The Four American Churchwomen of El Salvador


In 1980 there were at least two U.S. Roman Catholic missionary centers in El Salvador. One in Chalatenango. The other in La Libertad. 


Chalatenango, the largest city in the northern Department of the same name, was a stronghold of the FMLN guerrillas at the time and scene of many battles. There the Maryknoll Sisters lived in the Parish House of the 18th-century colonial church. They worked with the Emergency Refugee Committee to provide food, shelter, transportation and burials for the poor and people trying to escape the early days of the civil war. Two of the Sisters who were so involved were Maura Clarke and Ita Ford.[1]

The other missionary center was the Church of the Immaculate Conception in the western coastal port of La Libertad in the Department of the same name. There the Ursulines of the Roman Union trained catechists, conducted sacramental preparation programs and oversaw the distribution of Catholic Relief Services aid and food supplies. They also helped civil war refugees with food, shelter and medical supplies and transportation to medical facilities. Sister Dorothy Kazel and Jean Donovan worked there. [2]

Maura Clarke

Clarke, age 49 from New York City, had worked for the Order for 20 years in Nicaragua before coming to El Salvador. She said, “My fear of death is being challenged constantly as children, lovely young girls, old people are being shot and some cut up with machetes and bodies thrown by the road and people prohibited from burying them. A loving Father must have a new life of unimaginable joy and peace prepared for these precious unknown, uncelebrated martyrs.”

Ita Ford

Ita Ford, age 40 and also from New York City, had joined the Maryknoll Order in 1971 and had served in Bolivia and Chile before arriving In El Salvador on March 24, 1980, the day of Archbishop Romero’s assassination. In a worship service on December 1, 1980, she read a passage from one of Romero’s homilies, “Christ invites us not to fear persecution because . . . the one who is committed to the poor must run the same fate as the poor, and in El Salvador we know what the fate of the poor signifies: to disappear, be tortured, to be held captive–and to be found dead.”


Dorothy Kazel


Sister Dorothy Kazel was in charge of the Ursuline mission. She was 42 years old from Ohio and had been a member of the Order for 20 years. The last six of those years she had worked in El Salvador and frequently went by motorbike and jeep to visit country parishes.

Jean Donovan


Sister Dorothy was assisted by Jean Donovan, a Maryknoll lay missionary, also from Ohio, age 27. Donovan had been doing this work for three years and had told a friend in the U.S., “The danger is extreme . . . . [I wanted to leave], except for the children, the poor, the bruised victims of this insanity. Who would care for them? Whose heart could be so staunch as to favor the reasonable thing in a sea of their tears and loneliness? Not mine, dear friend, not mine.”

[1] Wikipedia, Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic,; Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic,;Wikipedia, Maura Clarke,; Wikipedia, Ita Ford,

[2] Wikipedia, Ursulines,; Wikipedia, Dorothy Kazel,; Wikipedia, Jean Donovan,; Dear, The Life and Example of Jean Donovan (Dec. 2, 2005),; Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland, Sister Dorothy Kazel, modern-day martyr,

U.S. Second Report to U.N. Committee Against Torture

As previously noted, States Parties to the multilateral treaty against torture (Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment) are obligated to submit periodical reports to the Committee Against Torture  (CAT) “on the measures they have taken” to implement the treaty. We also have examined the U.S. initial report to CAT (First Report).[1]

In CAT’s comments on the First Report, it requested the U.S. to submit its second report on or before November 19, 2001. The U.S. did not do so. Instead, the U.S. belatedly submitted its second report (the Second Report) on May 6, 2005.[2]

It is important to remember that the Second Report came after 9/11 and during the U.S.’ so called “war on terror.” It was also after there was world-wide publicity and criticism of the U.S. about horrible abuses of prisoners by U.S. personnel at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, U.S. transfer of detainees to other countries (so called “rendition”) where torture was known to occur and the U.S. use of its base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for detention of men arrested in the “war on terrorism.” As we will see below, this led to an intensive examination and criticism of the U.S. by CAT.

We will examine the Second Report (85-pages plus annexes, including two sworn statements about transfers of detainees from Guantanamo Bay), CAT’s hearings regarding that report, CAT’s responsive comments and the U.S. reaction to those comments.

1. U.S. Second Report to CAT

The report started with positive general statements. The U.S. “is unequivocally opposed to the use and practice of torture. No circumstance whatsoever, including war, the threat of war, internal political instability, public emergency, or an order from a superior officer or public authority, may be invoked as a justification for or defense to committing torture. This is a longstanding commitment of the [U.S.].”[3]

Moreover, “All components of the [U.S.] Government are obligated to act in compliance with the law, including all [U.S.] constitutional, statutory, and treaty obligations relating to torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.The U.S. . . . does not permit, tolerate, or condone torture, or other unlawful practices, by its personnel or employees under any circumstances. U.S. laws prohibiting such practices apply both when the employees are operating in the United States and in other parts of the world.”

The report also said the U.S. “is aware of allegations that detainees held in U.S. custody pursuant to the global war on terrorism have been subject to torture or other mistreatment. The President of the United States [George W. Bush, however,] . . . has clearly stated that torture is prohibited. When allegations of torture or other unlawful treatment arise, they are investigated and, if substantiated, prosecuted.”

The report further stated that the U.S. recognizes “its obligation not to expel, return (refouler) or extradite a person to another state where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture. . . . [A]llegations that it has transferred individuals to third countries where they have been tortured [are contrary to U.S. policies and procedures].”

After the submission of the Second Report and before the hearings, CAT in February 2006 provided the U.S. with a document containing 59 very detailed questions or issues that it wanted addressed before or at the hearings. The document demonstrated the Committee’s awareness of what was happening in the U.S. “war on terrorism” and of internal U.S. documents that had entered the public domain.[4] On April 28th the U.S. submitted its written responses to these issues.[5]

2. Committee’s Hearings Regarding  the U.S. Second Report

There were two parts to the Committee’s hearing regarding the U.S. in Geneva, Switzerland. The initial hearing took place on May 5, 2006.[6] The second, on May 8th.[7]

These hearings were the first time since 9/11 that the U.S. had answered questions from an international body about alleged U.S. abuses in the so-called war on terrorism. The seriousness of the occasion was underscored by the U.S.’ sending a delegation of 26 officials from the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security. It was headed by Barry Lowenkron (Assistant Secretary of State for Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor) and John Bellinger (Legal Advisor to the State Department) with high-level support from Thomas Monheim, (Associate Deputy Attorney General) and Charles Stimson (Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs).

a. May 5, 2006 Hearing

The initial hearing was opened by Mr. Lowenkron. He emphasized the U.S. commitment to uphold its obligations to eradicate torture and prevent cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Abuses, like those at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, sickened American people and were inexcusable and indefensible. The U.S. is taking steps to hold accountable those who were involved. The U.S. values transparency and openness. For example, the International Committee of the Red Cross, a European governmental group and over 1,000 journalists have visited the U.S. facility at Guantanamo Bay, and some have made positive statements about the facility.

These comments were reiterated by Mr. Bellinger, who emphasized U.S. efforts to help torture victims recover. The Torture Convention, he argued, was not intended to apply to armed conflicts which are governed by humanitarian law. There were many allegations about U.S. mistreatment of detainees, but he urged the Committee to remember they were only allegations, not proof, and to keep a sense of perspective and proportion regarding these claims. Bellinger then summarized the U.S.’ written responses to the Committee’s list of issues.

