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 21, 2014, the ICC Appeals Chamber, in a divided vote, rejected Libya’s appeal of an ICC Pre-Trial Chamber’s May 31, 2013, ruling that Libya’s criminal investigation of Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi was not sufficient to bar the ICC from conducting its own criminal proceedings against him. On February 26, 2011, the U.N. Security Council, pursuant to Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter and Article 13(b) of the Rome Statute, adopted Resolution 1970 referring the situation in Libya to the ICC for investigation of the violence occurring since 15 February 2011 between the Libyan government, then headed by Muammar Gaddafi, and anti-government protesters. In UN S.C. Res. 1970, the Security Council
[d]eplor[ed] the [Libyan government’s] gross and systematic violation of human rights, including the repression of peaceful demonstrators, [expressed] deep concern at the deaths of civilians, [and] reject[ed] unequivocally the incitement to hostility and violence against the civilian population made from the highest level of the Libyan government.
Following an investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office, on June 27, 2011, an ICC Pre-Trial Chamber issued arrest warrants for Muammar Gaddafi, his son Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, and Gaddafi’s brother-in-law Abdullah Al-Senussi, on charges of crimes against humanity for murder and persecution. On November 22, 2011, the ICC terminated its case against Muammar Gaddafi following his death.
On May 13, 2014 (a week before the Appeals Chamber announced its ruling), the ICC Prosecutor reported to the Security Council on the situation in Libya and asserted that
Libya continues to be under a pending obligation to surrender [Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi] to the Court [and that] [t]he Government of Libya should immediately surrender Saif Al- Islam Gaddafi to the Court or give reasons for its inability to do so.
An issue on appeal was the proper interpretation of Article 17(1)(a) of the Rome Statute, which requires the ICC to find that a case is not admissible to the ICC when “[t]he case is being investigated or prosecuted by a State which has jurisdiction over it.” Article 19(2)(b) provides that such a State may raise an admissibility challenge in order to retain exclusive jurisdiction of the case. It was undisputed in the appeal that Libya was proceeding with an investigation of Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi that included some incidents referred to in the ICC’s arrest warrant for him. A significant issue on appeal was: How much similarity and overlap between the matters investigated by a domestic jurisdiction and an ICC investigation was required in deciding whether the scope and contours of a domestic investigation would render a ‘case’ inadmissible to the ICC under Article 17?
Libya argued that when interpreting Article 17, the principle of complementarity creates a strong presumption favoring domestic prosecution. By a 4-1 decision, the Appeals Chamber rejected Libya’s argument and held that the evidence provided by Libya regarding its investigation was insufficient to demonstrate that the actions for which Libya was investigating Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi included all matters for which the ICC sought to prosecute him.
In her dissenting opinion, Judge Ušacka explained that the majority’s interpretation of Article 17 did not give sufficient consideration to the importance of the complementarity principle. After reviewing the ICC’s previous admissibility decisions, she asserted in paragraph 39 of her dissent that Libya’s appeal
is the first admissibility case before the Court in which a State has submitted a wealth of information about its ongoing proceedings and has clearly expressed the will to investigate and prosecute the same suspects as well as conduct that is arguably even broader than that contained in the warrants of arrests.
Judge Ušacka added in paragraph 65 “as a concluding remark on the subject of complementarity,” that “the overall goal of the [Rome] Statute to combat impunity can … be achieved by the Court through means of active cooperation with the domestic authorities.” Judge Ušacka would have remanded the case to the Pre-Trial Chamber for consideration of the admissibility issue under a standard that she thought gave more adequate consideration to the Article 17 principle.