International Criminal Justice: U.S. Reportedly Failed To Detain Rwandan Indictee of Spanish Court

In May 2011 Justus Majyambere, a major in the Rwandan Defense Forces, apparently visited the U.S. Military Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas as an official representative of his government. The purpose of the visit was to obtain ideas for starting a military college in Rwanda.[1]

That sounds like a positive development.

But Majyambere is under indictment by a Spanish court for alleged involvement in the killing of nine employees of a Spanish NGO in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Therefore, he is under an Interpol “red notice,” a worldwide bulletin that is roughly equivalent to an arrest warrant. As a result, he reportedly was arrested upon his recent arrival in the U.S., but mysteriously was not detained and sent to Spain.[2]

If all of this is true, it is contrary to repeated statements by U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes, Stephen Rapp, about U.S. supporting the arrest of fugitives from international criminal justice.[3] It is also contrary to the global goal of punishing and deterring violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.


[1] Rosen, U.S. Hosted Alleged Rwandan War Criminal for Military Visit, (June 20, 2011), http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/06/us-hosted-alleged-rwandan-war-criminal-for-military-visit/240679/.

[2]  Id.

[3]  See Post: The International Criminal Court and the Obama Administration (May 13, 2011); Post: The International Criminal Court: Possible U.N. Security Council Referral of Syrian Human Rights Abuses to ICC (June 18, 2011).

International Criminal Justice: The Spanish Court’s Criminal Case Regarding the Salvadoran Murders of the Jesuit Priests

As previously noted, a Spanish court on May 30, 2011, issued an indictment and arrest warrants for 20 of El Salvador’s former top military leaders and soldiers, accusing them of crimes against humanity and state terrorism in meticulously planning and carrying out the killings of six Jesuit priests in November 1989.[1]

The Spanish indictment essentially follows the factual findings regarding the murders and the cover-up that was set forth in the Report of the Truth Commission for El Salvador.[2] The indictment, however, offers greater factual details.[3]

The indictment also emphasizes the military’s formal chain of command as well as the informal power of the military’s “Tandona of 1966,” i.e., the military officers who had graduated from the Salvadoran military college in 1966 and who in 1989 held the major positions of official power. In 1989 these officers, the indictment says, feared the proposed reform and restructuring of the military that was being discussed as a condition for a peace agreement to end the civil war. Such reforms would result in reduction in the Tandona’s power and ability to embezzle from U.S. military aid. They, therefore, were bitter opponents of the Jesuits, and especially Father Ellacuria, who were major public advocates for such negotiations. [4]

The criminal case was filed in November 2008 by a U.S. NGO (Center for Justice & Accountability) and a Spanish NGO against 14 Salvadoran military officers plus former Salvadoran President Cristiani.[5]

In January 2009, the Spanish National Court accepted the case and formally charged the 14 fourteen former officers and soldiers named in the complaint with crimes against humanity and state terrorism for their role in the massacre.  Additionally the court reserved the right, during the course of the investigation, to indict Cristiani for his alleged role in covering up the crime.[6]

The May 2011 indictment discusses Crisitani’s attending meetings at the military’s headquarters for several hours immediately before the murders were committed and his providing false information months later about a military search of the UCA campus that preceded the murders. But the Spanish court did not indict Cristiani and did not provide reasons for that decision not to charge Cristiani.[7]

The indictment also mentions that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had an office in the Salvadoran military headquarters in November 1989 and that some U.S. military advisors attended meetings at that headquarters with El Salvador’s top military leaders in the 24 hours preceding the murders. But there is no discussion in the indictment as to whether this involvement carries criminal implications for U.S. personnel.[8]

In addition, the indictment states that in January 1990 one of the U.S. officers (Maj. Eric Buckland) told his U.S. superiors that Colonel Benavides had given the order to kill Father Ellacuria. Until January 2010, the indictment reports, public information about the Salvadoran investigation of this crime had not mentioned possible involvement of the country’s top military officers. Thus, the revelation by Maj. Buckland was explosive in El Salvador because Benavides was a member of the “Tandona of 1966.”[9]

The Center for Justice & Accountabilty of San Francisco, California is a human rights organization dedicated to deterring torture and other severe human rights abuses around the world and advancing the rights of survivors to seek truth, justice and redress. CJA uses litigation to hold perpetrators individually accountable for human rights abuses, develop human rights law and advance the rule of law.[10]


[1] See Post: International Criminal Justice: Spanish Court Issues Arrest Warrants for Salvadoran Murders of Jesuit Priests (May 31, 2011).

[2] See Post: International Criminal Justice: The Salvadoran Murders of the Jesuit Priests (June 2, 2011); Post: International Criminal Justice: The Salvadoran Military’s Attempted Cover-Up of Its Committing the Murders of the Jesuit Priests (June 7, 2011); Post: International Criminal Justice: The Jesuits Case in the Truth Commission for El Salvador (June 9, 2011).

[3] Id.; CJA, Spanish National Court Indictments and Arrest Warrants (May 30, 2011)(in Spanish), http://www.cja.org/downloads/JesuitsArrestWarrants.pdf;  CJA, Update: Spanish Judge Issues Indictments and Arrest Warrants in Spanish Jesuits Massacre Case (May 31, 2011), http://www.cja.org/article.php?id=1004.

[4] Id.

