Official Website of the International Criminal Court
ICC Public Documents - Situation in Uganda
Age limit: Maracha MPs arrested for inciting violence
By Robert Ariaka
November 13, 2017
The police in Arua on Saturday arrested two members of parliament from Maracha district accused of inciting violence.
MPs James Acidri and Denis Lee Oguzu of Maracha East County and Maracha County, were detained when they went to pick motorcycles of their jailed supporters at Arua Central Police Station.
Last week, the Police arrested three supporters of the two MPs after accusing them of being involved in violent activities during minister Alex Onzima's age limit consultations in the area. The three men had been detained for four days. They were later released on bond.
The MPs were on Saturday morning arrested and locked in the office of the of the regional police commander of West Nile, Jonathan Musinguzu, and interrogated.
Speaking to the press, Musinguzi said Acidri incited people by sharing a video of Late Brig. Gad Wilson Toko and telling the people he is the person behind peace in West Nile region.
He also said Acidri attacked the personality of the President during his consultations while showing the video to the people.
Musinguzi accused MP Oguzu of dishing out money to Bodaboda cyclists to fuel their motorcycles which they used to ride and disrupt the consultations of minister Onzia.
Musinguzi said the MPs were interrogated and released on Police bond as investigations continue. They are expected to report back on December 22. The case is registered under police SD 33/06/11/2017.
Oguzu, while speaking to New Vision shortly after his release, said the people openly rejected the removal of Article 102(b) of the Constitution and that the minister was using security agencies to undo the people's decision.
Acidri decribed his arrest as regrettable and said he saw no problem speaking about Brig. Gad Wilson Toko, who he said authoured peace in the region and is part of their history.
When contacted on phone, minister Onzima directed our reporter to speak to the Police and ended the call.
Activists Ask Government to Arrest Bashir Hours After His Arrival
AllAfrica: The Monitor
By Derrick Wandera
November 13, 2017
Human rights activists have asked Ugandan government to arrest Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir and surrender him to the International Criminal Court (ICC) where he's wanted for crimes against humanity.
The call by the civil society organizations comes just hours after the Sudanese president arrived in the country for a two-day visit.
In a press conference held at Human Rights Network Uganda in Ntinda, Kampala, Mr Mohammed Ndifuna, the executive director of Hurrinet said "Bashir should be arrested following the alleged killings he orchestrated."
"We need to arrest this man as directed by ICC. We have a chance today even if we failed in May last year. He has become a social distress. When people see us with him, they will think we don't care about those he killed," Mr Ndifuna said.
Bashir was last in the country in May last year to attend President Museveni's fifth swearing-in ceremony.
Since 2015, the two leaders have been trying to patch the on-and-off relations between the two governments.
President Bashir is wanted by the Hague-based ICC on two counts of crimes against humanity and genocide.
The court issued double warrants for him; 2009 and 2010 on two counts of crimes against humanity and genocide of more than 300,000 deaths in Sudan's Darfur region. Copies of the warrants were served to his government.
ICC handles four major international crimes of aggression, war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.
Top on agenda during his visit, is the South Sudan peace process and bilateral discussions with his host on a number of areas of cooperation between Sudan and Uganda.
Besigye Charged With Assault of Police Officers, Malicious Damage
AllAfrica: The Monitor
By Alfred Tumshabe
November 16, 2017
Former Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) presidential candidate Dr Kizza Besigye has been charged with assault, malicious damage and inciting violence.
Dr Besigye, his Kato Fred, his aide Ronald Muhinda and FDC secretary for mobilization Ingrid Turinawe on Thursday appeared in Mbarara Chief Magistrates's Court where they were charged with assault of four police officers, causing malicious damage to five police vehicles and inciting violence on November 14, 2017.
However, they denied all the charges and asked Grade I magistrate Ms Sanyu Mukasa to release them on bail.
Dr Besigye presented Mr Issa Makumbi, the DP vice president for western region as his surety.
They were released on a noncash bail of Shs5 million each and ordered to return to court on January 16, 2018.
However, Dr Besigye and Ms Turinawe were rearrested just after leaving the courtroom and driven in a police vehicle through Mbarara town to unknown location.
They have been in police custody since Tuesday this week when they were arrested.
Earlier on, Dr Besigye's co-accused Mr Amuriat and Kawempe South MP Mubarak Munyagwa were released on bail by the same court.
They were arrested on Tuesday at about 2pm as they left Grand Holiday Hotel to Kakyeka stadium in Mbarara District to canvass for votes for the FDC presidential candidate Mr Patrick Amuriat.
Dr Besigye's supporters started pelting stones at the police officers who fired live bullets, tear gas and sprayed water into shops where suspected protestors were hiding.
Some traders were seen closing their businesses as police and Besigye supporters continued to exchange stones and bullets.
Ugandan court to hear application on arrest of Sudanese leader
November 19, 2017
Uganda's International Crimes Division (ICD) of the High Court will next month hear an application seeking the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
Justice Moses Mukiibi, ICD High Court Judge, late on Wednesday fixed Dec. 11 to hear an application by a civil society group seeking the issuance of a standing warrant of arrest for Bashir when comes to Uganda.
Uganda Victims Foundation and other five human rights organization filed an application to compel the government to arrest Bashir when he visited the country early this week. In the application, they also sought to have a standing warrant of arrest.
Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court to answer charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The court issued two arrest warrants for Bashir in 2009 and 2010.
The rights groups say that Uganda, being a signatory to the Rome Statute which established the ICC, is obligated to implement the arrest warrant.
The African Union in 2013 decided not to cooperate with the ICC, saying the Court was biased and targeting only African leaders.
Since then, Bashir has been moving to different countries. He has been to Uganda twice.
This week, he was in Uganda for trade and security talks aimed at improving the relations between the two countries.
The Ugandan rights groups want court to compel the government that next time he visits, he should be arrested and handed over to the ICC.
The Ugandan court did not pronounce its self on the application to have Bashir arrested on this visit. By the time the application was heard, Bashir was already out of the country.
The Ugandan government has previously said it will follow the African Union position.
This is not the first time rights' groups have gone to court seeking the arrest of Bashir.
In 2015, a South African court issued an order preventing Bashir from leaving the country until an urgent application to have him arrested was heard.
However, Bashir, who was attending the 25th African Union Summit in Johannesburg, left the country.
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Official Website of the International Criminal Court
ICC Public Documents - Situation in the Republic of Kenya
Police must not use lethal force against opposition supporters
November 17, 2017
Kenyan police must stop firing live ammunition during opposition protests and instead protect all people gathering in public, said Amnesty International today amid running battles in which three opposition supporters are feared to have been shot dead.
"We have received reports of at least three deaths, and live TV footage shows another man being shot in the leg. Firearms can only be used when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life," said Abdullahi Halakhe, Amnesty International's East Africa Researcher.
"The indiscriminate use of live ammunition is totally unacceptable. Firearms must never be used to disperse crowds."
According to Amnesty International research, at least 66 people have been killed by police in election-related violence since August. At least 33 of them died in the aftermath of the 8 August elections and another three were killed during the October re-run.
The opposition supporters were trying to get to Uhuru Park in downtown Nairobi, where they expected Raila Odinga to address them, just hours after he had returned from an eight-day trip to the US.
Odinga boycotted October's presidential election re-run describing it as a sham and has since launched a civil disobedience campaign to push for electoral reforms and a repeat election early next year. Uhuru Kenyatta was declared the winner of the poll, but the Supreme Court is due to rule on the validity of his victory on 20 November.
Post-Election Violence Continues In Kenya, As Opposition Leader Returns
National Public Radio
November 18, 2017
Politically-fueled violence has broken out in Kenya again. Several people were killed in clashes between demonstrators and security services as opposition leader Raila Odinga returned home.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're going to start the program today in Kenya, which is in the middle of a political standoff, a standoff which is fueling deadly clashes between police and demonstrators. Yesterday, at least five people were killed in clashes between demonstrators and security services after the leader of the opposition returned home after a visit overseas. Now, this all comes after the country has held two presidential elections in the past three months - the second was just last month. The Supreme Court is considering a challenge to that second election. NPR's East Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta is with us now from Nairobi to tell us more. Hi, Eyder.
EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hi, Michel.
MARTIN: So what happened yesterday?
PERALTA: Yeah. So, you know, the opposition leader, Raila Odinga, he's been out of the country for about 10 days. And before he flew back yesterday, the opposition got word that they wanted about a million people to receive him at the airport. And the government said that wasn't happening, so they deployed a bunch of security across the city. And that set up a confrontation. Raila arrived. He got into an SUV, and he drove to town. It took him about six hours to get there. And his caravan was just surrounded by thousands of supporters. And basically everywhere he stopped, it was chaos. His supporters lit cars on fire. They set up roadblocks and threw rocks. And police responded with tear gas and water cannons. And at least one person ended up shot on the streets.
MARTIN: What are people saying on the streets, or what were people saying as you were following all these events?
PERALTA: You know, I heard a lot of resignation. I think Kenyans are bracing for this to become a long-term thing. And in some ways, this is becoming Kenya's new normal. We've been at this for more than three months already. And yesterday, after Raila Odinga had gone home, I took a walk around downtown. And it seemed like out of nowhere police came riding through and started firing tear gas at the sidewalk. An Anglican priest, Reverend Paul Masaba (ph), was walking home, and he spotted me and my microphone. And he just started ranting. Let's listen to a bit of what he said.
PAUL MASABA: (Speaking Swahili).
PERALTA: What struck me about this man is that he was hardly bothered by the chaos around him. And what he was saying is that it was clear that Uhuru Kenyatta, the president, could no longer keep his people safe. So it was time, he says, for Kenyans to pray that God brings change to this country.
MARTIN: What does each side want in this conflict? I mean, what does the opposition want? Do they have specific demands? And what does the president, the current administration, saying about that?
PERALTA: Yeah. I mean, so for a long time, the opposition leader was just asking for new and fair elections. The goalposts has changed. And now, he's saying that he wants President Uhuru Kenyatta to step down. His supporters have started calling Raila Odinga Mr. President. And, of course, the president of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, is saying there's no way we're stepping down and that he believes that he won fair and square both times.
MARTIN: So what is likely to be the next flashpoint in this long - what is expected to be a long saga, Eyder?
PERALTA: We have a Supreme Court decision coming up on Monday. The court is going to decide whether to throw out these elections or to say that they were free and fair. It's truly anyone's guess how they're going to decide. Remember that last time around, the court threw out the results and that was historic. So it's hard to read the tea leaves in this, but I think the one thing we know for sure is that whatever the court decides, it's just another trigger for potential violence.
MARTIN: That's NPR's East Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta joining us from Nairobi. Eyder, thank you.
PERALTA: Thank you, Michel.
Kenya Supreme Court upholds election rerun, sparking celebrations, protests
The Washington Post
November 20, 2017
Kenya's Supreme Court rejected bids Monday to invalidate last month's rerun presidential election, closing one front in the country's deepening political battles but touching off fresh unrest among opponents of President Uhuru Kenyatta.
The court's chief justice, David Maraga, said there were no legal merits to support the challenges against the outcome of the Oct. 26 election in which Kenyatta coasted to victory amid a boycott by his main rival, Raila Odinga.
The vote was forced after the same high court stunned Kenya in September by nullifying the results of the original August presidential election won by Kenyatta, citing voting irregularities.
The latest decision cleared the way for Kenyatta's inauguration next week. But it also highlighted the volatile mix of tribal and political fissures that threaten further instability in a country that has been an anchor of relative stability and economic growth in East Africa.
Shortly after the court decision, violence broke out in the Nairobi slum of Kibera, one of Odinga's strongholds. At least one boy was killed by a stray bullet, according to witnesses.
In sharp contrast, celebrations immediately broke out outside the court, where supporters of Kenyatta's Jubilee Party had gathered, decked out in the party colors and waving Kenyan flags.
Odinga dismissed Monday's court decision, saying it was made under coercion, and insisted that the government and the election remained illegitimate.
"It was a decision taken under duress. We do not condemn the court, we sympathize with it," he said in a statement.
Last month, Odinga pulled out of the rerun at the last minute, saying the new election would be flawed as well because the commission overseeing the contest had not been reformed.
But supporters of Kenyatta were joyous Monday.
"It is time to move forward — he is the best leader compared to Odinga that can lead us into prosperity," said Josphat Ngumi in Nairobi's city center. "Leaders should now work on healing the ethnic divide that they have created to access their various political mileage."
A roughly even division between Kenyatta and Odinga supporters is based largely on ethnic lines, between Kenyatta's Kikuyu tribe and Odinga's Luo, raising fears of ethnic clashes.
In the Kibera slum — the scene of many clashes between police and opposition supporters — merchants began removing their wares from their shops out of fears of unrest.
Dozens have been killed during demonstrations since the August election, and police have been accused of using excessive force with Odinga supporters.
On Friday, local media said at least five people were killed when police fired tear gas and then bullets at Odinga supporters seeking to welcome him home from a trip abroad. Odinga's motorcade was then blocked by police from attending a rally at Uhuru Park.
George Owino, a Kibera resident, said the planned inauguration of Kenyatta next week should not go forward.
"If they swear in Kenyatta, we hope to swear in Odinga," he said.
Rein in Police, Condemn New Abuses
Human Rights Watch
November 21, 2017
Kenyan authorities should condemn recent violence, rein in any police abuses, and investigate scores of killings, most of them by police, during the prolonged electoral period, Human Rights Watch said today.
A series of protests and clashes between police and opposition supporters began on November 17, 2017, at the Nairobi airport while supporters of the opposition leader Raila Odinga escorted him to the town center. Protests and clashes continued in opposition strongholds in Nairobi and western Kenya following the Supreme Court decision on November 20 affirming President Uhuru Kenyatta's re-election.
"Political violence has surged with people getting killed every day," said Otsieno Namwaya, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Yet again, we are getting worrying reports that police are using excessive force, beating and killing protesters and even those not participating in protests."
Police have used excessive force to contain protests since August, in a prolonged electoral period. In October, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International documented at least 67 killings, most by gunshot, during protests by opposition supporters after the electoral commission declared Kenyatta the winner of the August 8 election. The Supreme Court later nullified the results and Kenya held a fresh election on October 26. That election was also marred by violence, with police using excessive force against opposition supporters who protested to demand electoral reforms and changes in the electoral commission.
The latest round of violence started after the authorities deployed police in and around Nairobi's main airport to prevent Odinga supporters from welcoming him back from an overseas trip. Police used teargas and water cannons to break up large crowds cheering him, media reports said. Unidentified gunmen shot at Odinga's car. Local and international media reported that, in the process, the police either shot or beat to death dozens of people.
A photojournalist told Human Rights Watch that he witnessed four apparently unarmed supporters in Odinga's convoy shot by police along Landhies road and Haile Selassie Avenue, as the convoy entered central Nairobi.
Nairobi City Mortuary received at least 15 bodies, according to a mortuary official who spoke to the media on November 18, most of them with gunshot injuries. Scores of the wounded were taken to hospitals. The police said that the crowds had beaten five people to death on November 17 for looting before the police arrived and promised to investigate the deaths. The police spokesman, George Kinoti, said police used only tear gas and not live bullets.
According to reports by local media and local human rights activists, more than 10 people are believed to have been killed between November 18 and November 20. International media have reported at least 24 people killed by police since November 17. Human rights activists and a community mobilizer told Human Rights Watch that, since November 17, they had witnessed police killing protesters in Nairobi's Dandora Phase Four, Kibera, Mathare, and Kawangware neighborhoods, as well as in Kisumu and Migori in western Kenya.
On November 19, opposition supporters engaged police in running battles in many parts of Nairobi as they protested the killing of another five people by unidentified attackers. On the morning of November 19, the bodies of four men and one woman, believed to be opposition supporters, were found along the Nairobi-Thika highway near their homes in Riverside neighborhood, Ruaraka area, residents and local leaders said. They were apparently killed either by gunshots or machetes.
Neighbors who witnessed one of the attacks told Human Rights Watch they believed the attackers were members of mungiki, a pro-government armed group responsible for many killings in the 2007-2008 post-election violence. The Nairobi police commander, Japheth Koome, dismissed the allegations but promised to investigate. Such allegations are extremely sensitive. In August, the authorities threatened to arrest journalists and others who reported mungiki attacks. The authorities have failed to investigate similar attacks or to hold anyone responsible for the killings by police since the August 8 election.
The court's decision affirming Kenyatta's victory sparked further protests in Nairobi and western Kenya, as well as celebrations in some neighborhoods of Nairobi, central Kenya, and parts of the Rift Valley. Odinga, who boycotted the repeat elections, said he considers Kenyatta an illegitimate president despite the court decision affirming his victory. This position and the planned inauguration of Kenyatta next week could trigger further protests.
With the political tensions still high, it is crucial for Kenyan authorities to ensure that any use of force by the police is lawful, and urgently investigate all killings, Human Rights Watch said.
"President Kenyatta and other government officials should condemn ongoing killings and ensure that there are thorough and independent investigations into such killings and the role of any armed groups in the violence," Namwaya said. "Kenya has to put an end to the culture of election-related violence, unlawful killings by police, and impunity for abusive officers."
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The man who buried Somaliland's dead
By Matthew Vickery
November 12, 2017
It was June 2, 1988, and Hargeisa was under attack. The rat-a-tat-tat of nearby artillery rose above the city and filled Ibrahim Abdullahi's ears, but the battle was in the north and hadn't reached his government-controlled southern district - at least not yet
As he nervously ventured outside, Abdullahi's mind raced. He had already sent his wife and eight children to safety in Ethiopia, but he felt a longing to stay in Hargeisa, a need to protect his modest mud-brick home and keep it occupied to deter looters and to defend
the product of years of his hard work.
Everything had happened so quickly.
Just days before, Somali National Movement (SNM) rebels had captured nearby Burao city from Somalia's national army, and Hargeisa was now in their sights. But it seemed that government soldiers were determined to stop that at any cost.
Within the past two days, Abdullahi had heard that killings had begun.
"I'll take it day by day," Abdullahi thought to himself. "If the situation gets worse and there's an opportunity to run - then I'll go."
Government soldiers were rounding up men of fighting age in Hargeisa to prevent them from joining the SNM.
Crouched down outside his home, Abdullahi's mind wandered to thoughts of fleeing again.
Rumours were circulating that women and children were also being targeted, but he had no way to know for sure. Some people had even said government bombers were pursuing fleeing families as they tried to escape.
He thought of his wife and kids and prayed the rumours were untrue.
Then, out of nowhere, he heard his name.
The noise of gunfire hung in the air, but it remained at least a couple of kilometres away. But here, as he looked up, tens of metres from him, was a small group of government soldiers.
Abdullahi's mind raced again. Civilian or not, he was of fighting age.
"Yes, that's me," he murmured, trying not to let the fear in his head spill into his words.
"Come!" the commander barked, several soldiers standing menacingly beside him, guns cocked and ready. "We need you."
Walking towards what he assumed was certain death, Abdullahi took one deep breath and ventured forward.
Using an intricately carved wooden cane to help his ageing legs, 75-year-old Abdullahi stands tall and proud, albeit a little unsteady before lowering himself into a black leather swivel chair in the unassuming office building in Hargeisa.
It's 2017, and the walls of the office are dotted with photos of men in masks working meticulously, digging at the dusty ground and carefully brushing away dirt from skeletons that haven't seen the light of day in decades.
"I remember burying bodies in that grave," Abdullahi says gesturing towards one of the photos on the wall in front of him, "and that one", he adds, his eyes slowly tracing the room.
"Some days I must have buried hundreds, some days just dozens," he continues. "People were being killed everywhere in the town. They didn't see a difference between men, women, or children - everybody was to be killed."
Abdullahi's story precedes the man in Hargeisa, the capital of the self-declared republic of Somaliland that announced its separation from Somalia after the government of Siad Barre collapsed in 1991.
His weathered face - one that seems to have as many wrinkles as years he's had in his life - may not be well-known in the city, but in every corner of the capital his story is legendary, some regarding it as truth, others as myth.
But in the office of the War Crimes Commissioner, Abdullahi's story has been confirmed again and again - over the years, he's been the key to reuniting distraught families with the remains of their loved ones.
"Those were black days, black black days," Abdullahi repeats as he recalls memories that have stayed fresh in his mind three decades later.
Resting his cane on the table in front of him, Abdullahi begins to tell his story, his eyes darting from side to side as his mind rewinds through the years to 1988 and the 28 days of his life that have defined him ever since.
'I'm only alive to do this job'
The city was a ghost town. Buildings lay abandoned, dead bodies were scattered in the streets, and the smell of death lingered in the air.
As Abdullahi walked, everything started to become familiar. He wasn't walking to a military barracks like he first thought; he was on his way to the Ministry of Public Services where he was employed handling heavy machinery like tractors and diggers.
"Go and get one of the machines that can dig," the commander said abruptly when they arrived outside the complex. "Be quick, we have to go - there are bodies waiting."
Abdullahi did as he was told.
Within an hour he was at Malko Durduro, a valley area in western Hargeisa, digging into the soft soil. Several government soldiers stood around his digger with 10 bodies tied together lying beside them, blood still seeping through clothes and staining the sandy earth below them.
As he listened to the soldiers speaking among themselves it became apparent to Abdullahi that the army didn't want the bodies buried in an effort to cover their crimes - they were fed up with the smell. His job, as their new prisoner, was to get rid of it.
The corpses were unrecognisable. Pieces of flesh ripped off their bodies from head to toe, shot to pieces by an anti-aircraft gun that sat nearby.
"If I didn't know how to operate this equipment they would kill me, I would be lying there as well," Abdullahi realised as he dug. "There's no one else in the town; I'm only alive because they need me to do this job."
To survive, he would have to dig.
Guarded day and night, Abdullahi dug to save his life. Barely allowed time to rest, he buried hundreds of bodies a day in that first week.
At first, the dead were men, mostly in fatigues - rebels. After a few days, the fatigues disappeared, and women started appearing, then children. All killed in the same way - tied together in groups of 10, shot, their faces sometimes slashed with knifes and mutilated.
The soldiers may maim and deface them; they may chuck the bodies on the ground like pieces of rotten meat as though they were never humans with emotions, dreams, wants and desires - but he knew otherwise. They were fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, and even in death, they deserved respect.
In those first few days, Abdullahi swore to himself that he would at least give them that.
The most important thing to him was to get everyone buried before nightfall, before wild animals would come out of the bush and claw away at the bodies. If he could just do that, he thought, it would be some way at least to give the dead some dignity after such a violent and unjust end. It was how he could show respect, his silent rebellion against his captors.
For days on end, he worked from dawn till dusk, burying the war crimes of a regime that wanted him and his people dead. He did what he could to keep his mind blank. He thought of his family and daydreamed about where they could be, safe and away from the living hell that their hometown had become.
He trained himself to concentrate on digging, to distance himself from what was happening. That's the only way he would survive.
Then, after two weeks, one of the bodies spoke.
'I still can't sleep at night'
The ground slips a little below Abdullahi's feet after a night of heavy rain turned the bone-dry dirt in Malko Durduro to mud.
"It's important we teach what happened in the past so it never happens again," Abdullahi says using his cane to steady himself as Al Jazeera takes the 75-year-old back to the mass graves he dug three decades ago at the notorious execution site of Malko Durduro.
"My biggest fear is that what happened here will be forgotten."
Plagued by a deadly and devastating drought all year, the night's rain was the proverbial drop in the ocean, bringing more joy to the residents of the Somali city than water. But it was still something to a region that has been battling extreme weather conditions throughout 2017.
"Every year when there's heavy rain more skeletons appear," Abdullahi says, scanning every inch of the area as he meanders from side to side. "It brings all the memories flooding back."
To Abdullahi's left, imposing cliffs of dirt stretch several metres up, small trees and cacti clinging onto the edge - just another rainy night away from succumbing to erosion and joining Abdullahi on the valley floor.
Returning to Malko Durduro three decades after he was forced to bury thousands of bodies here, it doesn't take long before Abdullahi's mind takes him back to those dark days.
"I still can't sleep at night remembering him," Abdullahi says, recalling the one body - the only body - which looked up to him from among the dead and spoke.
It was two weeks into his captivity when Abdullahi came across a miracle.
A man who had somehow survived the firing squad and then played dead as soldiers piled the executed into a grave.
The miracle was short lived.
Facing being buried alive, there was only one thing the survivor could do. He spoke.
"He was supposed to be dead," Abdullahi says pausing. "He talked to me, pleaded with me, 'please untie me', but the soldiers heard him speaking. They untied him from the corpses, forced him to stand up, and they shot everywhere at him, all around him, even at the trees."
"I had to do this job to survive," he adds, looking for understanding.
Digging his cane into the soft ground, Abdullahi walks the valley floor for several minutes, his eyes wandering the surroundings as his memories take him back to that time. He can't prevent them, even if he wanted to.
Stopping in his tracks and using the cane as an extension of himself, Abdullahi motions towards the cliff side. Within seconds, and without words, it's clear what he's trying to draw attention to. Exposed by the rain and protruding from the wet cliffside is the unmistakable bone-white colour of a skull, almost waiting for the right moment to drop to the ground and join its burier on the floor below.
To the right of the skull, the tips of ribs stick out at differing angles sandwiched between greenish brown fabrics - fatigues.
"He was a rebel," Abdullahi says, filling the silence. "I remember burying there."
Panning the area, just tens of metres away from the newly exposed skeleton more bones stick out - this time there are no fatigues. The bones of a civilian killed by the army, and then buried by Abdullahi.
"I remember being taken to this valley and a military vehicle pulled up with an official inside it," he recalls.
"They pushed 12 bodies out of it, bodies of school children - they were still in their shirts and dresses. They had no noticeable gunshot wounds. A soldier told me all of their blood had been drained from them so it could be used for the national army. That soldier cried as he told me, he cried for almost five minutes."
"Those were the worst days of my life."
As he speaks, the faint sound of playing children carries through the air from a school less than 100 meters away. Throughout the land surrounding the school, more bodies are scattered, waiting to be exposed, identified by forensics, and eventually returned to their waiting families decades later.
For Abdullahi, the memories of the people he buried will never leave him. But he counts himself lucky he survived.
As the bodies reduced from hundreds a day at the beginning of Abdullahi's captivity, to just a few per day after three weeks, he knew his time was running out. Soon he would be surplus to requirements, and if he didn't find a way to escape, he would be killed too.
But on the 28th day - for the very first time - he found himself alone.
Abdullahi didn't need a second opportunity.
"The guards were getting more relaxed with me as I hadn't tried to escape, but on the 28th day I was out in the valley and realised there was no one watching me - I ran," he says, describing his bid for freedom.
Hiding until nightfall, Abdullahi smuggled himself out of Hargeisa. Within days, he had gathered information about the whereabouts of his wife and kids - they had survived the bombers and were still alive.
After two days and three nights of walking, he made it to their refugee camp in Ethiopia.
Walking into the camp on the morning of the third day, Abdullahi saw his family in the distance, and for the briefest of moments, the memories of the dead left him.
"At that moment, when I saw them again - I felt reborn."
The 75-year-old says he's lived a good life as a husband and a father to twelve children - he had four more after returning to Hargeisa after the war.
He's come to terms with what he witnessed and became a part all those years ago, and has found some comfort in helping the Somaliland authorities to recover the dead - 2,000 of whom remain buried.
"My children, to this day, call me 'the walking dead' when they see me," he says, laughing a little to himself. "They couldn't believe I survived. They still can't."
U.S. military builds up in land of 'Black Hawk Down' disaster
By Wesley Morgan
November 19, 2017
The number of U.S. military forces in Somalia has more than doubled this year to over 500 people as the Pentagon has quietly posted hundreds of additional special operations personnel to advise local forces in pockets of Islamic militants around the country, according to current and former senior military officials.
It is the largest American military contingent in the war-torn nation since the infamous 1993 "Black Hawk Down" battle, when 18 U.S. soldiers died. It is also the latest example of how the Pentagon's operations in Africa have expanded with greater authority provided to field commanders.
The growing Somalia mission, coming more fully to light after four American troops were killed in an ambush in Niger last month, also includes two new military headquarters in the capital of Mogadishu and stepped-up airstrikes. It's driven by a major shift in strategy from primarily relying on targeted strikes against terrorists to advising and supporting Somali troops in the field, the officials said.