Mr. Monheim discussed the role of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division in enforcing federal civil rights statutes and U.S. legal protections for victims of torture. Mr. Stimson spoke about the U.S. treatment of detainees in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.

After these presentations, several Committee members appeared skeptical about aspects of the U.S. presentation. Fernando Marino Menendez of Spain, the Committee’s Rapporteur for the U.S., raised several concerns. He said the International Court of Justice and the Committee believed that the Convention was applicable in times of armed conflict contrary to the U.S. position; that the U.S. failure to disclose information about intelligence services could be a violation of victims’ rights; that the U.S. had failed to adopt the Convention’s definition of “torture” and instead improperly had adopted a different definition; and international tribunals and opinion had concluded that forced disappearances constituted torture contrary to the U.S. position. Menendez also expressed skepticism of the U.S. assertions that its interrogation practices complied with the treaty, that the abuses were not systematic and that the U.S. complied with the treaty with respect to transfer of detainees to other countries.

The Committee’s Alternate Rapporteur for the U.S., Guibril Camara of Senegal, emphasized that the Committee’s interpretation of the treaty trumped that of the U.S., and he questioned the legitimacy of the U.S. reservations to its ratification of the treaty.

Other members of the Committee reiterated some of these concerns and added others as well.

b. May 8, 2006 Hearing

The U.S. delegation returned on May 8th to respond to the oral questions raised at the initial hearing. These responses focused on legal issues regarding U.S. implementation of the treaty; U.S. treatment of detainees and accountability for abuses; and monitoring and oversight of U.S. intelligence activities.

Immediately after the conclusion of the hearings, the U.S. delegation released a written “Departure Statement.” It emphasized that (1) all U.S. officials are prohibited from engaging in torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment at all times and in all places; (2) the U.S. deplores its personnel’s occasional violations of these bans and will investigate and hold perpetrators accountable; (3) the U.S. does not transfer people to countries where it is more likely than not that they would be tortured; and (4) the U.S. is able to recognize its failures and make things better and comply with the torture treaty. The statement also mentioned that while in Geneva, members of the delegation also met with the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Committee of the Red Cross and several human rights NGOs.[8]

3.   Committee’s Conclusions and Recommendations Regarding the U.S. Second Report

On July 25, 2006, the Committee issued its conclusions and recommendations regarding the U.S. Second Report. CAT complimented the U.S. for its exhaustive written responses to the Committee’s list of issues and to the questions raised at the hearing and for the presence of the large and high-level U.S. delegation at the hearing. CAT also welcomed the U.S. commitment to prohibition of torture and improper transfer of detainees to other countries. Finally CAT was pleased with new U.S. legislation on treatment of prisoners and detainees.[9]

The U.S.’ major effort to persuade the Committee that the U.S. was in full compliance with the Convention Against Torture, however, was unsuccessful. The Committee’s report recorded a lengthy list of concerns and recommendations. Although polite, diplomatic language was used, it was a stinging rebuke of the U.S. According to the Committee, the U.S. should:

  • (a) enact a federal crime of torture consistent with Article 1 of the treaty;
  • (b) ensure that acts of psychological torture, prohibited by CAT, are not limited to “prolonged mental harm” as set out in U.S. “understandings, ” but constitute a wider category of acts, which cause severe mental suffering, irrespective of their prolongation or its duration and withdraw its reservation to article. 16 (prevention of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment);
  • (c) investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators under the U.S. extraterritorial torture statute;
  • (d) recognize and ensure that CAT applies at all times, whether in peace, war or armed conflict, in any territory under its jurisdiction and that CAT’s provisions are without prejudice to provisions of any other international instrument;
  • (e) recognize and ensure that CAT’s provisions apply to, and are fully enjoyed  by, all persons under the de facto effective control of its authorities, of whichever type, wherever located in the world as opposed to the regrettable U.S. view that they applied only to its de jure territory;
  • (f) register all persons it detains in any territory under its jurisdiction;
  • (g) ensure that no one is detained in any secret detention facility under its de facto effective control because doing so is a per se violation of the treaty; the U.S. “no comment” policy regarding such facilities is regrettable;
  • (h) adopt all necessary measures to prohibit and prevent enforced disappearance in any territory under its jurisdiction, and prosecute and punish perpetrators because such practices are per se violations of the treaty; the U.S. view that such practices do not constitute torture is regrettable;
  • (i) adopt clear legal provisions to implement the principle of absolute prohibition of torture in its domestic law without any possible derogation, ensure that perpetrators of acts of torture are prosecuted and punished appropriately, ensure that any interrogation rules, instructions oR methods do not derogate from the principle of absolute prohibition of torture and that no doctrine under domestic law impedes the full criminal responsibility of perpetrators of acts of   torture, and promptly, thoroughly, and impartially investigate any responsibility of senior military and civilian officials authorizing, acquiescing or consenting, in any way, to                    acts of torture committed by their subordinates;
  • (j) apply the non-refoulement guarantee to all detainees in its custody, cease the rendition of suspects, in particular by its intelligence agencies, to States where they face a real risk of torture, and ensure that suspects have the possibility to challenge decisions of refoulement; the Committee is concerned that the U.S. does not consider its non-refoulement obligation to extend to its detainees outside its territory;
  • (k) with respect to refoulement only rely on “diplomatic assurances” from States which do not systematically violate the Convention’s provisions, and after a thorough examination of the merits of each individual case, establish and implement clear procedures for obtaining such assurances, with adequate judicial mechanisms for review, and effective post-return monitoring arrangements, and provide detailed information to the Committee on all cases since 9/11/01 where assurances have been provided;
  • (l) cease to detain any person at Guantánamo Bay and close this detention facility, permit access by the detainees to judicial process or release them as soon as possible, ensuring that they are not returned to any State where they could face a real risk of being tortured because detaining people indefinitely without charges constitutes a per se violation of the treaty;
  • (m) ensure that education and training of all law-enforcement or military personnel, are conducted on a regular basis, in particular for personnel involved in the interrogation of suspects;  training to include interrogation rules, instructions and methods, and specific training on how to identify signs of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; such personnel should also be instructed to report such incidents; regularly evaluate such training and education and ensure regular and independent monitoring of their conduct;
  • (n) rescind any interrogation technique, including methods involving sexual humiliation, “waterboarding”, “short shackling” and using dogs to induce fear, that constitute torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, in all places of detention under its de facto effective control;
  • (o) promptly, thoroughly and impartially investigate all allegations of acts of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by law-enforcement personnel and bring perpetrators to       justice, and provide the Committee with information on the ongoing investigations and prosecution relating to Chicago Police Department;
  • (p) eradicate all forms of torture and ill-treatment of detainees by its military or civilian personnel, in any territory under its jurisdiction, and promptly and thoroughly investigate such acts, prosecute all those responsible for such acts, and ensure they are appropriately punished, in accordance with the seriousness of the crime;
  • (q) ensure that independent, prompt and thorough procedures to review the circumstances of detention and the status of detainees are available to all detainees;
  • (r) ensure that mechanisms to obtain full redress, compensation and rehabilitation are accessible to all victims of acts of torture or abuse, including sexual violence, perpetrated by its officials;
  • (s) amend the U.S. Prison Litigation Reform Act to eliminate the requirement that there can be no lawsuit for mental or emotional injury suffered while in custody without a prior showing of physical injury;
  • (t) ensure that the ban on use of statements induced by torture are fulfilled in all circumstances, including in the context of military commissions, and establish  an independent mechanism to guarantee the rights of all detainees in its custody;
  • (u) review and revise its execution methods, in particular lethal injection, in order to prevent severe pain and suffering;
  • (v) design and implement appropriate measures to prevent all sexual violence in all it detention centers, and ensure that all allegations of violence in detention centers are investigated promptly and independently, perpetrators are prosecuted and appropriately sentenced and victims can seek redress, including appropriate compensation;
  • (w) ensure that detained children are kept in facilities separate from those for adults in conformity with international standards, and address the question of sentences of life imprisonment of children, as these could constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
  • (x) review the use of electroshock devices, strictly regulate their use, restricting it to substitution for lethal weapons, and eliminate the use of these devices to restrain persons in custody;
  • (y) review the regime imposed on detainees in “supermaximum prisons,” in particular the practice of prolonged isolation;
  • (z) ensure that reports of brutality and ill-treatment of members of vulnerable groups by its law-enforcement personnel are independently, promptly and thoroughly investigated and that perpetrators are prosecuted and appropriately punished;
  • (aa) invite the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, in full conformity with the terms of reference for fact-finding missions by U.N. special procedures, to visit Guantánamo Bay and any other detention facility under its de facto control;
  • (bb) reconsider its intent not to join the International Criminal Court;
  • (cc) withdraw all U.S. reservations, declarations and understandings lodged at the time of ratification of CAT;
  • (dd) make declaration under article 22, thereby recognizing the competence of the Committee to receive and consider individual communications, and ratify Optional Protocol to CAT;
  • (ee) provide detailed statistical data, disaggregated by sex, ethnicity and conduct, on complaints related to torture and ill-treatment allegedly committed by law-enforcement officials, investigations, prosecutions, penalties and disciplinary action relating to such complaints, etc.

