Category Archives: armed conflict

Committee Against Torture Decides First Complaint on Sexual Violence in Conflict

Press Conference on Prevention of Torture
Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

The United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) issued its first decision against the State of Bosnia and Herzegovina, finding that rape and other acts of sexual violence constitute torture under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the Convention), and ordering the State to pay “fair and adequate compensation” and provide free medical and psychological care to the victim. See Committee Against Torture, Mrs. A v. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Communication No. 854/2017, Views of 22 August 2019, UN Doc. CAT/C/67/D/854/2017. This decision, which concerns the rape of a Bosnian woman in the early 1990s during the Bosnian war, is the first CAT decision to examine a State’s responsibilities with respect to sexual violence committed during a period of internal armed conflict. [Trial International] In deciding Mrs. A’s complaint, the Committee applied the standards set out in earlier general comments and concluding observations, and clarified that States must ensure redress – including compensation – for victims of torture, regardless of an individual perpetrator’s ability to pay or statutes of limitation on such claims. See Mrs. A v. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Views of 22 August 2019, paras. 7.5-9.

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ICC Decides Not to Investigate War Crimes in Afghanistan Conflict

International Criminal Court 
Credit: ICC via Flickr

On April 12, 2019, the three judges of the Pre-Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court (ICC) unanimously declined to authorize the Prosecutor’s request to conduct an investigation into the situation in Afghanistan. [ICC Press Release] The investigation was set to examine alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity related to the conflict in Afghanistan, and to examine the responsibility of the Taliban and other armed groups, and of Afghan and United States armed forces. See ICC, Situation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, ICC-02/17-33, Decision Pursuant to Article 15 of the Rome Statute on the Authorisation of an Investigation into the Situation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, 12 April 2019, paras. 15, 18-24. Despite the Pre-Trial Chamber’s determination that the Prosecutor’s request was credible and met the jurisdictional and admissibility requirements, the Pre-Trial Chamber rejected her request to proceed because it determined the investigation would not serve the “interests of justice” given the limited prospects of a successful investigation that would lead to prosecutions. See id. at paras. 87, 96. Many observers have described the Court as caving to political pressure from the U.S., while others view the decision as a pragmatic use of the Court’s resources. [Amnesty International; Just Security] The Pre-Trial Chamber’s decision came shortly after the U.S. revoked the ICC Prosecutor’s visa to the U.S. and threatened to sanction the Court should it pursue cases against American citizens. [IJRC] The Office of the Prosecutor indicated it “will further analyse the decision and its implications, and consider all available legal remedies” in response. [ICC Statement]

Procedural Background

A preliminary examination on Afghanistan initially opened in 2006. See Situation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, 12 April 2019, at para. 44. However, the Prosecutor has faced a many obstacles since then, primarily as a result of the lack of cooperation from the authorities under investigation—a reason cited by the Pre-Trial Chamber for rejecting this investigation. See id.

In November 2017, the Prosecutor submitted a request for authorization to initiate an investigation proprio motu pursuant to Article 15 of the Rome Statute. See Situation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, 12 April 2019, at paras. 2, 5, 29. The Prosecutor’s requested authorization to investigate the alleged crimes under the ICC’s jurisdiction that have taken place in Afghanistan since May 1, 2003 (the date that the Rome Statute entered into force in Afghanistan), and alleged crimes that “have a nexus to the armed conflict” but have been committed outside of Afghanistan, in the territory other States parties to the Rome Statute, since July 1, 2002. See id. at para 5.

The Prosecutor provided evidence indicating that since June 19, 2002, the country has been in a state of non-international armed conflict between various armed groups against both the Afghan government and international armed forces supporting the government. See id. at para. 16. Since that time, the evidence shows that in the context of the thousands of civilian deaths that have taken place, many are likely to constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes. See id. at para. 15. The request classifies the crimes into three categories according to the alleged perpetrators: (1) the Taliban and other non-state armed groups, (2) the Afghan armed forces, and (3) U.S. armed forces and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). See id. at paras. 17, 18-24. A fourth category was included addressing “other acts by members of international armed forces,” which held out the possibility of uncovering crimes resulting from military operations or torture committed by international armed forces other those falling within the other three categories, but indicated that more information is required to determine whether these events constitute crimes under the Court’s jurisdiction. See id. at para. 25.

