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FREDERICK K. COX
INTERNATIONAL LAW CENTER

War Crimes Prosecution Watch

Volume 12 - Issue 5
May 15, 2017

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Editor-in-Chief
James Prowse

Technical Editor-in-Chief
Samantha Smyth

Managing Editors
Rina Mwiti
Alexandra Mooney

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

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

Contents

AFRICA

CENTRAL AFRICA

Central African Republic

Sudan & South Sudan

Democratic Republic of the Congo

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

North Korea

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

Dozens of civilians killed in Central African Republic: report
Reuters

By Emma Farge
May 3, 2017

Armed groups in Central African Republic have killed at least 45 civilians in apparent reprisal strikes over the past three months, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report on Tuesday.

The violence pitted armed groups against one another in the central province of Ouaka, which is at the border of the mainly Muslim north and the mainly Christian south of the country.

"As factions vie for power in the Central African Republic, civilians on all sides are exposed to their deadly attacks," said Lewis Mudge, Africa researcher at the U.S-based human rights watchdog.

Central African Republic has seen violence since 2013, when a mainly Muslim rebel coalition called the Seleka ousted President Francois Bozize and went on looting and killing raids, prompting Christians to form self-defence militias.

The Seleka and other groups have since splintered into more than a dozen militias, prompting further violence even as the country held a democratic election won by President Faustin-Archange Touadera, who was sworn in in March 2016.

One witness to the recent attacks, identified only as Clement, said advancing fighters from the Fulani Union for Peace in Central Africa (UP) shot four of his children dead including a seven-month-old baby during an attack in March.

Killings by the rival Popular Front for the Renaissance of Central African Republic (FPC) were also reported.

HRW based its tally on interviews with residents in the town of Bambari in April. It said the overall figure was likely higher since dozens of people are still missing

The United Nations, which has a 13,000 safe-keeping mission (MINUSCA) in the former French colony, has sought to disperse fighters with air strikes in Ouaka as they advanced on the town of Bambari. The United States has imposed sanctions on militia leaders.

Still, the violence persists. Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said last month it was the worst seen in a years-long conflict and reported mutilations and summary executions.

"It is incredibly volatile. As soon as there is a void in security as MINUSCA troops change locations, the militias move in," said Allegra Baiocchi, Head of Office for West and Central Africa at United Nations OCHA, who visited last week.

More than 400,000 people are displaced internally and 2.2 million, or nearly half the population, are reliant on aid.

Rebel groups met in April as part of a government-led disarmament programme, but Baiocchi said officials may struggle to pressure militias now in control of some of the country's diamond mines.

Humanitarian Access Endangered in Central African Republic
Relief Web

May 4, 2017

The outbreak of violence that characterized the first quarter of the year 2017 in the Central African Republic is directly affecting humanitarian actors. During the first quarter of the year, 33 incidents targeting humanitarians were recorded across the country. This figure places the Central African Republic among the high-risk countries for humanitarian aid.

Moreover, since March 2017, solely in the Prefecture of Ouham, Northern CAR, 16 attacks against humanitarians have been reported. Faced with this targeted violence, four major humanitarian organizations have decided to temporarily suspend their activities in areas where threats imposed to them have reached a climax. Their staff will be redeployed to Bangui until their security and safety is assured. At the same time, other organizations have decided to strictly reduce their presence to life-saving activities. They do not, however, exclude withdrawing completely if attacks against them were to persist.

Violence against humanitarians is worrisome in several aspects. The very temporary suspension of humanitarian activities will certainly have a negative impact on the living conditions of those who depend on this aid. In the same vein, permanent withdrawal would increase the vulnerability of those whose survival depends exclusively on humanitarian aid. "This withdrawal constitutes a setback in humanitarian access for the Central African Republic, as it places in the disarray of people who have already repeatedly suffered violence and have experienced successive displacements," said the Humanitarian Coordinator, ai, Michel Yao. "I condemn these acts with in the strongest terms, reminding that in the CAR half of the population is dependent on humanitarian aid, given the difficulty of restoring vital basic services.

Suspending this aid would jeopardize social stability and threaten the fragile resilience of the communities", he said.

Michel Yao also recalled that the Central African Republic is still going through a humanitarian crisis. The activities of armed groups should not in any way prevent humanitarian partners from accessing vulnerable populations and vice versa.

These attacks occur in a context marked by acute underfunding of humanitarian action. The humanitarian community alongside the Central African authorities have undertaken intense advocacy to alert donors to the growing needs while resources remain meager. To date, the Humanitarian Response Plan of $ 399.5 million is only funded at 11%.

Aid groups in Central African Republic retreat amid threats
ABC News

May 5, 2017

Four international aid groups will temporarily withdraw their workers from parts of northern Central African Republic because of increasing attacks targeting them, the U.N. humanitarian aid coordinator said Friday.

Spokesman Jens Laerke said the country is one of the world's most dangerous and difficult for humanitarian work, particularly in the northern province of Ouham.

Speaking to reporters in Geneva, Laerke said the international NGOs would move to the capital, Bangui, because threats against aid workers "have reached a climax."

The four aid groups are Solidarites international, Intersos, Danish Church Aid and Person in Need Relief Mission. Laerke said other aid groups in the area are reducing their activities.

UNICEF said Central African Republic faces sporadic violence and instability after years of sectarian fighting, with some 890,000 people displaced inside the country and into neighboring Cameroon.

It said over 2.2 million people need humanitarian assistance.

As manhunt ends, top African warlord Kony eludes justice
Associated Press

May 9, 2017

Indicted for killing thousands and kidnapping children to become soldiers and sex slaves, Joseph Kony has been Africa's most notorious warlord for three decades. Now that the United States and others are ending the international manhunt for him and his Lord's Resistance Army, it appears Kony may never be brought to justice.

His elusiveness in the often lawless bush of central Africa is legendary. In one incident Ugandan military forces in hot pursuit raided Kony's hideout deep in a Congo wildlife park in 2008 and seized little but a wig and guitar he left behind.

Despite the millions of dollars spent to catch him, Kony has outlasted his hunters. That's a blow to victims who hoped he would stand trial at the International Criminal Court where he has been charged for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

"The yearning for justice is there," said Judith Akello, a lawmaker who represents a community in northern Uganda once hit by Kony's rebel insurgency. "Justice is what the people demand."

Kony became internationally notorious in 2012 when the U.S.-based advocacy group Invisible Children made a viral video highlighting the LRA's alleged crimes. The group is accused of killing over 100,000 people, according to the U.N.

The U.S. has offered up to $5 million for information leading to Kony's capture.

Although scores of LRA fighters have recently surrendered or been killed, the whereabouts of Kony, now in his 50s, remain a mystery. Recent defectors from the rebel group suggest he is sick and hiding somewhere in the vast, ungoverned spaces of central Africa.

In pulling out of the military mission against the LRA, the U.S. in March said the rebel group's active membership is now less than 100. The U.S. first sent about 100 special forces as military advisers to the mission in 2011, and in 2014 sent 150 Air Force personnel.

Echoing the U.S., Uganda's military last month announced it was ending the manhunt and pulling out 1,500 troops because "the mission to neutralize the LRA has now been successfully achieved."

The military withdrawal means Kony may never be caught, said some observers. Of the five LRA commanders indicted by the ICC in 2005, he is the only one still at large. One commander, Dominic Ongwen, is currently on trial at the ICC following his arrest in Central African Republic in 2015.

"Kony is the ultimate master of survival in the jungle," said Kasper Agger, an independent researcher in Central African Republic who monitors LRA activities. "He has survived three decades of warfare and evaded capture from the most powerful and expensive military in the world."

Kony's rebels may continue as a "group of bandits" in sparsely populated areas of Congo and Central African Republic, where they may link up with other armed groups, said Agger. LRA rebels trade in wildlife products to support their activities, slaughtering elephants for ivory in Congo under Kony's direct orders, according to The Enough Project.

The LRA remains a regional threat, a new U.N. report on sexual violence in conflict says. "The Lord's Resistance Army continued its decade-old pattern of abduction, rape, forced marriage, forced impregnation and sexual slavery" in Central African Republic and has a presence in Congo and South Sudan, it says.

Kony has proved difficult to capture "mainly because he hides in Sudan-controlled territory" in which other African forces are not permitted to operate, said Sasha Lezhnev of the Enough Project. Sudan has denied allegations by Uganda's government that it actively supports the LRA.

A former Catholic altar boy whose rebel movement started as a tribal uprising with aspirations of ruling Uganda according to the biblical Ten Commandments, Kony is an almost mythical figure. LRA fighters have said he has paranormal powers to read the minds of disloyal commanders.

Under military pressure, the LRA fled Uganda in 2005, moving first to Congo and then to parts of Central African Republic in a vast jungle area about the size of France. By then vastly degraded, the LRA splintered into small groups that were constantly on the move.

The rebels were up against a poorly organized Ugandan military, whose commanders in the anti-Kony campaign were accused of creating phantom soldiers on the payroll and abusing civilians.

"Kony and LRA's nine lives were the result of their discipline," said Angelo Izama, an analyst in Uganda who runs a think tank on regional security called Fanaka Kwawote.

Although Kony could appear bizarre, "he presided over a formidable, well-armed and loyal outfit that was quite capable of running rings around the supposedly superior soldiers sent to hunt him down," said Matthew Green, author of "Wizard of the Nile," a 2008 book about the LRA.

"While many people in (northern Uganda) reviled Kony for the atrocities he ordered, they were also subject to repression and abuses by (Ugandan) President Museveni's security forces," Green said. "Kony survived in part because there was often a deep-seated ambiguity in attitudes toward his movement among his own people, even though they were his principal victims."

Four UN peacekeepers killed in Central African Republic
Aljazeera

May 9, 2017

Four UN peacekeepers have been found dead and one remains missing after an attack on a convoy in the Central African Republic (CAR), United Nations officials said on Tuesday.

The UN's MINUSCA mission said the convoy was attacked by fighters of the "anti-Balaka" armed group near Yogofongo village, more than 470km east of the capital, Bangui, close to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.

CAR has been plagued by conflict since early 2013, when mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power, triggering reprisals by Christian "anti-Balaka" militias.

MINUSCA, which had earlier announced the death of one Cambodian peacekeeper, said later on Tuesday that it was "deeply saddened to confirm that three of the four peacekeepers that were missing in action since [Monday's] attack have been found dead".

At least eight peacekeepers, one Cambodian and seven Moroccans, were wounded in the attack.

Eight "anti-Balaka" attackers were killed and several wounded in the crossfire, MINUSCA said.

Killing a UN peacekeeper is considered a war crime, MINUSCA spokesman Herve Verhoosel told the AFP news agency, saying the convoy comprised police and UN military staff.

The UN sent a helicopter and soldiers to secure the area and search for the missing, while the wounded were evacuated to Bangui, MINUSCA said.

The Central African Republic is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for aid agencies, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said last week, with at least 33 attacks on aid workers in the first quarter of 2017.

On Saturday, at least four international aid agencies said they were temporarily suspending their operations in northern CAR due to attacks on aid workers by armed groups, the UN said.

The Seleka and other groups have splintered after violence broke out in March 2013, prompting further fighting despite the election in March 2016 of President Faustin-Archange Touadera, which raised hopes of reconciliation.

The UN mission has 13,000 peacekeepers on the ground, but some civilians complain that it does not do enough to protect them against dozens of armed groups.

Around 425,000 people have been uprooted by the fighting within CAR, some 465,000 have fled to neighbouring countries, and more than 2.2 million, nearly half the population, need humanitarian aid, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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Sudan & South Sudan

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

Sudan: Rebels Declare Six-Month Ceasefire in Darfur and Kordofan
All Africa

May 3, 2017

The Sudanese opposition Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Movement's Minni Minawi faction (SLM-MM) have made a joint declaration of a unilateral six-month humanitarian ceasefire, effective 11.59 pm (Sudan time GMT+3) tonight.

The declaration follows meetings in the French capital Paris on Monday and Tuesday between the leaders of both movements with Jeremiah Mamabolo, the new Joint Special Representative for Darfur and head of the UN hybrid peacekeeping mission in Darfur (Unamid), to discuss ways to revive the peace process in Darfur.

In today's announcement, the SLM-MM and the JEM declare an immediate, unilateral "Cessation of Hostilities for Humanitarian Purposes".

'The objectives of the extended Cessation of Hostilities are to protect civilians, provide unhindered humanitarian access to war-affected populations, and create an environment conducive to peace.'

The statement says that the objectives of the extended Cessation of Hostilities are to protect civilians, provide unhindered humanitarian access to war-affected populations, and create an environment conducive to peace.

"The Cessation of Hostilities shall enter into force at 11:59pm (SLT) on 3 May 2017 and will extend for six months to 11:59pm (SLT) on 2 November 2017. The Cessation of Hostilities shall apply throughout the conflict areas of Darfur and Kordofan."

Durable peace

The movements say that this move shows recognition that "the establishment of a durable peace is essential for all people of Sudan" and that they "remain resolved to adhere to the AUHIP Roadmap Agreement of 2016 as the means of achieving peace for all Sudan."

'...the establishment of a durable peace is essential for all people of Sudan...'

The movements "note with deep concern the Government of Sudan's multiple and repeated violations of its own unilateral Cessation of Hostilities declarations, most recently exemplified by continued aerial attacks in Jebel Marra," and are "deeply disturbed by the Government of Sudan's continued violations of international law and attacks against civilians".

Today's declaration recalls the Sudan Revolutionary Front's (SRF) prior declarations on unilateral Cessations of Hostilities, dated 17 October 2015, 21 April 2016, and 31 October 2016.

It states that the SLM-MM and JEM, as SRF member organisations, commit that they "will not, under any circumstances, initiate an attack or wage an offensive, and all armed groups under their control shall comply with the Cessation of Hostilities".

However, it carried a caveat that "the Cessation of Hostilities shall not prejudice against acts of self-defence, acts for the protection of civilians, or acts against uncoordinated moving targets within or around the conflict areas".

Renegade general Cirillo says ready to enter South Sudan's civil war
Reuters

May 5, 2017

A renegade general said he was weighing launching his new rebel force into South Sudan's civil war, and called for President Salva Kiir to go, accusing him of spearheading ethnic violence that rights groups fear is slipping toward genocide.

Thomas Cirillo Swaka, known as Cirillo, resigned as deputy chief of staff of South Sudan's military in February, citing rights abuses in a war that has split the world's youngest nation, often along ethnic lines, since 2013.

Since then, the army's most high-profile defector said he has put together a force of several thousand fighters, but declined to identify their exact plans or locations.

The scarred guerrilla veteran told Reuters that before he quit he had seen evidence of a government programme to recruit fighters and procure arms for militias from Kiir's Dinka ethnic group that included secret orders for weapons bypassing military supply lines.

The assertions from Cirillo, a member of the smaller Bari ethnic group, were dismissed by the presidency. "It is very unfortunate that Cirillo is getting out of his mind. This is completely rubbish," said presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny.

Reuters was unable to verify Cirillo's accusations independently. But if true, they reinforce rights groups' assertions that the government is using ethnic militias, accusations that the government has strongly denied.

A senior U.N. rights official said in December parts of the conflict involved ethnic cleansing. Last month, Britain said some of the violence in the oil-producing state amounted to genocide.

"Salva Kiir must go and there should be a change," Cirillo told Reuters from a hotel in Addis Ababa, capital of South Sudan's neighbor Ethiopia, where he said he was living in exile while trying to unite the disparate rebel forces.

"If Salva Kiir ... tries to close all doors to peaceful solution ... (the National Salvation Front) will have no other option to defend the people of South Sudan and to protect itself," he added, referring to his rebel force.

He said his fighters were "friendly" with the country's biggest rebel force, known as the SPLA-In Opposition - which confirmed it sees Cirillo as an ally.

REFUGEES, FAMINE, OIL

The war started in December 2013 after Kiir sacked his deputy and long-term rival Riek Machar, a member of the Nuer ethnic group. Forces loyal to Kiir clashed with Nuer in the capital, triggering retaliatory attacks across the impoverished nation.

The surge of violence just over two years after South Sudan seceded from Sudan has fueled Africa's biggest cross-border refugee crisis since the 1994 Rwandan genocide. It has also plunged districts into famine, nearly halved oil production and threatened to destabilize a volatile region.

Cirillo said he had largely been sidelined with little power during the period when the worst abuses by government troops took place. Reuters could not verify that assertion, though Cirillo has not been named in any U.N. reports on rights abuses.

He said he quit partly because the president and army chief set up a system to recruit militia fighters, bypassing official military channels - a statement dismissed by the presidency.

"The president does not seek parallel recruitment," said Ateny.

Cirillo said the programme was organized out of Kiir's ranch outside the capital, Juba, in Luri - an area described as a "marshalling point and training area for Dinka militia" in a 2016 U.N. Panel of Experts report on South Sudan.

Cirillo said Kiir and army chief Paul Malong, another Dinka, held meetings at their homes, rather than at the ministry or military headquarters, excluding military officers of other ethnic backgrounds.

The two also circumvented normal military channels when they recruited thousands of youths from their home region of Bahr el Ghazal, Cirillo said.

"They train them there and bring them to Juba," he said.

A military spokesman referred Reuters queries to the presidential spokesman.

"YOU HAVE TO HIDE GUNS"

Cirillo, who has an eight-inch scar on his head from a landmine blast, fought during South Sudan's long wars with the Khartoum government and was head of army training and research from 2010 until February 2016, when he became head of logistics.

Cirillo said that less than a week after signing an internationally backed peace deal with Machar in August 2015, Kiir called 60 top generals, including Cirillo, to his palace and ordered them not to withdraw from the capital as the deal stipulated.

"The president came and told us that he is not going to implement the agreement and told us in an open way that you have to hide guns," Cirillo said.

Ateny described that as "another fabricated lie."

Machar returned to Juba in April last year, but was forced to flee in August after fighting between his forces and Kiir's broke out in the capital. South African authorities are holding Machar under de facto house arrest after he sought medical treatment there in October.

Alan Boswell, author of an upcoming report on South Sudan for the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, which monitors small arms and armed violence, said Cirillo had support in his native Equatoria region that surrounds Juba and borders Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo.

"If Cirillo manages to secure an arms supply, the effect would be immediate and drastic, as the rebellion is currently extremely under-resourced," said Boswell.

13 killed in South Sudan highway attack
Anadolu Agency

By Parach Mach
May 6, 2017

At least 13 people, including women and children, were killed in an attack by gunmen along a highway linking South Sudan's capital, Juba to the northeastern state of Jonglei, a local official said Saturday.

Vehicles carrying passengers between Juba and the state capital Bor were attacked on Friday evening, Jonglei Information Minister Jacob Akech Dengdit told Anadolu Agency

"Thirteen people were killed, an equal number were injured and others are still missing, this is very unfortunate incident," Dengdit said.

No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack on the usually busy highway.

The South Sudanese Army insists there are no active opposition forces in the area where the civilians were attacked and described highway attacks as "criminal activity".

The ambushes and sporadic attacks are common in South Sudan since violence flared up in the capital Juba last July between government troops and rebels loyal to former vice president Riek Machar.

Meanwhile, the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangement Monitoring Mechanism mandated by Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) 2015 peace accord to monitor South Sudan cease-fire violations said on Saturday that all reports indicated that warring parties in South Sudan were still targeting civilians.

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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

DR Congo: UN seeks $64 million to tackle humanitarian crisis in Kasaï region
United Nations

April 26, 2017

The United Nations has appealed for $64.5 million to respond to the urgent needs of 731,000 people over the next six months in the Kasaï region, the latest "humanitarian hotspot" in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

"The Kasaï crisis is an acute crisis of massive proportions in a country that is already going through one of the world's most relentlessly acute humanitarian emergencies," the Humanitarian Coordinator in DRC, Mamadou Diallo, said in Kinshasa.

"We are facing a new challenge that requires additional resources to respond to the needs of thousands of displaced people and host families as our current capacities are being outstripped," he added.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than one million people are estimated to be currently displaced as the violence started in Kasaï Central and rippled across neighboring Kasaï, Kasaï Oriental, Lomami and Sankuru provinces.

Currently some 40 national and international humanitarian organizations are working across the five provinces to respond to the crisis, which was borne out of armed clashes that erupted in August 2016 between the Congolese army and a local militia group.

The appeal launched today will provide water, food, medicines and health services, basic household items, and provide protection services, among others, to minors, women who have suffered sexual violence, and other civilians who have been victim of violence.

In Kasaï Central province alone, the current humanitarian needs are 400 per cent above what humanitarian actors had planned for earlier this year.

"An effective response requires that new and fresh funding be allocated as humanitarian actors cannot afford to take away from their current operations in the eastern provinces to support the Kasaï crisis," Mr. Diallo said.

More than four months into the year, the 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan only received $66 million, or less than 10 per cent of the overall $748 million appeal.

Angola: UN agency airlifts aid to newly-arrived refugees from DR Congo
United Nations

April 30, 2017

A plane carrying relief items has arrived in Luanda, Angola, to assist over 11,000 people who fled a recent surge violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the United Nations refugee agency said today.

The aircraft landed Sunday morning from Dubai, carrying 3,500 plastic sheets as well as 100 plastic rolls to provide shelter during the rainy season, 17,000 sleeping mats, 16,902 thermal fleece blankets, 8,000 mosquito nets, 3,640 kitchen sets, 8,000 jerry cans and 4,000 plastic buckets. The Office of the UN High Commissioners for Refugees (UNHCR) will be airlifting more relief items to Angola in coming days.

"Arrivals are in urgent need of life-saving assistance including food, water, shelter and medical services," said Sharon Cooper, UNHCR Regional Representative for Southern Africa in a press release. "UNHCR is also procuring food locally to support the most vulnerable persons including children, pregnant women and elderly."

The brutal conflict in DRC's previously peaceful Kasai region has already displaced more than one million civilians within the country since it began in mid-2016.

The border is managed by the Angolan army. UNHCR has requested the Government to allow refugees to continue crossing the border, provide unhindered access to assist new arrivals, as well as not to return people fleeing the violence to the DRC.

Angola is currently hosting some 56,700 refugees and asylum-seekers, of whom close to 25,000 are from the DRC.

UNHCR Angola had an initial annual budget of $2.5 million to protect and assist some 46,000 people of concern. In response to the current emergency, UNHCR is appealing for a total of $5.5 million to provide immediate lifesaving assistance.

Keep interests of people above all else, UN Security Council urges political actors in DR Congo
United Nations

May 5, 2017

Voicing concern over challenges to the implementation of last year's political agreement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and deteriorating humanitarian and security situation, the United Nations Security Council has urged all stakeholders to redouble their efforts to resolve the problems faced by the country.

The agreement, popularly referred to as the '31 December agreement' represented a significant step towards a peacefully managed transition. However, its implementation has since seen considerable difficulties.

"Effective, swift and timely implementation of the agreement is critical to a credible process and the peace and stability of the DRC, as well as in supporting the legitimacy of the transitional institutions, as it represents a viable road map towards the holding of peaceful and democratic elections," said members of the Security Council in a statement late yesterday.

Among others, the agreement has stipulated that peaceful, credible, inclusive and timely elections would be organized in DRC no later than December 2017, and would include the participation of all sectors of the society, in particular women.

Also in the statement, the members urged for the swift and inclusive establishment of a government of national unity, the Comité National de Suivi de l'Accord, the adoption of a new electoral law and the full implementation of the confidence building measures in chapter V of the 31 December 2016 agreement, some of which are yet to be implemented.

They also urged all national political stakeholders to overcome their differences, uphold the interests of their people and ensure that they are guided by the rule of law, restraint and the spirit of compromise and dialogue.

In that regard, they called on all political actors, whether in the country or abroad, to desist from any actions that could exacerbate tensions.

Further in the statement, the members of Security Council condemned violence and alleged violations and abuses of human rights in the Kasaï region as well as the deteriorating humanitarian and security situation in the region, which according to reports, has displaced more than one million people within the country and more than 11,000 across its borders.

The members also stressed the need for a swift and full investigation into the killing of the two members of the Group of Experts established pursuant to Security Council resolution 1533 (2004) and underlined the need for full cooperation from the Government.

In this context, they further welcomed the Secretary General's establishment of a UN Board of Inquiry to investigate the deaths of the two experts and his commitment that the UN will do everything possible to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

Ethnic violence, humanitarian crisis deepen in Congo: U.N.
Reuters

By Stephanie Nebehay
May 8, 2017

Spreading ethnic violence is driving more people from their homes in the Democratic Republic of Congo where the humanitarian situation is "dramatically deteriorating", the United Nations said on Monday.

Some 100,000 people were uprooted last week alone, bringing the ranks of displaced in the central Kasai region to nearly 1.3 million, it said. The total number of displaced throughout Congo has more than doubled to 3.7 million since Aug 2016.

"This very acute crisis in the DRC is not just expanding dramatically in terms of numbers but it's also expanding in terms of geographical scope," said Rein Paulsen, head of the U.N. Office for Humanitarian Affairs office in Congo.

"The fact that we are also now seeing an evolution of the conflict in the Kasais where inter-ethnic violence and conflict is becoming a dominant characteristic should be a deep, deep concern to all of us," he told a news briefing.

The U.N. said last month it had documented 40 mass grave sites and killings of more than 400 people in Kasai, the focus of the fight against the Kamuina Nsapu militia, since August when security forces killed its leader. The militia has been fighting largely to avenge his death.

Paulsen cited fresh reports from U.N. staff of inter-ethnic fighting in the Kasais, including the Penda and Chokwe ethnic groups against the Luba and clashes between the Lunda and Luba.

In Manono, in the eastern province of Tanganyika, more than 140 villages have been reportedly burned down in a separate conflict between the pygmy population and Bantu ethnic groups, causing forced displacement, he said.

Across the vast Central African nation, an estimated 1.9 million children under five are severely acutely malnourished, a condition which could kill them or leave them with lifelong damage, Paulsen said.

The United Nations has received just 19 percent of the $812.5 million sought in the humanitarian appeal for Congo this year, he said.

The world body said last month it was horrified by a video screened by the government that appeared to show the brutal killing of two U.N. investigators.

Congo's government said the film showed members of an anti-government militia carrying out the act although that has not been confirmed by either the U.N. or independent analysts.

Paulsen said that government workers - education inspectors and local transportation staff - had been "killed and beheaded" in the Kasais in the past week despite tighter security.

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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

FEATURE: Mission Accomplished – UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire
United Nations News Centre

May 1, 2017

After 13 years, the United Nations is completing the peacekeeping phase of its engagement with Côte d'Ivoire, after successfully assisting the country in restoring peace and stability following the post-2010 election crisis.

When the UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) closes its doors on 30 June of this year, it will mark the most recent successful completion of a peacekeeping operation in West Africa since the UN mission in Sierra Leone in 2005.

This milestone was made possible thanks to a significantly improved security situation in Côte d'Ivoire, as well as the extension of State authority and the deployment of public services, the strengthening of democratic institutions, progress in security sector reform and steady economic development.

Headed most recently by the Secretary-General's Special Representative, Aïchatou Mindaoudou, the civilian and military personnel of UNOCI played a critical role in the country, including with regard to protecting civilians, monitoring the ceasefire, assisting the Government with disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants, and countering hate messages on the airwaves with UNOCI FM.

UNOCI is in the process of delegating to the UN country team critical tasks necessary to ensure the sustainability of the gains achieved so far.

Boots on the ground

In 2004 the country was divided in half by a civil war. Due to the lack of State authority, the Security Council adopted resolution 1528, establishing UNOCI for an initial 12-month period. One of the mission's initial tasks was to monitor and support the peace agreement signed by the Ivorian parties the previous year.

Zone of Confidence

Another primary duty was to monitor the Zone of Confidence – a swathe of land that separated the Government-ruled south and opposition-controlled north – while restoring trust between the parties to reunite the country.

In 2007, under the Ouagadougou Political Agreement, UNOCI set up 17 observation posts called the "Green Line" – replacing the Zone of Confidence – that remained in place until July 2008, when the last post had been eliminated.

Locked in battle

Throughout the years, UNOCI was called on to respond to numerous challenges. In January 2006, pro-government youth protesters took to the streets after a UN-authorized team supported terminating the Parliament, whose mandate had expired.

After four days of violent protests in which UN humanitarian and peacekeeping facilities were targeted, hundreds of UN personnel were evacuated.

The Security Council then decided to boost UNOCI's strength with the temporary deployment of an additional battalion from the UN mission in Liberia.

Then in 2010, the country was thrust back into civil war when incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down after losing the UN-certified election to Alassane Ouattara. Throughout a period of increased fighting, UNO CI continued to protect civilians, even as it was itself being targeted.

Mr. Gbagbo eventually surrendered and Mr. Ouattara was inaugurated as president in May of 2011, but not before some 3,000 people were killed in the post-election violence and another 300,000 became refugees.

UNOCI facilitated an inclusive political dialogue, which culminated in two presidential and legislative elections in 2011 and 2016, and a referendum. Among its other achievements, the mission strengthened the National Commission on Human Rights, which helped decrease human rights violations, and helped to disarm 70,000 combatants and re-integrate them into society.

Simone Gbagbo Acquitted by the Abidjan Assize Court: Between the Independence of the Judiciary and a Political Twist to Save the Day
International Justice Monitor

By Eric-Aimé Semien
May 5, 2017

Simone Gbagbo, wife of former Ivorian Head of State Laurent Gbagbo, has been on trial before Ivorian court for the past ten months for crimes against humanity after being sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment in 2016 for undermining state security during the 2010-2011 post-election crisis in Côte d'Ivoire. Since February 2012, she has also been subject to an International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant for four counts of crimes against humanity for acts allegedly committed during the post-election period. Côte d'Ivoire refused to transfer her because it considered that Ms. Gbagbo could be tried at the local level for the same charges. At the same time, her husband Laurent Gbagbo and their political party's youth leader, Charles Blé Goudé, have been on trial before the ICC since January 28, 2016.

Quite unexpectedly, the trial lasted a long time, from postponement to postponement, punctuated with procedural delays. The court's decision could be interpreted in two ways.

On the one hand, the proceedings appear to have been conducted in an expeditious and often non-adversarial manner, as criticized by Ms. Gbagbo's defense lawyers and human rights organizations. After decrying numerous violations of the rights of the defense, defense lawyers eventually withdrew from the proceedings at the end of 2016. The assigned lawyers also withdrew from the proceedings in February 2017, denouncing, among other things, defense rights violations, the non-disclosure of documents in time, and the refusal of the court to hear certain key witnesses presented by the defense.

On the other hand, the acquittal of Simone Gbagbo could lead one to believe that the case was poorly built and badly put together, with contradictory and insufficient testimony given the gravity of the charges. In this context, in view of the fact that the burden of proof rests with the accusing party and the general criminal procedure principle that doubt always benefits the accused, the judges naturally leaned toward an acquittal.

It is therefore necessary to welcome the decision of this court, which was able to confine itself to the law and to the evidence presented. Besides, this would be a guarantee of independence of the magistrates who composed the court when several observers feared a trial tainted by lack of independence and impartiality.

In that sense, it is perplexing that some observers should speak of a failure in the fight against impunity. Such an analysis presupposes that the purpose of this trial was to systematically condemn the accused, notwithstanding the principles of presumption of innocence and fair trial.

In this series of legal observations, one question always remains in mind. What is the impact of this acquittal decision on the ICC's prosecution of Simone Gbagbo?

When the verdict was rendered, the ICC, through its spokesman, announced on March 30, 2017, that this decision had no impact on the February 2012 arrest warrant as the facts were different. They also reminded Côte d'Ivoire of its obligation to cooperate with the Court by transferring Simone Gbagbo to The Hague.

Such a position deserves attention. The facts referred to in the ICC's warrant against Simone Gbagbo took place in the same period and under the same circumstances as the facts that were examined during the proceedings leading to her acquittal in Côte d'Ivoire. These include the repressed December 16, 2010 opposition march on the national television network, the bombing of the Abobo market, which resulted in the murder of seven female civilian demonstrators on March 8, 2011, and sexual violence committed by pro-Gbagbo soldiers.

Since 2013, the Ivorian authorities had even opposed the arrest warrant issued by the ICC against the accused, on the grounds that the same case was already pending before Ivorian courts.

ICC judges ruled in December 2014 that the level of responsibility and the constituent elements of the crimes were different and that Côte d'Ivoire still had an obligation to transfer Simone Gbagbo to the ICC, a decision confirmed in Appeal in May 2015.

However, there is a fundamental principle of general criminal law (ne bis in idem, also known as double jeopardy), which prohibits the trial of a person again for the same acts for which he has already been tried. Thus, transferring and judging Simone Gbagbo at the ICC would be prejudicial to the proper administration of justice and to the interests of the parties. Thus, following the acquittal, Côte d'Ivoire could again raise a new objection to the admissibility of the case by showing that the decision taken in Côte d'Ivoire concerned the same facts, the same level of responsibility, and that the procedure was reliable.

A comprehensive framework of cooperation and complementarity between the ICC and prosecution at the national level should have been established at the outset to ensure effective prosecution. Since this was not done, it would have been simpler for Côte d'Ivoire to transfer Simone Gbagbo to the ICC as soon as the arrest warrant was issued.

Moreover, this acquittal decision could be seen differently, in particular with political implications related to the current context.

One should keep in mind that the facts are actually taking place in Côte d'Ivoire, and it is also necessary to take into account the socio-political environment that has not always been alien to choices made by the various governments, in particular in the field of post-conflict justice.

At the moment, judicial news is reportedly getting into line with the trend of reconciliation that the Ivorians are vigorously calling for.

Indeed, in the wake of the post-election crisis, all observers agreed that responsibilities were shared between the two camps that clashed: "pro-Gbagbo" forces, and "pro-Ouattara" forces. Paradoxically, almost all the prosecutions initiated at the national level concerned only the "pro-Gbagbo" and spared the "pro Ouattara," on whom there was no lack of grounds for investigation and prosecution.

