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FREDERICK K. COX
INTERNATIONAL LAW CENTER

War Crimes Prosecution Watch

Volume 12 - Issue 18
November 12, 2017

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Editor-in-Chief
James Prowse

Technical Editor-in-Chief
Samantha Smyth

Managing Editors
Rina Mwiti
Alexandra Mooney

War Crimes Prosecution Watch is a bi-weekly e-newsletter that compiles official documents and articles from major news sources detailing and analyzing salient issues pertaining to the investigation and prosecution of war crimes throughout the world. To subscribe, please email warcrimeswatch@pilpg.org and type "subscribe" in the subject line.

Opinions expressed in the articles herein represent the views of their authors and are not necessarily those of the War Crimes Prosecution Watch staff, the Case Western Reserve University School of Law or Public International Law & Policy Group.

Contents

AFRICA

CENTRAL AFRICA

Central African Republic

Sudan & South Sudan

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Burundi

WEST AFRICA

Lake Chad Region — Chad, Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon

Mali

EAST AFRICA

Uganda

Kenya

Rwanda (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda)

Somalia

NORTH AFRICA

Libya

EUROPE

Court of Bosnia & Herzegovina, War Crimes Chamber

International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

Domestic Prosecutions In The Former Yugoslavia

MIDDLE EAST AND ASIA

Iraq

Syria

Yemen

Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia

Special Tribunal for Lebanon

Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal

War Crimes Investigations in Burma

Israel and Palestine

AMERICAS

North & Central America

South America

TOPICS

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Terrorism

Piracy

Gender-Based Violence

Commentary and Perspectives

WORTH READING

AFRICA

CENTRAL AFRICA

Central African Republic

Official Website of the International Criminal Court
ICC Public Documents - Cases: Central African Republic

UN visit to the Central African Republic must serve as wake-up call
Norwegian Refugee Council

October 27, 2017

"The UN Secretary General's visit to the Central African Republic must serve as a wake-up call for the whole international community. There still is time to stop the country from sliding down into the abyss the population had hoped to escape," said Country Director for the Norwegian Refugee Council, Eric Batonon.

New conflicts have pushed the number of displaced Central Africans back up to a level not witnessed since the peak of the conflict in 2014. More than 1.1 million people have fled their homes.

Today, UN Secretary General António Guterres finished a four-day visit to the country, which tops the Norwegian Refugee Council's list of neglected displacement crises.

"The visit has drawn some much-needed attention to this neglected crisis, which has been unfolding off the public radar. The crisis gets minimal media coverage, few high-level visits, little political attention and very limited humanitarian funding, compared to the needs. This urgently needs to change," said Batonon.

Growing insecurity and violent attacks against civilians and aid workers have left communities in several parts of the country without access to aid, as aid agencies are unable to reach parts of the most conflict-affected areas.

The Central African Republic has for the third year been named the most dangerous country in the world for humanitarian workers.

"Large parts of the population are already at the breaking point. When these people are cut of from assistance, whether it is due to insecurity or lack of funding, it immediately has devastating consequences," Batonon said.

Relief organisations in the country stressed the need for better humanitarian access, protection of civilians, a strengthened peacekeeping force and more funding for humanitarian assistance in their meeting with the UN Secretary General.

The UN Secretary General has also been lobbying for 900 more peacekeepers to strengthen the UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSCA.

"Mr. Guterres knows the situation in the country well, also from previous visits in his former role as UN High Commissioner for Refugees. We hope countries now will listen to his modest request for more support to the peacekeeping mission," said Batonon.

"The Central African Republic urgently needs more international support to end the atrocities that are being committed. The longer the conflict is allowed to spiral out of control, the more difficult it will be to get the country back on a track towards peace," he added.

Central African Republic: the challenge of stabilization
Relief Wed

October 29, 2017

In armored vehicles and helicopters, forces of the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) entered Bocaranga on 7 October to free the city from the grips of one of the many armed groups operating in the country, the "Retour, Réclamation et Réhabilitation" or 3Rs.

In armored vehicles and helicopters, forces of the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) entered Bocaranga on 7 October to free the city from the grips of one of the many armed groups operating in the country, the "Retour, Réclamation et Réhabilitation" or 3Rs.

Located in the north-west of the country and a major center for transhumance, Bocaranga had been invaded two weeks earlier by the 3Rs.

A few days after the 3Rs lost Bocaranga, there was serious violence in the southeastern cities of Kembé and Pombolo, affecting many Muslims. The UN peacekeepers are now expected to assess the situation in those cities. Government officials and other MINUSCA personnel will also travel at a later stage to investigate the situation.

These new hotbeds of tension remind one of the July bloody scenes in Bangassou and Zemio. After the withdrawal of US and Ugandan troops, both town towns have since been occupied by armed groups.

The CAR is a country of 622,984 km², with a large chunk of its territory occupied by over 15 armed groups, including the Séléka and anti-Balaka – two groups whose opposition to the previous government pressured ex-President Jean François Bozizé to leave the country in 2013. But there are also the Peuls, a semi-nomadic and pastoral ethnic group, and other self-defense groups.

All the factions claim to defend legitimate interests. The coalition Patriotic Central African Movement and the Popular Front for the Renaissance of the Central African Republic, control parts of the North; the Central African Peace Unit had operated in Bambari, about 400 km east of Bangui, the capital, before the UN peacekeepers dislodged them last February to the south of the city, as part of the disarmament process.

A conflict with consequences

Whatever their demands, these armed groups have the same modus operandi: "Attack civilians, targeted killings, wounds, rapes and kidnappings," states MINUSCA, in its latest report on abuses and violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.

The report focuses on the activities of the FPRC and UPC coalition in the Haute-Kotto and Ouaka prefectures, in the south-east and north-west of the country, between November 2016 and February 2017. In both cities houses were burned and bridges and roads destroyed.

Armed groups also occupy schools and other public buildings, and regularly steal food from villagers, humanitarian cargoes and commercial convoys. But their predominant activity remains the illegal exploitation of the country's natural resources. Some of the groups offer security services to foreign mining companies and others engage in coffee business.

The peacekeepers, in collaboration with the government security forces, are trying to put an end to the violence and protect the civilian population. Despite ongoing rehabilitation works by MINUSCA engineering units, the deplorable state of roads (only the Beloko-Bangui axis, the country's main supply route, and Bangui-Sibut are asphalted) makes it nearly impossible to move on land, especially in the rainy season.

So, to protect civilians and institutions, peacekeepers often rely on air assets, including helicopters.

The activities of the armed groups also hinder the delivery of humanitarian aid to the population. Aid personnel are often forced to flee into the bush or neighboring towns, sometimes taking refuge in churches, mosques or nearby areas where MINUSCA peacekeepers are deployed.

There are currently about 600,250 internally displaced persons in CAR. State authority is still embryonic and economic activity is very low-key. Repeated attacks on convoys carrying goods have severely affected imports. Currently, commercial convoys have to be secured by UN peacekeepers on the main highways and other secondary routes in order for goods to reach the rest of the country.

Ending the suffering

Not long ago, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, MINUSCA, partnered with the government and civil society to initiate a Peace Caravan, visiting several cities in the Southeast to express solidarity with the people.

There is also a need to establish humanitarian corridors to help the affected populations, especially after the temporary withdrawal of some humanitarian organisations. The Peace Caravan also helped create the right conditions for a joint deployment of security forces.

During numerous field visits, including with the CAR Head of State, the leadership of MINUSCA advocated for dialogue, peace and social cohesion, insisting that, "there can be no violent solution to the Central African crisis." The UN Mission, which has more than 12,300 peacekeepers, indicated it would strive to ensure the protection of civilian populations and not hesitate to use force to prevent armed groups from attacking innocent people.

Experts have argued that the current situation requires an increase in MINUSCA's force to enable the Mission and the Central African defense and security forces to provide adequate security for the country. The European Union and other partners are already helping in capacity building of the security forces.

Government priorities

Since the return to constitutional order after the 2015 general elections, the government seems to have made progress in restoring state authority.

On the sidelines of the 72nd UN General Assembly in New York last September, President Faustin Archange Touadera told partners: "The dialogue with the armed groups and the launch of the pilot project of disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and repatriation (DDRR) have been implemented in Bambari and Bangui, Bouar, Paoua and Kaga Bandoro. But we must also mention the adoption of the national strategy of restoration of state authority, the National Security Policy and the National Security Sector Reform Strategy."

In principle, armed groups have largely accepted the Head of State's invitation for dialogue, which came through the DDDR Monitoring Advisory Committee. Nevertheless, the situation on the ground is still precarious. Many believe that the June 2017 Sant 'Egidio Agreement, also known as the Political Agreement for Peace in CAR, which emphasizes the need for a ceasefire, is the ideal framework for a peaceful resolution of the crisis.

Although the warring parties accepted the ceasefire agreement, many parts of the country are still under armed violence. Four months after the agreement, the groups continue to rebuff appeals by the government, religious leaders, sub-regional and international organizations to give peace a chance. They continue to disobey laws and commit atrocities against fellow citizens, raising fears of a conflagration of the conflict.

Clashes in CAR leave at least 2 dead, 10 injured
News 24

October 31, 2017

Fighting between armed groups around the town of Batangafo in northern Central African Republic have left at least two dead and 10 wounded, aid workers said Monday.

Seven of the wounded were admitted to a hospital run by Doctors without Borders (MSF) in Batangafo and three were sent to a facility in Kabo, Sandra Smiley, with MSF in the capital Bangui, said.

UN sources said fighting broke out on October 24 between anti-Balaka militia — a group that says it is defending Christians - and another armed group, the Patriotic Movement for Central Africa (MPC).

At least two people died in the village of Saraghba, a few kilometres from Batangafo, but it was too dangerous to access the zone to get a complete toll, concurring sources said.

Batangafo is one of many hotspots in the violence that has gripped CAR over the past four years.

In September, the death of a worker employed by a humanitarian group plunged the town into violence, leaving a confirmed death toll of six and 28 000 people without aid.

Mired in poverty but rich in diamonds and other minerals, CAR has been battered by a conflict between rival militias that began after then-president Francois Bozize was overthrown in 2013.

Under a UN mandate, the former colonial power France intervened to push out the Muslim Seleka rebels who had taken over, and the UN launched a peacekeeping mission in 2014.

But the country remains chronically prone to violence, with armed groups controlling most of the country.

United Nations chief Antonio Guterres, who last week made a four-day visit to CAR, is calling for the UN Security Council to renew the mandate of the organisation's 10 000 peacekeepers when it expires on November 15, and add another 900 blue helmets.

Armed violence kills 16 in Central African Republic
Andalou Agency

By Felix Nkambeh Tih
November 1, 2017

At least 16 people have been killed and several houses burned in armed violence in Batangafo, north of Central African Republic (CAR), a local media outlet reported.

The clashes erupted after members of the Christian anti-Balaka militia, attempted to occupy territories belonging to the Central African Patriotic Movement (MPC), a faction of the Muslim Seleka rebellion.

"Since Oct. 23, 2017, armed violence has debilitated the village of Saragba, a kilometer from Batangafo," the Association of Journalists for Human Rights in Central African Republic (RJDH) said.

''The violence has so far killed 16 people,'' said the association, without giving any further details of the casualties.

Humanitarian organizations say access to the area is difficult because of the ongoing violence.

''Most residents of the region are hiding in bushes to protect themselves from danger. The site for internally displaced persons has also been attacked. All activities are paralyzed; there is no trade, children do not attend school, the administration is not working. So far, no assistance has been provided to this vulnerable population," said a local source in Batangafo quoted by the association.

"The situation in and around Batangafo is very tense and the violence can increase at any time,'' according to international humanitarian organization, Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which has received several injured people.

"Locals have developed psychological problems. We are being told about injured people who do not dare to come to the hospital for fear of being attacked on the way," Caroline Ducarme, MSF head of mission, currently in Batangafo, said in a statement.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres visited the country last week. He called on the international community to act in solidarity to help Central African Republic deal with chaos and violence.

Guterres said the country is at risk of plunging back into a war.

The country has been wracked by violence since Muslim Seleka rebels ousted then President Francois Bozize, a Christian, in 2013.

Fierce fighting has continued between the Seleka and Christian anti-Balaka rebels, forcing nearly half the country's population to depend on humanitarian assistance, according to the UN.

Since August, more than 500 former combatants have joined a disarmament program that seeks to reintegrate fighters into civilian and military life.

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Sudan & South Sudan

Official Website of the International Criminal Court
ICC Public Documents - Situation in Darfur, Sudan

Kiir accuses Sudan of being source of weapons in S. Sudan war
The Independent

November 2, 2017

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir on Thursday accused Sudan of being a "source of weapons" fuelling the brutal civil war in his country as he met leader Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum.

"If there is someone who can accuse the other, it is me who can accuse Sudan," Kiir said at a joint press conference with the Sudanese president.

"Sudan now is the source of weapons that are going to South Sudan and creating problems for us."

Kiir's accusation came on the second day of his two-day visit to Khartoum aimed at resolving thorny issues with Sudan, including mutual allegations of supporting rebels in each other's countries.

Due to the disputes, ties between Khartoum and Juba have often been tense since South Sudan gained independence in 2011.

Juba has accused Khartoum of aiding Kiir's opponent and former deputy Riek Machar in South Sudan's ongoing civil war, which has killed tens of thousands and uprooted millions since 2013.

Sudan has regularly accused its neighbour of supporting rebels in its war-torn Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan regions.

Kiir On Thursday reiterated accusations that Khartoum aided Machar, who is currently living in exile in South Africa, and fighters loyal to him.

"Those people of Machar who fled from South Sudan have come here. I can give their names right now," said Kiir.

It is Kiir's third visit to Khartoum since the Christian-majority south split from the Muslim north in 2011 after a 22-year civil war that killed hundreds of thousands.

Due to unresolved issues, ties between Khartoum and Juba have often been tense since South Sudan gained independence six years ago.

Border rows, economic issues such as Juba's payments for the use of an oil export pipeline through Sudan and building a buffer zone along the frontier were expected to dominate talks during Kiir's visit.

Tense ties Sudan has regularly accused its neighbour of aiding rebels in its war-torn Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan regions, while Juba has accused Khartoum of aiding Kiir's opponent and former deputy Riek Machar in South Sudan's ongoing civil war. The status of the contested border district of Abyei also remains an unresolved issue.

"This visit (of Kiir) is aimed at normalising the relations between the two countries which have been tense," South Sudanese Information Minister Michael Makuei told reporters minutes after Kiir arrived in Khartoum a day earlier, adding the two leaders would decide on a roadmap to boost trading links. "The two countries should cooperate in the interests of their people as they are all one people in two countries."

His Sudanese counterpart Ahmed Bilal said the visit aims to "establish security and stability in the two countries".

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in South Sudan and millions more have been driven from their homes since the war erupted in the world's youngest country in December 2013.

More than 450,000 South Sudanese refugees have poured into Sudan since the war broke out, the United Nations says. Khartoum estimates they number 1.3 million.

Juba said it appreciates Khartoum's efforts to accept the growing number of refugees.

Apart from accepting refugees, the openings of border crossings by Khartoum has also helped trading activities, Juba said in a statement issued before Kiir left for Sudan.

"South Sudan will do all it can to ensure that the Republic of Sudan interests in South Sudan are protected and promoted," it said.

Several senior South Sudanese officials have regularly visited Khartoum while Kiir himself previously visited in 2015.

South Sudan's capital tense as troops surround Malong's home
ABC News

By Sam Mednick
November 4, 2017

Tensions were high in South Sudan's capital on Saturday after President Salva Kiir sent troops to surround the home of former military chief of staff Paul Malong, disarm his bodyguards and remove all weapons.

A copy of the order obtained by The Associated Press says any resistance by Malong "should be met with reasonable force."

Malong's wife, Lucy Ayak Malek, told the AP that bodyguards refused to hand over arms and the situation had worsened, with hundreds of soldiers deployed. "I think things will escalate if the president doesn't act quickly," she said by telephone.

The United Nations issued an emergency notification advising staff in the capital, Juba, to remain vigilant.

It was not immediately clear what led to the president's order, which also prevents any visitors to Malong's home. Acting army spokesman Col. Santo Domic Chol said whatever was taking place was "political."

Malong, who has been under house arrest, was fired in May and had been one of Kiir's closest allies. He was accused of directing last year's fighting in Juba that killed hundreds. A former governor of Northern Bahr el Ghazal, he also has been accused of controlling an ethnic militia that numbers in the thousands.

In February, a handful of top-level military officials resigned while accusing Kiir and Malong of ethnic bias and corruption. Shortly after his firing, Malong told the AP that he would not take up arms against the government of the East African nation, saying "we don't fight a meaningless war."

The United States in September imposed sanctions on Malong, along with two senior South Sudan officials, for undermining the country's peace, security and stability. South Sudan's civil war erupted in late 2013 and has killed tens of thousands of people and sent more than 2 million fleeing the country, creating the largest displacement of civilians in Africa since the Rwanda genocide in 1994.

Many of Malong's supporters have been advocating for his release from house arrest. Concerns have grown that the supporters will take up arms.

South Sudan's government said it was trying to "give Malong proper protection" since he can't protect himself.

"We want to ensure that criminals from the outside don't run to his house for protection and find his weapons," said the minister of cabinet affairs, Martin Elia Lomoro.

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Democratic Republic of the Congo

Official Website of the International Criminal Court
ICC Public Documents - Situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Burundi

Official Website of the International Criminal Court
ICC Public Documents - Investigation: Burundi

Burundi becomes 1st to leave International Criminal Court
The Washington Post

By Eloge Willy Kaneza
October 27, 2017

Burundi has become the first country to withdraw from the International Criminal Court, but officials say the court's prosecutor will move ahead with an examination of the East African nation's deadly political turmoil.

An ICC spokesman confirmed that the pullout took effect Friday, a year after Burundi notified the United Nations secretary-general of its intention to leave the court that prosecutes the world's worst atrocities.

Burundi is the only one of three African nations to go ahead with withdrawal after they made moves last year to leave amid accusations that the court focuses too much on the continent. South Africa's withdrawal was revoked in March. Gambia's new government reversed its withdrawal in February.

On Friday, Burundi's justice minister called the ICC withdrawal "a great achievement" in reinforcing the country's independence. Aimee Laurentine Kanyana also called on police and prosecutors to respect human rights so that "white people" won't have "false proofs to rely on in accusing Burundi."

Burundi's withdrawal doesn't affect the preliminary examination of the country's situation already underway by the court's prosecutor, ICC spokesman Fadi El Abdallah told The Associated Press. That examination began in April 2016.

Burundi has faced deadly political turmoil since April 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced plans to seek a disputed third term that he ultimately won.

Last month, a U.N. commission of inquiry report said crimes against humanity, including killings and sexual violence, are still being committed in Burundi and it asked the ICC to open an investigation as soon as possible. Alleged perpetrators include top officials in Burundi's National Intelligence Services and police force, said the U.N. report, based on interviews with more than 500 witnesses.

Hundreds of thousands of people have fled the country.

Burundi's ICC withdrawal "marks a serious step backwards which risks further isolating the country within the international community," said a spokeswoman for European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, Catherine Ray, adding that the EU expects Burundi to continue its cooperation with the court.

Human rights groups criticized the pullout and urged the ICC to pursue Burundi's situation.

"Even if President Pierre Nkurunziza's government will not cooperate with the court, the ICC has ways and means to investigate and prosecute the crimes committed," said Matt Cannock, Amnesty International's head of international justice, calling the pullout "a cynical attempt to evade justice."

"Burundi's official withdrawal from the International Criminal Court is the latest example of the government's deplorable efforts to shield those responsible for grave human rights violations from any kind of accountability," Param-Preet Singh, Human Rights Watch's associate director of international justice, said in a statement.

War crimes court backs Burundi investigation
Reuters

November 9, 2017

The International Criminal Court approved a prosecution request on Thursday to investigate war crimes allegedly committed in Burundi by the government and government-linked groups against political foes from April 2015 to October 2017.

The decision follows Burundi's decision to withdraw from the court as of Oct. 26, 2017. However, the court will still have jurisdiction over crimes committed while Burundi was a member.

A court statement said the country's government "launched a widespread and systematic attack against the Burundian civilian population... targeting those who opposed or were perceived to oppose the ruling party."

In a statement, the court said the prosecutor had presented enough evidence of crimes against humanity to merit a formal investigation, including murder, torture, rape and persecution, that led to more than 1,000 deaths.

Unrest has gripped Burundi since the announcement, in April 2015, that President Pierre Nkurunziza would seek a third term in office. He won in July of that year, despite protests that the vote was rigged and that his seeking a third term violated both the constitution and the terms of an agreement that had ended a previous rebellion.

UN rights investigators and independent activists have accused government forces of widespread violations, including forced disappearances, and of orchestrating a campaign of terror. Around 400,000 people have fled to neighboring countries amid the unrest, which has crippled Burundi's economy.

Reacting to the court decision, top Nkurunziza adviser Willy Nyamitwe tweeted: "The corrupt ICC just shot itself in the foot."

"This is obviously cheating, but no doubt Burundi will be the winner in this battle. This is the last card of the Western powers," he said.

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EAST AFRICA

Uganda

Official Website of the International Criminal Court
ICC Public Documents - Situation in Uganda

Uganda: FDC's Amuriat Arrested As Police Fire Teargas to Disperse His Supporters
AllAfrica: The Monitor

By Yahudu Kitunzi
November 6, 2017

Police in Mbale Town have arrested the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) presidential candidate, Patrick Amuriat Oboi on allegations of holding an illegal assembly and inciting violence.

Mr Amuriat was arrested by police at the Mbale Cricket Ground on Sunday evening, where he had been scheduled to address his supporters.

Police under the command of the District Police Commander, Mr Stephen Ahweera, fired live bullets and teargas to disperse the opposition leaders and supporters who had gathered at scene to welcome him.

The Elgon region police spokesperson, Mr Suwedi Kamulya confirmed his arrest and said police had earlier warned the FDC leaders against holding the rally.

"We have arrested the ring leader, Hon Amuriat for holding an illegal rally. We advised him to cancel the rally but he declined, so we had to use reasonable force to stop him and his group," Mr Manshur, he said.

He was however released on police bond to go for treatment after being injured during the arrest.

"We had no option but to release him to go and get treatment. We could not keep him here," said one of the senior police officers at Mbale Police Station who did not want to be named.

He added that they were on pressure after a section of FDC leaders led by the party secretary for mobilization Ingrid Turinawe camped at the police station demanding the immediate release of Mr Amuriat.

"They had promised to mobilize other FDC supporters to storm the station. To avoid problems, we decided to release him," he said.

During the arrest, some police officers were seen kicking Mr Amuriat who was already on ground helpless. He was later seen limping.

Mr Amuriat was in Mbale looking for votes ahead of the FDC party presidential elections.

Police had said he would be charged with inciting violence and holding unlawful assemble contrary to the public order management act.

Ms Turinawe, however, accused police of being partisan.

"Why is police bent on blocking opposition rallies? This is a sign that it's a partisan institution?" she asked.

Earlier, Mr Amuriat had addressed a delegates meeting at Mountain Inn hotel in Mbale Town, which was attended by Nathan Nandala, the party Secretary General, MP Mubaraka Munyangwa, Jack Wamanga, Mbale municipality MP and Ms Turinawe, among others, which was heavily guarded by police and army.

Mr Amuriat while addressing the party delegates wondered why police was wasting government resources surrounding the hotel where a peaceful meeting was taking place instead of doing other productive work.

"We wonder why we are under heavy police deployment,&qu

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Kenya

Official Website of the International Criminal Court
ICC Public Documents - Situation in the Republic of Kenya

Man killed with arrows in Kenyan village on edge over elections
CNBC

October 29, 2017

The body of an elderly man was discovered in a sugarcane field near a village in western Kenya on Sunday, the day after high-level officials visited the area in an attempt to calm ethnic tensions inflamed by the repeat presidential election.

The body of the 60-year-old man had three arrows in its back and severe head wounds, a Reuters witness in the village of Koguta said.

The motive and perpetrators for the killing were unclear, but it came a day after villagers from the Luo and Kalenjin communities armed themselves against each other. Locals warned the death of the Luo man could spark tit-for-tat violence.

"There's a desire for revenge by the Luo community, I'm trying to tell them to stay calm, but they are so bitter and angry," Gordon Onyango, 32, a Luo, said.

The Luo community largely boycotted this Thursday's presidential election, which was supposed to again pit opposition leader Raila Odinga, a Luo, against President Uhuru Kenyatta, a Kikuyu with a Kalenjin deputy president.

The Supreme Court ordered the repeat poll after it nullified Kenyatta's win in an August election on procedural grounds.

But Odinga withdrew from the re-rerun, saying it would not be fair. In his strongholds in the west, an area that has long felt excluded from political and economic power, protesters prevented polling stations from opening in four counties.

Across Kenya, about 10 percent of polling stations were unable to open, although there were no problems in Kenyatta's areas. Turnout plummeted from 80 percent in August to about 35 percent, undercutting Kenyata's hopes for a decisive mandate for a second term.

In some parts of the country, such as Koguta in Kisumu county, the protests damaged relations with other communities who wanted to vote for Kenyatta.

That anger risks igniting ethnic violence, which killed around 1,200 people after a disputed 2007 presidential vote, but which has been largely absent from this election so far.

At least 51 people have been killed in political violence since August, but most deaths have occurred in clashes between protesters and police.

Police, although stationed only 400 meters from where the body was discovered, declined to visit the scene for several hours until reinforcements arrived.

Police and county governors did not answer calls from Reuters, but Julius Genga, a county legislator, said by phone that he was driving to the scene. "We want the police to be deployed to try to restore calm because after the death of this man, tension is boiling up and we don't want it to escalate it to an unmanageable levels," he said.

Kenya opposition leader calls for calm in slum hit by deadly violence
Reuters

By George Obulutsa and Duncan Miriri
October 29, 2017

Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga called for calm on Sunday as he visited a slum in the capital that was hit by violence when a political stand-off over a repeat presidential election fed into rising ethnic tensions.

Clashes in Kawangware and in a village in western Kenya following Thursday's vote were the first signs that face-offs between Odinga supporters and the police might eventually morph into neighbors turning against each other.

"A country cannot be ruled by the gun. Standing here in this church we want to condemn the militarization of politics in this country," Odinga told residents in the Nairobi slum.

The veteran opposition leader had boycotted the re-run of an August presidential election that was nullified by Kenya's Supreme Court on procedural grounds, leaving President Uhuru Kenyatta with an almost free run against six minor candidates.

On Friday, a day after the repeat vote was held in most of the country, ethnic violence in Kawangware saw dozens of homes and shops torched and one man killed. Most of buildings torched belonged to residents from the Kenyatta's Kikuyu tribe.

One man from Odinga's Luo group was killed overnight near Koguta village in the west of the country, after residents from two ethnic groups backing different candidates armed themselves.

If such isolated incidents become a trend, it could ignite large swathes of Kenya, as happened after a 2007 presidential election when weeks of violence left 1,200 dead. That sent ripples throughout East Africa, which relies on Kenya as a trade and diplomatic hub.

In his speech, Odinga condemned violence generally and did not single out any particular attack.

"We have come here to give consolation to those who were beaten and killed. We as NASA condemn what happened," he told worshippers at a church in Kawangware, referring to his National Super Alliance, an opposition coalition.

Odinga boycotted Thursday's vote because he said the contest would not be fair. Instead, he wanted the Oct. 26 contest dismissed and fresh elections held within 90 days.

His withdrawal means Kenyans are watching the turnout, rather than the result, for an indication of Kenyatta's popularity for a second, five-year term.

Results published on Sunday by the election commission showed that Kenyatta had won slightly more than 98 percent of the vote with results in from 244 out of 291 constituencies.

Turnout for the constituencies counted so far was 43 percent. That figure is likely to decrease when it includes returns of 0 from least 23 constituencies where authorities were unable to open even a single polling station because of protests by Odinga's supporters.

The election board planned to try to hold elections there on Saturday, but postponed the plan amid fears of further violence.

Who owns Kenya?
IRIN

By Patrick Gathara
November 3, 2017

Two elections in two months have not settled Kenya's political crisis. But the impasse is not really about who will sit in State House. It's a deeper question: it's about who owns Kenya – its citizens or a historically entrenched political elite.

Kenya went back to the polls on 26 October after the Supreme Court annulled the first attempt in August. Incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta won easily after his main opponent, Raila Odinga, withdrew from the race alleging the inability of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission to carry out a credible poll.

Some have proposed that the political crisis is nothing more than a dispute between two of Kenya's famously power-hungry politicians, each accusing the other of trying to vault into office by fraudulent means.

Others blame the ethnicisation of Kenya's politics and the deep tribal fault lines within Kenyan society. Still others maintain that the country's winner-take-all political system, which does not allow those rejected by voters a cushy and safe landing.

All these diagnoses fail to identify the central conflict that connects all these issues – the struggle to bend the country's post-colonial extractive state to the will of a new and progressive constitution.

It is a war that has been silently waged for at least 55 years.

Colonial constitution

In 1962, Kenyan representatives to the Lancaster Constitutional Conference agreed on a constitution broadly similar to the one the country finally adopted in 2010. It established a Bill of Rights. It created regional assemblies and local government in an effort to devolve power from the centre. It even had a Supreme Court.

Yet in less than a decade, it would be so mangled through amendments that in 1969 it was officially recognised as a different document.

Kenya's current attorney-general, Githu Muigai, noted way back in 1992 that the independence constitution was incompatible with the inherited authoritarian colonial administrative structure.

"Unhappily, instead of the latter being amended to fit the former, the former was altered to fit the latter, with the result that the constitution was effectively downgraded," Muigai wrote.

In short, under the ruling KANU party, the colonial state and its logic of extraction of resources from the many to enrich the few – initially British colonials, but now a similarly tiny African political elite – prevailed and undid the constitution.

