Category Archives: Justice

#RtoPWeekly 8-12 May

New study finds ISIL killed or kidnapped almost 10,000 Yazidis in 2014

A new study published by the Public Library of Science journal PLoS Medicine this week has shown that the Islamic State (ISIL) killed or kidnapped almost 10,000 Yazidis during the attack on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq in 2014. Valeria Cetorelli, a demographer from John Hopkins University and the London School of Economics and Political Science, and lead researcher on the study has been conducting investigations on the number of people affected by this onslaught on the Yazidi population for possible use in a potential future trial to hold the perpetrators of such atrocities accountable. According to her research, ISIL killed approximately 3,100 Yazidis during the attack on Mount Sinjar and forcibly enslaved almost 7,000 people, forcing them into sex slavery or to become fighters in 2014 alone. These totals amounted to the death or enslavement of at least 2.5 percent of the minority group population by the time that Cetorelli carried out her initial interviews with Yazidis in camps for displaced persons in 2015.

Children that have escaped ISIL captivity and are now living in such camps for displaced persons have recently given testimonies on their treatment by ISIL militants while they were in captivity. According to their testimonies, ISIL abducted hundreds of young boys and forcibly held and trained them in camps to become fighters and suicide bombers. Human Rights Watch has estimated that 3,500 of them still remain captive in Iraq and Syria. In total, UN investigators have estimated that over 5,000 Yazidis have been killed and approximately 7,000 women have been forced into sex slavery.

The evidence of the atrocities carried out against the Yazidis gathered by legal experts and UN investigators is also intended to serve as documentation for the purpose of a future trial to bring the perpetrators of such crimes to justice. Among the many calls for accountability, Amal Clooney, an international human rights lawyer, has been trying to bring ISIL to trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the crimes carried out against the Yazidis. Clooney and Nadia Murad, a Yazidi survivor of the attack who was enslaved by ISIL and escaped, have continuously urged the United Nations Security Council and the entire international community, including the Iraqi government, to cooperate for the purpose of a UN investigation into the ISIL’s atrocities against the Yazidis.

On 15 June 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a report entitled, “‘They came to destroy’: ISIS Crimes Against the Yazidis,” in which the Council reported that the atrocities committed by ISIL against the Yazidi population amounted to genocide and multiple crimes against humanity and war crimes.


Catch up on developments in…


Burundi
CAR
DRC
Iraq
Libya

Mali
South Sudan
Syria
Yemen


Burundi:

Former Burkina Faso president, Michel Kafando, has been appointed the new UN envoy for Burundi. In addition, the EU has called for inclusive dialogue under the mediation of the Ugandan President with the former Tanzanian President as a facilitator. The EU has stated that these meetings are essential for the restoration of peace in Burundi.


Central African Republic:

After dozens of attacks on workers delivering aid in the Central African Republic, the UN humanitarian office said on 5 May that four international humanitarian organizations have temporarily suspended activities in northern CAR. The staff from these organizations will move to Bangui, the country’s capital, and may withdraw completely if threats of violence persist. Meanwhile, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has called for increased support of children in the “forgotten crisis,” adding that displacement has made children particularly vulnerable to “health risks, exploitation and abuse.”

A UN convoy was attacked by the “anti-Balaka” armed group near Yogofongo village on 9 May. Officials said four peacekeepers were killed and at least eight were wounded, while one remains missing. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the attacks against the convoy and called on CAR authorities to investigate them in order to ensure swift justice.


Democratic Republic of Congo:

On Monday, the UN stated that the humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is “dramatically deteriorating” as ethnic violence continues to spread and drive people from their homes. Last week alone, around 100,000 people were uprooted in the Kasai region, increasing the number of displaced to nearly 1.3 million. An estimated average of 4,600 people flee their homes daily in the DRC.


Iraq:

According to a 7 May report by ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) authorities are responsible for the internal displacement of Sunni Turkmen, with the intent to compel them to return to towns controlled by the Popular Mobilization Forces’ Shia units (Hashd al-Sha’abi or PMF). Displaced Turkmen have reported that KRG authorities in Kirkuk have detained and abused them in order to coerce them to leave the region.

Lama Fakih, Deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, declared in the 7 May report that “all Iraqis have the right to live in safety, and forcing displaced Turkmen families out of their homes to parts of the country where they would be in danger is particularly egregious,” adding that “KRG forces should cease harassing Turkmen and unlawfully forcing them to leave Kirkuk.” Human Rights Watch has reported abuses against Sunni Turkmen in other places, including Fallujah and Nineveh.

Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesperson for the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, reported on 9 May that there are currently approximately 360,000 Iraqi civilians caught in the fight between the Iraqi forces and the Islamic State in the north-west Mosul, adding that “emergency assistance and basic services are being provided by humanitarian partners” to those families arriving in Badoush in northeast Iraq. Mr. Dujarric stressed that there is a high number of casualties in Mosul hospitals as well, with over twelve thousand people being hospitalized since 17 October.


Libya:

The International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda presented her thirteenth report on the situation in Libya on 8 May to the United Nations Security Council. Recalling the climate of impunity and spread of human rights violations, she deplored that ordinary citizens have to suffer.

The Prosecutor briefed the Security Council about the relevant ICC investigations as the arrest warrant against Al-Tuhamy Mohamed Khaled, former Head of the Internal Security agency under Muammar Gaddafi, was unsealed on 24 April. Khaled is allegedly responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 2011 uprisings in Libya. The arrest warrant was declassified in hopes of facilitating the arrest and surrender of Mr. Al-Tuhamy, and therefore Bensouda urged all states to cooperate with his arrest. She also called upon the Libyan government to take action and surrender Saif al-Islam Gaddafi to the ICC. In 2015, a Libyan court in Tripoli sentenced him and seven other former government officials to death. Gaddafi appears to have been released from prison, though his whereabouts remain unclear. Finally, regarding the case against Abdulah al-Senussi, she recalled the lack of compliance to fair trials standards while his case was being appealed before the Libyan Supreme Court.

Bensouda also added that because peace in Libya has been undermined by the serious crimes committed by government authorities, the country has also become a marketplace for trafficking and organized crime. Bensouda declared that the ICC is carefully examining the feasibility of opening an investigation into migrant-related crimes in Libya, and that her Office has the firm commitment to collect information related to serious and widespread crimes allegedly committed against migrants attempting to transit through Libya.


Mali:

The deterioration of the security and human rights situation in Mali has undermined the 2015 peace agreement struck between the Malian government and two coalitions of armed groups, according to an analysis released by the Worldwide Movement for Human Rights (FIDH) on 11 May. Indeed, the recent violent clashes have enabled the expansion of terrorist groups and created a climate of insecurity. FIDH stated in the report that there is an urgent need to strengthen the UN mission in the country and fight against impunity. FIDH and its member organization the Association malienne des droits de l’homme will be at the United Nations headquarters in New York from 7 to 13 May to discuss these issues and present their recommendations.


South Sudan:

According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), more than two million children have been forced to flee their homes in South Sudan as a result of the civil war. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has deployed its peacekeeping troops in the Upper Nile region to support the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

The United Nations Security Council has condemned the 3 May attack on UNMISS, calling for immediate adherence to the permanent ceasefire addressed in the August 2015 peace deal.

The South Sudanese Army (SPLA) said that its forces captured the headquarters of the opposition Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO) on 5 May, allegedly reversing all gains made by the rebels in the past months. In addition, President Kiir has replaced his previous army chief, Paul Malong, with General James Ajongo Mawut, former deputy chief of general staff for administration and finance.


Syria:

During the Astana talks held in Kazakhstan last week, Russia and Iran signed a memorandum with Turkey that called for a “pause in fighting and airstrikes for six months in and around the rebel-held areas, unhindered aid deliveries, and the return of displaced civilians.” Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy to Syria, referred to the memorandum as an “important, promising, positive step in the right direction.” The six-month agreement bans all attacks in the agreed “de-escalation” zones, apart from attacks targeted against the Islamic State and the Nusra Front, and it also allows for humanitarian assistance in the agreed areas.

However, the memorandum was not signed by either the Syrian government or the non-state actors to the conflict, with Walid al-Moallem, the Syrian Foreign Minister, declaring on 8 May that the Syrian government does “not accept a role for the United Nations or international forces to monitor the agreement.” On 10 May, Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, announced plans to meet this week with US Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson in order to discuss the situation in Syria and both countries’ role in the conflict.


Yemen:

Jamie McGoldrick, the Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen, urged on 7 May for “safe, unconditional, and sustained” humanitarian aid in the country. He also stressed that it is “imperative that humanitarians reach people in need without obstacle, wherever they may be.” There are currently approximately 17 million Yemenis in need.

On Tuesday, 9 May, the World Health Organization (WHO) and Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reported that the cholera outbreak in Yemen is worsening. Shinjiro Murate, head of the MSF mission in Yemen, stressed that the organization is “very concerned that the disease will continue to spread and become out of control,” also calling for “humanitarian assistance [that] needs to be urgently scaled up to limit the spread of the outbreak and anticipate other potential outbreaks.” The WHO reported 2,022 occurrences of cholera in Yemen just within the last fortnight, with at least 34 deaths among them.

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Filed under Burundi, DRC, genocide, International Criminal Court, Justice, Libya, Reconciliation, RtoP, Second Pillar, Yemen

#RtoPWeekly 1-5 May

Human rights issues to be reviewed at UN Human Rights Council

ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a new report this week calling on all UN Member States to denounce the Philippines’ deadly “war on drugs”, which has resulted in the killing of over 7,000 people in less than a year. Since President Rodrigo Duterte took power in June 2016, numerous nongovernmental organizations, including HRW, as well as various UN and media sources have reported cases of extrajudicial killings, which, as HRW has argued, may amount to crimes against humanity. In light of these reports, as well as those of cases of torture, enforced disappearances, and violations of children’s and reproductive health rights, among other issues, HRW has called on all UN Member States to “urge the Philippines to support an international investigation into the killings, given the Philippine government’s own failure to impartially investigate or prosecute those responsible.”

