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War Crimes Prosecution Watch

Volume 13 - Issue 1
February 19, 2018


Taylor Frank

Technical Editor-in-Chief
Ashley Mulryan

Managing Editors
Sarah Lucey
Lynsey Rosales

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

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




Central African Republic

Sudan & South Sudan

Democratic Republic of the Congo



Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast)

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





Rwanda (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda)





Court of Bosnia & Herzegovina, War Crimes Chamber

International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

Domestic Prosecutions In The Former Yugoslavia






Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia

Special Tribunal for Lebanon

Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal

War Crimes Investigations in Burma

Israel and Palestine


North & Central America

South America


Truth and Reconciliation Commission



Gender-Based Violence

Commentary and Perspectives




Central African Republic

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

GIEWS Country Brief: Central African Republic 06-February-2018

February 6, 2018


Reduced production for 2017 crops due to generalized decline in planted area as consequence of persisting civil insecurity

Food access continues to be severely constrained by disrupted livelihoods, reduced production and sharply-curtailed market activity

Food prices have risen sharply in conflict-ridden areas

Dire food security situation for large segments of population, strong livelihood support required

Reduced production for 2017 crops

Harvesting of the main 2017 cereal crops was completed in December 2017, while the harvest of the secondary crops is still underway in some southern bi-modal rainfall areas.

According to satellite-based information, vegetation conditions during the cropping season were generally favourable. Average to below-average rainfall prevailed from March until the first dekad of June 2017 in both the southern maize-producing areas and in northern millet/sorghum-growing areas. However, persisting civil insecurity continued to disrupt agricultural activities and limited the available crop-growing areas thus having a negative impact on the final outcome of the cropping season. In fact, it is reported that smaller areas were planted particularly in conflict areas due to the limited access to cropland and seeds. In 2017, a slightly reduced aggregate output was recorded for the fifth consecutive year.

In conflict-affected areas, food prices increased sharply in recent months

Food prices have increased sharply in recent months in the northwest, southeast and central conflict-affected areas mostly due to below-average market supplies, sharply-curtailed market activity as well as the degraded state of roads and road harassment (illegal check-points, ambushes).

The average annual inflation rate declined in recent years and fell to 3.7 percent in 2017 compared to 4.6 percent in 2016. The general decline in prices was mostly demand-driven as disrupted livelihoods, reduced employment opportunities and limited availability have severely curtailed households' purchasing power. In 2018, the average annual inflation rate is expected to remain similar to the 2017 levels.

Food security situation remains dire, strong livelihood support continues to be required

Violent clashes and inter-communal tensions have continuously increased since 2017 resulting in widespread disruption of agricultural and marketing activities as well as exacerbated the massive displacements, with a severe negative impact on both food availability and access. According to UNHCR, as of end-December 2017, the IDP caseload was estimated at about 689 000 people, with a nearly 15 percent increase since the end of October 2017 in the Ouham-Pendé and Haute-Kotto regions. The conflicts that led to the displacement of the populations is also restricting humanitarian access and disrupting agricultural activities.

Five consecutive years of reduced harvests, compounded by access constraints due to market disruptions and declining purchasing power, result in an alarming food security situation across the country. The 2017 lean season (from April to July) was particularly harsh and extended with most households facing serious food constraints. In addition, not only the quantity of food in-take was reduced but the dietary diversity was also drastically diminished by the substitution of more nutritious cereal and vegetable staples with cassava and the sharp reduction of animal proteins intake. This widespread dietary deterioration raises serious concerns of having a dire effect in terms of nutrition and health. According to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), valid for the period from February to May 2017, about 1.1 million people (30 percent of the total population) were in need of urgent assistance (IPC Phase 3: "Crisis" and IPC Phase 4: "Emergency") of which more than 315 000 people who faced IPC Phase 4: "Emergency". Eight out of the 15 prefectures were in IPC Phase 3: "Crisis". A timely and effective support to the agricultural sector is required to mitigate the extent of the impact of the protracted and widespread insecurity on the agricultural sector.

Central African Republic Violence Leaves at Least 5 Dead
VOA News

February 8, 2017

Militia members stormed a health center in the Central African Republic's capital seeking to kill the wounded after renewed violence left at least five people dead, including a pastor, authorities said Wednesday.

The fighting centered Tuesday on Bangui's PK5 neighborhood, long a flashpoint for tensions between Muslim and Christian fighters, even as security has improved in recent months.

More than two dozen wounded were brought to a local health facility, according to Dr. Michel Yao, acting U.N. humanitarian coordinator in the country and the World Health Organization representative.

"Armed elements forcefully entered into the facility with the intention to kill some of the injured," he said Wednesday.

The violence was sparked by a military operation in which U.N. and Central African forces sought to interrogate local militia leader Youssouf Sy, also known as Big Man. Security forces said they were fired upon and returned fire, killing Sy and one of his associates.

At least two churches were set ablaze in retaliation by Sy's followers. Among the victims was a pastor, Jean Paul Sankagui, according to Awadal Karim Mahamat, imam of the Ali Babolo mosque in PK5.

"We launch an appeal for calm. We remind people to respect the role of the security forces,'' said Jean-Serge Bokassa, minister of public security.

Central African Republic exploded into violence in late 2013 as anger mounted against a Muslim rebel leader who had seized power by force. The backlash against Muslim civilians forced most of Bangui's Muslims to flee north or to neighboring Chad and Cameroon.

The country held mostly peaceful democratic elections a year ago. However, armed militias persist not only in the largely ungoverned north but also in pockets of Bangui, threatening to undermine recent progress.

The Security Briefing: Peace prospects for the Central African Republic
Global Risk Insights

By Nicolo Dona dalle Rose
February 12, 2018

Over the last few months, the security situation in the Central African Republic has deteriorated. Given its central location, the CAR remains a key puzzle piece in African. The current cycle of civil unrest holds especially large implications for neighboring countries Chad and Uganda and the region at large, as it sends massive waves of refugees to the surrounding countries.

2017 brought a surge in violence following the withdrawal of Ugandan forces from the country. Soon after, several major aid agencies and NGOs left the country, citing endemic violence, systemic displacement, and security risks. The withdrawal comes at a bad time, as the CAR needs aid now more than ever. Over half its population (2.2 million) currently needs some form of humanitarian assistance.

Regardless of whether UN forces and the current government can put an end to the violence and address the humanitarian crisis, there are deep divisions that will continue to obstruct a sustainable political future for the country. If the CAR is to emerge from this bout of civil unrest to a better tomorrow, it will have to heal wounds and cleavages that fall directly along religious and ethnic lines.

From Bokassa to Touadéra

Conflict and political discontinuity in the CAR began after the overthrow of Colonel Jean-Bédel Bokassa, a megalomaniacal dictator who seized power in 1966, shortly after the country's independence. Bokassa ruled until he was deposed with the help of French troops in 1979, setting off a long series of coups and failed democratic initiatives which ultimately culminated in a 2004 civil war.

The civil war pitted the government of François Bozizé — who had consolidated power through a coup in 2003 — against the Union des Forces Démocratiques pour le Rassemblement (UFDR), which headed a vast number of rebel groups.

A 2007 peace agreement brought hope but was never implemented in full, and in 2012 a coalition of northern rebel groups known as Séléka seized control of several towns near the Chad border before installing their leader, Michel Djotodia, in the CAR capital of Bangui.

Djotodia became the first Muslim leader of the CAR, leading a coalition that accused Bozizé of favoring the Christian population at the expense of 15% of the population that identify as Muslim. In reaction to Djotodia's rule, Christian militias formed anti-balaka groups which brutally attacked Muslim-majority villages. In 2013, the country exploded into bloodshed after the Sélékas overthrew Bozizé.

In 2013, the African Union-led sent 5,000 ground troops from Gabon, Chad, the Republic of Congo and Cameroon into the CAR. The following year, these were subsumed into the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), which doubled the number of the ground-troops, in addition to a supporting contingent of 1,820 police officers. MINUSCA's official mission is to safeguard the implementation of a 2015 peace agreement between the government and ten of the most prominent rival armed groups.

In February of 2016, Faustin-Archange Touadéra won the presidency on a platform based on religious reconciliation. However, the election still left the conflict in the CAR far from being resolved, particularly given the deep-seeded memories of ethnic and religiously-motivated bloodshed engrained in the minds of Central Africans.

Withdrawal and MINUSCA response In 2016, the French officially ended their military operations in the CAR, partly due to international outrage over accusations of sexual violence against civilians in the CAR.

In the CAR, French operations had been aimed at pushing out the Séléka alliance—a mission whose success was hamstrung by the multiplicity of the coalition's rebel groups. France saw the CAR within a broader regional dimension given its critical borders with Sudan and Chad.

In April of last year, Uganda also started withdrawing its troops involved in the US-backed missions against the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in the CAR. The forces had been supported by 100 US Special Forces in intelligence gathering on LRA activities in CAR since 2010. The withdrawal, in tandem with France's departure, became a contributing cause to the upsurge in violence starting in May of 2017.

The UN, however, doubled down in the CAR and increased the size of its force to 14,000 troops. Questions remain regarding the force's ability to stabilize the region, as the continued violence is causing unprecedented levels of internal and regional displacement.

Meanwhile, MINUSCA forces have continually struggled to appropriately defend refugee camps and rural communities in the country. In May, the city of Bangassou was attacked by anti-balaka militias. Again, in August, several dozen people were massacred in a similar attack in Gambo. As the UNSC moves to increase its ground presence, its peacekeeping forces' ability to pacify the local situation remains in question.

From Religion to Land

While violence along sectarian lines may be on the decline, it is likely that inter-factional conflict within the Séléka alliance (which was forced out of the capital, Bangui, in 2014) will continue in the short-term.

In recent months, the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC) of the Fulani ethnic group and the Popular Front for the Renaissance (FPRC), which is made of Gula and Runga fighters, have been battling for control of the Eastern Haute-Kotto and central Ouaka prefectures.

As fighting continues in these prefectures, the de-facto partition between North and South and Sélékas and anti-balaka groups will give space for Christian armed groups to grow, which is a major concern for UN forces.

Amidst these challenges, the future of UN operations is unclear. The extension of the mandate and recognition of recent shortcomings does not remove broader questions about what these forces will realistically be able to achieve. Meanwhile, CAR government forces have not demonstrated an ability to maintain control over the entirety of their territory. Further withdrawals may contribute to the formation of a dangerous vacuum which rebel groups will seek to fill.

The CAR's domestic conflicts have long had a broader regional and international dimension. France, the African Union, Uganda and Chad all have a history of military activity in the CAR, reflecting its strategic import within the region. Developments within the CAR will be keenly watched by its neighbors, especially as increased violence sends thousands of refugees to their doors.

The road ahead for the CAR is arduous. As the country navigates uncertain political waters and struggles to quell the violence outside of the capital, international stakeholders move inevitably closer to giving up on their missions. While popular fatigue and opposition to the conflict have brought about a government based on a reconciliation platform, Bangui has not shown its ability to put forward a political agenda and architecture capable of disarming the various factions.

The coming year will undoubtedly be decisive. If the government is able to reaffirm some form of control over key regions like Ouaka, the momentum could reasonably bring increased international attention and support. Otherwise, the CAR risks becoming an almost irreversibly failed state.

More than reconciliation

Looking at the road ahead for the CAR, multiple scenarios can unfold.

The first one is that the increase in numbers in UN and international forces is sufficient to bring security to the critical regions in the center and north-east of the country, deterring ethnic militias from combat and winning the hearts and minds of the local population. However, this is unlikely. The withdrawal of French troops shows now more than ever that the momentum behind international missions, including MINUSCA, is wavering at a member-state level. Furthermore, the challenges on the ground and ineffectiveness shown at times by the UN forces has negatively impacted their credibility in the country.

More pessimistically, reconciliation may ultimately fail even at a level, leading to more divisive leadership platforms and the establishment of a partisan administration in Bangui. The current leadership needs to show results, fast, and absent those may face near-term political challenges by new contenders wishing to take a different approach than Touadéra.

Finally, the more likely near-term outcome is an unfortunate political status quo. As religious conflict further degenerates into localized fighting among ethnically-defined groups, the disconnect between Bangui and the rest of the country will persist, with the UN acting as a somewhat effective buffer between civilians in urban centers.

Unicef admits failings with child victims of alleged sex abuse by peacekeepers
The Guardian

February 13, 2018

The UN's children's agency has admitted shortcomings in its humanitarian support to children who allege that they were raped and sexually abused by French peacekeepers in Central African Republic.

A statement by Unicef Netherlands is the first public acknowledgement of the agency's recent failure to provide support to some of the victims of alleged abuse by peacekeepers in the African nation. It comes as the aid sector and the UN face increasing scrutiny for their failings in managing internal sexual misconduct by their own staff.

Unicef was given the task of overseeing the support for children who said they had been abused by peacekeepers.

But in March last year, an award-winning investigation by Swedish Television's Uppdrag Granskning (Mission Investigate) revealed that some of the children supposedly in the UN's care were homeless, out of school and forced to make a living on the streets, despite UN assurances that they would be protected. Unicef's representative in CAR told the programme that the children were in the agency's assistance programme for minors and were being supported. He said he was not aware that some were on the streets.

But earlier this month — ahead of a Dutch screening of the programme — Unicef Netherlands admitted to the Dutch television programme Zembla that Unicef had failed in its duty to help some of the alleged victims. But it said that since the programme had first aired, it had taken steps to locate the children featured in the programme and provide them with support.

Marieke van Santen, of Zembla, said she found the Swedish film "astonishing" because the children who were interviewed were known to Unicef, yet they were not being cared for.

Van Santen said: "It is quite shocking to realise that not only once but twice UN agencies have failed to help these victims."

The statement from Unicef Netherlands was welcomed by Karin Mattisson, a reporter for Mission Investigate. "I hope it makes a difference to the children and gives them strength. They have said they were failed," said Mattisson.

Several boys who testified to having been sexually assaulted by French soldiers were living rough, Mattisson found, while a girl, who became pregnant at the age of 14 by a Congolese peacekeeper and had later found out she was HIV-positive, was out of school looking after her baby. Another boy, aged eight, who was too traumatised to be interviewed, was in an orphanage.

"I hope they live up to this statement," she said. "When we investigated the UN and Unicef it was a long journey into their culture of silence."

Some of the children Mattisson spoke to had given evidence to officials investigating reports of abuse by the French Sangaris peacekeeping force, which was not part of the UN peacekeeping mission, but under UN security council control. Since then, however, other cases of alleged sexual abuse and exploitation by UN peacekeepers have emerged.

The agency first came under fire for its failure to care for the child victims of alleged abuse in CAR in 2015. An independent panel, which found the UN's failure to respond to allegations that French peacekeepers sexually abused children in the country amounted to "gross institutional failure" . It also said Unicef and human rights staff in CAR had failed to ensure the children received medical attention and humanitarian aid and "failed to take steps to protect other victims". Unicef responded by saying it "deeply regretted" the failings.

Before airing the film in the Netherlands, Zembla said it wanted to know if the agency had instigated any changes. "We wanted to understand that, and we also wanted to know what happened after the documentary," said Van Santen.

The Unicef Netherlands statement, issued to Zembla, said: "First of all: it is horrible what happened in the Central African Republic. Children should never be the victim of abuse, violence and exploitation. It is terrible that this happened and that relief was not enough."

It said that since March it had "tightened up" sexual abuse reporting and intensified efforts to provide support to victims of sexual exploitation, including medical, psychosocial support and help with food and education. It stressed the "difficult circumstances" of working in CAR, a country of extreme poverty and excessive violence, which has been involved in a long civil war.

"As the largest organisation that provides help to children here, we have a big responsibility. We must continuously watch to do our work as well as possible."

A statement by Unicef's HQ said it had followed up with the cases exposed by the Swedish documentary, and provided assistance "where appropriate".

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Democratic Republic of the Congo

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

Congo rebel leader extradited from Tanzania to face trial

February 5, 2018

A renegade Congolese colonel who had threatened to depose President Joseph Kabila has been extradited from Tanzania and will be prosecuted for rebellion, Congo's defense minister said on Monday.

In a video circulated on social media last month, John Tshibangu, who had been based in the east of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), gave the president a 45-day ultimatum to leave or "we are going to take Kabila down".

But Tshibangu was then detained by authorities in Tanzania toward the end of last month.

"John Tshibangu is in Kinshasa. We are going to leave him to face justice for rebellion, a crime catered for and punished by the Congolese penal code," Defence Minister Crispin Atama Tabe told Reuters by text message.

Tshibangu used to be a military commander in the central Congolese region of Kasai. He defected in 2012 and moved to the lawless east, long a haunt of would-be Congolese rebels.

One of Tshibangu's associates, a captain in the Congolese army called Freddy Ibeba, was also arrested in northern Congo on Monday and will be taken to Kinshasa for a hearing, justice minister Alexis Thabwe Mwamba told a press conference on Monday.

Of Tshibangu, he said: "I would like to reassure that he will be entitled to a fair and equitable trial."

Kabila's refusal to step down when his mandate expired in December 2016 has emboldened several armed groups, stoking violence and raising the specter of the vast, mineral-rich nation tumbling back into the kind of wars that killed millions in the 1990s, mostly from hunger and disease.

U.S. blacklists four for rights abuses, attacks in Congo

February 5, 2018

The United States sanctioned a top general and three rebel leaders from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Monday, accusing them of human rights abuses and brutal attacks against civilians in the east of the Central African country.

Those sanctioned included Brigadier General Muhindo Akili Mundos of the DRC armed forces, and Gedeon Kyungu Mutanga, Guidon Shimiray Mwissa and Lucien Nzabamwita of three rebel factions operating in DRC.

"We are targeting human rights abusers perpetuating the horrific conflict in the eastern DRC who have contributed to the tremendous suffering of the Congolese people," said John Smith, a director at the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC, which oversees economic and trade sanctions.

"They are responsible for horrendous acts including sexual abuse and forced military recruitment of children into positions requiring them to commit acts of violence, among other atrocities," Smith said in a statement.

The U.S. actions come days after the U.N. Security Council blacklisted the four men for "planning, directing, or committing acts in the DRC that constitute human rights violations or abuses or violations of international humanitarian law."

Millions of people died in regional conflicts in eastern Congo between 1996-2003 and dozens of militia groups continue to operate there. The country is set to hold elections at end of December that are meant to replace President Joseph Kabila.

But election delays have raised tensions across the country, triggering street protests and encouraging armed rebellion, especially since Kabila refused to step down when his mandate expired at the end of 2016.

Mundos, who was accused in a confidential 2016 U.N. Security Council report with recruiting, financing and arming elements of a Ugandan Islamist group to kill civilians, is a close ally of Kabila.

He has repeatedly denied any personal responsibility for massacres in eastern Congo while he was in charge of a military operation targeting rebels.

The U.S. Treasury said Mutanga was a commander of the Mai Mai militia group who was convicted by a Congolese court in 2003 for crimes against humanity involving murder, executions, cannibalism, rape and mutilation. In 2011, he merged his Mai Mai group with the Bakata Katanga, known as Kata Katanga, which has been responsible for recruiting child soldiers.

Mwissa, who is from the NDC-R militia, was also responsible for recruiting child soldiers and imposing illegal taxes in gold-mining areas and using the proceeds to buy weapons in breach of an arms embargo, Treasury said.

Nzabamwita is a military leader from the FDLR rebel group, accused of fomenting violence and instability.

SANDF members alleged to have committed torture and assault in DRC

February 11, 2018

SA National Defence Force members serving in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have been accused of assault and torture, its spokesperson said on Sunday.

"The SANDF has been alerted to reports of torture and assault in the Democratic Republic of Congo allegedly committed by some of its members deployed under the United Nations mission in that country," said SANDF spokesman Brigadier General Mafi Mgobozi in a statement.

"The allegations are understood to have been reported by citizens of the DRC."

SANDF Chief, General Solly Shoke has instituted a formal investigation into the reports "in order to establish their veracity and take the necessary corrective actions against those involved".

National investigating officers will liase with the UN offices in the DRC to pursue the matter.

"General Shoke has emphasised that ill-discipline and criminality will not be tolerated within the ranks of the SANDF," said Mgobozi.

"Those found to have transgressed the Code of Conduct and Military Disciplinary Code will be dealt with without fear or favour."

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

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Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast)

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

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

UN: Forgotten Victims of Boko Haram in Desperate Need of Aid
Voice of America

By Lisa Schlein
February 01, 2018

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is appealing for $175 million to provide life-saving assistance to more than one-quarter million largely forgotten victims of the radical Islamic group Boko Haram.

The Boko Haram insurgency, which began in northeast Nigeria in 2009, has displaced more than two million people inside the country. It also has sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing for their lives to neighboring Niger, Chad and Cameroon since 2013.

Nigerian military forces have recaptured much of the territory taken by Boko Haram, and their progress has largely diverted world attention away from the crisis. While it no longer makes headline news, U.N. refugee spokesman Babar Balloch told VOA the Boko Haram insurgency continues to displace people, negatively affecting their lives.

"So, we are trying to remind the world that there are still hundreds of thousands of people who are displaced by it, affected by it, especially women and children. Let us not forget the whole [Boko Haram] movement is against education. So, many schools are being affected and also it has a devastating impact on the whole community where this group is operating," Balloch said. The Lake Chad Basin is one of the poorest and most forgotten regions in the world. The UNHCR says one of the most devastating side effects of the Boko Haram conflict is the alarming rise in food insecurity, which affects more than 7.2 million people. This, it says, has sent malnutrition levels soaring.

The agency says Nigerian refugees continue to flee to very remote and impoverished communities where they live in dire conditions.

The appeal aims to provide emergency food, shelter, health care, education and water and sanitation to more than 200,000 Nigerian refugees and to 75,000 residents in the communities hosting them.

Boko Haram releases 13 hostages to Nigerian government

February 10, 2018

The Islamist militant group Boko Haram has released 13 people who were kidnapped in north-eastern Nigeria last year, the government says.

They include 10 women seized during an attack on a police convoy and three lecturers from Maiduguri taken during an oil exploration trip.

President Muhammadu Buhari's office said their release was facilitated by the Red Cross.

About 20,000 people have died in Boko Haram's eight-year insurgency.

In a statement, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it had acted only as a neutral intermediary and were not involved in the negotiations.

ICRC vehicles arrived at a refugee camp on the Cameroon border at about midday on Saturday, sources quoted by the AFP news agency said.

They drove into the bush and returned some hours later with the 13 who were then flown in four helicopters to Maiduguri.

Details of the negotiations were not revealed.

In October 2016 and May 2017 the ICRC was also an intermediary in the release of some of the 200 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram from the town of Chibok in 2014.

On Saturday, Mr Buhari called on the Nigerian army to intensify efforts to bring home more than 100 Chibok schoolgirls still missing.

Boko Haram is fighting to overthrow the government and create an Islamic state.

Rising Temperatures, Terrorism Threaten Cameroon's Food Security
Voice of America

By Moki Edwin Kindzeka
February 10, 2018

Cameroon says its northern border with Nigeria and Chad and most of the Lake Chad basin face a food crisis because of desertification and the Boko Haram conflict that stopped farmers from doing their work.

Thousands of school children selected from all local primary and secondary schools planted trees on the outskirts of Garoua, capital of the northern region of Cameroon. Didier Djonwe, an official of Cameroon's Ministry of Secondary Education, says the children were invited to plant trees because temperatures have been rising to up to 48 degrees Celsius from 42 degrees Celsius in the past couple of years.

Djonwe said by planting trees the children will understand that it is a citizen's duty to protect the environment and keep it healthy for living, both for themselves and future generations. Djonwe said each school in Garoua is expected have students water the trees on a schedule until the rainy season begins.

Up to 90 percent of rainfall in Garoua comes from June to September and evaporation, the government says, has been very high, with harsh, hostile and fragile climatic conditions. Sali Seini of Cameroon's National Action Plan for the Fight Against Desertification, said Garoua is one of the towns in northern Cameroon witnessing the worst effects of desertification and land degradation.

He said more than eight million hectares of arable land has either been completely destroyed or is losing its fertility to a level that it is becoming impossible to grow crops, which is a very serious handicap to agricultural production. He said all the degraded soil should be restored through tree planting and the construction of water wells and boreholes where possible.

Vicious circle

Seini says the phenomenon has worsened over the years, triggering a vicious circle of environmental degradation, leading to poverty, food insecurity and mass migration in dry areas. Hanson Langmia, Cameroon Country Director for the World Wildlife Fund for Nature says the situation is getting serious because of decreasing rainfall and water shortages and wild fires and the cutting of trees for fuel.

"Our rivers will dry up and a lot of things will happen and we will face the impact. The heat we are facing is because the ozone layer that is supposed to be protecting the earth is being destroyed by overexploitation of our resources and the release of gases that are destroying the ozone layer," Langmia said.

Cameroon reports that 40 percent of its northern border with Nigeria and Chad has been affected by desertification and it has resulted in famine threatening 30 percent of the 3 million people of the far north region, including over 80,000 Nigerian refugees and 100,000 internally displaced persons.

The central African state says the situation may grow worse because the Boko Haram insurgency has prevented farmers from working their land and as a result, food production has dropped.

The situation is also bad in neighboring states of the Lake Chad Basin that depended on Cameroon for their food supply as the insurgency has moved.

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Mali's mounting crisis shows insecurity and fear
Thomson Reuters Foundation News

By Christine Beerli
February 1, 2018

From the air, Timbuktu, the fabled city of gold — once a key Arab-African trading post on the trans-Saharan caravan route, a lush oasis, a centre of Islamic culture and learning — is almost obscured by swirling clouds of dust, its pale mud houses and sandy streets barely distinguishable from the encroaching desert.

Timbuktu today is under threat not only by harsh environmental elements and drought, but by intensifying armed conflict, rampant criminality and deepening poverty.

"Insecurity and fear touch every aspect of our lives here," a young resident told me. "We're ready to flee at any moment, but in reality it's hard to know where to flee to," he said.

Tuareg separatists and Islamist armed groups who took control of Timbuktu and much of northern Mali in 2012 were scattered a year later by a French-led military operation. Yet they quickly regrouped, spreading the conflict from the north to central regions, as well as to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.

A 2015 peace accord signed by the government of Mali and some of the country's baffling array of armed groups — with their frequent mutations and shifting alliances — has so far failed to stem the spiralling crisis.

In the absence of the State in many of these areas, armed groups readily exploit frustrations, deep-rooted grievances and tribal rivalries to their own financial or political ends. Banditry is thriving in the chaotic void.

As a result, people across Mali are in an increasingly perilous state. The humanitarian situation in northern areas is critical — among the worst the ICRC has seen since starting its operations there more than 20 years ago — and is getting steadily worse in central areas too.

I saw the suffering very clearly for myself. At the ICRC-supported hospital in the northern city of Gao, for example, I spoke with people suffering horrific injuries from land mines or IEDs. One widowed mother of 6 children who had lost both legs was being cared for in the nearby orthopaedic centre.

People using road transport are highly vulnerable to such hazards, including in central regions such as Mopti, with a paralysing effect on movement and trade. Access to health care facilities and schools is similarly constrained. Hundreds of schools remain closed as a result of insecurity and direct attacks.

