Category Archives: massacres

Conflicts in Cameroon Escalate, Human Rights Experts Respond

People in a Cameroon Community
Credit: Sodeit via Wikimedia Commons

In the past month, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights have called on Cameroon to launch an investigation into persistent reports of a deteriorating human rights situation in the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon, including to investigate a video showing the alleged extrajudicial executions of a woman and two children. [ACHPR Press Release: Allegations (French only); OHCHR Press Release] The conflict in Cameroon stems from tensions that arose in 2016 after the English-speaking communities in the State mobilized to demand respect of the English-speaking educational and judicial systems, and to demand more political autonomy. See HRW, These Killings Can Be Stopped: Abuses by Government and Separatist Groups in Cameroon’s Anglophone Regions (2018), 1. In response, the Cameroonian government violently suppressed the protests and arrested many of the demonstrators, which led to armed confrontations. See id. Most recently, the tensions between Anglophone separatists and the largely Francophone government of Cameroon have escalated as a result of separatists’ attacks targeting a Minister of Defense convoy in the country’s Southwest region and the government’s “heavy-handed response.” [OHCHR Press Release; Guardian] Cameroon is obligated, under international human rights law, to ensure the rights to life and to humane treatment, among other rights.

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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

Colombians Reject Peace Deal Heralded by International Community, Negotiations Continue

Colombian Peace Agreement Ceremony Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Colombian Peace Agreement Ceremony

Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

On Sunday, October 2, 2016 Colombians headed to the polls to vote on a peace agreement to end the 52-year war with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerillas. [The Guardian: Voters] Contrary to what the polls had predicted, the peace deal referendum was rejected by a 0.4 percent margin. [The Guardian: Voters] The deal was the result of four years of negotiations between the government, led by President Juan Manuel Santos, and the FARC. The agreement instituted a ceasfire and initiated the demobilization of fighters through a process that will continue to be overseen by the United Nations. [UN News Centre] It also included provisions that would have cut off FARC’s ties to the drug trade, required FARC guerillas to turn in their weapons and transition to a political movement that would allow FARC leaders to participate in government, and permit rebel leaders to confess and avoid jail time through special tribunal proceedings, while granting amnesty to fighters. [The Guardian: Brexit]

The peace deal, while criticized for compounding impunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity, was largely seen as an opportunity to move towards peace. [Amnesty International: No Vote] With the no vote and the remaining uncertainty over the future of Colombia and FARC’s activities, officials have re-entered negotiations. [The Guardian: Brexit] Meanwhile, the Norwegian Nobel Committee  recognized President Santos’ efforts, awarding him the Nobel Peace Prize this past week. [Nobel Prize] Read more

News Clips – July 8, 2016

Human Rights Bodies’ Activities

  • The UN Human Rights Council has adopted a resolution supporting online users’ human rights and criticizing internet shutdowns. [Access Now; TechCrunch]
  • The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met with civil society representatives from the Philippines, Myanmar, and France ahead of those States’ interactive dialogues with the CEDAW Committee, which also took place this week as it began its 64th session. [OHCHR Press Release]
  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has suspended its planned July (and October) sessions amid an ongoing, critical financial crisis. [IJRC]
  • The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights held a special meeting this week in Thailand to review its work, complete its annual report, and address new areas of work, including its Judicial Colloquium on the Sharing of Good Practices regarding International Human Rights Law and Human Rights Cases in Domestic Courts. [AICHR Press Release]

Conflicts & Humanitarian Crises

  • The UN Security Council agreed to reauthorize the deployment of African Union troops in Somalia for an additional year, to improve stability and reduce the security threats posed by Al-Shabaab and other armed groups. [UN News Centre]
  • Amnesty International this week criticized the lack of investigation into war crimes committed by the Israeli military and Palestinian armed groups during the 50-day siege of summer 2014, when approximately 1,500 civilians died in the Gaza Strip. [Amnesty]
  • More than 280 people were killed as a result of last Saturday’s bombing in Baghdad, the worst such attack in Iraq since 2003. [Al Jazeera]
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross called on the parties to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine to stop attacking infrastructure on which civilians depend. [ICRC]
  • Many thousands have fled the South Sudanese city of Wau amid fresh fighting. [Al Jazeera]
  • An independent inquiry into the United Kingdom’s role in the Iraq war has culminated with the release of the so-called Chilcot report, which finds serious flaws in decision making by British intelligence and politicians, including former Prime Minister Tony Blair. [Washington Post; NYT]
  • A terrorist attack in Dhaka killed 20 people and prompted increased calls for the government of Bangladesh to improve justice and accountability while respecting human rights, particularly of civil society and members of the political opposition. [FIDH]

