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Saturday, March 27, 2010

War Don Don: Raising questions about the SCSL

Last night, in the context of the Movies that Matter festival that opened in The Hague, I saw the documentary called War Don Don, which followed several actors involved in the Issa Sessay trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The film was interesting in many ways, most notably in not trying to take sides.

For one, it gives an opportunity to both the defense team and the prosecutors to express their views. This allows us to see how personal such a trial can be, with one Prosecutor, David Crane, saying that he looked into Sessay's eyes and saw no soul, and the lead defense counsel, Wayne Jordash, saying how likeable Sessay was and how in other circumstances they could have been friends. Both statements can be unsettling, but I must say, and this is probably my defense bias, that I'm much more uneasy with Crane's statement, because this quasi-religious crusade of Good Vs Evil transpired in court, when he referred to Dante's inferno in his opening statement.
More generally, I tend to side with the criticism of the prosecution case of JCE that seems to strip all political motive from the actions of the RUF. The fact that the country was, and still is, a corrupt ridden place, where basic social welfare is not insured, which could explain that part of the population might legitimately want to get rid of their leaders, is generally absent from the story as told by the prosecution. Moreover, I've always been struck by the parallels in narrative between Sierra Leone and Rwanda. Indeed, the story of greed and power grabbing as sold to us by the SCSL, with Foday Sankho being an outsider financed by a foreign head of state, Charles Taylor, can very well apply to Kagame and Museveni. But the genocide that occurred in Rwanda has been clouding the issue, which means that while Kagame and Museveni are in power and will probably never face trial for having destabilised the whole region for so long, Foday Sankho died in custody and Charles Taylor is currently in the UN Detention center in the Hague...

Another issue raised in the movie is the question of the rights of the defense. I've never worked at the the SCSL, but everybody i've met from the institution and a lot of the decisions i've read so far seem to show that the legal reasoning is often sloppy and doesn't give a very positive image of the Court's capacity to render justice in a satisfying way. As pointed out by Jordash at one point, what is even more worrying is the institution's incapacity to reflect on its own flaws...

The question of Peace and Justice is also present in the documentary. How much credit should Sessay have received for enacting the disarmament of the RUF after Sankho's death? Apparently, he got none and is going to spend most of the rest of his life in jail. What message does it send to future negotiators? Should they not sign a peace treaty, given that they will end up in court anyway? The question arose at the Special Court with the issue of the amnesty granted by the Lomé peace agreement. In a notably badly reasoned series of decisions, the SCSL rejected its application. This was legally justified by the Statute itself, but is this extreme position of the international legal community against amnesties really politically sound (as well as not necessarily being legally so absolutely clear, as I argue in an upcoming publication)?

Another issue is the question of the goals of international justice. One example is the opening statement by the President of the Chamber who starts by saying that the tribunal is there for "justice for victims and reconciliation". I find that quite shocking. That the moral background of international tribunals is broader societal aims is one thing. That such a goal is the only statement made during the opening line of the trial itself by the presiding judge is another. Trial transcripts of international trials are full of these examples.
Another example, at several moments in the film, the question of truth is mentioned. Jordash regrets that the way the judges conducted the trial did not lead to truth, except if the defense team does "a good job". Later, he denounces the arrogance of people from the outside wanting to tell a population about its own history. During the debate after the film, I asked him if a criminal trial should at all be about the "truth". It should be about the innocence or guilt of an individual in an adversarial system that cannot be tailored for establishing a neutral historical truth. This idea is an illusion of the transitional justice field and allegedly justifies the right of victims to get a trial.

