Landmark Rape Convictions of Militaries in Guatemala

Mayan Women pictured at the trial ©CNN

Mayan Women pictured at the trial ©CNN

Two former militaries were found guilty by a Guatemala court of murder, rape and sexual enslavement of indigenous women and were respectively sentenced to 240 and 120 years imprisonment.

The ruling is the first successful prosecution for sexual violence committed during Guatemala’s troubled decades. The facts date back to the 1980s, during Guatemala’s 36 year-long civil war that only ended in 1996 with the signig of Peace accords. At the time, armed forces repeatedly attacked the village of Sepur Zarco and Mayan communities were caught in the opposition between the army and the leftist rebel groups. As a result, several men were killed and soldiers considered the women as being “available”. It was reported that women were required to report every third day to the base for “shifts” during which they were raped, sexually abused, and forced to cook and clean for the soldiers.

Former Lt. Col. Esteelmer Francisco Reyes Giron, who was the commander of the Sepur Zarco military base, and former military commissioner Heriberto Valdez Asij were found guilty of holding 15 women in sexual and domestic slavery and for killing one woman and her two daughters.

“This is historic, it is a great step for women and above all for the victims,” said Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu, who attended the hearing.

Immunity for State Officials and the UN Library

UN Library New York

The Dag Hammarskjöld library in New York

Media reported at the beginning of January 2016 that the most popular book of 2015 at the United Nations’ headquarters library was a book on immunity for heads of state and state officials for serious crimes.

The Dag Hammarskjöld library in New York announced on Twitter that ‘Immunity of Heads of State and State Officials for International Crimes” by Ms Ramona Pedretti was its most-browsed book that year, prompting speculation online about why UN staff and international delegates to the UN were borrowing such a title.

Numerous online articles and reactions on Twitter suggested that the book had been borrowed by UN diplomats so as to know how to avoid prosecution in The Hague for their acts.

Politics and policy website Vox wrote: “The UN is full of delegates representing awful dictatorships, and the 2015 book that it says got checked out the most from the UN library was about … how to be immune from war crimes prosecution. That does not seem like a good thing.”

According to online sources, however, the UN library later clarified that this title was its most popular “new” book, acquired in July 2015. It had only been borrowed twice and checked out for browsing four times.

Moreover, the author of the book, Dr Ramona Pedretti commented that the book is not so much written for heads of state to avoid prosecution. On the contrary, it concludes that former Heads of State and other State officials do not benefit from immunity when charged with international crimes before foreign national courts. And although acting Heads of State cannot be prosecuted in national courts abroad according to customary international law, the book recognises that the situation is different before international criminal tribunals, where immunity for Heads of State does not bar proceedings. Continue reading

Specialization Course on the International Criminal Responsibility of Non-State Actors

ISISCThe International Institute of Higher Studies in Criminal Sciences (ISISC) will organize the 16th Specialization Course in International Criminal Law for Young Penalists on ‘The International Criminal Responsibility of Non-State Actors’ in Siracusa from May 29th until June 8th, 2016.

ISISC will select 60 participants who should have at a minimum a first degree in law, having graduated in the last eight years (between 2008 – 2016), and be 35 years of age or under. The Institute will offer 10 scholarships to applicants from Developing and Less Developed Countries. Participants awarded scholarships will have to pay a contribution for the course of € 200.

For a Draft Program of the Course, click here.

To apply for the Course, click here.

Dealing with the Past Course

Dealing with the pastThe Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs is organizing an Advanced Learning Course for Professionals in cooperation with the Swiss Peace Foundation. The Course is called “Dealing with the Past” (DwP).

The DwP Course addresses a range of topics which are central to the implementation of relevant mechanisms for dealing with prior and on-going grave human rights violations. Special attention is paid to case studies, to a gender based approach, to the need to integrate DwP in the negotiation of peace agreements, as well as in the post conflict efforts.

The Course is designed to train professionals from governmental and multilateral institutions as well as from national and international non-governmental organizations, working in countries or regions which are confronted with a legacy of massive human rights abuse.

The DwP Course 2016 will take place from 5 – 13 July 2016 in Switzerland.

For further information on the course, click here.

Joint NGOs Letter on Draft Convention on Crimes Against Humanity

Crimes against HumanityThis week, 12 Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), amongst which Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, sent a joint letter to the Special Rapporteur of the International Law Commission on crimes against humanity regarding his work on the draft articles for a Convention on crimes against humanity.

The NGOs urge the Special Rapporteur to set out provisions which among others oblige states to exercise their competence when a person suspected of responsibility for crimes against humanity is found in any territory subject to their jurisdiction and permit States to initiate investigations based on universal jurisdiction over crimes against humanity suspects.

The NGOs say that “no safe havens whatsoever should be available for those who perpetrate crimes against humanity”, as those crimes are so grave that they harm the entire international community.

For them, such approach is consistent with the principle established in Nuremberg and would also be the most appropriate framing of jurisdiction, given the position under customary international law and the relationship between crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions.

