Latest News and Events

Ex-Commander of Romanian Communist Prison Sentenced to 20 Years

Alexandru Visinescu

Alexandru Visinescu

A Romanian Appeals Court in Bucharest has upheld a jail sentence against a prison commander convicted of crimes against humanity for the death of 12 political prisoners between 1956 and 1963.

Alexandru Visinescu, 90, was sentenced to 20 years in jail last July after being found guilty of running “a regime of extermination” at the jail outside the small town of Râmnicu Sărat, 90 miles east of Bucharest.

Nicknamed “the prison of silence” because the prisoners were held in solitary confinement, the facility housed intellectuals, dissidents, priests and others deemed enemies of the Communist Party.

The prisoners were subjected to regular beatings, severely underfed, and denied access to medical treatment.

At least 14 inmates died while many more were permanently disfigured or traumatized during the seven years Visinescu was in charge of the jail

The ruling marks a significant moment in Romania’s efforts to try communist-era figures accused of wrongdoing. While a handful of top officials were convicted of genocide in the 1990s, most of the charges were later reduced and many of those found guilty were released on health grounds.

According to the Institute for Investigation of Communist Crimes and Memory of Romanian Exile (IICCMRE), which initiated the case against Visinescu, up to 2 million Romanians were killed, unjustly imprisoned, deported or relocated during nearly half a century of communist repression.

The IICCMRE has a list of 35 prison officials who it says have committed crimes. The Institute blames corruption for the fact that so far only Visinescu has been sentenced.

Latest Newsletter of the ICTY Association of Defence Counsel

ADC-ICTY-300x300The Association of Defence Counsel Practising Before the ICTY (ADC-ICTY) has published its latest newsletter.

This edition covers the recent developments in the Mladić and Karadžić cases.

The newsletter also addresses the recent cases which took place at the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) as well as in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Moreover, the Newsletter provides a detailed summary of a conference which took place last January in Berlin and which gathered Defence Counsel from various International Tribunals.

Finally, the Newsletter analyses the upcoming challenges of the New Kosovo Tribunal which will be established in The Hague.

General Zdravko Tolimir Passed Away in Jail

Zdravko TolimirZdravko Tolimir passed away last night in the United Nations Detention Unit in The Hague.

In April last year, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) upheld the Trial Chamber’s convictions and found Tolimir, the former intelligence chief of the Bosnian Serb Army’s Main Headquarters, guilty of involvement in genocide against thousands of Bosniak men and boys from Srebrenica after the UN-protected ‘safe area’ was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995.

Gen Zdravko Tolimir, 67, was given a life term in jail. The cause of his death has not yet been made public.

Job Vacancy: Chair/Reader in Criminal Law at Durham Law School

Durham Law SchoolDurham Law School seeks to appoint a Chair/Reader in Criminal Law. Durham Law School welcomes applications from exceptional scholars with research and teaching interests in the broad field of Criminal Law. Expertise in criminal evidence or gender/feminist perspectives would be advantageous.

The appointee would be invited to play a leading role in the Centre for Criminal Law and Criminal Justice, which seeks to support research collaboration and engagement within and beyond the university.

Successful applicants will, ideally, be in post by 1 September 2016. Applicants should clearly state in their application for which post or posts they wish to be considered. Shortlisted applicants will be asked to provide samples of their publications prior to interview.

The closing date for applications is 13 March 2016.

For more information, click here.

US Judge Approves Extradition to Spain of Salvadoran War Crimes Suspect

Inocente Orlando Montano MoralesA United States Federal judge approved Spanish extradition requests on Friday ordering the deportation to Spain of Inocente Orlando Montano Morales, a former Salvadoran colonel, where he will stand trial for his role in planning the murders of six Jesuit priests and two women during El Salvador’s civil war in 1989. Most of the priests were originally from Spain.

