UK Against an International Inquiry in Yemen

Air strike on Sanaa ©Reuters

Air strike on Sanaa ©Reuters

The United Kingdom (UK) is accused by several human rights organizations to have blocked a joint European Union (EU) proposal to establish an independent international inquiry into the war in Yemen. Instead, the EU submission that was submitted on Friday 23 September to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) asks the UN body to dispatch a mission “with assistance from relevant experts, to monitor and report on the situation … in Yemen”.

The proposal, which was submitted by Slovakia on behalf of the EU, was initiated by the Netherlands in an effort to bring together a European coalition requiring an inquiry to be set up and to examine civilian deaths in Yemen. According to the OHCHR, 3,980 civilians have been killed and 6,909 injured between 26 March 2015 and 22 September 2016. In a press release published on the same day, the OHCHR has expressed its will to see an international inquiry being set up: “In the light of the high civilian casualty numbers and the terrible suffering of the civilian population, we urge all parties to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, including their obligation to respect the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution. We reiterate our call for the setting up of an international and independent investigative body.”

The international investigation inquiry would have to review Saudi’s interventions in Yemen, as the armed coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, is accused of committing war crimes against civilians. UK Foreign Secretary General Boris Johnson has publicly rejected the need for such an inquiry or statements on any breach of international law. Responding to questions relating to a recent airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition which killed at least 19 civilians, including children, he replied that the UK was “using a very, very wide variety of information sources about what is happening to acquaint ourselves with the details”

But assertions from human rights organizations accuse the UK to protect its ally. Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “For 18 months now, UK arms have been central to the destruction of Yemen. The aid that is being given amounts to a small fraction of the damage that has been caused and pales in comparison to the £3.3bn worth of arms that have been licensed. Theresa May and Boris Johnson must end the arms sales and put a stop to the uncritical support that the UK provides for the Saudi regime.”

According to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports, more than 70 “unlawful” coalition airstrikes – on homes, hospitals, markets, civilian factories and schools – some of which, they say, may amount to war crimes, and which have killed at least 913 civilians are documented. Human Rights Watch also claims that the Houthi armed group and forces allied to it, including those loyal to the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, have committed numerous violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law.

Launch of an Interactive War Crimes Verdicts Map

war-crimes-verdicts-mapThe Balkan Investigative Reporting Network has launched a unique database of the publicly-available final verdicts delivered in 386 war crimes cases by courts in the former Yugoslavia and by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.

This War Crimes Verdicts Map is an interactive tool intended to provide an overview of court rulings on the crimes that were committed during the wars in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

“While reporting on war crimes, we as journalists often struggled to get all the documents related to the war crimes cases we have been following. Through the years, we accumulated a significant archive and then also collected verdicts from the various courts,” said the map project’s team leader, Marija Ristic.

“Bearing in mind how closed to the public our courts still are, we believe this map will be a unique resource for journalists, students, researchers and the general public,” she added.

According to the map data, so far at least 646 people have been convicted by local courts and 83 more by the ICTY for crimes committed during almost a decade of conflict in the former Yugoslavia which left some 125,000 people dead and 12,000 still missing.

Besides the verdicts, the ‘Resources’ section includes indictments and other case records.

The map will be periodically updated.

ICC Prosecutor Will Also Prioritise Environmental Destruction Cases

iccThis week, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) published a detailed policy document which provides guidance on how the Office of the Prosecutor exercises its discretion in the selection and prioritisation of cases.

For the first time, the Office said that it would also prioritise crimes that result in the “destruction of the environment”, “exploitation of natural resources” and the “illegal dispossession” of land.

“The Office [of the Prosecutor] will give particular consideration to prosecuting Rome Statute crimes that are committed by means of, or that result in, inter alia, the destruction of the environment, the illegal exploitation of natural resources or the illegal dispossession of land”, says the policy paper.

Cambodia seems to be a good example for this new ICC focus as a case has been lodged with the ICC on behalf of 10 Cambodians alleging that the country’s ruling elite, including its government and military, has perpetuated mass rights violations since 2002 in pursuit of wealth and power by grabbing land and forcibly evicting up to 350,000 people.

Broadening the priority cases to include land-grabbing would recognise that mass human rights violations committed during peacetime and in the name of profit could be just as serious as traditional crimes.

