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CPIJ Co-Researcher Penelope Simons Receives the 2018 Walter S. Tarnopolsky Award

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CPIJ Co-Researcher Penelope Simons

26 October 2018 – CPIJ Co-Researcher Penelope Simons is the recipient of the 2018 Walter S. Tarnopolsky Award. The International Commission of Jurists, who awards this prize, thereby highlighted her “background and commitment as an individual who has made a significant contribution to human rights.”

The Tarnopolsky Award is named after the judge and renowned scholar Walter S. Tarnopolsky, who was a pioneer in the development of human rights and civil liberties in Canada. It is awarded annually to a Canadian resident who made an outstanding contribution to human rights at a national or international level.

Renowned expert in the field of corporate responsibility, Professor Simons fights tirelessly against corporate complicity in human rights violations. She does not hesitate to question the statu quoand pursue accountability for corporations and reparation for victims at the national and international level. Her innovative publications and constant promotion of access to justice for vulnerable persons make her a strong advocate in the field of international human rights law.

The award will be presented to Professor Simons at the conference “70 Years On… Is Humanity Ready for a World Court of Human Rights?” hosted at the Human Rights Research and Education Centre (HRREC) on October 31st. It is possible to register online for the event by sending an email to HRREC@uOttawa.ca.

CPIJ funds the attendance of 9 students to the 47th CCIL Conference

By | News, Student News

22 October 2018 – The Canadian Partnership for International Justice (CPIJ) will fund the attendance of 9 students to the 47thConference of the Canadian Council on International Law (CCIL), which will be held in Ottawa on November 1 and 2, 2018.

This major annual event, whose 2018 edition is themed “International Law at the Boundaries”, will allow students to deepen their knowledge of international law while also encouraging dialogues with experts, law practitioners and academics. Following the Conference, students will write blogposts in relation to their attendance.

Congratulations to all recipients!

CPIJ Co-Researcher Julia Grignon receives prestigious Paul Reuters Prize on International Humanitarian Law

By | News, Press Releases

18 October 2018 – CPIJ Co-Researcher Julia Grignon received yesterday the prestigious Paul Reuters Prize on International Humanitarian Law (IHL). This award was granted to crown her doctoral thesis named “L’applicabilité temporelle du droit international humanitaire”, defended in 2012 and published in 2014.

CPIJ Co-Researcher Julia Grignon

The Paul Reuters Prize was created in 1983 through to a donation made by Paul Reuters, honorary professor at University of Paris, to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). It is usually awarded every three years to recognize an outstanding work in the field of IHL.

Doctor of Laws from Geneva University, Prof. Grignon teaches at Laval University since 2013. She is the co-director of the International Criminal and Humanitarian Law Clinicas well as a member and co-founder of the Interdisciplinary Research Center on Africa and the Middle-East. Further, she is member of the Jean-Pictet Competition Committee since 2008 and is editor and author of the book “Hommage à Jean Pictet par le Concours de droit international humanitaire Jean-Pictet”, published in 2016.

The Paul Reuters Award Ceremony will take place on October 24that the ICRC Humanitarium, in Geneva. The event will be followed by a conference named “Role of academia in promoting and developping IHL” and a reception. It is possible to attend the event by registering online here.

 

Be Featured on CPIJ’s Website

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Student training is an important goal of the Canadian Partnership for International Justice (CPIJ), as shown by the multiple activities we organize and fund. This is why CPIJ develops new sections of its website to highlight student implication with CPIJ members. For students, it is a great opportunity to have their implication acknowledged, while also making networking easier for them.

The “Our Students” section (under the “About us” tab) provides an overview of some CPIJ students.

On the other hand, the “Student News” section shares student-related news, notably pertaining to their hiring, projects, scholarships, events, or any other topic of interest.

How to be featured on CPIJ’s website?

Students can send to CPIJ by mail the following information:

To be featured on the “Our Students” section:

  • Full name of the student;
  • Photo;
  • Name(s) of CPIJ member(s) the student is collaborating with;
  • Link towards an external website or short bio (including the student’s field of study, professional and academic interests, and nature of the link with CPIJ member).

To be featured on the “Student News” section:

  • Full name of the student;
  • Photo(s);
  • Name(s) of CPIJ member(s) the student is collaborating with;
  • A short news concerning, for example, a hiring, presentation, project, or scholarship. If it is a hiring, it would be interesting to include a short bio of the hired student.

For any question of additional information, please contact:

Catherine Savard

CPIJ Assistant coordinator

internationaljustice.sshrc@gmail.com

Murdered Honduran Activist Berta Cáceres Deserves Open Justice

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Cáceres’ assassination in 2016 was one in over 130 targeted killings of environmental defenders in Honduras since the 2009 coup d’état

By Amanda Ghahremani and Leah Gardner | The HuffPost

The long awaited first trial for the murder of renowned Indigenous environmental defender Berta Cáceres was set to open on 17 September 2018 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Cáceres’ assassination in 2016 was one in over 130 targeted killings of environmental defenders in Honduras since the 2009 coup d’état, including various members of her organization, the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organization of Honduras (COPINH). Her case has become emblematic of this tragic state of affairs, and of the struggles facing human rights activists around the world.

