Comments on yesterday’s Senate hearing with former FBI Director James Comey

Pleased to have contributed to reporter Sean Illing’s Vox roundups of academic commentary on yesterday’s testimony by former FBI Director James B. Comey before the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. (photo credit)

Illing 1st asked whether, in “Comey’s introductory remarks or in his exchanges with senators,” the witness made “a case that President Trump attempted to obstruct justice.” My response here.

Next, he asked about a statement released by the President’s personal lawyer, which said that Comey had engaged in “unauthorized disclosure of privileged information.” My response, which treated the constitutional doctrine of executive privilege, here.

ICC Prosecutor’s Policy on Children, an international criminal justice capstone

Children have become the unwilling emblems of armed conflict and extreme violence.

Searing images have surfaced in news stories, aid workers’ alerts, and rights groups’ dispatches: a 5 year old pulled from Aleppo rubble, orphans at a Goma children’s center, a young Colombian woman struggling to readjust after years as a child soldier, and, face down on a Turkish beach, a drowned 3-year-old refugee. Images of this nature were shown yesterday at the International Criminal Court, during the opening statement in Ongwen, with Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda herself warning “that some of these images are extremely disturbing.”

There is no better time than now to press for strategies both to combat such harms and to bring the persons responsible to justice. Presenting an important step toward those goals is the Policy on Children of the International Criminal Court Office of the Prosecutor.

fatou

Prosecutor Bensouda launched the Policy on Children at an event during last month’s meeting of the ICC Assembly of States Parties. Bensouda quoted from the U.N. expert Graça Machel’s pathbreaking 1996 report on children and armed conflict, then commented:

“[I]t is indeed unconscionable that we so clearly and consistently see children’s rights attacked and that we fail to defend them.
“It is unforgivable that children are assaulted, violated, murdered and yet our conscience is not revolted nor our sense of dignity challenged. This represents a fundamental crisis of our civilisation and a failure of our humanity.
“By adopting the Policy on Children, which we launch today, we at the Office of the Prosecutor seek to ensure that children suffering the gravest injustices are not ignored. That through the vector of the law, we do what we can to protect and advance the rights of children within the framework of the Rome Statute.”

Leading the event was journalist Zeinab Badawi. Among the many others who offered live or video interventions were: Mamadou Ismaël Konaté, Mali’s Minister of Justice and Human Rights of the Republic of Mali; Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights; Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict; Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees; Nobel Peace Prizewinner Leymah Gbowee; Lieutenant General Roméo-Dallaire, Founder of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative (see also IntLawGrrls post by Kirsten Stefanik); Marc Dullaert, Founder of KidsRights and the Netherlands’ former Children’s Ombudsman; and Coumba Gawlo, U.N. Development Programme Goodwill Ambassador and National Goodwill Ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

screen2I am honored also to have offered brief remarks – and am especially honored to have assisted in the preparation of this Policy in my capacity as the Prosecutor’s Special Adviser on Children in & affected by Armed Conflict, working alongside a dedicated Office of the Prosecutor team led by Shamila Batohi, Gloria Atiba Davies, and Yayoi Yamaguchi. Preparation included experts’ gatherings at the University of Georgia School of Law Dean Rusk International Law Center, at Leiden Law School, and at the ICC itself, as well as consultations around the globe with young persons who had endured armed conflict. (Legal research produced by my students, in seminars on Children & International Law and through the work of the Georgia Law Project on Armed Conflict & Children, also was invaluable.)

The result is a Policy on Children spanning 47 pages, published simultaneously in Arabic, English, French, Spanish, and Swahili. Identifying children as persons under eighteen (paragraph 16), it covers a gamut of issues related to children and the work of the Prosecutor; for example, general policy, regulatory framework, and engagement with children at all stages of the proceedings. Among many other landmarks, the Policy:

► Embraces a child-sensitive approach grounded in the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, a treaty ratified by every U.N. member state save one: the United States, which is also an ICC nonparty state. (My remarks happily noted that my other state of citizenship, the Republic of Ireland, is a state party to both the Child Rights Convention and the ICC’s Rome Statute.) Paragraph 22 of the Policy on Children thus states:

“In light of the foregoing, the Office will adopt a child-sensitive approach in all aspects of its work involving children. This approach appreciates the child as an individual person and recognises that, in a given context, a child may be vulnerable, capable, or both. The child-sensitive approach requires staff to take into account these vulnerabilities and capabilities. This approach is based on respect for children’s rights and is guided by the general principles of the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child: non-discrimination; the best interests of the child; the right to life, survival and development; and the right to express one’s views and have them considered.”

