Japan’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
by Vani Sathisan*
The world observes Human Rights Day on 10 December to mark the momentous strides in international human rights law since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. In Myanmar, recent political changes have been both momentous and transformative. Nonetheless, what was proclaimed by the UDHR as the “equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family”, continue to be infringed upon by the arbitrary and highly subjective interpretation and application of laws, some of them dating back to British colonial times.
Successive governments in Myanmar have used overly broad or vaguely defined laws to curtail freedom of expression that is protected under international law. They often invoke the justification, typically inappropriately, of protecting national security, or to prevent public disorder or avoid outraging the religious feelings of a class. None of these efforts have served or can serve to address or respond to sectarian and religious violence.
On behalf of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), I have observed trials of those arrested and detained on criminal defamation charges for their Facebook posts that allegedly defame either the Tatmadaw or a political leader. One of the laws used to charge the accused is the Penal Code, first drafted in 1860.
The ICJ released a briefing paper last month highlighting how the enforcement of Myanmar’s defamation laws can result in violations of a number of international laws and standards protecting human rights, and also have an overall chilling effect on the freedom of opinion and expression and freedom of assembly in the country. Continue reading
By John Dugard*
The ruling African National Congress’s demand that the South African government should pull out of the International Criminal Court is defeatist, naïve and reactionary. African states have largely themselves to blame for the fact that the continent has been singled out by the court, and rather than withdraw they should use their political muscle to ensure that prosecutions are brought against non-African leaders too.
Africa occupies a key position in the International Criminal Court (ICC). It is the largest regional group with 34 member states; the present prosecutor of the court is an African woman – Fatou Bensouda of The Gambia – and four of the 18 judges on the court are from Africa, including the vice-president, Joyce Aluoch of Kenya. Africa is not therefore a marginal player in the ICC.
Despite this the ICC is more criticised in Africa than any other continent. In large measure this criticism comes from the leaders of non-member states, such as Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who are themselves accused of committing international crimes.
But the leaders of member states, whose judges serve or have served on the court, have given support to the criticism and condemnation of the court. Perhaps the three most vocal leaders of this group are Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and South African President Jacob Zuma. Continue reading
By Vani Sathisan*
To say that Facebook and other internet-based social media networks have revolutionized modern day communication would be an understatement. According to a report by the Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the global number of internet users has reached more than two billion. One million log onto Facebook every month. Twitter claims 500 million users and YouTube is viewed about 4 million times per day. After ideas expressed online have had an instant “viral” spread, revolutions have unfolded .
And so have the prosecutions.
Judiciaries worldwide have had to struggle with what content is defamatory and what is self-expression.
The US Supreme Court, in Elonis v. United States , considered the case of a defendant who had written, and posted on Facebook, apparently violent rap lyrics, including “I want to kill my wife” while he was undergoing a divorce. The court had to weigh up whether convicting a man of threatening another person requires proof of subjective intent to threaten or whether it would suffice to show that a “reasonable person” would regard the statement as threatening. It ruled in favour of the defendant stating that “negligence is not sufficient to support a conviction.” The defendant’s lawyer argued that his client was exercising his First Amendment rights and that governments may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because certain factions of society find it offensive. Continue reading
Compte-rendu d’entrevue avec Me Philippe Larochelle
par Pascale Langlais*
En 2009, la justice pénale internationale a mis au monde un petit nouveau, une entité judiciaire bien spéciale et unique en son genre : le Tribunal spécial pour le Liban (ci-après « TSL »). Né de la résolution 1757 du Conseil de Sécurité des Nations Unies à la suite des attentats terroristes ayant coûté la vie à l’ancien premier ministre du Liban, Rafiq Hariri, en 2005, le TSL se distingue des autres juridictions internationales à plusieurs égards et semble parfois évoluer en orbite des autres tribunaux phares de la justice internationale. À ce sujet, on doit notamment souligner le fait qu’il s’agit du premier tribunal international pénal à juger de crimes uniquement définis en droit national, à savoir le terrorisme selon le Code pénal libanais (pour plus d’information). Il s’agit également du premier tribunal international pénal à prévoir dans son Statut la possibilité de tenir des procès in absentia, donc en l’absence de l’accusé. Autre innovation, le TSL est aussi le premier tribunal en son genre à se reconnaître une compétence en matière de responsabilité de personnes morales.
Malgré toutes ces caractéristiques que certains considèrent comme une avancée du droit international pénal, il n’en demeure pas moins que le TSL essuie son lot de critiques non seulement en ce qui a trait à sa légitimité et à son fonctionnement, mais également en rapport avec la place qu’il occupe dans la sphère de la justice internationale pénale. Ses détracteurs sont nombreux, tant dans la société libanaise que dans la communauté internationale. Parmi ceux-ci, on peut notamment citer Philippe Larochelle, avocat de la défense fort d’une grande expérience devant les tribunaux internationaux. Me Larochelle se montre très dubitatif quant à l’existence de ce tribunal et porte un regard très critique sur la justice internationale pénale de manière générale. Il a d’ailleurs su exposer ses opinons très tranchées sur la question lors d’une conférence présentée à l’Université Laval le 28 mai 2015 dans le cadre de la première édition de l’École d’Été sur la Justice internationale. Il a plus amplement précisé sa pensée lors d’une entrevue accordée à la suite de cette conférence. Continue reading
By Milton Nkosi*
The call by South Africa’s governing party to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC) has implications for the rest of the continent. But it is not going to happen any time soon.
When South Africa joined the ICC in 1998 the country had just emerged from the scourge of apartheid.
South Africans were fresh victims of gross human rights violations and had hoped that the rest of the world would join the ICC.
