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International Court of Justice
Arrest Warrant of 11 April 2000
(Democratic Republic of the Congo v. Belgium)

A dispute arose between the Democratic Republic of Congo (“DRC”; formerly Zaire) and Belgium when, on April 11, 2000, Judge Damien Vandermeersch of the Brussels court of first instance issued an international arrest warrant for the detention of Mr. Abdulaye Yerodia Ndombasi (“Yerodia”), who at that time was the DRC Minister for Foreign Affairs. In the United States, we call this position U.S. Secretary of State, currently Colin Powell. The warrant accused Yerodia of having committed grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and crimes against humanity by making speeches in August 1998 that allegedly incited the massacre of Tutsi residents of Kinshasa. This occurred before Yerodia became Minister for Foreign Affairs.

The arrest warrant was issued under a Belgian law that establishes its universal applicability and the universal jurisdiction of the Belgian courts in relation to alleged grave violations of international humanitarian law regardless of where they were committed, the presence of the accused in Belgium, or the nationality or legal status of either the victim/complainant or the accused. In the case this is referred to as universal jurisdiction “in absentia,” referring to the fact that the person accused can be charged even if he’s not physically present.

The Belgian Law does not recognize any immunities that defendants might enjoy due to their "official capacity." In this case, it was uncontested that (i) the arrest warrant referred to acts committed outside of Belgium; (ii) Yerodia was the DRC Foreign Minister at the time the warrant was issued; (iii) the accused was neither Belgian nor had he been present in Belgium when the warrant was issued; and (iv) no Belgian national was a direct victim of the alleged crimes. After November 2001, Yerodia ceased being the DRC Foreign Minister. At the time of the judgment, he no longer held any ministerial office.
On October 17, 2000, the DRC instituted proceedings against Belgium before the International Court of Justice based on their declarations accepting the Court’s compulsory jurisdiction and requested the Court to declare that Belgium must annul the arrest warrant issued against Yerodia, because it violates the principle of sovereign equality among States. The International Court of Justice is commonly referred to as the ICJ or the World Court. It is located in The Hague, The Netherlands.

Briefs filed by parties to cases in the ICJ are referred to as “Memorials.” We have provided here substantial excerpts from both the Memorial of the DRC and the Counter-Memorial of Belgium. All footnotes and annexes have been deleted. We have also tried to catch all instances where French quotations were used and either delete them or replace them with a rough English translation. Those translations appear in brackets. One Latin phrase that you will encounter is jus cogens. This refers to international laws that are so fundamental that countries can’t even enter into treaties that might vary from them. Scholars argue about what comes under this term but seem to agree at least that piracy, slavery and genocide (attacks on an identifiable group with the intent to destroy it) are all examples of jus cogens.

You will see references in these memorials to several international courts. Here is a brief description of each:

International Court of Justice (“ICJ” or “World Court”)--established under the Charter of the United Nations, it can only hear cases between two countries. In other words, it could not prosecute a person for a violation of international law.

International Military Tribunal of Nuremberg--established at the end of World War II to prosecute Germans for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (“ICTY”)—established by the United Nations Security Council in 1993 to prosecute persons committing war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in the territory of the former Yugoslavia since 1991. This is the tribunal where Milosevic, the former President of Yugoslavia, is currently being tried. It is located in The Hague, The Netherlands.

International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (“ICTR”)-- established by the United Nations Security Council in 1994 to prosecute persons committing war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in the territory of Rwanda during 1994. it is located in Arusha.

International Criminal Court (“ICC”)—In the summer of 1998 a treaty was concluded to establish this new international court that could try individuals for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide and, in the future, for aggression. It is now being established in The Hague. Unlike the ICTY and ICTR, it is not limited to specific events and will be a permanent court rather than existing only until the cases are tried, as is the case with ICTY and ICTR.

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