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

Why India Continues to Stay Out of ICC?

Written by Garima Tiwari

ICC, Author Vincent van Zeijst



“We can understand the need for the International Criminal Court to step in when confronted by situations such as in former Yugoslavia or Rwanda, where national judicial structures had completely broken down. But the correct response to such exceptional situations is not that all nations must constantly prove the viability of their judicial structures or find these overridden by the ICC.” – Indian delegate said in his official statement delivered at the Diplomatic Conference.[i]

Years after the establishment of International Criminal Court (hereinafter “ICC”) India has no indication of becoming a State Party to the Statute. The establishment of the ICC came out of the need for an independent, permanent criminal court to deal with heinous crimes of international concern. India’s decision to remain out of ICC is not something of an aberrant stand it took. Even when the International Military Tribunal for the Far East was established after the surrender of Japan at the end of Second World War, Dr. Radhabinod Pal, Judge from India gave a Dissenting Judgment .He refused to be bound by the charges brought against the defendants by the Prosecution. Consequently, Justice Pal declared the accused Japanese leaders innocent of all charges. [ii] This dissenting judgment of Justice Radhabinod Pal at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East) is of unique importance in the history of international law as a new interpretation of contemporary (i.e. history of the pre-second World War era) history of international events.[iii] Under the Charters of the Nuremberg and Tokyo Tribunals, radical changes were made in the definitions of international laws. These tribunals made definitions of new offenses and held individuals in power responsible for perpetrating such offenses. Justice Radhabinod Pal from India, however, refused to be carried by such an innovation. Justice R.B. Pal, however, vehemently opposed the changing concepts of international law.  In his judgment, he made a critical and detailed study of the status of international law in the first half of the twentieth century and argued that international law could not be changed by mere ipse dixit (dogmatic pronouncement) of the authors of the Charter in question.[iv]

At the time of the drafting of the Rome Statute, some of the fundamental objections given by Indian delegates in their opposition to the Court relate to the perceived role of the UN Security Council and its referral power. India has therefore, not signed and raitifed the statute. As mentioned by Mr. Lahiri, the principal objections of India to the Rome Statute have been the following:  [v]

  1. Made the ICC subordinate to the UN Security Council, and thus in effect to its permanent members, and their political interference, by providing it the power to refer cases to the ICC and the power to block ICC proceedings.
  2. Provided the extraordinary power to the UN Security Council to bind non-States Parties to the ICC ; this violates a fundamental principle of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties that no state can be forced to accede to a treaty or be bound by the provisions of a treaty it has not accepted.
  3. Blurred the legal distinction between normative customary law and treaty obligations, particularly in respect of the definitions of crimes against humanity and their applicability to internal conflicts, placing countries in a position of being forced to acquiesce through the Rome Statutes to provisions of international treaties they have not yet accepted.
  4. Permitted no reservations or opt-out provisions to enable countries to safeguard their interests if placed in the above situation.
  5. Inappropriately vested wide competence and powers to initiate investigations and trigger jurisdiction of the ICC in the hands of an individual prosecutor.
  6. Refused to designate of the use of nuclear weapons and terrorism among crimes within the purview of the ICC, as proposed by India.[vi]

India has ratified Geneva Conventions and has even enacted Geneva Conventions Act 1960, but in practise, India has decided to overlook Common Article 3 in its special enactments, applicability and Supreme Court rulings. Moreover, it is normally and more extensively argued that at no point has the situation in India met the threshold required for the application of Common Article 3. Thus, India has not accepted the application of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions to the situations prevailing in the country.

There are reports on hundreds of mass graves in Kashmir[vii]. Torture, hostage-taking, and rape have all been prominent abuses in the Kashmir conflict. Both security forces and armed militants have used rape as a weapon: to punish, intimidate, coerce, humiliate and degrade, but no we do not meet the threshold of Common Article 3.There is widespread and frequent fighting throughout Kashmir, recourse by the government to its regular armed forces, the organization of insurgents into armed forces with military commanders responsible for the actions of those forces and capable of adhering to laws of war obligations, the military nature of operations conducted on both sides, and the size of the insurgent forces and of the government’s military forces, which makes Common Article 3 is applicable to the conflict in Kashmir[viii]-but still Indian government argues that it does not meet the threshold for application of Common Article 3. This is because India has viewed the conflicts it has been beset with as domestic affairs, if above the ‘law and order’ level but certainly below that of a non-international armed conflict. As we know the definition of Non international armed conflict not having been attempted in Common Article 3, the threshold of its applicability is pitched high by domestic states. Governments are understandably reluctant because of sovereignty considerations to concede belligerency opportunities for the non-state groups who they accuse of posing an armed challenge to the state. [ix]This reluctance is despite Common Article 3 stating that its application ‘shall not affect the legal status of the Parties to the conflict.’[x]

