Central African Republic
Official Website of the International Criminal Court
ICC Public Documents - Cases: Central African Republic
Peacekeeper battalion in Central African Republic challenges UN 'war' on sexual abuse
Fox News World
By George Russell
June 09, 2017
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who in March vowed an all-out war on the plague of sexual abuse by U.N.-sponsored peacekeepers in vulnerable, strife-torn nations, is apparently locked in a major, closed-door chapter in that campaign—a struggle he so far does not appear to have won.
At issue is what to do with at least 650 troops from the Republic of the Congo, currently stationed as peacekeepers in the battered Central African Republic (CAR), whose alleged indiscipline, poor leadership, repeated involvement in sexual exploitation and abuse cases, and overall threadbare competence make them a special peacekeeping disaster.
A confidential memorandum and internal report, made public this week by the U.N.'s most persistent critic on the sexual abuse issue, reveals that the problem has become a full-blown internal crisis that not only adds to the years-old U.N. sexual abuse chronicles but severely undercuts the $900 million, 10,750-troop peacekeeping mission in CAR, known by the acronym MINUSCA.
Yet the same report, and the U.N.'s circumspection surrounding its unexpected release, show that the world organization is still caught up in a self-made conundrum of how to act decisively against a "culture of impunity" surrounding peacekeeper crimes, when the powers of disciplinary action largely remain with the troop-contributing countries that supply its forces.
But now, matters seem to be coming to a head. In the confidential memo, written on May 12, the U.N.'s top commander in CAR, Lt. General Balla Keita, declares that he considers the "notorious" Congolese unit "no longer trustable" and "unable and even unwilling to fulfill operational tasks, thus putting the [entire peacekeeping] Force's efficiency and credibility at risk."
Keita, who has commanded MINUSCA since February 2016, recommends the removal and replacement of the rogue battalion if the troop-supplying Congolese government "won't commit itself to improving without delay the standard of the unit."
Just how likely that is, Keita indicates by noting that more than five Congolese delegations have already visited CAR "with the objective to correct the shortcomings" without making enough of a difference.
In fact, a 66-page confidential report known as an "operational readiness assessment" that is referenced in Keita's memo and was also made public, says that 120 people from the battalion have already been "repatriated on disciplinary grounds," cutting its strength to the current 650.
The report goes on at length to describe the almost endless maladies of the Congolese unit: idleness, feuding commanders, lack of effective equipment—including workable vehicles, which means they can't patrol the huge territory they are meant to cover-- poor communications with other peacekeeping units, lack of ground-to-air radios, laughable camp defenses, lack of water treatment facilities (despite the presence of cholera in CAR, and high-profile U.N. cholera scandals elsewhere) and other unsanitary conditions.
It also notes that the battalion is incapable, as matters stand, of bringing a halt to depredations by armed gangs that are one major sign of a deteriorating security situation in CAR, a country U.N. officials have been lauding for its efforts to return to stability after years of violence and civil strife.
More importantly from the point of stopping sexual abuse, the report notes that the undisciplined soldiers have casual access to the neighboring town of Berberati, where they buy food since they do not have a regular military kitchen.
That, and the lack of perimeter defenses around the camp, including even secure fences, make for the kind of constant casual contact that can lead to sexual abuse cases—not to mention a dangerously slack security situation.
Some of the problems, the report says, result from a move by the Congolese to a new camp that was, it seems, dramatically incomplete at the time of the shift, including the fact that it did not have an electrical power supply, but the bigger problem, it insists, is a leadership vacuum that has made the battalion is currently close to ungovernable.
The mission inspection report includes more than two full pages of recommendations on how to improve the situation, but declares that "there are major issues that still need to be finalized."
It also asserts, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that the Congolese officers and troops "are capable and willing to perform assigned tasks from MINUSCA."
Perhaps most astonishingly of all, amid its focus on all of the Congolese battalion's disastrous shortcomings, the assessment still rates the overall capabilities of the rogue unit, based on elaborate checklist, to be about "average" for peacekeeping units.
And the U.N. appears, on the surface anyway, to be trying to give the impression that not much is out of the ordinary at the Berberati camp—at least until the leaked documents showed otherwise.
Queried by Fox News, a spokesperson for the U.N.'s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) in New York on Wednesday blandly described the assessment report, based on a visit made to the Congolese battalion's camp on March 14-16, as one of several "routine evaluations that we are conducting for all deployed contingents as per our policy framework for operational readiness assurance."
At a regular daily press conference, the Secretary General's spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, offered the same routine evaluation theme, and declared, "The result of the evaluation, which was done not too long ago, has been shared with the Member State, and we're following up on various options."
He also said that "what the report shows is that the Force Commander [Keita] is doing his job."
The question posed by the organization that published the leaked documents, a gadfly non-government organization named AIDS-Free World, whose Code Blue campaign against U.N. peacekeeper sexual abuse has brought enormous pressure on the U.N. to reform its ugly sexual abuse track record, was whether Guterres would now do his.
In an open letter on their website, the Code Blue campaigners, led by activist Paula Donovan and onetime Canadian Ambassador to the U.N. Stephen Lewis, urged Guterres to "act to protect civilians" in the area near the Congolese camp, and said that "official statements from U.N. headquarters about 'game-changing strategies' will do nothing to prevent further sexual exploitation and abuse if the U.N. fails at the basic job of due diligence."
"Surely," the duo declared, "U.N. headquarters does not require even more evidence before it will act."
"What will it take for the U.N. to institute real reforms?" Donovan later told Fox News in an email exchange. "How many more reports have to come out?"
Code Blue has long proposed a solution that cuts the U.N. out of investigating sex crimes and other offense committed by its own force, and proposed instead an independent court mechanism that would bypass the U.N.'s notorious "culture of impunity" when it comes to investigating peacekeeper offenses.
The latest Code Blue postings of internal documents were clearly intended to push Secretary General Guterres into dramatic action that would back up his March 9 pledge of a "relentless effort" to end impunity for sex crimes.
The timing of the controversial assessment report visit—it started three days after Guterres' speech—indicates that the exercise may well be part of the Secretary General's reformist action plan, intended to take a hard look at the most blatant example yet of the peacekeeper debacle.
Trouble is, if the disturbingly "average" capabilities of the rogue CAR battalion don't draw drastic action from Guterres to draw the line on peacekeeping discipline, what will "average" in the rest of U.N. peacekeeping look like?
Escalating violence in eastern CAR poses grave threat to civilians
June 12, 2017
Armed groups have killed 220 civilians and abducted 96 others in eastern Central African Republic (CAR) since January 2017, while also killing eight peacekeepers from the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the CAR (MINUSCA). Leadership from the UN Security Council and U.S. government is needed to expand community-based early warning, resilience, and social cohesion programs in eastern CAR and ensure MINUSCA more effectively implements its protection of civilians' mandate.
I. OVERVIEW OF ESCALATING ARMED GROUP ACTIVITY SINCE JANUARY 2017
Armed group violence has escalated sharply in eastern CAR in recent weeks, particularly in Mbomou and Haute Kotto prefectures. In May alone, ex-Seleka forces and local "self-defense" militias (commonly referred to as anti-balaka) killed 132 civilians in the towns of Bangassou and Bria. In neighboring Haut Mbomou prefecture, Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) combatants have abducted 51 civilians so far in 2017. Armed groups also remain active in neighboring areas of northern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan, periodically crossing into eastern CAR and contributing to frequent flows of refugees between the three countries.
This violence comes on the heels of the decision in April 2017 by the United States (U.S.) and Uganda to begin withdrawing forces deployed in eastern CAR that have been conducting operations against the LRA. Ugandan troops were deployed to pursue the LRA as part of the African Union Regional Task Force (AU-RTF), which was re-authorized by the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) in May 2017, despite the announcement of the Ugandan withdrawal. Ugandan and U.S. troops in eastern CAR were tasked with pursuing the LRA, but their deployments also played a key role in preventing the expansion of ex-Seleka and self-defense (antibalaka) armed groups into Haut Mbomou and eastern Mbomou. Violence involving ex-Seleka and self-defense (anti-balaka) militias in eastern CAR On November 21, 2016, simmering tensions between two ex-Seleka factions, the Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique (FPRC) and the Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique (UPC), escalated into clashes that left dozens of civilians and combatants killed or wounded in Bria, the capital of Haute Kotto prefecture.
In February 2017, MINUSCA forced UPC and FPRC combatants away from the Bambari area in neighboring Ouaka prefecture, leading to a higher concentration of ex-Seleka fighters in Haute Kotto and areas of Mbomou prefecture previously stabilized by Ugandan troops. Fighting involving ex-Seleka and self-defense (anti-balaka) forces erupted in the Mbomou towns of Bakouma and Nzako from March 20–21, killing 20 people and displacing hundreds more. Women and children have been particularly vulnerable to recent violence, exemplified by an April 11 incident in nearby Fode in which a self-defense militia attacked a group from the minority Peuhl community, killing a woman and four-year-old child. From April 25–27, clashes involving self-defense (anti-balaka) militias, UPC fighters, and Peuhls along the Bangassou–Rafai road killed 11 civilians.
On May 12–13, suspected self-defense (anti-balaka) fighters attacked the town of Bangassou in Mbomou, targeting the MINUSCA base and the predominantly Muslim neighborhood of Tokoyo. At least 115 civilians were killed during the incident. Thousands of civilians fled across the border into DRC's Bas Uele province, a remote area that has recently experienced cases of Ebola virus disease. From May 16–18, clashes in Bria involving ex-Seleka and self-defense (anti-balaka) fighters killed 17 civilians and displaced 20,000 more. UPC and self-defense (anti-balaka) fighters also clashed on June 6 in Nzako, leading to the deaths of at least 18 civilians, the destruction of homes, and displacement of civilians.
CAR: Church shelters Muslims fleeing Anti-balaka
By Azad Essa & Sorin Furcoi
June 17, 2017
At least 1,500 people, mostly Muslim civilians, currently stuck in a Catholic church in the country's southeast, are growing increasingly desperate, a priest has told Al Jazeera.
The displaced people took refuge in the cathedral in the town of Bangassou after fleeing deadly violence in mid-May.
"The situation is not safe enough to leave, and so they cannot move from here," said Father Alain Blaise Bissialo, the priest at the church.
"There are men who walk around town with guns."
The crisis in Bangassou began between May 13-17 when Anti-balaka, a vigilante militia made up of mostly Christians, launched a series of attacks on Muslims in Tokoyo, a largely Muslim district of Bangassou.
Thousands flocked to a nearby mosque to seek refuge.
Yet, the mosque was subsequently attacked too, culminating in the killing of the local imam.
In an attempt to save civilians at the mosque, the Catholic bishop sent trucks to Tokoyo to transport as many civilians as possible back to the church for their safety.
"At last count, 150 people were killed during the violence since mid-May, but this number could rise," Antoinne Mbao Bogo, president of the local branch of the Red Cross, told Al Jazeera on Friday.
Alidou Djibril, a displaced person at the church, said there was a shortage of food and clothes.
"It's hard for us, we have to stay in the same place, we cannot move, and we are fasting," he said.
Djibril said they only received food one week after arriving at the church, adding that the Anti-balaka were not allowing traders to bring food to them.
According to the United Nations, most of Bangassou's 35,000 residents fled, some to sites for internally displaced people and others across into neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.
MINUSCA, the UN's mission in the Central African Republic (CAR), said the security situation in Bangassou has calmed significantly, adding, however, that it was still not safe for the displaced to return home.
"Despite the MINUSCA patrols, the area is not safe enough and their homes and businesses have been destroyed, and so many have nowhere to go," Vladimir Montiero, MINUSCA spokesperson, told Al Jazeera from Bangui.
"It is not safe for them to leave the church."
Bob Libenge, acting president of the local branch of the Red Cross, told Al Jazeera that some people were sleeping inside the church and the rest were outside, on mats, within the complex.
Food and sanitation
Meanwhile, a number of nongovernmental organisations have come forward to assist with food and sanitation.
There has been an escalation of violence across central and southeastern parts of the CAR over the past two months, with armed groups clashing in Bria, Alindou and Bakouma in particular.
Earlier in the week, MINUSCA warned the Popular Front for Renaissance of Central African (FPRC), a group associated with the Seleka, to not attack Bangassou.
Sources at the UN say that MINUSCA is concerned that there would be revenge attacks on the Christian civilian population if the group entered the city.
CAR has been beset with violence since Muslim-led Seleka fighters unseated the country's president in a coup in 2013.
Following a spate of abuses by the Seleka, a vigilante militia called the Anti-balaka, made up of Christians and animists embarked on a series of revenge attacks on the Muslim community.
While the CAR has no history of sectarian conflict, armed groups have increasingly manipulated religious fault lines to expand their influence.
In 2016, CAR held a successful general election. But a year later, President Faustin-Archange Touadera's government wields little influence outside his capital.
At least 14 groups, including different incarnations of the Seleka, rule the countryside, monitoring roads, collecting taxes and policing the population.
The UN says that the country is facing a dire humanitarian crisis. More than 50 percent of CAR's population requires humanitarian assistance.
At least one in five Central Africans are currently displaced, the highest proportion since the height of the crisis in 2014.
Central African Republic, armed groups sign deal in Rome
By Krista Larson
June 19, 2017
Representatives of most of the armed groups in Central African Republic on Monday signed an agreement to honor an immediate cease-fire, after more than three years of sectarian conflict that have left thousands dead.
The announcement in Rome followed negotiations between Central African Republic's nascent government and 13 of the 14 armed groups currently active in the country where more than 500,000 people are internally displaced.
A Rome-based Catholic organization, the Sant'Egidio Community, mediated the deal.
Negotiators hailed the accord as an important step, although governments in Central African Republic over the past decade have signed scores of deals with various rebel groups only to see them fall apart.
Fighters on the ground don't always respect terms and issues over disarmament and reintegration into the national military are delicate.
"For us this has been a crucial agreement for the reconciling future of the country, for a future of peace in Central African Republic," said Charles Armel Doubane, the country's foreign minister and one of the signatories of the accord.
Only one political-military group couldn't attend the signing of the agreement but expressed its willingness to actively participate.
Central African Republic was led for a decade by President Francois Bozize, who himself took power in a coup. He was ousted by mostly Muslim rebels in early 2013, ushering in an era of abuses and resentment that led to a militia uprising.
Those fighters — Christian in name, but often animist — exacted revenge on Muslim civilians, forcing most in the capital to flee for their lives. The United Nations has said some of those abuses could be considered crimes against humanity, and the International Criminal Court has opened an investigation.
Violence ebbed somewhat after the landmark visit of Pope Francis in late 2015, and presidential elections were held in relative peace in February 2016. However, over the past year alliances have shifted and fighting has erupted even between formerly allied rebels. The southeast of the country has been particularly wracked by instability.
At the signing ceremony at the Catholic organization's headquarters, Doubane shook hands with Andrea Riccardi, a founder of the Sant'Egidio Community who has close relations with the Vatican. Sant'Egidio has sought to help resolve many conflicts in Afrida and elsewhere, with its most high-profile success being Mozambique.
Clashes erupt in Central African Republic after peace deal
The Washington Post
By Zack Baddorf
June 20, 2017
Heavy fighting erupted Tuesday between armed groups in Central African Republic only hours after a peace deal was signed in Rome, aid officials said, while the United Nations warned that humanitarian aid was running out.
Thirteen of the 14 armed groups signed the agreement Monday that called for an immediate cease-fire. However, Doctors Without Borders said fighting resumed early Tuesday in the beleaguered town of Bria.
"At 9:30 a.m. we already received 35 wounded at the hospital, mostly gunshot wounds," said Mumuza Muhindo Musubaho, project coordinator in Bria for the international aid group also known by its French acronym MSF.
Gunfire also was reported Tuesday in the towns of Bangassou and Alindao, according to MSF, which said the security situation "remains extremely volatile."
The peace deal was brokered by the Sant'Egidio Catholic Community, though there was widespread skepticism in Central African Republic given similar failed efforts in the past.
Ten armed groups and the country's Defense Ministry signed a peace deal in 2015. Another accord, shepherded by the African Union, was signed in 2014. Neither lasted.
"The priority now is a cease-fire," said Vlad Monteiro, a spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission. "The armed groups should cease the hostilities and put an end to people's suffering."
Central African Republic has faced fighting since 2013, when predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in Bangui. Anti-Balaka militias, mostly Christians, fought back, resulting in thousands of people killed and hundreds of thousands displaced.
As international donors gathered Tuesday in the capital, Bangui, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for the country said only 28 percent of the emergency humanitarian funding needed had been provided by donors.
Najat Rochdi said the U.N. hoped to accelerate the process of getting aid money disbursed. "Obviously, there are new displaced people and there are new needs," she said.
The international community already has pledged $2.2 billion in recovery aid for Central African Republic over the next five years.
President Faustin-Archange Touadera said he is counting on the support of the international community to help bring stability. Recent unrest has left 300 people dead and more than 100,000 internally displaced. Another 20,000 have fled to neighboring Congo.
The new violence "shows the fragility of the situation in the Central African Republic," Touadera said.
[back to contents]
Sudan & South Sudan
Official Website of the International Criminal Court
ICC Public Documents - Situation in Darfur, Sudan
Sudan's rebel movement suspends peace talks with government
June 18, 2017
Sudan's rebel People's Liberation Movement (SPLM)/northern sector announced Saturday suspension of peace negotiations with Sudan government regarding South Kordofan and Blue Nile Areas, Xinhua news agency reports.
The agency further reports on it's website that SPLM/northern sector Chairman Malik Agar affirmed complete cessation of any participation in the negotiations or any contacts with the government, saying that the real future of the group lies in "removing the current government and building of a democratic system for all the Sudanese."
He also said that leaders would begin a new procession to rebuild the movement according to the vision of "a new Sudan for all the Sudanese men and women."
The movement, which has been fighting the Sudanese government at South Kordofan and Blue Nile areas since 2011, is split, as internally, the Nuba Mountains Liberation Council (NMLC) and the Blue Nile Liberation Council diverged on the leave or stay of Agar, the movement leader.
More than 10 rounds of peace talks have been held in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa between the Sudanese government and the SPLM/northern, under the patronage of the African Union, but have failed to reach a peace deal regarding South Kordofan and Blue Nile areas.
S. Sudanese rebel leader sacks officials over misconduct
June 19, 2017
South Sudan rebel leader, Riek Machar has sacked the armed opposition faction (SPLM-IO) representative in Australia, accusing him of misuse of power.
Machar, in a statement copied to the armed opposition's national external relations chairperson, Stephen Kuol sacked Yien Machar Wang on Sunday.
"I do hereby issue suspension of Cde Yien Machar Wang from his duties as SPLM-IO Country coordinator in Australia due to his misconduct with the representative, the chairperson of Victoria chapter and the Secretary General of Victoria chapter at a farewell party on Monday 22/05/2017, while the members of Political Bureau were in attendance besides other incidents of gross misconduct. This suspension is effective immediately," it partly reads.
Machar said misbehaviour endangers the armed opposition policy.
The armed opposition leader, who lives in South Africa, also formed a committee tasked to probe the misconduct of the sacked official.
"I authorise you to form a disciplinary committee, from members in Australia, according to Chapter V and VI in the code of conduct and disciplinary procedure to hear and determine violations or offences committed by Cde Yien Machar Wang," he added.
The armed opposition leader, in a separate directive, also demoted Brigadier General David Okot from rebel rankings on Tuesday.
The SPLA-IO military deputy spokesperson Col. Lam Paul, told Sudan Tribune that the official was dismissed due to his misconduct.
Okot, a former division commander for Magwi County of Eastern Equatoria state, was recently promoted to Brigadier General by Machar.
The official's dismissal, Lam said, was linked to his recent declaration of allegiance to the country's First Vice President, Taban Deng Gai.
Meanwhile, the SPLA-IO Juba faction spokesman, Col. Gatluak Joak Yuot separately confirmed that Okot has joined the Gai-led faction.
He claimed thousands of troops in Equatoria region abandoned Machar in favour of the peace process initiated by South Sudan's First Vice President.
According to Article 14:17 of the armed opposition movement's (SPLM-IO) 2015 Pagak convention, the chairman is mandated to dismiss a member who disrespects or puts the armed opposition into disrepute.
South Sudan no longer in famine
June 21, 2017
South Sudan is no longer classified as being in famine following an increase in aid, a UN-backed report says.
However, the report warns that the situation remains desperate as the number of people at risk of starvation has increased in the last month.
The famine, announced in February, was the first be declared anywhere in the world since 2011.
Armed conflict, low harvests and soaring food prices have been blamed for the situation.
Tens of thousands of people have died and millions displaced since fighting erupted in the country more than three years ago.
The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report says that 1.7 million people are still facing emergency levels of hunger, one step below famine.
The IPC adds that the number at risk of starvation has increased to six million, up from 5.5 million last month.
"I do urge caution, as this does not mean we have turned the corner on averting famine," UN humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien told a meeting in Geneva.
"Across South Sudan, more people are on the brink of famine today than were in February."
The United Nations says the world is facing its biggest humanitarian crisis since the end of World War Two, with a total of nearly 20 million people facing starvation in north-east Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen, as well as South Sudan.
Help still needed:
Bags of sorghum have been airdropped into some of the most remote parts of the country, medical aid provided in temporary clinics far from recognised hospitals, pressure has been exerted on the government to allow this vital help to reach those in need.
It has worked.
Today, the UN and South Sudanese officials have announced that conditions in the two affected counties no longer meet the technical definition of a famine.
One risk now is that funding for humanitarian aid slows down, if donors believe that the worst is now over.
That's one reason the UN is so keen to stress that people are still in desperate need of help.
Six million people throughout the country still struggle to find food every day - the highest ever total in South Sudan.
All this largely man-made suffering will continue as long as the civil war rumbles on.
[back to contents]
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's 'The Terminator' to testify in war crimes trial
By Sophie Mignon
June 11, 2017
Congolese ex-rebel commander Bosco Ntaganda will finally testify Wednesday in his trial at the International Criminal Court, fending off accusations of using child soldiers and capturing sex slaves for his rebel army.
Almost two years after the trial opened, the man once dubbed "The Terminator" will take the stand to recall events in 2002 to 2003, when his rebel forces rampaged through the vast central African country's gold-rich Ituri province, murdering and raping civilians and plundering their possessions.
Ntaganda, 43, has denied 13 charges of war crimes and five counts of crimes against humanity committed by his Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC), a Hema militia which according to prosecutors targeted the Lendu and other non-Hema groups.
Fighting in Ituri has left some 60,000 dead since 1999 according to rights groups, in a conflict exacerbated by the wealth of regional resources including gold and other minerals used in electronic products.
Ntaganda has been charged with ordering hundreds of deaths through savage ethnic attacks by the FPLC, which was then the armed wing of the Union of Congolese Patriots.
During the prosecution's case, which took 64 days to complete, a witness told the tribunal in The Hague of seeing "tied-up bodies" left in their underwear, "their heads crushed."
"People were beheaded and women were disemboweled," the witness said.
Ntaganda "personally recruited children," said prosecutor Nicole Samson.
Girls became "commandants' wives," added Sarah Pellet, a legal representative for 283 child soldiers.
They were "kept in sexual slavery or simply given to the militia members," Pellet said.
Ntaganda "was one of the most important commanders" involved in the savage ethic attacks carried out by the FPLC, said ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda at the opening of the trial in September 2015.
The eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has been mired for two decades in ethnically-charged wars, as rebels battle for control of mineral resources.
The unrest spiraled to encompass armies from at least six African nations, claiming an estimated three million lives in one of the world's most deadly recent conflicts.
'Not the Terminator'
The ICC, the world's only permanent war crimes tribunal, issued a first arrest warrant against Ntaganda in 2006, followed by a second with additional charges in 2012.
He was wanted in particular for a November 2002 attack on the gold-mining town of Mongbwalu that lasted six days and left some 200 villagers dead.
Despite the warrants, he managed to evade capture until he unexpectedly walked into the US embassy in Kigali in 2013 and turned himself in. It is believed dissension within rebel ranks caused him to surrender.
At the start of his trial Ntaganda, known for his trade-mark pencil moustache, penchant for cowboy hats and fine dining, told the judges he rejected being called "The Terminator".
"That is not me. I am a soldier," he said.
Ntaganda's defence team plans to call 109 witnesses and four experts, seeking to overturn his image as a merciless warlord.
The former rebel went on a two-week hunger strike last year after judges slapped tight restrictions on him when prosecutors accused him of bribing witnesses.
At the time, Ntaganda told judges he was "ready to die" and his lawyer Stephane Bourgon said those accusations had not been proven.
If convicted he could face up to 30 years behind bars, or life if such a sentence is "justified by the extreme gravity of the crime," under ICC rules.
Ntaganda's case follows that of his former boss, warlord Thomas Lubanga, who was sentenced to 14 years in jail in 2012 on similar charges, the court's first conviction since it opened in 2002.
Medical app aims to tackle rape, flag war crimes in conflict-torn Congo
By Kieran Guilbert
June 14, 2017
Activists behind an app designed to assist doctors document evidence of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo aim to go beyond obtaining justice for rape victims and collect data which could help secure prosecutions for war crimes.
Developed by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), MediCapt allows clinicians to record medical examination results digitally and photograph victims' injuries, store them online and send them directly to law enforcement officials and lawyers.
In a vast nation plagued by militant violence and poor roads that restrict access to remote areas, PHR hopes the mobile app will lead to more convictions for sexual violence and help Congo to shake off its tag as "rape capital of the world."
By recording data about both victims and assailants, the app - which is currently in field testing - could also be used to detect mass violence and crimes against humanity and provide evidence for war crimes investigators, according to PHR.
"It has the power to be used as an early warning system or rapid response tool, as the data could show patterns of abuses and violence," said Karen Naimer, director of the U.S.-based PHR's program on sexual violence in conflict zones.
MediCapt could help prosecutors map trends or patterns of locations attacked, victims targeted and languages spoken and the uniform worn by assailants, Naimer told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"The app may also be used to push for war crime prosecutions with evidence of crimes that are widespread or systematic," she said.
Ethnic violence in Congo, Africa's second-largest nation, has spread and worsened since December when President Joseph Kabila refused to step down at the end of his mandate.
Recent acts of violence between local militia and Congolese forces in central Congo, including the killing of civilians and foreign U.N. experts, could constitute war crimes, the International Criminal Court's prosecutor said in April.
Yet the priority for PHR with MediCapt - which will be rolled out for use by doctors in eastern Congo this summer - is to ensure that it gives victims of sexual violence the security and confidence to come forward and speak out, said Naimer.
Sexual violence is often seen as a by-product of years of fighting in Congo, where atrocities were blamed on soldiers and armed groups, but rape is also rife beyond the conflict zones.
"While the app has the potential to highlight mass violence and human rights violations, protecting victims of sexual violence has to come first," Naimer said.
U.S. warns of new reports Congo troops killing, raping women, children
June 16, 2017
The United States warned on Friday that it had received new reports from within Democratic Republic of Congo accusing Congolese troops of actively carrying out a campaign of killing and raping women and children in the central Kasai region.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, called for action.
"Reports of the Congolese government's campaign of murder and rape of women and children should shock us into action. These allegations must be investigated and those responsible held accountable," Haley said in a statement.
The Democratic Republic of Congo mission to the United Nations was not immediately available for comment.
The top U.N. human rights official last week called for an international investigation into massacres and other crimes committed in the Kasai region where at least 42 mass graves have been found.
"It is past time for the Human Rights Council to take decisive action and launch an independent investigation into the human rights violations and abuses in the DRC. This is the core mission of the (council)," Haley said.
Hundreds have been killed and 1.3 million displaced in central Congo since last August in fighting between a militia and government forces. Two U.N. sanctions monitors disappeared there in March and their bodies were found two weeks later.
Violence has risen nationally since President Joseph Kabila stayed in power after his mandate ended in December 2016.
[back to contents]
Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
Official Website of the International Criminal Court
ICC Public Documents - Situation in the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire
Why ex-combatants pose a threat to Côte d'Ivoire's stability
June 21, 2017
Dissatisfied ex-combatants who aren't serving in Côte d'Ivoire's formal military structures pose the biggest long-term threat to the stability of the country. This is particularly true in regions where groups of these men were present during the civil wars.
At least 42,564 ex-combatants emerged out of Côte d'Ivoire's first civil war which stretched from 2002 to 2007. By the end of the second civil war, which started in 2010 and ended in 2011, the number of ex-combatants had risen to 74,000.
The Ivorian government set out to integrate only about 8,400 ex-combatants into the national army. The majority of ex-combatants were supposed to go through a regular disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) programme. The programme was designed to remove weapons from combatants and take them out of military structures by helping them to integrate socially and economically into society.
The UN claims that the programme in Cote d'Ivoire has been successful. But recent protests and reports of disorder perpetuated by ex-combatants in Bouaké are evidence that the process hasn't been seamless. Former combatants – particularly those who weren't enlisted in the army – continue to pose a threat to the country's stability.
But the government's efforts at integrating former combantants into the national army hasn't worked particularly well either as was evident recently when they mutinied. Their demand for financial bonuses, which they said had been promised to them, was only resolved after the government offered to pay them a total of about $12,000.
This had a ripple effect, and set off a new wave of violence by ex-combatants enrolled in the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programme. They too wanted payment from the government.
The reason for these episodes is therefore down to the different incentives and opportunities offered to both groups.
A recurring issue
Research into the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes has highlighted some serious flaws. The programmes don't sufficiently address the destitute state that ex-combatants find themselves in. This problem doesn't just affect Côte d'Ivoire. It's been a recurring issue in conflict affected societies where similar programmes have been applied, such as Nigeria, Nepal and Angola.
Côte d'Ivoirian ex-combatants that carried out the recent protests aren't interested in the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programme. This is because many of them face an uncertain future with dim job prospects. And their situation seems much worse than their compatriots who have been integrated in the military, securing jobs and financial rewards.
