The Ineffectiveness of the Rome Statute

Syria. Egypt. Libya. The Democratic Republic of Congo. These are just a few of the countries where international crimes continue unabated. Nations where the perpetrators of impunity continue with their activities confident that there is little that the international community can do. In Kenya, two international crime suspects were elected to the two highest offices in the land[1]. Which then begs the questions: What went wrong with the enforcement of the resolutions of the Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries convened in Rome in 1998? [2] Apart from creating an administrative body based at the Hague and thousands of well paying jobs for the boys what else is there to celebrate about this treaty?  Continue reading


On 16th July 2013, Ali Ahsan Mojaheed was convicted of genocide by the Bangladeshi War Crimes Tribunal. Mojaheed was charged with genocidal acts involving multiple crimes including the  kidnapping and murder of certain individuals during the 1971 independence war against Pakistan. He was thereafter sentenced to death. This conviction added to the growing number of convicted felons for genocide, variously described as ‘the crime of crimes’. One could say that Mojaheed is, in many ways, unlucky.

Slightly less than a month before that-on 20th June, 2013-Stanislas Mbanenande, an ethnic Hutu from Rwanda, was also convicted of genocide. However the sentencing tribunal was different-a Swedish court. In convicting and holding him responsible for several massacres in Kibuye region, the court stated thus: “It has been proved that the purpose of the acts of which the defendant has now been convicted was to wholly or partly destroy the Tutsi ethnic group. The acts have therefore been assessed as genocide”[1]. The court then proceeded to sentence him to a life in prison. Mbanenande was, in some ways, unlucky.

Gaspard Kanyarukiga, who had earlier been convicted of genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity over the same Rwanda genocide, was only sentenced 30 years by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). A slap in the wrist.

However, Mbanenande is lucky in many ways. He still has his life about him. Secondly, although he will likely spend a long time in prison, he will live in relative comfort-compared to the sordid conditions in the jails in Bangladesh for those unlucky enough to be convicted by the War Crimes Tribunal. Thirdly, it is likely that his sentence could be commuted for good behavior.  In fact he would definitely thank his gods if he were to read about the fate of Ali Ahsan Mojaheed Mr Mbanenande surely is lucky.

These disparate sentences for the same offence reveal the “absence of an articulated ICL philosophy of or justification for punishment and the dearth of sentencing principles”[2]. In reality, it is difficult to discern what the purpose of the sentences is, especially at the international arena. Whereas, admittedly, there has been an attempt to ensure internal consistency in the sentences within the international bodies, there is still a huge disparity between the sentences imposed by different tribunals. Again, there is a failure to take into account the maximum sentences to be imposed by domestic jurisdictions on the similar offences. A man who rapes a 12 year old girl in Kenya, for example, will be sentenced to a mandatory life sentence. However, the Kenyans being tried at the ICC for mass rapes-among other offences-will, if convicted, likely not be sentenced for more than 40 years. Charles Taylor’s sentence by the Special Court for Sierra Leone for “aiding and abetting, as well as planning, some of the most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history” resulted in a prison sentence of 50 years, notwithstanding the prominent role he played as a former head of state. Less for more!

The paradoxical argument one could make from such a scenario would be that if one is so inclined to commit certain crimes then s/he should do it in such a grave manner that it would attract the attention of the international community. It is better, it seems, to commit mass murder and to be tried by the International Criminal Court, than to kill an individual and be liable for capital punishment within the domestic jurisdictions.

In addition, it is important for international criminal law to develop its own theories for sentencing of offenders. If the sentences imposed are a reflection of the determination “to put an end to impunity for the perpetrators of these crimes and thus to contribute to the prevention of such crimes”[3] then we need to seek why this is not being realized. Why do we always seem to have a Libya or a Syria after every Cote d’Ivoire or Kenyan experience?  Isn’t this an indication of the failure of the sentences to act as a prohibition for future offences. If, on the other hand, it is a process of expressing our (the international community’s) indignation at the actions of the perpetrators then surely more indignation ought to be captured at the international level. An understanding of what the intention of the sentences is at the international level is the only way to remove the present absurd realities that encourage “forum shopping”.

