Tag Archives: crimes against humanity

Investigating and Prosecuting War Crimes

The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, yesterday announced she was opening a “preliminary investigation” into possible war crimes committed during the ongoing conflict in the Central African Republic. The Central African Republic—one of Africa’s poorest countries—has been the site of ongoing sectarian violence for more than a year. Thousands of refugees have attempted to flee into neighboring countries, often escorted by African Union-backed peacekeeping forces.

In her report, Bensouda noted that her initial investigation has already found “hundreds of killings, acts of rape and sexual slavery, destruction of property, pillaging, torture, forced displacement and recruitment and use of children in hostilities,” and that “in many incidents, victims appear to have been deliberately targeted on religious grounds.” Some have suggested that the Central African Republic may be on the verge of genocide.

Fatou Bensoouda’s statement was published as a short, 3 minute video.

The International Criminal Court was created in 2002 to prosecute acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in situations where existing national legal systems are unwilling or unable to act. The ICC has come under attack in recent years for its near-exclusive focus on Africa, as all of the ICC’s investigations to date have focused on African countries.

What do you think? Should the ICC begin an investigation into developments in the Central African Republic? Is the ICC biased against Africa? Or does it merely reflect the concentration of conflict in the region? Can the ICC effectively deal with war crimes and crimes against humanity? Why or why not?

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Syrian Gas Attacks and the Responsibility To Protect

Doctors tend to a victim of sarin nerve gas near Damascus, Syria.

Doctors tend to a victim of sarin nerve gas near Damascus, Syria.

On Wednesday Syrian opposition groups released multiple videos supporting their claim that the Syrian government had launched chemical weapon attacks against opposition forces in the suburbs of Damascus. The attacks resulted in hundreds of deaths, including dozens of children. United Nations observers in Syria have so far been denied access to the area and are thus unable to confirm the attacks, but the videos leave little room for doubt that something took place. Most observers believe that the chemicals were some variety of sarin nerve gas, which induces nausea and drooling following by loss of control of bodily functions, convulsion, and ultimately death by asphyxiation.

Sarin was classified as a weapon of mass destruction by United Nations Resolution 687 of 1991, and its production or stockpiling was outlawed by the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. If confirmed, the use of sarin gas would constitute an escalation of the ongoing conflict in Syria, notably crossing a “red line” established by the Obama administration earlier this year.

The videos that have been released are powerful and contain disturbing footage. Viewer discretion is advised.

The Russian government has issued a statement claiming that there is no evidence that sarin gas was used, and that if it was used, there’s no evidence that it was the Syrian government rather than rebel groups that were responsible for its use. This move suggests that reaching consensus at the United Nations on future action in Syria may prove difficult. At the same time, the “Responsibility to Protect” (or R2P) doctrine articulated by the United Nations in 2005 suggests that the international community has an obligation to act. R2P has three pillars:

  1. States have a responsibility to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing.
  2. The international community has a responsibility to assist states in fulfilling their obligations under the first pillar.
  3. If a state “manifestly fails” to protect its population as required under the first pillar and peaceful measures by the international community under the second pillar have failed, the international community has “the responsibility to intervene through coercive measures,” which military intervention remaining the last resort.

The R2P doctrine is considered a norm rather than in legally binding international law, but its importance (both symbolic and moral) is rooted in the failure of the international community to address genocide in Rwanda and elsewhere. How exactly it may play out the Syrian context remains unresolved, but is certainly something worth watching.

What do you think? Does the responsibility to protect doctrine necessitate international intervention in Syria? Would such intervention be productive? Why? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

The ICC, Libya, and the Fate of Qaddafi’s Son

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the powerful Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

The son and intelligence chief of former Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi have both been captured by militia groups in Libya within the last few days. Both men are wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of crimes against humanity, and a tug-of-war has begun between the ICC and Libya’s new leaders over where and how these fugitives will be tried.  Libya’s interim government, the Transitional National Council (TNC), had promised to turn over these suspects to the ICC in the Hague once they were captured, but Libya’s leaders are now rethinking those commitments amid strong political pressure from some Libyan groups to try the men at home.