What followed was an "eating" binge as politicians and senior officials and their families and friends grabbed whatever they could lay their hands on.

By the late 1980s, the looting and oppression sparked a reaction from citizen groups, media, and churchmen who pushed hard for a new constitution, even in the face of violent government crackdowns as well as state-led attempts to co-opt and hollow out their demands. The popular agitation came to fruition in August 2010 when the current constitution was finally promulgated.

Yet the colonial state did not just fade away. Its more egregious aspects were simply renamed and allowed to hide in plain sight.

The hated provincial administrators became county commissioners; the police, though nominally independent, still remained "a citizen containment squad", as an official report into police reforms had labelled them. Under Kenyatta, the state retained its authoritarian character but with a fresh, likable face.

Its violence, however, was never far below the surface, as was witnessed in the aftermath of its bungled responses to extremist attacks such as the Westgate Mall in Nairobi in September 2013, when the government scapegoated entire communities to cover up its failures. And, more recently, in the brutal crackdown on people protesting the two elections in which nearly 70 people have died.

Where to now?

The Supreme Court annulment of the August poll came as a real shock to a political and economic elite who had assumed the ballot would be a coronation of their chosen candidate. It was the first real attempt to use the 2010 constitution to challenge their power and status as, effectively, owners of the state.

The response was quick and effective: legislative changes to virtually make it impossible for the court to nullify another election, threats to the judges, and a dubious re-run poll to sanitise what the court had impugned. It has also included Kenyatta's supporters extolling the benefits of a "benevolent dictator".

It is within the context of this historically frustrated effort to bring the colonial state to heel that we must locate the current political impasse. It must not be made out to be about the Luo versus the Kikuyu (although there is an aspect of that), or Kenyatta versus Odinga (although that matters too), or election winners versus election losers (a much less convincing argument).

The real question is whether the wenyenchi (the owners of the nation) will give up their control of the state to the wananchi (the people of the nation); whether they will allow the constitution to dismantle and remake the colonial state into one that works for all Kenyans.

While history may not offer much encouragement, the low turnout (even the highest estimates come in at under 40 percent) for the repeat election suggest there is broad agreement on the need for elections to adhere to constitutional standards of being free, fair, simple, verifiable, transparent, and credible.

The politicians are out of touch with the people. Their brinksmanship demonstrates that they are yet to learn the lessons of the 1960s and that they can't be trusted not to repeat the same mistakes their fathers' made.

Which leads us to the question of what should happen now. There is undoubtedly a need to resolve the immediate political crisis and generate consensus on how to address the longer-term issues. Proposed talks between Kenyatta and Odinga would be critical to this but, as noted above, can't be left solely to them.

The involvement of civil society, the media, and the religious establishment – both as mediators and participants in their own right – would help lay a framework that isn't solely dictated by the interests of the two protagonists.

The goal should be to establish a roadmap to a resolution of the crisis, including an agreed forum for a comprehensive national dialogue to address not just the immediate issues but, more importantly, to deal with the unfinished business of reforming the colonial state and addressing its legacy of abuse, marginalisation, and impoverishment.

Kenya faces much more than an electoral crisis. For over half a century, contestation over who controls the state has been allowed to take precedence over the need to reform that state so it works for not just a few, but for all its citizens. That must now change.  

Kenya, Again, Represses Civil Society
Human Rights Watch

By Abdullahi Abdi
November 7, 2017

Days ahead of the deadline for filing petitions against the repeat presidential election results on November 6, Kenyan authorities, again, cracked down on civil society groups critical of the vote in which Uhuru Kenyatta was once again proclaimed winner.

On November 3, the Kenya Non-Governmental Organizations Co-ordination Board, the regulatory authority for nongovernmental groups, summoned three civil society organizations – Inuka Kenya, Katiba Institute and Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI) – to respond to allegations of money laundering and employing foreigners without valid work permits, among other reasons.

And on November 6, the board banned the operations of, "Kura Yangu, Sauti Yangu" ("My Vote, My Voice"), an election campaign initiative by a coalition of civil society groups, and, "We the People," a citizen's alliance that focuses on good governance, for allegedly operating illegal bank accounts and funding political operations in Kenya.

These organizations say they were targeted because of their work. The head of MUHURI said his organization was targeted because of its involvement in filing elections petitions. He believed the board's action amounted to a "witch-hunt."

This is not the first time the board has targeted civil society organizations that were critical of the government or that challenged the credibility of results during this election season.

On August 14, days after Kenyatta was initially declared the winner of the now-annulled August 8 presidential election, the board announced it had cancelled the registration of the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) – one of the oldest human rights groups in Kenya – citing alleged tax evasion and other issues.

A day later, the board wrote to the director of criminal investigations with a request to shut down the offices of the Africa Centre for Open Governance (AfriCOG) and arrest its directors. AfriCOG is an organization that specializes in governance issues and has criticized Kenyan authorities for corruption. A high court judge in Nairobi temporarily stopped the board from shutting down AfriCOG and the acting interior cabinet secretary, Dr. Fred Matiang'i, put on hold the deregistration of the two groups, pending further investigations.

Then on October 5, the board also threatened to suspend the activities of the International Development Law Organisation (IDLO), an organization engaged in funding the judiciary including programs concerning the handling of election disputes.

The recent crackdown is part of a wider repression of civil society in Kenya in recent years. The government urgently needs to change course and instead of harassing these organizations, Kenyan authorities should respect their rights and their role in meaningful dialogue.

Kenya's Western Allies Urge Talks to Break Elections Impasse
Bloomberg

By Felix Njini
November 8, 2017

Kenya's key western trading partners and political allies urged talks to resolve a deadlock over the country's presidential elections, as the nation's top court began considering petitions challenging the outcome of last month's vote rerun.

The Oct. 26 rerun of an annulled vote two months earlier has polarized the East African nation and exposed "deep tribal and ethnic rifts" that have characterized Kenyan politics in the past, the Atlanta-based Carter Center said Wednesday in an emailed statement. Its appeal for negotiations echoed similar calls by the European Union and the U.S. last week.

"Kenya is in dire need of dialogue and reconciliation," the Carter Center said. "Though both President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga have made calls for peaceful co-existence, it is also important for the politicians to engage in dialogue to resolve this protracted political standoff."

Kenyatta, 56, was declared the winner of last month's vote, which Odinga boycotted after the Independent Electoral & Boundaries Commission refused to accede to his demands for staff and procedural changes. While the agency defended the election, the opposition dismissed it as a sham and said the final results were doctored. Voter turnout slumped to 38.8 percent from 79 percent in the August election that was nullified after the commission failed to disprove the Odinga-led opposition alliance's claims of rigging.

'Insecurity, Uncertainty'

The credibility of the Oct. 26 ballot was damaged by "insecurity, political uncertainty and lack of a fully competitive election," the Carter Center. Attacks on the electoral commission and the judiciary "dimmed prospects of a successful election."

The prolonged election standoff has undermined Kenya's reputation as one of Africa's top investment destinations and a regional hub for companies including Alphabet Inc. and Coca-Cola Co. While human rights groups say as many as 80 people died in election-related violence since the August vote, police say they've only recorded 19 deaths.

"There is an urgent need for dialogue between the two sides," the European Union observer mission said in an Oct. 31 statement. "More than ever there is an onus on political leaders to find a way out of the current impasse."

Two petitions have been filed at the Supreme Courts seeking to overturn Kenyatta's second win. The petitioners claim the rerun was illegal and was neither free nor fair. Voting shouldn't have proceeded after Odinga's withdrawal and was marred by violence and intimidation, which forced its cancellation in some areas, the petitioners said.

There should be "immediate, sustained, open, and transparent national dialogue involving all Kenyans to resolve the deep divisions that the electoral process has exacerbated," Robert Godec, the U.S. ambassador to Kenya, said on Oct. 30.

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Rwanda (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda)

Official Website of the ICTR

Cover-Up Negates Killings: Officials Threaten Victims' Families
Human Rights Watch

November 1, 2017

A report published on October 13, 2017 by Rwanda's National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) attempting to discredit Human Rights Watch documentation of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances is full of falsehoods, compounding the injustice and abuse suffered by the victims' families, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch has found that Rwandan government officials threatened and coerced victims' family members to present false information about what happened to their loved ones. Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned about the family members' safety.

The NCHR report purported to "know the truth" about a Human Rights Watch report released in July, that details how military, police, and auxiliary security units, sometimes with the assistance of local civilian authorities, apprehended suspected petty offenders and summarily executed them. The allegations in the NCHR report and its corresponding news conference were largely fabricated and misrepresented Human Rights Watch's work./p>

"The allegations by the National Commission for Human Rights show that Rwandan authorities are unwilling to tolerate criticism or make meaningful attempts to improve the country's human rights record," said Ida Sawyer, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Instead of discussing the findings with Human Rights Watch – before publication – as requested and opening serious investigations, Rwandan officials presented false accounts and threatened those who dared to speak out about the killings."

Human Rights Watch found that local officials or security forces detained family members of victims who refused to fabricate stories about what happened to their loved ones. "The local authorities asked me if I was ready to tell officials who would come to our village that [the victim] had died from illness at the hospital, but I refused," a family member of one of the victims told Human Rights Watch. "I saw how [the victim] was killed, and I could not change the truth. A few days later, I was arrested." He said he was released after several days.

A France 24 investigation, aired on October 31, found numerous discrepancies in the NCHR report and corroborated the circumstances surrounding four of the summary executions documented by Human Rights Watch.

Since the NCHR report was issued, Human Rights Watch has analyzed the report as well as the statements made during the October 13 news conference and the commission's presentation to parliament on October 19. Human Rights Watch has also carried out further investigations into some of the killings. Some of the witnesses Human Rights Watch spoke to were shocked to learn what had been alleged in the NCHR report.

A case in point was the extrajudicial killing of Alphonse Majyambere. The NCHR produced a different person at its news conference – with the same name, but from a different sector and almost 30 years older than the person who was killed.

For the case of Elias Habyarimana, killed by security forces in March, the NCHR presented a woman named Pelagie Nikuze who said Habyarimana is her husband and that he is living in Belgium. Human Rights Watch found that the man who is said to be in Belgium is a different person. The man killed in March was a fisherman who never had a passport.

The NCHR acknowledged that Fulgence Rukundo was killed, contending it was for illegally crossing the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. Yet several villagers confirmed to Human Rights Watch in late October that they and dozens of other people from their village had personally witnessed soldiers executing Rukondo for allegedly stealing and killing a cow on December 6, 2016, in Kiraga cell, several kilometers from the border.

"The death of [Rukundo] is a known story on the hill [where we live]," a witness told Human Rights Watch on October 24. "The human rights commission was too afraid to come here. If they dared approach me now, I would spit in their faces, ready to suffer the consequences."

The cases are included in the 40-page July report by Human Rights Watch, "'All Thieves Must Be Killed': Extrajudicial Executions in Western Rwanda," which documents the extrajudicial executions of at least 37 suspected petty offenders and the enforced disappearances of four others between April 2016 and April 2017. Human Rights Watch has since documented at least one additional killing by police of a suspected thief in the same period. Family members were threatened when they tried to recover the bodies of their loved ones, and authorities spoke about the executions in public community meetings, using the killings as a warning to other would-be thieves. Since the Human Rights Watch report was released in July, the killings appear to have stopped.

Extrajudicial Executions in Western Rwanda

The Human Rights Watch report is based on research in Rwanda between January and July 2017, including interviews with 119 witnesses to the killings, family members and friends of victims, government officials, and others knowledgeable about the arrests and executions. All interviews were conducted individually and privately. Human Rights Watch explained to each interviewee the purpose of the interview, its voluntary nature, the way the interview would be used, and the fact that no compensation would be provided, in accordance with the methodology Human Rights Watch uses in its research in over 90 countries.

The July report includes the names and other details about all the cases it documented and photos of many of the victims. Human Rights Watch provided a list of cases and requested meetings with Rwandan authorities before publication.

Human Rights Watch stands by its findings and strongly rejects the allegations made by the NCHR. Despite the cover-up in the NCHR report, Human Rights Watch continues to call for a constructive dialogue with the government and the NCHR and remains open to meeting and sharing information before publication of major reports, Human Rights Watch said.

The NCHR report was released three days after Human Rights Watch published a subsequent report documenting the systematic use of torture in Rwanda. Over the course of 10 months, Human Rights Watch repeatedly sought meetings with authorities, including the NCHR, to discuss those research findings. None of these meeting requests were granted.

"Rwandan authorities have disparaged and attacked Human Rights Watch for speaking out about egregious human rights violations, while threatening family and friends of victims who have already suffered immensely," Sawyer said. "The government should immediately cease all intimidation and harassment of family members and other witnesses, take reports of killings and other grave violations seriously, and join the ranks of countries that work toward respecting fundamental human rights."

Attempted Cover-Up with Deceptive Cases

Of the extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances documented by Human Rights Watch, the NCHR claimed that seven individuals are still alive, that four died of natural causes, that six died in "various accidents," that one was shot by Congolese soldiers, that eight were shot by Rwandan security forces while illegally crossing the border from Congo, that two were shot while resisting arrest, and that 10 others were "not known."

The NCHR provided the most detailed information on two cases: Alphonse Majyambere and Elias Habyarimana. During the October 13 news conference, the NCHR presented a man named Alphonse Majyambere with a presumably valid national identification card from Bushaka cell, Boneza sector in Rutsiro District. Based on his ID, this man is 64 years old. The Alphonse Majyambere whose summary execution Human Rights Watch documented was from Nyagahinika cell, Kigeyo sector, in the same district. The Majyambere who was killed, a known thief in his village, was born in 1981 – making him around 35 years old at time of death. He was originally from Rukombe village.

In late October, Human Rights Watch spoke with people close to Majyambere in Rukombe who re-confirmed that Majyambere is dead and was killed by security forces in late September 2016. A family member who saw Majyambere's body told Human Rights Watch on June 14 that, as the police were burying Majyambere's body, "they announced to the crowd, 'If we kill and bury him like this, let it be an example to those of you who want to steal.'" The same person told Human Rights Watch in late October that the NCHR report is "pure lies. Do these people think I am too stupid, as someone who saw his body, to not to know he is dead?"

"Alphonse was a vagabond and a thief," a different witness told Human Rights Watch in late October. "He would steal cows and move to different areas. His death is known. He could not have been an old man. He was born in 1981."

For the second case, the NCHR presented a woman named Pelagie Nikuze who said she is the wife of one Elias Habyarimana, a former soldier who has been living in Belgium since 2009 and who is originally from Nyarubuye cell in Rutsiro District.

While Human Rights Watch does not discount the existence of Nikuze's husband, Human Rights Watch had documented the killing of a different Habyarimana in Gabiro cell in Rutsiro District. He was from Nyagahinga Nyagahinga village. Security forces killed this Habyarimana, who was approximately 30 years old, in late March on Lake Kivu for using an illegal fishing net. He was among 11 people executed for using illegal fishing nets in cases documented by Human Rights Watch. In late October, Human Rights Watch re-interviewed people close to Habyarimana and other witnesses to his execution. They confirmed that Habyrimana was indeed killed earlier this year.

"I heard that the government said [Elias] was alive," someone close to Habyarimana said in late October. "I was shocked when I heard this. Elias is dead." The Habyarimana who was killed was never a member of the army and was never in possession of a passport, the person said. "He did not even know how to read or write," the person said. "How can people who did not know him be allowed to say that he is alive and living in Belgium? Instead of helping with his children who were made orphans by the state, they now persecute us with these lies."

Government Intimidation and Threats

Numerous family members of victims told Human Rights Watch that local authorities had interrogated, threatened, or even detained them since the publication of the July report. Authorities attempted to coerce some family members to provide a false account of what happened to their loved ones. Human Rights Watch has also documented threats to local communities where the killings took place.

For example, in Nyagahinika, a resident said, "In August the local officials had a meeting and said, 'We know some of you have been speaking to strangers about Majyambere [one of the victims]. Anyone who speaks of his death will have problems with us." Another family member of a victim told Human Rights Watch that he was threatened repeatedly by local authorities who wanted to know everything he had said to Human Rights Watch.

The family member of another victim said, "In July, the radio talked about those killed by men from the security services in Rubavu and Rutsiro, including [the victim]. The local authorities started to threaten me to know if I was the one who gave this information to Human Rights Watch. Since then, the authorities suspect me. Then they used [the victim's] second wife to say that [he] died of a disease in the hospital, but this was a pure lie."

Human Rights Watch is not the only international body concerned with reprisals against those who dare speak out. On October 19, 2017, the United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, invited to visit Rwanda after its 2015 ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, suspended its trip due to obstruction from the government and a fear of reprisals against people the subcommittee interviewed. It is only the third time in 10 years that the subcommittee has suspended a visit.

Attacks on Human Rights Watch Staff

The NCHR report triggered a torrent of disparaging and unfounded allegations against Human Rights Watch staff from government officials and parliament members. On October 13, Justice Minister Johnston Busingye tweeted allegations that certain staff were sympathetic to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda, FDLR), a largely Rwandan Hutu armed group active in Congo. On October 19, in an open debate at parliament, a member of parliament called the Human Rights Watch executive director a "dog of genocidaires."

Human Rights Watch categorically rejects all accusations of collaboration with the FDLR or of political bias. The FDLR includes people who participated in the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and others who have committed, and continue to commit, horrific human rights abuses in eastern Congo. As the Rwandan government is aware, Human Rights Watch has documented and denounced the FDLR's abuses in detailed reports and news releases, repeatedly called for those responsible to be brought to justice, and has testified in court about their crimes.

Rwandan officials have repeatedly accused those perceived to be "against" the government of collaboration with exiled opposition groups or armed groups such as the FDLR.

On October 19, the parliament recommended that the government re-evaluate its relationship with Human Rights Watch so that "ignominious acts tarnishing the image of Rwanda and Rwandan people could not continue." The Memorandum of Understanding between the Justice Ministry and Human Rights Watch, which in theory allows the organization to be registered in Rwanda, expired in June 2017. Human Rights Watch requested a meeting with the ministry to renew this document but has not received a response.

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Somalia

'Getting Away With Murder' In Somalia, Where Journalists Are Killed With Impunity
Huffington Post

By Jesselyn Cook
October 31, 2017

For the third year in a row, Somalia has ranked as the world's leading country where slain journalists' deaths go unpunished.

Over the past decade, all 26 assassinations of journalists in the East African nation have gone unsolved, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which released its annual impunity index, titled "Getting Away With Murder," on Tuesday.

The New York-based non-profit gathers data on news workers killed in retaliation for their journalism, excluding those who die in crossfire while reporting in dangerous areas such as combat zones (but are not directly targeted). CPJ, which seeks to underscore international barriers to media freedom, publishes its findings every year to document patterns of impunity, such as those consistently seen in Somalia.

According to the United Nations, at least 930 journalists were assassinated worldwide in the decade leading up to 2017. During that period, just one in 10 reported cases led to a conviction. More than 60 media workers have been killed this year.

Political reporters under fire

Somalia is gripped by a decades-long civil war and brutal insurgency being waged by the extremist al-Shabab, an Islamist militant group.

Since the country's civil war erupted in 1991, at least 64 journalists in the country have been killed as a result of their work, including 39 political reporters and 29 war reporters. CPJ, which began keeping track of worldwide journalist deaths in 1992, has confirmed the motives behind their killings, and reports that the vast majority of known perpetrators have been members of political groups.

Mohamed Ibrahim, now the Secretary General of the National Union of Somali Journalists, has covered politics and other news beats in the capital city of Mogadishu for 15 years, reporting for outlets including the BBC and Reuters.

Throughout his career, Ibrahim says he has been threatened, harassed and assaulted several times, mostly by al-Shabab militants and senior officials of the Somali government. Illustrative of the broader dangers of his job, he also narrowly survived al-Shabab attacks while working at a Somali parliament building in 2010 and at Lido beach in Mogadishu last year.

Ibrahim still finds himself looking over his shoulder when he leaves home, fearful of a targeted strike by someone who is unhappy with his reporting or advocacy for press freedom.

"Journalists are often targeted and I advocate for their rights and protections, so I know it is a high risk environment," he told HuffPost from Mogadishu. "So many journalists like me have risked their lives to serve their people and [distribute] the information they have the right to hear."

Lacking institutional capacity and political will

As a result of the ongoing conflict, Somalia's federal government does not assert central authority over the entire nation, which has allowed armed groups like al-Shabab to spread and seize territory over the years.

"In general, Somalia lacks structures of central government, so in countries like this that might be called 'failed states,' there are very high levels of impunity. It's a combination of the lack of political will as well as the lack of institutional capacity," said Courtney Radsch, CPJ's advocacy director. "That's the key challenge ― [the government] doesn't have access to certain parts of the country, and they don't have a fully functioning judiciary system or police force."

Rare government investigations into journalist killings only occur when the accused perpetrators are al-Shabab militants, and almost never lead to prosecutions, according to Human Rights Watch. Promises from Somali authorities to improve media laws and protections have repeatedly fallen short.

Laetitia Bader, a senior researcher for HRW's Africa division who has reported on killings, threats and arbitrary detention of Somali journalists, said they're being "pulled and threatened by all sides."

"Since the start of the civil war, there wasn't really a strong civil society per se," she told HuffPost from Nairobi, Kenya. "It feeds into a broader problem of just lack of state protection of individuals, although journalists have always been targeted throughout the conflict in Somalia."

Journalists are also particularly vulnerable, Bader explained, because the news "is a very big part of everyone's day and a key source of information" in Somalia. "Somalis love listening to the news ... so fundamentally, there's a recognition that journalists can play an important role in getting your agendas across."

An increasingly complex political situation in the country has led to "more political actors with much more at stake," she said. "So once again, this need to control information has become a bigger issue."

Threatening and punishing journalists can be lucrative for political figures who want to "control the narrative," said CPJ's Radsch.

"It's not surprising in a country like Somalia where there are so many warring factions," Radsch said. "They want to control the narrative, or cover up their own corruption, or gain political power. Journalists often stand in the way of that, or uncover uncomfortable revelations."

The cycle of impunity

Somalia is hardly the only country in the world where there are extensive risks for journalists.

In its latest report on "the safety of journalists and the danger of impunity," the U.N. concluded that impunity for journalist slayings around the world is "alarmingly high," and perpetuates "a cycle of violence that silences media and stifles public debate."

But the danger in Somalia is particularly acute. The country's impunity rating, which CPJ determines by calculating countries' numbers of unsolved journalist killings per capita, has shot up by 198 percent since 2007. Radsch attributed this drastic increase to the cyclical effects of impunity.

"It's very dangerous to be a journalist in Somalia, and it's very unlikely that murders will be investigated," she said. "When people see that there is no one who has been convicted, and no follow-ups on the murder of journalists, it sends them the signal that 'Oh, it's ok to murder journalists.'"

While conducting research in Somalia, Bader has spoken with several journalists who survived assassination attempts, but were hesitant to report the attacks to authorities.

"Half said, 'We did [report], and we got laughed at or were told to go get guns,' and the other half basically laughed at me saying 'Why on earth would we go to the authorities?' ― who are often the ones threatening them," she said.

As the numbers reflect, many journalists have not been fortunate enough to escape with their lives.

Radio journalist Abdiaziz Ali was reportedly gunned down while walking through Mogadishu last September. He covered the civilian toll of Somalia's conflict between government forces and al-Shabab militants for the Shabelle Media Network, an employer of at least eight slain journalists over the past decade.

Months earlier, gunmen fatally shot 24-year-old Sagal Salad Osman in the head before fleeing the scene. Osman was a university student and worked for the state-run Radio Mogadishu.

"The killing of Somali journalist Abdiaziz Ali must not be allowed to become yet another statistic in a country notorious for not bringing journalists' murderers to justice," Murithi Mutiga, CPJ's East Africa representative, said at the time. "We urge Somali authorities to leave no stone unturned in determining the motive for Abdiaziz's and Sagal's killings and finding and prosecuting those responsible."

But more than a year later, the culprits behind their killings are still at large, like dozens of others before them.

U.S. Launches First Airstrikes Against ISIS Using Drone in Somalia
KTLA 5

November 3, 2017

The United States conducted two separate airstrikes targeting ISIS militants in northeastern Somalia for the first time on Friday, US Africa Command said in a statement.

While the results of the strikes are still being assessed, Africa Command said "several" terrorists were killed.

A US official told CNN the strikes were carried out by an unmanned drone.

"US forces will continue to use all authorized and appropriate measures to protect Americans and to disable terrorist threats," Samantha Reho, a spokesperson for Africa Command said. That includes partnering with the African Union Mission in Somalia and Somali National Security Forces, "targeting terrorists, their training camps and safe havens throughout Somalia, the region and around the world."

The strikes mark the first time the US has targeted ISIS in a country in the Horn of Africa that has been beset by violence and a barely functioning central government for years.

It also comes the same day President Donald Trump told reporters the US military would dramatically ramp up military operations against the terrorist group following an attack in New York earlier this week by a man claiming allegiance to ISIS.

There was nothing to immediately suggest the strike in Somalia had any relation to the attack in Lower Manhattan that killed eight people and injured many more.

US special operations forces teams, along with US air power, have periodically operated inside Somalia in recent years against the al-Shabaab terrorist group, which has been responsible for plotting and executing attacks targeting Westerners throughout eastern Africa and beyond.

While al-Shabaab has claimed its allegiance to al Qaeda, terrorist groups affiliating themselves with ISIS have worked to gain a foothold in places across the continent.

US Africa Command, which oversees US military operations on the continent, was granted enhanced authorities by Trump earlier this year that allowed US forces to target al Shabaab, and other militant groups operating in Somalia in offensive strikes.

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NORTH AFRICA

Libya

Official Website of the International Criminal Court
ICC Public Documents - Situation in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya

Presidential Council probes slaughter of 36 persons in Benghazi's Al-Abyar
The Libya Observer

By Abdulkader Assad
October 29, 2017

The Presidential Council has issued a statement condemning the "heinous crime" and the "horrifying act" that led to the wholesale killing of 36 persons after being tortured then tossed on the road in Al-Abyar district in Benghazi.

The statement issued on Sunday said that this act is only committed by inhuman individuals and those who are stripped of their ethics, morals and manners as well as religion, adding that such an act goes at odds with the efforts to build democracy in Libya, where human rights should be respected and violations be brought to justice.

"There will be a thorough investigation in coordination with the Attorney General's office to bring the criminals to justice." The Presidential Council added.

Reactions weighing in on the brutal massacre topped Facebook walls and were mostly accompanied by the sad and angry emojis.

The reactions included the UNSMIL, which tweeted that it "condemns in the strongest terms the heinous crime resulting in the killing of at least 36 whose bodies found in Al-Abyar area," calling for immediate investigation to bring perpetrators to justice.

Likewise, the Italian Embassy in Libya's capital, Tripoli, tweeted: "Horrified at the sight of the bodies discovered in Al-Abyar. Such a heinous crime must not go unpunished."

Reactions are still coming out from different local and international stakeholders in condemnation to the crime that scandalized time and time again the fragile security situation in east Libya, where the controlling forces and leaderships claim to have regained power of police and military after eliminating the terrorist militias.

HoR member: Military leaders, TV channel behind Al-Abyar massacre
The Libya Observer

By Abdulkader Assad
October 30, 2017

The member of the House of Representatives (HoR) and former Chairman of the Defense and Security Committee Fathallah Al-Saiti blamed all Libyan authorities, especially the HoR, for the killing of 36 people in Al-Abyar, eastern Benghazi.

Al-Saiti called on the HoR members to take up their responsibility and to hold a full quorum session to review the critical issues in the country and to straighten up the path of the HoR, which he said has been almost nonoperational in the last period, adding that they should hold violators accountable for their actions, whether they are civilian or military.

He also denounced the extrajudicial executions, calling on the HoR to probe the violations and bring the perpetrators to justice, blaming as well the Interior Ministry and military leaders for the slaughter.

"Some of the killed persons in Al-Abyar were shown on Libya Al-Hadath TV Channel in confession videos, so the channel and its owners should be also investigated. They are partners in the crime as they displayed the persons' confessions on their channel." the HoR member added.

He indicated that the executive authorities in Libya should order the shutdown of the TV Channel and bring the owners and administrators to justice as they were involved in displaying the persons before they were killed and tossed on by the roadside in eastern Benghazi, explaining that justice must be served no matter who the violator is.

"There should not be extrajudicial killings in the country regardless of the crime committed by the criminal. All punishments must be through the judiciary system.

36 bodies were found in Al-Abyar in eastern Benghazi and among the victims were prisoners in Haftar's jails.

Pro-Haftar TV Channel, Al-Hadath, aired confessions for those prisoners while they were under interrogation.

Ambassadors of France, Italy, UK, and US condemn Derna air attack
The Libya Observer

By Abdulkader Assad
November 1, 2017

"We offer our condolences to the families of the victims, and call for immediate humanitarian access to assist the injured and prevent further suffering in Derna." The statement issued on Wednesday reads.

The ambassadors also condemned what they described as the horrific extrajudicial killing of 36 men in Al-Abyar district in eastern Benghazi, adding that they took notice of the announcement of the Khalifa Haftar's self-styled army that it would open an investigation into the incident.

"We look forward to the prompt conclusion of that investigation and call on the 'Libyan National Army' to ensure the results are shared publicly with the Libyan people." The statement said.

The statement explained that the four countries are monitoring ongoing acts of conflict in Libya closely, saying that those suspected of committing, ordering, or failing to prevent summary executions and torture on all sides must be fully investigated and, if found guilty, held accountable for their actions.

The statement added that the four countries will continue their efforts at the international level to pursue appropriate action against those who are complicit in violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

An air attack on Derna on Monday killed 20 people – mostly women and children – and injured over 23.

