This chapter presents the main risks and difficulties of prosecuting the crime of aggression. It argues that aggression trials can negatively impact peace, the international criminal justice system (particularly the International Criminal Court) and the reconciliation process. This chapter further stresses that prosecution of aggression may endanger the Security Council’s efforts to maintain peace and security because it places considerable pressure on the Council to classify certain situations as acts of aggression. This is despite the fact that the principle of independence of courts means that they must be able to challenge any decision of the Council to this effect. Moreover, the current scope of criminalization of aggression is problematic. On the one hand, it excludes intrastate use of force, i.e. the main source of threats to peace. And yet, on the other hand, it may serve to discourage interventions undertaken for humanitarian reasons or, conversely, to encourage military operations with doubtful legal justification. Trials of aggression may undermine the International Criminal Court’s credibility if the Court is forced to shift its resources towards aggression cases due to political pressures. The limitation of aggression charges to those in leadership positions also misrepresents the guilt of the whole population of aggressor State(s) and prevents full reconciliation between victim and aggressor States’ populations. This chapter further emphasizes that prosecution of aggressors is inherently linked to the problem of recognition of immunities and privileges of high officials, which can prevent the surrender of such officials to the international court or their extradition to third-party States. There is also a strong risk of violation of basic human rights, as access to evidence is limited due to security reasons. Taking into account all risks and challenges, the prosecution of the crime of aggression could be against the interest of justice.
- Crime of Aggression
- Security Council
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On 14 December 2017, the Assembly of State Parties to the Rome Statute decided on the activation of the jurisdiction of the Court over the crime of aggression, ICC Resolution ICC-ASP/16/Res.5 of 14 December 2017. The definition of aggression was adopted seven years earlier, during the Kampala Review Conference, ICC Resolution RC/Res.6 of 11 June 2010.
See more on risks and difficulties related with prosecution of aggression in historic perspective in Grzebyk 2013, pp. 215 et seq.
Cyprian and Sawicki 1948, p. 12.
See Message of His Holiness Pope Paul VI for the Celebration of the Day of Peace, 1 January 1972: ‘If you want Peace, work for Justice’, available at http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/messages/peace/documents/hf_p-vi_mes_19711208_v-world-day-for-peace_en.html (accessed 1 March 2021). See also Bassiouni 2003, p. 680.
See more in Ruys 2018, pp. 889 et seq.
O’Donovan 2007, p. 527.
Tancredi 2014, pp. 10 et seq.
Argument used by Austen Chamberlain during his speech in the House of Commons on 24 November 1927. See Diamandesco 1935, pp. 46–47.
See ICC Resolution ICC-ASP/16/Res.5 of 14 December 2017, para 2 which introduced restrictive interpretation of Article 15bis (4) Rome Statute, more in Zimmermann 2018, p. 19.
https://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=XVIII-10-b&chapter=18&clang=_en (accessed 1 March 2021).
See also Sheffer 2017, pp. 83–84.
Once a State is declared to be the aggressor, it has a motivation to fight until the end, Hankey 1950, p. 55; Meltzer 1996, p. 904; Müller-Schieke 2001, p. 421; Schabas 2004b, p. 715; Brackman 1987, p. 35. It is worth remembering that the provisions assigning responsibility for World War I to emperor Wilhelm II were referred to as ‘shame paragraphs’, and nearly ended the ceasefire; Willis 1976, p. 210.
Lacanilao 2004, p. 108.
O’Donovan 2007, p. 516.
Cyprian and Sawicki 1967, p. 25; Röling and Cassese 1993, p. 87; Hankey 1950, p. IX; Minear 1971, passim; Boister and Cryer 2008, p. 310. Until this day, the International Military Tribunal and the International Military Tribunal for the Far East are perceived as victors’ courts. Jackson tried to argue against these charges, explaining that the Nazis stood before the Tribunal ‘not because they lost the war, but because they started it’, IMT Nuremberg, Judgement of 1 October 1946 (Prosecutor v. Goering et al.), in: Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal, Volume II, Nürnberg, p. 152.
Hankey 1950, p. 60.
Lacanilao 2004, p. 112.
Hogan-Doran and van Ginkel 1996, p. 347.
Ferencz 2000, p. 60.
Pompe 1953, p. 246. See also de Hoon 2018, p. 920 where the author claims that ‘the Court will be trapped in a “Catch-22” when it decides to prosecute state leaders for aggression.’ Each decision of the Court concerning the crime of aggression will be criticized for political reasons, as it is impossible to distinguish a crime of aggression from political debates related with an aggression as such.
IMT Nuremberg, Judgement of 1 October 1946 (Prosecutor v. Goering et al.), in: Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal, Volume I, Nürnberg 1947, p. 186.
Calvocoressi 1947, p. 42.
See RC/5 of 10 June 2010, para 5.
Paulus 2010, p. 1127.
Boeving 2005, p. 583.
See more on the complexity of victim participation and reparations in the case of prosecution of aggression before the ICC in Dannenbaum 2018, p. 876.
In accordance with Article 127 (1) Rome Statute, the Governments of South Africa (October 2016), Burundi (October 2016), and Gambia (November 2016) notified the Secretary-General of their decision to withdraw from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Afterwards South Africa and Gambia decided to revoke their notifications of withdrawal, but Burundi’s withdrawal excluded this State from the State Parties in October 2017. In March 2018, the Philippines decided to withdraw from the Statute.