Reinhold Gallmetzer, a member of the ICC working group who drew up the policy document, said: “We are exercising our jurisdiction by looking at the broader context in which crimes are committed. We are extending the focus to include Rome statute crimes already in our jurisdiction.”

“Forcible transfer [of people] can already be a crime against humanity, so if it is committed by land-grabbing – whether as a result or a precursor – it can be included.”

Former ICTY Judge TV Interview

Judge Kwon O-gonFormer ICTY Judge Kwon O-gon gave a TV interview this month during which he shared his story of bringing justice for the victims of one of the most atrocious and devastating wars since World War II.

After sitting in the Korean court of law for more than two decades, Kwon O-gon became the first Korean judge to preside over the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), where he served for the past 15 years.

Judge Kwon was one of the judges in the trial of Slobodan Milošević, the former President of Serbia.

Judge Kwon was also the Presiding Judge for the case of former Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadžić, handing him a 40-year sentence last March.

Judge Kwon resigned from the ICTY and returned home earlier this year. Now, he is opening a new chapter in his life and career, as the president of a research institute that specializes in international law.

If you wish to watch the interview, click here.

First Trial Over Cultural Destruction to Open at the ICC

Ahmad Al Faqi Al MahdiThe trial in the case of The Prosecutor v. Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi is scheduled to open tomorrow at the seat of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

Mr Al Mahdi is an alleged Islamic extremist charged of war crime through his involvement in the intentional destruction of religious buildings in the city of Timbuktu in Mali between about 30 June 2012 and 10 July 2012.

In 2012, Tumbuktu would have been under the control of armed groups, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (“AQIM”) and Ansar Eddine, a mainly Tuareg movement associated with AQIM.

The Prosecution alleges that Al Mahdi was linked to those groups. His alleged orders consisted in the destruction of historic buildings including mausoleums and a mosque in Timbuktu. They were specifically identified, chosen and targeted precisely in light and because of their religious and historical character. Their destruction was considered as a serious matter by the local population.

Due to Mr Al Mahdi’s announced intentions to make an admission of guilt, the trial is expected to last for about a week, after which the judges will deliberate and in due course pronounce a decision on the guilt or innocence of the accused and the possible sentence.

If the accused does not plead guilty at the opening of the trial, the hearings will be reported to another date.

This is the ICC first case concerning the destruction of buildings dedicated to religion and historical monuments, which the ICC Prosecutor has called “a callous assault on the dignity and identity of entire populations, and their religious and historical roots”.

Mali’s government asked the Court in 2012 to investigate crimes committed on its territory. Prosecutors opened an investigation in 2013. Mr Al Madhi is the first suspect detained.

Abbas: Palestine plans lawsuit against the UK over the 1917 Balfour Declaration

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of Palestine, announced his intention on Monday to sue the government of the United Kingdom over the 1917 Balfour Declaration which paved the way for the creation of Israel.

Balfour Declaration published in The Times of London - 9 November 1917

Balfour Declaration published in The Times of London – 9 November 1917

The statement of Abbas was delivered by foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki at the opening of this week’s Arab League summit in Mauritania, in the absence of Abbas.

It is said that the 1917 Balfour Declaration, named after then UK Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur Balfour, pledged to support the establishment of a “national home” for the Jewish people in Palestine. The Declaration is seen as a key milestone for the Zionist movement.

The document formed the basis of the British Mandate for Palestine, which was formally approved by the League of Nations in 1922.

Al-Maliki said that the Balfour Declaration led to mass Jewish immigration to British Mandate Palestine. According to al-Maliki, the Declaration “gave people who don’t belong there something that wasn’t theirs”.

In the statement it was further said that the United Kingdom was responsible for all “Israeli crimes” since the end of the British mandate in 1948.

According to the statement, the lawsuit would be filed “in an international court”, but no further details on the planned lawsuit were provided. Gulf News reported that Dr Hanna Eissa, part of the Palestinian team preparing the lawsuit, mentioned the International Court of Justice, which can issue non-binding advisory opinions.

African Union Approves Regional Force in South Sudan

4. Ilawyer Image - African Union Approves Regional Force in South SudanSouth Sudan conflict was one of the main concerns of the last African Union (AU) Summit held in Kigali (Rwanda) on 17 and 18 July 2016, where the African leaders made it official that they were willing to deploy troops in South Sudan.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon expressed his support for the AU deployment.