“In short, the government’s evidence shows (Montano) was a decision-maker and member of a group of officers who collectively ordered the unlawful killings of Jesuit priests,” Federal magistrate judge Kimberly Swank wrote.

The judge also cited evidence that Montano provided information to the killers, including the location of a priest who was considered a primary target, then later threatened a witness’ wife to help conceal the crime. Montano served as the country’s vice-minister of public security and was part of an inner circle of powerful military officers.

The judge ordered that US marshals take custody of Montano so he can be turned over to Spain, pending final approval by the State Department.

The civil war left 75,000 dead and 8,000 more disappeared, the vast majority of whom were victims of the military regime’s “dirty war” against political opponents, leftist activists, and other community organizers, including many religious leaders.

The Jesuits had a long-standing affiliation with liberation theology, and government officials suspected the priests of sympathizing with the insurgency.

To date, the majority of individuals responsible for the widespread human rights abuses committed during the civil war have not been held accountable for their crimes.

Latest Analysis

Japan’s Apology to South Korea Shows What Public Apologies Should (Not) Do

by DavildTolbert*

South Korea Comfort WomenJapan’s most recent and controversial apology to the government of South Korea for sexual slavery committed by its military against “comfort women” during WWII has raised important questions about apologies for crimes and serious human rights violations during armed conflict. What is the proper role of an apology for such massive crimes against humanity? What can apologies do and what should they not be meant to do for survivors and victims?

The latest Japanese apology, which some have seen as part of a strategic geopolitical deal struck between Japan and South Korea, has led to protests among the 46 surviving South Korean victims as well as the victims in other countries occupied by Japan during the war.

After working for 15 years on reparations for victims in over 50 countries, ICTJ has found that many victims feel that an apology unaccompanied by other forms of reparation does not constitute justice, even as material reparations, such as compensation, without a meaningful acknowledgement of responsibility also falls short.

An estimated 200,000 women in Asia were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army just prior to and during World War II. Japan systematically established an extensive network of “comfort stations” throughout its occupied territories, to which “comfort women” were trafficked and used as sexual slaves. Many of these “comfort women” were barely teenagers when they were enslaved and the surviving few are now of very advanced age and dwindling in numbers. Continue reading

Time for a Genuine Commitment to Rule of Law

by Vani Sathisan*

Court HammerThe world observes Human Rights Day on 10 December to mark the momentous strides in international human rights law since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. In Myanmar, recent political changes have been both momentous and transformative. Nonetheless, what was proclaimed by the UDHR as the “equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family”, continue to be infringed upon by the arbitrary and highly subjective interpretation and application of laws, some of them dating back to British colonial times.

Successive governments in Myanmar have used overly broad or vaguely defined laws to curtail freedom of expression that is protected under international law. They often invoke the justification, typically inappropriately, of protecting national security, or to prevent public disorder or avoid outraging the religious feelings of a class. None of these efforts have served or can serve to address or respond to sectarian and religious violence.

On behalf of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), I have observed trials of those arrested and detained on criminal defamation charges for their Facebook posts that allegedly defame either the Tatmadaw or a political leader. One of the laws used to charge the accused is the Penal Code, first drafted in 1860.

The ICJ released a briefing paper last month highlighting how the enforcement of Myanmar’s defamation laws can result in violations of a number of international laws and standards protecting human rights, and also have an overall chilling effect on the freedom of opinion and expression and freedom of assembly in the country. Continue reading

How Africa Can Fix the International Criminal Court

By John Dugard*

ICCThe ruling African National Congress’s demand that the South African government should pull out of the International Criminal Court is defeatist, naïve and reactionary. African states have largely themselves to blame for the fact that the continent has been singled out by the court, and rather than withdraw they should use their political muscle to ensure that prosecutions are brought against non-African leaders too.

Africa occupies a key position in the International Criminal Court (ICC). It is the largest regional group with 34 member states; the present prosecutor of the court is an African woman – Fatou Bensouda of The Gambia – and four of the 18 judges on the court are from Africa, including the vice-president, Joyce Aluoch of Kenya. Africa is not therefore a marginal player in the ICC.