Two and a half years into the process to prosecute eight men accused of carrying out Berta’s murder, lawyers for her family made what was likely a painstakingly difficult decision to request the recusal of the three-judge Tribunal hearing the case. This drastic step, taken on the day the trial was set to begin, alleges abuse of authority and obstruction of justice by the judges, in part for failing to sanction prosecutors for withholding evidence.

Garifuna women protest demanding justice in the case of the murder of the Lenca indigenous leader Berta Caceres, in Tegucigalpa, on May 25, 2017. (Orlando Sierrs/AFP/Getty Images)

The victims’ lawyers submitted several other constitutional injunctions before the hearing, one of which requested that the public have greater access to the trial through a live audio transmission of the proceedings; a request that had been previously denied. The court rejected this request once again on Friday.

It is no surprise that live streaming is important to the victims in this case. Beyond a mere technical issue, diversified access to judicial proceedings lies at the heart of the concept of open justice — the idea that courts should be open, public, and accessible — and meaningful victim participation.

Honduran legislators have acknowledged the importance of open justice by guaranteeing the right to a public trial and providing some victims legal standing before the court. Honduras has also incorporated international treaties into national law through its constitution. These treaties oblige States to hold public, open trials in adequate facilities. According to the UN, the purpose is to ensure “the transparency of proceedings” and to provide “an important safeguard for the interest of the individual and of society at large.”

Before her murder, Berta was recognized around the world and throughout Honduras for her work to protect the Gualcarque River, sacred to the Lenca people, from a hydroelectric project. These same people will be deeply affected by the outcome of the trial and deserve access to the courtroom. There is also a massive transnational solidarity movement of environmental and human rights activists who are closely following this public-interest case.

Unfortunately, the Tribunal will record audio of the trial as a matter of protocol, but not for public diffusion. It is unclear when, if ever, the public would have access to the trial recordings. The inability to hear what is going on in the courtroom in real-time substantially decreases the value of a recorded hearing by impeding contemporaneous observation and participation by victims and the public. This is especially important after the first day of trial proved there were insufficient seats for many members of Berta’s community, who were forced to wait outside.

Providing overflow rooms can help rectify this inaccessibility, but there are many legitimate reasons why victims may be unable to physically attend court, including travel costs, safety concerns, psychological trauma, and the inability to adjust schedules to an unpredictable judiciary. A live broadcast would ensure access for the greatest number of people.

A live transmission is also easily attainable with advances in technology. Countries like Mexico, Brazil, Guatemala, Canada, the United Kingdom, South Africa, and India, have all moved towards live broadcasting proceedings that are in the public interest. This practice is also prevalent at the Inter-American Court, the European Court of Human Rights, and various international criminal tribunals.

Seven of the accused on the murder of indigenous environmental activist Berta Cáceres sit in court on Sept. 17, 2018 in Tegucigalpa. (Orlando Sierrs/AFP/Getty Images)

The Tribunal’s failure to take steps to provide overflow rooms or allow live streaming must be viewed in the larger context of this case. In addition to allegations of abuse of authority and withholding evidence, lawyers for the victims, members of the media, and the victims themselves have been repeatedly attacked and targeted in highly dangerous smear campaigns aimed at criminalizing and intimidating them.

The day the trial was set to begin, a prominent freelance journalist for the Guardian, and the only English-language reporter covering the trial on the ground, Nina Lakhani, was targeted online in a smear campaign by a fake group with alleged links to the Honduran intelligence, which falsely claimed she was involved in violent insurgency. Lakhani was previously targeted after publishing an article in which a former soldier claimed that Berta’s name had appeared on a U.S.-trained special forces hit list. At the hearing, three security guards informed her that the courtroom was closed to the public before she was eventually allowed to enter.

The Honduran judiciary had an opportunity last week, with the world watching, to demonstrate its willingness to ensure open courts and meaningful access to justice. Live streaming the court proceedings would have gone a long way towards greater transparency and public confidence in a judiciary facing serious allegations of misconduct. Sadly, the Tribunal failed to act.

Amanda Ghahremani is the Legal Director of the Canadian Centre for International Justice (CCIJ), a Canadian non-profit that supports survivors of international crimes to seek legal redress. Leah Gardner is currently a volunteer lawyer at CCIJ. The authors were in Honduras as members of an international legal observation mission to monitor the Berta Cáceres murder trial.

Source: https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/amanda-ghahremani/berta-caceres-murder-trial_a_23547813/

Neighbors Refer Venezuela to Criminal Court in ‘Historic’ Rebuke

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By Ernesto Londoño and Marlise Simons | The New York Times

President Nicolás Maduro, center, in Caracas this week. The crisis in Venezuela “demands collective action,” the president of Peru said. (Photo Miraflores Press Office)

 

Five Latin American countries and Canada on Wednesday urged the International Criminal Court to consider prosecuting senior officials in Venezuela for extensive human rights abuses, the first time that member nations have referred another member to the tribunal.

