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‘Interests of justice’: Defining the scope of Prosecutorial discretion in Article 53(1)(c) and (2)(c) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court

Abstract
Abstract

The International Criminal Court (ICC) was established with the aim of prosecuting individuals for the gravest crimes of concern to the international community. Yet some provisions of its Statute (the Rome Statute) recognize the need for temporarily setting aside criminal investigations or prosecutions in favour of different considerations. Two of these provisions are Article 53(1)(c) and (2)(c) of the Statute. They allow the Prosecutor of the Court to use his or her discretion in deciding not to initiate an investigation or a prosecution in the ‘interests of justice’. Nonetheless, the ambiguity of this phrase, coupled with an absent definition, have given rise to a polarized debate about its meaning and the Prosecutor's ensuing margin of discretion: some consider matters of peace and security and alternative justice mechanisms as possible ‘interests of justice’, while others exclude them. Among those adopting the latter view is the ICC's Office of the Prosecutor (OTP), as can be inferred from a 2007 Policy Paper on the Interests of Justice and a 2013 Policy Paper on Preliminary Examinations, which continue to be upheld by the Office. Against this backdrop and amid new developments at the ICC which call into question the OTP's position, the purpose of this article is to develop a comprehensive interpretation of Article 53(1)(c) and (2)(c) of the Rome Statute, using all the interpretative tools provided by Articles 31 to 33 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

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1 See paras. 4 and 5 of the Rome Statute (ICCSt.) Preamble.

2 Brubacher M., ‘The development of prosecutorial discretion in international criminal courts’, in Hughes E., Schabas W.A. and Thakur R. (eds.), Atrocities and International Accountability (2007), 142 at 149, 150; Schabas W.A., The International Criminal Court: A Commentary on the Rome Statute (2010), at 660, 661–3; O'Shea A., Amnesty for Crime in International Law and Practice (2002), at 317.

3 See, inter alia, Robinson D., ‘Serving the Interests of Justice: Amnesties, Truth Commissions and the International Criminal Court’, (2003) 14 EJIL 481 , at 493–8; Rodman K.A., ‘Is Peace in the Interests of Justice? The Case for Broad Prosecutorial Discretion at the International Criminal Court’, (2009) 22 LJIL 99 ; Brubacher M.R., ‘Prosecutorial Discretion within the International Criminal Court’, (2004) 2 JICJ 71 , at 81, 82; Schabas, supra note 2, at 655–71; Webb P., ‘The ICC Prosecutor's Discretion Not to Proceed in the “Interests of Justice”’, (2005) 50 CLQ 305 , at 335, 336–8; Keller L.M., ‘Achieving Peace with Justice: The International Criminal Court and Ugandan Alternative Justice Mechanisms’, (2008) 23 Connecticut Journal of International Law 209, at 239, 246–51; Y.A. M'Boge, ‘In the interests of peace and the interests of justice’, in Quénivet N. and Shah-Davis S. (eds.), International Law and Armed Conflict: Challenges in the 21st Century (2010), at 368 , 378, 379; Scharf M.P., ‘The Amnesty Exception to the Jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court’, (1999) 32 Cornell International Law Journal 507, at 524.

4 Clark T.H., ‘The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Amnesties, and the “Interests of Justice”: Striking a Delicate Balance’, (2005) 4 Washington University Global Studies Law Review 389 , at 390; Clark J.N., ‘Peace, Justice and the International Criminal Court Limitations and Possibilities’, (2011) 9 JICJ 521, at 541–3.

5 See, inter alia, Ohlin J.D., ‘Peace, Security and Prosecutorial Discretion’, in Stahn C. and Sluiter G. (eds.), The Emerging Practice of the International Criminal Court (2009), at 187208 ; Human Rights Watch, Policy Paper: The Meaning of ‘the Interests of Justice’ in Article 53 of the Rome Statute (2005); M. Macpherson, Open Letter to the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court: Comments on the concept of the interests of justice, Amnesty International, 17 June 2005, IOR 40/023/2005; Gallavin C., ‘Article 53 of The Rome Statute of The International Criminal Court: In the Interests of Justice?’, (2003) 14 King's College Law Journal 179, at 193–7; Ðukic D., ‘Transitional justice and the International Criminal Court – in “the interests of justice”?’, (2007) 89 International Review of the Red Cross 691, at 716.