Why UN forces are finding it hard to bring peace to Mali
The Economist

February 3, 2018

At the weekly market in Toya, at the edge of the Niger river, just outside the ancient city of Timbuktu, little seems to have changed. Under shelters built from branches and tarpaulins, traders in turbans with leathery faces hawk almost everything imaginable. There are slabs of rock salt, mined deep in the desert, next to crates of Algerian cigarettes. Cheap radios sit beside tins of USAID vegetable oil (the marking "not for sale" roundly ignored).

Yet all is not well here. A group of armed UN peacekeepers walks among the shoppers, asking questions. One elderly Tuareg says that just a few days earlier a dozen armed men had wandered into the village, flaunting their weapons. He will not say who they were, but they were not soldiers from the Malian army. "We have fear here. When these men can come and go as they please, there is no security," he says. When asked if he had ever seen the state's security forces, he gestures a hand with a large silver ring at the market: "They are never here."

During the past decade Mali has become one of Africa's most intractable security problems. Once seen as a model democracy, it has been plagued by violence since 2012, when Tuareg-led jihadists with links to al-Qaeda led a rebellion across northern Mali, at the edge of the Sahara desert (see map). At one time tourists used to pour into Timbuktu to ride camels across the desert. Now most of the foreigners at the airport wear army uniforms. The city has said goodbye to Bono, a rock musician who once played there. But in most other respects things have got worse.

The old fracture lines of race and tribe widened after independence in 1960. Many among the Tuareg and Arab minorities were uncomfortable with being ruled by black Africans in the south. Big rebellions broke out in 1963 and 1990. But the one in 2012, which came after soldiers had staged a coup in Bamako, the capital, marked a turning-point. The rebels, who had developed from a secular nationalist movement into an Islamist insurgency, seemed ready to march on the capital. That prompted France to send in troops, who pushed the rebels out of most cities but did not defeat them entirely.

In 2015 the warring parties signed a peace deal. But since then the violence has continued to escalate. At least four separate attacks between January 25th and 28th killed scores of people. Last year the UN counted 220 attacks on its operations. That is more than in 2015 and 2016 combined. The peacekeeping mission established in 2013, known as MINUSMA, is by far the UN's most dangerous. It has a force of about 11,000, but 150 peacekeepers have been killed. Insecurity has spread from the north to the centre of Mali.

The country's vast desert is not only a breeding ground for jihadism; it is also a trade route that carries consumer goods south and drugs and migrants towards Europe. That partly explains why France's president, Emmanuel Macron, has already visited Mali twice. France has some 3,000 troops in the Sahel fighting terrorists, most of whom are in Mali. America has a force there too, as does the European Union (on a training mission). Western countries are also paying for a counterterrorism force drawn from regional armies, the G5 Sahel.

In Kano, a village 60km east of Timbuktu, the UN shows off what its DDR (disarmament, demobilisation and rehabilitation) programme has achieved. As women in bright wraps and headscarves ululate, a newly built water tower is ceremoniously untapped and brown liquid gushes out onto the sand. "It is an excellent thing," enthuses Mohammed Ahmed Cissé, the village's portly chief. "We can grow gardens, and…work together instead of fighting."

Although the fighting has died down, there is not much disarmament. Armed rebels still live in the village, admits Mr Cissé. And a bigger problem is apparent. No one from the Malian government has been seen in almost a decade. Andrew Lebovich, a Bamako-based analyst from the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think-tank, argues that the government has little interest in implementing the peace agreement. Fully 90% of Mali's population is in the south, as is most of the economy, which is dominated by goldmining.

A presidential election is due to be held this year and is occupying the incumbent, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, far more than insecurity. Mr Keïta has faced protests, but not chiefly over the war: corruption allegations sting more. When the Malian army, which is recruited almost entirely in the south, does try to fight, it is often brutal, which helps armed groups recruit.

As long as the state remains so ineffective, Western countries find themselves pushing on a string. According to one report by the International Crisis Group, an NGO based in Brussels, G5 Sahel soldiers "are spending longer in training and preparatory missions than in doing their actual jobs". Yet without systematic change, Mali's problems are only likely to get worse. Half of the population is under the age of 16. The average Malian woman has six children. According to Unicef, barely a third of the population can read, a sad statistic that is unlikely to improve soon, given that hundreds of schools have been closed because of the fighting. Young men without much education or chance of employment are easy recruits to jihadism.

In Timbuktu Mohammed Ag Atta, a 52-year-old Tuareg, says that a decade ago he made good money guiding tourists out into the desert. But now he cannot even feed his camels. "The problem is the state," he says. "Nobody notices us." And so the war goes on.

Mali ordered to pay $48m to military supplier
News 24

February 6, 2018

Mali's Supreme Court has ordered the government to pay more than $48m to a local military equipment firm, in a legal battle dating back to 2014 triggered by corruption allegations.

The World Bank and IMF froze aid to Mali that year over state dealings with the supplier Guo Star, and over a separate purchase of a $40m presidential plane for leader Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

Accusations over the tender process and overbilling tainted the deals.

The court said in a judgement made available on Monday that the state should pay Guo Star just over 25 billion CFA francs ($47m), representing the balance of the contract.

It also ordered the state to pay 600 million CFA francs in damages and interest.

A lawyer representing the firm said on Monday his client had "respected the contract signed".

The state auditor had ordered the government in 2014 not to pay the supplier until enquiries into the corruption allegations were completed.

The separate case of the presidential plane remains under scrutiny by investigators.

Mine explosion kills five civilians, wounds 18 in Mali

By Aaron Ross
February 10, 2018

Five civilians were killed and another 18 wounded in central Mali when their passenger vehicle struck a landmine, the local governor said on Saturday, two weeks after 26 travellers died in a similar incident in the area.

The explosion occurred on Friday afternoon on the road between the towns of Dera and Konna in the Mopti region, where Islamist militants have recently stepped up attacks on civilian and military targets, said Governor Sidi Alassane Toure, who blamed the attack on "terrorists".

"We must no longer accept living under the same roof as terrorists, we must no longer accept sharing a meal with a terrorist, (or) living in the same village with a terrorist," Toure said on state radio.

Although militants in Mali's restive centre and north have pledged loyalty to international groups like al Qaeda and Islamic State, the jihadists draw chiefly on local grievances against the central government and ethnic rivalries.

A U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali, thousands of French troops across the Sahel region and a new regional security taskforce have all been unable to stem the attacks, raising concerns for the security of Mali's presidential election this year.

An intervention by French troops in 2013 drove back al Qaeda-linked militants who had had seized control of Mali's desert north. But in recent years jihadists have extended their reach into wetter, more populated central regions.

They have also used Mali as a launchpad for raids into neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger, including one last October that killed four U.S. Special Forces soldiers.

Late last month, a landmine explosion in Mopti region killed 26 people and wounded several others, many of them from Burkina Faso. Two days later, unidentified gunmen killed at least 14 soldiers in a pre-dawn assault on a military camp in central Mali.

French forces kill at least 10 jihadists in Mali: military sources
News 24

February 14, 2018

French air power on Wednesday killed at least 10 jihadists in northeast Mali near the border with Algeria, local and foreign military sources said.

"French forces on Wednesday led at least one raid near Tinzaouatene, at the Algerian border, against the terrorists," a local Malian military source told AFP. "There were at least 10 deaths and two vehicles were destroyed."

The offensive was part of France's Operation Barkhane, active in Mali as well as four other former French colonies in west Africa — Mauritania, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso.

These countries form the so-called G5 Sahel, a French-supported group that launched a joint military force to combat jihadism last year.

The Malian source said the French force had been conducting operations in northeastern Mali for several days.

A foreign military source confirmed that "several" raids had been carried out in the region on Wednesday, killing at least 10 jihadists.

Islamic extremists linked to Al-Qaeda took control of the desert north of Mali in early 2012, but were largely driven out in a French-led military operation launched in January 2013.

However large tracts of the country remain lawless despite a peace accord signed with ethnic Tuareg leaders in mid-2015 aimed at isolating the jihadists.

On Tuesday in neighbouring Burkina Faso meanwhile, a policeman was killed and two were injured in an attack at a village near the eastern town of Fada N'Gourma, in a region that has largely escaped Islamist unrest.

The assailants' identity was unknown.

Northern Burkina Faso has seen frequent attacks by suspected jihadists, with two police killed late last month in the town of Baraboule.

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

Armed conflict, sexual violence, torched homes and extrajudicial killings trigger more than 14,000 refugees to flee DRC in six weeks, says CARE International

February 6, 2018

More than 14,000 refugees, the large majority women and children, have fled the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to Uganda since December 18th 2017, following increased conflict, according to figures from Government of Uganda and UNHCR, said agency CARE International.

Most refugees arrive through the Bunagana border point in Kisoro district, South Western Uganda but some even brave the dangerous waters of Lake Albert to escape the even greater dangers in DRC. The majority of refugees are children (54%).

CARE International staff who conducted a rapid assessment last week explain that while initially more women sought refuge in Uganda, more men have started to arrive in the last week. Many men are still trapped in the DRC, and droves have been executed by the armed gangs for trying to leave the country.

Delphine Pinnault, CARE Uganda Country Director, said: "The use of sexual violence against women and girls in DRC must stop. The world cannot stand and continue to watch and accept what is happening.

"Women, girls and civilians are hunted down by out of control armed groups, forced to abandon their loved ones behind when they cannot flee fast enough, devastated by physical and emotional pain due to assault, rape, loss of friends and families.

"I have been working for the protection of women and girls in DRC for two decades now. It is high time we all come together to denounce the massive abuses and demand protection of DRC's citizens and women and girls in particular."

An official at the Nyakabande Transit Center in Kisoro District reported that nine out of every 10 women were raped, sometimes more than once and sometimes by gangs, inside Congo but also as they fled to Uganda. "All these women who make it here were victims of rape and other forms of gender based violence. 99% of the pregnant women in this camp will not be able to single out the fathers of their babies, because they have been raped by so many men."

CARE has also found that:

Refugees have reported being forced to pay armed groups to cross the border into Uganda;

Some refugees have been executed for attempting to leave DRC;

Refugees have reported that the current situation in DRC includes armed groups burning down and pillaging villages, torching houses, shutting down schools, hospitals and churches, forcefully recruiting young men, abducting and kidnapping innocent citizens, raping women and girls;

Many families have become separated during the journey to Uganda, due to the difficulty of staying together while being pursued by armed groups;

Refugees have often had to leave behind disabled and elderly family members and children who were unable to run away from armed groups.

Evelyn's testimony, Kyaka II settlement camp, Kyegegwa District

"The sight of my husband being killed is still fresh in my mind. They tied his hands in his back and shot him in the head" says Evelyn. "That same day, I started planning my escape from our village. I was so scared because many people had been killed by the armed groups while trying to flee".

Fleeing DRC means undertaking an extremely dangerous journey. Like many refugees around the world, people are left with an impossible decision: stay and probably be killed, or risk their lives on the arduous journey.

"I had to flee mainly during the night and try to avoid any contact with any militia and government soldiers", Evelyn continues. She was lucky to reach the shores of Lake Albert, which borders Uganda. But she had to pay 60,000 Uganda shillings to be smuggled across the lake into the neighbouring country.

"Life has been extremely hard for us. Sometimes I ask myself why we had to go through these killings. We are lucky to be here but we all have families and friends still stuck in DRC".

Testimony: Thomas, Nyakabande Transit Center

Thomas is a refugee from Rutshuru town in North Kivu province, DRC, and has been resettled in Uganda. He is still finding his feet in the new settlement together with his wife and one son.

Thomas and his family have been allocated a piece of land and materials to build a temporary shelter.

"I arrived two weeks ago and was taken to the transit center. I have been resettled but I am still so sad.... I have seen so much pain and suffering and I never want to return", Thomas explained. I had four children. Only one made it with my wife and I across Uganda.

"My three other children did not make it across. We ran and they got lost and I assume they are dead", he added. "They were 4, 6 and 9."

Stories of separated families like this are common in the settlements.

"All the women you see here were raped on the way here and if they resisted they were executed", Thomas said.

"Some refugees have managed to be reunited with family members who were separated", he added.

"I hope someday that I would be reunited with my children. If not all three, at least one. However, I know this is unlikely to happen. I am sad that I cannot even bury them if they are dead", he said.

With limited agencies and organisations responding to this refugee crisis, facilities are stretched, transit centers overcrowded, and sanitation poor.


Uganda has a population of nearly 1,4 million refugees, of whom 1 million from South Sudan and nearly 250,000 from DRC.

Most of the displacement from DRC is from communities in Rutshuru, Masisi, Goma, Beni and Uvira districts;

The districts of Kanungu, Kisoro and Bundibugyo in Western Uganda have experienced a massive upsurge of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo fleeing violence;

Currently refugees are taken to Kyaka II settlement in Kyegegwa District and to Kyangwali settlement in Hoima district. Kyaka II is an 81 square kilometers, divided in 9 zones and has 26 administrative units also known as "villages".

Before the most recent influx that started on 18th December 2017, there were 26,000 resettled Congolese in Kyaka. At the end of January, the settlement has already reached 30,717 refugees. An Office of the Prime Minister official managing the settlement said "Based on the trend we are seeing, we are planning to ensure that we can accommodate up to 100,000 refugees".

In Uganda, it is the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) that is in charge of managing disasters, including refugees, with support from UNHCR. After the transit center, refugees are sent in convoys to settlements' reception centers where they are registered, given hot meals, and undergo medical screenings.

Based on Uganda's refugee policy, refugees are then allocated plots of lands and materials to construct a temporary shelter as they settle. They are then further allocated agricultural land to enable them to cultivate.

But for many refugees, their trauma is often too big to think of rebuilding their lives in Uganda. The CARE team found that trauma levels are very high and that there is urgent need for counseling services to reach the refugees, particularly the many victims of sexual violence and rape.

Human Rights Group Targeted in Violent Break-In
Human Rights Watch

February 9, 2018

Ugandan rights organization Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) was the target of a violent break-in on the night of February 8, 2018, Human Rights Watch said today. HRAPF works to protect the rights of marginalized groups including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people, and sex workers. The group reported that unidentified assailants broke into its office overnight, disabled parts of the security system, and slashed two guards with machetes, severely injuring them.

The break-in continues a string of burglaries and attacks on the offices of independent nongovernmental groups in Uganda, including a previous attack on HRAPF in May 2016, in which a security guard was beaten to death and documents were stolen. The Uganda police neither identified nor arrested suspects in that attack. According to DefendDefenders, a Kampala-based regional human rights organization, over 30 organizations in Uganda have experienced similar break-ins since 2012. No one has ever been prosecuted for any of the attacks.

"In failing to effectively investigate attacks on nongovernmental groups, the Uganda police send a clear message that human rights defenders are on their own, and cannot count on the authorities for basic protection," said Maria Burnett, East Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "We are deeply concerned that the pattern of attacks and consistent lack of police investigations is a tactic to intimidate Uganda's outspoken human rights activists."

Following a series of attacks on nongovernmental organizations in 2016, including the attack on HRAPF, Human Rights Watch and 30 Ugandan and international human rights organizations sent a letter to the inspector general of police, Gen. Kale Kayihura, expressing grave concern about the wave of break-ins and assaults. The letter requested the police to issue a public statement clarifying the steps police had taken to investigate the attacks, and how the police would ensure that human rights defenders who had been attacked, including the HRAPF defenders, would be effectively protected from further acts of violence. The inspector general did not respond or issue such a statement.

The targeted groups work on a range of sensitive issues. HRAPF, for example, provides pro-bono legal aid services to LGBTI people and sex workers and conducts research and advocacy, including with the Uganda police. On February 8, the day of the attack, HRAPF staff had held a training session for police officers in the Elgon region on the rights of LGBTI people. Organizations working on land rights and the rights of journalists and women have also experienced break-ins, and in some cases, their security guards were attacked.

As a party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, Uganda is obligated to uphold a resolution adopted at the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights in May 2017 to take "necessary measures to provide human rights defenders with a conducive environment to be able to carry out their activities without fear of acts of violence, threat, intimidation, reprisal, discrimination, oppression, and harassment from State and non-State actors."

The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution in November 2017 calling on countries to actively support the work of human rights defenders, including by "duly investigating and condemning publicly all cases of violence and discrimination against human rights defenders."

"The Uganda Police Force should respect its obligations under African and international law to protect human rights defenders," Burnett said. "Police indifference to attacks targeting activist groups needs to end."

Ugandan officials suspended over 'inflating refugee figures'
Daily Nation

February 10, 2018

Four Ugandan government officials have been suspended amid allegations of inflating refugee figures.

Uganda's Commissioner for Refugees Apollo Kazungu and three of his senior staff are being investigated.


Investigations will also consider whether officials from UN aid agencies were involved.

Uganda is said to host some 1.4 million refugees – welcoming more than any other country in 2016 – mostly from South Sudan and DR Congo.

But these allegations will cast doubts on those figures.

Until recently, Uganda had been widely praised for its immigration policies and described as one of the best places in the world to be a refugee.

The Ugandan Daily Monitor, which first reported the allegations, says the issue was first raised by UN country representative Rosa Malango.

The newspaper says she raised three issues, including "doubtful" numbers of refugees, the trafficking of women and children, and fraud.


One spot-check in the capital Kampala found just 7,000 people when there were reported to be 26,000 needing aid, the Daily Monitor reports, leading to questions about where the money and resources for the missing 19,000 were going.

A spokesman for the UN's refugee agency, Babar Balouch, told BBCFocus on Africa radio: "The reports we have received include faking documents on delivery of food assistance and demanding refugees to pay bribes for services which should be free."

He added: "If there are found to be any UNHCR staff involved in this, we have a robust mechanism to make everyone accountable."

The Ugandan minister responsible for refugees, Hilary Onek, told the BBC that a senior police commissioner has been appointed to lead the investigation, after reports first came to light in December 2017 that aid relief for refugees was being mismanaged.


As a result of the accusations, the United States, European Union and UK are all threatening to withhold funding to the country, the UK's Guardian newspaper says.

A spokesman for Uganda's prime minister told the BBC that "these reports do not change or deter Uganda's long-held record and commitment to providing safety to refugees".

The majority of Uganda's refugees have fled violence in South Sudan – where civil conflict between the government and rival factions has killed tens of thousands of people since 2013.

Musa Ecweru, state minister for relief and disaster preparedness, assured the Guardian that measures would be taken to prevent any fraud in future, suggesting biometric registration for all refugees entering the country.

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

Kenyan court suspends government shutdown of radio and TV stations, as journalists complain of harassment
LA Times

By Robyn Dixon
February 1, 2018

Kenya's reputation as a beacon of media freedom has suffered a dramatic setback amid a tough government clampdown and swirling rumors of planned arrests of journalists.

In recent decades, Kenya stood out in a region where journalists are often harassed or killed.

But several prominent figures from independent station NTV camped overnight Wednesday in their newsroom, fearing arrest and saying plainclothes police agents were waiting for them outside.

NTV Managing Director Linus Kaikai and news anchors Larry Madowo and Ken Mijungu said they had been warned they would be arrested.

Kenya's high court on Thursday ordered the government to reverse its shutdown of three independent TV and radio stations that were blocked for covering opposition leader Raila Odinga swearing himself in as rival president on Tuesday.

The court ordered authorities to allow the networks to resume broadcasting, pending a court hearing challenging the shutdown in two weeks.

The government said Odinga's action was treasonous and has threatened to arrest those involved. Interior Minister Fred Matiangi on Wednesday accused the stations that covered the swearing-in of complicity in an opposition effort to overthrow the government, claiming the broadcasts incited action that could have cost thousands of lives.

Matiangi's decision to prolong the shutdown of the stations beyond the Odinga ceremony raised alarm bells in the East African nation widely known for its liberal media in a region of Africa where journalists face imprisonment and even death.

The government's confrontation with the media stations comes after human rights groups complained of harassment in the wake of the disputed elections last year.

An election in August, annulled by the courts over irregularities, and a rerun election in October left the nation deeply divided. Odinga boycotted the rerun, arguing it would not be free and fair, and has since refused to recognize President Uhuru Kenyatta's legitimacy.

The move to swear himself into office as the "people's president" threatens to prolong Kenya's political divisions.

The government action against independent media has been sharply criticized by Kenyan rights activists, amid fears the country could be taking a more authoritarian turn under Kenyatta.

Voting in Kenyan elections often runs along ethnic lines, and the nation is still haunted by ethnic clashes in the wake of another disputed election in 2007, also rejected by Odinga, who ran for president and was declared the loser at the time. Ethnic fighting flared in slum districts in Nairobi and swiftly spread across much of the country, killing as many as 1,500 people.

On Thursday, Kenyan activist Okiya Omtatah petitioned the high court to force the government to allow the media to operate freely, claiming the decision to shut down the broadcasts was unconstitutional. Judge Chacha Mwita ordered authorities to allow broadcasting to resume pending a hearing of Omtatah's petition.

British High Commissioner to Kenya Nic Hailey said Thursday he had urged the government to allow the media to operate freely "not simply because it's the right thing to do but because it contributes very strongly to the positive image that Kenya has in the world.

"One of the strongest things about this country — one of the reasons that so many investors are headquartered here, that so many people come here, that this country's capital is the hub of the region and one of the hubs of the continent — is because of the open democratic free media and the sense that people from countries like mine feel at home," Hailey told journalists Thursday.

Tom Mshindi, the editor-in-chief of the Nation Media Group, said the prolonged shutdown was a "very said moment for media freedom in this country," and called on the media to stand together against harassment.

Kenyan analyst Murithi Mutiga of the International Crisis Group said it was a "remarkably draconian step" that recalled the authoritarian rule of former president Daniel Arap Moi, who governed from 1978 to 2002.

The crackdown has triggered fears that Kenyatta could follow the lead of neighboring leaders and adopt an increasingly authoritarian stance in his second term. Presidents in countries such as Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and others take a more rigid, closed, authoritarian approach, and activists and journalists are often imprisoned, harassed, beaten or killed. In Somalia, where Islamist extremists are fighting to overthrow the government, journalists often face assassination.

Several presidents in the region have manipulated constitutional term limits, designed to prevent leaders from ruling for life, in order to cling to office.

Kenya, the regional economic powerhouse, is a key ally in America's counter-terrorism strategy in the region, alongside several of its more authoritarian allies.

Human rights organizations including the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, Amnesty International, the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya, Article 19 and others have condemned the government's move to block the broadcasts.

Despite Court Order, Kenyan Government Keeps TV Stations Closed

February 6, 2018

Government officials in Kenya defied a court order and refused to put four private television stations back on the air. The government is also supposed to release an opposition leader.


Court orders in Kenya have been pretty clear - the government is supposed to restore news broadcasts that were taken off the air. The government is also supposed to release an opposition leader. In the wake of a disputed election, the government simply says no. NPR's Eyder Peralta reports.


EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Human rights lawyer Catherine Muma stands next to a man holding a copy of the Kenyan Constitution.

CATHERINE MUMA: (Over loudspeaker) We are here to call the conscience of our people to bear.

PERALTA: Civil society groups had called this protest as the country plunged into turmoil. After opposition leader Raila Odinga declared himself president a week ago, the government began arresting opposition leaders. And they shut down three of the country's main broadcasters. Since then, the government did turn on two news stations, but they are still defying court orders, in one case, not even showing up to court. In essence, President Uhuru Kenyatta has suspended constitutional order.

MUMA: (Over loudspeaker) We need to stand up for the truth. We need to get back to the rule of law in this country.

PERALTA: So the protesters march across downtown Nairobi. Every once in a while, they stop in the middle of the streets, blocking traffic with their hands on their hearts and sing the national anthem.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in foreign language).

PERALTA: Festus Keneo watches from the sidelines, concern washing over his face.

FESTUS KENEO: In our Kenya now, everything seems like it is corrupt. Now the government is now acting like they are doing crime. They are not even respecting the law.

PERALTA: The march proceeds in front of the TV stations that were censored, in front of monuments that honor the bloodshed it took to get a constitutional democracy in Kenya. But it all ends when they take a turn toward the Department of Interior.


W.O. MALOBA: You know, the instinct of Uhuru Kenyatta is to rule like his father, you know, which is to rule by decree.

PERALTA: That's W.O. Maloba, who has written biographies of Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya's first president and President Kenyatta's father. Maloba says it is clear that the Kenyan government is testing waters, seeing how much of the 2010 Constitution they can roll back.

MALOBA: So my sense is that what is happening in the country should be seen as worrisome by all those people who believe in democracy and the rule of law.

PERALTA: The high court is left to deal with a thorny issue. The judge has already held the government in contempt for defying an order to release top opposition figure Miguna Miguna. But how do they compel the executive who controls the police and the military to comply? Nelson Havi, who represents Miguna, says, right now, Kenya has stepped back decades to a time when opposition leaders would simply disappear.

NELSON HAVI: We are in a dictatorship. That's one you can record without any fear of contradiction.

PERALTA: The government does produce Miguna in a courtroom in rural Kenya. He's not released. Instead, he's charged with being a member of an outlawed opposition group and for, quote, "binding opposition leader Raila Odinga to commit treason." Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Nairobi.

Government Crackdown Threatens Rights

By Otsieno Namwaya
February 7, 2018

Human rights groups have been concerned since President Uhuru Kenyatta took power in 2013 at the authoritarian direction Kenya's government has been taking. But the situation has taken an alarming turn in the past week. Three highly repressive measures by the authorities since January 30 should worry us all, including the international community, which has been treating Kenyatta's administration with kid gloves.

Kenyan media and nongovernment groups that are even mildly critical of the government have come under immense pressure in the last five years.

On the morning of January 30, the Communications Authority of Kenya switched off KTN, NTV, Citizen and Inooro radio and television stations. The stations were broadcasting live from the site of the planned swearing as the "people's president" of Raila Odinga, Kenyatta's challenger in the recent presidential elections, in the hours before Odinga arrived to take the oath.

The Chairman of the Kenya Editors' Guild, Linus Kaikai, had publicly protested what he said was a secret meeting that President Kenyatta held with editors and senior media managers on January 26. Kaikai said that the president threatened at the meeting to take any station that aired the Odinga event live off the air. This allegation was repeated by others who said they attended the meeting, such as the vice chair of the Kenya Editors' Guild and the Chairman of the Media Owners' Association. The government neither confirmed nor denied that the meeting took place.

Also on January 30, the Kenyan authorities designated the National Resistance Movement (NRM), an activist wing of Odinga's NASA coalition , a criminal group . This step set the stage for a brutal crackdown on politicians and lawyers who took part in Odinga's oath ceremony.

Kenya is a multiparty democracy, where opposition politics are legal, so designating the NRM a criminal organization amounts to criminalizing opposition politics.

On January 31, police attempted to arrest three NTV journalists, Linus Kaikai, Larry Madowo and Ken Mijungu, allegedly to help with investigations into what interior cabinet secretary, Fred Matiangi, described as collusion between the media and the opposition to cause violence by airing Odinga's oath ceremony live. The journalists secured anticipatory bail barring police from arresting them but were required to record statements with police.

