How Do Witnesses Feel Testifying Against Accused War Criminals?

By Stephen Smith Cody and Robin Mejia

Stephen Smith Cody directs the Atrocity Response Program at the University of California, Berkeley’s Human Rights Center, where he designs and manages research related to human rights violations in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda. Stephen holds a PhD in sociology and JD, both from Berkeley. You can follow him hereRobin Mejia is a journalist and researcher whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post Magazine, Wired, Nature, Mother Jones and many other outlets. Currently, she is pursing a PhD in biostatistics at UC Berkeley and working as a researcher for the Human Rights Center at UC Berkeley School of Law.

This is cross-posted from The Huffington Post.

A protected witness testifies at the International Criminal Court. Source: Reporting Kenya

A protected witness testifies at the International Criminal Court. Source: Reporting Kenya

Witnesses who testify at the International Criminal Court (ICC) against accused war criminals often take great risks to do so. Yet, until now, their voices have been missing from discussions about how the ICC is fulfilling its responsibility to prepare and protect those who testify.

The Human Rights Center at UC Berkeley School of Law has just released “Bearing Witness at the International Criminal Court,” the first empirical study to document the perspectives of ICC witnesses, many of whom survived heinous violations of human rights. The study surveys more than 100 witnesses from the first two ICC cases, those against Congolese warlords Thomas Lubanga Dyilo and Germain Katanga.

From the ICC’s inception, the Court has set out to serve and protect witnesses who may be survivors of conflict-related sexual violence, genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity. Yet this past year has brought allegations of sexual assault committed by ICC staff in the Democratic Republic of Congo and reports of government intimidation of potential witnesses in the cases against sitting Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto for crimes against humanity.

Scholars and advocates have debated how best to prepare and protect witnesses who testify — basing strategies mostly on anecdotal evidence. Now we have data.

These data show that despite the burden of traveling long distances, often from central Africa to The Hague, to testify, and waiting days or weeks without family or friends before confronting hostile lawyers and the accused, most witnesses reported positive experiences with the Court.

Asked to describe their overall feelings about participating in the trials on a scale of 1 to 5 (least to most positive), women reported an average rating of 4.6, and men 4.4. Fully 96 percent of women and 93 percent of men said they were glad that they had agreed to testify, and most said that they would be willing to serve as a witness again.

“I felt like I was letting go of something I’d been holding on to,” said one witness.

Another explained, “I want to fight against impunity. I want justice to be done.”

Witnesses expressed a duty to testify to ensure an acknowledgement of the killing of loved ones, neighbors, and colleagues.

“I felt naked, very exposed, vulnerable,” said one witness interviewed for the study. “I felt a very heavy responsibility having to take part in the process of justice.”

Although most witnesses had no previous court experience at home or abroad, they reported that pretrial orientations and support services helped assuage their anxieties.

“All the information, preparation, and advice I received helped me a lot,” said one witness. “This made it easier for me during my testimony period.”

Witnesses reported feeling safe during their preparation for trial as well as afterward, with women feeling slightly more secure than men.

However, the findings also reveal ongoing concerns about being identified and targeted. Most women and men reported using some form of identity protection at trial. And many survey participants expressed fear about potential repercussions following trial. “Now, after my testimony, I will have a bigger need for protection,” said one witness.

The study also shows some divides in the ways that men and women experience trials. Women, on average, viewed their interactions with the ICC more positively. Yet only 60 percent of women believed that their testimony helped establish the truth, as compared with more than 70 percent of men.

Also, somewhat surprisingly, only a quarter of witnesses in the study were women, and they provided almost all the testimony on sexual violence. Understanding why women participate in trials at lower rates than men and whether they are being used disproportionately to testify about sexual violence are key issues for the court to address.

Additionally, more data are needed to understand what happens to witnesses when they return home. The Court has developed a survey that is intended to be offered six months after a witness lands back in his or her home country; however, due to logistical, safety and financial constraints, fewer than half of eligible witnesses had been approached to take the survey. Therefore, we can say little at this point about the long-term impact of testifying in international criminal cases.

