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War Crimes Prosecution Watch

Volume 12 - Issue 21
December 26, 2017


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 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.




Central African Republic

Sudan & South Sudan

Democratic Republic of the Congo



Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast)

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





Rwanda (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda)





Court of Bosnia & Herzegovina, War Crimes Chamber

International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

Domestic Prosecutions In The Former Yugoslavia





Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia

Special Tribunal for Lebanon

Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal

War Crimes Investigations in Burma

Israel and Palestine


North & Central America

South America


Truth and Reconciliation Commission



Gender-Based Violence

Commentary and Perspectives




Central African Republic

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

CAR Experiences Alarming Rise in Violence, Criminality

By Lisa Schlein
December 19, 2017

The U.N. children's fund reports an alarming rise in violence and criminality in Central African Republic, with children and women most victimized from the lack of security and humanitarian aid.

As the year draws to a close, a look back at 2017 finds nothing but shattered hopes in Central African Republic. The U.N. Children's Fund says the year has been very difficult for children and women with little chance of improvement in sight.

It says violence and instability continues to spread throughout the country. It notes the entire southwest, which previously had been spared the crisis, is now the worst hit region.

Speaking on a telephone line from the capital Bangui, UNICEF representative in CAR, Christine Muhigana, says some aid agencies at different times of the year have had to temporarily suspend their activities because of threats from criminals and armed groups.

She tells VOA that children are losing out on many fronts, and 20 percent of the schools in the country are closed because of insecurity. She also notes violations of children's rights are on the increase.

"We are talking about actual physical violence against children," she said. We are talking about them being recruited in armed groups. We are seeing such recruitment on the rise. We also are talking about attacks or occupation of health centers, health services that are being

Muhigana says immunization campaigns against polio, measles and other killer diseases have been disrupted in several regions because of lack of security.

UNICEF reports more than 1.1 million people are displaced both within the country or as refugees. That means more than 1 in 5 Central Africans have been forced to flee their homes since civil war broke out in 2012.

Clashes in northern C Africa threaten security plan
News 24

December 11, 2017

Plans by Central African Republic's beleaguered government to reassert control in the north of the country were in difficulties on Monday after clashes marred the return of the state's top representative to a key city.

Colonel Augustin Tombou was formally installed on Saturday as prefect in the town of Kaga-Bandoro — a politically important step in the strategy to restore state authority in strife-torn provinces.

But sources reported a surge of violence, including mortar rounds fired against UN peacekeepers, gunfire targeting a camp for displaced people and a grenade that was thrown during Tombou's induction ceremony.

Tombou's residence was "partially destroyed" and the prefecture itself was burned down, Jean-Serge Bokassa, minister of territorial decentralisation and administration, told AFP by phone on Monday.

The prefect has been taken to a secure location but does not have the means to exercise his duties, he said.

"We are looking at urgent steps for enabling the prefect's proper deployment," he said.

A vehicle owned by an aid organisation was carjacked by armed men, and another was looted, a source with an NGO in the capital Bangui said.

"What worries us is that if this situation continues, aid workers will have to pull out once more," the source said, referring to a wave of attacks on NGOs.

One of the poorest countries in the world, CAR has been riven by conflict between nominally Muslim and Christian militias, which started after the 2013 overthrow of leader Francois Bozize.

Bangui is relatively calm, but most of the rest of the country is in the hands of militia groups, who fight over resources such as diamonds and cattle.

More than three quarters of the country's 4.7 million inhabitants live in extreme poverty, according to the World Bank.

The country is classed last — in 188th place — on the Human Development Index of the UN Development Programme.

The latest clashes took place in an area dominated by two armed groups — the Popular Front for the Rebirth of Central Africa (FPRC) and the Movement for Peace in Central Africa (MPC).

Both are offshoots of the pro-Muslim Seleka rebel alliance, which overthrew Bozize and was forced out in turn by international military intervention.

"We do not accept prefects who are military," said Fadoul Bachar of the FPRC via the messaging application Whatsapp. "If they are civilians, no problem, if they are military, we will oppose them fiercely."

Tombou, who was appointed in August, is one of eight military figures among the 16 named by the government.

Under-fire UN peacekeepers struggle in African nation at war
Register Citizen

By Pauline Bax
December 15, 2017

Scanning the road from a police armored vehicle, Martine Epopa says she isn't fazed when people make throat-slitting gestures at her United Nations convoy patrolling the capital of the Central African Republic.

Sometimes men jump in the road brandishing machetes, while others just stand and scowl, said Epopa, a 29-year-old Cameroonian police officer and the sole woman in a six-vehicle U.N. patrol that included Portuguese special forces and Mauritanian troops.

"We just wait until they give up and leave," she said, clutching her rifle as her vehicle bounced over potholes. "We're here to make people understand that the U.N. is here to protect them and their country. It can be challenging."

Yet the threat is real. Fourteen peacekeepers have died this year in the Central African Republic, and public hostility is increasing toward what's already one of the U.N.'s most difficult peacekeeping operations. A series of sexual-abuse scandals hasn't helped, nor has the perception that the "blue helmets" favor the minority Muslim population over their Christian countrymen. Hidden from sight behind huge blast walls in central Bangui, the capital, the U.N. headquarters are often a target of violent protests.

In what the U.N. ranks as the world's poorest nation where most state institutions crumbled after a 2013 coup, the peacekeepers face a near impossible task of shielding civilians from armed groups roaming the countryside.

The 13,750-member force, known by its acronym MINUSCA, also does everything from helping ship emergency food supplies across a territory as large as Afghanistan to providing logistical support to aid agencies whose workers themselves are under attack.

The U.N. force has little choice. Fighting rages on in parts of the country and state authority barely extends beyond Bangui. While a few hundred men have been trained for the new army, a U.N. arms embargo means the government can't import weapons.

U.N. peacekeepers face dangers across Africa. This month 15 troops were killed by militiamen in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, believed to be the deadliest assault on U.N. forces in a quarter-century.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister who paid a four-day visit to the country in October, has tried to step up support. About 160 Portuguese commandos have arrived to engage in combat with rebels, and Guterres persuaded the Security Council to expand the mission with 900 military personnel, probably Brazilian.

That makes the U.N. operation in the Central African Republic the only peacekeeping force worldwide that'll be increased rather than reduced as the U.S. has pushed to trim about $600 million from the U.N.'s $7.3 billion peacekeeping budget for the fiscal year ending in June 2018.

Just three years ago, when the U.N. set up a peacekeeping mission to replace an African Union force, expectations were high, with many residents thinking their arrival would be "a silver bullet," according to Lewis Mudge, Africa researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch.

"There are moments when MINUSCA really didn't step up and protect civilians," Mudge said. "I've seen some contingents bravely protect and others lock themselves in their bases at the first sign of trouble."

Most attacks on peacekeepers have been carried out by militias in the southeast who accuse the U.N. of favoring Muslims, tens of thousands of whom were driven from their homes, often in apparent revenge attacks for abuses perpetrated by mainly Muslim rebels who overthrew President Francois Bozize four years ago.

The top three contributing countries to MINUSCA are Pakistan, Bangladesh and Egypt, heightening local perceptions that the U.N. force is mainly Muslim.

"The international community is throwing a lot of money out of the window," said Joseph Bendounga, a well-known radio commentator who heads a small political party. "We have a crisis in a country where the majority of the population is Christian or animist and where the troops who come to secure the country are essentially Muslims. It's just making things worse."

While U.N. officials in New York say the situation in the Central African Republic is close to catastrophic, there's no quick solution in sight for a country that's suffered decades of bad government and armed conflict. About a fifth of the nation's 5.5 million people have fled their homes, half a million of whom are sheltering in neighboring countries.

Brazil, which has just wrapped up operations in Haiti, will decide in the next few months whether to send between 700 and 900 troops to the Central African Republic, Foreign Minister Aloysio Nunes said in an interview.

"What we see is a political conflict that is a consequence of the total collapse of the state's authority," Nunes said.

The Portuguese special forces have been very effective and professional, said Human Rights Watch's Mudge. "If the new contingent would do the same, it could make a big difference."

Displaced CAR residents fear new wave of violence
Al Jazeera

By Julia Steers and Adrienne Surprenant
December 17, 2017

Alindao, a bucolic city in the Central African Republic's southeast that is home to farmers and artisanal miners, largely avoided violence during the country's recent civil war.

But today, nearly 23,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) live on the outskirts of town, on the grounds of a Catholic Church. They fled from their destroyed homes in May, after fighting broke out between Christian groups and Muslim ex-Seleka fighters. Thousands more IDPs live in two other sites nearby.

Fearful that the tenuous calm will descend back into clashes, the displaced residents have not returned home, and new arrivals from surrounding villages turn up daily.

Their plight characterises the changing nature of the CAR conflict, which has evolved into a battle over resources. In the country's north and southeast, deadly clashes between remnants of former armed groups are common, at the expense of civilians.

In early December, a fragile peace agreement between predominantly Muslim ex-Seleka groups and Christians broke, heightening fears that the violence will spread through the countryside.

"The IDPs come from the town and the nearby villages, and they had to run to avoid retaliation from different groups," said Sebastien Loth, the mission head for Doctors Without Borders, known by its French initials MSF, in Alindao. "There are too many armed groups to engage ... to help the population [that is] most in need. The emergency is in the villages, just a few kilometres from Alindao."

'The future is very dark': Central African Republic's relentless cycle of suffering
The Guardian

By Rebecca Ratcliffe
December 18, 2017

Four days before Christmas, armed Seleka rebels went door to door in Rosen Moseba's* neighbourhood. She gathered her three children and, together with her brother, they ran for their lives.

It was 2013, and Central African Republic's capital, Bangui, was in the grip of violent chaos. The Seleka, a coalition consisting predominantly of Muslim fighters, had overthrown the government in March that year, prompting Christian vigilante groups — the anti-balaka — to retaliate. Amid killing and looting, communities on both sides were terrorised.

As Moseba and her family tried to escape, they were stopped by armed men. "There were a lot of rebels," she remembers. "Three of them raped me, one by one. After they raped me some of the Seleka said, 'Let's kill her'. Others said, 'No, no we are not going to kill her, we have already done what we want to do.'"

She was pregnant at the time. "I tried to resist but I couldn't do anything because they had guns, and I had nothing," says Moseba. They killed her brother in front of her and her children. She was forced to leave her brother's body on the roadside. "I don't know what happened after, I don't know if someone buried my brother," she says.

The capital is under government control today, but relations between Muslims and Christians remain tense. Many, like Moseba, have received little help to rebuild their livelihoods. Having lost everything in the crisis, she is unable to afford rent or pay for her children to go to school. Her husband left her after hearing that she had been raped.

Five years since conflict in CAR began, half the country's population needs humanitarian assistance, while more than a million people have been uprooted by fighting. In many areas the crisis has deepened over the past 12 months.

Violence between armed groups, often competing for natural resources in a context of complete lawlessness, has overlapped with long-standing ethnic rivalries and distrust between the Christian majority and the Muslim minority. The UN's emergency relief coordinator, Stephen O'Brien, has spoken of "the early warnings of genocide".

Since the end of 2016, violence has erupted in almost every region outside the capital, according to a report by International Crisis Group. The centre and the east have been wracked by territorial conflict while, in the south-east, fighting has spiralled following the departure of American special forces and Ugandan troops assigned to fight the Lord's Resistance Army.

The situation in the north-west — where fighting is underlined by ethnic rivalry between farmers and cattle herders — is also a growing concern. Thierry Vircoulon, who has conducted research for the NGO Mercy Corps, warns the government should urgently intervene in the region to prevent the escalation of violence ahead of the dry season, when herders move cattle from Cameroon to CAR.

"It's becoming more and more of a community conflict. That's making the conflict more and more difficult to manage because it's fragmenting along community lines," says Vircoulon. In communities let down by the UN's chronically under-resourced peacekeeping mission, armed groups, which have splintered and multiplied, are increasingly seen as protectors.

Last month, the UN announced the deployment of 900 extra troops to CAR, but it is unlikely this will make much difference on the ground. "There will never be enough troops to cover the entire country. It is a huge country with very poor infrastructure and with a population scattered everywhere in a territory that is bigger than France," says Enrica Picco, an independent researcher on the central African region.

The UN peacekeeping mission, Minusca, is widely seen as a failure. Dogged by reports of sexual exploitation and abuse, it is viewed by many in CAR as either ineffective or biased. Visiting the country in October, the UN secretary general, António Guterres, repeatedly said troops had no agenda beyond restoring peace. Guterres also criticised those who "use political manipulation to divide communities of different religions".

The relationship between the UN and the government has become strained, says Jean Félix Riva, chief of staff for the special cabinet of the president of the national assembly. "What we are hearing when the prime minister speaks or the president speaks [is], 'We are working with the UN and working with Minusca', but in private they will tell you that Minusca doesn't help to resolve the problem. When you meet the UN and Minusca in private they say the same thing."

Despite last year's elections, which were mostly peaceful and brought renewed optimism, the government has not done enough to unite the country or condemn violence driven by ethnic rivalry, says Picco. Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis continues.

"The humanitarian space has been shrinking rapidly over the past few months, with many areas of CAR now simply too dangerous to reach, leaving thousands without access to emergency assistance," says Levourne Passiri, who works for Tearfund in CAR. "While Bangui remains relatively calm, tensions have been rising in recent weeks as a result of several security incidents."

Last month, Médecins Sans Frontières evacuated all national and international staff from Bangassou, a town in the country's south-east, following a violent armed robbery. Thirty children in intensive care in the Bangassou hospital have been left without medical care.

Even in areas where aid workers can operate, resources are limited. Prudence Lamba*, from Bangui, was one of 100,000 people who lived amid the abandoned, rusty planes in the city's airport, after fleeing the Seleka with her four children and 10 grandchildren. "When I had to run I left everything behind me. I just ran away, I left all my possessions," she says.

The government closed the camp where she was living in January. Families were given 50,000 Central African Francs (£66) to return home, but the money is nowhere near enough, she says, even when her income as a wood seller is included. "I have to take care of my children and grandchildren. The children need to go back in school but I don't have the money to pay for school or books or pencils," says Lamba.

She worries about the psychological impact the crisis has had on her family. "It was very difficult for the kids. Before, we used to live in a house with walls. In the camp, we slept under a tent. Sometimes it was cold, sometimes there were bad animals, insects, under the tent. We slept on the ground, we didn't have a bed. Due to the mosquitoes the children got really sick, mostly of malaria."

It was impossible to protect children from witnessing the violence around them, she adds. "The kids live the situation, they know the noise of the guns, that people had to run. The kids live it, they know."

Lamba, along with Moseba, receives support from Acatba, a local organisation that provides literacy and business training as well as counselling to survivors of sexual violence. Its work is supported by Tearfund and the British government, which is matching donations to the charity's appeal for CAR.

Elvis Guekenean Thomas, director of Acatba, says a major challenge is the lack of resources available, especially for supporting survivors of rape, who are already hard to reach due to entrenched stigma associated with sexual violence. "Some [survivors] are able to talk about what's happened to them and to try to get access to help but others no, so we are sending out community networks to [find] victims who are hiding themselves in their houses," he says, "A very little minority get help."

The UN humanitarian appeal for CAR has received only about a third of the $497m required. An appeal to assist people forced to flee their homes has been less than 10% funded.

The worst of the fighting in the capital is over but, for Moseba, life is anything but stable. "It's very difficult," she says. "I am afraid I am going to be evicted from my house and my children don't go to school.

"Before the crisis I used to sell things, but now I have lost everything and I don't have enough money to start another activity … Because I am an orphan and I have no one to help me, it is very difficult. The future is very dark now."

Some names have been changed to protect identities.

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Sudan & South Sudan

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

Fighting Pushes More South Sudanese Into Congo
VOA News

By Jason Patinkin
December 20, 2017

Hundreds of South Sudanese refugees entered the Democratic Republic of Congo this week after South Sudanese government forces captured a rebel base near the border.

Amid gunfire late Sunday, South Sudanese troops entered Lasu town, which had been the rebels' second general headquarters. The rebels pulled out the next day.

Mary Awate fled her home to the forests when the clashes began. With her children to take care of, she spent two days hiding in the bush before reaching the Congo border on Tuesday.

"We just heard the sound of the gun, especially these big ones, so everyone just started running in the bush," she said.

The new arrivals fled to the Congolese town of Aba. More than 30,000 people had already gone there since the start of South Sudan's civil war in December 2013.

More than two million people have fled South Sudan during the war. There have been many ceasefires declared, but none have been observed.

In Aba's hospital, Isaac Bida lay with a bullet wound in his back. He said he was shot by South Sudan government troops near Lasu as he tried to flee on a motorbike.

Bida said he is a civilian.

"When I saw the soldiers before from far away," he said. "... They were calling me, please come come, but something came into my mind to be careful of them, and as I tried to turn and go, they shot three bullets. The fourth one hit me. ... Maybe they thought I was a rebel."

Refugees were still entering Aba on Wednesday. Liwa Morris Taban, the chairperson of the South Sudan refugee community in Aba, said some of the new arrivals are in critical condition after fleeing through the forests.

He urged fellow refugees to stay at the refugee site, rather than go back to South Sudan to search for lost relatives.

"It is very, very risky for them to go back to South Sudan," he cautioned. "People are running from there, they are fearing government soldiers. ... It is very hard for me as chairperson of the site to allow people to go back. I know some left their relatives, their kids behind and they have that intention of going to bring their kids, but its a bit risky."

A new round of peace talks between the government and rebels began this week in Ethiopia.

Thirty-five-year-old Charity Awate, who fled the Lasu fighting with her husband and six children on Tuesday, said the fresh fighting has dimmed her hopes of an end to violence.

"At first we heard of the talks and we were happy," she said, "but now we have been chased to Congo, we are not confident in that. "

With no peace in sight, she and others must look toward a new life as refugees in Congo.

Sudan's al-Bashir hails Rwanda stance against ICC
Sudan Tribune

December 20, 2017

The Sudanese President Omer al-Bashir has praised Rwanda's support for Sudan in regional and international forums and its firm stance against the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Rwanda's President Paul Kagame, accompanied by a senior delegation, has arrived in Khartoum on Wednesday on a two-day official visit to hold talks on bilateral relations.

In his address before the opening session of the Sudanese-Rwandan talks at the Presidential Palace on Wednesday, al-Bashir called on the African leaders to withdraw from the ICC according to the African Union decision.

The ICC issued two arrest warrants against al-Bashir in 2009 and 2010 for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed in Darfur. He is the first sitting head of state charged by the Hague-based court since its inception in 2002.

Sudan, which is not a state member of Rome Statute of the ICC, has been campaigning for an African withdrawal from the court.

The African Union constantly accuses the ICC of disproportionately targeting Africans. Several countries including Kenya, Sudan, Eritrea, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Libya have called for en mass withdrawal of African nations from the court.

But the court also has supporters in Africa. At an African Union summit meeting in July 2016, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia were among the countries that opposed a Kenyan-led drive for a group walkout from the tribunal.

Rwanda is not a state party to the tribunal of war crimes but has the obligation as a member of the United Nations to cooperate with the court. However, like many other African capitals, Kigali is critical to ICC and to its focus on Africa.

In 2008, President Kagame called the ICC a "fraudulent institution "that is "made for Africans and poor countries" who did not realize what they were signing up for when they ratified the Rome Statute.

Established in 2002 to try war criminals and perpetrators of genocide never tried at home, the ICC has opened inquiries involving nine nations, including Kenya, Ivory Coast, Libya, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Uganda, Mali and, most recently, Georgia.

Rwanda and the Unamid

Meanwhile, the Sudanese President hailed Rwanda's efforts to achieve peace and stability in the continent through its effective participation in the peacekeeping missions.

"We especially praise the active participation of the Rwandan forces within the UNAMID in Darfur which contributed to enhancing state efforts to achieve security and stability across Darfur and ensure the success of the disarmament campaign," he said.

The hybrid peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) has been deployed since December 2007 with a mandate to stem violence against civilians in western Sudan's region of Darfur.

It is the world's second-largest international peacekeeping force with an annual budget of $1.35 billion and almost 20,000 troops.

UN agencies estimate that over 300,000 people were killed in Darfur conflict, and over 2.5 million were displaced.

South Sudan rebels accuse army of attack as peace talks restart

December 18, 2017

South Sudanese rebels accused the government army of attacking one of their bases overnight as a new round of peace talks between the warring sides opened in the Ethiopian capital on Monday.

Rebel spokesman Lam Paul Gabriel said government troops attacked a rebel base in the town of Lasu in the south of the country late on Sunday.

"They are in the IO base," he said, referring to the name of the rebel group. Army spokesmen were not immediately available to comment when called by Reuters on Monday afternoon.

The talks in Addis Ababa have been convened by the East African bloc IGAD and are aimed at bringing the warring sides back to the negotiating table after a 2015 peace deal collapsed last year during heavy fighting in the capital, Juba.

The war began in 2013 between soldiers of President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, and his former vice president, Riek Machar, a Nuer. Tens of thousands of people have died and a third of South Sudan's 12 million population have fled their homes.

Highlighting the widespread nature of the violence, army spokesman Lul Ruai Koang earlier said four aid workers from the French organisation Solidarites International had been kidnapped a day earlier by the rebels near the western city of Raja.

The state government, based in Raja, said in a statement eight civilians had been killed and the four aid workers kidnapped in what it described as an ambush by the rebels.

The French organisation said it had lost contact with three members of its team on Saturday. It gave no indication of their fate and it was not immediately clear why it gave a different number of those involved.

An IO rebel statement said: "The SPLA IO forces also rescued four humanitarian staff ... they are currently safe and sound with our forces around Raja and will be handed over ... as soon as possible."

It was not immediately clear what the rebels said they had rescued the aid workers from.

The war has mutated from a two-way fight into a fragmented conflict, making peace more elusive, the top United Nations peacekeeper in the country told Reuters earlier this year.

Diplomats and analysts question whether the will to end the fighting exists, as Kiir's government holds the military upper hand and rebel leader Machar is under house arrest in South Africa. Machar sent representatives to the Ethiopian capital for the talks.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn voiced strong criticism of the warring sides at the forum in Addis Ababa.

"... More than half of the people of South Sudan are either refugees in neighouring countries, internally displaced within South Sudan or suffering from food insecurity in their own village," he said.

"It is equally clear that all this suffering is taking place because you the leaders of South Sudan have repeatedly failed to talk to each other, to negotiate, to be tolerant, to make compromises," he added. "Today, I appeal to you to stop this intransigence."

Human Rights Commission wants end to impunity for perpetrators of violence against South Sudanese

By UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
December 16, 2017

On the fourth anniversary of the outbreak of civil war in South Sudan, many of those responsible for the violence against its people are yet to be held to account.

There have been ongoing human rights violations and abuses with no access to justice for the victims.

"The overwhelming story that we encountered included not just the attacks against civilians but the looting, the rapes and sexual violence as well as the burning of villages, cattle raids, abduction of women and children and the lack of access to food and education," said Human Rights Commission in South Sudan Chairperson, Yasmin Sooka.

The Human Rights Commission in South Sudan is an independent body set up by the United Nations Human Rights Council to determine and report the facts and circumstances of alleged gross violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes, including sexual and gender based violence and ethnic violence, with a view to ending impunity and providing accountability.

It has been visiting the country to collect and preserve evidence of these alleged violations so that there can ultimately be accountability.

"This impunity is completely unacceptable and what we need to ensure is that there is a meaningful judicial process where perpetrators of these horrible acts can be brought to justice. There needs to be accountability for impunity which has become endemic in this country over the past few years," said Yasmin Sooka.

The Commissioners visited the capital Juba as well as more remote parts of the country to hear from those suffering from the ongoing violence.

"All of those we spoke to said that the most important thing now is for South Sudan to find some way of the war ending and of sustainable peace coming to South Sudan —not just the guns stopping but real and durable peace," said Yasmin Sooka.

Fellow Commissioner, Professor Andrew Clapham, said that the children of South Sudan were also missing out on educational opportunities which was putting the future generation and development of the country at risk.

More than 1.8 million people are internally displaced with another two million having fled to neighboring countries. Half of the population — six million people — rely on humanitarian assistance to survive and the outlook for the coming year is grim.

"All the people you speak to say I want to go home, I want to be able to take care of myself. This is a country where there is enormous resilience but the way this war is being conducted it is actually wearing people down. It has to stop and there has to be accountability and I think that is the commitment we have that we will do everything we can to enable that to happen," said Yasmin Sooka.

The Commission said the South Sudanese Government had cooperated during its visit and worked to provide answers to many of its questions. The Commission will present its report to the Human Rights Council in March.

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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

Congolese war criminal Lubanga ordered to pay $10m to child soldiers
Africa News

December 15, 2017

The International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands has awarded $10 million in compensation to child soldiers recruited by Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga.

The International Criminal Court said Lubanga was liable to pay the full amount to his young victims and their relatives, but added it recognised there was no way he would be able to afford paying this compensation that is the largest of its kind in history.

The court therefore instructed contributions would be sourced from different parties including the Democratic Republic of Congo to fulfill this payment.

The will also monitor Lubanga's financial situation as he served out the remaining year of his sentence to see how much he might be able to contribute to the Court Trust Fund for Victims.

In 2012, Thomas Lubanga was convicted for using child soldiers and sentenced to 14 years in jail. His was the first conviction handed down by the permanent war crimes tribunal.

Aid agencies estimated that 5.4 million people died as a result of war and ensuing hardship in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 1998 and 2007 — more than in any other conflict since World War II.

The court in The Hague said the payment would fund psychological support and job training programmes for 427 victims identified during the proceedings.

It acknowledged that many more children had been conscripted as soldiers. "Further evidence established the existence of hundreds or even thousands of additional victims affected by Mr Lubanga's crimes," the court said in a statement.

The judges awarded $8,000 per person, or $3.4 million for the 427 victims recognised so far, with an additional $6.6 million for potential future awards.

In March, the ICC ordered another Congolese convict, former militia leader Germain Katanga, to pay $1 million in damages to victims.

Congo fighters jailed for life for child rape ceremonies: rights groups

By Fiston Mahamba
December 13, 2017

Eleven Congolese militia fighters were jailed for life on Wednesday for raping dozens of girls as young as 18 months during ceremonies meant to give the men supernatural powers, rights groups observing the trial said.

Human rights campaigners hailed the court's verdict as a landmark decision in a country where they say rape by armed groups is commonplace and often unpunished.

The fighters from Djeshi ya Yesu — the Army of Jesus — militia were accused of raping at least 37 girls near the village of Kavumu in Democratic Republic of Congo's South Kivu province between 2013 and 2016, the rights groups said.

According to the prosecution, the group's leader, provincial lawmaker Frederic Batumike, employed a spiritual adviser who told the fighters that raping very young children would give them mystical protection against their enemies.

Militia members, including Batumike, were also convicted of murder, membership in a rebel movement and illegal weapons possession. The court ruled that the rapes and murders amounted to crimes against humanity, the rights groups said.

The crimes triggered an international outcry. Rights groups accused the government of a slow response.

"This was necessary. The victims have been waiting. It's a strong signal to anyone who would contemplate this kind of offense," Charles Cubaka Cicura, a lawyer for the victims, told Reuters after the verdict was announced.

Millions died in eastern Congo in regional wars between 1996 and 2003, most from hunger and disease. Dozens of armed groups continue to prey on local population and fight for control of the area's rich natural resources.

Experts say Congo has made some progress in combating sexual violence and several high-level militia and army commanders have been prosecuted in recent years, but the problem remains pervasive.

"This trial demonstrated that justice can be served in the Congo ... even when the accused wield significant power and are highly organised," said Karen Naimer of Physicians for Human Rights, one of the groups supporting the victims.

The mobile court which set up in Kavumu village allocated $5,000 in compensation to each rape victim and $15,000 to the families of men murdered by the militia, the groups said.

15 UN peacekeepers slain in Congo

By Joe Sterling, Robyn Kriel, and Eric Levenson
December 8, 2017

A "deliberate attack" on UN peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo constitutes a war crime, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Friday, calling it the worst offensive on peacekeepers in recent history

Fifteen peacekeepers were killed and 53 others injured Thursday evening, the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo said in a statement. Mission officials believe the rebel group Allied Democratic Forces carried out the attack, according to the statement.

At least five members of the Congo's armed forces also were killed, Guterres said.

"Attacks against those who are working in the service of peace and stability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are cowardly and constitute serious violations," said Maman Sidikou, the secretary-general's special representative in the country. The UN mission "will take all actions to ensure that the perpetrators are held accountable and brought to justice."

The attack took place in North Kivu, an eastern province that borders Rwanda and Uganda, Guterres said.

Ian Sinclair, director of the UN Operations and Crisis Centre, said the "major attack" occurred Thursday at dusk on a company operating base at Semuliki in the province. It continued for three hours, Sinclair said.

Earlier, Guterres had said 12 UN peacekeepers, all of them Tanzanians, had been killed and at least 40 others injured.

"I condemn this attack unequivocally," he said. "These deliberate attacks against UN peacekeepers are unacceptable and constitute a war crime. I call on the DRC authorities to investigate this incident and swiftly bring the perpetrators to justice. There must be no impunity for such assaults, here or anywhere else."

'Worst attack ... in recent history'

The Democratic Republic of Congo has the largest of the 15 UN peacekeeping missions, with more than 22,000 personnel.

"This is the worst attack on UN peacekeepers in the organization's recent history," Guterres added. "It is another indication of the enormous sacrifices made by troop-contributing countries in the service of global peace. These brave women and men are putting their lives on the line every day across the world to serve peace and to protect civilians."

The eastern part of Congo has been embroiled in violence since 1994 when Hutu forces crossed the border from Rwanda fearing reprisals following the genocide there.

Matthew Rycroft, the UK ambassador to the United Nations, said Thursday's attack was "not just on them as individuals but on the very essence of UN peacekeeping."

Earlier this year, two UN experts investigating human rights violations and their Congolese interpreter were found dead outside the city of Kananga in south-central Congo. A number of organizations offered rewards for anyone providing tips leading to an arrest

Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the United Nations, visited a camp for displaced people in the country in October. Nearly 4.5 million Congolese have been forced to flee from their homes, and many are living in such camps, according to the United Nations.

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

Burundi: Rights Defender Detained - Stop Intimidating Activists
Human Rights Watch

December 13, 2017

Authorities in Burundi have been holding a human rights activist since November 21, 2017, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should immediately release the activist, Nestor Nibitanga, or charge him with a credible offense. The police accused Nibitanga, via twitter, of "threatening state security."

Nibitanga was arrested at his home in Gitega province and taken to the headquarters of the national intelligence service (Service national de renseignement, SNR), in Bujumbura, the capital. Human Rights Watch and other organizations have documented numerous cases of torture of detainees there.

He was held incommunicado, without charge and without access to his family or a lawyer until December 4. He was then transferred to an official jail in Rumonge, south of Bujumbura, where he remains.

"Nibitanga's arrest is just the latest in a broader crackdown on independent human rights activists and journalists in Burundi," said Ida Sawyer, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "While many independent activists and journalists in Burundi have been forced into exile, the arrest of Nibitanga sends a chilling message to the few who have remained behind that they stay at their own peril."

Former detainees at the intelligence headquarters have told Human Rights Watch about being unlawfully detained and tortured there in recent years. They said SNR agents beat alleged opposition sympathizers with hammers and steel construction bars, drove sharpened steel rods into their legs, dripped melting plastic on them, tied cords around men's genitals, and used electric shocks.

Nibitanga was the regional observer for the central and eastern parts of the country for the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons (Association pour la protection des droits humains et des personnes détenues, APRODH), the leading Burundian human rights organization, before the government shut it down in October 2016. His job included coordinating staff and collecting information on human rights violations in four provinces: Gitega, Cankuzo, Ruyigi, and Karuzi. He also made routine visits to detention centers.

Nibitanga's arrest follows that of Germain Rukuki, a former member of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture in Burundi (ACAT-Burundi) in July 2017. ACAT-Burundi was also closed in October 2016. Rukuki was also first held by the SNR before being transferred to Ngozi prison. He was later accused of "undermining state security" and "rebellion." Rukuki was denied bail and remains in Ngozi prison, awaiting trial.

These recent arrests follow a pattern of government crackdowns against opponents, critics, journalists, and human rights defenders since early 2015, after President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would seek a controversial third term. Since then, many leading Burundian human rights defenders and independent journalists fled the country for their security. In August 2015, Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, the president of APRODH, was shot in the face and neck by an unidentified assailant while driving home from the organization's office.

Mbonimpa had been arrested in May 2014 and charged with endangering state security, in connection with remarks he had made on the radio. After he became seriously ill, he was provisionally released on medical grounds, but the charges against him were not dropped.

Journalists have also been punished simply for broadcasting information on controversial or sensitive issues. Since 2015, authorities have arrested numerous journalists and ransacked media offices. Jean Bigirimana, a journalist for the Iwacu newspaper, has been missing since July 2016. He was rumored to have been arrested by intelligence agents.

Hundreds of people have been abducted, disappeared, reported missing, or found dead in mysterious circumstances in Burundi since 2015. The government very rarely investigates these cases. In this tense climate, Burundi's cabinet in November backed changes to the constitution that would allow Nkurunziza to run for additional terms.

In September, a UN-mandated commission of inquiry indicated that there were reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed in Burundi, including murder, torture, rape, imprisonment, and persecution, against a backdrop of almost total impunity. In November, the International Criminal Court opened an investigation into crimes committed there.

"The authorities' targeting of activists and journalists shows how far they are willing to go to silence those who might dare to speak out," Sawyer said. "Burundi's international partners should press the government to allow journalists and activists to do their work freely, and to stop illegal detention and torture by the intelligence agency."

Burundi's president launches campaign to extend his rule
ABC News

By Eloge Willy Kaneza
December 12, 2017

Burundi's president launched a campaign Tuesday to support constitutional amendments that could extend his rule despite warnings by his opponents of more violence ahead.

President Pierre Nkurunziza told supporters in Gitega province to vote in favor of the changes in an upcoming national referendum. The proposed changes include extending a presidential term from five years to seven.

A date for the referendum has not been set but it is expected next year.

The opposition has warned that attempts to change the constitution could lead to more bloodshed in the East African country still reeling from deadly violence following Nkurunziza's contentious decision to seek a third term in 2015. Hundreds of people have been killed, and the International Criminal Court has begun looking into alleged crimes.

The constitutional changes were proposed by a government-appointed commission and have been ratified by Nkurunziza's cabinet. Many Burundians believe that after the amendments become law Nkurunziza will attempt to serve two more terms totaling 14 years.

Burundi's most prominent opposition leader, Agathon Rwasa, told The Associated Press that "it's clear that Nkurunziza is aiming at remaining in office for life."

Nkurunziza "wants to tailor the constitution to his desire" to rule for several more years, said iBurundi, a group of online activists. "The regime is using this campaign to deflect the pressure following its refusal to engage in inclusive peace talks."

Nkurunziza rose to power in 2005 following the signing of the Arusha accords to end Burundi's 13-year civil war that killed about 300,000 people. He was re-elected unopposed in 2010 after the opposition boycotted the vote.

Nkurunziza said he was eligible for a third term in 2015 because lawmakers, not the people, had chosen him for his first term, but critics called the move unconstitutional. His current term expires in 2020.

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Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast)

Official Website of the International Criminal Court
ICC Public Documents - Situation in the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire

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

Militants in Lake Chad Region Block Polio Program
Voice of America

By Moki Edwin Kindzeka
December 20, 2017

Scientists warn a campaign to eradicate polio in central Africa is falling short because of upheaval in the Lake Chad Basin area, where the Boko Haram militant group remains active. On the positive side, on country — Gabon - has been declared polio-free.

Professor Rose Leke, who heads the Africa Regional Certification Commission for polio eradication, says Central Africa has seen no cases of polio in the past 15 months. But, she adds, scientists cannot be sure the polio virus has been eradicated in the region.

Leke says medical teams find it difficult getting access to conflict zones in Mali, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and parts of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria affected by the Boko Haram insurgency.

"DRC has circulating polio viruses, so many of them. We are worried about the country and so we have specific recommendations also for DRC and for all the others. We are still very concerned about the Lake Chad basin area, the Borno [state in Nigeria] area where we do not know what is happening there. I think that is a concern for the entire world," she said.

Leke says polio cases have decreased by more than 99 percent in the past 30 years, from an estimated 350,000 per year to just 37 reported cases in 2016.

She says as a result of the global effort to eradicate the disease, more than 16 million people have been saved from paralysis.

According to the United Nations, once a case of polio is recorded, it takes three years of no other case to declare the zone polio-free. Gabon recently reached that goal.

Gabon's neighbor Cameroon has attained the status of "non-polio exporting country," but is still considered a high-risk nation like other African states with an influx of refugees from conflict zones that health care workers mostly avoid.

But Alim Hayatou, Cameroon's secretary of state in the ministry of health, says the country is also on track to be polio-free.

He says they have prepared an ambitious plan to make sure Cameroon eliminates polio by 2019.

Central African states have organized numerous inoculation campaigns, but more than 15 percent of children in the region remain unvaccinated due to cultural resistance, conflicts and illiteracy.

Nigerian military arrests more than 400 associated with Boko Haram
Los Angeles Times

December 16, 2017

Military authorities say Nigerian soldiers have arrested more than 400 people associated with the Boko Haram extremist group hiding on the islands of Lake Chad, including fighters, wives and children.

The two-week operation netted the largest number of arrests of Boko Haram fighters in recent months in northeast Nigeria, Col. Onyema Nwachukwu said. The operation included air and ground offensives.

The military said many Boko Haram insurgents were killed, but it did not give details.

Among those arrested were 167 Boko Haram fighters, 67 women and 173 children. The women and children will be handed over to authorities at displacement camps after investigations, the military said.

An additional 57 insurgents were arrested during a separate operation in another part of the troubled region.

Boko Haram has been blamed for more than 20,000 deaths during its eight-year insurgency, which has spilled over into neighboring countries and created a vast humanitarian crisis with millions displaced and hungry.

Human rights groups have expressed concern about the large number of women and children who have been arrested in the fight against Boko Haram, saying most of those detained have been picked up at random and without reasonable suspicion.

In an effort relieve overcrowded military detention facilities, Nigeria's government in October began the trials of more than 1,600 suspected Boko Haram members behind closed doors at a military barracks. It was the largest mass trial in the Islamic extremist group's history.

While Nigeria's president late last year declared the extremist group had been "crushed," leader Abubakar Shekau remains elusive and the group in recent months has carried out a growing number of deadly suicide bombings and other attacks. Many have been carried out by women or children who were abducted and indoctrinated.

Fallout From Deadly Niger Ambush Worsens As Bombshell Reports Target AFRICOM
Task and Purpose

By Jared Keller
December 11, 2017

The deadly ambush that killed four Army Special Forces personnel in Niger on Oct. 4, and the resulting rescue operation, were clouded by misinformation and poor planning, according to two extensive new reports.

One report suggests that one of the American KIAs, Army Sgt. La David Johnson, remained alive in captivity for hours while DoD officials flailed in the fog of war. And though the dueling reports paint a damning picture of negligence and underwhelming responses by U.S. defense officials, they also highlight a growing challenge on the horizon for the global war on terror in Africa.

On Oct. 5, U.S. Africa Command announced that four Army soldiers with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group out of Fort Bragg, including two Green Berets, were killed while "providing advice and assistance to Nigerien security force counter-terror operations" 200 kilometers north of the capital city of Niamey, on the Niger-Mali border. But according to a new report from BuzzFeed News, the ambush was the product of "reckless behavior" during a "poorly executed" surveillance and reconnaissance mission against senior commanders of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, in which soldiers "rushed into a hornet's nest of militants with insufficient intelligence."

U.S. and Nigerien officials interviewed by BuzzFeed News appear to confirm prior reports that emerged in the aftermath of the deadly raid: The U.S. detachment, accompanied by some 30 Nigerien security forces, deviated from a pre-planned patrol mission to pursue high-value militant lieutenants without any prior assessment or contingency plan; instead, they remained in a village on the Niger-Mali border long after the group was due back at Ouallam for a debriefing. Operating in the dark, without additional support, the patrol presented itself as a prime target for militants to muster overwhelming force.

"They let their guard down," a Nigerien general told BuzzFeed News. "There are a dozen villages around the frontier with Mali. The enemy took advantage of informants in these villages."

While the BuzzFeed News report puts the responsibility for the botched raid on Special Operations Command-Africa (SOCAFRICA) personnel, it's unclear whether the patrol's decision to deviate from the pre-planned mission emerged within the Special Forces detachment or with previous input from U.S. Africa Command. Indeed, the well-known intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance deficits endured by the Department of Defense in Africa — AFRICOM chief Gen. Thomas Waldhauser conceded in a 2017 posture statement that only "20-30%" of the command's ISR requirements have been met — almost certainly complicated the incident response and aftermath.

U.S. defense officials confirmed to Task & Purpose that it took at least six weeks for AFRICOM officials and regional partners to fully secure the ambush site and conduct a thorough crime scene investigation, as well as compile a moment-by-moment account of the two-hour firefight.

To a certain extent, such gaps are understandable: the rise of global terror networks has posed a significant challenge to geographically defined combat commands, and U.S. military sources indicated that AFRICOM's relative newness and broad area of responsibility present unique logistical and organizational problems. But if those ISR limitations in Africa created a fog of war, U.S. officials only exacerbated it as they scrambled for fact amid growing political pressure in the aftermath of the raid.

