Syria and Domestic Prosecutions: Upholding hope, one case at a time (Part 2 of 2)

National Prosecutions based on Universal Jurisdiction: the cases of Germany, Sweden, and “France”

Last June, Germany’s chief prosecutor issued an international arrest warrant for Jamil Hassan, head of Syria’s powerful Air Force Intelligence Directorate, and one of Syria’s most senior military officials. This move comes as a 2017 Human Rights Watch report mentioned [p.36] that, so far, very few members of the Assad government had been the subject of judicial proceedings in Europe based on universal jurisdiction.

At the time these charges (based on command responsibility) were filed with Germany’s Federal Court of Justice, Patrick Kroker (European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, hereinafter “ECCHR”) commented that this moment was“historical”, adding: “That this arrest warrant has been signed off by the highest criminal court in Germany shows that they deem the evidence presented to the prosecutor is strong enough to merit urgent suspicion of his involvement.”

N.N., a Syrian activist present at the side-event held today mentioned in Part 1 of my post, underlined several times the importance of these arrest warrants. Until their issuance, he said, many Syrians never would have thought that high-level representatives of the Syrian regime would have charges laid against them. For many this is a great sign of hope, a demonstration that we are “not only listening to stories but also doing something about it.” He mentioned this point in part as an answer to a participant at the event who wondered what it could mean to the people still in Syria to see prosecutions happening in Europe, but not in Syria or before the ICC.

Mr. Patrick Kroker, Legal Advisor& Project Lead for Syria at the ECCHR (Berlin) explained the work done by his organization to initiate prosecutions in Germany linked to the Syrian conflict. With regard to Germany, the progress over the past few years has been spectacular: 11 cases have been brought to trial. As well, three were brought to trial in Sweden, one in Switzerland, and another in Austria (for an excellent overview of proceedings linked to Syria, see the Amnesty International page “Justice for Syria” here).

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Syria and Domestic Prosecutions: Upholding hope, one case at a time (Part 1 of 2)

Credit: Lynsey Addario

As of July 2018, more than 500 000 people had been killed as a result of the conflict in Syria, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. With the UN Special Envoy for Syria having recently resigned, signs of hope seem dire for many Syrians and their supporters, there and abroad.

A side-event held today, on Day 3 of the 17th Assembly of State Parties (ASP) to the International Criminal Court, brought distinguished panelists together to discuss the role of prosecutions held in Europe through universal jurisdiction for international crimes, using Syria as an example. More than only about accountability, the resounding message about these prosecutions was that their role was to give out and to inspire the people to be strong, fight for justice and, maybe, eventually, be able to move on.

Earlier this week, during a keynote address at a reception held before the launch of the ASP, Ms.Catherine Marchi-Uhel aptly said that the ICC is the center piece of the international justice system. However, she also reminded the audience that the role of the international jurisdiction as a springboard for national prosecutions is often overlooked.

Yet, despite the hopes, symbolism and assistance to the rebuilding of judicial institutions that national prosecutions can bring (as I mentioned in my previous blog post on Quid Justitiae in the context of the present ASP), the political context may simply not allow it and, in the case of Syria, there is obviously no need to elaborate on why prosecutions at the national level are not possible.

In the case of Syria, one of the worst situations since World War II, as Ms Marchi-Uhel underlined, the pathway to the ICC is blocked, as a UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution to refer the case to the ICC was vetoed in 2014. With the ICC option gridlocked, Marchi-Uhel said that the international community needed to be creative to find new strategies to supplement the Rome Statue system: there was a need to think outside the international justice box. This is why, in 2016, the UNGA decided to create the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to assist in the investigation and prosecution of persons responsible for the most serious crimes under international law committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011 (IIIM) to collect and analyse evidence of international crimes committed in Syria (see the IIIM official website here). Not a court or tribunal, it is “a building block for comprehensive justice” and can “turn limitations into opportunities”. This was definitely a smart move, as the call for Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court by the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres did not seem to have resonated any more than previous attempts made through the UNSC.

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Human Rights and the U.S. Gun Violence Crisis: A New Approach

With the most recent mass shootings at Thousand Oaks Bar in California and the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Americans are once more reeling from the shock and horror of seeing their compatriots mowed down while undertaking normal daily activities. Innocent men, women, and children have been killed or injured whilst worshiping; enjoying a concert; spending an evening out with friends; attending school; or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Each time shots ring out, the media is full of conversations about “gun rights” and the Second Amendment. But what about human rights? What about the right to life; the right of association; the right to health; the right to safety and security; the right to attend school and receive an education?