The media shutdown was arbitrary and has plunged Kenya into information darkness, undermining the right of Kenyans to access information or authenticate rumors. This is especially dangerous in the tense environment in Kenya right now, with the government either violently arresting and detaining opposition politicians and individual journalists, or threatening them with arrest.

Moreover, the government has shown blatant disdain for court orders. On February 1, the High Court of Kenya issued an order suspending the government ban on the media organizations. The Kenyan authorities response was to deploy police around all relevant government offices to block court officers from serving the order. It was eventually served, but authorities continued to ignore the court order and the TV and radio stations remained off the air for another five days.

On the early morning of February 2, police broke into the house of an opposition lawyer, Miguna Miguna,and arrested him. Miguna is one of the people who swore Odinga in as the people's president That evening, Miguna's lawyers secured a court order for his release on bail.

Kenyan authorities simply ignored the order and not only failed to release Miguna but denied him access to lawyers and to medication despite reports that he had an asthma attack in police cells and urgently needed the medicine. His lawyers struggled to establish where he was being held. Miguna had not been charged by the third day even though Kenyan law requires an accused to be charged within 24 hours or be released.

On February 5, police ignored a second court order to produce Miguna in court, prompting the judge to cite the inspector general of police and the director general of the directorate of criminal investigations for contempt. On Feb 6, media reports suggested that Miguna may have been charged in a Magistrates court in the outskirts of Nairobi, but police failed for the second time to produce him before the High Court as ordered by the Judge. Instead, later that evening, and in defiance of the court order, police deported Miguna to Canada, the country of his acquired citizenship ignoring the fact that Kenyan law allows dual citizenship.

This heavy-handed approach by the Kenyan authorities completely disregards international law and its own national law. The government and state officials have a responsibility to uphold the rule of law, especially releasing people whom courts have ordered released -- even more so at a time when the political stakes are so high.

Inside A Kenyan Courtroom, A Deepening Political Crisis Is On Display

By Eyder Peralta
February 7, 2018

Close to midnight on Tuesday, attorney Miguna Miguna found himself on the tarmac of Nairobi's international airport. He had been driven there by Kenyan security forces after spending five days in different jail cells, without being able to talk to anyone.

Miguna Miguna, 55, is a constant government critic on Kenyan TV — dramatic, funny, caustic and instantly identifiable by the kofia hat he always wears. But since disputed presidential elections last fall, he's taken on a prominent role in the country's politics. Miguna publicly pushed the losing candidate, Raila Odinga, to declare himself president, despite threats from President Uhuru Kenyatta that they would be charged with treason.

When opposition leader Odinga took an oath in front of tens of thousands of his supporters, last week, Miguna stood by his side with a wide smile. When the government started arresting opposition figures and shut down four television stations, the lawyer spoke defiantly at a press conference on Thursday. He ordered members of the opposition to take down official portraits of Kenyatta and replace them with a portrait of Odinga.

"So [Cabinet Secretary for the Interior Fred] Matiang'i, if you are looking for me to arrest me, to cook up charges, I am ready," Miguna said.

The morning after that press conference, security forces detonated explosives to enter his house and arrested him. For five days, police ignored court orders to release Miguna. And on Wednesday, Miguna found himself on a plane en route to Toronto. The opposition said he'd been exiled; the government said the Kenyan-born political activist wasn't a legal Kenyan citizen.

Miguna's case has become a symbol of an executive branch testing the limits of a country's young constitution.

Before Miguna was put on that plane, no one seemed to know where he was. So his case played out at the High Court in Nairobi.

On Tuesday, a renowned Kenyan constitutional lawyer representing Miguna stood in front of the packed courtroom, and pulled out a book. It was the story of Nyayo House, a building in Nairobi that the authoritarian regime of Daniel Arap Moi used as torture chambers. It's where Odinga and many other opposition members were detained when they clashed with the government. Kenyans view it as a symbol of their bloody past, an era displaced by the freedoms enshrined in Kenya's 2010 Constitution.

"People have suffered for this Constitution," said attorney John Khaminwa. "They have died. Families have broken up. We can't have one or two people trying now to water down this Constitution. We shall not have it."

Since Odinga declared himself the "people's president," the Kenyan government has reacted with the kind of authoritarian might that was common in Kenya's past. Odinga's oath had no legal or practical significance, but the government has essentially suspended constitutional order in reaction to it. Despite court orders, the government has refused to turn on the last of three major television stations it censored. And despite court orders, it refused to release Miguna.

On Monday, High Court Judge Luka Kimaru just shook his head as the director of public prosecutions said he did not know where Miguna had been taken or what he was charged with.

Kimaru had already held the government in contempt for defying his orders through the weekend. But how could he compel the executive branch, which controls the police and the military, to comply?

Nelson Havi, one of Miguna's lawyers, left the court looking tired and exasperated.

"We are in a dictatorship," Havi said.

Protesting TV blackout

Less than a mile from the courthouse, a coalition of civil society members gathered on Monday at Freedom Corner in Uhuru Park to protest the government shutdown of media.

"We are here to call the conscience of our people," human rights lawyer Catherine Muma said. "We need to stand up for the truth, we need to get back to the rule of law in this country."

During more than 20 years under Moi's authoritarian regime, Kenyans feared speaking up. If they did, they risked being picked up by secret police, some never to be seen again.

Since Moi lost the presidency in 2002, Kenya has become a bastion of democracy on the continent. Its 2010 Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, assembly and the press. And all of those freedoms are taken seriously. Unlike many of their neighbors in the region, Kenyans speak freely. They criticize their government and they take to the streets with little fear that they will be severely punished for speaking their minds.

So, as Monday's protest wound its way through the streets, people flocked to the sidewalks in support.

Festus Keneo, who works in downtown Nairobi, watched from the sidelines as protesters sang the national anthem.

"In our Kenya now, everything seems like it is corrupt," he said. "Now the government is acting like they are doing crime. They are not even respecting the law."

The government did not respond to NPR's multiple requests for comment. Publicly, interior minister Fred Matiang'i has said the administration considers Odinga's swearing-in "treason" and will bring the full force of justice upon all those involved.

W.O. Maloba, a professor at the University of Delaware who's written biographies about Kenya's first president, Jomo Kenyatta, says this all seems very familiar. Attacking the media and jailing the opposition were hallmarks of Jomo Kenyatta, president from 1964-1978, the father of current President Uhuru Kenyatta.

"The instinct of Uhuru Kenyatta is to rule like his father, which is to rule by decree," said Maloba.

Indeed, during Uhuru Kenyatta's first term in office, which started in 2013, the government tried to restrict freedom of the press and the work of civil society groups.

At the moment, Maloba believes, Kenyatta is trying to "push the envelope," and test the limits of his power. Maloba said the president is weighing the reaction of the international community and the Kenyan public as he cuts into some of the basic rights afforded to Kenyans by the Constitution's bill of rights.

"My sense is that what is happening in the country should be seen as worrisome by all those people who believe in democracy and the rule of law," he said.

The demonstrators marched in front of one of the censored TV stations, then made their way past monuments that honor the bloodshed it took to get a constitutional democracy in Kenya. But it all ended when protesters took a turn toward the interior ministry.

Security forces fired teargas. The boom ricocheted across the high-rises downtown and the protesters ran, leaving behind empty streets and sidewalks strewn with posters calling for an end to government repression.

Miguna reappears, then gets deported

Miguna emerged on Tuesday — but not at the High Court in Nairobi where protesters were demanding his release.

Instead, the government presented charges against Miguna in a rural court in Kajiado, about an hour and a half south of Nairobi. Finally, Miguna was seen in images captured by local journalists and citizens, just as the government accused him of, among other things, being part of an outlawed opposition group and helping Odinga commit treason. The feisty opposition figure, who calls himself the "general" of the National Resistance Movement, was defiant. "I'm fearless," he's heard saying in a cellphone video posted online. "It does not matter what they do."

The judge in Kajiado rejected the government's move saying Miguna needed to be taken to Nairobi, because a higher court had already ordered his release.

When High Court Judge Kimaru heard that Miguna had reappeared, he reconvened. He chastised the government, saying Miguna was held illegally for days now and it should either bring him to the High Court or release him at once, per his order.

"It is not for the respondents to interpret the legality or the veracity of the order issued by this court," he said. "It is not up to the respondent to choose whether or not to comply with the order issued by the this court." Kimaru said he would stay at the courthouse to wait for the executive branch to fulfill an order issued by a coequal branch of government. But on Tuesday, day turned into night and Miguna Miguna was never brought before the judge. Instead, security forces drove Miguna to Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. They forced him to board a KLM flight to Amsterdam and, early Wednesday morning, the presidency announced it had now complied with the release order and that they had "even assisted him with a flight ticket home" — to Canada. In 1988, Miguna traveled to Canada, fleeing persecution from the Moi regime. He became a Canadian citizen and the old Kenyan Constitution did not allow for dual citizenship. That changed with the 2010 Constitution, which does allow it and also bars the government from stripping citizenship from anyone born in Kenya. The government argued that Miguna had received a Kenyan passport illegally, because he had not properly applied to regain his Kenyan citizenship as required by law. From the Amsterdam airport, Miguna sent a text message: "I will challenge all the illegal and unconstitutional actions by the despots in court starting today," he wrote. "They are not above the law, even though they behave as if they are."

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Rwanda (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda)

Official Website of the ICTR

Court reduces sentence for Genocide convict Kabilima
The New Times

By Elisee Mpirwa
February 1, 2018

The High Court in Kigali on Wednesday commuted to 25 years the life sentence that had been handed to Dr Jean Damascène Kabilima after he was found guilty of participating in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Kabilima had appealed against a life sentence given to him by the Nyamagabe Intermediate Court last summer.

Prosecution pins him on genocide crimes, homicide, inciting killings of Tutsi children who had survived a massacre in Rusenge Sector of Nyaruguru District, inciting genocide and other crimes against humanity.

Reading out the verdict, the presiding judge said it was necessary to relook into the case, which led to the invalidation of all testimonies by defence witnesses owing to their incoherence. The convict was absolved of the crime of profiling victims of the Genocide by drawing lists, with the judge saying that prosecution did not adduce sufficient evidence to pin him on the crime.

Court decided to convict him on the crime of homicide, which saw his sentence reduced to 25 years in jail. The suspect was not present during the pronouncement of the verdict.

His lawyer, Pascal Munyemana, who was present in court, together with the convict's family, told The New Times that they will have to go through the court's decision and decide whether they will have to appeal again to the Supreme Court.

Kabilima was arrested in 2011 when he was entering Rwanda to attend the annual national dialogue. He was coming from Nairobi, Kenya.

The migration officers at the Kigali International Airport informed him that a Gacaca Court in Bunge, Nyaruguru had sentenced him to 30 years back in 2009 for his role in the Genocide.

He later asked that his case be retried since the first proceedings had been held in his absence.

Rwanda, Uganda trade claims over treatment of refugees
ABC News

By Ignatius Ssuuna
February 2, 2018

More than a month after he was allegedly tortured by members of Uganda's secret service, Rwandan citizen Fidel Gatsinzi is still limping from his injuries.

Gatsinzi claims he was arrested by security agents after visiting his son at a Ugandan university in December and that 12 days of being hooded and beaten left him in a wheelchair for days after his release.

"They were accusing me of being a Rwandan spy and a killer. That I was in Uganda to hunt down Rwandan refugees living in Uganda to harm them," Gatsinzi told The Associated Press, denying the accusations. He said he saw another Rwandan who had been tortured and was "really in a bad shape."

The neighboring East African countries have faced years of uneasy relations over Uganda's refusal to forcibly repatriate Rwandan refugees, including some who are suspected of involvement in Rwanda's genocide in 1994. People like Gatsinzi claim they are caught in the middle, suspected by one country or the other. Now some are taking their claims to court.

For Rwanda's government, the continuing existence of refugees challenges its narrative of peace and stability after years of recovery from the genocide. But many of those refugees worry they would be jailed on trumped-up charges if they returned home.

As Uganda pursues Rwandans it suspects of hunting down refugees, some are subjected to torture in the process, said Gawaya Tegulle, a Ugandan lawyer who has visited Rwandan nationals in detention.

"I visited Gatsinzi and the kind of torture he was subjected to is inhumane. He could not speak," Tegulle said. He plans to file a case with the High Court against Uganda's government claiming illegal detention and torture.

After such claims were made public in recent weeks, Rwandan President Paul Kagame chaired a meeting last month between the two countries to discuss the issue. The Jan. 5 meeting in Rwanda's capital, Kigali, addressed, among other things, "arrests and disappearances of Rwandan citizens in Uganda," Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said on Twitter.

Uganda's state minister for international relations, Henry Okello Oryem, has said tensions will not escalate. "Rwanda is a historical strategic ally of Uganda and both countries work for peace," he told the AP.

Uganda army spokesman Brig. Richard Karemire declined to comment on the allegations of detention and torture of Rwandan citizens.

Rwanda's president has long been accused by critics and human rights groups of plotting the assassination or disappearance of former allies and dissidents, including in other countries. He has denied it.

Late last year, Ugandan police officers and a retired Rwandan army officer, Rene Rutagungira, were arrested and charged by a military court in Uganda's capital, Kampala, in the kidnapping of a Rwandan refugee and his transfer to Rwandan authorities. They are charged with conspiracy with Rwanda to carry out the abduction.

They are accused of kidnapping Lt. Joel Mutabazi, a former bodyguard of Kagame who fled the country in 2011 while alleging persecution, and forcefully taking him back to Rwanda in 2013. Mutabazi was sentenced to life in prison for involvement in terrorism and other charges, which he denied.

It is not clear how Mutabazi, who was in the care of the U.N. refugee agency, ended up in the hands of Ugandan police and then Rwandan authorities. "It's unconscionable that they handed him over summarily to the police force of the country whose persecution he fled," Daniel Bekele with Human Rights Watch said at the time. The group has long urged Uganda's government to protect Rwandan critics now living in the country.

The return of refugees must be voluntary, a U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman in Rwanda, Nana Heltberg, told the AP, saying about 250,000 Rwandan refugees are still in exile today.

Meanwhile the lawyer for the former Rwanda army officer who faces charges told the AP that he was held in Ugandan custody for longer than the permitted 48 hours and subjected to beatings, electric shocks, water immersion and solitary confinement while accused of being a spy.

Lawyer Eron Kiiza said a case has been filed with the High Court seeking damages and Rutagungira's unconditional release.

Government Upbeat on Achieving UN Rights Recommendations
The New Times

By Kelly Rwamapera
February 7, 2018

The Minister for Justice, Johnston Busingye, has called for concerted efforts from everyone to ensure the country fully implements recommendations on human rights by a UN mechanism.

Busingye, who is also the Attorney General, was speaking at a meeting to review the mid-term implementation of different indicators on human rights which were recommended under the UN-backed Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

The meeting brought together members of the Treat Body Reporting Task Force that comprises government institutions, private sector, civil society organisations, academia, international organisations and development partners.

Established by a United Nations General Assembly resolution in 2006, UPR is a unique process which involves periodic reviews of the human rights records of all UN Member States.

In 2015, Rwanda underwent its second review where the country undertook to implement 50 new recommendations.

They include adopting the National Human Rights Action plan, increasing the number of detention facilities at police custody, media reforms among others.

While reporting the status of the implementation, yesterday, Busingye called upon stakeholders and concerned institutions to get fully involved in the implementation of the UPR recommendations.

"We still have two years to the next review. I would like to urge all stakeholders in general and the institutions that are directly involved in the implementation in particular, to put more efforts in the implementation of their concerned recommendations," said the minister.

Regarding the progress review of the implementation of all 50 recommendations, Busingye explained that there was full assurance of implementing up to 90 per cent of the recommendations within one year.

"I am happy to report that already 8 per cent thereof are fully implemented. The rest are also on track. On the basis of the roadmap for the implementation and demonstrated commitment by implementing institutions, Government is optimistic that all the recommendations will be implemented before the next reporting period," minister Busingye explained.

He added that the Government of Rwanda looks beyond the recommendations because it is a commitment of the State to ensure that every citizen enjoys the human rights secured by law".

Andrews Kananga, the Executive Director of Legal Aid Forum said the Government has all the 50 UPR recommendations in national goals.

"For example, laws relating to media freedoms are under the revised penal code that was recently passed by parliament and we expect a lot when it is finally published in the Official Gazette," he said.

Rwanda's next review is expected in 2020.

Program to Verify Identities of Refugees in Rwanda
VOA News

By Edward Rwena
February 9, 2018

Refugees in Rwanda will soon have a chance to work, open a bank account, access government services and move more freely, thanks to a new initiative launched by the government and the U.N. refugee agency.

Rwanda and UNHCR on Wednesday began a program to verify refugees' identities in order to collect accurate and updated information about the country's population of refugees and asylum seekers.

"[Wednesday's] launch starts with more than 30,000 urban refugees living in Kigali city," De Bonheur Jeanne, minister in charge of disaster management and refugees, told VOA's Central Africa service.

Officials say the exercise will help refugees by giving them greater access to identity documents, which will facilitate their access to government services and make it easier for them to travel and gain employment.

Emmanuel Ndayishimye, a refugee from Burundi, welcomed the decision.

"This is good news to us. With the ID, we will be able to move freely and be able to open bank accounts," Ndayishimye said.

The UNHCR says the exercise will lead to better refugee management, protection and assistance.

"This process will help us to know the socio-categories of refugees and help us better target the assistance we are giving them," Ahmed Baba Fall, UNHCR representative in Rwanda, told VOA.

Currently, 173,000 refugees from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo live in Rwanda, according to the UNHCR.

Many of the Congolese refugees have been in Rwanda for more than two decades, living in camps where they are dependent upon humanitarian assistance. Late last year, food rations were reduced by 10 percent due to lack of funding.

"We continue to advocate for donor support. We still have refugees here and we need their support in terms of food and humanitarian assistance," said Baba Fall.

This week, the UNHCR and 26 other humanitarian partners launched an appeal for $391 million to support some 430,000 Burundian refugees across Africa during 2018.

Since 2015, more than 400,000 refugees and asylum-seekers have fled Burundi, escaping human rights abuses, continued political uncertainty, and the related humanitarian crisis.

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Funding al-Shabaab: How aid money ends up in terror group's hands

By Sam Kiley
February 12, 2018

The murderous al Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab is making millions of dollars each year by exploiting foreign aid money sent to Somalia by the very western nations who are trying to eliminate the terror group.

A CNN investigation has revealed how money given directly by the United Nations to people displaced by conflict and famine is ending up in the hands of Africa's oldest terrorist organization.

Former members of al-Shabaab and Somali intelligence agents said the terror group is extorting thousands of dollars per day through road blocks and taxes on merchants attempting to transport food and supplies to sell to internally displaced people in towns where they are concentrated.

People who have fled their homes and are living in a sprawling camp in the central Somali city of Baidoa are screened by the UN and issued cash cards that the UN tops up with around $80 to $90 each month, enabling them to buy essentials from local merchants.

UN officials say this direct payment system will avoid distorting local markets by flooding them with free food, and relieve the UN of the burden of running food convoys that are vulnerable to attacks and theft.

Businessmen now truck food bought on the open market to places like Baidoa, where internally displaced people (IDPs) arrive every day. But they must pay al-Shabaab, which controls the main road into the town, to move their goods.

Former members of the terror group and Somali intelligence agents said that tolls taken from trucks and other vehicles at just two al-Shabaab roadblocks on Somalia's busiest road raked in thousands every day. The UN has estimated that a single roadblock generated about $5,000 per day on the road to Baidoa.

'Tax' collectors

Speaking at a secret location on the outskirts of Baidoa, a former zaqat (tax) collector for al-Shabaab, who was captured in a recent raid by agents from Somalia's National Intelligence and Security Agency, confirmed that the extraction of tolls at roadblocks was one of the biggest sources of money for al-Shabaab.

The two biggest sources were the road to Baidoa and the main artery which connects the capital Mogadishu with the agriculturally-rich Lower Shabelle region.

The gouging is more subtle today than it was in the early 1990s, when local warlords deliberately starved hundreds of thousands of Somalis in order to profit from international aid money. Scenes of mass death on the streets of Baidoa in 1992 provoked the United States to lead a multinational UN-backed military intervention in the same year.

In Baidoa back then, a truck known as the Death Bus collected around 100 bodies a day, all of them skeletal from starvation, from the dusty streets of the town every morning. Aid organizations were so desperate to help that they paid warlords to permit access to starving victims. Until Western nations intervened, the warlords worked to sustain the famine in order to keep the aid money flowing into their coffers -- effectively exploiting desperate people to turn a profit.

Back then, organizations like the International Committee of the Red Cross had to pay for armed guards -- the ICRC spent $100,000 a week on protection in Mogadishu.

The money went into the hands of mere gangsters -- not international terrorist organizations, who are less forgiving when their debts go unpaid.

In 2018, if local merchants don't pay up, "they're captured and killed," said a former al-Shabaab fighter who collected tax for eight years and now works with Somalia's National Intelligence and Security Agency.

Speaking in a secret location in Baidoa, he explained how for every sack of rice delivered to the city by private merchants, al-Shabaab would cream off about $3 in tolls, taking nearly half the difference in the price of a sack that sells for $18 in Mogadishu and $26 in Baidoa.

On top of that the merchants are then forced to pay an annual tax to al-Shabaab -- even in towns and cities that are not under the group's control, like Baidoa and Mogadishu.

These allegations have been confirmed by the regional government and the president of the South West State of Somalia, Hssan Sheikh Ada.

Michael Keating, the UN's head of country, acknowledged the scam but said that most of the foreign aid still reached its intended destination.

"Unfortunately those in need, and those who are going to be targeted by humanitarian organizations to receive assistance, do become attractive for those trying to make money, and there will be all sorts of scams going on," said Keating, a veteran UN official with years of experience in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

"To deny it is happening would be wrong, but I think to take examples of it happening, and to say the whole response is like this, would be a gross misrepresentation of what is going on."

Forced to flee

The paying of "zaqat" isn't confined to road tolls and taxes on businessmen. Ordinary Somalis have to pay an annual tax to the al Qaeda group which was behind terror attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and the massacre at Nairobi's Westgate Mall four years ago.

Fatima Ali Hassan used to own dozens of goats and cows. Driven out of her home by drought and demands for money by al-Shabaab, the mother of seven now lives in a tent made out of rags in Baidoa. She's one of tens of thousands who have made their way to this hungry city.

But even here, she's an asset to the terror group, like the other 270,000 displaced people living in the city -- and more are pouring in every day. The UN fears that the ongoing drought will once again threaten Somalia with famine and provide al-Shabaab with even greater opportunities to make money from foreign aid -- particularly if the group maintains control of the main routes through the interior of the country.

Somalia's national army is a patchwork quilt of rival militias sewn together by thin threads of hope that one day it will be able to prevail against the extremists.

For now, the country's primary fighting force is a 22,000-strong African Union (AU) contingent that has been protecting the country's fledgling government in Mogadishu, and working to wrest control of south back from al-Shabaab. But it's withdrawing slowly and is expected to be out of the country in two year's time.

The African Union military leadership admits that it can't push al-Shabaab off the major roads that provide it with so much income.

"Instead of reducing [AU forces], it should have been increased," said Lt. Colonel Chris Ogwal. "We are now overstretched, we are just conducting minor offensive operations."

Ogwal commands the Ugandan contingent which controls the road between Mogadishu and the small town of Afgoye -- but not, critically, the rest of the way to Baidoa.

That remains al-Shabaab's financial artery.

Ogwal said that any reduction in AU forces would inevitably leave a vacuum that al-Shabaab would fill.

This leaves a growing number of American troops -- more than 500, including Special Operation Forces -- shouldering the ever-increasing security burden in Somalia.

But this year is the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Mogadishu, the infamous clash in which 18 Americans and more than 1,000 Somalis were killed when US Special Forces attempted to arrest Somalia's most powerful warlord at the time, Mohammed Farrah Aidid.

Images of a dead pilot being dragged through the dust of the Somali capital swiftly undermined a mission that had been intended to bring humanitarian relief and resulted in a US withdrawal two years later.

But the systems of corruption and manipulation of aid in Somalia remained, and have now been co-opted to finance a terrorist movement that controls about a third of the country and may become a magnet for ISIS jihadists on the run from their former caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

Bomb Kills 2 Children in Central Somali Village
Relief Web

By Mohamed Olad Hassan
February 13, 2018

Two children were killed and two were seriously wounded Monday after ordnance detonated in a central Somali village, witnesses said.

Two boys, ages 14 and 9, died "when an explosive device [that] one of them was playing with exploded in an open field near their home," Abdi Jama, the boys' uncle, told VOA's Somali Service. He said two girls – one a 4-year-old, the other 18 months – were seriously injured.

The incident occurred in the El Lahelay village near Dhusa Mareeb in the Galgaduud region, about 480 kilometers or 300 miles north of Somalia's capital of Mogadishu.

Recent armed conflict between government forces and al-Shabab militants in the area has left unexploded ordnance (UXO) around rural villages, Jama said.

After two decades of internal conflict, "Somalia is significantly contaminated with mines" and explosive remnants of war (ERW), such as grenades, artillery shells, mortar and bombs, the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor reported in December. The Monitor is a civil society-based initiative that promotes the cleanup of the deadly devices.

From January through August of last year, 34 people were killed or maimed by mines and explosive remnants of war, according to a United Nations report that cited the Somalia Information Management System for Mine Action. Of those, 27 – almost four out of five – were children.

For instance, one child died and 17 people were injured when a grenade went off at an IDP camp in Somalia's Sool region last July.

Children have been killed, blinded or otherwise maimed while playing with unexploded ordnance or munitions left behind on battlefields.

Abdullahi Hassan, a former Somali National Army colonel, said children can be attracted to the colorful, unusual devices.

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

ISIS is seeking new home in the far south of Libya, UN report indicates
The Libya Observer

By Housam Najjair
February 7, 2018

A UN committee of experts stated in a confidential report sent to the UN Security Council that ISIS in Libya is seeking to join human traffickers in southern Libya after being expelled from Sirte in 2016.

According to AFP, the remaining ISIS millitrants, who are made up predominantly of foreigners, are attempting to find a foothold in the far south by sending envoys with "money loads".

The envoys have also attempted to come in contact with other smuggling groups to provide support and seek long-term sources of funding.

The report found that ISIS cells continue to operate in central and southern Libya despite the group's defeat in Sirte.

Bombing at mosque in Libya’s Benghazi kills two, wounds 75: medics

By Ayman al-Warfalli
February 9, 2018

Two people were killed and 75 wounded in a twin bombing inside a mosque in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi on Friday, medics said.

Two weeks ago about 35 people died in another twin bombing at a mosque in Benghazi, the second-largest city in the country.

Friday’s explosions occurred during prayers at a small mosque located in the Majouri district, residents said. The devices, placed in bags at the mosque doors, appear to have been activated remotely using a mobile phone, a military source said.

Benghazi is controlled by the Libyan National Army (LNA), the dominant force in eastern Libya led by commander Khalifa Haftar.

The LNA was battling Islamists, including some linked to Islamic State and al Qaeda, as well as other opponents until late last year in the Mediterranean port city.

