News

Monthly News Update: SCNC - March 2019

BY PHEDRA NEEL, RESEARCH ASSOCIATE AT PILPG - NL

ARREST OF MAURICE KAMTO

Human rights violations

Maurice Kamto, the leader of the opposition party Cameroon Renaissance Movement, and several of his followers, were arrested in late January 2018 on the charges of offenses linked to their rejection of the election results, including rebellion and hostility against the homeland. According to Human Rights Watch, these arrests happened without a warrant. In addition, Kamto and his supporter Célestin Djamen were held for days in facilities not meant to detain people. In both cases, the lawyers had difficulties meeting their clients and they were only presented to the prosecutor after fifteen days, which is in violation of the Cameroon Criminal Procedure Code. Also, the civilians are being tried in a military court. Kamto’s barrister has already announced to start proceedings before international courts for these violations. Kamto himself reached out to the President to have a “frank dialogue” but President Buya refused.

International reactions to the arrest of Kamto

The politically motivated arrests have caused international reactions from the European Union and the United States of America and Human Rights Watch, among others. Frederica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, issued a statement on behalf of the EU in which she stated that “The rule of law requires a fair justice system and the release of detainees against whom hard evidence cannot be produced.”A similar call can be heard from US diplomat Tibor Naggy. He said that it would be wise for the government to release the prisoners, whether they are guilty of the charges or not, because the international community perceives the arrests as political motivated. He also called upon the Cameroonian government to be “more serious” in trying to bring the Anglophone crisis to an end. However, once Naggy actually arrived in Cameroon, he remained mute on the political and security issues in Cameroon.

The opposition leader remains detained and their supporters remain subjected to the will of the government. Some of the supporters were arrested March 24, 2019 for cleaning the streets of Yaoundé.  

 

NIGERIA HAS TO RETURN THE AMBAZONIAN LEADERS

Barrister Femi Falana has given Nigeria two weeks to return the representatives of Southern Cameroons who were arrested in Nigeria in January 2018. These more than 40 representatives were residing in Nigeria as asylum seekers and refugees. 

The call from Falana follows the order of the Federal High Court in Nigeria that the deportation of refugees and asylum seekers is illegal and unconstitutional.

Falana has already announced that he will initiate legal proceedings if Nigeria fails to return the representatives within two weeks to Nigeria. However, the people in question are being tried in Cameroon.

SPATE OF KIDNAPPINGS

Kidnapping of football trainer

On March 20, a first division Cameroonian football club in Bamenda, announced  the release of their trainer, Emmanuel Ndoumbé Bosso, who was kidnapped by armed men. He claims that no ransom was paid, and he was not aware why he had been kidnapped. 

Kidnapping of football team

On the same day however an entire university football team was kidnapped from the University of Buea in the Anglophone region of Cameroon. It is not clear who is responsible for the kidnappings, which have become more frequent amid tensions between separatist groups and government troops. The team of 20 students were released on March 20. They told their coach that they were tortured by their kidnappers – they were maltreated and found with wounds on their backs. Ngongo Horace Manga, the university’s vice chancellor told CNN that on Thursday, the kidnappers had demanded a ransom to free the students. It is not clear whether the university paid the ransom demanded. No one has claimed responsibility for the abduction, however the Anglophone separatists have been accused. The students were warned by their captors to not return to their school.  

Kidnapping of former minister

Former Secretary of State, Emmanuel Ngafeeson, was kidnapped and security sources are attributing the kidnapping to the anglophone separatists. He was kidnapped by unidentified armed men from his residence in Ntabessi in Bamenda. His kidnapping took place just 24 hours after the kidnapping of football trainer Emmanuel Ndoumbe Bosso. He was released only ten days after his kidnapping

Monthly News Update: International Criminal Court (ICC) - March 2019

BY ISABELLA BANKS, RESEARCH ASSOCIATE AT PILPG-NL

In the past month, the International Criminal Court (ICC) released a number of important updates. Among them were reactions by senior ICC officials to Malaysia’s accession to the Rome Statute and the Philippines’ withdrawal from the Rome Statute two weeks later.