Indeed, journalists saw the Committee’s report as “a rebuke of Bush administration counter-terrorism policies.” Human Rights Watch said it was a “strong and thorough critique” and “a complete repudiation of virtually every legal theory that the Bush administration has offered for its controversial detention and interrogation policies.” [10]                   

4. U.S. Reaction to the Committee’s Conclusions and Recommendations

Immediately after the release of the Committee’s report, U.S. officials were very critical of the Committee and its report. Mr. Bellinger was reported as saying that the report was “skewed and reaches well beyond the scope and mandate of the Committee,” and he reiterated the U.S. argument that in any war, a belligerent nation holds captured combatants without charges indefinitely until the war is over. Bellinger even said the Committee had not provided a fair hearing.[11]

Pursuant to CAT’s request, within one year after the issuance of its conclusions and recommendation, the U.S. on July 25, 2007, submitted its follow-up report to the Committee regarding some of its conclusions and recommendations.[12] Here is what the U.S. said:

  • The treaty has no provision regarding the registration of prisoners and, therefore, the recommendation to do so was not required; U.S. personnel, however, “generally maintain appropriate records” on detainees;
  • The U.S. determines whether it is more likely than not that a person would be tortured in another country before transferring him, not whether there is a “real risk” of that occurring, and the treaty does not give such individuals a right to challenge the transfer;
  • There is no basis in the treaty to recommend that the Guantanamo Bay facility be closed or that every detainee there have a right to judicial review of their detention;
  • The law of war, not CAT, applies to detention of enemy combatants in the war on terrorism; and
  • Juveniles are not regularly and generally held in federal and state prisons with adult prisoners. The U.S. is not a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and is not subject to any of its provisions.


CAT also requested the U.S. to submit its next periodical report on or before November 19, 2011.[13] The U.S., however, did not do so. Once again we see that CAT does not have power to order the U.S. or any other State Party to do anything or to impose sanctions on the party when it does not do what CAT politely had requested.

[1] Convention Against Torture, Art. 19(1); Post: The Multilateral Treaty Against Torture (Nov. 29, 2011); Post: U.S. Ratification of the Multilateral Treaty Against Torture (Dec. 1, 2011); Post: U.S. First Report to the Committee Against Torture (Dec. 5, 2011).

[2] Post: U.S. First Report to the Committee Against Torture (Oct. 15, 1999); U.S. Dep’t of State, Second Periodic Report of the United States of America to the Committee Against Torture (May 6, 2005),

[3]  Id. The second report also contained responses to CAT’s concerns and recommendations to the first U.S. report. In connection with the second report, the U.S. in October 2005 also provided CAT with supplemental responses that are contained in a U.S. Department of State website,

[4] CAT, List of issues to be considered during the examination of the second periodic report of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (Feb. 8, 2006),

[5] U.S. Dep’t of State, Response of the U.S.A. to List of issues to be considered during the examination of the second periodic report of the U.S.A. (April 28, 2006),

[6]  U.S. Dep’t of State, U.S. Treaty Reports, http://www.state.gove/g/drl/hr/treaties/index.htm: has posted the following documents at U.S. Dep’t of State, Opening Statement for U.S. Hearing at Committee Against Torture (May 5, 2006); U.S. Dep’t of State, Opening Remarks by John Bellinger (May 5, 2006); U.S. Dep’t of State, U.S. Delegation Oral Responses to CAT Committee Questions (May 5, 2006). See also U.N. Committee Against Torture, Summary Record of 703rd Meeting–Consideration of Second Periodic Report of the U.S.A. (May 5, 2006); Wright, U.S. Defends Rights Record Before U.N. Panel in Geneva, N.Y. Times (May 6, 2006).

[7] U.N. Committee Against Torture, Summary Record of 706th Meeting–Consideration of Second Periodic Report of the U.S.A. (May 8, 2006) (original in French);U.S. Dep’t of State, The United States’ Oral Responses to the Questions Asked by the Committee Against Torture (May 8, 2006); Wright, U.S. Defends Itself on Inmate Abuse, N.Y. Times (May 9, 2006).

[8] U.S. Dep’t of State, U.S. Delegation Departure Statement (May 9, 2006) (available on State Department website).

[9] Committee Against Torture, Conclusions and Recommendations Regarding U.S.A. (7/25/06),

[10] Human Rights Watch, U.N. Torture Committee Critical of U.S. (May 19, 2006); Lynch & Brubaker, U.N. Urges Closure of Guantanamo Detention Facility, Wash. Post (May 19, 2006); Lynch, Military Prison’s Closure Is Urged, Wash. Post (May 20, 2006); Golden, U.S. Should Close Prison in Cuba, U.N. Panel Says, N.Y. Times (May 20, 2006); Human Rights Watch, United States: Committee Against Torture Denounces U.S. Practices (June 1, 2006).

[11]  Id.

[12] Id.; U.S. Dep’t of State, U.S. Response to Specific Recommendations Identified by CAT, (7/25/07),

[13]  See n.9 supra.


U.S. Ratification of the Multilateral Treaty Against Torture

The U.S. procedures for ratification of multilateral treaties are complicated and not widely understood. The following are the steps in that procedure:

  • The U.S. Government’s participating in the preparation of the treaty, including multiparty negotiation of its terms.
  • The President’s signing the treaty on behalf of the U.S. (This could also be done by another high-level official of the Administration.)
  • The President’s submitting the treaty to the U.S. Senate for its advice and consent under Article II, Section 2 (2) of the U.S. Constitution.
  • The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s conducting a hearing on whether the Senate should give its advice and consent to ratification of the treaty, taking a committee vote on that issue and reporting the results of the hearing and the vote to the full Senate.
  • The U.S. Senate’s debating a resolution to grant its advice and consent to ratification of the treaty and voting by at least two-thirds of those Senators present, under Article II, Section 2 (2) of the U.S. Constitution, to do so.
  • The President’s submitting the U.S. ratification instrument to the person designated in the treaty as the recipient of such instruments; for multilateral treaties that is usually the U.N. Secretary-General.
  • For at least multilateral treaties, the passing of a stipulated amount of time after submission of the ratification instrument before the treaty goes into force for the U.S.