Also on Dec. 10, the Intercept's Nick Turse reported that not only had Army Sgt. La David Johnson survived the initial ambush, but AFRICOM was attempting to persuade multiple journalists to withhold the reports of Johnson's ostensible capture by militants while the military attempted a rescue. (Turse's tip-off apparently came after an embarrassing lapse in operational security, in which AFRICOM media relations personnel accidentally put Turse on speakerphone on Oct. 5 instead of disconnecting him, which, lol.)

"We've been able to talk a few [journalists] off the ledge, but it's gonna break," AFRICOM public affairs chief Col. Mark Cheadle reportedly told fellow communications personnel of the command's delicate dance with the media over Johnson's status. "By talking about it all you do is put this young man's life, and those who are trying to help him, in further danger."

Media blackouts amid ongoing military operations are common, but the military's opacity on the Niger op ended up drawing ire from lawmakers and the public. Johnson's remains were recovered by U.S. military personnel two days after the fateful incident, several kilometers away from the initial ambush site; On Nov. 10, the Washington Post reported that Johnson "was found with his arms tied and a gaping wound at the back of his head." Johnson's widow had previously told media outlets that she was not allowed to view her husband's body; On Nov. 12, two days after the Washington Post report, AFRICOM investigators recovered "additional human remains" belonging to Johnson.

As Turse points out, all these facts ran directly counter to DoD talking points, further complicating efforts by U.S. military officials to explain the botched raid. As Pentagon spokesman Maj. Audricia Harris told The Intercept, "[I]nitial findings did not show evidence Sgt. Johnson was ever in hostile hands"; she further asserted that until AFRICOM completes its full investigation, "everything that you read is conjecture and speculation."

There's plenty of evidence the military is anxious to get to the bottom to the Niger affair: Frustration with AFRICOM has ballooned across the various service branches and theater-level commands in the aftermath of the ambush, all the way up to Secretary of Defense James Mattis. "The message from Mattis is basically 'Square your shit,'" one U.S. military official told Task & Purpose on Nov. 2. "We need to fix the narrative. Now."

All of the reports so far — on the "reckless behavior" suggested by the Green Berets' rapid mission-shift, the hamfisted reponse from AFRICOM, and the disconnect between the Pentagon and regional officials — suggest a major problem on the horizon for the Global War on Terror. With ISIS denied strongholds in Iraq and Syria, the center of gravity for global terrorism is increasingly shifting to Africa, especially the countries surrounding the Lake Chad Basin that are enjoying a newfound surge in U.S.-led ISR operations.

Sure, U.S. Special Operations Command may have more elite troops in Africa than anywhere else but the Middle East. But the months-long saga Niger saga suggests that both defense officials and the American public will remain in the dark about how the new war on terror in Africa actually goes down.

And if there's any long-term consequence of the Niger affair, defense sources suggest, it's that AFRICOM, though just over a decade old, may end up putting the command's structure and capabilities under a microscope. "Nobody has been able to explain the whole engagement to me," one U.S. defense official told Task & Purpose. "But that's what happens when you have an entire massive, complicated continent managed by a four-star in Stuttgart."

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Al Qaeda's arm in North Africa has made around $100 million through ransom and drug trading, study says

By Javier E. David
December 7, 2017

An affiliate of al-Qaeda that has executed several attacks across Africa — and is considered the organization's wealthiest branch — is sitting on millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains that help fund its deadly activities across the region, a new report said.

According to a new analysis by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies' Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has reaped about $100 million through a combination of ransom, drug smuggling, taxes on locals and donations from other countries.

Abductions of foreigners — with ransoms paid by Western countries — are AQIM's most lucrative source of funding, the center noted, with illegal drug trade becoming increasingly important.

A 2014 United Nations estimate pegged AQIM's yearly budget at $15 million, the FDD noted, with the group's funding derived predominantly from activities such as ransom, smuggling, cigarettes and trading in contraband.

Most of those proceeds are in cash and are moved under the radar, in ways that make it easy to avoid traditional monitoring and regulatory mechanisms.

"AQIM's first major kidnappings came in 2003, before it joined al-Qaeda, when it abducted 32 Western tourists," according to Yaya Fanusie and Alex Entz, the report's authors. By 2012, AQIM vaulted to the top of al-Qaeda's table of richest branches solely by "vast sums it obtained through ransoms," Fanusie and Entz noted.

"For the next ten years, ransoms yielded roughly $100 million, becoming the predominant source of funding that allowed the group to spread its influence" across the Sahel region of western and north-central Africa, the study added. From 2008-2013, AQIM netted $91.5 million from just seven abduction payments from governments — including those of Austria, Spain and Switzerland — and a state-run French company, FDD noted.

"The U.S., in collaboration with European partners, should support better governance by Sahelian countries and encourage wealthy nations to stop paying ransoms. Degrading AQIM's financing starts with a strict enforcement of a ransoms ban," Fanusie and Entz wrote.

The report, "Terror Finance Assessment of Al Qaeda in the Maghreb," underscores the resiliency of al-Qaeda's global movement. While perceived as being on the defensive in places such as Libya and Iraq, it is still able to execute terror attacks with deadly efficiency — and has the financial means to do so.

Africa has become a hotbed of global terror, with 16 different African countries hit by terrorism between January and September 2016, resulting in more than 8,000 deaths, according to data from the Centre on Religion and Geopolitics' Global Extremism Monitor.

Since 2015, AQIM has claimed responsibility for attacks in places including Mali, Burkina Faso and Cote d'Ivoire, and this year it merged with several local groups to extend its reach in the region. As a means to curtail AQIM's wealth and diminish the group's impact, the FDD study suggested that Western entities should refuse to pay ransoms, among other steps.

The United States should avoid taking on AQIM and its terror network directly, the report said, given that "France has already taken a leadership role in the region."

It added that "in the long run, AQIM must be denied sanctuary through the development of states that can stem the tide of the region's Salafi jihadist movement, which includes other groups like the Islamic State of Greater Sahara, the IS affiliate whose leadership defected from al-Qaeda," the FDD report stated.

"This requires that the nations whose territory jihadists [operate in] become more formidable in governing their vast swaths of land and securing their borders," it added.

Gunmen kidnap and later kill workers laying fiber-optic cables in Mali
Japan Times

December 11, 2017

Four Malians and a Togolese working for a Chinese telecom firm were kidnapped and murdered while laying fiber-optic cables in central Mali, multiple sources told AFP on Sunday.

The group was working a few dozen kilometers from the town of Niafunke on Friday when they were dragged away by unidentified armed men, a local official based there said.

"The next day they were found dead, their bodies abandoned on the roadside," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity — information confirmed by a Malian security source.

A source with the company, who asked that their identity and that of the workers' employer be protected, told AFP: "We can't keep working without security. All our other workers are in a place of safety."

Three Chinese firms currently work on telecom projects in the region.

Firms have spent two years trying to install fiber-optic cables in central and southern Mali to bring faster internet to the region, but delays have been caused by "insecurity and the rocky nature of the terrain in certain areas," the prime minister's office said earlier this month.

Security in Mali's central belt has deteriorated rapidly in the last few years as a jihadi insurgency and intercommunal clashes have spread downwards from conflicts once confined to the troubled north.

The murders occurred during the final day of Mali's International Investment Forum, held in Bamako, highlighting the challenges faced by foreign firms operating in the west African nation or hoping to enter its market.

President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita called on companies to make an "act of faith" on Thursday when the forum opened, asking delegates to bring foreign expertise and investment to sectors including agriculture and infrastructure despite his nation's entrenched problems.

Mali has struggled to attract foreign investment despite plentiful deposits of gold, among other resources, due to five years of instability and frequent kidnappings of foreign workers including humanitarians.

"You take risks to come to us, that is worth (our) respect," Keita added.

Groups of Islamic extremists linked to al-Qaida took control of northern cities in Mali in March and April 2012, but were chased out by a French-led military operation launched in January 2013, which is still under way.

Mali's army, French soldiers and a U.N. mission (MINUSMA) have little control of large tracts of the country, which regularly come under attack in spite of a peace accord signed with Tuareg leaders in May and June 2015, aimed at isolating the jihadis.

'Jihadists' kill six in Mali attack

December 11, 2017

Alleged jihadists killed six people in an attack on an armed Tuareg group in Mali near the fabled northwestern city of Timbuktu, the group and a security source told AFP on Monday.

Mali faces double threats from pro-government fighters and former rebels who still sporadically clash despite signing a peace deal in 2015, and from Al-Qaeda-linked groups which reject such accords.

"Six people, among them our fighters and civilians from our community, were killed on Sunday by AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) between the towns of Goundam and Douekire," said Azarok Ag Inaborchad, president of the Congress for Justice in Azawad, or CJA in French.

The CJA, created last year, represents the Kel Ansar community of ethnic minority Tuaregs who live in northwest Mali.

"We are pro-peace," Inaborchad said. "It's the enemies of peace who organised an attack against us."

The tumult of a 2012 Tuareg-led separatist uprising and the rebellion's hijacking by jihadists was followed by a peace deal signed two years ago but its implementation has been patchy.

A Malian security source confirmed the death toll and told AFP the attackers may have had a specific target in mind.

"They had two objectives: to sabotage the peace process, and search out an important figure in the CJA," the source said.

Mali's army, a deployment of French soldiers and a UN mission named MINUSMA have little control of large tracts of the country despite almost five years of military operations to root out the jihadists.

African anti-jihadi force gets millions after French meeting
The Daily Herald

December 13, 2017

French President Emmanuel Macron said Wednesday after a conference of presidents, princes and diplomats to boost a young African military force countering growing extremism in the Sahel region that he foresees victories there "in the first half of 2018."

Macron announced new pledges for the effort, one from Saudi Arabia of $100 million and another of $30 million from the United Arab Emirates.

The French leader called the conference to breathe life into the new force, made up of soldiers from Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania but in need of a huge boost to fulfill its mission, which includes fighting organized crime and human trafficking.

Nearly five years after France intervened to rout Islamist extremists in northern Mali, then controlled by an al-Qaida affiliate, the threat has spread to neighboring countries in the volatile Sahel, the sprawling, largely barren zone south of the Sahara desert. The growing extremism has also spawned new jihadi groups, including one claiming affiliation with the Islamic State group.

In recent months, security forces and the 12,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali have been prime targets in the Sahel. Attacks often occur in the border regions of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, where four U.S. soldiers were killed earlier this year.

Besides the leaders of the five-nation force known as G5 Sahel, delegations representing Europe, the African Union and international organizations were in attendance Wednesday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed the urgency of making the force fully operational.

"Islamic extremism is propagating. We can't wait," she said.

Macron said France's 4,000-strong counterterrorism force in the region since 2014, known as Barkhane, will help the G5 force with critical air, intelligence and other support and "we will win victories in the first half of 2018."

"We need to win the war against terrorism in the Sahel zone and it's in full swing," Macron said. "There are attacks every day. There are states that are, today, threatened and there is a real presence of terrorists. We want to intensify our efforts with this new format ... that's our goal."

The new force has carried out a single test operation. The operation in early November involved 350 forces from Burkina Faso, 200 from Niger and 200 from Mali, according to the French Defense Ministry.

The G5 Sahel force launched in Mali in July with Macron present. He has taken the lead in persuading partners to help make the force viable, arguing that the fate of the Sahel region affects Europe.

"Terrorists, thugs and assassins" must be eradicated, he said in July.

The fledgling force is expected to grow into a 5,000-strong army by March but needs soldiers, training, operational autonomy and funding. Macron said he sees it at full strength as planned.

The budget to launch the force is 250 million euros ($293 million), with 400 million euros ($470 million) needed down the road, French Defense Minister Florence Parly said on RFI radio.

Saudi Arabia, represented by its foreign minister, Adel Al Jubeir, announced a $100 million contribution. A special funding conference is planned for February.

French officials estimate that the extremists in the region number no more than 1,000, compared to several thousand in northern Mali in 2013, when France intervened. But the numbers are deceptive, failing to reflect the danger and difficulty of hunting down an enemy in region the size of Europe.

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

US Envoy Decries Attack On Media
AllAfrica: The Monitor

By Frederic Musisi
December 7, 2017

The United States Ambassador to Uganda, Ms Deborah Malac, has described the media environment in Uganda as "increasingly threatening" and reminded government of its responsibility to "safeguard the constitutional right" to safeguard a free media.

Ambassador Malac opined that the raid on tabloid Pepper Publications more than a fortnight ago and arrest and charging of its senior editors "simply for publishing an article" was uncalled for. She added that if the "government believes that media stories contain falsehoods, there are legal ways to challenge the stories."

The five Red Pepper directors and three editors have since been charged with publishing information prejudicial to security, libel and offensive communication to the person of President Museveni and his brother Gen Salim Saleh. They were on Tuesday remanded to Luzira prison until December 19.

In October, Ms Malac said the Uganda Communication Commission shut down Kanungu Broadcasting Services radio for allegedly violating minimum broadcasting standards.

"All of these events undermine the constitutional right of freedom of the press in Uganda, and they hurt the development of the country. I could go on, but the point is that journalists are facing a harsh and increasingly threatening environment," she added.

Ambassador Malac made the remarks on Tuesday evening at the launch of the Uganda Press Photo Award (UPPA) five-year anniversary publication.

UPPA is an initiative conceived by the foreign journalist umbrella, Foreign Correspondents' Association of Uganda, to support photojournalism.


She said speaking out against documented attacks/abuses on the media as "another part [of] our commitment to the media" and urged everyone else to "because if we don't, then we can't expect anything to change."

The transformative role of a free press has spanned generations and benefited societies across the world, resulting in the United Nations designating a special day to commemorate media contribution.

The UN General Assembly in 1993 gazetted every May 3 World Press Freedom Day to evaluate press freedom, pay tribute to journalists killed in the line of duty.

During this year's celebrations, Reporters Without Borders, a not-for-profit French media freedom defender, reported that Uganda's rankings on the press freedom index had dropped from the 102 position in 2016 to 112 in 2017.

Human Rights Network for Journalists - Uganda, a local body that fights for press freedom, said 45 journalists have been arrested, 29 assaulted, two radio stations switched off this year alone, showing Uganda is increasingly becoming dangerous for journalists to work in.

Speaking about his field experiences at Tuesday's launch, Daily Monitor photojournalist Mr Abubaker Lubowa, baptised the media environment as "still being in analogue" mode whereas the world is digitally migrating.

"When all pens go silent and notebooks are closed, cameras remain the only open window. Better still, you can burn a notebook but you cannot burn an image," Mr Lubowa said.

Uganda parliament debate on presidential age cap halted as scuffles break out

By Elias Biryabarema
December 19, 2017

Uganda's parliament abruptly adjourned a debate on Tuesday over extending President Yoweri Museveni's decades in power after a lawmaker said soldiers had entered the building and members of parliament scuffled with police.

"There were so many (soldiers), I saw them. They were in the chaplaincy," legislator Gaffa Mbwatekamwa, among several in Museveni's ruling party who oppose extending his rule, told a local television station.

Scuffles broke out between lawmakers and police shortly after speaker Rebecca Kadaga adjourned the debate, just moments starting it early on Tuesday. It was unclear what triggered the confrontation.

Television footage showed chaotic scenes of lawmakers and police both trying to address the cameras. The incident followed a similar disruption to a debate on the issue in September.

The army did not immediately reply to a request for comment. Police spokesman Emilian Kayima said they had no immediate comment but would issue a statement later.

Lawmakers were debating a draft bill that would remove a constitutional age cap that bars Museveni from standing again.

The constitution limits the age of a presidential candidate to 75, making 73-year-old Museveni ineligible to stand at the next election in 2021.

Museveni has ruled for 31 years but public anger is mounting over corruption, rights violations and poor social services.

The opposition, church leaders, and even some members of the ruling party oppose the amendment. Police have put down protests against it using teargas, beatings, detentions and live bullets. At least two people have been killed.

A previous attempt to debate the bill in September ended with lawmakers trading punches and throwing chairs and the forcible intervention of security forces. Several legislators were hospitalized with injuries.

Mbwatekamwa said he recognized some members of the military in parliament from the fracas in September.

"Some are in civilian clothes, some of the soldiers are the ones who manhandled us the other time," he said.

Proceedings resumed about two hours after they were suspended and stretched on for about seven hours before Kadaga adjourned them again to Wednesday, when a final vote on the bill is expected.

The latest attempt to debate the law started on Monday with the presentation of a report by a House committee. The speaker suspended six legislators opposed to the measure on Monday for disorderly conduct.

Both police and military have been deployed around parliament this week. Lawmakers say the heavy security is designed to intimidate them, but police say it is to prevent protests. The military usually does not comment on political matters.

Several African leaders have amended laws designed to limit their tenure. Such moves have fueled violence in countries including Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.

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

Kenya watchdog says 92 people killed in election violence
ABC News

By Rodney Muhumuza
December 20, 2017

Ninety-two people were killed during Kenya's months of election turmoil and dozens of others were sexually assaulted, a human rights watchdog said Wednesday.

Most victims "were felled by the bullet" and authorities must account for "how the officers under their command used the live ammunition that had been assigned to them," according to the report of the independent Kenya National Commission on Human Rights.

The group reported 86 cases of sexual or gender-based violence, saying it was "extremely worried" by the emergence of sexual violence "as a weapon of subjugation" during political contests.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga has accused Kenyan security forces of killing scores of his supporters. Police have denied it. They also called a recent Human Rights Watch report alleging gang-rapes by men in uniform in opposition strongholds "utter falsehoods."

Odinga lost the August presidential election but successfully challenged the results while alleging irregularities, leading the Supreme Court to nullify the vote in a first in Africa.

Odinga boycotted the court-ordered repeat vote in October, saying electoral reforms had not been made. President Uhuru Kenyatta won that election with 98 percent of the votes.

The new allegations add to pressure on the government to investigate allegations of violence targeting opposition supporters.

The Human Rights Watch report earlier this month described rapes of men and women and cited victims and witnesses in the slums of the capital, Nairobi, and the opposition strongholds of Kisumu and Bungoma.

"Some were raped in the presence of family members, including young children," that report said. "Most women said they were raped by policemen or men in uniform, many of whom carried guns, batons, tear gas canisters, whips, and wore helmets and other anti-riot gear."

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Rwanda (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda)

Official Website of the ICTR

President Kagame inaugurates Campaign against Genocide museum
The New Times

By Athan Tashobya
December 13, 2017

President Paul Kagame on Wednesday officially opened the Campaign Against Genocide Museum (CAG).

The launch of the museum located at Parliament buildings is part of a series of activities lined up to mark the 30th anniversary of Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF-Inkotanyi).

"The reflection of this part of our country's history is done very well," Kagame wrote in the visitor's book.

The museum primarily tells the story of the Rwanda Patriotic Army's military campaign to end the Genocide Against the Tutsi.

The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi left over one million people dead in a span of about 100 days.

Part of the museum details the story the fight the RPA fighters of the 3rd battallion who were at Parliament when they came under sustained gunfire from the then government troops that had surrounded the Parliament building.

The 600-strong protection force (3Bn) responded by defending themselves and rescuing victims of Genocide in their vicinity following the Order to Stop Genocide that was given by the then RPA Chairman of High Command Major General Paul Kagame.

The museum also details how the RPA fighters conducted rescue missions to save the victims of Genocide across the country and defeated the Genocidal forces.

Rwandans and non-Rwandans civilians who played a role in the campaign against Genocide are also recognized in the museum.

The Campaign against Genocide Museum is also comprised of several monuments including that of the 12.7mm Machine Gun at the Parliamentary rooftop that helped in containing the advancing genocidal forces.

Fresh report accuses France of complicity in 1994 genocide
Medafrica Times

By Geraldine Boechat
December 14, 2017

A U.S. law firm on Wednesday released a report commissioned by the Rwandan government to examine the role played by France in events leading to the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

The report compiled by Washington-based Cunningham Levy Muse LLP presented evidence suggesting that French officials were aware of and aided the actions and goals of both the Habyarimana government and the génocidaires who seized power after at the inception of the genocide.

The report cites evidence that purportedly shows French complicity before, during and after the genocide by ethnic Hutu extremists against ethnic Tutsi and some Hutu moderates.

The French officials, according to the report, provided safe sanctuary to some genocide suspects and have obstructed attempts to bring them to justice. French officials are also said to have provided safe communication channels for genocide masterminds and subsequently harbouring fugitives.

Documents show that the French government was a close ally of the Rwandan regime that planned and perpetrated the mass slaughter of an estimated 800,000 people.

Last year, France rejected Rwandan government's request to question some of the 22 French military officers who, Kigali said, bore some responsibility for the killings.

Rwandan defence minister refuses to face French judge over Habyaramina death
Radio France Internationale

December 15, 2017

Rwanda's defence minister has refused to comply with a French examining magistrate's summons to face a witness who accuses him of involvement in the shooting-down of then-president Juvénal Habyaramina's plane, an event that is believed to have sparked the 1994 genocide.

General James Kabarebe and another Rwandan suspect did not appear before anti-terror judge Jean-Marc Herbaut in Paris on Thursday, lawyer Bernard Maingain said.

"It is out of the question to imagine that a defence minister in office go to France to be confronted by such a problematic character," a letter from Maingain and his colleague Léon-Lef Forster told Herbaut on Monday.

The witness in question is James Munyandinda, a former member of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which, under the leadership of current President Paul Kagame, took control of the country after the genocide had killed an estimated 800,000 people, mainly from the Tutsi minority.

He claims he was ordered to guard a missile that was later used to shoot down Habyaramina's plane as it landed in Kigali.

Perjury accusation

The lawyers have submitted evidence to the judge that they claim show Munyadinda's "lack of credibility" and accusing him of perjury.

Herbaut questioned Munyadinda in the suspects' absence on Thursday.

"The witness gave a convincing reply to these accusations of falsehood," the lawyer for Habyaramina's family, Philippe Meilhac, said afterwards.

Seven Kagame associates have been charged in relation to the case in France, poisoning relations between Paris and Kigali, which in turn has accused the French military of involvement in the genocide.

Rwanda Needs to Take Torture Seriously
Human Rights Watch

By Ida Sawyer
December 16, 2017

On December 6, the UN Committee Against Torture released its concluding observations after a routine review of the situation in Rwanda. During the review, committee members raised concerns about serious violations – including torture, extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, and intimidation of journalists, human rights defenders and opposition party members – and asked numerous, precise questions about the Rwandan government's actions.

The Rwandan government's response was to deny, deny, deny. On illegal detention and abuse in military camps, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the government wrote in its final submission to the committee that, "we want to repeat and insist that there are no unofficial or secret places of detention in Rwanda."

In October, Human Rights Watch issued a report documenting abuses in military camps around Kigali, the capital, and in the northwest. For at least the last seven years, Rwanda's military has frequently detained and tortured people, beating them, asphyxiating them, using electric shocks and staging mock executions. Most of the detainees were disappeared and held incommunicado, meaning they had no contact with family, friends, or legal counsel. Many were held for months on end in deplorable conditions. We continue to receive information about new abuses.

Many of those tortured were forced to confess to crimes against state security and later transferred to official detention centers. Instead of keeping quiet, scores of victims dared to speak up at their trials. When the committee asked the Rwandan government why judges did not investigate when defendants said in the courtroom that they had been tortured – which the government is required to do under the Convention against Torture – the government simply presented a table in its report asserting that no one alleged they were tortured in trials from 2013 to 2017.

This stands in stark contrast to the facts. From 2011 to 2016, we documented 65 cases in which individuals said in court said they were illegally held in military camps or unlawful safe houses. Of those cases, 36 said they were either tortured, beaten or otherwise forced to confess to crimes they did not commit. These were statements either made publicly in court during trials we monitored or are reflected in official court judgments.

In response to allegations, including by Human Rights Watch, about torture in Kami, a military base outside Kigali, the government wrote in its final report that it needed, "clarifications of these allegations… because the people who alleges [sic] to have been tortured… in The Kami Military Camp are unknown. Those reports did not provide names of victims and suspects; therefore, no investigations were conducted." To Johnston Busingye, the justice minister who headed the Rwandan delegation at the committee, I say: please see Appendix I, pages 92-98 of our last report.

We provided the case numbers and the identity of those who dared to speak up in court. It is not difficult to confirm. That the government would simply say these people never spoke is the final act of torture. It denies them their right to tell the truth about what happened.

The government maintains it has no political prisoners. The government also says any case of enforced disappearance is investigated. Here again, recent facts tell a different story. Take the case of Théophile Ntirutwa, Kigali representative of the Forces démocratiques unifiées (FDU)-Inkingi, a banned opposition party. Ntirutwa was forcibly disappeared on September 6, after the arrest of several other FDU members the same day, and held incommunicado until September 23. During this period, the police would not confirm to Human Rights Watch or his family whether he was in custody.

He has now been charged with supporting an armed group. On November 21, during a hearing, Ntirutwa said in court, "I was disappeared for 17 days… My family was not informed of where I was, nor were human rights organizations. My wife told the police I had been disappeared. All that time I was blindfolded and handcuffed before it was revealed I was at [a] police station."

These were words said in a public courtroom. The government should follow through on its obligations, open an investigation, and hold those responsible for this enforced disappearance accountable. But if recent history is any indication, chances are nothing will happen. Ntirutwa had previously been detained on September 18, 2016, allegedly by the military, in Nyarutarama, a Kigali suburb. He said he was beaten and questioned about his membership in the FDU-Inkingi, then released two days later. Accounts of this detention were published, but the government did not investigate.

The committee wrote its final report that it is "seriously concerned" both about Rwanda's failure to investigate allegations of torture and its "failure to clarify whether or not it opened an investigation into the allegations of unlawful and incommunicado detention."

The committee's concluding observations are cause for concern about the situation in Rwanda. While technically Rwanda has made advances in its legislation, in reality it does not seem to take seriously the absolute prohibition on torture. Rwanda is bound by both national law and international treaty obligations to act on allegations of torture and enforced disappearances, and to take steps to prevent such abuses. Instead of denying these abuses exist, it should demonstrate that it is ready to meet those obligations.

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US strikes explosives-filled vehicle in Somalia
The Hill

By Ellen Mitchell
December 12, 2017

The U.S. military launched an airstrike against al-Shabaab in Somalia early Tuesday morning, targeting an explosives-filled vehicle, U.S. Africa Command said in a statement.

The airstrike, conducted southwest of Mogadishu, was done in coordination with the Somali government and was against "an al-Shabaab vehicle-borne improvised explosive device," according to the command.

"This strike supports our partner forces by removing an imminent threat to the people of Mogadishu," according to the statement. No civilians were killed, it added.

The strike is part of a ramp up of activity in Somalia against the al Qaeda-linked militants, as well as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters. U.S. forces conducted airstrikes in the country against ISIS for the first time last month. U.S. forces "will continue to use all authorized and appropriate measures to protect U.S. citizens and to disable terrorist threats," the command said.

This includes partnering with the African Union Mission and Somali National Security Forces to target "terrorists, their training camps, and their safe havens throughout Somalia and the region."

Suicide bomber kills 18 at Somalia police academy
Merced Sun-Star

By Abdi Guled
December 14, 2017

An Islamic extremist suicide bomber disguised as a police officer killed at least 18 people at a police academy in Somalia's capital on Thursday, authorities said. The Somalia-based al-Shabab extremist group claimed responsibility.

Another 20 officers were wounded, some of them seriously, Col. Mohamud Aden said.

The bomber, with explosives strapped around his waist and torso, infiltrated Gen. Kahiye Police Academy and targeted officers rehearsing for Somalia's Police Day celebrations scheduled for Dec. 20, Capt. Mohamed Hussein said.

The bomber walked into the academy undetected and joined a line of officers before he detonated the explosives under his sportswear, Hussein said.

Officers dead in Somalia police academy bombing
Al Jazeera

December 14, 2017

A suicide bomber from Somalia's al-Shabab has killed 18 police officers and wounded 15 others after blowing himself up inside the country's main police academy, according to authorities.

Witnesses said the police were gathered on Thursday in a square before their early morning parade when the bomber attacked in the capital Mogadishu.

Al-Shabab, which is allied to al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility and put the toll at 27 dead."

It was martyrdom operation, in which the mujahedeen targeted the police academy camp," a statement posted on a pro-al-Shabab website read.

The assault is the latest in a decade-old battle by al-Shabab to overthrow Somalia's internationally backed government.

"Eighteen members from the police were killed, and 15 others were wounded, after a suicide bomber blew himself up inside the academy," General Muktar Hussein Afrah, acting police chief, said.

The attacker disguised himself in a police uniform to access the camp, Afrah said.

Medics and ambulance teams rushed to take the wounded to hospital and collect the corpses.

Officers said the toll could have been far worse had the attacker detonated his bomb in the centre of the crowd.

Later on Thursday, police attended the funerals of some of their colleagues killed in the attack.

In US crosshairs

Al-Shabab has become the deadliest group of its type in Africa and is increasingly targeted by the US military after the Trump administration early this year approved expanded air strikes and other efforts against the fighters.

The US has carried out at least 32 drone strikes this year.

Al-Shabab lost its foothold in Mogadishu in 2011 but has continued its fight, launching regular attacks on military, government and civilian targets in the capital and elsewhere.

In October, a huge truck bombing blamed on the group killed as many as 512 people, levelling buildings in the capital's busy Kilometre 5 neighbourhood.

Since then the US has increased the frequency of air strikes targeting al-Shabab leaders.

A strike earlier this week against an al-Shabab vehicle carrying explosives prevented an "imminent threat to the people of Mogadishu", the US Africa Command said.

An operation against an al-Shabab camp on November 21 killed more than 100 fighters, according to the US Africa Command.

On November 13, the Pentagon said US forces had killed more than 40 al-Shabab and ISIL fighters over four days.

The increase in US raids comes as AMISOM, the AU's mission in Somalia, prepares to withdraw 1,000 troops from its 22,000-strong force, as part of plans to pull out all soldiers by December 2020.

The US is worried the reduction will hamper efforts against armed groups in the Horn of Africa.

A UN report last month warned that an ISIL faction in the north of the country had grown significantly over the past year, carrying out attacks in the Puntland region and receiving some funding from Syria and Iraq.

U.S. Orders New Probe On Alleged Massacre
All Africa

By Kevin J. Kelley
December 15, 2017

The head of the US Africa Command on Thursday ordered a new investigation of claims that US troops massacred 10 civilians in an August raid on a farm in central Somalia.

The move by Africom Commander Gen Thomas Waldhauser follows media reports that children were among those killed in an attack based on faulty intelligence."

Gen Waldhauser referred the matter to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service to ensure a full exploration of the facts given the gravity of the allegations," Africom said in a statement.

It added that "Africom takes all allegations of misconduct seriously and will leverage the expertise of appropriate organisations to ensure such allegations are fully and impartially investigated."

Africom had said soon after the August 25 raid that all the dead were "armed enemy combatants."

A pair of recent reports in the Daily Beast, a New York-based online news site, cited accounts by eyewitnesses and Somali officials of unprovoked killings of farmers in the US raid carried out in conjunction with Somali soldiers.

"These local farmers were attacked by foreign troops while looking after their crops," Ali Nur Mohamed, deputy governor of the Lower Shabelle region where the attack occurred, had earlier told reporters in Mogadishu.

"The troops could have arrested them because they were unarmed but instead shot them one by one mercilessly," Mr Mohamed added as 10 corpses were displayed in the Somali capital soon after the raid.

Africom's acknowledgment that further investigation is warranted comes at a time of growing and shifting US involvement in the war against Al-Shabaab.


Defence Department officials have presented President Trump with a plan for less restrictive US military operations in Somalia during the next two years, the New York Times reported on December 10.

The proposed initiative would give greater discretion to US field commanders in launching strikes and rescind the State Department's ability to pause offensive military operations in response to perceived problems, the Times said.

US forces have carried out about 30 airstrikes so far this year in Somalia -- twice as many as in 2016. More than 500 US soldiers have also been dispatched to Somalia to assist in the fight against Shabaab.

Conversely, Washington is simultaneously suspending food and fuel payments to most units of the Somalia National Army (SNA) due to concerns over rampant corruption, Reuters reported on Thursday.

Only those SNA units mentored by US instructors will continue to receive the stipends, the report said.

"Documents sent from the US Mission to Somalia to the Somali government show US officials are increasingly frustrated that the military is unable to account for its aid," Reuters said.

"The documents paint a stark picture of a military hollowed out by corruption, unable to feed, pay or arm its soldiers -- despite hundreds of millions of dollars of support."


A team of US and Somali officials who visited nine SNA bases earlier this year reported that expected consignments of food aid could not be found, Reuters revealed. The best-staffed base visited by the team had 160 SNA soldiers present out of a total officially listed at 550. Only 60 of the soldiers had weapons, Reuters said.

"The SNA is a fragile force with extremely weak command and control," said an earlier leaked assessment by the African Union, United Nations and Somali government. "They are incapable of conducting effective operations or sustaining themselves."

Kenyan forces have also been cited for allegedly failing to carry out assigned duties in Somalia. A report last month by UN monitors charged that Kenyan troops operating under African Union command have failed to assist authorities in blocking illicit charcoal exports that are said to earn al-Shabaab at least $10 million a year.

Up to 30 Percent of Soldiers Unarmed
All Africa

By Harun Maruf
December 20, 2017

Since September 2017, al-Shabab militants have overrun four Somali government military bases, killing more than 60 soldiers and seizing large quantities of weapons. Now, a military assessment by the Somali government found some of the troops manning these bases are completely unarmed.

The "Operational Readiness Assessment" conducted by the government found that approximately 30 percent of the soldiers in the bases do not have weapons. The evaluators said some units also lack medium and heavy weaponry, and some are "undermanned."

On Tuesday, Somali Defense Minister Mohamed Mursal Sheikh Abdirahman acknowledged the army's shortcomings.

"There are some who are not armed. We are working to complete their equipment but a majority of them have weapons," he said in an exclusive interview with VOA's Somali service.

He also admitted "gaps" in the number of soldiers in military bases.

"When we were conducting this assessment we did not announce and say people have to report for this assessment, we only went there and assessed those ready in their bases, their training and equipment," he said. "There are gaps, there are brigades which are undermanned."

Abdirahman said the number of soldiers on the payroll of the Somali National Army is 26,000 but added that number includes retired and older soldiers, the disabled and orphans.

Reliable military sources told VOA that the actual number of soldiers on duty is far lower, possibly fewer than 10,000.

The assessment commissioned by Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire was conducted between August and September and was submitted to government leaders in November.

Al-Shabab gains

Al-Shabab overran government bases in the towns of Bulogudud, Beled Hawo, El-Wak and Barire in September. Abdirahman said government soldiers didn't have the artillery, heavy machine guns and shoulder-fired missiles to push back Shabab fighters as they stormed the bases.

He said infantry units need artillery, some mounted on trucks, others pulled by trucks and shoulder missiles to enable soldiers to fight from a long distance before the enemy comes into close proximity.

"An army needs to be able to defend itself from 4-5 kilometers away from the base," he said. "We don't have that type of weapons of artillery and missiles. Likewise, we don't have helicopters that can provide air support that can fire missiles at enemy positions to prevent attack and destroy threats at its place."

Abdirahman blamed the United Nations arms embargo on Somalia for the lack of these weapons, saying the embargo is tying the hands of Somali soldiers.

"[T]he international community must allow Somalia to have this weaponry," he said. "They don't have to lift it in one day but gradually; there has to be a mechanism for Somalia to acquire and buy these weapons and to arm its soldiers."

The assessment also found the SNA constrained by a lack of communication, vehicles and shelter, with some soldiers living in bush perimeters with no sentry positions.

Aid suspension

Last week, the United States said it is suspending aid for much of Somalia's armed forces over corruption concerns. A State Department official said the "pause" in aid is being made "to ensure that U.S. assistance is being used effectively and for its intended purpose."

The current Somali government, which blame previous administrations, said the fact it conducted an assessment shows its commitment to improving accountability as well as conditions for the soldiers.

The government has announced plans to build a force of 22,000 soldiers that can take over security responsibilities from the African Union Mission in Somalia, AMISOM, which has begun to draw down its troops.

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

Gunmen assassinate mayor of Libya's biggest port city

December 17, 2017

Gunmen fatally shot the mayor of Libya's third-largest city, Misrata, late on Sunday, ambushing his car inside the city, security officials said.

The North African oil producer has been in chaos since the 2011 uprising that unseated Muammar Gaddafi, but Misrata, Libya's biggest port, had been relative peaceful until now.

Gunmen chased the car of Mayor Mohamed Eshtewi after he left Misrata airport following his arrival on a plane from Turkey, a security official said, adding it was unclear who was behind it.

In October, a bomb exploded at the city's court, killing about four people and wounding 40 others in an attack claimed by Islamic state.

Misrata, almost 200 km (125 miles) east of Tripoli, is the gateway for food and other imports into Libya and the country's only tax-free zone. It is one of the few places still frequented by foreign business people fearing poor security elsewhere.

Presidential Council condemns murder of Misrata mayor, says it was terrorist act
The Libya Observer

By Abdulkader Assad
December 18, 2017

The Presidential Council has condemned the assassination of the mayor of Misrata city Mohammed Eshtiwi, saying it was a terrorist criminal act.

The PC slammed in a statement on Monday the murder of the mayor by unknown gunmen, explaining the security apparatuses are on the look for the criminals and "they won't escape justice."

"All those who worked to destabilize Libya must rethink their actions as the alternative to building a future Libya is a state of armed chaos. We all must be united against evil terrorist groups and the organized crime networks." The statement reads.

It also remarked that Eshtiwi was a patriot who saved no efforts to work for the country and the countrymen, offering condolences for his family and relatives.

Meanwhile, the High Council of State (HCS) also offered sincere condolences for the family and colleagues of the mayor, saying in a statement Monday that it condemns such chaotic and criminal acts that go against the Islamic teachings and the humanitarian conventions, saying the perpetrators shall sooner or later be punished.

On the other hand, the House of Representatives (HoR) also issued a statement denouncing the assassination of Eshtiwi, whom it said was known to be against terrorism and extremism and for being an advocate for building the future state of Libya.

"This is a cowardly terrorist act and the perpetrators must be brought to justice. We offer condolences to the family of the mayor and the city of Misrata." The HoR's statement reads.

Misrata Council of Dignitaries and Wisemen also condemned the assassination of Eshtiwi and called the city's residents for unity to face the plots that aim to undermine Libya's security and stability. It also called police forces to exert all efforts to identify the killers and bring them to justice.

In the meantime, condemnations from local and international parties also weighed in on the murder, including foreign embassies in Libya and the UNSMIL, with a unanimous call for probing the murder and trying the criminals in the courtroom.

Eshtiwi was kidnapped Sunday evening from in front of Misrata airport after he returned from a formal visit to Turkey. His car was shot at by unknown gunmen, leading it to stop so that his brother got shot before Eshtiwi was taken to an unknown location, where he was assassinated. Later, his body was found thrown in front of Al-Safwa clinic in Misrata.

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The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, War Crimes Chamber

Official Court Website [English translation]

Bosnia Arrests Wartime Commander for General's Murder
Balkan Insight

By Admir Muslimovic
December 11, 2017

Hamdija Abdic, alias Tigar, who is considered a hero by Bosnian Army veterans, was arrested on suspicion that he was involved in the killing of a Bosnian Croat general in 1995.

Police in the north-western town of Bihac on Monday arrested Hamdija Abdic, the wartime commander of the Bosnian Army Fifth Corps' 502nd Brigade, on suspicion of murder, the Una-Sana Canton prosecution told BIRN.

Abdic is suspected of taking part in the killing of Croatian Defence Council general Vlado Santic on March 8, 1995, alongside four other men who were also arrested on Monday.

Santic was killed as he was leaving the Sedra hotel in Bihac, and his remains have never been recovered.

The Bihac prosecution declined to give the names of the other four suspects before they are questioned, or any more specific information about the investigation.

"The five men are suspected of killing Vlado Santic on the night of March 8 to 9, 1995. They will be questioned and the prosecution will decide whether to file a custody motion," the prosecution said in a statement.

Abdic, who is considered a hero by Bosnian army veterans, and the other men are not suspected of committing a war crime.

Bosnian Serb Ex-Soldier Charged with Wartime Rape
Balkan Insight

By Dzana Brkanic
December 12, 2017

Former Bosnian Serb Army serviceman Milan Todovic was charged with raping, beating and sexually abusing a Bosniak woman who he held captive in Foca in 1992.

The Bosnian state prosecution on Tuesday charged Milan Todovic with crimes against humanity for his sexual and physical assaults on his Bosniak victim.

Todovic "bought" the woman from another Bosnian Serb soldier and forced her to be his sex slave, according to the charges.

She had previously been captured and raped at several other locations by various other Bosnian Serb soldiers, the charges allege.

"Todovic kept the victim detained in a residential building in inhumane conditions, without food, water, electricity and heating," a prosecution statement said.

"He mistreated and beat her, causing bodily injuries to her, raped her several times and forced her to have sexual intercourse with him until she fled," it added.

The prosecution alleges that Todovic committed the crimes during a widespread and systematic attack by the Bosnian Serb Army, paramilitaries and police forces on the Bosniak civilian population in the Foca municipality in the period from October 30, 1992 to March 5, 1993.

The indictment has been filed to the state court for confirmation.

Bosnian Army Ex-Soldiers Arrested for Killing 30 Serbs
Balkan Insight

By Dzana Brkanic
December 19, 2017

Six former members of the Bosnian Army were arrested on suspicion of involvement in the killings of 30 Serb men and women in the village of Cemerno near Sarajevo in 1992.

