Latest News and Events

Kosovo: Discussions over a Special Court for KLA leaders

Special Representative Farid Zarif. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Special Representative Farid Zarif. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Briefing the United Nations Security Council on the Secretary-General’s latest report on Friday, Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative and Head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) Farid Zarif said that while great strides have been made since last year toward normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina, close vigilance remains essential to safeguard achievements and continue dialogue.

Zarif expressed his satisfaction that the trial of five Kosovo Serbs, charged with war crimes and murder, began its proceedings on Tuesday at the Basic Court in Mitrovica. “As I continually stress the crucial importance of respecting judicial independence, I cannot but note that public confidence in the system will be enhanced greatly when justice is perceived to be conducted professionally and expeditiously,” said Mr. Zarif. Additionally, the Chief Prosecutor of the Special Investigative Task Force released a statement on 29 July of findings which represents another “milestone in strengthening the rule of law and healing scars of war.”

The issue of a special court to try former leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) suspected of crimes against humanity and war crimes was expected to feature in the UN Security Council session. According to the Serbian news agency Tanjug, Ban Ki-moon’s report calls on Pristina and the European Union to form the special court at the beginning of the next year at the latest. The establishment of a special court to handle war crimes committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), in 1999 was asked by Ivica Dacic, Serbia’s foreign minister. Dacic warned that acquittal due to lack of evidence caused by witness intimidation must never again be allowed for individuals responsible for the crimes. All those involved in intimidation of witnesses also have to be prosecuted and found guilty, he said.

Italy: Renzi’s Reform to Speed up Justice

renzi-firmati-24-contrattiIn an effort to tackle Italy’s notoriously slow justice system, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has announced a “revolution” that would break down bureaucracy. Friday, the Council of Ministers approved a series of measures designed to improve delays before courts. The “Sblocca Italia” programme provides for first-instance trials to last one year top and to reduce judicial summer break to speed up procedures.

Italy has already been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights for its slow legal procedures. Civil cases take in average eght years to be resolved. Legal delays have contributed to damage busness activity in a country that has recently slumped back into recession : a business that goes to court to enforce a contract can wait three years for a verdict.

Guantánamo: Resignation on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s Defence team

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s defence team lost a member earlier this week. On 26 March 2014, after nine years in the US Army, Major Wright tendered his resignation. Tuesday 26 August 2014 was Wright’s last day as appointed counsel for Mohammed.

Mohammed pretrial hearings

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed during the third day of pretrial hearings at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Oct. 17, 2012 ©Janet Hamlin/Reuters,Reuter MED/MED

Wright was appointed in December 2011 to the defence of Mohammed, the purported mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks and executioner of journalist Daniel Pearl who is facing, along with three co-defendants, death sentence if convicted. Captured in Pakistan in 2003, Mohammed was first held at various CIA black sites before being transferred to Guantánamo in 2006. He is one of the two al Qaeda prisoners on whom the CIA publicly confirmed in 2008 waterboarding was used.

While Wright’s resignation cannot directly evidence the Army’s intent to remove him from the team, it only contributes to further diminish the appearance of legitimacy of the Guantánamo military commissions. Wright decided to leave the Army as he was not able to continue his defence work: required to attend a nine-month graduate program in military law, Wright was denied a deferral. The choice was clear-cut: either quit Mohammed’s defence team and attend the graduate program, or resign from the Army. In conflict with his ethical obligation to continue representing his client, after a long period of building trust with a client who was tortured and guarded by people wearing the same uniform as him, Wright eventually quit. Continue reading

Fair Trials International New Training Programme

flagFair Trials International is organising a Practitioner Training Course for lawyers from Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland on fair trial rights in criminal proceedings in partnership with the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights. The course on “the EU directives on fair trial rights in criminal proceedings” will be held in Warsaw, Poland, from 21st to 23rd November 2014.

Venue: Westin Hotel, Warsaw, Poland

Dates: 21-23 November 2014

Language: English

For Lawyers from: Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland

Application deadline: 12 September 2014

Cost: There is no charge for the training.

The application form is available here. To apply or for more information, send an email or visit Fair Trials’ Website.