AFRICA

Central Mali | Statement of the ICC Proscutor, Fatou Bensouda, on Reported Upsurge of Violence and Mass Killings in Mopti Region, Central Mali

On March 25, 2019, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda released a statement condemning vicious attacks in the Mopti region of central Mali, which allegedly resulted in the massacre of over 130 civilians. She called on all parties to refrain from further violence and stated that a delegation from the OTP would meet with the relevant Malian authorities within a week to discuss the matter.

The ICC’s formal investigation into the situation in Mali began in 2013, and focuses on war crimes allegedly committed in the northern regions of Gao, Kidal, and Timbuktu since January 2012.

ASIA  

Bangladesh | Statement of the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court at the Conclusion of its Visit to Bangladesh (6-11 March 2019)

From March 6-11, 2019 the Office of Prosecutor (OTP) conducted its first field visit to Bangladesh. The visit was intended to engage and educate relevant stakeholders about the Court’s ongoing preliminary examination into the alleged deportation of the Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh. According to the OTP, it also served as an opportunity for the delegation to visit refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar and gain new insights that “will continue to inform the Office’s ongoing assessment of the situation.”

The OTP expressed its gratitude for the strong support it received from government authorities of Bangladesh, and stated that in addition to being productive, the visit helped the Office “to fully appreciate the sheer magnitude and severity of this human tragedy.”

The ICC’s most recent report on its preliminary examination activities can be accessed here.

Malaysia | President of the Assembly of States Parties Welcomes Malaysia’s Accession to the Rome Statute

On March 4, 2019, President of the Assembly of States Parties (ASP), Mr. O-Gon Kwon, enthusiastically welcomed Malaysia’s instrument of accession to the Rome Statute of the ICC, which had been signed by the Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs and deposited with the Secretary-General of the United Nations earlier that day. The important development came as a result of the Malaysian Cabinet’s unanimous decision in favor of ratification on December 12, 2018, as well as two decades of advocacy by a number of civil society actors.

Mr. O-Gon Kwon congratulated the government and people of Malaysia for the commitment, remarking that he looked forward to a “vibrant cooperation between Malaysia and the ICC” and that he hoped that other States – particularly in the Asia-Pacific region – would follow Malaysia’s example.

Malaysia is the 124th State Party of the ICC. The Statute will enter into force for Malaysia on June 1, 2019, in accordance with Article 126(2) of the Rome State.

Malaysia | President Eboe-Osuji: We Are Inspired To See Malaysia Join the ICC

On March 6, 2019, President of the ICC, Chile Eboe-Osuji, joined Mr. O-Gon Kwon in expressing his delight at Malaysia’s accession to the Rome Statute. He called the decision “inspiring” and “a veritable act of recognition of the continuing value of the Rome Statute and the ICC.”

President Eboe-Osuji’s statement can be viewed on video here.

Philippines | President of the Assembly of States Parties Regrets the Withdrawal from the Rome Statute by the Philippines

In response to the Philippines’ official withdrawal from the ICC on March 17, 2019, President of the ASP, Mr. O-Gon Kwon, expressed his regret, stating: “I sincerely hope that the departure of the Philippines from the Rome Statute is only temporary and that it will re-join the Rome Statute family in the future.”

President of the Philippines, Mr. Rodrigo Duerte, announced his decision to leave the ICC in March of last year, but Court rules prevented the withdrawal from taking effect for a period of 12 months. President Duerte’s 2018 announcement came shortly after the ICC’s preliminary inquiry into allegations of genocide and crimes against humanity committed in the course of President Duerte’s crackdown on narcotics became public.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has since announced the OTP’s intention to continue its preliminary examination into the Philippines, stating that the Court retains jurisdiction over crimes committed while the state was party to the Statute, and “may exercise this jurisdiction even after the withdrawal becomes effective.”