11.02.2018- Gun Panel Photo by Mary ButkusOn November 2 and 3, more than 150 people attended a conference at the School of Law entitled, The U.S. Gun Violence Crisis: An Interdisciplinary and Human Rights Approach. Co-sponsored by the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute at Washington University School of Law, the Washington University Institute of Public Health, The Public Interest Law & Policy Speakers Series, and the American Branch of the International Law Association (International Human Rights Committee), the event brought together leading scholars and experts in the fields of law, psychiatry, sociology, medicine, and public health policy to focus on new approaches to the U.S. gun violence epidemic.

11.02.2018- Gun Panel Photo by Mary ButkusMike McLively, director of the Urban Gun Violence Initiative at Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, opened the conference by highlighting the scope and scale of the U.S. gun violence epidemic. He noted that more than 30,000 people die each from gun violence – violence that is, for the most part, easily prevented by simple and common sense regulation or even executive action. He noted that more than 60 percent of those killed by gun violence have committed suicide with a gun; deaths that were largely preventable through simple measures like waiting periods to purchase firearms. Others noted the disproportionate impact of gun violence on communities of color and young people, as well as the exportation of the U.S. gun violence crisis to third countries through the trafficking of weapons from the United States. The usefulness of international human rights regimes in reframing thinking about this issue, and the important work already being done on this issue by U.N. bodies was noted by several participants. Barbara Frey, in particular, has worked on this issue for many years at the U.N. in her capacity as the alternate U.S. member of the U.N. Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and as Special Rapporteur to the Sub-Commission on the issue of preventing human rights abuses committed with small arms and light weapons.

Epstien_WLM_0156Lee Epstein, Ethan A.H. Shepley Distinguished University Professor, spoke insightfully about the history of the relationship between the Second Amendment in the U.S. Supreme Court and the evolution of conversations around gun rights. Professor Epstein noted that the relatively recent emergence of an individual right to bear arms can be traced to a flurry of recent law review articles advocating for this position. She suggested that further social science research and legal research could therefore contribute to the solution of the current crisis.

alpers_wlm_0227.jpgFinally, Philip Alpers, founder of GunPolicy.org, concluded by offering a comparative analysis of the crisis and its resolution in Australia as a result of legislative action, gun buybacks, and a change in legal and popular culture with respect to guns and gun ownership.

During the second day of the conference, speakers met to discuss the conference, as well as a Report on the topic prepared by Harris Institute Fellow Madaline George and myself. The Harris Institute’s Report, which concludes that the U.S. government has failed in significant respects to adequately protect the human rights of individuals living in the United States from gun violence, will be published in the coming months. The papers from the conference will appear in a special symposium issue of the Washington University Journal of Law and Policy in 2019. The Institute has already presented testimony on the U.S. Gun Violence Crisis to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and is working on testimony before other human rights bodies as well.

To learn more about the Harris Institute’s Gun Violence Initiative, visit our website.

Experts' Meeting at Washington University School of Law

Call for abstracts

STUDYING WAR CRIMES:

The ethics of re-presenting mass violence in research

When do descriptions of harm become academic sensationalism rather than re-presentations of violent materialities? Can academic interest and engagement in mass harm ever avoid voyeurism? How can sensational violence be ethically re-presented in research? Across disciplines theorizing mass harm, a consensus is emerging cautioning against sensationalism in re-presentations of perpetrators, victims, crimes, and sufferings, seeing detailed descriptions of violence as academic voyeurism. Yet, how comfortable a read can research that has violent profusion at its core become, before the distance created by language becomes an ethical – and analytical – challenge in its own right?

This edited volume invites experienced scholars to address thoroughly the ethics of doing research on mass harm in general, and of re-presenting and describing mass violence, harmdoing, trauma, and suffering in their own research in particular. Drawing on a range of methodological approaches and empirical cases, the book will address how mass violence and war crimes are brought into research – both as an ethical, a sensational, and an analytical matter.

We ask contributors to reflect on their re-presentations of mass crimes, violence and justice, seeing re-presentations both as an issue to do with individual and disciplinary research ethics but also as a matter to do with power and material structures of academic knowledge production. The purpose is to encourage active engagement with a research ethics that goes beyond ‘procedural ethic;’ to expand the discussion on responsibility for the stories we hear, read, analyze, and re-tell; and to address in-depth the ethics of listening, seeing, and telling in research on mass violence and war crimes.

The book will be relevant for all researchers who wish to engage ethically with the study of mass violence and war crimes.