The new operations also come as a peacekeeping mission spearheaded by the African Union is winding down. That is putting more pressure on the fledgling Somali security forces to confront al-Shabab, a terrorist army allied with Al Qaeda that plays the role of a quasi-government in significant parts of the country.
"We had to put more small teams on the ground to partner in a regional way with the Somali government," retired Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc, who commanded American special operations forces in Africa until June, said in an interview. "So we changed our strategy and we changed our operational approach. That's why the footprint went up."
The expansion, which was also outlined by officials at U.S. Africa Command, includes deploying Green Berets and Navy SEALs to far-flung outposts to target the al-Shabab insurgency and a group of militants in the northern region of Puntland who last year pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. The deployment of a special operations adviser team to Puntland alongside Somali troops has served as a model for the broader expansion of the mission.
"Puntland was the example we used," Bolduc said. "We said, 'We can do this in the other areas.' So we changed our strategy and we changed our operational approach."
Also, in a move not previously reported, a SEAL headquarters unit has deployed to Mogadishu from Germany to coordinate the adviser teams that are spread across the country. And in a separate move, trainers from the Army's 101st Airborne Division spent the summer working with Somali troops at the fortified airport complex in Mogadishu.
That deployment has since ended, but troops from the Army's 10th Mountain Division will perform a similar mission next year, a spokesman for the headquarters overseeing Army activities in Africa said.
To oversee the expanded operation, the Pentagon has also sent a general for the first time: Army Brig. Gen. Miguel Castellanos, a veteran of the 1990s peacekeeping mission in Somali who took charge in June of a unit called the Mogadishu Coordination Cell.
At the same time, more airstrikes are being conducted than ever before to kill militant leaders and to defend the American advisers and their African allies. Those include one conducted Saturday 250 miles from Mogadishu that Africa Command said killed a militant after he attacked a convoy of U.S. and Somali troops.
Some of the strikes have been conducted under new authorities that the Trump administration approved in March. It declared parts of Somalia a zone of "active hostilities" akin to Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, and delegated the authority to approve airstrikes further down the chain of command.
In all, according to Africa Command, the U.S. has conducted 28 airstrikes in Somalia this year, nine of them this month. That's compared to 13 airstrikes and ground raids that the Pentagon announced last year and just five strikes and raids in 2015, according to numbers compiled by the New America Foundation.
The more expansive military effort contrasts with the tiny and secretive U.S. military mission over the past decade headed by the classified Joint Special Operations Command, the military's main counterterrorism force. JSOC drone strikes reportedly began in Somalia in 2011, and two dozen special operations troops started working as advisers in late 2013.
But the small American contingent was confined mostly to Mogadishu and the Baledogle military airfield in southern Somalia — except during short-duration missions farther afield.
"It was something like 100 people on the ground essentially being the intel and targeting apparatus" for counterterrorism strikes, said an active-duty special operations officer who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity while discussing sensitive operations.
Officially, the Pentagon disputes that the recent increase in troops constitutes a major buildup of forces.
"I would not associate that with a buildup, as you're calling it," said Lt. Gen. Frank McKenzie, director of the Joint Staff in the Pentagon, referring to the troop increase. "I think it's just the flow of forces in and out as different organizations come in that might be sized a little differently, and I certainly don't think there's a ramp-up of attacks."
A spokesperson for Africa Command, Robyn Mack, told POLITICO that the U.S. presence has increased from around 200 to more than 500 this year.
The larger "advise and assist mission," she explained, is now "the most significant element of our partnership" in Somalia.
The increased presence has not been without controversy inside national security circles, according to multiple people who have been directly involved in the decisions.
Prominent in the discussions has been the recent history of Somalia, which has been wracked by a series of civil wars over the past quarter-century. But the legacy of JSOC's ill-fated man-hunting mission in support of the U.N. peacekeepers in 1993 — in which two Black Hawk helicopters were shot down and a pilot captured — has long made American and Somali officials wary of deeper U.S. military involvement.
"Everybody defaults to 'Black Hawk Down' and what happened in Somalia in 1993," said Bolduc, the former commander of special operations forces in Africa.
"That was a real concern when I was working on Somalia policy at the Pentagon and the White House," added Luke Hartig, who worked on counterterrorism operations at the National Security Council in the Obama administration. "Some military people would say, 'We've evolved a lot as a force, we've done these raids every night in Iraq and Afghanistan and can mitigate risk in a way we couldn't in 1993.' But it is still one of the real catastrophes of U.S. military operations in the past couple decades."
Nonetheless, most military and counterterrorism officials agreed that air and drone strikes and other pinpoint operations were deemed insufficient to prevent Somalia from becoming a terrorist haven.
"We came to the realization that trying to handle the threat in Somalia just kinetically was not going to work," Bolduc said. "Taking out high-value targets is necessary, but it's not going to lead you to strategic success, and it's not going to build capability and capacity in our partners to secure themselves. So we provided a plan that complemented the kinetic strikes" with a larger military advisory effort.
The arrival of the Trump administration also gave the military an opportunity to make its case to a more receptive audience, the active-duty special operations officer, who had knowledge of the strategy review, told POLITICO.
"It wasn't, 'Oh, thank God, new president, new party, now we can go kick ass,' but there were opportunities with the change in the political situation," he said.
An equally important factor, Bolduc said, was the Obama administration's appointment last year of Stephen Schwartz as ambassador in Mogadishu. Schwartz, who resigned earlier this fall, was the first U.S. ambassador to Somalia since before the Black Hawk Down battle and is credited with laying the groundwork with the Somali government, he explained.
But with the stepped-up U.S. military effort also comes greater risk. A member of SEAL Team 6 was killed during one such mission in May.
"Do we get into contact with the enemy? Yes, we do — our partners do and we're there to support it, and sometimes we come into contact by virtue of how the enemy attacked them," Bolduc said. "The benchmark that we used in our planning was that U.S. forces coming into contact with the enemy was unlikely. We met that standard most of the time."
However, Hartig, the former counterterrorism official who also helped craft the new strategy, said he worries about special operations troops getting involved too deeply in rural regions with complex tribal politics. That's a problem that has plagued U.S. counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan.
"Somalia's incredibly complex human terrain, and you want to be sure you know what you're getting into," he said. "Some of the special operations guys do know a lot about Somalia, but we haven't previously had people on the ground out in the communities."
U.S. airstrikes kill more than 100 militants in Somalia
PBS News Hour
By Robert Burns
Nov 21, 2017
Reflecting stepped-up targeting of extremists in Africa, the U.S. military said airstrikes killed more than 100 militants in Somalia on Tuesday and hit Islamic State fighters in Libya days earlier.
U.S. Africa Command, which manages U.S. military operations on the continent, said the airstrike in Somalia targeted an al-Shabab camp about 125 miles northwest of the capital, Mogadishu, killing more than 100. That is the largest number of reported deaths from a single U.S. airstrike in Somalia since the Trump administration approved expanded military operations against al-Shabab, which is allied with al-Qaida.
Al-Shabab is blamed for last month's truck bombing in Mogadishu that killed more than 350 people.
A Somali intelligence official said U.S. drone aircraft fired at least eight missiles at al-Shabab bases and training camps in Bur-Eylada, a village situated between the towns of Dinsor and Burhakaba in the Bay region. The official, who was not authorized to speak to reporters on the record and discussed the matter on condition of anonymity, said senior al-Shabab commanders were among the dead.
The U.S. this month also began targeting a small but growing IS presence in northern Somalia.
Separately, Africa Command said it conducted two airstrikes near Fuqaha in central Libya against Islamic State group militants — one Nov. 17 and another two days later. It made no mention of casualties and did not identify the specific targets. It said the strikes were done in coordination with Libya's interim government, known as the Government of National Accord.
The Trump administration has committed to preventing the Islamic State group from regrouping after losing its grip on significant territory in Iraq and Syria.
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Domestic Prosecutions In The Former Yugoslavia
Serbia Declares Mladic Aides' Indictment a State Secret
By Marija Ristic, Filip Rudic
November 13, 2017
The Serbian public prosecutor's office has rejected a request to provide BIRN with the indictment against 11 people who were tried for helping former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic to hide while he was on the run from an international arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
The prosecutor's office said that the indictment had been classified as confidential because releasing it could damage Serbia's reputation internationally.
"The First Basic Public Prosecution has the requested information which is labelled a state secret, as in the abovementioned case there is great danger to society due to criminal actions that may have as a consequence endangered the international reputation and status of the Republic of Serbia," it said in a written response to BIRN's request.
After Mladic's arrest in 2011, many former officials, including former President Boris Tadic, claimed that the former Bosnian Serb general had the active support of senior Serbian military and state security staff who often leaked information to him and his aides to help him dodge arrest. No charges have been raised in connection with these allegations.
BIRN has previously reported that the Serbian army and police systematically obstruct public access to information that could expose their officers' involvement in wrongdoing during the 1990s wars.
According to Serbian law, an indictment is a public document, but in some cases prosecutors redact some information in order to protect privacy.
However, to BIRN's knowledge, no indictments have ever been declared a state secret until now.
The director of the Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights, Milan Antonijevic, also said he could not recall any such incident.
"They can increase the secrecy level of certain parts of the document but… the document in its entirety cannot be declared a secret," Antonijevic told BIRN.
Lawyer Marina Kljaic, who follows war crime trials for the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Centre, also said she had never heard of such a case.
Kljaic said that once an indictment is confirmed, there is no legal basis in the criminal procedure code for it to be declared a state secret.
The defendants in the trial, Marko Lugonja, Stanko Ristic, Ljiljana Vaskovic, Borislav Ivanovic, Predrag Ristic, Sasa Badnjar, Ratko Vucetic, Tatjana Janjusevic Vaskovic, Bojan Vaskovic and Blagoja Govedarica, were charged with hiding Mladic in an attempt to prevent his extradition to the UN court in The Hague.
In August this year, the Serbian Appeals Court acquitted all of them except Lugonja, who admitted his guilt and was sentenced to six months in prison.
Mladic - whose trial verdict is due to be pronounced in The Hague on November 22 - was on the run for 16 years, evading charges of genocide and war crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
He was finally arrested in 2011 while hiding at a relative's house in the village of Lazarevo in Serbia.
He fled Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1996 and it is believed he spent most of his time as a fugitive at various locations in Serbia.
From 1996 to 2003, when Serbian authorities adopted a law on cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, Mladic had the support of Yugoslav Army personnel and a special unit of mainly Bosnian Serb army officers to assist him.
At that time, Mladic mostly lived in his apartment in Belgrade and was often seen in public.
At the end of 2002, when the UN court intensified its cooperation with the Serbian authorities, Mladic turned for help to his closest associates, including former Bosnian Serb intelligence chief Zdravko Tolimir, who was also wanted by the Hague Tribunal for genocide in Srebrenics.
Once Tolimir was arrested, Mladic relied on his family to help him evade capture. For most of that time, Mladic lived in various apartments in and around Belgrade.
Landmark Srebrenica Trial Starts Over in Serbia
By Filip Rudic
November 14, 2017
Belgrade Special Court decided on Tuesday to restart the trial for the massacre of Bosniaks from Srebrenica in the village of Kravica in 1995 from the beginning, rejecting the prosecution's argument that the proceedings should continue where they left off when they were suspended in July this year.
Defence lawyers for eight former members of a Bosnian Serb special police unit who are accused of the crimes argued that previously, the trial was being improperly held because Serbia had no war crimes prosecutor in place at the time.
Deputy war crimes prosecutor Mioljub Vitorovic unsuccessfully tried to challenge the defence lawyers' argument, saying it would lead to "further victimisation of witnesses and victims".
"This only causes a stall in the process," Vitorovic told the court.
But the judges decided in favour of the defence.
After these arguments, the deputy prosecutor again read all the charges against the eight former members of a Bosnian Serb special police unit who stand accused of organising and participating in the shooting of more than 1,300 Bosniak civilians in an agricultural warehouse in the village of Kravica near Srebrenica in July 1995.
Nedeljko Milidragovic, Aleksa Golijanin, Milivoje Batinica, Aleksandar Dacevic, Bora Miletic, Jovan Petrovic, Dragomir Parovic and Vidosav Vasic are accused of committing a war crime by killing Bosniak prisoners who were captured after Srebrenica fell to Bosnian Serb forces.
Their trial opened in February this year but the original charges were dismissed in July because they were not filed by the authorised prosecutor, as the Serbian war crimes prosecutor's position was vacant at the time.
The new war crimes prosecutor, Snezana Stanojkovic, then filed a motion to continue the trial, but this was rejected by the Higher Court.
The Higher Court, ruling however, was overturned by the Appeals Court in October, allowing the trial to continue.
The killings in the warehouse in Kravica were among several massacres by Bosnian Serb forces after the fall of Srebrenica in July 1995 that left some 8,000 Bosniak men and boys dead.
The Bosnian prosecution previously launched genocide indictments against Milidragovic and Golijanin, but couldn't arrest them because they have been living in Serbia since the war in Bosnia ended in 1995.
After Serbia and Bosnia signed a protocol on cooperation in war crimes in 2013, evidence from the Bosnian prosecution was transferred to Belgrade.
According to the charges filed by the Bosnian prosecution, Milidragovic, a former commander of a squad from the Bosnian Serb police special brigade's Jahorina Training Centre, and Golijanin, a former deputy commander of a Jahorina Training Centre squad, committed genocide against Bosniaks from Srebrenica between July 10 and July 19, 1995.
However, the Serbian prosecution said it couldn't prove the genocide charges laid by the Bosnian prosecutors and instead charged the men with committing a war crime.
Serbia does not accept that the Srebrenica massacres constituted genocide, despite rulings by international courts.
Serb Policeman Accused of Beating Kosovo Prisoners
By Bahrie Sadiku
November 15, 2017
Witness Sabit Hyseni testified at Vukotic's trial on Tuesday at Mitrovica Basic Court that he was badly beaten three times by the defendant after he was taken by Serb forces to Smrekonica prison together with other Kosovo Albanian civilians in 1999.
"When it was Zoran's shift, he beat us with a wooden stick; I'm surprised that it did not break," Hyseni said.
"He came with his car, turned the music on and started to beat us," he added.
As previous witnesses in the trial also testified, Hyseni explained how Vukotic selected prisoners with the same surname - brothers, fathers and sons - and made them beat each other up.
He also told the court that he saw Serb forces killing a young boy and an elderly man in a column of Kosovo Albanians who had been driven from their homes.
"As we were moving in the column there were shots. I just know there was a 12- or 13-year-boy killed," Hyseni said.
"An elderly man approached one of the police officers and said in Serbian: 'Why are you killing innocent children?' He [the policeman] trained his gun and killed this old man also," he added.
He also said he heard some Serb police talking about around 100 killings over a two-way radio used by one of the officers.
"I heard with my own ears in Serbian through a two-way radio: 'How many have you killed?' And that policeman responded in Serbian: 'About 100,'" the witness said.
Another witness, Shefqet Binaku, told the court that 940 civilians were taken to Smrekonica prison by Serb forces.
He said that through the prison window they could see the prisoners being beaten in a facility outside.
"I saw terror with my own eyes," he said.
Asked about how prisoners were treated by Vukotic, the witness replied: "When Zoki [Zoran Vukotic] came for his shift, the screaming and crying of prisoners was heard not only inside the prison but maybe even as far away as Vushtrri/Vucitrn."
According to the indictment, between May 2 and 3, 1999, in his capacity as a reserve police officer from the police station in Vushtrri/Vucitrn, and in co-perpetration with other members of Serb forces, Vukotic participated in an attack on Albanian civilians who were travelling in a column from the village of Upper Studime to Lower Studime near Vushtrri/Vucitrn.
Vukotic was extradited from Montenegro to Kosovo in November 2016.
Justice Hopes Fade for Victims of Devastated Vukovar
By Filip Rudic, Sven Milekic
November 17, 2017
To locate the remains of his father, who was taken from his home in the Croatian village of Sotin, near the town of Vukovar, and shot by Serb forces in 1991, Igor Matijasevic had to conduct his own private investigation.
Together with relatives of other victims from Sotin, he had meetings with witnesses and possible perpetrators – even sitting down with people who allegedly murdered his father.
"Our key goal was to find the mass grave through this process and we fulfilled that goal, as the mass grave with 13 bodies was located and exhumed," Matijasevic told BIRN, adding that more graves must exist since families are still looking for 12 more missing people.
Based on the findings of the investigation, a trial opened in Serbia in 2015 for the killing of 16 Croatian civilians in Sotin between October and December 1991.
Two members of the local Serb-led Territorial Defence force, Dragan Mitrovic and Zarko Milosevic, were sentenced to 15 and nine years in prison respectively, while three other defendants were acquitted. The case is now pending before the appeals court.
Sotin was a breakthrough case in the prosecution of crimes in Vukovar and the surrounding area, committed during and around the time the city was besieged and devastated before it fell to Serb forces.
"The whole story about Sotin was initiated and pushed by the families of the victims... If there was no effort on their behalf there would probably have been no trial," Veselinka Kastratovic from the Centre for Peace, Non-Violence and Human Rights in the eastern Croatian city of Osijek told BIRN.
Indeed, many war crimes related to the fall of Vukovar are likely to remain unpunished as the Serbian and Croatian judiciary have been demonstrating a lack of cooperation and efficiency, while Serbia lacks the political will to prosecute Serb suspects.
The destruction of Vukovar and the civilian death toll were not of interest to the Serbian prosecution, according to Marina Kljaic, a lawyer from the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Centre.
"The political will [in Serbia] is such that we are seeing more and more rehabilitations of convicted war criminals," Kljajic said.
At the same time, the bulk of the indictments raised by the Vukovar state attorney are for people who are no longer living in Croatia.
Officials sheltered from prosecution
Serbian war veteran Mile Milosevic recalls how he and other Yugoslav People's Army recruits were faced with death when they arrived to fight around Vukovar in September 1991.
"We faced that for the first time, before we'd only seen it in movies. Many were killed, wounded or have disappeared. So much property was destroyed," Milosevic told BIRN.
"The question arose, why did we do it, and who started it. Did it have to be that way?" he asked.
Vukovar, near the border between Serbia and Croatia, was the first city in Europe to be destroyed by fighting since the end of World War II.
In 1991, the Yugoslav People's Army and Serbian paramilitary units encircled the city following Croatia's declaration of independence from Yugoslavia.
Some 7,000 missiles fell daily on the city throughout a three-month siege, which destroyed about 85 per cent of the buildings.
More than 3,000 people were killed, while thousands of non-Serbs were expelled. Over 260 people were killed in the crimes that are being processed by the Serbian judiciary.
In the area that used to be called Vukovar county, 42 mass graves have been exhumed so far, according to Croatia's Administration for Detained and Missing Persons. The remains of 1,826 people were exhumed from these graves, of whom 1,632 have been identified.
There are still 444 people considered missing in the same area.
"There were rumours, talk of crimes being committed... I'm in favour of holding everyone who committed them accountable," says Milosevic, who is the president of the Serbian War Veterans' Association, which claims around 60,000 members.
Veselinka Kastratovic monitored several cases at the Belgrade court for crimes committed in eastern Croatia between 2004 and 2014 - two trials for crimes committed in Ovcara, near Vukovar; in Sotin; in the village of Bapska and in the north-eastern region of Baranja.
"Regarding the prosecution of these cases, we're talking about indictments against people who were lower in the chain of command, members of the Territorial Defence [force]," Kastratovic told BIRN. She noted however that the trials were "fair and impartial".
Marina Kljaic of the Humanitarian Law Centre also said that the Serbian authorities are mostly prosecuting only soldiers of low rank – a recurring problem in all war crimes trials in Serbia.
"Domestic courts are refusing to apply [the principle of] command responsibility. The prosecutor's office... claims that it can't be done because national legislation didn't have this legal doctrine at the time the acts were committed," says Kljaic.
She told BIRN that Serbian courts have legal grounds to apply international law directly in order to charge high-ranking officers, but have never done so.
The highest-ranking officers to be convicted of crimes related to Vukovar are the former Yugoslav People's Army officers Veselin Sljivancanin and Mile Mrksic, who received ten- and 20-year sentences for the killings in Ovcara.
However, they were not tried before local courts, but at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague.
The attitude of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic's Progressive Party towards Sljivancanin, who was released from prison in 2011, is friendly – he is a frequent guest at events organised by the Progressives.
The massacre at Ovcara, where 200 prisoners were tortured and killed in November 1991, remains the biggest individual case for Vukovar-related crimes to be prosecuted in a Serbian court.
Serbia has been prosecuting a total of 17 low-ranking soldiers and one woman for the Ovcara massacre since 2003, and the trial is still ongoing.
The accused, most of them members of the Territorial Defence force, were convicted in 2005, but the verdict was overturned by the appeals court, which ordered a retrial.
A new verdict, handed down in 2009, is still being appealed, because the Serbian court says it is waiting for the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals to send it transcripts from the questioning of a witness who testified about Ovcara in the trial of Sljivancanin. The Hague court's prosecutor's office has rejected the request, saying that the transcript is a confidential document.
Questionable charges, lack of cooperation
Another issue is the small number of charges being raised by the war crimes prosecutor in Serbia.
The Serbian prosecution has initiated 11 trials for seven separate incidents connected to the fall of Vukovar. The prosecutor charged 41 people, 23 of whom have been convicted so far.
"Unfortunately that is all that has been processed before local courts," said Kljaic.
The Vukovar state attorney's office initiated criminal proceedings for 291 alleged perpetrators, filing indictments against 232 of them. In total, 85 people have been convicted, while cases against 53 more are still pending.
However, the state attorney filed the bulk of these indictments against people who were no longer living in the country, which means that they are unavailable to the judiciary.
"These indictments were of somewhat questionable quality," said Kastratovic.
She pointed out that the state attorney's office in Vukovar filed an indictment against Yugoslav People's Army general and Defence Minister Veljko Kadijevic in 2003, which was "even missing the date on which the crime at Ovcara was committed".
In another indictment, the state attorney's office confused events that took place at Velepromet – an area of Vukovar where crimes were committed – with events at Ovcara, Kastratovic added.
"They even misspelled names of four victims of the Ovcara crime. It's all highly embarrassing," she said.
Although the state attorney has prosecuted a lot of war crimes committed in eastern Croatia, some major crimes, like the ones committed in the villages of Bogdanovci and Petrovci, remain without an indictment.
"We always asked the state attorney's office, 'If you know that the perpetrators are in Serbia, why don't you give the case to the Serbian prosecution?'" Kastratovic said.
She explained that the Croatian state attorney also tried to prosecute the Sotin case on its own, without cooperating with Serbia, and made "a poor job" of it.
In the indictment, the state attorney's office included "only crimes that happened during two days in October, although [crimes] took place for two and half months", she added.
"The indictment for Sotin which was filed in Croatia was done clumsily, it was incorrect, misspelling people's names… it was a catastrophe," Igor Matijasevic agreed.
While Kastratovic believes that the cooperation on war crimes prosecution between Croatia and Serbia has gone well for the most part, Matijasevic has a much more pessimistic view.
"It's a catastrophe; there is no cooperation at all," he said.
Matijasevic explained that there is someone from Serbia knows the location of a mass grave from one of the killings, but he was not able to come to Sotin and show where the bodies were buried.
Matijasevic said that while Serbia did its part, questioning him and gathering documentation, Croatian institutions failed to arrange his arrival and safe return to Serbia.
'Criminals should be purged'
Matijasevic claimed that Serbian and Croatian institutions have no interest in prosecuting the crimes committed and finding the remaining missing persons from the Vukovar area.
He argued that witnesses who wanted to reveal the location of mass graves have already done so.
"Now the rest can only be done through these war crime trials and cooperation between the two states," Matijasevic said.
Mile Milosevic also argued that the prosecution of those who were responsible for crimes is necessary to achieve reconciliation between the two nations.
"Both societies have to distance themselves from and to purge themselves of those criminals, so they are not around anymore. [Their presence] encourages other war crimes that will happen in 20, 30 or 50 years," he said.
Milosevic explained how veterans' associations from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia tried to organise a public display of reconciliation, which he claimed would have been the first such event in the world.
"We saw the death of our friends, and we know war for the evil that it is. And we said, 'It has happened, many people have done bad things and let them be held to account.' But let us create some sort of reconciliation so that this evil never happens again," he recalled.
But after they started planning a year and a half ago, politics then got involved, he continued. First the media shut the veterans off, then pro-government veterans' associations attacked the idea.
"In Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia, governments have their own [veterans'] associations that receive huge money to do nothing, they don't care about veterans but start barking when called upon," he said.
Those associations labelled him a "traitor", he alleged.
He said that politicians sabotaged the veterans' effort because they need to employ warmongering rhetoric to win support in their election campaigns, as they are unable to resolve economic problems.
The veterans called off the planned reconciliation event earlier this year.
"I am so sorry that it didn't happen, when we were so close," Milosevic said.
"It would have been a historic thing. We would have forced the politicians to follow suit."
War Rape Victim Sues Croatian Ministry
By Sven Milekic
November 20, 2017
The plaintiff, identified only by the initials M. K., will face the Croatian War Veterans Ministry before the Zagreb administrative court in December to challenge the ministry's decision to deny her the status of a wartime victim of sexual violence.
M.K., who now lives abroad, was one of the witnesses who testified via video link at a war crimes trial before Split county court against former Croatian military policeman accused torture, rape and beatings at Kuline military prison in the Croatian town of Sibenik in 1993.
During the trial, M.K. testified that she was brought to the prison as a civilian and raped ten times.
In March, the court sentenced the former warden of the Kuline prison, 61-year-old Damir Borsic, and former military policeman and prison guard Miroslav Perisa, 53, to two years in prison each.
M.K. applied in 2016 for a status of a victim of wartime sexual violence, which according to legislation passed in 2015, provides victims with medical and legal aid as well as financial compensation from the state – up to 20,000 euros.
The status does not depend on victim having a verdict that proves the sexual violence, but it excludes the need for testifying before a committee made up of lawyers, judges, psychiatrists and doctors.
However, on February 28, after revaluating M.K.'s case – with Split court verdict still not passed – the ministry denied her the status.
"The Committee for Victims of Sexual Violence has not found allegations of the indictment in relation to sexual assault as persuasive, and concluded that the named person was not a victim of sexual violence in the Homeland War [the official term used for the 1990s war]," the court.
Since according to the law, there is no possibility of an appeal against the ministry's decision, M.K. launched a case at Zagreb administrative court.
Up until December 31, 2016, the ministry had received 185 claims for victim status.
Of these, the committee gave its opinion on 160 cases, and based on that, the ministry gave 108 positive and 48 negative decisions, while in four cases it made no decision.
At the trial in Split, M.K. testified that the defendants used to come to her cell during the night.
"They entered the cell, the light having been put out. [Defendant] Perisa beat me with a baton, put a gun in my mouth and a knife to my neck. At night they would come for me in the cell and lead me into the room across the hall. They would turn out the light, strip me naked. They were silent and raped me on the floor or on a chair," she testified.
"I couldn't cry because I had no tears, but everyone in the prison could hear me," she added.
Yugoslav Troops Accused of Killing Croatian Villagers
By Filip Rudic
November 21, 2017
Serbia's Humanitarian Law Centre NGO on Tuesday filed a criminal complaint against six identified and several unknown members of the Yugoslav People's Army and the Territorial Defence force, accusing them of killing 48 Croatian civilians in the villages of Skabrnja and Nadin in 1991.
According to the charges, Yugoslav People's Army and the Territorial Defence fighters entered the southern Croatian village of Skabrnja in the Serb Autonomous Region of Krajina, a self-proclaimed wartime statelet, on November 18, 1991.
The complaint, submitted to the Serbian war crimes prosecutor's office, alleges that the troops demolished the Catholic Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and then proceeded to kill 41 civillians. Seven more were killed the next day, in the nearby village of Nadin.
The war crimes prosecutor's office will now decide whether or not to press charges based on the complaint.
"The killings in both locations followed the same pattern – civilians found in homes were dragged out with curses and insults, while members of the Yugoslav People's Army and the Territorial Defence killed them at close range," the HLC said in a statement.