Bosnian State Investigation and Protection agency police officers on Tuesday arrested Teufik Turudzic, Mirsad, Nusret and Mirzet Beslija, Hamdija Spahic and Senad Sikir, former members of the Bosnian Army and Territorial Defence units, who are suspected of killing more than 30 Serbs in Cemerno on June 10, 1992.

"During the attack on Cemerno, a war crime was committed in which around 30 Bosnian Serb victims, of both sexes, were killed," the Bosnian prosecution said in a statement.

"The youngest victim was 16 years old and the eldest more than 80. A total of ten women were killed," it added.

The crime in Cemerno was one of the most "heinous" in the entire Sarajevo region, the prosecutor's office said.

The men who were arrested are suspected of war crimes against civilians and prisoners of war, the killing and wounding of enemy combatants and violations of the laws and customs of war, it added.

The six suspects have already been handed over to the prosecution.

After they are questioned, the prosecution will decide whether to file a custody motion.

Bosnian Army Ex-Soldiers Arrested for Killing 30 Serbs
Balkan Insight

By Emina Dizdarevic
December 19, 2017

The Bosnian state court found Miroslav Peric guilty on Tuesday of physically mistreating the boy, who was a prisoner of war at the Vojno camp near Mostar, in October 1993.

Peric signed a plea agreement with the Bosnian prosecution, admitting the crime, which he committed as a member of the Bosnian Croat police forces.

After accepting his plea, the court sentenced Peric to a year in jail.

According to the verdict, Peric ordered the prisoner out of a garage near the Vojno camp where detainees were being held, and hit him on the head and body.

He then took the boy by the head and bashed him on the floor, the verdict said.

The other prisoners were then told to hit the boy.

"The court looked at the admission of guilt and looked at all the circumstances of the case, and decided to give this minimal sentence," said presiding judge Lejla Konjic Dragovic.

Peric agreed to pay 5,000 euros in damages to the victim.

The verdict cannot be appealed.

Bosnian Serb Ex-Soldiers Arrested on Genocide Charges
Balkan Insight

By Dzana Brkanic
December 20, 2017

Three former Bosnian Serb Army soldiers were arrested on suspicion that they assisted and committed genocide and crimes against humanity against Bosniaks in the Vlasenica area in 1995.

State Investigation and Protection Agency police officers on Wednesday arrested ex-soldiers Mile Kosoric, Rade Garic and Momcilo Tesic for alleged crimes against Bosniak prisoners of war and civilians in July 1995, including genocide.

The prosecution said that a search of buildings in the Vlasenica and Han Pijesak area was also underway.

"This is related to an investigation into events that happened in Luke, near Vlasenica, which included the forcible separation of civilians from a convoy of people who were leaving the protected zone following the fall of Srebrenica in July 1995," the prosecution said.

"The investigation is also related to detention of the separated civilians in a school building, from where they were taken to the Mrsica and Jarovlja area, where they were killed," it added.

After the war, a mass grave containing the remains of those who were killed people was found in Mrsica.

The prosecution confirmed that at least 30 people had been killed.

"As far as suspect Garic is concerned, an investigation into events that happened in the Vlasenica area from 1992 to 1995, including the commission of war crimes against the civilian population and prisoners of war, is also being conducted," it said.

It is alleged that these crimes included the torture, abuse, rape and murder of Bosniaks in the area.

According to the prosecution's allegations, Kosoric was the commander of the Vlasenica Brigade of the Drina Corps of the Bosnian Serb Army, Garic was the commander of the Interventions Squad with the Vlasenica Brigade, while Tesic was a military policeman with the Vlasenica Brigade.

The arrested men will be handed over to the prosecution, which will decide whether to file a custody motion or ask for other restrictive measures.

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International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY)

Official Website of the ICTY

Hague Tribunal Declares 'Mission Accomplished'
Balkan Insight

December 7, 2017

Carmel Agius, the president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, told the Security Council in New York on Wednesday that the UN court's mission had been accomplished with its final two verdicts last month.

Agius said that the verdicts in the cases against former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic and six wartime Bosnian Croat officials, including military leader Slobodan Praljak, were "points of no return, which forever changed the landscape of international justice".

"In retrospect… the establishment of the ICTY [in 1993] was one of the international community's proudest moments," Agius said.

The ICTY shuts down on December 31 this year and its remaining work, including the appeal in the Mladic case, will be completed by the Mechanism for International Tribunals.

Agius said that the challenges and difficulties faced by the ICTY should "in no way lead one to conclude that to resort to international criminal tribunals is not worth it".

In its most recent controversy, Slobodan Praljak swallowed poison in the courtroom after hearing his sentence and died within hours. An investigation into his death, and how he got access to the poison, is underway.

Agius said that international criminal justice would always be time-consuming and expensive, but "to live with the alternative of doing nothing and giving in to impunity is to pay a much, much higher price".

He admitted however that while the ICTY's supporters see it as having played an important role in the struggle against impunity, its detractors would continue to denounce it "for reasons of political or personal gain, blind nationalism and ethnic hatred".

ICTY chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz told the Security Council meanwhile that there was still an absence of genuine reconciliation in the former Yugoslavia, where "convicted war criminal continue to be seen by many as heroes, while victims and survivors are ignored and dismissed".

"There is still no true will within the region to accept the immense wrongdoings of the past and move forward, sadly most of all among the political leadership," Brammertz said.

He argued that as a result of the ICTY's work "so many victims and survivors received some measure of justice for the immense wrongs they suffered".

"Our results show that if there is a clear political agenda in favour of accountability, and if the international community speaks with one voice, those most responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law can be held accountable for their crimes," he said.

Brammertz also argued however that much more remains to be done after the closure of the ICTY to ensure the guilty are held accountable for their crimes.

"Many victims, from all communities, are still waiting for justice," he said.

UN Yugoslav court to close in December
Anadolu Agency

By Talha Ozturk, Kayhan Gul
December 7, 2017

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague will wind up on Dec. 31, bringing to an end to a painful and bloody chapter in postwar European history.

The UN court ended its 24 years of activities with the "Prlic and others" case on Nov. 29.

The ICTY was established in 1993 with the UN decision to punish crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

It has done important work to punish war crimes but although the court made key decisions, it has been criticized by the different ethnic groups.

For each suspect whom the court declared a war criminal, many continued to be regarded as a hero by their own ethnic group.

Although the ICTY's decisions on have been criticized as "political" by some, they have shown that everyone can be judged and punished without regard to their position.

At the same time, the court also made important contributions to the point that historical facts cannot be denied. An example of this is the ruling that genocide was committed in Srebrenica, where mass killings against the Bosniaks were carried out in 1995.

Throughout its 24-year history, the court has convicted Bosnians, Kosovo Albanians and Croats, although it has mostly punished war crimes committed by Serbs.

It gave the message that all warring parties in the former Yugoslavia were engaged in war crimes. The court was frequently criticized as a political institution when it tried to make balanced decisions.

The ICTY's first conviction in 1996 was 10 years in prison for Drazen Erdemovic, a soldier of Republika Srpska Army (VRS) in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Erdemovic, who served in the Serbian militia despite being of Croatian origin, was convicted of crimes committed during the genocide in Srebrenica.

It's final decision was taken at the appeal court's dismissal of the "Prlic and others" case, where six former Croat officials were sentenced.

The case, which saw former Croat general Slobodan Praljak commit suicide by poisoning himself, the court sentenced the group to a total of 111 years in prison for crimes committed in the Bosnian War.

- 19 acquittals, 6 life imprisonment sentences

The court has drafted indictments on 161 people in 24 years.

Ninety people have been given different prison sentences ranging from a year to life imprisonment. Six Serb-origin suspects were sentenced to life imprisonment. They were: Stanislav Galic, Vujadin Popovic, Ljubisa Beara, Milan Lukic, Zdravko Tolimir and Ratko Mladic.

Meanwhile, the court acquitted 19 people: Naser Oric, a Bosniak commander who has made significant achievements in the defense of Srebrenica; Kosovo's current Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj; and Serbian radical leader Vojislav Seselj are among those acquitted.

- What will happen after ICTY?

The UN International Criminal Tribunal Mechanism (MICT) will take over the case of Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic, who decided to appeal after the ICTY's termination.

Therefore, the appeal of Radovan Karadzic, who has been sentenced to 40 years in prison, and the possible appeal of Ratko Mladic, who is sentenced to life imprisonment, will be heard at the MICT as well as the appeal case of acquitted Vojislav Seselj and the trial of Stanisic and Simatovic.

The closing ceremony of the ICTY will be held on Dec. 21 and, by the end of the year, the court will cease to function officially.

Vojislav Seselj Acquittal: UN Court to Hear Appeal
Balkan Insight

By Radosa Milutinovic
December 12, 2017

The Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals in The Hague is to discuss the prosecutors' appeal in the case against Vojislav Seselj on Wednesday, although the Serbian nationalist politician has declared that he will not attend.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia acquitted Seselj of war crimes against non-Serbs in Croatia, Serbia's Vojvodina region and Bosnia and Herzegovina by a majority vote in March last year.

In its appeal, the prosecution is asking the court to quash the verdict and find Seselj guilty on all counts in the indictment and sentence him to 28 years in prison, or order a new trial.

Seselj has asked for the appeal to be rejected and the acquittal verdict upheld.

The appeal judgment will be handed down next year.

Seselj was released for cancer treatment in 2014, returned to Serbia and refused to attend the verdict last year.

He has repeatedly insisted that he will not go back to The Hague voluntarily, and dared the Serbian authorities to send him by force.

"They can only take me to The Hague if they put me in chains," Seselj told Serbian news website on Friday.

He said that if he was sent by force, he might go on hunger strike, as he has three times in the past, but would not kill himself in the same way as former Bosnian Croat military chief Slobodan Praljak, who swallowed poison in the Hague courtroom last month.

"My style is different. I wouldn't do it in a moment [like Praljak]," Seselj said.

The tribunal has appointed US lawyer Colleen Rohan to represent Seselj's legal interests in court.

However, Rohan has no right to express her stance on the process itself, but only to protect the defendant's procedural rights.

'Crimes were committed, but Seselj wasn't responsible'

Under the first-instance verdict, Seselj was acquitted of the persecution of non-Serbs on political, racial and religious grounds, deportation and forcible resettlement, as well as crimes against humanity.

He was found not guilty of murders, torture, cruel treatment, the destruction of villages or devastation not justified by military necessity, the destruction of religious buildings and pillaging public or private property, as well as the violation of laws and customs of war.

The verdict found that some of the crimes described in the indictment were committed and that Serbian Radical Party volunteers were involved in them, but that they did not act on Seselj's orders and approval.

It was confirmed that mass murders, torture, cruel treatment, sexual violence and robbery were committed at several locations in Vukovar in Croatia and Zvornik, Sarajevo, Mostar and Nevesinje in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

But by a majority vote, the judges determined that there was no joint criminal enterprise aimed at creating a unified 'Greater Serbian' state on large parts of territory of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

They further determined that the creation of a 'Greater Serbia' was Seselj's political goal, but that this did not imply the commission of crimes.

According to the verdict, in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Vojvodina there was no widespread and systematic attack against non-Serb civilians, but a conflict between warring parties.

The judges determined, again by a majority vote, that Seselj called for persecution of non-Serbs in some of his speeches, including a speech targeting the Croat population in the village of Hrtkovci in Serbia in May 1992.

But they concluded that "the prosecution has not proved that the mentioned speech led to the departure of Croats and the persecution campaign or that there was a causal connection between Seselj's speeches and crimes".

According to the verdict, it has not been proved that Seselj was responsible for the persecution of non-Serbs in Vukovar and Hrtkovci, or abetted and assisted crimes with hate speech at other locations in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The court has left open the possibility of Seselj participating in the hearing from Belgrade via video link if he does not travel to The Hague.

If he fails to attend the hearing, the court will allow Seselj to respond to the prosecutor's appeal within ten days after receiving a report from the hearing in the Serbian language.

Seselj was held at the Hague Tribunal's detention unit from February 2003, when he voluntarily surrendered after the indictment against him was made public, until November 2014, when he was released for medical treatment.

He returned to active political life in Belgrade, holding rallies and giving nationalist speeches, and was re-elected as a Serbian MP.

He strongly supported Donald Trump's campaign for the US presidency, and in November 2016 he used his mobile phone to play a newly-recorded version of a nationalist song in parliament with lyrics celebrating Trump as a heroic saviour.

Prosecution Challenges Vojislav Seselj's War Crimes Acquittal
Balkan Insight

By Radosa Milutinovic
December 13, 2017

Prosecutor Mathias Marcussen asked the judges at the Mechanism for International Tribunals in The Hague on Wednesday to overturn last year's acquittal and sentence Vojislav Seselj to 28 years in prison, or to order a retrial.

"Justice is not served… If this verdict stands, it would not only be an insult to victims, but would undermine this court," Marcussen said.

Seselj, the leader of the hardline nationalist Serbian Radical Party, who was freed for cancer treatment in 2014 and refused to return from Belgrade to attend the hearing, has asked for the appeal to be rejected and his acquittal confirmed.

He will be able to file a written response to Wednesday's hearing within ten days of receiving the Serbian-language translation of the proceedings.

Prosecutor Marcussen argued in court that the judges in the first-instance trial failed to review evidence about crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia.

Because of that failure, the court reached the wrong conclusion that there was no joint criminal enterprise aimed at expelling Serbs from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, he insisted.

Marcussen said the verdict's ruling that there was no widespread and systematic attack against Croats and Bosniaks in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina was also wrong.

"The verdict barely speaks about crimes - from 357 pages, crimes are only mentioned in ten," said the prosecutor.

He added that the judges did not analyse evidence about the mass deportation and forced movement of non-Serbs which he said were key to the joint criminal enterprise in which the prosecution alleges that Seselj participated.

As evidence that Seselj had a criminal intent to persecute, the prosecutor quoted the Serbian politician's statements that "Serbs and Croats cannot live together" and that "rivers of blood will run if Bosnia and Herzegovina declares independence".

"This is an insult for witnesses and victims," Marcussen said.

He argued that the prosecution had proved that fighters controlled by Seselj, together with other Serb forces, committed systematic crimes during which "tens of thousands were expelled".

"The victims and prosecutors deserve an explanation how the majority in the chamber could acquit Seselj and reach a conclusion which is in contradiction to many other verdicts," he said.

Under the first-instance verdict in March 2016, Seselj was acquitted of the persecution of non-Serbs on political, racial and religious grounds, deportation and forcible resettlement, as well as crimes against humanity.

He was found not guilty of murders, torture, cruel treatment, the destruction of villages or devastation not justified by military necessity, the destruction of religious buildings and pillaging public or private property, as well as the violation of laws and customs of war.

The verdict found that some of the crimes described in the indictment were committed and that Serbian Radical Party volunteers were involved in them, but that they did not act on Seselj's orders and approval.

It was confirmed that mass murders, torture, cruel treatment, sexual violence and robbery were committed at several locations in Vukovar in Croatia and Zvornik, Sarajevo, Mostar and Nevesinje in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

But by a majority vote, the judges determined that there was no joint criminal enterprise aimed at creating a unified 'Greater Serbian' state on large parts of territory of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

They further determined that the creation of a 'Greater Serbia' was Seselj's political goal, but that this did not imply the commission of crimes.

According to the verdict, in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Vojvodina there was no widespread and systematic attack against non-Serb civilians, but a conflict between warring parties.

The judges determined, again by a majority vote, that Seselj called for persecution of non-Serbs in some of his speeches, including a speech targeting the Croat population in the village of Hrtkovci in Serbia in May 1992.

But they concluded that "the prosecution has not proved that the mentioned speech led to the departure of Croats and the persecution campaign or that there was a causal connection between Seselj's speeches and crimes".

According to the verdict, it was not proved that Seselj was responsible for the persecution of non-Serbs in Vukovar and Hrtkovci, or abetted and assisted crimes with hate speech at other locations in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Presiding judge Theodor Meron said that the final verdict will be handed down soon. Last week Meron told the UN Security Council that the court's decision is scheduled for the "first part of 2018".

Vojislav Seselj 'Slept Through' War Crimes Appeal
Balkan Insight

By Filip Rudic
December 14, 2017

Vojislav Seselj, the president of the hardline nationalist Serbian Radical Party, said on Wednesday that he ignored the prosecution's appeal at the Mechanism for International Tribunals, which challenged his acquittal, and will not file a response to it.

"I did not even watch [the hearing], I was asleep at the time," Seselj told Beta news agency after the appeal was heard in The Hague.

"I'm done with that," he added.

Seselj was freed by the Hague court for cancer treatment in 2014, refused to return, and did not attend the appeal hearing.

He had been invited to watch Wednesday's proceedings live from Belgrade, and the court said he could file a written response to the hearing within ten days of receiving the Serbian-language translation.

Since his release, Seselj - who is an MP in the Serbian parliament - has repeatedly mocked the Hague court and dared the Belgrade authorities to send him back by force.

The prosecutor, Mathias Marcussen, asked the judges on Wednesday to overturn last year's acquittal and sentence Seselj to 28 years in prison, or to order a retrial.

Under the first-instance verdict in March 2016, Seselj was acquitted of the persecution of non-Serbs on political, racial and religious grounds, deportation and forcible resettlement, as well as crimes against humanity.

Seselj was found not guilty of murders, torture, cruel treatment, the destruction of villages or devastation not justified by military necessity, the destruction of religious buildings and pillaging public or private property, as well as the violation of laws and customs of war.

The verdict found that some of the crimes described in the indictment were committed and that Serbian Radical Party volunteers were involved in them, but that they did not act on Seselj's orders and approval.

It was confirmed that mass murders, torture, cruel treatment, sexual violence and robbery were committed at several locations in Vukovar in Croatia and Zvornik, Sarajevo, Mostar and Nevesinje in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

But by a majority vote, the judges determined that there was no joint criminal enterprise aimed at creating a unified 'Greater Serbian' state on large parts of territory of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

They further determined that the creation of a 'Greater Serbia' was Seselj's political goal, but that this did not imply the commission of crimes.

According to the verdict, in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Vojvodina there was no widespread and systematic attack against non-Serb civilians, but a conflict between warring parties.

The judges determined, again by a majority vote, that Seselj called for persecution of non-Serbs in some of his speeches, including a speech targeting the Croat population in the village of Hrtkovci in Serbia in May 1992.

But they concluded that "the prosecution has not proved that the mentioned speech led to the departure of Croats and the persecution campaign or that there was a causal connection between Seselj's speeches and crimes".

Presiding judge Theodor Meron said that the final verdict will be handed down soon. Last week Meron told the UN Security Council that the court's decision is scheduled for the "first part of 2018".

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Domestic Prosecutions In The Former Yugoslavia

Serbian Trial for Croatia Massacre Blighted by Delays
Filip Rudic

By Balkan Insight
December 7, 2017

Belgrade Special Court decided on Thursday to delay the closing statements in the trial of ten men for the killings of 70 Croatians in Lovas in 1991 because one of the defendants, Petronije Stevanovic, was admitted to a hospital for liver problems, his lawyer said.

The presiding judge said that the hearing could not be held and scheduled the next one for January 12, 2018.

The previous two hearings, which were scheduled for October 2 and 25, were also delayed.The trial started in 2008.

Ten former members of the police, Serb territorial defence forces, the Yugoslav People's Army and the 'Dusan the Great' paramilitary unit are accused of committing war crimes against civilians and for killing 70 of them in the Croatian village of Lovas in October 1991.

According to the indictment, Serbian forces captured the village of Lovas on October 10, after which the beatings and torture of civilians started.

On October 17, the forces allegedly rounded up around 70 men from Lovas, aged 18 to 65, detained them and tortured some of them.

The next day, defendants Radovan Vlajkovic and Radisav Josipovic, who were military officials with Serb territorial defence forces, were given an order to use the civilians as a human shield in a minefield, according to the indictment.

Vlajkovic and Josipovic are said to have chosen around 50 civilians and told them to walk towards a nearby field to check where the mines were.

When they got there, members of the 'Dusan the Great' paramilitary unit told the civilians to walk in a line and to check with their feet where the mines were; Vlajkovic and Josipovic allegedly participated in this.

When one man fell over, a mine exploded, and at the same time a number of soldiers started shooting at the Croatians, 19 of whom were killed.

The prosecution said that 20 civilians were killed on October 10, when the village was captured, while the other victims were killed at other times.

All the former fighters were convicted in 2012, but Serbia's appeals court annulled the verdict and the case was sent for retrial in 2014.

Four of them who were initially convicted - Ljuban Devetak, Dragan Bacic, Aleksandar Nikolaidis and Milan Radojcic - have since died.

The deputy war crimes prosecutor asked in March 2017 for the ten defendants to be jailed for a total of 83 years.

The Never-Ending War Crimes Trial of Branimir Glavas
Balkan Insight

By Sven Milekic
December 8, 2017

"I'm not guilty. They condemned an innocent man," general Branimir Glavas said in 2010 after receiving news that the Croatian Supreme Court had sentenced him to eight years in prison for war crimes.

"If the judges of the Supreme Court have unequivocally found that I am guilty of brutal crimes against the civilian population at the time of the Homeland War [Croatia's 1990s war], then the court should impose the maximum prescribed prison sentence [20 years] on me," Glavas declared.

As the commander of the defence forces in the eastern Croatian city of Osijek, Glavas was found guilty of ordering the executions of seven, mostly Croatian Serb civilians in 1991. The court established that he founded and armed a special military unit known in Osijek under various names – the Protective Troop or Branimir's Osijek Battalion – and acted as its effective commander.

His trial encompassed two cases, codenamed 'Garage' and 'Sellotape'.

In the 'Garage' case, civilian Cedomir Vuckovic was forced to drink car battery acid in a garage in September 1991. When he ran out in pain, he was shot by Krunoslav Fehir, member of the 1st Battalion of Osijek Defenders, commanded by Glavas.

Vuckovic died from the consequences of the poisoning. Glavas then allegedly came from his nearby office and ordered that a second prisoner, Dordje Petkovic, should be executed.

In the 'Sellotape' case, Glavas's unit arrested six civilians in November and December 1991 – Branko Lovric, Alija Sabanovic, Milutin Kutlic, Svetislav Vukajlovic, Bogdan Pocuca and an unidentified woman in Osijek – then tortured them in a basement in the city. They were then brought to the Drava riverbank, where the unit members executed them, with their hands tied behind their backs with sellotape.

One civilian, Radoslav Ratkovic, was shot in the cheek and threw into the river, but managed to survive and swam away. Through his direct subordinate Gordana Getos Magdic, Glavas ordered that someone from the unit go to the hospital and execute Ratkovic – although the order was not carried out.

Despite all the facts about the crimes established by Zagreb county court at the first trial in 2009 and the confirmed by the Supreme Court in 2010, Glavas is a still a free man and is currently standing over the two cases before Zagreb county court again, 26 years after the crimes.

Some commentators have suggested that his political influence, which was bolstered by the party he co-founded, the Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ - an influence which he still retains as an MP in Croatia's parliament - is one reason why there has been no final verdict yet.

When the retrial started in October in Zagreb, Glavas again pleaded not guilty. He is appearing in court again on Friday.

High-ranking politician, 'ruler' of Osijek.

Glavas, now 61, is no longer occupying major positions of power, but he has been a serious political force, particularly in his birthplace, Osijek. He was one of the founders of the centre-right HDZ and an associate of the party's leader and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman.

He also took control over the Osijek-based daily newspaper Glas Slavonije, as Drago Hedl, a veteran journalist from Osijek who was its editor-in-chief and has written extensively about Glavas, recalls.

Glas Slavonije was state-owned but received information in July 1991 that it would be privatised and that Glavas would be installed as president of the supervisory board. To register his presence in the newspaper, Glavas turned up in the newsroom accompanied by soldiers.

"He came in a uniform with armed men to hold the first meeting of the new supervisory board. I knew that they would soon fire me and the director of the newspaper, which is what they did at that very first session," Hedl said, who is also an occasional contributor to BIRN.

In 1991, Glavas was the secretary of Osijek's Secretariat for People's Defence, which made him the commander of Osijek defence against the Yugoslav People's Army, JNA and Serbian paramilitaries who started the attacks on the city from late August that year.

According to Hedl, Glavas soon exerted his grip over Osijek, controlling the police and the economy as well as the media.

"He was the most powerful man in Osijek at the time. Because of his direct clashes with people who disagree with him, he has created an image of himself as the ruler of Osijek, which he basically was," Hedl explained.

"I remember how his name was only whispered in public. You won't believe it, but people talking in a bar would start a sentence speaking normally and then whisper when they would mention Glavas's name; even if the sentence [they were saying] was not about any potential crime of Glavas's," he added.

In 1993 and 1994, some journalists started to notice that some of Osijek's inhabitants, mostly Serbs, had actually gone missing instead of just fleeing Croatia.

Relatives of victims killed in the crimes codenamed 'Sellotape' and 'Garage' started to speak about the crimes, although the police were still reluctant to give any information to media or start investigations into the alleged perpetrators.

Hedl first started to report about crimes attributed to Glavas during the war, when he was a correspondent for Split-based daily Slobodna Dalmacija, after he was sacked from Glas Slavonije.

"Back then, after one of my stories for [Croatian anti-establishment weekly] Feral Tribune, Glavas told me, through a mutual acquaintance, an MP at the time, Ivica Vrkic, that he would 'turn me to ash and dust'," Hedl recalled.

However, until Glavas was ousted from the HDZ in 2005 - he then formed a party of his own, the regionally-oriented Croatian Democratic Alliance of Slavonia and Baranja, HDSSB - there were no serious investigations into the crimes he allegedly committed in Osijek.

Investigations were opened in June 2006, and Glavas was first arrested in October 2006 over the 'Garage' case. While on remand, he went on a hunger strike and after 37 days he was released from prison, and the investigation was stopped.

Meanwhile, the investigation into the 'Sellotape' case was opened, and an indictment filled in April 2007, followed by an indictment for the 'Garage' case in May 2007. He was again held on remand, and went on two more hunger strikes.

The trial started in October 2007, and Glavas pleaded not guilty.

Alleged pressure on prosecution witnesses

Jelena Djokic Jovic from the Zagreb-based NGO Documenta - Centre for the Dealing with the Past followed Glavas's trial from the beginning at Zagreb county court, and claims it was initially marked by pressure on prosecution witnesses.

Another Zagreb-based NGO, the Youth Initiative for Human Rights, filed a criminal complaint against Glavas in 2012, because the identity of a protected witness had been revealed on the website four years earlier.

Jean-Charles Gardetto, the rapporteur of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, also reported in 2011 how Glavas revealed the identity of a protected witness.

Another HDZ veteran, Vladimir Seks, who at the time of the crimes the chief of the regional crisis headquarters for Slavonia and Baranja, played important role in Glavas's trial.

Many still speculate that Seks was Glavas's superior and that he must have had information about the crimes attributed to Glavas's units. At the trial, Glavas even claimed that Seks was "God on Earth".

But Seks claimed in court that he was only "a civilian in a military uniform", and that Glavas's military role was exaggerated too.

Seks even alleged that "a fifth column" of Yugoslav intelligence agencies operated in Osijek at the time, dressing in Croatian military uniforms and executing Serb civilians.

But despite Seks's testimony, Zagreb county court sentenced Glavas to eight years in prison in May 2009.

However, Glavas, who has both Croatian and Bosnian citizenship, crossed the border into Bosnia and Herzegovina just before the verdict was announced. A deal was then made that he would be tried in a Bosnian court after the final verdict in Croatia.

Croatia's Supreme Court upheld the 2009 conviction in July 2010, then a Bosnian court confirmed the verdict, and Glavas was jailed in Mostar.

However, the Constitutional Court quashed Glavas's final verdict in January 2015. The main reason was the use of the wrong protocol of the Geneva Conventions.

The court argued that protocol for the protection of victims of non-international conflicts should have been used for all crimes attributed to Glavas before October 8, 1991 – the date until which Croatian courts consider Croatia a part of Yugoslavia – and after that date, the protocol for the protection of victims of international conflicts should have been used.

At a retrial before the Supreme Court in July 2016, the first-instance verdict was quashed for the same reason.

Djokic Jovic explained that these protocols serve to protect victims, not perpetrators, so Glavas should not have been acquitted on this basis. The court's decision was "politically motivated", she argued.

In February 2015, Glavas returned to Osijek, where his HDSSB party threw him a welcome-home party in the city centre.

On that occasion, Glavas told his supporters that he had "recharged [my] batteries... for further challenges and struggles".

Many connected this statement with the victims forced to drink car battery acid in the 'Garage' case. The Youth Initiative for Human Rights claimed it was an incitement to violence.

Meanwhile, Glavas again entered parliament at the general elections in November 2015 with his HDSSB.

Then, at a retrial, the Supreme Court decided in July 2016 that his case should start from the beginning again before the county court in Zagreb.

Although the Supreme Court again established at its retrial that the evidence disputed by the defence were obtained legally, it also noted that the county court could discuss the validity of all the evidence from the beginning, so the defence can raise its objections again.

The process restarted before Zagreb county court in October, 12 years since Glavas was ousted from the HDZ.

Glavas renews his HDZ connections

Although he criticised the HDZ for years, Glavas has now revived his relations with his old party. The current HDZ-led government relies a lot on his vote in parliament when important laws are being voted upon, or when the government tries to fend off no-confidence votes initiated by the opposition.

"Despite being just a shadow of the man he once was, Glavas is a man with an incredible instinct for self-preservation, always thinking five moves in advance when it comes to his well-being," Hedl said.

"I think Glavas's case paints a picture of Croatia's judiciary," Hedl said, suggesting that the numerous trials and retrials, as well as the length of the entire process, suggest that the judiciary has dealt with the case poorly.

From the beginning, the state attorney's office and the courts had problems prosecuting Glavas, who in 2006 was an HDZ MP, because a parliamentary committee was initially reluctant to strip him of his immunity for both prosecution and detention.

Because the committee did not strip Glavas of his immunity from being held in remand prison, some feared it would be easier for him to influence or even intimidate witnesses.

Court decisions then prolonged the process for years, leading some experts to claim that this was a result of Glavas's political influence on the judiciary.

In March this year, the Supreme Court sentenced Osijek entrepreneur Drago Tadic to two years in prison for trying to bribe court officials to influence the Glavas verdict in 2010. Tadic, who is close to Glavas, was working with others including a member of Glavas's HDSSB party, Ivan Drmic.

Hedl thinks that although the HDSSB only has one MP in parliament - Glavas himself - his vote is important for the HDZ to remain in power and maintain its fragile hold on government. This factor could even influence the retrial of Glavas at Zagreb county court, he suggests.

Hedl also points to the fact that the start of the trial was postponed in July because a parliamentary committee did not immediately strip him of his immunity to stand trial.

Glavas may not be the political player he used to be, but observers will be watching closely to see how his latest court battle develops, 26 years after the victims died in Osijek.

Kosovo Veterans Campaign Against Special Court Law
Balkan Insight

By Die Morina, Ardit Kika
December 12, 2017

The head of the Veterans' Association of the Kosovo Liberation Army, Hysni Gucati, said on Tuesday that a petition will be launched in two days' time to amend the Law on the Kosovo Specialist Chambers because he said it is "discriminatory".

"We are against a biased court and we demand that the Kosovo parliament reviews this law once again," Gucati told a press conference.

"This means that the court ought not to try only KLA members but also Serbs who committed crimes in Kosovo," he said.

He denied however that the Veterans' Association is against the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, which will try former KLA members in The Hague for wartime and post-war abuses.

The Law on the Specialist Chambers was approved by the Kosovo Assembly in August 2015 and the new court became operational last year, but has not issued any indictments yet.

The deputy head of the Veterans' Association, Nasim Haradinaj, said that those parliament members who voted for the law "should be ashamed".

He said the Specialist Chambers "is a violation of human rights" because "a mono-ethnic court" has been established.

Jahir Bejta, a representative of the Raising Voice Association, which campaigns for Serbia to pay compensation for war damages during 1998- 1999, said that the Specialist Chambers is "political".

Bejta said that if the new court operates as planned, "liberators should not respond the indictments".

"The indictments are imposed by a discriminatory law, therefore it would be normal to not respond to these indictments, until the law is amended," he said.

Senior KLA figures are expected to be indicted for alleged crimes committed during and after the war with Serbian forces.

The new court will hear cases arising from the 2014 EU Special Investigative Task Force report which said that unnamed KLA officials would face indictments for a "campaign of persecution" against Serbs, Roma and Kosovo Albanians believed to be collaborators with the Belgrade regime.

The alleged crimes include killings, abductions, illegal detentions and sexual violence.

The court has international staff and is based in The Hague, but operates under Kosovo law.

Serbian Court Delays Srebrenica Massacre Trial
Balkan Insight

By Filip Rudic
December 13, 2017

Belgrade Special Court delayed a hearing in its landmark Srebrenica war crimes trial, sparking an altercation between a Serb defendant and the Bosniak wife of one of the victims.

The court decided on Wednesday to postpone the trial of eight former Bosnian Serb policemen for the massacre of Bosniaks from Srebrenica in the village of Kravica in 1995 because it had not received documents from the Appeals Court related to defendants' possible complaints about previous procedural decisions.

"We have no faith in this court," said Suhra Sinanovic, president of the Association of Women of Podrinje-Bratunac, who lost her husband and relatives in Kravica.

After the hearing was delayed over the technicalities, Sinanovic told BIRN that the court should have passed a sentence long ago, and called the murders of Bosniaks in Kravica an act of genocide.

While exiting the courtroom, one of the defendants shouted "Long live Serbia", to which Sinanovic responded: "Long live Bosnia and Herzegovina."

At the previous hearing in November, the Special Court decided to restart the Kravica trial from the beginning, instead of continuing where the process left off before it was temporarily halted by a higher court.

Eight former members of a Bosnian Serb special police unit stand accused of organising and participating in the shooting of more than 1,300 Bosniak civilians in an agricultural warehouse in the village of Kravica near Srebrenica in July 1995.

Nedeljko Milidragovic, Aleksa Golijanin, Milivoje Batinica, Aleksandar Dacevic, Bora Miletic, Jovan Petrovic, Dragomir Parovic and Vidosav Vasic are accused of committing a war crime by killing Bosniak prisoners who were captured after Srebrenica fell to Bosnian Serb forces.

Their trial opened in February this year but the original charges were dismissed in July because they were not filed by the authorised prosecutor, as the Serbian war crimes prosecutor's position was vacant at the time.

The new war crimes prosecutor, Snezana Stanojkovic, then filed a motion to continue the trial, but this was rejected by the Higher Court.

The Higher Court, ruling however, was overturned by the Appeals Court in October, allowing the trial to continue.

The killings in the warehouse in Kravica were among several massacres by Bosnian Serb forces after the fall of Srebrenica in July 1995 that left some 8,000 Bosniak men and boys dead.

The Bosnian prosecution previously launched genocide indictments against Milidragovic and Golijanin, but couldn't arrest them because they have been living in Serbia since the war in Bosnia ended in 1995.

After Serbia and Bosnia signed a protocol on cooperation in war crimes in 2013, evidence from the Bosnian prosecution was transferred to Belgrade.

However, the Serbian prosecution said it couldn't prove the genocide charges laid by the Bosnian prosecutors and instead charged the men with committing a war crime.

Serbia does not accept that the Srebrenica massacres constituted genocide, despite rulings by international courts.

Serbia's War Crimes Strategy 'Failing to Deliver'
Balkan Insight

By Filip Rudic
December 18, 2017

Since Serbia adopted its national war crimes strategy in 2016, there has been no significant progress in the prosecution of war crimes, warns a report by the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Centre NGO that was published on Monday.

"Without true dedication, as well as political will, all the envisioned reforms are doomed to fail," the report says.

The HLC says that since the strategy was adopted, only eight new indictments have been issued, and war crimes trials continue to take an unreasonably long time.

No progress has been made regarding victims' procedural rights, the search for missing persons remains inefficient, and Serbia's cooperation with the Hague Tribunal has stopped, it adds.

Another issue is that the prosecutor's office has not adopted its own investigation strategy, missing a deadline set by the EU as part of Serbia's accession negotiations.

The national strategy for processing war crimes from 2016 to 2020 outlines a set of activities aimed at increasing the efficiency of war crimes prosecution, but the report warns that it will remain a "dead letter" unless substantial steps are taken.

The HLC says that that even though there are around 1,500 cases under investigation or in the pre-trial stage, the war crimes prosecutor has brought charges against only eight people.

"The trials take a long time, with far-reaching consequences. Considering that there has been over 25 years since the armed conflicts started, some cases are impossible to process," it says.

According to the report, in some cases the defendants have died, while some witnesses refuse to testify in retrials in certain cases.

The lack of special protective measures for victims of sexual violence, the inadequate use of the existing mechanisms of protection and support for victims and witnesses, and the imposition of financial burdens on witnesses are "chronic problems that have not been addressed" since the strategy's adoption.

Courts used to pay witnesses' travel expenses in cash on delivery of their testimony, but since 2016 the payments have been conducted exclusively through bank accounts. This method of remuneration makes it harder for them to come to court, according to the report.

The HLC also argues that cooperation between Serbia and other states in the region must be stepped up, with a focus on cases with larger numbers of victims and high-ranking perpetrators.

Kosovo Witnesses Tell Belgrade Court of Relatives' Murders
Balkan Insight

By Filip Rudic
December 18, 2017

Witness Rame Nikqi from Kosovo told Belgrade Special Court on Monday about how he found the burned bodies of his parents and how he heard the killings of 18 ethnic Albanian civilians at a vehicle repair shop in 1999.

He told the court that the Serbian police and army came to his village of Pavlan near Cuska in Kosovo on May 14, 1999, and that he watched as the soldiers plundered his home.

"They were stealing, loading up their vehicle. The car literally 'sunk' from the weight... Soon smoke started rising [from the house]," Nikqi said.

He watched in hiding as the soldiers left and did not dare enter the house until evening, when he found three burned bodies.

"There I saw my father... He was all burned but I recognised him by his wristwatch," Nikqi told the court.

"They killed my father, mother, aunt," he added.

Serbian forces entered Cuska and the neighbouring villages of Pavlan and Zahaq that day, killing a total of 138 Albanians, according to the prosecution.

Fighters rounded up some of the locals and ordered them to go towards the town of Pec/Peja. When the column of trucks and tractors carrying the ethnic Albanians reached a crossroads between Pavlan and Zahaq, the soldiers singled out men of fighting age.

Women, children and the elderly were sent on to Pec/Peja, while the men were taken to the Kuqi vehicle repair shop, and then ordered into the workshop pit.

Nikqi, who was hiding nearby, said ran away when he heard shots and the screams of the people who were being murdered inside.

"I fled in fear," Nikqi said, adding that he did not see the killings taking place, as he was a couple of hundred metres away.

Nikqi said he recognised one of the defendants, Radoslav Brnovic, the head of the police in the village of Klicina, who died during the trial, standing in front of the repair shop at the time.

He said that he heard that another defendent, Slavisa Kastratovic, was a member of the group of fighters who entered his house.

From photographs, Nikqi also identified several other people who allegedly committed crimes against civilians at the time, but have not been charged.

The Serbian prosecution has charged 11 former members of the 177th Yugoslav Army Unit with committing war crimes in the Kosovo villages of Cuska, Pavljan, Zahac and Ljubenic in spring 1999.

The group was initially convicted in 2014 and sentenced to 106 years in jail for killing at least 118 Kosovo Albanian civilians.

But the Serbian appeals court reversed the verdict in 2015 and sent the case for a retrial.

Another witness, Have Gashi, told the court on Monday about that Serbian forces killed her father-in-law Brahim Gashi and three brothers who lived locally.

She said that they also "torched our houses and took our property".

"It doesn't get much worse than what happened [to us]," Gashi said.

The trial is considered to be one of the largest ever cases relating to Kosovo war crimes in the Belgrade courts.

But from its outset, it has been marked by delays and the refusal of witnesses to come to Belgrade to testify.

In 2014, the Serbian war crimes prosecution also launched an investigation into general Dragan Zivanovic, former commander of the Yugoslav Army's 125th Brigade, for allegedly doing nothing to prevent the crimes, but the probe was shut down.

BIRN reported on these crimes in the documentary film 'The Unidentified' which reveals the scale of the crimes committed in the four Kosovo villages in 1999, while also uncovering the command structure of the police and army units involved in the crimes.

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Grotian Moment: The International War Crimes Trial Blog

Rights group: 'Hunting down', 'killing' British Daesh fighters is a war crime
Middle East Monitor

December 7, 2017

British citizens fighting with Daesh abroad should be hunted down and killed, insisted the UK defence secretary during an interview with the Daily Mail yesterday. However remarks by Gavin Williamson have come under strong criticism from terrorist watchdogs and human rights group who have accused the minster of advocating "war crimes".

The newly appointed minister said that not a single British citizen who has fought for Daesh should be allowed back into the UK. "Quite simply, my view is a dead terrorist can't cause any harm to Britain," he said to the Daily Mail. "I do not believe that any terrorist, whether they come from this country or any other, should ever be allowed back into this country," Williamson added.

He suggested that there was a deliberate attempt to target British jihadi fighters and ensure they never returned to the UK. It's believed that there are more than 800 UK citizens who have gone to fight for Daesh in Iraq and Syria. Around half of them have already returned, and around 130 have been killed, leaving an estimated 270 left.

His remarks raise further questions about the legality and effectiveness of UK's stance towards returning fighters. Terrorist watchdogs have warned against the use of extreme draconian measures against returning fighters. A report by the UN Centre for Counter-Terrorism (UNCCT), which looks at the growing phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) in Syria, found that there are many complex reasons for people joining radical extremists groups and to treat all returning fighters in the same way was counterproductive.

