Category Archives: Comparative Criminal Law

Mr. Bemba’s Acquittal – A Shortcut to Justice?

Thomas Weigend is a Professor of International, Comparative and German Criminal Law at the University of Cologne.

(1) Introduction

The source of Mr. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo’s legal problems was an intervention of troops under his command in an internal armed conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) in the years 2002 and 2003.[1] While Mr. Bemba continued to reside in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), his soldiers committed murders and rapes against CAR civilians and pillaged their homes. Several years later, the Prosecutor of the ICC charged Mr. Bemba with the crimes committed by the soldiers, under the heading of command responsibility (Art. 28 ICC Statute). After having been convicted by a Trial Chamber in 2016, Mr. Bemba appealed, alleging that the Trial Chamber had committed a long list of factual and legal errors. The Appeals Chamber, by a 3:2 majority, found in favor of the appellant and acquitted him.

It is unusual, even in the area of international criminal law, that the resolution of a case on appeal engenders four separate opinions with an aggregate of about 500 pages. This avalanche of words is the result of a deep split between the judges of the Appeals Chamber – a split that affects almost every aspect of the case and has led to widely diverging views as to its appropriate resolution.  

It is impossible in a short comment to do justice to the multitude of arguments exchanged between the opposing sides as well as to the profound general observations and learned quotations in the separate concurring opinion of Judge Eboe-Osuji, the current President of the International Criminal Court. I will instead limit my remarks to what I conceive to be the main points of dissension among the judges.

Judges Van den Wyngaert and Morrison, who together with Judge Eboe-Osuji formed the majority, wrote a separate opinion[2] in which they explained their motives. In concluding this opinion, they seek to style the main conflict as one between reason and emotion:  “We can only hope to establish the rule of law”, they write, “if we discipline ourselves to be guided by rationality and resist the urge to allow emotions to determine judicial decisions”.[3] Although this sentence is meant to explain that the judges in the majority empathise with the victims of the atrocities committed by Congolese soldiers in the CAR, it implicitly portraits the dissenting members of the Appeals Chamber (Judges Monageng and Hofmanski) as following their emotions rather than rationally applying the law. Such an implication would be far from accurate, given the meticulous analysis of the evidence and the law that the dissenting judges provide in their lengthy opinion. Yet, it is hard to deny that the end result of the case leads to a sense of frustration – not only in regard of the enormous amount of time and effort spent on prosecuting and adjudicating Mr. Bemba but also in regard of the great suffering that is left without a legal response, at least on the level of international criminal law. The outcome of the case is unsatisfactory in yet another respect: although the Court was eventually unable to establish facts indicating Mr. Bemba’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, some of the judges remain fully convinced that the former accused was responsible, as a commander, for the crimes committed by DRC soldiers in the CAR. This leaves the case (and the former defendant) in a state of limbo, so that the efforts of all participants to establish “the truth” seem to have been in vain.

(2) Breadth of Charges

In the end, this problematic result has been caused by evidentiary difficulties. But as a preliminary matter, the very scope of “the case” before the Court was doubtful. Both the Trial Chamber and the dissenting judges of the Appeals Chamber accepted the charges as formulated by the Prosecution. These charges were formulated in very broad terms. For example, the charge relating to the crime against humanity of murder read: “From on or about 26 October 2002 to 15 March 2003, Jean-Pierre Bemba committed crimes against humanity, by the killing of men, women and children civilians in the Central African Republic […].” The document containing the charges listed a number of examples of specific criminal acts but made it clear that the charges “include, but are not limited to” those acts.[4] The dissenting judges argue that the formulation of the charges lies in the discretion of the Prosecutor, hence all acts of murder committed on the territory of the CAR between 26 October 2002 and 15 March 2003 by any soldier under Mr. Bemba’s command was properly before the Court.[5] As a consequence, the Prosecution was free, in the opinion of these judges, to augment the charges by adding further instances of crimes allegedly committed by the DRC soldiers after the original charges had been confirmed by the Pretrial Chamber and even after the trial had begun, provided that the defendant was given proper notice in accordance with Art. 67 (1) (a) ICC Statute. The Prosecutor had in fact amended the original charges in the course of the proceedings. The majority of the Appeals Chamber find that these additional instances – for which the Trial Chamber had held Mr. Bemba responsible under Art. 28 ICC Statute – were not subject to the Trial Chamber’s jurisdiction. The majority rely on the wording of Art. 74 (2), second sent. of the Statute, which reads:

“The decision [of the Trial Chamber] shall not exceed the facts and circumstances described in the charges and any amendments to the charges.”

The interpretation of this provision may be aided by Regulation 52 (1) (b) of the Regulations of the Court:

“The document containing the charges referred to in article 61 shall include: (…) (b)  A statement of the facts, including the time and place of the alleged crimes, which provides a sufficient legal and factual basis to bring the person or persons to trial, including relevant facts for the exercise of jurisdiction by the Court; (…).”

From these legal texts, the Majority of the judges draw the conclusion that the charges to be confirmed by the Pretrial Chamber must be precise in describing the acts of which the defendant is suspected; it is not sufficient that the document containing the charges simply lists categories of crimes (such as “murder” and “rape”) or – as happened in Mr. Bemba’s case – names a time span of almost five months and a space covering a whole country, thus holding the defendant potentially responsible for any offense committed by the troops under his command within these broad limits.[6] The Majority therefore accept as properly charged only those few particular instances of soldiers’ criminal conduct that were specifically named in the original charging instrument (one murder, the rape of 20 persons and five acts of pillaging).[7] In their Separate Opinion, Judges Van den Wyngaert and Morrison clarify the reasons for this conclusion: “The proper identification of criminal acts in an exhaustive manner is crucial to allow a Trial Chamber to manage the trial proceedings and to allow the accused to prepare a meaningful defence…”[8]

In my opinion, the last sentence quoted above correctly defines the issue. Contrary to the Minority’s argument, Art. 74 (2) ICC Statute does not merely describe the “accusatorial principle”, limiting the trial court’s inquiry to whatever conduct the prosecutor, in her discretion, chooses to include in the charging document. Since Art 74 (2) ICC Statute speaks of “facts and circumstances described in the charges”, it alludes to two further functions of the charging document, which are more clearly expressed in Regulation 52 (1) (b) of the Court’s Regulations: The charging document must, in a meaningful fashion, circumscribe the scope of the trial, and it must put the defendant on notice of the alleged facts to which he needs to direct his defense efforts. A loose description of a large time period and an area of thousands of  square kilometers plus a generic list of legal offense descriptions cannot fulfil either function. It is only when the relevant acts (or omissions) are described as to their approximate time and space that the defendant can reasonably prepare his response. As the history of the case at hand shows, an overly broad formulation of the charges also deprives both the pretrial and the trial chambers of a fixed target: the prosecutor may at any time add new incidents that fall under the broad purview of the loosely described original charges. One should, moreover, bear in mind that the charges and the ensuing findings of the court also describe the scope of the defendant’s protection against double jeopardy: if the charges were conceived as broadly as the Bemba Trial Chamber understood them to be, the court’s judgment (be it a conviction or an acquittal) would shield Mr. Bemba from responsibility for any atrocities his soldiers committed in the relevant time period even if new evidence showed that their crimes were much more extensive that assumed at the time of the trial. 

In the case at hand, the issue is complicated by the fact that Mr. Bemba was charged not with (direct or indirect) perpetration of the crimes in question, in accordance with Art. 25 (3) (a) ICC Statute, but with responsibility for his subordinates’ crimes as a commander. One might argue that the fault of the commander is his failure to take “all necessary and reasonable measures” to prevent or repress the subordinates’ offenses (Art. 28 (a) (ii) ICC Statute), hence the charges against him only need to describe the period of time in which he should have taken such measures. However, under Art. 28 the commander is not convicted simply of failing to exercise control over his troops (which might have been a sensible approach for the formulation of the Statute) but is held responsible for the very crimes that his subordinates committed. It is therefore imperative that the charges individualize each “underlying” crime, because the commander must be put in a position to raise a defense against each of them. He might do so, e.g., by showing that he was unable to prevent the subordinate from committing a specific offense, or that he would have had to take unreasonable measures in order to stop him from committing the crime in question.[9]

(3) Did Mr. Bemba take “all necessary and reasonable measures”?

With regard to the offenses subject to the Trial Chamber’s jurisdiction, the critical question is whether Mr. Bemba had taken all necessary and reasonable measures to prevent them and – if necessary – to submit them to the proper authorities with a view toward sanctioning the individuals responsible for the crimes. It was beyond dispute that Mr. Bemba had learned of some of these crimes and also had taken some preventive and repressive action in regard to them (installing commissions of inquiry, contacting UN agencies, seeking the cooperation of the CAR government, etc.). The critical issue thus was whether his activities were sufficient and genuine.

As to sufficiency, the two dissenters side with the Trial Chamber in finding that the efforts undertaken by Mr. Bemba to curb the misconduct of his troops was not all he could reasonably have done in that respect. The judges in the minority also fault their colleagues on methodological grounds: the majority, they claim, uncritically believe Mr. Bemba’s assertions about his lack of efficient means and fail to consider the totality of the evidence before the court, which – in their opinion – strongly suggests the defendant’s lack of genuine effort.[10]

The judges in the majority, by contrast, emphasize that the Rome Statute does not provide for a commander’s strict liability for offenses committed by his subordinates but explicitly limits the commander’s obligation to doing what is feasible and reasonable for the prevention and repression of crimes.[11] In accordance with the principle of individual criminal culpability, the majority claim, commanders can be held accountable only for the crimes of those they are commanding directly and whose conduct they can actually monitor.[12] The criterion of “reasonableness” implies further that a commander may take into consideration the impact of potential measures on ongoing or planned military operations and may choose the least disruptive measure as long as it can reasonably be expected to prevent or repress the crimes.[13] The majority also claim that the trial court must “specifically identify what a commander should have done in concreto” before he can be convicted based on his lack of activity.[14] In this respect, the number of crimes charged gains significance: since only slightly more than 20 offenses of Mr. Bemba’s soldiers were properly before the Trial Chamber, the majority judges argue, the demands on his activity must be proportionate to this number of crimes, not to a multitude of other offenses that DRC troops might have committed.[15]

In the arguments of both the majority and the minority of the Appeals Chamber, the motivation for Mr. Bemba’s activities play a major role. Both the Trial Chamber and the minority judges doubt the sincerity of Mr. Bemba’s efforts. The Trial Chamber saw his activities as motivated to a large extent by a desire to preserve the reputation of his troops and to rehabilitate their public image against public allegations of misconduct.[16] The majority of the Appeals Chamber, by contrast, emphasize that motives play only a limited role for the question of whether a commander undertook genuine efforts to prevent his subordinates’ crimes. The judges in the majority explain that a commander may well “discharge his duty to take ‘necessary and reasonable measures’ and in doing so accomplish multiple, additional or extraneous purposes, such as protecting the public image of his forces.”[17] They therefore see legal error in the Trial Chamber’s reliance on Mr. Bemba’s motives as grounds for discrediting the genuineness of his efforts.[18]

Another point of contention is the subjective standard for liability under Art. 28 (a) ICC Statute. The two dissenting judges write that it is not necessary, for the prosecution or the trial court, to make a clear distinction as to whether the accused “knew” or “should have known” about the (impending) offenses of his subordinates since Art. 28, in their opinion, provides for a “unitary standard” and hence the distinction “has no practical consequence”.[19] Judges Van den Wyngaert and Morrison, on the other hand, explain that the original charges, implying that Mr. Bemba “knew” of the offenses in question, could not subsequently be changed to the “should have known” standard since each alternative requires proof of different matters and hence can be defended against on different grounds.[20] Knowledge in the sense of Art. 28 of the ICC Statute “requires that the commander is aware that the subordinates are ‘about to’ commit crimes. This connotes a certain imminence and specificity going well beyond general concerns about the level of discipline of particular troops/units”.[21] The judges in the majority consequently assert that the evidence did not allow the Trial Chamber to find, beyond reasonable doubt, that the reports available to Mr. Bemba afforded him knowledge of imminent criminal conduct by his troops.[22]

Finally, the judges are of different minds with regard to the “as a result” formulation in Art. 28 (a) ICC Statute.[23] Although this dispute has no influence on the outcome of the case, it is interesting to note that the judges in the majority would in effect negate any significant substance of the “result” clause,[24] whereas the dissenting judges – deviating from their general tendency to give the Statute an extensive reading – would require proof of a high probability that the crimes in question would not have been committed if the commander had fulfilled his obligation to take reasonable preventive measures.[25]

I will comment only briefly on the interesting questions the judges raise concerning the interpretation of Art. 28 ICC Statute.