Haftar, a possible contender in national elections that could be held by the end of 2018, has built his reputation on delivering stability in Benghazi and beyond, promising to halt the anarchy that ensued after a NATO-backed uprising ended Muammar Gaddafi’s long rule nearly seven years ago.

Haftar launched his military campaign in Benghazi in May 2014 in response to a series of bombings and assassinations blamed on Islamist militants.

In the past few months there have been occasional, smaller scale bombings apparently targeting LNA allies or supporters.

Haftar does not recognize the U.N.-backed government based in the western capital Tripoli.

The United Nations has been trying to mediate for years, hoping elections can help stabilize Libya. But staging a vote is a major challenge in a country still split among military and political factions, and where rival governments have claimed authority since the result of a 2014 vote was disputed. Security in many parts of Libya is poor.

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Grotian Moment: The International War Crimes Trial Blog

Iraqi tribesmen warn ISIL fighters' families

February 12, 2018

In Iraq's western Anbar province, tribesmen starting to rebuild have warned they will take revenge on the families of ISIL fighters if they return.

Anbar is the biggest province in Iraq and one of the last places to be freed from ISIL, or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group.

ISIL, also known as ISIS, swept into the province in 2013. The cities of Falluja, Ramadi and al-Qaim soon became urban battlefields.

"We don't want to go back to square one," Omar Shihan al-Alwani, who fought against ISIL, said.

"We're totally against that. If they come back, then blood will flow and neither tribes nor military operations will be able to stop it."

The homes of ISIL family members have been destroyed - a tactic ISIL itself has used in the past.

"We're not against [ISIL family members] returning, but the timing is bad and would risk provoking unrest and a return to bloodshed in the streets," said Omar Ibrahim, a former tribal fighter.

"We the fighters think that families of IS group members should be in a camp under the supervision of Iraqi government and experts such as religious leaders, professors and intellectuals. They should receive daily training sessions."

About 380 families of ISIL fighters including women and children are already detained in two camps across the province. They remain outcasts in Anbar's cities.

Rebuilding Iraq after nearly three years of war with ISIL will cost close to $90bn, according to Iraqi officials attending an international donor conference in Kuwait.

At the conference, Iraq is seeking investment for 157 reconstruction projects including the rebuilding of homes, hospitals and schools.

Throughout Iraq, 2.5 million people were displaced by the fighting. An estimated 138,000 housing units were damaged in the fight against ISIL, with half of them completely destroyed, an Iraqi official said.

His darkest hours: IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi 'injured, ill and depressed'
The New Arab

February 12, 2018

Badly injured, depressed and ill, the leader of the largely decimated Islamic State group, once the world's most formidable terror organisation, is living his final days, US and Iraqi officials suggested on Monday.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was badly wounded in an airstrike in May last year, forcing him to give up control of the terror group because of his injuries, US officials told CNN. "US intelligence agencies have assessed with a high degree of confidence that the world's most wanted man was near Raqqa, Syria in May when the missile struck," the report claimed, quoting US officials.

The assessment seems to have been based on reports from IS detainees and refugees in Syria, although it is not clear who carried out the airstrike in question.

In June, Russia claimed its jets may have taken out the leader of the world's most notorious terror organisation in a May 28 airstrike.

Moscow said Su-34 and Su-35 warplanes had attacked an IS military council meeting south of the group's de-facto capital of Raqqa in northern Syria on May 28 and that the US was informed in advance of the raid. At the time, analysts voices scepticism over Russia's claims.

According to CNN, Baghdadi's injuries were not considered life-threatening but they were serious enough to force him to relinquish command of "the daily operations of the group", just as it was about to lose control of Mosul and Raqqa.

Anti-IS efforts are now focusing on the remaining pockets of territory controlled by IS in al-Jazeera region near the Syrian-Iraqi border, where both US and Iraqi intelligence believe Baghdadi is most likely to be.

On Monday, a senior official in the intelligence department of the Iraqi Interior Ministry said Baghdadi was still in the vast and sparsely populated desert area between Iraq and Syria, claiming he was living his final days as his health was deteriorating and suggested he was depressed.

The Iraqi official claimed the IS leader had suffered from "fractures and serious wounds" which might be the result of previous airstrikes on the organisation's strongholds in Iraq.

He also said the self-styled "caliph" had recently been admitted to a hospital in the al-Jazeera desert for his "deteriorating psychological state" and for fractures and wounds in his legs that prevent him for walking unassisted. Basri described Baghdadi's condition as "severe."

Citing sources within the terrorist organisation, Basri told Iraqi news outlet Al-Sabah that Baghdadi is still alive and hiding in the Syrian region near Deir az-Zour with the help of his collaborators.

Iraqi authorities recently issued arrest warrants for Baghdadi and other senior extremists, as well as remnants of the former regime's Baath Party, including Saddam Hussein's daughter.

In 2014, following his group's rapid capture of Mosul and vast swathes of western Iraq, he declared himself from the pulpit of al-Nuri Mosque in the Old City of Mosul the new caliph, leader of the entire Muslim nation.

Baghdadi has been rumoured dead many times. A character shrouded in mystery, making only one public appearance in 2014, Baghdadi's real name may be Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim al-Badri, and he may have been born in 1971 in Samarra, an ancient Iraqi city in the so-called Sunni Triangle north of Baghdad.

He may have been a cleric in a mosque in the city around the time of the US-led invasion in 2003. Reports suggest he was radicalised during the four years he was held at Camp Bucca, a US prison in southern Iraq where many al-Qaeda commanders were detained.

He emerged as the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, one of the groups that later became Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) in 2010 and then Islamic State (IS) in 2014, and rose to prominence during the failed merger with al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front in Syria (now Jabhet Fateh al-Sham).

He did not swear allegiance to the leader of the al-Qaeda franchise, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who had urged IS to focus on Iraq and leave Syria to al-Nusra.

Baghdadi and his fighters split with al-Qaeda and pursued an ultraviolent form of extremism that included bringing back slavery, engaging in genocide on non-Muslim minorities and Shia Muslims, and applying an extreme version of Islamic capital punishments, involving live immolation and mass beheading.

The group and lone wolves inspired by it have claimed numerous terror attacks from the US to the Philippines, via Europe and the Middle East.

In 2014, following his group's rapid capture of Mosul and vast swathes of western Iraq, he declared himself from the pulpit of al-Nuri Mosque in the Old City of Mosul the new caliph, leader of the entire Muslim nation, a title abolished in 1924 with the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

PMFs leader: Islamic State's Baghdadi no longer endangers Iraq's security
Iraqi News

By Nehal Mostafa
February 13, 2018

A senior leader from the pro-government paramilitary troops has said that the supreme leader of Islamic State does not pose threat against security of the country.

In remarks to the Russian Sputnik agency, Karim al-Nuri, of al-Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces) said that the news on location of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi are contradicting and that no accurate information about his whereabouts are available.

"It's clear that the case of Baghdadi being alive or dead is not important as the militant group in Iraq has been eliminated. His presence no longer endangers the Iraqi security," Nuri added.

The Iraqi Interior Ministry's Falcon Intelligence Cell's chief Ali al-Basri said in a statement on Monday that Baghdadi was seriously wounded during an operation in July and that his health condition does not allow him to be the leader as before. He barely moves without help.

Last week, news reports mentioned that Baghdadi is included in a new list of 60 persons sought by Iraqi security authorities for terrorism-related charges.

The Russian agency Sputnik quoted, in January, several experts in Islamist groups affairs as saying that Baghdadi is likely to be in Africa, being the safest place at the meantime for the militant group.

In October, Pentagon said it believes Baghdadi was still alive.

Two civilians wounded in bomb blast near Baghdad markets
Iraqi News

By Mohammed Ebraheem
February 13, 2018

Two civilians were wounded Tuesday in a bomb attack near street markets in northern Baghdad, a security source was quoted as saying.

In a press statement to Alghad Press, the source said, "A bomb placed near busy street markets went off in al-Rashdiya neighborhood, north of Baghdad, leaving two civilians wounded."

"Ambulances rushed to the blast site and carried the injured to a nearby hospital for treatment," the source added.

Earlier in the day, an explosion rocked a popular market in the Baghdad neighborhood of al-Radwaniyah, leaving one person dead and five others injured.

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

The surge in violence between armed groups and government forces has resulted in over 3 million internally displaced persons across Iraq and left more than 11 million in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The Iraqi capital has seen almost daily bombings and armed attacks against security members, paramilitary troops and civilians since the Iraqi government launched a wide-scale campaign to retake Islamic State-occupied areas in 2016. Though most of the daily bombings go without a claim of responsibility, Islamic State has declared it had been behind many.

Iraqi official: tribal reconciliation should precede IS families repatriation
Iraqi News

By Mohamed Mostafa
February 13, 2018

Officials at Iraq's Anbar province have recommended to resolve tribal disputes at the province before pushing forward with the repatriation of displaced civilians linked with Islamic State militants.

Baghdad Today quoted Naeem al-Kaoud, chairman of Anbar's security committee, saying that "any decision to return Daesh (Islamic State) families could be catastrophic".

According to al-Kaoud, "the rule at tribal areas is that anybody who commits a killing, his family is expelled until a reconciliation is reached".

He added that, "until present, there is no framework for tribal reconciliation, and the government is required to sponsor that issue".

Kaoud argued that "certain parties want to accelerate the repatriation of refugees to the province for political reasons to use those families' votes in elections".

Iraq declared victory over Islamic State militants in December, ending months of military operations to retake areas occupied by the group since 2014. Anbar's Rawa was the last IS bastion recaptured by Iraqi forces.

But many officials and observers have voiced concern over a wave of unrest as the families of civilians slain by the extremist group could seek revenge from others that had some of their members drafted by the group.

Iraqi local authorities had reportedly isolated IS fighters' families at some provinces and prepared for their social and psychological rehabilitation before returning to their home regions.

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Syria may be making new types of chemical weapons, U.S. says
CBS News

February 1, 2018

Syrian President Bashar Assad's government may be developing new, more sophisticated chemical weapons, the Trump administration says. The characteristics of recent alleged attacks suggest Syria is producing chemical weapons despite a 2013 deal to destroy its program, according to officials, who say it's "highly likely" that Syria kept a stockpile of weapons.

The officials also say Syria may be making new kinds of weapons, either to improve their military capability or to escape international accountability.

The officials also say the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) keeps using chemical weapons such as sulfur mustard and chlorine. The militants are using shells or improvised explosive devices to deliver the chemicals, according to the officials.

The officials weren't authorized to discuss the assessment on the record and briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.

Fighting continues to rage on in Syria, entangled in a bloody civil war that shows no signs of being resolved in the near future. Although ISIS, which once controlled much of Syria, has been squeezed from almost all of its former territory, armed opposition groups continue to fight with each other, with Assad's forces and with extremist groups that continue to pose a threat across Syria. U.S. military forces are active both on the ground and in the skies above Syria.

More than 5.4 million people have fled the country since 2011 while millions more are displaced inside Syria, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency. Over 13 million people inside the country are in need, and nearly 3 million are in areas the U.N. describes as hard-to-reach and besieged. The conflict has put many children in serious danger.

Syria war: 'Chlorine attack' on rebel-held Idlib town

February 5, 2018

Nine people were treated for breathing difficulties after a bomb believed to be filled with chlorine was dropped on a rebel-held town in Syria, medics say.

The Syria Civil Defence said three of its rescue workers were among the casualties from the attack on Saraqeb, in the north-western province of Idlib.

The Syrian opposition said the bomb was dropped by a government helicopter.

At least 20 people were reportedly killed in conventional government and Russian air raids elsewhere in Idlib.

Later, government air and artillery strikes on the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus left another 24 people dead, the Syria Civil Defence reported.

Nine civilians, including two children, died in 15 strikes on the town of Arbin, while seven were killed when a market in the town of Beit Sawa was hit, it added.

Syrian police sources meanwhile said rebel mortar fire from the enclave killed a woman in the government-controlled Bab Touma district of Damascus' Old City.

Government and Russian forces stepped up their attacks on rebel-held areas after al-Qaeda-linked jihadists said they had shot down a Russian Su-25 warplane over Idlib on Saturday and killed its pilot on the ground after he ejected.

A doctor working for the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM), a charity which supports hospitals in rebel-held Syria, told the BBC that Saraqeb was struck by a barrel bomb dropped by a helicopter that had taken off from a nearby government base.

People brought to local hospitals after the attack smelt of chlorine, he said, and suffered breathing problems and irritation in their eyes.

The Syria Civil Defence said it had responded to "an attack with chlorine gas" and that nine people were affected, including three of its rescue workers, commonly known as the White Helmets.

It also posted a video online showing several men stripped to their underwear being sprayed with water as they struggle to breathe.

The Syrian Civil Defence also reported that six civilians had been killed and 10 others injured in conventional air strikes on residential areas of the town of Kafranbel on Sunday night. It added that the National Hospital in Maarat al-Numan was taken out of action by three air strikes, forcing medics and first responders to evacuate premature babies without any incubators.

A statement from the opposition Syrian Coalition strongly condemned what it called a "barbaric onslaught by the Russian occupation and the Assad regime forces targeting mainly civilians and residential neighbourhoods" in Idlib.

It called on the UN Security Council to take immediate action and pass a resolution "condemning Russia's atrocious crimes against the Syrian people".

Chlorine has many civilian uses, but its use as a weapon is banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). If high concentrations of the chemical enter the lungs it can cause death.

There was no immediate comment on Sunday's attacks from Syria's government.

But it dismissed as "lies" accusations from activists and the United States that it had used chlorine in an attack on the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area outside Damascus a week ago.

A joint investigation by experts from the United Nations and the Organisations for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons concluded two years ago that government forces had used chlorine as a weapon at least three times between 2014 and 2015.

The experts are also confident that government forces used the nerve agent Sarin in an attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun last April, killing more than 80 people.

In 2013, the Syrian government declared that it would destroy its chemical weapons arsenal after hundreds of people died in a Sarin attack in Damascus.

Western powers accused Syria of carrying out that attack, which the government denied, blaming rebel fighters instead.

The capture of The Isil Beatles brings more questions than answers
The National

By Gareth Browne
February 10, 2018

A diplomatic tussle has begun regarding the fate of two British Isil fighters captured in Syria last week.

It was revealed on Thursday that Elshafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey, two remaining members of a notorious group responsible for executing western hostages and known as The Beatles, had been captured.

Neither had appeared in propaganda videos like fellow beatle Mohammed Emwazi, and their fate was unknown. They had been captured almost a month ago, and a security official said they had been a" treasure trove" of intelligence.

The two men were allegedly captured in a village near Raqqa, attempting to smuggle themselves into Turkey. The National revealed earlier this week that Isil fighters were paying thousands of dollars to SDF and FSA fighters to smuggle themselves across Syria and into Turkey.

This eastern part of Syria is home to remains of Isil's openly held territory, in particular Wilayat Barakah. The region has also maintained a high level of propaganda output – earlier this week the group released a notable video which showed niqab-clad women fighting on the frontline – something not seen before within Isil.

Almost immediately, as news of the capture broke, discussion turned to what might become of the two men. Nicholas Henin, a French journalist who was among the 27 held, but was eventually released, said: "This is the beginning of a process that will bring them eventually, hopefully, to a trial. Justice is just what I want."

On the possibility that the two, who are currently under the jurisdiction of US authorities in Syria, might be transferred to Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, which US President Donald Trump signed to keep open late last month, Mr Henin warned: "Guantanamo is a denial of justice. Guantanamo was opened 16 years ago. There hasn't been a single trial there.

"What I want is a trial and a trial potentially that I can attend, so rather, a trial in London rather than one in Kobani in northern Syria," added Mr Henin.

UK Defence Minister Tobias Elwood also warned against them being sent to Guantanamo, suggesting they be tried in an international war crimes court instead.

Bethany Haynes, daughter of British aid worker David Haines who was also killed by the group, wrote on social media: "No punishment is enough for these barbarians and in my opinion they should be sentenced to a slow painful death."

An official for the Syrian Democratic forces, the Kurdish group who captured the two men, suggested their extradition to the UK was a possibility. "There have been cases of foreigners being sent back to their home country before … and most likely the fate of these two won't be any different if the UK government approaches us", he told The Guardian.

But their legal status is unclear, and several outlets have reported that the two have been stripped of their British citizenship. The UK government had previously claimed it only took the highly-controversial measure for those with dual citizenship – but El Shafee Elsheikh is believed to have had only British citizenship – suggesting he is now a stateless individual.

Some officials suggest that the two men may have information regarding the whereabouts of John Cantlie, the British journalist kidnapped in 2012, and still held by the group. He was last seen in December 2016, when he appeared in one of the group's propaganda videos in Mosul.

It could be that the capture of two of Britain's most wanted individuals poses far more questions than answers.

Syria suffering some of worst fighting of war, U.N. warns

February 12, 2018

The United Nations said on Monday the suffering of civilians in Syria has worsened since it called for a ceasefire six days ago in a humanitarian initiative that was rapidly derailed by an even more intense bombardment.

Fighting has involved pro-government air strikes on the opposition enclave in eastern Ghouta outside Damascus, an offensive against rebels in the northwestern Idlib province and Turkey's assault on the Kurdish-held Afrin region.

"The call for an immediate cessation of hostilities... has gone unanswered," the United Nations resident and humanitarian coordinator in Syria Ali al-Za'tari said of the Feb. 6 appeal.

The conflict also threatened to escalate on another front on Saturday, with Israel launching its heaviest air strikes yet against Iranian targets in Syria after Syrian air defenses shot down an Israeli F-16, though tensions have since been contained.

Surging violence has led to reports of "hundreds of civilian deaths and injuries, massive displacement and the destruction of civilian infrastructure, including medical facilities," Za'tari said in a statement.

He described it as "some of the worst fighting of the entire conflict", a war that is entering its eighth year and has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven millions from their homes.

Since Russia entered the war on the side of President Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian and Shi'ite militia allies in 2015, the government has reclaimed large areas including all the big rebel bastions in Syria's main cities.

However, while rebel hopes of ousting Assad by force appear thwarted, and while major offensives last year took back most ground held by Islamic State, the multi-sided war still has the potential to spiral out into new conflicts.

Turkey's offensive in Afrin pits it against the Kurdish YPG militia, which also holds swathes of land in northeast Syria supported by Ankara's NATO ally Washington.

In the southwest, the downing of an Israeli jet by Syrian anti-aircraft fire on Saturday underscored the possibility of a wider escalation between Israel and Iranian-backed forces in Syria, including Lebanon's Hezbollah group.

"The military escalation throughout Syria, including the events we have seen on the Israeli border over the weekend, is deeply worrying. It could indeed lead to a dangerous spillover," a spokeswoman for the European Commission said on Monday.


U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is visiting Jordan and Turkey this week as part of a Middle East tour to discuss issues that include Syria. U.N.-led diplomacy toward ending the conflict is making little or no progress.

The Kremlin said on Monday that U.S. support in stabilizing Syria had been inadequate, but without spelling out how. "There is a shortage of this help," spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

On Saturday, U.N. rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said that Syrian and Russian airstrikes in rebel-held areas of Idlib and eastern Ghouta had killed 230 civilians in the past week and that they might constitute war crimes.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said on Monday that air strikes had killed 15 more civilians, including three children, and injured another 85 in eastern Ghouta since Saturday.

"I am again appealing to all parties, and those with influence over them, to listen to us and to the affected population: end this intolerable human suffering," Za'tari said.

The United Nations called on Feb. 6 for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire of at least a month across the country.

More than 700 patients in the besieged Damascus enclave of eastern Ghouta now await medical evacuation, said Elizabeth Hoff, World Health Organisation (WHO) representative in Syria.

The WHO, a United Nations agency, has sent 11 requests to the Syrian foreign ministry since last May, but only 29 of the most critical cases were evacuated in late December, Hoff said. The Jaish al-Islam rebel group released 29 detainees in eastern Ghouta at the time, as part of a deal with the government.

"This is a political issue which cannot be resolved with humanitarian efforts," Hoff told Reuters in Geneva on Monday, speaking from Damascus. "Unfortunately the list of patients is only growing."

"The security situation is very bad, there are not sufficient medical teams on the ground. They haven't got supplies. We have not been able to deliver anything since November 28," she added.

Syrian Civilian Rescue Force Urges More Action From US, Europe in Securing Cease-fire
VOA News

By Lisa Bryant
February 13, 2018

A top member of a Syrian civilian rescue group called Tuesday for more action from the United States and other Western governments to stop what appears to be intensifying violence in Syria.

Abdulrahman Almawwas described dire conditions in the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta where roughly 400,000 civilians are under siege.

Speaking to reporters in Paris, the vice president of the Syrian White Helmets rescue force warned of a humanitarian crisis similar to that in Aleppo during a government offensive to retake the city in 2016. It was time, he said, for U.S. President Donald Trump and European leaders to do more, including ensuring a real cease-fire.

"We hope from him (Trump) to do more against (the Syrian regime)," said Almawwas. "They can do more than this. Back to international humanitarian law. There is war crimes — maybe they can count the criminals."

Almawwas was in Paris to take that message directly to French authorities. He said red lines outlined by President Emmanuel Macron among others— in terms of chemical weapons and humanitarian corridors in Syria — had long been crossed.

Macron said Tuesday that France would strike in Syria if chemical weapons are used against civilians, but that there was no proof of this to date.

"When we speak about the chemical attacks or targeting hospitals, this is a war crime," said Almawwas. "And here, should do something. If we go to the Security Council there is a court and many (files) about the war crimes in Syria. And there is international humanitarian law. And nobody does anything about it."

Observers warn the multi-dimensional Syrian crisis threatens to widen. The United Nations said Saturday that Syrian and Russian airstrikes killed 230 civilians over the previous week alone in Eastern Ghouta and Idlib, in northwestern Syria.

Almawwas said food was scarce in Eastern Ghouta and rescue workers had few means to respond to airstrikes.

"We were there with vans. We don't have any ambulances in Al Gouta," Almawwas said. "We work with our hands, with shovels, with basic extinguishers. We don't have enough fire engines for the whole area."

The White Helmets are said to have rescued thousands of civilians in opposition-held territory, although some challenge their claims.

Almawwas says foreign government donations for the group plummeted this past year. But as the Syrian conflict enters its eighth year, he says more and more Syrians are becoming White Helmets to reach about 3,700 current members.

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Terrorist attacks in Afghanistan put Kabul residents on edge

By Larisa Epatko
February 2, 2018

Taliban militants driving an ambulance packed with explosives passed through two checkpoints before detonating the bombs on a crowded Kabul street on Jan. 27. More than 100 people died that day in the blast.

John Iliffe and his colleagues could feel their building shake in another part of the city. "As high the smoke goes up, the blast wave goes much wider," he said.

The frequency and speed of these major, pre-planned attacks have never been higher, said Iliffe, who has worked in Afghanistan since 2001 and currently has a security role for a nongovernmental organization. The ambulance blast was one of six major attacks by Taliban and Islamic State militants in and around Kabul in the past five weeks, including a 12-hour siege on the Intercontinental Hotel, where gunmen roamed from room to room, looking for foreigners.

Other incidents included a car bomb attack at Save the Children's offices in the eastern city of Jalalabad on Jan. 25, which killed six people. A few days later, an early morning shooting rampage on a military academy in Kabul left at least 11 troops dead.

Vice President Mike Pence called Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Friday expressing his condolences and emphasizing "America's resolve to support Afghanistan and its National Unity Government."

Ghani blamed neighboring Pakistan for sheltering and aiding the leaders of the Taliban insurgency, which Pakistan has denied. "We are waiting for Pakistan to act," Ghani said Friday in a televised address.

The U.S. State Department announced last month that it was suspending nearly $2 billion in military aid to Pakistan for failing to "act decisively" against Taliban extremists. In response, Pakistan halted intelligence-sharing with the U.S.

What's the toll on the population?

The relentless violence is wearing on local residents, including lowering productivity when workers are distracted and worried, said Iliffe. Some residents have started carrying notes in their pockets with their name, age and blood type, to make it easier for relatives to find them in hospitals if they get caught in an attack.

"People are feeling vulnerable to go about their day-to-day life," Iliffe said. At street markets, "you see some poor guy trying to sell balloons or water cans cowering in a corner."

In general, people are limiting their movements around the city for fear of further attacks and kidnappings, he continued. "There's really no social life in Kabul anymore."

What do the insurgents hope to achieve?

Armed with a new Afghanistan strategy announced in August, the U.S. military and Afghan forces have stepped up an offensive against the Taliban, and the increase in attacks is a direct result, said Borhan Osman, senior analyst on Afghanistan with the International Crisis Group.

The airstrikes are restricting the Taliban's ability to move freely on the battlefield, so fighters are lashing out in urban centers, Osman said. Normally, they would take a break in fighting for the winter, but reports of fatalities are the highest of any winter in the past 16 years. They want to send a signal that they are not weakened, despite what the U.S. generals are saying, he said.

The insurgents also are hoping to shake people's confidence in the central government by breaching checkpoints and detonating devices at government and military sites. "These recent attacks have underscored the weaknesses of the Afghan security forces," said Iliffe.

Add to their violence the Islamic State group, which has established a cell in Kabul and is perpetrating attacks in the capital city to grab headlines and attract recruits.

"We're coming to 16 years post the U.S. invasion and it's starting to raise questions about the coalition strategy for winning," Iliffe said.

Afghans seeking justice pin hopes on Hague court investigation
Channel News Asia

February 8, 2018

Thousands of Afghans are hoping for justice from the International Criminal Court (ICC) with Islamist militants, the government and U.S.-led forces all expected to be the subject of investigations, and possibly, trials.

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda asked a pre-trial chamber of judges in November for authorisation to launch a full investigation into allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan.

She said there was a "reasonable basis to believe" such crimes had been committed by all sides in the conflict and ICC judges are now examining submissions filed by a Jan. 31 deadline.

"In Afghanistan, we have thousands of victims," said Ehsan Qaane, a lawyer working with the Transitional Justice Coordination Group, which helped victims prepare submissions.

"The people behind these atrocities do not face any serious criminal justice process in this country, so they're committing crimes without fear."

The ICC does not release details of the submissions it receives and only a handful of people have come forward to say they have filed complaints with it. No one in Afghanistan who has filed a case against U.S. forces has said so publicly.

One person who has spoken out is politician Ahmad Ishchi who says Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum ordered his men to abduct, beat and sexually assault him in 2016.

"I hope the International Criminal Court grants me justice so I can regain my dignity," Ishchi told Reuters in his well-guarded office in Kabul, the Afghan capital.

Dostum, who is in Turkey, has not been charged with any offence and has denied the accusations.

The government said a year ago that seven of Dostum's bodyguards were being questioned.

The status of the investigation remains unclear but Ishchi said he had seen no progress. Asked about fears his case could stir factional tension, he said there was nothing political about it.


Afghan journalists have also filed submissions to the ICC against the Taliban and other militants for attacks on media workers.

Mujeeb Khalvatgar, direct of the media freedom organisation Nai, said the failure to take action against those who attacked journalists only fed impunity.