This issue needs to be addressed to reduce the risks of conflict recurrence and instability in Côte d'Ivoire.
Research shows that cash payments, known as reinsertion grants, are an important component of these kinds of programmes. Payments ensure that ex-combatants don't burden their families and communities. In some instances, this is a one-off grant. In most cases, ex-combatants get an agreed sum that could last up to 12 months. In Nigeria ex-combatants have received monthly payments for more than five years. But this is an exception.
In addition to these financial payments, ex-combatants receive vocational training. In principle, the grants are terminated at the end of it. Ex-combatants are expected to find jobs based on the skills they have gained. The results have been mixed. UN reports that many ex-combatants gained new skills but that these didn't translate into employment for all of them.
Reintegration in Côte d'Ivoire
The first programme in Côte d'Ivoire was part of a UN resolution to facilitate the reintegration of ex-combatants that participated in the first Ivorian civil war.
The plan stated that ex-combatants would be entitled to a reinsertion grant of 499,500 CFA (USD$850) over a period of six months. At the end of demobilisation, ex-combatants interested in resuming studies would receive an additional education grant. Those interested in entrepreneurship or agricultural projects would receive micro-credit loans ranging from $170 to $300 per individual.
Violence broke out again in 2010 after Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down after losing the presidential election to Alassane Ouattara. Many ex-combatants rejoined armed factions, such as the Forces Nouvelles, to fight in the second war. This created the need for a new programme.
Once he was in office Ouattara implemented reforms to manage the armed groups that had been active in the second war. These included the integration of some rebel factions into the national army based on an agreement between the rebels and the Ivorian government. This was followed by the establishment of the Authority for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration. Its focus is on ex-combatants who were not integrated into the national army. It provided transitional financial support and vocational training to facilitate their reintegration back into society. Under it, at least 90% of 74,000 ex-combatants were disarmed, demobilised and reintegrated.
But the recent incidents show that there are many groups that are dissatisfied and that there is still instability within the armed forces.
The way forward
It is important for the Ivorian government to design appropriate policies that reorient ex-combatants towards meaningful reintegration instead of renegotiating cash payments as a reward for their participation in the civil war.
In Colombia, for example, new approaches that connect economic, political and social reintegration are beginning to take root. These allow ex-combatants to participate in issues such as environmental conservation and protection that are important to their communities, while earning a living.
This approach could prove useful in places such as Côte d'Ivoire as the country rethinks its reintegration programme. This is because reintegration is not just about finding jobs, but also about finding meaning and connecting ex-combatants to a purpose beyond the individual.
[back to contents]
Lake Chad Region — Chad, Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon
Nigeria's President Buhari Must Investigate Military's War crimes' Against Boko Haram Suspect, Says Amnesty
By Conor Gaffey
June 16, 2017
Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari should investigate alleged war crimes committed by the country's soldiers during the war on Boko Haram, according to Amnesty International, after a military commission cleared commanders of any wrongdoing.
A Nigerian military panel announced late Wednesday that it had not found sufficient evidence to charge nine senior commanders for any abuses.
In a 2015 report, Amnesty named nine senior military commanders, some of whom were already retired, as worthy of investigation for overseeing war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. Some 8,000 people had been murdered, starved, suffocated or tortured to death between the beginning of the insurgency in 2009 and the report's publication in 2015, according to the rights group.
Boko Haram took up arms against the Nigerian government in 2009 and has killed tens of thousands of people since then. The Islamist group, which has ties to the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) and split into two factions in 2016, has been pinned back into a remote forest in northeast Nigeria after offensives by the Nigerian military and a regional force.
"We stand by the findings of our research and our call for an investigation that is independent, impartial and thorough; criteria that this panel clearly does not meet," said Osai Ojigho, director of Amnesty International Nigeria, in an emailed statement.
"President Muhammadu Buhari promised an independent investigation into our allegations of human rights violations and crimes under international law two years ago. This is a vital step and must be implemented as a matter of urgency by the government."
The military panel did find that suspected Boko Haram members were regularly denied access to legal representation and faced long delays in being put to trial, Nigeria's Premium Times reported. Many of the suspected militants were "malnourished and in a poor state" when arrested, and "this could be misconstrued as evidence of deliberate starvation," the panel said.
The panel recommended that Buhari set up a presidential commission to further investigate any accusations of war crimes or crimes against humanity.
The Buhari administration has sought to increase transparency and accountability in Nigeria, which has a long history of endemic corruption. Last week, a military court sentenced a Nigerian soldier to death for murdering an alleged Boko Haram fighter.
The military panel also looked into claims of abuses by the Nigerian military during crackdowns on protests by pro-Biafra activists. Biafra was an independent republic that existed in southeast Nigeria between 1967 and 1970; it was reintegrated into the West African country following a brutal three-year civil war in which more than a million people were killed.
Amnesty International said that at least 150 pro-Biafra activists were killed between August 2015 and August 2016, accusing the Nigerian military of firing live ammunition into crowds and carrying out mass extrajudicial executions.
The panel found that the military had cooperated with regional authorities and claimed that no one was killed during a major pro-Biafra protest in May 2016, but that 14 people were arrested, Premium Times reported.
Who is Muzoon Almellehan?
The Hindu Net Desk
June 21, 2017
On Monday, 19-year-old Syrian refugee and education activist Muzoon Almellehan made history by becoming the youngest Goodwill Ambassador named by UNICEF. She is also the first person with official refugee status to become an Ambassador with UNICEF.
Muzoon, now settled in England, is known for her work in rescuing young girls, especially in conflict-ridden zones, from early marriage, and encouraging them to prioritise their education. She is known as "Syria's Malala", inspired by Malala Yousufzai, the Pakistani activist for female education and Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Born on April 8, 1999, Almellehan grew up in the southwest Syrian city of Daraa. The civil war that ravaged the country forced thousands to flee and in February 2013, the Almellehan family crossed the border into Jordan in the middle of the night and settled in a refugee camp in Zaatari. Muzoon was studying in a school there but the family was uprooted again, this time to another camp, in Azraq. It was here that Muzoon first met Malala, who was visiting. The two became good friends and were reunited later.
The UN Refugee Agency, which had come to the camp to resettle more refugees, offered to settle the Almellehans in another country. The family rejected offers to relocate to Canada or Sweden. However, Muzoon had already been negotiating on her own to move to England. The British Prime Minister at the time, David Cameron, had pledged to resettle up to 20,000 Syrian refugees. Two months after Cameron's speech in Parliament, the Almellehans flew to Newcastle, England, to start a new chapter.
The family, part of a batch of 1000 Syrians resettled across the country before Christmas 2015, were given refugee status on arrival, with five-year visas. Unlike several refugees who often have to wait months for accommodation, Muzoon and her family were settled into a fully functional house and she and her siblings were granted admission in a local school.
Muzoon's efforts towards promoting education among young girls like herself began during her 18-month stay in Zaatari, where she was supported by UNICEF in her cause. Malala had heard of Muzoon's work there and was looking forward to meeting her.
"There were many girls who were forced into marriage, it was so devastating," Almellehan told Reuters recalling her time at the camp. "I wanted other girls to feel the hope that I felt so I went from tent to tent trying to prevent the marriages and get more girls in schools.
"Fleeing war and seeing your country being destroyed is one of the hardest things that children can face."
Muzoon said it was a challenge convincing certain parents that getting a girl married off early wouldn't always guarantee that their futures are secured. "Yet I tried to make them [families] understand that the opposite is true; that education was the best way to secure girls' futures," Muzoon told the Guardian last year. "Girls in my culture get married so young, but not all relationships work. If your marriage isn't working, education can be a weapon to escape. If you are not educated then nothing can protect you."
Muzoon recently travelled with UNICEF to Chad, where she met with children forced out of school due to the Boko Haram conflict in the Lake Chad region. In Chad, it is reported that nearly three times as many girls as boys of primary school age in conflict areas are missing out on education. According to UNICEF, refugee children and adolescents are five times more likely to be out of school than their non-refugee peers, and girls affected by conflict are 2.5 times more likely to be out of school than boys. An estimated 25 million children of primary and secondary school are out of school in conflict zones, thereby making them all the more vulnerable towards exploitation.
Muzoon has ambitions of being a journalist and hopes to return home to Syria one day.
[back to contents]
Terrorist Attacks 'Major' Hurdle to Peace in Mali, UN Mission Chief Tells Security Council
UN News Centre
June 16, 2017
Despite progress towards peace in Mali, terrorist attacks remain a major obstacle, the head of the United Nations peacekeeping operation there told the Security Council today.
Mahamat Saleh Annadif, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission, known by its French acronym, MINUSMA, reported significant progress on implementing the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation over the past months, but agreed that terrorists and extremists were gaining ground as existing tensions threatened to derail achievements.
"Mali's central region is a continuing source of concern," said Mr. Annadif as he encouraged the Council to focus on the pressing security challenges and "to send a strong message that civilian killings must end" while considering the renewal of MINUSMA's mandate.
Since Security Council resolution 2295 (2016) gave the Mission a "robust" mandate, noted the envoy, "financial support must continue to ensure its ability to maintain its full functions, including the ability to assist Mali's armed forces."
While scaling up support for the Agreement, MINUSMA would also continue to assist international mediation efforts and strengthen national capacity, he explained, saying that "although neighbouring countries had committed recently to deploying uniformed personnel and equipment, the lack of escort and convoy battalions was a major roadblock to continued progress."
Mr. Annadif went on to note that the National Understanding Conference had been held satisfactorily, further indicating that the Charter for Peace, Unity and Reconciliation was being developed. In addition, the interim authorities had been established in the five regions concerned.
"The various operational coordination mechanisms and joint patrols are on track," he told the Council, while the process of security sector reform, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration continues, although the pace is slow.
These are, according to Annadif, "among many positive developments, in addition to the institutional and political reforms, that are to be credited to the Government."
However, he warned, these positive developments risk being annihilated by the tension that has existed for some time between the Azawad Movement Coordination (CMA) and the Platform, which has turned into a conflict Community.
Unfortunately, these practices are the bedrock of terrorists and other extremists, which reinforce each other, both in their operational mode and in the sophistication of the equipment used, Annadif said. More seriously, they extend their areas of influence and influence.
The Mission therefore aims to strengthen its presence in the central region, he said, within the framework of an integrated and multidimensional approach in partnership with other actors such as the European Union. The forthcoming deployment of the rapid reaction force is part of this arrangement.
Soldiers Killed in Attack on Mali Military Camp
June 17, 2017
At least five soldiers have been killed in an attack on an army post in northern Mali, according to the country's military.
Eight others were also wounded in the attack in Bintagoungou early on Saturday, Colonel Diarran Kone, spokesman for the Malian Army, told the Associated Press news agency.
An Army statement said nine vehicles were destroyed in the attack, which took place around 80km from the historic city of Timbuktu.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
"All the camp's military material was ransacked," a local official told the AFP news agency.
A resident had earlier said that there were "no Malian soldiers to be seen - the camp has been laid waste. The jihadists left with military hostages."
Northern Mali continues to fall prey to attacks by armed groups.
On June 8, at least three UN peacekeepers from Guinea were killed in an assault near their base in Kidal.
The Group to Support Islam and Muslims, a fusion of three armed groups with previous al-Qaeda links that is also known as Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimeen in Arabic, claimed that attack.
Formed in March and led by Iyad Ag Ghaly, a former leader of the Ansar Dine group, the group has claimed multiple attacks on domestic and foreign forces since its formation, notably the 12,000-member MINUSMA, the UN force in Mali.
MINUSMA began operations in 2013, providing security to and assisting Malian troops in a region which fell to armed groups linked to al-Qaeda in March 2012.
Although a French-led military intervention the following year drove the groups out of key towns, they have since spread further south.
The unrest has continued despite a 2015 peace deal between the government and Tuareg-led rebels offering partial autonomy to the north.
The violence has also prompted five West African countries, known as G5 Sahel, to call for the creation of a regional military force by the end of this year.
On Thursday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the wave of attacks shows a "growing spillover of instability" into Mali's neighbouring countries, and demonstrated the need "for enhanced regional cooperation".
Al Qaeda-linked Group Claims Deadly Attack at Mali Resort
By Idrissa Sangare and Adama Diarra
June 19, 2017
A new alliance of Islamist militant groups linked to al Qaeda on Monday claimed responsibility for an attack that killed at least five people at a Mali luxury resort popular with Western expatriates just outside the capital Bamako.
The assailants stormed the hotel on Sunday afternoon, opening fire on guests and battling with French and Malian special forces deployed to try to free those trapped inside.
Mali's Security Ministry said in a statement late on Monday that four of the dead were guests and one was a local soldier who died in the firefight.
The nationalities of the dead were a French-Malian, a French-Gabonese, a Chinese, a Portuguese and a Malian soldier, the ministry said. The European Union's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, confirmed that two of the dead were working for its mission there.
Although the attackers succeeded in mounting a lethal assault, security forces backed by French and United Nations troops managed to rescue around 60 residents in two batches on Sunday night, including 13 French citizens and several children.
Some survived thanks to a hotel cashier who led them to a cave embedded in the red-earth hillside near the hotel, according to an interview he gave to Radio France International (RFI).
"This was without doubt a terrorist attack," Security Minister Salif Traore told RFI on Monday.
His ministry's statement added that authorities had killed four attackers and arrested five others.
Earlier in the day, Traore said some of the militants' accomplices were still at large. Several security forces were still being treated for serious injuries.
French troops and a 10,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force have been battling to stabilize Mali, a former French colony, ever since France intervened in 2013 to push back jihadists and allied Tuareg rebels who had taken over the country's desert north a year earlier.
The alliance that claimed the attack, Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen, was created earlier this year from a merger of local groups and is led by a notorious Tuareg commander. It was later endorsed by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Islamist groups have claimed increasingly frequent attacks on Western targets in Mali and the wider West Africa region, including a raid on a Bamako hotel in late 2015 which killed 20 people.
But analysts said security forces appeared to have responded more quickly this time than in previous such attacks.
"One thing is sure: They are becoming more responsive," said Adam Thiam, a Malian analyst and expert on the conflict. He said this was partly because an elite counterterrorism unit was now properly up and running.
"They're specialized in this kind of operation," he said.
French President Emmanuel Macron spoke to the leader of Mali after the attack and pledged his country's full support for the country, Macron's office said on Monday.
"France condemns with utmost firmness this murderous attack," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The African Union condemned the attack and reiterated its commitment to support Mali in combating terrorism.
Earlier this month, the United States warned its citizens about a possible increased threat of attacks against places popular with Westerners.
"I am tired, shocked. I have no other words to say," the resort owner Manou Morgane, a French national, told Reuters TV overnight. "All I want to do is to see the list of my clients. I want to find them (anyone missing)."
[back to contents]
Official Website of the International Criminal Court
ICC Public Documents - Situation in Uganda
Uganda: Amnesty Fails to Give 6,000 Ex-Rebels Resettlement Package
AllAfrica: The Monitor
By James Owich
June 14, 2017
For the last eight years, the Amnesty Commission has not given resettlement packages to a total of 6,500 former members of insurgent groups who have denounced rebellion.
The Amnesty Commission that was established by the Amnesty Act of 2000, is mandated to receive and reintegrate former rebels back into their communities.
The returnees are mainly from major rebel groups that include the Lord's Resistance Army Rebels (LRA) with formerly operated in northern and north eastern Uganda; West Nile Bank Front and Uganda National Rescue Front II in West Nile region; and the Allied Democratic Force (ADF) in Western region.
Between 2005 to 2009, Amnesty Commission could give items such as hoes, household items and Shs235,000 as start-up capital to the former rebels.
However, failure by the commission to give such items to the returnees for close to eight years now has not gone well with leaders in Acholi sub-region who have since accused the government of failing to resettle and reintegrate the returnees.
Gulu District chairperson Martin Ojara has tasked the government to do more in resettling and reintegrating the former LRA fighters.
"Some were abducted as children and are now adults who returned with children. They need both physical and psychological support since they missed out on many opportunities in early life," he said.
Omoro District chairman Douglas Peter Okello asked government to design projects specifically targeting LRA returnees.
"Even before the package was suspended, it was not sustainable. These people's challenges are unique and need deliberate effort to address them," he said.
He added that Peace Recovery and Development Programme (PRDP) and Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (NUSAF) have no clear guidelines for facilitating these categories of people.
However, Amnesty Commission officials revealed that they have been able to fully resettle 21,000 returnees, leaving out at least 6,500 due to finance constraints since 2009.
"We suspended the resettlement packages to former members of various rebel groups who have surrendered and have been pardoned under the Amnesty Act due to lack of funds," the Amnesty Commission Public Relations Officer, Mr Charles Draku, said.
He added that when Amnesty Commission came into place in 2001, there was no package given out to those who had returned until 2005.
The package was, however, a World Bank grant under Multi country Demobilisation and Reintegration Programme (MDRP) totaling $4.2 million (Shs15.1 billion).
Mr Draku explained that over the years, World Bank, countries and individuals were pooling funds together, and have since suspended the support.
However, he said they are hoping that government will come to their rescue.
The State Minister for Northern Uganda, Ms Freedom Grace Kwiyucwiny, told Daily Monitor that local leaders should ensure that the returnees benefit from the existing government programmes. "We do not want to have specific programmes that are targeting them for fear of stigmatisation. We want them to benefit just like any other ordinary person within the communities," she said.
Joseph Kony: Rebels Kidnap Civilians Weeks after U.S. Stops Hunting Ugandan Warlord
By Conor Gaffey
June 17, 2017
Rebels led by notorious Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony have kidnapped dozens of civilians just two months after U.S. forces pulled out of hunting the group, in a sign that the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) may be exploiting a security vacuum in Central Africa.
Forty rebels from the militant group kidnapped 61 civilians in northeastern Congo, close to the border with South Sudan, in a June 7 raid, according to a report by the U.N. humanitarian office cited by Reuters. The captives were later released after being forced to move food and goods looted by the LRA.
Kony has been an international fugitive since 2005, when the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for his arrest. The hunt for Kony received a massive publicity boost from the short film Kony 2012 by U.S. nonprofit Invisible Children—which received 100 million views in the first week after it was published in 2012 —but he remains elusive, even while the LRA has dwindled in strength and several of his most senior comrades have been captured.
President Obama sent around 100 combat-ready U.S. troops to central Africa in 2011 to aid an African Union mission in tracking Kony. The mission cost around $780 million, CNN reported, but was unable to capture the LRA leader.
The U.S. military command in Africa ( AFRICOM ) announced in March that it was drawing down its mission in the region, stating that the LRA had been reduced from almost 2,000 fighters to "under 100." Around the same time, Uganda —which led the African Union mission —said it was also pulling its troops from the hunt.
The June kidnapping in Congo led to an unknown number of villagers fleeing to a nearby town, the first LRA-related displacement in five years.
The LRA launched its insurgency in northern Uganda in the late 1980s, seeking to impose its own warped interpretation of the Ten Commandments on the population. The group was renowned for its brutality, cutting off the noses and ears of some of its victims, and kidnapped tens of thousands of children, which it forced to fight in its ranks.
The U.N. has reported an uptick in LRA abductions of boys and girls around the age of 12 or 13 in 2017 and has expressed fears that the withdrawal of U.S. and African troops could allow the group to make a resurgence.
"I am concerned about the impact of this withdrawal as it will create a security vacuum that may be exploited by the LRA and other armed groups operating in the region," Francois Lounceny, the top U.N. official in Central Africa, told the U.N. Security Council this week, according to Reuters.
[back to contents]
Official Website of the International Criminal Court
ICC Public Documents - Situation in the Republic of Kenya
Officials Want to Arm Civilians After Militant Attacks in Kenya
By Mohammed Yusuf
June 9, 2017
After a wave of attacks on security forces in northeastern Kenya, local officials are threatening to arm civilians.
The officials blame the national government for failing to protect them, and say they are losing essential services after teachers and health workers stopped coming to work.
Barre Shill, a member of parliament from Garissa County, says locals are tired of terror attacks and concerned about the future of their children.
"You cannot always be killed and maimed by armed terrorists, and yet we are not being protected," Shill said. "We have lost teachers, we have lost medical staff. Now we are not getting those basics services. So why should we be suffering for the last almost four years?"
Shill and other four legislators from northeastern Kenya have called on the government to arm the community to defend themselves against al-Shabab militants who have claimed responsibility for the recent attacks.
Kenya police spokesman Charles Owino told VOA the request cannot be implemented, but the government will recruit and provide more security forces to guard the population.
Richard Tuta, a homeland security expert, says the population can be armed, but the right procedures have to be followed.
"Arming the community is not a bad concept," said Tuta, who adds that a key concern is how to arm people. "Like, for instance, there is a law as far as police reservists are concerned that there is a systematic way on how it should be done right from recruiting, vetting those who have been recruited, training them, giving them equipment, and having a structure of operation. If it's one that way, then it will be OK."
In the last three weeks, al-Shabab has killed 17 security officers. Some of them were killed when their vehicles hit roadside bombs.
Civilians have died as well, including a teacher killed last week in the Fafi area of Garissa County.
Attending a memorial service held for the slain security officers Thursday, Kenyan Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery said the government will hunt down the terrorists behind the attacks.
"Criminals and terrorists whose despicable action caused the loss of these lives," Nkaissery said. "We have one message for you: you can run, but you cannot hide. One way or the other, we shall get you and when we get you, you will pay the price."
George Musumali, director of the Center for Risk Management in Africa, says some parts of the country are getting dangerous even for the police.
"You talk to the police on the ground they are saying that there are certain areas they cannot go to patrol because those areas are dominated by the al-Shabab," he said, "and unless we take drastic action to stop this, then definitely, we are seeing al-Shabab will be gaining more ground in northern Kenya and this is not going to augur well for the country."
The attacks come less than two months before Kenya holds presidential and parliamentary elections.
Islamist Violence in Africa: Kenya a Foils Al-Shabab Attack, Arrests Six Fighters of Al-Qaeda Affiliate
June 12, 2017
Kenya has seized six men suspected of planning an attack sponsored by the Al-Shabab militant group from neighboring Somalia, the head of Kenyan police said late on Sunday.
In recent weeks, the East African nation has lost 20 officers in various attacks, mostly on deserted roads in the vast northern region bordering Somalia, in which the militants used improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Joseph Boinnet, the inspector general of the police, said in a statement that two of the suspects were Kenyans and the others were Somali nationals. Police also seized assembled explosives, four suicide vests and bomb-making materials such as TNT.
"The six had been dispatched from Burhanche in Somalia by their commanders to launch attacks in Kenya," Boinnet said.
Kenyan security forces worked with their counterparts in Somalia to foil the attack and to capture the suspects. The captured men were being interrogated to establish the extent of the entire network, Boinnet said.
Kenya has faced a constant security challenge from across the border ever since it sent its troops into Somalia in late 2011, to help defeat the Al-Shabab militants and restore order.
Kenya struggling with increase in terror attacks silently seeks vengeance on Somali diaspora
By Derek Gannon
June 20, 2017
After a recent string of improvised explosive devices (IED) attacks along the northeastern border of Kenya with Somalia that claimed the lives of up to 20 Kenyan security personnel. The government of Kenya and local regional governors have begun a robust campaign to thwart further roadside bombings.
The al-Qaeda-linked radical Islamic terror organization known as Harakat al-Shabaab al-Muhajideen (HSM) based in southern Somalia has claimed responsibility for all of the recent IED attacks upon local Kenyan security forces in and around the frontier border town of Mandera where al-Shabaab brazenly targeted the county governor and his convoy with what may have been a 'command-detonated' IED. Al-Shabaab additionally targeted a local Kenyan police convoy with the very same style of IED in Liboi in what looks like a guerrilla cross-border attack.
[back to contents]
Rwanda (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda)
Official Website of the ICTR
Ghosts of Rwanda: War crimes, genocide, and terrorism — where to now for Nyamwasa?
By Kristen Van Schie
June 15, 2017
When the Supreme Court of Appeals (SCA) rescinded the decision to grant refugee status to Kayumba Nyamwasa, a window of opportunity edged open for the first time in nearly a decade for Spanish investigators seeking the former Rwandese general's extradition.
Nyamwasa faces charges including war crimes, terrorism, genocide and crimes against humanity.
A long delay due to his refugee status in South Africa coupled with a change in Spain's jurisdiction laws saw that case falter.
Now, a Spanish court is pushing for it to be reopened — even as Nyamwasa's lawyers are confident his refugee status will be upheld under reconsideration.
Spanish authorities have been seeking Nyamwasa's extradition since 2008, when he and 39 other high-ranking officials of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front were named in an indictment for crimes committed between 1990 and 2000.
Spain had pursued the case under universal jurisdiction, which allows a country to prosecute international crimes committed outside its own territory, regardless of whether or not the accused or victims are nationals.
As Rwanda's then-ambassador to India, Nyamwasa was untouchable — until a falling out with Rwanda's president Paul Kagame in 2010 sent him fleeing first to Uganda and then South Africa.
Two attempts on his life soon after — allegedly by a Kigali-deployed hit squad — saw him quickly granted refugee status here and the door of opportunity to have him extradited closed as South Africa reportedly ghosted the incoming Spanish warrants.
"South Africa never replied," said Manuel Vergara, legal director at the Spanish NGO International Baltasar Garzon Foundation. "They never assisted. They never cooperated. They refused any mutual legal assistance. None. Zero."
Local legal groups challenging Nyamwasa's refugee status fared no better.
"Initially there was no litigation: it was a briefing paper submitted to government," said Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, executive director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC).
SALC and the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (CORMSA) pursued the case to have Nyamwasa's refugee status scrapped after being contacted by the Spanish NGO, Veritas Rwanda Forum.
Ramjathan-Keogh says that briefing paper "was pretty much ignored. We didn't receive any response from government."
Neither home affairs nor the department for international relations and co-operation responded to requests for comment.
After seven years of legal wrangling, the SCA decision last month stripping Nyamwasa of his refugee status — based on an out-of-court agreement — came as a surprise.
"It's difficult to understand," said Ramjathan-Keogh. "After having supported his situation and defending him for a number of years, when it came to the Supreme Court hearing, [the State] decided that they were no longer in his camp."
The SCA decision is suspended for 180 days, giving home affairs six months to reconsider Nyamwasa's refugee status.
In the meantime, the Spanish are exploring reopening the case against him, closed after a change in 2014 to the country's laws stripped it of its universal jurisdiction.
On Friday, the country's National Court transferred the matter to the state prosecutor to consider pursuing the terrorism charges. Crimes of terror against Spanish citizens were unaffected by the change in jurisdiction — and nine of Nyamwasa's alleged victims were Spanish.
The only official fingered in the indictment who has ever come close to extradition was Kagame's spy chief Karenzi Karake, who was arrested by British police in 2015 on an official trip to the United Kingdom. A court later dismissed the case and Karake returned home to Rwanda.
How South Africa will respond is anybody's guess.
Nyamwasa's lawyer Kennedy Gihana was confident that in reviewing the general's refugee status over the next 180 days, home affairs will come to the same conclusion as it did in 2010.
"I will submit information on behalf of my client showing that the indictment is irrelevant to his case and that he is entitled to refugee status," said Gihana.
If denied, an extradition seems unlikely.
At a press conference over the weekend, the ANC made it clear it was no closer to accepting European prosecution of Africans, with the chair of the party's sub-committee on international relations Edna Molewa confirming that it was still government policy to withdraw from the International Criminal Court.
By not acting, South Africa would be pitting itself directly against numerous international treaties to which it is a party, but denying Nyamwasa refugee status could kick-off a years-long appeals process.
"I've seen people waiting for an appeals board hearing for six, seven, eight years," said Ramjathan-Keogh.
South Africa may instead grant him some form of permanent residency, or let him travel to another sympathetic country.
Sending him home is not an option.
Kagame's former right hand man, Nyamwasa in total has faced three assassination attempts since arriving here, the latest in 2014 causing a diplomatic furore. Just two months earlier, Rwanda's former intelligence head Patrick Karegeya — a fellow exile and close friend of Nyamwasa's — was found dead in a Sandton hotel room.
He's been tried in absentia for charges including threatening state security and promoting ethnic divisions, and sentenced to 24 years in prison. He's also wanted in France in connection with a separate investigation into the 1994 downing of then-president Juvénal Habyarimana's plane, the event that sparked the genocide.
Spain might just be the safest place for him, says Jordi Palou, the lawyer representing the families of Nyamwasa's alleged Spanish, Rwandese and Congolese victims.
"The best way to protect Nyamwasa is precisely for him to come over to Spain to face justice," says Palou. "Kagame's tentacles can't reach here."
Rwanda: Reign of Terror Strikes Rusizi District
Black Star News
By Ann Garrison
June 15, 2017
FDU-inkingi is extremely concerned by the news that three Rwandans —Gashabizi Emmanuel, Namuhoranye Pascal Bavugamenshi, and Bavugamenshi Gatanga —from Rusizi district, western province were picked by the Police on the 4th of June 2017, but cannot be traced by relatives in any police station in the district more than a week after their arrest. It calls on the Rwandan government to inform relatives of the whereabouts of their loved ones. As highlighted by Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch: "enforced disappearances are a heinous crime, not least because of the anguish and suffering they cause to family and friends" adding that the anguish suffered by not knowing the fate of the disappeared person, "amounts to inhumane and degrading treatment."
We have learnt from reliable sources that on June 4, 2017, two policemen from Bugarama police station locally known as Kazungu and Gasasira Pierre, purporting to be acting on official instructions picked the following persons from their homes to unknown destination. They were picked up at around 2 PM. The people who were abducted include:
1. Gashabizi Emmanuel, Kiyovu: village Gakoni. Cell, muganza: sector, Rusizi District;
2. Namuhoranye Pascal Accountant at BugarmaHealth Centre ;
3. Bavugamenshi Gatanga village Gakoni cell muganza sector Rusizi district.
For the last one and half weeks. Relatives and friends have visited all the stations of Rusizi district and none of them has acknowledged their presence. The families are quite traumatised in view of the experience of police brutality in this region.
