In this week’s review, news about the Karadžić appeal judgment, Rwandan genocide suspect in NL, the Philippines and the ICC, American drone strike crimes in Somalia, ISIS mass graves and more
MICT Appeals Chamber affirms Karadžić’s genocide conviction and increases sentence to life imprisonment
The Appeals Chamber of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (‘MICT’) has unanimously upheld all convictions against Radovan Karadžić on appeal. It set aside the previous sentence of 40 years imprisonment and imposed a sentence of life imprisonment. While the outcome of the appeal judgment met with allegations of bias and “politics winning over justice” within Bosnian Serb political community, it was welcomed in Croatia and Bosnia as well as within the international community. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic said “Fighting against denial of war crimes & educating about the truth is now more important than ever.” The appeal judgment was given 10 years after his arrest. Mr Karadžić was a founding member of the Serbian Democratic Party and, from 17 December 1992, served as President of Republika Srpska and Supreme Commander of its armed forces.
In March 2016, the Trial Chamber of the UN ICTY convicted Radovan Karadžić of genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of customs of war through participating in a joint criminal enterprise (‘JCE’) and found him responsible for some of the acts of his subordinates in the Srebrenica genocide. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison. Both the Prosecution and Mr Karadžić filed their respective appeals which were largely dismissed on appeal. The Appeals Chamber upheld Mr Karadžić’s individual criminal responsibility for participating in an “Overarching JCE” by ordering deportations and forcible transfer of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb claimed territory in municipalities throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, the Chamber reversed (Judge Joensen dissenting) some convictions related to the ‘Overarching JCE to the extent that they are based on untested evidence with respect to some Scheduled Incidents. The Appeals Chamber similarly rejected Mr Karadžić’s ground of appeal vis-à-vis his participation in a JCE aimed at terrorising civilians by engaging a campaign of indiscriminate or disproportionate snipping and shelling of Sarajevo between May 1992 and October 1995.
The Appeals Chamber reiterated that Mr Karadžić significantly contributed to the execution of the common plan with an intent to commit murder, terror, and unlawful attacks against civilians. The Appeals Chamber further found no error in finding that Mr Karadžić shared the genocidal intent to eliminate men and boys in Srebrenica through deportations and killings. Mr Karadžić’s conviction for sharing a common plan in taking UN personnel hostage was also upheld on appeal. The Appeals Chamber dismissed all but one Prosecution’s grounds of appeal. In this respect, the Appeals Chamber found (Judges De Prada and Rosa dissenting) that the Trial Chamber committed a discernible error and abused its discretion in imposing an inadequate sentence of only 40 years of imprisonment. Judge Joensen and Judge De Prada filed their dissenting and separate opinions. Judge Joensen expressed his partial disagreement regarding the assessment by the majority in reversing Mr Karadzic’s conviction for certain Scheduled Incidents within the Overarching JCE. Judge De Prada disagreed with the majority in rejecting the remainder of the Prosecution’s grounds of appeal and its legal as well as factual analysis. Regarding the Prosecution’s Ground 3 she concluded that “thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats, whom the Trial Chamber categorised as merely displaced, were in fact subjected to conditions of life aimed at their physical destruction.”Mr Karadžić will serve his sentence outside the Netherlands.
Rwandan genocide suspect arrested in the Netherlands, Rwanda requests extradition
On 19 March, the International Crimes Unit of the Dutch police arrested on a Rwandan national Venant R, in Leersum on the suspicion of his involvement in the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Reportedly, Venant R, who is now 69 was a regional director of ISAR Rubona, Butare province. It is reported that thousands of Tutsi men, women and children who gathered on the compound of ISAR Rubona were killed. Rwandan authorities requested his extradition to Rwanda on the basis of his possible involvement in the crimes. His refugee application was rejected by the Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation Service in 2000 based on this suspicion. (Openbaar Ministerie)
Philippines leaves the ICC
The Philippines has formally withdrawn from the International Criminal Court (ICC), as of 17 March 2019. The country initially announced it was leaving the ICC in February 2018 after the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) launched a preliminary investigation into alleged extrajudicial killings ordered by President Rodrigo Duterte as part of his campaign against drugs. The Philippines has become the second country to withdraw from the court, following Burundi in 2017. The exit of the Philippines may not fully prevent the OTP’s investigation, however, as Article 127 of the Rome Statute provides that the ICC still has jurisdiction over crimes committed before the departing country’s effective exit date. The validity of the withdrawal has also been challenged domestically. (Washington Post)
Amnesty Demands Investigation into US Drone Strikes & Possible War Crimes in Somalia
Amnesty International has released a report which indicates that 14 civilians have been killed in Somalia by US air strikes in the past two years. These deaths appear to violate international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes. Amnesty International states that its claims are based on compelling evidence, including photographs of bodies and eyewitness accounts. However, AFRICOM, the US Africa Command, denies that any civilians have been killed or injured by US airstrikes. The air strikes followed Trump’s declaration that southern Somalia was an area of active hostilities, which broadened the targeting mandate and increased the risks to civilians. Amnesty estimates that the true civilian death toll is likely to be higher, given the large number of air strikes, and has called for the US Government to investigate the deaths and provide greater transparency in its airstrike operations. (Amnesty International, National Public Radio).