But some of the most powerful countries did not follow.
And now the governing African National Congress (ANC) is calling for the country to leave the ICC – which would make it the first to do so.
‘Hitler of Africa’?
The chairman of the ANC’s commission on international relations, Obed Bapela, said that the ICC had “lost direction”.
Mr Bashir was able to fly out of South Africa in June despite a warrant for his arrest for war crimes
This move away from the ICC comes not long after the South African government was criticised for allowing Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir to leave the country despite an ICC arrest warrant for alleged war crimes in Darfur. Mr Bashir denies the allegations, saying they are politically motivated.
Mr Bapela insisted South Africans were “very keen” to hear the stories of the victims of Darfur, as they had heard the victims of political crimes committed during the apartheid era at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“Human rights matter to us but we want a fair system,” he said. Continue reading
by Héctor Olasolo*
On 23 September 2015, the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – Popular Army (‘FARC-EP’), issued a joint communique, in which they made public the core aspects of their agreement on justice matters (‘the New Agreement’), including, in particular, the establishment of a Special Jurisdiction for Peace. The next day, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (‘ICC’), Ms. Fatou Bensouda, made a preliminary statement thereon, in which she highlighted that “any genuine and practical initiative to end the decades-long armed conflict in Colombia, while paying homage to justice as a critical pillar of sustainable peace, is welcome by her Office”. She also stressed her hope for the New Agreement to comply with this goal, and her cautious optimism as “the agreement excludes the granting of amnesties for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and is designed, among other things, to end impunity for the most serious crimes”.
But, what are the reasons for the ICC Prosecutor’s cautious optimism, if ever since the adoption of Legislative Act 01 of 2012 on the so-called ‘Legal Framework for Peace’ she has expressed, in all her annual reports on Colombia, her concern by the ample powers granted by it to the Colombian Congress?
In my view, this can only be due to the significant difference between the role in an eventual transitional process in Colombia that the New Agreement seems to give to the investigation, prosecution and punishment of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes (‘ICC crimes’), and the limited scope of application of criminal justice provided for in the Legal Framework for Peace. In other words, if the Legal Framework for Peace reduced the role of criminal justice to a mere appendage of the transitional process, the New Agreement appears to restore it to its International Law status as an autonomous and necessary pillar of such process. Continue reading
By Nora Jaber*
Rutkowski and Others v. Poland and Gazso v. Hungary are two pilot cases decided in July 2015 that highlight a major point of contention faced by the European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”): the right to be tried within a reasonable time as enshrined within Article 6(1) of the Convention. At the time of the Rutkowski judgement there were over another 650 similar cases pending before the ECtHR, and over 300 Polish cases pending before the Committee of Ministers at the execution stage.
This demonstrates the scale of the relevance of Article 6(1) to the Court’s jurisprudence today. In fact, it is the most contentious issue before the Court, and has been at the forefront of the Court’s caseload for a very long time. The Court has issued hundreds of judgments on Article 6(1) and has stressed the importance of minimising delays in order for justice to be delivered. Despite this, the problem of undue delays in proceedings persists and warrants attention.
It is said that ‘justice delayed is justice denied.’ Delays can and do compromise the effective administration of justice. An excessively long procedure can result in a weakening of the position of the accused by, for example, a deterioration of the quality of evidence or a loss of it. Such situations become more plausible the longer the duration of the trial procedure and should be avoided in order to ensure a proper administration of justice.
by David Tolbert*
Tunisia has until now inspired the region and the rest of the world by taking the democratic path after its 2011 revolution. But the current dysfunction of the political system, the deep poverty in the country’s marginalized rural interior and the brutality of extremism are tying a vicious knot that threatens to destroy the transitional process. With the government’s proposed “Reconciliation Bill,” the promises of the revolution are in danger of being crushed. The gains of the revolution are at stake.
In this worrying situation, what is needed is more support for the rule of law, not less. What Tunisians deserve and what the revolution sought was the end of dictatorship and the pursuit of accountability for large-scale corruption and human rights violations, not authoritarian measures and entrenched impunity.
The government of Tunisia, regrettably, is responding to the current security crisis with measures that could make the situation worse. The now-departed dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali pointed to extremism to justify policies that led to torture, prolonged detention, sexual violence, and forced exile as well as extreme restrictions on the right to education, religious worship and livelihood. That climate of repression could well return with new draconian provisions. Continue reading
by David Tolbert*
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta (c) AP
President Obama’s historic visit to Kenya came at an important crossroads for the country. While much of the attention of the press was directed at Obama’s Kenyan roots, for many, Obama’s emphasis on justice for all Kenyans is what will be remembered. This is particularly true given that Obama’s visit came four months after President Kenyatta’s official apology to, and announcement of reparations for, the many victims of the 2008 post-election violence, as recommended by Kenya’s Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC).
The issue of justice, as well as endemic corruption and the stalled reform process in Kenya, will remain long after the cheers for the U.S. President have faded. President Kenyatta has, however, an opportunity in the wake of Obama’s historic visit to go beyond rhetoric and both deliver on his apology and the issues Obama has raised. Kenyatta and the Kenyan authorities should not miss this opportunity.
Kenyatta’s promising announcements require concrete steps and actions without further delay. His four-month old decision to establish a fund to provide relief to victims was followed and confirmed by the inclusion of the first tranche of resources-one billion shillings (almost $10 million U.S. dollars) in the new annual budget. Now is the time to design a comprehensive and gender-sensitive reparations program that starts with the most vulnerable victims. Opening space for the participation of victims and listening to their needs and demands must be the first step. Concurrently, an efficient and transparent administrative system and infrastructure for the program must be created. Continue reading