The Dangers of Membership: Participation as an Offense and Liability of Group Leaders

By van Rensburg, Kate Janse | Houston Journal of International Law, Winter 2013 | Go to article overview

The Dangers of Membership: Participation as an Offense and Liability of Group Leaders


van Rensburg, Kate Janse, Houston Journal of International Law


I.   INTRODUCTION

II.  THE ORIGIN OF CRIMINAL MEMBERSHIP AND GROUP
     LIABILITY UNDER INTERNATIONAL LAW

III. THE CASES INVOLVED IN THIS INQUIRY
     A. Afri-Forum v. Malema
     B. United States v. Al Bahlul
     C. Victims' Communication Pursuant to Article 15 of
        the Rome Statute Requesting Investigation and
        Prosecution of High-level Vatican Officials for
        Rape and Other Forms of Sexual Violence as
        Crimes Against Humanity and Torture as a Crime
        Against Humanity

 IV. INTERNATIONAL LAWS GOVERNING CRIMINAL
     MEMBERSHIP AND GROUP LIABILITY
     A. The International Covenant on Civil and Political
        Rights
     B. International Convention on the Elimination of All
        Forms of Racial Discrimination
     C. Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court
     D. The Charter of the International Military Tribunal
        at Nuremburg (London Charter) and the Trials of
        Major War Criminals Before the International
        Military Tribunal

V.   DEFINING CRIMINAL MEMBERSHIP AND THE EXTENT OF
     ITS APPLICATION THROUGH THE CHAIN OF POWER
     A. Distinguishing Criminal and Non-Criminal
        Groups
     B. Difficulties in Defining What Constitutes
        "Membership"

VI.  LIABILITY WITHIN CRIMINAL AND NON-CRIMINAL
     GROUPS AND ACTIONS SUFFICIENT TO CHANGE THE
     STATUS OF A GROUP
     A. Liability for Membership in a Criminal Group
     B. Liability for Membership in a Non-Criminal
        Group Whose Leader Is Guilty of Criminal Acts
        that May Be Imputed to Members of the Group
     C. Liability of a Leader of a Non-Criminal Group for
        the Acts of His Subordinates

VII. CONCLUSION

I. INTRODUCTION

On September 9, 2011, the United States Court of Military Commission Review decided United States v. Al Bahlul, recognizing conspiracy and "criminal membership" as war crimes for the first time in the United States. (1) The court held that "joining al Qaeda was punishable by military commission as an offense against the law of armed conflict when committed." (2) This decision has broad implications for the prosecution of terrorism in the United States, and raises the question of what constitutes "criminal membership."

Julius Malema, the leader of the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League in South Africa, was convicted under South Africa's "Equality Act" on September 12, 2011, of a hate crime for leading the singing of "Shoot the Boer" at ANC rallies. (3) This is his second conviction for hate speech. (4) As South Africa is a party to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), (5) his conviction presents potential legal issues for the ANC, as CERD demands nations "prohibit organizations ... which promote and incite racial discrimination, and ... recognize participation in such organizations or activities as an offense punishable by law." (6) Because of his position as leader of the ANC Youth League, Malema may have exposed himself to broader liability under the provisions of CERD and South African law. His actions and conviction may potentially suffice to establish a functional purpose, if not an explicit purpose, for the group to be considered racially discriminatory, and if so, his actions and conviction may be imputed to the ANC as a whole. He may be potentially complicit in the ongoing violence in South Africa toward Afrikaner landowners. (7)

On September 13, 2011, the advocacy group the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court demanding an investigation of the Pope and other high Vatican officials for apparent complicity in covering up sexual abuse by priests worldwide. (8) The complaint alleged:

   [H]igh-level Vatican officials, including Cardinal Joseph
   Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, either knew and/or
   in some cases consciously disregarded information that
   showed subordinates were committing or about to
   commit such crimes. 

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