[5] CJA, Criminal Charges Filed before the Spanish National Court for 1989 Massacre of Jesuit Priests in El Salvador (November 13, 2008); CJA, Summary of Complaint in English (Nov. 18, 2009), http://www.cja.org/downloads/Jesuits_Summary_of_Complaint_in_English.pdf. Under Spanish law, citizens and NGOs may initiate criminal proceedings by filing criminal complaints as popular prosecutors.

[6]  CJA, El Salvador: The Jesuits Massacre Case, http://www.cja.org/cases/jesuits.shtml; CJA, Spanish National Court To Pursue Criminal Investigation into 1989 Massacre of Jesuit Priests in El Salvador (Jan. 13, 2009); CJA, Spanish National Court’s Order Admitting the Complaint (Jan. 13, 2009)(in Spanish), http://www.cja.org/downloads/Jesuits_Order_Admitting_Complaint.pdf.

[7] CJA, Spanish National Court Indictments and Arrest Warrants (May 30, 2011)(in Spanish), http://www.cja.org/downloads/JesuitsArrestWarrants.pdf. There was a report that a former Salvadoran military officer testified to the Spanish court that Cristiani had advance knowledge of the planned assassinations and approved them. (Tim’s El Salvador Blog, More developments in Jesuits Case in Spain (July 7, 2010).)

[8] In November 2009 the Spanish court was provided with many declassified U.S. documents relating to the crime from the National Security Archive of George Washington University through the testimony of an analyst from the Archive and the expert testimony of Professor Terry Karl of Stanford University. At the same time, there were newspaper reports that the U.S. military attaché at the U.S. Embassy and a senior State Department official knew in advance that the Salvadoran military was planning to kill Ellacuria. (Id.; The CIA knew that the military of El Salvador would kill Ellacuria, El Mundo (Nov. 15, 2009)(English translation); Doyle, The Right to Information is the Right to Justice: Declassified Documents and the Assassination of the Jesuits in El Salvador (Nov. 16, 2009), http://nsarchive.wordpress.com; Sainz, CIA documents shed light on Jesuit massacre in El Salvador, (Nov.20, 2009), http://www.lapresnsagrafica.com/el-sa…-salvador.html (English translation); CJA, First International Witnesses To Testify in Madrid in the El Salvador Jesuits Massacre Case (Nov. 23, 2009); Ayala, El Salvador: Declassified Docs Shed Light on Jesuits Massacre Case (Nov. 27, 2009), http://ipsnews.net.); Tim’s El Salvador Blog, Spanish Paper–US know of attack on Jesuits in advance, (Nov. 28, 2009), http://luterano.blogspot.com.)

[9] Id.

International Criminal Justice: Salvadoran Criminal Case Regarding the Murders of the Jesuit Priests

We already have looked at a Spanish court’s recent issuance of 20 criminal arrest warrants regarding the November 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador[1] and the provisional facts of the murders themselves[2] and the Salvadoran military’s attempts to cover up its being the one responsible for the killings.[3] Now we examine the Salvadoran criminal prosecution of some of the individuals involved in this crime.[4]

The murders of the Jesuit priests caused such a huge international uproar that El Salvador had to do something to make it appear as if it were pursuing justice in the case. As a result, in January 1990 it commenced criminal prosecution of five Salvadoran military officers and five soldiers of the Atlacatl Battalion. Colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides Moreno, the Director of the Military College, was accused of having given the order to murder the priests. Three Lieutenants were accused of commanding the operation. The five soldiers were accused of committing the murders.

The pre-trial proceedings took nearly two years. During this time, Colonel (now General) René Emilio Ponce, Colonel (now General) Juan Orlando Zepeda, Colonel Inocente Orlando Montano and Colonel (now General) Gilberto Rubio Rubio pressured lower-ranking officers not to mention orders from above in their testimony to the court.

Finally, the trial by jury took place in September 1991 in the building of the Supreme Court of Justice and was broadcast live on television. Several ranking military officers attended the trial with the defendants’ families. On the last day of the trial, during the defendants’ closing arguments, a large crowd outside the courthouse shouted chants in favor of the defendants, interrupting the trial. In closing arguments, defense counsel barely mentioned the crime itself. Instead, they asked the jury to reject foreign intervention and pressure, emphasized that five of the six victims were Spanish born, and argued that the military generally and the defendants in particular were heroes protecting the nation against terrorism.

The five-person jury, whose identity was kept secret, was charged with deciding the charges of murder and acts of terrorism. The other charges were left to the judge to decide.

Benevides was convicted of all eight counts of murder and instigation and conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism. One of the Lieutenants was convicted of one count of murder (the 16-year-old girl), instigation and conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism and being an accessory. Benevides and this Lieutenant were sentenced to 30 years imprisonment. The other two Lieutenants were convicted of instigation and conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism; they were sentenced to three years imprisonment, but released on bail and continued to serve in the military. A Lieutenant Colonel was convicted of being an accessory and sentenced to three years imprisonment, but he too was released on bail and continued to serve in the military. The five soldiers were acquitted of all charges.

International observers of the trial thought the jury verdict defied logic and the weight of the evidence.

