Haiti: A Safe Haven for "Baby Doc" Duvalier…Really?

Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier

Jean-Claude Duvalier lunches in Port-au-Prince (Photo Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images)

When I was in Haiti with Amnesty in December, training local activists in using new technology for human rights, I had the opportunity to meet many local defenders and activists.

We spoke openly about the prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence in Haiti and the impunity the perpetrators of those crimes enjoy.  We also spoke about the right to housing and the illegal forced evictions the Haitian government was conducting in displacement camps.

The one topic we didn’t discuss out rightly (for good reasons) was that Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier had recently returned to Haiti, that he still has a network of supporters, and that he has not been held accountable for his alleged crimes — including torture, disappearances, and killings — committed during his 15 year reign.  Crimes for which it not appears he will not be held to account for.

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Syria: Why The Security Council Matters

Update: Take action now by urging the Russian government to join others on the UN Security Council in putting an end to the bloodshed in Syria.

The crisis in Syria has reached a pivotal point. The situation on the ground has sharply deteriorated over the last few days, prompting the Arab League to suspend its mission.

In New York, the UN Security Council will be briefed today by Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby, followed by a potential vote on a new draft resolution later this week. A Syrian activist currently based in the U.S. described this new development yesterday by stating: “It has become the last chance for the Security Council to act.”

I agree that it is high time for the Council to end its silence—if demands to end the serious and widespread human rights violations are front and center of the resolution. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

As Ramadan Begins, Arab Militaries Strike Back

“While they were hitting me I told them I’m pregnant, they shouted: who’s the father, then hit my stomach with his stick”

— Egyptian woman in Tahrir Square Aug. 1.

Egyptian demonstrators rally in downtown Cairo's Tahrir square on July 29, 2011. © Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

This was a weekend Arab armies struck back.  In Syria, tanks attacked protesters in Hama, killing at least 100 according to Amnesty International reports.  The military was back in action Monday as well.

In Egypt, reports are coming in from Egypt that the military is clearing out activists from Tahrir Square after more than a week of protests calling for a faster pace of reform. All morning reports from Tahrir Square painted a picture of mobs of people picking out protesters, surrounding them, provoking scuffles and then turning the activists over to soldiers nearby.

Unlike in Syria, the violence doesn’t appear to involve shooting, and no deaths have been reported, but there have been reportedly large number of arrests and social media was reporting eyewitness accounts of several injuries.
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Will UN Finally Act On Syria Atrocities?

© Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

The situation in Syria further escalated over the weekend. Yesterday alone, more than 100 people were reportedly killed across the country and the death toll is feared to be increasing.

In a by now familiar pattern, Syrian authorities used tanks and snipers to attack civilians. We believe that the crimes committed in Syria constitute crimes against humanity.

I just learned that the UN Security Council will hold an emergency meeting on Syria later today and I urge you to sign our online petition to call on Brazil, India and South Africa to end their opposition to a Security Council resolution condemning the grave human rights violations.

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Amnesty Report Reveals Crimes Against Humanity in Syria

Oqba al-Sha'ar

Oqba al-Sha'ar, one of at least nine men believed to have died in custody in Tell Kalakh, Syria. © Private

The protests in Syria to demand change began in mid-March, and since then the Syrian government has ordered a brutal crackdown against the protesters, while blocking access to international journalists and human rights observers to document the events in Syria. Today, Amnesty International released a report that sheds light on what happened in Tell Kalakh, near the Lebanese border, in May when Syrian army and security forces mounted a broad security sweep.

Amnesty International reveals that security forces committed atrocities against Syrian civilians by rounding up men and boys, arresting them and torturing them in detention for weeks. At least nine people died in custody and one person was killed by snipers, according to witnesses who spoke to Amnesty’s researchers. The abuses documented in the report, according to Amnesty, amount to crimes against humanity as they appear to be part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Crimes Against Humanity: ICC Prosecutor Requests Arrest Warrant For Gaddafi

10-year-old Maryam Mahmoud al-Hassouni was killed by shrapnel on 5 April 2011 from a mortar which landed in the courtyard of her home in Zawia al-Mahjoub neighbourood of Misrata while she played there. © Amnesty International

International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo today requested arrest warrants for Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and the country’s spy chief Abdullah al-Senussi,  for Crimes Against Humanity.