In a region where leaders tend to avoid criticizing one another publicly, the step by Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay and Peru represented an extraordinary rebuke of President Nicolás Maduro.

Governments in the region have become increasingly alarmed about the economic and political crisis in Venezuela. Acute shortages of food and medicine have prompted millions to migrate, largely to neighboring countries.

The referral gives The Hague-based tribunal a renewed sense of urgency to investigate abuses in Venezuela.

“The leaders of these six countries have taken a historic step today, unprecedented in the history of the Americas, creating a crucial milestone in the interests of justice, accountability, non-repetition and reparation to the victims of the Venezuelan dictatorship,” said Luis Almagro, the secretary general of the Organization of American States, in a statement.

Here are some facts about the referral to the international court and what it could mean for Venezuela:

Why did the other countries refer Venezuela?

Venezuelan migrants walking to Colombia this month. (Photo by Federico Rios Escobar for The New York Times)

They’re overwhelmed by the unrelenting exodus of Venezuelans, which has accelerated amid soaring inflation. The United Nations estimates that 1.6 million Venezuelans have left since 2015 and that as many as 1.8 million could migrate this year.

In recent years Venezuela’s neighbors have had an open-door policy, but it has come at a political cost as communities feel increasingly besieged by migrants, many of whom arrive with no savings and with serious health problems.

“The magnitude of this exodus is unprecedented in our region,” President Martín Vizcarra of Peru told the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, noting that his country has taken in some 450,000 Venezuelans. “It demands collective action by the international community.”

How unusual is this step?

“The magnitude of this exodus is unprecedented in our region,” President Martín Vizcarra of Peru told the United Nations General Assembly. (Photo by Richard Drew/Associated Press)

Highly. The court has never opened a case brought by one government against another, and governments in Latin America for decades have adhered to an unspoken rule: Stay out of the messy internal affairs of neighbors. But several have begun to see Venezuela’s economic unraveling as a growing regional threat. The tide of migrants has led to spikes in crime and strained the health and education systems of other countries.

“This is a significant, historic event,” said Fernando Cutz, a former senior White House official who worked on Latin America policy in the Obama and Trump administrations. “Ten years ago, it would have been impossible to think of the region turning on one of its own.”

What’s the gist of the referral?

Protesters during clashes with the Venezuelan police last year. (Photo Meridith Kohut for The New York Times)

In a letter signed by the six heads of state this week in New York, on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly, the countries asked the international court’s top prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, to investigate human rights abuses committed by the Venezuelan government since February 2014. During that month, the government used harsh tactics to clamp down on mass protests.

The letter notes that human rights experts have documented abuses that include arbitrary detentions, extrajudicial killings, torture and sexual crimes.

Isn’t the International Criminal Court already investigating Venezuela?

“Hunger!” and “Dictatorship” are scrawled on a security door in Caracas. (Photo by Meridith Kohut for The New York Times)

Yes. Ms. Bensouda announced in February that her office had launched a “preliminary examination” into allegations of large-scale human rights abuses in Venezuela. That step can lead to a formal investigation and criminal charges.

The court said it is investigating allegations that security personnel have used excessive force against demonstrators, detained members of the political opposition and subjected prisoners to “serious abuse.”

The court was established in 2002 as a tribunal of last resort for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. Since its inception, it has indicted only Africans and has won only a handful of convictions.

How long will an investigation take?

Venezuela issued new currency in response to runaway inflation. People waited in long lines last month in Caracas to get the bills. (Photo Meridith Kohut for The New York Times)

It’s unclear. Court investigations have tended to last for years, and experts said it would be highly unlikely for charges to be filed any time soon.

“Time frames at the I.C.C. are measured in years, not months,” said Todd Buchwald, a former senior State Department official who oversaw global criminal justice matters from 2015 to 2017.

But the sense of urgency conveyed by neighboring countries may prompt the court to make the case a priority.

People visiting a so-called red spot in Caracas, where voters presented a special identity card to receive boxes of food. (Photo Meridith Kohut for The New York Times)

“It does telegraph to the prosecutor these states are keen to provide access to people who have fled” and may have relevant information, said Joanna Harrington, a law professor at the University of Alberta who specializes in international criminal law.

Several of Venezuela’s neighbors have sought to isolate Mr. Maduro’s government as he has become increasingly authoritarian in recent years.

They also have tried to create rifts within Venezuela’s ruling party.

The threat of being prosecuted in The Hague “will most likely galvanize those in the inner circle to pull together,” said Mr. Cutz, the former White House official. But it could prompt others on the periphery of power to turn on the government, he added

President Trump described the crisis in Venezuela as a “human tragedy,” but he also challenged the authority of the International Criminal Court. (Photo Chang W. Lee/The New York Times)

Washington has long called on Latin American leaders to take a harder line against Venezuela. But Wednesday’s referral to the court is not a move the Trump administration can endorse.

During his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, President Trump described the crisis in Venezuela as a “human tragedy.” But in the same address he also lashed out at the International Criminal Court, saying that “as far as America is concerned,” the court has “no legitimacy and no authority.”