HRW : Egypt Rab’a Killings Likely Crime Against Humanity

Rabaa sit in dispersal on 14 August 2013. Photo: Mohamed Gamil/DNE

Rabaa sit in dispersal on 14 August 2013. Photo: Mohamed Gamil/DNE

In a report published yesterday and following a year-long investigation, Human Rights Watch (HRW) asserts that the systematic and widespread killing of at least 1,150 demonstrators by Egyptian security forces in July and August 2013 probably amounts to crimes against humanity. In the August 14 dispersal of the Rab’a al-Adawiya sit-in alone, security forces, following a plan that envisioned several thousand deaths, killed a minimum of 817 people and more likely at least 1,000.

The report, entitled, “All According to Plan: The Rab’a Massacre and Mass Killings of Protesters in Egypt,” documents the death on 14 August 2013 of hundreds of protesters calling for former President Mohamed Morsi to come back. Describing a “mass killing” that could amount to a crime against humanity, HRW calls for an investigation several officials, including Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi, who was elected President in May 2014. “In Rab’a Square, Egyptian security forces carried out one of the world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “This wasn’t merely a case of excessive force or poor training. It was a violent crackdown planned at the highest levels of the Egyptian government. Many of the same officials are still in power in Egypt, and have a lot to answer for.”

Kenneth Roth arrived at Cairo airport on Monday to present the report along with Sarah Leah Whiston, executive director of HRW Middle East and North Africa Division. Both were banned from entering Egypt for “security reasons.”

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Latest Analysis

Corporate Criminal Liability for International Crimes & the Alien Tort Statute

James G. Stewart, an assistant professor of law at the University of British Columbia and a former war crimes prosecutor, has published an article entitled “The turn to Corporate Criminal Liability for International Crimes: Transcending the Alien Tort Statute” in the New York University Journal of International Law and Politics. The full article is available here.

Protesters Seeking to Hold Royal Dutch Shell Liable for Human Rights Abuses ©Minn. J. Int’l L.

Protesters Seeking to Hold Royal Dutch Shell Liable for Human Rights Abuses ©Minn. J. Int’l L.

Abstract: In November 2013, Swiss authorities announced a criminal investigation into one of the world’s largest gold refineries, on the basis that the company committed a war crime. The Swiss investigation comes a matter of months after the US Supreme Court decided in Kiobel that allegations such as these could not give rise to civil liability under the aegis of the Alien Tort Statute (“ATS”). Intriguingly, however, the Swiss case is founded on a much earlier American precedent. In 1909, the U.S. Supreme Court approved the novel practice of prosecuting companies. Unlike the Court’s position in Kiobel a century later, the arguments that ultimately led to the open-armed embrace of corporate criminal liability were unambiguously concerned with impunity. For the U.S. Supreme Court, doing without corporate criminal responsibility would create a significant and highly undesirable regulatory gap. After that, the American fiction that corporations are people for the purposes of criminal law took hold, such that the concept is now relatively ubiquitous globally. Even jurisdictions that bravely held out for decades on philosophical grounds have recently adopted corporate criminal liability. Switzerland is one such case. Continue reading

The Day AU Leaders Justified the Existence of the ICC!

by Arnold Tsunga and Wayne Jordash QC

African leaders

African Union Summit, July 2014

There is a general notion that the law is like a spider’s web. It only catches the weak.

The decision adopted by the AU heads in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, to grant immunity from prosecution for serious human rights violations to heads of state and senior government officials at the African Court of Justice and Human and Peoples Rights only serves to reinforce this perception.

Heads who faced justice

Few African heads of state have been tried for serious human rights violations of their own people. Those that come to mind are Charles Taylor (Liberia) and Hosni Mubarak (Egypt).  Charles Taylor was tried by a hybrid tribunal set up under the auspices of the UN in Sierra Leone (sitting in The Hague, a city that has become the seat of international justice). After being overthrown in a revolution, Mubarak was tried by domestic courts in what some view as flawed victor’s justice. The AU was not involved in either of these proceedings.

Others await or are going through trial. These are Laurent Gbagbo (Cote D’Ivoire), Omar Hassan Ahmad Al-Bashir (Sudan), Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto (Kenya) at the ICC, and Hissène Habré (Chad) at an AU sponsored tribunal in Senegal. The Hissène Habré case has been awaiting trial since shortly after the millennium. Legitimate concerns have been raised about the willingness of the AU leaders to see Hissène Habré face justice and the completion of the trial. Omar Hassan Ahmad Al-Bashir has been largely protected by the AU heads that have refused to cooperate with the ICC to effect his warrant of arrest. Continue reading

Immunity under Pressure: The Case of Hugo Carvajal

by Philippa Webb

Hugo Carvajal

Hugo Carvajal © Reuters

A recent legal flurry on the island of Aruba (population: 100,000) has raised interesting questions about the nature and scope of diplomatic/consular immunity.

