Alleged Islamic Extremist Surrendered to the ICC for the Destruction of Historical Monuments

Tumbuktu Mausoleum Ruins

The ruins of the mausoleum of Alfa Moya in a cemetery in Timbuktu ©AFP

Today, Mr Ahmad Al Mahdi Al Faqi was surrendered to the International Criminal Court (ICC) by the authorities of Niger and arrived at the Court’s Detention Centre in the Netherlands.

Mr Al Faqi is an alleged Islamic extremist charged of war crimes 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.

Mr Al Faqi is charged in the destruction of 10 historic buildings including mausoleums and a mosque in Timbuktu.

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 Faqi was linked to the Islamic court of Timbuktu and participated in carrying out its orders. Specifically, it is alleged that he was involved in the destruction of the buildings mentioned in the charges.

In a statement issued today, the ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said that “Intentional attacks against historic monuments and buildings dedicated to religion are serious crimes under the Rome Statute […] No longer should such reprehensible conduct go unpunished. It is rightly said that “cultural heritage is the mirror of humanity.” Such attacks affect humanity as a whole. We must stand up to the destruction and defacing of our common heritage.”

This is the ICC first case concerning the destruction of buildings dedicated to religion and historical monuments.

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

International Court of Justice to Hear Chile-Bolivia Coastal Case

International Court of JusticeThe International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, has ruled on Thursday that it has jurisdiction to hear a century-old dispute between Chile and Bolivia in relation to Bolivia’s access to the Pacific Ocean.

Bolivia became landlocked after it lost 400km of coast to Chile during the War of the Pacific in 1879-1884.

In April 2013, Bolivia filed an application to the International Court of Justice instituting proceedings against Chile with regard to a dispute “relating to Chile’s obligation to negotiate in good faith and effectively with Bolivia in order to reach an agreement granting Bolivia a fully sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean”. Bolivia stressed that it did not ask for an ICJ ruling on its claim to the 400-km stretch of coast, but that it only wanted Chile to agree to negotiations.

Chile argued that the case did not fall under the jurisdiction of the ICJ as a 1904 peace treaty between the two countries settled their border. It therefore asked the Court to rule that the claim brought by Bolivia was not within the jurisdiction of the Court. Continue reading

Kofi Annan: UN Security Council Must Take In New Permanent Members

Kofi AnnanIn a recent interview, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, said the UN Security Council must welcome in new permanent members or risk becoming increasingly irrelevant on the international stage.

Annan said Russia, China, the US, France and the UK should take advantage of the imminent 70th anniversary of the UN to modernise it by taking in powers such as India and Germany.

“One should always take advantage of the accident of the calendar and really push for major reforms […] I firmly believe that the Council should be reformed: it cannot continue as it is.”

The current system has been criticised as an anachronism, setting in stone the global politics of 70 years ago. Among the longstanding proponents of reform are India, Germany, Japan and South Africa, all lobbying for a permanent seat on the Council.

“The world has changed and the UN should change and adapt. […] I think those in privileged positions will have to think hard and decide what amount of power they are prepared to release to make the participation of the newcomers meaningful. If they do that, they will get cooperation; if they don’t, we risk confrontation,” said Annan.

Successive Secretaries General have attempted to push through reforms but have met resistance from the sitting powers. Any reform of the Security Council would require the agreement of all five permanent members, and at least two-thirds of UN member states.

A text setting out the basic framework for reform is being considered by member states, but experts are pessimistic regarding its implementation, given the lack of interest from big powers such as the United States and Russia.

91-Year-Old Woman Charged Over Nazi Death Camp Allegations

AuschwitzGerman prosecutors have charged a 91-year-old woman as an accessory to the murder of 260,000 people at Auschwitz on allegations she was a member of the Nazi SS who served in the death camp complex.

The woman, who has not been named under German privacy laws, is accused of having served as a member of the SS at the concentration camp.

The 91-year-old woman, a resident of Schleswig-Holstein, is accused of having been an SS radio operator at Auschwitz from April to July 1944.

Although her involvement in the mass killings at the camp may have been peripheral, prosecutors argue she can be held accountable because she helped the camp function.

There are no indications at the moment that the woman is unfit for trial.

UN Report Calls for Special Court to Prosecute Sri Lanka War Crimes

UN Sri LankaToday, a long-delayed report of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, calling for accountability for war crimes committed in Sri Lanka, was released to the public. The report includes the principal findings of OHCHR’s investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights committed during the 26-year armed conflict in Sri Lanka.

The OHCHR investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL), a special team established by the former High Commissioner Navi Pillay, identified several crimes that were committed between 2002 and 2011, which, if established in a court of law, could amount to war crimes and/or crimes against humanity.

