Kosovo: Discussions over a Special Court for KLA leaders

Special Representative Farid Zarif. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Special Representative Farid Zarif. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Briefing the United Nations Security Council on the Secretary-General’s latest report on Friday, Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative and Head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) Farid Zarif said that while great strides have been made since last year toward normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina, close vigilance remains essential to safeguard achievements and continue dialogue.

Zarif expressed his satisfaction that the trial of five Kosovo Serbs, charged with war crimes and murder, began its proceedings on Tuesday at the Basic Court in Mitrovica. “As I continually stress the crucial importance of respecting judicial independence, I cannot but note that public confidence in the system will be enhanced greatly when justice is perceived to be conducted professionally and expeditiously,” said Mr. Zarif. Additionally, the Chief Prosecutor of the Special Investigative Task Force released a statement on 29 July of findings which represents another “milestone in strengthening the rule of law and healing scars of war.”

The issue of a special court to try former leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) suspected of crimes against humanity and war crimes was expected to feature in the UN Security Council session. According to the Serbian news agency Tanjug, Ban Ki-moon’s report calls on Pristina and the European Union to form the special court at the beginning of the next year at the latest. The establishment of a special court to handle war crimes committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), in 1999 was asked by Ivica Dacic, Serbia’s foreign minister. Dacic warned that acquittal due to lack of evidence caused by witness intimidation must never again be allowed for individuals responsible for the crimes. All those involved in intimidation of witnesses also have to be prosecuted and found guilty, he said.

Italy: Renzi’s Reform to Speed up Justice

renzi-firmati-24-contrattiIn an effort to tackle Italy’s notoriously slow justice system, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has announced a “revolution” that would break down bureaucracy. Friday, the Council of Ministers approved a series of measures designed to improve delays before courts. The “Sblocca Italia” programme provides for first-instance trials to last one year top and to reduce judicial summer break to speed up procedures.

Italy has already been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights for its slow legal procedures. Civil cases take in average eght years to be resolved. Legal delays have contributed to damage busness activity in a country that has recently slumped back into recession : a business that goes to court to enforce a contract can wait three years for a verdict.

Guantánamo: Resignation on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s Defence team

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s defence team lost a member earlier this week. On 26 March 2014, after nine years in the US Army, Major Wright tendered his resignation. Tuesday 26 August 2014 was Wright’s last day as appointed counsel for Mohammed.

Mohammed pretrial hearings

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed during the third day of pretrial hearings at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Oct. 17, 2012 ©Janet Hamlin/Reuters,Reuter MED/MED

Wright was appointed in December 2011 to the defence of Mohammed, the purported mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks and executioner of journalist Daniel Pearl who is facing, along with three co-defendants, death sentence if convicted. Captured in Pakistan in 2003, Mohammed was first held at various CIA black sites before being transferred to Guantánamo in 2006. He is one of the two al Qaeda prisoners on whom the CIA publicly confirmed in 2008 waterboarding was used.

While Wright’s resignation cannot directly evidence the Army’s intent to remove him from the team, it only contributes to further diminish the appearance of legitimacy of the Guantánamo military commissions. Wright decided to leave the Army as he was not able to continue his defence work: required to attend a nine-month graduate program in military law, Wright was denied a deferral. The choice was clear-cut: either quit Mohammed’s defence team and attend the graduate program, or resign from the Army. In conflict with his ethical obligation to continue representing his client, after a long period of building trust with a client who was tortured and guarded by people wearing the same uniform as him, Wright eventually quit. Continue reading

HRW : Egypt Rab’a Killings Likely Crime Against Humanity

Rabaa sit in dispersal on 14 August 2013. Photo: Mohamed Gamil/DNE

Rabaa sit in dispersal on 14 August 2013. Photo: Mohamed Gamil/DNE

In a report published yesterday and following a year-long investigation, Human Rights Watch (HRW) asserts that the systematic and widespread killing of at least 1,150 demonstrators by Egyptian security forces in July and August 2013 probably amounts to crimes against humanity. In the August 14 dispersal of the Rab’a al-Adawiya sit-in alone, security forces, following a plan that envisioned several thousand deaths, killed a minimum of 817 people and more likely at least 1,000.

The report, entitled, “All According to Plan: The Rab’a Massacre and Mass Killings of Protesters in Egypt,” documents the death on 14 August 2013 of hundreds of protesters calling for former President Mohamed Morsi to come back. Describing a “mass killing” that could amount to a crime against humanity, HRW calls for an investigation several officials, including Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi, who was elected President in May 2014. “In Rab’a Square, Egyptian security forces carried out one of the world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “This wasn’t merely a case of excessive force or poor training. It was a violent crackdown planned at the highest levels of the Egyptian government. Many of the same officials are still in power in Egypt, and have a lot to answer for.”

Kenneth Roth arrived at Cairo airport on Monday to present the report along with Sarah Leah Whiston, executive director of HRW Middle East and North Africa Division. Both were banned from entering Egypt for “security reasons.”

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Top Khmer Rouge Leaders Found Guilty of Crimes Against Humanity

Former Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea appe

Nuon Chea (left) and Khieu Samphan

Today, the Trial Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) found the last two surviving leaders of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime guilty of crimes against humanity. Kieu Samphan, the former head of state of Cambodia, and Nuon Chea, former president of the national assembly, have both been sentenced to life imprisonment.