"Most of the victims were elderly, and 16 of them were women, one of whom was immobile," it added.
The HLC said that Milan Martic and Milan Babic, former interior minister and president of the Serb Autonomous Region of Krajina, have been convicted by the Hague Tribunal for the attacks on Skabrnja and Nadin.
However, no member of the Yugoslav People's Army or the Territorial Defence has ever been charged with the crimes in Serbia.
Former Serbian State Security chief Jovica Stanisic and his former deputy Franko Simatovic are also being retried before the Mechanism of International Criminal Tribunals for various alleged crimes including the attack on Skabrnja.
Their defence claims that the Yugoslav People's Army, led by then colonel Ratko Mladic, was responsible for the crimes committed during the attack.
The defence lawyer quoted what Mladic, who at the time was the commander of the Knin Corps of the Yugoslav People's Army, wrote in his notebook on November 17, 1991, one day before the attack on the Skabrnja.
One of the tasks mentioned by Mladic in his notebook was: "To move the armed battalion towards Skabrnja and Nadin, in order to wipe them out."
"Clean up the Nadin-Skabrnja area well," Mladic's directive to his forces said.
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Grotian Moment: The International War Crimes Trial Blog
Mass graves of no less than 400 victims found in Kirkuk: Governor
By Nehal Mostafa
November 11, 2017
Several mass graves of hundreds of civilians executed by Islamic State were found in an old U.S.base, west of Kirkuk, an official said on Saturday.
"We are now standing at al-Bakara base, that was once a headquarter for U.S. troops before being a site for IS to carry out executions," Rakan Saeed, acting governor of Kirkuk, said in press remarks. "It's the brutality of terrorists who executed no less than 400 victims, some of whom in red suits while others in civilian clothes."
Saeed urged the Iraqi government and United Nations to check the mass graves and identify the victims.
In October, Iraqi troops ran into a mass grave, composed of relics of 50 army and police personnel in Hawija, southwestern Kirkuk. Paramilitary troops announced, earlier the month, running into ten mass graves containing relics of security personnel and civilians who were executed by IS.
Iraq's High Commission for Human Rights asked, in the same month, for international assistance regarding the handling of mass graves, capabilities and expertise in exhuming the relics, taking DNA samples and identifying victims families.
Operations were launched in late September to liberate Hawija, before Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi announced freeing the town in October.
Iraqi troops managed to retake several Islamic State strongholds including Mosul and Tal Afar in Nineveh, Hawija in Kirkuk and Annah and Qaim in Anbar.
Islamic State militant sentenced to death for smashing monuments in Mosul
By Nehal Mostafa
November 13, 2017
The Central Criminal Court in Baghdad has sentenced an Islamic State member to death over taking part in several crimes including smashing and stealing of monuments in Mosul.
Abdul Sattar Bir Qadar, spokesperson for the High Judicial Council, said in a statement that the court sentenced the suspect to death "Over conviction for taking part in terrorist crimes including the smashing of monuments in Mosul ." He added that the suspect admitted to affiliation to the group's State of the North. "He took part in smashing and stealing of monuments from Mosul museum."
"The court found enough evidence and decreed the death sentence against the suspect in accordance with the fourth article of countering terrorism law," he said.
The group, which considered sculptures as symbols of infidelity, posted footage showing its members axing down priceless Assyrian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Persian and Roman artifacts, many of them two millennia old or older, drawing international condemnation. Reports later showed that some antiquities were sold out in online auctions.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared, in July, victory over IS militants who had held the second largest Iraqi city since 2014. More than 25000 militants were killed throughout the campaign, which started in October 2016.
In March, Iraqi troops took the museum back from the militants, leaving its collection in a sorry state.
Mosul museum, which was built in 1952, housed more than 2,000 artifacts. Officials gave conflicting accounts of how many militants were there when the group overran the city in 2014.
Mass grave of 20 killed by Islamic State found in Salahuddin
By Mohamed Mostafa
November 16, 2017
A mass grave of 20 people executed by Islamic State militants was discovered on Thursday in Salahuddin province, according to a security source.
Mawazin News quoted the source saying that a mass grave with the relics of 20 people was found in the town of Shirqat by a Popular Mobilization Force accompanied by a police intelligence officer, having received a report of its location.
Iraqi forces recaptured Shirqat in September. It was one of Islamic State's outstanding havens in Iraq. Iraqi troops are currently approaching the recapture of Islamic State's last stronghold in Iraq: Anbar's western city of Rawa.
Iraqi troops have regularly run into mass graves of civilians and security agents executed by Islamic State members for fleeing the group's havens or collaborating with security forces.
Iraq's war against the Islamic State displaced at least five million civilians and left thousands dead. The United Nations accuses IS of committing crimes that mount to war crimes.
Crimes of the Caliphate: Iraqi Shepherd Bears Witness to ISIS Massacre
The New York Times
By Margaret Coker
November 17, 2017
A shepherd heard the gunshots and the screaming.
As Islamic State fighters executed at least 60 people at a remote military base in northern Iraq one day last year, he cowered in his home nearby, terrified. When it was safe to go out, he found piles of bodies; many of them he recognized as his neighbors. He buried them himself.
"They were slaughtering people for all kinds of reasons, those caught using the internet, those suspected of being witches," the shepherd, Saad al-Omar, said at the site of a mass grave here on Tuesday. "Here, I saw those victims, my neighbors. I saw bodies of mothers with their children. They had been shot. They had been burned. They were all dead."
That executions routinely took place in his hometown, Hawija, was well known, proudly publicized by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, during its two-and-a-half year rule in the town. But Mr. Omar's grisly knowledge represents something rare in the quest for justice — a witness who can lead the authorities to the bodies and identify many of them.
As Iraqi officials declared Friday that they had taken the last Iraqi town held by the Islamic State, reducing the group's self-declared caliphate to a tiny remnant on the Syrian side of the border, they are still trying to comprehend the scale of the group's horrors.
So far, they have found the sites of more than 70 mass graves, numbers that have overwhelmed the nation's police and forensics resources as well as the Iraqis' international partners helping to search for tens of thousands of missing people.
In September, the United Nations Security Council empowered a special adviser to help Iraq investigate potential war crimes, including mass killings, committed by Islamic State. The adviser's team will not arrive in Iraq until early 2018. Given the limited resources and costs of forensics, it is unclear how many mass graves could be properly exhumed, let alone how many — if any — suspects could face justice.
In Hawija, a small town in a flat, arid valley in southwestern Kirkuk Province, the head of civil defense, Col. Brahim Attiyah al-Jabbouri, said he fielded numerous, frantic requests each day from families searching for news of loved ones.
For him, the quest for answers is deeply personal.
Two of his cousins were detained by local Islamic State operatives and never seen again. One, a 45-year-old father of six, Nawaf al-Abdullah, had worked as an interpreter for American troops at the United States military base in Hawija. The Islamic State used the abandoned base, Forward Operating Base McHenry, as its execution site.
"Can you imagine a crueler fate?" asked Colonel Jabbouri. "To be murdered by your enemy at the place" where you once worked.
The United States established the base in 2003 to train local residents to fight against the Al Qaeda-led insurgency. American country music stars held concerts in Hawija to build morale.
By the time American forces withdrew in 2011, the jihadi organization was in tatters and Iraqis took over the Hawija compound.
In 2014, the Islamic State juggernaut swept across the dusty valley, overwhelming Hawija, the base and the surrounding farming villages.
Today, the gravel-and-sand terrain of the former base resembles a gruesome obstacle course, its pathways littered with human femurs and jawbones laced with broken teeth.
Among the Islamic State's first targets were men who had worked in local law enforcement or with the Americans. Mr. Abdullah had done both. His younger brother, Watban, 21, had worked for the police. So the entire Abdullah family came under suspicion, according to Mr. Abdullah's sister, Saida, who spoke by phone from a camp for internally displaced Iraqis about 70 miles east of Hawija.
That included Mr. Abdullah, his wife and six children, as well as Watban, a newlywed whose wife had recently given birth to a girl.
For more than a year, their families tried to keep a low profile, as it was deemed too dangerous for the brothers to try to escape by slipping through the Islamic State's well-manned checkpoints. "We were far away from anyplace safe," Saida al-Abdullah said. "We had no escape."
By late 2015, the Islamic State had made executions a routine event, according to the group's own propaganda videos. They were using the former base for their charnel house, in part because it offered a well-protected and remote space that would have hindered escape and prevented others from witnessing the activities there, Colonel Jabbouri said.
In January 2016, a group of Islamic State fighters drove into town, arrested Watban al-Abdullah and accused him of trying to sneak out of town, his sister said.
He disappeared in their custody, and the family had no way of knowing what had become of him.
Mr. Omar did. The 25-year-old shepherd lived on the outskirts of Hawija, near the former military base.
In February 2016, a couple of days after Watban al-Abdullah's arrest, Mr. Omar and his family heard the gunshots and screams emanating from inside the base.
Later that night, when the area appeared deserted, Mr. Omar climbed the earthen walls to see what had happened.
The scene surpassed his worst nightmares. Dozens of bodies, some clothed and some burned, lay scattered across the frigid ground in large sticky pools of blood. "The stench was unbearable," Mr. Omar recalled, his weathered face pulled into a grimace. "You can't imagine the feeling of seeing the bodies of children, of people that my family and I knew."
Mr. Omar felt outrage about the killings, as well as the indignity of the unburied bodies' likely desecration by wild dogs. He shook off his fear of being discovered by Islamic State and tried to do the decent thing for the victims.
By starlight, for several nights in a row, he dug several shallow pits and pulled, by his count, 60 bodies into a makeshift grave, including the body of Watban al-Abdullah, whom he recognized.
"Some of the bodies were burned," Mr. Omar said. "Some had been tortured. But I knew him."
Mr. Omar got word to the Abdullah family about what he had seen. The Islamic State, however, never confirmed what happened, Mr. Abdullah's wife and sister said.
That news prompted Watban al-Abdullah's older brother, Nawaf, to risk an escape from town.
His wife Naeema said that the last time she saw her husband was Feb. 10, 2016. She presumes that the Islamic State caught him. She has not heard from him since he left.
The next time that Islamic State fighters entered the base, it was clear that someone had trespassed.
They began a search for the culprit, and immediately went to Mr. Omar's family farm, the closest homestead to the base.
The Omars denied any knowledge of the burials, but the family knew Mr. Omar was no longer safe. He went into hiding. By April 2016, he and his family fled Hawija for good.
"I had to run away," he said. "I knew my fate would have been the same as theirs if I stayed."
Mr. Omar carried his secret with him, until last month, when Iraqi forces liberated Hawija. He returned soon after and tracked down Colonel Jabbouri to tell him what he knew.
After fierce fighting to retake the town, about 60 local Islamic State members are believed to be at large, said the regional head of intelligence, Capt. Maath al-Obeidi. One of them is the man suspected of ordering executions in Hawija, a local Iraqi named Abdel Nasser Ghazi al-Mousa, Captain Obeidi said.
"We are working to hunt him down," he said.
More than a month after its liberation, Hawija remains a ghost town. Whole neighborhoods have been reduced to rubble, the commercial district torn apart by artillery fire. Most residents are waiting for local services to be restored before they leave their humanitarian aid camps and return.
The mass grave remains untouched, the countless sun-bleached bones scattered along the sand awaiting collection and identification.
Colonel Jabbouri said that although he was desperate for answers about what happened, he did not have the equipment or personnel needed for a thorough exhumation.
"I have dozens of people calling and writing to me on Facebook," he said, standing at the grave site. "Everyone wants answers. We are frantic. But without experts, there is no way to really know who is here."
Suicide car bombing at north Iraq market kills 23
November 21, 2017
At least 23 people have been killed and 60 others wounded in a suicide car bomb attack in Iraq, security sources say.
The blast ripped through a crowded fruit and vegetable market in the centre Tuz Khurmatu, about 160km (100 miles) north of Baghdad.
The sources said the number of dead was likely to rise because many of the wounded were in a critical condition.
No group said it was behind the attack, but it bore the hallmarks of previous bombings by so-called Islamic State.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Tuesday afternoon that he was on the verge of declaring a final military victory over the Sunni jihadist group, after pro-government forces retook the last town under its control last week.
But he warned political disagreements would allow IS to continue to launch attacks.
Tuz Khurmatu, which has a mixed ethnic Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen population, was the scene of deadly clashes last month when Iraqi pro-government forces retook it from Kurdish Peshmerga fighters.
Mr Abadi ordered the military to capture disputed territory controlled by the Kurds since 2014 - when IS swept across northern Iraq - after the autonomous Kurdistan Region held a referendum on independence at the end of September.
Turkmen MP Niazi Maamar Oglu said Tuz Khurmatu had not seen an attack as deadly as Tuesday's "for years".
Salahuddin province security chief Mehdi Taqi told AFP news agency: "There are still some areas west of Tuz Khurmatu that serve as hideouts for IS and we will soon be carrying out operations to clean them up."
Iraqi forces arrest suicide bomber near Mosul market
By Mohammed Ebraheem
November 22, 2017
Iraqi security forces on Wednesday arrested a suicide bomber who tried to blow himself up near a popular market in Mosul.
"The suicide bomber is affiliated with the Islamic State militant group," a security source told Baghdad News, adding that he was taken to a police station for interrogation.
Earlier in the day, Iraqi troops arrested the last Islamic State Wali (governor) in Mosul city along with his two brothers.
"Saleb al-Eslahi and his two brothers, Ahmed and Suleiman, were nabbed at a village in Mosul with fake IDs in their possession," semi-official newspaper al-Sabah quoted a police officer from Nineveh as saying.
"The trio was referred to the bodies concerned for interrogation," the officer added.
Despite declaring victory over Islamic State in Mosul, the group's former bastion in Iraq, observers say IS group is believed to constitute a security threat even after its defeat at its main havens across Iraqi provinces.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared, in July, victory over IS militants who had held the second largest Iraqi city since 2014. More than 25,000 militants were killed throughout the campaign.
Government forces, backed by paramilitary troops and the US-led international coalition, have been fighting, since October 2016, the militant group, which declared a self-styled "caliphate" from Mosul in June 2014.
The war against IS has so far displaced at least five million people. Thousands others fled towards neighboring countries including Syria, Turkey and other European countries, since IS emerged to proclaim its self-styled "caliphate".
Another mass grave found at a road southeast of Kirkuk
By Mohamed Mostafa
November 22, 2017
Another mass grave containing the relics of people executed by the Islamic State militants was found Wednesday in Kirkuk, a local source was quoted saying.
Alsumaria News quoted the source saying that a security force found a mass grave containing the relics of tens of civilians at Laylan's "international road" southeast of the city of Kirkuk.
"A government committee of Kirkuk's administration and human rights representatives will visit the grave," the source said, adding that the grave is very big and that related details will be released after it is officially opened up.
On Tuesday, news reports quoted security officials saying that a mass grave was found inside oil wells near Kirkuk.
As Iraqi troops recaptured areas held by Islamic State militants since October 2016, they have regularly run into mass graves of civilians and security agents executed by militants for fleeing the group's havens or collaborating with security forces.
Iraq's war against the Islamic State displaced at least five million civilians and left thousands dead. The United Nations accuses IS of committing deeds that mount to war crimes.
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Assad Regime's starve or surrender strategy 'a crime against humanity'
By Kareem Shaheen
November 12, 2017
Forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad in Syria have committed crimes against humanity through their "starve or surrender" strategy and sieges that have devastated areas controlled by the opposition, a report by human rights watchdog Amnesty International has concluded.
The report, to be released on Monday, examines four "reconciliation" deals between the Assad regime and the opposition in Aleppo, Homs and Darayya as well as an agreement that included four besieged towns, two by the government and two by the rebels, and which led to the displacement of tens of thousands of civilians after years-long sieges and indiscriminate bombardment.
While the report concludes that all sides in the conflict had violated international law, it says the regime's strategy of systematically preventing crucial food and medicine supplies from entering civilian areas while mounting bombing campaigns amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
"In essence, the deals have enabled the government to reclaim control of territory by first starving and then removing inhabitants who rejected its rule," the report says.
More than 500,000 people are still believed to be trapped in besieged areas in Syria. Their plight was brought into sharp focus last month when images of a starving baby in the opposition-controlled eastern Ghouta near the capital, Damascus, surfaced. Her mother was unable to feed her because the lack of food meant she was too weak to breastfeed. The baby died.
A leading United Nations official said on Thursday that eastern Ghouta's 400,000 residents were on the verge of a "complete catastrophe" resulting from a block on aid deliveries. "I feel as if we are now returning to some of the bleakest days of this conflict again," said Jan Egeland, a senior adviser to the UN's Syria envoy.
The Amnesty report examined the sieges and evacuation deals in the city of Darayya near Damascus, in Aleppo, the al-Waer district of Homs, and the towns of Madaya, Zabadani, Kefraya and Foua, all of which were concluded between August 2016 and March 2017. It conducted interviews with 134 people including displaced residents, UN officials and humanitarian workers.
The report found that the government restricted indispensable humanitarian and medical aid while simultaneously carrying out attacks on civilians, hospitals, markets and homes, violations that amount to war crimes. It also said the sieges, unlawful killings and forced displacement constituted a "systematic as well as widespread" attack on the civilian population, a crime against humanity.
It accused rebels who besieged Foua and Kefraya of blocking aid and indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, attacks that also amounted to war crimes.
The Syrian government has described many of the controversial agreements to evacuate civilians in besieged rebel-held areas as reconciliation deals. While humanitarian officials acknowledge that the evacuations do save lives that are at risk if the fighting continues, few believe that those leaving have any choice, often facing the risk of extrajudicial punishment, drafting into the military, or other retribution for having remained in opposition-held areas.
In many cases, civilians living under siege have reported that they have resorted to eating grass or boiled water with spices while awaiting aid deliveries from UN warehouses just a few miles away that are prevented by government blockades from reaching people in need.
One civilian quoted in the report described life in besieged Darayya as being in "Stone Age-like conditions." Satellite imagery has confirmed that forces loyal to Assad had burned surrounding agricultural fields.
Separately, the ongoing siege in eastern Ghouta, which has lasted several years but was tightened after a government offensive in April, has left civilians with little food or medical supplies.
A kilogram of rice costs approximately US$12 while the price of sugar is the equivalent of about $27, mostly due to the siege but also because of predatory pricing by local merchants, placing basic staples out of the reach of starving citizens. Residents say baby milk and even painkillers are unavailable and few have electricity because it costs too much to buy diesel oil.
Raed Srewel, an activist in the city of Douma, said expectant mothers were underfed, leading to a greater prevalence of heart conditions in infants as well as infections such as meningitis.
Eastern Ghouta is one of several "de-escalation" zones created under a deal brokered by Russia and Turkey to reduce the violence in Syria. But the government has continued to impose a siege on the area and there have been airstrikes in recent days.
"There is great hunger among the people," Srewel said. "It's a common sight now to see women standing around garbage heaps with the hope that they will find something there to eat. Children go to school in the morning with nothing in their mouths and can barely concentrate in classes. The basic pillars of life are absent here."
Former Syrian prisoners are firing back at the Assad regime
By David Crossland
November 16, 2017
Yazan Awad, an engineering student, was 24 when he was imprisoned in a Syrian jail in November 2011 for taking part in more than 100 protests against the regime in Damascus and helping fellow activists who had been forced out of the country. Guards broke his jaw in a beating as soon as he arrived to the prison. He received no medical attention, and other inmates had to pre-chew his food for him.
For 137 days he was held in various prisons belonging to Air Force Intelligence Directorate, regarded as the most brutal of Syria's four intelligence agencies. He was beaten with cables and with wooden poles that had nails embedded in them.
His wounds turned septic but, again, he received no medical care. He was given electric shocks and hung from the ceiling by his wrists which were tied behind his back — a technique which puts massive strain on the shoulders. On some days he was tortured for up to 10 hours.
The 36th day was the worst when he was repeatedly sexually assaulted with the barrel of a rifle, causing such damage that he ate only small amounts of food on alternate weeks because using the toilet was so painful.
Yazan believes his unshakeable insistence that he had no information about other activists saved his life, along with testimony from fellow activists who denied any knowledge of him — and the large bribe his family paid to secure his release.
"When I got out of jail I was so thin. I was about 32 kilos, and when I went in I was 109 kilos," Yazan told The National. Now 30, he is bespectacled, strongly built and speaks in a quiet, measured voice.
"My family wanted to send me out of the country but I didn't have the strength to walk. I couldn't even hold a spoon to eat and my mouth was always open because it was damaged from being hit."
"But my father is a dentist so he repaired my jaw," he added with a laugh.
Now, he wants justice and has testified with 13 former prisoners in two criminal complaints filed to the German Federal Public Prosecutor last week.
Compiled by the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), the complaints relate to crimes against humanity and war crimes by the government of president Bashar Al Assad.
They name high-ranking officials, including National Security Bureau chief Ali Mamlouk, Air Force Intelligence Directorate chief Jamil Hassan, defence minister Fahd Jasim Al Furayi and military prosecutor Mohammed Hassan Kenjo
"What has happened in Syria is a case for humanity, not only for Syrians," said Yazan. "You too are related to our case because you are human."
It took two-and-a-half years for him to recover physically and mentally from his ordeal.
"The first year I was always dreaming that they are coming to take me again, and the screaming of my friends was always on my mind," he said. His parents also sought help for him from seven psychologists.
A year after his release, he fled to Egypt with his family but decided not to stay because he was unable to get a job or marry. He moved on to Turkey, where he joined the multitude of refugees making the dangerous, illegal sea crossing to Europe in November 2015.
He now lives in Germany with his wife, a fellow refugee.
Germany, which has taken in more than 600,000 Syrian refugees since the outbreak of the conflict in spring 2011, is taking the lead in efforts to collate evidence and launch investigations that could one day trigger war crimes prosecutions against the Syrian leadership for the systematic torture and killing of civilian opponents.
"Almost everything happening in Syria is taking place systematically by hierarchical state organisations, especially the torture policy, which has been part of the DNA of the Assad regimes, both father and son, for decades," said Wolfgang Kaleck, a lawyer and co-founder of the ECCHR.
Amnesty International estimates that between 5,000 and 13,000 people have been executed in the notorious Saidnaya military prison outside Damascus and a further 18,000 have died in other prisons.
"All sides in the Syrian conflict have committed human rights abuses, but we believe the Syrian government is responsible for by far the biggest part of them," said Rene Wildangel, an Amnesty International expert for the Middle East. "Up to 75,000 people have disappeared in Syrian prisons with no access to families or lawyers or to the outside world.
"Most victims are members of the civilian Syrian opposition, convicted on the basis of forced confessions in front of military courts in a matter of minutes. Many experts describe the human rights abuses as the best documented crime since the end of the Second World War."
At present, war crimes trials against the leaders of the Syrian regime appear to be a distant prospect at best. But activists said the opening of formal legal proceedings was a crucial first step that could give comfort to the victims, highlight their suffering to Europeans opposed to taking in refugees, deter the perpetrators in Syria and eventually trigger prosecutions.
"When Spanish lawyers filed complaints against [Augusto] Pinochet they didn't foresee that he would be arrested while shopping in London three years later," said Mr Kaleck, referring to the former Chilean dictator detained under an international arrest warrant in 1998 for human rights violations.
Syria's leaders were dreaming of a future in comfort in Europe, said Syrian lawyer Anwar Al Bunni, who helped to compile the complaint.
"They think that after a political solution they will run away to Europe. They will not run to Iran or Russia because they don't like it there, they will run to Europe with the money they've stolen from the Syrians and come to live here as kings," he said. "But we are sending a message to them: there will be no safe place in the whole world that will accept you."
War crimes must be addressed in the forthcoming eighth round of Syrian peace talks due to open in Geneva on November 28, said Mr Al Bunni, who also spent time in a Syrian jail.
"Justice is like life. It is very important for rebuilding the peace in Syria. Without justice, people won't feel safe, they will feel they could be a victim at any time," he said.
So far though, all international efforts to launch prosecutions have failed. The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague cannot act because Syria is a not signatory, and China and Russia have vetoed the UN's attempts to allow the ICC or a special tribunal to proceed.
That leaves Germany, which is rigorously applying the principle of universal jurisdiction that allows national prosecutors to pursue people accused of international crimes even if they were committed in another country and neither the accused nor the victims are German nationals.
Germany is one of only three European countries (with Sweden and Norway) applying universal jurisdiction over war crimes and was one of the first to incorporate universal jurisdiction — which is enshrined in the ICC's statute — into its own national criminal code in 2002. It set up a war crimes unit at the federal prosecutor's office in 2010 and opened up two general investigations into Syrian human rights abuses and ISIL in 2011.
The system works. Germany first applied the principle of universal jurisdiction in the trial of two Rwandan rebel leaders who were sentenced by a court in Stuttgart to long jail terms in 2015.
"There is no German interest, no German victim, this is for the Syrians, this is the first time we feel that somebody, some country, someone else respects our need for justice only because we are human," said Mazen Darwish, a Syrian human rights activist and journalist who was imprisoned in Syria.
"This means a lot. Somebody cares. And this makes a difference to each Syrian, especially those refugees in Germany. Again, Germany is taking the ethical leadership in justice after the ethical leadership in the refugee issue," he said.
He said the country's experience in dealing with its Nazi past helped explain the role it was taking now.
"They understand from their own history that you can't build a sustainable future without dealing with the past," said Mr Darwish.
The two complaints filed last week supplemented another one brought in March by Syrian survivors of torture living in Germany. The prosecutor's office has started interviewing witnesses.
In addition, in September, photos of thousands of victims in the so-called Caesar Report — taken by a photographer known only as Caesar whose job was photographing killed detainees for the Syrian military police — were submitted to the federal prosecutor, who has commissioned a forensic report on the images.
"This means Germany is playing a leading role in securing evidence and is ready to share this evidence with other European justice authorities and in the future with international tribunals. That's very important fundamental work for the future," said Mr Kaleck.
The plaintiffs are confident that their cases will soon be formally investigated. So far, German justice authorities have focused on indicting low-ranking former members not of the regime but of ISIL and Al Nusra in cases linked to terrorism offences. The federal prosecutor has launched proceedings against 28 people to date.
"We want cases to be directed against the most senior people responsible for the torture crimes," said Mr Kaleck. "We want Ali Mamlouk and Jamil Hassan to be on the cover of those files in future."
Yazan, the torture victim now living in Germany, says he wants to return to rebuild his homeland one day. He has forgiven the men who tortured him.
"They are tools for the regime, so I don't care about them. I care for Jamil Hassan and Bashar Al Assad. I believe in justice and that it will happen in the end but it needs time. I am speaking out to make it happen faster."
Syria: at least 14 civilians killed in air strikes by government forces
By Agence France-Presse
November 18, 2017
At least 14 civilians, including one young girl, were killed by Syrian regime bombardment of the rebel-held eastern Ghouta region near Damascus on Saturday.
Ten of the victims were killed by air strikes and another four died in rocket fire, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. It added a further 40 people were wounded and the death toll was likely to rise.
At a medical centre near the town of Hazza, an AFP photographer saw wounded children and a child's body wrapped in plastic.
Saturday's government raids come after an attack on Tuesday by the Islamist rebel group Ahrar al-Sham on a military base near the town of Harasta.
On Friday, regime bombardments killed at least 19 people, including six children, mostly in the city of Douma. The deaths came amid an escalation in tit-for-tat attacks between regime forces and rebels holding the enclave on the capital's eastern outskirts.
Retaliatory shelling of Damascus on Thursday and Friday by rebels killed nine people.
The official Sana news agency said on Saturday rebel shelling of the city killed one person and wounded 20.
Eastern Ghouta is supposed to be part of a "de-escalation zone" under a deal between Russia, Iran and Turkey aimed at reducing the level of violence.
President Bashar al-Assad's forces have besieged eastern Ghouta since 2013, and humanitarian conditions in the area, where some 400,000 people live, are dire.
More than 330,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the Syrian war, which began in 2011 as the regime brutally crushed anti-government protests. Millions have been displaced.