Despite this the ICC is more criticised in Africa than any other continent. In large measure this criticism comes from the leaders of non-member states, such as Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who are themselves accused of committing international crimes.

But the leaders of member states, whose judges serve or have served on the court, have given support to the criticism and condemnation of the court. Perhaps the three most vocal leaders of this group are Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and South African President Jacob Zuma. Continue reading

Why Myanmar Needs to Stop Prosecuting People Over Facebook Posts

By Vani Sathisan*

facebookTo say that Facebook and other internet-based social media networks have revolutionized modern day communication would be an understatement. According to a report by the Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the global number of internet users has reached more than two billion. One million log onto Facebook every month. Twitter claims 500 million users and YouTube is viewed about 4 million times per day. After ideas expressed online have had an instant “viral” spread, revolutions  have unfolded .

And so have the prosecutions.

Judiciaries worldwide have had to struggle with what content is defamatory and what is self-expression.

The US Supreme Court, in Elonis v. United States [2015], considered the case of a defendant who had written, and posted on Facebook, apparently violent rap lyrics, including “I want to kill my wife” while he was undergoing a divorce. The court had to weigh up whether convicting a man of threatening another person requires proof of subjective intent to threaten or whether it would suffice to show that a “reasonable person” would regard the statement as threatening. It ruled in favour of the defendant stating that “negligence is not sufficient to support a conviction.” The defendant’s lawyer argued that his client was exercising his First Amendment rights and that governments may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because certain factions of society find it offensive. Continue reading

Le Tribunal spécial pour le Liban, cet énergumène judiciaire: Observations d’un expert avisé

Compte-rendu d’entrevue avec Me Philippe Larochelle

par Pascale Langlais*photo_tsl

En 2009, la justice pénale internationale a mis au monde un petit nouveau, une entité judiciaire bien spéciale et unique en son genre : le Tribunal spécial pour le Liban (ci-après « TSL »). Né de la résolution 1757 du Conseil de Sécurité des Nations Unies à la suite des attentats terroristes ayant coûté la vie à l’ancien premier ministre du Liban, Rafiq Hariri, en 2005, le TSL se distingue des autres juridictions internationales à plusieurs égards et semble parfois évoluer en orbite des autres tribunaux phares de la justice internationale. À ce sujet, on doit notamment souligner le fait qu’il s’agit du premier tribunal international pénal à juger de crimes uniquement définis en droit national, à savoir le terrorisme selon le Code pénal libanais (pour plus d’information). Il s’agit également du premier tribunal international pénal à prévoir dans son Statut la possibilité de tenir des procès in absentia, donc en l’absence de l’accusé. Autre innovation, le TSL est aussi le premier tribunal en son genre à se reconnaître une compétence en matière de responsabilité de personnes morales[1].

Malgré toutes ces caractéristiques que certains considèrent comme une avancée du droit international pénal, il n’en demeure pas moins que le TSL essuie son lot de critiques non seulement en ce qui a trait à sa légitimité et à son fonctionnement, mais également en rapport avec la place qu’il occupe dans la sphère de la justice internationale pénale. Ses détracteurs sont nombreux, tant dans la société libanaise que dans la communauté internationale. Parmi ceux-ci, on peut notamment citer Philippe Larochelle, avocat de la défense fort d’une grande expérience devant les tribunaux internationaux. Me Larochelle se montre très dubitatif quant à l’existence de ce tribunal et porte un regard très critique sur la justice internationale pénale de manière générale. Il a d’ailleurs su exposer ses opinons très tranchées sur la question lors d’une conférence présentée à l’Université Laval le 28 mai 2015 dans le cadre de la première édition de l’École d’Été sur la Justice internationale. Il a plus amplement précisé sa pensée lors d’une entrevue accordée à la suite de cette conférence. Continue reading