The Trial Chamber found that both Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan participated in a joint criminal enterprise to achieve the common purpose of implementing a rapid socialist revolution through a ‘great leap forward’ by whatever means necessary. The Chamber found that this common purpose was implemented through, amongst other means, policies to forcibly displace people from cities and towns and between rural areas. As a result, during the first phase of the movement of the population at least two million people were forcibly transferred from Phnom Penh in April 1975 by Khmer Rouge soldiers under false pretexts and threats, often at gunpoint, with almost no prior warning and in terrifying and violent circumstances.

During the second phase of the movement of the population, between September 1975 and December 1977, at least 330,000 to 430,000 people were forcibly displaced from various locations throughout Cambodia. Most people were ordered to leave their locations and transferred under armed guard. Those who refused transfer or attempted escape were arrested, detained or transferred in a further round of movements. Continue reading

Launch of an Online Forum on the Extraordinary African Chambers

Chambres Africaines ExtraordinairesAn interactive forum on the Extraordinary African Chambers (CAE) has been launched online.

This forum was chosen to bring information on the proceedings following the agreement between the African Union and Senegal to prosecute “those primarily responsible for international crimes committed in Chad between 1982 and 1990” to the attention of people in Senegal, Chad, Africa and throughout the world.

Since the beginning of 2014, an outreach campaign has made it easier for people in Chad and Senegal to access information through meetings, public debates and information workshops taking place in the capital and in the provinces. These events involve the general public, CAE members, administrative and judicial authorities of Chad and Senegal, lawyers, victims, researchers, the media and civil society. The campaign also aims to encourage debate around the contribution of the CAE in the framework of international criminal justice. Continue reading

Amnesty International: ICC is the Key to Break Injustice in Gaza

International Criminal Court

The International Criminal Court

Following Israel’s offensive in Gaza, Amnesty International is urging the UN Security Council, the Palestinian Authority and Israel to do everything within their power to enable the International Criminal Court (ICC) to bring to justice those responsible for committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in the current and past Israeli-Palestinian conflicts.

“An International Criminal Court investigation is crucial to end the pervasive culture of impunity. All sides must push for the Court to investigate such crimes in order to halt the vicious cycle of violations and injustice once and for all”, says Amnesty.

Amnesty asks the Security Council to take immediate steps to refer the situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories to the Prosecutor of the ICC. For Amnesty, “the UN Security Council must not stand by yet again and bear witness to mounting atrocities. It must seize this moment to act decisively for justice.”

Amnesty International is also calling on both the Palestinian and Israeli authorities to support a Security Council referral, and take other measures that would allow the ICC to step in and ensure their co-operation with the Court. Continue reading

Legal Scholars’ Joint Declaration on Israel’s Gaza Offensive

Gaza July 2014

Gaza, July 2014

Last week, more than 100 international legal experts and human rights defenders from around the world, among them former UN independent experts and leading law professors, issued a joint declaration denouncing the grave violations and “disrespect of the most basic principles of the laws of armed conflict and of the fundamental rights of the entire Palestinian population” during the ongoing Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip, and calling for the international community, including the UN, Arab League, EU and the US, to establish clear mechanisms for accountability for international law violations. “Accountability cannot again be sidelined and stigmatized to serve  political  interests, our  interests must  be  the  protection of  civilians and  peace”, says Professor John Dugard, former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.

“Once again it is the unarmed civilian population, the ‘protected persons’ under International humanitarian law (IHL), which is in the eye of the storm, victimized in the name of a falsely construed right to self-defence, invoked after an escalation of violence provoked in the face of the entire international community,” says the Joint Declaration.

The declaration denounces the flouting of basic tenets of IHL, including the principle of distinction by which only combatants and military objectives can be targeted, and the principle of proportionality. Indiscriminate attacks against civilians, regardless of the identity of the perpetrators, are not only illegal under international law but also morally intolerable. Continue reading

Genocide Trial Begins for Former Khmer Rouge Leaders

Nuon Chea and Kieu Samphan

Kieu Samphan (left) and Nuon Chea

Today, the last two surviving leaders of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime, Khieu Samphan, the former head of state of Cambodia, and Nuon Chea, former president of the national assembly under Pol Pot’s regime, begin their second trial at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).

Both are already on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity at the ECCC.

The second trial includes a charge of genocide related to killings of Vietnamese and Cham Muslim minorities. The charges are based on factual allegations concerning four security centres, three worksites and one group of adjacent cooperatives.

The cases are being tried separately to accelerate proceedings, because the defendants are elderly.

The second trial is a continuation of the first one. A verdict in the first case is expected on 7 August. Prosecutors are seeking life sentences for the two accused. Continue reading

STL Does Not Have Jurisdiction for Contempt Cases Against Legal Persons

Special Tribunal for Lebanon

Last week, the Contempt Judge Nicola Lettieri issued a Decision on a Motion Challenging the Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s jurisdiction. The motion was submitted by the Defence for NEW TV S.A.L and Karma Hohamed Tahsin Al Khayat and questioned whether the Tribunal could hear cases of contempt and obstructions against the proper administration of justice by legal persons (i.e. corporate entities).

The Contempt Judge ruled that although the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) does not have jurisdiction to hear cases dealing with obstructions of justice against legal persons, it does retain jurisdiction to hear cases dealing with offences against the administration of justice against natural persons. This was held to be consistent not only with international case law, but also with Rule 60bis of the STL’s Rules of Procedure and Evidence.

Last year, information relating to confidential witnesses has been broadcasted in certain medias.

Following these events, the Registrar of the Tribunal appointed an amicus curiae. Based on reports by the amicus, the Contempt Judge concluded that there was prima facie evidence that justified proceedings for contempt.

Two journalists and two media organisations have been subsequently charged with contempt before the Tribunal.