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.


Security and Justice in Cote d’Ivoire

By Erwin Knippenberg, Cote d’Ivoire Country Specialist

As ECOWAS negotiators entered a second round of talks with incumbent president Gbagbo, security and justice for Ivorian citizens must remain the main concern. Any violators of human rights can and should be held accountable to the ICC.

According to the UN, Gbago backers are responsible for 173 deaths since the election and 90 cases of torture.  Armed groups still conduct nightraids in certain neighborhoods, beating up or kidnapping people perceived as opponents to the regime. The situation could still escalate into full civil war and ethnic cleansing. We see government sponsored hate speech aimed at immigrants and attacks on peacekeepers as bad omens. In Rwanda, such racist rhetoric mixed with political concerns escalated into genocide. We cannot allow this to happen again.

Both Gbagbo and Ouattara have pledged to protect civilians, and Gbagbo explicitly condemned any groups involved in these atrocities. Yet, forces loyal to him continue in their rhetoric and have blocked UN investigations into reports of two mass graves.

Instead, Gbagbo has ordered the UN force to leave, citing violations of his country’s national sovereignty, specifically targeting France. Some of his supporters have even attacked UN peacekeepers.

Amnesty International has outlined its official position on Cote d’Ivoire, emphasizing the protection of human rights and the importance of holding violators accountable. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Cote D'Ivoire Reaches Tipping Point as Death Toll Hits 200

At a special session of the UN Human Rights Council today, the US claimed that the post-election violence in Cote D’Ivoire has claimed 200 lives so far – a much higher toll than previously reported. U.S. ambassador Betty E. King told the Council:

We have credible reports that almost 200 people may have already been killed, with dozens more tortured or mistreated, and others may have been snatched from their homes in the middle of the night.

This bleak assessment came shortly after the United States indicated that it is looking into strengthening the existing 10,000 strong UN peacekeeping force (UNOCI) in the West African country, in order to stabilize the situation and increase international pressure on Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to step down after the recent elections.

The human rights situation on the ground is deteriorating on a daily basis, and we have received many first-hand accounts of abductions, disappearances and illegal detention over the last days. Additionally, the existence of militia groups and an increase in hate speech by Gbagbo controlled media―inciting ethnic violence against certain ethnic groups and political opponents―brings the country closer to the edge and the worst case scenario: a return to civil war. In anticipation of further escalation, several Western countries have advised their citizens to leave the sinking ship. The fact that forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo have started to harass UN peacekeepers is an additional sign of worse things to come. Looking at all these indicators combined, I believe that over the next days, it’s make or break for Cote D’Ivoire. We will see very soon whether international and regional actors will be able to mitigate the conflict, or if the country will plunge into a full fledged human rights crisis that has the potential to destabilize the whole region. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Ivory Coast On The Brink

A week after the Ivory Coast’s presidential election, both candidates have declared victory, sworn themselves in and appointed cabinets. Unfortunately, this means a return to violence and instability for the country’s civilians, many of whom hoped this election would mark an end to the conflict, which split the country in 2002. Instead, clashes between supporters of both parties and the security forces have led to 20 people being shot dead. Among the dead are Bayo Alassane, a man who was shot while on his way to buy cigarettes, and Kaboré Moumouni, a butcher who was shot en route to work. Additionally, the insecurity has led many warehouses to close, leading to shortages of meat, fish, gas and cooking oil and prices of sugar, beef and potatoes skyrocketing. Russia today blocked a statement by the UN Security Council that would have recognized challenger Alassane Ouattara as the winner.

Security forces have fired live rounds at protesters © APGraphicsBank

Moreover, with no indication that a compromise is near between the incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara, this violence isn’t likely to stop any time soon. In fact, with the rebel army that has controlled northern Ivory Coast since 2002 aligned with Ouattara, the Ivorian army aligned with Gbagbo and armed militias on both sides, a continued impasse could lead to massive violence.

The Ivory Coast’s security forces, rebel army and armed militias must oblige by international standards and protect the country’s civilians.