Pro-Haftar TV channel Libya Al-Hadat claimed after the attack that Dignity Operation was responsible for the airstrikes, but later denied them after a wave of outrage both in the country and outside it.

Likewise, the spokesman of Dignity Operation, Ahmed Al-Mismari denied Tuesday - after nationwide condemnation and Presidential Council's announcement to report them to UNSC – taking part in the attack, blaming it on "the terrorists" inside the city.

ICC's investigation of Libya war crimes in dock even before male rape cases
The Guardian

By Patrick Wintour
November 7, 2017

The international criminal court has struggled to ensure its writ runs in Libya ever since the UN security council tasked the ICC with the investigation of war crimes after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The possibility of taking on a raft of new cases, including repeated male rape, will therefore raise issues of capacity, evidence and authority for the court, which has been accused of politicised justice and being limited in its powers.

The ICC has so far failed to bring any Libyans to The Hague for trial since it was initially tasked with investigating war crimes in the country. Many human rights activists either flee Libya in fear of their lives, or operate from abroad. Issues of admissibility dog the court.

The former ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo has been accused of being in league with a Libyan businessman close to military strongman Khalifa Haftar, the head of the so-called Libyan National Army, and one of the militias under investigation by the court.

Ocampo has denied the charges but a leak of 40,000 emails left his successor, Fatou Bensouda, at best frustrated by his behaviour and by the damage done to the ICC's credibility.

At the same time a series of largely political referrals to the court have been made by interested parties using it as a proxy to fight their ideological battles. A group of civil society organisations in west Africa has referred the former French president Nicholas Sarkozy for his role in the western military intervention in Libya in 2011.

Gaddafi's son Saif, himself subject to prosecution by the ICC, has said he would have Qatar brought in front of the ICC for its role in overthrowing his father. It has also been claimed a senior figure in Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement will be referred in what looks like a further spillover of other diplomatic disputes.

The Libyan national courts are in dispute with the ICC over its right to try cases.

Bensouda has so far had little luck in extraditing any suspect. Without a police force or a security arm working in the court's favour in lawless Libya, she has struggled to strike fear into those charged with behaving with impunity.

In probably the most egregious case, the ICC prosecutor has been unable, despite repeated requests, to extradite Mahmoud al-Werfalli, a senior commander of LNA special forces who was first accused of the killing of 33 people in Benghazi between June 2016 and July 2017. The case is not just significant because of Werfalli's role in Libyan politics, but because of the way in which video evidence gathered on social media, often manipulated by propagandists, has been deemed admissible.

A further 36 bodies with gunshot wounds to the head and signs of torture were discovered last month in Abyar about 40 miles from Benghazi.

At the time Haftar said Werfalli had been arrested, but there is scant evidence this is the case.

Also, some western diplomats feel the need to face both ways, reluctantly coming to the view that Haftar will be allowed to stand in presidential elections, even though his lieutenants are charged with war crimes.

Despite the setbacks, Bensouda moved in May to broaden her investigations from political and military leaders to the wider systematic mistreatment of migrants. She told the UN security council that she was gathering information with NGOs about the treatment of migrants trapped in asylum centres. Bensouda said she was dismayed by credible reports that Libya has become a marketplace for trafficking people.

The latest accusations of systematic male rape being gathered by groups in Tunisia perpetrated by supporters and opponents of Gaddafi present the ICC with a further challenge.

Human rights lawyers such as Lawyers for Justice in Libya (LFJL) issued a statement this week urging the court to be more proactive.

The LFJL's director, Elham Saudi, said "Despite repeated promises to investigate serious violations, the Libyan state has yet to hold a single individual accountable for murdering, torturing and abusing civilians and those who have been captured or injured following the 2011 uprising."

It was now up to others to act, she said. "Given the total lack of deterrence mechanisms on the ground, there is an urgent need for the ICC proactively to pursue accountability in Libya and deter the commission of further crimes."

Joint forces seize control of Wershiffana district
The Libya Observer

By Abdulkader Assad
November 8, 2017

Zintan military council announced Wednesday the full control of the joint room on the Wershiffana district and the arrest of the most prominent criminals in there, most importantly Mohammed Al-Abdalli, who is nicknamed as "Al-Suborto."

Al-Suborto has been accused of many murders and kidnaps in Wershiffana over the last years.

A spokesman for the Zintan military council said the join room's forces took control of all checkpoints on the coastal road after the criminals had fled.

"There were no losses as the aim was not shedding blood in the district, but prevailing security and ending the crimes by destroying the criminals' hubs, which harmed Wershiffana population in the first place." He added.

Meanwhile, Zintan elders and others from the western region arrived in Aziziya area at the Brigade 04 that was controlled by Haftar's loyalists to meet Wershiffana elders and the room's forces to assure the residents that the operation will only end the presence of criminals, who have committing crimes and abductions on the road leading to Tripoli.

"There will be forces from western military zone under the Presidential Council's command on the coastal road and the road linking Tripoli and western mountain cities, let alone security patrols and end of armed groups' presence." A source from the joint room explained.

"We are still after the fugitives and are combing through the district. We have caught a notorious criminal Al-Suborto and the person named Al-Ghadi. Both have blood on their hands and have been infamous burglars." The source added.

Clashes in Wershiffana started a week ago and got more intense Wednesday morning when later on the war-like battle ended with the collapse of Wershiffana brigades as some of the leaders ran away and others were killed while a good number of them had been detained, not to mention that some of the criminals surrendered to the forces or to Fursan Janzour Brigade.

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EUROPE

The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, War Crimes Chamber

Official Court Website [English translation]

Bosnia Jails Mostar Fighter for Crimes Against Humanity
Balkan Insight

By Dzana Brkanic
October 30, 2017

The state court in Sarajevo on Monday convicted Savinovic, a former member of the Benko Penavic Convicts' Battalion of the Croatian Defence Council's Anti-Terrorist Group, of participating in persecution by committing murders and being involved in the forcible resettlement of Bosniak civilians in the Mostar area from May 1993 to the end of that year.

The verdict said that Savinovic, who was accompanied by three members of the Croatian Defence Council, barged into an apartment where three women and a baby were on July 15, 1993 and took them out.

One of them managed to save herself, while the bodies of the others, including the baby, were found around half an hour later, the verdict said.

"During the presentation of evidence, the defence tried to prove that the defendant could not have been present at the crime scene at that time, because he was on the front line, but the chamber could not accept the evidence related to those circumstances as true and objective," said presiding judge Zeljka Marenic.

The verdict also said that Savinovic also barged into another apartment where two women and their mother lived.

He forced them out of the apartment and escorted them to the dividing line between Croatian Defence Council and Bosnian Army forces in Mostar.

While shooting around and above them, together with other Croatian Defence Council soldiers, he forced them to flee to the eastern part of the city, which was under the control of the Bosnian Army, the verdict said.

"The defendant himself confirmed having been present in the family's apartment," judge Marenic said.

Marenic said that in order to classify the crime as a crime against humanity, it was necessary to establish the existence of a widespread and systematic attack by the Croatian Defence Council against Bosniak civilians in the Mostar area in 1993 and prove that the defendant's actions were part of that attack.

"The chamber has considered all pieces of evidence in a careful and all-round manner and has found that the defendant committed the actions described in the verdict," she said.

She explained that the eight-year sentence given to Savinovic was shorter than the mandatory minimum sentence because the defendant was very young at the time was committed, among other reasons.

The verdict can be appealed.

Alminko Islamović ordered into custody
The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina

October 30, 2017

Ruling on the motion filed by the BiH Prosecutor's Office to order custody of the suspect Alminko Islamović, on 27 October 2017 the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina issued a decision ordering the suspect into custody, which may last not longer than one month as of the day of arrest, which means until 25 November 2017 or pending a different decision by the Court.

Having established the existence of grounded suspicion, the Court ordered custody under the custody grounds set forth in Article 132(1), Subparagraphs a) and b), of the BiH Criminal Procedure Code – the existence of flight risk, as well as of particular circumstances indicating that he may hinder the criminal proceeding by interfering with the witnesses and accomplices.

Alminko Islamović is suspected of the criminal offense of War Crimes against Civilians under Article 173 of the Criminal Code of Bosnia and Herzegovina (CC BiH).

Bosnian Croat's Sentence Extended Over Orasje Crimes
Balkan Insight

By Admir Muslimovic
November 3, 2017

The Appellate Chamber of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina has sentenced former Bosnian Croat military policeman Mato Baotic to a single sentence of 13 years for committing war crimes in Orasje in 1992.

The chamber pronounced the sentence against Baotic following a retrial covering part of the first-instance verdict.

The court now gave Baotic six more years in prison for inhumane treatment of prisoners, the crime for which he was earlier acquitted.

Since he was already serving ten years in jail for rape and mistreatment of another person under the first-instance verdict, the court pronounced a single sentence of 13 years.

Explaining the verdict, Judge Mirza Jusufovic said that Baotic had beyond doubt treated three captured civilians, Pero Bozic, Jovan Cvijanovic and protected witness S-2, inhumanely.

"Baotic took all the three prisoners from a detention camp in Donja Mahala and beat them with chains, electricity cables, as well as his legs and fists, in the examination room. The chamber considers the testimonies given by those witnesses trustworthy," Jusufovic said.

The retrial happened after the court had accepted the Bosnian state prosecution's appeal against the acquittal verdict for part of the first-instance verdict.

Baotic was pronounced guilty, in his capacity as commander of the Second Section of the Military Police with the Croatian Defence Council, HVO, of having raped Marija Tunde-Benkovic, as well as protected witnesses S-4 and S-5, and for having mistreated Jovan Cvijanovic while he was held in detention in the elementary school in Donja Mahala, Orasje, hitting him with "a metal dog chain".

"The time that defendant Baotic has spent in custody, from August 12, 2015 onwards, will be calculated towards his sentence. Besides that, the court has rendered a decision to extend his custody for one more month or until he has been sent to a prison to serve his sentence," Judge Jusufovic said.

Under the second instance verdict, he has also been found guilty of causing severe physical pain and suffering, mistreating and beating many civilians in 1992. He was acquitted of those charges under the first instance verdict.

Baotic's retrial began in late September. He was exempted from paying the trial costs, while the injured parties have been advised to settle their property and legal claims through civil suits.

The parties have no right to appeal.

Dragan Janjić ordered into custody
The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina

November 6, 2017

Ruling on the Motion filed by the Prosecutor's Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina to order the suspect Dragan Janjić into custody, on 3 November 2017, the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina issued a decision ordering the suspect into custody that may last no longer than one month as of the day of his arrest, which is 2 December 2017, or pending a different decision of the Court.

Having found the existence of grounded suspicion, the Court ordered custody on the grounds of custody set forth in Article 132(1), Subparagraphs a) and b), of the BiH Criminal Procedure Code, which means the flight risk and particular circumstances indicating that he would hinder the criminal proceeding by interfering with the witnesses.

Dragan Janjić is suspected of the criminal offense of Crimes against Humanity under Article 172(1), as read with Article 180(1), of the Criminal Code of Bosnia and Herzegovina (CC BiH).

Bosnia to Step Up Dealing With Legacy of War, CoE Says
Balkan Insight

November 7, 2017

According to the Council of Europe report, based on a country visit by human rights commissioner Nils Muiznieks, authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina should spare no effort to build a truly cohesive society.

"The authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina should lay the foundations for a more cohesive society by tackling the disruptive legacy of the war. It is particularly crucial to step up the prosecution of wartime crimes and uphold the human rights of all civilian war victims, especially internally displaced people and the families of missing persons," Muiznieks said on Tuesday.

He called on the authorities at all levels to ensure that war victims, in particular victims of war-related crimes of sexual violence and victims of torture, are provided with adequate and effective reparation.

The report also recommended the adoption and implementation of the draft Law on the Rights of Victims of Torture and the Programme for Improvement of the Status of Survivors of Conflict related Sexual Violence. Additionally, it called on Sarajevo to give effect to the 2004 Law on Missing Persons by establishing a fund for the families of all missing persons.

Noting that more than 6,800 persons are still missing, the Commissioner recommended that the authorities strengthen efforts to clarify their fate and to establish a fund to support their families.

In addition, he advocated for the further improvement of the protection of witnesses.

The report also points out that Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia are still barring the extradition of their nationals charged for war crimes, further undermining criminal justice efforts.

Around 1,200 war crime cases, involving 5,000 suspects, still need to prosecuted, according to the report, while a lack of expertise by the war crime prosecutors and inadequate management of war crime cases are additionally creating a backlog of cases.

Muiznieks also called for assistance to some 50,000 internally displaced persons who need sustained attention and assistance to be built upon.

"The authorities should facilitate safe and sustainable return of IDPs [internally displaced persons] who wish to do so and ensure access to social and economic rights."

Emphasising the role of education as a tool to promote reconciliation and to rebuild a tolerant and inclusive society, the Commissioner also urged the authorities to end ethnic segregation in education by abolishing 'two schools under one roof' and mono-ethnic schools. Instead, he believes a common core curriculum should be developed and implemented.

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International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY)

Official Website of the ICTY

Hague Tribunal President Raps Serbia During Belgrade Visit
Balkan Insight

By Filip Rudic
November 1, 2017

Carmel Agius, the top judge at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia who was visiting Belgrade on Wednesday, criticised the appointment of a convicted war criminal, general Vladimir Lazarevic, to the post of lecturer at Serbia's Military Academy.

"The engagement of general Lazarevic at the Military Academy is unacceptable for the international community," Agius told President Aleksandar Vucic, according to a press release about the meeting from the Serbian presidency.

Lazarevic, who served ten years for crimes during the war in Kosovo, delivered his first lecture last Thursday, on the subject of the "heroism and humanity" of Serbian soldiers during what he called the "counterterrorist operations" in Kosovo in 1998-99 and the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999.

Serbia's decision to allow a convicted war criminal to be a lecturer at the national military academy has also been criticised by the European Union.

During his meeting with Vucic, Agius also complained about Belgrade's reluctance to extradite to The Hague two Serbian Radical Party members who are wanted for contempt of the UN war crimes court.

Meanwhile Vucic expressed concern to Agius about the treatment of Serbian war crimes convicts and the health of the defendants who are being held in the Hague Tribunal's detention centre.

Ahead of her own meeting with Agius on Wednesday, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic criticised the tribunal for what she said was its bias against Serbs.

"Nobody can say that the Hague Tribunal was objective to all sides from the conflicts of the 1990s and I think Serbia fared the worst," Brnabic told media.

Belgrade has been asked repeatedly by the tribunal to extradite the two members of Vojislav Seselj's ultra-nationalist Radical Party, Vjerica Radeta and Petar Jojic, who are charged with contempt of court for threatening witnesses at Seselj's trial at the UN court.

Radeta and Jojic are also accused of blackmailing protected witnesses and offering them bribes of 500 euros not to testify at Seselj's trial.

The Hague Tribunal ordered Serbia to detain and extradite all three Radicals and Interpol issued 'red notices' for their arrest in March this year.

But Serbia refused, citing a ruling last year by the Belgrade Higher Court, which said that the Serbian authorities can only arrest people wanted by the Hague Tribunal who are charged with war crimes, genocide or crimes against humanity.

Seselj himself is awaiting the prosecution's appeal in the case against him for wartime crimes in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Serbian region of Vojvodina after the tribunal acquitted him on all counts in March last year.

He was found not guilty of persecution, deportation, torture, wanton destruction and plunder in the period from August 1991 to September 1993.

Seselj was granted temporary release from detention in 2014 for cancer treatment, but has vowed never to return to The Hague.

He has since even mocked the tribunal on Serbian television, by donning a judge's robe and 'mediating' between participants in a reality TV show.

The Hague Tribunal's chief prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, will also visit Belgrade on Thursday.

Ratko Mladic Asks for Postponement of Trial Verdict
Balkan Insight

By Denis Dzidic
November 1, 2017

Ratko Mladic's defense lawyers asked the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY on Wednesday to postpone the delivery of the verdict in his trial and suspend proceedings to determine whether Mladic is capable of standing trial because of his poor health.

The lawyers asked for Mladic to be examined next week by a Serbian neurologist and cardiologist, and for the verdict, currently set for November 22, to be postponed until their opinions are given.

"The medical findings show the existence of a serious danger from an illness that might impede Mladic's capability of participating in the trial and indicate that his participation in the trial further deteriorates his health, even to the point of making him at risk of death," the defense lawyers' motion to the ICTY said.

The motion repeated the claim that the Tribunal Secretariat and the UN Detention Unit, where Mladic is being held during the trial, are refusing to cooperate and provide the defense with his complete medical documentation.

The Tribunal Secretariat insisted last month that contrary to the allegations, it had provided the defense with the complete medical documentation on Mladic's illness and the medical treatment he has undergone at the Tribunal's Detention Unit and hospitals in The Hague.

Mladic's lawyers said however that this was not true.

The former Bosnian Serb military chief, now 74, has had several serious health problems while in detention and suffered two strokes and one heart attack.

In June 2013, he thanked the Tribunal and its medical staff for "saving his life" and "bringing him back from grave".

But his lawyers say that his condition further deteriorated in May this year. They insist that he needs to undergo hospital treatment due to the risk of a new stroke or heart attack.

The defense requested in March that Mladic be granted temporary release and allowed to go to Russia, claiming that the treatment of his illness in The Hague had been inadequate.

The court's trial chamber rejected the request, saying that Mladic had received proper treatment in The Hague.

The main reason for turning down the request lay in the judges' belief that it was not clear that Mladic would return to The Hague because he had been on the run for 16 years prior to being arrested.

His lawyers have also said they will ask the court to grant Mladic temporary release for treatment in Serbia, after Belgrade said it would offer guarantees that the former Bosnian Serb Army chief would return to his trial.

Mladic is on trial for genocide in Srebrenica, the persecution of Bosniaks and Croats throughout Bosnia, which allegedly reached the scale of genocide in several other municipalities, terrorising the population of Sarajevo and taking UN peacekeepers hostage.

Hague Prosecution Opposes Mladic Verdict Postponement
Balkan Insight

By Haris Rovcanin
November 2, 2017

The prosecution on Thursday asked the Hague Tribunal judges to reject the postponement of Mladic's first-instance verdict, which is currently scheduled for November 22, arguing that the defense request is unfounded.

The prosecutors said that the defense "has failed to offer a justification of its request and allegations supporting that request".

They said that the defense lawyers had failed to offer a list of evidence to support their claim that "the health status of Mladic's brain has been significantly deteriorated in the opinion of medical professionals", and that the general might be "incapable of participating" in the trial because of his illness.

They pointed out that doctors at the UN tribunal's detention unit, where Mladic is being held, and independent specialists have closely monitored his health during the course of his trial.

"Their reports reflected the findings that the defendant was capable of participating in the trial and hearing the verdict on the accusations against him," the prosecutors said.

They also said that the latest report from the medical specialists on September 22 confirmed that "the defendant's health condition is stable".

The prosecutors further noted that, in a recent decision, the Hague Tribunal's trial chamber said that Mladic "has no acute medical problems" which have not been addressed by medical treatment.

Mladic's defense on Wednesday asked the UN court to postpone first-instance verdict until it had been determined whether Mladic was mentally and physically capable of further participating in the trial.

His lawyers also said that, despite repeated requests, they have still not received Mladic's complete medical dossier from the court secretariat yet.

"As indicated in the limited medical records and images, which have been provided to us, medical professionals are of the opinion that the condition of the defendant's brain has been significantly deteriorated, including at least one stroke that occurred during his detention," the defense said in its motion to the court.

The defense also said that its radiologist, who reviewed the images submitted by the tribunal, noticed "a significant deterioration of Mladic's cerebral tissue since the beginning of the trial" and alleged that "the truth has been potentially wrongly presented" in written records made by court doctors.

Prior to his arrest in late May 2011, Mladic - who is now 74 - had suffered three strokes.

The defense requested in March that Mladic be granted temporary release and allowed to go to Russia, claiming that the treatment of his illness in The Hague had been inadequate.

The court's trial chamber rejected the request, saying that Mladic had received proper treatment in The Hague.

The main reason for turning down the request lay in the judges' belief that it was not clear that Mladic would return to The Hague because he had been on the run for 16 years prior to being arrested.

Mladic is on trial for genocide in Srebrenica, the persecution of Bosniaks and Croats throughout Bosnia, which allegedly reached the scale of genocide in several other municipalities, terrorising the population of Sarajevo and taking UN peacekeepers hostage.

Vucic and ICTY president exchange concerns, objections
B92

November 2, 2017

Agius is visiting Serbia as the final in a series of visits to the countries of the former Yugoslavia before the tribunal closes down at the end of this year, ICTY announced earlier.

According to a statement from the Serbian president's office, Vucic and Agius spoke today about the Hague Tribunal's legacy, and the future work of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, that will continue to perform some of ICTY's functions.

During the conversation, Vucic "pointed to the need to return to the Republic of Serbia the documentation submitted on the request of ICTY's Prosecutor's Office," and "expressed concern about the treatment of Serb prisoners who are serving prison sentences abroad, based on the Hague Tribunal judgments, as well as about the health of the detainees in the detention unit in The Hague."

Agius "made an objection to President Vucic because two members of the Serb Radical Party have not been extradited to Hague Tribunal, and said that the involvement of General (Vladimir) Lazarevic at the Military Academy (in Belgrade) was unacceptable for the international community," the statement said.

According to announcements, while in Belgrade, Agius will also meet with Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, who earlier in the day described the ICTY as "not unbiased, and not contributing to regional reconciliation."

UN tribunal rejects Ratko Mladic's lawyers' request to postpone trial judgement
Daily Sabah

By Daily Sabah
November 2, 2017

U.N. judges rejected former Bosnian Serb military chief Gen. Ratko Mladic's lawyers' request to postpone the final verdict of genocide trial so Serbian doctors could visit to assess his health.

Mladic was tried on 11 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes for allegedly overseeing atrocities by Serb forces in Bosnia's 1992-95 war.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia is scheduled to deliver its judgment on Nov. 22.

Lawyers for the 75-year-old former general say he is in poor health. They asked in a motion published Wednesday for Serbian doctors to be allowed to assess if he can "meaningfully and safely participate in any further court proceedings, including the pronouncement of the judgment, without further risk to his health."

The statement by the court said the health issues of the former general were not serious enough to prevent him from appearing on the court

Serbian State Security 'Controlled Scorpions Paramilitary Units
Balkan Insight

By Radosa Milutinovic
November 8, 2017

Witness Goran Stoparic told Stanisic and Simatovic's trial at the Mechanism for International Tribunals in The Hague on Tuesday that the Scorpions were formally part of the armed forces of the rebel Republic of Serbian Krajina statelet in Croatia "but the unit was sponsored by the Serbian SDB [State Security Service]".

Stoparic, who was a member of several Serb units from 1991 to 1995, said that the Scorpions' commander, Slobodan Medic, also known as Boca, was part of a chain of command that led to the SDB chiefs.

"Boca reported to Milan Milanovic, alias Mrgud, assistant minister of defence of the RSK, while Milanovic reported to Frenki [Franko Simatovic], and Frenki to Jovica Stanisic," he explained.

The witness said Milanovic used to "issue orders for Scorpions' operations" under "great influence" from the Serbian interior ministry.

He also said that "30 per cent of Scorpions members were Frenki's Red Berets [a Serbian interior ministry force]", and had been trained at Serbian SDB camps.

Stoparic testified that the Scorpions, whose base was located in the village of Djeletovci in the Eastern Slavonia region of Croatia, received salaries and equipment from the SDB in Belgrade.

In addition to the Scorpions, the witness also named the Tigers commanded by Zeljko Raznatovic, alias Arkan, the Vipers, the Wolves from Drina and others as paramilitary units that he thought were "the satellites of the Serbian SDB".

Stanisic, the former chief of the SDB, and his former assistant Simatovic, are charged with being responsible for the persecution, murder, deportation and forcible resettlement of Croat and Bosniak civilians during the wars in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The witness confirmed that paramilitary groups killed, pillaged and persecuted the non-Serb population in the village of Tovarnik and in Vukovar, Croatia, as well as in Brcko in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Stoparic also said he personally saw the shooting of Bosniaks from Srebrenica in Trnovo area in July 1995.

He testified that he was an eyewitness to the murder of six Bosniaks from Srebrenica, which Scorpions members committed and video-recorded.

He said the order to kill the captives and record the crime was issued by the Scorpions commander, Boca.

According to the charges, Stanisic and Simatovic were part of a joint criminal enterprise led by former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, aimed at forcibly and permanently removing Croats and Bosniaks from large parts of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to achieve Serb domination.

They both pleaded not guilty in December last year after the appeals chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia overturned their acquittal in their first trial.

The appeals chamber ruled that there were serious legal and factual errors when Stanisic and Simatovic were initially acquitted of war crimes in 2013, and ordered the case to be retried and all the evidence and witnesses reheard in full by new judges.

Stoparic continues to testify on Wednesday.

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Domestic Prosecutions In The Former Yugoslavia

Serb Paramilitaries Convicted of Burning Croatian Village
Balkan Insight

By Sven Milekic
October 31, 2017

Zagreb county court on Tuesday found Nikola Ladjevic, Predrag Radisic and Dean Tisma - all former members of the 2nd Company’s 2nd Battalion of the armed forces of the Republic of Serbian Krajina, an unrecognised wartime Serb statelet - guilty of a war crime.

The three men were convicted of burning and destroying houses in the village of Nova Derencina, which was almost completely populated by Croats, in October and November 1991.

They were tried in absentia, as they are presumed to be living outside Croatia.

The court gave a seven-and-a-half-year prison sentence to Ladjevic, while Radisic and Tisma were given a five-and-a-half years each – a little above the minimum war crime prison sentence of five years.

Judge Tomislav Jurisa said that "the burning of the houses symbolised that the [Croat] villagers should never return".

The court established that Ladjevic knew his subordinates were setting the village on fire and did nothing to stop them or sanction the perpetrators afterwards.

"During the trial, it was established that at that moment [when the village was first burned on October 6, 1991] there were no Croatian forces or military targets in the village and that all the houses were civilian objects," judge Jurisa said.

According to the court, it was established that Ladjevic was "the official and real commander of the 2nd Company’s 2nd Battalion" and thus had "responsibility for preventing and sanctioning offences" committed by his subordinates, who included Radisic and Tisma.

The court established Radisic’s guilt from photographs in which he is shown with a broom on fire, next to the burning houses.

Tisma’s guilt was partly established by a personal letter he sent to his brother, describing the crimes, which the court found to be authentic.

The court established Ladjevic’s command responsibility through the statements of witness Nikola Simic, also a former paramilitary, who said that the 2nd Battalion had three platoons, made up of Territorial Defence members and conscripted civilians.

The court also established that Ladjevic had real command power from testimonies that he ordered two tanks to be deployed in the village.

The court further established that alongside Radisic and Tisma there was an alleged third perpetrator, Predrag Japranin.

Jurisa explained that in sentencing Radisic and Tisma, the court took into account that they were 21 at the time and were "being manipulated".

He noted that their "naivety and even stupidity" was demonstrated in Tisma’s letter, in which he wrote about "21 Russian MiGs [military jets] with Russian pilots" coming to the Serbs’ aid – something that never happened, according to all reliable historical sources.

Jurisa said the men’s youth was a "greater responsibility for the officer staff" – which served as an aggravating circumstance in the sentencing of their superior, Ladjevic.

Macedonia Gives Kumanovo Gunmen Heavy Jail Terms
Balkan Insight

By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
November 2, 2017

A Skopje court on Thursday gave life sentences to seven of the 37 defendants charged with taking part in a bloody two-day gun battle with police in the northern Macedonian town of Kumanovo in May 2015.

Thirteen people were sentenced to 40 years in prison, six got 20 years, one got 18 years, two got 14 years, two got 13 years and two were sentenced to 12 years. Four of the 37 defendants were acquitted.

The defendants were found guilty of terrorism, either for participation in or assistance of a two-day shootout with Macedonian security forces that left 18 people dead, including eight police, in the town.

Special police were deployed around and inside the court building for the issue of the verdicts in this ethnically charged case.

The atmosphere in court was also tense. Only three defendants were allowed to hear their verdicts in person. The judge ordered the others to be removed due to their loud protests.

"We are not terrorists, we are the NLA [National Liberation Army]. The terrorists attacked parliament while you attacked us!" one of the defendants shouted before being removed from the court.

He was referring to the April 27 attack on the Macedonian parliament by supporters of the former ruling VMRO DPMNE party.

The defendants will have a chance to lodge appeals before the Court of Appeals.

At the last hearing in late September, lawyers for the defendants, in their closing statements, insisted that the evidence against their clients was insufficient and circumstantial and said that they should be acquitted.

Some of the defendants who had admitted participation in the armed clashes with police in Kumanovo maintained that they were victims of a politically motivated set-up.

The trial started in February 2016. But in June last year, proceedings had to restart after the prosecution merged the case with another related case, in which eight people are suspected of helping the armed group.

The prosecution said that the men stole weapons from a police station, which they then used to attack the security forces in Kumanovo on May 9 and 10, 2015.

The defendants denied attacking the police and insisted that they were only defending themselves from attack.

The case and the controversy that surrounds it will not likely end with the court ruling. In September, addressing public concerns about the case, Macedonia's new Prime Minister, Zoran Zaev, whose centre-left government was elected in May, said he favoured a retrial.

If that happens, the authorities may request international help and supervision to remove all remaining doubts about the case.

A special group of judicial experts working on judicial reforms is currently mulling a special law that would allow retrials of this and other cases in which interference by the past VMRO DPMNE-led government, which held power for 11 years, is suspected.

[back to contents]

MIDDLE EAST AND ASIA

Iraq

Grotian Moment: The International War Crimes Trial Blog

This is the first American convicted of joining ISIS
The New York Post

October 28, 2017

More than 100 people in the U.S. have been charged with trying to help the Islamic State, or trying to join it, but Mohamad Khweis stood out because he succeeded.

