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FREDERICK K. COX
INTERNATIONAL LAW CENTER

War Crimes Prosecution Watch

Volume 12 - Issue 22
January 8, 2018

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Editor-in-Chief
James Prowse

Technical Editor-in-Chief
Samantha Smyth

Managing Editors
Rina Mwiti
Alexandra Mooney

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

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

Contents

AFRICA

CENTRAL AFRICA

Central African Republic

Sudan & South Sudan

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Burundi

WEST AFRICA

Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast)

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

Mali

EAST AFRICA

Uganda

Kenya

Rwanda (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda)

Somalia

NORTH AFRICA

Libya

EUROPE

Court of Bosnia & Herzegovina, War Crimes Chamber

International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

Domestic Prosecutions In The Former Yugoslavia

MIDDLE EAST AND ASIA

Iraq

Syria

Yemen

Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia

Special Tribunal for Lebanon

Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal

War Crimes Investigations in Burma

Israel and Palestine

Afghanistan

AMERICAS

North & Central America

South America

TOPICS

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Terrorism

Piracy

Gender-Based Violence

Commentary and Perspectives

WORTH READING

AFRICA

CENTRAL AFRICA

Central African Republic

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

Inside the brutal war that's ripping apart the Central African Republic
Vice

By Julia Steers
December 22, 2017

Solange pleaded with her husband, Bruno, to run as she heard screams and smelled neighbors' homes burning. But he decided to lock the family in the house instead — the gunshots were too close.

The men were fighters from the Union for Peace (UPC), a predominantly Muslim armed rebel group in the Central African Republic. They were going house to house, searching for members of "anti-balaka," the term used for their enemies, Christian self-defense militias.

Bruno insisted he was a volunteer with the local Red Cross, not a fighter. But the men killed him anyway, in front of his wife and children.

"They shot him, killed him, and threw him in a pit, with his Red Cross clothes on him," Solange Yanga-Kotto, a 35-year-old mother of seven, said, detailing the events of May 9, when UPC fighters staged neighborhood raids, reportedly in response to the presence of anti-balaka fighters nearby. Rumors that anti-balaka groups were reforming had captivated Alindao, months after the UPC had claimed the village as their new home base.

Like many in Alindao, Solange lives in a makeshift camp for the internally displaced, wondering where her family's next meal will come from and doing her best to keep them outside the reach of warring militias that have taken over her town.

The once-sleepy rural city in eastern Central African Republic had managed to escape the interreligious fighting that plunged much of the country into chaos from 2013 to 2015, but it's become the center of a new wave of violence characterizing a multifaceted conflict that defies the usual distinctions of civil war. The crisis today cannot simply be chalked up to lingering Muslim-vs.-Christian tensions, analysts say. Instead, individual armed groups operating with their own interests, and absent allegiances, are increasingly defining the battlegrounds.

"Over 50 percent of the country is controlled by armed groups that don't feel accountable for the abuses they continue to commit," said Lewis Mudge, a senior researcher at Human Rights. Today, "the violence is much more based around armed groups controlling trade routes and resources," he added.

Over half a million Central Africans are internally displaced, and in the last six months, over 60,000 new refugees have fled across the river that divides CAR and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The U.N. peacekeeping force in CAR managed to stabilize the capital, Bangui, after several years of vicious sectarian fighting, but with government-led disarmament initiatives stumbling, former armed groups are taking control of huge swaths of territory and killing hundreds in the process. Across the country — in the northwest and southeast, particularly, where valuable resources are there for the taking — violence has erupted.

Factions of Muslim ex-Seleka groups, like the UPC, and anti-balaka have mostly given up their ideological reasons for fighting and former enemies now form unexpected alliances to protect their resources. They clash over control of key access roads and resources from diamond and gold mines.

In Alindao, the UPC controls the main road to a nearby artisanal diamond mine. Roadblocks set up by the UPC and rival armed groups have rendered the city and nearby villages almost totally inaccessible to international aid agencies and leave IDPs unable to their lives and work.

Former fighters are taking up arms again, responding to new threats and a void left by the government. Jean-Claude, a former anti-balaka fighter who went through a disarmament program in 2015, lived in Alindao as a farmer until recently. He told VICE News he was compelled to re-arm when the UPC began their attacks.

"The government of our country let us down," Jean-Claude said. "We have fallen in a total insecurity. We do not have militaries [or] armed forces to defend ourselves. What should we do to defend ourselves?"

As attacks sweep the countryside, civilians are increasingly vulnerable, caught up in the fighting and exposed by the lack of national forces and state institutions outside the capital.

Josue Bacaha Nguerendji, a 43-year-old pastor and recent arrival to a smaller IDP camp at the Protestant church, says his family faces a grim choice: stay in the camp indefinitely or risk being killed trying to return home.

"Living in the camp is a prison. We can't circulate freely, we can't go where we want to. I would like my village to be free so that we can move and do our jobs normally. Now we can't go to the farms in fears of meeting a bad group who can harm you," he said.

His fears are justified.

His 9-year-old grandson, Dondedieu ( "Given by God"), went back to his village in September with his two older brothers to get some belongings they'd left behind when they fled.

As they ran through a field back toward Alindao, they were ambushed and shot by UPC fighters, according to his grandfather. His older brothers died instantly. Dondedieu suffered three gunshot wounds and lost his arm. He's still being treated in the city's only hospital.

Josue doesn't know if or when he'll leave the camp, but he's waiting for news of calm in the villages nevertheless.

In November, there was reason to hope that calm would return, after news of a peace deal between two ex-Seleka groups and the leader of former anti-balaka militias.

But in the first week of December, the deal fell apart in a burst of deadly fighting in Ippy, a city at the nexus of main roads and gold mines.

According to HRW's Mudge, an emphasis on peace deals and disarmament has so far been ineffective in guaranteeing what should be the central goal of the government and MINUSCA (the UN peacekeeping force in CAR): basic protection of civilians.

"Civilians are exhausted. [And] the principal ways to stop the killings, and not just move them from A to B, are: MINUSCA must protect civilians, and secondly, armed groups' leaders must know they will be held accountable for their actions."

Josue agrees. "It's the civilians who suffer, like blades of grass caught between fighting," he said. "They must put their weapons down. I don't have anything else to say."

Central African Republic cardinal says justice key to ending violence
Crux

By Ngala Killian Chimtom
December 23, 2017

Human Rights Watch titled its July 2017 report on the Central African Republic "Killing without consequence," referring to the scourge of war crimes, extra-judicial homicides and random violence that's gripped the country over the last three years, turning it into essentially a free-fire zone.

The country's leading Catholic official says there's no way out of that spiral of violence that doesn't include justice for its victims.

The Human Rights Watch report says at least 566 civilians were killed in attacks between November 2014 and April 2017, with an additional 144 people dying in the bushes after fleeing the conflict, either from injury, illness or hunger. In addition, over 4,000 homes were destroyed.

"All of these numbers are likely to be a fraction of the totals during this period because no comprehensive record of the deaths and destruction exists," it states.

As the International Criminal Court investigates an "interminable list" of crimes against humanity committed in the CAR before, during and after the civil war that broke out in 2012, the Catholic Archbishop of Bangui, Cardinal Dieudonné Nzapalainga, has underscored the need for justice as an essential ingredient for a sustainable peace.

In an interview with the Central African Newspaper Centrafrique Espoir, the cardinal, who is also the President of the Episcopal Conference of Central Africa, said there can be no sustainable peace without justice, emphasizing that those guilty of wrongdoing have to account for their crimes.

"It is important for the human being to realize the evil he has committed against his brother," Nzapalainga said.

"Justice — which can deprive you of freedom for a certain period of time — is a positive value to reflect and mature in humanity. To say no to impunity is to say no to the infernal cycle of violence. Nothing must be above the law," he added.

"Those who committed acts of violence, those who divided the people; who killed have to account for their actions."

Quizzed on whether his insistence on the need for those guilty of wrongdoing to face the law courts doesn't contradict the Christian virtue of forgiveness, Nzapalainga said justice is actually complimentary to forgiveness.

"Forgiveness has never ruled out justice, on the contrary… But if you deny your crimes, then forgiveness makes no sense," he said.

Nzapalainga said he was hopeful that peace would return to the Central African Republic, for although human beings can do worse things, they are also capable of doing good, because man is innately good, having been built "in the image of God."

He welcomed judgment by the International Criminal Court, but suggested that the CAR's traditional justice system should also be involved, because "there are people in the villages who won't be able to go to the International Criminal Court." (The ICC is based in the Netherlands).

"When a traditional leader gathers his subjects, it means there is a problem, and at the end, judgment is issued locally and social cohesion is enhanced," he said.

On May 30, 2014, the transition government of the CAR referred the situation in the country to the ICC requesting that the court open investigations on alleged crimes against humanity that fall within the court's jurisdiction committed in the country since the first of August 2012.

According to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, information available provides "a reasonable basis to believe that both the Sélé ka and the anti-balaka groups have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes including murder, rape, forced displacement, persecution, pillaging, attacks against humanitarian missions and the use of children under fifteen in combat."

She praised the country's government for the decision to refer to the ICC, noting that it was a demonstration of the CAR's "commitment to fight impunity for mass crimes and to bring justice to the victims. We look forward to their full cooperation as we conduct our investigation into these crimes."

She promised to carry out the investigations in an "independent and impartial manner," and that the ICC will continue to "record any new crime against civilians that might be committed in CAR. Mass crimes shock the conscience of humanity and tear at the social fabric of society. Let this be a message to would-be perpetrators in CAR and beyond: such crimes will not be tolerated and will be met with the full force of the law."

Central Africa went into a fresh civil war in 2012 when a loose rebel coalition named the Seleka initiated a military campaign to overthrow the government of François Bozize.

On March 24, 2013 Djotodia's predominantly Muslim rebel group, the Séléka, forced Bozizé out of power. The regional body, the Economic Community of West African States, ECCAS refused to recognize Djotodia as president. Rather, it called for the creation of a Transitional National Council (TNC), in April 2013.

The TNC was charged with drawing up a new constitution, and conducting fresh elections within 18 months.

The Council selected Djotodia as the interim President-the first Muslim to occupy the post of president in the history of the Central African nation. But his government was immediately criticized; with his Seleka rebels (mostly Muslims) accused of committing various crimes during the insurrection to overthrow Bozize.

Djotodia failed to disband the group, and increasingly, Christians became targets for attack. To protect themselves, a group called Anti-Balaka, made up of mostly Christians, was formed, and the cycle of violence between the Seleka and anti-Balaka intensified.

Djotodia was eventually forced to quit power, but the violence didn't quit with him. Four years down the line, the escalating violence has left thousands dead, millions homeless.

Nzapalainga says there is need for peace, but it must be accompanied by justice, because justice "is essential for social cohesion."

Hundreds flee clashes in Central African Republic
Rappler

December 31, 2017

Hundreds of people in north-east Central African Republic have fled their villages following fresh violence between armed groups, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said Sunday, December 31.

Villagers fled gunfire and machete attacks to arrive in the small town of Paoua, where some 11,000 people have already sought refuge since fighting erupted in the region in November.

"There are clashes at almost every point all around Paoua. We have seen hundreds of people flee their villages to take refuge in Paoua" since Wednesday, said Jean Hospital, MSF's project coordinator in the region.

"We received civilians who were directly targeted by gunfire or were attacked with machetes, while others are collateral victims of the clashes," he added.

Rival armed groups the National Movement for the Liberation of the Central African Republic (MNLC) and Revolution and Justice (RJ) began fighting on the outskirts of Paoua on Wednesday, following renewed violence in the region since November, sources said.

'We risk being raped'

"The RJ told the population to flee and leave the roads open in case of an attack," pastor Roy-Rodrigue Doutoumbaye told AFP on Wednesday at Paoua Hospital, where he accompanied a loved one shot in the head.

"They really wanted to kill me but because I had 110,000 francs (190 euros) on me they took the money and left me alive," 52-year-old Jope, who suffers from tuberculosis, told AFP.

"If we stay alone in the city we risk being raped. Our husbands have left to take care of the crops," said Marie-Angele Dembaye, as she travelled to Paoua, adding that armed men began looking for women.

"The situation will become complicated very quickly because these people do not have any family to welcome them to Paoua," said MSF coordinator Hospital added.

According to the latest reports from the UN and the Red Cross, there were already between 15,000 and 17,000 displaced people in Paoua by mid-December.

Mired in poverty but rich in minerals, the former French colony has been battered by a three-year conflict between rival militias that began after then-president Francois Bozize was overthrown.

Thousands of people have been killed in the fighting. According to the UN, more than a million people have fled their homes and 2.4 million people — more than half of the Central African population — are in need of emergency food aid.

The country has seen an upsurge in violence since France shut down its Sangaris mission there last year, but the UN Security Council agreed in November to extend a peacekeeping mission, MINUSCA, for a year and beef up the mission with 900 extra troops.

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Sudan & South Sudan

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

South Sudan: Army and rebels allege truce breaches
Al Jazeera

December 24, 2017

South Sudan's army and anti-government rebels have both accused one another of violating a ceasefire just hours after it came into effect.

The peace agreement, in place since 00:01 local time on Sunday, was brokered earlier this week after days of internationally mediated talks in neighbouring Ethiopia to allow for humanitarian aid to get to civilians caught up in the fighting.

It marked the latest attempt to end a devastating civil war that began in 2013 when forces loyal to President Salva Kiir started fighting those allied to his former deputy, Riek Machar.

However, a spokesman for Machar's SPLA-IO group said in a statement on Sunday that rebel bases in the north of the country had come under "the most aggressive attack" earlier in the day.

Lam Paul Gabriel said the group's fighters had "repulsed" an attack by government troops in northern Koch County.

He added that SPLA-IO positions in southwestern Yei County were being bombarded and accused the military of sending in soldiers to attack rebel bases in the western Wau region.

"These are all acts against the peace process as the government in Juba wants the SPLA-IO to respond so that war continues and they continue to loot the resources of the country," said Gabriel.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Lul Ruai Koang, a spokesman for the army, denied the allegations.

"It's actually the opposite … The rebels violated the ceasefire today in Koch," he said by phone.

Koang accused the SPLA-IO of instigating the attacks in Koch, adding that government troops regained control of the Bieh Payam town in the area by afternoon.

There were no clashes in the country late on Sunday, he said.

Koang also accused the armed opposition's forces of ambushing an aid convoy in southern Amadi state on Saturday.

"The fighting is an indication that the rebels are not in full control of their troops," Koang said, adding that the government would continue to respect the truce.

Humanitarian crisis

South Sudan's warring sides agreed on Thursday in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, to end hostilities and "immediately freeze in their locations".

They also said they would grant unhindered access for aid workers to all areas and release all political detainees as well as abducted women and children.

South Sudan plunged into civil war just two years after gaining independence when Kiir accused Machar, who he had sacked earlier in 2011, of plotting a coup.

The clashes that followed between forces loyal to Kiir — who is from the Dinka ethnic group — and rebels allied to Machar — a Nuer — set off a cycle of retaliatory killings that have split the world's newest country along ethnic lines.

A peace accord was signed two years later, and Machar returned to the capital in April 2016 to share power with Kiir.

The deal, however, collapsed in July and violence broke out. Machar went into exile and the fighting continued with new armed opposition groups joining the war over the past year.

The conflict has resulted in tens of thousands of people being killed and a quarter of the country's 12 million population forced from their homes.

According to the UN, six million people — half of the country's population — are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.

More than 1.2 million are at risk of famine if humanitarian assistance is not delivered by next year.

South Sudan won independence from Sudan in 2011.

South Sudan: Refugees flee to DRC amid latest fighting
DW News

December 28, 2017

On December 22, a day after South Sudan's warring parties signed a ceasefire in Addis Ababa, Jenty Jendia was seated on the dusty floor of a reception center in a refugee camp for South Sudanese near the Congolese border town of Aba. She had just crossed the border, after hiding for four days in the bush as government and rebel forces clashed near her hometown of Lasu.

When asked about whether she thought the latest ceasefire would hold, Jendia erupted in a hearty laugh: "It's something that people have agreed upon, but it's just on paper. I want to see with my own eyes if it's actually implemented."

Reviving a failed peace deal

The latest fighting in Lasu began just as government and rebel delegations sat down to talk in the latest diplomatic push to revive a 2015 peace deal. The agreement, signed between President Salva Kiir and his rival Riek Machar, fell apart when the two sides clashed in the capital, Juba, in July 2016, forcing Machar into exile and upending a fragile transitional government. Since then, instability has spread across the southern region of Equatoria, where Lasu is located.

Over a million people have fled violence in Equatoria, leaving behind ghost towns and fallow fields in what was once South Sudan's most peaceful and prosperous region. Most Equatorians fled to neighboring Uganda, but over 80,000 South Sudanese have also sought refuge in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Congolese authorities have registered hundreds of new arrivals over the past 10 days. At the border, exhausted families with small children and livestock in tow sat under trees, waiting to be transferred to the refugee site.

Peter Lomoro said he grabbed his four children and ran when he heard of government soldiers advancing on his village of Nyori. "When I heard they were coming, I didn't wait even for a minute. When they see young men like me, they'll just shoot," the 41-year-old said. Last year, when the family tried to escape fighting, government soldiers killed Lomoro's brother because they suspected him of being a rebel.

Military setbacks for the rebels

Salva Kiir's government forces have been accused of widespread atrocities against civilians in Equatoria, targeting members of tribes that are believed to support the opposition. Some civilians, reluctant to leave behind their livestock and fields, remained in South Sudan despite the violence and sought protection behind rebel lines. But the rebels, weakened by infighting and lack of ammunition, have suffered a series of military setbacks across South Sudan, including the loss of their headquarters in Lasu. As their defense lines crumbled, more civilians fled the country.

"Before it was rebels in [Lasu] but since government soldiers came in, the civilians tend to run away. As of now we have a good number of new arrivals at the site," said Liwa Morris Taban, the president of the refugee settlement in Aba.

Many refugees have little hope of returning anytime soon and are increasingly disillusioned by what they perceive as the international community's failure to enforce the peace agreement. The most recent ceasefire seems to be floundering already, with both the government and rebels accusing each other of violations just hours after the deal was signed.

"The negotiations in Addis Ababa have been going on for a long time, but nothing good has come of it," said Richard Moy, who was among a few dozen recent arrivals from the village of Nyori near Lasu. "I'm calling on those big powers like America to take Riek Machar and Salva Kiir and put them in prison, so that all of the South Sudanese can go back."

22 killed, 18 injured in inter-clan war in South Sudan
ReliefWeb

December 31, 2017

In Summary

— The conflict erupted over grazing land ownership and the naming of a village — one group wants the village renamed while the other group wants its named retained.

— The military was deployed to ease the tension and it is also preaching peace in the area.

Juba

At least 22 people have been killed in inter-clan clashes in South Sudan, a local government official has said.

The fighting, the latest in a series of attacks between rival communities, occurred in Bor South in central Jonglei State, some 200 kilometres north of the capital Juba.

Clashes

The Commissioner of Bor South County, Deng Mabior, said about 18 people were also critically injured during the clashes which occurred over the weekend.

He added that many people have been displaced.

According to local media reports, the conflict erupted over ownership of grazing land and the naming of a village — one want its name Panweel retained while another group is seeking to have it renamed to Anuet.

Jonglei State's Minister of Information, Deng Akech, also confirmed the incident. He said the military was deployed to the area to ease the tension.

"The situation is currently under control of the army. The army is doing a good job by also talking to them about peace. But the challenge now is on the humanitarian aspect," Mr Mabior told a local radio station.

Investigate

The regional government said it would investigate the conflict and arrest those found to have instigated the violence.

"What we are trying to do now is to make sure that the situation is contained," Mr Mabior said.

Rival pastoralists and farming communities in South Sudan have a long and bloody history of tit-for-tat attacks.

The fighting has worsened amidst the disintegration of society during the four-year civil war, which began in December 2013.

According to the United Nations, half the country is in need of emergency food and a third has been forced from their homes

South Sudan denies truce violation after troika condemnation
ReliefWeb

January 2, 2017

South Sudan government Tuesday denied violating the cessation of hostilities brokered by the IGAD mediators, saying its cabinet had approved the agreement and directed the army to comply.

The Information minister and the government spokesman told the state-owned South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation that the practice of apportioning blames was encouraging violations.

"When two people go to court, one of them gets charged and the other gets the answer. Not all of them get punished. What those involved in monitoring the ceasefire do encourages the continuation of violations. You cannot punish all. The violator has to be identified and made to account. The council of ministers after the return of the delegation from Addis Ababa approved the cessation of hostilities agreement and the cabinet gave directive through the ministry of defence and other relevant institutions to comply with the directive," explained Minister Michael Makuei Lueth.

The government spokesperson blamed the armed opposition forces for having been responsible for violations in a number of places in the country, pointing to recent developments in Equatoria region, Bahr el Ghazal region specifically the incident in which humanitarian workers were abducted and Southern Leer and Koch County in unity region as well as in areas of Akobo.

"The so called rebels of Riek Machar have never violated any ceasefire and instead of holding them to account for these clear violates, those who are charged with the monitoring and report these violations continue to make their reports calling on the parties to stop. This is not correct and this kind of reporting is the one that is encouraging continuous violation by the rebels," said Lueth.

His comments follow a statement released by members of the Troika countries — Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States — condemning the violation of the ceasefire agreement.

The three countries condemned through a joint statement on Tuesday the violations of the agreement on the cessation of hostilities signed in Addis Ababa on 21 December by what they consider as the warring parties in South Sudan.

The statement called on all signatories of the cessation of hostilities agreement, and the field commanders to immediately end all military operations, urging the warring parties to put the South Sudanese people's well-being ahead of their own narrow political interests.

"We also call on all CoH parties, and every level of government, to abide by the November 9 Presidential Order for unfettered humanitarian access. We further call for full cooperation with CTSAMM in meeting its CoH responsibilities, and with UNMISS in carrying out its UN Security Council mandate — as both are working for the South Sudanese people's greater good," the statement reads.

The troika countries, which are also the guarantors of the peace agreement, pointed out that the field commanders, and their political superiors, will be held accountable for violating the cessation of hostilities agreement, impeding humanitarian aid, and hindering CTSAMM and UNMISS operations.

The countries commended IGAD for its leadership of the High-Level Revitalization Forum, pointing out that: "We insist all participants engage in the Forum with seriousness of purpose and genuine commitment to bringing lasting peace to the South Sudanese people"

South Sudan presidential adviser says rebels use ceasefire for mobilization
Sudan Tribune

January 3, 2018

South Sudanese presidential adviser on military affairs said the signed humanitarian truce agreement was not holding peace because the armed opposition forces were using it as an opportunity to mobilize themselves to carry out attacks to gain more territories.

Daniel Awet Akot said the government was committed to ending the war in the country but the acceptance of the IGAD-brokered cessation of hostilities agreement has been interpreted by armed opposition forces as a weakness of the government and use as it an opportunity to mobilise their forces for more attacks.

Akot told Sudan Tribune on Wednesday he received a telephone call from Yei informing him of renewed fighting despite the cessation of hostilities agreement by the warring parties.

"As I was leaving my residence today for work, the first call I received was about fighting in Yei. I received a call from Yei about fighting which erupted there and I was told the rebels of Riek Machar have attacked Morobo and Kaya," he said.

"You know they were in these places before but they lost them and so they want to gain these places despite their leadership signing the ceasefire and made a declaration to stop hostile activities towards the government forces," added Akot.

He called on the regional and international community involved in mediation to restrain armed opposition if the ceasefire was to hold.

"These people have no headquarters. Their forces are scattered. They are in refugee camps and they go there to make recruitments whenever there is a stoppage in hostilities and whenever they are defeated. They are using refugees. They use every bit of opportunity to mobilise themselves and caused fighting like they did today in Yei River state," he said.

The warring parties in South Sudan signed a humanitarian cessation of hostilities in Addis Ababa proposed by the IGAD mediators to as confidence-building measure before talks on the implementation of a permanent ceasefire agreement.

But since the 21 December, the mediators and facilitators realize how much they are far from their initial objectives as the government and the armed opposition trade accusation of breaching the truce on daily basis.

South Sudan Rebel Attacks Have Killed 34 People Since Beginning of Year
Bloomberg News

By Okech Francis
January 3, 2018

Attacks by rebel groups in South Sudan killed 34 people in the first three days of this year even as warring parties agreed in December to cease hostilities, according to a military official.

Three attacks in the south of the country by rebels loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar and the army's ex-deputy chief of staff, Thomas Cirillo Swaka, left six assailants dead Wednesday while an ambush on traveling traders killed four civilians, military spokesman Lul Ruai Koang said in an emailed statement. Another nine rebels, 11 civilians and four soldiers died in earlier attacks in the oil rich Northern Liech state, he said.

Last month, warring parties agreed to end fighting from midnight Dec. 24.

"It has been very difficult for us to implement the peace agreement because we have unfaithful partners who are always attacking us," Koang said.

Paul Gabriel Lam, a spokesman for the rebel group, didn't answer calls seeking comment.

A civil war in South Sudan that began in 2013 has left tens of thousands of people dead and displaced four million others. An earlier peace deal between President Salva Kiir and Machar shattered in July when a transitional government fell apart after fighting in the capital, Juba.

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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

UN to close four bases in DR Congo
Daily Mail

December 20, 2017

The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday announced the closure of four military bases in the restive north east of the country.

The bases, which will be closed next week, are in Bukiringi, Geti, Mambasa and Bogoro, all in Ituri province.

Bogoro was the scene of a high-profile massacre in 2003 that left some 200 villagers dead and led to a war crimes trial at The Hague which resulted in militia leader Germain Katanga being sentenced to 12 years in prison.

"We have been forced to make a big budget cut while the work expected from us is enormous on the ground. That's why we are obliged to reduce the number of bases without reducing our operational capacity," said Julius Fondong, a spokesman for the UN mission, known by its acronym MONUSCO.

Many local people in Bogoro have publicly opposed the closure of the base due to continuing concerns over security.

Some have even considered leaving the village and following the peacekeepers.

"Our troops will be stationed at three operational bases: Komanda, Aveba and Bunia," Fondong said.

The decision follows a number of other UN military base closures in the DRC. In July, the UN announced the closure of five bases in neighbouring North Kivu province despite the presence of several militia groups.

The announcement comes after UN peacekeepers suffered their worst attack in nearly a quarter of a century.

On December 7, 14 peacekeepers were killed and 53 wounded in an ambush by several hundred militiamen, whose weaponry included rocket-propelled grenades.

The United Nations has some 19,000 soldiers, police and military observers deployed in DR Congo, its biggest and costliest peacekeeping mission, with an annual budget of more than $1 billion.

Attackers torch Democratic Republic of Congo president's property
Reuters

December 25, 2017

A home belonging to Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila has been attacked and a policeman died in the incident, local lawmakers and U.N. sponsored radio said on Monday.

Photos posted on social media showed the main house on the farm, located near the village of Musienene in North Kivu province in the east of the country, was gutted by fire.

Kabila was not at the property during the attack which took place overnight from Sunday to Monday.

It was not immediately known who was responsible for the raid. The body of the policeman who died was burned, a local government official said.

Congo is embroiled in a political crisis linked to Kabila's refusal to step down as president when his mandate expired a year ago while militia violence and political unrest are increasing.

"We firmly condemn this barbarous act and call on the population ... to disassociate from any actions likely to compromise peace and development in this part of the country," lawmakers said in a statement.

More than a decade after the end of a 1998-2003 war in which millions of people died, mostly from hunger and disease, rebel fighters and local militias stalk Congo's mineral-rich eastern borderlands.

The armies of Congo and neighboring Uganda launched a joint operation against the Congo-based, Ugandan Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) last week.

The Islamist rebel group is suspected of being behind a Dec. 8 attack on a United Nations base in North Kivu that killed 15 Tanzanian peacekeepers and five Congolese soldiers.

The ADF has been blamed for a wave of attacks and massacres in the area. Raids by local Mai Mai militia fighters are also growing increasingly frequent.

Congo and Uganda kill dozens of rebels suspected in UN killings
CNN

By Spencer Feingold and Joe Sterling
December 27, 2017

A joint Ugandan and Congolese military operation killed more than 100 militants aligned with a rebel group believed to be responsible for the killings of 15 peacekeepers earlier this month in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Ugandan military said Wednesday.

Forces attacked eight "enemy camps" in eastern Congo last Friday with air and artillery strikes, according to the military statement.

The operation targeted the Allied Democratic Forces, which has battled governments in East Africa since the 1990s and has ties to several international jihadi groups. The organization has previously been sanctioned by the United States and the United Nations for terrorist activities.

The slain peacekeepers hailed from Tanzania. Along with those victims, five Congolese soldiers were killed and 53 others were injured, according to the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The attack took place in North Kivu, an eastern province that borders Rwanda and Uganda.

"The ADF recent attack on the UN Peacekeepers of MONUSCO from the sister-country of Tanzania is an indictment to its activities not only for Uganda and DRC but also the international community," Uganda's Defense Spokesman Richard Karemire said in the statement. "The population in the affected areas, the region, and international partners shall be mobilized to stop terrorist activities once and for all."

The strike, described as the worst against UN "blue helmets" in recent history, prompted world and regional condemnation and calls for vigilance. The UN Security Council condemned the attack.

"These deliberate attacks against United Nations peacekeepers are unacceptable and constitute a war crime," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.

The US Department of Treasury denounced the ADF "for targeting children in situations of armed conflict, including through killing, rape, abduction and forced displacement." The United Nations also admonished the group, citing "serious violations of international law and the recruitment of child soldiers."

"The ADF, with an estimated 1,200 to 1,500 armed fighters, launched a series of attacks in 2013 against civilians in the DRC, forcing thousands of people to flee into Uganda and abducting or killing those that attempted to return," the Treasury department said in a statement.

"The ADF was also responsible for brutal attacks on women and children in several villages, including acts of beheading, mutilation, and rape," the statement said. "In recent years, the ADF has boosted its numbers through kidnapping as well as recruiting children, allegedly as young as 10 years old, to serve as child soldiers against the Ugandan government."

The Ugandan military said Congolese forces are pursuing the survivors of the assault who "are roaming in different areas of North Kivu." Uganda has established operations at its borders "to deter any of the terrorists from sneaking into our territory."

"Should they attempt to attack our border villages, (Uganda People's Defense Forces) shall not hesitate to pursue them to wherever they will have come from," the Uganda military spokesperson said.

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Burundi

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

Crisis listicles, localisation in practice, and long-term dangers in Burundi: The Cheat Sheet
IRIN

December 22, 2017

One disturbing aspect of this poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation is the massive scale of the crises mentioned. That they remain so under-covered by the mainstream media, frankly, beggars belief. However, it will come as no surprise to regular IRIN readers that the Democratic Republic of Congo came out top when representatives of 20 leading aid organisations were surveyed. At the very start of 2017, we flagged the potential for the situation to deteriorate as President Joseph Kabila clung to power and we've been reporting since on the major developments from the ground, not only in Kasai, which is beginning to get some belated attention, but also of the emerging dangers in North and South Kivu. With more than four million displaced and a similar number facing critical levels of hunger, the pressure on the underfunded and overstretched response going into 2018 is immense. But other places are rightly highlighted too. Oxfam points out that many people don't even know that Central African Republic exists, let alone that about a quarter of the population has been displaced by violence that has spread rapidly this year, especially in eastern parts of the country. While Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen all received deserved mentions, some aid organisations took a different tack, flagging the neglect of hunger, famine, and the use of food as a "weapon of war". Keep your eyes peeled around New Year for IRIN's own listicle on humanitarian disasters to look out for in 2018 and for our in-depth package on the food crises gripping the globe.

The deadly price of power in Congo

Staying with Congo, it's army, known as the FARDC, has a long history of committing human rights abuses. In 2008, Human Rights Watch documented testimony of the killing, raping, and looting of civilians by government soldiers as they battled rebels in North Kivu province, which lies in the east of the country. Earlier this week, IRIN published a harrowing report of similar, systematic atrocities in the same province, as related by dozens of civilians there. The rebels the army is fighting in North Kivu may have changed, but it seems the soldiers' crimes remain the same. So it comes as little surprise to hear that government forces are responsible for many of the abuses against civilians committed in Kasai, another area of Congo on which IRIN has reported on in depth. More than 3,000 people have been killed over the past year in Kasai, where the FARDC is fighting the Kamuina Nsapu insurgency. The backdrop to the violence is Kabila's refusal to leave office or hold elections even though his final constitutional mandate expired last year. Testimony from Kasai refugees now living in Angola has been collated in a report this week by the global human rights movement FIDH. The extent to which these abuses are evidently planned and organised points to a "deliberate strategy of terror and destruction, which led to crimes against humanity," it says. And FIDH made no bones about the motive for such violence, describing it as "part of a recurring scheme of Joseph Kabila's regime to mobilise tension and violence in order to retain power through chaos and diversion."

When the rubber hits the road

The surge of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh has brought with it another influx: international aid workers. The major NGOs and UN agencies have also flooded in to tackle one of the world's most pressing humanitarian crises. But where does this leave local NGOs? More than a year after the aid sector made ambitious pledges to shift to an aid model led by local organisations, reforms have largely stalled. Local NGOs and civil society groups have become increasingly frustrated with the status quo, where there's a striking power imbalance between locals and the international agencies that swoop in when disasters hit. A new report from the Humanitarian Advisory Group looks at how this dynamic has played out during the Rohingya refugee crisis — a rare appraisal of "localisation" in practice during an unfolding emergency. The findings describe some familiar patterns: only four percent of funding has gone to local NGOs, for example, while international aid workers continue to dominate key decision-making roles. In the middle of a crisis, there's a sense of frustration among local organisations that feel sidelined by the international surge. It's an important dynamic in the aid sector: with nearly one million Rohingya refugees now living in Bangladesh, the crisis is likely to persist, but international attention — and funding — may not. When international aid groups pack up and leave, will local organisations be starting from scratch? Download the report here.