Another example is, Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 [xi]( hereinafter ‘AFSPA’), passed when  the Naga movement in the North eastern States for independence had just taken off. AFSPA has just six sections. The most damning are those in the fourth and sixth sections: the former enables security forces to “fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death” where laws are being violated. The latter says no criminal prosecution will lie against any person who has taken action under this act. While article 3 prohibits killing of innocent civilians in non-international armed conflict, AFSPA under section 4(a) gives wide ranging powers to the armed forces to use force to the extent of causing death on mere suspicion. This has occasioned the application of AFSPA without resorting to the emergency provisions that would then invite its accountability externally. In last 54 years, not a single army, or paramilitary officer or soldier has been prosecuted for murder, rape, destruction of property (including the burning of villages in the 1960s in Nagaland and Mizoram). [xii]There has been regrouping of villages in both places: villagers were forced to leave their homes at gunpoint, throw their belongings onto the back of a truck and move to a common site where they were herded together with strangers and formed new villages. It is a shameful and horrific history, which India knows little about and has cared even less for. [xiii]  There are extrajudicial executions, made emphatically in the north east region, which Government normally remains silent about. Justice Jeevan Reddy committee recommended the repeal of the AFSPA in 2005 but the findings and recommendations are buried as the government has neither taken a call on them nor made them public.[xiv]

Various reports, academic views as well as conferences, have  time and again highlighted the need for India to actually accept the common article 3 in practice. The Judiciary has failed its duty in this context by overlooking ‘judicial guarantees’ as required by the article. [xv]The situation of conflict that persists in Kashmir and the North-East explains the reasons for the state’s anxiety that this manner of violence could be referred to the ICC. Always arguing that the threshold  has not reached, India continuously evades application of Common Article 3. Some help  could have been taken from Additional Protocol II,where a lower threshold in found under Article 1(2) but India has not ratified the same. Even, the inclusion of ‘armed conflict not of an international character’ in defining ‘war crimes’ in Article 8 of the Statute for an ICC met with resistance from the Indian establishment.

There is a mild fear that if India signs Rome statue it would come under the jurisdiction of ICC under Common Article 3 and crimes against humanity during non-international armed conflict. This may be said to be a major reason for staying out of ICC since Articles 7 and 8 of the Rome Statute include such crimes, and no reservations are permitted, except the opt out provision  under Article 124 of the Statute . As Mr. Lahiri notes, “having become Party to so many human rights conventions, which requires India to submit a variety of periodic reports for UN scrutiny on domestic actions to implement these obligations, it is scarcely appropriate that India should assert impunity for the commission of the most heinous crimes imaginable in the course of combating domestic insurgencies.” [xvi] India also looks for an opt-in provision whereby a state could accept the jurisdiction of the ICC by declaration (possibly for a specified period), and this might be limited to particular conduct or to conduct committed during a particular period of time. The lack of such a provision, and the inherent jurisdiction which replaced it, are perceived as representing a violation of the consent of states, and thus a threat to sovereignty. India’s resistance to accepting the inherent jurisdiction of the ICC is explained, in part, by anxieties about how investigation, prosecution and criminal proceedings in the Indian system may be judged by an international court. Further elements giving rise to India’s misgivings are the fear that the Court might be used with political motives, the power conferred on the Prosecutor to initiate investigations proprio motu and the role allotted to the Security Council.[xvii]

Maybe in the future meetings of the ICC Assembly of Parties could well consider, for example, extending the Kampala ‘opt-out’ provisions .  Discussions on inclusion of terrorism and nuclear weapons are already taking place. [xviii]  Prosecution of Indian officers , leaders and army by ICC, is an overstretch and the jurisdiction over India under the UNSC referral process is possible even if India stays out of ICC . [xix] India should immediately ensure substantive and effective participation in ICC deliberative and negotiating bodies which it is entitled to attend as an observer. [xx] Most of the objections and concerns seem to have waned over the years. Moreover, heightened activities on the ICC in India in the past year have generated greater participation and interest from diverse constituencies including parliamentarians, academia, media and various civil society groups.[xxi]

India has been subject to international dispute settlement bodies, such as the Dispute Settlement Body of the World Trade Organization and the International Court of Justice, amongst others. State sovereignty is not compromised merely because a nation-state agrees to subject itself to an international court that can exercise jurisdiction over its officials. [xxii]Several legal provisions found in the Indian Constitution and the criminal laws of India are antecedents to many of the principles found in the Rome Statute – the presumption of innocence, principle of legality, proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt, fair trial, legal aid and the right to remain silent, amongst others.[xxiii] Thus, India might have seriously misjudged the legal, political and social repercussions of opposing the Rome Statute, and risks further erosion of credibility if it altogether repudiates the Statute, and with it, its sizable practical advantages for protecting the dual interests of its nationals as individuals serving their country abroad, and of its national security.[xxiv]

Till India signs the Rome Statute it must be stated that the standards set by the Rome Statute could be of use in the region regardless of its poor record of ratification. For instance, the Rome standards have been used to promote law reform at the national level in India, as well as to provide redress to victims before national Courts in Sri Lanka. Thus, as mentioned in the ICC Outreach, although the importance of the Court in fighting impunity worldwide is undisputable, the ICC also exists as a tool to strengthen national legal systems and provide redress to victim. [xxv]