As to the fundamental issue of the extent of the commander’s obligation, the Statute appears to set an extremely high standard when it requires that the commander take “all necessary and reasonable measures … to prevent or repress” the commission of offenses by his soldiers. If the word “all” is taken literally, the very fact that the soldiers committed the crimes would indicate that the commander (who, according to Art. 28 (a) ICC Statute, exercises “effective command and control” over his subordinates) is indeed criminally liable, because his position of authority coupled with his knowledge of the imminence of offenses ought to have enabled him to interfere effectively, barring very exceptional circumstances. The judges in the majority correctly point out, however, that Art. 28 ICC Statute was not meant to confer strict liability on commanders, and that his options are to be assessed ex ante, not by hindsight.[26] I also agree with the majority’s position that the term “reasonable” in the description of the commander’s obligation significantly limits his liability. While I would not subscribe without qualification to the majority’s assertion that “commanders are allowed to make a cost/benefit analysis when deciding which measures to take”[27], I would still restrict the commander’s obligation to activities within his ordinary scope of authority.[28] Of course, preventing the commission of crimes is an important task, and the commander must carefully carry out that task because he has accepted a position of responsibility over a particularly dangerous instrument (i.e., a large group of heavily armed persons licensed to kill[29]). Yet, Art. 28 does not demand more of the commander than to “exercise control properly over [his] forces”, that is, to make use of the means conferred upon him in his capacity as a commander. I doubt, therefore, that the Trial Chamber in the instant case was correct in demanding that Mr. Bemba should have redesigned the campaign in CAR and/or withdrawn his troops from the CAR in order to protect the civilian population from harm.[30] These would have been strategic decisions which – though desirable – cannot in fairness be demanded under the threat of punishment in accordance with Art. 28 ICC Statute. In sum, I think that the majority view better reflects the limits of command responsibility. Whether Mr. Bemba in fact took all reasonable opportunities to prevent the crimes in question or to initiate an investigation of the soldiers involved in them is a matter of the available evidence, which cannot be properly assessed within the confines of this comment.

With respect to the question of whether Mr. Bemba made “genuine” efforts to prevent or repress the crimes in question, I do not think his motives are of relevance. It is the objective character of any measures the commander has taken that the court must assess; if these measures are sufficient under the reasonableness standard, it does not matter whether the commander took them in order to prevent crimes and to bring soldiers to justice, or to enhance his popularity, or even because he personally disliked the soldiers in question. If it was indeed Mr. Bemba’s motive – as the Trial Chamber asserted – “to protect the image” of his troops,[31] that motive may well have been in line with the legislative motive behind Art. 28 ICC Statute: Repression and sanctioning of soldiers’ crimes is demanded in order to preserve among the soldiers a law-abiding spirit, which will necessarily be reflected in the troops‘ image, both in public and within their own ranks. Although the majority judges correctly point out that a commander’s motives as such are irrelevant to Art. 28 charges, they may overstate the impact of the “motivation” factor on the Trial Chamber’s assessment of the overall sufficiency of Mr. Bemba’s measures.[32] It may thus be an over-reaction for the majority to dismiss the findings of the Trial Chamber in toto because of its alleged reliance on Mr. Bemba’s motivation.[33]    

Concerning the issue of the subjective element(s) of the commander’s responsibility under Art. 28 (a) (i) ICC Statute, the dissenters, in my opinion, take a wrong path in looking only at the identical end result of a conviction. It is true, of course, that a commander may be convicted if he “should have known” as well as if he “knew” of his soldiers’ impending or past offenses. But this does not mean that the charges are interchangeable and can simply be amended with regard to the evidence as it develops in the course of the trial. As the majority point out, it is of vital importance for the defendant to know whether he needs to counter the allegation that he was aware of the impending crime (which he can do by showing that no believable information of the soldiers’ plans reached him in time for taking effective counter-action) or the allegation (under the “should have known” alternative) that he should have become active in advance to learn about such plans. 

The divergence of opinions with regard to the “as a result” clause in this case is in part due to the lack of clarity of the text of Article 28. Whereas the French version does not seem to include any “result” requirement but only a conditional (“lorsqu’il”) connection between the commander’s failure to exercise control and his criminal liability,[34] the English version includes the words “as a result” but is grammatically ambivalent as to whether the resulting consequence of the lack of control is (a) the crime committed by the subordinate or (b) the commanders’ personal responsibility. Two arguments support the latter interpretation[35]: First, it leads to harmonious results under the English and the French versions; second, it avoids a logical contradiction with regard to the second alternative of Art. 28 (a) (ii), namely “to submit the matter to the competent authorities for investigation and prosecution”: Not submitting a case for investigation can hardly be regarded as the cause for antecedent crimes committed by the soldiers in question.[36] If one accepts this interpretation and views the commander’s criminal responsibility as the “result” of his lack of proper control over his forces (exemplified by the items listed in nos. (i) and (ii) of Art. 28 (a) ICC Statute), no causal element needs to be proved in these cases. If, on the other hand, one retains the more traditional interpretation, which demands a causal connection between the commander’s lack of proper control and the commission of the offenses by his troops,[37] then it makes sense to require no more than proof (beyond a reasonable doubt) of a high probability that the action expected of the commander would have prevented the commission of the crimes in question.[38] As the dissenters correctly point out, a hypothetical connection (What would have happened if the commander had taken the action reasonably expected of him?) can never be proved as a certainty.

(4) Standard of Review

Although the interpretation of Article 28 ICC Statute certainly played a role, the decision of the case eventually turned on questions of proof. The Appeals Chamber did not take any evidence but had before it the complete record of the trial. It seems that this record was not conclusive either in proving Mr. Bemba’s guilt or in showing his innocence of the crimes with which he was charged. The critical question then was whether the Appeals Chamber should defer to the findings of the Trial Chamber and accept its finding of guilt, or whether it should form its own judgment based on the evidence available in written and video form.

Both the majority and the minority of the Appeals Chamber delivered somewhat paradoxical opinions on this point. Judges Monageng and Hofmanski opted for a deferential attitude toward the Trial Chamber’s findings but nevertheless painstakingly examined the extensive record and used it to refute, one by one, Mr. Bemba’s objections to the finding of guilt. The judges in the majority, by contrast, emphasized the importance of determining the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt on the basis of the trial record; but they did not undertake a thorough analysis of the evidence but instead issued a judgment of “not guilty” after having examined (and found wanting) the Trial Chamber’s judgment of conviction.

In their opinion, Judges Monageng and Hofmanski rely on the case law of the ICTY and in particular of the ICC Appeals Chamber in the Lubanga case for adopting a deferential standard of review on the appeals level with respect to alleged factual errors. Citing the Lubanga Appeals decision, they proclaim as the correct standard of review “whether a reasonable Trial Chamber could have been satisfied beyond reasonable doubt as to the finding in question. The Appeals Chamber will not assess the evidence de novo with a view to determining whether it would have reached the same factual finding.”[39] The main argument in favor of this standard is, of course, that only the trial judges are in a position to see and hear the witnesses and therefore have a more reliable and comprehensive access to the relevant evidence.[40]

The judges in the majority take a very different approach. In their opinion, “the Appeals Chamber must be satisfied that factual findings that are made beyond reasonable doubt are clear and unassailable, both in terms of evidence and rationale. Accordingly, when the Appeals Chamber is able to identify findings that can reasonably be called into doubt, it must overturn them.”[41] In essence, the judges in the majority place greater emphasis on the principle that guilt must be established beyond reasonable doubt, and they regard themselves as responsible for ascertaining that this principle is strictly applied and that any possible miscarriage of justice is avoided.[42] In support of their view, the judges cite two provisions of the ICC Statute: Art. 83 (1), which grants the Appeals Chamber, for the purposes of appeals proceedings, “all the powers of the Trial Chamber”;[43] and Art. 74 (5), which obliges the Trial Chamber to render a decision containing “a full and reasoned statement of the Trial Chamber’s findings on the evidence and conclusions”.[44] It is in fact the lack of a full and reasoned (and, one should add: convincing) statement of its finding of guilt which, for the judges in the majority, vitiates the Trial Chamber’s finding of guilt.[45]

It is difficult to fairly assess the relative strength of the arguments advanced by the opposing sides. Certainly, mere reliance on a principle of deference – which has no basis in the ICC Statute itself – appears unsatisfactory where the defendant may have been convicted without proof sufficient to overcome the presumption of innocence. The judges in the minority in fact go to great lengths in reviewing the Trial Chamber’s factual findings and in establishing their own view of the trial record. In that sense, the minority judges‘ actions (commendably) diverge from their theoretical stance.

One would indeed have expected that the judges in the majority undertake a similar task; but they do not.[46] For them, it seems sufficient to find that they have “reasonable doubts” about the Trial Chamber’s factual findings, because the Trial Chamber’s written judgment in itself appears to them to be inconsistent or unpersuasive. However, the majority‘s reliance in this regard on Art. 74 (5) ICC Statute concerning the obligation of the Trial Chamber to provide a full and reasoned statement seems beside the point. Tellingly, the majority struggle with explaining why a deficiency of the written judgment by itself should be sufficient grounds for overturning the verdict. Art. 83 (2) ICC Statute permits reversal of the Trial Chamber’s judment only if “the decision or sentence appealed from was materially affected by error of fact or law”. In order to justify reversal in Mr. Bemba’s case, the majority argue that a violation of Art. 74 (5) “has a material effect in terms of article 83 (2) of the Statute because it inhibits the parties from properly mounting an appeal in relation to the factual finding in question and prevents the Appeals Chamber from exercising its appellate review”.[47] That may well be true – but after the defendant has mounted an (obviously well-reasoned) appeal and after the Appeals Chamber has thoroughly considered the case, any such defect of the trial judgment is moot and can no longer be sufficient grounds for reversal. The dissenters’ criticism of the majority’s shortcut to reversal thus appears well founded.[48] I cannot quite suppress the thought that one motive for the judges in the majority to vote for Mr. Bemba’s acquittal may have been to sanction the Trial Chamber (and perhaps the Prosecutor) for what they regarded as shoddy work.[49]

But what are appeals judges supposed to do, under the ICC Statute, if they regard the Trial Chamber’s written reasons as insufficient to support a finding of guilt? The Statute in fact offers several options: According to Art. 83 (2), the Appeals Chamber may order a new trial, may remand a factual issue to the original Trial Chamber for it to determine the issue and to report back accordingly, or may itself call evidence to determine the issue. Reversal and retrial was indeed the resolution proposed by Judge Eboe-Osuji for the Bemba case.[50] Judges Van den Wyngaert and Morrison opposed this suggestion, mainly based on practical considerations, the most important of which was the length of detention that Mr. Bemba had already suffered and that would have continued for several more years in case of a retrial.[51] Judge Eboe-Osuji recognized that a stale mate within the Chamber would have ensued if he had insisted on his stance and therefore eventually agreed with the disposition suggested by his Colleagues in the majority.[52]

(5) Concluding Remarks

There are several perspectives that one can take on the outcome of Mr. Bemba’s case. The affair may be analyzed as a power struggle between the Trial Chamber and the Appeals Chamber, with the Appeals Chamber imposing its (majority) view on the other judges. One may also say that Mr. Bemba was lucky in escaping conviction due to excellent and inventive legal representation on appeal and a stale mate on the Appeals Chamber. But the uneasy resolution of the case also reveals certain deficiencies in the ICC Statute’s provisions on appeals proceedings. The Appeals Chamber certainly should not be in a position to simply replace the Trial Chamber’s factual findings by its own, without having thoroughly reviewed all the evidence beyond the reasons stated by the Trial Chamber. On the other hand, a retrial of the charges (be it before a Trial Chamber or an Appeals Chamber) in a typical ICC case would often be so cumbersome and time-consuming that it would impose disproportionate burdens on the accused who, after all, must still be treated as innocent. The rule of deference to the Trial Chamber’s factual findings might thus be a wise compromise; yet, this rule should not be applied too broadly and should leave enough room for the Appeals Chamber to correct potential miscarriages of justice.


[1] For details see Pros. v. Bemba, ICC-01/05-01/08-3343, Trial Chamber, Judgment of 21 March 2016, §§ 379 et seq.

[2] Hereinafter: Separate Opinion Van den Wyngaert & Morrison.

[3] Separate Opinion Van den Wyngaert & Morrison § 79.

[4] Pros. v. Bemba, Corrected Revised Second Amended Document Containing the Charges,  pp. 32-34.

[5] Pros. v. Bemba, Appeals Chamber, Judgment of 8 June 2018, Dissenting Opinion of Judge Sanji Mmasenono Monageng and Judge Piotr Hofmański (hereinafter: Dissenting Opinion) §§ 28, 32, 36.

[6] Pros. v. Bemba, Appeals Chamber, Judgment of 8 June 2018 (hereinafter: Majority Opinion) §§ 103, 104, 110, 115. The Majority also deem insufficient the formulation “including but not limited to” in regard to certain acts named as examples of soldiers’ offenses in the charging document .

[7] Majority Opinion § 119.

[8] Separate Opinion Van den Wyngaert and Morrison § 29.

[9] For this reason, I do not find persuasive the Minority’s argument that “in cases where command responsibility is alleged for mass crimes committed by the accused’s subordinates, the focus of the case will generally be the accused person’s ability and failure to exercise control properly, and the detail of the individual criminal acts alleged will generally be less material to the description of the charges under article 74 (2) of the Statute than in cases, for example, where the accused is alleged to have directly perpetrated those acts.” (Minority Opinion § 27).

