The search for justice in Iraq and Afghanistan

While Afghanistan is an ICC member state, Iraq is not. For this week's International Justice Day, the Kurdish coalition for the ICC held large demonstrations in 12 locations calling for Iraq's accession to the ICC Rome Statute. © KONICC

The search for justice in Iraq and Afghanistan

Civil society is calling for increased measures to ensure justice and accountability for grave crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In an oped in OpenDemocracy, Coalition member REDRESS urged the ICC Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) to open a full investigation into allegations of detainee abuses by British troops in Iraq following the 2003 invasion in the face of the government's apparent reluctance to investigate the situation domestically.

"The UK has one of the strongest and most highly renowned legal systems in the world," stated Carla Ferstman, director of REDRESS. "Thus, it would be difficult to say that the competent UK authorities are unable to pursue an investigation or prosecution. Certainly they are able to do so. The issue is one of willingness and this is now seriously in question."

The ICC principle of complementarity means the ICC can only investigate if the member state in question is unwilling or genuinely unable to do so in the first instance.

While the UK is an ICC member state, Iraq is not, which has been cited by the ICC prosecutor as a limiting factor in the Court’s jurisdiction over other potential international crimes in Iraq.

Civil society organizations, including the Kurdish national coalition for the ICC, have long advocated for Iraq's accession to the ICC Rome Statute. The call was most recently repeated by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein following allegations of civilian deaths in the battle for Mosul.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) this week expressed consternation at the apparent shutting down of a UK inquiry into the alleged murder of around 53 civilians by British Air Services (SAS) troops during the UK's presence in Afghanistan.

Entitled "Operation Northmoor", this investigation by the Royal Military Police was initiated in 2016 with the intention of continuing through 2021, but instead was halted in February earlier this year. 

A separate inquiry into alleged abuses by Australian special forces troops in Afghanistan – including the deaths of two children - is reportedly showing promise in potentially ensuring accountability for the possible deaths of civilians at the hands of coalition forces. According to HRW, it focuses on the entrenched impunity that often pervades the elite world of special forces “who operate with the belief that they are above the law.” 

Earlier this month, the ICC Prosecutor pushed back what was termed an "imminent" decision on whether to open an investigation into alleged grave crimes by all sides to the conflict in Afghanistan after receiving "substantial" new information from the Afghan government. 

"This is not the first time UK authorities have shown themselves unwilling to investigate and prosecute military figures for war crimes," wrote HRW Senior Researcher for Afghanistan, Patricia Gossman. "Let’s hope Australia does better by transparently investigating all allegations of abuses, and releasing such reports to the public."

In 2007, the ICC announced a preliminary examination in Afghanistan to determine whether conduct by all parties to the conflict after 1 May 2003 - including Afghan, foreign government and anti-government forces - may amount to crimes under the Rome Statute and warrant the opening of a full ICC investigation.

While a decision was thought to be imminent in November 2016, this was earlier this month pushed back after ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda received "substantial" new information from the Afghan government.

The preliminary examination, having already concluded that there is a "reasonable basis" to conclude that all parties have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, is currently at the admissibilty phase aimed at determining if genuine national criminal proceedings are being conducted into the same crimes, according to the ICC Prosecutor. 

Afghan civil society activists have intensified the call for the ICC to open an investigation into with one member of the Afghanistan Transitional Justice Coordination Group, Horia Mosadiq, commenting:

"We have witnessed the adoption of six peace agreements in the last 40 years, each accompanied by blanket amnesties for perpetrators of the most heinous crimes in the name of peace. Today we have neither peace nor justice for the thousands of victims still suffering from the waves of repression and violence in Afghanistan. It is time for accountability for these crimes."

 

Central Africa calls for justice

As the Central African Republic (CAR) and Burundi continue to face human rights violations, the United Nations and civil society have reiterated the urgent need to bring all perpetrators of these abuses to justice.

The latest report from Human Rights Watch indicated that hundreds have been killed and thousands displaced in CAR while, according to human rights organizations, more than 1,200 people have been unlawfully killed n Burundi since 2015. Civilians — particularly children — are being increasingly targeted in the form of murder, abductions, rape and recruitment into armed groups.

While justice is needed, it is not necessarily available and challenges remain in terms of victims' access to justice and limited resources for investigation. While the ICC's investigaton into war crimes in the country remains ongoing, the Special Criminal Court established in 2015 as a complementary means of accountability is not yet functional.

