Statement on the ICC Ruling in Burma

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - September 6, 2018

[New York]– The Global Justice Center applauds the International Criminal Court (ICC) Pre-Trial Chamber I for recognizing the Court’s jurisdiction over crimes committed by Burma’s security forces that were continued into Bangladesh—including the crimes against humanity of deportation, persecution and other inhumane acts. The ICC’s decision provides the opportunity to see real accountability for the crimes committed against the Rohingya.

Since the commencement of “clearance operations” by Burma’s security forces last August, over 700,000 Rohingya have been forcibly displaced to Bangladesh. The ICC’s ruling potentially opens the door to other ongoing crimes, elements of which have occurred in Bangladesh or as a result of their displacement to Bangladesh. Forcible displacement has been found by international courts to not only be a crime against humanity itself, but also a constitutive element of genocidal acts.

How the International Community is Failing the Syrian Torture Victims

 

By Maftuna Saidova

June 26th was the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. In honor of this day, we should remember the victims who were tortured (and continue to be tortured) in Syrian detention centers and evaluate what is being done to hold the perpetrators responsible. Neither the Syrian government nor the international community has taken any significant steps to address or mitigate the violations happening in in Syria. Under the regime of Bashar al-Assad, the state–who should be responsible for protecting its citizens–has been acting as the perpetrator. Under the leadership of Bashar al-Assad, those who are deemed as a threat to the government continue to be tortured in the detention centers.  Moreover, the two mechanisms set out by the Convention Against Torture, meant to protect victims, have not been fully employed–leaving the victims defenseless against their own government.  As a result, many Syrians continue to live in fear, knowing that their government could strip them of their rights at any moment.

Under Article 14 of the Convention Against Torture, state parties to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, are required to, “ensure in its legal system that the victim of an act of torture obtains redress and has an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation, including the means for as full rehabilitation as possible.” Acts of “redress” can include reparations for the victims such as rehabilitation, compensation, and guarantees of non-repetition. However in this case the Syriangovernment is the perpetrator, which makes it highly unlikely that any types of reparations will be provided to the victims by the government. This is why the role of the international community is especially important for the Syrian victims.

The Global Justice Center Applauds ICC for Issuing Warrant for Gender-Based Persecution

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – April 13, 2018

[New York] – The Global Justice Center (GJC) applauds the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the charging of Al-Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud for persecution on the grounds of gender. This potentially groundbreaking case could be the first time that the Court will consider the crime of gender-based persecution and has the potential to define the Court’s jurisprudence around gender.

Seeking Justice for the Yazidi on the World Day for International Justice

By Marie Wilken

After the Holocaust, the world said “never again.” The United Nations adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948, and 142 countries have ratified it since. But we have not fulfilled that promise to prevent and punish. Through genocides in Rwanda, Cambodia, the former Yugoslavia, Darfur and more, millions have died because the international community failed to act sooner. History views this inaction with regret and shame. We hope that we would’ve done better, cared more, acted faster. But we are not.

Right now, ISIS is committing genocide against the Yazidi, a religious and ethnic minority in Syria and Iraq. This genocide began with ISIS’s 2014 attack on Sinjar. They killed men and boys and kidnapped, trafficked and raped women and girls. Over 3,000 women and girls remain in captivity. ISIS’s enslavement and rape of these women is prosecutable as genocide under international humanitarian law. In fact, there is evidence that ISIS has committed all five genocidal crimes. The UN recognized it as genocide and urged stronger international action. Last year, the Obama administration also acknowledged that ISIS was committing genocide.

Yet little has been done about it. Today is the World Day for International Justice, which celebrates the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the international criminal justice system. However, this system has been underutilized. To prove that the international criminal justice system can be a force for justice, not merely a hollow ideal, the ICC needs to investigate atrocities like the Yazidi genocide.