Estimates have shown that the number of deaths related to the “war on drugs” may have reached 8,000. However, Philippine police have disputed those totals, as well as the alleged extrajudicial killings. In addition, Ramon Apolinario, the Philippine’s Police Deputy Director General, has declared that the killings are also a result of infighting between drug dealing groups. However, Josef Benedict, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, has argued that “[T]he recent discovery of a secret detention cell, where drug suspects were being detained without charge, in conditions which may amount to cruel and inhuman treatment, suggests that further violations by police may be occurring, which have not yet been uncovered.”

Next week, on Monday, 8 May, the Philippines will be one of 14 countries to be examined under the latest Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Among the issues that will be discussed during the review is the large number of alleged extrajudicial killings in the country. Phelim Kine, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director, has stated that, “The UN review of the Philippines is critical because of the sheer magnitude of the human rights calamity since President Duterte took office last year,” adding that “Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ has been nothing less than a murderous war on the poor.” UPRs are conducted on all 193 UN Member States and the Philippines’ last UPRs were carried out in 2008 and 2012. However, this will be the country’s first UPR since Duterte has taken office.

President Rodrigo Duterte has ignored calls for a government investigation into the extrajudicial killings and has declared that he shall not be “intimidated” by a possible referral to the International Criminal Court. In April, Jude Sabio, a lawyer from the Philippines, filed a 77-page complaint to the International Criminal Court against President Duterte and other government officials accusing them of repeated extrajudicial killings that may amount to crimes against humanity.


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
CAR
Cote d’Ivoire
DRC
Kenya
Libya
Mali
Nigeria
South Sudan
Syria
Yemen


Burma/Myanmar:
During a press conference in Brussels on 2 May with the European Union diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi rejected the Commission of Inquiry dispatched by the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate the state’s alleged crimes against the Rohingya people, which may amount to crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. Aung San Suu Kyi argued that the suggested resolution is “not keeping with what is happening on the ground,” further adding that “those recommendations which will divide further the two communities in Rakhine we will not accept, because it will not help to resolve the problems that are arising all the time.”

Burundi:

According to the UN’s World Food Program (WFP), a convoy of food aid that had been blocked from entering Burundi on 3 May has been returned to Rwanda. Burundi authorities had prevented the shipment from entering due to “security issues.” The aid would have supplied enough food for about 112,000 people.


Central African Republic:

This week, ICRtoP member Human Right Watch reported that armed groups fighting for control of a central Ouaka province in the Central African Republic (CAR) have targeted civilians in several attacks over the past three months. These attacks, which are apparently retaliation-driven, have left at least 45 people dead and at least 11,000 displaced. The clashes are between the ethnic Fulani Union for Peace in the CAR (UPC) and the Popular Front for the Renaissance in the CAR (FPRC), both of which are seeking to become the dominant power in the region.

Recent resurging violence in the CAR has left full villages emptied and destroyed, with Medecins Sans Frontieres emphasizing that civilians are being attacked in the country at “levels not seen in years.” Despite the increasing needs, humanitarian funding for the year for the country is at only 10 percent. UN officials say the “disastrous” lack of support hurts the possibility of peace.

The US and its African allies have officially terminated their search for Joseph Kony, the infamous leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army and director of over 100,000 murders and atrocities in central Africa over the past few decades, as many analysts claim that Kony’s influence has now been drastically reduced. Kony was one of the first people the International Criminal Court had indicted for crimes against humanity but he still has yet to be caught, and therefore many experts worry that the removal of troops will leave many people in the CAR at risk.


Cote d’Ivoire:

On 1 May, the UN announced its intention to complete its peacekeeping engagement with Côte d’Ivoire, concluding a 13-year effort. According to the UN, the efforts of the UN Operation in Cote d’Ivoire (UNOCI) have culminated in the restoration of peace and stability in the country, which had been particularly fragile after the post-2010 election crisis. UNOCI is in the process of ensuring the sustainability of the peacekeeping successes achieved thus far and will close the doors of its mission permanently on 30 June.


Democratic People’s Republic of Korea:

Ms. Catalina Devandas Aguilar, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, became the first UN official for Human Rights to have visited the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) on Wednesday, May 3. Special Rapporteur Aguilar met with the Foreign Ministry Ambassador for Human Rights Ri Hung Sik in Pyongyang and is arranged to have more meetings with government officials in an effort to promote the rights of persons with disabilities in the country.


Democratic Republic of Congo:

On 1 May, the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) indefinitely postponed voter registration in two provinces of the central Kasai region after the brutal killing of Philippe Iyidimbe, an Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) official, on 3 April. The state has accused the Kamwina Nsapu rebel militia of carrying out the murder. The UN has previously accused the Nsapu militia of using child soldiers and committing several other atrocities in the country.


Kenya:

Kenya’s government has continuously shown harsh hostility to human rights activists in the country, according to a report by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint program of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). The government allegedly has blamed rights groups in the country for President Uhuru Kenyatta’s former International Criminal Court (ICC) indictment for crimes against humanity, which have since been dropped. The same report alleged that violence, kidnapping, murder, and torture are amongst the methods used by the state in retribution against the activists it has deemed responsible.


Libya:

During a joint press conference on 1 May with his Libyan counterpart, Austrian Minister for Foreign Affairs Sebastian Kurs stated that Libya can only resolve its problem of “illegal immigration” into Europe in a climate of political and economic stability, adding that refugees saved from perilous situations during their travels should not be guaranteed entry to European countries. ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch issued an open letter to Kurs on 3 May, declaring his statements as feeding the “misinformed and xenophobic narratives in Europe” and that they will only result in worse conditions for Libyan refugees.

In a “diplomatic breakthrough” on 2 May, the head of Libya’s UN-backed government, Fayez al Sarraj, met with General Khalifa Haftar, the head of the rival faction supported by the country’s Parliament, in an effort to outline an agreement and resolve tensions. This most recent meeting marks the second its kind since Sarraj was named the designated Prime Minister in late 2015. No official statement was made after the meeting, but it is expected that new elections will be held in the upcoming several months.


Mali:

According to the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali, at least one person was killed and nine wounded in an attack on its camp near the city of Timbuktu on 4 May. There was no direct claim of responsibility, but al Qaeda-affiliated rebel groups have conducted attacks in the past against the Malian government and its allies, so these groups are being looked at as possible culprits.


Nigeria:

Amnesty International denounced on 3 May the increasing arrests and intimidation of bloggers and demonstrators across Nigeria. While underscoring the authorities’ determination to suppress the right of freedom of expression, it urged the government to respect international human rights law in protecting this right.


South Sudan:

An advance party of peacekeepers, specially mandated to use force to protect civilians, arrived in Juba on 1 May. The 13-member group will provide support for engineering operations and help to prepare camp sites for the rest of the peacekeepers. The group’s enhanced mandate was given by the UN Security Council after last year’s violent clashes in Juba escalated the country’s civil war and resulted in hundreds of deaths. The group will be reinforced in the upcoming months.

On 30 April, the African Union (AU) voiced its “deep concerns” over the increased violence in South Sudan and called on the warring parties to abstain from escalating tensions. The AU representative declared that these groups, including the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition, are endangering civilians despite declaring they seek to defend them. Further, the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) called on the South Sudanese army to immediately cease attacks in the Upper Nile region, saying the state army is responsible for the violence that displaced 25,000 civilians.

On 29 April, the UN urged the government of South Sudan, as well as the other warring parties in the war-torn nation, to cease hostilities and uphold their responsibilities to protect civilians in the face of the recent government offensives in various parts of the country.


Syria:

According to a report released on Monday by ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch, the sarin gas attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun is a part of a series of “widespread and systematic” chemical attacks since December 2016 by the Syrian forces. According to investigations, the Syrian forces continue to attack civilian targets, such as hospitals and medical workers. These alleged crimes may amount to war crimes. During April alone, there have been 10 such alleged government attacks on hospitals and similar facilities.


Yemen:

On Tuesday, 2 May, a group of United States congressmen urged US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and the government administration to reconsider their support for a Saudi-led coalition attack on Hodeidah, the Houthi-controlled port in Yemen, due to the devastating humanitarian consequences such an attack would create. A similar letter was issued by 55 members of the US Congress on 10 April by 55, which urged President Trump’s administration to obtain the US Congress’s authorization for any military action in Yemen.

On Monday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights warned of the repercussions that such an attack would have on the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the region, including a severe increase in the loss of civilian lives.

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Filed under Burma, Burundi, CARcrisis, Cote d'Ivoire, DRC, genocide, Human Rights, Justice, Kenya, Libya, Myanmar, Nigeria, RtoP, Syria, Third Pillar, United States, Yemen

#RtoPWeekly: 17-21 April 2017

ICRtoP releases new educational tool exploring
RtoP’s regional relevance in Africa

The International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP) serves as a key resource to increase understanding of the Responsibility to Protect amongst civil society, government and regional organization actors, the UN, and the general public. Our vast range of educational tools has been used by diverse audiences throughout the world and has had a direct impact on strengthening the global awareness of RtoP.

To contribute towards this goal of strengthening awareness of and action on atrocity prevention, the ICRtoP has released a new educational tool exploring the regional relevance of the norm: The Responsibility to Protect in Africa.

This document provides an overview of RtoP’s relevance to the region in focus, exploring the efforts made by regional organizations, and discussing relevant country situations. The educational tool also provides examples of the contributions made by civil society to advance the norm.  The ICRtoP has also released additional region specific tools focusing the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and the Asia-Pacific Region. The ICRtoP will release new educational tools on the Americas and Europe soon.

To view the latest infographic on the Responsibility to Protect in Africa, please click here.

To view all of ICRtoP’s educational tools, please click here.


