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June 22, 2009

More trouble at the International Criminal Court

Readers will know I take an interest -- some might say an obsessively close interest -- in the world's first permanent international criminal court. Like many of those who welcomed its creation, I have been saddened by the difficulties it has encountered.

Until now, I have believed that the main problem lay with the prosecutor (see previous posts about Luis Moreno-Ocampo passim). Now, however, I learn from Prof William Schabas that things seem to be going wrong with the judges. Here is a lengthy extract from a blog entry he posted on June 18. I cannot confirm it but I have no reason to doubt it.

"I was in The Hague last week and picked up much discussion about what has become a real crisis for the Court concerning the composition of its Appeals Chamber. In March, following the swearing in of the five new judges, the plenary agreed upon the new composition of the Appeals Chamber, ‘elevating’ two judges from Pre-Trial Chamber I.

"There was a problem with this that was obvious to everyone: because the two judges had been sitting for several years on the Pre-Trial Chamber, they were ‘contaminated’ with respect to cases and situations that were already proceeding. In effect, they could only hear appeals concerning matters before the other Pre-Trial Chamber. It didn’t seem to make much sense at a practical level, and we can only speculate as to why this was done.

"I was told that the Committee on Budget and Finance and the Assembly of States Parties both reacted with letters to the Court asking it to reconsider the decision. So the plenary of judges met again last Monday. They voted, by nine to seven, not to change their original decision. The two judges who were named to the Appeals Chamber voted and, presumably, made up the majority. Without them, the vote would have been seven to seven.

"This entire business is not a healthy development at the Court. It reflects a group of judges who appear themselves to be divided in a way that cannot contribute to the spirit of collegiality that the Court requires in these difficult times. On the outside, it will increase frustration by the States that make up the Assembly of States Parties. At some point, if their requests to the Court are dismissed as this one was, they will be tempted to try more draconian measures, such as denial of funding or even threats to withdraw from the Statute altogether.

"None of this is visible on the website, of course, but it is an open secret in The Hague. If you want to learn more about it, you only need to hang out in the bars and restaurants of the city for a few days, or better still, the Court’s own cafeteria."

Posted at June 22, 2009 02:30 PM