South Africa to Withdraw from the ICC

International Criminal Court New PremisesSouth Africa has formally begun the process of withdrawing from the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The Rome Statute, under which the ICC was set up, requires the arrest of heads of state for whom a warrant was issued.

The country’s Minister of justice, Michael Masutha, said that South Africa was “hindered” by certain parts of the Rome Statute, primarily the one that “compels South Africa to arrest persons who may enjoy diplomatic immunity under customary international law, who are wanted by the ICC for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, to surrender such persons to the International Criminal Court.”

He said that South Africa wishes to give effect to the rule of customary international law which recognises the diplomatic immunity of heads of state and that the Rome Statute is ”in conflict and inconsistent” with such rule.

Last year, a South African court criticised the government for refusing to arrest Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir.

Mr Bashir is wanted by the ICC on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity over the conflict in the Darfur region.

Mr Bashir was attending an African Union summit in Johannesburg, when the South African government ignored an ICC request to arrest him.

Human Rights Watch has criticised South Africa’s decision.

“South Africa’s proposed withdrawal from the International Criminal Court shows startling disregard for justice from a country long seen as a global leader on accountability for victims of the gravest crimes,” said Dewa Mavhinga, the NGO’s Africa division senior researcher.

“It’s important both for South Africa and the region that this runaway train be slowed down and South Africa’s hard-won legacy of standing with victims of mass atrocities be restored,” Mr Mavhinga said.

A written notice of South Africa’s intention was submitted to the UN secretary general. The withdrawal from the ICC will be formalized one year after the notification. During the 12 months’ notice period, South Africa will remain under the Rome Statute.

JICJ Call for papers: ICC policies and strategies

To mark 15 years since the coming into force of the Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on 1 July 2002, the Journal of International Criminal Justice has announced a forthcoming symposium on ‘The International Criminal Court’s Policies and Strategies’ to be published in July 2017.


The Court and its various organs have continually issued a number of documents explaining the Court’s policies on numerous distinct issues as well as its strategies for the future. The Journal’s Editorial Committee believes that the time has come to take a closer and systematic look at these documents, looking at the choices made thus far, the level of transparency and consistency, as well as suggesting avenues to strengthen the overall effectiveness and credibility of ICC investigative and prosecutorial strategies.

The Journal calls for submission of abstracts not exceeding 500 words on the questions described above, or related areas of interest, no later than 15 November 2016. After the abstracts are reviewed, in early December, the Editorial Committee will invite a number of contributors to submit full papers of no more than 8000 words (including an abstract and footnotes) by 28 February 2016. For more information about the call, please visit its webpage or contact the Executive Editor.

ICC: Bemba et al. Guilty of Offences Against the Administration of Justice

Jean-Pierre Bemba ©Michael Kooren/AFP/Getty Images

Jean-Pierre Bemba ©Michael Kooren/AFP/Getty Images

Today, Trial Chamber VII of the International Criminal Court (ICC) ruled on the accusations of offences against the administration of justice against Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, Aimé Kilolo Musamba, Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo, Fidèle Babala Wandu and Narcisse Arido. The five accused were found guilty of various offences relating to the false testimonies of defence witnesses in another case before the ICC: The Prosecutor v. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo (Main Case).

The Chamber found that Mr. Bemba, Mr. Kilolo and Mr. Mangenda were guilty, as co-perpetrators, for having jointly committed the offences of intentionally corruptly influencing 14 defence witnesses, and presenting their false evidence to the court. The three accused were also foud guilty of either soliciting, inducing or aiding and abetting false testimonies by the defence witnesses. In addition, the Chamber found Mr. Babala guilty of aiding the corrupt influencing of two defence witnesses, and Mr. Arido was found guilty of corruptly influencing four defence witnesses.

The judgment was delivered today, 19 October 2016, during a public hearing in the presence of all five accused. The Prosecutor and the Defence may appeal the judgment within 30 days. For these types of offences, according to the Rome Statute, the judges may impose a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years and/or a fine. The Chamber shall pronounce the penalties at a subsequent stage.

On 21 March 2016, Jean-Pierre Bemba was found guilty by the ICC of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Central African Republic in 2002-2003. On 22 June, Mr. Bemba was sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment. In September, the Defence for Mr. Jean-Pierre Bemba filed an appeal against his conviction for war crimes and crimes against humanity in front of the Appeals Chamber of the ICC.

The summary of the judgment can be found here and the delivery of the judgment can be watched here.

UN: António Guterres nominated as next UN Secretary-General

António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees speaking at the closing press conference of the 66th Executive Committee in Geneva ©UNHCR/J-M. Ferré

António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees speaking at the closing press conference of the 66th Executive Committee in Geneva ©UNHCR/J-M. Ferré

Members of the United Nations Security Council today adopted by acclamation the recommendation of former Portuguese Prime Minister António Guterres to become the next UN Secretary-General.

