Alessandra M De Tommaso (PhD student in international law, Middlesex University (London); firstname.lastname@example.org)
On 9 April 2018, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the International Criminal Court (ICC, or the Court) submitted a request pursuant to article 19(3) of the Rome Statute establishing the ICC (or the RomeStature, or the Statute) seeking a ruling on whether the Court may exercise its jurisdiction “over the alleged deportation of the Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh”. On 11 April 2018, the President of the Pre-Trial Division, Judge Antoine Kesia‐Mbe Mindua, assigned the matter to Pre-Trial Chamber I for further determination. On 7 May 2018, the Pre-Trial Chamber issued a decision inviting Bangladesh to submit its observations on the Prosecution’s request.
Article 19(3) of the Statute grants the Prosecutor the power to request a ruling from the Court on a question of jurisdiction or admissibility.To date, this is the first time that the OTP submits a request pursuant to article 19(3). In the case at hand, the need for such a ruling arises from the exceptional circumstances of the situation concerning the Rohingya people. Indeed, in this case, only the receiving State (Bangladesh) has accepted the ICC’s jurisdiction, while the originating State (Myanmar) has neither ratified the Rome Statute nor accepted the Court’s jurisdiction underarticle 12(3) of the Statute.
In its Request, the OTP addresses two legal issues: (i) the definition of deportation as a crime against humanity pursuant to article 7(1)(d) of the Statute; and (ii) the scope of the Court’s territorial jurisdiction under article 12(2)(a) of the Statute. This post provides a brief overview of the arguments submitted by the OTP, focusing in particular on the observations concerning the inherent transnational character of the crime of deportation and its implications on the territorial jurisdiction ofthe ICC.
- Deportation as a crime against humanity under the Rome Statute
The first issue addressed by the Prosecutor concerns the definition of deportation as an independent crime against humanity distinct from the crime of forcibletransfer. The Rome Statute lists both crimes under article 7(1)(d), which reads as follows:
“For the purpose of this Statute, ‘crime against humanity’ means any of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack:
Although included under the same provision, deportation and forcible transfer should be interpreted as two separate offences.Indeed, as argued by the Prosecutor, deportation requires that the victim is forced to cross a de factoor de jureinternational border, whereas forcible transfer refers to internal displacement.Such a distinction has constantly been recognised in the copious jurisprudence of the ICTY on the matter.To provide a recent example of that, in 2016, the Trial Chamber in Prosecutor v Radovan Karadzic observed:
‘488. The elements of deportation and forcible transfer are substantially similar. Deportation and forcible transfer are defined as: (i) the forced displacement of one or more persons by expulsion or other forms of coercion, (ii) from an area in which they are lawfully present, (iii) without grounds permitted under international law. There is an important distinction between the two crimes; for deportation, the displacement of persons must be across a de jureborder between two states or, in certain circumstances, a de factoborder, and for forcible transfer, the removal may take place within national boundaries.’
Interestingly, it is from the case law of the ICC that some uncertainty may still arise on the legal standing of deportation as an autonomous crime. In the Rutocase, Pre-Trial Chamber II described ‘deportation or forcible transfer’ under article 7(1)(d) of the Statute a ‘unique crime’ with ‘two labels’, leaving any concrete determination on the distinction existing between the two labels to the Trial Chamber.In recalling this precedent, the OTP contests that it was in the intention of the Pre-Trial Chamber II to conflate the two crimes and observes that in many other occasions the ICC Pre-Trial Chambers have implicitly recognised the distinct nature of the two crimes by confirming charges ‘onlyof forcible transfer and notdeportation’.
Therefore, the OTP concludes that deportation under article 7(1)(d) of the Statute is anautonomous crime, requiring the forcible displacement of persons across an international border. It followsthat deportation has an inherently transnational component and ‘is not completed until the victim has been forced to cross a de jureor de facto international border’.
- The scope of the territorial jurisdiction of the Court under article 12(2)(a) of the Statute
The transnational character of deportation implies that not all legal elements of the crime occur on the territory of a single State. By definition, indeed, the crime is established only when the victim crosses the border of the State where he or she lawfully resided, to enter the territory of a different State. No particular issues arise when both the originating State and the receiving State are Parties to the Statute. But what happenswhen only one of the two States has ratified the Rome Statute?
