Latest News and Events

ICC Appeals Chamber Confirms Al-Senussi Case Is Inadmissible

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Abdullah Al-Senussi (c) Libya Herald

Yesterday, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) confirmed that the case against Abdullah Al-Senussi is inadmissible.

On 11 October 2013, Pre-Trial Chamber I had declared the case against Mr Al-Senussi inadmissible on the grounds that the Libyan authorities were currently investigating Mr Al-Senussi and that they were willing and able genuinely to carry out domestic proceedings.

In rejecting the defence appeal, the Appeals Chamber held that there were no errors in the findings of the Pre-Trial Chamber that Libya is not unwilling or unable to genuinely prosecute Mr Al-Senussi, or in the exercise of its discretion in the conduct of the proceedings and in the evaluation of the evidence. Judges Usacka and Song appended respective separate opinions agreeing with the conclusion of the majority but formulating their own reasoning on the correct interpretation of the ‘same person, same conduct’ test, which must be satisfied to conclude that a given domestic authority is investigating or prosecuting the same case as that before the ICC.

Mr Al-Senussi held the rank of colonel in the Libyan Armed Forces and served as Muammar Gaddafi’s chief of intelligence before the fall of the regime during the Libyan uprising in 2011. The Prosecution had charged Mr Al-Senussi with murder and persecution as crimes against humanity for his involvement in utilising the State security forces to target the civilian population in an attempt to quell the revolution.

Mr Al-Senussi was charged alongside Muammar Gaddafi (since deceased) and Saif al-Islam Gaddafi. The latter also challenged the admissibility of his case before the ICC but the Appeals Chamber held on that occasion that the case was admissible.

UN Condemns Military Actions in Gaza

navi pillay

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay

At an emergency debate held today at the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has condemned the military actions in the Gaza Strip, saying that war crimes may have been committed and that not enough has been done to protect civilians.

“There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes,” Ms Pillay said.

She also condemned the indiscriminate attacks of the Hamas on Israel.

“The principles of distinction and precaution are clearly not being observed during such indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas by Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups,” she told the UN Human Rights Council.

Despite her condemnation of Hamas attacks on Israel, Ms Pillay also views Israel’s actions in Gaza as disproportionate. Continue reading

Red Cross: “Ukraine is Officially in a War”

Ukraine ConflictAccording to Western diplomats and officials, the Red Cross has made a confidential legal assessment that Ukraine is officially in a war. Such statement would open the door to possible war crimes prosecutions, including over the downing of Malaysia Airlines MH-17.

“Clearly it’s an international conflict and therefore this is most probably a war crime,” one Western diplomat said in Geneva.

The Red Cross has not made any public statement – seeking not to offend either Ukraine or Russia by calling it a civil war or a case of foreign aggression – but it has done so privately and informed the parties to the conflict.

“The qualification has been shared bilaterally and confidentially. We do not discuss it publicly”, said Anastasia Isyuk, the Red Cross spokeswoman.

The designation as a war – either international or civil – changes the situation as it turns both sides into combatants with equal liability for war crimes, which have no statute of limitations and cannot be absolved by an amnesty. Continue reading

Dutch Officials Knew Bosnian Men Would Be Killed in Srebrenica

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Dutch Peacekeepers in Srebrenica in 1995 [AP Photo]

In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, Liora Sion discusses the condemnation of the Dutch State for the deaths of 300 Bosnian Muslims, men and boys, in Srebrenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina, in July 1995. During the war, these Bosniaks sought refuge in a United Nations base where the Dutch peacekeepers were stationed. The Dutch subsequently handed the men and boys to the Bosnian army which decided to kill them afterwards.

For Liora Sion, the Dutch officials knew the danger they caused in Bosnia. She could experience the situation on the ground as she accompanied Dutch NATO peacekeepers in Bosnia and Kosovo as part of her field work for a PhD thesis.

She says that the soldiers she saw were men with little training and that holding them responsible for what happened in Srebrenica would be wrong.

However, she says that the commanders were responsible for the killings as they should have known that these Bosnian men would be killed because there was strong evidence of the Serbs commiting war crimes. Continue reading

Gaza’s Water Infrastructure in Danger

Gaza July 2014

Gaza city, July 2014 (c) EPA

Repeated bombing is devastating Gaza’s fragile water infrastructure, while the deaths of several municipal water technicians highlight the danger they face in carrying out vital maintenance.

“Water and electrical services are affected  as a result of the current hostilities. If they do not stop, the question is not if but when an already beleaguered population will face an acute water crisis,” according to Jacques de Maio, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegation in Israel and the occupied territories.

