Prosecutions of Syrian War Crimes

A man inspects a damaged house after an airstrike on al-Yadouda village, in Deraa Governorate, Syria February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Faqir

A man inspects a damaged house after an airstrike on al-Yadouda village, in Deraa Governorate, Syria February 15, 2017. ©REUTERS

On Thursday, the United Nations announced that a new body is being set up to prepare prosecutions of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is due to name a judge or prosecutor as its head this month.

While the independent panel, which is officially called the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Those Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in [Syria] since March 2011, is not able to prosecute individuals itself, it will collect and preserve evidence and prepare files for future prosecutions which states or international courts can use.

In December, the UN General Assembly voted to establish the mechanism. The United Nations aims to recruit 40-60 experts in investigations, prosecutions, the military, and forensics.

A UN Commission of Inquiry has already been collecting evidence since 2011. It has issued 20 reports accusing the Assad government, rebel forces and Islamic State of mass killings, rapes, disappearances and recruiting child soldiers.

Also on Thursday in a landmark ruling, a Swedish Court sentenced a Syrian man to life imprisonment for violating international humanitarian law through his participation in the execution style-murder of seven men in Syria in 2012. Under Swedish law, courts can try Swedish citizens as well as other nationals for crimes committed abroad.

Other European countries have similarly started investigations and prosecutions against people accused of committing serious crimes in Syria. The cases are based on the principle of universal jurisdiction and are possible because of the arrival in Europe of both victims and suspects as refugees.

Amnesty International reported last week the Syrian government executed up to 13,000 prisoners in mass hangings and carried out systematic torture at a military jail.

Myanmar: UN Report Condemns Human Rights Violations against Muslim Minority

Rohingya Village

Rohingya Village in Myanmar

On Friday, a new UN report has accused Myanmar’s security forces of waging a brutal campaign of murder, rape and torture in the Rakhine State against Rohingya Muslims, a stateless minority not recognized by Myanmar.

The report, compiled after interviews with more than 200 Rohingya refugees who fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh, also cites consistent testimony indicating that hundreds of Rohingya houses, schools, markets, shops, madrasas and mosques were burned by the army, police and sometimes civilian mobs.

Witnesses also described the destruction of food and food sources, including paddy fields, and the confiscation of livestock.

While discrimination against the Rohingyas has been endemic for decades in the Rakhine State, the recent level of violence is unprecedented, says the report.

The testimonies, gathered by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, indicate that the attacks against the Rohingya villages make it impossible for them to live in their villages, thereby creating a coercive environment amounting to forced displacement.

The information also demonstrates that the victims were targeted based on their belonging to a particular ethnicity and religion.

Many victims mentioned that soldiers and officers taunted them by saying that Islam is not the religion of Myanmar; that Rohingyas are Muslim Bengalis; and that Rohingyas would be eliminated from Myanmar.

The report says that the attacks against the Rohingya population in the area seem to have been widespread as well as systematic, indicating the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.

An estimated 65,000 members of the Muslim minority community have fled to Bangladesh since violence broke out in Myanmar last October.

As History Restarts, Five Strategies for International Human Rights Organisations

With liberalism facing its greatest test since the end of the Cold War, international human rights organisations need to adapt to survive.

By Rupert Abbott, Daniel Eyre, Jenna Holliday and Ou Virak*

berlin-wall

A fragment of the Berlin Wall

With wars raging across the world, from Syria to Nigeria, the corresponding refugee crisis, shrinking space for civil society, and the rise of right-wing populism, 2016 was annus horribilis for human rights.

Behind this deteriorating situation are a number of trends, which suggest not only that worse may be yet to come but also amount to an existential crisis for the international human rights movement.

Human rights international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) recognise that new challenges call for new responses. We join others in identifying strategies that will be crucial to defending rights in a changing world.

The end of history

The fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 signaled the end of the Cold War and ushered in an era of optimism for liberal democracy, with respect for human rights – particularly civil and political rights – as one of its cornerstones.

That year, Francis Fukuyama asked in his seminal essay whether the world was at the “End of History?”

With the defeat of fascism in the middle of the 20th century, and the collapse of communism towards its end, Fukuyama described the “unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism … the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy …”

The years that followed were a heyday for liberal internationalism, with the foreign policies of liberal democracies – led by the US – guided by the aim of enlarging the “community of market democracies”, and, with this, their dominance. Continue reading

Germany Sued for Genocide against Herero and Nama People of Namibia

battle-between-herero-warriors-and-german-colonials

Detail of Battle Between Herero Warriors and German Colonials, February 1904.