Catch up on developments in…

Burundi
CAR
DRC
Iraq
Libya
Mali

Nigeria
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen
Other


Burundi:

On 18 April, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, expressed concern about the recent increase in forced disappearances in Burundi, allegedly conducted by government-affiliated militias such as the Imbonerakure. He also condemned the Imbonerakure militia’s chants calling upon members to impregnate women and kill members of the opposition, which the group had performed at several rallies across the country recently. The High Commissioner noted that calls to violence such as these confirm previous accounts of oppression at the hands of government-affiliated groups.

That same day, the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) announced plans to send a large amount of food aid to Burundi in an attempt to resolve an imminent humanitarian crisis there. The current political instability has negatively affected food production within the country since 2015.


Central African Republic:

On 13 April, Medécins sans Frontieres (MSF) reported that its teams had witnessed brutal and systematic acts of violence targeting civilians in the several weeks prior, including summary executions and mutilation. In the same report, MSF stated that recent fracturing and infighting amongst the parties previously involved in the 2014-15 conflict has enhanced the current wave of violence.

A new investigation by an independent Swedish film team revealed that several survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of French UN peacekeepers within the Central African Republic had received no assistance from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), despite being promised support. Many of the victims, including one who was allegedly impregnated at 14 by one of the soldiers, have expressed frustration with the UN for providing them with neither support nor justice since the incidents occurred in 2015.

Ugandan troops have begun officially withdrawing from CAR, claiming their mission to pursue Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has been accomplished, although Kony remains active. The LRA and its leader were well-known for their brutality and practice of kidnapping children to become fighters and sex slaves, a punishable war crime.


Democratic Republic of Congo:

In a video report released on 17 April, a BBC team found evidence of mass graves in DRC, where armed forces have been accused of indiscriminate killings against civilians. Additionally, UN investigators have found 17 new mass graves and have called upon DRC’s government to conduct investigations into the civilian deaths, which were allegedly performed by government troops. There have also been reports of government forces raping women and children while going into private homes in search of militia members. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called upon the DRC government to launch a formal investigation, insisting that the International Criminal Court would conduct its own independent investigation should the DRC government fail to do so.


Iraq:

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande, stated that the scale of displacement in the country has already stretched relief efforts to their “operational capacity,” as more than 493,000 people have fled the fighting in Mosul. According to estimates, at least 500,000 civilians still remain trapped in ISIL-controlled areas in western Mosul, including about 400,000 in the densely populated Old City.

Iraqi forces have accused the Islamic State (ISIL) of using chemical weapons during the fight for the city this past week. However, Iraqi officials gave no details about the kind of poison gas allegedly used by the terrorist group and affirmed that injuries were minor. So far, the Islamic State has not responded to the charges.

On 20 April, the Iraqi Joint Operations Command coordinating the fight against ISIL in Mosul declared that Iraqi forces had completed the liberation of the al-Thawra and Nasr neighborhoods, which are located near the western Old City. Additionally, Read Shakir Jawdat, the head of Iraq’s federal police, gave an official statement that Iraqi forces had killed a senior ISIL operative who had apparently been in charge of chemical weapons for the group.


Libya:

On 17 April, UN Secretary-General António Guterres asserted that Libya is at risk of devolving back into conflict and instability due to increasing military escalation and ongoing political stalemate in the country. Fighting has continued to plague the eastern oil crescent and security in the country remains uncertain, only adding to the tension. Guterres noted that the Islamic State (ISIL) no longer controls territory in Libya, but militants with ties to the group have been sighted and are allegedly targeting members of the international community found within Libya.


Mali:

The recently formed alliance of jihadist groups in Mali, Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen, has continued its spate of attacks on the Malian army, French forces, and UN personnel. On 17 April, a vehicle belonging to the UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA) was struck by an improvised landmine, leaving two peacekeepers and one civilian wounded. The group has claimed responsibility for this attack as well as another on MINUSMA in the Kidal region.

Similarly, from January to March 2017, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) recorded 28 cases of humanitarian access constraints in Mali, primarily occurring in the north of the country. Over two-thirds of the incidents involved attacks on humanitarian personnel, equipment, or infrastructure.

OCHA has predicted that 1 in 5 Malians, or 3.8 million people, will be food insecure and will require assistance in the country’s lean season, which falls between June and August this year. The total includes an additional one million people from last year. The food insecurity threat is reportedly worsened by the continued displacement of civilians, with over 45,000 displaced since 2012.


Nigeria:

Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) has reported that the northern Nigerian town of Rann is the center of a critical humanitarian crisis. MSF teams in the area noted a critical lack of water, unsanitary conditions, and almost no access to medical care. One MSF staffer remarked that “falling sick in Rann is almost a death sentence.”

14 April marked the third anniversary of the kidnapping of the 276 Chibok Girls. Despite government claims of negotiations and other efforts to return the girls, roughly 200 still remain missing along with numerous other victims of Boko Haram kidnappings.The defence minister has stated that it could take years for the military to locate and free the remaining captives.

Insufficient funding for food relief in Nigeria may lead to the most populous country in Africa becoming the source of another large scale refugee crisis, according to the country’s chief humanitarian coordinator. Nigeria is one of  four countries, along with Yemen, Somalia, and South Sudan, that have been noted by the UN as being part of the largest humanitarian crisis in the organization’s history. In total, there are a combined 20 million in need of humanitarian aid in the region. In February, the UN sought a combined $4.4 billion by the end of March to deliver urgently needed aid to the four countries, but has so far received only 15 percent of the necessary funding. The funding gap has left the UN World Food Program’s (WFP) operation in Nigeria facing an impending shut-down of services.

Nigeria was reelected as chair of the UN Special Committee on Peacekeeping for the 45th time. Nigeria has held the position since 1972.


South Sudan:

A United Nations official has called for the enhanced protection of civilians in South Sudan after fighting between the government and opposition forces in Raga, Waat, and Wunkur led to an increased level of violence against citizens in those regions. Additionally, the UN peacekeeping mission in the country (UNMISS) has reported that the number of displaced citizens arriving at UN compounds has reached a total of 38,746. Finally, a release by the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) stated that many humanitarian workers in South Sudan have had to relocate as a result of violent attacks against them. OCHA reported on 18 April that South Sudan has become an extremely dangerous place for aid workers due to violence, disease, and famine. 82 aid workers have been killed there in total – nine in the past month alone.

Moustapha Soumaré, the acting Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, has called for the cessation of hostilities in South Sudan, stressing the need for a political solution of the conflict. In a joint statement on 17 April, six South Sudanese political opposition groups urged the international community to acknowledge that a genocide is occurring in the country and to hold the government of President Salva Kiir accountable for its alleged war crimes.

Arjan Hehenkamp, the General Director of the Medecins sans Frontieres, stated on 17 April that the UN is not holding to its protection of civilians (POC) mandate when it is aiding only those residing in designated POC sites. Hehenkamp insisted that the UN needs to extend its protection to civilians outside of POC sites, which currently only hold about 200,000 civilians in need of assistance.


Sudan:

The Popular Defense Forces (PDF) militia raided a civilian market in West Kordofan on Tuesday under the pretext of enforcing permit regulations. The government militia allegedly confiscated large amounts of goods, food stuffs, and at least 15,000 US dollars worth of cash from local citizens.

The National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), the government’s primary security apparatus, banned without reason an event that was to be held at El Ahfad University for Women against the oppression of women. The No to Oppression of Women Initiative, the group organizing the event, said this week that over 45,000 women had complaints filed against them under the Public Order Act and that 15,000 were subjected to flogging as a result last year. The activists allege that the laws are “naturally discriminatory against women”  and are used arbitrarily by Sudanese security forces.

The presence of explosive remnants of war (ERW) in Darfur continues to be a major threat to civilians, particularly children. Last Wednesday, two young brothers, ages seven and eleven, were reportedly killed instantly when they came across and unexploded grenade while herding goats. Elsewhere in Darfur, the UNAMID’s Ordnance Disposal Office (ODO) deployed a team to conduct a general explosive hazard assessment near a small town, resulting in the identification and disposal of 33 explosive devices, including a 250kg bomb.

The head of the Darfur Civil Society Platform insisted that government statements asserting that the security situation in Darfur has improved are false, instead alleging that the region is controlled by militias who act with impunity.

The government and security structure of North Darfur implemented new plans to resolve the security problem and rampant banditry in the region on Wednesday. The emergency measures seem to target both criminal elements and abuse by government forces banning, among other things, the presence of armed vehicles inside cities and markets.


Syria:

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Sunday that a suicide bomber attacked an evacuation convoy in Syria on 15 April. The convoy was carrying citizens fleeing from the towns of Fua and Kefraya, two pro-government villages, and the attack resulted in 126 deaths, including 68 children. As of now, no group has claimed responsibility for the attack. On 18 April, Rupert Colville, the spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the attack could amount to war crime and should be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

On Wednesday 19 April, the evacuation of civilians from Foua and Kefraya and the two opposition-held towns of Zabadani and Madaya finally resumed after being disrupted by the suicide attack. The evacuations were agreed to by the Syrian government, as President Bashar al-Assad insists that evacuating civilians from the main rebel-held areas is the best way to end the conflict. However, the deal, currently at the first stage, has been repeatedly delayed.

Also on Wednesday, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed that the deadly nerve agent sarin was used in the chemical attack in the village of Khan Sheikhoun, in northern Syria, which killed 86 civilians.

Russia aims to hold talks with the United States and the United Nations before the Geneva talks resume next week, in an effort to renew the Syrian peace process. Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said on Monday that the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has agreed to attend, while US officials still have to confirm their participation.


Yemen:

The International Crisis Group (ICG) has joined many other groups and agencies calling on both sides of the conflict to take action to protect food security in Yemen and  to avoid any actions that would affect the ability of Hodeidah to function as a key port of entry. The special briefing, titled “Instruments of Pain: Conflicts and Famine in Yemen,” emphasized that the imminent famine in Yemen is not a result of natural disaster but of man-made catastrophe and conscious action. In an interview given Sunday, a high-ranking spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition’s forces in Yemen claimed that the coalition’s primary concerns are for the protection of civilians.

