International Criminal Law – A month in review – July 2017

14 August 2017

A summary of the significant International Criminal Law developments in July, from around the world.

Azerbaijan: Alleged war crimes during 2016 Armenian War

As of 25 July 2017, over 350 lawsuits have been filed with the European Court of Human Rights by Armenians against Azerbaijan, following the four day war of April 2016. The allegations relate to the beheading of soldiers and various human rights violations in Nagorno-Karabakh last year.

El Salvador: Arrest warrants for war crimes following annulment of amnesty law

Following the annulment of the 1993 amnesty law guaranteeing impunity for perpetrators of civil war crimes in El Salvador last year, arrest warrants have been issued for three former guerrilla fighters relating to the deaths of two American soldiers in the 1979-1992 civil war. The warrants come amid pressure from victims for the government to pursue perpetrators of war crimes.

Mexico: Communication submitted to the ICC regarding crimes against humanity in Coahuila  

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and several Mexican organisations have submitted a joint report to the Prosecutor of the ICC requesting the examination of crimes carried out in the Mexican state of Coahuila between 2009 and 2016. The alleged offences consist of over 500 cases of arbitrary detention, torture and enforced disappearance as part of attacks against the population of Coahuila.

Poland: Extradition request for Nazi war crimes suspect living in the USA

Polish special prosecutors have filed a request for the extradition of Michael Karkoc living in Minnesota, USA, accused of Nazi war crimes. Karkoc, who is 98 years old, is alleged to have been the commander of a Nazi unit who burnt Polish villages and killed civilians in Second World War. This is the second attempt to extradite Karkoc: in 2015, German prosecutors accepted that Karkoc was unfit to stand trial and dropped their extradition request.

Serbia: Collapse of Srebrenica massacre trial

A landmark trial against eight former Bosnian Serb police officers accused of participating in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, dubbed Europe’s worst single atrocity since World War II, has been halted. The court dismissed the charges on the basis that they had not been filed by the authorised prosecutor. As a result, the case will start again from scratch.

UK/Saudi Arabia: Ruling on provision of British arms to Saudi Arabia

On 10 July 2017, the High Court of England and Wales determined that the Government was not acting unlawfully by failing to suspend the sale of UK arms to Saudi Arabia. The applicant, Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) claimed that the Secretary of State’s decision to permit the exportation of arms was contributing to war crimes committed by the Saudi coalition forces in Yemen. The judges relied on secret evidence, which was not made available for the public due to national security reasons, to support the government’s decision to neither suspend nor cancel the exportation of arms to Saudi Arabia.

See our blog here.

South Africa: International law breached as SA fails to carry out arrest

On 6 July 2017 the International Criminal Court held that South Africa had breached international law by failing to arrest Omar al-Bashir, the president of Sudan, when he visited the country in 2015.The ICC had issued a warrant for genocide and war crimes committed in Darfur. South Africa’s defence that al-Bashir was immune from arrest as a head of state leading his country’s delegation in an African Union meeting was rejected. Nonetheless there is no proposition of international sanction.

Spain: Court imposes universal jurisdiction limitations

Support of universal jurisdiction in Spain has wavered, with the High Court ruling that an investigation into torture and terrorism against the Syrian government which was given the go ahead by a Spanish court in March should be halted. Formerly ‘a pioneer of “universal jurisdiction”’, Spain’s conservative government has curbed relevant powers, requiring a Spanish connection to proceed in such complaints.

UK/Iraq: High Court ruling on ‘crimes of aggression’ over Iraq war

The England & Wales High Court has rejected an attempt to privately prosecute Tony Blair for his involvement in the Iraq War in 2003. The applicant, former Iraqi General Abdul Wahed Shannan al-Rabbat sought a prosecution for ‘crimes of aggression.’ The judges noted that the crime of aggression is not a recognised offence in England and Wales. Whilst it had been recently incorporated into international law it did not apply retroactively. Rabbat argued that due to a one-year statute of limitation on crimes of aggression this case could not be tried at the ICC. Following this ruling it cannot be pursued in English courts either.

USA: Rumours the Office of Global Criminal Justice is set to close

Reports suggest that the US administration is planning on closing the US State Department Office of Global Criminal Justice. The speculation has caused concern that this move could lead to a regress in international accountability. Commentators have blamed the potential closure on the Trump administration’s prioritisation of economic and military interests over the protection of human rights.


Co-authored by Rosie Gibson, Paralegal.

You can find out more about the Criminal Law team's work relating to International Criminal Law here. 

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