Which leads me to the last interesting aspect. The film shows interviews of Sierra Leonians which illustrate the difficulty in identifying exactly what the victims want and how they feel. One man wishes Sessay to spend the rest of his life in jail, while one woman calls for forgiveness. This highlights one fallacy of debates in the field of international criminal justice, that there is this monolithic discourse of Victims who would all want the same thing: international prosecutions. This is a handy argument, because it takes the moral high ground and portrays any doubter as a cynical cold-hearted person. But ultimately, it does not really help in advancing the resolution of the difficult issues surrounding the implementation of international justice.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Q&A on the ICC and Africa: is the criticism on the legitimacy of the Court legitimate? Part 1

I gave a lecture last night at the Grotius Center on the Lebanese Special Court (more on this some other time) where my blog was mentioned as being updated at least weekly! So I have no other choice than to make this a reality...
I wanted to share with you an email Q&A session I did with a researcher in ICL on the relationship between the ICC and Africa. There were 6 questions, so I'll post 3 today and 3 later. Please comment at will!

Question 1: There seems to be an increasing agreement among scholars that the ICC has an ‘image problem’ on its hands when it comes to its involvement in African states. Obviously, the crudest critique that has been leveled at the Court and the Office of the Prosecutor is that it’s a neo-colonialist institution. In your opinion, does the ICC’s troubles with African nations (i.e., what seems to be a growing distrust from the African Union) amount to a mere ‘publicity’ issue, or do they have a basis in the actions and rationales of the ICC?
In relation to the « image perception » of the ICC in Africa, I think it is only partly grounded in reality. Indeed, when the ICC is accused of investigating crimes only in african countries, one musn’t forget that all, but for Darfur, are self-referrals. So it is a little disingenuine for African leaders to turn around some years later and claim that this is not what they wanted. Moreover, statistically, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Africa does host some of the most violent and active civil wars in the world, with regional dimensions that are quite important.
The Darfur case is very different because it is a Security Council referral imposed on a country without its consent. There are actually quite strong arguments in international law against this procedure, which is suprisingly little discussed in academic littérature, but I don’t think that’s the focus of your article. Politically, I really do believe that this is where the disatisfaction takes a new turn, because it seems like a unilateral imposition of international will, in a sort of « neo-colonialist » way, as you pointed out. Before that, the main point of contention in Africa had been in Uganda, where it was considered that the ICC was hindering peace. But it hadn’t led to such large-scale disatisfaction.
Another point, which is in relation to another one of your question, is that there is not one « african public opinion ».  African leaders will try and protect themselves, so will be weary of an active ICC. But there are other sources of disatisfaction. For many human rights activists, it is inaction in many situations which is considered a problem. The same is true of victim right’s advocates who consider that the reparation mechanisms and protection of victims and witnesses are insufficient. And even among the « justice » community, you will find disagreements, between the tenants of international prosecutions through the ICC, and the defenders of more flexible methods of transitional justice, such as traditional mechanisms (gacaca in Rwanda) or truth commissions.
It is therefore very difficult to « map » a unidimensional « african opinion » on the ICC. And although I’ve voiced my concerns and criticism about the ICC, especially the prosecutor, time and again, I don’t really buy this « anti-african » criticism.

Question 2: Critics of the ICC have claimed that the OTP has been politically pragmatic or even opportunistic in its choice of cases, going after rebel groups in Uganda, Congo and CAR while leaving alone government leaders – possibly due to the OTP’s dependency of state corporation during investigations, possibly because of their status as Western allies. In your opinion, are these allegations well-founded?
The cases being investigated do seem to confirm the allegation. The most clear-cut case is Uganda, where the direct rebels are being prosecuted. In CAR, the OTP even manages to indict the main political oponent of the DRC President ! in DRC, this is also largely true, even if the position of the rebel leaders vis-à-vis the governement has been more fluctuating in recent years.
The real question is whether the OTP can realistically act differently ? I don’t think that Ocampo is pandering to western interests. It is a real pragmatic position of needing the cooperation of the States in the investigation of the crimes. I believe it was necessary to proceed in this way in the early life of the ICC. What kind of criticism would the prosecutor have heard had he chosen cases impossible to investigate and prosecute? In this sense, there does seem to be an evolution in the approach of the prosecutor. In other situations he is now looking at, most notably Kenya, but also Colombia and hypothetically Gaza, the focus is on “both sides” of the conflict, therefore including the government.

