Female Victims Only? Casting Doubt on the Prosecution of Forced Marriage in Ongwen’s Case

Author: Laura Nacyte*

In December 2016, the trial against Dominic Ongwen, a former commander of Uganda’s rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), commenced before the Trial Chamber IX of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Remarkably, the defendant is the first person at the ICC to face the charge of forced marriage. The latter was brought in addition to other charges of sexual and gender-based crimes, including rape, sexual slavery, enslavement, and forced pregnancy. Although not a separate offence under the Rome Statute, forced marriage is prosecuted as an ‘other inhumane act’, a crime against humanity, pursuant to Article 7(1)(k). Continue reading

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Extraordinary Rendition and the ICC

Contemporary international practices in fighting crimes and, especially, those related to the exercise of the jurisdiction over a suspected criminal envisage a possibility of implementation of a set of mechanisms used for his search and subsequent committal for a trial which inter alia may include extradition and other interstate procedures.[1] However, these practices show that extradition as a form of international cooperation is referred to by the states more frequently than the others, whereas the procedure of surrender is exercised solely on the basis of the mutual will of the sovereign states concerned subject to the application of the requesting state, consent of the surrendering state and the latter’s compliance with the principle aut dedere aut judicare in cases of committal of serious international crimes by the suspect.[2]

On the other hand, even when the aforementioned application has been made by the requesting state, the surrendering states are sometimes unable to detect the location of the suspect. In such cases states may search for the suspects proprio motu and resort to transnational abduction from the territory of another state. Moreover, these actions are often undertaken notwithstanding the existence of an extradition treaty which provides for the use of regular legal procedures ensuring prosecution or execution of punishment.[3]

In this respect, while such a resort to irregular means of surrender of the fugitive has almost unilaterally been defined by scholars as ‘extraordinary rendition’,[4] there is still a continuous debate on whether a court should exercise its jurisdiction over such a person and what the necessary prerequisites and possible consequences are.[5] This issue has somewhat been pleaded in few domestic and international proceedings across the globe and is enshrined in the famous doctrine male captus bene detentus,[6] which provides for the possibility of the expansion of extraterritorial jurisdiction of the state, abduction of the fugitive and the exercise of the jurisdiction by the court notwithstanding the circumstances of a person’s arrest.

Nonetheless, given the growing number of such instances, yet, little and controversial reflection of the matter in national and international law this dilemma has become even more worrying with the establishment of the International Criminal Court (hereinafter ICC) in 1998, whose Statute does not contain any provisions in respect to the issue at stake.[7]

One should bear in mind that rendition as means of eliminating secure zones for criminals and, in particular, terrorists, should not at the same time undermine international legal order which is based on the principles of state sovereignty and non-interference which prohibit any illegal intrusion in the surrender of the suspect as well as the exercise of forcible actions in the territory of another state without latter’s knowledge and consent. Moreover, when there is a serious violation of the rights of the suspect regardless of whether it occurs due to the actions of states, individuals or international institutions, there arises a legal impediment which may trigger the unwillingness of the judicial body to exercise its jurisdiction for the sake of integrity and stability of international legal order and human rights as its integral part.

Unfortunately, the Rome Statute of the ICC does not contain any provision in respect to extraordinary rendition as such. Arguably, the only applicable provisions concern the legality of arrest of the accused and certain human rights. Article 59(1), for example, imposes an obligation on State Parties to apprehend suspects upon the request from the Court.[8] This, however, is to be done “in accordance with the law of that state,” while according to Article 59(2) the arresting state must also have a “competent judicial authority” determining, “in accordance with the law of that State, that:…(b) the person has been arrested in accordance with the proper process; and (c) the person’s rights have been respected.”[9]

Some scholars argue that the aforementioned Article does not entail the right of the accused to have the lawfulness of his arrest or detention reviewed by a domestic court, nonetheless, bearing in mind that it may follow from human rights conventions to which the requested State is a party.[10] As regards the human rights of the accused, Article 55(1) of the Rome Statute envisages that no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention.[11] Article 21(3), in turn, provides that the law shall be interpreted and applied by the Court in a way consistent with internationally recognized human rights.