For the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), these procedures took 17 to 19 years and five presidencies before the U.S. had ratified the treaty and it went into force for the U.S.

1. U.S. Participation in the Preparation of the Torture Convention.

As we have seen, the U.N.’s preparation of this treaty started in 1975 with its actual drafting by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights from 1978 through early 1984. During this nine-year period the U.S. was one of 53 members of that Commission and in that role participated in the treaty’s preparation.[1]

U.S. diplomats also were active participants in the drafting process with the objective of obtaining an effective treaty on the subject that the U.S. would be able to ratify. As President Reagan said, the U.S. “participated actively and effectively in the negotiation of the Convention.”[2]

Similarly U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz noted that the U.S. “contributed significantly to the development of the final Convention, especially in proposing that [it] focus on torture, rather than on other relatively less abhorrent practices.” In particular, the Secretary reported that the U.S. was a strong supporter for Article 7’s providing that if a State finds someone who committed torture in another country and does not extradite him to that country, the first State “shall . . . submit the case to its competent authorities for t he purpose of prosecution.” This use of the principle of universal jurisdiction was “to prevent a loophole that would create potential safe-havens for torturers.”[3]

An outside observer said, the U.S. “was one of the moving forces in the adoption of the Convention . . . [and] was involved at all stages of the drafting process,” and “the final version . . . is largely consistent with positions taken by [the U.S.] . . . during that process.”[4]

2. U.S. Signing the Torture Convention.

Although the Convention was available for signature by states immediately upon its unanimous approval by the U.N. General Assembly in December 1984, the U.S. did not sign the treaty until over three years later.

During those three-plus years the U.S. Departments of State and Justice were engaged in negotiating a package of reservations and other conditions for U.S. ratification of the treaty. State advocated rapid signature; Justice, caution. Those negotiations apparently were not concluded until April 1988. The Department of State during this period also had discussions with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff on the subject of conditions for ratification.[5]

On April 18, 1988, John C. Whitehead, Deputy Secretary of State in the Reagan Administration, signed the Convention at the U.N. Whitehead said at signing that the treaty would be sent to the Senate for advice and consent to ratification with proposed reservations, understanding and declarations to resolve ambiguities and safeguard U.S. interests.[6]

3. U.S. President’s Submission of the Torture Convention to the U.S. Senate.

The next month, May 1988, the Reagan Administration submitted the treaty to the U.S. Senate for its advice and consent to ratification. President Reagan’s accompanying message said that U.S. ratification “will clearly express [U.S.] opposition to torture.”[7]

The accompanying letter from Secretary of State George Schultz said that the Administration would submit proposed legislation to implement the treaty. Such legislation, he said, was “needed only to establish [the Convention’s] Article 5(1)(b) jurisdiction over offenses committed by U.S. nationals outside the [U.S.] and to establish Article 5(2) jurisdiction over foreign offenders committing torture abroad who are later found in territory under U.S. jurisdiction.”[8]

With the treaty were the Administration’s proposed reservations, understandings and declarations for such Senate advice and consent.[9]

4. U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Approval of the Torture Convention.

The Reagan Administration’s proposed 19 reservations and other conditions for ratification were criticized by the American Bar Association, human rights groups and others. As a result, nothing happened in the Senate over this treaty during the final months of the Reagan presidency in 1988.[10]

Shortly after President George H.W. Bush took office in January 1989, he indicated that the Convention Against Torture had higher priority for ratification than any other human rights treaty. President Bush then consulted with critics of the prior Administration’s proposed conditions and subsequently submitted a substantially reduced and revised set of proposed reservations and other conditions for the Senate’s advice and consent.[11]

Finally in January 1990 the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held hearings on the treaty. The Administration presented two witnesses: Abraham Soafer, Legal Advisor, Department of State, and Mark Richard, Deputy Attorney General, Criminal Division, Department of Justice. There also were five public witnesses, including Professor David Weissbrodt of the University of Minnesota Law School.[12]

On July 19, 1990, the Committee voted, 10 to 0 (all Democratic Senators), to recommend approval of the treaty by the entire Senate with three reservations, four understandings and two declarations. The nine Republican members of the Committee were not present for that vote due to other Senate business and later complained about the lack of notice of the Committee meeting while simultaneously expressing their support for ratification of the treaty.[13]

The August 30, 1990, Committee report on the treaty said the Convention was “a major step forward in the international community’s efforts to eliminate torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. It “codifies international law as it has evolved . . . on the subject of torture and takes a comprehensive approach. . . .”  Its “strength . . .  lies in the obligation of States Parties to make torture a crime and to prosecute or extradite alleged torturers found in their territory.”[14]

5. U.S. Senate’s Approval of the Torture Convention.

On October 27, 1990, the Senate debated a resolution to approve the treaty. Democratic Senator Clairborne Pell of Rhode Island, the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, introduced the resolution and offered four amendments that had been agreed to by the Republican minority members of the Committee headed by Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina. These amendments were agreed to by the Senators present and voting. Thereafter a division of the Senate indicated that two-thirds of the Senators present and voting had voted in the affirmative for the resolution of ratification as amended.[15]

The resolution had the following two reservations:[16] (i) the U.S. considered itself bound by Article 16’s ban on “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” only insofar as the phrase means the cruel, unusual and inhumane treatment or punishment prohibited by the U.S. Constitution; and (ii) pursuant to Article 30(2) of the treaty, the U.S. did not regard itself bound by Article 30(1) whereby states agreed to arbitrate any disputes about the treaty while reserving the U.S.’ right to agree to arbitrate a particular dispute.[17]

The resolution had five understandings.[18] The most significant one related to Article 1’s definition of “torture” with the U.S. actually providing the following different definition:

  •  “in order to constitute torture, an act must be specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering and that mental pain or suffering refers to prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from (1) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering; (2) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality; (3) the threat of imminent death; (4) or the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality.”[19]

The resolution also had two declarations.[20] The first stated that CAT was not self-executing, i.e., the treaty was not enforceable in U.S. courts unless there was implementing federal legislation. The second stated that the U.S. recognized the competence of the Committee Against Torture to receive and consider claims by another state that the subject state is not complying with the treaty only if the complaining state had made a similar declaration.

Finally the resolution had a “proviso” that the U.S. President shall notify all present and prospective ratifying parties to the Convention, prior to depositing the instrument of ratification, that the treaty did not require or authorize U.S. legislation or other action prohibited by the U.S. Constitution as interpreted by the U.S. This proviso prompted the most discussion during the Senate debate. It was insisted upon by Senator Helms, who called it the “Sovereignty Amendment.” Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York criticized the proviso after pointing out that the U.S. had included similar language in its ratification of the Genocide Convention, but as a reservation, and that various other countries objected to it because it made the U.S. obligations uncertain.[21]

6. U.S. Submission of Ratification Instrument to the U.N. Secretary-General.

As noted above, the Senate’s advice and consent is not the final step in the process of the U.S.’ becoming a party to a treaty. For a multilateral treaty like CAT, the President has to submit U.S. ratification to the U.N. Secretary General.