The Special Rapporteur will soon be presenting a set of draft articles, mainly on the scope of States’ jurisdiction for crimes against humanity, for the consideration of the International Law Commission.

Prosecuting Conflict-Related Sexual Violence at the ICTY

Prosecuting Conflict-Related Sexual Violence at the ICTYEdited by Serge Brammertz and Michelle Jarvis

Although sexual violence directed at both females and males is a reality in many on-going conflicts throughout the world today, accountability for the perpetrators of such violence remains the exception rather than the rule. While awareness of the problem is growing, more effective approaches are urgently needed for the investigation and prosecution of conflict-related sexual violence crimes. Upon its establishment in 1993, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) began the challenging task of prosecuting the perpetrators of conflict-related sexual violence crimes, alongside the many other atrocities committed during the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia.

This book documents the experiences, achievements, challenges, and fundamental insights of the OTP in prosecuting conflict-related sexual violence crimes at the ICTY over the past two decades. It draws on an extensive dossier of OTP documentation, court filings, trial exhibits, testimony, ICTY judgements, and other materials, as well as interviews with current and former OTP staff members. The authors provide a unique analytical perspective on the obstacles faced in prioritizing, investigating, and prosecuting conflict-related sexual violence crimes. While the ICTY has made great strides in developing international criminal law in this area, this volume exposes the pressing need for determined and increasingly sophisticated strategies in order to overcome the ongoing obstacles in prosecuting conflict-related sexual violence crimes. The book presents concrete recommendations to inform future work being done at the national and international levels, including that of the International Criminal Court, international investigation commissions, and countries developing transitional justice processes. It provides an essential resource for investigators and criminal lawyers, human rights fact-finders, policy makers, rule of law experts, and academics.

To order the book, click here.

Latest Newsletter of the Human Rights Review Panel

HRRPThe Human Rights Review Panel (HRRP) has issued its Thirteenth newsletter. The newsletter comprises a detailed analysis of the Panel’s decisions between June and December 2015.

The newsletter also highlights the meetings that the HRRP held with officials and international organisations.

The Panel met with the new EULEX Chief of Staff. 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 representatives of various bodies, including the new Ombudsperson of Kosovo, as well as local authorities or representatives of the Serbian Government.

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

Ex-Commander of Romanian Communist Prison Sentenced to 20 Years

Alexandru Visinescu

Alexandru Visinescu

A Romanian Appeals Court in Bucharest has upheld a jail sentence against a prison commander convicted of crimes against humanity for the death of 12 political prisoners between 1956 and 1963.

Alexandru Visinescu, 90, was sentenced to 20 years in jail last July after being found guilty of running “a regime of extermination” at the jail outside the small town of Râmnicu Sărat, 90 miles east of Bucharest.

Nicknamed “the prison of silence” because the prisoners were held in solitary confinement, the facility housed intellectuals, dissidents, priests and others deemed enemies of the Communist Party.

The prisoners were subjected to regular beatings, severely underfed, and denied access to medical treatment.

At least 14 inmates died while many more were permanently disfigured or traumatized during the seven years Visinescu was in charge of the jail

The ruling marks a significant moment in Romania’s efforts to try communist-era figures accused of wrongdoing. While a handful of top officials were convicted of genocide in the 1990s, most of the charges were later reduced and many of those found guilty were released on health grounds.

According to the Institute for Investigation of Communist Crimes and Memory of Romanian Exile (IICCMRE), which initiated the case against Visinescu, up to 2 million Romanians were killed, unjustly imprisoned, deported or relocated during nearly half a century of communist repression.

The IICCMRE has a list of 35 prison officials who it says have committed crimes. The Institute blames corruption for the fact that so far only Visinescu has been sentenced.

Latest Newsletter of the ICTY Association of Defence Counsel

ADC-ICTY-300x300The Association of Defence Counsel Practising Before the ICTY (ADC-ICTY) has published its latest newsletter.

This edition covers the recent developments in the Mladić and Karadžić cases.

The newsletter also addresses the recent cases which took place at the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) as well as in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Moreover, the Newsletter provides a detailed summary of a conference which took place last January in Berlin and which gathered Defence Counsel from various International Tribunals.

Finally, the Newsletter analyses the upcoming challenges of the New Kosovo Tribunal which will be established in The Hague.

General Zdravko Tolimir Passed Away in Jail

Zdravko TolimirZdravko Tolimir passed away last night in the United Nations Detention Unit in The Hague.

In April last year, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) upheld the Trial Chamber’s convictions and found Tolimir, the former intelligence chief of the Bosnian Serb Army’s Main Headquarters, guilty of involvement in genocide against thousands of Bosniak men and boys from Srebrenica after the UN-protected ‘safe area’ was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995.

Gen Zdravko Tolimir, 67, was given a life term in jail. The cause of his death has not yet been made public.