However, the Rome Statute is silent as to the right of the requested state to decline the surrender on the grounds of an illegal arrest. This, in turn, leads to believe that the obligation of the requested state to surrender the suspect to the ICC is supreme over any national law that might allow the domestic court to decline such a surrender when the suspect has been subjected to illegal arrest or detention. Therefore, it is up to the ICC as to consider the violation of human rights of the suspect, and, as provided by Article 85(1) to arbiter compensation to anyone who has been the victim of an unlawful arrest or detention.[12] However, the Rome Statute and the Rules of Procedure and Evidence do not provide a definite answer to the issue of whether and when the Court should exercise its jurisdiction in cases of extraordinary rendition.

The uncertainty in this respect was about to change on 14 December 2006, when the Appeals Chamber had to reconsider the application lodged by Thomas Lubanga Dyilo.[13] Mr. Dyilo challenged the Court’s ability to exercise jurisdiction over him under Article 19(2) of the Rome Statute before the Pre-Trial chamber. In his application Mr. Dyilo alleged that he had been subjected to mistreatment when he was detained in the Democratic Republic of the Congo prior to his surrender to the ICC which the Prosecutor had been complicit in. He alleged that it constituted the abuse of process and applied for the dismissal of the case.

Referring to Nikolić and Barayagwiza the Pre-Trial Chamber stated that it could potentially dismiss the case as a remedy for abuse of process and on the protection of the fundamental rights of the accused in Article 21(3). However, the Chamber had to decline the application due to the lack of evidence in support of complicity and mistreatment. This has been reconsidered by the Appeals Chamber whose findings varied drastically. The Chamber stated, that the issue was not that of jurisdiction, but rather “a procedural step not envisaged by the Rules of Procedure and Evidence or the Regulations of the Court invoking a power possessed by the Court to remedy breaches of the process in the interests of justice.”[14] Further on, the Chamber reviewed the doctrine of abuse of process and stated that since the concept is not really known to civilian systems, the doctrine “is not generally recognized as an indispensable power of a court of law, an inseverable attribute of judicial power,” and therefore was not among any inherent powers the ICC had.[15] Nonetheless, the Chamber stated that the human rights standards imposed by Article 21(3) imply the Court’s power to stay proceedings if the treatment of the accused interferes with the right to a fair trial.[16] In particular the Court confirmed that there must be a human rights-based remedy available to the accused under Article 21(3) of the Rome Statute, however, declining to characterize it as a “jurisdictional” power.

The aforementioned approach seems balanced and justified. Nevertheless, if the ICC decides to change it, there will certainly be cases where prosecuting universally condemned offences will by itself create threats to international peace and security. Notably, the ICC operates in a highly-charged political atmosphere and even a minor disregard of illegality might provoke a political conflict, which will worsen the situation and damage the legitimacy and credibility of the ICC.[17] Therefore, it is highly advisable that these practices have no future before the Court.

Written by Jan Guardian


[1]      See Aparna Sridhar, The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia’s Response to the Problem of Transnational Abduction, 42 Stan. J. Int’l L. 343 (2006) [hereinafter Sridhar, ICTY Response], at 343-344.

[2]      Ozlem Ulgen, The ICTY and Irregular Rendition of Suspects, 2 Law & Prac. Int’l Cts. & Tribunals 441 (2003), at 441.

[3]      See e.g., United States v. Alvarez-Machain, 504 U.S. 655 (1992).

[4]      Laura Barnett, Extraordinary Rendition: International Law and the Prohibition of Torture, (rev. July 17, 2008) [online][accessed 1 May 2013].

[5]      Frederick Alexander Mann, Reflections on the Prosecution of Persons Abducted in Breach of International Law, in International Law at a Time of Perplexity. Essays in Honour of Shabtai Rosenne (Yoram Dinstein ed., 1988), at 414.

[6]      Douglas Kash, Abducting Terrorists Under PDD-39: Much Ado About Nothing New, 13 Am. U. Int’l L. Rev. 139 (1997) [hereinafter Kash, Abducting Terrorists], at 141.