We would like to recall that on the 19th of August 2016, the National Police stated that it had killed three terrorists in sector of Bugarama, Rusizi district. It also announced that it had killed two other persons on the 20th of August 2016, suspected of being terrorists. The fight against terrorism has become a new credit card that the government has bought from the international coalition to fight against terrorism, in order to get rid of imaginary or real critics of the government.
Similar enforced disappearances have been reported in the capital Kigali in May and June this year and bodies of two of the victims were found dumped in Cyahafi, a suburb of the Kigali city.
Three months ago, a British citizen of Rwandan origin. Mrs Violette Uwamahoro was kidnapped and kept incommunicado for more than 2 weeks by security services. After denying knowing her whereabouts they confessed having her in their custody under the pressure of the British government. A sad realisation that countries that have adopted Rwandans are more concerned about their rights than the countries of birth.
FDU-Inkingi would like to recall that the Rwandan government is violating international and its own laws by kidnapping people.
Article 120, item 9 of the Rwandan Organic Law considers enforced disappearances as a crime against humanity adding that "any person who commits a crime against humanity provided under this item shall be liable to life imprisonment with special provisions." It is also violating the" International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance". It states under article 5 which stipulates that "The widespread or systematic practice of enforced disappearance constitutes a crime against humanity as defined in applicable international law and shall attract the consequences provided for under such applicable international law."
We call upon the Rwandan government to inform the families the whereabouts of their loved ones and to produce before courts of law if they have committed any crime and to bring to book perpetrators of the crime.
We ask the international community to end its silence over the crimes against humanity committed by the Rwandan government, particularly donors who, theoretically tell their people that their aid is tied to respect of human rights.
UN court to review Rwanda genocide conviction
June 20, 2017
A UN tribunal has agreed to review its appeals judgement against a former Rwandan minister found guilty of genocide crimes, a case blocked for months by the detention of one of the court's top judges.
In a statement released on Monday the UN's Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals said in a rare legal move it would review its ruling convicting Augustin Ngirabatware for his role in Rwanda's 1994 genocide in which an estimated 800 000 people were killed.
Ngirabatware, planning minister at the time of the genocide, was found guilty of inciting, aiding and encouraging militiamen in his home district of Nyamyumba in northwestern Rwanda to kill their Tutsi neighbours.
He was sentenced in 2012 to 35 years in jail, but this was cut to 30 years on appeal in 2014.
In 2016 he filed a request for a review of his convictions "on the basis of a new fact, which he claims exonerates him", said the statement by the court set up in 2012, which took over from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda after it closed in 2015.
Ngirabatware was found guilty of inciting, aiding and encouraging militiamen in his home district of Nyamyumba in northwestern Rwanda to kill their Tutsi neighbours.
His case has been held up for months by the detention of Turkish bench judge Aydin Sefa Akay.
Akay was last week sentenced to over seven years in jail on charges of links to a group blamed for an attempted coup in Turkey last year in a case which caused an uproar in the international legal community.
He has been released pending an appeal and "confirmed his ability and willingness to exercise his judicial functions in this case", said the UN court.
[back to contents]
Hostages held, 17 killed in attack at Somalia restaurant
By Abdi Guled
June 15, 2017
Gunmen posing as military forces were holding an unknown number of hostages inside a popular restaurant in Somalia's capital in an attack that began when a car bomb exploded at the gate, police and a witness said, while the extremist group al-Shabab claimed responsibility. At least 17 people, including foreigners, were dead, police and an ambulance driver said.
Two of the gunmen were shot dead and 10 hostages were rescued but five other attackers were thought to remain inside, cutting off electricity to complicate security forces' efforts to end the siege, Capt. Mohamed Hussein said. He said heavy gunfire was heard.
An ambulance driver with the Amin Ambulance service, Khalif Dahir, said early Thursday they had carried 17 bodies and 26 wounded people. Police said the dead included a Syrian man. Most of the victims were young men who had been entering the Pizza House when the vehicle exploded, Hussein said.
The gunmen "were dressed in military uniforms. They forced those fleeing the site to go inside" the restaurant, witness Nur Yasin told The Associated Press.
Wednesday night's blast largely destroyed the restaurant's facade and sparked a fire. While al-Shabab claimed to have attacked the neighboring Posh Treats restaurant, which is frequented by the city's elite and was damaged in the blast, security officials said the Pizza House was targeted instead.
Security forces rescued Asian, Ethiopian, Kenyan and other workers at Posh Treats as the attack continued, Hussein said.
The Somalia-based al-Shabab often targets high-profile areas of Mogadishu, including hotels, military checkpoints and areas near the presidential palace. It has vowed to step up attacks after the recently elected government launched a new military offensive against it.
Al-Shabab last year became the deadliest Islamic extremist group in Africa, with more than 4,200 people killed in 2016, according to the Washington-based Africa Center for Strategic Studies.
The extremist group also faces a new military push from the United States after President Donald Trump approved expanded operations, including airstrikes, against al-Shabab. On Sunday, the U.S. military in Africa said it carried out an airstrike in southern Somalia that killed eight Islamic extremists at a rebel command and logistics camp.
Somalia President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed confirmed that airstrike and said such attacks would disrupt the group's ability to conduct new attacks.
With a new federal government established, pressure is growing on Somalia's military to assume full responsibility for the country's security. The 22,000-strong African Union multinational force, AMISOM, which has been supporting the fragile central government, plans to start withdrawing in 2018 and leave by the end of 2020.
Also Wednesday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution extending the U.N. political mission in the Horn of Africa nation, which is trying to rebuild after more than two decades as a failed state, until March 31, 2018. The resolution recognized that "this is a critical moment for Somalia."
Somali survivors tell of extremists' restaurant siege that killed 31
Los Angeles Times
By Associated Press
June 15, 2017
Islamic extremists attacked a popular Mogadishu, Somalia, restaurant in an overnight siege and killed 31 people — many at point-blank range — before they were slain by security forces, police said Thursday.
Survivors described harrowing scenes of hiding under tables and behind curtains as the five gunmen hunted for victims in the darkened Pizza House restaurant. Nearly 40 people were wounded.
The Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack, which began Wednesday evening with a car bomb exploding at the gate to the restaurant and ended when troops secured the site after dawn, said senior police Capt. Mohamed Hussein.
"I never thought I would have the chance to see the sun again. They were killing people on sight," university student Saida Hussein told the Associated Press. She said she survived by hiding behind a large table.
Soldiers in gun-mounted vehicles surrounded the building, and troops later entered the ground floor as Shabab snipers defended their positions upstairs. The battle to end the siege was hampered by darkness, Hussein said.
Aden Karie said he was wounded by an attacker who spotted him moving behind a curtain.
"He shot at me twice, and one bullet struck me on the leg," Karie said as he was taken to an ambulance.
The bodies of five girls believed to have been killed by the extremists were found in the restaurant, police said. The body of a Syrian man who worked as a chef lay near a blood-spattered and bullet-marked wall.
The car bomb that began the attack blew the roofs off the restaurant and other nearby buildings. Many of the first victims were young men who had been entering the Pizza House when the bomb went off, Hussein said.
The extremists, appearing to pose as security forces, then rushed inside the restaurant.
The gunmen "were dressed in military uniforms. They forced those fleeing the site to go inside," witness Nur Yasin told the AP.
A neighboring restaurant, Posh Treats, which is frequented by the city's elite, was damaged in the blast, security officials said. Security forces rescued Asian, Ethiopian, Kenyan and other workers at Posh Treats as the attack continued, Hussein said.
President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed called the victims "martyrs" and noted that the attack came during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The United States mission to Somalia said many of the victims had been breaking their daily Ramadan fast when the attack began.
Ramadan "is a time of spiritual reflection and increased piety, which makes the timing of this attack all the more atrocious," the U.S. statement said.
The Somalia-based Shabab often targets high-profile areas of Mogadishu, including hotels, military checkpoints and areas near the presidential palace. It has vowed to step up attacks after the recently elected government launched a new military offensive against it.
The Shabab was the deadliest Islamic extremist group in Africa last year, killing more than 4,200 people, according to the Washington-based Africa Center for Strategic Studies.
The extremist group also faces a new military push from the United States after President Trump approved expanded operations, including airstrikes. On Sunday, the U.S. military in Africa said it conducted an airstrike in southern Somalia that killed eight extremists at a rebel command and logistics camp.
Somalia's president confirmed the airstrike and said such attacks would disrupt the group's ability to conduct new operations.
Pressure is growing on Somalia's military to assume full security responsibilities for the country. The 22,000-member African Union multinational force, AMISOM, which has been supporting the fragile central government, plans to start withdrawing in 2018 and leave by the end of 2020.
Somalia: Two taxmen shot dead in Mogadishu
June 18, 2017
Al-Shabaab gunmen shot and killed two Somali taxmen in the Somali capital Mogadishu on Sunday, the latest in series of assassinations by the group, Garowe Online reports.
The tax officers were killed outside a barber shop located in a busy market in the capital's Dharkeynley district by two pistol-wielding men, who escaped the area immediately before the arrival of the local security forces.
"We reached the crime scene swiftly, responding to an attack on taxmen, unfortunately, the gunmen had already escaped on foot. They are now at large," said a police officer Capt Mohamed Hussein.
Tax collectors working in Mogadishu markets are increasingly being targeted and killed by al-Shabaab gunmen, added Hussein, while speaking to GO's reporter in Mogadishu over the phone.
No group has yet claimed credit for the latest murder of the policemen, however, area officials have pointed finger at al-Shabaab, who often target security force members in the seaside city.
Mogadishu has witnessed an increase of rampant targeted assassinations, mostly on the elders involved in the election of the current MPs from the militant group amidst tight security in the city in past weeks.
[back to contents]
Official Website of the International Criminal Court
ICC Public Documents - Situation in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
'I thought I was going to die': Jailed and ransomed in Libya
By Martin Patience
June 21, 2017
Every morning for four months, Seun Femi's captors beat him at a makeshift prison in Libya.
"They would flog my head, my hands, my bum," says the 34-year-old. "The guard would beat me until he got tired."
Two of Seun's fingers were broken during one of the brutal sessions. But the Nigerian says it could have been far worse. One man was beaten to death in front of him.
"I thought I was going to die in that prison," he says.
Seun was one of the tens of thousands of West Africans who cross the Sahara Desert into Libya every year, from where they hope to be trafficked by boat to Europe.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates there are between 700,000 and one million people in Libya awaiting their chance to cross the Mediterranean.
It was always a dark and desperate journey but now appears to be increasingly dangerous as undocumented migrants fall prey to militias and criminal gangs in war-torn Libya.
Earlier this year, the IOM reported that African migrants were being sold by their captors in "slave markets" in the south-western Libyan city of Sabha.
It was in the same city that Seun says he was held with about 300 other African migrants for ransom.
"We thought the traffickers were taking us to a place to stay and not a place to lock us up," he says.
Seun says a hunchbacked Libyan called Ali ran the makeshift prison.
It was a half-constructed building. The male migrants, mainly from Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal, were separated into large rooms, each called a ghetto. Seun was held in the Nigeria ghetto.
In two of the ghettos, called Ghana and VIP (for very important person), the guards would extort a higher ransom in order for the migrants to be freed.
"We were packed on the floor like sardines when we tried to sleep," says Seun.
There was little food but enough bottled water as otherwise the migrants would die of thirst in the stifling heat.
The brutal business model was simple, says Seun. Guards with nicknames like "Rambo" would beat the migrants and then hand them a phone.
"They would let us phone our people once a day," he said. "They would whip us while we were on the call so our families would get the message. We would beg them to send us money."
On Tuesday, the Italian authorities said they had arrested a notorious human trafficker known as Rambo on charges of torturing and killing migrants but it is not possible to verify whether it was the same man.
'He helped me'
Seun needed to a pay a ransom of approximately $500. It was to be deposited in a bank account in Nigeria. But he did not have the money. He urged his ex-girlfriend to sell his car.
"It was in bad shape. It took three months for her to sell it," says Seun. "There were no buyers."
The irony is that Seun, a taxi driver, had no money to repair the vehicle in the first place, which is why he decided to go to Libya.
His ransom was finally paid last December. Seun thought he was free.
But then he was told he needed to pay a "gate-fee" of approximately $50. He had no money. But a Nigerian baker who sold bread at the prison took pity on him and paid the fee.
"He helped me a lot by taking me out of that place - it's bad, very bad," says Seun.
Seun then paid the man back by working in his bakery for several weeks in Sabha.
He then pushed on to Tripoli but was detained by Libyan police earlier this year and held at a detention centre. He was repatriated to Nigeria in April.
Now back in Lagos, he has no work, and rents a small dark room in one of the city's sprawling slums. He is trying to piece his life back together.
He hopes to raise cash to buy a car and work as a taxi driver again. He wants to move to a better area so his young daughter can visit. He regrets ever setting out to Europe.
"The desert is such a dangerous place," he says. "Many people died on the way. No-one should follow that path."
[back to contents]
The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, War Crimes Chamber
Official Court Website [English translation]
Trial Verdict upheld in the case v. Dragoja Zmijanjac
The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina
June 8, 2017
The Panel of the Section I for War Crimes of the Appeals Division of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina sent out on 23 May 2017, the Appeals Verdict dated 6 April 2017 by which the appeal filed by the Defense Counsel for the Accused Dragoja Zmijanjac is refused as unfounded and so the Verdict of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina dated 28 November 2016 is upheld.
Under the Trial Verdict dated 28 November 2016, the Accused Dragoja Zmijanjac is found guilty of the criminal offense of War Crimes against Civilians in violation of Article 142(1) of the Criminal Code of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia (CC of SFRY) which is taken over based on the Law on application of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and criminal code of SFRY. To that regard, the Court sentenced the Accused Dragoja Zmijanjac to 6 (six) years in prison.
On 6 April 2017 the Appeals Panel held a public session.
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. Marijan Brnjić
The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina
June 8, 2017
The Panel of the Section I for War Crimes of the Appeals Division of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina handed down the Appeals Verdict dated 18 May 2017 by which the appeals filed by the Defense Counsel for the Accused Marijan Brnjić and the Accused himself are refused as unfounded and so the Verdict of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina dated 9 December 2016 is upheld.
Under the Trial Verdict dated 9 December 2016, the Accused Marijan Brnjić is found guilty of the criminal offense of War Crimes against Civilians in violation of Article 142 of the Criminal Code of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia (CC SFRY), and sentencing him to six (6) year-imprisonment.
An appeal from the Trial Verdict was timely filed by the Defense Counsel for the Accused Marijan Brnjić on grounds of esential violations of the provisions criminal proceedings, erroneously and incompletely established state of facts and decision as to the sanction, moving the Court to grant the appeal, revoke the Trial Verdict and order a re-trial, or to modify the Trial Verdict and impose a more lenient sentence on the Accused.
An appeal from the Trial Verdict was also filed by the Accused Marijan Brnjić, moving the Appeals Panel to render the decision acqutting him of charges.
The Prosecutor's Office of BIH did not dubmit a response to the defense appeals in a given deadline.
The Appeals Panel held a public session on 18 May 2017 where the Defense Counsel submitted his appeal and maintained all appellate grievances while the Accused agreed with his Defense Counsel, shortly submitted the appellate grievances and moved the Appeals Panel to grant his appeal. The Prosecutor verbally presented his response to the defense appeals moving the Appeals Panel to refuse the appeals as unfounded.
The Appeals Panel examined the challenged Verdict within the limits of appellate grievances and reached the decision as aforementioned.
Trial Verdict handed down in the case v. Zdenko Andabak et al.
The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina
June 14, 2017
Following the completion of the main trial, the Trial Panel of the Section I for War Crimes of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina handed down the Verdict under which the Accused Muamir Jašarević and Sead Velagić are found guilty, as follows: the Accused Muamir Jašarević under Count a) 1., as a perpetrator committed the criminal offense of War Crimes against Civilians in violation of Article 142(1) of the CC of SFRY and the Accused Muamir Jašarević under Counts a) 2., a) 3., as a co-perpetrator and the Accused Sead Velagić under Counts b) 1. and b) 2., as a co-perpetrator committed the criminal offense War Crimes against Civilians in violation of Article 142(1) of the CC of SFRY as read with Article 22 of the CC of SFRY; the Court sentenced them as follows: the Accused Muamir Jašarević to prison sentence of one (1) years and six (6) months and the Accused Sead Velagić to prison sentence of one (1) year.
The Accused Muamir Jašarević and Sead Velagić are found guilty because during the armed conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina between the Croatian Defense Council (HVO) and Army of Serb Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and later Army of Republika Srpska (VRS), the Accused Muamir Jašarević and Sead Velagić, as members of the HVO Military Police Livno, in the territory of Livno municipality, during August and September 1992, violating the rules of international law in the course of armed conflict, participated in inhumane treatment of civilians, and the Accused Jašarević also participated in torture.
Pursuant to Article 50(1) of the CC of SFRY, the time the Accused Muamir Jašarević spent in custody shall be credited towards the pronounced prison sentence.
Under the said Verdict, the Accused Zdenko Andabak, Muamir Jašarević and Sead Velagić are acquitted of charges that they committed the criminal offense of Crimes against Humanity in violation of Article 172 (1) (h) persecution as read with Article 180 (1) of the CC of BIH and Article 29 of the CC of BIH.
Pursuant to Article 188(4) of the CPC of BIH, the Accused Muamir Jašarević and Sead Velagić are relieved of the duty to reimburse the costs of the criminal proceedings and pursuant to Article 189 (1) of the CPC of BIH the Accused Zdenko Andabak, Muamir Jašarević and Sead Velagić are relieved of the duty to reimburse the costs of the criminal proceedings.
Pursuant to Article 198(2) of the CPC of BIH, the injured parties are referred to civil action and in relation to the acquitting part of the Verdict, the injured parties are referred to civil action based on Article 198(3) of the CPC of BIH.
Bosnia Jails Ex-Policemen for Livno Prisoner Abuses
By Dzana Brkanic
June 14, 2017
The Bosnian state court on Wednesday sentenced Muamir Jasarevic to one and a half years in jail for being a perpetrator and accomplice in the inhumane treatment of two detainees at the Ivan Goran Kovacic school in Livno in August 1992 as well as the torture of another detainee, and Sead Velagic to a year in jail as an accomplice in the inhumane treatment of the two detainees.
A third defendant, Zdenko Andabak, was acquitted.
"Although the prosecution charged Jasarevic and Velegic with crimes against humanity, the chamber considers that… Velagic and Jasarevic committed war crimes against the civilian population, violating the international laws and conventions on the protection of a certain category of people during the war," said presiding judge Zoran Bozic.
"On an undetermined date in August 1992, Muamir Jasarevic took prisoner Slobodan Vujicic from the hall into an office, gave him a piece of paper and requested him to write down everything about the Serb Democratic Party. The injured party did not write anything, explaining he did not know what to write. Jasarevic then hit him in the face with the palm of his hand, knocking Vujicic down," Bozic said.
Velagic was found guilty of inhumane treatment, acting as an accomplice, by hitting prisoner Jovo Erceg twice and slapping prisoner Cedomir Oljaca in the face.
The court found that victims Slobodan Vujicic and Zivko Zdero were not tortured, as the prosecution alleged, but that another victim, Marko Vulic, was tortured with electric shocks.
It also ruled that it had not been proved that Jasarevic, Andabak and Velagic participated in a joint criminal enterprise.
According to the verdict, no widespread and systematic attack on the Serb population happened in Livno; it ruled instead that there was a conflict between the Croatian Defence Council and the Bosnian Serb Army.
The court also said that it had not been proved that Andabak and Jasarevic had command roles and function, as the indictment alleged.
"Therefore, they could not be held responsible for crimes committed by other military policemen," Bozic said.
Jasarevic and Andabak were acquitted of having command responsibility for crimes including the murders of 12 men from Croatia and another victim called Milun Bajilo.
"The prosecution did not present any pieces of evidence concerning the murder of those people," Bozic said.
He said there were no aggravating circumstances to take into account regarding Jasarevic and Velagic.
The fact that they were family men who had not been convicted before and that they expressed remorse for the victims were taken into account as mitigating circumstances.
Under the first instance verdict, the defendants have been exempted from paying the costs of the trial, while the injured parties have been advised to file civil lawsuits.
The verdict can be appealed.
[back to contents]
International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY)
Official Website of the ICTY
UN Urged to Pressure Serbia over Wanted Radicals
June 07, 2017
The president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Carmel Agius, told the UN Security Council on Wednesday that it must act to stop Serbia violating its obligations to the war crimes court.
Agius said that Belgrade has failed to comply with its duties under the Tribunal's statute by refusing to execute arrest warrants for three members of the Serbian Radical Party who are wanted for contempt of court.
Warrants for the arrest of Vjerica Radeta, Jovo Ostojic and Petar Jojic were issued almost two and a half years ago and they were put on Interpol's 'red list' earlier this year.
Agius said he had that he had formally referred Serbia's non-compliance to the UN Security Council in a letter on March 1.
"The Republic of Serbia is in violation of its international obligations every day that these arrest warrants and orders for transfer are not executed," he wrote in the letter.
"The Security Council has the capacity to tackle this issue, and it is imperative that it takes decisive action," he added.
The three Serbian Radical Party members are accused of contempt of court for interfering with witnesses during the trial of their leader, Vojislav Seselj, who was acquitted of war crimes charges last year, although the case has now gone to appeal.
Serbia has refused to extradite them to The Hague, citing a ruling last year by the Belgrade Higher Court, which said that the Serbian authorities can only arrest people wanted by the Hague Tribunal who are charged with war crimes, genocide or crimes against humanity.
The Serbian government has also cited security reasons for not arresting the three Radicals, suggesting that detaining them would cause unrest in the country.
Radeta is an MP in the Serbian parliament, as is her leader Seselj.
All three wanted Radicals have said they will not go to The Hague to face the charges voluntarily.
Seselj has also refused to return to The Hague since he was released for cancer treatment in 2014, and was not in court for the verdict in his trial.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia is due to shut down at the end of 2017.
Agius told the UN Security Council that it was on track to complete its mandate, including delivering the verdict in the trial of former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic in November this year.
UN Prosecutor: Bosnia Nationalists 'Glorifying War Criminals'
June 08, 2017
Serge Brammertz, the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) told the UN Security Council on Wednesday that war criminals are still being treated as heroes by nationalists from various ethnic groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
"The message of denial and revisionism is loud and clear. We recognise our victims, but not yours. Your war criminals are our heroes," Brammertz said.
He cited a recent declaration by the education minister in Bosnia's Serb-dominated entity of Republika Srpska that he would ban textbooks teaching students about the recent past, including the Srebrenica genocide and the siege of Sarajevo.
"These facts are taught in classrooms around the world, but not in the country where the crimes were committed," Brammertz pointed out.
He also cited a concert in the ethnically-divided Bosnian town of Mostar on Thursday by Croatian nationalist singer Marko Perkovic 'Thompson' in support of six Bosnian Croat officials convicted of war crimes by the ICTY, whose case is now on appeal.
Brammertz said that the denial of wartime crimes must be dealt with as a matter of urgency.
"When irresponsible officials use division, discrimination and hate to secure power, conflict and atrocities can gain a logic of their own. That was true two decades ago when the genocide and ethnic cleansing began, and it remains true today," he said.
He also said that with the ICTY's impending closure at the end of this year, it was more important than ever to address this challenge.
"To secure a peaceful future, there must be a shared agreement on the recent past," he said.
He further warned that cooperation between former Yugoslav states on war crimes prosecutions is still inadequate.
"I have previously reported that regional judicial cooperation in war crimes justice in the former Yugoslavia is heading in the wrong direction, and that is still the case today," he said.
Retrial Begins for 2 Serbs at U.N. War Crimes Tribunal
New York Times
By Marlise Simons
June 13, 2017
Two former secret police chiefs, once held to be among the most powerful men in Serbia, went on trial Tuesday for the second time, accused of running a lethal network of covert operations during the 1992-95 conflict that broke up Yugoslavia.
The operations, according to prosecutors, were intended to impose as well as conceal the wartime policies of Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian president.
The defendants, Jovica Stanisic, the former head of Serbia's state security, and Franko Simatovic, his deputy, were acquitted of similar charges in 2013 after a three-year trial at the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague.
The acquittals shocked legal experts and survivors of the wars in Bosnia and Croatia, where special combat units of the Serbian secret police directed paramilitary forces who burned churches and mosques and killed and raped civilians in village after village to drive out non-Serbs. They often went into action ahead of or alongside Bosnian Serb military units.
But in late 2015, appeals judges ruled that they had found legal and factual errors in the first trial.
While the judges in that trial ruled that the defendants had issued no "specific direction" to commit crimes, the appeals judges said no such proof was required to prove a criminal conspiracy or the aiding and abetting of crimes.
Since two of the three original judges had left the chamber, the case could not be sent back and had to be tried anew, the appeals judges ruled.
Even as the tribunal, established by the United Nations Security Council in 1993, now prepares to close down, human rights activists and war crimes experts welcomed the new trial as a timely opportunity to set the record straight.
They point to an alarming rise of fervor among Serbian nationalist groups who are rewriting the history of the conflict, denying that Serbs committed any war crimes, banning references to the conflict from schoolbooks and glorifying convicted war criminals.
Serge Brammertz, the tribunal's chief prosecutor, told the Security Council last week that despite the large body of evidence proven in "case after case," the denials and the refusal to accept facts, even by government officials, were "loud and clear."
"Genocide is denied. Ethnic cleansing is denied," he said.
"When irresponsible officials use division, discrimination and hate to secure power, conflict and atrocities can gain a logic of their own," Mr. Brammertz said. "That was true two decades ago when genocide and ethnic cleansing began, and it remains true today."
At the opening of the trial on Tuesday, Douglas Stringer, a prosecutor, portrayed the two former secret police chiefs as close to Mr. Milosevic, who had himself gained control of the institutions and agencies of the federal government of what was then Yugoslavia.
Mr. Milosevic entrusted them with all the critical aspects of secret police activities leading up to and during the wars, Mr. Stringer said.
The men set up clandestine training camps for paramilitary fighters and acted as chief organizers, paymasters and suppliers for those units, he said. The paramilitaries, some of whom were convicts, became notorious for their brutality and, according to Mr. Stringer, "looted on an industrial scale."
Far from spontaneous, the prosecutor said, the Serbian state security at first placed their operatives in positions in Bosnia and Croatia that were scheduled for "ethnic cleansing." He said these operatives were known as "doublehatters," at once linked to the Belgrade government and also key players locally who relayed orders to the paramilitaries. All the activities "were covert to conceal the hand of Milosevic," Mr. Stringer said.
The fate of Mr. Stanisic and Mr. Simatovic will be crucial in legally determining the role of the Serbian state in the wars in Bosnia and Croatia that killed more than 130,000 people. After two decades of trials at the tribunal in The Hague, no officials of the Belgrade wartime government are serving sentences, only Bosnians and Croats.
Mr. Milosevic, considered the war's main architect, was facing a battery of charges, including genocide, when he died in a tribunal cell in 2006 shortly before the end of his trial.
His chief of staff, Gen. Momcilo Perisic, was convicted and sentenced to 27 years for aiding and abetting war crimes in Bosnia and Croatia, but the verdict was overturned on appeal in 2013 because no "specific direction" to commit crimes had been proved.
That ruling also led to disagreements among legal scholars and judges.
The latest trial is likely to be the last major case of the Balkan wars as the tribunal winds down its work. It is expected to deliver a verdict for Gen. Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb military chief, in November.
Serbian Security Chiefs 'Implemented Milosevic's Criminal Plan'
By Radosa Milutinovic
June 13, 2017
The retrial of the former head of the Serbian State Security Service, Jovica Stanisic, and his assistant Franko Simatovic, alias Frenki, both of whom are accused of wartime crimes in Bosnia and Croatia, began at the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals in The Hague on Tuesday.
They are accused of persecution on racial, religious and political grounds, as well as murders, deportations and the forcible resettlement of Croat and Bosniak civilians.
According to the charges, Simatovic and Stanisic participated in a joint criminal enterprise aimed at permanently and forcible removing Croats and Muslims from large parts of Croatia and Bosnia, which would then be incorporated into a unified Serb state.
Prosecutor Douglas Stringer said the criminal enterprise was "thought out" by the then Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic, in the spring of 1991.
Stringer said Milosevic he tasked men he trusted, Stanisic and Simatovic, with implementing the plan in the field.
"Milosevic was the driving force of the criminal plan. He entrusted Stanisic and Simatovic with its implementation," Stringer said.
According to the prosecutor, the defendants, Milosevic and other accomplices were aware, from the very beginning, that the unification and ethnic homogenisation of the parts of Croatia and Bosnia which they saw as Serb territories could not have been achieved without persecuting the non-Serb population through the commission of crimes against them.
Milosevic's idea to have "all Serbs live on Serb-controlled territories" as a result of the fall of Yugoslavia was implemented by Stanisic and Simatovic through the establishment of Serb-led autonomous regions in Croatia and Bosnia, and by establishing armed forces for them.
In line with their goal, Stanisic and Simatovic, in their capacity as powerful officials of the Serbian State Security Service, "enabled the commission of crimes" in Croatia and Bosnia by organising, logistically supporting and "directing" Serb forces, whose members committed the crimes, Stringer said.
"The crimes were Stanisic's and Simatovic's intention," Stringer added, arguing that for four years of war, they stood behind Serb units which forcibly persecuted tens of thousands of Croats and Bosniaks by committing murders and carrying out summary detentions, robberies, rapes and deportations.
Listing the Serbian-sponsored units which committed numerous crimes, the prosecutor mentioned 'Frenki's Men', who grew into the Red Berets or the Special Operations Unit later on, as well as the Serbian Voluntary Guard commanded by Zeljko Raznatovic, alias Arkan, and the Scorpions paramilitary group.
