International Criminal Court (ICC)
PALESTINE: Palestine joins the ICC as a State Party
Palestine has officially become the 123rd state to join the ICC after a ceremony in The Hague in which Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki claimed that Palestinians were seeking justice rather than vengeance. The Palestinian state had first applied for membership in 2009, but the ICC rejected the request, a decision questioned by the main international human rights organisations. In January 2015 the Palestinian government again requested to become a member and accepted the jurisdiction of the Court from June 2014. After the acceptance of this second request, the ICC prosecutor opened preliminary examinations over war crimes allegedly committed in Gaza in July 2014 when more than 2,200 people, most of them Palestinian, died. Palestinian membership in the ICC has been met with opposition by Israel, who claims that the judicial procedure undermines the peace negotiations, and by the US who argues that Palestine is not a sovereign state and does not therefore not qualify to join the ICC. By joining the ICC, Palestine also becomes accountable for its own alleged crimes. A report published by Amnesty International documents how, during July 2014 armed confrontation with Israel, Palestinian armed groups deliberately attacked Israeli civilians, and failed to protect Palestinian civilians by locating military objectives and fighters in densely populated civilian neighbourhoods. The organisation concludes that these acts constitute a flagrant disregard for international humanitarian law. (AI, 26/03/15; CPI, BBC, 01/04/15)
    Ad Hoc International Criminal Tribunals
BALKANS: ICTY confirms the life sentence for former Commander of the Army of the Republika Srpska, Zdravko Tolimir
The ICTY Appeals Chamber has confirmed the life sentence in the case of Zdravko Tolimir, former Army Commander of the Republika Srpska, found guilty in December 2012 on six counts (genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, extermination, murder, persecutions, and inhumane acts as forcible transfer). The Appeals Chamber has reaffirmed that Tolimir participated in two joint criminal enterprises (JCE): one to murder the able-bodied men of Srebrenica and the other to forcibly remove the Bosnian Muslim population from Srebrenica and Žepa, which resulted in the mass execution of thousands of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica and the forcible displacement of thousands of civilians from these two enclaves in 1995. Tolimir had presented 26 grounds for appeal and most of them were rejected. The chamber has nevertheless acquitted him of genocide in Žepa, another UN-protected ‘safe area’ at the time, due to lack of sufficient evidence to convict him for such a crime, but the sentence itself has been upheld due to the seriousness of the remaining crimes. It is estimated that the Republika Srpska Army killed 8,000 Muslim boys and men after entering Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia, an area under UN protection, in July 1995. (ICTY, Balkan Transitional Justice, DW, 08/04/15)
    Ordinary Justice and Traditional Justice Systems
BANGLADESH: Execution of Jamaat-e-Islami leader Muhammad Kamaruzzaman for crimes against humanity
Days after the Bangladesh Supreme Court rejected his final appeal, Jamaat-e-Islami leader Muhammad Kamaruzzaman was executed for crimes against humanity committed during the Independence war in 1971. In May 2013 Kamaruzzaman was found guilty of various crimes, including the mass killing of at least 120 unarmed farmers in the northern border town of Sohagpur. An appeal court upheld the verdict and the death sentence in November 2014. In a press release Human Rights Watch criticised the use of the death penalty as an irreversible and cruel punishment. It also denounced that the Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), which sentenced Kamaruzzaman, had not met fair trial standards, and stated that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had classified Kamaruzzaman’s arrest as arbitrary and a violation of international law. The International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) was set up to address the atrocities committed during the 1971 war, which led to Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan and in which 500,000 to three million people died. (BBC, HRW, 06/04/15; FT, 11/04/15)
SPAIN – MOROCCO: Prosecution of 11 Moroccan officials for systematic attacks against Western Sahara population
