#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?

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

Sudan’s President Al Bashir Accused of Genocide by the ICC

Today, Pre-Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a second arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir for three counts of genocide. An arrest warrant was first issued for Al Bashir in March 2009 for five counts of crimes against humanity (which includes murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture and rape) and two counts of war crimes (for intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population and pillaging).

Satellite images provide evidence of the destruction of villages in Darfur. See more at www.eyesondarfur.org. Copyright 2009 DigitalGlobe

While a trial is the only way to determine whether or not Al Bashir is responsible for the crimes he is accused of, this second arrest warrant shows the determination of the ICC to ensure that those who have suffered the most from conflict in Darfur – civilians – have access to justice.

And while President Al Bashir will most certainly continue trying to evade justice and is unlikely to surrender himself in the near future, this new arrest warrant will certainly not make his life any easier. Even since the first arrest warrant was issued, his travel has been heavily restricted as he has been uninvited or at the very least, discouraged from attending many events in foreign countries.

This new arrest warrant, as the very least, reminds us that there is a still a lot to be done to ensure justice for the people of Darfur. That’s why we’re continuing to ask the US government to do all that they can to assist and cooperate with the ICC, especially on the Sudan cases. The Obama administration has stated that it supports international efforts to bring those responsible for genocide and war crimes in Darfur to justice. It’s time to put those words into action.

This coming Saturday, July 17th, the world will be celebrating International Justice Day, which provides us with a great opportunity to remind the US government that international justice should be a priority and to urge support for the ICC’s cases in Sudan. You can also celebrate by participating and hosting a variety of events. The American NGO Coalition for the International Criminal Court (AMICC), which AIUSA is a part of, has an extensive list of great ideas for activities you can plan in celebration of International Justice Day.

Darfur: New Evidence of Attacks on Villages

Back in 2007, Amnesty International launched a ground breaking website, Eyes on Darfur, which showcased satellite evidence of attacks on villages in Darfur. The images demonstrated the ongoing insecurity in the region and the destruction and violence civilians are confronted with on a daily basis. The site also broke new ground by allowing the world to literally “watch over” 12 villages that were determined to be highly at risk but that had not yet been attacked.

Just a few weeks ago, we updated the satellite images on the Eyes on Darfur site and found that sadly, several of these at-risk villages have been attacked and at least partially destroyed. We were able to document that between January 2008 and March 2009, four of these villages were subject to attacks by Janjawid militias and Sudanese government forces, which destroyed many of the structures in those villages.


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!

No Good Governance in Southern Africa?

Even though The Mo Ibrahim Foundation decided no former African leader merited its $5 million prize this year; when it ranked African nations on good governance, five of the top 10 were countries monitored by Amnesty International USA’s Southern Africa Co-group: Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, Sao Tome y Principe and Lesotho. Zimbabwe was in the bottom five. (I know: shocking.)

Botswana, which you might only be familiar with through The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, is often hailed as a shining light of democracy in Africa. Last week, Batswanans went to the polls and elected Ian Khama to a new 5 year term as president. Khama assumed the presidency last year when then President Festus Mogae  stepped aside for his then-Vice President in order to allow him to run as an incumbent this year. Talk about your smooth transitions of power, right? Except this is the second time this has happened and also ensures that the same ruling party remain in power for the past 43 years.


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

(Trying to) block out the world

On Thursday, March 12th, Amnesty USA posted a new web action aimed at getting Sudan to reinstate the operations of 13 international humanitarian aid agencies that were kicked out of Sudan and 3 domestic agencies that were shut down after the International Criminal cort issued an arrst warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.  The action targets the UN Missions of the African Union and League of Arab States and the Sudanese Embassy in the U.S.  

On Friday, calls from activists started pouring in, all with the same complaint: their emails to all three targets were being returned as “undeliverable”.   It would seem that facing a deluge of emails, the targets blocked their accounts from receiving incoming messages. So, now, Amnesty is asking activists to fax messages to these three targets urging them to persuade Sudan to rescind its orders.

The very people who ought to be looking out for the victims of the conflict in Darfur are trying to block words from reaching them that urge the continuance of life-saving support for millions of vulnerable men, women, and children.  Just as Sudan would pull the plug on this life-support system, people who could persuade Sudanese authorities to reinstate these 16 key aid groups are plugging their ears to the world’s outrage and urgent plea for help.

Bashir Behind Bars?

I welcome today’s history-making announcement of an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Bashir.  Since 2003 I have been part of Amnesty International’s global quest to put an end to Bashir’s policies that have hurt hundreds of thousands of Darfuri civilians.  Since 2005 Bashir has prevented Amnesty from entering Darfur – but still we found a way to pull of this attempt at a blindfold over our eyes- by taking  to the skies to tell the stories and exposing the truth.  Now one day Bashir will tell his own story in the Hague.

For the Darfuri victims of widespread rape, murder, torture and forced expulsions, today’s prosecution of Bashir is an important step to stop their suffering and move toward peace and security in this conflict-ridden region.  And with this history-making gesture toward a sitting head of state, the International Criminal Court has told abusers everywhere there is no ‘get out of jail free card’ for simply being in power.

So President Bashir, stop the vitriol, drink the bitter pill and do us all a favor, and opt to have your day in Court.  Because we will not rest until you do, the 2 million Amnesty International members voices globally who will assert our pressure on you, the government of Sudan, and any member of the United Nation who’s soil you may enter as a fugitive.

Check out my article on the Atlantic Community for more on Bashir’s prosecution.

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…