Following negotiations that took place after the political dialogue between the government and the opposition in 2013 and 2014, the Ivorian judiciary had curiously granted interim release to political actors and acquitted politicians strongly involved in this dialogue, with a view to fostering an easing of tensions.

In the same vein, the acquittal of Simone Gbagbo could be seen as an act to foster appeasement in the face of political tension. This decision, as well as the refusal to transfer Simone Gbagbo to the ICC, could be analyzed as a politically influenced decision in order to satisfy supporters of the political opposition and give a chance to national reconciliation. At the same time, it could be a decision to give strong signals of reconciliation to silence clamors for the arrest and trial of people close to the present government, who are not subject to any prosecution for the moment.

In a context where the suspicion of "victors' justice" is widespread and where a good part of the Ivorian population does not seem to trust the judicial system and demand prosecution, a judicial-political decision such as this would calm passions, especially in the run-up to the upcoming 2020 elections. This would probably be a good way out for President Ouattara, who is not a candidate to his own succession.

For the time being, the Ivorians are expecting fair prosecution of all parties to the conflict, with a view to accountability and calmly reaching national reconciliation.

Demobilized Rebels Block Road to Ivory Coast's Second City
VOA

May 8, 2017

Demobilized rebel fighters blocked a main road into Ivory Coast's second city on Monday, demanding the payment of bonuses and jobs in the army and state institutions.

The former fighters, some wearing balaclavas or their faces blackened with ashes, set up barricades, sealing off the main road south from Bouake, the center of a wave of army mutinies that paralyzed the world's top cocoa grower earlier this year.

A witness and a soldier, who was not part of the group, said they saw several hundred demobilized fighters, some armed.

"We're asking for President Alassane Ouattara to have a thought for his sons, who have suffered for 15 years," said Amadou Ouattara, who described himself as the spokesman for the group.

Split from 2002 to 2011 between rebels in the north and government forces in the south, a successful post-war recovery has seen Ivory Coast become one of the world's fastest-growing economies. However, this year's unrest has exposed deep divisions in the military.

Defense Minister Alain-Richard Donwahi said the protesters, that he said numbered around 50 and were unarmed, were brought to the local government headquarters for discussions and said the roadblocks had been cleared.

"The situation is calm," he said. "Order has been re-established."

However, Ouattara, the group's spokesman, said that while they had agreed to talks, they were continuing to block the road.

A Bouake resident, who said she briefly heard gunfire, confirmed they were still there, and some had ordered civil servants at the nearby offices of the national tax authority to leave the building.

"Some of them have weapons but many of them don't," said Isabelle Kouassi, whose bus was turned back as it attempted to leave the city. "They've blocked everything."

Ouattara said the Bouake protesters represented some 6,800 former fighters across the country who were demobilized after civil war ended in 2011.

They are demanding the payment of bonuses worth 12 million CFA francs ($20,000) each as well as positions in the armed forces and government services, he said.

The government agreed earlier this year to pay some 8,400 active duty soldiers that amount as part of a deal to end the mutinies that first erupted in Bouake in January before spreading to other cities.

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

Nigeria Says 15 Suspected Boko Haram Fighters Shot Dead
The Times of India

April 28, 2017

Nigeria's military says at least 15 gunmen believed to be Boko Haram Islamic extremists have been shot dead during a battle with soldiers.

Spokesman Kinsley Samuel says in a statement that the fighting occurred Thursday morning when the extremists attacked a base in the Sambisa forest in northern Nigeria. The forest had been a Boko Haram stronghold until the government declared the group "crushed" late last year.

Boko Haram's fighters continue to carry out suicide bombings and other attacks in northern Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, including against troop locations.

The military spokesman says the extremists attacked Thursday with a large cache of weapons that soldiers seized.

Samuel says a number of the extremists were wounded in the fighting.

Suicide Car Bomb Targets Military Convoy in Nigeria
Al Jazeera

April 28, 2017

A suicide car bomber has attacked a military convoy in northeast Nigeria, killing five soldiers and injuring another 40, security forces have said.

Two military officers told the AFP news agency on Friday that the attacker, believed to be loyal to factional Boko Haram leader Abu Musab al-Barnawi, targeted the convoy, which was conducting "clearance operations" between Yobe and Borno states.

"At about 10:00 GMT on Thursday, a suicide bomber believed to be a Boko Haram terrorist riding in a van loaded with explosives rammed into a military convoy at Manguzum village," one said.

"We lost five soldiers in the incident and more than 40 sustained various degrees of injuries," added the officer, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorised to speak about the incident.

In a separate development, at least 15 gunmen believed to be Boko Haram fighters were shot dead during a battle with soldiers.

Kinsley Samuel, Nigeria's military spokesman, said that the fighting occurred in the Sambisa forest in the country's north.

There has been a spate of deadly attacks on military targets in recent months, as troops fight to end the eight-year conflict, which has killed thousands of civilians.

A multinational force of troops from Nigeria and its neighbours last year drove Boko Haram out of towns and villages in northeast Nigeria, but isolated attacks and suicide bombings continue.

In December, President Muhammadu Buhari said the capture of a key camp marked the "final crushing" of Boko Haram in its last enclave in Sambisa Forest, once the group's stronghold.

But since then, the group, which split into two factions last year, has stepped up its attacks.

One Boko Haram faction is led by Abubakar Shekau from the Sambisa Forest. Abu Musab Al-Barnawi leads the other faction, based in the Lake Chad region, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group.

At least 20,000 people have been killed in the Boko Haram conflict since it began in 2009 and more than 2.6 million others made homeless.

5 Dead after Female Suicide Bombers Attack in Nigeria
ABC News

May 5, 2017

Authorities say at least five people are dead in northeast Nigeria in an attack by two female suicide bombers.

Murtala Ibrahim with the Borno police command confirmed the attack Thursday night in the Borno state capital of Maiduguri.

The violence came a day after three other female bombers tried to attack a military outpost but were killed by soldiers.

The Boko Haram extremist group, which has ties to the Islamic State group, has increasingly used girls and young women to carry out attacks on marketplaces, checkpoints and other targets.

Some young women who escaped Boko Haram have said girls are drugged and forced to carry out suicide missions.

Boko Haram was founded in northeast Nigeria and is now active in Chad, Niger and Cameroon as well.

Nigeria Exchanges 82 Chibok Girls Kidnapped by Boko Haram for Prisoners
Reuters

By Felix Onuah and Ahmed Kingimi
May 8, 2017

Boko Haram militants have released 82 schoolgirls out of a group of more than 200 whom they kidnapped from the northeastern town of Chibok three years ago in exchange for prisoners, the presidency said on Saturday.

Around 270 girls were kidnapped in April 2014 by the Islamist militant group, which has killed 15,000 people and displaced more than two million during a seven-year insurgency aimed at creating an Islamic caliphate in northeastern Nigeria.

Dozens escaped in the initial melee, but more than 200 remained missing for more than two years.

Nigeria thanked Switzerland and the International Committee of the Red Cross for helping secure the release of the 82 girls after "lengthy negotiations", the presidency said in a statement.

President Muhammadu Buhari will receive the girls on Sunday afternoon in the capital Abuja, it said, without saying how many Boko Haram suspects had been exchanged or disclosing other details.

A military source said the girls were brought on Sunday morning from Banki near the Cameroon border to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state where the insurgency started.

The release of the girls may give a boost to Buhari who has hardly appeared in public since returning from Britain in March for treatment of an unspecified illness.

He made crushing the insurgency a pillar of his election campaign in 2015.

The army has retaken most of the territory initially lost to the militants but attacks and suicide bombings by the group have made it nearly impossible for displaced persons to return to their recaptured hometowns.

"The President directed the security agencies to continue in earnest until all the Chibok girls have been released and reunited with their families," the presidency said.

INSECURITY

More than 20 girls were released last October in a deal brokered by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Others have escaped or been rescued, but 195 were believed to be still in captivity.

Buhari said last month that the government was in talks to secure the release of the remaining captives.

Although the Chibok girls are the most high-profile case, Boko Haram has kidnapped thousands of adults and children, many of whose cases have been neglected.

Although the army has retaken much of the territory initially lost to Boko Haram, large parts of the northeast, particularly in Borno state, remain under threat from the militants. Suicide bombings and gun attacks have increased in the region since the end of the rainy season late last year.

Some 4.7 million people in northeast Nigeria depend on food aid, some of which is blocked by militant attacks, some held up by a lack of funding and some, diplomats say, stolen before it can reach those in need.

Millions of Nigerians may soon be in peril if the situation deteriorates, as authorities expect, when the five-month rainy season begins in May and makes farming impossible in areas that are now accessible.

This part of Nigeria is the western edge of an arc of hunger stretching across the breadth of Africa through South Sudan, Somalia and into Yemen on the Arabian peninsula. The United Nations believes as many as 20 million people are in danger in what could become the world's worst famine for decades.

Cameroon: War Against Boko Haram - AU Committed to Give More Support
All Africa

By Emmanuel Kendemeh
May 10, 2017

The African Union Commission Chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat had talks with Prime Minister Philemon Yang in Yaounde on May 9, 2017.

The African Union has expressed commitment and solidarity with Cameroon and other countries of the Lake Chad Basin that are currently fighting the terrorist group Boko Haram.

The Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat made the declaration in Yaounde on May 9, 2017. He further stated that the African Union will continue to give more support within the framework of the Multinational Joint Task Force put in place to coordinate the continent's efforts in the war. Prime Minister Philemon Yang received the AU Commission chairperson on behalf of President Paul Biya.

Moussa Faki Mahamat told the press after discussions with the Prime Minister that Cameroon was his first outing in Central Africa since he took office. Besides expressing the African Union's support in the war against Boko Haram, he said they also discussed reforms of the AU. Mr Moussa Faki disclosed that he came to Cameroon from Kigali in Rwanda where they had a retreat under the chairperson of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Chairperson of the AU reforms commission focused on ways of carrying out reforms and their modalities.

Prime Minister Yang also had talks with Jeannot Ahoussou-Kouadio, Minister of State in charge of Political Dialogue and Relations with Institutions of Côte d'Ivoire who is on an information and training mission in Cameroon focused on the organisation and functioning of the Senate. He said the mission was made urgent by the fact that the new Constitution of Côte d'Ivoire adopted on November 16, 2016 makes provisions for the putting in place of the Senate and they want to get inspiration from Cameroon's success story. He disclosed that Côte d'Ivoire is in the process of putting in place its Senate. He used the audience to express thanks to Cameroon's Head of State, Paul Biya for authorising the information and training mission.

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Mali

Mali: French Forces Kill 20 Militants
allAfrica

May 1, 2017

French forces said Sunday they killed more than 20 militants in Mali near the border with Burkina Faso. French military officials and witnesses say the attack came from the air and on the ground in a forest in the Sahel region.

More than 3,500 French soldiers are spread out across Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania and Niger combating Islamist extremists.

Mali has extended a state of emergency for another six months as it tries to stave off an al-Qaida-linked insurgency in the north, and extremists launching attacks from Burkina Faso in the south.

Mali: Rocket Attack on UN Camp in Kills 1, Wounds 9
allAfrica

May 4, 2017

One person was killed and nine were wounded Wednesday when suspected Islamic extremists fired rockets into a U.N peacekeeping camp in Mali.

The nationality of the person killed was not known. The wounded included a Swedish peacekeeper and Liberian soldiers.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack on the camp in Timbuktu, but the U.N. mission called it a terrorist incident.

Al-Qaida-linked militants were behind another rocket attack on the camp last year.

U.N. peacekeepers and French forces are helping Mali deal with the remnants of an Islamic insurgency in the north. Militants briefly took over the area in 2012 after a failed coup in Bamako.

The militants have also spread to southern Mali, along the border with Burkina Faso.

West Africa Scrambles to Contain Surge in Militant Attacks
The Gazette

By Pauline Bax and Olivier Monnier
May 10, 2017

West African nations are preparing to deploy a military force to counter a surge in ambushes and bombings by Islamist militants that more than 15,000 international troops have failed to contain.

Militants are targeting not only United Nations peacekeepers in Mali but increasingly carrying out assaults across its borders. That's prompted five nations in the arid region south of the Sahara desert known as the G5 Sahel to agree to assemble a 4,000-member force by the end of the year, Malian Defense Minister Tiena Coulibaly said in an interview. Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania will also contribute soldiers.

"The frequency of attacks is certainly increasing in both Mali and northern Burkina Faso," Sean Smith, a West Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, said by phone from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso's capital. "The good thing is that the countries are cooperating better than they've ever cooperated before, but the reality is that the number of attacks has risen every year since 2013 and there's no sign of them abating."

Mali has been gripped by violence since ethnic Tuareg rebels began a separatist insurgency and joined forces with Islamist militants, seizing control of the vast north in 2012. A French military intervention in 2013 pushed out most militants but ushered in an era of hit-and-run attacks and bombings. Despite several peace deals granting some separatists a degree of autonomy, groups linked to al-Qaida have vowed to press their campaign until all foreign troops leave West Africa.

"The terrorists want to create permanent insecurity," Coulibaly said. "Their business is well coordinated, well thought out. I don't think the attacks are planned only when the opportunity presents itself: they're calculated to undermine the morale of our troops."

The U.N. has deployed more than 10,000 soldiers to try to help restore Malian state authority in the north, while a French military force moves across the region to hunt down militants. France last week said its soldiers killed scores of suspected fighters hiding in a forest on the border between Mali and Burkina Faso.

While the Malian government has so far failed to persuade the U.N. Security Council to give the peacekeeping mission a "more robust" mandate, Coulibaly said the U.N. force, like the French, should be able to engage in combat with militants. "They need helicopters, they need armored vehicles and they need a mandate to fight terrorism," he said.

Seeing the conflict in Mali solely from a military perspective is a mistake, said Yvan Guichaoua, a lecturer in international conflict at the University of Kent in England.

"The Malian crisis has the characteristics of a civil war; most jihadist fighters are Malians," he said. "If there is no substantial effort from the administration to try to restore some kind of legitimate authority, the fight against terrorism will be counterproductive."

Attacks have become almost a weekly occurrence since the beginning of the year. An ambush on May 2 that killed nine Malian soldiers was followed a day later by a mortar attack on a U.N. military base in the desert city of Timbuktu that left one peacekeeper dead and eight others seriously injured. On Sunday, seven Malian troops died when an army post in the Gao region was attacked with rockets.

They're also becoming more destructive. Militants drove a vehicle laden with explosives into a military camp in Gao in January, killing at least 80 people, the deadliest attack since the 2012 insurgency began. The U.N. says its peacekeeping mission in Mali has the highest casualty rate of all current U.N. operations globally.

The violence spilled over into Burkina Faso this year, where militants on motorbikes have attacked several border posts near Mali. In the northern Djibo region, officials say primary schoolteachers have been told to start teaching in Arabic by men believed to be loyal to a radical Muslim preacher who spent two years in a Malian prison on terrorism charges before being released in 2015.

In March, Niger declared a state of emergency in two western regions near Mali following a series of cross-border raids that killed more than 20 Nigerien soldiers.

The immediate benefits of introducing a new West African force into the mix are unclear, given that the threats are "complex" and that the U.N. is already struggling to contain the violence, the International Crisis Group said in a statement last month.

"Their deployment risks aggravating what amounts to a security traffic jam," the Brussels-based research group said. "Militants are capitalizing on local disputes and the state's absence and lack of legitimacy."

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EAST AFRICA

Uganda

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

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Kenya

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

Kenya's history of election violence may repeat itself
The Star

By Sekou Toure Otondi
April 29, 2017

In the last few weeks Kenya has seen an increase in intra-party political violence, especially during the party primaries, which began on April 13.

Nominated candidates are one step into the office they are seeking. In some cases, especially in cases where major parties are dominant, the candidates are as good as elected.

The focus was initially on ODM, which was the first party to begin the nomination process. Since the start of their primaries chaos has continued to mar the process. In fact, there were clashes in Migori and Ruaraka between rival camps that led to injuries before the primaries started.

Primaries in Busisa County, which were the first, ended in chaos. The primaries were characterized by palpable tension.

A storm has also been gathering within the ruling Jubilee Party, which began its nominations on Friday last week. Its preparations have also been characterized by internal party tensions.

Supporters of Kirinyaga Governor Joseph Ndathi and former Devolution CS Anne Waiguru, the Jubilee candidate for governor, clashed at a prayer rally of the Akorino denomination believers at Kirinyaga Stadium on Sunday. That must have been a foretaste of things to come because the first day of the Jubilee primaries was so disorganized that they had to cancel the nominations across the country.

Elections laws require all political parties to undertake internal party primary elections or nominate their candidates. But it's a requirement they'd rather not fulfill.

The truth is that our political parties coalesce around individuals and ethnic communities rather than ideology. This has made the running of party primaries an arduous task as dejected aspirants often troop to rival political formations after losing in a primary.

This means parties have to contend with the nightmare of shifting alliances close to the general election.

RIVALRY BEHIND THE CHAOS

Party primary violence has been most intense in regions where the main political parties command a strong following. As aforementioned, those nominated in their party strongholds have a better chance of winning at the general election. This explains why the battles during the nominations are so fierce, and aspirants often resort to violence against their opponents.

Despite having disciplinary mechanisms, the main political parties have failed to rein in on those instigating chaos. They usually impose fines on offenders instead of taking more drastic measures such as a suspension or expulsion.

The fact that most politicians can easily raise the fines has bred a culture of impunity. This has resulted in perennial acts of violence during election cycles.

If this violence isn't contained, it could be a harbinger of things to come when Kenyans go to the polls in August. And while the recent conflict has been a wake-up call, it has not come as a surprise, given our history of election violence.

Since the return of multiparty politics, the country has repeatedly witnessed ethnic tension and violence around election time. Only the2002 and 2013 polls stand out as being relatively peaceful.

DEEPER ISSUES

The violence during and around election time is an indicator of underlying socioeconomic and political issues such as land injustices, marginalization and disenfranchisement.

These issues were set out in the 2013 Truth Justice and Reconciliation Report, which was compiled in response to the post-election violence of 2007-08. Its recommendations have never been implemented.

The 2007-08 trajectory of ethnic animosity — which led to 1,133 deaths and displaced more than 600, 000 people — underscores the use of disputed elections to bring underlying issues to the fore.

Although the next election in 2013 was relatively peaceful, ethnic tensions have continued to build up across the country. The theatre for this vicious ethnic-driven political intolerance has mostly been on social media platforms, which are dominated by young Kenyans.

The flame that has been fanned on social media since the 2013 polls is growing into a fire as politicians hit the campaign trail. While leaders engage in polarizing rhetoric, it's the youth who become either perpetrators or victims of the political violence.

There are more young people in Kenya than any other demographic. They are also the most disenfranchised, which makes them vulnerable to being recruited as perpetrators of violence. Widespread unemployment standing at 22 per cent is also a contributory factor to young people joining campaign teams as vigilantes, militias or agents.

THE MAKING OF A PEACEFUL ELECTION

As the general election approaches, the US and UK governments have raised the alarm over the potential for violence.

The National Democratic Institute has also warned about the likelihood of violence before, during, or after the elections. The institute is an international non-governmental organization, whose primary task is to advance democratic principles and good governance. In Kenya, its work has mainly involved strengthening electoral and political processes.

The institute also gave a raft of recommendations on how to avoid election-related violence. But in the end, only Kenyans can put a stop to ethno-political violence.

In the medium to longer term, one way they could do this would be by implementing the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission Report.

Another would be to build political parties rooted in ideology rather than ethnicity. In the short-term, the institutions mandated to ensure peaceful elections must actively discourage violence. For example, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, a statutory agency established against the backdrop of a reconciliation pact agreed after the 2007-2008 post–election violence, must fulfill its mandate. It needs to ensure sustainable peaceful coexistence among Kenyans.

In addition, the IEBC has a crucial role in mitigating political violence by conducting free and fair elections. And although the commission is legally allowed to conduct primary elections for political parties, some stakeholders have opposed its involvement in party affairs, citing the principle of neutrality.

In my opinion, the commission should play an advisory and logistical role to ensure free, fair, and peaceful primary elections in the run-up to the general election in August.  

Kenya election: 62 charged for electoral offences
BBC News

May 3, 2017

Sixty-two people have been charged with various electoral offences following highly-contested party primaries in Kenya.

A statement from the prosecutor's office said a serving MP is among those who have been charged.

The offences include the bribery of voters and incitement to violence.

Kenya's 8 August vote comes nearly a decade after disputed election results fuelled violence that left more than 1,000 dead and 500,000 displaced.

However the last elections in 2013 passed off relatively peacefully.

The prosecutor's office also ordered investigations over violent incidents in five regions in different parts of the country.

Analysts say that the primaries have been so hard fought because becoming an elected official brings many financial benefits.

In addition, in the regions where one party is dominant a victory in that party's primary is seen as a near guarantee of the candidate being elected.

The prosecutor's statement also said that a team of 135 prosecutors are on standby to deal with hate speech and incitement to violence cases to ensure a " secure environment for a free, fair and peaceful election".

Kenyans will be voting for candidates in four positions: the president, members of parliament, county governors and members of county assemblies.

President Uhuru Kenyatta is seeking a second term and will be facing his political rival Raila Odinga, who was picked last week as the presidential candidate by a coalition of opposition parties.

180,000 police officers to be trained ahead of August election
Standard Digital

By Cyrus Ombati
May 10, 2017

An estimated 150,000 police officers who will oversee elections will receive training in election laws to effectively deal with lawbreakers.

This is an increase from the 95,000 officers who manned the 2013 elections.

The officers are part of 180,000 personnel expected to ensure that the elections are fair and credible.

Meanwhile, 92 special magistrates have been appointed to hear election disputes while a squad of 105 officers has been established to deal with hate speech and other electoral offences as campaigns kick off on May 28.

Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet said the role of the special officers was to enforce the law before, during and after the elections.

"We will not be political, we will be impartial and we will apply the law as it is. We will take no nonsense from anybody irrespective of political affiliations," said Mr Boinnet during the launch of an election security manual.

A joint team of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, the police, the Judiciary and the Director of Public Prosecutions will train a total of 383 national trainers in Nakuru, Mombasa, Meru and Kisumu, who will in turn be deployed to train the 180,000 personnel.

The commission has mapped out hot spots in all the 47 counties to prepare for any risk of political violence.

The Kenya Prisons Service, Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Forest Service and National Youth Service will be enlisted to boost security. The personnel will be gazetted as special police officers to achieve the required numbers

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Rwanda (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda)

Official Website of the ICTR

Rwandans carry on, side by side, two decades after genocide
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

By: Megan Specia
April 30, 2017

They awoke early and gathered along a plot of land here in this Rwandan village made up of a handful of homes. Together, they began hacking away at a grass-bare patch with long-handled garden hoes. The mission: Dig a drainage ditch alongside a row of homes that had been continuously flooding during rains.

Scenes like this one were playing out across Rwanda on this Saturday — a monthly day of service known as Umuganda.

The premise is simple and extraordinary in its efficient enforcement: Every able-bodied Rwandan citizen between the ages of 18 and 65 must take part in community service for three hours once a month. The community identifies a new public works problem to tackle each month.

"We never had Umuganda before the genocide," said Jean Baptiste Kwizera, 21, wiping sweat from his brow as he took a break from the project here in Mbyo, about an hour's drive from Kigali, the capital.

Though the genocide ended a year before Mr. Kwizera was born, it is deeply ingrained in the lives of even the youngest Rwandans.

This compulsory work is emblematic of a broader culture of reconciliation, development and social control asserted by the government.

Each local umudugudu — or village — keeps track of who attends the monthly projects. Those who fail to participate without being excused risk fines and in some cases arrest.

Setting an example and seizing an opportunity to publicize the service on this Saturday, the country's president, Paul Kagame, helped break ground for a new elementary school in the country's northeast while dozens of photographers snapped photos.

"Umuganda is about the culture of working together and helping each other to build this country," Mr. Kagame told reporters.

Rwanda has been a unique experiment in national reconciliation and assiduously enforced social re-engineering in the more than two decades since its devastating genocide, when thousands in the country's Hutu ethnic majority unleashed unspeakable violence on the Tutsi minority and moderate Hutu countrymen who refused to take part in the slaughter. In just 100 days, nearly one million people perished.

Umuganda was revived and dozens of other nation-rebuilding exercises were conceived under Mr. Kagame, who came to power after the genocide and has held the presidency since 2000. A recent constitutional amendment paved the way for him to seek a third term in office, and in August he plans to do just that.

While many of his administration's programs have lowered poverty and child mortality rates, Mr. Kagame remains a controversial figure.

Many political analysts and human rights groups say Mr. Kagame has created a nation that is orderly but repressive. Laws banning so-called genocidal ideology that were adopted to deter a resurgence of sectarian or hate speech are also used to squelch even legitimate criticism of the government.

Against this backdrop, it is difficult to gauge sentiment about the effectiveness of reconciliation efforts, including Umuganda. The government's National Unity and Reconciliation Commission has twice released a "reconciliation barometer," which looks at dozens of factors to determine how well people are living together. In 2015, the last year for which the figures are available, the country deemed reconciliation in Rwanda was at 92.5 percent.

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Somalia

Somalia Raid Kills Shabab Leader and 3 Associates
New York Times

May 7, 2017

Somalia's military killed one of the Shabab's regional leaders and three associates in a raid, the government said on Sunday, shortly after the killing of a Navy SEAL who was supporting a Somali military operation.

The raid was part of the country's renewed effort to rout the Shabab, the Islamist militant group. Moalin Osman Abdi Badil, the group's leader in the Lower Shabelle region, and three others were killed on Friday in the village of Bariire, west of Mogadishu, the government said.

There was no immediate comment from the Shabab.

The raid came fast on the heels of the death of a Navy SEAL team member on Friday in the same area. The Pentagon called it the first American combat death in Somalia since the "Black Hawk Down" battle in 1993, when two helicopters were shot down and the bodies of American soldiers were dragged through the streets. The United States subsequently withdrew from the nation.

Both Somalia and the United States are stepping up efforts against the Shabab, which is based in Somalia but has attacked in other parts of East Africa. The group also continues to target Mogadishu, Somalia's capital, with deadly bombings.

Somalia's new president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, declared the country a war zone on April 6 and began a new offensive against the Shabab. He also offered members of the group a 60-day amnesty period to surrender.

"Leave Al Shabab now," the government said on Sunday. "Defect, as many of your brothers are beginning to do."

Somalia's military is under growing pressure to take full responsibility for the country's security as a multinational African Union force prepares to start withdrawing in 2018. The United States military has been supporting the country in recent years with a small number of Special Operations forces and counterterrorism advisers, along with numerous airstrikes against the Shabab.

Somalia: Huge blast rocks downtown Mogadishu
Al Jazeera News

May 9, 2017

A car bomb exploded in the heart of Somalia's capital on Monday, killing at least five people and wounding 20 others, police said. Al-Shabab claimed responsibility in a statement on its website.

Mostaf Abdi Abshir, a journalist with Radio Shabelle, told Al Jazeera the vehicle laden with explosives was detonated near a coffee shop opposite the immigration directorate.

"I heard a huge explosion on Maka al-Mukarama street and saw at least seven injured people," Abshir said.

Police officer Hussein Nor Mohamed told Al Jazeera that the death toll currently was five.

Major Aden Ibrahim, a police official, told Reuters news agency that the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber.

Abdikadir Abdirahman, the director of AMIN ambulances, said his organisation had removed eight bodies from the scene and taken more than two dozen wounded to hospital.

"The death toll may rise," he said.

Senior security officials were among the casualties, al-Shabab said.

"We are behind the blast," Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, the group's military operations spokesman, told Reuters. "The targets were police, intelligence, military officials and immigration workers."

Al-Shabab was forced out of the capital and other major urban areas in Somalia by national and African Union multinational forces, but it continues to carry out deadly bombings and attacks in Mogadishu and elsewhere.

Targets have included hotels, military checkpoints and the presidential palace.

Earlier on Monday, three Somali soldiers on an ordnance-clearing mission were killed after a roadside bomb planted by the rebels exploded 90km north of the capital.

Somalia has been mired in conflict since 1991, when clan-based warlords overthrew dictator Siad Barre and then turned on each other.

At Least 13 Killed in Somalia Fighting
Voice of America News

By Mohamed Olad Hassan
May 9, 2017

At least 13 people were killed in fighting Tuesday between government forces and Islamist insurgents in southwestern Somalia, according to witnesses and officials.

The fighting began early in the day when insurgents attacked the Somali National Army base in the district of Goofgaduud, about 35 kilometers outside, Baidoa, 250 kilometers (160 miles) northwest of Mogadishu.

"About 100 heavily armed militants attacked the base with rockets and heavy machine-guns. The fighting lasted about an hour. The government forces in the camp were forced to retreat, but came back to their base immediately," a witness told VOA on the condition of anonymity.

Another witness said he saw the dead bodies of four militants and three uniformed government soldiers lying in the streets of the district.

During the fighting, the militants ambushed a government forces convoy from nearby Baidoa town heading to the camp for reinforcement killing at least six government soldiers, a Somali military commander have confirmed to the VOA.

"The militants ambushed a convoy of government soldiers heading to Goofgaduud as a reinforcement. First, they attack with a land mine and then gunfire. They killed six soldiers and wounded two, and seized one of our military vehicles," the commander told VOA on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak.

In a statement aired by al-Shabab's mouthpiece, Radio Andalus, the group claimed it had seized control of the entire town of Goofgaduud, killing 16 government soldiers.

Shiina Moalim Nuurow, the commander of the regional special police forces involved in the fighting, said the government soldiers remain in control of the town and repulsed the militant attack.

The group, which once ruled much of Somalia, has been fighting for years to impose its strict interpretation of Islam on Somalia.

African Union and Somali troops say they have driven the militants from urban strongholds and ports, but they have often struggled to defend smaller, more remote areas, like Goofgaduud, from such surprise and often deadly attacks.

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NORTH AFRICA

Libya

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

Libya General's Troops Push Into Central Benghazi
The New York Times

By The Associated Press
May 8, 2017

Troops loyal to a powerful general in eastern Libya say they have pushed into central parts of Benghazi on Monday, working to clear out the final areas held by Islamists and their allies in the eastern city.

Riyadh al-Shahiebi, of the special forces media office, says troops fighting for the Libyan National Army of Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter entered the Souq al-Hout and Sabri areas. Six soldiers were killed in the fighting, mostly from land mines and roadside bombs.

Hifter is allied with the internationally recognized parliament in eastern Libya and at odds with the U.N.-backed government in Tripoli.

Libya sank into chaos following the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The oil-producing nation now is split between rival governments and militias.

Benghazi has been the scene of heavy fighting in the past three years between Hifter's forces and Islamic militants and former rebels.

Egyptian Air Force Destroys Vehicles Crossing Border From Libya
The New York Times

By Reuters
May 8, 2017

The Egyptian air force destroyed a group of vehicles that crossed into Egypt from Libya loaded with smuggled weapons, the military said on Monday.

It said on its Facebook page that 15 four-wheel-drive vehicles carrying weapons and other contraband had been destroyed in air raids over the past 48 hours.

A video released by the military showed jets and helicopter gunships attacking targets in the desert. The military did not say who was driving the vehicles or give details of any casualties.

In January, the interior ministry said at least eight policemen were killed when Islamist militants attacked a security checkpoint in Egypt's Western Desert.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has launched the toughest crackdown on Islamists in Egypt's modern history since toppling President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013.

The air force action came as security forces killed eight militants they identified as members of the Muslim Brotherhood in a shootout in the country's south, according to the interior ministry.

Egypt has outlawed the Brotherhood and designated it a terrorist group. The organisation maintains that its activities are peaceful and had no immediate comment.

An interior ministry statement on Monday said those killed in the south included Helmi Saad Masri, whom it described as a prominent Brotherhood leader.

The statement did not identify the exact location of the shootout but said police came under heavy gunfire while trying to approach the group and had to respond with force.

Egypt last month declared a three-month state of emergency after two church bombings claimed by Islamic State killed more than 45 people.

ICC Prosecutor Mulls Inquiry on Crimes Against Migrants in Libya
The New York Times

By Reuters
May 8, 2017

The International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor expressed alarm on Monday at the inhumane detention of thousands of vulnerable migrants in Libya and said she was examining whether an investigation could be opened into crimes against them.

Libya is the main gateway for migrants attempting to reach Europe by sea. The United Nations migration agency said more than 1,000 migrants have been reported dead or missing in the Mediterranean this year, while an unknown number perish in the desert.

According to the International Organization for Migration, 20,000 migrants are held by criminal gangs in irregular detention centers in Libya and growing numbers of migrants are traded in what they call slave markets before being held for ransom, forced labor or sexual exploitation.

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told the United Nations Security Council that her office was collecting and analyzing information "related to serious and widespread crimes allegedly committed against migrants attempting to transit through Libya."

"I take this opportunity before the council to declare that my office is carefully examining the feasibility of opening an investigation into migrant-related crimes in Libya should the court's jurisdictional requirements be met," Bensouda said.

The United Nations Security Council asked the court in 2011 to investigate crimes committed since the start of an uprising the same year that led to the fall of leader Muammar Gaddafi. The oil-producing North African state slipped into turmoil and been riven by factional strife since then.

The International Criminal Court, which opened in 2002, has international jurisdiction to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in member states or if a situation is referred by the U.N. Security Council.

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EUROPE

The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, War Crimes Chamber

Official Court Website [English translation]

Extradite War Suspects, Ex-UN Peacekeeper Urges Croatia
Balkan Insight

By Denis Dzidic
May 8, 2017

A former soldier with international peacekeeping forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina has written to the Croatian authorities, appealing to them to extradite Bosnian Croat war crimes suspects to stand trial.

