in its founding Statute and underscores some of the inherent limits therein. In section III, the thesis of a toothless Court with a political bias against weak states, particularly within the African region, will be critique. In the final section IV, the paper will analyse the ways in which some of the Court’s weaknesses can be judiciously addressed.

The Extent and the Limits of the Court’s Jurisdiction

The creation of the Court in 2002 marked a radically innovative contribution to the international criminal justice system (United Nations, 1998). In furtherance of the purposes and principles of the UN Charter (Rome Statute, 1998, Preamble), the Statute introduced for the first time in history an independent and permanent court (1998, art.1) that has competent jurisdiction to prosecute and punish perpetrators of ‘the most serious crimes of concern to the international community’ (1998, Preamble). Its stated primary objective is to end ‘impunity for the perpetrators’ of the relevant crimes and ‘to contribute to the prevention of such crimes’ (1998, Preamble) through the twin principles of complementarity with national criminal jurisdictions and cooperation with states. It is pertinent, thus, to consider the breadth and the bounds of the Court’s authority as specified in its Statute.

About two millennia ago, the great Roman Senator Marcus Tullius Cicero declared that ‘in the midst of arms, law stands mute’ (United Nations, 1998). But today, in the era of the Rome Statute that Ciceronian maxim may no longer hold water. Not being subject to any statute of limitations (Statute 1998, art.29), the Court is authorised to act ‘in the midst of arms’ or in time of peace, to uphold a non-negotiable red line between hostile parties, and to hold accountable those who bear the most responsibility for trespassing the red line (art.27-28). This is one of the unique innovations of the Court relative to the previous ad hoc tribunals all of which lacked permanent jurisdiction and were usually constituted only at the end of hostilities.

Before it can act, however, the Court must first satisfy itself that it has jurisdiction and that the situation is not inadmissible (Statute, 1998, art.17). Its primary jurisdiction ratione materiae (subject-matter jurisdiction) pertains to the following crimes, to wit: (a) genocide; (b) crimes against humanity; (c) war crimes; and (d) the crime of aggression (1998, art.5). Except for the latter whose definition was only articulated at the 2010 ICC Review Conference in Kampala, the constitutive elements of the rest of the crimes here are outlined in Articles 6, 7, and 8 of the Statute. Effectively, however, the Court’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression is suspended until 2017 when its Kampala definition will enter into force provided at least thirty state parties ratify the said amendments (Traschler, 2013). Even where these crimes are alleged to have been committed, however, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) would have to establish that ‘a reasonable basis’ (1998, art.15(3)) exists to initiate an intervention. If established, then the Pre-Trial Chamber considers, among other things, the following: (i) that the case is of the sufficient threshold of gravity (1998, art.17(d)); (ii) that it is not under investigation or prosecution by a state with the relevant jurisdiction (1998, art.17(a)); and (iii) that the interest of justice will be served by an intervention (Moreno-Ocampo, 2010).

The Court’s jurisdiction, however, is limited in a number of ways. Principally, it lacks universal jurisdiction and therefore cannot intervene in every state. This is an unfortunate drawback that has driven most of the key controversies surrounding the Court. Under Article 12(2) of the Statute, the Court can only exercise jurisdiction if the relevant crime has been committed on the territory or by a national of a state party (or a state that has accepted the Court’s jurisdiction through a declaration). This provision, which was a negotiated compromise to cement the support of some key opponents of universal jurisdiction like India and the United States (US) during the Rome negotiations, is perhaps the greatest blow to the vision of a genuinely global Court (Robertson, 2002, p.347). In effect, Article 12 of the Statute restricts the Court’s jurisdiction to only the territories and nationals of state parties, save under special circumstances. So, as most states in the Middle East are yet to ratify the Statute, it implies that situations like Iraq, Yemen or Syria (Hilmy, 2013) are beyond the Court’s reach without a UNSC referral (Statute, 1998, art.13(b)).

