International Criminal Court (ICC)
PALESTINE - ISRAEL: Prosecutor’s preliminary examinations after Palestine accession to the ICC
The Palestinian government has declared that it accepts the jurisdiction of the ICC beginning 13 June 2014 over alleged crimes committed in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and has become the 123rd member of the Rome Statute. Shortly after, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Mrs. Fatou Bensouda, opened a preliminary examination into the situation in Palestine. If sufficient information is gathered a proper investigation of war crimes could then be undertaken. The Palestinian government had previously filed for ICC membership, but the request was denied because the ICC considered that its “observer status” in the UN did not allow for full membership to the Statute of Rome, a decision that was contested by several international human rights organisations. The UN General Assembly’s recognition of Palestine as a “non-member observer State” in November 2012 opened the door to Palestinian accession to the ICC, and therefore the possibility to begin investigations into alleged war crimes in the country. The Palestinians have requested an investigation of alleged war crimes in Gaza in July and August 2014, were about 2,100 Palestinians and 67 Israelis were killed in the confrontation. The accession of Palestine to the Rome Statute has been criticised by the U.S. and the Israeli governments, who argue that such a move undermines the peace negotiations. The day after the Palestinian accession to the ICC the Israeli government froze 127 million dollars in tax revenues collected for the Palestinians. The U.S. government has also threatened to review its annual $440 million aid package to the Palestinians for joining the ICC. By the end of the month the Israeli state comptroller, Joseph Haim Shapira, announced that the Israeli government had opened an investigation into the decisions made by military and political leaders during the 2014 summer war. Shapira said that according to international law examinations by external international tribunals such as the ICC are precluded when a state objectively investigates alleged violations of the laws of armed conflict. (ICC, 05, 07/01/15; ICC, BBC, Le Monde, 16/01/15; NYTimes, 20/01/15)
UGANDA – CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Dominic Ongwen appears before the court after extradition from Central African Republic
The alleged Brigade Commander of the rebel group Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), the Ugandan, Dominic Ongwen, has appeared before the Court to hear the charges against him. The judge scheduled a hearing in August 2015 to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to believe he committed each of the crimes charged, and in such case transfer the case to a Trial Chamber. Dominic Ongwen is charged with three counts of crimes against humanity (murder; enslavement; inhumane acts of inflicting serious bodily injury and suffering) and four counts of war crimes (murder; cruel treatment of civilians; intentionally directing an attack against a civilian population; pillaging). The crimes were allegedly committed in 2004 in an attack on a camp of internally displaced people in Uganda. Ongwen was abducted by the LRA when he was ten and raised as a child soldier. An arrest warrant was issued in July 2005 and Ongwen was extradited from the Central African Republic one week before the hearing, after turning himself over to authorities. Ongwen is the first of the five members of the LRA cited in the 2005 warrant to appear before the court (two of the accused have since died and two are at large). (ICC, BBC, 26/01/14)
    Ad Hoc International Criminal Tribunals
CAMBODIA: Extraordinary Chambers resume genocide hearings of Samphan and Chea Khmer Rouge leaders
The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) have resumed hearings against the former leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, accused of genocide against minorities, rape and forced marriages (case 002/02). Proceedings had been postponed since November 2014 because defence lawyers refused to participate while they were still working on an appeal against the verdict handed down in case 002/01, for which the accused were sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity in August. In early January 2015 Nuon Chea’s lawyers presented a full appeal against the August sentence, detailing 223 grounds for appeal against the verdict in Case 002/01, including the fact that the Cambodian government blocked access to witnesses to minimize the responsibility of former Comunist Party of Kampuchea officials, such as the President of the National Assembly, Heng Samrin, and Prime Minister Hun Sen. Meanwhile, the Japanese government has made a contribution of 1.39 million dollars, so that the court can continue. The Extraordinary Chambers are judging leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime, which is blamed for the deaths of nearly 2 million people between 1975 and 1979 during the reign of the group’s leader, Pol Pot. (The Phnom Penh Post, 02/01/15; Jurist, 08/01/15; ECCC, 19/01/15)
    Ordinary Justice and Traditional Justice Systems
CHAD: Testimonies demonstrate torture was systematic during Hissène Habré’s rule, according to HRW
During the trial in an Appeals Court in N’Djaména of 21 security agents from the Directorate of Documentation and Security (DDS), former president Hissène Habré's political police, about 50 victims have described the torture and mistreatment they were subject to. Mahamat Hassan Abakar, president of Chad's 1992 National Commission of Inquiry (similar to a truth commission), has declared in the court that torture in the DDS was systematic, and that its agents enjoyed total impunity. The accused, whose trial started in November 2014, are charged with murder, torture, kidnapping, arbitrary detention, and assault and battery. DDS files recovered by Human Rights Watch in 2001 revealed the names of 1,208 people who were killed or died during detention, and 12,321 victims of human rights violations during Hissène Habré’s presidency (1982-1990). The trial in Chad precedes the one that will in all likelihood be launched in May 2015 by the Extraordinary African Chambers in the courts of Senegal if sufficient evidence is gathered against former President Habré. (HRW, 16/01/15)