Patrick Hector Gullan, a British former member of UN peacekeeping forces, who was stationed in the Bosnian town of Stolac immediately after the war, has sent an open letter to Croatia's president, prime minister and chief prosecutor, calling for Croats suspected of committing war crimes in the Mostar, Stolac and Capljina areas to be extradited to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In the letter - which Gullan also sent to Bosnian and US governments, as well as to European Union representatives - Gullan said that former Bosnian Croat fighters Ivan Ancic and Vid Palameta, who are accused of war crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as three other suspects, are living in Croatia.

Gullan, who was honoured in Britain for his role in the Bosnian war, said he decided to write the letter after recent appeals against the Hague Tribunal's verdict convicting six high-ranking officials from the unrecognised Bosnian Croat wartime statelet of Herceg-Bosna reminded him about "the full horror and scale of what went on in Bosnian Croat-dominated areas from mid-1993 to mid-1994".

He said that those suspected of being responsible for the "mind-numbing crimes executed in the pursuit of a Herzeg-Bosna statelet", including ethnic cleansing, the destruction of Stolac and "raw brutality meted out on Bosniaks" who were imprisoned at the Dretelj detention camp and the Kostana hospital, should be brought to trial.

He called on the authorities in Croatia, in interest of justice and in the name of the camp's victims, to change their attitude to extradition in war crimes cases and to transfer Ancic and Palameta to Sarajevo.

He argued that this could be seen as "a positive initiative on the part of Croatia to enhance justice, truth and reconciliation".

Gullan has been calling for Bosnian Croat war criminals to be brought to justice for many years; in 2001, he headed an investigation into the intimidation of Bosniaks displaced by the war who were trying to return to Stolac.

The report called for the arrest of 22 people for post-war violence and intimidation, and for the ethnic cleansing of Bosniaks during the 1992-95 conflict.

Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia do not extradite citizens who are accused of war crimes to each other, but the prosecutor's offices in the two countries have a protocol of cooperation that allows the transfer of cases.

In January 2014, the Bosnian state prosecution filed an indictment against Ivan Ancic for wartime crimes in the Capljina area, but he did not attend a plea hearing in September the same year. He lives in Split in Croatia.

The Bosnian prosecution filed an indictment against Vid Palameta in May 2014 for crimes committed at the Dretelj camp. Palameta, who also lives in Croatia, did not attend a plea hearing in January 2015.

The six Herzeg-Bosna political and military officials - Jadranko Prlic, Milivoj Petkovic, Slobodan Praljak, Valentin Coric, Bruno Stojic and Berislav Pusic - were initially sentenced to a total of 111 years in prison in 2013.

In March this year, the verdicts were appealed - UN prosecutors requested more severe sentences, while the defence claimed that there was no joint criminal enterprise with the aim of creating a 'Greater Croatia' and that all six should be acquitted.

The final verdict is expected later this year.

Trial Verdict upheld in the case v. Nenad Pržulj
The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina

May 9, 2017

The Panel of the Section I for War Crimes of the Appeals Division of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina sent out on 12 April 2017, the Appeals Verdict dated 16 March 2017 by which the appeal filed by the Prosecutor's Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina is refused as unfounded and so the Verdict of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina dated 23 December 2016 is upheld.

Under the Trial Verdict dated 23 December 2016, the Accused Nenad Pržulj is acquitted of charges for the criminal offense of Crimes against Humanity.

The Prosecutor's Office of BIH timely filed an appeal from the Verdict on grounds of essential violations of criminal procedure provisions and erroneously and incompletely established state of facts moving the Appeals Panel of the Court of BIH to grant the appeal, revoke the Verdict and order a re-trial before the Panel of the Appeals Division of the Court of BIH.

The Defense Counsel for the Accused timely filed a response to the Prosecution appeal moving the Appeals Panel to refuse the appeal as unfounded and uphold the Trial Verdict.

On 16 March 2017, the Appeals Panel held a public session where the parties and Defense Counsel maintained their appellate grievances and motions in their entirety.

The Appeals Panel examined the challenged Verdict within the limits of appellate grievances and reached the decision as aforementioned.

Trial Verdict upheld in the case v. Dragan Marinković
The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina

May 9, 2017

The Panel of the Section I for War Crimes of the Appeals Division of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina sent out on 17 April 2017, the Appeals Verdict dated 23 March 2017 by which the appeals filed by the Accused Dragan Marinković and the Defense Counsel for the Accused are refused as unfounded and so the Verdict of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina dated 2 December 2016 is upheld.

Under the Trial Verdict dated 2 December 2016, the Accused Dragan Marinković is found guilty of the criminal offense of Crimes against Humanity and sentenced to eight (8) years in prison.

The Accused Dragan Marinković filed an appeal from the Verdict on grounds of erroneously and incompletely established state of facts, erroneous application of the criminal code and decision as to the sanction, moving the Appeals Panel of the Court of BIH to grant the appeal, modify the Verdict and acquit the Accused of the charges, or to revoke the Verdict and refer the case back to the first-instance decision or to revoke the Verdict and order a re-trial.

The Defense Counsel for the Accused Dragan Marinković filed an appeal on grounds of essential violations of criminal procedure provisions, violation of the criminal code, erroneously or incompletely established state of facts, and decision as to the sanction, moving the Appeals Panel to modify the Verdict and acquit the Accused from charges or to revoke the convicting part of the Verdict and order a re-trial.

The Prosecutor's Office of BIH timely filed a response to the defense appeals moving the Appeals Panel to refuse the appeals as unfounded and uphold the Trial Verdict.

On 23 March 2017, the Appeals Panel held a public session where the parties and Defense Counsel maintained their appellate grievances and motions in their entirety.

The Appeals Panel examined the challenged Verdict within the limits of appellate grievances and reached the decision as aforementioned.

Trial Verdict upheld in relation to the Accused Novica Tripković
The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina

May 11, 2017

The Panel of the Section I for War Crimes of the Appeals Division of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina sent out on 28 February 2017, the Appeals Verdict dated 28 November 2016 by which the appeals filed by the Prosecutor's Office of Bosnia and Herzegvoina and the Defense Counsel for the Accused Novica Tripković are refused as unfounded and so the Verdict of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina dated 28 April 2016 is upheld.

Under the Trial Verdict the Accused Novica Tripković is found guilty that by his acts described in the convicting part of the challenged Verdict committed the criminal offense of War Crimes against Civilians in violation of Article 142 of the Criminal Coe of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia (CC of SFRY) as read with Article 22 of the said Code and sentenced to eight (8) years in prison.

Under the said Verdict the Accused Zoran Bjelica is acquitted of charges for the criminal offense of War Crimes against Civilians in violation of Article 173(1)© of the CC of BIH as read with Article 180(1) and Article 29 of the said Code.

The Prosecutor's Office filed an appeal from the Verdict on grounds of essential violation of provisions of the criminal procedure, erroneously and incompletely established state of facts, and decision as to the sanction in relation to the Accused Novica Tripković.

The Defense Counsel for the Accused Novica Tripković filed an appeal on grounds of essential violations of criminal procedure provisions, and erroneously or incompletely established state of facts.

On 28 November 2016, the Appeals Panel held a public session where the parties and Defense Counsel maintained their appellate grievances and motions in their entirety.

The Appeals Panel examined the challenged Verdict within the limits of appellate grievances and reached the decision as aforementioned.

Bosnian Prosecution Demands Jail for Capljina Ex-Policemen
Balkan Insight

May 10, 2017

The state prosecution called for former policemen Nikola Zovko, Petar Krndelj, Kreso Rajic and Ivica Cutura to be found guilty of killing three Bosniaks during an attack in the Capljina area in July 1993.

Prosecutor Stanko Blagic told the state court in Sarajevo in his closing statement in the trial on Wednesday that the allegations that the four men committed war crimes involving the deaths of three Bosniak civilians had been proved, and called for them to be jailed.

The indictment alleges that the men participated in an armed operation in the village of Celjevo in the Capljina municipality on or around July 28, 1993, during which three Bosniak civilians were killed.

Zovko is the former commander of the police station in Capljina, Krndelj the former assistant commander, Rajic the former commander of the Military Police Squad in Capljina, and Cutura a former operational worker at the police station.

Krndelj, Zovko and Rajic have been charged with failing to punish subordinate members of the civil and military police who committed the murders.

Prosecutor Blagic said the injured parties were civilians and "could not have been commandos, as alleged by the defence".

According to the prosecutor, Krndelj was present at the murder scene and the lives of the men who were killed were in his hands.

"He could have prevented their murder," Blagic said, adding that it could be concluded, on the basis of the evidence, that Krndelj led the operation in Celjevo.

As far as Zovko and Rajic are concerned, prosecutor Blagic said they were not personally present at the crime scene but were obliged to punish the perpetrators, and did not.

Zovko, Krndelj and Cutura have also been charged with unlawfully arresting civilians from the village of Veledarova Mahala and taking them to Gabela detention camp in July 1993.

The prosecutor said that this count had been proved at the trial as well.

"Witness Adem Veledar confirmed that Ivica Cutura carried out the arrests of the Bosniak civilians," Blagic said.

Zovko and Krndelj's defence lawyers are due to present their closing statements on May 24

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International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY)

Official Website of the ICTY

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Domestic Prosecutions In The Former Yugoslavia

Serbia Slams France's Refusal to Extradite Hardinaj
Balkan Insight

By Filip Rudic
April 27, 2017

Serbia will issue a diplomatic protest note and temporarily recall its ambassador from Paris over a French court's decision to not to extradite former Kosovo guerrilla and ex-Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj to Belgrade.

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said on Thursday that the French court in Colmar made a political decision to turn down Serbia's extradition request for former Kosovo Prime Minister and ex- Kosovo Liberation Army guerrilla Ramush Haradinaj, who is wanted by Belgrade on war crimes charges.

"The Serbian government considers this decision disgraceful, scandalous, unlawful, and above all else, political," Vucic said after an extraordinary government session called to discuss Haradinaj's release.

Vucic claimed that the French court justified its decision by saying that extradition "could have dire consequences" for Haradinaj.

"It would have been funny if it wasn't tragic. We didn't call him over to eat chocolate, but to answer for his crimes," Vucic said.

Vucic added that he will speak with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about the case, but insisted that Serbia will not change its policy and will stay "on the European path" despite the French ruling.

The appeals court in the French town of Colmar rejected Serbia's extradition request for Haradinaj on Thursday morning.

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

However Serbian officials insist that they have evidence that he was involved in other war crimes for which he has not yet been prosecuted.

They say he is suspected of the murders of civilians, including the killing of a two-week-old baby, torture, and the rape of a minor.

Politicians from the Serbian ruling coalition also condemned the French court's decision as political.

"There is no doubt anymore that international courts are made for Serbs alone," said Dragan Markovic of the United Serbia party.

Serbian tabloid media also reacted with outrage, with some newspapers calling Haradinaj a "butcher" and a "criminal".

The director of the Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights, Milan Antonijevic, told Beta news agency that Serbia should consider charging Haradinaj before Kosovo's newly-founded Special Court, which will try ex-guerrillas for wartime crimes.

"I hope that the [Serbian] state will respond constructively and consider cooperating with the Special Court, thus returning this story to where it belongs, which is the courthouse," Antonijevic said.

The European Parliament's vice-president and standing rapporteur for relations with Kosovo, Ulrike Lunacek, welcomed the French court's decision, however.

"Keeping up an outdated international arrest warrant from 2004 (!) by Serbia, which is in an EU-moderated dialogue with Kosovo, is totally unacceptable," Lunacek said in a statement.

She said that the withdrawal of such old arrest warrants for Kosovo Liberation Army ex-fighters was "an important condition to continue the EU-mediated dialogue process between Belgrade and Pristina according to the principle of good neighbourly relations".

Kosovo President Hashim Thaci has also welcomed the court ruling.

"Once again it has been proved that the defamations of the Serbian [security] services against the Kosovo Liberation Army are unreliable and are not respected by the democratic world," Thaci wrote on Facebook.

Haradinaj's arrest at a French airport after he flew in from Kosovo in January heightened tensions between Belgrade and Pristina.

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

Serbia Clears Two Bosnian Serb Soldiers of War Crimes
Balkan Insight

May 4, 2017

A Belgrade court acquitted two former Bosnian Serb Army soldiers of killing a Bosniak civilian in December 1992 during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, reversing their previous convictions.

The Serbian appeals court on Wednesday acquitted Bosnian Serb ex-soldiers Nedeljko Sovilj and Rajko Vekic of all charges relating to the civilian's killing, ruling were that there was no evidence to prove without doubt that they committed the crimes of which they are accused.

The court also ruled that the witnesses did not provide reliable evidence on which to base a conviction.

Sovilj and Vekic were initially convicted last year by the Higher Court in Belgrade and sentenced each to eight years in prison for killing Mehmed Hrkic, a Bosniak civilian, on December 21, 1992, in the village of Osoje, near the Bosnian town of Bosanski Petrovac.

According to the 2016 verdict, the defendants came across Hrkic and another man, Milo Vukelic, as they were passing through the village.

"They ordered Vukelic to go home, and captured Hrkic… The accused - both armed with automatic rifles - took the captive approximately 500 meters deeper into the forest and fired at least three bullets in his direction. Hrkic died on the spot," the verdict said.

Sovilj and Vekic, both originally from Bosanki Petrovac, fled to Serbia after the end of the war, and obtained Serbian citizenship.

The case was transferred to Serbia from a Bosnian court in the town of Bihac on the basis of an international legal assistance agreement.

Serbia Finally Confirms Strpci Train Massacre Charges
Balkan Insight

By Filip Rudic
May 9, 2017

A Serbian court confirmed charges against five Bosnian Serb ex-fighters accused of killing 20 passengers they abducted from a train in Strpci, Bosnia in 1993 - over two years after they were indicted.

The Higher Court in Belgrade on Tuesday confirmed the charges against the five former Bosnian Serb fighters suspected of the abduction and massacre of 20 passengers seized from a train in Strpci in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the war in 1993.

The Serbian war crime prosecutor's office issued indictments in March 2015 against Gojko Lukic, Ljubisa Vasiljevic, Dusko Vasiljevic, Jovan Lipovac and Dragana Djekic, all former members of the Bosnian Serb armed forces, for their involvement in the abductions and killings of the civilian victims.

Ten more former Bosnian Serb fighters who were also arrested at the same time in neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina went on trial in Sarajevo for the Strpci crimes in October 2015.

On February 27, 1993 a group of fighters led by Milan Lukic, the chief of the 'Avengers' paramilitary unit, ordered the local station manager in Strpci to halt an express from Belgrade which was heading to the Montenegrin coastal town of Bar.

The fighters then forced 20 of them to get off the train. Most were Bosniaks who lived in Serbia or Montenegro. There was also one Croat who was travelling to Montenegro to visit his son, and another man who was never identified.

They were taken by truck to a school in the village of Prelovo near Visegrad, where they were robbed and beaten.

They were then taken onwards to the nearby village of Musici, where they were killed and their bodies thrown in the Drina River.

The remains of three of them have been found in Lake Perucac near Visegrad, while the other bodies are still missing.

Milan Lukic was sentenced by the Hague Tribunal to life imprisonment for wartime crimes in Visegrad, but not for the abductions in Strpci.

A court in Montenegro did however jail a former member of Lukic's unit, Nebojsa Ranisavljevic, for 15 years over the Strpci case.

During his trial it was proved that there was an advance plan for the abductions and that the Serbian Railway Company had informed the Serbian interior ministry and the Yugoslav Army about the possibility of seizing the passengers.

Only one person has so far been convicted of the killings of the passengers.

Croatia Compensates Serb Family for Killing by Soldier
Balkan Insight

By Sven Milekic
May 9, 2017

A Croatian court ordered 106,000 euros in compensation to be paid to the family of Janko Cakic, a Serb civilian killed after Croatia's military operation 'Storm' in August 1995.

The county court in Bjelovar, a town in central Croatia, ruled that the state must compensate the family of Janko Cakic, a Serb killed on August 20, 1995, Croatian news site Index reported on Tuesday.

The court on Monday upheld the verdict handed down by a lower municipal court in the coastal town of Sibenik and ruled that the family should be paid 106,000 euros in compensation, plus interest.

Cakic was killed by a member of the Croatian 15th home guard regiment 'Petar Kresimir IV' in the village of Zecevo, in the Sibenik region, in the aftermath of Croatia's victorious military operation 'Storm'.

His body and house were burned afterwards. His remains were found, exhumed, identified and buried in 2015.

Index reported that the court's decision came as a result of the conviction of the perpetrator, who was sentenced to six years in prison in 1996.

The unnamed perpetrator was convicted of a murder - not a war crime - and served three years before being pardoned by then Croatian President Franjo Tudjman.

The Bjelovar court ruled that Cakic was killed by a member of state forces serving in wartime, therefore the state was responsible and must pay compensation.

The state attorney's office had sought to claim that the statute of limitations had passed in the case.

The compensation will be paid to Cakic's widow and daughters.

During the Operation Storm, Croatian forces took back a large part of the country's territory that had been under the control of rebel Croatian Serbs since 1991.

But according to the Croatian Helsinki Committee, the operation resulted in the killing of over 600 mostly elderly civilians and the expulsion of more than 200,000 Serbs.

Serbian Parliament to Name War Crimes Prosecutor
Balkan Insight

By Filip Rudic
May 10, 2017

The Serbian parliament is to finally choose a new chief war crimes prosecutor, after the post was left vacant for a year and a half, which experts say has damaged the fragile institution.

Serbia's National Assembly has announced it will elect a new chief war crimes prosecutor on Thursday, choosing between two deputies of the former prosecutor, Vladimir Vukcevic, whose term expired in December 2015.

The Serbian authorities have announced the appointment of a new prosecutor several times, but never delivered. Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic promised an appointment by the end of December last year.

According to experts, the fact that the War Crimes Prosecutor's Office has had no chief for so long has further damaged the already fragile institution, which has been suffering from a lack of support and resources, as well as being subjected to political pressure over the past couple of years.

The candidate rumoured to be the frontrunner is Snezana Stanojkovic, who joined the prosecutor's office in 2008.

Most of the programme that she submitted as a candidate for the prosecutor's job focuses on Serb victims and ending impunity for crimes against Serbs.

She has worked on a variety of cases, including the ongoing trial of three members of the Serbian armed forces accused killing of 46 Kosovo Albanians in the village of Ljubovic during the war in 1999.

During her engagement as deputy prosecutor, she filed 16 indictments for the crimes committed in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo.

Stanojkovic has advocated the trial in absentia of Croatian fighters suspected of war crimes against Serbs, as there is no extradition agreement between Belgrade and Zagreb.

She also advocates plea agreements, arguing that they make war crimes trials more efficient and faster.

The other candidate, Milan Petrovic, has worked at the prosecutor's office since it was established in 2003, mostly on cases related to the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992-95.

He led the controversial case against a former policeman from Tuzla, Ilija Jurisic, who was accused of causing the deaths of around 50 soldiers during an attack on the retreating column of the Yugoslav People's Army.

Jurisic was convicted, but after a retrial the court of appeals overturned the verdict for lack of evidence.

In his programme, Petrovic advocates the improvement of witness protection and better cooperation with the police.

He calls for the establishment of an Office for the Victim and Witness Support and Assistance, and says he initiated the adoption of a Strategy for War Crimes Prosecution that will set criteria for prioritising cases.

Petrovic listed the Srebrenica cases, the murder of the Albanian-American Bytyqi brothers, Kosovo organ-trafficking, the case against the Bosnian Army's Srebrenica commander Naser Oric and the massacre of passengers kidnapped from a train in Strpci as examples of priority cases.

Both Petrovic and Stanojkovic have called for more employees at the prosecutor's office and for more regional cooperation.

Serbia's Humanitarian Law Centre NGO told BIRN that the priority cases for the prosecution should be established according to the scale of the crimes committed, the availability of witnesses and the quality of evidence, among other criteria.

"Since processing war crimes is almost impossible without regional cooperation, the new prosecutor needs to promote working with prosecutors from countries in the region," the HLC told BIRN.

Stasa Zajovic from the Serbian peace NGO Women in Black said that the next prosecutor should proritise cases against high-ranking officials, instead of focusing on the rank-and-file fighters who executed orders.

"The most important thing is to establish command responsibility and make it clear that there is a political will to end impunity," Zajovic said.

She also advocated faster trials and a better treatment of witnesses and victims who testify, but expressed pessimism about the candidates for the post.

Serbia's next chief war crimes prosecutor will face tough challenges - improving a deteriorating case record, dealing with political pressures and satisfying EU demands that are crucial for the country's accession negotiations.

Zajovic argued that in Serbia there is "a lack of political will to end impunity".

The number of war crimes prosecutions has low in recent years - in 2014, only four indictments were issued, in 2015, there were no indictments, while in 2016 eight were issued; one was the first ever Serbian case for war crimes in Srebrenica, but the others mostly small-scale crimes with one defendant.

The prosecution issued two new indictments related to the Bosnian war in April 2017 - one for the murder of Bosniaks kidnapped in Strpci and for killings in Sanski Most.

No indictment for war crimes in Kosovo has been issued for three years.

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MIDDLE EAST AND ASIA

Iraq

Grotian Moment: The International War Crimes Trial Blog

Iraq: Kirkuk Security Forces Expel Displaced Turkmen
Human Rights Watch

May 7, 2017

Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) authorities in Kirkuk are forcing internally displaced Sunni Turkmen to leave the city, Human Rights Watch said today.

Affected residents said that the regional government's Asayish security forces confiscated their identity and benefits cards and otherwise harassed them. They said the intention was to compel them to return to towns under the control of abusive Shia units of the Iraqi government's Popular Mobilization Forces (Hashd al-Sha'abi or PMF). The Sunni Turkmen said they thought the abuses were linked to the perception among KRG authorities that the Turkmen come from areas where some Sunni residents supported the Islamic State (also known as ISIS).

"All Iraqis have the right to live in safety, and forcing displaced Turkmen families out of their homes to parts of the country where they would be in danger is particularly egregious," said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "KRG forces should cease harassing Turkmen and unlawfully forcing them to leave Kirkuk."

In a written response to a Human Rights Watch inquiry, a KRG spokesperson denied that displaced people were being given a deadline to leave Kirkuk, a major city in Iraq's so-called "disputed territories" between the Iraqi government and the KRG, and that any religious or ethnic groups, including Turkmen, were being discriminated against. He said, however, that based on a decision by local authorities, displaced people "whose areas have been liberated months or a year ago are assisted to return to their original areas of residence."

Following an ISIS attack on Kirkuk on October 21, 2016, KRG authorities forced hundreds of displaced Sunni Arab families to leave the city. Human Rights Watch has not identified any cases of displaced Kurdish or Shia residents being forced to leave Kirkuk.

In February 2017, Human Rights Watch interviewed 14 Turkmen, including three women, who had been living in Kirkuk since 2014 because of insecurity elsewhere in Iraq. All had registered with local authorities as required. In some cases, Asayish officers had confiscated their essential documents then and told them to leave the city, but had not followed up until recently. In other cases, the Asayish had confiscated the documents in recent months and ordered them to leave Kirkuk. All were in hiding in Kirkuk and most had eluded attempts to force them to leave. Two of the Turkmen said Asayish tried to force them out in late 2016, two in January 2017, and eight in February. They said that they were afraid to return to their homes because PMF units that were controlling their towns would target them because they were Sunni.

People interviewed said that Asayish officers who confiscated the documents said they would be returned when the owners left the city or when they reached the Daquq checkpoint, 30 kilometers south of Kirkuk and the border of the governorate. Several Turkmen said that the Asayish arbitrarily detained them for several hours and, in some cases, beat them as part of efforts to compel them to leave the city.

Confiscating Turkmen families' documents further marginalizes an already vulnerable group, Human Rights Watch said. These cards are two of four identification documents Iraqi citizens are regularly required to present when visiting government offices or institutions. A failure to present an ID when requested at a checkpoint can result in detention. Without both cards, individuals are not able to obtain humanitarian aid or other benefits. Without ID cards, they are unable to buy property, or vote in local or national elections.

One Turkmen man said that his son was in custody near Tikrit, "but I can't even go visit my son in Tikrit because I have no ID card to travel." All of those interviewed said they were struggling to provide for their families because they could not get food assistance without their cards.

International human rights and humanitarian law prohibit forced displacement because of a person's religion or ethnicity. The United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement provide that all internally displaced people have the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose their residence (principle 14). They also have the right to seek safety in another part of the country and to be protected against forcible return to any place where they would be at risk (principle 15). All humanitarian assistance should be provided without discrimination (principle 24).

In a written response to Human Rights Watch about its findings, Dr. Dindar Zebari, chairman of the KRG High Committee to Evaluate and Respond to International Reports, said that Kirkuk's Asayish contend that:

There has not been such thing as a deadline for the refugees [i.e. displaced people] to leave Kirkuk, especially Sunni Turkmen as there has not been any kind of discrimination or ill-treatment against any religions or ethnicities. According to a decision by the Kirkuk governorate, governors and the Iraqi Council of Ministers, the refugees whose areas have been liberated months or a year ago are assisted to return to their original areas of residence. … For that reason, sometimes it has been necessary to take their documents for their return procedures so that the checkpoints will not prevent them from getting back their land and properties.

Dindar said that as displaced people passed through the relevant checkpoint, usually Daquq, authorities would return their documents.

KRG authorities should make a public commitment to immediately end unlawful forced displacements and return all wrongfully confiscated identity documents and benefits cards, Human Rights Watch said. The authorities should provide compensation, including housing and other assistance, to families harmed by being unlawfully forced out of Kirkuk.

"Turkmen families, like any other Iraqis, have the right to live in Kirkuk without fear of having their papers taken or being forcibly evicted," Fakih said.

All names of those interviewed have been changed for their protection.

Fear of Returning Home

Ethnic Turkmen interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that because of their fear of returning home, they have taken the risk of continuing to live in Kirkuk after Kurdish officials confiscated their documents.

Most of those interviewed were from Yengice, an ethnically Turkmen town in Salah al-Din governorate, 62 kilometers south of Kirkuk. Yengice fell under ISIS control in June 2014, and PMF and Kurdish Peshmerga forces retook the town three months later in September 2014.

The displaced Yengice residents said that the Khorasani Brigades, a PMF unit, immediately set up a base inside the deserted town. The Turkmen have been afraid to return home because of serious abuses by PMF against Sunnis elsewhere. Human Rights Watch has documented such abuses in Fallujah and Nineveh, among others.

One man from Bustamli, a Turkmen village six kilometers south of Yengice, said fear of being targeted by PMF kept him from returning home. He said that while some Shia Turkmen families have since returned, to his knowledge Sunni families have not returned for fear of revenge attacks by PMF in the area.

Another man from the ethnically diverse Kurdish, Turkmen, and Arab town of Tuz Khurmatu in Salah al-Din, 80 kilometers south of Kirkuk, said he was afraid to return because there had been ethnic tensions, including bombings, abductions, and arson attacks by Peshmerga and PMF.

Confiscation of Documents

Some of the displaced Turkmen in Kirkuk said that Asayish officers took their papers soon after their arrival in the city in 2014 and demanded that they leave, but had not bothered them again until recently. Others had been able to keep their cards when they arrived.

"Ammar," 30, a public health worker from Yengice, moved to the majority-Kurdish Runaki neighborhood in Kirkuk in June 2014, after ISIS took Yengice. He said that on February 19, 2017, when he was not at home, two Asayish officers arrived and confiscated his mother's ID and benefits cards, telling her that her family had to return to Yengice since it had been retaken and that she could get her cards at the Daquq checkpoint. The family was still living at home, without the mother's paperwork, when interviewed on February 22.

"Noura," 45, a housewife from Yegice, said she moved to Kirkuk in July 2014. In late January 2017, she said, Asayish officers came to her home and demanded that her husband, who was out at the time, go to the Asayish office in the Raheem Awa neighborhood the next day. She and her husband and four other couples in their area who had been called in all went to the office the next day. The officers confiscated her husband's ID card and the cards of the four other men, saying they could retrieve them from the office on their way out of the city. On February 20, Asayish officers returned to their home and demanded again that they leave, forcing the family to hide in another area of Kirkuk.

"Qassim," 37, a laborer from Yengice, moved to the Shaterlaw neighborhood of Kirkuk in mid-2014. In late November 2016, two Asayish officers came to his home and confiscated his ID and benefits card, saying he would get them back if he left the city. After three days, Qassim said, he went to the Asayish office in the central market to try to get his documents back but officers said that they had "lost" the papers. The two officers returned to his home on February 22 and threatened to detain him if he did not leave. He and his family were still living at home when interviewed.

"Omar," 50, a farmer, said he left his home in Yengice in August 2014, and resettled in Kirkuk's Quria neighborhood with his family and his five brothers' families. In early January 2015, two Asayish officers who said they were from Raheem Awa came to their house and demanded the ID and benefits cards of the entire family, saying the family had to return to Yengice and could get their papers at the Daquq checkpoint. A month later, he and his brothers, whose documents had also been taken, went to the Asayish office in Raheem Awa to demand the return of their documents.

Omar said that an officer there asked if they were prepared to leave the city but refused to explain why he was making that demand and in a loud voice ordered them to leave the office. Omar said they returned 10 days later, and the officers claimed they could not find the cards. Omar and his brothers then traveled to the Daquq checkpoint to ask for their papers, and said that an Asayish officer there said that their papers had been burned.

On February 12, 2017, Omar returned to the Raheem Awa office again to try to get his cards but the senior officer in charge told him that he and his family needed to leave Kirkuk by February 15. After Omar pleaded, the officer said he could stay until February 25, after which the officer said his forces would forcibly move them to the Daquq checkpoint. The officer made him sign a paper written in Kurdish, Omar said, without knowing what was written on it. He and his family have since been hiding in another Kirkuk neighborhood.

Arbitrary Detention and Ill-Treatment as Harassment

Several displaced Turkmen said that in early 2017, Asayish officers in Kirkuk had briefly detained and mistreated them as part of efforts to compel them and their families to leave Kirkuk.

"Zaki," 55, a laborer from Yengice, said that in September 2015, an Asayish officer came to his home and demanded that he turn over his ID and benefits cards. The officer said he would be able to get the documents back at Daquq checkpoint. On February 21, 2017, while Zaki was selling chewing gum in the main market, two Asayish officers, one in uniform and the other in civilian clothes, detained him and took him to the Asayish office in Raheem Awa, he said.

The officers held him in a bathroom for five hours. One officer punched him for no apparent reason. Another slapped him in the face at least 10 times, saying that he had to leave town by noon the next day. An hour after he was taken into the bathroom, officers brought in his cousin, who said three officers had arrested him at his workplace. Zaki and his cousin said the officers only agreed to release them after they each signed a paper written in Kurdish whose contents they did not understand. An officer warned both, "If you do not leave the city, we will use this paper against you in court," and with that let them leave. Zaki returned to the Asayish office the next morning, asking to speak to the senior ranking officer, but staff at the office turned him away and said that if he did not leave by noon, he would be detained. He is in hiding in Kirkuk.

"Arsan," 52, a laborer from Yengice, said he moved to the mixed Kurdish and Turkmen neighborhood of Quria in Kirkuk in August 2014. He said that on February 12, 2017, an Asayish officer called him and told him to come to their Raheem Awa office. There he said officers demanded his ID and benefits cards, and said he had one week to leave the city and return home because his home district had been retaken from ISIS. On February 21, while Arsan was out, Asayish officers came to his home and told his wife that they would "show them hell" if the family did not leave.

Later that night, after Arsan had returned, more than 10 officers showed up, blindfolded him and took him back to the station, locking him in a small room for three hours, until a neighbor vouched for him, he said. The officers let him leave after he signed a paper whose contents he could not understand because it was in Kurdish. They ordered him to come back the next morning, telling him then to leave that afternoon. He is in hiding in Kirkuk.

Arbitrary Detention and Ill-Treatment against Alleged ISIS Affiliates

Asayish forces in the past have arbitrarily detained, and in some cases mistreated, displaced Turkmen in Kirkuk on suspicion of ISIS-affiliation. Some of those who told Human Rights Watch they had been detained for that reason had been held for several months, but all said that they were eventually released without charge.

"Muhammad," 45, a healthcare worker, said that he and his family moved to the Quria district of Kirkuk after leaving his home in Yengice in August 2014. He said that three days a week he would drive to Tuz Khurmatu, where he worked at the local hospital. On the morning of December 29, 2014, Asayish officers at a checkpoint outside of Tuz Khurmatu detained and blindfolded him without providing a reason and held him for about 24 hours. Muhammad said that at least one guard beat his hands and legs with a plastic stick for an hour that day while questioning him about any links to ISIS.

The next day guards drove him to an Asayish office they said was in the village of Qura Hanjir, 20 kilometers west of Kirkuk, and held him for one month in a cell with approximately 60 other men, all of whom told him they were being held on suspicion of ISIS-affiliation. The guards there slapped him and punched him a few times as they accused him of delivering food to ISIS, and kept him blindfolded throughout his detention, he said. He did not have access to his family or a lawyer.

In late January 2015, guards transferred him to the Interior Ministry's intelligence office and allowed him to telephone his family to tell them where he was. His family hired a lawyer who appeared with him before an investigative judge the next day at a Kirkuk court, he said. The judge told him that the Interior Ministry needed to complete their intelligence screening process but that he could be released within two weeks. Instead, he was held in several different facilities before Interior Ministry authorities released him on May 15, 2015, without charge, he said.

He said that two weeks after his release an Asayish officer called and told him to come into the local Asayish office with his family's identity documents and benefits cards. The officer confiscated all of the family's documents, and told him the family had one week to leave Kirkuk. He said they could pick up their documents at Daquq checkpoint on their way out. The officer provided no reason or paperwork for the order, Muhammad said. For nearly two years he has tried to get his documents back without success. He is unwilling to leave Kirkuk to return to his home, which he says is unsafe, and continues to live with his family in Kirkuk without any paperwork.

Because of his absence while in detention, he lost his job and had been unable to get a new one.