This echoes comments made this month by John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, who called the court “ineffective, unaccountable, and indeed, outright dangerous.” Mr. Bolton’s criticism was in response to a preliminary review of allegations of abuses in Afghanistan, which may include acts committed by American military or intelligence personnel.

The State Department would not specify whether the United States supports efforts to hold Venezuelan officials accountable at The Hague.

“We encourage thorough and transparent investigations into all credible reports of abuses,” the State Department said in a statement. “The crisis in Venezuela will only be resolved through the restoration of democratic governance, realistic economic policies, the rule of law, and respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms.”

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/26/world/americas/venezuela-international-criminal-court.html

A chance at justice for the Rohingya?

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Following Canada’s declaration that crimes against the Rohingya constitute ‘genocide,’ Payam Akhavan asks: Do the refugee camps in Bangladesh hold the key to prosecutions by the International Criminal Court?

By Payam Akhavan | OpenCanada

Kutupalong refugee camp. Photo by Yousuf Tushar.

 

26 September 2018 –“A wild elephant killed him,” an aid worker explained.

Having survived the scourge of the notorious Tatmadaw, the Myanmar military that slaughtered his people and drove them into exile, the 12-year-old boy — Shamsu Uddin — was trampled to death by the enormous beast as he slept.

Just two years ago, in 2016, Kutupalong was a wildlife refuge where endangered animals roamed freely in pristine forests. Now, it is the largest refugee camp in the world, an ocean of misery comprising some 700,000 Rohingya who have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine State to face an uncertain future in neighbouring Bangladesh. The mere existence of this city of sorrow is mute testimony to what the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has described as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

As I walked through the camp in June, reflecting on the cruel irony of the boy’s fate, there were countless other children just like him, wandering in the dirt roads amidst the makeshift bamboo and tarpaulin shelters on the deforested hills they now called home. Their playful smiles masked the unspeakable horrors they had witnessed. Their experience was captured by that most potent of words, “genocide,” invoked by UN reports and, as of last week, Canadian parliamentarians alike, to condemn these monstrous atrocities. In terms of concrete action, what is most significant in the House of Commons’ September 20 motion is the call for punishment of the perpetrators before the International Criminal Court (ICC). But, as Canadian officials will no doubt see, the process to get there is long and complicated.

My visit to Kutupalong some months earlier was in pursuit of justice against seemingly impossible odds. I was there at the invitation of the Bangladesh government, gathering facts, speaking to people on the ground, trying to see what could be done. Some time before, I had hosted Bob Rae, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s special envoy to Myanmar, for a lecture at McGill University. In the Q&A, students had asked what Canada could do to ensure accountability. The fundamental question that emerged from those exchanges was: Does the ICC have jurisdiction over these crimes, and if so, on what basis?

The discussion was sadly an all too familiar ritual for those of us who toil in the human rights world. The vows of “never again,” the expressions of regret, the lectures on lessons learned, the condemnation of genocide, the calls for justice at The Hague; these exhausted moral mantras are soon overtaken by new abominations, and the cycle of recrimination and remorse repeats itself again and again — Bosnia, Rwanda, Congo, Darfur, Iraq, Syria, and now, Myanmar.

Places we never knew existed are now seared into our consciousness as sites of grief and rage, mourned and condemned for a time, only to be forgotten in the fleeting attention span of the news cycle. The calls for accountability after the fact may be all that we can pursue given the power realities of global politics, but what does justice mean against the overwhelming gravity of such atrocities? Is it ever possible to punish genocide? There is nothing like listening to survivors to remind us of both the inadequacy and utter necessity of struggling for whatever measure of justice can be achieved. In the case of Myanmar, that struggle takes place within the manifest constraints of that feeble court in The Hague that we invariably look to in desperation as a beacon of hope.

It is easy to despair and give up, but talking to the people in Kutupalong reminded me of the power of empathy, or rather, of how indifference makes us an accomplice to injustice. The impact of meaningful engagement is easily forgotten in our privileged corner of the world, far removed from the realities that most convincingly demonstrate the consequences of our choices. Sometimes our role models are found in the most unlikely places.

When the mass-exodus of the Rohingya began in late August 2017, the hapless survivors arrived in Bangladesh traumatized, starved and dehydrated. Many of them had terrible wounds, caused by bullets and machetes, while some had missing limbs because of land mines. There were no international relief agencies to receive them. It was the poor local farmers who took it upon themselves to help as best as they could with their meager supplies of food, clothing and medicine. Some cooked whatever rice they had and brought it to the desperate refugees in Tuk-Tuk rickshaws. Others hosted them in their modest homes. These accounts of selfless generosity were humbling. They put to shame the narcissistic currents of xenophobia and apathy in the prosperous Western world; our indifference to the suffering of others. The example of these compassionate first responders was an inspiration, a reminder that when confronted with suffering, there is no room for despondence, that we must do what we can, however inadequate it may be.