That did not happen during the George H.W. Bush Administration. The first President Bush said the U.S. could not do so until the U.S. had adopted “implementing legislation” that his Administration had proposed to put torturers “in the same international ‘extradite or prosecute’ regime we have for terrorists.” That legislation, however, was not adopted during that Administration.[22]

In the next Congress, however, such implementing legislation was introduced and enacted into law on April 30, 1994. This legislation added 18 U.S.C. §§ 2340, 230A, which made it a crime for a U.S. national or foreigner present in the U.S. to have committed torture outside the U.S.[23] There is no similar federal criminal law for committing torture within the U.S.; the U.S. has deemed such a law to be unnecessary as such acts would be covered by existing state and federal criminal laws.[24]

In accordance with the previously described “proviso” in the Senate’s approval of the treaty, on June 2, 1994, the Clinton Administration submitted a letter to the Secretary-General giving notice to all present and prospective ratifying Parties to the Convention to the effect that: “… nothing in this Convention requires or authorizes legislation, or other action, by the United States of America prohibited by the Constitution of the United States as interpreted by the United States.”[25]

The actual U.S. deposit of its instrument of ratification of CAT happened on October 21, 1994, and the treaty went into force for the U.S. on November 20, 1994.[26] Four European states filed objections to some of the U.S. reservations and understandings to its ratification of the treaty.[27]


The seven to nine years it took for the U.N. to develop and approve CAT and the additional 10 years it took for the U.S. to ratify the treaty demonstrate the difficulties of achieving such a treaty, the multitude of opinions and different countries and groups that are involved and the importance of patience and persistence in the development of multilateral human rights treaties. Also significant in light of recent political developments in the U.S., there was consistent, persistent and bipartisan support in the U.S., during the period, 1975 through 1994, for policies to combat, outlaw and punish torture perpetrators.

[1] Post: The Multilateral Treaty Against Torture (Nov. 29, 2011); U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Commission on Human Rights,

[2] U.S. Senate, Message from the President of the United States Transmitting the Convention Against Torture, 100th Cong., 2d Sess. (S. Treaty Doc. 100-20 May 23, 1988)(containing President Ronald Reagan, Message to the Senate Transmitting the Convention Against Torture and Inhuman Treatment or Punishment (May 20, 1988) [Reagan letter] and letter, Secretary of State Schultz to President Reagan (May 10, 1988)[Schultz letter]); U.S. Senate Comm. on Foreign Relations, Report on Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Exec. Rep. 101-30 (101st Cong., 2d Sess. Aug. 30, 1990)[“Senate Comm. Report”]; Senate Debate on Approval of the Convention, 136 Cong. Rec. S17486-92 (101st Cong., 2d Sess. Oct. 27, 1990)(comments by Senator Pell); Weissbrodt, et al., Prospects for U.S. Ratification of the Convention Against Torture, 83 ASIL Proc 529 (1989)(comments by co-author Paul Hoffman)[“Prospects“].

[3] Id.

[4]  Id.

[5] Prospects (co-author James S. Reynolds discussed his involvement in the State-Justice negotiations; co-author Robert E. Dalton discussed his participation in the State-Senate Committee discussions).

[6] Reuters, U.S. Signs a U.N. Document That Seeks an End to Torture, N.Y. Times (April 19, 1988); U.S. Senate, Message from the President of the United States Transmitting the Convention Against Torture, 100th Conf., 2d Sess. (S. Treaty Doc. 100-20 May 23, 1988)[containing U.S. Statement Upon Signing Convention].

[7] Reagan letter.

[8]  Schultz letter.

[9]  Id.

[10] Weissbrodt at 140-41; 136 Cong. Rec. S17486-92 (101st Cong., 2d Sess. Oct. 27, 1990) (comments by Senator Pell).

[11] Id.; Senate Comm. Report.

[12] U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Comm., Hearings on Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (101st Cong., 2d Sess. Jan. 30, 1990).

[13] Senate Comm. Report.

[14] Id.; 136 Cong. Rec. S17486-92 (101st Cong., 2d Sess. Oct. 27, 1990).

[15] Id.

[16]  The term “reservation” in international law means “the formal declaration by a State, when signing, ratifying, or adhering to a treaty, which modifies or limits the substantive effect of one or more of the treaty provisions as between the reserving Sate and other States party to the treaty.” (14 M. Whitehead, Digest of International Law, § 7, at 137-38 (1970)[“Whitehead”].)  International law has substantial limitations on a state’s use of reservations to a treaty. (Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, arts. 19-23.)  See Weissbrodt at 128-32.

[17] Id.; U.S. Senate, Reservations, Understandings and Declarations to U.S. Accession to CAT, 136 Cong. Rec. S17486-92 (Daily ed. Oct. 27, 1990).

[18]  The term “understanding” in international law usually means “a statement when it is not intended to modify of limit any of the provisions of the treaty in its international operation but is intended merely to clarify or explain or deal with some matter incidental to the operation of the treaty in a manner other than as a substantive reservation.” (Whitehead.) Merely calling something an “understanding,” however, does not make it so; if such a statement would exclude or vary the legal effect of any of a treaty’s provisions it would be a reservation subject to challenge. Indeed, Joan Fitzpatrick, a noted law professor, called the then proposed “understandings” with different definitions of “torture” and “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” as de facto and improper reservations. (Prospects (comments by co-author Fitzpatrick).)

[19] See n.17 supra.

[20] In international law the term “declaration” means a statement by the ratifying state “when it is considered essential or desirable to give notice of certain matters of policy or principle, without an  intention of derogating from the substantive rights or obligations [of the treaty].” (Whitehead.)

[21] 136 Cong. Rec. S17486-92 (101st Cong., 2d Sess. Oct. 27, 1990).

[22]  George Bush Presidential Library & Museum, Statement on Signing the Torture Victims Protection Act of 1991 (March 12, 1992). The Administration had proposed legislation to implement the Convention by making it a crime for a U.S. national or a foreigner present in the U.S. to have committed torture outside the U.S. It passed the House of Representatives in October 1992, but it did not pass the Senate in this Congress. (1992 H.R. 6017; ProQuestCongressional, Bill Tracking Report, 1992 H.R. 6017.)

[23] Pub. L. 103-236, §506(a), 103rd Cong., 2d Sess. (April 30, 1994).

[24] Schultz letter. U.S. federal law does make it a crime to commit certain acts with “intent to torture” in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the U.S. (18 U.S.C. § 114); to commit “genocide” by “torture” or other means (18 U.S.C. § 1001);to commit “murder”  in various ways, including through  “a pattern or practice of . . . torture against a child or children” (18 U.S.C. § 1111); and to commit “war crimes,”  one of which is “torture” (18 U.S.C. § 2441).

[26]  See n.1 supra.

[27] See n.24 supra. Finland, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden objected to the U.S. reservation regarding “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” as being incompatible with the objects and purpose of the treaty. Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden also stated that the U.S. understandings did not affect U.S. obligations under the treaty. (Id.)

International Criminal Court: New States Parties, Judges and Prosecutor

By the end of this year the International Criminal Court (ICC) will have at least five new States Parties to its Rome Statute, six new judges and a new Prosecutor.

New States Parties. So far this year two additional African states (Tunisia and Cape Verde), two additional Asian states (Maldives and Philippines) and one Latin American/Caribbean state (Grenada) have joined the ICC.[1] The following shows the current geographical makeup of the States Parties to the ICC’s Rome Statute:

 ICC States Parties?

