Global Justice Center Blog

Bringing Pres. al-Bashir to Justice

Controversy erupted on Tuesday, September 17th, when US officials confirmed that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir submitted a Visa request to attend the United Nations General Assembly this month. President al-Bashir announced this Sunday that he does, indeed, have plans to travel to the US and has already booked a New York hotel, although the US has not yet stated whether or not he would be granted a visa.

As President of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir is an accused war criminal. He has two warrants of arrest for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in March 2009 and July 2010.

On September 18, 2013 the ICC published a press release calling on US officials to arrest al-Bashir and extradite him to the ICC, should he travel to the United States. Human Rights Watch has also issued a statement asking UN Members to oppose al-Bashir’s visit to the Conference.

This is a turning point in deciding the future power of the ICC. Pres. al-Bashir would be the first visitor to the United Nations (and the US) with a standing ICC warrant for his arrest. To give background on this, in 2005, the Security Council voted for SCR 1593, to refer the atrocities in Darfur to the ICC, and to hold Pres. al-Bashir’s government accountable. The US abstained from the vote because it does not recognize the ICC’s jurisdiction over states not signed onto the Rome Statute (which includes the US). However, the US must still adhere to any Security Council Resolution that passes, including SCR 1593, which urges all states, including those not signed to the Rome Statute, to “cooperate fully” with the Court in bringing Pres. al-Bashir to justice. Accordingly, the US should immediately apprehend and extradite Pres. al-Bashir to the ICC if he steps foot on US soil.

US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Powers called the potential visit “hugely inappropriate.” In response, the Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement saying that the US has no legal right to stop a member state from attending the UN Conference. In the Agreement Between the United Nations and the United States Regarding the Headquarters of the United Nations Sections 11, 12 and 13 effectively establish that the US is not allowed to hinder representatives of Members from travelling to the UN, regardless of their Government’s relation to the US, or the member’s status as an alien. The US is asked to grant Visas “without charge and as promptly as possible”. However, under Section 13 (f) of the same agreement, “The United Nations shall, subject to the foregoing provisions of this section, have the exclusive right to authorize or prohibit entry of persons and property into the headquarters district and to prescribe the conditions under which persons may remain or reside there.”

Because the UN Security Council referred the Darfur conflict to the ICC and requested all states to assist in bringing President al-Bashir to trial, the US would not be acting outside of its power as host country in extraditing him. In the past, the US has even encouraged other states to allow the transfer of war criminals to the ICC – such as when Bosco Ntaganda turned himself in to the US embassy in Rwanda.

An estimated  300,000 people died in the conflict in Darfur. The ICC holds al-Bashir allegedly criminally responsible for ten counts of individual criminal responsibility, including five counts of crimes against humanity (for murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture and rape), two counts of war crimes (intentionally directing attacks against civilians and pillaging), and three counts of genocide (genocide by killing, by causing serious bodily or mental harm, and by deliberately inflicting harsh conditions of life). Attacks against the civilian population of Darfur (largely compromised by the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups) were lead by the Sudanese Armed Forces and their allied Janjaweed Militia. As the President of the Republic of Sudan and the Commander-in-Chief of the Sudanese Armed Forces since March 2003, al-Bashir must be tried for the crimes he had a role in organizing.

The Global Justice Center works to advance human rights, and in doing so, hold perpetrators of war crimes accountable. We recognize the dangers of inaction from the international community, and seek to end impunity.

One example of this is our Burma Initiative to challenge the amnesty clause in the Burmese constitution. Victims in conflict and postconflict countries, whether in Burma or Sudan, must not be denied access to justice through legal processes adhering to international law. In Syria, we have a recent example of the dangers of turning a blind eye to violations of fundamental international law, the chief among these being laws banning genocide and the use of weapons of mass destruction against civilians. These laws must not just be written on paper, but put into effective practice.

For there to be sustainable peace and rule of law, there must first be justice through international channels. President al-Bashir is not an exception to international laws. He must be brought to justice, and should he enter US territory, the US should surrender him to the ICC for trial.

Justice in Syria

All the talk this week will be whether the United States will launch air strikes on Syria, in the wake of the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians in the country’s ongoing civil war. During yesterday’s Senate hearing, Secretary of State John Kerry made the case that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has committed egregious human rights violations, including the violation of one of the most important norms of international law: the ban of using weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) against civilians. President Obama emphasized that potential US strikes is about protecting this fundamental international norm, which is threatened by the Syrian government’s alleged gassing of its own people. Yet, Syria has long been in a state of unrest – and the Global Justice Center takes a look a few other areas in which Syria is violating international law, particularly when it comes to equal protection and rights for women.