"The defendants decided where, how and when those units would be used. The units performed their operations in secrecy in order to hide Milosevic's role in them," the prosecutor said.
According to the prosecutor, Stanisic formed, trained and armed local Serb units in special camps in Croatia and Bosnia through Simatovic, who implemented his instructions in the field. He said the units then participated in ethnic cleansing operations under the defendants' control.
The prosecutor said that Simatovic himself confirmed that in front of Milosevic during a celebration of the anniversary of the Special Operations Unit in 1997. A recording of his speech will be played during the course of the trial.
He further said that the Yugoslav National Army carried out ethnic cleansing in 1991 and 1992 after the federal army was put "at the service of the joint criminal enterprise" and turned "into a Serbian fighting force".
Stanisic and Simatovic both pleaded not guilty in December last year after the appeals chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia overturned their previous acquittal.
The tribunal ruled on December 15 that there were serious legal and factual errors when Stanisic and Simatovic were initially acquitted of war crimes in 2013.
It ordered the case be retried and all the evidence and witnesses reheard in full by new judges.
The trial continues on Wednesday.
Stanisic and Simatovic 'Controlled Ethnic Cleansing Units'
By Radosa Milutinovic
June 14, 2017
Prosecutor Adam Weber told the retrial of Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic, alias Frenki, at the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals in The Hague on Wednesday, that the defendants controlled Serb fighters who carried out ethnic cleansing during wartime.
"The defendants used their control over Serb institutions and the State Security Service to perform the ethnic cleansing of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina," Weber said.
The prosecutor cited Simatovic's speech at a celebration of the anniversary of the Special Operations Unit of the Serbian State Security Service at its base in Kula in 1997 as one of the key pieces of evidence.
As quoted by the prosecutor, Simatovic said that the Serbian units "successfully participated in six joint operations" in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Simatovic also specified that the Serbian Serbian State Security Service had controlled 26 camps for the training of Serb forces throughout Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The prosecutor singled out a scene from a video recording of the celebration, depicting Stanisic pointing out the locations of the camps on a map to then President Slobodan Milosevic.
"We shall prove that Serb forces committed brutal ethnic cleansing at those locations," Weber said.
Stanisic, the former chief of the Serbian State Security Service, and his deputy, Simatovic, are accused of participating in a joint criminal enterprise aimed at permanently and forcible removing Croats and Muslims from large parts of Croatia and Bosnia, which would then be incorporated into a unified Serb state.
The indictment charges them with persecution on racial, religious and political grounds, as well as murders, deportations and the forcible resettlement of Croat and Bosniak civilians.
Stanisic and Simatovic both pleaded not guilty in December last year after the appeals chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia overturned their acquittal in their first trial.
The tribunal ruled on December 15 that there were serious legal and factual errors when Stanisic and Simatovic were initially acquitted of war crimes in 2013, and ordered the case to be retried and all the evidence and witnesses reheard in full by new judges.
In his introductory statement on Wednesday, Weber described the operations that were conducted in Bosnia and Herzegovina in which various Serbian-backed units participated – 'Frenki's Men' or the Red Berets, the Serbian Volunteer Guard, also known as the Tigers, commanded by Zeljko Raznatovic, alias Arkan, and the Scorpions unit.
"All those units committed crimes," the prosecutor said.
He specifically mentioned the shooting of six young Bosniak men from Srebrenica in the Trnovo are in July 1995, which was carried out and videotaped by the Scorpions.
As an example of crimes committed by Arkan's Tigers, Weber cited the the murders of 65 men and the rape of one woman in Sanski Most in the autumn of 1995.
Shortly afterwards, in October 1995, Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic, presented Arkan with an award, thanking him for his contribution.
The trial continues on Thursday.
Serbian Security 'Trained Serb Forces in Croatia'
By Radosa Milutinovic
June 15, 2017
Protected prosecution witness RFJ-135 testified at the retrial of former Serbian security chiefs Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic, alias Frenki, at the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals in The Hague on Thursday, saying that he saw Stanisic in Knin in the spring of 1991 around the outbreak of the war there.
Defence lawyer Wayne Jordash however denied this.
"You did not see Stanisic in Knin," Jordash said during cross-examination.
But the witness, who attempted to prevent the escalation of the conflict between Serbs from Croatia's Krajina region and the Croatian authorities in Knin at the time in his capacity as a member of the State Security Service, stuck to his testimony.
"I saw him," RFJ-153 said.
Stanisic and his former deputy, Simatovic, are accused of participating in a joint criminal enterprise aimed at permanently and forcible removing Croats and Muslims from large parts of Croatia and Bosnia, which would then be incorporated into a unified Serb state.
The indictment charges them with persecution on racial, religious and political grounds, as well as murders, deportations and the forcible resettlement of Croat and Bosniak civilians.
Stanisic and Simatovic both pleaded not guilty in December last year after the appeals chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia overturned their acquittal in their first trial.
The tribunal ruled on December 15 that there were serious legal and factual errors when Stanisic and Simatovic were initially acquitted of war crimes in 2013, and ordered the case to be retried and all the evidence and witnesses reheard in full by new judges.
During cross-examination, Stanisic's defence lawyer said that in his first statement to the Hague Tribunal in 2004, the witness said he "did not personally see Stanisic in Knin, but he heard he visited the place occasionally in order to participate in training of SAO [Serbian Autonomous Region of] Krajina officers".
But witness RFJ-153 repeated that he saw Stanisic in Knin twice.
Jordash asked the witness which Croatian officials told him about the Serbian State Security Service's involvement in training local Serbs while he was in Croatia.
"They told us they knew Serbia was present in Krajina. Deputy minister of internal affairs Vice Vukojevic did not speak about the presence of the SDB [State Security Service], but the presence of Serbia in the field in Krajina," RFJ-153 responded.
Commenting on RFJ-153's allegation that the Serbian SDB conducted training "aimed at establishing an SDB of SAO Krajina" at a camp in Golubic, near Knin, the defence lawyer asked the witness if he claimed that "Stanisic and the Serbian SDB trained the local police".
RFJ-153 answered negatively, saying that "the police did not fall under the responsibility of the SDB".
Stanisic's lawyer also pointed to the fact that, in his first statement from 2004, the witness did not mention that paramilitary groups known as 'Frenki's Men' and 'Arkan's Men', who, according to the charges, were under the control of the Serbian SDB, operated in Beli Manastir in Croatia's Eastern Slavonija area in the summer of 1991.
But RFJ-153 said that while in the field, he obtained information about the presence of these paramilitary groups.
He said that Radovan Stojcic, alias Badza, of the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs, as well as defendant Simatovic, were also present in the field, arguing that this could not have happened without approval from Belgrade.
The retrial of Stanisic and Simatovic is due to continue on Tuesday.
[back to contents]
Domestic Prosecutions In The Former Yugoslavia
Ex-rebels set to come out on top in Kosovo vote
June 12, 2014
The coalition of former ethnic Albanian rebel commanders won the most votes Sunday in Kosovo's general election, which also saw a surge in popularity for a nationalist party, according to preliminary results.
The ex-rebels came in first with around 35 percent of the vote. The nationalist Self-Determination Movement was neck-and-neck with the coalition led by former Prime Minister Isa Mustafa, which had around 26 percent each after the counting of about 70 percent of the votes, according to Democracy in Action, a monitoring group.
No group can govern alone and coalitions will be likely.
The new Cabinet will have a tough job in resolving several thorny issues, including the border demarcation deal with Montenegro. The approval of another agreement with Serbia giving more rights to the ethnic Serb minority, and the continuation of fraught talks with Belgrade, which denies Kosovo's existence as a state, were also key concerns.
Ramush Haradinaj, whom the leading coalition has nominated to be prime minister, hailed Kosovars "for the trust given to the coalition," adding "these are the best elections ever held" in Kosovo.
"The victory is convincing and make us capable of operating further to create the country's government," he said.
The final results for the new 120-seat parliament are expected later in the week. Ethnic Serbs and other minorities have 20 out of 120 seats in the parliament.
Self-Determination Movement officials celebrated the results, which saw the party double its share of the vote. The party has been a disruptive force in the previous parliament and is the biggest opposition party to shun pre-election coalitions. The party's members and supporters released tear gas inside parliament and threw firebombs outside it to protest the contentious deals with Montenegro and Serbia.
The party has nominated its former leader, 42-year-old Albin Kurti, as a candidate for prime minister.
If elected, the party says it "is the only one which is going to fight corruption in a successful way," send former officials to jail, end the current talks with Serbia while seeking a closer union with neighboring Albania.
Kosovo's election authorities say that preliminary figures put turnout in the country's general election at 41.79 percent.
Central Election Commission head Valdete Daka says that "there have been no problems that would gravely damage the process."
The turnout is smaller than in the previous polls, for example in 2014, when it was 42.63 percent.
Kosovo is the only western Balkan country whose citizens need visas to enter the EU's Schengen zone. To join, Brussels insists Kosovo's parliament must first approve a border demarcation deal signed with Montenegro in 2015.
Opposition parties say that deal meant a loss of territory, over 8,000 hectares (20,000 acres), or less than 1 percent of Kosovo's land. The former Cabinet, international experts and the country's Western backers dispute that claim.
The Self-Determination Movement and others also oppose another deal signed in 2015 that gave more rights to the ethnic Serb minority.
A further issue is the prospect of former ethnic Albanian senior rebel commanders facing prosecution in the newly established war crimes court. The court in The Hague is expected to shortly issue indictments for crimes committed against civilians during and after the 1998-1999 war with Serbia.
Macedonia Prosecution Faces Deadline to Press Charges
By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
June 19, 2017
With a June 30 deadline to press charges - which is unlikely to be prolonged by Macedonia's parliament - the special prosecution, SJO - tasked with probing high-level crime - says it will try to wrap up as manyinvestigations as it can by then.
"Various investigations are nearing their conclusion ... There is a possibility that we may press more charges before the end of this month, but that remains to be seen," a senior source in the SJO told BRN under condition of anonymity.
Unofficially, one of the investigations that the SJO is working on is the latest case, in which former Prime Minister and VMRO DPMNE leader Nikola Gruevski, along with ten other top party officials, are suspected of illegally financing the party through money laundering.
The investigation launched in May was codenamed "Talir".
"The SJO is working intensively on the 'Talir' case... suspects and witnesses are being summoned in the SJO for statements. We hope we will be able to wrap up this investigation soon and decide what to do next based on the evidence we gathered," the source told BIRN.
Formed in autumn 2015 as part of an EU-sponsored crisis agreement, the SJO has launched over 120 pre-investigative procedures, more than 20 investigations and filed charges in three cases. Almost all of them concern officials from the former ruling VMRO DPMNE party, which took power in 2006 and last month went into opposition.
The SJO effectively begun work that December after the then opposition Social Democrats, SDSM, handed over wiretapped materials that they said contained proof of many wrongdoings by officials.
Although the SJO has a five-year mandate, the original agreement gave it 18 months following receipt of the wiretaps to raise indictments. This means that the deadline to press charges in most cases expires on June 30.
The SJO, the new SDSM-led government formed last month and Macedonia's EU partners have all suggested prolonging the deadline. But parliament is unlikely to do so in the face of strong VMRO DPMNE opposition.
VMRO DPMNE, controls 51 of the 120 seats in parliament, which means that without them it is impossible to muster a two-thirds majority needed to prolong the deadline.
Last week, as former and current top politicians continued thronging the SJO headquarters, where they have been summoned to give statements, the new Prime Minister, Zoran Zaev, pledged to try to secure the continuation of the SJO's work.
"There are several ways of prolonging the [SJO] mandate," Zaev said, adding that only one of them is through parliament, using a two-thirds majority.
He said another option is for the Constitutional Court to assess the situation and possibly scrap the current limitations on the SJO's work as unconstitutional.
Another possibility is to incorporate the SJO as a separate department within the regular Public Prosecution, which would meanwhile undergo reforms, so that it can start working without political pressures.
The SJO says problems over deadlines will not halt its work. This is because the Law on the Special Prosecution stipulates that it remains free to conduct investigations even if it cannot press charges relating to them.
The SJO on May 22 said it had managed to listen to most of some 600,000 wiretapped conversations that the SDSM had handed over. However, it said that less than half have been investigated.
"Most of the recordings have been listened to, but the materials are not processed and analyzed," chief Special Prosecutor Katica Janeva said in May.
She said that during the summer, the SJO will focus on ongoing pre-investigation procedures and opened investigations and will resume probing fresh wiretaps from September onwards.
Senior Kosovo Ex-Guerrillas' Supreme Court Appeal Opens
By Die Morina
June 20, 2017
Former senior members of the Kosovo Liberation Army's so-called 'Drenica Group', Sylejman Selimi and Sami Lushtaku, alongside another ex-KLA fighter, Jahir Demaku, appeared for their first appeal hearing at the Supreme Court in Pristina on Tuesday and claimed there was not enough evidence to convict them.
Lushtaku compared the allegations against him to those against Kosovo Serb political party leader Oliver Ivanovic, who was convicted of war crimes against Kosovo Albanian civilians but then freed from custody after a retrial was ordered in February this year.
"I have asked for evidence from the prosecution all the time. If you refer to our indictment and that of Oliver Ivanovic, there are names of people who have been killed and he [Ivanovic] is at home today. We are in prison for murders that do not exist," Lushtaku said.
Lushtaku, who was the mayor of the Kosovo town of Skenderaj/Srbica, was sentenced in 2015 to 12 years in prison by the Basic Court in Mitrovica for a murder committed in 1998, although the victim's name was unknown and no body was found.
He was cleared on appeal in 2016 but his comnviction for "command responsibility for allegedly violating the [bodily] integrity and health of an undefined number of civilian Albanians held at the Likovc detention centre" was upheld.
His sentence was reduced from 12 to seven years in prison by the Appeals Court.
Selimi, Pristina's former ambassador to Albania and ex-head of the Kosovo Security Force, was convicted of torturing a civilian prisoner at the improvised KLA detention centre in the village of Likovc/Likovac in the Skenderaj/Srbica municipality in 1998 and early 1999.
His sentence was reduced on appeal to five years and three months in prison.
Selimi was also convicted of war crimes at a separate trial and was ordered to serve a combined total of ten years behind bars.
Lushtaku told the court that it was not true that he was the commander of the KLA's Drenica Operational Zone in September 1998, as stated in the indictment, but afterwards.
He further denied having lived near the place in Likovc/Likovac where the prosecution claims that the wartime detainees were held.
"I would really love for us to have been commanders, in the full sense of the word… but unfortunately we were not. It is commonly known that the KLA war was voluntary; neither I nor General Syla [Sylejman Selimi] nor Jahiri [Jahir Demaku] were commanders in offices, but in the front line," Lushtaku said.
Selimi simply told the court: "I don't trust this justice."
Lushtaku also said that he did not trust the justice system, insisting that the KLA's war was intended to protect Kosovo Albanian civilians.
"The KLA's war was not our desire, it was something imposed. Based on what I have read, I do not believe that being a KLA soldier is punishable. If you want to accuse us of the destruction that Serbia did, I do not trust this justice anymore," Lushtaku said.
The Supreme Court will make a decision on the men's appeal in the coming days.
[back to contents]
Grotian Moment: The International War Crimes Trial Blog
ISIS Has Killed Hundreds of Civilians in Mosul, U.N. Says
The New York Times
By Nick Cumming-Bruce
June 8, 2017
Islamic State fighters shot and killed hundreds of residents in the Iraqi city of Mosul in the past two weeks, the United Nations said on Thursday, describing an increasingly desperate drive by the jihadists to prevent civilians from fleeing.
Iraqi forces, backed by airstrikes from a United States-led coalition, have made advances into the city, and the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has responded in brutal fashion to halt the flight of civilians they want to use as human shields, the United Nations said.
The deadliest attack came June 1, when at least 163 civilians, including women and children, were killed near a Pepsi factory as they headed out of the Shifa neighborhood of Mosul, the United Nations' human rights office in Geneva said.
"They were gunned down as they were fleeing," said Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the human rights office, which reported that, as of two days ago, the bodies of the victims were still lying in the streets.
About 200,000 civilians were still trapped in desperate conditions in the old city of Mosul, targeted by jihadists and suffering heavy casualties from coalition bombing and artillery fire.
Iraqi forces had been advising Mosul residents to stay in their houses because of the street-by-street fighting and aerial bombing, but government aircraft have dropped leaflets in recent days urging residents of the old city to flee.
The United Nations reported that the Islamic State had shot and killed at least 231 civilians in the past two weeks, but Ms. Shamdasani said that many other people were missing and that the actual death toll was almost certainly higher.
Fighters killed 27 civilians in the Shifa area last month. On Saturday, they shot 41 more in the same neighborhood as they tried to reach positions held by advancing Iraqi forces, Ms. Shamdasani said.
Since Iraqi forces opened their campaign to retake western Mosul more than three months ago, the Islamic State has herded thousands of civilians into locations near the fighters' positions to form a human shield.
The militants have also positioned snipers on rooftops to shoot residents who try to flee, along with other steps to prevent their escape.
Civilians who have managed to get out have told of fighters killing men who were planning to leave and shooting fugitives fleeing through the streets, Amnesty International reported on Thursday.
Ms. Shamdasani said that the Islamic State "is getting increasingly desperate and increasingly overwhelmed by Iraqi forces, and their response to this is to up the cost of trying to flee."
In another episode at the end of May, Islamic State fighters locked nine civilians in a basement of a hospital. As government forces neared the hospital, the militants killed the civilians and then set fire to the building, Ms. Shamdasani said.
The mounting toll from Iraqi and coalition airstrikes prompted human rights organizations on Thursday to call on those forces to make greater efforts to avoid civilian casualties, and to halt the use of heavy weapons and munitions in densely populated areas.
The United Nations said it was investigating reports that airstrikes on Islamic State positions in the Zanjilly neighborhood of Mosul had killed as many as 80 civilians.
The episode is believed to be one of the worst of its kind since an airstrike in March hit a booby-trapped building where the Islamic State was keeping civilians, killing approximately 140 people.
Rights groups: Many casualties in Mosul from heavy weapons
The Washington Post
By Balint Szlanko
June 9, 2017
Large numbers of civilians are being killed and injured in western Mosul because Iraqi and U.S.-backed coalition forces are relying on the use of heavy weapons as they struggle to push Islamic State group militants from the city, human rights organizations warned.
Heavy ordnance, such as 500-pound (227-kilogram) air-delivered bombs, are causing excessive and disproportionate damage to civilian life and property, which is prohibited under international humanitarian law, organizations including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Center for Civilians in Conflict warned.
Their combined report released Thursday also pointed to the use of artillery systems, including heavy mortars and locally fabricated rocket launchers that lack a guidance mechanism, and are therefore inherently imprecise and indiscriminate.
"Such disproportionate military attacks are prohibited under international humanitarian law," the report said.
Backed by the U.S.-led international coalition, Iraq last October launched a wide-scale military offensive to recapture Mosul and the surrounding areas, with various Iraqi military, police and paramilitary forces taking part in the operation. The city's eastern half was declared liberated in January, and the push for the city's western section, separated from the east by the Tigris River, began the following month.
Iraqi forces are in their last push to drive IS militants from the remaining pockets of territory they still hold in the Old City where narrow streets and a dense civilian population are complicating the fight.
The use of powerful and often inaccurate weapons is problematic because a very large number of civilians — as many as 180,000, according to the United Nations — remain in the IS-controlled areas of the city, now little more than 1.5 square miles (4 square kilometers). The situation is made more difficult by IS' practice of using civilians as human shields and stopping people from leaving.
Many of the recently retaken areas of western Mosul are reduced to rubble, in some cases with entire families killed in airstrikes or shelling.
Amran Waabdullah Jumaa, 35, said his mother was killed on 12 May in an airstrike outside their house in the 17 Tammouz district. They buried her in the garden along with another woman who had died in the same strike.
"She was killed by these American smart bombs or whatever they call them," he said.
Ahmed Najim Abdullah, 27, a resident of the Zanjili district of western Mosul, lost three members of his family when their house collapsed on them after an airstrike. He was trying to dig the rest of them out from under the rubble when another rocket hit, injuring him in several places.
"It's well known that the houses there are very old, the missiles weigh over 200 kilos (440 pounds), it hits the house and when it hits one house the next four or five houses will collapse with it too," he said in his hospital bed in Irbil.
Military analysts say that Iraqi and coalition forces rely on these weapons because they are trying to minimize their own casualties, which have been considerable. According to a recent U.S. Defense Department report, Iraqi special forces have suffered a staggering 40 percent casualty loss in Mosul so far.
The U.S.-led coalition estimates that its airstrikes unintentionally killed at least 484 civilians between the start of the Mosul campaign and June 2. Airwars, the United Kingdom-based non-governmental organization that monitors airstrikes, believes the real number may be as high as 3,800. These numbers do not include the number of people who have been killed by artillery shelling, for which there is no reliable estimate.
Human Rights Watch Says Using White Phosphorous in Fight Against ISIS Harms Civilians
June 14, 2017
The U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq is endangering civilians by using artillery-delivered white phosphorous, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday, after reports that such weapons were used in the Syrian city of Raqqa.
HRW said it was not able to independently verify whether the use of the munitions resulted in any civilian casualties. The northern Iraqi city of Mosul and the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, the extremist group's de facto capital, have been under attack by different groups. The U.S. military says it uses white phosphorous in a lawful way.
White phosphorous burns at extremely high temperatures and can be used to illuminate conflict zones or obscure them with smoke. International law prohibits its use in civilian areas because of its indiscriminate effects, from starting fires to causing excruciating burns for bystanders, according to Human Rights Watch.
"No matter how white phosphorus is used, it poses a high risk of horrific and long-lasting harm in crowded cities like Raqqa and Mosul and any other areas with concentrations of civilians," said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch. "US-led forces should take all feasible precautions to minimize civilian harm when using white phosphorus in Iraq and Syria."
HRW, citing research and media reports, referred to several incidents in Raqqa and Mosul where artillery-fired white phosphorous was used. The group said the rationale for the use of the weapon is unclear as the U.S.-led coalition doesn't comment on specific incidents.
In a video released through its Aamaq news agency, IS said the U.S.-led coalition used white phosphorous over Raqqa last Thursday at dusk, when Muslims would have been breaking their Ramadan fasts.
The U.S. military refused to comment on specific allegations after last week's attack in Raqqa but said it uses white phosphorous rounds "in accordance with the law of armed conflict... in a way that fully considers the possible incidental effects on civilians and civilian structures."
HRW said U.S.-led forces in Mosul and Raqqa are using U.S.-made M825-series 155mm artillery projectiles containing 116 felt wedges impregnated with white phosphorus, which ignites and continues to burn when exposed to the air. This is the only type of 155mm white phosphorus projectile in U.S. stocks that can be air-burst, HRW said.
Neither IS nor Syrian government forces are known to possess or to have used the U.S.-made munitions, it said.
[back to contents]
U.S.-led airstrikes on Syria's Raqqa cause 'staggering' civilian deaths, U.N. says
The Washington Post
By Louisa Loveluck
June 14, 2017
Airstrikes by a U.S.-led coalition have caused a "staggering" loss of civilian life in recent months around the Islamic State's Syrian stronghold of Raqqa, a United Nations investigative body said Wednesday.
A U.S.-backed ground force entered the city with the help of coalition air raids last week, three years after the area became a hub from which Islamic State leaders planned expansion throughout the region and attacks around the world.
Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, chairman of the U.N. Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said Wednesday that coalition airstrikes have deepened the suffering in the city held by extremist fighters.
"We note in particular that the intensification of airstrikes, which have paved the ground for an SDF advance in Raqqa, has resulted not only in staggering loss of civilian life, but has also led to 160,000 civilians fleeing their homes and becoming internally displaced," Pinheiro told the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva. He referred to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a U.S.-backed militia dominated by Syrian Kurds.
The commission recorded 300 civilian deaths from coalition airstrikes in Raqqa province between March 1 and May 31, according to Karen AbuZayd, an investigator for the Commission of Inquiry on Syria.
Human rights and monitoring groups have warned for months of the rising human cost of the coalition's air war in Syria and Iraq as Islamic State forces stake out positions in densely populated civilian areas across what remains of the group's self-proclaimed caliphate.
On March 22, the U.N. commission recorded 200 civilian deaths at an old school building in the village of Mansoura that was sheltering displaced families from across the province.
"These figures have been corroborated by multiple witnesses," AbuZayd said.
The U.S. military said at the time that it was aware of the reports and was opening an investigation.
The activist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, which monitors violence in the province, provided The Washington Post with the names of 40 people who it said were killed at the school in Mansoura.
A representative from the group said the bodies of dozens more people without identification cards were believed to have been buried in mass graves.
The U.N. refugee agency made a public plea this week for better access to the province, where tens of thousands of civilians need assistance amid the fighting.
The U.S.-led coalition includes military personnel from dozens of countries, among them Britain, France and Australia. According to its latest report, at least 484 civilians have been unintentionally killed by coalition airstrikes since June 2014.
But the Britain-based tracking group Airwars puts that figure eight times higher, claiming that more than 3,800 people were killed in that period.
Although the nonprofit group previously tracked casualties from both U.S.-led and Russian strikes, it said it now is concentrating resources on claims relating to the U.S.-led coalition to keep up with their pace.
Fatalities from coalition bombing raids now outstrip those caused by Moscow's warplanes, according to Airwars.
The U.S. military said Tuesday that it has added five full-time members to a team that monitors civilian casualty claims. The team previously consisted of two full-time and two part-time personnel. Army Col. Ryan Dillon said that aviation, intelligence and legal experts were added to help boost the team's response time on civilian casualty reports.
At the U.N. Human Rights Council on Wednesday, Pinheiro warned that the fight against Islamic State forces must not be undertaken at the "expense of civilians who unwittingly find themselves living in areas" where the group is present.
Syria: Expert Analysis Shows US-Led Coalition Use of White Phosphorus May Amount to War Crime
June 16, 2017
The US-led coalition's use of white phosphorus munitions on the outskirts of al-Raqqa, Syria is unlawful and may amount to a war crime, Amnesty International can confirm after verifying five videos of the incident.
The videos, published online on 8 and 9 June, showed the coalition's artillery strike using the munitions over the civilian neighborhoods of Jezra and el-Sebahiya. International humanitarian law prohibits the use of white phosphorus near civilians.
"The use of white phosphorus munitions by the US-led coalition gravely endangers the lives of thousands of civilians trapped in and around al-Raqqa city, and may amount to a war crime under these circumstances. It can cause horrific injuries by burning through flesh and bone and can pose a threat even weeks after being deployed by reigniting and burning at extremely high temperatures," said Samah Hadid, Middle East Director of Campaigns at Amnesty International.
"The US-led forces must immediately investigate artillery strikes on Jezra and el-Sebahiya and take all possible measures to protect civilians. The use of white phosphorus in densely populated areas poses an unacceptably high risk to civilians and would almost invariably amount to indiscriminate attacks."
Amnesty International verified and cross-checked five videos that surfaced on 8 and 9 June 2017. The videos clearly show different angles of a white phosphorus air-burst and the same areas being targeted by burning elements of white phosphorus landing upon low-level buildings. Repeated use of white phosphorous in circumstances where burning elements are likely to come into contact with civilians violates international humanitarian law.
According to local monitoring group "Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently," and other local sources, at least 14 civilians were killed in one of the strikes. Activists from "Raqqa is being slaughtered silently" told Amnesty International that, in addition to the local civilian population, many internally displaced people from western Raqqa were also seeking refuge in the areas at the time of the attack.
US-made white phosphorus
According to Amnesty International's analysis, the white phosphorus munition artillery projectiles seen in the footage are most likely US-made 155mm M825A1's.
White phosphorus is most often used to create a dense smoke screen that can obscure the movement of troops from enemy forces, and to mark targets for further attack. While its use for such purposes is not prohibited, extreme caution is warranted whenever it is deployed. It should never be used in the vicinity of civilians.
"Force protection must not take priority over protection of civilians. US-led coalition and SDF forces must refrain from using powerful explosive weapons and imprecise weapons in populated areas and take all possible measures to protect the civilian population," said Samah Hadid.
Confirmation of white phosphorus use in Mosul, Iraq
The US-led coalition has confirmed its recent use of white phosphorous in the Iraqi city of Mosul but has yet to confirm its use in al-Raqqa. In Mosul, the US-led coalition claimed that it used white phosphorous to create a smoke screen to assist civilians in their escape from areas of the city under the control of the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS).
Fighting has been intensifying in al-Raqqa as Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) backed by the US-led coalition are pushing to gain control the city from IS. Hundreds of thousands of civilians remain trapped in and around the city.
Amnesty International is monitoring the conduct of all parties to the conflict in Raqqa, in accordance with their obligations under international humanitarian law and applicable human rights law.
U.S. aircraft shoots down a Syrian government jet over northern Syria, Pentagon says
The Washington Post
By Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Kareem Fahim
June 18, 2017
A U.S. strike aircraft shot down a Syrian government fighter jet Sunday shortly after the Syrians bombed U.S.-backed fighters in northern Syria, the Pentagon said in a statement.
The Pentagon said the downing of the aircraft came hours after Syrian loyalist forces attacked U.S.-backed fighters, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, in the village of Ja'Din, southwest of Raqqa. The rare attack was the first time a U.S. jet has shot down a manned hostile aircraft in more than a decade, and it signaled the United States' sharply intensifying role in Syria's war.
The incident is the fourth time within a month that the U.S. military has attacked pro-Syrian government forces.
A statement distributed by the Syrian military said that the aircraft's lone pilot was killed in the attack and that the jet was carrying out a mission against the Islamic State.
"The attack stresses coordination between the US and ISIS, and it reveals the evil intentions of the US in administrating terrorism and investing it to pass the US-Zionist project in the region," the Syrian statement said, using an acronym for the Islamic State.