[i] India and the ICC, Usha Ramanathan, available at http://www.ielrc.org/content/a0505.pdf

[ii] Judgment of Justice Radhabino Pal at the Tokyo War Crimes Trial, 1946-48, A. F. M. Shamsur Rahman available at http://www.asiaticsociety.org.bd/journals/June_2010/contents/04_AFMShamsuRahman.htm

[iii] R. John Pritchard & Sonia M. Zaide (eds.), “The Dissenting Opinion of the Member for India R.B. al” inThe Tokyo War Crimes Trial, (New York & London: Garland, 1981), Vol. I. p. 21

[iv] Supra n.2

[v] Dilip Lahiri, Should India continue to stay out of ICC? (published on 24 November 2010) Available at http://www.orfonline.org/research/should-india-continue-to-stay-out-of-icc/

[vi] Ibid

[vii] http://www.kashmirprocess.org/reports/graves/BuriedEvidenceKashmir.pdf

[viii] India’s Secret Army in Kashmir, New Patterns of Abuse Emerge in the Conflict http://www.hrw.org/reports/1996/India2.htm#P211_52287

[ix] Roderic Alley, “Internal Conflict and the International Community: Wars without end?”, Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2004, p 120.

[x] Common Article 3 states: ‘The application of the preceding provisions shall not affect the legal status of the Parties to the conflict.”

[xi] The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act  1958 available at http://mha.nic.in/pdfs/armed_forces_special_powers_act1958.pdf

[xii] Sanjoy Hazarika, An Abomination Called AFSPA,Febryary 12, 2013, The Hindu available at http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/an-abomination-called-afspa/article4404804.ece

[xiii] Ibid

[xiv] Sanajaoba, Armed Forces Special Power Act, 1958- A Law for Extra judicial Execution in Perpetuity, at http://openspace.org.in/node/461

[xv] Ibid

[xvi] Supra n. 5

[xvii] Supra n. 1

[xviii] Jane Boulden,Thomas G. Weiss, Terrorism and the UN: Before and After September 11, Indiana University press, (2004) p. 65-66

[xix] Supra n 5 ( refer conclusions)

[xx] http://www.frontline.in/navigation/?type=static&page=flonnet&rdurl=fl1807/18070670.htmhttp://www.sikhsangat.com/index.php?/topic/38139-why-india-rejects-the-international-criminal-court/

[xxi] Coalition of International Criminal Court,India, at http://www.iccnow.org/?mod=country&iduct=77

[xxii] Abraham, What Are we Scared of? Available at http://www.boloji.com/index.cfm?md=Content&sd=Articles&ArticleID=5471

[xxiii] Ibid

[xxiv] Rishav Banerjee, Rome Statute and India: An Analysis of India?s Attitude towards the International Criminal Court, Journal of East Asia & International Law › Nbr. 4-2, October 2011

[xxv] The ICC can wait, Justice Cannot , available at http://www.un.int/india/2011/ind1953.pdf



The Issue of Consent in Rape Prosecution: International Tribunals and Indian Courts

Written by Garima Tiwari

(  http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/ptsd)

While India struggles to make amendments to the existing rape laws a brief look into how the International Criminal Court (ICC) and International Tribunals have dealt with rape would be interesting. A look at the Indian position in the same context would help understand how the process differs particularly with reference to the issue of ‘consent’.

Nicolas  Poussin’s  famous  painting the “Rape of the Sabine Women” depicts women  walking  away  arm-in-arm  with  their  rapists,  suggesting “that  the  abducted  women  soon  accepted  their   assailants  as husbands.” It is  not surprising  then,  that rape  and  other  forms  of sexual violence  emanating  from  war  have  historically  been undocumented  and unpunished crimes.  Rape has been viewed as a reward or “spoil of war.”‘[i]

The first international treaty implicitly outlawing sexual violence, the Hague Convention of 1907, did not end impunity for these crimes: after World War II, for instance, the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg did not expressly prosecute sexual violence, and the Tokyo Tribunal ignored the Japanese army’s enslavement of “comfort women”. In 1949, the landmark Geneva Conventions stated: “Women shall be especially protected … against rape, enforced prostitution, or any form of indecent assault.” [ii] It was the two  ad hoc International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and Rwanda (ICTR), which, for the first time, dealt comprehensively with the crime of rape.