[10] Minority Opinion §§ 52 et seq., 106.

[11] Majortiy Opinion §§ 168-169.

[12] Separate Opinion Van den Wyngaert and Morrison § 33.

[13] Majority Opinion § 170.

[14] Majority Opinion § 170.

[15] Majority Opinion § 183.

[16] See Pros. v. Bemba, ICC-01/05-01/08-3343, Trial Chamber, Judgment of 21 March 2016, § 728.

[17] Majority Opinion § 179.

[18] Majority Opinion § 191.

[19] Minority Opinion §§ 265-266.

[20] Separate Opinion Van den Wyngaert and Morrison §§ 38-40.

[21] Separate Opinion Van den Wyngaert and Morrison § 44.

[22] Separate Opinion Van den Wyngaert and Morrison § 50.

[23] “A military commander… shall be responsible for crimes… committed by forces under his or her effective command and control… as a result of his or her failure to exercise control properly over such forces, where …”

[24] Separate Opinion Van den Wyngaert and Morrison §§ 51-56.

[25] Minority Opinion §§ 321, 331, 335, 338, 339.

[26] Majority Opinion § 170.

[27] Majority Opinion § 170.

[28] Judge Eboe-Osuji in his Separate Opinion §§ 273-274 correctly points out that the obligation to take preventive measures may extend temporally to periods well in advance of the actual commission of crimes; however, there remains the subjective requirement that the commander must even at that time foresee or be able to foresse that without his action his troops will commit crimes.

[29] This concept is developed in the Separate Opinion Eboe-Osuji §§ 239, 274.

[30] Pros. v. Bemba, ICC-01/05-01/08-3343, Trial Chamber, Judgment of 21 March 2016, § 740.

[31] Pros. v. Bemba, ICC-01/05-01/08-3343, Trial Chamber, Judgment of 21 March 2016, § 728.

[32] The discussion of Mr. Bemba’s motivation is limited to one paragraph of the Trial Court’s lengthy opinion.

[33] See the criticism, along the same lines, in Minority Opinion §§ 72-73.

[34] Art. 28: […] Un chef militaire ou une personne faisant effectivement fonction de chef militaire est pénalement responsable des crimes relevant de la compétence de la Cour commis par des forces placées sous son commandement et son contrôle effectifs, ou sous son autorité et son contrôle effectifs, selon le cas, lorsqu’il ou elle n’a pas exercé le contrôle qui convenait sur ces forces dans les cas où […]

[35] This interpretation has been adopted in Separate Opinion Van den Wyngaert and Morrison § 56.

[36] Separate Opinion Van den Wyngaert and Morrison §§ 52-54. The Minority Opinion § 333 suggests that the problem could be solved by a requirement that “causation needs to be demonstrated in respect of subsequent crimes that were committed because of the failure to punish earlier crimes”; see also Separate Opinion Eboe-Osuji § 211. The problem with this approach is that the commander, under Art. 28 ICC Statute, is punishable for the “earlier” crime, not for the subsequent ones.

[37] As does the Minority Opinion §§ 331, 334, 335, citing the culpability principle and the principle of strict construction (Art. 22 (1) of the ICC Statute).

[38] Minority Opinion §§ 338, 339.

[39] Minority Opinion § 2, citing Pros. v. Lubanga, ICC-01/04-01/06, Appeals Chamber, Judgment of 1 Dec. 2014, § 27.

[40] Minority Opinion § 7.

[41] Majority Opinion §§ 3, 45.

[42] Majority Opinion § 40; Separate Opinion Eboe-Osuji §§ 9, 23, 52, 74, 79; Separate Opinion Van den Wyngaert and Morrison § 14.

[43] Separate Opinion Eboe-Osuji § 45. Judge Eboe-Osuji points out that no such provision existed in the Statutes of the ad hoc tribunals. However, it is unlikely that Art. 83 (1) ICC Statute is intended to grant the Appeals Chamber full authority to replace the Trial Chamber’s factual findings by its own (even without taking any evidence!). In light of the introductory words (“For the purposes of proceedings under article 81 and this article,…), a more probable interpretation of Art. 83 (1) would limit its impact to procedural matters, i.e., the authority to take the same procedural measures as the Trial Chamber.

[44] Majority Opinion §§ 49-50.

[45] This becomes quite clear from this statement in the Separate Opinion Van den Wyngaert and Morrison § 6: “A major concern we have is about the opacity of the Conviction Decision in terms of outlining the evidentiary basis for many of the findings. The decision is replete with cross-reference upon cross-reference and the reader is often left to speculate about which specific items of evidence the Trial Chamber relied upon for a particular finding.”

[46] The Minority Opinion § 18 is quite correct in asserting: “Even if the Majority were to be understood as requiring an assessment, under the standard of beyond reasonable doubt, of the accuracy of the Trial Chamber’s findings, it fails to do that as well.”

[47] Majority Opinion § 55. In a different context, the Majority Opinion (§ 50) argues that “the provision of reasons also enables the Appeals Chamber to clearly understand the factual and legal basis upon which the decision was taken and thereby properly exercise its appellate functions”.

[48] See Minority Opinion § 11.

[49] See what might be a revealing remark in the Separate Opinion Van den Wyngaert and Morrison § 73: “… we would not find it fair to give the Prosecutor a ‘second chance’ to prosecute this case, given the serious problems we have detected in the Prosecution case.”

[50] Separate Opinion Eboe-Osuji § 22; see also Minority Opinion § 53.

[51] Separate Opinion Van den Wyngaert and Morrison § 73.

[52] Separate Opinion Eboe-Osuji § 22.

Legal Pluralism and Justice: A Reply to Critics

This symposium has embodied everything I sought to promote in establishing this blog. First and foremost, it has housed frank but respectful criticism. In our piece The Ahistoricism of Legal Pluralism in International Criminal Law, we saw an implicit deference to extant law in prescriptive accounts of Global Legal Pluralism that we did not think could be justified normatively. In pointing this out, we spent much time discussing how to frame the argument so as to communicate respect for a set of excellent scholars who had done so much to inform our thinking about these problems, then sought out their criticism once our piece was finally complete as a mark of this respect. In turn, they have offered equally courteous and frank responses to our arguments. In all, I am so pleased that the exercise has conveyed a commitment to the primacy of ideas, a recognition of the great intellectual value of critique, and an inclination on all our parts to metabolize whatever impersonal emotions arise from scrutiny. I hope this reply registers in that spirit and promotes that scholarly culture.

I begin by offering a set of clarifications, which I suspect the piece itself should have made clearer. Ours was never a total assault on Legal Pluralism. I continue to believe that it plays a crucial role in a number of areas, in particular through its ability to undermine what James Sákéj Youngblood Henderson calls “the colonial contrived superiority of European law.”[1] Anyone with even the most rudimentary understanding of law’s role in colonialism will know that withholding recognition of other pre-existing normative systems was a key element in this contrived superiority. In this light, Legal Pluralism is particularly important because it reasserts the authority of jurisgenerative communities other than the colonizing state while undermining rigid, hegemonic conceptions of what it means to have law. In many respects, this point explains our focus on state-made criminal law, even though this is deliberately a caricature of Legal Pluralism, as Paul Berman correctly points out. Nonetheless, as I will explain, our caricature eschews even more difficult problems for Global Legal Pluralism in an attempt to focus on a core of state law that Global Legal Pluralism’s deference to the legal requires it to embrace.

Reduced to its essence, our article was largely an attack on law as a necessary repository of moral, political, epistemic or cultural variation a cosmopolitan vision of global justice might seek to promote. Thus, we argued that Legal Pluralism’s method did not count against universal norms in the ways it claimed, in large part because it overvalued law. This point warrants emphasis. We do not argue that universal norms always solve the problems we point to across the board, which would be patently absurd. Instead, we mean to reverse the argumentative onus and place the burden onto the prescriptive account of Global Legal Pluralism, insisting that just managing whatever we consider to be law globally seems overly deferential to law. Our brief histories were, in the grand scheme of things, relatively superficial attempts to “scratch the surface” to see what lies beneath law. Having peered below the surface very briefly, we sought to point out how Legal Pluralism was not necessarily counter-hegemonic, since for a large set of what would constitute law, the hegemon had beat Legal Pluralism to the punch by imposing the law in the first place. Consequently, our aim was to warn that in prescriptive guise, the concept risked entrenching unjust norms.

We were, of course, conscious that history would never be able to “distinguish this superficial transplantation of domestic criminal law into the international realm, from potentially legitimate and useful reliance on national doctrines,” as Neha Jain rightly points out. Instead, we argued that the history of much of the world’s criminal law doctrine, both national and international, should undermine confidence that Legal Pluralism was necessarily respectful of genuine cultural variation, such that it could ground some concept of justice. Our first example of Argentine criminal law procedure operated as a null hypothesis where, by “scratching the surface,” we quickly found evidence of autonomous domestic ownership of and influence over criminal law doctrine. But in all our other examples, we found nothing similar. Far from stating that there was no congruence between local values and criminal law doctrine in any of these states, our argument was merely that these histories suggest real reason for caution against an idea that Legal Pluralism is, without more, worthy of veneration. We also felt that generic attempts to circumscribe Legal Pluralism’s over-enthusiasm for law, perhaps by citing human rights as an exception, came too late in the day because too much was already smuggled in through the initial deference to whatever law might be at the descriptive stage.

To develop this point, let me begin by recounting the descriptive and prescriptive variants of Legal Pluralism, since Global Legal Pluralism depends on both. Initially, Legal Pluralism was purely descriptive, tracing its origins to anthropological inquiries into the interactions between displaced social orders and formal colonial law. To the extent that the field drew on normative ideas within this descriptive mode, the need for this engagement largely grew out of challenges to methodology; i.e. objections to what should figure as “law” within the wider sociological inquiry. I circle back to this difficulty with defining law momentarily, since I have come to believe that it must be most acute in international criminal justice. For now, I again point to a major prescriptive shift for Legal Pluralism, where many scholars have begun to argue that diversity of social phenomena we are prepared to call law is not only empirically observable, but that this state of affairs is normatively desirable for the world. Global Legal Pluralism necessarily adopts both elements, first accepting a wide array of norms as constituting law, then recommending various institutional and procedural mechanisms for managing their interface. The caricature of Legal Pluralism the article offers was an attempt to hive off some of the most difficult problems at the descriptive stage, to highlight conceptual concerns with the transition from a descriptive to a prescriptive mode.

To explain this, let me start by agreeing wholeheartedly with Mireille Delmas-Marty’s eloquent statement that “choosing an exclusively state-centric perspective while the world is moving, the authors risk confining themselves to a state-centric, modern representation of LP which identifies with the rights of the state and makes the concept necessarily oxymoronic.” A theory of Legal Pluralism focused on state law alone would be oxymoronic. As our essay highlighted, “an over-emphasis on domestic criminal doctrine is anathema to true pluralism, whose very program involves looking beyond positivistic state-centered law.” Nevertheless, focusing on a segment of a field to elucidate conceptual concerns strikes me as entirely defensible. In our piece, we focused our analysis on state-centered criminal law in an attempt to avoid the wider jurisprudential problem involved in deciding what constitutes law at all. As Brian Tamanaha and many others have pointed out, that problem is a perennial thorn in Legal Pluralism’s side,[2] so we sought to bypass the conceptual impasse by criticizing a segment of the legal we believed was unambiguously so. I have since come to think that the positivistic assumption that informed this method was unjustifiable on our part, but in ways that radically strengthen our argument not detract from it.

Understandably, the rules crafted to bring about the atrocities international criminal justice seeks to address are the very subject matter legal theorists use to debate the nature of law. Since completing the paper, it has dawned on me that whether Nazi law was law at all is the paradigmatic debate for a large segment of jurisprudence; indeed the question goes to the heart of the relationship between law and morality and therefore operates as something of an acid test for so many aspects of legal theory. To cite what is probably the most celebrated example (in the Anglophone tradition), the Hart/Fuller debate is a long and in places heated dispute between the positivist tradition that would see law as identified through social facts quite apart from its moral value, and a natural law tradition that was shocked by the positivists’ willingness to confer normativity on a set of legislative enactments in Nazi Germany that were clearly morally perverse.[3] In many respects, the histories we discuss in the paper replicate these dilemmas. It stands to reason, therefore, that much of what we treat as law in the article might not be at all. This thought strikes me as very significant: it suggests that international criminal justice is not just a pleasant illustration of the normative interactions Global Legal Pluralism seeks to understand and manage. The field is at the heart of what Global Legal Pluralism means.

So, let me circle back to our caricature, showing how the natural law critique of our positivistic assumption only magnifies the concerns we raise. In our example of the inchoate crime of association de malfaiteurs in the Democratic Republic of Congo (see here, pp 33-41), we sought out a modern illustration of abhorrent criminal law doctrine in national systems comparable to the law “that allowed Joseph Stalin to sign 3,167 judicially-imposed death sentences in a single day, and Adolf Hitler to make being Jewish a criminal offence.” Our assumption, which I now think is highly disputable, was that this forcibly imposed inchoate crime of French then Belgian origins was unequivocally law; it survived the sieving off of law from religious, moral and social norms on the one hand, while distinguishing itself from the full range of non-obligatory propositions on the other. Once parsed out in this way, association de malfaiteurs was a law that both descriptive and descriptive theories of Legal Pluralism had to take seriously. Our project was to question whether Legal Pluralism should take it seriously at all, based only on its ability to pass this formalistic test. We used the apparent misalignment between local values and legal doctrine as our foil.