On the Universal Children's Day: No less than 26,446 Children Have been Killed in Syria since March 2011
Syrian Network for Human Rights
November 21, 2017
On the Universal Children's Day, SNHR has released its special annual report which is dedicated to documenting violations against children by the parties to the conflict in Syria. The report is entitled: "Children of Syria… The Glaring Letdown"
The report notes that Syria is the worst country in the world with respect to a range of violations against children, as the Syrian regime has been the party who is primarily responsible for these violations since 2011, despite the fact that the Syrian government had ratified the CRC (The Conventions on the Right of the Child)
According to the report, children of Syria have suffered from cumulative ramifications that resulted from the daily bombardment and destruction as nearly 1,378 schools and kindergarten have been damaged, as the number of out-of-school children has exceeded 3.2 million children in Syria. The health sector was also affected as vaccination rates have dropped, and wide parts of the infrastructure has been destroyed, resulting in the spread of hepatitis, due to people resorting to drinking water from wells. Many neighborhoods have been destroyed almost completely, forcing the Syrian family to displace, whether inside Syria or abroad, as a new kind of suffering had surfaced – with 60% of refugee children denied education, and forced into labor.
The report adds that the UNHCR numbers suggest that 230,000 children at least have been born in refugee camps. Many of those children weren't able to acquire identification papers, as the huge challenges of fighting the phenomenon of the deprivation of nationality are significantly rising.
The report also stresses that the United Nations Secretary General's report on children and armed conflicts, published on August 24, 2017, didn't accurately reflect the catastrophic reality of Syria.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, chairman of SNHR, says:
"The Syrian regime didn't uphold its responsibilities with respect to the UNCRC, as the regime violated those rights heavily and ceaselessly. The 192 states that ratified the Convention, on the other hand, have failed to take action to deter the Syrian regime. All of us need to come together to stop a regime that perpetrated crimes against humanity against children from escaping justice, and to contribute seriously and quickly to holding those who were responsible for this accountable, for there is no justice without accountability."
The report sheds light on the violations by the parties to the conflict in Syria against children between March 2011 and November 20, 2017, and highlights the most notable of these violations.
The report draws upon the ongoing monitoring of incidents and news by SNHR team who collect and verify these news, as well as evidences and statements, in addition to analyzing videos and pictures that were posted online, or sent to SNHR by local activists via e-mail, Skype, or social media. Some of these videos show wounded and dead children, where some of those died under rubble, while other videos show children who starved to death or died of diseases in Eastern Ghouta.
The report documents the killing of 21,631 children by Syrian regime forces since March 2011, including 186 children who suffocated to death in chemical attacks, and 209 children who were killed in attacks by the Syrian regime that involved the use of cluster munitions or were killed in explosions of old cluster remnants. Additionally, the report records that no less than 289 children have died as a result of the siege imposed by Syrian regime forces.
No less than 12,007 children have been arrested by Syrian regime forces. Of those, 3,007 are still under arrest, at the time of this writing, as most of the recorded arrest cases, the report notes, qualify as enforced-disappearance cases.
According to the report, no less than 1,123 children and 24 kindergartens have been damaged in indiscriminate or deliberate bombardments by Syrian regime forces.
The report notes that Russian forces have killed no less than 1,529 children since September 30, 2015, including 32 children who were killed in 217 cluster attacks by Russian forces. The report adds that no less than 144 schools have been damaged in Russian attacks, while tens of thousands of children have been displaced.
The report also sheds light on the violations by the Kurdish Self-Management forces in their areas of control, such as extrajudicial killing and conscription. The report notes that 127 were killed by Self-Management forces, while 503 children are still under arrest or forcibly-disappeared at the Kurdish Self-Management forces detention centers.
The report stresses that 711 children were killed in indiscriminate shelling by ISIS, during clashes, or as a result of the executions that were carried out by ISIS. The report also notes that ISIS practiced other types of violations such as trafficking and selling children, as well as rape by the way of forced marriage, in addition to recruiting children in what is called "Cubs Camps" and, in other cases, through using them as human shields. The number of children who were arrested by ISIS is no less than 386 children according to the report.
In addition, the report notes that Hay'at Tahrir al Sham has killed 88 children and arrested no less than 25 others.
According to the report, international coalition forces have killed 723 children since their attacks started in Syria on September 23, 2014, while 23 schools were damaged in their attacks.
Furthermore, the report records that factions from the armed opposition have killed 936 children – mostly in indiscriminate shelling operations by forces from the opposition who target Syrian regime-held areas. Additionally, 305 children were arrested by factions from the armed opposition, while the report stresses that children were used in some of the military activities. Also, 23 schools and one kindergarten were damaged in attacks by armed opposition factions.
The report records that 701 children have been killed since March 2011 by other parties, while 19 schools and two kindergartens were damaged by unidentified parties as well.
The report stresses that government forces and its pro-government militias have perpetrated acts that qualify as crimes against humanity against the children of Syria through systematic, widespread killing, as well as torture, and sexual violence in a manner that explicitly violates Article 7 of Rome Statute, while these forces committed other acts that amount to war crimes through conscription, starvation, and besieging entire populations, including women and children, which constitute a blatant violation to the international humanitarian law and the relevant Security Council Resolutions.
The report adds that Russian forces concentrated their bombardments on populated areas and facilities, resulting the death of tens of Syrian children. All of these indiscriminate attacks constitute war crimes. Furthermore, the report sheds light on the Self-Management forces' practices that constitute war crimes, as these forces carried out indiscriminate shelling operations that resulted in the killing of a number of children and practiced conscription.
According to the report, extremist Islamic groups have recruited hundreds of children who are younger than 15 of age, and practiced torture against detained children inside their detention centers, in addition to the indiscriminate shelling operations that resulted in the killing of many children. All of this constitute war crimes.
The report stresses that different factions from the armed opposition have recruited tens of children, while the indiscriminate shelling by some of the armed opposition factions have resulted in the killing of number of children, which constitute war crimes.
The report emphasizes that attacks by international coalition forces have resulted in losses that involved loss of lives-including children- injuries, and major damages to civilian objects. There are strong indicators suggesting that the damage was too excessive in relation to the anticipated military benefit.
The report calls on the international community to protect and assist the children who were forcibly displaced, IDPs and refugees, especially girls who need particular and special care with respect to protecting them in particular. The report adds that the international community should uphold its obligations with respect to the CRC, and take serious steps to take down the Syrian regime, expose its practices, and put an end to them as soon as possible. Also, the report calls for supporting the accountability efforts in Syria – most notably the International, Impartial, and Independent Mechanism that was established by the UN General Assembly, the Commission of Inquiry that was established by the Human Rights Council, and the active national human rights organizations. The report also calls for exposing the states that are trying to rehabilitate and support the perpetrators of crimes against humanity against the children in Syria.
The report stresses that all possible legal, political, and financial measures should be taken against the Syrian regime and its allies as well as against all perpetrators of violations in the armed conflict to apply pressure in order to compel them to respect children's rights. Also, the report calls for respecting the pledges of financial donations that have been made, in addition to delivering aids to the besieged children and forcing the Syrian regime, first and foremost, to lift the siege, instead of resorting to dropping aids from the air. In addition, all possible efforts should be made to help and support the neighboring countries to improve education and health services in these countries that have taken the majority of the children refugees.
The report also calls for finding mechanisms that aim to end the shelling on schools and protect them, and working on creating and sustaining a safe learning environment, which is the least that can be done to protect civilians. The report considers the issue of the children of Syria an international concern, as all states should take action to ease its ramifications through supporting schools and the educational and medical processes inside Syria and for children refugees.
The report recommends that aid efforts should be coordinated according to the most-affected areas. The pressure and blackmailing by the Syrian regime for the sake of redirecting the flow of aids to its favor should be ignored, while sufficient resources should be devoted to rehabilitate children while taking into consideration the special case of girls that have been directly affected by violations, and those who have fallen victim of sexual exploit.
The report stresses that the refugees coming out of Syria should be able to seek asylum and their rights should be respected, including non-refoulement. The states of the European Union and other countries should ease the load on the neighboring countries by taking in more Syrian refugees. Also, the report calls on the donor states to improve their support for the UNHCR and the local community organizations in states of refuge.
The report calls on the UNHCR to create a stable, safe environment for children refugees and focus more on reintegrating them within their communities through long-term psychological support, and enhance the investment in education and health.
The report emphasizes that the Syrian regime should uphold its obligations with respect to the CRC, the two Covenants (ICCPR & ICESCR), and Geneva Agreements. In addition, the parties to the conflict should cease the deliberate targeting of schools and kindergartens, as well as residential areas, where children and their families live, and cease the killing and disfigurement of children, in addition to immediately releasing all detained children – especially who were detained in the context of the armed conflict. The report also calls on the parties to the conflict to respect the international laws on detaining children, particularly girls.
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Yemen: More than 50,000 children expected to die of starvation and disease by the end of year
By Lydia Smith
November 15, 2017
More than 50,000 children in Yemen are expected to die by the end of the year as a result of disease and starvation caused by the stalemated war in the country, Save the Children has warned.
Seven million people are on the brink of famine in the country, which is in the grips of the largest cholera outbreak in modern history.
An estimated 130 Yemeni children are dying every day and an estimated 400,000 children will need treatment for acute malnutrition this year, the charity said.
"These deaths are as senseless as they are preventable," said Tamer Kirolos, Save the Children's country director for Yemen.
"They mean more than a hundred mothers grieving for the death of a child, day after day."
Eighteen-month-old Nadhira from the Bani Qais district of Hajja, northern Yemen, is suffering from severe acute malnutrition and respiratory diseases.
Her mother saved the family's income for three days to afford to take her to Hajja city for treatment, but her condition deteriorated once again after they were left unable to afford the medicine.
"I worry about my family's food and medicine when they get sick. I want my daughter to live: she's my biggest concern now. I wish my daughter recovers from her sickness soon," her mother Shaika said.
The charity has warned the death toll as a result of starvation and disease could be even higher, as the calculations were made before Saudi Arabia tightened a blockade on rebel-held parts of the country in response to a missile fired from rebel territory towards Riyadh international airport this month.
The blockade has closed the major entry ports of Hodeidah and Saleef, as well as the airport in the capital Sanaa, which has severely hindered the access of food and aid.
Already soaring prices of food and fuel have spiralled in just a few days, further eroding the limited capability of humanitarian organisations to deliver aid.
"Our staff cannot reach communities to provide life-saving care and much-needed supplies and relief workers cannot enter the country," Mr Kirolos said.
"Essential medicines, fuel and food stocks could start running out in a matter of weeks. It's utterly unacceptable to let children die of neglect and a lack of political will.
"Unless the blockade is lifted immediately more children will die."
Saudi Arabia Faces Pressure To End Blockade As Crisis Worsens In Yemen
By Samantha Raphelson
November 17, 2017
A Saudi-led blockade of Yemen continues to exacerbate a humanitarian crisis that aid groups are calling the most severe in decades.
On Monday, Saudi Arabia said it would start reopening some sea and airports, but aid workers are still reporting difficulty in providing food and medical supplies to nearly 20 million people who need help. Al Jazeera reports that the main entry point for aid, the Red Sea port city of al-Hudaydah, remains closed.
Rasha Muhrez, director of operations for the aid group Save The Children in Yemen, tells Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson this is a "man made crisis."
"With this blockade it's very difficult to get supplies, and it's very difficult to deliver those supplies to the health facilities or the clinics to people in need mainly because also there is no fuel," she says. "If this blockade continues, then the humanitarian situation will continue to deteriorate, and unfortunately, we would be unable to save these people in need."
Saudi Arabia shut down land, air and sea routes into Yemen last week after its military shot down a ballistic missile aimed at an international airport in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. The Saudi crown prince accused Iran of supplying the Houthi rebels — the Shiite militia that controls the capital and much of Yemen — with the missiles.
A proxy war between Sunni-controlled Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran has played out in Yemen since March 2015, when a Saudi-led coalition intervened in the conflict between Yemen's exiled government and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. More than 10,000 civilians have been killed in the war.
At least 7 million people are reportedly on the brink of famine as drinking water and food is in short supply due to the blockade. Muhrez says residents are relying on food rations from the World Food Program and other aid groups.
"WFP has supplies for the next six weeks or so," she says. "So if they are unable to bring additional supplies in country, they won't be able to feed the 7 million people who are already at a very critical stage, and most of them are malnourished."
The Yemeni medical system has also collapsed. The World Health Organization estimates at least 14 million people lack basic health care and an outbreak of cholera has spread to more than 900,000 suspected cases.
"We have made progress, and there have been fewer deaths from cholera in Yemen, but we will suffer a major setback if we don't have full access to all affected areas," WHO tweeted last week.
Cholera is treatable, but also preventable if people have access to clean drinking water, Muhrez says.
"We see these these vulnerable kids lying on beds and with IV fluids in their arms and getting treatment from cholera, which is completely unnecessary," she says. "It shouldn't have happened."
Muhrez explains that cholera spread so rapidly because clean water has been out of reach due to rising prices, lack of fuel to deliver it and now, the blockade.
Drinking water "prices increased more than 400 percent in some places," she says. "If you want to buy a glass of water, you have to pay a couple of thousands of Yemeni rial. And this is like the money that a family could live on for a day."
The U.S. is also facing criticism for providing support to the Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen. This week, Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy called on the Senate to follow the House of Representatives, which passed a resolution on Monday that says the U.S. military is not authorized to assist Saudi Arabia in Yemen.
The House concluded that the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, which was passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, does not permit the U.S. to fight the Houthis in Yemen.
"This horror is caused in part by our decision to facilitate a bombing campaign that is murdering children," Murphy said, "and to endorse a Saudi strategy inside Yemen that is deliberately using disease and starvation and the withdrawal of humanitarian support as a tactic."
The war in Yemen is driven by 32-year-old Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, who launched an aggressive anti-Iran campaign after he became first-in-line to the throne January 2015.
"Peace is not an option in the case of Yemen — it's a must," Muhrez says. "And all parties in this conflict, they need to agree on a solution. It has to happen soon. It has to happen very soon."
Yemen is on the brink of a horrible famine. Here's how things got so bad.
The Washington Post
By Amanda Erickson
November 19, 2017
It's been called the "worst humanitarian crisis in the world": Nearly 80 percent of Yemen's population is food-insecure; millions are teetering on the edge of famine. The situation — described as critical for nearly two years — has grown even worse since early November, when Saudi Arabia enacted a near-complete blockade on its borders with Yemen, making it nearly impossible for anyone to import food, water and medical supplies from Saudi Arabia.
How did one of the poorest countries in the world get to that point? It's a complicated story, one that involves warring regional superpowers, terrorism, oil and an impending climate catastrophe.
But in some ways, it's also a simple one. Lots of people outside of Yemen are fighting for control and influence. And lots of the people within the country are paying the price.
How did the current political crisis start?
Like many conflicts in the Middle East, Yemen's struggle started with the Arab Spring. In November 2011, after protests, the country's longtime dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to hand power to his deputy, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
At the time, Saleh's outster was seen as a victory for democracy. But over the next couple of years, Hadi struggled to lead effectively. The country was plagued with unemployment, food insecurity and corruption. Its people also faced attacks from the al-Qaeda affiliate based in Yemen. Hadi also struggled with a skeptical army (many top lieutenants had remained loyal to Saleh) and a separatist movement in the south.
The Houthi rebel group, which supports the country's Shiite minority, took advantage of Hadi's weaknesses. The group staged a coup, taking control of the country's north. Many Yemenis supported the Houthis, at least initially. They were frustrated by the government's weakness. When the Houthis decided to take control of the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, thousands of civilians pitched in, setting up street camps and roadblocks.
By February 2015, the Houthi controlled Sanaa, and Hadi had escaped to the port city of Aden.
How did Saudi Arabia get involved?
Yemen's northern neighbor watched warily as the Houthis took over. Saudi Arabia is majority Sunni, and it was leery of allowing a Shiite group to gain control of a border country, particularly one allied with its enemy Iran. Quickly, Saudi Arabia teamed up with eight other Sunni Arab states to try to beat the group back and restore Hadi to power. Over the next two years, the coalition launched an extensive airstrike campaign. Thousands of bombs have been dropped; many have hit and killed civilians. According to research, out of about 8,600 of those attacks, 3,577 hit military sites, and 1,510 struck residential areas, school buildings, hospitals and other civilian sites.
According to one report from the United Nations, at least 10,000 Yemenis have been killed in the violence; 40,000 more have been injured.
The airstrikes haven't resulted in much progress. Government forces were able to retake Aden, but only after a fierce, four-month battle that left hundreds dead. That victory gave the government a stronghold from which to take control of much of the south.
The Houthis still maintain control of much of the north. As the BBC explained, "Despite the air campaign and naval blockade continuing unabated, pro-government forces have been unable to dislodge the rebels from their northern strongholds, including Sanaa and its surrounding province."
Adding to the strife, al-Qaeda also controls some parts of Yemen, and the Islamic State is active there, targeting the government-controlled south.
What prompted the blockade?
In early November, Saudi Arabia intercepted a ballistic missile near Riyadh, its capital. Officials allege the weapon was fired by the Houthis and that it was provided to them by Iran. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman called the launch a "direct military aggression" that could be "considered an act of war." In retaliation, Saudi Arabia sealed all entry via land, air and sea in an effort, it says, to prevent Iran from providing any more weapons to its rebels.
Why is it a blockade so dangerous in Yemen?
In addition to this political crisis, Yemen is facing an environmental catastrophe. Nearly 90 percent of the country is classified as arid or desert. Water is scarce — Yemen has one of the lowest rates of per-capita water availability in the world, about two percent of the global average. Rapid depletion of groundwater resources means the water table has dropped quickly. Droughts and desertification have made an already challenging agricultural scene nearly impossible. Much of the little usable agricultural land is used to grow qat, a cash crop and mild stimulant chewed by about 70 percent of Yemeni men.
Before the civil war broke out, Yemen imported nearly 90 percent of its food, mostly by sea. Seven million Yemeni people rely entirely on imported food. Because of the fighting, importing food has become much more difficult. Many shipping companies simply won't send supplies anymore. Even before the blockade, those who ship supplies could face massive delays and mandatory searches by coalition warships.
After an international outcry, the Saudis loosened the blockade on Yemeni ports — a bit. Saudi Arabia said it would allow aid to enter government-controlled ports in three cities. But aid groups and the United Nations say it's not nearly enough.
What kind of humanitarian toll could the blockade take?
According to the United Nations, Yemen is in urgent need of medicines, vaccines and food. The supplies "are essential to staving off disease and starvation," the organization said. "Without them, untold thousands of innocent victims, among them many children, will die." A joint statement from the heads of the World Food Program, UNICEF and the World Health Organization called the situation in Yemen "the worst humanitarian crisis in the world."
They warn that 3.2 million people are at risk of famine, and 150,000 malnourished children could die in the next month. (Right now, according to Save the Children, 130 children are dying every day in Yemen.)
A least 17 million other people, including 11 million children, are in desperate need of humanitarian supplies. The shortage of medicine and clean water has also led to the spread of disease. The country is now in the throes of the fastest-growing cholera epidemic ever recorded. Nearly 900,000 people have been affected, according to U.N. figures.
Is peace possible?
Right now, it's hard to imagine. The United Nations has organized three rounds of peace talks. All have collapsed, spurring in an escalation in fighting and civilian casualties. Hadi's government is demanding that the rebels withdraw from all areas they control as a precondition for talks, making success unlikely.
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Special Tribunal for Lebanon
Official Website of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon
In Focus: Special Tribunal for Lebanon (UN)
Defense halts testimony of Special Tribunal Witness
The Daily Star
By Victoria Yan
November 9, 2017
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon resumed Wednesday with a hearing to bring expert witness John Edward Philips to the stand. Philips testified on new prosecution evidence linking defendant Hassan Habib Merhi to a cellular device dubbed the "gray phone." The prosecution completed a near-200 page report on the device, submitting their evidence to the defense five days before Wednesday's hearing.
"We do not rest on our laurels once we get the indictment in, we keep going. Our primary role is to investigate, assess and if necessary disclose," opened Alexander Milne, senior trial counsel on the prosecution bench.
Following Milne's statement, defense counsel Dorothee Le Fraper du Hellen protested the move, detailing the reasons for her opposition for the remainder of the hearing.
"After four years of trial where we have been discussing the charges against Merhi, [and after] 10 years of investigation that took place before the trial commenced ... we believe what [the prosecution] is trying to do is modify the case in light of the [new] elements," Le Fraper du Hellen said.
She argued that the prosecution's decision to recall a witness was "unprecedented," stating that their request was "inappropriate" and failed to "satisfy the [necessary] criteria." The defense counsel asked the trial chamber to bar Philips from testifying on the new report.
Her submission was ultimately denied by the trial chamber, which gave its formal decision to allow Philips to enter the courtroom.
Immediately, the defense counsel applied to appeal the decision.
The delivery of Le Fraper du Hellen's opposition was met with irritation by President of the Trial Chamber Judge David Re, who frequently interrupted her.
Natalie von Wistinghausen, representing defendent Hussein Hassan Oneissi, interrupted the quarrel and urged Re to treat Le Fraper du Hellen with respect.
Despite Re's multiple attempts to invite Philips into the courtroom and begin testimony pending further decision, Le Fraper du Hellen repeated her objections.
"This is prejudicial to our case," she said after Re's final attempt before the hearing was adjourned. "Our initial request was to exclude his evidence and testimony and now you want to call him into the courtroom without having a ruling on the certification for the appeal."
Re ultimately conceded to agreeing to adjourn until Thursday.
Despite objections, STL chamber accepts Report, Phillips testifies
The Daily Star
By Finbar Anderson
November 10, 2017
A heated argument over the submission of a new report into evidence carried on into its second day Thursday at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Defense counsel Dorothee Le Fraper du Hellen, whose client Hassan Merhi is one of four accused of complicity in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, had argued the previous day that the prosecution's report should not be tendered into evidence, nor should its author, John Edward Philips, be allowed to testify on its contents.
Philips' report had been commissioned after Le Fraper du Hellen's cross-examination of prosecution analyst Andrew Donaldson, in which she cited a hitherto unmentioned "gray phone" as possible proof that another phone, dubbed the "purple phone," could not have been used by her client. The prosecution, therefore, asked Philips to produce a report linking the purple and gray phones to make the case that they were operated by a single user.
Le Fraper du Hellen objected, saying that the report was adding new material facts to the proceedings, which is not allowed at this stage. Trial Chamber President Judge David Re responded by noting that the report was "merely a piece of evidence confirming the existence of this number." Furthermore, as the defense itself had initially introduced the gray phone into proceedings, it could not argue that it was an entirely new number.
Le Fraper du Hellen, who said that the inclusion of the report would "seriously damage the integrity of the proceedings," also objected on the grounds that the prosecution should technically not present a rebuttal case until after the conclusion of the defense case, which has not yet begun. Re nevertheless rejected her application to appeal the submission of the report.
Once Philips was allowed to take the witness stand, prosecution counsel Marc Desalliers began his examination. Philips set out his argument that the statistical evidence linking the purple and gray phones was so great as to make it almost certain they were used by the same person.
For the purposes of the report, Philips had analyzed a cumulative 1,832 calls for the gray and purple phones, as well as a third "green phone" that has also been linked to Merhi. Of these, 2 percent of the calls were from or to the green phone, while the remainder had been nearly equally divided among the purple and the gray phones.
A total of 266 pairings linking the phones to a particular time and place had been established between the purple and gray phones over a five-month period. Furthermore, there was only one overlapping call for all three phones during this whole period, which Philips suggested may have been a result of inaccuracies in the clocks used by the different centers collating the call data. Philips explained that over a short period of time two phones may appear to be used by one person, even if they have different owners. This may be a result of, for instance, these owners living and working in the same part of Beirut. However, he noted that "the greater the time period covered, the less likely this becomes." In conclusion, Philips suggested that the evidence pointed to the "strong possibility that [all three phones] were being used by the same person."
Le Fraper du Hellen undertook a short cross-examination of Philips, criticizing the extent of the report. She said that the cellphone data dumps that had been undertaken were incomplete, meaning that "you don't know how many telephones could be compatible with your theory of a single user."
Philips responded that this aspect of the case was not under his remit, as he was given evidence by the prosecution, which he subsequently analyzed. "All I know is what I've been asked to examine," he said.
Following Philips' evidence, the remainder of the hearing was spent dealing with submissions made by the defense team for Assad Sabra, which, once complete, will enable the conclusion of the prosecution's case.
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Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal
War crimes: Trial of 5 Moulvibazar suspects comes to an end
November 20, 2017
A court is expected to soon deliver a verdict in the war crimes case against five Moulvibazar suspects, including Shamsul Hossain Torofdar alias Ashraf.
The five are accused of murder, genocide, unlawful detention, arson and looting during the 1971 Liberation War.
The International Crimes Tribunal or ICT heard the final arguments in the case on Monday, but is yet to fix a date for the verdict.
It will be the 30th by the ICT since its formation in 2010.
The accused are Shamsul Hossain Torofdar alias Ashraf, Md Nesar Ali, Yunus Ahmed, Ojayer Ahmed Chowdhury and Mobarok Miya.
Ojayer, 60, and Yunus, 70, are in prison while the rest are on the run.
The investigation in the case began in October 2014. The ICT's investigation wing submitted its report in January 2016.
The court indicted the five on Dec 8, 2016 and began hearings in the trial on Jan 15 of this year.
According to the details of the case, Shamsul was the local Al-Badr commander while Nesar was a local Razakar commander in 1971. All of them have been accused of murders, mass killings, abduction and torture during the 1971 Liberation War.
Ojayer and Yunus were arrested in Moulvibazar on Oct 13, 2015 after the tribunal issued warrants against them.
Verdict against 6 Gaibandha war crimes accused Wednesday
November 21, 2017
The International Crimes Tribunal (ICT)-1 on Tuesday set Wednesday to pronounce judgment in crimes against humanity case against six alleged war criminals from Gaibandha, including Jamaat leader and former lawmaker Abdul Aziz alias Ghoramara Aziz.
The other five accused are Md Ruhul Amin alias Monju, 61, Md Abdul Latif, 61, Abu Muslim Mohammad Ali, 59, Md Nazmul Huda, 60, and Md Abdur Rahim Miah, 62. Of these, only Latif is in jail.
"Verdict tomorrow," said justice Md Shahinur Islam, chairman of the three-member panel of the tribunal.
The tribunal on 23 October kept the judgment on CAV (curia advisory vult, a Latin legal term meaning the court awaits verdict) after concluding hearing the arguments of the case for second time.
The recently reconstituted ICT-1 on 12 October on Tuesday fixed 22 October for rehearing the arguments in the case.
Earlier, the tribunal on 9 May had kept the verdict in the case on CAV for the first time.
"But due to death of justice Anwarul Haque, former chairman of the tribunal, government had to reconstitute the tribunal and the new tribunal decided to rehear the arguments," prosecutor Syed Sayedul Haque Suman told BSS.
Bangladesh tribunal sentences six to death for helping Pakistani troops carry out 1971 genocide
November 22, 2017
A special Bangladeshi tribunal on Wednesday sentenced to death six hardline Islamists, including a former lawmaker, for committing crimes against humanity and siding with the Pakistani troops in carrying out the genocide in 1971.
A three-judge panel of Bangladesh's International Crimes Tribunal (ICT-BD) handed down the capital punishment to the six members of the Jamaat-e-Islami saying, the charges against them were "proved beyond doubt." "They be convicted accordingly and sentenced there under to death under section 20(2) of the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973," pronounced chair of the panel Justice Shahinur Islam.
The verdict came as Bangladesh nearly completed the long-delayed trial of 1971 war crimes since the high-powered tribunal was established in 2010.
The tribunal is charged with the task to try persons responsible for committing genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and other crimes under international law committed during the country's 1971 Liberation War.
The six men sentenced to death hail from northwestern Gaibandha and belong to fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami, the party which was opposed to Bangladesh's 1971 independence and joined hands with Pakistani troops in carrying out the genocide.
But only one of the six convicts faced the trial in person while the rest, including former Jamaat lawmaker Abu Saleh Mohammad Abdul Aziz Mia, were tried in absentia as they were on the run.