Position taken by ICTR

The Akayesu case[iii]  recognised that rape is an extremely grave crime as it can constitute genocide and a crime against humanity, providing that all the other elements for each of these crimes are met. Here the ICTR adopted a very broad definition of the crime of rape, which is defined as ‘a physical invasion of a sexual nature, committed on a person under circumstances which are coercive’. It also dealt with sexual violence, a broader category which includes the more specific crime of rape, whose identifying elements are recognised as ‘any act of a sexual nature which is committed on a person under circumstances which are coercive. Sexual violence is not limited to a physical invasion of the human body and may include acts which do not involve penetration or even physical contact’.[iv] Thus, in  Akayesu coercion was identified as the criteria for rape consent was irrelevant. The Semanza trial chamber[v] held that “the mental element for rape as a crime against humanity is the intention to effect the prohibited sexual penetration with the knowledge that it occurs without the consent of the victim.” In effect, rape went from being a physical act committed on the body of a victim to a psychic act committed in the mind of the perpetrator and the issue of lack of  consent became relevant. Kajelijeli[vi], followed Semanza and focused on non-consent and description of body parts when determining whether Mr. Kajelijeli should be held responsible for rapes committed by forces under his command. He was found innocent of rape and was not found guilty of genocide for the rapes his men committed. In the Muhimana case[vii] ICTR stated that, “coercion is an element that may obviate the relevance of consent as an evidentiary factor in the crime of rape.” In other words, the court ruled that most international crimes will be almost universally coercive—making true consent virtually impossible and therefore irrelevant for international prosecution.

The judgment and sentence in Prosecutor v. Karemera et al.[viii], issued recently by Trial Chamber III of ICTR secured the first international judgment to ever hold high-level government officials responsible for rape in such circumstances unlike as we will see what happened in Lubanga.[ix]

Proving rape in genocide (or other violent conflicts) using the Akayesu criteria would be relatively straightforward. Once the context of the violent conflict has been established, rape occurring within that context is assumed to be non-consensual. On the other hand, many rapes that would be provable under Akayesu would be difficult or impossible to prove under the Semanza definition. This would not only insult the victims but severely damage the credibility of the international tribunals for handling rape cases.[x]

Position taken by ICTY

The Delaliæ et al case aka Èelebiæi case[xi] case confirmed the approach that characterises the ICTR jurisprudence on the matter. In fact, the judges adopted the same ‘conceptual’ broad definition found in the Akayesu judgment. However, the ICTY in the Furundžija judgment[xii], adopted a more technical and specific definition. It qualified rape as an outrage upon personal dignity as provided for in Article 3 of the ICTY Statute (war crimes) and torture.The Furundžija definition (para. 185) represents the result of a peculiar approach followed by the ICTY, which involved looking at national jurisdictions to extrapolate what—due to the international lacuna on the matter—should represent a common perception of the elements of the crime. The outcome of this exercise was the following definition of rape, which is divided into two parts:(i) the sexual penetration, however slight:  (a) of the vagina or anus of the victim by the penis of the perpetrator or any other  object used by the perpetrator; or (b) of the mouth of the victim by the penis of the perpetrator; (ii) by coercion or force or threat of force against the victim or a third person. Thus, here coercion and lack of consent both were needed. This amounted to reintroducing the relevance of consent for rape prosecution. In the  Kunarac et al case [xiii]it was held that rapes that occurred in a brothel-like setting in Foca were a form of enslavement. The court drew on the Furundzija decision and concluded that “sexual penetration will constitute rape if it is not truly voluntary or consensual on the part of the victim.” It put forward a definition whose elements could be generally recognised as essential by the most representative countries in the world. Therefore, once again, an in-depth research of national jurisdictions was carried out and the conclusion is a step beyond the Furundžija definition. Sexual acts are forbidden when perpetrated against the free will of a person, and the ‘use of force-threat’ element is reduced from the status of an element of the crime to a being evidence of the lack of consent of the victim to the sexual intercourse. The judges confirmed rape as a war crime and crime against humanity. Moreover, the act of rape was considered as one of the underlying acts for the crime of enslavement. Instead, in defining the elements of rape, the Foca Trial Chamber included a consent paradigm, permitting defendants to use consent to sex as a defense, which had been considered and excluded from previous Chambers. While the ICTY’s definition of consent laudably incorporates the notion of sexual autonomy, and is a liberal standard relative to consent requirements globally, the consent paradigm is inappropriate in conflict situations where rape is used as a weapon of war.

The Kvocka et al case [xiv]  reintroduced the requirement of the use of force as an element of the crime, together with the lack of consent. The Kunarac et al Appeal Judgement[xv] confirmed the previous definition given by Trial Chamber II in the same case. The Appeals Judges confirmed that the lack of consent is conditio sine qua non of the definition of rape and that the requirement of the use of force is not an essential element but rather a symptom of lack of genuine consent (para. 129).[xvi] The Appeals Chamber leaned toward the need to “presume non-consent” in contexts like genocide. In situations like Foca where women were held in rape camps, “such detentions amount to circumstances that were so coercive as to negate any possibility of consent.”

As Catherine MacKinnon notes : No other crime against humanity, once other standards are met, requires that the crime be proved to be non-consensual. In fact, using victim’s consent as a defense would be bizarre. Consider a trial for murder within a genocide. How plausible would it be if a defendant claimed that, even though the act of killing took place within a setting of genocide, the victim had really wanted to be killed, so the perpetrator simply obliged? The reason that consent is not relevant for prosecuting rape in international crimes is that the crime takes place within a context where what we normally think of as sexual autonomy (at least for women) does not exist. Given the context of radical force, there is no true choice and so no consent in international crimes.[xvii]  Thus, ICTY and ICTR are both trying to presume non-consent in coercive situations which I think is very positive.

