#GlobalJustice Weekly / 121 activists killed in Colombia | Gaza border deaths mount | ICC impact on national justice

People pay tribute to human rights defenders murdered in Colombia, in Medellín on 31 January 2018. Photograph: Joaquin Sarmiento/AFP/Getty Images

Colombia / Calls for investigations as record 121 rights activists killed in 2017

With a record 121 murders of human rights activists in Colombia in 2017, civil society has appealed to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to warn the Colombian government of the possibility of the opening of a full ICC investigation if no domestic prosecutions are forthcoming. 

In their submission to the ICC Office of the Prosecutor, the Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo (CCAJAR) and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights underlined that ICC preliminary examination, open since 2004, has saved lives and that the OTP had the chance to save more if it looked into the alleged systematic attacks against human rights defenders by paramilitaries and state actors.

Speaking to The Guardian,  Luis Guillermo Pérez Casas of CCAJAR said that “the murders of our colleagues must stop. We hope the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC will warn the Colombian government that if the impunity persists, they will be forced to open an investigation into those responsible, at the highest level”.

“There are a lot of enemies of the peace process in Colombia and there are very powerful enemies of human rights defenders,” said Guillermo. 

The groups have submitted evidence of 121 killings of civil society members in 2017, arguing crimes reach the threshold of crimes against humanity. They allege that the Colombian government has yet to adequately investigate the murders.

2017 was the first year of the peace deal between the Colombian government and rebel group FARC-EP. 609 killings of right defenders are alleged to have taken place from 1 November 2002 to September 2017 in the country

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have previously called on the Colombian government to implement protections for activists at risk and to adequately investigate the killing of human rights defenders.

Speaking in relation to possible peace deals back in February 2017, Amnesty’s Americas Director Erika Guevara Rosas said that “unless the killings of activists stop, this will leave an indelible stain on any resulting peace accord”.

ICC COLOMBIA PRELIMINARY EXAMINATION

 

Israel-Palestine / Calls to stop deaths at Gaza border protests 

Civil society and international actors is urging the Israeli Security Forces to refrain from “lethal” and “excessive” force against protesters and demonstrators at the Gaza border. Deaths and injuries have continued since the beginning of the Great Return March on 30 March 2018. 

Palestinian rights group Al-Haq expressed concern at the alleged shoot to kill practices of the Israeli officers against protesters who are posing no immediate threat to the soldiers behind Gaza’s fence. The ICC Prosecutor last month stated that her Office is monitoring the situation.

Al-Haq has been documenting the deaths at the protests, noting that a large number of journalists with notable press markings are being targeted, alleging that this displays the “formal repression of press freedom in [Palestine] is intended to cultivate a climate of impunity for [Israeli forces] war crimes”.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called for the halt of “excessive” force by Israel Security Forces against demonstrators on the border, and has reiterated concern over apparent “shoot to kill” practices. High Commissioner Zeid called for accountability for human rights violations, including loss of life from excessive lethal force:

“Israel’s failure to consistently prosecute violations committed by members of its security forces, encourages them to use deadly force against their fellow unarmed human beings, even when they present no threat.”

The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process spoke to the Security Council regarding the situation last week. Mladenov warned the Council that the situation holds little prospect for a political solution and risks the outbreak of war if action is not taken soon to prevent this. “People should not be destined to spend their lives surrounded by borders they are forbidden to cross, or waters they are forbidden to navigate” he said, urging increased efforts in finding a peaceful two-State solution. 

 

New report / Pressure Point: The ICC's impact on national justice

Pressure Point: The ICC’s Impact on National Justice, a new report by Human Rights Watch assesses the influence of the preliminary examinations of the ICC Prosecutor on domestic prosecutions of crimes in Guinea, Colombia, Georgia and the United Kingdom

Findings of the report reflect the opportunities of the complementarity principle, which establishes the ICC as a court of last resort, to expand the reach of justice for international crimes.

Elizabeth Everson, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch, stated that “the ICC’s burgeoning caseload and limited resources underscore the need for fair and effective domestic prosecutions. More ICC member countries should support the prosecutor’s efforts to encourage successful local proceedings.”  

The report concludes the mixed success in encouraging domestic prosecution of alleged crimes, with the highest level of influence being recorded in Guinea, and the lowest level being the United Kingdom, where the prosecutor has to date not sought to encourage national proceedings.

