ICC – Defense Responds to Prosecution’s Request for In Absentia Confirmation of Charges in Kony Case

By: Nikolaus Merz
Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Following a procedural stay, the Office of Public Counsel for the Defense (“OPCD”) has submitted its response to the Prosecution’s request to hold an in absentia confirmation of charges hearing in the case against Joseph Kony.

Joseph Kony faces 12 counts of Crimes Against Humanity, and 21 counts of War Crimes. If convicted, Mr. Kony’s case would be among the longest in international criminal history. Photo courtesy of Reuters.

The Prosecution’s unprecedented request was filed in November of 2022, and would seek to expand the scope of the International Criminal Court’s (“ICC”) procedural authority.

The Prosecution justified it’s request due to the extraordinary circumstances of Mr. Kony’s case. First, despite concerted efforts of multiple nations, including the deployment of armed forces and money rewards, Mr. Kony’s whereabouts have yet to be discerned. Second, Mr. Kony has remained at large for almost two decades, making him the second longest suspect at large of any international criminal court or tribunal. Third, the Prosecution points out the myriad of policy and judicial interests that would be advanced, including rights of victims, the galvanization of justice, and applicability to similar future circumstances.

The OPCD has responded to the Prosecution’s request with a broadside attack, raising numerous defenses against each of the Prosecution’s arguments. In general however, the OPCD raised two broad theories against the Prosecution’s request.

First, the OPCD argued the Prosecution misinterpreted the procedural justification for its request. The foundational treaty of the ICC, the Rome Statute, allows for in absentia confirmation of charges in two circumstances under Article 61(2)(a) and 61(2)(b). Article 61(2)(a) involves a situation where a defendant waives their right to in-person confirmation and is not relevant here. However, Article 61(2)(b) allows for in absentia confirmation in situations where the defendant “Fled or cannot be found…” and is the supporting procedural clause the prosecution used for its request.

According to the OPCD, the Prosecution has misinterpreted 61(2)(b) to mean simply any situation where a defendant cannot be apprehended or found. However, the structure of the Rome Statute, the intention of its drafters, and academic treatises indicate that 61(2)(b) is only meant to apply after an initial appearance by the defendant before the Court. Or, in other words, 61(2)(b) is meant to apply when a defendant has escaped ICC custody in an intermediary period between initial appearance and confirmation of charges.

In addition, the OPCD also argued that no reasonable efforts had been made to notify Mr. Kony of the charges against him. This argument is also based on interpretation of 61(2)(b) which differs from the prosecution. While 61(2)(b) allows for in absentia confirmation in cases where a defendant has fled or cannot be found, it also requires that reasonable efforts have been made to inform the defendant of the charges against them. The OPCD has argued that the only way for Mr. Kony to be made reasonably aware of the charges against him is to re-issue his arrest warrant and to broadcast it for a designated period of time.

Secondly, the OPCD argued that the Prosecution failed to carry its burden in showing that the circumstances of the Kony case were extraordinary enough to warrant in absentia confirmation of charges. The OPCD argued that the Prosecution gave no evidence to show that in absentia confirmation would support the policy considerations it put forth. Further, the OPCD argued that an extensive period of time to apprehend a suspect does not, by itself, demonstrate cause for in absentia confirmation of charges. Lastly, the OPCD pointed out that judicial and victim considerations had already factored into the Kony case in previous motions and decisions.

It should be noted that the representatives of the victims contacted the surviving victims regarding the Prosecution’s request; they were in unanimous support.

At present, it is uncertain if the ICC will support the Prosecution’s request. While the OPCD made compelling arguments, it is more likely that the Court will be considering the precedential ramifications of its decision more than anything. As the Prosecution stated, there would be potential to use in absentia confirmation of charges in similar future circumstances. To address the elephant in the room, a ruling in the Prosecution’s favor could raise uncomfortable questions for the Court regarding the situation of Mr. Putin, whom the ICC issued an arrest warrant for on March 17th 2023.

For further information, please see:

ICC – OPCD Observations on the Prosecution’s Request to Hold a Hearing on the Confirmation of Charges against Joseph Kony in his Absence – 30 Mar. 2023

ICC – Public Redacted Version of the “Prosecution’s Request to Hold a Hearing on the Confirmation of Charges against Joseph Kony in his Absence” – 24 Nov. 2022

ICC – Situation in Ukraine: ICC judges issue arrest warrants against Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova – 17 Mar. 2023

ICC – Victims’ Views and Concerns on the “Prosecution’s Request to Hold a Hearing on the Confirmation of Charges against Joseph Kony in his Absence” – 30 Mar. 2023

Reuters – ICC prosecutor seeks to revive case against fugitive Kony – 24 Nov. 2022

SROF Calls on Guatemala to not use Criminal Proceedings Against Journalists for their Actions in their Capacity as Journalists

By: Marie LeRoy

Impunity Watch Staff News Writer

WASHINGTON D.C., United States – The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (SROF) has issued an statement sharing their deep concern with the criminal investigation against journalists in Guatemala.