[2] Robert D. Sloane, The Expressive Capacity Of International Punishment: The Limits Of The National Law Analogy And The Potential Of International Criminal Law, 43 STAN. J. INT’L L. 39 (2007)

[3] Preamble to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court

Victim Rights: Are We Victimising the Perpetrators?

Victims have rights. No doubt about it. Since the 1960’s the need for the criminal justice system to take into account the needs of the victims has been emphasized. These efforts-mostly driven by non profits-have borne fruits. The international community has paid attention. In 1985 the United Nations Declaration of the Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power was adopted by the General Assembly[1]. This Declaration recognized the vulnerability of victims of crime and that there was a need for judicial and administrative processes to respond better. Part of the better response included “allowing the views and concerns of victims to be presented and considered at appropriate stages of the proceedings where their personal interests are affected, without prejudice to the accused and consistent with the relevant national criminal justice system”[2]. In almost similar fashion, the General Assembly subsequently adopted the Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law[3]. This instrument provided, inter alia that “A victim of a gross violation of international human rights law or of a serious violation of international humanitarian law shall have equal access to an effective judicial remedy as provided for under international law”[4].

The right of victims to actively participate in the criminal trial process has also been reflected in international criminal law. Thus, whereas previous international tribunals such as the Nuremburg Tribunals, the ICTR, the ICTY among others, did not offer any role to the victim during the trial, the Rome Statute has been very generous in this regard. The Statute sets up a Victim and Witnesses Unit within the Registry charged with the responsibility of undertaking “protective measures and security arrangements, counselling and other appropriate assistance for witnesses, victims who appear before the Court, and others who are at risk on account of testimony given by such witnesses”[5]. In addition, Article 68 provides that ‘‘Where the personal interests of the victims are affected, the Court shall permit their views and concerns to be presented and considered at stages of the proceedings determined to be appropriate by the Court”[6]. The only qualification to this right is that it ought to be conducted “in a manner which is not prejudicial to or inconsistent with the rights of the accused and a fair and impartial trial”[7]. The ICC has had occasion to interpret this rather wide provision. In the Lubanga case[8], for example, the victims were allowed to directly participate in the investigations and the prosecution of the case. In the Kenyatta case[9] and the William Ruto case[10], victim participation during the trial process included allowing the Victim’s Representative to ask questions during the trial.

Whereas this development in the recognition of the victim rights is applaudable, I am concerned that the international criminal jurisprudence could end up tipping to the other side: ‘victimising’ the alleged perpetrator in the name of recognizing the victim(s)’ rights. Let me explain. The entire adversarial nature of criminal trials hangs on an assumption of the equality of arms between the protagonists. The prosecution and the accused person should have equal resources and the same opportunities to argue their cases. However, this balance will be interfered with when the Victim is provided an opportunity to participate in the trial. Since the victim would naturally be on the opposing side from the accused person, his/her participation would essentially be a second cross examination of the accused person and his witnesses. An unfair result no doubt.

Secondly, victim participation in proceedings negatively affects the pace of proceedings. This also has negative repercussions on the rights of the accused to have his case determined fast. The Victim will not only spend time during the cross examination stage but he will also have a right to make interlocutory applications and appeal on any Rulings therefrom. This could in turn take an inordinate amount of the court’s time. As an example, Elisabeth Baumgartner estimates that in the Lubanga case “out of a total of 45decisions rendered by Pre-Trial Chamber I from the issuing of the warrant of arrest in February 2006 tothe referral of the case to the Trial Chamber in September 2007, 20 decisions (13 per cent of all decisions) were directly related to victim participation (not counting decisions on victim protection issues)”[11]. In a court where each second counts in terms of the cost implications, this is significant.

