Latest News and Events

Movie About Guatemala’s First Female Chief Prosecutor

Claudia Paz y Paz

Claudia Paz y Paz

The documentary ‘Burden of Peace’ tells the impressive story of Claudia Paz y Paz, the first woman to lead the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Guatemala. The country that has been ravaged for years by a devastating civil war, in which nearly 200,000 Mayan Indians were systematically massacred, is today one of the most violent countries in the world. Claudia Paz y Paz starts a frontal attack against corruption, drug gangs and impunity and does what everyone had hitherto held to be impossible: she arrests former dictator Efraín Rios Montt on charges of genocide. His conviction becomes the first conviction for genocide in a national court in the world history.

Since her first year in office, Claudia Paz y Paz gave acces to filmmakers of Framewerk, Joey Boink and Sander Wirken. It resulted in an intimate glimpse into the life of a woman who wants to change her country and therefore brings immense sacrifices.

For more information about the movie, including the trailer, click here.

Latest Newsletter of the Human Rights Review Panel

HRRPThe Human Rights Review Panel (HRRP) has issued its Twelfth newsletter. The newsletter comprises a detailed analysis of the Panel’s decisions over the past four months.

The newsletter also highlights the meetings that the HRRP held with officials and international organisations. The Panel met with the new Head of EULEX Press and Public Information Office (PPIO) to discuss future co-operation between the PPIO and the Panel in awareness raising and an outreach campaign in the media.

The Panel also met the Deputy Head of EULEX Executive Division and the Head of Executive Police, as well as the EULEX Executive Police command. The participants discussed human rights issues and challenges the EULEX Police officers face in their everyday work. They also considered the Panel’s case-law which can be relevant and helpful to the work of the EULEX Police.

The HRRP’s mandate is to review alleged human rights violations by the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) in the conduct of its executive mandate. The Panel will look into whether a violation of human rights occurred or not and formulate recommendations for remedial action.

iLawyer Dr. Guénaël Mettraux is a member of the Panel.

ICC Deputy Prosecutor Explains Role of the ICC in Colombia

International Criminal Court

The International Criminal Court

Deputy Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Mr. James Stewart, spoke at a conference on “Transitional Justice in Colombia and the Role of the International Criminal Court” held in Colombia last week. He noted that the role of the Court had not been without some public controversy and that it was time to put that role into its proper perspective.

The Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) opened a preliminary examination of the situation in Colombia in 2004, which is on-going, but to date it has not proceeded with an investigation.

Mr. Stewart highlighted that a situation of transitional justice, as exists in Colombia, only engages the mandate of the ICC Prosecutor, if the authorities of the State concerned are not themselves conducting genuine proceedings for such crimes, i.e. if they are unable or unwilling to act.

Up to and including June 2013, the OTP has received 141 communications under Article 15 in relation to the situation in Colombia. 94 of these are currently analysed in the context of preliminary examination.

In November 2012, the OTP published an interim report summarising the findings of the preliminary examination into Colombia. According to this report, there was a reasonable basis to believe that crimes against humanity were committed by various parties to the conflict. It was also suggested that various groups may have been responsible for committing war crimes. Continue reading

ICC Acquitted Defendant Ngudjolo Deported to the DRC

Mathieu Ngudjolo

Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui ©ANP

Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, the first defendant to be acquitted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) has been deported to Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), on Monday 11 May. Media confirmed that Ngudjolo arrived back in the DRC on Monday evening where he was escorted by five European police officers before leaving the Kinshasa airport surrounded by friends and family.

In a secret video, shared online last week, Ngudjolo spoke out about death threats and his concerns about being killed or receiving the death penalty when expelled to the DRC. He fears his live is in danger in the DRC as he has made incriminating statements about the current leaders of the country during his trial at the ICC.

Human Rights Watch also expressed concern about Ngudjolo’s return and said that “we and others will be looking to the Congolese authorities to ensure Mathieu Ngudjolo’s safety and security once he is back in Congo”.

The 44-year-old former leader of the Nationalist Integrationlist Front (FNI) militia was acquitted of the charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity by Trial Chamber II of the ICC on 18 December 2012, who ordered his immediate release. Straight after his acquittal he applied for asylum in the Netherlands which was denied by the Dutch authorities, but he was allowed to stay in the Netherlands pending his appeal.

On 27 February 2015, the ICC Appeal Chamber confirmed the decision of the Trial Chamber acquitting Ngudjolo Chui of charges of crimes against humanity, putting a final end to the trial that had started in 2009. After the ruling, the Dutch authorities immediately arrested Ngudjolo and transferred him to Schiphol airport to return him to the DRC that same day. His lawyer filed a new asylum claim at the last minute, and Ngudjolo was escorted off the aircraft. The new claim was rejected a few days later.