Pursuant to article 12(2)(a) of the Statute, the Court may exercise its territorial jurisdiction when ‘the conduct in question’ occurred on the territory of a State Party or of a State that hasaccepted the Court’s jurisdiction.The Statute provides no guidance on how the term ‘conduct’ should be interpreted in the context of article 12(2)(a) of the Statute. Thus, the Court is left with the task of establishing whether the term ‘conduct’ refers only to the criminal conduct or includes also its consequences, and whether the provision applies to the partial commission of a crimeon the territory of a State Party or requires all the elements of the crime to occur on that territory.Narrowly interpreted, the provision might restrict the Court’s territorial jurisdiction only to instances where the whole conduct (understood as the physical manifestation of the criminal act/omission) took place on the territory of a State Party, irrespectively of its consequences.
In its Request, the OTP firmly refuses such a narrow interpretation. First of all, the Prosecutor argues that the correct way of interpreting article 12(2)(a) of the Statute is to read the term ‘conduct’ as a synonymous of ‘crime’, so to include the criminal act/omission and its consequences.The Prosecution then argues that the ‘conduct’ requirement under article 12(2)(a) of the Statute means that ‘at least one legal element of an article 5 crime must occur on the territory of a State Party’.Indeed, the OTP submits that excluding the Court’s territorial jurisdiction when only some of the elements of a crime occurred on a State Party’s territory would be inconsistent with ‘the general and long-establishedapproach of the international community in exercising criminal jurisdiction’ and would go against the object and purpose of article 12(2)(a).
Applying this interpretation of article 12(2)(a) of the Statute to the crime of deportation, the Prosecution submits that the ICC may exercise itsterritorial jurisdiction ‘eitherif the originating State is a State Party to the Court orif the receiving State is a State Party to the Court’.In case of deportation, indeed, it is not relevant that the coercive acts took place only on the territory of a State not Party, ‘since the coercion and the movement of the victim [across the border] are distinct legal elements under article 7(1)(d)’. In the Prosecutor’s own words:
“… in adopting the Statute as a whole, the drafters manifestly intended to grant the Court ‘jurisdiction over the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole’. This expressly included the crime of deportation, which has an inherently transnational character. If it was understood arguendo that article 12(2)(a) jurisdiction was only established where all the elements of a crime were committed on the territory of a State Party, this would exclude the Court’s jurisdiction over deportation—which requires one element that always occurs beyond the territory of the victims’ State of origin—unless both States are Parties to the Rome Statute.”
Thus, it is the Prosecutor’s conclusion that, in the situation concerning the Rohingya people, the circumstance that the receiving State (Bangladesh) is a State Party may trigger the Court’s territorial jurisdiction even though the originating State (Myanmar) is not a Party to the Statute.
The Prosecution’s Request should be saluted as a positive attempt to bring justice to the Rohingya people.From a more general perspective, the Request should also be welcomed for its interesting insights in the interpretation of the Court’s territorial jurisdiction in connection with those crimes which have an inherently transnational character. Even if the judges of the Pre-Trial Chamber will not adopt the broad interpretation of article 12(2)(a) of the Statute submitted by the Prosecution, the latter’s request may give them the opportunity to clarify one of the still untouched issues concerning the territorial reach of the Court’s jurisdiction. However, it is not unrealistic to suppose that the Pre-Trial Chamber may refrain from embracing the Prosecutor’s interpretation of article 12(2)(a), as a similar determination may stir complaints from States not Parties to the Statute, fearing future ‘interventions’ by the Court.
Article 19(3) of the Rome Statute.
Article 7(1)(d) of the Rome Statute.
See e.g. Gotovina et al. case(Judgment) IT-06-90, 15 April 2001, para. 1740; Kristíc case (Judgment) IT-98-33-t, 2 August 2001, para. 521; Krnojelac case(Judgment) IT-97-25-T, 15 March 2002, para. 474; Karadžić case(Public Redacted Version of Judgment Issued on 24 March 2016 – Volume I of IV) IT-95-5/18-T, 24 March 2016, paras 488-490.
Article 12(2)(a) of the Rome Statute.
See, on this regard, Michail Vagias, ‘The Territorial Jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court – A Jurisdictional Rule of Reason for the ICC?’ (2012) 59 Netherlands International Law Review 43, 44; Jean-Baptiste Maillart, Article 12(2)(a) Rome Statute: The Missing Piece of the Jurisdictional Puzzle, EJIL: Talk! https://www.ejiltalk.org/article-122a-rome-statute-the-missing-piece-of-the-jurisdictional-puzzle/(last accessed on 9 May 2018).
See Human Right Watch, ICC Prosecutor’s Unprecedented Bid to Bring Justice to Rohingya, 10 April 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/04/10/icc-prosecutors-unprecedented-bid-bring-justice-rohingya(last accessed on 9 May 2018).