Guatemalan Legislators Walk Out of Vote on Amnesty for War Crimes
A vote in Guatemala’s Congress on a bill proposing Amnesty for war crimes has been suspended after several lawmakers walked out, leaving the Congress without a quorum. The bill would see over 30 people convicted of war crimes released and would stop investigations into thousands of cases. International human rights organisations, the US government and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights have all called on Guatemala not to go ahead with the vote, and human rights lawyers have raised concerns that an amnesty would be unconstitutional, a violation of international treaties and a denial of justice for victim’s families. (NY Times).
UN report finds Israeli troops may have committed war crimes
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has submitted a report on 18 March 2019 to the UN Human Rights Council, detailing the findings of the independent international Commission of Inquiry on the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories. The mandate of the Commission specifically relates to demonstrations that began in Gaza on 30 March 2018, the response of Israeli security forces, and the impact on civilians in Gaza and Israel. The report states that some acts may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity and it has recommended that States parties to the Geneva Conventions and the Rome Statute carry out their duty to exercise criminal jurisdiction and arrest persons alleged to be responsible for the crimes and either try them or extradite them. The Commission has created a confidential dossier of suspects which has the Human Rights Council has been authorised to give to the ICC. The report notes that the state of Israel says it has started a criminal investigation. The Human Rights Council is currently wrapping up its 40th session this week in Geneva. (Jerusalem Post; Full Report)
UN investigative team on ISIS crimes uncovers mass graves
The United Nations team investigating ISIS crimes in Iraq (UNITAD), working under Iraq’s Council of Ministers, Ministry of Health, & the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), took the first steps towards documenting and proving crimes that were alleged to have been committed by ISIS in August 2014. They began exhuming a mass grave in the southern Shingal village of Kocho on 15 March 2019. The UN investigators are gathering evidence of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide for use in Iraqi courts that will try ISIS militants. This was the first exhumation in the Shingal area where there are 35 known mass graves out of at least 200 mass graves across Iraq that were left behind during ISIS’s “reign of terror”. Yazidis, the ethno-religious minority that was targeted by ISIS, and local officials attended the exhumation. (Rudaw)
US threatens visa ban for ICC Afghanistan investigations
The United States announced that it would be revoking or denying visas to any members of the International Criminal Court involved in investigating the actions of US forces in Afghanistan or other countries. The secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, also added that the US was also prepared to take further action, including economic sanctions, should the ICC go ahead with any investigations of US or allied personnel “including Israelis, without allies’ consent”. According to the secretary of state, the visa restriction policy is already being implemented and is aimed at protecting “the American and allied military and civilian personnel from living in fear of unjust prosecution for actions taken to defend our great nation.”
This policy comes in response to Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s request to judges in November 2017 to investigate alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Afghanistan since May 2003 by Taliba, Haqqani network and Afghan national security forces, as well as acts committed by US military and agencies. These allegedly include “acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence against conflict-related detainees in Afghanistan and other locations, principally in the 2003-2004 period.”Judges are still reviewing the material that was submitted to them by the Prosecutor to decide whether to authorise the investigation. It appears that ICC investigators may also be seeking to investigate US military conduct in black sites across the globe where people were held in secret detention for months, some of whom were allegedly tortured. The ICC has responded to the US visa restriction policy by asserting its independence and stating that it continues to operate undeterred. (Al Jazeera, The Guardian)
Photo: Gobierno de Guatemala (2008-2012)/WikiCommons