Unconfirmed sources say that after his arrival in Kinshasa yesterday, Ngudjolo subsequently fled to an unknown destination. According to the president of the Congolese Association for access to justice (l’Association congolaise pour l’accès à la justice), who is also Ngudjolo’s lawyer, he has currently no information about the whereabouts of his client.

Book Launch: Arabic Translation of Antonio Cassese’s International Criminal Law

Antonio Cassese International Criminal LawOn 20 May 2015, the Arabic translation of Antonio Cassese’s International Criminal Law will be officially launched in Beirut.

The book International Criminal Law is one of the most popular textbooks available in the field and provides a concise introduction to both international criminal law and international criminal procedure.

During the launch event, organised by the Embassy of Switzerland in Lebanon and Sader Legal Publishing, in cooperation with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, distinguished speakers, including  H.E. Ashraf Rifi, Minister of Justice of the Republic of Lebanon and H.E. Francois Barras, Ambassador of Switzerland to Lebanon, will make remarks on the relevance of International Criminal Law for Lebanon and the MENA region.

This will be followed by a panel discussion, during which Christopher Gosnell, lawyer and co-reviser of International Criminal Law, will speak about the content and the relevance for academia and other professionals of the book.

Olga Kavran, head of Outreach and Legacy at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, will elaborate on the impact of the STL on the development of international criminal law and on Lebanon.

Judge Mohammad Amin El Mahdi, former Minister and current Head of the Supreme Administrative Court and Conseil d’Etat in Egypt, will tell the audience about the importance of international criminal law and its relevance in the MENA region.

And Dr. Camille Habib, dean of the Faculty of Law at the Lebanese University, will emphasise the importance of educating Lebanese students in international criminal law.

Antonio Cassese is among the most distinguished figures in international law and international criminal justice. He was the first President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the Special Court for Lebanon, offered constructive suggestions on the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the International Criminal Court and actively contributed to the development of international criminal law, amongst others by his book International Criminal Law (2008).

The event will take place at the Maison de l’Avocat in Beirut, from 4-6pm and will be followed by a reception.

Latest Analysis

Letpadaung Convictions Taint the Legal System in Myanmar

by Vani Sathisan, International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) International Legal Adviser, and Hayman Oo, ICJ Legal researcher, in Yangon

Letpadaung Copper Mine

Letpadaung Copper Mine, Myanmar

“They can imprison my body, but never my mind,” U Nay Myo Zin told us when we asked him whether he expected to be released, right before police led him into the Dagon Township courtroom for the verdict last week. The Court was teeming with police guards and supporters of the accused chanted slogans at the police, “not to kowtow to the military government” and that “the legal system lacks principle.” U Nay Myo Zin then added, “I will never surrender.”

He was one of the six human rights activists, besides Daw Naw Ohn Hla, Daw Sein Htwe, Ko Tin Htut Paing, Daw San San Win and U Than Swe, who were sentenced to four years and four months in prison with hard labour.

Their conviction, after a trial that didn’t meet basic standards of fairness and due process, highlights the tremendous pressure on the country’s judiciary at a time when Myanmar desperately needs to show improvements in the rule of law. Continue reading

Whistleblower Protection at the UN: Reasons for Despair or Hope?

By Rishi Gulati*

[The author has had no involvement in the cases mentioned below; this entry should not be construed as legal advice in any way or form whatsoever]

Anders Kompass United Nations

Anders Kompass, the director of field operations for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

In a recent article in the Guardian, it was disclosed that French authorities thanked a senior UN official, Mr Anders Kompass for disclosing sexual abuse by French troops. That article says in part:

Sources close to the case say Kompass, director of field operations for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva, disclosed the report to the French because of the UN’s failure to act quickly to stop the abuse identified in its own internal report.

Hinting that the allegations represented just a fraction of what had taken place, a UN spokesman said on Friday: “It is possible, it’s horribly possible” that more allegations of sexual abuse of children by French and other soldiers in the Central African Republic could come to light.

The same report says that: “The official, Anders Kompass, has been suspended by the UN and faces dismissal for what the organisation says is a “breach of protocols” in releasing a confidential internal UN document.” I will return to the Kompass case shortly. But before that, some points on the UN whistleblower protection system, or the lack of it.

Problems facing whistleblower protection at the UN

The internal rules of the UN contain several layers, one of these layers is known as the Secretary-General Bulletins. These possess binding force. Under the Secretary-General’s Bulletin on protection against retaliation (ST/SGB/2005/21) the UN Ethics Office protects staff from being punished for reporting misconduct or for cooperating with an official audit or investigation – commonly known as “whistleblower protection.”

But are whistleblowers rights at the UN actually protected? There are some very disturbing findings. Continue reading

Can International Law Change the World?

