War Criminals Are Running Out Of Time – And Space

A statement in an AP story, relating to the start of the trial of alleged war criminal Ratko Mladic, recently caught my attention:

… the fact that he [Mladic] is jailed and on trial is seen as another victory for international justice and hailed by observers as evidence that — more often than not — war crimes tribunals get their indicted suspects, even if years later.

This is a very optimistic and strong statement regarding the current state of international justice. Is the reason for optimism justified? I absolutely think so.

Let’s recap some of the recent historic events to bolster my argument that time’s up for war criminals:

  1. The first conviction of a former head of state for international crimes since the Nuremberg trials: Charles Taylor, Mr. Blood Diamond, was convicted on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in late April.
  2. Milestone verdict on child soldiers and the ICC’s first verdict: Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, a Congolese warlord, was found guilty in March of the war crime of using children in armed conflict.
  3. The Mladic trial: 17 years after Srebrenica―infamously known as “Europe’s worst massacre since World War II”―Ratko Mladic had his first day in court on May 16. He faces genocide charges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Mladic allegedly orchestrated the killing of some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in July 1995. The completion of his trial could mark a milestone for the survivors, who did not see a verdict against Slobodan Milošević (who passed away while on trial in 2006).
  4. The unanimous referral by the UN Security Council of the situation in Libya to the ICC. The vote in February 2011 showed a surprising shift in positions when all 15 members―including non-state parties to the ICC such as the United States and Russia―voted in favor of a referral.

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19 Reasons Why Russia Must Speak Out Against Syria Atrocities

syria vigil

A top Russian official made the following statement today:

Russia enjoys good and strong military technical cooperation with Syria, and we see no reason today to reconsider it—Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov

While Russia touts its good and normal relations with the Syrian regime, more evidence has emerged of crimes against humanity committed by the Syrian government under President Bahsar al-Assad. Our new report “I Wanted to Die”: Syria’s Torture Survivors Speak Out exposes the system of torture within Syria, on a scale not seen for decades. It identifies 31 methods of torture.

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Homs at Gunpoint: Satellites Track Assault on Syrian Cities

Field Guns Cropped

Field guns deployed at the Shinshar artillery base oriented towards Homs. DigitalGlobe Natural Color Image, Feb. 22, 2012, Shinshar artillery base, Shinshar, Syria, 34 36 23N 36 45 08E

Syrian authorities are continuously escalating tactics to ensure a complete media blackout, as witnessed last week by their deadly attack on a makeshift media center in Homs that killed and wounded several foreign journalists. To counter that blackout, Amnesty has secured satellite imagery to track developments on the ground and document human rights violations.

The images from Homs and Hama show clearly that armed forces have not been removed from residential areas, as demanded by the U.N. General Assembly resolution from mid February. In Hama, the images reveal an increase in military equipment over the last weeks, raising the specter of an impending assault on the city where the father of current President Bashar al-Assad unleashed a bloody 27-day assault three decades ago, with as many as 25,000 people killed. With reports of a ground assault underway in Homs, the analysis of imagery identifies military equipment and checkpoints throughout Homs, and field guns and mortars actively deployed and pointing at Homs. Additionally, the images show the shelling of residential areas in Homs, concentrated on the Bab ‘Amr neighborhood. Artillery impact craters are visible in large sections of Bab ‘Amr, from where we have received the names of hundreds killed throughout the period of intense shelling.

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Satellite Image Shows Homs On Fire

homs syria pipeline fire

Pipeline on fire in Homs, February 15. Source: (c) 2012 DigitalGlobe

In the latest blow to the beleaguered citizens of Homs, a pipeline close to the city exploded yesterday. Satellite images captured the magnitude of the fire and the thick smoke covering the city. The pipeline was reportedly on fire at the edge of Baba Amr district, a neighborhood that experienced some of the heaviest attacks by government forces.

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Crisis Mapping 2011 – State Of The Art

Over the last years we have explored the use of Information and Communications Technologies for human rights research and campaigning, using satellite images to document human rights violations, ranging from attacks against civilians during armed conflict to housing demolitions, to the impact of oil spills on communities.