 

EUROPE

Netherlands | “Remarks at Dinner Held on the Occasion of the 2019 Anne Frank Award” by Chile Eboe-Osuji President, International Criminal Court

On March 27, 2019 the ICC published President Chile Eboe-Osuji’s remarks at a dinner held on the occasion of the 2019 Anne Frank award. Each year, the Anne Frank award is presented to “an American person (or organization) who has demonstrated a body of work that confronts intolerance, anti-Semitism, racism, or discrimination while upholding freedom and equal rights in order to promote the effect functioning of an open, pluralistic, and democratic society.”

This year’s recipient of the Anne Frank award was Mr. Ben Ferencz, a Chief US Prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials and long-time supporter of the ICC. In his speech, President Eboe-Osuj described how Mr. Ferencz had contributed to “the idea that the methods of international law must be used to require accountability when people commit mass atrocities” though his pioneering effort at the Nuremberg proceedings, and thanked him for his continued support of the ICC through personal donations to the Trust Fund for Victims (TFV).

President Eboe-Osuji’s full remarks at the dinner can be read here.

Netherlands | On International Women’s Day, the ICC Joins Calls for Greater Equality

In recognition and celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, 2019, the ICC announced that it was “taking concrete steps to further strengthen and promote gender equality” among its 900 staff. It highlighted the recent decisions of President Chile Eboe-Osuji, Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, and Registrar Peter Lewis to join the International Gender Champions leadership network, which brings together decision-makers to break down gender barriers in their respective fields of influence and responsibility.

In related statements, President Eboe-Osuji called gender balance  a “key principle” of the ICC, and Prosecutor Bensouda affirmed the need to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of sexual and gender-based crimes committed against women and children.

NORTH AMERICA

United States | Statement by the President of the Assembly, O-Gon Kwon, Reiterating Strong Support for the ICC

In response to an unequivocally anti-ICC statement made by the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, on March 15, 2019, President of the ASP, Mr. O-Gon Kwon, reiterated the states parties’ “unwavering support” for the Rome Statute.

Secretary of State Pompeo announced that the US would withdraw or deny visas to any ICC personnel investigating alleged war crimes committed by US forces or its allies in Afghanistan. The announcement comes in the wake of a similarly threatening speech by US National Security Advisor John Bolton in September 2018, in which he called the ICC “illegitimate” and warned that it would face sanctions and possibly criminal prosecution if it proceeded with its Afghanistan investigation.

President O-Gon Kwon’s response emphasized the non-political and impartial nature of the ICC and its complementary relationship with domestic jurisdictions.

United States | ICC President’s Keynote Speech “A Tribute to Robert H. Jackson – Recalling America’s Contributions to International Criminal Justice at the Annual Meeting of American Society of International Law

On March 29, 2019, ICC President Chile Eboe-Osuji delivered a keynote speech at the 113th annual meeting of American Society of International Law, which centered on the theme “International Law as an Instrument.”

President Eboe-Osuji’s speech paid tribute to Robert H Jackson, an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court and Chief Prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials. The President noted that in 1945 speech at the same event, Associate Justice Jackson had called for a global society in which all nations “subject themselves to the rule of international law, for the benefit of all.”

President Eboe-Osuji referenced Jackson’s renunciation of “farcical judicial trails” and “courts that are organized merely to convict” to emphasize the importance of the right to a fair trial. He argued that the ICC had avoided such miscarriages of justice through its commitment to due process, stating: “The judges now on the Court are not impressed by the prospect of unpopularity of the decisions they make. Still, we want to be sure that there is no possibility whatsoever that a judge (or even a prosecutor) may prove unduly anxious to bullying criticisms of having ‘failed,’ whenever there is a judgment of acquittal in a criminal case.”

The speech concluded with a call on the US to join the ICC – “whose values and objectives are entirely consistent with the best instincts of America and her values” –  and support the cause of international criminal justice as it had in the past.



Monthly News Update: Domestic Prosecution of International Crimes - March 2019

BY CLEO MEINICKE, RESEARCH ASSOCIATE AT PILPG-NL

This news update draws together worldwide updates concerning the prosecution of international crimes. Especially in Asia action is taken in the prosecution of international crimes. The information is collected from different online news platforms.

