Latest News and Events

ICC: Bemba sentenced to 18 years in prison

160621-bemba-sentence-10-1Trial Chamber III of the International Criminal Court (ICC) today sentenced Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo to 18 years’ imprisonment for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Central African Republic in 2002-2003.

In March the Chamber had found the former vice-president of the DRC guilty beyond reasonable doubt for the crimes of murder, rape and pillaging committed by militiamen under Bemba’s command.

For the crimes of rape the Chamber imposed 18 years of imprisonment while 16 years of imprisonment were imposed for the crimes of murder and pillaging. However, the Chamber decided that the sentences imposed shall run concurrently. Continue reading

Lecture: The International Criminal Court at the Mercy of Powerful States

asser-logoDate: 29 June 2016, at 7 pm

Venue: T.M.C. Asser Instituut, R.J. Schimmelpennincklaan 20-22, The Hague, Netherlands

T.M.C. Asser Instituut, the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC) and the Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies of Leiden University organize a lecture on “The International Criminal Court at the Mercy of Powerful States: How the Rome Statute Promotes Legal Neo-Colonialism” with speaker Dr Res Schuerch, from the University of Amsterdam and University of Zürich.

Supranational Criminal Law Lectures are public and free of charge. Registration is not necessary, seats are available on a first-come-first-served basis.

Former Auschwitz Guard Convicted

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Mr. Reinhold Hanning at his trial ©AFP/Getty Images

Today, the Detmold Court in Germany sentenced Mr. Reinhold Hanning to five years in jail for his former role as a guard at Auschwitz from 1942 to 1944. The 94-year-old was found guilty of being an accessory to the murder of at least 170,000 people. Mr. Hannig had acnkowledged that he knew what was happening in the camp but that he did nothing to stop it.

During the trial, about a dozen Auschwitz survivors testified. Mr. Hanning told the court “I am ashamed that I saw injustice and never did anything about it and I apologise for my actions. I am very, very sorry.”

Until 2011, German prosecutors were required to provide evidence that defendants were directly involved in the killings. That changed with the conviction of John Demjanjuk, when a judge concluded that his activities as a camp worker in Nazi-occupied Poland amounted to complicity in mass murder.

Commission on Syria: ISIS Committing Genocide Against the Yazidis

The UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic has today released a report establishing that the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) is committing genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes against Yazidis. The report entitled “They Came to Destroy: ISIS Crimes Against the Yazidis” focuses on violations committed against Yazidis inside Syria, where thousands of women and girls are still being held captive and abused, often as slaves.

Yazidi women in a refugee camp, August 2014

Yazidi women in a refugee camp, August 2014

“Genocide has occurred and is ongoing”, emphasised Paulo Pinheiro, Chair of the Commission. “ISIS has subjected every Yazidi woman, child or man that it has captured to the most horrific of atrocities.” ISIS sought – and continues to seek – to destroy the Yazidis in multiple ways, as envisaged by the 1948 Genocide Convention. “ISIS has sought to erase the Yazidis through killings; sexual slavery, enslavement, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment and forcible transfer causing serious bodily and mental harm; the infliction of conditions of life that bring about a slow death; the imposition of measures to prevent Yazidi children from being born, including forced conversion of adults, the separation of Yazidi men and women, and mental trauma; and the transfer of Yazidi children from their own families and placing them with ISIS fighters, thereby cutting them off from beliefs and practices of their own religious community”, the report says. Continue reading

UNESCO and ICC Join Forces to End Impunity for Destruction of Cultural Heritage

Tumbuktu Mausoleum Ruins

The ruins of a Mausoleum in Tumbuktu

Today, the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova, met with the President of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Silvia Fernandez de Gurmandi, and Deputy Prosecutor James Stewart, to explore ways to deepen cooperation on the protection of cultural heritage and the fight against impunity of war crimes.

“UNESCO and ICC have come a long way together, to strengthen the rule of law, to change the mindset about the destruction of cultural heritage, and we are determined to go further, to end impunity for deliberate destruction of cultural heritage,” said Ms. Bokova.

Immediately after the attacks on the people and heritage of Mali, UNESCO raised the issue of the destruction of the mausoleums to the attention of the Court.