"Encouraging impunity influences the work we are doing, the values we are working for and the biggest achievement we have, which is freedom of expression and a free media," Khalvatgar told Reuters.

Last year was the bloodiest for journalists in Afghanistan, with 21 killed, an increase of nearly 50 percent from 2016, and 150 other cases of violence, he said.

While his group had cases involving the government and U.S.-led international military forces, he said they had been taken up with them and would be dealt with separately, not as part of his group's ICC submissions, which focus on the militants.

Khalvatgar said the militants opposed a free media.

The Taliban deny targeting journalists but say they object to those who follow an agenda and are one-sided.

Taliban sources said the group had discussed filing cases with the ICC but a Taliban spokesman declined to confirm or deny if any had been.

Cases aimed at U.S.-led international forces are believed to involve civilian casualties in fighting and allegations of torture while in custody.

The ICC has said there were preliminary grounds to believe U.S. forces committed war crimes in Afghanistan and at CIA detention facilities elsewhere in 2003 and 2004.

Former U.S. administrations opposed the court's establishment, citing fears that American service members would be targeted by politically motivated prosecutions, but later backed ad hoc investigations.

An ICC investigation of U.S. personnel would be "wholly unwarranted and unjustified," a U.S. government official said.

"More broadly, our overall assessment is that commencement of an ICC investigation will not serve the interests of either peace or justice in Afghanistan," the official added.

The Afghan government has raised concern about the impact of ICC investigations on stability.

Afghan U.N. representative Mahmood Saikal told a meeting of state parties to the ICC in December that Afghanistan would have preferred the prosecutor to have "held off" her request for a full investigation.

"The unique set of circumstances of our stabilisation efforts requires a comprehensive approach that aims to ensure justice, while preserving the political stability, which is fundamentally important in any post-conflict setting," he said.

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Saudi-led coalition killed 68 children in Yemen: UN

February 2, 2018

The Saudi-led coalition that is fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen is responsible for the deaths of scores of children since last summer, a United Nations report says.

Al Jazeera obtained excerpts from the confidential report by the UN Office on Children and Armed Conflict, which was sent to the UN Security Council on January 19.

According to the excerpts, the Saudi-led coalition killed 68 children and wounded 36 others from July to September 2017.

The report found there were at least 20 coalition raids every day - some targeting schools and homes.

Saudi Arabia, together with several other Arab nations, launched a military campaign in 2015 that aimed at rolling back advances made by Houthi rebels after they overran much of the country, including the capital, Sanaa, in 2014.

The Saudi-led intervention initially consisted of a bombing campaign and later saw a naval blockade and the deployment of ground forces into Yemen.

The coalition says it is attacking positions of the Houthi rebels in response to a request from the internationally recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Houthi killings

In addition to the coalition, the UN report also points fingers at the Houthis, blaming the rebels for the deaths of 18 children since last summer. Another 29 children were wounded in attacks by Houthis in the same period, the report says.

The report also notes that recruitment of children to fight has increased, particularly by the Houthis and the Yemeni National Army.

The UN describes the situation in Yemen as "the worst man-made humanitarian crisis" in the world, with the ongoing conflict making an already dire situation worse.

Speaking to Al Jazeera from Sanaa, Shabia Mantoo, spokesperson for the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said thousands in Yemen are in desperate need of aid.

"It's not just affecting children. It's affecting everyone. It's affecting 75 percent of the population. So our concern is that as long as this conflict continues, we're going to see more and more casualties. We're also going to see the humanitarian needs rise as well.

"So, children, women, the elderly, people with particular vulnerabilities; they are suffering the most in Yemen at the moment," Mantoo said.

According to the UN children's aid agency, UNICEF, more than 5,000 children have been killed or injured in the war - an average of five children a day - since the conflict escalated in March 2015.

UNICEF also says that more than 11 million children are in need of humanitarian assistance and nearly two million children are suffering from acute malnutrition.

In addition to a massive cholera outbreak, Yemen has also seen outbreaks of diphtheria in recent months.

Suze van Meegen, spokesperson of Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in Yemen, said it is time the international community wakes up to the humanitarian situation in the country.

"It is astounding to me that we have the United Nations Security Council that has not commented on Yemen in, now more than seven months. The scale of suffering in Yemen is incomparable. We have 22 million people in need.

"We are speaking to families who are fleeing their homes because of violence and constructing houses out of plastic bags. People don't have enough to eat. They're forced to eat whatever they can find.

"This sort of suffering is inexcusable, and we would really like to see some action taken from the US, the UK and the United Nations Security Council," Van Meegen told Al Jazeera.

Centcom Updates Counterterrorism Strikes in Yemen
U.S. Department of Defense

February 6, 2018

U.S. forces conducted eight airstrikes in Yemen in December and 10 airstrikes in January targeting both al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in Yemen.

A Dec. 15 airstrike killed AQAP external operations facilitator Miqdad al-Sanaani in Bayda governorate, and a Dec. 19 airstrike killed AQAP deputy arms facilitator Habib al-Sanaani in Marib governorate.

Sanaani was an intermediary with ties to senior AQAP leadership and was responsible for facilitating the movement of weapons, explosives and finances into Yemen, U.S. Central Command officials said. U.S. forces continue sustained counterterrorism operations against AQAP and against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in Yemen in coordination with Yemen's government degrade these groups’ ability to hold territory and coordinate external attacks, they added.

"Every strike advances the defeat of violent extremist organizations, and protects the United States and partner nations from attack at home and abroad," said Army Lt. Col. Earl Brown, a Centcom spokesman.

85,000 people displaced in 10 weeks as hostilities rage across Yemen

February 9, 2018

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is alarmed at the upsurge in violence across Yemen which is resulting in increased displacement from various frontlines. According to UNHCR and partner data, more than 85,000 people have been displaced countrywide since 1 December 2017.

Yemen’s west coast continues to be the highest source of new displacement, with 71 per cent or some 61,000 people originating from Al Hudaydah and Taizz governorates.

Current military escalations on the west coast are leading to hundreds of people having to flee their homes on a daily basis, including from the districts of Al Khawkhah, Al Garrahi and Hays in southern Hudaydah; and from Mokha and Mawza in Taizz.

The majority of those fleeing violence from the west coast are fleeing east to Abyan, where more than 21,000 individuals have fled, whilst others are attempting to seek refuge elsewhere within Taizz and Hudaydah governorates. Some 13,600 people have been newly displaced within Taizz while more than 12,300 people have been newly displaced within Al Hudaydah, with others fleeing the west coast across the country to Lahj, Al Maharah, Aden, Ibb, Dhamar, Hadramaut and Shabwah.

UNHCR is particularly concerned for those that remain in areas close to hostilities in Taizz and Hudaydah. As a result of prolonged fighting in those two governorates, conditions continue to rapidly deteriorate, exposing people to violence and disease, without basic services.

Most of those displaced in the governorates of Al Hudaydah and Taizz remain hosted by relatives or friends, trapped inside homes or in caves as ground clashes, aerial bombardment and sniper fire rage around them.

In addition to new displacement from the western coast, UNHCR is also observing a spike in new displacement from other frontline areas, including Yemen’s border governorates of Al Jawf and Hajjah, and also in Shabwah in the east.

Increasing military operations in Al Jawf, in particular ongoing battles in the districts of Bart Al Anan and Khabb wa ash Sha’af have seen more than 8,000 people displaced within the governorate.

In Hajjah, which is already host to 19 per cent of Yemen’s 2 million IDP population (some 376,000 people) and the governorate from which 19 per cent of Yemen’s IDPs originate, ongoing flare ups have seen nearly 2,000 people fled homes in the governorate in recent weeks.

Further east in Shabwah, military operations have forced almost another 8,000 flee.

The main needs of the displaced and other conflict-affected populations continue to be access to shelter, health, food and water and sanitation. To respond to the waves of fresh displacement, UNHCR is providing emergency assistance that includes a mixture of shelter and essential household supplies to help those forced to flee, to cope in displacement.

Since the beginning of the conflict, UNHCR basic aid items such as mattresses, mats, wash buckets, blankets, kitchen sets, etc., have reached more than 1.1 million individuals in all of Yemen’s conflict affected governorates.

Yemen is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis with more than 22 million people in need and is seeing a spike in needs, fuelled by ongoing conflict, a collapsing economy and diminished social services and livelihoods.

UNHCR is worried that funding for the humanitarian response is yet to trickle in, with escalating hostilities leading to substantial new displacement at the beginning of the year.

For 2018, UNHCR is appealing for nearly USD 200 million to respond to critical and prioritised humanitarian needs but is starting the year with just three per cent of funding available. UNHCR reiterates its call to the international community to commit funds to the Yemen humanitarian response.

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Special Tribunal for Lebanon

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

Prosecution wraps up case on Hariri assassination at STL
The Daily Star

By Victoria Yan
February 8, 2018

The prosecution for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon concluded its case Wednesday after four years of presenting evidence tying Salim Ayyash, Hassan Merhi, Hussein Oneissi and Assad Sabra to the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. “You have [seen] 2470 exhibits, you’ve heard from 261 individual witnesses ... 119 of whom have appeared in person and 142 have [made statements]. ... Most crucially they’ve included Lebanese witnesses,” Alexander Milnes, senior trial counsel, said in the last hour of Wednesday’s session.

“So, on behalf of the prosecution, I would like to pay tribute to the witnesses and Lebanon, [which] has placed trust in this tribunal.

“It is with those thoughts that I finally and formally close my case for the prosecution.”

While the end of the prosecution’s case is a significant development for the STL, Milnes wrapped up the years of work with little fanfare. However, the official closure was delayed several hours following a typical standoff between the defense and prosecution.

The sole participating victim present Wednesday was Mohammad Diab – Hariri’s former bodyguard and a survivor of the Feb. 14, 2005, bombing in Downtown Beirut. However, no statement was made by him or a legal representative of the victims.

Diab was among scores injured at the site of the blast that killed 22, including Hariri and former Economy Minister Bassel Fleihan.

The prosecution opened its case in front of the Trial Chamber on Jan. 16, 2014, nearly four years after the STL was established.

At the time, five members of Hezbollah – Mustafa Badreddine, Ayyash, Sabra, Oneissi and Merhi – were indicted.

Yet the prosecution’s case did not proceed without obstacles.

In addition to courtroom antics between the prosecution and defense delaying progress, Lebanon’s sensitive political balance also threatened the STL’s efforts to pursue justice in a timely manner.

In January 2014, a contempt case was opened against Karma al-Khayat of local media channel Al-Jadeed and Ibrahim Mohammad Ali al-Amin, editor-in-chief of newspaper Al-Akhbar.

The two individuals and their respective news agencies were charged for witness intimidation after publicizing details about confidential witnesses slated to testify in front of the Trial Chamber.

Ultimately, Khayat and Al-Jadeed were acquitted on appeal, but Amin and Al-Akhbar were found guilty and sentenced to $24,500 and $7,000 fines respectively.

In May 2016, following the confirmation of the death in Syria of Badreddine, a top Hezbollah commander, charges were officially halted against him.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah has long condemned the STL, declaring it a “Zionist agenda working against the resistance.”

Promising to “cut off the hand” of any individual who attempted to arrest the accused, Nasrallah’s rejection of the tribunal has forced the case to continue with the indicted suspects being tried in absentia.

Over the four-year-long prosecution case, notable witnesses included current Education Minister Marwan Hamadeh, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and then Internal Security Forces criminal division head Brig. Gen. Asaad Nohra.

The defense team of Oneissi is scheduled to begin its case for his acquittal on Feb. 20, 2018.

Hariri Tribunal: Prosecution Completes Presentation of Evidence
Asharq Al-awsat

February 8, 2018

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon Prosecutor has completed the presentation of evidence in the Ayyash et al. Case before the court, marking the conclusion of the prosecution's case in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the STL said.

Since the start of the Prosecution case, it has presented evidence from over 260 individual witnesses and about 2,470 exhibits in documentary form, the tribunal said Wednesday.

The next step in the proceedings will be in accordance with Rule 167 of the STL Rules of Procedure and Evidence entitled “Judgement of Acquittal at the Close of the Prosecution Case”. In accordance with that rule, the judges will issue such a judgement on any count if they find that there is no evidence capable of supporting a conviction on that count, even in the absence of a Defense case.

The Trial Chamber will hear on February 20 and 21 the Rule 167 submissions of the Defense, any response from the Prosecution and any reply from the Defense. A judgement of acquittal or a decision dismissing the application will be delivered in court as soon as practicable thereafter, the court said in its press release.

The accused in the Ayyash et al. case, Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hassan Habib Merhi, Hussein Hassan Oneissi and Assad Hassan Sabra, who are “Hezbollah” members, remain at large. The proceedings against them are being held in absentia. On July 11, 2016, the Appeals Chamber ordered the termination of the proceedings against Mustafa Badreddine, without prejudice to the right to resume the proceedings, should evidence that he is alive emerge in the future.

Badreddine was killed in Syria in May 2016.

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Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal

ICT verdict in case against 4 ‘Noakhali Razakars’ any day
Dhaka Tribune

February 6, 2018

The four accused are Amir Ali, Md Joynal Abedin, Md Abdul Kuddus and Abul Kalam alias AKM Monsur.

The International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) will deliver its judgment any day in a case filed against four war crimes accused from Noakhali.

“We are keeping the verdict on CAV (curia advisory vault), a Latin legal term meaning court awaits its verdict,” said Md Shahinur Islam, chairman of the three-member tribunal.

The tribunal said this as both prosecution and defence concluded their arguments in the case on Tuesday.

The four accused are Amir Ali, Md Joynal Abedin, Md Abdul Kuddus and Abul Kalam alias AKM Monsur. Of the four, Monsur is on the run.

As Md Eusuf, another accused in the case, died of cardiac arrest on May 19, 2016, his name was dropped from the case.

On June 20, 2016, the tribunal framed three charges including genocide against the accused.

RAB arrests two JMB militants, thwarts plan to kill converted Christians
Dhaka Tribune

By Nuruzzaman Labu
February 13, 2018

Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) has arrested two members of banned militant outfit Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) from Dhaka, one of whom was planning to murder Muslims who converted to Christianity.

A RAB 2 team, acting on a tip-off, caught Nuruzzaman Labu, 39, of Jhenaidah, and Nazmul Islam Shaon, 26, from Tejgaon industrial zone on Monday night.

Two machetes, extremist literature and $724 (about Tk60,300) were also seized from them, said RAB 2 Commander Lt Col Anwar Uz Zaman.

“During preliminary questioning, both of them have admitted to being active JMB members. We are trying to catch their associates,” he said.

Sources from RAB said Labu also admitted that he was involved with Jamaat-e-Islami several years ago. He was a madrasa student, but did not finish his studies.

Until Monday, he drove an autorickshaw to run reconnaissance on people who converted from Islam to Christianity.

A RAB official said: “During interrogation, Labu said he already had targeted a man to murder. He has been following that man regularly.

“Labu is also a regional leader of JMB at Jhenaidah and an expert in making bombs.”

The official said Labu joined JMB in 2015 through two men named Saif and Sagar, both of whom also went by several aliases such as Rubel, Robin, Maruf and Sohag.

Saif had motivated him into attacking and killing “the infidels”. They also had held secret meetings with others at different places in Jhenaidah. Later, the local JMB unit had bought him the autorickshaw.

Another RAB official quoted second arrestee Shaon, a marine engineer, as saying that he also got involved with JMB in 2015 after he met one Abu Abdullah on Facebook.

Abdullah was the one who helped him join the militant group, while Shaon was already inspired after reading extremist literature online.

The official said Shaon and another youth named Sulaiman alias Azhar had been working to spread the extremist ideology and recruit new members.

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War Crimes Investigation in Burma

Five new mass graves discovered in Burma
Irish Examiner

February 1, 2018

At least five previously unreported mass graves have been uncovered in Burma, in the newest piece of evidence for what looks increasingly like genocide against the Rohingya in Rakhine state.

The Associated Press confirmed the existence of the graves around the village of Gu Dar Pyin, through interviews with more than two dozen survivors in Bangladesh refugee camps and time-stamped mobile phone videos.

The government regularly claims massacres like Gu Dar Pyin never happened, and has acknowledged only one mass grave containing 10 "terrorists" in the village of Inn Din.

The AP findings suggest not only the military's slaughter of civilians but the presence of many more graves with many more people.

The Rohingya are a long-persecuted ethnic Muslim minority in the predominantly Buddhist country.

Htun Naing, a local security police officer in Buthidaung township, where the village is located, said he "hasn't heard of such mass graves".

Burma has cut off access to Gu Dar Pyin, so it is unclear how many people died, but satellite images obtained by AP from DigitalGlobe show a devastated village.

Community leaders have compiled a list of 75 dead so far, and villagers estimate the toll could be as high as 400, based on evidence from relatives and the bodies they have seen in the graves and strewn about the area.

Almost every villager interviewed by AP saw three large mass graves at Gu Dar Pyin's northern entrance, near the main road, where witnesses say soldiers herded and killed most of the Rohingya.

A handful of witnesses confirmed two other big graves near a hillside cemetery, and smaller graves scattered around the village.

In the videos obtained by AP, dating to 13 days after the killing began, blue-green puddles of acid sludge surround corpses without heads and torsos that jut out from the earth, skeletal hands seeming to claw at the ground.

Survivors said soldiers planned the August 27 attack, and tried to hide what they had done.

They came to the slaughter armed not only with rifles, knives, rocket launchers and grenades, but also with shovels to dig pits and acid to burn away faces and hands so bodies could not be recognised.

Buddhist villagers then moved through Gu Dar Pyin in a sort of mopping-up operation, using knives to cut the throats of the injured, survivors said, and pitching the young and the elderly into fires.

The UN special envoy on human rights in Burma said the military's violent operations against Rohingya Muslims bear "the hallmarks of a genocide".

Yanghee Lee told reporters in Seoul that she could not make a definitive declaration about genocide until a credible international tribunal or court had weighed the evidence, but "we are seeing signs and it is building up to that".

Ms Lee said she did not have specific details on Gu Dar Pyin, but added: "You can see it's a pattern."

Nearly 700,000 Rohingya have fled their villages into Bangladesh since August. Elsewhere a Burmese government spokesman said a petrol bomb had been thrown into the residential compound of the country's leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but she was not at home and damage was minor.

Spokesman Zaw Htay said Ms Suu Kyi was in the capital Naypyitaw when the incident took place on Thursday morning.

Ms Suu Kyi is hugely popular among Burma's majority Buddhists, but has been heavily criticised abroad for failing to stake a stand against army abuses against the Rohingya.

Mass graves and mounting evidence of genocide in Myanmar (Burma)
Atrocity Alert

February 7, 2018

On 1 February the Associated Press reported on the existence of at least five mass graves in the village of Gu Dar Pyin in northern Rakhine State, Myanmar. The faces of many of those hastily buried in the graves were burned with acid, indicating a deliberate attempt to conceal the identity of victims. Eyewitness testimony and satellite evidence suggest that there could be several more mass graves in the area.

The government of Myanmar has publicly denied these findings, claiming instead that 19 “terrorists” had been killed by security forces and “carefully buried” in the village. The government continues to block access to northern Rakhine State for media, human rights monitors and independent investigators.

The discovery of the mass graves is the latest evidence of a possible genocide that has been committed against the Rohingya population in Myanmar. Since 25 August last year the Rohingya have endured widespread and systematic attacks by government security forces, including mass killings, rape, torture, and forced displacement. More than 350 Rohingya villages have been burned down. These acts appear to have been committed with intent to destroy the Rohingya as a group. More than 688,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh as a result, with more than 800 people still reportedly crossing the border over the last week.

Authorities in Myanmar have not only failed to hold those responsible for these atrocities accountable, they continue to deny that any crimes have taken place in Gu Dar Pyin or anywhere else.

Despite mounting evidence of genocide, the UN Security Council has still not adopted a single resolution on Myanmar. The Security Council should take urgent action, including imposing an arms embargo. The Council should also impose targeted sanctions on those members of the security forces responsible for atrocities, including Commander in Chief Min Aung Hlaing and senior commanders overseeing so-called “clearance operations” in Rakhine State. A resolution should also demand immediate access for UN representatives and independent investigators to Rakhine State, including the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar and members of the fact-finding mission mandated by the Human Rights Council. The threat of a veto by a permanent member of the Security Council should not prevent Council members from upholding their responsibility to protect the Rohingya.

In the absence of UN Security Council action, all UN member states should take immediate bilateral action regarding mass atrocities committed in Myanmar, including imposing targeted sanctions against those responsible, suspending all military training programs, and reviewing all aid and development programs in Rakhine State.

How Myanmar forces burned, looted and killed in a remote village

By Wa Lone, Kyaw Soe Oo, Simon Lewis, and Antoni Slodkowski
February 8, 2018

Bound together, the 10 Rohingya Muslim captives watched their Buddhist neighbors dig a shallow grave. Soon afterwards, on the morning of Sept. 2, all 10 lay dead. At least two were hacked to death by Buddhist villagers. The rest were shot by Myanmar troops, two of the gravediggers said.

“One grave for 10 people,” said Soe Chay, 55, a retired soldier from Inn Din’s Rakhine Buddhist community who said he helped dig the pit and saw the killings. The soldiers shot each man two or three times, he said. “When they were being buried, some were still making noises. Others were already dead.”

The killings in the coastal village of Inn Din marked another bloody episode in the ethnic violence sweeping northern Rakhine state, on Myanmar’s western fringe. Nearly 690,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled their villages and crossed the border into Bangladesh since August. None of Inn Din’s 6,000 Rohingya remained in the village as of October.

The Rohingya accuse the army of arson, rapes and killings aimed at rubbing them out of existence in this mainly Buddhist nation of 53 million. The United Nations has said the army may have committed genocide; the United States has called the action ethnic cleansing. Myanmar says its “clearance operation” is a legitimate response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents.

Rohingya trace their presence in Rakhine back centuries. But most Burmese consider them to be unwanted immigrants from Bangladesh; the army refers to the Rohingya as “Bengalis.” In recent years, sectarian tensions have risen and the government has confined more than 100,000 Rohingya in camps where they have limited access to food, medicine and education.

Reuters has pieced together what happened in Inn Din in the days leading up to the killing of the 10 Rohingya – eight men and two high school students in their late teens.

Until now, accounts of the violence against the Rohingya in Rakhine state have been provided only by its victims. The Reuters reconstruction draws for the first time on interviews with Buddhist villagers who confessed to torching Rohingya homes, burying bodies and killing Muslims.

This account also marks the first time soldiers and paramilitary police have been implicated by testimony from security personnel themselves. Members of the paramilitary police gave Reuters insider descriptions of the operation to drive out the Rohingya from Inn Din, confirming that the military played the lead role in the campaign.

The slain men’s families, now sheltering in Bangladesh refugee camps, identified the victims through photographs shown to them by Reuters. The dead men were fishermen, shopkeepers, the two teenage students and an Islamic teacher.

Three photographs, provided to Reuters by a Buddhist village elder, capture key moments in the massacre at Inn Din, from the Rohingya men’s detention by soldiers in the early evening of Sept. 1 to their execution shortly after 10 a.m. on Sept. 2. Two photos – one taken the first day, the other on the day of the killings – show the 10 captives lined up in a row, kneeling. The final photograph shows the men’s bloodied bodies piled in the shallow grave.

The Reuters investigation of the Inn Din massacre was what prompted Myanmar police authorities to arrest two of the news agency’s reporters. The reporters, Burmese citizens Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, were detained on Dec. 12 for allegedly obtaining confidential documents relating to Rakhine.

Then, on Jan. 10, the military issued a statement that confirmed portions of what Wa Lone, Kyaw Soe Oo and their colleagues were preparing to report, acknowledging that 10 Rohingya men were massacred in the village. It confirmed that Buddhist villagers attacked some of the men with swords and soldiers shot the others dead.

The statement coincided with an application to the court by prosecutors to charge Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo under Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act, which dates back to the time of colonial British rule. The charges carry a maximum 14-year prison sentence.

But the military’s version of events is contradicted in important respects by accounts given to Reuters by Rakhine Buddhist and Rohingya Muslim witnesses. The military said the 10 men belonged to a group of 200 “terrorists” that attacked security forces. Soldiers decided to kill the men, the army said, because intense fighting in the area made it impossible to transfer them to police custody. The army said it would take action against those involved.

Buddhist villagers interviewed for this article reported no attack by a large number of insurgents on security forces in Inn Din. And Rohingya witnesses told Reuters that soldiers plucked the 10 from among hundreds of men, women and children who had sought safety on a nearby beach.

Scores of interviews with Rakhine Buddhist villagers, soldiers, paramilitary police, Rohingya Muslims and local administrators further revealed:

The military and paramilitary police organized Buddhist residents of Inn Din and at least two other villages to torch Rohingya homes, more than a dozen Buddhist villagers said. Eleven Buddhist villagers said Buddhists committed acts of violence, including killings. The government and army have repeatedly blamed Rohingya insurgents for burning villages and homes.

An order to “clear” Inn Din’s Rohingya hamlets was passed down the command chain from the military, said three paramilitary police officers speaking on condition of anonymity and a fourth police officer at an intelligence unit in the regional capital Sittwe. Security forces wore civilian clothes to avoid detection during raids, one of the paramilitary police officers said.

Some members of the paramilitary police looted Rohingya property, including cows and motorcycles, in order to sell it, according to village administrator Maung Thein Chay and one of the paramilitary police officers.

Operations in Inn Din were led by the army’s 33rd Light Infantry Division, supported by the paramilitary 8th Security Police Battalion, according to four police officers, all of them members of the battalion.

Michael G. Karnavas, a U.S. lawyer based in The Hague who has worked on cases at international criminal tribunals, said evidence that the military had organized Buddhist civilians to commit violence against Rohingya “would be the closest thing to a smoking gun in establishing not just intent, but even specific genocidal intent, since the attacks seem designed to destroy the Rohingya or at least a significant part of them.”

Evidence of the execution of men in government custody also could be used to build a case of crimes against humanity against military commanders, Karnavas said, if it could be shown that it was part of a “widespread or systematic” campaign targeting the Rohingya population. Kevin Jon Heller, a University of London law professor who served as a legal associate for convicted war criminal and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, said an order to clear villages by military command was “unequivocally the crime against humanity of forcible transfer.”

In December, the United States imposed sanctions on the army officer who had been in charge of Western Command troops in Rakhine, Major General Maung Maung Soe. So far, however, Myanmar has not faced international sanctions over the violence. Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has disappointed many former supporters in the West by not speaking out against the army’s actions. They had hoped the election of her National League for Democracy party in 2015 would bring democratic reform and an opening of the country. Instead, critics say, Suu Kyi is in thrall to the generals who freed her from house arrest in 2010.

Asked about the evidence Reuters has uncovered about the massacre, government spokesman Zaw Htay said, “We are not denying the allegations about violations of human rights. And we are not giving blanket denials.” If there was “strong and reliable primary evidence” of abuses, the government would investigate, he said. “And then if we found the evidence is true and the violations are there, we will take the necessary action according to our existing law.”

When told that paramilitary police officers had said they received orders to “clear” Inn Din’s Rohingya hamlets, he replied, “We have to verify. We have to ask the Ministry of Home Affairs and Myanmar police forces.” Asked about the allegations of looting by paramilitary police officers, he said the police would investigate.

