On the Way to Ending Impunity:The Cases of Karadzic, Bemba, and Ongwen
Last week was an important one for the advancement of international criminal justice and the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). On 24 March 2016, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) rendered its judgment (summary) in the Karadžić case, three days earlier, the International Criminal Court (ICC) convicted Jean-Pierre Bemba; and on 23 March, the ICC also decided that there was enough evidence in the Ongwen case for it to proceed to trial. Both RtoP and international criminal law, as exemplified here through the ICTY and the ICC, aim at bettering the world’s prevention of and reaction to atrocity crimes. Accountability for the perpetrators of such crimes serves as a vital element of upholding RtoP, as ending impunity for these crimes functions both as a deterrent for future perpetrators and as a means to rebuild communities in the wake of atrocities. As such, any improvements in accountability for atrocities can also be considered an improvement in the implementation of RtoP.
Catch up on developments in…
Central African Republic
Democratic Republic of the Congo
U Htin Kyaw of the National League for Democracy was sworn in on Wednesday as the new president of Myanmar. In his speech, Mr. Htin Kyaw urged “patience in the pursuit of democracy”, while noting that his government would strive for national reconciliation and a resolution of military clashes with ethnic groups.
Ivan Šimonovic, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, warned the UN Human Rights Council that the human rights violations occurring in Burundi posed a threat to the country and the wider Great Lakes region. He urged the Burundian government to release political prisoners and to ensure the respect of its citizens’ human rights, be they civil and political or economic and social.
The EU has threatened to stop funding Burundi’s 5,400 strong peacekeeping mission in Somalia with the aim of forcing the Burundian government to the negotiations table.
FOREBU, a rebel group in Burundi, has claimed responsibility for the killing of an army colonel in Bujumbura.
Burundi’s ruling party accused President Paul Kagame of Rwanda of attempting to “export genocide”. Burundi’s government and the UN have both accused Rwanda of recruiting refugees to help remove President Nkurunziza from power.
Central African Republic:
New reports of sexual abuses by Moroccan and Burundian peacekeepers in CAR have emerged, prompting a UN investigation. Additionally, AIDS-Free World released a report that peacekeepers had abused 98 girls from 2013-present.
The French minister of defence confirmed that the French intervention in CAR, Operation Sangaris, will end in the course of the year, stating that French troops had achieved their mission of restoring security there. The withdrawal shall happen parallel to the build-up of the MINUSCA and the EU Training Mission.
Faustin-Archange Touadéra, Central African Republic’s new president, took office on Wednesday, vowing to restore peace and security to the country.
Democratic Republic of the Congo:
Three days of clashes between the DRC’s army and the FDLR and Mai Mai militia have killedsixteen in Mpati.
The UN Security Council unanimously extended the mandate of MONUSCO, refusing to cut down on the 20,000-strong force, despite recommendations from Ban Ki-moon and request from the DRC government.
Several opposition parties endorsed the former governor of Lubumbashi, Moise Katumbi, for president. Katumbi was a member of President Kabila’s party, but quit while accusing Kabila of plotting to stay in power last September.
The DRC began the trials of twenty soldiers accused of rape and other crimes while serving as UN peacekeepers in Central African Republic.
The HRC passed a resolution creating a blacklist of companies involved in settlement activities in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. The resolution wasdenounced by Israel and the US.
The OHCHR has stated that it is extremely concerned by the extrajudicial execution of a Palestinian man in the West Bank, fearing that it might not have been a lone incident. The Office has called for a “prompt, thorough, transparent and independent investigation”.
An ISIL attack near a gathering of workers in Tayaran Square in Baghdad killed 7 and wounded 27.
Martin Kobler, Special Representative and Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya,condemned executions by armed groups in Warshafana against civilians in the north of the country, citing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.
The UAE Red Crescent is airlifting 300 tons of aid resources to Libya.
The Libyan ambassador to the UN has asked the UNSC to exempt its blacklisted sovereign wealth fund from sanctions imposed by the Council in 2011, claiming that mismanagement of funds is causing the loss of billions of dollars at the Libyan Investment Authority. However, the resolution adopted by the UNSC only reaffirms the Council’s intention to make frozen assets available to Libyans at a later date.
The heads of Libya’s UN-backed unity government, known as the Government of National Accord, have made their way to Tripoli, the capital, in order to broker a ceasefire between the rival factions and better confront ISIL.
According to prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC), Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi has agreed to plead guilty to destroying religious and cultural sites in Timbuktu. He faces war crimes charges for his involvement in the destruction of nine mausoleums and a mosque during the city’s occupation in 2012.