On 1 July, 2012, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda declared that this destruction constituted a war crime under the Rome Statute and then launched a preliminary examination into the violence that had been engulfing the country since January 2012.

The first suspect, Ahmed al-Faqi al-Mahdi, was transferred by the authorities of Mali and Niger to The Hague on 26 September 2015. His trial is scheduled to start on 22 August 2016.

The case of Mali made history in the fight against impunity – recognizing the restoration of justice and the rule of law as an essential step of any recovery process. This sets a historic precedent for similar cases in the future.

In this spirit, UNESCO and the ICC are sharing expertise and information about the importance of the sites, about why they were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, and the reason why their deliberate destruction can be considered a war crime.

Latest Analysis

Authorities and Courts Complicit in Eroding Rule of Law in Kachin State

by Vani Sathisan and Sean Bain*

“The scale and severity of human rights violations in Kachin State is one of the worst in Myanmar,” a lawyer told the International Commission of Jurists during a meeting in Myitkyina last month.

Myitsone Kachin State

Visitors walk along the riverbank at the Myitsone in Kachin State in December 2015. (Wa Lone / The Myanmar Times)

Illegal large-scale land grabbing, harassment of landowners by government and business officials, and a lack of access to justice were the central complaints heard by the ICJ during the discussions with human rights defenders and civil society groups in Kachin State.

Senior state-level judicial officials signalled increased readiness to discuss ways to improve the effectiveness and independence of the courts. Yet meaningful reform also requires revising laws to bring them in line with international human rights standards, respecting judicial independence by government officials, and securing corporate legal compliance through consistent application of the law and access to fair and effective judicial review.

The conflict in Kachin State and northern Shan State, where over 100,000 people remain displaced since fighting between the government and ethnic armed groups re-started in 2011, is partly fuelled by the abundant natural resources.

Eighty percent of Myanmar’s mining operations are located in Kachin State and neighbouring Sagaing Region. Timber, rubies and gold are plentiful. A report by international watchdog Global Witness estimated the value of illegal jade mining at around US$31 billion in 2014 alone. Yet hazardous mining practises are rampant while law enforcement is haphazard. Continue reading

Myanmar: New Government Inherits Problems and Promise of Special Economic Zones

By Vani Sathisan (International Legal Advisor, International Commission of Jurists) and Bobbie Sta. Maria (Senior Researcher for Southeast Asia, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre)

Myanmar Special Economic ZoneWhile SEZs are supposed to be a driver for Myanmar’s economic growth, their impacts on the rights of affected communities indicate that this growth is reserved for businesses and investors.

This is a long form version of this article published by Reuters on 1st April 2016.

More than half a century of military rule ostensibly comes to a close on April 1, when Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) officially takes over Myanmar’s government and the first civilian President since 1962 starts leading the nation. Despite these extraordinary developments, daunting challenges remain in Asia’s second poorest country. Myanmar’s military still controls key governmental functions; the country is barely emerging from decades of civil conflicts; rule of law and institutions are weak; the economy is fragile and dominated by crony companies; corruption, and human rights abuses remain stubbornly persistent.

The outgoing government initiated a number of significant changes, including efforts to encourage economic development through foreign trade and investment. This strategy included heavily promoting foreign investment through three major special economic zones (SEZ): a Japanese supported zone focused on manufacturing in Thilawa, near Yangon; a Thai supported zone initially focused on heavy industry including petrochemicals in Dawei in the south; and a Chinese supported zone in Kyaukphyu in the northwest, envisioned as a trade corridor connecting the Chinese, Indian and ASEAN economies. These were said to build on Myanmar’s strategic location and low-cost production base for export destinations in the region.

The NLD recently announced that while it supports the zone in Thilawa, it will reconsider the continuation of the Dawei and Kyaukphyu SEZs, study commitments made by the former government to investors, and speak with relevant stakeholders. This is a crucial process and many hope that the NLD does not lose sight of its commitments in its Election Manifesto, including encouraging “foreign investment in line with the highest international standards”, and laying down “paths for economic cooperation that can bring sustainable long-term mutual benefits”. Continue reading

The Yugoslavia Tribunal also Engages in Debt Collection

by William A. Schabas*

ICTYAlongside yesterday’s very important judgment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was a rather more pathetic manifestation of the fight against impunity. While the judgment was being issued, Security officials of the Tribunal, with the apparent assistance of the Dutch police, arrested French journalist Florence Hartmann. She is now in detention at the Tribunal’s prison. For a photo of her arrest, look here.

