Red Cross: “Ukraine is Officially in a War”

Ukraine ConflictAccording to Western diplomats and officials, the Red Cross has made a confidential legal assessment that Ukraine is officially in a war. Such statement would open the door to possible war crimes prosecutions, including over the downing of Malaysia Airlines MH-17.

“Clearly it’s an international conflict and therefore this is most probably a war crime,” one Western diplomat said in Geneva.

The Red Cross has not made any public statement – seeking not to offend either Ukraine or Russia by calling it a civil war or a case of foreign aggression – but it has done so privately and informed the parties to the conflict.

“The qualification has been shared bilaterally and confidentially. We do not discuss it publicly”, said Anastasia Isyuk, the Red Cross spokeswoman.

The designation as a war – either international or civil – changes the situation as it turns both sides into combatants with equal liability for war crimes, which have no statute of limitations and cannot be absolved by an amnesty. Continue reading

Dutch Officials Knew Bosnian Men Would Be Killed in Srebrenica

Dutch Peacekeepers Srebrenica

Dutch Peacekeepers in Srebrenica in 1995 [AP Photo]

In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, Liora Sion discusses the condemnation of the Dutch State for the deaths of 300 Bosnian Muslims, men and boys, in Srebrenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina, in July 1995. During the war, these Bosniaks sought refuge in a United Nations base where the Dutch peacekeepers were stationed. The Dutch subsequently handed the men and boys to the Bosnian army which decided to kill them afterwards.

For Liora Sion, the Dutch officials knew the danger they caused in Bosnia. She could experience the situation on the ground as she accompanied Dutch NATO peacekeepers in Bosnia and Kosovo as part of her field work for a PhD thesis.

She says that the soldiers she saw were men with little training and that holding them responsible for what happened in Srebrenica would be wrong.

However, she says that the commanders were responsible for the killings as they should have known that these Bosnian men would be killed because there was strong evidence of the Serbs commiting war crimes. Continue reading

Gaza’s Water Infrastructure in Danger

Gaza July 2014

Gaza city, July 2014 (c) EPA

Repeated bombing is devastating Gaza’s fragile water infrastructure, while the deaths of several municipal water technicians highlight the danger they face in carrying out vital maintenance.

“Water and electrical services are affected  as a result of the current hostilities. If they do not stop, the question is not if but when an already beleaguered population will face an acute water crisis,” according to Jacques de Maio, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegation in Israel and the occupied territories.

To make matters worse, the intensified fighting is preventing technicians from carrying out essential repairs. Following the deaths of several municipal water technicians over the past few days, Gaza’s water service provider has suspended all field operations until the safety of its staff can be guaranteed.

As a result, hundreds of thousands more people will soon find there is no water when they turn on the tap.

“Gaza’s water system has been deteriorating for years. The latest attacks are the last straw. Safe drinking water is becoming increasingly scarce in the Strip, just as temperatures are soaring. Water is becoming contaminated and sewage is overflowing, bringing a serious risk of disease,” said ICRC water and sanitation expert Guillaume Pierrehumbert. “In recent days, ICRC teams have helped the authorities conduct essential emergency repairs to water and sanitation infrastructure in Gaza, improving the situation for over 90,000 people, but bolder action is urgently required.”

Under international humanitarian law, the parties to a conflict must distinguish between military objectives and civilian objects and between combatants and civilians. They must also avoid harming civilians or civilian objects, and protect them from the effects of military operations. This includes protecting water technicians, water networks and electrical supply systems.

Dutch State Found Liable for 300 Srebrenica Deaths

Mothers of Srebrenica

Mothers of Srebrenica

Today, a court in The Hague, Netherlands, ruled that the Netherlands is liable for the killings of more than 300 Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslim) men and boys at Srebrenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina, in July 1995.

During the 1992-1995 war, thousands of Bosniaks sought refuge in the UN base just outside Srebrenica, at Potocari, where the Dutch peacekeepers were stationed.

However, while the women and young children were transported to a Bosniak-majority area, the Dutch soldiers handed more than 7000 men and boys over to the Bosnian Serb army, telling them that they would be safe. All of them subsequently got killed by the Bosnian army.

The Hague court said that the Netherlands must accept some degree of responsibility for what happened and pay compensation to the families of 300 victims.

The Hague court did not hold the Dutch state liable for the death of the other men killed in Srebrenica, saying that many of the male refugees at the time had not fled to the UN compound in Potocari but rather to the woods in the vicinity of Srebrenica. As a consequence, many of the relatives of the victims won’t be entitled to compensation.

The case was launched by relatives of the victims under the name “Mothers of Srebrenica”.

Many of remains of the victims still lie in mass graves in Eastern Bosnia.

Post-Conflict Justice and Victims’ Frustration

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The fate of about 1,400 Nepalese people who went missing in the war is still not known ©BBC

On 11 July 2014, Alan Doss* and David Tolbert* published a joint commentary drifting on their experience as to why efforts at post-conflict justice are so often a source of frustration for victims. The starting point of their concerns was the recent re-election of Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos and the hopes it brought along. The commentary builds on the failures of post-conflict justices where the mechanisms have proven inadequate and where frustrations prevent social reconciliation, giving examples of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in Bosian and Herzegovina, the Nepalese truth commission and Northern Ireland’s Good Friday Agreement.

Doss and Tolbert also highlight that truth commissions were often established for the wrong reasons and were not considered as they should : they are not a way to avoid justice but to reinforce comprehensive rights-based policies and access to justice. A recent symposium, organized by the Kofi Annan Foundation and the International Center for Transitional Justice, concluded, truth commissions contribute most to peace by reasserting the rule of law, recognizing victims, and supporting institutional reform. But, in order to succeed, these commissions must be effective, independent, legitimate and adapted to a country’s particular circumstances.