While showing good intentions is easy, it’s difficult to take action. Political interests often interfere, and the method of prosecution raises numerous questions and challenges. Counter-terrorism concerns are often conflated with or prioritized over action on ISIS’s genocide—but it is important to combat ISIS’s genocide as well as, or along with, terrorism. We do not have to choose between pursuing justice for the Yazidi and security for the rest of the world. Experts discussed this in GJC’s Brain Trust, Reconciling International Laws on Genocide and Counter-Terrorism, last month. Participants agreed that the counterterrorism framework fits today’s model of international cooperation better than the framework of the Genocide Conventions, and it is easier for prosecutors to use a terrorism lens. However, this can ignore the gendered impact of the genocide. In addition to providing justice for the Yazidi community, genocide prosecution would help delegitimize ISIS and combat its terrorism.

The World Day for International Justice should be a reminder that we need to not only recognize ISIS’s treatment of the Yazidi as genocide but also treat it as such. Inaction not only hurts the Yazidi today, but it could also worsen situations in the future. Brain Trust participants discussed how impunity could encourage future discrimination against communities like the Yazidi. It widens the gap between law and action on genocide, and sending a message that the international community can or will not act on genocide could spur similar tragedies in the future.

We are all bystanders to this genocide, and we determine whether this will go down in history as another failure to meet the legal and moral obligation to prevent genocide. Genocide is not a problem of the past; it is our problem and our opportunity to do better.

To celebrate the World Day for International Justice, GJC released a podcast on prosecuting genocide. We interviewed Stephen Rapp, a lawyer who has helped prosecute genocide, including in the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and served as the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues in the Office of Global Criminal Justice. Listen to this episode of That’s Illegal! on iTunes or Soundcloud, and read outcomes document from our Brain Trust here.

Photo credit: OSeveno (CC BY-SA 4.0)

International Justice Day

On July 17, Global Justice Center celebrated International Justice Day and reminded of the ongoing Yazidi Genocide, despite promises of #NeverAgain. 

#JusticeMatters

ISIS is Committing Genocide: Now What?

by Jessica Zaccagnino

On March 17th, Secretary of State John Kerry declared that ISIS is committing acts of genocide against Yazidis and other minority groups in Iraq and Syria, launching the United States into a complex discussion of how to feasibly prosecute ISIS. Although there is not universal ascension to the Genocide Convention, customary international law has enshrined obligations of the international community to prevent, suppress, and punish perpetrators of genocide. Akila Radhakrishnan, the Legal Director of the GJC, emphasized in an interview that “the prohibition on genocide is actually considered to be so widely important that it has attained an even higher status of customary international law called jus cogens,which means it is absolutely non-derogable in every context.” The United States, party to the Genocide Convention, is required by both international conventions and customary international law to take action against genocide. Declaring that ISIS is committing is relatively easy, but actually prosecuting ISIS poses a unique set of challenges in part due to their non-state actor status: logistical, legal, and otherwise.

The prosecution of ISIS for genocide raises numerous, difficult questions: first, what body should carry out trials? In a resolution released days prior to Kerry’s announcement, Congress indicated support for trial in an internationally-run court, such as the International Criminal Court, or an entirely new tribunal, would be the best course of action. The White House has yet to indicate a plan of prosecution. Similar questions of logistics, such as who to hold responsible and where to hold large numbers of detainees, have also been raised. The existence of a defined administrative hierarchy within ISIS raises questions as to what extent subordinates should be held accountable for acts planned by their superiors; however, this is a question that plagues most tribunals.

In terms of prosecuting foreign fighters, it will likely be easier for the United States to turn over detainees to Iraq, an ally, than to Syria, as the US has been supporting rebel groups wishing to oust President Bashar Assad. Since ISIS utilizes many foreign fighters, estimated at 27,000, the use of national jurisdiction over these fighters may open up opportunities for a case in the ICC, even though Iraq and Syria are not party to the Rome Statute, or domestic trials in the US if extradited. The final problem is one of evidence: genocide is a very difficult crime to prove. Due to the “specific intent” portion of the definition, more extensive evidence is required than general charges of crimes against humanity or war crimes. This means, in order to prosecute ISIS, there must be a careful collection of evidence, all while in an active war zone.

