What is the UN Saying on Syria?

Sunjeev Bery on Sky News Arabia

Sunjeev Bery on Sky News Arabia

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.

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One Palestinian Village Obama Should Visit

Former prisoner of conscience Bassem Tamimi holds plastic and rubber-coated bullets fired by Israeli forces.

Former prisoner of conscience Bassem Tamimi holds plastic and rubber-coated bullets fired by Israeli forces.

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.

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The “Terminator,” War Crimes, and the Obama Administration: All Roads Lead to Rome

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Click on the image above to access the full-size infographic

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.”

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#Shabhag and the Complexities of International Justice

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Uprising of people at Shahbag, Dhaka, Bangladesh demanding death penalty of Kader Molla and all other war criminals who are now being tried before the International Crimes Tribunal Bangladesh for the serious crimes they have committed during the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971 (Photo Credit: Mehdi Hasan Khan).

Since February 5, there have been a series of large protests across Bangladesh coupled with violent counter-demonstrations. The protests were in response to the sentences given to Abdul Quader Mollah, a leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party. He received life in prison for his role in ”beheading a poet, raping an 11-year old girl and shooting 344 people” during the 1971 Liberation War. The protesters are demanding that Mollah be executed for his role in the 1971 massacres. We are calling for the government to resist such pressure. Meanwhile the Jamaat-e-Islami has been implicated in acts of violence against minority religious shrines in the southern part of the country.

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Mali Intervention Called a Success…Corpses of Civilians Poisoning Wells.

Idrissa Maiga, a Malian farmer, prays among the graves of his wife and three of his children in a cemetery behind the Konna school on January 27, 2013 who were reportedly killed by French army air strikes on January 11. Maiga's second wife, 41, and two boys and a girl aged from 10 to 14 allegedly perished on the morning of the 11th during the air raid and were buried the same afternoon.  (Photo: FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)

Idrissa Maiga, a Malian farmer, prays among the graves of his wife and three of his children in a cemetery behind the Konna school on January 27, 2013 who were reportedly killed by French army air strikes on January 11. Maiga’s second wife, 41, and two boys and a girl aged from 10 to 14 allegedly perished on the morning of the 11th during the air raid and were buried the same afternoon. (Photo: FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)

For background information on the French intervention and human rights situation in Mali, see here.

The French Defense Minister on Thursday said publicly that the “French intervention has succeeded.” Insofar as armed opposition and armed Islamist groups have either abandoned areas in the north of the country or tactically retreated—and this is a measure of success—that statement may be true.

Also released Thursday were initial findings from a ten day research mission in Mali by Amnesty International. In an unfortunate confirmation of the realization of  Amnesty International’s fears raised in December, the findings from this mission tell of the executions and disappearances of civilians, arbitrary arrests, beatings and ill-treatment, inter alia.

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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

#DemandJustice: The Website War Criminals Don’t Want You To Share

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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5 Steps Forward, 5 Steps Back: Catching and Convicting War Criminals

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Click image to view full infographic and list of wanted fugatives

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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Child Soldiers, Rape, Displacement: Is Mali A Forgotten Crisis?

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Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by fighting in northern Mali © Amnesty International

I am sure that many of you have recently heard or read about the armed conflicts and humanitarian crises in Syria and the Sudan (the latter thanks to some serious attention from celebrity actors and journalists). Less attention is being given to a country that is facing its worst human rights crisis in half a century: Mali.

The regional organization ECOWAS has been very invested in mitigating the crisis and is even preparing to send in troops. While these regional efforts are backed by the United States and other international actors, Mali’s crisis is not getting the attention it deserves and rarely makes the headlines.

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Milestone Verdict on Child Soldiers: Will Kony Be Next?

Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanda Dyilo listens at the International Criminal Court. MARCEL ANTONISSE/AFP/Getty Images

Today, the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced a historic decision, finding Thomas Lubanga Dyilo – the alleged founder of a vicious Congolese armed rebel group – guilty of war crimes for his use and abuse of child soldiers during the armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) between 2002 and 2003.

Lubanga’s conviction sets a historic precedent for international justice and accountability for those who commit the most unspeakable of crimes. Crimes like rape. Torture. Enslavement. Crimes common among Lubanda’s Union of Congolese Patriots and its armed wing, the FPLC.

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