#GlobalJustice Weekly / Justice for Syria | ICC seeks jurisdiction over Rohingya deportations | "The Congo Tribunal" gathers support


Justice for Syria after chemical attack

An alleged chemical weapons attack against civilians in Douma, Syria has been condemned widely by civil society. The attack is said to have killed at least 60 people and left over 1,000 injured.

Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch has described the attack as a war crime attributed to the Syrian government. “There is no question that the Assad government is criminally liable for the war crime strategy of targeting civilians” he said on Monday, “I think a strong case can be made that Russia shares criminal responsibility for the war crime strategy pursued by the Assad government in targeting civilians.”

The Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group (ACT) have also released a statement requesting the UN Security Council to act on the violence and use of chemical weapons in Douma. The Security Council has expressed concern regarding the escalating violence.

In an emergency meeting on the issue this week, Staffan de Mistura, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, said the first priority should be to ensure the protection of civilians in the conflicted areas. The meeting saw mixed reactions from Council members to the claims of a chemical attack. France, recalling all evidence pointed to the Assad regime employing weapons containing chlorine against civilians, described the actions as “State terrorism constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity”. Syrian representatives rejected these claims.

An open letter published this week, signed by 15 NGOs including Coalition members REDRESS, No Peace Without Justice, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), TRIAL International, Open Society Justice Initiative and Coalition parent organziation the World Federalist Movement, calls upon the EU and UN to ensure accountability for crimes committed during the conflict at the “Brussels II Conference” on the 24th April, and to prioritise overcoming the challenges in meeting humanitarian needs.

Human Rights Watch has also called on the The Friends of Syria Group to address the war crimes and impunity in the conflict at their upcoming “Brussels II Conference’. “Atrocity crimes, impunity, and disrespect for refugees should never be allowed to become the ‘new normal,’ but this has been Syrians’ daily reality for seven years,” said Lotte Leicht, EU director at Human Rights Watch.

Amnesty International on Wednesday announced that it had collected and handed over 115,000 signitures from their petition demanding justice for Syria to the "International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism" (IIIM),  a body created in 2016 to collecte prosecutorial files that could be used by any jurisdiction capable of acting against the perpetrators of major crimes in Syria. 

The UN Secretary General released a statement last week calling on all parties to respect SC Resolution 2401, and call a ceasefire across the state. “The Secretary-General calls on all sides to ensure respect for international humanitarian and human rights law, including humanitarian access across Syria to all people in need, as per relevant Security Council resolutions,” Guterres’ spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric said.

ICC prosecutor seeks jurisdiction over Rohingya deportations  

The ICC Prosecutor has filed a request to the court judges to determine whether jurisdiction exists to prosecute forced displacement of Rohingyas from Myanmar to Bangladesh. Myanmar is not a member of the ICC however Bangladesh is. The move has been welcomed by civil society, with Human Rights Watch’s Param-Preet Singh claiming Bensouda’s “unprecedented” request illustrates the “gravity” of the situation in Myanmar.

Amnesty International also praised the move, saying it was a "clear message to Myanmar's military that the international community is exploring all avenues to ensure accountability for the horrific crimes that have been committed".

Also recognising the shortfalls of the request, Singh points out that a Security Council referral is still warranted to grant full jurisdiction over crimes allegedly committed against the Rohingyas in Myanmar.  There have been several issues raised regarding the prosecutor's request on the basis of jurisdiction being territorial in relation to Bangladesh, which is an ICC State Party.

This means that it is likely that the only crime the court can prosecute is deportation as a crime against humanity, as it has partially occurred on Bangladeshi territory. All other crimes allegedly committed by the Myanmar armed forces against the Rohingya population, such as sexual crimes, persecution, and murder, would remain outside the scope of the ICC jurisdiction even if the judges decided in favour of the OTP’s request.

On the 11th of April, ICC Judge Antoine Kesia‐Mbe Mindua, President of the Pre-Trial Division, accepted the request for a ruling and assigned it to Pre Trial Chamber 1.

Support gathers for ‘The Congo Tribunal’ 


Trial International has expressed its support for a unique tribunal mechanism in the DRC. ‘The Congo Tribunal’ is an initiative by Congolese national, Milau Rau, that provides a platform for victims, perpetrators and stakeholders to come together to fight impunity for mass crimes; the ‘tribunals’ are filmed and documented. After receiving a positive response, a group of Congolese and European lawyers, human rights activists and journalists have now launched a crowdfunded campaign to establish more similar ‘tribunals’ across the DRC.

