21 November 2013

Is trial by video at the ICC virtual justice or the real thing?

21 November 2013
Is the proposal by Botswana, Jordan, Lichtenstein and others to allow accused like Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta to participate in his International Criminal Court (ICC) trial by video link a shrewd chess move to outfox African governments? Or is it a genuine move to address African concerns, which African leaders – and the ICC itself – would be wise to seize?

Last Friday the UN Security Council (UNSC) rejected the African Union’s (AU) demand – put forward by Rwanda, Togo and Morocco – that the cases against Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto for alleged crimes against humanity after the 2007/8 elections should be deferred under Article 16 of the Rome Statute governing the ICC. States parties to the Statute on the UNSC argued that the proper place to discuss the AU proposal was in the ICC itself, and particularly the annual gathering of the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) to the Rome Statute which would be meeting this week in The Hague.

Britain’s ambassador to the UN, Mark Lyall Grant, told the UNSC that the ICC had already addressed the AU’s (ostensible) central concern that the ICC cases should not distract Kenyatta and Ruto from governing Kenya, especially at a time of heightened terrorist threat illustrated by the Al-Shabaab attack on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall in September. Grant recalled that the ICC had thrice postponed the start of Kenyatta’s trial, until February 2014, and had agreed to schedule the two trials so that the two leaders were never in The Hague – i.e. out of Kenya – at the same time.

Grant also said that at this week’s ASP meeting, a number of amendments to the ICC rules would be proposed to further address the AU concerns, including the proposal that sitting leaders like Kenyatta may be ‘present’ at their trials in The Hague by video conferencing. This would allow Kenyatta to remain in Nairobi, greatly reducing the distraction from his official duties.

Ottilia Anna Maunganidze, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, notes that Kenya has proposed that sitting heads of state and government should be immune from prosecution by the ICC. This would no doubt fully satisfy the AU which adopted a resolution to that effect in October and prompted the ASP to conduct a debate today on the impact that indicting sitting leaders could have on peace and security. But Maunganidze doesn’t think Kenya’s proposed amendment to the Rome Statute has a chance, as there is no consensus on the issue. In order for such an amendment to pass, in the absence of consensus, a two-thirds majority of states parties would have to support it, and then a seven-eighths majority would need to ratify it.

The UK video link proposal and a similar amendment jointly submitted by Botswana, Jordan and Lichtenstein have a much better chance of being adopted as they would only entail amending the ICC rules of procedure and evidence which requires a two-thirds majority. It’s not quite as simple as that, though, she explains, as the proposed amendments to the rules must be consistent with the Rome Statute which takes precedence. The Rome Statute, for instance, requires suspects to be ‘present’ at their trials, and some countries will surely argue that a live video image of Kenyatta in the courtroom will not make him ‘present’ as the Rome Statute requires.

Probably quite a few governments will agree with Human Rights Watch and other activists that the ICC should not make special exceptions for sitting presidents as this would violate the principle of equality before the law. And in any case the video proposal, even if accepted at the present meeting, would still take considerable time to wend its way through the protracted ICC approval process.
Some observers suspect, though, that the proposal may have been submitted as a means to placate the African lobby and justify not taking action on the UNSC. But if we assume, for the sake of argument, that it is a sincere attempt to reconcile the competing interests of universal justice and effective government to deal with security threats in particular, then it could well be adopted at some point. And one could also assume, perhaps, that if the necessary support is visibly mustered at the current meeting in The Hague, the approval process could be fast-tracked.

We have already seen the ICC bend the rules for Kenyatta and Ruto, a sign that it is feeling the growing pressure being put out by the AU. And, strategically, the ICC probably needs to adopt this proposal, in order to avoid alienating Africa even further and possibly provoking a future withdrawal by some of the 34 African signatories to the Rome Statute, which would deal a very damaging blow to international justice.

But if the Western and other countries boxing in the international criminal justice corner really back the proposal and want it to go through in time for the Kenyatta trial, what about the AU side?
Some African governments seem rather non-plussed by the proposal. The South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation’s response to it has been to insist that the government’s official position is still for a deferral by the UNSC of the cases against the two Kenyan leaders. Yet in the same breath, it does not rule out supporting the video link proposal. Maunganidze confirms that right across government, there seems to be ambivalence about it.

That may be because in a sense the video proposal has called South Africa and Africa’s bluff. If they are really concerned that ICC indictments will fatally distract Kenyatta from his government responsibilities, this proposal addresses that concern, not fully but sufficiently. But if the Kenyan case is really just a vehicle for the AU’s resentment that the ICC is picking on Africa and for a self-serving desire by leaders for blanket immunity, then they will be inclined to reject it. Some answers to these questions should start emerging from the ASP meeting. 

Peter Fabricius, Foreign Editor, Independent Newspapers, South Africa

Originally posted by the Institute for Security Studies

13 November 2013

Does the ICC case against Kenya's leaders undermine international peace and security?

13 November 2013
On 5 November 2013, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) began handling the request to defer the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) cases in the Kenyan situation. The request, which was submitted on 1 November for consideration by non-permanent members Rwanda, Togo and Morocco under instruction from the African Union (AU), relates specifically to the cases against Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy, William Ruto.

Kenyatta and Ruto (together with Kenyan journalist Joshua Sang) face charges related to the violence that erupted after Kenya’s December 2007 elections, in which over 1 100 people died. Ruto and Sang’s trial began in September 2013, while Kenyatta’s trial is due to start on 5 February 2014 after a third postponement.