"Azadeen," 63, a former soldier, said that he left Yengice in July 2014, to stay with his two brothers in the Quria neighborhood of Kirkuk. He said that in August 2014, a large group of Asayish forces and Interior Ministry forces including the local police came to their home and demanded that the three men come with them to the local police station. They held the men there for 13 days in a cell in the station, interrogating him twice, asking if he had joined ISIS. Four days into his detention, police brought Azadeen and his brothers before an investigative judge. Azadeen said he refused to respond to the judge's questions.

He said the Asayish allowed the men's families to visit them at the police station. He said that after 13 days, the police transferred him and his brothers to Kirkuk's pretrial detention facility, where they were held in a cell with about 65 other detainees for 45 days. They were not interrogated or taken before a judge, and not allowed to see their families but finally were released without charge. A week later, an Interior Ministry intelligence officer came to the brothers' home and demanded Azadeen's identity card, and took him to the local intelligence office in Quria. The officer said that if he left the neighborhood, the officer would give him his ID back, Azadeen said.

Azadeen did not leave the city, but in the course of the next year he moved with his family to two different neighborhoods. Each time he informed the local police, Asayish, and intelligence officers. During this period the officer who had taken his ID document returned it to him.

In November 2016, Azadeen was living in a house in the mixed Kurdish, Arab, and Turkmen Faylaq neighborhood, when one day four Asayish officers came and demanded his ID and benefits cards along with those of his son, and his son's wife. The Asayish told the family to go to the local Asayish office the next day. He said that when they arrived, an officer told him that he had orders for Azadeen and his family to return to Yengice, and that if they did, they would get their documents back at the Daquq checkpoint. He and his family have remained in Kirkuk without documentation. He said that another son was detained in October 2016 on ISIS-affiliation charges after he returned to Yengice and is being held in Tikrit. But Azadeen cannot travel to visit him without an ID card.

Bringing Daesh To Justice
Forbes

By Ewelina U. Ochab
May 7, 2017

On April 25, 2017, a hearing on the genocide perpetrated by Daesh against religious minorities took place at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). The event, a joint hearing of the Assembly's Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy and the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, was initiated by Pieter Omtzigt (Netherlands, EPP/CD), who was appointed the Rapporteur on 'Prosecuting & punishing crimes against humanity or possible genocide by Daesh' only a few months earlier.

Pieter Omtzigt presented his introductory memorandum on the topic and his final report is expected over the next couple of months. "Just as Nazi war criminals are still being prosecuted for their heinous crimes today, so justice should never rest until the criminals of Daesh are brought to account and punished for their crimes" said Pieter Omtzigt.

The attendees heard from Nadia Murad, a Yazidi survivor of Daesh' atrocities and winner of the 2016 Václav Havel Human Rights Prize. Nadia Murad gave her testimony of the atrocities suffered at the hands of Daesh and emphasised the need for international communities to take action.

Nadia Murad's call for action was echoed by Geoffrey Robertson QC, former president of the Sierra Leone tribunal. GeoffreyRobertson QC proposed to set up a European Criminal Court to try the crimes of genocide and slavery. As emphasised by Geoffrey Robertson QC, there is nothing in EU law to stop the Parliament doing this.

I was honoured to speak alongside Nadia Murad, Pieter Omtzigt and Geoffrey Robertson QC.

Following, is the speech I delivered during the hearing:

"Genocide has a clear legal definition. The definition is in Article II of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Genocide consists of various atrocities that are perpetrated with the specific intent to destroy the protected groups (whether national, ethnic, racial, or religious) in whole or in part. This is precisely what Daesh is doing in Syria and Iraq, specifically targeting religious minorities for destruction in its aim to destroy the religious pluralism in the region and establish a purely Islamic state. This genocide has been recognised by several international institutions, including the Council of Europe, European Parliament, and states, namely, the US State Department, the UK House of Commons, and the Parliaments of Canada, Australia and France.

We mark the first anniversary since the recognition by various international institutions and states, of the genocide of Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities which have been committed by Daesh. Here it is crucial to examine the progress made, or not made, over the past year in relation to that recognition. More importantly we must assess whether the recognition that these atrocities committed by Daesh are indeed 'genocide', has made any difference to their victims' lives. The debates whether this is genocide or not must come to an end. We must know by know from the case of Armenian genocide that this is not the way forward. One cannot fight for over 100 years to have the recognition made. And especially not when the genocide is ongoing. Actions must follow.

However, the recognition of the genocide by international institutions and states has not achieved much over the past year- promises have gone unfulfilled and there is a complete lack of will to prosecute those who have committed genocidal atrocities. As we speak here today, people continue to suffer under the hands of Daesh. Women and girls are being raped, enslaved, and forced into years of sexual abuse. Boys have been forced to fight for Daesh or killed for refusing to. People are being beheaded, tortured and those not imprisoned are still displaced. The point in recognising genocide is to prioritise the victims and work towards alleviating their suffering – through the prevention of more atrocities and the provision of aid to those in need. Legal steps to bring the perpetrators to justice and to combat the growing impunity are crucial too.

There is not much interest in the fates of the victims. The question is why? Is it because most of the atrocities are taking place in Syria and Iraq - out of sight out of mind? However, the Daesh atrocities are not unfamiliar to Europe. Even Europe has experienced what Daesh is capable of. Attacks in France, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, and the UK are the tragic reminders that the problem of Daesh atrocities is not a problem of the Middle East exclusively. And this is just a tip of an iceberg of what is still to come.

As Daesh is losing territory in Iraq and Syria, it is expected that many of the Daesh foreign fighters will eventually return to their home countries. This is a serious threat as in 2016, the number of Daesh foreign fighters has been assessed at over 30,000. It has been reported by Soufan Group that at least 5,000 fighters were from European countries, including over 3,700 Daesh fighters from just four countries: the UK, France, Germany, and Belgium. The current rates of Daesh fighters returning to their countries of origin or residence are between 20 and 30%.

This is a serious threat to peace and security in these countries. First, these Daesh returnees may conduct atrocities on their return to their native countries, or participate in the radicalisation and training of others and recruitment for Daesh. Secondly, fighters who have committed genocidal atrocities, including systematic beheadings, rape, sexual violence, and sexual enslavement, may be able to pass without notice back into society, continuing to commit crimes on their return and avoiding prosecution for those crimes abroad.

What will happen after they return? Will they be brought to justice? If so, how?

Will they be brought to justice on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, or charges of terrorism or other related crimes?

Will they be brought to justice at domestic courts or international tribunals?

These are all valid questions that need to be taken into consideration when discussing the bringing the Daesh perpetrators to justice. However, any such considerations must start with the question whether there is enough evidence to initiate prosecutions.

While the evidence is being collected by a number of NGOs, there is no coordination of these efforts. Some steps are also being taken at the UN level to obtain the evidence. On 21 December 2016, the UN General Assembly has passed a resolution which sets up the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Persons Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011. The mechanism for Syria will collect and preserve the evidence of the atrocities, and prepare it for any future prosecutions. However, as the Daesh genocide is only a small part of the inquiry, for any future prosecutions, it may be plausible to separate the Daesh atrocities from other perpetrators. The prosecution of Daesh fighters is not dependant on the resolution of the Syrian Civil War.

In relation to the Daesh atrocities in Iraq, on September 19, 2016, the UK Foreign Secretary, alongside the Foreign Ministers from Belgium and Iraq, launched a global campaign to hold Daesh to account for the crimes committed in Iraq. The international coalition has not indicated how it will bring Daesh perpetrators to justice. The coalition relies on the initiative of the Iraqi government. The Iraqi government has not made any decision yet. The mechanism for Iraq could be established modelled on the newly established mechanism for Syria. Without this evidence, any future proceedings are at risk of failing.

It is also crucial that the perpetrators are prosecuted for genocide or attempted genocide, and not only for lesser crimes. While I have heard from a number of states that they are under no obligation to recognise this genocide, my question is - how will you secure justice for the victims? How will you secure justice without recognising the atrocities as genocide? And most importantly, how will you fulfil your obligations under the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, namely, prosecuting the acts of genocide (or attempt of genocide) if you refuse to recognise this genocide.

The legal response to the atrocities must be adequate. It is not the first incident of genocide that we witness in our lifetime. It is not that there is no legacy to follow. And it is true that some of the routes are expensive and take a long time. However, can we justify this ongoing impunity for genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes? We have already failed at preventing the atrocities from occurring. We cannot fail at prosecuting too.

There are a number of different options how to proceed, just following the legacy of previous responses to genocidal atrocities. One option would be for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate the atrocities and prosecute the perpetrator. However, the ICC does not have the territorial jurisdiction over Syria and Iraq (unless Syria and Iraq voluntarily accept the ICC jurisdiction or the UN Security Council refers the situation in these countries to the ICC). The Prosecutor of the ICC could exercise her personal jurisdiction over the so called Daesh foreign-fighters. However, this is not an easy route.

Nonetheless, the legacy of responses to genocidal atrocities is very rich. The responses have a number of elements in common:

1.The evidence has to be obtained, preserved, and prepared for any future prosecutions. This is a crucial step as the evidence disappears every day.

2.There must be a tribunal that would prosecute the perpetrators for their involvement and complicity in genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes. This could be an international tribunal as for Rwanda and Yugoslavia, a more regional option or a UN-supported national tribunal. However, it is crucial that any such tribunal or court would not only focus on the leaders or the perpetrators but also the complicitous actors.

These steps are crucial to bring the perpetrators to justice, perpetrators from Syria and Iraq, and the so-called foreign fighters. While the recognition of genocide is important for the pursuit of international justice, the first priority when reacting to genocide should be to assist the victims of such atrocities. This means addressing their needs, for security, accommodation, food, emotional support and medical treatment. Only then can perpetrators be brought to justice through the proper recording of testimonies and only then can societies start to reconcile. However, it is also crucial to emphasise that justice in court is elementary. Such justice is crucial to combat impunity, it is crucial for victims to start the process of reconciliation, and is important for us all as well - to restore our faith in the international community. Such justice in court sends a message that crimes like genocide will not be tolerated. One cannot annihilate or attempt to annihilate whole communities and escape responsibility. Not in the 21st century. Not on our watch."

Part VI: International bodies see tribunals as path to ISIS accountability, trust
By Hannah Lynch and Chris Johannes

May 7, 2017

This series of special reports examines the struggles and path the survivors of ISIS — particularly minority groups in the Nineveh Plains and Shingal — have taken in their quest for justice after the extremist group rapidly controlled large swathes of territory in northern Iraq in 2014. Critical questions were asked: What do survivors want? What are they doing? What is and can be done at the community, governmental and international levels?

"There is still not one ISIS militant who has faced trial for international crimes anywhere in the world," human rights lawyer Amal Clooney said last month, capturing global attention when she stood in front of the United Nations and asked why nothing was being done by the international community Iraq or the UN to investigate ISIS crimes.

On the ground in the Kurdistan Region, however, guided by international experts, locals are quietly working to begin trials of ISIS militants. In coordination with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), they are in the process of establishing a special tribunal in Iraq soil to prosecute ISIS militants under Iraqi law, bringing long-sought justice to victims where the crimes took place.

Establishing a special tribunal under Iraqi law in the Kurdistan Region offers a more realistic alternative to the International Criminal Court (ICC), something that Yezidi groups Kurdistan authorities pushed for, argued Bill Wiley, executive director of the non-profit Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA).

As Wiley points out, the ICC has no jurisdiction in Iraq and that is not likely to change. Iraq joining the ICC would mean the actions of its own government forces as well as that of the Peshmerga will most likely be investigated too.

"So, it's a question of, is the polity across Iraq ready for that?" asked Wiley. "My guess would be that it may not be."

CIJA's suggestion, embraced by Kurdistan authorities, is to host a court in Iraq.

CIJA is a criminal investigative body. It established its ISIS team in January 2014 when the extremist group was still quite small. In February 2015, it signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Council of Ministers of the KRG to investigate ISIS crimes.

The organization chose to first establish relations with Erbil, closer to the sites of many ISIS crimes, rather than Baghdad, for security and logistical reasons, Wiley explained in a recent interview.

They have also developed very good relations with Kurdish ministries and, in turn, KRG authorities are now helping CIJA to build connections with Baghdad.

A special tribunal tasked to prosecute ISIS suspects, as proposed by CIJA, could be established by implementing legislation from the Kurdistan Region parliament that would enact some minor changes to Iraqi criminal law, adding a small amount of international criminal law, Bill Wiley explained.

"All your basics are there - murder, torture, a range of sexual offenses. Some offenses are not there - the crime of enforced disappearance, for example, is not there," he said. Genocide, also, would likely be added.

He would also recommend adding something called "commander responsibility."

"This is the perpetration of an offense by people obviously in positions of command or political authority. It's the commission of an offense by omission," Wiley said.

Under this provision, persons in positions of authority can be tried for crimes committed by their subordinates, regardless of whether or not the commander issued any orders with respect to the crimes or even knew about the crimes being committed.

For international criminal investigators, Wiley explained, this the easiest mode of liability to establish in law. It is indirect intent, "somewhere between negligence and recklessness."

Piecing together ISIS' command structure makes placing culpability for the group's crimes on its commanders becomes a straightforward process.

'Commander responsibility' exists in Iraqi military law, but not criminal.

The implementing legislation would also have to prohibit the special tribunal from handing down the death penalty. Capital punishment is a red line for Canada and EU nations, CIJA's primary funders.

There is already a moratorium on the death penalty in the Kurdistan Region so authorities there are open to enacting such a provision in the legislation. This is one advantage to establishing the special tribunal in the Kurdistan Region as Baghdad authorities are less likely to concede on the capital punishment issue, noted Wiley.

Wiley served as a legal advisor to the Iraqi High Tribunal that tried Saddam Hussein.

One other hurdle that has to be overcome before the special tribunal can begin its work is related to requirements imposed by western nations before they could open their wallets and fund the court. Donors want a Baghdad buy-in.

"Western support is predicated on it being a pan-Iraqi initiative," said Wiley.

The solution to this problem came from Kurdistan authorities: win the support of the chief justice in Baghdad and have Iraqi judges, law clerks, and prosecutors participate in the special tribunal.

Rudaw reached out to Baghdad multiple times to comment on the prosecution and judicial processes for ISIS-linked atrocities, but the Iraqi authorities contacted showed no interest in speaking.

For the victims, such a tribunal is the first step on a long road to justice. Re-establishing trust between communities will be of particular importance for the court to carry out its work on the land where the crimes took place, believes Khider Domle, a Yezidi activist, researcher, and author.

"If the justice happens here, it would be the base of reconciliation, peace building, and co-existing. Because people they lost a lot. If they see justice here goes the right way, with transparency, they will feel 'This is our home, there are no second class citizens. Everyone is equal under justice,'" he said.

Perpetrators paying for the crimes they committed is an important aspect of peace-building after conflict. Colombia can serve as an example, explained Dr. Antonio Barrios Oveido, of the Universidad Latina in Costa Rica, at a conference on genocide hosted this month by the International University of Erbil.

A draft peace agreement with the main rebel group in Colombia, the FARC, was rejected by the population in a referendum because the people objected to the rebels pardoned without answering for their crimes.

In the second draft, President Juan Manuel Santos, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 for his efforts to end the decades of conflict in Colombia, included minimum sentences of between five and ten years for those who committed crimes, afraid that the peace process would not continue if the provision was not included.

CIJA has two cases prepared, related to ISIS operations in Shingal (Sinjar) in August 2014 when the terrorist group committed a range of crimes against the Yezidi population, including genocide. They have two high-level perpetrators identified on a range of offenses, including murder, persecution, sexual slavery, and a range of sexual offenses.

Bill Wiley is optimistic that they can be tried in the special tribunal, giving Iraqis and Kurdistanis the power to bring justice to their own people. The investigative and judicial capacities are there in the Kurdistan Region, he said. They just need some international assistance because of the complex nature of ISIS and inexperience in taking on such a huge case.

He argues that there are symbolic benefits to convicting ISIS militants for crimes like murder, rape, and sexual enslavement. This marks ISIS as a criminal syndicate, he said, and not a caliphate dedicated to serving the prophet. He believes this could serve as an effective deterrent for recruitment, rather than a terror conviction since the terrorist label can be considered a "badge of honour" for some.

ISIS militants strongly object to being accused of rape of Yezidi girls and women - they justify their brutality under their interpretation of Islam. They are also quick to dismiss any western condemnation of their actions.

Amal Clooney told the UN that was time ISIS militants were tried for their crimes. And for the time being, there is "no other option" for retributive justice, said Wiley. If we wait for the ICC, he argued, "We're going to have nothing. And IS has been running riot for over three years now."

U.S.-Backed Iraqi Army Kills 81 Civilians in Strike on Mosul
Democracy Now!

May 8, 2017

In international news, Iraq's military has admitted its forces bombed a school in western Mosul in an attack on May 4 that left scores of civilians dead. The journalistic monitoring group Airwars reported the strike killed up to 81 civilians and left 86 others injured. Video posted online purports to show the aftermath of the attack, with dead children pulled from a flattened school. Iraq's army denied targeting civilians, saying it instead targeted an ISIS bomb factory. The violence came as civilians trapped in Mosul reported desperate conditions. This is injured resident Qusay Adil Muhammad.

Qusay Adil Muhammad: "People are hungry and starving to death. There is nothing left. There isn't any water. People are so thirsty they would drink from the well, which is full of diseases. Children and women were eating grass."

Iraq torture case lawyer Martyn Day 'did not breach code of conduct'
BBC News

May 8, 2017

Martyn Day, co-founder of law firm Leigh Day, and solicitor Sapna Malik deny 19 misconduct charges.

A tribunal has heard they allegedly continued to bring claims despite having evidence their Iraqi clients were not innocent civilians.

Mr Day said the solicitors' code of conduct was "ingrained" in him.

As well as the misconduct charges against him, his firm and Ms Malik being heard at the tribunal, another solicitor - Anna Crowther - denies an allegation of destroying a key document.

Leigh Day pursued damages claims against the Ministry of Defence over the alleged mistreatment and unlawful killing of captives following the Battle of Danny Boy in May 2004.

During a press conference in February 2008, Mr Day and now-disgraced lawyer Phil Shiner outlined accusations of the torture and execution of up to 20 Iraqi civilians, and the torture of a further nine at nearby Camp Abu Naji..

Among them was a claim by Khuder Al-Sweady that his nephew, Hamid Al-Sweady had been murdered and tortured by the British Army.

The resultant £31m Al-Sweady inquiry later dismissed the claims as "entirely false", and found Hamid had been an armed insurgent who died in battle.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), which has brought the case, has accused Leigh Day of pursuing the claims despite holding key evidence that "undermined" their authenticity.

Leigh Day had a document showing the claimants were not civilians but linked to the radical Shia group Office of the Martyr Al Sadr (OMS), the tribunal has heard.

'Core duties'

Timothy Dutton QC, for the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) suggested to Mr Day, who has been a practising solicitor for nearly 40 years, that he had "lost sight" of his professional responsibilities.

He claimed Mr Day had an agenda "to get the issue of what happened at Danny Boy and its aftermath at Camp Abu Naji into the world's media, because you thought that was the best strategy and you actually lost sight of those other duties that cause you to keep that kind of strategy in balance".

But Mr Day replied: "It (the code) was always in my mind, will always be in my mind should I remain a solicitor, that these are the six core duties that we have to try and ensure that we always maintain the integrity of what we do."

Mr Dutton put it to Mr Day: "If properly read, what you said at that press conference was you endorsing your client's claim, then it follows of necessity that they were accusing the Army of a cover-up."

Mr Day replied: "On the balance of the evidence that we had seen at that stage, we thought it was more likely to be true than not, but that it was important to have a public inquiry to get to the bottom of it."

The tribunal has previously heard from defence lawyer Patricia Robertson QC who said the firm had "no agenda" to make money from the eight war crimes claims.

Iraq: Nearly 10,000 Yazidis killed, kidnapped by Islamic State in 2014, study finds
Hindustan Times

By Reuters
May 9, 2017

At least 9,900 of Iraq's Yazidis were killed or kidnapped in just days in an Islamic State attack in 2014, according to the first study to document the number of Yazidis affected which could be used as evidence in any trial for genocide.

About 3,100 Yazidis were killed - with more than half shot, beheaded or burned alive - and about 6,800 kidnapped to become sex slaves or fighters, according to the report published in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS Medicine on Tuesday.

In August 2014, Islamic State militants launched an assault on the Yazidi religious community's heartland in Sinjar, northern Iraq, home to around 400,000 Yazidis.

"Until now, there has not been clarity on the numbers of Yazidis killed and captured by ISIS during the attack on Mount Sinjar," said lead researcher Valeria Cetorelli, a demographer from John Hopkins University and the London School of Economics and Political Science.

"What we wanted to do, in anticipation of a possible trial, is provide the best estimates that we can get of the people affected," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Thousands of captured men were killed in what a United Nations commission called a genocide against the Yazidis, a religious sect whose beliefs combine elements of several ancient Middle Eastern religions. Islamic State considers them devil-worshippers.

Legal experts have said gathering evidence of the attacks is crucial since members of the Islamist militant group, also known as ISIL or ISIS, could go on trial for genocide in the future.

International human rights lawyer Amal Clooney last June said she aimed to prosecute the Islamist group through the International Criminal Court for their crimes against the Yazidi community.

U.N. investigators estimate more than 5,000 Yazidis have been rounded up and slaughtered and some 7,000 women and girls forced into sex slavery.

Cetorelli said she spent three months in 2015 interviewing a random sample of 1,300 surviving Yazidi families in Iraqi camps, and found at least 2.5 percent of the minority group were killed or enslaved.

"Our findings are really consistent with other evidence, for example, what is being found in mass graves or accounts from survivors, people who managed to escape captivity," Cetorelli said.

"So all this together can really help support a formal genocide investigation by either the International Criminal Court or another appointed judicial authority."

Iraqi forces are now fighting to retake the city of Mosul, the militants' last major stronghold in Iraq, where many Yazidis were held.

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Syria

Israel's Patriot Missile Defense System Intercepted a Projectile From Syria
TIME World

Apr 27, 2017

Israel's military says it deployed its Patriot missile defense system to intercept a projectile incoming from Syria above the Golan Heights.

The military did not elaborate on what it described as a "target" in its message on Thursday night.

Israeli media meanwhile are saying the military knocked out a drone that had infiltrated from Syria.

The incident comes after Syria accused Israel of striking a military installation near Damascus International Airport setting off a series of pre-dawn explosions.

Israel's intelligence minister Yisrael Katz would not comment on the strike but said " it absolutely matches our declared policy, a policy that we also implement."

Israel has repeatedly warned against "game-changing" weapons reaching Hezbollah in Lebanon from Syria which along with Iran supports the militant group.

Syria Rejects U.N. Monitoring Role in 'De-Escalation Zones'
The New York Times

By Rick Gladstone
May 8, 2017

The Syrian government said on Monday that the "de-escalation zones" negotiated by Russia, Iran and Turkey, which took effect this weekend, could not be monitored by others, including the United Nations.

The declaration, made by Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem at a news conference in Damascus, Syria, added to uncertainty over how to ensure compliance with the agreement, which theoretically halts hostilities in four regions of the country.

"We do not accept a role for the United Nations or international forces to monitor the agreement," Mr. Moallem told reporters. Should there be violations, he said, "the Syrian Army will be prepared to respond in a decisive manner."

Russia, the main ally of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and the principal author of the agreement, had suggested when it was announced last week that outside powers could play a monitoring role. But Mr. Moallem's remarks appeared to rule out that possibility.

Even so, Russia has sent signals that it is hoping to gain support for the agreement from the United States despite their deep differences over the Syrian war, now in its seventh year.

Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov of Russia will meet with his American counterpart, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, in Washington on Wednesday to discuss Syria and other issues, both sides announced on Monday.

Mr. Lavrov will be the highest-ranking Russian official to visit Washington since the Trump administration took office, and it will be his first trip there in years.

The de-escalation zones agreement, reached in Astana, Kazakhstan, on Thursday, is regarded as one of the more ambitious diplomatic undertakings by outside powers to halt the war, but it has also raised intense skepticism from insurgents and from some of their supporters, including the United States.

"Moscow has invested all of its cards in the Astana process," Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington, said in a briefing posted on the institute's website. "Russia has a great deal to lose should this initiative fall apart, which makes acquiring a more committed U.S. statement of support extremely important."

The State Department has expressed concern about the role of Iran in the agreement and the history of failed cease-fires in the war, which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and left millions of Syrians displaced.

But Defense Secretary Jim Mattis appeared to offer a muted expression of support on Monday, telling reporters during a visit to Denmark that the United States would closely examine the agreement.

"All wars eventually come to an end, and we've been looking for a long time how to bring this one to an end," he told reporters. "So we'll look at the proposal and see if it can work."

Under the agreement, which is to last initially for six months, all combatants in the conflict are forbidden to use weapons in the de-escalation zones, including warplanes. The agreement also allows humanitarian aid to civilians in these areas.

The agreement does not apply to fighters loyal to the Islamic State or a Qaeda-linked group commonly known as the Nusra Front, which theoretically remains vulnerable to attack.

It is still unclear how the agreement might affect American airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Syria. A senior Russian diplomat, Aleksandr Lavrentiev, said on Friday that the agreement would effectively stop American warplanes from flying in Syria's airspace. But a State Department spokesman, Edgar Vasquez, disputed that assertion, saying it "makes no sense."

Syria war: US to arm Kurds in battle for Raqqa
BBC News

May 9, 2017

US President Donald Trump has approved supplying weapons to Kurdish forces fighting so-called Islamic State (IS) in Syria, the Pentagon says.

Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) would be equipped to help drive IS from its stronghold, Raqqa, a spokeswoman said.

The US was "keenly aware" of Turkey's concerns about such a move, she added.

Turkey views the Kurdish rebels as terrorists and wants to stop them taking more territory in Syria.

The Pentagon later said US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis had spoken by phone to his Turkish counterpart, Fikri Isik, but gave no details of the conversation. Turkish officials have not yet responded publicly.

SDF forces, which comprise Kurdish and Arab militias, are already being supported by elite US forces and air strikes from a US-led coalition.

The US has previously supplied light weapons and armoured vehicles to the Arab element of the SDF, known as the Syrian Arab Coalition.

The SDF is currently battling IS for control of the city of Tabqa, an IS command centre just 50km (30 miles) from Raqqa.

The Kurdish fighters are from the Kurdish Peoples' Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey sees as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a group it has been fighting for decades.

Last month, Turkey carried out air strikes on YPG positions in Syria which it described as "terrorist havens".

Analysis: Gary O'Donoghue, BBC News, Washington

The US believes the Kurdish fighters will be essential to Raqqa's downfall.

The Pentagon sees them as the most disciplined and organised of the anti-IS groups but Turkish opposition has meant Washington has had to tread a fine line.

The imminence of the fight for the city means delay is no longer an option and the Kurds will be getting a range of equipment.

US sources say they have received assurances from the Kurds that they will leave Raqqa to be governed by Syrian Arabs after the battle.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is due in Washington next week - he will not be a happy visitor.

A Pentagon source told the BBC the equipment would include ammunition, small arms, machine guns, heavy machine guns, construction equipment such as bulldozers and armoured vehicles.

The source added that the US would "seek to recover" the equipment afterwards.

No timeline has been given for when the weapons would start to be supplied.

"We are keenly aware of the security concerns of our coalition partner Turkey," said Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White, who is travelling with Mr Mattis in Lithuania.

"We want to reassure the people and government of Turkey that the US is committed to preventing additional security risks and protecting our Nato ally."

Syrian planes strike rebel outposts near Jordanian border
Reuters

By Suleiman Al-Khalidi
May 9, 2017

Syrian government warplanes struck rebel outposts near the Jordanian border early on Tuesday, rebels said, bringing the war closer to Syria's U.S.-allied neighbor to the south.

The air strikes, at around 3 a.m. (0000 GMT) were the first near that part of the border, a Jordanian official said. They came hours after Syria's foreign minister warned Jordan against sending troops into his country.

Western-backed rebel groups fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA)'s so-called Southern Front have been active recently in the desert area near the borders with Jordan and Iraq, fighting Islamic State.

"The Syrian regime's jets conducted four strikes against us," said Tlas al-Salameh, the commander of Osoud al-Sharqiya, a Western-backed FSA faction which is the largest group operating in the Syrian Desert bordering Jordan.

Salameh said one air strike hit a border area where the rebel group shelters families of its fighters, others hit a rebel outpost 8 km (5 miles) from the Rukban camp where more than 80,000 refugees are stranded.

Salameh, whose group was hit by Russian bombers last year in an attack that angered the Pentagon and Jordan, said there were no casualties from Tuesday's raids.

Salameh said the rebels had retaliated by firing rockets at Khalhala military airport, northeast of the government-held city of Sweida.

The Syrian military could not immediately be reached for comment.

The FSA groups financed and equipped by a Western and Arab operations room in Amman have been given more support in recent weeks in the campaign to drive out Islamic State from the area, Western intelligence sources say.

The U.S. has expanded the rebels' Tanf base, further east along the border, which rebels and Western intelligence sources expect will be used as a launchpad for any assault on the IS stronghold of Bukamal on the Syrian-Iraqi border.

The rebels have succeeded in recent weeks in routing Islamic State from swathes of territory in the area, including former stronghold Bir Qassab.

The militants are believed to have regrouped further northeast in the direction of Deir al-Zor, according to Western and Jordanian intelligence sources.

The Syrian army, aided by Iranian-backed militias, has also in the last week stepped up a campaign to seize areas held by Islamic State in the Syrian Desert in a race with the FSA to grab territory the militants have retreated from.

Salameh said heavy fighting with the Syrian army was taking place in the Sabaa Biyar area where he said the army was trying to capture territory on the Damascus-Baghdad route that is mostly in the hands of Islamic State.

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Yemen

Peacewatch: Yemen, May 2017
ReliefWeb

May 5, 2017

Fears are growing that a key Yemeni port will soon be targeted as part of the conflict in Yemen. Peace Direct's Local Peacebuilding Expert provides their update on the war and its consequences on the Arabian peninsula.

The conflict in Yemen shows no sign of ending. The Saudi-led coalition continues its aerial bombardment, there are ground clashes on all active fronts, and land mines are still being planted. The UN peace process is ongoing with no tangible impacts so far: arms are still being sold, Al-Qaeda and Islamic State on the Arabian Peninsula are expanding, countless US drones fly overhead, and the humanitarian situation has brought Yemen to the brink of famine.

Peacebuilding in a time of war

This catastrophe has nonetheless not stopped some Yemeni NGOs from carrying out their work. These include, for example, the Middle East Foundation for Development and Human Rights. The Foundation was established in Sana'a in 2009 as an independent NGO promoting peaceful coexistence and equality in Yemen.

Abdullah Allaw is Chair of the Foundation, which works with government and others to enforce the rule of law, raise public awareness of human rights conventions, and cooperate with international organisations and the public and private sector on these issues. Its aim, according to Allaw, is simple: for Yemenis to enjoy equality and justice, under the rule of law, without discrimination. He says that despite the war, the organisation has done its best to develop mechanisms to train and develop the skills of young people and activists. Supporting poor, marginalised and minority communities to make their voices heard is important to their work.

Documenting the conflict

One area Allaw's team has focused on is the west coast of Yemen, which is suffering badly from the humanitarian crisis. The Foundation has mobilised its teams to visit the Al Tihita area of Al Hodeidah governorate, to observe and report on the situation there. The objective is to attract attention to the tragic condition in the villages of the area. Poor families are living in a critical situation, with little attention from the official local authorities and the international humanitarian effort.

The Foundation team went through the district, investigating the circumstances in these areas and learning about the human suffering of the inhabitants. Nearly 1000 people are suffering from acute malnutrition and are threatened with starvation, and there is a lack of safe drinking water.

Allaw says that extreme poverty is also spreading throughout the region, where most people do not participate in any trade other than fishing. "The daily food of most of the people who were interviewed was bread with tea, often without sugar," he said. According to Allaw, residents depend on the sea for their livelihood, but the Coalition has repeatedly targeted their boats, making people reluctant to take to the water for fear of bombardment. Warning leaflets have been dropped by coalition aircraft asking fisherman and other people to avoid coastal areas and not go in to the sea. But the Coalition has still attacked after the warnings, and the airstrikes do not distinguish between civilian and military forces, which Allaw says do not actually exist in this area.

The foundation has made an urgent appeal to provide assistance to the population here, and called on all parties, including international humanitarian organisations and the Yemeni private sector, to intervene to save those at risk of starvation.

Allaw and his staff have also started to focus on the violation of socioeconomic and human rights, addressing questions of accountability for perpetrators. During the 26 months of the war, the organisation has documented all kind of violations using field visits, interviews, official reports and other investigative techniques.

The port of Hodeidah – a new front?

"We want peacebuilding and effective follow-up work to support a lasting agreement with collective and organised civil action. But as we start acting and mobilising, the Coalition has threatened to close the port of Hodeidah and start a new military front there, which will increase the suffering of Yemenis. We condemn this strongly," Allaw says.

There is lots of fabricated news that the port has been used for arms smuggling, he adds. The Foundation has visited the port and found that large parts of it were destroyed. According to Allaw, officials there have done nothing for two years except wait for aid ships, and do their best to facilitate the work of the international agencies and the Yemeni commercial sector.

Allaw and the Foundation are deeply concerned that the accusations [of arms smuggling] will lead to more suffering and increase the challenges for humanitarian work, which at Al Hodeidah is carried out on the basis of all existing regulations on port and harbour operations, as well as the Coalition's blockade and other rules. Moreover, UN staff and many other observers are present everywhere. The implications of targeting the port would be serious: it is already under siege, like the rest of Yemen, and this is a key factor in the country's hunger. 70% of Yemeni supplies arrive from the port.

"Targeting Al Hodeidah will be a violation of all international conventions of civil ports as well as the Geneva Conventions. It will be another war crime against humanity and the Yemeni people," Allaw concludes.