Protecting witnesses can be challenging and expensive, especially in the long term, and the ICC’s commitment to witnesses after they have appeared at trial is critical.

“Now that I have completed my testimony, I hope the ICC does not abandon us,” said one witness, articulating a looming issue for the ICC and all who care about international justice.

In spite of the limitations of the survey and uncertainty of long-term witness protection, the Human Rights Center’s study suggests that when done right, testifying at international criminal trials can be a safe and even empowering experience.

Katanga Accepts Conviction and Expresses Regret for Victims’ Suffering: What About Reparations?

By Stephen Smith Cody

Stephen Smith Cody directs the Atrocity Response Program at the University of California, Berkeley’s Human Rights Center, where he designs and manages research related to human rights violations in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda. Stephen holds a PhD in sociology and JD, both from Berkeley. You can follow him here. This is cross-posted from The Huffington Post.


International Criminal Court staff speak about the Court’s activities to residents of Bogoro, the town in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo at the center of the trials against Germain Katanga and Mathew Ngudjolo Chui. Source: Human Rights Watch

Few observers expected Germain Katanga, a militia leader found guilty of promoting ruthless attacks on civilians in eastern Congo, to lay down his arms and accept the judgment of the International Criminal Court (ICC). However, according to a statement from the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor released Wednesday, both the Katanga defense team and the prosecution team discontinued their appeals, making the Court’s guilty judgment and sentence of 12 years imprisonment final.

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Egypt: A real fake declaration of acceptance of the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (english and french)

(French version follows)

On 1 May 2014, the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced in a press release (ICC-CPI-20140501-PR1001) its rejection of a declaration, by which Egypt would accept the ICC’s jurisdiction, in accordance with Article 12§3 of the Rome Statute (the “Statute”). The provisions of this Article specify that a State not party to the Statute may, by declaration lodged with the Registrar, consent that the Court shall exercise jurisdiction with respect to specific crimes.

On 13 December 2013, lawyers representing the Freedom and Justice political party submitted documents to the Registrar by which Egypt accepted the jurisdiction of the Court in relation to crimes allegedly committed in its territory since 1 June 2013.

This political party, founded in 2011, is considered by some to be the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. This party brought Mohamed Morsi to power as President of Egypt on 30 June 2012. Since July 4, 2013, Egypt’s head of state has been interim President Mr. Adly Mansour.

Having received no response to its requests to the Egyptian authorities, the Registrar consulted with the Prosecutor. Madam Bensouda expressed her position in a separate press release entitled “The determination of the Office of the Prosecutor on the communication received in relation to Egypt”.

As a matter of context, it’s important to examine the organic aspects of this issue. Indeed, it is not for the Prosecutor to pronounce upon, let alone decide, the validity of a declaration of competence made ​​under Article 12§3 of the Statute. Internal Court procedures, whether they are consultations or decisions, should remain internal. There are inconvenient when a decision of the Registrar is taken by the Prosecutor and announced in a separate press release.

Explaining her “determination”, the Prosecutor said that after verification, the statement submitted to the Registrar on 13 December 2013 was not made by a person with full powers of representation of the Egyptian state, according to international law. In these circumstances, Egypt’s consent regarding the Court’s could not be considered to be valid. In making her conclusions, the Prosecutor based her reasoning on two distinct elements:

– First of all, the Prosecutor refers to the list of the protocol department of the United Nations. According to this list, a new Head of State (Mr. Adli Mansour), a new head of government (Mr. Hazem El Beblawi) and a new Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Nabil Fahmy) were appointed on 4th July 2013. In addition, on 5 December 2013 the United Nations General Assembly recognized, without a vote, the credentials of representatives of the Egyptian delegation.

The Secretary General of the United Nations acts as depositary for the Statute, which means that since 4th July 2013, Mr. Morsi could not have deposited an instrument of accession to the Secretary General in the name of the Egyptian state.

It is interesting to note that the applicant’s counsel argued that the African Union’s decision to suspend Egypt’s new government from its activities indicated a collective refusal to recognize the new government that came to power on 4 July 2013. The Prosecutor concluded, however, that it could not be inferred that Mr. Morsi continued to be recognized as the leader of the Egyptian state.