But Fuller, I suspect, would have doubted that association de malfaiteurs was law at all, then rebuked our positivistic attempt to avoid thorny jurisprudential problems as failed. But if our caricature fails for these reasons, it does so in ways that only galvanize our deeper point, namely, that “doctrinal pluralism is unsafe as a measure of diverse values and interests in the international community”. Perhaps Legal Pluralism is only about managing just law, such that the concept is instantly insulated from our criticism, but I see no evidence of this position in the literature with which I am familiar, and it would mark a sea-change for thinking about these problems. Then, to follow this jurisprudential line one step further in abstraction, the question becomes what the relationship is between Legal Pluralism and Justice. And here too, I now see this theme as a central but tacit pre-occupation in our paper as well as the literature more broadly. It is this unstated concern for justice, for instance, that leads scholars like Martti Koskenniemi to warn that Legal Pluralism “ceases to pose demands on the world;”[4] and Boaventura de Sousa Santos to assert that “there is nothing inherently good, progressive, or emancipatory about Legal Pluralism.”[5]

Justice is also useful in responding to criticisms based on the Rule of Law. In employing a Rule of Law frame, Kevin Davis’ excellent and thought-provoking critique of our article argues that “[d]octrines that confirm to people’s expectations are desirable, all else being equal, because they contribute to legal certainty and avoid situations that are tantamount to ex post facto lawmaking.” While there is certainly weight to this criticism, I am not sure how it squares with other principles espoused in the Rule of Law. As Waldron points out, avoiding contradictions in the law is also one of Fuller’s eight elements in the internal morality of law, and others like Dicey viewed legal equality as indispensable too.[6] Universality appears better able to achieve these competing values. But more fundamentally, as critical traditions from Feminisim to Marxism teach us, Rule of Law arguments are all vulnerable to deeper normative commitments that take some notion(s) of justice as the paramount goal. To offer an illustration from our paper, even if we do assign legal certainty primacy as an Rule of Law value, I am doubtful that it could ever ground a norm like association de malfaiteurs in the Congo. I hold this view since a norm imposed by force as part of a brutal campaign of subjugation and plunder, which operates to inhibit political participation and freedom of expression now, seems plainly unjust.

Markus Dubber’s response takes us down a slightly different track on this justice path, where he argues that “[p]luralistic international criminal law thus becomes international criminal law kind and gentle enough to mollify its protagonists’ latent concerns about its apparent lack of legitimacy”, and then later that, “[i]ncapable of facing its legitimacy challenge head-on, international criminal law instead makes do with professions of concern about ‘pluralism’.” These types of normative concerns are slightly different to those that animated our paper, but they also play off the relationship between law and a conception of justice. So, while I view Legal Pluralism as a helpful concept to ward off “the colonial contrived superiority of European law” and agree with Sasha Greenawalt that, descriptively speaking, Legal Pluralism is inherent, I remain convinced that history is a useful mechanism to illustrate the concept’s shortcomings as a guarantor of justice. I have also become convinced that, far from raising questions that are peripheral to Global Legal Pluralism, international criminal justice poses problems at the concept’s very heart.

I am so thankful for all of the excellent criticism we have received, which has enriched my thinking considerably. I hope that some of the foregoing is useful to others as they grapple with problems of law in the global order.

 

[1] James (Sákéj) Youngblood Henderson, Postcolonial Indigenous Legal Consciousness, 1 Indig. Law J., 2 (2002), http://jps.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/ilj/article/download/27710 (last visited Apr 19, 2018).

[2] Brian Z. Tamanaha, Understanding Legal Pluralism: Past to Present, Local to Global, 30 Sydney L. Rev. 375, 375 (2008).

[3] H. L. A. Hart, Positivism and the Separation of Law and Morals, 71 Harv. Law Rev. 593–629 (1958); Lon L. Fuller, Positivism and Fidelity to Law: A Reply to Professor Hart, 71 Harv. Law Rev. 630–672 (1958).

[4] Martti Koskenniemi, The Fate of Public International Law: Between Technique and Politics, 70 Mod. L. Rev. 1, 23 (2007).

[5] Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Toward a New Legal Common Sense: Law, Globalization, and Emancipation 89 (2002).

[6] Jeremy Waldron, Legal Pluralism and the Contrast Between Hart’s Jurisprudence and Fuller’s, in The Hart-Fuller Debate in the Twenty-First Century (Peter Cane ed., 2010).

Legal Pluralism and History: A Reply to Critics

Asad Kiyani is an Assistant Professor at Victoria Law School. He is a recipient of the 2017 Antonio Cassese Prize for International Criminal Law Studies for his article Group-Based Differentiation and Local Repression: The Custom and Curse of Selectivity.


One of the many pleasures of developing The Ahistoricism of Legal Pluralism in International Criminal Law has been the opportunity to engage with the work of leading scholars in international criminal law, legal pluralism, and comparative law. In an academic environment that increasingly turns on metrics and particular forms of scholarship and productivity, it is incredibly generous of all of the participants in our mini-symposium to share their thoughts. It represents the best of the tradition of academic engagement that they have taken the time to comment (and many have done so on earlier drafts as well). I should also thank James for being such an excellent partner on this project; I have benefited from his advice on my doctoral work, and it was a pleasure to join him as co-author here. It’s fair to say we both learned a terrific amount over the course of this project, and I enjoyed it immensely.

In what follows, I offer three overlapping responses, addressing whether historicism as a concept is relevant to pluralism in ICL today; whether the examples we study overemphasize certain values and under appreciate others; and finally, what direction the study of pluralism in international criminal law might also take us.

The insights graciously offered by Alexander Greenawalt and Paul Berman, who have written extensively and thoughtfully on pluralism in ICL, and pluralism more broadly, overlaps to an extent with Neha Jain’s comments. Put broadly, the three query whether our work impacts pluralist scholarship (Berman wonders whether ahistoricism as an analytic is relevant to the work of contemporary international legal pluralists), and whether there is a more pragmatic justification for pluralism that is important in its own right even if it does not equate to the idea of ‘value pluralism’.

As a starting point, it should be noted that the umbrella-type frameworks of Drumbl, Greenawalt, and van Sliedregt (amongst others) see pluralism as a feature of a legal structure that allows us to add in different laws and norms around the settled ‘core’ of ICL. Where gaps present themselves, we can find our answers in domestic law, either iteratively by reference to specific rules in particular instances, or comprehensively, by developing an international position on the basis of these surveys. But the questions of what is ‘core’ and how it came to be so are as important as the questions about identifying what should be filled in around that core and how. Part of our work then is to explain and critique this development of this ‘core’; that is ahistoricism coming to bear on pluralism.

The main thrust of this commentary is that our critique is overstated not because it misapprehends the work of legal pluralists, but because our focus on critiquing the aspirational ephemerality of ‘pluralism’ overlooks somewhat different rationales for incorporating domestic rules into ICL. In short, those rules offer something other than ‘value pluralism’ that is of importance: rules that have been tested in (and held up in) various legal systems, and thereby demonstrated their durability and relevance for international law. I will deal with this critique further in the next section, but note here that while such functionalism is not inherently flawed, it may also represent a particular vision of pluralism that is shallower and formalist. That vision is susceptible to papering over the underlying histories that may either be constrictive of the development of ICL, or that give lie to the claim of benefit to be derived.

One of the primary ways in which pluralists see benefits deriving from preserving legal diversity is the idea that it allows for multiple possible rules to be tested in multiple possible systems (a point Berman makes in his work on Global Legal Pluralism, and which Greenawalt cites). This is the laboratory idea: that rules can experimented with in the laboratory of global legal systems, and the testing reveals what rules are appropriate either as universal norms or in specific but circumscribed conditions. What the paper contests is  not the idea that experimentation is possible, or that diversity is valuable, but that when put into practice the experimentation rationale often exhibits an indifference to sources and an indifference to the context in which these rules are implanted. Exposing the colonial history of so many domestic criminal systems says something about both the context of the law, but even more fundamentally something about the idea that there is meaningful diversity being tested.

As Jain points out, the literature on legal transplants is already highly sensitive to the context in which facially similar rules are applied and develop over time, in ways that might serve to reflect local needs and perhaps even local values. From our point of view, this sensitivity to context and history is often absent when engaging in such exercises in ICL. There, the determinative factor often seems to be whether the rule is present, without regard to how it is embedded, even though it is the system along with the rule itself that conditions the outcome of the experimentation. For all the talk of laboratory testing, very little attention is paid to the experiment itself: how the law was designed, what it was designed to do, and what effect it has had. Instead, when the ‘experimentation’ rationale is put into practice, the Darwinian persistence of a law is taken as proof of its success and therefore relevance to international tribunals. To the extent that these concepts of a legal core and legal experimentation are central to explanations of pluralism in ICL, then ahistoricism is also relevant.

*          *          *          *          *

While Berman wonders if our historical enquiries are relevant to the present, it is also suggested that perhaps we take our historical analysis too far. For example, what of complementarity, Greenawalt asks? Should DRC’s legal history disqualify it from accessing complementarity at the ICC? There is no absolute answer to be offered he says, and is wary that we might propose such (presumably in part because this would be what Kevin Davis describes as a pedigree-based distinction). His concern is further important to us because of the danger that our historical analysis will be used to justify the accessibility of complementarity procedures (and therefore an affirmation of sovereignty) to only Western states whose domestic systems procedurally and substantively replicate international ones. This marginalization of Third World states and their legal agency would seem to run against what Jain rightly identifies as our concern with ICL’s continuing exclusion of the Global South as a norm-generator.

We are not of the view that we have fully resolved the balancing exercise Greenawalt rightly says needs to be engaged when decisions are being made about whether to permit or utilize domestic laws instead of international ones. However, that balancing exercise needs to be more attendant to the experimentation that elsewhere seems to justify greater pluralism. When that experimentation process — i.e. the practice of the domestic law —  reveals extensive state-sourced violence (say through association de malfeiteurs in DRC), those factors ought to be considered.

Is this too obvious? Are the examples we rely upon extreme because they express concern about the remote possibility that obvious rights violations might somehow be tolerated in ICL under the guise of pluralism (recast here as an extreme relativism)? Greenawalt suggests that the examples we focus on shed little light because they clearly offend universal values. Davis takes a different tack, suggesting in his intriguing commentary that our suspicion of local law that is based on the substantive values they (fail to) uphold ignores extremely important factors. We overemphasize the values these local laws offend he says, rather than appreciate the principles they support, and in particular we overlook core rule of law precepts.

Davis suggests our pessimism leads to an assessment of national laws that is overly onerous, and queries whether any national law would pass muster from our view. He is concerned with our focus on doctrinal pedigree, which leads to national laws being suspect on their origin (often colonial), evolution (often undemocratic), or application (repressive). This, he says, “is a stringent test, probably too stringent.”

This is a problem in particular because in his view we overlook the rule of law values that accrue when the law is predictable and stable. Disrupting local norms on the basis of international standards represents its own form of imperialism we would do well to shy away from. He suggests that in critiquing contemporary international lawmaking, we bypass a more obvious answer – representative democracy – that might assuage our concerns about the legitimacy of local laws and, by extension, pluralist methodology. We share some of the concerns raised by Davis, but for slightly different reasons which leads to important and different conclusions.

First, as important as predictability and stability may be, international tribunals arguably have a special obligation to not validate illiberal laws under the umbrella of pluralism, complementarity or some other diversity-based argument given the centrality of international human rights norms to their functioning. It is worth noting then, in response to the suggestion of several of our helpful interlocutors that ICL would not tolerate such obvious rights violations and that we are building a case against a problem that does not exist, that the intersection of competing visions of fundamental rights remains unresolved in both national and international criminal contexts.

Whether it be association de malfeiteurs, the conditions of detention of international criminals (including the estimated 10,000 who died while awaiting trial in Rwanda), the culpability of child soldiers, the difference in punishment that may attach to those tried in the Hague versus their collaborators tried in national courts, or how the Akayesu definition of sexual violence was later constricted by the ICTY’s use of comparative analyses of national law, it remains the case that international criminal law struggles to respond to the thorny questions that arise in defining human rights norms.

On that point, it is worth raising the question of universality again (and repeating a reply in a slightly different register): that the examples we attend to are clearly infringements of universal values, and thus we are arguing against no one in particular. Left unaddressed here though is that the sense of what is a universal norm to be protected remains deeply contested, as we show through our analysis of the Draft Code of Crimes Against Peace and Security of Mankind, and with the Apartheid Convention and indeed in the important regional variation between human rights regimes.  Contestation remains on fundamental issues, and the history of human rights doctrine in the post-war era resists the triumphalism often associated with human rights. There is an inextricable historical link to power associated with the concept of universality, and pluralist schemas that seek to declare and then build around those universals must reckon with those histories and dynamics as well.