Khweis, 27, the only American citizen to be convicted in a U.S. jury trial of successfully joining the Islamic State overseas, was sentenced to 20 years in prison Friday.

Khweis, from Alexandria, Virginia, was convicted on terrorism charges earlier this year. Khweis traveled to Islamic State-controlled territory in Iraq and Syria in December 2015, even obtaining an official membership card. But he found life there distasteful and escaped after a few months. He surrendered in northern Iraq to Kurdish forces, who broadcast his capture around the world.

The vast majority of people charged in U.S. courts with Islamic State-related terrorism offenses ran afoul of sting operations in which the suspects thought they had made a connection with the terrorist group, only to find out that their supposed contacts were actually undercover informants or agents.

The unique nature of Khweis' crime merited a strong sentence, said prosecutor Dennis Fitzpatrick, who argued for 35 years in prison.

"This defendant executed his plan to perfection. He got into the Islamic State. He was in their machinery. He was providing himself and his services to the organization," Fitzpatrick said.

Once he made it to the Islamic State territory in late 2015, he "became the consummate utility player for the Islamic State," said prosecutor Raj Parekh. "When ISIS needed his blood, he allowed them to draw it. When ISIS needed him to cook and clean for wounded soldiers, Mohamad Khweis multitasked and filled that role as well."

One thing Khweis never did, his lawyers said, was take up arms on behalf of the Islamic State.

"While he was there, he did not fight. He did not do harm to another human being," defense attorney John Zwerling said.

Zwerling agreed with the suggestion from prosecutors that Khweis' case is unique because he is one of the few Americans to actually make it to Islamic State territory. But he said his client deserves a measure of credit for leaving the Islamic State on his own, and cooperating with authorities by providing them intelligence on the group's inner workings. He also helped authorities identify four Westerners who had left the Islamic State with intentions to do harm in their home countries.

"He provided valuable, actionable intelligence," Zwerling said. "And the government has given him zero credit for any of it."

Zwerling argued it was counterproductive to punish Khweis with decades in prison, because it sends the message to other Americans who might consider abandoning the Islamic State that they have nothing to look forward to in the U.S. but a prison cell. Zwerling and defense attorney Jessica Carmichael argued for a five-year sentence.

Khweis did not speak at Friday's sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. In a letter to the court, he apologized for his actions and said, "When I arrived in Syria reality hit me. I couldn't believe what I had done and where I was at. I hated myself for making the worst decision I ever made in my life."

Despite a trial in which Khweis took the stand in his own defense, his motivations for joining the Islamic State remain a mystery. He testified that he was curious about what life was like in the Islamic State's self-proclaimed caliphate, but even his own attorneys acknowledged that Khweis' testimony was riddled with lies.

"The record is void of what motivated him, what got him to go," Zwerling said.

Khweis grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in Fairfax County, just outside the nation's capital, graduating in 2007 from Edison High School. Before leaving for the Middle east in 2015, he worked as a bus driver for the elderly and disabled in the region's Metro system. His parents emigrated from the Middle East and he grew up as a Muslim, but was not particularly religious. His parents, who attended Friday's hearing, declined to comment.

"There is no event, no instigator, no friend … no suicidal ideation that radicalized you," Judge Liam O'Grady said before imposing his sentence, "but there is no question you did radicalize."

'Jihadi Jack' charged with being IS member, Kurdish officials say
BBC News

By Emma Vardy
October 28, 2017

Jack Letts, dubbed "Jihadi Jack", travelled to Syria in 2014 and was later captured by the Kurdish-led YPG - the group fighting against IS - when he left IS territory.

Officials told the BBC Mr Letts had been captured in May 2017.

Mr Letts has previously said he opposes IS.

A statement given to the BBC from the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (DFNS) - a self-declared autonomous region - said Mr Letts had been taken to a prison in Qamishli, northern Syria.

It said the case was still under investigation by the local police force, the Asayish.

It is the first time Kurdish forces have confirmed the capture of Mr Letts as a prisoner of war.

Petition

Mr Letts converted to Islam while at Cherwell comprehensive school in Oxford.

He travelled to Jordan, aged 18, in 2014, having dropped out of his A-levels. By the autumn of that year he was in IS-controlled territory in Syria.

He married in Iraq and now has a child.

His parents have denied he went to Syria to fight with IS, and started a petition claiming he had "disappeared in a Guantanamo-style black site" in Kurdish-controlled territory.

But Sinam Mohamad, the European representative of DFNS, strongly disputed this.

She told the BBC that its judicial bodies respected international human rights law and were treating Mr Letts in accordance with the Geneva Convention and international human rights standards.

"We refute all these baseless allegations," she said.

Kurdish officials say Mr Letts' parents have previously written to the head of the Asayish regarding a possible transfer of Jack to Canadian authorities.

Mr Letts - whose father is Canadian - has a Canadian passport.

Officials say the letter said: "We understand that the Asayish must detain and question anyone they believe might have been involved in violent or extremist activities.

"We also accept that Jack will need to be transferred into Canadian custody for questioning and may be arrested when he arrives in Canada. If he has committed any crimes we believe he should face justice and explain his actions."

"We are willing to work with the Asayish and the Canadians to help resolve this situation as quietly and as quickly as possible," the letter reportedly added.

His parents said they were grateful to the Asayish for "having treated him well according to international standards of human rights" while in custody.

However, John Letts and Sally Lane say they have had no confirmation Jack is still alive since July.

They conducted a week-long "hunger-strike" in protest, claiming the British government had not done enough to help their son.

Ms Mohamad's statement added: "The Democratic Federation of Northern Syria's policy with regard to prisoners of war is clear and fair.

"ISIS brought inexplicable levels of terror on the peoples of Northern Syria...

"Despite this fact, the DFNS is not less committed than European countries to treating the fighters from this terror group according to international human rights standards."

'No official request'

The statement has for the first time shed light on the situation regarding the possible handover of Mr Letts to British authorities.

It said Kurdish officials were willing to hand over prisoners of war to their original country after being properly investigated.

The statement added: "Jack Letts is currently under investigation by local and global anti-terror units.

"Once the investigation is concluded, the outcome will be communicated to Jack's parents, and their legal representatives and to the officials of relevant governments.

"Therefore, we ask the parents of Jack Letts and their legal representative to ask the UK and Canadian governments to officially request the handover of Jack Letts from the officials of the DFNS so that the handover can proceed officially.

"However, so far there has been no official request from neither Canadian or British governments."

There has been significant debate over what should happen to British IS fighters who are still in Syria.

Earlier this week, Rory Stewart, the minister for international development, said those who are there are "a serious danger to us".

"Unfortunately the only way of dealing with them will be, in almost every case, to kill them," he said.

However, security minister Ben Wallace has previously told the BBC that the government's preference is for suspected IS fighters to be returned to the UK to face prosecution.

"We have planned and prepared for the risk posed by British returnees as Daesh (IS) is defeated," he said.

"Our ultimate aim is to prosecute, but it's not straightforward."

Mr Letts and Ms Lane have pleaded not guilty to charges of funding terrorism after being accused of sending cash to their son.

Their solicitor has said they have declined to comment.

The Foreign Office said: "The government is unable to provide support to British nationals in Syria as the UK government does not have consular representation there."

Bosnia Extradites Alleged ISIS Associate to US
Balkan Insight

By Danijel Kovacevic
October 31, 2017

The Bosnian authorities extradited Mirsad Kandic to the US on Tuesday after he had been on Washington's wanted list for three years because of his alleged ties with terrorist organisations.

Kandic was deported on a special plane sent by the US government.

"The staff of the Prosecutor's Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina, together with partner agencies, provided all the necessary assistance and cooperation. Due to the sensitivity of the case, we cannot give more information and details," the prosecutor's office said in a press release.

Kandic was born in 1981 in Kosovo, and since January this year, he has been hiding in Sarajevo's Grbavica district. He was arrested in early July.

An Interpol's Red Warrant for Kandic's arrest was issued in 2016, although the US judiciary has been looking for him since 2014 because of his alleged longstanding ties with terrorist organisations.

Before he went into hiding, Kandic lived in the US and had a so-called 'green card' giving him permanent residency.

He allegedly helped Jake Bilardi, an 18-year-old Australian who became known as Abu Abdullah al-Australi, to reach ISIS-controlled territory.

Bilardi died in March 2015 in a suicide bomb attack in Ramada in Iraq.

The Bosnian state court ruling that approved Kandic's deportation to the US said he is accused of "providing support", in particular to Bilardi, in the period from August 2014 to March 2015.

At the time of his arrest, Kandic had a fake ID card which said it had been issued by Montenegro, under the name Radoncic.

Iraq not equipped to try Islamic State's atrocities in Mosul: U.N.
Reuters

November 2, 2017

Iraq is not capable of trying atrocities committed by Islamic State during the battle for Mosul so it must find other routes to justice such as the International Criminal Court (ICC), a U.N. human rights report said on Thursday.

At least 2,521 civilians were killed during the nine-month battle including 741 people who were executed, the report said. Most died as a result of Islamic State (ISIL) attacks.

It cited testimonies of mass abductions by Islamic State, as well as killings, the use of human shields, and deliberate targeting of civilians and their homes.

ISIL planted "a huge number" of improvised explosive devices and used drones to drop explosives in Mosul, a city of 1.5 million, as well as setting fire to sulphur fields and oil wells, it said.

Its forces desecrated religious sites and last June blew up the al-Nuri mosque from which its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had declared the caliphate spanning parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014, it said.

"Iraqi courts and tribunals do not have jurisdiction over international crimes (such as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes) - and prosecutors, police investigators and judges lack capacity to ... (investigate), charge and try persons in relation to such crimes," the report said, calling for it to amend domestic law.

Iraqi law did not do enough to guarantee due process or fair trials, it said.

Accepting the jurisdiction of the Hague-based ICC and finding other ways to ensure crimes were tried by a competent court "would reassure the international community that Iraq is serious" about getting justice, which was key to rebuilding trust and reconciliation, it said.

At least 74 mass graves have been discovered since June 2014 in areas previously held by ISIL in Iraq, the U.N. report said.

These included in Sinjar, the northwestern city where the U.N. has said Islamic State committed genocide against the Kurdish-speaking Yazidi religious minority whom the Sunni militants view as infidels.

Iraq and the international community have a duty to ensure those crimes are prosecuted, Syracuse University professor and former war crimes prosecutor David Crane said on Wednesday in a separate report into the genocide, issued by his law school's Syrian Accountability Project.

"Bringing ISIS to justice for genocide against the Yazidi community, at the domestic or the international level, will depend on the strategic preservation of forensic evidence," Crane's report said.

The U.N. report also called on Iraqi authorities to investigate crimes allegedly committed by Iraqi-backed forces during the operation, including mass abductions and unlawful killings.

It called for a separate investigation into air strikes by the international coalition.

It said the U.N. had recorded 461 civilian deaths from air strikes during the most intensive phase of the battle for western Mosul, from Feb. 19.

IS 'executed' 741 civilians during Mosul battle – UN
BBC News

November 2, 2017

At least 741 civilians died in "execution-style killings" by Islamic State militants during the battle for the Iraqi city of Mosul, the UN says.

The jihadists are also alleged to have carried out mass abductions, used human shields, intentionally shelled homes, and targeted people trying to flee.

"Those responsible must answer for their heinous crimes," said UN human rights chief Zeid Raad Al Hussein.

He also called for alleged violations by Iraqi forces to be investigated.

The UN says another 461 civilians died as a result of Iraqi military and US-led coalition air strikes during the most intensive phase of the battle, which lasted from November 2016 to July 2017.

In total, at least 2,521 civilians were killed and another 1,673 were wounded during the military operation, mostly as a result of IS attacks, according to the report published on Thursday by UN Assistance Mission for Iraq and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

It says that early in November 2016, in areas of Mosul under IS control, members of the group used loudspeakers to announce that residents of areas retaken by Iraqi security forces were considered as "legitimate targets" because of their "failure" to fight troops.

"This so-called 'fatwa' was accompanied by a sustained campaign of [IS] attacks on eastern Mosul that directly targeted civilians," the report adds. "Tactics included shelling, use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and shooting fleeing civilians."

"During the course of the operation to retake Mosul City thousands of civilians were subjected to shocking human rights abuses and clear violations of international humanitarian law," Mr Zeid said.

"The execution-style killing of civilians, the suffering inflicted on families, and the wanton destruction of property can never be tolerated in any armed conflict, and those responsible must answer for their heinous crimes."

The report calls on the international community to take action to ensure that those responsible for "international crimes" such as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes are held accountable, and urges Iraq to accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

It notes that Iraqi courts and tribunals do not have jurisdiction over international crimes, and that prosecutors police investigators "lack capacity" to investigate, charge and try people in relation to them. In addition, it says, Iraqi law does not do enough to guarantee due process or fair trials.

What should happen to IS fighters in Syria and Iraq?
BBC News

By Imogen Foulkes
November 2, 2017

Countries must remember "our shared humanity" when dealing with captured fighters from so-called Islamic State, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

At a briefing in Geneva, the ICRC's deputy director for the Middle East, Patrick Hamilton, insisted that international law on the treatment of combatants must be followed, and rejected calls for the "annihilation" of fighters.

He acknowledged that the campaign against IS had left "huge devastation in its wake", with "catastrophic humanitarian consequences".

But while Mr Hamilton's remarks did touch on the appalling suffering of civilians who have had to live through the brutal regime of IS in Mosul or Raqqa - and the bloody battles for those cities - his focus was the future treatment of IS fighters, including those who travelled to Syria and Iraq from other countries.

The ICRC is already visiting more than 1,300 women and children of several dozen nationalities detained near Mosul.

They are believed to be the families of foreign fighters. As the coalition against IS gains more ground, more and more IS fighters and their families are expected to be captured.

So what should happen to them?

The ICRC, said Patrick Hamilton, was concerned about a "public discourse… on the desirability of annihilating those enemies still standing", and he warned against treating the fighters as "if they were outside our shared humanity".

'Dehumanising rhetoric'

He did not identify specific names of those carrying on such a discourse.

But when Mr Hamilton warned about "dehumanising rhetoric", he was probably referring to comments made by a number of Western politicians - including Rory Stewart, minister of state at the UK's foreign office - who recently said that UK citizens fighting for IS were a "serious danger to us".

"Unfortunately," he said, "the only way of dealing with them will be, in almost every case, to kill them."

The French Defence Minister Florence Parly has also suggested that if IS fighters "perish in this fight, I would say that's for the best".

Brett McGurk, the US envoy to the coalition against IS, has said the coalition wants to ensure that foreign fighters "die here in Syria".

The comments from politicians may find a good deal of sympathy among voters.

Citizens and survivors of terror attacks in Paris, London or New York are understandably nervous about the prospect of individuals who joined IS returning home once the battle for the caliphate is lost.

An estimated 30,000 foreign fighters are believed to have joined IS.

The security services view even a few hundred returning to Europe as a huge challenge: putting them in jail risks further radicalisation but allowing them to go free will almost certainly involve the police in round-the-clock surveillance work.

Many may struggle to identify any "shared humanity" with people whose ideology appears to include enslaving women, decapitating prisoners or driving trucks into crowds of tourists.

'Hors de combat'

But at the ICRC, the guardian of the Geneva Conventions, the mood is different. "Exceptional crimes do not justify exceptions to the law," said Patrick Hamilton.

In his view, any fighter "left standing" must be captured, detained, and, if crimes are suspected, brought to justice in the usual way.

Agnes Callamard, the UN's special rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions, shares the ICRC's concerns.

She believes the current rhetoric focusing specifically on IS is "problematic". "In Syria and Iraq," she argues, "vast numbers of atrocities have been committed, by all sides - why single one out?"

People who are not actually fighting, she explains, are "hors de combat" - or "out of action" - and international law is very clear about how they should be treated.

She agrees with the ICRC that there should be no exceptions to this, and that there should be no arbitrary killing just because someone is believed to be a member of IS.

'Transparent process'

On a practical level, both Agnes Callamard and Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch fear that the apparent desire, as expressed by US President Donald Trump, to "annihilate Islamic State" could, if really carried out, destroy valuable evidence of war crimes.

"In terms of uncovering the truth and ensuring the victims or their relatives get justice," said Ms Callamard, "that can only be done through an open and transparent judicial process."

Mr Brody agrees that returning IS fighters present "challenges", but argues they also offer "opportunities".

He talks of the possibility of finding a way "to work with some of these former fighters to find out all we can about how Isis operates, and even to build criminal cases against high-ranking Isis officials who have been involved in war crimes and other atrocities".

"We have a right to know," adds Ms Callamard. "For history, how IS operated, who funded them. All of this is crucial information."

Winning the peace

Despite their apparent contradiction, underlying both the comments made by Western politicians and the pleas for humanity from the ICRC and others is a common desire for peace, both in the Middle East and on our city streets.

Eradication of a group that has caused so much horror may be an attractive solution, but the ICRC views it as short-sighted, as well as illegal under international law.

"How a conflict is fought and brought to an end [is] important to future peace," Patrick Hamilton points out. "Talk of annihilation or extermination risks perpetuating the conflict."

"Our justice system is predicated on the fact that even the worst perpetrators… should have their day in court, for all to see," says Agnes Callamard.

And, she points out, we have had the vision and the energy to bring the perpetrators of history's most horrific crimes to justice in the past.

"We did it after World War Two [with the Nuremberg trials]. We did not have a choice then, and we do not have a choice now."

Anbar Displaced Barred from Going Home
Human Rights Watch

November 2, 2017

Iraqi security officials are preventing displaced families from returning home to retaken areas over perceived ties to the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), Human Rights Watch said today. Iraqi authorities also are evicting other families in an attempt to force them back to their homes, even when these families fear their home areas will be unsafe or their homes were destroyed by fighting.

The concerns about Anbar authorities' treatment of displaced people are heightened because of new military operations beginning October 26, 2017, to retake the areas in western Anbar still under the control of ISIS and the possible exodus of tens of thousands more civilians from those areas.

While Iraqi forces confront serious security concerns, just being a family member of someone linked to ISIS or having lived under ISIS is not enough to represent a real threat," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Authorities should allow those who aren't an actual security risk who want to go home to do so in peace and respect the right of people who don't feel safe to live where they wish.

In mid-2016, Iraqi forces battled ISIS in and around the city of Fallujah, 50 kilometers west of Baghdad in Anbar province. Over the past month, Iraqi forces have continued to push toward Qa'im and Rawa in western Anbar along the border with Syria, the last towns in Iraq still under ISIS control. Fighting in Anbar has displaced at least 507,000 people since 2014, with at least 91,000 still in camps, according to the International Organization for Migration's Displacement Tracking Matrix.

Most of the displaced have ended up in one of five main camps. Others are restricted to an area of formal and informal settlements, partially due to restrictions on staying outside camps that have increased with the newer arrivals from western Anbar, said two experts who monitor treatment of internally displaced people in Anbar and who requested anonymity. In early July, about 5,000 families were stuck at Suqur checkpoint, the main checkpoint between Anbar and Baghdad, for up to 12 days, with security forces unwilling to provide a plausible explanation.

Since March, Anbar's Provincial Council has been encouraging districts in Anbar to forcibly return displaced families to areas retaken by Iraqi forces. On March 22 the Anbar Provincial Council issued a notice ordering authorities in the towns of Khaldiya and Amiriyat al-Fallujah to forcibly return all families whose homes were not completely destroyed by the fighting, citing limits in camp space.

Many armed forces are inside the main camps in western Anbar, including Iraqi Security Forces, Popular Mobilization Forces (known as the PMF or Hashd al-Sha'abi), Interior Ministry Intelligence agents, and local police. The experts said that procedures differ based on where residents are from.

In most cases, forces under the Anbar Operation Command carry out an initial screening of people who want to return home, including running the names of all men and boys over 15 through a database of those wanted for ISIS affiliation at Suqur checkpoint. If they pass, local Interior Ministry emergency forces carry out their own screening. In some areas, local PMF units made up of tribal forces carry out a third screening before greenlighting their return home.

According to the two experts and a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees report, Iraqi security forces regard most civilians who have remained in the towns of Rawa and Qa'im to be "ISIS-affiliated."

On October 8, Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed nine men and one woman displaced with their families in the Amiriyat al-Fallujah and Habbaniya Tourist City (HTC) camps. Six said that soldiers had come to their tents in late September telling them to pack up and return home because their areas had been retaken since June 2016.

Three of them said they told the soldiers they had relatives who had joined ISIS and did not feel safe returning. Another man from Thera Dejla, northeast of Fallujah said he told soldiers he was afraid to go home for that same reason. They all said they knew they would be returned from the Suqur checkpoint because local security forces had told them their names were on wanted lists.

One man said that his family boarded trucks with about 45 other families, but that his family and two others were stopped at Suqur checkpoint and sent back to the camp. He said his name was on the list because his brother had joined ISIS, and that one of the other families admitted to him that their daughter had joined ISIS.

The remaining three men said they were also afraid to return home, though two had security clearances. These two men were from Saqlawiya, a village northwest of Fallujah, where on June 3, 2016, Iraqi forces including PMF units rounded up more than 1,200 men from the Mahamda community, torturing and then releasing 600, but disappearing another 643.

They said some of the forces who had been part of the roundups were now in control of the security in the village. The other man was from Karma, a town northeast of Fallujah where in early June 2016 Iraqi forces including PMF units detained and disappeared at least 70 men. He was worried that PMF forces now in control would take revenge on returnees.

Camp residents said that following the March announcement, families would be required to return home, PMF units arrived at the camp and confiscated identity cards of at least 60 families, saying they would get the cards back if they returned home. The families said they were afraid to return, citing security concerns, or saying that their houses had been partially destroyed in the fighting and were no longer habitable. By the end of March, Amiriyat al-Fallujah's local council had taken steps to carry out the eviction notice in camps in the area, including Amiriyat al-Fallujah camp, targeting about 3,500 families. Evictions have continued throughout the year.

Three of the men and the woman interviewed said Iraqi forces had detained or disappeared their relatives for alleged ISIS ties at camps or checkpoints between June 2016 and May 2017. Two had not been able to find out where their relatives were. Human Rights Watch has documented the enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention of thousands of men allegedly on ISIS-affiliation grounds over the last year.

"Ammar" from Saqlawiya said that in October 2016, his son who was displaced with him at HTC camp joined the Iraqi Army's 14th division. On May 1, his son later told him, he was detained while manning a checkpoint in Anbar. He said his son told him that fighters from the PMF unit Ali al-Akbar Brigade (Liwa Ali al-Akbar) detained and held him at an unknown location for 35 days, interrogating him and accusing him of ISIS affiliation. Ammar said one of his relatives later admitted that because of a longstanding family feud, he had told PMF and security forces in Anbar that Ammar's son had joined ISIS.

After 35 days, the son said, he was handed over to Fallujah's local police, where he was held in a local police prison and Ammar was able to visit him. On September 24, a local judge ordered his release without charge, but by the time of the interview he had not been released, Ammar said.

The authorities should immediately facilitate the return of families who want to return to areas not affected by ongoing military operations and allow families who do not feel they can currently return home in safety to stay where they are currently living (including in camps that allow for free movement and communications) if they choose, or to relocate elsewhere. If authorities cannot ensure families' safety because of the threat of revenge attacks, they should allow families to relocate to camps or other areas where authorities can provide adequate protection.

Authorities should inform family members of the whereabouts of all detainees and make public the number of fighters and civilians detained, including at checkpoints, screening sites, and camps during the conflict with ISIS, and the legal basis for their detention, including the charges against them.

"With a new wave of displaced people most likely on the horizon, authorities should ensure that they are able to return to their homes when they feel safe," Whitson said.

Italy seizes synthetic opiates meant to finance ISIS attacks
The New York Post

November 3, 2017

Italy seized more than 24 million tablets of a synthetic opiate that Islamic State militants planned to sell to finance attacks around the world, the head of a southern Italian court said on Friday.

The pills were seized by finance police and customs officials in the container port of Gioia Tauro, Italy's biggest, according to a statement. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration collaborated in the investigation.

A video shows police opening a container filled with boxes of Tramadol, a powerful painkiller normally available only on prescription.

With an average sale price of about $2.33 per tablet, the haul was worth 50 million euros, the statement said. Foreign investigators told the court in the city of Reggio Calabria that the drugs belonged to Islamic State.

The drugs sales were "managed directly by Islamic State to finance the terrorist activities planned and carried out around the world", Reggio Calabria's chief prosecutor Federico Cafiero De Raho said.

"Part of the illegal profit from their sale would have been used to finance extremist groups in Libya, Syria and Iraq," he said.

The seizure comes three days after an Uzbek immigrant, Sayfullo Saipov, drove a truck on a New York City bike path, killing eight, in the latest attack claimed by Islamic State.

No details on how the illegal shipment was discovered or on its final destination were provided by the court. A similar shipment was discovered in Greece last year, and an even larger one was found in Italy's Genoa port in May.

Two suicide attacks in Iraq's Kirkuk kill at least five
Reuters

By Mustafa Mahmoud
November 5, 2017

Two suicide bombers killed at least five people and wounded more than 20 in an attack on a Shi'ite mosque in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk on Sunday, police and medical sources said.

It was the first such attack since the central Iraqi government in Baghdad seized Kirkuk last month from Kurdish forces that had controlled the oil city of a million people for three years.

Acting Kirkuk governor Rakan Saeed appealed to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi after a meeting of the provincial security panel to send more troops to secure the city.

"Deployed forces from police and Counter Terrorism Service are not enough to cover all areas of Kirkuk. We need to double the troops," he said in a statement after chairing the meeting.

The interior ministry confirmed the attacks on a mosque on Atlas Street in the center of Kirkuk and gave an initial casualty toll of one dead and 16 wounded.

The central government in Baghdad recaptured the city in October along with other territory in northern Iraq claimed by both Baghdad and the Kurds following an offensive launched in retaliation for the Kurdish independence referendum.

Iraqi security forces forced the Kurdish Peshmerga to withdraw from Kirkuk and their retreat also allowed Baghdad to take control of all the oil fields operated by the state-owned North Oil Company in Kirkuk's northern province.

No group has claimed responsibility for Sunday's attacks but the suicide bombings are a trademark of Islamic State militants.

Police sources said the attacks happened in quick succession and the death toll might rise because some of the wounded were in a critical condition.

"It's a crowded street and a place for street vendors. The terrorists wanted to kill a large number of people," said a police major in Kirkuk.

In a separate incident, unknown gunmen opened fire with light weapons on a police patrol in eastern Kirkuk, without causing any casualties, police sources said.

Iraqi security officials have said Islamic State is likely to wage an insurgency in Iraq after its self-proclaimed caliphate all but collapsed and the militants were dislodged from large areas of the west and north of the country.

Iraqi security forces have recaptured nearly all the territories once controlled by Islamic State. Fighting is ongoing in the border areas with Syria where militants are entrenched in the small town of Rawa and nearby areas.

As Islamic State weakens, step up efforts to free Yazidi sex slaves, survivor says
Reuters

By Lin Taylor
November 6, 2017

As Islamic State fighters beat her mercilessly for trying to flee from captivity as a sex slave in Syria, Yazidi teenager Farida Khalaf was never once deterred from plotting her next chance to escape.

"They told me and my friend that they would take us to a place where we will never be able to flee. They beat me so much I lost the vision in my eye for a long time. They did everything to us," said Khalaf in Arabic through an interpreter.

"But as they were beating me, I became stronger (and more determined) to flee," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation during an interview in London.

Khalaf, now 21 and a campaigner, was among 7,000 Yazidi women and girls forced into sex slavery, when Islamic State militants assaulted the community's heartland in Sinjar, northern Iraq in August 2014.

More than 5,000 people in the religious minority were rounded up and slaughtered by the fighters, also known as ISIS.

"When we were living under ISIS they did everything to us - from beating, to raping, to separating children from their mothers," said Khalaf, who now lives in Germany.

She said she would resist the militants as much as she could, even berating them for hurting women and girls instead of fighting a real battle on the field.

After four months in captivity, Khalaf found herself in a boarded-up house with five other girls - and an unlocked door.

The group took their chance and fled, crossing from Syria into Kurdistan in northern Iraq where Khalaf was reunited with her brother.

"I fled on 10 December, and arrived in Iraq on 17 December. This is the date of my real birthday - the day I was free from ISIS," she said.

Militants were driven out of the last part of the Yazidi homeland in northern Iraq in May. However, most Yazidis have yet to return to villages.

Nearly 3,000 Yazidi women and children remain in Islamic State captivity, and control over Sinjar is disputed by rival armed factions and their regional patrons. Justice for the crimes Yazidis suffered, including sexual enslavement, has also so far proved elusive.

Ahmed Burjus, deputy director of Yazda, a Yazidi-led charity that supports survivors and is documenting evidence of mass killings committed by the militants, said more needed to be done to help the plight of his people.

"Almost all the areas are liberated from ISIS in Iraq and Syria but those Yazidi people are missing. Have they been killed? We don't know where they are," he said in an interview in London.

A U.N. human rights Commission of Inquiry, which declared the killings of thousands of Yazidis to be a genocide, said in August that the atrocity had not ended and that the international community was not doing enough to stop it.

"I know how difficult it is because I was under their control for four months - but what about those who are still in captivity for over three years?" Khalaf said.

"They destroyed my dreams and I don't want other girls' dreams to be destroyed. We want this genocide to be stopped so we can return to our homes," she said.

Yazidis in Iraq: 'The genocide is ongoing'
Al-Jazeera

By Samira Shackle
November 7, 2017

Wahda cannot sleep. During the day, she and her husband are busy caring for their 10 daughters and two sons inside Khanke camp for displaced Iraqis, located in the country's north. It is at night that the memories come.

"I stay awake just thinking, and I'm so angry I can't sleep," Wahda, 41, told Al Jazeera. "I want to take revenge for my daughters."