To successfully prosecute ISIS for crimes of genocide, the US and international community will have to parse through numerous complex challenges in the near future and focus their energy not on only combatting ISIS militarily, but also constructing a clear prosecutorial strategy.

Although prosecuting ISIS for crimes of genocide poses a unique set of challenges, they are not impossible to overcome. The United States and the global community have a duty to prosecute crimes of genocide under international humanitarian law. ISIS’ prosecution, with the US playing an active role, is of utmost importance, especially now that both the US and UN’s Commission of Inquiry on Syria have come to the consensus that ISIS is perpetuating genocide. Countries must engage with these challenges proactively and address them head on in order to make substantial progress towards prosecution.

Clickhere to read the full interview with Akila Radhakrishnan and Grant Shubin, lawyers at Global Justice Center, about the US’ declaration of ISIS’ genocide.

UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria Recognizes Yazidi Genocide

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—June 17, 2016

[NEW YORK, NY] – Yesterday, the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Syria concluded that ISIS is committing genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes against the Yazidi people. The report, “They Came to Destroy”: ISIS Crimes Against the Yazidis, recognizes that the genocide is ongoing and is being committed not just through mass killings but also through gendered non-killing crimes such as rape and sexual violence.

Justice in Sri Lanka Must Include Investigations of Genocide Allegations

Seven years ago this month, a quarter century of armed conflict in Sri Lanka reached its violent conclusion. The Government of Sri Lanka’s take-no-prisoners approach to defeating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), also known as the “Tamil Tigers,” was accompanied by massive violations of international humanitarian law, international human rights law, and international criminal law. From January to May 2009, the military killed at least 40,000 to 70,000 Tamil civilians and also targeted Tamil women with rape and sexual violence. However, there have been no UN recommendations to investigate this onslaught as genocide, despite evidence of genocidal intent. The silence on both genocide and the crimes unique to women flows from the politicization of genocide and perpetuates gender discrimination and crimes. Next month, the topic of reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka is on the UN Human Rights Council’s agenda. The time is now for the international community to call for investigations into genocide and to use the specific protections and obligations under genocide law to redress the ongoing harms against Tamil women, including rapes and denial of their reproductive rights.

The war started in “Black July” 1983, when the Government of Sri Lanka sponsored violence against Tamils across the country. For about one week, in a classic hallmark of genocide, the Government provided voter registration lists identifying Tamils by ethnicity and incited Sinhalese mobs to kill and rape their Tamil neighbors and to destroy their homes and businesses. Over two decades later, the war ended as it started, with Government forces killing and committing sexual and gender-based violence against the Tamils. All of these crimes were seemingly committed with the intent to destroy the Tamil population, in whole or in part—a crucial component of genocide.

Victory for War Rape Victims

This morning the International Criminal Court (ICC) convicted the former Democratic Republic of the Congo vice president, Jean-Pierre Bemba, for two counts of crimes against humanity (murder and rape) and three counts of war crimes (murder, rape and pillaging.) What is significant about this judgment is that Bemba is the first military commander to be convicted for crimes committed by troops under his command, and it is the first conviction at the ICC for sexual violence.

The ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said, “Today’s outcome is also another concrete expression of my personal commitment and that of my office to apply the full force of the Rome Statute in the fight against sexual violence and gender-based crimes. We will not spare efforts to bring accountability to such heinous crimes in future cases. Where some might want to draw a veil over these crimes, I, as Prosecutor, must and will continue to draw a line under them.”

Listen to ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda's statement on the case. 

This verdict is a hugely important step in the international community holding perpetrators of war rape accountable.

Click here to read the full judgement. 

Special Issue of Women’s Voices Newsletter Highlights GJC’s ICC Work

Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice just released a Special Issue of their newsletter focusing on two letters GJC has sent to the ICC asking them to address gender-based crimes. The letters call on the ICC to look at the genocidal crimes being committed against women and girls by groups like Boko Haram and ISIS.  