Before it downed the Syrian plane, the U.S. military used a "deconfliction" channel to communicate with Russia, Syria's main ally, to prevent the situation from escalating, the Pentagon said.
U.S.-led jets stopped the fighting by flying close to the ground and at a low speed in what is called a "show of force," the Pentagon said.
About two hours later, despite the calls to stand down and the U.S. presence overhead, a Syrian Su-22 jet attacked the Syrian Democratic Forces, dropping an unknown number of munitions on the U.S.-backed force. Col. John Thomas, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, said that the Syrian aircraft arrived with little warning and that U.S. aircraft nearby tried to hail the Syrian jet after it had dropped its bombs. Thomas also said U.S. forces were in the area but were not directly threatened.
After the hailing attempts, a U.S. F/A-18 shot down the Syrian aircraft "in accordance with rules of engagement and in collective self-defense of coalition partnered forces," the Pentagon said.
Thomas rejected the Syrian government's claims that the aircraft was bombing the Islamic State, adding that Ja'Din is controlled by Syrian Democratic Forces and that the militant group had not been in the area for some time.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of predominantly Arab and Kurdish fighters, is a key proxy force for the U.S.-led coalition in Syria. The fighters were instrumental in retaking towns and villages from the Islamic State in recent months and are fighting to retake the group's de-facto capital of Raqqa.
Also on Sunday, Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps announced that it had launched a rare cross-border missile attack against Islamic State militants in eastern Syria. The missile strikes, launched from Iran, were in retaliation for twin Islamic State attacks earlier this month in Tehran on the parliament and the tomb of the leader of Iran's Islamic revolution that killed 18 people, according to a statement carried by Iran's official news agency.
The missile attacks had targeted a militant command center and other facilities in Deir Ez-Zour, a contested region in eastern Syria, where the United States, Iran and other powers and proxy forces are fighting for control. The strikes had killed "a large number" of militants and destroyed equipment and weapons, the statement said.
[back to contents]
Al-Qaeda is losing ground in Yemen. Yet it is far from defeated
June 10, 2017
Safe behind multiple walls of sandbags at his airbase on Yemen's coast, a United Arab Emirates army commander points at a map of southern Yemen liberally covered in red. It indicates, he says, the reach of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in March 2016. A second map, dated six months after his men marched ashore that month, has just a few red blotches left.
In a four-pronged attack, Emirati forces managed in a single day, without loss, to evict AQAP from Mukalla, one of Yemen's main ports and the capital of its largest province, Hadramawt. Soon after, the Emiratis took Zinjibar, a provincial capital 500km (300 miles) west of Mukalla, and Mansoura, its stronghold in Aden, the main southern port. Security at Yemen's gas terminal at Balhaf has been reinforced. "If we had not gone in, al-Qaeda would have held the south, and [Shia militias] the north, and Yemen would have been forever off the rails," says the commander, who is responsible for the UAE's 5,000-odd soldiers in Yemen. If only beating jihadists everywhere was as easy.
Though AQAP is still seen by some as al-Qaeda's most potent affiliate, its long arm looks shrivelled today. Its leaders still release videos appealing for lone wolves to strike America and its allies worldwide. But the last foreign attack it claimed, the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, a magazine in Paris, was more than two years ago. Even at its peak, it never looked very professional. Previous attempts to blow up synagogues or America-bound planes with printer-cartridges and booby-trapped underpants were botched. The sum of AQAP's successful foreign attacks since it was founded in 2009 can be counted on one hand.
The Pentagon says its drones have weakened AQAP. Barack Obama launched around 150 drone attacks on the terror group, wiping out its upper tier, including its best engineers. For the jihadists who survive, getting out of Yemen to kill foreigners has grown harder, thanks to three years of war and the destruction of transport hubs.
Emirati commanders give most of the credit for forcing al-Qaeda to pull back to themselves. Their forces are well-equipped, and they have carefully wooed local support. Before the assault on AQAP in March, the Emiratis paid, armed, kitted and briefly trained 30,000 fighters. Many of AQAP's recruits were tribal hangers-on, who pragmatically hung up their Kalashnikovs after their leaders ran away from the advancing Emiratis. Whereas Aleppo (in Syria) and Mosul (in Iraq) lie in ruins, Mukalla is almost unscathed.
But AQAP's retreat might not make it less dangerous. Shorn of territory, it has gone back to being an amorphous and largely invisible network. Hiding in mountain ranges as inaccessible as Afghanistan's Tora Bora, its leaders still manage over $100m in looted bank deposits, copious heavy weaponry ransacked from military bases, and multiple sleeper cells in cities which can be reactivated at any time. The war has created new opportunities for smuggling and protection rackets, which the jihadists undoubtedly exploit. Demand has also risen for guns for hire.
Few Yemenis would relish al-Qaeda's return. But given the mayhem now sweeping the south, the order they brought in their year-long rule of Mukalla appeals to some. After taking the port in March 2015, AQAP established a harsh but predictable judicial system. By contrast, their Emirati-backed successors have no courts to try prisoners. The jihadists were not conspicuously corrupt, say locals, with grudging respect. They paid civil servants' salaries, and were surprisingly flexible in their interpretation of sharia (Islamic law). Men were not forced to grow beards or stop work at prayer time. Male doctors persuaded clerics to let them operate on women, because they lacked female doctors.
UAE commanders now hope to secure Donald Trump's backing to stay in Yemen until their mission is accomplished. In the first five months of his presidency, Mr Trump has launched more strikes on Yemen than Mr Obama did in all of 2016, including one on the day after he took office. American boots are back on the ground, too, if in small numbers. To speed things up, the White House has eased restrictions on the authorisation of airstrikes.
Despite its success, the campaign against AQAP has critics. Some UAE officers wonder how long it will be before Yemenis view them as occupiers. Another fear is that AQAP's defeat might create space for Islah, the local offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, another Islamist movement against which the UAE is fighting. Instead of breaking al-Qaeda, Yemen's war could end up spreading it.
Warring parties in Yemen 'must take all feasible precautions' to minimize harm to civilians – UN envoy
United Nations News Centre
June 21, 2017
Civilians in Yemen continue to be killed and injured during Ramadan, despite calls for the conflict parties to respect their obligations under international law, the senior United Nations aid official in the country warned today.
"Targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure in Yemen continues during the holy month of Ramadan despite my repeated calls and the calls from the international community, including the UN Security Council, to all parties to the conflict to respect their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights laws, said Jamie Mcgoldrick, Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen, in a press statement.
On 17 June, at least 22 civilians, including six children, were reported killed and injured in a series of air attacks on a market in Sa'ada Governorate, near the border with Saudi Arabia.
"There were no reported military targets in the proximity of the market at the time of the attack, and no warning was issued to civilians in the area," said Mr. McGoldrick.
On 19 June, the power lines to the main water supply system in Dhamar City were damaged as a result of military activity, affecting one million people who rely on this water source and putting them at greater risk of death, given the current fast-spreading cholera outbreak in Yemen.
Following the attacks on the market in Sa'ada, the European Union and others in the international community have expressed concern over the reported deaths of civilians, noting that this is a stark reminder that Yemeni civilians are the ones bearing the brunt of a war that has devastated their country.
"The disregard for the loss of civilian lives and damage to civilian infrastructure at a time of great need, due to the combined effects of the cholera outbreak and the looming famine, continues to shock me and must end," underscored the Humanitarian Coordinator.
"Wars have laws and I implore that all parties to the conflict uphold their responsibilities to comply with international humanitarian and human rights laws," he continued. "The warring parties must distinguish between the civilian population and combatants at all times and between civilian objects and military objectives; and must take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians and civilian objects."
Mr. McGoldrick urged those influencing and arming the parties to use their position to end the conflict and to stop fuelling the violence.
"The humanitarian crisis is Yemen is entirely man-made and it is immoral to allow hardship and deprivation to continue. We must give hope to millions of Yemenis by showing that the world is not indifferent to their suffering," he concluded.
Saudi air strikes kill at least 25 in attack on Yemen market
By Samuel Osborne
At least 25 Yemenis have been killed in a Saudi-led coalition air strike on a market in the latest in a string of deadly bombings in the conflict.
Yemen has been engulfed by a civil war since September 2014, when Iran-backed Houthi rebels swept into the capital of Sanaa and overthrew the internationally recognised government.
The Saudi-led, US-backed coalition opposes the rebels, who still control the capital and much of the north.
The director of the Houthi-run Health Department office in Saada said the aircraft conducted two raids on al-Mashnaq market in Shada district, which is close to the Saudi border.
"Rescue teams were unable to reach the area for some time for fear of being hit by artillery shelling of the area," the official, Dr Abdelilah al-Azzi, told Reuters by telephone.
A Saudi-led coalition air strike killed 22 people and wounded dozens when it struck a market in western Yemen near the Red Sea fishing town of Khoukha in March.
The Yemen war has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced more than three million and ruined much of the impoverished country's infrastructure.
The Saudi-led coalition was formed in 2015 to fight the Houthis and troops loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh who have fired missiles into neighbouring Saudi Arabia.
In December, the coalition acknowledged it had made "limited use" of British-made cluster bombs, but said it had stopped using them.
Human rights activists have accused the Saudis of carrying out more than 80 unlawful attacks, some of which used UK-made bombs.
Nearly half of Yemen's 22 provinces are on the verge of famine, according to the UN World Food Programme.
[back to contents]
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
Prosecutors Give Summation at Trial of Khmer Rouge Leaders
Voice of America Cambodia
June 14 2017
Prosecutors at the trial in Cambodia of the surviving top leaders of the former Khmer Rouge regime have begun summing up their case, declaring that, despite the defendants' denials, the evidence clearly showed they knew of the suffering and deaths of their countrymen.
Khieu Samphan, the regime's 85-year-old former head of state, and 90-year-old Nuon Chea, right-hand man to the group's late leader, Pol Pot, are being tried on charges including genocide, rape and murder. An estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died during communist group's bloody reign in the late 1970s.
Co-prosecutor Chea Leang on Wednesday described Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge as a "slave state" in which everyone had to work endless hours on massive infrastructure projects or in rice fields, with any attempt at escape punishable by death.
Prosecutors urge life imprisonment for Khmer Rouge leaders
Laredo Morning Times
June 15, 2017
Prosecutors in the U.N.-backed trial of two leaders of Cambodia's former Khmer Rouge regime on charges of genocide and other crimes called Thursday for life imprisonment as the only appropriate punishment. Co-prosecutor Chea Leang concluded the prosecution's summation of the case by saying the evidence showed that Khieu Samphan, 85, and Nuon Chea, 90, were among the small group that planned and implemented the communist group's radical policies. He described the Khmer Rouge regime as "one of the most cruel and complete systems of human rights abuse put in place in any country in the 20th century." The Khmer Rouge has been blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million Cambodians from execution, starvation and inadequate medical care during its 1975-79 rule.
Khieu Samphan, the regime's head of state, and Nuon Chea, right-hand man to the group's late chief, Pol Pot, were already convicted of crimes against humanity in an earlier trial. The proceedings were split into two parts by the tribunal for fear that the defendants might die before a verdict was reached if it was kept as one. Also convicted earlier was the head of the Khmer Rouge prison system who ran a torture center in Phnom Penh. The current trial, which also holds them responsible for implementing policies leading to murder and rape, began in October 2014. "The only appropriate sentence for both accused is life imprisonment," Chea Leang said. "By handing down such a sentence it will reflect the gravity of the crimes committed by the accused." Cambodia does not have the death penalty. The Khmer Rouge seized power in 1975 after a bloody, five-year civil war. They immediately attempted a radical transformation of Cambodia into a peasant society, emptying cities and forcing the population to work on the land. They backed up their rule with ruthless elimination of perceived enemies, and were finally driven from power by an invasion from neighboring Vietnam, which had suffered border attacks from Khmer Rouge forces.
[back to contents]
Special Tribunal for Lebanon
Official Website of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon
In Focus: Special Tribunal for Lebanon (UN)
Donaldson speaks on attribution reports
The Daily Star
By Victoria Yan
June 21, 2017
After a monthlong hiatus of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, Andrew Donaldson, an investigator acting as a cellphone data analyst for the prosecution, testified in front of the trial chamber Tuesday. Donaldson spent all of Tuesday's hearing explaining the general methodology he employed when compiling attribution reports. Over the years, the analyst has authored several reports linking suspects indicted in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri to cellular phones used during the 2005 bombing, which also killed 21 others.
Donaldson particularly focused on the ways in which links could be drawn between a phone number and the identity of its user.
"What we would do for a particular number is go through a large number of its contacts and seek what we thought of as good opportunities – people who we thought were neutral and might be willing to give information," Donaldson said, responding to questions from prosecution counselor Laurence Carrier-Desjardins.
"For example, if we see someone has made a number of calls to a bank, we could send a Request For Assistance to [that] bank, for documents associated to the number," Donaldson said, to explain which contacts might be considered "neutral" or helpful to the prosecution.
With the help of a slideshow presentation, he noted that four separate types of text messages often gave clues regarding the phone's user.
Birthday messages, revealing which cellular contacts are family and friends, and other messages indicating important life events, such as a death, were among the examples that Donaldson gave the trial chamber.
Judge Micheline Braidy sought clarification as to which cellular devices Donaldson was analyzing data from.
"For all of the work which has gone into the attributing reports, whether it is a suspect phone or [otherwise], it doesn't matter. I have to establish what it [the significance of the device] is on my own means," Donaldson answered, indicating that his investigations extended to cell phones that did not necessarily have prior posited attribution to the four indicted suspects.
The analyst added that he had been involved in other aspects of the case while working on his attribution reports, which significantly opened up his pool of data, widening the scope of the references he could call on when writing the reports.
Toward the end of Tuesday's hearing, Carrier-Desjardins began to question Donaldson on more specific issues relating to his methodology in attributing cellphones to suspects Hassan Merhi and Salim Ayyash.
The prosecution counselor asked Donaldson to speak about his work on colocation analysis – a method of cellular investigation used to link multiple phones to a single user.
Donaldson's testimony and his attribution reports are critical for the prosecution, since none of the cellular devices used in the plot have been concretely linked to any indicted suspects. Confirmed attributions would solidify the prosecution's case against Merhi, Ayyash, Hassan Oneissi and Assad Sabra, who are being tried in absentia.
Donaldson is scheduled to continue his testimony Wednesday.
[back to contents]
Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal
War crimes charges pressed against 9 Mymensingh, Jamalpur men
Star Online Report
June 19, 2017
Prosecution today pressed eight charges against nine men from Mymensingh and Jamalpur in a case filed against them for allegedly committing crimes during the Liberation War in 1971.
Prosecutor Abul Kalam submitted the formal charges along with statements of prosecution witnesses and other documents before the International Crimes Tribunal-1.
The ICT-1 fixed July 10 to decide whether it will take the charges into cognisance.
The accused were "involved" in eight incidents of crimes where at least 101 people were killed, 10 to 13 people were injured, a woman was raped and 110 to 112 houses were torched in Muktagachha and Mymensingh Sadar, according to the investigators.
Among the eight charges, three were related with acts of genocide, one with rape and others with murder and other crimes, Abul Kalam told The Daily Star.
Of the nine accused, six are now in jail while the rest are on the run.
The arrestees are Abdus Salam, 75, Suruj Ali Fakir, 62, Joyen Uddin Faruki alias Joynal Abedin, 60, Abdur Rahim alias Abdur Rahim Master, 67, Jalal Uddin, 59, and Rustam Ali, 70. Shamsher Kakir, 66, Fazlul Haque, and Shamsul Haque, 70, are yet to be arrested, Kalam said.
The tribunal's investigation agency on March 29 completed probe of the case and said to have found evidence against the nine men. On that they, the agency handed over the report and other documents to the Chief Prosecutors' Office.
Of the nine, Abdus Salam was allegedly involved with Al-Badr force, while the rest were alleged Razakar men, agency said.
The charges are killing of four people of Binodbari Mankone village and setting fire at a house; killing of seven people at the same village, injuring two others and torching a house; killing of 14 people of Darikrishnapur in Muktagacha; killing of 19 people and injuring several others at the same village; killing of 28 to 30 people and injuring six to seven people of Mirzakanda Katalsar; killing of 16 to 18 people Kabirpur; rape of a woman of Birashi Purba Para and torching of 30 to 35 houses; and killing of 13 people Shasanich village.
[back to contents]
War Crimes Investigation in Burma
Military guilty of war crimes in northern Burma: Amnesty report
By Andrew D. Kaspar
June 14, 2017
A damning new report from Amnesty International paints a picture of northern Burma in which the military continues to act with impunity, accused of human rights abuses tantamount to war crimes just weeks after the appointment of a UN fact-finding mission to probe such concerns.
Focused on a period from mid-2016 to May 2017, the report documents abuses by both government troops and ethnic armed groups that it says could amount to war crimes, though the Burma Army is facing the brunt of the finger-pointing.
Extrajudicial killings, torture, indiscriminate shelling, and forced conscription and portering are among the accusations that the report lays at the boots of the Burma Army.
"The government of [State Counsellor] Aung Sang Suu Kyi has staked its legacy on ending the ethnic armed conflicts that have persisted for decades … [but] the Myanmar Army's treatment of civilians from ethnic minorities during the ongoing conflicts in Kachin and northern Shan States undermines such efforts, breeding resentment against the government and its armed forces," says the report.
"Many civilians in northern Myanmar, as well as experts who have monitored the situation for years, fear the conflict is intensifying — and that violations of human rights and humanitarian law could worsen. To avoid such a situation, accountability and respect for human rights need to be at the centre of the Myanmar government's agenda."
Amnesty conducted three field visits this year, over a period from March to May. The London-based human rights advocacy group interviewed more than 140 people in the course of its research, "including victims and direct witnesses to violations of the laws of war; local and international humanitarian officials; human rights defenders; and community leaders."
The Ta'ang National Liberation Army and the Kachin Independence Army, two of the main actors involved in the conflicts in Burma's north, defended the legality of their conduct when contacted by Amnesty. The government did not respond to questions from the organisation.
"The formal letter that we addressed to the State Counsellor's Office was copied by fax to other relevant ministries, including the Ministry of Defence, which remains under the military's control. We received confirmation of delivery but no response," Matthew Wells, senior crisis adviser at Amnesty International, told DVB.
President's Office spokesman Zaw Htay did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
The Amnesty report said that in addition to being victims of several documented human rights violations, civilians in Kachin and northern Shan states have suffered as humanitarian access to displaced populations has been curbed over the past year.
According to the report, "A senior humanitarian official said that the situation was more relaxed under the former [President] Thein Sein government than it is today, under Aung San Suu Kyi's government. 'It's clear the military is squeezing the population,' he said. 'It's the politicization of aid.'"
The Burma Army's 33rd and 99th Light Infantry Divisions were singled out as recurrent perpetrators of human rights abuses in Kachin and northern Shan States.
In one particularly troubling incident recounted in the Amnesty report, 18 men were allegedly led away by Burma Army soldiers and killed. Two witnesses said they heard gunshots after the men were taken and later discovered two graves in which the charred remains of the victims' bodies were discovered.
"They were villagers, not connected to [a fighting group]," the report quotes one of the witnesses to the alleged killings as saying. "They were married men with children, farmers."
Occurring in the wake of hostilities between the Burma Army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army in November, the report says the killings outside Nam Hkye Ho village, in Shan State, suggested "that the massacre may have been retribution or collective punishment for the villagers' perceived support of the [MNDAA] group."
In March, the UN Human Rights Council approved the formation of an independent fact-finding mission to probe allegations of recent human rights abuses in Burma, with a focus on — but not limited to — security forces' operations in northern Arakan State, where the military is accused of serious misconduct in its crackdown on Rohingya militants since October. On 30 May, the president of the UN Human Rights Council appointed three experts to lead the fact-finding mission.
"The ongoing conflicts in northern Myanmar have received too little attention outside the country, and should be prioritized as part of investigative efforts going forward," said Wells, adding that the Amnesty report would be shared with relevant UN personnel and that the organisation would "actively encourage them to follow up on our report, including by investigating specific cases we raise."
But Suu Kyi, speaking at a press conference with the Swedish prime minister in Stockholm on Monday, cast further doubt on her government's willingness to cooperate with the fact-finding mission — at least in northern Arakan State.
"A fact-finding mission appointed by the United Nations would not have helped the situation. It would have created greater hostility between the different [Muslim and Buddhist] communities," she said, addressing a reporter whose question focused on the Rohingya aspect of the probe and using a verb tense that seemingly suggested there was still some question as to whether a UN investigation would go forward.
"So the reason why we disassociated ourselves from the resolution that appointed the fact-finding mission was because we did not feel it was in keeping with the needs of the region, in which we are trying to establish harmony and understanding, and to remove the fears that have kept the two communities apart for so long."
Suu Kyi did not signal whether she considered an independent, international probe into the conflicts in northern Burma to be similarly inappropriate.
Burma has "disassociated" itself from the resolution establishing the fact-finding mission, and the extent to which the government will cooperate with the probe — if at all — remains an open question.
"We're not sure what posture the government will take at this point," Matthew Smith, director of the human rights advocacy group Fortify Rights, told DVB late last month. "Denying appointed experts access to the country will only intensify pressure on the situation. If the government is serious about ending violations, it would cooperate with the mission and do everything in its power to address the problems. That said, denied access won't prevent the mission from carrying out the mandate."
While the situation in northern Arakan State has garnered the bulk of international media attention since October, when Rohingya militants killed nine officers in attacks on border police posts, Kachin and Shan states have also long been fertile grounds for human rights monitors.
Several advocacy groups have worked for years to document army misconduct in the region, where ethnic armed groups, government-backed militias and the military all operate across sometimes competing territories. Shan State's ignominious status as the centre of opium production in Burma — the world's second-largest producer of the drug — further complicates dynamics, injecting profit motive into a conflict-torn arena where roughly one in 10 households in the state's north are "directly involved in opium poppy cultivation," according to a UN survey of nearly 600 villages released in March.
Wells said the latest Amnesty report further highlights the need for constitutional reform that would bring Burma's military under civilian control, a point that was included in the March resolution establishing the UN fact-finding mission.
"The sad reality is that many of our recent findings — army torture, extrajudicial executions, indiscriminate shelling — could just have easily been found in an Amnesty report written while Myanmar was under military rule," he said. "Despite much touted reforms in the country, the institution in most desperate need of change stubbornly refuses to do so.
"Until the military is brought under civilian control, and its soldiers held to account, the cycle of violence will continue, and civilians will bear the brunt."
No comment on Myanmar death extradition bid
June 20, 2017
The Home Office has refused to confirm if a formal request has been made for the extradition of a Scot suspected of murdering a teacher in Myanmar.
Harris Binotti, from Dumfries, is being sought by the Buramese authorities who want to question him over the death of another British man, Gary Ferguson.
Both men had been working as teachers in Yangon.
A Home Office spokesman said it would not comment on an extradition request until an arrest was made.
In April, Interpol issued a "red notice" - an international alert for a wanted person - for the Scottish teacher over the murder of his colleague.
It had been reported that Mr Binotti was living in Glasgow. However, Police Scotland said its officers had "no authority" to arrest a suspect who is the subject of an Interpol alert.
A Home Office spokesperson said: "As a matter of long standing policy and practice, the UK will neither confirm nor deny that an extradition request has been made or received until such time as the subject of the request is arrested in relation to the request."
Police Scotland said there was no update in the force's position on the case.
A spokeswoman added: "The Myanmar authorities have the lead in the investigation into the death of Peter Gary Ferguson.
"Police Scotland has no authority to arrest anyone at this stage. Police Scotland will continually monitor any ongoing risk and take all appropriate measures"
Mr Binotti reportedly took a flight from Myanmar to Thailand before Mr Ferguson's body was found in his flat in November last year.
Mr Ferguson and the 26-year-old accused are believed to have gone out drinking two nights before his body was discovered and neighbours reported hearing sounds of a fight.
Both men taught English at the Horizon International School in Yangon, in the south of the country formerly known as Burma.
Mr Ferguson, who had a four-year-old son, had worked there for a year while Mr Binotti had been there for three months.
[back to contents]
Israel and Palestine
Israel, Palestinians have failed to prosecute war crimes: U.N.
By Stephanie Nebehay
June 12, 2017
Both Israel and the Palestinians have failed to bring perpetrators of alleged war crimes - including killings - to justice, the United Nations said in a report published on Monday.
Compiled by the office of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, it evaluates compliance with 64 reports and 929 recommendations from the Council, the U.N. Secretary General and U.N. rights investigators from 2009-2016.
"The High Commissioner notes the repeated failure to comply with the calls for accountability made by the entire human rights system and urges Israel to conduct prompt, impartial and independent investigations of all alleged violations of international human rights law and all allegations of international crimes," the report said.
Zeid's report also noted "the State of Palestine's non-compliance with the calls for accountability and urges the State of Palestine to conduct prompt, impartial and independent investigations of all alleged violations of international human rights law and all allegations of international crimes."
The report looked set to ignite further debate at the U.N. Human Rights Council, where the United States said last week it was reviewing its membership due to what it calls a "chronic anti-Israel bias".
U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley gave formal notice last week that the Trump administration was reviewing its participation and called for reforms to put Israel "on equal footing".
The report said there had been a "general absence of higher-level responsibility" in Israel for violations in Gaza. "Only a handful of convictions, if any, (have been) issued for minor violations, such as theft and looting", it said.
Israeli and Palestinians authorities must ensure that victims of violations in their long conflict have access to justice and reparations, it said.
There was no immediate response from either side to the report, to be debated at the 47-member Council on June 19.
In March 2016, the Geneva forum launched the review aimed at "ensuring accountability and justice for all violations of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory".
At the time, it condemned grave breaches including possible war crimes committed in the 2014 Gaza conflict and "long-standing systemic impunity". It deplored Israel's "non-cooperation" with the United Nations' probes into Gaza and Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Israel, which is not a member of the Council, says it is unfairly targeted because, unlike other states, it is subjected to regular reviews of its compliance with U.N. reports and recommendations.
Benjamin Netanyahu to crack down on Israeli human rights groups
By Samuel Osborne
June 12, 2017
Benjamin Netanyahu has said there is a need to tighten Israel's laws to prevent foreign governments from funding Israeli human rights organisations.
The Prime Minister said the current law requiring some non-profit groups to disclose the funding they receive from foreign governments was not strong enough, Haaretz reported.
Mr Netanyahu said he had managed to stop funding from the Norwegian government, an apparent reference to Norway's decision to withdraw funds from a Palestinian women's organisation named after Dalal Mughrabi, who was part of the 1978 Coastal Road massacre that killed 38 civilians, including 13 children.
He said the move was part of "Israel's decisive foreign policy."
The current law, which requires Israeli organisations receiving a majority of their financial support from overseas governments to disclose their funding, mainly targets human rights groups.
There are only 27 Israeli organisations that receive more than half of their funding from foreign governments, according to the Justice Ministry.
Of those, 25 are human rights organisations.
It comes after Mr Netanyahu called for the dismantling of a UN agency that aids millions of refugees, which he accused of anti-Israeli incitement.
He accused the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) of perpetuating, rather than solving, the Palestinian refugee problem and said anti-Israeli incitement was rife in its institutions, which includes schools.
"It is time UNRWA be dismantled and merged with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees," Mr Netanyahu said.
Ben Jamal, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said: "There is only one reason that the UNRWA provides crucial humanitarian support to 5 million Palestinian refugees – the continuing illegal occupation of Palestinian land by the Israeli military and state and the denial of the right of return.
"Netanyahu's notion that the UNRWA 'perpetuates' Palestine's refugee problem suggests a break with reality. Netanyahu's defence minister Avigdor Lieberman said that disloyal Palestinian citizens of Israel should be beheaded, and his justice minster Ayelet Shaked described Palestinian children as 'little snakes'. Let's take his complaints about incitement with a pinch of salt."
UNRWA was established by the UN General Assembly in 1949 after hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes in the 1948 war that followed Israel's creation.
It says it currently aids five million registered Palestinian refugees in the Middle East.
Palestinian attackers killed after killing Israeli officer
By The Associated Press
June 16, 2017
Three Palestinians armed with an automatic weapon and knives killed a young female officer on duty near Jerusalem's Old City in near simultaneous attacks at two locations Friday evening, before they were shot and killed.
It was the latest bloodshed in a wave of Palestinian attacks on civilians and soldiers that erupted in 2015. At times the attacks were daily occurrences, but they have relatively subsided in recent months. However there have been a string of recent attacks near the Old City.
Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said Hadas Malka, 23, was responding to an attack nearby when a Palestinian assaulted her with a knife. Samri said Malka wrestled with the man for several seconds as he stabbed her multiple times before other officers saw what was happening and opened fire, killing him. She later died of her wounds in hospital.
Meanwhile nearby, Palestinians fired at officers with an automatic weapon and attacked them with knives before officers returned fire, killing them.
Since September 2015, Palestinian assailants have killed 43 Israelis, two visiting Americans and a British student, mainly in stabbing, shooting and vehicular attacks. In that time, some 250 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire. Israel identified most of them as attackers.
Israel blames the violence on incitement by Palestinian political and religious leaders compounded on social media sites that glorify violence and encourage attacks.
Palestinians say it stems from anger over decades of Israeli rule in territory they claim for their state.
Israeli Forces Kill Gaza Fisherman at Sea
Human Rights Watch
By Abeer Almasri
June 18, 2017
It is difficult to imagine the pain the Bakr family must have felt in July 2014, when an Israel Defense Force (IDF) missile killed four of their children, cousins Ismail, 9; Ahed, 10; Zakariya, 10; and Mohammad, 11, as they played football on the beach in Gaza.
Today, they grieve again, after IDF forces fatally shot another family member, Mohammad Bakr, 25 years old and the father of two, while he fished with two brothers, Omran and Fadi, and a cousin on May 15.