He expressed surprise when told that Buddhist villagers had confessed to burning Rohingya homes, then added, “We recognize that many, many different allegations are there, but we need to verify who did it. It is very difficult in the current situation.”

Zaw Htay defended the military operation in Rakhine. “The international community needs to understand who did the first terrorist attacks. If that kind of terrorist attack took place in European countries, in the United States, in London, New York, Washington, what would the media say?”

Neighbor turns on neighbor

Inn Din lies between the Mayu mountain range and the Bay of Bengal, about 50 km (30 miles) north of Rakhine’s state capital Sittwe. The settlement is made up of a scattering of hamlets around a school, clinic and Buddhist monastery. Buddhist homes cluster in the northern part of the village. For many years there had been tensions between the Buddhists and their Muslim neighbors, who accounted for almost 90 percent of the roughly 7,000 people in the village. But the two communities had managed to co-exist, fishing the coastal waters and cultivating rice in the paddies.

In October 2016, Rohingya militants attacked three police posts in northern Rakhine – the beginning of a new insurgency. After the attacks, Rohingya in Inn Din said many Buddhists stopped hiring them as farmhands and home help. The Buddhists said the Rohingya stopped showing up for work.

On Aug. 25 last year, the rebels struck again, hitting 30 police posts and an army base. The closest attack was just 4 km to the north. In Inn Din, several hundred fearful Buddhists took refuge in the monastery in the center of the village, more than a dozen of their number said. Inn Din’s Buddhist night watchman San Thein, 36, said Buddhist villagers feared being “swallowed up” by their Muslim neighbors. A Buddhist elder said all Rohingya, “including children,” were part of the insurgency and therefore “terrorists.”

On Aug. 27, about 80 troops from Myanmar’s 33rd Light Infantry Division arrived in Inn Din, nine Buddhist villagers said. Two paramilitary police officers and Soe Chay, the retired soldier, said the troops belonged to the 11th infantry regiment of this division. The army officer in charge told villagers they must cook for the soldiers and act as lookouts at night, Soe Chay said. The officer promised his troops would protect Buddhist villagers from their Rohingya neighbors. Five Buddhist villagers said the officer told them they could volunteer to join security operations. Young volunteers would need their parents’ permission to join the troops, however.

The army found willing participants among Inn Din’s Buddhist “security group,” nine members of the organization and two other villagers said. This informal militia was formed after violence broke out in 2012 between Rakhine’s Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, sparked by reports of the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman by three Muslim men. Myanmar media reported at the time that the three were sentenced to death by a district court.

Inn Din’s security group built watch huts around the Buddhist part of the village, and its members took turns to stand guard. Its ranks included Buddhist firefighters, school teachers, students and unemployed young men. They were useful to the military because they knew the local geography, said Inn Din’s Buddhist administrator, Maung Thein Chay.

Most of the group’s 80 to 100 men armed themselves with machetes and sticks. They also had a handful of guns, according to one member. Some wore green fatigue-style clothing they called “militia suits.”

In the days that followed the 33rd Light Infantry’s arrival, soldiers, police and Buddhist villagers burned most of the homes of Inn Din’s Rohingya Muslims, a dozen Buddhist residents said.

Two of the paramilitary police officers, both members of the 8th Security Police Battalion, said their battalion raided Rohingya hamlets with soldiers from the newly arrived 33rd Light Infantry. One of the police officers said he received verbal orders from his commander to “go and clear” areas where Rohingya lived, which he took to mean to burn them.

The second police officer described taking part in several raids on villages north of Inn Din. The raids involved at least 20 soldiers and between five and seven police, he said. A military captain or major led the soldiers, while a police captain oversaw the police team. The purpose of the raids was to deter the Rohingya from returning.

“If they have a place to live, if they have food to eat, they can carry out more attacks,” he said. “That’s why we burned their houses, mainly for security reasons.”

Soldiers and paramilitary police wore civilian shirts and shorts to blend in with the villagers, according to the second police officer and Inn Din’s Buddhist administrator, Maung Thein Chay. If the media identified the involvement of security personnel, the police officer explained, “we would have very big problems.”

A police spokesman, Colonel Myo Thu Soe, said he knew of no instances of security forces torching villages or wearing civilian clothing. Nor was there any order to “go and clear” or “set fire” to villages. “This is very much impossible,” he told Reuters. “If there are things like that, it should be reported officially, and it has to be investigated officially.”

“As you’ve told me about these matters now, we will scrutinize and check back,” he added. “What I want to say for now is that as for the security forces, there are orders and instructions and step-by-step management, and they have to follow them. So, I don’t think these things happened.”

The army did not respond to a request for comment.

A medical assistant at the Inn Din village clinic, Aung Myat Tun, 20, said he took part in several raids. “Muslim houses were easy to burn because of the thatched roofs. You just light the edge of the roof,” he said. “The village elders put monks’ robes on the end of sticks to make the torches and soaked them with kerosene. We couldn’t bring phones. The police said they will shoot and kill us if they see any of us taking photos.”

The night watchman San Thein, a leading member of the village security group, said troops first swept through the Muslim hamlets. Then, he said, the military sent in Buddhist villagers to burn the houses.

“We got the kerosene for free from the village market after the kalars ran away,” he said, using a Burmese slur for people from South Asia.

A Rakhine Buddhist youth said he thought he heard the sound of a child inside one Rohingya home that was burned. A second villager said he participated in burning a Rohingya home that was occupied.

Soe Chay, the retired soldier who was to dig the grave for the 10 Rohingya men, said he participated in one killing. He told Reuters that troops discovered three Rohingya men and a woman hiding beside a haystack in Inn Din on Aug. 28. One of the men had a smartphone that could be used to take incriminating pictures.

Myanmar's leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has disappointed many former supporters in the West by not speaking out against the army’s actions in Rakhine. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

The soldiers told Soe Chay to “do whatever you want to them,” he said. They pointed out the man with the phone and told him to stand up. “I started hacking him with a sword, and a soldier shot him when he fell down.”

Similar violence was playing out across a large part of northern Rakhine, dozens of Buddhist and Rohingya residents said.

Data from the U.N. Operational Satellite Applications Programme shows scores of Rohingya villages in Rakhine state burned in an area stretching 110 km. New York-based Human Rights Watch says more than 350 villages were torched over the three months from Aug. 25, according to an analysis of satellite imagery.

In the village of Laungdon, some 65 km north of Inn Din, Thar Nge, 38, said he was asked by police and local officials to join a Buddhist security group. “The army invited us to burn the kalar village at Hpaw Ti Kaung,” he said, adding that four villagers and nearly 20 soldiers and police were involved in the operation. “Police shot inside the village so all the villagers fled and then we set fire to it. Their village was burned because police believed the villagers supported Rohingya militants – that’s why they cleaned it with fire.”

A Buddhist student from Ta Man Tha village, 15 km north of Laungdon, said he too participated in the burning of Rohingya homes. An army officer sought 30 volunteers to burn “kalar” villages, said the student. Nearly 50 volunteered and gathered fuel from motorbikes and from a market.

“They separated us into several groups. We were not allowed to enter the village directly. We had to surround it and approach the village that way. The army would shoot gunfire ahead of us and then the army asked us to enter,” he said.

After the Rohingya had fled Inn Din, Buddhist villagers took their property, including chickens and goats, Buddhist residents told Reuters. But the most valuable goods, mostly motorcycles and cattle, were collected by members of the 8th Security Police Battalion and sold, said the first police officer and Inn Din village administrator Maung Thein Chay. Maung Thein Chay said the commander of the 8th Battalion, Thant Zin Oo, struck a deal with Buddhist businessmen from other parts of Rakhine state and sold them cattle. The police officer said he had stolen four cows from Rohingya villagers, only for Thant Zin Oo to snatch them away.

Reached by phone, Thant Zin Oo did not comment. Colonel Myo Thu Soe, the police spokesman, said the police would investigate the allegations of looting.

By Sept. 1, several hundred Rohingya from Inn Din were sheltering at a makeshift camp on a nearby beach. They erected tarpaulin shelters to shield themselves from heavy rain.

Among this group were the 10 Rohingya men who would be killed the next morning. Reuters has identified all of the 10 by speaking to witnesses among Inn Din’s Buddhist community and Rohingya relatives and witnesses tracked down in refugee camps in Bangladesh.

Five of the men, Dil Mohammed, 35, Nur Mohammed, 29, Shoket Ullah, 35, Habizu, 40, and Shaker Ahmed, 45, were fishermen or fish sellers. The wealthiest of the group, Abul Hashim, 25, ran a store selling nets and machine parts to fishermen and farmers. Abdul Majid, a 45-year-old father of eight, ran a small shop selling areca nut wrapped in betel leaves, commonly chewed like tobacco. Abulu, 17, and Rashid Ahmed, 18, were high school students. Abdul Malik, 30, was an Islamic teacher.

According to the statement released by the army on Jan. 10, security forces had gone to a coastal area where they “were attacked by about 200 Bengalis with sticks and swords.” The statement said that “as the security forces opened fire into the sky, the Bengalis dispersed and ran away. Ten of them were arrested.”

Three Buddhist and more than a dozen Rohingya witnesses contradict this version of events. Their accounts differ from one another in some details. The Buddhists spoke of a confrontation between a small group of Rohingya men and some soldiers near the beach. But there is unanimity on a crucial point: None said the military had come under a large-scale attack in Inn Din.

Government spokesman Zaw Htay referred Reuters to the army’s statement of Jan. 10 and declined to elaborate further. The army did not respond to a request for comment.

The Rohingya witnesses, who were on or near the beach, said Islamic teacher Abdul Malik had gone back to his hamlet with his sons to collect food and bamboo for shelter. When he returned, a group of at least seven soldiers and armed Buddhist villagers were following him, these witnesses said. Abdul Malik walked towards the watching Rohingya Muslims unsteadily, with blood dripping from his head. Some witnesses said they had seen one of the armed men strike the back of Abdul Malik’s head with a knife.

Then the military beckoned with their guns to the crowd of roughly 300 Rohingya to assemble in the paddies, these witnesses said. The soldiers and the Rohingya, hailing from different parts of Myanmar, spoke different languages. Educated villagers translated for their fellow Rohingya.

“I could not hear much, but they pointed toward my husband and some other men to get up and come forward,” said Rehana Khatun, 22, the wife of Nur Mohammed, one of the 10 who were later slain. “We heard they wanted the men for a meeting. The military asked the rest of us to return to the beach.”

Soldiers held and questioned the 10 men in a building at Inn Din’s school for a night, the military said. Rashid Ahmed and Abulu had studied there alongside Rakhine Buddhist students until the attacks by Rohingya rebels in October 2016. Schools were shut temporarily, disrupting the pair’s final year.

“I just remember him sitting there and studying, and it was always amazing to me because I am not educated,” said Rashid Ahmed’s father, farmer Abdu Shakur, 50. “I would look at him reading. He would be the first one in the family to be educated.”

A photograph, taken on the evening the men were detained, shows the two Rohingya students and the eight older men kneeling on a path beside the village clinic, most of them shirtless. They were stripped when first detained, a dozen Rohingya witnesses said. It isn’t clear why. That evening, Buddhist villagers said, the men were “treated” to a last meal of beef. They were provided with fresh clothing.

On Sept. 2, the men were taken to scrubland north of the village, near a graveyard for Buddhist residents, six Buddhist villagers said. The spot is backed by a hill crested with trees. There, on their knees, the 10 were photographed again and questioned by security personnel about the disappearance of a local Buddhist farmer named Maung Ni, according to a Rakhine elder who said he witnessed the interrogation.

Reuters was not able to establish what happened to Maung Ni. According to Buddhist neighbors, the farmer went missing after leaving home early on Aug. 25 to tend his cattle. Several Rakhine Buddhist and Rohingya villagers told Reuters they believed he had been killed, but they knew of no evidence connecting any of the 10 men to his disappearance. The army said in its Jan. 10 statement that “Bengali terrorists” had killed Maung Ni, but did not identify the perpetrators.

Two of the men pictured behind the Rohingya prisoners in the photograph taken on the morning of Sept. 2 belong to the 8th Security Police Battalion. Reuters confirmed the identities of the two men from their Facebook pages and by visiting them in person.

One of the two officers, Aung Min, a police recruit from Yangon, stands directly behind the captives. He looks at the camera as he holds a weapon. The other officer, police Captain Moe Yan Naing, is the figure on the top right. He walks with his rifle over his shoulder.

The day after the two Reuters reporters were arrested in December, Myanmar’s government also announced that Moe Yan Naing had been arrested and was being investigated under the 1923 Official Secrets Act.

Aung Min, who is not facing legal action, declined to speak to Reuters.

Three Buddhist youths said they watched from a hut as the 10 Rohingya captives were led up a hill by soldiers towards the site of their deaths.

One of the gravediggers, retired soldier Soe Chay, said Maung Ni’s sons were invited by the army officer in charge of the squad to strike the first blows.

The first son beheaded the Islamic teacher, Abdul Malik, according to Soe Chay. The second son hacked another of the men in the neck.

“After the brothers sliced them both with swords, the squad fired with guns. Two to three shots to one person,” said Soe Chay. A second gravedigger, who declined to be identified, confirmed that soldiers had shot some of the men.

In its Jan. 10 statement, the military said the two brothers and a third villager had “cut the Bengali terrorists” with swords and then, in the chaos, four members of the security forces had shot the captives. “Action will be taken against the villagers who participated in the case and the members of security forces who broke the Rules of Engagement under the law,” the statement said. It didn’t spell out those rules.

Tun Aye, one of the sons of Maung Ni, has been detained on murder charges, his lawyer said on Jan. 13. Contacted by Reuters on Feb. 8, the lawyer declined to comment further. Reuters was unable to reach the other brother.

In October, Inn Din locals pointed two Reuters reporters towards an area of brush behind the hill where they said the killings took place. The reporters discovered a newly cut trail leading to soft, recently disturbed earth littered with bones. Some of the bones were entangled with scraps of clothing and string that appeared to match the cord that is seen binding the captives’ wrists in the photographs. The immediate area was marked by the smell of death.

Reuters showed photographs of the site to three forensic experts: Homer Venters, director of programs at Physicians for Human Rights; Derrick Pounder, a pathologist who has consulted for Amnesty International and the United Nations; and Luis Fondebrider, president of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, who investigated the graves of those killed under Argentina’s military junta in the 1970s and 1980s. All observed human remains, including the thoracic part of a spinal column, ribs, scapula, femur and tibia. Pounder said he couldn’t rule out the presence of animal bones as well.

The Rakhine Buddhist elder provided Reuters reporters with a photograph which shows the aftermath of the execution. In it, the 10 Rohingya men are wearing the same clothing as in the previous photo and are tied to each other with the same yellow cord, piled into a small hole in the earth, blood pooling around them. Abdul Malik, the Islamic teacher, appears to have been beheaded. Abulu, the student, has a gaping wound in his neck. Both injuries appear consistent with Soe Chay’s account.

Fondebrider reviewed this picture. He said injuries visible on two of the bodies were consistent with “the action of a machete or something sharp that was applied on the throat.”

Some family members did not know for sure that the men had been killed until Reuters returned to their shelters in Bangladesh in January.

“I can’t explain what I feel inside. My husband is dead,” said Rehana Khatun, wife of Nur Mohammed. “My husband is gone forever. I don’t want anything else, but I want justice for his death.”

In Inn Din, the Buddhist elder explained why he chose to share evidence of the killings with Reuters. “I want to be transparent on this case. I don’t want it to happen like that in future.”

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Israel and Palestine

Israel kills Palestinian after month-long manhunt

By Linah Alsaafin
February 6, 2018

After a manhunt that lasted almost a month, Israeli forces have announced that they assassinated a Palestinian man suspected of being behind the killing of a Jewish settler last month.

Ahmad Jarrar, 22, went into hiding after Raziel Shevah was killed in a drive-by shooting near an illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus on January 9.

Before dawn on Tuesday, Jarrar was found by Israeli forces, which included the Shabak intelligence and elite units, in the village of Yamoun, some nine kilometres from his hometown of Jenin.

According to Israeli sources, security forces ordered Jarrar to come out of a building at around 3am (01:00 GMT). He allegedly emerged armed with an M-16 rifle and hand grenades, and was immediately hit with a barrage of bullets which resulted in his death.

His death was confirmed by the governor of Jenin on Tuesday morning.

"We received the news from Palestinian officials who work in the security coordination office," Kamal Abu al-Rob, deputy governor of Jenin, told Al Jazeera.

"A number of his family members went to the site of his death, and were permitted by Israel to collect Jarrar's bloodied clothes and a small Quran that were inside the building he allegedly was in," he said.

A purported picture of Jarrar circulated on social media showing him displayed in the mud, with a bloodied face and magazine clips around him.

Amer Jarrar, Ahmad's cousin, arrived at the scene and was disturbed by what he saw.

"The building is an old small storage room that was destroyed on the outside," he told Al Jazeera. "It was like the Israelis used a bulldozer to demolish parts of it because they didn't want to get too close to it."

"We saw the bloodied clothes," he continued. "They were still dripping with blood. But when we found the Quran, which has an inscription to Ahmad from his mother, we knew it was him."

Jarrar's body was taken by Israeli forces, who have a policy of seizing bodies - a practice condemned by international law.

His family in the village of Wadi Burqin, just outside of Jenin, announced his death and opened a funeral home.

Jarrar was seven years old when his father, the Hamas leader Nasr Jarrar, was killed by Israeli forces during the second Intifada in August 2002.

He graduated from the American University of Jenin with a marketing degree, and according to Amer, had a large circle of friends and was well loved.

"We learned of his death this morning from the Israeli media," he said. "We are stunned. None of us had any idea about his whereabouts."

A day of mourning was declared in Jenin, as schools and shops shut down.

Protests broke out in Yamoun as hundreds of Palestinians confronted Israeli forces, who reportedly used live ammunition and caused at least eight injuries, including one in the head.

'Pride of Palestine'

The pursuit of Jarrar resulted in almost daily raids of various towns and villages in the West Bank. On January 18, his cousin, Ahmad Ismail Jarrar, was killed after a 10-hour military operation in Wadi Burqin. Three houses belonging to the Jarrar family were also demolished.

On Sunday, the village was raided again, and a 19-year-old Palestinian was shot in the head and killed. Residents reported that the Israeli forces used loudspeakers to call out, "Ahmad Jarrar, turn yourself in or we will demolish the village house by house."

On Tuesday, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman sent out a tweet praising Israeli forces.

"The score has been settled," he said. "We appreciate and salute the security forces who in a complex operation and with courage fought for our security this morning."

"The state of Israel will never surrender to terrorism and will get to the last of the accomplices for the safety of our citizens."

In a statement, the Hamas movement paid tribute to Jarrar and called him "the pride of Palestine".

"We will continue the path of resistance until the Israeli occupation is defeated from every inch of our land," the statement said.

"We call upon the resistance of our people in the occupied West Bank to respond to the Israeli assassination of Jarrar and to target Israeli soldiers and settlers."

The leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) faction echoed Hamas and described Jarrar as an "influential national symbol" that Palestinians will be proud of.

"His spirit will remain a beacon and a guide for all fighters who have followed the path of resistance, and his blood will curse all those who have resorted to the policy of security coordination," the group said.

Rights group says Israel currently holding 19 bodies of slain Palestinians
Ma’an News Agency

February 9, 2018

The Israeli government is currently holding the bodies of 19 slain Palestinians killed in the past two years, along with 260 bodies of those killed since 1967, according to a Palestinian human rights group.

Director of the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (JLAC) Issam Arouri told the Voice of Palestine radio station that Israeli forces continue to withhold the remains of 260 slain Palestinians buried in the so-called “cemetery of numbers” in Israel, in addition to holding the bodies of 19 Palestinians, who were killed by Israeli forces since 2016, in morgues.

The latest bodies to have been taken by Israeli forces were the bodies of 19-year-old Hamzeh Zamaareh and Ahmad Nasser Jarrar, 22, who were killed earlier this week.

Israel dramatically increased its policy of withholding bodies since the beginning of a wave of unrest across the occupied Palestinian territory in October 2015, although it has scaled back on the policy in recent months.

Israel has long had “cemeteries for the enemy dead,” also referred to as “cemeteries of numbers,” where Palestinians who died during attacks on Israelis are held in nameless graves marked by numbers.

Israel has attempted to negotiate the release of Palestinian bodies as well as several Hamas affiliates detained from the Gaza Strip in exchange for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers held by Hamas.

A joint statement released in 2016 by Addameer and the Israeli minority rights group Adalah condemned Israel’s practice of withholding bodies as "a severe violation of international humanitarian law as well as international human rights law, including violations of the right to dignity, freedom of religion, and the right to practice culture."

During his interview with Voice of Palestine, Arouri said that “Israel was the only country in the world that withholds the bodies of slain people for bargaining purposes or sets conditions on funerals for releasing them to their families.”

Report: Over 60% of Palestinian Child Detainees Tortured

February 13, 2018

Sixty per cent of Palestinian children who were detained by Israeli occupation forces were verbally, physically or psychologically tortured, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society (PPS) revealed on Sunday.

In a statement, the PPS said that Palestinian minors detained by the Israeli occupation were beaten, prevented from sleeping,and threatened by interrogators in order to confess.

The statement also said, according to Days of Palestine, that the Palestinian children were prevented from eating and drinking for long periods and were insulted. They were also subjected to hours of interrogations.

Accounts of three Palestinian minor prisoners, who are currently inside Israeli prisons, were included in the PPS’ report.

Mustafa al-Badan, 17, Faisal al-Shaer, 16, and Ahmed al-Shalaldeh, 15, told the PPS that they were tortured when they were investigated.

There are currently more than 6,500 Palestinians being held in the Israeli occupation’s jails, including 57 women and girls and 350 children.

Israeli forces detain 13 Palestinians, 4 former prisoners, in West Bank raids
Ma’an News Agency

February 13, 2018

Israeli forces detained at least 13 Palestinians, including former prisoners, during pre dawn raids in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday.

The Palestinian Prisoner’s Society (PPS) said in a statement that Israeli forces detained four former prisoners in the northern West Bank district of Tulkarem, one who served 13 years in prison, one who served 12 years,one who served six years and the fourth who spent five years in Israeli prison.

Palestinian security sources told Ma’an that Israeli forces raided the Nur Shams refugee camp in Tulkarem, and detained Nihad Abu Harb, Mahfouth Abu Aisha, Alaa Abu Qseidi and Faris Khalifa.

PPS reported that one Palestinian, whose identity remained unknown, was detained from Jenin.

Also in the northern West Bank, Palestinian security sources told Ma’an that two young Palestinian women were detained in the Jordan Valley for allegedly wearing a military uniform and carrying a weapon.Their identities also remained unknown.

In the central West Bank district of Ramallah, Israeli forces detained three Palestinians. PPS reported that Israeli forces detained Ahmad Odeh and Jasser Abed Rabbu from the Qalandiya refugee camp, while sources from Ma’an said that Israeli forces detained Fadi Hammad after raiding and searching his house in the village of Silwad.

Israeli forces also raided several houses in Ithna in Hebron, the town of Tuqu and the Aida refugee camp in the Bethlehem district of the southern West Bank.

Israeli raids into Palestinian towns and villages are near daily occurrence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

According to UN documentation, between January 16 and 29, Israeli forces carried out 160 search and arrest operations in the West Bank, while 2018 has seen a to a bi weekly average of 176 search and detention raids.

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South America

Peru: Families of Fujimori Victims Address Human Rights Court

February 2, 2018

The Inter-American Human Rights Court has held a public hearing on the legality of Peru's humanitarian pardon for former president Alberto Fujimori, a dictator who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for crimes against humanity.

Victim's relatives, their legal representatives and representatives of the Peruvian State presented their arguments Friday for over four hours.

After the Inter-American Court determined state responsibility in the extrajudicial killings of the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta cases in 2001 and 2006 respectively, in 2009 the Peruvian Supreme Court of Justice sentenced Fujimori to 25 years in prison for crimes against humanity.

According to Amnesty International, which submitted an amicus curiae brief to the Inter-American Court, the orders have a binding nature. Peru is a party to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which states that "a party may not invoke the provisions of its internal law as justification for its failure to perform a treaty (art.27)."

Amnesty's statement is particularly relevant given that current President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski's Chief of Staff Mercedes Araoz claimed in an interview earlier this month that Peru would uphold Fujimori's "humanitarian" pardon, even if the court requests its annulment.

"The Constitution is clear on the president's faculty to grant pardons," Araoz said. "Only and exclusively the president's. We have to obey what our constitution says."

Human rights organizations and relatives of Fujimori's victims argue the pardon is "arbitrary" and "illegal."

In concluding, the plaintiffs ratified the court's competence in evaluating the pardon on the grounds that "enforcing the sentence is part of the judicial process."

They also asked the court to determine that the pardon "goes against the international obligations of the state to investigate, judge, and sanction... as the court has previously ordered" and to order Peru to "remove every obstacle to an effective reparation for the victims."

Carlos Rivera, director of the Legal Defense Institute, and Gloria Cano, director of the Pro-Human Rights Association, also presented to the court the thesis that Fujimori's pardon was not the result of humanitarian and health concerns, as the government has argued, but rather the outcome of a political pact between fujimorista legislator and son of Alberto, Kenji Fujimori, and Kuczynski in order to save the latter from impeachment.

Kuczynski announced the pardon on Dec. 24, less than a week after Fujimori and nine other fujimorista candidates abstained from voting in their own party's attempt to impeach the president in connection with the Odebrecht corruption scandal.

The political pact was recently confirmed by Reuters.

The plaintiffs also argued the pardon is "plagued by irregularities," such as its speedy nature. Rivera said absolution had been granted in "record time... as if it was dealing with a terminal patient."

Representatives of the Peruvian government insisted the pardon has "as a mission to protect the dignity, health and life of the person," claiming the "humanitaria pardon cannot be equated to an undue pardon."

However, Viviana Krsticevic, executive director of the Center for Justice and International Law, told the court other measures could have been adopted.

"In the cases of crimes against humanity, the sentence doesn't need to be condoned." Instead, Krsticevic said, alternatives could have been pursued, such as the provision of proper medical services.

The international community wakes up to torture in Venezuela
The Washington Post

By Francisco Toro
February 8, 2018

The prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Fatou Bensouda, announced Thursday that she is launching a "preliminary examination" of human rights abuses in Venezuela. As Bensouda stressed, such an examination could potentially lead - "depending on the facts and circumstances of each situation" - to prosecution for crimes against humanity.

The ICC is specifically responding to accounts compiled by human rights organizations, which are in turn based on firsthand testimony from former detainees. The stories sound like something out of the darkest times in Latin America's dark past. They tell of the arrests of hundreds of political dissidents who have endured severe beatings, stress positions, sleep deprivation and electric shocks - all for the "crime" of disagreeing with the government.

They tell of people jailed for exercising their basic rights to protest, deprived of even the bare minimum of due process. Of people tear-gassed in confined spaces, or forced to eat food containing insects, or cigarette ash, or feces. Of detainees sexually abused or raped.

