To Prevent Enforced Disappearances, Rethink the Justice and Security Equation

By David Tolbert*

A 2013 art project for Bassel Khartabil, one of Syria’s leading pro-free speech and democracy activists, who was recently confirmed as having been secretly executed while in detention in a regime prison in 2015. ©Pete Ippel

A 2013 art project for Bassel Khartabil, one of Syria’s leading pro-free speech and democracy activists, who was recently confirmed as having been secretly executed while in detention in a regime prison in 2015. ©Pete Ippel

Nearly every city and village in Syria has a story to tell about enforced disappearances: civilians being snatched off the streets or from their homes by the police, Syrian military or an armed group, never to be heard from again. The victims are usually tortured, killed or enslaved. Their families are left haunted, not knowing if their loved ones are alive or dead.

Today, we are seeing an alarming rise in the incidence of enforced disappearances around the world, particularly in a number of the “Arab Spring” states, such as Syria, Egypt and Yemen, where reaction has triumphed over hope for a rights-based future.

In Syria, we are witnessing a catastrophe the consequences of which will be felt for generations to come. This includes not only millions fleeing their homes, the shredding of the Geneva Conventions and massive criminality by the Assad regime and others, but also the enforced disappearance of over 65,000 people, including entire families and thousands of children.

In Egypt since early 2015, hundreds of Egyptians have vanished at the hands of the state. Secret prisons in southern Yemen, where officials have forcibly disappeared people and ordered continued arbitrary detention, are called “no-return prisons.” And these are just a few of the many places where enforced disappearances are occurring with terrible human consequences.

Enforced disappearance was a phenomenon many thought was a product of the brutal internal conflicts of the 1980s and early 1990s. Tremendous efforts were taken by countries and the international community to address the crime, on a number of fronts. Continue reading

Time-Limitation Clause Against Private Litigants of the East African Court of Justice: A Call For A Purposive Interpretation of Article 30(2) of the East African Community Treaty

by Dr. Ally Possi*

Introduction

East African Court of JusticeThis post exposes a major obstacle facing one of the African regional economic community judiciaries: the East African Court of Justice (EACJ, or the Court). The EACJ is the judicial organ embedded to settle disputes in connection with the East African Community (EAC) integration activities. Comparatively, the EACJ is a replica of other regional economic community courts, currently in existence, such as the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Private litigants play a key role in modelling states’ behaviour to realise their integration ambitions. One of the operational principles of the EAC is the ‘people-centered’ co-operation form of integration (art 7(1)(a) of the EAC Treaty). Therefore, it was not an oversight to permit individuals to account Member States before the EACJ, whenever there is an infringement of the EAC Treaty. However, article 30(2) of the Treaty restricts private litigants to lodge their complaints: within two months of the enactment, publication, directive, decision or action complained of, or in the absence thereof, of the day in which it came to the knowledge of the complainant, as the case may be.

Following a significant level of silence on the stringent rule, this post is vitally important considering the nature of the subject it tackles. Judges have been narrowly and strictly interpreting article 30(2) of the EAC Treaty, preventing private litigants to lodge their complaints to the EACJ with ease. Eventually, individuals are being denied access to justice. This post, therefore, argues that EACJ judges need to broadly and purposely interpret article 30(2) of the EAC Treaty. The grounds used to deny to extend the two months’ time window are contrary to the spirit of the EAC Treaty. Thus, this post provides some legal evidence for EACJ judges to stretch the rigorous time limitation clause. Continue reading

Gaddafi’s Son Saif al Islam Released from Prison in Libya

Saif Al-Islam GaddafiSaif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of fomer Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, has been released. He had been in custody since November 2011 in the town of Zintan, in Libya.

The Abu Bakr al-Sadiq Brigade, a militia of former rebels that controls Zintan, where Gaddafi was detained since November 2011, said he was freed under an amnesty law promulgated by the parliament based in the eastern city of Tobruk.

The north African country has rival administrations, with the authorities in the east not recognising the UN-backed government of national accord (GNA) based in the capital.

Gaddafi’s lawyer also said he had been released but would not say which city Saif al-Islam had travelled to for security reasons.

The commander of the Abu Bakr al-Sadiq Brigade was set to release a video statement explaining the details of the release.

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi was captured in 2011 as he was fleeing to neighbouring Niger after opposition fighters seized Tripoli.