COTE D’IVOIRE: Release of 50 pro-Gbagbo officials to foster confidence and dialogue
The General Prosecutor, Christophe Richard Adou, has ordered the release of 50 officials under former President Laurent Gbagbo and has unfrozen 31 bank accounts belonging to pro-Gbagbo politicians. The officials had been imprisoned for their active participation in the post-election violence when more than 3,000 people were killed between December 2010 and April 2011. Early in January President Alassane Ouatara announced the possibility of using his presidential power to grant an amnesty to the politicians imprisoned for the post-election crisis. The UN Special Representative of the Secretary General in Côte d’Ivoire, Aïchatou Mindaoudou, has welcomed the temporary release of the prisoners. Mindaoudou believes it will contribute to build confidence and to consolidate the dialogue between the political actors. At the same time she has asked Ivorian judicial authorities to quickly resolve the cases related to post-election violence. (Connection Ivoirienne, UN, 22/01/15)
GUATEMALA: Former President Rios Montt trial suspended for health reasons
The trial of former President Efrain Rios Montt has been suspended twice in January, as his lawyers argue he suffers from poor health. The 88-year-old former president appeared before the court on a stretcher and the judge ordered his state of health to be checked. In 2013 Generals Efraín Rios Montt and Jose Rodriguez were charged with ordering the Army to carry out the massacres that killed 1,771 people of the Ixil Maya ethnic group. General Rodriguez was acquitted and General Rios Montt was found guilty and sentenced to 80 years in prison, but Guatemala’s highest court annulled his conviction two weeks later and ordered a retrial, arguing that the accused had been left without a lawyer at key stages of the trial. (BBC, 05, 13/01/15)
UGANDA: ICTJ considers that parts of the 2000 Amnesty Act should be repealed
Following the controversy over the case of Thomas Kwoyelo, the International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) has issued a report asking for the repeal or amendment of some provisions of the 2000 Amnesty Act. Kwoyelo, a former commander of the rebel group Lord’s Resistance Army, had been granted amnesty in September 2011 by the Constitutional Court, which based its decision on the Amnesty Act. In May 2012 the Attorney General filed an appeal before the Supreme Court arguing that the Amnesty Act conflicts with Uganda’s obligation under international law to prosecute grave crimes. The ICTJ report asks for a shift from amnesty to accountability, truth seeking and reparation, and has offered a set of recommendations such as: Exclude serious crimes from the Amnesty Act; publish a prosecutorial strategy to prioritize cases; expedite the enactment of witness protection legislation; establish a fully staffed and well-resourced witness and victims’ support unit; provide public information and outreach of the International Crimes Division in all local languages; and grant adequate resources for the prosecution of such crimes. The Amnesty Act was enacted by Parliament in 2000. A 2012 estimate calculates that about 26,000 combatants have been granted amnesty, of which 13,000 are LRA fighters. The conflict between the government of Uganda and the opposition armed group Lord’s Resistance Army started in 1986, and has caused the death of about 200.000 people, and over two million displaced persons. (ICTJ, 22/01/15)
    Truth commissions
NEPAL: Recommendation Committee appoints candidates for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission on Enforced Disappearances
The Recommendation Committee has published a list of 68 candidates that aspire to posts on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission on Enforced Disappearances (CED). Of the 68 candidates proposed, 49 are new applicants while the rest have been endorsed by civil society organisations and the Committee itself. After that, citizens can register complaints against the candidates before the five posts in each commission are finally filled. The Victims’ Common Platform has criticized the committee for not doing enough to take into consideration their concerns. Victims and human rights defenders have also objected to the amnesty provision included in the TRC Act. They argue that the Commission should not be given discretionary authority to grant amnesty in cases of serious violations. (e-Kantipur, 06/01/15; 13/01/15)
    Truth seeking investigations
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: UN Commission of Inquiry calls for the establishment of an international tribunal to judge crimes against humanity
The International Commission of Inquiry on the Central African Republic (CAR) has published a report concluding that parties have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity but not genocide. While the report argues that the crimes committed cannot be considered genocide, it denounces serious humanitarian offenses including rape and the ethnic cleansing of the Muslim population. Violence has caused the displacement of 440,000 people, with 190,000 people seeking asylum across the border. Another 36,000 are trapped in enclaves across the country. The report considers that those responsible include members of the CAR Armed Forces under President François Bozizé (2003-2013), as well as the principal militia groups, the Séléka and the anti-balaka. The Commission of Inquiry set up by the UN Security Council in December 2013 has also warned against impunity in the country, and has recommended the establishment of accountability mechanisms to tackle violence, such as an international war crimes tribunal. (Jurist, 09/01/15; UN News, 21/01/15)
SRI LANKA: New government ready to address human rights abuses in a new locally-driven investigation