In a joint report, Save the Children and the Watchlist on Children in Armed Conflict have called on the UN to place Saudi Arabia back on the list of those responsible for grave violations of children’s rights in conflict. Saudi Arabia, which was originally on the list for a short period in 2016, is accused by the groups of doing immense harm to the civilian population of Yemen, in particularly children, by bombing and  damaging medical facilities and infrastructure. In a separate civil society report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the Houthi forces to cease their use of landmines in the conflict. Landmines were broadly banned by the international community two decades ago for their indiscriminate effect on civilian populations and were banned by Yemen in particular in 1998. However, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines’ (ICBL) “Landmine Monitor” initiative estimated that 988 people were wounded or killed by landmines and other explosive remnants of war in Yemen in 2015.

In other developments, there are concerns that small communities of Jews who have remained in Yemen, especially in the Houthi held capital of Sa’ana, may have been victims of ethnic cleansing on the part of the Houthi rebels.


What else is new?

In the Spring 2017 edition of Courier, ICRtoP member Stanley Foundation discussed how The Gambia could be taken as an example of multilateral action and of the Responsibility to Protect norm being used to prevent atrocities and avert conflict. According to the article, The Gambia showcases hope for other countries and the prevention of conflict.

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Filed under Burundi, CARcrisis, DRC, Human Rights, Justice, RtoP, South Sudan, Sudan, UN, Weekly Round-Up, Yemen

#RtoPWeekly: 10-14 April 2017

The world reacts to chemical attack in Syria as civilians continue to suffer

On 4 April, a chemical gas attack in Khan Shaykhun, a town in Syria’s Idlib Governorate, killed more than 80 civilians. Shortly thereafter, images of victims showing symptoms associated with exposure to nerve gas, namely suffocation, foaming at the mouth, convulsions, constricted pupils, and involuntary defecation, as reported by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), led UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Kim Won-Soo to comment that, if confirmed, this could constitute the worst chemical attack in Syria since the war began in 2011.

The news sparked strong reactions by throughout the international community, which gathered in the UN Security Council Chamber on 5 April to discuss which steps to take next. At the same time, the Director-General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) officially announced that the OPCW-United Nations Joint Investigative Mission (JIM) had started to gather and analyze information from all available sources to establish facts surrounding allegations of the use of toxic chemicals in the country. At first, all Member States cohesively placed blame for the attack on Syrian government forces, expressing unanimous outrage for what was called “a new low, even for the barbaric Assad regime” by US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley.

Following these statements and appalled by the deadly consequences of the latest chemical attack, the international community was quick to react in the emergency session of the UN Security Council on 5 April. As the US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley warned, when the international community proves unable to act collectively, states are compelled to “take their own action”. Shortly after her statement, the United States publicly announced that 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles had been fired at Al Shayrat airfield in Syria, from where the planes carrying the alleged chemical weapons are said to have been launched. The unilateral response implemented by the US represents an unprecedented step in its engagement in the Syrian civil war.

Many Member States have hailed the US response as the end of “an era of impunity” for the Syrian government, while others have claimed that Syria is a victim of aggression, describing the recent US attack on the Shayrat military airbase as a “blatant aggression” against a sovereign state.

In this regard, many issues have recently been raised concerning the legality of the US attack, as well as why this reaction has been elicited now in comparison to other previous uses of deadly chemical weapons throughout the conflict. However, what is indisputable is that after over six years, the conflict  in Syria has already claimed the lives of more than 450,000 people, internally displaced over 6.3 million civilians, and forced more than 5 million Syrians to flee their country as refugees. Furthermore, human rights groups continue to report on the use of banned weapons in areas of the country where civilians are still besieged. This is the time to call on all parties to uphold their RtoP populations from horrific atrocities. This includes calling on the UN Security Council to overcome infighting and internal divisions to allow legal and timely responses to the crises and refraining from exercising veto powers in situations of atrocity crimes.


The above is an edited excerpt from a new blog post written by Francesca Cocomero for the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP). To read the full blog post, please click here.

Source of above photo: Reuters via BBC News

 Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
CAR
DRC
Gaza/West Bank
Iraq
Libya

Mali
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen

Burma/Myanmar:

During the 9 October army crackdown on the Muslim minority Rohingya population in Burma, government authorities reportedly arrested 13 Rohingya children. UNICEF has claimed that they are still under detention. It is not clear if the juveniles will be released, nor has it has been established whether the conditions of their detention have complied with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its additional provisions for the protection of children charged with crimes, ratified by Burma.


Burundi:

Human rights activists have voiced their concern regarding footage showing the youth wing of Burundi‘s ruling CNDD-FDD party, the Imbonerakure, calling for the intimidation of the group’s political opponents and threatening to rape all women linked to the opposition.

Two collectives of rights groups allied with the Burundian government argue that the inter-Burundian dialogue facilitated by the East African Community (EAC) iis no longer necessary due to “remarkable social, political, and economic improvements that have already been achieved.” In addition, Liberat Mfumukeko, EAC Secretary General, has dismissed a report discussing Burundi’s worsening human-rights situation presented by the Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General, Jamal Benomar, to the UN Security Council.


Central African Republic:

President Jacob Zuma of South Africa and his visiting Central African Republic counterpart, Faustin-Archange Touadera, agreed to strengthen bilateral relations and reaffirmed the urgent need for armed groups fighting in CAR to lay down their arms and take part in reforms, including disarmament and reintegration.

The US began its first delivery of $8 million worth of nonlethal assistance to CAR, which is expected to include 16 more trucks and communications equipment. It also announced it is withdrawing its troops from a regional task force hunting the Lord’s Resistance Army.

On 12 April the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued a statement sanctioning two CAR militia officers “for engaging in actions that threaten the peace, security, or stability of the Central African Republic (CAR)” by blocking their property in the US and prohibiting US citizens “from engaging in transactions with them.”


Democratic Republic of Congo:

Security forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo fired teargas and arrested over 80 people in an attempt to repress small protests across the country calling for the implementation of the New Year’s Eve Agreement, which called for a power-sharing deal in the government. DRC’s crisis was further exacerbated after militants attacked symbols of the state and released scores of prisoners from jail, which could worsen the terror afflicting the country.

On Wednesday, 12 April, Said Djinnit, the United Nations envoy for Africa’s Great Lakes region, encouraged the UN Security Council to help strengthen the fight against illegal armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo, namely the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).

The EU has announced it will provide €47 million in assistance to the Greater Lakes, Southern Africa, and Indian Ocean regions. €32 of this will go to the Greater Lakes region specifically as it currently holds more than a million refugees, 430,000 of which are found in the DRC.


Gaza/West Bank:

On 7 April, the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR) condemned the recent hangings of the three Palestinians in Gaza. The military court explicitly accused them of “collaboration with the occupier,” amounting to a charge of treason. The Office urged “the authorities in Gaza to… comply with Palestine’s obligations under international law.”


Iraq:

An Iraqi military spokesman, Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, said the Islamic State (ISIL) now controls less than 7 percent of Iraq, a tremendous success compared to 2014, when the group controlled 40 percent of Iraqi territory. However, ISIL’s influence can still be felt, such as in its killing of more than 40 civilians trying to flee Mosul last week, including many women and children.

On 10 April, the United Nation emergency food relief agency, the UN World Food Programme (WFP), said that deepening food insecurity in Iraq could leave more than half the country’s population facing “unprecedented levels” of vulnerability. In cooperation with the Iraqi government, WFP prepared a Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis, in which it underscored the need to improve access to education, for girls in particular, as important actors in the fight against hunger.

Due to the 5 million euro contribution provided by the European Commission Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has increased its humanitarian response in Iraq. The UNFPA will provide health services to more than 700,000 conflict-affected women and girls and will develop its Rapid Response Mechanism Consortium to give first line relief items to more than 120,000 newly displaced women from Mosul.


Libya:

The director of the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) stated on 11 April that refugees and migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean through Libya are being bought and sold in modern-slave markets in the southern city of Sabha. People are held captive for about two to three months on average. Refugees and migrants are especially targeted by armed groups and people-smuggling networks, which typically extort extra money in exchange for allowing them to continue or risk being killed. The situation is especially perilous for women, with many accounts of forced prostitution and rape.


Mali:

Last Thursday, the head of the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations called the security situation in Mali “alarming,” particularly due to the increase in sophistication of extremist attacks being executed by the most active terrorist groups in the country. These groups, including Al Qaeda and now the Islamic State, are forming a makeshift alliance in the area.

“This convergence of threats is particularly worrying in a context where often the presence of the State is weak or sometimes nonexistent,” Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, told the UN Security Council earlier this month.


Nigeria:

On Thursday, 13 April, the day before the third anniversary of the abduction of 276 students from the Chibok Girls School, President Muhammadu Buhari stated that the government is negotiating with Boko Haram to secure the release of the students, as well as other captives of the group.

On 2 April, government security forces pushed tens of thousands of impoverished civilians out of their makeshift town of Otodo Gbame, and burned many of the structures down. The move was highly criticized by human rights groups such Amnesty International, which insisted the use of “brutal force and thugs” constituted a “clear violation of rights.”


South Sudan:

Following attacks on civilians and aid workers in South Sudan, the head UN humanitarian official in the country urged the government and opposition to ensure the safety of civilians and humanitarians. The government of South Sudan has openly condemned  the involvement of peacekeepers from outside the region, arguing it goes against a resolution of the UN Security Council calling for a “regional protection force.” Further, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) claimed that it has been prevented from accessing the town of Pajok, where it hoped to assess the humanitarian situation. The mission urged the South Sudanese government to immediately allow it access “so it can fully implement its mandate, including to protect civilians” from the “indiscriminate” attacks occurring there.