Impunity

As has been evident throughout the conflict in Syria, neither the government nor the rebel faction shave been held accountable for their crimes – even when these crimes do not respect international law. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon noted that government abuses were largest in scale. In its 2013 Annual Report on Syria, Amnesty International wrote that “the government took no steps to investigate the numerous allegations against their forces or to bring anyone to justice for alleged gross human rights violations, crimes against humanity or war crimes. The government maintained a reign of impunity, including legislation giving members of the security forces effective immunity for unlawful killings, torture, enforced disappearances and other human rights violations.”

The Global Justice Center is all too familiar with the dangers of governmental impunity through its work with the Burma Law Project. The Burma Constitution perpetuates injustice as a policy by giving complete amnesty to the military for its crimes, including systematic rapes of ethnic women. It also excludes women, just as 2012 Syrian Constitution. With the human rights violations mounting in Syria, including an alarming number of reported rapes and sexual crimes, it is clear that no matter how the conflict in Syria ends, perpetrators must be held accountable on both sides. The international community cannot allow yet another example of war crimes, especially gender-based violence, to be carried out with impunity.

In addition, according to Women under Siege, a journalism project founded by Gloria Steinem, sexual violence is and has been rampant in Syria throughout the conflict. It is perpetrated by both sides, without justice for victims (or, in many cases, even necessary medical care). Women Under Siege has been collecting reports of sexual violence in Syria to document the way rape is being used to terrorize and intimidate the Syrian people. With this data they have created a live, crowd-sourced map. The crimes documented went largely unpunished and represent only a small part of the whole, because sexual violence in Syria is largely underreported.

“With no clear future for Syria in sight, refugees are understandably cautious about who they speak to and trust with sensitive and personal information… It may be hard to put their trust in a stranger when, time and again, there has been little justice for victims of wartime rape.” – Lauren Wolfe, Director, Women Under Siege.

Gender Equality

According to data from the WEF Gender Gap Report on countries’ gender equality progress since the Arab Spring, overall the region’s score increased by a dismal 1.2% from 2010 to 2012. Syria, on the other hand, decreased by 5.3%. That’s right: Syria is moving backwards on women’s rights issues, mainly because of decreases in estimated earned income. In addition, in a list of 135 countries, Syria was ranked an abysmal #111 in the Gender Gap Index for “political empowerment” in 2012 by the report.

“[Syria]’s civil war has coincided with reduced political participation for women and sharply curtailed access to the country’s shattered economy,” wrote Max Fisher, Washington Post’s foreign affairs blogger, in an article.

But Syria is not only moving backwards; the basis on which it started never had equal opportunities for women in the first place.

“While the penal code no longer fully exonerates perpetrators of so-called honor crimes, it still gives judges options for reduced sentences if a crime was committed with “honorable” intent. The nationality law of 1969 prevents Syrian women married to foreign spouses the right to pass on their citizenship to their children or spouses,” Human Rights Watch stated in its 2012 World Report on Syria.

When this tragic and deadly conflict finally comes to an end, any future government in Syria must look towards building long-term stability. A major key to that is to have a government and a constitution that is representative. Women’s rights are not something that can be pushed to the side and fixed only after the country is considered “stable.”In reality, ensuring women’s rights is anecessary step to achieving long-term stability. There must be increased participation in the political process by women if the country is to fulfill the pledge in the 2012 Syrian Constitution of a multi-party system, replacing ade facto one-party system that has hindered democratic reform for the past several decades.

As the world waits to see if the US will strike and what the global fallout from such action will be, it is critical to examine the roots of injustice if Syria can ever hope to move forward.

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Medical Women's International Association's Letter to President Obama

MARCH 26, 2013: Medical Women's International Association writes letter to President Obama requesting him to issue an Executive Order lifting the US abortion restrictions on USAID.

Excerpt:

"Members of MWIA recently returned from participating in the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations. The theme for 2013 was the Elimination and Prevention of All Forms of Violence Against Women and Girls. Unfortunately, the use of rape to disempower women is prevalent worldwide. Not only do women suffer the immediate emotional trauma and chronic mental illness from this sexual assault but are often left with sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies. To deny women the right to terminate such an unwanted pregnancy is unjust. I do not believe that you condone injustice. MWIA talks of “men of good conscience” and I believe that you are such a man. Please step forward and free women from this restriction on their rights."

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