We invite abstracts that explore the ethics of re-presenting mass violence in research.

Abstracts may also cater specifically to:

  • The ethics of caring, seeing, listening and re-presenting
  • Selection and exclusion: whose stories are told?
  • Understanding harm/understanding as harm
  • “Thick descriptions” and sensationalism
  • Breaking the silence vs silence as choice
  • Emotions, positionality, and reflexivity

Submission guidelines:

Abstract of no more than 500 words to be submitted by November 30th, 2018 to editors at studyingwarcrimes@gmail.com. We only accept original contributions and the abstract needs to clearly demonstrate the chapter’s contribution to the volume.

Please include a 150-200 word bio highlighting your affiliation, work experience and credentials in the field of war and mass violence research.

Further process:

After an initial screening and by December 15th, 2018, editors will invite 8 contributors to develop their abstract into a full chapter (5-7000 words) to be submitted by April 15th 2019. We will apply for funding for a lunch-to-lunch workshop for contributors in May 2019. The final submission date for full chapters will be in August, 2019.

Routledge (Taylor&Francis Group) initiated our work with this collection, and has expressed a strong interest in publishing the book.

About the editors:

Sladjana Lazic is a post-doctoral researcher at the Center for Peace Studies (CPS) at the Arctic University of Norway (UiT). She holds a PhD in Political Science from the Norwegian University for Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway, on victims’ perspectives on transitional justice and legitimacy.

Anette Bringedal Houge holds a PhD in Criminology and Sociology of Law from the University of Oslo on conflict-related sexual violence, perpetrator re-presentations, and international criminal justice. She has published her research in e.g., Aggression and Violent Behavior, British Journal of Criminology and Criminology and Criminal Justice. Anette is the Head of Humanitarian Needs and Analysis at the Norwegian Red Cross.

Will the new crimes against humanity treaty protect women and LGBTI persons?

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               Photo courtesy of Groundswell.

If you haven’t heard about the new treaty on crimes against humanity that the United Nations has in the works, you’re not alone. Most haven’t.

What you should know is if this treaty goes forward for adoption in its current draft form, only some—not all—people will be protected from crimes against humanity like massacres, rape, torture and persecution. This is because the treaty adopts an outdated definition of gender that some states will inevitably use to shirk their responsibility for addressing gender-based crimes.

We need this treaty, first of all, because it could help bring such atrocities to light and perpetrators to justice. The only permanent court in existence for prosecuting such crimes, the International Criminal Court (ICC), doesn’t have a mechanism for interstate cooperation, and few states have crimes against humanity incorporated into their domestic legislation.

The problem is that the draft treaty adopts the definition of gender from the Rome Statute, which established the ICC, stating: “it is understood that the term ‘gender’ refers to the two sexes, male and female, within the context of society.” On its own, the definition does not make clear who is protected. While it’s understood to be inclusive of all gendered crimes that meet the threshold of persecution, there has never been a successful prosecution at the ICC. Not surprisingly, since the Rome Statute’s codification, such a definition has never been used again.

To understand how this definition of gender came about we have to go back about twenty years. During the 1990s in Rome, women’s rights advocates rallied for the term “gender” instead of “sex” to be listed alongside race, ethnicity, religion and the other the protected groups from persecution. A small, socially conservative opposition objected, fearing the term “gender” would more broadly affirm LGBTI rights as human rights. They also wanted to limit the scope of women’s rights.

Since Rome, two decades of international human rights law has solidified the definition of gender as a social construct across UN Agencies and human rights mechanisms. The term sex is left for biologists. However, while this “footnote” to the term gender is understood to be inclusive, there are states that would gladly use this opaque definition as an excuse to ignore conflict-related gender-based crimes.

So how does an outdated definition to a protected group get adopted into a new crimes against humanity draft treaty?

Bensouda Photo

             Photo courtesy of CUNY Law School

While oodles of rights and protections were taken into consideration during the dialogues on the draft treaty, no one thought to discuss gender. Perusing through the comments over the last four years of discussions and debates by states and experts partied to the drafting process, not one mentions the outdated definition that was cut and pasted into the draft. While issues concerning everything from the rights of witnesses and victims to the cooperation between states have been discussed in great detail, there’s no mention of women, gender, LGBTI people, or even sexual violence. 