[7]      UN General Assembly, Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (last amended January 2002), 17 July 1998, A/CONF. 183/9 [hereinafter Rome Statute][online][accessed 1 May 2013].

[8]       Ibid., Article 59(1).

[9]       Ibid., Article 59(2).

[10]        B. Swart, Arrest Proceedings in the Custodial State, in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Vol. II (A. Cassese, P. Gaeta and J.R.W.D. Jones, eds , 2002), at 1252.

[11]     Rome Statute, supra note 7, Article 55(1).

[12]     S. Zappala, Compensation to an Arrested or Convicted Person, in A. Cassesse, P. Gaeta and J.R.W.D. Jones (eds.), The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court: A Commentary (Oxford-New York: Oxford University Press, 2002) 1577, at 1580.

[13]     Situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the Case of The Prosecutor v. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo (Judgment on the Appeal of Mr. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo against the Decision on the Defence Challenge to the Jurisdiction of the Court pursuant to article 19(2) of the Statute of 3 October 2006), Case No. ICC-01/04-01/06 (OA4), 14 December 2006 [online][accessed 1 May 2013].

[14]     Ibid., para. 24.

[15]     Ibid., para. 35.

[16]     Ibid., para. 37.

[17]     John Rosenthal, A Lawless Global Court: How the ICC Undermines the UN System, Policy Review, February – March 2004, at 29.

Do Not Touch My President

The election of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto as President and Deputy President of Kenya respectively brings again to the foreground the issue of immunity from prosecution. The two are currently suspects of international crimes facing charges at the International Criminal Court. Do they, by virtue of their current status, enjoy any immunity-whether functional or personal-from prosecution by the International Criminal Court? This question, especially in light of the provisions of the Rome Statute, might seem to be obviously in the negative. After all the provisions of Article 27 are patently unambiguous:

“This Statute shall apply equally to all persons without any distinction based on official capacity. In particular, official capacity as a Head of State or Government…shall in no case exempt a person from criminal responsibility under this Statute, nor shall it, in and of itself, constitute a ground for reduction of sentence”
“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 its jurisdiction over such a person”

One must applaud the attempt by the drafters to ensure that impunity is fought on all fronts. True, criminals should not be allowed to use their positions to hide from the natural consequences of their actions. The echo of this call comes all the way from the Nuremburg Military Tribunal. Indeed even the United Nations General Assembly affirmed the Nuremburg principles by resolution thus:
“(1) any person who commits an act which constitutes a crime under international law is personally responsible and as such is liable to punishment; (2) that the act is not in violation of internal law within the host State does not exempt responsibility for it under international law; (3) the status of the defendant does not exempt him from responsibility under international law; (4) that the act was an order by the government or superior does not exempt it from responsibility under international law; (5) any person charged with a crime in violation of international law has a right to a fair trial; (6) the crimes in violation of international law are crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity; (7) collaboration in the foregoing crimes is a crime under international law” (i)

The ICC itself has also had occasion to ruminate on the question of the immunity of a serving head of state. In the Bashir case(ii) on an application for warrants of arrest against the current President of Sudan, the court stated that the “current position of Omar Al Bashir as Head of a state which is not a party to the Statute, has no effect on the Court’s jurisdiction over the present case…(since) one of the core goals of the Statute is to put an end to impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole which, must not go unpunished”(iii) . Thus, President Bashir became the first sitting head of state to face criminal charges in an international court.
Whereas the court’s reading of the law in the Bashir decision seems prima facie correct there was a lost opportunity to provide further guidance on an otherwise still grey area. If a head of state is indicted, for example, what privileges is he entitled to during the trial? Surely the individual who is the personification of an independent sovereign state should not have the same treatment as a common criminal. It would make sense, for example, to allow the head of state to forego all but very necessary appearances in court in light of his/her often punishing work schedule and, more importantly, so as to ensure that the lives of the nation are not held in suspense for years as the trial proceeds. It would also seem appropriate to allow the head of state to waive, if s/he chooses, any personal appearances in court so as not to embarrass the state concerned.
I also submit that the supposed removal of the immunity of heads of states is not without exceptions. Article 98 of the Rome statute for example provides as follows:
“1. 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.