Descendants of the Herero and Nama people of Namibia have sued Germany for damages in the United States for a campaign of genocide by German colonial troops in the early 1900s, which led to more than 100,000 deaths.

According to the complaint filed with a US District Court on Thursday, Germany has excluded the plaintiffs from talks with Namibia over possible reparation payments, which are expected to be completed before June 2017. Germany would furthermore have publicly said that any settlement will not include reparations to victims, even if compensation is awarded to Namibia itself.

Colonial Germany ruled Namibia from 1884 to 1915. Between 1904 and 1907 the Herero and Nama people rebelled against the colonial rule, which led to a campaign of racial extermination and collective punishment. Thousands died of thirst and starvation and many others were sent to concentration camps.

The complaint was filed under the US Alien Tort Statute which allows victims of serious human rights abuses committed abroad to sue those responsible in US courts. The law’s reach was narrowed by the US Supreme Court in 2013 when it decided in the case of Kiobel v Royal Dutch Petroleum Co that the law did not cover foreign conduct unless claims sufficiently “touch and concern” the territory of the United States. Lawyers for the plaintiffs argue that this and later rulings left open the possibility of US courts asserting jurisdiction in genocide cases.

Radovan Karadzic Appeals His Conviction

Radovan KaradzicToday, Radovan Karadzic has filed an appeal to the UN’s Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals against his conviction by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in March this year.

The 238-page appeal “details 48 substantive and procedural errors” that led to an incorrect verdict, according to a statement issued by Karadzic’s lawyer Peter Robinson.

“Unless corrected, flawed trials and unjust judgments like mine will only accelerate the flight of countries such as South Africa and Russia from an international legal system that is politicised and based on double standards,” Karadzic said in the statement.

“It will also ruin the chance for international justice to succeed in the long term by establishing legal precedents based on short-term political expediencies,” the former Bosnian Serb political leader added.

Karadžić was charged with responsibility for atrocities including the siege of Sarajevo and the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslim men in the Srebrenica enclave. Continue reading

Latest Newsletter of the Human Rights Review Panel

HRRPThe Human Rights Review Panel (HRRP) has issued its fourteenth newsletter. The newsletter comprises a detailed analysis of the Panel’s decisions between August and October 2016.

The newsletter also highlights the meetings that the HRRP held with officials and international organisations. The Panel met with the Head of the EULEX Mission in Kosovo. Meetings with EULEX representatives are essential for the cooperation between the Panel and EULEX as 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.

The Panel also met with the European Union Special Representative in Kosovo as well as with the European External Service (EEAS) and the Committee for Civilian Aspects of Crisis Management, (CivCom). The discussions concerned the caseload of the Panel, the implementation of the decisions of the Panel by the Head of Mission and the future legacy of EULEX Kosovo as well as the legacy of the Panel.

This year, the Panel reviewed some twenty-two cases and it has found that EULEX Kosovo committed nine human rights violations. There are currently fifty-seven cases pending before the Panel.

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

Ethiopia: After Years on the Run, Eshetu Alemu Will Face Trial

red-terror-martyrs-memorial-18

Door-to-door searches by Red Terror Troops to hunt down opposition members

After years on the run to evade justice, a member of former Ethiopian ruler Mengistu Haile Mariam’s Government faces trial for his role in the 1970s genocide in the country.

Eshetu Alemu’s trial began in The Hague on 21 November 2016.

Eshetu Alemu is brought to trial for war crimes committed in Ethiopia during the Mengistu era in Gojjam Province. This case is the result of a year-long investigation. Even if Ethiopia has requested extradition there is no treaty to that effect.

Eshetu Alemu has Ethiopian origin but also holds the Dutch nationality. He was serving as a member of the Provisional Military Administrative Council during the reign of the Derg, the Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces, Police, and Territorial Army that ruled Ethiopia from 1974 to 1987 and which elected Mengistu Haile Mariam’s as its chairman.

