Latest News and Events

Training on Understanding Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Date: 28 September – 2 October 2015

Location: Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights,
Villa Moynier – Rue de Lausanne 120B – CP 67 – 1211 Geneva 21 – Switzerland

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The Geneva Academy organizes a training on “Understanding Economic, Social and Cultural Rights”. The courses are taught by academics including, Dr. Christophe Golay and Dr. Joanna Bourke-Martignoni, as well as senior professionals from international organizations and non-profit and are designed for civil society, staff of NGOs and national human rights institutions, representatives of government, staff from UN and other international organizations, as well as academic researchers. Continue reading

Saif al-Islam and Libyan Former Officials Sentenced to Death

Today, Saif al-Islam, son of deposed Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, was sentenced in absentia to death by firing squad after being found guilty of war crimes by the Tripoli court. Held since 2011 by a former rebel group in Zintan that opposes the Tripoli government and refused to hand him over, Saif al-Islam’s trial had begun in April 2014. Saif al-Islam had appeared by video link in sessions at the start of trial but not later on.

Saif al-Islam had appeared by video link in sessions at the start of trial ©EPA

Saif al-Islam had appeared by video link in sessions at the start of trial ©EPA

Saif al-Islam was tried alongside his brother, Saadi Gaddafi, and other former officials of the Gaddafi regime, including Abdullah al-Senussi, the former intelligence chief to Muammar Gaddafi, as well as two former prime ministers and 34 senior officials of the old regime. Abdallah al-Senousi and former PM Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi are among the eight people also facing the death penalty, while other defendants have received sentences ranging from five years to life imprisonment. They will be given the right to appeal.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) had expressed concerns about the failures, with particular concerns over fairness, of Libya’s justice system. The situation in Libya was referred by the UN Security Council (UNSC) to the ICC in February 2011. Challenged by the Libyan authorities, the ICC found in October 2013 that the case against Mr Al-Senussi was inadmissible before the Court but confirmed in May 2014 that the case against Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi was admissible. On December 2014, the ICC had issue a finding of non-compliance by the Government of Lybia to the UNSC with respect to the nonexecution of two requests for cooperation, i.e. requests to surrender Saif Al‑Islam Gaddafi to the Court and to return the originals of the documents of Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi’s Defence.

According to Salah al-Bakkoush, a Tripoli-based political analyst, the rulings should not have strong resonance in Lybia. “Libyans in general have so many problems right now that many were not even following the trial,” he told Al Jazeera. “Those who participated in the struggle against the regime of Gaddafi will be following and will be happy.”

Hissene Habre’s Trial Suspended Until September

BEL<HISSEIN HABRE EN CONFERENCE DE PRESS  E A LA CEEToday, the trial of Chad’s former ruler Hissene Habre was suspended until September after the court named new lawyers because his defense team shunned the session.

The session was suspended after a few minutes when his lawyers did not show and the presiding judge appointed three lawyers to represent him. The new lawyers were given 45 days to prepare and the trial is due to resume on September 7.

The first day of the trial had been suspended after Habre started shouting slogans against the court and had to be forcibly removed.

Habre, who has refused to recognize the Extraordinary African Chambers trying him in Senegal, had to be forced to appear at the second day of the trial.

William Bourdon, a lawyer for the victims, said Habre’s refusal to cooperate with the court meant he had effectively taken the proceeding hostages. “He is spitting on the Extraordinary African Chambers,” Bourdon said.

Habre, who faces charges of war crimes, torture and crimes against humanity, could face a maximum of life in prison.

The Extraordinary African Chambers, an internationally backed court, was set up by Senegal and the African Union in February 2013 to prosecute “the person or persons most responsible” for international crimes committed in Chad during Habré’s eight-year rule.

After a 19-month investigation, a four-judge panel revealed that there was sufficient evidence that serious breaches of international law were committed during Habré’s presidency, which lasted from 1982 to 1990.

According to a 1992 Chadian Truth Commission, Habré’s government was responsible for conducting 40,000 political murders and systematically torturing more than 20,000. The government periodically targeted various ethnic groups such as the Hadjerai and the Zaghawa, killing and arresting group members en masse when it was perceived that their leaders posed a threat to Habré’s rule.

MH17 Crash: Russia Against a UN Tribunal

MH17 CrashRussian President Vladimir Putin has rejected calls for the establishment of a UN tribunal to prosecute suspects in the MH17 air disaster over Ukraine.

Mr Putin made the remarks ahead of the first anniversary of the crash yesterday. The crash killed 298 people.

The Kremlin said in a statement that Mr Putin had “explained Russia’s position regarding the premature and counter-productive initiatives of several countries, including the Netherlands, on the establishment of an international tribunal”. Russia also criticised what it said was politicised media coverage of the disaster.

For Mark Rutte, the Dutch Prime Minister, the establishment of a tribunal would help secure justice and would also constitute “the best guarantee of co-operation from all countries” in trying to secure justice.

The airliner was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it crashed on 17 July 2014.