Burundi deadlock

There appears little hope that Burundi's political antagonists will bury the hatchet any time soon. The government may insist there's no crisis, but reports of disappearances and extra-judicial killings continue to emerge well over two years after major unrest broke out. That was sparked by President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid to seek a third term in office, something the opposition deemed unconstitutional. Since then, there have been widespread atrocities, a failed coup, and an exodus of nearly half a million Burundi citizens. Earlier this month, the latest in a long series of peace talks ended with no hint of a breakthrough and each side rejecting the legitimacy of the other. Hardly surprising as much of the exiled opposition, and a coalition of civil society groups, boycotted the meeting, which was mediated by the East African Community. According to Carine N. Kaneza of the Women and Girls Movement for Peace and Security in Burundi, one reason the talks failed was that the mediation team "appeared to be at pains not to offend the Burundi government by inviting components that it objects to". Opposition figures, whom the government has repeatedly labelled as "coup plotters", and even sought to have arrested, were only permitted to take part in their individual capacities rather than as representatives of parties. It was perceptions that political power was being concentrated in too few hands that pushed Burundi towards civil war in 1993. That conflict dragged on until 2015 and killed an estimated 300,000 people. While the risk of another major conflict may be small, the democratic gains made since the end of the last one are being undermined, as is the credibility of the current meditation team. "By treating a problem with deep roots related to politics, history and injustice as if it were one with much more shallow grievances, the mediators are jeopardising the long-term peace and security of Burundi and East Africa," warns Kaneza.

Burundi President appoints commissioners of National Observatory to prevent genocide
Iwacu English News

By Lorraine Josiane Manishatse
January 3, 2018

President Pierre Nkurunziza has recently appointed members of various national commissions including the National Observatory for the Prevention and Eradication of Genocide, War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity.

Jean de Dieu Mutabazi, President of Burundi's Democratic Rally (RADEBU) was appointed to chair this national observatory. Joseph Sinabwiteye and Emérence Bucumi are the deputy chairman and secretary general of the commission respectively.

Article 274 of the national Constitution stipulates that this body is advisory. It is particularly responsible for regularly monitoring the evolution of Burundian society in relation to the risk of genocide, war crimes and other crimes against humanity as well as preventing and eradicating these crimes.

It will be in charge of suggesting measures to effectively fight against the impunity of crimes under international law, to promote the creation of a regional observatory, a national inter-ethnic front of resistance against these crimes as well as the globalization and collective guilt.

In addition, the observatory will have to promote the legislation preventing these crimes and follow their strict respect, propose policies and measures to rehabilitate victims of crimes.

The basic law also enjoins the members of this commission to contribute to the implementation of a vast program of awareness and education for peace, unity and national reconciliation.

As for some concerns that this commission has the same mission as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR), the Minister of Interior, Pascal Barandagiye reassures:

"Their common point is the fact that CVR provides matters to the observatory," he said on Wednesday, August 9, during the analysis of the bill on the organization and mission of that observatory.

Unlike CVR which is limited to time, this new observatory is a permanent body. Only its members can be changed.

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WEST AFRICA

Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast)

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

Former Ivory Coast Minister Sentenced To 20 Years Imprisonment
Channels TV

December 27 2017

Hubert Oulaye, 64, ex-public works minister under former president Laurent Gbagbo, "provided the financial means to establish a rebellion in the west" of the country, the attorney general said.

"The accomplice is sometimes more dangerous than the perpetrator," she added.

Oulaye dismissed the verdict as a "political conviction" and returned home while his lawyers vowed to appeal the decision.

The attack happened as Ivory Coast was reeling from violence caused when Gbagbo refused to step down after losing presidential polls to current leader Alassane Ouattara.

Gbagbo is currently on trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague for alleged crimes against humanity committed during the crisis, in which 3,000 people were killed.

Oulaye's lawyer Rodrigue Dadje called the verdict "a political decision" and warned it would create a dangerous and vindictive precedent.

"We are going to be in an unending cycle of vengeance. We need justice that is equitable and transparent, not one that hand down 20-year sentences without any proof," he said.

Oulaye was arrested six months after his return from exile in Ghana, and several days after participating in a meeting of the "rebels" of Gbagbo's party, the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI).

The "rebels" consider themselves the guardians of the Gbagbo legacy and boycott all polls.

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

Macron: France Ready to Strengthen Force in Sahel Fighting Islamists
Reuters

December 23, 2017

President Emmanuel Macron said on Saturday France stood ready if needed to strengthen its military force fighting alongside African troops against Islamist insurgents in the Sahel.

France has been seeking to eventually withdraw from the poorly policed scrublands of the Sahel region — which abuts the Sahara to the north and has become a recruiting and training ground for Islamist militants — with the help of a new regional African force.

The G5 Sahel, which began official operations in November, is made up of troops from Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania that will patrol the region in collaboration with 4,000 French troops deployed there since intervening in 2013 to quell an insurgency in northern Mali.

But Macron said on a visit to the Niger capital Niamey that the Sahel would remain a focus for the French army, should it be required in the future.

"France is ready, not only to maintain, but if necessary to strengthen its engagement in the region because the fight against terrorism in the Sahel is essential, in my opinion," he said during a joint news conference with his Nigerien counterpart Mahamoudou Issoufou.

"The fight is not won today ... it is essential not only to maintain but to further improve our agility on the ground, to innovate more and to focus our priorities on the regions identified as the most vulnerable," he added.

Speaking during his visit to Niger, Macron also announced an additional 10 million euros to help educate girls, one of the priorities promoted by President Issoufou to curb migration.

This sum is on top of 15 million euros already invested by France to help education in Niger. Paris pledged in mid-December to spend 400 million euros over 2017-2021 to support Niamey.

Italy PM plans to shift military forces from Iraq to Niger
Reuters

December 24, 2017

Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said on Sunday he would propose to parliament transferring some of the country's troops stationed in Iraq to Niger to fight people smuggling and terrorism.

Gentiloni said Italy's 1,400-strong military presence in Iraq could now be reduced after victories against Islamic militants and instead deployed in the Sahel region of West Africa.

"We have to continue to work, concentrating our attention and energies on the threat of people trafficking and terrorism in the Sahel," he said aboard the Italian ship Etna used in the European Union's "Sophia" operation to counter people smuggling in the Mediterranean.

"For this reason, part of our forces in Iraq will be deployed to Niger in coming months — this is the proposal the government will make to parliament," Gentiloni said.

He did not specify how many people would be sent to Niger. Newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano wrote on Sunday that the contingent would be "at least 470" as part of a commitment made to French President Emmanuel Macron.

Macron has thrown his weight behind a French-backed West African force known as the G5 Sahel, which includes the armies of Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad, which was set up in October to tackle Islamist militants.

To give the force a boost, Macron held a Paris summit on Dec. 13 attended by the leaders of the five participating countries, Germany and Italy as well as Saudi and Emirati ministers.

The Italian parliament is expected to be formally dissolved by the end of this year ahead of March elections. But it will continue to meet for "ordinary administration" and could approve Gentiloni's request for the transfer of military personnel.

Free at last: 700 men, women and children abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria have escaped from captivity
Daily Mail

By Khaleda Rahman and Kelly McLaughlin
January 2, 2018

More than 700 men, women and children who were abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria have escaped from captivity, a spokesman for the Nigerian Army revealed.

Those who escaped included farmers, fishermen and their families, Colonel Timothy Antigha announced in a statement on Facebook on Monday.

He said the captives had been kept by the terror group as 'farm workers' on islands in Lake Chad, but had managed to flee to Monguno, a town close to Nigeria's border with Chad.

Two pregnant women among the group had given birth in holding centres on Sunday, Antigha added.

Antigha added that the abductees would be profiled to ensure 'no terrorist takes advantage of the situation to sneak into the town.'

He attributed the escape to military operations in the area, 'targeted at destroying Boko Haram infrastructure and logistics' including bomb making equipment and communication centres.

He noted that the initial wave of abductees who escaped Boko Haram following a military operation in Chikun Gugu were also received in Monguno.

The news came as Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau released a video message on Tuesday claiming a series of attacks in northeast Nigeria during the festive season.

The shadowy leader released his first video message in months amid a surge in violence casting doubt on the Nigerian government's claim that the jihadist group is defeated.

'We are in good health and nothing has happened to us,' said Shekau in the 31-minute video message spoken in the Hausa language common across northern Nigeria.

'Nigerian troops, police and those creating mischief against us can't do anything against us, and you will gain nothing,' he said.

'We carried out the attacks in Maiduguri, in Gamboru, in Damboa. We carried out all these attacks.'

The video then shows footage from a Christmas Day attack on a military checkpoint in Molai village on the outskirts of the northeast Nigerian city of Maiduguri, which the military said was thwarted by troops after one hour of battle.

Boko Haram fighters in torn clothes were shown shooting from the back of battered pickup trucks.

Shekau's message comes during an acceleration of Boko Haram attacks and just days after the jihadists killed 25 people outside Maiduguri, the birthplace of the Islamist insurgency.

In December, Boko Haram attacked convoys of Nigerian soldiers and dispatched suicide bombers into crowded markets in towns across northeast Nigeria.

At least 50 people were killed in November when a suicide bomber blew himself up at a mosque in Adamawa state.

But Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said in his New Year address that Boko Haram has been 'beaten'.

'Isolated attacks still occur, but even the best-policed countries cannot prevent determined criminals from committing terrible acts of terror,' said Buhari.

Shekau, a leader known for his lengthy, wild-eyed video messages, took over Boko Haram in 2009 after the death of its founder Muhammad Yusuf.

The group gained notoriety after kidnapping more than 200 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in 2014. Around 100 are still missing.

But Boko Haram, whose Islamist insurgency has left at least 20,000 dead in Nigeria since it began in 2009, has long been fractionalised.

In 2016, it suffered a major split, when the so-called Islamic State group recognised Yusuf's son, Abu Mus'ab al-Barnawi, as leader.

The Adamawa State chapter of Nigeria's Muslim Council said last month that at least 5,247 Muslims have been killed in the past four years in the northern state because of Boko Haram.

A report presented Sunday adds that more than 5,100 Muslims in the state have been injured since 2013.

The report was presented to the Adamawa governor, Alhaji Muhammadu Bindow, calling for more support for victims and reconstruction of places of worship and schools.

It also recommends increasing security and financial support to local defense groups assisting the military in the fight against Boko Haram.

The report says more than 12,700 properties, including houses, mosques, livestock and farm produce worth $220million have been destroyed in the state.

Suicide attack on Nigeria mosque causes multiple deaths
Al-Jazeera

January 3, 2018

A suicide bomb attack on a mosque in northeastern Nigeria has killed at least 11 people, according to reports.

The incident took place in the town of Gamboru, in Nigeria's Borno state near the border with Cameroon, an area where the armed group Boko Haram has previously carried out a number of attacks.

Witnesses said the bombing took place as worshippers were attending morning prayers.

"I was on my way to dawn prayer, then I heard the sound of a loud bomb explosion inside the mosque," aid worker Ali Mustapha told Reuters news agency.

"The mosque was destroyed and burned," added Mustapha.

"After some hours, when we came to evacuate the people, we saw 11 corpses, with the suicide bomber making [the total number of dead] 12."

No group has claimed responsibility so far, but the area and type of attack bear the hallmarks of Boko Haram, whose name roughly translates to "Western education is forbidden".

The group has waged an armed campaign in northeastern Nigeria since 2009.

The conflict has left at least 20,000 people dead and displaced more than 2.6 million.

Last week, more than 700 people abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria escaped from captivity. The captives included farmers, fishermen and members of their families, a spokesperson for the Nigerian army said.

At its peak, the group controlled large swaths of territory in the Lake Chad region, but the Nigerian military, with assistance from Chad, Cameroon and Niger, has pushed its fighters out of a number of provinces in the northeast.

Despite the pushback from the international coalition, Boko Haram remains active in the area, often carrying out suicide attacks against civilians.

In early December, at least 17 people were killed in the city of Biu when two suspected Boko Haram suicide bombers detonated themselves at a market.

That attack came only two weeks after a teenage suicide bomber struck a mosque in Mubi, killing at least 50 people.

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Mali

Mali Army kills five jihadists after ambush
news 24

December 21, 2017

Mali's army said Thursday it killed five jihadists but lost one soldier repelling an attack in the centre of the vast, landlocked nation.

The assault happened at a military outpost near the remote town of Niono at around 0130 GMT, a military statement said.

The troops "reacted forcefully, pushing back the assailants," it said.

The country, bordering Niger and Burkina Faso, has struggled to defeat Islamist militants who have regularly attacked the military and UN peacekeepers.

Jihadist groups allied with Tuareg separatists captured the entire north of the country in 2012 but were pushed back by a French-led military intervention a year later.

In 2015, Tuareg rebels signed a peace deal but its implementation has been patchy and much of the north of the country remains lawless with jihadist attacks a regular occurence.

Thursday's assault came just hours ahead of a visit to the capital, Bamako, by Qatar's emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, who is on a tour of West African nations.

Saudi Arabia last week pledged $130 million to boost an anti-extremist force in Africa's semi-desert Sahel region.

The new G5 Sahel force pools troops from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger in an area of desert the size of Europe where extremist groups have been thriving.

Ousted Malian president to return from exile
New Vision

December 22, 2017

Mali's ousted former president Amadou Toumani Toure will return to the country on Sunday for the first time since the coup that deposed him, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita said.

Mutinous soldiers overthrew the government and detained Toure on March 22, 2012, precipitating the fall of the country's northern territory to Islamist rebels allied with Al-Qaeda.

The coup led by army captain Amadou Sanogo toppled what had been heralded as one of the region's most stable democracies, and Toure has been living in exile in neighbouring Senegal ever since.

"The moment has arrived for us to tell our younger brother Amadou Toumani Toure to return to Mali. He left power legally," Keita said at a public event in Bamako on Friday.

"I will send a state plane to fetch him and bring him back to Mali," Keita added, describing how he had invited the ex-leader for lunch on Sunday.

Toure was accused by Keita's government of treason over the failure of soldiers to tackle a rebellion led by Tuareg people that eventually led to jihadists trying to takeover the country. The charges were dropped last year.

Islamist militants 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 UN 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 jihadists.

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EAST AFRICA

Uganda

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

Congo and Uganda kill dozens of rebels suspected in UN killings
CNN

By Spencer Feingold and Joe Sterling
December 27, 2017

A joint Ugandan and Congolese military operation killed more than 100 militants aligned with a rebel group believed to be responsible for the killings of 15 peacekeepers earlier this month in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Ugandan military said Wednesday.

Forces attacked eight &enemy camps& in eastern Congo last Friday with air and artillery strikes, according to the military statement.

The operation targeted the Allied Democratic Forces, which has battled governments in East Africa since the 1990s and has ties to several international jihadi groups. The organization has previously been sanctioned by the United States and the United Nations for terrorist activities.

The slain peacekeepers hailed from Tanzania. Along with those victims, five Congolese soldiers were killed and 53 others were injured, according to the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The attack took place in North Kivu, an eastern province that borders Rwanda and Uganda.

"The ADF recent attack on the UN Peacekeepers of MONUSCO from the sister-country of Tanzania is an indictment to its activities not only for Uganda and DRC but also the international community,& Uganda's Defense Spokesman Richard Karemire said in the statement. "The population in the affected areas, the region, and international partners shall be mobilized to stop terrorist activities once and for all."

Helmets of Tanzanian peacekeepers slain by rebels are displayed during a tribute ceremony in the Congolese city of Goma.

The strike, described as the worst against UN &blue helmets& in recent history, prompted world and regional condemnation and calls for vigilance. The UN Security Council condemned the attack.

"These deliberate attacks against United Nations peacekeepers are unacceptable and constitute a war crime,& UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.

The US Department of Treasury denounced the ADF &for targeting children in situations of armed conflict, including through killing, rape, abduction and forced displacement.& The United Nations also admonished the group, citing "serious violations of international law and the recruitment of child soldiers."

"The ADF, with an estimated 1,200 to 1,500 armed fighters, launched a series of attacks in 2013 against civilians in the DRC, forcing thousands of people to flee into Uganda and abducting or killing those that attempted to return," the Treasury department said in a statement.

"The ADF was also responsible for brutal attacks on women and children in several villages, including acts of beheading, mutilation, and rape," the statement said. "In recent years, the ADF has boosted its numbers through kidnapping as well as recruiting children, allegedly as young as 10 years old, to serve as child soldiers against the Ugandan government."

The Ugandan military said Congolese forces are pursuing the survivors of the assault who &are roaming in different areas of North Kivu." Uganda has established operations at its borders "to deter any of the terrorists from sneaking into our territory."

"Should they attempt to attack our border villages, (Uganda People's Defense Forces) shall not hesitate to pursue them to wherever they will have come from," the Uganda military spokesperson said.

Museveni Assents to Age Limit Bill
AllAfrica: The Observer

January 2, 2018

President Yoweri Museveni has at last appended his signature to the Constitutional Amendment Bill No. 2 2017, commonly known as the 'Age Limit' bill.

Don Wanyama, senior presidential press secretary says the president wrote to the speaker of parliament through the clerk.

"We have not yet received official communication as the communications department, but he has assented to the bill," Wanyama told URN.

Parliament's director of communications Chris Obore says the president signed the bill on December 27, just seven days after it was passed by the 10th parliament on the night of December 20.

Now with Museveni's signature, the Constitution has been effectively amended to remove the presidential age limit caps. Before the amendment, article 102 (b) barred people above 75 and those below 35 years from running for the highest office. The current age limit bill also extends the term of office of parliament from the current five years to seven years.

The bill, however, restores presidential term limits which had been removed in a 2005 constitutional amendment that paved the way for President Museveni, in power since 1986, to contest again after his two five-year terms had expired.

During their Christmas messages, many religious leaders openly opposed to the bill asked President Museveni not to sign the now controversial piece of legislation into law. Its passing on December 20 came at the head of episodes of violence in and outside parliament as security forces roughed up those opposed to the bill, including Members of Parliament.

On September 27, the day Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi tabled the motion seeking leave of parliament to draft the bill, 25 MPs were forcefully evicted from the parliamentary chambers shortly after the Speaker Rebecca Kadaga suspended them over rowdy conduct.

At its second reading on December 20, a total of 317 members of parliament voted in support of the bill, while 97 voted against. Two legislators abstained. After long hours of deliberations, as parliament considered the bill clause by clause, Speaker Kadaga put it to vote again, with 315 voting in favour and 62 against and two abstaining.

In his end of year speech, President Yoweri Museveni praised the 317 MPs who voted in favour of the bill saying they enabled him "to avoid a more complicated path that would have been required." He likened them to his bush war fighters that helped bring him to power 31 years ago and the 232 MPs of the 7th parliament who removed presidential term limits in 2005.

To the religious leaders, the president accused them of being so full of arrogance by meddling into everything including politics, forcing Dr Cyprian Kizito Lwanga the Archbishop of Kampala to respond in his New Year 's Day homily that religious leaders have a right to comment on politics.

Museveni in his New Year message lashed at religious leaders saying they they "talk most authoritatively on all and everything even when they have not bothered to find out the truth."

"This is assuming they do not have evil intentions which would be worse," said the president.

But Archbishop Lwanga said religious leaders are citizens whose freedom of expression is enshrined in Article 29 of the constitution "if it has not also been amended." He said the "life of our nation& is not a responsibility of a certain group of few individuals alone."

Before making abusive utterances against religious leaders and journalists, said Dr Kizito Lwanga, politicians should first read and understand the Constitution and appreciate that it is for all Ugandans.

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Kenya

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

I am ready for Raila oath-taking plan, says Kalonzo Musyoka
Daily Nation

By Kitavi Mutua and Kennedy Kimanthi
December 29, 2017

The National Super Alliance's plans to swear in opposition leader Raila Odinga early next year received a huge boost on Thursday after his running mate Kalonzo Musyoka said they will take the oath together.

The decision by Mr Musyoka, who made his first public engagement Thursday after a 10-week stay in Germany, signals the escalation of political tensions into the New Year as the opposition chiefs stick to their guns that they won the August election.

Mr Musyoka described the Jubilee Party's August 8 victory, which was annulled by the Supreme Court, and the repeat poll on October 26 as "State capture" and called for dialogue to address electoral injustices.

"The truth is that the August elections were stolen and the country is deeply divided. Kenyans cannot, therefore, be expected to move on when ethnic hatred and political intolerance are at their worst. I am telling my brother Uhuru Kenyatta that if he abdicates the responsibility of uniting this nation, he should not blame Raila and Kalonzo when we say we will be sworn in. If he doesn't want to dialogue on electoral reforms then we will be sworn in," he said.

SWEAR IN

Mr Musyoka, who was Mr Odinga's running mate in the August presidential election, left the country on October 11 to be with his ailing wife in Germany, where she has been receiving treatment and has missed key political events, including the October 26 repeat election, which his coalition boycotted.

The couple arrived back in the country on Wednesday night.

The plans to swear in the top two Nasa leaders was mooted in Mr Musyoka's absence after the opposition coalition formed a wing dubbed the National Resistance Movement, soon after Mr Kenyatta was declared winner in the repeat presidential poll.

The Wiper party leader said had been in constant touch with his Nasa co-principals Odinga, Musalia Mudavadi of Amani National Congress and Moses Wetang'ula of Ford Kenya, during his stay abroad and that he had agreed with them that Jubilee was in office illegitimately.

SUPREME COURT

"Uhuru was given the instruments of power by the Supreme Court and he also knows the gerrymandering and intimidation that accompanied the process, but in terms of legitimacy, this was State capture" he said in Kyondoni village, Kitui County, when he visited the family of former Kitui West MP Francis Nyenze, who was buried last week.

Mr Musyoka said he had been following the debate among Kenyans regarding the issues affecting the country through the media and he had come to the conclusion that most Kenyans are aggrieved and disillusioned by the events of the last elections.

"You voted for us on August 8th and we won the election. It is clear from the Independent and Electoral Boundaries Commission computer servers that we won the election but our competitors are using all means, including intimidation of the Judiciary, to cling onto power" he said.

Kenyan Opposition: If No Dialogue, We'll Inaugurate Odinga
New Delhi Times

By New Delhi Times Bureau
December 30, 2017

Kenya's opposition says it will proceed with its planned inauguration of opposition leader Raila Odinga as president if Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta does not convene a national dialogue. Kenyatta won October's election after Odinga boycotted the vote, and experts warn that an opposition inauguration could create even more division in the country.

Deputy opposition leader Kalonzo Musyoka, who has been out of the country for three months caring for his sick wife, said the only thing that can stop the opposition inauguration is dialogue.

"I am telling my brother Uhuru Kenyatta if he is going to abdicate the responsibility of uniting this nation, he should not blame Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka when we will be sworn in," Musyoka said.

The opposition boycotted the repeat October poll after the electoral commission failed to meet demands for reform. The Odinga and Musyoka team insists they won the earlier election in August, in which Kenyatta was declared the winner. That vote was nullified and the Supreme Court said the electoral commission did not follow the constitution and the law.

Kenyatta won the October election with 98 percent of the vote.

Political commentator Martin Andati says the opposition is trying to pressure the government to enter a dialogue.

"If they are sworn in, that's bound to create a bigger crisis than they are in," Andati said. "Basically, they are trying to up the pressure, and they are hoping Uhuru and his team will be able to sit down so that, ultimately, they go sit on the table and address some of the issues that they are trying to raise."

Kenyatta has repeatedly said the elections are over and he is willing to discuss the development agenda of the country, but nothing else.

Andati says elections may be over, but the issues that divide the country have not gone away.

"The rest of Kenyans who feel excluded from governance, from the position of power, from the allocation of business opportunities and jobs — they are out there, and they are quite a number — those are some of the issues they need to look at," Andati said. "Uhuru has been the president of [the ruling Jubilee party], not the president of Kenya. Now he must reach to the rest of the people."

The Attorney General Githu Muigai warned opposition leaders against swearing themselves in, saying that will amount to treason.

A showdown looms between the Kenyatta administration and the opposition. Many fear the political confrontation will further divide the east African nation.

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Rwanda (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda)

Official Website of the ICTR

Rwandans Lose Refugee Status as Cessation Clause Comes Into Force
The New Times

January 1, 2018

Countries are set to invoke the cessation clause for Rwandans who fled the country between 1959 and 1998 after the December 31, 2017 deadline passed yesterday.

The cessation clause is part of the 1951 Refugee Convention.

It's coming into force from January 1, 2018 means Rwandans who fled the country during the years in question lose refugee status and require no more international protection because fundamental and durable changes in their country of origin guarantee that there is no well-founded fear of persecution.

The December 31, 2017 date was arrived at by both UN refugee agency UNHCR, Rwandan government and host countries.

But some have been reluctant to repatriate due to fear of facing justice having participated in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, according to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugees affairs.

Speaking at a recent news conference ahead of yesterday's deadline; the Minister for Disaster Management and Refugees affairs, De Bonheur Jeanne d'Arc, said the Rwandans will still be allowed to repatriate after the coming into force of the cessation clause but there will be no reintegration packages for them.

Up to 84,596 Rwandans have been repatriated since 2009 and supported to reintegrate in Rwandan society, the ministry said.

78 per cent of them came from the neighbouring DR Congo.

The minister advised those still living outside the country to either repatriate or seek necessary documents to legalise their stay in those countries as Rwandans.

According to UNHCR statistics, more than 20,000 Rwandans were still living as refugees around the world by December.

The cessation clause for Rwandan refugees was declared by the UNHCR on June 30, 2013.

That clause nullifies the refugee status for them, living them with two options of either repatriation or naturalisation as citizens of the host countries.

The ministry explained that government had facilitated Rwandans to obtain necessary documents like passports through its embassies and the online platforms of the Directorate of Immigration and Emigration.

In 2016, 5,781 Rwandans from different countries repatriated while from January, 2017 up to end of last year 14,831 were received.

Those who recently repatriated were helped to get a one year health insurance cover, food package lasting three months, identity cards.

They were also supported to start some small income generating businesses where each adult was given US $250 while each child received US $150.

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Somalia

Somalia releases jailed ex-minister and government critic
Reuters

By Abdi Sheikh, Feisal Omar
December 21, 2018

A court in Somalia on Thursday released without charge a former minister and government critic who spent two days in jail after being arrested for alleged treason, an arrest which ignited a smoldering political crisis for the fragile government.

Abdirahman Abdishakur was released after the attorney general, who had ordered his arrest, had failed to bring evidence against him, Judge Aweys Sheikh Abdullahi told a courtroom.

He was released at midnight after reconciliation efforts between the government and traditional leaders before Thursday's court ruling, Information Minister Abdirahman Omar Osman said.

Somali attorney general Ahmed Ali Dahir said he planned to appeal the ruling and criticized the court for not granting him five extra days to investigate as he had requested.

"The case is in its first phase," he told reporters. "The attorney general's office was not given the investigation period it asked for."

Earlier this week, Dahir had described Abdishakur's house as a hub for the opposition and a gathering point for people who wanted to replace the government.

The arrest of Abdishakur, who ran in the February election won by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, followed mounting pressure on the president and his U.N.-backed government to end an Islamist insurgency.

On Wednesday, some Somali lawmakers said they planned to impeach the president. [L4N1OK3Z0] Parliament adjourned last week until the end of February, but some legislators want it to reconvene on an emergency basis, lawmaker Mahad Salad told Reuters.

The political turmoil endangers fragile gains against the Islamist al Shabaab insurgency.

Islamist militants al Shabaab have been stepping up pressure on Mohamed's government by staging frequent and increasingly large-scale bombings against both civilian and military targets in recent months in the capital Mogadishu and elsewhere.

The group is fighting to expel African Union peacekeeping force AMISOM from Somalia, topple the federal government and impose rule based on its strict interpretation of Islam's sharia law.

More than 500 people were killed in twin bomb blasts in Mogadishu in October while this month a suicide bomber killed at least 18 people at a Mogadishu police academy.

Early on Thursday, al Shabaab militants ambushed three vehicles belonging to the military's U.S.-trained special forces unit Danab on a road between Mogadishu and the town of Wanlaweyn.

The group said it seized the three cars while residents said they saw two burning cars.

Police Major Ahmed Nur told Reuters al Shabaab had targeted the convoy with a roadside bomb before ambushing it.

"We sent reinforcement to the area but we believe many died from both sides," he said.

"We ambushed the so-called military commandos and took their pickups," Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab's military operation spokesman, said.

Somalia has been locked in lawlessness and violence since the early 1990s, following the ousting of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

How Al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden sowed seed of Somalia's woes
Daily Nation

By Nuruddin Farah
December 23, 2017

On the second day of my visit to Mogadishu within a couple of days of the truck bombing, I visited the site of the explosion in the company of Prof Abdullahi Shirwa, the chairman of the National Emergency Operation Centre.

At some point, a man explaining things to me glanced nervously around, and bent down to pick up "something".

He said to me, "Here," and offered me whatever it was that he had picked up from under a piece of wood.

CHARRED METAL

I did not like his bothered look and I asked: "What is it?"

He replied: "These are pieces of human flesh."

Shocked, I averted my eyes, unready to accept the man's extended hand and was relieved when Prof Shirwa assured me that these were fragments of charred metal thrown out by the massive explosion.

Of the numerous assaults and the bomb attacks that will haunt every Somali's mind, none has been dastardlier than the one on October 14.

A heinous act of incomparable devastation, nearly 400 lost their lives and an equal number of people suffered serious injuries, many needing major surgeries, with many others either unaccounted for or missing.

Al-Shabaab served notice on everyone that the terrorist organisation is still capable of striking panic into the nation's heart, despite its territorial loss.

As we mourned the dead, we sought answers to the question we have been asking for the past decade.

Now we ask now if this would be the watershed event that would drive African Union Mission in Somalia and the national army towards the decisive final push to rid the country of Al-Shabaab once and for all.

AL-SHABAAB

Neither did Al-Shabaab, masters in dark arts of stonewalling, claim responsibility for the attack, fearing a popular backlash.

It is worth remembering that the terrorists did not own up to the December 4, 2009, Hotel Shamo blast in which a male suicide bomber disguised as a hijab-wearing woman detonated a device, killing three government ministers, two professors of medicine and nine students at a medical school graduation ceremony.

Even so, nearly everyone suspected them of being the perpetrators of the atrocity.

A Somali proverb has it that lies have short legs and that sooner or later the truth will catch up with them.

And so it is something of a relief when the truth has caught up with Al-Shabaab's taciturnity.

The Somali Internal Security minister released the names of the six men behind the truck bombing a month after the deadly incident and two weeks following the Hotel Naasa Hablood assault, in which 17 people died and 23 were wounded and which Al-Shabaab claimed to have carried out.

The minister, Mohamed Abukar Islow, identified Osman Hajji, aka Maadey, as the suicide bomber and driver of the truck.

He also named five other individuals, who are now in custody, accused of having a hand in the bombing: Hassan Adan Isack, the driver of the second car; Ali Yussuf Wacays, aka Duaale, thought to be the second suicide bomber; Abdiweli Ahmed Dirie, aka Fanax, the group's head of explosive experts in Mogadishu; Mukhtar Mohamed, also known as Gardhuub, a senior leader of the team; and Abdullahi Abdi Warsame.

FARAH AIDEED

The minister added: "Apart from those in custody, our forces are hunting down the owner of the truck who is on the run."

Alone in my hotel room late that evening following my meeting with the Internal Security minister, his bodyguards hovering nearby, I remembered a conversation I had in London with a leading scholar on Jihad insurgency in Somalia. My English friend said: "Do you know why the majority Muslim countries such as Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan serve as religious battlefields, when no majority Arab country has ever been torn apart by similar religion-based conflicts until ISIS appeared on the scene?"

"It is because Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia pay the wages of the Jihadist on the proviso that all the religious battles are fought elsewhere, away from their countries. (Osama) Bin Laden operated from his Afghan base until his stay in that country became untenable. Then he moved his base to Pakistan."

"Where does Somalia fit in?" I asked. The analyst claimed that it all began when General Mohamed Farah Aideed met Bin Laden at the latter's retreat home in Soba, an ancient Nubian city about 20 kilometres away from Khartoum. In 1997, the leader of Al-Qaeda would later tell two CNN journalists that his men had trained the Somalis in downing Black Hawks by aiming at the tail rotors.

BIN LADEN

In the event, Bin Laden dispatched Abu Hafs Al Masri, an Egyptian, to provide on-the-ground training to Aideed's militiamen on downing a helicopter.

When the two met, Bin Laden was living openly in Khartoum and putting together a plan to launch the attacks on the American embassies in Nairobi, Kenya; and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which followed before his men carried out the game-changing 9/11 assaults on the Twin Towers.

A lot has happened in Somalia since the Black Hawk Down days caused the United States to withdrew its army.

It seemed Somalis were left to their own devices to deal with the nefarious interference in the country's affairs by Ethiopia, Kenya, Eritrea, Uganda, the US, the European Union and a handful of Arab states, each having its own self-serving design, some in an underhand way, others with worrying blatancy.

A rap sheet of crimes was committed against Somalia. The country's wealth was looted, its seas emptied of fish, its shores polluted with nuclear and chemical waste and the chance of it putting a government together continuously sabotaged by one foreign party or another.

