ICJ Media Review: Rights groups warn of crimes against Rohingya women and children
In this week's review, news about Mladic and Serbia’s support of provisional release, crimes against Rohingya Muslims and UN Committees and a Peoples’ Tribunal judgment, and domestic trials on Syria crimes
Government of Serbia supports provisional release of Mladic for health reasons
On 3 October, the Serbian government expressed its support for a provisional release of Ratko Mladic on health grounds. According to Serbia’s state TV, the government provided a guarantee, upon request of Mladic’s defence and family, that the former Bosnian Serb commander would not flee were he to be granted to the possibility to undertake a hospital treatment in Serbia. Mladic has been on trial at the ICTY since May 2012 on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, and has already suffered two heart attacks. In May, ICTY judges rejected a similar motion seeking Mladic’s provisional release for medical treatment in Russia. (The Seattle Times)
Rights groups warn of crimes against Rohingya women and children
On 4 October, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) called upon the Myanmar authorities to immediately stop the violence in the northern Rakhine State and to promptly investigate and prosecute cases of violence against women and children which “may amount to crimes against humanity”. “We are particularly worried about the fate of Rohingya women and children subject to serious violations of their human rights, including killings, rape and forced displacement,” said the UN experts in joint statement.
According to the latest estimates, more than 507,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since Myanmar’s army launched a military crackdown in response to an attack by Rohingya fighters in August this year. “Such violations may amount to crimes against humanity and we are deeply concerned at the State’s failure to put an end to these shocking human rights violations being committed at the behest of the military and other security forces, and of which women and children continue to bear the brunt,” read the joint statement. The Committees urged Myanmar’s authorities to prevent, investigate, punish and ensure redress for acts that violate women’s and children’s rights committed under its jurisdiction, and to grant access to and fully cooperate with the UN Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission to ensure full transparency and accountability. (Al Jazeera, Reliefweb)
Permanent People’s Tribunal finds Myanmar responsible for genocide, CAH and WC
In a preliminary judgment, Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) on Myanmar found the Myanmar government guilty of genocide against the Rohingya, crimes against humanity against the Kachin, the Rohingya and other Muslim minorities and war crimes against the Kachin people. It also found that the Myanmar government has the intent to commit genocide the Kachin and other Muslim minorities which could be implemented in the near future. The PPT is a public opinion tribunal that operates independently of state authorities and has no enforcement powers.
The PPT relied for its findings upon witness testimonies and documentary evidence of atrocities including systemic rape, murder and eradication of identity and culture. Its recommendations included a ceasefire and demilitarisation and the end of Myanmar’s official discrimination and persecution of the Rohingya, Kachin and other Muslims. (Khmer Times, People’s Tribunal on Myanmar)
HRW releases report on domestic trials and investigations on crimes in Syria
On 2 October, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a 66-page report detailing the various domestic measures in several European countries to address crimes committed in Syria. The report states in particular that Sweden and Germany are the first two countries that have prosecuted and convicted people for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Syria under universal jurisdiction. On 25 September 2017, Sweden, by founding an accused guilty of violating the dignity of a dead body, became the first country to convict a member of the Syrian army for crimes in Syria. In Germany, most of the cases are brought under terrorism charges. HRW emphasized the importance to investigate and prosecute grave international crimes rather than ‘only’ terrorism which could sound like a response to a domestic threat. To create the report,
HRW drawn on “interviews with 50 officials and practitioners working on these cases and 45 Syrian refugees in the two countries”. It documents the difficulties faced by the investigators and prosecutors as well as the experience of refugees and asylum seekers with the authorities. According to a fellow at HRW while “other avenues for justice [are] currently blocked, criminal investigations in Europe are a beacon of hope for victims of crimes in Syria who have nowhere else to turn” and victims expressed their need “to send the message to criminals that they will not escape”. In terms of difficulties, the report states both standard difficulties and ones that are related specifically to Syria.
Main challenges appear to be the ongoing conflict in Syria, the absence of access to crime scenes, obtaining information despite fear of retribution, and mistrust of officials. In addition, the report highlights the lack of knowledge from asylum seekers and refugees about “the systems in place to investigate and prosecute grave crimes in Syria, the possibility of their contributing to justice efforts in these countries, or the right of victims to participate in criminal proceedings”. In the report, HRW not only provided recommendations to Germany and Sweden but also to any country considering serious crimes investigations in Syria. For the former, HRW encourages the two countries authorities to offer adequate war crimes units and to consider “new ways to work with Syrian refugees and asylum seekers on their territory through outreach and public information efforts”. (HRW Press Release)
Photo: Mikhail Esteve