Max Hill QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation warned of the danger of "losing a generation". Hill, who had been misrepresented by the British press as the lawyer who objected to returning fighters being prosecuted, told MEMO that "criminal prosecution will be inevitable in most cases where UK citizens return from Syria or Iraq, and where there is evidence that they have committed serious criminal offences".

Hill believes that the UK government should adopt "various legal mechanisms" including "deprivation of citizenship for dual nationals, Temporary Exclusion Orders, the use of Schedule 7 port stop powers, the application of TPIMs in cases where there is intelligence but not evidence, and the use of prosecution in our criminal courts in every case where there is evidence of the commission of serious offences by British citizens whilst abroad."

Others have accused Williamson of "playing to the gallery". In a statement to MEMO, Amnesty International UK's Director, Kate Allen, said: "Gavin Williamson's 'tough' talk will probably play well to the gallery, but it's disturbing that the Defence Secretary should talk in this loose and gung-ho fashion."

According to Allen:

"Deliberately killing fighters who've surrendered or who've been captured or incapacitated is absolutely prohibited. It violates the laws of war as well as international human rights law, and is a war crime

"Everyone's well aware that the Islamic State armed group have committed truly appalling crimes – including summary killings, and industrial-scale kidnap and rape – but that doesn't mean the UK should act outside the law in places like Syria and Iraq," Allen insisted.

"There will be those who are engaging in hostilities who have made themselves legitimate targets," continued Allen, "but indiscriminately labelling someone a 'terrorist' and then summarily killing that person with a UK drone strike isn't justice at all."

"In many cases," concluded Allen, "it will be far from clear if a targeted person is actually participating in hostilities in an armed conflict at all, and in these cases lethal force should only be used if it's strictly unavoidable to protect against an imminent threat to life."

Iraq declares complete victory in the war against Islamic State
The Washington Post

By Tamer El-Ghobashy
December 9, 2017

Iraq's prime minister declared an end Saturday to the war against the Islamic State, more than three years after militants overran and captured ­one-third of the country and imposed a violent and austere rule over millions of Iraqis.

Haider al-Abadi announced that the rugged, sparsely populated desert region bordering Syria has been "cleansed" of Islamic State fighters and that the porous border that had underpinned the self-declared caliphate that straddled both countries has been fully secured.

"This victory was achieved . . . when Iraqis united to face a heinous enemy that didn't want us to see this day," Abadi said. "They wanted to return us back to the Dark Ages."

Saturday's declaration caps a war that has killed thousands of Iraqi troops in fierce battles for such cities as Tikrit, Ramadi and Baiji since 2015. But after losing the grueling nine-month battle for Mosul in July, the Islamic State began to quickly collapse — ceding its grip on smaller cities and towns in days rather than months.

The explosive rise of the militants in 2014 drew the United States back into Iraq, with more than 5,000 U.S. troops assisting Iraq's military as it wrested back land. The Islamic State's growth also saw the United States enter Syria's battlefields, already crowded with Russian and Iranian-proxy forces that buttressed the unsteady rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

"The Coalition congratulate the people of Iraq on their significant victory against #Daesh. We stand by them as they set the conditions for a secure and prosperous #futureiraq," the U.S.-led coalition wrote in a tweet, using the Arabic name for the Islamic State.

Last month, Iran and Russia declared victory over the Islamic State in Syria, though fighting continues in small pockets near the border with Iraq. The Syrian Democratic Forces, a group of mostly Kurdish fighters backed by the United States, won back the Islamic State's de facto Syrian capital of Raqqa in October.

Abadi's comments came almost in passing as he attended a conference with the journalists' union Saturday. The casual declaration of victory over the Islamic State came as the nation's attention has turned to a political standoff with Kurdish separatists and a reckoning with repairing the immense physical and social damage the militants and the military fight to dislodge them has wrought.

Later, in a 10-minute speech broadcast on national television, Abadi stood before columns of soldiers and police in front of the defense ministry and congratulated Iraqis on their victory. He highlighted national unity as the engine that powered the war against the Islamic State, telling Iraqis to "hold their heads high."

Abadi said the coming fight will be against rampant corruption, saying it is a natural extension of the war to bring Iraq's resources back into the hands of the nation's citizens.

Although a large military parade to mark the victory is planned for the coming weeks, Abadi's announcement provoked little public jubilation, reflecting a mood in the country that is still grappling with its losses.

The Pentagon has acknowledged that at least 801 civilians have been mistakenly killed in U.S.-led airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria. Airwars, an independent monitoring group, says the figure is likely much higher, totaling 5,961 since 2014.

Last week, an Iraqi official charged with managing a fund to reconstruct cities such as Mosul said it would cost about $150 billion to rebuild these places — the majority of which are in Iraq's Sunni heartland. About 3 million people remain displaced to this day.

In addition, 20,000 people accused of joining the Islamic State remain in detention, coursing through an overburdened criminal justice system that the Human Rights Watch said last week is unable or unwilling to provide fair trials and distinguish between those who eagerly killed for the group or were coerced into menial roles like cooks.

Iraqi forces are also bracing for the Islamic State's continued presence as an underground insurgency that has returned to its traditional tactics of terrorist attacks. Hours before Abadi spoke, a car bomb in Tikrit killed at least one person.

Abadi, who has won plaudits in Iraq for his posture of inclusion and efforts to reverse nearly a decade of his predecessor's sectarian policies that favored Shiites, has insisted the conditions that gave the Islamic State rise would return if there is no genuine nationwide move toward reconciliation.

The appetite for such a reconciliation will be tested as campaigning for national elections slated for May 2018 has begun. Powerful Shiite militias that played a significant role in freeing Sunni lands occupied by the Islamic State are expected to field dozens of candidates, some of whom are closely aligned with Iran and embrace a sharply sectarian narrative that pins the Islamic State's rise on widespread support by Iraq's Sunnis.

Abadi has insisted that the militia figures who want to contest elections must disarm, a demand many Iraqis see as impossible to impose given how deeply enmeshed the militias are in Iraq's security apparatus. Badr Organization, one of the oldest and largest Iran-backed Shiite militias in Iraq, already controls the interior ministry and holds 22 seats in parliament.

In his speech on Saturday, Abadi hinted at this looming challenge.

"The only way to build a state and achieve justice and stability is by keeping arms under the control of the state and the rule of law," he said.

Mass grave with relics of 50 people found in Nineveh's Sinjar
Iraqi News

By Mohamed Mostafa
December 13, 2017

A mass grave containing the relics of at least 50 people was found in western Nineveh, according to a security source quoted on Wednesday.

Shafaq News quoted the source saying that security forces ran into the grave in Sinjar, northwest of Mosul.

The forces await expert teams to arrive and explore the finding, according to the source.

As Iraqi troops recaptured areas held by Islamic State militants since October 2016, they have regularly run into mass graves of civilians and security agents executed by militants for fleeing the group's havens or collaborating with security forces.

Iraq's war against the Islamic State displaced millions of civilians both inside and outside the country, and left thousands dead. The United Nations accuses IS of committing deeds that mount to war crimes.

Sinjar is the habitat of the Iraqi Yazidi religious minority, which came under the international spotlights after Islamic State militants took over the region in 2014, massacred and enslaved them in the thousands.

Iraq declared victory over Islamic State last Saturday, ending a three-year war to bring down the group's self-styled "caliphate" declared from Nineveh's Mosul in 2014. Security continues to comb recaptured areas for remnant cells.

British troops breached Geneva conventions in Iraq, high court rules
The Guardian

By Ian Cobain
December 14, 2017

British troops breached the Geneva conventions and subjected Iraqi civilians to cruel and inhuman treatment by hooding them and taking turns to run over their backs, the high court has ruled.

Furthermore, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) breached the conventions as well as the 1998 Human Rights Act in the way in which it detained civilians after the 2003 invasion, the court concluded on Thursday.

The judgment comes 10 days after the international criminal court (ICC) declared there was "a reasonable basis" to conclude that British troops committed war crimes against Iraqi detainees.

The latest verdict was handed down after two high court civil trials in which four Iraqis claimed they had been subjected to unlawful detention and abuse by British forces.

While there had been reasonable suspicion, which justified their initial capture, Mr Justice Leggatt said "none of the claimants was engaged in terrorist activity or posed any threat to the security of Iraq".

The claims are being seen as test cases that may determine how a further 628 claims are dealt with by the MoD.

In addition, 331 claims have been settled out of court, with the MoD paying out £22m as of the end of 2016.

They were brought at a time of sustained complaints at Westminster and in sections of the press that Iraqis bringing claims against British troops were essentially dishonest and represented by "ambulance-chasing" lawyers.

Sapna Malik, a partner at the London law firm Leigh Day, which represented the four men, said: "These trials took place against an onslaught of political, military and media slurs of Iraqis bringing spurious claims, and strident criticism of us, as lawyers, representing them.

"Yet we have just witnessed the rule of law in action. Our clients are grateful that the judge approached their claims without any preconception or presumption that allegations of misconduct by British soldiers are inherently unlikely to be true.

"Our clients' evidence has been tested at length in court and the Ministry of Defence has been found wanting."

An MoD spokesperson said: "Our military personnel served with great courage in Iraq, often working under extremely difficult circumstances. We note the court's ruling that these four detainees were not treated as they should have been, and are studying the judgment."

Leggatt concluded that British troops had run over the backs of a number of detainees and the assaults "involved the gratuitous infliction of pain and humiliation for the amusement of those who perpetrated them".

They constituted inhuman and degrading treatment and "a clear breach of the Geneva conventions", he said.

The evidence of a former army officer, who said it would be impossible for such misconduct to be kept secret and not investigated by the army, appeared to "rest on nothing more solid than understandable professional pride and a measure of wishful thinking".

Leggatt found that some of the evidence of one claimant was false or exaggerated, but other parts were not. The individual had been subjected to sleep deprivation and periods of complete deprivation of sight and hearing.

The court also found that two of the claimants, Iraqi merchant seamen who had been detained at sea, had been subjected to forced nudity and sexual humiliation, and one was burned on the buttock with a cigarette.

The two men could not prove they were in British hands at the time, rather than in US custody. However, the court concluded that one of the men was hooded and assaulted while in British custody.

Leggatt said the practice of hooding detainees was not only calculated to make them feel more vulnerable, but "by dehumanising them and giving their captors a cloak of invisibility", it increased the chances that they would be assaulted.

The four men were awarded a total of £84,000 in compensation.

The court also ruled that the MoD's policy of detaining individuals as prisoners of war unless it was certain they were civilians, rather than releasing them when there was no proof they were combatants, was based on a misunderstanding of the Geneva conventions.

Despite the court's findings, the MoD said no service personnel or veterans had been interviewed by investigators, nobody had been charged with any offence and no criminal charges may ever be brought in the UK.

However, Fatou Bensouda, the ICC chief prosecutor, said last week that while there is no evidence British troops committed war crimes on the battlefield, some may have done so in the way they treated prisoners.

As a consequence, the court in The Hague is to press on with its investigations.

Iraq hangs 38 on terrorism charges
BBC News

December 14, 2017

Iraq says it has hanged, in a mass execution, 38 jihadist militants convicted of terrorism offences.

The justice ministry said they were all members of so-called Islamic State (IS).

The death sentences were carried out in a prison in the southern city of Nasiriyah.

However, international advocacy groups have repeatedly criticised Iraq's use of the death penalty and how terrorism charges are brought.

It was the largest mass execution since 25 September when 42 militants were hanged.

Amnesty International said the latest mass executions had "tainted" the celebrations following Iraq's declaration of victory over IS.

"The victims of IS deserve justice, not mass executions carried out after deeply flawed and hasty trials," said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty's Middle East director.

Human Rights Watch recently accused the justice system of "failing to distinguish" between doctors who protected lives under IS rule and "those responsible for crimes against humanity".

The prison in Nasiriyah has been the scene of previous mass executions.

The justice ministry said the appeals process before the latest hangings had been exhausted. A senior local official said that Justice Minister Haidar al-Zamili was present at the executions.

Iraq executed at least 88 people last year, up from 26 in 2015.

Those put to death on Thursday are believed to have been mostly Iraqi citizens, though one report suggests one may have held Swedish citizenship.

On 10 December, the Iraqi government declared the conflict with IS over after ousting the group from the areas of northern and western Iraq it began occupying in 2014.

'Execution is not the answer': Human rights groups condemn Iraq's mass hangings
The New Arab

December 15, 2017

International human rights groups have issued concerns after Iraq hanged 38 militants for terrorism offences on Thursday in the southern city of Nasiriyah.

It was the largest number of executions in Iraq on a single day since September 25 when 42 people were put to death in the same prison.

"The prison administration executed on Thursday in the presence of Justice Minister Haidar al-Zameli, in Nasiriyah prison, 38 death row prisoners belonging to al-Qaeda or Daesh (Islamic State) accused of terrorist activities," said Dakhel Kazem, a senior official in the provincial council.

They were all Iraqis but one also had Swedish citizenship, a prison source said.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Saturday declared victory against IS after a three-year campaign by government forces backed by a US-led coalition to retake territory seized by the militants.

Rights watchdog Amnesty International has voiced repeated concerns about the use of the death penalty in Iraq, which it ranks as one of the world's top executioners behind China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

"Individuals who carry out deadly attacks against the civilian population should face justice, but carrying out executions is not the answer," Amnesty's Middle East Research Director Lynn Maalouf said on Thursday.

"By carrying out yet another mass execution, the second in the span of three months, the Iraqi authorities have once again displayed a blatant disregard for human life and dignity."

In a report released on December 5, Human Rights Watch criticised both Iraq's central government and the autonomous Kurdish authorities over mass trials of suspected IS militants.

'Justice is failing'

HRW said the authorities "appear to be prosecuting all Islamic State suspects in their custody under counterterrorism laws and not focusing on specific actions or crimes that may have been committed".

The New York-based group identified 7,374 cases of suspects charged under this law since 2014, and put at 20,000 the total number of people imprisoned for suspected IS membership.

It expressed concerns that the broad prosecution of those affiliated with IS "in any way, no matter how minimal, could impede future community reconciliation and reintegration".

"Iraqi justice is failing to distinguish between the culpability of doctors who protected lives under IS rule and those responsible for crimes against humanity," said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW's Middle East director.

HRW said it regretted what it called the inconsistent application of a 2016 law granting amnesty to suspects who can show they joined IS or any extremist group against their will and have not committed a crime.

"Execution of fighters who surrender or are hors de combat is a war crime," HRW added.

IS swept across a third of Iraq in 2014 and seized several major cities including Mosul, the country's second biggest, before a fightback launched in 2015.

Official warns of IS return to border area between Salahuddin, Diyala
Iraqi News

By Mohammed Ebraheem
December 20, 2017

A Diyala-based provincial official has warned of the return of Islamic State militants to a border area between Diyala and Salahuddin provinces after the withdrawal of Iraqi troops from there.

Speaking to Alsumaria News on Wednesday, Abdul Khaleq al-Azzawi, a member of Diyala province council, said, "Islamic State militants returned to Mteibijah border area between Salahuddin and Diyala provinces after Iraqi forces withdrew from there on Monday for unknown reasons."

"During the three-day fight against IS militants in Mteibijah, several people were killed and injured," Azzawi said, wondering how the Iraqi military could take such a decision of withdrawal with no reasonable justification.

He, hence, urged the Iraqi Armed Forces to open a probe into the incident and identify reasons for taking such a decision, warning that the return of Islamic State militants to Mteibijah poses a "serious threat" to the entire Diyala regions.

A military operation was launched earlier on Saturday to hunt down remnants of Islamic State at Mteibijah area in Iraq, the Iraqi military said.

Backed by paramilitary al-Hashd al-Shaabi, the troops advanced from three directions to clear Mteibijah area, the media office of the Iraqi Joint Operations Command said in a brief statement.

Dozens of IS militants fled their former bases in Salahuddin province and Hawijah area in west of Kirkuk after the Iraqi forces cleared these areas from the extremist militants during anti-IS offensives in the past few months.

Last week, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared final victory over Islamic State three years after the militant group captured about a third of Iraq's territory.

More than 9,000 killed in battle for Mosul

December 20, 2017

Between 9,000 and 11,000 people were killed in the nine-month battle to recapture the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (ISIL), an Associated Press (AP) investigation has found.

The civilian casualty rate is nearly 10 times higher than that previously reported.

The deaths are acknowledged neither by the coalition, the Iraqi government nor the ISIL's self-styled caliphate.

Iraqi or coalition forces are responsible for at least 3,200 civilian deaths from air raids, artillery fire or mortar rounds between October 2016 and the fall of ISIL in July 2017, according to the AP investigation.

The news agency cross-referenced morgue lists and multiple databases from non-governmental organisations.

Most of those victims are simply described as "crushed" in health ministry reports.

The coalition, which did not send anyone into Mosul to investigate, acknowledges responsibility for only 326 of the deaths.

"It was the biggest assault on a city in a couple of generations, all told. And thousands died," said Chris Woods, head of Airwars, an independent organisation that documents air and artillery attacks in Iraq and Syria and shared its database with AP.

"Understanding how those civilians died, and obviously ISIS played a big part in that as well, could help save a lot of lives the next time something like this has to happen. And the disinterest in any sort of investigation is very disheartening," Woods said.

In addition to the Airwars database, AP analysed information from Amnesty International, Iraq Body Count and a United Nations report.

AP also obtained a list of 9,606 names of people killed during the operation from Mosul's morgue.

Hundreds of dead civilians are believed to still be buried in the rubble.

Of the nearly 10,000 deaths that AP found, around a third of the casualties died in bombardments by the US-led coalition or Iraqi forces.

Another third were killed in ISIL fighters' final frenzy of violence. It could not be determined which side was responsible for the deaths of the remainder.

But the morgue total would be many times higher than official tolls.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told the AP that 1,260 civilians were killed in the fighting.

The US-led coalition has not offered an overall figure. It relies on drone footage, video from cameras mounted on weapons systems and pilot observations for investigations.

"The coalition never came to us or sent anyone else to us asking for data. They never came directly or indirectly," said Hatem Ahmed Sarheed, one of the Iraqi men responsible for recording Mosul's dead.

An AP reporter visited the morgue six times in six weeks and spoke to morgue staffers dozens of times over the phone.

Victory over ISIL in Iraq was declared in December [Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images] The Americans say they do not have the resources to send a team into Mosul. Because of what the coalition considers insufficient information, the majority of civilian casualty allegations are deemed "not credible" before an investigation ever begins.

The coalition has defended its operational choices, saying it was ISIL that put civilians in danger as it clung to power.

"It is simply irresponsible to focus criticism on inadvertent casualties caused by the Coalition's war to defeat ISIS," Colonel Thomas Veale, a coalition spokesman, told the AP in response to questions about civilian deaths.

"Without the Coalition's air and ground campaign against ISIS, there would have inevitably been additional years, if not decades of suffering and needless death and mutilation in Syria and Iraq at the hands of terrorists who lack any ethical or moral standards," he added.

What is clear from the tallies is that as coalition and Iraqi government forces increased their pace, civilians were dying in ever higher numbers at the hands of their liberators.

Mosul was home to more than a million civilians before the fight to retake it from ISIL.

Fearing a massive humanitarian crisis, the Iraqi government dropped leaflets or had soldiers tell families to stay put as the final battle loomed in late 2016. As the battle crossed the Tigris River to the west last winter, ISIL fighters took thousands of civilians with them in their retreat.

They packed hundreds of families into schools and government buildings.

They expected the tactic would dissuade air raids and artillery. They were wrong.

When Iraqi forces became bogged down in late December, the Pentagon adjusted the rules regarding the use of airpower, allowing air attacks to be called in by more ground commanders with less chain-of-command oversight.

As the fight punched into western Mosul, the morgue logs filled with civilians increasingly killed by being "blown to pieces."

Reports of civilian deaths began to dominate military planning meetings in Baghdad in February and early March, according to a senior Western diplomat who was present but not authorised to speak on the record.

After allegations surfaced that a single coalition attack killed hundreds of civilians in Mosul's al-Jadidah neighbourhood on March 17, the entire fight was put on hold for three weeks.

Under intense international pressure, the coalition sent a team into the city for the first time, ultimately concluding that the 500-pound bomb that killed 105 people was justified to kill a pair of ISIL snipers.

Iraq's special forces units were instructed not to call in attacks on buildings. Instead, the forces were told to call in coalition air raids on gardens and roads adjacent to ISIL targets.

A WhatsApp group shared by coalition advisers and Iraqi forces coordinating air raids previously named "killing daesh 24/7" was wryly renamed "scaring daesh 24/7."

Daesh is the Arabic acronym for the ISIL group.

"It was clear that the whole strategy in western Mosul had to be reconfigured," said the Western diplomat.

But on the ground, Iraqi special forces officers said after the operational pause, they returned to the fight just as before.

The WhatsApp group's name was changed back to "killing daesh."

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Time Is Running Out For Syria's Besieged Communities
The Huffington Post

By Jesselyn Cook
December 14, 2017

Nearly 745,000 men, women and children in Syria are trapped inside the war-torn country's 33 besieged communities, living in desolate conditions at the mercy of President Bashar Assad's authoritarian regime and its armed opponents.

The latest Siege Watch report, released Thursday by The Syria Institute and PAX, reveals that a population larger than all of Washington, D.C., is trapped, while more than 1 million additional Syrians are living in "watchlist" areas, under threat of intensified siege and abuse.

As Syria's government and its allies tighten their blockades, they have continued to carry out a "surrender or die" strategy, which "amounts to a campaign of widespread collective punishment," according to the quarterly report. Many of the atrocities are war crimes and crimes against humanity, Siege Watch charges.

Siege warfare is among the cruelest tactics in Assad's playbook ― it restricts civilian access to urgently needed food, water and medical supplies and leaves residents especially vulnerable to targeted attacks. It's a strategy the Syrian leader uses to exert dominance while defying those who oppose his rule.

In the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta, desperate Syrians have resorted to eating garbage to survive. The 424,000 people in the dilapidated Damascus suburb have been under complete siege since 2013, shortly after a sarin gas attack by Assad's forces claimed an estimated 1,429 lives in the region.

The Siege Watch report recorded two new suspected chemical attacks ― one by pro-government forces against opposition fighters in Eastern Ghouta, and another by the self-described Islamic State against opposition fighters outside of Damascus.

"There is a sense of anger towards the international community that is unable to save half a million people from starvation under the bombardment by the Assad militias," a source in Syria, who declined to disclose their identity out of fear of regime reprisal, told Siege Watch authors.

Despite numerous ceasefire agreements and United Nations resolutions demanding unobstructed humanitarian access, forces loyal to Assad have continued to target civilian residential areas, including hospitals and schools, by air. The international community's inadequate response has only emboldened the Assad regime, the report asserts.

"One of the most shocking aspects of the sieges remains the inability of international stakeholders to end them," it notes. "Long-term sieges, such as those in Eastern Ghouta, northern Homs, and the Southern Damascus Suburbs, are testaments to the impotence of the international community to prevent, deter, or seek accountability for crimes against humanity."

When, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces encircled the city of Raqqa in a deadly showdown to reclaim it from ISIS, trapped fighters "held thousands of civilians as human shields" as the battle raged on, the report states. By the time Raqqa was liberated in October, the former ISIS stronghold was "in ruins and almost entirely depopulated."

Siege Watch authors now fear that people in Eastern Ghouta will meet a fate similar to those in Aleppo. Thousands died in the beleaguered city as Syrian and allied forces demolished it with airstrikes and barrel bombs, turning the once-vibrant metropolis into a ghost town of rubble and bodies.

"The current trajectory of developments will lead to deepening humanitarian crises in besieged areas, as hundreds of thousands of civilians face suffering, loss, and forced displacement at the hands of the Syrian government, armed opposition groups, and ISIS," Siege Watch warned. "International community stakeholders must take real steps towards ending the sieges to avert the looming catastrophe."

France says Syria's Assad not looking for peace, committing mass crimes

By John Irish
December 15, 2017

France on Friday accused Syria of doing nothing to reach a peace agreement after almost seven years of war and said it was "committing mass crimes" in the Eastern Ghouta region where 400,000 people are besieged by government forces.

U.N.-led peace talks in Geneva ended on Thursday with U.N. special envoy Staffan de Mistura laying most of the blame for the failure of the round at the feet of the government side.

"The Assad regime never entered in any negotiation since the beginning of the civil war," France's Ambassador to the United States Gerard Araud said on Twitter. "They don't look for a political compromise but for the eradication of their enemies."

Despite being a leading backer of the Syrian opposition, France has sought a more pragmatic approach to the Syrian conflict since the arrival of President Emmanuel Macron, saying that the departure of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was not a pre-condition for talks.

However, on Friday the lack of progress in Geneva and continuing assault of the besieged rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus brought scathing criticism from Paris.

"There is no alternative to a negotiated political solution agreed by both parties under the auspices of the United Nations," deputy foreign ministry spokesman Alexandre Giorgini told reporters in a daily briefing, reiterating Paris' support for de Mistura and appearing to dismiss a separate Russian initiative planned in Sochi next year.

"We deplore the attitude of the Syrian regime, which has refused to engage in the discussion. The Syrian regime is responsible for the lack of progress in the negotiations," he said.

He also pointed the finger at Russia and Iran, who both back Assad, over their inability to enforce a ceasefire in Eastern Ghouta, which according to a Sept. 15 accord between Russia, Turkey and Iran, is included among several de-escalation zones.

"It is therefore urgent that Russia and Iran, guarantors of the Astana process and allies of the Damascus regime, take steps for the cessation of the bombings and (enable) humanitarian aid to arrive safely and without those who need it being hindered," Giorgini said.

The United Nations says about 400,000 civilians are besieged and face "complete catastrophe" because aid deliveries by the Syrian government were blocked and hundreds of people who need urgent medical evacuation have not been allowed outside the enclave.

"By denying humanitarian access, the Damascus regime is responsible for mass crimes, particularly through the use of the siege as a weapon of war," Giorgini said.

Assad Agreed to Local Cease-Fires In Syria — But War Crimes Worsen In Eastern Ghouta
The Intercept

By Maryam Saleh, Murtaza Hussain, Rajaai Bourhan
December 17, 2017

ABU FAHED, A SYRIAN rebel and resident of the district of Eastern Ghouta, was on his way home from work a few weeks ago when he lost five members of his family. He had been building hillforts in Jobar, part of the effort to keep Eastern Ghouta, a hotly contested area on the outskirts of Damascus, in rebel hands. He stopped in at his sister's home on his way back to the town of Kafr Batna, where he lives.

That's when Abu Fahed heard aircraft attacks in the area. He quickly made his way home and found it in ruins. "I lost my wife and four children, my two boys and two girls," Abu Fahed, who uses a nom de guerre, told The Intercept. "My elder son had left home minutes before the attack, and only he survived."

Once known for its lush gardens and sprawling fruit orchards, Eastern Ghouta is unrecognizable today. After nearly seven years of war, the fertile land that was once irrigated by the Barada River is lined with bombed-out buildings, the grim byproduct of intense armed conflict.

The worst in Eastern Ghouta may be yet to come. A government-imposed siege on the territory is now pushing residents of the last remaining rebel stronghold near Damascus toward the edge of famine. The Syrian government resumed its attacks on the district in recent weeks, bombing the district and inflicting horrific casualties on an area that has already suffered massively during the war. It was not supposed to be this way: Eastern Ghouta is part of an international plan to impose temporary, local cease-fires to mitigate the effects of the ongoing civil war.

Eastern Ghouta is one of four "de-escalation zones" in Syria. Iran, Russia, and Turkey agreed to the temporary cease-fires during peace talks earlier this year in Kazakhstan. By now, the cease-fires are supposed to have come into effect.

When President Donald Trump and Russia's Vladimir Putin met in Vietnam last month, they released a joint statement that "confirmed the importance of the de-escalation areas" — guaranteed by Iran, Russia, and Turkey — as a stopgap measure to reduce violence, enforce cease-fires, and facilitate unhindered humanitarian access on the road to a political solution.

Though the cease-fires have technically been in effect for months, the Syrian government has engaged in gross violations of the agreements — as in the attack on Abu Fahed's home. A sustained reduction in violence in Eastern Ghouta and the other zones never materialized.

EASTERN GHOUTA WAS a hub for civil resistance in the early days of the Syrian revolution. Later, the district evolved into a scene of armed confrontation between a loose collection of opposition forces and the government. President Bashar al-Assad's government has used the presence of rebel groups in the area to justify a campaign of collective punishment against the district. Over the years, the campaign included starvation by siege, aerial bombing, and chemical weapons attacks — including a 2013 chemical attack that killed hundreds of civilians, according to Human Rights Watch. Some experts see the resumption of government attacks on Eastern Ghouta, in violation of recent agreements, as part of a longer strategy by the government of using negotiations as a cover for military advances.

"The attacks are a continuation of the regime's efforts to impose its authority over the country and to remove all opposition presence in areas that it deems vital to its security interests and for future recovery efforts," said Steven Heydemann, professor of Middle East studies at Smith College and author of "Authoritarianism in Syria: Institutions and Social Conflict, 1946-1970." "It tells us a lot about the regime intentions for the future and is as clear a signal as you can ask for that, regardless of what is agreed upon on paper, the regime will make its own unilateral decisions about how to pursue its interests without regard to international agreements."

With the government facing little international opposition for its apparent cease-fire violations — the countries that negotiated the "de-escalation zones" have barely noted it — prospects don't look good for Assad's government leveraging opportunities to ratchet down violence, said Heydemann.

"There has been absolutely no response to these attacks from the international community that the regime would view as a signal to change its behavior, which in some ways is the most troubling thing," he told The Intercept. "There is an extraordinary disconnect between the political discussions and what is actually happening on the ground where the regime feels it can act with complete impunity."

Although the international community has been willing to turn a blind eye to the siege and recent bombings, human rights organizations are raising the alarm over what is turning into a growing humanitarian crisis.

"The Syrian government is committing war crimes on an epic scale in Eastern Ghouta," Amnesty International's Philip Luther said recently in a statement. "Using its familiar, brutal strategy of siege and bombardment of civilians — already employed to devastating effect in Aleppo, Daraya and other rebel strongholds — the population is being forced to surrender or starve."

Last month, the United Nations called for the evacuations of 500 people from Eastern Ghouta who had been waiting for weeks for permission from the Syrian government to be transported to hospitals less than an hour away. At least 147 civilians were killed by Syrian and Russian bombing in the district between November 14 and 27, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, a watchdog group. The bombing has only continued since then.

THAT THE GOVERNMENT would violate even geographically limited cease-fires might seem difficult to explain. Some analysts chalk up the brazenness of the attacks as an attempt by the government to assert its independence from political agreements made by its partners, Iran and Russia.

"The Syrian regime would like to show its teeth, not only to the opposition but also its partners," said Mustafa Gurbuz, a policy analyst at Arab Center Washington and adjunct professor at American University. "The Assad regime does not want to be a puppet of Russia or Iran and perceives its [attacks] on the de-escalation zones as a key for winning the long war."

The de-escalation agreements were intended to help protect civilians from attack, while hopefully laying the groundwork for reaching a negotiated settlement to the conflict. But the agreement did not cover all areas of the country and also only had a six-month duration. As a result, many questioned the cease-fires' utility in bringing a sustainable end to the war.

There are four de-escalation zones. There's Eastern Ghouta, which is controlled by Jaish al-Islam, a Saudi Arabia-backed rebel faction that has been accused of a series of rights abuses; Idlib province in Syria's north, dominated by an Al Qaeda-linked alliance; the areas of Rastan and Talbiseh outside Homs, in western Syria, where Al Qaeda-linked fighters also have a presence; and the rebel-controlled south that includes parts of Daraa and Quneitra provinces along the Syria-Jordan border.

That some of the more extreme jihadi groups control areas under the cease-fire agreement has been its undoing: The deal does not apply to Al Qaeda-linked groups or the Islamic State, effectively meaning that Assad's military can still launch aerial attacks in these areas despite the presence of civilians.

The agreements are much more about outside countries seeking to ensure their short-term interests in Syria rather than bringing an end to the conflict or a sustainable future for Syrians, said Bassam Barabandi, a former Syrian diplomat and co-founder of People Demand Change, which consults with groups implementing humanitarian relief and civil society projects in Syria.

"The main characteristic of the coordination between these three countries" — Iran, Russia, and Turkey — "is that they are efficient, but they don't trust each other," Barabandi said. "Each one has a different agenda."

Turkey, which backs some opposition groups, supports the agreement. The Turks see it as a way to sideline the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces — a mostly Kurdish militia heavily involved in the fight against the Islamic State — and to reduce fighting in Syria so that the 3 million refugees in Turkey can return home, Barabandi explained. Iran wants to increase its regional dominance, which means keeping Assad in power, he added, while Russia is less interested in Assad but wants influence over the Mediterranean region.

THE RECENT ESCALATION in Eastern Ghouta took place against the backdrop of various rounds of peace talks in Astana, Kazakstan; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; and Sochi, Russia. Human rights advocates warned that the protection of civilians ought to be a focus of those talks.

"If Russia is serious about protecting civilians in Syria, it needs to do more to spare civilians from airstrikes and ensure that its ally in Damascus allows aid into besieged areas," Human Rights Watch's Nadim Houry said in a statement ahead of the Sochi talks. "Many of the de-escalation agreements have failed to deliver the promised [protection] for the residents there."

Members of the Syrian opposition saw an irony in Russia — which has indiscriminately bombed civilian centers since intervening on behalf of the Syrian government two years ago — acting as a guarantor of peace. Opposition figures walked out of the Astana meetings when the de-escalation agreement was first proposed in May.

There are few options for enforcing the agreement. "The only mechanism is to continue to exert pressure, such that the Russians don't feel they are the only player in the region," said Osama Abu Zeid, a Syrian activist who served as the rebel spokesperson for the first three rounds of talks in Astana. "But what we're seeing is that the United States has totally retreated and this is giving Russia great satisfaction, which, as a result, is giving Iran a lot of satisfaction, particularly in the area of Damascus and the surrounding area and in the south."

The Syrian government initially agreed to a Russian plan for a two-day cease-fire in Eastern Ghouta in late November, just ahead of the latest round of Geneva peace talks, but reversed itself later in the day.

"Clashes with terrorists continue there," a Russian government spokesperson said, explaining the decision. "There have been no clashes with the armed opposition, it is terrorists from ISIL" — an acronym for the Islamic State — "who are active there." Yet the Islamic State, while it controls some regions of Damascus, does not have a presence in Eastern Ghouta.

The promises to halt the violence, whether they go into effect or not, have made no difference to the lives of people on the ground. Many of those in areas like Eastern Ghouta say the agreements being negotiated by political leaders in Astana have done nothing to affect their painful daily reality.

"When the de-escalation zones started, it was just in the media," media activist and Eastern Ghouta resident Nour Adam told The Intercept. "On the ground, no part of the de-escalation plan happened. The regime continued to storm the towns of Eastern Ghouta, in Ein Tarma and Jobar and Harasta. The regime, of course, has not stopped its raids. The shelling didn't stop."

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Saudi-led coalition air raids 'kill 11 Yemen civilians'

December 20, 2017

Air raids by a Saudi-led military coalition across Yemen have been blamed for killing 11 civilians, a day after Houthi rebels fired a ballistic missile at the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

The deadly attacks came on the 1,000th day of the devastating war that has killed about 10,000 people and left millions facing starvation.

The pro-Houthi Al Masirah television channel said 11 people were killed - including women and children - and 19 others wounded in Thursday's air raids in Saada province in the country's far north.

A Houthi source told Turkey's Anadolu news agency that Yemen's capital, Sanaa, was also struck by a series of air raids.

Fighter jets launched two attacks on Saada's Old Quarter, killing the 11 civilians, Abdelellah al-Ezi, head of the provincial health office, told German news agency dpa.

The aircraft later bombed the area as medical workers attempted to help the victims, al-Ezi said. "So far we have not been able to reach the area as jets are flying overhead," he said.

There was no immediate comment from the Saudi-led coalition.

For 1,000 days, the Arab world's poorest country has been embroiled in a regional proxy war, with the Saudi-led coalition attempting to oust from power the Houthi rebels, who are widely believed to be backed by their rival, Iran.

Amid widespread internal displacement and destruction, about 14 million people - more than half of whom are children - do not have access to clean water and sanitation.

Saudi Arabia intensified its embargo on Yemen in November, closing all land, sea and air ports after Houthi rebels fired a ballistic missile towards Riyadh.

On Tuesday, the Houthis launched a second ballistic missile that was shot down before hitting the capital.

Helen Lackner, a Yemen analyst from SOAS, University of London, said it is unlikely the devastating war will end anytime soon with all sides dug in.

"We have a situation now where the Houthis feel that they are on a winning streak ... Attacking Riyadh is just another sign of their feeling of superiority militarily," she told Al Jazeera.

Centcom Officials Provide Update on Recent Counterterrorism Strikes in Yemen
Department of Defense, From a U.S. Central Command News Release

December 20, 2017

U.S. Central Command officials announced today that U.S. forces have conducted multiple ground operations and more than 120 strikes this year to remove key leaders and disrupt the ability of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS-Yemen to use ungoverned spaces in Yemen as a hub for terrorist recruiting, training, and base of operations to export terror worldwide.

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is one of the terrorist groups most committed to and capable of conducting attacks in America, as assessed by the intelligence and defense communities, the officials said, while intelligence estimates indicate that ISIS-Yemen has doubled in size over the past year.

In November, the U.S. conducted 10 strikes across Yemen governorates Bayda and Marib, including a strike on Mujahid al-Adani, the al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula Shabwah leader, who was killed Nov. 20 in Bayda. Al-Adani, also known as Mohammad Shukri, was a senior leader responsible for planning and conducting terrorist attacks against Yemeni, coalition and tribal security forces. He exerted significant influence within al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula's terrorist attack networks, similarly, maintained close ties and access to the group's other senior leaders, and previously served as an al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula military leader in Aden.

Abu Layth al-Sanaani, an al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula facilitator for Bayda governate, and three al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula associates were also killed in the Nov. 20 strike.

Ruwahah al-Sanaani, also an al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula facilitator, was killed Nov. 2 in Marib governorate.

In October, a strike Oct. 19 killed Ubaydah al-Lawdari, the Emir of Lawdar, and four associates in Bayda governorate. Al-Lawdari had been known to provide equipment and money in support of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula attacks against coalition forces, posing an increased threat to U.S. interests.

Meanwhile, a series of strikes on Oct. 16 against two ISIS terror training camps in Bayda killed more than 50 ISIS-Yemen combatants, disrupting the organization's attempts to recruit and train new fighters.

"The removal of key facilitators in this region will interrupt al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula's freedom of movement and likely force the group into a reactionary posture, limiting their ability to challenge Yemeni security forces and partnered advances," said Army Lt. Col. Earl Brown, a Centcom spokesman.

"U.S. forces also expanded counterterrorism operations in October to encompass both al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS. This parallel targeting effort is required to prevent ISIS-Yemen from filling the vacuum left by a diminished al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula footprint or influence in the region," he said.

Ongoing operations pressuring the network have also degraded al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula's propaganda production, reducing one of the methods for the terror group to recruit and inspire lone wolf attacks across the globe. The al-Masra newsletter, previously published three times a month, has not been published since July.

Al-Malahim Establishment for Media Production, which produces al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula's terrorist-inspiring video series, as well as Inspire Magazine, saw a large drop in October. Unable to produce video series and graphic terror-inspiring magazines, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has resorted to using low-tech audio messages.

"U.S. forces have enabled regional counterterrorism partners to regain territory from these terrorists -- forcing them to spend more time on survival," Brown said. "These operations have helped to illuminate terrorist networks, making intelligence gathering, subsequent targeting and follow-on operations increasingly productive and effective.

"Every strike, every raid and every partnered operation advance the defeat of these violent extremist organizations. U.S. forces will continue to use all effective measures to degrade the groups' ability to export terror."

Yemen rebel missile fired at Riyadh 'bears hallmarks' of Iran
BBC News

December 20, 2017

A missile fired from Yemen at the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh, bears the hallmarks of a weapon provided by Iran, the US ambassador to the UN has said.

The missile was shot down by Saudi Arabia's military on Tuesday. There were no reports of any damage.

Iran denies arming Houthi rebels in Yemen who are fighting Yemen's government and a Saudi-led coalition.

The Houthis' Al Masirah TV reported that a Burkan H2 ballistic missile had been targeted at a royal palace in Riyadh.

Addressing the UN Security Council in New York, Mrs Haley said the missile "bears all the hallmarks of previous attacks using Iranian-provided weapons".

"We must all act co-operatively to expose the crimes of the Tehran regime and do whatever is needed to make sure they get the message. If we do not, then Iran will bring the world deeper into a broadening regional conflict," she said.

She suggested a list of measures the council could take against Tehran but Russia, which has friendly relations with Iran, signalled it would not support them.

A report on Al Masirah's website said the launch was "in response to the heinous crimes committed by the US-Saudi aggression against the people of Yemen".

The missile had targeted a "meeting of the leadership of the Saudi regime in al-Yamama Palace in Riyadh", during which Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was expected to discuss the kingdom's annual budget, Al Masirah said.

The palace is the main headquarters of the king's office and the royal court.

Minutes later, Saudi state-run Al Ikhbariya TV reported that a missile had been intercepted south of the capital.