At the beginning of the drafting process, a small handful of legal advocates pointed to the definition and called for the drafters to either not include it¾since no other ground of persecution required one¾or adopt a clearer definition as used by the UN. Valerie Oosterveld, an international criminal law professor who was a pivotal delegate at Rome, raised concerns about the problematic nature of adopting a definition into the CAH treaty that was drafted to be deliberately ambiguous (“constructive ambiguity” in diplomatic parlance) in order to resolve polarized positions during the Rome Statute negotiations. Considering she’s one of the foremost experts on the issue of gender under international criminal law, it’s astonishing her ideas were dismissed.

Part of the problem stemmed from the fear that the controversy surrounding the definition twenty years ago would resurface and tank the treaty if the debate on gender were reopened. Some states and drafters have expressed the need to get the treaty passed expeditiously and to keep the original language from Rome intact.

But does a new treaty that codifies an outdated definition of gender serve the interests of justice?

Fighting for recognition of gender-based violence is not new. Sexual violence crimes were not taken as seriously as other crimes in the early years of international criminal tribunals. Feminists had to struggle tirelessly to secure the recognition of rape as a form of torture in certain contexts.

In the 1990’s the Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic of CUNY Law School, (known then as the International Women’s Human Rights Initiative Clinic) served as the secretariat for the Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice, a global coalition of women’s rights activists working to address gender gaps in the draft Rome Statute. Just as there was push-back against the term “gender”, there was also great opposition to recognizing sexual violence as a serious international crime.

A key component to their success was combining advocacy with legal strategy. Gender strategies in the tribunals grew from the notion that “women’s rights are human rights.” Today, advocates are calling for a “gender equal world.”

This is a pivotal moment in history to affirm our understanding of discrimination, including where gender-based oppression dictates narratives for sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics. What we do now will affect people’s rights for generations to come.

It’s time for the international community to take a stand. A treaty meant to protect people against the worst atrocities imaginable by its nature should protect all of us.

 

Female Voices at the 12th International Humanitarian Law Dialogs

I had the pleasure to attend the 12th International Humanitarian Law Dialogs in Chautauqua, New York, from August 26-28.  This post will brief highlight notable female contributions to this year’s conference.

Catherine Marchi Uhel

Catherine Marchi-Uhel, Head of IIIM (Katherine B. Fite Lecture, 12th IHL Dialogs)

As usual, Intlawgrrls sponsored the Katherine B. Fite lecture; this year’s lecturer was Catherine Marchi-Uhel, the recently appointed Head of the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism for Syria (IIIM).  Catherine Marchi-Uhel is a French national who began her career in the French judiciary, and then held several different posts at the United Nations, including in Bosnia, Kosovo, New York, and at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.  In addition and as usual, Intlawgrrls sponsored a porch session.  This year’s porch session was on the topic of “Victims and International Criminal Tribunals.”  The session was moderated by yours truly, and included Professors Jennifer Trahan, Yvonne Dutton, and Valerie Oosterveld as speakers.

IntlawGrrls Porch Session

Intlawgrrls Porch Session: Professors Oosterveld, Sterio, Dutton, and Trahan (from left to right)

Other notable lectures and panels by female professors included the “Year in Review” lecture by Professor Valerie Oosterveld, a lecture on “Legal Limits to the Use of the Veto in the Face of Atrocity Crimes” by Professor Jennifer Trahan, and the “Ferencz Issues Panel: Is the Justice We Seek the Justice They Want?” moderated by Professor Leila Sadat (panelists included Zainab Bangura, Binta Mansaray, and Catherine Read).  The recipient of the Heintz Award this year were Allyson Caison, North Carolina Stop Torture Now, and Christina Crowger, North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture.

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Recipients of this year’s Heintz Award: Allyson Caison and Christina Cowger 

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Professor Leila Sadat, moderating the “Ferencz Issues Panel”

The Akayesu Judgment at 20: looking back, pushing forward

Twenty years ago, on September 2nd, 1998, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) handed down a landmark trial judgment in the Akayesu case: the first to define rape as a crime against humanity, and the first to recognize that rape and other acts of sexual violence are constitutive acts of genocide. The defendant, the mayor of the Rwandan town of Taba, was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity for acts he engaged in and oversaw against Taba’s Tutsi residents, including murder, torture, rape, and other inhumane acts.

Throughout its findings, the ICTR Trial Chamber surfaced gender in its legal analysis, illuminating the gendered experience of mass atrocities, and underscoring how the perpetrators’ and victims’ understanding of gender influenced the planning, commission, and impact of a wide range of genocidal acts.