Civil rights groups have raised concerns over ethnic cleansing in South Sudan as militia members explicitly sought out and killed at least 10 people from the Lou and Fertit ethnic groups in the northwestern town of Wau.


Sudan:

In northern Darfur, gunmen have killed and wounded several civilians during a series of raids on small villages in the area. Additionally, there were several reports of government abuses over the past week. On 11 April, soldiers allegedly beat civilians looking for water in North Darfur. In an incident on Sunday, police fired upon a crowd in a west Darfur displacement camp when a protest broke out, resulting in two deaths. Government authorities insisted that the protestors were in possession of grenades, necessitating the force, although the truth of this statement is not known.

The Enough Project has linked funding from the European Union to the brutal treatment of refugees and migrants by the Sudanese regime through Rapid Support Forces. The EU aid is meant to halt the flow of refugees traveling from or through Sudan into Europe, but many believe it enables the government to commit horrible abuses. Thus, the authors of the “Border Control from Hell” report have criticized the EU’s funding as tacit support for an abusive regime. The full report can be found here.

Lawyers representing South Africa’s government appeared before the International Criminal Court on 7 April to defend against a finding of noncompliance for the country’s failure to arrest Sudanese Omar al-Bashir in 2015. The ruling of the judges is expected on a later date.


Syria:

On Monday, 10 April, the G7 group met in Lucca, Italy to discuss a unified approach regarding the use of chemical weapons on Syrian civilians, allegedly at the hands of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as well as how to pressure Russia to distance itself from Assad. However, after a two-day session of meetings, the group failed to agree on a proposal by Britain for sanctions against Russia. The Italian Foreign Minister, Angelino Alfano, said the member states did not want to alienate Russia, instead preferring to engage in political dialogue with the country.


Yemen:

Amidst heavy conflict between government and rebel forces on Monday, 10 April, an errant bomb resulted in the deaths of three civilians and the wounding of two others. A security official has insisted that the bomb was actually intended for the convoy of General Ali Muqbel Saleh, commander of the 33rd Armored Brigade.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) appealed to the world community to supply urgently needed funding in hopes of saving the millions faced with imminent famine and starvation in Yemen. According to a spokesperson for the UNHCR in Yemen, the millions of affected people are failing to secure their most basic needs, a situation she calls “catastrophic.” The UN’s World Food Program (WFP) has announced that it will increase its emergency food operations in Yemen to ease the crisis, which is “close to a breaking point,” according to WFP’s Country Director in Yemen.

The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and international sanctions, Idriss Jazairy, has called for the lifting of the blockade on Yemen to allow the necessary access for the humanitarian aid required by over 80 percent of the population. The Special Rapporteur raised particular concern regarding the situation in the port city of Hodeidah, as it is a point of entry for supplies into the country.

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Backgrounder on Referral of Libya to the International Criminal Court

This infographic takes a look at international justice and responding to atrocity crimes by giving you a glance at the referral of Libya to the International Criminal Court. 

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Filed under African Union, Arab League, International Criminal Court, Justice, Libya, RtoP, Security Council, Third Pillar, Timely and Decisive Action, UN

Burundi: The Genocide at a Glance

The next addition to our series of infographics honoring  Genocide Awareness Month gives you a quick glance at a past genocide: Burundi

burundi

To read the full infographic, click here.

 

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Darfur ICC Referral Turns 10: Reflections on the Troubled Path to Accountability

March 31st, 2015 marks ten years since the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1593 referring the situation in Darfur to the International Criminal Court. Ten years later, little progress has been made in the pursuit of peace and justice. The Sudanese leadership, including President Omar al-Bashir who was indicted for genocide and crimes against humanity, has yet to be brought before the Court. Worryingly, many commentators are warning of a new threat of genocide as the government carries out a brutal “scorched-earth” counter-insurgency campaign against rebel groups.

ICRtoP Blog and Social Media Coordinator Matthew Redding had the privilege of speaking to our partners at the International Justice Project (IJP) to discuss the ICC referral and the challenges and opportunities associated with its implementation. Read on to learn how these impact efforts to ensure accountability for atrocities committed in Darfur, and in turn, to uphold the Responsibility to Protect Darfuris from future violence.

 

To begin with, let’s start with a brief overview of what the IJP believes are the main obstacles that have prevented the International Criminal Court (ICC) from bringing those indicted for atrocity crimes to justice after Resolution 1593 first referred the situation in Darfur to the Court in 2005?

 

Those who believe that a huge step forward was taken with the ratification of the Rome Statute are correct. As of now, 123 nations have committed themselves to supporting a permanent court with its own jurisprudence and an independent existence. However, the ratification of the treaty and its coming into force and effect as of 2002, did not end the struggle for international justice. Among other things, there will perhaps always be a tension between sovereignty and the status of sitting heads of states on the one hand, and the reach of international justice on the other.

1024px-Omar_al-Bashir,_12th_AU_Summit,_090131-N-0506A-342

Omar al-Bashir at the 12th African Union Summit. US Navy Photo/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jesse B. Awalt/Released.

This is evidenced by the fact that the two most controversial cases at the Court – charges against the president of Kenya and those against the president of Sudan – have been mired in controversy, and at this point must be regarded as unsuccessful proceedings.

In that context, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that there has been significant political, ideological, and diplomatic opposition, couched in jurisprudential terms, to the prosecution of Omar al-Bashir for genocide.

Additionally, whether it is a matter of the will of states or fiscal conservatism, the two referrals from the UN Security Council, including Darfur, have not been accompanied by financial support for their prosecution. Indeed, the Court has had to weather years of “zero budget growth” that produces general inadequacies in staffing and funding for the prosecution, defense function and victim participation. So on the whole, some of the obstacles to preventing the Bashir case are precisely those kinds of rough waters one should have expected the Court to encounter, while others are particular to the Darfur situation and Bashir case. Some member states of the Arab League and the African Union in particular have placed other interests ahead of the challenge of combating genocide.

Any observer who believes the mere existence of the Court and treaty are sufficient in and of themselves to guarantee justice is prizing hope over experience.

 

There are those who suggest that the backlash against the ICC referral, for example, Omar al Bashir’s decision to expel humanitarian organizations for their alleged cooperation with the Court, means that in some instances justice should be deferred for the sake of peace and stability. Others have suggested that Bashir has succeeded in politicizing the investigation in a manner that has only allowed him to tighten his grip on power. What does IJP have to say about these claims, and the overall relationship between justice and conflict resolution?

 

The peace or justice debate relies on a false premise. That premise is that peace and justice are somehow mutually exclusive and that either can be obtained at the expense of the other. It is difficult to conceive, for example, after years of interaction with the Darfurian diaspora and with Sudanese and other sympathizers, that there will ever be peace in Darfur without some true accounting for the genocide that transpired. On the other hand, timing can often be crucial.

It is widely accepted that the timing of the ICC investigation and warrants against Joseph Kony did interfere with a legitimate peace process. This criticism has been frequently articulated by friends of the Court in Uganda. However, few of them would argue that there was never going to be an appropriate time to bring warlords like Kony to account under the statute. Returning to Darfur, the attempt for an Article 16 deferral in 2008 on the grounds of a sincere peace initiative in Sudan was a ruse, and ultimately seen as one by the international community. The countless efforts “at peace” – and the consistent failures – have nothing to do with any attempts at prosecuting Bashir. Indeed, a stronger argument can be made that the failure to bring Bashir to account in The Hague has instead encouraged the ruling clique in Khartoum to believe that mass atrocities are a viable policy option, and has led to enhanced attacks in the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile, and throughout Sudan, and ultimately making it more likely that the two Sudans would divide.

As to the point of “politicization”, it is true that Bashir has been adept at politicizing his circumstance. For some time, he played the “Islamist card”, letting certain Western countries believe that he could be a source of intelligence and a bulwark against violent Jihadis and terrorists. He argued to anti-Western forces that the ICC process is a western colonial project, and he has suggested that it is also an anti-Muslim, anti-Arab institution. At the end of the day, all such allegations can only be addressed in a fair and open trial in which the question of Bashir’s culpability, and that of his lieutenants who have been charged, are tested against well-settled principles of international humanitarian law in a process that for more than half a century has been widely accepted as fair.

In short, we reject any theoretical or practical opposition between justice and peace, and think that rigorous commitment to justice and sincere and common sense efforts at peace must go hand in hand and are not irreconcilable.

 

In December of last year, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda announced that she was “shelving” her investigation due to frustrations over the lack of cooperation shown by the United Nations Security Council. What effect does this decision have on future prospects for justice in Darfur? Why is cooperation between the ICC and the Security Council so important?

 

Let us start by saying IJP continues to have full confidence in Fatou Bensouda. She is an honest, professional, dedicated prosecutor who is being hamstrung by the failure of the international community to fully support her efforts in the Bashir case. That said, we were unhappy with her use of the word “hibernation” in her appearance at the Security Council in December 2014, not because it was an inaccurate term, but because it was twisted by enemies of the Court and comforters of Bashir to mean that the ICC had given up its efforts at prosecution with respect to the Bashir case and Darfur situation.

fatou bensouda ICC

Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda. Photo via Journalists for Justice.

We fully understand that she was functioning under the circumstances in which the Security Council had given her virtually no support in the ten years since Resolution 1593 in the form of council, advice, fiscal assistance, or robust cooperation (we should note that other members of the international community, including several members of the ICC Assembly of States Parties, had failed to arrest Bashir when he was on their territories), and that tensions within the P-5, particularly with respect to the Chinese and Russians, meant that even the informal powers of persuasion of the Council had not been robustly employed to assist in bringing Bashir to account. Since Bensouda’s speech, the Court ruled that because this is a Security Council referral, both Sudan and all other member states of the United Nations are obligated to assist in cooperating with respect to the Bashir case. This marks an important milestone, and it will be important to see whether the Security Council and other regional and subregional organizations are willing to take a stand in support of justice.