SIYAD BARRE

When I visited Mogadishu in 1996 after a 22-year exile, I found a divided city run by two warlords, each claiming his half as his fiefdom.

And with no government to provide any civic amenities and no state-run schools functioning, the Qataris, the Saudis and the Emirates entered Somalia, especially in the educational sector, as if to bring Bin Laden's plans finally into fruition.

Under Siyad Barre, Somalia had been a secular state, quite unlike any other Muslim nation.

Now the Arabs had free rein to impose their language, harden the Somalis' moderate way of worship and change the traditional manner in which our women and men dressed.

Unchallenged, the Saudis, the Qataris and the Emirates introduced their school curricula, which was adopted by the teachers whose salaries they paid.

Within 10 years, the Islamic Courts Union exerted control over much of southern Somalia.

The US awoke to the 'dangers' the courts could present and gave its tacit approval to Ethiopia to invade. And Al-Shabaab, as the court's offshoot, emerged.

Thus, while the Arab States' threat to Somali sovereignty has its origin in Bin Laden's secret pact with Aideed through a series of permutations, the snake ended up biting its tail — morphing into Shabaab.

Islamic State group releases 1st video of Somalia fighters
The Washington Post

December 26, 2017

A group that monitors extremist organizations says the Islamic State group has posted what is thought to be the first video from IS-affiliated fighters in Somalia.

The video posted online Monday calls on supporters to "hunt down" what it calls nonbelievers and attack churches and markets.

The SITE Intelligence Group says the video urges supporters to take advantage of people's "drunkenness" over the holiday season to attack.

The United States last month launched its first drone strikes against Islamic State group-affiliated fighters in Somalia. The Horn of Africa nation has a small but growing presence of the fighters, many of them defectors from the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab extremist group.

The fighters are based in northern Somalia's rural Puntland. Experts warn their numbers could grow as IS fighters flee Syria and Iraq.

New US airstrike in Somalia kills 13 al-Shabab members
Seattle Times

December 27, 2017

The U.S. military says it has killed 13 members of the al-Shabab extremist group with a new airstrike in southern Somalia.

The statement from the U.S. Africa Command says the strike was carried out Sunday morning. A spokeswoman says it occurred about 50 kilometers (31 miles) northwest of Kismayo and that no civilians were killed.

The United States has carried out 34 drone strikes in Somalia this year after the Trump administration expanded military efforts against Africa's deadliest Islamic extremist group.

Al-Shabab was blamed for the October truck bombing in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, that killed 512 people. Only a few attacks since 9/11 have left a higher death toll.

Raid on senator's home reveals divisions in Somali security forces
Business Insider

By Abdi Sheikh and Feisal Omar
December 30, 2017

Masked men who appeared to be members of the Somali security forces raided the house of a powerful Somali senator on Saturday, but the government initially said it did not know who they were, fuelling political tensions.

Senator Abdi Hassan Awale Qaybdiid is a former militia leader, chief of police, minister and regional head. Now he heads the constitutional committee in parliament and the upper house.

The attack on his home underscores the lack of clear lines of command and control within Somali forces as top officials ordered an urgent enquiry into who authorized the raid.

The weak, U.N.-backed government is fighting an al-Qaeda linked Islamist insurgency. But the fight has been hampered by its inability to control its fledgling national security forces, largely recruited from clan militias and put through training by other nations.

"Government forces broke into my house, they beat the guard with butts and took his gun," Qaybdiid told reporters at his home on Saturday. "They broke all the doors of my rooms and my cupboards... My wife was in the toilet by then. They broke the toilet while she was inside it."

"Immediately after my house was stormed, the head of Mogadishu's national security forces called me saying the forces that attacked my house were the military forces trained by the United Arab Emeritus. But an investigation will prove who they were," Qaybdiid said angrily.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), along with Turkey, Britain, the United States and others have all given Somali soldiers training. A spat between the Gulf states, especially Qatar and the UAE, has fueled political divisions in Somalia.

Earlier this month, security forces killed five people in a raid on the home of a powerful opposition leader perceived to be close to the UAE. Officials accused him of trying to overthrow the government. The raid exacerbated tensions between some of Somalia's powerful clans; the opposition leader was released although a court case against him continues.

But the government said it had not ordered Saturday's raid on Qaybdiid, who is from the same clan as the opposition leader. Somalia's military commander, General Abdiweli Jama Gorod, said he had ordered an urgent investigation.

"The entire government is disappointed. It was not something that was expected. We believe the forces and those who ordered them had ulterior motives," he said. "I assure you that those who were behind the attack will be found and punished."

Witness Mohamed Nur told Reuters, "The forces that went into the senator's house had dark greenish uniform and masks of the same color. They were many. As they went in, six pickups blocked the nearby alleys...there was no gunfire. The six pickups looked new but I could not make out which type of government soldiers they were."

Two security sources later told Reuters that 40 soldiers who had been trained by the UAE had been arrested for the attack. One source said two intelligence officials were also arrested. The soldiers' arrests were also reported on a government-run website, although without attribution.

Al-Shabab extremists execute 5 alleged spies in Somalia
Washington Post

By Abdi Guled
January 3, 2018

The Somalia-based al-Shabab extremist group says it has executed five men accused of spying for the Kenyan, Ethiopian and Somali governments. Al-Shabab announced the killings on its Andalus radio station, saying they were carried out in a public square in Kuntuwarey town in Lower Shabelle region late Tuesday. Witnesses say the men were tied to poles and shot dead by masked gunmen after a self-proclaimed judge read out their verdict in front of a crowd at the execution ground. Al-Shabab, al-Qaida's East African affiliate, has fought for years to impose a strict version of Islam in the Horn of Africa nation.

Despite losing territory in recent years, the group continues to carry out lethal attacks in many parts of the country, especially Mogadishu. An October bombing there killed 512 people.

US says 2 terrorists killed in Somalia airstrike
CNN

By Maegan Vazquez
January 3, 2018

US forces conducted an airstrike on Tuesday targeting Al-Shabaab militants in Somalia, US Africa Command said, the latest military action against the terror group in the country. The strike killed two terrorists and destroyed "one vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, preventing it from being used against the people in Mogadishu," the statement said.The early morning strike occurred approximately 50 kilometers west of Mogadishu, the Somalian capital. US Africa Command assesses that no civilians were killed in the strike. "US forces will continue to use all authorized and appropriate measures to protect the United States, its partners and interests, and deny safe haven to terrorist groups," the statement continued.

There have been over 30 strikes in Somalia since President Donald Trump took office. A Christmas Eve airstrike against Al-Shabaab killed 13 terrorists, US Africa Command said. In December, a State Department official told CNN the US is cutting some military aid to Somalia due to allegations of misuse, a move that comes even though the US has become more involved in Somalia, fighting Al-Shabaab and ISIS with airstrikes and having some 500 US troops in the country to advise local forces.

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NORTH AFRICA

Libya

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

Eastern Libyan force says "terrorist group" probably responsible for pipe explosion
Reuters

December 27, 2017

A "terrorist group" is probably responsible for the explosion on a Libyan crude pipeline on Tuesday, a spokesman for an eastern Libyan petroleum protection force said on Wednesday.

The fire at the pipeline had been brought under control, Miftah Magariaf, from the force tasked with guarding oilfields in eastern Libya, told Reuters.

Benghazi University student abducted by militiamen at campus
The Libya Observer

By Housam Najjair
January 1, 2018

Unknown assailants driving a four-wheel drive vehicle at the Benghazi University campus forced a student into their vehicle and then drove off to an unknown destination on Sunday.

Sources at the university stated that an unknown four-wheel drive vehicle with tinted windows was driving around the campus over the past few days.

The sources added that vehicles with these details have become more prominent yet they have no official badge, labels or license plates.

One of the cars was reported to have been showing off amongst the traffic congestion in one of the university`s squares, prompting one of the students to protest, which resulted in the driver exiting his vehicle and attacking the student verbally then forcing him with the help of his militiamen into the vehicle and rushing off out of the university.

His fate and whereabouts are not yet known.

Amazigh activist abducted in Benghazi and accused of espionage because of his language
The Libya Observer

By Abdullah BenIbrahim
January 3, 2018

Amazigh human rights activist, Rabea Jayash, was abducted on December 27 in Benghazi by an armed group affiliated with Khalifa Haftar's self-styled army.

Jayash, from the western town of Yefren, was invited by a friend to visit Benghazi to attend a celebration of the Independence Day at the Kids' Theatre.

Local sources from Yefren said Jayash was abducted by gunmen outside the theatre after speaking over the telephone using his Amazigh language.

"The gunmen arrested him immediately, searched his bag and found a book written in Tamazight language. They accused him of espionage." The sources added.

Jayash was abducted together with his Benghazi host, Jamal Fellah, who was later released after interrogation over his links to Jayash.

Jayash's fate is still unknown.

The National Commission for Human Rights in Libya (NCHRL) has strongly condemned what it called the arbitrary detention of cultural and human rights activist Rabea Jayash.

The NCHRL disclosed that Jayash was abducted by an armed group led by Ali Al-Amrouni called "The Districts Operations Room of Libyan Army in Benghazi."

The human rights group demanded senior officials of so-called "Libyan Army" to intervene and secure Jayash's release.

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EUROPE

The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, War Crimes Chamber

Official Court Website [English translation]

Bosnia Acquits Rogatica Camp Guard of Killings, Rape
Balkan Insight

By Dzana Brkanic
December 21, 2017

The state court in Sarajevo on Friday found Brane Planojevic not guilty of taking part in war crimes against civilians and prisoners of war at the Rasadnik detention camp in Rogatica in 1993 and 1994

Planojevic was cleared of assisting in the killings, rape and torture of prisoners at the camp, where non-Serbs were held in inhumane conditions during the war.

According to the court, the prosecution failed to provide adequate evidence proving Planojevic's guilt.

"For some counts of the indictment, the chamber found that Planojevic was present, and that he took out [of the camp] Himzo Brankovic, who was killed, and F.K., who was raped, but the prosecution failed to prove his intent to assist in the killings and rapes," said presiding judge Lejla Konjic-Dragovic.

The court found that Planojevic felt he was obliged to follow orders given by the detention Rasadnik camp warden, Vinko Bojic. Bojic is still wanted by the Bosnian authorities.

According to the verdict, Planojevic did not assist in the killings of four prisoners and did not personally kill a fifth.

He was also cleared of the charges that he assisted in the rape of F.K.

The court found that Planojevic did beat up one prisoner, but only on strict orders given by Bojic which, according to the judge, he had to follow.

"The evidence did not have the strength necessary to find the defendant guilty of a war crime," said Konjic-Dragovic.

The defendant did not attend the verdict, which also freed him of the obligation to pay for the costs of the trial.

The verdict can be appealed.

Bosnian Serb Ex-Soldier Charged with Wartime Rape
Balkan Insight

By Albina Surgoc
December 22, 2017

The Bosnian state prosecution on Friday raised an indictment charging Davidovic with taking part in the rape and sexual abuse of Bosniak women in Foca in July 1992.

"After Serb forces took several Bosniak women as prisoners in one village near the town of Foca and took them to the High School Centre in the city, Davidovic twice came with a group of soldiers and took part in the rape and abuse of three women," the prosecution said in a statement.

The indictment has been sent to the Bosnian state court for confirmation.

Female Bosnian Croat Fighter Jailed for War Crimes
Balkan Insight

By Emina Dizdarevic
December 27, 2017

The state court in Sarajevo on Wednesday convicted Azra Basic, a former member of the wartime Bosnian Croat force, the Croatian Defence Council, of crimes against civilians and prisoners of war in Derventa in 1992, and jailed her for 14 years.

She was found guilty of taking part in the killings, torture and inhumane treatment of Serb civilians and prisoners of war who were being held at the Yugoslav People's Army Hall in Derventa and the nearby village of Polje from April to May 1992.

The court concluded that prosecution witnesses made it clear that Basic killed a civilian called Blagoja Djuras at the Yugoslav People's Army Hall in Derventa.

Basic also ordered prisoners to remove their shoes and clothing, to eat money, to walk barefoot on glass and to lick blood off Djuras's dead body, the court found.

"The chamber also concluded that Basic abused prisoner Mile Kuzmanovic based on the testimony he gave during the investigation, which was read out in court as the witness was unable to testify. This statement was corroborated by other statements," said presiding judge Sead Djikic.

Basic was further found guilty of abusing two men called Boro and Petar Markovic in Polje in May 1992.

Judge Djikic said that Basic was acquitted of charges related to the abuse of three other men because their testimonies were not clear.

When determining the sentence, the court took into account as aggravating circumstances the number of crimes of which Basic was accused, their brutal nature and their consequences.

It took into account as mitigating circumstances the fact that she did not have any previous convictions.

Basic's time spent in custody since she was extradited to Bosnia and Herzegovina from the US will count towards her sentence.

Croatian-born Basic left Bosnia and Herzegovina after the war and settled in the US, eventually becoming a naturalised citizen.

But she was arrested in the state of Kentucky in 2011 and prosecuted for immigration fraud after allegedly giving false information about her role in the Bosnian war when she arrived in the US.

She then waged a long battle against deportation, arguing that she took part only in ordinary military operations against Serb troops and did not commit any war crimes, and that she herself had been badly mistreated in a Serb prison camp.

However she was eventually extradited to Sarajevo from the US in November 2016.

The court told her victims to file compensation suits for damages.

The verdict can be appealed.

14 Bosniaks Charged with Crimes Against Humanity
Balkan Insight

By Admir Muslimovic
December 28, 2017

The Bosnian state prosecution on Thursday indicted Esad and Agan Ramic, Sefik Niksic, Adnan Alikadic, Mitko Pirkic, Redzo Balic, Hamed Lukomirko, Safaudin Cosic, Muhamed Cakic, Ismet Hebibovic, Almir Padalovic, Enes Jahic, Senadin Cibo and Sead Jusufbegovic for alleged crimes against humanity in Konjic and the surrounding villages in 1992 and 1993.

Since it started working in 2003, the Bosnian prosecution has never before filed charges against Bosniaks for alleged crimes against humanity. The maximum penalty is 40 years in prison.

According to Bosnian prosecution, the men were commanders and members of the Bosnian Army, the local Territorial Defence force, the Croatian Defence Council, police and paramilitary groups who took part in a widespread and systematic attack on the civilian Serb population of the Konjic area.

"Many civilians were illegally detained and taken to camps in Konjic, where their torture continued. The crimes committed in 1992 and 1993 resulted in the persecution of almost the entire Bosnian Serb population in this area, and only a handful of them returned after the war," the prosecution said in a statement.

In a separate case, the prosecution also raised an indictment against four former members of Bosnian Serb Army's Vlasenica Brigade for assisting the Srebrenica genocide.

Mile Kosoric, Borislav Stojisic, Momcilo Tesic and Rajko Drakulic are charged with the killings of 21 Bosniak men and the rape and sexual abuse of women from Srebrenica in the summer of 1995.

The prosecution said that the defendants knew that buses carrying civilians from Srebrenica in July 1995 would pass through the village of Luke, where they stopped them, robbed the civilians and forcibly took out the men and young women.

The indictment alleges that the women were then raped and the 21 men were taken to Mrsici and killed.

The prosecution raised a third indictment on Thursday against former Serb paramilitary Branko Koprivica for crimes against Bosniaks in Gacko in 1992.

Koprivica is charged, as a former member of the White Eagles paramilitary unit and then as a Bosnian Serb Army serviceman, with killing two Bosniak civilians in Gacko in June and July 1992.

The indictments have been sent to the state court for confirmation.

Bosnian Serb Ex-Minister Charged with Srebrenica Crimes
Balkan Insight

By Danijel Kovacevic
December 29, 2017

The Bosnian prosecution on Friday charged Tomislav Kovac with war crimes, alleging that as interior minister of Bosnia's Serb-dominated entity Republika Srpska and commander of its police force, he controlled all the police forces involved in the war crimes against Bosniaks from Srebrenica.

The indictment alleges that police units under his control participated in the capture of Bosniak men and boys, their forcible imprisonment, transportation and mass executions at several locations.

The execution sites included Kravica, Cerska, the House of Culture in Pilica, Branjevo farm, Sandic, Konjevic Field, and other locations where mass and individual shootings of captured Bosniak civilians were carried out.

Kovac currently lives in the Serbian capital Belgrade and has citizenship of both Serbia and Bosnia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The indictment was forwarded to the Bosnian state court for confirmation.

Kovac was expected to testify at the trial of five former Bosnian Serb fighters in Sarajevo in September 2015, but his testimony was suspended when the state prosecution announced that he was under investigation for the same crimes as the defendants.

The five defendants, Dragomir Vasic, Miodrag Josipovic, Branimir Tesic, Danilo Zoljic and Radomir Pantic, were on trial for genocide in Srebrenica in July 1995.

They are charged with participating or assisting in the forcible resettlement of the population of Srebrenica and for capturing and executing men and boys in Bratunac, Srebrenica and Zvornik.

When prosecutor Ibro Bulic said that Kovac was suspected of the same crimes as the defendants, Kovac, who was testifying via video link from Belgrade, said he wasn't aware of the allegations against him.

He then said he was no longer prepared to testify as a result.

However, in November 2016, Kovac did testify in the case, again via video link from Belgrade.

He denied that the Republika Srpska police participated in the crimes in Srebrenica.

More than 7,000 Bosniak men and boys were killed in July 1995 after Bosnian Serb forces overran the UN-protected 'safe zone' of Srebrenica - a crime which has been classified by international court verdicts as genocide.

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International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY)

Official Website of the ICTY

Hague Tribunal Celebrates Achievements at Closing Ceremony
Balkan Insight

By Filip Rudic
December 21, 2017

UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres told the ICTY's closing ceremony in The Hague on Thursday that the Tribunal "pushed international expectations of accountability" for the perpetrators of war crimes.

"The creation of this Tribunal demonstrated a new-found and serious commitment by the international community that those responsible for perpetrating the most serious crimes... should be held accountable," Gutteres said.

He said that since its foundation in 1993 by the UN Security Council, the ICTY has convicted 90 people.

"Beyond those numbers, the Tribunal gave voice to victims," he added, and commended war survivors who came forward to testify in court, bravely reliving their tragedies.

Gutteres also said that the Srebrenica genocide will "continue to haunt global consciousness" and that the tragedies in the former Yugoslavia should never be forgotten.

The ceremony started with a minute of silence in honour of the victims of the wars in the former Yugoslavia. At the end, Serbian actress Mirjana Karanovic read excerpts from the testimonies of those who survived to give evidence.

ICTY president Carmel Agius told the ceremony that the Tribunal's achievements over the past 24 years "demonstrated that impunity can be overcome".

"The ICTY ushered in a new era, a new paradigm in international criminal justice," Agius said.

As well as defining the Srebrenica massacres as genocide and establishing other judicial facts about what happened during the 1990s wars, the ICTY left a rich archive of millions of pages of documents and contributed to the development of international criminal law.

The ICTY's unfinished cases have been taken over by another Hague-based institution, the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, MICT.

It will complete the appeals proceedings in the cases against Bosnian Serb political and military leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic and Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj, plus the retrial of Serbian State Security officials Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic, as well as outstanding contempt-of-court cases.

MICT president Theodore Meron said that the ICTY leaves a "proud legacy", but that important work still remains because justice "requires a sustained commitment".

"The Tribunal was a true pioneer, blazing the trail for all other accountability efforts," Meron said.

The chief prosecutor of the ICTY, Serge Brammertz, said that atrocities were committed in the former Yugoslavia because "leaders fought for power using fear, lies and hate".

"Today leaders... must distance themselves from crimes, reject convicted war criminals and stop hiding behind false claims of collective guilt. I have said it many times before, but let me repeat - the Tribunal judges the guilt of individuals, not peoples," Brammertz added.

Despite the convictions it achieved, the ICTY has also been dogged by controversies - the most recent being the courtoom suicide of Bosnian Croat general Slobodan Praljak last month.

Its legacy is also disputed in the former Yugoslavia, where many Bosniaks have expressed satisfaction about the convictions but many Serbs see it as a biased court.

Justice minister visits Ratko Mladic in prison
B92

December 22, 2017

Kuburovic was in this town for the closing ceremony of the Hague Tribunal (ICTY).

She told RTS on Thursday that Mladic had been visited by doctors from Serbia two days before, and that based on their report, a letter would be sent to the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) - which continues to perform some of ICTY's functions - to grant Mladic temporary release and allow him to receive medical treatment in Serbia.

At the beginning of October, the Serbian government provided guarantees for Mladic's temporary release for medical treatment, acting on the request of Mladic's family and defense attorneys. However, the ICTY did not approve the request.

On November 22, Mladic was found guilty in the first-instance ruling and sentenced to life in prison for crimes committed in Bosnia- Herzegovina, and is awaiting the second-instance procedure before the MICT, on the appeal filed by his defense.

Mladic, the wartime military leader of Serbs in Bosnia, has been in ICTY's detention unit since May 2012, when he was arrested after spending nearly 12 years hiding.

His family and lawyers are constantly appealing for medical treatment to be granted because they say he is not receiving adequate care in the Hague detention unit.

Brammertz regrets acquittals of Gotovina, Markac, Haradinaj and Perisic
HINA

December 27, 2017

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which has been closed down, told the Belgrade-based Vecernje Novosti daily of Wednesday that he regretted the acquittals of Croatian generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac, Kosovo prime minister Ramush Haradinaj, and the former Yugoslav Army chief-of-staff, General Momcilo Perisic.

We are not satisfied (with acquittals) since we provided the tribunal with the best evidence at our disposal, but the judges disagreed with us, Brammertz told the daily.

However, it is also important to say that in all those cases we proved that crimes had happened, and materials from those cases will be useful to national prosecutorial authorities if they want to continue prosecuting those crimes, said the last chief prosecutor of that UN tribunal in The Hague.

Asked by the Serbian daily how come that Serb convicts were given 1,024 years on aggregate by the tribunal, while Croat convicts were given only 183 years in prison, Bramertz replied that "Serbs fought in Croatia, in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Kosovo, their leaders perpetrated horrendous ethnic cleansing in all those places."

If that fundamental fact is accepted, it is no surprise that a majority of those convicted by the ICTY were Serbs. If that fact is not accepted - and Serb officials and public seem not to accept it - they are denying the truth, he said.

Asked whether it is possible to conclude from ICTY rulings that no one from Serbia's state leadership was involved in a joint criminal enterprise, while members of Croatia's state leadership were, Bramertz answered in the negative.

In a number of cases, it has been established that Serbian leaders were members of a joint criminal enterprise regarding crimes committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Kosovo, including leaders such as Slobodan Milosevic and Nikola Sainovic, Brammertz said.

The ICTY was established by the UN Security Council on 25 May 1993 to prosecute the perpetrators of war crimes in the former Yugoslavia. During more than 24 years of its work, the tribunal tried 161 indictees. After 24 years, the ICTY officially ceases working on December 31 and pending cases will be taken over by the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT), with Brammertz continuing to serve as MICT chief prosecutor.

Court says couldn't have 'detected' Balkan war criminal's poison
Agence France Presse

December 31, 2017

The potassium cyanide that Bosnian Croat war criminal Slobodan Praljak used to commit suicide in court could not have been detected before he drank it, said the UN tribunal's internal probe released Sunday.

Praljak killed himself in front of UN judges in The Hague late last month, just seconds after they upheld his 20-year jail sentence for war crimes committed during Bosnia's 1990s conflict.

The 72-year-old was rushed to hospital, where he died the same day.

"There are no measures that would have guaranteed detection of the poison at any stage," Justice Hassan Jallow said in a statement.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) launched the inquiry earlier this month to shed light on how Praljak managed to bypass tight security to smuggle toxic liquid into the courtroom and commit suicide on November 29.

Preliminary results released following an autopsy showed that the Bosnian Croat commander died from heart failure after swallowing potassium cyanide during a court hearing broadcast live around the world.

"My review has not exposed any gaps or flaws in the ICTY legal framework with regard to the treatment of detainees at the UNDU (United Nations Detention Unit) and the ICTY premises" at the Hague, where Praljak was detained, Jallow said.

He added: "The small size of the object, the limitations in the rules on intrusive searches, and the nature of the screening equipment available at both the UNDU and the ICTY premises all contributed to making it difficult to detect the contraband."

Dutch prosecutors are still trying to determine how Praljak was able to obtain the vial of poison and bring it into court.

"It is not possible to conclusively state when and how the poison came into Mr. Praljak's possession," the judge said.

"It is important to note at the outset that there was no intelligence available to UNDU staff or ICTY staff in general, indicating that Mr. Praljak was in possession of the poison," he added.

In his report, Jallow also issued recommendations on search practices and training courses for security personnel to be shared with other courts.

Since Praljak's death, Croats have paid multiple tributes to the late general, laying flowers and lighting candles in town squares in Croatia and Bosnia.

Praljak, who worked in film and theatre before joining the military, remains a hero to many Croats despite his conviction.

About 2,000 people filled the main concert hall where his memorial was held this month, while hundreds more crowed into the building's entry and hallways to watch on giant screens.

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Domestic Prosecutions In The Former Yugoslavia

Kosovo Lawmakers Try to Scrap New War Court
Balkan Insight

By Die Morina, Marija Ristic
December 22, 2017

An attempt by a third of Pristina's MPs to revoke a law that allows the new Hague-based Kosovo Specialist Chambers to prosecute former Kosovo Liberation Army members for wartime and post-war crimes was stalled late Friday amid strong international opposition.

The US and Britain, Kosovo's main wartime backers, issued stern warning to the MPs to step back from the initiative.

"This effort, if it succeeds, will have profoundly negative implications for Kosovo's future as part of Europe. It will be considered by the United States as a stab in the back," US ambassador Greg Delawie told media in the parliament.

"Kosovo will be choosing isolation instead of cooperation and I have to say we would hate to turn the clock back for Kosovo on progress when it has come so far," Delawie added.

Forty-three MPs out of a total of 120 had signed a demand for an extraordinary parliamentary session to revoke the Kosovo law that allows the Specialist Chambers to operate.

But amid pressure from Kosovo's international allies, there was no quorum at a meeting of the presidency of assembly to move the issue to a vote.

"When 43 MPs give their signatures, it is a joke that representatives of parliamentary groups are not present," complained Ahmet Isufi of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, the party led by Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj.

The initiative to challenge the law governing the new Specialist Chambers came after Kosovo Liberation Army veterans launched a petition calling for it to be changed because it was "discriminatory", as the court will try former Kosovo Albanian guerrillas and not members of Serbian forces.

The law on Specialist Chambers Office provides the legal basis for the court which started operating this year, after years of negotiations and pressure on Pristina from the EU and US, although it has yet to issue any indictments.

Many senior Kosovo Liberation Army figures are now in senior positions in the country, including Prime Minister Haradinaj, President Hashim Thaci and parliamentary speaker Kadri Veseli.

The British ambassador to Kosovo, Ruairi O'Connell, had also urged the MPs to reconsider.

"The UK was with Kosovo in the hardest times. We intervened, and were right to intervene, as part of NATO to protect the people of Kosovo," O'Connell wrote on Facebook.

"Voting to repeal the law on the special court would be a betrayal of that commitment, and would call into question whether Kosovo believes in justice or impunity. It would have grave consequences for Kosovo," he warned.

The opposition Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK also warned against the attempt to revoke the law.

Kujtim Shala from the LDK said the initiative was "very dangerous" for the country because it threatened its relations with the US and EU.

Senior Kosovo Liberation figures are expected to be indicted by the new court for alleged crimes committed during and after the war in 1999.

The Specialist Chambers is to 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. It was expected that the first indictments would be issued in the first half of 2018.

The European Union also warned against the MPs' initiative to stop the new court.

"Such action would jeopardise all joint work over the past years in rule of law and justice and undermine all who stand up for ending impunity," said Nataliya Apostolova, the head of the EU office in Kosovo.

Christopher Bennett, spokesperson for the Kosovo Special Prosecution at the new Hague-based court, said that it was not possible to speculate about any potential changes to the law on the court and its prosecution that was adopted by Pristina.

"We have a mandate that comes from the [Kosovo] special law, and we will continue our work according to our existing mandate, and that's really everything we can say. We're not going to talk about other potential mandates," Bennett told BIRN.

More than 60 ex-KLA to be indicted for waar crimes
B92

December 25, 2017

Daut Haradinaj – the brother of Kosovo PM Ramush Haradinaj – and Azem Syla will be among those indicted by the Kosovo Specialist Chambers ("special court").

RTS reported this on Monday, citing the Pristina-based website Insajderi.

The court has been set up to deal with the crimes committed by members of the ethnic Albanian KLA ("Kosovo Liberation Army" / UCK) in Kosovo and Metohija.

Mere days after Kosovo's president and prime minister, Hashim Thaci and Ramush Haradinaj, tried to revoke a law in parliament that allowed the formation of the court, Pristina media are reporting that more indictments have been prepared against more than 60 former members of the KLA.

The first indictments are expected to be raised in mid-February, Insajderi writes, adding that both Thaci and Kadri Veseli, who now serves as president of the Kosovo Assembly, are under investigation of the court's prosecution.

Thaci is being investigated as a former political leader of the KLA and the head of a transitional government set up by KLA commanders after the arrival of international forces in Kosovo in the summer of 1999. Veseli is investigated for his responsibility as a former head of KLA's intelligence service SHIK.

The list of persons who could be indicted appeared after Friday's drama in the Kosovo Assembly, when 43 deputies, backed by Thaci, Haradinaj, and Veseli, tried to annul the law allowing the formation of the courts – a move that was met with strong condemnation by the US, Britain, and the EU.

Insajderi writes that Azem Syla, one of the founders of the KLA – known in Kosovo also as "Big Boss" and "Big Uncle" – will be indicted based on an investigation into a series of murders of political opponents, that was until recently conducted by EULEX under the name "Blaca 2."

Sokol Dobruna will be brought before the Specialist Chambers as an executor of a KLA court that was active during and immediately after the war, the website said.

Daut Haradinaj will be accused for his role in the case concerning Lake Radonjic, where the bodies of about 40 Serbs, Albanians and Roma were dumped after they were murdered. A source cited by the website said the court "based its indictment on the fact that 39 bodies have been found in the lake."

The report further states that the court's prosecution is investigating about 500 murders of Serbs and Albanians that happened after 2000, including numerous unsolved killings of political rivals of the parties that came out of the KLA.

The special court was formed in 2015 under the auspices of the EU in order to prosecute former KLA members for the crimes committed during and after the war in Kosovo. Investigations into these crimes stem from a report submitted by then special Council of Europe (CoE) rapporteur Dick Marty.

During the trials of Ramush Haradinaj and Fatmir Limaj before the now closed Hague Tribinal (ICTY), the inability of the tribunal to protect prosecution witnesses emerged as the main problem. This was mentioned several times at the UN Security Council by ICTY's chief prosecutors Carla del Ponte and Serge Brammertz.

Serbia: War Criminals Praised, War Trials Delayed
Balkan Insight

By Filip Rudic
December 25, 2017

The Serbian authorities in 2017 continued to honour convicted war criminal Vladimir Lazarevic, who was given a hero's welcome when he returned to the country after being released from prison in 2015.

Defence Minister Aleksandar Vulin gave a speech at the gathering of former soldiers of the Third Battalion of the Yugoslav Army in October, where he declared that "the time of shame has passed", and that time had come to be "quietly proud" of such men.

Lazarevic was sentenced by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia to 14 years in prison for the military campaign in Kosovo which resulted in 11,000 Kosovo Albanians being killed and some 700,000 expelled.

In the audience at the military event was Lazarevic and former deputy prime minister Nikola Sainovic, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison over Belgrade's armed campaign in Kosovo.

Vulin was criticised by the US ambassador in Belgrade, Kyle Scott, but the Serbian minister soon showed he was only getting started.

He reaffirmed his position and rebuffed criticism from Scott, who said that Vulin's expressions of support for convicted war criminals might undermine efforts to improve Serbia's image.

Serbian pro-government media then accused Scott of interfering in Serbia's internal affairs, while Vulin called general Lazarevic a "role model" for Serbian troops.

Belgrade also drew criticism in October for inviting Lazarevic, the former chief of staff of the Yugoslav Army's Pristina Corps, to give a lecture at the Military Academy in Belgrade.

"We made a rule to make room at the Military Academy for the most prominent commanders from the wars gone by," Vulin said, adding that the military chiefs had suffered "injustice".

EU spokesperson Maja Kocijancic told BIRN that Serbia had "deviated" from the principles it needs to uphold as a candidate for EU membership by appointing Lazarevic.

The ruling Serbian Progressive Party also hosted Veselin Sljivancanin, who was convicted by the Hague Tribunal of responsibility for the 1991 Vukovar massacre, as a speaker at some of its party events.

Meanwhile after the conviction of Ratko Mladic in November, extreme right-wingers showed their supported for the former Bosnian Serb military chief by putting up posters of him in the Serbian capital, while Red Star Belgrade football fans chanted their support for Mladic and a provincial lower-league Serbian team, FK Kabel, even took to the field with shirts emblazoned with his picture.

Belgrade's first Srebrenica trial interrupted

After leaving the position of chief war crimes prosecutor vacant for a year and a half, the Serbian parliament elected Snezana Stanojkovic, the former deputy to the prosecutor, to the post in May.

Stanojkovic's election, however, did not signal a revival of activity for the office, which had been unable to press any new charges while it had no chief prosecutor.

The landmark trial of eight former policemen charged with a massacre of Bosniaks from Srebrenica in the village of Kravica in July 1995 – the first of its kind in Serbia – began in February, but was interrupted because the chief war crimes prosecutor had not been appointed.