AFRICA

Rwanda | Genocide: Supreme Court upholds 30-year jail sentence for Bandora

Charles Bandora, who was extradited from Norway in 2013 to Rwanda for his role in the genocide in the former Ngenda Commune, was handed a 30-year jail sentence in 2015 by the High Court’s specialised chamber for international crimes. The Supreme Court now upheld the sentence. [March 23, 2019]

Uganda | Kwoyelo Trial Continues in Gulu; Prosecution to Call 130 Witnesses

On Monday, March 11, the trial of Thomas Kwoyelo, a former commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), resumed. He is facing 93 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed between January 1995 and December 2005. The trial takes place before the International Crimes Division (ICD) sitting at the High Court in Gulu. [March 14, 2019]

AUSTRALIA & OCEANIA

Australia | By sending asylum seekers to Nauru and Manus, is Australia guilty of crimes against humanity?

Independent federal MP Andrew Wilkie argued the current and previous Australian governments are guilty of crimes against humanity. The failure to meet obligations under international law with regards to asylum seekers and refugees and “to forcibly transfer anyone to a third country and to detain them indefinitely without trial” can be considered crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute. Several communiques call for Australian government officials to be investigated. [February 28, 2019]

Australia | Australia drafting laws to deport war criminals

Australia is drafting laws to punish war criminals and people suspected of committing crimes “of serious international concern.” The consequences include the cancellation of the alleged criminals’ Australian visas and immediate deportation, according to the Department of Home Affairs. An accused war criminal Zoran Tadic fled to Serbia recently to avoid being extradited to Croatia for the crimes he committed in Skabrnja in 1991. [March 11, 2019]

 

ASIA

Bangladesh | Investigators find war crimes evidence against 5 Mymensingh men

War crimes evidence against five people from Mymensingh has been found by the Investigation agency of the International Crimes Tribunal. The five suspects collaborated with Razakar Bahini during the Liberation War in 1971. They are alleged to have killed 45 people and abducted seven people in Dhobaura upazila of Mymensingh. [March 10, 2019]

Bangladesh | War Crimes: ICT investigators find evidence against 9 Gaibandha men

Evidence against nine Gaibandha men for committing war crimes in collaboration with Razakar Bahini during the Liberation War in 1971 was found. The crimes included killing, rape, abduction and torture. [March 24, 2019]

Myanmar | Myanmar military court to probe Rohingya atrocity allegations

According to the Myanmar army,  a military court was set up to investigate its conduct in 2017 against the Rohingya Muslim minority that caused more than 730,000 Rohingyas to flee to Bangladesh. The United Nations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch accuse the security forces of mass killings, rape and arson. [March 18, 2019]

Philippines | PH court hands down first conviction on terrorist for crimes against humanity

A Philippine court on Friday handed down the country’s first conviction of a terrorist for crimes against humanity and genocide and sentenced him to reclusion perpetua, a sentence fixed to 40 years. [March 15, 2019]

South Korea | South Korea region seeks to tag Japanese firms as 'war criminals'

South Korea's largest province is considering whether to stigmatize nearly 300 Japanese companies over their actions during World War II. The province is considering requiring schools to put alert labels on the firms’ products in school. The proposed practice attempts to give students a better understanding of history. The sticker would read,  “a Japanese war criminal company made the product.” The list of companies includes Nikon, Panasonic and Yamaha. [March 20, 2019]

Sri Lanka | Sri Lanka U-turns on war crimes probe

While the president of Sri Lanka Maithripala Sirisena claimed to ensure accountability for wartime abuses when he came to power in January 2015, he is now of the opinion that one should not “dig the past and re-open old wounds.” He declared that he will ask the UN Human Rights Council to reconsider a resolution that called for investigations into the killings of 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians in the war that ended in May 2009. [March 6, 2019]