6 J.N. Clark, supra note 4, at 539–40; M'Boge, supra note 3, at 376.

7 ICC-OTP, Policy Paper on the Interests of Justice, September 2007, available at www.legal-tools.org/doc/bb02e5/ (‘Policy Paper on the Interests of Justice’).

8 ICC-OTP, Policy Paper on Preliminary Examinations, November 2013, available at www.legal-tools.org/doc/acb906/, paras. 67–71 (‘Policy Paper on Preliminary Examinations’).

9 ICC-OTP, Report on Preliminary Examination Activities 2016, 14 November 2016, paras. 8, 225, 228, available at www.legal-tools.org/doc/f30a53/.

10 Situation in the Republic of Kenya, Letter from the OTP to the LRV of 2 April 2015, ICC-01/09-154-Conf-Anx2, para. 20.

11 See, e.g., Situation in the Republic of Kenya, Victims’ response to Prosecution's application to dismiss in limine the Victims’ request for review, ICC-01/09-157, Legal Representative of Victims, 15 September 2015, paras. 2, 41–54.

12 Situation in the Republic of Kenya, Prosecution's application to dismiss in limine the Victims’ request for review of Prosecution's decision to cease active investigation, ICC-01/09-156, OTP, 25 August 2015, paras. 2, 17, 28–44.

13 ICC-OTP, Policy Paper on Case Selection and Prioritisation, 15 September 2016, available at www.legal-tools.org/doc/182205/, para. 33 (‘Draft Policy Paper on Case Selection’).

14 Alleged Violations of Sovereign Rights and Maritime Spaces in the Caribbean Sea (Nicaragua v. Colombia), Preliminary Objections, Judgment of 17 March 2016, at 18, para. 35. On the applicability of the VCLT to the ICCSt., see Grover L., Interpreting Crimes in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (2014), 28, 29, 40, 44 and 45; Prosecutor v. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo (‘Bemba case’), Judgment pursuant to Article 74, ICC-01/05-01/08-3343, T. Ch. III, 21 March 2016, para. 70.

15 See Art. 31(1) VCLT; See also Gardiner R.K., Treaty Interpretation (2015), 6; Villiger M.E., ‘The Rules on Interpretation: Misgivings, Misunderstandings, Miscarriage? The “Crucible” Intended by the International Law Commission’, in Cannizzaro E. (ed.), The law of treaties beyond the Vienna Convention (2011), 105 at 167–81.

16 Gardiner, supra note 15, at 10; Villiger, supra note 15, at 113, 114; Grover, supra note 14, at 42; See generally, Dörr O. and Schmalenbach K. (eds.), Vienna Conventionon the Law of Treaties (2012); Corten O. and Klein E. (eds.), The Vienna Conventions on the Law of Treaties: A Commentary (2011).

17 See Bemba case, Judgment pursuant to Article 74, supra note 14, para. 218.

18 Art. 21(3) ICCst; See also Grover, supra note 14, at 114–19.

19 Grover, supra note 14, at 3, 28, 29, 31, 46, 102, 106–8, 110–12; Broomhall B., Nullum crimen sine lege , in Triffterer O. (ed.), Commentary on the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court: Observers’ Notes, Article by Article (2008), 713 at 719 and 724.

20 See Art. 21(2) ICCSt. and Art. 38 of the Statute of the ICJ.

21 Emphasis added.

22 Aravena C.C., ‘Revisión Crítica del Criterio “Interés de la Justicia” como razón para no abrir una investigación o no iniciar un enjuiciamiento ante la Corte Penal Internacional’, (2011) 1 Revista de Derecho Universidad Católica del Norte 21, at 28 and Schabas, supra note 2, at 659; Policy Paper on Preliminary Examinations, supra note 8, para. 43.