In March 2000 and soon after the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had issued a report on the case that will be discussed in a subsequent post, the Central American University (UCA), where the Jesuit priests had taught, sought to open a new Salvadoran criminal case regarding their murders, ultimately to no avail. UCA asked the country’s Attorney General to do so on the basis of UCA’s charges against former President Cristiani and five members of the Armed Forces High Command, including former General and Defense Minister Emilio Ponce.  Then Salvadoran President Flores opposed the request, and the Attorney General refused to do so, but the Salvadoran Supreme Court ruled that only a court could decide to reopen such a case.[5]

Thereafter (October 2000), a lower court rejected the prosecutor’s request to reopen the old case because it was “without legal substance” while ordering the prosecutor to conduct a new investigation to determine whether there were legitimate grounds for reopening the case.[6]

The Attorney General then conducted a new investigation and reapplied to a court to reopen the case, this time against Cristiani and four military officers, including Ponce. Once again, however, the lower court refused to do so in December 2000 on the ground that any new charges were barred by the country’s 10-year statute of limitations. Immediately afterwards Ponce and the other three officers held a press conference where Ponce accused left-wing groups of trying to de-stabilize the country by making these charges and admitted that he and his fellow former officers were concerned about developments elsewhere in Latin America, especially the fate of Augusto Pinochet in Chile and former Argentine military officers.[7]


[1] See Post: International Criminal Justice: Spanish Court Issues Criminal Arrest Warrants for Salvadoran Murders of Jesuit Priests (May 31, 2011).

[2]  See Post: International Criminal Justice: The Salvadoran Murders of the Jesuit Priests (June 2, 2011).

[3]  See Post: International Criminal Justice: Salvadoran Military’s Attempted Cover-Up of Its Committing the Murders of the Jesuit Priests (June 7, 2011).

[4] This post’s summary of the Salvadoran criminal case is extracted from the Commission for the Truth for El Salvador’s Report: From Madness to Hope: The 12-year war in El Salvador  at 45-54 (March 15, 1993), http://www.derechos.org/nizkor/salvador/informes/truth.html  [“Commission Report”]. See also Martha Doggett, Death Foretold: The Jesuit Murders in El Salvador at 121-208 (Washington, D.C.; Georgetown Univ. Press 1993). In future posts we will talk about the Truth Commission for El Salvador; the country’s general amnesty; the Jesuits case before the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights; the Spanish implementation of the principle of universal jurisdiction; and more details about the Spanish case regarding this crime.

[5]  UCA Press Release (Mar. 27, 2000, http://www.uca.edu.sv/neuvo/pressrelease.html; Lanchin, Salvador ex-president accused of killings, BBC News, Mar. 28, 2000; El Salvador Former Air Force Chief Denies Role in Killings, Miami Herald, Mar. 29, 2000; The Necessity and Importance of the Truth, Processo, April 5, 2000, http://www.uca.edu.sv/publica/proceso/proci897.html;UCA Impugns the Attorney General of the Republic’s Decision on the Jesuit Case, Processo, April 26, 2000,  http://www.uca.edu.sv/publica/proceso/proci899.html#doc;  New Charges Barred in Salvador Killings, N. Y. Times, Oct. 24, 2000; Editorial: The Impunity of Power, Processo, Oct. 25, 2000;  Darling, El Salvador to Reopen Murder Probe; Attorney general, under pressure, will investigate an ex-president and others in 1989 slayings of six Jesuit priests, Los Angeles Times, Oct. 26, 2000; No New Trial Set in Deaths of 6 Jesuits, Miami Herald, Dec. 14, 2000; Lanchin, Salvadorean ex-general issues warning, BBC News, Dec. 15, 2000.

[6]  Id.

[7]  Id.

.

International Criminal Justice: Spanish Court Issues Criminal Arrest Warrants for Salvadoran Murders of Jesuit Priests

A Spanish court yesterday issued arrest warrants for 20 of the top military leaders of El Salvador’s civil war, accusing them of crimes against humanity and state terrorism in meticulously planning and carrying out the killings of six Jesuit priests in November 1989.[1]

Among the men named in the indictment were Rafael Humberto Larios, who was the Salvadoran defense minister at the time; Juan Orlando Zepeda, the vice defense minister; Rene Emilio Ponce, leader of the Army’s Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Inocente Orlando Montano, the vice minister of public safety. Mr. Ponce, who is believed to have given the order for the killings, died this month in El Salvador. Mr. Montano is in custody.

The Jesuit priests were the leader and professors at the Universidad de Centro America (UCA) in San Salvador, the capitol of El Salvador. The Rector of the University of Central America, the Rev. Ignacio Ellacuría, had organized an open public forum about the country’s problems. All six were noted professors who had published papers about the country’s problems, and most of them also had served as pastors in communities around the capital city.[2]

At the time of the murders, El Salvador was engaged in a civil war with leftist guerillas, and supporters of the Salvadoran government said that UCA was the “logistical center of Communist subversion.” The Jesuits at UCA were “agents of the Marxist conspiracy at the service of the Kremlin.” Ellacuria, they said, directed “all Marxist-Leninist strategy in Central America.” The Jesuits, according to these government supporters, were “the intellectual authors who have directed the guerillas.” [3]

This important development raises many issues that will be discussed in subsequent posts: (a) the work of the priests and UCA in the life of El Salvador; (b) the facts relating to the murders; (c) the criminal prosecution of some of the military officers in El Salvador; (d) the investigation and report about this horrendous crime by the Truth Commission for El Salvador; (d) the subsequent general amnesty adopted by the Salvadoran legislature; (e) the investigation and report about this crime by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; (f) the background of the case before the Spanish court; (g) the important work by international human rights non-governmental organizations like the Center for Justice & Accountability that has been a leader in the case in Spain; and (h) the international law principle of universal jurisdiction and Spain’s implementation of that principle.

