#GlobalJustice Weekly - Justice for Habré victims | African Court assessed | Syrian crimes against humanity?

Victims of Chadian dictator Hissène Habré have fought for justice for over a quarter of a century © HRW

Habré decision advances fight against impunity

On 27 April 2017, the Appeals Chamber of the Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC) in Senegal upheld the conviction of former Chadian President Hissène Habré for crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture in what the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) termed a "vindication of the decades-long campaign waged by his survivors."

Habré’s trial opened in July 2015 after he was charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture — including sexual violence and rape — committed during his ruling of the central African country between 1982 and 1990. However, whilst the dictator's life sentence for war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture was upheld, he was acquitted of rape.

“For over 26 years, the many victims of Hissène Habré’s crimes fought courageously for justice to be done,” said Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “Today, their journey ends with the conviction of a once untouchable leader confirmed and his life sentence upheld, giving hope to victims everywhere.”

Whilst celebrating the decision, human rights organization REDRESS urged the EAC, the governments of Chad and Senegal and the international community to use the momentum to locate and recover assets pertaining to Habré to be used in providing reparations to victims. 

“Habré’s victims fought for more than 25 years to see him convicted," commented Carla Ferstman, director of REDRESS. "To make victims fight again to have the decision on reparations enforced would be a slap in the face of these victims who have suffered already so much and for so long."


Malabo Protocol raises legal and institutional concerns

Legal and institutional implications have been raised by Amnesty International regarding the African Union (AU)'s Protocol on Amendments to the Protocol on the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights (known as the Malabo Protocol), proposed as an African alternative to the ICC.

In its 14-page report, Amnesty analyzed the various components of the Malabo Protocol, which was adopted by the AU in June 2014 and has yet to be ratifed by any of its nine signatories.

Whilst including criminal jurisdiction in the remit of the proposed African Court of Justice and Human Rights (ACJHR) could allow it to play a positive role in fighting impunity, the report argued that a controversial clause within the Protocol which grants immunity to sitting heads of state or government would undermine the legitimacy and credibility of the ACJHR.

The report further argued that the court's proposed jurisdiction of 14 international crimes, as opposed to the ICC's three, would present significant demands in terms of expertise, resources and capacity, casting doubt as to whether the envisaged number of judges would be sufficient to handle this. Loosely-defined crimes within the ACJHR Statute, such as "terrorism" and "unconstitutional change of government", were cited as concerns for their capacity to "be used to clamp down on the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression, association, assembly and human rights."

Read the full report here.


Syria faces crimes against humanity allegations

A new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) has alluded to a pattern of chemical weapons use by Syrian government forces, opening up the possibility that such systematic attacks fall within the classification of crimes against humanity.

The Explanatory Memorandum of the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court (ICC), states that crimes against humanity "are not isolated or sporadic events, but are part either of a government policy (although the perpetrators need not identify themselves with this policy) or of a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority."

According to HRW, the Syrian government has used nerve agents at least four times in recent months in attacks that the organization described as "widespread and systematic". The latest chemical attack, on 4 April 2017, struck the town of Khan Shaykhun in northwest Syria, killing at least 92 people. 

“The government’s recent use of nerve agents is a deadly escalation – and part of a clear pattern,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “In the last six months, the government has used warplanes, helicopters, and ground forces to deliver chlorine and sarin in Damascus, Hama, Idlib, and Aleppo. That’s widespread and systematic use of chemical weapons.”

In response to the findings, the organization called for a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution to ensure full cooperation with an investigation by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and sanctions to be brought against anyone found to be responsible. 

Meanwhile, a new UN panel is expected to be launched soon to identify individuals guilty of atrocities in Syria — a body that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad criticized as an improper interference.


ICC investigations

Uganda: Northern Ugandans have expressed shock and concern over the recent decision by the government to withdraw troops from the search for Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) leader and ICC fugitive Joseph Kony.

CAR: With reports of civilians beng targeted in revenge killings by armed groups, pressure is mounting on unprecedented meetings between the government and rebel groups to bring closure to the country's four-year conflict.

DRC: Lawyers for Bosco Ntaganda have announced plans to file a "no case to answer" motion, which would call on ICC judges to acquit the former Congolese militia leader without the defense being presented and bringing an end to the nearly two-year long trial at the Court.

Kenya: Civil society and sexual violence survivors have brought a case before Kenya's High Court, claiming that the government failed to protect civilians, prosecute attackers and provide compensation to victims of sexual and gender-based crimes (SGBC) perpetrated during the 2007/08 post-election violence.


ICC preliminary examinations

Afghanistan: With the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) continuing to sustain significant casualties in the fight against the Taliban, human rights communities on the ground are pushing for the ICC to authorize a full-fledged investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Colombia: Whilst the peace deal has led to the Colombian Senate approving 10 congressional seats for interested former FARC combatants, Human Rights Watch has called attention to the continued killing of rights activists in the country as obstacles to the peace process.

Palestine: Over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners have gone on hunger strike to protest prison conditions and limited family visits, whilst a former UN official has faced backlash after labeling Israel's treatment of Palestinians as "apartheid" — a term categorized as a crime against humanity under the Rome Statute.

Ukraine: An Austrian man has been arrested in Poland on suspicion of war crimes committed during the 2014 conflict between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.


Campaign for Global Justice

Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda have criticized recent attacks on the Court by the African Union (AU), stating at a recent event in Morocco: "African leaders choose to ignore how the numerous cases found their way to the ICC in the first place." 

The president of Niger has reaffirmed the country's commitment to the ICC and commended Bensouda for her role in advancing international criminal justice during the latter's recent two-day visit to the capital city of Niamey.

American human rights lawyer Reed Brody has called for the United States to enhance its fight for global justice, citing the country's simultaneous advocacy for an international accountability system and avoidance of the Rome Statute.


Around the world

Venezuelan authorities have been accused of using the justice system in a "witch-hunt" to silence those who think differently, prosecuting and detaining non-violent activists and conducting smear campaigns against the political opposition.

The ICC has been urged in a New York Times editorial to open a preliminary examination of the situation in the Philippines after a man claiming to have been part of Rodrigo Duterte's anti-drug "death squad" submitted a communication to the Court demanding formal charges be brought against the president.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair has come under fire for failing to secure compensation for the UK victims of Libyan-sponsored terrorism in the 1980s, in contrast to Amercian victims who shared in a £1 billion compensation fund.


Which global justice news stories have caught your eye this week? Let us know in the comment box below.