Her family, who are Yazidi, lived until 2014 in Sinjar, where they owned a house, a car and a small business. The area was home to around 400,000 followers of the ancient Yazidi religion before it was stormed by fighters with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (ISIL, also known as ISIS) in August 2014.

ISIL fighters systematically murdered Yazidi men and elderly residents, and captured and enslaved women and children. The UN estimated that around 3,000 were murdered and 6,000 taken captive.

"Our neighbours were Sunni Muslims and they told ISIS where to find us," said Wahda, who did not provide a last name. "They wanted girls and they knew that we had so many girls."

Her family was taken into captivity, with the exception of her eldest daughter, Almas, who was visiting relatives. She was shot in the back of the head as she tried to escape.

Locked in a room, Wahda and her daughters witnessed the rape and murder of other women held captive. They were held in terrible conditions, regularly beaten and forced to convert to Islam. After two months, they escaped with the help of a friend who had learned of their captivity. After returning to Sinjar, Wahda managed to find her husband, who had survived ISIL's massacre.

Sinjar was destroyed. After a harrowing journey across the mountain, stepping over the corpses and shallow mass graves that littered the ground, the family made it to the relative safety of Khanke camp. As Wadha recounts these events, her five-year-old daughter begins to cry.

The mass murder and enslavement of Yazidis in Iraq drew international attention. France, Germany, Canada and Australia offered asylum, while international NGOs channelled funding towards the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Yazidis. But despite this, many have struggled to recover.

"We have had no psychological or physical support," Wahda said. "I tried several NGOs, but either they didn't believe me that we were held in captivity, or they said that it was only two months, which is nothing, or that we weren't eligible because we were not raped. But my daughters' backs were black from bruises, and we have seen a lot."

Khider Domle, a Yazidi researcher, academic and activist based in Dohuk, told Al Jazeera that while members of the Yazidi community have been offered basic supports, it is "not for the long term".

"Our psychological, social and religious identity has been destroyed," Domle said. "People are living all over the place, and they don't know what the future is. There have been no initiatives from the Iraqi government to help the displaced people return back to Sinjar; no national reconciliation process; no attempt to rebuild ruined infrastructure."

With local and international attention diverted to the ongoing battle against ISIL in Iraq and Syria, local activists say that the momentum behind an organised aid response for Yazidis appears to have dissipated. In the meantime, people within the Yazidi community are working to help each other.

Domle, who runs a women's centre and has been gathering testimonies from victims, is also helping to rescue the women and children who remain enslaved.

"We don't know where they have been taken, so the genocide is ongoing," he said, noting that part of his role is to gather information, which he then passes on to rescuers on the ground in ISIL-controlled areas. "Always, non-stop, we are working, looking, cooperating."

Many Yazidi activists have overcome enormous tragedy themselves. Adiba Qasim was 19 when ISIL stormed Sinjar. Along with her parents and three siblings, she escaped just 15 minutes before fighters began taking hostages.

Of her extended family, 70 people went missing; a few have returned, but the majority are either in captivity or mass graves.

Qasim and her family fled to a refugee camp in Turkey, where she noticed a lack of translators for Kurmanji, the Kurdish dialect that most Yazidis speak. She also noticed that survivors of ISIL's sexual slavery often emerged from interviews with journalists or NGO workers even more distressed than when they started.

"They were being asked things like, 'How many times were you raped?'" Qasim said. "I decided to learn English so I could work with women."

Qasim had never been to school, as infrastructure in Sinjar was severely lacking even before the 2014 crisis, but she had an aptitude for languages. She found scraps of paper in bins and sometimes used old cigarette packets to practise writing English words. Within months, she could speak well enough to translate for NGO workers in the camp.

After a year, she decided to return to northern Iraq to help bring the stories of Yazidi women to the world. She now works as a fixer and translator for journalists and human rights organisations.

"It's hard to work on your own story, but I think this is the right place for me," Qasim said. "It has been three years, and everybody knows what happened to Yazidis. Most of these women have told their stories 100 times, but they never received any help."

When Wahda and her family found a base in Khanke camp, she embarked on a mission to find her eldest daughter's body. Someone had told her where Almas had been buried in a shallow grave. Against all odds, Wahda eventually found it, identifying her daughter's clothes and long black hair. She was able to give her daughter the proper burial rites, but the memory still haunts her.

A few months later, Wahda's daughter, Inas, signed up to fight with an all-female, all-Yazidi Peshmerga unit. Now 17, she spends a third of each month on the front lines. Her camouflage fatigues are hung prominently inside the rudimentary brick structure where the family now lives.

"It's good to be active, and to be a fighter," Inas told Al Jazeera. "It's better to do something than nothing. I am fighting to avenge my sister and all the girls who are still in captivity."

Iraqis say life under Daesh was an open-air prison
Arab News

By Moaz Al-Doulaimi
November 8, 2017

They emerge timidly from houses to survey the debris-strewn streets of their town. As Iraqi forces hunt down diehard jihadists, Al-Qaim residents recall three years of hell in "open-air prison."

"At last we'll be able to sleep easily without worrying about air raids or being arrested," says a smiling clearly relieved Qassem Derbi.

"We're no longer afraid of going to prison or anything else."

Iraqi forces took Al-Qaim, one of the last refuges in Iraq of the Daesh group, on Friday. As members of Iraq's military deploy in the streets of Al-Qaim, dust-covered not only from the destruction of warfare but also by a sandstorm, Derbi spoke of life under Daesh.

The jihadist group entered the important desert town a few kilometers from the border with Syria in 2014, and quickly made its presence felt.

"We weren't allowed to use phones, we couldn't sleep, we had no rights to do anything at all," says the young Iraqi.

"We were living in an open-air prison where we were only allowed to walk around — anything else would be held against us."

On Sunday, for the first time in more than three years, Iraq's national flag was once again raised in Al-Qaim — by Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi.

Iraq's authorities are now battling the final pockets of jihadists in their last footholds around the town, and Syrian troops are also approaching, hemming them in on their side of the frontier. After the Daesh offensive, Iraq's western desert in Anbar province and its porous border entrenched itself as a jihadist smuggling and supply route.

Standing outside his home in Al-Qaim, a clean-shaven Aqil Mussa tells AFP of a life of "oppression and humiliation" under Daesh.

"We had access to nothing — no schools, no electricity, no water. We even lacked bread," he says, his throat tightening.

Derbi says that patience paid off for the small number of Al-Qaim residents who stayed, out of the 50,000 who lived there before Daesh swept in.

"The security forces have liberated us," he says, adding that the departure of the jihadists means the impending return of relatives who had fled their onslaught.

"We haven't seen them for months, years in some cases," he says. "Today, if God wills it, they will return and we will see them again."

Slightly further down the road, a small group of men, some holding white flags, has ventured out into streets where the burned out chassis of car bombs used by the jihadists stand.

Other streets are still partly blocked by earthen barricades put up by fighters of the "caliphate" and now crushed by bulldozers of the Iraqi forces.

Children flash the "V for victory" sign with their fingers at troops and soldiers as they pass in the street.

Since the jihadist group captured nearly a third of Iraq's territory in 2014, Iraqi forces have taken almost all of it back.

Now only the nearby town of Rawa on the Euphrates River and the immediate desert area round it remains in Daesh hands.

IHCHR: Islamic State holding 10.000 people in last bastion in Anbar
Iraqi News

By Mohamed Mostafa
November 8, 2017

Iraqi troops have launched an offensive to liberate an Islamic State-held region, north of the recently-freed Qaim town in Anbar, a paramilitary official said on Wednesday.

"Offensive to free al-Rummana, north of Qaim, was launched on Wednesday with participation of security troops and tribes," Qutri al-Obeidi, a senior leader with al-Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces) in al-Baghdadi region in Anbar, told AlSumaria News.

"Troops managed to free al-Rummana bridge, which links the center of the region to Qaim," Obeidi said indicating troops advance to free it from IS militants.

Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi announced on Friday liberation of Qaim in record time.

Many IS militants reportedly fled Qaim heading to al-BuKamal in Syria, after several leaders ran away and were killed in airstrikes by the Iraqi and U.S.-Coalition jets.

Operations were launched, late October, to liberate Qaim and Rawa towns. Both have been held by the extremist group since 2014, when it occupied one third of Iraq to proclaim a self-styled Islamic "Caliphate".

Iraqi forces have managed, so far, to retake Mosul, the group's former capital, the town of Tal Afar, west of Nineveh, Kirkuk's town of Hawija and Anbar's Annah and Qaim.

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Syria

Red Cross Warns of 'Dehumanizing' Rhetoric in ISIS Fight
The New York Times

By Anne Barnard
October 26, 2017

It may not be politically popular to raise concerns about the human rights of Islamic State fighters and their families. But the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has monitored the treatment of the wounded, prisoners and civilians in wartime for a century and a half, sought to do just that in a strongly worded statement on Thursday.

The organization is concerned about rhetoric that "dehumanizes" and "demonizes" the enemy or suggests that a particular adversary is "outside the bounds of humanity" and can be treated "as if humanitarian law doesn't apply," the group's deputy director for the Middle East, Patrick Hamilton, told reporters via a telephone conference call.

Language that could appear to justify or encourage war crimes and illegal treatment of detainees has become more common on all sides of the sprawling conflicts in Syria and Iraq, Mr. Hamilton said, to the point that the Red Cross felt it necessary to remind all combatants that international law requires due process and humane treatment of detainees "with no exceptions."

His comments come as the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, is surrendering more territory to an array of government and militia forces. Several Western officials have said that it would be best if their citizens who have fought with the Islamic State died in combat.

The Red Cross has a longstanding policy of not singling out governments or groups for criticism, because it seeks to preserve access to all sides in order to carry out missions such as monitoring the treatment of detainees and prisoners. The organization said its warning was directed at all combatants as well as countries that might receive returning Islamic State fighters.

"It's not that we are going to name no one," Mr. Hamilton said of his warning against inflammatory rhetoric. "We name everyone."

France's defense minister, Florence Parly, said last week that if Islamic State fighters "perish in this fight, I would say that's for the best." Rory Stewart, a British government minister, said of British ISIS members that "unfortunately the only way of dealing with them will be, in almost every case, to kill them."

And Brett McGurk, the American envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, said the mission was to make sure foreign fighters "die here in Syria." Earlier this year, Trump administration officials referred to "annihilating" ISIS.

To be sure, none of those statements called for extrajudicial killings or any other war crime. But in an already tense and dangerous atmosphere — punctuated by atrocities carried out by insurgent and militia groups in the past — all parties need to "de-escalate their language," Mr. Hamilton said.

"These are emotive, difficult issues but the law does provide a sober mechanism for dealing with all of this," he said, noting that the Red Cross has been advising governments on handling detainees and civilians through 154 years of conflicts and world wars. "These events are not without historical precedent."

The Red Cross has visited 44,000 detainees in Iraq this year, and is currently providing humanitarian assistance to 1,300 women and children from around 20 nationalities, detained near Mosul as suspected relatives of Islamic State fighters. The Red Cross also is seeking to expand access to detainees throughout the region.

Risks of violations are increased by the complexity of the fight, with more than 20 states involved and often in partnerships with nonstate militia groups, which Mr. Hamilton said had created "a diffusion of responsibilities" for following the laws of war.

Another risk arises from the enormous humanitarian crises spawned by recent battles, with millions of people affected and chaotic scenes as people flee across deserts.

Little is known about the numbers and conditions of Islamic State members detained in the Syrian city of Raqqa as the American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces took over last week. Nor has any information surfaced about the many people who had long been held prisoner in Raqqa by Islamic State and have not been found.

The Red Cross is currently setting up an office in northeastern Syria to work on such issues.

UN: Syria responsible for sarin attack that killed scores
CNN

By Steve Almasy
October 27, 2017

The sarin attack earlier this year on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun that killed more than 80 people was the work of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a joint report from the United Nations and international chemical weapons inspectors finds.

Three UN diplomats confirmed the report's finding.

"The panel is confident that the Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of sarin at Khan Sheikhun on 4 April 2017," the report says, one diplomat told CNN.

The April attack prompted US President Donald Trump to order the US military to launch 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase.

"‎Time and again, we see independent confirmation of chemical weapons use by the Assad regime. And in spite of these independent reports, we still see some countries trying to protect the regime. That must end now," Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement.

Horrifying images and videos emerged after the incident showing civilians, including children, struggling to breathe with foam coming from their mouths.

Syria denies chemical attack

Syria has repeatedly denied it had anything to do with the attack and also denies it has any chemical weapons. Damascus has said an airstrike hit a chemical weapons depot in the rebel-held area.

The report issued Thursday was compiled by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United Nations' Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), the investigative panel probing the use of chemical weapons in Syria. The report was sent to the Security Council.

On Tuesday, Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution to extend the mandate of the JIM. Russia says the group is biased against the Assad government. The mandate of the JIM expires in three weeks.

When the OPCW made a statement about its findings in June, Syrian ally Russia slammed that news as politically motivated and based on "doubtful data." Russia is Syria's most powerful ally and has bankrolled much of the six-year conflict, carrying out regular airstrikes in Syria to prop up Assad's regime. UN Security Council looks to hold Syria accountable

UK Ambassador to the UN Matthew Rycroft told reporters Friday it was time for Russia to "find their moral compass," blasting the country's veto and its government's continued support for the Assad regime.

"Yesterday, the JIM determined responsibility; today, we begin our pursuit of accountability," Rycroft said. "I look to Russia to join in that effort."

"It is long past time for Moscow to abandon Assad," he said. "It is long past time for justice."

Rycroft said that he and his colleagues on the Security Council are discussing a resolution to hold Syira accountable, though he did not provide a timetable for a potential vote on a resolution. It's not yet clear what a resolution would do.

Haley called on the Security Council to "send a clear message that the use of chemical weapons by anyone will not be tolerated."

Stockpiles of sarin may exist in Syria, despite the OPCW overseeing the destruction of the country's chemical weapon supply in 2013, after an attack in the Ghouta area of Damascus. Activists said that attack killed 1,400 people.

Sarin is an extremely volatile nerve agent because of its ability to change from liquid to gas. People are exposed to sarin through skin contact, eye contact, or by breathing it. Severely exposed people are not likely to survive.

A leading human rights group said the United Nations must act.

"Syria's repeated use of chemical weapons poses a serious threat to the international ban against the use of chemical weapons," said Ole Solvang, the deputy emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement Friday. "All countries have an interest in sending a strong signal that these atrocities will not be tolerated."

The joint report also blamed ISIS for using sulfur mustard in Syria in September.

Syria Rejects U.N. Report Blaming It for Sarin Attack
The New York Times

October 27, 2017

The Syrian government rejected a report sent to the United Nations Security Council that blamed it for a chemical attack on the opposition-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in April in which dozens of people were killed, state media said on Friday.

"Syria rejects in form and substance what was included in the report of the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons' Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) that was announced yesterday," the state news agency SANA reported, citing an official in Syria's foreign ministry.

The official said the report had been compiled under instructions from the United States and other Western countries "to place more political pressure" on Syria, SANA reported.

The report found President Bashar al-Assad's government responsible for the release of sarin at Khan Sheikhoun on April 4.

The attack prompted an American missile strike against a Syrian air base that Washington said was used to launch the chemical attack.

SANA reported that Syria considers the use of chemical weapons "an immoral act, condemned everywhere, at any time, under any circumstance."

Deliberate Starvation of Civilians in Syria Could Be War Crime
Voice of America

By Lisa Schlein
October 28, 20 17

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein accuses the Syrian government of denying food and medical supplies to hundreds of thousands of civilians besieged in Eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of the capital Damascus.

Eastern Ghouta has been under siege by Syrian Government forces for more than four years. At least 350,000 civilians are trapped there without access to life-saving aid.

UN human rights chief, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein calls the refusal to allow badly needed food and medical supplies to get into the area an outrage. He says shocking images of severely malnourished children that have appeared in recent days indicate the people of Eastern Ghouta are facing a humanitarian emergency.

The High Commissioner's spokesman, Rupert Colville, says varied armed groups controlling the area also are interfering with the work of humanitarian organizations. He says clashes between these groups have limited the ability of civilians to move around freely within the region for months.

"So, the armed opposition groups are also very much part of the problem," said Colville. "The parties to the conflict must allow the free, regular and unimpeded passage of food and other humanitarian relief and not take actions that would deprive civilians of their right to food and health."

Colville says U.N. aid convoys last reached Eastern Ghouta in late September. However, he adds the Syrian Government only allowed food and other relief to be delivered to 25,000 people in three towns. The U.N.'s request to assist other besieged and hard-to-reach areas was refused.

"The High Commissioner is reminding all parties that the deliberate starvation of civilians as a method of warfare constitutes a clear violation of international humanitarian law, and may amount to a crime against humanity and/or a war crime," said Colville.

Human rights chief Zeid is also calling on all parties with influence in the conflict to make it easier for humanitarian workers to gain access to Eastern Ghoutta to alleviate the plight of this desperately needy population.

The High Commissioner did not single out any country by name, but countries that have sway with the Syrian regime and/or with some of the rebel groups include Russia, the United States, Iran and Turkey.

Syria activists say 4 children killed in government shelling
Business Insider

October 31, 2017

At least four Syrian children were killed in government shelling as they left their school in a rebel-held town, part of an intensifying campaign against the last opposition holdouts outside the capital Damascus, activists reported Tuesday.

The violence comes as Russian-sponsored talks are underway in the Kazakh capital Astana to consolidate so-called "de-escalation zones" designed to freeze the lines of conflict and allow humanitarian aid to rebel-held areas besieged by government forces. Syria is in its seventh year of a civil war that has left more than 400,000 dead.

The Ghouta Media Center and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a shell landed at the gate of a school in Jisreen, a town in the eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus as children were leaving for the day. The shelling left at least five dead, including the four children, one of whom had his legs blown off.

The shelling has hit a number of towns and villages in the suburbs northeast of the capital, leaving another three killed in the town of Musraba. Another shell in Harasta, also in eastern Ghouta suburbs, landed near a school but only caused injuries.

Residents of the eastern Ghouta suburbs, estimated at 350,000, have been living under a suffocating government blockade amid intense bombings. The violence and siege have continued even though the suburbs are part of a de-escalation agreement guaranteed by Syrian government backers Russia and Iran.

On Monday, the United Nations said it reached thousands of the suburbs residents for the first time in over a month. The area is one of the last remaining pockets of opposition to Syrian President Bashar Assad and depends on relief and smuggling to survive an enduring government siege.

The intense shelling comes as talks between the government, rebels, and their international sponsors Russia, Turkey, and Iran in Astana are due to close. The talks, which instituted four de-escalation zones around Syria, have greatly reduced the violence in many parts of Syria but a political solution with the insurgents remains elusive.

Syrians in Germany file war crime cases against Assad regime
The Local Germany

November 8, 2017

Syrian refugees in Germany backed by human rights groups said Wednesday they had filed new criminal complaints accusing President Bashar al-Assad's regime of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The 13 Syrian men and women named 17 suspects they considered "most responsible for Assad's brutal policies of repression", said non-profit legal organisation the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR).

The complaint seeking arrest warrants was filed under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows German courts to handle cases where neither the victims nor the perpetrators are German citizens.

Among the accused are top officials of Syria's National Security Bureau, Air Force Intelligence Directorate, defence ministry and military police.

"For me, the criminal complaint in Germany is currently the only way to fight for justice," said one plaintiff, Yazan Awad, 30, who says he was tortured for months at the al-Mezzeh Air Force intelligence investigation branch.

"It's not just about me, it's about all those who are still being held in Assad's torture prisons."

Shappal Ibrahim, who was detained for one-and-a-half years at the Saydnaya military prison, said he wanted "to help ensure that the German authorities issue arrest warrants for the people responsible".

The prison near Damascus had become "a synonym for unimaginable torture, systematic degradation and mass executions", said the ECCHR, which cooperated on the case with Syrian lawyers Anwar Al-Bunni and Mazen Darwish.

More than 330,000 people have been killed and millions displaced in the six-year-old war between the Assad regime, backed by Russia and Iran, and rebels who have been supported by Turkey and other powers.

German and French prosecutors are already looking into claims of torture committed under Assad since 2011.

A Syrian defector code-named "Caesar", who says he is a former military police photographer, has handed tens of thousands of digital images that he says show 11,000 dead detainees and handed them to investigators, including in Germany.

In an earlier case in Germany last March, seven Syrian torture survivors backed by the same initiative filed a complaint seeking international arrest warrants against six Syrian secret service officials.

According to witness testimony, the prisoners were beaten with pipes, sticks and meat hooks on chains, given electric shocks, burnt with cleaning chemicals and stabbed with pencils.

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Yemen

Seventeen killed as 'Isil militants' storm security compound in Yemen
The Telegraph

By Sarah Elizabeth Williams
November 5, 2017

At least 17 people were killed after dozens of masked militants stormed a Yemen government security compound yesterday, sparking a gun battle that continued into the night.

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levent (Isil) terrorist group claimed responsibility for the attack, which began when a car laden with explosives detonated outside a building housing a police investigations unit in the government-held city of Aden early on Sunday morning.

About thirty gunmen then stormed into the unit and set free dozens of detainees, some of whom took up arms with their liberators, Yemeni authorities said.

There were reports that the militants had taken an unknown number of people hostage Sunday afternoon.

Yemeni authorities said at least 17 people had been killed by evening.

In its statement of responsibility issued late Sunday Isil said clashes were "still ongoing.

A civil war between the Yemen's Saudi-backed government and Shiite Huthi rebels, who are allied with Iran, broke out in March 2015.

The two-and-a-half year conflict has left much of the country devastated, with infrastructure destroyed and the population brought to the brink of famine.

Isil and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a rival extremist group, have taken advantage of the chaos to unleashing attacks on both government targets and on the country's Shiite population.

Saudi Arabia said it intercepted a missile fired by Houthi rebels near Riyadh airport on Saturday.

Saudi air strikes kill children in Yemen's Hajjah area
Al Jazeera

November 7, 2017

At least 30 Yemenis, including women and children, were killed in a series of Saudi-led air strikes in north Yemen, activists and local media said.

Hussain al-Bukhaiti, a pro-Houthi activist, told Al Jazeera at least 16 air strikes targeted the village of Hiran in Hajjah province on Tuesday, killing 30 people, including a family of 10.

Quoting local residents, Bukhaiti said the raids started shortly after midnight, targeting the home of Sheikh Hamdi, a Houthi loyalist, killing him and his family.

The strikes reportedly continued until 5pm local time (14:00 GMT). According to Bukhaiti, the devastation prevented relatives and rescue workers from retrieving the bodies of the dead.

Al Masirah, a TV channel run by the Houthis - a group of rebels who control Hajjah province, the capital, Sanaa, as well as other parts of central Yemen - said 10 paramedics were also killed.

It published photos on Twitter and its website showing a bombed-out vehicle and dead children.

Al Jazeera could not independently verify the claims.

Yemen has been torn apart by conflict since 2014, when Houthi rebels, allied with troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, captured large expanses of the country, including Sanaa.

A coalition of Arab countries assembled by Saudi Arabia launched an air campaign against the rebels in March 2015, to try to restore the internationally recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to power.

Since then, more than 10,000 people have been killed, millions were forced from their homes, and the country has been facing severe famine and a deadly cholera outbreak.

Yemen: Houthi Strike on Saudi Airport Likely War Crime
Human Rights Watch

November 7, 2017

The ballistic missile strike by Houthi-Saleh forces in Yemen on Riyadh's main international airport on November 4, 2017, is most likely a war crime, Human Rights Watch said today. Saudi Arabia responded to the attack by claiming Iran, which it accuses of aiding the Houthi rebels who control much of northern Yemen, smuggled the missile to Yemen and announcing a "temporary" closure of all Yemeni land, sea, and air ports. Saudi claims about the missile's origin could not be verified and, according to media reports, Iranian officials denied the allegation.

Houthi-Saleh-aligned media reported that the armed group fired a Burkan H2 ballistic missile at King Khalid International Airport, northeast of the Saudi capital, Riyadh. Saudi media reported that its missile defenses intercepted the missile in flight, but that some missile fragments fell inside the airport area. No casualties were reported. On November 6, the Saudi government said it was "temporarily" closing all Yemeni ports in response to the attack, but that humanitarian aid could continue to enter Yemen under strict coalition vetting procedures. Further restrictions on aid to Yemen would likely violate international law on humanitarian access, Human Rights Watch said.

"The Houthis' launching of an indiscriminate ballistic missile at a predominantly civilian airport is an apparent war crime," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "But this unlawful attack is no justification for Saudi Arabia to exacerbate Yemen's humanitarian catastrophe by further restricting aid and access to the country."

Col. Turki al-Maliki, the spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, told the governmental Saudi Press Agency on November 4 that Houthi-Saleh forces fired the missile at 8:07 p.m. from Yemen toward Riyadh, but that the Saudi Patriot air and missile defense system intercepted the missile on the eastern side of the airport.

King Khalid International Airport is about 35 kilometers northeast of the densely populated areas of Riyadh. The airport compound includes a company that services and maintains military aircraft. While the site where Houthi-Saleh forces launched the missile is unclear, the airport is approximately 850 kilometers from the Yemeni border. An attack with an unguided ballistic missile such as the Burkan H2 from this range is indiscriminate since these weapons are not capable of the necessary accuracy to target military objectives. When deliberately or indiscriminately directed toward populated areas or civilian objects, such attacks violate the laws of war, and may amount to war crimes.

The attack on Riyadh's international airport is the latest in a series of indiscriminate Houthi-Saleh ballistic missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, though it was the first to reach the capital. In October 2016, Saudi Arabia accused Houthi-Saleh forces of targeting the holy city of Mecca with a missile, which they claimed Saudi defenses intercepted 65 kilometers south of the city. Houthi forces admitted they had launched a ballistic missile into Saudi Arabia, which they described as a Burkan 1, but claimed the target was Jeddah's King Abdulaziz International Airport. In another attack, on July 22, 2017, Houthi-Saleh forces struck an oil refinery near the port city Yanbu, 300 kilometers northwest of Jeddah, with a Burkan H2 ballistic missile.

Human Rights Watch has documented the Houthi-Saleh forces' indiscriminate launching of short-range unguided artillery rockets from northern Yemen into populated areas of southern Saudi Arabia since May 2015. Some of these attacks killed civilians.

After the attack, on November 5, Saudi authorities published a wanted list of 40 Houthi officials, offering financial rewards of between US$5 million and US$30 million for anyone who provides information leading to their arrests. The next day the coalition announced it would close all sea, land, and air ports to Yemen temporarily, while declaring that humanitarian aid would continue to be allowed in after strict vetting procedures. While warring parties may impose blockades during an armed conflict, a blockade is unlawful if it has the sole purpose of starving the civilian population or denying the population goods indispensable for its survival. A blockade also violates the laws of war if it has a disproportionate impact on the civilian population, when the harm to civilians is, or may be expected to be, greater than the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated from the blockade.

The Saudi-led coalition's restrictions on imports existing before the recent announcement have already worsened the dire humanitarian situation of Yemeni civilians. Yemen is experiencing the world's largest humanitarian crisis, with more than seven million people on the brink of famine and hundreds of thousands suffering from cholera.

Previous coalition claims that they would abide by international law when imposing a blockade have proven false, Human Rights Watch said. The coalition has delayed and diverted fuel tankers, closed a critical port, and stopped life-saving goods from reaching the population. The coalition has also closed the country's main airport for more than a year, blocked rights groups from entering Yemen, and repeatedly interfered with United Nations flights carrying humanitarian workers into Yemen. Houthi-Saleh forces, who control the capital, Sanaa, and much of the country, have also violated international legal obligations to facilitate humanitarian aid to civilians and significantly harmed the civilian population.

Since March 2015, the Saudi-led coalition has carried out military operations against Houthi-Saleh forces including scores of unlawful airstrikes that hit homes, markets, hospitals, schools, and mosques. From June to August, Human Rights Watch documented six coalition airstrikes that killed more than 50 civilians in Yemen. On November 5, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen stated that he was "horrified" by the continued violence by all sides to the conflict, singling out a November 1 coalition airstrike on a busy market in Saada governorate that killed 31 people, including six children, as well as recent indiscriminate shelling of Taizz city that killed five children.

The laws of war prohibit deliberate, indiscriminate, and disproportionate attacks on civilians. Attacks that are not directed at a specific military objective or cannot distinguish between civilians and military objectives are considered indiscriminate. An attack is unlawfully disproportionate if the anticipated loss of civilian life and property is greater than the expected military gain from the attack. Warring parties must do everything feasible to verify that targets are military objectives and minimize civilian casualties.

Individuals who commit serious violations of the laws of war with criminal intent – that is, intentionally or recklessly – may be prosecuted for war crimes. Individuals may also be held criminally liable for assisting in, facilitating, aiding, or abetting a war crime.

"The large casualties suffered by Yemeni civilians provides no excuse for Houthi-Saleh forces to commit indiscriminate missile attacks on Saudi cities," Whitson said. "The laws of war apply to all sides, and all sides need to minimize harm to civilians whatever their nationality."

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Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)

Official Website of the Extraordinary Chambers
Official Website of the United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials (UNAKRT)
Cambodia Tribunal Monitor

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Special Tribunal for Lebanon

Official Website of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon
In Focus: Special Tribunal for Lebanon (UN)

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Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal

Moheshkhali cop summoned for showing dead war criminal fugitive
The Daily Star

October 30, 2017

International Crimes Tribunal-1 today summoned a sub-inspector of Moheshkhali Police Station of Cox's Bazar to place his explanation as to why in a report he showed a war crimes accused, who died earlier, as fugitive.

According to the order, the SI Zahirul Haque has to appear before the court on November 26, Prosecutor Rezia Sultana Chaman told The Daily Star.