By Shehzad Charania

International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice

This week, at the Residence of the British Ambassador to the Netherlands, Ambassador Sir Geoffrey Adams opened the British Embassy Annual Lecture Series on International Law.  The guest speaker for the Inaugural Lecture was Judge Sir Christopher Greenwood of the International Court of Justice.

Ambassador Adams explained that the lecture marked the occasion of the Global Law Summit, which took place this week in London, as well the year in which we commemorate 800 years since the signing of the Magna Carta of 1215.

Judge Greenwood’s lecture was entitled “Can International Law Change the World?”.  He began by referring back to the Magna Carta itself.  He explained that Magna Carta had changed “a world”: the law of England, albeit slowly and tentatively.  It established equality before the law; in particular, that even the King was subject to the law; and that justice was not to be sold or denied to anyone.  These principles form the foundation of the rule of law.

So could international law change the world in a similar way, Judge Greenwood asked.  He used as his point of reference the First and Second Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907.  The inspiration for those conferences had been a belief that international law could indeed change the world.  Specifically, the hope was that these conferences would legislate on the way war was conducted, including the reductions of certain armaments and prohibition of others, and set up an international court, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which would enable States to settle their differences by law rather than war. Continue reading

Is the International Community Abandoning the Fight Against Impunity?

by David Tolbert*

Court HammerTwenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and more than a decade after the establishment of the International Criminal Court, shockingly little is being done to stop massive human rights abuses. The prospects of victims receiving justice, let alone bringing perpetrators to account, seem ever more remote.

In recent days, we have witnessed horrific atrocities by Boko Haram, with only a limited response by the international community. The bloody handiwork of ISIL is grabbing headlines, and there seems to be no coherent strategy to address its barbarity. In Syria conflict rages, with untold civilian casualties as a divided UN Security Council sits on the sidelines. Gaza is struggling to recover after its umpteenth destruction. Eastern Ukraine is rocked by daily attacks on civilian targets, and very few seem to remember the downing of a civilian airplane there, in which 295 people died. This somber list could go on and on.

In my view, the response by the international community to these horrors is one primarily of lip service and well-worn shibboleths. Indeed, powerful states often seem to be casting support to whichever group of killers best suits their interests, with only faint rhetorical nods to human rights.

This is not only a professional reaction to these disturbing trends; it is also born of deep personal concerns and experiences. I joined the United Nations in 1993 to work on issues in Palestine and started my new job on the very day the Oslo Accords were signed, marveling at both the apparent breakthrough and my seeming good fortune to be part of an era of peace building. Several years later I joined the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and later sat across a jail cell desk from one of the principal architects of the Balkan tragedy, Slobodan Milosevic, whose prevarications were then being made from behind bars, far from the halls of power. In 1998, I was in Rome for negotiations on the International Criminal Court; I was both awed by the apparent flowering of international justice and a bit nervous that the world perhaps did not understand fully the implications of such a groundbreaking step. Continue reading

Palestine’s ICC Accession: Risks and Rewards

By Dr Miša Zgonec-Rožej

Handout picture showing Abbas signing international agreements in the West Bank city of Ramallah

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signs 20 international treaties, including the Rome Statute of the ICC, in Ramallah on 31 December 2014

On 6 January, the UN secretary-general confirmed that Palestine will accede to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Palestine’s accession has, unsurprisingly, prompted certain countries – including Israel, the US and a number of European states – to warn of potentially grave consequences. It is certainly a risky venture for Palestine given political tensions in the region, but it may deter future war crimes in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and marks another step towards statehood for Palestine.

Palestine’s accession will confer jurisdiction on the Court in relation to crimes committed within the territory claimed by Palestine. Although Israel has not ratified the Rome Statute, crimes allegedly committed by Israeli nationals in the territory claimed by Palestine will fall within the ICC’s jurisdiction. The ICC will also have jurisdiction over crimes committed by Palestinians outside the territory claimed by Palestine, including in Israel. Crimes falling within the ICC jurisdiction are limited to genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. But the accession can only confer on the Court jurisdiction over crimes committed after the Rome Statute enters into force for Palestine on 1 April. And until the borders of Palestinian territory are clearly defined and the status of occupied territories resolved, the ICC’s territorial jurisdiction will remain contentious.

In order to bring past crimes within the ICC’s jurisdiction, Palestine, on 1 January, lodged a declaration under Article 12(3) of the Rome Statute, retroactively accepting the Court’s jurisdiction. Although in principle such declarations can extend to crimes committed after 1 July 2002, when the Rome Statute entered into force, Palestine decided to limit it to crimes committed since 13 June 2014. The declaration, if accepted by the ICC, would therefore bring into the ICC’s jurisdiction last summer’s conflict in Gaza but not earlier military operations. Continue reading