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 May 27, 2015, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a decision confirming that the ICC case against Ivory Coast national Simone Gbagbo is not jurisdictionally barred to the ICC because of efforts undertaken by Ivory Coast to conduct its own criminal investigations against her.
As discussed in our previous post, the ICC confronted a situation regarding the three Ivory Coast nationals for whom it issued arrest warrants, all of whom were charged with responsibility for alleged crimes against humanity (including murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, persecution and other inhumane acts) committed by supporters of defeated President Laurent Gbagbo against civilians in the aftermath of the Ivory Coast presidential election in November 2010. This violence resulted in the death of more than three thousand people.
Pursuant to the ICC arrest warrants, Ivory Coast (Côte d´Ivoire) authorities delivered Laurent Gbagbo and militia commander Charles Blé Goudé to The Hague for ICC prosecution on the crimes alleged in the warrants. But Ivory Coast refused ICC orders to deliver Simone Gbagbo and instead asserted that, pursuant to Articles 17 and 19 of the ICC Statute, her case was not admissible to the ICC on the ground that Ivory Coast was investigating and preparing to prosecute her.
After reviewing Ivory Coast’s arguments and supporting documents, an ICC Pre-Trial Chamber rejected the admissibility challenge because the Chamber determined that although Ivory Coast submitted evidence indicating that it was investigating Ms. Gbagbo for economic crimes, crimes against the State, and certain other matters, it was not prosecuting her for the crimes against humanity for which the ICC sought to prosecute her.
Ivory Coast appealed this decision in an effort to deny ICC jurisdiction over Ms. Gbagbo. In arguments to the Appeals Chamber, it employed several tactics, which included (1) submitting evidence of its investigative actions against Ms. Gbagbo that it undertook after the Pre-Trial Chamber’s decision, (2) attempting to challenge several points made by the Pre-Trial Chamber not as factual findings but as legal rulings (which would require more exacting review by the Appeals Chamber), and (3) characterizing acts for which it was investigating Ms. Gbagbo as “preparatory acts” for crimes within ICC jurisdiction.
In addition to Ivory Coast’s arguments, the Appeals Chamber considered arguments by all other concerned Parties. Given the Pre-Trial Chamber’s findings that procedural activities undertaken by Ivory Coast judicial authorities were “sparse and disparate” and did not cover the serious matters that the ICC sought to prosecute, it is perhaps not surprising that Ms. Gbagbo advanced arguments “fully supporting the Appeal.” On the other hand, the ICC Prosecutor and the Office of Public Counsel for Victims (representing victims of the Ivory Coast violence) provided arguments supporting the ICC’s admissibility of the case.
In its May 27 decision, the Appeals Chamber rejected all of the arguments submitted by Ivory Coast and by Ms. Gbagbo and confirmed the Pre-Trial Chamber’s decision that the ICC case against Ms. Gbagbo is admissible.
In rejecting Ivory Coast’s submission of evidence of its investigations subsequent to the evidence it presented to the Pre-Trial Chamber, the Appeals Chamber stated that by making such submissions Ivory Coast was “attempt[ing] to seek a new ruling on admissibility, rather than a review of the proceedings before the Pre-Trial Chamber.” The Appeals Chamber noted that under Article 19(4), “[t]he admissibility of a case … may be challenged only once.” Accordingly, the Chamber held that Ivory Coast couldn’t use this additional information to support what would in effect constitute a second challenge to admissibility. However, an ICC press release reporting on the Appeals Court’s decision notes that Article 19(4) also states that “[i]n exceptional circumstances, the Court may grant leave for a challenge to be brought more than once.”
Ivory Coast became a State Party to the ICC in February 2013. Article 89 of the Rome Statute requires “State Parties [to] comply with [ICC] requests for arrest and surrender.” It will be interesting to see whether Ivory Coast complies with this obligation, or whether it seeks to make use of the “exceptional circumstances” provision to make a second challenge to the admissibility of this case.