The charges were dismissed in July because they were not filed by the authorised prosecutor.

New war crimes prosecutor Stanojkovic filed a motion to continue the trial, but this was rejected. The Appeals Court however reversed the decision in October, allowing the trial to continue.

The 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.

Meanwhile other trials in Serbia for war crimes allegedly committed by Serbs in Croatia and Kosovo were also set back by delays.

Serbia's Humanitarian Law Centre NGO accused two hospitals operated by the army of delaying trials by certifying that the defendants cannot attend hearings because of health concerns. Belgrade's Military Medical Academy rejected the allegation.

Since Stanojkovic took office, she has tried to avoid the media, but information from the prosecutor's office can still be gained through freedom of information requests.

This was how BIRN found out in November that the war crimes prosecution has ended its investigation into retired Yugoslav Army general Dragan Zivanovic, shutting down the only known probe of a top official in Serbia for Kosovo war crimes.

Zivanovic, who during the Kosovo war was a commander of the Yugoslav Army's 125th Motorised Brigade, had been under investigation since August 2014.

Before Stanojkovic's appointment, the programme she proposed to enforce if given the post hinted that crimes committed against Serbs - rather than by them - would be her priority.

Most of the programme that she submitted as a candidate for the job focused on Serbian victims and on ending a perceived impunity for crimes against Serbs.

Vojislav Seselj 'sleeps through' his appeal

The Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, which took over the unfinished business of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia after it closed this month, has said that the final verdict in the trial of the leader of the Serbian Radical Party, Vojislav Seselj, will be delivered in the first half of 2018.

But hardline nationalist Seselj has continued to show no interest in his own trial, and has refused to return to The Hague to attend the hearings since he was freed from custody for cancer treatment in 2014.

He scorned the prosecution's December appeal against his war crimes acquittal at the UN court, saying didn't watch it because he was asleep.

Seselj also said he would not file a written response countering the arguments of the prosecutor, who asked for a retrial or a 28-year sentence.

"Justice is not served… If this verdict stands, it would not only be an insult to victims, but would undermine this court," prosecutor Mathias Marcussen said on December 13.

In the first-instance verdict in 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 has meanwhile mocked the Hague court and dared the Belgrade authorities to send him back by force.

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

Defendants in journalist's murder trial released

The Serbian court in July released from custody two former State Security officers charged with participating in the 1999 murder of opposition journalist Slavko Curuvija.

The court decided to place Milan Radonjic and Ratko Romic under house arrest because of the length of time they have spent in custody so far.

Curuvija family lawyer Slobodan Ruzic said that the defendants had been kept behind bars for a long time and that he was not surprised by the decision, however.

Also in July, the second phase in the trial began, as witnesses for the defence started to take the stand.

Journalist and editor Curuvija was gunned down outside his apartment in Belgrade on April 11, 1999 because of his opposition to the regime of Slobodan Milosevic, his family believe.

According to the indictment, an 'unknown person' ordered the killing, and Radomir Markovic, the former head of Serbian State Security, abetted the crime, while three former security service officers - Ratko Romic, Milan Radonjic and Miroslav Kurak - took part in the organisation and execution of the murder.

Kurak was the direct perpetrator, while Romic was his accomplice, it is alleged.

Three of the suspects have pleaded not guilty, while Kurak is on the run and is being tried in absentia.

Kosovo: War Court Challenged, Ex-Guerrillas Acquitted
Balkan Insight

By Die Morina
December 27, 2017

As the year drew to a close in Pristina, a group of MPs made a controversial attempt on the night of December 22 to scrap the law that established the new Kosovo Specialist Chambers, as the new Hague-based court prepares to issue its first indictments of former Kosovo Liberation Army fighters for wartime and post-war crimes.

Forty-three MPs out of a total of 120 signed a demand for an extraordinary parliamentary session to revoke the Kosovo law that allows the Specialist Chambers to operate.

The move came after a protest by KLA veterans, who accused the court of being biased.

"The court ought not to try only KLA members but also Serbs who committed crimes in Kosovo," argued the head of the Veterans' Association of the Kosovo Liberation Army, Hysni Gucati.

The US and Britain, Kosovo's main wartime backers, issued stern warnings to the MPs to step back from the attempt to revoke the law.

"This effort, if it succeeds, will have profoundly negative implications for Kosovo's future as part of Europe. It will be considered by the United States as a stab in the back," said the US ambassador to Pristina, Greg Delawie.

The British ambassador, Ruairi O'Connell, warned that if the MPs' effort, succeeded, it would "call into question whether Kosovo believes in justice or impunity. It would have grave consequences for Kosovo."

The EU also issued a similar warning, and amid the strong pressure from Kosovo's international allies, there was no quorum at a meeting of the parliamentary presidency to move the issue to a vote.

The new Specialist Chambers, which is expected to try senior KLA figures for alleged crimes committed during and after the war with Serbian forces, spent 2017 readying itself to deliver its first indictments.

International judges and prosecutors staff the court, although it will operate under Kosovo's laws.

The alleged crimes under investigation include killings, abductions, illegal detentions and sexual violence. The first indictments are expected in the new year.

The Specialist Chambers is unpopular with Kosovo Albanians - over three-quarters (76.4 per cent) of whom see it as unfair, suggested a public opinion survey published in September.

But the court's president, Ekaterina Trendafilova, during her first official visit to Pristina in November, promised that it will deliver independent justice, and insisted that its mandate is to try cases against individuals, not organisations or ethnicities.

"I'm astonished to read articles that say the Specialist Chambers are going to investigate KLA crimes. The law is very clear, it speaks about individual responsibility," Trendafilova said.

"Anyone who is a citizen of Kosovo or the former Yugoslavia can be held responsible," she added.

Ramush Haradinaj arrested on a Serbian warrant

2017 had started with a shock for Kosovo when former prime minister and ex-guerrilla commander Ramush Haradinaj was arrested at Basel Mulhouse Freiburg Airport as he entered France on January 4.

Alliance for the Future of Kosovo party leader Haradinaj - who has now become prime minister again - was held on a warrant arrest issued by Serbia, which accused him of committing crimes while he was a wartime commander with the KLA.

His arrest sparked protests by Albanians both inside and outside Kosovo, calling for his release and condemning the arrest as a political act.

"Serbia's request for extradition is an abuse of the law," Haradinaj insisted, describing himself as a "hostage to politics".

The incident fuelled tensions between Serbia and Kosovo, which then escalated further when a passenger train painted in the colours of the Serbian flag and bearing the words "Kosovo is Serbian" in 21 different languages, including Albanian, was despatched from Belgrade to Mitrovica in Kosovo in mid-January, although it eventually stopped before crossing the border.

Serbia demanded Haradinaj's extradition to Belgrade to stand charges, but after almost four months in France, a court allowed him to return home instead, where he was greeted by thousands of celebrating supporters.

Belgrade officials were furious: "The Serbian government considers this decision disgraceful, scandalous, unlawful, and above all else, political," fumed Serbian premier Aleksandar Vucic.

Haradinaj was twice acquitted by the Hague-based court for the former Yugoslavia of committing war crimes during the 1998-99 Kosovo conflict.

However, Serb officials insisted that they have evidence that Haradinaj was involved in other war crimes for which he has not yet been prosecuted.

They said he is suspected of the murders of civilians, including the killing of a two-week-old baby, as well as torture and the rape of a minor. Haradinaj strongly denied the allegations.

Prominent politicians acquitted of war crimes

In Kosovo's courts, two high-profile judgments were handed down that acquitted prominent politicians of wartime criminality.

In May, the Supreme Court acquitted former KLA commander Fatmir Limaj - who is now the leader of the NISMA (Initiative for Kosovo) party - of committing war crimes at the Klecka detention centre in 1999.

Albanian and Serb civilians and prisoners were beaten and tortured by Kosovo Liberation Army members at Klecka during the war, but the Supreme Court ruled that an appeal against the acquittal of Limaj and nine other ex-guerrillas was unfounded.

The Klecka case had relied on the testimony of a single witness, Agim Zogaj, a former ally of Limaj who committed suicide while under the protective custody of EULEX in Germany in 2011.

Limaj had previously been acquitted in 2007 by the UN tribunal in The Hague of war crimes against Serbs and Albanians suspected of collaborating with Serbia during the Kosovo war.

"Today I received the fifth confirmation that our fight was honourable, not just mine, but also that of my fellow fighters," Limaj said after May's acquittal.

Kosovo's Supreme Court also acquitted former KLA commander Sami Lushtaku of war crimes in July.

Lushtaku, who was the mayor of the Kosovo town of Skenderaj/Srbica, had been convicted in 2015 of a murder committed in 1998, although the victim's name was unknown and no body was found.

He was cleared of the murder on appeal in 2016, but his conviction for "command responsibility for allegedly violating the [bodily] integrity and health of an undefined number of civilian Albanians held at the Likovc detention centre" was upheld.

The Supreme Court however absolved him of the remaining charge.

Lushtaku's wartime comrades from the KLA's so-called 'Drenica Group' were found guilty by the Supreme Court.

In September, the Supreme Court upheld the verdict convicting ten ex-members of the 'Drenica Group' of crimes against civilians during the 1998-99 conflict.

Those convicted included Sylejman Selimi, Pristina's former ambassador to Albania and the ex-head of the Kosovo Security Force.

Selimi was found guilty of torturing a civilian prisoner at an improvised KLA detention centre in the village of Likovc/Likovac in the Skenderaj/Srbica municipality in 1998 and early 1999.

Meanwhile the appeals court in Pristina decided in February to retry Oliver Ivanovic, a former Serbian government official and head of a Kosovo Serb political party called Freedom, Democracy, Justice, who was convicted of war crimes for ordering the murder of ethnic Albanians in Mitrovica in 1999.

Ivanovic was found guilty last January of ordering the murders in the town of Mitrovica on April 14, 1999 during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, when he was allegedly the leader of a paramilitary police unit.

The Albanians were killed by so-called 'Bridge Watchers' - Serb hardliners who patrolled the main bridge in Mitrovica that divides the town into Serb and Albanian sectors.

Ivanovic repeatedly claimed that his prosecution was politically motivated and went on hunger strike in protest several times during the trial. Belgrade also called for his release, claiming that the case was biased.

War crimes documentation centre opens

Ahead of the first indictments from the Specialist Chambers, the Humanitarian Law Centre Kosovo opened a war crimes documentation centre in Pristina in September, enabling people to get more information about crimes committed during the 1998-99 war.

The documentation centre's first material was nine short films of 10 to 12 minutes, based on data from five trials at the Hague Tribunal - the cases against Slobodan Milosevic, Vlastimir Djordevic, Nikola Sainovic, Ramush Haradinaj and Fatmir Limaj.

The director of the Humanitarian Law Centre Kosovo encouraged survivors to share their stories or donate items from wartime, and promised that as soon as hearings at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers begin, those will be documented at the centre too.

Macedonia: Probing for Truth about Ethnic Violence Trials
Balkan Insight

By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
December 29, 2017

The election in May of the new government led by the Social Democrats marked the final ousting of Nikola Gruevski's authoritarian regime, which had been in power for 11 years.

It also marked the end of Macedonia's deep political crisis which originated from the refusal of Gruevski's right-wing VMRO DPMNE party to step down.

The change in central government offered a long-awaited glimpse of hope for people who were tried for terrorism in several ethnically-sensitive court cases that have long poisoned the fragile inter-ethnic relations between the Macedonian majority and the Albanian minority in the country.

These cases, which many believe were politically influenced by the former regime, are now either being reopened or await reopening, in hope that they get resolved once and for all in more transparent processes.

Hope also comes from the promise of the new government to curb past political influences on courts, and to call in international experts to help shed more light on these painful and highly divisive cases from the not-so-distant past in Macedonia, where ethnic relations have been highly sensitive since a brief conflict between ethnic Albanian rebels and the security forces in 2001.

Kumanovo shootout case awaits international probe

The year brought disappointment but then a cause for cautious optimism for the 37 ethnic Albanian defendants accused of involvement in a two-day shootout with the Macedonian police in the town of Kumanovo in 2015.

After a year-and-a-half-long trial, Skopje Criminal Court in November gave life sentences to seven of them, while most of the others got long jail sentences. This sparked outrage and protests in neighbouring Kosovo, which is home to 16 of the defendants.

The men were found guilty of terrorism, either for participating in a two-day shootout with the security forces in Kumanovo that left 18 people dead including eight police, or for giving assistance to the gunmen.

The men's defence claimed that they were victims of a political set-up by the VMRO DPMNE regime and that their intention had not been to cause violence, but to send a message about ethnic Albanian rights in Macedonia.

The bloody shootout brought back bitter memories of the armed conflict in 2001, when fighting raged in the neighbouring municipality of Lipkovo and bombs also exploded in the middle of Kumanovo.

There are widely-held suspicions that Gruevski's government and its security services might have played a role in staging the bloody incident that could have sparked a repetition of 2001.

It's alleged that the authorities were trying to divert attention from incriminating revelations contained in wiretap recordings that were published by the Social Democrats, who were in opposition at the time.

Gruevski denied the claims, but new Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has said on several occasions this year that he would support a review of the case by international experts to shed more light on what happened.

"We agreed to have an international investigation aiming to give the right answers to citizens," Zaev said on December 12.

While the details of this international probe are still not known, the defendants now have a chance to contest their verdicts before the Macedonian Court of Appeals.

Skopje mass murder case awaits retrial

Another highly sensitive case, also involving ethnic Albanian defendants, saw an unexpected twist this year.

In October, Macedonia's then provisional chief prosecutor Liljana Spasovska advised the Supreme Court to scrap life sentences given to six alleged ethnic Albanian Muslim extremists for the gruesome killings of five ethnic Macedonians near Skopje at Orthodox Easter in 2012.

Spasovska said that the credibility of some of the forensic materials and of the evidence that was brought before the court is now being questioned. She also said that the defendants' right to a fair trial was jeopardised during the proceedings and asked for a retrial.

The Supreme Court accepted this suggestion, then the defendants were released from detention after spending several years behind bars. They are banned from leaving the capital and are awaiting the retrial, which should start in 2018.

In June 2014, the Skopje Criminal Court found Alil Demiri, Afrim Ismailovic, Agim Ismailovic, Fejzi Aziri, Haki Aziri and Sami Ljuta, guilty of killing the five ethnic Macedonians in 2012. They were given the longest possible sentence for terrorism offences, life in prison.

The corpses of Filip Slavkovski, Aleksandar Nakjevski, Cvetanco Acevski and Kire Trickovski, all aged between 18 and 20, were discovered on April 12, 2012. Their bodies had been lined up and appeared to have been executed.

The body of 45-year-old Borce Stevkovski was found a short distance away from the others.

News of the murder raised ethnic tensions, after groups of ethnic Macedonians staged protests, some of which turned violent, blaming the killings on members of the country's large Albanian minority community.

However, many ethnic Albanians and others believe that the defendants might have been scapegoats, and that the previous government led by the right-wing VMRO DPMNE might have been involved in an attempt to show that state institutions could clear up the case efficiently.

Some believe that unpublished wiretapped conversations between former senior officials could shed new light on this case. When in opposition, the Social Democrats handed the wiretaps to the Special Prosecution, which was set up in 2015 to investigate any criminal allegations arising from the recordings.

Retrial begins in NATO mine death case

The case in which 12 ethnic Albanians from the village of Sopot were accused of planting a mine near their village that killed two Polish NATO soldiers and one civilian in 2003 has also been tainted by widespread suspicions that political influence was brought to bear on the proceedings.

The defence claims that the defendants ended up in jail due to a false statement that was coerced from one of the alleged witnesses.

In July, it welcomed the news that the case had been handed over to the Special Prosecution. In the autumn, the case went back before the court.

The defence hopes that the Special Prosecution, which was set up in 2015 with international help amidst Macedonia's political crisis when it became evident that the regular prosecution was highly influenced by politicians, will be up to the task of finally revealing the truth.

The mine explosion in Sopot happened in 2003 when Macedonia was still recovering from the 2001 armed conflict between ethnic Albanian insurgents and the security forces.

After a prolonged trial, the 12 defendants were originally sentenced in March 2010 to a total of 150 years in jail, but after Macedonia's ethnic Albanian political parties complained, a parliamentary commission decided that there were some omissions during the trial.

The parliamentary commission's decision rested on a claim by one of the defendants, Ramadan Bajrami, that he confessed after being tortured by police.

This resulted in the court ordering a new trial, which was originally supposed to start in 2011.

By 2016, one of the original 12 defendants had died.

At the new trial that was launched this year, Bajrami repeated his claims that he confessed after being severely tortured by six police officers from the town of Kumanovo.

"I did not know what I was writing, and then they [the police officers] told me to memorise the statement well so that I do not get confused in court," Bajrami told media after the last hearing on December 20.

The defence had hoped all along that the Special Prosecution would take over the Sopot case because it was mentioned by top officials in the wiretapped conversations.

In one of the conversations, what were alleged to be the voices of the former Interior Minister Gordana Jankuloska and former Secret Police chief, Saso Mijalkov, could be heard talking about the case.

In the conversation, Jankuloska allegedly suggests to Mijalkov that then Prime Minister Gruevski should be consulted about how to proceed with this sensitive case, and both seem to acknowledge that the conviction of the villagers rested on very thin evidence.

It is also possible that more of the wiretapped conversations which are now in the hands of the Special Prosecution may reveal yet more details about the Sopot case because in 2015, the Social Democrats only released a small portion of the recordings.

[back to contents]

MIDDLE EAST AND ASIA

Iraq

Grotian Moment: The International War Crimes Trial Blog

Kurdistan Region of Iraq: 350 Prisoners ‘Disappeared’
Human Rights Watch

December 21, 2017

More than 350 detainees held by the Kurdistan Regional Government in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk are feared to have been forcibly disappeared, Human Rights Watch said today.

Those missing are mainly Sunni Arabs, displaced to Kirkuk or residents of the city, detained by the regional government's security forces, the Asayish, on suspicion of Islamic State (also known as ISIS) affiliation after the regional forces took control of Kirkuk in June 2014. Local officials told Human Rights Watch that the prisoners were no longer in the official and unofficial detention facilities in and around Kirkuk when Iraqi federal forces regained control of the area on October 16, 2017.

"Families in Kirkuk are desperate to know what has become of their detained relatives," said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "The secret, incommunicado detentions raise grave concerns for their safety."

On November 7, dozens of people demonstrated in Kirkuk, demanding information on their relatives allegedly detained by Asayish forces, which triggered a statement from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to investigate the disappearances. On November 8, following the demonstration in Kirkuk, Azad Jabari, the former head of the security committee of Kirkuk's provincial council, reportedly denied that Asayish forces had carried out any disappearances. He blamed the disappearances on US forces previously present in Kirkuk, saying most of the files of the missing dated from 2003 to 2011 and were not more recent.

However, Kirkuk's acting governor, Rakkan Said, and a Kirkuk police chief told Human Rights Watch that several days after the protest, Asayish forces handed over to Iraqi federal forces in Kirkuk 105 other detainees first held in Kirkuk and later transferred to facilities in Sulaimaniya. Governor Said said that the Iraqi prime minister's office also sent a delegation to Kirkuk to further investigate. Human Rights Watch was unable to reach delegation members about their findings, but suspects that the number of detainees disappeared by KRG forces is much higher.

On December 12, a member of the Kirkuk branch of Iraq's Human Rights Commission told Human Rights Watch that families submitted complaints to the commission against Kurdistan Regional Government authorities about the disappearance of at least 350 other men whom the Asayish had detained in and around Kirkuk.

On November 12 and December 17, Human Rights Watch interviewed 26 people who said they had witnessed identifiable Asayish forces detain 27 of their relatives, all Sunni Arab men, between August 2015 and October 2017 in Kirkuk or south of the city. The witnesses said that they had not been able to communicate with their relatives since their arrest, had received no official information about their status and whereabouts, and were concerned about their whereabouts since the Iraqi officials could not locate them.

Um Ghazi went to court in Kirkuk to obtain information on her husband's whereabouts based on CCTV footage showing the Asayish detaining him in Kirkuk while he was walking on the street with a friend in March 2017. After conducting a search, the court said it had not been able to locate him in any detention center in the city.

In all 27 cases discussed with Human Rights Watch, relatives said they had asked local Asayish or police forces about their relatives but never received an official acknowledgement of the detention or information about where their relative was being held or why. In some cases, family members said they were able to obtain information from informal channels indicating that their relatives were being held by the Asayish in other parts of the Kurdistan Region.

The relatives of four of the disappeared said that over the last month, newly released detainees held in al-Salam military base for Kurdistan Regional Government Peshmerga military forces in Sulaimaniya, where Asayish forces run a number of informal detention facilities, contacted them to say they had been held in the same cells as their relatives.

The wife of Faisal Sultan Hamed said that four armed men in black Asayish uniforms had arrested her husband at their home in Kirkuk at midnight on December 12, 2015. She said the family had tried to locate him during the past two years but that Asayish forces would not provide her with any information. In mid-November 2017, a man newly released from al-Salam military base called her husband's brother and said that he had shared a cell at the base with her husband. He said that Hamed had given him his brother's phone number and asked him to let his brother know he was alive.

Youssef Shebir Mustafa said that at 3 a.m. on May 28, 2016, three Asayish officers broke into his home and arrested his two adult sons and his cousin who lived next door. Since then Mustafa has received no official information about their status or whereabouts from the Asayish. "A friend of a friend recently said he heard all three were being held in al-Salam military base, but another said he heard they were in Chamchamal federal prison [in Kurdistan]," Mustafa said. "Frankly, I just don't know where they are and I am worried sick."

On December 18, Human Rights Watch contacted Dr. Dindar Zebari, chairman of the KRG's High Committee to Evaluate International Organizations' Reports, and asked for information on the current number and whereabouts of people detained by KRG forces in Kirkuk. He has not responded.

Enforced disappearances occur when a person is arrested or detained by officials or their agents and the authority refuses to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty, or to reveal the person's fate or whereabouts.

Kurdistan Regional Government authorities should work with the Human Rights Commission's list of complaints to help families of the 350 people identify the status and whereabouts of their relatives. They should urgently notify the families of all those being detained where they are being held, and on what grounds. They should allow for family communications between the detainees and their families.

The authorities should investigate all suspected crimes, including enforced disappearances, by Asayish and Peshmerga forces in a prompt, transparent, and effective manner, up to the highest levels of responsibility. When evidence of criminal responsibility emerges, prosecutions in accordance with international standards should follow. Those conducting such criminal investigations and making decisions about prosecutions should be independent of those being investigated, outside any military chain of command, and free from political interference in their decisions.

"When forces whisk away hundreds of people without explanation, it's no wonder that their families have serious concerns for their safety," Fakih said. "It is the Kurdistan Regional Government's responsibility to immediately provide information on their relatives' fate or whereabouts, and to end the practice of disappearances."

Iraqi court sentences two Islamic State militants to death
Iraqi News

By Nehal Mostafa
December 24, 2017

Diyala Criminal Court has sentenced two Islamic State militants to death over carrying out several terrorist operations.

In a statement on Sunday, Abdul Sattar Bir Qadar, spokesperson for the High Judicial Council, said "Diyala Criminal Court sentenced two suspects, who belongs to IS, to death over carrying out several crimes in the province."

"The most famous one is the suicide attack that targeted a cafe in Muqdadiyah in 2016, which left many people killed and injured," he added.

Earlier this month, Justice Ministry said death sentences have been carried out against 38 convicts involved in terrorism. In September, the ministry announced that 42 convicts were sentenced to death. In July 2016, The Iraqi Court of Discrimination, sentenced 40 convicts to death over involvement in crime by IS and other collaborators killing 1700 persons in Speicher Camp in Tikrit in 2014.

12 convicts were sentenced to death in June and 22 others in May.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory over the militant group, previously in December, however, observers warn that the group still poses a security threat with sleeper cells.

Violence in the country has surged further with the emergence of Islamic State Sunni extremist militants who proclaimed an "Islamic Caliphate" in Iraq and Syria in 2014.

Iraqi forces, backed by a U.S.-led coalition and paramilitary troops, have been fighting since October 2016 to retake territories Islamic State had occupied.

62 mass graves with thousands of Yazidi victims' relics found in Sinjar
Iraqi News

By Nehal Mostafa
December 26, 2017

The total number of mass graves of Yazidi victims have reached 62 in Sinajr, west of Nineveh, an official was quoted saying on Tuesday.

Speaking to AlSumaria News, Fahd Hamed Omar, acting mayor of Sinjar, said, "a human rights team arrived at Sinjar and counted the amount of discovered Yazidi mass graves, which reached 62 so far."

Some graves, according to Omar, includes thousands of relics of civilians, while others composed of couple of victims' relics. "Among the executed are whole families that were killed by Islamic State."

"IS executed them collectively on the eighth day after controling Sinjar. We were watching from the top of Sinjar mountain how they executed and buried them using machines in mass graves," Omar added.

He described the execution of Yazidis as "the biggest genocide in the modern times."

Earlier on the day, a mass grave composed of relics of Yazidi victims was found in Sinjar, Alqurtas News website reported.

Relics of 24 Yazidis were found in Kesra al-Mei'rab village. They were shot in the heads and chests, Iraqi officials told Al-Hurra TV channel.

Iraqi troops, according to the officials, were extradited to forensic medicine department to identify their relatives.

Habitat of the Iraqi Yazidi religious minority, Sinjar came under the international spotlights after IS militants took over the region in 2014.

Many Yazidis were persecuted and held in Mosul by Islamic State, which considered them devil-worshippers.

Yezidi Fighters Allegedly Execute Civilians
Human Rights Watch

December 27, 2017

Yezidi fighters in Iraq allegedly forcibly disappeared and killed 52 civilians from the Imteywit tribe in June 2017, Human Rights Watch said today.

Relatives of victims told Human Rights Watch that on June 4, 2017, Yezidi forces detained and then apparently executed men, women, and children from eight Imteywit families who were fleeing fighting between the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) and Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) west of Mosul. Yezidi forces were also implicated in two other incidents of enforced disappearances of members of the Imteywit and Jahaysh tribes in late 2017.

"As the ground fighting against ISIS winds down in Iraq, state security forces need to turn their focus to preventing retaliation and upholding the rule of law," said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Past atrocities against the Yezidis don't give its armed forces a free pass to commit abuses against other groups, whatever their past."

Human Rights Watch spoke to two Imteywit members who traveled through the village where, two hours later, the 52 people went missing. Human Rights Watch also spoke to a member of the PMF intelligence services who had visited the village and saw several mass graves that local Yezidi residents told him contained the bodies of the Imteywit victims. A Yezidi community leader provided to Human Rights Watch a list of five Yezidi fighters who he said told him they had killed the families.

In late April, as fighting approached the area just south of the Sinjar region, ISIS forces moved their families from the village of Ain Ghazal in Qayrawan to the desert north of the town of Baaj, two Imteywit men said. They said that on June 4, the Imam Ali Battalions, a PMF unit, retook the area from ISIS, and started moving local families out of the desert in a convoy of 70 cars traveling north toward Tel Afar. The two men and their relatives – 22 men, 20 women, and 10 children from the Imteywit tribe traveling in seven cars – broke off from the other members of the convoy.

When one car in the smaller convoy got a flat tire, the other cars stopped and waited for the tire to be fixed. The two men opted to head north ahead of the others, and traveled about 18 kilometers, reaching the village of Qabusiye at about 2 p.m. They said that a car with four Yezidi fighters, one of whom they recognized from home, flagged them down and forced them out of their car. The fighters asked them where they were from and said they would kill the two men as revenge for what ISIS had done to the Yezidis. Just then, the men said, a vehicle carrying Imam Ali Battalion fighters drove up, which ended the altercation, and escorted the two men to safety in the town of Qayrawan.

The men said that two hours later they called a cousin traveling in the convoy to warn them about the Yezidi fighters on the road. The cousin said they were arriving at Qabusiye, but then the call dropped, and his phone was soon switched off. The men said their relatives never made it to Qayrawan and the men have not been able to find out any information about their relatives since. The men gave Human Rights Watch a list of the 52 people in the convoy.

In early 2017, Yezidi fighters formed the Lalish Brigades and the Ezidkhan Brigades, units under the PMF, a force of the Iraqi prime minister, and therefore part of the state's armed forces. Two Yezidi community leaders told Human Rights Watch that the Ezidkhan Brigades were responsible for the abduction and killing of the 52 Imteywit tribe members. One said that fighters from the Ezidkhan Brigades told him the unit had detained the families in the convoy and held them for two days in the abandoned village, then killed them. He shared photos of women's and men's sandals, jewelry, a woman's scarf, and tufts of hair that he said belonged to the families.

A member of the PMF intelligence services told Human Rights Watch that he was sent to Sinjar to investigate the allegations. With help from local Yezidis he located a cluster of four mass graves in Qabusiye, which he visited on December 5. He said he saw the bones and skulls of at least four children, tufts of women's hair, and women's and children's shoes and bracelets in the vicinity of the graves.

In July, a legal adviser to the Ezidkhan Brigades told Human Rights Watch that Yezidi forces were involved in the capture of 52 people, but that members of the Imteywit tribe were "dogs who deserve to die." Another senior Yezidi military commander said in early December that, "If any members of the Imteywit or Jahaysh tribes try to return to Sinjar, we will kill them." Other senior Yezidis have alleged that the Imteywit and Jahaysh tribes participated with ISIS in the executions and abuse of Yezidi men and women in August 2014. Members of the two tribes denied these allegations and said that the Yezidis were scapegoating them for ISIS atrocities.

Responsibility for investigating and prosecuting abuses against the Yezidis and other groups such as the Imteywit and Jahaysh rests with the Iraqi government, Human Rights Watch said. In July a spokesman from Iraq's Foreign Affairs Ministry told Human Rights Watch that government representatives in Sinjar had investigated the Qabusiye incident and that their initial findings were that Yezidi forces had abducted the Imteywit civilians as revenge for abuses against Yezidi women. He said that the government intended to hold those responsible to account. Since then, however, Human Rights Watch has received no responses to queries as to whether anyone has been held accountable for the apparent killings.

Members of the Imteywit and Jahaysh tribes have reported other incidents in which alleged Yezidi forces have forcibly disappeared and possibly killed their members. An Imteywit man told Human Rights Watch that on August 14, an Imteywit tribal commander and seven farmers went missing when they traveled to their former village to work their agricultural land. The forces in control of the area at the time were a mix of Shia and Yezidi PMF units. Two men from the Jahaysh tribe said that on February 26, when members of the tribe fled their villages as fighting approached, armed men wearing PMF badges disappeared 10 men who were escorting their livestock by foot from the area. Human Rights Watch was unable to corroborate this information or the units implicated.

Enforced disappearances occur when a person is arrested or detained by government officials or their agents and the authority refuses to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty, or to reveal the person's fate or whereabouts.

Iraqi criminal justice authorities should investigate alleged criminal offenses by all parties to the conflict in a prompt, transparent, and effective manner, up to the highest levels of responsibility. Those found criminally responsible should be appropriately prosecuted. Summary executions and torture during an armed conflict are war crimes.

No armed forces in Iraq should be detaining suspected criminals for prolonged periods, but should instead hand suspects immediately over to judicial authorities to investigate.

International law requires that punishment for crimes only be imposed on the people responsible, after a fair trial to determine individual guilt. Imposing collective punishments on families, villages, or communities violates the laws of war and is a war crime.

"Allowing the many armed forces involved in Iraq's civil war to retaliate against any group they think was complicit with ISIS would shatter the rule of law," Fakih said. "Baghdad needs to assert its authority over the criminal justice process and end armed group vigilantes."

Council Of Europe Leading The Legal Fight Against Daesh
Forbes

By Ewelina U. Ochab
December 30, 2017

On 27 January 2015, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), an assembly of parliamentarians from 47 European countries, adopted Resolution 2091 (2016) Foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq recognising, as the first international institution, the atrocities committed by Daesh fighters as 'genocide and other serious crimes punishable under international law.' The Council of Europe is an international organization established in 1949 with the aim of upholding human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in Europe. Despite its European focus, the Council of Europe has also been vocal on issues pertaining to situations outside of Europe, especially where the link to European affairs is present. This is certainly true concerning the Daesh atrocities perpetrated against religious minorities in Syria and Iraq and the issue of European Daesh fighters. Indeed, over the last couple of years, PACE has been at the forefront of the international attempts to recognize the Daesh atrocities as genocide and to work towards bringing them to justice.

The Resolution 2091 was followed by similar recognitions and recommendations by the European Parliament, the US Congress and State Department, the UK House of Commons, the Parliaments of Australia, Canada, France, Austria, and Hungary. Despite the growing consensus among international institutions and states that atrocities committed against Daesh amount to genocide, genocide that these states are under an obligation to prevent and punish, the act of punishing the atrocity has not been carried out.

In October 2016, Pieter Omtzigt, Dutch Parliamentarian, was announced the rapporteur on 'prosecuting and punishing crimes against humanity or possible genocide' to prepare a report and a resolution in response to his findings. Omtzigt held a hearing on the topic that was followed up by an inquiry on states' exercise of the universal jurisdiction over Daesh crimes under international criminal law.

The inquiry revealed that while a number of states prosecuted the so-called Daesh foreign fighter returnees (Daesh fighters coming from countries across Europe), the fighters were not prosecuted for the crime of genocide or crimes against humanity or complicity in these crimes, but for lower crimes, such as terrorism, funding of terrorism, membership in a terrorist organisation etc. Despite such prosecutions being important, they do not fulfil states' obligations under the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Convention on Genocide). Moreover, the number of prosecutions is significantly lower than the number of returnees across the states.