As discussed in a previous World Politics News Review post, the ICC is a 114-member International Governmental Organization (IGO) designed to prosecute individuals accused of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.  Although some countries, including the United States, have expressed concern that the ICC could trample on state sovereignty, the organization is supposed to adhere to the principle of complementarity, meaning it can only take action if national court systems are unable or unwilling to deal with the alleged perpetrators of these crimes.

In this case, Libya’s new government has yet to create an independent and effective court system capable of handling these trials, and the fate of Moammar Qaddafi–who was killed by a crowd of angry Libyans after being captured–casts further doubt on the country’s ability to hold a legitimate trial.  This situation therefore seems ideal for the ICC to step in under the principle of complementarity.  But many Libyans want Qaddafi’s son and intelligence chief tried at home for a range of offenses committed during Qaddafi’s long and oppressive rule.  One compromise that was discussed in a recent New York Times article would see the men tried first by the ICC on narrow crimes against humanity charges and then in Libya for a broader array of Qaddafi-era crimes against the Libyan people: “Holding a first trial in The Hague, lawyers and diplomats said, would have the benefit of keeping Mr. Qaddafi in a secure place and allow time for Libya to stabilize. The country also needs to build up a justice system, virtually from scratch, that is able to handle credible trials.”

What do you think?  Should the ICC relent and allow Libyans to try their own countrymen for crimes against the Libyan people?  Or would such an approach risk a trial that is–in image if not in reality–illegitimate, at a time when Libya is in desperate need of an independent and effective judiciary? If the ICC can pressure Libya’s leaders to take actions they don’t believe are in the national interest, has this IGO become too powerful?

The International Criminal Court and Global Governance

Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi, the target of an ICC arrest warrant.

The International Criminal Court’s decision this week to issue an arrest warrant for Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi has revived debate about the power and usefulness of the ICC in world politics.  The ICC is an international governmental organization (IGO)–an organization whose members are states–that was created by the 1998 Rome Treaty and today has 114 members.  Its purpose is to prosecute individuals accused of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.  (The charges against Qaddafi, his son, and his military intelligence chief were for crimes against humanity stemming from the regime’s  crackdown on anti-government protesters).  The ICC operates according to the principle of complementarity, which means that it can only act when national court systems are unable or unwilling to take action against the perpetrators of such crimes.  The United States has refused to sign the Rome Treaty and has expressed fears that its soldiers or government officials could be subjected to politically motivated prosecutions by the court, but it has increasingly shown a willingness to use the ICC as a tool to accomplish its foreign policy goals, as discussed in this piece by Colum Lynch.

“Global governance” refers to efforts to move beyond an anarchic system of sovereign states and create structures that can make and enforce rules at the global level.  The ICC is obviously a crucial part of these efforts.  However, a fundamental weakness of the ICC (and other global bodies) is that it does not have an army or police force that can enforce its arrest warrants and bring indicted war criminals such as Sudan’s President Bashir or Libya’s Moammar Qaddafi to justice.  One commentator described the ICC indictment as a fairly impotent call for Qaddafi to “please turn yourself in, now.”  Without “teeth” to enforce its dictates, the ICC must rely on cooperation from state actors, and a number of analysts have raised doubts about whether the NATO forces that are carrying out the bombing of Libya will extend their mission to enforcing the arrest warrant against Qaddafi and his associates.  David Kaye, director of the International Human Rights Law program at UCLA’s School of Law, put it this way:

“Arresting the three would require “boots on the ground,” a scenario that has largely — if not categorically — been taken off the table, especially by the United States. The last time NATO faced such a predicament, in Bosnia in the 1990s, it long resisted devoting any of its resources to enforcing arrest warrants issued by the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, even when it had significant numbers of troops on the ground.”

Beyond questions of enforcement, other analysts have argued that the ICC indictments, while morally and legally justified, represent a tactical blunder that reduces the chances of a peace deal that could end the bloodshed in Libya.  Foreign policy analyst and former National Security Council official James Lindsay argued in a May 17 Op-Ed piece that an arrest warrant “…would give [Qaddafi]  additional reason to dig in his heels. With the threat of arrest and trial in The Hague hanging over his head, he knows he will not have the option given dictators of old – going into exile to Paris (Baby Doc Duvalier) or retreat to Saudi Arabi (Idi Amin)…Both a rebel victory and a stable ceasefire remain out of reach. A diplomatic initiative to persuade Gadhafi to step down offers one way out of the current stalemate. But Monday’s ICC indictment simply gives him another reason to hang on and fight.”  For other thoughtful articles on the conflict between justice and peace in this case, see here and here.