► Views children, like all human beings, as multi-faceted individuals and, simultaneously, as members of multi-generational communities. (See, for example, paragraph 100.) Paragraph 25 states:

“Children, by the very fact of their youth, are frequently more vulnerable than other persons; at certain ages and in certain circumstances, they are dependent on others. Notwithstanding any vulnerability and dependence, children possess and are continuously developing their own capacities – capacities to act, to choose and to participate in activities and decisions that affect them. The Office will remain mindful, in all aspects of its work, of the evolving capacities of the child.”

► Acknowledges in paragraph 17 “that most crimes under the Statute affect children in various ways, and that at times they are specifically targeted” – and then pledges that “the Office will, in order to capture the full extent of the harm suffered, seek to highlight the multi-faceted impact on children, at all stages of its work.” The regulatory framework thus enumerates a range of crimes against and affecting children:

  • recruitment and use by armed forces and armed groups of children under fifteen as war crimes (paragraphs 39-43);
  • forcible transfer of children and prevention of birth as acts of genocide (paragraphs 44-46);
  • trafficking of children as a form of enslavement constituting a crime against humanity (paragraphs 47-48);
  • attacks on buildings dedicated to education and health care as war crimes (paragraph 49);
  • torture and related war crimes and crimes against humanity (paragraph 50);
  • persecution as a crime against humanity (paragraph 50); and
  • sexual and gender-based violence as war crimes and crimes against humanity (paragraph 52).

► Details the Office’s plan for applying the child-sensitive approach, with respect both to all stages of proceedings, including preliminary examinations, investigations, and prosecutions, and to cooperation and external relations, institutional development, and implementation.

Even as cases involving crimes against and affecting children, like Ongwen, go forward, the Office is working on implementation of its new Policy on Children. The implementation phase will include developing versions of the Policy accessible to children. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to contribute this phase – and to hearing others’ views on the Policy.

ICC Prosecutor’s opening addresses Ongwen as alleged “victim-perpetrator”

Since accused Lord’s Resistance Army leader Dominic Ongwen surrendered to the International Criminal Court in January 2015, there’s been much discussion of the effect, if any, of reports that he was abducted as a child into the Uganda rebel group, and eventually committed international crimes himself.

bensouda

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda (© ICC-CPI)

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda responded in her opening statement this morning,  on the 1st day of trial in Prosecutor v. Ongwen (transcript, video, and audio available here). First she discussed the crimes with which he is charged, against children and adults alike. Then Bensouda turned to the accused himself:

“One aspect of this case is the fact that not only is Ongwen alleged to be the perpetrator of these crimes, he was also a victim.”

About this, Bensouda said:

“The reality is that cruel men can do kind things and kind men can be cruel. A hundred percent consistency is a rare thing. And the phenomenon of the perpetrator-victim is not restricted to international courts: it is a familiar one in all criminal jurisdictions. Fatherless children in bleak inner cities face brutal and involuntary initiation ordeals into gang life, before themselves taking on a criminal lifestyle. Child abusers consistently reveal that they have been abused themselves as children.

“But having suffered victimization in the past is not a justification, nor an excuse to victimise others. Each human being must be considered to be endowed with moral responsibility for their actions. And the focus of the ICC’s criminal process is not on the goodness or badness of the accused person, but on the criminal acts which he or she has committed. We are not here to deny that Mr. Ongwen was a victim in his youth. We will prove what he did, what he said, and the impact of those deeds on his many victims.

