ECCC: Ieng Thirith Dies at 83

by Tibor Bajnovič

Ieng ThirithThe Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (‘ECCC’) confirmed that Ieng Thirith, the alleged Minister of Health and Social Affairs during Democratic Kampuchea, died on 22 August 2015 in Pailin province, Cambodia.

Ieng Thirith was allegedly the highest-ranking female officer during the Khmer Rouge regime, who also was Pol Pot’s sister-in-law, and the wife of Ieng Sary, the regime’s alleged Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. She and her husband both studied in Paris during the 1950’s and later formed the core of the Khmer Rouge movement with Pol Pot.

On 15 September 2010, the ECCC Co-Investigating Judges indicted Ieng Thirith in Case 002 on crimes against humanity, genocide and Grave Breaches of the Geneva Conventions 1949 for her role in Khmer Rouge’s regime during 1975-1979.

Following multiple assessments by medical experts, the Trial Chamber of the ECCC unanimously found Ieng Thirith unfit to stand a trial due to her progressive dementia (in particular Alzheimer’s disease), and indefinitely stayed the proceedings against her. Consequently, Ieng Thirith was released from provisional detention on 16 September 2012, but remained under judicial supervision until her death.

After Ieng Sary’s death in 2013, the two remaining co-accused in Case 002 are Nuon Chea, the former Chairman of the Democratic Kampuchea National Assembly and Deputy Secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, and Khieu Samphan, the former Head of State of Democratic Kampuchea.

The Case 002 has been severed into two separate trials, each addressing a different section of the indictment. The trial judgement in Case 002/01 was pronounced on 7 August 2014. Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan were both found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life imprisonment. Following the appeals filed by both Accused, the appeal hearings in Case 002/01 commenced on 2 July 2015 and are ongoing. The trial hearings in Case 002/02 commenced on 17 October 2014 and are still ongoing.

Kosovo Votes for New War Crimes Court

Yesterday, Kosovo’s parliament voted in favour of changing the constitution, allowing for the creation of an ad hoc war crimes court, to try ethnic Albanian former guerillas for alleged war crimes committed during and shortly after the war with Serbia in 1999.

Kosovo Liberation Army fighters ©AP

Kosovo Liberation Army fighters ©AP

The 120-seat legislature voted 82-5 in favor of the change, with several abstentions.

During the war, Kosovo Albanian rebels fought to make Kosovo independent from Serbia. In 2010, a special investigation team concluded that there was hard evidence of kidnapping, torture and murder by the rebels.

The report accused some members of the ethnic Albanian insurgency, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), of abductions, beatings, summary executions, and in some cases, the forced removal of human organs on Albanian territory during and after the 1998-1999 Kosovo war. The report named some individuals currently in the Kosovo government, including Prime Minister Hashim Thaci.

At the time of the conclusions of the investigation, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), established in 1993 to try all war crimes committed during the wars in the former Yugoslavia, did not take on any more new cases.

On Friday, Kosovo’s government had asked parliament to reconsider its rejection of an ad hoc court, after parliament had voted against creating the court on 26 June. Many Kosovo Albanians see the war crimes court as an attempt to tarnish their 1998-99 guerrilla war against Serbia’s repressive rule.

The new court will most likely be located in The Hague, although the Dutch government is still waiting for an official request from Kosovo.

Russia vetoes UNSC Resolution on a Tribunal for Downed Flight MH17

Debris at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, near the village of Grabovo, Ukraine ©AP

Debris at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, near the village of Grabovo, Ukraine ©AP

At the last UN Security Council meeting, held on Wednesday 29 July, the Russian federation vetoed draft Resolution S/2015/562 on the creation of an International Criminal Tribunal for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 (ICTMH17). The resolution included a draft Statute providing for the prosecution of suspects accused of downing flight MH17 on 17 July 2014, killing 298 people including 193 Dutch citizens. Eleven countries on the 15-member council voted in favour of the proposal by Malaysia, Australia, the Netherlands and Ukraine, while three countries abstained: China, Angola, and Venezuela.

Earlier on the day, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte had called Vladimir Putin to appeal on him directly to support the creation of the ICT. Based on the Law on International Crimes, Dutch prosecutors have opened an investigation into the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH-17 on suspicion of murder, war crimes and intentionally downing an airliner. Russia said discussions on a dedicated ICT should be postponed until the two Dutch-led investigations into the crash release their reports.

Saif al-Islam and Libyan Former Officials Sentenced to Death

Today, Saif al-Islam, son of deposed Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, was sentenced in absentia to death by firing squad after being found guilty of war crimes by the Tripoli court. Held since 2011 by a former rebel group in Zintan that opposes the Tripoli government and refused to hand him over, Saif al-Islam’s trial had begun in April 2014. Saif al-Islam had appeared by video link in sessions at the start of trial but not later on.