Special forces have arrested Souleymane Keita, the top jihadist leader in southern Mali, and one of his allies near the border with Mauritania. Originally part of the jihadist forces which took control of large swathes of territory in northern Mali in 2012 and ousted by the French in 2013, when French troops ousted the jihadists in 2013, Keita went south to start his own jihadist group called the “Ansar Dine of the South”. He has been accused of running a jihadist training camp outside of Bamako and for carrying out attacks in the capital and in cities near the border with Côte d’Ivoire.
Authorities in Mali also arrested two citizens accused of “actively participating” in a deadly attack on a beach resort in Côte d’Ivoire on 13 March that killed 19 people. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility for the attack, the third such strike in West Africa in recent months after the attacks on a hotel in the capital city of Mali and another on a hotel in Burkina Faso, demonstrating the mobility and access of the growing jihadist threat these countries face.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed concerns about the number of challenges facing UN peacekeepers in Mali and the spreading insecurity throughout the country. In his latest report, Ban noted “The northern and central parts of Mali remain under the threat of criminal, violent extremist and terrorist groups, which take advantage of the limited presence of Malian law enforcement institutions.” Although a peace agreement was reached last year between the government and the rebels, jihadist violence still presents a real threat and the national government has not been able to maintain the country’s security with its domestic forces alone.
In their latest report on Nigeria, ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) called the Nigerian government’s response to the Damasak attacks last year “woefully inadequate”. The attacks resulted in the abduction of 400 women and children, including 300 schoolchildren, by Boko Haram.
In the days after the HRW report, a local Damasak resident, government administrator, elder, and chief reported that Boko Haram had abducted an additional 500 girls, boys, and women from Damask on 24 November 2014. The government of former president Goodluck Jonathan denied reports of the abduction last year, while other officials expressed doubts over the claims. One of the people that came forward, whose child had been among those abducted, claimed that the people of the city had “kept quiet on the kidnap out of fear of drawing the wrath of the government.”
Although Damasak is the largest documented school abduction by Boko Haram, it has drawn less international attention than the group’s abduction of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok in 2014, of which 57 are confirmed to have escaped, although 219 girls remain captive. Two girlsarrested by authorities during an attempt to carry out a suicide bombing on a village in Cameroon could be part of this group, and two parents of the Chibok abductees have been sent to Cameroon to meet with the girls.
Although US cooperation with Nigeria had effectively stalled during Goodluck Jonathan’s presidency due to his refusal to investigate accusations of corruption and human rights abuses committed by the Nigerian military, on Wednesday, the United States and the current Nigerian government agreed to set up working groups to strengthen security cooperation and the economy and tackle corruption.
The United Nations has reported that over 48,000 South Sudanese have escaped to Sudan since the end of January, due to food shortages and ongoing conflict. Since the conflict started in December 2013, tens of thousands of people have been killed and over 2 million displaced. The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is concerned about the amount of South Sudanese seeking asylum in Sudan, with an average of 500 refugees, equivalent to 100 households, arriving daily in East Darfur. The 2016 South Sudan Regional Refugee Response Plan (RRRP), which covers all refugee programmes in the area, is only funded at 3 per cent, which leaves many emergent and necessary efforts, such as providing clean water, sanitation, medical assistance, food and shelter, incredibly underfunded.
In response to a report published by Radio Tamazuj, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has stated its commitment to protecting populations in the country. The report by the popular local media outlet accused UNMISS of declining to protect displaced persons in a camp called Sector 5 in Malakal. UNMISS had said in a previous statement that Sector 5 is not a priority for them, as they are still focusing on Sectors 1-4, which have been recently damaged by fires. However, UNMISS also stated that its peacekeepers are protecting 200,000 people seeking refuge within their bases all over the country and are working to protect people outside of their bases. The UN body hopes that the upcoming peace agreement between President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar will result in displaced persons returning home.
The Special Prosecutor of Darfur Crimes, Al-Fatih Mohamed Tayfor, accused rebel groups of abducting children and forcing them to participate in military activities. Tayfor stated that the recruitment of child soldiers by armed movements violate all international conventions and international humanitarian law, as well as the 2010 Child Act. The leaders of Sudan’s primary rebel groups, such as the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) have agreed to take increased measures to protect children in conflict areas.
Continuous attacks and air raids on East Jebel Marra in Darfur have resulted in most of the population of the area fleeing to camps for the internally displaced. Others have sought shelter in caves and valleys in the Jebel Marra area. Moreover, there is reportedly not a single healthcare facility throughout southern Darfur. As of 20 March, conflict had displaced approximately 129,200 people in Jebel Marra conflict since 15 January.