Position taken by ICC

The Statute of the International Criminal Court proves that the achievements of the ICTR and ICTY with regard to the prosecution of the crime of rape have been generally accepted by the international community. Article 7(g) of the ICC Statute specifically prohibits rape and, in addition, includes ‘sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity’ within the notion of crimes against humanity. Moreover, paragraph (h) of Article 7 confirms persecution as a crime against humanity and includes gender as a new discriminatory ground. At paragraph 3 of the same Article it is further specified that the term gender is general in nature, thus referring to both sexes. Rape is also listed in Article 8 (b) (xxii)-1 as a war crime.     In the Elements of Crime annexed to the ICC Statute, the crime of rape requires the penetration of the anal or genital opening of the victim with an object or otherwise the penetration of any part of the body with a sexual organ, thus recalling the analogous first part of the Furundžija definition. Similarly, a reference to coercive situations capable to vitiate the genuine consent of the victim of rape is provided for in Article 7 (1) (g)-1 of the Elements.Thus, both coercion and consent have been discussed.

But the first judgment delivered by the ICC failed to give any help in this regard. In the Lubanga case, despite evidence pointing to wide spread rape and other forms of sexual violence against in particular girl child soldiers, the Prosecutor did not include crimes of sexual violence in the charges. The charges were brought under Article 8, war crimes, and as such could have included charges of torture, rape, sexual slavery or outrages upon personal dignity. The Trial Chamber noted that they chose not to amend the charges. The Prosecutor could have amended the indictment at any time prior to trial or even at a reasonable moment during the presentation of the prosecution case.

Judge Odio Benito, in her dissent, differed from the majority’ decision not to use the evidence of sexual violence as a means to define the legal elements of enlistment, conscription of children or use of children in hostilities as innate to their status as child soldiers. Judge Odio Benito’s reasoning related to the interpretation of the war crime charges at hand and, thus, was not conditioned upon the submission of further amended charges. Evidence or information certainly did come out during the trial concerning the widespread nature of the sexual violence that occurred when these children were conscripted and enlisted. To that extent the case highlights the sexual violence even though it has not been charged.[xviii] Various groups suggested later on that a failure to add more serious charges would run the risk of offending the victims and strengthen the growing feeling of mistrust of the work of the ICC and of the work of the prosecutor especially. [xix]

Rape Law in India

India’s current definition of rape is steeped in outmoded traditions, dates from 1860, and  has been amended only twice since then, in 1983 and 2003. In India,it is defined as intentional and unlawful sexual intercourse with a woman without her consent. According to section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, an allegation of rape has to satisfy the either of the following criteria: sexual intercourse between a man with a woman in the following circumstances: (a) against the will of the woman; (b) without her consent; (c) under duress; (d) consent obtained by fraud; (e) consent obtained by reason of unsoundness of mind or intoxication. If the woman is below the age of 16 years, sexual intercourse is deemed to amount to rape.  Even if the woman has consented, it would be considered rape under the law. There is however, an exception to this definition of rape.  Un-consented sexual intercourse between a man and his wife would not amount to rape if the wife is 16 years or older. According to section 376 of the Indian Penal Code, the minimum sentence for a convicted rapist is seven to 10 years, while the maximum sentence is life imprisonment. Gang rape carries a punishment of 10 years to life imprisonment. However, in certain situations a convicted rapist can get away with serving less time since the law allows the judge discretion to award a lesser punishment in special cases such as an aged person or a person of unsound mind. Under section 354 of the Indian Penal Code, sexual assault is described as “outraging the modesty of a woman” – a description considered archaic, subjective and limited by legal experts. Currently sexual assault crimes carry a maximum punishment of two years. [xx]

Thus, issue of consent and coercive situations both have been incorporated in the Indian law, but the application of law is not in tandem with the requirements of justice as what is consent is linked with various social, cultural and moral annotations along with the character and sexual history of the prosecuterix. In 2011, only 26% of rape trials ended in conviction. In Delhi for instance, there’s only been one conviction out of 635 cases of rape reported in 2011.[xxi] This is also because, various social elements like the stigma attached to pre-marital sex, stereotyping as well as virginity play in the mind. This presumption of consent was embodied in Section 155 (4) of the Indian Evidence Act, which allowed defendants to offer evidence about a victim’s character and sexual history and remained there till altered as recently as 2002.  Changing law does not change much, since various practises and notions surrounding rape still stem on the character of the victim, like use of the “two-finger test” being a sufficient testament of the history of sexual intercourse of the victim. Indian law is still based on the colonial times and ironically while Britain changed its rape law with time, we are still caught in the web of antiquity. Another important aspect is the mindset. According to a survey by Sakshi, an NGO active in gender issues, 74% of judges surveyed a decade ago believed that “preservation of the family” should be a principal concern for women even in the event of violence in the home. And 51% believed that women who stay with abusive husbands are “partly to blame” for their plight. Some 68% felt that “provocative attire was an invitation to rape” and 55% felt that the “moral character of the victim” was relevant.