Second, as suggested earlier, local correspondence — whether it be to cultural values or the expectations of a polity — necessarily says nothing about the supposed twin pragmatic benefits of pluralism that concern themselves with whether local law is suitable as part of international law. The first of these is the idea that thorny questions of international criminal law may be resolved through experimentation with a variety of different possible solutions that are offered by diverse local legal regimes; the second is that we can develop universalist international law by surveying national regimes and identifying nodes of commonality the diverse legal cultures have independently struck upon. Our position is that even where these regimes correspond with local values or expectations, the underlying justificatory factor of diversity may be absent simply because the vectors of history and legal imperialism are such that these various national regimes are largely duplicative of one another and their Angle-European origins. Thus both experimentation and justification on the basis of independent agreement lose resonance given the erasure of diversity that predates contemporary pluralist moves.

Davis further suggests that a consequence of our stringent test is that it leads inexorably towards a demand for international drafting from first principles, which is a process that is likely to be deeply unsatisfactory to all. We agree that such a process would be imperfect, and recognize in particular the inherent imbalances in negotiation and drafting that often replicate international power imbalances . However, without abandoning the possibility of an inclusive, equal negotiating process, we note that there are other possible approaches.

One episode that is missing from our published article in the American Journal of Comparative Law, but included in the longer draft available on SSRN (which was shared with all our invited commentators), is the development of more liberal criminal procedure code in Argentina over an extended period of time. That federal code borrowed from multiple legal systems, including a quite important influence from the criminal procedure code of Cordoba province. Conscious efforts to liberalize Argentine procedure involved legislators setting an agenda and legal experts providing advice as to how to reshape the federal code, and the eventual dispersion of this code as a model for other Latin American countries who similarly sought to liberalize their criminal procedure. This fusion of legal principles, and deliberate consideration and adoption, neither demands rewriting the law from scratch (as Davis suggests is a necessary corollary of our approach) nor does it forgo the important principles Davis articulates in his reflection: that there is value in a law that is stable but not ossified, and which adheres to the expectations of those it binds. In this respect, we find common ground with Davis and so many of our other thoughtful and generous interlocutors from which to argue for a more inclusive pluralism.

*          *          *          *          *

Where then does the study of pluralism in ICL take us? For Dubber, studying pluralism is in part a way to reflect on the legitimacy of ICL: “Pluralistic international criminal law thus become international criminal law kind and gentle enough to mollify its protagonists’ latent concerns about its apparent lack of legitimacy.” Similarly, Mireille Delmas-Marty’s typically profound reflections highlight the ambivalence of pluralist approaches as both resistance and reconciliation.

The propriety of the concern arises first with the very real problem that, per Dubber, ICL purports to judge individuals based on the questionable premise that it is only “their capacity for autonomy, or self-government” that is relevant, “rather than their place on some status hierarchy”. It is compounded by a second insight, that ICL is not law per se, but really a system of policing in the sense of coercive and discretionary governance that adjudicates over and punishes the morally inferior (if not evil) wrongdoers who commit international crimes. The turn to pluralism, Dubber suggests, recognizes and is primarily a mode for managing this legitimacy deficit by softening the Western imperialist legacy of ICL by infusing it with local, values.

Of great interest here is that central debates about how to manage pluralism and complementarity and related diversity-focused concepts only sharpen the hegemonic origins of much of international criminal law. It is only when there is a question of incorporating the law of a non-Western state that the issue becomes particularly thorny, given that first there is a clear familiarity between Western domestic and international law, and that most of the attention of international criminal tribunals is directed at non-Western states.

But we do not need pluralism to tell us that the practice of international criminal law seems imbalanced in the legitimacy-threatening sense that Dubber describes; that story can be told through critical reflections that focus on the hypocrisy of international criminal practice. That being said, understanding ICL as a system of coercive discretionary governance may help us recognize the limits of pluralism in ICL, where the idea of ‘legal’ pluralism seemingly presupposes a structure of largely unified and hierarchical formal law of the state or of international tribunals. What this concept of legal pluralism leads to – and I do not claim that Delmas-Marty endorses this outcome – is the exclusion of non-state legal orders from  the realm of possible responses to international crime. She rightly warns that our historical analysis risks suggesting that legal pluralism must be state-centric.

One of the concerns with our paper, and with other approaches to legal pluralism in ICL, is the difficulty with finding spaces for non-state law. Though criminal law is often conceptualized as necessarily state-sourced, the context of transitional justice suggests that some flexibility may be needed: it is not necessarily the case that the law to be applied in respect of international crime be ‘criminal law’ per se. I do not propose to carve out that space at this juncture, but only to note that we are alive to those concerns. When we refer to legal pluralism’s descriptive origins (in contrast to more prescriptive contemporary modes), it is precisely that history of legal pluralism to which we refer: the history of Sally Engle Merry and John Griffiths and the classical sense of legal pluralism as identifying and describing non-state normative orders as ‘legal’.

Rather than carve out that space, let me take what space remains and sketch out what I argue in a work-in-progress is a fundamental limit on the possibility of non-state law becoming part of pluralism in ICL. I have argued elsewhere that the selectivity problem of international criminal tribunals is most acute in respect of the partiality shown within conflicts, where only  certain political actors are prosecuted, and not others, even though multiple parties are responsible for comparably grave crimes. This political-prosecutorial alignment is a function of the gatekeeper role played by local political authorities in respect of international criminal prosecutions: state authorities control access to witnesses and evidence, and can thus force tribunals to make compromises on which cases to pursue.

In so far as the legal norms to be applied are part of the tacit arrangement that permits international tribunal involvement without threatening the current arrangements of domestic political power, non-state law finds itself on the outside looking in. In several of the conflicts that international criminal tribunals seek to exercise jurisdiction, part of what is at stake is the modes by which competing parties are to be governed. Should the state be built in the Western, liberal, enlightenment model that Dubber suggests attends to international criminal law? Or should there be a prioritizing of customary non-state legal orders and traditions?   For state authorities to defer to non-state legal orders as a means of response to international crimes would arguably translate into a recognition that its political opponents have some political legitimacy. If international criminal law is not the end of political conflict, but only its continuation in a slightly more decorous forum, then such concessions in the legal sphere may well amount to concessions in (and inflammations of) the underlying conflict as well.

In this light, accepting pluralism in its classical sense, as recognizing non-state legal orders as valid normative structures that have salience in contemporary states, requires not that scholars be willing to challenge the histories of international law, but that states themselves be willing to challenge their own histories – to move beyond the ahistorical narratives of conflict that they often promote – in order to give effect to the aspirational qualities that animate international criminal law and practice. Ahistoricism remains germane.

*          *          *          *          *

I thank again James for his collaboration on this extensive project over the last several years, and our extremely insightful commentators – Mireille Delmas-Marty, Paul Berman, Neha Jain, Alexander Greenawalt, Markus Dubber and Kevin Davis — whose analyses have provoked much reflection. It has been a privilege to engage with all of their ideas.

– AGK

Pluralism and the Alegitimacy of International Criminal Law


Markus D. Dubber is Professor of Law and Director of the University of Toronto’s interdisciplinary Centre for Ethics. Much of Markus’s scholarship has focused on theoretical, comparative, and historical aspects of criminal law.


Stewart & Kiyani’s sweeping article, The Ahistoricism of Legal Pluralism in International Criminal Law, makes an important contribution to the literature on international criminal law, and many other topics besides. It covers so much ground that I’m in no position to comment on much, or even most, of it, but I’ll spell out a few of the thoughts that arose while reading this stimulating paper.

Historical analysis as critical analysis. Given my own (mis-)adventures in historical analysis of law and historical methodology,[1] it’s no surprise that I wholeheartedly agree with the authors that international criminal law, and in fact all of criminal law (comparative and domestic, regional and parochial) needs more history, to paraphrase Christopher Walken. The authors not only insist that it’s worth looking into the history of legal norms but also aren’t shy about putting that historical inquiry to critical use. It’s not just that historical analysis is worth doing for its own sake (I certainly learned a lot from their article) but this historical analysis then allows them to formulate a critique of a position(s) they describe as “pluralism.” And so we see, for instance, that Japanese criminal law is German criminal law and that, in fact, Japanese criminal law swallowed German criminal law whole for a specific (power-political) reason in a specific historical context, as a kind of exercise in self-colonization or preemptive imperialization. I have no idea whether this story holds water, but it makes sense on its face, and certainly enough sense to suggest the need for further inquiry and, more important for the authors’ purposes, the need to take a breath before treating Japanese criminal law as specifically (and characteristically? genuinely?) Japanese criminal law, whatever that would mean, and whyever that would matter.

Pluralism. Why it would matter, according to the authors, is: pluralism! “Pluralism,” in the authors’ telling, comes in a descriptive and a normative flavor. Their paper takes issue with both versions, though the second—normative—one takes the brunt of their critical question-raising (which, in the end, politely pulls its punches and, as a result, never quite evolves into an all-out critique). The descriptive version is “ahistorical” and, more important, misleading because international criminal law isn’t always as pluralistic as it might appear: if historical analysis shows that, to stick with our example, Japanese criminal law is German criminal law then what looks like pluralism is really just duplicatism: German criminal law by different names. But, leaving that aside, even if we maintain—descriptively—a distinction between Japanese and German criminal law (they are, after all, not identical!), then the supposed fact of pluralism doesn’t translate into the desideratum of pluralism. For it turns out that local doctrinal norms may be poor indicators of local social norms because (ignoring a more basic question regarding the relationship between—artificial?—doctrinal norms and—real?—social norms) they may not be truly local, all the way down; upon closer inquiry of the historical kind, they instead turn out to be foreign, alien, “irritating,” “partial,” “dysfunctional.”

International criminal law. But why does pluralism matter? Why is it a good thing that pluralism is a good thing in international criminal law? I take it the apparent interest in, and professed preference for, legal, social, cultural, etc. pluralism (or “diversity”) has something to do with the existential anxiety of international criminal law. Is it legitimate? Is it imperialistic? Is it racist? Socially, cultural, politically, economically, legally hegemonic? Since self-government (most obviously by personal consent), the familiar mode of legitimation of modern (liberal) law, including—at least in theory—modern criminal law, isn’t available in the self-made sui generis, stateless, asovereign, and nonhierarchical realm of international criminal law, its oppressive potential, I suppose, is thought to be mitigated (rather than acknowledged and justified) by showing respect for a vague notion of “pluralism.” “Pluralism” here might mean nothing more than not universalism or not Western/Northern imperialism (leaving conveniently unclear what it is, rather than what it is not). Pluralistic international criminal law thus becomes international criminal law kind and gentle enough to mollify its protagonists’ latent concerns about its apparent lack of legitimacy.

This anxiety about legitimacy turns out to be both appropriate and inapposite, at the same time. Appropriate because there is a very real problem with a system of international criminal law that threatens and inflicts penal violence on persons, insofar as that system holds itself out a system of law in a very particular, liberal, Western, enlightenment sense, namely in the sense of a then-radically new mode of governance grounded in the conception of the subjects and objects of penal power as persons marked by, and only by, their capacity for autonomy, or self-government (rather than their place on some status hierarchy or other, e.g., patriarchalism). This enormous, and prima facie unmeetable, legitimacy challenge is not unique to international criminal law; it applies to any (but only any) political-legal regime that regards itself as committed to this conception of law, domestic, regional, international, global.

Inapposite insofar as international criminal law is, in fact, a misnomer.[2] Instead of conceptualizing international criminal law as a system of law, it may be useful to regard it as a regime of police, where police is understood as that long-pedigreed patriarchal mode of governance on which the modern conception of law cut its teeth during the long turn of the eighteenth century. In this (historicizing…) light, international criminal law appears as an alegitimate regime of discretionary governance in which technically and supposedly asovereign subjects exercise penal power over categorically distinct—and inferior—objects (pirates, ex lex, outlaw, vogelfrei, hostis humani generis, all vanquished, none victorious, evil creatures beyond the pale, for whom punishment under international criminal law is a merciful alternative to a far worse fate, etc.).

Incapable of facing its legitimacy challenge head-on, international criminal law instead makes do with professions of concern about “pluralism.” Sensitivity to pluralism, in this light, appears as part of a general attempt to obfuscate and thereby to manage, rather than to address, the fundamental legitimacy crisis of international criminal law as law…ironically, by highlighting the superior character and benign intentions, if not the benevolence, of its subject-protagonists, however unconstrained by, say, formal “principles of legality” their penal actions may be.

[1] E.g., Markus D. Dubber, The Police Power: Patriarchy and the Foundations of American Government (2005); Markus D. Dubber, “Legal History as Legal Scholarship: Doctrinalism, Interdisciplinarity, and Critical Analysis of Law,” in Oxford Handbook of Legal History (Markus D. Dubber & Christopher Tomlins eds., forthcoming 2018) [SSRN].

[2] See Markus D. Dubber, “Common Civility: The Culture of Alegality in International Criminal Law,” 24 Leiden Journal of International Law 923 (2011) [SSRN]; see generally Markus D. Dubber, The Dual Penal State (forthcoming 2018).

