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Lawyers Without Borders Canada Organizes an Event on the Fight against Impunity in Mali

By | Communiqués de presse, News, Press Releases

CPIJ Co-Researcher Janine Lespérance and Abdoulaye Doucouré. (Photo by Catherine Savard)

5 December 2018 – On this first day of the 17th Assembly of State Parties (ASP) to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which takes place from 5 to 12 December 2018, in The Hague (Netherlands), CPIJ partner organization Lawyers Without Borders Canada (LWBC) organized a side-event on the fight against impunity in Mali, titled “Réconciliation et lutte contre l’impunité au Mali : un faux dilemme” (“Reconciliation and Fight against Impunity in Mali: A false dilemma”).

At the occasion of this event sponsored by Canada, who was represented by the Head of Canada’s Delegation at the ASP, Mr. Alan Kessel, CPIJ Co-Researcher Janine Lespérance moderated a panel composed of Mr. Abdoulaye Doucouré, LWBC Transitional Justice Coordinator in Mali, and Ms. Bouaré Bintou Founé Samaké, President of the Malian division of the organization Women in Law and Development in Africa.

The event discussed the possibility for victims of international crimes perpetrated in Mali since the start of the armed conflict in 2012 to have access justice, thus deepening the reflection initiated at the occasion of a side-event organized during the 17th ASP in 2017.

Alan Kessel presented introductive remarks. (Photo by Catherine Savard)

After introductive remarks were presented by Mr. Kessel, discussions critically explored the draft law on “national understanding”, which was recently transmitted to the Malian National Assembly to be discussed on 13 December 2018. LWBC declared itself highly concerned by the possible adoption of this bill, which would open the door for an amnesty to be granted to authors of serious crimes perpetrated during the armed conflict which raged in this country.

The permanent insecurity that prevails in many northern communities and that has recently spread in the center of Mali was identified as a major hindrance for victims to have access to justice. It was further highlighted that sexual and gender-based violence are rampant and rarely ever denounced.

(Photo by Érick Sullivan)

Since 2015, LWBC has been active in Mali in the context of the project “Justice, prévention et réconciliation” (“Justice, Prevention and Reconciliation” or JUPREC). This project is made possible thanks to Global Affairs Canada’s financial support, and is implemented by LWBC in consortium with the Centre d’étude et de coopération internationale and the École nationale d’administration publique.

Neighbors Refer Venezuela to Criminal Court in ‘Historic’ Rebuke

By | CPIJ in the Media, News | No Comments

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?

By | CPIJ in the Media, News | No Comments

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/