Hugo Carvajal, the former chief of Venezuelan military intelligence and retired General whose nickname is ‘el Pollo’ (the Chicken), was detained in Aruba on 23 July. He had been admitted to the island on a diplomatic passport and had been named Consul-General to Aruba by Venezuela earlier in the year.

According to news reports, he was detained at Aruba’s international airport pursuant to a request from the United States. He is accused of conspiring with Colombian drug traffickers to export cocaine to the US. In 2008, the US Treasury Department put him on a blacklist, alleging he had protected drug shipments from FARC and provided them with weapons and logistical assistance.

Venezuela’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs rejected the ‘illegal and arbitrary detention of [a] Venezuelan diplomat’ and invoked the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. A local judge in Aruba, however, rejected the claim of diplomatic immunity on 25 July. The judge pointed out that Carvajal’s nomination of Consul General had not yet been accepted by the Dutch authorities, which was required since Aruba is part of the Kingdom of The Netherlands. The judge ordered Carvajal to be held pending extradition proceedings. Continue reading

The Net is Closing in on Guatemalan Criminals

by Sander Wirken

Former Guatemalan national police chief Sperisen sentenced to life in Switzerland

Erwin Sperisen

Erwin Sperisen

An accused standing trial for the murder of ten people is not a common occurrence in Swiss criminal courts. Erwin Sperisen, a former Guatemalan police chief (2004-2007) and dual Guatemalan-Swiss national, stood trial for just that this year. On 6 June 2014, he was sentenced to life imprisonment for the extrajudicial execution of seven prisoners in a campaign of ‘social cleansing’ directed by the national police leadership. The ruling marks an important victory for justice and signals that fleeing to another country is no longer a guarantee of impunity for Guatemalan criminals.

During the Oscar Berger government (2004-2008), a parallel structure emerged in Guatemala within the Ministry of the Interior and the National Civilian Police, led by the police top leadership and the Minister of the Interior. Amongst other activities, the structure dedicated itself to ‘social cleansing’, i.e., ridding Guatemalan society of what those involved in that process regarded as ‘undesired elements’.

The charges against Sperisen revolved around two incidents. First there was the case of three inmates that had escaped from the El Infiernito prison in October 2005. The escapees allegedly resisted their arrest and died in an armed confrontation with police officers. The bullet impacts, witness testimonies and other evidence were inconsistent with that scenario however and pointed rather at the escapees having been executed, after which the crime scene had been altered to resemble an armed confrontation. The Swiss court was convinced that the three escapees had indeed been extra-judicially executed. However, the court was not convinced beyond any reasonable doubt of Sperisen’s personal involvement in the killings, as Sperisen had not been present at the scene of the crime and no clear evidence linking him to the material authors of the executions was provided. Continue reading

Brazil: Extra-Time For Human Rights?

by Natacha Bracq of Global Rights Compliance LLP

Maracana 2014

Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro, February 2014, (c) ME /Portal da Copa

Although it is considered to be the world’s seventh wealthiest country, Brazil’s human rights record is faltering at best. However, this year’s 2014 FIFA World Cup has brought some overdue international attention, as well as stirring up large internal protests. The contrasts could not be starker. Despite its impressive economic development and the enormous expenditure associated with the World Cup, government corruption, poor public services and police violence continued to blight the lives of ordinary Brazilians and have given rise to understandable public outrage. For over a year, Brazil has experienced waves of protests with around a million people on the streets. However, as tens of thousands of tourists descended upon the 12 hosting cities, little appears to have been done to answer Brazilians’ call for justice or improvements. Given the police and military conduct, one might be mistaken for believing that the authorities care little for responses, except those that are accompanied by tear gas and violence.

Reporter Brasil (a Sao Paulo based NGO) identified six main categories of human rights abuses that are associated with the hosting of the World Cup: the right to decent work, the rights of children and adolescents, the right to protest, the rights of stakeholders, housing rights, and the rights of immigrants and temporary workers. Tellingly, rather than amending laws to address societal need, the Brazilian Congress instead enacted the General Law of the World Cup that, in the main, restricted rights guaranteed by the Constitution and other legislation. The changes mainly serve the interests of FIFA and its sponsors, meanwhile doing nothing to address the country’s human rights record. Continue reading