Mr Guterres, 67, will succeed the current Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in January 2017.

The Secretary-General of the UN is the head of the United Nations Secretariat, one of the principal organs of the UN, and serves as the organisation’s top diplomat and chief “administrative officer”. The post lasts for five years but is limited to a maximum of two terms. Continue reading

ICJ: Marshall Islands Case Cannot Proceed to Merits

An atomic bomb test explosion off Bikini Atoll ©Keystone/Getty Images

An atomic bomb test explosion off Bikini Atoll ©Keystone/Getty Images

On 5 October, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) upheld the objection to jurisdiction raised by India, Pakistan and the United Kingdom (UK) in the case opposing them to the Marshall Islands. As a consequence, the Court cannot proceed to the merits of the case.

The Marshall Islands had filed an Application against the three states alleging a failure to fulfill obligations concerning negotiations relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race and to nuclear disarmament.

In the first phase of the proceedings on admissibility, the United Kingdom, India and Pakistan raised several objections to the jurisdiction of the Court and the admissibility of the application. Continue reading

Dutch State Targeted in Appeal Over Srebrenica Massacre

Image: TOPSHOTS-BOSNIA-WAR-SREBRENICA-ANNIVERSARYThis Thursday, the Mothers of Srebrenica and Zepa Enclaves victims’ group will launch an appeal in The Hague against a 2014 verdict which held the Netherlands responsible for the deaths of about 300 Bosniaks after the fall of Srebrenica.

The district court in The Hague ruled in July 2014 that Dutch peacekeeping troops had failed to protect 300 Bosniaks after Srebrenica fell to the Bosnian Serb Army on July 11, 1995, and ordered the Netherlands to pay compensation.

But Marco Gerritsen, the lawyer for the Mothers of Srebrenica and Zepa Enclaves association said that the Netherlands should be found guilty of responsibility for the deaths of all the Bosniaks from Srebrenica who were killed after the enclave fell – more than 7,000 men and boys.

After Srebrenica was overrun by Serb forces, thousands of Bosniaks sought refuge in the UN base just outside Srebrenica, at Potocari, where the Dutch peacekeepers were stationed.

However, while the women and young children were transported to a Bosniak-majority area, the Dutch soldiers handed more than 7000 men and boys over to the Bosnian Serb army, telling them that they would be safe. All of them subsequently got killed by the Bosnian Serb army.

The 2014 verdict said that on the night of July 12, 1995 or the morning of July 13, the Dutch authorities “knew or should have known” that there was a possibility that the Bosniaks would be killed, so they were found guilty of the deaths of about 300 people who were handed over from that moment onwards.

But the verdict acquitted the Netherlands of responsibility for the deaths of Bosniaks who had been handed over to Serb policemen and soldiers prior to that.

Gerristen said that during the appeal he would present a document dated July 11, in which the Dutch defence minister said he was afraid for the safety of the Bosniaks.

“Therefore, there is a responsibility of the Netherlands for the death of all Bosniaks whom they handed over,” Gerritsen said.

For Marco Gerritsen, the Dutch authorities were only concerned about the safety of their own soldiers, so “many civilians got killed” thanks to the hurried departure of the Dutch soldiers and the handover of the Bosniaks.


ICC: Jean-Pierre Bemba’s Defence Appeals his Conviction

160621-bemba-sentence-10-1The Defence for Mr. Jean-Pierre Bemba filed an appeal against his conviction for war crimes and crimes against humanity in front of the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The Defence criticized many of the findings of the Trial Chamber and claimed that the Bemba trial was in fact a mistrial.

The Defence highlighted a vast number of gaps in Mr. Bemba’s right to a fair trial, claiming for instance that the Prosecution was permitted to intercept and listen to telephone conversations between the accused and his lawyers, between the lawyers themselves, and between the lawyers and Defence witnesses.

The Defence also mentioned the vast amount of ex parte access to the Trial Chamber enjoyed by the Prosecution to discuss matters directly relevant to the Judgment itself.

The majority of the appeal, however, is dedicated to the flaws of the Trial Chamber’s findings on effective control, which, according to the Defence, ‘’fall far outside established military doctrine and practice’’ […] and ‘’deprive the Judgement of precedential value in shaping the future actions of commanders.’’

For the Defence, the Trial Chamber, having disregarded the evidence of both the Prosecution and Defence military experts, ‘’invented a theory of command responsibility which is a military impossibility’’ […] and ‘’conflated basic military principles, misunderstood and misapplied established legal doctrine and, most alarmingly, made key factual findings on the basis of no evidence.’’

The Defence adds that other fatal flaws undermine the conviction. The Defence referred to the fact that nearly two thirds of the underlying acts for which Mr. Bemba was convicted were not included or improperly included in the Amended Document Containing the Charges and fall outside the scope of the charges.