In the world of international justice, this request comes at lightning speed: After the UN Security Council (unanimously!) referred the situation to the ICC only days after violence and armed hostilities broke out in Libya in mid-February, the request for arrest warrants comes only three months later.

In a press conference held today, Moreno-Ocampo stated that al-Gaddafi personally ordered attacks against unarmed civilians. His office collected evidence that security forces shot peaceful protesters, that heavy weaponry was used against participants in funerals, and that snipers shot at civilians. According to the ICC prosecutor, these crimes were committed in a systematic and widespread manner and are still ongoing in areas under al-Gaddafi’s control. While the ICC judges will consider the request for arrest warrants, the Office of the Prosecutor will continue to collect evidence, including on potential war crimes committed since armed conflict broke out in Libya.

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Brazil Hides its Crimes Through Inhumane Legislation

It has been 25 years since Brazil’s military regime ended.  Yet, the crimes and violence enforced by the country’s authorities from 1964 to 1985 have failed to see the light of justice.

Military Dictatorship in Brazil

Brazil's Military Regime

As a condition to allow the restoration of democracy in Brazil in 1979, the military regime enacted legislation designed to provide blanket amnesty for ”political or political related crimes” committed since 1961.  The law has been used since then, to provide state agents with immunity from crimes they committed during the country’s military era.  Because of it, state officials were able to get away with torture, enforced disappearances and killings.  These crimes are so grave, that they  fall under the jurisdiction of international law.

A few months ago, in April of 2010, the Brazilian Supreme Court had an opportunity to repeal the amnesty law.  Many of us hoped that the “new Brazil” would show maturity and respect for human rights.  Instead, they decided to uphold the old interpretation, indicating that crimes committed by members of the military regime were political acts and therefore they were protected by the amnesty law.

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Time for Justice in Senegal

For more than 10 years, victims of former Chadian president Hissène Habré have been waiting for justice. Since he was chased from power in 1990, Habré has been living in Senegal, where, despite being charged by the Dakar regional court in 2000 for crimes against humanity, acts of torture and acts of barbarism, he continues to enjoy impunity for his crimes.

Habré’s role in the violation of human rights in Chad has been well documented. In 1992, a Truth Commission Report concluded that 40,000 political murders and 200,000 cases of torture occurred in Chad while Habré was president. And in 2005, Habré was indicted by a Belgian court for war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture.

While Senegal has taken some very positive steps towards ensuring Habré will face trial, such as arresting him in 2005 and subsequently reforming its laws to remove any legal obstacles to his trial, the fact that his trial still hasn’t begun is unacceptable. Every month, new victims, or relatives of victims, die without having seen Habré brought to trial. But Senegal’s president Abdoulaye Wade keeps making excuses, claiming a lack of funds to start the trial and demanding that the international community finance the trial before it can start. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Tentative Hope for Internally Displaced Persons in Africa

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Children in Kalma Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp, South Darfur, Sudan.

An internally displaced person is someone forced from their home by natural disaster, extreme poverty or political conflict but do not leave the borders of their homeland. This is the crucial difference between internally displaced persons and refugees; refugees cross a border, leaving their homeland and subject to protections afforded by international treaties. There are more than 25 million internally displaced persons (IDP’s)  in the world, outnumbering refugees by a ratio of two to one. However the vast majority of relief efforts target refugees rather than IDPs and there are no United Nations agencies or international treaties that specifically target this population-until now.