To make matters worse, the intensified fighting is preventing technicians from carrying out essential repairs. Following the deaths of several municipal water technicians over the past few days, Gaza’s water service provider has suspended all field operations until the safety of its staff can be guaranteed.

As a result, hundreds of thousands more people will soon find there is no water when they turn on the tap.

“Gaza’s water system has been deteriorating for years. The latest attacks are the last straw. Safe drinking water is becoming increasingly scarce in the Strip, just as temperatures are soaring. Water is becoming contaminated and sewage is overflowing, bringing a serious risk of disease,” said ICRC water and sanitation expert Guillaume Pierrehumbert. “In recent days, ICRC teams have helped the authorities conduct essential emergency repairs to water and sanitation infrastructure in Gaza, improving the situation for over 90,000 people, but bolder action is urgently required.”

Under international humanitarian law, the parties to a conflict must distinguish between military objectives and civilian objects and between combatants and civilians. They must also avoid harming civilians or civilian objects, and protect them from the effects of military operations. This includes protecting water technicians, water networks and electrical supply systems.

Latest Analysis

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

Increasing the Efficiency of the Criminal Process at the International Criminal Court, While Preserving Individual Rights

by Shehzad Charania and John Doyle*

International Criminal Court

The International Criminal Court

In operation for more than a decade, the International Criminal Court is often the subject of criticism for its lengthy trials and inefficient procedures.  The Court has completed three trials in that time, all of which have taken more than six years from the point of arrest to conviction or acquittal.  International criminal justice does, of course, throw up numerous complex challenges not found in domestic proceedings.  But 12 years of practice at the Court have confirmed that unnecessary delays occur in a number of areas, which have the potential to interfere with the rights of the accused, and, more broadly, the perception of the trial process among victims and affected communities, and the public at large.  Finally, delays have financial, logistical as well as other legal implications.

Last week, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Japan convened an all-day seminar, in conjunction with the Hague Institute for Global Justice.  The seminar, entitled “Increasing the Efficiency of the Criminal Process, while Preserving Individual Rights”, and moderated by Professor Håkan Friman, provided a unique opportunity for interaction, and discussion of radical ideas, between representatives of the Court, including over a third of the Court’s Judges, and senior members of the Office of the Prosecutor, the ad hoc tribunals, ICC States Parties, members of the Bar, NGOs and academia. Continue reading

UK NCP Accepts LPHR’s Complaint Against G4S’ Activities in Israel and the OPT: “Oh to be a fly on the wall of that mediation!”

by Maria della Porta Rodiani (of Globalrightscompliance LLP)

Credit-Stop-G4SOn 22 May 2014, the United Kingdom (‘UK’) National Contact Point (‘NCP’) for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (‘the Guidelines’) rendered its initial assessment (‘IA’) on  the issues raised in a complaint submitted by the Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights (‘LPHR’) against G4S, a UK company providing security equipment and services to the Israeli authorities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (‘OPT’).

The Complaint

In November 2013, LPHR had submitted a complaint under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises to the UK NCP, concerning G4S’ provision of equipment and services in the Israeli Separation Barrier (‘the Wall area’) – predominantly within the West Bank including East Jerusalem, to the Erez crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip, and to Israeli Prison Services (IPS) facilities in several locations.

LPHR argued that as a consequence of the 2004 International Court of Justice advisory opinion concluding that the Wall was built in breach of international humanitarian and human rights law, G4S’ facilities and operations in these areas are considered to be in breach of international human rights, and part of an unlawful regime. Thus, LPHR alleged that G4S’ activities may (1) be generally involved with human rights abuses, (2) cause or contribute to them, or (3) be linked to them by a business relationship. In addition, LPHR argued that G4S had not carried out appropriate human rights due diligence. Continue reading

The Guatemalan Genocide Case and the Upcoming Amnesty

By Sander Wirken - PhD candidate at the University of Amsterdam, Sander Wirken is making the documentary Burden of Peace about Guatemala’s former Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz. Watch the embedded video to find out how you can become part of that project.

A Guatemalan trial court wrote history on 10 May 2013 when it convicted former president general Efraín Ríos Montt to 80 years imprisonment for his role in the genocide and in war crimes committed by the army. It was the very first time that a national court convicted its own former head of state for genocide. Lawyers all over the world applauded Guatemala for the apparent achievement of its national judicial system. Ten days after the conviction, however, the Constitutional Court declared that a procedural error had been committed. The procedural error in question did not amount to a breach of a constitutional right and should hence have been addressed by an Appeals Chamber and not by the Constitutional Court, as one of the dissenting opinions in the 3-2 majority decision pointed out. But the majority opined differently and the conviction was declared invalid on that technicality.

            What followed was a concerted backlash to all forces that had supported the genocide trial.

Continue reading