In this week’s review, news about the victim representation, Ntaganda and Judge Ozaki, TVPA trial on Somali torture, Syrian war crimes arrest in NL, and more.
PTC makes decision on organisation of legal representation for victims in Yekatom and Ngaïssona case
On 23 May 2019, the Pre-Trial Chamber II (PTC) of the International Criminal Court (ICC) made a decision regarding the organisation of victim representation in the trial of Alfred Yekatom and Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona. The PTC set out that the victims broadly fall into two categories, divided over concerns of potential conflicts of interests. The first group are victims of the alleged crime of enlisting children under the age of fifteen years into armed forces or groups or using them to participate actively in hostilities per article 8(2)(e)(vii) (‘Former Child Soldiers’) and second being victims of other crimes included in the Warrants of Arrest against Yekatom and Ngaïssona (‘Victims of Other Crimes’). The Registry communicated with the different victim’s groups to determine what they sought from their legal representation. The Former Child Soldiers made requests for their lawyer to be, among other things, Central African, able to speak Sago, honest and competent and able to keep them informed. The Registry also spoke with two groups from The Victims of Other Crimes. The first asking for an honest and ethical lawyer, who was Central African and of Muslim faith. The second focused instead on a competent and empathetic lawyer who the victims had met.
The reasoning for this division comes from the allegation that the militias made up of child soldiers were used to attack the Muslim population of the Central African Republic. This means that the two victim groups have ‘manifestly oppos[ing]’ interests. The Registry was of the opinion that common legal representation for the victims is the ‘most appropriate way forward’ for this case. However, the Registry conceded that the two distinct groups of child soldiers, and other victims may be warranted. The PTC ordered the Registry to enquire as to whether legal representatives designated by the Victims of Other Crimes are willing to act jointly within a single team representing victims, and to inform the Chamber of this by 7 June 2019. It also decided to appoint counsel from the OPVC to act as representatives for the Former Child Soldiers. (ICC-PTC).
Ntaganda’s Defence formally requests for the disqualification of ICC Judge Ozaki
The Defence for Bosco Ntaganda has requested the disqualification of Judge Ozaki due to the appearance of a lack of judicial independence resulting from her service as a senior diplomat of an ICC state party. The Defence moved to have her disqualified despite her recent resignation as a diplomatic representative of Japan in Estonia. Referring to a source which reported that Judge Ozaki was engaging in diplomatic activities in Estonia as early as March 2019, the Defence argued that as long as it was lasting, it was incompatible with her judicial independence. In its opinion, her role as a judge while also a diplomat is incompatible with the separation of powers. According to the defence, her recent resignation is unsatisfactory in terms of judicial independence because of its belated nature and because it “resulted in negative personal, professional and financial consequences for her that give rise to a reasonable apprehension of bias.” The Defence further argues that Judge Ozaki “did not resign until after she had assumed her position as a senior Japanese diplomat and actively served in that capacity”. Citing the “almost universal” practice of the States, the Defence argued that it is unthinkable for a judge to work on a criminal case and simultaneously exercise executive powers. In support of its claims, it cited Judge Ozaki’s own words when she was selected as an ICC Judge. “[o]f course, once elected, I will leave the Government of Japan, as requested by the Rome Statute.” Judge Ozaki was appointed as Ambassador of Japan to Estonia in February 2019. A plenary of judges convened on 4 March 2019 decided by an absolute majority that her diplomatic appointment did not violate Article 40 of the Statute while she also served as a non-full-time judge at the ICC. She eventually resigned as an ambassador on 1 May 2019.(Redacted request for disqualification)
Former Somali Commander found guilty of torture in US court in TVPA trial
Yusuf Abdi Ali, a former Somali national army colonel, has been found liable of torture during Somalia’s civil war in the 1980s by a jury in a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. He was tried under the Torture Victim Protections Act, a law prohibiting torture whether it occurs in the US or overseas and allows the nationals, including the non-US citizens to bring claims before the US courts. Yusuf Abdi Ali, a supporter of Somali dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, lived in the US and worked as a Uber driver after being deported from Canada for serious human rights violations. The civil claim before the court was brought by another Somali national, Farhan Tani Warfaa who accused Abdi Ali of kidnapping, interrogating and subsequently torturing him in 1987. In support of his claims, the court heard numerous witnesses, including from within the diplomatic and military ranks. Following the verdict, the jury awarded the victim, Mr Warfaa, $500,000 in damages. Abdi Ali was exposed in a documentary produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 1992. The documentary depicted the stories of torture and murder perpetrated by Abdi Ali under the name “Colonel Tukeh.” Abdi Ali managed to return to the US in 1996 despite being deported. He later passed security screening to work for Uber. (BBC, The Telegraph)
Alleged Jabhat al-Nusra commander arrested in the Netherlands
Dutch police arrested a Syrian national suspected of committing war crimes and terrorism in Syria. Under the reported name Abu Khuder, he was allegedly a commander of Ghurba’s Mohassan (Strangers of Mahasan) battalion of Jabhat al-Nusra. The man was found in Kapelle, south Netherlands, after a lead from German authorities, together with witness testimonies against him. The suspect was residing in the Netherlands after having been granted temporary asylum in 2014. As part of the criminal investigations, his house was raided, and assets seized. German authorities simultaneously searched the houses of other suspects residing in Germany. The 47-year old Syrian national will be brought before The Hague District Court on 24 May 2019. The Hague District Court, as part of the Dutch domestic judicial system, has been appointed to hear cases involving international crimes such as the current one. (Openbaar Ministerie)
Rights Groups Claim India Tortured Prisoners in Kashmir
Human rights groups have released a report documenting 432 alleged cases of torture of Kashmiri people by the Indian state. The allegations, which go back as far as the 1990s, include solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, sexualised torture, rape, electrocution, beating and burning. The Director General of Police stated that no claims of torture have been brought to the attention of Police. The UN Human Rights Council has called for a Commission of Inquiry into the alleged human rights violations in Kashmir. Although India has been a signatory to the United Nations Convention against Torture since 1997, it has not ratified the treaty. (Al Jazeera)
Allegations of Mass Human Trafficking, Sexual Slavery in North Korea
Human rights group Korea Future Initiative have published a report indicating thousands of North Korean women and girls are being trafficked into sexual slavery in China, including some as young as 9 years old. According to the report, North Korean refugees in China are especially vulnerable to exploitation because they are at risk of being returned to North Korea, where they may be tortured or executed. The report’s author estimates that almost 50% of female North Korean refugees in China are forced into prostitution. (Business Insider NL)
Amnesty International calls on UNSC to address alleged war crimes and CAH in Idlib Syria
On 17 May 2019, the UN Security Council (UNSC) discussed the situation in northwest Syria. Amnesty International shared testimony by medical workers in Idlib and Hama, where the Syrian government is allegedly carrying out a deliberate and systematic assault on hospitals and other medical facilities with the support of Russia. The UN and Syrian medical organisations report that at least 15 hospitals have been reported to be damaged or destroyed in Idlib and Hama since the beginning of May and that the attacks have displaced around 180,000 people. Further, according to Amnesty at least 16 humanitarian organisations have had to suspend operations in Idlib due to the attacks. Noting that deliberate attacks on civilians and on civilian objects, including hospitals and other medical facilities, violate international humanitarian law and amount to war crimes, Amnesty urged action from the UNSC members to do everything in their power to end the crimes and hold the perpetrators to account. (Amnesty)