Activists at risk as ghosts of elections past haunt Kenya


Activists at risk as ghosts of elections past haunt Kenya

Human rights activists face increasing threats as tensions and violence mount ahead of August's Kenyan presidential elections. There are now concerns that history will repeat itself, ten years after post-election violence spread across the country and led the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open an investigation.

While the ICC trials of Kenyan politicians Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto and radio broadcaster Joshua Sang were ultimately dropped for lack of evidence, they have been cited as deterrents against politically motivated crimes in the aftermath of the 2013 Kenyan elections.

This time around, Kenyatta is running for a second term and his deputy Ruto has hit out at the ICC on the campaign trail.

180,000 police officers will reportedly be trained in order "to ensure that the elections are fair and credible." However, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has claimed that basic rights to freedom of expression and association continue to be undermined by Kenyan authorities.

This was supported by a recent report from the World Organisation Against Torture, which stated that smear campaigns conducted by state officials against human rights NGOs working in the country have "particularly affected human rights defenders and civil society addressing voters’ education and electoral monitoring ahead of the general elections scheduled for August 2017." The report called for an end to brought to the judicial harassment of human rights defenders (HRDs), and for the value and interest of their work to be recognized instead.

In an official resolution at the November 2016 ICC governing assembly, ICC member states expressed concern about threats to Kenyan ICC activist Gladwell Otieno by a delegate with ties to the Kenyan government, underlining the importance of ensuring that NGOs can safely cooperate with the Court and that all necessary measures are taken to address threats and intimidation directed at HRDs.

The resolution marked the first time ICC members states have adopted strong official language to reflect the increasingly shrinking space for civil society to operate in, an alarming worldwide trend. It recognizes that ICC member states have a collective responsibility to civil society supporting the ICC process – a responsibility that takes on urgent significance when NGOs cannot rely on protection from the their own governments.

A recent Frontline Defenders report detailed more than 1000 HRDs killed, harassed, or detained, among other violations worldwide last year.


82 Nigerian schoolgirls freed

82 young women from the Chibok region of Nigeria, currently an ICC preliminary examination, among the 276 schoolgirls captured by Boko Haram in April 2014, were released on Sunday in exchange for five leaders of the militant group. The release followed months of negotiations between various parties, including the Nigerian Department of State Security, the Swiss government and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

While some Nigerian families experienced elation at having their daughters returned, for others the news brought torment, with more than 100 schoolgirls reported to still be held captive by Boko Haram three years after being taken. It is thought that some of the abductees have been married to, and had children with, some of the fighters.

"The Nigerian authorities must now do more to ensure the safe return of the thousands of women and girls, as well as men and boys abducted by Boko Haram," commented Amnesty International’s Nigeria director, Osai Ojigho, who called for the girls and their families to be given privacy during this time.


State cooperation essential in Libya

Addressing the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on Monday, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda called for state cooperation with the Court in ensuring justice for victims of atrocity crimes in Libya.

Bensouda stated that progress had been made in the Office of the Prosecutor's investigations into the situation despite unstable security obstacles on the ground, highlighting the unsealing of the arrest warrant of former Libyan security head Al-Tuhamy Mohamed Khaled for charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

"The Libyan people have endured too much and have suffered for too long.  They are deserving of that deeper sense of safety and security that society provides when it is fully immersed in the protective embrace of the law," Bensouda stated, reassuring victims: "I am listening".


ICC investigations

Darfur, Sudan: HRW has challenged the US decision to suspend economic sanctions against Sudan imposed in the aftermath of atrocities in Darfur, claiming that the human rights situation remains largely unchanged with frequent reports of civilian attacks, arbitrary detentions and torture.

DRC: Congolese rights group APRODEC has called for the ICC to open an official investigation into a series of crimes purportedly committed in the country's central Kasaï region, following the discovery of 40 mass graves and the killing of two UN experts in March 2017.

Georgia: The ICRC has embarked upon the next round of gravesite excavations across three locations in eastern Georgia, aimed at searching for and identifying human remains of missing persons, many of whom are though to be victims of the August 2008 conflict.

Uganda: As the hunt for Joseph Kony winds down, Invisible Children - an advocacy group strongly engaged in the mission against the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) - has praised the US intervention for weakening the rebel group while voicing concerns that the sudden absence of US and Ugandan troops will enable the LRA to disrupt the lives of civilians.


ICC preliminary examinations

Afghanistan: After activists called on the ICC to speed up its probe in Afghanistan, the Court's Deputy Prosecutor James Stewart has stated that delays in reaching a final decision thereon were linked to a lack of complementarity and further information on the part of Afghan and other national authorities.

Ukraine: A recent investigation into the civilian situation in Crimea has determined that Russia is "violating its obligations as an occupying power", isolating the annexed peninsula from international scrutiny in order to control the freedom and access to healthcare, education and employment of Crimean residents. Meanwhile, former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is being tried in absentia in Kiev on charges of high treason for allegedly abetting Russian aggression prior to the annexation.


Campaign for Global Justice

The decision to uphold the Extraordinary African Chambers' conviction of former Chadian President Hissène Habré for crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture provided a much-needed boost to victims of abuses under former Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh, many of whom met with Habré’s victims in a bid to see their own justice delivered and Jammeh forced to stand trial.

In an open letter to Croatian authorities, a former UN peacekeeper has called for nationals suspected of committing war crimes during the Bosnian war to be extradited to Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to be brought to trial.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) hosted a hearing on possible crimes of genocide perpetrated by Islamic State (IS or ISIS), whereupon atrocity survivors gave testimonies and event initiator Pieter Omtzigt stated "justice should never rest until the criminals of Daesh are brought to account and punished for their crimes."

Over the course of the next two weeks, a UN working group will be meeting in Geneva to review more than 600 cases of enforced or involuntary disappearances from 29 countries, as well as obstacles to the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Protection of All Persons From Enforced Disappearance.


Around the world

The release of former British soldier Alexander Blackman - after serving three-and-a-half years of a 10-year sentence for killing an injured Taliban insurgent, in violation of the Geneva Conventions - has raised concerns that UK military interventions in the future will be able to carry out war crimes with relative impunity.

In Yemen, Amnesty International has instructed Houthi rebels to end their "pattern of persecution" against Baha'i minorities, while HRW has warned the US that it risks being found complicit in violation of the laws of war should it continue weapons sales to Saudi Arabia's military campaign in the country which has seen more than 4,773 civilians killed and millions more left starving.

Latest UN figures show that children are bearing the brunt of the escalating conflict in South Sudan, comprising 62% of the more than 1.8 million refugees who have been uprooted by the crisis. 

UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Agnès S. Callamard, has denounced the "war on drugs" approach undertaken by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte on a recent visit to the country. Her visit, of which the Philippine government was reportedly not officially notified, was met with criticism by the country's UN ambassador Teodoro Locsin Jr., who claimed that Callamard "abused her UN position and that disqualifies her from any further official role in a UN investigation” into the war on drugs.


Read up on all ICC ongoing investigations and preliminary examinations.

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