Latest News and Events

Sri Lanka’s Army Displaces and Expropriates Tamil People

sri_lanka_tamils

Sinhalese army and Tamil people

A new report claims that post-conflict harmony in Sri Lanka is undermined by military occupation in north and east, combined with land grabs that have marginalised Tamil people.

The report, published by the US based thinktank the Oakland Institute and entitled “The Long Shadow of War: The Struggle for Justice in Postwar Sri Lanka”, finds little meaningful evidence of reconciliation after the 26-year-long conflict between the majority Sinhalese government and Tamil separatists finally ended in 2009 with the defeat of the Tamils.

It says hopes of peaceful coexistence are being thwarted by the enduring displacement of Tamils, the appropriation of their land by the military, the new government’s refusal to take the country off its war footing, and the delay in investigating allegations of war crimes committed by both state forces and the Tamil Tigers.

The report also describes the Sinhalese army’s ongoing occupation of what the government terms “high security zones” in the north and east of the country. The report estimates that in 2014, there were at least 160,000 almost entirely Sinhalese soldiers stationed in the north, which means that there is one soldier for every six civilians, as the area’s population stands at a little more than 1 million people.

The report argues that the military occupation has long ceased to be about ensuring security.

“The army has expanded non-military activities and is engaged in large-scale property development, construction projects, and business ventures such as travel agencies, farming, holiday resorts, restaurants, and innumerable cafes that dot the highways in the northern and eastern provinces,” it says. “The army officially runs luxury resorts and golf courses that have been erected on land seized from now–internally displaced peoples.” Continue reading

Guatemalan Ex-Police Chief’s Life Sentence Upheld on Appeal

Erwin Sperisen

Erwin Sperisen

On 12 May 2015, Erwin Sperisen, former head of Guatemala’s National Civil Police, was found guilty of 10 murders by the Criminal Division of the Court of Justice in Geneva, Switzerland. Sperisen thereby lost his appeal against a life sentence for killing prisoners in his home country.

On 6 June 2014, Sperisen had been sentenced to life imprisonment for involvement in extra-judicial killings of seven inmates committed during a police raid on the El Pavon prison outside Guatemala City in 2006.

Sperisen fled to Switzerland in 2007, and as a dual Swiss-Guatemalan citizen, he could not be extradited to Guatemala from Switzerland.

On appeal, the Court of Second Instance re-examined the part Sperisen played in the extrajudicial executions of 10 prisoners during operations carried out by the Guatemalan police. The Swiss Criminal Court upheld his conviction for the 7 inmates of El Pavon prison and also found the former police chief guilty of the murder of three prisoners who had escaped from El Infirnito jail the year before.

Given the seriousness of the acts, the number of victims and the lack of empathy and awareness displayed by the former Chief of the Guatemalan National Police, the judges in the Geneva Criminal Court considered that only a sentence of life imprisonment would be likely to punish the accused.

TRIAL, a Geneva-based NGO called the confirmation of Sperisen’s life sentence a victory for the fight against impunity. According to the Director of TRIAL “[T]he sentence passed is proof that the justice system is able to prove the involvement of the State and its representatives in serious human rights violations, and bring them to justice. We hope that Erwin Sperisen’s conviction will set an example, particularly to the Spanish authorities, who must now prosecute his immediate superior, former minister Carlos Vielman, for the same acts.”

Sperisen was detained in 2012, two years after Guatemala issued arrest orders over the killings at the El Pavon prison.The orders followed an investigation by the UN-backed international commission against impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).

Movie About Guatemala’s First Female Chief Prosecutor

Claudia Paz y Paz

Claudia Paz y Paz

The documentary ‘Burden of Peace’ tells the impressive story of Claudia Paz y Paz, the first woman to lead the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Guatemala. The country that has been ravaged for years by a devastating civil war, in which nearly 200,000 Mayan Indians were systematically massacred, is today one of the most violent countries in the world. Claudia Paz y Paz starts a frontal attack against corruption, drug gangs and impunity and does what everyone had hitherto held to be impossible: she arrests former dictator Efraín Rios Montt on charges of genocide. His conviction becomes the first conviction for genocide in a national court in the world history.

Since her first year in office, Claudia Paz y Paz gave acces to filmmakers of Framewerk, Joey Boink and Sander Wirken. It resulted in an intimate glimpse into the life of a woman who wants to change her country and therefore brings immense sacrifices.

For more information about the movie, including the trailer, click here.

Latest Newsletter of the Human Rights Review Panel

HRRPThe Human Rights Review Panel (HRRP) has issued its Twelfth newsletter. The newsletter comprises a detailed analysis of the Panel’s decisions over the past four months.