As a result of my involvement with El Salvador over the last 26 years, my six visits to the country and to UCA itself and my investigation of the above issues, the latest development in the Spanish case is very important to me legally, spiritually and emotionally. Through all of these activities, I have come to see that there is an ever-evolving interactive global struggle against impunity for violators of human rights and that many courts, other international and domestic governmental and non-governmental institutions and people play different and important roles in this process.  [4]


[1] Malkin, From Spain, Charges Against 20 in the Killing of 6 Priests in El Salvador in 1989, N.Y. Times (May 31, 2011); Center for Justice & Accountability, Spanish Judge Issues Indictments and Arrest Warrants in Jesuits Massacre Case (May 30, 2011), http://www.cja.org/article.php?id=1004.

[2] Martha Doggett, Death Foretold: The Jesuit Murders in El Salvador  (Washington, D.C.; Georgetown Univ. Press 1993) [“Doggett”]; Jon Sobrino, et al., Companions of Jesus: The Jesuit Martyrs of El Salvador (Maryknoll, NY; Orbis Books 1990).

[3] Commission for the Truth for El Salvador, Report: From Madness to Hope: The 12-year war in El Salvador  at 49 (March 15, 1993), http://www.derechos.org/nizkor/salvador/informes/truth.html;  Doggett at 17.

[4] See Post: My First 10 Years of Retirement (April 23, 2011); Post: International Criminal Justice: Introduction (April 26, 2011); Post: The Sanctuary Movement Case (May 22, 2011); Post: Becoming a Pro Bono Asylum Lawyer (May 24, 2011); Post: My Pilgrimage to El Salvador, April 1989 (May 25, 2011).

The Ridiculous U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism”

The U.S. State Department, pursuant to legislative authority, annually identifies countries that have “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism” and designates them as “state sponsors of terrorism.”[1] The U.S. currently designates the following four countries as “state sponsors of terrorism:” Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria.[2] Note that Libya and North Korea, which were previously on the list, are no longer present; these are two stories for others to pursue.

The following is the complete text of the State Department’s rationale for its most recent designation of Cuba:[3]

  • “The Cuban government and official media publicly condemned acts of terrorism by al-Qa’ida and affiliates, while at the same time remaining critical of the U.S. approach to combating international terrorism. Although Cuba no longer supports armed struggle in Latin America and other parts of the world, the Government of Cuba continued to provide physical safe haven and ideological support to members of three terrorist organizations that are designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations by the United States.”
  • “The Government of Cuba has long assisted members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army of Colombia (ELN), and Spain’s Basque Homeland and Freedom Organization (ETA), some having arrived in Cuba in connection with peace negotiations with the governments of Colombia and Spain. There was no evidence of direct financial support for terrorist organizations by Cuba in 2009, though it continued to provide safe haven to members of the FARC, ELN, and ETA, providing them with living, logistical, and medical support.”
  • “Cuba cooperated with the United States on a limited number of law enforcement matters. However, the Cuban government continued to permit U.S. fugitives to live legally in Cuba. These U.S. fugitives include convicted murderers as well as numerous hijackers. Cuba permitted one such fugitive, hijacker Luis Armando Peña Soltren, to voluntarily depart Cuba; Peña Soltren was arrested upon his arrival in the United States in October.”
  • “Cuba’s Immigration Department refurbished the passenger inspection area at Jose Marti International Airport and provided new software and biometric readers to its Border Guards.”[4]

One of the factual predicates for the designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” is true: FARC, ELN and ETA have been designated “Foreign Terrorist Organizations” by the State Department, and such designations presumably are well founded. But what has Cuba done with respect to these three organizations? It has provided “physical safe haven and ideological support to [an unspecified number of their] members.” How many members? What were the particulars of the safe haven?  We are not told other than “living, logistical, and medical support.” And some of these members, the State Department concedes, were in Cuba to participate in peace negotiations with the governments of Columbia and Spain. Moreover, by the State Department’s own admission, there “was no evidence of direct financial support [by Cuba] for [these three] . . . organizations in 2009.”

Further qualifications to this basis for the designation were made in the State Department’s prior annual antiterrorism report, which said that “on July 6, 2008, former Cuban President Fidel Castro called on the FARC to release the hostages they were holding [in Colombia] without preconditions.”  Fidel  “also had condemned the FARC’s mistreatment of captives and of their abduction of civilian politicians [in Colombia] who had no role in the armed conflict.”[5]

The other factual predicate for the most recent designation, I submit, is outright insufficient. Cuba, the State Department says, has continued to permit an unspecified number of U.S. fugitives (“convicted murderers and numerous hijackers”) to live legally in Cuba. Even if true, it is difficult to see how this is support of terrorism. Moreover, we are not told how many such fugitives there are and the circumstances of their cases. The State Department does not even call them “terrorists.” Again, the State Department’s prior annual antiterrorism report on Cuba provides details further undermining this charge.  It stated, “The Cuban government continued to permit some U.S. fugitives—including members of U.S. militant groups such as the Boricua Popular, or Macheteros, and the Black Liberation Army to live legally in Cuba. In keeping with its public declaration, the [Cuban] government has not provided safe haven to any new U.S. fugitives wanted for terrorism since 2006.”[6]

The balance of the State Department’s most recent “rationale” is, in fact, complimentary of Cuba. “”The Cuban government and official media publicly condemned acts of terrorism by al-Qa’ida and affiliates.” “Cuba no longer supports armed struggle in Latin America and        other parts of the world.” “Cuba cooperated with the United States on a limited number of law enforcement matters.” “Cuba’s Immigration Department refurbished the passenger inspection area at Jose Marti International Airport and provided new software and biometric readers to its Border Guards.” Another complimentary comment was made in the prior annual report:  there is “no evidence of terrorist-related money laundering or terrorist financing activities in Cuba.”[7]

The designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” has been reviewed by the Congressional Research Service, which said in 2006: Cuba was first designated a state sponsor of terrorism in 1982. Although it has ratified all 12      counterterrorism conventions, it has remained opposed  to the U.S. global war on terrorism. The CIA judged in August 2003 that ‘We have no credible evidence, however, that the Cuban     government has engaged in or directly supported international terrorist operations in the past decade, although our information is insufficient to say beyond a doubt that no collaboration has occurred.'”[8]

Some prior U.S. antiterrorism reports talked about Cuba’s alleged weapons of mass destruction program, but note that there is not any mention of such an alleged program in the most recent report. This canard was also rebutted by the Congressional Research Service: “The Administration’s assertions concerning Cuba’s WMD programs, which some observers dispute, focus on limited biological weapons research and development. Construction at the Juragua nuclear facility (two incomplete Russian nuclear power reactors) was indefinitely postponed in 1997.”[9]

The State Department’s best case for calling Cuba a “state sponsor of terrorism,” upon analysis, is ridiculous. The designation should be rescinded, and the U.S. and Cuba should get down to the real business of engaging in face-to-face, serious negotiations to resolve their many long-accumulated differences.


[1]  Countries determined by the Secretary of State to have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism are designated pursuant to three laws: section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act, section 40 of the Arms Export Control Act, and section 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act. (U.S. State Dep’t, Country Reports on Terrorism 2009 (Aug. 5, 2010), http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/crt/2009/index.htm.) Such designation results in the following sanctions by the U.S.: (1) a ban on arms-related exports and sales; (2) controls over exports of dual-use items, requiring 30-day Congressional notification for goods or services that could significantly enhance the terrorist-list country’s military capability or ability to support terrorism; (3) prohibitions on economic assistance; and (4) imposition of miscellaneous financial and other restrictions.

[2]  Id.

[3]  Cuba is the oldest member of the list; it has been on this list since January 1, 1982. Id.

[4]  Id.

[5]  U.S. Dep’t of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2008, ch. 3 (April 30, 2009), http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/crt/2008/122436.htm.

6]  Id.

[7]  Id.

[8] CRS, Globalizing Cooperative Threat Reduction: A Survey of Options (Oct. 5, 2006), http://fpc.state.gov/documents/organization/74901.pdf. See also CRS, Cuba and the State Sponsors of Terrorism List (May 13, 2005), http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/terror/RL32251.pdf.

[9]  Id.

The International Criminal Court and the Obama Administration

Barack Obama

The Obama Administration has adopted what it calls “an integrated approach to international criminal justice,” including the International Criminal Court. There are at least six points to this approach, the first three of which are specifically addressed to the ICC.[1]

First, the U.S. will not be seeking U.S. Senate consent to U.S. ratification of the Rome Statute. In January 2010, U.S. Ambassador at Large for War Crimes, Stephen Rapp, publicly stated that no U.S. president was likely to present the Rome Statute to the U.S. Senate for ratification in the “foreseeable future.” Rapp cited fears that U.S. officials would be unfairly prosecuted and the U.S.’s strong national court system as reasons it would be difficult to overcome opposition to ratification. He did not mention the virtual political impossibility in this Congress to obtaining the two-thirds (67) vote in the Senate that would be necessary for ratification.[2] In addition, in March 2011, the U.S. told the U.N. Human Rights Council at the conclusion of its Universal Periodic Review of the U.S. that the U.S. did not accept the recommendations by a number of States that the U.S. ratify the Rome Statute.[3]

Second, the U.S. Administration will not be seeking statutory changes to U.S. statutes and practices that are hostile to the ICC. This conclusion emerges by implication from the absence of any such proposed legislation and from the same political calculus just mentioned. The Obama Administration, therefore, is living with the laws on the books bolstered by a January 2010 legal opinion from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel that U.S. diplomatic or “informational” support for particular ICC investigations or prosecutions would not violate U.S. law. Other hand-me-downs of past U.S. actions hostile to the ICC are the U.S.’ 102 Bilateral Immunity Agreements or “BIA”s, whereby the other countries agreed not to turn over U.S. nationals to the ICC. The last of these was concluded in 2007. There is no indication that the U.S. will seek to rescind these agreements or to negotiate new ones.[4]

Third, the U.S. instead has been pursuing a policy of positive engagement with the ICC in various ways. Indeed, the U.S. National Security Strategy of May 2010 stated that as a matter of moral and strategic imperative the U.S. was “engaging with State Parties to the Rome Statute on issues of concern and [is] supporting the ICC’s prosecution of those cases that advance U.S. interests and values, consistent with the requirements of U.S. law.”[5]

Foremost for positive engagement is the U.S. participation as an observer at meetings of the ICC’s governing body, the Assembly of States Parties. The U.S. did so in November 2009,[6] March 2010,[7] June 2010[8] and December 2010[9] and has announced its intention to do so at the next meeting in December 2011.

