Latest News and Events

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.

Event: International Legal Aspects of Countering Piracy

TMC logoDate and Time: 15 October 2015, 09.00 – 17.15 hrs, followed by a reception
Venue: T.M.C. Asser Instituut, R.J. Schimmelpennincklaan 20-22, The Hague
Registration: Please register for this free event on the website of the Asser Institute

Countering maritime piracy by repressive means evokes important international legal questions: what is the responsibility and still evolving role of states and other actors like Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs)?

Is the use of repressive means by states already exhausted or eroding in the face of the emergence of PMSCs?

Which legal frameworks apply when countering piracy and how do they correlate?

What is the role of soft law? And which human rights challenges can be identified when arresting, detaining, transferring and prosecuting piracy suspects?

These are only a few pertinent questions that will be addressed during an international conference, organised by the public international law cluster of the Asser Institute (The Hague) and the Antonio Cassese Initiative (Geneva).

This international conference will also provide an opportunity to celebrate the 50 year anniversary of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut and this year’s establishment of the Antonio Cassese Initiative Foundation in the Netherlands, thereby underscoring the increasing collaboration between these two organisations and between The Hague and Geneva, two of the most important legal cities in the world. Continue reading

Kosovo Votes for New War Crimes Court

Yesterday, Kosovo’s parliament voted in favour of changing the constitution, allowing for the creation of an ad hoc war crimes court, to try ethnic Albanian former guerillas for alleged war crimes committed during and shortly after the war with Serbia in 1999.

Kosovo Liberation Army fighters ©AP

Kosovo Liberation Army fighters ©AP

The 120-seat legislature voted 82-5 in favor of the change, with several abstentions.

During the war, Kosovo Albanian rebels fought to make Kosovo independent from Serbia. In 2010, a special investigation team concluded that there was hard evidence of kidnapping, torture and murder by the rebels.

The report accused some members of the ethnic Albanian insurgency, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), of abductions, beatings, summary executions, and in some cases, the forced removal of human organs on Albanian territory during and after the 1998-1999 Kosovo war. The report named some individuals currently in the Kosovo government, including Prime Minister Hashim Thaci.

At the time of the conclusions of the investigation, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), established in 1993 to try all war crimes committed during the wars in the former Yugoslavia, did not take on any more new cases.

On Friday, Kosovo’s government had asked parliament to reconsider its rejection of an ad hoc court, after parliament had voted against creating the court on 26 June. Many Kosovo Albanians see the war crimes court as an attempt to tarnish their 1998-99 guerrilla war against Serbia’s repressive rule.

The new court will most likely be located in The Hague, although the Dutch government is still waiting for an official request from Kosovo.

Latest Analysis

Tunisia’s “Reconciliation Bill” Threatens Gains of the Revolution

by David Tolbert*

Tunisia RevolutionTunisia has until now inspired the region and the rest of the world by taking the democratic path after its 2011 revolution. But the current dysfunction of the political system, the deep poverty in the country’s marginalized rural interior and the brutality of extremism are tying a vicious knot that threatens to destroy the transitional process. With the government’s proposed “Reconciliation Bill,” the promises of the revolution are in danger of being crushed. The gains of the revolution are at stake.

In this worrying situation, what is needed is more support for the rule of law, not less. What Tunisians deserve and what the revolution sought was the end of dictatorship and the pursuit of accountability for large-scale corruption and human rights violations, not authoritarian measures and entrenched impunity.

The government of Tunisia, regrettably, is responding to the current security crisis with measures that could make the situation worse. The now-departed dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali pointed to extremism to justify policies that led to torture, prolonged detention, sexual violence, and forced exile as well as extreme restrictions on the right to education, religious worship and livelihood. That climate of repression could well return with new draconian provisions. Continue reading

For All Kenyans to Be Equal, Kenyatta Must Move Beyond Words on Justice

by David Tolbert*

President Kenyatta (c) AP

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta (c) AP

President Obama’s historic visit to Kenya came at an important crossroads for the country. While much of the attention of the press was directed at Obama’s Kenyan roots, for many, Obama’s emphasis on justice for all Kenyans is what will be remembered. This is particularly true given that Obama’s visit came four months after President Kenyatta’s official apology to, and announcement of reparations for, the many victims of the 2008 post-election violence, as recommended by Kenya’s Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC).

The issue of justice, as well as endemic corruption and the stalled reform process in Kenya, will remain long after the cheers for the U.S. President have faded. President Kenyatta has, however, an opportunity in the wake of Obama’s historic visit to go beyond rhetoric and both deliver on his apology and the issues Obama has raised. Kenyatta and the Kenyan authorities should not miss this opportunity.