At Amnesty International we are looking more and more to expand our work, trying to take advantage of technological progress and new communications tools. We’re not alone.  Others around the world are also using cutting edge technologies to bring about change and many are meeting this week in Geneva at the annual Crisis Mappers conference.

So instead of writing my own blog entry, I thought I’d give you a peak on what’s happening in the world of crisis mapping.

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(S)Hell In The Niger Delta: Satellite Images Document Oil Spills

Bodo Nigeria Before-After

Right: (4 December 2006): A false-color image of the waterways around Bodo. Healthy vegetation appears bright red. Left: (26 January 2009): This image, taken during the second oil spill in Bodo, shows vegetation death concentrated mainly near the river and its tributaries. (c) 2011 GeoEye and Digital Globe (Produced by AAAS).

Newly released satellite images visualize the devastating impact of the 2008 oil spills in Bodo, Nigeria, part of a pattern of destruction by oil companies in the region.

The images from 2006, 2009 and 2011 document the destruction of large swathes of vegetation near Bodo’s riverbanks. The true and false-color satellite images show rainbow slicks in the water ways, discoloration of the intertidal zone and vegetation death around Bodo. Three years after the oil spills, the pollution is still visible in the images.

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Syrian Government Targets Wounded And Health Workers

A few weeks ago we reported how Syrian authorities went global with their repression by targeting Syrian activists abroad.

In a sign of further escalation, Syrian authorities have turned hospitals and medical staff into instruments of repression in their efforts to crush the unprecedented mass protests and demonstrations.

People wounded in protests or other incidents related to the uprising have been verbally abused and physically assaulted in state-run hospitals, including by medical staff, and in some cases denied medical care, in gross breach of medical ethics, and many of those taken to hospital have been detained.

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Repression Goes Global: Syrians in US Targeted By Syrian Embassies

Syrian Embassy in London

Syrian Embassy in London

While the United Nations Security Council keeps bickering and remains inactive, Syrian authorities go global with their repression of free speech and assembly.

By now it’s well documented by both NGOs and the United Nations that crimes committed by Syrian security forces against peaceful protesters may amount to crimes against humanity. Since mid-March, more than 2,200 people are reported to have been killed and thousands of others have been arrested.

However, now Syrian authorities are taking it to the next level. In more than four years of working on international human rights crises, I have never seen a foreign government systematically targeting peaceful protesters globally, which is exactly what the Syrian government is doing.

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UN Security Council: Stop Bickering And Vote For Human Rights In Syria

Will member states of the United Nations Security Council finally stop their bickering and start supporting the human rights of the Syrian people?

We might find out over the next 24 to 48 hours, as European member states circulated a new draft resolution to be voted on shortly. The new resolution was naturally watered down to appease opposition from Brazil, China, India, Russia and South Africa, who so far have opposed tough actions against the regime in Syria.

Death in custody case shocks the world

The human rights situation in Syria continues to be dire, most recently expemplified by the shocking story of eighteen-year-old Zainab al-Hosni of Homs who was decapitated, apparently while in custody of Syrian security forces. While an extreme case, her story is unfortunately hardly unique.

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Syrian Activist Ghayath Mattar Killed In Detention – Show Your Solidarity

Eight ambassadors to Syria took a dramatic step this week in condemning the Syrian crackdown by attending a vigil for a well-known Syrian activist. The activist, Ghayath Mattar, was reportedly killed under torture by security forces last week in Daraya, and his death was honored by hundreds of Syrians and the ambassadors from the US, Great Britain, Japan, and other EU countries.

The coordinated attendance of so many foreign leaders was an unprecedented and powerful statement of solidarity with the Syrian people that follows the deaths of an estimated 2,600 Syrians to date and confirmed reports of at least 95 deaths in detention.

The spiraling total of detainee deaths, together with the Syrian authorities’ failure to conduct any independent investigations, points to a pattern of systematic, government-sanctioned abuse in which every detainee must be considered at serious risk. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST