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

DJ-Fugitives-Infographic BOSCO

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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.”


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

international justice fugatives

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.


Chad Disregards Its Obligation to Arrest Al Bashir

Chad’s government seems to have misplaced its copy of the Rome Statute, the founding document of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir, who was recently charged with the crime of genocide by the ICC, just spent the last two days in Chad, without the Chadian government lifting a finger to respect its obligations under the Rome Statute.

Chad ratified the Rome Statute in November 2006 – which means they have an obligation to arrest and surrender to the Court individuals like Al Bashir who have had warrants issued for their arrest by the ICC. But Chad’s government went as far as stating that, no, they did not have an obligation to arrest Al Bashir.

Presumably, Al Bashir was in Chad to discuss the agreement Sudan and Chad signed in January 2010 to normalize their relations while armed insurgencies continue to devastate eastern Chad and western Sudan. Chadian President Idriss Déby had gone to Khartoum in February to meet with Al Bashir, and several weeks later the two governments started to deploy a jointly-commanded military force along the border. But as we noted in our most recent report on Chad, fighting continues to erupt between the Chadian National Army and armed opposition groups. The situation across the border in Darfur remains extremely volatile, especially with the arrival of more than 1,000 new refugees in Chad in May 2010.

Between this refusal to arrest Al Bashir while he was in Chad and the government’s insistence that the UN peacekeeping mission in eastern Chad, MINURCAT, withdraw before the end of the year, human rights are being threatened.


Turkey: Arrest & Surrender Bashir!

Sudanese President Omar al Bashir is expected in Istanbul, Turkey, this Sunday and Monday for a summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). Back in March, the International Criminal Court indicted al Bashir on counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, which means al Bashir is a fugitive from international justice and that no countries should willingly host al Bashir without taking steps to arrest him and surrender him to the ICC in The Hague.

President Omar al Bashir is a fugitive from international justice, charged with responsibility for crimes against humanity and war crimes against men, women and children, including murder, rape, torture and forced displacement. It would be a disgrace for Turkey to offer him safe haven – Christopher Keith Hall, Senior Legal Advisor, Amnesty International.

According to the BBC, Turkish President Abdullah Gul has no intention of arresting al Bashir, even though the European Union has asked him to reconsider his invitation to al Bashir. Turkey may not have signed or ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, but it still has a duty under international law to arrest al Bashir and surrender him to the court in The Hague.

Since his indictment in March, al Bashir has visited seven countries: Eritrea, Egypt, Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe. Due to pressure from the international community and civil society groups however, he was forced to cancel 2 recent trips to Uganda and Nigeria.

Take action now to urge the US government to support the ICC’s investigations in Darfur!

Is it all "over" in Darfur?

Resolution in and around Darfur is far from"over".

Resolution in and around Darfur seems far from"over" to the millions of people still displaced. (Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

The departing Force Commander of UNAMID (United Nations – African Union Mission in Darfur), General Martin Luther Agwai, has been widely quoted as saying so. And if “over” is taken to mean the end of large-scale clashes between heavily armed forces, then this statement is true. In his view, the problems are now essentially related to “security issues… banditry, localised issues, people trying to resolve issues over water and land at a local level. But real war as such, I think we are over that”.

Is this assessment substantially new?

Not necessarily. In the most recent July 13, 2009 Report of the Secretary-General on the deployment of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur, UNSG Ban Ki-moon also noted the reduced levels of force on force violence:

During June 2009, there was a decline in the reported levels of violence in Western Darfur, although the armed parties along the Chad-Sudan border remained on high alert… following attacks by the Justice and Equality Movement on positions near Umm Baru (Northern Darfur) in mid-May 2009, there have been no significant military operations, although Sudanese Armed Forces have maintained an increased presence and military patrolling activities in the areas of Umm Baru, Kornoi and Tine, Northern Darfur… large-scale violence stretching over a wide territory and for lengthy periods is now infrequent.

This reported reduction in fighting, should it last, can only be welcomed by those interested in seeing a possible breathing space open for some form of eventual negotiated peace.

But does that mean that Darfur, as the problems there are popularly understood, is “over”? Certainly not.

The same July 2009 report by the UNSG states clearly and unambiguously: “the situation for the civilians of Darfur continues to be deeply troubling, with 2.6 million internally displaced persons (IDP) unable to return to their homes and some 4.7 million Darfurians in need of assistance. Meanwhile, banditry and sexual violence continue to plague civilians throughout Darfur.”

The assessment of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is just as worrisome:

Conflict and the displacement of civilians within Darfur, and to Chad, continue to hamper efforts to protect and assist the region’s 2.5 million IDPs, as well as some 45,000 Chadian refugees and more than 3,000 refugees from the Central African Republic. The joint African Union and United Nations hybrid force (UNAMID) is present but unable to carry out all its responsibilities due to a lack of equipment and personnel… in Darfur, besides insecurity, violence against women and environmental degradation, the primary concerns of people are in access to land and other livelihood opportunities. Migration heightens rivalries over natural resources, and competition for water, firewood and grazing land can lead to conflict.

In other words, while fighting may be down currently, the underlying issues which lie at its root have yet to be addressed or resolved and the humanitarian consequences of this remains unabated. Coupled with the very serious challenges surrounding the Comprehensive Peace Agreement which has led to a Government of National Unity after many years of North/South conflict, the UNHCR assessment remains all too true today: “The conflict in Sudan continues to affect millions of people and create a complex and volatile political and security situation that remains a challenge for the humanitarian community”.

Similarly unresolved, despite the current lull in major combat, are the very important issues surrounding impunity and the International Criminal Court indictments. Amnesty International has repeatedly called for cooperation on the indictments, which concern President Bashir and others, while rejecting the smoke screen neo-colonialist argument attempting to delegitimize the ICC:

Africa played a leading – indeed, decisive – role in 1998 in the establishment of the ICC. Thirty African states have so far ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. African states strongly supported the creation of the ICC as a court of last resort to ensure that African victims of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes receive justice and reparations whenever states were unable and unwilling to investigate and prosecute such crimes. Three African states, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda, referred situations in their own countries to the ICC on such a basis. A fourth country, Côte d’Ivoire, has recognized the ICC’s jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute crimes in its territory or by its citizens abroad.

Until a real and lasting peace is negotiated which confronts the underlying conditions which have led to six years of war, allowing for the safe return of refugees and the internally displaced and including safeguards marking an end to impunity and a respect for the legitimate ICC process, it is not – and cannot be – “over” in Darfur.

Written by Gilbert Martin, East Africa Coordinator for Amnesty International USA

Anyone have any Doubts about al Bashir?

As Alertnet is reporting, relief efforts in Sudan are “plunging into Chaos” after Sudanese president Omar al Bashir ordered 16 relief organizations to pack up shop and leave. As one aid worker described it:

“Everything is crazy. Most of the agencies thrown out don’t think they’re going to get back so they’re trying to work out how to transfer everything to agencies still in Sudan.”

Or in plain UN language:

These 16 organizations employ nearly 40 percent of the aid workers in Darfur – 6,500 national and international workers. The total number of humanitarian staff affected by the Government decision in northern Sudan, including Darfur, is 7,610, of which 308 of that number are international staff and 7302 are national.

(…) the Humanitarian Country team in Sudan reports the following implications of the resulting decision by the Government to halt the programs of these 16 NGOs:

1) 1.5 million beneficiaries will no longer have access to health and nutrition services. (…)

2) Water supply, sanitation and hygiene services provided by these NGOs to 1.16 million people will soon be interrupted (…)

3) Some 1.1 million people will stop receiving general food distribution and the treatment of some 4,000 children for severe and moderate malnutrition over the next three months could be interrupted.

As you can see, there are enough reports, analyses and resources on the developments in Sudan out there (thankfully also on its wider implications). However, you should also have your own say on the dramatic developments in Sudan and – more importantly – share your opinion with the people who can contribute to reinstating the aid organizations.

A step towards justice for Darfur?

The ICC’s pre-trial chamber has issued an arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir, the head of state of Sudan. Already, the government in Khartoum has rejected the court’s decision.

The government of Sudan must comply with the arrest warrant. The ICC case against al-Bashir and already-issued arrest warrants against Ahmed Haroun and Janjaweed leader Ali Muhammad Ali Abd al-Rahman must proceed without delay. The United States–no traditional friend of the ICC–joins the ranks this morning of states and peoples around the world who demand justice for violations of the most inviolable prescriptions of international law.

Irene Khan, the Secretary General of Amnesty International echoed the legal obligations of Sudan: “The law is clear. President al-Bashir must appear before the ICC to defend himself. If he refuses to do so, the Sudanese authorities must ensure he is arrested and surrendered immediately to the ICC.”

Amnesty has long campaigned for justice for Darfur, and campaigned for Khartoum to cooperate with the ICC. Omar al-Bashir’s war crimes, steadfast obstruction of justice, and evident crimes against humanity have placed him rightly among other indicted international criminals. His role as head of state of Sudan is not a shield against the law; while he has been happy to use his power to violate the law and create an a climate of impunity, that power must–and will–bend to the most fundamental notions of justice.

Stay tuned here as news and analysis continues to develop throughout the day…