During my trip earlier this year, after meetings with the border guards and refugee agency officials, I was told that my next meeting would be with a group of women who wished to share their stories. It was with some apprehension that I entered the room, my heart racing with dread. I knew that what I was about to hear would be deeply disturbing. I also knew that I would probably be seen as the outside saviour by those desperate for hope. I was acutely aware that beyond listening with empathy, there wasn’t much I could do to heal their wounds.

Just two years earlier, I had visited the Yazidi camps in northern Iraq, listening to the heartbreaking account of two teenage sisters who had been enslaved by their ISIS captors. It reminded me of Bosnia and Rwanda in the 1990s when I worked with the UN. Across these divergent contexts, the accounts of sexual violence against women and girls were disturbingly similar; the weaponization of male narcissistic rage to humiliate, degrade and destroy. In meeting these anguished women, it was not lost on me that the Rohingya are by and large traditional Muslims, and that I found myself in their midst during the sacred month of Ramadan.

The meeting room at the Kutupalong reception centre was full of women, their faces covered by black niqabs. With only their eyes visible, it was difficult to gauge their facial expressions, but the piercing stares conveyed the enormity of their suffering. Mindful that they may not feel comfortable with a man, I didn’t pose any questions, letting them choose what they wished to share with me. I was soon surprised. In a striking display of defiance, they stood up one by one, walked towards me in sequence, and removed their head cover so I could see their face. With an astonishing dignity, they told their stories, bearing witness to the truth, an attempt to reclaim their voice, and their humanity. The horrors they conveyed were beyond words. “They threw my baby in the fire,” one of the women told me, speaking through the translator. The tears streaming from her eyes conveyed the deeper meaning of her words. It didn’t take long to notice that several of them were pregnant, visibly in their third trimester.

I confirmed later that as I had suspected, these were mostly children conceived as a result of rape. The women told me their stories because they wanted the world to know what had befallen them. They expected the UN to punish the perpetrators. I didn’t have the heart to tell them about the political cynicism that time and again left survivors with no justice. It was time for us to leave. I didn’t know how to say goodbye, what to promise them to give them a bit of hope. One of the women had an infant in her arms. I caressed his little head, smiling at his mother, trying to pretend that somehow, everything would be fine.

The author, Payam Akhavan, during his visit to the Kutupalong refugee camp. Photo by Yousuf Tushar.

Back at home, in the conference circuit of the human rights academics and activists, those of us in the business of global justice were marking the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the ICC Statute. Upon the conclusion of the Rome Diplomatic Conference in July 1998, this pivotal moment was hailed as a triumph for international law, the beginning of the end for an entrenched culture of impunity in global politics. The ICC was built on the relatively successful precedents of the ad hoc International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and Rwanda (ICTR), established by the UN Security Council in 1993 and 1994 respectively.

Twenty years later however, with only a handful of “small fish” convicted, the court has proved to be a disappointment to those who envisaged a robust institution with teeth. The lack of political support by the erstwhile champions of a rule-based international order — demonstrated recently by US National Security Advisor John Bolton’s scathing attack against the ICC — and the attendant resource constraints are compounded by a bureaucratized and inefficient institution that is perceived even by its most vocal supporters as being in need of a significant overhaul.

Yet, for those in pursuit of global justice, the ICC is often the only available option where, as in Myanmar, the prospect of national trials occurring is slim to none. Of course, the states with the most appalling human rights records — such as Syria and Sudan — are least wont to sign the court’s statute, because to do so invites scrutiny of political and military leaders who devise and act in furtherance of criminal policies such as “ethnic cleansing” and genocide.

Myanmar (also) does not recognize the ICC’s jurisdiction, which should not come as a surprise. The only way around this limitation is for the UN Security Council to refer a situation based on its enforcement powers under Chapter VII of the UN Charter — the basis for establishment of the ICTY and ICTR in the 1990s, and the referral of Sudan and Libya to the ICC in 2005 and 2011 respectively. In fact, Canada’s House of Commons is calling for the referral of Myanmar on this same basis. But given the spread of myopic nationalism, the consequent retreat of multilateralism, and the intensifying power struggles among the Council’s permanent members (China, France, Russia, the UK and the US) — each wielding a veto power — there is little prospect that this will happen.

This is where the location of Kutupalong is decisive for the pursuit of justice.

Unlike Myanmar, Bangladesh is a party to the ICC Statute. Thus, there it falls under ICC jurisdiction if crimes against humanity have been committed on the territory of Bangladesh. Some creative lawyering led to the conclusion that although the underlying crimes of murder, torture, rape, and wanton destruction of towns and villages occurred on the territory of Myanmar, the mass-expulsion of the Rohingya across the boundary with Bangladesh through these coercive acts qualified as the crime of “deportation,” which was in fact completed on the territory of Bangladesh. Kutupalong is not only the most significant source of witness testimony for a potential investigation; its very existence is a basis for the court’s jurisdiction, at least over some if not all of the crimes.

