International Criminal Court (ICC)
GEORGIA – RUSSIA (SOUTH OSSETIA): Prosecutor requests investigation of war crimes in South Ossetia
After concluding a preliminary examination ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has requested authorisation to initiate a proper investigation into the war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed from 1 July to 10 October 2008 in Georgia. The preliminary examinations have concluded that between 51 and 113 ethnic Georgian civilians were killed as part of a forcible displacement campaign conducted by South Ossetia's de facto authorities, that between 13,400 and 18,500 people from the Georgian community of South Ossetia were forcibly displaced and more than 5,000 dwellings belonging to Georgian community were reportedly destroyed, resulting in a reduction of at least 75% in the Georgian community population in the conflict zone. The prosecutor also reported that both South Ossetian and Georgian armed forces killed and injured peacekeepers. For all these reasons, the Prosecutor concludes there is reasonable basis to believe that war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed by all parties involved in the armed conflict. Bensouda has called on the ICC to investigate such crimes, arguing that the competent national authorities are no longer conducting probes. Judges must now decide whether to authorise a full investigation or not. In a five-day war in August 2008 Georgia launched a military operation on South Ossetia, but the Russian army quickly retook the area and pushed deep into Georgian territory. (ICC, BBC, 13/10/15)
HONDURAS: ICC won’t investigate the situation in Honduras
After a preliminary examination into the situation in Honduras, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has concluded that the requirements to open a full investigation have not been met. The Office of the Prosecution opened preliminary examinations in November 2010 to assess the alleged crimes committed following the coup d'état that ousted former president José Manuel Zelaya in 28 June 2009. In a report issued once the preliminary examinations had concluded the Prosecution identified human rights violations in the period between the coup and President Lobo’s inauguration on 27 January 2010 (“post-coup period”). These include seven to 12 cases of deaths caused by excessive use of force by security forces during demonstrations or at checkpoints; from six to over 20 targeted killings of selected members of the opposition to the de facto regime, including human rights defenders, journalists and political activists; imprisonment and other severe deprivations of liberty affecting from 3,000 to 4,500 people. However, such violations do not constitute crimes against humanity within the meaning of the Rome Statute and thus do not fall within the scope of the ICC. Consequently, Bensouda has announced that the ICC will close its investigations regarding Honduras. (ICC; La Prensa, 28/10/15)
INDIA – SUDAN: ICC asks India to arrest Sudan president
The ICC has urged the Indian Government to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir who is visiting the country for an Africa-India summit with 40 other African leaders. Al-Bashir is accused of five counts of crimes against humanity, two counts of war crimes and three counts of genocide in Sudan. Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has argued that even though India is not a member of the ICC it has obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 1593 in 2005 which lifted Bashir's immunity under international law and urged all states to fully cooperate with the ICC. Despite the ICC petition, president al-Bashir was welcomed by Indian Minister of State of External Affairs Vijay Kumar Singh. In June 2015 al-Bashir had to flee South Africa where he was attending an African Union summit after a court ruled he should be detained. The ICC has issued two warrants of arrest, in 2009 and 2010, for al-Bashir. Human Rights Watch has asked India not to welcome al-Bashir and reminded the administration that many countries have avoided his visits. (HRW, 19/10/15; Jurist, Reuters, 27/10/15; Sudan Tribune, 28/10/15)
    Regional Courts
BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA: Families of Srebrenica victims file complaint in Europe rights court
Families of victims of the Srebrenica massacre in July 1995 have filed a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights against the Dutch government claiming that the trial of three Dutch peacekeeping commanders was not correct. The three officials were accused of not safeguarding Bosniak civilians who were working in the Dutch headquarters in Potocari near Srebrenica when the massacre took place. In April 2014, a Dutch military court decided that the accused commanders, Thomas Karremans, Robert Franken, and Berend Ooterveen, were not responsible for the deaths of the Bosniak civilians. The accusation claims now that the Dutch authorities committed a procedural error because the proceedings against the three Dutch peacekeepers were limited to simply reading historical records in a military court instead of opening a criminal investigation. (Balkan Transitional Justice, 26/10/15)
    Ordinary Justice and Traditional Justice Systems
SPAIN – RWANDA: Spain dismisses Rwanda war crimes case against 40 officials