Click here to read the full newsletter.  

GJC President Janet Benshoof Question Burma’s Minister of Foreign Affairs

Below you can read the question that Janet asked Wunna Maung Lwin, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar, about accountability for human rights abuser General Ko Ko at the Council on Foreign Relations. 

Janet Benshoof:
Thank you very much, my name is Janet Benshoof, Global Justice Center. After a 4 year on the ground investigation, Harvard Law School Lawyers concluded, using the standards of the International Criminal Court that Myanmar’s Major General Ko Ko has committed war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Karen ethnic group. I have a two-part question:
First, could you explain, given that Myanmar has been in armed conflict for 60 years if there have been any prosecutions of military commanders for international crimes: war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide. And second, could you explain the government process by which 6 months after the Harvard report, the government selected General Ko Ko to present and defend Myanmar’s human rights record before the Human Rights Council next month. Thank you very much.


Response by Wunna Maung Lwin, Minister of Foreign Affair of Myanmar
To answer your first question, there is no Myanmar General prosecuted or facing any kind of trial in the International Criminal Court or any other court because some of the allegations were unfounded and untrue. Because whenever there is a military operations or whenever there is an insurgency problem, every country has to defend their people, especially the innocent people who were hampered their livelihood by those insurgent groups. So for the military commander that you have mentioned, he is the Commander of the Southern Myanmar regions. So in his region there were insurgent problems and he commanded some of the military operations in that area. He is doing his responsibility as a military commander to defend those people from the scourge of insurgency. This is one question.
Another thing is that in the next month I think we will be submitting our universal periodic review report to the Human Rights Council. So we will be sending a delegation and we will be submitting our universal periodic review for the second time.

Learn from Srebrenica and Recognize Boko Haram Violence as Genocide

July 11th, 2015 marked the 20th anniversary of the fall of Srebrenica and the resultant genocide. In response to the anniversary of the massacre, The Economist published an article titled “Stop Genocide Early” which calls for early action by the international community in conflict situations.

On July 11th, 1995 Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic overthrew UN Dutch peacekeepers’ “safe area” of Srebrenica. The worst violence to happen in Europe since World War II ensued. Mladic was able to carry out this violence with impunity due to a deadlock between the United States and NATO. This hesitancy to act resulted in roughly 8,000 deaths and gave birth to the UN’s “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine. This doctrine states that countries are morally obligated to prevent genocide that is taking place in other countries. It is immoral to sit idly by while people are being massacred. “This is the chief lesson of Srebrenica: governments should heed the early signs of mass slaughter and act swiftly to prevent it.”

In northeastern Nigeria, Boko Haram is forcibly transferring and abducting children with the intention of destroying the Christian community. The targeted abduction and forced religious conversion of the Chibok schoolgirls is genocide, and action must be taken to stop this violence.

On April 14, 2015 the Global Justice Center sent a letter to the International Criminal Court prosecutor urging her to charge Boko Haram with genocide in her investigation of their crimes. Formally declaring Boko Haram’s actions as genocide will send other countries the important message that they have a moral, humanitarian obligation to put an end to the brutality.

The international community must learn from the mistakes made at Srebrenica 20 years ago by recognizing the forced abductions and violence perpetrated by Boko Haram as genocide. The world must act swiftly in providing aid to the victims and must work together to stop Boko Haram.

Read the full article here.

Read about GJC’s Genocide project here.

One Year Since ISIS’s Declaration of the Caliphate: Sexual Violence Must be Stopped

Today marks exactly one year since ISIS declared a caliphate in Iraq and Syria. An NBC News article by Cassandra Vinograd and Ammar Cheikh Omar published this morning discusses the strength that ISIS has amassed during the past year. ISIS has maintained control and been strengthened by territorial expansion and the far-reaching influence of its ideology. Affiliates of ISIS have even sprung up around the world, for example in Nigeria, where Boko Haram has pledged its allegiance to ISIS.  It is even speculated that Boko Haram will soon declare a caliphate of its own.