The testimony documenting these abuses was collected over several months by Human Rights Watch.

Meanwhile, the Organization of American States has been holding hearings in Washington that have publicly aired similar allegations. OAS has heard again and again from victims of many of the same types of abuses detailed in the Human Rights Watch report.

The pattern of abuses documented by the two organizations is unmistakable. The Venezuelan government has tried to blame them on a few "bad apple" cops or soldiers. But the reports show that are not isolated. They are systematic. The same types of abuses have cropped up over a long period and in multiple locations around the country. Different security bodies are responsible.

The Human Rights Watch report notes the disproportionate use of violence against protesters by both the National Police and Venezuela's National Guard (a militarized police force along the line of France's Gendarmes or Italy's Carabinieri). It also refers to abuses committed by the "colectivos," vigilante groups with a long history of collaborating with the regime, as well as by the civilian secret police (the infamous SEBIN), military counterintelligence (DGCIM) and state police forces.

Always careful to stick to what can be proved, Human Rights Watch notes that there is still no evidence that these abuses were ordered by the politicians at the top. But the import of the testimony is clear. Why, otherwise, would so many different agencies violate human rights in the same way, in different parts of the country and over an extended period of time, unless they were following an official policy?

At the very least, it's plain that Venezuelan cops, soldiers and colectivos have gotten the message: You can do whatever you want to members of the opposition, and you can expect complete impunity. Venezuela's hyper-politicized court system will make sure of that.

Faced with systematic violations of basic rights on this scale, the international community has a choice to make. It can look the other way, quietly endorsing the Venezuelan regime's actions, or it can use the tools of international human rights law to draw a line in the sand. That's where the ICC comes in.

As far as torture is concerned, the principle of universal jurisdiction is clearly established. All 162 parties to the U.N. Convention Against Torture have the duty to demand accountability from Venezuelan state officials implicated in committing acts of torture. As long as a system of torture remains a reality in Venezuela, and as long as the government there takes no action to stop it, other countries have the right and the responsibility to arrest and either prosecute or extradite Venezuela's torturers. For that to happen, investigations that can support charges against them must begin right away.

It's time for the international community to speak out clearly about the widespread abuse of human rights in Venezuela. Countries like Canada, Argentina and Peru, which have taken the lead in investigating abuses through the OAS process, must take the lead in affirming universal jurisdiction on torture and must support the ICC in its work.

As Venezuela sinks deeper into a morass of hunger, chaos and abuse, the international community should make it clear: The days of looking the other way are over. Faced with specific, credible and minutely documented reports of grave human rights abuses committed by the Venezuelan state, governments must speak out, or their inaction begins to shade into complicity.

Colombia Rebels Suspend Election Campaign, Putting Peace Into Limbo
The New York Times

By Nicholas Casey
February 9, 2018

The deal that ended decades of war in Colombia hinged on a simple formula: The rebels would surrender their weapons, and in exchange, earn the right to run for office in the country's democracy.

But on Friday the former fighters said they were suspending their campaign. Their activists were being killed, they said, and threats were mounting against those who remained - including their top commander who is running for president.

While the decision does not send the country back to war, it does put Colombia's peace into a kind of limbo. The former rebels' involvement in this year's elections was meant to signal an end to decades of political violence and was a pillar of the accords that ended 52 years of civil conflict.

Their sudden departure from the campaign - on the grounds that it is not safe - casts doubt on whether the conflict is over yet.

"It is a fact that profoundly undermines the most important peace process that has taken place in Colombia," said Álvaro Villarraga, the director of the Democratic Culture Foundation, a nongovernmental group based in the capital, Bogotá.

The peace accords, signed in 2016, ordered a vast transformation of post-conflict Colombia, including provisions for courts to settle war crimes, investments to wean farmers off the coca trade and a strong push to establish a Colombian government presence in areas that had been under rebel control. The war with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the main rebel group known as the FARC, left more than 200,000 people dead and many millions displaced. It was the longest civil conflict in the region.

Yet after little more than a year, much of the agreement stands paralyzed. The new courts have not begun work, coca production is still soaring and many rural towns do not have a single police officer. The National Liberation Army, a rebel group that did not sign the deal, has stepped up attacks. Public resentment simmers, with some people saying that the FARC rebels got off too easy.

And on Friday, the FARC said it would stop campaigning for the presidency in May and 74 congressional seats to be elected in March.

"We've decided to suspend our campaign activities until we have sufficient guarantees" of safety, the group said in a statement. It cited a "coordinated plan" of attacks against FARC campaigners, including photos taken of the homes of activists by opponents, social media threats and the killing of a former fighter on Tuesday - one of dozens killed since the peace deal was signed.

"Colombia cannot become a failed state electorally because of the enemies of peace," the former guerrillas wrote in the statement.

For the FARC, it was a turn of fortune for what had been the country's most feared rebel organization, one that had terrorized Colombians with kidnappings, killings and land mines that still plague the country. The former guerrilla fighters now find themselves fearing the voters they are meant to court.

The killing of FARC members also is a reminder of the past: In the 1980s, thousands of members were slaughtered by paramilitary groups when they last attempted to come out of the shadows, forming a party known as the Patriotic Union. That memory, many say, is behind the caution in the current election.

In an interview on Friday, Colombia's interior minister, Guillermo Rivera, said that the FARC's decision was not what the government had wanted to see.

While Mr. Rivera said that former fighters had been killed in recent months, he noted that no candidate had died and that in some cases the FARC had declined protection.

"We will keep offering the guarantees so they can safely continue campaigning," Mr. Rivera said.

Yet while few wished to see violence in the election, sympathy for the former rebels was hard to find among commentators in Colombia on Friday.

"The FARC suffered from a guerrilla's vanity, which consisted of thinking that upon abandoning arms, signing the peace deal and becoming civilians that Colombians were going to cheer, applaud and unconditionally support them," said Jairo Libreros, a political scientist and columnist in Bogotá.

The United Nations mission responsible for monitoring the peace process reported last month that 36 FARC members had been killed since the war ended in 2016. Recent killings include the cases of two activists working for the campaign of a FARC congressional candidate who were found dead on Jan. 17, and Kevin Andrés Lugo, a former guerrilla the FARC said had been killed on Feb. 8.

The targeting of FARC campaigners runs all the way to the top. Rodrigo Londoño, their former top commander, was attacked by protesters who pelted his motorcade with rocks, on one occasion practically destroying his vehicle. One prominent Senate candidate, Luciano Marín, also known as Iván Márquez, canceled a campaign event this week in the face of violent protests.

Who is behind the attacks is unclear. Mr. Londoño's running mate, Imelda Daza, said in an interview with a local radio station on Friday that the violence had been instigated by "persons interested in sabotaging the FARC's campaign." The FARC also has blamed National Liberation Army rebels.

Mrs. Daza singled out the hard-line Democratic Center party and its spiritual leader, Colombia's former president, Álvaro Uribe, a fierce critic of the peace process.

During Mr. Uribe's tenure in the seat Mr. Londoño hopes to occupy, he oversaw a brutal military campaign against the FARC, and led the campaign to reject the peace deal in an initial referendum in October 2016. Mr. Uribe has denied involvement in attacks against former FARC members.

More seasoned politicians said that such attacks were not entirely unexpected in a country where war had been the norm and anger against the rebels remained.

"I think that no one expected that the political transition from FARC's guerrilla organization to this new movement would be simple or easy," said Iván Cepeda, whose father, Manuel, was killed in 1994 during the attacks against the FARC's Patriotic Union party.

However, Mr. Cepeda said it was important to distinguish between the protests of angered war victims and "methods which are frankly done to incite violence," which he said he suspected had been organized by supporters of Mr. Uribe's party.

Mr. Londoño, the FARC's presidential candidate, has been running on an anti-poverty platform. He began his campaign last month in a downtrodden Bogotá neighborhood.

Bespectacled and wearing a suit and tie, he is a far cry from the guerrilla in the jungle fatigues he once donned, and he has represented the FARC's willingness to move from armed struggle to politics.

Yet the rebels' appetite for politics has also offended some.

In August, the group established its political party, choosing a slight alteration in its name that allowed the former guerrillas to retain the same acronym they used during the war. The move enraged many victims groups who said its leadership appeared unapologetic.

Then in November, Mr. Londoño, who had previously promised not to run for president, reversed himself. His approval rating in polls is barely 2 percent, and many Colombians see him as a terrorist.

"He was the face of the insurgency and the most emblematic representative of everything that Colombians hate about the FARC," said Cynthia J. Arnson, an analyst at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, in Washington.

Mr. Villarraga, the director of the democracy center, said he hoped Colombians would overcome their anger toward leaders like Mr. Londoño and defended his right to campaign.

"All politicians, institutions - and even opinion makers - we need to be circling around the FARC now because it is a product of the peace process," he said. "We must absolutely have all of the political parties, including the FARC."

But some presidential candidates seemed uninterested in that aspiration.

"What can they expect?" asked Germán Vargas Lleras, a candidate who had been vice president while the peace accords were negotiated, in an interview on the W Radio network. "That after 40 years of kidnappings and killings they get received with hugs?"

Colombia war tribunals hope to heal wounds, punish atrocities

By Anastasia Moloney
February 12, 2018

Every time Maria Alejandra Mahecha sees the machete scar on her father's face, she is reminded of a brutal attack 15 years ago and the visible wounds of Colombia's war that he bears.

Mahecha says rebels from the Marxist FARC - known until recently as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - carried out the attack that forced her family to flee their home in the south where they owned a shop.

"It nearly cost my father's life," says 23-year-old Mahecha.

Colombia's five-decade civil war pitted leftist rebels against government forces and right-wing paramilitary groups.

The conflict killed at least 200,000 people, drove 7.5 million from their homes, and saw at least another 60,000 listed as missing, according to government figures.

But following a 2016 peace accord between the government and FARC - now a political party known as the Revolutionary Alternative Common Force - Colombia is gearing up to investigate those responsible for atrocities.

A number of war tribunals and truth commissions are expected to begin work once a legal framework is finalised - and that could happen by September, a government official says.

Their task is to investigate those responsible for human rights atrocities committed during the war, including forced displacement, disappearances and massacres. Controversially, they have limited sentencing powers.

"The first step is understanding and accepting that this is transitional justice and not ordinary justice," says Mahecha, who represents young people on one of the provincial war victim committees.

"That's a necessary step that must be taken for any sort of justice to happen."

If, and how, Colombia delivers justice and holds those responsible for war crimes is a key test for the nation, experts say, and a measure of its ability to move beyond decades of war.

Victims' rights groups are among those who have said that delivering justice is essential for peace, reconciliation and a chance to break the cycle of violence.

"Justice for victims is knowing the truth," says Mahecha. "We have to know what happened."


Over the next decade, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) - the judicial body responsible for the process - will sift through tens of thousands of victim testimonies, and try former rebels, military and civilians accused of rights abuses.

The war's length and the number of armed groups involved means uncovering the truth and apportioning blame is a colossal task, says Mirtha Linares, president of the JEP.

Prioritizing cases will prove key to the JEP's success, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Those cases are likely to include forced disappearances and displacement, as well as recruitment of children into armed groups.

Colombia's high court is currently considering whether thousands of cases of sexual violence, including rape, which all factions committed, will be tried by the JEP or be dealt with by the criminal justice system.

In the coming months, the JEP's judges - more than half of whom are women - will select the cases they consider to be most representative of atrocities committed. They will aim to deliver verdicts speedily.

"If we don't achieve this, it not only would imply the failure of the JEP ... but, beyond that, the failure of hope that these conflicts between human beings can be solved in a peaceful way and through negotiation," says Linares.

The process could reveal uncomfortable truths, including the nexus between the political elite and armed groups, she says.

"(There is) a political class that has very serious stains of corruption, of commitments, including those with illegal armed groups like the paramilitaries and others," Linares says.


For Linares the JEP is about "restorative justice". That means an emphasis on finding the truth and providing reparations for victims, including handing back stolen land and property.

But many Colombians do not agree with that approach. They fear those responsible will get lenient sentences for serious violations. Human Rights Watch has echoed those concerns.

Under the terms of the peace deal, rebel fighters who admit to war crimes will be sentenced to between five and eight years of "alternative punishment".

Quite what that will mean in practice is unclear. Options could include community service, restricted freedom or house arrest.

Those who do not confess and are subsequently found guilty could face up to 20 years in jail.

About 1,750 state security forces and 3,500 demobilized rebel fighters, including former top FARC commanders, are expected to appear before the JEP.

Among them is former FARC rebel leader Rodrigo Londono, who heads the group's political party. The presidential candidate pledged earlier this month that he would tell the truth.

The issue of justice continues to dominate heated debate ahead of presidential elections in May.

"I feel the pressure every day," says Linares.

Although the terms of the peace deal are controversial, many victims, including Mahecha, say the JEP offers hope.

"You have to give and take ... it would be naive to think that they (FARC) are going to pay years in jail," says Mahecha.

For victims' relatives, the JEP offers hope they can finally locate the bodies of their loved ones.

"It's a chance to know what happened," says Teresita Gaviria, whose teenage son disappeared two decades ago.

She heads a group of mothers called Madres De La Candelaria - a collective of 1,800 relatives of the missing.

"Justice is, at the very least, having the perpetrators recognizing and admitting to their crimes," says Gaviria.

"Most of us know the names of the people who killed our sons and daughters. What we want to know now is where the bodies are buried."

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Truth and Reconciliation Commission

2 US Lawmakers Nominate Serbian Activist for Nobel Prize

February 1, 2018

Natasa Kandic, who founded a nonprofit to document human rights violations amid the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, has been nominated for the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize by two U.S. lawmakers.

Senator Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican who is chairman of the Helsinki Commission, an independent government agency that promotes human rights, military security, and economic cooperation, and Representative Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat who is the ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, nominated Kandic, of the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Center.

Kandic, who founded the nonprofit in 1992, has won numerous international accolades for her humanitarian work.

"As members of the U.S. Congress, we helped shape the international response to the conflicts, which erupted in the Western Balkans, and we continue to support and encourage post-conflict recovery in the countries of the region," read the nomination letter, jointly drafted by the legislators and submitted to the Norway-based awards organization Wednesday.

"This recognition would further the cause of peace and reconciliation in this and other troubled regions of our world," they said.

Trained as a lawyer, Kandic has been widely credited with furnishing to U.N. war crimes tribunal officials in The Hague critical evidence on Serbia's role in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of Bosnian Muslim men and boys. Her documentation of atrocities committed by Serb military commanders throughout the 1990s led to prosecutions of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander, Ratko Mladic.

Now in her early 70s, Kandic has continued to receive death threats, largely because of HLC engagement in Balkan peace and reconciliation campaigns.

In 2017, she began advocating the launch of the Regional Commission for Truth and Reconciliation (RECOM), a fact-finding body tasked with compiling a name-by-name catalog of all people - regardless of ethnicity or nationality - killed, missing, imprisoned or tortured in regional conflicts since the early 1990s.

Kandic told VOA she was overwhelmed and surprised by the nomination, and that the nomination process should nonetheless inspire humility among Balkan-based humanitarians.

"It's good that it is just the nomination," she said in an interview with VOA's Serbian service. "Nothing has changed in this region during the past 25 years. There [is no progress], no new situation which shows that we have become a better civilized society, so I think that the nomination might be too strong."

If, however, leaders of former Yugoslav countries were to sign the agreement to form RECOM at a regional summit scheduled for July, "that would be a big win for civil society in the whole region," she said.

"Victims would be documented, [and] facts about the death of all 130,000 victims would be determined," she said. "We are heading toward it, but we'll see."

Gambian president appoints head of truth and reconciliation commission
Africa News

By Abdur Rahman Alfa Shaban
February 3, 2018

Gambian president Adama Barrow has appointed a former newspaper head and respected academician to lead the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The president in consultation with the Minister of Justice and the Public Services Commission, last Thursday appointed Dr. Baba Galleh Jallow as the Executive Secretary of the commission meant to abuses by the erstwhile Yahya Jammeh administration.

The Jammeh regime has largely been accused of rights abuses, torture and disappearance of persons in detention. The commission is also meant to offer reparations to victims of the Jammeh era.

The Barrow government announced the formation of the commission in March 2017. "A Truth and Reconciliation Commission with appropriate reparations for victims will be set up within the next six months and public hearings will be expected to commence by the end of the year," Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou said at the time.

A similar commission has been looking into finances of Jammeh and his allies. It has uncovered several cases of financial impropriety against the former leader currently on exile in Equatorial Guinea.

Jammeh lost an election in December 2017 to incumbent Adama Barrow but refused to accept the result. He only stepped down after pressure from regional leaders who sent troops to force him to leave.

Since his departure Barrow's government has taken steps to restore the rule of law and strengthen the judiciary.

Dr Baba Galleh holds a Ph. D degree in African History from the University of California at Davis, a Master's degree in Liberal Studies from Rutgers University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Political Science from the University of Sierra Leone.

Prior to his appointment Dr Baba Galleh Jallow served as Assistant Professor, Department of History at La Salle University in the United States of America.

Many Gambians would remember him as an Editor in Chief of 'The Observer' newspaper and a co-founder of the 'Independent' newspaper.

Nepal: Transitional Justice Proving Elusive
Human Rights Watch

February 13, 2018

The one-year extensions of Nepal's two transitional justice mechanisms without necessary legal and institutional reforms ordered by the Supreme Court and the United Nations are insufficient to comply with international standards, Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists, and Human Rights Watch said today.

The three organizations warned that the mere extension of the terms of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) is likely to prolong the justice process without meaningfully improving the chances that victims will have their demands for justice, truth, and accountability met.

"The net worth of these two bodies has now been tested by the victims in Nepal who are deeply dismayed and disappointed at not having been served truth and justice - even after years of delay," said Biraj Patnaik, South Asia director at Amnesty International.

On February 5, 2018, the government of Nepal extended, for the second time, the mandates of the TRC and CIEDP by one year without taking any measures to ensure their credibility or human rights compliance, or to increase the capacity of the commissions as demanded by victims, civil society groups, and the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal (NHRC).

On the same day, the NHRC called on the government to amend the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act, 2014, in line with international standards and the judgements of the Supreme Court of Nepal.

The TRC and CIEDP have fallen short of international standards, both in constitution and operation, despite repeated orders by the Supreme Court of Nepal. Among other flaws, the current legal framework allows for the possibility of amnesties and effective impunity for gross human rights violations amounting to grave crimes under international law, and the broad authority to facilitate reconciliation, including without the informed consent of the victims and their families.

In addition, a non-consultative, uncoordinated, and opaque approach to their work has also created distrust among all major stakeholders, including conflict victims and members of civil society. Where the commissions have made efforts to work effectively, they face problems due to a lack of sufficient human and financial resources.

"Families and victims of Nepal's decade-long civil war have waited far too long for answers, and cynical government attempts such as extending the mandate without broader reform as directed by the highest court is a further slap in the face," said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The two commissions have gathered a lot of documentation, but the authorities seem more committed to protecting perpetrators than ensuring justice in the process."

Despite flaws in the law, and questions of legitimacy and capacity, victims and their families have given the benefit of the doubt to these bodies and submitted thousands of complaints. As of February 2018, the TRC has received 60,298 complaints of human rights violations, and the CIEDP has received 3,093 complaints of enforced disappearance. Though the commissions have stated that they have initiated investigations into some of these cases, there are serious concerns about the quality of these investigations, and to date, not a single case has been recommended for prosecution.

"With Nepal now a member of the UN Human Rights Council, the international community has high expectations of the government," said Frederick Rawski, Asia director at the International Commission of Jurists. "It needs to commit to ensuring that these institutions function independently, free from political interference, and in accordance with international standards that prohibit impunity for gross human rights violations. Merely extending their mandates without addressing the underlying problems is not adequate."

The TRC and CIEDP were established on February 10, 2015, through the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act, 2014. The two-year mandates of the TRC and CIEDP expired on February 9, 2017. The government extended the mandates for one year. On January 20, 2018, the president approved an ordinance extending the mandate of the two commissions. On the basis of the ordinance, the Council of Ministers on February 5 extended the mandates of these bodies for an additional year.

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ISIS 'Beatles' terrorists could face same supermax jail as hate preacher Abu Hamza

By Matthew Young
February 11, 2018

Two captured British jihadis could be sent to the same high security US jail as hook-handed hate preacher Abu Hamza and shoebomber Richard Reid.

Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh were part of Jihadi John's Islamic State terror squad dubbed "The Beatles" for their English accents.

The pair are being held in Syria but could end up in Colorado's brutal ADX Florence prison - known as "a clean version of hell".

Kotey, 34, from Shepherds Bush, West London and Elsheikh, 29, from White City, West London, may even be placed in the jail's notorious H-Unit.

Mum of journalist killed by Islamic State wants captured British jihadis linked to his death to stand trial

H-Unit is regarded as a "jail within a jail" for the country's most dangerous prisoners and has fewer than 30 inmates.

But at least five inmates previously lived in London.

They include Hamza, 59, the former imam of the notorious Finsbury Park Mosque and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a University College London undergraduate who tried to blow up a passenger jet in 2009 with a bomb hidden in his underpants.

Richard Reid, 44, from Bromley - who was jailed in 2003 for trying to blow up a plane with a bomb hidden in his shoe - has also spent time there.

As has web designer-turned Al-Qaeda terrorist Minh Pham, from New Cross in South-East London.

Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called "20th hijacker" in the September 11 attacks, who once studied at London South Bank University, also spent time in H-Unit.

Kotey and Elsheikh, who are being held in Syria by US-backed Kurdish forces, would spend 23-hours a day in a 12ftx7ft soundproof cell.

Criminals in H-Unit are banned from mingling and are subject to "special administrative measures".

The measures restrict their activities so much inmates do not know who is in the next cell.

Evil Hamza is so traumatized by his experiences in the jail he has launched an appeal saying he has been subject to "inhumane and degrading" treatment.

The hook-handed preacher is caged for multiple terror offences.

As well as Jihadi John - real name Mohammed Emwazi - Kotey and Elsheikh were pals with Aine Davis, who was captured and jailed in Turkey.

Kotey and Elsheikh are accused of carrying out torture techniques including mock executions, waterboarding, and electric shocks on hostages in Syria.

Three Americans and two Brits are among those who the group executed.

But a former counter-terrorism regulator says the Islamic State pair should be sent back to the UK for trial.

Lord Carlile, the UK's independent reviewer of terrorism legislation from 2001 to 2011, said a British trial was the "proper forum" for justice.

Lord Carlile said radicalised Brits should be "returned to the country of origin" and tried "in a normal way with British rights, British duties, British obligations and British responsibilities".

He said: "If people are tried properly, as they would be in the British courts, it would show that the UK is taking a very serious approach to deradicalisation but also to dealing with extremism."

He also added that he believed the victims' families would get "satisfaction" and the certainty of a "proper trial" if it took place in Britain.

US officials said Kotey and Elsheikh "are suspected to have participated in the detention, exploitation and execution of Western detainees".

The US Department of Defence previously said they were "still considering options" with regards to the two men's future.

Court Convicts Chibok Girls Abductor, To Spend 15 Years Behind Bars
Nigeria News NG

By Zaynab Mohammed
February 13, 2018

The Federal High Court sitting in Wawa Cantonment, Kainji, Niger State, has sentenced 35-year-old Haruna Yahaya, a participant in the Chibok girls abduction to 15 years in jail over terrorism offenses.

Yahya was charged to court for his participation in the kidnap of over 200 girls from Chibok Local Government Area of Borno State and Gabsuri town in the Damboa Local Government of the state in 2014. He was also charged with being a member of the terrorist group, Boko Haram.

The convict who already has his left arm and left leg crippled, on Monday pleaded guilty to the two counts preferred against him by the Federal Government. He, however, pleaded for mercy, laying claim to having been forcefully conscripted into the terrorist group.

However, the judge who sat in one of the four special courts established by the Federal High Court to fast track the trial of over 1,000 suspects stated that the court refuses to be fooled by the convict's story.

The judge disclosed that the convict was "using the misfortune of his handicap to draw sympathy" and therefore, ruled that the 15 years sentence been passed on the convict who had been in detention since 2015 would commence counting from Monday.

Ensure Fair Trials of Syria ISIS Suspects
Human Rights Watch

February 13, 2018

The capture of two British men suspected of involvement in the Islamic State's (also known as ISIS) torture and execution of Western hostages highlights the need to provide trials for ISIS suspects that respect due process and permit genuine victim participation, Human Rights Watch said today.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) recently detained Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee el-Sheikh, the last two members of a four-person group of UK nationals in ISIS implicated in the torture and beheading of a number of foreigners, including prominent journalists and aid workers. Mohammed Emwazi, another one of the four, was killed in an airstrike in Syria in 2015, according to the Pentagon and ISIS media outlets, and Aine Davis, the fourth member, was imprisoned on terrorism charges in Turkey. Since Kotey and el-Sheikh's capture, victims' relatives and former hostages have publicly called for the two to face justice in trials that they can attend.

"The capture of two ISIS suspects should jump-start international discussions on ensuring justice for ISIS's horrific crimes," said Nadim Houry, terrorism/counterterrorism program director at Human Rights Watch. "This means trials that respect due process and encourage victim participation in foreign countries with jurisdiction over the suspects."

The two ISIS suspects should be prosecuted by foreign countries that have jurisdiction and can provide fair trials, Human Rights Watch said. While Human Rights Watch is not in principle opposed to local trials, locally set-up courts in northern Syria are currently not able to ensure basic due process. No country, including the United Kingdom, has said that it would try the two. The future of these men, as well as of the other foreign ISIS members held in northern Syria, is on the agenda of the meeting in Rome of key defense ministers of the International Coalition to Defeat ISIS on February 13, 2018, where US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is expected to raise the issue, according to multiple media reports.

Britain's defense secretary said on February 10 that the two men "should never be allowed to return to the UK" and media reports have indicated that the UK may have already stripped them of their citizenship. The foreign minister of France, the home country of at least two journalists who were tortured by the ISIS group, indicated on February 7 that the foreign ISIS members should be tried in northern Syria.

The US government has urged the UK and other members of the coalition fighting ISIS to help address the growing number of foreign fighters being held by the SDF. Kathryn Wheelbarger, the principal deputy assistant defense secretary for international security affairs said, "We're working with the coalition on foreign fighter detainees, and generally expect these detainees to return to their country of origin for disposition."

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that the US was in talks with the UK about ISIS detainees but there were no plans to bring them to the US or the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Should the US take custody of the two alleged ISIS members, they should be prosecuted in US federal court and not sent to Guantanamo, where they would be subject to military commissions that do not meet international due process standards, Human Rights Watch said.

The SDF have detained thousands of ISIS members in northern Syria, including hundreds of foreigners. The Democratic Union Party (PYD)-led autonomous administration in northern Syria has set up local counterterrorism courts, known as the People's Defense Court, but so far have only tried Syrian and Iraqi nationals.

These courts apply a counterterrorism law that was locally enacted in 2014 and rejects the application of the death penalty. Human Rights Watch visited these local counterterrorism courts in July 2017 and again in January 2018. A number of serious due process concerns prevented trials before the court from meeting basic international standards, Human Rights Watch found.