Picture of José Rubén Zamora’s son holding the last printed edition of Zamora’s Newspaper el Periódico. The cover reads “We won’t be silenced.” Picture curtesy of Global Investigative Journalism Network.

On February 28, 2023, an investigation was initiated against eight journalist who had all covered the criminal proceedings against journalist and government critical newspaper president José Rubén Zamora, who has been imprisoned since July 2022. The Guatemalan Prosecutor’s Office argued that the journalists were attempting to “attack the personal sphere of the operators of justice” when covering Mr. Zamora’s case. These news stories at issue discussed the disciplinary process of Mr. Zamora’s case and questioned decisions by the judicial officials. The coverage of Mr. Zamora’s criminal proceedings could, as according to the Guatemalan Prosecutor’s Office, possibly be considered “obstruction of justice”.

While Guatemala maintains that it recognized the fundamental right of freedom of expression it claims that the investigation into the journalists does not infringe upon that right. The state further states that this investigation does not seek to limit, restrict, or threaten this inherit right but seeks to discover whether the journalists, in their capacity as journalists, knowingly spread false information to influence or hinder the criminal proceedings against Mr. Zamora.

Organizations around the world have responded to this threat to freedom of speech and democracy by voicing their objections to the investigation. The president of the Guatemalan Association of Journalists, Mario Recinos, stated that this is a “deterioration in rights” and compared this action to the Nicaragua’s government who famously have destroyed the rights of journalists. The Committee to Protect Journalists has also publicly urged the end to the investigation and let Zamora go. They stated that the criminal investigation of the journalists are a pointed attempt to “intimidate and harass an investigative outlet and journalists working tirelessly to expose corruption.” PEN International appealed to Guatemala to stop the “harassment of journalists.” The United States Department of State also joined the outcry by issuing their own statement urging Guatemala to support journalists and journalistic functions for the health of the Guatemalan democracy.

SROF warns of the potential consequences of bringing a criminal action against the rights of the journalists’ ability to inform and report and the correlating right of the public to be informed in relation to the continuation of democracy.

SROF calls on Guatemala to adhere to the international standards on freedom of expression for all criminal investigations against the press.


For further information, please see:

AP – Judge orders investigation of Guatemalan journalists – Feb. 28, 2023

CPJ – CPJ calls for Guatemala to halt investigation into elPeriódico journalists – Feb. 28, 2023

Global Investigative Journalism Network – In a Hostile Climate Guatemala’s Journalists Fear the Law Being Turned Against Them – Feb. 13, 2023

OAS — SRFOE expresses concern about the opening of a criminal investigation against journalists in Guatemala for their coverage of matters of public interest – Mar. 29, 2023

PEN – Guatemala: Authorities Must Stop Legal Harassment of Journalists – Mar. 9, 2023

U.S. Department of State – Persecution of Journalists in Guatemala—Mar. 2, 2023

Court Finds Application Inadmissible in Case against Policies against Pregnant, Married Students


By: Sallie Moppert

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

ARUSHA, Tanzania – The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (“ACHPR”) determined that  the application regarding several human rights violations that occurred as a result of Tanzania’s policy on pregnant or married female students in schools was inadmissible.

Schools in Tanzania have had the power to expel students who were married or became pregnant since the 1960’s. Photo courtesy of The Borgen Project.

Since the 1960’s, schools in Tanzania have had the power to refuse educating pregnant students. Tanzanian President John Magufuli stated that no pregnant student would ever attend or be allowed to return to school while he is in office, claiming that their presence would “encourage other girls to get pregnant” or be too distracting for students to concentrate while in school. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development reported in 2021 that approximately one in five girls in Tanzania fifteen years and older have been or were married before the age of eighteen.

Equality Now, a human rights organization, along with Tike Mwambipile, brought suit against the state of Tanzania, arguing that education was a right for all girls, regardless of whether or not they were married or had a child, and this policy was discriminatory against them.