Human Rights Defenders & Civil Society

  • As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visits Beijing, China’s year-long crackdown on civil society has come under increased scrutiny. [AP; Amnesty]
  • Another Honduran activist, a colleague of slain environmentalist Berta Cáceres, has been killed. [The Guardian]
  • In Zimbabwe, citizens stayed home and businesses closed to protest government corruption and shortages. [The Guardian]
  • The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights joined other human rights bodies this week in condemning the murders of Kenyan human rights lawyer Willie Kimani and his companions. [ACHPR Press Release]
  • The human rights community mourns the death of Elie Wiesel, a Nobel Laureate, advocate, and Holocaust survivor, who died on July 2, 2016. [NYT; Enough Project; UN News Centre]

International & Domestic Courts

  • Following investigations and pressure from UN actors and civil society, Sri Lanka has agreed to establish, within a year, a special Sri Lankan court to try those responsible for human rights violations and war crimes committed during its internal armed conflict. [NYT]
  • A legal challenge to Brexit will proceed before a British court, which will be asked to determine whether parliament alone can initiate Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. [The Guardian]
  • Unconfirmed – and contested – reports are circulating that Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi has been released from custody in Libya, where he had been held in secret detention awaiting execution. [The Guardian; JiC]
  • A French court sentenced two former Rwandan mayors to life imprisonment on charges of crimes against humanity and genocide for their roles in the massacre of 2,000 people in a church, during the country’s 1994 genocide. [BBC]

Police Violence

  • Following the police killings of two black men, in Louisiana and Minnesota, earlier this week and the killing of five police officers by snipers at an otherwise peaceful protest against police brutality, in Texas last night, the United Nations Working Group of Experts on Persons of African Descent called on U.S. authorities to address the persistent lack of accountability for police killings. [OHCHR Press Release]
  • New Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is making good on his promise to violently crack down on the drug trade, with 45 people reportedly killed by police and civilians during his first week in office. [Al Jazeera]


UN Experts: Widespread Abuses and Killings of Detainees in Syria

Credit: UNHCR/V. Tan

Credit: UNHCR/V. Tan

A recent report from the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (COI) has revealed that all sides to the conflict in Syria have subjected those captured, kidnapped, or arrested to violence and rights abuses that amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. See UN Human Rights Council, Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Deaths in Detention in the Syrian Arab Republic, UN Doc. A/HRC/31/CRP.1, 3 February 2016 [hereinafter Deaths in Detention]. The report details the killings, arbitrary detentions, and torture committed within both State detention centers and anti-government groups’ detention centers between March 2011 and November 2015. Id. at para. 2.

According to the COI Chair, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro:

Nearly every surviving detainee has emerged from custody having suffered unimaginable abuses. For ordinary Syrians, the spectre of arrest or abduction, and the near-inevitable horrors that follow, have paralysed communities across the country.

[OHCHR Press Release]

The COI relied on hundreds of interviews with former detainees and with family members of detainees who were killed while in detention. Deaths in Detention, para. 2. The experts estimate that tens of thousands of people are detained in government detention centers. See id. at para. 4. While the State is responsible for the bulk of detainee abuses, anti-government groups including the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) and Jabhat Al-Nusra have also held civilians and soldiers for prolonged periods of time in makeshift detention centers, where they have tortured and executed detainees. Id. at para. 5.