Citing concerns about weapons smuggling, the Israeli navy, which patrols Gaza's Mediterranean coast, limits Palestinian fishing to a zone south of the Israel-Gaza border and north of the Egyptian border, up to six nautical miles (recently extended on a temporary basis to nine) west of the Gaza coast. Omran told Human Rights Watch that an Israeli naval boat approached their small fishing boat as they sailed in the permitted fishing zone, about 1.3 nautical miles south of the northern maritime border and 3.5 nautical miles from the western boundary.
To avoid arrest or damage to their equipment they turned on their engine and headed southeast toward the Gaza harbor, Omran said. Within two minutes, the Israeli patrol came beside them and soldiers fired live and rubber bullets at the boat. Mohammad clutched the engine, hoping to keep the Israelis from firing on it, Omran said. A bullet struck Mohammad in the chest. He died later that day.
At the time, an IDF spokesman told reporters the boat had "deviated from the designated fishing zone" and that forces fired on it after fishermen ignored warning shots and advanced further out to sea.
International human rights law, applicable in policing situations, permits the intentional use of lethal force only when strictly necessary to protect against an imminent threat to life. Even accepting the IDF narrative, this standard was not met.
So far this year, one other fisherman died and six were injured in confrontations at sea with Israeli forces, according to the Palestinian human rights group Al Mezan Center for Human Rights. B'tselem, an Israeli human rights group, recently concluded that Israel's Gaza closure and "harassment of fishermen" have been "destroying Gaza's fishing sector," with 95 percent of fishermen living below the poverty line.
The IDF says it is investigating the incident. It also investigated the killing of the Bakr boys in 2014, only to exonerate itself from any wrongdoing, insisting that forces intended to strike militants they reasonably believed to be fleeing a Hamas "compound," even though a witness told Human Rights Watch that the children were running in the open waving their arms when struck. Laws of war require attackers to do everything feasible to verify that the target is a legitimate military objective and assume that people are civilians, not combatants.
Given the Israeli military's constant failure to credibly investigate potential wrongdoing and hold violators to account, it bears a significant responsibility to demonstrate to the Bakr family that this time will be different.
Advocates of a two-state solution argue that settlement construction pushes peace further away by making it more difficult to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
Israel's government says settlements are not the problem and that the core of the conflict is the unwillingness of Palestinians and other Arabs to accept a Jewish state in the Middle East.
The ground breaking at Amichai came ahead of a visit by Jared Kushner, Mr Trump's son-in-law, who the president has tapped to lead efforts at peacemaking between Israelis and Palestinians.
Mr Trump has not said publicly that he supports a two-state solution but his ambition to forge a deal that can be accepted by both Israelis and Palestinians as well as the broader Arab world implies that ultimately he is looking towards two states.
Mr Kusher will meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials and the White House said the meetings would be only the first of many as the US tries to broker a deal.
[back to contents]
North & Central America
Apalachicola grocer deported amid torture revelations
By Jeff Burlew
June 9, 2017
A man who fled El Salvador more than 20 years ago and resided for years in Apalachicola, where he raised a family and managed a local Piggly Wiggly store, was deported Friday amid shocking revelations he tortured guerrillas during his time in the Salvadoran Army.
Jose Francisco Grijalva Monroy, known to his friends as "Pancho," was removed from the United States and turned over to authorities in his homeland, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced in a news release.
"As this removal makes clear, ICE is working diligently to ensure our nation does not become a safe haven for human rights violators," said Marc J. Moore, director for the Miami Field Office of ICE's Enforcement and Removal Operations.
ICE officials said Monroy, 49, testified he tortured suspected guerrillas by hanging them by their hands from trees and slapping their chests with his bare hands. He also admitted he tied guerrillas to the back of an Army Jeep and dragged them along the road until their skin came off.
Franklin County Sheriff A.J. "Tony" Smith said news of Monroy's deportation and his involvement in torture stunned people in the coastal town southwest of Tallahassee.
"I am shocked," Smith said. "And I think the entire community is going to be shocked by it just because he was someone who was highly thought of in the community, worked hard and was raising a family.
"We're a small, close-knit community. He worked at a small grocery store four blocks from my house. It's tragic."
Tamara Suarez, owner of Cafe Con Leche in Apalachicola, where Monroy's wife works, said her heart aches for the family, including the couple's two sons. Suarez, who fled Venezuela in 1987, said Monroy must have acted under duress during his time in the army.
"If he was a soldier, he was doing whatever they told him to do," she said. "He was very young and doing what he had to do. I don't approve of that. I guess he never told me those things. I knew he had fought."
But Suarez called Monroy a "good person" who was always eager to help.
"I'm terribly, terribly sad for him," she said.
El Salvador was engulfed in a civil war throughout the 1980s between its right-wing, government-backed military and leftist guerrillas. Salvadoran Army soldiers raped, tortured and murdered people during the 12-year conflict, which ended in 1992 after the deaths of 75,000 people and the disappearances of thousands more.
Monroy's attorney, Gisela Rodriguez of Tallahassee, said his story is similar to other men from El Salvador, who were forced to join the Army as kids. She said he deserted the army more than 30 years ago and was sentenced to 10 years in prison in El Salvador but served only 11 months. After his release, he fled the country in 1995.
She said he never wanted to do any of the things he admitted to doing but was told if didn't follow orders he would pay with his life.
"I feel for all the victims of the horrible conflict that took place in El Salvador, those forced to participate in it and those who lost their lives as a result," she said. "But, before one labels Mr. Monroy a war criminal, one must fully evaluate and understand all the facts and not be so quick to judge."
Beth Wright, an Apalachicola resident who set up a GoFundMe page for Monroy after his arrest, said he was a soldier following commands in a conflict worsened by the U.S. government's support of the Salvadoran military and Nicaraguan contras.
"If he indeed did the things ICE says he did, he did them as a soldier in an army, and soldiers have to follow orders," she said in an email. "And it's my belief he redeemed himself fully after coming to the United States and making a new life. Pancho has always been kind to people here in Apalachicola. Everyone loves him."
But Linda Miklowitz, a Tallahassee attorney, suggested Monroy didn't deserve sympathy.
"To those who excuse a torturer for 'just following orders,' have you heard of the Nuremberg war crimes trials and how the panel of judges ruled on that defense?" she asked in a comment posted on Tallahassee.com. "Get smart."
A federal immigration judge ordered Monroy deported in 2011, though he was allowed to remain in the country. He was picked up by ICE officials in February and held in the Wakulla County Jail, which houses federal immigration detainees.
His arrest came days after President Donald Trump issued an executive order directing agencies to prioritize the removal of immigrants who have criminal charges or convictions or who pose a risk to public safety or national security.
He was charged in 1997 with aggravated assault in Franklin County, but the case was dismissed after he completed a deferred prosecution agreement. It was not clear whether the old arrest played any role in his deportation.
ICE said his immigration case was litigated by its Orlando Office of Chief Counsel, with support from the agency's Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center. The center was created in 2009 to find, track and prosecute human-rights abusers using the expertise of agents, lawyers, intelligence specialists and others.
Monroy faces an uncertain future in his homeland. Last year, the El Salvadoran Supreme Court struck down a longstanding amnesty law, a move that allowed prosecutors to go after soldiers who participated in war-time atrocities.
"I know the guy," Suarez said. "He wanted a new life with his wife and kids. Now he has nothing."
ICE targets war criminals
The federal agency said that since 2003, it has arrested more than 380 people on human-rights violations and physically removed 785 people known or suspected to have violated human rights. The agency also facilitated the departure of more than 100 other such individuals from the U.S., it said.
ICE said it has more than 160 investigations into suspected human-rights violators and more than 1,750 leads and removal cases into people suspected of committing human-rights violations in nearly 100 countries.
The agency said that since 2003, it has issued more than 70,400 lookouts for suspects from more than 110 countries and stopped 213 human-rights violators and suspected war criminals from entering the country.
U.S.-Led Airstrikes in Syria Killed Hundreds of Civilians, U.N. Panel Says
The New York Times
By Nick Cumming-Bruce
June 14, 2017
Airstrikes by the American-led coalition against Islamic State targets have killed hundreds of civilians around Raqqa, the militant group's last Syrian stronghold, and left 160,000 people displaced, a United Nations panel said on Wednesday.
The findings of the panel, which has been documenting the war in Syria with periodic reports almost since the conflict began more than six years ago, reinforced fears by humanitarian groups over the heavy loss of civilian life that would result from the American-led coalition's airstrikes.
Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, the Brazilian diplomat who leads the panel, said the airstrikes had escalated as an American-backed militia known as the Syrian Democratic Forces moved recently to retake Raqqa, which Islamic State fighters seized in 2014 and made their de facto capital.
"We note in particular that the intensification of airstrikes, which have paved the ground for an S.D.F. advance in Raqqa, has resulted not only in staggering loss of civilian life, but has also led to 160,000 civilians fleeing their homes," Mr. Pinheiro said in a report, presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
It was the first time Mr. Pinheiro's panel had focused on American military conduct that has led to heavy civilian casualties and other suffering.
The panel's investigators found that 300 civilians had been killed in the airstrikes since March 21, panel member Karen Abuzayd told reporters in Geneva later. They included 200 civilians killed in a single incident in March when an airstrike hit a school in the town of Mansoura, she said.
The attack on Mansoura, shortly after midnight on March 21, hit a school building housing families that had fled the fighting around Palmyra and other towns, investigators said. Initial reports said up to 40 people had died in the bombing, but rescue workers and other witnesses interviewed by the panel said that as operations to clear the rubble progressed the death toll had climbed to around 200. The United States military has said it is aware of the reports of higher casualty figures in Mansoura and is investigating.
The Mansoura attack came on a day that the American-led coalition conducted 19 airstrikes on targets in the vicinity of Raqqa and a week after 49 people reportedly died when coalition aircraft struck the village of Al Jinah in western Aleppo Province. In that strike, residents said coalition aircraft had hit a mosque but American officials said they had hit a meeting of Al Qaeda operatives, producing satellite images which showed the mosque was still standing.
The recapture of Raqqa would be a significant step in the drive to eliminate the Islamic State's hold on Syrian territory, and in the wider battle between President Bashar al-Assad's government, backed by Russia and Iran, and rebel forces supported by the United States and Arab regional powers to decide the future of Syria.
Mr. Pinheiro's panel, officially known as the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, has been chronicling evidence of war crimes and other atrocities in exhaustive detail.
Success in purging Raqqa of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, would free thousands of civilians from the group's rule, Mr. Pinheiro said, including women from Iraq's Yazidi minority who have been held as sex slaves for almost three years. But "the imperative to fight terrorism must not, however, be undertaken at the expense of civilians who unwillingly find themselves living in areas where ISIL is present," Mr. Pinheiro said.
Its report echoed deepening fears among humanitarian agencies over the toll in civilian lives exacted by American and coalition forces in the campaign to eliminate the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria.
Airwars, a nonprofit group monitoring reports of civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria, has estimated that at least 3,100 civilians were killed in coalition airstrikes since the onset of the war against Islamic State in August 2014 up to March 2017, more than eight times the 352 civilian casualties acknowledged by the United States military.
The number of civilians killed in coalition attacks has raised questions among human rights organizations over whether the greater autonomy the Trump administration has allowed military commanders on the battlefield has diverted attention from protection of civilians. Those concerns were further underscored by reports last week that coalition forces attacking Islamic State positions around Raqqa had used munitions containing white phosphorus, a weapon banned in populated areas under international law. United States officials said last week that the weapons were not being used against people.
Canada's rhetoric about strengthening the international order is at total odds with its actions at the UN
By Noah Weisbord
June 19, 2017
On June 2, 2017, with storm clouds gathering in the Middle East, the Korean Peninsula, and the South China Sea, diplomats from around the world met at United Nations headquarters to strengthen the post-World War II prohibition on aggressive war. Canada's delegation sought to weaken it.
The move came just days before Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland delivered her first major foreign policy speech, committing Canada to "the renewal, indeed the strengthening, of the postwar multilateral order" and "the principled use of force." This rhetoric is squarely at odds with the Trudeau government's actions in New York.
International Criminal Court member states, including Canada, gathered at the UN to plan for the December 2017 activation of the crime of aggression. A prosecutable crime of aggression will strengthen the prohibition on war by making leaders—rather than their populations — personally responsible for the wars they start. Had the crime of aggression been law in 1990, for example, Iraqi president Saddam Hussein could have been punished for the invasion of Kuwait (as U.S. President George H.W. Bush and U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher discussed at the time), rather than levelling crippling sanctions on Hussein's already oppressed population. When Hussein was captured in 2003, he was indicted for international crimes including the invasion of Kuwait, but executed before the aggression case got underway.
The crime of aggression allows domestic and international courts to make principled, as opposed to political, determinations on whether a war is legal or illegal. It is based on the UN Charter and customary international law, which are binding on all states. Aggressive acts enumerated in the definition of the offence include invasion, bombardment, blockade and armed attacks on another state's forces. If a state ratifies the crime of aggression—as 15 of our NATO partners have already done—and incorporates it into domestic law, its courts have the authority to prosecute rogue leaders. If they falter, the ICC could step in and prosecute perpetrators, as it currently can in cases of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
The crime of aggression would provide domestic and international courts with a powerful check on authoritarian power. Criminal accountability will not end war, but it may change the broader rules of domestic and international politics so that aggressive war is no longer such a tempting option. Even where countries do not sign onto the law or opt-out, an activated crime of aggression will provide opponents of authoritarian leaders with the legal leverage to curtail impulsive wars. Arguably, had aggression been a prosecutable crime in 2003, U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair—who relied heavily on the legal advice of his attorney general—would not have brought his country to war in Iraq. A clear legal standard will provide a rejoinder for the leaders of states such as Israel that are unfairly maligned in political fora for legitimate uses of force, such as self-defence, in response to an armed attack on their territory.
The rule of law is under threat from authoritarian populists hostile to democratic checks on their powers. Presidents Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Nicolás Maduro attack the media and bully the judiciary. Putin invades Ukraine with impunity and Kim Jong-un threatens a pre-emptive nuclear strike. Even in the U.S., there has been a steady accumulation of war-making authority in the executive over the past four decades, as U.S. presidents from both parties have learned to circumvent congress and the judiciary in their war-making decisions. Given the looming risk of a nuclear incident, domestic checks and balances on executive power may not suffice. It is time to strengthen the international rule of law, not weaken it.
Canada chaired the 1998 Rome Conference that established the International Criminal Court and facilitated the 2010 compromise in Kampala that planted the definition of the crime of aggression in the cannon of international law, alongside genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Part of the Kampala compromise was a delay before activation to give states time to adjust. That adjustment period expires on June 26th.
Canada helped broker the Kampala agreement, yet, recently, Global Affairs invoked legal arguments that would narrow the scope of the law and limit its jurisdiction. Our delegation has marginalized Canada by arguing that the amendment process that garnered consensus in Kampala was faulty. It appears that our delegation may be preparing to sink the agreement—a move that is unlikely to help Canada win a seat on the UN Security Council. Sinking the agreement would also be a rebuke to the 15 NATO partners that have already ratified it. Our delegation's current position would dial back the gains made in Kampala, provide avenues within the new regime for rogue leaders to use force as they please, and weaken an enforcement system that should be buttressed instead.
The enforcement of international criminal law has been more successful than most people realize, although it takes place domestically more than in The Hague. But even in The Hague courts, there has been decent success. Every one of the 161 Yugoslav war criminals indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia was captured or killed. The Rwanda Tribunal had similar success. Once powerful presidents, prime ministers and vice presidents have been brought before the ICC. The first aggression defendants at the ICC will likely be handed over by successor regimes, as Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo was for other international crimes.
Canadian critics of the crime of aggression worry that it will put a chill on humanitarian intervention. In fact, established judicial procedures provide a tested means of distinguishing genuine humanitarian intervention from spurious self-interest under the guise of "Responsibility to Protect." Critics worry that the crime of aggression will destabilize international relations by impeding negotiated solutions to international disputes. Leaders who invade other states are the real threat to international peace, not the laws enacted to check them.
[back to contents]
Colombia: Armed Groups Oppress Riverside Communities
Human Rights Watch
June 7, 2017
Two armed groups competing for control over stretches of Colombia's San Juan river are committing serious abuses against Afro-Colombian and indigenous Wounaan riverside communities, Human Rights Watch said today. The National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas and the paramilitary successor group Gaitanist Self-defenses of Colombia (AGC) have been engaged in conflict with one another in the Chocó province for years.
Human Rights Watch has documented evidence of responsibility by both groups for a range of abuses against scores of victims in the Litoral de San Juan municipality and in rural areas of the Buenaventura district. The abuses include killings, child recruitment, planting landmines, and threats, and have resulted in the displacement of thousands of people in recent years. Armed groups have also limited families' ability to work on the river and in the neighboring hills. Human Rights Watch research suggests that such abuses in Litoral de San Juan are illustrative of abuses in other municipalities in the province. The Colombian government is obliged to provide adequate shelter to those who flee, but its efforts to do so have fallen short.
"As they dispute control over the San Juan river, these two armed groups have displaced hundreds of families and forced many others to confine themselves to their immediate villages," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. "Unless the authorities protect them, the promise of peace in Colombia will continue to be only an abstract idea for these vulnerable communities in Chocó."
The official estimate of almost 3,000 people displaced in 2016 from Litoral de San Juan, with a population of 15,000, makes it the municipality with the second highest number of displaced people after the big port city of Buenaventura, which has for years had high rates of forced displacement. In the first two months of 2017, over 1,300 people were forced to leave their homes in Litoral de San Juan, according to Colombia's ombudsman's office.
Even as the ELN, a leftist armed group, conducts peace talks with the Colombian government in Quito, Ecuador, its fighters are injuring and abusing community members. Abuses have occurred both during fighting against the government and the AGC and through the group's efforts to impose social control on riverside communities. The peace talks started in February, after two years of exploratory negotiations. The parties are discussing an agenda item called "humanitarian actions and dynamics" which, according to an agreement reached in April, is meant to protect civilians from the armed conflict in conformity with international humanitarian law (the laws of the war).
"The negotiating parties in Quito should address the abuses inflicted on people in Chocó as part of their discussions," Vivanco said. "If the ELN is serious about peace, it should at least respect the most basic laws of war."
"Unless the authorities protect them, the promise of peace in Colombia will continue to be only an abstract idea for these vulnerable communities in Chocó." José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director.
The AGC, which emerged after a flawed paramilitary demobilization more than a decade ago, has also been implicated in many abuses. On April 16, two boat drivers were abducted from the Afro-Colombian community of Pichimá Playa and killed. Local officials who had looked into the case told Human Rights Watch that they believe that the AGC were responsible. In August 2016, two members of the AGC allegedly attacked a woman on a hill, injuring her to force her to provide information about community leaders. Human Rights Watch also received credible allegations that both the ELN and the AGC recruit children by force to join their ranks or work as informants and that AGC members have pressed girls as young as 12 to become their sexual partners.
The hills flanking the villages provide cover for the armed groups, and the river is a vital, contested transit corridor to the Pacific Ocean. Both groups are seeking to control the area, so the villagers' daily activities —fishing, tending crops, woodcutting, and foraging for materials for craftworks — expose them to threats and violence. Sometimes villagers are trapped by fear of crossfire or of landmines, and at other times, the armed groups impose restrictions on villagers' movements, impeding their livelihoods.
In 8 of the 16 communities Human Rights Watch visited in March, residents said that one or both groups had inhibited their ability to engage in such daily economic activities as fishing, chopping wood, and growing crops. They said it was often difficult to get food and drinkable water. In one instance, on February 19, a Wounaan community reported that the ELN had "forbidden" residents from going out to fish, hunt, or harvest.
Many residents said they fear retaliation for reporting abuses in part because they believe that authorities or others may leak information to armed groups. "I am afraid" of reporting, one Afro-Colombian villager said. "Nobody knows who is who and what might get you killed."
Human Rights Watch also documented that government assistance to displaced families is lacking. Under Colombian law, authorities must guarantee victims of displacement decent shelter and food. Yet scores of displaced people from Litoral de San Juan live in deplorable conditions. In one example, when a community of more than 450 people was displaced to the town of Docordó in May 2016, most of them had to sleep for more than eight months on the floor of a community center with no interior dividing walls. Some contracted preventable illnesses such as diarrhea. Many community members said that inadequate sustenance in host communities was forcing them to return to their villages even though they did not feel safe there.
"Residents of the San Juan riverside communities are often left to their own devices," Vivanco said. "Many displaced families are forced to decide between overcrowded and unhealthy conditions in the cities and the very real threat of abuses by armed groups in their villages."
Abuse from Both Sides
Human Rights Watch visited Litoral de San Juan and also communities farther south along the San Juan river in the Valle del Cauca province and along the nearby Calima river.
Human Rights Watch interviewed residents from 20 Afro-Colombian and Wounaan communities, as well as local officials and workers with aid organizations operating in the area. Most of the interviews were conducted in Litoral de San Juan in March. Some people were interviewed in Quibdó, the provincial capital, and some were interviewed by telephone. Many people interviewed said that they feared reprisals and spoke on condition that their names and other identifying information would be withheld, including the names of their communities. The research also drew on government data and official reports.
Human Rights Watch also interviewed officials, aid workers, and community leaders about the situation in other areas of Chocó, including the municipalities of Lloró, Alto Baudó, and Rio Sucio, farther north. The research suggests that the abuses documented in Litoral de San Juan are illustrative of abuses in other municipalities in the province.
Killings and Other Physical Violence
The research suggests that both the AGC and the ELN terrorize villagers to keep them from cooperating with government authorities, as well as to extract information on the activities of community leaders. Such abuses contribute to villagers' flight from the area or to curtailing their ability to fish and grow crops. Cases of killings and other violent abuses, drawn from interviews and media reports, include:
- On April 19, Navy officers found two men dead from bullet wounds, a Navy commander told the media. Days before, Colombia's ombudsman's office had reported that the men had been kidnapped from the Afro-Colombian community of Pichimá Playa on the San Juan river, allegedly by the AGC. Two government officials and a leader of the General Community Council of the San Juan River (ACADESAN, Consejo Comunitario General del Río San Juan) – a representative body that includes members of 72 Afro-Colombian communities by the San Juan river – told Human Rights Watch that the men worked as boat drivers and that armed men the government officials believed to be AGC members abducted the men when they were on their way to pick up worshipers going to an Easter celebration. Initial investigations suggest that the men were killed shortly afterward, an official from the ombudsman's office told Human Rights Watch on April 25. In a public statement released on April 26, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) said that the victims were siblings of an imprisoned FARC guerrilla.
- On March 25, five people were killed in the riverside community of Carrá . The Attorney General's Office reported that seven ELN members apparently killed the men and left an ELN flag in the community. The ELN first denied the claims, but one of their peace negotiators later said the group was not sure what had happened and would "acknowledge the mistake" if they were indeed involved. A justice official who took testimony from Carrá community members told Human Rights Watch that there was no clash between armed groups on the day of the deaths but that men wearing the ELN emblem had appeared in town and fired indiscriminately. An ACADESAN leader gave a similar account. She declined to say which group they were from.
- On February 4, four members of an armed group allegedly detained, beat, and interrogated a man from a Wounaan community on the Calima river. The man was working on a hillside near the village when armed men stopped him at around 11 a.m., Colombia's ombudsman's office reported. They released him nine hours later, covered with bruises. A leader from a neighboring village told Human Rights Watch that, as the assailants beat the man, they asked whether he knew a certain person. Wounaan groups said in a public statement that the attackers were "paramilitaries," a term community members normally use for the AGC. After the incident, community members stopped leaving the village for fear of such crimes, and later the entire community left for Buenaventura.
- On August 15, 2016, two AGC members attacked a woman who was with her husband on a hill overlooking the San Juan river. A community leader and a Chocó official who took testimony from the victim said the attackers slashed four of her fingers with a knife and hit her chest and back, demanding information about various community leaders. Human Rights Watch researchers saw photos of the victim's cut fingers. Days later, all the families in the village and a neighboring village fled as a result of this incident and fearing new abuses, community leaders told Human Rights Watch. When Human Rights Watch interviewed them in March in the town to which they had fled, they said most had yet to feel safe enough to return.
Recruitment and Use of Children, and Interference with Education
Both the ELN and AGC have in recent years recruited children in communities of the Litoral de San Juan and have attempted to recruit many others. Several justice officials and representatives of aid organizations said that recruitment of children is common but that victims' relatives typically do not report it for fear of reprisals. An ACADESAN leader said that since early 2015, 30 children have been forcefully recruited by armed groups in communities ACADESAN represents by the San Juan river. Examples include the following:
- In February, armed men forcefully recruited a 15-year-old girl from the Wounaan community of Chagpien Tordó on the San Juan river, an aid group working in the area reported. After that, 106 community members fled to Buenaventura. Families who stayed in the village fear that four remaining young girls will be forcefully recruited, the organization reported. From Buenaventura, a leader of the community told the media that the ELN had taken three children from the community recently and that the guerrilla supposedly had a list of more children there it planned to recruit.
- In June 2016, three armed ELN guerrillas accosted a Wounaan village on the San Juan river, brandishing a list of five boys they wanted to join their ranks, a community leader told Human Rights Watch. The children's families fled to Buenaventura, he said, but had to return shortly thereafter because they could not get humanitarian assistance in the city. Several teachers at the community's school said that since that recruitment attempt, many parents have kept their children out of school. Children must take a boat at dawn to attend school, and parents fear they will be forcibly recruited during the journey, teachers said.
- Human Rights Watch received credible allegations that groups use children as informants about their communities. In one Wounaan community on the San Juan river, for example, a teacher said that the ELN uses many children ages 16 to 18 to tell them what is going on in the village.
- Because parents are often reluctant to report recruitment, some cases are revealed only when children are killed in combat or arrested. A Chocó justice official told Human Rights Watch that a girl in the ELN ranks was killed during a bombing by the Colombian armed forces in 2016. Members of an indigenous community by the San Juan river later recognized her as a relative, the official said. In April, the Navy arrested 12 alleged members of the AGC, including three children, the Attorney General's Office reported.
- AGC members asked a 17-year-old boy from an Afro-Colombian community on the San Juan river to join their ranks in December 2015, a neighbor told Human Rights Watch. The boy refused and fled with his family, who feared the group would take him by force. A member of the AGC had also threatened to kill the boy's sister, the neighbor said.
Human Rights Watch also received credible allegations that AGC members coerced girls as young as 12 to be their sexual partners. In one Afro-Colombian community, two residents said that at least five girls under 18 have become pregnant by AGC members in recent years. A 12-year-old girl gave birth to the child of an AGC member in March 2016, and fled with her newborn daughter for fear of the group, a relative said. A 15-year-old girl became pregnant with the child of an AGC member in 2012. "My parents didn't do anything because they are afraid," her sister said.
A Chocó justice official and an official with the ombudsman's office said in separate interviews that child pregnancies by AGC members are common in other nearby communities as well. The official from the ombudsman's office said that, in some cases, such pregnancies resulted from rapes, but that families generally refrain from reporting rapes for fear of reprisals.
In addition to depressing school attendance through the threat of recruitment, armed groups disrupt education through firefights and by seizing schools for use by fighters. In several communities, leaders and teachers said that classes had been interrupted in 2016 and 2017, sometimes for weeks, because children and teachers feared abuses or getting caught in confrontations, which have at times taken place near schools. On February 19, for example, the Colombian navy engaged in a shootout with the AGC for 45 minutes behind the school that serves the Afro-Colombian community of Carrá , residents told Human Rights Watch.
Armed groups apparently have at times used local schools as military bases or taken up positions in schools during hostilities. Around August 2016, ELN guerrillas temporarily occupied a Wounaan village school and threatened the teacher, an aid group that works in the area told Human Rights Watch. The teacher was forced to flee to a neighboring city, Wounaan leaders said in a public statement, after ELN members phoned and threatened to "disappear" him if he did not either leave the school or pay them five million Colombian pesos (around US$1,720). The ELN denied the allegations in an online public statement.
A teacher in an Afro-Colombian community said that AGC members, during a firefight with the Colombian army around September 2016, took cover in another school while classes were in session. A justice official said that the AGC often uses that particular school for military purposes.
Use of Antipersonnel Landmines
The 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, to which Colombia is a party, bans antipersonnel landmines. Their use is a violation of international law. Yet Human Rights Watch received credible reports of ELN and AGC use or possession of antipersonnel landmines in riverside communities. As noted above, fear of incidents with landmines or other explosive devices have curtailed villagers' movement and their ability to carry out their economic activities. Credible reports on the use or possession of antipersonnel landmines include the following:
- In January 2017, three antipersonnel landmines exploded near the water main used by an Afro-Colombian community on the San Juan river. The explosions injured a Marine, officials reported. The ELN later acknowledged in a public statement that it had used the landmines and said that "three state agents were mutilated and others [had] other types of wounds." When Human Rights Watch visited in March, community members said that fear of landmines had kept them from cleaning the water main since December 2016, and that access to drinkable water was dwindling.
- On February 19, 2017, Marines arrested two AGC members who possessed three antipersonnel landmines near an Afro-Colombian village on the San Juan river, the Attorney General's Office reported. Human Rights Watch saw photos of the landmines and interviewed a Navy officer who participated in the operation and confirmed the detention of AGC members and the seizure of landmines.
Threats, Social Control, and Restricted Movement
Whether deliberately or as a result of the violent insecurity they create, armed groups have limited the ability of many riverside communities to work and feed their families. Harvesting crops, logging, fishing, and foraging for materials for crafts are core economic activities of Wounaan and Afro-Colombian riverside communities – and all require leaving the confines of the immediate village. "We are often hungry because the armed groups are in the hills where we work," a Wounaan woman said. "We can't chop trees, do craftworks, or harvest." In February, Colombia's ombudsman's office estimated that most communities in Litoral de San Juan faced restrictions on movement. The Constitutional Court, in a ruling that month about the government's compliance with a 2004 decision on the rights of displaced people, described the restrictions on movement as "widespread."