Amid Saudi Monarchy's War Crimes, US Considers Multi-Billion Dollar Arms Package
TeleSur

May 6, 2017

Trump has vowed to stimulate the U.S. military-industrial complex and boost manufacturing jobs by offering Riyadh major weapons deals.

Despite the devastating and murderous war being waged on the people of Yemen by Saudi Arabia, Washington is working to ram through contracts for tens of billions of dollars in weapons for the despotic monarchy ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump's trip to the kingdom this month, Reuters reports.

Saudi Arabia is Trump's first stop on his maiden international trip, a sign of his intent to reinforce ties with the U.S.-allied al-Saud dynasty. The kingdom's human rights record, both inside and outside the country, has been dismal, and the country has regularly faced condemnation for its open disdain for international law in its onslaught on Yemeni civilians.

The United States has been the main supplier for most Saudi military needs, from F-15 fighter jets to command and control systems worth tens of billions of dollars in recent years. Washington also provides maintenance and training to Saudi security forces.

Trump has vowed to stimulate the U.S. military-industrial complex and boost manufacturing jobs by offering Riyadh major weapons deals.

Washington and Riyadh are eager to improve relations strained under President Barack Obama in part because of his championing of a nuclear deal with Iran, an Islamist republican opponent of Gulf Arab monarchies.

The package includes Lockheed Martin's Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, THAAD, missile defense system with several batteries, the sources said. The THAAD system, like the one being made operational in South Korea, costs about US$1 billion. Also being negotiated are combat vehicles including the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and M109 artillery vehicle and the multi-mission Littoral Combat Ship, are built by Bethesda, Maryland-based weapons maker Lockheed Martin and Australia's Austal Limited. If a deal goes through, it would be the first sale of a new small surface warship to a foreign power in decades. Any major foreign weapons sale is subject to oversight by Congress. Lawmakers must take into consideration a legal requirement that Israel must maintain its qualitative military edge over its neighbors.

Also, more than US$1 billion worth of munitions including armor-piercing Penetrator Warheads and Paveway laser-guided bombs made by Raytheon are in the package, the sources said. The Obama administration suspended the planned sale in December due to concerns over the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, which has devastated the civilian population.

A representative for the Saudi embassy in Washington declined to comment.

Shares of both Raytheon and Lockheed closed up 0.9 percent. Both stocks hit session highs following the Reuters report.

One of the people with knowledge of the sales said that as planning for Trump's trip to Saudi Arabia intensified in recent weeks, the arms negotiations also accelerated. Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir and other Saudi officials met with lawmakers at the Capitol on Thursday, including Senators Bob Corker and Ben Cardin on the foreign relations committee.

The Pentagon declined to comment, as did the weapons manufacturers BAE and Raytheon. White House and State Department officials said it was U.S. policy not to comment on proposed U.S. defense sales until they had been formally notified to Congress.

The Obama administration had offered Saudi Arabia more than $115 billion in weapons. Most of the Obama-era offers, which are reported to Congress, became formal agreements though some were abandoned or amended.

Well over than 10,000 people have been killed since the war was launched by Saudi royals in 2015, wile millions of people have been displaced and millions others lack access to clean water, food, or medical assistance.

In an interview Wednesday, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said that "a long war is in our interest," referring to the Yemen campaign and adding that the Ansarullah movement in the country wishes to "dominate the Muslim world and spread the Shiite faith," revealing the sectarian motives of the Wahhabi al-Saud monarchy.

Yemen's Baha'is face a 'pattern of persecution', warns Amnesty International
The Telegraph

By Tom Rowley
May 6, 2017

Campaigners have called on Yemen's Houthi rebels to stop a "pattern of persecution" against one of the war-torn country's religious minorities, whose adherents they claim risk immediate arrest.

Some of the country's Baha'is have received threatening calls from the Prosecutor General of the Specialized Criminal Court, demanding they hand themselves over for interrogation or risk being rounded up from their homes, according to Amnesty International.

The Baha'is, who belong to the world's youngest monotheistic faith and represent fewer than one percent of the country's population, could now be "arrested at any moment", the campaign group said.

Many of the more than 20 Baha'i who received the calls were already arrested last August by armed officers in balaclavas, Amnesty said. They were later released following international pressure.

"They are fearful that they could get arrested at any moment," Rasha Mohamed, who researches the country for Amnesty, told The Telegraph. "If they were arrested, their children are at risk of being detained, too, because they have nowhere to go.

"[The Houthi authorities] must immediately stop persecuting members of the Baha'i community. All eyes are on the authorities as to how they are going to deal with this."

The Baha'is, whose faith was born in Iran in the 19th century, are not the only ones to have been targeted. Amnesty said the alleged threats were part of a wider crackdown on opponents and minorities in the country.

The Houthis, who are Shia Muslims backed by Iran, overthrew the country's president in 2014. They have been fighting a Saudi-led coalition for more than two years.

Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world and aid agencies say it is at "breaking point". The Disasters Emergency Committee, a coalition of British charities, launched an appeal last December to halt famine in the country, warning that 7 million Yemenis were going hungry.

It has so far raised £23 million, which Saleh Saeed, the committee's chief executive, described as "incredibly generous".

But he added that the country requires a total of $2.1bn (£1.6bn) in humanitarian aid this year. "Yemen is the biggest crisis facing the world," he said. "A child dies every 10 minutes. The reality is while the figures have not been confirmed, there are already pockets of famine."

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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

Dismissal of Khmer Rouge Atrocity Charges Sparks Calls for End of Prosecutions
VOA Cambodia

By Sok Khemara
May 2, 2017

Prime Minister Hun Sen has on numerous occasions expressed objections to the pursuit of further prosecutions and warned of "civil war" if international prosecutors continue to try former member of the regime.

Since the Khmer Rouge tribunal decided to drop all charges against former regime official Im Chaem in February, numerous ex-cadres have come forward to call on the court to dismiss charges they face in upcoming cases.

Ao An, 79, a former deputy commander of the Khmer Rouge's Central Zone, told VOA Khmer that he was appealing to the tribunal to follow the precedent set in the decision not to prosecute Chaem on the grounds she was not a senior regime leader or one of those most responsible for its crimes.

An is a suspect in Case 004 along with Yim Thit, the former commander of the Northwest Zone, who along with Chaem were charged with crimes against humanity. "I was not a top leader. I am also a victim like the others," An said.

Meas Muth, another aging former Khmer Rouge commander and a suspect in Case 003, said that he would leave the decision to the court. He showed VOA Khmer reporters a coffin and shrine he has had built in preparation for his death.

"What I'm most worried about is that the temple which I'm building has not been completed yet. If the temple is finished before I die I will feel relieved when I pass away," he said.

Muth is the only suspect in Case 003 charged with crimes against humanity, charges he denies. The cases have faced opposition from the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has on numerous occasions expressed objections to the pursuit of further prosecutions and warned of "civil war" if international prosecutors continue to try former member of the regime.

Many people in former Khmer Rouge strongholds in Cambodia's northwest agree with the premier.

Preap Yoeum, 60, a former regime soldier, said further prosecutions would harm Cambodia's future. "Mistakes happen. They could not control all of the country by themselves, as I understand it, as other foreign countries interfere in Cambodia," he said.

Another former soldier, Men Chhim, 72, said court proceedings should be restricted to the senior leadership of the former regime.

"If they only try the leaders, it would not create many problems. But if they try more, it would spread from one generation to the next," he said.

Sem Sarin, 51, said that while "killing was a crime" many of those responsible had already died and those who were still alive should be allowed to live out the rest of their lives in peace.

Long Panhavuth of the Cambodian Justice Initiative, said political negotiations would need to take place to resolve the dispute over whether to continue with prosecutions under the tribunal.

"I believe cases 003 and 004 will be a situation where we can compare it to grilling a large elephant and we don't know whether it is cooked or not. This is what the victims at the tribunal worry about," he said.

He added that if perpetrators were seen as escaping justice it would undermine trust in the court, but he could foresee power being passed to a national court, with the international branch of the court possibly assuming an advisory role, the court being divided into smaller, case-specific trial chambers, or a final submission being passed and the court closed.

For Chaem, 75, the court should drop all further cases against former members of the regime.

"If the court just believes any story without evidence, it is wrong," she said.

The court is expected to conclude case 002 next year.

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Special Tribunal for Lebanon

Official Website of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon
In Focus: Special Tribunal for Lebanon (UN)

STL: Defense questions expert on co-located phones
The Daily Star

By Rhys Dubin
April 27, 2017

During cross-examination at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon Wednesday, defense counselor Chad Mair questioned expert witness John Edward Philips about his analysis of so-called co-located phones. The term, used throughout the trial, denotes instances in which multiple cellphones attributed to a single individual made calls from the same area of cellular network coverage within a short time period.

Throughout Philips' testimony, instances of co-location have been used to support his "single user analysis" theory. This hypothesis, put forward by the prosecution, has been used by investigators throughout the case to demonstrate that multiple phones were likely used by the same person.

Cellular data, like the information analyzed by Philips over the course of the past week, has been integral to the prosecution's case against the five defendants accused of planning and executing the 2005 bombing that assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and killed 21 others.

Prosecutors have used the movement and coordination between various cellphones attributed to individuals and color-coded cell networks to track the alleged conspiracy leading up to the attack, as well as to identify the defendants in the case.

Consistent with previous cross-examinations by defense counselors, Mair's line of questioning Wednesday attempted to compromise the integrity of Philips' testimony.

Referencing analysis conducted by Philips that counted the number of times two phones attributed to the unnamed Subject 7 were co-located, Mair noted that over the course of a period of several months, co-location between the phones in question occurred only once.

"This would seem to run contrary to your statement that you need more than one example of potential co-location to conclude that there is a single user," Mair said, addressing Philips.

The expert witness countered by noting that, in situations such as this where there may have been a clear attempt to keep various covert cellular networks separate, it would not be surprising for there to be relatively few instances of co-location.

In the past, the prosecution has alleged that different color-coded networks were used to carry out various stages of the plot and were often not in contact with each other.

"If you were really trying to isolate the red and blue phones, there should be no moment where they are co-located. Red phones were used on certain dates and days and during those periods it would appear that the use of blue phones was precluded," Philips said.

Following the end of Mair's cross-examination, Jad Khalil – defense counsel for Hassan Merhi – began his cross-examination.

Though his questioning will continue next week, Khalil's initial inquiries focused on how the destruction of Beirut's southern suburbs in the 2006 war with Israel may have affected the prosecution's ability to effectively map cell coverage.

STL defense claims confirmation bias in cell analysis
The Daily Star

By Rhys Dubin
May 3, 2017

During expert witness John Edward Philips' testimony at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon Tuesday, defense counselors for Hassan Merhi questioned the methods Philips used to determine the locations from which various cellphone calls were made. Cellular data, such as the information Philips analyzed over the course of his testimony, has been crucial to the prosecution's case against the five defendants accused of planning and executing the 2005 bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others.

Investigators and prosecutors have used the movement and coordination between various cellphones to track the alleged plot in the lead-up to the attack, and identify the defendants. Much of Philips' previous testimony detailed his methods to demonstrate that, in several cases, multiple, seemingly unconnected, phones were in fact used by the same individual.

But defense counselor Jad Khalil attempted to poke holes in Philips' testimony by asserting that the prosecution didn't account for the fact that many different cell sites could serve a particular geographic location – making it difficult to claim one phone was in any particular location at one time. "Isn't it true to say that your maps do not indicate the possibility that many different cell [sites] could also serve and cover a particular location?" Khalil asked.

Philips agreed that this could be true and that a number of factors played into the range of a site's cellular coverage – including cellular antenna power, the height and orientation of nearby buildings and the surrounding terrain.

Later in the session, Dorothee Le Fraper du Hellen, the second counsel for Merhi, also attempted to cast doubt on Philips' testimony. When conducting analysis on a series of phones allegedly connected to a single unidentified subject in the case, Philips only received call logs for a distinct period of time: between Sept. 24, 2004, and Feb. 27, 2005.

By his own account, Philips was only tasked with either confirming or disproving the fact that these phones were attributed to the individual – not with conducting a bottom-up investigation of the call logs.

Because of this, Le Fraper du Hellen accused Philips – and the prosecution broadly – of confirmation bias. "You will agree with me that what you were commissioned to do at the time was more a confirmation analysis than an investigative analysis," she said.

"In order to complete your analysis, why did you not ask the prosecutor to provide you with the whole table of calls?" she asked.

In response, Philips noted his role in the investigation was narrowly circumscribed, and that the job of identifying the numbers and phones was carried out by others on the prosecution team.

STL defense questions connection between cellphones
The Daily Star

By Rhys Dubin
May 4, 2017

During expert witness John Edward Philips' testimony at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon Wednesday, defense counselor Dorothee Le Fraper du Hellen questioned an important link between two phones attributed to unnamed Subject 3. Evidence from cellphones and color-coded cellular networks has been integral to the prosecution's case against the five named defendants accused of planning and executing the 2005 bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others.

In the past, the prosecution has relied on "single user analysis" to show that multiple phones were used by the same individual. In this case, Philips claimed two phones – a green network and a purple network phone – both belonged to Subject 3.

However, Le Fraper du Hellen asserted that Philips' analysis was too narrow and failed to account for other potential phones used by Subject 3. "In your report, you were only asked to analyze two phones to determine whether they were compatible with a single user," she said.

In contrast, she explained, when her team analyzed raw data collected from various cell sites, they found several different phones that could be related to Subject 3's original green network phone – challenging Philips' analysis.

Because of these irregularities, Le Fraper du Hellen pressed Philips on the methodology used to identify Purple 231 as Subject 3's secondary phone. Philips claimed that he played no part in the original selection and was simply tasked with proving or disproving that a connection existed.

"When [the prosecution] gives me a call-sequence table, I don't ask for the raw data. They decide what they're going to give me. All these questions should be addressed to them," Philips said.

Later on, Le Fraper du Hellen questioned the prosecution's decision to only analyze the connection between various phones attributed to Subject 3 starting Sept. 24, 2004.

While the prosecution has alleged that both phones were only used by Subject 3 after this period, Le Fraper du Hellen claimed that the date was arbitrarily established. Comparing cellular activity before and after that date, she noted that there were few significant changes.

"Looking at these two maps [one before Sept. 24 and one after], the cell sites triggered ... are not situated in areas that are entirely different. They are close to each other," she said.

Philips once again claimed that he played little role in these broader decisions, and was simply given the data in order to prove or disprove a connection between the phones.

Expert witness acknowledges holes in cell data
The Daily Star

By Victoria Yan
May 5, 2017

Defense counselor Natalie von Wistinghausen focused on potential holes in cellular data used in the prosecution's case at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon Thursday in her cross-examination of expert witness John Edward Philips. Wistinghausen contended that cellular service coverage maps provided by Lebanese cellular networks MTC touch and Alfa in the early 2000s did not match Beirut's terrain in the 2010 maps used by the expert witness.

While Philips said the particular concern raised by Wistinghausen would not have an impact on his analysis, though he later acknowledged that data provided by the cellular networks had been unreliable.

"The buildings have a factor [in coverage], but if the new buildings unbalance the cell capacity of a certain area, that can be modified [by the network] ... it won't be such that one particular cell site will take 90 percent of cell coverage of adjacent cell sites," Phillips said, dismissing the suggestion that change in the urban terrain of the city would have a large impact on cellular coverage.

"If certain buildings are demolished, or built to increase or decrease potential best server coverage of one cell, by definition, one cell has to increase or decrease the same amount."

Later in the session, Wistinghausen queried the credibility of the witness, highlighting the minimal information about the case provided to Phillips before making his analysis and a lack of data provided to him by cellular network companies.

"What is in our own definition of being an expert and how you would describe the information you need in accurately doing the analysis ... how would you describe the information provided to you as an expert in the [United Kingdom] in other trials?" Wistinghausen asked.

While Philips did not respond to this query specifically in this session, he stated previously that having access to the data separate from the broader context of the investigation ensured objectivity in his analysis.

Regarding possible holes in cellular data, Philips responded that he had previously reported these issues to the STL before his analysis.

"What I did prior to actual analysis, [was] say how the data I had been provided with on best server analysis will impact what I had. And I qualified that [the data] were not ideal ... what limitations I had to work with and what impact they could have on my subsequent findings," he said.

The five indicted for the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri are being tried in absentia, making cellular data a main element in the prosecution's case.

Witness not necessarily expert in co-location: STL defense
The Daily Star

By Victoria Yan
May 9, 2017

Monday's session of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon came to a premature end after the defense and prosecution argued over expert witness Andrew Donaldson's qualifications to testify on cellular co-location evidence. Donaldson, a former investigator for the Office of the Prosecution, had testified at the STL in previous years. Appearing before the trial chamber Monday, Donaldson argued that his experience regarding cellular investigations qualified him to give an expert opinion on co-location evidence – data linking two or more cellular devices to the same cellular coverage area during a short phone call.

The five suspects indicted for the 2005 Beirut bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others are being tried in absentia. Thus, cellular evidence has been critically important for the prosecution's case. But investigative methodology proving cellular links and co-location has not been officially proven or legally systematized, rendering much of the investigation up for debate.

When Trial Chamber President Judge David Re asked Donaldson to stipulate his qualifications for giving an expert opinion on co-location, the witness answered, "In terms of a formally recognized course [on co-location], I have not had one. I'm not aware, in my experience, that these courses exist, but I have been out of the U.K. system for a while."

Donaldson argued that his experience in cellular investigations gave him credibility to accurately comment on the topic. Prosecution counselor Laurence Carrier-Desjardins attested that the prosecution had found Donaldson aptly prepared to perform the job.

"He has had 17 years of experience, of which 10 is based on Lebanese call data records. He has significant experience in conducting co-location analysis," Carrier-Desjardins said. "There is no degree in co-location or specific training. Mr. Donaldson's experience was developed on the job ... we cannot disregard 10 years."

Defense counselor Chad Mair remained adamant that Donaldson's background did not grant him the proper authority to comment on co-location in the trial.

"Co-location is an area requiring special skills and training. ... He has had minimal training. ... His work on the police force touched upon cell-site data, but he quite candidly admitted he did not specialize in this area," Mair said. "Mr. Donaldson conceded that he knows just as much as anyone about mobile networks in this room. ... His opinions do not have probative value."

The judges of the Trial Chamber ended Monday's session early in order to deliberate on whether Donaldson would be returning to testify this week.

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Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal

ICSF panel 'clears' misconceptions about Bangladesh war crimes trial
bdnews 24

May 4, 2017

The Younger Comparativists Committee (YCC) of the American Society of Comparative Law organised the conference at the Koç University Law School in Istanbul, Turkey between April 28 and 29, according to a press release from the ICSF.

The ICSF panel of three presented the case of the International Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh to an international audience, especially given the level of misinformation and misconception spread against the justice process by those opposing the war crimes trial.

Bahzad Joarder Bahzad Joarder Over 100 scholars from all over the world took part in the conference.

A number of misconceptions on the ICT were cleared, while important clarifications on the justice process were provided on prevalent confusions, the media statement said.

ICSF Trustee Dr Rayhan Rashid presented the first paper titled: 'Prescription versus Obligation to Import Foreign Norms: The Case of the ICTs of Bangladesh'.

Bahzad Joarder, a graduate of the University of Birmingham, presented the second paper titled 'Prosecuting Crimes Against Humanity at the ICTs of Bangladesh'.

M Sanjeeb Hossain, a Trustee of ICSF and doctoral candidate of the Warwick Law School, presented the third paper titled: 'Trials in absentia at the ICTs of Bangladesh: Jurisprudence and Commentary'.

All three presenters were supported by scholarships offered by the American Society of Comparative Law and Koç University, the release added.

Founded in 1951, the American Society of Comparative Law is "the world's premier organisation relating to study of comparative law", according to the media release.

The ICSF is an independent global network of academics, experts and activists working in the interest of justice for the victims of international crimes.

It has long campaigned for the recognition of the Bangladesh genocide and holding of trials of its perpetrators.

Amnesty International Report Criticizes Bangladesh Internet Laws
VOA News

May 6, 2017

The human rights group Amnesty International has condemned laws governing the Internet in Bangladesh.

In a report released on Tuesday, the group called the laws that attempt to silence government critics in the country "draconian," or very severe.

Amnesty said members of the media are under attack by both police and armed groups.

Olof Blomgvist is the report's lead researcher.

"Between the violence of armed groups and repression of the state, [non-religious] voices in Bangladesh are being … silenced," Blomgvist said. "Not only is the government failing to protect people's freedom of expression, it is blaming them for the threats they face and criminalizing the work of [internet writers] and journalists."

The Amnesty report lists a communication technology law passed in 2006 as the main tool that the Bangladeshi government uses to silence critics.

The government strengthened that law in 2013, giving police the ability to arrest journalists without permission from a judge.

The report says that, since then, several well-known writers and editors have faced "politically motivated criminal charges." Most of those charged, the report continues, have worked with media organizations that are "critical of the government or supportive of the political opposition."

Some journalists, Amnesty reports, say the government's repression today is the worst that reporters have faced since 1991, when the country returned to civilian rule.

Non-religious internet writers in Bangladesh are also facing threats of violence from religious extremists, the report says. It claims that police almost never take action against these extremists.

The report lists the 2013 murder of internet writer Rajib Haider as the first of several murders of non-religious writers and activists that had limited police response.

Several non-religious internet writers told Amnesty that they had received death threats because of their publications. They say they tried to receive help from the police. But the police just suggested that the writers leave the country.

Government officials have rejected the claims of the Amnesty report. Rashed Khan Menon, the Civil Aviation Minister, called the report "old and recycled."

He told BenarNews on Wednesday, "[It] is not a reflection of the latest situation in Bangladesh. We cannot accept this."

War crimes tribunal concludes trial of Jamaat leader Aziz
bdnews 24

May 9, 2017

They have been charged with genocide, murder, illegal confinement, loot, arson, torture and other heinous crimes during Bangladesh's Liberation War in 1971.

The former Jamaat MP and his five accomplices -- Mohammad Ruhul Amin alias Manju, Mohammad Abdul Latif, Abu Muslim Mohammad Ali, Mohammad Nazmul Huda and Mohammad Abdur Rahim Mia -- have been indicted for these offences committed in Gaibandha Sadar and Sundarganj Upazilas.

On Tuesday, the International Crimes Tribunal concluded the trial after hearing closing statements by the prosecution and defence and kept its verdict pending.

The prosecution was represented by Sayedul Huq Shumon and Syed Haider Ali. Prosecutor Sheikh Mushfiq Kabir accompanied the prosecution.

Latif was represented by lawyer Khandker Rezaul, while those absconding were represented by state appointed lawyer Gazi AH Tamim.

"I believe we have successfully provided evidence and proven the suspects' involvement in all of the charges," Prosecutor Sayedul Huq Shumon told bdnews24.com. "The prosecution is asking for the maximum punishment."

The verdict is expected to be the 29th handed down by the International Crimes Tribunal since its establishment in 2010.

Charges

Charge-1

The accused, along with 25-30 Pakistani soldiers, swooped down on several houses in Moujamali village in the Gaibandha Sadar Upazila on Oct 9. They captured and tortured four innocent unarmed pro-liberation men and later killed one of them -- Gonesh Chandra Barman -- by throwing him into water with his arms and legs tied. The accused looted houses of the detainees.

Charge-2

The accused gunned down Chhatra League leader Md Boys Uddin on Oct 13 and dumped his body underground.

Charge-3

The accused, supported by Pakistani Army members, detained 13 union council chairmen and members on Oct 10-13. They later killed them near a river and dumped the bodies.

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War Crimes Investigation in Burma

Visiting EU, Suu Kyi Refuses UN Probe Into Alleged Myanmar War Crimes
VOA News

By Henry Ridgwell
May 2, 2017

Myanmar's State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi has again refused to allow a United Nations probe into alleged atrocities against minority Rohingya Muslims in the east of the country, despite pressure from the European Union and human rights organizations.

"Those recommendations which will divide further the two communities in Rakhine we will not accept, because it will not help us to resolve the problems that are arising all the time," Suu Kyi told reporters Tuesday following meetings with European Union chiefs in Brussels.

She denied she was ignoring the allegations of crimes against humanity.

"We have not in any way ignored allegations of rape or murder or arson or anything," she said. "We have asked that these be placed before a court and tried."

Myanmar's military has long been accused of carrying out widespread killing, torture and rape.

Hundreds die in attack

The latest allegations stem from the army's response to an attack by Rohingya militants on a border post last October. Witnesses say the army responded with ground forces and helicopter gunships, killing around 600 people. Hundreds of women were allegedly raped. Amateur video taken at the time appears to show the charred bodies of adults, children, even babies littering the torched villages.

Thirty-year-old Shamsida fled across the border to Bangladesh along with 75,000 other Rohingya refugees after the attack. She recalls her treatment at the hands of the soldiers:

"After the noon prayers, about 300 to 400 soldiers seized our village and surrounded all our women. They started beating our children and destroyed all our belongings in our homes. At that time, three soldiers raped me."

Official laments global response

Kyaw Win, secretary general of the Burma Human Rights Network, laments the global response to the evidence of war crimes by Myanmar's military.

"They are not doing it only in Rakhine state, they did it in Karen state, they are doing it in Shan state as well and Kachin state as well," Win said. "But where is the response from the international community? And this failure of this response is not only letting down the victims, this is also indicating that the Burmese government and Burmese army can do similar things in the future."

Suu Kyi won a landslide election victory in 2016 after the military junta initiated a political transition. The armed forces still control security and domestic affairs.

"We need to focus on the military more than we are focusing on Aung San Suu Kyi. But of course she has a moral duty. She is not saying what she is supposed to say," Win said.

Arms embargo in place

An EU arms embargo on Myanmar remains in place. Nevertheless, the head of Myanmar's military, Min Aung Hlaing, visited Germany and Austria last week. Win said Europe is hosting an alleged war criminal.

"His army committed crimes against humanity," Win said. "Yet he's been so warmly welcomed in a civilized world."

Suu Kyi is to visit London next week, where protests are planned against the alleged atrocities in Rakhine state.

Burma: Two Islamic Schools Shuttered in Rangoon
Human Rights Watch

May 8, 2017

The Burmese government should immediately reopen two madrasas, or Islamic religious schools, that local authorities sealed off in Rangoon on April 28, 2017, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should publicly commit to protecting the right to freedom of religion for all religious communities in Burma, including in worship, observance, practice, and teaching.

In late April, a mob of about 50 to 100 Buddhist ultranationalists put pressure on local officials and police in Rangoon's Thaketa Township to close the two madrasas. The ultranationalists alleged Muslim community members were using the schools to conduct prayers, which they claimed violated an agreement signed by the schools' leaders last year. The authorities carried out the mob's demand and have not reopened the schools, denying a reported several hundred students their education.

"Burmese local officials' craven capitulation to mob demands to shutter two Muslim schools is the latest government failure to protect Burma's religious minorities," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. "The government should immediately reverse these closures, end restrictions on the practice of minority religions, and prosecute Buddhist ultranationalists who break the law in the name of religion."

Claims by Buddhist ultranationalist groups that the shutdowns were lawful because madrasa leaders had signed a document in October 2015 agreeing not use the schools for prayer provide no justification for their closure. Even if the agreement was not signed under duress, as evidence suggests, it would be an infringement on the Muslim community's basic rights to religious freedom. The media reported that Buddhist ultranationalists had previously pressured local officials about whether prayers were being said at the two madrasas.

Tin Myo Aung, 45, a security officer at one of the schools, told Human Rights Watch that a crowd of Buddhist ultranationalists appeared at about 4 p.m. outside the school he was guarding. As they grew more agitated he became worried, before the police arrived. At about 6 p.m. the police padlocked the schools to prevent anyone from entering. An altercation between some Buddhist ultranationalists and a reporter from the Associated Press did not escalate. A school committee member told Human Rights Watch that the authorities said the closure was temporary but gave no timeline for the schools' reopening.

Human Rights Watch visited Thaketa Township on April 29 and observed dozens of police outside both schools. Just after 11 a.m., local authorities and school representatives, along with individuals identified by local residents as Buddhist ultranationalists, entered the schools to examine them. After they emerged, the officials replaced the locks and put yellow tape and barricades around the entrances. Police outside the schools have since refused to allow Muslim community members, including those whose children attend the schools, to enter.

The school committee member told Human Rights Watch that the schools immediately sent a letter to the Rangoon Region chief minister's office requesting to have the schools reopened. However, so far they have not received a response. Tin Myo Aung said that several hundred children between the ages of 5 and 12 ordinarily attend the two schools. The closures deny children their right to an education.

Wunna Shwe, 54, joint secretary general of the Islamic Religious Affairs Council, said that closures like this are not uncommon in Burma, and that they also affect other minority religious groups, such as Christians.

"According to our experience, madrasas that are sealed or closed almost never open again," Wunna Shwe said. He added that since violence in Taungoo, Bago Region, in 2001 caused the government to seal ten mosques, only four have since been reopened.

Human Rights Watch repeatedly telephoned the Rangoon police information committee, but no one was willing to comment on the incident.

"Burmese authorities and police have repeatedly shown they are unwilling to confront Buddhist ultranationalists inciting violence against Muslims and other religious minorities," Robertson said. "In doing so the government has failed to protect the rights to freedom of religion and education and provide basic security to all of its people. Burma's leaders can't sit back and wait for the next round of violence against a minority group; they need to take proactive steps to address religious tensions and disputes so that all can practice their religion peacefully and safely."

Muslims in Burma

During the British colonial period and early years after independence in 1948, Muslims held high positions in Burma's government and civil society. They were in the forefront of the fight for independence from the British. After independence, Muslims continued to play a prominent role in the country's business, industrial, and cultural activities. Many were public servants, soldiers, and officers. After General Ne Win seized power in 1962, he initiated the systematic expulsion of Muslims from the government and army. No written directive bars Muslims from entry or promotion in the government, but that has long been the practice. In 2001, Human Rights Watch documented anti-Muslim violence in various parts of the country that left dozens of mosques and madrasas destroyed.

According to government census data collected in 2014, Muslims make up just over 2 percent of the population of Burma, which is about 90 percent Buddhist. However, that figure does not include more than one million Muslims who are Rohingya, a largely stateless ethnic group living primarily in Rakhine State. Christians make up just over 6 percent of the country's population.

Burma is obligated under international human rights law to protect the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including the right to express religious belief in worship, observance, practice, and teaching. Protection of this right must be done in a nondiscriminatory way. The right is subject to limitations for the protection of public safety, order, health, or morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. However, those restrictions must be prescribed by law, narrowly tailored to prevent a specific threat, and proportionate to the threat. Burmese officials have provided no information or evidence to suggest that the two Islamic schools posed any imminent threat.

Successive Burmese governments have repeatedly allowed Buddhist ultranationalist groups to prevent minority religious communities from choosing the places they worship, practice, or receive religious education. In its 2017 annual report, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom again found pervasive discrimination against both Muslims and Christians in Burma.

Government regulations on venues for prayer and constructing religious buildings are opaque, often only explained orally by local officials, and have onerous requirements. Wunna Shwe told Human Rights Watch that there are no official written rules or regulations proscribing prayer at religious schools or restricting the construction of religious buildings, though some religious schools have been required to ask for permission to conduct prayers over limited periods of time. Burmese government authorities also prohibit construction of new mosques, and make it extremely difficult to get authorization to make repairs to existing religious buildings. Such restrictions have been in place since the early 1960s, and as a result there are many mosques in Burma that have fallen into severe disrepair, while others struggle to support growing Muslim communities.

For example, a leader at a mosque said that local authorities recently forced the mosque to tear up a concrete floor built to keep out rats. Officials had said the construction was illegal because the mosque did not receive permission before undertaking the project. Mosque leaders said this approval process involves no less than six approvals from nearly every level of local and regional governmental office – from the ward-level up to the Rangoon regional administrative office.

The forced closure of the two madrasas in Rangoon is part of a broader trend of pressure, intimidation, and violence perpetrated by Buddhist ultranationalist groups against Muslim communities. The most prominent such group, Ma Ba Tha, or the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, has been actively promoting discriminatory policies and fueling anti-Muslim sentiments. These have included a successful campaign to have enacted four rights-abusing "race and religion laws," signed into law in May and August 2015, which inordinately target Muslims and other religious minorities, violate women's rights, and encourage Buddhist ultranationalist groups to pressure local officials to enforce the laws.

Successive waves of violence against Muslim populations in various parts of the country, but particularly against Rohinyga Muslims in Burma's western Rakhine State, have left many mosques razed and communities without places to worship. Violence in June 2012 between Buddhist and Muslims in Rakhine State was followed in October 2012 by coordinated attacks against the Rohingya by Rakhine Buddhist mobs backed by the police and military. Human Rights Watch found that the assaults on Rohingya communities in October amounted to "ethnic cleansing" and crimes against humanity. Thousands of buildings were burned, displacing over 140,000 people, most of whom were Rohingya and Kaman Muslims.

In 2013, clashes between Muslims and Buddhists in Meiktila, Mandalay Region, resulted in dozens killed and over 800 buildings destroyed. Further attacks against Muslim communities over the course of the year occurred in April in Okkan village, Sagaing Region; in May in Lashio, Shan State; in August in Htan Gone village, Sagaing Region; and in October in Thandwe Township, Rakhine State. In July 2014, a Buddhist mob attacked a Muslim house in the city of Mandalay.

In late June and early July 2016, mobs destroyed two mosques in the same week, one in Bago Region, the other in Kachin State.

In October 2016, after a Rohingya militant group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked three border posts in northern Rakhine State, Burmese security forces engaged in a campaign of arson, torture, extrajudicial killings, and rape. In March 2017, the United Nations passed a resolution to dispatch a fact-finding mission to investigate these attacks and other abuses, which a report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said very likely amounted to crimes against humanity.