23 Policy Paper on the Interests of Justice, supra note 7, at 2, 3; Aravena, supra note 22, at 24, 28, 29; Schabas, supra note 2, at 660.

24 Policy Paper on the Interests of Justice, supra note 7, at 1, 5; Policy Paper on Preliminary Examinations, supra note 8, para. 71; Aravena, supra note 22, at 24, 26; Brubacher, supra note 2, at 149, 150; See Section 3.4, infra.

25 Aravena, supra note 22, at 24, 26; Brubacher, supra note 2, at 149, 150; Keller, supra note 3, at 213, 238, 249, 262; Schabas, supra note 2, at 661; J. Dugard, ‘Possible Conflicts of Jurisdiction with Truth Commissions’, in A. Casesse et al. (eds.) The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court: A Commentary (2002), at 70.

26 Policy Paper on the Interests of Justice, supra note 7, at 2, 3.

29 See Robinson supra note 3, at 488; Hafner H. et al., ‘A Response to the American View as Presented by Ruth Wedgewood’, (1999) 10 EJIL 108 , at 112; Gallavin, supra note 5, at 185.

30 Policy Paper on the Interests of Justice, supra note 7, at 2, 3.

31 Aravena, supra note 22, at 26.

32 See Webb, supra note 3, at 326; Brubacher, supra note 3, at 80; Brubacher, supra note 2, at 149; Keller, supra note 3, at 246; M'Boge, supra note 3, at 368.

33 Similarly, Brubacher, supra note 3, at 82, 84; Brubacher, supra note 2, at 149–51; Gallavin, supra note 5, at 185; Aravena, supra note 22, at 26.

34 Author's translation.

36 Based on the analysis of an English translation of Art. 53(1)(c)’s Chinese version, which was provided by an official ICC interpreter.

37 Based on the analysis of the English translations of Art. 53(1)(c)’s Arabic and Russian versions, which were provided by ICC legal officers who are native speakers of these languages.

38 Emphasis added.

39 Webb, supra note 3, at 330.

40 Similarly, Aravena, supra note 22, at 28; Brubacher, supra note 3, at 82, 84; Brubacher, supra note 2, at 149–51; Gallavin, supra note 5, at 185.

43 Oxford Dictionaries, www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/justice; Dictionary.com, www.dictionary.com/browse/justice; Cambridge Dictionaries, dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/justice; Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/justice; See also A. O'Shea, supra note 2, at 317.

44 See supra notes 4 and 5.

45 Policy Paper on the Interests of Justice, supra note 7, at 8 and footnote 13 (emphasis added).

46 See Section 3.3, infra.

47 See Ohlin, supra note 5, at 202–3; McCarthy C., ‘Victim Redress and International Criminal Justice: Competing Paradigms, or Compatible Forms of Justice?’, (2012) 10 JICJ 351 , at 365; Wringe B., ‘Why Punish War Crimes? Victor's Justice and Expressive Justifications of Punishment’, (2006) 25 Springer's Law and Philosophy 159, at 159–60; See Keller, supra note 3, at 211.

48 McCarthy supra note 47, at 365–7; Wringe supra note 47, at 185.

49 Ibid.; and Keller, supra note 3, at 260.

50 ICCSt. Preamble, paras. 3, 5.

51 See Policy Paper on the Interests of Justice, supra note 7.

52 Similarly, Schabas, supra note 2, at 661; Keller, supra note 3, at 259.

53 Prosecutor v. Nikolic, Trial Judgement, Case No. IT-94-2-S, T.Ch. II., 18 December 2003, paras. 31–2; Aravena, supra note 22, at 31; Policy Paper on the Interests of Justice, supra note 7, at 2, footnote 3; Webb, supra note 3, at 344.

