As the UN General Assembly begins its meeting today in New York City, Amnesty International is delivering 187,563 signatures to the White House in a global call to cut off weapons that fuel abuses in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Yesterday, I joined the team at Sky News Arabia for a live discussion of the latest report on Syria by an independent UN panel. Special thanks to Sky News producer Arwa Sawan, reporter Joseph Khawly, and anchor Amer Abdel Aziz for giving Amnesty International USA an opportunity to share our analysis of the grave human rights situation.
The report (PDF) is a catalog of violence, suffering, and geopolitical developments, focusing on events between January 15th and May 15th of this year. It was produced by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011.
Yesterday morning, US President Barack Obama arrived in Israel to much fanfare. He has said that he has come to listen. One place he should start is the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
I visited Nabi Saleh last week as part of an Amnesty International research mission to the West Bank. The village sits atop a hill, facing the illegal Israeli settlement Halamish. The settlers of Halamish, like so many other Israeli settlers in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), are backed by the lethal force of the Israeli army.
For protesting against the settlement, the residents of Nabi Saleh have paid a heavy price. I spoke with village resident Bassem Tamimi, a man who Amnesty International previously declared a prisoner of conscience when he was imprisoned by Israel for involvement in peaceful protests. During Bassem’s most recent jail term, his brother-in-law Rushdi Tamimi, 31, was shot by Israeli soldiers at another protest in November 2012 and died days later in a hospital. In December 2011, another member of the village, Mustafa Tamimi, died after being hit in the face by a tear gas canister fired at close range from an Israeli military jeep.
As news breaks about the surrender of the “Terminator,” Bosco Ntaganda, to the United States embassy in Kigali today, the US State Department was quick to note that it “strongly support[s] the ICC and their investigations on the atrocities committed in the DRC.” Further, Ambassador Stephen Rapp, head of the Office of Global Criminal Justice, tweeted “Bosco #Ntaganda surrenders in #Rwanda and asks to the taken to the #ICC. We are helping to facilitate his transfer.”
This development, and the U.S. administration’s quick signaling of its intent to adhere to obligations to transfer Ntaganda to the court to answer charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity is welcome, and encouraging. Thus, I will not start with the call that “the US should take all steps to ensure the speedy transfer of Ntaganda to The Hague.”
As the Syrian crisis hits its two-year mark, the toll on civilians continues to grow exponentially. Peaceful protests that started in March 2011 were quickly met by government authorities responding with deadly force, leading to systematic and widespread human rights violations amounting to crimes against humanity. Followed by the escalation into a full-fledged armed conflict by mid-2012, today, both government and armed opposition forces continue pursuing a military solution to the conflict. Caught in the middle are civilians, paying a horrendous price for this deadly stalemate.
Based on field research conducted over the last weeks, an Amnesty researcher inside Syria uncovered new evidence of the government’s assault on civilians, and its outright disregard for the laws of war. This is most dramatically symbolized by the government’s recent ballistic missile strikes against eastern Aleppo, flattening entire blocks and killing 160 residents; or by the increased use of internationally banned cluster bombs.
By Angela T. Chang, Advocate, Crisis Prevention and Response Team, Amnesty International USA
When a little boy is kidnapped, turned into a child soldier, forced to kill or be killed — that’s slavery. When a little girl is sold by her impoverished family—girls my daughters’ age—runs away from home, or is lured by the false promises of a better life, and then imprisoned in a brothel and tortured if she resists — that’s slavery. It is barbaric, and it is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world.
— US President Barack Obama, September 2012
Despite these strong words by President Obama against the use and recruitment of child soldiers a few months ago, he got reprimanded earlier this week for falling flat in delivering on tangible actions to address this issue.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child released a new report on Tuesday, calling out the U.S. and the Obama administration for failing to adhere to its international human rights obligations by continuing to waive sanctions on military assistance, per the 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act, to countries that are known to recruit and use child soldiers – a clear violation of children’s rights and a war crime if the children are under the age of fifteen. Yes, you read that right. Seems confusing and backwards? That’s because it is.
Mali is currently facing its most serious humanitarian and human rights crisis since its independence in 1960, with myriad rights abuses rampant, amounting to what may become charges of war crimes and/or crimes against humanity. Cue the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Six years ago, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda. Today, the effect of the failure to arrest him can be seen in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where he and other members of armed groups remain free to commit further human rights violations against civilians.
The DRC is one of several situations featured on our new Demand Justice website. It was launched on International Justice Day earlier this week in order to provide us with a more powerful tool to mobilize activists around the globe to bring Bosco Ntaganda and others to trial.
If convicted war criminals, such as Thomas Lubanga Dyilo had a Twitter account, he probably would not share our new site. If war crimes suspects Joseph Kony and Omar al-Bashir were active on Facebook, they would hardly “Like” our Fugitives from International Justice infographic. Why not?
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Today, supporters of human rights mark the Global Day for International Justice, an anniversary the need for which makes ‘celebration’ difficult, if not impossible. A cursory look over last year of developments as it relates to securing justice for the most egregious of crimes—war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide—might yield cause for optimism, however.
Five Steps Forward for Justice
- Over the last year, following a UN Security Council referral of Libya, the International Criminal Court (ICC) found reasonable grounds for issuing arrest warrants for top Libyan officials, even as conflict was ongoing, demonstrating the ability and importance of the court in active crises.
- The ICC saw the first verdict and sentence handed down as Thomas Lubanga answered for conscription of children in devastating conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
- Also over the last year, Laurent Gbagbo, the former head of state of Cote d’Ivoire, became the first head of state to be surrendered to the ICC for alleged crimes, only one week after his indictment.
- At the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, Ratko Mladic finally faces prosecution for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide for the largest mass murder in Europe since the end of World War II.
- The first conviction of a former head of state since the Nuremburg trials, as my colleague Angela Chang describes, was a historic step for international justice.
Yesterday, Syrian President Bashar Assad justified his government’s actions by comparing himself to a doctor trying to save a patient. As reported by the Associated Press, Assad stated in a speech:
When a surgeon in an operating room … cuts and cleans and amputates, and the wound bleeds, do we say to him your hands are stained with blood? Or do we thank him for saving the patient?
The disturbing words come against a backdrop of horrifying violence. Amnesty International has received the names of nearly 10,000 people killed since the government began cracking down on peaceful protestors over a year ago. Although peaceful demonstrations have continued, the unrest has turned increasingly violent. Armed opposition groups, many loosely under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), have also carried out attacks — mainly against Syrian security forces.