In addition to observing the debates and discussion at these meetings, the U.S. has made positive contributions. The U.S. experience in foreign assistance judicial capacity-building and rule-of-law programs, Ambassador Rapp has said, could help the ICC in its “positive complementarity” efforts, i.e., its efforts to improve national judicial systems. Similarly the U.S. experience in helping victims and reconciling peace and justice demands has been offered to assist the ICC.[10] At the June 2010 Review Conference the U.S. made a written pledge to “renew its commitment to support projects to improve judicial systems around the world.” Such improvements would enable national courts to adjudicate national prosecutions of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide and thereby make ICC involvement unnecessary. The U.S. also pledged at the Review Conference to “reaffirm President Obama’s recognition . . . that we must renew our commitments and strengthen our capabilities to protect and assist civilians caught in the [Lord Resistance Army’s] wake [in Uganda], to receive those that surrender, and to support efforts to bring the LRA leadership to justice.”[11]

The June 2010 meeting was the important Review Conference that adopted an amendment to the Rome Statute with respect to the crime of aggression; this will be discussed in a future post. Immediately after the Review Conference Ambassador Rapp and State Department Legal Advisor Koh said that U.S. participation at the Review Conference “worked to protect our interest, to improve the outcome, and to bring us renewed international goodwill.” All of this reflected U.S. (a) “support for policies of accountability, international criminal justice, and ending impunity,” (b) the U.S. “policy of principled engagement with existing international institutions” and (c) ensuring that lawful uses of military force are not criminalized.[12]

At the December 2010 meeting, Ambassador Rapp emphasized three ways for the world community to help the important work of the ICC. First was protecting witnesses in cases before the ICC and in other venues from physical harm and death and from bribery attempts. Second was enforcing the ICC arrest warrants and bringing those charged to the Court to face prosecution. Third was improving national judicial systems all over the world. In this regard the U.S. endorsed the recent discussion in the Democratic Republic of the Congo about creating a “mixed chamber” of Congolese and foreign judges in its national judiciary with jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.[13]

The U.S. also is meeting with the ICC’s Prosecutor and other officials to find ways the U.S. can support current prosecutions (consistent with U.S. laws). [14]

As another means of positive engagement with the ICC,  the U.S. has continued to support the March 2005 U.N. Security Council referral of the Sudan (Darfur) situation to the ICC, and the U.S. has refused to support any effort to exercise the Council’s authority to suspend any ICC investigations or prosecutions of Sudanese officials for a 12-month period. In January 2009, Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., stated that the U.S. supports “the ICC investigation and the prosecution of war crimes in Sudan, and we see no reason for an Article 16 deferral” by the Council. Following the ICC’s issuance of an arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir, President of Sudan, in March 2009, Ambassador Rice reiterated U.S. support for the Court on Darfur and the requirement of Sudan to cooperate with the ICC. [15]

More recently, the U.S. supported the use of the ICC with respect to Libya. The previously discussed U.N. Security Council Resolution 1970 that referred the Libyan situation to the ICC Prosecutor was prepared by the U.S. and 10 other Council members.[16] During the Council’s discussion of the resolution, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice stated, “For the first time ever, the Security Council has unanimously referred an egregious human rights situation to the [ICC].”[17]

Three days after the Security Council resolution on Libya, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved a resolution deploring the situation in Libya and Colonel Gadhafi. This resolution also stated that the Senate “welcomes the unanimous vote of the United Nations Security Council on resolution 1970 referring the situation in Libya to the [ICC] . . . .”[18]

Another means of the U.S.’ positive engagement with the ICC is U.S. public diplomacy supporting the Court–publicly support the arrest and prosecution of those accused by the ICC’s Prosecutor and publicly criticizing those who seek to thwart such arrests. In any event, the U.S. has ceased its hostility and harsh rhetoric against the Court.[19]

Fourth, the U.S. will continue to offer financial support and advice to strengthen other national court systems, particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo. As previously mentioned, this policy is part of the U.S. positive engagement with the ICC, but it is also part of the broader approach to international criminal justice.[20]

Fifth, the U.S. will continue to support the final work of the ad hoc criminal tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia that were established by the U.N. Security Council with limited time periods of existence. The U.S. will do so by providing funding, by supporting their work diplomatically and politically and by providing evidence and concrete support to the prosecutors and defendants. In particular, the U.S. will work in the Security Council “to create a residual mechanism for the ad hoc tribunals that will safeguard their legacy and ensure against impunity for fugitives still at large” after those tribunals cease to exist.[21]

Ambassador Rapp also has noted that the era of the U.N.’s establishing ad hoc and short-lived tribunals like the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to address specific problems was over. Only the ICC would be in business for future problems. Therefore, the U.S. needed to be positively engaged with the ICC.[22]

Sixth, the U.S. has said that it must work with countries that exercise universal jurisdiction (like Spain) when there is some relation between the country and the crime. Exactly what that means is not clear. Ambassador Rapp publicly has endorsed the principle of universal jurisdiction as another way to hold human rights violators accountable. On the other hand, as will be discussed in a future post, Spain has at least two pending criminal cases against high-level U.S. officials under Spain’s statute implementing this jurisdictional principle.[23]

In conclusion, we have seen that there is substance to the claim that the Obama Administration has developed “an integrated approach to international criminal justice.” Although I personally believe the U.S. should become a full-fledged member of the ICC, I recognize the current political impossibility of that happening and believe that the U.S. is doing everything that it can to support the important work of the ICC and other courts that are tackling, in the words of Article 1 of the Rome Statute, the “most serious crimes of international concern.”


[1] Koh, The Challenges and Future of International Justice (Oct. 27, 2010), http://www.state.gov/s/l/releases/remarks/150497.htm; U.S. White House, National Security Strategy at 48 (May 2010), http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/rss_viewer/national_security_strategy.pdf. See Post: The International Criminal Court: Introduction (April 28, 2011)(overview of structure and operation of ICC).