 Africa is home to at least half of the world’s IDP’s. Algeria, Sudan, Chad and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) all have at least a million IDP’s each. “[In Africa,] forced displacement … is mostly attributable to the acts or omissions of the state, such as human rights violations, political and socio-economic marginalization, conflicts over natural resources and governance challenges, according to the AU.” In late October, seventeen member nations of the African Union signed the Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons. Previously, the only international law document specifically targeted to IDP’s was the Guiding Principles for Internal Displacement. As the name suggests, this document only lists suggested principles of behavior to prevent and manage situations of displacement; it is what’s referred to as “soft law” in that it is not binding on State’s behavior. Conventions and treaties, on the other hand, are binding on State’s behavior and can lead to sanctions or adjudication. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Goldstone report findings support Amnesty's own field investigations

Amnesty International said yesterday that the recommendations of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict, if implemented, offer the best hope for justice and accountability. The UN-mandated report by Judge Richard Goldstone found that both Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups committed grave violations of international law, including war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity, during the Gaza conflict this year.

 

 The report supports Amnesty International’s own findings of war crimes committed by both sides.

Donatella Rovera, who headed Amnesty International’s fact finding mission last winter in Israel and the Gaza Strip, said:

“The UN Security Council and other UN bodies must now take the steps necessary to ensure that the victims receive the justice and reparation that is their due and that perpetrators don’t get away with murder. The responsibility now lies with the international community, notably the UN Security Council, as the UN’s most powerful body, to take decisive action to ensure accountability for the perpetrators and justice for the victims. The Security Council must refer the Goldstone findings to the International Criminal Court Prosecutor if Israel and Hamas do not carry out credible investigations within a set, limited period.”

Note:  The United States holds the Presidency of the United Nations Security Council for the month of September.

Despite powerful evidence of war crimes and other serious violations of international law which emerged during and in the aftermath of the conflict, both Israel and Hamas have failed to carry out credible investigations and prosecute those responsible.  The UN Security Council condemned attacks against civilians during the conflict and urged both sides to respect international law, but so far it has turned a blind eye to the allegations of war crimes and other grave violations committed by both sides.

The report’s findings are consistent with those of Amnesty International’s own field investigation into the 22-day conflict during which some 1,400 Palestinians and nine Israelis were killed (four other Israeli soldiers were killed by their own side in ‘friendly fire’ incidents).

Most of the Palestinians killed by Israeli forces were unarmed civilians, including some 300 children. Amnesty’s investigations also found Israeli forces carried out wanton and wholesale destruction in Gaza, leaving entire neighborhoods in ruin, and used Palestinians as human shields.  Amnesty’s findings also agree with the Goldstone report in that the rocket fire into southern Israel by armed Palestinian groups, including Hamas, was indiscriminate which constitutes a war crime.

Key findings of the Goldstone report include:

• Israeli forces committed violations of human rights and international humanitarian law amounting to war crimes and some possibly amounting to crimes against humanity. Notably, investigations into numerous instances of lethal attacks on civilians and civilian objects revealed that the attacks were intentional, that some were launched with the intention of spreading terror among the civilian population and with no justifiable military objective and that Israeli forces used Palestinian civilians as human shields.

• Israeli forces committed grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention, notably wilful killing, torture and inhumane treatment, wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, and extensive destruction of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly. As grave breaches these acts give rise to individual criminal responsibility.

• Israel violated its duty to respect the right of Gaza’s population to an adequate standard of living, including access to adequate food, water and housing. Notably acts which deprive Palestinians in Gaza of their means of sustenance, employment, housing and water, that deny their freedom of movement and their right to leave and enter their own country, that limit their access to an effective remedy and could amount to persecution – a crime against humanity.

• Palestinian armed groups violated the principle of distinction by launching rocket and mortars attacks which cannot be aimed with sufficient precision at military targets and that their attacks into civilian areas which had no intended military target constituted deliberate attacks against civilians. Such attacks constitute war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity.

• Palestinian combatants did not always adequately distinguish themselves from he civilian population and they unnecessarily exposed civilians to danger when they launched attacks close to civilian or protected buildings.

• The Fact-Finding Mission found no evidence that Palestinian armed groups directed civilians to areas where attacks were launched or that they forced civilians to remain within their vicinity, nor that hospital facilities were used by the Hamas de-facto administration or by Palestinian armed groups to shield military activities, or that ambulances were used to transport combatants, or that Palestinian armed groups engaged in combat activities from within hospitals or UN facilities that were used as shelters.