The Security Council has similarly emphasized the need to get the SCC up and running, deploring attacks against civilians and other human rights violations by armed groups in the country.

“We came to tell victims of deadly crimes in this country that they will never be abandoned by the international judicial system which is not fiction," said Touissaint Muntazini, prosecutor of the Special Criminal Court. "The court was created to render justice to the victims."

As human rights violations continue in Burundi, two years after the announcement of President Nkurunziza’s candidacy for a third term in office first triggered an outbreak of violence, nine local human rights organizations have been urging the ICC Prosecutor to promptly expand the Court's preliminary examination into a full investigation and hold the perpetrators to account. 

In a new report, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) joined the call, highlighting the need to "prosecute the main perpetrators, to prevent other crimes and to obtain justice and reparation for the victims.”

 

ICC investigations

Darfur, Sudan: While a Geneva-based NGO has welcomed a US decision to extend the review period of Sudan's commitment to positive actions before agreeing to lift economic sanctions against the country, Rights For Peace Foundation has called on Sudanese government to end racial discrimination against Darfur students.

DRC: Continuing his testimony at the ICC, Bosco Ntaganda has denied claims both that he acted as de facto military leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) militia and that he himself shot dead a priest 15 years ago.

CAR: The UN Stabilization Mission in the country continues to face scrutiny as attacks against civilians, peacekeepers and aid workers persist amid an unravelling peace deal.

Côte d'Ivoire: ICC judges have directed Trial Chamber I to carry out a new review on whether to release former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo from detention, with or without conditions, and, until then, Mr Gbagbo shall remain in detention.

Kenya: The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission has taken a stand against incidents of violent interference with presidential campaigns ahead of the August elections.

Uganda: As Dominic Ongwen's defense challenges witness testimony of LRA attacks on IDP camps, strong public interest in the case has led the ICC to announce plans to facilitate monthly video screenings of the trial in Uganda.

What are the opinions of Ongwen on the ground?

 

ICC preliminary examinations

Colombia: Human Rights Watch has submitted an amicus curiae to the Colombian Constitutional Court highlighting concerns regarding shortcomings in the country's peace accord that it claimed "could undermine justice for war crimes."

Nigeria: As Boko Haram continues its campaign of attacks on educational infrastructure, a UN expert committee met last week to review the country's record on protecting schoolgirls from abduction and encourage further action.

 

Campaign for Global Justice

A Korean human rights group has produced a report documenting 47 sites of mass killings and mass burials in North Korea in the hope of supporting a "push for accountability" and "future efforts to institute a process of transitional justice."

Human rights advocates have expressed concern over reports that a US proposal to close the State Department office charged with combating war crimes, declaring it a potential "huge loss for accountability." In an oped for The Hill,  David Scheffer, Clint Williamson and Stephen Rapp write that closing the US Office of Global Criminal Justice weakens the fight against Impunity.

Following a “Brain Trust” that Global Justice Center held with legal experts on genocide to discuss ways in which the legal obligations to prevent, suppress and punish genocide can be reconciled with counter-terrorism measures against Da’esh/ISIS, while paying special attention to the gendered aspects of this genocide, GJC together with the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales made a submission to the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor on July 7 asking to open a preliminary examination into genocide and other crimes committed by foreign fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham/Greater Syria aka Da’esh.

After being one of the first 60 countries to contribute to the entry into force of the Rome Statute, Botswana has domesticated the Statute, enabling it to have direct effect on its national laws after a bill to this effect received overwhelming support. 

 

Around the world

Sri Lanka has been criticized for its slow progress in addressing war crimes, torture and rape of Tamils in the country as a recent report by the International Truth and Justice Project’ claims human rights abuses have continued into 2017.

As Rwanda prepares for next month's presidential elections, a report by Human Rights Watch has accused national security forces of conducting at least 37 extrajudicial executions of petty crime suspects between July 2016 and March 2017. 

After international media were granted access into Myanmar's northern Rakhine state, multiple accounts have emerged of human rights abuses against villagers by security forces during clearance operations, despite repeated denial from the government and military.

 

Which #GlobalJustice stories caught your eye this week? Let us know in the comment box below, or tweet us @ngos4justice.