“This Court will not decide his goodness or badness, nor whether he deserves sympathy, but whether he is guilty of the serious crimes committed as an adult, with which he stands charged.”

Distinguished jurist Navi Pillay discusses state sovereignty and human rights

duo

“The biggest violators of human rights are states themselves, by commission or omission.”

This quote by Navi Pillay aptly summarized her talk on “National Sovereignty vs. International Human Rights.” Pillay, whose renowned legal career has included posts as U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and as a judge on the International Criminal Court and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, spoke this morning at the University of Georgia School of Law Atlanta campus.

Elaborating on the quote above, Pillay decried national legislation aimed at restricting the activities – and with it the effectiveness – of local nongovernmental organizations. Such anti-NGO laws already have passed in Russia and are pending in Pillay’s home state of South Africa, among other countries. That said, she welcomed new means of speaking law to power; in particular, social media that permit human rights advocates to reach millions. Also welcomed were accountability mechanisms that the United Nations has developed in recent decades, such as Universal Periodic Review by the Human Rights Council, reporting processes of treaty bodies, and reports by special rapporteurs.

amann_pillayI was honored to give welcoming remarks at the breakfast. Georgia Law’s Dean Rusk International Law Center, which I lead, cosponsored this Georgia WILL event with the World Affairs Council of Atlanta and Georgia State University’s Global Studies Institute. (We owe special thanks to Judge Dorothy Toth Beasley for her hospitality this week.)

Conversing with Pillay was World Affairs Council President Charles Shapiro. They began by speaking of Pillay’s childhood in Durban, where she grew up the daughter of a bus driver. She spoke of how testifying as a 6-year-old in the trial of a man who’d stolen money from her helped spark her desire to become a lawyer – and how donations from her community helped make that dream a reality.

Shapiro then asked about capital punishment, noting a scheduled execution. Pillay acknowledged the absence of any universal treaty outlawing the death penalty, but found evidence of U.N. opposition both in the decision not to permit the penalty in U.N. ad hoc international criminal tribunals and in the growing support for the oft-repeated U.N. General Assembly resolution calling for a moratorium on capital punishment.

“It started with just 14 states against the death penalty, and is now more than 160,” said Pillay, who currently serves on the International Commission against the Death Penalty.

img_0335On this and other issues, she said, advocates endeavor to encourage states first to obligate themselves to respect and ensure human rights, and then to implement the undertakings they have made in this regard:

“The United Nations was formed by states. It is a club of governments. Look how steadily they have adopted treaties and agreed to be bound by them. That doesn’t mean we are transgressing sovereignty.”

(Cross-posted from Exchange of Notes)

Antiquities trafficking said to fuel transnational mayhem by Daesh et al.

davisetal

Alumna Tess Davis, 2d from left, met with Georgia Law 1Ls after her lecture; from left, Hannah Williams, Ava Goble & Karen Hays. Hannah will work on cultural heritage issues this summer through a Global Externship Overseas (GEO) at the Cambodia Ministry of Culture & Fine Arts, Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

“As long as there have been tombs, there have been tomb raiders.”

So began the terrific talk on trafficking that Tess Davis, Executive Director of the D.C.-based Antiquities Coalition, delivered to a rapt University of Georgia audience a few days ago.

Having conceded the point quoted at top, Davis stressed that today the problem is much different and much greater. On the list of lucrative transnational organized crime, she asserted, antiquities trafficking places 3d, right behind arms trafficking and drug trafficking.

The threat is not simply one of criminal behavior, she continued. Rather, Davis stressed that profits from antiquities trafficking – profits believed to be in the millions of dollars – provide revenue vital for the nonstate actor waging armed conflict in Syria and Iraq. That entity calls itself “Islamic State” and is often labeled “ISIS” or “ISIL” in the media; taking a lead from diplomats in France and, recently, the United States, Davis preferred “Daesh,” the group’s Arabic acronym, for the simple reason that “they hate to be called that.”