Following a 2007 complaint filed by the Association of the Families of Sahrawi Prisoners and Disappeared, Spanish Judge Pablo Ruz has charged 11 Moroccan officials – 3 civilians and 8 from the military – for allegedly killing 50, kidnapping 202, and torturing 23 Sahrawi people between 1976 and 1991. The indictment describes systematic attacks against the Sahrawi civilian population with the aim of partially destroying the population and taking over the Western Saharan territory. The judge sent a petition to Interpol to capture and extradite 7 of the accused. Sufficient evidence has been gathered thanks to the exhumation tasks, undertaken in February 2013, of a forensic team led by Paco Etxebarria and Carlos Martín Beristain in mass graves between Amgala and Meheris in the northern part of what used to be the Western Sahara. Witnesses who directly incriminated the accused were also found. The indictment has also been possible, despite the limitations to Universal Jurisdiction imposed by a law passed in the Spanish parliament in February 2014, because the victims had a Spanish passport. Western Sahara was a Spanish colony until 1976 and became then part of Morocco after it was annexed during the Green March. It is estimated there are still 400 to 650 unidentified Sahrawis that have disappeared from 1976 to the present. (El País, 09/04/15; Informativos Telecinco, 11/04/15)
UNIVERSAL JURISDICTION: A report concludes that 12 countries have contributed to universal justice during 2014
A new annual report published by TRIAL in collaboration with the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) identified 37 cases of Universal Jurisdiction where notable developments took place in 2014. Last year 12 countries contributed to the fight against impunity through the principle of Universal Jurisdiction for serious crimes such as torture, genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes or other charges. France, Spain, Germany and Switzerland are the countries with the highest number of open cases, although countries from America (Argentina, Canada) and Africa (Senegal, South Africa) are also present on the list. According to its authors, the report demonstrates that despite obstacles to the investigation and prosecution of serious crimes under international law, this practice has gained global momentum over the course of 2014. (Trial, 14/04/15)
UGANDA: The Supreme Court concludes amnesty is not applicable for Thomas Kwoyelo, former commander of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA)
In a close decision, the Supreme Court has concluded that Thomas Kwoyelo, former commander of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), is not eligible for amnesty and should face trial. While in custody Kwoyelo announced in January 2010 that he had denounced rebellion and had sought amnesty. In March 2010 the Amnesty Commission forwarded his application to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for consideration, as stipulated in the Amnesty Act. The DPP did not respond to Kwoyelo’s demand but charged him in September 2010 with various offences. Kwoyelo then appealed to the Supreme Court arguing that the DPP's refusal to confirm his amnesty -that had been granted to other commanders in similar circumstances- was discriminatory and that his indictment was inconsistent with the National objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy contained in the Ugandan Constitution. In its reply to those allegations, the Supreme Court distinguished between crimes committed in furtherance of the war or rebellion and crimes committed against civilians or communities, clarifying that a person who commits such acts does not qualify for amnesty. The court has also declared that there is nothing unconstitutional about the Amnesty Act. Kwoyelo faces 53 charges of murder, wilful killing, kidnapping with intent to kill, aggravated robbery, and destruction of property, all allegedly committed in Uganda between 1993 and 2005. (New Vision, 08/04/15; ICTJ, 16/04/15)
    Truth commissions
BURUNDI: Truth and Reconciliation Commission
In his official mission to Burundi UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has assessed the situation of human rights in the country before crucial elections that will be held between May and August. After meeting the chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), al-Hussein declared that the Commission, foreseen in the Arusha Agreement, has a very important role to ensure long-term reconciliation. Al Hussein has also offered UN technical and financial support. The UN High Commissioner stressed that truth and reconciliation should not be carried out at the expense of justice and that impunity should not be allowed to continue. The Burundian TRC, which was set up in December 2014 fourteen years after the Arusha agreement, has a four-year mandate to investigate the massacres committed between 1962 and 2008.(OHCHR; Xinhua, 15/04/15)
    Truth seeking investigations
SRI LANKA: Special Rapporteur Pablo de Greiff identifies the challenges to reconciliation
In his visit to Sri Lanka from March 30 to April 3, 2015, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Pablo de Greiff, has examined the opportunities and constraints in the task of addressing past human rights violations, including those that resulted from the armed conflict (1983-2009). While underlining that a military victory does not lead by itself to reconciliation, de Greiff has identified the main challenges the country is facing to reach sustainable peace. The Rapporteur noted that the inadequate implementation of the recommendations made by the numerous commissions of inquiry for mass violations has increased mistrust in the Government. Furthermore, de Greiff highlighted that truth, justice, and reparation are complementary measures and he criticised the fact that in order to receive reparation benefits victims are being forced to give up their rights to truth and justice. De Greiff has recommended the creation of a comprehensive human rights State Policy that would be continued even if there is a change in Government, and called on all Sri Lankans to prevent the instrumentalization of transitional justice measures for the sake of narrow partisan interests, or the benefits of one side. According to the rapporteur, the consultation and participation of all stakeholders is imperative, including the reportedly close to 90,000 women-headed households, children, adolescents and the disabled people affected by the conflict. Immediate action should be taken to address the fate of the missing, the arbitrarily detained and to resolve land issues. Harassment of the civil society and victims must end and psycho-social support is needed for those affected by violence. (OHCHR, 11/04/15)
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Complaints of sexual abuses during UN peacekeeping missions and the UN’s lack of action to stop them
A leaked internal UN report denounces sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeeping missions across the world, and the lack of mechanisms to prosecute such crimes. Following the leak another scandal has appeared concerning the sexual abuse of minors in the Central African Republic (CAR): 14 soldiers from a French peacekeeping mission, plus 3 soldiers from Chad and two from Equatorial Guinea participating in the UN peacekeeping mission, have allegedly sexually abused minors between the ages of nine and 13 living in a camp for displaced people in exchange for food or money. While the French authorities are investigating the case and have been able to identify some of the accused, the director of field operation at the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Anders Kompass, who leaked the CAR information to the French government in July 2014, has been suspended by the UN. Kompass has argued that he leaked the information because of the UN’s failure to take action, but the UN states that this is a breach of UN protocols and that it exposes the victims and the witnesses. In 2014, 51 cases of sexual abuse against UN peacekeepers were recorded, the lowest number since measures for protection from sexual exploitation and abuse have been in place. But the actual number of incidents could be far higher. Of the allegations made in Congo, Haiti, Liberia and South Sudan, where 85% of all sexual abuse cases against peacekeepers originate, 18 (30%) involved minors in 2012. The report also denounces a culture of impunity for sexual abuses among UN peacekeepers. (The Guardian, 24/04/15, Le Monde, 30/04/15; 01/05/15)
ARMENIA – TURKEY: Commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide amidst Turkish denial
On the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide the government of Armenia celebrated official commemoration ceremonies in the Tsitsernakaberd memorial near Yerevan, with the presence of Presidents from Russia, France, Cyprus and Serbia. The day before the Armenian Church canonised the 1.5 million Armenian Christians killed by soldiers from the Ottoman Empire, in the largest collective canonisation ever by a Christian church. Several other events accompanied the commemoration. Two weeks before the anniversary Pope Francis described the 1915 events as genocide. A demonstration was also held in the main square of Istanbul, Turkey, where, hundreds of people asked the Turkish government to recognise the massacre. At the same time the European Parliament called on Turkey to accept its past and to open its archives in the name of reconciliation between the Armenian and Turkish peoples. The commemorations also sparked denial. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan questioned the number of victims and claimed that the deaths took place in the context of WWI, with victims on both sides. According to Turkey, between 300,000 and 800,000 people died on both sides, so it cannot be considered genocide. Erdogan also called for a joint study by historians and offered to open Turkish archives. In March 2014 Turkish PM Erdogan offered condolences to the grandchildren of all the Armenians who lost their lives, but some believe this most recent nationalistic move is related to the next Turkish parliamentary elections in June. In 1915, as part of the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire during WWI, thousands of Armenians died in massacres, and others were deported en masse to desert regions were they died of starvation and thirst. About 23 countries do recognize the 1915 events in Armenia as genocide. (BBC, 12, 14/04/15; Le Figaro, 16/04/15; Le Monde, 24/04/15)
TURKEY – AUSTRALIA – NEW ZEALAND: Çanakkale battle commemoration takes place amidst criticism
