ICC Judges Authorise Opening of an Investigation into the Situation in Burundi

ICCToday, 9 November 2017, Pre-Trial Chamber III of the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a public redacted version of its decision authorising the ICC Prosecutor to open an investigation regarding crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court allegedly committed in Burundi or by nationals of Burundi outside Burundi since 26 April 2015 until 26 October 2017.

The Pre-Trial Chamber found that the Court has jurisdiction over crimes allegedly committed while Burundi was a State party to the ICC Rome Statute. Burundi was a State Party from the moment the Rome Statute entered into effect for Burundi (1 December 2004) until the end of the one-year interval since the notification of Burundi’s withdrawal (26 October 2017). The withdrawal became effective on 27 October 2017. Accordingly, the Court retains jurisdiction over any crime within its jurisdiction up to and including 26 October 2017, regardless of Burundi’s withdrawal.

As a consequence, the Court may exercise its jurisdiction even after the withdrawal became effective for Burundi as long as the investigation or prosecution relate to the crimes allegedly committed during the time Burundi was a State Party to the Rome Statute. Moreover, Burundi has a duty to cooperate with the Court for the purpose of this investigation since the investigation was authorised on 25 October 2017, prior to the date on which the withdrawal became effective for Burundi. Continue reading

The World Most Unwanted People: Crime Against Humanity in Arakan

by Abdurrahman Erol and Selman Aksünger*

While a lot of attention has been devoted to North Korea and referendum in Northern Iraq, comments must be made on one of the most tyrannous mass human rights violations of the last couple years. Recently, news on Myanmar and Rohingyas started to hit the headlines again. Graphic pictures and videos from the decades-long conflict zone Arakan, a.k.a Rakhine state, have started to spread in some news and social media sites. Although the State Peace and Development Council of Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingyas as one of the 135 ethnic minority groups, they are indeed such a minority group, which is estimated to constitute 25% of the population of Arakan. It is believed that around 800.000 Muslim Rohingyas live in Arakan and are mainly concentrated in the northern part of the Arakan state. The Buddhist Rakhine constitutes the majority ethnic group in Arakan.

There are different claims about the origins of the Rohingyas. Former and current governments in Myanmar argue that they are illegal immigrants from adjacent Muslim regions who came after the Anglo-Myanmar War in 1824. However, on the other hand, the Rohingyas and some renowned scholars state that they are descendants of the first Muslim residents of Arakan who came there in or around the 9th century by way of the new emerging trade routes through the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. This debate forms the basis of today’s problems in Arakan and the mistreatment of Rohingyas, resulting in gross human rights violations by the government and majority groups in Arakan. Continue reading

Gaddafi’s Son Saif al Islam Released from Prison in Libya

Saif Al-Islam GaddafiSaif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of fomer Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, has been released. He had been in custody since November 2011 in the town of Zintan, in Libya.

The Abu Bakr al-Sadiq Brigade, a militia of former rebels that controls Zintan, where Gaddafi was detained since November 2011, said he was freed under an amnesty law promulgated by the parliament based in the eastern city of Tobruk.

The north African country has rival administrations, with the authorities in the east not recognising the UN-backed government of national accord (GNA) based in the capital.

Gaddafi’s lawyer also said he had been released but would not say which city Saif al-Islam had travelled to for security reasons.

The commander of the Abu Bakr al-Sadiq Brigade was set to release a video statement explaining the details of the release.

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi was captured in 2011 as he was fleeing to neighbouring Niger after opposition fighters seized Tripoli.

He was sentenced to death in absentia by a court in Tripoli in July 2015 in a mass trial of former Gaddafi government officials. The verdict had drawn condemnation abroad, with Human Rights Watch saying the trial was riddled with legal flaws and carried out amid widespread lawlessness undermining the credibility of the judiciary.

Saif al-Islam is also wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which issued an arrest warrant in 2011 on preliminary charges of crimes against humanity, murder and persecution for being part of the inner circle of his father’s regime.

Habré’s Life Sentence Upheld on Appeal

Hissène Habré, the former president of Chad, during his trial by the Extraordinary African Chambers in Dakar, Senegal, in 2015 ©Seyllou/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Hissène Habré, the former president of Chad, during his trial by the Extraordinary African Chambers in Dakar, Senegal, in 2015 ©Seyllou/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Today, the Appeals Court of the Extraordinary African Chambers upheld the life sentence for Chad’s former President Hissène Habré. Chad’s former President had been convicted of crimes against humanity, torture and war crimes, and sentenced to life in prison on May 30, 2016.