Question 3: In the same vein: does the OTP run the risk of becoming a tool for the governments that have made self-referrals? One person I interviewed considered this a very real risk, and said that the ICC will only have reached a sufficient level of maturity once the OTP starts going after ‘the big fish’ (government officials etc.) like del Ponte did at the ICTY – regardless of whether these leaders are supported by the west (as Museveni, for instance, has been). Do you agree with this?
Which leads to question 3, as you rightly put it. Which is in fact two questions.
The first one relates to  self-referrals. As you know, it was not at all considered as an option or discussed during the negotiations of the Statute before and in Rome. You are right to point out that a self-referral will always carry a risk of political manipulation of the ICC by the government. When the ICC prosecutor announced the investigation in Uganda in a press conference with Museveni, it obviously sent a such a message.
However, I’m not sure that the situation is as “bad’ as described by some. In Uganda, even if the OTP has not opened any cases concerning government officials, it has been very clear in not giving in to Museveni in relation to dropping the arrest warrants in the context of the peace negotiations. More generally, as I pointed out earlier, I don’t think it was necessarily a bad strategy initially, when the court was looking for its first cases. I think that today, the OTP seems to be leaning towards more autonomy.
The second part of your question relates to case-specific prosecutorial strategy. The “big fish”/”small fish” debate has been going on as long as there have been international tribunals. The first ICTY case, Tadic, was a typical situation where the tribunal went for whatever it could get. There is no doubt that if Tadic had been arrested 10 years later, he would have been transferred for trial in a national court. 
Is the same true for the ICC? I’m not too sure, because, to say the least, the strategy of the prosecutor seems a little obscure sometimes. Of course, he didn’t open an investigation against Museveni, but he did indict the top leaders of the LRA. In CAR, Bemba is clearly a “big fish”. And the same is true in Darfur, with the indictment of Bashir. As for DRC, the policy seems to be “crime specific” rather than “person specific”. The prosecutor seems to have chosen a crime, child soldiers, and then chosen an alleged perpetrator (although he has slowly evolved towards a focus on sexual violence, which has created so many problems in the Lubanga trial, as you probably know). The same is partly true in CAR, where is a strong insistence on rape.
Personally, I must admit that I don’t have a fixed opinion on the “perfect” prosecutorial strategy.
The “big fish” theory is very popular, but I’m not sure how effective it actually is. For one, one has to wonder towards whom the court is trying to be “legitimate”. The arrest and trial of Milosevic and now Karadzic have done nothing to increase positive responses towards the ICTY in Serbia. And if any reconciliation is to happen, it will have to include the Serb population.  Linked to this is the relative notion of “big fish”. For example there is a lot of talk about Mladic not being arrested yet, while the international press never mentions that his superior is currently on trial (I’m sorry, I don’t recall his name right now… which kind of proves my point I suppose…).  Second of all, is it so illegitimate for the Prosecutor to focus on the crimes, which are labeled as the worst, rather than picking and choosing the perpetrators, which will also always be a political decision?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Letter in Support of Joseph Weiler: Sans Liberté de Blâmer, il n'est point d'éloge flatteur

Sorry for the non-francophone readers of this blog. Below is the letter I have just drafted for the board of the European Journal of Legal Studies, of which I am an editor, in support of Professor Weiler who is being sued by Karin Calvo-Goller for a book review of Professor Weigend he published online. You can read the full details of this extraordinary affair, as made public by Professor Weiler himself in the recent edition of the EJIL.
In a nutshell, the letter denounces this attack on academic freedom of expression. It also hopes that the Court will refuse to go as far as to consider the defences of "truth" and "good faith" which are allowed in French law, because it means that it will have accepted that there was indeed an affront to the honor of the author. And it is a sad day when academic criticism is deemed as such. A judge should not be brought in to decide the "truth" in the world of ideas. Finally, the letter suggests that Mrs. Calvo-Goller has more certainly tarnished her honor as an academic by filing this lawsuit than any book-review possibly could.
The whole academic community should united behind Professor Weiler.