Thirdly, the primary role of the criminal justice process is to determine the guilt or otherwise of the accused person. In other words, “the criminal law system cannot serve therapeutic purposes, since it does not have the resources needed and was not designed to attend to the victims.”[12] All other roles such as victim support are ancillary and ought to be in support of this objective. The participation or none participation of a victim at this stage does not affect the guilt or otherwise of the accused person[13]. Admittedly the court needs to understand the pain and circumstances of the victim as a result of the alleged crimes. However, such information is only relevant at the sentencing stage, not in trial. When the victim participates at the hearing stage the smooth functioning and possibly the eyes of the court are taken away from the primary goal (guilt or innocence of the accused) to ancillary issues (plight of the victims

Lastly, the victims interests in court are (or ought to) be adequately represented by the Office of the Prosecutor. Limiting the participation of the victims during the trial will compel them to co-operate more with the Office of the Prosecution. Rather than pursuing their own independent strategy, the victims will work with the objective of the prosecutor. This is a good thing for international criminal law.

In a word therefore for the above mentioned reasons there is need to rethink the participation of the victims   in the trial process. Too great an involvement is not only disruptive but “might not be the most judicious path towards the recovery and reparation desired by the victim”[14].

[1] Resolution No. A/RES/40/34,29 November 1985, 96th plenary meeting

[2] Annex to the Resolution, Access to Justice and Fair Treatment, Paragraph No. 6(b)

[3] Adopted by General Assembly Resolution 60/147 of 16 December 2005

[4] Annex to the Resolution, Access to Justice, Paragraph 12

[5] Article 43 Paragraph 6

[6] Paragraph 3

[7] Ibid

[8] ICC, Decision on the applications for participation in the proceedings of VPRS 1 to VPRS 6 in the Case Prosecutor v. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, ICC-01/04-01/06-172, 29 June 2006

[9] ICC-01/09-02/11 The Prosecutor v. Francis Kirimi Muthaura, Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta and Mohammed Hussein Ali

[10] ICC-01/09-01/11 The Prosecutor v. William Samoei Ruto, Henry Kiprono Kosgey and Joshua Arap Sang

[11] Aspects of victim participation in the proceedings of the International Criminal Court by Elisabeth Baumgartner, International Review of the Red Cross, Volume 90 Number 870 June 2008, Footnote No 39

[12] Victims and International Criminal Justice: A Vexed Question? by Mina Rauschenbach and Damien Scalia, International Review of the Red Cross, Volume 90 Number 870, June 2008.umber 870 June 2008Volume 90 Number 870 June 2008

[13] Of course, the limitation to this is when the victim testifies in court as a witness for the prosecution

[14] Supra Note 12

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-

(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

Unroll the War Drums, Change the Paradigm

By Ronald Rogo (

In October 2011 Operation Linda Nchi (Kiswahili for “Protect the Country”) was launched by the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF). Operation Linda Nchi was the code name for Kenya’s military incursion into southern Somalia. The ostensible goal of the military adventures was to crash and hopefully eliminate the threat posed by the Al Shabaab, a terrorist organization operating in Somalia and with reported links to the Al Qaeda terror group. The immediate cause of this unusual turn of events was the kidnapping of two Spanish aid workers working with the Médecins Sans Frontières, an international humanitarian organization, from the Dadaab refugee camp in Northern Kenya. It was alleged that this kidnapping was planned and executed by the Al Shabaab. With this military incursion, Kenya joined a growing list of countries that have used the war against terrorism as justification for waging ‘war’ outside their borders .

However, the war paradigm cannot be used as justification for a “war” against terrorism as it does not fit into any of the recognised legal categories of armed conflict. Instead, nations need to come up with another perspective when confronting terrorism that will both be tenable and legally justifiable. First, the UN Charter recognizes the right of a state to respond by force using its armed forces in cases of self defence. However, the initial attack must rise to the level where it causes “necessity of self-defense, instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation” for the responding state. This means that the state must be put in a position where the only feasible option would be to roll out its armed forces. Clearly, it is doubtful whether a solitary terrorist attack would be able to meet this qualification.