Key issues include the absence of any role for a defense lawyer and the lack of any formal appeals process. Local critics also noted that the courts are not fully independent from the local authorities and lack adequately trained prosecutors and judges. Some of the judges were not officially trained as lawyers or judges, but local authorities said that they went through a four-month training program.

Local officials in charge of the court system in northern Syria told Human Rights Watch that they had hoped that foreign countries would take back their foreign nationals and reduce the burden on them. If that was not possible, they said, they would consider trying some of them, but recognized that this would require improving their judicial system and laws at a time of mounting challenges for the local administration.

Families of the victims have expressed their interest in fair trials that they can attend for ISIS group members. Diane Foley, the mother of the US journalist James Foley, who was executed by the ISIS group, said she hopes to see Kotey and el-Sheikh given a fair and transparent criminal trial and receive life sentences. She told the media she did not want the men sent to Guantanamo Bay: "It would perpetuate the hatred. They [the victims] were executed in orange jumpsuits, like they have to wear in Guantanamo. We need to be above that. We need to show them what real justice looks like."

Nicolas Henin, a French journalist who survived brutal detention by the ISIS group, told the media that he wants his former jailers to face a fair trial for their crimes. "What I want is a trial and a trial potentially that I can attend, so rather, a trial in London rather than one in Kobani in northern Syria," he told the media. "Guantanamo Bay wouldn't be a satisfying solution either, as it is a denial of justice." He added:

What I want is an incontestable trial, as fair as possible, where my captors would have all the chances to defend themselves…We must absolutely prevent them reversing the situation by depicting them as victims. We were the victims, not them. If they don't get justice, they will use it to fuel their propaganda.

"Officials meeting in Rome should find ways to provide fair trials that respect due process and provide the victims and their families - be they Syrian, Iraqis, or foreign - their day in court," Houry said. "It's important for the members of the international coalition to agree on these basic principles.

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Sri Lanka to make a request to establish the maritime operations secretariat for suppression of sea piracy off Somalia coast in the country

February 2, 2018

The Sri Lankan government plans to make a formal request to the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS) establish the proposed maritime operations secretariat for suppression of sea piracy off Somalia coast in the country.

Since 2005 there have been numerous incidents of hijacking of commercial ships by pirates in the Indian Ocean region of Somalia, and the highest number of pirate attacks were reported in 2010. The attacks on commercial ships made a strong impact on free-trade and the global economy.

The activities of these sea pirates have been weakened due to measures taken including the deployment of Navy personnel near Somalia coast, and the deployment of armed guards onboard commercial vehicles.

However, it is essential to take preemptive steps to enhance capabilities to combat sea piracy and to improve coordination between regional countries.

As an international mechanism to combat piracy, the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS) was created on January 14, 2009 pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1851. This voluntary, ad hoc international forum brings together countries, organizations, and industry groups with an interest in combating piracy and Sri Lanka is a founding member of the group.

An opportunity has risen to establish the group's maritime operations secretariat in Sri Lanka as Sri Lanka Navy has the necessary capabilities and experience for maritime security operations.

Accordingly, President Maithripala Sirisena in his capacity as the Minister of Defense has made a proposal to make a formal request to the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia to consider establishing the operations secretariat in Sri Lanka and the President's proposal has received the approval from the Cabinet of Ministers.

Pirates release crew of oil tanker hijacked off West Africa

By Sugam Pokharel and James Griffiths
February 6, 2018

Pirates have released 22 Indian nationals taken captive after their oil tanker was boarded off the coast of West Africa last week.

The vessel, Marine Express, was carrying more than 13,000 tons of gasoline when it went missing in the Gulf of Guinea, according to a statement from the Anglo Eastern, the ship's managing company, which said it lost contact with the vessel on Thursday.

"(The managers of) Marine Express, which was the subject of a pirate attack and seizure on February 1st are pleased to report that the vessel was back under the command of the Master and Crew," Anglo Eastern said in a statement.

All crew members, as well as the cargo, are "safe and well," the company said.

"A full investigation will take place into the hijack of the vessel and Anglo Eastern wishes to express its gratitude to the officers and crew of the Marine Express and their families for their courage and fortitude in dealing with this difficult situation over the past 6 days," the statement said.

Sushma Swaraj, Indian's Minister for External Affairs, said the vessel had been "released" and thanked the governments of Nigeria and Benin for their support in the search.

In a recent report, the International Maritime Bureau, a nonprofit devoted to fighting crime at sea, said maritime piracy and armed robbery reached a 22-year-low last year, but danger persists in the Gulf of Guinea.

"Although the number of attacks is down this year (2017) in comparison with last year, the Gulf of Guinea and the waters around Nigeria remain a threat to seafarers," said Pottengal Mukundan, director of the bureau.

The Gulf of Guinea leads the world in the number and severity of incidences of piracy, according to the nonprofit.

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Gender-Based Violence

Prosecuting ISIS crimes against women and LGBTIQ people would set a crucial precedent
Open Democracy

By Lisa David
February 01, 2018

In Iraq, including in areas controlled by ISIS, women, girls, LGBTIQ persons, and people perceived as stepping outside of traditional gender roles have been targeted for violence on a staggering scale.

ISIS fighters have tortured women doctors and nurses who have not complied with rigid dress codes, when doing so would interfere with the performance of medical duties. They have executed women who resisted forced marriages, or who served as politicians. Men believed to be gay have been thrown off buildings. Women believed to be lesbians have been threatened with death. ISIS has killed youth because of alternative forms of personal expression, or refusals to join their militia, labeling them "faggots."

War-time abuses against people who are marginalised within their societies are rarely documented. As a result, such violations are excluded from human rights discourse and from justice processes. In effect, they are left out of history.

For this reason, Iraqi activists, at great personal risk, have been documenting such crimes committed by ISIS but also by Iraqi government forces, and other militias. They have preserved critical information about perpetrators and larger criminal networks. Many have also provided shelter and safe passage to those at imminent risk of sexual slavery or murder.

On 8 November, a historic petition was also filed at the International Criminal Court (ICC), to advance protections of the rights of women and LGBTIQ people during conflict.

This petition was filed jointly by MADRE, the Human Rights and Gender Justice (HRGJ) Clinic of the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law, and the Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), with assistance from the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton. It argues that the international community should prosecute ISIS fighters for gender-based persecution and crimes including discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Knowledge of egregious crimes committed against women and perceived or actual LGBTIQ persons, for transgressing gender norms during an armed conflict, is not new. But this is the first time the world has seen this kind of robust documentation of such crimes. The petition currently before the ICC therefore offers a new opportunity to challenge this type of violence.

At the world's first international criminal prosecutions in Nuremberg, Germany, rape and sexual slavery of women and torture of LGBTIQ persons were acknowledged but never prosecuted. It was only in the 1990s, with the ICC's creation, that gender-based forms of violence were first recognised as violations of international law.

At the time, women's rights advocates lobbied drafters of the Rome Statute that governs the ICC to abandon the "outrages to personal dignity" language to describe sexual violence. They succeeded in broadening the category of sexual violence to include not only rape, but also other forms including sexual slavery and forced prostitution, pregnancy, and sterilisation.

These advocates also succeeded in substituting the word "gender" for "sex" in the Rome Statute. This is one of the most important safeguards for gender justice under international criminal law, and a major achievement of global women's movements in the 1990s. Yet, since then, the full understanding of "gender" under the statute has not been applied.

ISIS's atrocities meanwhile come at a time when the rights of women and of LGBTIQ people are under threat globally.

Last year, right-wing conservatives curtailed women's and LGBTIQ rights in Colombia's peace accords. In 2016, conservative states at the United Nations' General Assembly sought to revoke the mandate of the first independent UN expert on sexual orientation and gender identity. In countries around the world, rights to gender expression are being rolled back.

With the help of MADRE and UN Women, CUNY Law School convened an experts meeting in 2017 on LGBTIQ rights and international criminal law. Together these experts honed the strategy for the petition to the ICC and for ensuring the safety and security of those involved, including Iraqi groups named in the petition.

Activists also held a series of consultations with Iraqi women's organisations. For safety reasons, the decision was taken not to translate the submission into Arabic and several supporting groups decided to leave their names off it.

OWFI, CUNY Law Scool's HRGJ Clinic, and MADRE are seizing this moment in history to broaden the discourse on gender. The ICC petition could change the landscape of international criminal law, highlighting but also redressing the long-standing targeting of civilians based on gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity in war and conflict.

Appropriate action by the international court would set a new precedent for prosecuting gender-based crimes and create a new tool for human rights advocates worldwide. We continue to update the ICC on the situation in Iraq and are working with a team of international experts on the follow up to the petition. We are awaiting their response.

NATO Discovers War Is Bad for Women

By Doug Bandow
February 12, 2018

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization once defended Western civilization. The alliance was to hold back the Soviet hordes from conquering "Old Europe," as it was later called. Then disaster struck. The enemy disappeared: the Soviet Union dissolved and Warsaw Pact broke up.

For the last quarter-century the quintessential anti-Moscow alliance has sought to find a new purpose. NATO officials originally suggested interdicting drugs and promoting student exchanges. Then members decided on "out-of-area" activities, that is, fighting wars everywhere but in NATO-Europe.

Recently the transatlantic alliance shifted back to containing Russia because of the latter's military action against non-NATO members. Yet the effort has generated little enthusiasm among members other than those along Russia's border. So Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is pushing another, perhaps more popular, cause: protecting women.

NATO created the Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security, who explained a few years ago explained that "Achieving gender equality is our collective task. And NATO is doing its part." In 2016 the organization held a conference on gender equality, at which Stoltenberg declared the issue to be critical.

After all, Stoltenberg said, "NATO is a values-based organization and none of the Alliance's fundamental values - individual liberties, democracy, human rights and the rule of law - work without equality." Actually, that's not true - Western nations established a generally effective rule of law and protective system for liberties even when forced to accommodate sometimes pervasive injustice, including slavery. During the Cold War the alliance helped deter the Soviet Union, i.e. "worked," despite much greater discrimination against minorities and women than today.

Stoltenberg also claimed that "by integrating gender within our operations, we make a tangible difference to the lives of women and children." He added last fall, "empowering women is not just the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do: it makes countries safer and more stable." In fact, NATO has found that it is difficult if not impossible to transform another nation's culture through temporary combat missions. The allies have not liberated women across Afghanistan despite more than 16 years of combat. The U.S. doesn't even interfere with the pervasive sex slavery of young boys, called bacha bazi, or dancing boys, by Afghan military personnel. To make Afghanistan safe first requires making a deal with or defeating the Taliban. And any stability would disappear if the allies wandered around the country attacking institutions which didn't live up to Western standards.

None of this stopped actress Angelina Jolie late last month from visiting NATO headquarters in Brussels. Jolie serves as a goodwill ambassador for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which means serving as a global scold when people fall short of the UN's and her expectations.

Previously she coauthored an article with Stoltenberg entitled "Why NATO must Defend Women's Rights." It cited the impact of armed conflict on women, particularly the role of "sexual violence" which "accounts in large part for why it is often more dangerous to be a woman in a warzone today than it is to be a soldier."

That may be true, but while sexual violence is uniquely directed at women, all civilians are vulnerable to the violence of war. In World War II atomic bombs and more prosaic high explosives and incendiaries destroyed entire cities, causing mass death and destruction. Nazi forces devoted tremendous effort to kill millions of Jews and many other victims of all sexes and ages. Many other citizens were killed by the natural consequences of unnatural war, such as starvation and flight. The essential problem was violence, not gender.

NATO's chief responsibility is to deter wars when possible and win wars when not. No alliance can effectively function if it diverts resources from fighting those conflicts which cause the harms to address some of the violence against some of the victims.

Yet Stoltenberg and Jolie want to add to NATO's responsibilities. One duty they proposed is to "integrate gender issues into its strategic thinking as part of its values" and promote "the role of women in the military." Meaning what, exactly? Better for the armed forces to focus on their overall mission and choose the best service personnel, irrespective of gender, who will most effectively perform their important duties while seeking to protect all civilians.

Another objective proposed by the two is to raise the standards of other militaries. But training programs have only a limited impact on personnel coming from hostile cultures. The U.S. has trained foreign soldiers for years but rarely has transformed foreign militaries. Egypt's current president went through such a program and nevertheless is creating a dictatorship more brutal than that of Hosni Mubarak - which arrests, prosecutes, and imprisons many women.

Jolie and Stoltenberg also want NATO personnel to be "trained to prevent, recognize and respond to sexual and gender-based violence." That might make sense for civil affairs officers in an occupation, but not combat troops. The alliance's most important task is to defeat bad guys in battle. If NATO forces lose, they won't prevent the victors from doing anything. Other organizations are likely to be far better equipped "to create lasting cultural changes," as the two advocate.

Another demand from the duo is that the alliance do more on gender, since "stronger awareness of the role that gender plays in conflict improves military operational effectiveness." Again, maybe for occupation troops. But not for defeating a Russian invasion, about the only serious military contingency that could justify NATO's existence.

Finally, Jolie and Stoltenberg advocate "reporting crimes and supporting work to bring perpetrators to justice." That's fine as far as it goes, which isn't very far. There are plenty of appropriate targets for human rights prosecutions. However, war crimes trials typically require military victory or political transformation. The number of Balkan war criminals dragged before the International Criminal Court in The Hague is few. The number of officials involved in various slaughters and massacres in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East hauled before the ICC is minuscule.

Ironically, Jolie admitted that her greatest concern was one that could not be solved by NATO: the plight of the Rohingya in Burma; "We should all hang our head on how little we have been able to do." Which is no different than so many other tragedies around the world.

The two authors conclude with a claim that "violence against women, whether in peaceful societies or during times of war, has been universally regarded as a lesser crime." Really? Go back seven decades. Even then many people recognized that one of the horrors of World War II was the mass rape of German women by conquering Soviet troops. But the crime often was dismissed because the victims were Germans.

Indeed, the wrongs committed by the allies at the end of the war were many: German POWs were held for years as slave laborers in the USSR, millions of ethnic German civilians ethnically cleansed from Poland and Czechoslovakia, with deaths in the hundreds of thousands or more, and large numbers of Soviet prisoners and other enemies of Joseph Stalin forcibly repatriated, after which they were imprisoned or murdered. These crimes arguably were worse than what befell women in eastern Germany, yet they also go largely unremarked today.

There were many stories on alleged use of rape during the Balkan wars, serving as "a key component of NATO's propaganda campaign during the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia," argued George Szamuely of London's Global Policy Institute. Yet a report from the U.N. Commission of Experts could only document 126 victims in 113 incidents. The group concluded that the claim there was "a systematic rape policy… remains to be proved." Szamuely noted that the Obama administration made similar claims about widespread rape in Libya, which subsequently were discredited.

Violence against women is a monstrous crime that should be confronted at every opportunity. But NATO's essential duties do not include promoting gender equality. The European Union "does" social engineering. But NATO is supposed to be a military alliance formed to defend the continent against existential or at least serious military threats. Ultimately what matters most is preventing a war from starting. If conflict nevertheless erupts, most important then is defeating the killers in battle and ending the conflict. In such a case, militaries need warriors, not counselors.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union the transatlantic alliance lost its essential purpose. The Europeans either believe they face no serious threats or refuse to sacrifice to meet any threats they perceive. As a result, even President Donald Trump's effort to raise European defense outlays is largely a bust. Most governments promising to hit the two percent of GDP standard, like Germany, won't make it.

Instead of enjoying a few glamorous moments of press attention by inviting a famous actress to Brussels, Stoltenberg should work on convincing European peoples that there is a threat and train European soldiers how best to meet it. If NATO still has a role, it is to protect Europeans from geopolitical uncertainties in a more nationalistic and sectarian era. It is not to jump onto the latest social cause being advanced by the latest visiting celebrity.

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Commentary and Perspectives

Civil Society in Uganda Outraged by Controversial Newspaper Article Clearing Ugandan Army of Committing War Crimes
International Justice Monitor

By Lino Owor Ogora
February 7, 2018

As the trial of Dominic Ongwen continues at the International Criminal Court (ICC), civil society practitioners and community members in Uganda were left infuriated by a newspaper article purporting that the ICC had cleared the Uganda People's Defense Forces (UPDF) of war crimes in northern Uganda. The article appeared in the New Vision newspaper on January 4, 2018, titled: "ICC Clears UPDF of War Crimes," and immediately resulted in strong reactions on Facebook and questions on Twitter, as well as on other social media platforms. As it turned out, however, the headline and portions of the accompanying article were taken out of context.

The authors of the article based their headline on remarks by Dahirou Sant-Anna, the international cooperation advisor in the Office of the Prosecutor at the ICC, as he responded to a question regarding alleged war crimes by the UPDF in northern Uganda. Sant-Anna was was quoted by the newspaper as saying, "The ICC received those allegations, but during the investigations the evidence that was collected and presented was not strong enough to warrant a case against the UPDF." Sant-Anna was addressing journalists and civil society organizations in Lira district during a break in the trial Ongwen's trial.

Ongwen's trial has undoubtedly resurrected discussions on accountability by the UPDF in northern Uganda. It is therefore likely that the newspaper authors misinterpreted Sant-Anna's comments as an exoneration of the UPDF, thereby resulting in the news headline and angry reactions from members of the public. In response, the ICC contacted the New Vision newspaper, and a clarification was subsequently published on January 12, clarifying the statements made by the ICC's representative.

Ongwen has been on trial since December 6, 2016. He is charged with with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in the former Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps of Lukodi, Abok, Pajule, and Odek. To date, 61 witnesses have testified for the prosecution.

While the New Vision article was a minor public relations disaster for the ICC, having come at a time when Ongwen's trial is proceeding smoothly, it created a good opportunity for the UPDF leadership in Uganda to conduct public relations. Barely 12 hours after the publication of the article, Major General Muhoozi Kainerugaba, a senior UPDF officer in Uganda tweeted, "The UPDF has always protected the population and fought for the national interest." Muhoozi's quote reiterates the UPDF's stance on war crimes in northern Uganda, with the army leadership always denying culpability.

Prior to this, in October 2017, while testifying at the trial of Ongwen, the Director of Legal Service at the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence, Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Nabaasa Kanyogonya, denied knowledge of allegations that the UPDF committed atrocities in northern Uganda. "I do not know of any commanders of the UPDF committing atrocities in the war against the LRA," said Kanyogonya. His testimony also drew strong reactions from community members.

As Ongwen's trial proceeds, however, the reactions to this newspaper article are a strong indicator that the controversy around war crimes allegedly committed by the UPDF in northern Uganda will not cease, regardless of the trial outcome. Many of these debates were highlighted in a July 2017 International Justice Monitor article detailing how the Ongwen's trial is influencing discussions on accountability in northern Uganda.

Two witnesses appearing at the ICC have already accused the UPDF of acts of omission, which for some people in northern Uganda could also arguably amount to war crimes. On June 9, 2017, Witness P-280, who also happens to be a survivor of the attack on Abok camp for IDPs, told the ICC that soldiers guarding the camp did not confront LRA fighters as they killed residents, looted, and burned down their homes. The witness told the court that only when LRA fighters shot in the direction of the barracks that the militia engaged in a gunfight with the LRA.

Earlier, on June 2, 2017, Witness P-024, a survivor of a LRA attack on the Lukodi IDP camp, testified before the ICC that government soldiers assigned to protect them fled when rebels attacked the camp.

The UPDF has also been accused of directly committing crimes. In November 2017, a survivor of a LRA attack on the Pajule camp for IDPs in Uganda described to the court how Ugandan government soldiers allegedly tortured him for up to three weeks.

Asked to comment on the newspaper article in lieu of Ongwen's trial, a community member in Gulu town said, "If this trial was targeting both UPDF soldiers and the LRA rebels, then I would say it is fair because the UPDF soldiers also [allegedly] raped women and killed so many. The UPDF, just like the LRA rebels, [allegedly] tortured people in many places in search for information. UPDF soldiers [allegedly] raped many women and infected them with HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. We also have men who were [allegedly] sodomized by the UPDF soldiers."

The issue of war crimes in northern Uganda is still a sensitive one and debates on accountability for alleged UPDF crimes will prevail long after Ongwen's trial is complete. While the ICC may not be in a position to provide solutions in this regard, other options such as the use of domestic courts, may need to be explored for justice in northern Uganda to be considered complete.

ICC move is step towards justice for drug war victims, lawyer says

By Mike Navallo
February 9, 2018

Lawyer Jude Sabio, one of the complainants who filed a communication with the International Criminal Court regarding the government's war against drugs, welcomed the opening of a "preliminary examination" by the ICC into alleged crimes against humanity.

"This marks the first time in world history, in the history of global justice that a sitting Philippine president is subjected to a preliminary investigation. This is a big, historic step towards attainment of justice," Sabio told ABS-CBN in an exclusive interview on Thursday.

He said thousands of cases filed with the ICC are dismissed outright, and that that the ICC did not do so in this case is a significant development.

Sabio filed his communication with the ICC on April 2017 alleging that President Rodrigo Duterte and other government officials committed crimes against humanity for being behind the "repeated, unchanging and continuing" "best practice", strategy or system, which was implemented both (1) first, in the Davao Death Squad in Davao City when Rodrigo Duterte was still the Mayor of Davao City, and (2) second, by way of continuation of that "best practice", in the continued extra-judicial executions in the war of drugs happening on a national scale after he became the President on 30 June 2016."

Under Article 7.1 of the Rome Statute, "crimes against humanity" refers to acts like murder "committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population."

He cited the testimonies of Edgar Matobato and Arthur Lascañas, both self-confessed members of the Davao Death Squad, as among his bases for his complaint. He added there are others willing to testify.

Sabio is confident he has enough evidence to secure a conviction.

"Salita pa lang niya, iko-convict na siya ng ICC. Yung salita niya is an admission of an intent, 'mens rea'. May mental awareness siya sa ginagawa sa Davao at gjnagawa ngayon at di niya kinokondena," he said. "The moment mag-admit ka, lalo na pag marami, kinonfess mo na guilt mo."

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, in a statement released Thursday, explained that the preliminary investigation is not yet a formal investigation.

"I emphasize that a preliminary examination is not an investigation but a process of examining the information available in order to reach a fully informed determination on whether there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation pursuant to the criteria established by the Rome Statute," she said.

She also outlined what will happen in a preliminary investigation.

"The preliminary examination of the situation in the Philippines will analyze crimes allegedly committed in this State Party since at least 1 July 2016, in the context of the "war on drugs" campaign launched by the Government of the Philippines," she said.

Bensouda said she will coordinate with Philippine authorities to determine if there are relevant investigations and prosecutions in the country and consider all submissions and views conveyed to her office.

An issue that needs to be resolved in a preliminary examination is whether a state-party to the Rome Statute is "unwilling and unable" to investigate the alleged killings, the ICC being a court of last resort.

The ICC prosecutor will also determine if it has jurisdiction over the case.

Malacañang has maintained the ICC has no jurisdiction over the complaint and that the judicial system in the country is working, hence, resort to the ICC should not be allowed.

"Obviously this is intended to embarrass the President but the President is a lawyer, he knows what the procedures are, they will fail," presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said Thursday.

"The President has said that if need be he will argue his case personally before the International Criminal Court," he added.

War doesn't have to be nuclear to kill indiscriminately
Al Jazeera

By Alexander Gillespie
February 9, 2018

Over the past year, the escalation of tensions between the United States and North Korea has caused much anxiety about the possibility of a nuclear war. Since the creation of the first nuclear bomb and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, international diplomacy has focused its non-proliferation efforts on nuclear weapons.

In doing so, it has overlooked the proliferation of conventional weapons, which have killed millions since World War II and which continue to kill on a massive scale today.

As Amnesty International noted in a report released in late 2015, "reckless arms trading" encouraged atrocities committed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other armed groups in Iraq. In 2016, more than 100,000 people were killed in conflicts in which conventional weapons were used.

And while the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has limited the new production of nuclear weapons, the world has experienced an uncurbed proliferation of conventional weapons with no effective international legal tools to control it.

Since 1960 - the early days of the Cold War nuclear arms race - international military spending has increased twenty-fold from $82bn to $1.69 trillion; and year on year, it continues to grow. While some of it goes to infrastructure maintenance and salaries for personnel, a significant part is spent on the acquisition of conventional weapons.

In 2015, the US, the country with the biggest defence budget in the world, spent $90bn of its $600bn defence spending on the procurement of conventional arms; it spent around $20bn on maintaining its nuclear arsenal.

The growing demand for conventional weapons is making many providers very wealthy. The top 100 arms companies have sold over $5 trillion worth of merchandise since 2002. In 2016, some $31bn was generated by the international arms trade, the US earning $9.9bn of it, followed by Russia with $6.4bn and Germany with $2.8bn.

Although there is no international law on how much can be spent on conventional arms, the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) of 2014 sought to prevent weapons from being sold to countries that are under embargo or illegally transferred to state or non-state actors. According to the treaty, signatories should ensure the weapons they are selling are not going to be used in "terrorism", acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, serious violations of human rights, or the undermining of peace and security.

Unfortunately, over the years since its signing, the treaty has proven too weak to make a difference.

The first reason the ATT is failing is that the power of profit-seeking is trumping all other considerations. This is most evident with Saudi Arabia, which is currently the second largest weapons importer in the world. Although some countries like Germany have stopped selling weaponry to Riyadh - which stands accused of indiscriminate, reckless and wrongful targeting of civilians in the war in Yemen - others have not been able to resist the revenue to be made.

The UK, which has signed and ratified the ATT, made $1.5bn in 2017 selling arms to Saudi Arabia, while the US, which has signed but not ratified the treaty, made windfall deals worth potentially $110bn.

The second problem is that even if ATT signatories start implementing the commitments they made by signing the document, there are other countries that have either not signed or not ratified it, such as China, Russia, India and Iran. This means that a country like Myanmar, which is facing serious accusations of crimes against humanity, can still obtain a steady stream of weapons from some of these countries despite an ongoing European arms sales embargo.

Similarly with the war in Syria, despite strong evidence of war crimes by multiple parties, especially the Assad regime, countries such as Russia, Iran and possibly even North Korea, have not hesitated to sell weapons to Damascus. On the other hand, those fighting Assad have received weapons illegally re-routed by the US and Gulf countries from Eastern and Central European countries.

The above point highlights the other difficulty with the ATT - namely, that it primarily deals with legal transfers. The problem is that many conflicts are now fuelled by weapons supplied via illegal trade, especially in small arms. Although the size of this trade is estimated at being between 10 to 20 percent of the value of the legal arms sales, in some conflicts, illegal sources of weapons dominate the supply.

For example in Mexico, 70 percent of guns seized in the country and traced by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) from 2009 to 2014 came from illegal transfers from the US.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban is buying large amounts of illegal weapons, including but not limited to hundreds of thousands of diverted US weapons.

This uncontrollable proliferation of conventional weapons will continue to take a heavy death toll each year unless the international community comes up with an effective international tool to control it - the way it did with nuclear weapons.

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War Crimes Prosecution Watch Staff

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Worth Reading

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