Latest Newsletter of the Human Rights Review Panel

HRRPThe Human Rights Review Panel (HRRP) has issued its fifteenth newsletter. The newsletter comprises a detailed analysis of the Panel’s decisions between November 2016 and March 2017.

The newsletter also discusses the meetings that the HRRP held with the Head of the EULEX Mission in Kosovo. Meetings with EULEX representatives are essential for the cooperation between the Panel and EULEX as 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.

The newsletter also highlights that one of the Panel members, Dr Guénaël Mettraux, has been recently appointed as a Judge with the Kosovo Specialist Chambers.

The next session of the HRRP will take place in May 2017.

Annual Report of the Human Rights Review Panel

HRRPThe Human Rights Review Panel (HRRP) has published its Annual Report for the period from 1 January 2016 to 31 December 2016.

The Report contains information on the mandate and procedures of the Panel as well as a detailed account of its activities over the last year. It also reports on the complaints the Panel dealt with in 2016 and the case-law it developed reviewing those cases.

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.

ICC: Bemba Sentenced to One Additional Year for Corruption of Witnesses

Jean-Pierre Bemba ©Michael Kooren/AFP/Getty Images

Jean-Pierre Bemba ©Michael Kooren/AFP/Getty Images

Today, Trial Chamber VII of the International Criminal Court (ICC) sentenced Jean-Pierre Bemba to one additional year in prison for his October 2016 conviction of guilty of offences against the administration of justice. The Court had found Mr. Bemba and four other accused guilty of corruption and supporting false testimonies. Mr. Bemba was also fined 300,000 euros. The four other accused were sentenced to imprisonment from 6 months to 2 and a half years, but had their time deduced from the time they have already spent in prison.

On 21 March 2016, Jean-Pierre Bemba was found guilty by the ICC of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Central African Republic in 2002-2003. On 22 June, Mr. Bemba was sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment. In September, the Defence for Mr. Jean-Pierre Bemba filed an appeal against his conviction for war crimes and crimes against humanity in front of the Appeals Chamber of the ICC.

The decision on sentence can be found here.

Hope for Justice in Syria from an Unlikely Source

by David Tolbert*

An independent mechanism established by the UNGA is working towards abolishing the reign of criminal impunity in Syria.

UNGA

The Emir of Qatar, the country that led the efforts to establish the Mechanism alongside Liechtenstein, addressed the UNGA in September 2016 ©Reuters

Six years into the carnage in Syria, atrocious crimes run rampant, with savage abuses committed against all groups in the devastated country, and the murderous regime, abetted by powerful allies, is still in power.

The United Nations Security Council remains in a deadlock and unable to take any steps towards ensuring accountability for the massive crimes, with the International Criminal Court left on the sidelines.

However, amid the terrible loss of life, hope that the slow wheels of justice will finally be put in motion emerged recently from an unlikely source – the UN General Assembly.

In December 2016, the UNGA, led by Liechtenstein and Qatarestablished an “Independent Mechanism to assist in the investigation of serious crimes committed in Syria since March 2011”.

With this step the UNGA, usually associated with administrative and budgetary matters, has asserted itself in a highly welcome if unusual manner, signaling the deep frustration with the failure of other UN organs and the great powers to stop the killing in Syria.

The move also demonstrates that small states can galvanise the international community around issues of global significance and catalyse a collective response.

The term “Mechanism” indicates that the powers of this newly established body will not mirror those of a court or a commission of inquiry.

Instead, the focus of its mission will be to collect and analyse evidence, which could then be available for courts or tribunals in the future to prosecute these massive crimes. Continue reading

Human Rights Movement Must Come Together to Resist Trump’s Agenda

by David Tolbert*

Donald TrumpDonald Trump’s inaugural speech has fittingly been described, as “dystopian,” as “dark,” as “a declaration of war.” The new president made no call for unity, did not reach out to a soul not already in his camp — despite losing the popular vote by almost 3 million votes — nor uttered a word to bring together a fractured nation or address a world deeply nervous at his ascension to the most powerful of offices.

In the first few days as president, his actions mirrored his words. Trump has rushed headlong into creating further divisions and has begun an assault on human rights and basic decency — including a de facto ban on many Muslim refugees from entering the United States and the resurrection of CIA “black sites“ — and promises more to come.