In fact, Myanmar’s pretext for mass-expulsion has been that the Rohingya are in fact “illegal” Bengali immigrants rather than nationals of Myanmar. Thus, in April of this year, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda made an unusual request to a pre-trial chamber, asking for an opinion as to whether the court had jurisdiction over the crime of deportation based on the territory of Bangladesh. On September 6, a decision was rendered, declaring that the court did in fact have jurisdiction over deportation (and related crimes) based on the territory of Bangladesh, and calling for an expeditious preliminary examination of the evidence with a view to an investigation.

The House of Commons’ motion welcomes this decision, which may be the only viable option given the likely failure of the UN Security Council to make a Chapter VII referral. Meanwhile, following the decision, the ICC prosecutor has declared her intention to conduct a “preliminary examination” as a prelude to a formal investigation. Given the resource constraints and problems of efficiency faced by her office, perhaps the Government of Canada should consider contributing investigative resources to expedite what could otherwise be a prolonged and time-consuming process.

It may be tempting for the cynic to dismiss these efforts as purely symbolic and ineffective. Nobody would disagree that it is far from an ideal situation where the perpetrators could be promptly arrested and prosecuted. It is noteworthy however, that Myanmar has gone to great lengths to challenge the court’s jurisdiction, issuing press statements resembling a legal brief, and even seeking to make surreptitious submissions to the court through front non-governmental organizations seeking to demonize the Rohingya as “terrorists.” There have also been official statements to the effect that Myanmar’s willingness to repatriate refugees is inconsistent with a policy of “ethnic cleansing.” It is notable that beyond deportation, the ICC decision also includes denial of the right of return of refugees as an additional crime against humanity, also based on the territory of Bangladesh. Surely, Myanmar leadership is aware that even if arrest warrants cannot be executed on its territory, the indictment of the most senior ranks of the Tatmadaw for crimes against humanity will be a significant long-term liability.

To make matters worse for Myanmar, a UN independent fact-finding mission concluded in late August not only that the crimes against the Rohingya constituted genocide, but also that six senior Tatmadaw officials were suspects. This includes the commander-in-chief of the Myanmar armed forces, Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing, and the former commander of the western region, Major-General Maung Maung Soe, who is also subject to targeted sanctions under Canada’s Special Economic Measures Act, in addition to similar EU and US lists. In fact, his recent dismissal has led to speculation that it may be linked with his international stigmatization and Myanmar’s pariah status.

It remains to be seen whether and how such naming and shaming, combined with the ICC process, will impact Myanmar’s behaviour, especially if it achieves any degree of deterrence against the “ethnic cleansing” of the up to half million Rohingya that remain in the country, or the prospects, however unlikely, of the voluntary repatriation of at least some proportion of the refugees in Kutupalong. But we owe it to the survivors in Kutupalong to at least try and do what is feasible.

Hannah Arendt famously said of the 1946 Nuremberg judgment that the crimes of the Nazis “explode the limits of the law;” that for genocide, no punishment is enough. Yet, despite the enormity of the crimes against the Rohingya, it would seem that some justice is better than no justice at all, and it remains to be seen what effect historical truth and the vindication of international law will have on the future of this tormented people.

As I read the decision of the court establishing its jurisdiction, anticipating an investigation and arrest warrants in the coming months, and two weeks later, the House of Commons’ motion, I wondered what this would all mean to those back in Kutupalong. Was it at least a ray of hope for future generations, a small redemption of the humanity of those who, robbed of everything they once had, can only hope to reclaim a semblance of their dignity? My mind wandered back to a striking image upon my arrival at the camp. There, amidst the misery and squalor, was a surreal sight, a tower of joy: children on a makeshift wooden carousel, circling in bliss, touching the sky, dreaming of other worlds.

Kutupalong refugee camp. Photo by Yousuf Tushar.

 

The comments in this article are only those of the author in his personal capacity and do not necessarily represent the view of either the ICC or the Bangladesh government.

Source: https://www.opencanada.org/features/chance-justice-rohingya/

 

Who’s Afraid of the International Criminal Court?

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By Eleanor Beevor | Al Bawaba News

US National Security Adviser John Bolton listens as President Donald Trump (not seen) speaks on April 13, 2018 at the White House in Washington, DC. (Photo by AFP)

 

23 September 2018 – The anniversary of September 11th might seem like an odd time for the United States to choose to slam institutions championing international cooperation and justice. But John Bolton did it. President Trump’s National Security Adviser told an audience at the Federalist Society in Washington DC:

“We will not cooperate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC. We will not join the ICC. We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us…

If the court comes after us, Israel or other US allies, we will not sit quietly. We will respond against the ICC and its personnel to the extent permitted by US law. We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States. We will sanction their funds in the US financial system, and we will prosecute them in the US criminal system. We will do the same for any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans.”

Apparently, his speech was in reaction to the news that the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) Pre-Trial Chamber would soon decide whether or not to investigate suspected war crimes in Afghanistan.

Bolton’s anger toward the court is ideological. He has an anarchic view of the international arena, and sees international legal restrictions as infringing on American sovereignty. He is especially angered by the fact that the ICC is, in theory, able to investigate and charge American citizens with war crimes, despite the fact that America “unsigned” itself from being party to the court’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute.