54 Keller, supra note 3, at 259–78; Informal expert paper: The principle of complementarity in practice (2003) (‘Informal expert paper on complementarity’), Annex 2: Rules of Interpretation, at 26; and at 23, 24, available at www.icc-cpi.int/NR/rdonlyres/20BB4494-70F9-4698-8E30-907F631453ED/281984/complementarity.pdf.

55 Webb, supra note 3, at 340–2; Aravena, supra note 22, at 31, 35; Draft Policy Paper on Case Selection, supra note 13, para. 47, letter (a); ICC-OTP, Paper on Some Policy Issues before the Office of the Prosecutor (2003), available at www.legal-tools.org/doc/f53870/, at 2 (‘Paper on some Policy Issues’).

56 Webb, supra note 3, at 340, 346; See also Section 3.2.1, infra.

57 Brubacher, supra note 2, at 151, 152; Webb, supra note 3, at 316; Policy Paper on Preliminary Investigations, supra note 8, para. 70; ICC-OTP, Annex to the ‘Paper on some policy issues before the Office of the Prosecutor’: Referrals and Communications, available at www.icc-cpi.int/NR/rdonlyres/278614ED-A8CA-4835-B91D-DB7FA7639E02/143706/policy_annex_final_210404.pdf, at 1.

58 Scharf, supra note 3, at 524; Jacobs D., ‘A Samson at the International Criminal Court: The Powers of the Prosecutor at the Pre-Trial Phase’, (2007) 6 Law and Practice of International Courts and Tribunals 317 , at 328; and T.H. Clark, supra note 4, at 408–9.

59 Ðukic, supra note 5, at 279–80.

60 See Policy Paper on the Interests of Justice, supra note 7, at 8.

61 Jacobs, supra note 58, at 329; Gallavin, supra note 5, at 193–5.

62 See Policy Paper on the Interests of Justice, supra note 7, at 4, 9; Paper on some Policy Issues, supra note 55, at 2, 6; Webb, supra note 3, at 316; Goldstone R., ‘Justice as a Tools for Peace-Making: Truth Commissions and International Criminal Tribunals’, (1996) 28 New York University Journal of International Law & Politics 485 , at 486, 488; Schabas, supra note 2, at 667.

63 See Public Committee v. Government of Israel, Judgment, Supreme Court of Israel,13 December 2006, HCJ 769/02, para. 48.

64 For similar views, see Policy Paper on the Interests of Justice, supra note 7, at 9; Draft Policy Paper on Case Selection, supra note 13, at 11, para. 32; Keller, supra note 3, at 213, 261–5; Robinson, supra note 3, at 484, 496, 497; T.H. Clark, supra note 4, at 409; Kleffner J.K., Complementarity in the Rome Statute and National Criminal Jurisdictions (2008), 297300 ; Valiña M., ‘Interpreting complementarity and interests of justice in the presence of restorative-based alternative forms of justice’, in Stahn C. and Van den Herik L. (eds.), Future Perspectives of International Criminal Justice (2010), 267 at 277.

65 See ICC-OTP, Draft Regulations of the Office of the Prosecutor (annotated) (2003), available at www.jura.uni-muenchen.de/fakultaet/lehrstuehle/satzger/materialien/istghdrre.pdf, at 47, footnote 79; Robinson, supra note 3, at 497.

66 See Gavron J., ‘Amnesties in the Light of Developments in International Law and the Establishment of the International Criminal Court’, (2002) 51 ICLQ 91 , at 110; Keller, supra note 3.

67 See Art. 53(1), in fine and 3(a)(b) ICCSt.

68 Certain Expenses of the United Nations (Article 17, paragraph 2 of the Charter), Advisory Opinion of 20 July 1962, [1962] ICJ Rep. 151, at 163.