Akayesu‘s ground-breaking findings owed less to the Prosecution’s case theory – which originally failed to include charges of sexual violence, despite the rape of between 250,000 and 500,000 women and girls between April and June 1994 – than to the Coalition for Women’s Human Rights in Conflict Situations. Formed by feminist activists in 1996, the Coalition mobilized around the ICTR’s failure to investigate and prosecute sexual violence. As prosecution witnesses, who were primarily female survivors of the genocide, gave first-hand accounts of sexual violence, the Coalition submitted an amicus curiae brief calling upon the Trial Chamber to use its authority to invite the Prosecution to amend their Indictment to include charges of rape and other acts of sexual violence.

One of the suggestions in the amicus was that the Prosecution charge rape and sexual violence as acts of genocide, arguing that they were essential components of the genocide, and were designed to “destroy a woman from a physical, mental or social perspective and [destroy] her capacity to participate in the reproduction and production of the community.” An oft-cited passage in the Akayesu Judgment, echoes aspects of this argument:

Sexual violence was an integral part of the process of destruction, specifically targeting Tutsi women and specifically contributing to their destruction and to the destruction of the Tutsi group as a whole. […] Sexual violence was a step in the process of the destruction of the Tutsi group—destruction of the spirit, of the will to live, and of life itself.

On the 20th anniversary of Akayesu, two things are evident.

First, despite the judgment’s pioneering nature, a gendered understanding of genocide (and international crimes, more generally) still needs to be consciously asserted in investigations, analysis, and prosecutions. The legal avenues opened by Akayesu were, for a long time, not seized upon by prosecutors; the ICTR and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) Prosecution’s practice of charging rape occurring during the genocide as crimes against humanity and/or war crimes, rather than genocide, continued. Decades later, the analysis and reporting of genocide continues to revolve around an understanding of genocide as a crime committed through organized mass killings. Killing remains the privileged genocidal act, and consequently the examination of the risk and commission of genocide has largely, and unhelpfully, revolved around the numbers killed. Akayesu notwithstanding, the majority of genocide convictions in both the ICTR and ICTY have been based on instances of mass executions, founded upon strategies geared towards achieving the immediate physical destruction of (predominantly male members of) the protected group.

Second, the work of asserting a gendered analysis of international crimes continues largely to be done by feminist jurists and practitioners, most of whom are female. While it is not the role of female lawyers and activists to bring to light the experience of women and girls in jurisprudence, the task has too often fallen on their shoulders. Akayesu would not have been the landmark case it is without the work of the female-led Coalition; the Judges, notably Judge Navanethem Pillay; and the Chamber’s Legal Officers, notably Cecile Aptel. At the ICTY, three female lawyers and investigators led the development of the evidence of crimes committed in Foča with an express focus on building a case that reflected the organized way rape was used as part of ethnic cleansing. As a result, the Kunarac Judgment found sexual enslavement and rape as crimes against humanity. At the International Criminal Court (ICC), it was under the auspices of the first female Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, that a gender strategy for investigations and prosecutions was developed.

The red thread of genocide continues to course its way through human history. In June 2016, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria determined that ISIS was committing the crime of genocide against the Yazidis of the Sinjar region of northern Iraq. In August 2018, the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar held that there was sufficient information to support an inference of genocidal intent regarding the actions of Myanmar’s security forces against the Rohingya. Having failed in its obligation to prevent genocide, punishment remains a priority for the international community. The UN’s recent report on Myanmar has reinforced calls for the Security Council to refer the situation in Myanmar to the ICC. For the Yazidi genocide, the path to justice is likely to be forged through national courts, including, hopefully, in Iraq. The Iraqi Investigation Team, created by the Security Council, has just begun its work.

As the push for accountability for the Yazidi and Rohingya genocides continues, it is essential that prosecutors and activists alike ensure that acts of genocide, beyond the act of killing, are fully investigated, properly indicted, and raised at trial. As women and girls are more likely to survive genocide, any ensuing trials rely heavily on what they have seen, heard, and suffered. A conception of genocide that relies on them bearing witness to killings (usually but not solely of male members of the group), and which turns away from all non-lethal acts of genocide (usually but not solely visited on female members of the group) is a harm to the survivors, the group, the historical record, and to our understanding of the crime of genocide.

When genocide is recognized only its most murderous articulations and gendered genocidal crimes such as rape, torture, forced pregnancy, and enslavement are ignored, States and international organizations lose much of their power to uphold the legal obligations to prevent and punish genocide. When the gendered crimes of genocide are excluded from prosecutions, the living survivors of genocide are denied justice and history yet again erases the experiences of women and girls.

In 1998, Akayesu’s gendered analysis was ground-breaking. In 2018, it’s never been more necessary.