 The Washington Post has suggested that the political unrest caused by the Kabila’s refusal to hold elections thus far might be a contributing factor to the ethnic violence in the troubled Ituri province of the country. Furthermore, while briefing the Security Council, Special Envoy for the Great Lakes, Said Djinnit, noted that the exploitation of natural resources to fund armed groups, and the tensions between the government and the opposition in the DRC have contributed to the unrest in the region.

The International Crisis Group, in a detailed report, while referring to recent statements made by President Joseph Kabila, statements by officials in his government and reports of the country’s election commission (the CENI), suggested that elections will most likely be held towards the end of 2018.

The report recommends, inter alia, that full transparency be practiced during the elections, and that both the government and opposition should refrain from employing violent tactics during campaigning.

ICC investigations

Sudan: President al-Bashir has announced the release of approximately 60 political prisoners ahead of a visit by the UN Human Rights Council’s Independent Expert on Sudan. Human Rights Watch has questioned al-Bashir’s motives, and recommended a further reform of the State’s national security body which has previously faced torture allegations.

Libya: A UN report released on Tuesday on the detention of thousands of people in Libya has claimed they are subject to torture and other human rights violations. The authors of the report call on the Libyan authorities to condemn the violations of those detained and ensure accountability.

Mali: Human Rights Watch has called on the government of Mali to urgently conduct investigations into abuses against suspects detained by its army during a military operation against Islamist groups. Investigations have uncovered instances of forced disappearances, torture and, in two cases, the uncovering of mass graves of men allegedly executed just days after being taken into custody by soldiers.

Responding to a separate incident, the UN condemned attacks in the country during which one peacekeeper was killed. The UN Security Council has called on the Malian Government to investigate the attack as quickly as possible.

ICC preliminary examinations

Colombia:  A human rights report by 24 organisations, with the input of 500 Colombian human rights groups, has decried the government’s lack-of efforts to address mass human rights violations. The report states that, “despite important efforts like signing the peace agreement with FARC and dialogue with the ELN, in Colombia grave and systematic violations of human rights and infractions against International Humanitarian Law continue to be perpetrated and remain in impunity.” It highlights the lack of accountability of military personnel, politicians and financiers of paramilitaries who have been accused of killings since the signing of the peace agreement between the Colombian government and FARC rebels.

Palestine: Civil Society continues to condemn the “excessive” force against Palestinian protesters since the 30th March. Al-Haq has described the attacks as a clear violation of the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Official.

Venezuela: Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans are fleeing poverty and hunger to neighbouring countries, a report by the International Crisis Group has said. The socio-economic crisis that hit Venezuela has been contributed to corruption, mismanagement and repressive policies by the unpopular Maduro government.

In the latest development in the crisis, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has announced the scaling-up of its assistance to the rising number of Venezuelan refugees arriving in Brazil. More than 52,000 Venezuelans have arrived in Brazil since the start of 2017.

Campaign for global justice

Ongwen case: Amnesty’s Centre for International Justice has raised concerns over the rejection by the ICC Trial Chamber of evidence of sexual violence against men and boys by the LRA. In their review of the decision, they have recommended that more attention is paid to these crimes in future investigations.

Rwandan genocide anniversary: The UN marked the 24th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide on the 7th April as an “international day of reflection”. In a message to commemorate the day, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres expressed concern regarding the spread of hate speech and racism, and its potential to lead to acts such as the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

Seselj appeal: The Mechanism on International Criminal Tribunals has overturned an acquittal of Vojislav Seselj, and convicted the Serbian nationalist of crimes against humanity. Seselj will not be returning to the Hague to carry out his sentence of 10 years as he has already spent 11 years in pre-trial detention. The result has recieved mixed reactions from Bosnian war victims, who have said although they are pleased that Seselij has been finally convicted, they feel that his sentence was too lenient. 

Around the world  

UK: Five alleged “masterminds” of the Rwandan genocide living in the UK could be facing trial, after Scotland Yard’s war crimes unit confirmed that it was conducting an inquiry into the suspects following a request from the Rwandan government.

Yemen/Saudi Arabia: A Yemeni rights group, the Legal Center for Rights and Development, has filed a complaint in a Paris Court against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The lawsuit accuses bin Salman, also the Saudi Defence Minister, of torture and inhumane treatment through indiscriminate shelling of civilians in Yemen.