69 Policy Paper on Interests of Justice, supra note 7, at 5.

70 See Annex to the Paper on some Policy Issues, supra note 55, at 3.

71 Art. 1 ICCSt,

72 See Art. 17 ICCSt.

73 Policy Paper on Interests of Justice, supra note 7, at 5; Policy Paper on Preliminary Examinations, supra note 8, paras. 59–66; Draft Policy Paper on Case Selection, supra note 13, paras. 34–40.

74 See Policy Paper on the Interests of Justice, supra note 7, at 5; Draft Policy Paper on Case Selection, supra note 13, para. 36; Aravena, supra note 22, at 25, 26; Webb, supra note 3, at 327; see also Gallavin, supra note 5, at 185; for a contrary view, see Brubacher, supra note 3, at 80, 82.

75 Webb, supra note 3, at 320, 322.

76 Webb, supra note 3, at 347; M'Boge, supra note 3, at 377–9, Aravena, supra note 22, at 39.

77 See Art. 13(b) ICCSt.

78 Notice that the ICTY and the ICTR were also created by a UNSC Chapter VII resolution under the explicit recognition that they were tools for the maintenance of international peace. See Resolution 827, UN Doc. S/RES/827 (1993), para 6; Resolution 955, UN Doc. S/RES/955 (1994), para. 6.

79 See Art. 16 ICCSt.

80 See M'Boge, supra note 3, at 367; Naqvi Y., ‘Amnesty for War Crimes: Defining the Limits of International Recognition’, (2003) 85 IRRC 583 , at 592; Llewellyn J., ‘A Comment on the Complementarity Jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court: Adding Insult to Injury in Transitional Contexts?’, (2001) 24 Dalhousie Law Journal 192 , at 216.

81 Kleffner, supra note 64, at 237; Villiger, supra note 15, at 110.

82 Villiger, supra note 15, at 110.

83 See, e.g., paras. 4, 5 and 11 of the Preamble; see also Robinson, supra note 3, at 485, 486, 504; Keller, supra note 3, at 266.

84 Ibid.

85 See Keller, supra note 3, at 270; Kleffner, supra note 64, at 298; Aravena, supra note 22, at 36; Policy Paper on the Interests of Justice, supra note 7, at 8; Policy Paper on Preliminary Investigations, supra note 8, para. 16.

86 See Robinson, supra note 3, at 504; Gallavin, supra note 5, at 180; Keller, supra note 3, at 213, 260, 266.

87 See, e.g., Goldstone, supra note 62, at 486, 492, 501; Kleffner, supra note 64, at 298; Tutu D., No Future without Forgiveness (1999), 27 ; Ignatieff M., The Warrior's Honor: Ethnic War and the Modern Conscience (1999), 184.

88 See supra note 5.

89 See, for instance, Schabas, supra note 2, at 667.

90 Similarly, Informal expert paper on complementarity, supra note 54, at 22, 23.

91 See Case Concerning Military and Paramilitary Activities in and Against Nicaragua (Nicaragua v. United States of America), Merits, Judgment of 27 June 1986, [1986] ICJ Rep. 14, para. 186.

92 All of which allow the consideration of factors other than those explicitly listed.

93 On the general scope of this expression see Bailey S., ‘Article 21(3) of the Rome Statute: A Plea for Clarity’, (2014) 9 ICLR 513 , at 523–30; Grover, supra note 14, at 118.

94 See Keller, supra note 3, at 250.

95 See, for instance, UN General Assembly, Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law and Annex, Res. 60/147, 16 December 2005, UN Doc. A/RES/60/147; 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 999 UNTS 171, particularly Arts. 6(1), 7, 9, 10, 14 and 15.

96 Art. 32 VCLT.

97 See, e.g., Policy Paper on the Interests of Justice, supra note 7, at 2; Schabas, supra note 2, at 663; Robinson, supra note 3, at 483; Scharf, supra note 3, at 508, 521–7; Webb, supra note 3, at 306, 325; Wedgwood R., ‘The International Criminal Court: a American view’, (1999) 10 EJIL 93, at 97.