The Atlantic’s Max Fisher provides a somewhat different view, arguing that “Ultimately, the arrest warrant is likely to serve as little more than another bargaining chip in any negotiations over ending Libya’s civil war. That’s a good thing — as fighting worsens and civil society degrades, anything that makes peace more likely is essential — but it’s not quite international justice in the legal sense of the term.”

A final critique, aimed not at the indictment of Qaddafi per se, but at the inconsistent application of international law (i.e., why Qaddafi and not others?)can be found here.

What do you think?  Was the ICC’s indictment of Qaddafi a wise step?  How can the structural impediments to global governance (foremost among them, state sovereignty) be overcome to enforce human rights globally and consistently?  Or would the surrender of state sovereignty to supranational organizations actually create more problems than it solves?

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The problem of piracy off the coast of Somalia continues to be a problem for the international community. Despite the presence of U.N. sanctioned international forces—which at times has among others involved U.S., E.U., Indian, German, British, French, and Portuguese naval vessels—Somali pirates last week attacked a U.S.-flagged ship and seized control of an Italian-flagged tug. The U.S. navy is engaged in a standoff with pirates who kidnapped the captain of the Maersk Alabama after its crew prevented them from taking control of the ship. In another standoff, French forces stormed a yacht held by pirates on Friday. One hostage and two pirates were killed in the operation.

In news from outside the Gulf of Aden last week:

1. The government of Thailand declared a state of emergency in Bangkok, the country’s capital, on Saturday, hoping to bring to a close the recent uptick in anti-government protest in the country. Under the terms of the state of emergency, the power of the government to arrest and detain people is significantly expanded, and large gatherings are banned. The opposition labeled the state of emergency as “an act of war.” An estimated 80,000 people took to the streets of Bangkok on Wednesday, demanding the resignation of the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who has been in office for five months. On Saturday, protestors in the Thai resort town of Pattaya forced the cancellation of a three-day summit of the Association of South East Asian Nations, embarrassing the Thai government.

2. The United Nations Security Council appears to be moving forward with a statement condemning last week’s rocket launch by North Korea. The statement, expected to be approved by the body on Monday, is a compromise between the demands of the United States and Japan for a resolution condemning the launch and China and Russia’s desire for a more cautious approach. Sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council following a North Korean nuclear test in 2006 have not been effectively enforced, but the current statement would permit the Security Council to extend or expand the sanctions.

3. Alberto Fujimori, former president of Peru, was sentenced to 25 years after being found guilty of human rights violation on Tuesday. Fujimori was elected president in 1990, but staged in coup in 1992, suspending the constitution and closing down Congress. At the time, the country was engulfed in a civil war, with the government fighting against the Shining Path and Tupac Amaru revolutionary movements. During the war, both sides regularly engaged in kidnapping, murder, and other crimes against humanity. Fujimori was the first democratically elected leader in Latin America to be tried in country for human rights violations and his trial is widely viewed as a potential model for other countries to follow.

4. The trial of Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi is expected to begin this week. Saberi, who has worked for the BBC, National Public Radio, and Fox News, among others, was arrested by the government of Iran on charges of espionage two months ago. Saberi’s trial would complicate overtures by the U.S. government to enter into formal, country-to-country negotiations with Iran over the status of its nuclear program.

5. Political instability seems to be the rule of the day in the “privileged sphere of influence” claimed by Russia. Thousands of protestors have taken to the streets of Tbilisi, demanding the resignation of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. The protests lack a unified theme, but common points of concern include increasing unemployment, Saakashvili’s poor handling of the war with Russia last August, and his attempts to limit the independence of the judiciary. Meanwhile, the constitutional court in Moldova granted Vladminir Voronin’s request to recount ballots from last Sunday’s disputed presidential election. Voronin’s community party won nearly half the popular vote and would get to choose the country’s next president. But anti-communist groups have refused to recognize the outcome and ransacked the president’s offices lat week.