Wald 2006, p. 327.
See press conference of SGWCA of 13 February 2009, available at http://www.icc-cpi.int/NR/rdonlyres/9FCD3A51-6568-41DF-819F-5075C3857523/0/UNDOCPressConferenceonSWGCAENG.pdf (accessed 1 March 2021).
In his opening statement, Jackson clearly stated that the responsibility should be assigned to individuals so as not to incriminate the whole German people, IMT Nuremberg, Judgement of 1 October 1946 (Prosecutor v. Goering et al.), in: Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal, Volume II, Nürnberg, p. 102.
Nerlich 2017, p. 45.
Pompe 1953, p. 292.
Fletcher 2002, p. 164.
Zwoliński notes that particularly in democracies, the entire society is responsible for war, because it is the society that determines the prevailing ethics. Zwoliński 2003, p. 145.
Best 1994, p. 382.
Minear 1971, passim.
O’Donovan 2007, p. 508.
Clark 2002, p. 886.
Antonopoulos 2001, p. 42.
Van Schaack 2012, p. 150.
Meron 2001, p. 3.
See ILC UN Doc. A/CN.4/601 of 29 May 2008, pp. 13 et seq.
Commission on the Responsibility of the Authors of the War and on Enforcement of Penalties (1920), Report Presented to the Preliminary Peace Conference, 29 March 1919, AJIL 14, p. 116; Article 6 IMT Charter; Article 3 Code of Crimes against Peace and Security of Humankind; Article 7 Code of Crimes against Peace and Security of Humankind; Article 7 (2) ICTY Statute; Article 6 (2) ICTR Statute; Article 27 (1) ICC Statute. Furthermore, under the Rules of Procedure and Evidence of the International Criminal Court (RPE), ‘abuse of power or official capacity’ is an aggravating circumstance which the Court must take into account (Rule 145  [b] RPE).
Report to the President from Justice Robert H. Jackson (1945), Chief of Counsel for the United States in the Prosecution of Axis War Criminals, 7 June 1945, AJIL 39, Supplement Official Documents, p. 182; Glueck 1944, pp. 123–124.
See ICJ, Judgment of 14 February 2002 (Democratic Republic of the Congo v. Belgium, Case Concerning the Arrest Warrant of 11 April 2000), p. 3, ICJ Reports (2002).
Ibid., para 51.
Paulus 2004, p. 19.
See UN Doc. S/2013/624 of 21 October 2013.
Article 2 (1) European Convention on Extradition; Article 3 (e) Inter-American Convention on Extradition.
See Article 3 European Convention on Extradition; Article 4 Inter-American Convention on Extradition.
Wierzbicki 1982, p. 113.
See Article 1 (2) Declaration on Territorial Asylum adopted by UNGA Resolution 2312 (XXII) of 14 December 1967.
See Article 1 (F) Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.
Wierzbicki 1982, p. 110. See e.g. Article 6 European Convention on Extradition; Article 7 Inter-American Convention on Extradition.
See Article 9 Code of Crimes Against Peace and Security of Mankind; UN Doc. A/CN.4/571 of 7 June 2006, para 51.
See e.g. Report of the ICL, Sixty-fourth Session, 7 May-1 June and 2 July-3 August 2012, UN Doc. A/67/10, para 206.
See e.g. UNGA Resolutions 2840 (XXIV) of 18 December 1971 and 3074 (XXVIII) of 3 December 1973.
The States emphasised that in the case of the crime of aggression Articles 57 (3), 72, 93 (4), and 99 (5) Rome Statute apply. Doubts were only expressed as to the applicability of Article 73 Rome Statute with regard to the protection of documents bearing the seal indicating state secrets of the aggressor State. ICC-ASP/4/32 of 10 June 2010, paras 54–55.
See e.g. analysis of the law of the Netherlands in Bakkenes 2011, pp. 49 et seq. and cited there. See also ECtHR, Judgement of 15 June 2006, Applications nos. 73562/01, 73565/01, 73712/01, 73744/01, 73972/01 and 73973/01 (Sirbu and others v. Moldova), para 18; ECtHR, Judgement of 26 March 1987, Application no. 9248/81 (Leander v. Sweden), para 74.
The rights guaranteed to defendants include e.g. the right to remain silent, protection against the burden of evidence being shifted onto the defendant, and guarantee of certain rights during the investigation, i.e. before the trial actual begins, Articles 55, 66, 67 Rome Statute.
Appleman 1954, p. 48.
Leibman 1994, p. 715.
Woetzel 1960, p. 112.
Article 15 (2) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; also Article 7 (2) European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
Woetzel 1960, p. 169.
IMT Nuremberg, Judgement of 1 October 1946 (Prosecutor v. Goering et al.), in: Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal, Volume I, Nürnberg, p. 208 (‘But whether action taken under the claim of self-defense was in fact aggressive or defensive must ultimately be subject to investigation and adjudication if inter- national law is ever to be enforced.’).
See ECtHR, Judgement of 1 October 1982, Application no. 8692/79 (Piersack v. Belgium), para 30; ECtHR, Judgement of 24 May 1989, Application no. 10486/83, (Hauschildt v. Denmark) para 46.
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Grzebyk, P. (2022). Key Risks and Difficulties of Aggression Trials. In: Bock, S., Conze, E. (eds) Rethinking the Crime of Aggression. T.M.C. Asser Press, The Hague. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-6265-467-9_14
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