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Israel and Palestine

Israel planning 15,000 more settlement homes in Jerusalem
Reuters

By Ori Lewis
April 28, 2017

Israel intends to build 15,000 new settlement homes in East Jerusalem, the Housing Ministry said on Friday despite U.S. President Donald Trump's request to "hold back" on settlements as part of a possible new push for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

A formal announcement of the settlement plan, quickly condemned by the chief Palestinian negotiator, could come around the time Trump is scheduled to visit Israel next month.

Israel views all of Jerusalem as its "eternal and indivisible capital", but the Palestinians also want a capital there. Most of the world considers Jerusalem's status an issue that must be decided through negotiations. The last peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed in 2014.

Housing Minister Yoav Galant told Israel Radio that his ministry and the Jerusalem Municipality had been working on the plan for two years, with proposals for 25,000 units, 15,000 of which would be in East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed.

"We will build 10,000 units in Jerusalem and some 15,000 within the (extended) municipal boundaries of Jerusalem. It will happen," he said.

Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians' chief negotiator, said Israel's move was a systematic violation of international law and a "deliberate sabotage" of efforts to resume talks.

"All settlements in occupied Palestine are illegal under international law," he said in a statement. "Palestine will continue to resort to international bodies to hold Israel, the occupation power, accountable for its grave violations of international law throughout occupied Palestine."

Channel 2 news said an announcement on building could be made on "Jerusalem Day" which this year, according to the Hebrew calendar, falls on May 24, when Israel celebrates its capture of the eastern part of the city.

This year marks the 50th anniversary, with a large number of celebrations planned. Trump's visit is expected to take place on or shortly after May 22.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they hope to establish in the occupied West Bank and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Trump told Reuters in an interview at the White House on Thursday that he wanted to see a peace deal.

"I want to see peace with Israel and the Palestinians," he said. "There is no reason there's not peace between Israel and the Palestinians - none whatsoever."

The U.S. leader met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington in February and is to see Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House on May 3.

In January, two days after Trump took office, Netanyahu said he was lifting restrictions on settlement construction in East Jerusalem, just as the city's municipality approved building permits for hundreds of new homes.

During Barack Obama's presidency, Netanyahu's government came under repeated censure for building in settlements, which the previous U.S. administration saw as an obstacle to peace. Under Trump, Netanyahu expected more of a green light to ramp up settlement building, but it hasn't been straightforward.

While Trump has said he does not think settlements are necessarily an obstacle to peace, he did directly ask Netanyahu during a White House press conference in February to "hold back on settlements for a little bit".

In 2010, Israel announced its intent to build homes in East Jerusalem during a visit by then-Vice President Joe Biden, who condemned the plan. It caused huge embarrassment to Netanyahu, who suspended the plan before reintroducing it in 2013.

Most countries consider settlement activity illegal and an obstacle to peace. Israel disagrees, citing biblical, historical and political connections to the land - many of which the Palestinians also claim - as well as security interests.

The East Jerusalem neighborhoods where building is planned are Givat Hamatos, East Talpiot, Ramot, Pisgat Zeev, Neve Yaakov, Ramot Shlomo, Gilo and Atarot. These areas extend in an arc from north to south around the eastern side of Jerusalem, forming something of a buffer with the West Bank.

Hunger Strikes Highlight Isolation of Palestinian Prisoners
Human Rights Watch

By Omar Shakir
May 2, 2017

On April 16, more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners began a hunger strike. Their primary demands include more frequent and lengthy family visits, better prison conditions such as improved medical care, and an end to solitary confinement and administrative detention – detention without charge or trial.

Many Palestinian civil society groups have mobilized in support of the prisoner movement. Last Thursday, nearly all shops in the West Bank city of Ramallah were shuttered in adherence to a general strike called for by the prisoners – a level of participation in a protest that one rights leader said he hadn't seen in Palestine in nearly three decades.

Of the more than 6,000 Palestinian detainees, Israel holds nearly 500 in administrative detention, many for prolonged periods. While international humanitarian law permits administrative detention as a temporary and exceptional measure, Israel's expansive use of this form of internment in year 50 of the occupation raises important due process concerns.

Israel jails most Palestinian prisoners from the occupied West Bank and Gaza inside Israel, even though transferring residents from occupied territory violates international humanitarian law. This means families who have an imprisoned family member need to obtain an additional permit from the military to enter Israel to visit them, which requires security screening by the Israel Security Agency, or Shin Bet. Relatives who could more easily visit inmates in the West Bank find themselves rejected on unspecified grounds from joining the family visitor buses that enter Israel, which amplifies the anguish of separation between the prisoner and their family.

One person rejected was Najat al-Agha, a 67-year-old woman from Gaza. She told us that Israeli authorities have turned down, without explanation, her last five requests to visit her son Dia in Nafha Prison. Dia is serving a life sentence after having been convicted of killing a soldier in 1992 when he was 18. She last visited him on June 11, 2016.

Asked how she felt on the day of that visit, al-Agha said, "I felt as if I owned the world. I have been in grief since June 11, 2016. I keep praying to be given permission to visit him. I am 67 years old. … I don't know how long I will be alive to see him."

'Cruel and indefensible': Human Rights Watch slams Hamas for holding two mentally ill Israelis
The Washington Post

By Ruth Eglash
May 3, 2017

A day after militant Islamist group Hamas updated, and some say softened, its founding charter, an international human rights watchdog slammed the group as "cruel" and "torturous" over its continued incarceration of two Israelis with serious mental health conditions.

In a report published Tuesday, Human Rights Watch shed light on the disappearance of Avera Mangistu, an Israeli Jew of Ethiopian descent, and Hisham al-Sayed, a Bedouin Israeli. Both men were seen on Israeli security cameras entering Gaza, Mangistu in September 2014 and Sayed in April 2015.

Neither has been heard from since.

Hamas has not confirmed that the men are in Gaza, but it has not denied it either. Over the past two years, officials from the Strip have made coy references to them and to the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed in the 2014 summer war between Israel and Hamas.

Two weeks ago, Hamas leader, Khaled Meshal declared that "any information about Israeli captives would carry a price" — indicating the two men are to be used as bargaining chips in exchange for Hamas combatants serving time in Israeli jails.

Hamas officials interviewed for the Human Rights Watch report suggested the two Israelis were legitimate prisoners of war because every Israeli male serves in the army. In one instance, the group's military wing, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, published computer-altered photographs of the men dressed Israeli army uniforms.

A Human Rights Watch investigation revealed that both Mangistu and al-Sayed were rejected from Israeli military service on the grounds of their mental health.

"Hamas's refusal to confirm its apparent prolonged detention of men with mental health conditions and no connection to the hostilities is cruel and indefensible," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "No grievance or objective can justify holding people incommunicado and bartering over their fates."

The scolding from the Human Rights Watch comes as Hamas tries to rehabilitate its standing in the world. The Islamist militant group is viewed as a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States. But on Monday, it released a new manifesto rebranding itself as an Islamic national liberation movement. While it no longer explicitly calls for the destruction of Israel, it does retain the goal of "liberating" historic Palestine.

The report also came out on the eve of Wednesday's meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and President Trump at the White House. Though Abbas is the elected leader of the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, he has no sway with Hamas.

Research for the report was carried out in September 2016, the first time since 2008 that Israel had allowed representatives of the nongovernmental organization to enter Gaza, an area that has been under an Israeli and Egyptian land and sea blockade since Hamas took control in 2007.

Israel has not been sympathetic to the work of Human Rights Watch, often claiming that the organization singles Israel out on its human rights violations, while overlooking some of the world's worst violators. In February, an American investigator from Human Rights Watch was denied entry to Israel on the grounds that the NGO is "systematically anti-Israel" and works as a tool for pro-Palestinian propaganda.

This time, however, it is Hamas that is failing to comply with international humanitarian law by breaking commitments made in April 2014 under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Under the treaty, states must "provide protections for people with psychosocial, or mental health, disabilities," wrote Human Rights Watch in its report.

According to the report, Mangistu, 30, entered Gaza through a barbed wire fence near a beach on Sept. 7, 2014. Sayed, 29, simply walked across the border into Gaza on April 20, 2015.

The family of a third Israeli citizen, Jumaa Abu Ghanima, also said their son had disappeared into Gaza, sometime in July 2016. Human Rights Watch, however, wrote it could not independently corroborate that account.

"Mangistu and al-Sayed, an Ethiopian Jew and Palestinian Bedouin with mental health conditions, come from among the most marginalized communities in Israeli society," Whitson said. "There is nothing patriotic or heroic in forcibly disappearing them."

The group's calls on Hamas to unconditionally disclose the men's whereabouts and release them "unless they can provide a credible legal basis for continuing to hold them." It also said Hamas should allow the men to immediately make contact with their families.

Israeli has also called on Hamas to return Mangistu and Sayed, as well as the bodies of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, the two Israeli soldiers killed in the 2014 summer war between Israel and Hamas.

Ramallah: Mass rally for hunger-striking prisoners
Al Jazeera

May 3, 2017

Thousands of Palestinians have rallied in the West Bank city of Ramallah in solidarity with hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

Protesters gathered in Nelson Mandela Square on Wednesday, chanting "Freedom, freedom" and waving Palestinian flags and posters of Marwan Barghouti, leader of the hunger strike, currently in its 17th day.

More than 1,500 prisoners launched the action on April 17 to press for better conditions, including family visits, better medical care and an end to solitary confinement and administrative detention.

Those taking part are ingesting only water and salt.

Supporters of the prisoners say 50 more will join in their hunger strike from Thursday, among them prominent leaders such as Ahmed Saadat, of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Prisoners' Intifada

Speakers at the rally in Ramallah called for a new campaign of civil disobedience against Israeli occupation.

Addressing the crowd, Barghouti's wife, Fadwa, delivered a speech on her husband's behalf, saying: "This battle (the hunger strike) is part of our battle against the occupation and for independence and dignity.

"The freedom of the prisoners paves the way for the freedom of the entire nation," she said. "Therefore, the people and the leadership should support the strike."

Barghouti, 57, is serving five life sentences over his role in the second Intifada.

In a statement released by the Palestine Liberation Organization on Wednesday, he wrote: "Israel cannot silence us, nor isolate us, nor break us".

He added: "This hunger strike aims to confront the ongoing and escalating unjust Israeli occupation policies against prisoners and their loved ones. We stress our determination to undertake this struggle whatever the cost."

Qadoura Fares, head of a Palestinian prisoners rights group, called for a "popular intifada in support of the intifada of the prisoners".

Some 6,500 Palestinians are currently held by Israel for a range of offences and alleged crimes.

About 500 are being held under Israel's system of administrative detention, which allows for imprisonment without charge.

Al Jazeera's Harry Fawcett, reporting from Ramallah, said Israel has imposed additional sanctions on the protesting prisoners, including cutting off their access to lawyers, a move that impelled a legal challenge at the Israeli Supreme Court.

Lawyers for the prisoners "have come to some agreement with the lawyers for the other side and they are expecting to gain access to at least some of those prisoners from tomorrow, Thursday," he said.

The prisoners' protest has drawn widespread support, with schools, banks and businesses closing in the West Bank last Thursday in solidarity. A group of students in the UK also launched a week-long hunger strike in a show of support.

Family visits are at the heart of the hunger strike.

Relatives have received no news about their loved ones and live in a state of "permanent anxiety", Mahmud al-Ziadeh, whose son Majd has been in prison for 15 years, told AFP news agency.

Hind Afena has not seen her sons Ahmed and Salah since they were jailed six months ago and one year ago respectively.

Prison authorities deny her visits "for security reasons," she told AFP.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a statement on Wednesday, urging Israeli authorities to stop what it called the "systematic suspension" of family visits for the hunger strikers.

"Family contact must be improved, not further restricted," said Jacques de Maio, head of the ICRC delegation in Israel and the occupied territories. "The families are paying the price for this situation."

For Palestinians, the prisons have become a stark symbol of Israel's occupation.

Palestinian prisoners have mounted repeated hunger strikes, but rarely on such a scale.

Some 850,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned since the start of Israel's occupation 50 years ago, Palestinian leaders say.

Israeli police: Palestinian attacker shot dead in Jerusalem
NY Daily News

By the Associated Press
May 7, 2017

Israeli police say a Palestinian woman pulled out a knife and tried to attack officers on duty, who opened fire and killed her in Jerusalem on Sunday.

Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said the woman yelled "God is greatest" in Arabic as she tried to stab them.

The violence came hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Palestinians are not educating their children toward peace.

Speaking at his weekly Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said U.S. President Donald Trump's upcoming visit to Israel reflects the strong bond between the two nations. He welcomed Trump's push to resume peace talks, but accused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of "praising terrorists and paying them."

The Palestinian "martyrs' fund" pays about 35,000 families of Palestinians killed and wounded in the long-running conflict with Israel, and says the money amounts to welfare payments to victims. Israel has long said the payments glorify terrorism and provide an incentive to kill. Last week, Netanyahu urged Abbas to "fund peace and not murder."

Since 2015, Palestinian attackers have killed 42 Israelis, two visiting Americans and a British student, mainly in stabbing assaults. During that same time, Israeli forces have killed some 245 Palestinians. Israel has identified most of them as attackers.

Israel says the violence is fueled by a Palestinian campaign of incitement. Palestinians say it stems from anger over decades of Israeli rule.

Palestinians sue Israel over attack that killed toddler
Fox News World

By the Associated Press
May 8, 2017

Relatives of a Palestinian family killed in a firebomb attack blamed on Jewish settlers are suing the Israeli government for damages.

Nasser Dawabsheh's brother Saad, sister-in-law Riham and 18-month-old nephew Ali were killed in the 2015 attack.

He said on Monday that the family lived in a West Bank village under Israeli control and therefore the government is liable for not protecting them. He says the family seeks unspecified compensation for their loss.

The family accuses Israel of ignoring the incitement and violence of Jewish West Bank settler extremists.

The attack in the village of Duma and the drawn-out investigation helped fuel months of Israeli-Palestinian violence. Then 4-year-old Ahmad was the only family member to survive.

Israel has charged two Jewish extremists with murder. Their trial is ongoing.

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North Korea

Justice Needed for North Korea's Countless Victims
Human Rights Watch

By Param-Preet Singh
May 1, 2017

On Friday, United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson convened a high-level debate on North Korea's nuclear program at the United Nations Security Council, as tensions rise on the Korean Peninsula.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and foreign affairs ministers took to the floor in turn expressing their growing concern about North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

But a number of the speakers went further. Several states, including the United Kingdom, France, Japan, Sweden, and Italy, noted the link between the nuclear program pursued by the regime's leaders and the gross deprivations faced by North Korea's people. Tillerson warned that "North Korea feeds billions of dollars into a nuclear problem it does not need while its own people starve."

Last month, the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, made the case that, "systematic human rights violations help underwrite the country's nuclear and ballistic missile programs" as "the government forces many of its citizens, including political prisoners, to work in life-threatening conditions in coal mines and other dangerous industries to finance the regime's military."

The Security Council is increasingly recognizing that Pyongyang's nuclear aspirations are inextricably linked to its cruel treatment of its citizens – which a UN-mandated commission of inquiry found amounted to crimes against humanity. This offers a glimmer of hope to North Korea's countless victims that their plight will not be forgotten in the pursuit of security.

What was left largely unsaid, however, was the importance of holding people responsible for abuses – abuses that had no parallel in terms of their gravity, scale, and nature, according to the UN commission of inquiry. Asking North Korea to do so is a non-starter, since the state is responsible for the policies that led to gross violations.

In today's briefing, Tillerson asked "the community of nations to help us preserve security and protect human dignity" of the people of North Korea. A critical part of that effort should include bringing those responsible for crimes of humanity to justice.

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AMERICAS

North & Central America

Canada's Support For U.S. Strikes On Syria Harms International Law
Huffington Post

By Craig Martin
May 01, 2017

In the immediate aftermath of the American missile strike against Syria, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that Canada "fully supports" the U.S. in its "limited and focused action to degrade" the Syrian government's chemical weapons capability. Many Canadians appear to think that this was the right call, given the heinous nature of the chemical weapons attacks in Syria. But the U.S. missile strikes violated international law, and weakened the international rule of law. Canada's swift and strong support for those unlawful acts will in turn do further harm to the international law system. That is not at all consistent with Canada's traditional support for international law. It was not necessary, and the Canadian government should re-consider such support for future American unilateral attacks.

Let us begin with the question of legality. Article 2(4) of The United Nations Charter and customary international law provide for a strict prohibition against the use of force against other states. There are only two exceptions to that prohibition, permitting states to use force either in individual or collective self-defense (Article 51), or when authorized to do so by the UN Security Council for purposes of maintaining or restoring international peace and security (Articles 39 and 42).

There is an amazingly strong consensus among international law scholars, even within the United States, that the U.S. missile strikes constituted a clear violation of the prohibition against the use of force. These views have been articulated in such renowned national security and international law blog sites as Lawfare, Just Security, EJILTalk!, and Opinio Juris. Such a consensus is remarkable given how divided opinion has been on the invasion of Iraq, drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan, or even the American strikes within Syria against ISIS. There is so little disagreement on these recent strikes, however, because there is virtually no plausible argument that they satisfy either of the established exceptions.

The only slender reed to be grasped by those trying to justify the strikes, is to argue that it was a valid exercise of humanitarian intervention. This argument depends, first, on a claim that there is an emerging norm in international law that would create a third exception to the prohibition on the use of force, in order to address humanitarian crises in other states. Canada actually played an important role in developing a doctrine called "The Responsibility to Protect" (or "R2P"), which provides a theoretical foundation for this putative exception.

But while the principle may be "emerging", the doctrine has not yet been established as a recognized and accepted principle of customary international law. To become custom there must be a widespread practice of states engaging in the conduct, explicitly for the purpose of preventing humanitarian crises, and invoking the doctrine as justification. There has been no such widespread state practice. But in any event, the American strikes did not even satisfy the basic conditions for a humanitarian intervention.

First and foremost, the principle requires that the force have been legitimately for the purpose of preventing an extreme humanitarian crisis, such as the commission of widespread war crimes, genocide, or crimes against humanity; and second, the intervention must have been the only way to do so. While the use of chemical weapons certainly was a war crime, and even assuming that it is proven that the Assad regime deployed them, the primary cause of the carnage in Syria has not been chemical weapons. And there is no evidence that the American strikes were intended to, or would, prevent the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria. The U.S. government refused to even provide a legal justification for its actions, far less appeal to the doctrine of humanitarian intervention specifically.

Indeed, the strikes were interpreted by many, Prime Minister Trudeau among them, as a limited strike intended to deter Assad from further chemical weapons use. The absence of any follow-up action undermines any argument that it was intended to prevent further atrocities in Syria more generally. The strikes increasingly look like an isolated attack intended to send a signal that the Trump administration will not shy away from using force - a signal likely intended for Russia, North Korea, and even domestic political constituencies, rather then the Assad regime.

But while the strikes did not help crystallize the principle of humanitarian intervention, the unlawful strikes did further weaken the prohibition on the use of force. This prohibition is the grundnorm of the United Nations system, upon which international peace and security depends. The integrity of that system is arguably more important than any one conflict. Some have suggested that while the strikes may have been unlawful, they could still be justified as enforcing the norm against chemical weapons - but as I have argued elsewhere, violating a fundamental principle of international law in order to enforce a lesser rule cannot be so justified. While the humanitarian disaster in Syria represents a serious failure of international law, the deliberate and flagrant violation of the most fundamental rules by the putative leaders of the international community is even worse for the system.

An important aspect of the rule of law is a shared understanding that the law is binding and that it applies equally to all. Repeated violations, particularly by the more powerful states and with apparent impunity, serve to erode that shared understanding, and thus weaken not only the normative power of the particular laws violated, but over time the integrity of the entire system of law.

This violence to the rule of law is exacerbated when other states voice their endorsement and acceptance of serious violations - particularly in cases such as this, where the violator itself does not even try to offer a legal justification for its actions. When a vigilante shoots a thief, it is a violation of the law that is not justified by the thief's own criminal acts. When the shooting goes unpunished, and not even explained, the rule of law is weakened. But when the community and institutions of power appear to applaud the vigilante for his lawless acts, then the rule of law is at risk of completely unraveling, the shared understanding of the law's binding nature dissolving, and isolated acts of theft will be the least of our worries. A Hobbesian reality of war by all against all beckons.

Canada has traditionally been a champion of the international rule of law. It should not support vigilante violence against criminal regimes. The Trudeau government was not faced with a binary choice between supporting either the United States or the Assad regime. It had options for responding to the chemical attacks without supporting America's illegal strikes. Canada's voice matters, and should be directed more carefully in the defense of law, not in support of lawlessness.

Wallet as Weapon: the Coming US Assault on the International Human Rights System
Just Security

By Nikki Reisch
May 1, 2017

These days, the Trump administration is not just threatening human rights with executive orders, tomahawk missiles and tweets. It is also wielding the government's wallet as a weapon against the international human rights system, proposing to cut or withhold billions of dollars in funding for a variety of international institutions that play crucial roles in the defense and promotion of human rights. While all eyes are trained on the Oval Office, Congress should keep the fisc in focus and ensure that whatever public stance this administration takes toward human rights, its actions don't extend to undermining the financial viability of the international system as we know it. Such a move would do far more damage to human rights, here at home and abroad, than any token gesture of US withdrawal or non-cooperation.

Since well before he took office, President Donald Trump voiced his skepticism of the United Nations and other international bodies. He has repeatedly questioned US engagement in multilateral fora, from the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the UN Human Rights Council to NATO and NAFTA. Much has been written about his assault on internationalism. What has garnered less attention though is the more subtle financial assault on international institutions that is just now starting to be waged. Even short of withdrawing from the Human Rights Council or abandoning the Inter-American system, the Trump administration can do immense damage through its withdrawal of funds.

In January, a draft executive order threatened to cut funding to international institutions and to pull the United States out of various multilateral treaties. While that order has never been finalized or signed, the president's proposed 2018 Budget aims to make good on that threat, by reducing or eliminating billions in funding for United Nations' peacekeeping operations and climate change initiatives, among other international programs.

Human rights bodies are particularly vulnerable. The United States is the single largest donor to the United Nations, including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which houses many of the UN's principal human rights institutions, including the Human Rights Council. The OHCHR gets less than half of its budget from general UN funds; it raises the rest through voluntary contributions, principally from member States. From 2016 to 2017, the United States made the highest contribution among donor countries to the human rights body's operations. All US funds, however, are earmarked for specific programs, limiting the unrestricted resources available for OHCHR to respond to urgent issues. The Trump administration has not only sought to undercut the Human Rights Council with sharp words, like those voiced by US envoy to the UN, Nikki Haley; it has also threatened to undermine the Council's capacity through under-funding, effectively holding US financial power over the human rights body's head.

At the regional level, too, the United States wields influence as a contributor to various human rights mechanisms, such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR). Given the increasing hostile environment for human rights defenders in many countries around the world, these regional bodies represent a crucial last resort-they are often the only places where individuals and communities facing abuses can be heard and can obtain access to protection and remedy. In recent years, a growing number of advocates have called upon the Inter-American Commission to address human rights issues in the United States, from discriminatory police brutality to the CIA's rendition, detention and interrogation program. But just last month, for the first time, the United States refused to appear at hearings before the IACHR, which planned to examine the human rights impacts of Trump's immigration ban and his approval of the Dakota access pipeline. To explain its nonappearance, the State Department cited conflicts with ongoing litigation. But its absence was not just a snub to the Commissioners, it was a signal to abusive governments around the world that it is acceptable to dodge international accountability. Already, the IACHR is facing an unprecedented and crippling funding crisis. Any backsliding in US support for the Commission would jeopardize its critical role monitoring and investigating rights violations throughout the Americas.

This threat extends beyond institutions with "human rights" in their titles. International bodies dedicated to protecting refugees and migrants also face an uncertain future. The Trump administration has blocked refugees from entering the US, first in its Jan. 27 Executive Order, and later in its revised version, published March 6. President Trump has also proposed to eliminate the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance (ERMA) fund, an account administered by the State Department. These actions have led many to fear that US support for the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)-the world's top refugee rights agency-will soon be on the chopping block. In 2016, the United States provided $1.5 billion of the UNHCR's approximately $4 billion budget. But UNHCR faces a significant funding gap, as record numbers of people have been forced to flee conflicts around the world. Any budget cuts could put millions of refugees in danger and at further risk of rights violations. They would also place even greater strains on those countries-often among the poorest-that shoulder the heaviest burdens of accommodating refugee populations today.

Health programs are likewise under the gun, putting sexual and reproductive health rights, in particular, at risk. Shortly after taking office, President Trump signed an order that bans US funding for any foreign non-governmental organizations that counsel clients regarding abortion or engage in abortion-related advocacy, reinstating and expanding the so-called "global gag rule." According to the State Department's report to Congress on funding for international organizations, the United States committed $67.9 million in fiscal year 2016 to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), an organization whose mission is to "deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person's potential is fulfilled." Then, on April 3, the State Department announced that it is ending UNFPA funding. The justification offered by the State Department for this about-face is that UNFPA "supports, or participates in the management of, a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization" in China. The UNFPA released an official statement refuting that claim. Meanwhile, health experts fear the consequences of Trump's policies for the reproductive rights and wellbeing of millions of women worldwide.

Trump's budget proposal also recommends capping US contributions to UN peacekeeping operations at 25 percent. The United States was the top provider of assessed contributions to the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) in 2016, providing 28.6 percent of the agency's funds. Adding up peacekeeping-related contributions listed in the State Department report for fiscal year 2016, US funding for DPKO activities amounted to nearly $2.6 billion. The level of US support varies across peacekeeping missions, reflecting the politics that underlie decisions to deploy the "blue helmets," and proposed cuts are likely to be similarly uneven. As reported by Foreign Policy, Trump has instructed the State Department to trim at least $1 billion from funds to the DPKO, but it is not yet clear where cuts will be made. So far, those operations considered important to US counter-terrorism interests, such as the peacekeeping mission in Mali, seem likely to be spared, but it is uncertain whether similar priority will be given to UN missions where grave human rights violations persist.

Sounding the alarm over threatened budget cuts to the DPKO and other international organizations is by no means to say that these institutions do no harm, or that US funding is necessarily an unqualified force for good. Such a view would be naïve at best, and blind to the fact that there have been many instances in which the activities of international actors around the world have had adverse impacts, even when undertaken in the name of human rights and humanitarian aid. The numerous reports of persistent sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers, for example, have prompted public outcry and heightened scrutiny by human rights groups. Earlier this year, a report of the UN Secretary General-analyzed in a Just Security post here-announced a "new approach" aimed to prevent, punish, and remedy sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers. Ethnic Roma who suffered from lead poisoning in a camp in Kosovo run by UN forces are still waiting for an apology and compensation. In December, the UN finally admitted the role its peacekeepers played in bringing cholera to Haiti, but it's had trouble raising the money it promised to help fight the epidemic. That these violations have continued with impunity underscores the need for robust, effective accountability mechanisms to ensure that international actors respect human rights and that survivors receive justice. Ensuring that international organizations carry out their human rights and humanitarian missions without endangering the very populations they are meant to protect, requires enhanced transparency, better oversight, and greater investment in human rights institutions that can provide such checks-not abandonment of these global bodies.

For better or worse, the United States has long been considered the bulwark of the international system. Indeed-at least until this administration-the US has frequently justified its hegemonic role by portraying itself as the global champion of human rights. All of that is changing. If the current administration's outward stance toward human rights has been lukewarm, its actions have demonstrated an unquestionably chilly-and chilling-attitude toward rights.

To be sure, the United States shoulders a large share of the costs of international institutions, designed to safeguard rights and ensure peace. It is not only appropriate that it do so, given the size of the country's economy and its ability to pay; it is also decidedly in the interest of the United States. It is far less expensive-and, in the long run, far more effective-to spend resources on human rights institutions than on weapons.

Funding is certainly not the only-or even the most important-means by which the United States participates in and influences the international human rights system. But budget allocations are a concrete indicator of US investment in multilateralism and commitment to human rights, global governance, and the rule of law. Beyond their signaling effect, US spending decisions have concrete consequences for the ability of the international system to respond to the most pressing human rights problems we face today-from violent conflicts and the global refugee crisis, to closing civic space and climate change. How the United States wields the power of its purse in the international sphere demands as much attention from policymakers and advocates as how the country uses its military might. We cannot wait for the axe to fall, but should proactively seek to protect US investment in international human rights institutions.

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South America

Chile Charges 16 Military Officers Who Waged Terror in Pinochet's 'Caravan of Death'
TeleSUR TV

April 27, 2017

The Chilean justice found them guilty of 15 murders of opponents during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

A Chilean court has found a retired army general and 15 other former military officials guilty of the murders of more than a dozen opponents the General Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship in the 1970s, when they acted as operatives of the military regime's notorious death squad, the Caravan of Death.

The officers were charged with 15 murders in 1973 through the Caravan of Death - a covert military unit that waged terror in the country during the dictatorship, including torturing and killing civilians - reported human rights special prosecutor Mario Carroza.

The 15 victims, all political opponents of the Pinochet regime, were detained on Oct. 16, 1973, in the wake of the Sept. 11 military coup against socialist President Salvador Allende. They were later removed from their prison cells and executed by multiple shots inside the military detention center where they were being held. Their remains were buried in a mass graves and were not returned to their relatives until they were found in 1998.

Among the 16 former military officials charged is a former army commander-in-chief, retired General Juan Emilio Cheyre, who has long been considered "untouchable" after previously being sentenced but securing his release on bond.

Despite testimonies from relatives of disappeared victims, Cheyre insisted over the years that he was innocent, and former President Ricardo Lagos, who was in office from 2000 until 2006, appointed the dictatorship-era military man to lead the army as commander-in-chief in 2002.

"In spite of all the power of the army and the civil authority that fiercely supported Juan Emilio Cheyre, they must accept this court decision within the framework of a fair and due process," said the lawyer for the families of the victims, Cristian Cruz

Pinochet came to power in 1973 in a military coup against socialist President Salvador Allende, and he ruled Chile with an iron first that terrorized leftists, human rights defenders and other opponents of the military regime until 1990. There are currently more than 1,200 other cases of alleged human rights violations by his regime under investigation.

According to researchers at Diego Portales University, nearly 40,000 were tortured during the dictatorship and more than 3,000 were disappeared or killed.

Pinochet died in 2006 without every being sentenced for his crimes.

Columbia Basin Herald: Argentina's Top Court Cuts Sentence of Human Rights Abuse
Columbia Basin Herald

By Debora Rey
May 3, 2017

Argentina's Supreme Court on Wednesday reduced the jail sentence of a man serving time for crimes against humanity committed during the country's 1976-1983 dictatorship.

Luis Muina was sentenced in 2011 to 13 years in prison for the kidnapping and torture of five people during a military operation. Three of the top court's five justices decided that his days spent in prison before a firm conviction should count double toward his sentence, meaning Muina could get out eight years earlier.

The court said the ruling was based on an interpretation of a repealed law that had not previously been applied to human rights convictions. The so-called 2x1 law was in effect in 1994-2001, when most dictatorship-era human rights criminals were still free.

"This ruling determined that common crimes are the same as crimes against humanity," said Andres Gil Dominguez, a lawyer who specializes in constitutional law. "It's a new judicial and ideological way of looking at human rights crimes by the Supreme Court."

The two Supreme Court justices who voted against reducing the sentence said the other judges' "interpretation of the law" should not be applied to human rights abuses.

Activists criticized the decision as setting a precedent that could lead to the early release of other convicted human rights abusers.

"This ruling is abominable," said Estela de Carlotto, president of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo human rights group. "What kind of crimes against humanity that are part of a state-sponsored terror campaign can be equaled to common crimes?"

Official estimates say about 6,000 people were killed or disappeared in a government-sponsored crackdown on leftist dissidents during Argentina's "dirty war." Human rights activists believe the real number was as high as 30,000. Hundreds of babies were also born to prisoners at clandestine torture centers and turned over illegally to the families of military officers and others.

Carlotto said the court's ruling is in line with what she believes is a dramatic shift in human rights policies under President Mauricio Macri. Former President Cristina Fernandez and her late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, made uncovering human rights abuses and trying perpetrators from the military dictatorship central to their administrations.

"Argentina moved back 20 years in human rights issues," Fernandez said on her Twitter account. "This ruling would not have happened in the previous government."

Killings by Brazilian police branded a human rights crisis as body count rises
The Guardian

By Kate Lyons
May 4, 2017

The Brazilian authorities have been accused of turning a blind eye to a human rights crisis following a sharp rise in the number of killings by police.

In a report published on Thursday, Amnesty International said Brazil had not done enough to end rights violations. Since 2012, rates of police-led killings have risen sharply. Last year, 920 such deaths were documented in Rio de Janeiro alone, compared with 419 in 2012. In the first two months of this year, 182 people have been killed by police in the city, a 78% increase on the same period in 2016.

"Since the last review at the United Nations [in 2012], Brazil has not taken enough steps to tackle the shocking levels of human rights violations across the country, including soaring police homicide rates that leave hundreds of people dead every year," said Jurema Werneck, executive director at Amnesty International Brazil.

The UN is set to review Brazil's human rights record on Friday. The country has the highest number of homicides in the world, with figures reaching almost 60,000 in 2015. The majority of victims are young black men. In the same year, police in Rio de Janeiro were responsible for one in every five killings. In São Paulo, it was one in four.

Robert Muggah, research director of the Igarapé Institute, a security and justice thinktank in Rio, said: "Unfortunately, police violence here has been a tragic reality for some time."

Muggah attributed the increased violence of recent years to a combination of the military police being trained in aggressive tactics, an organisational culture that tolerates high levels of force, and the economic and political crisis in Brazil, which he said has led to "a deep crisis of leadership".

"You have a deeply distressed and exasperated population who see the police as an enemy, not as a servant to the pubic good. This creates a very antagonistic relationship. It's worsened by the routine egregious use of force caught on film," he said.

The result, said Muggah, is "a change in the perception of insecurity of Rio", with taxi drivers refusing to go to particular parts of the city, people bearing arms openly in the street and evidence of increasing numbers of people being killed in summary executions, vigilante attacks and by stray bullets.