Saif al-Islam had appeared by video link in sessions at the start of trial ©EPA

Saif al-Islam had appeared by video link in sessions at the start of trial ©EPA

Saif al-Islam was tried alongside his brother, Saadi Gaddafi, and other former officials of the Gaddafi regime, including Abdullah al-Senussi, the former intelligence chief to Muammar Gaddafi, as well as two former prime ministers and 34 senior officials of the old regime. Abdallah al-Senousi and former PM Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi are among the eight people also facing the death penalty, while other defendants have received sentences ranging from five years to life imprisonment. They will be given the right to appeal.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) had expressed concerns about the failures, with particular concerns over fairness, of Libya’s justice system. The situation in Libya was referred by the UN Security Council (UNSC) to the ICC in February 2011. Challenged by the Libyan authorities, the ICC found in October 2013 that the case against Mr Al-Senussi was inadmissible before the Court but confirmed in May 2014 that the case against Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi was admissible. On December 2014, the ICC had issue a finding of non-compliance by the Government of Lybia to the UNSC with respect to the nonexecution of two requests for cooperation, i.e. requests to surrender Saif Al‑Islam Gaddafi to the Court and to return the originals of the documents of Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi’s Defence.

According to Salah al-Bakkoush, a Tripoli-based political analyst, the rulings should not have strong resonance in Lybia. “Libyans in general have so many problems right now that many were not even following the trial,” he told Al Jazeera. “Those who participated in the struggle against the regime of Gaddafi will be following and will be happy.”

Hissene Habre’s Trial Suspended Until September

BEL<HISSEIN HABRE EN CONFERENCE DE PRESS  E A LA CEEToday, the trial of Chad’s former ruler Hissene Habre was suspended until September after the court named new lawyers because his defense team shunned the session.

The session was suspended after a few minutes when his lawyers did not show and the presiding judge appointed three lawyers to represent him. The new lawyers were given 45 days to prepare and the trial is due to resume on September 7.

The first day of the trial had been suspended after Habre started shouting slogans against the court and had to be forcibly removed.

Habre, who has refused to recognize the Extraordinary African Chambers trying him in Senegal, had to be forced to appear at the second day of the trial.

William Bourdon, a lawyer for the victims, said Habre’s refusal to cooperate with the court meant he had effectively taken the proceeding hostages. “He is spitting on the Extraordinary African Chambers,” Bourdon said.

Habre, who faces charges of war crimes, torture and crimes against humanity, could face a maximum of life in prison.

The Extraordinary African Chambers, an internationally backed court, was set up by Senegal and the African Union in February 2013 to prosecute “the person or persons most responsible” for international crimes committed in Chad during Habré’s eight-year rule.

After a 19-month investigation, a four-judge panel revealed that there was sufficient evidence that serious breaches of international law were committed during Habré’s presidency, which lasted from 1982 to 1990.

According to a 1992 Chadian Truth Commission, Habré’s government was responsible for conducting 40,000 political murders and systematically torturing more than 20,000. The government periodically targeted various ethnic groups such as the Hadjerai and the Zaghawa, killing and arresting group members en masse when it was perceived that their leaders posed a threat to Habré’s rule.

MH17 Crash: Russia Against a UN Tribunal

MH17 CrashRussian President Vladimir Putin has rejected calls for the establishment of a UN tribunal to prosecute suspects in the MH17 air disaster over Ukraine.

Mr Putin made the remarks ahead of the first anniversary of the crash yesterday. The crash killed 298 people.

The Kremlin said in a statement that Mr Putin had “explained Russia’s position regarding the premature and counter-productive initiatives of several countries, including the Netherlands, on the establishment of an international tribunal”. Russia also criticised what it said was politicised media coverage of the disaster.

For Mark Rutte, the Dutch Prime Minister, the establishment of a tribunal would help secure justice and would also constitute “the best guarantee of co-operation from all countries” in trying to secure justice.

The airliner was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it crashed on 17 July 2014.

Western nations believe there is growing evidence that the plane was hit by a Russian-supplied missile fired by pro-Russian rebels in the area. However, Russia blames Ukrainian government forces.

The Netherlands is leading the criminal investigation into the disaster. It is being assisted by Belgium, Australia and Ukraine.

The Dutch Safety Board will release a final report on the cause of the crash in October.

EU and US Object to Republika Srpska Justice Referendum

Yesterday, the Delegation of the European Union (EU) to Bosnia and Herzegovina, joined by the U.S. Ambassador, met with the authorities of the Republika Srpska to share their concerns about the planned referendum on the State-level judicial institutions.