In some cases, armed groups have told communities that they cannot use the river at certain hours or during certain periods. The biggest displacement resulting from such restrictions that Human Rights Watch documented involved 94 Wounaan families — an entire village — that fled to Docordó in April 2016. They fled in part because of what the village teacher called "rules and conditions" from an armed group. "We couldn't go down the river," he said. "We couldn't harvest our crops. And if we don't obey, they'll hurt us."
Similarly, in January 2017, members of an armed group told people from another Wounaan community that residents could not leave the village after 6 p.m., a teacher told Human Rights Watch. The teacher did not identify the group for fear of reprisals, but an aid group working in the area said it was the ELN.
On February 19, after an armed confrontation between ELN guerrillas and government security forces on communal land held by a Wounaan village on the San Juan river, community leaders issued a statement saying that the ELN had "forbidden" residents from going out to fish, hunt, or harvest.
In May 2016, Colombia's ombudsman's office reported that armed groups were using threats to "restrict the civilian population from using the river between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m." Such threats prevent fishing and hunting at night, traditional practices in many Wounaan and Afro-Colombian communities. A Chocó justice official told Human Rights Watch in April that the ELN imposes such restrictions in virtually all the communities in the area under the pretext that it is unsafe for people to move at night. Similarly, an ACADESAN leader said that all of the 72 Afro-Colombian communities they represent by the San Juan river had suffered such restrictions in recent years.
Even when not verbally threatened, many communities have curtailed their movements for fear of abuses, of being caught in cross-fire, or of stepping on landmines. In one Afro-Colombian community, many people said that they had stopped growing crops after three landmines exploded nearby. They also feared abuse if caught in the hills. "If they find us in the hills, they'll think we are going to inform [the authorities], and they'll kill us," one villager said.
The groups seek to dominate and govern the riverside communities, including by punishing those who do not obey their "rules." More than 160 Litoral de San Juan inhabitants reported threats by armed groups in 2015 and 2016, and Colombia's Constitutional Court said in its February 2017 ruling that it had received reports of "systematic" threats against community leaders and teachers. Threats documented by Human Rights Watch include:
- During the first months of 2016, armed AGC members visited one Afro-Colombian village four times, residents said, ordering mandatory meetings in the streets for all adults. During the meetings, AGC members reminded people "how we silence an informant" and threatened those who, they believed, had informed authorities about their activities. During 2016, at least three families who had been threatened in this way left the community at dawn, a resident said, taking the belongings they could carry in their hands.
- ELN guerrillas visited another Afro-Colombian village frequently, a community leader said, under the pretext of "protecting the community." In November, the ELN ordered everyone in the village to attend a meeting in which guerrillas suggested that those who informed authorities about the group's actions would have "problems." At this and other meetings, guerrillas forbade teenagers to smoke or consume drugs, and set punishments for defiance. In February 2016, the group forced two young adults to perform community service as punishment for brawling, a village leader said. The ELN imposes such sanctions in many San Juan river communities, a Chocó justice official said, and reprimands boys who wear earrings or long hair.
- In mid-January, armed men whom a local leader described as "the owners of the river," reprimanded members of a San Juan river Wounaan community, accusing them of requesting Navy protection. The leaders denied requesting Navy protection but promised that the community would punish those the armed men identified as responsible. "We don't want [them] to do what they've done in other communities," one leader said, presumably referring to punishments the group has imposed for infractions of its rules. While locals refrained from identifying the group, a humanitarian organization working in the area told Human Rights Watch it was the ELN. The community had itself already suffered ELN intimidation – and family displacement. In December 2015, ELN guerrillas told various leaders and teachers that they would be "held responsible" for a killing. Days later, 26 families fled to Buenaventura, a teacher who had fled and returned said.
- In 2015, armed men threatened to kill eight leaders and rape the women in a Wounaan village if leaders continued to claim land in a neighboring community, two of those threatened told Human Rights Watch. In December 2016, an unknown man came and showed pictures of the leaders who had been threatened, they said, asking where he could find them. The men remained unharmed when Human Rights Watch visited in March 2017.
- The director of Litoral de San Juan's Personería — a municipal human rights agency — said that armed groups have threatened her repeatedly. On October 20, a Wounaan man came to her house to inform her of a plan to kidnap her, and she has since refrained from visiting many communities that she would normally cover as part of her mandate.
Forced displacement is widespread in the riverside communities that Human Rights Watch researched. The abuses and fighting have driven thousands of residents from their homes. In Litoral de San Juan, the number of people displaced in 2016 was the second highest in the country in absolute terms and the highest on a per capita basis: the number of people displaced represents 20 percent of the population.
Forced displacement is chronic for many San Juan river families. Members of one Afro-Colombian community Human Rights Watch visited fled in July 2015, and again in March 2017. The first time, 18 families fled to Docordó after ELN guerrillas came asking for people who they said had cooperated with the AGC. The families returned after three days. In March, 52 people fled after armed men killed five residents.
Similarly, members of a Wounaan community fled in April and again in May of 2016. In April, 466 people fled to Docordó, returning 15 days later due to lack of access to decent housing and food. Threats from an armed group sent them fleeing again on May 4, and they returned in December because of poor living conditions in Docordó. When Human Rights Watch visited in March 2017, teachers said families feared renewed abuses and might soon be forced to flee again.
Limited Assistance to Displaced and 'Confined' People
Under Colombia's Victims Law, municipal governments must provide victims with humanitarian assistance, including decent shelter and food, as soon as they ask to be registered as victims. The law provides that if a municipal government is unable to offer such aid, a provincial government or national agency must assist. Yet Human Rights Watch found consistent shortcomings in government assistance to displaced and confined people.
The municipality of Litoral de San Juan does not have a shelter for displaced people, despite its high levels of displacement. Almost 4,000 people were displaced to or within Litoral de San Juan in 2015 and 2016, according to Colombia's Victims' Unit. Scores of internally displaced people in Litoral de San Juan have lived in substandard conditions. In one community, all the displaced families were living in houses with plastic roofs, which they said made the heat unbearable and contributed to unhealthy living conditions.
Several people who had fled in fear of abuse said that they returned to their communities even though they felt unsafe because the assistance they received in Docordó, the municipality's capital, or Buenaventura was inadequate. A teacher from a community of more than 450 people, many of whom were displaced to Docordó in April and May of 2016 for fear, at least in part, of ELN abuses, said that the people went home in December because they "felt abandoned."
Most had been placed in a community center with no interior dividing walls where, for eight months, they slept on the floor. Others had been required to pay rent, which the mayor's office had promised to repay but never did, a teacher said. The Constitutional Court concluded that the reception of these families was "characterized by overcrowding, insalubrious conditions, and limited food." In March 2017, when Human Rights Watch visited the community to which they had returned, residents said abuses by armed groups were once again forcing them to consider fleeing to Docordó.
Displaced people and representatives of aid organizations said that conditions for families who flee to Buenaventura are also troubling. In early 2017, 10 displaced families from a Wounaan community by the San Juan river slept for over a month on the patio of a public building. The patio does not have walls, so families were exposed to the elements, an official from an aid organization said. A leader of another community that was recently displaced to Buenaventura told the media in April 2017 that several community members were sick and that they were drinking rain water.
In 2013 and again in 2014, Human Rights Watch recommended that, given the very high number of displaced families, the City of Buenaventura should build a shelter. It has yet to do so, although more than 15,000 people were displaced to or within Buenaventura in 2015 and 2016, according to Colombia's Victims' Unit.
Many interviewees said that poverty, a lack of economic opportunities, and limited access to basic services in Litoral de San Juan have created an environment in which armed groups thrive by easily recruiting members, including children.
According to the latest government figures, from 2011, almost 80 percent of the population in Chocó has unsatisfied basic needs — like housing, public services, and access to education — and over 30 percent live in extreme poverty. Figures from 2011 also show that almost 40 percent of Litoral de San Juan residents live in extreme poverty — almost four times the national average.
Residents said that health services were especially limited in Litoral de San Juan. For example, many residents cited difficulties in getting malaria medicine. Colombia's Health Ministry reports that 208 people suffered malaria in Litoral de San Juan in 2016. A nurse, working without pay, told Human Rights Watch that she had diagnosed dozens of cases in her community in 2016, and that it was hard to get medicines to treat the patients.
Fear of Reporting
Many residents said they fear retaliation for reporting abuses — in part because they believe that authorities or others may leak information to armed groups. During Human Rights Watch interviews, many people changed the subject or interrupted the conversation when others approached them. Later, they would explain that it was hard to know who might be an informant for the armed groups. "Nobody knows who is who and what might get you killed," one Afro-Colombian villager said.
Human Rights Watch witnessed a conversation between a Navy captain and several villagers in which the captain identified communities that were helping him identify members of the ELN and the AGC. Residents and a justice official later said that the captain's statements placed the communities identified at risk. Human Rights Watch received credible allegations of similar statements from public security officials.
Argentina: Children of 'Dirty War' Sorry for Fathers' Human Rights Abuses
June 8, 2017
Seven women held a banner that identified them as the children of Argentina's human rights criminals.
"Disobedient Stories," read the banner, "Sons and Daughters of Genocide In Favor of Memory, Truth and Justice."
The women who had once discussed their fathers' role in the nation's past horrors only privately recently started a group called "Disobedient Stories" to publicly recount tales of growing up with military men who they say committed abuses during Argentina's so-called "dirty war" against leftist dissidents.
They include Laura Delgadillo, whose father, Jorge Luis Delgadillo, died without being convicted. Delgadillo accuses her dad of being part of the state-sponsored repression when he worked for the intelligence service of Buenos Aires province.
"These were 40 years of silence, shame and guilt," Delgadillo said of the years before she went public with her family secret.
The rights abuses committed during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship still haunt Argentines four decades after the end of state-sponsored violence against leftists.
Those crimes weigh especially heavily on the children of the men who kidnapped, tortured and killed members of the political opposition. The children are now adults and they are breaking previous family pacts of silence to publicly denounce their fathers and seek forgiveness for what they did.
Official estimates say about 7,600 people were killed or disappeared during the dictatorship, but rights activists believe the number was actually as high as 30,000.
One woman in the group still feels so ashamed by her father's past role in abuses that she changed her last name and is now known publicly only as Mariana D.
Nevertheless, the daughter of Miguel Etchecolatz, a former police investigator sentenced in 2006 to life imprisonment in the disappearance of six people, was the first of the daughters and a few sons to come forward.
Mariana D. first joined a public demonstration in May protesting an Argentine Supreme Court ruling that many feared would let rights abusers go free. Days later, Delgadillo and other daughters of dictatorship-era military men joined her in a different demonstration against gender-specific abuse in Buenos Aires, carrying the attention-drawing banner that prompted many passers-by to stop and photograph them.
Other children of the military men have gone public with their family stories on social media.
"Those of us who scream in their faces the word 'murderer'" should join the "Disobedient Stories" group, Erika Lederer wrote on Facebook. Her father, Ricardo Lederer, was a doctor at a detention center where babies born to political prisoners in custody were stolen by the military junta then in power.
About 500 newborns throughout Argentina were whisked away and raised by surrogate families. Several hundred babies are still unaccounted for.
Lederer began "Disobedient Stories" with Liliana Furio and Analia Kalinec, who had similar tales to tell, and it has now grown to include about 15 people. Group members have received messages of support from the relatives of dictatorship victims and people from other Latin American countries.
"We want to heal wounds together," Furio said. "We felt deeply lonely. We had no clue so many others were in the same situation."
In embattled Venezuela, human rights groups push legal escape hatch for Maduro regime
By Jim Wyss
June 15, 2017
Do Venezuelan President Nicolá s Maduro and his cronies need a pardon?
Almost 40 human rights groups in the embattled country are trying to build support around the idea of a legal escape hatch that might make it easier for Maduro and other ruling party officials to step down amid increasingly lethal street protests that have stretched for more than two months and show no signs of abating.
Paz Activa, a Caracas-based rights organization, is promoting the idea of a "transitional justice" regime that might offer reduced sentences and penalties for officials willing to step down, recognize their victims and make amends.
"What we're searching for, what we're looking for, is a type of bridge that will allow a political transition," said Paz Activa Director Luis Cedeño.
Talk of transitional justice is usually reserved for countries emerging from civil wars or brutal dictatorships, but Cedeño and others say Venezuela's political crisis requires the same type of creative thinking.
For the moment, the discussion remains largely academic. Paz Activa has tried to reach out to civil-society organizations that are aligned with the government with little success. But as pressure continues to build in the country, plans for a post-Maduro future are likely to gather steam.
The initiative comes as both the opposition and the Maduro administration are digging in amid widespread protests that have claimed almost 70 lives and brought large swaths of the country to a standstill.
Protesters are demanding early elections, the release of political prisoners and humanitarian aid. Maduro, in turn, is pushing an unpopular plan to overhaul the constitution, and says he will stay in power until his term ends in January 2019. He has also publicly dismissed the protesters, who have sometimes resorted to lethal violence, by labeling them as terrorists.
Even as there is an increasing number of defections within the ruling party — most notably the attorney general — analysts say many in the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) are rallying around the president out of fear of what the legal implications might be if he loses power.
Some high-ranking officials would likely face civil and criminal charges for human rights violations.
Maduro came to power in 2013 after winning a tight and contested election to replace Hugo Chá vez, who died that same year from an undisclosed form of cancer.
In a recent letter to subscribers, Risa Grais-Targow, an analyst with the New York-based Eurasia Group, said that the political "exit costs remain high, and even if chavista leaders are uncomfortable with the current situation, a transition is not necessarily imminent."
And while the nation is ailing under hyper-inflation and food shortages, Maduro still has an approval rating of near 20 percent.
Marco Antonio Rodriguez-Acosta, a Caracas-based lawyer working on the justice initiative, said the idea is not to promote impunity or provide amnesty for serious crimes, but rather to explore forms of "restorative justice" instead of "punitive justice" as a way of overcoming the political impasse.
"Transitional justice is an answer to the systematic human rights violations that we've suffered for the last 18 years," since Chá vez first took power, he said. "The primary objective is to recognize the victims, promote peace and reconciliation and live in democracy."
But the justice scheme also provides a release valve for officials — police officers, judges — who have committed crimes under orders and who now fear the repercussions.
"It's a way to lessen the load for those who have to pay for their actions," he said.
Even so, Rodriguez-Acosta acknowledges that Venezuela presents something of a chicken-or-the-egg problem.
"We have to have a political and social transition before we can have transitional justice," he said. "That's the first thing that has to happen."
Latin America offers numerous examples of how transitional justice helped heal old wounds — for example, in the wake of military dictatorships in Chile and Argentina. Closer to home, Colombia is implementing an alternative justice scheme as it tries to reintegrate some 7,000 former guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
In Colombia's case, ex-combatants who confess to their crimes and make amends to their victims can avoid jail time, even as they serve alternative sentences similar to community service. The deal has been controversial, but President Juan Manuel Santos says it was the only way to bring the FARC to the table.
The Colombian model is one of the experiences Paz Activa is studying.
Jorge Narvaez is with Colombia's Foundation for Reconciliation, a nonprofit that has been a pioneer in trying to help Colombia recover from more than a half century of civil conflict. He said that once political violence sets in, as it has in Venezuela, it can be very difficult to break the cycle.
The organization promotes events where victims and their aggressors can meet face to face. It's less about forgiveness and more about understanding each other and learning to live together, Narvaez said.
"When societies like Venezuela become so fractured by rage and resentment, [society] is destroyed," he said. "You have to rebuild culture and civility."
And those face-to-face meetings are key, he said. But in Venezuela, neither side is talking to the other in any meaningful way. The country's security forces have stepped up efforts to break up the protests. Demonstrators are increasingly turning to violence, arson and looting as they try to defend their constitutional rights.
"We shouldn't have to have a civil war to start talking about transitional justice," said Cedeño, of Paz Activa. "We need to help create a change in the regime that doesn't generate more victims."
[back to contents]
Truth and Reconciliation Commission
We need another Truth and Reconciliation Commission
By Magda Wierzycka
June 19, 2017
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission saw victims and perpetrators come together to express their regret and confess their sins. Many were forgiven, even if their sins can never be forgotten. This was done in the interest of allowing South Africa to move forward. Is there a chance that, perhaps, right now, South Africa is ready for another TRC?
The recent revelations spilling over from the #GuptaLeaks have highlighted, in technicolour, just how corrupt the public sector has become. From Cabinet ministers to boards of directors and managers of state-owned enterprises, there seems to be no limit to the plunder that has taken place and continues to take place.
But let's also not forget the private sector. For every action by a public-sector employee, there is a private sector beneficiary who paid. Not all those involved are the Guptas, who, in many cases, play more of the role of "rent-seekers" in many of the deals than the counterparties to the deals themselves. One can safely assume that there are some well-known companies which are implicated in paying bribes for rigged tenders, in influencing government policy in their favour and in turning a blind eye and facilitating blatant abuses of state power to fill their coffers.
Corruption has become so endemic in South Africa that it is difficult to see a happy ending. As much as most average South Africans are baying for blood, perhaps one needs to give a thought to another solution, a solution which can bring a swifter end to the economic collapse facing South Africa and allow us to heal, albeit with a bitter taste in our mouth, and move forward in a constructive manner to grow the economy, create jobs, fix our education system, address economic exclusion, attract foreign investment, motivate domestic companies to invest, maintain our infrastructure, focus on renewable energy and a myriad different action items that we so badly need as a society. The solutions, policies and efforts required will necessitate a strong public sector, labour and business partnership, a partnership based, at least, on mutual respect, if not on complete trust.
A solution that has been whispered about is another Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The original TRC was set up in 1995 by the Government of National Unity to help heal South Africa by uncovering the truth about human rights violations that occurred during the period of apartheid.
To quote the Honorable Dullah Omar, former Minister of Justice:
"... a commission is a necessary exercise to enable South Africans to come to terms with their past on a morally accepted basis and to advance the cause of reconciliation".
The TRC saw victims and perpetrators come together to express their regret and confess their sins. Many were forgiven, even if their sins can never be forgotten. This was done in the interest of allowing South Africa to move forward.
Is there a chance that, perhaps, right now, South Africa is ready for another TRC? A commission which allows both the public and the private sector to come together and confess their transgressions with no fear of retribution on anyone's part. All that would be required is that restitution is paid. Where bribes were paid, plans would need to be made to repay those bribes over time. Where companies benefited, some of the benefit would be passed back to the entities which were disadvantaged by the bribery and corruption. This would be a once-off cleansing process which could eradicate the cancer that has eaten away at the moral fabric of South Africa's society. There would be a deadline beyond which any further acts of corruption would be subject to most stringent criminal sanction. But all those involved to date who confessed would ultimately be forgiven, if not forgotten.
A TRC of this nature, given that it would largely deal with financial crimes, would carry none of the raw emotional distress of the original TRC. Some brutal truths might emerge, some reputations would be tarnished, but ultimately the society could heal much faster than it did post-apartheid.
Who could call for the set up of the TRC? We would need to see Business SA come together will all political parties and labour movements, and agree to the process. The agreement of the current government, including the President, would be crucial.
Is there an incentive? I am beginning to believe that the incentive is growing every day. The #GuptaLeaks of emails have acted as a catalyst. A boil has been lanced and the puss is spilling out. Most important, more leaks from different sources are taking place every day as every honest South African feels emboldened to share what they have been exposed to. This will not stop – more leaks will follow; more people and companies will be implicated and compromised.
Eventually, the civil society organisations, supported by investigative journalists, and an unbiased judiciary system will bring all those involved to justice. It might take years to do so. But it will not take years for reputations to be ruined. It will only take an article. Once the wheels of justice turn, there will be no mercy — just vengeance. Vengeance of 55-million South Africans who have been robbed of a prosperous future.
And hence, as different political parties concentrate on tearing themselves apart, as South Africa's economy burns and another generation of youth is condemned to unemployment, spare a thought for a more constructive way forward. For all those involved in plunder, this is your elegant way out. For all South Africans, it gives us a chance at a future. It is a solution worth debating, even if only behind closed doors.
Separatist Agitations: Set up Truth, Reconciliation Commission, Prof Nwabueze tells Buhari
By Henry Umoru
June 20, 2017
Elder statesman, Professor Ben Nwabueze, has called on the Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, to persuade President Muhammadu Buhari to urgently set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address issues threatening the nation's corporate existence.
According to him, a similar commission had been put in place in 23 countries of the world, from South Africa to Germany, Paraguay, Canada and Kenya. Speaking yesterday at the Yar'Adua Centre, Abuja during the Public presentation of his 352- page book, titled ''Save our Constitutional Democracy from Emasculation,'' Professor Nwabuaze also asked the Acting President to speak to President Buhari on the need to withdraw his opposition to the restructuring of the federation into six or more self-governing regions or zones, with the powers of the central government drastically reduced, adding that restructuring would diminish the fierce contest for control.
According to him, without such restructuring, the maintenance of the continued corporate existence of the country may be imperiled. Nwabueze also said if Nigeria must achieve its quest to remain together as one nation, the time has come to address the injustices, repressions, all the perversions and subversion that had been perpetrated in the administration of the country.
He said: "Happily, the tension created by these separatist agitations has been or is being doused by the actions and statements of the Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, which also bear testimony that dialogue and consultations, not repression, are the appropriate response to citizens agitations for justice, equity, equal treatment and self-determination, meaning regional autonomy within the territorial integrity of a country, according to the South African Constitutional Court. We commend the Acting President. "But he needs to do more. He needs to persuade his boss, President Buhari, to withdraw his opposition to the restructuring of the federation into six or more self-governing regions or zones, with the powers of the central government drastically reduced, so as to diminish the fierce contest for its control. ''For, without such restructuring, the maintenance of the continued corporate existence of the country may be imperiled, and with it, the nurturing of the country into a nation. "He needs also to initiate moves for national reconciliation by setting up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as has been done in some 23 countries of the world, from South African to Germany, Paraguay, Canada, Kenya."
"As a country desirous of staying together and become one nation, time has come or ought to come soon when we have to tell ourselves the honest truth about all the injustices and repressions, all the perversions and subversion that have been or being perpetrated in the administration of government in the country, admit the errors and wrongs committed, render suitable apologies, make necessary amends, try to put the past behind us and march forward into the future with a view to national reconciliation, which cannot be adequately met through actions in court for reparation or by criminal prosecutions of the perpetrators.''
In Aboriginal Day message, primate stresses TRC Calls to Action
By Tali Folkins
June 21, 2017
The founding of a new federal body to monitor reconciliation efforts in Canada and the creation of a new statutory holiday—a "National Day for Truth and Reconciliation" —are among a number of Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action singled out for reflection by Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, in a special Aboriginal Day message.
The message, released Tuesday, June 20, begins with a brief reflection on the spirit of celebration anticipated in much of the country this July 1, which will mark Canada's 150th birthday. For some Canadians, however, the occasion will be less festive, because of the troubled historic relationship between the country's Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, Hiltz says.
"For some, #Canada150 is now #Resistance150, as #Canada150 is a reminder that this country's founding is inextricably linked to this relationship," he says, using "hashtags" familiar to social media users.
This relationship, he continues, was "marked by an imperial arrogance" that took the shape of a policy of assimilation, including the founding of Indian residential schools.
Despite formal apologies issued by the Anglican Church of Canada and other churches as well as the federal government, the legacy of the schools—a loss of Indigenous language, culture, identity, spirituality and also, Hiltz says, love— lives on.
Thus, the primate says, the time between Aboriginal Day and Canada Day is a fitting time for Canadians and Anglicans to reflect on the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the body formed to inform Canadians about the Indian residential schools system.
Hiltz says he feels bound to call people's attention to certain of these Calls to Action, and he highlights 19 of them in particular:
-#53, that a National Council for Reconciliation be founded, for reporting annually on progress made in reconciliation;
-#78, that the government of Canada provide $10 million in funding over seven years to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, which works to teach Canadians about the history of residential schools;
-#62, #63, #64 and #65, which outline a number of measures for educating Canadians on the history of the residential school system;
-#81 and #82, that monuments in memory of residential school students be set up in Ottawa and every provincial capital;
-#68, that the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples and the Canadian Museums Association, found a national program to fund reconciliation projects;
-#45, that the Crown issue a "Royal Proclamation of Reconciliation" repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery (a notion historically used to justify the seizure of land in the Americas by Europeans), adopting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), renewing treaty relationships or establishing new ones, and taking measures "to ensure that Aboriginal peoples are full partners in Confederation";
-#79, that a "national heritage plan" be formed, to commemorate contributions made by Aboriginal peoples to Canadian history;
-#80, that a new statutory holiday, a "National Day for Truth and Reconciliation" be established;
-a number of calls that more attention be drawn to the well-being of Aboriginal people, citing "the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual harms caused by residential schools" (#21); "the vulnerability of Aboriginal women and girls to violence through human trafficking" (#41); high rates of incarceration among Aboriginal people (#35) and calling for an annual "State of Aboriginal Peoples" report to be released by the prime minister (#56);
-a number of calls dealing with Indigenous language, culture and spirituality, including that an Aboriginal Languages Act be passed to help preserve these languages (#14); and that a commissioner be appointed to oversee language preservation work (#15);
-#61, that churches fund projects for healing and reconciliation, culture, language, education and relationship-building.
The primate adds that he is happy that the Anglican Church of Canada has been supporting language, culture and spirituality recovery projects even before the 94 Calls to Action were issued, through the Anglican Healing Fund. This year, he notes—the fund's 25th anniversary—the church has committed itself to raising $1 million to ensure it will have at least $200,000 to fund its projects over the next five years. He praises the work of Healing Fund co-ordinator Esther Wesley.
The Calls to Action, Hiltz says, speak to Anglicans both as Canadian citizens and as Christians.
"It is important that I continue to hold these Calls to Action before the Church so that as responsible citizens and as people whose faith is absolutely centred in the reconciling work of God in Christ, we can be proactive in speaking of the Calls and in supporting them," he says.
Hiltz also discusses what he calls the "real, practical on-the-ground commitment" of the Anglican Church of Canada to Indigenous self-determination within the church. He cites, in particular, the appointment of Mark MacDonald as National Indigenous Anglican Bishop in 2007; the elections of a number of Indigenous bishops according to Indigenous customs in recent years; and the work of the self-determination bodies, such as the Indigenous House of Bishops Leadership Circle, the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples and the Sacred Circle.
The primate also mentions a consultation session on Indigenous self-determination slated for Pinawa, Man., this September 14-17. The keynote speaker and animator for these discussions, Hiltz says, will be Canon Martin Brokenleg, an Indigenous priest and psychologist. The session will also include discussion of the report of a focus group on Indigenous Anglican self-determination convened by MacDonald, he adds.
Hiltz then quotes from a report by Truth and Reconciliation commissioners outlining what they say they learned from their work. The report concludes that "Canadians must do more than just talk about reconciliation; we must learn how to practice reconciliation in our everyday lives." It states that Canadians must do this by committing themselves to respectful relationships, among survivors of residential schools and their families; among governments (many of whose policies and programs are, according to the principle, "still based on failed notions of assimilation"); and among churches, whose commitment, according to the principle, "requires atoning for actions within the residential schools, respecting Indigenous spirituality and supporting Indigenous peoples' struggles for justice and equity."
Reconciliation, the report concludes, offers for Canadians "a new way of living together."
The primate then concludes his own message with a call to prayer: "Pray with me that this principle be etched on the very soul of our Church and our commitment to healing, reconciliation and new life."
[back to contents]
Victorian Judges Drag Three Federal Ministers into Court for Criticising Terror Sentences
The New Daily
June 14, 2017
Victoria's Supreme Court has ordered three Turnbull government ministers to front court after they accused the state's judiciary of going easy on convicted terrorists.
Health Minister Greg Hunt, Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar and Human Services Minister Alan Tudge, who are Victorians, have been asked to appear on Friday and explain why they should not be charged with contempt, Fairfax Media reported.
Fairfax reported that Judicial Registrar Ian Irving wrote in a letter that the ministers' comments had been made while the "judgements of the Court of Appeal were reserved".
"The attributed statements appear to intend to bring the Court into disrepute, to assert the judges have and will apply an ideologically based predisposition in deciding the case or cases and that the judges will not apply the law," the letter reportedly said.
The ministers have been asked to explain remarks they made to The Australian newspaper and in television interviews, which the court interpreted as relating to the case of Sevdet Besim.
He was handed a seven-and-half-year non-parole sentence for a 2015 Anzac Day terror plot, but the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions is challenging the decision.
The Court of Appeal is yet to hand down a ruling.
On Tuesday, Mr Hunt was reported as saying: "Comments by senior members of the Victorian courts endorsing and embracing shorter sentences for terrorism offences are deeply concerning, deeply concerning.
"The state courts should not be places for ideological experiments in the face of global and local threats from Islamic extremism that has led to such tragic losses."
Mr Tudge had told Sky News that "no one should be suggesting that tough terrorism sentences are a bad thing".
Mr Sukkar was reported in The Australian saying that "it's the attitude of judges like these which has eroded any trust that remained in our legal system".
"Labor's continued appointment of hard-left activist judges has come back to bite Victorians," he told the paper.
Their comments followed a statement from Victoria's Court of Appeal describing the difference in sentencing for terror offences between New South Wales and Victoria as "extremely worrying".
On Wednesday, Melbourne criminal defence lawyer Rob Stary said he had issued a formal complaint with the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.
Mr Stary said the ministers' comments caused an erosion of trust in the courts and called on them to resign or be sacked.
He said the comments represented contempt of court.
"We must have in the separation of powers doctrine an independent judiciary who should be free from political interference," Mr Stary told ABC Radio Melbourne.
"What we say is there has been a contempt of court.
"We say there's been a flagrant breach of that doctrine, particularly from people who should know better."
Victorian Attorney-General Martin Pakula had warned his federal counterparts that their comments "bordered on contempt" on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also attacked Victoria's justice system following the Brighton terror attack after it emerged Yacqub Khayre had been granted parole.