Sri Lanka | Sri Lankan army says it is ready to face any investigation on war crime

The Sri Lankan army welcomes investigations into their conduct during the nation’s decades-long civil war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in order to defend its soldiers against allegations of grave human rights abuses. [March 18, 2019]

 Sri Lanka | Sri Lanka Tamils demand foreign judges in war crimes probe

The United Nations granted Colombo more time for implementing the commitments the government made in 2015 with regards to past war crimes. The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva gave the government two more years, a second extension, to set up a credible investigation into the crimes committed during the civil war. The probe is expected to include a special “hybrid” court involving local and foreign judges. [March 22, 2019]

CENTRAL AMERICA/ CARRIBEANS

Guatemala & El Salvador |  Central Americans confront amnesty for war crimes

Both countries are considering legislative initiatives to grant amnesty to perpetrators of war crimes. These initiatives elicited widespread opposition. [March 7, 2019]

Guatemala | Facing Protests, Guatemala Postpones Vote on Amnesty for War Crimes

Guatemala’s Congress suspended a scheduled vote on amnesty for war crimes. Several lawmakers walked out,  and opposition victims’ groups, human rights and activists protested against it. International organizations, foreign governments and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights also called on the government not to proceed with the vote. [March 13, 2019]

 

EUROPE

Bosnia | Bosnia’s Updated War Crimes Strategy Languishes in Limbo

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s revised Strategy for War Crimes Processing has as a goal to complete all war crimes cases by 2023, but was removed from the agenda for a Council of Ministers session in July 2018. No explanation for this was given. The strategy will probably not be discussed until the Council’s new members are chosen. [February 26, 2019]

Bosnia & Herzegovina | 12 years in Prison for a Wartime Rapist

Saša Cvetković, a former member of Republika Srpska Army, was found guilty of the rape of two women and a double murder near Srebrenica, in 1992. Next to imprisonment, he has to pay 15.000,00 BAM to one of the victims of sexual violence to compensate for physical and mental suffering from the attack. [March 22, 2019]

Germany | Did Germany ignore thousands of leads on possible war crimes?

Evidence suggests that war criminals were seeking asylum in Germany, yet their cases remained unprocessed. Between 2014 and 2019 the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) referred thousands of cases of "crimes under international law" to the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) and the Attorney General. However, only 129 cases were investigated. [March 7, 2019]

Kosovo | Kosovo Court Acquits Ethnic Serb Of War Crimes

A court in Kosovo has acquitted an ethnic Serb on charges of war crimes due to contradictory testimonies given by witnesses.  [March 8, 2019]

Kosovo | Kosovo’s New War Crimes Strategy Faces Political Obstacles

Special Prosecutor Drita Hajdari is concerned that the new strategy to prioritize the prosecution of war crimes after years of few prosecutions cannot succeed without senior political support in both Kosovo and Serbia. Especially “Serbia should understand that punishing war crimes is also in its interest, because war criminals are moving around freely.“ [March 13, 2019]

Netherlands | Dutch police arrest Rwandan genocide suspect on extradition request

The International Crimes Unit of the Dutch police arrested a Rwandan man near Utrecht, who is suspected of having participated in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Rwanda requested the extradition of the suspect. [March 20, 2019]

Sweden | Sweden calls for international tribunal to bring Isis fighters to justice

Stefan Löfven, Sweden’s prime minister, called for the establishment of an international tribunal to investigate EU nationals returning home after joining terror groups who are suspected of committing war crimes. [March 7, 2019]

NORTH AMERICA

United States | U.S. Judge Strips Citizenship Of Ex-Bosnian Muslim Woman Convicted Of War Crimes

A United States judge revoked the citizenship of a Bosnian-born Muslim woman for her involvement in war crimes during the wars in the former Yugoslavia. [March 5, 2019]

United States | United States Supports Germany’s International Arrest Warrant for Accused Syrian War Criminal

The United States government issued a statement supporting Germany’s request to Lebanon to extradite a high-ranking Syrian official accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. In doing so, the United States supports Germany’s exercise of universal jurisdiction. This marks a significant development in US legal practice. [March 6, 2019]