South Sudan just emerged from the 2013-2015 civil war which displaced 2.2 million people. Notwithstanding, the recent fighting between rival forces which left hundreds of people dead jeopardizes the Peace Deal signed in August 2015.

Even if a 12 000-strong UN peacekeeping force is already in South Sudan, the African leaders want to put into order a stronger mandate. According to Smail Chergui, the AU Peace and Security Commissioner, “the UN doesn’t have the mandate to impose peace“.

The details on the force are not agreed yet, but it will involve soldiers coming from Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan and Uganda and the model used will probably be similar to the intervention deployed within the UN’s mission in Democratic Republic of Congo held in 2013. Smail Chergui explained that “African troops are ready to engage in very difficult situations“.

The Kosovo Peacekeeping Mission, a “Total Failure”?

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On Wednesday, 13 July, the Human Rights Advisory Panel submitted a report about the United Nation Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). In this report, the Panel, whose role is to issue recommendations to the UNMIK, described the Kosovo peacekeeping mission as a “total failure”.

The report strongly criticizes the UNMIK’s handling of civilian grievances in Kosovo, including its failures to investigate disappearances and killings as well as negligence in the mass poisoning of hundreds of displaced Roma which were left in squalid United Nations camps built on land contaminated with lead.

According to the panel, “now that the Panel has concluded its mandate, putting an end to an eight-year process of issuing admissibility decisions, opinions, and recommendations, the Panel is forced to proclaim this process a total failure”.

This conclusion is a source of embarrassment for the United Nations, which regularly assails governments for a lack of accountability and defends victims whose human rights have been violated in conflict zones around the world.

The Panel ends its report  apologizing « profusely to the complainants for its role in this sham ».

The United Nations Peacekeeping Department, which oversees UNMIK, said that UNMIK « values the work of its advisory panel » but emphasizes the fact that the Panel is not a Tribunal.

UNMIK officials had no immediate comment on the report.

German Jihadist Convicted of War Crime

2. Ilawyer photo - German Jihadist Guilty of War Crime

© Torsten Silz/AFP

The Oberlandesgericht Frankfurt am Main, a Frankfurt Regional Court, has convicted Aria Ladjedvardi, a 21-year-old German Jihadist with Iranian roots, of two years in prison for committing a war crime for appearing in a set of photos with severed heads of Syrian army servicemen in Syria.

Indeed, between March 8 and April 16, 2014, a group of fighters attacked a checkpoint in the Idlib Province. According to the statement read by the court this Tuesday, they captured, beheaded and impaled the heads of two soldiers on spikes before putting them on public display.

The defendant posed with the heads of those soldiers in three photos found in his mother’s mobile phone, one of which was shared on the social network Facebook.

The Regional Court emphasized Mr Ladjevardi’s inacceptable behavior and held a violation of international humanitarian law for treating the two Syrian army soldiers “in a degrading and humiliating manner”.

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ICTY: Goran Hadžić, Croatian-Serb War Crimes Defendant, Dies at 57

Goran HadžićGoran Hadžić, the former Croatian-Serb rebel leader, has died at the age of 57.

Hadžić was on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) over his role in the 1991-1995 Yugoslavia war.

Last April, the Trial Chamber ordered an indefinite halt to his trial, as he battled the advanced stages of terminal brain cancer.

His health significantly deteriorated in the last two months and he spent most of that time in the hospital where he died.

Hadžić was the last fugitive arrested by the ICTY.

He was accused of having participated in a Joint Criminal Enterprise (JCE). It is alleged that the purpose of the JCE was the permanent forcible removal of a majority of the Croat and other non-Serb population from a large part of the Republic of Croatia in order to make it part of a new Serb-dominated state.

The accusations included the murder of civilians taken from Vukovar hospital in 1991 in one of the conflict’s darkest episodes.

He was also charged with responsibility for the massacre of Croat civilians who were forced to walk into a minefield in the Croatian town of Lovas in October 1991.

His trial opened in October 2012 following his arrest in Serbia in 2011 after seven years on the run.

Investigators had tracked Hadžić down as he was trying to sell an early 20th-century painting by the Italian master Amedeo Modigliani valued at several million dollars.