There have been many attempts to curb ISIS’s power over the past year. However, the Iraqi military is not effective at fighting ISIS, and even though the United States has tried to weaken ISIS with airstrikes since last August, ISIS does not seem to be faltering. There are also hundreds of rebel groups that are currently fighting ISIS under the FSA, but they are not well organized and are lacking in resources, ammunition, and arms. Conversely, ISIS is extremely coordinated and well-resourced. In fact, “more people than ever are perpetrating violence in the group’s name.” The propaganda issued by ISIS is “infectious” and is successful at attracting fighters. So far the coalition forces have not been able to stop this trend, or ISIS itself.

According to Human Rights Watch’s April 15, 2015 publication “Iraq: ISIS Escapees Describe Systemic Rape,” ISIS has been committing war crimes against women and girls by systemically raping them, assaulting them, and subjecting them to sexual slavery. These women and girls are regarded as property and are forced to endure intense torture. The exact number of captive Yazidis is unknown due to the fact that the conflict is ongoing and many Yazidis have had to flee. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, roughly 3,000 Yazidis are still in captivity while other sources, such as local officials and community activists, believe that the numbers are much higher.

While it is important for the international community to be working towards the long term goal of weakening ISIS, there are steps that can be taken immediately to help the woman and girls who suffer daily under their reign of terror. For example, Yazidi women and girls are being systematically raped by ISIS and are being forced to carry the child of their rapist due to an antiquated US policy. It is crucial that President Obama overturn the 1973 Helms Amendment, which prevents any US aid from funding imperative, safe abortions to these women and girls who are in desperate need of relief. The international community should also be working to end impunity for the perpetrators of sexual violence. For example, it is vital that the International Criminal Court recognize the gendered abductions of these Yazidi women and girls as genocide. Recognizing this as genocide will cause an immediate duty to act among states and send a clear message to the perpetrators of this sexual violence that it will not be tolerated. The women and girls living in Iraq and Syria cannot wait another day, and the US and international community cannot wait another year to take actions on their behalf.

Angelina Jolie Gives Speech on Sexual Violence at African Union Summit

On June 11, 2015 Angelina Jolie, a special envoy of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, gave an address at the African Union Summit in Johannesburg. Jolie highlighted the sexual violence that women and girls in conflict zones are subject to due to “the near-total impunity that exists worldwide for crimes against women, in conflict zones in particular.”  

Impunity for the use of sexual violence is one GJC has been confronting head on. On April 15, 2015, one year after the Chibok schoolgirls were kidnapped, GJC sent a letter to the International Criminal Court urging the prosecutor to consider charging Boko Haram with genocide. Properly characterizing these targeted abductions as genocide will hold states accountable and encourage them to take action.  As stated by GJC President Janet Benshoof in an op-ed in PassBlue,“It will make clear Nigeria’s own obligations to stop this conduct and to prosecute it vigorously; it will send a message to other perpetrators, including those currently targeting Yazidi women and girls in Syria and Iraq, that genocide will not be tolerated; it will fulfill the prosecutor’s own commitment to fully prosecute crimes aimed at women and girls and to integrate a gender perspective into every stage of its work; and finally, it will trigger the international community’s responsibility to protect the Nigerian population.”

As more and more wars are being fought using women’s bodies, it is important that the laws of war apply to and protect women as well as men. When the laws of war were initially drafted, rape was not recognized as a weapon; however, it is now identified as a tactic to win military objectives. Global Justice Center’s “Rape as a Weapon of War” campaign recognizes the discrimination and suffering that women and girls face in conflict zones. GJC urges governments and international organizations to hold states where rape is being used as a weapon accountable for their actions.

As Jolie stated, “We need policies for long-term security that are designed by women, focused on women, executed by women.” With these policies, gender equality is achievable and we can see an end to impunity for sexual violence.