Videos posted online showed a white cloud above the city and the sound of an explosion. Coalition spokesman Col Turki al-Maliki said the missile was intercepted by a Patriot missile south of the city.

He said the attack proved the "continued involvement" of Iran in supporting the Houthis. Another Burkan H2 came close to hitting Riyadh's King Khalid International Airport on 4 November.

Saudi officials said US-supplied Patriot batteries had also intercepted the missile in flight. But analysts have since cast doubt on that assertion and said the missile's warhead landed close to the domestic terminal.

The US, which backs the coalition's military campaign in Yemen, later said it had "undeniable" evidence that the missile had been made in Iran.

Saudi Arabia intervened in its neighbour's civil war in March 2015 partly to counter perceived Iranian influence on the Houthis, which champion the Zaidi Shia minority.

Iran has denied backing the rebels militarily and insisted that the missile launches are "independent actions" in response to Saudi-led coalition aggression.

More than 8,670 people have been killed and 49,960 injured since the coalition intervened in Yemen's war, according to the UN.

The fighting and the coalition blockade have also left 20.7 million people in need of humanitarian aid, created the world's largest food security emergency and led to a cholera outbreak that is thought to have killed 2,219 people since April.

UN: Coalition airstrikes kill 136 in Yemen in 11 days
The Washington Post

By Jamey Keaten
December 19, 2017/p>

The U.N. human rights office said Tuesday it has verified the killings of 136 Yemeni civilians and other non-combatants in airstrikes carried out over 11 days this month by a Saudi-led military coalition batting Yemen's Shiite rebels.

Spokesman Rupert Colville of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said U.N. officials are "deeply concerned" about a surge in civilian casualties from airstrikes following the killing in early December of Yemen's former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Saleh was killed by the rebels, known as Houthis, after apparently switching alliances and turning against his former allies. Colville said the killings occurred between Dec. 6 and Dec. 16 in four northern provinces.

The airstrikes, which also injured 87 people, hit Yemen's rebel-run TV channel, a hospital in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, and a wedding party — a strike that killed one woman and nine children, the rights office said.

Seven strikes on a police compound in Sanaa on Dec. 13 killed at least 43 people when the compound's prison grounds were hit, the office said. All those victims were reportedly detainees loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is supported by the coalition.

"I think one can assume that that was a mistake," Colville said. "They weren't intending to kill prisoners from their own side."

After originally indicating that the 11-day confirmed death toll was 115, Colville later said it had increased to 136 to include a strike on Friday on a farmhouse in Hodeida governorate that left 20 people dead — including 14 children.

Meanwhile, hundreds of world figures urged the leaders of the United States, France and Britain on Tuesday to stop "stoking the flames of war" in impoverished Yemen. The statement, signed by 355 high-profile figures, marked the 1,000th day of the war, which has turned the poorest Arab country into the world's largest humanitarian crisis.

The signatories included eight Nobel peace laureates, religious leaders, Western lawmakers and rights defenders, as well as U.S. Congresswomen Barbara Lee and Pramila Jayapal, and Congressman Ro Khanna, all Democrats.

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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

Pre-Trial Chamber Concludes Two Days Hearings In Case 004/1
Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia

December 12, 2017

Today, the Pre-Trial Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia concluded two days of hearings in Case 004/01 against Im Chaem. The Lawyers for the former Civil Party applicants, the International Co-Prosecutor, the Deputy National Co-Prosecutor, and National and International Defence Co-Lawyers presented their arguments on the case. The charged person did not attend the hearings but was represented by her lawyers.

The Pre-Trial Chamber was seised of an appeal filed by the International Co-Prosecutor against the Closing Order in case 004/01 issued by the Office of the Co-Investigating Judges on 22 February and 10 July 2017, in which the case was dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction of the ECCC.

The purpose of the Agreement between the UN and Cambodia of 6 June 2003 "is to regulate the cooperation between the United Nations and the Royal Government of Cambodia in bringing to trial senior leaders of Democratic Kampuchea and those who were most responsible for the crimes […] committed during the period from 17 April 1975 to 6 January 1979." According to the International Co-Prosecutor's final submission, Im Chaem fits the criteria for inclusion within the ECCC's personal jurisdiction as among those "most responsible" for crimes committed during the Democratic Kampuchea regime, through her leadership positions at the district and sector levels in both the Southwest and Northwest Zones. The National Co-Prosecutor submitted that she did not fall within the ECCC's personal jurisdiction to face prosecution.

The Pre-Trial Chamber will determine whether there is sufficient evidence that Im Chaem is responsible for the crimes alleged and satisfies the criteria of the court's jurisdiction or not. The Chamber will now adjourn to deliberate on its decision whether to dismiss the case or send it to trial. The decision would be final with no further appeals and would require an affirmative vote of at least four out of the five judges. The decision is expected during the second quarter of 2018.

Case 004
Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia

December 19, 2017

On 7 September 2009, the international Co-Prosecutor filed two Introductory Submissions, requesting the Co- Investigating Judges to initiate investigation of five additional suspected persons. These two submissions have been divided into what is known as Case files 003 and 004.

Case 004 is currently under investigation by the Co-Investigating Judges. Thus far, no persons have been charged and the identity of the three suspects remains confidential. The investigation in Case 004 is focused on the following alleged crimes committed between 17 April 1975 and 6 January 1979:

Crimes allegedly committed between 17 April 1975 and 6 January 1979 at the following locations:

A) Kampong Cham Province (Central Zone)

B) Kampong Thom province (Central Zone)

C) Pursat Province (North-West Zone)

D) Battambang Province (North-West Zone)

E) Banteay Meanchey Province (North-West Zone)

F) Takeo Province (South-West Zone)

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Special Tribunal for Lebanon

Official Website of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon
In Focus: Special Tribunal for Lebanon (UN)

At STL, defense tries to paint extremist picture of self-proclaimed bomber
The Daily Star

By Morten Larsen
December 15, 2017

Ahmad Abu Adass, the man who claimed responsibility for the 2005 bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others, showed extremist tendencies prior to his disappearance, the defense counsel at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon argued Thursday. The argument was made to suggest that Abu Adass could have been the actual bomber, rather than a man coerced into making a fake confession tape to throw investigators off the trail of the real perpetrators, as the prosecution has argued.

Defense counsel Sarah Bafadhel, representing accused Assad Hassan Sabra, submitted statements from an alleged associate of Abu Adass, Ziad Ramadan, to demonstrate the man's increasing religious devotion prior to his disappearance.

"Ahmad Abu Adass was a lazy worker who struggled to interact with work colleagues. He resigned because he did not approve of the manner in which another female employee dressed," Bafadhel said, reading from a statement provided to Lebanese authorities by Ramadan.

Ramadan could not be summoned before the chamber because he was arrested in Syria and held until 2012, which caused "obvious trauma, spending a long time in a Syrian prison without charge," Trial Chamber President Judge David Re said, reading from a previous court decision. However, the prosecution argued that these statements were not admissible, since they could not be verified by cross-examination of Ramadan. This has been custom with other documents, such as a call sequence table where the creator could not be summoned and the evidence was not admitted.

"[The defense] try to reverse the burden of proof," Alexander Milne, senior trial counsel, said Thursday.

"The party advancing a document should prove its relevance. We need a statement from the person creating the document, we need to hear from the person who made it."

While the Trial Chamber did allow the statements to be admitted, the judges underlined that they could "not be seen as truth," and were only allowed to "understand the state of mind of the investigator," referring to the unidentified individual who wrote the reports accompanying Ramadan's statements.

Bafadhel also brought up reports of Abu Adass organizing religious gatherings at his house and pointed to books that were found in his house when it was raided by the Internal Security Forces in 2005.

"Israeli Penetration into the Arab World," was the title of the first book Bafadhel showcased. "It's a book received from [Abu Adass'] home by Lebanese security forces, and it is to demonstrate that he has demonstrated anti-Israel, anti-Zionist views," she claimed.

"Don't think he'll be alone in Lebanon to have those views," Re quickly interjected, asking for the defense counsel to specify how possession of such a book proved any type of radicalization. "No, but this book could show some jihadist leanings," Bafadhel said, pointing out an extract in a different book on Sunnis that called "to fight disbelievers."

"This can be seen as a quite extremist Islamic view, [and] shows that [Abu Adass] had shown interest in these views," she said.

But the judge was not convinced that having a book constituted evidence that Abu Adass had read it or held any radical beliefs. When Re asked if it could be somehow proved that the book belonged to Abu Adass — if it was found on his bedside table with bookmarks for example – the defense said it could not.

"I studied economics and I had my own copy of 'Das Kapital' and 'The Communist Manifesto,' does that make me a communist?" he asked.

"This is an argument we always hear. I don't know where [exactly] the book was found or who owned it, but it was found in [Abu Adass'] home," Bafadhel said.

The chamber wrapped up the submission of statements and will continue in the second week of January.

STL prosecution links accused to Hezbollah
The Daily Star

By Finbar Anderson
December 14, 2017

The prosecution at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon Wednesday submitted for inclusion a report suggesting links between Hezbollah and those accused of orchestrating the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The most significant item from an otherwise run-of-the-mill, procedural day at the hearing was not the first time the group has been linked to the plot.

Indeed, the indictment, submitted in 2011, noted that the accused were "supporters of Hezbollah," and that two of the accused, Mustafa Badreddine and Salim Ayyash, were brothers-in-law of senior Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyah, a founding member of Hezbollah who ran its military wing from 1983 until his death in February 2008.

Badreddine is no longer among the accused, having died fighting in Syria. After his death, he was lauded as a Hezbollah military commander.

The report submitted Wednesday concerned two phones allegedly used by the accused in organizing the assassination, which form part of the "green network" of phones. These phones were frequently used in the Haret Hreik neighborhood in Beirut's southern suburbs where Hezbollah has its headquarters, and have been attributed by the prosecution to the accused.

Hezbollah itself has never been straightforwardly implicated in the trial, although the prosecution occasionally connects the group indirectly. As recently as Oct. 17 this year, for example, prosecution analyst Andrew Donaldson suggested that Hezbollah had the power to influence witnesses who had been "interviewed in Hezbollah areas [and] brought in with a Hezbollah solicitor."

It had previously been argued that the two phones, "Green 300" and "Green 023," had been used by Hezbollah to track Mossad agents operating in Lebanon. However, according to Alexander Milne, Senior Trial Counsel for the prosecution, the report supported the "analysis done by the ISF [Internal Security Forces] at the time, calling into question the use of those particular phones, that is Green 300 and Green 023, and giving rise to doubt that they were indeed pursuing Mossad agents at the time. There was not sufficient coincidence with these numbers and the alleged Mossad agents [suggesting that the users] were not surveilling the Mossad agents."

Milne added that the accused "were able to make use of Hezbollah facilities such as telephones and ... perhaps other facilities as well."

Mohamed Aouini, lead counsel for the accused Hasan Merhi, reacted angrily to what he perceived as unacceptable behavior on the part of the prosecution. "Almost four years after the start of the trial ... and as the prosecution has almost reached the end of its case, [it] today is trying to open a new case," he said.

Aouini argued that the phones discussed by the prosecution constituted the presentation of new material facts, which would not be allowed by the Trial Chamber at this stage of the proceedings.

The STL continues Thursday.

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Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal

International Crimes Tribunal instructs submission an investigation report against Musa
Dhaka Tribune

December 17, 2017

Musa, locally known as Musa Razakar, has had complaints against him for carrying out brutal massacres of indigenous people and Bangalis in Gotia village, Paschimbag and in Puthia's Bashbari

The International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) has set January 15 for the submission of an investigation report against Abdus Samad Musa alias Firoz Khan of Rajshahi's Puthia upazila, in connection with crimes against humanity.

A three-member bench lead by Chairman of ICT Justice Shahinur Islam passed the order in response to the petition made during Sunday's prosecution.

Zahid Imam, the prosecutor of the case, requested for time to submit the investigation report to the tribunal. The tribunal then granted Zahid's appeal.

On January 22 this year, Musa was arrested in a criminal case in Puthia. However, he was sent to prison on charges of murder, torture and several crimes against humanity.

Musa, locally known as Musa Razakar, has had complaints against him for carrying out brutal massacres of indigenous people and Bangalis in Gotia village, Paschimbag and in Puthia's Bashbari.

Musa had fled to India after the war, but then secretly came back to Bangladesh in 1975. Later, he, who became a local influential, also had allegations of trying to occupy over 60 acres of land of the indigenous village.

Trial of 195 Pakistani soldiers in limbo
Dhaka Tribune

Fazlur Rahman Raju
December 16, 2017

Though there have been no visible attempts to put the Pakistan Army officials on trial for committing war crimes, several quarters have demanded that trial procedure be started against them as soon as possible

Bangladesh has already brought several high ranking collaborators of Pakistani occupation forces to trial, but uncertainty still looms over the trial of 195 Pakistan Army officials, who reportedly masterminded the barbaric war crimes committed during the 1971 Liberation War.

So far, a total 23 collaborators of the Pakistan Army have been sentenced by the International Crimes Tribunals (ICTs), but the government has yet to take any initiative to punish the 195 Pakistan Army officials.

Investigators from the Investigation Agency of International Crimes Tribunal Bangladesh have already collected substantial information about war-time atrocities committed by the Pakistan Army officials.

On January 20, 2016, Investigation Agency of the ICT Bangladesh formed a five-member investigation cell to collect information on 195 Pakistan Army personnel who allegedly committed crimes against humanity during the 1971 Liberation War.

Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune on Thursday, the chief coordinator for the Investigation Agency of ICT, Mohammad Abdul Hannan Khan, said: "It was an informal investigation. During the probe, we collected information about these Pakistan Army officials who were involved in war-time atrocities during the Liberation War of 1971.

"We have collected information from upazila and district levels, but the trial against the Pakistan Army officials is not an issue of the ICT now. We need to follow international law to punish them, as they are not Bangladeshi nationals," he added.

However, speaking on the issue, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal on Thursday said he had no information regarding the trial of 195 Pakistani soldiers.

On the same day, Law Minister Anisul Huq told the Dhaka Tribune over phone that the issue was under process.

"The present government is sincere about bringing the 195 officers of the Pakistan Army to trial," the law minister said.

Though there have been no visible attempts to put the Pakistan Army officials on trial for committing war crimes, several quarters have demanded that trial procedure be started against them as soon as possible.

Shahriar Kabir, president of Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee, said: "Pakistani forces committed war crimes against Bangladeshis in 1971, and I am urging the authorities concerned to ensure justice."

Former US diplomat Thomas A Dine, who had worked in Delhi in 1971, said along with the 195 Pakistani soldiers, the then United States Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Henry Alfred Kissinger and President Richard Nixon should also be brought to trial for their questionable stance during the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh.

Dine was here in Dhaka in November to attend a seminar titled "1971: Genocide, Torture and the Liberation War."

Indian war veteran Brig (retd) RP Singh said: "Bangladesh has brought several collaborators to book, but we cannot sleep in peace until we bring the Pakistan Army officials who committed genocide during the 1971 Liberation War to trial."

RP Singh was the first and only Indian Army official who fought against occupied Pakistani forces disguised as a Bangladeshi national.

Singh claimed that out of 93,500 prisoners of the war, 194 Pakistan Army officers, and three officials of Pakistan Navy and Pakistan Air Force were identified as war criminals. He also urged India to help Bangladesh over this issue.

Why the trial did not take place after 1971 A tripartite pact was signed in New Delhi between India, Pakistan and Bangladesh in 1974 after the reconciliation talks between India and Pakistan in 1972, following the latter's defeat in the 1971 war.

The pact allowed the Pakistani war criminals, which included Lt Gen AAK Niazi, defeated commander-in-chief of Pakistan's eastern command, and many senior commanders, to return to their country from Indian jails.

The repatriation was facilitated after Islamabad issued a statement in April, 1973 assuring Bangladesh of putting the soldiers on trial for their actions in the war.

However, Pakistan did not constitute any such tribunal, nor did it act in accordance with the recommendations of the Justice Hamoodur Rahman Commission.

The commission, constituted by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, had suggested that identified Pakistani soldiers be put on trial for their atrocities in the former East Pakistan.

As soon as the trial of the war crimes began, questions were raised from different quarters as to how and why the 195 Pakistani soldiers were released without any trial in 1974.

It has also been argued that those 195 Pakistanis were the main war criminals and their release questioned the merit of the trial process.

BZ Khasru, in his book "The Bangladesh Military Coup and the CIA Link," made an attempt to elaborate the reasons as to why the trial of Pakistani officials did not take place for decades.

He sketched a political portrait of Pakistan-US alliance and diplomatic geo-strategy concerning Bangladesh's Liberation War in 1971 and the aftermath of the conflict.

He claimed in his book that the US had used India to discourage Bangladesh to hold the trial of Pakistani war criminals in Bangladesh.

After the US intervention on the issue, India pressured Bangladesh to drop the trial of those war criminals.

In an interview on May 27, 1973, Bhutto warned: "There will be specific charges [against Bangalis held in Pakistan]. How many will be tried, I cannot say."

To prove that it was not just an empty threat, around 203 Bangalis were immediately detained as "virtual hostages" by the Pakistan government for the 195prisoners of war in Indian jails.

Fearing for the fate of the thousands of Bangalis held in Pakistan, and to gain the much-needed support of the United Nations, Bangladesh accepted Pakistan's proposal.  

'All of them need to face justice'
Fazlur Rahman Raju

December 14, 2017

'It is a great disappointment that Jamaat-e-Islami, which was involved in war crimes during the Liberation War, is still not banned'

Bangladesh must protect the memory of martyred intellectuals by banning political parties that use religion as the basis of their politics, a family member of one of those killed has said.

Dr Nuzhat Chaudhury, the daughter of martyred intellectual Dr Abdul Alim Chaudhury, told the Dhaka Tribune that although Bangladesh has "made strides" with the trials of war criminals, it should do more to right the wrongs of 1971.

"It is a great disappointment that Jamaat-e-Islami, which was involved in war crimes during the Liberation War, is still not banned," Nuzhat said.

"Bangladesh has not been able to ban religion-based politics yet. They are spreading their ideology across the country (and) not being able to prevent them increases the pain that we, as children of martyrs, suffer."

Nuzhat also urged the government to bring "every single person involved" in war crimes under trial.

"The families of the martyred are happy to see that masterminds behind the attack were brought to justice, but many people involved with the crimes against humanity during 1971 have still not been brought to trial," she said.

"The government immediately needs to bring Jamaat to trial as a party. The families of the martyred can feel that this specific party, that tried to shatter our dream of an independent Bangladesh, will attack the country again.

"There is no parameter on who was involved and to what extent. All people involved with war crimes should be brought to justice," she said.

Nuzhat specifically referenced the 195 Pakistani soldiers identified by the government as being involved in war crimes.

"No matter whether we can bring them here or not, we were victimised by them and our tribunal should bring them to justice," she said. "The plan to bring them here for trial is still under discussion. We need to see the plan turn into reality."

Nuzhat, who works at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, also expressed her dissatisfaction with the country's failure to prepare a comprehensive list of people who gave their lives for the country in 1971.

She said: "We do not know the actual number yet (and) there are many families of martyred who remain unattended to. We have failed to give them the honor they deserve. All these families deserve honor and facilities."

Nuzhat said rather than observing December 14 as a formality, the nation needs to focus on the dreams and ideologies that the martyrs had.

"I have not lost hope because I can see the commitment and patriotic attitude among country's young generation on independence. If all of us, including our political parties, can uphold the ideology of the Liberation War, we can make a change," she hoped.

How the nation lost Abdul Alim Chaudhury On the evening of December 15, 1971, a few hours before the birth of Bangladesh, a microbus covered in mud stopped in front of Dr Abdul Alim Chaudhury's house.

Nuzhat said Several men got down from the microbus and took her father away.

"On December 18, we found his body lying in a pool of blood in the Rayer Bazaar brickfield along with hundreds of other leading intellectuals of the day," she said.

Dr Abdul Alim Chaudhury was an eminent ophthalmologist and a politically active leader of his community.

Trained in the UK, he returned to serve his country. He was not only a brilliant doctor but also a leader of the medical community.

Even though he was born in a wealthy landowner family, he dreamed of a classless society where rights of all human beings would be upheld.

He was actively involved in the Language Movement of 1952 as a student leader at Dhaka Medical College.

In 1954, he was taken into custody by the Pakistan Government on the anniversary of the Language Movement.

Later in life, he served as the secretary general of the Ophthalmological Society of East Pakistan and Secretary General of the Ophthalmological Society of Pakistan.

Bangladesh: Gonojagoron Monch Movement: It remains in the garden of its grace
Sri Lanka Guardian Culture

By Anwar A. Khan
Dec 7, 2017

The Gonojagoron Monch Movement (National Awakening Stage) – It is as if the sun breaks bright to the soil of Bangladesh. The spring…..The great awakening…A golden star in our hearts…The victims and their family members too are human beings who deserve and demand rights equal to those of the war criminals of 1971! Alas! It betided differently; the convicted criminals only were given the right to appeal to the apex court as per the ICT law for a further scrutiny of the war criminals. The appeal right of the victims colossally ignored by the concerned Ministry! On 5th February, 2013, the scene exploded into the public eye when Kader Molla, the 'Butcher of Mirpur' was awarded life imprisonment by the International Crimes tribunal (ICT) instead of death punishment.

Without Gonojagoron Monch Movement which started on 5th February, 2013, it was almost impossible to let the worst war criminals walk to the gallows. A single event can awaken within us a stranger totally unknown to us. It actually has honoured the victims and their families who fell prey to the deadliest enemies during our glorious Liberation War in 1971, Bangladesh, its national flag and people of all walks of life who fought bravely with utmost patriotism to achieve Bangladesh. It ignited the veridical spark to arouse the people and showed the right-angled pathname. After our liberation war, nothing reminds us of an awakening more than this historic movement.

Silence was a lie that screamed at the light then. Awakening will be sudden. Gonojagoron Monch Movement is the staggeringly gifted one for us. After pro-longed time, we could recognise our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The deluge and the tree, when the hurricane swirled and spread its deluge of dark evil onto the good green land of people in general gloated in Bangladesh. The western skies reverberated with sorrowful accounts: The Tree has fallen! The great trunk is smashed! The hurricane has left no life in the tree! Has the tree really fallen? Never! Not with our red streams flowing forever, not while the vino of our thorn limbs fed the thirsty roots, Bangladesh roots alive tunneling deep, deep, into the land! When the tree rises up, the branches shall flourish green and fresh in the sun; the laughter of the tree shall leaf beneath the sun and birds shall return. Undoubtedly, the birds shall return. The birds shall return!

Humanity, where were you thee? We were being slaughtered under your watchful eyes, we were cold . . . cold . . . cold. We cringed. We cried. Humanity, where were you? Why did you turn your face away? Why did you keep looking the other way? We were here languishing in Bangladesh's alleyways during our Independence War in 1971. Humanity, where were you then? Look at us? See us? Humanity, enough turning the other way! Turning a deaf ear; turning a blind eye while we and our poor people died unmercifully.

Our path is called Justice . . . and now we must walk it, and stoutly avow to follow wherever it leads till the sun sets blaze to the weeds… We announce what comes after us; we announce mightier offspring, orators, days, and then, for the present, depart. We remember we said, before our leaves sprang at all, we would raise our voice jocund and strong, with reference to consummations. We announce natural persons to arise; we announce justice triumphant; we announce uncompromising liberty and equality; we announce the justification of candor, and the justification of pride. We announce a life that shall be copious, vehement, spiritual, and bold; we announce an end that shall lightly and joyfully meet its translation; we announce myriads of youths, beautiful, gigantic, sweet-blooded; and we announce a race of splendid people. An unknown sphere, more real than we dreamt, more direct, darts awakening rays about us – So long 42 years! Remember our words—we may again return, we love you—Bangladesh; we depart from materials; we are as one disembodied, triumphant, dead. An Autumn Sunbright! We leaguered in fire; the wild black promontories of the coast extend; their savage silhouettes; the sun in universal carnage sets, and, halting higher, the motionless storm-clouds mass their sullen threats, like an advancing mob in sword-points penned, that, balked, yet stands at bay. Mid-zenith hangs the fascinated day in wind-lustrated hollows crystalline, a wan Valkyrie whose wide pinions shine across the ensanguined ruins of the fray, and in her hand swings high overhead above the waste of war, the silver torch-light of the evening star wherewith to search the faces of the dead.

Lagooned in gold, seem not those jetty promontories rather; the outposts of some ancient land forlorn, uncomforted of morn, where old oblivions gather; and the melancholy un-consoling fold of all things that go utterly to death. And mix no more, no more with life's perpetually awakening breath? Shall time not ferry us to such a shore over such sail-less seas to walk with hope's slain importunities in miserable sufferings? Nay, shall not all things be there forgot save the sea's golden barrier and the black close-crouching promontories? Dead to all shames, forgotten of all glories, shall we not wander there, a shadow's shade, a spectre self-destroyed, so purged of all remembrance and sucked back into the primal void? That should we, on that shore phantasmal meet we should not know the coming of our feet? In the night of weariness, let us give ourselves up to sleep without struggle resting our trust upon thee. Let us not force our flagging spirit into a poor preparation for thy worship. It is thou who drawest the veil of night upon the tired eyes of the day to renew its sight in a fresher gladness of awakening of National Awakening Stage of 2013.

Gonojagoron Moncho movement means a platform for popular uprising or mass awakening platform. It's a real song…The movement experienced external threats from extremist forces such as Jamaati men and their buddies, and as a result, the group has become less politically active than the widespread mobilisation seen during February to March-April 2013 and January 2014. The spontaneous movement initially aimed to non-violently build popular support for a harsher sentence for Kader Mollah, a notorious war criminal in accordance with the penal code, and that it has focused on nationalism and patriotism. The demonstrations were called the biggest mass mobilisation in recent memory in Bangladesh by both the local and foreign media outlets. The Gonojagoron Moncho or Shahbag demonstrations in early February 2013 were as peaceful and included candle-light vigils, large-scale gatherings, theatre, poetry recitations, national songs and nationalistic speeches.

In the wake of the Gonojagoron Moncho protests, the governing Awami League amended the respective ICT law in the parliament and incorporated the appeal provision for the victims to that flawed law. On hearing appeal from the victims' side, the Supreme Court overturned the life sentence awarded by the ICT and ordered that Molla be put to death. Following the 28 February 2013 guilty verdict and death sentence of the Jamaat party vice-president Molla, sub-humans-Jamaat protesters held demonstrations that led to clashes with Gonojagoron Moncho supporters. The unrest resulted in the deaths of protesters, bystanders, and police officers, numbering in the dozens.

Three Gonojagoron Moncho activists were killed in different regions across Bangladesh: Prominent blogger Rajib Ahmed Haider was attacked and killed in February 2013. Gonojagoron Moncho is also known platform for popular rising mass growing platform. In a speech on 8 February 2013, the spokesman of the Gonojagoron Moncho conducted an oath to the crowds of protesters at the Shahbag inter-section, which stated objectives related to the continuation of the movement for capital punishment for those on trial for crimes against humanity committed in 1971. The objectives of the Gonojagoron Moncho also included: Commitment to a democratic Bangladesh, where religion is considered a private matter; boycotting of businesses, banks, media outlets, social and cultural entities connected to Jamaat; called for an investigation into the sources of funding of Jamaat and associated institutions and businesses; ban on the politics of religious fundamentalists or the politics of Jamaat-Shibir; and achieving their goals without violence.

The group's demands more broadly promote accountable governance and it has opened up the space for debate in society. Gonojagoron Moncho obtained support from all sectors and classes of society initially, and the movement exposed internal tensions and debates about secularism and religion in politics, the culture of impunity that is part of the political process in Bangladesh, as well as the meaning of communal harmony in society.

The Bloggers and Online Activists Network (BOAN) is the group in Bangladesh that initiated Gonojagoron Mincho protests through online networking and social media. The spokesman for the Gonojagoron Moncho is Imran H. Sarkar who is the main organiser of BOAN. It has been referred to as an umbrella platform of apolitical organisations. The group is not an organised political party or grouping in any traditional sense, but rather that at its height, the movement was a coalition of loose networks, associations, and individual actors though there are core networks.

Participants in the initial Gonojagoron Moncho protests numbered hundreds of thousands. The movement can be described the movement as initiated by youth, with hundreds of thousands of supporters including men, women, boys, and girls from all walks of life and citizens irrespective of age and faith. Youth and people from various professions including university teachers, students, cultural and political activists, journalists and bloggers joined this movement of protests. A noted aspect of the movement has been the participation of large numbers of women. Shahbag Square in Dhaka is described as the centre of the movement. Support for the movement has soon spread across the country. The movement uses social networking to organise support.

The organisers of Gonojagoron Moncho Movement have refused to allow the participation of any political parties in the speeches or activities of the movement. A prominent Gonojagoron speaker stated publicly at a rally that "'this movement does not belong to any political party." The movement involves sit-ins and a programme to occupy Shahbag before the verdicts for those on trial for war crimes, including a sit-in related to the verdict of the 90-year old Jamaat leader Ghulam Azam in July 2013. On 17 July in that year, both Jamaat and Gonojagoron Mancha called simultaneous hartals (day-long strikes) which led to 4 deaths and 100 injuries. In mid-August 2013, Gonojagoron Moncho conducted a procession march and rally to protest a hartal held by Jamaat and to pay tribute to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Three Gonojagoron Moncho activists were killed in different regions across Bangladesh: Prominent blogger Rajib Ahmed Haider was attacked and killed in February 2013. Gonojagoron Moncho is also known platform for popular rising mass growing platform. It began on 6 February 2013 at Shahbag square. It refers to the Shahbag mass protest and social Movement. It demands for the death consequence for those found guilty of war crimes in the Bangladesh war of independence from Pakistan in 1971.

The movement's demands included the arrest of Jamaat-Shabbier activists and banning of the Jamaat party. Some of which were peaceful and some of which caused in violence, including in a few cases the deaths of police officers beaten by Hefazet activists, and in many cases, the use of extreme force by security forces resulting in the killing of many people. Fiery band sloganeer young girl activist Lucky Akhter has emerged as junior "Agni-kannaya' (the junior daughter of fire) after Agricultural Minister Matia Chowdhury, has always captivated the audience by her skyrocket patriotic slogans. Ganajagoron Mancha has announced its decision to continue the sit-in at Shahbagh until Quader Molla's death sentence is executed. Activists blocked the Shahbagh intersection from 10:50 pm in demand for the execution, and crowds began gathering since 7pm in anticipation of the verdict, bursting into protests when the news of the death sentence arrived.

Spokesperson of the Ganajagoron Mancha Imran H Sarker said, "The Rajakars do not deserve any mercy." He urged everyone to join the sit-in until the verdict is executed. This was happening in a country for which many people of all walks of life of our society fought by ignoring families and personal life, for months. They have fought to free Bangladesh from the hostility of far rights and Pakistani military junta and their brutal local henchmen in 1971. As a generation of participating in 1971 war, I ought to think how meaningless the fight of liberation has become under the ignominious regimes of Zia, Ershad and voyeur politician like Begum Zia. It is possible to rebuild a secular state only if the government recognises its responsibility to identify the network of fanatics and prosecute the criminals, including those that hide under the banner of different noms de guerre.

Protesters considered Mollah's sentence too lenient, given his crimes. Bloggers and online activists called for additional protests at Shahbag. Tens of thousands of people joined the demonstration, which gave rise to protests across the country. A counter-protest, questioning the validity of the tribunal and the protest movement and demanding release of those accused and convicted, was launched by Jamaat-e-Islami as its leaders were the majority of those first identified for trial. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) expressed its support for Jamaat-e-Islami, a political ally of them.

On 27 February 2013, the tribunal convicted Delwar Hossain Sayeedi of war crimes and sentenced him to death. Jamaat followers protested and there were violent clashes with police. About 60 people were killed in the confrontations; most were Jamaat-Shibir activists, and others were police and civilians. In 1971 Bangladesh was the portion of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan known as East Pakistan. In the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh, the-then East Pakistan fought West Pakistan for nine months. During this period the Indian Army which provided guerrilla training to Mukti Bahini (Freedom Fighters), joined the war on 3 December 1971 in support of the liberation of former East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. The deadliest war ended on 16 December 1971 through surrender of the Pakistani Armed Forces to joint forces of Bangladesh and India, resulting in the formation of the People's Republic of Bangladesh as a secular and independent state.

According to the famous Blood telegram from the United States consulate in Dhaka to the US State Department, many atrocities had been committed by the Pakistan Army and its supporter Al-Badar , Al-Shams…militia. Time Magazine reported a high-ranking US official as saying, "It is the most incredible, calculated killing since the days of the Nazis in Poland." Three million people were perished, nearly a quarter of a million women were raped and more than ten million people fled to India to escape persecution.

People of all strata of Bangladesh supported the clarion call of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to create a free and independent Bangladesh during the Liberation War. However, Pakistani supporters and members of Islamic political parties, particularly Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) and its student wing Islami Chatra Sangha (ICS), the Muslim League, the Pakistan Democratic Party (PDP) and Nejam-e-Islami, collaborated with the Pakistani army to resist the formation of an independent Bangladesh. The students belonging to Islami Chatra Sangha were known as the Al-Badr force; people belonging to Jamaat-e-Islami, Muslim League, Nizam-e-Islami and similar groups were called Al-Shams, and the Urdu-speaking people (generally known as Biharis) were known as Al-Mujahid. All these butchers went on rampage with all ferocities to murder the freedom-loving people of Bangladesh.

Since 2000, there has been growing demands in Bangladesh for justice related to war crimes committed during the 1971 struggle; and the issue was central to the 2008 general election. The Awami League-led, 14-party Grand Alliance included this issue in its election manifesto. Its rival, four-party alliance (which included the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami) had several leaders alleged to have committed war crimes.

The Grand Alliance won the election held on 29 December 2008 with a two-thirds majority, based in part on its promise to prosecute alleged war criminals. On 29 January 2009, the new Parliament unanimously passed a resolution to prosecute the war criminals. The government intended to use the 1973 law: the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act. The government worked to amend the law, updating it and incorporating in it other nations' experience. The amendments provided the legal basis, though there were some legal flaws to it, for the trial of individuals and political parties that had committed war crimes during Bangladesh liberation war in 1971.

On 25 March 2010, the Awami-led government announced the formation of a three-member tribunal, a seven-member investigation agency, and a twelve-member prosecution team to conduct the trials under the ICT Act 1973. The panel of three judges included Fazle Kabir and Zahir Ahmed, with Mohammed Nizamul Huq as chairman. Abdul Matin, Abdur Rahim, Kutubur Rahman, Shamsul Arefin, Mir Shahidul Islam, Nurul Islam and M. Abdur Razzak Khan were appointed to assist the state prosecutors. Golam Arif Tipu was named Chief Prosecutor. Others prosecutors were Syed Rezaur Rahman, Golam Hasnayen, Rana Das Gupta, Zahirul Huq, Nurul Islam Sujan, Syed Haider Ali, Khandaker Abdul Mannan, Mosharraf Hossain Kajal, Ziad Al-Malum, Sanjida Khanom and Sultan Mahmud Semon.

A formal charge was filed by the prosecution against the 'Butcher of Mirpur' Abdul Quader Mollah on 18 December 2011. He was charged with: The Pallab murder; killing pro-liberation poet Meherunnesa, her mother and two brothers; the Khandoker Abu Taleb killing; the Ghatar Char and Bhawal Khan Bari killings; the Alubdi mass killing (344 people); and the rape and murder of Hazrat Ali and his family. On 5 February 2013, the ICT found Mollah guilty of crimes against humanity. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for the Alubdi and Ali killings and 15 years each for the Pallab, Meherunnesa and Taleb murders. The day before the verdict was announced, look at the temerity of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami (of which Mollah was a leader), announced a nationwide dawn-to-dusk general strike for 5 February in protest of their leader's conviction.

Many citizens especially young people were outraged that, given his crimes, Mollah was sentenced to life imprisonment rather than death. The verdict was criticised in social media, and a peaceful demonstration began at Shahbagh Square in Dhaka. Thus Ganajagoron Mancha came into being. Protesters' demands: Death penalty for Mollah; death sentences for those convicted of war crimes by the International War Crimes Tribunal; a ban of Jamaat from Bangladeshi politics; and a boycott of Jamaat institutions.

Ganajagoron Mancha leaders swore an oath "that the leadership of the mass of people from the Gonojagaran Mancha (National Awakening Stage) will continue the movement from Teknaf to Tetulia until capital punishment is handed down to those Razakar and Al-Badr members who committed crimes against humanity like mass killing and rape in 1971. We take the oath that we will remain vocal, both on the streets and online, until the politics of the war criminals, Jamaat and Shibir, is banned and the citizenship of their members cancelled. We further take the oath that we will continue this demonstration and keep demanding trials, under a special tribunal, of those Razakars and Al-Badr activists who were convicted, and under trial, but freed after 1975. We swear that we will boycott the war criminals' business entities – Islami Bank, Ibn Sina, Focus, Retina and various other coaching centres. We know through these they collect money to continue with their anti-liberation activities. We will also boycott the academic and cultural organisations through which they are spreading anti-liberation sentiments among the children. In brief, we will work for banning all the business, social and cultural organisations belonging to Razakars and Al-Badr activists. We swear that we will continue with our demand for stringent punishment of Jamaat and Shibir, who have committed crimes of sedition by threatening civil war, after making their immediate arrest by recognising them through video footage of news and newspaper pictures. We swear that we will boycott war criminals' mass media like Diganta Television, Daily Naya Diganta, Amar Desh, The Daily Sangram, Sonar Bangla Blog. We will not subscribe to the newspapers of the war criminals at any office or house. At the same time, we request the pro-liberation mass media to boycott the war criminals and their accomplices."

Protest began right after the verdict of Kader Molla, the 'Butcher of Mirpur' was announced. Student organisations started the protest immediately after the Judgment in the Shahbag square that was the actual call for people to gather in the Shahbag square within half an hour of the Judgment. It took half an hour to spread out the call for protest through different social media and later the satellite TV channels. Some other social and cultural organisations called for different programmes in the same venue who later worked together. Demonstrators gathered at Shahbag Circle; they painted murals on the road, drew cartoons, hanged effigies of war-crimes criminals and chanted slogans, with a vow to continue demonstrating until their demands were met. Protesters at night were chanting and holding torches in support of their call.

On 7 February 2013, demonstrations began at 8 am at Shahbag Square. Thousands of people gathered with banners, posters, Bangladesh's flags and placards in Shahbag with their demands. On Friday afternoon, a mass rally was held at Shahbag with an estimated attendance of more than half a million. On 12 February 2013, protesters observed three minutes of silence at 4 pm at Shahbagh and all across Bangladesh. In Dhaka, traffic was stopped as thousands of people took to the streets, formed human chains and stood in silence. A Bangladesh Premier League game at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium halted for three minutes, as players and supporters observed the silence. Parliamentarians and the police also joined the protest. Bengali singer Kabir Suman wrote a song entitled "Tin Minit" ("Three Minutes") in honour of the silent protest.

Further developments: On 21 February in the same year, International Mother Language Day, the number of protesters reached a new height. Its leadership declared 26 March 2013, the Independence Day of Bangladesh, as the deadline for the government to ban Jamaat-e-Islami from politics. The government did not ban Jamaat-e-Islam from politics after the deadline was over. Seven protesters calling themselves the Shaheed Rumi Squad began a fast until death on 26 March at 10:30 pm in front of the National Museum, protesting inadequate government action to ban Jamaat in response to the Shahbagh protesters' ultimatum. The fasters said at a press briefing that they would send an open letter to Prime Minister Hasina during the 100th hour of their protests. More than 100 organisations expressed solidarity with the hunger strikers.

Sentencing of Delwar Hossain Sayeedi: On 28 February the International Crimes Tribunal sentenced Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, Nayeb-e-Ameer (vice-president) of Jamaat-e-Islami, to death for convictions on 8 out of 20 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. The protesters celebrated the sentence. Jamaat rogue followers were enraged by the decision, faithlessly claiming that the case against Sayeedi was politically motivated. Jamaat quickly called for a nationwide two-day strike, to start on 3 March. By afternoon, violence led by Jamaat-e-Islami supporters had erupted across Bangladesh. By the end of the day thirty-five people were dead, including three police officers; and an additional eight hundred were injured. According to the BBC, it marked "the worst day of political violence in Bangladesh in decades."

Clashes between police and Jamaat-e-Islami workers continued on 1 March, spreading to the northern districts of Gaibandha and Chapai Nawabganj… Opposition leader Khaleda Zia criticised in a deceiving manner government brutality and Jamaat called for a demonstration in the capital, Dhaka. Security measures were increased to prevent the situation from escalating. The death toll rose to forty-four including six policemen. Former prime minister and BNP Chief Khaleda Zia declared a nationwide dawn-to-dusk hartal for 5 March, and called for countrywide rallies on 2 March to protest what she called government misrule, oppression, and mass killings to save the world's most deadly war criminals.

On 3 March 2013, violence continued as the Jamaat-organised strike began. Jamaat supporters singled out Hindu citizens, attacked their homes in many parts of the country, and torched Hindu temples. More than 40 temples and many statues were destroyed and scores of houses set ablaze, leaving hundreds of people homeless throughout the country.

The Islamist pressure group Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh largely dominated by Jamaat-e-Islami murderers, has accused falsely several protesters of the Shahbagh of lampponing Muhammad, and making pornographic depictions of him. Large crowd with banners appeared in street and assembled for protest in front of Chittagong Press Club against their heinous acts. The Shahbag protest has attracted people from all social strata to its just cause. The Shahbag intersection at the center of the protests has been referred to as "Generation Circle" (Bengali: Projônmo Chôttor) or "Shahbag Square." The protest spread from Shahbag to other parts of the country, with sit-ins and demonstrations throughout the country.