The Defence also pointed out that, to convict a person of a crime against humanity, a Trial Chamber must find that he knew that his conduct was part of a widespread attack on a civilian population. However, no such finding was made in this case against Mr. Bemba.

The Prosecution has two months within which to file a response.

In order to read a summary of the Defence Appeal, click here.

ICC: Al Mahdi Sentenced to 9 Years for the Destruction of Historic and Religious Buildings in Mali

Ahmad Al Faqi Al MahdiToday, Trial Chamber VIII of the International Criminal Court (ICC) unanimously convicted Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi of the war crime of attacking historic and religious buildings in Timbuktu, Mali, in June and July 2012. The Court sentenced Al Mahdi to nine years’ imprisonment, deducting the time he has already spent in detention.

On 22 August 2016, at the opening of the trial, Al Madhi had already admitted guilt to the war crime consisting in attacking ten historic and religious monuments in Timbuktu, asking for forgiveness from the people of Timbuktu.

Al Mahdi was a member of Ansar Dine, a movement associated with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) which took control of Timbuktu in 2012. As an expert on matters of religion, Al Mahdi was consulted by the leader of Ansar Dine in relation to the decision to destroy the mausoleums.

According to the Trial Chamber, Al Mahdi’s contribution to the destruction of the buildings, consisting of nine UNESCO World Heritage sites, was essential. He had overall responsibility for the execution phase of the attack and directly participated in the attacks on five of the protected buildings.

The Court considered that crimes against property are generally of less gravity than crimes against persons. However, the targeted buildings were not only religious buildings but had also a symbolic and emotional value for the inhabitants of Timbuktu. Continue reading

UK Against an International Inquiry in Yemen

Air strike on Sanaa ©Reuters

Air strike on Sanaa ©Reuters

The United Kingdom (UK) is accused by several human rights organizations to have blocked a joint European Union (EU) proposal to establish an independent international inquiry into the war in Yemen. Instead, the EU submission that was submitted on Friday 23 September to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) asks the UN body to dispatch a mission “with assistance from relevant experts, to monitor and report on the situation … in Yemen”.

The proposal, which was submitted by Slovakia on behalf of the EU, was initiated by the Netherlands in an effort to bring together a European coalition requiring an inquiry to be set up and to examine civilian deaths in Yemen. According to the OHCHR, 3,980 civilians have been killed and 6,909 injured between 26 March 2015 and 22 September 2016. In a press release published on the same day, the OHCHR has expressed its will to see an international inquiry being set up: “In the light of the high civilian casualty numbers and the terrible suffering of the civilian population, we urge all parties to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, including their obligation to respect the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution. We reiterate our call for the setting up of an international and independent investigative body.”

The international investigation inquiry would have to review Saudi’s interventions in Yemen, as the armed coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, is accused of committing war crimes against civilians. UK Foreign Secretary General Boris Johnson has publicly rejected the need for such an inquiry or statements on any breach of international law. Responding to questions relating to a recent airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition which killed at least 19 civilians, including children, he replied that the UK was “using a very, very wide variety of information sources about what is happening to acquaint ourselves with the details”

But assertions from human rights organizations accuse the UK to protect its ally. Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “For 18 months now, UK arms have been central to the destruction of Yemen. The aid that is being given amounts to a small fraction of the damage that has been caused and pales in comparison to the £3.3bn worth of arms that have been licensed. Theresa May and Boris Johnson must end the arms sales and put a stop to the uncritical support that the UK provides for the Saudi regime.”

According to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports, more than 70 “unlawful” coalition airstrikes – on homes, hospitals, markets, civilian factories and schools – some of which, they say, may amount to war crimes, and which have killed at least 913 civilians are documented. Human Rights Watch also claims that the Houthi armed group and forces allied to it, including those loyal to the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, have committed numerous violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law.

Launch of an Interactive War Crimes Verdicts Map

war-crimes-verdicts-mapThe Balkan Investigative Reporting Network has launched a unique database of the publicly-available final verdicts delivered in 386 war crimes cases by courts in the former Yugoslavia and by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.

This War Crimes Verdicts Map is an interactive tool intended to provide an overview of court rulings on the crimes that were committed during the wars in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

“While reporting on war crimes, we as journalists often struggled to get all the documents related to the war crimes cases we have been following. Through the years, we accumulated a significant archive and then also collected verdicts from the various courts,” said the map project’s team leader, Marija Ristic.

“Bearing in mind how closed to the public our courts still are, we believe this map will be a unique resource for journalists, students, researchers and the general public,” she added.

According to the map data, so far at least 646 people have been convicted by local courts and 83 more by the ICTY for crimes committed during almost a decade of conflict in the former Yugoslavia which left some 125,000 people dead and 12,000 still missing.

Besides the verdicts, the ‘Resources’ section includes indictments and other case records.

The map will be periodically updated.