98 Complementarity: Suggested Amendments to ILC Draft, United Kingdom, 26 March 1996, Arts. 26(4),27(1); Discussion paper: International Criminal Court, Complementarity, United Kingdom, 29 March 1996, paras. 29, 32.

99 Discussion paper: International Criminal Court, Complementarity, United Kingdom, supra note 98, para. 30.

100 Proposal submitted by the informal working group of Argentina, Israel, et al. on Article 54.l(c) and Article 54.3(c), 16 June 1998, Art. 54(1)(c), available at www.legal-tools.org/en/doc/fcd0a4/.

101 Emphasis added.

102 United Nations Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court, Official Records, Volume III, Reports and other documents (‘Rome Conference – Vol. III’), at 110, 159, 272, 279, 294.

103 United Nations Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on The Establishment of an International Criminal Court, Rome, 15 June–17 July 1998. Official Records. Vol. II, Summary records and of the Meetings of the Committee of Whole, A/CONF-183/13(VOL-II) (‘Rome Conference – Vol. II’), at 77, para. 63, and 359, para. 45; Rome Conference – Vol. III, supra note 102, at 279, footnote 119.

104 Rome Conference – Vol. II, supra note 103, at 202, para. 129, and 211, para. 3.

105 See, e.g., Annex: Complementarity: A compilation of concrete proposals made in the course of discussion for amendment of the ICL Draft Statute – Addendum, 08 April 1996, a/ac-249/crp-9/add-1 Art. 26(1)(d), and letter ‘B’; Abbreviated Compilation of Proposals on Procedure Matters, Working group on Procedural Matters, PrepCom, 04 August 1997, UD/A/AC-249/1997/WG-4/IP (‘Abbreviated Compilation’), Art. 26(i bis)(b)(iii); Report of the Inter-Sessional Meeting from 19 To 30 January 1998 in Zutphen, The Netherlands, PrepCom, 4 February 1998, A/AC-249/1998/L-13 (‘Zutphen Draft’), Art. 47[26](1)bis(b)(iii); Report of the PrepCom, 14 April 1998, A/CONF.183/2, Art. 54(2)(b)(iii).

106 Rome Conference – Vol. II, supra note 103, at 62, para. 24; 64, para. 40; 82, paras. 7, 13.

107 Ibid., at 82, para. 13; 87, para. 59; 117, para. 45.

108 Ibid., at 82, para. 7; 82, para. 13; 110, para. 64.

109 Ibid., at 82, para. 13; 99, para. 48.

110 Ibid., at 82, para. 13.

111 Ibid., at 75, para. 39; 110, para. 64.

112 Ibid., at 62, para. 11; 87, para. 62.

113 Ibid., at 63, para. 29; 83, para 17.

114 Ibid., at 87, para. 62.

115 Situation in Darfur, Sudan, Decision on Application under Rule 103, Pre-Trial Chamber II, 4 February 2009, ICC-02/05-185, paras. 17, 18.

116 Prosecutor v. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, Aimé Kilolo Musamba, Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo, Fidèle Babala W Andu and Narcisse Arido (‘Bemba et al. Case’), Decision on Arido Defence request to withdraw the charges, Trial Chamber VII, 27 March 2015, ICC-01/05-01/13-876, para. 9; Bemba et al. Case, Decision pursuant to Article 61(7)(a) and (b) of the Rome Statute, ICC-01/05-01/13-749, Pre-Trial Chamber II, 11 November 2014, para. 23.

117 Situation in the Republic of Kenya, Decision on the ‘Victims’ request for review of Prosecution's decision to cease active investigation’, ICC-01/09-159, Pre-Trial Chamber II, 5 November 2015, paras. 22, 25, 27.

118 Art. 33(3) VCLT.

* Doctoral candidate in Public International Law, University of Oxford, UK; MJur(Dist), University of Oxford; LLB(Hons), Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, Brazil [].

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