For example, in the case of the UK, the number of Daesh foreign fighters that joined Daesh in Syria or Iraq is assessed at over 850, according to Soufan Group. The official assessments are also that approximately half of them have returned to the UK (425+). However, as in accordance with the information provided by the UK Government to Omtzigt's response, as of January 2017, there have been only 101 convictions. This means that 300+ of Daesh foreign fighters, who are now back in the UK face no criminal accountability after it is highly likely that they committed crimes in Syria and Iraq, crimes amounting to genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. This raises several questions regarding how effective the UK approach to countering domestic terrorism is: the UK Government continues to propose new laws or policies to counter terrorism (or broadly defined extremism) limiting the rights of all, but at the same time does not want to deal with the individuals that are at the centre of the problem: the returning Daesh foreign fighters. The failure to bring Daesh foreign fighters to justice is visible across Europe.

Omtzigt's report was adapted by PACE in September 2017 and only a month later, on October 12, 2017, PACE further adopted his resolution 'Prosecuting and punishing the crimes against humanity or even possible genocide committed by Daesh.' The resolution passed with overwhelming support. The most noteworthy provisions of Resolution 2190 include calling upon members of the Council of Europe to ensure that they prosecute Daesh fighters whether by exercising the universal jurisdiction, prosecuting for the crimes committed within their jurisdiction, and aren't obstructing a UN Security Council referral to the ICC.

Resolution 2190 sent a very clear message, which is that the responsibility to prosecute Daesh fighters for their crimes does not lie exclusively with Iraq or Syria. States and international institutions must work together towards this aim. Omtzigt was clear in his report that the leading Daesh fighters should be prosecuted by an international tribunal, as this has been done in relation to other international mass atrocities. Resolution 2190 is also non-binding, however it is still an important political signal. Resolutions like this one have been used to establish domestic policies on issues of international concern.

Omtzigt has a clear plan for the Netherlands that he will be proposing to the Dutch government. Already on December 22, 2017, the Dutch government published a letter regarding the Daesh atrocities perpetrated against religious groups in Syria and Iraq. The letter states that Daesh in all likelihood commits genocide and crimes against humanity. It further states that the Convention on Genocide applies. As the Netherlands will take a seat at the UN Security Council in January 2018, Omtzigt will be asking the Dutch government to lead the efforts to establish an international or hybrid tribunal to prosecute leading Daesh fighters. The step is crucial to ensure justice for the victims. Justice that cannot be done using domestic courts only. Daesh crimes indeed require international attention and common efforts.

Thousands remain missing after Iraq's victories against IS
Associated Press

By Susannah George
January 1, 2018

In 2014, Abdulrahman Saad was taken from his home in Mosul by Islamic State fighters, leaving his family in limbo.

They asked IS security offices and judges: Where is our husband and father? No answer. When the operation to retake Mosul began, they heard he was being held in the western part of the city, with hundreds of other prisoners. But when the area was liberated, they found no trace of Saad, the 59-year- old owner of a wholesale food store.

"Life without my father is difficult," says his son, Rami. Without him, the Saads struggle to get by, and his wife pines for her spouse.

In their misery, they have company. Since Mosul was declared liberated in July, residents have submitted more than 3,000 missing-persons reports to Nineveh's provincial council, according to council member Ali Khoudier. Most of them are men or teenage boys. Some were arrested by IS during the group's extremist rule; others were detained by Iraqi forces on suspicion of extremist ties.

Regardless, Iraqi government bureaucracy, inefficiency and neglect have left thousands of families across Iraq hanging as the country's leadership celebrates the defeat of IS.

In a small garden outside of a Mosul courthouse, dozens wait to hear if investigators have news of their missing relatives. They cling to thick files of papers: identity documents, official forms, glossy family photos and "missing person" advertisements from a local paper. It is unlikely they will hear good news.

"It will be years before these people know what exactly happened to their relatives," said an investigator, as anxious relatives tapped on the windows behind his desk and hovered at his office door.

The investigator, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Iraqi government doesn't have enough forensic experts to exhume the dozens of mass graves discovered as territory has been retaken from IS. And the country's judicial system isn't equipped to efficiently process the thousands of detainees scooped up by security forces.

Some 20,000 people are being held at detention centers across Iraq on suspicion of ties to IS, according to a report from Human Rights Watch this month.

In Anbar province, where victory was declared in the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah more than a year ago, more than 2,900 people remain missing, according to Mohammed Karbouli, a member of Iraq's parliamentary committee on defense and security from Anbar. He said those missing from Anbar are becoming a symbol of the lack of trust between Anbar's mostly Sunni residents and the Shiite-dominated central government in Baghdad.

When parents don't know the fate of their children, he warned, "tensions emerge."

Just south of Mosul, an unthinkable number of Iraqis are believed to be buried in a natural sinkhole that became one of the Islamic State group's most infamous mass graves. Some Iraqi officials estimate as many as 4,000 people were tossed into the cavernous, natural crevasse in the barren desert on the road linking Mosul to Baghdad— some already dead, others still living and buried alive.

IS fighters "would bring them and make them get out (of the car) and line up at the edge of the hole," said Mohammed Younis, a resident of the area, recounting the weeks and months leading up to the fight for Mosul. "They would line them up and then they would execute them. And the bodies would all fall into the hole."

An AP investigation has found at least 133 mass graves left behind by the defeated extremists, and only a handful have been exhumed. Many of the missing — especially the thousands of Yazidis unaccounted for since Islamic State fighters slaughtered and enslaved the minority — may ultimately be buried there. Estimates total between 11,000 and 13,000 bodies in the graves, according to the AP tally.

But not all of the missing were spirited away by the Islamic State. Some families in and around Mosul say their relatives were taken by unidentified gunmen after IS was defeated.

"It was the middle of the day, 3:30 in the afternoon. A silver pickup truck drove into the village and took my brother," Elias Ahmed explained as he walked along the dusty main road leading to his home in the sprawling Bijwaniya agricultural village.

Ghazwan Ahmed was taken along with four other young men in August. They have not been seen since.

"The men who took him didn't even identify themselves, they just said they worked in intelligence," he explained.

Elias Ahmed spent weeks shuttling between the different headquarters buildings of Iraq's disparate security services in and around Mosul. The federal police, Sunni tribal paramilitary fighters, local policemen and the Iraqi army all control different sections of Mosul and the surrounding Nineveh countryside. Each group maintains its own records of detentions and arrests.

Ahmed went looking for answers at a court north of Mosul in the small, historically Christian town of Tel Keif, established especially to process those charged with terrorism. Each morning, family members gather outside its gates in hope of tracking down missing relatives.

Inside, judges process close to 100 cases a day. Many trials last no longer than 30 minutes.

Yasser Hafahdy, an attorney from Mosul working at the court, defended the practice of arresting people without informing their families where they would be held or the charges against them. He said the court was overwhelmed by the sheer number of IS suspects arrested and could not spare the time or resources to reach out to families.

Since the court opened its doors in March, about a dozen judges have processed more than 15,000 cases. More than 60 percent have been found guilty, Hafahdy estimated.

"What we need is a Judge Dredd, you know, Sylvester Stallone," Hafahdy said, referring to a 1995 dystopian action film in which a traditional justice system is replaced by armed judges who patrol city streets acting as police, judge, jury and executioner.

At a nearby detention center, hundreds of men sat in cramped rooms, and dozens of women and child detainees shuffled between a windowless room and an open courtyard.

"The Iraqi government was completely unprepared for all the people taken prisoner while fighting Daesh," said an Iraqi lieutenant colonel overseeing a different detention center just south of Mosul. "Honestly we expected more field executions. But human rights organizations were monitoring the operations, so we began taking people prisoner instead."

The Iraqi officer, who spoke on condition that he was only identified by his rank because he was not authorized to talk to journalists, said that during the Mosul operation hundreds of people passed through his detention center on their way to Baghdad for trials. During the height of the fighting, the small rooms used as makeshift cells were packed with prisoners.

"We know that this is a violation of human rights," he said. The squalid conditions were due to the backlog of cases in Baghdad, he said, and families were unable to track down arrested relatives until the detainees were processed in the capital.

Rami Saad continues to look. The search has taken him to government detention centers and hospitals in and around Mosul and lawyers' offices in Baghdad. Rami traveled to the Health Ministry's forensic department in Mosul to look over lists of people confirmed killed by IS. If Abdulrahman Saad's death could be established, at least the wife would receive his pension.

"But we didn't find my father's name," Rami said, and so "we have a glimmer of hope. Perhaps he is still alive."

Diyala court sentences IS member to death over assisting suicide attackers in blasts
Iraqi News

By Nehal Mostafa
January 2, 2018

Diyala Criminal Court has issued two death sentences against a terrorist for transferring suicide attackers who blew up themselves in the province.

Abdul Sattar Bir Qadar, spokesperson for the High Judicial Council, said in a statement on Thursday, "Diyala Criminal Court made two verdicts of death sentence against an Islamic State member who took part in several terrorist crimes in the provinces."

"Among the operations that he carried out was transferring two suicide attackers, one of whom blew up himself in a funeral, while the other targeted a coffee shop in Muqdadiya," Bir Qadar added.

The two verdicts, according to the statement, were based on provisions of the Counter-Terrorism law.

In December, the Court sentenced two IS members to death over carrying out several crimes in the province, including a suicide attack that targeted a cafe in Muqdadiyah in 2016, which left many people killed and injured. Justice Ministry said, in the same month, that death sentences have been carried out against 38 convicts involved in terrorism. In September, the ministry announced that 42 convicts were sentenced to death. In July 2016, The Iraqi Court of Discrimination, sentenced 40 convicts to death over involvement in crime by IS and other collaborators killing 1700 persons in Speicher Camp in Tikrit in 2014. Twelve convicts were sentenced to death in June and 22 others in May.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory over the militant group, previously in December, however, observers warn that the group still poses a security threat with sleeper cells.

Tribal fighter killed, two police personnel wounded in clashes with IS in Kirkuk
Iraqi News

By Nehal Mostafa
January 3, 2018

A tribal fighter was killed, while two police personnel were wounded in confrontations with Islamic State members, northwest of Kirkuk, according to a security source and eyewitnesses.

"Armed confrontations occurred in the evening between the Tribal Mobilization Forces and IS members in Dibs town, northwest Kirkuk," the source told Baghdad Today. "One of the personnel was killed.

Moreover, eyewitnesses told Shafaq News that Federal Police personnel carried out a campaign in the vicinity of Ghurra village in Dibs town.

While inspecting the region, according to the witnesses, the personnel were trapped by IS members in an ambush. Two of the personnel were wounded.

According to the monthly release by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), a total of 69 civilians, excluding police personnel, were killed, while 142 others were wounded in December due to acts of terrorism, violence and armed conflict across the country.

The worst affected province was Baghdad with 122 civilian casualties (24 killed, 98 injured). Salahuddin ranked the second place, with 7 killed and 25 injured, then Kirkuk came third with 15 killed and 6 injured.

The figures saw a significant decline from November's which reached a total of 117 Iraqi civilians killed and another 264 injured.

Violence in the country has surged further with the emergence of Islamic State extremist militants who proclaimed an "Islamic Caliphate" in Iraq and Syria in 2014.

Last month, Abadi announced full liberation of Iraqi lands, declaring end of war against IS members.

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Syria

Rebel groups reject talks on Syrian conflict hosted by Russia
The Guardian

December 25, 2017

Syrian rebel groups on Monday rejected Russia's planned Sochi conference on Syria, saying Moscow was seeking to bypass a United Nations-based Geneva peace process and blaming Russia for committing war crimes in the country.

In a statement by around 40 rebel groups who include some of the military factions who participated in earlier rounds of Geneva peace talks, they said Moscow had not put pressure on the Syrian government to reach a political settlement.

"Russia has not contributed one step to easing the suffering of Syrians and has not pressured the regime that it claims it is a guarantor by move in any real path towards a solution," the rebel statement said.

Russia, which has emerged as the dominant player in Syria after a major military intervention over two years ago, received backing from Turkey and Iran for holding a Syrian national dialogue congress in the Russian city of Sochi on 29 January.

"Russia is an aggressor country that has committed war crimes against Syrians. It stood with the regime militarily and defended its politically and over seven years preventing UN condemnation of [Syrian President Bashar] Assad's regime," the statement said.

Moscow says it targets militants but rebels and residents say the Russian airstrikes conducted since a major aerial campaign over two years ago has caused hundreds of civilian casualties in indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas away from the frontline.

Some rebels said they had not yet made up their mind.

UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said that Russia's plan to convene the congress should be assessed by its ability to contribute to and support the UN-led Geneva talks on ending the war in Syria.

Syria war: Evacuations of critically ill people completed
BBC

December 29, 2017

A final group of medical evacuees has left the besieged Eastern Gouta, near the Syrian capital, Damascus.

Twenty-nine people in urgent need of medical assistance have now been transferred to the capital in a deal with the Syrian government.

The Syrian authorities had agreed to accept urgent cases, in return for the release of government workers captured by the rebel group, Jaish al-Islam.

Two people on the original list died before they could be evacuated.

About 400,000 residents in the district have been under siege by government forces since 2013, and are running short of food and fuel.

The United Nations has a list of almost 500 people it says are in urgent need of medical care.

Mohamad Katoub, from the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), a medical relief organisation that supports hospitals in rebel-held Syria, said all the 29 evacuees were now out of the Eastern Ghouta.

The 29 evacuees were brought out in three groups, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Eleven of those initially approved were replaced because two died and nine were afraid to go to government areas without security guarantees, Mr Katoub said.

On Wednesday a senior UN official, Jan Egeland, told the BBC he feared ill children were being used as bargaining chips.

Mr Egeland, who is the UN's humanitarian co-ordinator, said: "It is not a good agreement if they exchange sick children for detainees. That means children become bargaining chips in some tug of war. That shouldn't happen".

The main rebel group in the Eastern Ghouta, Jaysh al-Islam, said on Wednesday that the government had agreed to the evacuations in exchange for the release of 29 of its prisoners.

The Eastern Ghouta has been designated a "de-escalation zone" by the Syrian government's main allies, Russia and Iran, along with Turkey, which backs the opposition.

But hostilities intensified six weeks ago when the Syrian military stepped up attacks in response to a rebel offensive, reportedly killing dozens of civilians.

There are also severe shortages of food, fuel and medicines, and the cold weather is threatening to worsen the hardship.

Syrian civilians and troops killed by Islamic State found in mass graves
ABC News

December 30, 2017

Two mass graves filled with "dozens of bodies" have been discovered in Syria's Raqqa province, state media has said.

The SANA news agency reported the bodies of civilians and troops killed by the Islamic State (IS) group were discovered in two mass graves in the village of Wawi, near the northern city of Raqqa, once the de facto capital of IS.

IS carried out public killings in its once self-declared caliphate, beheading, shooting and stoning perceived offenders to death, as well as drowning them in large pools while locked in metal cages.

Raqqa was liberated from the clutches of the terror group in October, and an estimated 30,000 people have returned to live in the ruins of the once-thriving city.

SANA said after residents returned to their village some of them received information about mass graves near the village and once a search began the two graves were discovered.

The agency quoted a local official as saying work was ongoing to remove more bodies, adding they were trying to identify the dead in order to hand their remains over to their families.

An estimated 1,800 civilians were killed in Raqqa during the three years of IS occupation, although that number is disputed.

Dozens of Syrian militants and their families have departed aboard buses from an area besieged by government forces near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, as part of a deal to clear yet another district of insurgents.

The government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media said 153 people, including 106 fighters, left the village of Beit Jin toward the southern province of Daraa.

The Ibaa news agency of the Al Qaeda-linked Levant Liberation Committee said six buses carrying fighters and their families arrived in rebel-held parts of Daraa province.

On Friday, Syria's state news agency SANA said some 300 Al Qaeda-linked militants and their families would be sent to Daraa and the north-western province of Idlib.

The evacuation allows the Government to reassert control over Beit Jin, near the Golan Heights that were captured by Israel from Syria during the 1967 Mideast war.

Israel has publicly warned against the accumulation of Iranian and Iranian-backed forces at its border.

Iran has arranged for thousands of militiamen from across the region to fight on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Assad's Government and has sent top commanders to direct its own Revolutionary Guards in the country as well.

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Yemen

'Civilians killed' in Saudi raids in Yemen's Taiz
Al-Jazeera

By Muhammad Al-Rumin
December 26, 2017

At least 20 people are reported to have been killed and dozens more wounded in a series of Saudi-led air raids on a market in southwestern Yemen.

Sources told Al Jazeera that Tuesday's coalition raids struck Souk al-Shahra, a popular market in a Houthi rebels-held area of Taiz province, about 200km southwest of the capital, Sanaa.

At least 13 civilians were killed and another 17 injured, one source said, adding that at least 10 rebel fighters were also among the fatalities.

Another source said that body parts were thrown hundreds of metres from the blast sites. Relatives of some of the victims were unable to identify their charred remains.

Al Masirah, a TV network run by the Houthi leadership, put the number of casualties at more than 50, adding they could still rise further.

It published photos on its website showing bombed-out motorcycles and shops, and the remains of what it claimed were dismembered civilians.

Al Jazeera could not independently verify the claims.

The Saudi-led coalition has been conducting regular air raids in Houthi-held areas as part of a campaign to restore Yemen's UN-recognised government.

Tuesday's attacks come as Yemeni forces backed by the coalition are trying to capture the nearby village of al-Haima.

One resident told Al Jazeera that dozens of people had been displaced by the fighting, with scores of trapped residents living in dire conditions.

Yemen has been torn apart by conflict since 2014, when Houthi rebels, allied with troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, captured large expanses of the country, including Sanaa.

Saudi Arabia launched a massive aerial campaign against the rebels in March 2015, aimed at restoring the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Since then, Houthi rebels have been dislodged from most of the south, but remain in control of Sanaa and much of the north.

The kingdom intensified its embargo on Yemen last month after the rebels fired a ballistic missile towards Riyadh.

Attempting to cut off the alleged supply of weapons to the rebels from Iran, the blockade has had a devastating impact on millions, pushing more than eight million to within "a step of famine".

The UN says that more than 60,000 people have been killed or wounded in the conflict, which also displaced more than three million people.

The country is also facing a deadly cholera outbreak, a direct consequence of the war, that has claimed about 2,000 lives and affected more than one million people since April.

UN says Saudi-led coalition raids in Yemen kill 109 civilians
The New York Post via Reuters

December 28, 2017

A Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen has killed 109 civilians in airstrikes in the past 10 days, including 54 at a crowded market and 14 members of one family in a farm, the top UN official in the country said Thursday.

UN resident coordinator Jamie McGoldrick called the fighting futile and absurd, an unusually direct criticism of the war in which the coalition, backed by the United States, Britain and others, is fighting the Iran-allied Houthi armed movement.

Citing initial reports from the UN human rights office, a statement by McGoldrick said airstrikes hit a crowded market in the Al Hayma subdistrict of Attazziah in Taiz governorate on Tuesday, killing 54 and injuring 32.

Eight of the dead and six of the injured were children, according to the reports.

On the same day, an airstrike on a farm in the Attohayta district of Hodeidah governorate killed 14, and airstrikes elsewhere killed a further 41 civilians and injured 43 over the past 10 days.

"These incidents prove the complete disregard for human life that all parties, including the Saudi-led Coalition, continue to show in this absurd war that has only resulted in the destruction of the country and the incommensurate suffering of its people, who are being punished as part of a futile military campaign by both sides," McGoldrick said.

Under international law, the warring sides must spare civilians and civilian infrastructure, he added.

The United Nations has no up-to-date estimate of the death toll in Yemen, having said in August 2016 that according to medical centers, at least 10,000 people had been killed.

The United Nations says Yemen is the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with about 8 million people on the brink of famine, a cholera epidemic that has infected 1 million people, and economic collapse in what was already one of the Arab world's poorest countries.

Mattis defends U.S. efforts to prevent civilian casualties in Yemen
The Washington Post

By Dan Lamothe
December 29, 2017

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis gave a full-throated defense Friday of U.S. efforts to prevent civilian casualties in the conflict in Yemen, making the case that without American involvement, there would be more.

Mattis, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, said that "it's a tragedy every time" a civilian dies, but that the United States is held to a high standard when it comes to preventing civilian fatalities.

"We are being held to a standard – 'we' being us and anyone associated with us – that has never been achieved before in warfare," he said.

The comments came after two separate airstrikes on Dec. 26 by a Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen killed dozens of people and prompted a rebuke from a top United Nations official in the country. Initial U.N. reports said that at least 54 civilians, including eight children, were killed in a strike on a crowded market, and an additional 14 people from one family were killed in a bombing on a farm.

The United States does not drop bombs as a part of the Saudi-led air war against the Houthis, but provides aerial refueling to Saudi jets, shares intelligence to improve their targeting and attempts to teach Saudi pilots how to be more accurate. Mattis bristled Friday when a reporter suggested that the effort isn't working, saying "that's your call."

Asked whether he was "okay" with the current level of civilian casualties, the defense secretary grew stern.

"I'm never okay with any civilian casualty," he said. "Don't screw with me on this."

The U.S. military's handling of civilian casualties has remained in question in several war zones in which the U.S. military operates, especially as it touts the campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as the most precise in world history. An extensive New York Times investigation published in November found that about 1 in 5 airstrikes in a sampling of 150 bombing sites surveyed by the Times resulted in a civilian death, with many uncounted by the coalition.

Mattis said that in Yemen, the Saudi government is attacking Houthi rebels "with military necessity in their minds." The rebels have launched numerous ballistic missiles over the Yemeni border into Saudi Arabia.

The United States targets Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militants in Yemen, but has mostly avoided targeting the Houthis themselves. One exception occurred in October 2016, when the Navy launched "limited self-defense strikes" using Tomahawk missiles at rebel radar sites after several missiles were launched at Navy ships.

The war between the Saudis and Houthis dates back to March 2015, when the Saudis intervened on behalf of Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi after the Houthis attempted to overthrow him.

Mattis said the U.S. military will continue to work with Saudi pilots to improve their bombing and target identification. He noted that other military forces that are part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) required U.S. assistance as they struggled to prevent civilian casualties in their operations in Libya after the 2011 U.S.-led intervention there.

"Not all nations can be held to the standard that we've achieved," Mattis said.

Mattis visited the press center in the Pentagon to wish journalists a Happy New Year, and unexpectedly went on the record in a wide-ranging conversation that lasted about 45 minutes.

The defense secretary said he expects more U.S. civilians involved in the reconstruction effort in Syria in 2018, including contractors and "more diplomats." The effort, he said, will be geared toward stabilizing the country, with the U.S. military in a support role to provide security and transportation.

"It is an attempt to move toward the normalcy and that takes a lot of support," Mattis said.

Mattis also predicted that more conventional U.S. troops will take on missions that were once the province of Special Operations forces in 2018 — an effort to reduce deployments of the Pentagon's most elite forces after years of heavy use.

"If I was to put it in philosophical terms, you want a force that can deal with today's challenges and not be dominant in yesterday's challenges," Mattis said. "The general-purpose forces are going to have to have some of the capabilities that you and I used to only associate with Special Forces."

He added that over time, capabilities once associated with Special Operations troops have transitioned to being conventional military missions. In one example, a new Army Security Force Assistance Advisory Brigade is expected to deploy in the spring, training Afghan forces as part of an increase in U.S. troop deployments approved by President Trump.

Mattis declined to offer any message to transgender people who might seek to enlist in the military beginning Jan. 1, when a federal court has ordered the Pentagon to allow them to do so. That came in response to legal challenges to President Trump's proposed ban on all transgender people serving.

"I'm not going to get into this right now," Mattis said. "It's a court case right now. The Department of Justice is handling it. If they're not appealing it, we'll be notified of that. And I don't get into singling out and welcoming this group or that group or that gender or anything else. That's not my role."

Asked how he feels about his first year as defense secretary, Mattis played it coy.

"I don't have any feelings," he said, deadpan.

As to whether he planned to stay in office through Trump's term, he replied: "I take one day at a time."

Suspected Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen kill 23
Boston Globe via AFP

January 2, 2018

Saudi-led coalition airstrikes killed at least 23 people and wounded eight others in the Yemeni port city of Hodeida on Monday, officials and witnesses said.

A fire erupted in a market after one strike targeted a nearby gas station in el-Garrahi district. The coalition could not immediately be reached for comment on the reports.

International rights groups have accused the coalition of bombing civilian gatherings, markets, hospitals, and residential areas across Yemen since the beginning of its air campaign against the Iranian backed rebels, known as Houthis, in March 2015.

The war has killed more than 10,000 civilians and pushed the Arab world's poorest country to the brink of famine.

The United States has tripled the number of airstrikes this year against Al Qaeda's branch in Yemen, one of the deadliest and most sophisticated terrorist organizations in the world.

US coalition fighters have pushed the militants from their coastal strongholds, and the Pentagon recently boasted of killing key Al Qaeda leaders. Yet the top US counterterrorism official and other American intelligence analysts conceded that the campaign has barely dented the terrorist group's ability to strike US interests.

"It doesn't feel yet that we're ahead of the problem in Yemen," Nicholas J. Rasmussen, who stepped down this month after three years as director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told The New York Times.

The threat of a terrorist attack — with the most commonly feared target a commercial airliner — emanating from the chaotic, ungoverned areas of Yemen remains high on the government's list of terrorism concerns.

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Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)

Official Website of the Extraordinary Chambers
Official Website of the United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials (UNAKRT)
Cambodia Tribunal Monitor

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Special Tribunal for Lebanon

Official Website of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon
In Focus: Special Tribunal for Lebanon (UN)

UN chief extends tribunal for Hariri killers for 3 years
Star Tribune

December 22, 2017

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is extending for three years the mandate of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is prosecuting suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric announced the extension from March 1, 2018, saying the trial in absentia of four men indicted in the truck bombing in Beirut that killed Hariri and 22 others is taking place at the U.N.-backed tribunal outside The Hague, Netherlands.

He says the tribunal also has jurisdiction over attacks in Lebanon between Oct. 1, 2004, and Dec. 12, 2005, connected to the Hariri attack or similar in "nature and gravity."

The spokesman says Guterres reaffirms the U.N. commitment to support the tribunal's fight against impunity and bring those responsible for major crimes to justice.

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Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal

War Crimes Trial: Accused to become approver
The Daily Star

December 25, 2017

For the first time in the history of war crimes trial in Bangladesh, an accused has decided to give testimony as an approver in a case filed against 11 Mymensingh men.

Abdul Latif, 58, of Pagla in the district, filed a petition with the International Crimes Tribunal-1 yesterday. The tribunal fixed January 17 to hear the petition.

Latif filed the petition under Section 15 of the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973. As per the law, he has to plead guilty to give testimony as an approver, Prosecutor Rezia Sultana Chaman told this correspondent.

"At any stage of the trial, a tribunal may with a view to obtaining the evidence of any person supposed to have been directly or indirectly concerned in, or privy to, any of the crimes specified in section 3, tender a pardon to such person on condition of his making a full and true disclosure of the whole of the circumstances within his knowledge relative to the crime and to every other person concerned, whether as principal or abettor, in the commission thereof," reads section 15 (1) of the Act.

He will give testimony as a witness and will be detained in custody until end of trial, says the law.

Two war crimes tribunals have so far delivered 29 judgements against 59 people. Thirty-seven of them have been sentenced to death. But, for the first time, an accused intends to give testimony as an approver.

Prosecutors Sahidur Rahman and Chaman and defence counsels Abdus Sattar Palwan, Masud Rana and Abdus Shukur Khan placed their submission on charges yesterday.

At one stage of hearing, Shukur, who represents Latif and five other fugitive accused of the case, said his client surrendered before the tribunal on November 22 and now wants to give testimony as an approver.

"In the petition, he [Latif] has pleaded guilty and sought mercy from the tribunal. He will give testimony as an approver if the tribunal allowed," Shukur told this correspondent.

Of the accused, Latif and five others are now behind bars. They are Khalilur Rahman Mir alias Khalilur Rahman, 62, Md Samsuzzaman alias Abul Kalam, 65, Mohammad Abdullah, 62, Mohammad Abdul Malek Akand alias Abul Hossain, 68, and Md Rois Uddin Azadi alias Akkel Ali, 74.

The fugitives are ASM Faizullah, 66, Abdur Razzak Mandal, 64, Alim Uddin Khan, 77, Nurul Amin Shahjahan, 69, and Sirajul Islam, 66.

The prosecution pressed four charges against the 11 on April 5.

As per the prosecution, the accused were involved with the Razakar force during the Liberation War and committed crimes against humanity that include killing of four people, torturing nine, looting and committing arson, abduction and confinement in Pagla.

ICT investigation agency finalises report against 11 war crimes suspects
bdnews24.com

December 26, 2017

The International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) investigation agency has finalised its report against 11 war crime suspects of Khulna.

The suspects are Abdur Rahim, Shamsur Rahman, Md Omar Ali Fakir, Jahan Ali Biswas, Md Akkas Sarder, Nazer Ali Fakir, Md Shahajahan Sarder, Abdul Karim Sheikh, Abu Bakkar Sarder, Md Roushan Gazi, and Md Sohrab Hossain Sarder.

Omal Ali Fakir and Akkas Sarder are at large while the rest are in detention at Dhaka Central Jail in Keraniganj, ICT investigation agency coordinator Abdul Hannan Khan said at a media briefing on Tuesday.

The 11 are accused in a case started at Khulna's Dumuria Police Station.

"They set up a Razakar (a wartime collaborating force of the Pakistan Army) camp at the Kharnia Union Council office in 1971 and took training there. A list of the Razakars prepared by the Pakistani army contains their names," Hannan said.

According to the agency's findings, the 11 suspects carried out multiple crimes against humanity across Dumuria during the War of Liberation in 1971.

Illegal detention, abduction, torture, loot, arson and murder are six specific charges brought against them, Hannan said.

"They killed 22 people and set fire to around 57 houses after looting valuables from there. They took over the Khulna Ansar camp and opened a training camp there for the Razakars."

The probe was initiated in January, Helal Uddin told bdnews24.com.

The 730-page report contains a list of 52 witnesses including the investigating officer. The investigators recorded accounts of 48 people and enlisted three as witnesses, he added.

"The suspects were involved with the Jamaat-e-Islami before the war started in 1971. Sheikh Abdur Rahim, Shamsur Rahman Gazi and Sohrab Hossain Sarder remained active in the party until their arrest," he said.

The ICT investigation agency has been more active in 2017 than it was in the previous year but the tribunal could not dispose of as many cases as expected for remaining inactive for 92 days, Sanaul Hoque said.

Suspected war criminal Latif wants to be state witness
Dhaka Tribune

December 26, 2017

A hearing on the matter is scheduled to be held on January 17 next year. Abdul Latif, a native of Mymensingh arrested in a case filed over crimes against humanity during the 1971 Liberation War, has expressed an interest in becoming a state witness.

This is the first time in Bangladesh's history that a suspected war criminal wants to become a state witness and is willing to turn in his cohorts to the law.

Latif made the plea through his lawyer Shukur Ali at the International Crimes Tribunal, led by its chairman Justice Md Shahinur Islam on Tuesday. A hearing on the matter is scheduled to be held on January 17 next year.

Prosecutor Shahedur Rahman and Rezia Sultana represented the state in the tribunal.

Briefing the media, Shahedur later said: "Latif is one the accused in the case and he wants to become a state witness. He expressed interest in confessing crimes committed by him and his cohorts.

"A hearing will be held in this regard, and final decision will be taken after that hearing."

On November 22, Abdul Latif surrendered before the tribunal in a case filed over crimes against humanity. The accused in this case face charges of murder, looting, arson, abduction, torture, and several other war crimes.

A state witness is a person who confesses a crime and accuses one or more of his cohorts for reduced punishment or clemency. An accomplice to a felony who confesses his or her guilt and gives evidence against his or her confederates can also be termed a state witness.

War criminal 'executioner' on Interpol's most wanted list who once posed alongside Prince Charles is found living in a £1million home in a leafy north London cul-de-sac
Daily Mail

By Darren Boyle
December 27, 2017

A British Muslim leader wanted by Interpol having been found guilty of war crimes is currently living in a £1m house in a north London suburb.

Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin, who was photographed with Prince Charles in 2003 at an event in Leicester was found guilty of 'abetting and complicity to the commission of the offence of extermination as a crime against humanity' in his native Bangladesh.

The 69-year-old former NHS administrator was put on trial in his absence over the murder of 18 people during Bangladesh's brutal War of Independence in 1971.

Mr Mueen-Uddin was not at his £1 million Southgate home this morning. A woman at the property came and spoke through a small gap in the door.

When asked about Mr Mueen-Uddin, the woman in her 40s said: 'He is not here. He has gone away. He won't be back for a couple of weeks now.'

She then shut the door to the 1930s semi-detached home which has a luxury black four door BMW 5 series on the drive which has room for two other cars.

Neighbours of Mr Mueen-Uddin were unaware of his alleged war crimes and were shocked when told about them.

One neighbour, who wished not to be named said: 'All I can say is they are very nice neighbours. They have lived there for 18 years and they are a lovely family.

'I don't know anything about war crimes or Interpol but they are a very nice family.'

Another male living in the cul-de-sac, who also wished not to be named, said: 'I have to say I don't know anything about it but we have seen police at the house a few times.

'We knew there was something odd because the police would come and go into the house. This is a quiet little cul-de-sac so everyone notices this sort of thing.

'They (the police) were here quite a few times over a short period of time.

'It's a bit shocking to find out someone with that sort of history is living so close. I have to say we don't know anything about him, and never speak to them.