The newsletter also highlights the meetings that the HRRP held with officials and international organisations. The Panel met with the new Head of EULEX Press and Public Information Office (PPIO) to discuss future co-operation between the PPIO and the Panel in awareness raising and an outreach campaign in the media.

The Panel also met the Deputy Head of EULEX Executive Division and the Head of Executive Police, as well as the EULEX Executive Police command. The participants discussed human rights issues and challenges the EULEX Police officers face in their everyday work. They also considered the Panel’s case-law which can be relevant and helpful to the work of the EULEX Police.

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.

iLawyer Dr. Guénaël Mettraux is a member of the Panel.

ICC Deputy Prosecutor Explains Role of the ICC in Colombia

International Criminal Court

The International Criminal Court

Deputy Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Mr. James Stewart, spoke at a conference on “Transitional Justice in Colombia and the Role of the International Criminal Court” held in Colombia last week. He noted that the role of the Court had not been without some public controversy and that it was time to put that role into its proper perspective.

The Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) opened a preliminary examination of the situation in Colombia in 2004, which is on-going, but to date it has not proceeded with an investigation.

Mr. Stewart highlighted that a situation of transitional justice, as exists in Colombia, only engages the mandate of the ICC Prosecutor, if the authorities of the State concerned are not themselves conducting genuine proceedings for such crimes, i.e. if they are unable or unwilling to act.

Up to and including June 2013, the OTP has received 141 communications under Article 15 in relation to the situation in Colombia. 94 of these are currently analysed in the context of preliminary examination.

In November 2012, the OTP published an interim report summarising the findings of the preliminary examination into Colombia. According to this report, there was a reasonable basis to believe that crimes against humanity were committed by various parties to the conflict. It was also suggested that various groups may have been responsible for committing war crimes. Continue reading

Latest Analysis

Letpadaung Convictions Taint the Legal System in Myanmar

by Vani Sathisan, International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) International Legal Adviser, and Hayman Oo, ICJ Legal researcher, in Yangon

Letpadaung Copper Mine

Letpadaung Copper Mine, Myanmar

“They can imprison my body, but never my mind,” U Nay Myo Zin told us when we asked him whether he expected to be released, right before police led him into the Dagon Township courtroom for the verdict last week. The Court was teeming with police guards and supporters of the accused chanted slogans at the police, “not to kowtow to the military government” and that “the legal system lacks principle.” U Nay Myo Zin then added, “I will never surrender.”

He was one of the six human rights activists, besides Daw Naw Ohn Hla, Daw Sein Htwe, Ko Tin Htut Paing, Daw San San Win and U Than Swe, who were sentenced to four years and four months in prison with hard labour.

Their conviction, after a trial that didn’t meet basic standards of fairness and due process, highlights the tremendous pressure on the country’s judiciary at a time when Myanmar desperately needs to show improvements in the rule of law. Continue reading

Whistleblower Protection at the UN: Reasons for Despair or Hope?

By Rishi Gulati*

[The author has had no involvement in the cases mentioned below; this entry should not be construed as legal advice in any way or form whatsoever]

Anders Kompass United Nations

Anders Kompass, the director of field operations for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

In a recent article in the Guardian, it was disclosed that French authorities thanked a senior UN official, Mr Anders Kompass for disclosing sexual abuse by French troops. That article says in part:

Sources close to the case say Kompass, director of field operations for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva, disclosed the report to the French because of the UN’s failure to act quickly to stop the abuse identified in its own internal report.

Hinting that the allegations represented just a fraction of what had taken place, a UN spokesman said on Friday: “It is possible, it’s horribly possible” that more allegations of sexual abuse of children by French and other soldiers in the Central African Republic could come to light.

The same report says that: “The official, Anders Kompass, has been suspended by the UN and faces dismissal for what the organisation says is a “breach of protocols” in releasing a confidential internal UN document.” I will return to the Kompass case shortly. But before that, some points on the UN whistleblower protection system, or the lack of it.

Problems facing whistleblower protection at the UN

The internal rules of the UN contain several layers, one of these layers is known as the Secretary-General Bulletins. These possess binding force. Under the Secretary-General’s Bulletin on protection against retaliation (ST/SGB/2005/21) the UN Ethics Office protects staff from being punished for reporting misconduct or for cooperating with an official audit or investigation – commonly known as “whistleblower protection.”

But are whistleblowers rights at the UN actually protected? There are some very disturbing findings. Continue reading

Can International Law Change the World?

