Category Archives: international humanitarian law

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

ICC Seeks Victim Participation in Palestine Situation

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda
Credit: ICC via Flickr

Earlier this month, the International Criminal Court (ICC) pre-trial chamber ordered the ICC to establish a system of disseminating public information to and conducting outreach activities with the affected communities and victims of the situation in Palestine, a situation currently undergoing preliminary examination at the Court. The decision recognizes victims’ right to be heard in the context of the ICC’s work, and requires that outreach activities explain the ICC’s jurisdiction with regards to the situation in Palestine; provide information on the Court, including on the role of victims at each stage of proceedings; and respond to victims’ concerns. See ICC, Situation in the State of Palestine, ICC-01/18, Decision on Information and Outreach for the Victims of the Situation, 13 July 2018, paras. 14-16. The pre-trial chamber’s order marks the first time that the Court has promoted information and outreach activities as early as the preliminary examination stage. [Al Jazeera]

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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

UN Reports Civilian Casualties, Rights Abuses Remain High in Afghanistan

Tadamichi Yamamoto, head of UNAMA, at the UN Security Council
Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

On July 17, 2017, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released its mid-year report on the situation of civilians in Afghanistan, revealing that the level of civilian casualties remains high. [UNAMA Press Release] UNAMA confirmed a total of 5,243 civilian casualties (1,662 deaths and 3,581 injured) from January 1 to June 30, 2017, which represents a decrease of less than one percent from the same period in 2016, but reported an increase in deaths. See UNAMA, Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: Mid-Year Report 2017 (2017), at 3. The number of women and children killed and injured has increased this year, despite a decline in women and children casualties in 2016. [UNAMA Press Release] Civilian casualties in the first half of the year were primarily the result of anti-government forces’ use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), such as suicide bombs, in civilian-populated areas. See UNAMA, Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: Mid-Year Report 2017, at 3–4. Medical facilities and schools continue to be targeted, impeding Afghans’ access to health care and education. See id. at 13, 17–19.

In consideration of its findings, UNAMA recommends that anti-government forces stop targeting civilians, that government forces stop using weapons such as mortars and rockets that can have devastating effects in civilian areas, and that international militaries support and train Afghanistan’s national army, among other recommendations. [UNAMA Press Release] In a statement recognizing the high rates of death and injury recorded in the report, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights noted that the statistics on casualties do not depict the full extent of the loss and suffering, such as psychological trauma and displacement. [OHCHR Press Release] Afghanistan is a State party to the Rome Statute, Geneva Conventions, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and, therefore, the State must refrain from targeting civilians during non-international armed conflict and respect and protect the right to life.

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News Clips- March 3, 2017

United Nations Security Council votes on imposing sanctions against Syria
Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Civil Society

  • On Wednesday, Russian security officials raided the home of well-known journalist and human rights defender Zoya Svetova. [Committee to Protect Journalists]
  • On Tuesday, hundreds protested the evacuation of settlers from homes in the West Bank settlement of Ofra, after courts found the homes were built on Palestinian land in violation of the law. [CNN]
  • Last Friday, United States President Trump blocked media organizations, including the New York Times, CNN, Politico, and Al Jazeera, from participating in a press briefing. [Al Jazeera]

Armed Conflict, Violence, & Humanitarian Crises

  • On Wednesday, a Russian airstrike accidentally targeted Syrian Arab fighters that were being trained by the United States. [New York Times]
  • On Wednesday, two attacks on security facilities in Afghanistan, for which the Taliban took credit, killed at least 16 people. [Washington Post]
  • On Monday, senior Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Salam Akhund was killed in a bombing raid led by the United States in northern Afghanistan. [Al Jazeera]
  • On Saturday, attacks in Hom, Syria linked to al-Qaeda killed 42 people. [Washington Post]

Activities of International Experts & Bodies

Migrants, Asylum Seekers, & Refugees

  • Over the last week and a half, at least 26,000 Iraqis have been displaced in response to security forces’ efforts to retake the city of Mosul from ISIL. [Al Jazeera]
  • On Sunday, an interior minister in Germany reported that there were 3,500 attacks against refugees, migrants, and their shelters within the country in the last year. [Al Jazeera]
  • On Friday, the International Organization for Migration reported that 366 migrants died at sea during attempted migration to Europe in the first months of 2017; this figure is down from 425 last year. [UN News Centre]

LGBTIQ Rights

  • On Tuesday, the Court of Appeals in Trento, Italy held that same-sex parents should have equal parental rights and that the names of both parents should appear on their child’s birth certificate. [Jurist]
  • This week, United States President Trump removed federal guidelines put in place during the Obama administration that had required access to sex-segregated facilities be based on gender identity. [Al Jazeera]