The COI determined that both the State and anti-government groups have violated international human rights law and international humanitarian law by intentionally housing detainees in life-threatening conditions, engaging in torture, and committing extrajudicial killings. See id. at paras. 98, 103. By identifying the government agencies and individuals responsible for detainees, and by pointing to evidence of their knowledge of these abuses, the COI clearly signals where it believes accountability lies. See id. at paras. 40-64. The report recommends that all groups cease these practices, and calls on the UN Security Council to impose sanctions against both State and anti-government groups and representatives and to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court or other tribunal. See id. at paras. 106-07, 109. Read more

Recent Developments at Khmer Rouge Tribunal Draw Praise, Criticism


The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia
Credit: ECCC

Amid recent developments, legal experts have both lauded and criticized the proceedings of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), the tribunal established jointly by Cambodia and the United Nations to prosecute those most responsible for crimes against humanity and other atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. While welcoming progress that has included charges against a new defendant and testimony on the genocide charges against two senior officials, observers have also raised concerns about specific delays or inaction by the tribunal, as well as areas of weakness in its respect for due process. Similarly, in his visit to the country this week, United States Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed the ECCC’s contributions to accountability, while lamenting the delay in its creation. [VOA] This post provides an update on the recent developments in the ECCC’s cases and reviews the challenges facing the court. Read more

ICTR Reduces Butare Defendants’ Sentences in Last Judgment before Closing

The UN Secretary General visits the ICTR in 1998. Credit: UN

The UN Secretary General visits the ICTR in 1998.
Credit: UN

After more than 20 years of prosecuting those most responsible for the Rwandan genocide of 1994, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has issued its final judgment and closed its doors. [The Citizen] In its forty-fifth and final judgment, delivered on December 14, 2015, the Appeals Chamber decided appeals from six defendants previously convicted by the Trial Chamber. [BBC] While it confirmed the guilty verdicts in the “Butare Six” case, the Appeals Chamber found the sentences imposed to be excessive; it ordered the release Sylvain Nsabimana and Joseph Kanyabashi, and granted sentence reductions to the remaining four appellants, Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, Arsène Shalom Ntahobali, Alphonse Nteziryayo, and Élie Ndayambaje. See ICTR, Prosecutor v. Nyiramasuhuko et al. (Butare), Case ICTR-98-42, Appeals Chamber Judgment, 14 December 2015. With this case finalized, the ICTR formally closed at the end of 2015. Since it began operating in 1995, the ICTR has indicted a total of 93 people – and convicted 61 – on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. See ICTR, The ICTR in Brief. While sometimes criticized for doing too little, too slowly, the ICTR has contributed to justice and accountability for Rwandans and to the development of international criminal law. Read more

International Criminal Court Reports on Preliminary Examinations as States Parties Convene

The ICC's new permanent premises.Credit: ICC

The ICC’s new permanent premises.
Credit: ICC

On November 12, 2015, Ms. Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), published her annual Report on Preliminary Examination Activities (2015), which details the preliminary examination activities conducted by her office between November 1, 2014 and October 31, 2015. These included two situations – Georgia and Honduras – in which the Office of the Prosecutor (OPT) has concluded its preliminary examination, and seven situations that it is still examining: Afghanistan, Colombia, Guinea, Iraq/United Kingdom, Palestine, Nigeria, and Ukraine. The OTP completed its preliminary examination of Honduras and concluded that the crimes allegedly committed are not within the ICC’s jurisdiction, but noted the examination could be reopened if new evidence becomes available. See ICC Office of the Prosecutor, Report on Preliminary Examination Activities (2015), para. 289. The OTP also completed its preliminary examination of Georgia; pursuant to authorization from the Pre-Trial Chamber, the situation will be investigated. [ICC Press Release]

Additionally, the 14th session of the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) to the Rome Statute will take place from November 18 to 26, 2015 in The Hague, Netherlands, bringing together the 123 States that have accepted the ICC’s jurisdiction to discuss the tribunal’s laws and 2016 budget, as well as strategies to increase Member States’ cooperation with ICC investigations and the domestic implementation of ICC rulings and of the Rome Statute. Civil society organizations will be able to observe the session’s meetings. For more information about the 14th session visit ICC’s webpage dedicated to the ASP. See Coalition for the ICC, Assembly of States Parties 14.

Next month, the ICC will move into its permanent premises after 13 years in an interim facility provided by the Dutch government and following the completion of construction on its dedicated building. [ICC Press Release: New Premises] Note the ICC’s new address as of December 1, 2015 on its Contact webpage.

In January 2016, the ICC will release a convicted prisoner for the first time, pursuant to a decision by the Appeals Chamber to reduce Germain Katanga’s sentence from 12 to 8.25 years. [Reuters] The ICC convicted Mr. Katanga in 2014 on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in 2003, which were connected to a larger context of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. [ICC Press Release: Katanga] Read more

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