The ICC’s Problem in Darfur

Earlier this week, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir, the current President of Sudan. According to the ICC, al-Bashir is wanted on suspicion of “being criminally responsible . . . for directing attacks against an important part of the civilian population of Darfur, murdering, exterminating, raping, torturing and forcibly transferring large numbers of civilians, and pillaging their property,” constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity.  The ICC has not accused al-Bashir of genocide, as many human rights activists have demanded.

The warrant, which makes al-Bashir the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the International Criminal Court, has sparked sharp debates in the international community.  The government of Sudan responded to the warrant by accusing the ICC of being a tool of neocolonialism.  China has requested that the United Nations Security Council suspend the warrant, a course of action supported by Russia.  The African Union has described the move as unhelpful.  Jean Ping, the Chair of the African Union, commented, “What we see is that international justice seems to be applying its fight against impunity only to Africa as if nothing were happening elsewhere, (such as) in Iraq, Gaza, Colombia or in the Caucasus. Issues of peace are so important that justice must take them into account in Sudan just as elsewhere.”

The U.S. government has been supporting the ICC’s efforts to prosecute al-Bashir, providing information to the court despite efforts by the Bush administration to limit the influence of the ICC with respect to U.S. nationals. 

The ICC’s warrant for al-Bashir has been the subject of much debate in the blogosphere.  At the Financial Times, Gideon Rachman poses the provocative question, “Is the Bashir arrest warrant a good thing?”  At SSRC, Alex de Waal argues that the ICC should not have indicted al-Bashir in the first place

The current standoff illustrates the real limits of international law, particularly international humanitarian law.  While there seems to be a common agreement that human rights should be protected, there remains significant disagreement over the scope of those rights.  Are human rights universal or culturally specific?  And even if we can reach agreement on the universality of human rights, should the ICC have universal jurisdiction (the ability to prosecute national of any country for violations of international law)?  These questions remain controversial—just witness the U.S.’s demand that its nationals be exempted from the ICC’s otherwise universal jurisdiction.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

There were many important and interesting stories this week.  WTO talks have resumed, the economic slowdown in the United States appears to be spreading to Europe and Japan, and Russia continues to reassert its position on the world stage.  But for now, here are five stories from the previous week you might have missed.

1.  Republican presidential candidate John McCain launched an attackon rival Barack Obama yesterday.  Obama cancelled a scheduled visit with wounded American troops in Germany after the Pentagon raised concerns about the potential political use of soldiers.  In a new television ad, McCain claimed that Obama would rather woo foreign leaders than visit US soldiers.  Obama countered that he refused to allow American soldiers to be used as pawns in a game of political back and forth.  The visit was supposed to be part of Obama’s international tour last week, when he visited leaders in Afghanistan, Iraq, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany.  The tour, which included a speech drawing more than 200,000 Berliners, was heralded as a success by the Financial Times editorials staff.

2.  Former Bosnian Serbian leader Radovan Karazic was arrested in Belgrade on Tuesday.   Karazic was the leader of Serbian forces responsible for Srebrenica massacre, where 8,000 people were murdered.  Karazic was wanted by the International Court of Justice and has been charged with crimes against humanity and genocide.  He had going by the name Dragan Dabic and earning a living as naturalist and alternative medicine guru since 1995.

3.  On Wednesday the Israeli Defense Ministry preliminarily approved plans to expand Jewish settlements in the West Bank.  The proposal must still be approved by Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.  Under international law, the settlements are illegal, but more than 450,000 Israelis live in such settlements.  According to Palestinian officials, Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are the most fundamental obstacle to peace in the region.

4.  Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has proposed to expand his cheap oil initiative, known as Petrocaribe, to more countries in Central America.  Chavez developed the plan as a way to curry the favor of countries in the region, hoping to sway allies in struggle against the United States government.  The plan allows countries to purchase oil from Venezuela at a reduced price and to finance purchases over low interest rates over 25 years.  High oil prices have increased participation in the plan, and now, even center-right governments in Central America are singing up.

5.  Tens of thousands of workers have taken to the streets in Johannesburg, South Africa.  Workers from across the country are participating in a nation-wide strike called by the country’s largest federation of local unions, COSATU.  Workers are protesting declining standards of living due to economic slowdown and a proposed 27.5 percent increase in the price of electricity.