[2] Belczyk, US war crimes ambassador says US unlikely to join ICC in ‘forseeable future,’ Jurist (Jan. 28, 2010), http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/paperchase/2010/01/us-war-crimes-ambassador-says-us.php.

[3] On January 4, 2011, the Human Rights Council’s Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of the U.S. issued its final report on the UPR of the U.S. It set forth all the recommendations of the States without endorsement by the Working Group as a whole. This report again included the specific recommendations for the U.S. to ratify the Rome Statute. (U.N. Human Rights Council, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review–United States of America ¶¶ 92.1, 92.2, 92.16, 92.25, 92.28, 92.36 (Jan. 8, 2011), http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G11/100/69/PDF/G1110069.pdf?OpenElement.) On March 8, 2011, the U.S. submitted its response to this final report. Among other things, the U.S. specifically rejected the recommendations that the U.S. ratify the Rome Statute. (U.N. Human Rights Council, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review–United States of America: Addendum: Views on conclusions and/or recommendations, voluntary commitments and replies presented by the State under review ¶¶  29, 30  (March 8, 2011), http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G11/116/28/PDF/G1111628.pdf?OpenElement.) Nevertheless, the Council adopted the Working Group report in March 2011. (U.N. Human Rights Council, HR Council Media: Human Rights Council concludes sixteenth session (March 25, 2011).)

[4] AMICC, The Obama’s Administration’s Evolving Policy Toward the International Criminal Court  (March 4, 2011), http://www.amicc.org/docs/ObamaPolicy.pdf; Congressional Research Service, International Criminal Court Cases in Africa: Status and Policy Issues (March 7, 2011), http://fpc.state.gov/documents/organization/158489.pdf. See Post: The International Criminal Court and the G. W. Bush Administration (May 12, 2011).

[5] U.S. White House, National Security Strategy at 48 (May 2010), http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/rss_viewer/national_security_strategy.pdf.

[6] AMICC, Report on the Eighth Session of the Assembly of States Parties, The Hague, November 2009 http://www.amicc.org/docs/ASP8.pdf; Stephen J. Rapp, Speech to Assembly of States Parties (Nov. 19, 2009), http://www.icc-cpi.int/iccdocs/asp_docs/ASP8/Statements/ICC-ASP-ASP8-GenDeba-USA-ENG.pdf.

[7] AMICC, Report on the Resumed Eighth Session of the Assembly of States Parties, New York, March 2010 (March 31, 2010), http://www.amicc.org/docs/ASP8r.pdf; U.S. Dep’t of State, Statement by Stephen J. Rapp . . . at the Session of the Assembly of States Parties of the [ICC], (March 23, 2010), http://usun.state.gov/briefing/statements/2010/138999.htm; U.S. Dep’t of State, Statement by Harold Honju Koh . . . at the . . . Session of the Assembly of States Parties of the [ICC], (March 23, 2010), http://usun.state.gov/briefing/statements/2010/139000.htm.

[8] AMICC, Report on the Review Conference of the International Criminal Court (June 25, 2010), http://www2.icc-cpi.int/Menus/ICC/Home; http://www.amicc.org.

[9]  U.S. Mission to the U.N., Statement of the U.S.A. by Ambassador Stephen Rapp  to the Assembly of States Parties, (Dec. 7, 2010), http://www.amicc.org/docs/ASP_Rapp_Statement_12072010.pdf;  AMICC, Report on the Ninth Session of the Assembly of States Parties, December 2010, http://www.amicc.org/docs/ASP9.pdf.

[10] AMICC, Report on the Resumed Eighth Session of the Assembly of States Parties, New York, March 2010 (March 31, 2010), http://www.amicc.org/docs/ASP8r.pdf; U.S. Dep’t of State, Statement by Stephen J. Rapp . . . at the Session of the Assembly of States Parties of the [ICC], (March 23, 2010), http://usun.state.gov/briefing/statements/2010/138999.htm; U.S. Dep’t of State, Statement by Harold Honju Koh . . . at the . . . Session of the Assembly of States Parties of the [ICC], (March 23, 2010), http://usun.state.gov/briefing/statements/2010/139000.htm.

[11] AMICC, Report on the Review Conference of the International Criminal Court (June 25, 2010), http://www2.icc-cpi.int/Menus/ICC/Home; http://www.amicc.org. The U.S. pledge about the LRA was prompted by the enactment of the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009. (Wikisource, Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009, http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/ Lord’s_Resistance_Army_Disarmament_and_Northern_Uganda_Recovery_Act_of_2009; U.S. White House, Statement by the President on the Signing of the Lord’s ResistanceArmy Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009 (May 24, 2010), http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/statement-president-signing-

Lords-resistance-army-disarmament-and-northern-uganda-r.

[12] U.S. Dep’t of State, U.S. Engagement with The International Criminal Court and The Outcome of The Recently Concluded Review Conference (June 15, 2010), http://www.state.gov/s/wci/us_releases/remarks/143178.htm.

[13] Id. The ICC currently is investigating and prosecuting cases from the DRC. See Post: The International Criminal Court: Investigations and Prosecutions (April 28, 2011).

[14]  Id.