Habré was found guilty of rape, sexual slavery, torture and summary execution during his rule 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.

Habré is the first African former head of state to be convicted in Africa, and the first former head of any state to be convicted of crimes against humanity by the courts of another country. It is also the first time that a former head of state has been convicted of personally raping someone. It is furthermore the first prosecution in Africa under universal jurisdiction.

The Extraordinary African Chambers, based in Dakar, Senegal, were created by the African Union and Senegal following a complaint filed by Hissène Habré to the Court of the Economic Community of West African States on the principle of non-retroactivity of the Senegalese new criminal provisions adopted in 2007-2008. The Chambers, especially dedicated to the trial of Hissène Habré, are composed of African judges and apply international criminal law, following Senegalese criminal procedure.

Prosecutions of Syrian War Crimes

A man inspects a damaged house after an airstrike on al-Yadouda village, in Deraa Governorate, Syria February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Faqir

A man inspects a damaged house after an airstrike on al-Yadouda village, in Deraa Governorate, Syria February 15, 2017. ©REUTERS

On Thursday, the United Nations announced that a new body is being set up to prepare prosecutions of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is due to name a judge or prosecutor as its head this month.

While the independent panel, which is officially called the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Those Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in [Syria] since March 2011, is not able to prosecute individuals itself, it will collect and preserve evidence and prepare files for future prosecutions which states or international courts can use.

In December, the UN General Assembly voted to establish the mechanism. The United Nations aims to recruit 40-60 experts in investigations, prosecutions, the military, and forensics.

A UN Commission of Inquiry has already been collecting evidence since 2011. It has issued 20 reports accusing the Assad government, rebel forces and Islamic State of mass killings, rapes, disappearances and recruiting child soldiers.

Also on Thursday in a landmark ruling, a Swedish Court sentenced a Syrian man to life imprisonment for violating international humanitarian law through his participation in the execution style-murder of seven men in Syria in 2012. Under Swedish law, courts can try Swedish citizens as well as other nationals for crimes committed abroad.

Other European countries have similarly started investigations and prosecutions against people accused of committing serious crimes in Syria. The cases are based on the principle of universal jurisdiction and are possible because of the arrival in Europe of both victims and suspects as refugees.

Amnesty International reported last week the Syrian government executed up to 13,000 prisoners in mass hangings and carried out systematic torture at a military jail.

Myanmar: UN Report Condemns Human Rights Violations against Muslim Minority

Rohingya Village

Rohingya Village in Myanmar

On Friday, a new UN report has accused Myanmar’s security forces of waging a brutal campaign of murder, rape and torture in the Rakhine State against Rohingya Muslims, a stateless minority not recognized by Myanmar.

The report, compiled after interviews with more than 200 Rohingya refugees who fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh, also cites consistent testimony indicating that hundreds of Rohingya houses, schools, markets, shops, madrasas and mosques were burned by the army, police and sometimes civilian mobs.

Witnesses also described the destruction of food and food sources, including paddy fields, and the confiscation of livestock.

While discrimination against the Rohingyas has been endemic for decades in the Rakhine State, the recent level of violence is unprecedented, says the report.

The testimonies, gathered by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, indicate that the attacks against the Rohingya villages make it impossible for them to live in their villages, thereby creating a coercive environment amounting to forced displacement.

The information also demonstrates that the victims were targeted based on their belonging to a particular ethnicity and religion.

Many victims mentioned that soldiers and officers taunted them by saying that Islam is not the religion of Myanmar; that Rohingyas are Muslim Bengalis; and that Rohingyas would be eliminated from Myanmar.

The report says that the attacks against the Rohingya population in the area seem to have been widespread as well as systematic, indicating the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.

An estimated 65,000 members of the Muslim minority community have fled to Bangladesh since violence broke out in Myanmar last October.

ECCC: Appeal Judgment Affirms Life Imprisonment for Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan

Nuon Chea and Kieu Samphan

Kieu Samphan (left) and Nuon Chea

On 23 November 2016, the Supreme Court Chamber (SCC) of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) delivered its Appeal Judgment in Case 002/01 against former Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan.