Under a special law, the convicts, however, could challenge the judgement before the apex Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.
Bangladesh has so far executed six 1971 war crimes convicts, five of them Jamaat leaders and one Bangladesh Nationalist Party leader, the main Opposition since the trial process began in 2010.
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War Crimes Investigation in Burma
Israel's Explanation for Arming Myanmar During Ethnic Cleansing Campaign: 'Both Sides Committing War Crimes'
By Chaim Levinson
November 09, 2017
"The two sides in the conflict are conducting war crimes" in Myanmar's Rohingya crisis, an Israeli diplomat told six American rabbis who voiced concern about reports of Israeli arms sales to the Southeast Asain country.
The rabbis were worried that Israeli businesses could be contributing to what the UN has termed ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, Myanmar's Muslim minority, but Amir Sagie, Israel's deputy consul general in New York, told the rabbis that to the best of Israel's knowledge, the current crisis began after the Muslims attacked the Myanmar army.
Sagie charged that the current situation "started after Muslims attacked government positions in Myanmar" and that both sides in the conflict are "conducting war crimes."
His position is considered consistent with that of the Foreign Ministry regarding reports in the media regarding Israel's ties with Myanmar.
Sagie stated, "we deny totally any kind of relations or any connection to Israel with this tragedy. There is no direct or indirect connection with what is going on with the Rohingya people."
He added that Israel "applies a policy of non-intervention in Myanmar's domestic issues."
Sagie refused to give details about Israel's arms trade with Myanmar, saying Israel "does not discuss publicly with our friends or our foes Israel's military or defense relationships." But he stressed that all weapons exports are "done with due diligence," and exports take "into consideration human rights violations, including existing sanctions from the UN or international organizations."
He also noted that the High Court of Justice had rejected a petition against the arms deals, but that verdict remains classified.
The meeting took place after T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights organized a petition to Israel over the arms deal two weeks ago. "China, Russia and India continue to be the primary enablers of the Burmese military," the petition said, referring to Myanmar by its former name of Burma. But as American citizens and as Jews, we refuse to accept any involvement by the U.S. or Israel in training or arming a military that is carrying out a brutal ethnic cleansing against a minority population. "
The rabbis at the meeting, who represent several different Jewish movements, were T'ruah Executive Director Jill Jacobs, Lauren Grabelle Herrmann, Amichai Lau-Lavie, David Ingber, Felicia Sol and Steve Gutow. They said it was clear Sagie had come to the meeting prepared, with his remarks written out in advance.
Sagie suggested that the false connections made between the Burmese and Israeli governments are "blood libel." Israel, he added, is routinely accused of every evil under the sun, so now it's being accused in the Rohingyas' slaughter as well. "You do not see us saying we're supportive of the regime's actions against the Rohingya - it's the opposite," he said.
The rabbis said afterward that they requested the meeting out of love for Israel, and that their concern crosses political lines. No further meetings have been scheduled.
The Foreign Ministry has responded that it vigorously protested the way matters were presented. The ministry said in a statement: "Israel is not involved in the tragedy in the Rakhine region of Myanmar. The oversight policy of Israel's security exports is examined frequently in keeping with various considerations, among them the human rights situation in the destination country, as well as the policy of the U.N. Security Council and other international entities."
Israeli weapons are being sold to Myanmar despite the restrictions on weapons sales to that country. Only last month Israel refused to announce that it would stop selling weapons to Myanmar despite the UN declaration about ethnic cleansing. The Rohingya minority is now considered the most persecuted people in the world.
Israel and Myanmar in recent years have signed a memorandum of understanding clarifying the bilateral cooperation and transfer of relevant information and intelligence. According to official reports in Myanmar, the agreement includes military training and improving security cooperation between the two countries, including the sale of two Israeli Super Dvora III boats.
The total value of the arms deal, according to sources in the Israeli weapons industry, is estimated at tens of millions of dollars. An officer involved in the matter told Haaretz that the Myanmar naval commander visited Israel in the past year, "was impressed and wanted to learn." It was the second visit to Israel by the naval commander in the past five years.
"Welcome to the Myanmar Navy," said the caption on the Myanmar Navy's Facebook page, in honor of the arrival of an Israeli patrol boat to Myanmar's shore. "The Super-Dvora MK III is moving forward at 45 knots on Myanmar waters," the post continued. The post is from April, only half a year ago, when the Myanmar (Burmese) army was already being accused of war crimes.
Myanmar and Buddhist Extremism
By Paul Fuller
November 14, 2017
There is what has been described as a "textbook case of ethnic cleansing" against the approximately one million Rohingya who live in the western Myanmar state of Rakhine. As well as retaliations from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army – a militant group of Rohingyas – which has been held by the Burmese military to have attacked a number of police and army posts.
And there is also what was seen as a newly emerging democracy with a prominent international figure, Aung San Suu Kyi – the state counsellor of Myanmar and the nation's de facto leader – guiding the country against a backdrop of Islamophobic Buddhist nationalism.
Buddhists are often regarded in the West as a peaceful people, so to hear of this kind of public prejudice may come as a shock to many. But looking at it from a Buddhist cultural perspective, one can begin to see why this is happening.
Suu Kyi has used her own Buddhist faith to explain her ideas in the past. But it was only in a televised speech to the Burmese nation, in mid-October 2017, that she used some standard Buddhist rhetoric for the first time in her comments on recent events. Suu Kyi evoked the Buddhist principles of "compassion", "loving-kindness" and "sympathetic joy" to overcome hatred. A "close adviser" later briefed the media, explaining that Suu Kyi's speech marked an attempt to wrestle Buddhism out of the "hands of extremists".
One could say that the Buddhist sentiments expressed in Suu Kyi's speech are in line with the modern Western understanding of Buddhism. But look deeper into modern Asia and you will see Western perceptions aren't wholly accurate. There is now a form of militant Buddhism, which often promotes the supremacy of Buddhism, and can be Islamophobic, ethnocentric and chauvinistic in its preaching.
This is a Buddhism alien to the romantic, pacifistic, meditative and compassionate Buddhism of popular imagination, and – one would hope – much of Buddhist history. It is a Buddhism in which the Buddhist faith should be protected against the supposed threat of other religions (primarily Islam) overrunning Buddhist Myanmar.
Led by the Mandalay-based monk Ashin Wirathu, it is a religion which campaigns to punish those who offend Buddhism. In its organised form in Myanmar these nationalistic Buddhist ideas coalesce around a group popularly known as MaBaTha – the organisation for the protection of race and religion.
The battle between the two emerging forms of Buddhism in modern Myanmar is linked back to two core principles of the religion.
The first is the familiar Buddhism of calm, non-attachment, and compassion. Until recently one could say this was dominant within Myanmar. Lay meditation movements were important in the revitalisation of modern Buddhism and aspects of popular mindfulness meditation originate from them. The Saffron Revolution of 2007 displayed little of the aggressive nationalism of the MaBaTha movement, with monks evoking the "discourse on loving-kindness" – The Metta-sutta – as a Buddhist path of compassion to overthrow military rule.
The other form of Buddhism has a more ritualised focus. At the risk of oversimplification, this practice is based upon the performance of personal and state rituals in order to protect society from danger. To be a practising Buddhist is to have recited certain texts, and to have paid homage at Buddhist shrines. To be a good Buddhist is to be a good Burmese, and, as it now appears, to "stand with Aung San Suu Kyi".
It would be too simplistic to argue that Buddhist teachings are irreconcilably at odds with ideas of nationalism and patriotism. However, a sense of superiority and discrimination against minority groups does appear to be indefensible from a Buddhist perspective. Could Suu Kyi's speech, and the idea that she wishes to use Buddhist teachings in a way at odds with Buddhist nationalism be an acknowledgement that Buddhism needs to become part of the solution in modern Myanmar, rather than an aggressive symbol used by Buddhist nationalists?
If Myanmar is to emerge from military rule and become a modern democratic state then it must save its Buddhism from descending into extremism. If Buddhist identity is focused upon a narrow and uncompromising view of what it means to be Burmese, then it seems likely that Buddhism will become a form of state-sponsored religion promoted by the military. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with this type of Buddhism, but it is clearly engendering a form of nationalistic fervour, and atrocities are being committed and justified.
Can Suu Kyi see beyond the flags and slogans and use Buddhist narratives of compassion and loving kindness? Observers expected this of her, and of the Buddhist nation, many weeks ago, yet we are still waiting.
'We are going to kill you': Villagers in Burma Recount Violence by Rohingya Muslim Militants
The Washington Post
By Annie Gowen
November 15, 2017
The Hindu woman wept as she vowed never to return home, where she said Rohingya militants slaughtered her son, daughter-in-law and three granddaughters in August.
"They killed my family," Halu Bar Hla, 70, said through tears at a camp for internally displaced people in western Burma. "I will not go back. I will die if I go back to my village. They will slit my throat."
Hla's account illustrates the complexity of the Rohingya crisis, in which Buddhists and minorities such as Hindus claim that militant Rohingya have carried out atrocities against them even as a brutal military "clearance operation" has sent 600,000 Rohingya Muslims across the border into Bangladesh.
The U.N. human rights chief has called the Burmese military's crackdown a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing," and Burma's democratically elected government and Aung San Suu Kyi, its de facto leader, have been widely condemned during the exodus.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Suu Kyi early Wednesday in Burma. At a joint briefing after the meeting, Tillerson said he was concerned about "credible reports of widespread atrocities committed by [Burma's] security forces and vigilantes." He said that the United States will consider targeted sanctions against individuals but that he will not advise broad-based economic sanctions at this time. The Burmese military issued an internal report this week that exonerated its soldiers of any wrongdoing.
Interviews with monks, politicians and refugees in this port city demonstrate how difficult it will be for Burmese and Bangladeshi officials to come up with a plan for the Rohingya to return to Rakhine state. Leaders from the Buddhist community and Suu Kyi's government deny that atrocities against Rohingya have taken place at all, saying that the refugees fled in fear after Rohingya militants attacked police posts in late August.
"The extremists incited villagers to go away saying the Burma army would come and kill them. They killed Hindus and other ethnic minorities. We could not find the death of any Muslim," said Win Htein, a top adviser to Suu Kyi. "There is no genocide or ethnic cleansing."
Sittwe is about as close as journalists can freely get to northern Rakhine state, now sealed off by the military, where the militants attacked on Aug. 25. Behind the military cordon, the violence has ebbed. Villagers and aid workers allowed entry to that area describe ghostly scenes of burned Rohingya villages, largely devoid of people. Estimates vary, but 100,000 to 200,000 Rohingya remain, with food and medical supplies running low.
"Even with the destruction, you can see a bicycle that's just left. It's a very strange feeling, as if life has stopped. The sense of emptiness is quite striking," said Fabrizio Carboni, the head of the Burma delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Red Cross groups — the only outside aid workers permitted to enter — have distributed food and cash assistance to 86,000 since late August.
A Rohingya grocer in the town of Maungdaw said by telephone that security is tight and that the Rohingya are not permitted to travel.
"We're trapped and surrounded by military," said Ko Hla Win, 34. They are surviving because some Buddhists are secretly selling them food, he said.
Elsewhere, state workers began harvesting 70,000 acres of rice paddies the Rohingya left behind, a spokesman said. They are also preparing two camps to house returning refugees.
It has been more than two months since the August attacks triggered a crackdown that left more than 280 villages burned — according to a Human Rights Watch analysis of satellite photos — and scores dead. Survivors have alleged widespread human rights violations by the military, including rapes and mass executions. Witness accounts have been difficult to verify because the government has denied U.N. human rights investigators and others access to the area.
The exodus has riveted international attention on the plight of more than 1 million Rohingya Muslims long denied citizenship and other basic rights in Burma, a majority-Buddhist nation of 51 million people in Southeast Asia that is also known as Myanmar. The country held largely democratic elections in 2015, but the military still controls security, key ministries and lucrative state-owned enterprises.
At the same time the Rohingya fled, more than 30,000 Hindus, Buddhists and ethnic minorities were also displaced, with some fleeing south to Sittwe to take refuge in monasteries. In interviews, displaced villagers said they were afraid to return home because they feared the Rohingya insurgents whose attacks on police posts in their villages precipitated the crisis.
In the years since Burma became independent from Britain in 1948, the country's military regime gradually diminished the rights of the Rohingya, stripping them of citizenship and the right to vote. Today the government considers Rohingya illegal immigrants from Bangladesh; they are called "Bengalis" here, or the slur "Kalar." Even the term "Rohingya" is anathema; Suu Kyi herself won't use it because it is inflammatory, she told The Washington Post in an interview last year.
In 2012, the rape of a Buddhist woman by Rohingya men triggered widespread communal violence after which more than 100,000 Rohingya were confined to detention camps. At the same time, a movement of hard-line Buddhist nationalism gathered steam, led by radical monks.
Shortly thereafter, a group of Saudi-based Rohingya expatriates formed the militant Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, or ARSA, according to a December report from the International Crisis Group. Its leaders eventually traveled to the area to recruit and surreptitiously train villagers in guerrilla war tactics, the report said.
Maung Oo Than Tin, 25, a Buddhist college student, recalled that one of his best school friends, a Rohingya, stopped speaking to him after the 2012 violence and later left the country. About three months ago, the former friend messaged him ominously on Facebook, "We are going to kill you."
Grocery store owner Sander Moe, 25, a member of the ethnic Marma community, which also allegedly was threatened by militants, said she believed that most of her Rohingya neighbors joined ARSA last year after four village men were recruited to be local leaders. They trained volunteers in the woods and exhorted Rohingya to stop patronizing Buddhist businesses, causing her sales to drop from $20 to $3 a day.
She said locals made up the mob that attacked a police station across the street from her home in August, armed with long knives and grenades. In the crowd, she could discern the mullahs, a stocky rice farmer and even an 8-year-old boy. She and others fled to a monastery, which was besieged for several days before the villagers were able to escape to Sittwe.
She now fears returning home.
"I don't want to go back," she said, adding that she worries she may be raped.
The story of Hindu villagers allegedly killed en masse by ¬Rohingya militants is more complicated than the experiences of others who allege violence by the insurgents. In late September and early October, government spokesman Zaw Htay repeatedly posted on Facebook about the alleged attack on Hindus by "extremist terrorists." A group of journalists was flown to view 45 Hindus allegedly exhumed from a mass grave. Human Rights Watch accused the government of "playing politics" with the dead.
But now the survivors are languishing. More than 500 Hindus, including Halu Bar Hla, remain camped in squalid conditions under the bleachers in Sittwe's soccer stadium. The government has not provided food rations since Nov. 2, they say, and they are surviving on rice donations from monks and other well-wishers in town.
UN envoy: Sexual attacks against Rohingya may be war crimes
November 22, 2017
UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten has said the widespread atrocities against Rohingya women and girls may amount to war crimes. She made the statement at a press conference on Thursday, reports the Indian Express.
Pramila, who met many Rohingya victims of sexual violence in Bangladesh camps during a visit this month, also fully endorsed the assessment by UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein that Rohingya have been victims of "ethnic cleansing."
The UN envoy said widespread atrocities have been orchestrated and perpetrated by Myanmar's military and may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
She also indentified the widespread use of sexual violence as one of the reason that forced more than 620,000 Rohingya to flee Myanmar.
She said it was "also a calculated tool of terror aimed at the extermination and removal of the Rohingya as a group".
Patten said during her visit to the Rohingya camps she heard heartbreaking, shocking and horrific accounts of abuses committed cold bloodedly with unparallelled hatred against the Rohingya community.
She said sexual violence including gang rape by soldiers, forced public nudity and sexual slavery and it was clearly being used "as a tool of dehumanisation and as a form of punishment."
Quoting the witnesses, she said even before August 25, Myanmar troops threw Rohingya babies into fires or into village wells to contaminate the water and deprive residents of drinking water.
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Israel and Palestine
Two Israelis Wounded in West Bank Car-ramming Attack
By Yotam Berger
November 17, 2017
Two Israelis have been wounded in a car-ramming attack in the West Bank on Friday morning.
According to the Israeli military, a 17-year-old Palestinian rammed his vehicle into a pedestrian at the Efrat South Junction before continuing on to the nearby Gush Etzion Junction where he then attacked a second pedestrian.
After carrying out the second ramming attack the Palestinian assailant exited his vehicle and ran towards a group of soldiers at the junction in order to carry out a stabbing before being shot by soldiers present.
According to the Israel ambulance service, the victim of the ramming at the South Efrat Junction is male, 70 years old, is in serious condition. He is currently undergoing treatment for a head wound at Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Jerusalem. The second victim, a 35-year-old male, is being treated for his wounds at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem, his condition described as light.
The attacker, a Hebron-area resident is reported to be in critical condition.
2 years on, Palestinian arrested for stabbing Israeli
The Times of Israel
By Judah Ari Gross
November 20, 2017
Israeli forces last week arrested a Palestinian man suspected of carrying out a stabbing attack in which an Israeli man was injured two years ago, the Shin Bet security service said Monday.
On November 6, 2015, the 29-year-old Israeli was stabbed outside a grocery store in the Sha'ar Binyamin industrial park in the West Bank, and his attacker fled the scene.
The victim, Shmuel Raisman, was stabbed in the back and taken to the hospital in serious condition, medics said at the time.
Raisman, who lives in the nearby Tel Zion settlement, said he scared off his attacker with a bottle of pepper spray.
According to the Shin Bet, the terrorist — identified as Bara'a Issa — turned himself in to Palestinian Authority security services shortly after the attack and was in their custody until his arrest last week.
Though he was detained by PA forces for some two years, Issa never stood trial for the stabbing, the Shin Bet said.
Issa is a member of Fatah, the largest faction in the Palestine Liberation Organization, which controls the PA, the Shin Bet said.
He was arrested in his hometown of Anata, outside Jerusalem, last Tuesday, after being released by PA forces, the security service said.
The Shin Bet said the PA security services did not alert Israel that Issa was going to be released.
An accomplice, Amro Abu Hlil, who was also initially detained by PA forces, was arrested by the Shin Bet in May and is currently standing trial in a military court.
"The Shin Bet security service, along with its partners in the IDF and Israel Police, will continue to work with determination in order to capture terrorist operatives and assailants who flee from security forces — even if years pass from the time of the attack," the Shin Bet said in a statement.
Palestine: Israel killed 14 Palestinian children in 2017
The Muslim News
By Qais Abu Sarma
November 20, 2017
Israeli forces have killed 14 Palestinian children in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since the start of this year, according to a Palestinian statistics agency.
In a statement on Sunday, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) said Israeli forces had killed 35 children in 2016.
"Some 300 Palestinian children are still held in Israeli prisons," added the statement, which was issued to mark the Universal Children's Day.
The Ramallah-based organization said that around 4,000 children had been detained by Israeli forces since October 2015, most of whom had been released.
The statement said around 848 children had been displaced due to Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes.
According to the agency, Israeli authorities had demolished 418 homes and 646 establishments in 2016.
There was no Israeli comment on the report.
The Universal Children's Day is celebrated on November 20th each year to promote international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children's welfare.
Children make up around 46 percent of the 4.5 million Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
An Israeli soldier insists he beat a Palestinian. Officials don't buy it
Jewish Telegraph Agency
By Andrew Tobin
November 20, 2017
Imagine for a moment that a soldier is suspected of misconduct in the field.
Typically, someone might be expected to report the soldier, prompting the army to investigate. The soldier might deny any wrongdoing.
Well, in Israel, a recent case unfolded in almost exactly the opposite way. A soldier admitted to beating a passive Palestinian, and his fellow soldiers and a police investigation declared he was lying.
The story of the soldier, Dean Issacharoff, reflects the divisive politics here surrounding Israel's conflict with the Palestinians. For Issacharoff and his dovish supporters, his account was a rebuke of Israel' military occupation in the West Bank.
But many others, from the prime minister down, heard it as a betrayal of his fellow soldiers and his country.
Issacharoff is not just any soldier. He is the spokesman for Breaking the Silence, a much-maligned nonprofit that opposes Israel's military occupation in the West Bank. The group publishes Israeli veterans' testimonies regarding alleged human rights abuses by the army in the Palestinian territories.
Issacharoff gave his account of beating the Palestinian at a Breaking the Silence rally in April. He told the crowd that in 2014, during his army service in the West Bank, his commander ordered him to handcuff the man, who had thrown rocks at Israeli soldiers as part of a protest and was passively resisting arrest.
Issacharoff said that in front of his platoon, he "began to knee him in the face and chest until he was bleeding and dazed," and then dragged him to detention.
"As a soldier, I never knew how to deal with someone who resists nonviolently," he explained.
Breaking the Silence is frequently vilified by Israeli politicians and is generally unpopular with the public. Two of the main criticisms of the group are that most of the testimonies it publishes are anonymous and that it appeals to foreign audiences for support rather than limiting its work to Israel.
Issacharoff, an officer in the Israel Defense Forces reserves, spoke to Israelis without concealing his face or name. The backlash was swift.
In May, Reservists on Duty, a group that works to counter Breaking the Silence, published a video in which former members of Issacharoff's platoon, including his commander, called him a liar. Soon after, the group called for him to be investigated.
In June, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, a member of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, asked the attorney general to open a probe into the incident, which he did. Later that month, police questioned Issacharoff on suspicion of assault.
By September, authories managed to track down the Palestinian they said Issacharoff arrested. While the man confirmed he was arrested at the time in question, he said he did not face violence. Based on that and other evidence, the State Attorney's Office on Thursday closed the investigation into Issacharoff, concluding the alleged assault never happened.
Shaked welcomed the finding as confirmation that Isacharroff is a liar who is "defaming the State of Israel in front of the world."
"Kudos to his comrades in his company who refused to remain indifferent and were unwilling to remain silent while he lies," she said Thursday. "It is good that the truth has come to light about this organization, which is making money at the expense of IDF soldiers and Israeli citizens."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted a similar sentiment Thursday, saying that "Breaking the Silence lies and slanders our soldiers internationally. Today, in case anyone had any doubt, this fact has received further proof. The truth wins."
Issacharoff begged to differ. In a video published to social media Friday, he repeated his story and challenged the government to resume the investigation, which he said was politically biased.
"Why do you think they did not take the testimony of Ruben, the company commander's assistant who was standing right next to me while I kneed the Palestinian?" Issacharoff asked. "Perhaps it is because it did not fit the conclusion that the prosecution knew Ayelet Shaked wanted to receive?"
The video included footage released Thursday of Ruben Silverstone corroborating Issacharoff's account.
Breaking the Silence has stood by Issacharoff and accused the government of seeking to silence critics of the occupation.
"What began under the political direction of the minister of justice became a political investigation that came to a tendentious and political conclusion," said Avner Gvaryahu, its executive director.
The group declared in a statement Saturday that that the attorney general had investigated the wrong incident. Breaking the Silence said Issacharoff had just seen a photo of the Palestinian whom police interviewed and responded that it was not the same man he assaulted.
Police insisted they got it right.
Regardless of how the saga ends, Breaking the Silence — a small and marginal advocacy group based in Tel Aviv — has already attracted an outsized amount of attention. The group has courted controversy since it was founded in 2004 by dovish Israeli soldiers who had recently finished serving during the second intifada, a bloody Palestinian uprising.
In 2015, then-Defense Minster Moshe Yaalon banned the group from speaking to active-duty soldiers, calling its work "hypocrisy and false propaganda." At the same time, Education Minister Naftali Bennett barred the group from appearing at schools.
Netanyahu, who repeatedly has railed against Breaking the Silence, last year backed the passage of a controversial law requiring special reporting by nonprofits that receive most of their funding from abroad, which mostly included human rights groups. This year he has pushed for stricter legislation that would shut down any organization that seeks to harm the army or try its soldiers in international courts.
In April, Netanyahu canceled a meeting with Germany's foreign minister because the visiting diplomat planned to sit down with Breaking the Silence and another Israeli human rights group. In a statement, his office said he does not meet with foreign diplomats who "lend legitimacy to organizations that call for the criminalization of Israeli soldiers."
Even many Israelis who oppose the occupation sympathize with such moves. The army is generally seen as a bulwark against the country's myriad enemies, and sweeping criticism is taboo, especially before foreign audiences. Also, most Israelis perform mandatory military service after high school, and when they hear criticism of soldiers' actions under difficult circumstances, they think of themselves, or their children or grandchildren.
In April, when Israeli soldier Elor Azaria shot a downed Palestinian terrorist in the West Bank city of Hebron, a majority of Israelis supported his actions, according to public opinion polls, and he was widely referred to as "our son." He is now serving a 14-month prison term.
On Saturday, Issacharoff's mother reminded Israelis that he, too, is a soldier and a son. In a Facebook post that included a photo of him in uniform, she urged Israeli officials "to immediately stop using incendiary and hateful language against any soldier who risked their lives for years to protect their country."
"Such words undermine any respectful public discussion and are inciteful," she said.
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Expert: ICC Has No Jurisdiction to Investigate Alleged Crimes by US Troops in Afghanistan
By Patrick Goodenough
November 17, 2017
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has no jurisdiction to investigate alleged wrongdoing by U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and the Trump administration should not cooperate with the tribunal, a Heritage Foundation scholar argued this week.
Not only is the United States not a party to the court's founding Rome Statute, Brett Schaefer pointed out, but under that statute the ICC lacks the grounds to act since the U.S. has itself investigated and prosecuted alleged crimes committed in Afghanistan.
Other experts contend that the U.S. should cooperate with the ICC, in order to preserve the moral standing of the U.S. and put the allegations to rest.
Early this month the court's chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, announced she has formally asked the ICC's pre-trial chamber to authorize an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
In her sights are "torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and rape" allegedly committed by U.S. troops against at least 61 detainees in Afghanistan since May 2003, and by CIA personnel against at least 27 detainees at secret facilities in eastern Europe since 1 July 2002 (the date the Rome Statute came into effect.)
The prosecutor's office has been conducting a "preliminary examination" into the allegations for a decade, but Bensouda's request raises the issue to a new level, should the pre-trial chamber agree to a fully-fledged investigation – as it is expected to do. The move could even see the ICC issue arrest warrants for Americans.
Last week, U.S. deputy representative to the U.N. Michele Sison told the U.N. Security Council that any ICC investigation concerning U.S. personnel was "wholly unwarranted and unjustified."
In a new report, Schaefer, a senior research fellow in international regulatory affairs at Heritage, outlined several grounds for not cooperating with the tribunal based in The Hague.
The U.S. is not a party to the Rome Statute. President Clinton called the treaty flawed and did not seek Senate advice and consent. President George W. Bush agreed, and signed more than 100 agreements with nations which promised not to surrender American citizens to the ICC without U.S. consent.
Not only is the U.S. under no treaty or legal obligation to cooperate with the ICC, doing so would contravene the American Service Members Protection Act (ASPA), which prohibits just that.
Among other things the legislation, signed by Bush in 2002, prohibits the use of federal funds "for the purpose of assisting the investigation, arrest, detention, extradition, or prosecution of any United States citizen or permanent resident alien by the International Criminal Court."
Schaefer said the ICC's principle of "complementarity" means "that cases are inadmissible unless the national jurisdiction is unwilling or unable to genuinely prosecute."
In the case of the U.S. and Afghanistan, he said, authorities have both investigated alleged crimes, and prosecuted.
Reporting on U.S. compliance with the U.N. Committee Against Torture, the Bush administration in 2006 said it had carried out more than 600 criminal investigations into alleged mistreatment, and that more than 250 individuals had been held accountable for detainee abuse. Punishments included courts martial and prison terms of up to ten years, it said.
In her Nov. 8 remarks to the Security Council, Sison said the U.S. was "deeply committed to complying with international law and has a robust national system of investigation, accountability, and transparency that is among the best in the world."
"The United States has a longstanding and continuing objection in principle to any ICC assertion of jurisdiction over U.S. personnel," she added.
But Kip Hale, senior counsel at the American Bar Association's Center for Human Rights, says the administration should cooperate with the ICC.
"Should an investigation go forward, the Trump administration's best response would be to engage openly with the ICC by making a genuine and transparent domestic effort to investigate, and, where warranted, prosecute those Americans most responsible for serious crimes connected with the Afghan war," he wrote in Foreign Affairs.