One of the primary reasons for determining that the application was inadmissible was that there are additional applications for similar relief pending with other entities. On 29 July 2021, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare (the “Committee”) of the informed the AFCHPR that it had received a similar application and the matter was pending determination. The Committee further informed the Court that it had already declared the application as admissible and that it would hold a hearing of the case in its upcoming Session.

The Committee ultimately decided that Tanzania had committed several human rights violations, including discrimination, right to education, right to health and health services, and protection against child abuse and torture. As the AFCHPR found that the matter had already been adjudicated and settled, it found the application to be inadmissible for further deliberation.


For further information, please see:

African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights – The Matter of Tike Mwambipile and Equality Now v. United Republic of Tanzania – Dec. 1, 2022

Equality Now – African Court On Human And Peoples’ Rights To Give Verdict On Case Challenging Tanzania’s Ban On Pregnant Girls And Adolescent Mothers Attending School – Nov. 30, 2022

Equality Now – Girls in Tanzania Who Marry Or Become Pregnant Should Be Allowed To Attend School – Oct. 5, 2022

The Borgen Project – Educating Pregnant Students in Tanzania – Sept. 5, 2017

Despite Newly Passed Avenues for Support to the ICC, the Biden Administration and Pentagon are at Odds in Determining Which Documents to Provide the ICC regarding Putin’s Actions in Ukraine

By: Patrick Farrell

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – As previously reported by Impunity Watch News, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Putin’s arrest due to his role in the atrocities perpetrated during Russia’s war in Ukraine. The public issuing of the warrant was heralded as a significant step for two major reasons. First, in deterring further crimes in Ukraine, and second, widespread support for the indictment has been characterized as a win for the basic principles of humanity. Yet, the Kremlin has directly condemned the ICC’s actions, labeling them as “outrageous and unacceptable” and even rejected the warrant. Given this response, the ICC is now in need of support for the investigation and eventual prosecution. With that said, the Biden Administration is currently at odds with the Department of Defense in determining the nature of the evidence that the United States will share with the ICC regarding Russian atrocities in Ukraine.

The International Criminal Court. Photo courtesy of Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

Following a National Security Council cabinet-level principals committee meeting on Feb. 3, President Biden has yet to make a decision to resolve the dispute. Although President Clinton signed the Rome Statute in 2000, he never sent it to the Senate for ratification, thus leaving the United States as a non-party to the Treaty. Further, in 1999 and 2002, Congress enacted laws that limited the support that the government could provide the ICC. However, following the bipartisan push to hold Putin accountable, Congress returned to the question of whether to help the ICC. Pursuant to regulations passed by Congress in December 2022, exceptions now exist that allow the U.S. Government to assist with “investigations and prosecutions of foreign nationals related to the situation in Ukraine.” These new laws, including the Consolidated Appropriations Act, the Justice for Victims of War Crimes Act, and the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act contain new elements highlighting the importance attached to supporting accountability for those responsible for atrocities such as these. Most importantly, the amendments in the Consolidated Appropriations Act allow the United States to provide assistance to the ICC Prosecutor’s efforts in Ukraine, even regardless of whether accusations have been made.

Despite these new powers, the Pentagon has maintained the position that the United States should remain separate from the ICC and that the Court should undertake its own investigation, especially since neither the United States nor Russia are parties to the Rome Statute.

Even amidst these internal tensions, national security experts and other government officials see an opportunity in using the ICC as a tool for enforcing accountability. According to John Bellinger, a lawyer for the National Security Council, the U.S. can assist in investigating and prosecuting war crimes by assisting the ICC, which is the successor to the Nuremberg tribunals. In addition, both Senator Lindsey Graham and Attorney General Merrick Garland have reiterated their commitment to helping Ukrainian prosecutors pursue Russian war crimes.

Even after modifications to longstanding legal restrictions which previously stifled America from aiding the ICC, a dispute now exists over whether the U.S. should provide such evidence. Still, it is hopeful that U.S. officials will come to a solution to assist the collaborative effort to bring justice for Russian atrocities committed in Ukraine.

For further information, please see:

Beatrice Nkansah, Impunity Watch News – ‘ICC’ Issues Warrants for Putin’s Arrest Regarding His Role in Russia’s War in Ukraine – 23 Mar. 2023

CNN – ICC issues war crimes arrest warrant for Putin for alleged deportation of Ukrainian children – 17 Mar. 2023

The New York Times – Pentagon Blocks Sharing Evidence of Possible Russian War Crimes With Hague Court – 8 Mar. 2023

Just Security – Unpacking New Legislation on US Support for the International Criminal Court – 9 Mar. 2023