 

What measures can the Security Council take to help enforce arrest warrants issued by the ICC? If the Security Council continues to waver over Darfur, what alternatives are there?

 

The measures that the Security Council can take are straightforward. It can be more comprehensive in the sanctions that it imposes on all members of the Sudanese government and leadership in terms of travel and holding resources abroad. It can insist that member states arrest Bashir, and could establish a sanctions regime for those who fail to arrest him when he travels. Minimally, it could urge member states to uphold their duties with respect to cooperation with the ICC. In other words, the Security Council could live up to its mandate under the UN Charter and insist that an accused, albeit a sitting head of state, be brought to account before a recognized Court, in connection with which it has statutory responsibilities for the most serious crimes that persons can commit against each other.

 

What does the renewed spectre of atrocities seen in the government’s latest “counter-insurgency” campaign, along with UN reports that up to 400,000 were displaced in 2014 alone, demonstrate about the Court’s ability to prevent future atrocities in a country where an investigation is ongoing?

 

We think it’s self-evident from what we’ve said before that the continued failure of the Security Council, some members of the Assembly of States Parties, and many members of the international community to rigorously assist the Court in pursuing justice in Darfur, strikes at the very heart of the integrity of modern ideas about humanitarian justice. It also strikes at the heart of international obligations in cases of genocide where the duty of the international community to “prevent and to punish” is clear. Some have argued that the great lesson of World War II was a commitment for the world not to be a bystander in the face of genocide. It can fairly be said with respect to Sudan that alongside Bashir, who faces charges of genocide, are the rest of us who face Bashir, who might meet charges of having stood silent and not exercised sovereign and other responsibilities to bring him to account.

 

What “lessons learned” can be drawn from this case, and how can these be applied to improve the effectiveness of international justice as a tool for responding to and preventing the commission of mass atrocities? For example, what can be done in cases where a lack of regional support for an ICC investigation leads to obstruction or non-compliance?

 

Before directly answering this final question, we think it important to address the sub-textual issue of the response of the AU and some African states to the charges against Bashir. Initially, it has been said that some resistance to the Bashir case is the result of African states concerned that currently all “situations” before the Court are in Africa. We think that this is a red herring. The 34 African states that have ratified the Rome Statute constitute the most robust regional response to the Rome project. Furthermore, despite various controversies – ideological, jurisprudential, and diplomatic – not a single African state has sought to withdraw from the treaty. The elevation of Fatou Bensouda to the position of Chief Prosecutor, and the fact that the ASP is currently lead by President Sadiki Kaba, further suggests that Africa is indeed deeply engaged with the Court (if a decade from now, all situations are in Africa, this may be a different kind of picture).

Haboob Chase in Darfur

A Rwandan member of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) stands guard. UN Photo/Albert González Farran.

With respect to regional efforts, there is a great deal of controversy surrounding the advent of an African Court of Justice and Human Rights. Far from being a negative development, this reveals movement in the direction of the idea of complementarity that lies at the core of the Preamble and Article 1 of the Rome Statute. While IJP is opposed to the concept of immunity for sitting heads of state, which is part of the statute, on the whole, this African court should be viewed as a positive development, and the self-righteous response to it – even from some supporters of the ICC – is inappropriate.

This is not to ignore the fact that there are some leaders within the African continent who may very well feel personally threatened by the ICC, but this is, as we noted, a very logical and expected response from those who seek impunity. We mention this because one lesson learned can be to continue to be flexible and to take seriously the concept of universality in responding to initiatives from other parts of the world, and in many instances, to expect some opposition from vested interests in the robust application of justice.

Although the IJP was founded by two lawyers, Raymond Brown and Wanda Akin, who represent victims in the Darfur situation and Bashir case, we have been forced to learn new skills and to collaborate in the context of our representation. We are, for example, private citizens untrained in diplomacy, and yet we have had to learn in the last decade how to interact creatively with representatives of states – many of them non-lawyers, and many of them only minimally exposed to the details of the justice project with which we have spent a lifetime. We have collaborated with organizations who function in different environments, but with common objectives, such as the Pan African Lawyers Union, with whom as recently as November 2014, alongside the International Refugee Rights Initiative, we gathered and interacted with African human rights activists to explore challenges facing the Court.

We have also expanded our own work into an area sometimes known as “transitional justice”, which has involved developing a means of chasing Bashir (BashirWatch coalition) and working with universities to develop mechanisms for combating the understandable diasporian-wide depression affecting Darfurian diaspora. We have also become more engaged with our own government – with members of Congress and friends within the Executive branch – to encourage the US to assert more leadership, and perhaps even amend its own laws to permit the US to exercise more effective leadership in favor of justice and in opposition to genocide. We continue to teach at the university and law school levels and make public appearances to speak to a wide variety of groups and organizations on behalf of the Darfurian people. We have expanded the reach of our own Darfurian contacts, including within the Darfur People’s Association of New York, the Darfur Rehabilitation Project, and other advocacy groups, and finally, we have exposed a generation of undergraduate and graduate students, new professionals, and public leaders to these issues on an intimate level.

With ten years having passed since Resolution 1593, and still no accused in the dock, we encourage others to similarly advocate and send letters to their own governments promoting leadership on Darfur. A redacted version of our letter can be found here. Finally, thank you to the ICRtoP for providing this opportunity, and for its longstanding commitment to pursuing justice.

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Children in Armed Conflict: A War Crime We Have the Responsibility to Prevent

The following is a guest blog from ICRtoP member Child Soldiers International. Child Soldiers International works to end the military recruitment of children and their use in hostilities, as well as other human rights abuses resulting from their association with armed forces or groups. They promote the release of children, seek their successful return to civilian life, and call for accountability for those who recruit and use them.

More than 50 parties to armed conflict are listed by the UN Secretary-General for recruiting and using children in armed conflict in a variety of capacities. And this list is not exhaustive. The recruitment and use of children by armed forces and armed groups is not only a disturbingly widespread practice: when perpetrated against children under 15 years of age it is a war crime.

Ensuring accountability for such war crimes, along with crimes against humanity and genocide is an essential part of upholding the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP), as well as establishing a basis for sustainable peace and reconciliation. The International Criminal Court (ICC), which came into force in 2002, is the first permanent international judicial body mandated to investigate the commission of atrocity crimes and try alleged perpetrators when judicial mechanisms prove insufficient at the national level. Read on for excellent insight from Child Soldiers International on the importance of accountability and rehabilitation in ending the use and recruitment of child soldiers.

Rebel fighters surrender to FARDC

Child soldiers separated from the Mai Mai militia after surrendering to FARDC in the DRC. UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti

Accountability as Prevention

At Child Soldiers International, we believe that accountability for child recruitment is a crucial component of any strategy aimed at eradicating the use of child soldiers. States have a duty to investigate alleged violations committed by all parties to an armed conflict and prosecute those alleged to be responsible with a view to providing remedies to victims, and preventing the repetition of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

However, too many perpetrators continue to evade accountability: such impunity not only denies victims justice and reparations, but it also produces an environment conducive to the continuing perpetration of these crimes. Accountability is an essential component of prevention, and prevention is the most important aspect of the Responsibility to Protect.

Yet, time and again, accountability is dismissed as an obstacle to peace and stability. ‘Pragmatic’ considerations are often invoked – including by child protection agencies – to justify amnesties or de facto immunity for authors of child recruitment in order to secure the release of children from the ranks of armed forces and armed groups, for example. However, we believe that peace is neither achievable, nor sustainable without accountability. This has been repeatedly demonstrated in the context of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where impunity and integration into the armed forces of suspected perpetrators have simply fuelled further instability and consequent child recruitment.

While amnesties may be pursued for the sake of peace, stability or demobilisation efforts, it is well established (and it is a long standing UN policy) that they cannot be extended to individuals suspected of crimes under international law considered under RtoP – including war crimes like the use and recruitment of children in hostilities, as well as crimes against humanity and genocide.

Accountability and the ICC

When national authorities fail to take action, the International Criminal Court (ICC) offers potential recourse.In December 2014 we welcomed the conviction of former Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga Dyilo before the ICC. Mr Lubanga was found guilty of the crimes of conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 into his militia, the Patriotic Force for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC), and using them to participate actively in hostilities. In its first judgment, the ICC signalled that these crimes warranted international attention and would not go unpunished.

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Thomas Lubanga on trial at the ICC. Lubanga was ultimately found guilty of the war crime of the use and recruitment of child soldiers. Reuters.

We have observed the deterrent effect of this conviction: in the DRC, where Mr Lubanga’s militia was operating, our partners negotiating the release of children from armed groups report that some commanders who have become aware of Mr Lubanga’s conviction are now fearful of the threat of criminal prosecution and have begun releasing children more systematically.

Similarly, in April 2012 we hailed the conviction of former Liberian President, Charles Ghankay Taylor, before the Special Court for Sierra Leone as a clear message from the international community that those who “aid and abet” armed groups that recruit and use children can and will be brought to justice. Mr Taylor was found guilty of a range of crimes under international law, including recruiting children under the age of 15 and using them to participate actively in hostilities. In 2007, the Court had already convicted Alex Tamba Brima, Ibrahim Bazzy Kamara and Santigie Borbor Kanu for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law, including the recruitment and use of children.

There is huge potential for the ICC to send similar strong messages that these war crimes will no longer be tolerated. It is encouraging to see that it is currently dealing with several other cases of alleged crimes relating to child soldiers, including that of former militia leader Bosco Ntaganda, also from the DRC.

A Former Child Soldier at The Hague

Another ICC case that relates to the issue of child soldiers is that of Dominic Ongwen. A former commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Ongwen was abducted as a child in his native Uganda, spent two decades in the LRA and was brought before the ICC last month. He is the only former child soldier appearing before the Court so far. The charges he faces do not relate to any role he had in the recruitment or use of children; they cover numerous attacks on civilians in 2004 and 2005. However, some are asking whether, as a former child soldier, Mr Ongwen should receive more leniency than other war crime suspects.