The commentary was published on Project Syndicate.

*Alan Doss is Senior Political Adviser at the Kofi Annan Foundation and a former under-secretary-general at the United Nations.
*David Tolbert is President at the International Center for Transitional Justice and a former assistant secretary-general at the United Nations.

Croatia Demands Extradition of General Martic

Milan Martic

Milan Martic (right) with General Radovan Karadzic (left) in 1994 (c) BBC News

On Monday, a court in Zagreb, Croatia, issued a European Arrest Warrant demanding the extradition of Serbian General Milan “Mile” Martic to stand trial in Croatia for shelling the towns of Karlovac and Jastebarsko near Zagreb in May 1995. During the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, Martic was interior minister, defence minister and president of the self-proclaimed Autonomous Region of Krajina located in the south of Croatia near the Bosnian border.

Martic is currently in Estonia serving a 35-year sentence of imprisonment for war crimes committed against non-Serbs in Croatia for which he was convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in 2007. The ICTY concluded that Martic’s activities resulted in the expulsion of all Croatians and non-Serbs from the areas which were under his control.

Croatia had originally indicted Martic for war crimes in 2003 alongside Serbian military leader Milan Celeketic. However, authorities did not decide to proceed with the case against Martic until 2010 when it became clear that the ICTY would not prosecute Martic for the shelling of the towns.

Estonian authorities have requested time to consider the possibility of handing over Martic. Croatian authorities have indicated that the trial will go ahead regardless of the decision of the Estonian authorities.

Latest Newsletter of the Human Rights Review Panel

HRRPThe Human Rights Review Panel (HRRP) has issued its ninth newsletter. The newsletter comprises a detailed analysis of the Panel’s decisions over the last two months.

The newsletter also highlights the visit of students from the Law Faculty of the University of Essex. The Panel was given the opportunity to brief students on its mandate, work and case-load.

An outreach campaign was also recently organized by meeting with the Coordinator of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija in northern Mitrovica on 26 June 2014 to brief on the activities of the Panel and, inter alia, in furtherance of the public outreach campaign in the northern Mitrovica region.

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.

ECHR: French Burqa Ban Does Not Breach the Convention

A woman wearing a burqa in Paris, FranceOn 1 July 2014, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) rendered its Grand Chamber Judgement in the case of S.A.S. v. France.

The case concerned the complaint of a French national, who is a practising Muslim, that she is no longer allowed to wear the full-face veil in public following the entry into force, on 11 April 2011, of a law prohibiting the concealment of one’s face in public places.

In her submissions the applicant said that she wore the burqa and niqab in accordance with her religious faith, culture and personal convictions. As she explained, the burqa is a full-body covering including a mesh over the face, and the niqab is a full-face veil leaving an opening only for the eyes. The applicant also emphasised that neither her husband nor any other member of her family put pressure on her to dress in this manner. She added that she wore the niqab in public and in private, but not systematically. She was thus content not to wear the niqab in certain circumstances but wished to be able to wear it when she chose to do so. Lastly, her aim was not to annoy others but to feel at inner peace with herself

The Court emphasised that respect for the conditions of “living together” was a legitimate aim for the measure at issue and that, particularly as the State had a lot of room for manoeuvre (“a wide margin of appreciation”) as regards this general policy question on which there were significant differences of opinion, the ban imposed by the Law did not breach the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Court thus held, by a majority, that there had been no violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the Convention, and no violation of Article 9 (right to respect for freedom of thought, conscience and religion). The Court was unanimous on the non-violation of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention combined with Articles 8 or 9.

African Union Votes in Favour of Immunity for Senior Officials

African leaders

African Leaders at the African Union Summit last week

At a summit of the African Union held last Friday in Equatorial Guinea, African leaders present voted in favour of an amendment that would grant them and “senior officials” immunity from prosecution for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide before the African Court of Justice and Human Rights.

The text of the amendment, which was passed was as follows:

“No charges shall be commenced or continued before the Court against any serving African Union Head of State or Government, or anybody acting or entitled to act in such capacity, or other senior state officials based on their functions, during their tenure of office.”

It is unclear who will be entitled to immunity as a “senior state official.” Amnesty International have called the move

“a step backwards in the fight against impunity and a betrayal of the victims who suffered serious human rights abuses.”

Ahead of the meeting on Friday, 42 African and international civil society rights groups objected to the proposed amendment noting in an open letter that the resulting impunity violates international and domestic laws as well as the constitution of the African Union.

The vote was part of a larger discussion on the Protocol on Amendments to the Protocol on the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights. The African Court of Justice and Human Rights is the result of the decision of the African Union to amalgamate the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Court of Justice of the African Union.

Shireen Avis Fisher To Receive Global Jurist of the Year Award

Justice FisherNorthwestern University School of Law’s Center for International Human Rights (CIHR) will award its second annual Global Jurist of the Year Award to Justice Shireen Avis Fisher, president of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

The awards ceremony and an address by Justice Fisher will take place on Monday, Oct. 20. She will deliver an address to the student body at noon in the Rubloff Building, 375 E. Chicago Ave., on the Law School’s Chicago campus. The event will be open to the media.

Justice Fisher was sworn in as a Justice of the Special Court for Sierra Leone on May 4, 2009. She played a key role in the Appeals Chamber judgment delivered in 2013 regarding the conviction and 50-year sentence of former Liberian President Charles Taylor for aiding and abetting crimes against humanity committed by rebels during Sierra Leone’s civil war. Continue reading