'Its obvious the police and Interpol know he is here, but they must not be able to do anything about it.'

Mueen-Uddin, who was found guilty in his absence in 2013 on 11 charges.

Bangladesh's brutal war of independence

Bangladesh secured independence from Pakistan following a brutal war in 1971.

The death toll during the conflict has been disputed, with Bangladeshi authorities claiming some three million people died.

Bengali nationalists began protesting against Pakistani rule and demanded independence.

Violence broke out in March 1971 after elections in the region which led to calls for increased autonomy.

Pakistan sent thousands of troops into the region to protect non-Bengalis who faced threats from the nationalists.

The nationalists were supported by Indian forces.

The UN condemned the levels of violence but attempts to pass a resolution at the Security Council failed as a result of the Russian veto.

Also, at the time, the United States was firmly supporting the Pakistani government and refused to get involved in the conflict.

At the time of the conflict there were widespread reports of thousands of women being raped by Pakistani soldiers, although this is denied by the army.

In December 1971, after being forced to deal with hundreds of thousands of refugees from the area, India attacked Pakistani troops in the area forcing them to surrender.

The surrender led to the creation of an independent Bangladeshi state, with many pro-Pakistani supporters fleeing the country out of fear for their safety.

According to Interpol, Mueen Uddin has been 'convicted and condemned to the single sentence of death for the crimes listed in all the charges and they be hanged by the neck till they are dead under section 20(2) of the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973'.

However, Britain does not have an extradition treaty with Bangladesh and is unlikely to return Mueen Uddin to face his sentence as it is not government policy to send people to face execution.

Mueen Uddin was tracked down to his home in Southgate, north London by The Sun.

A neighbour told the paper: 'Interpol can't be looking very hard.'

Muenn Uddin rejected the finding of the international tribunal declaring the conviction as 'all rubbish'.

He said he is looking to overturn the Interpol red notice which is calling for his arrest.

Bangladesh secured its independence from Pakistan following a bitter nine-month conflict.

Mueen Uddin is accused of being involved in the torture and murder of 18 people including doctors and academics - an allegation he strongly denies.

In response to the guilty verdict in 2013, Mueen Uddin released a statement claiming the judicial process against him was 'neither open nor fair, and does not meet international standards'.

He wrote: 'For the record, let me state clearly where I stand on the events of 1971. I was a journalist at the time, and yes, I supported the unity of Pakistan.

'However, supporting the unity of a sovereign nation is one thing, getting involved in crimes is not what I have taken part in any way, shape or form.

'While I remain interested in events in Bangladesh, I have for the last forty years concentrated my efforts in community work here in the United Kingdom. This includes supporting the welfare of British Bangladeshis, and the lives of fellow Britons. The UK has been my home and has been so for my children.'

Mr Mueen-Uddin had previously worked for the NHS as who was director of Muslim Spiritual Care Provision and chairman of the Multi-Faith Group for Healthcare Chaplaincy.

He is one of 22 Britons on the Interpol most wanted list.

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War Crimes Investigation in Burma

Genocide of Rohingyas: Is another Bosnia in the making?
The Daily Star

Shakhawat Liton
December 25, 2017

Nine years ago when a former judge and two prosecutors at the international criminal tribunals for Rwanda and former Yugoslavia were examining the documents on human rights abuses in Myanmar, they were astonished by the UN inaction even though the global body knew for years the severe, widespread, and systematic violations of human rights there.

They saw that the UN resolutions and special rapporteurs had spoken out over and over again about the abuses that were reported to them. But the UN Security Council did not move the process forward, as it should have and had done in similar cases like that of the former Yugoslavia and Darfur of Western Sudan.

Internationally acclaimed jurists Justice Patricia M Wald of the US, Justice Richard J Goldstone of South Africa, and Sir Geoffrey Nice QC of the UK were working as commissioners for a report called "Crimes in Burma" which was prepared in 2009 by the law school of Harvard University.

Justice Wald, who served as the chief judge for the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, was a judge at the international criminal tribunal for former Yugoslavia. Justice Goldstone, who served as a judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, was the chief prosecutor at the international criminal tribunals for former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda. Sir Nice was deputy prosecutor of the international criminal tribunal for former Yugoslavia and the principal prosecution trial attorney in the case against Slobodan Milosevic at The Hague.

Milosevic was the world's first president to be indicted for war crimes by an international criminal court.

As judge and prosecutors at the two international crimes tribunals set up by the UN, they worked relentlessly to complete trials of perpetrators of genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia.

Judge Pedro Nikken of Venezuela, a former member of the executive committee of the international commission of jurists, and Ganzorig Gombosuren, a former judge at the Supreme Court of Mongolia, worked with them.

In their examination, they found that UN documents have included a range of human rights and humanitarian law violations in Myanmar since 1992.

The International Human Rights Clinic of the Harvard Law School prepared the report by reviewing four types of crimes perpetrated in Myanmar: forced displacement of the population, sexual violence, murder, and torture that had been documented in various UN reports since 2002.

Based on the report's findings and recommendations, the five jurists called on the UN Security Council to urgently establish a commission of inquiry to probe and report on crimes against humanity and war crimes in Myanmar.

The world cannot wait while the military regime continues its atrocities against the people of Myanmar, they said in the report, adding that the day may come for a referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court or the establishment of a special tribunal to deal with the country and member states of the UN should be prepared to support such action.

The law school of Harvard has moved further and opend another inquiry in 2011 regarding the situation in Myanmar.

In 2014, the inquiry released its report where it said three military commanders and a combat division of Myanmar army committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Kachin and northern Shan State of Myanmar in 2005-06.

The report documented how soldiers fired mortars at villages; opened fire on fleeing villagers; destroyed homes, crops, and food stores; planted landmines in civilian areas; forced civilians to work; and captured and executed civilians.

The law school accused the three senior army officials, one of whom later became the home minister, of committing war crimes. It said, "The abuses perpetrated by the military have been too widespread, too persistent, and too grave to be ignored."

It said it found enough evidence for International Criminal Court at The Hague to press war crimes and crimes against humanity charges against the trio and for issuing arrest warrants.

But nothing happened to the three.

In a legal analytical report the following year, the law school of Yale University documented atrocities perpetrated by Myanmar military against the Rohingyas. It found atrocities committed against the Rohingyas had increased precipitously since 2012.

The report concluded that the available evidence strongly suggested that all the elements of genocide were present in Rakhine State.

It too urged the UN to adopt a resolution to establish a commission of inquiry on the human rights situation in Rakhine State. "Myanmar may be responsible under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide for failing to prevent genocide from occurring within its borders," it stated.

Again, nothing happened to the perpetrators and like before, the Myanmar authorities denied all allegations.

The world waited and the inaction resulted in painful consequences. Over the years the situation worsened. The Rohingyas faced much worse than the people in Kachin and Shan states.

Like on previous occasions, UN senior officials kept voicing concern. After Myanmar military's crackdown on the Rohingyas in October 2016, the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar in March this year said the situation in northern Rakhine state was far worse than anticipated.

"I would say crimes against humanity. Definite crimes against humanity… by the Burmese, Myanmar military, the border guard or the police or security forces," Yanghee Lee told the BBC in March.

At least 87,000 Rohingyas fled Myanmar in the wake of the violence.

Lee has been banned by Myanmar government for her strong voices against human rights abuses.

A few months later, Myanmar refused entry to members of a UN investigation focusing on allegations of killings, rapes, and tortures by security forces against the Rohingyas.

Keeping the eyes of the world away, Myanmar military continued its brutalities.

The intensified atrocities perpetrated by the Myanmar military against the Rohingyas since August has already been labelled by UN and right bodies as "text book example of ethnic cleansing" and genocide and crimes against humanity. Over 6.5 lakh Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh since then.

According to Doctors Without Borders at least 6,700 Rohingya were killed in attacks during the first month of the military crackdown.

Rights bodies presented evidence in piles, about the burning of Rohingya villages, raping of women, and indiscriminate murder of the Rohingyas.

DEMAND FOR JUSTICE LOUDER

In September, an international people's tribunal in Malaysia held Myanmar guilty of "genocide" against the Rohingyas and said the "systematic targeting of civilians" and other acts committed by the Myanmar army qualified as war crimes.

The seven-member bench of Permanent People's Tribunal, holding proceedings on alleged atrocities and state crimes against the Rohingya, Kachin and other ethnic minority groups in Myanmar, said the Myanmar army was committing the crime in the "context of official duties".

"On the strength of the evidence presented, the tribunal reached the consensus ruling that the State of Myanmar has the intent to commit genocide against the Kachin people and the other Muslim groups," read the judgement delivered in a court-like setting at the University of Malaya's Faculty of Law.

New York-based Human Rights Watch on November 3 urged the UN Security Council to refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court because of its failure to investigate massive atrocities perpetrated against the Rohingyas.

The European Parliament recently urged its member states to adopt disciplinary sanctions against the perpetrators of violence and "human rights abuses" in Myanmar.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said he would not be surprised if a court one day ruled that acts of genocide had been committed against the Rohingyas in Myanmar.

In a recent interview with the BBC, he said that attacks on the Rohingyas had been "well thought out and planned" and he had asked Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi to do more to stop the military action.

Zeid called the campaign "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing".

During her visit last month, Pramila Patten, UN special representative of the secretary general, promised to put the guilty soldiers in the dock of the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

If the UN could do what it had done in the cases of genocides in Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur, there could be hope.

UN'S TRACK RECORD

After its shocking failure to act on time to prevent the Rwanda genocide in 1994 in which more than 800,000 Tutsi were massacred by the Hutu majority, at least two former UN chiefs and some world leaders had apologised to the Rwandans.

The UN got the opportunity in 1998 to boast about its stance against genocide when trials were being held for the genocide perpetrators, including the then Rwanda prime minister. The first verdict was delivered in early September 1998 against a Rwanda politician.

In a discussion on the trial of Rwanda genocide perpetrators, the UN in October 1998 hoped the legacy of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda laid the foundation for a new era in international criminal justice.

The UN's failure to act comprehensively was again seen in Bosnia. More than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were massacred in Srebrenica in July 1995. The then UN secretary general Kofi Annan in a report in the General Assembly in 1999 concluded "the tragedy of Srebrenica will haunt our history forever".

Yet, sentencing of Ratko Maldic, the former Bosnian Serb military commander known as the Butcher of Bosnia, to life in prison on November 22 by a UN criminal tribunal for genocide and his role at Srebrenica demonstrated the UN's stance against the heinous crimes.

Less than 10 years after Rwanda, genocide unfolded in Darfur of Western Sudan, exposing once again the failure of UN and international community to protect civilians.

In 2005, the UN Security Council passed a resolution and referred Darfur to the International Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute serious crimes committed in Darfur.

In 2010, the international criminal court charged Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir with three counts of genocide in Darfur.

THE HURDLES

Myanmar is not a state party to the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court. Therefore, the situation in Myanmar needs to be referred to the international criminal court by the UN Security Council through a resolution, which will empower the court to investigate human rights abuses and prosecute the abusers.

But passage of such a resolution by the Security Council looks almost impossible due to China, a close supporter of Myanmar for decades for its strong economic and business interest there.

Since 2007, China backed by Russia has killed several efforts taken by the Security Council on Myanmar with their veto power.

China's support helped Myanmar military generals to remain above the law for decades. This impunity gave them the licence to carry out the genocide.

Time has come for China to reassess its strategy so that in future it is not branded as a partner of genocide in Myanmar.

If China supports a UN move to refer the Myanmar situation to the International Criminal Court, there will be no dearth of evidence to prosecute the alleged perpetrators.

5 reasons the U.N. Security Council should care about the Burmese military's sexual assaults on the Rohingya
The Washington Post

By Jamille Bigio and Rachel Vogelstein
January 3, 2018

Burma's ethnic cleansing campaign against Rohingya Muslims has been rife with sexual violence, according to recent news accounts. Among the more than 600,000 people who have fled to neighboring Bangladesh, many are survivors of rape, gang rape and sexual slavery.

How many? Pramila Patten, the United Nations special representative on sexual violence in conflict, reports that every woman she encountered during her November visit to Bangladesh had either witnessed or endured brutal sexual assault. Their stories are harrowing. One 15-year-old girl was ruthlessly dragged on the ground for over 50 feet, tied to a tree and then raped by 10 Burmese soldiers. Patten has urged the U.N. Security Council to take action.

To be sure, the rape of Rohingya women is a gross violation of human rights. But why should the Security Council — charged with maintaining international peace and security — address sexual violence?

Because sexual violence in conflict is not simply a human rights issue — it's also a security challenge, according to a significant body of social science research, which we highlight in our recent Council on Foreign Relations report. What's more, widespread rape in wartime can be prevented. Here are five key insights into how this works.

1. Sexual violence is often a symptom of military weakness.

Sexual violence committed by troops can signal weak command and troop discipline, which makes military units less effective in their mission. For example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a mass rape of more than 150 civilians in 2011 was attributed to local armed forces' lax command and control structures. When state forces regularly commit sexual violence, the command hierarchy may simply be too weak to enforce a policy forbidding this crime — and therefore may be ineffective in maintaining peace once a conflict is resolved.

In other cases, armed groups that recruit through abduction command those troops to rape in order to build solidarity among them. These groups have lower levels of unit cohesion and effectiveness than groups that rely on volunteers. A review of 91 civil wars, for example, found that groups that recruit by force committed significantly higher levels of rape against civilians, in an attempt to build social bonds through rape.

While groups or individuals commit sexual violence in conflict for any number of reasons, when it happens there are strategic implications. Research shows that military units and law enforcement bodies that respect human rights and prevent sexual violence are more effective at promoting security.

2. Sexual violence can increase the flow of refugees.

When armed groups commit sexual violence, more people flee — making the region less stable. As we can see from the staggering number of Rohingya refugees, wartime rape forces people from their homes, depriving them and their families of their livelihoods, property and access to health services and education, destabilizing communities. Sexual violence has increased displacement around the world, from Guatemala to Iraq to Syria, where reports suggest that the danger of rape is a primary reason people flee cities under siege.

3. Unchecked sexual violence can undermine trust in the state.

Conflict-related sexual violence signals a government's inability or unwillingness to protect its citizens. That's particularly true when, as in South Sudan, the military commits this crime widely and with impunity. The lower citizens' level of trust in the state, the more difficult it becomes for a government to undertake economic, social or political reforms, which undermines stability.

4. Countries with widespread sexual violence incur high financial costs.

Wartime rape is costly in ways that undermine national stability. Victims of sexual violence may suffer long-term physical and psychological aftereffects, which impose high costs of care, reduced economic productivity and lost income. In the DRC, for instance, agricultural output decreased partly because women were afraid to return to working in the fields.

Further, some evidence suggests that sexual violence during wartime continues as gender-based violence in peacetime, leaving behind still more costs long after the conflict has ceased. In Burma, neighboring governments are bearing the burden of these costs, with the support of humanitarian agencies that provide services to Rohingya refugees.

5. Sexual violence can undermine reconciliation efforts after ethnic conflicts.

Particularly when it's ethnically driven, sexual violence used as a tactic of war can make reconciliation much harder — including any efforts the Burmese government may pledge to pursue if the Rohingya return. Women raped by opposing parties are often stigmatized, treated as guilty by association with their perpetrators. Children born of rape frequently suffer discrimination, fostering tension in a community long after the conflict.

Rape in wartime corrodes future stability — but it is not inevitable. It's true that throughout history, many armies considered rape to be one of the legitimate spoils of war; this crime was tacitly accepted as unavoidable through the early 20th century.

But more recently, legal rulings have outlawed sexual violence and recognized it as a war crime. And research shows that while some conflicts include widespread sexual violence, not all do: One analysis of 177 armed groups in 21 African countries found that 59 percent were not reported to have committed sexual violence. Another analysis of 91 civil wars between 1980 and 2012 revealed that 17 percent did not include widespread sexual violence.

In other words, armed groups don't always rape with impunity; levels of sexual violence vary from one conflict to another. That's because while some leaders of armed organizations may order or tolerate rape by their soldiers, others prohibit it. That suggests that sexual violence in conflict can be prevented. Research has revealed best practices around the world, from community-based police reforms initiated in Nicaragua in the 1990s to innovative prosecutorial approaches recently instituted in the DRC.

It's possible, therefore, to drive down sexual violence in conflict — and evidence suggests that doing so matters to security and stability.

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Israel and Palestine

Israeli forces kill two Palestinians in Gaza protests
Aljazeera

December 22, 2017

At least two Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been killed by Israeli forces during protests over US President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

The ministry said in a statement on Friday that two Palestinians were killed and more than 70 others injured during clashes with Israeli forces in northern Gaza near the border with Israel.

According to local news media, 24-year-old Zakariya al-Kafarneh was killed by live ammunition while taking part in the protests.

The name of the second Palestinian killed was unknown.

Maan News agency said Israeli troops used live bullets, tear gas and stun grenades against Palestinian protesters, who had gathered for the third Friday of Rage demonstration since Trump announced his decision in early December.

At least 103 Palestinians have been taken to hospitals across the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip on Friday for treatment for injuries from protests, the health ministry said in a statement.

Last week, the Israeli army killed Palestinian double amputee Ibrahim Abu Thurayyah while he was protesting in the besieged territory.

At least eight Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces during protests over Trump's Jerusalem decision began.

At least four have also been killed by Israeli air raids in Gaza since early December.

UN vote

Friday's protests come a day after the UN General Assembly passed a non-binding resolution describing the decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital "null and void".

The resolution was approved with 128 votes in favour and nine against, while 35 countries abstained.

The vote passed despite intimidation by Trump, who had threatened on Wednesday to eliminate financial aid to member states who voted against his decision, while Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, had warned that she would be "taking names" of those countries.

The motion was co-authored by Turkey, which has taken a key role in the Muslim response to the move, and was supported by key US allies including, the UK and other Western states.

Mevult Cavusoglu, foreign minister of Turkey, said on Twitter that the vote showed that "dignity and sovereignty are not for sale".

Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator, said the Palestinians "appreciate very much that the majority of the international community decided, in spite of the threats and intimidation of the US, to stand tall with wisdom, far-sightedness, international law and the rule of law - and not the rule of the jungle".

2 Palestinians die of wounds from Israel clashes in Gaza
Fox News

December 24, 2017

The Palestinian Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip says two men have died from wounds sustained in earlier clashes with Israeli troops along the border with Israel.

It identified them as Mohammed Dahdouh, 20, who died Sunday, and Sharif Shalash, 28, who died on Saturday.

Their deaths raise to 12 the number of Palestinians killed in violence in Gaza and the West Bank since President Donald Trump's Dec. 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Most of the deaths have occurred in Gaza, where protesters have been clashing with Israeli forces along the border fence. Forces have used tear gas and live fire to disperse the crowds. Among the dead are two Hamas militants killed in an Israeli airstrike that was carried out in response to rocket fire from Gaza.

Oren Hazan harasses families of Palestinian prisoners
Aljazeera

By Zena Tahhan
December 25, 2017

An Israeli member of parliament has verbally harassed Palestinian families hailing from the Gaza Strip on their journey to visit their imprisoned relatives in an Israeli prison, calling their sons "dogs" and "terrorists".

Oren Hazan, a member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, boarded a bus carrying the families of prisoners on Monday about to enter Nafha prison in Israel's south.

Flanked by Israeli police and camera crews, Hazan, a right-wing politician, shouted at one of the mothers: "Your son is a dog. He is a dog. You come to visit the scum who are sitting here in prison, whom you see as your family members."

To another mother, he said in a video posted on his Facebook page: "I am not going anywhere. I am a Knesset [parliament] member."

When she tried to respond, Hazan repeatedly hushed her and told her to "be quiet".

"I will make sure that you are not allowed to visit here any more. We will do everything so that you won't enter here. You are not wanted here. You educated your son to murder, and we will show your son to the ground".

The mother then told him to speak more politely, to which he said: "She educated her son to murder and hate. For the likes of her, I have no manners."

Prior to the incident, Hazan, who lives in the illegal Israeli settlement of Ariel in the occupied West Bank, posted a picture of himself on his Twitter account carrying the Israeli flag as he waited for the bus which he said was carrying the families of "animals".

Under international humanitarian law, prisoners from occupied territories must be held in the occupied territory, not in the territory of the occupying power.

Though most Palestinian political prisoners hail from the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, they are placed in prisons inside Israel, in direct contravention of international law.

Families of Palestinian prisoners must, therefore, apply for hard-to-obtain permits to enter Israel and visit them, usually in buses organised by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The ICRC said they were "very concerned about this serious incident".

"The families should not be assaulted or insulted. They should be able to visit with a dignified manner," ICRC media spokesperson Alyona Synenko told Al Jazeera.

"Our staff cannot prevent such incidents - we only facilitate with the authorities, and we always ask that the visit can take place uninterrupted."

Hazan said he intercepted the bus to promote legislation to cancel family visits until several Israelis being held in Gaza were returned.

"I want to send a message to all of you," he said.

"Your friends in Gaza are holding our brothers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul and Avera Mengistu. If you do not pass on this message that we want our children back, you will not see your son or your husband or your family. If you continue like this here, you will not see them alive."

Hamas, the Palestinian movement that administers the besieged Gaza Strip, reportedly holds Goldin and Shaul, soldiers who were part of Israel's ground invasion of Gaza in 2014.

It is unclear whether they are alive or dead.

The third, Mengistu, reportedly crossed into Gaza in September 2014 and has been missing since.

According to Palestinian prisoners rights group Addameer, there are currently some 6,154 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails.

About 450 of them are held without charge or trial on "secret evidence".

In response to Hazan's actions, Hamas said it organised an act of solidarity with the families upon their return, sharing photos of the parents receiving roses.

A member of Hamas' political bureau, Fathi Hammad, condemned the "Zionist aggression", according to a statement.

"He [Hammad] stressed the pride of the Palestinian people in their prisoners, who spent the years of their lives in the occupation's prisons, in the name of Palestine's freedom."

In July, Hazan posted a video of himself on Facebook saying he would "execute" the entire family of a Palestinian who killed three Israelis at an illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank after Israel imposed tighter restrictions on the entry of Palestinians into al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

'I fear being shot': A Palestinian paramedic's account
Aljazeera

By Shatha Hammad
December 27, 2017

Working as a paramedic, Yehya Mubarak has only one thing on his mind.

"My goal is to take the patient to the hospital," the 47-year-old, who has been working with the ambulance service for 12 years, says without hesitation.

However, that's far from an easy task in the occupied West Bank.

First, there are the long delays at Israeli checkpoints. These not only put a patient's life in danger, but also provoke anger and insults directed towards him by Palestinian relatives due to not delivering their loved ones to the hospital on time.

Then, there are the attacks and threats by the Israeli army on ambulance crews during protests. In one instance, Mubarak lost control of his nerves and speech for nearly 12 hours after Israeli forces fired tear gas towards him.

Other times, his vehicle, the sole ambulance serving Silwad and several neighbouring villages, had its windows broken after being attacked by Israeli soldiers.

But despite the danger and frustration, Mubarak is committed to his life-saving work.

Here, he relays to Al Jazeera his daily experience that comes with navigating checkpoints and rushing to get critically wounded patients to hospital, as well as the fear of being attacked and anguish of losing patients.

'The Israelis want to undermine my work'

"As an ambulance driver and paramedic, you know that the first 10 minutes of when you receive a patient are the golden minutes.

"So, when 30 minutes of my time at a checkpoint is wasted for no good reason, I can inherently tell that it is intentional. The Israelis want to undermine my work.

"I always try to find alternative, faster routes - but the problem is that Silwad is surrounded with checkpoints, leaving only two checkpoint-free ways to Ramallah. Still, sometimes even these routes have what we call 'flying checkpoints'. It does not matter if we have the siren on, they will still stop us.

"But when I am honking because I have an urgent medical case in my ambulance, it's not your right to stop me and waste our time, which may result in the death of the patient.

"In other developed countries, when only the light of the ambulance turns on, all the cars in the road rush aside to make way.

'I am responsible for any delay'

"The ambulance serves almost 9,000 people in Silwad, as well as the neighbouring villages. Therefore, the entire area relies on one ambulance car only.

"One example of the obstacles we face with the occupation as ambulance drivers are the checkpoints. We are sometimes stopped for an average of 20 minutes, and we are rarely allowed to drive on without being stopped by them.

"The Israelis stop our ambulances at the checkpoints just as they would do to civilian cars, and pretend to inspect the vehicle. But in reality, they just mess up everything in there and start throwing out our equipment and medicines. I have to spend time returning everything to its original place, so nothing falls on the patient on board. This takes a while and ultimately, I am responsible for any delay.

"These types of delays, in turn, result in problems with the patient's family and even with the medical centres, who tend to blame us.

"We always call the International Committee for the Red Cross and complain about this issue. Every time they promise us they will negotiate with the Israelis and respond to us, yet we don't hear back from them.

'Staying neutral'

"There are ongoing problems every day. We are already stressed out from the patients, and that stress is sometimes compounded by the Israeli soldiers, the Red Cross or some Palestinian organisations that don't appreciate our work.

"During the protests, we definitely stay neutral. Working as a paramedic, you should always be neutral despite the religions, traditions and cultures.

"Unfortunately, the Israeli army always fires tear gas and rubber bullets on us. They once fired tear gas on me in a neighbourhood in Silwad. I lost total control over my body for almost 12 hours. I couldn't control my nerves or my speech.

"They opened fire many times on us and on our colleagues from the Red Crescent, only because we are helping people.

"I am not delivering an aggressive message. I am delivering a humanitarian message. The soldiers see and know everything about us because they film us with their cameras. I don't care about this, but what I am concerned about is the lack of safe space for my colleagues and I to work in.

Yehya Mubarak has been working with the ambulance service for 12 years.

"In general, if I run into a checkpoint while I am transporting a wounded protester, the soldiers will always try to take him or her. They have the weapons, and I don't. My goal is to take the patient to the hospital.

"The soldiers don't differentiate between the ambulance crew and the protesters who throw rocks.

"One time we were called to a site where a Palestinian had been shot by Israeli soldiers. As we arrived on the scene, the soldiers opened fire on our ambulance, damaging the front part of it.

"One of the soldiers pulled his gun to my face and hit me. He told me, 'We didn't ask you to be here'.

"I responded that the Palestinian coordination office called and requested me to go there and help the injured man. And as any ambulance driver, I wanted to go and help, isn't that my work? At that time I didn't know that he was dead.

"We were ordered to go back 200 metres behind the site where the dead Palestinian was lying in the ground. Because of this, the young man's family blamed us because we couldn't go to the front and help.

"They insulted us badly. They yelled, 'You are an ambulance crew! How come you aren't in the front? Why didn't you take the person who was shot?'

'I fear the bullets'

"Yes, I am a paramedic but no one respects the protocols of ambulance work, and no one respects us as an ambulance crew. How can I go to the front and take the injured? The Israelis put us in embarrassing situations with our fellow Palestinians.

"It usually takes 8-10 minutes to get to Ramallah hospital from Silwad, depending on the circumstances.

"I worked as a volunteer in New Orleans, Louisiana, for almost a month and never faced any of these obstacles. In 2014, the police cars were protecting us and always stayed with us until they ensured that we arrived to the hospital safely. We were never in a rush or had to use the siren because the police cars would be leading us.

"I am not asking the Israeli soldiers to surround me and open the way or to escort me to ensure my safe arrival - I just want them to make my journey easier.

"Most of the time, patients die in my ambulance only because I couldn't treat them on the spot before rushing them to the hospital. There would be tear gas and rubber bullets, and I would be lying if I said that these circumstances don't scare me - I'm only human, just like everyone else.

"I fear the bullets, and I fear being shot. I also worry about people attacking my ambulance crew and often think about if the patients are going to die from inhaling too much tear gas.

"We've endured many losses as a result of attacks by Israeli soldiers who broke the vehicle's glass and exterior time and time again.

"We lost medicine and other supplies that were stocked in the ambulance worth 80,000 shekels ($22,995) … the vehicle itself has damages that would cost about 27,000 shekels ($7,765) to fix."

Likud calls for annexation of parts of West Bank
Aljazeera

December 31, 2017

Israel's governing Likud party has approved a draft resolution urging its leaders to formally annex large parts of the occupied West Bank, a move that is expected to further anger Palestinians.

Members of the Likud Central Committee voted on Sunday in favour of imposing Israeli sovereignty over illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The resolution is non-binding for cabinet ministers but carries some political force within the party of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister.

Netanyahu himself did not attend the central commitee's meeting.

Arab members of parliament told Al Jazeera that if the resolution were to go to the Israeli Knesset in its current form, that would signal the end to the peace process.

"It would really mean that there is no more attempt to try to find a two-state solution to the crisis," Al Jazeera's Mohammed Jamjoom, reporting from West Jerusalem, said.

"We also spoke with many analysts, who said that ... there is no way that such an inflammatory resolution would actually get to the Knesset in its current form," he added, noting that were "many more questions at this hour than answers" about what is going to happen next.

Israeli settlements are considered illegal under international law, and are seen as a major stumbling block to peace efforts as they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.

West Jerusalem was seized by Israel during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, when more than 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from historic Palestine, referred to by Palestinians as the Nakba (catastrophe) when Israel was officially founded.

Israel subsequently occupied and annexed the eastern part of the city after its military victory in the 1967 war, but its control over East Jerusalem has never been recognised by the international community.

Palestinian leaders want occupied East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state, while Israel says the city cannot be divided.

'Cynical political ploy'

Ahead of the vote, analysts told Al Jazeera that they saw the Likud central committe's vote as a cynical political calculus to rally the party faithful.

The vote "is not binding and it's not even relevant", Mitchell Barak, an analyst at Kevoon Global Research told Al Jazeera.

"It's just the prime minister's right of centre party just trying to make a policy statement, which really is meaningless, and ... just getting ready the drumbeat of election," he added.

"They're just trying to shore up their popularity on the right."

The vote, however, did come at an especially tense time following the controversial US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

US President Donald Trump's move on December 6 sparked deadly protests in the occupied Palestinian territories and major rallies in support of the Palestinians across the Muslim world.

A resounding majority of United Nations member states also defied unprecedented threats by the US to declare the US' recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital "null and void".

"Whatever does happen next, this is a tense time and this vote may add another element of uncertainty," said Jamjoom.

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Afghanistan

WAR CRIMES: MORE CHILDREN ARE BEING USED AS WEAPONS IN CONFLICTS AROUND THE WORLD, UN WARNS
Newsweek

By Grace Guarnieri
December 28, 2017

Shocking numbers of children were used as human shields in Syria and were among the hundreds of thousands of people driven from their homes in Myanmar in 2017. The forced marriage and rape of children were also used as wartime tactics amid world conflicts this year, a Thursday report from UNICEF revealed.

The report said that parties in the warring zones of Syria, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Yemen, South Sudan and Nigeria were "blatantly disregarding" international laws. Recruiting child soldiers and using children under the age of 15 is a war crime, as defined by the International Criminal Court.

“Children are being targeted and exposed to attacks and brutal violence in their homes, schools and playgrounds,” UNICEF Director of Emergency Programs Manuel Fontaine said in a statement. “As these attacks continue year after year, we cannot become numb. Such brutality cannot be the new normal.”

In Syria and Iraq, children were used as human shields and targeted by snipers regularly this year, and at least 625 children died in Syria in 2016. Using minors as weapons and targeting children have "become standard tactics in conflicts," according to the report.

The United States and Russia have led airstrikes resulting in the deaths of many Syrian civilians and Muslim children in the past few months. As retaliation, an Islamic State-affiliated group in Syria called for attacks on U.S. children.

Over 300,000 Rohingya children have fled and hundreds have been killed in Myanmar since August. As Myanmar's military targets the Muslim minority in the country's western state of Rhakine, children have been beheaded and burned alive while trying to flee. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra‘ad al-Hussein has called the violence against Myanmar's Rohingya population "textbook ethnic cleansing."

The U.N. report also noted that about 700 children were killed in Afghanistan by September and 19,000 more were recruited to fight in the South Sudan conflict.

"Millions more children are paying an indirect price for these conflicts, suffering from malnutrition, disease and trauma as basic services – including access to food, water, sanitation and health – are denied, damaged or destroyed in the fighting," UNICEF said in their report.

Afhganistan suicide bomb attack: Dozens killed in Kabul
BBC News

December 28, 2017

At least 41 people have been killed and more than 80 wounded in a suicide bomb attack in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

A Shia cultural organisation was the target but the Afghan Voice news agency was also hit. So-called Islamic State said it was behind the attack.

The interior ministry told the BBC an explosion at the Shia centre was followed by at least two more blasts.

IS has been behind a number of attacks on Shia targets across the country in recent months.

What do we know about the attack?

The main blast went off inside the Tabayan cultural centre, but offices of Afghan Voice are also at the location of the attack.

Students were among those who had gathered at the Shia centre for a discussion forum.

The interior ministry said the event was to mark the 38th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

The initial explosion was followed by at least two others, although the ministry said these did not cause any fatalities.

The health ministry's latest figures say 41 people died and 84 were hurt, with women and children among the casualties.

Student Mohammad Hasan Rezayee told Tolo News: "We were inside the hall in the second row when an explosion from behind took place. After the blast there was fire and smoke inside the building and everyone was pleading for help."

Another witness, Sayed Jan, told reporters from his hospital bed: "There was a book reading event and academic discussion, and I was one of the participants. During the speech a huge bang was heard and smoke rose from inside the hall.

"My face was burning. I fell down from the chair and I saw the other colleagues around me on the ground. The smoke was everywhere."

Sayed Abbas Hussaini, a journalist at Afghan Voice, told Reuters that one reporter at the agency had been killed and two wounded.