ICC Asserts Jurisdiction over Rape, Sexual Slavery Charges Against Ntaganda

International Criminal Court
Credit: Hypergio via Wikimedia Commons

A trial chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) recently rejected defendant Bosco Ntaganda’s claim that the Court lacks jurisdiction to try him for the war crimes of rape and sexual slavery of child soldiers in his own forces. [ICC Press Release] The January 4 decision was issued in response to the defense’s claim that the Court cannot assert jurisdiction over those crimes under the Rome Statute – from which the Court derives its authority – as committed against child soldiers because both the perpetrators and victims of the alleged crimes were members of the same armed force and active in the conflict. The defense argued the charges in question must be viewed in light of the relevant provision of the Geneva Conventions, which does not provide protection for individuals active in the hostilities. [ICC Press Release]

The Court disagreed with the defense’s interpretation of the law by finding that the Rome Statute does not require an assessment of the victims’ participation in the hostilities and that international law recognizes a jus cogens prohibition on rape at all times, regardless of the victim’s status. The Court also determined that neglecting to exercise jurisdiction over those crimes would run contrary to the intent of international humanitarian law, which seeks “to mitigate the suffering resulting from armed conflict.” [ICC Press Release] This decision marks the first time the ICC has considered whether sexual crimes against one’s own troops may be considered war crimes within its jurisdiction. Ntaganda is accused of responsibility for crimes committed in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2002 and 2003. [ICC Press Release] Read more

UNHCR Issues Guidelines on Refugee Status of Those Fleeing Conflict

UN High Commissioner for Refugees event Filippo Grandi to hand over petition to Secretary General and/or PGA during special event.

UN Secretary General accepts UNHCR petition expressing solidarity with millions of refugees
Credit: UN Photo/Kim Haughton

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued new guidelines relating to individuals who are fleeing their countries due to armed conflict and violence, seeking to ensure that States consistently apply international law when conducting refugee determinations and generally view these individuals as possible refugees. [UN News Centre] The guidelines are intended to resolve discrepancies in States’ application of the standards under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention), its 1967 Protocol, and regional standards; some States require those fleeing conflict to prove they have been individually targeted, which the UNHCR asserts is not necessary. [UN News Centre] The UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Volker Türk, commented that the guidelines are essential because most conflicts today target groups of civilians on the basis of real or perceived ethnic, religious, social, or political associations. [UN News Centre] The guidelines also come at a time when a record number of people are displaced from their homes around the world, according to the UNHCR, and many refugees are fleeing due to armed conflict in their countries of origin. [UN News Centre; MercyCorps] Read more

ICC Releases Annual Report on Progress of Preliminary Examinations

The International Criminal CourtCredit: OSeveno via Wikimedia Commons

The International Criminal Court
Credit: OSeveno via Wikimedia Commons

On November 14, the International Criminal Court (ICC) released its 2016 annual report on its pending preliminary investigations into alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide. [ICC Press Release] The report details the Court’s progress on the 10 situations being evaluated for possible investigation, including two examinations initiated during the reporting period of November 1, 2015 to October 31, 2016 (the situations in Burundi and Gabon). [ICC Press Release] See ICC Office of the Prosecutor, Report on Preliminary Examination Activities (2016), para. 19. The other eight preliminary examinations involve crimes allegedly committed on the territories of Afghanistan, Colombia, Guinea, Iraq/United Kingdom, Palestine, Nigeria, Ukraine, and Comoros (which requested an investigation into the Gaza flotilla raid by Israel of ships sailing under the flags of Comoros, Greece, and Cambodia).

The Office of the Prosecutor examines situations in three phases: first, to assess the situation’s significance and eliminate crimes outside of the ICC’s jurisdiction; second, to officially commence the examination and assess subject-matter jurisdiction over the alleged crimes; and third, to assess both the adequacy of national proceedings on the alleged crimes and the gravity of the crime, which refers to the “scale, nature, manner of commission of the crimes, and their impact[s].” See ICC Office of the Prosecutor, Report on Preliminary Examination Activities, paras. 6-7, 15. Four situations – Afghanistan, Colombia, Guinea, and Nigeria – are in the final stages of preliminary examination. Five of the situations are in the second phase and one situation that was previously dismissed (the Comoros referral) is now under reconsideration. See id. at paras. 15, 308-13. The ICC Prosecutor, Fatsou Bensouda, has indicated she intends to release decisions concerning the situation in Afghanistan and the Comoros referral shortly. [ICC Press Release] Read more

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