The-then State Minister for Law, Quamrul Islam, said that the verdict against Abdul Quader Mollah could have been different if people had not taken to the streets sooner. The government is planning to file appeals with the Supreme Court contesting the sentence for Mollah. On 11 February the Cabinet approved proposed amendments to the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act 1973, introducing a provision for plaintiffs to appeal verdicts handed down by the tribunal. This amendment enabled the state to appeal Mollah's life sentence to turn it into death sentence.

Jamaat-e-Islami, which was already staging protests against the impending trial of its leaders, called for a general strike. It continues to demand that the international war crimes tribunal be stopped and its party leaders freed. Jamaat supporters had staged nationwide demonstrations with increasing frequency from November 2012 to February 2013, demanding the release of its leaders. Actions included firing gunshots, smashing and setting fire to vehicles and detonating homemade bombs. Violence was targeted at police stationed in the capital, Dhaka, and major cities. Several Jamaat-Shibir activists were arrested during the strikes and confrontations with police.

Semicircle of demonstrators held candlelight vigil in many overseas countries against the JeI goons and their accomplices. Bangladesh's people abroad have expressed solidarity with the protests through social media websites Facebook and Twitter. Demonstrations of solidarity have also taken place in Australia, Malaysia, Germany, and the United States in support of the just cause of Ganajagoron Mancha movement. At a rally at the Angel Statue in Melbourne, demonstrators signed a petition to Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina demanding death for war criminals. Bangladesh's people in Taiwan also expressed their solidarity with the Shahbag protests on 10 February 2013. Facebook also had played an important role in spreading news worldwide about events at Shahbag. A Facebook event was created calling for a protest at Shahbag; and the human chain which went viral on 5 February 2013. Facebook was one of the main sources of information about Shahbag protest among its activists. Bangladeshis used the Twitter hashtag "#shahbag" to provide live updates of the movement.

On 10 February, Bangladesh's students gathered at Rutgers University in New Jersey to express solidarity with the Shahbag protests. Bangladesh's students at the University of Delaware and nearby residents demonstrated their solidarity with the Shahbag movement on 15 February at a busy intersection in Newark, Delaware. A candlelight vigil was held that evening for Rajib, a blogger and activist who was killed several hours before the demonstration.

We swear that we will boycott the war criminals' business entities – Islami Bank, Ibn Sina, Focus, Retina and various other coaching centres. We know through these they collect money to continue with their anti-liberation activities. We will also boycott the academic and cultural organisations through which they are spreading anti-liberation sentiments among the children. In brief, we will work for banning all the business, social and cultural organisations belonging to Razakars and Al-Badr activists. International response: On 18 February 2013 British Foreign Office minister Sayeeda Warsi hailed the Shahbag Square protests, describing them as peaceful, productive and non-violent.

Media coverage: In Sreemangal, Moulvibazar cable operators in solidarity with the protests have stopped broadcasting the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami television channel Diganta Television. Protesters in a crowd were holding up English-language poster. Protester showed placards to foreign media. The BBC, CNN, Yahoo! News, Reuters, Al Jazeera, The New York Times, The Independent and others have published stories on the protests; BBC Bangla has been closely following the events. Reuters photographer Andrew Biraj published "live" photos of mass demonstrations at Shahbag.

Outcome: On 11 December 2013 demand for quick execution of 'Butcher' Molla.' The demonstration put pressure on the government to amend the International Crimes Tribunal Act so war criminals "can be swiftly executed if convicted". The cabinet also set a 60-day limit for the Supreme Court's Appellate Division to rule on appeals, to keep the cases moving. This means that those who have been convicted and sentenced to death could be executed that year if their verdicts survived appeal. In response to popular protests, former Jute and Textiles Minister Abdul Latif Siddiqui said on 12 February that a bill was being drafted to ban Jamaat-e-Islami from Bangladeshi politics. On 17 September 2013, Bangladesh Supreme Court found Abdul Quader Molla guilty of murders and other war crimes and ordered his execution and executed him on 12 December 2013.

Timeline 2013:

February 5 — Abdul Quader Molla is sentenced to life imprisonment. Initial gathering of protesters in Shahbag Square (also known as Shahbag Circle) took place.

February 6—7 — Protests intensify, crowds grew bigger, other cities and towns picked up protest. Bangladeshi diaspora and student communities abroad also begin to express solidarity with the protest.

February 8 Friday — Hundreds of thousands attended afternoon rallies in Shahbag and nationwide. The prominent figures of the country addressed the crowds.

February 9—10 — Protest continued countrywide.

February 12 — 3-minute silence was observed in Shahbag and all across the country. JeI students' wing, Shibir attempted to disrupt with a mid-day rally which quickly turned violent as they used guns and bombs against police.

February 15 — Protester and blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider was killed. Haider had actively participated in the protest from the beginning and had written several blogs against Jamaat-e-Islami activities.

February 16 — Thousands of people from all professions gathered at Shahbag wearing black badges to show their respect on the death of Ahmed Rajib Haider. By touching the coffin, protesters swear not to return home leaving their demands unfulfilled.

February 17 — Various schools in Dhaka hoisted the national flag and sang the national anthem to express solidarity with Shahbag protesters. The Shahbag activists announced a grand rally to be held on February 21 and reiterated their demand of death penalty for war criminals.

February 18 — The Shahbag protest continued for the 14th day. Khelafat Andolon and Islami Oikya Jote demanded the death penalty for top bloggers (Omi Rahman Pial, Ibrahim Khalil, Arif Jebtik and Asif Mohiuddin) of the ongoing Shahbag movement for their strong stance against the baneful war criminals.

February 19 — British foreign office minister Baroness Sayeeda Warsi praised the Shahbag Square protest, describing it as peaceful and productive. Shahbag protesters vowed to spread their movement to the grassroots level by making 'Gonojagoron Mancha' (mass-upsurge stage) like Shahbagh square at every corner of the country.

February 20 — A smear campaign against Shahbag activists, branding them as atheist, anti-Islamic and anti-social elements by appealing to the religious sentiments of the people and at the same time trying to brand Haider as an atheist to justify his murder.

February 21 — After the movement ran for two weeks, with huge participation from masses of people, in the grand rally at Shahbagh held on February 21, 2013 in the afternoon, Dr. Imran H Sarker presented six demands before the people. An intelligence agency released a message to the news media and law enforcement agencies which stated that some anti-state elements would try to carry out destructive activities including suicide bomb attacks on places like Shahbag, Shaheed Minar and Baitul Mukarram. Law enforcement agencies arrested several Jamaat-e-Islami leaders and Shibir activists carrying explosives and planning to attack Shaheed Minar.

February 22 — Shahbagh Ganajagaran Mancha called for nationwide protest just 1 day after calling off their demonstration at Shahbagh. This happened after Jamaat activists went on a rampage in Dhaka city, clashing with police and attacking them with bombs and stones. Jamaat activists destroyed the Sylhet Central Shaheed Minar setting on fire the national flag of Bangladesh and flowers. Thousands of students and people angered by this vandalism attacked and set fire to some institutions owned by and linked to Jamaat-e-Islami in Sylhet city.

March 6 — The Shahbag protest has completed one month. What started from the bloggers and online activists has turned into a mass uprising, spread across the country to people from all walks of life, and among the expatriate Bangladesh's people.

The Gonojagoron Monch Movement or the National Awakening Stage Movement is the biggest turning point in Bangladesh's history. This very attempt to blot out forever the stigma of non-bringing the war criminals of 1971 to justice for decades and it may be one necessary link in the chain of events preparatory to the complete overthrow of the whole non-trialing system of the mass murderers. This movement served as a defining moment for those culprits to book and inflict due punishment to them, and the movement soon emerged as the most prominent one in the annuls of Bangladesh's history.

Celebrated Educationist Prof Dr. Khan Sarwar Murshid once reminded us, "Forgetting or forgetfulness is equivalent to perfidiousness." We should celebrate this great movement every year with due honour and admiration toward its organisers and people who actively participated and supported this crusading battle tending in the direction of a particular glorious goal-directed purposive. Because of the Gonojagoron Monch Movement, we could lawfully try six beastly animals and successfully executed them. We salute the Gonojagoron Monch Movement.

The battle between Bangladesh's two begums is over
The Economist

Dec 7, 2017

The battling begums, Sheikh Hasina Wajed and Khaleda Zia, used to alternate in power with metronomic regularity. Both laid claim to aspects of Bangladesh's founding myth. Sheikh Hasina is the daughter of the "father of Bangladesh", Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the first president. Mrs Zia is widow to Ziaur Rahman, to whom, as an army officer under Mujib, fell the honour of declaring Bangladesh's independence from Pakistan in 1971. He may have known of the coup that lead to Mujib's death, in 1975. Either way, in the ensuing chaos, he rose to power before being murdered by renegade officers himself in 1981. Both men grew dictatorial in power, resorted to violence to settle scores and, in Zia's case, embraced Islamism in an avowedly secular state. Yet the memory of each is burnished by their respective parties, now run as fiefs by the two begums: Sheikh Hasina's Awami League (AL) and Mrs Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

Between 1991 and 2006 the metronome gave Mrs Zia two turns in power and Sheikh Hasina one, thanks in part to caretaker governments installed before each election. This competition helped avoid some of the worst abuses of power. Not before or since has Bangladesh's press been so vibrant and free. Yet it was no golden era. In opposition both the AL and the BNP did all they could to frustrate government, walking out of parliament and shutting down the economy with hartals, general strikes. In power, both parties stuck their snouts in the trough—though the BNP's second term in office was especially egregious.

Smashing the metronome

When Sheikh Hasina came to power for the second time, in 2009, she took a more aggressive approach, going after her enemies and settling scores, some of which dated back to the war of independence from Pakistan. In particular, she set up a (domestic) International Crimes Tribunal to prosecute atrocities committed during the war. A reckoning was needed, but the tribunal was deeply flawed, violating defendants' rights and open to political meddling. The tribunal has hanged half a dozen defendants, including a close adviser to Mrs Zia. The leadership of the BNP's Islamist former coalition partner, Jamaat-e-Islami, was destroyed.

In other ways, too, Sheikh Hasina has outsmarted Mrs Zia, who shows signs of frailty and whose son and political heir, Tarique Rahman, cannot return from exile in London because of corruption charges awaiting him in Bangladesh. When Sheikh Hasina refused to give way to a caretaker government before the general election of 2014, the BNP played into her hands by boycotting the poll and encouraging violence. With no MPs in Parliament, Mrs Zia's powers of patronage have ebbed, though she retains rural support. With the government hounding her, she seems a spent force.

The Awami League and its friends abroad, including the Indian government of Narendra Modi, celebrate a new era. With the metronome and the hartals a thing of the past, policymaking has become more consistent and the investment climate more stable. The government is building lots of power plants and roads. Economic growth has averaged 6% a year for the past decade and is forecast to canter on at almost 7% in the coming years. Some indicators of development, such as child mortality, are markedly better than in India. Bangladesh is no longer a "basket case", as Henry Kissinger once declared.

Yet if Sheikh Hasina has abolished politics, it comes at a price. Partisanship has been replaced by brutal infighting within the ruling party itself. Corruption remains appalling. That allows well-connected industries, such as the tanneries of Hazaribagh, a residential area of Dhaka, to flout environmental laws, causing grave health problems for locals.

The press publishes little criticism of Sheikh Hasina or the AL. Publications that step out of line are hounded. The editor of the Daily Star, the biggest English-language newspaper, has been charged 84 times with defamation and other crimes. Draconian new laws on cyber-security threaten online media. It is even a crime to debate the official version of the war of independence.

The chief justice until recently, Surendra Kumar Sinha, was one of the few still holding the government to account. In October, while he was out of the country, he was charged with corruption and "moral turpitude", among other things; under pressure, he resigned. Darker still is creeping state violence. Parts of the security services, such as the Rapid Action Battalion, a counter-terror unit, act with near impunity. Since 2014 hundreds of opposition politicians, activists and journalists have been arrested or abducted—more than 80 this year alone. Many have ended up dead. Meanwhile, the security services have failed to protect liberal and secular voices from violence by Islamist extremists, although a spate of lethal attacks in 2013-16 has slowed this year.

A general election is due by early 2019 at the latest. As it approaches, the notion that pesky politics has been abolished will look increasingly strained. Not least, deals of convenience that the AL has struck with unsavoury groups carry costs. In 2013 Hefazat-e-Islam, a radical movement financed by doctrinaire Islamists in Saudi Arabia, took to the streets to demand more pious government. The authorities agreed to rewrite school textbooks and remove a statue of the Greek goddess of justice from in front of the Supreme Court. Extremist groups may feel emboldened under a ruling party that is losing its reputation for secularism. And the camps housing more than 600,000 Rohingya refugees who have fled an army-led pogrom in Myanmar may become a fruitful recruiting ground for extremists.

Extrajudicial killings, growing concerns over weak environmental safeguards, pliable courts, a sense among young, educated Bangladeshis that they will be denied opportunities unless they have the right connections, and rich pickings for extremism: breakneck growth is being asked to paper over a lot.

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War Crimes Investigation in Burma

Is This Genocide?
NY Times

By Nicholas Kristof
December 15, 2017

"Ethnic cleansing" and even "genocide" are antiseptic and abstract terms. What they mean in the flesh is a soldier grabbing a crying baby girl named Suhaifa by the leg and flinging her into a bonfire. Or troops locking a 15-year-old girl in a hut and setting it on fire.

The children who survive are left haunted: Noor Kalima, age 10, struggles in class in a makeshift refugee camp. Her mind drifts to her memory of seeing her father and little brother shot dead, her baby sister's and infant brother's throats cut, the machete coming down on her own head, her hut burning around her … and it's difficult to focus on multiplication tables.

"Sometimes I can't concentrate on my class," Noor explained. "I want to throw up."

In the past I've referred to Myanmar's atrocities against its Rohingya Muslim minority as "ethnic cleansing," but increasingly there are indications that the carnage may amount to genocide. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, backed by a Myanmar-focused human rights organization called Fortify Rights, argues that there is "growing evidence of genocide," and Yale scholars made a similar argument even before the latest spasms of violence.

Romeo Dallaire, a legendary former United Nations general, describes it as "very deliberate genocide." The U.N. human rights chief, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, told me, "It would not surprise me at all if a court in the future were to judge that acts of genocide had taken place."

You judge: Here's what Noor and her mother, Dilbar Begum, say happened in their village, Tula Toli. First, the Myanmar Army separated the women and girls from the men and boys.

"Then they shot the men and boys," Dilbar recalled. "I saw them kill my husband and son. I was screaming."

I delicately tried to probe whether Noor had seen the murders of her father and brother, who was just 4 years old.

"I saw everything," Noor said, biting her lip. In a rush of words, she added: "My father was the best man in the world. We were a good team."

She began to cry, and soon my interpreter was wiping away tears, too. And so was I.

The Myanmar soldiers herded the women and girls into huts to be raped. Noor and Dilbar were taken into one hut, along with Noor's 2-year-old sister, Rozia, and another brother, Muhammad Kashel, a baby still nursing.

"They took my baby and cut his throat," Dilbar said in a trembling voice, adding that the soldiers then cut Rozia's throat, too. Shortly afterward, Noor remembers a machete blade smashing down repeatedly on her own head, her mother screaming in the background. Then she collapsed unconscious.

Dilbar said the soldiers then yanked an earring from her ear — she pointed to her torn lobe — and assaulted her beside the bodies of her children: "One soldier held me down, and another raped me." When they were finished, she said, the soldiers chopped her on the head with the machete — she has the same angry scars on her scalp as her daughter — and left her for dead while setting fire to the hut.

The fire and smoke roused her, she said. She checked the bodies of her children and found that Noor was still breathing. Grabbing the girl, she ran into the woods. Dazed, they hiked for two days through the woods to get to the Bangladesh border.

The global and American responses have been feeble, so Myanmar is getting away with murder and rape intended to change the country's demography. The lesson that the world's complacency sends to other countries is that this is an ideal time to eradicate a vexing ethnic group.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, has become the apologist for these mass atrocities. Daw Suu does not control the Myanmar Army, but she has defended the military operation and mocked "a huge iceberg of misinformation." Her Facebook page scoffed at a Rohingya woman's report of sexual assault by soldiers as "fake rape."

Daw Suu, if you're reading this, I hope that for a moment you'll open your heart and listen to the story of Hasina Begum, 21, and her 1-year-old daughter, Suhaifa. (Begum is a common honorific for women.)

Myanmar soldiers held Hasina and other village women at gunpoint, she said, while the troops executed the men and boys, doused the bodies with gasoline and turned the corpses into a bonfire. Then the troops led the women and girls, five at a time, toward a hut.

"I was trying to hide my baby under my scarf, but they saw her leg," Hasina recalled, her voice brittle, her mouth trembling. "They grabbed my baby by the leg and threw her onto the fire."

Hasina said she collapsed on the ground, screaming. The impatient soldiers then began to club her — she showed me scars from the beating — and dragged her into a hut with her sister-in-law, Asma Begum. The soldiers stripped the women naked and raped them, she said, and finally closed the door and set the hut on fire.

As bits of the burning roof fell down on them, Hasina said, she and Asma broke a hole in the side of the hut and ran away naked. They rolled in mud to soothe their burns, and the next day they found a Rohingya house and begged for the man inside to throw out clothes so that they could cover themselves.

A three-day hike took Hasina and Asma to Bangladesh. But Hasina still suffers from the beating and from the emptiness left by the murder of Suhaifa, and she has trouble sleeping.

"When I fall asleep, I look for my baby," she said. "I wake up screaming."

It's tempting to say: That's terrible, but it's not our problem. But Noor's plight, like Anne Frank's in the 1940s, should prick the global conscience, for one lesson of history is this: Crimes against humanity are an offense against all humanity and require a response from all of us.

The latest slaughter began in August after a shadowy Rohingya rebel force attacked police and army posts, killing 12 members of the security forces. Myanmar's Army embarked on a scorched-earth counterinsurgency, and when soldiers couldn't find rebels, they unleashed their fury on civilians.

The brutality varied widely by area, and what happened in Noor's village was worse than typical. Human Rights Watch says, based on satellite images, that some 345 villages were burned. No one knows exactly what happened to many Rohingya: I searched for people from Rohingya villages I had visited in Myanmar in 2014 and 2015 but couldn't find them.

Doctors Without Borders calculated that at least 9,000 Rohingya, including 1,000 small children, died after the army's attacks, which were undertaken with a savagery that left hardened war correspondents shaken. These attacks involved the systematic use of rape to terrorize the Rohingya.

One 14-year-old girl confided her deepest secret: Four soldiers had gang-raped her. She had intended to keep the secret forever, but then she became pregnant and quietly sought medical help. An aid worker helped her get an abortion, but she still hasn't told even her parents. She shared her story with me only because she is so grateful to the aid organization and it told her that I could be trusted.

It's impossible to know how many women and girls have been raped, but doctors in the refugee camps report a surge in pregnancies as a result of rape, and I encountered two women who suffered fistulas caused by rape.

The Rohingya who have reached Bangladesh live in vast, sprawling refugee encampments, where I interviewed them in their tents and shacks; aid organizations provide desperately needed food, water, toilets and medical care, but cannot offer hope. Bangladesh does not want the Rohingya and does not allow aid organizations to teach Bengali, the national language, or to offer an education beyond primary school.

An organization called BRAC runs child centers where children are given paper and pens. Their drawings are wrenching: soldiers shooting guns, friends bleeding, huts burning.

"That man being shot is Sayid Azam, my neighbor," said Ismal, an 11-year-old orphan, explaining his drawing of a huge gun firing at a man. "I saw it. I was hiding behind a bush."

China has proposed a plan that would result in the return of the refugees to Myanmar, presumably to live stateless in concentration camps like the ones for Rohingya that I've previously reported on. But most are too terrified to contemplate returning. It would be an outrage to force refugees back.

Consider Shafika Begum, a 15-year-old who may be the only survivor in her family. She said she saw soldiers shoot dead her father and four brothers; they then took her, her mother and her 11-year-old sister into a hut. The soldiers cut her sister's throat in front of her, and she said that when she screamed, the soldiers clubbed her on the head and knocked her out.

Flames and smoke brought her back to consciousness: The soldiers had locked the door of the hut and set it on fire. Her mother and sister were dead, and Shafika's clothes were on fire, but she broke through a wall and fled.

Was she raped? "I was unconscious, so I don't know what they did to me," she said. But she added that someone had rearranged her clothes.

Shafika walked for four days through the jungle to get to Bangladesh. Her back, left hand and both feet are burned, and she has no money to buy burn medicine. I was concerned that interviewing her might traumatize her again, but she was determined to speak.

"I want to tell the whole world my story," she said. "I want to tell what happens in Myanmar."

The three people whose stories I've focused on — Noor, the 10-year-old; Hasina, whose baby was thrown onto the fire; and Shafika, disfigured by burns — are all from the same village, Tula Toli. All these atrocities that I've described unfolded on a single dot of the map — and in every direction there are other villages with tragedies of their own.

Are the stories they recount true?

One thing I've learned over the decades (originally while covering China's murder of Tiananmen democracy protesters in 1989) is that victims lie as well as perpetrators. Outrage leads to exaggerations, to elevated death tolls, to rumors becoming eyewitness accounts. But the attack on Tula Toli has been well documented by human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Fortify Rights, and it is substantiated by satellite photos showing the burned huts. In all, I spoke to seven people who said they were survivors from Tula Toli, and their stories meshed and cross-confirmed one another.

There is no easy solution to possible genocide; there never is. But accountability helps, so there should be a major push to prosecute Myanmar military officials in the International Criminal Court. Judges can resolve whether these crimes against humanity also amount to genocide.

An open letter from 58 human rights and aid groups has rightly called for targeted sanctions on Myanmar officials. The House of Representatives this month passed a resolution denouncing the ethnic cleansing, and both the Senate and the House have bipartisan legislation pending that would impose sanctions on Myanmar officials, yet it seems unlikely to become law any time soon.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has commendably described the situation as ethnic cleansing and has said that "the world can't just stand idly by and be witness to the atrocities." But I fear that's exactly what is happening. Myanmar may have concluded that its slaughter is a success — denunciations from bleeding-heart journalists and human rights groups are an acceptable price for eliminating half of its Rohingya population.

We do know that international sanctions and pressure matter to Myanmar's generals, because those were what led them to step back and hold elections. But so far there hasn't been enough pressure exerted to stop the barbaric treatment of the Rohingya.

For individuals wondering how to help, there are fine organizations working on the ground in the camps, among them BRAC, Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children and the Hope Foundation for Women and Children of Bangladesh. First-rate advocacy on behalf of the Rohingya has been led by Fortify Rights, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

A Times colleague asked how I can report on these atrocities and not lose faith in humanity. The answer is that I see not only the evil, but also among the survivors a truly inspiring resilience and courage. I am awed by people like Dilbar, Hasina and Shafika with the physical and mental strength to escape through the mountains and then the moral strength to speak out about sexual violence meant to humiliate them into silence.

Hasina may be exhausted from nightmares about searching for her baby, but she displays a moral clarity that world leaders can emulate. "They killed my family members, and they killed my world," she told me. "When I tell my story, I feel terrible, and afterward I go cry to myself. But we need justice, and maybe this will help."

Brave survivors like her ensure that we will never be able to shrug and say: If only we had known. We know.

Myanmar's forgotten and forsaken war victims
Asia Times

By Leena Zieger and Clarisse Tistchenko
Dec 10, 2017

Situated in a picturesque setting between jungle-covered mountains and the sandy banks of the Salween River, Myanmar's internally displaced person (IDP) camp Ei Thu Hta has long provided safe haven to ethnic Karen civilians who fled military attacks on their native villages.

[The lives of the estimated 2,670 IDPs in Ei Thu Hta now hang in the balance, however, as camp residents face a new threat – their long-standing international food aid has since October been cut to zero.

Situated in a picturesque setting between jungle-covered mountains and the sandy banks of the Salween River, Myanmar's internally displaced person (IDP) camp Ei Thu Hta has long provided safe haven to ethnic Karen civilians who fled military attacks on their native villages.

The lives of the estimated 2,670 IDPs in Ei Thu Hta now hang in the balance, however, as camp residents face a new threat – their long-standing international food aid has since October been cut to zero.

"The camp residents are worried about their future. They can't decide whether to stay or leave because neither of the choices is good," says Saw Kler Kaw, 51, the camp's secretary. "There are still landmines and fighting. The [Myanmar] Army is still around our village. If we return home, something bad would happen to us for sure."

Established in 2006, Ei Thu Hta quickly grew into a refuge for thousands of civilians whose desperate flight away from one of the world's most brutal military regimes was recognized and supported by the international donor community.

The Border Consortium (TBC), an aid coordination network based on the Thai-Myanmar border, provided food rations and other humanitarian aid for the IDPs.

The camp sits within Brigade 5 of the Karen National Union (KNU) – a political organization representing the Karen – and allows no access for the Myanmar government or army.

Naw Thein Nay, the chairperson of the Karen Women's Organization (KWO) in Ei Thu Hta, describes the camp as a safe place where the IDPs can recover from the pain and suffering caused by war.

She says that before Ei Htu Hta was recognized as an IDP camp, the Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw, frequently killed people who came to trade in the area. "But after the camp was set up for the IDPs, there have been no more killings here," she said.

As the narrative of democratic transition and ceasefires signed between ethnic armed organizations and the Myanmar government has gained international recognition, IDPs in Ei Thu Hta have steadily lost outside support.

Donors have increasingly shifted their funds towards the central government, often at the expense of ethnic populations along the conflict-ridden Thai-Myanmar border. That international withdrawal is leaving various vulnerable populations without vital aid.

Stuck between a rock and a hard place, the IDPs in Ei Thu Hta face an impossible choice – go back to lands occupied by the very army they escaped from, or choose relative safety from the military with no food security.

The camp's leadership is in clear agreement Ei Thu Hta's residents are in a no-win situation. "Our current situation is that we can neither go back nor stay," says the camp education committee leader Saw Soe Khu, 34. "I want the international community to carefully observe the real situation in [Myanmar] before they tell us to return."

"For us, we still do not feel safe to go back…We are afraid," says the camp leader Saw Kai Doe, 43, echoing the views of others.

The push for return is taking place at a time when brutal Myanmar army 'clearance operations' targeting Rohingya civilians in western Myanmar have topped worldwide headlines.

The horrid stories of torched villages, mass rapes and random killings in Rakhine state are sadly all too familiar for the Karen, who have endured state terror for decades – albeit with less media attention.

In Myanmar's southeast, the Tatmadaw razed over 3,500 Karen villages to the ground between 1985-2010, committing unspeakable atrocities in the process.

Today, around 100,000 refugees – mostly ethnic Karen – still reside in nine refugee camps in Thailand, while the majority of Myanmar's over 600,000 IDPs are based in the southeastern region.

Although the KNU signed a preliminary ceasefire with the government in January 2012, followed by the inking of a 'Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement' (NCA) in October 2015, the situation on the ground remains complex.

Naw Thein Nay is one of many observers who feel that the international community is misreading the situation on the ground. "The government is doing this peace process just to bring benefits and advantages for themselves," she says.

"They get advantages from this [ceasefire] process in many ways," says camp secretary Saw Kler Kaw. "But if you have a look at what good has come of it for the civilians like us who live in this country, you'll see there is nothing at all. It even causes us more worry."

That's in part because NCA is not a nationwide pact — in fact, only a fraction of Myanmar's myriad ethnic armed groups have signed the deal, which most deem as non-inclusive and unlikely to bring a lasting solution to what is often referred to as the world's longest running civil war.

Meanwhile, the Tatmadaw continues large-scale attacks against ethnic civilians in active conflict zones, committing war crimes and other serious violations of international law, according to human rights groups.

Even in Karen ceasefire areas sporadic fighting has continued throughout the process, displacing thousands of civilians since the NCA was signed.

For many displaced Karen, the most notable change caused by the NCA has been cuts in international aid. Saw Soe Khu likens the NCA to a military strategy to put vulnerable ethnic populations and especially IDPs at a further disadvantage.

"They [Myanmar government] announced that they have signed the ceasefire to make the donors believe it," he proclaims. "The government's plan is to persuade the donors to stop giving us funds."

Either way, the increasing militarization of the region is a clear signal for IDPs about the military's intentions in Karen state. "The peace process has become an opportunity for leaders and the [Myanmar] military," said Saw Soe Khu. "They have been able to set up more military camps."

Saw Klar Kaw says that before the ceasefire the Myanmar army would have had difficulty increasing their presence in the region. He says that Karen IDPs are even more afraid of the military now that new bases have been built and old camps fortified.

"I am not happy with the peace process," camp leader Saw Kai Doe says, echoing the views of his fellow leaders. "We love peace, but it should be real peace."

No safe passage

An uncertain peace process, ongoing conflict and human rights violations, and the Myanmar army's rising militarization of ceasefire areas has underscored the notion among IDPs that they cannot return home safely.

Si Bwel Paw, a 24-year-old young woman who lives in the camp with her parents and siblings and works as a volunteer medic, says she wishes is to return, but not until the time is right. "I don't dare to return yet because the military is still staying around my home village."

Other obstacles for safe and dignified return include lands infested with landmines, lack of equal rights and adequate socio-economic conditions, as well as access to land and basic services.

"We can see that there is still civil war in the country. And we can hear the landmines exploding every year on the way we came. We do not believe that it is safe for us to return home," says Saw Kler Kaw. "If we stay here, there is no more food, but if we go back to our country we can't guarantee that there will be food or jobs for us."

Saw Soe Khu says that although the government has set up schools in Karen villages, they do not allow for teaching of Karen literature or language. For him, it is another government strategy to weaken or destroy Karen culture.

Despite those well-founded fears and life-threatening obstacles to return, the international donor community has turned its back on this remote community. The cuts in food aid have not only made camp residents anxious about their survival but have also had detrimental effects on basic services.

In June 2017, both Ei Tu Hta camp high schools were forced to close as the imminent end of food rations pushed teachers to quit their positions.

Their closure means that most IDP youth will not continue their education past middle school, as their families have no means to pay travel and school fees. The Karen have traditionally placed great emphasis on educating their young, and concerns are rife.

"They [youth] just stay home or work daily to earn money. We are worried for the youth's education," says Saw Kai Doe.

For Naw Mer Poe, a 37-year-old single mother of four, life was hard even before rice rations were cut. "I want to see [my children] all become educated people and then get jobs. However, as the ration was cut, I worry that my children won't have opportunity to continue their studies."

Naw Thein Nay's greatest concern is for the camp's most vulnerable individuals, including single parents like Naw Mer Poe and elderly residents who live alone. "I don't know where they will get food from. They can't even work, so I am really worried for them."

Naw Thein Nay is no stranger to personal hardship. After her brother was shot by the Tatmadaw and her sister-in-law mutilated and killed by a landmine explosion, Naw Thein Nay has been caring for eight children. As with other camp residents, she is struggling to feed and educate the children.

Although the camp's IDPs are insistent that they cannot return until the conflict is genuinely resolved, cuts in aid could yet drive them into the hands of the military they still fear and mistrust. All they want, they say, is to live peacefully and without fear of persecution or starvation.

Situated in a picturesque setting between jungle-covered mountains and the sandy banks of the Salween River, Myanmar's internally displaced person (IDP) camp Ei Thu Hta has long provided safe haven to ethnic Karen civilians who fled military attacks on their native villages.

The lives of the estimated 2,670 IDPs in Ei Thu Hta now hang in the balance, however, as camp residents face a new threat – their long-standing international food aid has since October been cut to zero.

"The camp residents are worried about their future. They can't decide whether to stay or leave because neither of the choices is good," says Saw Kler Kaw, 51, the camp's secretary. "There are still landmines and fighting. The [Myanmar] Army is still around our village. If we return home, something bad would happen to us for sure."

Established in 2006, Ei Thu Hta quickly grew into a refuge for thousands of civilians whose desperate flight away from one of the world's most brutal military regimes was recognized and supported by the international donor community.

The Border Consortium (TBC), an aid coordination network based on the Thai-Myanmar border, provided food rations and other humanitarian aid for the IDPs.

Myanmar-Karen State Map-Ei Tu Hta Camp-Burma Link-Lucas Grigri Map: Burma Link/Lucas Grigri

The camp sits within Brigade 5 of the Karen National Union (KNU) – a political organization representing the Karen – and allows no access for the Myanmar government or army.

Naw Thein Nay, the chairperson of the Karen Women's Organization (KWO) in Ei Thu Hta, describes the camp as a safe place where the IDPs can recover from the pain and suffering caused by war.

She says that before Ei Htu Hta was recognized as an IDP camp, the Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw, frequently killed people who came to trade in the area. "But after the camp was set up for the IDPs, there have been no more killings here," she said.

As the narrative of democratic transition and ceasefires signed between ethnic armed organizations and the Myanmar government has gained international recognition, IDPs in Ei Thu Hta have steadily lost outside support.

Donors have increasingly shifted their funds towards the central government, often at the expense of ethnic populations along the conflict-ridden Thai-Myanmar border. That international withdrawal is leaving various vulnerable populations without vital aid.

Stuck between a rock and a hard place, the IDPs in Ei Thu Hta face an impossible choice – go back to lands occupied by the very army they escaped from, or choose relative safety from the military with no food security.

Myanmar is reconnecting with the outside world after decades of military rule.

The camp's leadership is in clear agreement Ei Thu Hta's residents are in a no-win situation. "Our current situation is that we can neither go back nor stay," says the camp education committee leader Saw Soe Khu, 34. "I want the international community to carefully observe the real situation in [Myanmar] before they tell us to return."

"For us, we still do not feel safe to go back…We are afraid," says the camp leader Saw Kai Doe, 43, echoing the views of others.

Insincere peace

The push for return is taking place at a time when brutal Myanmar army 'clearance operations' targeting Rohingya civilians in western Myanmar have topped worldwide headlines.

The horrid stories of torched villages, mass rapes and random killings in Rakhine state are sadly all too familiar for the Karen, who have endured state terror for decades – albeit with less media attention.

In Myanmar's southeast, the Tatmadaw razed over 3,500 Karen villages to the ground between 1985-2010, committing unspeakable atrocities in the process.

Today, around 100,000 refugees – mostly ethnic Karen – still reside in nine refugee camps in Thailand, while the majority of Myanmar's over 600,000 IDPs are based in the southeastern region.

Although the KNU signed a preliminary ceasefire with the government in January 2012, followed by the inking of a 'Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement' (NCA) in October 2015, the situation on the ground remains complex.

Representatives of the rebel Karen National Union (KNU) shake hands with Myanmar government officials (R) following ceasefire talks in Hpa-an, the main city of the country's eastern Karen state on January 12, 2012. Myanmar's government and one of the country's leading ethnic rebel groups signed a ceasefire on January 12, raising hopes of an end to one of the world's longest-running civil conflicts. In the latest of Myanmar's tentative attempts at reform, a delegation of ministers from the capital Naypyidaw and senior members of the Karen National Union (KNU) signed the pact in Hpa-an, capital of war-torn eastern Karen state.

Naw Thein Nay is one of many observers who feel that the international community is misreading the situation on the ground. "The government is doing this peace process just to bring benefits and advantages for themselves," she says.

"They get advantages from this [ceasefire] process in many ways," says camp secretary Saw Kler Kaw. "But if you have a look at what good has come of it for the civilians like us who live in this country, you'll see there is nothing at all. It even causes us more worry."

That's in part because NCA is not a nationwide pact – in fact, only a fraction of Myanmar's myriad ethnic armed groups have signed the deal, which most deem as non-inclusive and unlikely to bring a lasting solution to what is often referred to as the world's longest running civil war.

Meanwhile, the Tatmadaw continues large-scale attacks against ethnic civilians in active conflict zones, committing war crimes and other serious violations of international law, according to human rights groups.

Even in Karen ceasefire areas sporadic fighting has continued throughout the process, displacing thousands of civilians since the NCA was signed.

For many displaced Karen, the most notable change caused by the NCA has been cuts in international aid. Saw Soe Khu likens the NCA to a military strategy to put vulnerable ethnic populations and especially IDPs at a further disadvantage.

"They [Myanmar government] announced that they have signed the ceasefire to make the donors believe it," he proclaims. "The government's plan is to persuade the donors to stop giving us funds."

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini gives a news conference with Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi in Brussels, Belgium May 2, 2017.

Either way, the increasing militarization of the region is a clear signal for IDPs about the military's intentions in Karen state. "The peace process has become an opportunity for leaders and the [Myanmar] military," said Saw Soe Khu. "They have been able to set up more military camps."

Saw Klar Kaw says that before the ceasefire the Myanmar army would have had difficulty increasing their presence in the region. He says that Karen IDPs are even more afraid of the military now that new bases have been built and old camps fortified.

"I am not happy with the peace process," camp leader Saw Kai Doe says, echoing the views of his fellow leaders. "We love peace, but it should be real peace."

No safe passage

An uncertain peace process, ongoing conflict and human rights violations, and the Myanmar army's rising militarization of ceasefire areas has underscored the notion among IDPs that they cannot return home safely.

Si Bwel Paw, a 24-year-old young woman who lives in the camp with her parents and siblings and works as a volunteer medic, says she wishes is to return, but not until the time is right. "I don't dare to return yet because the military is still staying around my home village."

Other obstacles for safe and dignified return include lands infested with landmines, lack of equal rights and adequate socio-economic conditions, as well as access to land and basic services.

"We can see that there is still civil war in the country. And we can hear the landmines exploding every year on the way we came. We do not believe that it is safe for us to return home," says Saw Kler Kaw. "If we stay here, there is no more food, but if we go back to our country we can't guarantee that there will be food or jobs for us."

Saw Soe Khu says that although the government has set up schools in Karen villages, they do not allow for teaching of Karen literature or language. For him, it is another government strategy to weaken or destroy Karen culture.

Despite those well-founded fears and life-threatening obstacles to return, the international donor community has turned its back on this remote community. The cuts in food aid have not only made camp residents anxious about their survival but have also had detrimental effects on basic services.

In June 2017, both Ei Tu Hta camp high schools were forced to close as the imminent end of food rations pushed teachers to quit their positions.

Their closure means that most IDP youth will not continue their education past middle school, as their families have no means to pay travel and school fees. The Karen have traditionally placed great emphasis on educating their young, and concerns are rife.

"They [youth] just stay home or work daily to earn money. We are worried for the youth's education," says Saw Kai Doe.

For Naw Mer Poe, a 37-year-old single mother of four, life was hard even before rice rations were cut. "I want to see [my children] all become educated people and then get jobs. However, as the ration was cut, I worry that my children won't have opportunity to continue their studies."

Naw Thein Nay's greatest concern is for the camp's most vulnerable individuals, including single parents like Naw Mer Poe and elderly residents who live alone. "I don't know where they will get food from. They can't even work, so I am really worried for them."

Naw Thein Nay is no stranger to personal hardship. After her brother was shot by the Tatmadaw and her sister-in-law mutilated and killed by a landmine explosion, Naw Thein Nay has been caring for eight children. As with other camp residents, she is struggling to feed and educate the children.

Although the camp's IDPs are insistent that they cannot return until the conflict is genuinely resolved, cuts in aid could yet drive them into the hands of the military they still fear and mistrust. All they want, they say, is to live peacefully and without fear of persecution or starvation.

"I would love the world to check the situation of [Myanmar's] peace process in detail, and think deeply whether it is a real peace process or not," says Naw Thein Nay. "It is not the right time to return yet."

[back to contents]

Israel and Palestine

UN slams 'shocking' killing of double amputee Gazan protester
The Times of Israel

By Judah Ari Gross
December 19, 2017

The UN's human rights chief said Tuesday he was "truly shocked" by Israeli troops' killing of a wheelchair-bound Palestinian protester in Gaza, and demanded an "independent and impartial investigation."

Ibrahim Abu Thurayeh, a 29-year-old who lost his legs after an Israeli attack a decade ago, was among five Palestinians killed on Friday during protests against US President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

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In a statement, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein slammed Trump's decision as "dangerously provocative" and blamed it for the violence.

The UN human rights office said Abu Thurayeh was among hundreds of Palestinians who marched across farmland toward the fence separating Gaza from Israel, and appeared to have been shot in the head when he was 20 meters (yards) from the barrier.

"The facts gathered so far by my staff in Gaza strongly suggest that the force used against Ibrahim Abu Thurayeh was excessive," Zeid said.

"As far as we can see, there is nothing whatsoever to suggest that Ibrahim Abu Thurayeh was posing an imminent threat of death or serious injury when he was killed.

"Given his severe disability, which must have been clearly visible to those who shot him, his killing is incomprehensible – a truly shocking and wanton act."

"Israeli security forces have responded with firearms, including live-ammunition, to disperse the protesters," Zeid said.

"These events, including the loss of five irreplaceable human lives, can sadly be traced directly back to the unilateral US announcement on the status of Jerusalem, which breaks international consensus and was dangerously provocative."

Despite the Israeli army's own internal probe into the events, Zeid urged "an independent and impartial investigation" to ensure perpetrators are held accountable.

In video footage recorded early on Friday, Abu Thurayeh could be seen carrying the Palestinian flag and waving the victory sign at Israeli soldiers across the border.

The army on Monday evening said soldiers did not intentionally shoot Abu Thurayeh, though it could not determine his cause of death.