– Secondly, the Prosecutor considers the legal test of “effective control”, according to which the entity which de facto controls the territory of a State, asserts its authority to which the majority of the population submits, and can reasonably expect to remain in power is recognized as the state government under international law. In applying this test, and considering the date of the signing of the statement in question and the date of transmission to the Registrar, the Prosecutor concludes that Mr. Morsi did not have the legal capacity to enter into new international legal obligations on behalf of the Egyptian state.

It should be noted that this decision was made shortly before the Egyptian presidential election which began on Monday, 26th May 2014, in which Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the former head of the army, is virtually assured of victory.

This is not the first time that the International Criminal Court is at the heart of international legal issues relating to statehood. The most remarkable is certainly the Prosecutor’s decision, dated 3th April 2012, in which Mr Ocampo refused to recognize Palestine as a state on the basis that it was up to the competent organs of the United Nations or the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute to resolve this issue of statehood.

Le 1er mai 2014, la Cour pénale internationale annonçait par communiqué de presse (ICC-CPI-20140501-PR1001) avoir rejeté une communication visant l’acceptation de la compétence de la Cour pénale internationale par l’Égypte, conformément à l’article 12§3 du Statut de Rome (le Statut). Les dispositions de cet article précisent qu’un État non partie au Statut peut, par déclaration déposée auprès du Greffier, consentir à ce que la Cour exerce sa compétence à l’égard de crimes particuliers.

Le 13 décembre 2013, des avocats représentant le parti politique liberté et justice ont soumis au Greffier des documents dans lesquels l’Égypte acceptait la compétence de la Cour s’agissant de crimes qui auraient été commis sur le territoire de l’Égypte depuis le 1er juin 2013.

Ce parti politique, fondé en 2011, est considéré par certains comme la vitrine politique des Frères musulmans. Il a porté Monsieur Mohamed Morsi à la Présidence de l’Égypte le 30 juin 2012. Depuis le 4 juillet 2013, l’Égypte est dirigée par Monsieur Adli Mansour, Président ad intérim.

N’ayant pas reçu de réponse des autorités Égyptiennes à ses sollicitations, le Greffier a consulté le Procureur qui s’est exprimé dans un communiqué de presse distinct intitulé « décision du Bureau du Procureur relative à la communication reçue concernant la situation en Égypte » (ICC-OTP-20140508-PR1003).

En marge, il convient de s’interroger sur les aspects organiques du traitement de cette affaire. En effet, il ne revient pas au Procureur de se prononcer et encore moins de décider de la validité d’une déclaration de compétence effectuée en vertu de l’article 12§3 du Statut. Les procédures internes à la Cour, qu’elles soient de consultation ou de décision, devraient demeurer internes. Il apparaît dommageable pour la Cour qu’une décision relevant du Greffier soit prise par le Procureur et annoncée dans un communiqué de presse distinct.

Expliquant sa « décision », le Procureur affirme qu’après vérifications, la déclaration soumise au Greffier le 13 décembre 2013 n’émanait pas, au regard du droit international, d’une personne disposant des pleins pouvoirs de représentation de l’État égyptien. Dans ces conditions, le consentement de l’Égypte quant à l’exercice de la compétence de la Cour ne pouvait être considéré comme valable. Pour ses conclusions, le Procureur base son raisonnement sur deux éléments bien distincts :

– Tout d’abord, sur la liste du service du protocole de l’Organisation des Nations Unies.  D’après cette liste, un nouveau chef d’État (Monsieur Adly Mansour), un nouveau chef de Gouvernement (Monsieur Hazem El Beblawi) et un nouveau Ministre des affaires étrangères (Monsieur Nabil Fahmy) ont été désignés en le 4 juillet 2013. En outre, le 5 décembre 2013, l’Assemblée générale des Nations Unies a reconnu, sans qu’il soit procédé à un vote, les pouvoirs des représentants de la délégation égyptienne.

Le Secrétaire général des Nations Unies agit en qualité de dépositaire du Statut, ce qui veut dire que, depuis le 4 juillet 2013, Monsieur Morsi n’était pas en mesure de déposer un instrument d’adhésion à ce dernier au nom de l’État égyptien.