In the Mathura Rape case [xxii] the Supreme Court acquitted the two policemen who raped a sixteen year old girl on the grounds that the victim had no visible marks of injury and that she did not raise an alarm. Here consent has been implied from no resistance. In Mohd. Habib v. State [xxiii] the Delhi High Court acquitted a man who raped a seven year old girl, asserting that there were no marks of injury on his penis. The Court refused to take cognizance of the bite marks on the victim’s person and the fact that she suffered a ruptured hymen on account of the sexual assault. Even the eye- witnesses who witnessed this ghastly act, could not sway the High Court’s judgment.  In State of Punjab vs. Gurmit Singh[xxiv] , the Supreme Court has advised the lower judiciary, that even if the victim girl is shown to be habituated to sex, the Court should not describe her to be of loose character. The Supreme Court has in the case of State of Maharashtra Vs. Madhukar N. Mardikar [xxv] , held that “the unchastity of a woman does not make her open to any and every person to violate her person as and when he wishes. She is entitled to protect her person if there is an attempt to violate her person against her wish. She is equally entitled to the protection of law. Therefore merely because she is of easy virtue, her evidence cannot be thrown overboard.” Thus, character, and prior sexual history does not imply consent. In some cases the Supreme Court has also observed that sex with the consent of the girl on a promise to marry her will not constitute rape unless it was shown that such consent was obtained by the man under coercion or threat.[xxvi]

The Mathura case is relevant because a minor change in the law did take place in 1983, focussing on custodial rape in which it would no longer be necessary to prove lack of consent. This is similar to the situation of coercion as used in the International tribunals for the situation is such, wherein the victim is unable to retaliate, consent would not be needed. This has been provided under Section 114A of the Indian Evidence Act 1872 as presumption of no consent.

Justice Verma Committee, formed as a response to the Delhi Gangrape incident, recommends inclusion of marital rape thereby highlighting marriage does not given unequivoval right over the body of the other, and consent remains relevant. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2012, widens the ambit by replacing the word rape with sexual assault .While earlier, the definition of rape under the Indian Penal Code was sexual intercourse with a woman without her consent, courts have confined it to penile penetration of the vagina. The new amendment though brings under the ambit of this offence penetration of “vagina, anus, urethra or mouth with any part of the body including the penis, or any other object for a sexual purpose”. The definitions are also making the law gender neutral. Thus, consent in all such cases would be looked into.


As seen above, both in Indian law and international law, two criteria are used to identify rape: Coercion and non-consent.[xxvii] Indian law includes both in some way yet, consent is sometimes judged with eyes of stereotyping. Some countries, may adopt either of the two. The trend of ICTR and ICTY more towards looking at the situation as coercive, because of the nature of events and placing consent irrelevant in such circumstances of war and conflict.

There are several ways that the international crime of rape may be different from some national definitions of rape. There are a important legal and procedural protections offered to rape victims by most international courts which are mostly absent from national courtrooms, such as permitting in camera testimony and not permitting attacks on the victim’s credibility through probing their sexual relationships. The tribunals have also taken positive steps to ensure victims of sexual violence can testify without retribution or fear for their safety. Through the development of its rules of procedure, the ICTY has sought to protect the victims of sexual violence from abusive lines of questioning during testimony. Witnesses can also testify under a pseudonym, with face and voice distortion in video feeds, or in closed session. Thus, the procedural  rules  in  the ICTY  and ICTR,  and  ICC,  allow  for  judicial  discretion  in  granting  witness anonymity. Again, in wartime rape  crimes,  identity  does  not become  a  crucial factor,  as  it  does  in  regular  domestic  rape  cases. Furthermore, as is clear from above discussion, international criminal law does not revolve around the issue of consent to the same extent as it does in many national settings.

Even though a lot can be learnt from the various procedural and legal protections offered by international tribunals, the issue of consent has to be studied differently in different national systems whose national, religious, cultural and political ideologies infuse the laws.

[i] Patricia H.  Davis, Comment, The  Politics of Prosecuting Rape as a  War Crime, 34INT’LLAW 1223,1226  (2000)

[iii] Case No. ICTR-96-4-T, 2 September 1998

[iv] Akayesu, para. 688,Musema, case No. ICTR-96-13, at para. 965

[v] Prosecutor v. Semanza, Case No. ICTR-97-20-T, Judgment and Sentence (May 15, 2003)

[vi] The Prosecutor v. Juvénal Kajelijeli (Judgment and Sentence), ICTR-98-44A-T, International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), 1 December 2003, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/404466007.html %5Baccessed 30 January 2013]

[vii] The Prosecutor v. Mika Muhimana, Case N° ICTR-95-1B-T

[viii] The Prosecutor v. Édouard Karemera et al., Case No. ICTR-98-44-T (issued on 2nd February 2012)

[x] MacKinnon, Catherine A. 2006. “Defining Rape Internationally: A Comment on Akayesu.” Pp. 237-246 in Are Women Human? Catherine MacKinnon. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

[xi] Case No. IT-96-21-T, 1998

[xii] Case No. IT-95-17/1-T, 10 December 1998

[xiii] Case No. IT-96-23 and IT-96-23/1, 22 February 2001)

[xiv] Case No. IT-98-30/1, 2 November 2001; ( paras. 177-178).