The tribunal led by Justice Md Shahinul Islam passed the order while hearing the charges in the case filed against 19 accused from Moheshkhali.

Since accused Abdul Majid Master died and another was discharged, the number of the accused stood at 17, the prosecutor said.

Majid died of old-age complications at the age of 85 at his village home on December 22 last year.

He was on the run since a war crimes tribunal issued an arrest warrant against him more than two years ago. The tribunal, its prosecution and investigation agency were unaware of his death till May 25. A defence counsel informed the matter in court for the first time on that day.

The prosecution on July 13 prayed to the ICT-1 to take legal action against the police officials responsible for showing "gross negligence".

On October 8 of that year, the investigation agency completed its probe into the case and found the involvement of Majid and 17 others in the killing of at least 94 people and other offences during the 1971 Liberation War.

The prosecution pressed 12 charges against them on March 15 last year and the tribunal, taking the charges into cognisance, asked police to give reports on the fugitives.

ICT finalises findings on Razakar Mahbub over murder of RP Saha in 1971
bdnews24

November 2, 2017

Mahbubur, 69, and his brother Abdul Mannan joined the Razakar, the vigilante militia group that collaborated with Pakistanis, in Tangail during the war.

Abdul Hannan Khan and Sanaul Huq, the chief coordinator and senior coordinator of the ICT, respectively, presented summary of the report, which is the 54th among the reports made so far on 1971 war crimes, at the ICT's Dhanmondi office on Thursday.

Mahbubur Rahman and 20-25 men from the Pakistani occupation forces raided the house of Ranada Prasad on May 7, 1971, Khan told reporters.

"They picked up seven people including Ranada Prasad, his son Bhabani Prasad Saha, close friend Goura Gopal Saha, Rakhal Matlab and Ranada Prasad's guard, killed them and dumped their bodies into Shitalakhhya River.

"The bodies were never found."

Mahbubur was a supporter of the Jamaat-e-Islami. He had contested the union council elections as an independent candidate thrice but lost every time, he said.

The investigation in the case started in April Last year and Mahbubur was arrested later in November. He is currently lodged at the Dhaka Central Jail in Kashimpur pending trial.

Senior Coordinator Sanaul said Mahbubur carried out crimes in areas around Bharateswari Homes, Kumudini Welfare Trust in Narayanganj's Khanpur and Tangail Circuit House in 1971.

Md Ataur Rahman, who investigated the case for more than a year, said evidence of Mahbubur's involvement in crimes like murder, genocide, arson and abduction had been found.

Sixty people have testified during investigation based on which a 100-page document has been prepared. The final report contains four volumes with 380 pages which will soon be handed to the prosecution, Ataur said.

In appreciation of his humanitarian work, the British government had conferred on Saha the title of Rai Bahadur. In 1978, he was posthumously awarded the Swadhinota Padak or Independence Award, the highest civilian award, by the Bangladesh government in recognition of his social work.

Ranada Prasad, popularly known as RP Saha, was born in Mirzapur Upazila of Tangail. He started jute business while staying at Sirajdikhan in Narayanganj's Khanpur.

Razakars and Pakistani occupation forces had abducted him and others from his Sirajdikhan residence.

Widow of Meherpur martyred freedom fighter sues 'Razakar' for war crimes
The Daily Star

November 7, 2017

Widow of a martyred freedom fighter in Meherpur has filed a case against a "local Razakar" for his alleged involvement in abduction and killing of her husband during the Liberation War in 1971.

Fulzan Necha, wife of martyred freedom fighter Abdul Jabbar of Amjhupi village under Sadar Upazila in Meherpur, filed the case against Asgor Ali, 66, of the same village, reports our Kushtia correspondent.

After taking the case on Monday, Judge Md Mohiduzzaman of Meherpur Chief Judicial Magistrate Court ordered to send the case documents to the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) in Dhaka for necessary action.

Asgor could not be reached for comment as he went on hiding after the case was filed against him.

According to the case statement, Fulzan's husband Jabbar was an organiser of the Liberation War in his area.

He went to India as the war started, leaving her wife and daughters, and enlisted as a freedom fighter at Karimpur camp in West Bengal.

One day in mid June, Jabbar came home secretly to see his new born baby.

A team of 15-20 Razakars of the area led by Asgor Ali caught Jabbar after raiding his house, and set fire to the house before taking him away.

The Razakars confined Jabbar at Nazrul School, one of their torture camps in Meherpur, and after seven days of continuous torture, they killed Jabbar and buried his body at Meherpur Government College field, the case statement read.

Fulzan quoted a book named 'Meherpur Zillar Muktijuddher Itihas', written by Rafiqur Rashid, in which the abduction and killing of Jabbar was described.

After receiving such cases, the registrar office of the tribunal usually send those to the investigation agency of the tribunal.

The agency usually carries out a preliminary investigation and if convinced, it carries out formal investigation. If it finds credible evidence, then the agency would recommend for pressing charges against an accused for trial.

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War Crimes Investigation in Burma

UN asked to refer Myanmar to ICC
Dawn

By Masood Haider
November 5, 2017

The United Nations Security Council should refer Myanmar, also known as Burma, to the International Criminal Court (ICC) because of its failure to investigate mass atrocities against ethnic Rohingya, Human Rights Watch said on Friday.

UN member countries should also pursue processes for gathering criminal evidence to advance prosecutions in the ICC and other courts, the New York-based watchdog group said.

Myanmar authorities have failed to credibly investigate security force operations since late August that have resulted in mass arson, killing, rape and looting, destroying hundreds of villages and forcing more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims to the neighbouring Bangladesh.

HRW's field research found that Myanmar military abuses amount to crimes against humanity.

"Justice is desperately needed for the Rohingya population targeted by the Burmese military's campaign of ethnic cleansing," said Param Preet Singh, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch.

"The UN Security Council should refer the situation in Burma to the ICC, which was created precisely to address situations in which grave crimes were committed without consequences."

The Myanmar government's support both for the military operations against the Rohingya and its repeated discounting and dismissal of alleged abuses make it extremely unlikely that the government will press for the credible investigation and prosecution of crimes against humanity, HRW said in the press statement.

Historically, courts in Myanmar have tried soldiers for human rights violations only infrequently and have never held soldiers to account for war crimes. Civilian courts have rarely had jurisdiction over soldiers implicated in criminal offences, HRW said.

In April, the UN Human Rights Council created a fact-finding mission for Myanmar because of credible and serious allegations of human rights abuses. While the mission will document patterns of abuse, it does not have the mandate to investigate abuses to a criminal standard, though its findings could be used in eventual prosecutions.

UK drags heels on sending mass rape investigators to Myanmar
The Guardian

By Patrick Wintour
November 5, 2017

A Foreign Office team specialising in gathering evidence of sexual violence in conflict zones has yet to be deployed to Myanmar's refugee camps despite evidence that systematic mass rape has been used as a weapon by the Burmese military against the Rohingya muslim minority.

The specialist group was set up by William Hague as foreign secretary in 2012 as part of his joint effort with the actor Angelina Jolie to highlight the pervasive use of sexual violence in conflict. He regards the initiative as one of his chief legacies.

The Foreign Office (FCO) has said it is still assessing the need for a team, even though aid agencies have reported the mass use of rape, including of children as young as 10. The burning and violence in Rakhine state started at the end of August and the FCO minister Lord Ahmad has described reports of sexual violence against the Rohingya as "staggering".

Hague and his former special adviser Lady Helic have written to the FCO to demand to know what it is doing to investigate and document rape allegations against Burmese forces.

As many as 600,000 refugees have fled to Bangladesh, with aid agencies, such as Doctors without Borders and the International Organization for Migration, reporting hundreds of cases of rape and sexual violence amongst refugees.

The FCO is supposed to have a roster of health experts on standby ready to travel to war zones to investigate allegations of sexual violence, and to gather evidence that could be used in international criminal courts. The experts were deployed in Syria, South Sudan, Libya and Bosnia.

The team of experts consists of health specialists, lawyers, police officers, psychologists and forensic scientists. It was set up in 2012 to help local authorities where crimes of sexual violence were reported and local bodies did not have the capacity to help.

The team is expected to prevent evidence of sexual violence being lost, compile documentation and to identify perpetrators and ringleaders. By 2013, the foreign secretary had recruited more than 70 experts.

One source said: "The Foreign Office appears [to be] very good at revising strategy papers … but less good at doing anything about it. The issue is incredibly urgent, and the team was set up for precisely these purposes. The evidence has to be gathered now, and not when a bureaucracy is ready to do so. The long-term psychological damage of sexual violence, including the attached stigma, is so dreadful. It can damage relations within a family sometimes for even longer than a death."

In their joint letter, Hague and Helic say the international community has a responsibility to ensure rape is never used as a weapon of war to intimidate humiliate and persecute ethnic minorities.

Before the current violence, efforts to criminalise rape and protect women by law in Myanmar foundered, despite efforts in the Myanmar parliament.

The FCO said it was assessing what support the UK might provide at Cox's Bazaar, the main refugee site. The Department for International Development has provided £47m in aid, but none earmarked specifically to address the issue of sexual violence.

The FCO minister Mark Field was also one of the first European ministers to reach Rakhine state, even though he was not allowed to visit the border. He has described the behaviour of the Buddhist forces as ethnic cleansing.

Many of the refugees do not wish to return because they do not feel safe, and there is a dispute between Bangladeshi and Burmese authorities whether their return is even possible.

Field has said "unless we get repatriation at an early stage, the perception from the Burmese military – and in the international community – will be that they have got their own way. It is, in my view, of utmost urgency to get some repatriation – we need to do that – but part and parcel of that is having villages in which people can live. Many have been burned. Rebuilding will not necessarily take quite so painstakingly long, provided that the international community has access to Rakhine."

Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the ruling party, has been widely criticised for her failure to condemn the behaviour of the military, but her defenders claim that in a hybrid regime in which the military dominate the major ministries, including the responsibility for borders, she is walking a political tightrope.

She visited Rakhine state last week for the first time since her National League for Democracy was elected in 2015, and last month set up a new national aid body that she will chair to hasten long-term development to reduce poverty in Rakhine, one of the poorest areas of Myanmar.

One of her advisers, speaking on condition of anonymity, said "if sanctions are imposed it will have cataclysmic consequences for her, and no one so far I know has a plan B for Myanmar".

The pope is also due to visit Myanmar at the end of this this month in his first visit to a predominantly Buddhist country and her advisers see the visit as "an immense opportunity to combat the role hate speech is playing in the country".

"People in the country recognise the religious language she has been using, so people understand she is trying to appropriate language of religion hijacked by religious extremists. So much of this has been fuelled by the language of hatred. Freedom from hate has become almost her new version of freedom from fear."

Her advisers say: "In her speeches in September and October she had tried to define what a national Burmese humanitarian effort might constitute, and the fact that excluded the military, seen as the guardians of Burma since 1940, is very significant. Until the constitution is changed there can be no settled democratic future for the country."

Dfid stressed that much of the £47m it is now providing to help refugees in Myanmar will go to help victims of sexual violence. "UK aid is helping to provide counselling and psychological support that will reach over 10,000 women suffering from the trauma of war and over 2,000 survivors of sexual violence," it said in a statement.

It added it was supporting the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to operate five mobile medical teams and five health posts to help address gender-based violence.

Rohingya crisis: Israel says 'both sides committing war crimes' when asked about Burma violence
Independent

By Jon Sharman
November 8, 2017

An Israeli diplomat asked to justify the country's arms sales to Burma amid its crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim population has said that "the two sides in the conflict are conducting war crimes".

Amir Sagie, Israel's deputy consul general in New York, told a group of rabbis that the current conflict began "after Muslims attacked government positions in Myanmar" and that Israel "applies a policy of non-intervention in Myanmar's domestic issues".

According to Haaretz he said: "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."

Weapons deals are "done with due diligence", the site reported Mr Sagie as saying. The diplomat said Israel took into account human rights in its arms export process.

Investigations by human rights watchdogs found more than 100 tanks, as well as boats and light weapons, had been sold to the Burmese government by Israeli arms companies in recent years.

One company, TAR Ideal Concepts, also trained Burmese special forces in northern Rakhine state, where much of the violence has taken place.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled Burma, a Buddhist-majority country, for neighbouring Bangladesh.

In a statement on Monday, the UN Security Council had urged Burma to "ensure no further excessive use of military force" and expressed "grave concern over reports of human rights violations and abuses in Rakhine state".

The UN has denounced the violence during the past 10 weeks as a classic example of ethnic cleansing to drive the Rohingya Muslims out of the country.

Rejecting that accusation, the military said its counter-insurgency clearance operation was provoked by Rohingya militants' synchronised attacks on 30 security posts in the northern part of Rakhine state on 25 August.

Israel's foreign ministry said: "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 UN Security Council and other international entities."

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Israel and Palestine

Israel accuses UN human rights official of hateful incitement
Fox News

By Ben Evansky
October 26, 2017

A special investigator assigned by the United Nations Human Rights Council to look into abuses in the Palestinian territories left out any mention of actual Palestinian abuses in his report. He instead released a litany of complaints and charges against Israel.

In one small section of his report, Michael Lynk did try to give the impression of being evenhanded, writing, "The Rapporteur notes that human rights violations by any State party or non-State actor are deplorable and will only hinder the prospects of peace."

However, at a press conference at the world body in New York, Lynk, the U.N. special rapporteur, admitted to journalists that he did not add human rights abuses by either the Palestinian Authority or Hamas to his report because that was not in his mandate to do so, even though his title seemed to indicate it was.

When he was asked about it, Lynk seemed unaware that two of his predecessors had in fact included these abuses during their tenures.

A Palestinian man shot three Israeli security officers dead and critically wounded a fourth; Conor Powell reports from Jerusalem.

But that wasn't the end of it: U.N. Watch, a human rights group based in Geneva, released a letter to Lynk calling on him to investigate human rights abuses by Palestinians.

"By any definition of human rights, morality and logic, if Mr. Lynk is a United Nations human rights monitor for the Palestinian Territories, he must address Palestinian Authority and Hamas torture and arbitrary arrest committed against their own people," said Hillel Neuer, the executive director of U.N. Watch.

Neuer listed examples of human rights violations enacted against its own citizens by both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority that included jailing of journalists, the suppression of peaceful protests, torture, torture of juveniles and extrajudicial killings. He also cited the killing of Israelis in terror attacks, suicide attacks and kidnappings by Palestinian terror groups.

In this image made from a video provided by UNTV, Israel's Ambassador Danny Danon, center, and Palestinian envoy Riyad Mansour, not pictured, speak to one another at an United Nations Security Council meeting Monday, April 18, 2016, at United Nations headquarters.

Lynk said that Fox News and other journalists were confusing his mandate: "It is not aimed at Israel, it's aimed at Israeli occupation of a territory that's not its own. That is a distinct and separate question, and those who wind up confusing the two do so, I suggest, deliberately to obfuscate the question of the 60-year-old occupation."

Lynk did concede, however, that he possibly would consider asking the council when he next reports in March to expand his mandate to include Palestinian abuses.

Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon fired off a statement following his press conference accusing Lynk of spreading hateful "incitement against the State of Israel."

"The U.N. Human Rights Council has lost its legitimacy as it focuses obsessively on attacking Israel instead of working on resolving the real human rights problems plaguing the world. The Council has lost all touch with reality and the original intent of upon which it was founded," Danon said.

Lynk asserted that he has the independence to choose his topics under the framework of his mandate given to him by the council.

Anne Bayefsky, professor and director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and Holocaust, told Fox News that Lynk's title gives the opposite impression of what he actually does.

"Link demonstrates how dangerous the U.N. Human Rights Council really is," she said. "The Council gave him the misleading title of U.N. human rights expert investigator, knowing in advance he had made up his mind about the subject he was to investigate. Lynk went into the U.N. job wildly anti-Israel, and voilà, he now produces statements and reports containing wild anti-Israel pronouncements, starting with analogies to apartheid South Africa."

The Trump administration is said to be strongly considering pulling the U.S. out of the much maligned Human Rights Council just as it recently did when it left another U.N. body, UNESCO, citing amongst other reasons its anti-Israel bias.

8 killed as Israel strikes Gaza tunnel, Palestinian Health Ministry says
CNN

By Ralph Ellis and Andrew Carey
October 30, 2017

Eight people were killed when the Israeli military struck a tunnel leading into Israel from Gaza, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza.

The Israeli Army said earlier it had "neutralized a terror tunnel" leading into southern Israel from Khan Younis in the south of Gaza.

Israeli Army spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said the tunnel, which he described as kilometers away from the nearest Israeli village of Kissufim, had been detonated on the Israeli side of the Israel-Gaza border, close to the security fence that separates the two territories.

Asked about reports that senior members of the militant Islamic Jihad group had been killed in the operation, an IDF spokesman said there had been "no intention in any way or at any stage" to target senior figures.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health said the number of fatalities could rise significantly because a large number of people are still missing after the tunnel's collapse.

The strike comes just two days before internal control of Gaza's border crossings is due to pass from Hamas to the Palestinian Authority, as part of a reconciliation agreement reached between Hamas and Fatah, the party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Hamas, though not claiming the tunnel as one of theirs, said in a statement that the Israeli action was aimed at undermining the reconciliation agreement; in an earlier posting on its Twitter account, Hamas had called it a dangerous escalation that threatened a "new war against Gaza people."

An Islamic Jihad leader, Mohammad Al Hindi, said in a statement: "The truce with the enemy is over and the response will be the size of the crime."

In a statement carried on the official Palestinian news agency Wafa, Fatah condemned what it called "the Israeli crime," saying "the blood [of those killed] would not be wasted." It said it would move ahead with the unity agreement with Hamas.

Earlier, the IDF's Conricus said Israel held Hamas accountable for "all hostile activity" emerging from Gaza, though he stopped short of directly accusing Hamas of being responsible for the tunnel. He said Israel did not intend to escalate the situation but stood prepared for all eventualities.

He would not say how the tunnel was detonated, but described the technology used to detect it as "advanced and groundbreaking."

Later, an IDF spokesperson rejected Hamas and Palestinian Ministry of Health claims that Israel had used poison gas in its operation against the tunnel, telling CNN the IDF had only used conventional ammunition in the action.

The spokesperson also said the IDF had told local Israeli farmers not to work near the security fence; however, the spokesperson said reports that people living in towns and communities near Gaza had been told to avoid large gatherings outdoors were false.

During the 2014 Gaza war, Hamas militants launched surprise attacks from tunnels that crossed under Israel's security fence and into Israel. Identifying and destroying the tunnels became a major goal of the war for the Israeli military, which found many tunnels that were more than a mile long and 60 feet deep.

Two days ago, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees revealed it had recently discovered the existence of what appeared to be a tunnel underneath one of its schools in Gaza. It said it had rendered the school safe and sealed the cavity created by the tunnel. The agency said it had protested "the violation of the sanctity and disrespect of the neutrality" of UN premises to what it called the "relevant parties" responsible for the tunnel.

Israeli air strike hits near Syria's Homs
Reuters

By Reuters Staff
November 1, 2017

An Israeli air strike targeted a factory south of the Syrian city of Homs on Wednesday and the Syrian army responded by firing a surface-to-air missile at the aircraft, a commander in a military alliance fighting in support of Damascus said.

The commander told Reuters the air strike had hit a copper factory in the industrial town of Hisya, 35 km (21 miles) south of Homs and 112 km (70 miles) north of Damascus. The commander did not give details of any casualties.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based organization that reports on the war, said the air strike had targeted a military installation.

An Israeli military spokeswoman declined to comment. Israel's Channel 10 said the aircraft were not hit and returned safely to base.

The Israeli air force says it has struck arms convoys of the Syrian military and its Lebanese ally, the Iran-backed Hezbollah, nearly 100 times in recent years.

Israeli officials have expressed alarm at Iranian influence in Syria, where Iran-backed groups have played a critical role fighting in support of President Bashar al-Assad during the conflict that erupted in 2011.

Iran's military chief General Mohammad Baqeri warned Israel against breaching Syrian airspace and territory during a visit to Damascus last month.

Last month, five projectiles from Syria set off air raid sirens in Israeli towns, prompting the Israeli military to say it would step up its response to stray fire from the Syrian war that has repeatedly spilled over the border.

The Israeli air force attacked a Syrian anti-aircraft battery earlier that week that Israel said had fired a missile at its planes while they were on a reconnaissance mission over neighboring Lebanon.

Tensions between Israel and Hezbollah, which last fought a major conflict in 2006, have escalated this year. Each side has warned it would unleash devastating firepower in the event of a full-scale war.

Israel using trapped Palestinians as 'bargaining chips'
Aljazeera

By Mersiha Gadzo
November 3, 2017

Rescue teams in Gaza have been unable to reach five Palestinians trapped in a tunnel destroyed earlier this week by Israeli forces in the Khan Younis area.

Seven Palestinians belonging to Gaza's military brigades of Islamic Jihad and Hamas were killed and a dozen others wounded after Israel blew up a tunnel near the border in the southern Gaza Strip on Monday.

Human rights groups have filed a petition to Israel's Supreme Court demanding that the Israeli military allow rescue teams to recover the missing individuals.

"The rescue teams managed to come within 300 meters of the border fence but are unable to reach the trapped and missing persons … because of the prohibition imposed by the Israeli army on Palestinians approaching any location that is less than 300 meters from the fence," Muna Haddad, a lawyer with the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, wrote in the petition.

"Preventing the location and rescue of missing persons in the area currently under Israeli military control is a blatantly illegal policy."

No-go zone

The Israeli-declared "buffer zone" runs along the Gaza side of the Israeli border. Rescue teams cannot cross the imaginary line and enter the no-go zone for fear of coming under fire from the Israeli army.

Yoav Mordechai, Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, has said that Israel "would not allow search efforts in the Gaza Strip security zone without progress on the issue of Israeli POWs [prisoners of war] and MIAs [missing in action]".

Israel contends that Hamas has been withholding the bodies of two Israeli soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, who were killed in the last Israeli military offensive on the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2014.

Adalah and the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights filed the petition on Thursday on behalf of Hassan Abdel Jalil Sbahi, the father of one of the missing men.

The groups accused Mordechai and the Israeli military's southern command chief, Eyal Zamir, of "using the trapped Gazans as bargaining chips".

Allowing injured people to receive medical treatment, evacuation of bodies, and immunity for ambulances and medical teams is a basic principle of international humanitarian law and the Fourth Geneva Convention, the petition noted.

"Hence, the movement of rescue and medical teams should also be unrestricted, allowing them to search and locate the missing persons without delay, thus increasing their chances of being rescued alive."

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AMERICAS

North & Central America

Report: Rights abuses by Mexican military largely unpunished
Napa Valley Register

By Peter Orsi
November 7, 2017

The vast majority of human rights abuses allegedly committed by soldiers waging Mexico's war on drug gangs go unsolved and unpunished despite reforms letting civilian authorities investigate and prosecute such crimes, a report said Tuesday.

The Washington Office on Latin America study, described as the first comprehensive analysis of military abuse investigations handled by the Attorney General's Office, found there were just 16 convictions of soldiers in the civilian judicial system out of 505 criminal investigations from 2012 through 2016, a prosecutorial success rate of 3.2 percent.

Moreover, there were only two "chain of command responsibility" convictions for officers whose orders led to abuses, it said.

The report said factors that hinder civilian investigations of the military include parallel civilian and military probes, limited access to troops' testimony and soldiers tampering with crime scenes or giving false testimony.

"This militarized public security model has negatively impacted Mexico's criminal justice system. The civilian justice system faces challenges - including military authorities' actions resulting in the obstruction or delay of investigations - which limit civilian authorities' ability to sanction soldiers implicated in crimes and human rights violations," the group said.

The Attorney General's Office, the Defense Department and other government offices did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The military has played a central role in the war on drug cartels since at least late 2006, when newly installed President Felipe Calderon deployed soldiers across the country to fight the gangs. The militarized offensive has continued under current President Enrique Pena Nieto.

During that time there have been numerous accusations of serious human rights violations by soldiers, such as torture, killings and forced disappearances.

Critics say the Mexican military is not trained to carry out policing activities. However, many police departments in the country are seen as corrupt, outgunned and even in cahoots with organized crime gangs, and thus unreliable allies against the cartels.

One high-profile rights case involving the military was the 2014 killing of 22 suspected criminals by soldiers in the central town of Tlatlaya. The military initially claimed they died in a fierce firefight, but evidence suggested there was no protracted shootout and some of the dead appeared to have been executed.

Seven soldiers were accused of homicide, but the charges were thrown out by civilian courts due to lack of evidence. In August of this year, a judge ordered an investigation into whether army commanders played any role in the killings.

The report said Tlatlaya is an example of a case in which military investigators had access to the crime scene and soldiers' testimony before civilian authorities.

"The Tlatlaya case illustrates that holding military and civilian investigations concurrently delays and obstructs justice ... (and) shows that in military jurisdiction, cases of grave human rights violations also go unchecked or remain unpunished," the report said.

Reforms in 2014 changed how allegations of abuses by the military can be investigated, including the right to conduct a civilian probe in such cases and for victims to participate.

Among the 16 successful prosecutions of soldiers carried out by the Attorney General's Office are convictions for the cover-up of a human rights violation and desecration of a corpse; forced disappearance; homicide; injuries and trespassing, and rape, the report said.

The two "chain of command" convictions the study found were of a lieutenant colonel and a second lieutenant in two forced disappearance cases in in the northern states of Chihuahua and Nuevo Leon.

The Washington Office on Latin America said the report was based on three main sources: interviews with human rights groups and lawyers, right-to-information requests that yielded information including on convictions of soldiers, and collaboration with journalists who created a website on the issue, Cadenademando.org (Spanish for "chain of command").

It added that it was "possible" there may have been more convictions than the 16 it documented, but authorities did not report them in response to right-to-information requests.

The United States has supported Mexico's security efforts through the multibillion-dollar Merida Initiative, including outfitting the military with helicopters and training security forces. According to the report, more than $521 million in counter-drug assistance has flowed from the U.S. Defense Department to the Mexican military since 2008.

The report calls for measures from both Mexico and the United States to bolster the Mexican judicial system. It also urges Washington to condition aid money on improvements in the human rights record of Mexican security forces and to enforce U.S. laws barring funding of units known to have committed gross rights violations.

U.S. Gave Its Torturers a Pass, So International Court Steps In
ACLU

By Jamil Dakwar and Joshua Manson
November 8, 2017

After a decade of collecting evidence, the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court announced last week that she will take steps toward a full investigation into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed over the course of the armed conflict in Afghanistan since May 2003. While the process could take years, this development means that, for the first time, U.S. officials could face the specter of indictment by the international court.

The prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has requested to launch a full investigation into whether a number of actors committed gross violations of international law, including "war crimes of torture and related ill-treatment." That implicates U.S. military and CIA personnel, as well as private contractors. In a 2016 report, the prosecutor's office revealed that it had reason to believe that members of the U.S. military "subjected at least 61 detained persons to torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity" and members of the CIA "subjected at least 27 detained persons to torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity and/or rape."

An ICC investigation would face myriad hurdles, especially given the likely refusal of the U.S. government to cooperate. However, if arrest warrants are one day issued, the officials would be subject to immediate arrest in the 124 countries that are participants in the ICC, including every country in the European Union (but not the United States which is not a member of the court).

This dramatic development would have been unnecessary - and avoided - if the United States had fully investigated, prosecuted, and punished instances of torture, as international law requires, and as the ACLU and other groups have been calling on the federal government to do for years. Instead, the Obama administration opened two narrow investigations and closed both without charging anyone. The International Criminal Court can only become involved when domestic systems fail to conduct genuine and credible investigations into major crimes as outlined by the Rome Statute, which created the international court.

The ICC prosecutor noted in her 2016 report that:

"There is specific information indicating that at least 88 persons in US custody were allegedly tortured. The information available suggests that victims were deliberately subjected to physical and psychological violence, and that crimes were allegedly committed with particular cruelty and in a manner that debased the basic human dignity of the victims. The infliction of "enhanced interrogation techniques," applied cumulatively and in combination with each other over a prolonged period of time, would have caused serious physical and psychological injury to the victims. Some victims reportedly exhibited psychological and behavioural issues, including hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia, and attempts at self-harm and self-mutilation. The gravity of the alleged crimes is increased by the fact that they were reportedly committed pursuant to plans or policies approved at senior levels of the US government, following careful and extensive deliberations."

The ICC prosecutor's request, which is likely to be granted by the court's Pre-Trial Chamber, would not only set a precedent for holding American actors criminally accountable before an international court for torture committed overseas, but it would give torture victims a voice they don't otherwise have. The ICC affords victims a unique role to play in legal proceedings, providing them an opportunity to put their views and concerns directly to the judges where their personal interests are affected, normally through a legal representative who operates independently of the prosecution. Although domestic U.S. courts allow torture victims to participate in legal proceedings, mainly as witnesses, they do so at the discretion of a prosecutor. ACLU clients, including Khaled El Masri, Suleiman Salim, and Mohamed Ben Soud - all of whom were detained and tortured in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2008 - would likely qualify, as they have suffered great material, psychological, and physical harm as a direct result of torture and ill-treatment by U.S. agents or contractors in Afghanistan. The same goes for the family of Gul Rahman, who was killed as a result of his torture in Afghanistan.

This comes just months after the ACLU reached a landmark settlement on behalf of victims and survivors of the CIA's torture program. And we are keeping up the pressure on other international stages, as well: This week, we submitted responses in two cases on behalf of survivors of U.S. torture before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In both instances, the United States government has argued that the IACHR, the foremost human rights body in the Americas, cannot adjudicate violations of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the foremost human rights instrument in the Americas. We are also waiting to hear from the commission on whether it will grant a December hearing for our client, Khaled el-Masri, who was tortured by the CIA and subsequently sued CIA Director George Tenet. Later this month, the ACLU will also participate in a hearing held by the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture, investigating North Carolina's role and complicity in the U.S. torture program.