Il est intéressant de noter que les avocats requérants ont fait valoir la décision de l’Union africaine de suspendre la participation de l’Égypte à ses activités qui, selon eux, indiquait un refus collectif de reconnaissance du nouveau gouvernement qui a accédé au pouvoir le 4 juillet 2013. Le Procureur a toutefois conclu qu’il ne fallait pas en déduire que Monsieur Morsi continuait d’être reconnu comme le chef de l’État égyptien.

– Ensuite, sur le critère juridique du « contrôle effectif », selon lequel l’entité qui dans les faits contrôle le territoire d’un État, jouit d’une autorité à laquelle se soumet habituellement la majorité de la population et peut raisonnablement à s’attendre à se maintenir au pouvoir est, au regard du droit international, reconnue comme le gouvernement de cet État. En appliquant ce critère, à la date de la signature de la déclaration en question et à la date de sa transmission au Greffier, le Procureur conclut que M. Morsi ne disposait de la capacité légale de contracter de nouvelles obligations juridiques internationales au nom de l’État égyptien.

Il convient de noter que cette décision intervient peu avant l’élection présidentielle Égyptienne qui s’ouvre lundi 26 mai 2014, que le maréchal Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi, l’ex-chef de l’armée, est quasiment assuré de remporter.

Ce n’est pas la première fois que la Cour pénale internationale se retrouve au cœur de problématiques juridiques internationales relatives à la qualité d’État. La plus remarquable est très certainement la décision du Procureur, datée du 3 avril 2012, par laquelle M. Ocampo refusait de reconnaître la Palestine comme État, estimant qu’il revenait aux organes compétents de l’Organisation des Nations Unies ou à l’Assemblée des États parties au Statut de Rome de prendre une décision sur cette question.

The Ntaganda confirmation of charges decision: A victory for gender justice?

by Rosemary Grey

Rosemary Grey is a PhD Candidate at the School of Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of New South Wales. She has previously written for Beyond The Hague on the possibility of trying persecution on the grounds of sexual orientation under the Rome Statute. Rose can be reached at and here.


Nyankunde, Ituri District, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Ituri experienced some of the bloodiest fighting of the Congo Wars. Source: Peter Dixon

On Monday, Pre-Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court (ICC) confirmed the charges against alleged war criminal Bosco Ntaganda, the former commander of an armed group active in the Ituri District of the Democratic Republic of Congo called the Union des Patriotes Congolais/Forces Patriotiques pour la Libération du Congo (UPC-FPLC). For some background on the Ituri conflict, see previous BTH posts here and here.

The Pre-Trial Chamber’s decision considers several important issues, including the sexual exploitation of child soldiers by their commanders. While the case has been underway since 2006, the charges of sexual violence against the child soldiers are a relatively recent development.

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The Victim in the Security Council

by Chris Tenove

Chris Tenove is a Doctoral Candidate in Political Science at the University of British Columbia. You can find more of his writing at his personal site, from which the following is cross-posted, and follow him at @cjtenove.

On May 22, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power asked Qusai Zakariya of Syria to stand up in the gallery of the United Nations Security Council. Ambassador Power was in the midst of arguing for a draft resolution to refer the Syrian conflict to the International Criminal Court. She had to justify a resolution that some – including Ambassador Power herself in the past – had suggested could undermine a peace deal, and that was doomed to be vetoed by China and Russia. (Others have commented on the speech and the U.S. strategy, here and here.) Mr. Zakariya, a victim of a chemical attack, would be part of that justification.

Memorial Ceremony Held At UN For Holocaust Commemoration Day

Several scholars have written about how different actors make assertions about victims of international crimes in order to promote their aims or authority. Among others, Kendall and Nouwen argue that “the Victims” is an abstract category that justifies international criminal justice and displaces the voices of actual victims; Sagan has claimed that African war criminals and victims are discursive subjects integral to the project of cosmopolitan liberal justice; and Dixon and I argued that victims are central to claims about legal, expert and moral authority. So it is interesting to look closely at the rhetorical deployment of Mr. Zakariya.

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