Sans la Liberté de Blâmer, il n’est Point d’Eloge Flatteur
Lettre de soutien au Professeur Joseph Weiler

Par la présente lettre, le European Journal of Legal Studies souhaite publiquement exprimer son profond soutien au Professeur Joseph Weiler dans la procédure en diffamation qui l’oppose à Karin Calvo-Goller.

Le 25 juin prochain, le Professeur Weiler devra se présenter devant un tribunal parisien pour répondre d’une plainte déposée par l’auteur en question, laquelle s’est sentie lésée par la publication d’un compte-rendu de son livre sur le site internet Global Law Books. Le compte-rendu litigieux est écrit par Thomas Weigend, professeur reconnu dans le monde académique pour sa probité et son expertise dans le domaine du droit international pénal. Joseph Weiler, éditeur de la section consacrée aux comptes-rendus de livres et donc juridiquement responsable, est lui-même professeur à NYU. Il est co-fondateur et éditeur du European Journal of International Law, du European Law Journal et du World Trade Review. Par ses écrits il contribue régulièrement à la richesse des débats doctrinaux dans le domaine du droit international.

Certes, le compte-rendu du Professeur Weigend juge de manière assez sévère le livre du Docteur Calvo-Goller. Néanmoins, l’enjeu de cette procédure dépasse largement le cadre de l’ego blessé d’un auteur. En effet, ce procès porte fondamentalement atteinte à la liberté académique et au libre échange des positions intellectuelles, conditions essentielles à l’évolution du débat. L’idéal de John Stuart Mill selon lequel la vérité émerge du débat d’idées trouve sa réalisation la plus aboutie dans le monde académique, où le dialogue permanent (et parfois musclé) entre auteurs, écoles et factions contribue à la richesse et à la diversité des analyses. La procédure en cours risque de sérieusement ébranler cet idéal conformément auquel tout auteur est requis d’accepter la critique de son travail, même lorsqu’elle est des plus cinglantes.

La liberté d’expression a bien sûr des limites dans tous les systèmes juridiques et la critique académique a pour limite l’injure. Cependant, la teneur des propos du Professeur Weigend est bien loin de justifier un procès. Le droit français en matière de diffamation, couvert par la loi de 1881 sur la liberté de la presse, a ceci de particulier que la plainte déclenche automatiquement la tenue d’un procès, sans que le juge d’instruction ne puisse exercer un quelconque pouvoir discrétionnaire quant à l’opportunité des poursuites.

Ce type de procès se déroule en deux étapes. Dans un premier temps, le caractère diffamatoire du compte-rendu doit être établi, c’est-à-dire le fait que les propos de l’auteur portent “atteinte à l’honneur ou à la considération de la personne” lésée (article 29 de la loi). On peut espérer que le procès s’arrête là; que le tribunal admette que la critique de l’œuvre d’un universitaire ne peut décemment constituer une diffamation sans compromettre le principe de la confrontation des opinions contraires à la base de l’évolution du monde des idées.

Toutefois, en cas de reconnaissance du caractère diffamatoire des propos du Professeur Weigend, une éventualité déjà pour le moins inquiétante, Joseph Weiler disposera des deux moyens de défense que sont l’exception de vérité et la bonne foi. Il devra démontrer que les propos de Thomas Weigend sont vrais et exprimés de bonne foi, en fonction des critères de “la légitimité du but poursuivi, l’absence d’animosité personnelle, la prudence et la mesure dans l’expression, ainsi que la qualité de l’enquête” (CA Paris, 6 juin 2007). Le problème principal est celui de l’évaluation de la ‘vérité’ académique. En effet, dans ce domaine, nous sommes moins confrontés à des faits objectifs, qu’à des conflits de sensibilités et d’opinions. Demander qu’un juge se prononce sur cette ‘vérité’ reviendrait à vouloir trancher judiciairement un débat permanent entre les tenants de théories contradictoires sur une question scientifique légitime, ce qui serait un précédent grave en la matière.