Kenyatta’s promising announcements require concrete steps and actions without further delay. His four-month old decision to establish a fund to provide relief to victims was followed and confirmed by the inclusion of the first tranche of resources-one billion shillings (almost $10 million U.S. dollars) in the new annual budget. Now is the time to design a comprehensive and gender-sensitive reparations program that starts with the most vulnerable victims. Opening space for the participation of victims and listening to their needs and demands must be the first step. Concurrently, an efficient and transparent administrative system and infrastructure for the program must be created. Continue reading

The Principle of Ne Bis in Idem in International Law: European Inspiration?

By Myron Phua*

European LawRecent developments in the jurisprudence of both the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) and the European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) have demonstrated how international tribunals can collaboratively act to develop the international law principle of ne bis in idem to increase its clout. The ne bis in idem principle exists in Public International Law not as a monolithic rule capable of universal enforcement, but as a rule specific to the jurisdictional regime in which it operates – each differing from the others in scope and content.

The CJEU in Criminal Proceedings Against M. (C-398/12, 5 June 2014) had held, at [37], that ne bis in idem under Article 50 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights had “… the same meaning and the same scope as the corresponding right” under Article 4, Protocol 7 of the European Convention of Human Rights. This enabled the Court to make two conclusions on the merits of the case in relation to the application of ne bis in idem within EU law under Article 54 Convention Implementing the Schengen Agreement (“CISA”).

First, the Court ruled that, referencing the position under the ECHR as established in Sergey Zolutukhin v. Russia, (no. 14939/03), a ‘non lieu’ ruling by the courts of a given EU Member State was capable of being a final decision which triggered the protection under Article 54 CISA prohibiting subsequent prosecutions in another Member State, regardless of whether “… the exceptional bringing of separate proceedings based on different evidence” remained a possibility. Continue reading

For Hissène Habré, a Trial by Refusal

by Thierry Cruvellier*

DAKAR, Senegal — Surrounded by 10 muscular prison guards, Hissène Habré, his frail body entirely swathed in white, looked smothered in his chair. He was sitting in the front row of the immense courtroom, fingering Muslim prayer beads. His boubou covered all but his eyes, and they were partly hidden by his glasses.

Mr. Habré, the 72-year-old former president of Chad, is accused of crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture regarding the deaths of an alleged 40,000 people during his rule between 1982 and 1990. July 20 was the first day of his trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers, a special court he has repeatedly denounced as “illegitimate and illegal.” And almost as soon as it started, it stopped: Mr. Habré, and his lawyers, refused to participate, and on the next day the proceedings were suspended.

The Habré trial is the event of the year in the field of international criminal law. With tensions growing between the African Union and the International Criminal Court — which African states accuse of being biased against them because it prosecutes mostly crimes committed in Africa — the E.A.C. was being touted, at least by Senegal’s justice minister, as the advent of an “Africa that judges Africa.”

Hissène Habré after a court hearing in Dakar in June. Credit Seyllou/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Hissène Habré after a court hearing in Dakar in June. Credit Seyllou/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

But on the first day of what may be the court’s only trial, Mr. Habré derided the E.A.C., or C.A.E. in French, as the “Comité administratif extraordinaire,” the Extraordinary Administrative Committee. He called the judges — two from Senegal, one from Burkina Faso — “simple functionaries tasked with carrying out a political mission.” As the hearing was about to begin, Mr. Habré stood up and shouted, “Down with imperialism! Down with traitors! Allahu Akbar!” A dozen of his partisans rose from their seats nearby and chanted: “Long live Chad!” “Long live Habré!” “Mr. President, we are with you!” Continue reading

Blasphemy Statutes Deny Human Rights

By Vani Sathisan, Sanhita Ambast and Reema Omer*

Blasphemy prosecutions are undermining the rule of law in Myanmar, India and Pakistan.

Hdtin Lin Oo

Writer and National League for Democracy information officer Htin Linn Oo (right) arrives at Chaung Oo Township Court in Sagaing Region on March 24. (Than Naing Soe/The Myanmar Times)

Blasphemy laws, such as section 295(a) of these countries’ penal codes, are inconsistent with human rights, including freedom of opinion and expression; freedom of thought, conscience and religion; the right to liberty; and the right to equality before the law without discrimination. They are also applied arbitrarily, and accused people are often punished after unfair trials.

Section 295(a), enacted by colonial authorities in 1927 to curb communal tension, is the same in all three countries. It states that “deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs” shall be punished with imprisonment, a fine or both.

In a litany of recent cases, however, courts have convicted individuals in the absence of evidence of any deliberate and malicious intent to insult a religion. People have been severely punished simply because their acts of expression without such intent were perceived to be at odds with conservative interpretations of a religion. In Myanmar, at least, statements offensive to minority religions go unpunished. Continue reading