Similarly, the Court also lacks authority even to consider the crimes within its subject matter jurisdiction that were committed before the entry into force of the Statute on 1st July 2002. This temporal limitation, ‘jurisdiction ratione temporis’ under Article 11 of the Statute, implies that in principle the Court has no retrospective jurisdiction and thus can do nothing about for example a crime of genocide committed on 1st June 2002 within the territory of a state party. Article 24(1) of the Statute clearly specifies that, ‘no person shall be criminally responsible under this Statute for conduct prior to the entry into force of this Statute.’ Whereas this is consistent with Joseph Raz’s (1994, pp.373-4), idea of the prospective principle of the rule of law, it is inconsistent with the tradition of ad hoctribunals such as the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg (IMT), the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) or the Extraordinary Chamber for the Court of Cambodia (ECCC) that usually looked backwards and prosecuted crimes that had been committed long before the tribunals were established. By choosing 1st July 2002 as its cut-off date, the reach of the Court was scythed down to the 21st century perpetrators.

Furthermore, the Court’s jurisdiction in states that ratify the Statute after 1st July 2002 is restricted to the period only after the entry into force of the Statute for the specific states unless a state indicates otherwise by means of a declaration (1998, arts.11(2), 12(3)). Arguably, such a ‘generous’ provision may explain why as many as 70 states are yet to ratify the Statute (Trachsler, 2013, p.3). It can also incentivise rogue leaders who had perpetrated heinous crimes or who intend to hang onto power by vicious means to be in no hurry to ratify the Statute. Article 11(2) of the latter is again another unfortunate concession from the Rome Conference. Quite unlike the IMT that prosecuted corporations for criminal liability in the Nazi war crimes, the Court has no jurisdiction over jural persons but only over ‘natural persons’ (Statute, 1998, art.25) who are at least 18 years old at the time of the alleged conduct or omission (1998, art.26). Thus, arms and munitions companies that supplied the weapons that were used to slaughter victims, media companies that spread hate-propaganda that led to genocide, and hardened child soldiers (Prosecutor v. Lubanga [2012])[1] who raped or killed victims with impunity cannot be brought before the Court for trials or be made to pay reparations to the victims of their crimes.

At any rate, the Statute grants the UNSC, in keeping with Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the right to refer situations anywhere in the world to the Court as one of the three conditions that can trigger the Court’s exercise of jurisdiction. This Article 13(b) provision gives the Court the semblance of a quasi-universal jurisdiction since the UNSC has the primary duty under Article 24(1) of the UN Charter to maintain global peace and security just as all UN member states are obliged under Article 25 of the Charter to respect the UNSC decisions. Owing to the political nature of the UNSC, however, it can be expected that the use of this referral power will be rare due to its political ramifications. As the case of Syria shows, some of the UNSC P-5 members with a vested interest in ongoing conflict situations may likely veto any referral to the Court and the UNSC has also to be wary of negative public perceptions of its role towards the Court. To date, the UNSC has invoked its referral power only twice with respect to the situations in Darfur and in Libya. Under Article 16 of the Statute, the UNSC is also empowered to instruct the Court to defer an investigation for up to a year (order that is renewable for another year). Both provisions, expectedly, have been much criticised as opening a sort of a back door to the political control of the Court by the UNSC (Robertson, 2002, p.353).

The two other conditions that trigger the Court’s jurisdiction include referrals from state parties and the proprio motu investigations initiated by the OTP. With respect to the latter, perhaps as a way to curtail abuses or ‘politically motivated prosecutions’ (Corell, 2000), the OTP is obliged to obtain the endorsement of the Pre-Trial Chamber on the admissibility of the alleged charges before commencing a formal investigation. Her power, which is also restricted to the territories and nationals of state parties, has so far been exercised only once in the collapsed Kenyan situation. In contrast, about four state parties, including DRC, Uganda, CAR and Mali, have so far made self-referrals to the Court.

