There is SO MUCH international criminal law news right now, you guys. Case 002 opened at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal (more on that later), Bangladesh began a trial for atrocities committed during its independence fight, and George W. Bush and Tony Blair were found guilty of war crimes by a “Let’s Play Make Believe” tribunal in Malaysia.
But the biggest story is that Saif al-Islam Gaddafi and Abdullah al-Senussi, both the subject of ICC warrants on crimes against humanity charges, were captured in Libya this weekend. The Libyan authorities have expressed a very strong desire to try Saif themselves and a reluctance to hand him over to the ICC, so ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo headed down to Libya yesterday to talk things out.
As far as I can tell, it was at that point that every news media outlet in the world began misreporting the story. So, uh, note to Al Jazeera, The Guardian, MSNBC, Voice of America, and the rest of y’all: Moreno-Ocampo most certainly did not agree that the Libyans will try Saif. You know how I know this, despite my lack of a foreign correspondent on the ground in Tripoli? It’s because the Chief Prosecutor does not have the power to make that decision.
The new Libyan government is well within its rights to challenge the ICC’s jurisdiction if it wants to prosecute the crimes against humanity charges itself. And there’s a good chance they’d prevail on the challenge, given that the ICC’s jurisdiction is complementary, not universal. (This means that the court can only try cases where the relevant domestic judicial system is either “unwilling” or “unable” to prosecute.) However, the assessment of whether Libya is “able” to prosecute rests with the Pre-Trial Chamber of the ICC, not with the state itself, or with the Chief Prosecutor.
This particularly legal issue hasn’t been explored before* so the Libyan case will be an exciting (maybe just for me) opportunity to establish exactly how the ICC will handle inquiries into the ability of states to try mass atrocity cases. Specifically: Will the Pre-Trial Chamber defer to state preferences and call off ICC proceedings when states show a genuine desire to conduct trials themselves, or will it conduct an extensive analysis of judicial capacity?
I suspect the bizarre reports we’re getting that the ICC has “ruled” that the Libyans can try Saif stem from the fact that the Prosecutor has opted for the former course,** and will support Libya’s efforts to try the case. We’ll see whether the judges do likewise…
*Note: The ICC did slap down a challenge to its jurisdiction from Kenya earlier this year, but it was on the grounds that the Kenyan government wasn’t conducting an investigation or prosecution on charges similar to those in the ICC case, not that it didn’t have the capacity to do so.
**Possibly in recognition of the fact that if Libya flat out refuses to hand Saif over, there’s not much the ICC can do…