"This policy would not only protect American interests by promoting the moral authority of the United States but it is also the most credible and expedient way to put the allegations to rest."
The ICC has come under fire in recent years from African governments charging that it was too Africa-focused, with some labeling it a tool of "Western imperialism."
A number of African countries have signaled their unhappiness with the court and Burundi last month became the first country to withdraw.
"How many times have you heard about the ICC investigating crimes committed in Iraq?" Burundi's foreign minister said in an interview with the Voice of America after his country handed its notice to the U.N. a year earlier. "How many times have you heard the ICC investigating crimes committed in Afghanistan?"
ICC supporters have long argued that the best way to counter charges of bias against Africa is to prosecute allegations against other countries, especially Western ones.
Writing in a South African newspaper this week, international criminal justice lawyer Angela Mudukuti said that since Bensouda's announcement relates to U.S. troops " it could do wonders for [her office's] reputation with regard to the allegation it 'targets weaker African' states."
"[T]he opening of an investigation that involves a global superpower could dramatically counter the allegation of bias against Africans."
U.S. Military And CIA Leaders May Be Investigated For War Crimes
By Marjorie Cohn
November 18, 2017
On November 3, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) informed the court's Pre-Trial Chamber," [T]here is a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in connection with the armed conflict in Afghanistan."
In what Amnesty International's Solomon Sacco called a "seminal moment for the ICC," Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda asked the court for authorization to commence an investigation that would focus on US military and CIA leaders, as well as Taliban and Afghan officials.
Bensouda wrote in a November 14, 2016, report that her preliminary examination revealed "a reasonable basis to believe" the "war crimes of torture and ill-treatment" had been committed "by US military forces deployed to Afghanistan and in secret detention facilities operated by the Central Intelligence Agency, principally in the 2003-2004 period, although allegedly continuing in some cases until 2014."
The chief prosecutor noted the alleged crimes by the CIA and US armed forces "were not the abuses of a few isolated individuals," but rather were "part of approved interrogation techniques in an attempt to extract 'actionable intelligence' from detainees." She added there was "reason to believe" that crimes were "committed in the furtherance of a policy or policies ... which would support US objectives in the conflict of Afghanistan."
In accordance with its Rome Statute, the ICC only asserts jurisdiction over people whose home country is unwilling or unable to bring them to justice. In explaining why this war crimes investigation falls under the ICC's jurisdiction, Bensouda wrote that the US Department of Justice investigations regarding ill-treatment of 101 detainees were limited to whether interrogation techniques used by CIA interrogators were unauthorized and violated criminal statutes. The US Attorney General (AG) said the Justice Department would not prosecute anyone who acted in good faith and within the guidance provided by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC).
The AG investigated only two incidents and found the evidence insufficient to obtain convictions. In one case, Gul Rahman froze to death after being stripped and shackled to a cold cement floor in the secret Afghan prison known as the Salt Pit. In the other, Manadel al-Jamadi died in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison after he was suspended from the ceiling by his wrists which were bound behind his back. Former military policeman Tony Diaz, who witnessed al-Jamadi's torture, said that blood gushed from his mouth like "a faucet had turned on" when he was lowered to the ground. A military autopsy concluded that al-Jamadi's death was a homicide. However, the AG ultimately refused to prosecute the Bush officials responsible for the torture and deaths of those two men.
In 2008, ABC News reported that Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, George Tenet and John Ashcroft met in the White House and micromanaged the torture of terrorism suspects by approving specific torture techniques such as waterboarding. George W. Bush admitted in his 2010 memoir that he authorized waterboarding. Cheney, Rice and John Yoo - author of the OLC's most egregious torture memos - have made similar admissions.
Were the ICC to pursue its investigation, the United States, which is not a party to the Rome Statute, would very likely refuse to relinquish any US person to the ICC. During the Bush administration, Congress passed the American Service-Members Protection Act, which says if US persons are sent to the ICC in The Hague, the US military can forcibly extract them. The act also restricts US cooperation with the ICC and prohibits military assistance to states parties to the Rome Statute unless they sign bilateral immunity agreements with the US.
States which sign these "Article 98" agreements ― referring to the section of the Rome Statute that addresses treaties between countries ― pledge not to hand over US nationals to the ICC. The United States has reportedly extracted those agreements from over 100 countries ― primarily small nations, or fragile democracies with weak economies. Moreover, the US government has withdrawn military aid from several nations that refused to be coerced into signing them.
However, under the Rome Statute, the ICC can take jurisdiction over a national of even a non-party state if he or she commits a crime in a state party's territory. The US vehemently objects to this, but it's nothing new. Under well-established principles of international law, the crimes being prosecuted in the ICC ― genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity ― are crimes of universal jurisdiction.
The doctrine of universal jurisdiction permits any country to try foreign nationals for the most egregious crimes, even without any direct relationship to the prosecuting country. That means other nations can bring US leaders to justice for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Indeed, the United States has asserted jurisdiction over foreign nationals in anti-terrorism, anti-narcotics trafficking, torture and war crimes cases. The US government tried, convicted and sentenced Charles "Chuckie" Taylor Jr. to federal prison for torture committed in Liberia. Israel tried, convicted and executed Adolph Eichmann for his crimes during the Holocaust.
There will be strong political pressure to avoid liability for US leaders. But Bensouda has undoubtedly withstood heavy pressure by asking the court to approve an investigation into crimes committed in Afghanistan. She also invariably faced considerable pushback for opening a preliminary examination in January 2015 of possible war crimes committed by Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza. Bensouda is expected to announce the results of that examination in December.
The ICC has been criticized for focusing almost exclusively on African leaders. This is apparently changing with possible investigations into the conflicts in Afghanistan and Palestine.
If a full investigation of US officials proceeds as requested, it "would send a clear signal to the Trump administration and other countries around the world that torture is categorically prohibited, even in times of war, and there will be consequences for authorizing and committing acts of torture," according to Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU's Human Rights Program.
During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump declared he would "immediately" resume waterboarding and would "bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding" because the United States is facing a "barbaric" enemy. He labeled waterboarding a "minor form" of interrogation.
"The long overdue message that no one is above the law is particularly important now, as the Trump administration ramps up military machinations in Afghanistan and embraces the endless war with no plan in sight," Katherine Gallagher, a senior lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights, said in a statement.
ICC prosecutor seeks probe into war crimes allegations against U.S. military, CIA in Afghanistan
The Washington Post
By James McAuley
November 20, 2017
The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court on Monday formally requested authorization to investigate the U.S. military and CIA for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan.
Fatou Bensouda, a Gambian jurist who has been the ICC's chief prosecutor since 2012, confirmed earlier suspicions that the United States would be implicated in the probe. The decision marks the first time the ICC under Bensouda will investigate American forces and operatives.
In a statement, Bensouda clarified that alleged "war crimes by members of the United States armed forces" and "secret detention facilities in Afghanistan" used by the CIA justified the court's investigation. Earlier this month, she had announced that "there is a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed" in Afghanistan but had declined to specify by whom.
On Monday, she named the U.S. armed forces and the CIA among a roster of probe targets that also included the Taliban and its affiliated Haqqani network, as well as the Afghan National Security Forces.
"Furthermore, the Office has determined that there are no substantial reasons to believe that the opening of an investigation would not serve the interests of justice, taking into account the gravity of the crimes and the interests of victims," Bensouda said in her statement.
The statement noted that the investigation will focus on the alleged crimes committed in Afghanistan after May 1, 2003, and on other alleged crimes with clear connections to the conflict in Afghanistan that were committed on the territories of other member states after July 1, 2002. In the case of the American targets, Bensouda said, the investigation would focus primarily on 2003 through 2004.
The ICC, established in 2002, does not have the authority to investigate crimes committed in Afghanistan before those dates, the statement said.
The court's jurisdiction is bound to investigating crimes in the territories of member states, although the U.N. Security Council can authorize extensions of those probes into other nonmember states. Earlier this month, Burundi — in an apparent attempt to avoid prosecution — became the first country to withdraw from the ICC, but the court ultimately authorized an investigation relating to alleged crimes the government had committed anyway.
The United States is one of few nations that never formally submitted to the ICC, which was established as the world's highest legal authority for the prosecution of war crimes and human rights abuses. But U.S. citizens can still be charged for relevant crimes they commit in other member states.
Afghanistan has been a member state since the court's inception.
Bill Clinton signed the Rome treaty that established the ICC, but President George W Bush renounced the signature, arguing that Americans would be unfairly prosecuted for political reasons.
But although the US is not a member of the court, Americans could still potentially face prosecution if they commit crimes within its jurisdiction in a country that is a member, such as Afghanistan, and are not prosecuted at home.
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North & Central America
U.S. Military And CIA Leaders May Be Investigated For War Crimes
By Marjorie Cohn
November 18, 2017
On November 3, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court
(ICC) informed the court's Pre-Trial Chamber, "[T]here is a reasonable
basis to believe that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been
committed in connection with the armed conflict in Afghanistan."
In what Amnesty International's Solomon Sacco called a "seminal moment for
the ICC," Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda asked the court for authorization
to commence an investigation that would focus on US military and CIA
leaders, as well as Taliban and Afghan officials.
Bensouda wrote in a November 14, 2016, report that her preliminary
examination revealed "a reasonable basis to believe" the "war crimes of
torture and ill-treatment" had been committed "by US military forces
deployed to Afghanistan and in secret detention facilities operated by the
Central Intelligence Agency, principally in the 2003-2004 period, although
allegedly continuing in some cases until 2014."
The chief prosecutor noted the alleged crimes by the CIA and US armed
forces "were not the abuses of a few isolated individuals," but rather were
"part of approved interrogation techniques in an attempt to extract
'actionable intelligence' from detainees." She added there was "reason to
believe" that crimes were "committed in the furtherance of a policy or
policies ... which would support US objectives in the conflict of
In accordance with its Rome Statute, the ICC only asserts jurisdiction over
people whose home country is unwilling or unable to bring them to justice.
In explaining why this war crimes investigation falls under the ICC's
jurisdiction, Bensouda wrote that the US Department of Justice
investigations regarding ill-treatment of 101 detainees were limited to
whether interrogation techniques used by CIA interrogators were
unauthorized and violated criminal statutes. The US Attorney General (AG)
said the Justice Department would not prosecute anyone who acted in good
faith and within the guidance provided by the Office of Legal Counsel
The AG investigated only two incidents and found the evidence insufficient
to obtain convictions. In one case, Gul Rahman froze to death after being
stripped and shackled to a cold cement floor in the secret Afghan prison
known as the Salt Pit. In the other, Manadel al-Jamadi died in Iraq's Abu
Ghraib prison after he was suspended from the ceiling by his wrists which
were bound behind his back. Former military policeman Tony Diaz, who
witnessed al-Jamadi's torture, said that blood gushed from his mouth like
"a faucet had turned on" when he was lowered to the ground. A military
autopsy concluded that al-Jamadi's death was a homicide. However, the AG
ultimately refused to prosecute the Bush officials responsible for the
torture and deaths of those two men.
In 2008, ABC News reported that Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald
Rumsfeld, George Tenet and John Ashcroft met in the White House and
micromanaged the torture of terrorism suspects by approving specific
torture techniques such as waterboarding. George W. Bush admitted in his
2010 memoir that he authorized waterboarding. Cheney, Rice and John Yoo -
author of the OLC's most egregious torture memos - have made similar
Were the ICC to pursue its investigation, the United States, which is not a
party to the Rome Statute, would very likely refuse to relinquish any US
person to the ICC. During the Bush administration, Congress passed the
American Service-Members Protection Act, which says if US persons are sent
to the ICC in The Hague, the US military can forcibly extract them. The act
also restricts US cooperation with the ICC and prohibits military
assistance to states parties to the Rome Statute unless they sign bilateral
immunity agreements with the US.
States which sign these "Article 98" agreements ― referring to the
section of the Rome Statute that addresses treaties between countries
― pledge not to hand over US nationals to the ICC. The United States
has reportedly extracted those agreements from over 100 countries ―
primarily small nations, or fragile democracies with weak economies.
Moreover, the US government has withdrawn military aid from several nations
that refused to be coerced into signing them.
However, under the Rome Statute, the ICC can take jurisdiction over a
national of even a non-party state if he or she commits a crime in a state
party's territory. The US vehemently objects to this, but it's nothing new.
Under well-established principles of international law, the crimes being
prosecuted in the ICC ― genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity
― are crimes of universal jurisdiction.
The doctrine of universal jurisdiction permits any country to try foreign
nationals for the most egregious crimes, even without any direct
relationship to the prosecuting country. That means other nations can bring
US leaders to justice for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Indeed, the United States has asserted jurisdiction over foreign nationals
in anti-terrorism, anti-narcotics trafficking, torture and war crimes
cases. The US government tried, convicted and sentenced Charles "Chuckie"
Taylor Jr. to federal prison for torture committed in Liberia. Israel
tried, convicted and executed Adolph Eichmann for his crimes during the
There will be strong political pressure to avoid liability for US leaders.
But Bensouda has undoubtedly withstood heavy pressure by asking the court
to approve an investigation into crimes committed in Afghanistan. She also
invariably faced considerable pushback for opening a preliminary
examination in January 2015 of possible war crimes committed by Israel and
the Palestinians in Gaza. Bensouda is expected to announce the results of
that examination in December.
The ICC has been criticized for focusing almost exclusively on African
leaders. This is apparently changing with possible investigations into the
conflicts in Afghanistan and Palestine.
If a full investigation of US officials proceeds as requested, it "would
send a clear signal to the Trump administration and other countries around
the world that torture is categorically prohibited, even in times of war,
and there will be consequences for authorizing and committing acts of
torture," according to Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU's Human Rights
During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump declared he would
"immediately" resume waterboarding and would "bring back a hell of a lot
worse than waterboarding" because the United States is facing a "barbaric"
enemy. He labeled waterboarding a "minor form" of interrogation.
"The long overdue message that no one is above the law is particularly
important now, as the Trump administration ramps up military machinations
in Afghanistan and embraces the endless war with no plan in sight,"
Katherine Gallagher, a senior lawyer at the Center for Constitutional
Rights, said in a statement.
Canada's top general pushes back against critics peacekeeping plan
November 19, 2017
Canada's top general is forcefully rejecting the notion that Canada's new
peacekeeping commitment isn't in line with the Liberal government's initial
Gen. Jonathan Vance, Canada's Chief of Defence Staff, argues that the plan
outlined days ago by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Vancouver is
consistent with what was first discussed 14 months ago, when the government
committed to providing up to 600 troops and 150 police officers for United
The plan unveiled on Wednesday called for up to 200 ground troops,
transport and armed helicopters, cargo planes and military trainers for
future United Nations peacekeeping operations.
"There was a tendency to grasp at the number 200: 'Well, they said 600, now
it's really 200.' That's not true, that's one smart pledge," Vance told CBC
Radio's The House from the Halifax International Security Forum.
Trudeau has said he wants Canada to make "smart pledges" around
"A mythology was created that had never been part of what we said, had
never been a part of a mission description," Vance added.
The government's plan presented this week includes providing equipment,
training, and a rapid-response unit of Canadian troops that would be called
upon by the United Nations to fill gaps on certain missions.
Liberals criticized for falling short
"We are making these pledges today, because we believe in the United
Nations and we believe in peacekeeping," Trudeau said. "What we will do is
step up and make the contributions we are uniquely able to provide.".
The government was criticized for seemingly falling short of their initial
Following the announcement, the NDP's foreign affairs critic
Hélène Laverdière told The House that the Liberals had not
lived up to their word.
"One has to wonder what they've been doing for the past year," she said.
Her Conservative counterpart Erin O'Toole was also critical.
The plan "was a shameful display of trying to hide a broken promise," he
Not so, Vance argues.
He explained that as he was looking at options to present to the
government, one of the criteria he was asked to consider was the desire to
improve UN performance.
Looked at Mali, but it was not a commitment
"You don't improve UN performance by sending a 600 block of Canadians to
one spot and operate there. You'll certainly improve the situation in that
area, but Canada has an aspiration to improve the institution across
multiple missions," he told host Chris Hall.
Vance also rejected the popular notion that was circulating prior to the
announcement that Canadian troops were going to be deployed to the West
African nation of Mali.
He says the military did carry out research on a variety of options and
locations, and that created a lot of noise in the media.
But the country's top general says that once you factor in the various
quick-response deployments and training missions, Canada's new peacekeeping
blueprint will live up to what the Liberals first put on the table.
"There will be 600… very likely 600 troops deployed doing that," he
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UN Security Council to discuss worsening Venezuela situation
November 10, 2017
The United States and Italy have organized an informal Security Council
meeting on Venezuela, saying they want to hear first-hand accounts of the
deteriorating political, economic and social situation in the oil-rich
nation and the humanitarian impact on the region.
A note circulated to council members and obtained Friday by The Associated
Press says the meeting on Monday afternoon will also provide an opportunity
to discuss the role the international community and regional organizations
can play in promoting a political solution and humanitarian access to the
It said speakers at the open meeting will be U.N. human rights chief Zeid
Ra'ad al Hussein, Organization of American States Secretary-General Luis
Almagro, Joseph Cornelius Donnelly who heads Caritas International's U.N.
office, and Julio Henriquez, international coordinator of the Foro Penal
Colombia's senate approves war crimes tribunal and truth commission
By Adriaan Alsema
November 16, 2017
Colombia's Senate forwarded a transitional justice system to the House of
Representatives after months of delays in approving the key element of an
ongoing peace process.
If ratified by the House, the war crimes tribunal and truth commission will
be put in charge of seeking justice for tens of thousands of war crimes
committed during more than half a century of armed conflict.
Additionally, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) will contain a
commission to look for tens of thousands of missing Colombians and a
special unit to dismantle ties between the state and paramilitary groups.
The bill will be debated by the House ahead of the final vote next week,
almost a year after the approval of a peace deal with the now-disarmed FARC
Watered down justice
The approved JEP is a watered down version from the one agreed with the
FARC as businesses and politicians have been exempted from obligatory
Leaders of the FARC, which has become a political party, will need a
certification from the JEP confirming they are cooperating with justice if
they want to enter Congress after next year's elections.
The bill as approved by the senate would also disqualify several appointed
judges for having taken part in court cases related to the armed conflict
in the past five years.
Foreign assistant judges will not be allowed to take part in debates within
FARC rejects amendments
In spite the concessions, the approval was loudly protested by hard-right
opposition party Democratic Center of former President Alvaro Uribe.
Also FARC leader "Rodrigo Londoño, a.k.a. "Timochenko," rejected the
amendments approved by the senate, claiming the legislative body was trying
to guarantee impunity for war crimes not committed by the FARC.
Senators who had supported the transitional justice system, however,
expressed satisfaction that the legislative chamber found a compromise
after months of resistance.
According to Green Alliance Senator Claudia Lopez, the approval was
"another step to turn this page of violence and towards the defeat of
"Today's victors are the victims," said Interior Minister Rodrigo Rivera.
If approved by the House and ratified by the Constitutional Court, the JEP
will take force and begin examining the tens of thousands of war crimes
committed during the hemisphere's longest internal armed conflict of the
20th and 21st centuries.
FARC seeks meeting with international court over Colombia's transitional justice
By Adriaan Alsema
November 20, 2017
Colombia's demobilized FARC rebel group has requested a meeting with the
chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), claiming that a
war crimes tribunal is in danger.
According to the former guerrillas, a decision by the Constitutional Court
to shield politicians and businesses from being obligated to appear before
a post-conflict tribunal "opens the door to impunity."
In a peace deal closed with the administration of President Juan Manuel
Santos last year, the FARC agreed to appear before the transitional justice
system in efforts to end to more than half a century of armed conflict.
The high court recently approved the transitional justice system, but
allowed politicians and businesses who are accused of war crimes to appear
on a voluntary basis.
According to FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño, "the ruling of the Colombian
Court opens the door to impunity, in a clear mockery of the rights of
The guerrillas are not the only party that committed war crimes during
Colombia's bloody conflict. Powerful politicians and businessmen have also
been accused of human rights violations.
These alleged war criminals have been enabled to evade Special Jurisdiction
for Peace (JEP) by the high court, according to Londoño, who is also
known as "Timochenko."
The president of the newly-founded FARC political party reiterated his
organization's commitment to the transitional justice system, but demanded
all sides be judged.
Londoño said he wanted to make sure that the ICC, which has already
demanded justice for war crimes committed by the military, is aware of the
importance of trying war crimes committed by non-combatants like
politicians and businesses that sponsored anti-communist paramilitary
Additionally, the FARC leader warned the ICC over amendments made in the
Senate that would disqualify elected judges with experience in criminal
cases related to the conflict.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has already called on the House of
Representatives to undo the controversial amendments proposed by Radical
Change, the party of former Vice-President German Vargas.
The transitional justice system was initially expected to take force this
Its ratification by congress has been delayed by concerns in the private
sector and the ruling class about their use of terrorist groups to keep the
guerrilla group at bay.
The request to meet with ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda is
unprecedented as the United States continues to consider the FARC a
The Marxist group was founded by communist farmers in 1964 in an attempt to
overthrow the state. Since then, more than 265,000 people have been killed.
Calls for an ICC investigation into abuses of murder and torture by Venezuelan leaders
November 20, 2017
Venezuela's former attorney general urged the International Criminal Court
to launch an investigation into alleged abuses of murder and torture by the
leaders of the crisis-hit country. President "Nicolas Maduro and his
government must pay for this, for these crimes against humanity," said
Luisa Ortega, after handing over to the tribunal in The Hague a dossier
containing 1,000 pieces of evidence.
Ortega, 59, is a fugitive from Venezuela, having fled the country in August
after a new loyalist assembly established by Maduro threw her out of
Standing in the rain outside the world's only permanent war crimes court
after handing her dossier to the prosecutor's office, Ortega insisted
Maduro and his government "must pay for the hunger, misery and hardship
which the people of Venezuela are suffering".
She alleged police and military officials had killed some 1,767 people in
2015. Last year there were 4,677 such deaths, she says, with 1,846 killed
up to June this year. Her dossier included witness testimony, as well as
interviews with experts and doctors, detailing allegations of "murder,
torture, imprisonment as well as a systematic and generalised attack on the
civilian population," she said.
Ortega said she had been collecting evidence of such crimes in her job as
attorney general since 2015. She also denounced Defense Minister Vladimir
Padrino Lopez, and Justice Minister Nestor Reverol among other senior
officials in her deposition.
There had also been more than "17,000 arbitrary detentions and hundreds of
cases of torture," she alleged. "We have been forced to turn to an
international organization, because there is no justice in Venezuela".
Ortega was a fierce critic of Maduro from within his regime, and has
continued to make allegations against him while in exile.
The Venezuelan government has been sharply criticized amid the political
and economic crisis engulfing the country with the United States and EU
Venezuela has ratified the Rome Statute underpinning the ICC, which means
in theory the chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, does have jurisdiction to
investigate allegations of crimes against humanity there.
But since the court opened in 2002, the prosecutor's office has received
about 10,000 requests from individuals, groups or countries to investigate
This year alone, activists from Mexico, and the Philippines as well as the
Palestinian territories have all sought to secure or broaden ICC probes.
There are currently 10 preliminary ICC examinations and 11 full
investigations under way. Most existing probes have so far focused on
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Truth and Reconciliation Commission
What will Sri Lanka agree to in Geneva this week?
By Sanja de Silva Jayatilleka
November 12, 2017
On Wednesday, 15th of November at 2.30 pm, Sri Lanka will come under review
at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and will have to account for its
conduct, answer questions posed to it by other countries, and decide which
recommendations it accepts.
A sample of questions posed in advance, to be answered on Wednesday, are as
Germany: In September 2017, the parliament of Sri Lanka has taken out the
bill on enforced disappearances from its agenda. Why was this the case and
when does the parliament plan to reconsider the bill?
Belgium: welcomes Sri Lanka's efforts regarding transitional justice. What
progress has been made regarding the establishment of a Truth and
Estonia: In the national report you mention that a certain mechanism has
been created to ensure that the commitments under UN HRC Resolution 30/1
are met. Could you elaborate on the work so far done by that mechanism?
What is the current state of play with regard to the review and repeal of
the Prevention of Terrorism Act in ensuring that it meets international
human rights standards?
Norway: When will the Prevention of Torture Act be repealed and replaced by
legislation that is fully compliant with human rights standards?
UK: When does the Government of Sri Lanka expect to have transitional
justice mechanisms in place, to ensure accountability and give greater
certainty of non-recurrence, as set out in the UNHRC Resolution 34/1?
USA: We are disappointed in the lack of movement toward holding security
forces and government officials accountable for human rights violations and
abuses. When does the government plan to establish a credible judicial
mechanism to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human
rights, and violations of international humanitarian law?
We are concerned by reports of continued abuses by some members of the
security forces, including alleged incidents of torture, sexual violence
and arbitrary arrest. What steps is the government taking to end these
abuses and, when will the government repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act
and replace it with anti-terrorism legislation that complies with
international law and is less susceptible to serving as a pretext for human
rights violations and abuses?
We commend Sri Lanka for its work on constitutional reform, but the process
has moved slower than anticipated. How does the government intend to
proceed with constitutional reform?
How is the government using the recommendations in the Consultation Task
Force report to guide it through an inclusive reform process?
Switzerland: What are the reasons for the delay in implementing the
resolutions 30/1 and 34/1? What are the milestones and benchmarks foreseen
in the further implementation?
When will the Office on Missing Persons (OMP) become fully operational?
What kind of international involvement do you plan in the establishment and
running of the OMP?
This review, known as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), is described as
a 'peer review' because it is conducted by the membership of the Council
and is conducted every 4 and a half years. All UN member states are
subjected to this review, and each review is coordinated by 3 Ambassadors
selected by drawing lots among the membership, known as 'The Troika'. Sri
Lanka's UPR this time will be coordinated by the Ambassadors of Burundi,
Republic of Korea and Venezuela. When the inaugural UPR of the UN Human
Rights Council was held in April 2008, Sri Lanka's Ambassador/Permanent
Representative Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka was a member of the very first Troika,
for Bahrain, Ghana and Bangladesh.
In order to conduct the review, the UPR process takes into account 3
reports, which are already posted on the UNHRC website:
The country under review has to submit a report known as the 'National
Report' which includes its progress on earlier recommendations and its own
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) produces a
report which is a compilation of all UN reports on Sri Lanka.
Summary of Stakeholder Submissions', which are submissions on Sri Lanka
made by NGOs civil society, academic institutions, regional groups, human
rights defenders etc. which are summarized by the office of the High
Commissioner. The current report includes 49 such submissions.
The review is conducted through an interactive dialogue between the country
under review and the UPR Working Group. For the purpose of the UPR, the
entirety of the voting members of the Council (which is 47 countries)
converts into a Working Group. Non-members can also participate and it is
reported that more than 100 countries requested to make statements on Sri
At the end of this process, a summary of the proceedings is prepared by the
Office of the High Commissioner, including the recommendations made by
other countries, and Sri Lanka's responses, including those that Sri Lanka
accepts that it should implement.
This report will be distributed on Friday the 17th November at 5 p.m. to
the Council, which will then proceed to its adoption. Once adopted, Sri
Lanka will be reviewed in the future on the basis of those recommendations
that it accepted.
Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs
It was reported that in the Daily News online edition of November 11th 2017
that "The delegation of Sri Lanka will be headed by National Policies and
Economic Affairs Deputy Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva." This seems bizarre
considering that the coordinating Ministry and the focal point for the
National Report is the Foreign Ministry! The review is specifically to do
with the examination of Sri Lanka's Human Rights Record, and before it was
shortsightedly abolished by the previous administration, it was the
Ministry of Human Rights that prepared the National Report, attended the
sessions, made decisions on whether or not to accept the recommendations
and coordinated the implementation of the recommendations. At the time, the
Attorney General's department was closely associated with the UPR process
and reviewed all recommendations and participated in Sri Lanka's
submissions and replies to questions. Mr. Yasantha Kodagoda and Mr.
Shavindra Fernando regularly represented the AG's department in the
In the current Compilation of UN reports, the UN country team has stated
that "The United Nations country team also noted that an inter-ministerial
committee had been appointed to implement the National Human Rights Action
Plan (2011-2016) but the lack of a dedicated Ministry to expedite action
had resulted in challenges for follow-up."