Distraught relatives gathered at local hospitals, which are treating the dozens of wounded people.

Who carried it out?

The Islamic State group said on its propaganda outlet Amaq that it had targeted the Shia centre with a suicide bomber and other bombs.

The Taliban had earlier issued a statement saying they were not involved.

The Taliban are not known to specifically target Shias, although both militant groups have carried out frequent attacks across the country.

Shia fears

In recent months IS has attacked many Shia targets in the west of Kabul, where the majority of the city's Shia population live.

The Tabayan centre also has offices in the Iranian cities of Tehran and Mashhad and is believed to have close ties with religious and cultural centres in Iran.

There are growing fears that IS is trying to spark a Sunni-Shia sectarian war in Afghanistan and the Shia community is increasingly dissatisfied with President Ashraf Ghani's government for failing to protect them.

US-led foreign forces meanwhile continue to engage IS in eastern Afghanistan and President Trump, in his new Afghan strategy, has pledged to root out IS in the country, as it has been in Iraq and Syria.

How is IS involved in Afghanistan?

IS announced the establishment of its "Khorasan" branch - an old name for Afghanistan and surrounding areas - in January 2015.

It initially gained ground in the east and north, although it has lost territory there and was largely eliminated from southern and western Afghanistan by the Taliban and operations conducted by Afghan and US/Nato forces.

IS has since resorted mainly to guerrilla tactics and is estimated to have a force of between 1,000 and 5,000 fighters.

IS considers Shia apostates and aims to turn the conflict in Afghanistan into a sectarian war between Sunnis and Shias.

In October, at least 39 people were killed in an attack on a mosque belonging to the Shia minority.

In April, the US said it had dropped the "Mother of All Bombs" on IS in eastern Afghanistan, but the group continues its attacks.

What has the reaction been?

President Ashraf Ghani's spokesman issued a statement describing the latest attack as an "unpardonable" crime against humanity.

Amnesty International's South Asia director, Biraj Patnaik, said: "This gruesome attack underscores the dangers faced by Afghan civilians. In one of the deadliest years on record, journalists and other civilians continue to be ruthlessly targeted by armed groups."

Nato's Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan called the attack "heinous".

Are the media under specific attack?

It is unclear whether Afghan Voice was a specific part of the target, but it has been a difficult year for the media. Afghanistan remains one of the world's most dangerous countries for journalists and media workers.

In November, IS said it was behind a gun attack on the Shamshad TV station that killed one staff member.

In May, two media workers, including a BBC driver, were killed in a massive bomb attack in Kabul.

The first six months of 2017 saw a surge in violence against journalists, with local monitor the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee recording 73 cases, an increase of 35% in comparison to the same period in 2016.

Last year seven members of staff from the private Tolo television station were killed in a Taliban suicide bombing in Kabul.

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AMERICAS

North & Central America

Number of Journalists Killed in Mexico Reaches 'Historical High', Report Says
NPR

By Carrie Kahn
December 22, 2017

A new report by the Committee to Protect Journalists says that at least 42 journalists worldwide were killed in 2017 in retaliation for their work - which marks a drop from the 48 killed last year.

But one country defied what appears to be a downward trend - Mexico.

According to the New York-based nonprofit, six journalists were killed in Mexico this year, putting it just behind Iraq and Syria as the deadliest places in the world to work in the media.

Another reporter may be added to Mexico's murdered list for 2017. On Tuesday, Gumaro Pérez Aguilando was killed in the state of Veracruz. The 35-year-old crime reporter was gunned down while attending a Christmas party at his son's elementary school.

Pérez was registered in the state's journalist protection program. But Wednesday, state investigators said he was no longer a working journalist and had ties to organized crime. That drew an angry protest by the secretary of the state's Commission for the Attention and Protection of Journalists.

"A discussion of a person's character, with the intention to judge him and criminalize him, does not help those of us who desire justice for journalists who have been assassinated," said Jorge Morales Vázquez.

Outside of conflict zones, Mexico takes the No. 1 spot for journalists murdered in 2017. The CPJ is investigating 20 other killings possibly related to journalists' work but so far no connections have been made.

"The rise in the number of journalists murdered in Mexico in retaliation for their work is terrible news and suggests that the Mexican government has failed in its public commitments to end the culture of impunity," says Joel Simon, the executive director of the Committee for the Protection of Journalists.

Mexican officials say they are working to stop the murders. They point to a federal protection program for media workers that provides bodyguards and even "panic buttons" to summon police in case of danger. But journalists enrolled in the program say it doesn't work and is inadequate for the threat they face.

Organized crime gangs and corrupt officials offended by reporters' coverage are believed to be behind the killings. With few cases resolved, it is difficult to say for sure who is behind the murders.

The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders says the number of reporters killed in Mexico is higher, putting the figure at 11 this year. Local press freedom groups put the number even beyond that. Each group has different criteria to determine whether a media worker was killed in retaliation for his or her profession.

Many reporters in Mexico have been forced out of the profession or have opted to self-censor. Many more vow to fight on despite the threats. Most at risk are reporters working for small outlets, far from Mexico City.

That was not the case, however, in the murder of Miroslava Breach, who covered crime and corruption as a correspondent for the national newspaper La Jornada in the northern state of Chihuahua. Breach was killed on March 23. Gunmen shot her in her car as she pulled out of her driveway, with one of her three children sitting next to her. At the time, reporter Javier Valdez, one of Mexico's most acclaimed chroniclers of the country's drug war, defiantly wrote about Breach's killers.

"Let them kill us all, if that is the death penalty for reporting this hell, No to silence," he wrote.

Less than two months later, Valdez was pulled from his car and murdered in the street just blocks from the offices of his newspaper Riodoce in Culiacán, Sinaloa. No one has been charged in the case of either Breach or Valdez.

The 'Trump of Oaxaca' cracks down on Central American migrants
PRI

By Levi Bridges
December 27, 2017

The town of Chahuites, Oaxaca, is a sleepy little village surrounded by mango farms. A line of train tracks cuts through the southern edge of town.

Chahuites is in an isolated part of southern Oaxaca, about 170 miles north of the Guatemalan border. Migrants from Central America used to just pass through town riding on top of La Bestia, the train migrants traditionally traveled on across Mexico. But now immigration agents patrol the train, forcing migrants to walk northward along the railroad tracks.

"People wait by the railroad with machetes and guns to rob migrants," said Juan Vicente, a migrant from El Salvador who works at a construction site in Chahuites, "then they steal whatever you got."

It takes some migrants weeks of walking just to reach Chahuites. Migrants now spend more and more time in southern Mexico, in part because of an immigration enforcement strategy called the Southern Border Program. Mexico launched the program back in 2014 when thousands of Central American families and children fleeing danger back home arrived at the US-Mexico border. Washington called their arrival a "surge" and pressured Mexico to stop the flow of migrants. Mexico created the Southern Border Program in response, an initiative supported with millions of dollars in US funding, that sent more immigration agents to southern Mexico, increased surveillance of trains and built new highway checkpoints.

La Bestia, once loaded with migrants huddled on top of boxcars, is now largely empty when it passes through Chahuites.

In the years since the Southern Border Program began, the number of human rights abuses committed against migrants in southern Mexico has increased. Mexico's National Human Rights Commission reported that incidents of Mexican authorities abusing migrants have increased by 40 percent since the immigration crackdown. The number of crimes against migrants has also increased. Since the Southern Border Program began three years ago, the number of migrants who reported incidents of robbery and violent assault in the state of Oaxaca more than doubled.

"I didn't even have any money," said Juan Vicente, the construction worker from El Salvador, "so they tore off my shoes and ripped them open with a machete to make sure I wasn't hiding anything."

Migrants in Mexico aren't the only ones who face an increased level of violence: 2017 is currently on track to become the most violent year in Mexico since the country started recording homicide data 20 years ago. Dead bodies have started regularly showing up in Chahuites, a small farming town with fewer than 10,000 residents. Many people here blame the rise in violent crime on the recent arrival of Central American migrants.

Leobardo Ramos burst onto the political scene in Chahuites last year with an ambitious plan to solve crime. He ran for municipal president promising to clean up Chahuites by getting migrants out of town. His campaign promises earned Ramos a new title: They've taken to calling him the Donald Trump of Oaxaca.

Ramos won his election in a landslide, garnering more than 50 percent of the vote. The president of Chahuites has said in interviews that - unlike Trump - he has nothing against undocumented immigrants. Ramos says he wants to kick migrants out of town because voters asked him to and, as a public servant, he has to do what the electorate asks of him.

In response to the number of migrants who began arriving on foot in Chahuites after the Southern Border Program took effect, a new migrant shelter opened in town. After Ramos became municipal president this year, locals pressured him to fulfill a campaign promise to shut down the shelter. Across Mexico, residents who believe Central Americans bring crime to their communities have also tried to shut down migrant shelters in Coatzacoalcos, Mexico City, Tapachula and Tultitlán.

"Unfortunately, Mexico has a big problem with xenophobia and racism against migrants," said Jessica Cárdenas, a former volunteer at the Chahuites shelter.

Ramos was instrumental in closing down the migrant shelter in Chahuites last summer. He negotiated with staff members to relocate the shelter outside of town.

Today, the old migrant shelter sits abandoned behind a tall black gate on a dirt road just a short walk from the railroad tracks. Immigration agents now patrol Chahuites and the local prosecutor's office has demanded bribes from migrants who try to report crimes that occurred on the nearby railroad tracks. Before the new municipal president was elected, Cárdenas described Chahuites as a sort of sanctuary city for migrants; now the Oaxacan Trump has put an end to that.

Even after the shelter's closure, many locals in Chahuites are on edge. People who live on the dirt road near the old migrant shelter say they've gotten ferocious guard dogs or put stronger locks on their doors to protect themselves from migrants. María López, one of the neighbors who rallied to close the shelter, says migrants are nothing but trouble.

"I was afraid just to go to the bathroom," López said, pointing to a small shack with a toilet outside her small house. "What if one of them gets inside our house while I'm in the bathroom, kills my husband and robs us?"

Advocates in Mexico say part of this reluctance to accept migrants comes from a lack of understanding about the violence and economic instability that often forces Central Americans to leave home. López, for her part, said she doesn't understand how migrants could just up and leave their families behind - she believes Central America just sends its worst people to Mexico.

And yet, López also has a son who went north and lives as an undocumented immigrant in Texas. López says her son in Houston isn't a criminal - he's different from the Central American migrants in Mexico.

"I tell my son to keep his nose clean, to stay away from drinking and drugs and not to be like the migrants who come to Mexico," López said.

Cárdenas, the former volunteer at the Chahuites shelter, says it's easy for locals to blame Mexico's problems on foreigners. But she sees attitudes toward migrants in this small Mexican town as part of a global phenomenon where competition and fear make people afraid of outsiders, similar to the arrival of Syrian refugees in Germany or Mexican immigrants to the United States.

"What happens in Chahuites is a little example of what happens to migrants all over the world," Cárdenas said. "Here people say they take away jobs, they're rapists, they're delinquents. That's exactly what Donald Trump says about Mexicans in the United States."

Despite the local clampdown in Chahuites, it appears that even the Oaxacan Trump can't totally stop migration. On a recent afternoon down by the train tracks, six guys from Honduras huddled in the shade near an old rail station with peeling yellow paint to escape the midday heat.

The young men were all deported from the US, leaving family and kids there. Now they're trying to make it back to Houston, Miami and Phoenix - the cities they were forced to leave. Although they spent a week walking to Chahuites, sleeping on the ground and begging for food, they say lots of folks in Mexico have actually treated them really well. Many have even offered them food and rides in their cars.

"People just say, 'yeah sure,' whenever I ask them for some beans or a piece of cheese," said Alan Spencer, 21. "Mexicans are good people."

Migrants who pass through Chahuites often arrive with an equal number of stories about the good Samaritans and the thieves they encountered on their journey. That's because many communities in Mexico are just as divided on immigration as the United States is right now.

Several of the young men standing by the tracks in Chahuites said they're done with Mexico and the United States.

"It's a lot easier to get asylum in Canada," Spencer said.

But Canada is still thousands of miles and two international border crossings away.

From here, they'll keep walking.

ICC's Inquiry Into US War Crimes: Will Justice Be Served?
Sputniknews

December 27, 2017

On November 20, 2017 Fatou Bensouda, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), requested authorization to investigate alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed, in particular, by members of the US armed forces and the CIA on the territory of Afghanistan since May 2003. According to RIA Novosti political observer Vladimir Ardaev, this move begs the question of whether justice would be served.

Commenting on Bensouda's initiative, Ardaev pointed out that almost simultaneously the ICC has resumed the investigation into alleged crimes committed by British armed forces in Iraq in the period from 2003 to 2008.

However, while the UK is a participant in the ICC, Washington does not recognize the authority of the international body, the RIA Novosti contributor highlighted.

The ICC was founded in 2002 to "bring to justice the perpetrators of the worst crimes known to humankind - war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide" under the Rome Statute adopted at a diplomatic summit in Rome in 1998.

Currently Russia, China and some other major states are not parties to the Rome Statute. As for the US, its policy concerning the ICC appears to be somewhat inconsistent, according to Ardaev: former US President Bill Clinton inked the Rome Statute in 2000 but the Bush administration withdrew its intent for ratification in 2002.

The journalist pointed out that following the September 11, 2001 terror attack President George W. Bush permitted so-called "extended interrogation techniques" - a neologism for torture practices.

Ardaev noted that while Barack Obama banned controversial interrogation techniques, his successor, President Donald Trump, stated that torture "absolutely works" when it comes to the fight against terrorism.

"The information available provides a reasonable basis to believe that members of United States of America ("US") armed forces and members of the Central Intelligence Agency ("CIA") committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence against conflict-related detainees in Afghanistan and other locations," the ICC document read.

It further specified that "a limited number of alleged crimes associated with the Afghan armed conflict are alleged to have been committed on the territories of Poland, Romania and Lithuania," in CIA secret detention centers.

The document emphasized that a series of congressional inquiries which shed light on tough interrogation practices exercised by US military servicemen and CIA in Afghanistan have not resulted in "national investigations," while no "prosecutions have been conducted or are ongoing in the US" against individuals or groups involved in the conduct of the alleged crimes.

Despite the fact the US did not join the ICC, some of the controversial American interrogation activities took place in countries party to the Rome Statute, Ardaev underscored.

The ICC document highlighted that "criminal investigations are reportedly ongoing in Poland, Romania and Lithuania regarding alleged crimes committed in relation to the CIA detention facilities on their respective territories," citing the fact that the Statute entered into force for Poland and Romania on July 1, 2002 and for Lithuania on August 1, 2003.

Speaking to RIA Novosti, Alexander Glushenkov, a Russian attorney specializing in international law, suggested that the citizens of the US convicted by the ICC could face persecution in the countries which are parties to the Rome Statute.

"There they can be detained, and this would be the cause for a big diplomatic scandal," Glushenkov said.

For his part, Fyodor Lukyanov, chairman of the Presidium of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, opined that in case the US citizens are found guilty in the course of the investigation it would result in nothing but scandalous hype across the globe which would, apparently, be used by Donald Trump for his own interests.

It is hard to imagine that any repressive measures would be taken against American citizens as a result of legal proceedings in the ICC, according to Lukyanov.

"Much will depend on what kind of evidence the court will manage to collect," he told RIA Novosti. "If the world will see any visual materials, for example, photos, as it was in the case with the Abu Ghraib special prison, it could really stir up the international community."

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South America

Peru in Uproar After Fujimori, a Rights Violator, Gets Medical Pardon
New York Times

By Andrea Zarate
December 25, 2017

A day after granting a medical pardon to former President Alberto Fujimori, who has been imprisoned for human rights abuses, Peru's current president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, came under attack from both lawmakers in Peru's Congress and from human rights experts.

Rights lawyers in Lima, the capital, say pardons and sentence reductions are not permitted for people tried for rights violations under the rules of the Inter-American Human Rights Court, which adjudicates some human rights cases in Peru and other countries that are members of the Organization of American States. Two of the cases brought against Mr. Fujimori were tried by the court.

"The pardon does not conform with the Inter-American Human Rights Court ruling," said Francisco Soberón, director of the Pro-Human Rights Association, in Lima, which represents surviving family members of the cases.

Mr. Soberón said his group was preparing to file a report with the court seeking to have the pardon reversed.

He also said his group would file a formal complaint to Peru's Ministry of Justice, seeking an audit of a medical report that Mr. Kuczynski's office had cited in its statement announcing the pardon on Sunday. The report said Mr. Fujimori "suffers from a progressive, degenerative and incurable disease, and the prison conditions pose a serious risk to his life, health and integrity."

Mr. Fujimori, who is 79, suffers from arrhythmia and tongue cancer, among other medical problems, and was taken from prison to a hospital on Friday after his blood pressure dropped, doctors said.

The pardon is the latest development in Peru's continuing political crisis.

Mr. Kuczynski granted the pardon just after he narrowly escaped being impeached by Congress over accusations connecting him to a graft scandal extending across Latin America. The impeachment vote failed because a faction of Mr. Fujimori's party led by his son Kenji abstained, denying Mr. Kuczynski's opponents the supermajority required to remove him. The pardon was seen by some as a political reward to the son.

"I think that those of us who are committed to governance need an explanation," said Congressman Richard Acuña, one of those who abstained.

After the vote, Carlos Basombrío, the interior minister, announced his resignation. Now at least three lawmakers have come forward to say they will resign because they oppose the president's decision to pardon Mr. Fujimori.

"I do not agree with the decision," Congressman Vicente Zeballos said. "It does not fit with my political convictions."

As the democratically elected president of Peru in the 1990s, Mr. Fujimori led the country through a period of economic revival. But he was removed from office in a corruption scandal and later convicted of human rights abuses that the military carried out in his name. If he serves his sentence to the end, he will be in prison for 14 more years, or until he is 93.

Even from prison, Mr. Fujimori has exerted influence on politics, and his supporters, so-called Fujimoristas, dominate the legislature. He also has supporters among Peru's citizens.

On Sunday, people congregated on the street in Lima in front of the hospital where Mr. Fujimori is being treated. Dozens shouted their support for him as Mr. Fujimori's daughter Keiko, who leads another faction in his party and is Mr. Kuczynski's chief rival, arrived to visit her father and stated her gratitude to Mr. Kuczynski.

But at the same time, anti-Fuijimoristas rallied near the Presidential Palace at Lima's main San Martin Plaza holding signs that read "dictatorship, never again" and "illegal pardon equals impunity."

Family members of victims in the human rights case say they are upset about the pardon.

"It hurts, I'm angry," said Gisella Ortiz, whose brother Luis Enrique Ortiz was dragged from a dormitory at La Cantuta University, outside Lima, with eight others and killed by a death squad. "I didn't think he'd barter impeachment for this pardon."

Political analysts say the country is at a crossroads.

"The likely upshot is yet more severe cynicism - already at dangerously record levels - and more intense political polarization," said Cynthia McClintock, a professor of political science at George Washington University.

Peru's Pardon of Fujimori Condemned by U.N. Rights Experts
New York Times

By Andrea Zarate and Marcelo Rochabrun
December 28, 2017

United Nations human rights experts on Thursday condemned the decision to grant a medical pardon to Alberto Fujimori, the former president of Peru who had been serving a 25-year sentence for extrajudicial killings and other grave crimes.

The pardon, announced on Sunday by President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, set off an outcry that has roiled this Andean nation. Mr. Fujimori, who was in office from 1990 to 2000, remains deeply divisive, respected in some quarters for his economic reforms and his crackdown on two violent insurgencies, but reviled by others for his strongman tactics and for military-backed atrocities during his tenure.

"The presidential pardon granted to Alberto Fujimori on politically motivated grounds undermines the work of the Peruvian judiciary and the international community to achieve justice," the experts said in a statement released by the office of the United Nations high commissioner for human rights. "We are appalled by this decision. It is a slap in the face for the victims and witnesses whose tireless commitment brought him to justice."

The experts - Agnès Callamard, special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings; Pablo de Greiff, special rapporteur on truth, justice and reparations; and a working group on enforced or involuntary disappearances - added: "It is also a major setback for the rule of law in Peru: A humanitarian pardon has been granted to someone convicted of serious crimes after a fair trial, whose guilt is not in question and who does not meet the legal requirements for a pardon."

On Thursday, thousands of protesters marched in Lima, the capital, in the biggest demonstrations since the pardon was announced. The police used tear gas to disperse demonstrators who tried to march on President Kuczynski's home.

Teresa Tyntalla Contreras, a 62-year-old candy vendor, said she lost a child in one of the massacres for which Mr. Fujimori was convicted. Ms. Contreras said she voted for Mr. Kuczynski when he faced Mr. Fujimori's daughter Keiko in a runoff in 2016.

"We are angry at Mr. Kuczynski because he has stabbed us in the back," she said.

Fabián Fernández, 22, a college student who was born halfway through Mr. Fujimori's administration, called on the government to resign.

"Fujimorismo represents violence, dictatorship, repression, selective killings and bribery," he said.

Mr. Kuczynski has portrayed his decision as an act of compassion and a gesture toward reconciliation - a move that Mr. Fujimori welcomed in a video recorded from his hospital bed, in which he asked critics for forgiveness - but the president's critics see a more cynical motive. Mr. Kuczynski survived an impeachment vote last week with help from a faction of lawmakers led by Kenji Fujimori, a congressman and the younger son of Mr. Fujimori, and critics see the pardon as the reward.

The pardon has touched off a wave of resignations, including those of several members of Congress and senior civil servants. On Wednesday, the resignations continued, with the departures of the culture minister, Salvador del Solar; a presidential adviser, Máximo San Román; and the executive in charge of Peru's public radio and television stations, Hugo Coya.

Daniel Sánchez Velásquez, a Justice Ministry official who resigned earlier in the week, said there was "an essential incompatibility" in Mr. Kuczynski's wish to provide reparations to victims of violence while "freeing, through a questionable procedure, he who in the context of that terrorist insanity responded with terrible crimes that contributed to the suffering of Peruvian society."

At a news conference on Wednesday, Mercedes Aráoz, Peru's prime minister, struck a conciliatory note.

"It is a decision of conscience, and I understand their points of view and we must respect their decisions," she said of the officials who had resigned.

"We want a peaceful country and one that honestly can cure the wounds from a painful past," she said. "We are going to work together those who feel cheated by this decision, which was a difficult and painful decision for the president. We are going to insist on having a conversation with the families of the victims. Our doors are open to continue talking about a total reconciliation of our country."

Mr. Fujimori, who fled to Japan in 2000 as his presidency crumbled under the weight of corruption allegations, tried to mount a political comeback in 2005, traveling to neighboring Chile. Instead he was immediately arrested, and in 2007 he was extradited to Peru. In 2009, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for his role in two military atrocities committed early in his presidency.

Human rights advocates said this week that they would work to overturn the pardon, both in Peruvian and international courts, though the prospects for such appeals seemed deeply uncertain.

Christian Huaylinos, a coordinator at Aprodeh, a human rights group, cited a precedent in which a court invalidated the pardon of José Enrique Crousillat, a former media baron, after finding that his medical condition was not as severe as he had maintained. (Mr. Crousillat had been recorded taking bribes to run favorable news about Mr. Fujimori.)

But César Nakazaki, a former lawyer for Mr. Fujimori, said the challenge was unlikely to succeed because there was nothing bogus about Mr. Fujimori's medical conditions.

"All the medical information is consistent and his medical history is in the public domain," Mr. Nakazaki said.

The international challenge involves the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, of which Peru is a member.

Carlos Rivera, director of the Institute for Legal Defense, said it had asked the court to intervene based on two court precedents. One demanded that Peru not offer amnesty to those convicted in the so-called La Cantuta massacre of 1992, one of two atrocities for which Mr. Fujimori was convicted. The other said that states should not offer pardons or amnesties in cases of serious rights violations.

"We want the court to see that their rulings are not being followed," Mr. Rivera said.

Diego García Sayán, a former president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, said the petition raised novel questions. "This is the first time that someone is presenting a case to the court directly related to pardons," he said. "There's more precedent when it comes to amnesties."

However, Enrique Bernales, a constitutional law scholar at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru and a former United Nations special rapporteur on the use of mercenaries, was skeptical.

"Given that there is no precedent, that it is a prerogative of the president of the republic and not subject to judicial procedures of any kind, I see it quite difficult and problematic," he said of the effort to get the international court to reverse the pardon.

Venezuela crisis: Soldier arrested after killing pregnant woman
BBC

January 1, 2018

A Venezuelan soldier who shot dead a pregnant woman on Christmas Eve has been arrested.

Alexandra Conopoi, 18, was killed as she waited for subsidised pork that the government had promised to millions for the traditional Christmas dinner.

It happened as protests broke out when people realised there would not be enough meat for all.

President Nicolás Maduro accused foreign countries of blocking food exports in order to create discontent.

Local media reported that the soldier opened fire when a group of protesters charged against his army unit in the capital, Caracas.

He has been identified as David José Rebolledo Cortez.

'They sabotaged us'

Roast leg of pork is a staple in Christmas celebrations in Venezuela.

People got angry when they realised they would not be able to have their traditional Christmas Eve meal.

Mr Maduro went on national television to accuse Portugal of leading a boycott against Venezuela in order to destabilise his government.

"What happened to the pork? They sabotaged us. I can name a country: Portugal," said Mr Maduro.

The Portuguese government dismissed the allegations.

Portugal's Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva said that private companies were in charge of exports in a market economy.

A Portuguese company that has sold pork to Venezuela in previous years, Raporal, said it did not know about a possible sabotage.

But it added that the government in Caracas still owed Portuguese companies 40m euros (£35.3m) from pork deliveries made in 2016.

On Friday, Colombian trucks began delivering 50 tonnes of frozen leg of pork to Venezuela in order to alleviate the crisis.

The Venezuelan opposition says Mr Maduro's populist policies and widespread corruption are to blame for hyperinflation and the chronic shortage of many goods, including toiletries and medicines.

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TOPICS

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

MoPR working on amendment to transitional justice act
The Himalayan Times

December 27, 2017

The Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction has expedited the process of amending the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act 2014 that governs the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons.

The ministry had on December 12 forwarded a letter to the two transitional justice bodies seeking their inputs on the draft amendment to the act. Both the transitional bodies have already sent a reply to the letter. While the CIEDP has sought a three-year extension of its tenure, the TRC had replied to the ministry stating that its official position had not changed on its eight-point amendment proposal that it had forwarded to the government in December 2015.

The amendment to the act is vital because it only allows a one-year term extension of the transitional justice mechanisms and that has already been done. The tenure of the commissions, which were formed in 2015 with a two-year term and awarded a one-year extension in February, expires on February 10 next year.

The ministry's Law and Communications Division has been working on the draft amendment keeping in mind that these two bodies need some more time to complete their job, according to the ministry's Spokesperson Ram Prasad Bhattarai. "It is an understood matter that these two commissions cannot collapse midway," he said.

Bhattarai said 'high-level consultations' were under way on inputs forwarded by the TRC and CIEDP on the draft amendment and by how many years their tenure should be extended. "Two things are almost certain: The tenure will be extended and the amendment will incorporate the Supreme Court directives," he said, adding that they would soon reach a conclusion on the issue after deliberations.

The Supreme Court had issued a verdict in February, 2015, striking down the amnesty provision in the act and seeking clarity in provisions related to 'serious crime', 'serious human rights violation' and 'other crimes of serious nature'. The court had also ordered to criminalise torture and disappearances.

Given both these commissions are hamstrung by crunch of human and financial resources and the government's failure to formulate legislations in line with the Supreme Court order, they have said a mere extension to the tenure is worthless.

TRC Chairman Surya Kiran Gurung said unless the act was amended in line with the SC verdict and TRC's eight-point amendment proposal, and unless the commission was equipped with necessary resources, an extension of the deadline would make no sense.

The CIEDP has also been demanding for long that, among other things, the government criminalise disappearances and bring clarity to provisions related to the transfer of property of the disappeared to their family members. "So the CIEDP's official position is that a mere extension of the tenure without addressing these [above mentioned] issues will be worthless," CIEDP Spokesperson Prof Bishnu Pathak had told The Himalayan Times last week.

Conflict victims also said that term extension alone was not going to solve the problem and the government should work to make these two mechanisms 'functional' and equip them with necessary resources. Suman Adhikari, chairman of Conflict Victims Common Platform, said the government should work to make the commissions accountable and transparent, besides amending the act in line with the

SC verdict.

However, amendment to the act is likely to face some challenges because the amendment bill needs to be endorsed by the Parliament, which is currently suspended. And given the current political impasse over the National Assembly Election Ordinance, it will take some more time for the next Parliament to take shape. But the government will still have the option of issuing an ordinance.

Peace Ministry Spokesperson Bhattarai, however, said since the amendment bill would not be that lengthy, no more than two pages, even the next Parliament could endorse it on time. "But it will depend on how early the new government will be formed," he said. "And, the option of ordinance issuance is always there."

The two commissions have received around 63,000 complaints of conflict-era human rights violations.

The future of international justice
BBC News

By James Robbins
December 31, 2017

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia is shutting down at the end of 2017, having brought to justice some of those who committed war crimes in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Since then, war crimes have been committed in many other parts of the world, in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. Is there evidence that the perpetrators would face a trial at an international court?

War criminals have some reasons to be scared of international justice, but not enough reasons to make them very afraid.

The effort to establish a system of global justice which could deprive war criminals of any hope of escape is a vivid illustration of what can be achieved by nation states acting together. But equally, the refusal of some of the most powerful nations to participate, notably China and the United States, shows how such effort can be hugely undermined.

I missed the trials at Nuremberg by quite a few years but in April 1995, as I was taking my place with the press at The Hague court to report the first case in front of the the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, I sensed powerful echoes from 1945 of the Nuremberg process and that historic demonstration of a will to pursue war criminals under international law.

One eminent British reporter of the Bosnian war complained that the first accused, Bosnian Serb Dusko Tadic, was a mere foot soldier of genocide: a prison guard, not an army commander or a political leader. I felt that missed the point. True, this was a small trial, of a single individual. True, the Nuremberg precedent was now being run in reverse.

But after the conviction of Tadic, the tribunal steadily increased its reach, up to the very highest levels of culpability including to former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic himself.

The court demonstrated that - at least in the cases it heard - impunity had been overcome.

So, now that the doors of the Yugoslav tribunal have finally closed, more than 20 years after that first prosecution, what are the prospects for following its example by demonstrating a lasting and far wider commitment to international criminal justice?

Well, there is now the first International Criminal Court (ICC). Creating it was slow work, because it required agreement among a substantial number of states.

The treaty to establish the court was adopted by 120 states back in July 1998. It then took four years to achieve ratification by half that number of countries in 2002 and thus legitimise the court.

Since then, the achievement has been very limited.

The court says its judges have issued 31 arrest warrants. So far, 25 cases have been before the court and the judges have issued verdicts in six of those cases, resulting in nine people being convicted and one acquitted.

One of the most common accusations levelled against the ICC is that it might be better renamed the African Criminal Court: a weapon used largely by former colonial powers from Europe to punish a single continent and ignore other conflicts.

None of this is to suggest that there haven't been shocking genocides and terrible crimes against humanity in Africa, but the continent does have a reasonable record of active participation in, and support for, the ICC. Of 123 countries who are parties to the International Criminal Court, 33 are African states.

But elsewhere in the world there are glaring omissions from the list committed to the ICC, including three of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council: China, Russia and the United States. Oh, and Iraq isn't a participant, either.

When you remember that the court can investigate alleged crimes committed since the middle of 2002, the war in Iraq stands out for its startling absence from the ICC case list. The original US-led invasion of Iraq was launched on 20 March 2003 after all. The war dragged on for eight years, and the violence still hasn't ceased.

But the United States has never supported the court. Starting with Bill Clinton, every president has refused to countenance the idea that a US citizen, still less an American soldier, could ever be put before the court.

One of many arguments the US makes for its boycott is that Americans would be targeted mischievously for political purposes. Another is that no court outside the American judicial system can occupy a higher place than its own tribunals.

All this helps shine a bit of a spotlight on one preliminary investigation which is being pursued by the ICC into allegations against soldiers in Iraq from the United Kingdom, America's foremost ally.

In December 2017, the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court said there was a "reasonable basis" to believe British troops had committed war crimes against Iraqi detainees.

Consider also the fact that Britain's Ministry of Defence has been found by the High Court in London to be in breach of the Geneva Conventions and ordered to pay damages of tens of thousands of pounds to four Iraqi citizens for their ill-treatment and unlawful detention by British armed forces during the Iraq War. That must make the possibility of the ICC actively pursuing British soldiers at some point in the future more likely.

While all that might seem to be just, it does raise many other questions. How can the ICC have global credibility when major powers including the United States simply refuse to have anything to do with it?

Will the ultimate test of the ICC be its ability to investigate and then prosecute successfully some of the many hundreds, possibly thousands, of people who must have been involved in the systematic crimes against humanity committed during the war still going on in Syria?

The gathering of evidence is said to be happening on a vast scale. Much of it is very deliberately being kept secret, partly to prevent efforts to discredit it, or to kill witnesses or protect the guilty, including those at the very highest levels in Syria.

Is it likely those most culpable will eventually be brought to The Hague?

It doesn't look that likely. Russia, another refusenik which wants nothing to do with the ICC, would have to consent to a peace in Syria without extracting some guarantee of amnesty covering its principal ally, President Bashar al-Assad himself.

It is certainly possible to believe that the ICC is better than nothing, that just because the court's reach and effectiveness is severely limited, that doesn't nullify its achievements so far.