A significant number of victims submitted representations to the Pre-Trial Chamber complimenting the information provided by the Prosecutor. See id. at para. 28. In total, the Pre-Trial Chamber received 794 representations on behalf of 6,220 individuals, 1,690 families, 26 villages, one institution, and millions of victims. See id. at para. 27.

The Pre-Trial Chamber’s Analysis

In deciding whether or not to authorize the Prosecutor’s request proprio motu, the Pre-Trial Chamber must make a determination as to whether there is a “reasonable basis” to initiate an investigation and whether the jurisdictional requirements are met before authorizing the investigation. See id. at para. 29. This scenario is distinct from situations in which a State or the United Nations Security Council refers a situation in that the Pre-Trial Chamber exercises heightened discretion, ensuring that all requirements set out in Article 53(1) of the Statute are met. See id. para. 30. In addition to determining whether a “reasonable basis” exists, the Pre-Trial Chamber will consider whether an investigation would “serve the interests of justice,” which requires a consideration of the gravity of the crimes alleged, the interests of the victims, and the feasibility of the investigation under the circumstances. See id. at paras. 33-35.

Jurisdiction & Admissibility

Before addressing these issues, the Pre-Trial Chamber determined whether the crimes alleged fall within the jurisdiction of the Court and whether the request met the admissibility requirements laid out in the Rome Statute. The Pre-Trial Chamber acknowledged that nearly all of the information the Prosecutor provided was based on credible sources and was well-corroborated, stating that “there is reasonable basis to believe that the incidents underlying the Request have occurred.” See id. at paras. 46, 48. It further found that the jurisdictional requirements of ratione loci (the crimes alleged occurred in the territory of a State that is party to the Rome Statute or has accepted the Court’s jurisdiction), ratione materiae (the crimes alleged constitute crimes within the Court’s jurisdiction), and ratione temporis (the crimes alleged occurred after the Rome Statute came into force in the State) had all been met. See id. at paras. 45, 49, 60, 87. With respect to admissibility, the Pre-Trial Chamber was satisfied that the two-fold assessment required under Article 17 of the Rome Statute had also been met: whether the States involved are not or have not conducted their own judicial proceedings on these issues (complementarity), and whether the crimes alleged meet the Court’s severity threshold (gravity). See id. at paras. 71, 75, 77, 79, 86.

Interest of Justice

The final area of assessment the Pre-Trial Chamber undertook was to determine whether under Article 53(1)(c) there are “substantial reasons to believe that an investigation would not serve the interests of justice.” See id. at para. 87. The Pre-Trial Chamber noted that without the existence of a clear definition or other statutory guidance on this matter, it would make the consideration based on the “overarching objectives” of the Rome Statute—that the investigation would aid in “the effective prosecution of the most serious international crimes, the fight against impunity and the prevention of mass atrocities.” See id. at para. 89. It then stated that an investigation could only be considered to serve the interests of justice if it appears likely to result in a legitimate investigation and prosecution of cases within a suitable time frame. See id.

Here the Pre-Trial Chamber stated that three issues were of particular importance to this assessment in the Afghanistan investigation. See id. at para. 91. First, the Pre-Trial Chamber concluded that the amount of time that had passed between when most of the crimes were committed and the submission of the request would make it unlikely that viable evidence would be available. See id. at para. 93. Second, the Pre-Trial Chamber determined that changing political situations in the relevant States, including in States not parties to the Statute, make the prospect of cooperation from the governments involved and the surrender of suspects substantially unlikely. See id. at para. 94. Finally, the Pre-Trial Chamber noted that given the realities of the situation, the investigation would be costly and that this would detract from resources that could be allocated to investigations more likely to result in prosecutions. See id. at para. 95.

Thus, the Pre-Trial Chamber concluded that the potential for a successful investigation was significantly limited and that there was little chance that the objectives of the victims would be furthered by continuing. See id. at para. 96. It also indicated that pursuing an investigation that did not fulfill these aims and would possibly incite “hostility vis-a-vis the Court” and undermine its overall credibility. See id. It ultimately decided the investigation into the situation in Afghanistan would not serve the interests of justice and for that reason, declined the request. See id.