  Yes No Total
Africa[2]    33 14   47
Asia[3]    17 35   52
Europe[4]    40   4   44
Latin America/Caribbean[5]    26   7   33
Middle East[6]      2 13   15
North America[7]      1   1     2
TOTAL[8] 119 74 193

 New Judges. This December at a meeting at the U.N. the States Parties will elect six new judges of the Court. The statutory criteria for these positions are the following:[9]

  • High moral character;
  • Impartiality;
  • Integrity;
  • Possessing the qualifications required by their States for appointment to their highest judicial offices;
  • Excellent knowledge of the Court’s two “working languages” (English and French) and fluency in at least one of these languages;
  • Established competency in either (a) “criminal law and procedure, and the necessary relevant experience, whether as judge, prosecutor, advocate or in similar capacity, in criminal proceedings” (the List A candidates) or (b) “relevant areas of international law such as international humanitarian law and the law of human rights, and extensive experience in a professional legal capacity which is of relevance to the judicial work of the Court” (the List B candidates);[10] and
  • At least some of the judges need to have “legal expertise on specific issues, including, but not limited to, violence against women or children.”

Nineteen individuals have been nominated for these positions; 16 were the List A candidates while 3 were List B. All of them were evaluated by the Independent Panel on ICC Judicial Elections which found that three of the 16 List A candidates were unqualified for lack of criminal law experience while one of the three List B candidates was unqualified for lack of experience in humanitarian law or human rights.[11] The following 15 were found to be qualified:

List A

1. BANKOLE THOMPSON, Rosolu John (Sierra Leone)
2. BOOLELL, Vinod (Mauritius)
3. BRIA, Modeste-Martineau (Central African Republic)
4. CARMONA, Anthony Thomas Acquinas (Trinidad and Tobago)
5. CATHALA, Bruno (France)
6. CIFUENTES MUÑOZ, Eduardo (Colombia)
7. EBOE-OSUJI, Chile (Nigeria)
8. FREMR, Robert (Czech Republic)
9. HERRERA CARBUCCIA, Olga Venecia (Dominican Republic)
10. KAM, Gberdao Gustave (Burkina Faso)
11. MINDUA, Antoine Kesia-Mbe (Democratic Republic of the Congo)
12. MORRISON, Howard (United Kingdom)
13. NOUHOU, Hamani Mounkaila (Niger)

List B

1. CZAPLIŃSKI, Wladyslaw (Poland)
2. DEFENSOR-SANTIAGO, Miriam (Philippines)

Observers have criticized these candidates as lacking substantial international reputations of excellence.[12]

The Independent Panel also made suggestions for improving the Court’s judicial selection process. Nominating governments should provide a description of their nomination process and should be promptly notified of any missing information in the nomination papers. The Assembly of States Parties (ASP) should advise nominating governments whether nominees may continue professional activities that might create conflicts of interest if they are elected. The ASP also should consider (i) what to do if there are two judges from the same country as a result of some current judges continuing in office past the term to complete court business; (ii) whether there should be a practice of not nominating candidates who would exceed a certain age or who were not in good health if they were to serve their full nine-year term; (iii) establishing a code of conduct for candidates; and (iv) establishing an advisory committee on judicial nominations.[13]

New Prosecutor. This December at a meeting at the U.N. the States Parties will elect by consensus a new Prosecutor of the Court, and consensus is expected to be reached by November 28th. Four individuals have been recommended for this position by the Search Committee, and the New York Times reports that the favorite is Mrs. Fatou Bensouda, the current Deputy Prosecutor for the Court. She clearly has the most extensive and most recent experience in the Office of the Prosecutor, a very valuable credential.[14] She also is an African, and there is a lot of pressure from the African States Parties to select an African for this position since all of the initial investigations and prosecutions come from Africa. The fact that she is a woman is also seen by many as important.[15]

[1] ICC, States Parties to the Rome Statute,

[2] The principal African states that are notICC members are Algeria, Angola, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Libya, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan and Zimbabwe. (Compare id. with U.N., List of Member States of United Nations,

[3] The principal Asian states that are not ICC members are China, Democratic Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Thailand and Viet Nam. Id.

[4] The principal European states that are not ICC members are Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine. Id.

[5]  The principal Latin American and Caribbean states that are not ICC members are Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.  Id.

[6]  The only Middle Eastern states that are ICC members are Cyprus and Jordan.  Id.

[7]  Canada is the only North American state that is an ICC member. The U.S.A. is the only North American state that is not an ICC member.  Id.

[8]  There are 192 members of the U.N., and a non-member of the U.N. (Cook Islands) is an ICC State Party. Thus, the total number of states in the table is 193. Id.

[9] Rome Statute, Arts. 36(3), 38(8)(b), 50(2); Post: International Criminal Court: Basics of Its Upcoming Judicial Election (June 23, 2011); Post: International Criminal Court: Required and Recommended Qualifications for ICC Judges (June 24, 2011).

[10] List A judges are supposed to be at least nine in number; the List B judges, at least five. (Rome Statute, Art. 36(5).) All six of the retiring judges came from the A List. Of the six to be elected this December at least two must come from the A List while no one has to be from the B List. (See Post: The International Criminal Court: Basics of Its Upcoming Judicial Elections (June 23, 2011).)

[11] ICC, Election of six judges–December 2011 (Oct. 14, 2011), /Judges/ 2011/2011.htm; Independent Panel on ICC Judicial Elections, Report on International Criminal Court Judicial Nominations 2011 (Oct. 26, 2011), files/ Independent%20Panel%20on%20ICC%20Judicial%20Elections%20-%20Report%2026%20October%202011.pdf [Independent Panel Report]; Van Schaack, Independent Panel on ICC Judicial Elections, IntLawGrrls (Nov. 1, 2011);

[12] Binham, The Hague struggles to find judges, Fin. Times (Sept. 14, 2011); Amann, How to deepen shallow ICC judges pool, IntLawGrrls (Sept. 19, 2011).

[13] Independent Panel Report.

[14] Post: International Criminal Court: Its Upcoming Prosecutor Election (June 25, 2011); Post: International Criminal Court: Four People Recommended for Election as ICC Prosecutor (Oct. 25, 2011). Mrs. Bensouda recently made a presentation about lessons learned in the ICC’s first trial. (Bensouda, Update on Trials and the Closing of the First Case (Oct. 5, 2011),; Post: International Criminal Court: Recent Developments in Other ICC Investigations and Cases (Nov. 17, 2011).) Mrs. Bensouda is now in Libya with the Prosecutor to discuss with Libyan officials the sensitive subject of where the two remaining ICC Libyan suspects will be tried. (Comment: ICC Prosecutor and Deputy Prosecutor in Libya To Discuss Future Trials (Nov. 22, 2011).)

[15] Simons, The Hague: Four Prosecutor Finalists, N.Y. Times (Oct. 26, 2011); Amann, ICC consensus this week?, IntLawGrrls (Nov. 20, 2011).

International Criminal Court: Recent Developments in Proposed ICC Investigations

In addition to the seven investigations being conducted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), its Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) conducts preliminary examinations of other situations to determine if an official investigation should be conducted. Four such possible preliminary examinations deserve comment.

Syria. This June there were reports that Syrian opposition and human rights groups had asked the OTP to seek authorization for an investigation into alleged crimes by the Syrian government and that discussions about a possible U.N. Security Council referral of the Syrian situation to the ICC were occurring.[1] Since then the Syrian regime has continued to attack and kill protesters with at least 3,500 protesters killed since the uprising began in March.[2] So far the OTP has not commented on Syria.