The Inherent Pluralism of International Criminal Law


Alexander K. A. Greenawalt is a Professor of Law at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University. His research focuses on criminal law, international law, and the laws of war.


I am grateful to James Stewart for inviting me to participate in this symposium on the provocative, deeply researched, and illuminating article that he and Asad Kiyani have authored. I have enjoyed engaging Stewart’s work over the years—including in a recent article on complicity which greatly benefitted from his writings—and I look forward to reading more of Kiyani’s work.

Let me start by identifying some points of agreement. I share the authors’ conviction that it is worth looking for right answers in criminal law, and I agree that those answers can transcend sometimes superficial doctrinal differences among legal systems (indeed, my above-linked article on complicity advances precisely such a claim). I also agree that it is misguided to romanticize difference for the sake of difference and that one must avoid the casual assumption that national criminal laws always have claim to deep cultural authenticity within the societies they regulate.

As Stewart and Kiyani note, I have used the word “pluralism” to defend a particular approach to international criminal law (“ICL”). Stewart and Kiyani are skeptical about pluralist approaches to ICL, but I struggled when reading their article to understand how exactly their position might impact my own, or indeed the actual practice of ICL. In part, this is because I find their account of pluralism somewhat elusive. Sometimes the authors seem to suggest that pluralism means blind deference to every doctrine of domestic criminal law no matter how oppressive. Elsewhere (among other approaches), they associate pluralism with a method by which ICL might arrive at consensus international standards—namely, by embracing rules derived from national criminal law that reflect a “real degree of inclusive, plural, cosmopolitan values” and are “doctrinally plural within a diverse, conflicting, sometimes inter-penetrating system of criminal law.” I am not aware of any scholar who has advanced the first position and the second claim is not one that I would associate with pluralism in the sense that I have used the term, although it does resemble a standard methodology embraced by international criminal tribunals attempting (sometimes misleadingly as the authors observe) to marshal support for universalist claims about the content of ICL.

I am curious, as well, about how exactly Stewart and Kiyani’s broad rejection of pluralism informs the actual practice of international criminal justice institutions. Take, for instance, the International Criminal Court’s (“ICC”) complementarity requirement which sometimes requires the Court to defer its jurisdiction in favor of criminal justice at the national level. Suppose the ICC is pursuing a suspect in the Democratic Republic Congo (“DRC”) who is being investigated at the national level for the same conduct. Do the authors believe that complementarity can or should apply in a case like that, or should the systemic, historically rooted deficiencies they identify in the DRC’s criminal law categorically preclude deference in all cases? Or perhaps complementarity itself should be abandoned because it inherently introduces the problems of pluralism that the authors explore? How then should a global system of ICL proceed if it rejects domestic prosecutions of international crimes?

The most obvious solution I can glean from Stewart and Kiyani’s article is that the world must coalesce around a single, best, cross-cultural and universal approach to all questions of criminal law and procedure, one that is devoid of power politics or cultural bias. If the world can achieve that, then I agree that the normative defense of pluralism becomes quite unconvincing indeed. But if that is the claim, then the authors must establish far more—and overcome far greater hurdles—than they do in this article.

For example, even if the world were to coalesce around the unitary theory of perpetration that the authors advocate (rejecting formally differentiated modes of criminally participation) I don’t see how the general choice of a unitary versus differentiated model is especially important in comparison to the host of other choices affecting guilt, innocence, and degrees of culpability that must be decided upon under either model.

Perhaps, however, one should read Stewart and Kiyani to advance a more modest claim that universalism is something to work for, that some universal answers are accessible, and that the blind embrace of pluralism is both threatening to this project and harmful given the colonial origins and distortions evident in many criminal law systems. If that is the claim, then I agree with the central thrust of the argument, but my own defense of pluralism does not proceed from the assumption that national criminal law demands blind deference or that it necessarily has some claim to deep cultural authenticity. To me, the central question is not one of universalism versus pluralism, but of how to manage the pluralism that unavoidably has accompanied the establishment of ICL. I also believe that my own framework accommodates many of the concerns that the authors raise, and so I will attempt in the remainder of this post to sketch out some of my own thoughts on this issue and attempt to see how they may accommodate at least of some of the concerns raised by Stewart and Kiyani.

I begin with the fact that there is variety in the criminal law. I agree (even outside the colonial context) that variety need not have any deep cultural basis. While differences among states may sometimes reflect important cultural fault lines, they are just as likely to reflect arbitrary, and sometimes pernicious, historical vestiges or the influence of judicial interpretation.

International law, in its current state, is hardly agnostic about this diversity. The body of international law that most broadly regulates these choices is international human rights law (“IHRL”). Many of the examples that Stewart and Kiyani invoke—judicial bias after World War I, restrictions on freedom of association, anti-blasphemy laws—reflect straightforward human rights violations. As a matter of IHRL (as the authors themselves acknowledge), these examples already offend universal values.

ICL, by contrast, presents only a limited intervention by international law into matters of criminal law. ICL evolved, in my view, not to harmonize national approaches to criminal law, or even to define and regulate uniquely “international” offenses in some qualitative sense, but instead to enable institutional interventions that counteract unique obstacles to the prosecution of certain especially grave offenses. The point of prosecuting Holocaust crimes at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, for example, was not to reject German criminal law’s general judgments about how to define and assign liability for murder in ordinary cases. The point was to counteract and ensure accountability for the specific ways in which Nazi Germany had made an exception to those judgments by converting the state into a system of domestically authorized mass extermination. I believe that ICL speaks the most strongly when it works to justify and define the scope of such interventions, and it speaks more tentatively (although not entirely without authority) when it addresses more general questions about what it means to be a criminal.

How does this way of looking at things interact with Stewart and Kiyani’s specific claims? In previous work I have explored the example of the Erdemović case at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (“ICTY”) involving a soldier who was forced under threat of death to participate in a firing line that massacred Bosnian Muslim civilians.   The ICTY Appeals Chamber rejected the defense on (I believe unpersuasive) policy grounds, notwithstanding the unresolved nature of the question under international law and the fact that many states, including all the republics of the former Yugoslavia, take a more permissive approach to duress.

I do not know whether Stewart and Kiyani have access to an optimal, universalist approach to duress. My position is that the ICTY should have looked to Bosnian law under the circumstances. In advancing this argument, I do not assume that the Bosnian criminal code reflects a deeply embedded and culturally specific approach to duress. Rather the Bosnian law reflects a fairly standard civil law approach that the state inherited from its prior membership in communist Yugoslavia. I think that the law of duress presents unavoidably hard questions, that all the dominant legal approaches to the issue are problematic in some respects, and that the Bosnian law falls within a range of reasonable disagreement that neither offends core human rights value nor the specific purposes of ICL. In a case like that, I don’t think that ICL has a strong interest in overriding the local law to deprive the accused of a defense which his society affords to other similarly situated persons. But even if one disagrees with that specific conclusion, the same problem arises in other guises. Suppose that the Bosnia’s own courts were prosecuting Erdemović for international crimes. Must those courts also prefer the ICTY’s approach to duress over their own? And what about ordinary domestic prosecutions for non-international crimes? Wherever one draws the line, the basic problem remains: absent universal, global agreement on how to handle duress, some defendants must be treated differently from others based on perhaps arbitrary, non-culpability driven reasons. Similar issues arise with respect to other standards of responsibility, principles of sentencing and so forth. Must ICL take an absolute position on every one of these questions, no matter how tangential the doctrinal issue is to ICL’s core mission?

At the same time, I agree (and have argued) that is desirable to have a single, comprehensive set of ICL rules that are available for use by a global court like the ICC and in other contexts where reliance on domestic legal principles proves problematic or undesirable. There are many reasons to favor this restult, including problems that Stewart and Kiyani explore as well as concerns having to do with clarity and administrability. But I do not think that those reasons exhaust all the procedural contexts in which ICL finds itself enforced. In the end, implementation of ICL involves a number of situation-specific considerations that cannot be resolved by broad appeals to either universalism or pluralism. Instead, there are a balance of factors to consider. Stewart and Kiyani convincingly elucidate some important factors that may sometimes arise. But they do not, in my view, eliminate the need for such balancing.

 

 

 

What Does it Mean for International Criminal Law to Conform to Local Values?


Kevin E. Davis is the Beller Family Professor of Business Law at New York University School of Law. His current research is focused on contract law, anticorruption law, and the general relationship between law and economic development.


Does international criminal law conform to local values? How can we tell? Why should we care? In their fascinating and illuminating article, The Ahistoricism of Legal Pluralism in International Criminal Law, James Stewart and Asad Kiyani focus on the first of these three questions. Inevitably though they end up addressing the other two questions as well. I say “inevitably” because it would be impossible for them to answer the first question about conformity without answering the methodological question of how to identify it, at least implicitly. And to choose among the variety of ways of assessing conformity they have to determine the purpose of the assessment, again, if only implicitly.

Stewart and Kiyani’s main interest is in debunking the view that doctrines drawn from national criminal laws necessarily conform to local values. The promised payoff is insight into the important issue of whether international criminal law ought to be pluralistic or universal — or as I prefer to put it, should it be uniform or not? They seem to believe that their debunking exercise undermines the case for non-uniform approaches. However, this only follows if a) they have an accurate test for conformity with local values and b), the case for a non-uniform international criminal regime depends in a significant way on the results of that test.

The way that Stewart and Kiyani test for conformity suggests they believe that the main justification for non-uniform approach to international criminal law is political legitimacy. I believe they are mistaken about what political legitimacy demands in this context. I also believe they neglect at least two other plausible justifications for a non-uniform regime: respect for individuals’ rights to be governed by familiar doctrines and effectiveness. For all these reasons I think that Stewart and Kiyani’s historical analysis does less damage to the case for non-uniform international criminal law than they make out. Let me explain.

Political legitimacy

The Ahistoricism of Legal Pluralism in International Criminal Law is organized around a series of case studies that examine whether various criminal law doctrines do or do not conform to local values. In each of the negative cases the reasons for concluding that there is a lack of conformity are slightly different. In the Democratic Republic of Congo the problem is that the colonial doctrine has remained in force without being amended by any local actors. In Pakistan the concern is that local amendments to a colonial doctrine were made by repressive dictators. Etc.

Curiously, nowhere do they test for conformity by referring to direct observations of local values. Stewart and Kiyani could have tried to ascertain the amount of popular support for individual doctrines by examining, say, survey data or commentary in the popular press. It is unclear why they eschew this seemingly obvious approach.

Instead, Stewart and Kiyani focus on assessing the pedigree of the doctrines. When a doctrine is damned it is because: it was originally drafted by a colonial power; if it was revised by local actors they were working at the behest of an un-democratic government or for some other reason failed ensure popular participation in the lawmaking process; or, it has been used, either locally or elsewhere, either as a tool of repression or in a partial fashion.

This is a stringent test, probably too stringent. Given the prevalence of legal transplantation and legislation by non-participatory, un-democratic or repressive regimes, most national criminal law doctrines seem likely to fail. More importantly for their ultimate argument, I believe that even the universalistic doctrines Stewart and Kiyani seem to favor would shrivel under this kind of scrutiny. What international drafting process is likely to ensure participation from all affected people, without intermediation by undemocratic or even repressive governments?

Focusing on whether the formulation of a doctrine involved democratically elected leaders and public participation seems to be a way of determining whether the doctrine in question is politically legitimate. If that is the goal then I think Stewart and Kiyani go astray because they underestimate both the costs of participation and the appeal of an alternative method of taking into account the views of the relevant public, namely, representative government. Drafting legislation from scratch and in full view of the public is a time-consuming exercise whose results may well leave everyone unsatisfied. Participation by all affected individuals is unrealistic, unnecessary and inefficient. Representative government, meaning participation by officials who are accountable to the people, may be sufficient to ensure that the public’s views are respected, and is far less costly.

Civil rights

Another element of Stewart and Kiyani’s test for whether a doctrine conforms to local values is whether it has been used to facilitate repression. That is what I take from their suggestion that the doctrine of association de malfaiteurs fails to conform to local values in France—where it originated—because it has been used repressively against people suspected of terrorism.

By suggesting that even contemporary French criminal law might be a problematic source for international criminal law, Stewart and Kiyani shift the debate away from political legitimacy to a new terrain, individual civil rights. They clearly believe that a test which excludes doctrines that violate civil rights will tend to be biased in favor of universalistic doctrines.

Stewart and Kiyani neglect a countervailing factor though: a non-uniform approach may result in adoption of doctrines that conform to local expectations, assuming that exposure tends to breed familiarity. When it comes to legal doctrine, familiarity is intrinsically desirable, even if, as Stewart and Kiyani might point out, it can also breed contempt. Doctrines that conform to people’s expectations are desirable, all else being equal, because they contribute to legal certainty and avoid situations that are tantamount to ex post facto lawmaking.

