Justice For Syria: How Satellites Can Help

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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:

Aleppo: Why We Should Be Alarmed

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Syrian men look at a destroyed Syrian army tank parked outside the Azaz mosque, north of the restive city of Aleppo, on August 2, 2012. (c) AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/GettyImages

News reports coming out of Aleppo paint a grim picture of the confrontation between opposition fighters and the Syrian armed forces, who are describing this as the “decisive battle”. If the past 16 months are any indication, we have to brace ourselves for a new wave of human rights violations, as well as grave breaches of international humanitarian law. As has been extensively documented by Amnesty International and others, the atrocities committed in Syria have steadily continued to climb.

For example, one of my colleagues who recently returned from Aleppo, documented crimes we believe amount to crimes against humanity. Her reporting from late May describes how government security forces and the notorious government-backed shabiha militias routinely used live fire against peaceful demonstrations in Aleppo, killing and injuring protesters and bystanders, including children, and hunting down the wounded, the medics who treated them, and opposition activists. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Ex-Liberian President Who Brought "Blood Diamonds" Into the Public Consciousness, Found Guilty of War Crimes

Charles Taylor

Today, the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) in The Hague convicted Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, with aiding and abetting 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity – including murder, rape, sexual slavery and use of child soldiers – committed during Sierra Leone’s 11-year civil war.

Set up jointly by the Government of Sierra Leone and the United Nations, the Special Court is  a “hybrid” or “mixed” tribunal, including both international and Sierra Leonean staff,  as well as  elements of both international and Sierra Leonean law.

Charles Taylor is the first former head of state to have been prosecuted in an international criminal court for crimes committed in Africa, and today’s conviction marks the first verdict for a head of state charged with international war crimes since the Nuremberg trials following World War II.


#Kony2012 and the Warping Logic of Atrocity

Joseph Kony Uganda LRA

Joseph Kony (STUART PRICE/AFP/Getty Images)

In the past 48 hours, there has been a flood of criticism of Invisible Children’s #Kony2012 campaign—much of it fair, some of it less so.

My first exposure to IC’s work was some time ago when—with Resolve—they launched the LRA Crisis Tracker. In stark contrast to the criticisms of implicit disempowerment of affected people by the Kony2012 campaign, this tool empowers communities through radio and digital communications to effectively form an overlapping system of neighborhood watch in LRA-affected areas. It is—in short—good work, and represents the promise of access to the benefits of science and technology, whether for underprivileged people in the US, or communities facing security threats in Uganda and elsewhere.


Milestone for International Justice in Kenya

Kenya police passout paradeOn Monday, the International Criminal Court (ICC) ruled that four out of six senior-level Kenyan officials must stand trial for crimes against humanity. This includes two presidential hopefuls, and all four are accused of complicity in the widespread violence that erupted in the aftermath of the bitterly disputed 2007 presidential elections which left over half a million Kenyans displaced and over 1,100 killed.

The ruling by the ICC marks an important milestone for victims of violence and their right to justice, truth, and reparations, and will also go far in setting a historic precedent in ensuring international justice for crimes committed against humanity worldwide. ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo stated:

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.


Ethiopia, Tanzania & Zambia: Arrest Former President Bush for Torture

Protest Bush Canada

Activists protest former President Bush's visit to Canada

Yesterday, Amnesty International urged the governments of Ethiopia, Tanzania and Zambia to arrest former US President George W. Bush for crimes under international law, including torture, when he visits this week. (Amnesty International has made the same request of Switzerland and Canada during the former President’s trips to those countries.)

Now I know what you’re thinking: it’s not gonna happen. If the US government won’t arrest former President Bush for torture—President Obama has said he wants to look forward, not backward—why would some other country stick its neck out? Well, there is precedent for such an arrest (read: Chilean General Augusto Pinochet); it’s up to regular people like us to demand it.


Canada Should Arrest and Prosecute George W. Bush on Visit

george bush

© Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

Former president George W. Bush has reportedly raked in millions of dollars on the speaking circuit, and tomorrow he heads to British Columbia, Canada for another speaking event.  And, it looks like he will come and go with utter impunity.

Something about that sounds wrong.  In fact, it is wrong:  Canada, as a party to the UN Convention Against Torture, has a legal responsibility to arrest, investigate and prosecute (or extradite for prosecution to a willing country) anyone suspected of torture.  So, it would seem that a Bush visit north of the border would prompt Canadian authorities to slap the former president with an arrest warrant.


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