The Supreme Court of Spain has confirmed the dismissal of a case investigating 40 Rwandan officials accused of genocide, torture, terrorism and crimes against humanity in Rwanda and Congo following the 1994 genocide. The decision argues that the latest reform of the Organic Law of the Judiciary does not allow the accused to be tried. In February 2014 the Spanish Parliament approved a Law that diminished the universal jurisdiction powers of Spanish courts to pursue cases of genocide and other crimes against humanity committed abroad. According to this 2014 law, Spanish courts can prosecute crimes against humanity committed abroad only if the suspect is a Spanish citizen, a foreigner residing in Spain or a foreigner whose extradition has been denied by Spain. The previous Law, approved in 1985, considered universal jurisdiction in any case. The Supreme Court revoked the arrest warrants against the officials, but stated that they could be prosecuted if they enter Spanish territory. In 2005 the International Forum for Truth and Justice in the Great Lakes filled a complaint against the Rwandan officials, including current President Paul Kagame. In 2008 the Spanish Judge Fernando Andreu issued an arrest warrant against them. About 800,000 people were killed in the Rwandan genocide, with a large majority being Tutsis killed by Hutus, and a minority of moderate Hutu killed by radical Hutu. (EFE, 07/10/15; BBC, 08/10/15 ; Jurist, 09/10/15)
    Truth commissions
ECUADOR: Human Rights organisations demand that Truth Commission recommendations be applied
In the 156 period of sessions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH), a session was held on the compliance with the recommendations made by the Truth Commission in Ecuador. Human rights organisations such as Fundación para el Debido Proceso Legal (Foundation for Due Legal Process), Open Society and the Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho Internacional (Centre for Justice and International Law - Cejil) have asked the CIDH to urge the Ecuadorian government to reinstate the Truth Commission and to implement the Law for the Reparation of Victims that would allow the criminal investigation of cases. According to the organisations, of the 136 cases documented by the Truth Commission only 6 have been brought to court and none of them have been sentenced. Furthermore, 347 dossiers were opened by the Office of the Ombudsman requesting repair for victims, but none of them have received any compensation. The Truth Commission finished its mandate in 2010, but the expected prosecutions or reparations have not been addressed according to those organisations. (La República, 14/10/15)
MALI: The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission appoints its members and explains its mission
The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (CVJR) has officially initiated its tasks after appointing all of its members. With a total of 15 members, the president was designated in August 2015, and by mid-October the other 14 had been elected. The Mali Association for Human Rights and Amnesty International have complained that armed groups are overrepresented to the detriment of victims’ groups. In a press conference the President of the CVJR, Ousmane Oumarou Sidibé, stated that they would work to rebuild the social fabric, peaceful coexistence, and the social pact. To this end, the Commission will first visit the three Northern regions and Mopti, where the harshest violent episodes took place. It will meet the victims there and define an action plan before visiting other regions where violence has also spread. The CVJR was created in January 2015 to probe serious human rights violations and to promote community dialogue. (Malijet, 29/10/15)
    Truth seeking investigations
BURKINA FASO: Autopsy reveals former president Sankara was killed by bullets
An autopsy conducted after the exhumation in May 2015 of the supposed body of former president Thomas Sankara and 12 soldiers buried with him reveals that the former leader’s body had over a dozen bullets wounds. Autopsies on the other 12 soldiers buried with him in 1987 revealed that they only had one or two gunshot wounds. Sankara was killed in October 1987 in a coup and many believe he was killed by the person who then became president, Blaise Compaoré. For years Sankara supporters have demanded the identification of his body, but the request was blocked by a Court during Blaise Compaoré’s rule. Compaoré’s ousting from the presidency in October 2014 during massive street protests opened the door to further investigations. (BBC, 13/10/15; France24, 14/10/15)
SOUTH SUDAN: African Union finds that war crimes were committed by both sides in South Sudan
Two months after signing the peace agreement in South Sudan, The African Union Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan (AUCISS) has issued a report concluding that both the South Sudan government and rebel groups committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in the armed conflict in South Sudan (2013-2015). The Commission has documented that both parties committed killings, rape and sexual violence, torture and other inhumane acts and targeted humanitarian workers, but has not found reasonable grounds to believe genocide was committed. The Commission also said it will submit to the AU’s Peace and Security Council a highly confidential list of alleged perpetrators. The report lists a set of recommendations including institutional reforms, the establishment of an independent “hybrid” court by the AU and a truth commission, the creation of a reparations fund, and the launch of a structured national process to create a common narrative around a new South Sudan. The AUCISS was created by the African Union in December 2013, and started its investigations in March 2014 with the mandate to investigate human rights violations and other abuses by both parties during the conflict as of 15 December 2013. Although the report was ready in October 2014, its publication was delayed due to fears that it might undermine peace talks. (The Guardian, Jurist, 28/10/15)
SYRIA - KURDISTAN: AI reports war crimes committed by the Autonomous Kurdish Administration
A report published by Amnesty International uncovers that the Autonomous Administration led by the Syrian Kurdish political party Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat (PYD) conducted a campaign of forced displacement and home demolitions in August 2015 that amounts to war crimes. According to the report, in its fight against support for the Islamic State (IS) the Autonomous Administration has deliberately demolished civilian homes, in some cases razing and burning entire villages, and has displaced their inhabitants – mostly Arabs and Turkmen, and to a far lesser extent Kurds - without justifiable military grounds. The organisation has collected evidence of what it claims to be a deliberate, co-ordinated campaign of collective punishment of civilians in villages previously captured by IS or suspected of supporting the group. AI has called on the US-led coalition, which supports the Kurdish Autonomous Administration, to take a public stand to condemn such forced displacement and unlawful demolitions, and to ensure the respect of International Humanitarian Law. Kurdish officials have recognised these incidents, but have claimed they are isolated cases. The Syrian civil war began in 2011 and has caused massive forced internal displacement that has affected 7,600,000 people and has led to almost 4,000,000 refugees out of a total population of 22 million people. (Jurist, 13/10/15)
YEMEN: UN Human Rights Council fails to create an International commission of inquiry
The UN Human Rights Council has adopted a resolution to create a commission of inquiry lead by the former President of Yemen in exile Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi to probe international war crimes in the country. The initiative has been criticised by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, who claim that the commission should be international, considering the Yemeni government has failed to investigate the crimes committed since 2011. AI Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, James Lynch, noted that the adopted resolution was drafted by Saudi Arabia, which is leading the military coalition that is conducting strikes on the country, and is allegedly responsible for war crimes itself. The resolution does not mention, therefore, the international coalition of forces attacking Yemen. In September 2015 several UN human rights bodies such as the UN high Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect urged for the creation of an international mechanism of inquiry. HRW has denounced that the US applies a double standard. It strongly backs international commissions of inquiry for Syria, North Korea, Libya, Sri Lanka, and Eritrea, but does not support commissions to investigate crimes were Saudi Arabia may be involved. More than 5,600 people, including 2,300 civilians, have been killed and nearly 1.5 million people have been displaced during the Yemeni armed conflict (2011 to present). The international coalition forces are considered responsible of two thirds of the civilian deaths and have also used banned cluster munitions, which have been found to be produced or designed in the United States. (AI, HRW, 02/10/15; Jurist, 04/10/15; BBC, 27/10/15)
CHILE: Congress approves reparation for Pinochet victims
The Chilean congress has approved to pay one million pesos (about 1,450 dollars) in reparations to political prisoners and torture victims during the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990). While some Pinochet victims –such as people who were exiled and tortured, as well as their relatives– have already received a series of different reparation payments, this would be a single blanket payment for all recognized victims. As stated by the Ministry of Government, the measure reflects the state's duty to offer reparations to victims of human rights violations during the dictatorship. President Michelle Bachelet, herself a torture victim, introduced the measure in July. In 2003 the National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture, which investigated regime abuses, recognized more than 38,000 people as victims of the Pinochet regime: 34,000 imprisoned and tortured, 3,200 people killed, and 1,200 disappeared. (AFP, 20/10/15; Portal del Sur, 21/10/15)
COLOMBIA: ICTJ examines the challenges for reparations in Colombia
A new report was published by the International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) on the challenges to implement Colombia’s Victims and Land Restitution Law approved in 2011. According to the ICTJ, the complexity of such Law, which tries to comply with all international standards, fails to address the real capacity to implement these principles. At the same time, reparations need to deal with the fact that victims of violence are heavily affected by poverty, as 80% of victims live in poverty and 35.5% in extreme poverty, which triples the country’s average poverty rates. Consequently, the ICTJ recommends simplicity and practicality to implement the reparations policy, by adopting socioeconomic policies which focus on strategic investments (such as job creation, health care and education) instead of providing basic services. The centre also points out the need for the State to acknowledge its responsibility so that compensations have a true reparative effect. The reparations program has registered more than 7.6 million victims, including 260,000 killings, 45,000 enforced disappearances and forced displacement. (ICTJ, 19/10/15)
UGANDA: ICTJ demands redress measures for victims of sexual assault
Highlighting the fact that the global response to wartime sexual violence is largely focused on criminalizing and punishing perpetrators of rape, but less on the reintegration of victims of sexual abuse and their children in their communities, a report by the International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) demands redress measures for such victims. According to the report, the initial violations of child mothers go unaddressed and unacknowledged, which leads to intergenerational cycles of denial of rights and marginalisation, while the community often blames the children and their mothers for the sexual abuse. To address this issue the ICTJ calls on the Ugandan government to officially acknowledge the harm done to these victims and to provide targeted redress, such as access to land to rejected children; to organise truth telling spaces to clarify how and why violations occurred, and to pass the draft National Transitional Justice Policy. In the armed conflict between the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan Government (1996-2006) it is estimated that the LRA abducted 66,000 minors, both boys and girls, to serve as soldiers or sex slaves. Government troops also allegedly committed serious crimes and human rights violations, including rape. (ICTJ, 27/10/15)
INDONESIA: Government forbids celebrating events marking 1965 mass killings
Indonesian authorities have forced the organisers of the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, the main literary festival in the country, to cancel events linked to the 1965 massacre. Officials threatened to revoke permits for the whole Festival taking place in Bali. The festival’s founder and director, Janet DeNeefe, said she was extremely disappointed to have to cancel the events. At least 500,000 people were killed across Indonesia after an attempted communist coup in 1965. Suspected members and sympathisers of the Communist Party, which had about three million members, were hunted down, tortured and killed. President Joko Widodo, elected in 2014, has promised the state would investigate, but human rights groups consider that little has been done. (BBC, 24/10/15)
RUSSIA: New Gulag museum recreates Stalin’s terror
On the national day of remembrance for the victims of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin the Russian authorities have inaugurated a new museum in Moscow dedicated to the millions who were persecuted in Soviet labour camps in 1930-1950. In the ceremony, thousands of victims' names were read out near the former KGB headquarters. The five-storey museum shows personal effects of Gulag prisoners, the size of prison cells, and original doors from camps in remote Magadan, Anadyr and Vorkuta. A map of Russia displays the camp locations, and visitors can watch nearly 100 newly recorded interviews with descendants of victims. In March 2015 the Gulag museum Perm-36, located in Siberia and managed by civil society groups, closed its doors after denouncing pressure from local authorities regarding its contents. An estimated 20 million people died during Stalin's regime. (AFP, BBC, 30/10/15)
    Institutional reform
SECURITY REFORM: Special Rapporteur advocates for vetting
The Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Pablo de Greiff, has issued a report on how to address the vetting of members of security institutions as part of the mechanisms for security sector reform. De Greiff argues that despite the fact that vetting does face difficult challenges due to political opposition, manipulation and operational issues, it can make significant contributions to transitions such as recognising victims, fostering civic trust, contributing to social integration or reconciliation, strengthening the rule of law, and helping dismantle criminal networks. The Special Rapporteur recommends adopting measures such as defining the role of the police, the military, and the intelligence services; strengthening civilian oversight and control over security institutions; the rationalization of these institutions more in line with publically scrutinized risk assessments; narrowing military jurisdiction to disciplinary offences only; and removing military prerogatives such as ‘tutelary powers’. (OHCHR, 21/10/15, A/70/438)
    Peace talks
COLOMBIA: Negotiations reach deal on disappeared
If a final agreement is reached the Colombian Government and the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC) armed opposition group have decided on measures to find, locate, identify and return the remains of missing people. The Government and the FARC, assisted by the International Committee of the Red Cross, will share information so that remains from unmarked mass graves can be recovered and missing people that are still alive can be located. A special unit would be created for that purpose. The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) welcomed the decision and recommended that during the implementation phase the parties should look back at previous experiences such as the Commissión de Búsqueda de Personas Desaparecidas (Commission for the Search of Missing Persons), the Prosecutor’s Office, and civil society efforts. During the negotiations FARC leader Rodrigo Londono, known as Timochenko, also announced that the guerrillas would stop military training. It is estimated that between 45,000 and 60,000 people are still missing. (BBC, EFE, 18/10/15; ICTJ, 21/10/15)
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