Recently four U.S. Senators (Dick Durbin, Benjamin Cardin, Robert Menendez and Barbara Boxer) sent a letter to the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. (Susan Rice) asking for such a Security Council referral. They said, “The people of Syria deserve to know that the people of the United States understand their plight, stand behind them, and will work to bring justice to the country.” The Security Council, the Senators added, should be deeply troubled by the “credible threats to . . . [the] safety” of the U.S. Ambassador to Syria that forced him to leave the country. Security Council referral of Syria to the ICC also has been endorsed by the New York Times.[3]

Palestine. In January 2009, the Palestinian National Authority lodged a declaration with the ICC under Article 12(3) of the Rome Statute which allows States not party to the Statute to accept the Court’s jurisdiction. Later (October 2009) representatives of the Authority and the Arab League visited the Court to support the Authority’s ability to delegate its jurisdiction to the ICC.[4]

The OTP will examine issues related to its jurisdiction: first whether the declaration accepting the exercise of jurisdiction by the Court meets statutory requirements; and second whether crimes within the Court’s jurisdiction have been committed. The Office will also consider whether there are national proceedings in relation to alleged crimes. The OTP has not made any determination on the issue, and recently the Prosecutor said that the issue of Palestinian statehood would have to be resolved elsewhere before the OTP issued any kind of statement on this request.[5]

The recent, and so far unsuccessful, efforts of the Authority to obtain U.N. membership for Palestine have heightened interest in the Authority’s seeking an ICC investigation of Israel’s military actions in the Gaza. Being a member of the U.N. would strengthen the Authority’s argument for ICC jurisdiction over alleged crimes committed by Israel in Gaza.[6]

Liberia. Before Liberia’s recent re-election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Tubman as its president, the OTP released a public statement that it was monitoring the pre-election activities of all of the candidates and political parties and that “resorting to violence will not be tolerated.”[7]

Roman Catholic Church Officials. In September a U.S. human rights NGO (the Center for Constitutional Rights) and the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests filed a complaint with the OTP seeking an investigation of high-level Vatican officials for alleged cover-up of rapes and sexual violence committed by individual priests as a crime against humanity.[8]

This application poses serious questions as to whether the ICC has jurisdiction over such claims, and I anticipate it will take a long time for the OTP to make any public statement about this request. I will be surprised if the OTP decides to seek approval for such an investigation from the Pre-Trial Chamber of the Court.

[1] Post: International Criminal Court: Possible U.N. Security Council Referral of Syrian Human Rights Abuses to ICC (June 6, 2011).

[2] Bakhi & Gladstone, Syria Faces New Threats as Opposition Seeks Allies, N.Y. Times (Nov. 15, 2011).

[3] US senators: Charge Assad before ICC, Google News (Oct. 25, 2011); Editorial, The Killing in Syria Goes On, N.Y. Times (Nov. 16, 2001).

[4]  ICC, Palestine,; Dunphy, An Interview with Luis Moreno-Ocampo (Oct. 1, 2011),

[5]  Id.; Dunphy, An Interview with Luis Moreno-Ocampo (Oct. 1, 2011),

[6] Reuters, Committee Is Deadlocked Over Palestinian Membership Bid, N.Y. Times (Nov. 11, 2011); Maccarone, The Palestinian Authority’s Application for United Nations Membership and Its Implications for the International Criminal Court (Sept. 27, 2011),

[7]  ICC prosecutor “monitoring” Liberia elections, expatica. com (Oct. 14, 2011).

[8]  Center for Constitutional Rights, In the Case Against Vatican Officials for Rape and Sexual Violence, We’ve come to the End of the Beginning (Sept. 27, 2011).

International Criminal Court: Recent Developments in the ICC’s Libyan Investigation and Cases

International Criminal Court Building

Pursuant to referral by the U.N. Security Council, the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) has been investigating the situation in Libya since February 15, 2011, for possible crimes within the Court’s jurisdiction and has obtained arrest warrants for three Libyans for crimes against humanity: Muammar Mohammed Abu Minyar Qaddafi, Saif Al-Islam Qaddafi and Abdullah Al-Senussi.[1]

This August a revolt pushed Muammar Qaddafi from power, and on October 20th he was killed as rebels finally wrested control of his hometown of Surt. The country was formally declared liberated three days later, setting in motion the process of creating a new constitution and an elected government.

The death of Muammar Qaddafi has set in motion the formal procedures to withdraw his arrest warrant and terminate that case. But the other two suspects are still at large, and the OTP is continuing to pursue efforts to secure their arrests and to gather evidence on these alleged crimes. Indirect communications with the suspects have been conducted to seek their surrender to the Court.[2]

The OTP also is searching for the personal assets of the suspects for the potential benefit of the victims through reparations that could be awarded by the Court. The OTP had sent requests to Libya, ICC States Parties and the five U.N. Security Council members who are not States Parties (including the U.S.) to identify, trace, seize and freeze such assets.[3]

In addition, the OTP is investigating other possible Libyan crimes within the ICC’s jurisdiction, including the following:

  • Alleged rape and other sexual violence by Qaddafi forces.
  • The National Transitional Council’s security forces’ alleged mass arrests, detention and abuse of black Africans who are suspected of being pro-Qaddafi mercenaries.
  • The National Transitional Council’s alleged mistreatment and torture of captured Qaddafi soldiers, suspected loyalists and alleged mercenaries.
  • Alleged disproportionate use of force by all parties.
  • Alleged indiscriminate attacks on civilians by NATO forces.[4]
U.N. Security Council
When the Prosecutor made his second report on Libya to the U.N. Security Council earlier this month, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, complimented the Prosecutor “for his informative briefing and for his important contributions to laying the foundation for seeking the justice that Libyans so deserve.”  The Council’s referral of the Libyan situation to the Court, she also said, “represented an historic milestone in the fight against impunity.”[5]

[1] Post: International Criminal Court and the Obama Administration (May 13, 2011); Post: International Criminal Court: Libya Investigation Status (May 8, 2011); Post: International Criminal Court: Three Libyan Arrest Warrants Sought (May 16, 2011); Post: International Criminal Court: Issuance of Libyan Arrest Warrants and Other Developments (June 27, 2011); Post: International Criminal Justice: Libya, Sudan, Rwanda and Serbia Developments (July 4, 2011); Post: International Criminal Court: Potential Arrests of Three Libyan Suspects (Aug. 22, 2011); Post: International Criminal Court: ICC Prosecutor Seeking INTERPOL Red Notices for Gaddafi (Sept. 9, 2011).

[2] ICC, Second Report of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to the UN Security Council Pursuant to UNSCR 1970 (2011) (Nov. 2, 2011); ICC Prosecutor, Statement to the United Nations Security Council on the situation in Libya, pursuant to UNSCR 1970 (2011) (Nov. 2, 2011).

[3]  Id.

[4] Id.; Post: International Criminal Court: Investigation of Gang-Rape in Libya (May 17, 2011).

[5] U.S. Mission to the U.N., Remarks by Ambassador Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, at a Security Council Meeting on Libya and the International Criminal Court (Nov. 2, 2011); U.N. Security Council Press Release, International Criminal Court Prosecutor Briefs Security Council on ‘Libya Case’ (Nov. 2, 2011).



