Does Monitoring Human Rights in Sudan Still Matter?

Three displaced Sudanese women finding refuge under a tree (Photo Credit: Jean-Baptiste Gallopin for Amnesty International).

Three displaced Sudanese women finding refuge under a tree (Photo Credit: Jean-Baptiste Gallopin for Amnesty International).

By Khairunissa Dhala, Researcher on Sudan/South Sudan Team at Amnesty International

Does the human rights situation in Sudan still require a U.N.-mandated Independent Expert to monitor and report back on developments? That was among the issues to discussed as the 24th session of the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) opened this week in Geneva.

Given Sudan’s dire human rights situation – ongoing armed conflicts in three different states, restrictions on freedoms of expression, association and assembly, including arbitrary arrest and torture of human rights defenders and activists – it is hard to imagine that there is even a question on whether this is needed. But there is.

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During This Critical Time, Egypt Cannot Repeat Recent Mistakes

By Nicholas Piachaud, Egypt campaigner, Amnesty International

In Egypt, the army seems to be leading a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. Soldiers seem to have killed dozens of protesters supporting the post-president Mohammad Morsi. This is a human rights crisis, which stretches all across Egypt. And much of this current political violence could have been better contained if the security forces had put plans in place to control it.

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Justice For Syria: How Satellites Can Help

helicopters aleppo syria

Suspected attack helicopters at Aleppo airport. (c) 2012 GeoEye, produced by AAAS

Newly released satellite images of Aleppo show a highly militarized city, with dozens of roadblocks throughout the city and military vehicles operating in its streets. We used satellite images a couple of months ago to ring the alarm over the increased risk of turning a highly populated area, such as Aleppo, into a battlefield. Our warning turned out to be justified. The weeks that followed saw indiscriminate attacks that have killed and injured scores of civilians in Aleppo and elsewhere in northern Syria.

Today’s analysis, released by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and based on imagery from August 9 and 23, provides a detailed follow up to our initial assessment from earlier in July. As the conflict in Syria escalates, the increased deployment of battlefield equipment and tactics in urban areas emerge in satellite images. Here are some of the key findings of the new analysis:
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“I Never Thought It Was The Last Time I Would See My Family”

Ahmad Kayali

Ahmad Kayali was killed along with this mother, two sisters, uncle and cousin when his home in Aleppo was destroyed by an airstrike by the Syrian army.

“When I went to work, I never thought that it was the last time I would see my family. I lost all that was dearest to me, my children, my wife, my brother, my cousins, everybody.”

This statement by the husband of Asma Kayali, 25, sums up the situation civilians in Aleppo. Asma was killed with her three children – her daughters Kawthar and Fatima, aged nine and seven, and her four-year-old son Ahmad – when her home was bombed to dust by an air strike on August 6. In total, 10 members of the Kayali family – seven of them children – were killed in that attack, which is emblematic of Syria’s spiraling human rights crisis.

Today, the assault on Aleppo continues unabated, and more civilians are at risks to get killed by indiscriminate attacks carried out by government forces.

Unfortunately, my recent concerns about the specter of an imminent deployment of heavy weaponry in the densely populated environment of Aleppo have become a reality (also check out these pictures of urban warfare from a Reuters photographer). The result is a mounting number of war crimes piling onto an already extensive list of atrocities committed in Syria.

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UN Reveals Further Evidence of Atrocities in Syria

In its newest report on Syria, the UN Commission of Inquiry today revealed further evidence that the government and associated Shabbiha militias have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes over the last few months. In addition, the report found that armed opposition groups have also committed war crimes, although these crimes “did not reach the gravity, frequency and scale of those committed by Government forces and the Shabbiha”.

Most importantly, the commission announced that it will provide a confidential list of individuals and units it believes are responsible for these atrocities to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. This announcement is significant, and supports the statement I made last week that human rights violations and abuses in Syria, committed by either side, will not go unnoticed.

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Sri Lankan Report Doesn't Fully Address War Crimes

Displaced Sri Lankan Tamil civilians.

I’ve been waiting for months for the final report from Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (often referred to as the “LLRC”).  The commission had been appointed by President Rajapaksa in May 2010 to examine events during the last seven years of the war between the government and the Tamil Tigers (the war ended in May 2009 with the government’s victory over the Tigers).

The Sri Lankan government has used the existence of the commission to say that an international investigation into war crimes and other human rights abuses committed by both sides during the war in Sri Lanka wasn’t needed.  On Dec. 16, the Sri Lankan government released the LLRC’s final report.  I have to say that I’m disappointed with the report.

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13 Years of International Justice

Today we celebrate International Justice Day.

13 years ago, on July 17, 1998 2002, the Rome Statute came into effect, enabling the creation of the International Criminal Court. A few years later, signers of the Statute designated July 17 as International Justice Day, a day to all come together and celebrate the advances made in international justice – and reflect on ways in which we can strengthen the system and ensure no crimes are left unpunished.

Today, 116 countries have ratified the Rome Statute and are members of the ICC.  To date, three states – Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic – have referred situations in their countries to the Court, the Prosecutor of the ICC has initiated an investigation in Kenya, and the UN Security Council has referred the situations in Darfur, Sudan and Libya to the Court.  The Prosecutor is also in the process of conducting preliminary investigations in several countries, including Colombia and Cote d’Ivoire.

Meanwhile, trials are winding down at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which is expected to render a verdict in the Charles Taylor case in the next few months, the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, which are expected to wind down in 2012 and 2013 respectively . SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Sri Lanka's Killing Fields

Sri Lanka

Civilians, in between Kilinochchi and Mulathiv, Sri Lanka, May 2009, during the last few months of the war. (c) Private

Last night, I watched a harrowing new documentary, “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields,” by Channel 4, a British media company, about the final months of the civil war in Sri Lanka in 2009.

The 49-minute film depicts the massive human rights abuses and violations of the laws of war committed by both the Sri Lankan government forces and the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels.  The film is available online at Channel 4′s website until June 21.

Please note:  some of the scenes in the film are very disturbing.  It is NOT for younger viewers.

The film includes an extended version of the “execution video” released in 2009, in which naked prisoners are shown being shot in the head.  There are scenes of dead female Tamil Tigers who appear to have been raped and murdered.

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Hope for Justice in Cote d'Ivoire?

New Amnesty report on Cote d'Ivoire

Between the months of January and April of this year, Amnesty International researchers spent more than two months in Côte d’Ivoire investigating and documenting the human rights abuses that have occurred since the November run-off election for the Presidency.

The result of their work is a report, released today, which outlines grave crimes committed by parties on both sides of the political contest, and continued violence associated with communal conflict in the west.

After what was widely recognized as a free and fair election in November, Alassane Ouattara was pronounced the new president, defeating incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to step aside. Between December and April, military troops and militias loyal to each politician fought intensely for control of the country, leading to Gbagbo’s arrest on April 11 and Ouattara’s ascension to the presidency.

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