The new president exalts torture, mocks the disabled, casts aspersions on those who defend human rights, appeals to racist sentiments through coded and not-so-coded language and denigrates women in both word and deed. He shows no regard for the Geneva Conventions or the painstaking work of generations of human rights activists, many of them American, to ensure that civilians are not abused in times of conflict and that the vulnerable are protected.

For good measure, he seems to demean virtually every restraint that protects the citizen from the state. His first call as president to a foreign leader was to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt, who crushed the protests against army rule, devastated Egypt’s civil society with draconian laws targeting human rights defenders and turned Egypt’s legal institutions into “kangaroo courts.” A chilling signal indeed. Continue reading

Response by the Co-Lawyers to the OCIJ Press Statement on the dismissal of the charges against Ms. IM Chaem

ECCC

ECCC

Dr. BIT Seanglim and Wayne Jordash QC, Co-Lawyers for Ms. IM Chaem, welcome the decision by the Co-Investigating Judges to dismiss the charges against our client. We are grateful to the Co-Investigating Judges for their careful consideration of the facts and the law and their decision to issue the disposition of the Closing Order to ensure Ms. IM Chaem’s rights.

The ECCC has shown with this landmark decision that it is capable of delivering justice that meets international standards. Although we await the full reasoning of the Co-Investigating Judges, we are confident that the decision – that the ECCC lacked personal jurisdiction over our client – reflects a reasonable view of the evidence and the law. We are satisfied that the Co-Investigating Judges adequately and fairly evaluated the evidence to find that Ms. IM Chaem was neither a senior leader nor one of those “most responsible”. As was crystal clear from any reasoned view of the evidence and the law, this was not a case that the International Co-Prosecutor ought to have pursued and it has cost our client dearly.

There are of course no winners in cases such as these. The International Co-Prosecutor ought to have pursued justice for the victims by adopting a more careful and focused approach on relevant suspects. On any reasonable view of the evidence, it was always clear that Ms. IM Chaem was not such a person. Nonetheless, despite these regrettable circumstances and after almost ten years of investigation, our client welcomes the dismissal of all charges. She has always denied every allegation and today’s decision is a significant step towards vindicating her and clearing her name. The decision is a milestone in her long and difficult march towards justice.

Accordingly, the Defence looks forward to receiving the full reasoning in support of the decision in the near future. At this time, the Defence hopes that the International Co-Prosecutor will properly consider and weigh the interests of justice in deciding whether to pursue an appeal of this decision.

Prosecutions of Syrian War Crimes

A man inspects a damaged house after an airstrike on al-Yadouda village, in Deraa Governorate, Syria February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Faqir

A man inspects a damaged house after an airstrike on al-Yadouda village, in Deraa Governorate, Syria February 15, 2017. ©REUTERS

On Thursday, the United Nations announced that a new body is being set up to prepare prosecutions of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is due to name a judge or prosecutor as its head this month.

While the independent panel, which is officially called the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Those Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in [Syria] since March 2011, is not able to prosecute individuals itself, it will collect and preserve evidence and prepare files for future prosecutions which states or international courts can use.

In December, the UN General Assembly voted to establish the mechanism. The United Nations aims to recruit 40-60 experts in investigations, prosecutions, the military, and forensics.

A UN Commission of Inquiry has already been collecting evidence since 2011. It has issued 20 reports accusing the Assad government, rebel forces and Islamic State of mass killings, rapes, disappearances and recruiting child soldiers.

Also on Thursday in a landmark ruling, a Swedish Court sentenced a Syrian man to life imprisonment for violating international humanitarian law through his participation in the execution style-murder of seven men in Syria in 2012. Under Swedish law, courts can try Swedish citizens as well as other nationals for crimes committed abroad.

Other European countries have similarly started investigations and prosecutions against people accused of committing serious crimes in Syria. The cases are based on the principle of universal jurisdiction and are possible because of the arrival in Europe of both victims and suspects as refugees.

Amnesty International reported last week the Syrian government executed up to 13,000 prisoners in mass hangings and carried out systematic torture at a military jail.