Nuon Chea, former Deputy Secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, and Khieu Samphan, former Head of State of Democratic Kampuchea, were convicted by the Trial Chamber in August 2014 for crimes against humanity committed during the forced evacuation of Phnom Penh in April 1975 and subsequent forced transfer from other areas, as well as alleged execution of former Khmer Republic soldiers in Tuol Po Chrey in Pursat Province.

Both defendants appealed the decision, asking for a reversal of the trial judgment and to be acquitted of all charges, or failing that, Khieu Samphan asked for a reduced sentenced to a set number of years. Nuon Chea submitted 223 grounds of appeal and Khieu Samphan submitted 148 grounds of appeal. Their appeal arguments related to the constitutionality of the ECCC’s Internal Rules and the fairness of the proceedings; the Trial Chamber’s approach to evidence; the Trial Chamber’s findings relevant to the crimes for which the accused were convicted; and the accused’s individual criminal responsibility.

Continue reading

ICC Prosecutor Will Also Prioritise Environmental Destruction Cases

iccThis week, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) published a detailed policy document which provides guidance on how the Office of the Prosecutor exercises its discretion in the selection and prioritisation of cases.

For the first time, the Office said that it would also prioritise crimes that result in the “destruction of the environment”, “exploitation of natural resources” and the “illegal dispossession” of land.

“The Office [of the Prosecutor] will give particular consideration to prosecuting Rome Statute crimes that are committed by means of, or that result in, inter alia, the destruction of the environment, the illegal exploitation of natural resources or the illegal dispossession of land”, says the policy paper.

Cambodia seems to be a good example for this new ICC focus as a case has been lodged with the ICC on behalf of 10 Cambodians alleging that the country’s ruling elite, including its government and military, has perpetuated mass rights violations since 2002 in pursuit of wealth and power by grabbing land and forcibly evicting up to 350,000 people.

Broadening the priority cases to include land-grabbing would recognise that mass human rights violations committed during peacetime and in the name of profit could be just as serious as traditional crimes.

Reinhold Gallmetzer, a member of the ICC working group who drew up the policy document, said: “We are exercising our jurisdiction by looking at the broader context in which crimes are committed. We are extending the focus to include Rome statute crimes already in our jurisdiction.”

“Forcible transfer [of people] can already be a crime against humanity, so if it is committed by land-grabbing – whether as a result or a precursor – it can be included.”

ICC: Bemba sentenced to 18 years in prison

160621-bemba-sentence-10-1Trial Chamber III of the International Criminal Court (ICC) today sentenced Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo to 18 years’ imprisonment for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Central African Republic in 2002-2003.

In March the Chamber had found the former vice-president of the DRC guilty beyond reasonable doubt for the crimes of murder, rape and pillaging committed by militiamen under Bemba’s command.

For the crimes of rape the Chamber imposed 18 years of imprisonment while 16 years of imprisonment were imposed for the crimes of murder and pillaging. However, the Chamber decided that the sentences imposed shall run concurrently. Continue reading

Commission on Syria: ISIS Committing Genocide Against the Yazidis

The UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic has today released a report establishing that the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) is committing genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes against Yazidis. The report entitled “They Came to Destroy: ISIS Crimes Against the Yazidis” focuses on violations committed against Yazidis inside Syria, where thousands of women and girls are still being held captive and abused, often as slaves.

Yazidi women in a refugee camp, August 2014

Yazidi women in a refugee camp, August 2014

“Genocide has occurred and is ongoing”, emphasised Paulo Pinheiro, Chair of the Commission. “ISIS has subjected every Yazidi woman, child or man that it has captured to the most horrific of atrocities.” ISIS sought – and continues to seek – to destroy the Yazidis in multiple ways, as envisaged by the 1948 Genocide Convention. “ISIS has sought to erase the Yazidis through killings; sexual slavery, enslavement, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment and forcible transfer causing serious bodily and mental harm; the infliction of conditions of life that bring about a slow death; the imposition of measures to prevent Yazidi children from being born, including forced conversion of adults, the separation of Yazidi men and women, and mental trauma; and the transfer of Yazidi children from their own families and placing them with ISIS fighters, thereby cutting them off from beliefs and practices of their own religious community”, the report says. Continue reading