Western nations believe there is growing evidence that the plane was hit by a Russian-supplied missile fired by pro-Russian rebels in the area. However, Russia blames Ukrainian government forces.

The Netherlands is leading the criminal investigation into the disaster. It is being assisted by Belgium, Australia and Ukraine.

The Dutch Safety Board will release a final report on the cause of the crash in October.

EU and US Object to Republika Srpska Justice Referendum

Yesterday, the Delegation of the European Union (EU) to Bosnia and Herzegovina, joined by the U.S. Ambassador, met with the authorities of the Republika Srpska to share their concerns about the planned referendum on the State-level judicial institutions.

BiH Map

As set up by the Dayton accord, Bosnia and Herzegovina is separated into two entities: a Bosniak-Croat Federation of Bosnia and Hercegovina, and the Bosnian Serb Republic, or Republika Srpska, each with its own president, government, parliament, police and other bodies. In line with its preparation for accession to the EU, the Structure Dialogue on Justice was established in 2011 by the European Commission. The mechanism aims to advance structured relations on the rule of law with potential candidate countries, even prior to the entry into force of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) and has been assisting Bosnia and Herzegovina to consolidate an independent, effective, efficient and professional judicial system.

In this context, the EU fears that the organization of a referendum would undermine the sovereignty and stability of Bosnia and Herzegovina, representing “an unconstitutional attempt not to reform but to undermine and weaken those authorities, and would thus pose a direct threat to the sovereignty and security of the country as a whole.” Would the referendum be organized, it would question the ability of Bosnia and Herzegovina to adopt legal binding agreements, such as EU instruments, and to have them respected. For the EU, such a referendum would therefore “seriously harm this country’s EU accession path”.

Latest Analysis

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

Silence on Investment Projects Is not the Answer

By Vani Sathisan and James Tager*

Letpadaung Copper MineOver the past three months, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has written to investors, developers, an international audit company and an environmental research institute to ask for the public disclosure of information relating to two of Myanmar’s largest economic development projects: the Dawei and Kyauk Phyu Special Economic Zones (SEZs). The ICJ asked for information regarding environmental impact assessments (EIA), environmental management plans, and financial audit reports. The ICJ received no substantive responses.

The Dawei and Kyauk Phyu SEZs, two of Myanmar’s three proposed SEZs, are key elements of the country’s economic development plans. Transparency about the proposed projects is vital to ensure the protection of those whose rights will be affected by these massive investment projects. The Myanmar government, and interested investors, must remove the secrecy around these projects and provide the basic information requested regarding these projects.

In a country where businesses normally proceed without input from local communities, such secrecy has fostered serious human rights abuses, including land misappropriations, loss of livelihoods, serious environmental damage, and violent curtailments of freedom of expression and association. Continue reading

Yugoslavia Tribunal: Legacy of War

By Eduardo Reyes*

ICTYThe end is near for the groundbreaking international tribunal established to try alleged crimes committed in the conflicts of the former Yugoslavia. Eduardo Reyes travelled to The Hague to assess its achievements.

There was a time in the mid-1990s when it seemed the main legacy of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) would be the fact that it had been constituted and issued indictments.

The first court of its kind since the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals, it faced an enormous obstacle that those predecessor tribunals did not. In many cases, its indictees remained politically powerful, well connected and at large.

Where the areas in which the indictees lived had been pacified, such was the fragile nature of peace it was widely believed their apprehension risked restarting a conflict that had left more than 100,000 dead in Bosnia and Herzegovina alone. Continue reading

Bashir Flight Leaves ICC in Stalemate

By Dr Miša Zgonec-Rožej*

Omar Al Bashir

Omar Al Bashir

South Africa’s failure to arrest the Sudanese president is the latest incident in a troubled relationship between the court and African states.

Sudan President Omar Al-Bashir was allowed to leave South Africa on 15 June  in defiance of a temporary order issued a day earlier by the High Court in Pretoria, which required South African authorities to prevent him from leaving the country until an application submitted by a human rights group was heard by the court. Just hours after Bashir’s departure from South Africa after attending the African Union (AU) summit in Johannesburg, the court ordered that President Al-Bashir be arrested and surrendered to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

As a state party to the ICC, South Africa thereby breached its obligation under the Rome Statute to execute the ICC arrest warrant issued against the president. This highlights an ongoing problem for the ICC: without states’ cooperation, and lacking its own enforcement mechanisms, the court is forced to leave cases suspended indefinitely.

 Lack of immunity

President Bashir has been sought by the ICC for his alleged involvement in genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during the conflict in Darfur.  Sudan is not a party to the Rome Statute which established the ICC, but the ICC has jurisdiction as a consequence of a 2005 referral to it by the UN Security Council of the situation in Darfur. The African Union, however, has continually opposed the prosecution by the ICC of heads of states during their term of office. The AU has requested the suspension of proceedings against President Bashir and called upon AU members not to arrest and surrender him. Continue reading