Under a president who has threatened to bring back torture, accountability for these crimes has never been more important for the victims and survivors struggling to rebuild their lives, and for the message it sends to those who would seek to use torture in the future.

Torture is categorically prohibited, including in times of war, and has consequences. The U.S. government might thus far have let its torturers off the hook, but international justice mechanisms will not.

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South America

Ceasefire not improving humanitarian conditions in Colombia: ELN
Colombia Reports

By Atticus Ballesteros
November 7, 2017

Representatives of Colombia's only remaining rebel force, the ELN, gave an "unfortunate assessment" of its bilateral ceasefire with the government on Tuesday.

According to an ELN statement, completing one month without armed confrontations between the government and ELN is a "historic" and "significant" achievement.

The ELN's chief peace negotiator, Pablo Beltran, who read the statement from Quito, Ecuador said the occasion marks the "first time in 53 years [that] guerillas' weapons have been silenced" in Colombia.

Beltran added, however, that the primary objective of the ceasefire, "to improve humanitarian conditions" in areas traditionally torn apart by conflict between the two warring parties, remains "unachieved."

Social leaders at risk

According to the ELN, the ceasefire with the government will continue for at least another month, but the rebels assert the ceasefire has been "put at risk" because "in October threats against and killings of social leaders increased."

As part of the agreement to uphold the ceasefire that began on October 1, the ELN has insisted the government improve security conditions for social leaders and human rights defenders across the country.

Since the government signed a peace agreement with the FARC roughly one year ago, an increasing number of social leaders in Colombia have been targeted and killed.

Paradoxically, the ELN admitted to killing a social leader, indigenous governor Aulio Isarama, during the ceasefire a few weeks ago.

In October the ELN's Western Front claimed responsibility for the homicide, which the government and ELN's independent monitoring and verification committee for the ceasefire is now investigating.

The ELN did not mention the killing of Isarama in its statement.

When the government provided its own assessment of the ceasefire at the end of October, Colombia's chief peace negotiator, Juan Camilo Restrepo, claimed Isarama's death was "deplorable from every perspective."

Still, the government insisted "no incident will break the ceasefire" with the ELN.

Decriminalizing social protest

The ELN also claimed in its evaluation of the ceasefire that the government has "increased the war-like treatment [it] gives to social protest."

Beginning at the end of October, hundreds of thousands of rural farmers and indigenous people mobilized mass protests across the country, blocking major roadways and resulting in dozens of injuries after clashes with police. Both major protests have since been suspended.

Since starting peace negotiations with the government, the ELN has insisted that increasing citizens' political participation in government is a major goal behind the group's violent struggle.

Beltran reaffirmed this point on Tuesday, stating that the ELN is committed "to ensuring that this ceasefire improves the participation of citizens in deciding the country's future, necessary for a political solution to the [armed] conflict."

Adding to the pressure

The ELN's tough evaluation of the ceasefire comes amid widespread concerns over how the Colombian government is simultaneously managing its peace process with the FARC-formerly the country's largest rebel group.

This week UN officials released a rare statement urging Colombia's congress to ratify crucial peace process laws that are currently in legislative limbo.

The UN also recently pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to support Colombia's criticized rollout of a program to help small-time farmers substitute illicit crops like coca and marijuana.

Still, both the government and ELN have expressed measured optimism that their peace negotiations and ceasefire will continue.

Government representative Restrepo tweeted Monday that "according to the recent [UN Food and Agriculture Organization] report there is a close relation between peace processes and improved food security and nutrition," apparently referring to both parties' hope for an improved humanitarian situation in war-torn regions.

The ELN's Pablo Beltran affirmed that "No armed confrontations between the [two] sides occurred" in October.

"We hope in the next month of the ceasefire to improve the fulfillment of the ceasefire," he added.

"You can count on us to continue this process of finding a political solution to the conflict."

UN urges Colombia congress to ratify war crimes tribunal
Colombia Reports

Adriaan Alsema
November 7, 2017

The United Nations said Monday Colombia could be in violation of international law if Congress fails to approve a transitional justice system agreed with demobilized FARC guerrillas.

The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) has been stuck in Congress where lawmakers are reportedly expecting electoral kick-backs for their approval of the justice system that seeks justice for war crimes.

According to the United Nations' Colombia office for Human Rights, the approval of the JEP "is essential for the effective fulfillment of international obligations in the field of human rights."

"The Office in Colombia of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights considers that the approval of the statutory bill of the JEP, by the Congress of the Republic, is fundamental for the effective compliance with international obligations regarding rights humans." - United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Colombia

The UN is in charge of monitoring the peace process that began a year ago after an agreement to end more than half a century of armed conflict that left more than 8 million victims.

Colombia's Congress has been in charge of the ratification of the different elements of the peace process, but has failed to approve key parts of the peace deal like the transitional justice system and a far-reaching electoral reform.

"The submission to the JEP by all the actors of the conflict is the guarantee for clarifying truth and compensating the victims. The granting of judicial benefits to those responsible for international crimes outside of this framework may entail the international responsibility of the State." - United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Colombia

Multiple congressmen and top members of the military have been tied to war crime investigations that would be tried by the transitional tribunal.

Additionally, with elections held in less than half a year, some congressmen are trying to use their approval as leverage in an attempt to secure funds for their districts.

A failure to ratify the agreement as signed last year could have international consequences, the UN warned.

"This is why we remind the Senators and Representatives to the House of their obligation to guarantee human rights, especially the right to justice victims of serious violations, and urge them to move the discussion of bill forward without further delay." - United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Colombia

The UN has been monitoring the peace process, which can count on much resistance, particularly from political parties that in the past have used paramilitary death squads to coerce the electorate.

As a consequence of the demobilization of paramilitary umbrella organization AUC between 2003 and 2006, more than 60 congressmen and at least seven governors were imprisoned.

The International Criminal Court has said it expects the commander of the armed forces and almost two dozen other top military commanders to be investigated for the mass killing of civilians.

The transitional justice system should prosecute thousands of alleged war criminals, including former FARC commanders, members of the military, (former) elected officials and civilians.

EU to impose arms embargo on Venezuela as crisis deepens
BBC

November 8, 2017

Ambassadors of European Union member states agreed on Wednesday to impose an arms embargo on Venezuela.

They also said there would be a ban on any equipment which could be used to repress opponents within Venezuela.

The sanctions come after a UN report released in August accused Venezuela of human rights violations and using excessive force against the opposition.

Venezuela dismissed the allegations as "lies" and said it was the victim of an "imperialist war".

Blacklist

The country has been mired in a worsening economic and political crisis which triggered mass anti-government protests earlier this year.

Several key Venezuela opposition figures have been prosecuted, jailed or stripped of their political rights since Nicolás Maduro was elected president in 2013.

On Friday, Venezuela's Supreme Court stripped opposition politician Freddy Guevara of his immunity from prosecution and said he would be prosecuted on charges of inciting violence.

Mr Guevara, who is the vice-president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, has sought refuge in the residence of the Chilean ambassador in Caracas.

Canada and the United States have already imposed sanctions on Venezuela and frozen the assets of Venezuelan individuals they say are linked to human rights abuses.

Diplomatic sources told Agence France Press news agency that the EU would also create a blacklist of Venezuelan individuals, although no names had been added to it yet.

"The political aim remains to force the government to get round the negotiating table with the opposition and contribute to getting out of the current political crisis," the source told AFP.

'Meddling'

EU foreign ministers are expected to sign off the arms embargo on Monday.

Member states have also agreed to ban companies from exporting surveillance equipment which could be used to spy on opposition figures.

Foreign criticism is routinely dismissed as "meddling" by Venezuelan officials, and sanctions imposed by the US were cited by President Maduro as evidence that "imperialist forces" were conspiring to oust him from power.

Opinion polls suggested that following the US sanctions, President Maduro's popularity rose for the first time in months.

Bolivia rally urges Evo Morales' fourth term
BBC

November 8, 2017

Thousands of Bolivians have rallied in La Paz, calling for President Evo Morales to be allowed to run for a fourth consecutive term in 2019.

Mr Morales - Bolivia's first indigenous leader - has been in office since 2006.

His supporters say he needs more time in power in order to consolidate his programme of social reforms.

A proposal to amend the constitution to allow him to run again was rejected in a referendum last year. The opposition says the result must be respected.

China construction row

Tuesday's demonstration in Bolivia's largest city was organised by indigenous groups and the various unions that back Mr Morales' Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party.

If Mr Morales, 58, is allowed to run for re-election and wins the vote, his term will end in 2025.

By then, he will have been in power for 19 years.

"President Evo, the people are with you," said community leader Jesús Vera, who took part in the demonstration.

"For as long as the people continue to support your government, you will continue to be the president of all Bolivians," he added.

The government says it narrowly lost last year's referendum because of an illegal defamatory campaign against Mr Morales.

Allegations surfaced shortly before the referendum accusing Mr Morales of using his influence to favour a Chinese construction firm in Bolivia, which he denied.

Mr Morales initially said he would respect the outcome of the poll.

But he later appealed to the Constitutional Court, which is expected to rule in December on whether to allow him to stand again.

Mr Morales' defence has quoted the American Convention of Human Rights, saying that the Bolivian people have the right to vote for him and that he has the right to be elected.

The opposition and other groups, including the powerful trade union federation, Bolivian Union's Centre (COB), criticised Tuesday's march.

They said the government should to respect the referendum's result.

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TOPICS

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

The deafening silence on rape in MK camps lingers
Mail & Guardian

By Ra'eesa Pather
October 27, 2017

For years, women freedom fighters from camps operated by the armed wing of the ANC, Umkhontowe Sizwe (MK), have remained silent about the sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of men they called comrades.

Some of these atrocities came to light at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In one confession, former MK commander and defence minister Joe Modise said that sexual abuse in MK camps was a "very serious problem" - but maintained that leaders had acted on such abuses.

"Some of the camp commanders took advantage of their positions and started asking or pressuring some of the young ladies to do them favours," Modise said. "I think it is understood what type of favours I am talking about. Some commanders had been removed for this. So it was a problem that was addressed by the movement and its armed personnel."

Modise tried to explain this by saying that men in the camps struggled to find women they could pursue. "It is the kind of problem that manifests itself in places such as camps, very far from home, isolated, in hostile areas, and the difficulty of young men going out into the towns to go and look for young ladies was rather limited, because there were ambushes also on the way."

A similar remark was made by former MK commissar Andrew Masondo, who testified at the TRC about violations against women in the Quatro MK camp in Angola, where ill-disciplined MK members were sent to be corrected. But Masondo was criticised for his comments on sexual violence during his testimony.

"In Angola there are at one time 22 women in a group of more than 1 000 people. There was an allegation that commanders were misusing women. The law of supply and demand must have created some problems," he said.

When Thabo Mbeki, who was deputy president at the time, presented the ANC's report to the TRC he also said that those in MK accused of "gender-specific violence" were punished. He did not, however, specify what the offences were or what punishment was meted out.

MK and ANC leaders, including Chris Hani, visited MK camps after allegations of sexual assault began to emerge. In her own testimony, Gertrude Shope, a former ANC Women's League leader, said that members of the league would visit the camps to assist women.

But Teddy Williams, an MK commander who was trained in the Soviet Union, told the TRC that he was punished when he tried to speak out about sexual violence in the Quatro camp. Williams said that section commanders used to call women and "do what they wished to them". Those who objected were secretly targeted.

Despite these admissions, women were still reluctant to testify at the TRC. When current ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte came before the TRC, she said that women were silenced by the liberation movement itself during the anti-apartheid struggle and that other women activists were complicit.

"If women said that they were raped, they were regarded as having sold out to the system in one way or another," Duarte said.

But there were some brave women who spoke about their trauma for the first time at the TRC.

Lita Mazibuko, an MK member who organised safe routes for comrades over the South African border into Swaziland, recounted three occasions when she was raped.

During one operation, a comrade had died crossing the border and the movement suspected she was a spy. Mazibuko was eventually cleared, but she suffered brutally. She spoke of a man named Mashego who raped her in Swaziland and also told the TRC about another horrific rape.

"And there was another one by the name of Tebogo, who was also very young. He raped me and he also cut my genitals. He cut through my genitals and they were cut open and he put me in a certain room and he tied my hands, my legs, they were apart. He also tied my neck and he would also pour Dettol over my genitals," Mazibuko said. "The pain that I experienced, I have never spoken about this.

I have never even told my children about this. It is the very first time that I speak about this."

ANC members allegedly attempted to silence her. She said that, two weeks before her testimony,

Mathews Phosa - who was Mpumalanga premier at the time - told her he "has a right to protect" the ANC.

Mazibuko's harrowing testimony could not defeat the silence that hung over the TRC from women who could not speak about the violence they faced. Higher Education Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize was a TRC commissioner. She listened to the testimonies and commented that the "submissions had fail[ed] women" because the silence remained deafening.

During the TRC hearings, members of the Pan Africanist Congress's armed wing, the Azanian People's Liberation Army (Apla), maintained that rape was never condoned. They said that, if any member was found to be guilty, then the TRC should not hesitate to deny them amnesty.

"Rape is not accommodated and was never accommodated and I think we are among the few liberation movements in the world that never experienced that in our camps," one Apla delegate testified.

General Butt Naked and Other Former Warlords Roam Free in Liberia. Will a New President Prosecute Them?
Newsweek

By Conor Gaffey
November 8, 2017

Joshua Milton Blahyi remembers the day he met Jesus. It was July 1996, and he was naked. The notorious Liberian warlord, then known as General Butt Naked, was about to lead a band of 18 child fighters-the oldest of whom was 15-into battle against the rebel forces of former President Charles Taylor.

As was his custom before going to war, Blahyi, now 46, had slaughtered a child in a ritualistic sacrifice supposed to bring protection and fortune in battle. (He is reluctant to give specific details but admits that his victims were usually young girls aged between three and 12 years old, and that he and his fighters would usually consume parts of the victim's body.) He had sent his boys down to the river to fetch water for him to wash the blood from his hands.

That's when Blahyi says he had an apparition. "I had a vision where Jesus met me and told me to repent and live or refuse and die-with the bloodstains of the child still in my hands," Blahyi tells Newsweek.

When his child soldiers returned, they turned their backs to Blahyi and knelt down. The general was a priest among his tribe, the Krahn, and so the boys were used to seeing him apparently conversing with spirits and reciting incantations. Upon doing so, they would turn away and kneel as a mark of respect. Blahyi says he did not explain what happened to them-"We don't have conversations, they only take orders"-but says that the boys must have sensed that he was afraid "for the first time."

When the vision ended, the general told his boys they would not be going into battle that day: "I retreated from the front. That day, I did not fight, I could not fight that day." It would be Blahyi's last day on the battlefield.

In the two decades since, Blahyi has transformed himself from warlord to preacher.

In 2008, he appeared before Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which was set up to investigate atrocities during the civil wars that left a quarter of a million people dead. Blahyi described in detail how he would divide the hearts of sacrificed children among his fighters to eat and claimed that his forces had killed 20,000 people.

For his cooperation, the TRC recommended that Blahyi be granted amnesty from prosecution. Today, he runs an initiative rehabilitating former child soldiers in Monrovia, the nation's capital, and also preaches at local churches for up to $150 per appearance.

Blahyi acknowledges that many of his victims and their families have not forgiven him-but says he has found peace. "The people of Liberia, their forgiveness is relative-some of them have forgiven me, some of them have still not forgiven me, but I know God has forgiven me because God said it," says Blahyi.

"He said anyone is willing to forgive, to confess their sins, God will forgive them. So I am very sure the Lord has forgiven me. I know that."

The story of the former General Butt Naked serves as a microcosm of Liberia since 2003, when its bloody conflict ended, because both forgiveness and reconciliation remain elusive concepts. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf -about to step down after 12 years in power-has overseen a period of relative stability, for which she was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.

But former warlords like Blahyi still roam free, and Sirleaf herself has admitted that not enough progress has been made on healing the wounds of 14 years of conflict.

Now, Liberia is on the brink of its first democratic transition in over 70 years. After an inconclusive first round of elections in October, the two remaining presidential candidates-the current vice-president, Joseph Boakai, and George Weah, a famous ex-footballer-were due to compete in a runoff vote on November 7. (The runoff has been delayed indefinitely, however, following a Supreme Court decision to investigate alleged irregularities in the first round of voting.)

Should Boakai and Weah eventually stand in a runoff vote, the prospects for those whose lives have been destroyed by the war (and warlords) do not seem strong. With neither candidate offering specifics on how they plan to heal the nation, some suggest that justice may never be forthcoming for the victims of Liberia's conflict.

Founded by freed U.S. slaves in 1847, Liberia has a proud tradition as the oldest republic in Africa. But the West African country was plunged into conflict in 1989, when a rebellion led by Charles Taylor toppled the government of Samuel Doe, who had himself come to power in a 1980 coup.

Rebels led by another warlord, Prince Yormie Johnson, captured Doe in September 1990; a YouTube clip of Doe's final moments shows Johnson drinking a beer while his soldiers mutilate the then president, cutting off his ear before his eventual death.

Doe's brutal death set the tone for the extreme violence that became characteristic of the Liberian conflict. Child fighters, often drugged up by warlords like Blahyi, would go into battle dressed in Halloween masks or women's wigs. Rape was used as a weapon of war and ethnic rivalries intensified as the conflict pitted members of Doe's tribe, the Krahn-including Blahyi and his brigade-against other ethnic groups who had faced persecution under Doe.

The conflict finally came to an end in 2003 when Taylor-who had been elected president of Liberia in a 1997 vote after running with the campaign slogan: "He killed my ma, he killed my pa, but I'll vote for him"-was forced into exile in Nigeria. Taylor was later arrested and convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity in neighboring Sierra Leone and is currently serving a 50-year prison sentence in the U.K. After Sirleaf's election victory in 2005, Liberia's parliament established the TRC with the mandate of investigating the past two decades of civil conflict.

But when the commission released its final report in 2009, the conclusions rocked Liberia once again. The report included a list of 50 people associated with the warring factions that it recommended be barred from public office for 30 years, including President Sirleaf.

The Liberian leader apologized before the TRC in 2009 for her financial support of Taylor in the early years of his rebellion and received the backing of the international community, including then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Two years later, a ruling by the Supreme Court of Liberia found that the TRC's recommendation on banning people from public office was unconstitutional.

For some, the TRC was always destined to fail in reconciling Liberia. T. Debey Sayndee, who has written a book on truth commissions in Africa, says that members of warring factions were among the commissioners and that infighting undermined their work.

"The commission did not have the integrity and the respect from the society to really support its work," says Sayndee, director of the Kofi Annan Institute for Conflict Transformation at the University of Liberia. "The moral will of the people and the members of the commission did not match up."

Others, however, laid blame for the failure to implement the TRC's recommendations squarely at the feet of Sirleaf. "To a large extent, she was selective in implementing the report. Those that suited her political interests were implemented, and those were not the core issues in the country," says Ibrahim Al-Bakri Nyei, a Liberian political analyst and PhD candidate at SOAS University of London.

Shifting the blame to Sirleaf jars with how Liberia's outgoing leader is viewed by the international community. Sirleaf was feted at her election in 2005, when she became the first elected female head of state in Africa. Her inauguration was attended by then first lady Laura Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In 2011, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along with two other recipients, for her work in advancing women's rights in Liberia.

The 78-year-old conceded in January that she had failed to make as much progress in the areas of corruption and reconciliation as she would have liked. And while Sirleaf's legacy will undoubtedly be largely positive-she secured the cancellation of more than $4 billion in post-war external debt, and freedom of the press has improved markedly under her stewardship-some experts say she is viewed more favorably abroad than at home.

"Liberians jokingly say: 'She's good from far, but far from good!'" says Fred van der Kraaij, an academic at the University of Leiden's African Studies Centre who has worked for the government of Liberia and runs a blog on the country's history.

The failure to implement the TRC's recommendations has left Liberia as a country where former warlords live as free men and women and, in some cases, gain positions of power. Of the eight leaders of warring factions named in the TRC report, Taylor is the only one to have ended up in prison. (Even Taylor was not actually convicted of crimes committed in Liberia, but Sierra Leone.)

Prince Johnson-the rebel leader who oversaw the slaughter of Doe-is now a powerful senator and finished fourth in the first round of the recent presidential election. He appeared before the TRC in 2008 and was named at the top of its list of "most notorious perpetrators." But Johnson was never prosecuted and is viewed as a hero in Nimba County, his home region, for purportedly freeing them from persecution under Doe's regime.

Blahyi says he "100 percent detests" Johnson's decision to run for office and says he would never attempt the same. "It is immoral for me, Joshua Milton Blahyi, to contest any electoral post because of my past history," he says.

Instead, the former General Butt Naked has made his own quiet attempts at reconciliation. With his Journeys Against Violence initiative, he says is working to rehabilitate 48 young boys, many of whom are former gang members or drug addicts. Blahyi also subjects himself to his own forms of penitence, spending each Friday fasting and praying.

Blahyi says he attempts to visit families and loved ones of his victims to apologize for his crimes, but receives a mixed reaction. "Most of them accept, a few of them have still not accepted," he says.

For many in Liberia, reconciliation will only come with justice. The TRC report recommended that an "extraordinary criminal tribunal for Liberia" be established to try all those named for prosecution by the commission. But it's not clear whether either of the two remaining presidential candidates would be willing to go this far.

Vice-President Boakai did not answer when asked whether he would prosecute the perpetrators identified by the TRC, saying he wished to focus on "the development agenda" in an April interview with Newsweek. Weah, the ex-footballer, has not made it clear whether he would seek prosecutions; he did not respond to multiple interview requests from Newsweek.

In the cases of notorious civil war actors like Johnson and Blahyi, the Liberian people are in limbo, waiting for justice to be served, says Sayndee. "Nobody feels that 'Oh, Joshua Blahyi is sorry for what he did, so it's OK, he can walk around free,'" he says.

"Liberians have a saying: When you cut a log, it must stay on top of the water for a while, but one day it will float down. This means that this will take time, but they are expecting that something has to be done."

For his part, Blahyi agrees. The former warlord says that he would happily submit to prosecution, should such a tribunal be established, in order to bring healing to the families of his victims and protection for his own family from retribution.

"I would honorably walk to the court, I would walk to the court voluntarily, to exercise my regret for what I accepted-what I chose-25 years ago," he says. "I think it's the best for this country. And if I even want to be selfish, it's the best for my children."

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Terrorism

Interior Ministry approves military trial of two LeJ terrorists
Pakistan Today

By Monitoring Report
November 2, 2017

The Interior Ministry has given a go-ahead to the trial of two suspected terrorists of banned outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) in military courts. The request had been put forward by the Sindh's Counter Terrorism Department (CTD).

The CTD had taken Mohammad Ishaq alias Bobi and Mohammad Asim alias Ahmed alias Kapri into custody last year.

CTD DIG Amir Farooqi informed local media outlet that the CTD had submitted a report to the ministry requesting approval of their trials by military courts.

Farooqi stated that upon receiving the letter, the ministry held a meeting with the CTD officials in Islamabad for a meeting. Following three to four sessions, the ministry approved the trial on November 1.

According to reports, the two alleged had been suspected of involvement in various acts of terrorism, including target killings and attacks on military officials in Karachi.

The 10 cases against the accused were registered at Ittehad Town, Preedy, CTD Sindh and Shareefabad police stations, and six other FIRs were lodged at the CTD Sindh Police Station.

The charges levelled against the accused under the Sindh Arms Act and Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Court relate to murders, attempts to murder and police encounters. The cases are with regard to the killing of four Rangers personnel in Ittehad Town, two military officials on Preedy Street and the murders of famous Qawwal Amjad Sabri and other citizens.

Ministry sends 29 terror-related cases to military courts
The Nation

By Imran Mukhtar
November 5, 2017

After waking up from a deep slumber and addressing the concerns of Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the Ministry of Interior has forwarded 29 terrorism-related cases to the military courts after a break of almost 10 months.

The ministry forwarded these cases to the military courts after COAS in a letter written to Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had showed his concerns that the federal government had not sent any terrorism case to the military courts since January this year.

The official sources in the interior ministry informed that soon after the prime minister sought an explanation from the ministry about its low response in dealing with terrorism-related cases for military courts, it hurriedly forwarded 29 cases to the military courts that were already approved by the cabinet.

The COAS in a Demi-Official (DO) letter written to the PM had said that though he had no doubts about the government's seriousness in implementing the National Action Plan (NAP), yet no case had been forwarded to the military courts during the last many years.

Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal through his official Twitter account also said that 29 cases already approved by the cabinet had been sent to the military courts . While another 80 were awaiting approval of the cabinet, he said, adding that after these 80 cases, the ministry has no pending case to be sent to the military courts .

Prior to the referral of 29 cases, the Ministry of Interior had recommended 190 cases to the military courts out of the total 317 cases forwarded by the provincial apex committee to the ministry , says a working paper prepared by the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA).

In March this year, the parliament had approved the 28th Constitution Amendment Bill (which became the 23rd constitutional amendment after its passage) and Pakistan Army Act (Amendment) Bill to give an extension to the military courts for another period of two years.

In January 2015, the parliament had passed the 21st Constitutional Amendment and Pakistan Army (Amendment) Act to establish military courts for a period of two years to trying suspects for their alleged involvement in terrorism cases.

Military courts were set up on January 7, 2015 following the barbaric terrorist attack on the Army Public Scholl in Peshawar in December 2014. These courts were established under the 20-point National Action Plan (NAP) on Counter Terrorism- a consensus document that was agreed upon all the parliamentary parties.

At that time, the civilian government had promised to revamp the judicial system to strengthen the existing justice system of the country to try terrorists but it failed to fulfil its promise and had to give extension to the military courts for another period of two years.

Court puts brakes on ordering Kammen to military trial
The Indiana Lawyer

By Marilyn Odendahl
November 6, 2017

Indianapolis criminal defense attorney Richard Kammen won a reprieve Friday when the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana halted a military commission's order that he continue representing a terrorism suspect held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Air Force Col. Vance Spath, military commission judge, had issued an order last week compelling Kammen to continue his representation of Abd al-Rahim Hussein al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the 2000 USS Cole bombing. However, District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt on Friday issued a three-page order finding the federal court has jurisdiction over the military commission. She stayed Spath's order.

Kammen had been under threat of being held in contempt if he did not travel to Virginia Friday and today to represent al-Nashiri via video conferencing in evidentiary hearings. Represented in federal court by Robert Hammerle of Pence Hensel LLC and solo criminal defense attorney Jessie Cook, Kammen maintained Spath had no jurisdiction over civilian lawyers and no authority to force him to render unethical legal services against his will.

Walton Pratt also ruled that any order from the military commission to either have Kammen arrested or seize his assets would be placed on hold and not executed until the Southern Indiana District Court could convene a hearing on its merits.

The government has until Nov. 24 to file a response to Kammen's petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus and motion for declaratory judgment. The case is Richard L. Kammen v. Gen. James N. Mattis, in his official capacity as Secretary of Defense, et al., 1:17-cv-03951.

Kammen, who has been representing al-Nashiri since 2008, and the two other civilian attorneys withdrew from the case in mid-October after they learned the federal government had continued to listen in and monitor their privileged conversations despite assurances from the authorities that such intrusions had been stopped.

The chief defense counsel for the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Brig. Gen. John Baker, agreed Kammen and his co-counsel would be violating their ethical duties if they continued to represent al-Nashiri.

Baker excused the civilian defense attorneys but Spath did not find "good cause" for the excusal and ordered Kammen and his team to return to Guantanamo Bay. When the attorneys did not appear, the judge sentenced Baker to 21 days of confinement.

In the transcript from the hearing, Spath asserted the rules not only required the civilian attorneys to continue their representation but also protected them from any charges of misconduct because they are acting under court order.

"…the manner of the defense community here has shown flagrant disobedience in the face of, frankly, centuries of precedent to the contrary, and that is a trial court issues orders and you either appeal, you get a stay, or you get assistance form a superior court," Spath said.

Baker subsequently filed a petition of Writ of Habeas Corpus Nov. 2 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. His case is Brig. Gen. John G. Baker, United States Marine Corps v. Col. Vance Spath, United States Air Force, et al., 1:17-cv-02311.

Al-Nashiri also turned to the federal courts, filing dual motions to stop his proceedings at Guantanamo Bay. On Nov. 2, Judge Royce Lamberth of the District of Columbia District Court, denied the motion for a temporary restraining order since al-Nashiri's current round of hearings have already begun and are expected to continue until shortly before the Thanksgiving holiday.

The next day, al-Nashiri filed to withdraw his earlier motion for a preliminary injunction. He told the court that granting his motion to withdraw will allow him to file a more developed preliminary injunction motion in about a week.

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Piracy

US Navy aids Iran fishing boat after pirate attack
Middle East Eye

October 26, 2017

An American destroyer has come to the aid of an Iranian fishing boat after a pirate attack off Yemen, the US Navy said on Wednesday.

Iran's coast guard called the US naval command in Bahrain to report Tuesday's incident and to ask for help after the attack south of Yemen's Socotra Island, the Navy said in a statement

The US command coordinated with an international naval task force, which is in the region to battle pirates.

Along with the Japanese destroyer JS Amagiri, the USS Howard reached the vessel and its sailors "provided food and water, made repairs, and gave medical aid to three injured civilian mariners," the statement read.

The coordination between Iranian authorities and the US stands in contrast to a series of recent encounters in which the US has complained of unprofessional Iranian naval behaviour.

For instance, in July, a US Navy patrol ship fired warning shots at an Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessel in the Gulf as it closed in on the American vessel.

Piracy attacks: US warns ships over Nigerian waters
Vanguard

By Godwin Oritse
November 1, 2017

The United States of America, through its Maritime Administration, has published the latest Maritime Alert. In the alert, which was released, Wednesday, it warned ships to be wary when approaching Nigerian waters.