[15]    E.g., Statement by President Obama on the Promulgation of Kenya’s New Constitution (Aug. 27,2010), http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2010/08/27/statement-president-obama-promulgation-kenyas-new-constitution(“I am disappointed that Kenya hosted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in defiance of International Criminal Court arrest warrants for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The Government of Kenya has committed itself to full cooperation with the ICC, and we consider it important that Kenya honor its commitments to the ICC and to international justice, along with all nations that share those responsibilities”); U.N. Security Council, Press Release: Briefing Security Council on Sudan, United Nations, African Union Officials Tout Unified Strategy, Linking Peace in Darfur to Southern Sudan Referendum (June 14, 2010),  (U.S. Ambassador Rice told Security Council that there was a need “to bring to justice all those responsible for crimes in Darfur, calling on Sudan to cooperate with the [ICC] and expressing deep concern at the Court’s Pretrial Chamber judges recent decision to refer the issue of Sudan’s non-cooperation to the Council”).

[16] U.N. Security Council  6491st meeting (Feb. 26, 2011). Other Council members (Bosnia & Herzogiva, Colombia, France, Germany, Libya and the U.K.) specifically commended the reference to the ICC. The other four Council members who did not join in drafting the resolution were Brazil, China, India and the Russian Federation. In the meeting, the Indian representative noted that “only” 114 of the 192 U.N. Members were parties to the Rome Statute and that five of the 15 Council members, including three permanent members (China, Russia and U.S.), were not such parties. He went on to emphasize the importance of Article 6 of the resolution’s exempting from ICC jurisdiction nationals of States like India that were not parties to the Rome Statute and its preamble’s stating that the Statute’s Article 16 allowed the Council to postpone any investigation or prosecution for 12 months. (Id.) The Brazilian representative was serving as President of the Council and, therefore, may not have participated in drafting the resolution, but she noted that Brazil was a “long-standing supporter of the integrity and universality of the Rome Statute” and expressed Brazil’s “strong reservation” about Article 6’s exemption of nationals of non-States Parties. (Id.) This suggests that the inclusion of Article 6 was the price of obtaining “yes” votes for the resolution from India, China and the Russian Federation. See Post: The International Criminal Court: Investigations and Prosecutions (April 28, 2011).

[17] U.N. Security Council  6491st meeting (Feb. 26, 2011).

[18]  ___Cong. Record S1068-69 (March 1, 2011) (S. Res. 85).

[19] Koh, The Challenges and Future of International Justice (Oct. 27, 2010), http://www.state.gov/s/l/releases/remarks/150497.htm.

[20] ICC, Review Conference of the Rome Statute: Pledges (July 15, 2010), http://www2.icc-cpi.int/iccdocs/asp_docs/RC2010/RC-9-ENG-FRA-SPA.pdf.

[21] Belczyk, US war crimes ambassador says US unlikely to join ICC in ‘forseeable future,’ Jurist (Jan. 28, 2010), http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/paperchase/2010/01/us-war-crimes-ambassador-says-us.php.

[22] Id. With the existence of the ICC, there is no need to create future ad hoc tribunals. This fact also avoids the administrative problems ad hoc tribunals face when they near the end of their lives and professional and other staff leave to pursue other opportunities with greater future prospects. (See Amann, Prosecutorial Parlance (9/12/10), http://intlawgrrls.blogspot.com (comments by officials of ICTY and ICTR).)

[23] Belczyk, US war crimes ambassador says US unlikely to join ICC in ‘forseeable future,’ Jurist (Jan. 28, 2010), http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/paperchase/2010/01/us-war-crimes-ambassador-says-us.php.

International Criminal Justice: Introduction

Since the end of World War II, we the peoples of the world, acting through our nation-state governments, have codified or created numerous international human rights norms. This started with 1945’s Charter of the United Nations and 1948’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Other multilateral human rights treaties have followed, including the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.[1]

Given the world’s nation-state sovereignty basis, we the peoples of the world have grappled with the very real problem of how to enforce such norms in order to punish violators, to deter future violations, to provide redress to victims and survivors, and to investigate and promulgate the “truth” about past violations. The response has been the creation of various mechanisms, none of which is perfect: state reporting to U.N. Charter and treaty bodies for review, comment and recommendations; complaints by states and individuals to such bodies for recommended solutions; international investigations of specific countries or problems; civil litigation for money damages against violators in domestic courts and international courts like the Inter-American Court of Human Rights; and truth commissions.[2]

Another response has been seeking to subject violators to criminal sanctions (imprisonment) in national courts under the international law principle of universal jurisdiction whereby a nation’s courts have legitimate criminal jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes no matter where in the world such crimes were committed. Criminal sanctions have also been imposed by international criminal tribunals like the Nuremberg and Tokyo War Crimes Tribunals at the end of World War II and more recently by so called ad hoc tribunals created by the U.N. Security Council (the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR)). Even more recently the International Criminal Court (ICC) has been created.[3] Collectively these mechanisms often are referred to as international criminal justice.

In future posts we will examine a Spanish court’s use of the universal jurisdiction principle to commence criminal investigations. In other posts we will analyze the International Criminal Court and its relations with the United States.


[1]  David Weissbrodt, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Joan Fitzpatrick, and Frank Newman, International Human Rights: Law, Policy and Process, ch. 1 (4th ed. 2009) [“Weissbrodt”].

[2]  Id. , chs. 4-6, 9, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16.

[3]  Id. at 11, 483-586. The text of the Rome Statute, which will be referenced throughout this article, is available at:  http://www.icc-cpi.int/NR/rdonlyres/EA9AEFF7-5752-4F84-BE94-0A655EB30E16/0/Rome_Statute_English.pdf.