#GlobalJustice Weekly: Judges sworn in to Colombian war crimes court | Justice on the line in Kosovo

On Monday in a ceremony in Bogotá, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos officially installed 30 justices who will serve on the Special Jurisdiction for Peace © Colombian Presidency
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Judges sworn in to Colombian war crimes court 

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has sworn in 30 judges to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, a war crimes tribunal established to prosecute conflict-related grave crimes committed by guerrilla members, state agents and some civilians during the country's recently ended 50-year civil war. Chief prosecutor Giovanni Alvarez, has indicated that the first war crimes suspect should be brought to trial within six months.

The Special Jurisdiction for Peace was established through the peace agreement between the Colombian government and FARC rebel group agreed in November 2016. President Santos reportedly ignored a ban imposed by Congress on appointing judges with experience in war crimes cases.

While explicitly excluding amnesty for genocide, “grave” war crimes, crimes against humanity and other gross human rights violations which don’t fall under the previous categories (kidnapping, torture, extrajudicial executions, sexual violence, forced displacement and recruitment of minors), the agreement envisages reduced and/or alternative sentences for perpetrators who confess to crimes and contribute to establishing truth.

Some human rights group have expressed concern that this will in fact amount to amnesty. Responding to these concerns, President Santos stated "[t]here are crimes so serious that neither the law nor our conscience allow us to grant amnesty, serious war crimes, genocide, and in general the serious violations of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, all these crimes will be judged and punished under the auspices of the new jurisdiction." 

Alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity by government forces, armed guerrilla groups, and paramilitaries have been the subject of an ICC preliminary examination since 2004, intended to determine whether a full investigation is warranted. The ICC prosecutor has been monitoring the peace process to ensure the delivery of genuine justice under the Rome Statute principle of complementarity, which requires authorities in ICC member states to investigate and prosecute grave crimes in the first instance.

On an official visit to Colombia, UN Secretary General Antonio Gutteres encouraged the government to play a key role in providing the security, administration, healthcare system and infrastructures needed to ensure lasting stability. 

 

Justice on the line in Kosovo

Survivors of the 1999 Kosovo war and rights campaigners have criticised attempts by a group of lawmakers to abolish the Kosovo Specialist Chambers. The parliament's presidency failed to reach an agreement on the issue on Wednesday, and were unable to send the initiative to parliament for the second time.

The president of the Association of Missing and Kidnapped Persons from Kosovo and Metohija, Ranko Djinovic, said that repealing the law would be an “injustice”.

The Specialist Chambers was established in 2015 to deal with allegations of crimes committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) within the territory of Kosovo against ethnic minorities and political opponents between 1 January 1998 and 31 December 2000. It is part of the Kosovan judical system but sits in The Hague and has a mixed Kosovan and international staff.

President Hashim Thaci, who supported the Chamber's establishment, has said that he will sign legislation abolishing the court if approved by parliament.

The European Union, the United States, Germany, Britain, Italy and France called on the Kosovo government to reject moves to abolish the court.

The EU highlighted the effect abolishing the Chambers may have on Kosovo’s bilateral relations and economic integration in the region.

"Any attempt to repeal or amend the mandate of the Specialist Chambers seriously undermines such a commitment and would jeopardise the joint EU-Kosovo work on the rule of law done in recent years. This would adversely impact Kosovo relations with the EU."

The bloc’s special representative to Kosovo, Nataliya Apostolova, called for Kosovo’s leaders to put national interest first and work for further integration in Europe.

In a statement, the so-called "quint member states" said that: "There is no reason to stop the work of the Specialist Chambers, and we call on any head of institutional bodies, party leaders, or Member of Parliament to abandon any thought of repealing or re-negotiating any aspect of the Law on the Specialist Chambers. Such a move calls into question Kosovo’s commitment to the rule of law and risks all that Kosovo has achieved. It puts the interests of certain individuals above the interests of Kosovo society. We condemn such a move, and anyone who supports it will be rejecting Kosovo’s partnership with our countries."

Meanwhile, the murder of a former Serbian government official and head of the Kosovo Serb political party Oliver Ivanović in Kosovo on Tuesday morning has raised fears for political stablity in the region. In 2016, Ivanović was convicted of war crimes against ethnic Albanians in Mitrovica during the Kosovo war in 1999. In February last year, the conviction was overturned and the case sent for retrial.

Leaders in Kosovo, Albania, and Serbia and international partners have condemned the killing. The Kosovo government said “the killing of Oliver Ivanovic challenges the law and any attempt to establish law and order throughout the entire territory of Kosovo.” Prime minister Haradinaj called a meeting of the country’s Security Council to “discuss the general security situation in the country.”