The ICC was always going to present moral conundrums. It was set up with the aim of prosecuting the most extreme war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is supposed to level the playing field in places where civilians have fallen prey to a predatory state that would purposely deny them justice, or when the state cannot deliver justice on its own.

States can request the ICC to investigate crimes in their territory on their behalf. The United Nations Security Council can authorise an ICC investigation. Or, the ICC can begin an investigation itself, so long as the Chief Prosecutor and a team of judges in the Pre-Trial Chamber both authorise it. Before they do this, they need to have robust evidence that war crimes, genocide or crimes against humanity were likely committed. And they need evidence that justice has still not been properly served by the countries in question.

What’s interesting about Bolton’s speech is that he makes the ICC out to be an unstoppable, unconstrained power, and a serious threat to American servicemen, who might be arbitrarily prosecuted at any moment for doing their jobs. He said that the ICC paves the way for anti-American “political trials”.

Not all Bolton’s points about the ICC are overblown. He rails against American citizens being subject to a judiciary that neither they nor their government elected to be a part of – a legitimate line of moral argument. However, to imply that the ICC can subvert American interests or foreign policy is a huge overstatement of the court’s capabilities.

The ICC cannot prosecute countries or institutions, only individuals. True, in some cases it has gone after heads of state. But any case against America would in all likelihood centre on the actions of individual American soldiers. Whether or not the ICC should be able to try them is a matter of opinion, but their conviction would hardly be an existential threat to American power. Even if an investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan were to be opened, there is no guarantee it would sweep up American soldiers. Sergey Vasiliev, a Professor of International Criminal Law at the University of Leiden told Al Bawaba:

“For the first cases in Afghanistan, the Prosecutor is highly likely to concentrate on actors other than US forces, as a matter of strategy. I do not exclude that this Prosecutor (or her successor) might also eventually decide to prosecute members of US military, even though this will be more of a symbolic gesture because the execution of arrest warrants would pose serious problems lacking cooperation by the US and all countries which pledged not to surrender US citizens to the ICC pursuant to bilateral agreements. But, as matters stand, I do expect a handful of cases involving mid-level non-US figures being brought in the next few years – if and after the judges give the green light to investigate.”

Bolton’s suggestion that the ICC could pursue a “political trial” against the United States as and when it liked is also clearly false. One can make many criticisms of the ICC, but it cannot be said that they take decisions lightly. For context, the preliminary investigation into Afghanistan has gone on for over a decade. This is not an official investigation – it is the groundwork to determine whether or not there is enough evidence of relevant crimes, and a lack of alternative justice, to merit starting an investigation. And the nature of the ICC’s work means that they can expect political backlash every time they open a new case.

To put it another way, unless there was practically watertight evidence that at least some individuals had committed war crimes, it is highly unlikely that the ICC would risk investigating.

Hence came a November 2017 announcement from ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda that there was a “reasonable basis to believe war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed in Afghanistan and that all sides in the conflict would be examined including members of the US armed forces and Central Intelligence Agency”.

On this basis, she asked the team of Pre-Trial Chamber judges to authorise an investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan. Their answer is still pending. Sergey Vasiliev added:

“The Prosecutor’s request has been pending before the Chamber for 10 months now. This is a very long period for the Court, which has given rise to speculations about the reasons for this delay. Rumours have circulated for a while that the judicial decision was imminent, but it may well turn out to be the case this time.”

It is the anticipation of this announcement that seems to have prompted Bolton’s diatribe, along with the extraordinary threats to sanction the ICC and subject its staff to American criminal justice. The question is whether these threats will deter an investigation into Afghanistan. It is rather unlikely that Bolton’s threats will make much difference, for it would do the ICC far more harm than good to be seen to acquiesce to his threats.

Amanda Ghahremani, an international criminal lawyer and the Director of the Canadian Centre for International Justice told Al Bawaba:

“It is highly unlikely that the ICC would capitulate to such pressures by the U.S. administation, because the Court could be perceived as lacking independence and impartiality. In light of the circumstances, the Court will likely have to make a decision soon on the situation of Afghanistan, and if it chooses not to proceed with a formal investigation, it will have to provide very clear and legally sound reasons for not pursuing an investigation to avoid being perceived as succumbing to political pressure.”

The ICC’s dilemma is that it has to be seen to go after the powerful to be credible, and so succeed in deterring future war crimes. But the powerful are very determined to prevent the ICC doing just that. One of the most hypocritical moments of Bolton’s speech was when he repeated the criticism that the ICC’s focus has overwhelmingly been on Africa.

It is perfectly, and troublingly true that ten out of eleven of the ICC’s current investigations are in Africa, and this prompted plenty of skepticism that the court was indeed – as Bolton put it – “…just the latest European neocolonial enterprise to infringe upon their sovereign rights”. The court’s excessive focus on Africa is legitimate criticism, but Bolton – a pathological advocate of American military intervention abroad – is hardly a credible defender of other nations’ sovereignty. Least not when, in the same speech, he mockingly included the Democratic Republic of the Congo as one of the nations that could have a say over the ICC’s influence in American affairs.