The Syrian government recaptured the historic city of Palmyra on Sunday, marking an important milestone in the fight against Islamic State fighters, who had conducted a 10-month reign of terror in the area. The city is locally known as the “Bride of the Desert” and is popular for its 2000-year-old ruins that used to draw in visitors from all over the world, before ISIL destroyed many of the monuments. The recapture was supported by Russian military forces. The loss of Palmyra is seen as one of the biggest setbacks for the Islamic State since it declared a caliphate in 2014 across much of Syria and Iraq. This victory by the Syrian government has also opened up a vast, strategic space of desert leading to IS occupied territory in Raqqa and Deir al-Zor in the east.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 363 civilians were killed during the first month of the ceasefire.This is the lowest number of monthly civilian deaths since November 2011. The 363 civilians that died last month is in stark contrast to the 1,100 who were killed the previous month, including 234 children. Nevertheless, while the ceasefire has brought some calm to Syria, fighting has continued between rival groups and jihadist factions.
The United Nations is considering appointing a specialist to facilitate negotiations with the goal of a possible prisoner exchange between the Syrian government and the rebel opposition. This effort has been identified as a priority for the Geneva peace talks, as the opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) has demanded that the government release prisoners countless times. The responsibility of the new specialist will also be to ensure that named-detainees are not harmed after their release.
President Bashar al-Assad told an interviewer on Wednesday that he rejects the idea of a “transitional body with full executive powers” proposed by the opposition, which requires him to step down. Assad continued to state that Syria needs a national unity government consisting of various political parties that will secure the transition to a new constitution. The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution last December that called for a road map to be created in order to establish “credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance” within six months, as well as a schedule for the drafting of a new constitution which should be followed by an election.
In the meantime, three days after President Vladimir Putin’s declaration to pull military forces out of Syria, Russia’s naval ship nicknamed “the Syrian Express” left the Russian Black Sea port for Tartous, Russia’s naval base in Syria. The exact contents of the ship are unknown, but according to an analysis by Reuters, the movements of the ship suggest that Russia is attempting to maintain its military presence in Syria as well as supply the Syrian army. However, over half of Russia’s fixed-wing strike force flew out of Syria following the declaration for the partial withdrawal.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the international community on Wednesday to aid in the resettlement of about a half a million Syrian refugees over the next three years. The United Nations Refugee Agency has aimed to resettle 480,000 by the end of 2018 but has admitted that it may be a struggle due to widespread fear, as well as a lack of political will. Ban urged states to pledge towards creating new legal pathways for humanitarian admission through family reunions, as well as labor and study opportunities.
A previously agreed upon prisoner swap was carried out between Saudi Arabia and Houthi rebels ahead of the planned cessation of hostilities and peace negotiations, freeing 109 Yemenis in exchange for 9 Saudis.
UNICEF has warned of the disastrous humanitarian consequences of the Saudi-led coalition’s bombing campaign in Yemen, especially in relation to children, reporting that more than 6 children are killed every day in the conflict. The United Nations Population Fund, meanwhile,reported that the Yemeni conflict has left 3.4 million women between the ages of 15-49 needing humanitarian assistance. Reproductive health and other services are severely lacking, putting the lives of thousands women and (unborn) children at risk
In attacks claimed by ISIL, three suicide bombers killed 26 people near security checkpoints in Aden. The attacks, which took place last Friday, coincided with the first anniversary of the start of the civil war.
An airstrike by unidentified planes has left at least four suspected al Qaeda members dead.
What else is new?
The ICRtoP is pleased to welcome two new members to its coalition:
Jiyan Foundation for Human Rights (Kurdistan, Iraq)
Founded in 2005, the Jiyan Foundation originally began in Kirkuk, Iraq as a rehabilitation center for victims of violence and torture in the region. Since then, the Jiyan Foundation has opened offices throughout several cities in Iraqi Kurdistan as well as an office in Berlin, Germany. Their main purpose is to promote and protect human rights through their assistance to victims and survivors of torture, terrorism, and atrocity crimes, with the organization working with over 2,000 victims over the years. The Foundation provides free medical treatment and psychotherapeutic support as well as social and legal counseling to assist in physical and mental and reintegration into society. Additionally, the Jiyan Foundation conducts programmatic initiatives focusing on human rights education, political advocacy, and the promotion of public awareness for atrocity crime prevention.
Euro-Med Monitor for Human Rights
Founded in 2011 following the rise of the “Arab Spring”, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor documents violations of human rights committed throughout the Middle East and North Africa with the aim of informing public opinion and advocacy for action in the region. There are a range of issues in focus for the organization including, but not limited to, women’s and children’s rights, detention of prisoners of conscience, commission of torture, and refugee and migrant rights. Through a series of press releases, publications, infographics, and videos, as well as direct advocacy, the organization strives to galvanize political will to hold perpetrators to account and stimulate action for prevention and protection.