This week also saw the Serbian Appeals Court sentence eight former members of the Vukovar Territorial Defence, then part of the Yugoslav People’s Army, for killing and torturing some 200 prisoners in one of the most infamous massacres of the wars in former Yugoslavia. The case was the biggest individual case for Vukovar-related crimes prosecuted before a Serbian court.

In a seperate incident, Serbian prosecutors brought misdemeanour charges against nine activists from the Youth Initiative for Human Rights, a member organization of the Coalition for the ICC, who disrupted a speech by Serbian war crimes convict Veselin Sljivancanin.

Attacks on journalists, discrimination against minorities, poor protection of refugees and lack of political will to prosecute war crimes remain problems in most Balkan countries in 2017, Human Rights Watch's World Report 2018 said this week.

Mladic conviction a chance for reconciliation

Coalition member, the Humanitarian Law Center, issued a statement on the November 2017 conviction of Bosnian Serb leader Ratko Mladic by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in which it "considers that the facts established, the findings of responsibility and the evidence presented encompass the judicial truth about the genocide in Srebrenica and other crimes committed during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The findings of the judgment and the extensive documentation collected during the proceedings now represent valuable potential for a final and decisive step toward reconciliation and dealing with the past.

Praljak posion could not have been detected says ICTY

The ICTY released a statement regarding an independent expert review on the suicide by posion late last year of Slobodan Praljak. The review concluded that there were no “gaps or flaws in the ICTY legal framework with regard to the treatment of detainees at the UNDU”, and there are “no measures that would have guaranteed detection of the poison at any stage.” 

However, the review did outline several recommendations aimed at increasing the likelihood of detection in the future. Furthermore, the review did not shed any light as to how the poison come into Praljak’s possesion, and indicated that “the on-going criminal investigation before Dutch authorities might shed light on this.”

 

ICC investigations

DRC: The DRC's military has launched an operation against a Ugandan rebel group who call themselves, "The Allied Democratic Forces'' (ADF). The ADF is suspected of killing 15 Tanzanian UN peacekeepers in December.

Leaders of the Catholic Church in the DRC have vowed to continue fighting for justice following violent protests dispersed by police. Demonstrators have been demanding that President Joseph Kabila step down for months as his term has expired a year ago.

Libya: UN is committed to helping Libya organize elections by the end of this year, encouraged by the rate at which Libyans have been registering to vote. UN hopes elections can help stabilize the country.

Darfur, Sudan: The Red Cross will increase its field assistance in the Darfur region in 2018, returning to an area where it was suspended from by the Sudanese government for years. Following negotiations with Khartoum in September last year, the humanitarian aid organisation will also carry out new assistance activities in South Kordofan.

Security Council has been informed that despite some recent voluntary returns among those displaced in Darfur, lack of security, services and sustainable livelihoods in return areas have become major impediments to returns. The campaign in the region has been received with mixed reactions and scepticism, especially by the internally displaced persons.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel has said he would seek EU help to settle a row over his country’s deportation of Sudanese who were allegedly tortured on their return home.

CAR: Appeals judges in Bemba's case have sought submissions on whether they can recharacterize the facts of the case under Regulation 55 of the Regulations of the Court. Subsequently, instead of considering whether Bemba “knew” about the crimes his subordinates were committing, as trial judges that convicted him found, they would instead determine whether he “should have known” about the crimes.

 

Preliminary Examinations

Afghanistan: General John Nicholson, commander of the US forces based in Afghanistan, has announced a new war strategy, calling it a ''game changer''. More US troops will be send to the frontlines in this year, including US Army's 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade.

Israel/Palestine: Israel has approved the construction of more than 1,000 settlement units in the occupied West Bank. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Maliki criticised the plan, blaming the United States for "giving the green light" to Israel to do "whatever it wants with Palestinian land".

Palestinian President has said he would only aceept a broad, internationally-backed panel of four or five coutries to broker any peace talks with Israel. He did not rule out a US role in such panel, but does not want for the US to be the only mediator. 

 

Campaign for Global Justice

Five narcotics suspects have been killed in the Philippines as authorities again ramp up a drug war that has drawn warnings that President Rodrigo Duterte may be overseeing a crime against humanity.

A nephew of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh has called for an end to the Yemen war, which has killed more than 10,000 people and ruined the economy and pushed the country to the verge of famine.

 

Around the world

South Africa's decision to withdraw from the ICC may be a subject to a change, as Cyril Ramaphosa was elected last month as president of the ruling African National Congress. His camp had stated before the ANC conference that he did not believe the country should withdraw from the Court.

The International Crimes Tribunal in Bangladesh has sentenced two to death and three others to life in prison for their crimes committed during the country's war of independence in 1971. The charges included rape, murder, confinement and torture of unarmed civilians during the nine-month war.

A report by the UN Secretary General on the impact of armed conflict on the children of Myanmar has highlighted on-going clashes and the recent wave of violence in Rakhine add to the plight of conflict affected children in the country.