POST WRITTEN BY: Prof. Peter Widulski, Assistant Director of the First Year Legal Skills Program and the Coach of International Criminal Moot Court Team at Pace Law School
On March 22, 2014, Ivory Coast authorities delivered Charles Blé Goudé to the International Criminal Court pursuant to an arrest warrant for Blé Goudé issued by the ICC. This raises an issue as to whether the ICC is the appropriate forum for the prosecution of Blé Goudé. See Ivory Coast Delivers Suspect to the International Criminal Court for additional background information.
As a result of an investigation by the ICC Prosecutor into the Ivory Coast Situation authorized in October 2011, three ICC arrest warrants have thus far been made public: for former President Gbagbo (Nov. 23, 2011), for Blé Goudé (Dec. 21, 2011), and for Simone Gbagbo (Feb. 29, 2012). All are Ivory Coast nationals potentially subject to prosecution in the Ivory Coast. The warrants for all three are based on the same four counts of crimes against humanity alleged to have been committed during the same period (from Dec. 16, 2010 to April 12, 2011). The Ivory Coast has delivered Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé to the ICC. However, according to news reports the Ivory Coast has stated its intention not to deliver Simone Gbagbo to the ICC but to prosecute her in its domestic courts, despite the fact that when the Pre-Trial Chamber issued the arrest warrant for her, it directed the ICC Registry to transmit a request to the Ivory Coast government to surrender her to the ICC.
This presents an interesting issue about complementarity. The Preamble of the Rome Statute “[r]ecall[s] that it is the duty of every State to exercise its criminal jurisdiction over those responsible for international crimes,” and “[e]mphasiz[es] that the International Criminal Court … shall be complementary to national criminal jurisdictions.” Article 17 of the Statute requires the ICC to defer to domestic jurisdiction unless the State with jurisdiction “is unwilling or unable genuinely to carry out the investigation or prosecution.”
The ICC Prosecutor addressed the Article 17 issue in January of last year reporting that the Prosecutor’s Office would open an investigation into the Situation in Mali, the most recent of the eight Situations currently before the ICC, which was referred to ICC for investigation in July 2012. The Prosecutor, finding support in ICC Pre-Trial Chamber opinion interpreting Article 17, stated in paragraph 136 that “[t]he absence of national proceedings is sufficient to render a case admissible.” By this logic, it would be appropriate for the ICC to prosecute Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé (because the Ivory Coast has chosen not to prosecute them) but not to prosecute Simone Gbagbo (because the Ivory Coast intends to prosecute her) – even though all three individuals are charged with responsibility for the same crimes on the territory of the Ivory Coast during the same time period.
Unless extenuating circumstances in the Ivory Coast suggest otherwise, this presents a possibility that State Parties – or non-State Parties who accept ICC jurisdiction pursuant to Article 12(3) – may choose selectively to prosecute some high authorities but not others, based on reasons of the State’s own choosing.
Such a possibility seems inconsistent with the Preamble of the Rome Statute and with policy statements issued by organs of the ICC. The Office of the Prosecutor and the Bureau of Assembly of States Parties have endorsed a “positive complementarity” policy to encourage and assist States to prosecute in their national courts crimes that may fall within the ICC’s subject matter jurisdiction.
William Schabas, a respected scholar on ICC issues, has addressed the complementarity issue as posed by Mali’s referral. Prof. Schabas stated that “[t]he profound flaw in the ‘self-referral’ model is that it flies in the face of ‘positive complementarity’. If Mali wants to ensure that its rebels are prosecuted, the Court should encourage it to do so by itself.”
An ICC Pre-Trial Chamber has scheduled a hearing for August 2014 to confirm the charges against Blé Goudé. At the hearing, Blé Goudé will have the opportunity to challenge the Court’s jurisdiction and the charges against him. Whether or not Blé Goudé, exercises his right under Article 19(2)(a), to challenge the admissibility of his case, Article 19(1) states that “[t]he Court may, on its own motion, determine the admissibility of a case in accordance with article 17.”
How the Pre-Trial Chamber deals with this matter will be important for the ICC’s complementarity jurisprudence.