BiH Map

As set up by the Dayton accord, Bosnia and Herzegovina is separated into two entities: a Bosniak-Croat Federation of Bosnia and Hercegovina, and the Bosnian Serb Republic, or Republika Srpska, each with its own president, government, parliament, police and other bodies. In line with its preparation for accession to the EU, the Structure Dialogue on Justice was established in 2011 by the European Commission. The mechanism aims to advance structured relations on the rule of law with potential candidate countries, even prior to the entry into force of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) and has been assisting Bosnia and Herzegovina to consolidate an independent, effective, efficient and professional judicial system.

In this context, the EU fears that the organization of a referendum would undermine the sovereignty and stability of Bosnia and Herzegovina, representing “an unconstitutional attempt not to reform but to undermine and weaken those authorities, and would thus pose a direct threat to the sovereignty and security of the country as a whole.” Would the referendum be organized, it would question the ability of Bosnia and Herzegovina to adopt legal binding agreements, such as EU instruments, and to have them respected. For the EU, such a referendum would therefore “seriously harm this country’s EU accession path”.

Russia Vetoes UN Resolution to Call Srebrenica Massacre as ‘Genocide’

Srebrenica MassacreRussia has vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution that would have described the Srebrenica massacre as “genocide”.

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said adopting it “would be counter-productive, would lead to greater tension in the region”.

Four members of the Security Council abstained while the remainder voted in favour.

The motion had angered Serbia, which rejects the term. Serbia does not have a seat on the Security Council, and had asked ally Russia to block the resolution.

The Serbian President, Tomislav Nikolic, called it a “great day” for his country.

The resolution had been drafted to mark the 20th anniversary of the atrocity, which came amid the bloody break-up of Yugoslavia into independent states.

During the Bosnian War, which saw Serbia-backed Bosnian Serb forces fighting the Muslim-led Bosnian government, thousands seeking shelter at what was supposed to be a UN refuge were slaughtered.

The resolution said that “acceptance of the tragic events at Srebrenica as genocide is a prerequisite for reconciliation”.

Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations criticized Russia’s veto, qualifying Russia’s veto as heart-breaking for the families and saying that “it is a further stain on this council’s record.” She argued amongst other things that the crime of genocide is “the crime that the United Nations Genocide Convention was written and ratified to prevent and punish. The crime of genocide in Srebrenica is what the genocide convention — which all of us have ratified — exists to prevent and punish. Reconciliation cannot be built by burying the dark parts of one’s history, however unsettling they may be.”

The Ambassador also highlighted the numerous testimonies which took place before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), describing the atrocities and leading the Yugoslavia Tribunal to convict numerous people of genocide in relation to the Srebrenica killings.

Palestine Delivers Information to the ICC

On June 25, 2015, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Ms. Fatou Bensouda, met with the Palestinian foreign minister, Riad al-Malki, on the cases Palestine wishes to refer under the Rome Statute.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki leaves the ICC at the Hague ©Reuters

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki leaves the ICC at the Hague ©Reuters

Palestine, which joined the ICC on April 1, 2015, delivered files to the ICC Prosecutor on two sets of facts that would allegedly amount to war crimes committed by Israel.  The first set would inform allegations of civilian killings and wrongful treatment of prisoners throughout the occupied territories, and more especially 2014 military operations Brother’s Keeper and Protective Edge. The second set of information cover Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The question of whether illegal settlements can amount to war crimes has not yet come before the ICC, but Ms. Bensouda said “The settlements will definitely be part of this examination phase.” While the information delivered by Palestine is not considered criminal evidence, they will inform the Prosecutor’s examination of the situation that began in January 2015 and her decision to possibly open a criminal investigation.

Dutch State Agrees Compensation Deal with five Srebrenica Relatives

Srebrenica MassacreThe Dutch state has reached a compensation agreement with the relatives of three men who were sent out of the Dutch army compound in Srebrenica and killed by Bosnian Serbs.

The five relatives will receive payouts of several tens of thousands of euros, broadcaster Nos says. In addition, defence minister Jeanine Hennis has formally apologised for the way the men were sent to their deaths.

The agreement ends a legal dispute which began in 2002. The Dutch supreme court said in 2013 the Dutch state can be held responsible for the death of the three Muslim men in the siege of Srebrenica during the Yugoslavia war in 1995.

Interpreter Hasan Nuhanovic, who lost his father and brother, and relatives of electrician Rizo Mustafic said Dutch soldiers serving under the UN flag in the Muslim enclave did not do all they could to protect their relatives from the Bosnian Serb army.

Over 8,000 men and boys were murdered and buried in mass graves when the enclave was overrun and the massacre remains the subject of other legal action. The Netherlands had earlier offered each relative €20,000 but this was rejected as insufficient. Their lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld said the sum which has been agreed is ‘decent’ and that the relatives now hope to find peace.