A spokesperson of the new government led by President Maithripala Sirisena has announced it is planning to investigate accusations of human rights violations at the end of the civil war (1983-2009). The new government has said it is considering a new local inquiry that would meet international standards, and it will seek help from foreign experts if needed. Several UN representatives had complained about the lack of cooperation with UN investigations by the former government headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. It is estimated that tens of thousands of civilians, including 40,000 Tamils, were killed during the final weeks of the war between the Sri Lankan Army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). An Amnesty International press release identified seven human rights challenges facing the new government, one of which refers to the need to cooperate with UN investigations. However, the current government is still aiming for a nationally driven probe. (AI, 09/01/15; The Guardian, 29/01/15)
UNITED KINGDOM: Chilcot report over war in Iraq delayed until after the general election
MP John Chilcot, chairman of the inquiry that is investigating the UK’s invasion of Iraq, has confirmed that the conclusions of the report will be postponed until after the May 2015 general elections. The announcement has raised many protests among those that consider that the political agenda should not delay truth-seeking. While the Prime Minister at the time when the Iraq invasion took place, Tony Blair, has insisted he is not behind the delay, some blame sensitivities about the relations between the UK and U.S. intelligence agencies. To justify the delay in the publication of the report John Chilcot has reported that the inquiry was stalled because the cabinet secretary, Jeremy Heywood, has tried to block the release of correspondence between Blair, Brown and Bush. Heywood has denied these accusations. Several political representatives and human rights organisations have called for the immediate release of the report. The inquiry probes the period from summer 2001 to end of July 2009, including the preparation to the war in Iraq, the military action itself and the aftermath. (The Guardian, 21-27/01/15)
GREECE – GERMANY: New claims over reparation for Nazi occupation
After being elected as the new Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras visited the Kaisariani war memorial, where in 1944 Nazi soldiers executed some 200 Greek activists in retaliation for the killing of a German officer. This symbolic act is in addition to declarations made earlier this month during the election campaign when Tsipras said his government would demand the money Germany allegedly owes Greece since World War Two. A 2013 study carried out by the previous Greek government estimated that Germany owed Greece around 162 billion Euros for damages incurred during the Nazi occupation, the cost of rebuilding destroyed infrastructure as well as loans Nazi authorities forced Greece to pay between 1942 and 1944. The German government already said in an official visit to Greece in March 2014 that reparations had already been made in 1960, when it paid a sum of 115 million Deutschmarks (60 million Euros). (Washington Post, 26/01/15; DW, 30/01/15)
KENYA - UK: Date set for Mau Mau war veterans that demand compensation to UK government
The British High Court has set provisional dates between May 2016 and November 2016 for the trial for alleged torture, mistreatment, forced labour and wrongful detention of Kenyan nationals by the British Government during the 1952 Kenyan State of Emergency. But lawyers representing 20,000 Mau Mau war veterans are urging the British Government to expeditiously settle a reparations claim out of court, due to the advanced age of their clients. Lawyers representing Kenyan veterans are pursuing four types of claims (assault, detention, extreme torture and mutilation) and are aiming to obtain different levels of compensation for each type. The total compensation could amount to tens of millions of pounds, and the British Foreign Office (FCO) fears the Mau Mau case could trigger claims from other former colonies. Abuses inflicted upon prisoners were carefully documented by British officers, and there are evidences that senior colonial officials kept the FCO informed. During Kenyan decolonisation the Mau Mau uprising caused up to 30,000 Kenyan deaths, as a consequence of the fightings between the insurgency and the British colony security corps. From 80,000 to 300,000 people were detained in a network of concentration camps. (All Africa, 21/01/15; Tandem Law, 22/01/15)
POLAND: Commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation from Auschwitz
To commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Russian liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp in January 1945, memorial ceremonies were organized in several countries. In Poland 300 survivors and State representatives gathered at the Auschwitz camp. In their speeches they insisted that the crimes committed in the concentration camps, such as slave labour, death in the gas chamber and executions must not be forgotten, and they denounced the current anti-Semitism present all over Europe. Russian representatives commemorated the event at Moscow's Jewish Museum, and the Russian defence ministry published what it said were documents from their archives about the liberation of Auschwitz. In Germany several acts took place, including a speech by President Joachim Gauck in front of the Parliament. He said that remembering the Holocaust is not enough if it is not accompanied by acts to protect humanity. In Israel, a ceremony took place at Israel's Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem. Some 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, were killed between 1940 and 1945 in Auschwitz. Other victims included the Roma, the disabled, homosexuals, dissidents, non-Jewish Poles and Soviet prisoners. Auschwitz was opened as a museum in 1947. (BBC; DW, 27/01/15)
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