On May 26th, the Single Judge of the Trial Chamber IX denied legal aid to 2/3 of victims participating in the Ongwen case – the ICC’s only case so far in relation to the Lord’s Resistance Army rebellion that for years terrorized communities in northern Uganda. The Single Judge’s decision does not come as a complete surprise: it affirms the interpretation of rules on financial assistance for victims proposed by the Pre-Trial Chamber in November 2015, which I wrote about previously. In a broader perspective, it is not only a decision on legal aid, it is a step towards focusing victims’ representation with the ICC’s Office of Public Counsel for Victims (OPCV) and limiting victims’ procedural rights, specifically victims’ right to choose their legal representative.
Currently, a total of 2064 victims are admitted to participate in the trial, scheduled to begin in December. Why were 1434 of these victims denied legal aid? Have they failed to prove their indigence? Have their lawyers failed to meet the standards of quality and cost efficient representation? No. The reasons underlying the Single Judge’s decision have nothing to do with the victims’ indigence or performance of their counsel. The 1434 victims were denied legal aid because they agreed to choose the same representative without engaging the Court’s assistance. Unlike the remaining 592 victims, who made no decision on their legal representation and for whom the Chamber appointed the ICC’s OPCV to act as a Common Legal Representative (CLR), these 1434 victims have fully exercised their freedom to choose a legal representative in accordance with the rules. Importantly, their choice has been approved by the Court as being without prejudice to the effectiveness of proceedings. This decision strikes a blow to meaningful victim participation, it is based on a mid-reading of the rules and is inconsistent with previous practice of the Court. Continue reading →
The confirmation of charges hearing in the case of Dominic Ongwen has begun. Many victims of the conflict in northern Uganda have been waiting for this moment for the past ten years. More than 2000 victims had been admitted to voice their views and concerns in the case brought by the Prosecutor against one of the top LRA commanders. How will they do that? Through their legal representatives standing in a court room in The Hague, 10,000 km north of where most of the participating victims reside.
Inclusion of victims in the ICC proceedings has been and continues to be one of the most hailed features of the Rome Statute system. There are many doubts, however, as to how it is being implemented. In light of the ongoing (never ending?) debate on “meaningful participation” of victims in ICC proceedings, it is worth looking at the recent developments in the Ongwen case regarding victims’ representation. The effectiveness of victims’ participation in the ICC proceedings depends largely on the performance of their counsel.
In March 2015, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court issued its first-ever judgment on reparations, in the Thomas Lubanga Dyilo case, confirming the Court’s historic commitment to moving beyond retributive justice for victims of the gravest crimes. At the same time, it urged the Court’s Trust Fund for Victims (TFV) to issue assistancemeasures to victims who fall outside the scope of victimization determined at trial [Reparations Judgment,para. 215]. The use of assistance to complement, fill in, or expand reparations programs is both novel and increasing in international law and transitional justice, yet there is little research focused specifically on their combination.
A Peace March supported by the Colombian Victims’ Unit, which implements reparations and assistance for victims of the armed conflict. Source: Victims’ Unit
In my paper in the forthcoming special issue on victims in the International Journal of Transitional Justice, edited by Juan Mendez, I present two contemporary examples where reparations and assistance are being combined for victims of grave crimes: the ICC’s forthcoming reparations awards in the Democratic Republic of the Congo [see here and here] and Colombia’s recent reparations program – Law 1448 – for victims of its armed conflict.
The relationship between ‘reparations’ and ‘assistance’ exposes fundamental tensions at the heart of transitional justice: between inclusive and exclusive approaches to reparative justice; between the legal strictures of redress and the complex realities of violence; and, ultimately, between the supposed symbolic power of reparative justice and victims’ experience of reparations in practice. While scholars and practitioners often assume that reparations and assistance are clearly distinct, their combination suggests otherwise. Both the ICC and Colombian cases highlight that the line between reparations and assistance can become blurry in practice. They can look similar in form, have similar impacts, be distributed through similar processes and, I argue, impart similar notions of responsibility and recognition to victims of grave crimes and gross violations of human rights.
(This post has been modified from a previous article published by the International Peace Institute’s Global Observatory)
As international forces scrambled to provide security for the visit of Pope Francis to the Central African Republic (CAR) and recent, largely-peaceful elections, local and international actors have called for the rearmament of the country’s armed forces following the re-emergence of sectarian violence. However, such a move is fraught with danger, including threats by certain ex-Séléka factions to invade the capital Bangui should it occur.
CAR’s national armed forces (FACA) in Bangui, photo credit: AFP
CAR’s recent wave of sectarian violence followed a civil war that erupted in December 2012, when the Muslim-led Séléka alliance headed by Michel Djotodia took up arms and toppled President Francois Bozize’s regime with help from Chadian and Sudanese mercenaries. Ensuing clashes between Séléka fighters and the mainly-Christian “anti-balaka” militias were estimated to have killed over 3,000 people before a ceasefire was signed in July 2014.