Turkey celebrated the 100th anniversary of its victory in the Çanakkale peninsula (also known as Gallipoli and now part of Turkey) where the Ottoman Empire defeated Australian, French, British, and New Zealand troops after nine months of confrontation. More than 130,000 people died in the battle, 87,000 of them on the Ottoman side. The ceremony, attended by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his New Zealand counterpart, John Key, as well as members of the British royal family, Prince Charles and Prince Harry, has generated controversy for several reasons. On the one hand, the Turkish government decided to change the date of the ceremony to make it coincide with the commemoration of the Armenian genocide, a decision that was highly criticised by experts as a political move that hinders confidence building with Armenia. In addition, Scott McIntyre, a TV presenter on Australia’s SBS channel, has been fired after posting several tweets saying that the Australian commemoration of the battle was the “cultification” of an imperialist invasion, and that the Australian and New Zealand troops had committed summary executions, widespread rape and theft. (The Guardian, 16/04/15; BBC, 26/04/15)
RWANDA – FRANCE: French declassify documents related to Rwandan genocide
On the 21st anniversary of the start of the Rwandan genocide, the French presidency has declassified 80 documents related to French-Rwandan relations between 1990 and 1995. French President François Hollande justified the decision as an act of transparency. He claimed that all documents from the Presidential office had been declassified and announced that they will be available to researchers and victims’ groups. Last years’ commemoration of the Rwandan genocide caused many tensions between the two countries, as France was accused of collusion with the 1994 genocide and decided to pull out from the commemorations. According to French journalists, the documents demonstrate there was no active complicity in the genocide on the part of the French government, but they also warn that the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have a large number of documents that are still classified. Some victim’s groups, such as the Collectif des Parties Civiles pour le Rwanda (CPCR), welcomed the decision, but warned that a lot of information was still missing. Other critics have pointed to France’s contradictory position, since it declassifies information, but at the same time it refuses to prosecute Rwandans accused of genocide that live in France. About 800,000 people, mostly Tutsi, died in the Rwandan genocide. (Le Monde, 07-08/04/15; All Africa, 09/04/15)
SOUTH AFRICA: Statue of colonialist Cecil Rhodes taken down after protests
The University of Cape Town (UCT) has removed a statue of Cecil Rhodes, a British colonialist, accused of exploiting black labour and stealing land from indigenous people. The statue had become the focus of protests after the activist Chumani Maxwelle smeared excrement on the statue in March, which launched the “Rhodes must fall” students’ campaign. The monument is considered a symbol of white supremacy, and is also a symptom of racial inequality in South Africa after the end of apartheid, whether it be at the university, where only 5 professors are black South Africans, or in society, where black communities suffer from higher rates of unemployment. The removal of the statue, which was also supported by white academics and students, has triggered attacks on other statues around the country, symbolising South Africa’s racist past. The statues of President Paul Kruger, colonial administrator Jan van Riebeeck, or even Gandhi have also been vandalised for their promotion of racial segregation. The spokesman of the Economic Freedom Fighters party, Mbuyseni Ndlozi, declared that the colonial and apartheid past should not be only based on icons of white supremacy, but also on black and white freedom fighters who opposed it. (BBC, 09/04/15; 13/04/15)
    Institutional reform
BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA: The European Commission urges Bosnia to adopt justice sector reform
The European Commission’s Western Balkans director, Jean-Eric Paquet, has announced that the Commission could stop their financial assistance for Bosnia’s war crimes prosecutions unless a justice sector reform strategy is adopted. Paquet said that the Bosnian authorities had been warned several times, but structural reforms had not yet been implemented. The justice sector reform strategy is a key condition for the Instrument for Pre-Accession (IPA) budget support for war crimes case processing. It should address longstanding concerns over the professionalism, efficiency and integrity of the judiciary as described in the IPA strategy paper. If financial assistance is stopped war crimes investigations would be seriously curbed. The Commission suspects reforms are at a standstill because the government in Republika Srpska refuses to accept a draft that recommends the creation of an appeals court on the state level, alleging this could undermine some of their autonomy. (Balkan Transitional Justice, 22/04/15)
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