But it is hard to make the case that the pursuit of the most terrible crimes is being conducted as a universal and equitable search for justice, truth and reconciliation.

A Call for Empathy towards North Korea
Huffington Post

By Jeremy Kuzmarov
January 3, 2018

President Donald Trump made headlines yet again this week with an inflammatory tweet directed against North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un in which he boasted in "strikingly playground terms" as the New York Times put it, that the United States commands a "much bigger" and "more powerful" arsenal of devastating weapons than North Korea.

Trump's combative words raises the prospect of war at a time that South Korea has expressed openness towards dialogue with the North.

The anti-Trump opposition should stridently repudiate Trump's dangerous saber-rattling and devote its energy to supporting South Korea's peace overtures instead of persisting with its "Russia-Gate" witch-hunt.

However oppressive and autocratic, the North Korean regime has not been entirely irrational in its behavior.

It has been able to survive and sustain a degree of popular support because it has defended its people from the "threat" of the United States and prevented North Korea from succumbing to the same fate as Libya or Iraq because of the development of its nuclear program.

The North Korean psyche has been shaped irrevocably by the legacy of the Korean War, when the United Stated under UN auspices launched a ferocious aerial bombing attack that destroyed most of North Korea's major cities and killed roughly one million people (20 percent of the population).

After the breakdown of peace talks in 1952, the Air Force destroyed the hydroelectric plant in Suiho providing 90 percent of North Korea's power supply.

In blatant violation of the 1949 Geneva Convention on the Protection of Civilians in Time of War, article 56, U.S. bombers subsequently struck three irrigation dams in Toksan, Chasan and Kuwonga, and then attacked two more in Namsi and Taechon. The effect was to unleash flooding and to disrupt the rice supply.

An Air Force study concluded that "the Westerner can little conceive the awesome meaning which the loss of this staple commodity has for the Asian - starvation and slow death."

According to South Korea's 2005 Truth and Reconciliation Commission, eighty percent of people killed during the Korean War were civilians and five-sixth of atrocities were committed by American backed-forces.

Ambassador John Muccio, via Assistant Secretary of State Dean Rusk, gave orders to use lethal force against refugees who blocked U.S. tanks or had the potential of fomenting insurrections in UN controlled zones.

At No Gun Ri, up to three hundred refugees, including women and children, were strafed and killed by U.S. planes and shot by members of the Seventh Cavalry, George Custer's old outfit, after being forced into an eighty foot long underpass.

Journalist Keyes Beech noted around this time that "it is not a good time to be a Korean, for Yankees are shooting them all."

Abu Ghraib style atrocities were committed at Koje-do and other U.S.-UN-run POW camps where over one hundred unarmed prisoners were shot and killed in one single incident after singing revolutionary songs.

POWs were coerced by Chinese Guomindang Guards under the threat of torture into being branded with anticommunist tattoos and then sent on suicidal clandestine missions into North Korea that helped select targets for the bombing.

The U.S. is even alleged to have experimented with germ warfare and sprayed thousands of gallons of napalm over North Korea, burning people's skin to a crisp like "fried potato chips," as one Marine witness described it.

The standard narrative about the Korean War blames the North for invading the South. However, revisionist historians have raised questions about the legitimacy of the artificially imposed 38th parallel.

My own research into the topic found ample Southern provocation through paramilitary police raids into the North before the war officially started, and efforts to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung.

North Korea at that time experienced a genuine social revolution, as Charles Armstrong of Columbia University has documented, promoting successful land reform and industrialization measures.

The aim of the revolution was to overcome the legacy of colonialism and facilitate economic development by delinking from the world capitalist economy and promoting the equitable distribution of wealth.

The United States then as now could not tolerate this defiant program, and has sought to play up North Korea's evil, and isolate or destroy the regime.

At this time, in the face of Trump's dangerous provocations, the progressive forces in the United States should defy our own "dear leader" by promoting empathy with the North Korean people who have suffered enormously under war and dictatorship over many years.

We should point out the legitimate aims of their revolution and accept responsibility for helping to sow violence and discord on the Korean peninsula.

The United States currently has an estimated 15 military bases in South Korea and at one point had over 900 nuclear warheads stored in the country.

The North has felt itself under siege and reacted accordingly by mobilizing itself for war.

When we recognize this fact and make amends for past wrongs, a process of rapprochement can begin and peaceful solution to the ongoing crisis achieved.

A signal needs to be sent out that we, the American people, want peace and not another Korean War, regardless of what the man sitting in the White House says.

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Terrorism

Syrian opposition demands US-backed PYD be put on UN's terrorism list
Daily Sabah

December 26, 2017

The Syrian opposition has demanded that the PKK's Syrian offshoot, Democratic Union Party (PYD) be put on the United Nations' list of terror organizations.

Anadolu Agency reported that representatives of the Syrian opposition presented Friday a 44-page report to the U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura in Astana.

The report documented the terrorist group's war crimes and links to the Assad regime. It stated that the PYD "should be recognized globally as a terror organization" because of its apparent link to the PKK, which is recognized as a terror group by Turkey, the U.S., and the European Union. It also underlined that the PYD has continuously violated international law by abusing the rights of non-combatants, committing war crimes and recruiting children soldiers.

It added that the PYD worked to eliminate Kurdish opposition and "revolutionary" groups, who had initially joined the popular uprising against the Assad regime in 2011.

According to the same report, the handover of al-Hasakah, a town in northeastern Syria, by regime forces to the PYD was further evidence of the close ties between the Assad regime and the terrorist group. The opposition report further adds that the PYD militants killed a number of civilians in al-Hasakah.

The Astana process has been brokered by Turkey, Russia, and Iran in an effort to put an end to the bloody civil war in Syria.

During the talks in Astana, the Syrian National Dialogue Congress, which will be held in the Russian city of Sochi on Jan. 29-30 was also on the agenda.

Turkish officials reiterated that the presence of PYD or any other terrorist group will be rejected by Turkey after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said last week that all participants in the Syria talks in Geneva would be invited to the Sochi gathering. Turkey has opposed the PYD's role in Syria and warned its allies, particularly the U.S., against arming the terrorist group.

Even though the U.S. recognizes the PKK as a terrorist group, it has treated its Syrian affiliate the PYD and its armed wing, People's Protection Units (YPG) as an ally in its anti-Daesh efforts.

Turkish officials, however, highlighted that other groups in the region which do not have terrorist links could have been equally successful in the fight against Daesh. Despite Ankara's warnings, the U.S. heavily armed the PYD/YPG creating future security risks for Turkey.

Following sharp criticism from Ankara, the U.S. president promised to stop arming the PYD and retrieve heavy arms from the group. But Ankara's expectations were not met as the U.S. has continued to supply arms to the group.

The end of the fight against Daesh in Syria has now raised the question regarding the future of the war-torn country. While PYD aims at wielding influence in the region and having a say on the table for Syria talks, Turkey has made clear that it would not accept the presence of any terrorist groups.

The Turkish government reportedly approved a list of some 23 Kurdish representatives to be invited to the event. Earlier attempts to convene the congress have been thwarted by disagreements over possible participants, primarily the involvement of the U.S.-backed coalition that supports the PYD/YPG.

ICC's Inquiry into US War Crimes: Will Justice be Served?
Sputnik

December 27, 2017

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has launched an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by different parties including the US military and CIA servicemen on the territory of Afghanistan and other countries since 2003. RIA Novosti political observer Vladimir Ardaev posed the question what impact the probe would have on the US.

On November 20, 2017 Fatou Bensouda, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), requested authorization to investigate alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed, in particular, by members of the US armed forces and the CIA on the territory of Afghanistan since May 2003. According to RIA Novosti political observer Vladimir Ardaev, this move begs the question of whether justice would be served.

Commenting on Bensouda's initiative, Ardaev pointed out that almost simultaneously the ICC has resumed the investigation into alleged crimes committed by British armed forces in Iraq in the period from 2003 to 2008.

However, while the UK is a participant in the ICC, Washington does not recognize the authority of the international body, the RIA Novosti contributor highlighted.

The ICC was founded in 2002 to "bring to justice the perpetrators of the worst crimes known to humankind - war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide" under the Rome Statute adopted at a diplomatic summit in Rome in 1998.

Currently Russia, China and some other major states are not parties to the Rome Statute. As for the US, its policy concerning the ICC appears to be somewhat inconsistent, according to Ardaev: former US President Bill Clinton inked the Rome Statute in 2000 but the Bush administration withdrew its intent for ratification in 2002.

The journalist pointed out that following the September 11, 2001 terror attack President George W. Bush permitted so-called "extended interrogation techniques" - a neologism for torture practices.

Ardaev noted that while Barack Obama banned controversial interrogation techniques, his successor, President Donald Trump, stated that torture "absolutely works" when it comes to the fight against terrorism.

"The information available provides a reasonable basis to believe that members of United States of America ("US") armed forces and members of the Central Intelligence Agency ("CIA") committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence against conflict-related detainees in Afghanistan and other locations," the ICC document read.

It further specified that "a limited number of alleged crimes associated with the Afghan armed conflict are alleged to have been committed on the territories of Poland, Romania and Lithuania," in CIA secret detention centers.

The document emphasized that a series of congressional inquiries which shed light on tough interrogation practices exercised by US military servicemen and CIA in Afghanistan have not resulted in "national investigations," while no "prosecutions have been conducted or are ongoing in the US" against individuals or groups involved in the conduct of the alleged crimes.

Despite the fact the US did not join the ICC, some of the controversial American interrogation activities took place in countries party to the Rome Statute, Ardaev underscored.

The ICC document highlighted that "criminal investigations are reportedly ongoing in Poland, Romania and Lithuania regarding alleged crimes committed in relation to the CIA detention facilities on their respective territories," citing the fact that the Statute entered into force for Poland and Romania on July 1, 2002 and for Lithuania on August 1, 2003.

Speaking to RIA Novosti, Alexander Glushenkov, a Russian attorney specializing in international law, suggested that the citizens of the US convicted by the ICC could face persecution in the countries which are parties to the Rome Statute.

"There they can be detained, and this would be the cause for a big diplomatic scandal," Glushenkov said.

For his part, Fyodor Lukyanov, chairman of the Presidium of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, opined that in case the US citizens are found guilty in the course of the investigation it would result in nothing but scandalous hype across the globe which would, apparently, be used by Donald Trump for his own interests.

It is hard to imagine that any repressive measures would be taken against American citizens as a result of legal proceedings in the ICC, according to Lukyanov.

"Much will depend on what kind of evidence the court will manage to collect," he told RIA Novosti. "If the world will see any visual materials, for example, photos, as it was in the case with the Abu Ghraib special prison, it could really stir up the international community."

Council of Europe Leading the Legal Fight against Daesh
Forbes

By Ewelina Ochab
December 30, 2017

On 27 January 2015, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), an assembly of parliamentarians from 47 European countries, adopted Resolution 2091 (2016) Foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq recognising, as the first international institution, the atrocities committed by Daesh fighters as 'genocide and other serious crimes punishable under international law.' The Council of Europe is an international organization established in 1949 with the aim of upholding human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in Europe. Despite its European focus, the Council of Europe has also been vocal on issues pertaining to situations outside of Europe, especially where the link to European affairs is present. This is certainly true concerning the Daesh atrocities perpetrated against religious minorities in Syria and Iraq and the issue of European Daesh fighters. Indeed, over the last couple of years, PACE has been at the forefront of the international attempts to recognize the Daesh atrocities as genocide and to work towards bringing them to justice.

The Resolution 2091 was followed by similar recognitions and recommendations by the European Parliament, the US Congress and State Department, the UK House of Commons, the Parliaments of Australia, Canada, France, Austria, and Hungary. Despite the growing consensus among international institutions and states that atrocities committed against Daesh amount to genocide, genocide that these states are under an obligation to prevent and punish, the act of punishing the atrocity has not been carried out.

In October 2016, Pieter Omtzigt, Dutch Parliamentarian, was announced the rapporteur on 'prosecuting and punishing crimes against humanity or possible genocide' to prepare a report and a resolution in response to his findings. Omtzigt held a hearing on the topic that was followed up by an inquiry on states' exercise of the universal jurisdiction over Daesh crimes under international criminal law.

The inquiry revealed that while a number of states prosecuted the so-called Daesh foreign fighter returnees (Daesh fighters coming from countries across Europe), the fighters were not prosecuted for the crime of genocide or crimes against humanity or complicity in these crimes, but for lower crimes, such as terrorism, funding of terrorism, membership in a terrorist organisation etc. Despite such prosecutions being important, they do not fulfil states' obligations under the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Convention on Genocide). Moreover, the number of prosecutions is significantly lower than the number of returnees across the states.

For example, in the case of the UK, the number of Daesh foreign fighters that joined Daesh in Syria or Iraq is assessed at over 850, according to Soufan Group. The official assessments are also that approximately half of them have returned to the UK (425+). However, as in accordance with the information provided by the UK Government to Omtzigt's response, as of January 2017, there have been only 101 convictions. This means that 300+ of Daesh foreign fighters, who are now back in the UK face no criminal accountability after it is highly likely that they committed crimes in Syria and Iraq, crimes amounting to genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. This raises several questions regarding how effective the UK approach to countering domestic terrorism is: the UK Government continues to propose new laws or policies to counter terrorism (or broadly defined extremism) limiting the rights of all, but at the same time does not want to deal with the individuals that are at the centre of the problem: the returning Daesh foreign fighters. The failure to bring Daesh foreign fighters to justice is visible across Europe.

Omtzigt's report was adapted by PACE in September 2017 and only a month later, on October 12, 2017, PACE further adopted his resolution 'Prosecuting and punishing the crimes against humanity or even possible genocide committed by Daesh.' The resolution passed with overwhelming support. The most noteworthy provisions of Resolution 2190 include calling upon members of the Council of Europe to ensure that they prosecute Daesh fighters whether by exercising the universal jurisdiction, prosecuting for the crimes committed within their jurisdiction, and aren't obstructing a UN Security Council referral to the ICC.

Resolution 2190 sent a very clear message, which is that the responsibility to prosecute Daesh fighters for their crimes does not lie exclusively with Iraq or Syria. States and international institutions must work together towards this aim. Omtzigt was clear in his report that the leading Daesh fighters should be prosecuted by an international tribunal, as this has been done in relation to other international mass atrocities. Resolution 2190 is also non-binding, however it is still an important political signal. Resolutions like this one have been used to establish domestic policies on issues of international concern.

Omtzigt has a clear plan for the Netherlands that he will be proposing to the Dutch government. Already on December 22, 2017, the Dutch government published a letter regarding the Daesh atrocities perpetrated against religious groups in Syria and Iraq. The letter states that Daesh in all likelihood commits genocide and crimes against humanity. It further states that the Convention on Genocide applies. As the Netherlands will take a seat at the UN Security Council in January 2018, Omtzigt will be asking the Dutch government to lead the efforts to establish an international or hybrid tribunal to prosecute leading Daesh fighters. The step is crucial to ensure justice for the victims. Justice that cannot be done using domestic courts only. Daesh crimes indeed require international attention and common efforts.

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Piracy

Nigerian Navy Rescues Chinese Fishermen from Pirates
The Maritime Executive

December 21, 2017

On Thursday, the Nigerian Navy said that it rescued four Chinese fishermen from kidnappers near Igbokoda, an inland village about 90 miles east of Lagos. According to commanding officer Sylvanus Abbah, the four victims were taken from a trawler near Lagos on December 14. Commandos from the Nigerian Navy vessel Beecroft rescued the abductees from a camp in Ondo State.

"Naval operatives attached to Forward Operations Base (FOB) who sighted the kidnappers as they were entering Igbokoda gave them a hot pursuit," said Abbah. "The kidnappers opened fire on the naval gunboat. There was a fierce gun battle between the suspects and the naval men and the hoodlums abandoned their boats and fled on foot through the creeks." Efforts to track down and arrest the suspects continue.

An unknown number of kidnapping victims sustained gunshot injuries during the exchange of fire, but they have been treated and are in stable condition, Abbah said.

Army spokesman Ojo Adelegan confirmed the rescue in comments to Xinhua. Unlike Abbah, he reported that one of the pirates had been captured. Xinhua did not confirm that the Chinese nationals were fishermen or that they had been kidnapped in an act of maritime piracy.

Pirates capture 10 seafarers off Brass

The IMB reports that 10 crewmembers are missing after a bulker was attacked and boarded off Brass, Nigeria on December 14. The remaining crew sailed the vessel to a safe port.

Earlier the same day, at a position some 13 nm to the north, the crew of a freighter managed to fend off another pirate attack. IMB reported that four to five suspected pirates in a wooden boat approached the vessel and attempted to board. The master increased speed and took unspecified "anti-piracy measures," deterring the attackers.

The Gulf of Guinea remains a persistent hot spot for piracy, and especially for maritime kidnapping. According to consultants Sea Guardian, 56 mariners have been abducted in the region over the course of the year to date.

Nigeria waters experience persistent pirates attack
The Guardian

By Sulaimon Salau
December 21, 2017

Persistent pirate attack on Nigerian waters seems not to be abating, with about 10 crew members of a bulk carrier reported missing after an attack that took place around 32 nautical miles south of Brass, Nigeria.

The IMB Piracy Reporting Centre, yesterday, said the unnamed bulker was boarded by six pirates from a small boat while underway on December 14.

The mariners are believed to have been kidnapped for ransom, while the remaining crew onboard sailed the vessel to a safe port.

A maritime security firm, Dryad Maritime informed that: "Pirate Action Group (PAG) stalking waters off the Niger Delta may have abducted up to 10 crew members from a bulk carrier south of Brass."

The attack took place on the same day a group of four to five persons in a wooden boat approached and tried to board a general cargo ship underway. The ship was en route some 19 nautical miles south of Brass, Nigeria.

The boarding, according to the piracy watchdog, was thwarted as the master increased speed and took anti-piracy measures. The number of reported attacks off the Niger Delta keeps ramping up, with over 15 attacks reported in recent weeks.

This year alone, 56 mariners (excluding the latest casualties) have been kidnapped off the Niger Delta.

This is despite the efforts by the Nigerian Navy to detain those responsible for the recent attacks, even as they are said to have the description of an alleged mother vessel preying on the vessels in the region.

Unfortunately, it is the seafarers who pay the highest price, as they end up being held for ransom like a highly-valued commodity. Sometimes, their ordeal lasts for years, if talks between shipowners and pirates hit a stalemate. Other times, they are left to be rescued by maritime forces or they manage to escape.

A report by the United States Maritime Administration, International Maritime Bureau, had earlier declared Nigerian waters as deadly and unsafe.

The Director-General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Dakuku Peterside, said the threats on the nation's territorial waters are a part of the reasons the nation lost the Category C seat of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

Peterside, who spoke on the sidelines of the G7++ Friends of Gulf of Guinea Group meeting in Lagos, said Nigeria's insecure and unsafe waters contributed immensely to its woes at the IMO election.

He however noted that the "7 Friends of the Gulf of the Guinea Group" is one of the international initiatives the country is leveraging to strengthen the fight against piracy and other criminal activities on the sea.

Spanish tuna fleet returns to Indian Ocean with falling prices, threat of pirate attacks
Undercurrent News

By Matilde Mereghetti
January 3, 2018

Spanish tuna vessels, which had to stop fishing in the Indian Ocean last November having exhausted their quota, have resumed catching in the tropical waters, with a new threat of piracy and as skipjack prices fall.

In addition to falling prices and piracy, the Spanish sector is also awaiting clarity on the new set of rules to regulate catching in the Indian Ocean in 2018, after 2017's controversy over the quota.

"The ships have gone back to sea," a source at a large Spanish fishing firm told Undercurrent News, referring to the Indian Ocean. "All Spanish are back fishing," another source confirmed.

However, the boost from resuming fishing is being partially offset by falling prices for skipjack, as well as the threat of piracy. In Bangkok, Thailand -- a global benchmark for skipjack -- prices are continuing to decrease and have dropped to $1,550 per metric ton for January deliveries, having been at $1,700-1,750/t for December, according to Undercurrent sources.

Also, there is seemingly an increased threat posed by Somali pirates in Indian Ocean waters, Deia reported.

The kidnapping of the Basque tuna vessel Alakrana in 2009 and its subsequent liberation after 47 days of captivity off the coast of Somalia continues to linger in the memory of those in the Basque tuna sector, according to Deia.

A few days ago, Gibele, an auxiliary vessel of the Basque company Atuneros Congeladores y Transportes Frigorificos, know as Atunsa, had a run-in with pirates in the waters off Madagascar.

After a chase of about an hour and a half -- in which one of the skiffs got two miles from the auxiliary vessel -- the pirates apparently abandoned the chase.

Last November, a vessel owned by Spanish tuna fishing giant Grupo Albacora, Galerna III, managed to escape a pirate attack northwest of the island of Mahe, in international waters.

New individual quotas

Meanwhile, the Spanish fisheries ministry is in the process of producing a new set of rules to regulate the fisheries, following criticism last year.

The new set of rules, of which a draft was submitted for consultation in December, follows a statement last October by the Spanish national association of tuna freezer vessels, Anabac, expressing "its total indignation" for the country's tuna management in the Indian Ocean.

"It is very likely that in the near future some legal text that regulates the fishery in the Indian Ocean will be published," one of Undercurrent's sources said.

"We imagine that [the published text to manage yellowfin tuna fishing for the tuna purse-seine freezer fleet in the Indian Ocean, for the 2018 campaign] will be in the line with the draft order," he added, referring to the draft order submitted for consultation last December.

In the document, the Spanish fisheries ministry (Mapama) pointed out that clear rules were needed to avoid a repetition of 2017.

In 2017, "representatives of the fleet were asked to agree on an internal model to limit their catches and reach the end of the year without restrictions", but high catches "by the whole fleet made it necessary to proceed with a definitive closure of the fishery on Nov. 5, 2017", Mapama said.

To prevent the situation recurring in 2017, the Spanish fisheries ministry aims to "guarantee the sustainability of the resource and allow, at the same time, adequate planning for the fleet operating in this fishing ground".

Therefore, it considers it necessary to establish an individual limit of catches for the 2018 campaign, it said in the draft document (see below a proposed list of tuna seiners' quota limit for 2018 in kilograms) seen by Undercurrent.

Moreover, in 2018, only one auxiliary vessel for every two freezer tuna vessels will be authorized, as established by resolution 16/01 of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission's plan for recovery of the yellowfin stock in the Indian Ocean.

Resolution 16/01 established a plan for the recovery of the yellowfin stock in the Indian Ocean, forcing its contracting parties to reduce their catches in 2017 and 2018 by 15% compared to the level of 2014, as well as to reduce the number of total fish aggregating devices for the purse-seine fleet.

The corresponding quota for the Spanish flagged fleet had set just over 45,680 metric tons.

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Gender-Based Violence

5 reasons the U.N. Security Council should care about the Burmese military's sexual assaults on the Rohingya
The Washington Post

By Jamille Bigio and Rachel Vogelstein
January 3, 2018

Burma's ethnic cleansing campaign against Rohingya Muslims has been rife with sexual violence, according to recent news accounts. Among the more than 600,000 people who have fled to neighboring Bangladesh, many are survivors of rape, gang rape and sexual slavery.

How many? Pramila Patten, the United Nations special representative on sexual violence in conflict, reports that every woman she encountered during her November visit to Bangladesh had either witnessed or endured brutal sexual assault. Their stories are harrowing. One 15-year-old girl was ruthlessly dragged on the ground for over 50 feet, tied to a tree and then raped by 10 Burmese soldiers. Patten has urged the U.N. Security Council to take action.

To be sure, the rape of Rohingya women is a gross violation of human rights. But why should the Security Council - charged with maintaining international peace and security - address sexual violence?

Because sexual violence in conflict is not simply a human rights issue - it's also a security challenge, according to a significant body of social science research, which we highlight in our recent Council on Foreign Relations report. What's more, widespread rape in wartime can be prevented. Here are five key insights into how this works.

1. Sexual violence is often a symptom of military weakness.

Sexual violence committed by troops can signal weak command and troop discipline, which makes military units less effective in their mission. For example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a mass rape of more than 150 civilians in 2011 was attributed to local armed forces' lax command and control structures. When state forces regularly commit sexual violence, the command hierarchy may simply be too weak to enforce a policy forbidding this crime - and therefore may be ineffective in maintaining peace once a conflict is resolved.

In other cases, armed groups that recruit through abduction command those troops to rape in order to build solidarity among them. These groups have lower levels of unit cohesion and effectiveness than groups that rely on volunteers. A review of 91 civil wars, for example, found that groups that recruit by force committed significantly higher levels of rape against civilians, in an attempt to build social bonds through rape.

While groups or individuals commit sexual violence in conflict for any number of reasons, when it happens there are strategic implications. Research shows that military units and law enforcement bodies that respect human rights and prevent sexual violence are more effective at promoting security.

2. Sexual violence can increase the flow of refugees.

When armed groups commit sexual violence, more people flee - making the region less stable. As we can see from the staggering number of Rohingya refugees, wartime rape forces people from their homes, depriving them and their families of their livelihoods, property and access to health services and education, destabilizing communities. Sexual violence has increased displacement around the world, from Guatemala to Iraq to Syria, where reports suggest that the danger of rape is a primary reason people flee cities under siege.

3. Unchecked sexual violence can undermine trust in the state.

Conflict-related sexual violence signals a government's inability or unwillingness to protect its citizens. That's particularly true when, as in South Sudan, the military commits this crime widely and with impunity. The lower citizens' level of trust in the state, the more difficult it becomes for a government to undertake economic, social or political reforms, which undermines stability.

4. Countries with widespread sexual violence incur high financial costs.

Wartime rape is costly in ways that undermine national stability. Victims of sexual violence may suffer long-term physical and psychological aftereffects, which impose high costs of care, reduced economic productivity and lost income. In the DRC, for instance, agricultural output decreased partly because women were afraid to return to working in the fields.

Further, some evidence suggests that sexual violence during wartime continues as gender-based violence in peacetime, leaving behind still more costs long after the conflict has ceased. In Burma, neighboring governments are bearing the burden of these costs, with the support of humanitarian agencies that provide services to Rohingya refugees.

5. Sexual violence can undermine reconciliation efforts after ethnic conflicts.

Particularly when it's ethnically driven, sexual violence used as a tactic of war can make reconciliation much harder - including any efforts the Burmese government may pledge to pursue if the Rohingya return. Women raped by opposing parties are often stigmatized, treated as guilty by association with their perpetrators. Children born of rape frequently suffer discrimination, fostering tension in a community long after the conflict.

Rape in wartime corrodes future stability - but it is not inevitable. It's true that throughout history, many armies considered rape to be one of the legitimate spoils of war; this crime was tacitly accepted as unavoidable through the early 20th century.

But more recently, legal rulings have outlawed sexual violence and recognized it as a war crime. And research shows that while some conflicts include widespread sexual violence, not all do: One analysis of 177 armed groups in 21 African countries found that 59 percent were not reported to have committed sexual violence. Another analysis of 91 civil wars between 1980 and 2012 revealed that 17 percent did not include widespread sexual violence.

In other words, armed groups don't always rape with impunity; levels of sexual violence vary from one conflict to another. That's because while some leaders of armed organizations may order or tolerate rape by their soldiers, others prohibit it. That suggests that sexual violence in conflict can be prevented. Research has revealed best practices around the world, from community-based police reforms initiated in Nicaragua in the 1990s to innovative prosecutorial approaches recently instituted in the DRC.

It's possible, therefore, to drive down sexual violence in conflict - and evidence suggests that doing so matters to security and stability.

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Commentary and Perspectives

War Crimes: More Children Are Being Used As Weapons in Conflicts Around the World, UN Warns
Newsweek

By Grace Guarnieri
December 28, 2017

Shocking numbers of children were used as human shields in Syria and were among the hundreds of thousands of people driven from their homes in Myanmar in 2017. The forced marriage and rape of children were also used as wartime tactics amid world conflicts this year, a Thursday report from UNICEF revealed.

The report said that parties in the warring zones of Syria, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Yemen, South Sudan and Nigeria were "blatantly disregarding" international laws. Recruiting child soldiers and using children under the age of 15 is a war crime, as defined by the International Criminal Court.

"Children are being targeted and exposed to attacks and brutal violence in their homes, schools and playgrounds," UNICEF Director of Emergency Programs Manuel Fontaine said in a statement. "As these attacks continue year after year, we cannot become numb. Such brutality cannot be the new normal."

In Syria and Iraq, children were used as human shields and targeted by snipers regularly this year, and at least 625 children died in Syria in 2016. Using minors as weapons and targeting children have "become standard tactics in conflicts," according to the report.

The United States and Russia have led airstrikes resulting in the deaths of many Syrian civilians and Muslim children in the past few months. As retaliation, an Islamic State-affiliated group in Syria called for attacks on U.S. children.

Over 300,000 Rohingya children have fled and hundreds have been killed in Myanmar since August. As Myanmar's military targets the Muslim minority in the country's western state of Rhakine, children have been beheaded and burned alive while trying to flee. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein has called the violence against Myanmar's Rohingya population "textbook ethnic cleansing."

The U.N. report also noted that about 700 children were killed in Afghanistan by September and 19,000 more were recruited to fight in the South Sudan conflict.

"Millions more children are paying an indirect price for these conflicts, suffering from malnutrition, disease and trauma as basic services - including access to food, water, sanitation and health - are denied, damaged or destroyed in the fighting," UNICEF said in their report.

US Urging Kosovo Leaders Not to Abolish War Crimes Court
VOA News

December 30, 2017

The U.S. is urging Kosovo leaders to leave unchanged a war crimes court established to hear serious cases arising from the country's war for independence.

"The United States is deeply concerned by recent attempts of Kosovo lawmakers to abrogate the law on the Specialist Chambers," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement Friday. "We call on political leaders in the Republic of Kosovo to maintain their commitment to the work of the Chambers and to leave the authorities and jurisdiction of the court unchanged."

The U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on December 21 that "the pursuit of justice in the Balkans is not over," and the U.S. "remains committed to supporting justice for the victims," the statement said.

The Kosovo political leaders enacted the law and constitutional amendment in 2015 to establish the Specialist Chambers, a court that would hear cases of alleged crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other serious crimes committed during the 1998-2000 conflict in the former Yugoslavia.

Last week, however, lawmakers from the governing coalition, who hold a majority, pressed for a vote to abolish the court, but they failed twice because of opposition from other parties.

The U.S. and other Western countries swiftly condemned the move, warning that if successful, it would hamper efforts for Euro-Atlantic integration.

The U.S. has been a key ally and financial backer of Kosovo since it broke away from Serbia and declared independence in 2008.

War as a crime
The News International

By David Swanson
December 30, 2017

War is a crime. The International Criminal Court has just announced that it will finally treat it as a crime, sort-of, kind-of. But how can war's status as a crime effectively deter the world's leading war-maker from threatening and launching more wars, large and small? How can laws against war actually be put to use? How can the ICC's announcement be made into something more than a pretense?

The Kellogg-Briand Pact made war a crime in 1928, and various atrocities became criminal charges at Nuremberg and Tokyo because they were constituent parts of that larger crime. The UN Charter maintained war as a crime, but limited it to "aggressive" war, and gave immunity to any wars launched with U.N. approval.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) could try the US for attacking a country if (1) that country brought a case, and (2) the US agreed to the process, and (3) the US chose not to block any judgment by using its veto power at the UN Security Council. Desirable future reforms obviously include urging all U.N. members to accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ, and eliminating the veto. But what can be done now?

The International Criminal Court (ICC) can try individuals for various "war crimes," but has thus far tried only Africans, though for some time now it has claimed to be "investigating" US crimes in Afghanistan. Although the U.S. is not a member of the ICC, Afghanistan is. Desirable future reforms obviously include urging all nations, including the United States, to join the ICC. But what can be done now?

The ICC has finally announced that it will prosecute individuals (such as the U.S. president and secretary of "defense") for the crime of "aggression," which is to say: war. But such wars must be launched after July 17, 2018. And those who can be prosecuted for war will be only citizens of those nations that have both joined the ICC and ratified the amendment adding jurisdiction over "aggression." Desirable future reforms obviously include urging all nations, including the United States, to ratify the amendment on "aggression." But what can be done now?

The only way around these restrictions, is for the UN Security Council to refer a case to the ICC. If that happens, then the ICC can prosecute anyone in the world for the crime of war.

This means that for the force of law to have any chance of deterring the US government from threatening and launching wars, we need to persuade one or more of the fifteen nations on the UN Security Council to make clear that they will raise the matter for a vote. Five of those fifteen have veto power, and one of those five is the United States.

So, we also need nations of the world to proclaim that when the Security Council fails to refer the case, they will bring the matter before the UN. General Assembly though a "Uniting for Peace" procedure in emergency session to override the veto. This is what was just done in December 2017 to overwhelmingly pass a resolution that the US had vetoed, a resolution condemning the US naming Jerusalem the capital of Israel.

A key detail is this: how much organized murder and violent destruction constitutes a war? Is a drone strike a war? Is base expansion and a few home raids a war? How many bombs make a war? The answer should be any use of military force. But in the end, this question will be answered by public pressure. If we can inform people of it and persuade the nations of the world to refer it to trial, then it will be a war, and therefore a crime.

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WORTH READING

War Crimes Prosecution Watch Staff

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Contact: warcrimeswatch@pilpg.org

Africa

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Topics

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Gender-Based Violence
Estefanía Sixto Seijas, Special Senior Editor
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Truth and Reconciliation Commissions

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Commentary and Perspectives

Richard Urban, Senior Editor
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Worth Reading

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