Following many months of relative calm, Bangui witnessed a renewal of intense fighting in late September this year. The apparent trigger was the stabbing death of a Muslim taxi driver, with residents of the capital’s PK5 neighborhood taking to the streets. Since then, at least 90 people have been killed and 40,000 displaced, according to United Nations estimates.Cameroonian and Burundian peacekeepers with the UN’s mission in CAR (MINUSCA) were among the dead. National political leaders have also been abducted and the myriad, well-armed militia groups continue to threaten the country’s transition after years of civil conflict.
[This article is cross-posted from the International Peace Institute’s Global Observatory]
After months of relative calm, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has witnessed renewed anti-government protests, prompting the United Nations to warn that the country is again at risk of descending into political violence. The unrest has been prompted by uncertainty over the national electoral process. President Joseph Kabila will reach the end of his second term in 2016 and is constitutionally obligated to step down ahead of polls scheduled for November that year. But the former taxi driver, who was elevated to the presidency after his father’s assassination in 2001, has shown every intention of attempting to stay in power.
Anti-Kabila protesters in Kinshasa, photo: VOA News
Opposition to “third termism” has been spreading in Africa. It began with the October 2014 popular uprising in Burkina Faso, which ousted President Blaise Compaore following his attempts to remove the two-term limit added to the constitution in 2000, and extend his 27 years in office. Burundi was next, with President Pierre Nkurunziza’s announcement that he would run for a third term triggering months of opposition protests and violent clashes this year. Unlike Burkina Faso, Burundi’s embattled president survived, winning controversial reelection in July amidst opposition boycott. Since then, political violence and the targeted killing of opposition activists has continued, with at least 134 reported dead since April 25.
La Cour pénale internationale a rendu une décision inédite le 16 juillet 2015, dans le cadre de la mise en œuvre d’une disposition du Statut de Rome particulièrement intéressante. L’article 53§3-a du statut de Rome permet en effet à la chambre préliminaire, à la demande de l’entité ayant déféré la situation à la Cour, d’examiner la décision du Procureur de ne pas poursuivre, soit de ne pas ouvrir une enquête postérieurement à la phase procédurale de l’examen préliminaire. C’est la toute première fois que la Cour doit statuer sur ce mécanisme, dont la création avait été justifiée pour équilibrer les pouvoirs du Procureur en matière d’opportunité des poursuites. La chambre est donc soumise, comme toute institution judiciaire ayant à statuer sur des problématiques juridiques inédites, à l’aspiration d’adopter un raisonnement judiciaire dissertatif.
Le 14 mai 2013, le Bureau du Procureur ouvrait, sur renvoi comorien, un examen préliminaire de l’interception d’une flottille humanitaire par les forces armées israéliennes. Le 6 novembre 2014, le Procureur a rendu public un document de huit pages par lequel il concluait que les informations disponibles ne fournissaient pas de base raisonnable permettant d’ouvrir une enquête. Le 29 janvier 2015, les Comores ont soumis une requête visant la révision judiciaire de la décision du Procureur de ne pas poursuivre. Des échanges d’une grande importance, tant qualitative que quantitative, s’en suivent entre la chambre, les parties et les participants à la procédure. La substance de ces échanges a été estimée suffisante par la chambre afin de prendre sa décision, au point qu’elle ait rejeté les requêtes des Comores visant d’une part la tenue d’une audience et, d’autre part, l’autorisation pour les Comores de répliquer à la réponse du Procureur.
This article is cross-posted from the National Post. A “preliminary investigation” by the ICC Prosecutor into possible crimes against humanity and war crimes in Nigeria has been ongoing since 2010. The investigation is currently in the Phase III “Admissibility” stage, where the prosecutor is determining whether the Nigerian government’s proceedings “are substantially the same as those that would likely arise from an investigation” by her office and whether “those most responsible for the most serious crimes are being brought to justice.”
Boko Haram’s pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State on March 7 did not initially result in noticeable changes on the ground. Boko Haram’s recent targeting of moderate Muslim clerics, evangelical churches and perceived “non-believers” during Islam’s holy month of Ramadan, however, has made that pledge a reality.
Abubakr Shekau, leader of Boko Haram (photo: AFP)
Since the May 29 inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler who hails from Nigeria’s Muslim north, Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon have witnessed a significant resurgence of Boko Haram attacks. This comes after a series of territorial defeats in which Nigerian and Chadian-led regional counterinsurgency forces recaptured large swaths of territory in northeastern Nigeria from Boko Haram control.
Many of the attacks in recent weeks have been classic Boko Haram, marking a return to its militant roots with suicide bombings in urban markets and government buildings, as well as raids on villages across northeastern Nigeria. However, there have been two notable new developments that warrant special attention.