Police are also being killed in growing numbers in Rio de Janeiro. In 2016, 142 police were killed in the line of duty, a 30% increase on the previous year, and the highest number since 2004 when 191 officials were murdered, according to the Igarapé Institute.

Brazil's Congress is debating a statute that would loosen restrictions on bearing firearms.

The Amnesty report also raised concerns about violence in rural areas relating to conflicts over land. In 2016, the Land Church Commission recorded 61 murders and 74 attempted murders related to conflicts over land and natural resources, the second highest such numbers in 25 years.

"Very little has been done to reduce the number of homicides, to control the use of force by the police, or to guarantee indigenous rights as claimed in Brazil's constitution. UN member states must make clear to Brazil that this has to change," said Werneck.

'Crimes Against Humanity' Case Opened Against Former President of Peru
Jerusalem Post

May 6, 2017

Peru's national prosecutors office said on Friday it has opened an investigation into allegations of "crimes against humanity" related to the military's fight against leftist guerrillas in the 1990s, in a case involving former President Ollanta Humala.

The investigation comes as testimony from two new witnesses suggests that soldiers under Humala's command at the Madre Mia military base tortured and murdered civilians. Humala was an army officer during Peru's bloody campaign against Maoist guerrilla group Shining Path during the 1980s and 1990s.

Humala has publicly denied the allegations.

Humala ran as a leftist but shifted to the right during his five-year term from 2011 through 2016, embracing free-market policies and backing a law that made it a criminal offense to deny the Shining Path's role in a civil war that started in 1980 killed 69,000 people.

He was replaced last year by President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a former investment banker and free-markets proponent.

A previous probe into the alleged human rights violations was shelved in 2009 for lack of evidence. But leaked transcripts of recorded phone conversations published in local media in recent weeks appear to suggest Humala bribed torture victims to alter their testimony, which he has also denied.

Argentines Unite Against Law Helping Human Rights Abusers
Columbia Basin Herald

By Luis Andres Henao
May 10, 2017

Thousands of Argentines of all ages and opposing political parties joined Wednesday to protest a Supreme Court ruling that many feared would lead to the release of convicted human rights criminals.

Argentines have been outraged by the top court's decision last week that reduced the sentence of a human rights abuser based on an interpretation of a repealed law. Lower court judges denounced it as unconstitutional and rejected requests for freedom by other convicted abusers.

And in a rare display of unity by lawmakers, Congress approved a bill Wednesday that would ban the reduction of jail sentences for people serving time for crimes against humanity committed during Argentina's brutal 1976-1983 military dictatorship.

Demonstrators marched to the Plaza de Mayo square in front of the presidential palace carrying banners with pictures of those who were forcibly disappeared in a government-sponsored crackdown on leftist dissidents during Argentina's "dirty war."

Many wore white headscarves that have become a symbol of the Mothers and Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo human rights groups. During the dictatorship years, they fought to recover their children and grandchildren by marching every week in front of the main square in Buenos Aires.

"Fortunately, the whole society has reacted firmly," Estela de Carlotto, president of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, told the demonstrators.

"Numerous judges rejected the requests for a reduction of sentences and the freeing of human rights abusers. Today, lawmakers approved a measure that seeks to put a break on this law that favors genocide and repressors," she said. "These decisions fill us with gratitude and hope."

The so-called 2X1 law cited by the Supreme Court said that the days a suspect spent in prison before a firm conviction should count double toward the sentence. It was used by three of the top court's five justices to reduce the 13-year sentence given to Luis Muina for the kidnapping and torture of five people during a military operation.

The law was in effect in 1994-2001, when most dictatorship-era human rights criminals were still free.

Activists had warned that the ruling could set a precedent leading to the early release of other abusers. Senators unanimously passed the bill Wednesday saying the 2x1 law cannot be applied to human rights criminals. The lower house had already approved it.

Official estimates say about 6,000 people were killed or disappeared during the dictatorship, but human rights activists believe the real number was as high as 30,000.

"Freeing these genocidists is insane," said Jorge Leonardo Penalba, a demonstrator who attended the march wearing a white headscarf tied around his neck embroidered with the words: "Never again."

Peru's Indigenous Women Bring Forced Sterilizations Case to UN
TeleSUR

May 10, 2017

Sterilizations have a dark and controversial history in the country, and efforts to bring justice and representation to thousands of victims who live in disenfranchised and resource-scare communities has been a slow road.

Peru's National Organization of Indigenous Andean and Amazonian Women, ONAMIAP, brought the case of mass sterilizations which occurred during the second term of former dictator Alberto Fujimori to the United Nations earlier this week.

Between 1995 to 2000, the right-wing leader oversaw forced sterilizations that affected over 270,000 women and 24,000 men, according to ONAMIAP.

ONAMIAP launched the initiative on the last day of the 16th session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues that took place in New York between April 24 to May 5.

Fujimori's administration implemented a health program that carried out the sterilization of almost 300,000 women. The program particularly affected poor Indigenous Quechua women living in rural areas who could not understand documents written in Spanish that they were forced to sign before the operation.

Thousands of women were sterilized, without consent, and were often pressured, coerced and even physically restrained by medical professionals. Others have told harrowing stories of how they entered medical clinics for check-ups and minor procedures but left sterilized.

Fujimori justified the program, known as Voluntary Surgical Contraception, on the premise that it would help to alleviate poverty - by literally preventing poor people from being born.

Fujimori has been in jail since 2007 on charges of corruption and human rights abuses.

Several state investigations into the sterilizations have been opened and closed, leaving victims without recourse. Much to the disappointment of victims and human rights organizations, a January 2014 ruling said that there was not enough evidence to maintain an investigation into Fujimori's role in the sterilizations, which he still maintains were voluntary or undertaken by rogue doctors.

Courts also ruled that three of Fujimori's health ministers were not responsible for the sterilization program.

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TOPICS

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Gambia: Gambia's TRC: How a Government's Good Intentions Could Betray a Nation
Freedom Newspaper

By Pada Saidykhan
May 10, 2017

The Gambian Opposition Coalition's 2016 MoU provides for a Committee on National Reconciliation to serve as an advisory and consultative body on National reconciliation and will give recommendation as and when requested by the Coalition Executive Committee on 'how to conduct civic education to promote National identity and reconciliation by enhancing tolerance of ethno- linguistic, religious, gender and other diversities in pursuit of national unity and peaceful co-existence'.

This was necessitated by the belief that the then President Jammeh and his APRC party had disintegrated our society and communities, and divided the country along regional, religious and tribal lines that we risked an outbreak of a tribal or civil war.

However, this was only a fear of the unknown that comes with ousting a tyrant, should we have a not-so pleasant change of Government and leadership. Rightly so because from his appointments, policy and public pronouncements, the fear was legitimate. So I do understand the spirit of this provision in the MoU.

The Coalition Manifesto on Human Rights and Justice outlined their plans 'Addressing the Issue of Torture and Death in Custody'. It states:

'Many allegations of torture have been reported by the media and made by accused persons in their testimonies in court. Reports of disappearances without trace are common. There are also cases of death under detention without the institution of any proceedings by the Coroner.

The Coalition Government shall set up a truth and reconciliation commission to enhance the healing of wounds that have caused pain and trauma through a cycle of confession, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. The commission will be empowered to recommend remedies for injustice including payment of compensation by the state, as it deems fit.'

Pursuit of Justice has been sidestepped for repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. I'd always believed that the Gambian society is not as divided as we made it seem, and I still maintain that position. If it were especially to the level that we'd need a TRC, not even ECOMIG could have prevented the bloodshed. We had a 22-year tyranny where ONE man and a handful of known murderers with the backing of the State, targeted perceived political enemies. We ALL know who these are and what they did. The Gambian communities, despite the political differences were not seriously divided on any lines that led to any tribal, religious and regional conflicts that made cohabitation impossible. All our communities need are consultations and dialogue.

For the Gambia to want to constitute Truth and Reconciliation Commission that would model Sierra Leone, Liberia or Rwanda's is like Pata importing the Imam and model from King Fahad's Mosque to lead his nonexistent Congregation. Wasteful. The model Countries that had TRC, had gone through serious civil wars that had folks in same communities slaughter one another on religious, tribal, regional or political lines. What do we reconcile in the Gambia when even as awful as the APRC as a party was, none of its top brass or rank and file have ever been accused of serious commission of crimes? Not even attacking the opposition in their midst. Not a single reported killing. It was NOT the APRC as a Party or GDC as a party, the Mandinkas or Jolas as a tribe, Banjulians or Jarrankas as a people, or Muslim youths that arrested Solo Sandeng and co., and had him murdered before daybreak. None of these insulted the other tribes or regions. None made public declaration intended to disrespect and make Christians second class citizens. It was not any group of citizens from Foni that kidnapped Alhagie Mamut Ceesay, Ebou Jobe, Chief Manneh, Tumani Jallow, Ndongo Mboob, Kanyiba Kanyi, slaughtered and buried them in mass graves in the bushes of Foni. They were all killed by either the NIA or the Jungullars and/or both on the orders of Yaya Jammeh. Who do you reconcile their families with?

The Coalition's manifesto failed to outlined their plans to accord justice to the victims. Their focus was to amplify the need for 'forgiveness, repentance and education' which would be centered on and around amnesty and forgiveness for the perpetrators (the State) and some financial compensation to the victims, absent Justice. Check out the below excerpt:

'The Coalition government will propagate laws, institutions and programmes on national reconciliation to build trust, confidence and positive perception towards the coalition by presenting it as a unifying rather than a dividing force. It will convince the electorate that the coalition is on the path of national reconciliation rather preparing for revenge.'

Revenge? Why would any Government want to confuse dispensation of deserved justice to those persecuted, raped, tortured, killed by the State and few elements with Revenge? Why would anyone hold the belief that people who murdered perceived enemies for One Man in the name of the Gambian State would be forgiven by families and Country only because they have been financially compensated? Why are the Coalition group of private citizens deciding for Gambians what's best way to heal? The mistake we will make as a nation is to think that bringing criminals before a commission to apologize and accept their barbarity in exchange for immunity for prosecution would satisfy justice and heal hearts. Justice is not the same as revenge, and denying it will not accord us the peace.

The Gambia Government needs to grow horns and do what's right. INVESTIGATE alleged crimes, PROSECUTE perpetrators and ensure we have RESTORATIVE JUSTICE where the criminals wouldn't only be punished but VICTIMS be seen to be taken care of by the STATE that failed them. SIMPLES! Let's be efficient and do away with fancy stuff. Former President Jammeh, The Jungulars and Elements of the NIA are the alleged perpetrators of all these. No Gambian communities had any hands in anything. From the accounts of the first two prosecution witnesses in the NIA 9 case, we have a glimpse of how heartless and barbaric these sadistic murderers treated 'the UDP people' as NIA Director Yankuba Badgie was quoted as saying before driving off leaving the near lifeless body of a tortured victim. Further accounts from witnesses and even perpetrators would leave our jaws dropped on how scores of nonpolitical detainees and the disappeared were butchered. Anything short of prosecution in a competent court of law would be denying justice and leave our peace hanging on a string.

And for the record, these TRCs in the aforementioned countries have been criticized to be largely ineffective from the victims' perspective because there were a lot of uncooperative elements and agencies, not to even mention the inability to locate bigwigs for them to appear before the said Commission. Most who appeared were seen to not be remorseful or even accept responsibilities for their roles because they were 'carrying out orders'. And because the conditions for their appearances where amnesty, most of their victims were further scarred thus remaining unforgiving. We have read testimonials of perpetrators seeking compensation for the post traumatic disorders, claiming they were still been haunted by how viciously they killed or witnessed killings, rape and other sorts of torture. You tell me how would the murderers of November 11 soldiers, April 10/11 students, Mile 2 inmates, Deyda Hydara, Marci Jammeh saying I am sorry reconciles a Nation and people that had no parts in these killings! Quiet frequently, we have seen our Criminal Justice System to be rewarding when it punishes the perpetrators to longer jail terms or even death, thinking that would bring closure to victims, families and victims. If punitive justice is not an adequate source of closure for the nation, a TRC mandated confessions and 'I'm sorries' of remorseless cowards promised of amnesty would be worse.

The Gambian State must prosecute alleged criminals, pursue fugitives, seek the extradition and indictment of the chief criminal Yaya Jammeh, adequately compensate victims and families to set a deterrent. Anything to the contrary is risking an angrier, a more divided nation and potential for revenge by those who felt cheated. That'd be a betrayal of the people by the State that denied them effective avenue for redress. These, among many things, could be the unintended consequences of 'Good intentions, awful outcome'.

TRC Final Report a 'Record of Truth' for Canada, Regina's History: Tribal Council Chief
CBC News

May 10, 2017

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's final report is an important part of both Canada and Regina's history, says Edmund Bellegarde, who called it a "record of truth."

Bellegarde, the chief of the File Hills Qu'Appelle Tribal Council, signed an agreement on Wednesday with Regina Mayor Michael Fougere called the Protocol of Recognition, Partnership and Respect.

The memorandum of understanding commits the city and the tribal council to work on joint initiatives to recognize and celebrate diversity within the community.

"This new agreement speaks to a more vibrant, more applicable discussion," Fougere said, adding that the agreement was an acknowledgement of the work that still needs to be done within the city.

Bellegarde spoke about agreements between Indigenous populations and governments in the past. He said there has been a lack of understanding and recognition when it comes to the legal frameworks that have shaped the lives of the Indigenous communities.

"Those governing systems didn't recognize or didn't serve all of the interests of all of its people that it was intended to. Reconciliation - the most important part of that is that peaceful coexistence," Bellegarde said.

"We can't have that peaceful coexistence if there continues this misunderstanding, if there continues to be this lack of recognition of some of the challenges and the rights and the histories we have as Indigenous peoples."

​The agreement is also part of the two organizations working toward honouring the 94 calls to action within the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's final report.

"We have long discussions to have on our treaties and how we need to honour those," Fougere said.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission may be launched in Finland already after summer
The Independent Barents Observer

By Yle Sapmi
May 11, 2017

On 5 May, the State of Finland and the Sámi Parliament officially agreed to launch a truth and reconciliation process.

"It means that we will now begin negotiations on how to start the process: what the content, mandate and resources of the commission will be. This year is the centenary year of Finland's independence, with "Together" as a theme of the year, so we'll also call this process "Together" from now on," says Tiina Sanila-Aikio, the Chair of the Sámi Parliament.

The launching of a reconciliation process has been one of the goals of the Finnish Sámi Parliament this term. On the practical level, very little has been agreed upon. This does not, however, dampen Sanila-Aikio's enthusiasm.

"It's a big thing that the State and the Sámi Parliament have officially agreed on starting this process - a process that is needed according to the Sámi community; I feel that this is extremely important."

According to a press release from the Government, the spirit of the meeting between the Prime Minister and the Sámi Parliament was open and good.

According to the Government, the parties agreed on launching the reconciliation process as quickly as possible. Johanna Suurpää, who is responsible for Sámi matters in the Ministry of Justice, does not yet want to tell more about the progress and the conditions of the process.

According to Sanila-Aikio we may get more information on the matter in a few weeks.

"I believe that the first occasions connected with the process will take place as soon as the autumn. Of course, many things need to be settled before that, and there's a lot to agree on. But I hope that we'll know more about this in June," Sanila-Aikio says.

The relationship between the State of Finland and the Sámi Parliament has been difficult in the past few years. One reason for this is the rejection of Sámi bills during the previous term of the Government.

Furthermore, the views of the Sámi Parliament have not been taken well into consideration by the present Government, either. The latest disappointment concerned the passing of the Teno River Fishery Agreement despite the opposition of the local people and the Sámi Parliament. The Sámi Parliament has also acknowledged internationally that it does not have trust in the decision-makers of Finland.

Chair Tiina Sanila-Aikio does not want to elaborate on the issue of trust at the moment.

"It's hard to say. We've had to give in and fight about things so many times recently. I hope that this is the first step towards a better future. But we know that the situation has not changed: the State still holds all the cards," Sanila-Aikio says.

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Austrian Court Jails Asylum Seeker for War Crimes in Syria
The Guardian

By Kate Connolly and Owen Bowcott
May 10, 2017

A 27-year-old asylum seeker has been sentenced to life imprisonment in Austria after being convicted of war crimes over the killing of 20 wounded Syrian government soldiers.

The man, who has not been named, was found guilty on Wednesday of "murder as a terrorism offence" by five members of an eight-strong jury in Innsbruck.

The three-day trial began in February, but had to be adjourned twice on medical grounds after the man collapsed in court.

The main evidence against him was a confession he gave to regional officials. The court refused to believe the defendant's repeated claims that he had been incorrectly translated.

"He explained that he had shot dead badly wounded soldiers," the translator said in evidence to the court. "I even asked him again and he confirmed it." He said a written version of the confession was translated back to the man at the end of the questioning and he had signed every page of it.

The man, who has a Palestinian passport but was born and grew up in a refugee camp in the Syrian city of Homs, was arrested at a refugee shelter in the Austrian state of Tyrol last June after a Syrian man came forward to denounce him.

The man had apparently boasted to other residents at the shelter that he had belonged to the Faruq Brigade, a subgroup of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), and had fought against troops loyal to the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, in Homs in 2013 and 2014. He travelled to Austria and sought asylum in May 2015.

On the first day of his trial he stated he had not killed anyone and that he was innocent. He and his brother had taken part in the 2011 demonstrations against the Assad regime, he said, and were persecuted as a result.

"The regime killed my brother," he told the court through a translator. "I had a gun in order that I could defend myself and my family." He said he had never taken a direct part in fighting, and the gun he possessed was a Kalashnikov given to him by the FSA for self-defence.

Guido Steinberg, an expert on the Syrian war, told the court that the Faruq Brigade is not regarded as a terrorist organisation. "It is completely normal in this conflict that prisoners are murdered, regardless of what side they are," he said.

In his closing argument Thomas Willam, prosecuting, spoke of an "overwhelming state of evidence" against the man. The accused had made a confession "of his own free will", he said and in addition "repeatedly stated during his interrogation by the police [...] that he had indeed shot these people".

The killing of wounded soldiers contravenes the Geneva Convention, and is considered a war crime. The man said he had simply been relating his experience of the war but this was misunderstood as him saying that he had been responsible for the deaths he witnessed.

There were no known witnesses to the killings.

The man's defence lawyers claimed shortcomings in both the police's questioning of him and in their investigatory proceedings. "There is a difference between what is in the [written confession] and what the accused actually said," Laszlo Szabo, a lawyer for the accused told the jurors.

He called the accusations "very thin" and questioned why the court appeared keen to bring the trial to a swift close.

According to the Vienna daily newspaper Der Standard, the jury members appeared overwhelmed by the complicated details they were confronted with during the brief trial, not least the complexities of the Syrian war. There were also repeated linguistic misunderstandings between the accused and the court, despite the presence of a translator.

The man will serve his sentence in Austria. He cannot be extradited to Syria because of the war.

The man was put on trial according to the principle of universal jurisdiction, which is widely accepted by many states. Usually applied to the most serious offences, it allows courts in one country to try suspects in their domestic courts for charges such as war crimes or torture that were committed abroad.

The UK has universal jurisdiction over a small number of serious offences. Last year, for example, a Nepalese army officer was tried at the Old Bailey for torture allegedly inflicted on Maoist rebels in his home country. He was acquitted.

Woman Shot by Police in Terror Raid Charged with Murder Plot
Associated Press

By Jill Lawless
May 10, 2017

A woman who was shot by officers during a raid by counterterrorism police in London was charged along with her mother Wednesday with preparing acts of terrorism and plotting murder.

The Metropolitan Police said Rizlaine Boular, 21, and two other women - one of them Boular's mother, Mina Dich, 43 - are accused of preparing terrorist acts and conspiracy to murder "a person or persons unknown."

Boular, Dich and 20-year-old Khawla Barghouthi were detained April 27 during police raids in London and nearby Kent county. Boular was formally arrested upon her release from a hospital three days after she was shot and injured.

All three are due in court Thursday.

Seven other people who were arrested as part of the same operation, including women ages 18 and 19 and a 16-year-old boy, have been released without charges.

Police say they disrupted an active terror plot when they made the arrests.

British officials have set the threat level from international terrorism at "severe," indicating an attack is highly likely.

In an unrelated case that also unfolded on April 27, a London man was arrested near Parliament carrying several knives. Khalid Mohammed Omar Ali, 27, has been charged with preparing terrorist acts this year and with making or having explosives in Afghanistan in 2012.

On March 22, an attacker drove an SUV into pedestrians on London's Westminster Bridge, killing four, before fatally stabbing a police officer inside Parliament's gates. He was shot dead by police.

Britain has seen a series of trials over foiled terrorism plots since suicide bombers killed 52 London commuters on three subway trains and a bus in 2005.

The latest alleged plot is unusual in that those charged are all women, and include a mother and daughter.

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Piracy

Infamous Abu Sayyaf Leader Killed
Maritime Executive

By Noel Tarrazona
April 29, 2017

Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Alhabsy Misaya, also known as Abu Misaya, was reportedly killed in a military operation on Friday night in Parang town in the province of Sulu in the Philippines.

Three of the group's most notorious pirate leaders have now been killed in April alone, as the nation's military strives to meet the June 2017 deadline for eradicating the Abu Sayyaf set by its Commander-in-Chief, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

Misaya was known as the Abu Sayaf's bomb expert. He was reportedly responsible for a series of bomb attacks as well as maritime piracy in the Philippines.

Reports of Misaya's death coincide with the four-day ASEAN summit held in Manila where leaders expressed concerns on the growing maritime piracy and terrorism in the ASEAN region. Prior to the ASEAN summit, Duterte sent at least 10,000 highly trained soldiers to Basilan and Sulu to finish off the Abu Sayaf.

The death of Misaya came barely three weeks after the death of another Abu Sayaf sub-leader Muamar Askali, also known as Abu Rami. He was killed in the Central Philippines after a fire-fight encounter with joint police and military forces in the province of Bohol. Rami and 10 fighters had sailed from Sulu to Bohol to target Western tourists for their kidnap for ransom activities. (Bohol is home to the Loboc River, which is frequented by Western tourists taking ferry cruises.)

The third Abu Sayaf sub-leader killed this month was Joselito Melloria, a Muslim convert and a native of Bohol. Four other fighters were also killed in that week-long military encounter in Bohol.

The group's overall leader, Radullon Sahiron, is now the only top leader left, and with the continuous military pressure, he has reportedly sent out surrender feelers to the military.

Raking in the Money

Through the operational leadership of Rami and Misaya, the Abu Sayaf has raked in at least $12 million since 2012 from kidnap, piracy and extortion activities.

Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella was quoted by media outlet Rappler saying that the death of Misaya is a "big blow to the notorious kidnap-for-ransom terrorist group." He also reminded communities that fighting terrorism is a "shared responsibility."

Duterte visited Basilan in July last year to offer peace talks with the Abu Sayaf, but the latter rejected the offer. Upon learning of the rejection, Duterte warned them he would eat them alive with vinegar on their flesh.

Who is Abu Misaya?

Aside from his bomb expertise, Misaya was known as the most notorious leader of Abu Sayaf. He was responsible for kidnappings and maritime piracy around the Southern Philippines and Malaysia border. A self-styled spokesman, he led a group that abducted Indonesian, Vietnamese and Malaysian sailors.

Misaya's group demanded money from their captives' relatives, and those captives whose relatives failed to deliver their ransom on time, were killed, often by beheading.

Misaya, as a new Abu Sayaf recruit in 2002 was reportedly involved in the 2002 bomb attack in a U.S. military facility in Zamboanga City that killed a U.S. serviceman and wounded 23 others. Misaya earned the respect of his colleagues and eventually became the leader of the kidnapping and piracy wing of the group. The U.S. government announced a $15,000 money reward for information leading to his arrest.

Abu Rami was a Teacher's Son

The death of Rami will leave a leadership vacuum in the kidnapping operations of the Abu Sayaf. Son of a police officer and a teacher, he was schooled in Notre Dame, a Catholic School in Jolo, and later was groomed to be one of the most feared maritime piracy leaders in the Philippine-Malaysia border.

Military reports confirmed that Rami reportedly shared some of the money ransom from kidnapping and maritime piracy activities with residents of the village protecting him from pursuing police and military authorities. The Armed Forces of the Philippines had difficulties arresting Rami as the community would not cooperate with the military officials pursuing him.

OBP: Kidnap-for-Ransom Piracy Increased in 2016
Maritime Executive

May 3, 2017

On Wednesday, Oceans Beyond Piracy released its annual report on the economic and human costs of pirate activity for 2016, and trends in West Africa, Southeast Asia and East Africa will give operators cause for concern.

Kidnapping incidents skyrocketed in the waters between the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia last year. In 2015, there were zero attacks in this quiet border region, but last year there were 21, all perpetrated by groups linked to the terrorist organization Abu Sayyaf. 67 seafarers were kidnapped and six were killed in the attacks, and the group executed several more hostages in the first few months of 2017.

Kidnapping also rose off West Africa, as Nigerian gangs elected to make up for declining revenues from oil theft and government reparations payments by making off with vessels and crews. A total of 96 seafarers were taken hostage off West Africa last year, more than double the number in 2015. Over 1900 seafarers were affected by pirate attacks, the majority within Nigeria's EEZ. The total cost to maritime interests of piracy in the region rose to $800 million, including $350 million in contracted maritime security expenses.

There were no successful attacks last year in the world's other high-profile piracy region - the waters off the Horn of Africa - but there were nearly 30 reported piracy incidents. OBP noted that most ship operators began ratcheting down the size of their embarked security contractor teams to three members (rather than four) last year as a cost-saving measure. Security spending fell from $6.6 billion in 2012 to $1.7 billion in 2016, lowering the deterrence factor - a circumstance that may be reflected in the spate of hijackings and attacks this spring, the first successful boardings in five years. OBP emphasized that Somali criminal networks have sustained their operations with human trafficking and arms smuggling over the intervening period, and these groups still have the capacity to go back to piracy when they perceive that conditions are favorable. If the decline in maritime security spending is not accompanied by an increase in investment in regional security forces, OBP warns, there will be plenty of room for piracy to resume in East Africa.

Navy SEAL Killed in Raid on Somali Terrorist Group
Maritime Executive

May 5, 2017

On Thursday, a member of a Navy SEAL team was killed in an operation against the Somali militant group al Shabaab, an al Qaeda affiliate, at a location 40 miles west of Mogadishu. The servicemember may have been the first American to die in combat in Somalia since 1993, when casualties from the well-publicized "Black Hawk Down" incident prompted President Bill Clinton to pull U.S. troops out of the country.

Reports from specialist defense media suggest that two other SEALs and one interpreter were injured in the incident. The raid may have involved SEAL Team 6, which has a prominent role in counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa.

Over the past few years, the U.S. military has rebuilt its presence in Somalia in the form of train-and-assist missions for African Union and Somali government troops. Publicly, this support includes aerial surveillance and drone strikes; sources suggest that it also includes the regular involvement of U.S. Special Forces in covert raids.

Al Shabaab ("The Youth" or "Mujahideen Youth Movement") is a designated terrorist organization with ties to Al Qaeda. It opposes Somalia's internationally recognized government, and while it has lost control of most of its territory since the launch of a Somali / African Union offensive in 2011, it continues to execute terrorist attacks - like the 2013 raid on a mall in Nairobi and the attempted bombing of a Somali airliner last year.

Anecdotal reports suggest that al Shabaab has had a complex relationship with Somali piracy over the years, at times fighting with "un-Islamic" pirate networks, at others demanding a cut from pirates' ransom proceeds or trading hostages. It still exerts an influence in most rural areas south of Puntland, and routinely extorts money from businesses and aid groups to support its operations.

Chinese Navy Hands Pirates Over to Somali Authorities
Maritime Executive

May 8, 2017

On Friday, a Chinese naval vessel transferred three suspected pirates to the custody of the Somali maritime police in Puntland region. The three alleged pirates had been reported missing after a boarding team from the Chinese frigate Yulin thwarted an attack on the bulker OS 35 last month. Two attackers escaped from the scene and returned home, and they spread word that three associates had been left behind.

The captured suspects include Aw Kombe, a known pirate spokesperson and leader who was also involved in the hijacking of the tanker Aris 13.

Chinese forces defeated two attempted hijackings in April, the attack on the OS 35 and a second on the bulk carrier Alheera. A Somali official told VOA Somalia that the Chinese forces killed two out of a group of nine attackers in the Alheera incident. One more was wounded and six managed to escape unharmed. The official - Ahmed Abdullahi, a spokesman for Puntland's maritime police force - said that villagers had found what they believed to be the bodies of the pirates on the shore.

The Chinese military has expressed pride in the PLA(N)'s anti-piracy operations, hailing the recent interdictions as a sign that China has arrived as a major maritime power. Sr. Col. Yang Yujun of the Ministry of National Defense confirmed the Alheera incident, but did not acknowledge any fatalities. "On April 15, the Chinese guided missile frigate Hengyang verified and expelled pirate suspects and successfully rescued a Panamanian ship," he said at a press briefing late last month.

Ship attacks up internationally in first quarter of 2017
DefenceWeb

May 11, 2017

Pirates and armed robbers attacked 43 ships and captured 58 seafarers in the first quarter of this year, slightly more than the same period last year, according to the latest ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) piracy report, while Yemen's worsening conflict is contributing to a spike in regional piracy.

The IMB global report highlights persisting violence in piracy hotspots off Nigeria and around the Southern Philippines - where two crew members were killed in February. Indonesia also reported frequent incidents, mostly low-level thefts from anchored vessels.

In total, 33 vessels were boarded and four fired upon in the first three months of 2017. Armed pirates hijacked two vessels, both off the coast of Somalia, where no merchant ship had been hijacked since May 2012. Four attempted incidents were also recorded.

Somali pirates successfully hijacked a small bunkering tanker and a traditional dhow, both within their territorial waters. Twenty-eight crew were taken hostage and released within a relatively short time. IMB suspects these incidents were opportunistic, particularly as the hijacked vessels were not following the Best Management Practices for Protection against Somalia Based Piracy (BMP4) recommendations.

"IMB continues to encourage all vessels transiting waters around Somalia to follow the BMP4 recommendations. The recent attacks should serve as a warning against complacency, as Somali pirates are still capable of carrying out attacks," said Pottengal Mukundan, IMB director.

"The presence of international navies patrolling these waters is important as it provides an added layer of deterrence to pirates and more importantly helps to secure one of the most important trade routes of the world," he added.

Meanwhile, the European Union Naval Force (EU Navfor) has warned that Somali pirates are taking advantage of a reduced international naval presence and more readily available weaponry to carry out attacks. "The regional instability caused by Yemen is important," Colonel Richard Cantrill, chief of staff with the European Union's counter piracy mission EU NAVFOR, told Reuters last week.

Fighting between Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi rebels and a Saudi-led coalition has spilled over into the shipping lanes through which much of the world's oil passes. And attacks on merchant ships in recent weeks by Somali gangs around the Gulf of Aden, the first since 2012, have raised fears of a return to hijackings and crews being taken hostage for long periods.

This is partially driven by the risk of famine and drought in the region, navy officials said, adding that there have been around six incidents involving Somali pirates and international merchant ships in recent weeks. These included the attempted hijacking in April of a Tuvalu-flagged cargo ship that was rescued by the Chinese navy after the crew sent a distress call. Separately, Somali pirates held the Sri Lankan crew of a Comoros-flagged ship hostage before they were released.

Gerry Northwood, of maritime security firm MAST and a former British Royal Navy captain with experience commanding warships in the region, said the area around the Horn of Africa and a section of water known as the Socotra Gap - between Somalia and the Yemeni island of Socotra - was a hub for local trading and fishing and the main route through which Somali mother vessel dhows moved between the Gulf of Aden and the wider Indian Ocean.

EU NAVFOR's Cantrill said smaller vessels with slower speeds were more vulnerable in the Socotra Gap, which is outside of a sailing zone protected by international warships.

The spate of attacks by pirate gangs has also been linked to growing anger among Somalis over the failure by authorities to crack down on foreign fishing vessels threatening their livelihoods, as well as an influx of weapons.

"The price of weaponry has markedly reduced. So, if you are trying to get hold of a certain weapon, it might easier now and cheaper and that could have an impact on criminal actors in Somalia - some of whom might wish to return to piracy," Cantrill said.

However, there was still a "real willingness between navies and nations to co-operate" despite tighter assets available, Cantrill said, adding that the coming weeks following the monsoon season would be crucial as attacking vessels becomes easier due to better weather conditions at sea.

"We have seen a spike in piracy activity, but I would not yet characterise it as a resurgence," Cantrill said.

Gulf of Guinea

According to the IMB, of the 27 seafarers kidnapped worldwide for ransom between January and March 2017, 63% were in the Gulf of Guinea.

Nigeria is the main kidnap hotspot, with 17 crew members taken in three separate incidents up from 14 in the same period last year. All three vessels - a general cargo ship, a tanker and a bulk carrier - were attacked while underway 30 to 60 nautical miles off the Bayelsa coast. Three more ships were fired on at up to 110 nautical miles from land and other attacks apparently go unreported.

"The Gulf of Guinea is a major area of concern, consistently dangerous for seafarers and kidnappings are increasing. IMB has worked with response agencies in the region including the Nigerian Navy which has provided valuable support, but more needs to be done to crack down on the area's armed gangs. We urge vessels to report all incidents so the true level of piracy activity can be assessed," Mukundan said.

In the Southern Philippines nine ships reported attacks in the first quarter of the year compared with only two in the same period last year. These include an armed attack on a general cargo vessel in which two crew were killed and five kidnapped for ransom. Kidnappers captured five more people in attacks on a fishing trawler and a tug.

IMB said militant activity may be behind the escalating violence in waters around the Southern Philippines. Armed groups use speedboats to target seafarers and fishermen in slow-moving, low vessels.