Rather than shunting the responsibility for Human Rights to inappropriate
ministries, which can only appear to others as a lack of seriousness and
commitment on the part of Sri Lanka to its commitments, President Sirisena
should seriously consider re-establishing the Ministry of Human Rights
under a dedicated Minister who will reflect the President's own views.
In the meantime, if the Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Marapana was too
busy to attend, it should have been the State Minister for Foreign Affairs
Mr. Vasantha Senanayaka who should be leading the team from Sri Lanka to
Geneva this week for the UPR, not a Deputy Minister from the Economic
Affairs Ministry! Don't they have enough of their own work to do, with the
Apart from the sample of advance questions cited above, there are many
other serious issues and concerns emanating from the 2 reports that Sri
Lanka has to respond to. The compilation of UN reports includes those of
the Special Rapporteurs (SR) apart from the Committee on the Protection of
the Rights of All Migrant Workers, the Committee on the Elimination of
Racial Discrimination, the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary
Disappearances, the United Nations country team in Sri Lanka.
In the Compilation of UN reports, the SR on Torture notes with concern
"…torture and ill-treatment, including of a sexual nature, still
occurred, in particular in the early stages of arrest and
interrogation…and that the gravity of the mistreatment inflicted
increased for those who were perceived to be involved in terrorism…"
It has a lot more to say including:
"The Committee against Torture remained seriously concerned that torture
was a common practice carried out in relation to regular criminal
investigations in a large majority of cases by the Criminal Investigation
Department of the police, regardless of the nature of the suspected
"The Committee noted with concern that the practice of so-called "white
van" abductions of Tamils had continued in the years following the end of
the armed conflict. It also noted that people suspected of having even a
remote link with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam had been abducted and
subjected to brutal torture, including sexual violence and rape of men and
women by the military and the police in unacknowledged places of
There are very serious allegations that have to be responded to credibly
and competently. For instance:
"The Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances recommended
that the Government take decisive action and give clear orders at the
highest level to stop surveillance, threats, intimidation, harassment,
including sexual harassment, and abuses against relatives of disappeared
persons and those acting on their behalf."
"The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination emphasized that
women were particularly vulnerable to certain forms of racial
discrimination, such as sexual violence during armed conflict. It
recommended that Sri Lanka ensure the protection of women in the
"The Human Rights Committee was concerned about allegations of sexual
violence against women in the context of detention, resettlement and other
situations that required contact with security forces."
"The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was alarmed by
reports of hate speech, incitement to violence and violent attacks,
including riots, against ethnic and ethno-religious minority groups, which
had resulted in deaths, injuries and destruction of property."
The United Nations Country Team noted that:
"Levels of impunity were particularly high with respect to certain
offences, for instance, sexual violence, and that the 2015 Grave Crimes
Abstract reflected only one rape conviction in 2015."
The Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances notes:
"The chronic pattern of impunity still existed with regard to cases of
enforced disappearance. It recommended that the Government establish a
judicial accountability mechanism that integrated international judges,
prosecutors, lawyers and investigators; carry out all investigations,
prosecutions and judicial proceedings in accordance with the principle of
This is horrendous. Sri Lanka has to ensure that this process is
competently handled. If in fact at least some of these allegations are
true, it is of grave concern and the government is answerable to its own
citizens for its lack of progress.
These are just a small sample of concerns which will be aired before the
rest of the world. The 'Stakeholder submissions', as one can imagine, range
from "indiscriminately marginalized and discriminated against the LGBTIQ
community and sex workers by means of criminalizing these lifestyles", to
the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) noting that:
"…getting justice for victims of war crimes and crimes against
humanity received a setback, due to the Government's unwillingness to
prosecute civilian and security forces for having committed mass killings
of Tamils and rape. Similarly, TAG emphasized that Sri Lanka lacked an
effective and appropriate mechanism for the investigation and prosecution
of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed against the
Tamil people by the Sri Lankan State."
The Government's National Report dated 24th August 2017, commits to
"reforming the powers of the executive presidency"…and "meaningful
power-sharing arrangements through the devolution of power":
"The current constitutional reform agenda focuses on reforming the powers
of the executive presidency, delivering meaningful power-sharing
arrangements through the devolution of power, and improving the electoral
system by moving from a proportional representation system to a mixed
system… These priorities are currently reflected in the NHRAP
Really? The 19th Amendment reforming the powers of the Presidency was
passed in 2015. Does President Sirisena know his powers are to be 'further
reformed' beyond the 19th amendment and that Sri Lanka has announced this
commitment in August this year, as part of the UPR process?
The National Report unambiguously re-states its commitment to Resolution
30/1 of 2015. "In December 2015, the government established the Secretariat
for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms (SCRM) under the Prime
Minister's Office to ensure that the commitments under UNHRC Resolution
30/1 are met."
The government also reports the steps already taken to operationalize
"The government has taken steps to establish the four transitional justice
mechanisms committed to under Resolution 30/1. First, in August 2016, it
enacted legislation to establish the OMP. In July 2017, the OMP was
assigned to the MNIR. Second, a Working Group comprising senior academics,
government officials and transitional justice experts was appointed to
draft legislation on a truth-seeking mechanism."
The UPR is a human rights mechanism that is applied equally to all UN
member states. It attempts to ensure that Human Rights improve around the
world and provides assistance to member states to meet their Human Rights
obligations and to share best practices. It is up to Sri Lanka's delegation
to participate in the process with caution, alertness and efficacy.
Diversion of IDP Funds: UNDP, NHRC Report Indicts Presidency, Ex-SGF
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
November 21, 2017
A fresh report by the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, has
accused the Presidential Initiative on the North East, PINE, of complicity
in the illegal diversion of funds donated to help Internally Displaced
Persons, IDPs, in the country.
The draft report, which UNDP issued in collaboration with the National
Human Rights Commission, NHRC, yesterday, revealed that out of N8.352
billion released to PINE in 2016, a total sum of N6.326bn was spent,
leaving a balance of N2.026bn.
It, however, decried that PINE which depleted the funds, "paid less
attention to the critical needs of IDPs in the areas of housing, food,
education and healthcare, but rather used the bulk of the resources on
contracts that were found to have immensely benefitted some public
officials, including the now-suspended Secretary to the Government of the
Federation, SGF, Babachir Lawal."
According to the report which UNDP and NHRC made available to newsmen in
Abuja, "Public procurement rules and extant federal financial guidelines
were breached in the award of the contracts.
"Prima facie cases of conflict of interest were established and companies
were fully paid as at a time they had not finished the assigned jobs, while
kickbacks were made by some companies to others where public officials had
"Again, out of 249 trucks carrying 10, 000 metric tonnes of Maize released
by the Federal Government for the benefit of the IDPs in the six states of
the North East, 65 trucks were diverted and did not reach their intended
"They were later recovered by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission
after the Senate Committee report was made public.
"But this is a development against the background of the mounting hunger
and food crisis in the IDP camps."
Both UNDP and NHRC mainatined that the overall goal of the 103-page
assessment report was to ascertain the human rights and humanitarian
conditions of people and communities affected by the long period of violent
conflicts in the North Eastern states of Nigeria.
The assessment, which was done from 2015 to June 2017, also focused on
human rights protection issues encompassing sexual and gender-based
violence, access to justice, community policing and capacity of law
enforcement officers for timely response to crises.
Chapter seven of the report which dealt with humanitarian assistance for
internally displaced persons, also reviewed the fiscal provisions for
humanitarian assistance at the federal level and in some of the states
It read: "The findings was that governments did not use the maximum of
available resources to protect the rights and welfare of the IDPs. The
resources provided at the federal and state levels were paltry.
"In Gombe State, even the little provided in the state budget was not
released and cash backed. Most of the IDPs lived in host communities with
little access to official humanitarian support, putting additional strain
on the already stretched communual health, education and social services.
"The camps were struggling to accommodate the increasing number of
displaced people, who found themselves subject to unhealthy living
conditions. Many children were malnourished, as adequate provisions were
not made to feed them".
More so, the report alleged that effort by the federal government to push
back Boko Haram insurgents led to human rights violations by security
It also alleged that massive gender-based and sexual violations were
recorded within the assessment period, adding that women and girls were
sexually abused while some of them were forced into marriage against their
It concluded that though there has been an improvement in the security
situation in the North East of Nigeria, it regretted that "there are
swathes of mainly rural areas still under the control of the insurgents or
where they hold sway in their hit and run guerilla tactics".
As part of its recommendations, the report urged the federal government to
"prosecute and punish all persons and organisations responsible for
diverting food meant for IDPs and create more transparency around
distribution of food for displaced persons".
It further urged FG to, "Consider the establishment of a Truth and
Reconciliation Commission to enable all stakeholders- perpetrators, victims
and survivors to openly discuss about the insurgency and how the wounds can
"Consider a comprehensive framework on Transitional Justice to address
human rights violations and other concerns generated by the insurgency in
the North East.
"Urgently consider the establishment of State Police and Local Policing
through the appropriate amendment of the Constitution and relevant laws.
"Enact federal and state legislation on witness and victim protection.
"Maintain facilities for prompt investigation and prosecution of offenders
and use the International Criminal Court mechanism and other international
frameworks for the prosecution of offenders".
As well as to, "Recuit more personnel for the Police and Nigerian Security
and Civil Defence Corps. This should include special measures for the
recruitment of more women into the security sector and promotions to higher
levels of service".
It added that human rights training and skill building needs of armed
security agencies should be assessed.
"Human rights should be included into their curricula so as to increase the
awareness and protection of human rights. Continued education on human
rights should also be introduced for serving officers", the report added.
11 years of peace agreement: Conflict victims' wait for justice continues
The Kathmandu Post
By Binod Ghimire
November 22, 2017
Promulgation of the constitution through a Constituent Assembly,
integration of Maoist combatants into the security forces, management of
arms and justice to war-era victims were some of the major issues the
Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) envisioned when it was signed between the
government and then Maoist rebels on November 21, 2006.
The peace agreement ended the decade-long crippling war which killed nearly
17,000 people and displaced thousands.
In the last 11 years, the country overthrew the centuries-old monarchy,
integrated former Maoist fighters into the Army and adopted a new
constitution ensuring a federal republic and secularism. The country held
local elections, first in 20 years, in May, June and September in three
phases under the new constitution and provincial and federal elections are
just round the corner.
Yet the major component of the peace process that began with the signing of
the deal-justice to conflict victims-is yet to be achieved.
It took more than nine years for the government to form two transitional
justice mechanisms--the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the
Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP).
During their two-year tenure, the transitional justice bodies could do
nothing more than gathering complaints from the conflict victims. Their
term was extended for one year in February, but they are hamstrung by lack
of budget and resources. On top of that, they lack laws needed to guide the
They have so far received more than 63,000 complaints. Their extended
one-year term is set to expire on February 10.
"At the present pace, the two transitional bodies will not be able to
complete investigation even in the next 15 years," said Sudip Pathak, a
member of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
In the reading of the national human rights watchdog, transitional justice
never became the priority of the parties and the successive governments.
Bishnu Pathak, spokesperson for the CIEDP, said the commission has 15
staffers against the need of 40 and the Ministry of Finance never releases
the budget it wants.
Similarly, the existing legal provisions don't recognise enforced
disappearance as a crime against humanity.
"The government and political parties have turned a deaf ear to our
frequent requests," Pathak lamented. "How can you expect us to perform in
The case is no different with the TRC.
Nepal is yet to criminalise torture while the parties and government are
reluctant to amend its Act as per the Supreme Court orders.
The apex court in January 2015 ordered the government to make around a
dozen amendments to the Act as per the international standard.
Prakash Osti, a member of the NHRC, said the government earlier found an
excuse in constitution drafting and now it is busy with elections. He
claimed that there will
be no progress in the investigation even if the terms of two mechanisms are
extended unless the needed laws are put in place and there is adequate
availability of the budget and human resources.
Suman Adhikari, chairperson of the Conflict Victims' Common Platform, says
the present scenario shows the two transitional justice mechanisms have
become nothing but a tool of government and parties to deceive the victims.
CIEDP spokesperson Pathak went on to say: "The people and parties who once
launched insurgency are leading the government. We can't expect them to
provide constructive support in delivering justice to the victims."
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Radicalised 14-year-olds to be held for up to 36 hours and right wing groups targeted in terror crackdown in Victoria
By Alex White
November 20, 2017
Terror suspects as young as 14 would be held for 36 hours without charge,
under law changes recommended for Victoria.
The government has also been warned to monitor right and left-wing groups
which pose a threat to Victorians, not only Islamic extremists.
The changes have been recommended following a review by former top police
officer Ken Lay, who was brought in to overhaul Victoria's terrorism laws.
It is the second report released into the state's terrorism laws and will
lead to an overhaul of legislation.
Currently, children as young as 16 suspected of terrorism-related
activities can be held on a Preventative Detention Order. This would be
reduced to 14.
A total of 26 recommendations have been made by the expert terror panel and
have all been accepted in principle.
The proposed scheme would be overseen by the Commissioner for Children and
Young People to avoid potential harm to teenage Victorians.
Premier Daniel Andrews welcomed the review and said the legislative reforms
would be introduced in 2018.
"These new measures give our law enforcement agencies the powers they
need," Mr Andrews said.
"We have seen, and there is every chance we may see again, children as
young as 14 years old at significant risk.
"The recommendation is to extend the preventive detention orders to detain
children of 14 years old with the right checks and balances.
"The key point here is to make the change necessary to keep Victorians
Premier Daniel Andrews welcomed the review and said legislative reforms
would be introduced in 2018.
Mr Andrews also announced programs around targeting high-risk radicals
would be strengthened with $9.4 million in immediate funding.
At least two recommendations will require discussions with the federal
government including adjusting the definition of a terrorist act.
It is the second report by Mr Lay, who said countering violent extremism
was a main focus and identified a need to build "frontline capacity" to
help take early action.
He also identified that Islamic-focused extremism was not the only threat
in Victoria with right and left-wing groups also needing early
"The panel saw a gap in the right and left-wing space," he said.
"We have also asked the government to do some research into the effects of
Terrorists already in jail who continue to be a threat after release will
face stricter monitoring under new supervision orders similar to high-risk
sex offender laws.
It is the final report from the terror probe which was touted as the
biggest overhaul of Victorian laws since the September 11 attacks in 2001.
It was commissioned after the Brighton terror attack, which left one man
The Law Institute of Victoria spokesman Bruce Tobin said the move was
"The LIV supports keeping all Victorians safe, but there are serious
question marks around proposed terrorism law that mean children as young as
14 could be held for 36 hours without a Supreme Court order and without
charge,'' he said.
"Stronger safeguards, including strict oversight from the courts, need to
be in place to protect children if they are to be held in custody under
these proposed new terrorism laws."
Trump says U.S. will declare North Korea a state sponsor of terror
By Catherine Lucey and Zeke Miller
November 20, 2017
President Donald Trump announced Monday that the U.S. will designate North
Korea as a state sponsor of terror amid heightened nuclear tensions on the
Trump said the designation will impose further penalties on the country. He
called it a long overdue step and part of the U.S. "maximum pressure
campaign" against the North. North Korea would join Iran, Sudan and Syria
on the list of state sponsors of terror.
"In addition to threatening the world by nuclear devastation, North Korea
has repeatedly supported acts of international terrorism including
assassinations on foreign soil," Trump said during a Cabinet meeting.
U.S. officials cited the killing of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's
estranged half-brother in a Malaysian airport earlier this year as an act
The designation had been debated for months inside the administration, with
some officials at the State Department arguing that North Korea did not
meet the legal standard to be relisted as a state sponsor of terrorism.
U.S. officials involved in the internal deliberations said there was no
debate over whether the slaying of half-brother Kim Jong Nam was a
terrorist act. However, lawyers said there had to be more than one
incident, and there was disagreement over whether the treatment of American
student Otto Warmbier, who died of injuries suffered in North Korean
custody, constituted terrorism.
The officials were not authorized to speak publicly about the deliberations
and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
The move returns North Korea to the ignominious list for the first time
since 2008, when the North was removed in a bid to salvage a deal to halt
its nuclear development. In the years since, the North has made advanced
leaps in both its nuclear and missile programs, proving the capacity to
reach U.S. territories with the devastating weapons earlier this year.
Trump has faced pressure from congressional lawmakers to relist the country
amid its advancing nuclear missile program, though some fear it could
increase already heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula.
Supreme Court to Hear Case Surrounding Seizure of Iranian Artifacts from Oriental Institute
The Chicago Maroon
By Madeleine Moore
November 21, 2017
The University's Oriental Institute (OI) is involved in an ongoing Supreme
Court case in which American terrorist victims are seeking compensation
from the Iranian government through seizing Iranian artifacts from the OI
and the Field Museum.
In September 1997, three suicide bombers associated with the Palestinian
terrorist group, Hamas, carried out an attack on a shopping mall in
Jerusalem. Among those affected were eight United States citizens, who
later filed a civil action case in a U.S. court against the government of
Iran and its involvement in providing financial support to the bombers.
A federal judge in Washington, D.C. awarded the plaintiffs $71.5 million in
damages, which the government of Iran refused to pay.
The plaintiffs have since filed several lawsuits demanding Iranian
artifacts and antiquities held by the University as compensation, and have
also attempted to seize artifacts from the Field Museum in Chicago and
other museums in Massachusetts and Michigan.
The Supreme Court hearing will be the fourth time the case has gone to
court since the plaintiffs were awarded $71.5 million in 2003. The
University appealed the decision and since then has won subsequent trials
in 2011 and 2014.
The plaintiffs appealed the 2014 ruling, and it was chosen by the U.S.
Supreme Court for review on June 27. The Court is scheduled to hear the
case on December 4.
If the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, it could set the precedent
that a foreign government is subject to the terrorism exception of the
Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) and the property of a foreign
government may be attached to a civil judgement, despite the location of
the property or current ownership.
This case could allow the Supreme Court to define what assets can be seized
from a state accused of engaging in or supporting terrorism, even when the
assets are held or owned by a separate entity unaffiliated with the foreign
The plaintiffs have targeted three collections of ancient Persian artifacts
held by the OI and the Field Museum of Natural History in downtown Chicago.
The artifacts include prehistoric pottery, ornaments, and tablets with
Elamite writing, the oldest known writing system from Iran.
Both the OI and the Field Museum have stated that they own the items, but
the plaintiffs maintain that Iran does.
The case is centered on the FSIA, which places limits on the circumstances
in which foreign entities may be sued in U.S. courts. Typically, foreign
states are immune from lawsuits or property seizure due to this act.
However, the plaintiffs have argued that FSIA contains a terrorism
exception, which would allow them to request the artifacts as a means of
This case has gone to the Seventh Circuit court, stating that there was not
an exception included in the act that pertained to the case. This decision
created a split with the Ninth Circuit court, which ruled in the
The University and Iran have challenged the plaintiffs based on the U.S.
Supreme Court's ruling in First National City Bank v. Banco Para El
Comercio Exterior de Cuba (Bancec). This case created the "Bancec
doctrine," which states that a case against a foreign state may not be
executed on the property of a separate entity.
According to the University, since it owns the Iranian artifacts and is a
separate entity from the government of Iran, the plaintiffs may not seize
the artifacts to their case.
The OI could not be reached for comment by press time.
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Nigerian Navy Rescues 10 Mariners from Pirates
The Maritime Executive
November 15, 2017
On November 11, the Nigerian Navy thwarted an attempted pirate attack on a
bulker in the Gulf of Guinea and successfully rescued 10 seafarers from a
kidnapping in progress.
On Saturday morning at 0822 UTC, a group of armed pirates boarded the
bulker as it drifted at a position some 17 nm south of Bonny Island,
Nigeria, an area known for a high risk of piracy. The attackers entered the
ship's bridge and opened fire, damaging the windows. They stole personal
belongings from the crew and kidnapped 10 seafarers, loading the
crewmembers into their boat and heading off.
Two Nigerian Navy vessels successfully intercepted the boat and apprehended
five pirates. All 10 crewmembers were rescued. The Navy escorted their ship
to an inner anchorage, and the vessel entered Port Harcourt and berthed on
Unconfirmed reports indicate that the bulker may have been the UK-flagged
handysize Venus Bay. AIS data indicate that the Venus transited from Bonny
to Port Harcourt on Sunday.
Over the last nine months, authorities have recorded more than 20 piracy
incidents in the Gulf of Guinea. Not all mariners who are attacked in these
waters manage to escape so quickly: on October 21, six crewmembers of the
container ship Demeter were abducted off the coast of Nigeria and held
hostage until last weekend. Ship manager Peter Doehle Schiffahrts-KG
reported the men are in good condition and returned to their families.
Somalia: Suspected Pirate Vessels in Gulf of Aden Dispersed By Chinese Navy
November 16, 2017
A destroyer from the 27th Chinese naval escort taskforce successfully
dispersed a number of suspected pirate vessels aiming for two container
ships, reports China Central Television.
At approximately 4:30pm local time, as the Haikou was escorting the
vessels, registered in Hong Kong and Italy, towards the Gulf of Aden, three
targets travelling at high speed were detected 5.1 nautical miles ahead.
Thanks to photoelectric sensors, the destroyer was able to ascertain that
the unwelcome fleet consisted of three double-hook ships containing five
The Chinese naval ship instantly accelerated to the left to intercept and
initiated its anti-piracy protocol.
The offending vessels immediately turned around and fled at high speed. The
Haikou was then able to lower its alert level and continue the patrol
The Gulf of Aden is located in the Arabian Sea between Yemen and Somalia in
the Horn of Africa.
It follows an incident in September, in which a Chinese supply ship by the
name of Qinghaihu scared off nine suspected pirate vessels which had
targeted a UK container ship and a Maltese freighter in the same body of
October also marked one year since nine of ten Chinese held hostage by
Somali pirates for more than four and a half years returned to China.
Search for missing Argentine sub reaches 'critical phase'
New York Post
By Yaron Steinbuch
November 21, 2017
The search for a missing Argentinian submarine reaching a "critical phase"
Wednesday, but two of the country's politicians cited a 35-year-old war in
rejecting British assistance, according to reports.
A multinational effort is underway to locate the ARA San Juan, which went
missing Nov. 15 as it journeyed from the extreme southern port of Ushuaia
to the coastal city of Mar del Plata.
The sub carries enough food, oxygen and fuel for the 44 crew members to
survive about 90 days on the sea's surface. But it only has enough oxygen
to last seven days if submerged.
"We are in the critical phase…particularly with respect to oxygen,"
Argentine navy spokesman Enrique Balbi told reporters. "There has been no
contact with anything that could be the San Juan submarine."
About 30 ships and planes and 4,000 people from Argentina, the United
States, Britain, Chile and Brazil have joined the search for the submarine,
which last transmitted its location about 300 miles from the coast.
But Argentine pols Gabriel Solano and Fernando Esteche apparently still
harbor a grudge against Britain because of the 1982 Falklands War between
the two countries.
"F- you! Pirates," Solano, leader of Argentina's Workers' Party, said in a
tweet aimed at the Brits, The Sun of the UK reported.
"You are responsible for war crimes, like the sinking of the General
Belgrano," he said, referring to the Argentine warship sunk by the HMS
Conqueror at the orders of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
As a result of the torpedo attack by the nuclear-powered British sub, 321
Argentine sailors and two civilians aboard lost their lives.
Solano also tweeted the British government directly about the Royal Navy,
saying: "They are occupation troops in an Argentine territory."
The missive was in response to a tweet by the British Embassy that read:
"Following a request from the Argentine Government, @RoyalNavy's HMS
Protector has been deployed to join the search and rescue effort for the
Many ordinary Argentinians slammed Solano for spewing his decades-old bile.
"Stop making us embarrassed. Focus on the important thing: Save the 44 men
and women before they suffocate 200 meters deep," one person tweeted,
according to The Sun.
"Stop making a fool of yourself Gaby," another said.
A third branded him an "a-hole."
Solano was joined by Esteche, head of the Quebracho party, who also
described British forces as occupiers.
"Yesterday they sank the Belgrano outside the exclusion zone and today they
want thanks for their collaboration in the search for the ARA San Juan," he
posted online, according to the International Business Times.
"That they help but that they do not expect anything in return because they
still occupy our islands. These are the laws of the sea!" he railed.
He, too, was blasted by his countrymen.
"I apologize, I am embarrassed by @estechefernando, we are very grateful
for your collaboration in the recovery of our sailors. At your service!!!"
one person wrote.
"My husband, a Falklands War veteran and I, appreciate your solidarity,"
another said in a message to Britain.
The HMS Protector, an ice patrol ship, is equipped with sonar equipment
that can search beneath the waves. The UK also has placed a C-130 Hercules
aircraft - which is based in the Falkland Islands - on standby.
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Rights Body Accuses Myanmar Military of Mass Rape of Rohingyas
By V. Arum Kumar
November 16, 2017
The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the Myanmar
military of widespread rapes of Rohingyas, amounting to war crimes.
In a 37-page report titled 'All of My Body Was Pain': Sexual Violence
Against Rohingya Women and Girls in Burma ', the international body
provides the testimony of 52 Rohingya women and girls allegedly raped by
According to HRW, many women described witnessing the murders of their
young children, spouses, and parents. Rape survivors reported days of agony
walking with swollen and torn genitals while fleeing to Bangladesh.
Rape has been a prominent and devastating feature of the Burmese military's
campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya," said Skye Wheeler ,
women's rights emergencies researcher at HRW and author of the report.
"The Burmese military's barbaric acts of violence have left countless women
and girls brutally harmed and traumatised."
Hala Sadak, a 15-year-old from Hathi Para village in Maungdaw Township,
told HRW that the soldiers stripped her naked and then around 10 men raped
"When my brother and sister came to get me, I was lying there on the
ground. They thought I was dead," she added.
Myanmar army has waged a brutal military campaign in northern Rakhine state
against the Rohingya - a Muslim-majority ethnic group to whom the Myanmar
government denies citizenship and basic rights.
This new wave of violence by the army came after fighters of a Rohingyan
armed group - Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army - carried out attacks on the
security forces on August 25 this year.
According to reports, more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled the
mainly Buddhist country since the military operation was launched in
Rakhine in late August.
This September, United Nations had blamed Myanmar of committing atrocities
against Rohingya communities, including ethnic cleansing and mass rapes
amounting to war crimes.
Doctors treating some of the 429,000 Rohingya Muslims, who have fled to
Bangladesh from Myanmar, had reported dozens of women with injuries
consistent with violent sexual attacks, said U.N. clinicians and other
health workers, according to Reuters.
Since August 25, the MSF - also known as Doctors Without Borders - had
treated at least 23 cases of sexual and gender-based violence.
According to Kate White, emergency medical coordinator for the
organisation, there were many cases of gang-rape and sexual assault.
Use of rape or sexual violence as a tool of warfare is considered a war
crime, and is prohibited under the International Law and laws governing
conflicts or war.
The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court , in force since 2002
considers rape, considers sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced
pregnancy, enforced sterilisation, or "any other form of sexual violence of
comparable gravity" as a crime against humanity.
The Security Council resolution 1820 of 2008 called to end the use of acts
of sexual violence against women and girls as a tactic of war as well as to
end the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators.
Myanmar's army, meanwhile, has denied all allegations of rape and killings
by its security forces.
Ending impunity for conflict-related sexual violence
By Hakimi Abdul Jabar
November 16, 2017
On November 22, all eyes will be on the United Nations International
Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) as it makes its
pronouncement of judgment in the case of the notorious "Butcher of Bosnia,"
General Ratko Mladić, the former army chief of staff, and his then
superior, Radovan Karadžić, president of Republika Srpska during
the Bosnian War.
It must be noted that the tribunal has played a historic role in the
prosecution of wartime sexual violence in the former Yugoslavia and has
paved the way for a more robust adjudication of such crimes worldwide.