The OISL called on the Government of Sri Lanka to adopt specific legislation establishing an ad hoc hybrid special court, integrating international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators, mandated to try war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The OISL also called on the Government of Sri Lanka to accede to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Sri Lanka’s government said on Monday that it was setting up a South Africa-style truth and reconciliation commission to look into the atrocities. However, the UN report found that Sri Lanka’s criminal justice system was not yet ready or equipped to conduct independent and credible investigations into the allegations contained in the OISL report, or to hold accountable those responsible for the violations. Continue reading

UN votes to Allow Palestinian Flag to be Raised over UN

Palestine FlagThe United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on Thursday voting in favour of raising a flag of Palestine at its headquarters in New York City.

119 states voted in favour, while eight voted against (Australia, Canada, Israel, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Tuvalu, United States) and there were 45 abstentions. European nations were divided on the move with France and Sweden voting in favour while others such as Germany, Austria, Finland, the Netherlands and Cyprus abstained.

The new resolution comes amid growing momentum to recognise Palestinian statehood, with several states showing their support in the past year.

The move is of symbolic relevance in highlighting Palestinian aspirations for statehood. “It is a symbolic thing, but another step to solidify the pillars of the state of Palestine in the international arena,” said Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian representative to the UN, ahead of the vote.

Both Israel and the United States have expressed strong opposition, with Israel’s UN ambassador Ron Prosor slamming the move as “a blatant attempt to hijack the UN”.

Palestine has non-member observer status at the UN, together with the Holy See. But late August, the Vatican had asked the Palestinian UN mission to remove all references to it from the draft resolution calling for the flags of Palestine and the Holy See to fly at the UN.

In 2012, the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade the status of the Palestinians to that of a “non-member observer state” allowing them to take part in assembly debates.

Some 135 countries – many in Asia, Africa and Latin America – now recognise a Palestinian state.

Momentum to recognise a Palestinian state has built over the past years, with Palestine joining the International Criminal Court on 1 April 2015. The Prosecutor of the ICC, Fatou Bensouda, has opened a preliminary examination of the situation in Palestine, confirming that prosecutors would be looking at the Gaza conflict, as well as other issues that include Israel’s settlement construction on occupied Palestinian lands.

Serbia Charges Eight Men over Srebrenica Massacre

Srebrenica MassacreProsecutors in Serbia have charged eight people over the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

The men charged today belonged to a special Bosnian-Serb police unit that was operating in the eastern village of Kravica when the killings took place.

According to the prosecutors, they herded the mainly Muslim victims into a warehouse where they were killed with machine guns and grenades in an assault that lasted all night.

Those charged included the unit’s commander, Nedeljko Milidragovic, also known as Nedjo the Butcher, who was accused of giving the order for the killings and saying that “nobody should get out alive”.

Nedeljko Milidragovic was already facing genocide charges in Bosnia but has been able to live freely in Serbia because of the lack of an extradition treaty. However, the situation has changed in March when he and the seven other suspects were arrested as a result of co-operation between the war crimes court in Belgrade and its counterpart in Sarajevo.

The eight men could face a maximum sentence of 20 years.

Guatemalan President Resigns Amid Corruption Scandal

Otto Perez Molina

Otto Pérez Molina

Guatemala’s President Otto Pérez Molina has resigned days before the elections, after the attorney general obtained a warrant for his arrest amid a corruption scandal.

Mr Perez Molina’s resignation comes just days before Sunday’s presidential election, in which he was barred from standing under constitutional rules.

On Tuesday, Congress stripped him of his immunity from prosecution, and on Wednesday the attorney general, Thelma Aldana, requested an arrest warrant for Pérez Molina.

Aldana later said a judge had issued the warrant on suspicion of illicit association, fraud and receiving bribe money, relating to a widespread customs fraud ring.

The corruption scandal, uncovered by prosecutors and a UN commission investigating criminal networks in Guatemala, involves a scheme known as “la linea”, or the line, in which businesspeople paid bribes to avoid import duties through the customs agency.

Protesters, business leaders and Catholic church officials had called for Pérez Molina to resign in recent weeks as the investigation of the customs fraud ring grew wider and hit more officials. Pérez Molina was steadfast in his plan to stay, until the judge’s order. He has maintained his innocence.

Russia Opposes France Proposal on Limited Veto Power

Image1Yesterday, Ambassador Vitaly Churkin held a press conference assuming Russia’s presidency of the United Nations Security Council for September during which he commented on the UNSC reform and proposals on veto limitations. Commenting on the proposed initiative by France to limit UNSC permanent members veto powers, Churkin said it was a “populist” idea and that a compromise on a UNSC reform was nowhere in sight.

Ambassador Churkin has first addressed negotiations around the admission of new permanent members, introducing a third-category of long-term non-permanent members: “We want a historic compromise to be reached between the two main camps: Those who want to have new permanent members and those who don’t want to have permanent members, and advocate a reform with a new category of intermediate countries which will be elected for a longer period of time than the current two years for the current non-permanent members.” Continue reading

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.