In Guinea, the ICC Prosecutor's engagement with authorities spurred progress in a stagnating investigation into the September 2009 attack by security forces on opposition supporters. Human Rights Watch called for similar efforts in other preliminary examinations, including in Colombia, where Prosecutor Bensouda has identified gaps in the information authorities provided for national prosecutions.

“The ICC prosecutor cannot go it alone when it comes to sparking progress toward national justice efforts,” Evenson said. “Effective relationships between the ICC and activist groups, UN agencies, national authorities, and donor governments are needed to mobilize justice at the national level.”

 

Afghanistan journalists targeted in double bombing

A total of 14 civilians were killed and 30 were injured in twin attacks near the Afghan National Directorate of Security. The second attack was carried out by a suicide bomber disguised as a journalist; he blew himself up in a crowd of first responders to the previous blast.

Watchdog Afghan Journalist Safety has called on the ICC Prosecutor to investigate the multiple suicide bombings shook the Afghan capital of Kabul this week in attacks targeting journalists. The UN Secretary General expressed outrage at the attacks and called on those responsible to be brought to justice.

The attack came days before World Press Freedom Day and was labelled a “direct attack on freedom of expression” by Tadamichi Yamamoto, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan and the head of the UN Assistance Mission in the country (UNAMA).

Human Rights Watch labelled the attacks as war crimes and highlighted the perilous, and sometimes lethal, environment that journalists have to work in in Afghanistan.

 

ICC investigations

Sudan: A UN expert report on the situation in Darfur has expressed several concerns relating to violence against protesters, and other human rights violations. The report has had a mixed reaction from civil society in Sudan, with the Civil Society Initiative saying the report “does not add much in addressing the human rights situation”.

DRC: Trial International welcomed the conviction of Lieutenant-Colonel Maro Ntumwa, head of a local militia in Kalehe near Bukavu, of organising or authoritizing war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda arrived in Kinshasa this week to hold talks with Congolese government officials, and survey judicial institutions in the country, following reports of further instances of crimes against humanity in the country’s ongoing conflict. Bensouda is reported to be responding to pleas by human rights organisations, including the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), to investigate atrocities committed in the Kasai province. She will hold a press conference on Thursday.

Libya: The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has released its Human Rights Report on Civilian Casualties in April 2018. The report documents all reported violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. April saw a total of 31 civilian casualties, including four deaths, all caused during conduct of hostilities.

 

Preliminary examinations

Colombia: Former Colombian military commander, previously accused of carrying out “false positive” killings by Human Rights Watch, is among new ambassadors appointed to South Korea. HRW alleges that at least 28 civilians were killed under his watch between 2006 and 2008.

The Philippines: Human Rights Watch has criticised attacks on free press in The Philippines, with draft resolutions issued by the Philippine House of Representatives allowing Congress to ban reporters who “besmirch” the reputation of lawmakers from covering national legislation.

Nigeria: There have been calls for the ICC to include alleged crimes committed by the Fulani tribesmen of the Middle Belt of Nigeria into it current preliminary investigations in the country. Alleged atrocities by the Fulani tribesmen are said to be motivated by political, ethnic and religious considerations. The government of Nigeria has so far failed to respond to these atrocities in the Middle Belt region.

Campaign for global justice

Karadzic appeal: The MICT last week heard oral arguments during the appeal of Radovan Karadzic, who was convicted in 2016 of genocide. Karadzic claims that numerous procedural and legal errors were made during his trial in the ICTY.

Sexual violence: Trial International has called for focus on education combating societal norms regarding sexual violence against males, drawing on the importance of verdicts in international courts and tribunals that recognise sexual violence against males as sexual crimes in tackling the stigma that often accompanies victims.

Burundi constitutional amendment: The Burundian Coalition for the ICC has released a report on the revising the constitution as a threat to the political and ethnic minorities in Burundi. 

Guinea: The Guinea Coliaition for the ICC has issued a statement on setting up a steering group to open a trial for the events of 28 September 2009. 

Around the world

Myanmar: Renewed fighting in northern Myanmar has raised concern for the peace process as thousands of civilians remain displaced in the region.  

Iraq: The Iraqi Central Criminal Court has sentenced five non-Iraqi women to death for joining ISIS. The sentence was passed against two Russian women, two Azerbaijani women and one French woman.