Florence Hartmann served as press officer at the Tribunal about a decade ago, When she left, she published a memoir entitled Paix et châtiment. The book referred to decisions of the Tribunal’s Appeals Chamber that were supposed to have remained confidential. After being tried and convicted of contempt of court, she was sentenced to pay a €7,000 fine. When she failed to pay the fine, the Tribunal converted the sentence into one of seven days’ imprisonment. She now has six more days to go, that is, unless the Tribunal applies its policy of early release after service of two-thirds of the sentence.

All of the international tribunals have wasted a lot of resources on prosecuting so-called ‘offences against the administration of justice’. The time and money these matters have consumed could have been usefully devoted to more serious cases involving genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

It doesn’t have to be this way. In the early 1990s, the International Law Commission conceived of an international court that would not concern itself with issues like contempt of court, perjury and tampering with witnesses, leaving thus to the national courts. If Florence Hartmann, or the others, really committed an offence against the administration of justice, it would make a lot more sense for them to be dealt with by domestic justice systems. Continue reading

Myanmar: Rule of law depends on reform of Union Attorney General’s Office

By Daniel Aguirre and Vani Sathisan*

Recent political discussion in Myanmar revolves around the formation of a new government and selection of a president, but not enough attention is focused on the position of the attorney general, who holds a critical function in upholding rule of law and respect for human rights.

Students arrested in a police crackdown on their peaceful protests against the education law in March 2015 arrive for a court hearing on May 12, 2015. Lawyers and activists complain the trial is taking too long. Photo: Aung Myin Ye Zaw / The Myanmar Times

Students arrested in a police crackdown on their peaceful protests against the education law in March 2015 arrive for a court hearing on May 12, 2015. Lawyers and activists complain the trial is taking too long. Photo: Aung Myin Ye Zaw / The Myanmar Times

The attorney general is Myanmar’s most powerful legal officer: As a member of the executive, the AG provides legal advice to the President and the hluttaw, analyses international treaties, drafts and amends laws, and represents the government in judicial proceedings. The attorney general also directs the prosecutors’ office and ensures that cabinet actions are legally valid, in line with the constitution and international human rights law.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), international donors and development partners discussed the attorney general’s powerful role on the sidelines of the launch for the Union Attorney General Office’s (UAGO) Strategic Plan 2015-19 in Nay Pyi Taw last week. All expressed hope that the incoming National League for Democracy (NLD) government will appoint an attorney general committed to reform, the rule of law and human rights, in line with their election manifesto promise to ensure that executive and judicial systems support the rule of law. Continue reading

Japan’s Apology to South Korea Shows What Public Apologies Should (Not) Do

by DavildTolbert*

South Korea Comfort WomenJapan’s most recent and controversial apology to the government of South Korea for sexual slavery committed by its military against “comfort women” during WWII has raised important questions about apologies for crimes and serious human rights violations during armed conflict. What is the proper role of an apology for such massive crimes against humanity? What can apologies do and what should they not be meant to do for survivors and victims?

The latest Japanese apology, which some have seen as part of a strategic geopolitical deal struck between Japan and South Korea, has led to protests among the 46 surviving South Korean victims as well as the victims in other countries occupied by Japan during the war.

After working for 15 years on reparations for victims in over 50 countries, ICTJ has found that many victims feel that an apology unaccompanied by other forms of reparation does not constitute justice, even as material reparations, such as compensation, without a meaningful acknowledgement of responsibility also falls short.

An estimated 200,000 women in Asia were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army just prior to and during World War II. Japan systematically established an extensive network of “comfort stations” throughout its occupied territories, to which “comfort women” were trafficked and used as sexual slaves. Many of these “comfort women” were barely teenagers when they were enslaved and the surviving few are now of very advanced age and dwindling in numbers. Continue reading