African Americans and Police: To Repair Broken Trust There Must Be a Reckoning First

by David Tolbert*

Milwaukee protestersI have spent my career working in societies across the globe as they confronted legacies of unspeakable human rights abuses. I witnessed the struggle for justice in the former Yugoslavia, Palestine, the Middle East, eastern Europe, Cambodia, Lebanon and a host of other countries where ICTJ works. I have learned lessons from them all. But while my work has taken me far and wide, my roots remain in my native Carolinas. It was there that I started life in the de jure and de facto segregated South –apartheid by another name – and there I first developed the sense of justice that has guided my work since.

I return to the Carolinas this week to take part in a conversation that confronts the legacy of that troubled past. It will be held at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, where the confederate flag flew on the statehouse grounds until 2015 and was only removed in the wake of the massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. While I have taken part in similar conferences across the globe – often in places that are boiling with injustice – this trip resonates at the most personal of levels.

When Republicans were the party of Lincoln and not of Trump, my South Carolina family were Republican activists who opposed slavery, resisted secession, and fought for the rights of African Americans. For this they suffered assaults and abuses, although unlike their African American allies they had a choice on how to live their lives. In 1898, their attempts to help African-Americans vote led to white supremacists murdering over a dozen African Americans and shooting and severely wounding several of my ancestors in what is known in the history books as the “Phoenix Riot.” Thereafter, the Tolberts were repeatedly burned out of their homes, eventually leading them to build a house made entirely of stone with iron furniture, known as the “Rock House”, located outside Greenwood, South Carolina. Continue reading

After Torture Report, Rights of Victims and Accountability for Perpetrators Must Not Be Denied

By David Tolbert*

Torture ReportWith the publication of the much-delayed US Senate Intelligence Committee’s partial report on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, at long last the truth is out. Put simply, the abuses it details are sickening. The report documents a period of lawlessness by the US Central Intelligence Agency. It shows that officials at the highest levels of the US government committed very serious and atrocious crimes, including systematic torture in violation of the UN Convention on Torture (of which the United States is a party) and US law.

The Senate report corroborates the findings of the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), in a series of reports dating back to 2008, as well as other rights groups: that the systematic practice of torture against detainees in secret overseas prisons was approved and overseen at the most senior levels of the US government. Moreover, as Senator Dianne Feinstein aptly notes in the report’s foreword, these practices were in direct “violation of U.S. law, treaty obligations, and our values.”

While we have known for over a decade about many of the details of illegal US detention and interrogation practices, the “Torture Report” establishes beyond a shadow of a doubt that the US government engaged in widespread and brutal use of torture and other criminal acts against a long list of individuals without a shred of due process or even the semblance of justice.

The full 6,700-page report has not been released yet, but its lengthy, heavily redacted executive summary nonetheless paints a repulsive picture of criminal and immoral practices far beyond what had been previously made known to the public. It also exposes the facile lie that torture somehow disrupted terror plots or saved American lives. The report, based on over 5 million pieces of evidence sourced from the CIA itself, decisively debunks this claim, and under the weight of direct evidence the CIA’s contorted claims fall like a house of cards. Moreover, it establishes in clear terms that the CIA’s torture program was perpetuated through misinformation to the public, Congress, and even the White House. Continue reading

ICC President Calls on the United States to Ratify the Rome Statute

Judge Song

Judge Sang-Hyun Song, President of the International Criminal Court

On the 10th of December 2014, one day after the release of the US Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture, President Sang-Hyun Song of the International Criminal Court (ICC) called on the US to ratify the Rome Statute in order to help furthering the promotion of accountability for human rights violations through effective and efficient litigation of international crimes.

Judge Sang-Hyun Song, elected as president of the ICC in 2009, noted that, although the ICC is not a human rights court in the strict sense, it was created to help protect core human rights and values. “With its mandate to fight impunity for the most serious crimes under international law […] one could say that the ICC is a criminal court with a strong human rights perspective.”

Mr Sang-Hyun Song acknowledged that “the ICC will never be able to stop impunity on its own.” Which has also never been the intention. He added that “it is primarily the job of States themselves to investigate and prosecute serious international crimes.”

He emphasised that the ICC is a court of last resort and that it can investigate and prosecute only when national jurisdictions in question are unwilling or incapable of doing so. In the case of the US torture claims, it seems that the US is indeed unwilling to prosecute the US officials responsible for the torture committed against suspects after the 9/11 attacks. Continue reading

UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Calls for Prosecution of CIA Officials

Court HammerIn a statement made yesterday, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Ben Emmerson, welcomed the publication of the summary of the Feinstein report on crimes of torture and enforced disappearance of terrorist suspects by the CIA during the Bush-era.

“The summary of the Feinstein report […] confirms what the international community has long believed – that there was a clear policy orchestrated at a high level within the Bush administration, which allowed to commit systematic crimes and gross violations of international human rights law”, said the Special Rapporteur.

Ben Emmerson added that it is now time to take action and bring to justice the individuals listed in the report, irrespective of the fact that the policies revealed in the report were authorised at a high level within the US Government.

The Special Rapporteur highlighted that international law prohibits the granting of immunities to public officials who have engaged in acts of torture and therefore that CIA officers who physically committed acts of torture bear individual criminal responsibility for their conduct

“This applies not only to the actual perpetrators but also to those senior officials within the US Government who devised, planned and authorised these crimes”, he said.

For Ben Emmerson, the heaviest penalties should be reserved for those most seriously implicated in the planning and purported authorisation of these crimes. Moreover, he said, former Bush Administration officials who have admitted their involvement in the programme should also face criminal prosecution for their acts.

The Special Rapporteur concluded that torture being a crime of universal jurisdiction, the perpetrators may be prosecuted by any other country they may travel to. However, he added that the primary responsibility for bringing those responsible to justice rests with the US Department of Justice and the Attorney General.