Crucially, however, the Court’s jurisdiction is only secondary and complementary (not an alternative) to the national criminal jurisdictions of state parties. Thus, it cannot intervene where a municipal court is already investigating, prosecuting, or has convicted or acquitted an accused (see the Statue, arts.17-18, on issues regarding admissibility). Under this ‘principle of complementarity’ and consistent with the rule against double jeopardy, the Court is also not entitled to exercise jurisdiction over someone who has already been tried ‘by another court’ for conduct that forms the subject of its complaint (Sands, 2003, p.74). Likewise, it cannot retry a case that has already been investigated and dismissed for genuine reasons by a state with the relevant jurisdiction (p.74). Only where the Court determines that the domestic mechanisms are ‘unwilling’ or ‘unable’ to act is it mandated to assert its jurisdiction. Such a determination for instance may consider whether a municipal system is inactive or too dysfunctional to act.

Similarly, where a trial is in process or has already taken place, the Court is authorised to intervene if the local processes are adjudged to be biased or ineffective to bring about justice. In either event, as was first witnessed in the case of Thomas Lubanga (Prosecutor v. Thomas Lubanga [2012]), the Court may invite the municipal authorities concerned to transfer the case to the Court with the aim to assist and to complement domestic efforts ‘to investigate and prosecute’ (Gupta, 2000, p.1). By giving primacy to municipal courts in lieu of the Court, the Statute expresses respect for national procedures. This also has certain practical advantages in terms of cost-effectiveness (Nsereko, 2013), familiarity of the municipal jurisdictions with the local contexts and the sheer impossibility of the Court to have capacity to prosecute all indicted or indictable key perpetrators in The Hague. The setback, however, is that the Court’s intervention in a conflict without the relevant state’s consent (or even with its consent) has drawn criticisms for feeding negative judgments of the state’s international image and the quality of its local systems. To this we now turn.

The Elephant in the Room: A Court with a Political Agenda?

In a critical essay on judges and the rule of law, Ronald Dworkin (2009) opined that court decisions have political consequences. Asked, however, if politics influenced his decisions at the Court, the former Prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo replied, ‘On the contrary, I am putting a legal limit to the politicians. That’s my job. I police the borderline and say, if you cross this you’re no longer on the political side, you are on the criminal side’ (Smith, 2009). Notwithstanding the former Prosecutor’s frankness, the Court has appeared to many as a judicial body operating with a covert political agenda within a highly political terrain. In a sense, the Court has seemed to some like an elephant in the room: big, strong and visible, yet unable to command the respect of some key states.

Much of the criticism, however, has focused on the Court’s operations in Africa. Many have argued that the Court has been unfairly selective of African situations in a manner that appears to suggest that Africa has the disproportionate cases of violent conflicts in the world (Imoedemhe, 2015). Thus, the Court has been denounced for scapegoating Africa and for exploiting the continent as a laboratory for trialling novel international criminal laws (Imoedemhe, 2015). This perception is acutely strong among the African elite with some like Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta describing the Rome Statute as a ‘dysfunctional instrument’ (Ayaga, 2016). The fact that the AU recently adopted a proposal for a mass withdrawal of African state parties from the Court epitomises the longstanding frustration and disappointments of many African leaders with the Court’s alleged bias against Africa (Ayaga, 2016). For some time, a number of African state parties like Kenya and Uganda have been threatening to withdraw from the Statute (‘A Joint Report’, 2014), and last year South Africa also declared its intent to terminate its state membership (Mudukuti, 2016).

Ex facie, the above threats and repudiations towards the Court by some African leaders have grounds. Although one third (34) of the Court’s member states (124) are in Africa, all but one (Georgia) of the ten situations under investigation are African (ICC, 2016). It would, ergo, appear as claimed that the Court is unfairly targeting Africa (Agence France-Presse, 2016) or that the continent has the lion’s share of genocidal villains in the world. Nevertheless, a careful scrutiny of the situations under consideration reveals that of the nine cases from Africa, five (DRC, CAR, Uganda, Mali, and CAR II) had been self-referrals by the state parties themselves, two (Sudan and Libya) were Security Council referrals, one – the Ivorian case – was a declaration made by the state while only the now-abandoned Kenyan case had been initiated by the OTP. The large number of self-referrals from African states then weakens the strength of the argument that the Court is engaged in a neo-colonial ‘race-hunting’ of Africans. Although the Court is presently conducting preliminary examinations in three other regions outside Africa, including Eastern Europe, the Middle East and South America, Moreno-Ocampo (2008) aptly avers that the Court’s legitimacy and success cannot be dependent on the regional or global balance of cases that it handles.