By Shehzad Charania

International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice

This week, at the Residence of the British Ambassador to the Netherlands, Ambassador Sir Geoffrey Adams opened the British Embassy Annual Lecture Series on International Law.  The guest speaker for the Inaugural Lecture was Judge Sir Christopher Greenwood of the International Court of Justice.

Ambassador Adams explained that the lecture marked the occasion of the Global Law Summit, which took place this week in London, as well the year in which we commemorate 800 years since the signing of the Magna Carta of 1215.

Judge Greenwood’s lecture was entitled “Can International Law Change the World?”.  He began by referring back to the Magna Carta itself.  He explained that Magna Carta had changed “a world”: the law of England, albeit slowly and tentatively.  It established equality before the law; in particular, that even the King was subject to the law; and that justice was not to be sold or denied to anyone.  These principles form the foundation of the rule of law.

So could international law change the world in a similar way, Judge Greenwood asked.  He used as his point of reference the First and Second Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907.  The inspiration for those conferences had been a belief that international law could indeed change the world.  Specifically, the hope was that these conferences would legislate on the way war was conducted, including the reductions of certain armaments and prohibition of others, and set up an international court, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which would enable States to settle their differences by law rather than war. Continue reading

Is the International Community Abandoning the Fight Against Impunity?

by David Tolbert*

Court HammerTwenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and more than a decade after the establishment of the International Criminal Court, shockingly little is being done to stop massive human rights abuses. The prospects of victims receiving justice, let alone bringing perpetrators to account, seem ever more remote.

In recent days, we have witnessed horrific atrocities by Boko Haram, with only a limited response by the international community. The bloody handiwork of ISIL is grabbing headlines, and there seems to be no coherent strategy to address its barbarity. In Syria conflict rages, with untold civilian casualties as a divided UN Security Council sits on the sidelines. Gaza is struggling to recover after its umpteenth destruction. Eastern Ukraine is rocked by daily attacks on civilian targets, and very few seem to remember the downing of a civilian airplane there, in which 295 people died. This somber list could go on and on.

In my view, the response by the international community to these horrors is one primarily of lip service and well-worn shibboleths. Indeed, powerful states often seem to be casting support to whichever group of killers best suits their interests, with only faint rhetorical nods to human rights.

This is not only a professional reaction to these disturbing trends; it is also born of deep personal concerns and experiences. I joined the United Nations in 1993 to work on issues in Palestine and started my new job on the very day the Oslo Accords were signed, marveling at both the apparent breakthrough and my seeming good fortune to be part of an era of peace building. Several years later I joined the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and later sat across a jail cell desk from one of the principal architects of the Balkan tragedy, Slobodan Milosevic, whose prevarications were then being made from behind bars, far from the halls of power. In 1998, I was in Rome for negotiations on the International Criminal Court; I was both awed by the apparent flowering of international justice and a bit nervous that the world perhaps did not understand fully the implications of such a groundbreaking step. Continue reading

Palestine’s ICC Accession: Risks and Rewards

By Dr Miša Zgonec-Rožej

Handout picture showing Abbas signing international agreements in the West Bank city of Ramallah

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signs 20 international treaties, including the Rome Statute of the ICC, in Ramallah on 31 December 2014

On 6 January, the UN secretary-general confirmed that Palestine will accede to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Palestine’s accession has, unsurprisingly, prompted certain countries – including Israel, the US and a number of European states – to warn of potentially grave consequences. It is certainly a risky venture for Palestine given political tensions in the region, but it may deter future war crimes in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and marks another step towards statehood for Palestine.

Palestine’s accession will confer jurisdiction on the Court in relation to crimes committed within the territory claimed by Palestine. Although Israel has not ratified the Rome Statute, crimes allegedly committed by Israeli nationals in the territory claimed by Palestine will fall within the ICC’s jurisdiction. The ICC will also have jurisdiction over crimes committed by Palestinians outside the territory claimed by Palestine, including in Israel. Crimes falling within the ICC jurisdiction are limited to genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. But the accession can only confer on the Court jurisdiction over crimes committed after the Rome Statute enters into force for Palestine on 1 April. And until the borders of Palestinian territory are clearly defined and the status of occupied territories resolved, the ICC’s territorial jurisdiction will remain contentious.

In order to bring past crimes within the ICC’s jurisdiction, Palestine, on 1 January, lodged a declaration under Article 12(3) of the Rome Statute, retroactively accepting the Court’s jurisdiction. Although in principle such declarations can extend to crimes committed after 1 July 2002, when the Rome Statute entered into force, Palestine decided to limit it to crimes committed since 13 June 2014. The declaration, if accepted by the ICC, would therefore bring into the ICC’s jurisdiction last summer’s conflict in Gaza but not earlier military operations. Continue reading