International Reaction

The Pre-Trial Chamber’s rejection of the investigation has been particularly controversial given the implication of U.S. forces in the crimes outlined. The Prosecutor’s information, based primarily on the findings of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee and the U.S. Department of defense, provided evidence that U.S. forces and the CIA had committed war crimes including torture and cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and rape and other forms of sexual violence “pursuant to a policy approved by the US authorities.” See id. 24.

Human rights experts and legal scholars have denounced the decision to stop the investigation. Human Rights Watch’s Param-Preet Singh said in a statement that the “ICC judges’ decision to reject an investigation in Afghanistan is a devastating blow for victims,” and that “[i]t sends a dangerous message to perpetrators that they can put themselves beyond the reach of the law just by being uncooperative.” [NPR] Biraj Patnaik, of Amnesty International stated that “the decision ultimately will be seen as a craven capitulation to Washington’s bullying and threats,” further weakening the Court’s credibility. [Amnesty International] Legal scholars have expressed their skepticism regarding the Court’s reasoning with respect to “the interest of justice” determination. [Opinio Juris]

Additional Information

The ICC was established by the Rome Statute, and officially opened in 2002. See ICC, About. The Court has the competence to hear four types of crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. See Id. The ICC has had a total of 28 cases, of which the Court issued final convictions in six cases (eight trial convictions, two of which were overturned on appeal). See id. For more information on the International Criminal Court, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub. To learn more about the States’ human rights obligations, see IJRC’s Afghanistan Factsheet and United States Factsheet. To stay up-to-date on international human rights law news, visit IJRC’s News Room and subscribe to the IJRC Daily.

Commission of Inquiry: Israeli Response to Gaza Demonstrations Violated Rights

2018 Gaza border protests, Bureij
Credit: מינוזיג – MinoZig via Wikimedia Commons

In a new 252-page report, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on the protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (CoIOPT or Commission), established by the UN Human Rights Council, presents detailed findings related to its investigation of the demonstrations that took place in Gaza between March 30 and December 31, 2018, the Israeli security forces’ response, and the impact on civilians living in Gaza and Israel. See Report of the detailed findings of the independent international Commission of inquiry on the protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, 18 March 2019, UN Doc. No. A/HRC/40/CRP.2, para. 1. The CoIOPT finds Israel, Hamas (as Gaza’s de facto authority), and the Palestinian Authority, responsible for human rights violations committed in the context of these protests; notes that the Israeli security forces’ response to the demonstrations gave rise to humanitarian law violations, some of which may amount to crimes against humanity; and highlights the urgent need to revise the Israeli security forces’ rules of engagement. See id. at paras. 980-81, 985. The CoIOPT presents the report with a view to ensuring accountability, proposing concrete recommendations, and identifying State and non-State actors responsible for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, and international criminal law — the applicable international legal framework to this situation. See id. at paras. 12-13, 37.

While the Commission faced significant limitations with respect to its ability to witness information first-hand, it relied on interviews, meetings with victims, civil society, government officials, and witnesses; it also collected thousands of documents, including medical reports, expert legal opinions, drone footage, and written submissions, among others, to support its findings. See id. at paras. 19-21, 30-36. The Israeli government has since issued a statement rejecting the report’s findings and accusing the Commission of bias against Israel. See Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Israel’s response to UNHRC Commission of Inquiry report, 21 March 2019. Read more

ECtHR’s Second Inter-State Reparations Judgment Orders Russia Compensate Expelled Georgians

Courtroom of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg
Credit: Adrian Grycuk via Wikimedia Commons

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has issued its second ever monetary judgment in an inter-State case, ordering Russia to pay the Georgian government 10 million euros as reparations for Russia’s collective expulsion of thousands of Georgian nationals between 2006 and 2007. See ECtHR, Georgia v. Russia (I) [GC], no. 13255/07, ECHR 2019, Judgment of 31 January 2019 (Just Satisfaction). The judgment on reparations follows the Court’s 2014 judgment on the merits of the case, in which it found that Russia’s mass expulsion of Georgians violated the European Convention on Human Rights. See id. at para. 2. If Russia complies with the judgment, Georgia will be responsible for distributing the 10 million euros to a group of 1,500 identified victims, awarding 2,000 euros to each person who was expelled and awarding an additional 10,000 to 15,000 euros to those who had also been detained and ill-treated. See id. at paras. 77, 79. This judgment applies and builds on the Grand Chamber’s 2014 just satisfaction judgment in Cyprus v. Turkey, in which it ordered Turkey to pay 90 million euros in just satisfaction for the enforced disappearance of 1,456 people and various violations against the Greek Cypriots of the Karpas peninsula, by Turkish authorities, dating to 1974. See ECtHR, Cyprus v. Turkey, [GC], no. 25781/94, Judgment of 12 May 2014 (Just Satisfaction).