Former Salvadoran Vice-Minister of Defense Held Liable by U.S. Courts for $6 Million for Torture and Extrajudicial Killing

On November 27, 1980, Manuel Franco and five other leaders of the Frente Democratico Revolucionario (FDR), a group opposed to the Salvadoran government, were abducted in San Salvador and then tortured and executed.  The Truth Commission for El Salvador found that these crimes had been committed by one or more of the country’s public security forces and that the Salvadoran Treasury Police aided and abetted the violations.[1]

Nicolas Carranza

In 2003, the San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability filed a case on behalf of relatives of these six deceased political leaders in a federal court in the State of Tennessee under the U.S. Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and the Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA). The defendant was former Colonel Nicolas Carranza, a naturalized U.S. citizen living in Tennessee, who was Vice-Minister of Defense of El Salvador from late 1979 to early 1981. In that position, he had exercised command and control over the three units of the Security Forces — the National Guard, National Police and Treasury Police.[2]

In late 2005, a civil jury after a three-week trial found Mr. Carranza liable to four of the five Salvadoran plaintiffs for $6 million in compensatory and punitive damages for crimes against humanity, extrajudicial killing and torture. A federal appeals court in early 2009 upheld that verdict.[3] Three aspects of this case are especially noteworthy.

First, the trial court determined that the U.S. 10-year statute of limitation was equitably tolled so that the case was not barred even though it was bought at least 20 years after the events in question.[4] The appellate court affirmed this holding.[5]

Second, the trial court determined that the Truth Commission Report was admissible into evidence under the public records exception to the hearsay rule that generally excludes out-of-court statements offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement. This was the conclusion after determining that the Commission was a “public office or agency,” that the Report set forth “factual findings” as a result of an “investigation made pursuant to authority granted by law,” that it met the standards of “trustworthiness” and that there was no evidence of bias in the Commission’s methodology or conclusions. The court then concluded that the Report’s discussion of the abduction, torture and execution of Franco and the other five FDR leaders was not contradicted by any other evidence and, therefore, granted partial summary judgment to Franco’s widow on the her claim for extrajudicial killing.[6] The appellate court affirmed this ruling.[7]

Third, the trial court twice rejected the defendant’s argument that the Salvadoran General Amnesty Law barred the U.S. lawsuit after the court concluded that said law did not purport to bar claims outside El Salvador.[8] Again the appellate court affirmed this ruling.[9]

On October 5, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case.[10] The unsuccessful arguments that were advanced for such review, however, are interesting.

Mr. Carranza told the Supreme Court that the lower court’s refusal to bar the suit constituted “an unwarranted intrusion into the sovereign affairs” of El Salvador and undermined “the very vehicle of [its] transformation from a war torn charnel house to a robust democracy.” Moreover, after pointing out that the Truth Commission Report also provided findings on crimes perpetrated by the FMLN, including the assassination of four unarmed U.S. Marines, Carranza argued that the Supreme Court should consider “the implications of adjudicating monetary claims on behalf of members of groups committed to killing American soldiers.”[11]

Carranza’s petition to the U.S. Supreme Court was supported by the Government of El Salvador (then under the control of the ARENA political party). It argued that the ruling of the lower courts “impugns El Salvador’s sovereignty, contradicts international authority, and undermines El Salvador’s democracy.” Ignoring  its own January 1992  Law of National Reconciliation that had banned amnesty for those found responsible by the Truth Commission until at least six months after its Report was released, the Government falsely asserted that the amnesty law “was a principal, if not the pivotal, requirement of the [Peace Accords].”[12]

In addition, the Government of El Salvador told the U.S. Supreme Court that the plaintiffs had failed to exhaust their remedies in the Salvadoran courts as its Supreme Court had held in 2000 that the country’s courts had discretion to waive the immunity of the amnesty law in particular cases involving “fundamental human rights.”[13] This was a new argument, however, that should not be permitted in the appellate process. In the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Government of El Salvador, again as amicus curiae, did not mention the possible discretionary waiver of the amnesty law by Salvadoran courts and instead asserted that the amnesty law “specifically precludes the [plaintiffs’] claims . . . by granting absolute civil and criminal immunity to . . . Carranza.”[14]

In opposition to the request for Supreme Court review, the plaintiffs said that Carranza now was arguing inconsistently for his immunity in the U.S. case and for his non-immunity in the hypothetical Salvadoran case if the Salvadoran courts were to exercise their discretion to waive the immunity law. Moreover, according to the plaintiffs, Carranza in the trial court had conceded that plaintiffs had exhausted their Salvadoran remedies because the amnesty law would bar such a lawsuit in that country, and then Carranza failed to prove that he was entitled to immunity in the U.S. case.[15]

[1]  Commission for the Truth for El Salvador, Report: From Madness to Hope: The 12-year war in El Salvador at 58-6266 (March 15, 1993),

[2]  CJA, El Salvador: Col. Nicolas Carranza,

[3]  Chavez v. Carranza, 559 F.3d 486 (6th Cir. 2009), pet. for cert. filed, 77 U.S.L.W. 3670 (U.S. Sup. Ct. May 28, 2009) (No. 08-1467); CJA, El Salvador: Col. Nicolas Carranza,

[4]  Chavez v. Carranza, 407 F. Supp. 2d 925, 927-30 (W.D. Tenn. 2004); Chavez v. Carranza, 2005 WL 2659186,  at 2-3 (W.D. Tenn. 2005).

[5]  Chavez v. Carranza, 559 F.3d at 491-94.

[6]  Chavez v. Carranza, 413 F. Supp. 2d 891, 903-04 (W.D. Tenn. 2005); Fed. R. Evid. 801 (c), 803 (8).

[7]  Chavez v. Carranza, 559 F.3d at 496.

[8]  Chavez v. Carranza, 2005 WL 2659186, at 3-5 (W.D. Tenn. 2005); Chavez v. Carranza, 2006 WL 2434934, at 5 (W.D. Tenn. 2006). See also Post: International Criminal Justice: El Salvador’s General Amnesty Law and Its Impact on the Jesuits Case (June 11, 2011); Post: El Salvador’s General Amnesty Law in U.S. Federal Courts (June 14, 2011); Post: The Current Controversy Over El Salvador’s General Amnesty Law and Supreme Court (June 16, 2011).

[9]  559 F.3d at 494-96. The plaintiffs’ argument against the amnesty law was supported in the Sixth Circuit by a group of law professors. (Law Professors Amici Brief.)

[10] Carranza v. Chavez, 2009 WL 1513107 (U.S. Sup. Ct. Oct. 5, 2009).

[11]  Petition for Writ of Certiorari, Carranza v. Chavez, 2009 WL 1511732 (U.S. Sup. Ct. No. 08-1467 May 28, 2009).

[12]  Brief of Amicus Curiae Republic of El Salvador in Support of Petitioner [Carranza], Carranza v. Chavez, 2009 WL 1511733, at 2 (U.S. Sup. Ct. No. 08-1467 May 28, 2009).

[13]  Id.

[14]  Brief of Amicus Curiae The Republic of El Salvador in Support of Appellant [Carranza] at 1, 3, Chavez v. Carranza (6h Cir. Apr. 22, 2008) (emphasis added).

[15]  Brief for Respondents Chavez, et al., at 1-2, 5, 7, 9-10, Carranza V. Chavez  (U.S. Sup. Ct. No. 08-1467 June 29, 2009). In reply, Carranza essentially repeated his previous arguments. Reply Brief of Petitioner, Carranza v. Chavez, (U.S. Sup. Ct. No. 08-1467 July 15, 2009).