Areas such as the Sulu Sea and Sibutu Passage are particularly risky. IMB recommends ships avoid these waters by transiting West of Kalimantan, if possible and, as ever, follow the industry's latest best practice measures to protect against attacks.

Piracy peaked in 2011 and then declined after ship owners improved security and international naval forces stepped up patrols. But naval resources have since tightened due to other crises, while shipping companies - struggling with one of the worst sector downturns - have tried to cut costs.

A study by the Oceans Beyond Piracy non-profit group last week showed the cost of piracy in East Africa reached $1.7 billion last year, up from $1.3 billion in 2015 but well below the $7 billion reached in 2010.

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Gender-Based Violence

Police Scotland experts to assist officers in Rwanda on gender violence and child abuse
The Herald

By Gerry Braiden
April 30, 2017

SCOTTISH police officers are to take their expertise on tackling violence against women and children into the scene of one of the world's most brutal civil wars of recent times.

Police Scotland will team up with the United Nations-backed specialists on gender-based violence and child abuse in the Rwandan capital of Kigali to develop policing techniques and better protect victims.

Scots officers have recently been drafted into Malawi to assist colleagues who are struggling to cope with a sudden surge in violent crimes.

Women and children in parts of the country are said to have become more vulnerable to abuse from men who demand sex in return for food, shelter or other vital supplies following severe flooding towards the end and the resulting food shortages.

The work in Malawi will also extend into neighbouring Zambia.

It comes as police officers from Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Romania and many more descend on Scotland for training spearheaded by local officers in working with fragile and conflict-affected states.

The course involved academics and specialists serving in EU and UN international missions.

Rwanda, Zambia and Malawi are the Scottish Government's three priority areas in Sub-Saharan Africa to target overseas aid, with £500,000 dedicated to the schemes over the next three years.

It is estimated that more than 800,000 Rwandans were killed during a 100-day period April to July 1994, constituting as many as 80 per cent of the Tutsi population.

After the Tutsis retook control of the country, an estimated two million Rwandans, mostly Hutus, were displaced and became refugees. Armed struggles between the Rwandan government and Hutu opponents in Democratic Republic of Congo have continued to play out through proxy militias.

Although Rwanda has a fair record on equality with 64 per cent of MPs being female, operates a 'gender budgeting' system and has a well-established network of centres for victims of gender violence, there are still significant issues around abuse of women and children.

Superintendent Shaun McKillop, who leads Police Scotland's International Development Unit, said: "Officers travelled to Zambia and Rwanda earlier this year, at the request of the Scottish Government, where they met with officials from both countries to discuss how we could assist them with training on child protection and gender based violence issues. Following Scottish Government funding approval, a training and mentoring assessment will now take place over the next six months."

"Taking a more regional approach and developing a programme across the three partner countries underpins our new International Development Strategy. It also underlines Scotland's global commitment to supporting some of its most vulnerable people out of hardship and poverty."

Since the turn of the year Police Scotland officers have been deployed to six of the 10 areas in the south of Malawi which they will be working in over the next few years and hope to complete their spread by June.

A number of early recommendations have emerged so far, with the force working with Malawian Police Service to deliver on issues primarily around governance and communication.

International Development Minister Alasdair Allan said: "Police Scotland's global reputation for developing specialist gender-based violence and child protection programmes has been recognised by the United Nations.

"By sharing Scotland's expertise with the UN-supported centre in Kigali, it can be cascaded to other African police forces, wider than just those of our three sub-Saharan partner countries."

In Nicaragua, a Failure to Address Violence Against Women
NACLA

By Pamela J. Neumann
April 28, 2017

It was barely 8 AM, but the sun was already blazing in northeastern Managua, Nicaragua where I had joined several dozen women for a demonstration in front of the airport in the summer of 2013. Holding colorful handmade signs and banging drums, women of all ages barricaded the highway, chanting: "Ya es hora, ya es tiempo, que las mujeres vivamos sin violencia!" [It's about time that women live without violence!]

Studies estimate that one out of every two women in Nicaragua has experienced some form of violence in her lifetime. Like many countries, the Nicaraguan government's steps to address such violence have often been frustratingly slow. In 2012, local feminists found reason to celebrate when, after an arduous two-year grassroots campaign, a comprehensive new law addressing gender-based violence (Ley Integral Contra la Violencia Hacia Las Mujeres, or Ley 779) finally passed. For the first time, Ley 779 acknowledged that violence against women stems from "unequal relations of power" between men and women. It defined femicide as a specific crime, and expanded the legal definition of gender-based violence to include economic and psychological violence against women, among other provisions for stronger protective measures.

Their moment of victory was short-lived, however. Within two years, most of the major advances contained in Ley 779 were overturned. Not long afterwards, women's organizations were stunned when the police units charged with handling gender violence cases-the comisarías de la mujer -were shut down altogether in early 2016. Despite a resurgence of feminist activism to demand state accountability for rampant femicide rates, like the Ni Una Menos campaign, over the past few years in Nicaragua, protections against gender-based violence have been diluted and undermined.

Since 2012, I have closely watched the contentious political battle over gender violence law in Nicaragua as it has unfolded in the streets and in the press. My research has led me from the grassroots work of local women's organizations to the crowded waiting room of a comisaría to the homes of dozens of Nicaraguan women who sought legal help to escape situations of violence. Established in 1993, comisarías are a special type of Nicaraguan police station exclusively run by women, designed to provide women victims of violence with more specialized attention. At the time, the creation of comisarías represented a significant step forward because, with the exception of rape, Nicaragua had no specific laws on the books outlawing violence against women.

Initially funded as a pilot project with support from the Netherlands, comisarías were the first state institution charged specifically with investigating cases of violence against women and providing women with legal and psychological support. Within three years, comisarías were officially integrated into the Nicaraguan police budget, a process which also coincided with a regional push for Latin American governments to ratify the 1994 Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women (Belém do Pará).

By 2015, there were 162 comisarías in Nicaragua. However, women's police stations and the women who work there have occupied a relatively marginalized position within Nicaragua's police force. This was immediately evident the first time I set foot in the comisaría in District 6 of Managua. There was no functioning bathroom. Police typed reports on aging computers with no Internet access. Ten women police shared one official vehicle, meaning only one investigation could be conducted at a time. Even pens were rationed carefully.

Given their extreme lack of resources, the comisarías' failure to meet the needs and expectations of particular women is perhaps unsurprising. It was not ineffectiveness that led to the comisarias' recent closure, however, but rather a constellation of broader political dynamics. Shutting the doors of the comisarías is the latest manifestation of the ongoing institutional and political erasure of women in Nicaragua, as well as the subsuming of women's identities and rights into a pervasive state discourse that exalts "family unity" above all else.

The state's expectation that women subordinate their needs to others-whether to the family, the nation, or both-is nothing new in Nicaragua. Even under the post-revolutionary government during the 1980s, Daniel Ortega and the leadership of the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) frequently prioritized policies aimed at reducing class-based inequalities (such as land reform) over women's concerns related to the household division of labor, reproductive health care, or gender-based violence. Most of the laws benefitting women passed during that period strengthened women's rights within the context of marriage or the workplace: equal custody rights, the right to alimony, the right to equal salaries, and a prohibition on discrimination against pregnant women. With the onset of the U.S.-backed Contra War, however, women were called upon first and foremost as reproducers of the nation-their "patriotic wombs" deemed vital to bringing forth the next generation of soldiers.

Violeta Chamorro defeated Ortega in Nicaragua's 1990 presidential election, after his first term as president. For the next fifteen years, the Unión Nacional Opositora (National Opposition Union, UNO) and Partido Liberal Constitucional (Liberal Constitutional Party, PLC) led governments implemented neoliberal economic policies prescribed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, including market deregulation, debt control and repayment, trade liberalization, and privatization of both industry and government-supplied social services. As a result of these policies, women were increasingly pushed into the informal employment sector, while simultaneously forced to assume greater responsibility for meeting household needs (childcare, for example). By slashing state-provided services, the state thus shifted the burden of maintaining the family onto women.

Despite these obstacles, during this period the autonomous feminist movement successfully advocated for important reforms to the penal code to address violence against women. The reforms, passed in 1992 and 1996, penalized intra-family violence occurring inside the home, and introduced new protective measures for women. Two major issues the reforms did not address, however, were violence against women committed by ex-partners, and economic violence, such as the destruction of women's property.

The failure of neoliberal policies to resolve Nicaragua's pressing social and economic problems, and the pervasive corruption of opposition leaders like former president Arnoldo Alemán (2001-2006), opened the door for the Sandinistas' return to power. After a 16-year hiatus, Daniel Ortega was re-elected to the presidency in 2006 - this time by forging a strategic alliance with powerful conservative religious leaders. To win over this voting bloc, Ortega and his longtime partner Rosario Murillo got married in the Catholic Church, and Ortega promised to uphold the total ban on abortion passed by the Nicaraguan legislature shortly before he took office-a promise he has kept, to the detriment of women. In 2011, Ortega adopted the re-election campaign slogan: "Cristiana, Socialista, Solidaria" (Christian, Socialist, Solidarity). Speeches by both Ortega and Murillo (now Vice-President) have repeatedly emphasized the government's goal of "strengthening the unity of the Nicaraguan family through Christian and solidarity practices." In practice, this focus on the family unit has sidelined women's needs and interests by embracing the idea that women should sacrifice their own well-being for the supposedly higher purpose of "unity."

The prioritization of "family" over women specifically within Nicaraguan political discourse meant that even the passage of Ley 779 in 2012 did not lead to any notable reallocation of resources to fund the comisarías or other enforcement institutions. In fact, just weeks before Ley 779 was scheduled to go into effect, there was no budget to fund most of its major mandates, such as additional state prosecutors and courts specializing in gender violence. "Law 779 without a budget is like rice and beans without the beans!" proclaimed a banner sponsored by local feminist groups in Managua. Others called it a "dead law."

Even so, the year after the law was passed, women reported more than 6,000 cases of psychological violence (threats and/or intimidation) to the Nicaraguan police, which, under prior law, was not classified as abuse. By including psychological violence as a criminal offense for the first time, Ley 779 shed light on a serious dimension of violence against women, the scope of which had previously been invisible to much of society.

One of the law's most controversial measures was a prohibition on extra-judicial agreements (also known as mediation). Prior to Ley 779, police had frequently resorted to mediation as an informal strategy for resolving domestic violence cases rather than conduct a formal investigation; however, this practice was dangerous for women because of the lack of formal records or consequences for breaking such agreements. Nevertheless, conservative religious leaders were outraged by the law's prohibition of mediation. Pastors described the law "an attack on evangelical values" and "discriminatory against men." An association of attorneys filed a constitutional challenge to the law, charging that it violated the principle of equal protection under the law.

The Supreme Court upheld Ley 779 in 2013, but also ruled that the legislature should remove the total ban on mediation. Despite fierce opposition from local women's organizations, the National Assembly passed a reform of Ley 779, which once again allowed mediation in first-time and misdemeanor cases. Because gender violence is rarely if ever a one-time occurrence, allowing mediation even in seemingly "minor" cases is likely to put more women's lives at risk.

And in 2014, the law was further weakened when President Ortega issued a special decree (Decree 42-2014) containing new regulations for Law 779. The decree redefined the objective of Law 779 as "to strengthen Nicaraguan families...[and] a culture of familial harmony" and shifted the responsibility for implementing Law 779 from an interinstitutional commission to the Ministry of the Family. The decree also mandated the establishment of neighborhood-based counseling (led by religious and political leaders) as a first step to resolving "family conflict" prior to placing a legal complaint. These changes diluted the power of the law and made it even harder for women to access legal justice in cases of domestic abuse.

A rise in reporting and lack of resources exacerbated the pre-existing problems facing the beleaguered comisarías, and in turn, the women who came to them for help. In 2014, I met Liza, who was back at the comisaría for the second time in two weeks to see if her forensic exam results had arrived from the Office of Legal Medicine. Twenty minutes passed as we sat together in the waiting room. Liza looked at her watch worriedly. "I left while he was sleeping, without making lunch," she explained, referring to the partner she had reported abuse against. When the comisaría's captain emerged from her office, Liza asked about her forensic report, which included both a physical and psychological evaluation following her assault. But the captain addressed Liza ruefully: "The women come on Sunday, when it hurts, and then they forget and don't come back," she said.

Liza insisted that she hadn't been able to come in earlier because of work obligations. "If he knew I was here, he would kill me," she said. The captain went back to her office and returned a few minutes later carrying a bulging manila folder. "It's not here," she told Liza. Liza stood up to leave, eyes watering.

Women like Liza risked their jobs-and potential retaliation from their partners-to make repeated visits to the comisarías and other state agencies to follow up on their cases. Another woman, Magda, told me she used to work regular hours at the cafeteria of a local university, but after placing a claim against her husband, she had to quit and get by washing or ironing clothes instead. "For two and a half years I haven't been able to get a stable job because I have to be ready at any moment," she explained. "The lawyer could call me at any time, or the prosecutor, or the police, so I can't get a stable job because I can't be asking for time off all the time."

In October 2014, I attended the inauguration ceremony for the Ministry of the Family's new counseling office at a comisaría in Managua. When I arrived that morning, the formerly tall grass surrounding the building had been freshly mowed and colorful banners such as "In love there is no fear" hung under a small white tent nearby. One official welcomed everyone to the "comisaría of the family and the community". After a short series of speeches, the captain invited attendees to come inside and tour the comisaría's updated facilities, which had been freshly painted with bright green and peach hues and decorated with balloons. One wall featured a series of posters celebrating the family; one said: "A family united in the love of Christ lasts forever. Give God control of your family today and always."

Although certain religious ideas about the family have long held sway among some sectors of the population, including some elected officials, these ideas are now being explicitly promoted by the country's legal and political institutions as a justification for weakening laws against gender violence. The reforms of Ley 779 were clearly intended to discourage women from seeking help from the comisaría. Although many factors influence reporting rates, it is no coincidence that in 2015, reports of intra-family and sexual violence dropped by 29% from 2014, according to data from the Nicaraguan National Police. Women's reports of psychological violence in 2015 dropped by 42%.

The under-resourcing of women's police stations is perhaps to be expected in a country like Nicaragua, which remains one of the most impoverished in Latin America. Over the last few years, however, the Ortega government has made a series of strategic decisions that undermine-if not sabotage-the role of comisarías to investigate crimes of gender violence. The recent closure of the comisarías is just one part of a broader erosion of women's rights in Nicaragua. While President Ortega and his allies may continue to herald Nicaragua's status as "the safest country in Central America," women in situations of violence have been left to fend for themselves.

UN demands end to sexual violence in war-torn S. Sudan
Sudan Tribune

May 4, 2017

South Sudan should end conflict-related sexual violence to ensure effective functioning of special protection units on sexual and gender-based violence in the police to hold perpetrators to account and to respect the sanctity of protection of civilians sites, the United Nations Secretary-General said in a report to be presented to the Security Council on 15 May.

The 33-page report reviews 13 conflict settings, four post-conflict countries and two additional situations of concern, blaming the government and non-government actors for either committing or being responsible for patterns of rape or other forms of sexual violence.

In 2016, it said, sexual violence continued to be employed as a tactic of war, with widespread and strategic rapes, including mass rapes, allegedly committed by several parties to armed conflict, mostly in conjunction with other crimes such as killing, looting, pillage, forced displacement and arbitrary detention.

"The strategic nature of the violence was evident in the selective targeting of victims from opposing ethnic, religious or political groups, mirroring the fault lines of the wider conflict or crisis," it reads.

"Shame and stigma are integral to the logic of sexual violence being employed as a tactic of war or terrorism: aggressors understand that this type of crime can turn victims into outcasts, thus unravelling the family and kinship ties that hold communities together," it adds.

A U.N had, in the past, given horrific accounts of civilian killings and a rise in the number of armed elements gang-raping women and girls who have taken refuge in the U.N protection of civilian sites.

According to the U.N report, for instance, in 2016, the U.N Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) documented 577 incidents of conflict-related sexual violence, including rape, gang rape and sexual slavery.

The survivors, it stated, included 57 girls, several of whom were below 10 years of age, with two being less than one year old. In addition, service providers recorded 376 cases of sexual violence, of which 157 were forced marriage, with State and non-State armed actors among the alleged perpetrators.

"Overall trends point to an alarming increase in the number of rapes, with 20 percent more victims seeking services following sexual assault. The period under review also saw a 32 percent increase in the number of cases of gender-based violence perpetrated by men in uniform, as compared with 2015," stressed the report.

The pattern of perpetrators and victims coming from rival ethnic groups persists, with insults often levelled, during attacks, at the victim's ethnicity or perceived allegiance, it adds.

The report says the greatest frequency and severity of recorded crimes occurred in July 2016, in connection with active hostilities. Ethnic targeting, together with that of pregnant women, children and the elderly, in violation of social taboos, indicates that sexual violence is being used as part of retaliation strategies intended to punish communities.

Cited in a number of violations are members of the South Sudanese National Police Service. For example, of the cases of conflict-related sexual violence recorded by UNMISS, 217 were reportedly committed between 8 and 25 July, with most occurring at Sudan People's Liberation Army checkpoints near camps, which are designated as protection of civilians sites.

"Those affected were generally displaced Nuer women and girls, with the majority of perpetrators being members of the Sudan People's Liberation Army, although some women also reported attacks by armed youth affiliated with the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army-in-Opposition," observes the U.N report.

Several incidents were also documented in November in Central Equatoria State, allegedly perpetrated by South Sudan army forces.

Despite preventive measures by UNMISS, conflict-related sexual violence persists in proximity to UN protection of civilian sites, it added.

The report says successive ceasefire agreements since 2014 have failed to curb the behaviour of combatants, and sexual violence continue to deepen insecurity, delaying peace and reconciliation.

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Commentary and Perspectives

Simone Gbagbo Acquitted by the Abidjan Assize Court: Between the Independence of the Judiciary and a Political Twist to Save the Day
International Justice Monitor

By Eric-Aimé Semien
May 5, 2017

Simone Gbagbo, wife of former Ivorian Head of State Laurent Gbagbo, has been on trial before Ivorian court for the past ten months for crimes against humanity after being sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment in 2016 for undermining state security during the 2010-2011 post-election crisis in Côte d'Ivoire. Since February 2012, she has also been subject to an International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant for four counts of crimes against humanity for acts allegedly committed during the post-election period. Côte d'Ivoire refused to transfer her because it considered that Ms. Gbagbo could be tried at the local level for the same charges. At the same time, her husband Laurent Gbagbo and their political party's youth leader, Charles Blé Goudé, have been on trial before the ICC since January 28, 2016.

Quite unexpectedly, the trial lasted a long time, from postponement to postponement, punctuated with procedural delays. The court's decision could be interpreted in two ways.

On the one hand, the proceedings appear to have been conducted in an expeditious and often non-adversarial manner, as criticized by Ms. Gbagbo's defense lawyers and human rights organizations. After decrying numerous violations of the rights of the defense, defense lawyers eventually withdrew from the proceedings at the end of 2016. The assigned lawyers also withdrew from the proceedings in February 2017, denouncing, among other things, defense rights violations, the non-disclosure of documents in time, and the refusal of the court to hear certain key witnesses presented by the defense.

On the other hand, the acquittal of Simone Gbagbo could lead one to believe that the case was poorly built and badly put together, with contradictory and insufficient testimony given the gravity of the charges. In this context, in view of the fact that the burden of proof rests with the accusing party and the general criminal procedure principle that doubt always benefits the accused, the judges naturally leaned toward an acquittal.

It is therefore necessary to welcome the decision of this court, which was able to confine itself to the law and to the evidence presented. Besides, this would be a guarantee of independence of the magistrates who composed the court when several observers feared a trial tainted by lack of independence and impartiality.

In that sense, it is perplexing that some observers should speak of a failure in the fight against impunity. Such an analysis presupposes that the purpose of this trial was to systematically condemn the accused, notwithstanding the principles of presumption of innocence and fair trial.

In this series of legal observations, one question always remains in mind. What is the impact of this acquittal decision on the ICC's prosecution of Simone Gbagbo?

When the verdict was rendered, the ICC, through its spokesman, announced on March 30, 2017, that this decision had no impact on the February 2012 arrest warrant as the facts were different. They also reminded Côte d'Ivoire of its obligation to cooperate with the Court by transferring Simone Gbagbo to The Hague.

Such a position deserves attention. The facts referred to in the ICC's warrant against Simone Gbagbo took place in the same period and under the same circumstances as the facts that were examined during the proceedings leading to her acquittal in Côte d'Ivoire. These include the repressed December 16, 2010 opposition march on the national television network, the bombing of the Abobo market, which resulted in the murder of seven female civilian demonstrators on March 8, 2011, and sexual violence committed by pro-Gbagbo soldiers.

Since 2013, the Ivorian authorities had even opposed the arrest warrant issued by the ICC against the accused, on the grounds that the same case was already pending before Ivorian courts.

ICC judges ruled in December 2014 that the level of responsibility and the constituent elements of the crimes were different and that Côte d'Ivoire still had an obligation to transfer Simone Gbagbo to the ICC, a decision confirmed in Appeal in May 2015.

However, there is a fundamental principle of general criminal law (ne bis in idem, also known as double jeopardy), which prohibits the trial of a person again for the same acts for which he has already been tried. Thus, transferring and judging Simone Gbagbo at the ICC would be prejudicial to the proper administration of justice and to the interests of the parties. Thus, following the acquittal, Côte d'Ivoire could again raise a new objection to the admissibility of the case by showing that the decision taken in Côte d'Ivoire concerned the same facts, the same level of responsibility, and that the procedure was reliable.

A comprehensive framework of cooperation and complementarity between the ICC and prosecution at the national level should have been established at the outset to ensure effective prosecution. Since this was not done, it would have been simpler for Côte d'Ivoire to transfer Simone Gbagbo to the ICC as soon as the arrest warrant was issued.

Moreover, this acquittal decision could be seen differently, in particular with political implications related to the current context.

One should keep in mind that the facts are actually taking place in Côte d'Ivoire, and it is also necessary to take into account the socio-political environment that has not always been alien to choices made by the various governments, in particular in the field of post-conflict justice.

At the moment, judicial news is reportedly getting into line with the trend of reconciliation that the Ivorians are vigorously calling for.

Indeed, in the wake of the post-election crisis, all observers agreed that responsibilities were shared between the two camps that clashed: "pro-Gbagbo" forces, and "pro-Ouattara" forces. Paradoxically, almost all the prosecutions initiated at the national level concerned only the "pro-Gbagbo" and spared the "pro Ouattara," on whom there was no lack of grounds for investigation and prosecution.

Following negotiations that took place after the political dialogue between the government and the opposition in 2013 and 2014, the Ivorian judiciary had curiously granted interim release to political actors and acquitted politicians strongly involved in this dialogue, with a view to fostering an easing of tensions.

In the same vein, the acquittal of Simone Gbagbo could be seen as an act to foster appeasement in the face of political tension. This decision, as well as the refusal to transfer Simone Gbagbo to the ICC, could be analyzed as a politically influenced decision in order to satisfy supporters of the political opposition and give a chance to national reconciliation. At the same time, it could be a decision to give strong signals of reconciliation to silence clamors for the arrest and trial of people close to the present government, who are not subject to any prosecution for the moment.

In a context where the suspicion of "victors' justice" is widespread and where a good part of the Ivorian population does not seem to trust the judicial system and demand prosecution, a judicial-political decision such as this would calm passions, especially in the run-up to the upcoming 2020 elections. This would probably be a good way out for President Ouattara, who is not a candidate to his own succession.

For the time being, the Ivorians are expecting fair prosecution of all parties to the conflict, with a view to accountability and calmly reaching national reconciliation.

Why Is It So Difficult to Prosecute War Criminals?
ATTN:

By Dave Fonseca
May 5, 2017

Experts say the evidence of human rights violations by every side of the Syrian war is clear.

The most recent report from the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic is a list of horrors.

The report, which covers July 2016 through February 2017, states the government of Bashar al-Assad "continues to attack civilian objects including hospitals, schools and water stations."

Further, jihadist groups who are fighting the government, including former Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, "persist in carrying out summary executions, including of women, and recruiting children."

The atrocities do not end there. Life in territories claimed by the Islamic State "continues to be marked by executions and severe corporal punishments of civilians accused of violating the group's ideology." The report also lists concerns about proxy fighting and the role played by the United States and Russia in escalating the conflict through their deployment of air-strikes and ground troops.

If the evidence is so clear, why haven't any major players been prosecuted for war crimes?

"Everybody with a functioning brain knows there's enough evidence about crimes against humanity in Syria," Mark Kersten, a research fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, told ATTN: "It's not an evidence problem, it's an institutional problem."

In this instance, the "institutional problems" lie with the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the International Criminal Court (ICC): the former refers conflicts for investigation, and the latter provides the venue for prosecution.

With the Syria conflict, there's little hope that security council members Russia and China-which have typically sided with the Assad government in UNSC matters-would ever support a war crimes investigation by the ICC. In February U.S. Envoy Nikki Haley blasted Russia and China for their refusal to support a measure to punish the Assad government for its alleged use of chemical weapons. "They put their friends in the Assad regime ahead of our global security," Haley said.

"Russia and China have vetoed every attempt to refer the situation to the ICC," Kersten explained.

Given the political elements at play, the ICC is generally seen as a deeply flawed and even biased institution. As Elizabeth Peet wrote for the Wilson Quarterly in 2015, all 36 individuals indicted by the ICC have been African leaders, a situation that "implies unfair selectivity at best, and smacks of neocolonialism at worst."

Does this mean there's no hope that victims of war crimes will ever receive the justice they deserve? Not necessarily.

While the obstacles are immense, Kersten said an unprecedented amount of evidence stands at the ready should a trial ever be held.

In addition to the dozens of reports released by the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry, Kersten said groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have all been closely monitoring the situation.

New groups have emerged to document war crimes as well. As The New Yorker's Ben Taub wrote in April 2016, the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA) has worked with individuals still inside Syria to smuggle out reams of documentation pinning acts of torture to the Assad government.

Stephen Rapp, a CIJA advisor who once served as prosecutor in the war crimes tribunals for Rwanda and Sierra Leone, told Taub that the evidence amassed about war crimes in Syria "is much richer than anything I've seen, and anything I've prosecuted in this area."

And, in a hopeful turn, the United Nations' newly established "International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Those Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in [Syria] since March 2011" has recently begun to gather funding necessary to operate. According to the United Nations, the group will operate with the express purpose of gathering evidence should trials ever be called in "national, regional or international courts."

"The silver lining is that there's so many people building what are hopefully case-ready files," Kersten said. "If and when that break comes, they won't have to go back and get all that evidence again."

Hissène Habré's Rape Acquittal Must Not Be Quietly Airbrushed from History
The Guardian

By Kim Thuy Seelinger
May 10, 2017

Almost a year ago, I sat in the extraordinary African chambers of the courts of Senegal and watched as Hissène Habré, the former president of Chad, was convicted of multiple war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of torture.

The judgment was hailed as a victory for international criminal justice. It was the first time a national court had used principles of universal jurisdiction to prosecute a former head of state for crimes of this nature.

After hearing detailed, horrific accounts of rape and sexual slavery, the judges added sexual violence to Habré's charge sheet. One shocking testimony came from Khadidja Zidane, who explained how, almost 30 years earlier, Habré had summoned her from prison to the presidential palace and raped her.

Habré was convicted of half a dozen crimes under international law, including rape and sexual slavery as a crime against humanity. The conviction reflected not only the mass rape and sexual slavery his security forces committed in prisons and military camps, but what Habré had done to Zidane in the presidential palace. This was an extraordinary conviction. Normally, high-level defendants in war crimes cases are charged with responsibility for the acts of their subordinates, not their own.

Last month, Judge Ougadeye Wafi upheld all convictions against Habré except one. All the sentences for the mass sexual violence committed by his security forces were maintained, but Habré was acquitted of raping Zidane. The appeals court took pains to emphasise that the acquittal was a procedural matter and did not reflect on Zidane's credibility. It said the new facts Zidane offered in her trial testimony came too late to be included within the new charges of sexual violence, so they could not serve as the basis for a conviction.

The appeals decision was seen as a victory. However, Habré's rape acquittal should not be allowed to pass unnoticed. It not only sheds light on Senegalese criminal procedure, it also reveals some persistent and paradoxical truths about sexual crimes: not least that it is often difficult for survivors to come forward in a clear and timely way, and that these cases require sensitive investigation from the start.

Survivors of sexual violence face several challenges when considering whether to disclose their experiences. These are intimate crimes, often imbued with a sense of shame. Many survivors fear stigmatisation, harassment, blame or retaliation. Many need psychosocial support, medical care, safe shelter. Many risk losing their spouses. For all these reasons, disclosure of sexual violence can require time and supportive conditions.

Our legal processes are not built that way. Despite having decades of jurisprudence establishing forms of sexual violence as war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of genocide, we still often fail to support disclosure from the beginning of these investigations. In this case, it is easy to imagine why the Chadian police or the Senegalese investigating judges did not question Habré's victims about intimate violations more thoroughly. They are largely untrained about gender-based violence, and broaching the subject of rape is still seen as taboo.

This mistake has been made in other courts, too. Sexual violence charges have been added retrospectively in cases before the international criminal tribunal for Rwanda and at the international criminal court. Slowly, though, we are learning. In 2014, the prosecutor of the international criminal court released guidance on considering sexual and gender-based crimes at every stage of investigation and prosecution. But these guidelines are not easily accessed or applied by national courts, particularly where evidentiary rules and processes may differ.

At the extraordinary African chambers in Dakar, the judge was gentle and encouraging when questioning Zidane at trial, but it was too late.

Perhaps we can take Habré's rape acquittal at face value. The appeal court held that the relevant facts had not been raised when the investigating judges were determining the factual bounds of the case, and under Senegalese procedural law they could not therefore be used.

Equally, perhaps this is not just a procedural issue. Perhaps it is about how gender inequality and stigma make it tremendously difficult for some survivors of sexual violence to speak out, much less have confidence that criminal justice institutions will support them. Either investigations practice must be improved to explore these crimes sensitively from the moment evidence collection begins, or trial procedures must allow for the possibility that victims may not disclose neatly or "on time". Or both.

Either way, Zidane's testimony was not in vain. After decades of silence, she confronted her former president in court. She told the trial judges what he did to her, and the whole world heard.

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WORTH READING

The Abiding Problem of Witness Statements in International Criminal Trials
By Megan Fairlie
50 NYU Journal of International law and Politics (2017, Forthcoming)

April 22, 2017

Recent amendments to the Rules of Procedure and Evidence for the International Criminal Court ("ICC") give Trial Chambers the discretion to admit unexamined, party—generated witness statements in lieu of live testimony. The use of this evidence— which undermines the right of confrontation and prevents the judges from independently assessing witness credibility—is now a hotly contested issue in each of the Court's ongoing trials. As ICC judges grapple with the thorny question of how to implement these new provisions without undermining the right to a fair trial, this Article, which is the first to examine the rule amendments and their early implementation, looks to the history of international criminal justice for answers. It traces the tension between more efficient written testimony and the importance of ensuring procedural fairness from Nuremberg and Tokyo through to the present day. It focuses in particular on the experience of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), whose rules served as a model for the ICC revisions, and it analyzes each of the rules imported from the ICTY from adoption to application. Through its thorough analysis of ICTY and ICC precedent, this Article identifies the fairness concerns that ought to shape the Court's implementation of its recently revised rule, and highlights instances wherein the ICC has already fallen short of the mark.

The goal of this article is to encourage the international legal community to revisit its tacit acceptance of ICTY practice as imitable precedent. This can lead to a debate that prompts more careful consideration of, and seeks out fairness—enhancing alternatives to, the use of witness statements at the International Criminal Court.

Through the Looking-Glass: Nuremberg's Confusing Legacy on Corporate Accountability Under International Law
By Jonathan Kolieb
American University International Law Review, Vol. 32, No. 2, 2017

April 27, 2017

Corporate entities have never been subject to international criminal prosecution for violations of international human rights or humanitarian law. As the judgment of the post-World War II International Military Tribunal ("IMT") at Nuremberg explains: "Crimes against international law are committed by men, not by abstract entities, and only by punishing individuals who commit such crimes can the provisions of international law be enforced." This traditional perspective on corporate accountability under international criminal law ("ICL") reflects the long-accepted principle of "societas delinquere non potest" – "a legal entity cannot be blameworthy" and has continued to inform the jurisdiction of all subsequent international criminal tribunals. For instance, the Rome Statute states that the International Criminal Court 'shall have jurisdiction over natural persons pursuant to this Statute' thereby immunising all non-natural, legal persons, such as corporations, from prosecution. However, that is far from the complete story of corporate accountability under international criminal law, both past and present. For instance, there exists a strong line of judicial precedents for the idea that corporate executives, employees and directors may be held personally and criminally liable for egregious abuses of human rights and humanitarian law, or complicity thereof. Whether international law is directly applicable to corporations, and whether corporations can be held criminally accountable for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law remains matters of dispute amongst jurists and legal scholars. Remarkably, proponents of accountability, as well as those taking the contrary view, both invoke the legal history of the Nuremberg-era and in particular its treatment of major German corporations, to bolster their arguments. Seventy years after the fact, the Nuremberg-era's legacy towards holding corporations legally accountable for participation in grave violations of international law remains at the centre of the contemporary debate, yet mired in confusion. This article offers an approach to understanding the competing modern-day interpretations of Nuremberg's legacy, and explores what insights can be drawn from the dispute that may inform the future of corporate accountability for international crimes. Ultimately, I suggest that a narrow, positivist reading of Nuremberg-era jurisprudence dominates contemporary ICL practice - denying corporate liability. However, the discernible trend towards incorporating corporations into the international legal order suggests that a more progressive interpretation of Nuremberg's legacy may soon be ascendant. This may, in turn, prompt formal recognition of the liability of corporations for serious violations of international law.

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War Crimes Prosecution Watch Staff

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Topics

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