[xv] Case No. IT-96-23 & IT-96-23/1 A, 12 June 2002 paras. 125-133),

[xix] “Obtaining further charges in the opening case against Thomas Lubanga”, Statement by women’s rights and human rights NGOs of the DRC on the prosecutions by the ICC, Beni, September 16, 2006

[xxii] 1978) CrLJ 1864 SC

[xxiii] (1989) CrLJ 137 Delhi

[xxiv] (1996) 2 SCC 384

[xxv]  AIR 1991 SC 207

[xxvii] Supra Note 10

The ICC: Protection for the Rohingya?

Written by: Regina Paulose

In November 2012, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the ICC released its Report on Preliminary Examination Activities 2012, which examines situations in various countries for acts which could potentially amount to crimes against humanity and/or war crimes. Some of the countries mentioned in this report are North Korea, Columbia, and Afghanistan.[1] While one could question some of the cases the OTP is currently investigating,[2] this author takes the position that there are other atrocious human rights situations which need the immediate attention of the ICC.  In particular, the OTP should begin to make efforts to investigate and address the continued persecution and abuse of the Rohingya population in Burma.[3]

The Status Quo Conflict and Response

According to some scholars, the Rohingya’s origins are not entirely clear.[4] Setting aside this debate, the Rohingya mainly reside in Burma on the western side. The Rohingya are a Muslim minority in Burma where the majority of the population is Buddhist. It is estimated that there are currently 800,000 to 1 million Rohingya living in Burma. Since the 1970’s the regime in Burma has been trying to drive out or restrict the Rohingya.[5] This sentiment was put into law in 1982 when it created a Citizenship Law, which mandates that a person must prove their Burmese ancestry dating back to 1823 in order to have freedom of movement and access to other basic rights such as education in the country.[6] (Recall: Armenian Genocide and Nazi Germany). This law is one of the prime reasons why the Rohingya have become “stateless.”

The Rohingya have been the target of violence and recent clashes, which has left “dozens dead and tens of thousands internally displaced.”[7] One does not have to look further than the last 8 months to truly see how the regime continues to treat the Rohingya. In June 2012, an outbreak in communal violence between the Buddhist and Muslim Rakhine and the Rohingya lead to massive sweeps resulting in detention of Rohingya men and boys. (Recall the massacre at Srebrenica). Reports indicated that these groups were subject to ill treatment and were held “incommunicado.”[8] In October 2012, satellite images showed that homes of the Rohingya were being destroyed by security forces. The security forces then overwhelmed and cornered the Rohingya to drive them out of the area. This destruction is on top of the gruesome reports of beheading and killing of women and children.[9] (Recall: Rwanda).  The violence has continued in spurts, but is clearly directed at the Rohingya and motivated purely by hatred.

Faced with no other alternatives and with no access to justice in their country, the Rohingya have begun to flee only to be met with rejection from other countries. On the first day of 2013, some members of the Rohingya group were intercepted by Thai authorities and were deported back to Burma.[10] The Thai Navy is under orders to send them away from Thailand. Bangladesh has also expressed that it is not willing to accept Rohingya into their country.

Some countries however are reaching out to the Rohingya. For instance, Malaysia does accept the Rohingya as refugees. Iran recently sent humanitarian aid in order to help and has called upon the UN to take action.[11] Regionally, ASEAN offered to conduct “talks” but that was “rejected.” The regime explained that it sees the escalating violence as an “internal problem.”[12]

After a close examination of these events, the U.S. Presidential visit in November 2012, made the waters murky. President Obama felt that Burma was “moving in a better direction” and that there were “flickers of progress.” During the visit the President met with an advocate of the Rohingya population. While President Obama stated that his visit was not an endorsement of the current government, simple questions arise as to what the U.S. would be willing to do (or not do) to prevent this sectarian violence from escalating.[13] Not surprisingly, after the visit, Thein Sein made 2013 human rights news, when his regime admitted to using air raids against the Kachin rebels who are battling the government for control over certain territories.[14]

Rohingya Refugees

The ICC and its potential involvement

There are two interesting points of discussion that this scenario creates. The first is how the Office of The Prosecutor (OTP) would be able to meet jurisdictional requirements if it were to seriously consider prosecution. The controversial propio motu powers of the Prosecutor would allow her to investigate this situation. Articles 13, 15, and 53 of the Rome Statute require temporal jurisdiction, territorial or personal jurisdiction, and material jurisdiction. In addition, there are requirements in the Statute concerning admissibility. Burma is not a state party to the Rome Statute. The real challenge with this case would be with meeting the territorial or personal jurisdiction elements. Of course the easiest way to meet this requirement would be if the UN Security Council (UNSC) would be willing to refer the case as it did with Bashir of  Sudan.  As stated above, the U.S. Presidential visit does not make clear at this time what the U.S. position would be, especially considering the U.S. also eased sanctions, perhaps as a symbol of new relations, on the regime in November.