The preponderance of self-referrals from Africa may be revealing of the trust of those African states in the Court’s legitimacy and capacity to enforce justice against the perpetrators as well as to bring closure for the victims. It is perhaps also indicative of the precarious difficulties involved in prosecuting influential perpetrators locally. For instance, before referring the situation to the Court, the DRC had attempted but failed to prosecute Thomas Lubanga and his co-accused in the municipal criminal courts. It is similarly not hard to imagine the high risk and near impossibility of prosecuting ‘big fish’ like the late General Augusto Pinochet[2] or former President Lauren Gbagbo (Prosecutor v. Gbagbo and Goudé [2015]) in their national courts without significant external influence. Thus, it is in such situations where the domestic jurisdictions are incapable of handling powerful perpetrators that the Court’s complementary jurisdiction is properly activated.

Notwithstanding the foregoing prospects, the Court’s complementary interface with state judicial institutions has likewise been deplored as a mechanism for imposing ‘victor’s justice’ (Roach, 2012) and show trials aimed at ‘the destruction, or at least the disgrace and disrepute, of a political opponent’ (Peterson, 2007, p.260; Shklar 1964, p.149). Critics have noted that all the self-referrals from the African states have been made against defeated political rivals while the governments’ and/or their supporters’ responsibilities are shielded from the Court (Roach, 2012, pp.67-69; Holligan, 2016). In Uganda, for example, Joseph Kony and some of his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) fighters have been indicted at the Court while the atrocities committed by the Ugandan forces are not even investigated (Roach, 2012, p.67). Even the two UNSC referrals are also being read as a ‘power play’ by some Western powers to humiliate and to punish perceived enemies in President Al Bashir and the late Colonel Gadhafi. It was on that score that President Kagame recently hinted that Rwanda cannot be a state party to the Court since, for him, the latter perpetuates Western imperialistic agendas (Kezio-Musoke, 2012).

At the same time, however, what President Kagame and his ilk seem content to exclude from the discourse is the question of their self-interests. For instance, between 2010 when he was indicted at the Court until 2013 when he was elected Kenya’s President, Kenyatta together with his co-indicted Deputy, William Ruto, had cooperated well with the Court. But, once assuming the reigns of power, their attitude and rhetoric became somewhat hostile and they began to insist upon their ‘sovereign’ immunities as head of government and state officials respectively. It is, therefore, no surprise that their cases have now been allegedly abandoned for lack of evidence caused by witness intimidations (The Prosecutor v. Ruto and Sang [2016]). The Statute categorically specifies under Article 27(1)[3]that unlike in customary international law the immunity of state officials (both ratione personae[4] and ratione materiae[5]) is irrelevant and cannot exonerate an individual from ‘substantial criminal responsibility’ (Akande, 2003, p.640), regarding the specified crimes.

Lastly, while it is mostly true that law and politics are interrelated, both can also be isolated one from the other. The Judges at the Court as well as the Chief Prosecutor are essentially elected by the Assembly of the state parties on account of their professional and international experience and are required to uphold justice and fairness without pandering to selfish interests and political considerations (Moreno-Ocampo, 2010). Yet, the fight against impunity has always been a fight against politics (Nouwen and Werner, 2010) and selfish interests. Thus, decisions and acts of such a momentous court as the ICC, to paraphrase Dworkin (2009), will surely have monumental consequences. To be able to exercise universal credibility, therefore, it is imperative that the Court is not only above board, but also be seen to be above board. The next section will proffer some means by which the Court can attain this objective.