Effectiveness

Finally, Stewart and Kiyani neglect another type of justification that might weigh in favor of a non-uniform approach to international criminal law: effectiveness. Suppose the effectiveness of criminal law doctrines varies depending on the circumstances. For example, harsh punishment for inchoate offenses might be reasonable in a society where evidence of completed offences is difficult to obtain, but less reasonable where evidence is more accessible. Similarly, a law against blasphemy might be reasonable in a society riven by religious tensions, but unacceptable in a society where religious toleration is better entrenched. In other words, different doctrines might be optimal in different circumstances. A non-uniform approach to international criminal law can accommodate this kind of diversity. Note that if effectiveness is the primary concern the critical issue will not be whether a given doctrine conforms to local values, but rather whether it fits local conditions, which is a slightly different test.

I develop this argument in favor of non-uniform “contextualist” approaches to lawmaking at greater length elsewhere, including in my writing about transnational – and international – anti-corruption law.[1]

Conclusion

For all these reasons, tracing the tainted history of national criminal law doctrines is an interesting and valuable exercise but does not provide compelling reasons to reject non-uniform approaches to international criminal law.

[1] See Legal Universalism: Persistent Objections, 60 University of Toronto Law Journal 537 (2010) and Between Impunity and Imperialism: Rethinking Transnational Anti-Corruption Law (forthcoming).

Legal Pluralism as a Dynamic Process in a Moving World

Mireille Delmas-Marty is the Professor of Comparative Legal Studies and Internationalisation of Law at the Collége de France. She is the author of Ordering Pluralism, A Conceptual Framework for Understanding the Transnational Legal World (Hart, 2009) and Towards a Truly Common Law – Europe As a Laboratory for Legal Pluralism (CUP, 2002).


I fully agree with the starting point: « International criminal law is legally plural, not a single unified body of norms ». ICL is an excellent example to illustrate what is called “Legal Pluralism” (LP), especially when considering « the complex dance between international law and domestic criminal law ». I also agree with the authors’ insight that this dance “takes place on at least five levels: (1) within national courts, trials involving international crimes often employ their own local criminal law standards rather than the international law equivalent; (2) international courts sometimes follow a particular national system in interpreting ICL rules; (3) international courts often survey then synthesize a wide selection of national rules to demonstrate widespread support for their favored approach; (4) at times, international statutes, treaties and national legislation define the same ICL concept differently and finally (5) judicial bodies that interpret ICL occasionally disagree amongst themselves about the interpretation of the same body of law”.

Before concluding that the dance is “improvised  rather than choreographed”, I propose considering diverse observable dynamics as a “work in progress for a world in process,”[1] leaving the question of “what might count as law” open.  It seems to me that by choosing an exclusively state-centric perspective while the world is moving, the authors risk confining themselves to a state-centric, modern representation of LP which identifies the rule of law with state law and makes the concept necessarily oxymoronic.  To be “legal”, pluralism must be integrated into a state order which presupposes a structure that is more or less unified and hierarchical (unified because it is hierarchical) whereas pluralism implies (as traditional international law) the plurality of systems of law and their independence; it separates or juxtaposes different systems but does not organize them.

Beginning in the post-war period, globalization has opened a “post-modern” perspective which does not necessarily imply the disappearance of states, stimulating a somewhat paradoxical sovereign withdrawal, but increasing state interdependence. It leads to an unprecedented development of international law at supra and trans-state levels and even more surprisingly at the infra-state level. It has resulted in a whole that is plural, complex and evolving; a true challenge to the notion of the rule of law.  To address such a challenge, the goal of bringing order to pluralism involves a choreography which combines three interacting processes attempting to reconcile universalism and pluralism.

Three interacting processes

One evokes, in increasing order of integration: horizontal coordination, for example, across “circular models” of one legislator to another, or judicial dialogue; harmonization, which brings differences together rather than abolishing them; and lastly unification as a fusion when differences are incompatible.

The process of coordination facilitates spontaneous and horizontal reconciliation of differing systems.  It is without a doubt the most widely practiced process, from unilateral borrowing to cross-exchange, with examples of “cross fertilization”; but it is also the most uncertain since it relies on the good will of state actors.

The process of harmonization is more restrictive because of its reliance on a hierarchy between the national and international levels, which is itself complex because the hierarchy is flexible depending on its origins at the national or international level.

From the national level to the international level, an upward dynamic of reconciling differences demonstrates the importance of history and memory in illuminating comparative law.  We can only understand it when using critiques of “ahistoricism of legal pluralism” from preceding authors as a starting point.  Neglecting the historical dimension may have the effect of “condoning illegitimate or dysfunctional law”.  But it is also necessary to take into account the ambivalence of comparative law, in the sense that it can be invoked equally to resist as to reconcile differences.  As such, the example provided by the authors of Argentinian criminal procedure as being the “exception which confirms the rule” can also be understood as a reflection of this ambivalence.

It is also crucial to consider the downward dynamic that is at work from the international level to the national level. As discussed, international law is no longer simply inter-state and takes a supra-state status in its universal calling, but pluralism may reappear across diverse international law techniques allowing for “contextualising” the universal.  From this point of view, international criminal law is particularly interesting. Even to demonstrate the notion of a unified principle such as crime “against humanity”, the requirement of “complementarity” can be reintroduced at the national level.  We know that the International Criminal Court can only function competently in contexts where states in question lack the willingness or capacity to judge themselves. To exercise their competence, they must transpose international criminal law to domestic law and this transposition does not exclude a certain margin of national interpretation.

In noting that in both cases, whether ascendant or descendant, harmonization calls for “fuzzy logic”, cleaning up national margins precisely by replacing a requirement of conformity with one of compatibility.  This softening is not always possible.

Whereas the third process, that of unification, solidifies the hierarchy of norms by imposing a single norm, but risks abolishing any hope of pluralism.  Barring the renunciation of the unilateral process of transplantation – the pernicious effects of which have been demonstrated in colonialism –, the benefit of introducing a process of hybridization, which is multilateral and reciprocal.  In fact, it is rare to see such a practice across all scales on the planet.  Even at the level of the ICC, decisions that surround defining attempt, complicity and criminal procedure are informed directly by Western culture.  As such, hybridization is often limited in procedure to combining accusatory and inquisitory models.  On the other hand, crimes against humanity are broadened by notions such as apartheid, and criminal procedure can be enriched with alternative such as truth and reconciliation commissions.  Even more broadly, international law can contribute to the duty of remembrance by creating a duty to anticipate the intentions of future generations (for example, by creating, across cultures, a crime of ecocide).

Reconciling universalism and pluralism 

In a time when globalization reinforces interdependence from one end of the earth to the other, we must discuss the UNESCO Declaration of Cultural Diversity (Nov. 2001).  This declaration (extended through a 2005 convention) made clear the tension between two apparently contradictory principles of international law: on one hand, the universality of values proclaimed by the “Universal” Declaration of the Rights of Man of 1948; and on the other, the principle of diversity of culture and religions, thus of pluralism, making up a “common heritage of humanity” per the UNESCO declaration.  It is not an accident that this principle was posed in the days following September 11th 2001, which is sometimes characterized as a collision of cultures.

Some have interpreted the principle of diversity of “setting the fox among the chickens”.  But neither the human rights, nor international sanctions against the most serious crimes are comparable to a chicken coup; rather to a winding and unpaved road at risk of becoming an impasse if it leads to a complete relativism where all values ​​are equal. The 2005 Convention does not assert that all values are equal.  It poses the principle of “equal dignity and respect of all cultures” but attempts to push back at the risk of relativism by affirming as a first principle the respect of the rights of man “as set out by the universal declaration or guaranteed by international law”.

While this objective is set out, neither the Universal Declaration of Human Rights nor the UNESCO convention provide a method for reconcile pluralism and universalism.  Our hypothesis is that by rationalizing processes of coordination, harmonization and reciprocal hybridization, it is possible to put a coherent and diversified dynamic in place.  In a moving world, this dynamic must serve not only to construct a “truly common law of humanity”[2] based on the model of the rule of law, but also to avoid the pluralism which divides and universalism which leads to uniformity. We aim to create a path which can be called “ordering pluralism” or “contextualized universalism”, somewhere between the relative and the universal.

 

 

[1] See M. Delmas-Marty, « The ICC: a Work in Progress for a World in Process », in M. M. de Guzman and D. M. Amann, Arcs of Global Justice: Essays in Honour of William A. Schabas, Oxford University Press, 2018.

[2] M. Delmas-Marty, Towards a Truly Common Law – Europe As a Laboratory for Legal Pluralism, CUP, 2002. See also her current research project “Vers un jus commune universalisable?”: https://www.pantheonsorbonne.fr/unites-de-recherche/isjps/presentation/equipes-de-lisjps/equipe-de-droit-compare-et-internationalisation-du-droit/vers-un-jus-commune-universalisable/

Understanding Global Legal Pluralism and International Criminal Law

Paul Schiff Berman is the Walter S. Cox Professor of Law at the George Washington University Law School. He is the author of Global Legal Pluralism (CUP, 2012)


James G. Stewart & Asad Kiyani argue that the core human rights norms embodied in international criminal law (ICL) should not be lightly pushed aside in the name of cultural diversity or purported deference to the criminal law norms of the local communities where crimes might have occurred. First, they suggest, whatever these local norms might be, they might not actually be embodied in the communities’ formal criminal law doctrine because that official doctrine may instead reflect historical contingency or may be the product of hierarchy. Second, they contend, even if domestic criminal law doctrine does sometimes accurately reflect local norms, we might nevertheless choose to ignore those local norms and insist on the primacy of ICL norms in order to make sure that those who commit heinous crimes are sufficiently punished.

I do not disagree with either of these points, but I confess that I am a bit mystified that the authors think that by embracing these arguments they are somehow challenging theories of Global Legal Pluralism or revealing the “ahistoricism” of such theories. I readily admit that I am not an ICL expert, so perhaps there are scholars who invoke legal pluralism to reject the imposition of international norms in all circumstances or who celebrate the “local” even when what is truly local is itself contested and is perhaps the product of hierarchy. I am not aware of such scholars, but if they exist then Stewart & Kiyani are right to offer their critique.[1]

But given that the authors name me in their introduction as one of the scholars of Global Legal Pluralism to whom they are responding, I think it is necessary to point out that nothing in my approach contradicts the arguments Stewart & Kiyani make. In this brief response, I will try to explain.

To begin, it is important to recognize that the focus in my book Global Legal Pluralism: A Jurisprudence of Law Beyond Borders was not on the substantive norms embodied in legal doctrine at all and certainly not substantive criminal law norms. Instead, I argued for procedural mechanisms, institutional designs and discursive practices that might take into account the multiple communities that might have a stake in a given decision and therefore better manage the inevitability of legal pluralism. Accordingly, to the extent I discussed ICL at all, I focused on the design of criminal law institutions and procedures, not the content of criminal law doctrine or norms. For example, I discussed the possibility that hybrid tribunals comprising both domestic and international actors might sometimes be preferable to either a fully international tribunal, on the one hand, or a fully domestic one, on the other. But I never addressed the content of the norms that might be applied by such tribunals. And I certainly never argued that the ICL norms regarding, for example, genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity should be jettisoned in favor of “local” criminal law.

This distinction between substantive doctrine and procedure seems crucial in considering the points Stewart & Kiyani make. For example, the authors rightly note that we might not want to defer to the substantive law of communities that themselves received their substantive law through colonial imposition. That seems perfectly correct. But even so, we might still choose a hybrid court—with both local and international judges and local and international prosecutors—in order to maximize local participation while still protecting against the possibility of local capture. Or we might choose a trial process that incorporates certain local forms of testimony or practice within it, regardless of the derivation of those practices.

More broadly, my version of Global Legal Pluralism is emphatically not a celebration of the local in all circumstances and under all conditions. Instead, I staked out a position that was both cosmopolitan and pluralist and argued for procedures that would strike a middle ground between universalism on the one hand and localism on the other. As such, far from rejecting all international norms, I provided numerous examples of so-called “local” actors using international norms to gain leverage within their own domestic legal or political systems that they would not otherwise have had. Further, I made clear that even if pluralism is a potential value to be considered in designing institutions, procedures, and practices, it is certainly not the only potentially relevant value. Thus, I wrote that whatever value there might be in trying to defer to a norm of a community, that value must be weighed against competing values, for example the values embodied in universal human rights. Accordingly, I made clear that a procedural mechanism that gave voice to pluralism might still be rejected on other grounds. My point was only that the value of pluralism should always be factored into the institutional design decision, not that it should always win.

So how might my approach translate into ICL during a period of transitional justice after mass atrocities? First, as mentioned above, I believe it is useful to consider multiple kinds of procedures and institutions and think about which sorts of procedures and institutions might best generate buy-in from among the many communities that might have a stake in the new society being formed. Second, I believe it is also at least worth thinking about how one might incorporate local norms and procedures into any given transitional justice mechanism to the extent possible, while still remaining faithful to the other core substantive values embodied in ICL.

