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Friday, July 13, 2012

With Lubanga, ICC Leaves Room at the Top

The ICC just released its first sentencing judgment, giving Lubanga 14 years in prison.  Minus the six years for time already served, he will be released in eight years -- if not sooner.

The Chamber clearly rejected the sentencing approach used by the Sierra Leone tribunal in the Charles Taylor case.  In that decision, the SCSL convicted Taylor as a mere accomplice, but then on sentencing dropped the analysis of his derivative liability and instead referenced his status as a head of state, in command of his own forces, causing regional instability, etc., and for that reason decided to give him a sentence of 50 years in prison.

My reaction to the decision?  As I have called it before, this is clearly a case of “leaving room at the top” in a hypothetical sentencing hierarchy.  Although often branded a warlord, Lubanga was charged with the procurement of child soldiers, and related offences, and was not vicariously charged with the many atrocities allegedly committed by these soldiers under his command.  Clearly, the ICC felt compelled to distinguish Lubanga’s culpability from other leadership-level defendants down the road who might be convicted of far more serious charges.

The ICC might have done something similar here: convict Lubanga of using child soldiers, but then look at the facts of the case to impose a sentence based on factual elements related to far more serious charges that the ICC Prosecutor might have pursued but decided not to.  The ICC might have used such an analysis to justify a longer sentence.  I am glad that they did not do this, because there is something fishy about resorting to factual elements that are so disconnected from the charges and modes of liability that served as the basis for the conviction.

On the other hand, I do wish the court had considered a longer sentence, but for completely different reasons.  As I have argued many times before, the necessity of giving Lubanga a shorter sentence depends mostly on the need to "reserve" space at the top of the sentencing hierarchy (say 50 years like for Taylor, or even life in prison) for individuals who might be convicted of more serious international crimes, under a misguided application of the principle of proportionality.  But if proportionality requires reducing the lower-level offenders to 14 years in prison, which quite frankly accords with a white-collar offense in the United States, then something has gone very wrong, because at that point the sentence of the lower-level offender is now disproportionately low when compared against the inherent gravity of the crime.   In my view, the court is implicitly engaging in a trade-off: maintain proportionality between multiple defendants and in so doing sacrifice the proportionality between Lubanga and the gravity of his crimes.

I would like to see a chamber at the ICC explicitly make the argument that such a trade-off is both legally and morally justified, as well as institutionally required.  I have not seen such an argument yet.


nguyenhuong said...

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