According to the US Maritime Administration, the two recent incidences of pirate attacks in the Niger Delta of Nigeria is a confirmation of escalating insecurity around and on the waters of Nigeria.

It made reference to the attacks on October 21 and 25, 2017.

"Two incidents have been reported in the Gulf of Guinea in the past six days. The first reportedly occurred south of Port Harcourt, Nigeria at 0600 GMT on October 21, 2017. The second reportedly occurred in the vicinity of 03-35.50N 006-49.20E at 1905 GMT on October 25, 2017; both incidents have been confirmed," the report recalled.

"The nature of the first incident was piracy and kidnapping; the nature of the second incident was piracy," the report noted.

Quoting the latest quarterly report from the International Maritime Bureau, IMB, the US Maritime Administration stated that "the latest quarterly report from the International Maritime Bureau notes that a total of 20 reports of attacks against all vessel types were received from Nigeria, 16 of which occurred off the coast of Brass, Bonny and Bayelsa."

Recalling more chilling incidences, the report added that: "Guns were reportedly used in 18 of the incidents and vessels were underway in 17 of 20 reports. Furthermore, 39 of the 49 crew members' kidnappings globally occurred off Nigerian waters in seven separate incidents. Other crew kidnappings in 2017 have been reported 60 nautical miles off the coast of Nigeria".

"In general, all waters in and off Nigeria remain risky, despite intervention in some cases by the Nigerian Navy. We advise vessels to be vigilant, it concluded.

The US advisory report to ship masters and owners further warned that ship transiting Nigerian waters to be cautious and seek further information, even as it stated that the alert subsists until November 2, 2017.

Bahrain takes key counterpiracy command within US-led sea force
Stars and Stripes

By Jason Behnke
November 2, 2017

Royal Bahrain Navy Capt. Yusuf Almannaei assumed command of Combined Task Force 151 on Thursday, marking the first time Bahrain has led the multinational counterpiracy force.

Formed in 2009, CTF 151 is charged with patrolling parts of the Indian Ocean, Gulf of Aden and the eastern coast of Somalia. It operates under the Combined Maritime Forces, a coalition of 32 member nations led by the U.S. Navy's 5th fleet commander.

Since its formation, global piracy has been in decline. Almannaei credits some of that to the overall force's work.

"The piracy had reached its peak in 2010, 2011," he said. "With the efforts of Combined Maritime Forces, the piracy trends up to zero."

Almannaei relieved Rear Adm. Emre Sezenler of the Turkish Navy.

Under Sezenler, who had command since July, CTF 151 said that there have been attempts, but no successful attacks by pirates. Almannaei hopes to continue this trend, while continuing to provide mariners with guidance on avoiding, deterring and defending against attacks.

"The big challenge is to talk to the mariners and convince to continue their (best management practices) and continue having their security team," Almannaei said.

There were 445 reported pirate attacks worldwide in 2010, according to the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre. That number dropped to 191 in 2016.

Bahrain has held two other commands under the Combined Maritime Forces: CTF 150, which focuses on counter-terrorism, and CTF 152, which deals with maritime security in the Arabian Gulf.

Command of CTF 151 transfers to another member nation every three to six months.

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Gender-Based Violence

Investigating conflict-related sexual and gender-based crimes-lessons from Iraq and Syria
ReliefWeb

October 26, 2017

Seventeen years since the adoption of the UN Security Council resolution 1325, which calls on parties in conflict to uphold women's rights and respond to violations, impunity for conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) continues to undermine peace and security.

As the UN Security Council prepares to meet in New York for the annual Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security later this week, a side event co-sponsored by UN Women, the Government of Canada and Justice Rapid Response (JRR) on 25 October, convened human rights experts and investigators to discuss the importance of quality and timely investigations of conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence.

The speakers, including two experts deployed to investigate sexual and gender-based crimes in Iraq and Syria, shared their experience on what it takes to investigate such crimes, the challenges and obstacles of documenting evidence, and pathways to justice.

Catherine Boucher, Legal Advisor for the Permanent Mission of Canada to the UN, opened the panel, acknowledging that "Over the decades there has been a dramatic shift in the way the world views sexual and gender-based violence. It is not inevitable; it is a crime that must be investigated, prosecuted, and punished."

UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri added, "The women, peace and security agenda is clear. There has to be zero tolerance for violation of women and girls' rights. We are all here today because we are part of the movement demanding justice for sexual and gender-based violence being committed in Syria and Iraq, including the rape of women and men in government detention centers in Syria, and sexual enslavement of women and girls and the targeting of sexual minorities by the Islamic State."

Since 2012, as part of a partnership initiative, JRR and UN Women have deployed SGBV experts in support of the work of the UN Commission of Inquiry for Syria, the Office of the High-Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) fact-finding mission to Iraq, and other justice mechanisms, to ensure that sexual and gender-based crimes in Syria and Iraq are documented and prosecuted.

While numbers of rape and sexual assaults are notoriously difficult to confirm, sexual violence against women and girls has been a core component of the armed groups' ideology and economic strategy in Iraq and Syria.

The two JRR experts, Rabiaa and Serena [1] highlighted the challenges they face in their critical job. The most important challenge, they suggested, is persuading survivors to engage. "There is a cultural stigma attached to these kinds of violations that make it difficult for people to engage," explained Serena.

"The most important aspect of our job is safety and making the survivors feel comfortable. Sometimes [the survivors] call me at 2 a.m., but I don't mind. As long as they feel comfortable and safe," added Rabiaa.

The JRR - UN Women partnership has resulted in a Justice Experts Roster comprised of 217 experts from over 70 nationalities, who are specifically trained to investigate and document SGBV as an international crime.

"Our experts do the critical work of bringing crimes to light, as shown by the work in Iraq and Syria," Deputy Executive Director Puri says. To date, SGBV investigators have been deployed for 69 missions, to document sexual and gender-based crimes in a number of hot spots and countries in post-conflict contexts.

"We are very proud of our partnership with UN Women. We share the ability to provide very highly specialized, well-trained expertise from all over the world to ensure that investigations of SGBV wherever they occur are as good as possible," shared JRR Executive Director and event moderator Andres Vamos-Goldman. The large pool of experts coming from different countries and regions allow for investigators to be assigned to appropriate cases, where they can draw upon their legal, as well as cultural and linguistic expertise.

The event also premiered a short documentary film, Evidence of Hope, featuring two SGBV investigators deployed by UN Women-JRR to the UN investigations in Syria and Iraq, and four survivor-witnesses they met during their work. The film examines their brave efforts to bring perpetrators to justice.

The discussions came on the heels of recent announcements by the UN of new investigation mechanisms for the international crimes committed in Iraq and Syria. In September 2017, the UN Security Council established an investigation team to support Iraq's domestic efforts to hold the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da'esh) accountable for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide (S/RES/2379). In December 2016, the UN General Assembly established an international, impartial and independent mechanism to assist in the investigation of crimes committed in Syria (A/RES/71/248).

These new efforts will build on the evidence collected through the UN Commission of Inquiry for Syria, and the fact-finding mission of the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights to Iraq.

Take five: Uncovering the untold stories of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict
ReliefWeb

October 27, 2017

Aurélie Roche-Mair is the Director of the International Bar Association (IBA) Hague Office, where she manages the International Criminal Justice Programme. As a member of the Justice Rapid Response-UN Women Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Justice Experts Roster, Ms. Roche-Mair served as the Gender Adviser to the judges during the trial of the former President of Chad, Hissène Habré, in 2016. Habré was convicted of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including rape and sexual slavery. The ground-breaking case marked the first African Union-backed trial of a former Head of State.

Why is justice for sexual and gender-based crimes during conflict important, and what does justice for these crimes mean for survivors?

Justice sends a message to perpetrators and survivors.

Sexual and gender-based crimes, which encompass a broad range of harmful acts such as rape, sexual slavery, genital mutilation and forced marriage, are recurrent during conflicts. Any conflict-related accountability process needs to address sexual and gender-based violence as an integral part of its investigations, as well as properly and accurately use the existing laws and legal framework to qualify that spectrum of crimes. This is particularly important because the impact of conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence is devastating for survivors and their communities, and sometimes underestimated. These crimes may have lasting effects on the mental and physical health of survivors. These implications, in addition to the stigma associated with survivors of sexual violence, often lead to economic hardships and loss of sense of community. Because many stories of sexual violence remain untold, it is hard to understand how far-reaching the impact can be.

The experience from the ad-hoc tribunals has shown that recognition in the form of a judgment, acknowledging the experiences of survivors and the responsibility of perpetrators, is valuable and can help with healing on a number of levels. With the first few reparation orders at the International Criminal Court, but also in the Habré case, we are starting to see how reparations for such crimes can and should benefit survivors.

What are the biggest obstacles to justice for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in international courts?

International courts have become better at taking account of sexual and gender-based crimes. For example, the legal framework of the International Criminal Court (ICC), addresses a great number of sexual and gender-based crimes, and includes specific provisions to protect the testimony of survivors in cases of sexual violence. For instance, the ICC rules of procedure and evidence do not require corroboration for crimes of sexual violence. They acknowledge that a woman is unable to give consent in a coercive environment.

But, accountability for sexual and gender-based crimes is still too rare, and two big challenges remain: limited time and resources.

Investigators are working to unravel all layers of the conflict. Since the accounts of sexual and gender-based violence often remain untold and hidden in the dark corner of conflicts, it is easier to miss them entirely, or miss prioritizing them during investigations of conflict situations.

In many contexts, there is a lack of focus or expertise on sexual and gender-based violence, both during the course of investigations and at the litigation phase, leading to missed opportunities in investigations and limited or inaccurate charges in indictments.

How does the JRR-UN Women Justice Experts Roster help in overcoming these obstacles to justice?

While we hope that the institutions aimed at addressing accountability in conflict or post-conflict will have expertise 'in house' to allow the fullest integration of gender issues in their daily work, many institutions don't. The JRR-UN Women Roster is a reliable and valuable resource to overcome that gap.

By providing training to hundreds of investigators, analysts, prosecutors, judges, lawyers and other actors, JRR-UN Women Experts Roster helps in developing the special expertise needed for professionals at all levels of the justice process, and in various contexts.

From my deployment, the need for gender expertise in every aspect of conflict and post-conflict investigation and courtroom proceedings became obvious. As an analyst for the trial judges for the Hissène Habré case, I supported them in considering and analyzing the evidence that had been collected over the years, mostly without an expertise in sexual and gender based violence. Survivor's stories were really only heard in their entirety during the trial. Some women hadn't felt comfortable providing statements beforehand, not knowing what the outcome would be.

I strongly believe that if a sexual and gender-based violence expert had been involved in collecting evidence and taking statements from these women, their stories would have likely emerged much sooner.

You recently worked with the judges in the Extraordinary African Chambers in Senegal, which convicted the former President of Chad, Hissène Habré, of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including rape and sexual slavery in May 2016. What was your role? Why was this conviction groundbreaking?

As the gender adviser to the Judges in the trial, I provided technical advice through legal and factual analysis of the case, testimonies and the crimes charged.

This case was groundbreaking on many levels. The process of bringing Hissène Habré before a court was a long and challenging one, and many did not think it would happen. More pioneering was the resolution of such a high-level case against a former Head of State, before a specialized chamber backed by the African Union in another African state. The gravity of the case, coupled with the relatively fast process and the impressive participation of more than 4,000 victims, were all groundbreaking features of the trial.

Looking more at sexual and gender-based crimes, the findings of the Chamber shed light on a range of systemic sexual violence and crimes that women and girls, but also to some extent men and boys, endured in the prisons and camps during the Habré regime. It is really in the course of the trial that the extent and nature of those crimes were unveiled, as well as the role that Hissène Habré played in those crimes.

The judgement shed light on the stigmatization of victims and witnesses of sexual and gender-based crimes in that specific context, finally giving them a voice.

What can we learn from Habré's conviction that can be applied to current situations where there is no justice in sight for victims and survivors?

There are many lessons from the Habré case, and I hope that this case will be analysed in detail in the future. But for situations with no immediate justice in sight, I would say this: Never give up.

The work of civil society organizations is crucial in channeling and keeping up with the efforts needed to achieve justice. Civil society must continue pushing for transparency and raising awareness of sexual and gender-based crimes.

Never forget that reporting, documenting and preserving evidence of violations contemporaneously may in fact play an essential role in court years later. In the Habré case, the many statements collected by organizations supporting survivors, were very helpful in pushing the process forward.

Finally, whether it is for access to donors and resources, or for training and/or expertise in areas such as victim protection or advocacy skills, the sustainability of models such as the Chambres Africaines Extraordinaires currently depends, in my opinion, on the support of international stakeholders.

Hundreds Of North Korean Officials Caught Committing Crimes Against Humanity
The Daily Caller

By Ryan Pickrell
October 30, 2017

The South Korean government has identified hundreds of North Korean officials involved in human rights violations, a local lawmaker revealed Monday.

The North Korean Human Rights Documentation Office, an affiliate of the South Korean Ministry of Justice, has identified 245 offenders since the organization was founded late last year, South Korean lawmaker Yoon Sang-jick introduced, according to Yonhap News Agency.

Most of the offenders are linked to North Korea's secret police - Ministry of State Security and Ministry of People's Security. The suspected criminals are accused of torturing and brutalizing citizens, sexually assaulting women, and forcing women to get abortions.

"Their suspicions not only include harsh acts including assault on citizens and torture but also anti-humanitarian contents including sexual assault and compulsory abortion," Yoon said, according to NK News. In one troubling instance, according to testimony to investigators, a North Korean woman who was eight months pregnant was given a forced abortion at a prison facility after repatriation.

Information on human rights violations is provided by defectors, as well as other sources.

"The government plans to build a database of the relevant information by the end of this year, and this is expected to be evidence that [Seoul] will hold them criminally liable after unification," the lawmaker added, commenting that this is the "first time" the South Korean government has "directly" monitored and tracked state violence in North Korea.

The number of identified officials believed to have been involved in crimes against humanity is expected to rise, as more cases are being brought in for further investigation.

The Trump administration imposed sanctions last week on ten North Korean officials linked to human rights violations in North Korea, one of the world's worst offenders. The targeted North Korean officials are connected to incidents of "extrajudicial killings, forced labor, torture, prolonged arbitrary detention, as well as rape, forced abortions, and other sexual violence," according to the Department of State.

Rohingya women assaulted in Myanmar as 'instrument of terror,' UN says
Daily Sabah Asia Pacific

October 31, 2017

Women and girls have experienced sexual and gender-based violence, perpetrated by both the Myanmar army and by Rakhine locals, according to U.N. Women's latest report.

The Oct. 2017 report titled 'Gender Brief on Rohingya Refugee Crisis Response in Bangladesh' reminded that the violent conflict began in Myanmar's western state of Rakhine in Oct. 2006.

Since Aug. 25, 2017, over 607,000 Rohingya have crossed from Myanmar's western state of Rakhine into Bangladesh, according to the U.N.

The refugees are fleeing a fresh military operation in which security forces and Buddhist mobs have killed men, women and children, looted homes and torched Rohingya villages. According to Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abul Hasan Mahmood Ali, around 3,000 Rohingya have been killed in the crackdown.

"The distressed and traumatized displaced population - approximately 51 per cent of which are women and girls - lives in terrible conditions and lacks adequate food, water, sanitation, medical care and access to their livelihoods and assets," the report said.

It said the situation "disproportionately" affects women, girls and the most "vulnerable and marginalized" Rohingya refugee population groups by reinforcing, perpetuating and exacerbating pre-existing, persistent gender inequalities, gender-based violence and discrimination.

"Many women whose sexual assault resulted in conception are reported to have sought out abortions after arriving in Bangladesh. This is a frightening reminder that sexual and gender-based violence are among the most horrific weapons of war, instruments of terror most often used against women," it added.

The report said about 400,000 refugees need immediate access to water and sanitation. It added 24,000 pregnant and lactating women require maternal health-care support.

Women and children are also at "heightened" risk of becoming victims of human trafficking, sexual abuse or child and forced marriage, it added.

The Rohingya, described by the U.N. as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attacks since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.

Last October, following attacks on border posts in Rakhine's Maungdaw district, security forces launched a five-month crackdown in which, according to Rohingya groups, around 400 people were killed.

The UN documented mass gang rapes, killings - including of infants and young children - brutal beatings, and disappearances committed by security personnel. In a report, U.N. investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity.

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Commentary and Perspectives

Social media giants "delete evidence of war crimes" jeopardising prosecution
Islam21C

By Nabeel Akhtar
November 6, 2017

Facebook and YouTube have admitted to removing hundreds of pages of contents uploaded to their respective sites from war zones that could potentially be used to prosecute war crime. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued warrants citing evidence in social media in the past. YouTube also took down content from the activist group AirWars, which aims to document Russian and US coalition air strikes on Syria.

YouTube points the finger at AI (Artificial Intelligence) software that was used to shut down over 900 groups and individuals that were documenting the war in Syria. Some of the organisations that were affected by YouTube's 'censorship' include UK-based Bellingcat, Idlib Media Center, Witness, Turkey-based Qasioun News Agency among numerous others.

"It's something that keeps me awake at night," says Julian Nicholls, a senior trial lawyer at the International Criminal Court, "the idea that there's a video or photo out there that I could use, but before we identify it or preserve it, it disappears."

Nearly 6,000 videos from his agency have been removed by YouTube since 2014, says Talal Kharrat, a Manager at The Turkish-based Qasioun News Agency, sometimes the content is restored, sometimes not. The contents of these videos or images might have served as evidence for prosecuting cases against war criminals.

Dramatic shift in policy?

The level of uncertainty of whether such vital content will be kept online is very different to the era during which the Arab Spring occurred. At that time, social media organisations promoted the documenting of oppression in the name of free-speech. The executive Chair Eric Schmidt of Google, YouTube's parent organisation, wrote in his book, published in 2013, "The New Digital Age:"

"Anyone with a mobile handset and access to the Internet will be able to play a part in promoting accountability."

This is similar to what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg claimed in one of his papers, that he believes "connectivity is a human right".

Alexa Koenig, executive director at the Human Rights Center at UC Berkeley, argues: "They could have said: 'Don't use your platforms for this.' But they actually tried to get these people to use their platforms [for it] - they held themselves up as arbiters of social good, and at that point of creating dependency, I would argue they acquired a heightened responsibility."

Combating ISIS propaganda or targeting activists?

On the other hand, the social media giants claim that these censorships are aimed at combating ISIS propaganda, despite arguments of some kind of 'relationship' between the notorious group and the main stream media.

Eliot Higgins, founder of Bellingcat - the UK NGO that was affected by YouTube's AI - and a visiting research associate at Kings College London, expressed his frustration over YouTube's implementation of the AI.

"Ironically, by deleting years old opposition channels YouTube is doing more damage to Syrian history than ISIS could ever hope to achieve", he tweeted.

"And now imagine you're a Syrian group uploading 1000s of videos from the last 6 years. Just need 3 strikes and they're all gone", Higgins added.

"It was bad enough when Facebook was deleting accounts from Syria, destroying years of information but it's terrible now YouTube has joined in", Higgins noted.

Just a few days before this incident, Google Europe tweeted: "#DNIFunded @bellingcat verifies & preserves social media from conflict zones for investigative reporting.

Higgins said that it was not possible for him to back up all of those videos, as they were in their thousands, however, he did confirm that some of the playlists, which contained evidences of 'alleged chemical attacks' were backed up by the Syrian Archive - "an open source platform that collects, curates, verifies, and preserves visual documentation of human rights violations in Syria."

Higgins later posted an update stating that YouTube had "restored the videos on my account but all my dozens of playlists have been deleted for no reason."

Not all organisations or individuals are as fortunate though, as indicated in Google's official tweet, Bellingcat was working with Google, so, they could request for their content to be restored. The case of Qasioun News Agency has not been as straight forward. People have asked the question, if the AI was only meant to target so-called 'ISIS propaganda', why were well-known organisations stung by this operation?

It is important to note that these are giant multi-national corporations whose decisions are not always necessarily made by the same people or interests. For example, YouTube had reportedly worked with Bellingcat in the past to develop a tool to help investigators crowdsource analysis of conflict videos, adding to the confusion and controversy caused by their apparent removal of what could be evidence of war crimes.

Facebook vs YouTube

Human rights activists say Facebook has been less open to such collaborations. "Facebook has been a mess forever," Higgins told The Intercept. He pointed out that 80% of the first-hand reports of the attack, including videos and images posted to Facebook were erased from the platform. Facebook declined to answer a question in relation to this claim, The Intercept reported.

Destruction of evidence?

There are those who claim that the takedowns seem, at best, a destruction of evidence - and, at worst, complicity in atrocities. Mohammed Anwar, a Rohingya activist, whose posts were deleted by Facebook, expressed the following:

"I did feel that Facebook was colluding with the Myanmar regime in the Rohingya genocide."

Court cases

There are 30 cases in Swedish and German courts focusing on crimes committed in Syria and Iraq, reported The New York Times.

Though German courts take cases based on a concept of 'universal jurisdiction', even the ICC is unable to obtain information related to war crimes - committed by US soldiers - from US-based companies, due to a law - American Service-Members' Protection Act - signed by then-President George W. Bush in 2002. How, then, does the US aim to spread justice?

Bearing of responsibility

"They just don't appreciate what's going on on their platforms," said Mohammad Al Abdallah, executive director of the Syrian Justice and Accountability Project, an NGO backed by more 30 governments. "They don't take this as seriously as they should."

In an age in which internet connectivity and cameras are considered human necessities - if not a right - rather than a privilege and where various methods of communication have been considered indispensable tools of warfare over a millennium, the roles of mainstream media, and more recently the social media platforms, in an era of mass cruelty and corruption is substantial. And yet, we must ask, are they bearing sufficient responsibility?

Cardin Among Critics Who Want Change in War-Fighting Policy
U.S. News and World Report

By Changez Ali
November 7, 2017

The International Criminal Court announced last week it plans to begin investigating war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Afghan conflict.

The probe will include looking into actions by the International Security Assistance Force, which includes American and British troops, as well as non-state actors like the Taliban.

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said on Friday she believed there "is a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in connection with the armed conflict in Afghanistan."

While the United States has not ratified the international statute under which the ICC claims jurisdiction, the announcement appears likely to complicate the national debate around an already contentious conflict and the future of the congressional authorization for the use of military force.

Some of the issues the prosecutor is likely to look at include accidental or negligent deaths of civilians in aerial bombardments or search and seizure operations, and the possible torture of detainees and terrorism suspects.

The announcement comes at a difficult time for the administration, which has had to defend its strategy after President Donald Trump authorized sending up to 4,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to bolster the 11,000 American troops already there in advisory and training roles.

Congress approved the authorization for the use of military force against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in 2001 (a second was approved in 2002 for the Iraq conflict), but many lawmakers - including the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin - believe the provision has outlived its legal and operational effectiveness.

Cardin last week told the Senate panel that he was opposed to keeping the authorizations that have allowed three administrations to prosecute conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"I hope that soon we will also be considering the repeal of the existing, over-extended Authorizations for the Use of Military Force from 9/11 and the Iraq War, and a new AUMF tailored to the current terrorist threats," Cardin said.

Cardin and other committee members heard testimony from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis about the continuing need for the authorizations.

The secretaries argued that the existing authorizations provide sufficient legal justification to continue the wars against the Taliban in Afghanistan and ISIS in Iraq.

"Traditional campaigns to protect our people from the enemy must adapt to the non-traditional, transnational character of this fight," Mattis said. "The 2001 and 2002 authorizations to use military force.remain a sound basis for ongoing U.S. military operations against a mutating threat."

Repealing the authorizations "would only cause policy and legal uncertainty which could lead to additional litigation and public doubt," Mattis argued. "The uncertainty accompanying that situation could only signal to our enemies and our friends that we are backing away from this fight.

Some senators were not swayed.

"I am deeply concerned about President Trump's inclination to go to war rather than find diplomatic solutions to these crises. It seems we have U.S. troops deployed almost everywhere in the world," Cardin countered.

Cardin's trepidation was echoed by the foreign relations panel's chairman, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, who has been locked in a war of words with Trump in recent weeks.

"The president's de facto ability to initiate conflict has grown in an age of advanced technology, including the use of unmanned drones, and war from a distance, where large numbers of boots on the ground are not necessary to conduct a very significant military engagement," Corker told the committee.

"We must also be mindful that moving an AUMF without significant, bipartisan support could send the wrong message to our allies and our adversaries that we are not united and committed to victory," the senator said.

The focus on a new authorization intensified following the deaths of four American servicemen in Niger, a country unfamiliar to many Americans. The incident shed light on the diverse and clandestine nature of U.S. military engagements fought around the world with what critics say is little congressional oversight, relative to the scope and number of engagements.

"I do not think the American people want the United States conducting a global, endless 'shadow war,' under-the-radar, covert, and beyond scrutiny," Cardin said.

The Niger incident also brought into question, for some lawmakers and defense policy critics, the operational success of military actions and whether they are ultimately harmful or helpful to the American effort to destroy terrorist networks.

A United Nations report showed that until July of this year, 232 civilians were killed by U.S. and Afghan airstrikes, a 43 percent increase over the same period in 2016. The total number of civilians killed in the first six months of 2017 reached 1,266, an eight-year high.

Cardin and other lawmakers have said that civilian casualties and a lack of diplomatic and aid efforts have hindered the long-term reconstruction of Afghan institutions.

"Every dollar that we cut in terms of foreign aid, in terms of the State Department, in terms of diplomacy, in terms of development aid, it means that's one more bullet we have to buy," said Mathew Verghese, spokesman for Maryland congressman Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Largo, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

According to an Oct. 30 report by the Defense Department's Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the United States has spent more than $70 billion directly on Afghan security forces, around 60 percent of the total reconstruction budget for the country. Total appropriations for the war are estimated at over $714 billion.

"SIGAR's analysis revealed that the U.S. government was not properly prepared from the outset to help build an Afghan army and police force that was capable of protecting Afghanistan," the report continued.

The report also noted that billions of dollars were wasted by ineffective management of fuel and equipment, inadequate literacy-training programs for Afghan personnel and "ghost" soldiers on the rolls "allowing corrupt commanders to pocket the salaries" paid for by American taxpayers.

In one instance, nearly $500 million were spent on second-hand Italian transport planes unable operate in Afghanistan's environment.

The report also quoted former Defense Secretary Robert Gates as saying, "Our military was designed to defeat other armies, navies and air forces, not to advise, train and equip them."

That assessment sharply contradicts the optimism of Mattis and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who told the House Armed Services Committee last month that part of Trump's Afghan strategy would be to expand the American advisory role significantly and allow Afghan forces to take the lead in fighting.

But some analysts question whether Afghan forces are capable of providing the security needed to win the support of the majority of the population.

"Insecurity has increased significantly throughout the country, civilian deaths have shot up, and the Afghan security forces are taking large, and potentially unsustainable, casualties," said Vanda Felbab-Brown, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank.

In a sign of how precarious the position of Afghan local forces is, U.S. commanders in Afghanistan last month decided at the request of the Afghan government to classify key data related to the growth and development of Afghan forces, only the second time this has happened in 16 years.

This included information on Afghan police and military casualties, raising questions about the operational effectiveness of these units.

In 2016, the last year for which figures are available, Afghan forces lost 6,785 service members killed and more than 11,000 wounded.

Cardin and other Democratic lawmakers from Maryland have spoken strongly about the need to change U.S. policy in Afghanistan to embrace a diplomatic approach with identifiable goals.

In September, Cardin introduced the Promoting Peace and Justice in Afghanistan Act of 2017, requiring the administration to "report on U.S. engagement in support of a peace agreement and transitional justice, as well as on progress to mitigate corruption, human rights abuses, and civilian casualties committed by Afghan security forces."

"Very soon, practically the only tool left in the U.S. foreign policy toolbox will be a massive hammer, applied everywhere for lack of better options," Cardin said.

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WORTH READING

Beyond Sex Slaves and 'Tiny Terrorists': Toward a More Nuanced Understanding of Human Trafficking Crimes Perpetrated by Da'esh
By Caroline Fish
New York International Law Review (2017 Forthcoming)

October 30, 2017

This Note addresses sex trafficking committed by the terrorist group Da'esh in the Syrian Arab Republic and its neighboring Republic of Iraq. It proposes primarily that sex trafficking perpetrated by Da'esh falls into at least two unique categories of trafficking — "combat trafficking" and "institutional trafficking" — that will require markedly different legal responses in order to ensure accountability and justice. The Note outlines the divergent factual patterns and characteristics of each form of trafficking, exploring how "combat trafficking" occurs through the active invasion of territory, whereby Da'esh forcibly captures women and girls and subjects them to sexual slavery, and how "institutional trafficking" occurs outside the active conflict, whereby Da'esh recruits women and girls to join the group and subjects them to forced marriage and domestic servitude. It then discusses accountability for each form through the international systems of International Criminal Law ("ICL") and Transnational Criminal Law ("TCL"). It delineates how the crime of trafficking has been interpreted and defined to date within each system and how those definitions apply to Da'esh's acts in both combat and institutional trafficking. It explains how ICL appears best positioned to respond to combat trafficking while TCL may be more suited to addressing institutional trafficking. The Note then argues that full accountability for perpetrators of both forms of trafficking is two-fold, requiring recognition and enforcement of the criminalization of each form. Notably, it ties the necessity of recognition to the issue that survivors of combat trafficking to date are more often treated and assisted as victims of violence while survivors of institutional trafficking are often condemned as terrorists and criminalized. It addresses this discrepant experience, calling for solutions that afford all survivors justice, support, and resources. This Note concludes that it is only with regard to the broad base of Da'esh's sexual and gender-based crimes that the international community's response to the crimes committed in the conflict can ever be considered adequate or complete.

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