Another interesting point of discussion also concerns the potential charges. This author believes that this is a strong case for various charges under crimes against humanity against the Government. Another added dimension to this is that there are also civilians who target the Rohingya and seek to remove them from Burma. Since the posting of this article in January, there has been a recent increase in violence between Buddhist monks, civilians, and the Rohingya.  As previously noted, the regime has continuously called the situation with the Rohingya an “internal problem.”  The situation with the Rohingya can be distinguished from the conflict with the Kachin rebel/soldiers who are fighting for territory and independence.

Some other kind of action is now necessary besides dialogue and commentary from high level UN officials. Our cries of “never again” have become hollow.  The purpose of the ICC should be to facilitate deterrence in addition to punish perpetrators of grave crimes. The international community waits for these situations to become so grave that every action becomes too late. We cannot say we are students of history, when we continually are faced with the same situations over again and repeat the same mistakes. Our ability to ignore tragedy has come at the expense of hundreds of thousands of lives.

Interested in reading more or the full length analysis? Check out: A Road Well Traveled: Religion, Just War, and the Rome Statute, 2(2) A38JIL (2013) 178.


[1] A copy of this report can be found at ICC Coalition website which keeps an excellent record of documents pertaining to the ICC and the OTP: http://www.iccnow.org/?mod=browserdoc&type=14&year=2012

[2] This author questions some of the potential charging decisions being made by the ICC – for instance – the case involving North Korea and South Korea, is a clear act of aggression, but is under examination as a war crime. The death toll in this case is 22 people. The OTP is spending resources in Colombia, to assess whether the government is prosecuting the FARC properly. The author concurs that these cases are worthy of ICC attention, but questions why the ICC wont deal with situations that are ongoing which need immediate intervention. (Besides financial reasons).

[3] The great name debate: the U.S. recognizes the official name of the country as Burma.  Myanmar is the name was introduced by the former military regime, 23 years ago, and is preferred by the current regime. President Obama reportedly did refer to the country as Myanmar out of diplomatic courtesy when meeting with Thein Sein, President  in November 2012. See http://www.cnn.com/2012/11/19/politics/obama-asia-trip/index.html

[4] For a comprehensive report on the Rohingya situation, see Human Rights Watch, “The Government Could Have Stopped This” a report released July 31, 2012 and available at http://www.hrw.org/reports/2012/07/31/government-could-have-stopped . Khaled Ahmed, “Who are the Rohingya?” The Express Tribune, July 31, 2012, available at: http://tribune.com.pk/story/415447/who-are-the-rohingya/

[5] Gianluca Mezzofiore, “Myanmar Rohingya Muslims: The Hidden Genocide” August 22, 2012, available at: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/articles/376189/20120822/burma-myanmar-rohingya-muslims-ethnic-cleansing.htm

[7] UN News Centre, “Independent UN expert calls on Myanmar to carry out latest human rights pledges.” November 20, 2012, available at: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=43550

[8] Amnesty International, “Myanmar: Abuses against Rohingya erode human rights progress.” July 19, 2012, available at: http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/myanmar-rohingya-abuses-show-human-rights-progress-backtracking-2012-07-19

[9] Human Rights Watch, “Burma: Satellite Images Show Widespread Attacks on Rohingya” November 17, 2012 available at: http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/11/17/burma-satellite-images-show-widespread-attacks-rohingya

[10] Human Rights Watch, “Thailand: Don’t Deport Rohingya ‘Boat People’” January 2, 2013, available at: http://www.hrw.org/node/112247

[11] Ahlul Bayt News Agency, “Iran to Send 30 tons of Humanitarian Aid to Myanmar’s Rohingyas” January 5, 2013, available at: http://abna.ir/data.asp?lang=3&Id=378800

[12] ALJAZEERA, “Myanmar rejects talks on ethnic violence” October 31, 2012, available at: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia-pacific/2012/10/2012103161130375846.html

[13] Although I thoroughly question the impact of sanctions and their utility, some sanctions were eased on Burma in the days leading up to the Presidential visit.

[14] See Thomas Fuller, “Myanmar Military Admits to Airstrikes on Kachin Rebels” New York Times, January 2, 2013, available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/03/world/asia/myanmar-military-admits-air-raids-on-kachin-rebels.html?smid=tw-nytimesworld&seid=auto&_r=1&. See also Associated Press, “Myanmar’s Kachin rebels accuse government of artillery attack on headquarter city” January 6, 2013, available at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/apnewsbreak-myanmars-kachin-rebels-accuse-government-of-artillery-attack-on-headquarter-city/2013/01/06/dc668006-57fa-11e2-b8b2-0d18a64c8dfa_story.htm