Dominic Ongwen’s precise age is unclear. Some reports say that he was abducted while walking to school as a 10-year-old. He himself reported being abducted at 14. In any event, no one is denying that Mr Ongwen, as a child, was the victim of a crime which tore him apart from his family environment and shaped the rest of his life.

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Victor Ongwen makes his first appearance at the ICC accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. AFP.

It is alleged that he subsequently rose through the ranks of the LRA and became a senior commander involved in the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes. In 2005 the ICC had issued an arrest warrant for Vincent Otti, Joseph Kony, Dominic Ongwen and two other senior LRA members. In January, some 10 years later, one of those arrest warrants was realised when Mr Ongwen was transferred to the ICC.

His being a former child soldier raises the question about how such defendants can be justly treated in either national or international courts. This has caused some debate, particularly in Uganda where some community leaders and lawyers argue that former child soldiers are not wholly responsible for their actions.

The offences Mr Ongwen is charged with were committed during his adulthood. Using his own stated age, the offences under consideration allegedly took place when he was approximately 29 years old. Indeed the ICC has no jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed by someone who was under the age of 18 at the time (Rome Statute, Article 26). Mr Ongwen’s past experience as a child soldier may be relevant for his legal defence; however, without prejudice to other factual and legal issues, his being a victim of a similar crime is not a defence in itself. His status as a former child soldier may be more relevant at the sentencing stage, should he be found guilty. Once the Court establishes the correct sentence to impose on an offender, it must then consider whether it should be reduced to take into account the offender’s personal mitigating circumstances.

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Demobilized child soldiers in the DRC. UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti.

It cannot be underestimated how significant these might be in Mr Ongwen’s case. Being abducted as a 10-year-old and experiencing the peripatetic and terrifying life of the LRA’s campaigns cannot but have had a lasting effect on any child. Many children associated with armed forces and armed groups will have endured severe beatings and sexual violence, and will have witnessed killings. Some will have victimised others. Extremely traumatic experiences within these groups are associated with marked emotional distress, behavioural difficulties and traumatic stress symptoms. Children’s ways of coping will be affected by whether they were able to demobilise, and by their post-conflict experiences. Those likely to fare better in the longer term are those who on return to their communities can receive family, peer and community understanding, support, acceptance and forgiveness. However, Mr Ongwen never went back: he grew into adulthood without being exposed to non-violent familial and community socialisation and developmental experiences.

Understanding and empathy towards victims of armed conflict must also be extended to those who emerge from such war-ravaged childhoods to commit crimes, even on a scale such as this. We believe that Mr Ongwen should not avoid justice because of his childhood experiences. However, it would be a potential injustice not to take into account his traumatic experiences when determining an appropriate sentence, should he be found guilty.

Case Studies for the Responsibility to Protect

Several lessons for RtoP can be gleaned from the cases above. First, accountability is the primary responsibility of national authorities, but failing this, can be achieved with the assistance of the international community, or through an ICC investigation. Accountability for crimes under international law such as the recruitment and use of child soldiers is essential for ending the cycle of violence and impunity that can lead to the re-commission of such crimes, as evidenced by the deterrent effect seen in the DRC.

In addition, as demonstrated by the Ongwen case, the RtoP extends to other post-conflict initiatives aimed at preventing future outbreaks of violence that can lead to the commission of atrocities. When dealing with child soldiers, it is critical for States to implement demobilization programmes that also include proper support that will aid the return to psychological well-being in emotionally distressed child soldiers. This, and associated work with their families and communities to facilitate their acceptance and forgiveness on return, is more likely to ensure peace in the longer term.

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Three Years On, Libya Still Providing Lessons for RtoP Implementation

NATO’s 2011 intervention in Libya to prevent the imminent slaughter of Benghazi’s civilians, threatened by Moammar Qadaffi and his forces, was hailed by many as the first real test-case for implementation of the third pillar of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) – and a successful one at that. However, the intervention also sparked controversy and raised important lessons about the norm’s implementation. Most prominently, many UN Member States expressed concern that through the course of pursuing United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, the mandate to protect civilians morphed into something that more closely resembled regime change.

A rebel mans an anti-aircraft gun in Ras Lanuf

A rebel manning an anti-aircraft gun during the 2011 civil war. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic.

This has since led to debates surrounding Security Council monitoring, and the relationship between RtoP and regime change. Three years later, as Libya sits on the precipice of civil war, it appears more lessons have emerged regarding the oft-neglected importance of providing states with post-crisis assistance to prevent the reoccurrence of atrocity crimes, as well as the necessity of employing RtoP measures that straddle the various pillars.

Libya on the Brink

Currently, Libya faces the genuine risk of sliding into civil war. Since Qadaffi’s overthrow, the country’s militias have run rampant, with no effective central government or security force to rein them in. Often, these militias have provided the only security guarantee for many of Libya’s tribes and city-states, while informal cooperation – and often competition – with the regular security forces is common.

Although a delicate balance of power previously kept the militias from engaging in all out fighting against one another, the election of a new Parliament on June 25th, 2014 dealt a significant blow to Libya’s Islamists. Instead of accepting the results peacefully, Islamists and their Misrata-based allies began a siege of Tripoli and its airport. The goal of the assault was to wrest it from the control of the Zintan-based militias they perceived to be Qadaffi sympathizers leading a counter-revolution. The alliance, named ‘Libyan Dawn’, has gone on to reconvene the former General National Congress in Tripoli, in opposition to the newly formed House of Representatives sitting in Tobruk. Simultaneously, the city of Benghazi has plunged into factional fighting as former Qadaffi General, Khalifa Haftar unilaterally launched operation ‘Libyan Dignity’, with the stated intention of ejecting Islamist militants that allegedly pose a threat to Libyan national identity.

As it stands, Libya therefore currently has two opposing governments sitting in different parts of the country, each backed by their own respective armed groups, but neither with any real authority. Militia violence continues to engulf several of Libya’s major cities, with recent reports  from groups like Human Rights Watch noting that since taking control of Tripoli and its airport, Libya Dawn elements have turned their aggression on civilian populations. Given this reality, the risk of mass atrocities is perhaps greatest since the 2011 uprising.

Humanitarian Consequences and Unfolding Atrocities

The recent bout of fighting between rival militias has had devastating consequences for Libya’s civilians. Recent figures provided by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimate that over 1,000 Libyans have perished, while 107,028 are internally displaced and an additional 150,000 have sought refuge abroad.  Meanwhile, those remaining in conflict zones are experiencing frequent shortages of food, water, gasoline, and electricity.

Fighting near Tripoli airport

Fighting near Tripoli airport leaves a trail of billowing smoke. Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images.

Amnesty International called attention to the indiscriminate nature of the violence, stressing that “The warring parties in Tripoli and Benghazi have displayed a wanton disregard for the safety of ordinary civilians who have found themselves mercilessly pinned down by indiscriminate shelling with imprecise weapons.” Citing the rising civilian death toll and the damage to civilian infrastructure, they warn that the failure to distinguish between military and civilian targets is punishable as a war crime under international law.

Notably, a local civil society organization called Lawyers for Justice in Libya has indicated that on top of the suffering caused by fighting, activists and civil society advocates are being targeted for assassination on a frequent basis, while both state and non-state detention facilities rampantly use torture against detainees, with little hope of due process. The group has warned that “the Libyan state’s ongoing tolerance of such grave acts may constitute a crime against humanity,” and has reminded the newly elected House of Representatives of their responsibilities and legal obligations under international law to prevent such action, and prosecute perpetrators.

The Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights confirmed reports of torture and other abuses. The Office echoed warnings that such violations could constitute war crimes, stating “The direct perpetrators of any such crimes in Libya, as well as commanders who ordered or failed to stop the commission of such crimes, could be prosecuted, including by the International Criminal Court (ICC).”

Calls for Action and Forthcoming Assistance

The situation in Libya has deteriorated to the point that on August 13th the democratically elected government called on the UN to take action to protect civilians and help build state institutions. While specific protection measures were not mentioned, Libyan government officials have since suggested that a UN peacekeeping force tasked with disarming militias is needed. France seems to agree with this assessment, calling for “exceptional support” to Libya, and warning that the country could fall into chaos without UN intervention.

However, there appears to be little appetite for this on behalf of the UN and other members of the Security Council. Indeed, Bernadino Leon, the incoming head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has stressed that “…more conflict, more use of force will not help Libya get out of the current chaos.” Instead, he emphasized that Libya needs “a lot of international support” to back “Libyans who want to fight chaos … through a political process.

Likewise, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently elaborated on this sentiment stating, “There is no space for violence in the political transition process…Concerns must be addressed through inclusive political dialogue, including with those in Tobruk, Misrata, Tripoli, Benghazi and elsewhere.”

Accordingly, recent revelations that Egypt and the United Arab Emirates allegedly launched airstrikes against Islamist targets have been met with condemnation by both the Council and neighbouring states.

Security Council Meeting: The situation in Libya. Vote, 15 in favor.

Head of UNSMIL Bernardino Leon briefs the Security Council on the situation in Libya. UN Photo/Evan Schneider.

On August 27th, the UNSC unanimously adopted Resolution 2174, which further confirmed the preference to settle the conflict through inclusive political dialogue. Additionally, as head of UNSMIL, Leon has sought to use his good offices to broker a ceasefire – an effort that may finally be yielding results. However, more coercive measures were also laid bare, as Resolution 2174 modified the sanctions regime established in Resolution 1970 to target those responsible for inciting current violence, though the Council has yet to release a new list of names for inclusion.

As for NATO’s involvement, the trans-Atlantic organization has been considering sending military assistance to the Libyan state for some time, but seems to have delayed these plans due to the volatile security situation. However, at the recent NATO Summit that took place in Wales, the organization confirmed its support for UNSMIL’s ceasefire efforts, and reiterated its willingness to provide assistance for security and defense institution building, as well as to forge a partnership under the Mediterranean Dialogue.