Unshackling the Elephant Court: Looking Ahead

Having briefly examined the scope and limits of the Court, it is important to consider certain mechanisms that can serve to remedy some of the lacunae identified above. Arguably, the Court is still cutting its teeth, albeit slowly and contentiously, yet it has the potential to have an enormous impact on the global criminal justice system. ‘By holding individuals personally accountable,’ says Human Rights Watch (1998), ‘the Court could be an extremely powerful deterrent to the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity and serious war crimes that have plagued humanity’ for so long. But realising this goal has so far been a staggering task. Looking ahead, therefore, the first critical challenge the Court needs to address is its lack of universal jurisdiction.

It was the intention of the drafters of its Statute that the Court should have the competent authority and the capacity to prevent, deter, punish and end the culture of ‘domestic impunity’ (Gupta, 2000, p.3) anywhere in the world. But political interests and concessions shaved the Court of universal jurisdiction. This gap, unless it is plugged, will continue to undermine the Court’s credibility. Universal jurisdiction would vest the Court with the power to institute legal action against any alleged perpetrator of the relevant crimes ‘without regard to where the crime was committed, nationality of the alleged or convicted perpetrator, the nationality of the victim, or any other connection to the state exercising such jurisdiction’ (Macedo, 2006, p.21). This capacity is already extant in international law as reflected in the principle of aut dedere aut judicare (‘either extradite or prosecute’) that is embedded in many treaties. Thus, universal jurisdiction gives national courts the power to prosecute perpetrators of crimes deemed to be of such exceptional magnitude as to demand international condemnation (Macedo, 2006, p.35).

If the municipal courts of individual states can unilaterally exercise such a ‘privileged’ jurisdictional power, then it stands to reason that a supra-national court established through a multi-lateral treaty between sovereign states deserves to have such a power if it must lay any authentic claim to real complementarity, universality, credibility and respect. Considering that the principle of sovereign immunity of state officials often impedes states from arresting accused state officials, it is only a supra-national court not bound by such political immunities that holds the best chance of bringing such indicted persons to justice. Hence the Court can gain universal jurisdiction in two ways: (i) by actively encouraging and inducing non-state parties to sign and ratify the Statute until all states have joined it or, (ii) through a binding UN resolution mandating all states to ratify the Statute within a specified time. Either alternative, while possible, would be hard to attain.

In addition, the UNSC right to defer investigations under Article 16 of the Statute poses problems to the Court owing to the political ramifications of any such deferral. Already, as I have shown in the foregoing, the Court has taken enormous criticisms for the UNSC referrals and one can only imagine the opprobrium that could result from any future deferrals, particularly after deferral requests made to the UNSC by the AU with regards to the Al Bashir’s case had been denied. Since political calculations often drive the proceedings at the UNSC, in order to preserve the judicial independence of the Court, Article 26 of the Statute should be repealed or at least amended so as to debar the UNSC from interfering with the Court. Apart from Resolution 1422[6] in which the UNSC, at the insistence of the US, requested the Court not to investigate or prosecute any indicted UN peacekeepers within a specified period, the UNSC is yet to invoke this power to defer an ongoing action at the Court. Yet, it is conceivable that in the future a decision to defer a situation in state A or state B could be vetoed by a P-5 state for political interests. Besides, in situations where states or regions (as was done by Kenya and the AU) request the UNSC to instruct the Court to defer an investigation but the requests go unheeded it could be interpreted as a sign of blatant disrespect to the integrity of the state and/or region. This could fuel threats of withdrawals from the Statute and accusations of self-serving agendas. As Brownlie (2003: 575) rightly notes, so long as the UNSC retains this deferral power in the Statute, ‘political considerations, power and patronage will continue to determine who is tried for international crimes and who is not.’

Relatedly, the Court was established to be an independent Court and must therefore be vested with true judicial independence. The doctrine of separation of powers is a key principle cherished in all liberal democratic states. In municipal jurisdictions, it would be arbitrary for state executives to be issuing orders to courts to terminate or to suspend ongoing proceedings. Thus, the visible separation of the Court’s structure and personnel from the UN structures should also be reflected in the practice and operations of the Court. The power to defer prosecutions, where necessary, should be discretionary to the Court where there are compelling reasons to do so, or a determination made by an absolute majority of the judges of the Court not by the UNSC. The latter should, however, like state parties, retain the power to refer situations to the Court. But the onus must be the Court’s to decide if a referred situation is admissible or not to justify intervention. To ensure the principle of checks and balances, only the Assembly of State parties (or the UN General Assembly when the Court has universal jurisdiction) may be vested with the statutory right to request a stay of proceedings at the Court. The latter should also be free not to grant the request. When these structures have been put in place, it would then be safe to assume as the International Court of Justice noted in an ‘Advisory Opinion’ [1962] regarding the General Assembly that the UNSC would not ‘seek to fetter or hamper the Court in the discharge of its judicial functions.’

Additionally, Article 98 of the Statute[7], which requires the Court to obtain a third states’ cooperation before it can go proceed to seek the surrender of its national from a member state, is a major clog in the operational capacity of the Court. What this provision effectively does is to allow states on whose territory is found a person wanted by the Court to obstruct the Court’s request by appealing to their obligations under international law to a third state (Akande, 2003, p.642). Repealing Article 98 is especially crucial in light of some recent US schemes, mostly instituted by the former President G W Bush Administration, to undermine the Court. After ‘un-signing’ (Rhea, 2012, p.190)[8] the Statute in 2002, the Bush regime actively entered into bilateral immunity agreements with several states to ensure that no US citizen is ever ceded to the Court (Eye and Goldberg, 2012). It also enacted the infamous American Service-Members’ Protection Act (ASPA), otherwise known as the ‘Hague Invasion Act’, which disallows the US agencies as well as countries receiving US military assistance from cooperating with the Court in any form (Rhea, 2012, p.193). The Act also restricts US military participation from some UN peacekeeping operations and authorises the US President to use ‘all necessary measures’ to repatriate any US service personnel and certain other citizens detained or imprisoned at The Hague (Eye and Goldberg, 2012).

If the Court is vested with universal jurisdiction, however, the Article 98 of the Statute will automatically become extraneous since the question of third state consent will fall way. A state party that prioritises an obligation to another state member to defy a request from the Court to surrender an indicted person would then be in breach of its obligations to the Court. The real challenge would be how the Court could enlist state cooperation with the Court at all times and to ensure that states prioritise obligations to the Court over competing obligations to state parties. Similarly, as the Article 27 provision shows the Court is no respecter of distinctions or immunity based on official capacity, a state can no longer appeal to its obligation under international to another state with respect to the immunity of a person or property, so as to defeat an arrest warrant request by the Court. The stark inconsistency of Article 98 with Article 27 would, therefore, come into sharper focus under the light of a universal jurisdiction ensuring that the offending Article 98 of the Statute is either repealed or substantively amended.

Lastly, it must be emphasised that the Court can achieve little without maximum cooperation from states, including even non-state parties. Part 9 of the Statute sets out the various forms and levels of this cooperation. It has been a major test for the Court so far to obtain the cooperation of states under Articles 91 and 92 of the Statute to arrest persons it has issued arrest warrants for. To date, such wanted persons like Joseph Kony (Prosecutor v. Kony and Otti [2005]), President Al Bashir (Prosecutor v. Bashir [2009]) and Al Islam Gaddafi (Prosecutor v. Gaddafi [2011]) are still at large. In some cases, these persons are living normal lives, performing official functions and even visiting state parties, yet no arrests are being made. The damage this blatant disregard does to the image of such a fledgling Court is huge. It suggests to sceptics and to other wanted perpetrators that the Court is little more than a howling Rottweiler or at best just a vexing elephant in the room. There appears to be no surer way to institute a culture of impunity than for state officials to refuse to comply with the orders of the Court.