He has already been convicted and sentenced to death in absentia in Ethiopia on December 12, 2006 by the Derg-Tribunal in its 12 years ‘Red Terror’ trials, during which former President Mengistu was also convicted for genocide. Eshetu Alemu was among the dozens of the dreaded council’s members who fled into exile. Continue reading

ECCC: Appeal Judgment Affirms Life Imprisonment for Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan

Nuon Chea and Kieu Samphan

Kieu Samphan (left) and Nuon Chea

On 23 November 2016, the Supreme Court Chamber (SCC) of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) delivered its Appeal Judgment in Case 002/01 against former Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan.

Nuon Chea, former Deputy Secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, and Khieu Samphan, former Head of State of Democratic Kampuchea, were convicted by the Trial Chamber in August 2014 for crimes against humanity committed during the forced evacuation of Phnom Penh in April 1975 and subsequent forced transfer from other areas, as well as alleged execution of former Khmer Republic soldiers in Tuol Po Chrey in Pursat Province.

Both defendants appealed the decision, asking for a reversal of the trial judgment and to be acquitted of all charges, or failing that, Khieu Samphan asked for a reduced sentenced to a set number of years. Nuon Chea submitted 223 grounds of appeal and Khieu Samphan submitted 148 grounds of appeal. Their appeal arguments related to the constitutionality of the ECCC’s Internal Rules and the fairness of the proceedings; the Trial Chamber’s approach to evidence; the Trial Chamber’s findings relevant to the crimes for which the accused were convicted; and the accused’s individual criminal responsibility.

Continue reading

No Trial for Michel Desaedeleer

 

blooddiamonds73133787

Diamond miners working, May 15, 2003, in a diamond mine outside Freetown, Sierra Leone ©Getty

Michel Desaedeleer died on September 28th in a Belgian prison. He was accused of being involved in the trade of « blood diamond » in Sierra Leone. He was arrested in Spain in August 2015 due to allegations that he committed a war crime, more precisly the inhuman and degrading treatment of people through his participation in the blood diamond trade with the former Liberian President Charles Taylor and the Revolutionary United Front (rebel group in Sierra Leone involved in the country’s civil war from 1991 until 2002).

There will be no trial for Michel Desaedeleer, even if it was supposed to take place in a near future. The international jurisprudence will thus not see its first trial dealing with crimes allegedly committed in furtherance of natural resource trade. Indeed, Desaedeleer was the first businessman arrested on international charges of pillaging blood diamonds and enslaving civilians and hailed the case as a landmark. As Alain Werner, the Director of Civitas Maxima said in 2015: “This is a landmark case, the first of its kind, and it will help to raise awareness of the pivotal role played by financial actors in the trade of mineral resources that fuel armed conflicts in Africa and elsewhere”.

The case was built against him by Luc Walleyn, lawyer in Brussels, Civitas Maxima in Gevena and the CARL (Center for Accountability and the Rule of Law). The work accomplished until now will still be usefull as the arrest of Michel Desaedeleer, his imprisonment and the beginning of the judicial process represent a victory for the victims who were enslaved.

Letpadaung, Daw Khin Win and Impunity

Sagaing Region ministers have been meeting opponents of the Letpadaung copper mine to discuss a list of grievances, including lingering questions about the death of a protester.

By Vani Sathisan*

Letpadaung Copper Mine

The Letpadaung Copper Mine

“Here is a real bullet, beside a shotgun shell with rubber pellets inside, that were used on the day Daw Khin Win was killed. I kept them as evidence. Why were real bullets used to disperse a crowd that was peacefully protesting?”

A relative of Khin Win put the question to representatives of the International Commission of Jurists during a recent visit to Monywa to monitor the human rights impact of the nearby Letpadaung copper mine.

The bullet displayed by the villager was used in the fatal shooting on December 22, 2014, of Khin Win, a landowner, during a protest against the expansion of the mine. Two other villagers were hurt in the same protest over the seizure of land in 35 nearby villages.

There remains a lack of transparency about whether there has been any credible investigation of villagers’ claims that workers from Wanbao joined forces with police that day to violently disperse the protestors.

Wanbao – a subsidiary of China’s state-owned weapons maker Norinco, which runs the mine in a joint venture with the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited – restarted production in May. In April, Wanbao released a slick corporate social accountability video called “A New Dawn” to show it had a “social licence” to operate.

However, the ICJ’s discussions with affected communities, including meetings at the Sagaing regional hluttaw and the General Administration Department of the Ministry of Home Affairs, found different sentiments in villages near the project. Grievances in the communities included land grabs, loss of livelihoods and environmental damage. Continue reading