United States | US judge dismisses Namibian genocide claims against Germany

A United States court has dismissed a compensation lawsuit lodged against Germany by two Namibian tribes for genocide and property seizures in colonial times. [March 7, 2019]

SOUTH AMERICA

Colombia | Colombia war crimes: Mass protests in support of special tribunal

Colombian President Ivan Duque objected to six out of 159 articles of the law implementing a peace deal with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The president criticised the special jurisdiction for being too lenient towards rebel commanders. The special jurisdiction also oversees the establishment of a tribunal for war crimes. This criticism may be advantageous for the dissident fighters who still refuse to adhere to the peace deal. [March 19, 2019]

The Virtual Human Rights Lawyer - Namibia Pilot

PILPG Netherlands, the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) from Namibia, and Intercidadania from Brazil, are working together on the design and development of the ‘Virtual Human Rights Lawyer’ (VHRL). This tool will be the outcome of an innovative project that combines several disciplines and areas of knowledge, such as IT, international and Namibian law and communications to support victims of human rights violations.

The VHRL is a tool that aims to provide victims of human rights violations with a platform to inquire which judicial and non-judicial mechanisms are available in their situation. The VHRL will take the form of a ‘chatbot’ based on specific decision trees that guide the user from his or her legal issue to the appropriate mechanism.

Jasmijn de Zeeuw

Jasmijn de Zeeuw

The pilot version of the chatbot will be designed for Namibia in cooperation with the Legal Assistance Centre in Windhoek, Namibia. Jasmijn de Zeeuw, a senior research associate at PILPG Netherlands, worked as a legal intern at the LAC for the past six months and initiated the partnership. She recently gave a seminar to the PILPG team on the background of the organization and the advantages of doing the pilot in Namibia.

The LAC was founded in 1988 and is the largest NGO working on the protection of human rights in Namibia. The organization works on public interest cases, particularly in the area of human rights, political and civil rights, but also cultural, economic and social rights. Among the most addressed issues are discrimination and violations of land rights. The organization works for example with the San people in respect to their ancestral land rights.

Next to being an exciting, young, and dynamic country, Namibia also presents a good pilot project. Namibia has the size of Spain and France combined but only 2.6 million inhabitants, thus a very low population density. Having been a former colony of Germany and South Africa, the inhabitants experience strong inequalities. The country’s GINI coefficient is 59.1 with a disproportionately wealthy white elite.

For the problems arising from these inequalities, and other human rights violations experienced by Namibians, the VHRL aims to provide easy and accessible support for the victims. About 45% of the population owns a mobile phone and Namibia’s mobile phone network coverage amounts to 95%, therefore the VHRL can be used by a substantive part of the population.

Follow this blog to stay up-to-date on our project! If you're interested in more information or want to help collaborate with us on this initiative, you can reach out to us at ggricius@pilpg.org.

To Be Genocide or Not to Be Genocide, That Is the Question

BY PHEDRA NEEL, RESEARCH ASSOCIATE PILPG-NL

DURING THE HUMAN RIGHTS WEEKEND ORGANIZED BY HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH AND DE BALIE, THE DOCUMENTARY ‘ON HER SHOULDERS’ WAS SHOWN. THIS FILM DRAWS ATTENTION TO NOBEL PEACE PRIZE WINNER NADIA MURAD AND HER FIGHT FOR THE RECOGNITION OF THE YAZIDI GENOCIDE. THE YAZIDI ARE A RELIGIOUS MINORITY THAT WAS ATTACKED BY ISIS. THIS BLOG POST REFLECTS ON THIS FIGHT AND CONSIDERS EXPLANATIONS WHY SOME MEMBERS OF THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY ARE RELUCTANT TO USE THE WORD ‘GENOCIDE’.