Concrètement, Thomas Weigend critique principalement le fait que l’auteur n’ait pas  suffisamment contribué au développement du débat académique, en se contentant de faire référence à des documents déjà existants. En outre, il exprime son désaccord par rapport aux prémisses théoriques de l’auteur, lesquelles ne permettraient pas de saisir toutes les subtilités de la question. Le Professeur Weigend a peut-être tort. Mais si réplique se justifiait, elle aurait dû rester dans le champ du débat d’idées et non s’inviter au prétoire. D’ailleurs, le site internet où a été publié l’article accordait à l’auteur un droit de réponse.

Comme on peut le constater, cette procédure a des implications importantes qui vont bien au-delà du simple cadre judiciaire. L’histoire des idées est remplie de débats, parfois forts ou enflammés, entre penseurs qui ont contribué à notre richesse culturelle. Le débat s’est enrichi des oppositions entre Sartre et Aron, pour ne citer qu’un exemple récent en France, et l’on imagine mal ces deux protagonistes demander à un juge de régler leurs désaccords. Si le tribunal en venait à reconnaître le caractère diffamatoire du compte-rendu, même en acceptant un des moyens de défense mentionnés, il porterait, nous insistons, déjà sérieusement atteinte à la nature de la liberté d’expression dans le monde universitaire. L’honneur d’un académique ne dépend pas de la sacralisation de son œuvre mais, au contraire, de la constante confrontation de celle-ci à la réalité des opinions contradictoires.

Nous avons tous embrassé cette profession par amour du débat, en acceptant le risque de devoir affronter un jour la réfutation publique de nos théories. Le Docteur Calvo-Goller porte plus certainement atteinte à son propre honneur en intentant ce procès que tous les comptes-rendus de son œuvre n’auraient pu le faire. Mais surtout, et plus sérieusement encore, elle porte atteinte à l’honneur d’une profession qui consacre la liberté d’expression comme fondement ontologique de sa raison d’être. Nous sommes confiants; le tribunal saura affirmer cette vérité, la seule qui mérite d’être affirmée dans cette procédure. 

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

France and Rwanda Week: Widow Habyarimana arrested

This week, a French president visited Rwanda for the first time in something like 25 years to try and mend diplomatic relations between the two countries. The already cold interactions had taken a turn for the worst a few years ago when a French judge claimed that Tutsi rebels brought down the plane of Habyarimana, which sparks the beginning of the genocide. Kagame has resolutely tried to end francophone influence in Rwanda, leaving the francophonie and joining the commonwealth, and has continuously claimed that France was an accomplice in the Genocide, as a recent Rwandan report alleged.
Sarkozy didn't go as far as saying that France was sorry, but he did accept that France had made "mistakes" and "misjudged" the situation. In a further show of goodwill, the widow of Juvenal Habyarimana, against whom Rwanda had issued an arrest warrant, was arrested in France today. How convenient...
I suppose that France, along with other members of the international community (whatever that means), could accept some responsibility in not preventing the genocide, although they would probably have received as much criticism for neo-colonialist meddling. What I've never understood is the international pandering to Kagame. He's a warlord from the outside that wanted power and seized the opportunity of the genocide to reach his goal. Why do people who can accept the evil of 800 000 people being killed with machetes can't accept the evil of a man rising on the graves of his fellow Tutsis to get into power. The "genocide approach" to Rwanda has completely taken politics out of our evaluation of Rwanda and there can be no criticism of Kagame, for fear of being seen to be insensitive with genocide victims. But the people in power are not the victims of the genocide. The people in power are the rebels from Uganda that didn't experience the genocide.
Of course, Kagame can be seen as not "as worse" as other African leaders. But the difficulties of Rwanda are real, especially in terms of democratic deficit, and I'm not sure that recreating the conditions under which the Tutsi dominate the army and State institutions, in a country that is 84% Hutu, which created the resentment in the past, is a very good idea for the future. And that's without even going into the influence Rwanda has in the destabilization of neighboring states, such as DRC. If there hadn't been the genocide, i'm not sure that Kagame would be so immune to criticism. And in the same way as I find it completely beside the point when israelis (and jews) brandish the Shoah as an irrelevant moral shield against current criticism, I think the 1994 genocide cannot be an excuse for Kagame today. Recognizing the past is in no way the same as excusing the present.