To this end, the Court could consider issuing ‘contempt of court’ notices against states that openly violating its order and reporting such states to the Assembly of State parties for further action. If the Court had universal jurisdiction, such breaches of the Court’s orders could be reported to the UN General Assembly to authorise the UNSC for appropriate action or sanctions. The Court’s boldness in this regard would be bolstered by the support of civil society and of the wider international community. As many state leaders would not willingly delegate powers to the Court that could ultimately jeopardise their own interests, the Court needs to perform its work especially within these early to the highest standards of credibility and impartiality. A wide public approval and civil society lobbying could be significant in winning the Court the required political capital to effect the reforms identified in this paper in the years ahead.

Conclusion

Notwithstanding the many criticisms and weaknesses of the Court, the one thing that remains undisputable is that it has put ‘the world on notice’ that impunity for certain crimes will no longer go unnoticed and unpunished. Essentially, as Kofi Annan aptly says, ‘it gives concrete expression to Francis Bacon’s famous dictum that not even a sovereign can make “dispunishable” those crimes which are malum in se – evil in themselves, “as being against the Law of Nature”’ (Radio Radical.it, 1999). As is common with many new institutions, the Court is still passing through a developmental strain, but it is learning fast from its mistakes and becoming more self-aware of its strengths and constraints. It can thus be expected that after this initial phase and taking into account many of the issues and flaws herewith considered, the impact of the Court could reverberate from The Hague to all corners of the world. But this ‘jewel’ in the crown of international criminal justice will have failed if the hope of ‘never again’ that greeted its inauguration in 2002 is allowed to be smothered by the cold ‘reality of again and again’ (Goldstone, 1997, p.316).

[1] The first case that was ever tried at the Court concerned the recruitment of child soldiers by Thomas Lubanga in the DRC. He was convicted in March 2012 and sentenced to a total of 14 years in prison.

[2] General Pinochet’s regime ended in 1990 and so he would have escaped the Court’s jurisdiction. Although criminal suits were filed against him in England, Spain and Chile during the late 1990s for various crimes against humanity committed during his ‘reign of terror’ in Chile from 1973 to 1990, he was declared medically unfit to stand trial and died in 2006.

[3] Article 27(1) of the Statute reads: ‘This Statute shall apply equally to all persons without any distinction based on official capacity,’ including ‘a Head of State or Government’. Article 27(2) states: ‘Immunities or special procedural rules which may attach to the official capacity of a person, whether under national or international law, shall not bar the Court from exercising jurisdiction over such a person.’

[4] The immunity attached to officials like presidents, heads of governments and diplomats, which insulates them from the criminal jurisdiction of both domestic and foreign courts while in office.

[5] This relates to the immunity accorded to state officials in relation to the exercise of their official duties.

[6] UNSC Res. 1422 (2002) UN Doc. S/RES/1422, para.1. It states that the UNSC ‘Requests, consistent with the provisions of Article 16 of the Rome Statute, that the ICC, if a case arises involving current or former officials or personnel from a contributing State not a Party to the Rome Statute over acts or omissions relating to a United Nations established or authorized operation, shall for a twelve-month period starting 1 July 2002 not commence or proceed with investigation or prosecution of any such case, unless the Security Council decide otherwise.’ This request was renewed on 12 June 2003, but never again thereafter.

[7] Article 98(1) of the Statute states: ‘The Court may not proceed with a request for surrender or assistance which would require the requested State to act inconsistently with its obligations under international law with respect to the State or diplomatic immunity of a person or property of a third State, unless the Court can first obtain the cooperation of that third State for the waiver of the immunity.’

[8] Harry Rhea has argued that the word ‘un-sign’ misconstrues the intent of the letter signed on behalf of President Bush by the former US Undersecretary for Arms Control and National Security, John R. Bolton and delivered to the erstwhile UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, on 27 April 2002. For Rhea the letter simply indicated the United States resolve not to accede to the Statute rather than the intent to cancel or withdraw its original signature. But Rhea’s argument is not persuasive considering the fact that the US together with other non-state parties was not obliged to make a formal deposition on non-ratification of the Statute to the Secretary General. Events at the time, particularly the ‘war on terror’ in Afghanistan and the looming Iraqi war may have induced the Bush Administration to retract the original signature to avert any vicarious liability.

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