In October this year, the AU held an extraordinary summit at which the relationship between the ICC and Africa was discussed. Central to the discussions was the fact that all cases currently before the ICC are from African countries, including the indictment of two sitting heads of state. In its 12 October 2013 decision, the AU called for the Kenyan cases to be deferred and asked that the UNSC provide feedback on the deferral request by 12 November 2013, the date on which Kenyatta’s trial was scheduled to start.

Given that Kenyatta’s trial has been provisionally moved to February 2014, it remains to be seen whether the AU will still expect the UNSC to make a decision on deferral immediately. As things stand, the UNSC agenda for November does not include a session to discuss the deferral request. However, this is not to say such discussions will not be held, as the programme of work can be updated at any time.

Even if heard, despite support from Russia and China, the likelihood of the deferral being granted is slim, given that the United States, United Kingdom and France, who all hold the power to veto resolutions, insist that the ICC’s postponement of Kenyatta’s trial to February next year was sufficient. The views of the five permanent members of the UNSC notwithstanding, it is essential to assess the merits of the deferral request itself.

Article 16 of the ICC’s Rome Statute, in terms of which deferral requests can be made, statesthat ‘No investigation or prosecution may be commenced or proceeded with … for a period of 12 months after the Security Council, in a resolution adopted under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, has requested the court to that effect ….’ Chapter VII of the UN Charter empowers the UNSC to take measures to ‘maintain or restore international peace and security’ if it has determined ‘the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of peace or act of aggression’.

First, it is clear that Article 16 is intended for use in exceptional circumstances. Indeed, the UNSC has not, to date, deferred any ICC investigation or prosecution. The question now is whether continuing the court processes would undermine international peace and security. The AU’s request stresses that Kenya’s leaders need to focus on the ongoing fight against terrorism, especially following the attack on Westgate mall in September. They contend that having the president and deputy president of the country on trial jeopardises this.
This is not a widely supported view. Notably, Kenyan human rights organisations, in a letter to the president of the UNSC, stated that conflating the two issues would undermine accountability. The organisations emphasised that deferral on this basis would actually further embed impunity, which lends itself to susceptibility to terrorism.It cannot be denied that terrorism is a serious threat in Kenya and the Horn of Africa region. However, the UNSC has to decide whether this suffices as a basis upon which to allege that continuing the trials will compromise international peace and security. Indeed, counter-terrorism and international criminal justice are bedfellows in that they both seek to address serious crimes that have an adverse effect on global peace and security, and where the two intersect a balance must be struck. One should not be preferred over the other.

Second, the AU claims that by virtue of their positions as president and deputy president of Kenya, the two accused should not, for the duration of their terms, be prosecuted. The AU argues that doing so would undermine Kenyatta and Ruto’s official duties. If the deferral were granted on this basis, it would contradict Article 27 of the Rome Statute (which denies immunity for heads of state and other senior government officials). Significantly, it would mean the deferral would have to be renewed every 12 months for the duration of the Kenyan presidential term of five years. Presupposing that Kenyatta runs for a second term and wins, the deferral would have to be extended for a further five years.

This, as noted by Fergal Gaynor, the legal representative of victims in the case against Kenyatta, would further unduly delay any justice for the victims – assuming that Kenyatta is indeed found guilty. Similar sentiments have been voiced by civil society, including the Kenyan Human Rights Commission and the International Center for Policy and Conflict. Importantly, this argument of the AU contradicts Article 2(6) and Article 143(4) of the Kenyan constitution. Article 143(4) specifically prohibits the president’s immunity from criminal prosecution for ‘crime[s] for which the President may be prosecuted under any treaty to which Kenya is party and which prohibits such immunity’. The deputy president enjoys no immunity from prosecution under the Kenyan constitution.

Third, the AU contends that the criminal justice reforms undertaken in Kenya sufficiently allow for national prosecutions of those responsible for the post-election violence. While, on the face of it, this is in line with the ICC’s role as a court of last resort and is thus commendable, it is not a basis for deferral. Indeed, this was the primary basis of Kenya’s own deferral request made directly to the ICC in 2011, which the Court rejected. Supposing the criminal justice reforms were considered in making the decision, the argument ignores the fact that despite these reforms, there have been few prosecutions and convictions for serious crimes committed during the post-election violence. More importantly, if the ICC is to reconsider its jurisdiction in this situation, the Kenyans who stand accused by the Court are unlikely to be prosecuted domestically.

Further, in early September, Kenya’s parliament passed motions aimed at withdrawing Kenya from the Rome Statute and repealing the country’s International Crimes Act, which, among other things, provides a basis for the prosecution of ICC crimes in Kenya. This move would mean that not only are the president and his deputy free from prosecution for international crimes, but so are all Kenyans. This goes against the spirit and purpose of international criminal justice and is a blatant denial of recourse to justice for the victims of international crimes.
These are the key matters that the UNSC must grapple with in deciding whether or not to defer the ICC cases against Kenyatta and Ruto. At the end of the day, this will be put to a vote. A resolution on deferral can only be passed if at least nine countries are in favour and none of the five permanent members use their veto. That is unlikely, but not impossible.

Ottilia Anna Maunganidze, Researcher, Transnational Threats and International Crime Division, ISS Pretoria