#GlobalJustice Weekly - Syrian chemical attack | Escalating violence in DRC | South Africa ICC hearing

A man carries the body of a dead child after a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Syria © REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah

Syrian chemical attack prompts calls for UN action

Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province has been hit by what appears to be a chemical attack, with estimates of between 70 and 99 people killed and over 550 injured overwhelming the region’s hospitals.

In the aftermath, the United States, Britain and France have blamed Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s forces for the chemical attack, which is prohibited under international law. The three countries, backed by organizations such as Human Rights Watch, have called for an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting to decide on a resolution demanding an international investigation into the attack and monthly UN reports thereof.

“Targeting of civilians is inexcusable and a breach of international humanitarian law,” the International Rescue Committee (IRC), which has assisted over 1 million people in Syria since starting work there in 2012, has stated. “There must be accountability for attacks like this one.”

Meanwhile, the representatives of over 70 countries have gathered in Brussels this week for a conference discussing continued assistance to Syrians, as the war tears through its sixth year. However, this “post-agreement assistance”, with its focus on reconstruction before humanitarian recovery, has been heralded by some as “putting bricks before human beings”.

 

ICC Prosecutor: DRC violence may constitute war crimes

The top prosecutor at the ICC, Fatou Bensouda, has stated that the recent reports of escalating violence in parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) could amount to war crimes.

Her statement was made amidst news of the discovery of numerous mass graves, a total of 23 having now been found according to the UN Human Rights office in Kinshasa. This follows the discovery of the bodies of two UN experts and their Congolese interpreter who were investigating possible human rights abuses in the Kasai-Central region.

Within this area and the surrounding provinces, there have been escalating clashes between local militias and government forces, leading to large numbers of civilian deaths according to Bensouda, and she has urged the Congolese authorities to conduct a full investigation.

“I shall not hesitate to take action if acts constituting crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court are committed and to take all necessary measures to prosecute those responsible” she stated.

There has been growing pressure from Human Rights Watch and other international organisations for the ICC to investigate reports of human rights abuses in the region, amidst worsening tensions in the country ahead of upcoming elections next year.

 

South Africa prepares for ICC hearing

All eyes will be on The Hague this Friday, 7 April, for South Africa’s appearance before International Criminal Court (ICC) judges to explain the country’s failure to arrest Sudanese president and ICC suspect Omar al-Bashir while attending an African Union summit in June 2015.

The Court’s first ever public non-compliance hearing, at which civil society and Darfuri victims are expected to be present, reflects head-of-state immunity as a continued challenge to the efficacy of the Court and the means by which current leaders such as al-Bashir and Uhuru Kenyatta have escaped ICC custody.

“The case is critical for ensuring the effectiveness of the ICC as an institution. The only means the ICC has of enforcing its orders is through the cooperation of States” said Sam Zarifi, the Secretary General of the ICJ. “The failure to arrest President Bashir and the subsequent efforts to withdraw from the ICC Rome statute raise important questions about South Africa’s commitment to the fight against impunity in Africa and globally” added Zarifi.

Read more here.

 

ICC investigations 

Sudan: Despite efforts by civil society organizations, Jordan failed to arrest Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir during his recent visit to Amman. A UN statement expressing regret that the ICC member state had broken its treaty obligations was met with strong criticism from Sudan that “the UN has no mandate to talk about the ICC” and accusations of the ICC as a “colonial tool” against Africa. Meanwhile, South Africa will appear at the ICC this week, also for allowing al-Bashir entry into the country in 2015.   

Côte d'Ivoire: As the ICC trial of former Côte d'Ivoire politicians Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé resumed after a week’s suspension, witnesses were questioned on the security forces training they received.

Uganda: A key communication aide to LRA commander Joseph Kony has surrendered, whilst questions have been raised as to whether Dominic Ongwen’s own kidnapping as a young boy by the rebel group should mean that he is granted amnesty from his crimes.

 

ICC preliminary examinations

Nigeria: A desert highway in Niger is playing host to more than 130,000 refugees fleeing the violence caused by Boko Haram in neighbouring Nigeria. The isolated stretch of tarred road, built several years ago by a Chinese oil comapany, is seen as a safe haven due to its consistent use by the Niger military who patrol the highway.

Burundi: There is growing pressure for the ICC to open a full investigation into alleged human rights violations committed by Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza before the state withdraws from the Court later this year, as it has promised to do.

 

Campaign for Global Justice

A senior Kenyan prosecutor has revealed the challenges of prosecuting sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). In the aftermath of the 2007 post-election violence in the east African country, 150 such cases were reported to police, but litigation thereof can be difficult due to the mishandling of both reluctant victims and of the DNA and scientific evidence critical for a conviction.

The president of the ICC has praised Japan for its commitment to the Court during a recent visit to northeast Asia, but expressed concern at the overall lack of ICC representation in the region, where just one-third of states are ICC members.

Thursday 30 March 2017 marked Land Day, a commemoration of the Palestinian citizens who protested in 1976 against Israeli settlements, resulting in six Palestinians being killed and a hundred more injured.

 

Around the world

The Bangladeshi minister for law and justice, Anisul Huq, has stated that Bangladesh will take steps to bring back and try 195 Pakistani soldiers for war crimes committed during the 1971 War of Independence, a conflict that ended in a Pakistani defeat and Bangladeshi independence.

The loss of civilan life during the ongoing operation by the Iraqi army and their allies to liberate Mosul from Islamic State has been the focus of public outcry recently. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein has condemned the terror group’s strategy of using civilians as human shields whilst human rights lawyer, Amal Clooney, has spoken about the urgent need for international courts to punish the perpetrators.

The Trump administration may soon announce its withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council, according to Amnesty International, a move that the organisation claims would be “ill-advised and badly timed.” The conlusion of the council’s 34th session in March produced resolutions that were all adopted unanimously, including one condeming civilian killings in Syria.

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers have taken a further step towards becoming operable after adopting the Rules of Procedure and Evidence. The move comes two months after the justices were appointed and now awaits a decision in the Constitutional Court of Kosovo to decide the legality of the adopted procedures.