He was sentenced to death in absentia by a court in Tripoli in July 2015 in a mass trial of former Gaddafi government officials. The verdict had drawn condemnation abroad, with Human Rights Watch saying the trial was riddled with legal flaws and carried out amid widespread lawlessness undermining the credibility of the judiciary.

Saif al-Islam is also wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which issued an arrest warrant in 2011 on preliminary charges of crimes against humanity, murder and persecution for being part of the inner circle of his father’s regime.

The International Criminal Court at 15: Battling the Acceptance Challenges

By Francis Dusabe*

International Criminal Court New PremisesIn its 15 years of existence, the International Criminal Court is undergoing an acceptance crisis especially on the African Continent. Political narratives have significantly shaken the Court’s legitimacy and has led to the questioning of its relevance in today’s world.

This paper examines Acceptance challenges faced by the court as of 2017 and explores prospects for change to enhance its social impact.

Introduction

On 17th July 2017, the international Criminal Court will clock 15 years of existence with only 26 cases across 10 situations. To reach where it is, it underwent a series of political condemnations, many of which were based on its operational and political flaws that pushed various State parties to consider quitting.

Whereas its existence symbolizes the global consensus that crimes of concerns to humanity as whole should not go unpunished, the court suffers from strategic flaws which, once unaddressed, will eventually become a turndown to the morale behind the whole project of International Criminal Justice.

This paper looks into the challenges faced by the court as of 2017 and explores prospects for change to ensure that the ICC, once a beacon of hope for Victims of international crimes, remain in existence with tangible social impact. More specifically, it explores the drives behind state acceptance of international criminal justice and the impact of Narratives on the Court’s perception. This paper ends with proposals on how to improve its image as a Court not only for Rome statute State Parties, but as an important arm for maintenance of world peace and security.

State Acceptance of international justice

State’s acceptance of International justice may be looked at on various aspects and may be investigated through various dimensions and factors namely the people concerned, how justice is defined in local context and the Victims’ expectation of what International Criminal Justice can bring. Continue reading

Inaction in the International Community: The Plight of Myanmar’s Rohingya

By Vani Sathisan*

Rohingya protestersIn February, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued a report condemning the widespread human rights violations against the Rohingya population, a minority Muslim community, in Myanmar. The report states that a “calculated policy of terror” indicates the “very likely commission of crimes against humanity,” a view echoed by the UN’s Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee. Following the 34th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva in March, The UN Human Rights Council approved a resolution to “dispatch urgently” an international fact-finding mission to investigate alleged human rights violations by military and security forces against the Rohingya community. The Myanmar government, however, has rejected the UN probe for “inflaming” existent tensions, stating instead that the allegations are an “internal matter.”

Since deadly violence erupted in Myanmar’s Rakhine State in 2012, an estimated 140,000 people, mainly Rohingya and small groups of Rakhine Buddhists, have been internally displaced. Persecution by Rakhine Buddhists and the national government, which is controlled by the Bamar majority ethnic group, have forced even more Rohingya to flee Myanmar for neighboring countries, like Bangladesh. Myanmar’s lack of genuine commitment to the rule of law and to protecting the rights of the Rohingya further entrench exclusion, discrimination and marginalization, and violate a number of international human rights laws and norms. Continue reading

African Americans and Police: To Repair Broken Trust There Must Be a Reckoning First

by David Tolbert*

Milwaukee protestersI have spent my career working in societies across the globe as they confronted legacies of unspeakable human rights abuses. I witnessed the struggle for justice in the former Yugoslavia, Palestine, the Middle East, eastern Europe, Cambodia, Lebanon and a host of other countries where ICTJ works. I have learned lessons from them all. But while my work has taken me far and wide, my roots remain in my native Carolinas. It was there that I started life in the de jure and de facto segregated South –apartheid by another name – and there I first developed the sense of justice that has guided my work since.

I return to the Carolinas this week to take part in a conversation that confronts the legacy of that troubled past. It will be held at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, where the confederate flag flew on the statehouse grounds until 2015 and was only removed in the wake of the massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. While I have taken part in similar conferences across the globe – often in places that are boiling with injustice – this trip resonates at the most personal of levels.