Myanmar: UN Report Condemns Human Rights Violations against Muslim Minority

Rohingya Village

Rohingya Village in Myanmar

On Friday, a new UN report has accused Myanmar’s security forces of waging a brutal campaign of murder, rape and torture in the Rakhine State against Rohingya Muslims, a stateless minority not recognized by Myanmar.

The report, compiled after interviews with more than 200 Rohingya refugees who fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh, also cites consistent testimony indicating that hundreds of Rohingya houses, schools, markets, shops, madrasas and mosques were burned by the army, police and sometimes civilian mobs.

Witnesses also described the destruction of food and food sources, including paddy fields, and the confiscation of livestock.

While discrimination against the Rohingyas has been endemic for decades in the Rakhine State, the recent level of violence is unprecedented, says the report.

The testimonies, gathered by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, indicate that the attacks against the Rohingya villages make it impossible for them to live in their villages, thereby creating a coercive environment amounting to forced displacement.

The information also demonstrates that the victims were targeted based on their belonging to a particular ethnicity and religion.

Many victims mentioned that soldiers and officers taunted them by saying that Islam is not the religion of Myanmar; that Rohingyas are Muslim Bengalis; and that Rohingyas would be eliminated from Myanmar.

The report says that the attacks against the Rohingya population in the area seem to have been widespread as well as systematic, indicating the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.

An estimated 65,000 members of the Muslim minority community have fled to Bangladesh since violence broke out in Myanmar last October.

As History Restarts, Five Strategies for International Human Rights Organisations

With liberalism facing its greatest test since the end of the Cold War, international human rights organisations need to adapt to survive.

By Rupert Abbott, Daniel Eyre, Jenna Holliday and Ou Virak*

berlin-wall

A fragment of the Berlin Wall

With wars raging across the world, from Syria to Nigeria, the corresponding refugee crisis, shrinking space for civil society, and the rise of right-wing populism, 2016 was annus horribilis for human rights.

Behind this deteriorating situation are a number of trends, which suggest not only that worse may be yet to come but also amount to an existential crisis for the international human rights movement.

Human rights international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) recognise that new challenges call for new responses. We join others in identifying strategies that will be crucial to defending rights in a changing world.

The end of history

The fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 signaled the end of the Cold War and ushered in an era of optimism for liberal democracy, with respect for human rights – particularly civil and political rights – as one of its cornerstones.

That year, Francis Fukuyama asked in his seminal essay whether the world was at the “End of History?”

With the defeat of fascism in the middle of the 20th century, and the collapse of communism towards its end, Fukuyama described the “unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism … the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy …”

The years that followed were a heyday for liberal internationalism, with the foreign policies of liberal democracies – led by the US – guided by the aim of enlarging the “community of market democracies”, and, with this, their dominance. Continue reading

Germany Sued for Genocide against Herero and Nama People of Namibia

battle-between-herero-warriors-and-german-colonials

Detail of Battle Between Herero Warriors and German Colonials, February 1904.

Descendants of the Herero and Nama people of Namibia have sued Germany for damages in the United States for a campaign of genocide by German colonial troops in the early 1900s, which led to more than 100,000 deaths.

According to the complaint filed with a US District Court on Thursday, Germany has excluded the plaintiffs from talks with Namibia over possible reparation payments, which are expected to be completed before June 2017. Germany would furthermore have publicly said that any settlement will not include reparations to victims, even if compensation is awarded to Namibia itself.

Colonial Germany ruled Namibia from 1884 to 1915. Between 1904 and 1907 the Herero and Nama people rebelled against the colonial rule, which led to a campaign of racial extermination and collective punishment. Thousands died of thirst and starvation and many others were sent to concentration camps.

The complaint was filed under the US Alien Tort Statute which allows victims of serious human rights abuses committed abroad to sue those responsible in US courts. The law’s reach was narrowed by the US Supreme Court in 2013 when it decided in the case of Kiobel v Royal Dutch Petroleum Co that the law did not cover foreign conduct unless claims sufficiently “touch and concern” the territory of the United States. Lawyers for the plaintiffs argue that this and later rulings left open the possibility of US courts asserting jurisdiction in genocide cases.