Between the 7th and 10th February 2019, Human Rights Watch organized, in cooperation with De Balie, the seventh edition of the Human Rights Weekend. This year’s topic was “Where do I stand” and invited the attendees to think about how they are (in)directly involved in human rights violations and how they can contribute in ending these violations. The program consisted of masterclasses, lectures, and documentaries. One of these documentaries showed the incredible story of Nadia Murad. Nadia is a Yazidi girl, who witnessed her community being murdered by ISIS. She was later captured herself and forced to become a sex slave. Today she is known as the most recent Nobel peace Prize winner for her global advocacy campaign to fight for the rights of the Yazidi. This campaign consists of addressing heads of states and governments, asking for help for the survivors and for the attack on her people to be considered as genocide. Whereas some states have indeed passed legislation that recognizes the events as genocide, others refuse to do so until the United Nations (UN) itself officially uses the word genocide to describe the atrocities. 

The Yazidi are a religious minority living in small communities in the Sinjar region in Northern Iraq. According to Nadia herself, they have allegedly endured 74 genocides, the latest one being executed by ISIS. On August 3, 2014, ISIS invaded Sinjar and destroyed whole villages. They lined up the men and executed them, they killed the elderly women and forced all girls above the age of nine to become sex slaves. All boys under the age of twelve were trained to join the fighting brigades of ISIS. In Nadia Murad’s village, Kocho, only fifteen men survived the attack. Other villages suffered the same brutality or are still suffering, as around 3000 girls are still believed to be sex slaves. 

In June 2016, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, a UN inquiry mission, claimed that ISIS was committing a genocide against the Yazidi. The Chair, Paulo Pinheiro, emphasized that genocide has occurred and that it is ongoing. According to Commissioner Carla Del Ponte, “ISIS has subjected every Yazidi woman, child or man that it has captured to the most horrific of atrocities. […] ISIS has made no secret of its intent to destroy the Yazidis of Sinjar, and that is one of the elements that allowed us to conclude their actions amount to genocide”. 

Even though the UN experts have stated that these events qualify as genocide, the UN as such has not used this term in a definite manner. What it has done, however, is adopt a United Nations Security Council Resolution in September 2017, which established an investigative team in order to document the atrocities and to hold the perpetrators responsible. This team, after a year of talks with Baghdad to secure its cooperation, will start its operations in 2019. However, it is yet to adopt a Resolution defining the events as a genocide.

Some states decided to act before the UN and passed national legislation to qualify the atrocities as genocide. According to the Times of Israel, the United States House of Representatives passed a motion deeming the mass killings to be a genocide in March 2016. This was followed by the Scottish Parliament and the British House of Commons in April 2016, Canada in October 2016, France in December 2016, and Armenia in 2017. Others however, refuse to do so until the UN officially declares the atrocities a genocide.  

Why is it that the UN has failed to declare the atrocities as genocide, and are states seemingly waiting for the UN to act first? The word ‘genocide’ is a legal concept defined by article 2 of the 1948 Genocide Convention 1948. The following articles of the Convention create obligations for the states parties to the Convention, calling on them to adopt legislation, try the perpetrators, provide effective penalties, among other legal obligations. In other words, calling a situation a genocide also means activating legal obligations under the Genocide Convention.  

Secondly, genocide is a heavily loaded term that plays a strong role in international relations. If you call a country out for genocide, it is very likely that the diplomatic ties between the two concerned states will be broken or will be, at the very least, strained. For example, several countries refuse to recognize the Armenian genocide in an attempt to keep friendly relations with Turkey.

Lastly, genocide is sometimes called the crime of all crimes. If a country admits that a genocide is taking place or has been taking place, then that country admits that it, as a member of the international community, has failed to prevent the most serious international crime from taking place and that it has failed to protect international peace and security.

Therefore, the United Nations does not use the term lightly and it is most likely awaiting the findings of the team now operating in the field, before officially labelling the atrocities as genocide. As long as the United Nations postpones this declaration, countries can hide behind the organization to not risk diplomatic repercussions. This means that the Yazidi will have to wait even longer for their suffering to be recognized as suffering constituting genocide.