When Republicans were the party of Lincoln and not of Trump, my South Carolina family were Republican activists who opposed slavery, resisted secession, and fought for the rights of African Americans. For this they suffered assaults and abuses, although unlike their African American allies they had a choice on how to live their lives. In 1898, their attempts to help African-Americans vote led to white supremacists murdering over a dozen African Americans and shooting and severely wounding several of my ancestors in what is known in the history books as the “Phoenix Riot.” Thereafter, the Tolberts were repeatedly burned out of their homes, eventually leading them to build a house made entirely of stone with iron furniture, known as the “Rock House”, located outside Greenwood, South Carolina. Continue reading

Latest Newsletter of the Human Rights Review Panel

HRRPThe Human Rights Review Panel (HRRP) has issued its fifteenth newsletter. The newsletter comprises a detailed analysis of the Panel’s decisions between November 2016 and March 2017.

The newsletter also discusses the meetings that the HRRP held 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 newsletter also highlights that one of the Panel members, Dr Guénaël Mettraux, has been recently appointed as a Judge with the Kosovo Specialist Chambers.

The next session of the HRRP will take place in May 2017.

Annual Report of the Human Rights Review Panel

HRRPThe Human Rights Review Panel (HRRP) has published its Annual Report for the period from 1 January 2016 to 31 December 2016.

The Report contains information on the mandate and procedures of the Panel as well as a detailed account of its activities over the last year. It also reports on the complaints the Panel dealt with in 2016 and the case-law it developed reviewing those cases.

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.

Hope for Justice in Syria from an Unlikely Source

by David Tolbert*

An independent mechanism established by the UNGA is working towards abolishing the reign of criminal impunity in Syria.

UNGA

The Emir of Qatar, the country that led the efforts to establish the Mechanism alongside Liechtenstein, addressed the UNGA in September 2016 ©Reuters

Six years into the carnage in Syria, atrocious crimes run rampant, with savage abuses committed against all groups in the devastated country, and the murderous regime, abetted by powerful allies, is still in power.

The United Nations Security Council remains in a deadlock and unable to take any steps towards ensuring accountability for the massive crimes, with the International Criminal Court left on the sidelines.

However, amid the terrible loss of life, hope that the slow wheels of justice will finally be put in motion emerged recently from an unlikely source – the UN General Assembly.

In December 2016, the UNGA, led by Liechtenstein and Qatarestablished an “Independent Mechanism to assist in the investigation of serious crimes committed in Syria since March 2011”.

With this step the UNGA, usually associated with administrative and budgetary matters, has asserted itself in a highly welcome if unusual manner, signaling the deep frustration with the failure of other UN organs and the great powers to stop the killing in Syria.

The move also demonstrates that small states can galvanise the international community around issues of global significance and catalyse a collective response.

The term “Mechanism” indicates that the powers of this newly established body will not mirror those of a court or a commission of inquiry.

Instead, the focus of its mission will be to collect and analyse evidence, which could then be available for courts or tribunals in the future to prosecute these massive crimes. Continue reading

Human Rights Movement Must Come Together to Resist Trump’s Agenda

by David Tolbert*

Donald TrumpDonald Trump’s inaugural speech has fittingly been described, as “dystopian,” as “dark,” as “a declaration of war.” The new president made no call for unity, did not reach out to a soul not already in his camp — despite losing the popular vote by almost 3 million votes — nor uttered a word to bring together a fractured nation or address a world deeply nervous at his ascension to the most powerful of offices.

In the first few days as president, his actions mirrored his words. Trump has rushed headlong into creating further divisions and has begun an assault on human rights and basic decency — including a de facto ban on many Muslim refugees from entering the United States and the resurrection of CIA “black sites“ — and promises more to come.

The new president exalts torture, mocks the disabled, casts aspersions on those who defend human rights, appeals to racist sentiments through coded and not-so-coded language and denigrates women in both word and deed. He shows no regard for the Geneva Conventions or the painstaking work of generations of human rights activists, many of them American, to ensure that civilians are not abused in times of conflict and that the vulnerable are protected.

For good measure, he seems to demean virtually every restraint that protects the citizen from the state. His first call as president to a foreign leader was to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt, who crushed the protests against army rule, devastated Egypt’s civil society with draconian laws targeting human rights defenders and turned Egypt’s legal institutions into “kangaroo courts.” A chilling signal indeed. Continue reading