2. The Court may not proceed with a request for surrender which would require the requested State to act inconsistently with its obligations under international agreements pursuant to which the consent of a sending State is required to surrender a person of that State to the Court, unless the Court can first obtain the cooperation of the sending State for the giving of consent for the surrender”

If therefore, for example, the government of Sudan has a bilateral agreement with say the government of Malaysia where each country agrees not to release the other country’s citizens to the ICC then Bashir’s immunity would prevail whenever he visits Malaysia. A warrant of arrest to all and sundry, such as the one issued by the Bashir court is therefore questionable.
If the immunity of heads of states is taken away then how, pray tell, do we deal with the other treaties that provide protection to them? What of customary international law that provides that heads of states are “untouchable”? The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961 for example, provides that “the person of a diplomatic agent shall be inviolable. He shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention. The receiving State shall treat him with due respect and shall take all appropriate steps to prevent any attack on his person, freedom or dignity”(iv) . The rationale for this is simple: the diplomat represents the sending State. The principle of sovereign equality of States would therefore not countenance a situation where the host state arrests or charges the diplomat. Similarly, what applies for the diplomat would apply to the head of state. It would be a legal misnomer for the diplomat to be protected in order to preserve the “purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations concerning the sovereign equality of States, the maintenance of international peace and security, and the promotion of friendly relations among nations”(v) while not affording the same level of protection to the heads of state. If, as has been decided, a host state cannot arrest or charge diplomats or heads of states in the national courts (vi), they should also not be able to arrest them at all (vii). The principle of sovereign equality of states is applicable at all times. Since there is no “international police force” any State that attempts to arrest a sitting head of state would be interfering with a cardinal principle of international law. Evidently therefore “the exercise of jurisdiction of international criminal courts can have serious consequences for the sovereign equality of states and the intercourse of international relations…just like the exercise of jurisdiction by domestic courts over foreign State officials, the ICC’s exercise of jurisdiction in such cases can engender severe repercussions for the fabric of inter-state relations. The exercise of jurisdiction by, the Court will affect, and be affected by, the same considerations of State sovereignty that inform the doctrine of head of state immunity and its application before domestic courts”(viii)

Lastly the practicality of removing the immunity of a sitting head of state is in doubt. Intricate relationships among states cannot allow this. With the knowledge of the repercussions of any attempt to arrest any sitting head of state, nay any senior government official, who, pray tell, would bell the cat?
_________________________________________________________________________(i) General Assembly Resolution, Affirmation of the Principles of International Law Recognized by the Charter of the Nurnberg Tribunal 95(I), 11 December 1946.

(ii) In the Case of the Prosecutor V. Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir (“Omar Al Bashir”)- Decision on the Prosecution’s Application for a Warrant of Arrest against Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir, No. ICC-02/05-01/09

(iii) Ibid para. 41-42

(iv) Article 29

(v) Preamble to the Convention

(vi) Heads of States immunity from the jurisdiction of national jurisdiction has been affirmed by the ICJ in Certain Questions of Mutual Judicial Assistance in Criminal Matters (Djibouti v France). For more see Immunities of State Officials, International Crimes, and Foreign Domestic Courts by Dapo Akande and Sangeeta Shah, EJIL (2010), Vol. 21 No. 4, 815–852- http://www.ejil.org/pdfs/21/4/2115.pdf

(vii) Admittedly, in the case of Prosecutor v Charles Ghankay Taylor, Case Number SCSL-2003-01-I, Decision on Immunity from Jurisdiction, 31 May 2004 the court held that “the principle seems now established that the sovereign equality of states does not prevent a Head of State from being prosecuted before an international criminal tribunal or court.” But, since Mr Taylor was no longer serving as a head of state at the time, the considerations were different.

(viii) The Survival of Head of State Immunity at the International Criminal Court, Wardle, Phillip, Australian International Law Journal, Vol. 18