The army's investigation did not seem to completely rule out that possibility, but did indicate that Abu Thurayeh was not specifically targeted.

"No live fire was aimed at Abu Thurayeh. It is impossible to determine whether Abu Thurayeh was injured as a result of riot dispersal means or what caused his death," the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.

"The initial investigation indicates that no moral or professional failures were identified," the army said.

The military said it was hindered in its investigation by the fact that Palestinian authorities did not share the details of the double-amputee's injuries from the demonstration.

"Despite numerous IDF requests for information, no precise details or conclusions regarding Abu Toriya's (sic) injuries were received. If additional details will be received, they will be examined and studied," the army spokesperson said.

According to the IDF, some 3,500 Palestinians protested along the Gaza security fence on Friday over Trump's December 6 decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and ultimately move the American embassy to the holy city.

Trump said his declaration did not prejudge a final status agreement as part of a future peace deal, but Palestinians have been infuriated by the decision. Palestinians consider East Jerusalem, captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War, as the capital of their future state.

In a statement on Sunday, the army blamed the Hamas terrorist group for the border riots. Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, has been urging Palestinians to confront soldiers and settlers in a new intifada following US President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

"These riots are supported by the Hamas terror organization. Hamas sends civilians to the security fence and encourages violence against IDF troops. Any attempt to destroy the fence and cross it is considered a violation of Israeli sovereignty," the army said.

Palestinian teen in coma after shot with rubber bullet

By Jaclynn Ashly
December 18, 2017

A 14-year-old Palestinian boy has been placed into a medically-induced coma after Israeli soldiers shot him in the face with a rubber bullet during a protest against a US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Mohammed Tamimi was shot at close range in the village of Nabi Saleh in the occupied West Bank on Friday, according to witnesses.

Manal Tamimi, a second cousin of Mohammed, said the bullet entered the teen's face below his nose and broke his jaw before getting lodged into his skull.

"The blood was pouring from his face like a fountain," the 43-year-old mother of four told Al Jazeera on Sunday.

"It was so scary. No one knew what to do. We were scared to move him. He had passed out and we were afraid he had already died."

With the injury causing internal bleeding, Mohammed underwent a six-hour procedure involving seven Palestinian surgeons at the Istishari hospital near Ramallah, said Manal.

The doctors removed the bullet, reconstructed his jaw and placed him into an artificial coma for 72 hours.

"His situation is very bad," she said. "Doctors fear he may have suffered damage to his sight and hearing."

The family will not learn the extent of damage caused by the injury until Mohammed wakes up on Tuesday.

Manal's husband, Billal, said Nabi Saleh residents packed the hospital in solidarity with Mohammed's family during his surgery. Many also donated blood to the injured minor.

The Israeli army did not respond to Al Jazeera's request for comment.

'These bullets can kill'

Rubber bullets are widely deployed by Israeli security forces as a "crowd control weapon" in the occupied West Bank, prompting an outcry from human rights groups and activists who say they are too lethal to be used to break up protests.

Their usage was banned in Israel and the city of Jerusalem more than a decade ago following an investigation into the killings of at least 12 Palestinian citizens of Israel in 2000.

The Israeli security forces then began using the sponge-tipped or "plastic" bullet in Israel and Jerusalem, while continuing using rubber bullets in the occupied West Bank.

However, both rubber and plastic bullets have been causing serious injuries, and even deaths.

Defense for Children International - Palestine (DCIP), a human rights group, said a 15-year-old Palestinian boy was killed in December last year by a rubber bullet north of Ramallah. Five months earlier, a 10-year old boy died from a sponge-tipped bullet in the town of al-Ram, the group said.

Manal and Bilal said about 10 protesters were injured by rubber bullets in Nabi Saleh on Friday alone.

"They [Israel] claims that these bullets are not harmful and are just used to scare protesters. But, that's not true," Manal said.

"These bullets can kill."

Israeli rights group B'Tselem said some 19 Palestinians, including 12 minors, were killed by rubber bullets between 2000 and 2013.

Israeli military rules stipulate that "crowd control weapons" should only be fired at the lower body, and never at children.

However, Manal said security forces specifically "target children" during protests in Nabi Saleh.

This was intended as "a form of collective punishment" to hurt parents and others who "choose to resist the Israeli occupation", she said. Many children have become "traumatised" by the actions of the Israeli security forces in their village, she added.

Manal herself still suffers from knee pains after Israeli forces shot her multiple times in the knees with rubber bullets during a demonstration three years ago.

Her brother, Rami, was meanwhile shot in the head five years ago. The bullet shattered his skull and he continues to suffer frequent seizures.

Ronit Sela, director of human rights for the occupied territories unit at the Tel Aviv-based Association for Civil Rights in Israel, condemned the Israeli use of rubber bullets during protests.

"The problem with the sponge bullets and even more so of the rubber-coated bullets is that they leave people with serious injuries, life-long disabilities and can sometimes cause death," Sela told Al Jazeera.

"Using rubber bullets as a less lethal weapon to disperse crowds has been proven time and again to be a too dangerous weapon, because it causes serious injuries and death," she said.

"It's too lethal to be used in the context of dispersal."

Israeli troops kill 3 Palestinians, wound scores in protests over Jerusalem
Gulf Times

December 15, 2017

Israeli troops shot dead three Palestinians and wounded 150 others on Friday, medical officials said, as protests over US President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital entered a second week.

Most of the casualties were on the Gaza Strip border, where thousands of Palestinians gathered to hurl rocks at Israeli soldiers beyond the fortified fence. Medics said two protesters, one of them wheelchair-bound, were killed and 145 wounded.

In the occupied West Bank, another territory where Palestinians seek statehood along with adjacent East Jerusalem, medics said one protester was killed and five wounded by Israeli gunfire.

One was a man who Israeli police troopers said was shot after he stabbed and moderately wounded a member of their unit. Reuters witnesses said the Palestinian had a knife and wore what looked like a bomb belt. A Palestinian medic said the belt was fake.

Palestinians -- and the wider Arab and Muslim world -- were incensed at Trump's Dec. 6 announcement, which reversed decades of US policy reticence on Jerusalem, a city where both Israel and the Palestinians want sovereignty.

Washington's European allies and Russia have also voiced worries about Trump's decision. Gaza's dominant Hamas Islamists, which reject coexistence with Israel, called last week for a new Palestinian uprising, but any such mass-mobilisation has yet to be seen in the West Bank or East Jerusalem.

There have been almost nightly Gazan rocket launches into Israel, so far without casualties. Israel has responded with air strikes on Hamas facilities, one of which killed two gunmen. The Israeli military said that, on Friday, about 3,500 Palestinians demonstrated near the Gaza border fence.

"During the violent riots IDF (Israel Defence Force) soldiers fired selectively towards main instigators," the military said in a statement.

It said that about 2,500 Palestinians took part in riots in the West Bank, rolling flaming tyres and throwing firebombs and rocks at soldiers and border police, who responded.

Coinciding with International Human Rights Day, Israeli Forces' Kill and Injure Non-Violent Protestors of US Decision on Jerusalem

By Al Mezan Center for Human Rights
December 12, 2017

In the context of US President Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, 8 December 2017 bore witness to the Israeli military's use of excessive force against Palestinian protestors, including children and young protestors, during protests. Across the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), crowds of protestors demonstrated against the US recognition of Jerusalem, including occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem, as the capital of Israel, and the support of Israel's unlawful policies in Jerusalem that the move represents. The Palestinian Ministry of Health reported that four Palestinians were killed and at least 1,114 were injured. The Israeli air force also directed attacks at several targets in the Gaza Strip.

Al Mezan's General Director, Issam Younis, criticized the US decision stating that, "the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, despite Israel's annexation of territory acquired by force, reflects an alarming violation of international law. It overlooks the rights of the Palestinian population of Jerusalem, runs counter to the UN position that the final status of Jerusalem be decided by the parties at the end of a negotiated process, and contradicts the resolutions of the UN Security Council and General Assembly." The US also announced a planned move of its embassy to Jerusalem. The US announcements were responded to with demonstrations across the oPt.

According to Al Mezan's monitoring and documentation in the Gaza Strip, at around 1 pm on Friday, 8 December 2017, Israeli occupying forces located on the northern and eastern borders of Gaza opened fire at protestors. The demonstrations were mostly formed of children and youth and took place in the eastern parts of the Gaza Strip in Rafah, Khan Younis, Middle Gaza, Gaza City, and North Gaza.

While attending a demonstration in Abasan Al Kabeera, eastern Khan Younis, Mahmoud Abdul-Majeed Al Masri, 29, was shot in the right leg. He died an hour later in the Gaza European Hospital. In Khan Younis, 162 Palestinians, including 20 children, were injured; 62 individuals sustained multiple injuries. Some protesters were targeted with rubber bullets and teargas canisters were shot directly at people. The demonstrations continued until 6 pm.

At 9:15 pm, in North Gaza, the Israeli air force fired five missiles at a site of a Palestinian armed resistance group in eastern Shaik Zayed in Beit Lahiya. Maher Mohammed Atallah, 54, had a heart attack as a result of the raid. He later died in the nearby Indonesian Hospital. The raid also caused the moderate to severe injury of 21 others, including seven children and four women. Some nearby houses and other civilian properties were damaged.

At 3:50 am on Saturday, 9 December 2017, the Israeli air force fired three missiles at a former site of the General Authority of Civil Affairs in eastern Jabalia refugee camp. A toddler, Kareem Wisam Abu Namous, one year old, sustained bruising on different parts of his body in the attack. Some nearby houses and civilian properties nearby were damaged.

At 4:10 am, in the Gaza City governorate, the Israeli air force fired one missile at the Abu Jarad site of a Palestinian armed resistance group in southern Gaza City. Mohammed Al Safadi, 25, and Mahmoud Al Atel, 26, were killed in the attack.

Al Mezan condemns the escalation of the use of force in the oPt, which runs counter to international human rights standards, in particular concerning the right to life, and violates international humanitarian law principles. "Coinciding with International Human Rights Day, the escalation follows the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, which is a move that blatantly undermines Palestinian human rights and belittles the systematic gross violations of human rights by Israel," stated Issam Younis.

The use of lethal force to suppress the non-violent protests speaks to Israel's intention to prevent Palestinian's from calling for their fundamental human rights, notably the right to self-determination. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of 1948, is a marker for both the rights that Palestinians are due and those that they have been denied since the establishment of Israel in the same year. The international community must take practical steps to challenge this reality, first by taking all possible measures to enforce implementation of the UN's binding resolutions on the oPt, especially regarding Jerusalem. The US announcement puts at greater risk the peace and security of an already volatile region and the international community must take measures to protect civilians.

The international community must wholly reject the US decision, which lends credibility to the Israeli government's policies and practices that seek to alter the physical and demographic landscape of Jerusalem in favor of its Jewish character and at the expense of its international law obligations as a duty bearer and occupying power. To combat these policies the international community must take concrete steps to hold Israel accountable and provide access to justice for victims.

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North & Central America

Colombia, Mexico and US vow increased cooperation against crime
Colombia Reports

By Adriaan Alsema
December 8, 2017

The top justice officials from Colombia, Mexico and the United States met on Thursday in Cartagena in an attempt to improve cooperation to fight transnational crime.

Colombia's Prosecutor General Nestor Humberto Martinez met with his counterparts Jeff Sessions from the US and Alberto Elias from Mexico to "renew the existing commitment to international judicial cooperation and to deepen joint strategies in the fight against transnational organized crime," according to a joint statement.

In particular, the three countries plan to maximize collective law enforcement capabilities by:

Streamlining the exchange of information in real time among the investigative bodies in the three countries by utilizing law enforcement channels of communication whenever possible;

Prioritizing and collaborating in the interdiction of shipments of narcotics and its illicit proceeds;

Engaging in investigative strategies, where possible, to more effectively dismantle transnational criminal organizations;

Increasing the exchange of best practices to more effectively investigate and prosecute transnational criminal organizations; and

Developing joint capacity building and training programs for public sector actors responsible for criminal investigations and prosecutions, with a particular focus on organized crime, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, asset forfeiture, and public corruption.

US Department of Justice

The summit came amid tensions over the so-called "War on Drugs" that is led by the US.

Both Mexico and Colombia have demanded a more humane approach to crime fighting for years.

The Colombian government has called for an increased focus on illegal armed groups involved in the international drug trade, money laundering and gold mining.

"We're gonna make progress," Sessions was quoted as saying after the summit.

The administration of President Juan Manuel Santos teamed up with the United Nations last year to curb record cultivation of coca, the base ingredient of cocaine.

Mexico is reportedly ending one of the most violent years in history.

The US is suffering unprecedented levels of drug abuse.

Citizen's Group Seeks US Accountability for CIA Renditions
Associated Press

By Emery P. Dalesio
December 8, 2017

Efforts to prosecute the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and four co-defendants are stalled in part over a lingering issue Americans haven't yet resolved: torture.

Interrogators at secret CIA prisons repeatedly slammed Ammar al Baluchi's head against walls, leaving the 9/11 planner and nephew of attack mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed with brain injuries and memory loss, one of Baluchi's attorneys, Air Force Lt. Col. Sterling Thomas, said before court proceedings this week at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Thomas' allegations are resonating with The North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture, a private, 11-member group of citizens whose mission is to highlight and denounce the practice. Just last week, the organization featured Thomas as one of its speakers at an anti-torture teach-in attended by about 100 people in Raleigh.

"The science, the facts, and the law all cut against the pro-torture argument, but they're not being heard very well," Thomas said. "So some of the discussion has to be taken on by those who are disturbed" by it. "Those people are often citizens who speak up."

The academics, lawyers, retired military officers and clergy who make up the commission are planning public talks in North Carolina and Washington, D.C., and aim to issue a report next summer with recommendations for county, state, and federal officials.

"We don't have the power to lock anybody up. We don't have the power to order people to pay" compensation, commission co-chair and former Guantanamo defense lawyer Frank Goldsmith noted at last week's meeting. "But we can make findings. ... We can call for action."

Such nongovernmental inquiry commissions are rare, though others succeeded in bringing attention to American military atrocities in Vietnam and war crimes in Bangladesh during the 1971 civil war. Nonetheless, one of the legal experts who helped set the limits of harsh interrogation tactics under President George W. Bush dismissed the North Carolina group's hearings as little more than a publicity stunt.

"I ... don't see why the state of North Carolina has any special interest or reason to hold an inquiry on a question of national security," former deputy assistant attorney general and Berkeley law school professor John Yoo said in an email. "Is each state going to have its own special panel on every controversial question of foreign policy? This is why the Constitution vests control ... in the federal government alone."

Some tactics employed by CIA interrogators are now widely viewed as torture. A 2014 report from the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded the agency understated the brutality of the techniques, while overstating the value of information obtained by using them.

The spy agency "did not always live up to the high standards that we set for ourselves and that the American people expect of us," the CIA said in response. In a separate report, the CIA's inspector general said the interrogation program cobbled together in the months following the 9/11 attacks sometimes exceeded even Bush's flexible guidelines when it allowed such tactics as simulated drownings, mock executions and threats against family members.

The detention and interrogation program ended after President Barack Obama took office in 2009. It "has been thoroughly investigated over the course of several years," CIA spokesman Ryan Trapani wrote in an email.

Americans are evenly split over whether torture is acceptable in some circumstances, according to a Pew Research Center poll taken in the two weeks preceding the 2016 elections. President Donald Trump's campaign included promises to reinstate waterboarding and allow other extreme forms of torture.

The North Carolina group began ramping up about the time Trump became president, but it is an outgrowth of more than a decade of campaigning by Raleigh-area activists against taxpayer support for a company tied to the CIA's clandestine transfers of terrorism suspects.

For the past decade, the activists have denounced Aero Contractors Limited, a private air carrier operating out of a county airport about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Raleigh. Aero Contractors has delivered about 50 people to secret prisons from Thailand to Poland for interrogation and torture, according to Sam Raphael, a senior lecturer in international relations at London's University of Westminster who has been documenting the CIA's rendition program.

Aero Contractors did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Raphael, who spoke at the commission's hearings in Raleigh, said he hopes the citizens' inquiry convinces Americans that their government engaged in "crime on a global scale" while striving to keep them safe from terrorists.

"The overarching goal is to establish the truth of what happened ... to seek some measure of accountability and justice for those who suffered ... as well as to ensure the truth is known so that it is not repeated in the future," he said.

Mexico: murders of women rise sharply as drug war intensifies
The Guardian

December 14, 2017

The number of women being murdered in Mexico has risen sharply over the last decade amid the country's drug war, more than wiping out two decades of gains when the rate fell by half, a new study shows.

The report from Mexico's interior department, the country's National Women's Institute and the UN Women agency said the annual femicide rate was 3.8 per 100,000 women in 1985 before it began a steady decline to 1.9 in 2007. From there it rose sharply to peak at 4.6 per 100,000 in 2012, tapering off in the following years and then rising again last year to 4.4.

Of the 52,210 killings of women recorded over the 32-year period, nearly a third took place in the last six years, the report said.

The rise in such killings coincided with Mexico's militarised offensive against drug cartels launched in late 2006 by then-president Felipe Calderón. It also roughly tracks overall homicide trends during the period.

About 12% of homicide victims in Mexico last year were women, compared with about 10% in 1985. That was down slightly from the early and mid-2000s.

"Violence against women and girls - which can result in death - is perpetrated, in most cases, to conserve and reproduce the submission and subordination of them derived from relationships of power," the report said.

The tiny state of Colima registered the country's highest femicide rate in 2016, with 16.3 per 100,000. It was followed by the states of Guerrero, Zacatecas, Chihuahua and Morelos.

For sheer numbers, the highest for a single state was 421 in the state of Mexico, which surrounds the capital on three sides and is the country's most populous state.

Most of those are states with a heavy presence of organized crime gangs. Guerrero, in particular, is a hotspot of cartel violence. The Pacific coast resort city of Acapulco in Guerrero registered more killings of women last year than any other municipality, with 107.

The study also noted an increase in recent years of murders of women outside the home, "which probably is related to the increase in organised crime activities". Last year 41% of murders of women happened outside the home.

"The increase in killings of women in public constitutes one of the most important findings of this study, which explains a good part of the recent total growth of femicides in Mexico," the report said.

The study also said that while the vast majority of male homicide victims are killed with firearms, many femicides continue to be by "the most cruel means" such as stabbing, beating and strangling, which it said reflects misogyny.

"This means there has not been success in changing the cultural patterns that devalue women and consider them disposable, allowing for a social permissiveness in the face of violence and its ultimate expression, femicide," the report said.

It recommended all levels of government tackle the problem by strengthening "public policies to prevent violence and to achieve greater empowerment and economic autonomy for women, as well as eliminating the risks they face in public spaces".

Mexican Drug War: More than 100 Mayors Killed Sinced 2006 Because the Federal Government Abanoned Them, Data Shows

By Robert Valencia
December 14, 2017

Mexican Mayor José Santos Hernández of the Oaxaca State city of San José el Alto was killed by gunmen who intercepted his vehicle on Friday afternoon, becoming the third official of this type to be murdered since November. The recent casualties reveal a ghastly reality officials have grappled with for over a decade, according to a study.

Since 2006-the year in which the Mexican War on Drugs started under President Felipe Calderón-108 mayors have been murdered, of which 50 were in office, nine were mayors-elect and 49 were former officials. Just this year, 18 mayors were killed-the worst rate since 2010-according to data from the National Association of Mayors, an organization that currently has 479 mayors as members.

"These deaths have a lot to do with organized crime, mainly drug cartels, because they're trying to control drug-trafficking areas," Association President Enrique Vargas del Villar, who is also mayor of Huixquilucan in Mexico State, told Newsweek. "But it also has to do with the lack of public force presence in smaller municipalities and scarce institutional development."

Mayors have suffered the brunt of violence during the Enrique Peña Nieto administration. A total of 59 mayors have been killed in a span of four years during his term, compared to 49 murdered during the entire six-year Calderón term, the data indicates. The states of Durango, Oaxaca, Michoacán and Veracruz are considered the most dangerous for mayors, according to the study.

"Eighty percent of mayors do not receive federal resources, and we have demanded a security protocol for four years because mayors can't afford to do so," del Villar underscored. "Some of them have received threats, which have been addressed to the National Commission of Public Security."

He added that mayors who run towns with fewer than 10,000 residents are more prone to threats.

The Secretariat of the Interior and the National Commission of Public Security declined to comment for this story.

The study comes days after the Chamber of Deputies approved a new Internal Security Law, backed by Peña Nieto, that grants power to the president to order a military intervention if a security threat is detected in any part of the Mexican territory, according to news website Animal Politico.

But the law has not been welcomed by non-governmental organizations because it may lead to human rights violations, Animal Politico added. On Wednesday, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has also expressed concerns about the law-whose enactment is pending in the Mexican Senate-because a potential militarization in the country can exacerbate violence, according to website Expansión.

Since 2007, more than 196,000 people have been killed and 30,000 are missing in Mexico, Expansión reported, citing official numbers.

Mexico Strengthens Military's Role in Drug War, Outraging Critics
The New York Times

By Elizabeth Malkin
December 15, 2017

Mexico's Congress on Friday passed a law that strengthens the military's role in fighting organized crime, defying an outcry from human rights groups, police experts and even United Nations officials who warned that the measure will lead to abuses.

The law, which President Enrique Peña Nieto is expected to sign, sets up a legal framework to deploy soldiers in regions controlled by drug gangs.

The law's supporters argue that it ends a dozen years of improvised orders that place soldiers on the streets with no clear mission and no deadline.

But critics say the new rules will vastly expand military authority without checks and balances and offers no exit strategy to cede eventual leadership of the campaign to combat drugs to an effective police force.

"This bill effectively displaces the Constitution," said Alejandro Madrazo Lajous, a constitutional expert at the CIDE, a Mexico City university. "It allows the president to unilaterally militarize any part of the country for any time he considers necessary or adequate without any control either by congress or the judiciary."

Unlike the rest of Latin America, where long military dictatorships have left indelible scars, Mexico has had civilian control over the armed forces for the past century as part of an unspoken agreement that allows officers latitude over the areas they command.

The drug war has disrupted that equilibrium, opening the military to charges of human rights abuses and rattling commanders who have asked the government to restore "order and sense" to their mission.

Since former President Felipe Calderón first sent troops to fight drug gangs at the end of 2006, more than 200,000 people have been killed in the drug war and 31,000 people have gone missing, according to official statistics.

The violence has surged as Mr. Peña Nieto begins his final year in office. This year has been the deadliest in two decades, and the government has yet to announce any plan to confront the violence.

Mr. Peña Nieto has ordered soldiers into more states as fragmenting gangs expand their criminal operations and local authorities simply throw up their hands. Senator Roberto Gil, an architect of the new law, said that the military now operated in 27 of Mexico's 32 states, compared with six when Mr. Peña Nieto took office five years ago.

Mr. Gil, who is a member of the conservative opposition National Action Party, said the intent of the new law was to establish controls over the president's power to place soldiers on the streets.

Over the past 12 years, there has been "no law, no procedures and no tracks" to guide military deployment, he said. The president's power could be exercised arbitrarily, and governors have used military intervention as a crutch rather than set up their own police forces.

Under the new law, Mr. Gil said, the president must outline the reasons for sending in troops through a public executive order that is valid for a year. If the situation does not improve, the president can extend the intervention but must explain why.

"Federal intervention should be very precise and short-lived," he said. In response to critics who argued that the law simply continues the bad incentive for governors and mayors to rely on military intervention, he added a clause that would require them to outline their plans - and spending - on strengthening law enforcement.

"Mexico has an addiction to the armed forces," he said. "We need to reduce the doses until we reach abstinence."

But critics say the addition is merely a patch on a law that gives new power to the military. "All they are doing is simulating that they listened to the criticism," Mr. Madrazo said. "This law does not contemplate what needs to be done in terms of police reform."

Critics point to other elements of the law that shut off oversight. Information on the military operations will be classified, available to only one congressional commission which meets behind closed doors.

The armed forces "don't have to be accountable to anybody," said Santiago Aguirre, the deputy director of the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Center for Human Rights in Mexico City.

The military will be granted new authority to conduct investigations. "This will generate a parallel intelligence structure," Mr. Aguirre said. "That breaks their subordination to civilian power."

Since the law was first presented in congress two weeks ago, there has been outpouring against it. Human rights groups united in opposition, pointing to the rise in abuses committed by the military in the drug war. The government's National Human Rights Commission and its transparency institute have opposed it. Presidents of major universities have spoken out against it.

The United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, and the United Nations special rapporteur on arbitrary executions, along with other United Nations experts, also raised concerns.

Mr. Aguirre said there was a political imperative behind the quick vote. The armed forces "are interested in showing that they have political power" ahead of next year's election. "They have warned that 2018 will be uncertain," and worry that a new president "won't allow them to continue with the unspoken rules."

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the leftist former mayor of Mexico City, leads in the polls. He has yet to present a clear security policy, but he recently floated the idea of granting amnesty to some drug traffickers.

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South America

In rare visit, UN expert pleads with Venezuela
Fox News

December 12, 2017

An independent expert for the U.N.'s top human rights body said Tuesday that he pleaded with Venezuela's government to release more than 20 people in custody and is optimistic other U.N. experts will be let in.

Alfred de Zayas said he met with 16 government ministers, opposition groups, and "victims of repression" during what he called the first visit by a U.N. rights expert to Venezuela since 1996.

"I have succeeded in opening the door," de Zayas told a news conference. "After 21 years, Venezuela has accepted a U.N. expert to spend eight days there."

He said the government didn't give him any "problems."

De Zayas said he gave six pages of recommendations to the government, and it had already met one - by agreeing to cooperate with some U.N. agencies. He did not specify which ones.

President Nicolas Maduro's government has faced charges of undermining Venezuelan democracy by jailing dissidents and usurping powers of the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

The country has faced runaway inflation and shortages of food and medicine.

"One thing I did plead with the government for was for the release of more than 20 persons, who are currently under detention," De Zayas said.

"I am optimistic that they are going to invite other rapporteurs, and I think it is in their own interest to do so," he added.

De Zayas acknowledged facing criticism from some advocacy groups, including UN Watch, which alleged that he was carrying out a "fake" investigation during his trip to Venezuela.

His visit came during a Nov. 26-Dec. 9 trip to Latin America.

De Zayas said he has "always been very skeptical about naming and shaming" governments. He said allegations of a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela were "hyperbole" and "an exaggeration."

He was named as an expert on "the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order" by the U.N.-backed Human Rights Council, and is to report to it next year about his visit.

Colombia rights activists facing danger, U.N. says

By Anastasia Moloney
December 20, 2017

More than 100 human rights defenders were killed, many gunned down by hit men, in Colombia this year, the United Nations said on Wednesday, urging more accountability and better protections.

Activists have been particularly at risk in regions that were vacated by rebel fighters under a peace agreement signed last year, leaving a vacuum of power, the U.N.'s human rights office in Colombia said in a statement.

The peace accord signed by the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) ended a civil war that had lasted a half century.

More than half of the 105 rights activists and community leaders killed this year were gunned down by hit men, the U.N. said.

By comparison, in 2016, 127 rights defenders and community leaders were killed, up from 59 in 2015 and 45 in 2014, according to U.N. figures.

"The Office notes with deep concern the persistence of cases of killings of human rights defenders in the country," the U.N. human rights office said.

"Cases of killings of male and female leaders and (rights) defenders have occurred in areas from which the FARC has left, and which has created a vacuum of power by the state."

One victim was community leader Luz Jenny Montano, 48, who last month was shot by men riding on motorbikes near her home in the town of Tumaco along Colombia's Pacific coast.

Local groups say community leaders who speak out against rights abuses and activists campaigning for land rights are targeted by organised crime groups who see the activism as a threat to their economic interests.

"The Office has reiterated that the prevention of attacks and aggressions against human rights defenders involves investigation, prosecution and punishment of those responsible," the U.N. human rights office said.

The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) has also sounded an alarm about the dangers faced by Colombia's rights defenders.

Last month the UNHCR said it was "more and more worried" about the rise in killings and threats against rights activists along Colombia's Pacific coast.

Most victims belong to Afro-Colombian and indigenous groups, it said.

Earlier this week, Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas said authorities are working to bring those responsible to justice.

Across the Americas, rights activists are being increasingly targeted, the U.N. has said.

Last year, three out of four recorded murders of human rights defenders worldwide took place in the Americas, it said.

Ford Argentina Former Execs on Trial for Human Rights Crimes

December 20, 2017

Two former Ford executives, accused of helping the Argentine military to kidnap and torture workers, are now before the court.

Former Ford factory director Pedro Muller and ex-security manager Hector Francisco Jesus Sibilla were due to appear in the San Martin Federal Criminal Court on Tuesday to face the charges levied against them, according to Argentina's Telam press agency.

Pedro Müller was the manufacture manager of the Ford plant in General Pacheco, Argentina, while Francisco Sibilla was head of security.

The case details collusion between the two businessmen and the security forces during the country's 1976-1983 dictatorship, DW reports. According to the prosecution, the men are accused of conspiring against union workers at the Ford factory, providing names, ID numbers, photographs and home addresses to military officials.

The allegations are that the information provided to the Argentine forces resulted in the abduction of 24 employees, some union members, from the motor company's factory.

Jorge Constanzo, who was 25 years old at the time, was taken within the first few hours of a military coup. "I feel like I'm going back to live, we've waited a long time for this," Constanzo told El Pais.

All the victims were allegedly subjected to hours of torture, electric shocks and interrogation at the factory's premises, prior to being removed to military prisons.

"They tortured us for more than 11 hours, we went there at 11:30 in the morning and we left at 11 pm We were continuously under torture," said former union activist Carlos Propato, who recalled being kicked, beaten, tied with a wire and thrown in the trunk of a truck.

This marks the first time in Argentina's history that executives of a multinational company are being tried for humanitarian crimes.

El Pais reported that Ford Motor Argentina decline to commit.

Since 2006, more than 2,700 people have been charged with crimes against humanity and nearly 800 have been convicted, El Pais reported.

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Truth and Reconciliation Commission

South Africa confirms withdrawal from ICC
Daily Maverick

By Peter Fabricius
December 7, 2017

Justice and Correctional Service Minister Michael Masutha announced the government's intention at a meeting of the ICC's Assembly of States Parties (ASP) in New York on Wednesday.

There has been considerable speculation about whether the government would proceed with the withdrawal after the High Court ruled that its original application to withdraw had been unconstitutional because it had not gone through Parliament.

But Masutha told the ASP that on behalf of the Cabinet he would shortly serve on Parliament for its approval, a new notice of withdrawal from the Rome Statute.

Masutha said he would also introduce the International Crimes Bill, through which "Parliament will be requested to remove legal uncertainty regarding South Africa's international obligations under both domestic and international law.

"The Bill repeals the current Rome Statute Implementation Act (which makes the Rome Statute domestic law) and enacts international crimes similar to those in the Rome Statute. The new legislation will grant extra-territorial jurisdiction to our courts and proposes continued co-operation with other States and international bodies, including the ICC," Masutha said.

The minister justified the decision to withdraw from the ICC by reference to the clash it had with the court in June 2015 when it failed to comply with a request by the ICC to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir while he was in South Africa for an African Union (AU) summit.

Al-Bashir is a fugitive from the ICC, indicted for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Darfur civil war and South Africa, like all ICC members, is obliged to arrest him and hand him over to the ICC in The Hague.

But Masutha told the ASP that its ICC obligation to arrest al-Bashir had clashed with its obligation to play a role as a peace mediator especially in African conflicts.

He said the ICC had failed to resolve what Pretoria regarded as the contradiction between Article 27 of the Rome Statute - which makes it clear that sitting heads of state and government are not immune from ICC prosecution - and Article 98, which states that the ICC may not require a member state to hand over a suspect if doing so would require the member state to act inconsistently with its obligations to provide diplomatic immunity.

Masutha also complained that the ICC had not fully clarified uncertainties in the procedure for consulting member states on such issues, under Article 97 of the Rome Statute.

South Africa had argued before the ICC that arresting al-Bashir would have been a transgression of its treaty obligations to grant heads of state immunity from arrest.

The minister told the ASP South Africa had learnt from its own transition that the ICC could not be the only way to resolve disputes.

"South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a testimony to how the gap between peace and justice can be bridged through alternatives to judicial processes which allow for accountability and also seek to achieve healing for victims," he said.

Masutha insisted that "South Africa has demonstrated its commitment and remains committed to the principles enshrined in the Rome Statute to eradicate impunity and prevent atrocities".

"This is further reaffirmed through its membership to other international treaties aimed at the protection of humanity. Despite the intended withdrawal, South Africa shall remain on the side of victims at all times.

"We will actively promote peace, stability and development in Africa, and elsewhere, to ensure that there is no impunity from prosecution for international crimes."

Also on Wednesday, the ANC's sub-committee on international relations confirmed that the party remained committed to withdrawing from the ICC.

It noted that the ANC's national policy conference in June this year had reaffirmed the decision which is to be forwarded to this month's ANC elective conference for confirmation.

Allan Ngari, senior researcher on transnational threats and international crime for the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies (ISS) who is attending the ASP meeting, said he was not surprised that South Africa had maintained its position to withdraw from the ICC, in the light of the ANC national policy conference decision.

"Needless to say, the statement left a bad taste in the room as it was read out. It smacked of arrogance. South Africa has the capacity to meaningfully contribute to the development and refinement of the ICC processes, demonstrated quite recently by the Article 97 regulations that it championed.

"South Africa risks being a pariah at this stage, with most other African countries vocally supporting and not leaving the ICC.

"The Gambian statement that followed was nothing short of a breath of fresh air. The difference that one year has made for that country is stark," he added, referring to the change of government after disputed elections a year ago. The old government of Yahya Jammeh had vowed to withdraw from the ICC but the new President Adama reversed that decision.

"Not only did the Minister of Justice's statement refer to the inspiration that the ICC has had in its new government, but also Gambia's firm commitment to work towards strengthening the court," Ngari said.

"It was elected on Monday to be part of the ASP Bureau - a key position to influence policy formulation at the ASP over the next three years."

Ngari disagreed with Masutha's reference to the TRC as an alternative justice option. "The totality of transitional justice mechanisms need to be reflected on by post-conflict African states and not one mechanism over another. This is what some African states are getting wrong, pitting peace against justice as a binary."

Dewa Mavhinga, Southern Africa director for Human Rights Watch said: "With South Africa's announcement it will revive withdrawal from the ICC. South Africa seems intent on squandering the opportunity to stand with victims of atrocities. South Africa's announcement, though disappointing, is not surprising. The justice minister back in March indicated South Africa would put withdrawal again before the parliament. The parliament should reaffirm support for international justice and keep South Africa within the ICC."

Gambia: Truth Commission to Uncover Jammeh Abuses
Human Rights Watch

December 12, 2017

Gambia's truth commission bill, to be debated on December 13, 2017, is an important opportunity to shed light on human rights violations committed during the rule of former President Yahya Jammeh, Human Rights Watch said today. The National Assembly should amend the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission bill to prohibit amnesties for those responsible for extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, rape, or torture, in accordance with international law and practice.

"Gambia will greatly benefit from a truth-telling process that shines light on Jammeh's abuses," said Jim Wormington, West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Gambian victims deserve a truth commission that gives them a platform to tell their stories and lays the groundwork for those most responsible for grave crimes to face justice."

The proposed 11-person truth commission will document human rights abuses during Jammeh's two-decade rule, which ended when he left for exile in January after losing a December 2016 presidential election to Adama Barrow. The bill permits the commission to grant amnesties to perpetrators who testify truthfully about their role in abuses. While it precludes amnesties for acts that "form part of a crime against humanity," it does not rule them out for other serious crimes under international law.

Justice Minister Aboubacarr Tambadou put forward the truth commission legislation after conducting a countrywide consultation process in August. The government also consulted widely with domestic and international nongovernmental organizations, including Human Rights Watch.

In appointing commissioners, the bill requires Barrow to consult with a range of civil society groups, including victims' organizations, as well as to consider Gambia's geographical, regional, and gender diversity. Identifying the right commissioners will be essential for the truth commission to be viewed as independent, impartial, and competent, Human Rights Watch said.

Tambadou told Human Rights Watch that the government will offer individuals the opportunity of an amnesty to encourage them to come forward to disclose their role in past abuses. The bill's preamble states, "It is important to have an accurate and impartial historical record of the violations, [and] document them for posterity to ensure that 'never again' do we encounter a reoccurrence of such abuses." The commission plans to hold public hearings and publish a final report, with the government required to issue a white paper within six months describing how it will implement the report's recommendations.

The bill itself acknowledges that responding to Gambia's legacy of human rights violations also means addressing the country's culture of impunity. It empowers the commission to identify and recommend for prosecution the persons who bear the greatest responsibility for human rights violations and other abuses. However, by permitting amnesties for serious crimes that do not amount to crimes against humanity, the law could prevent many Gambian victims from seeking justice, Human Rights Watch said.

As the truth commission advances, the government should also consider whether and how the commission should share evidence with Gambian police and prosecutors investigating grave crimes, Human Rights Watch said. The justice ministry should consider negotiating a formal memorandum of understanding between the truth commission and public prosecutors that sets out how the commission will provide guidance to investigators while preserving the confidentiality of victims and witnesses.

"Gambia's truth commission is the first step in efforts to bring justice to victims and hold those responsible for serious crimes accountable," Wormington said. "Gambia's international partners should assist the government to ensure that the commission achieves its important aims."

In October, Human Rights Watch and Gambian and international groups launched the "Campaign to Bring Yahya Jammeh and his Accomplices to Justice" (#Jammeh2Justice) to press for Jammeh, as well as those who bear the greatest responsibility for the crimes of his government, to be brought to trial with all due process guarantees. Jammeh now lives in exile in Equatorial Guinea.

After a year of elections, Nepal moves closer to China
Al Jazeera

By C K Lal
December 17, 2017

It has been a year of elections in Nepal. On January 31, then Foreign Minister Prakash Sharan Mahat promised to a clutch of Kathmandu-based envoys that the country would hold all three levels of elections - local, provincial and parliamentary - within the year.

In just concluded polls, Mahat himself lost and his Nepali Congress party performed miserably, but the government succeeded in delivering upon its promise to the international community.

The three-phased polls were first held to elect local government officials. They were soon followed by two-phased elections for provincial assemblies and the lower house of the parliament.

Phased elections engaged the entire government machinery and over 200,000 security personnel had to be employed in the exercise. It was the most expensive elections in the history of the country.

As a result, for the better part of the year, the government did nothing to ameliorate the suffering of the people. Governance stagnated, corruption escalated, development projects were almost on hold and survivors of the Gorkha earthquake continued to languish in utter neglect, as the state prioritised polls over everything else.

Results have been predictable for a nation put consistently in every list of extremely fragile and underdeveloped countries of the world. The Left Alliance swept the polls at all levels of the government.

Composed of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist, UML) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), the Left Alliance is a political marriage of convenience. It hasn't come up with a workable agenda and is relying solely on illusive slogans of development and prosperity.

Presumptive prime minister and UML chieftain Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli began his political career as a Maoist in the early 1970s in Jhapa across the border with India's West Bengal state. Those were the days of slogans like "China's Chairman is Our Chairman and China's Path is Our Path" rending the air in West Bengal. But Oli embraced revisionism early on and by 1990s he had begun to reclaim hyper-nationalist rhetoric. He is known better for his demagoguery than democratic convictions.

The Maoist Supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda has turned out to be a rank populist with fungible beliefs. As late as February 2000, he was exclaiming belligerently, "I hate revisionism. I seriously hate revisionism. I never compromise with revisionism. I fought and fought again with revisionism." It seems he did so only to join revisionists at a time and place of his choosing.

In a roundabout way, the Maoist motto of the 1970s has turned out to be true - China's Chairman and China's Path are indeed shared ideals of demagogues and populists of developing countries. It just so happens that the Chairman now is Xi Jinping and the path is called the Beijing Consensus - or China's development model.

Along with Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Nepal rushed to join One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, which aims to invest in infrastructural projects as a part of President Xi's peripheral diplomacy doctrine with China at its centre. The lapsed Maoist duo of Oli and Prachand expects to attract enough Chinese money to build trans-Himalayan railways, hydroelectric projects modelled after the Three Gorges dam and make the entire economy of Nepal look northwards for sustenance.

Unlike the post-war Marshall Plan for Europe, the OBOR scheme is premised on trade rather than aid and even though loans are lent at concessional rates, they have to be repaid as Sri Lanka discovered when it had to cede control of the Hambantota port to the Chinese on a 99-year lease. Loans require financial feasibility, political stability and sovereign guarantees.

Apart from hydroelectric potential, in itself a high-risk enterprise in a chronically earthquake-prone zone, Nepal has little-proven resource of exportable quantity and quality. With the statute contested in the Madhesh plains, where the electorate has largely rejected the Left Alliance and endorsed the agenda of constitutional amendments, political stability may turn out to be illusory.

Over one-third of the Nepalese economy is based on remittances from unskilled and low-skilled labourers sweating out in volatile countries. Sovereign guarantees of an externally dependent economy may not have anything more than geopolitical significance. That is likely to put a spanner in the grandiose plans of the Left Alliance if India decides to protect its traditional sphere of influence.

Monarchists in the early 1960s came up with the idea of equidistance from Beijing and New Delhi. However, the credit for reviving the concept vociferously goes to Maoist hardliner C P Gajurel. There is one major problem with the proposition: Equidistance from Beijing and New Delhi is geographically incorrect, culturally incompatible, economically untenable, politically undesirable, and as the last Nepalese King Gyanendra discovered to his chagrin, diplomatically disastrous.