The Australian's editor and the journalist Simon Benson or their legal representatives, and representatives for its publisher News Corp have also been asked to appear on Friday, Fairfax reported.
The New Daily contacted the offices of the three ministers for comment.
Record Number of Terror Arrests as EU Warns of 'Stay-at-Home' Jihadist
By Ben Farmer
June 15, 2017
Police arrested a record number of terrorist suspects last year, as fewer would-be Islamic State group jihadists head to the Middle East and instead decide to stay at home to plot attacks.
The number of arrests for terrorism-related offences in Great Britain jumped by nearly a fifth, with 304 people held in the year until the end of March.
The figure was the highest since records began in 2001 and three quarters of the arrests were for international terrorism, almost all linked to Islamist extremism.
But the number of right-wing extremists arrested also rose to a record high after a neo-Nazi group called National Action in December became the first extreme Right-wing group to be banned as a terrorist organization.
The surge in far-right extremism led to a jump in the number of white people being arrested, up from 68 to 113.
The Home Office released the latest figures as police and MI5 have said they are dealing with an unprecedented threat from Islamist terrorists planning attacks in the UK.
The statistics were released as the European Union's own law enforcement agency warned about the threat from home-grown "stay-at-home" jihadists.
Stops made at ports and airports under counter terrorism powers fell sharply as the number of people heading to join Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (Isil) dropped, the Home Office said.
Fewer jihadists are heading to Iraq or Syria as Isil's self-style caliphate shrinks in the face of an international air campaign backing Iraqi, Kurdish and Syrian rebel forces.
As the caliphate has dwindled, jihadist propaganda has encouraged would-be terrorists to remain at home and carry out attacks on civilians.
A Europol report warned: "Ongoing contact on social media between combatants in Syria/Iraq and 'stay-at-home jihadists' fuels the enduring potential threat posed by jihadist networks; now that leaving the country to take part in jihad has become more difficult, would-be attackers may indeed shift their focus to their countries of residence."
The Home Office figures include 12 arrests made as part of the investigation into the Westminster attack in March. All were released without charge and told they would face no further action.
Since then, there have been two more deadly attacks, in Manchester and London Bridge, while counter-terror agencies have foiled five alleged plots.
After the Manchester attack police and MI5 said they were dealing with an unprecedented threat and were running 500 investigations involving 3,000 individuals at any one time.
There are also 20,000 former "subjects of interest" whose risk must be kept under review.
A National Police Chiefs' Council spokesman said: "The UK's counter-terrorism network is currently dealing with an unprecedented level of demand.
"Police forces across the country are working closely with partners to bring an increasing number of suspects before the courts under terrorism legislation, and where they cannot do that they are using criminal legislation to disrupt terrorist activity.
"Officers and staff are working tirelessly to overcome this growing threat, but they need the public's help to do so effectively."
India Special Administrative Court Finds Six Guilty of 1993 Mumbai Bombings
By Gwenyth Gamble Jarvi
June 17, 2017
A special anti-terrorism court in Mumbai, India found six men guilty yesterday for the 1993 terrorist bombings in Mumbai, then called Bombay, where almost 300 people were killed and hundreds more were injured.
The special court was formed under the order of the Terrorism and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA), a controversial law that has allegedly led to the violation of human rights. The court has scheduled a proceeding for later this month to determine the sentences for the bombers.
All of the individuals were charged with waging war against the nation, and five of the accused were convicted under both the TADA and for conspiracy while the sixth was found guilty only under the TADA.
Mumbai has been dealing with the aftermath of the 1993 bombings and the subsequent attacks in 2003, 2006, 2008, and 2011 for almost a quarter of a century.
Earlier this year Pakistan authorities placed militant leader Hafiz Muhammad Saeed under house arrest for his connection to the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Saeed has been accused of orchestrating the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
In 2009 three individuals who were convicted of the 2003 bombings were sentenced to death. Later that year the trial of the only gunmen to have survived the 2008 mass shooting at a hotel continued even though the man confessed his guilt in the midst of trial proceedings.
The government responded to the slew of terrorist bombings by reconsidering an anti-terror law that had been previously repealed and by creating special courts like the one involved with TADA to speed up the judicial process.
[back to contents]
Amid Attacks and Piracy off Yemen, Naval Alliance Boosts Security in Bab Al Mandeb Strait
Hellenic Shipping News
June 13, 2017
An international naval coalition is stepping up its presence in the Bab Al Mandeb strait in response to attacks on vessels passing Yemen's rebel-held Red Sea coast and an increase in pirate activity.
The strait, which connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden, is a key passage for world trade.
"Recent attacks against merchant shipping in the Gulf of Aden and Bab Al Mandeb have highlighted that there are still risks associated with transits through these waters," the Combined Maritime Forces said on Monday.
"In response to these threats, the Combined Maritime Forces will be increasing the naval presence" in the western part of the Gulf of Aden, it said.
The 31-state naval alliance, based in Bahrain and led by the United States, oversees security in some international waters including the Gulf of Aden.
A small boat exploded late last month "for an unknown reason" in a thwarted attack on a tanker in the area, the alliance said.
Earlier this month, an oil tanker came under fire while passing through the Bab Al Mandeb strait into the Red Sea, according to the Saudi-led coalition supporting Yemen's government in its fight against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
The coalition said three rocket-propelled grenades were fired at the Marshall Islands-flagged tanker from a boat. None of the crew was injured and the tanker sailed on into the Red Sea, it said.
In January, the rebels attacked a Saudi frigate off the Yemeni coast, killing two sailors in what the coalition said was a suicide attack.
In September and October, two US warships and a UAE vessel contracted to the coalition were targeted by missile fire from rebel-held territory.
The head of US Central Command, General Joe Votel, warned in March that coastal defence missiles, radar systems, mines and explosives-laden boats deployed by the rebels posed a threat to shipping in the strait.
The Gulf of Aden has also seen a number of pirate attacks this year, including the attempted hijacking on April 8 of a merchant ship heading to Aden. The attempt was foiled in a joint operation by Indian and Chinese naval vessels in the area.
A few days earlier, pirates seized an Indian dhow that was en route from Dubai to Bosaso in Somalia's Puntland region.
And in March, an oil tanker was seized off the coast of Somalia in the first successful hijacking of a commercial ship by Somali pirates since 2012.
At their peak in 2011, pirates launched 237 attacks off the coast of Somalia and took hundreds of hostages, according to the International Maritime Bureau.
The number of attacks decreased sharply after a joint international effort to patrol shipping routes through the Gulf of Aden and off the east coast of Africa.
Philippines: Abducted Crewman Escapes
June 14, 2017
ReCAAP has reported that one of the crew of the abducted fishing vessel Ramona 2 has escaped after five months of captivity.
The four-man crew were abducted off Sulu in the Philippines on December 20, 2016. One was beheaded on April 13. The remaining two crewmen are believed to still be held by suspected Abu Sayyaf militants.
ReCAAP also reports a case of armed robbery in the area last week. M/Tug 308 was underway when 20 pirates carrying short firearms on board five bancas (fishing boats) approached and boarded the tug. They stole several gallons of fuel, paint and half sack of rice. The crew were unharmed and reported the incident to the Philippine Coast Guard. While the Coast Guard was assisting, another boat with unarmed pirates boarded the tug from the other side of the vessel and were apprehended.
Six piracy incidents against ships were reported in Asia in May. Notably, there was no incidents involving the abduction of crew from ships while underway in the Sulu-Celebes Sea and waters off Eastern Sabah.
There were 29 incidents reported during January-May 2017, 23 actual incidents and six attempted incidents. This was the lowest for the period in the last five years and a 31 percent decrease on 2016. ReCAAP attributes this the drop is largely due to the improvement in the situation at ports and anchorages in India, Indonesia and Vietnam.
Conversely, the number of attempted incidents reported during January-May 2017 increased compared to January-May of 2015 and 2016. Of the six attempted incidents, four were incidents involving ships underway in the Sulu-Celebes Sea.
Asia's Deadly Pirates
By Neil Thompson
June 21, 2017
Despite genuine improvements in maritime security by Asian littoral states in recent years, Asia remains the global number one hotspot for piracy on the high seas, according to reports from global maritime watchdogs and shipping industry groups. According to anti-piracy group Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP), which mapped attacks from multiple industry sources including the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP), the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), and the Information Fusion Center (IFC), the region saw the highest number of incidents when all types of piracy were accounted for. In total 129 types of piratical incidents occurred in Asia during 2016; by contrast, the second most popular region for pirate activities was West Africa, which saw only 95 incidents last year.
The 2016 figures for Asia remain grim but in fact reflect a mixed picture for security analysts. Since 2015, greater efforts by Southeast Asian states like the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia to decrease piracy and armed robbery incidents in Asian waters led to the creation of joint coordinated patrols and response teams to conduct counter-piracy operations. These have had some effect; there were 23 arrests in Asia for piracy in 2016, and a 35 percent fall in recorded piracy-related incidents compared with 2015. That year saw 199 such instances compared with 2016's 129 recorded attacks. But while the fall in the number of overall incidents of piracy and armed robbery at sea collected by OBP in 2016 reflects well on the improved effectiveness of regional cooperation and information sharing mechanisms, it is not the whole story.
While the number of hijackings for cargo theft incidents recorded by OBP decreased from 12 in 2015 to just three in 2016, instances of kidnapping surged in their place. A total of 185 seafarers were taken hostage, in a trend linked by observers to the increased activities of Islamist insurgents in the southern Philippines. Partially due to increased law enforcement efforts, and partially because of the surge in attempted or successful kidnapping attempts in the Sulu and Celebes Seas, 2016 also saw a surge in lethal violence affecting the region's seafarers. There were fewer victims of piracy in Asia last year then in 2015 (just 2,283 seafarers in Asian waters experienced a pirate-related incident in 2016, compared with 3,674 seafarers the previous year) but deaths were up sharply. In 2015 no seafarers died in Asia due to pirate attacks, but with the risk of detection by law-enforcement seemingly increased, violence at sea was much deadlier in 2016. Two seafarers were killed by their kidnappers last year, and another four died because of pirate-related incidents.
It is partially thanks to the increase in deaths and kidnappings that Asia has recovered its unfortunate status as the principal threat to world shipping. That's especially unfortunate as two-thirds of global shipping occurs within Southeast Asian waters. In a bid to halt this new trend, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines agreed last summer to allow "hot pursuits" of kidnappers and armed robbers by each other's maritime security forces into each country's waters. Various other measures such as coordinated patrols in the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas (which just launched on June 19) and a hotline among the three countries have also been tried. This month Singapore was invited to join the agreement by Indonesia's defense minister, who seemed confident the city-state's government would agree to his nation's proposal.
But how successful future regional anti-piracy attempts will be depends partially on the outcome of tackling rampant lawlessness in the southern Philippines, an area that has historically provided sanctuary for foreign militants and criminals as well as the rebellious locals. For example veteran Malaysian and Indonesian militants from the notorious al-Qaeda linked Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) group hid out there for many years before being eliminated or arrested by Filipino security forces. These fugitives were primarily sheltered by the local jihadist group behind much of the recent maritime crime wave, the Abu Sayyaf faction of the Philippines' fractured Islamist insurgency.
One Abu Sayyaf splinter faction has even joined with other small insurgent groups in pledging allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group and is currently battling the Filipino government for control of the city of Marawi, on the island of Mindanao. Reports from the Philippines so far indicate that the administration of the volatile Filipino leader Rodrigo Duterte is still struggling to impose its authority in the south, despite recently declaring martial law over Mindanao. This upsurge in militant violence on land is concerning to regional governments considering their maritime security because it shows that active militants have a new ambition to carve out a lawless zone in the southern Philippines from which they can securely expand their activities, which will presumably include increased attacks and kidnappings in the Sulu and Celebes Seas.
As a result of past attacks in these areas, many merchant vessels have been forced to reroute and avoid them, as the littoral states in the region have been unable to prevent attacks from pirate ships operating out of the southern Philippines. Observers have warned that the growth of pro-ISIS groups there represents a threat to ASEAN maritime security, and cited attacks in March by Abu Sayyaf that saw another abduction by the group, this time of a local captain and his chief engineer. The southern Philippine maritime economy is emerging as a gateway for new shipping routes, such as one newly opened last month between Indonesia's North Sulawesi Province and the Filipino cities of Davao and General Santos. But while this is good news for the region, analysts worry that the area's entrenched militants could target traffic on the new routes for ransoms to fund their activities, as they already do to shipping elsewhere in the region.
Piracy will clearly continue to trouble Asian economies even as the region rapidly modernizes in the coming decades, partially because of pre-existing issues (like local insurgencies) or the growth of global security problems (like transnational organized criminal syndicates and terrorist networks), and partially because of the increase in opportunities for theft and kidnapping as shipping traffic grows between countries in the region.
However, the picture is not all bleak; traffic transiting the Straits of Malacca and Singapore is now at lower risk than previously. This suggests that the newest outbreaks of piracy can be successfully tackled in the same ways as earlier ones, once regional governments have been pushed into catching up with the latest trends in the maritime underworld. Organized crime is a factor that can never entirely be eliminated, but it is one which can be minimized with the right combination of effort, coordination, and willpower.
[back to contents]
Rape, Domestic Abuse Among Traumas South Sudan Refugees Carry to Camps
By Halima Athumani
June 20, 2017
The nearly 1 million South Sudanese refugees in Uganda face shortages of food, water and medical care, but they have also brought with them the trauma of the war they fled. Aid agencies are struggling to meet the need for counseling for survivors of gender-based violence.
She was attacked in South Sudan six months ago, but she is still afraid to answer the door. VOA met this 35-year-old woman at the Pagirinya refugee settlement in Uganda. She spoke through a translator.
She said she doesn't know if it was government soldiers or rebels. She says there were four of them who walked into my house and one of them started raping me. The other three stood guard. After that, she says, they asked me for money. They started looking around and took 500 South Sudanese pounds and left.
She said when her husband came home, she told him what had happened. He told her to leave or he would kill her. She arrived in Uganda in February.
Insufficient trauma counseling
U.N. human rights officials said earlier this year that rape had reached "epic proportions" in the conflict in South Sudan. The impact is felt in the refugee settlements, though U.N. officials say funding for trauma counseling is insufficient.
"We have about 20,000 women that have visited our center," said Alain Sibenaler, the Uganda Country Representative for the UNFPA. "Those are women that report abuse, that talk about, and that's of course very difficult to estimate how many more there are who have been silent, but it's important to know that, before they cross the border, there is already a large amount of violence that they have been subjected to. Now, that violence sometimes continues on their way to the settlement or is even perpetrated within the settlement."
VOA spoke to a community facilitator working with abused women in the settlements. He said he sees food shortages intensifying domestic violence.
One 30-year-old refugee from East Equatoria told VOA about the abuse she faces. She has seven children, two of them from her previous marriage. She said her husband beats her when he sees her feeding them from the family's rations.
She says "he used a bamboo stick to beat me. He hit my hand and broke my wrist. He also hit my back, I am always in pain." She says the day I returned from the hospital, he raped me and while at it he said 'I want to see who will come and rescue you. You are my wife.'"
She says she threatened once to report him to Ugandan police, but he told her he would cross back into South Sudan to evade capture.
Uganda's government says it is aware of the problem of violence against women in the settlements.
"When they struggle for resources in the areas that we give them, say, like water points, they become susceptible to all sorts of abuses," said Minister for Refugees Musa Ecweru. "I have had to go sometime as a minister responsible to speak very strongly to refugees, that some of you may have run from countries where law enforcement was weak, you have now run to a country where we take rights of others very strongly."
However, the minister said there have not been any recent arrests or prosecutions related to gender-based violence in the settlements. He said the government has placed priority on counseling survivors of abuse.
[back to contents]
Commentary and Perspectives
Full Justice Requires Punishment
By Efraim Zuroff
June 17, 2017
More than six years have already passed since the landmark decision by a Munich court in May 2011 to convict Ivan Demjanjuk as an accessory to murder for his role as an SS guard at the Sobibor death camp in Poland.
That decision was a direct result of a dramatic change in German prosecution policy vis-à-vis Nazi war criminals, which has paved the way for additional successful trials of Holocaust perpetrators — but not a single one of the death camp operatives convicted in recent years in Germany has yet sat one day in jail. The death late last month of Auschwitz guard Reinhold Hanning prior to his incarceration underscores the problem and the unfulfilled expectations of the recent Nazi trials in Germany.
Prior to the Demjanjuk case, to prosecute a Nazi war criminal in Germany the prosecution had to be able to prove that the suspect had committed a specific crime against a specific victim, and had done so motivated by racial hatred, a level of evidence practically impossible to obtain so many years after the fact.
Under those circumstances, the Germans initially refused a request by American prosecutors to extradite Demjanjuk and prosecute him on criminal charges for his service in Sobibor, since they lacked the required incriminating evidence.
Although there was no doubt that he had served in that death camp (there was a document which proved that), there were no documents which could prove, or witnesses alive who could testify, to crimes he had committed against specific victims.
Having successfully stripped Demjanjuk of his US citizenship and having obtained a deportation order against him for concealing his World War II service with the Nazis, which was the maximum that could be done against Nazi war criminals and collaborators living in the US, the Americans faced an impasse in the case, because they were unable to find a single country willing to accept him.
It was at his point that two German prosecutors, Thomas Walther and Kirsten Goetze, came up with an alternate strategy with the help of German law professor Cornelius Nestler, which enabled Germany to seek his extradition and prosecute him on criminal charges. Both Walther and Goetze were working at that time at the Zentrale Stelle (Central Office for the Clarification of Nazi Crimes), the German federal agency responsible for the initiation of cases against Nazi war criminals, and thus were in a position to positively influence the German judiciary to adopt their suggested approach.
Their reasoning was the following.
Since the primary purpose of the death camps (those concentration camps with apparatus for industrialized mass murder —Auschwitz, Treblinka, Belzec, Chelmno, Sobibor and Majdanek) was the commission of murder, in effect any person who served in such a camp could be charged and convicted for at least accessory to murder, which carried a penalty in Germany of five to15 years in prison.
That is exactly what happened in the Demjanjuk trial, and as soon as he was convicted, the German authorities at the Zentrale Stelle began searching all over the world for any and all individuals who had served at any of the six death camps who had hitherto not been prosecuted.
Initially several dozen former Auschwitz guards were found, as well as 17 suspects from Majdanek. Efforts were also made to find members of the mobile killing squads which operated on the Eastern front (Einsatzgruppen) and murdered approximately a million and a half Jews, and against whom the same legal reasoning could be applied.
In the ensuing six years, two men who served in Auschwitz were convicted in German courts — Oskar Groening in 2015 and Reinhold Hanning in 2016 — but to date, not one of those convicted has served a single day of his jail sentence.
It turns out that a person who appeals his conviction is not imprisoned until his appeal is decided, and both Demjanjuk (in 2012) and Hanning (last month) died before their appeals were heard, and even Groening, whose appeal was rejected in November 2016, has yet to be incarcerated.
Under these circumstances, the validity of such trials can be questioned.
Are they worth the substantial effort and expense invested if those convicted are never punished? There no doubt will be those who would respond by claiming that the punishment of such elderly defendants serves no constructive purpose, and that the most important aspect is their trial. While I definitely agree that the trial alone serves important purposes in terms of public education and historical documentation, and if the choice is between trials without punishment and no trials at all I strongly prefer the former, nonetheless in my opinion the practical punishment of those convicted remains important, and every effort should be made to implement their sentences. The crimes of the Holocaust, even those by individuals of lower ranks and positions, deserve at this point in time at least symbolic punishment.
The Illusion of Justice Under the International Criminal Court
By Hans Kochler
June 19, 2017
The ICC's composition is not representative of the international community and it has been made an ad hoc court of the Security Council, thus becoming susceptible to political interference.
Fifteen years after the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court — the treaty that established the International Criminal Court (ICC) — came into force, the record of the first permanent institution of international criminal justice is rather sobering. Although by now 124 states have acceded to it, the court has, with the exception of the Republic of Georgia, only investigated "situations" in African countries and has only prosecuted Africans.
The founders at the Rome conference of 1998 wanted the ICC to provide an alternative to the ad hoc jurisdiction of courts such as those established by the UN Security Council, shortly after the end of the Cold War, for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Unlike in the case of those courts created by executive fiat, a multilateral treaty guarantees the legal status of the ICC.
In principle, the court was meant to operate independently of political interference. The statutory independence is indeed indispensable for its permanent acceptance and credibility in the eyes of the world. Above all, the ICC was expected to gradually do away with the perception that international affairs are governed by double standards and that only the weak — or the losers in a struggle for power — are held accountable.
However, the court's performance so far has done nothing to change this assessment. This is due to both structural (regarding the composition of the court, i.e. the group of states parties) as well as procedural reasons (concerning the statute). Not surprisingly, the latter is the result of a compromise dictated by the power and national interests of the states that were involved in the negotiation process that led to the adoption of the statute.
If the ICC ever were to provide an alternative to the often politicised and legally questionable jurisdiction of ad hoc courts, its composition – i.e. the group of states parties – should be actually representative of the international community. This is certainly not the case yet since three out of the five permanent members of the Security Council (China, Russia and the US) have not acceded to the Rome Statute. Two of them, the US and Russia, have even taken the drastic step to withdraw their signatures from the statute.
Other major military powers such as India, Turkey or Israel are also not states parties. However, in the prosecution of international crimes (war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity), the personnel and officials of the most powerful countries ought to be subjected to the jurisdiction of the court in exactly the same way as the citizens of smaller and militarily weak states. There is no justice with duplicity.
The structural dilemma is further exacerbated by procedural provisions in the statute, which establish a relationship between the United Nations and the court that puts in jeopardy the court's very independence, not to speak of the normative contradictions those provisions cause within the statute.
According to Article 13(B) of the statute, the Security Council, using its coercive powers under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, may "refer" to the court "situations" also in states that are not parties to the Rome Statute. Furthermore, Article 16 entitles the supreme executive organ of the UN to "defer" an investigation or prosecution for the renewable period of one year. This does not only mean that states that are not bound by the Rome Statute in terms of international treaty law may be subjected to the jurisdiction of the court (Article 13[B]), but also that non-states parties are enabled to directly interfere in the court's exercise of jurisdiction.
Political opportunity trumps law
The ICC is thus effectively also made an ad hoc court of the Security Council. The situation is further aggravated by the fact that — due to the veto power of the five permanent members — it is considerations of political opportunity, not of law, that determine the criteria for decisions which have a decisive impact on the further development of international criminal justice.
It goes without saying that — in the context of the Security Council — political opportunity is primarily defined by the national interests of those five states each of whom may veto a decision on referral or deferral under the Rome Statute. The problem has become all too obvious in the selectivity of the council's referral decisions so far. While "situations" in the non-ICC member states Sudan (Darfur) and Libya were referred to the court, no such measure was taken by the council concerning "situations" such as those in Syria or Yemen where the court has no statutory jurisdiction either.
The demoralising effect of great power influence, with the application of double standards in international criminal justice, is particularly felt and visible in regions – especially in Africa – where the creation of the ICC received large support. Apart from Europe, Africa is the continent with the highest density of ratifications of the Rome Statute. In view of the political instrumentalisation of the court by powerful members of the Security Council, it does not come as a surprise that the African Union as early as in July 2009 decided to cease cooperation with the ICC in the case against the president of Sudan, and that, in January 2017, the African Union Assembly adopted a document for an 'ICC withdrawal strategy.'
When it comes to ICC, 'might makes right'
There is a further provision in the Rome Statute, which seriously restricts the court in its exercise of jurisdiction and indirectly subjects it to political influence. The by now notorious Article 98 prevents the court from proceeding with a request for surrender of a suspect if the country where he is residing has concluded a non-extradition treaty with a third state.
The US, for instance, has concluded — as a kind of precautionary measure — bilateral treaties for that purpose with a large number of states. Its military or economic power often had a decisive influence on the prospective treaty partners. This has made obvious again how the most powerful countries are able — and eager — to shield their citizens from the jurisdiction of the court while nonetheless using it "from outside," so to speak, (via the Security Council) for their own purposes. This is a case par excellence where "might makes right."
Limitations of prosecutor
Both the structural and procedural factors that render the ICC susceptible to political interference have been aggravated by the conduct so far of the prosecutor who, according to the statute, may also initiate an investigation on his/her own authority (proprio motu). The procedurally strong position of the prosecutor under the Rome Statute — who is not exclusively dependent on referrals from states parties — could indeed be a counterweight to the power and interests of both, states parties and those non-states parties who try to instrumentalise the court for their purposes.
As far as the first step in the court's exercise of jurisdiction — the initiation of an investigation — is concerned, a lot depends on the independence and courage of the prosecutor who, according to the statute, must be a person of "high moral character." The terms of both prosecutors so far, Luis Moreno Ocampo (until June 2012) and Fatou Bensouda, were characterised by a sharp discrepancy between hesitation, even inaction, on the one hand and decisive, bold prosecutorial initiatives on the other – depending on the political circumstances.
While, in Ocampo's obvious assessment, the situation in Afghanistan — that had acceded to the court in 2003 — did not require his involvement, he acted almost with lightning speed to obtain arrest warrants against the leading political figures in Libya — a country where he had only "borrowed" jurisdiction (due to the intervention of the Security Council), but where the interests of powerful states were at stake. At the same time, and in spite of overwhelming evidence, he found no reason for prosecutorial action concerning war crimes and crimes against humanity that had allegedly been committed by Libya's tribal militias.
Similarly, Fatou Bensouda, the incumbent prosecutor, has so far twice refused to open an investigation on the incident on the Mavi Marmara ship (May 31, 2010), part of the Humanitarian Aid Flotilla bound for Gaza — in spite of decisions, in that regard, of the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber I and of the ICC Appeals Chamber.
These prosecutorial practices have made it more than obvious that what the office of prosecutor needs most is personal integrity and independence, and an entirely non-political approach. Nothing less is required if the ICC is ever to be accepted and sustained as a permanent institution. However, even the most courageous and upright prosecutor cannot do away with the structural weaknesses of the court in its present form. The system of criminal justice embodied in the Rome Statute lacks legitimacy, and won't survive in the long term, unless the militarily powerful — and, above all, the most powerful — states accede to the court.
Under no circumstances, either directly or indirectly, either openly or covertly, must the ICC perpetuate the principle of "might makes right." This, however, will be the case as long as the statute of the court concedes to an external entity (that acts according to considerations of power politics) the privilege to interfere with its jurisdiction, whether by restricting or expanding it.
There should be no illusion: The United Nations Security Council, because of the veto, will never "refer" a situation on the territory of a permanent member or in a country that enjoys the protection of any of its five permanent members — not to speak of the fundamental immunity that protects the officials of those permanent members that are not states parties to the court (except in cases where those officials may have committed international crimes on the territory of a state party). Instead of obfuscating the issue, one should simply admit that the "end of impunity" has not yet been achieved. What exists is a two-class system of criminal justice where the Security Council may use "referrals" for political purposes, and in particular as "disciplinary measures" in domestic or international conflicts.
In any state that adheres to the rule of law, the exercise of judicial power must be strictly separate from the exercise of the state's other powers, and judicial authority vis-à-vis the legislative and executive branches must be secured. At the international level, however, there is no functioning separation of powers on that basis. The United Nations is no world state, and the Security Council is all the more not an agent within a proper system of checks and balances which, under the prevailing international conditions, doesn't even exist in rudimentary form.
Since the court has no enforcement powers of its own, except indirectly and only if it acts on the basis of a referral from the Security Council, and in view of its record, one cannot avoid asking whether the states that established this permanent institution, which is aimed at the universality of criminal justice, have not put the cart before the horse. The very idea of justice risks to be frustrated by the realities of power politics.
UN Needs to Properly Compensate Kosovo Victims
The Balkin Insight
By Louis Charbonneau, Katharina Rall
June 21, 2017
The United Nations may be undermining its own efforts to promote human rights, at a time when rights are under threat worldwide.
That's the view of a UN panel of experts which investigated complaints of human rights violations by the UN mission in Kosovo after the 1998-99 war — including widespread lead poisoning at UN-run camps.
Displaced members of the Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian minorities lived there for more than a decade, and hundreds of them got sick, with many still suffering health consequences today.
The UN Human Rights Advisory Panel (HRAP), which conducted the investigation, recommended last year that the UN apologise and pay lead poisoning victims individual compensation.
However, last month UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' press office suggested a different — and watered-down — plan. It announced that the UN was creating a voluntary trust fund for community assistance projects to help "more broadly the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities."
In other words, UN member states would choose whether to donate to the fund, which could be used to provide services that do not specifically target those affected by lead poisoning.
Victims' lawyers, Roma rights organizations and UN accountability advocates criticized the UN's decision. Human Rights Watch urged Guterres to follow the HRAP's recommendations.
Now the former HRAP members have called on the UN to change course. In a June 8 letter to Guterres, they argued that the trust fund fails to provide compensation for violations of the right to life and the right to health.
They also warned Guterres that "at a time of backlash against human rights it is vital that the UN be seen to live up to the promise of the [UN] Charter and the obligations it has promoted." If the UN does not hold itself accountable, "the human rights system as a whole is weakened", they wrote.
It is high time for the UN to make amends for the suffering inflicted on hundreds of families from Kosovo who were exposed to toxic lead in camps – and who the UN failed to relocate until well after the health effects became clear.
Guterres, who inherited this problem, has promised to build a culture of accountability. But the UN's refusal to take responsibility here undermines its ability to press governments to remedy their own human rights abuses.
[back to contents]
Wrestling Tyrants: Do We Need an International Criminal Justice System?
By Christopher L. Blakesley
48 University of the Pacific Law Review 175 (2017)
June 14, 2017
Prof. Christopher L. Blakesley delivered this keynote address at the Crimes Without Borders: In Search of an International Justice System Symposium, held at the McGeorge School of Law in the spring of 2016.
[back to contents]