Initially trained as an archeologist, Davis began to focus on legal means to combat antiquities trafficking while still a student at Georgia Law. Since earning her J.D. in 2009, she’s been a leader at the Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage and in the American Society of International Law Cultural Heritage & the Arts Interest Group, a researcher at Scotland’s University of Glasgow, a member of Georgia Law’s Dean Rusk International Law Center Council, and, as the photo above demonstrates, a mentor to Georgia Law students and other young lawyers interested in working in the field. Her efforts to help repatriate antiquities stolen from Cambodia earned multiple mentions in The New York Times.

Her talk drew links between the looting of cultural heritage during and after the 1970s Khmer Rouge reign of terror and current looting in the Middle East today. In both instances, she said, “cultural cleansing” – in the contemporary case, the destruction and thievery of monuments sacred to moderate Muslims and others – precedes and parallels efforts to erase and subjugate the humans who venerate those monuments. It’s a state of affairs documented in her Coalition’s new report, “Culture Under Threat.”

“The world failed Cambodia,”

Davis said, then expressed optimism at growing political will to do something about the Middle East. She advocated enactment of S. 1887, the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act now working its way through Congress. The legislation, whose cosponsors include a Georgia U.S. Senator, David Perdue, is urgent: Davis estimated that U.S. buyers represent 43% of the current demand for looted Syrian antiquities.

(Cross-posted from Exchange of Notes blog)

ICC Prosecutor seeks public comment on case selection and prioritisation policy

paperToday Fatou Bensouda, the International Criminal Court Prosecutor, released a draft Policy Paper on Case Selection & Prioritisation, and welcomed public comment. The paper’s aimed at “clarifying how the Office of the Prosecutor selects and prioritises cases after a decision has been made to open an investigation into a situation.”

The 16-page draft is available, in English and French, here; comments may be e-mailed to otp_spi@icc-cpi.int through Friday, March 18, 2016.

Day of child-justice reform, at Court & White House, leaves much yet to be done

barsMonday was quite a day for child rights in the United States.

It began in the morning, when the Supreme Court made clear in Montgomery v. Louisiana that its 2012 ruling in Miller v. Alabama, which had outlawed sentences of life without parole for persons who were under eighteen when they committed the crime of conviction, applied retroactively.

Writing for the 6-member majority in Montgomery, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy  stated that the 2012 decision in Miller

did more than require a sentencer to con­sider a juvenile offender’s youth before imposing life with­ out parole; it established that the penological justifications for life without parole collapse in light of ‘the distinctive attributes of youth.’ (p. 16)

As a result, he wrote, it established a “substantive rule of constitutional law,” the kind of rule that must apply even to persons whose cases otherwise would have been deemed final before the issuance of the 2012 decision.

according to Wall Street Journal reporter Jess Bravin, the decision granted “the possibility of freedom to as many as 2,500 inmates who otherwise would die in prison.”

Then, just 4 hours from midnight, the Washington Post published an op-ed in which President Barack Obama announced he had accepted recommendations in a new Department of Justice report; thus, inter alia, “banning solitary confinement for juveniles” in the federal prison system. The op-ed concluded on notes of promise:

In America, we believe in redemption. We believe, in the words of Pope Francis, that ‘every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes.’

In that last sentence, notably, Obama quoted the September 2015 address to Congress in which Pope Francis called for abolition of the death penalty. The President’s op-ed continued:

We believe that when people make mistakes, they deserve the opportunity to remake their lives. And if we can give them the hope of a better future, and a way to get back on their feet, then we will leave our children with a country that is safer, stronger and worthy of our highest ideals.

A children’s day indeed.

Still, it must be noted that the solitary confinement ban applies only to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. The DOJ report wrote at page 66:

The Department of Justice prosecutes very few juveniles, and so the Bureau is only responsible for the custody of a very small number of juveniles. As of December 5, 2015, the Bureau was responsible for 71 juvenile inmates, of which 45 were serving a term of incarceration, and 26 were under the supervision of the U.S. Probation Office.

Many thousands are in state correctional systems, and thus not affected by Obama’s decision.

And there is much yet to be done of a preventive nature, to help children from entering the juvenile justice system at all.