Unless the Chinese decide to do to Nepal what the Soviets did for Cuba or the Americans for West Germany during the Cold War, Indian ports will continue to be the lifeline of the Nepalese economy. Religious, cultural, linguistic and social affinities between India and Nepal mean that a large number of poor Nepalese look towards India for permanent or seasonal employment. New Delhi is unlikely to loosen its grip in its backyard without some resistance.

The internal flashpoints too lie in the southern flatlands. The Madhesh plains have emerged as a significant factor in Nepalese politics. With issues of citizenship, inclusion, representation, autonomy, dignity and language remaining unaddressed, polls have merely postponed a political confrontation.

The much-vaunted Peace Process that brought Maoists into mainstream politics in 2006 is also far from complete. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission hasn't yet completed its task of bringing perpetrators and victims of the decade-long armed conflict together. The Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons has not been able to ascertain the whereabouts of victims or identify the guilty. Without a sense of closure, wounds of the armed conflict would continue to fester.

For now, polls are over and results are out, but the controversial constitution is yet to survive its first test of utility. The Nepali Congress claims that elections for the Upper House need to be completed before a new government can be formed. The Left Alliance is set against ordinances necessary to constitute the upper chamber of the Federal Parliament. The president is holding consultations as constitutional confusion reigns supreme.

Like Madheshis, other marginalised groups such as Muslims, indigenous Janjati groups and the Dalits must have realised from the outcome of these polls that no matter who fights the election, the Permanent Establishment of Nepal (PEON) - consisting of the aristocracy, the army brass, the bureaucratic bosses, the business oligarchs and the Hindu preachers that have controlled the reins of government since its founding in the late eighteenth century - always wins in the end. Apart from geopolitical shift northwards, nothing much is going to change in the country.

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Germany welcomes Istanbul court ruling on reporter
Anadolu Agency

December 18, 2017

Chancellor Angela Merkel Monday has welcomed a ruling made by an Istanbul court to release German citizen Mesale Tolu, a translator and reporter, pending trial.

Speaking at a news conference in Berlin, Merkel said the ruling was "a good news", but she also urged caution and stressed that the trial was not over.

Tolu, who was arrested in April on charges of spreading terrorist propaganda was lately working as a translator for a small Istanbul-based news agency, which Turkish authorities suspect had ties to an outlawed far-left organization.

The Istanbul court released Tolu and five other suspects at the second hearing of the trial, as it considered the time served in detention and the possibility of a revision of charges against them as the probe continues.

They were released under judicial control and are forbidden to travel abroad.

Tolu's detention has been widely covered by the German media, putting pressure on Merkel's government as opposition parties fiercely accused the chancellor of not doing enough for German citizens arrested in Turkey.

As Turkish authorities have expanded their anti-terrorism operations in recent months, around a dozen German citizens have been arrested on suspicion of aiding and abetting terrorist organizations.

Most of them were German citizens with a Turkish background and several, like Die Welt reporter Deniz Yucel, have had a dual German-Turkish citizenship.

Despite repeated calls by German politicians for the release of these suspects, the Turkish government said it was ruling out exercising any political influence on the judiciary and called to wait for the courts' decisions.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who recently had several meetings and phone calls with his Turkish counterpart, has welcomed the recent ruling.

"We welcome the release of Mesale Tolu from prison. Although this is not the end of the trial it is an important step forward," he said on Twitter.

Ties between Ankara and Berlin have been strained since the defeated coup in Turkey last year as Turkish politicians criticized their German counterparts for failing to show strong solidarity with the government against the attempted military takeover.

Ankara also criticized Berlin for turning a blind eye to outlawed groups and terrorist organizations like the FETO, the PKK, DHKP-C and MLKP, which continue to use Germany as a platform for their fund-raising, recruitment and propaganda activities.

Germany has a 3-million-strong Turkish community, many of whom are second- and third-generation German-born citizens of Turkish descent, whose grandparents moved to the country during the 1960s.

Syria's Bashar al-Assad accuses France of backing 'terrorism'
Daily Nation

December 19, 2017

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad launched a scathing attack on France on Monday, accusing it of backing "terrorism" and saying it has "no right to talk about peace" in the war-torn country.

His comments came days after Paris accused the Damascus regime of obstructing the latest round of failed peace talks for Syria held in Geneva last week.

"France has been the standard bearer of support for terrorism in Syria since the early days of the conflict," said Assad of Paris's support for rebels who have been battling his regime since 2011.

"It is in no position to evaluate a peace conference," Assad told journalists in Damascus.

"Whoever backs terrorism has no right to talk about peace or to interfere in Syrian affairs," he said.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian stressed France's role from the early days of the international coalition against the Islamic State.

"Mr Bashar al-Assad really doesn't seem to be in a position of power to affirm a political stance as long as he's dependent on Iran and Russia," Le Drian told reporters during a visit in Washington.

The Damascus regime has no "lessons" to give Paris, he added.

"It's the coalition that paved the way for victory."

The latest peace talks in Switzerland ended Thursday without progress.

On Friday, Paris denounced what it called the Assad government's "irresponsible strategy of obstruction", saying it had refused to engage in the negotiations.

On Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron called Assad "an enemy of the Syrian people" who "will have to respond to his crimes before his people, before the international courts".

But Macron also insisted: "We have to speak to Assad and his representatives."

Assad's fate has been the stumbling block to progress in every round of UN-backed indirect negotiations in Geneva so far between his representatives and those of the Syrian opposition.

Damascus favours planned talks in Sochi in 2018 organised by Russia, the regime's main ally, over the Geneva process.

"In Geneva, the people we are negotiating with are not even representative of themselves," Assad said.

Sparked by the repression of peaceful demonstrations against Assad's regime, the conflict in Syria has become ever more complex with the involvement of foreign countries and jihadist groups.

More than 340,000 people have been killed since the conflict erupted in March 2011.

Man gets 28 years in plot to behead blogger who organized prophet Muhammad cartoon contest in Garland
Dallas News

By Alanna Durkin Richer
December 20, 2017

A man convicted of leading an Islamic State-inspired plot to behead a conservative blogger who upset Muslims when she organized a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest was sentenced on Tuesday to 28 years in prison.

David Wright sobbed as he apologized to blogger Pamela Geller, law enforcement and his family and denounced the terror group, whose horrific acts he used to celebrate online.

"Nothing I can say can fix the hurt I caused," the 28-year-old Wright said. "I sincerely hope that I can be given the opportunity to help others avoid the mistakes I made."

Wright was convicted in October of conspiracy to provide material support to the Islamic State group, conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries and other crimes.

Prosecutors had sought a life sentence for Wright, arguing it would send a strong message to others considering terror attacks in the U.S. But Judge William G. Young said he was uncomfortable with sending Wright away for life, telling him: "You are not a monster, yet you embraced a monstrous evil."

Prosecutors portrayed Wright, who's from Everett, just north of Boston, as the ringleader of the conspiracy to kill Geller, who has spearheaded scores of events across the nation to decry Islamic extremism.

The prophet Muhammad cartoon contest Geller organized in 2015 ended in gunfire. Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi had planned to storm the contest, which was being held in Garland's Curtis Culwell Center. They died in a shootout with a Garland police officer and SWAT team members.

The plot to behead Geller, of New York, was never carried out. Instead, Wright's uncle Ussamah Rahim told Wright on a recorded phone call that he decided to go after "those boys in blue," referring to police. Wright told his uncle that was "beautiful" and encouraged him to delete all the data from his computer before carrying out his attack.

Hours later, Rahim was fatally shot by authorities after he lunged at them with a knife when they approached him in Boston.

Geller, who spoke at Wright's sentencing, urged the judge to sentence him to life and said it was "impossible to overstate the devastation" he had brought to her life. Geller said she had been forced to live in fear and spend tens of thousands of dollars on security.

"There is no assurance that anyone can give me that he would not resume his quest to kill me and my relatives," she said.

Wright's attorneys had asked for a 16-year sentence, saying he should be given the chance to redeem himself after serving his time. Wright insisted he never really wanted to hurt anyone but pretended to support the Islamic State group to get attention online.

Prosecutors said Wright collected dozens of gruesome Islamic State videos and documents that encouraged violence against Americans, including a manifesto that said America's days are "numbered." In court documents, they accused him of trying to "deceive" the court into believing that he never meant any harm.

"His actions gravely threatened the lives of innocent Americans," Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Siegmann said.

Wright, who weighed more than 500 pounds when he was arrested, testified during the trial that he started sharing Islamic State propaganda because he was desperate for attention and an escape. But he said the plan to kill Geller was just "trash talk" and claimed he never believed his uncle was serious about attacking police.

The third man charged, Nicholas Rovinski, of Warwick, Rhode Island, pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy, testified against Wright and is scheduled to be sentenced on Wednesday. Prosecutors and Rovinski's defense attorney have asked the judge to sentence him to 15 years in prison.

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Success and Failure for Asian Pirates in November
Maritime Herald

By Svilen Petrov
December 8, 2017

ReCAAP ISC reports that there were nine incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships in Asia in November 2017. Of these, two were failed attempts.

There was one case of theft of oil cargo in November: when the barge Ever Omega was under tow by the tug boat Ever Prosper off. The barge was eventually recovered but her cargo of Crude Palm Kernel Oil was missing. At about 0400 hrs on November 22, a group of pirates armed with parangs (machetes) boarded the ships and tied up the crew. They took off with Ever Omega and six crew on board and left behind the Ever Prosper with four crew who later managed to free themselves.

The owner reported the incident to the ReCAAP ISC who informed the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) and the Indonesian authorities. The MMEA despatched a boat from Sedili Maritime District in Johor to escort Ever Prosper to safety. The pirates had reportedly siphoned some fuel from the tug boat. On November 23, the Indonesian authorities found Ever Omega and towed her to Tanjung Pinang, Indonesia. All 10 crew was safe. Investigation is ongoing.

The incident was the second time that the Ever Prosper has been the target of theft of oil cargo. The first incident occurred on June 3, 2016 in the waters off Sarawak, East Malaysia.

There was an increase in the number of incidents occurring on board ships while anchored in the South China Sea in November. All four of these incidents occurred in close proximity to each other and occurred when the ships were anchored. It is believed that the ships were anchored outside the port limit areas to avoid paying port dues.

During January-November 2017, 71 incidents were reported, of which 11 were failed attempts. The number of incidents reported during January-November 2017 was the lowest for the same period over the last 10 years. Compared to January-November 2016, it was a nine percent decrease and compared to January-November 2015 it was a 63 percent decrease.

The improvement of the situation during January-November 2017 was at ports and anchorages in India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam compared to the same period in 2016. However, there was an increase in the number of incidents reported at ports and anchorages in Bangladesh (Chittagong), Philippines (Manila and Batangas) and on ships while underway in the South China Sea and Straits of Malacca and Singapore compared to the same period in 2016.

There was no report of incident involving the abduction of crew from ships while underway in the Sulu-Celebes Sea in November 2017. The last actual incident reported to the ReCAAP ISC occurred on board Super Shuttle Tug 1 on March 23; and the last attempted incident occurred on board Doña Annabel on April 18.

On November 10, Philippine troops rescued three living and one dead crewmen captured from the Giang Hai. The Vietnam-registered bulk carrier was boarded on February 19 in the Sulu Sea, and all six Vietnamese crew were abducted. One man was killed while underway, and another was found dead in July.

As of November 30, 10 crewmen remain in captivity. The Philippine authorities continued to conduct pursuit operations.

Pirates Attack Container Vessel in Gulf of Guinea
Port Technology

December 13, 2017

Eight armed men approach the vessel in a pirate skiff followed by the crew of the container ship, which thwart their attempts to board the ship.

The event reflects the long-standing incidence of attacks and danger for merchant ships in the region.

There were 52 Nigerian pirate attacks reported in 2016, according to Jake Longworth, EOS Risk Group, Intelligence and Advisory Department.

Mansur Dan-Ali, Defence Minister, Nigeria, recently commented on the increase in the rate of criminality in the Gulf of Guinea region in recent years.

Speaking at a two-day conference of G7 Friends of the Gulf of Guinea in Lagos, he said: "The criminal activities, which are mostly on Nigerian waters, include kidnapping, piracy/sea robbery, illegal unregulated and unreported fishing, smuggling, human and drug trafficking, illegal bunkering and crude oil theft."

Prevention of piracy, armed robbery against ships and illicit maritime activity in west and central Africa is on the agenda at a meeting of the G7 Group of Friends of the Gulf of Guinea in Lagos, Nigeria (11-12 December), as reported by International Maritime Organization (IMO).

The meeting is reviewing progress made in implementing the Yaoundé Code of Conduct, which was signed by governments in the region, in 2013, to enhance cooperation to counter piracy and armed robbery at sea and other illicit maritime activity.

The meeting also stresses the importance for States in the region to promote and implement a combined effort to improve maritime security within their areas of jurisdiction and responsibility.

Greek Bulk Carrier Attacked by Pirates, 10 Crew Kidnapped

December 19, 2017

On December 14, a bulk carrier was reportedly attacked by pirates who kidnapped ten crew members and fled the scene.

What happened?

The Greek bulk carrier 'Skylight' was allegedly attacked by pirates in Bight of Biafra, Nigeria. The pirates seized control the vessel for more than an hour and kidnapped ten crew members and fled the scene.

Based on inputs provided from various sources, senior officers and master of the vessel were reportedly among the ones who were kidnapped. The bulk carrier was enroute from Lagos to Port Harcourt when the incident occurred.

Investigation launched:

The remaining crew members onboard the vessel managed to steer the vessel to Port Harcourt.

The nationalities of the kidnapped crew members are unknown till now but they are most likely suspected to be Indian, Filipino, Russian and Ukrainian seamen.

An investigation has been launched to determine how the attack occurred and the officials are trying to negotiate with the pirates to rescue the kidnapped seamen.

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Gender-Based Violence

Sexual violence widespread during Kenyan elections, report says

By Euan McKirdy
December 14, 2017

Rape and sexual violence were widespread during this year's tumultuous elections in Kenya, a human rights organization says.

In a report published Thursday, Human Rights Watch documented dozens of cases of rape in the East African country after August's election between President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition candidate Raila Odinga, and also following the subsequent rerun in October.

The Kenya Supreme Court ordered the second election after invalidating the results of the contentious August 8 vote -- which gave victory to incumbent Kenyatta -- following a challenge over irregularities. Odinga pulled out of the second race, saying that issues had not been resolved around the way the first election was run.

The report says the country's electoral process has been tainted by violence -- including rape and sexual assault -- for decades, and the 2017 cycle was no different.

During this year's two elections, an election official was killed, pockets of violence in opposition strongholds were reported and there were accusations of widespread voter irregularities.

"Since the 1990s, Kenyan elections have been marred by serious human rights violations, including killings, maiming and destruction of property," the report says. "Sexual violence against women and girls, though much less visible, has consistently been a part of these abuses."

Ethnic lines

Tribal bonds remain stronger than national identity in Kenya, where more than 40 different ethnic groups have been designated, and politics in the country are often driven along ethnic divides. The report says ethnicity is "easily associated with support for a certain political party or candidate."

As a result, political rivals are often easily identified, and physical intimidation of opponents is a well-worn tactic. "As in the 2007-2008 (political) violence, sexual violence during the 2017 political violence was directed at women and girls because of their gender but also their ethnicity," the report says.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 65 women, three girls and three men who say they experienced sexual violence in 2017, along with 12 witnesses to the post-election violence and civil society activists and community volunteers.

"Women and girls interviewed by Human Rights Watch described the perpetrators as mostly police officers or men in uniform who often carried guns, batons, tear gas canisters, whips, or wore helmets and other anti-riot gear," the report says. "Perpetrators also included militia groups and civilians, according to victims and witnesses."

The Kenyan government disputes the report's findings.

"HRW has a habit of coming up with very negative reports about Kenya's security agencies. HRW has never seen anything positive about the work carried out by Kenya police, and we are not surprised by the latest report," said Mwenda Njoka, spokesman for the Kenyan Interior Ministry.

"What I can tell you is that Kenya has a very robust independent police oversight body (IPOA) which investigates all claims against the police and takes the necessary action where police are found to have acted contrary to the law and the oath of office to protect life and property. The latest claims by HRW are not true and are simply a continuation of the human rights group's narrative against Kenya's Police Service."

A 'devastating' impact

Half the rapes documented around the 2017 elections were gang rapes, according to the report. A third were perpetrated in the presence of family members -- women's children and husbands were often also beaten during the attacks. Most of the interviewees also suffered some other form of violence, including beatings, torture and humiliation.

Survivors were also affected by a perceived stigma attached to being a rape victim as well as dealing with the trauma of family members who witnessed their attacks.

"The impact of sexual violence on survivors is devastating," said Agnes Odhiambo, senior women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Almost all women and girls we spoke to suffered physical harm and profound mental trauma and feared that their attackers may never be held accountable."

Support services for rape victims is also severely lacking, according to Human Rights Watch.

Two years ago the government announced a fund for victims of past "injustices" -- including political violence -- but the money has not been allocated, the report says. Moreover, past funds of a similar nature do not include victims of sexual violence. The report also alleges that the government has not conducted credible investigations.

"For far too long, the Kenyan government has ignored election-related sexual crimes and victims' suffering," the report says.

'I don't know if it will ever end'

Survivors said they often didn't file a report because of disinterested or hostile authorities, and they cited fears of HIV infection and the perceived stigma of a diagnosis.

"They advised me to go test for HIV at another hospital," one interviewee said. "I did not go because I fear I will find I am positive."

Some reported getting pregnant or being pregnant when they were raped.

"One woman was almost five months' pregnant when she was raped, and miscarried. Another said she became pregnant after rape," according to the report.

Survivors recounted the long-lasting trauma.

"I don't know if it will ever end. I have no peace," one 16-year-old told Human Rights Watch.

"At night I see as if they will come back. I recall what happened every day. I have nightmares. Every small noise at night scares me. I should just die."

Kenya: Sexual Violence Marred Elections
Human Rights Watch

December 14, 2017

Widespread sexual violence marred Kenya's 2017 elections, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The Kenyan government should urgently take steps to protect women and girls, as well as men and boys, from sexual violence.

The 31-page report, "'They Were Men in Uniform': Sexual Violence against Women and Girls in Kenya's 2017 Elections," documents the devastating physical, mental, social, and economic impact of gender-based violence and serious human rights abuses surrounding the recent elections. Human Rights Watch found that the government failed to prevent election-related sexual violence, properly investigate cases, hold attackers accountable, and ensure that survivors have access to comprehensive, quality, and timely post-rape care. Many attacks were by security forces, survivors said.

"The impact of sexual violence on survivors is devastating," said Agnes Odhiambo, senior women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Almost all women and girls we spoke to suffered physical harm and profound mental trauma and feared that their attackers may never be held accountable."

Human Rights Watch interviewed 68 females, three male survivors of sexual violence, and 12 witnesses in Mathare, Dandora, and Kibera in Nairobi, and in Kisumu and Bungoma in western Kenya. Human Rights Watch also interviewed 12 Kenyan and international civil society activists and community volunteers providing services to women. Human Rights Watch identified significant barriers that prevent many survivors from getting even basic medical and mental health support services and from seeking justice.

The women and girls interviewed described brutal gang rapes involving two or more attackers. Many said that they were raped vaginally and anally, that they were penetrated with objects, or that dirt was inserted into their private parts. Some were raped in the presence of family members, including young children. Most women said they were raped by policemen or men in uniform, many of whom carried guns, batons, teargas canisters, whips, and wore helmets and other anti-riot gear. In at least one case, a girl died after being raped.

A 27-year-old woman interviewed had given birth on August 7, and was raped by three policemen on August 11. "I feel useless," she said, describing her life afterward. "I don't speak to people. I feel so sad. I feel as if I have reached the end. I think of killing myself."

Many women and girls said they suffered incapacitating physical injury or experienced other health consequences that left some unable to work or care for their families. Young girls said they experience nightmares, lack of sleep, listlessness, fear, and anxiety that limits their ability to study.

Most had not received post-rape medical or psychological care, including medication to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and unwanted pregnancy. Barriers included insecurity, the cost of services or transportation, stigma, a lack of health facilities, and a lack of information about the importance of timely treatment or where survivors could get free treatment. Some women who received medical treatment said that the services were not comprehensive, there was no forensic documentation of sexual violence, or that they did not get appropriate referrals for medical treatment, counseling support, or to the criminal justice system.

A history of impunity for sexual violence in Kenya seriously undermines women's ability to report sexual crimes to the police, Human Rights Watch said. Very few women said they made police reports, and many expressed a lack of confidence in the police due to a long history of human rights abuses and corruption. Others said they feared retaliation. Some women who did try to report sexual violence said that police sent them away without taking statements, ridiculed or verbally abused them, or failed to follow up on complaints.

One woman who said she was raped in the presence of police, along with five other women, described what happen when they tried to report the attack: "They asked, 'How do you know they were police?' They said, 'If you had been raped you would have gone to hospital first. Where is the evidence? How can we believe you?' They told us we must have enjoyed the rape."

The Kenyan government has long ignored election-related sexual crimes and victims' suffering, Human Rights Watch said. Thousands of women and girls are estimated to have been raped during the 2007-2008 political violence, including by state security agents. They continue to suffer serious physical and psychological trauma, and socioeconomic hardship almost a decade later, and very few cases have been properly investigated or attackers held accountable.

Past government plans to assist victims of the 2007-2008 violence have excluded rape survivors, and they have not received medical or other assistance. Barriers to reporting, problems with the collection of forensic evidence, and the unwillingness of authorities to initiate genuine, credible, and fair investigations and prosecutions to punish attackers were key challenges in Kenya after the 2007-2008 election-related rapes, and remain a problem.

The Kenyan government should change its approach. It should ensure that all sexual assault victims get timely, quality, and confidential post-rape treatment, including psychosocial, or mental health, care for themselves and their families, and inform communities where victims can get post-rape care, including free treatment. The Kenyan government should ensure that credible investigations are conducted into all allegations of elections-related sexual violence.

"Sexual violence survivors should not be left suffering and ashamed of being victims while the Kenyan government shows no shame at failing to meet their needs or to prosecute their attackers," Odhiambo said. "Instead of downplaying the election-related sexual abuse, the Kenyan government should ensure that all survivors get appropriate medical care and justice."

Selected Accounts

Names of victims have been changed for their protection.

Rose Otieno, 37, was in her house with her five children on the night of August 11. She said that two men dressed in green-and-black uniforms, boots, and helmets broke into her house. One had a gun, the other a baton and a whip. They asked her where her husband was. "One asked me to say, 'I do not support Raila [Odinga, the presidential challenger], I support Uhuru [Kenyatta, the winner].' I refused…. The other one said, 'Let's teach her a lesson.' He raped me in the presence of my children." She said that due to the stigma and rejection attached to rape: "I didn't go to hospital. I feared, I was ashamed. I have never gone to hospital. I feared because if you tell someone, even the doctor, you will hear about it."

Liz Nzau said that she was on her way home from work on the night of August 11 when she met a group of young Kikuyu men who were out celebrating Kenyatta's victory. They asked her, "Why are you not joining the celebration? You are Luo, you are NASA [National Super Alliance] supporter." She said: "They took me into a shack where there were five other women. They brought some dirty-looking men who raped us as police walked around the shack. They were moving from one woman to another. They were slapping us and beating us with a rubber whip, and urinating on us. One of the women had her [menstrual] period and they wore a plastic paper bag when raping her. One of the women said they inserted a medicine bottle in her anus."

On August 11, Gladys Moraa went to help her neighbor's young child, who had been hit with a teargas canister. In the ensuing chaos, Grace tripped and fell: "A police officer kicked me on my upper back with his booted feet. I couldn't move. He raped me and left. Another one came, kicked me on the stomach and back, and raped me. I thought I would die. I was in serious pain." "My back pains a lot," she said. "My business was destroyed, and now I do casual work washing for people. But most of the time it is difficult. I have problems bending."

Gladys Moraa said that since she was raped: "even a slight sound scares me. I used to have nightmares. If I got counseling, it would really help me. I feel so sad when I remember. I was not counseled at the hospital." Moraa heard a scream as a Human Rights Watch researcher was interviewing her and she jumped out of her seat saying, "Are those the police? Are those police?"

Purity Onyancha said that her 17-year-old daughter, Peris Onyancha, and a friend were gang raped together on August 14. Peris was left for dead, and her friend died following the rape. "She trembles when she sees boys," the mother said. "I am worried about her mental health, and how she will perform at school. Sometimes her teacher calls me to say she is not talking, or she's just walking around the school. When I talk to her, she says she is feeling dizzy and has headache, but when she is checked in the hospital there is nothing."

Mercy Maina and her sister were raped on the night of August 13 by men she described as "police with rastas [dreadlocks]." She said that since the rape, "I feel pain during sex and there is a yellowish discharge. I smell and I have to shower many times a day. When I go near people I feel anxious, like they will smell me."

Grace Kungu said she was raped on August 12 on her way home from work:

"They took me to an unfinished building and all four raped me in front [vaginally] and behind [anally]. Since that day, when I am pressed urine just comes out. Even stool, if I hold for long I find that I have stained my underwear. I wear a sanitary pad sometimes or tissue or a handkerchief to prevent leakage. I have a lot of pain in my lower abdomen. I take painkillers all the time."

Human Rights Commission wants end to impunity for perpetrators of violence against South Sudanese
Relief Web

December 16, 2017

On the fourth anniversary of the outbreak of civil war in South Sudan, many of those responsible for the violence against its people are yet to be held to account.

There have been ongoing human rights violations and abuses with no access to justice for the victims.

"The overwhelming story that we encountered included not just the attacks against civilians but the looting, the rapes and sexual violence as well as the burning of villages, cattle raids, abduction of women and children and the lack of access to food and education," said Human Rights Commission in South Sudan Chairperson, Yasmin Sooka.

The Human Rights Commission in South Sudan is an independent body set up by the United Nations Human Rights Council to determine and report the facts and circumstances of alleged gross violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes, including sexual and gender based violence and ethnic violence, with a view to ending impunity and providing accountability.

It has been visiting the country to collect and preserve evidence of these alleged violations so that there can ultimately be accountability.

"This impunity is completely unacceptable and what we need to ensure is that there is a meaningful judicial process where perpetrators of these horrible acts can be brought to justice. There needs to be accountability for impunity which has become endemic in this country over the past few years," said Yasmin Sooka.

The Commissioners visited the capital Juba as well as more remote parts of the country to hear from those suffering from the ongoing violence.

"All of those we spoke to said that the most important thing now is for South Sudan to find some way of the war ending and of sustainable peace coming to South Sudan -not just the guns stopping but real and durable peace," said Yasmin Sooka.

Fellow Commissioner, Professor Andrew Clapham, said that the children of South Sudan were also missing out on educational opportunities which was putting the future generation and development of the country at risk.

More than 1.8 million people are internally displaced with another two million having fled to neighboring countries. Half of the population - six million people - rely on humanitarian assistance to survive and the outlook for the coming year is grim.

"All the people you speak to say I want to go home, I want to be able to take care of myself. This is a country where there is enormous resilience but the way this war is being conducted it is actually wearing people down. It has to stop and there has to be accountability and I think that is the commitment we have that we will do everything we can to enable that to happen," said Yasmin Sooka.

The Commission said the South Sudanese Government had cooperated during its visit and worked to provide answers to many of its questions. The Commission will present its report to the Human Rights Council in March.

[Analysis] A Chance For International Criminal Court To Fix Sex Crimes Injustice
Eyewitness News

December 19, 2017

The International Criminal Court (ICC) marks the 20th anniversary of the Rome Statute that established it next year.

The ICC, with 123 states parties, is the first permanent global tribunal aimed at prosecuting war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and in future the crime of aggression. A significant point of reflection during the anniversary will be its efforts to achieve justice for victims of atrocity crimes, especially through its unique victims framework, including reparations.

Twenty years ago, the hope was that the Rome Statute's reparations system would have a transformational effect - dismantling the structures that created violence and conflict in the first place. This reparative framework was envisaged to include attention to the rights for women and victims of sexual and gender-based violence. But how far has it gone in achieving this goal?

The Court is close to handing down its reparations decision in the war crimes case of Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo. In March 2016, Bemba was found guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including rape, was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment. The ICC found that events that took place in 2002/3 in the Central African Republic, were as a result of Bemba's failure to exercise control properly over the militia he commanded.

This is a significant case, because it's the first to include charges and a conviction for crimes of sexual violence against women and men.

Victims and a strong civil society movement supporting them are hoping that the reparations decision in the Bemba case will set the ICC on a new path toward reparative justice. The decision is expected to be handed down imminently.

Under the Rome Statute, Court ordered reparations are available to victims recognised by the court after the accused is found guilty. In the Bemba case, this involves over 5,000 victims.

Such a shift is needed given the Court's poor reparations record to date.

Not A Brilliant Track Record

The Court's first reparations case involved the lengthy trial of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, from the Democratic Republic of Congo. In March 2012, Lubanga, a leader of the Force patriotique pour la libération du Congo became the first person to be tried and convicted by the ICC. The Court found him responsible for crimes of enlisting, conscripting and using child soldiers and sentenced him to a period of 14 years imprisonment.

As the first case to be finalised, the Lubanga case was the first opportunity to see how the Court's reparations regime would work in practice, and how it might respond to sexual and gender-based violence. Lubanga was not convicted of any sexual or gender-based crimes per se. But, evidence emerged during the trial of sexual and gender-based violence against girl soldiers.

But, the prosecution failed from the beginning to fully investigate, gather evidence and include charges for crimes against women. This made it difficult for the judges to find against Lubanga for these acts.

The Trial Chamber did attempt to incorporate victims of sexual and gender-based violence in the reparations phase. But, in a long drawn out process, after the initial decision and order was handed down in August 2012, it was appealed by the defence and victims' lawyers. The defence argued that reparations for victims of these acts could not be ordered because Lubanga had not been charged or convicted of sexual and gender-based crimes.

Nearly three years later, in March 2015, the Appeals Chamber finally confirmed that although there would be reparations available for the former child soldiers, there would be no specific reparations for sexual and gender-based crimes. It was a devastating blow to women who had been child soldiers in Lubanga's group, who were allegedly raped by their commanders.

Today, the victims are still waiting for the independent Trust Fund for Victims to implement reparations - the long wait only serving to compound the injustice.

What Went Wrong

At the start of his case Lubanga was only charged with a narrow range of child soldier war crimes, not sexual violence violations.

Efforts to fix this - by the prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo himself - during the trial failed. The consequence was that the verdict and sentencing left a lot to be desired. In March 2012, Lubanga was found guilty on all three counts of enlistment, recruitment and use relating to child soldiers. The majority verdict found that girl soldiers were subjected to violence and rape, but no charges had been made in relation to this. In the sentencing decision handed down on 10 July 2012, the Bench noted that,

(it) strongly deprecates the attitude of the former Prosecutor in relation to the issue of sexual violence.

The cascade of injustice then extended to the reparations phase. Because the ICC's reparations framework links the conviction to the measures of repair, and there were no charges or convictions for sexual and gender-based crimes, these fell outside the reach of reparations.

Almost three years after an appeals process began, on 3 March 2015, the Appeals Chamber upheld the decision not to award individual reparations. But it left open the possibility of general assistance for victims in future cases where the crimes had been charged appropriately.

On 21 October 2016, the Chamber in the Lubanga case approved the Trust Fund's plan for symbolic collective reparations for the child soldiers. The symbolic measures aim to promote healing for former child soldiers, for example, in establishing commemoration centres.

Finally, on 15 December 2017 the ICC issued a decision relating to Lubanga's personal liability for the crimes he committed. The judges settled on the figure of $10 million. The catch is that Lubanga claims to be indigent - meaning he has no means to pay these costs. As a result, the Trial Chamber has asked the Board of the Trust Fund for Victims to try and secure funds. Its ability to do so, and the willingness of the DRC Government to participate, are the next tests in this long process.

Room For Improvement

The Trial Chamber may have overreached in its language when it suggested the ICC could provide "transformational" justice to Lubanga's victims. In making such a claim, the Court seemed to be suggesting that it could tackle the conditions that provoked the violence in the first place - something that is impossible given the resources and jurisdiction available to the ICC. A more realistic approach would protect victims from serious disappointment.

The Lubanga case demonstrates the Court can do a great deal to improve the gender-just outcomes of its reparations processes.

ICC supporters expect the upcoming Bemba reparations decision will reflect lessons from the Lubanga case. But it is not only the Court that needs to make an effort. As the Director of the Trust Fund for Victims, Motoo Noguchi, noted at the ICC's assembly at UN headquarters:

Reparative justice is not free of charge.

It will require further financial support to help fund the court's reparations efforts, including earmarking funding for victims of sexual and gender-based crimes.

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Commentary and Perspectives

What the Yugoslav war-crimes tribunal achieved
The Economist

By T.J.
December 7, 2017

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which was established by the United Nations Security Council in 1993, closes at the end of this month. A few remaining appeals and retrials will become the responsibility of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, which performs the same role with the now-closed Rwandan tribunal. The ramifications of the ICTY's work extend far beyond the region. It was the first such court to prosecute war crimes since the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials at the end of the second world war. It indicted 161 people, including former presidents and prime ministers. All were caught, handed themselves in, or died. Ninety were convicted. Nineteen were acquitted. None is a fugitive. The court heard evidence from more than 4,650 witnesses in cases relating to genocide, ethnic cleansing, mass murder and sexual violence.

Once a relatively liberal communist country, Yugoslavia disintegrated in the 1990s. It was a federation of six republics and two autonomous provinces-and a mish-mash of nationalities. Many regional leaders transmogrified into nationalists and war took hold. If Croatia was going to become independent then many of its Serb inhabitants would fight to remain in a Greater Serbian state. And Croat nationalists wanted a Greater Croatia that included Croat-inhabited parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina. And so on. As the Bosnian war ground on and Serb forces besieged Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, foreign powers could not agree how to respond. No one wanted to send troops to separate the parties. But they all approved the prosecution of war criminals, so backed the establishment of the tribunal. At first the court, based in The Hague, had little money. It also had no police of its own to arrest anyone indicted. But over the years its influence increased. It demanded that the Balkan states and others carry out arrests, and also got help from NATO-led peacekeepers in Bosnia. It succeeded in making the handing over of those indicted a political issue, with sanctions slapped on Serbia and Croatia when they dragged their feet.

Some of its achievements were legal and some political. Several of the most evil of the wartime actors were imprisoned. The tribunal gave victims and civilians a voice, and often justice, in a way that would not otherwise have been possible. It created new legal precedents. Sexual violence is now considered a war crime. It established the groundwork for other courts, including those that looked into horrors committed in Rwanda and Sierra Leone, and the International Criminal Court (ICC). Its 2.5m pages of transcripts provide an extraordinary archive. It established that genocide had taken place when some 8,000 Bosniaks (Muslims) were murdered as Srebrenica fell. To weigh against all this there must be the acknowledgment that many believe that justice was not always done. The hopes that many had for the tribunal have at times been disappointed. It did not accelerate the process of reconciliation. Many believe there was interference, from America and elsewhere, in its work. In cases related to Kosovar Albanians, in particular, prosecutors alleged witness-tampering.

According to Eric Gordy, a sociologist at University College London's School of Slavonic and East European Studies, the court tried to end impunity for war crimes and in this "it was partially successful". It was founded at a time when there was still some consensus about the need for this. Now, sadly, that is no longer the case. There is no international tribunal indicting anyone for war crimes in Syria. Russia and America are among those countries that have either withdrawn from the jurisdiction of the ICC or never ratified its statute. It remains to be seen whether the Yugoslav tribunal will become a relic from a more hopeful time or a trailblazer in a cause that was always bound to suffer setbacks.

Syria civil war: Will anyone be prosecuted for war crimes?

By Laura Smith-Spark
December 16, 2017

The bombardment of rebel-held districts of eastern Aleppo this week -- hours after a truce had been declared -- prompted grave claims that a war crime had been committed.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of "brazenly committing war crimes." UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein similarly said the Syrian regime's heavy bombardment of an area "packed with civilians" after the brief ceasefire broke down "most likely constitutes war crimes."

In a tweet late Thursday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko wrote that "Russia must also pay a high price for heinous war crimes, which it supports and commits in Syria, in particular in Aleppo."

It's not the first time such accusations of war crimes have been made in Syria's protracted conflict. Opposition fighters were last week accused of blocking civilians from fleeing rebel-held areas as pro-regime forces advanced, and reportedly abducting and killing some civilians who asked them to quit their neighborhoods.

But what is the definition of a war crime -- and will anyone be held to account?

What constitutes a war crime?

In the midst of war, international rules protect those who are not active participants in the fighting, such as civilians and prisoners of war.

They include international human rights law that applies at all times, whether a country is at war or at peace, and international humanitarian law, such as set out in the Geneva Conventions, which applies in situations of armed conflict.

An older body of rules, the Laws and Customs of War, also governs the actions of warring parties, as do domestic laws and international human rights treaties that states have signed up to, such as the UN Convention against Torture.

Mark Ellis, executive director of the International Bar Association, which brings together lawyers worldwide, told CNN that the Geneva Conventions make clear that civilians have to be protected by all combatants.

Some acts against civilians are considered "grave breaches" of the Geneva Conventions.

These include: wilful killing; torture or inhuman treatment; wilfully causing great suffering, causing serious injury to body or health; extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly; hostage taking; and wilfully making the civilian population or individual civilians the object of attack, if death or serious injury is caused.

Have war crimes been committed in Syria?

No war crimes prosecution has yet been brought against individuals in Syria -- but there have been many allegations of wrongdoing against both sides.

"I don't think there's any doubt that war crimes have been committed on a very, very serious scale in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria," said Avner Gidron, senior policy and law adviser for rights group Amnesty International. "Crimes against humanity are also being committed in Syria, not only war crimes."

The war crimes don't just include bombing attacks that kill civilians, Gidron said, but also abuses being committed in detention centers and prisons. "

Civilians cannot be made the target of an attack under the Geneva Conventions, Ellis said, but in Syria "the evidence suggests that it's just the opposite."

Who can be accused of war crimes?

Central to the idea of war crimes is that an individual can be held criminally responsible for carrying out an unlawful act or, significantly, for ordering it, Gidron said.

Those assessing whether civilians are the victim of a war crime would need to establish details such as what the target of an attack was, what information the commander had about any risk to civilians, what precautions were taken to prevent harm to civilians, and whether the risk of harm to civilians was disproportionate even if it was a legitimate military target, Gidron said.

"These are very hard things to assess," he said, adding that international law allows some leeway for the realities of war.

Who can bring a war crimes case to justice?

The International Criminal Court was set up to try individuals for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

However, a case would normally have to be referred to it by the UN Security Council.

"This is quite unlikely in this case because of Russia's position on the Security Council," said Ellis. Russia, as a permanent Security Council member, has veto power which it has already used to block UN resolutions on Syria.

Another possibility involves the principle of "universal jurisdiction."

Some offenses, such as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, are so serious that individual states can seek to prosecute them in their national courts even if they are not party to the conflict and their own citizens are not involved.

What's not yet clear is whether any state would have the political will to bring such a case.

In the past, Spain has been most active worldwide in pursuing cases under the principle of universal jurisdiction.

There has also been discussion of a possible post-war tribunal to try alleged war crimes in Syria, Ellis said, "but I think that's unlikely if Assad stays in power."

Is evidence of alleged war crimes being collected in Syria?

Independent observers may have very limited access to Syria, but those committing war crimes need not rest easy in their beds.

International rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as local Syrian activist groups, are working to preserve evidence and gather testimonies, said Gidron.

A spokesman for the UK Foreign Office said it had "trained and equipped the Syrian moderate opposition to collect evidence in Syria of human rights violations and abuses, as well as evidence of breaches of violations of international humanitarian law by any party."

And UK Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood, tweeted Wednesday that Russia's use of its veto power at the UN Security Council "will not prevent individuals committing potential crimes against humanity from being held to account."

The wealth of video and pictorial evidence that can be collected today would never have been available before, said Ellis, and represents "a very powerful part of building a case."

Will anyone be prosecuted for war crimes in Syria?

As and when the conflict comes to an end, international attention may turn from the current efforts to alleviate civilian suffering in Syria to bringing those responsible to justice, said Ellis.

But Gidron warned that it can take a long time for those accused of war crimes to be held accountable.

"We are just seeing in Latin America now people being brought to justice for atrocities 40 years ago, still seeing Nazi war crime suspects being tried after all these years," said Gidron.

"It takes a long time sometimes but it's important to try to preserve the evidence of the atrocities, so there's a chance of this later on."

Jan Egeland, special adviser to the UN Special Envoy for Syria, pointed the finger Thursday at all parties for hindering action by the international community.

"They have not been able to give us the access that we needed and therefore we have not been witnesses to atrocities that we know have been committed by all sides in this horrific war, including in east Aleppo."

The Observer view on the effectiveness of international law
The Guardian

December 16, 2017

The recent conviction of Ratko Mladić, the former Bosnian Serb commander, on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the 1990s may come to be viewed as a high-point for global justice. Mladić's life sentence for his leading role in ethnic cleansing operations in Bosnia, the battle for Sarajevo, and the massacre of Muslims at Srebrenica was fully deserved. But this symbolic success cannot hide the fact that the international criminal justice system is under siege from within and without. In 2017, its problems grew worse.

Mladić's conviction followed the successful prosecution of another high-profile figure, the Bos