But under no circumstances would my vision of Global Legal Pluralism so reify the “local” that it would require international norms to give way to local norms just because those norms were local. After all, Global Legal Pluralism not only recognizes that the content of norms is always contested by multiple communities; it also recognizes that the international community is one of those communities participating in the contestation. Moreover, pluralists of all people recognize that there is no single “local” norm anyway and that multiple local actors have a wide variety of interests and are therefore always contesting the content of local norms. In addition, as Stewart & Kiyani rightly point out, the “local” can be as much the product of hierarchy (or colonialism) as the international. So there is nothing inherently good about the local or evil about the international. Nor should we assume that the value of giving voice to plural voices always trumps every other possible value. After all, a lynch mob may be an expression of local norms, but it need not be celebrated or deferred to for that reason.

So, in the end, from my perspective Stewart & Kiyani end up arguing against a caricatured portrait of Global Legal Pluralism that I for one have never embraced and certainly have no wish to defend. To the contrary, if the focus shifts from doctrine to procedure, then I think my vision of Global Legal Pluralism actually comes out pretty close to where Stewart & Kiyani do: emphasizing diversities of values rather than doctrines in designing international criminal law mechanisms. But a pluralist approach would be sure also to include the value of broad-based participation by multiple communities and to think carefully about how best to foster such participation in all its forms.

If Stewart & Kiyani want to argue that local participation and buy-in is completely irrelevant to ICL, then I think we can have a legitimate debate. But I don’t see them to be arguing that point. If instead they simply want to make sure we don’t treat the codified criminal law of a community as an automatic proxy for the actual norms of that community, one would think they should get no argument from pluralists, who after all have always started from the premise that formal codified law is not the only relevant determinant of community norms. Alternatively, if Stewart & Kiyani want to argue that we shouldn’t always reject international norms in favor of local ones, again it seems hard to imagine they will get much argument from those who espouse Global Legal Pluralism. Global Legal Pluralism recognizes that what is local and what is global tend to be mutually constitutive anyway, as norms seep back and forth from local to global and vice-versa, multiple actors import and export norms for strategic purposes, and international law becomes “vernacularized” and transformed in local settings.

In short, Stewart & Kiyani have done wonderful research and have provided important insights regarding ICL. But it is not at all clear that their work has much to say about Global Legal Pluralism, at least not the Global Legal Pluralism with which I am familiar and to which I subscribe. Thus, it seems to me that the article would be better framed simply as a contribution to a discussion about the normative content of ICL, rather than as a response to Global Legal Pluralism. Re-framed in that way, I suspect that it is an important contribution to the theory of ICL and can be celebrated on its own terms. And as a pluralist, I would be happy to join in that celebration.

[1] I note that my reading of the scholars cited by Stewart & Kiyani in their introduction do not suggest that those scholars make the sort of broad ahistorical claims Stewart & Kiyani are criticizing either. For example, Alexander Greenawalt does not argue that ICL must always give way to local domestic law norms, only that such deference may sometimes be appropriate. Likewise, Elies van Sliedregt actually argues for maintaining a universalist core to ICL even while trying to accommodate some pluralism in application. Thus, it is difficult to see which pluralists Stewart & Kiyani are criticizing.

A Comparatist View on Doctrinal Diversity in International Criminal Law

Professor Neha Jain is an Associate Professor of Law and a McKnight Land-Grant Professor (2016-18) at the University of Minnesota Law School. Her scholarship focuses on public international law, criminal law, and comparative law.


In their provocative article on The Ahistoricism of Legal Pluralism in International Criminal Law, James Stewart and Asad Kiyani challenge the increasingly popular view that legal pluralism, as reflected in doctrinal diversity, is a value that ICL should strive towards. For Stewart and Kiyani, in embracing doctrinal heterogeneity as a marker of cultural cosmopolitanism, ICL scholars, practitioners, and courts, have been barking up the wrong tree and have ignored the socio-historical context of criminal law doctrines in both domestic and international law. Instead, universal norms that represent a multitude of cultural values and political interests might be better vehicles for ICL to become a genuinely value plural enterprise.

Stewart and Kiyani assemble an arsenal of theoretical arguments and case studies to demonstrate their thesis. One of the main strengths of the article is the astonishing variety and depth of national and international doctrines relied on to illustrate the perils of using doctrinal diversity as a proxy for cultural pluralism. Moreover, in a refreshing departure from the bulk of ICL and comparative criminal law scholarship, several of their national examples, such as blasphemy laws in Pakistan, are from typically unrepresented regions of the world and are analysed with rigour and sophistication.

A work of such sweeping knowledge and bold assertions nonetheless comes with its own set of challenges, some of which I can only address in broad strokes in this short commentary. First, Stewart and Kiyani’s main focus, as they acknowledge, is on state law. More specifically, the primary target of their criticism is doctrinal state law and the borrowing of this law by international criminal law actors without regard to its history and context. This analysis could have benefited from more engagement with comparatist scholarship. A vast and, by now, fairly standard, body of comparatist scholarship is dedicated to the need to move beyond doctrine. Indeed, much of the literature of legal traditions, legal formants, and variants thereof, has repeatedly emphasized the limitations of doctrine in ways that are entirely compatible with  Stewart and Kiyani’s thesis. This leads to a question – given that almost no serious comparatist today would adopt such a narrow approach to legal systems, who exactly is championing such a blinkered vision of “diversity” in ICL?  ICL scholars, as Stewart and Kiyani point out, are usually “more considered in their pluralism”.

Are the true culprits then international tribunals? The authors discuss, for example, the adoption of conspiracy as an inchoate mode of liability at the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials. However, the only reference to municipal legal surveys comes in the form of the document prepared by the American Chief Prosecutor at Tokyo to refute the argument that the conspiracy doctrine was unique to Anglo-American law. The authors do not dispute that the Prosecutor was correct in his geneaology of the national laws he cited on conspiracy – their objection is to his omission of their violent history in some jurisdictions. This is an entirely sympathetic position, but it does not serve to further the thesis of the paper. Whether introduced through consent, indifference, or violence, a rule or doctrine that forms part of the criminal law of a legal system can hardly be said to be completely unknown to it. Neither do Stewart and Kiyani claim that the Tokyo tribunal ultimately went on to rely on this survey to make the further leap that conspiracy therefore embodied value pluralism. Instead, they rightly criticize the way in which the court applied the doctrine to the facts of the case, which had little to do with whether or not conspiracy was a culturally cosmopolitan legal construct.

Moreover, even if international courts are conducting national surveys of criminal law doctrine in order to formulate ICL principles, are they truly doing so in the name of cultural pluralism, or simply because national doctrine is an easily accessible source of legal concepts and ideas that can be plugged into an international criminal law regime ridden with gaps and contradictions? In Stewart and Kiyani’s analysis of the ICTY’s jurisprudence on Joint Criminal Enterprise, there are a few references to the reasoning adopted by the Appeals Chamber in the Tadić case that would support the former position. However, this remains a mostly isolated example in an extensive article that is premised on the argument that ICL practitioners treat doctrinal diversity as a substitute for legal pluralism.  In other words, while the authors draw on numerous instances where ICL practitioners rely on domestic legislation and case law to formulate ICL principles, it is far from clear that the practitioners themselves look upon this exercise as furthering value pluralism or justify it in those terms.

Relatedly, at the outset of the article, Stewart and Kiyani recognize “the inevitability of the reliance on foreign domestic criminal law by international lawyers and institutions.” However, since their underlying assumption is that foreign national doctrine is being misappropriated by international criminal law institutions to tout ostensibly pluralistic values, they fail to distinguish this superficial transplantation of domestic criminal law into the international realm, from potentially legitimate and useful reliance on national doctrines. Yet again, comparative and international criminal law scholarship could have provided a rich source material to explore this possibility. ICL scholars have, for example, criticized the practice of international criminal tribunals whereby courts conduct cursory surveys of domestic criminal laws to propose “general principles of law”. However, this does not have to entail a complete abandonment of references to domestic legal rules found in statutes and case law. These formal sources of law may still be useful for an international court, not as embodiments of cultural pluralism, but as models of legal principles that have been tested in the laboratory of domestic legal systems, and that can serve as an inspiration for rules and principles that are tailored to the requirements of the international criminal law regime.

Finally, while Stewart and Kiyani are clearly in their element in highlighting and exploring case studies from different domestic jurisdictions and international courts, at times, the link between their abstract thesis and the case study is quite tenuous. For instance, the authors claim that the failure of the domestic German war crimes trials after World War I can be explained in part by their adoption of a German criminal procedure that was in accord with native German values, but alien to other legal systems and to foreign audiences. The experience of the Leipzig war crimes trials is adduced to demonstrate that “[e]ven when criminal doctrine is a safe proxy for social and cultural values within the community it governs… this fact alone is not a sufficient condition for privileging it in a contest between normative orders.” This is a perfectly reasonable proposition except that on the authors’ own account, it is difficult to say that the criminal procedural innovations that were controversial at Leipzig should in fact be regarded as a proxy for German social and cultural values. The two specific procedural rules that Stewart and Kiyani cite were both introduced as deviations from normal German criminal procedure in 1920 and 1921. Given the care that the authors otherwise take to refrain from equating the acceptance of every single doctrinal rule with a country’s culture, it is a stretch to then argue that a recent procedural amendment introduced in the wake of a devastating war loss, and in circumstances of exceptional political tension, was reflective of German community values more broadly. Equally, with the intense resentment caused by German actions in World War I, not least in France and Belgium, it is quite likely that that no matter what procedural model had been adopted at Leipzig, acquittals in large numbers, especially of high profile defendants, would have been unlikely to secure their approbation.

None of these critical questions, however, should be taken to undermine the importance and urgency of Stewart and Kiyani’s central claim: an ICL that continues to be biased, discriminatory, and myopic will have little claim to global legitimacy and the burden of rectifying the many parochialisms of ICL is a task that falls upon all of us who care about and practice this enterprise. The article is a welcome and impressive contribution to this vital conversation.

New Symposium: The Ahistoricism of Legal Pluralism in International Criminal Justice


I am very pleased to host a new mini-symposium on a long article I co-authored with Asad Kiyani, entitled the Ahistoricism of Legal Pluralism in International Criminal Justice. Because of length constraints, the American Journal of Comparative Law could only publish a shorter version of the piece, so with their blessing, Asad and I have decided to publish the longer version online and invite a series of excellent scholars to debate this longer version as part of this blog’s commitment to curating respectful critique of new scholarship. The longer version we discuss here contains a fourth part focused on criminal law procedure in Argentina and post WWI trials in Europe. In this additional part, we use these two illustrations, first as a counterexample that acts as a null hypothesis for the remainder of our piece, then as a qualification of this initial counterexample. We are thrilled to have an eclectic group of scholars who work on these issues from different disciplinary backgrounds criticize the piece, and hope that the dialogue spawns further debate within legal pluralism as well as international criminal justice. The article’s abstract follows: 

International criminal law (“ICL”) is legally plural, not a single unified body of norms. As a whole, trials for international crimes involve a complex dance between international and domestic criminal law, the specificities of which vary markedly from one forum to the next. To date, many excellent scholars have suggested that the resulting doctrinal diversity in ICL should be tolerated and managed under the banner of Legal Pluralism. To our minds, these scholars omit a piece of the puzzle that has major implications for their theory – the law’s history. Neglecting the historical context of the international and national criminal laws that inform ICL leads to (a) the uncritical adoption of criminal law doctrine as a proxy for diverse social, cultural and political values; and (b) in the limited instances where criminal law doctrine does reflect underlying societal values, an overly general assumption that respecting the various embodiments of this law is best for ICLThese oversights result in important normative distortions, with major implications for the field’s self-image, function and legitimacy. In particular, scholars and courts overlook that much criminal law doctrine globally is the result of either a colonial imposition or an “unsuccessful” legal transplant, as well as historical examples where respecting pre-existing doctrinal arrangements undermined the value of postwar trials on any semi-defensible measure. In this Article, we revisit a cross-section of this missing history to contribute to both Legal Pluralism and ICL. For the former, we demonstrate that there is nothing inherently good about Legal Pluralism, and that in some instances, a shift from its descriptive origins into a more prescriptive form risks condoning illegitimate or dysfunctional law. For ICL, our historiography shows how partiality is embedded in the very substance of ICL doctrine, beyond just the politics of its enforcement. At one level, this realization opens up the possibility of renegotiating a universal ICL that, at least in certain circumstances, is actually more plural in terms of values and interests than doctrinal pluralism (although the dangers of power masquerading as universalism are also profound). At another, it suggests that institutions capable of trying international crimes need to do far more to step away from the ugly legal histories they have inherited. 

Before we begin the mini-symposium, a word from behind the scenes. First, this piece resulted from an excellent collaboration between Asad and I. As the article attests, Asad and I were very equally involved in all facets of its production, including design, research, (re)writing, editing and workshopping. The collaboration was a great pleasure, from which I learned a lot. In terms of process, this project consumed a tremendous amount of energy. On more than one occasion, we concluded that we had to rewrite large sections. The history of the criminal law in entire regions of the world was excised with the stroke of a pen, entire subject-areas were calved off after more than one person said we had two papers here not one, and several times, we concluded that despite already having spent years on it, we had to begin new research on different periods and legal systems. I think I speak for Asad as well when I say that we learned a great deal through this project and are very pleased to see it completed and debated by so many outstanding scholars whose work we admire.