This case is the first of four cases that Georgia has brought to the ECtHR against Russia since 2007. The second case, concerning Russia’s alleged violation of the European Convention during the 2008 Russo-Georgian conflict, is currently pending before a Grand Chamber. See ECtHR, Cases pending before the Grand Chamber. The third case, which concerned Russia’s detention of several Georgian nationals, was voluntarily dropped by Georgia after Russia released the individuals from detention. [ECtHR: New Complaint] The fourth case, filed in August 2018, concerns alleged violations of rights along the border between Georgian-controlled territory and Abkhazia and South Ossetia. [ECtHR: New Complaint] The International Criminal Court (ICC) has also opened an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the 2008 Russo-Georgian conflict. See ICC, Situation in Georgia.

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Suspected War Criminal Arrested in Central African Republic, Transferred to ICC

Alfred Yekatom makes first appearance before the ICC
Credit: ICC-CPI via Flickr

Alfred Yekatom, the first person to be transferred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in connection with the Court’s investigation into crimes committed in the Central African Republic (CAR) since 2012, made an initial appearance before the Court’s Pre-Trial Chamber II on November 23. [ICC Press Release: Alfred; FIDH] Mr. Yekatom is alleged to have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity between December 2013 and August 2014 in the context of the CAR’s ongoing conflict between the Seleka and the Anti-Balaka armed groups. [ICC Press Release: Yekatom] Yekatom is accused of having commanded an anti-balaka group that carried out killings, torture, forced displacement of Muslim civilians and looting and destruction of Muslim homes and places of worship, in western CAR. CAR authorities delivered Yekatom to the ICC on November 17 in compliance with the ICC’s November 11 warrant for his arrest. [ICC Press Release: Situation] On April 30, 2019, the Court will hold a hearing to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to support the allegations against him and, if so, to transfer his case to the Trial Chamber. [ICC Press Release: Yekatom]

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May 2018: UN Treaty Bodies, UPR, and Regional Human Rights Bodies in Session

Human Rights Council 
Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

In the month of May, several universal and regional bodies will be in session to assess States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through interactive dialogues, the consideration of State and civil society reports, country visits, and the review of individual complaints. Four United Nations treaty bodies will meet throughout May to engage with States regarding their treaty obligations related to torture, racial discrimination, forced disappearances, and children’s rights. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group will also be in session and will conduct interactive dialogues with representatives from 14 States. Ten UN special procedures will conduct country visits focusing on human rights defenders, contemporary forms of racism, indigenous peoples, sale and sexual exploitation of children, effects of foreign debt, countering terrorism, housing, migrants, health, and torture. Three working groups will hold sessions on enforced disappearances, transnational corporations and other business enterprises, and private military and security companies.

Regionally, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), the African Court on Human and People’s Rights (AfCHPR), and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) will be in session. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will also be in session, and will hold public hearings during those sessions. Finally, the European Committee of Social Rights will be in session, and the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hear one case related to State obligations during an armed conflict.

The UN treaty body sessions and the public hearings of the European Court, the IACHR, and IACtHR, may be watched via UN Web TV, the European Court’s website, and the Inter-American Commission’s website or Vimeo, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.

