Crime of Aggression

A Summary of Our Current Projects

When democracy faces threats, the circle of concern doesn’t stop at the limits of Capitol Hill. It’s true that a functional society begins with a sound and well-reasoned approach to lawmaking, and ideally, a democratic system ensures that those affected by the laws of the land will have a hand in their creation. But while the halls of congress represent the most visible pillars of democracy, threats to those pillars quickly become threats to systems of enforcement and justice, fair distributions of opportunity, and fair access to resources. When democratic governance starts to crumble, other stable systems that we rely on in a just society begin to crumble as well.

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As we mentioned in the previous post, our mission is defined by these threats. Here at JAI, we recognize that protecting the rights of the many from the will of the powerful few demands constant vigilance. And we recognize that the same vigilance is necessary if we hope to protect the environment and maintain sustainability and equal access to natural resources. Our goal is to use the most effective tool available to us—the rule of law—to keep these threats at bay and bring accountability to those who seek to personally profit at the expense of justice, peace, and global stability for everyone else.

Here’s a quick overview of some of our recent and ongoing efforts.

Seeking Accountability for the Crime of Aggression

For the first time in history, the Nuremberg Trials established an early draft of what would later found a system of international law and international criminal justice. As part of this effort, acts of criminal behavior had to be defined in a way that transcended all cultures, regions, languages and systems of law and order. One of the crimes named and identified during this process was the crime of “aggression”, an unjust and unsanctioned war launched by one nation against another without the support of the international community. War is humanity’s greatest horror, and during the Nuremberg Trials, aggression was specifically identified as a “supreme international crime.” But six decades later, high ranking members of the Bush Administration launched the war in Iraq in clear violation of the will of the United Nations. So far, none of these officials have been held accountable for their actions. We’re working to change that. By pursuing accountability, we hope to strengthen and uphold the principles of international law, and we also hope to prevent future acts of aggression and unilateral warmongering.

Climate Change and Human Hardship

As a result of human activity, the planet is warming and the climate is changing. Ecosystems are experiencing unprecedented and unpredictable shifts, and these shifts will be followed by unprecedented and unpredictable forms of human hardship. The entire planet will likely be impacted by these waves of change and ensuing waves of difficulty, which may include massive migrations, displacements, and upsets in food and water distribution. We’re working on several fronts to anticipate and mitigate these problems. Our efforts include the creation of a comprehensive international legal guide related to climate change, and also a set of comprehensive guidelines for policy makers that will help them anticipate and respond to an expected refugee crisis.

Click here to learn more about the actions we’re taking on these issues and others, and please contact us if you’d like to contribute to our efforts.

Just Atonement in Geneva

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We are thrilled to be participating in the 37th Human Rights Council Session in Geneva!

Specifically, we are presenting our work on the need for accountability over the Iraq War.

March 20, 2018 marks the 15th year anniversary of the Iraq War.

Along with our colleagues and supporters in Geneva, Just Atonement will be calling for the creation of an international tribunal with jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute crimes committed by the United States and the United Kingdom related to the Iraq War, including the crime of aggression, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

Check out our concept note about the presentation. 

Defining the Crime of “Aggression”: An ICC Update

Back in October, we posted a short summary of the relationship between the ICC (International Criminal Court) and the crime of “aggression”. At that point, even though the ICC’s 1998 founding treaty included a mandate to prosecute crimes of aggression, the ICC was unable to actually pursue charges of aggression.

As we mentioned at that time, the 2010 amendments that made it possible for the court to prosecute an entity for this crime were finally ratified in 2016…but even after the amendments had been ratified, the text had not yet been promulgated and the amendments had not yet gone into effect.

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Well we have some news! In December 2017, the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (also known as “the Assembly”) met in New York and adopted six resolutions by consensus. Among them: The resolution on the activation of the jurisdiction of the Court over the crime of aggression. 

This is a very big deal and a welcome announcement for those who follow advances in human rights around the world. With this move, as described in the PDF we’ve attached here, “the Assembly recognized the historic significance of the consensual decision at the Kampala Review Conference to adopt the amendments to the Rome Statute and decided inter alia to activate the Court’s jurisdiction as of 17 July 2018.”

In another one of the six resolutions, the Assembly added three war crimes to the jurisdiction of the Court: 1.) employing microbial, biological or toxin weapons; 2.) employing weapons that injure by fragments undetectable by X-rays; 3.) and employing laser weapons.

Read the full announcement, and if you’d like to learn more or join our efforts to support the rulings of ICC and advance the development of international criminal law, please contact our office.

Our Recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council Regarding the Case of Saleh v. Bush

In February of 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit made a decision in the case of Saleh v. Bush, holding that high-ranking leaders from the Bush Administration--including George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and others--were protected from allegations that they had committed the crime of aggression and violated international treaties by invading Iraq in 2003. This case holds important implications for Just Atonement and its mission, and it also holds implications for the future of human rights legislation and the strength and legitimacy of international law.

Our short paper, available here, provides a background on the details of the case, followed by a list of official recommendations for the United Nations Human Rights Council. We submitted the paper earlier this year and these recommendations were included as an agenda item at the 36th session of the Human Rights Council, held in late September 2017.

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How did the Court Rule in Saleh v. Bush?

Despite evidence that the Bush Administration presented false evidence in order to generate support for the invasion of Iraq, and despite an apparent intent to overthrow the government of Iraq dating back to 1997, the Ninth Circuit found George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Paul Wolfowitz -- the named defendants -- immune from civil liability in the U.S., due to a federal law called Westfall Act.

The Westfall Act protects former government officials from civil lawsuits if their actions can be considered “official”, or taking place within the legitimate scope of their authority. The plaintiff, Sundus Shaker Saleh, an Iraqi single mother who had fled Iraq as a refugee, could not proceed with her claims since she could not identify any personal gain, financial or otherwise, linking the members of the administration to their actions while in office, no matter how heinous those actions may have been.

What are the Human Rights Implications of Saleh v. Bush?

1.       Unfortunately, the ruling shows a U.S. court giving precedence to domestic law over international law, part of an ongoing trend.

2.       The ruling reveals another trend as well: the movement of U.S. courts to limit opportunities for redress available to victims of U.S. foreign policy. Federal courts appear to be closing their doors to victims of international crimes conducted by U.S. officials.

3.       This ruling may weaken the strength of the Nuremberg Judgement and release the United States from international norms and laws regarding acts of aggression.

In light of these implications, we’ve submitted a list of specific recommendations to the Human Rights Council.  Feel free to review the list here.