Secondly, an armed conflict is seen to arise whenever there is “any difference arising between two States and leading to the intervention of members of the armed forces”. This definition presupposes that there are two sides to the conflict who engage in arms in order to resolve their conflict. There is usually a state of armed conflict between two parties. In addition, the traditional view has been that war is generally an international armed conflict that takes place between two nation states, each trying to assert its will on the other. Based on the above it is doubtful whether one could legally engage in an armed conflict with terrorists. Whereas it is correct that the armed forces of a particular state could be deployed to hunt out, capture and kill terrorists, such as the KDF has done in Somalia, the terrorists do not, in turn, have an armed force that could then result in an armed conflict. In reality any “war” against terrorists does not have the typical ingredients of a battlefield clash; be it in the air, on the land or over the waters. Since terrorists engage in their criminal activities under the cover of ordinary daily occurrences, it is unrealistic to expect them to engage directly with a country’s armed forces. Instead, depending on the particular modus operandi of the particular terrorist organization one would expect that they would attempt to mingle with innocent civilians.
In the Lubanga case the International Criminal Court held that an armed conflict is of an international character if “it takes place between two or more States” and that “this extends to the partial or total occupation of the territory of another State, whether or not the said occupation meets with armed resistance.” Again, the ICC in the Bemba decision, held that “an international armed conflict exists in case of armed hostilities between States through their respective armed forces or other actors acting on behalf of the State” .
A non international armed conflict, on the other hand, must occur within the territory of the State . The Additional Protocol II , provides that the non state actor must be “under responsible command, exercise such control over a part of its territory as to enable them to carry out sustained and concerted military operations”. Thus, in order for an internal conflict to be qualified as a non international armed conflict and therefore to be covered by IHL there are certain necessary ingredients that must be met. The main one is that the threshold of the conflict must exceed that of internal disturbances and tensions, such as riots, isolated and sporadic acts of violence or other acts of a similar nature. In applying this provision the ICTY Appeals Chamber decision in the Tadic case held as follows:
“an armed conflict exists whenever there is a resort to armed force between States or protracted armed violence between governmental authorities and organized armed groups or between such groups within a State. International humanitarian law applies from the initiation of such armed conflicts and extends beyond the cessation of hostilities until a general conclusion of peace is reached; or, in the case of internal conflicts, a peaceful settlement is achieved. Until that moment, international humanitarian law continues to apply in the whole territory of the warring States or, in the case of internal conflicts, the whole territory under the control of a party, whether or not actual combat takes place there” .

Further in the Lubanga decision, while setting out the characteristics of a non international armed conflict the court held that one should consider “the force or group’s internal hierarchy; the command structure and rules; the extent to which military equipment, including firearms, are available; the force or group’s ability to plan military operations and put them into effect; and the extent, seriousness, and intensity of any military involvement” .

Again, in order for a conflict to be characterized as a non international armed conflict, it must “take place in the territory of a High Contracting Party” . This means that the theatre of the conflict should have been in Kenya, not Somalia. While the government of Somalia could make the argument that when it combats Al Shabaab it is engaging in a non international armed conflict, the KDF cannot. Significantly, the KDF operation cannot meet the requirements of a non international armed conflict on this score too. Apart from repeated isolated attacks in Kenya it cannot be said that the Al Shabaab controlled a part (or any part of Kenya) of Kenya as at the time of the invasion. Further, the KDF has not engaged militarily with any Al Shabaab terrorist groups within Kenya. Lastly, the law requires the military operations of the armed group to be “sustained and concerted”. Although the Al Shabaab has conducted raids on Kenyan soil, it would be a stretch to characterize them as either sustained or concerted.

From the above, it is evident that the use of a war paradigm when confronting the Al Shabaab terror group in Somalia-or any other terror group for that matter-is tenuous. In reality, attacks by terrorist groups ought to be considered as criminal activities that require police response-even militarized police response if necessary-rather than acts of war. As Stacie Gorman has stated:

“terrorists are criminals, and not soldiers of war… The practice of trying terrorists in a court of law suggests that the United States has, in the past, recognized that it is limited in its ability to declare war against terrorist groups”

It is therefore important for more police action-rather than military activity-to be involved in this “war” against terrorists in the region. The former are not only more efficient in counter terrorism operations but will not suffer legal incongruity.