CC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda (ICC Website)

But more to the point, Bolton has been one of the most active figures in preventing the ICC expanding its remit beyond Africa. The grim reason that the ICC’s open caseload is so Africa-focused is because that is where it encounters the least resistance from major global powers. But – justifiably – this has dented the court’s claim to impartiality. The only way it can win back that claim is by opening a case closer to the heart of the powers on the UN Security Council. Investigating war crimes in Afghanistan – including alleged abuse of Afghan detainees by American forces – would silence the court’s doubters.

And ironically, Bolton’s threats will probably enhance support for the ICC’s pursuit of the case. Mark Kersten, a Fellow at the University of Toronto and an expert on the ICC told Al Bawaba:

“The ironic thing about Bolton’s speech is that he has made the Court out to be a genuine threat to global powers when many people criticize precisely for not challenging such powers. As a result, Bolton may have inadvertently lent the ICC credibility at a time when the institution is facing a number of challenges.”

There is no telling whether the Trump administration would actually allow Bolton to follow through on his threats. On the one hand, President Trump has pulled out of a number of international agreements and rocked age-old alliances for the sake of partisan gesturing before. On the other hand, Trump may conclude that the uproar and the legal ramifications of following through with these threats is not worth indulging Bolton’s obsession for, particularly when there is no clear national security benefit. Sergey Vasiliev added:

“The combination of Trump and Bolton might actually a winning combination for the ICC. Such a bellicose speech by someone who is widely seen as the ICC’s old arch-enemy with a personal, lifetime mission to undermine the Court, enables the Court to refill its political capital which got depleted somewhat in the past years due to conflictual relations with African states. A wider political support and commitment to the Court can reinvigorate it for bolder action than what it would have afforded otherwise – even if it is not likely to yield results in terms of arrests and trials of any US citizens.”

The ICC wants to be feared by those who might commit the worst of war’s crimes. Up until now, it’s been seriously lacking that credibility. John Bolton just gave it to them.

Source: https://www.albawaba.com/news/whos-afraid-international-criminal-court-1189090

The ICC Prosecutor is opening a Preliminary Examination on the Rohingya situation

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19 September 2018 – On Monday, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced it will open a preliminary examination concerning the alleged deportation of the Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh. This examination is the first step towards a proper investigation, which will take place if the examination shows reasonable basis to proceed accordingly.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague

The question of the Court’s jurisdiction on the Rohingya situation was the subject of a debate, as while Bangladesh is a State Party to the ICC, Myanmar is not. Given the cross-border nature of the crime of deportation, the Court was confronted to a new jurisdictional dilemma. For the very first time, the Prosecutor thus made use of Article 19(3) of the Rome Statute to seek a ruling on jurisdiction, and the Canadian Partnership for International Justice (CPIJ), along with other expert organizations, was invited to present Amici Curiae observations to the Court on that matter. On September 6, the ICC rendered a judgement in line with CPIJ’s observations: it ruled that the court has jurisdiction “over the crime the Court has jurisdiction over the crime against humanity of deportation allegedly committed against members of the Rohingya people” because “an element of this crime (the crossing of the border) took place on the territory of a State party to the Statute.

The Partnership warmly welcomes this decision from the ICC Prosecutor to move forward with a preliminary examination, which constitutes an important step forward the realization of a justice for the Rohingya. In addition, PCJI also considers that Canada can and should play an important role in the achievement of this justice, as explained in an op-ed published on Monday co-authored by Amanda Ghahremani, Mark Kersten and Fannie Lafontaine.

 

Al Bashir Case: CPIJ Co-Researcher Darryl Robinson presented observations before the ICC

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Darryl Robinson at the hearing

12 September 2018 – CPIJ Co-Researcher Darryl Robinson was yesterday before the International Criminal Court (ICC) to orally present Amici Curiae observations on controversial questions arising in the Al Bashir case. The Court’s decision will be of particular importance as the issue at stake, namely the question of immunities of heads of States, has been the subject of a heated debate over the last years.

President Omar Al Bashir of Sudan, accused of genocide and other crimes perpetrated in Darfur, is the object of an arrest warrant by the ICC. Following the failure of some States, including the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, to arrest him, the ICC rendered a decision in which it ruled that immunities of heads of States cannot be invoked to justify an absence of cooperation with the Court. Jordan appealed of this decision. It is in this context that on 18 June 2018, Darryl Robinson and a group of experts including members of the Canadian Partnership for International Justice were invited to submit Amici Curiae observations to the ICC concerning the appeal filed by Jordan. The Amici, namely Darryl RobinsonFannie LafontaineValerie OosterveldMargaret M. deGuzmanRobert Cryer and Carsten Stahn, argued that Al Bashir has no immunity before the ICC, in accordance with the interpretation adopted by the Pre-Trial Chamber.

On behalf of this expert group, Mr. Robinson, alongside with other Amici, was asked to orally present the Amici’s observations at a hearing before the ICC. The Partnership is proud to actively contribute to the making of a decision of the highest importance in the Court’s history with its Co-Researchers spearheading the development of complicated judicial advices.

More information about the Amici Curiae is available here.