From the beginning of the ICTY's mandate, investigations were conducted
into reports of the systematic detention and rape of women, men and
children. More than a third of those convicted by the ICTY have been found
guilty of crimes involving sexual violence. Such convictions are one of the
tribunal's pioneering achievements. They have ensured that treaties and
conventions that have existed on paper throughout the 20th century have
finally been put in practice and violations punished well into the 21st
The Hague Convention of 1907, the first international treaty implicitly
outlawing sexual violence, did not end impunity for sexual crimes. For
instance, in the aftermath of World War II, the International Military
Tribunal at Nuremberg did not expressly prosecute sexual violence, and the
Tokyo Tribunal ignored the Japanese army's enslavement of "comfort women" -
a thorny issue in a number of East and Southeast Asian nations.
In 1949, the landmark Geneva Conventions stated: "Women shall be especially
protected … against rape, enforced prostitution, or any form of
indecent assault." The wars in the former Yugoslavia revealed the urgent
need to bring these historic international laws out of theory and into the
It took groundbreaking steps to respond to the imperative of prosecuting
wartime sexual violence. Together with the Rwandan Tribunal, the ICTY was
among the first courts of its kind to bring explicit charges of wartime
sexual violence and define gender crimes such as rape and sexual
enslavement under customary international law.
It was also the first international criminal tribunal to enter convictions
for rape as a form of torture and for sexual enslavement as a crime against
humanity, as well as the first based in Europe to pass convictions for rape
as a crime against humanity, following a previous case adjudicated by the
International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The ICTY proved that effective
prosecution of wartime sexual violence is feasible and provided a platform
for the survivors to talk about their suffering. That ultimately helped to
break the silence and the culture of impunity surrounding these terrible
Perpetrators of sexual violence are wide-ranging in nature, including
members of armed forces, civilians, government officials, armed non-state
actors such as ISIS, and humanitarian personnel. The overwhelming majority
of the perpetrators of sexual violence are male.
Sexual violence occurs on the street, in homes, at checkpoints, in places
of detention and in places of refuge, such as refugee camps. Aside from the
immediate pain, terror and humiliation, survivors of sexual violence often
face long-term physical health problems and psychological trauma.
The physical consequences of sexual violence include fatal injuries,
infertility, incontinence, chronic pain, debilitating injuries, infections
and unwanted pregnancies.
Due to the insecurities that conflict inevitably brings, medical treatment
for these debilitating injuries is all too often not available for obvious
Asian lawyers like myself are glad that the ICTY has built on the
judgements and pronouncements of other international tribunals. Through its
own landmark judicial decisions, it has contributed to the growing
awareness of the need to prosecute crimes of conflict-related sexual
Despite this laudable collective effort by the international community,
more than 20,000 survivors of wartime sexual violence in Bosnia-Herzegovina
are still being denied justice a quarter of a century after the outbreak of
war in the former Yugoslav republic, according to an Amnesty International
report released on September 12. Many of the victims are still trying to
piecie together their shattered lives with little access to the medical,
psychological and financial assistance they desperately need.
International justice will be fatally compromised if the international
community continues to permit persons accused of genocide, "ethnic
cleansing," mass rape and murder to remain at liberty.
Undoubtedly, ad hoc International Criminal Tribunals and the International
Criminal Court have tirelessly worked toward ending the impunity of
conflict-related sexual violence.
For the former Yugoslavia states, a downright tragic yet arresting chapter
comes to an end, but for human rights activist Nadia Murad Basee Taha and
her fellow Yazidi victims of ISIS in Iraq - it is just the beginning.
Impunity cannot be tolerated and will not be. In an interdependent world,
the rule of law must prevail.
The world and Asia must never forsake them in their time of need.
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Commentary and Perspectives
UN peacekeeping arms losses could equip an army: report
By James Reinl
November 13, 2017
UN-backed peacekeepers have lost enough guns and ammunition in sub-Saharan
Africa over the past two decades to arm an army, according to a study by
the Small Arms Survey.
The research group's director, Eric Berman, said peacekeepers have lost "at
least thousands of weapons and millions of rounds of ammunition" this
century, often handing them over to local fighters without putting up a
Losses range from pistols and bullets to heavy machine guns, mortars,
recoilless guns and grenade launchers, which can be military game-changers
on the battlefields of Somalia, Democratic republic of Congo, and Sudan,
Berman told Al Jazeera.
"Peacekeepers are losing arms and ammunition that are going to be used
against them and against civilians that they're asked to protect, and
prolonging conflicts that they're asked to help resolve," Berman said.
The 75-page study, called Making a Tough Job More Difficult, identifies 20
forces operating under the UN, the African Union or some other
international coalition that have lost guns and ammunition from 1993-2017.
Most losses occurred in Congo, Somalia, Sudan, Burundi, Ivory Coast, Sierra
Leone, Mali and the Central African Republic.
Haiti, Cambodia, the Israel-Syria border and the Balkans have also been
Some losses were unavoidable, the report said.
Peacekeepers can be ambushed while patrolling the "wrong place at the wrong
time" or be overwhelmed in a surprise attack from a superior force and have
caches plundered, Berman said.
But incidents of "less-than-best practice and corruption" are also rife,
There have been many hushed-up cases of peacekeepers handing over weapons
to rebels rather than risk a shoot-out, of failing to guard caches
properly, or uncovering rebel groups' arsenals and selling them on the
black market, said Berman.
Aditya Mehta, a UN peacekeeping spokesman, told Al Jazeera that it takes
the issue "very seriously" but said the Small Arms Survey report overstated
the impact of blue helmet arms losses on turbulent parts of Africa.
"The loss of weapons in peacekeeping operations are an exception, and the
number of weapons lost are insignificant, far less than half of one per
cent of the total amount of weapons and ammunition in circulation around
conflict zones such as in Darfur and South Sudan," he said.
Losses occur in "very challenging conditions", and the UN already works
hard to raise standards, he added.
Mehta did not fulfil Al Jazeera's request to share the UN's register of
arms that had gone missing in recent years.
The Small Arms Survey report listed many examples of losses.
In May 2000, Zambian peacekeepers lost more than 500 assault rifles,
machine guns, mortars and 45,000 rounds of ammunition when they surrendered
to Sierra Leonean rebels rather than "fight their way out" Berman said.
A Nigerian peacekeeping convoy similarly succumbed to a "not overwhelming
force" of rebels in in Darfur, Sudan, in March 2010, handing over 55
assault rifles, machine guns and some 14,000 rounds of ammunition, he
Details on such incidents are unclear, Berman said.
According to the report, "political sensitivities and opacity in reporting
have resulted in misleading" reports of arms losses in official UN
This report is just "the tip of the iceberg", Berman added, saying that the
true scale of the problem is much greater than the relatively small number
of losses that have been documented in UN and newspaper reports in recent
The scale of losses may even be increasing, the report suggested.
Kenyan troops with AMISOM, the AU force in Somalia, lost more than 150
assault rifles, 26 machine guns, five mortars and 140,000 rounds of
ammunition when al-Shabab rebels raided their camp at El Adde in January
2016, it said.
The report also highlights how in June 2015, Burundian troops lost a
comparable cache of more than 100 assault rifles, 20 machine guns,
anti-tank weapons and mortars when the al-Qaeda aligned fighters attacked
them in Leego, Somalia.
Peacekeeping has been rocked by scandals in recent years, over bringing a
deadly strain of cholera to Haiti that claimed some 10,000 lives, as well
as thousands of claims of sexual abuse by blue helmets in Congo and
The UN is also under pressure from US President Donald Trump. In June, the
US trimmed the annual peacekeeping budget to $7.3bn, cutting $600m from
costs and slicing 7.5 percent off Washington's bill.
More than 80 countries are set to address peacekeeping problems at a summit
in Vancouver, Canada later this week.
Paul Williams, a scholar at George Washington University, said the report's
estimate of peacekeeping weapons losses was "conservative", adding that
deployment chiefs need better oversight, recovery and accountability
"This is a significant problem for peacekeepers, the organisations that
mandate and pay for peace operations, and, ultimately for the local
populations, which may see such arms and ammunition strengthen militant
groups," Williams told Al Jazeera.
Other analysts told Al Jazeera that peacekeepers are often torn between
loyalties to their own country and serving the world body. Blue helmet
troops may see themselves as answerable to their capitals rather than UN
Norrie MacQueen, a University of St Andrews scholar, noted that soldiers
are unwilling to "die for the UN" and prone to giving up without a fight.
But Joachim Koops, of Vrije Universiteit Brussels, agreed with the UN that
its weapons losses were not particularly significant.
Jean Krasno, a scholar and editor of Leveraging for Success in UN Peace
Operations, said any arms losses should be seen in the context of the
valuable contributions of peacekeepers. The UN has made Africa safer by
destroying vast numbers of guns under various peace deals, she said.
But it is "desperate" to staff 15 missions with 110,000 peacekeepers and
can be lax with contributors. "To get the numbers out there, they may just
have to look the other way in terms of vetting, training and capability,"
Krasno told Al Jazeera.
Berman, the report's author, agreed that the UN and AU face mighty
challenges, but that a few more "checks and balances" on internal oversight
and monitoring of peacekeepers would keep better tabs on weapons, saving
money and lives.
Why Uganda Cannot Arrest President Omar Bashir
Uganda Media Centre
By Ofwono Opondo
November 15, 2017
The European Union (EU) has been reported in the media to be grumbling that
the Uganda government did not apprehend and handover Sudanese President,
Gen. Omar Hassan al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The
Hague, Netherlands over his indictment on 4, March 2009, and the second on
12 July 2010 relating to alleged genocide, war crimes and crimes against
humanity in the Darfur region. First, it is perhaps necessary to state that
the ICC has never formally served that warrant to Uganda, but in any case,
Bashir has travelled to many countries including South Africa, Kenya, Chad,
Malawi, Nigeria, Ethiopia, China and Middle East and was never arrested.
Also, while Sudan isn't a state party to the Rome Statute, President
Bashir's case was a referral by the UN Security Council in 2005, and
therefore the UN could enforce its decisions including imposing no-fly
zones over Sudan and countries whose air space President Bashir has used
since his indictment. Besides, the UN can direct the interception and
search of any vessel suspected to be carrying President Bashir, which it
has so far failed to do. We, therefore reject any attempts to use Uganda as
a convenient scapegoat for the world's failure to arrest President Bashir.
Article 61 of the ICC statute state "the pre-trial chamber may, upon
request of the prosecutor or on its own motion, hold a hearing on the
absence of the person charged to confirm the charges, when the person has
waived his or her right to be present, fled or cannot be found and all
reasonable steps have been taken to secure his appearance before the
court," which too hasn't been done to-date. The UN's big boys US, Russia
and China are not even signatories to the court to which they referred
President Bashir, a case of suffering serious credibility problems.
Furthermore, on all the occasions President Bashir has been in Uganda, he
was an official state guest invited by the government of Uganda, and not a
traveler passing by or on tourism. It is, therefore inconceivable for the
EU, ICC, and some of their surrogate civil organisations to expect that the
Uganda government would defy common sense and established international
diplomatic protocols, and arrest President Bashir for purposes of
transferring him over to The Hague. Uganda is not run by savages or
treacherous leaders who can be expected to turn on friends as Europeans
have done over the centuries. It would be a very reckless adventure and
since Uganda government is not known to be that adventurous, it prefers to
be systematic and methodical.
The Uganda government is bound by the collective, in fact, unanimous
resolution of the African Union (AU) not to cooperate with the ICC on
matters relating to arresting a sitting president or Head of State because
the AU treats the ICC as an institution that has digressed from its
original intended purpose and is now mainly selectively used to witch-hunt
African leaders deemed not compliant to imperial interests.
The EU and its Big brother, the US leaders represent a 'civilisation' that
instigated and infused wrong and dangerous ideologies, funded and armed
protagonists in Africa from pre-colonial era to-date. In Sudan's case,
established reputable records indicate that the US and EU combined have
sold arms worth 52bn US dollars over the years, hence the main
beneficiaries in that conflict.
The two having destroyed Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, and miserably
failed to restore order and functioning governments, are clearly trying to
punch above their weight in demanding that Uganda and other African
governments should arrest Bashir, and thereby possibly start an intractable
armed conflict in the region.
It is the well considered view of the Uganda government that in addition to
the AU position, the on-going constructive diplomatic engagements with
President Bashir where Uganda is facilitating peaceful negotiation between
the Sudan government and some of those opposed to it are yielding positive
results as evidenced by settlements in the Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia.
Already the DR Congo, Burundi, South Sudan, Somalia, Central African
Republic, Libya and Mali are all either very weak or failing states, and it
wouldn't be prudent for Uganda to instigate or broaden failures in Africa.
That consideration, combined with widespread terrorism from the Red Sea
down to the Horn Africa, Yemen and Djibouti, makes cautious movement
against President Bashir a logical strategic imperative.
While Uganda is a signatory to the ICC, and has regard for judicial
processes, we don't believe that going headstrong is always the best, or
even the only way of solving problems particularly when they are as fragile
and complicated as in Sudan. Uganda shouldn't be seen as encouraging
And if all international bodies were considered genuine, Britain wouldn't
have bolted from the EU and its Court of Human Rights, and neither would
Donald Trump be repudiating NAFTA, and protocols on Climate Change. The
presumed global leaders and actors must always remember that they don't the
monopoly for wisdom to save humanity from many of the problems, and should
learn to patiently listen to alternative solutions especially from those
US aiding Saudi 'war crimes' in Yemen: Congressman
November 17, 2017
The United States is helping Saudi Arabia commit "war crimes" in Yemen,
according to US Congressman Ro Khanna.
In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera's UpFront aired on Friday,
Khanna, a Democratic congressman from California, said the US made a
mistake in supporting the Saudi-led coalition's bombing campaign of Yemen.
"Today, I believe that we are aiding Saudi Arabia in Saudi Arabia's
committing war crimes," Khanna told UpFront host Mehdi Hasan.
The US House of Representatives passed a resolution earlier this week that
called on the US armed forces to withdraw from "unauthorised hostilities"
in the Saudi-led bombing campaign of Yemen, which began in 2015.
Thousands of people have been killed in the conflict and the Saudi-led
coalition has bombed key infrastructure and imposed a strict blockade on
Yemen is facing a dire humanitarian crisis and millions of people will die
in what could be the worst famine in decades if the blockade is not lifted,
the United Nations recently warned.
The US has assisted Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in
"conducting aerial bombings in Yemen" and provided "midair refueling
services" to their warplanes, according to the resolution, which was
overwhelmingly adopted by a vote of 366-30.
While the resolution is non-binding, Khanna, who was one of its
co-sponsors, said it would put pressure on the Saudis to provide greater
humanitarian access to Yemen and allow food and basic medicine to reach
"That's going to make a difference. That can at least save lives," Khanna
In his interview with UpFront, Khanna had harsh words for Saudi Arabia and
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in particular.
"Salman strikes me as not smart," Khanna said about the Crown Prince, who
is also known by the initials MBS.
"He's not judicious and he's not prudent and he may do things that
ultimately aren't even in his country's interest, which usually cause war."
Khanna continued: "Napoleon once said worse than a crime is a blunder, and
Salman strikes me as a blunderer."
MBS has rapidly consolidated power since he was named next in line for the
Saudi throne by his father, King Salman, last June.
Dozens of senior Saudi officials have been rounded up and held since early
November in what the kingdom has described as a crackdown on corruption.
The Saudis have also faced a barrage of criticism for their alleged role in
forcing Saad Hariri to resign as Lebanon's prime minister.
Saudi Arabia has been accused of keeping Hariri in detention in Riyadh, an
allegation it has denied.
A war of words has also broken out between Saudi Arabia and its regional
rival, Iran, over the ongoing political crisis in Lebanon.
'Strike on Iran'
Asked how the US should respond to a possible Saudi attack on Iran, Khanna
said the US "should condemn it".
"We should certainly not come to their defence if they are perpetrating an
attack on Iran," the congressman said, adding that "it would be utter
folly" for the Saudi crown prince "to start a direct war with Iran".
Should the US intervene in the case of an Iranian counterattack on Saudi
Arabia, its longtime ally in the region? "Certainly not," Khanna said.
Al Jazeera's Mehdi Hasan then asked the congressman whether the US would
intervene on behalf of another ally, Israel, which has also been vocal in
its condemnations of Tehran.
Israel also recently instructed its diplomats to lobby their respective
countries in support of Saudi Arabia, according to leaked diplomatic
"Obviously, if Iran starts to say, 'we're going to annihilate Israel', then
we have to defend it," Khanna answered.
"But I don't expect that to be the response."
Khanna said that, in his view, the US "certainly would not condone a strike
on Iran by either Saudi Arabia or Israel".
How the ICC Going After US For War Crimes Impacts Israel
The Jerusalem Post
By Yonah Jeremy Bob
November 21, 2017
From the Israeli perspective, there is both some bad news and some good
news with regards to the legal bombshell that the International Criminal
Court prosecutor dropped on the US on Monday.
The ICC prosecutor filed a formal submission to move the US's conduct in
the Afghanistan War and its interrogation of its prisoners to a full
criminal war crimes investigation.
In short, the bad news for Israel is four-fold. The ICC crossed the Rubicon
in daring: 1) to go after a democracy, the US, which said it had
investigated itself, 2) to go after the world's superpower despite the
diplomatic consequences, 3) to go after "war crimes" beyond the traditional
paradigm of prosecuting genocide, namely the US's "torture" interrogations,
which many thought the ICC would stay away from, and 4) to go after top US
defense and intelligence officials and not just the rank and file.
Until now, Israel's main hopeful defenses to keep the ICC out of its
affairs have been: 1) that it is a democracy which said it had investigated
itself, 2) that the ICC would be afraid to endure diplomatic sanctions from
the US and other Israeli allies, 3) that it would shy away from going after
non-traditional "war crimes" beyond genocide, such as the settlement
enterprise or Israeli interrogations of Palestinians, and 4) it would be
deterred from going after senior Israeli officials.
But if the ICC dared to go after the US despite all four of these issues,
what will stop it from going after little Israel next? If it went after the
Americans for torture (and after Malians for destruction of cultural
heritage sites as war crimes), why won't it go after Israel for settlements
and interrogations - even if these have never been prosecuted as war crimes
before? The simple answer is that the ICC going after the US ensures that
it is more likely than ever that it will also go after Israel at some
And yet there is also good news from the Israeli perspective.
The ICC is not going after the US for its targeting decisions which killed
Afghan civilians. This is despite its conclusion that the US and allied
forces have killed at least 1,600 civilians.
It has explained that, "The information available does not provide a
reasonable basis to believe that the military forces intended the civilian
population... to be the object of the attack."
This is the biggest game at stake for Israel.
Around 2,100 Palestinians were killed by the IDF during the 2014 Gaza War,
between 50-80% of them civilians. The approximately 500 preliminary probes
and over 30 criminal investigations by the IDF to date have mostly led to
the conclusion that the civilian deaths were mistakes, such as
misidentifying four Palestinian minors on a beach as Hamas naval commandos.
Top ICC expert Alex Whiting told The Jerusalem Post that the ICC decision
regarding US targeting probably came about because "there just isn't enough
evidence of intent or that there was a policy to target civilians. They
fall too much on the side of error rather than [of war crimes]."
This could be considered surprising as many of the incidents where Afghan
civilians were killed by the US produced horrific stories, involved the
killing of large numbers of civilians and were well-publicized in the
That the ICC decided it could not prove intent, despite some media and
human rights groups already having damned the US as a war criminal, could
bode well for Israel. The IDF will need the ICC to similarly disregard
media and human rights condemnations of its war-targeting decisions.
Another positive aspect for Israel with regards to this investigation is
time. With the US, the ICC took 10 years to decide to move from a
preliminary probe to a full criminal war crimes investigation.
Since January 2015, Palestinians have repeatedly pressed for the ICC to
move from a preliminary probe of Israel to a full criminal war crimes
investigation. But more than three years after the war ended, there are few
signs that the ICC is even close to a decision.
If the ICC took 10 years with the US, Israel may still have plenty more
years before coming into legal conflict with the ICC.
This also means that if the ICC does go after Israel, possibly in as much
as seven more years, the world's attention will be less prominent than it
would have been in the first years after the war.
This combines with the final point of good news for Israel: it does not
have to go first.
By the time the ICC goes after Israel, if it still has the stomach, it will
likely have endured years of legal and diplomatic warfare with another
democracy, the US.
There is no way the US is going to cooperate with the ICC's investigation,
certainly not under the Trump administration. That means that the ICC's
challenge to the US will almost certainly blow up in its face.
Whiting said that if the ICC had given senior US officials a pass, it could
have been boxed in with other future cases. He said, "I don't think it
necessarily wanted to focus on the US, but the statute and the precedents
made it very difficult not to."
Regardless of the reason, if the ICC goes after Israel, by the time it
does, the world will have gotten used to the idea of democracies ignoring
it when it is perceived as having overreached.
Mladic judgment brings back stench of Bosnian genocide
By Nic Robertson
November 21, 2017
It will be 25 years this Christmas since I learned what genocide smelled
Like nothing I'd ever experienced before, it was an assault on my senses.
The military commander responsible, Ratko Mladic, has today finally learned
his fate. It has taken too long to see justice served.
It was a frosty day in December 1992, early on in Bosnia Herzegovina's
three-year civil war. The place was Srebrenica: a village in the mountains
close to the border with Serbia.
Serbian war criminals controlled the roads into the village and the
mountains surrounding it. They had it under a medieval-style siege.
They kept journalists and aid workers waiting for a week, parked at the
roadside next to half-harvested fields of rotting corn stalks and decaying
pumpkins. Then, late one afternoon, they finally let us in, along with a
handful of UN peacekeepers and a few measly aid trucks.
We'd seen more food decaying in those wintry farm fields than the Serbs
were letting into the enclave. Even then, it was clear they were trying to
starve the villagers into submission.
What sticks in my mind the most about our few hours inside Srebrenica is
I intrinsically link it to evil. Writing about it now still triggers a gag
Srebrenica had become a pitiful place: a long hamlet of sorrow snaking up a
cold narrow valley. Under siege, it was silenced and cut off from the
Time has done little to dull my memories of walking into the crowded
makeshift medical center that was once a library.
Wafts of gangrenous infection wrapped in the rancid stench of overused
blood-soaked bandages fused with the smell of a fear fed on the emptiness
of hunger. Words really don't come close.
As darkness fell, fear grew to panic among residents. The media, aid
workers and UN peacekeepers were leaving -- and with us, a slender totem of
international concern was slipping from their grasp.
Within months of our visit, an ad hoc UN tribunal would be established: the
ICTY, or International Criminal Tribunal on the Former Yugoslavia. Its aim
was to end the war, spread reconciliation and bring war criminals to
It would ultimately indict 161 people, call 5,000 witnesses, hold sessions
on 11,000 days and produce 2,000,000 pages of transcripts and documents.
But it was never powerful enough to stem the slaughter and save the people
They would endure three freezing winters and two scorching summers of
merciless siege and shelling before Bosnian Serb Soldiers under Mladic's
orders would over the space of two days murder 7,000 Muslim men and boys --
including many of those we met.
Srebrenica was the single biggest slaughter of innocents in Europe since
World War II. It was the bloodiest tip of an ugly iceberg of slaughter
sustained over three years.
As Yugoslavia -- a post World War I construct -- tore itself apart,
religiously and ethnically distinct Bosnian, Serb and Croat populations
became locked in a frenzy of violence that would kill more than 100,000
The tribunal's judgment on Mladic also brings with it its closure. It's
been on life support for the past few years, extending its existence to
bring a last few convictions. It was expected to close several years ago.
It has cost an average of $200 million a year to run. Last year, it
employed 425 staff from 69 different nations. In its 24-year life, it has
convicted 83 people and was the first war crimes tribunal to indict a
sitting head of state: Serbian President Slobodan Milosivec.
For the most part, it has achieved what it set out to do and bring war
criminals, their acolytes and their sponsors to justice. But it hasn't been
Mladic's political partner in crime, Radovan Karadzic, was found guilty
last year of genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of laws or
customs of war. He was sentenced to 40 years in jail.
It had taken eight years to convict him -- and even longer to find him.
Like Mladic, Karadzic had been hiding in plain sight in Serbia.
Karadzic was picked up in July 2008 -- his cover as a bearded spiritual
healer blown. Mladic lasted even longer, hiding out in a cousin's house in
a village near Belgrade until he was caught in May 2011.
Most people in the village knew precisely who he was. Questions remain
about why both of them weren't turned in sooner.
In Bosnia, a generation has grown up since the war, waiting and watching
for the tribunal to deliver justice. Serbs tend to believe it is biased
against them; Croats the same, though to a lesser degree. Only a majority
of Bosnians feel its work has been some ways beneficial.
Yet despite these differing views, the tribunal has produced a verifiable
and thorough accounting of the war and who was responsible. For generations
to come, an indisputable truth will be available to everyone -- whether
they chose to believe it or not.
It is perhaps fitting that the man with the most Bosnian blood directly on
his hands was saved until last. The tribunal was never designed this way,
but its legacy will be that a war criminal will ultimately pay for his
Mladic, a former Yugoslav army commander and virulent Serb nationalist, was
never repentant in court. He even refused to enter a plea.
I watched him as he arrived at the courthouse. By then, some of the war's
lesser figures had already been tried, sentenced, served their time and
Behind the glass courtroom wall, Mladic glowered at the aging wives of his
He had already robbed them of everything they cherished: homes, husbands,
sons and, for some, almost their sanity. Yet with the world watching, he
tried to snatch their remaining dignity, turning to stare at them and
malevolently drawing a line across his throat with his finger.
That's what he thought of them, the court of international justice and his
final criminal comeuppance.
The judges remained impassive, disconnected from the festering emotions in
the public gallery.
But the ponderous process of meting out international law and hammering
home the message that war crimes don't pay has done little to choke off the
nationalism at its root.
Across Europe, the same insidious evil that triggered the Bosnian genocides
is on the rise.
Those on trial at The Hague are precursors of some of the continent's
current nationalist leaders -- just as they themselves are a throwback to
their own grandfathers' uglier inclinations.
Bosnia re-sounded the sirens of the evils of European nationalism. After
the police and ambulances mopped up the fighting and carried off the dead
and injured, the ICTY became the fire truck left behind trying to put out
It's a flimsy metaphor, but it underlines the outsized role the court plays
in adjudicating and parceling out blame and punishment so such a war never
breaks out again.
But time has been an enemy of the process, creating a judicial imbalance of
sorts, adding a layer of remove for the criminal from the crime. For the
victim, it allows the pain to grow and the conspiracy theorists to weave
new, ugly narratives.
It explains, perhaps in part, why the ICTY has failed to deliver on
A new generation has grown up as the ICTY's justice has dragged out. The
lessons needed to help curb Europe's growing populist-nationalist narrative
are not emerging fast enough to counter new angers and fears that are
In an ideal world, Bosnia's war criminals would have had their evil
ideologies outed for the horrors they spawn far more quickly.
They would have been vilified, rather than granted space for others to grow
in their nationalist image, create new divisions and sow the seeds for more
war crimes. The horrible realities of Srebrenica are being forgotten.
Meanwhile Bashar al-Assad -- an even bigger killer in Syria -- seems to
fear international justice at a war crimes tribunal less than losing power.
ISIS's Baghdadi has made a similar calculation.
With greater resources, the ICTY might have delivered speedier results and
dealt a bigger blow against evil. But that would have required bigger
international buy-in. It would have put a higher price on bringing the
guilty to justice sooner.
And to put it bluntly, we should have moved more swiftly. Does Assad today
fear a long trial for his heinous atrocities in Syria? Unlikely. If he has
watched the ICTY he will know it's only as strong as the international
resolve behind it.
Just as our near-universal coalition on global warming tells us the dangers
of not dealing with the human condition of consumption and destruction, so
we need to rally around what it takes to be good people. Not just worthy
custodians of the planet, but worthy custodians of each other.
The ICTY is an inkling of what we can achieve, but we really need to wake
up and start thinking about what it really takes to stop wars. That means
talking up the evils they contain and making clear what may come if those
behind them are not confronted.
If we are going to convict war criminals -- and we must -- the process
needs to be as big and bold as possible. The point is for everyone to know
See something say something do something. The lessons that are fresh around
us today are that crimes need to be called out -- and everyone needs to
know about it. If they are not, where will they end?
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