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ICTY Delivers Ruling on Two Landmark Cases Before Shutting Its Doors

Genocide memorial near Srebrenica
Credit: Michael Büker via Wikimedia Commons

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has issued judgments in its final two cases ahead of the tribunal’s scheduled closure in December. On November 22, 2017, the ICTY – the ad hoc tribunal established by the United Nations to address war crimes committed after 1991 in the territory of the former Yugoslavia – convicted and sentenced Ratko Mladić, also known as the “Butcher of Bosnia,” to life imprisonment for genocide, crimes against humanity, and other war crimes. [ICTY Press Release: Mladić; HRW] In the wake of his conviction, the international human rights community has shown strong support for the Mladić decision, with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein hailing the judgment as a momentous conviction and describing Mladić as the “epitome of evil.” [OHCHR Press Release] On November 29, 2017, the ICTY issued a judgment on appeal in the case Prosecutor v. Prlić et al., which will be the Tribunal’s final decision. [ICTY Press Release: Prlić et al.] The Appeals Chamber upheld the sentences of the six individuals, who remain convicted of crimes against humanity, violations of the laws or customs of war, and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions for crimes committed against Bosnian Muslims. [ICTY Press Release: Prlić et al.] The ICTY, which has its seat in The Hague, Netherlands, will formally close on December 31, 2017 after 24 years of operation and concluding proceedings for 161 accused. [ICTY Press Release: Prlić et al.] See ICTY, Key Figures of the Cases. Read more

ICC Orders Reparations for Destruction of Timbuktu Cultural Sites

The former site of a mausoleum in Timbuktu that was destroyed in 2012
Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

On August 17, 2017, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a Reparations Order in the case of Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, who in September 2016, upon pleading guilty to the destruction of 10 religious and historic sites in Timbuktu, Mali, was sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment. [ICC Press Release; IJRC] In its Reparations Order, Trial Chamber VIII of the ICC found Al Mahdi liable for 2.7 million euros (or approximately 3.18 million USD) in both individual and collective reparations for the community affected by the 2012 attacks, which occurred in the context of Mali’s internal armed conflict. [ICC Press Release] The Court, emphasizing the cultural and sentimental value of the destroyed property, ordered reparations for three categories of harm: damage to the targeted buildings, resulting economic loss, and moral harm. [ICC Press Release] The reparations are designed to rehabilitate the attacked sites, address the community’s financial losses, and potentially fund symbolic measures, such as memorials, to serve as public recognition of the harms incurred by the Timbuktu community. [ICC Press Release] Given Al Mahdi’s indigence, the Court encourages the Trust Fund for Victims (TFV), an agency that will implement the order, to supplement the reparations to the extent possible. [ICC Press Release; Guardian] Read more

News Clips- August 11, 2017

The United Nations Security Council adopts increased sanctions against North Korea
Credit: UN Photo/Kim Haughton

Civil Society

  • In Kenya, five people have been killed since Raila Odinga, an opposition leader, declared the recent presidential election fraudulent. [Al Jazeera]
  • On Thursday, authorities in Turkey issued 35 detention warrants for journalists and other individuals connected to Fethullah Gulen, who has been accused of involvement in the attempted coup last year. [Washington Post]
  • On Sunday, Russia passed a law with increased restrictions on virtual private networks (VPNs), reducing user anonymity. [Guardian]

Violence & Humanitarian Crises

  • On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch reported that Israel’s transfer of Palestinians in Jerusalem out of their homes may amount to war crimes. [Al Jazeera]
  • On Wednesday, the United Nations Security Council linked conflict to “devastating humanitarian consequences,” like threats of famine, in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, and Nigeria. [Washington Post]
  • This week, police forces in India launched a hotline dedicated to preventing honor killings for couples who feel threatened by their families. [Reuters]

Activities of Supranational Entities

  • On Wednesday, several United Nations entities concluded in a joint statement that the implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has been obstructed by continued vulnerability and exclusion. [UN News Centre]
  • On Saturday, the United Nations Security Council strengthened sanctions against North Korea, imposing a full ban on the export of coal, iron, and iron ore, among other limitations. [UN News Centre]
  • Last week, the European Court of Human Rights stopped Russia’s deportation of Khudoberdy Nurmatov, a reporter who fears he would be tortured if he returned to Uzbekistan. [Washington Post]

Migrants, Refugees, & Asylum Seekers

Politics

  • This week, North Korea announced a plan to launch four intermediate-range missiles to land near the United States territory of Guam. [Guardian]
  • On Thursday, China called for the immediate withdrawal of Indian troops that China says have been increasing along the China, India, Bhutan border. [Al Jazeera]
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