 

 New Lessons for Implementation of the Responsibility to Protect

Several atrocity indicators, as outlined in the Analysis Framework laid out by the Office of the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, have persisted since the NATO intervention of 2011. These include, but are not limited to: a permissive environment created by ongoing armed conflict, the presence of multiple armed groups and militias, impunity for past crimes, a history of mass human rights violations, and a lack of credible judicial, human rights, and security institutions.  These indicators underscore the importance of international assistance in completing Libya’s transition, as well as for preventing and halting fresh atrocities.

In his 2012 report ‘The Responsibility to Protect: Timely and Decisive Response,’ Ban Ki-moon noted that  “Putting an end to the four specified crimes and violations in a particular situation should be the beginning of a period of social renewal and institutional capacity-building aimed at making future violence less likely.”

 The Secretary-General goes on to explain the importance of “building the institutions, legislation, practices and attitudes to lessen the likelihood of…[atrocity] reoccurrence.” This demonstrates that action taken by the international community to halt atrocities can and must also be used as to assist the state and strengthen its capacity to uphold its primary Responsibility to Protect.

It also means that the Responsibility to Protect does not end once an atrocity situation does. Rather, it is an ongoing effort that requires the steadfast support of the international community. The case of Libya demonstrates this plainly, as insufficient attention to post-crisis institution-building has led to a Libyan state too weak to prevent the reoccurrence of atrocities.  As Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch has bluntly stated, “The international community that played such a pivotal role in abetting the revolution is failing in its duty to save it.”

Update: A previous version of this article mistakenly indicated that Qatar had allegedly launched airstrikes. The article has been revised to indicate Egypt and the UAE as the responsible parties. 

 

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The Case of José Efraín Ríos Montt: Hitting the Reset Button on Justice in Guatemala

When former Guatemalan leader, José Efraín Ríos Montt, was found guilty of genocide on 10 May, it was a historical moment not only in the country, but for the world. It was the first time a former leader had been put on trial and convicted of genocide – one of the four crimes and violations within the Responsibility to Protect frameworkby a national, rather than international, court. For the Association for Justice and Reconciliation, a Guatemala-based organization founded by survivors of the state’s military campaign against indigenous villages 12 years ago, the conviction was “an opportunity to recuperate the truth that has been denied to our families and to the Guatemalan society…it was an opportunity to confront the past and address the root causes of the discrimination” they had suffered. Human Right Watch‘s Americas Director, José Miguel Vicanco, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) also welcomed the verdict, with USHMM stating that it “sent a powerful message…to the world that nobody, not even a former head of state, is above the law when it comes to committing genocide.” It was a victory for justice and the ongoing fight against impunity as well as another step towards healing for the victims and society – until the Guatemalan Constitutional Court overturned the conviction on 20 May . We are now left to wonder where the case stands, what this will mean for the victims and what effect this will have on justice and reconciliation in Guatemala.

Atrocities committed – the crimes and the verdict

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A woman from the Mayan population of Quiche region of Guatemala – an indigenous group in Guatemala who have felt persecuted for decades. UN Photo/John Olsson

An estimated 200,000 people were killed and over 1 million displaced during Guatemala’s 36 year-long civil war, which spanned from 1960-1996, with some 83% of the victims being indigenous Ixil Maya. Ríos Montt was sentenced by Guatemala’s top court to 80 years in prison for his role as the “intellectual author” of the killing of 1,771 people and the displacement of tens of thousands during his 17 months as president between 1982 and 1983. According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the key question throughout the trial was whether Ríos Montt intentionally targeted Ixil Mayan communities while conducting the counterinsurgency campaign waged against guerillas operating in the Ixil region. Despite strong evidence against him, which included testimony by over 100 witnesses – including psychologists, military personnel, and victims -who told horrific stories of killings, sexual violence and the destruction of communities, Ríos Montt denied his role in ordering the genocide of the Mayan population, saying, “I never authorized, I never proposed, I never ordered acts against any ethnic or religious group.” Nonetheless, on 10 May, Judge Jazmin Barrios, announced that the court found Ríos Montt did plan and order the brutal campaign. In reading the summary of the verdict, Judge Barrios statedWe are completely convinced of the intent to destroy the Ixil ethnic group” which had been considered public enemies of the state and an inferior race, and concluded that the “violence against them, was not spontaneous but planned.

An imperfect trial? Prosecution challenges the Ríos Montt proceedings

With Ixil Mayan witnesses and victims testifying about massacres, torture, systematic sexual violence and the destruction of the Mayan culture, the trial, which began on 19 March, stirred up much interest and debate in Guatemala and abroad. While international human rights organizations celebrated the conviction, it was met with some controversy at home. The Constitutional Court was the target of lobbying by opponents to the verdict, including the state’s powerful business federation, Cacif, because they believed such a case tarnished the reputation of Guatemalans, equating them with the Nazis.

The trial proceedings themselves were also rife with drama and complications. From the beginning, one of Ríos Montt’s lawyers, Francisco Garcia Gudiel, challenged Judge Barrios’ legitimacy, accusing her of bias and partiality. This claim that the court was unable to deliver a fair verdict and the attempt to challenge the judges led Mr. Garcia Gudiel to be expelled on the first day, although he would be later reinstated. The issues didn’t stop there, as the rest of the defense team stormed out of the court on 18 April in protest at what they called “illegal proceedings”. The next day Mr. Garcia Gudiel was again expelled, this time for a few hours, after accusing Judge Barrios of failing to hear his legal challenges. The defense team used the second expulsion to declare to the Constitutional Court that their client was deprived of the lawyer of his choice, leading to an order that there be no sentencing until the issues had been resolved. The tribunal, however, disobeyed that order and issued their sentence of Ríos Montt’s case.According to Geoff Thale, an expert on Guatemala at the Washington Office on Latin America, as evidence presented during the trial clearly showed that Ríos Montt had ordered soldiers to burn indigenous villages and kill members of the Ixil group, his legal team’s only “tactic was to go after the judges who presided over the case.” The prosecutors consistently asserted that the defense strategy relied on constitutional challenges to delay or obstruct the trial. As the trial came to an end, defense lawyers announced that they would appeal, and appeal they did. This led to the three-to-two ruling by a panel of Constitutional judges to annul everything that had happened during the proceedings since 19 April, when Ríos Montt was briefly left without a defense lawyer and the trial should have come to a halt until the unresolved defense appeals had been resolved.

Hitting the reset button on justice?

The details of the annulment and how the trial plans to “hit the reset button” to 19 April remain unclear. The Constitutional Court has said that statements delivered in court before 19 April would stand, but all testimonies after that would be invalid, and the closing arguments would have to be given again but, as legal experts have said, repeating the final days before the same tribunal would amount to double jeopardy. As we wait to understand the possible outcomes of the Constitutional Court decision what is certain is that the decision was a blow to human rights advocates everywhere who “had called his conviction a sign that Guatemala’s courts would no longer allow impunity for the country’s powerful.” The Inter-American Court of Human Rights criticized the “abusive use of the appeal [for legal protection] as a delaying practice” to prevent human rights prosecutions. According to Minority Rights Group International, “this ruling of the Constitutional Court shows the weakness in Guatemala’s justice system,” and serves as a barrier to achieving accountability. Impunity Watch also released a critical statement on the situation, saying, “The decision of the Constitutional Court legitimizes the systematic and abusive legal procedures and formalities, widely condemned by Guatemalan society and international organizations…The politicized environment that is serving as a framework for the decision of the Constitutional Court only reinforces the country’s existing social perception that justice in Guatemala is neither independent nor impartial and that it favors those with the power and money to position themselves above the legal system.” While the attempt to seek justice is not over, the survivors and victims who gave evidence of the systematic violence may have to face a return to court, presenting a potentially serious challenge as “they may have lost their faith in the country’s legal system.”

Breakdown in trust: what does this mean for Guatemalan society?

Civil society representatives work on issues of justice and security for indigenous people in Guatemala City. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Finding Ríos Montt guilty of genocide showed the Ixil Mayan population that the violence and brutal crimes committed against them would not be accepted and that perpetrators, regardless of their level of power, would be held to account. It offered hope to victims of atrocities around the world that justice can be served. Before the announcement of the annulment, Impunity Watch celebrated and declared that “this is an example of how justice should be the vehicle to generate social trust in the state. It can end violence, polarization and conflict.”

Amnesty International believes that, by overturning the historical verdict, the Constitutional Court has snatched away the rights of the Ixil Mayan people to truth, justice and reparations. According to the Association for Justice and Reconciliation, the annulment has taken place in the context where business elites and groups linked to the military, which was responsible for carrying out the violence, rejected the sentence. By rejecting the original verdict, and in turn supporting human rights perpetrators, these groups have encouraged social polarization, and present another barrier to reconciliation within the country. As Manfredo Marroquin, the President of Accion Cuidadana, a non-governmental organization committed to building democracy in Guatemala, puts it, “Impunity remains the only law of force in Guatemala” where the extreme weakness of the justice system makes the country “a major threat to regional democratic coexistence.”

The future of the Ríos Montt case

While no one knows what will happen next, we do know, as UN Special Advisor for the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, reiterated, that ”the victims of the atrocities committed during the civil war in Guatemala and their families have waited many years for justice…[and] Justice delayed is justice denied.” We have seen in far too many countries what happens when states fail to bring those responsible for serious and massive human rights violations to justice – tensions, discrimination, and continued conflict. As Mr. Dieng reminded us, only with justice and accountability for atrocity crimes “can Guatemala consolidate its peace process and build trust and confidence among its diverse population. Such trust and the credibility of its institutions are indispensable for the prevention of future abuses”.

For more information on the trial, visit the Ríos Montt Trial website.

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