Nigeria Recovers Abductees, Chibok Girls Remain in Captivity

On Tuesday the Nigerian Army declared its success in rescuing almost 300 girls and women from terrorist organization Boko Haram. Many false reports have been leaked previously, as is expected given the extensive coverage of the large-scale abduction of the Chibok girls over a year ago. However this report has been confirmed several times. The famous Chibok school girls are not among the recovered, but Nigeria has made great strides against Boko Haram in recent weeks. It is thought that these newly rescued girls had been kidnapped during some of Boko Haram’s smaller, less publicized attacks and abductions.

The recovery of these girls is indeed good news but Boko Haram still requires immediate attention and condemnation from the international community. During the mission to recover the girls, dozens of corpses were found in a nearby river. The actions of Boko Haram certainly constitute genocide—their ethnically and religiously killing as well as their systematic violence against women—and it is time for those actions to be treated as such. GJC advocates for continued vigilance in seeking the abducted girls and has called upon the ICC to investigate and prosecute Boko Haram in this way, ending impunity for a group that has faced few consequences and deterring other groups who practice similar illegal tactics.

Click here to read the full article. 

 

Pursuing Sexual Violence: UN Condemns Acts of Boko Haram

During activities for International Women’s Day of 2015 issues of escalating sexual violence were highlighted on a global scale and UN Secretary General explicitly called for action against groups such as Boko Haram and ISIS, who employ rape as a weapon of war. A report was released Monday in which the UN reiterated concern about the pervasive sexual violence in areas such as Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, and Yemen.

Rape and other forms of sexual violence, such as forced pregnancy and marriage, are being condemned as a method of terrorism, employed by extremist groups in 19 different countries. The UN report criticizes 45 different groups for their use of sexual violence and particularly decries Boko Haram for their continued abuses.

The New York Times says, “In Sudan’s western Darfur region, it said the number of displaced civilians has increased over the past year and so have reports of sexual violence. And in South Sudan, it said sexual violence remains prevalent — including gang rape, castration, forced nudity and forced abortion — which is ‘exacerbated by impunity and a militarized society in which gender inequality is pronounced.’” However, Congo has made some encouraging progress, prosecuting officials for sexual violence and offering reparations to survivors.

In terms of Boko Haram’s violence, the report states, “Forced marriage, enslavement and the ‘sale’ of kidnapped women and girls are central to Boko Haram’s modus operandi and ideology. Abducted girls who refuse marriage or sexual contact within marriage have faced violence and death threats.”

The Global Justice Center has made recent efforts on behalf of the Chibok school girls, on the anniversary of their kidnapping,  GJC posted a letter to the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC, urging action be taken against Boko Haram. GJC asked that the Chief Prosecutor investigate the kidnappings as an act of genocide, so as to spur immediate action and forestall the inevitably increase in similar attacks. Speaking about Boko Haram, General Ban Ki-moon said that actions such as these were, “an essential part of the fight against conflict-related sexual violence.”

Letter to The Honourable Fatou Bensouda, Chief Prosecutor, "Re: The Imperative to Prosecute the Abduction of the Schoolgirls in Nigeria as Genocide"

On April 14th, 2015, a year after the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls, the Global Justice Center (GJC) is urging the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, to investigate whether Boko Haram, who recently pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), is perpetrating genocide against the Christian community in Nigeria. The abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls, among others, in Nigeria is exactly the act of genocide, as defined in the Genocide Convention, called the “forcible transfer of children.” The essence of genocide is not mass killing but the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. Removing children from a group destroys its future, and has been a tool of genocide for as long as the legal concept has existed.

If Prosecutor Bensouda examines Boko Haram’s gender-based abductions as genocide it would put all countries unequivocally on notice that genocide is occurring in Nigeria, propelling them to action. All states and the international community have the duty to prevent and halt genocide. It would also send a powerful message to other perpetrators, including terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria who are increasingly using the kidnapping of young girls and women as a tool in their campaign of terror, that genocide will not be tolerated.

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