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Part 6 in a series by Marissa Goldfaden as she works her way through “Introduction to minority rights, regional human rights mechanisms, and minority rights advocacy,” a new online course offered to the public free of charge by Minority Rights Group International. The course’s stated objectives are to introduce concepts of minority rights and discrimination, develop awareness and understanding of international and regional mechanisms for minority rights, and improve practical skills in lobbying and advocacy.

By MARISSA GOLDFADEN

Asian human rights mechanisms

The workings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

Founded in 1967, ASEAN is currently comprised of Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Timor Leste has observer status. The purpose of ASEAN is to boost economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region; and promote regional peace and stability through respect for justice and the rule of law, and adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter. In 2007, ASEAN adopted its own charter.

Decision-making within ASEAN

Secretariat Implements policy decisions; draws up ‘plans of action’ in collaboration with Senior Officials
Ministerial meetings Amend and endorse plans of action drawn up by the Secretariat
ASEAN Summit The highest decision-making body: gives final approval to plans of action

 

In terms of rights, ASEAN Vision 2020 seeks to create an ASEAN Community by 2020 where “all people enjoy equitable access regardless of gender, race, religion, language or social and cultural background; where civil society is empowered and gives special attention to the disadvantaged, disabled and marginalized; where social justice and the rule of law reign.”

The ASEAN Community is composed of three pillars of cooperation:

  1. ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC)
  2. ASEAN Economic Community (AEC)
  3. ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC)

Asia-Pacific does not have a regional system of treaties, courts, commissions or other institutions to protect and promote human rights. As such, the organization has recently established the following three relevant mechanisms:

  • ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR)
    • Though it does not explicitly mention minorities, principle 2.2 of the AICHR’s Terms of Reference underlines respect for non-discrimination.
  • ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC)
  • Committee on the Implementation of the ASEAN Declaration on the Promotion and Protection of Migrant Workers (ACMW)

All ASEAN member states have ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

ASEAN has also adopted its own declarations relating to women:

  1. Declaration on the Advancement of Women in ASEAN (1988)
  2. Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in the ASEAN Region (2004) 
  3. ASEAN Declaration Against Trafficking in Persons Particularly Women and Children (2004)

Established in 1985, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)’s main goal is to jointly promote social and economic development in Asia. Its current member countries are Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan.

Created in January 2004, the Technical Committee on Women, Youth and Children is concerned with issues such as the trafficking of women and children within and between countries in the region; increasing women’s participation in politics; and women’s health and education. SAARC adopted a regional Convention on Combating the Crime of Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution in January 2002.

Established in 2004, the SAARC Social Charter “incorporates a broad range of goals in areas such as poverty eradication, population stabilization, women’s empowerment, promotion of health and nutrition, and child protection. It also requires member states to formulate a National Plan of Action, or modify any existing one, to implement the provisions of the Charter. It calls on states to enact any plan through a transparent and broad-based participatory process.”

The SAARC Charter does not list promotion of human rights as a goal. SAARC has not adopted any human rights convention or charter. It has not agreed to create any regional institution or mechanism to monitor adherence to, and implementation of, the various UN human rights conventions already signed by its member countries.

Image: therealsingapore.com

Michael Dobbs’s column in Foreign Policy is currently examining the use of intelligence in genocide prevention, including posting reconnaissance imagery. According to STAND National Director Daniel Solomon, “While Dobbs recognizes the obvious benefit of hindsight in his brief analytical overview, he faults the intelligence community for its failure to recognize the integral relationship between military mobilization and mass atrocities in the Serbian military’s Srebrenica offensive.” Though Dobbs’s series is focused on the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, the exposition he provides is equally applicable to the case of Sri Lanka.

Reporting for Truthout, Emanuel Stoakes writes that it is believed the State Department holds “a live file containing evidence of multiple offences committed by both sides during the [Sri Lankan civil] war, including testimony from [a former Army general] and other military, diplomatic and civilian figures.” Furthermore,

During the war, the United States used satellites to carefully monitor events in the Vanni region of the island where the war’s last battles occurred. Images sourced from the State Department have been referenced in a number of reports by non-governmental organizations and others, which provoked some speculation as to the evidence the US has which remains undisclosed to the public.

Another example of how intelligence comes into play in the Sri Lanka example is the fact that on May 1, 2009, Foreign Minister Palitha Kohona told Al Jazeera that the Sri Lankan government had shelled a government-declared no-fire zone after he had denied such action in a previous interview. When confronted with satellite imagery that appeared to show shell damage and indicated the use of weaponry with the no-fire zone, Kohona claimed that this occurred before any civilians were in the safety area.

At present, no Sri Lankan civilian or military chain of command member has been prosecuted for alleged offenses committed during the war.

Photo: foreignpolicy.com

Today’s blog post focuses on the topic of transitional justice:

* Last week, the lower house of Brazil’s congress, the Chamber of Deputies, approved the creation of a National Truth Commission. The commission will investigate human rights abuses—including forced disappearances, torture, and arbitrary executions—committed under the country’s 1964–85 military regime. It is expected that the bill will now be promptly approved by the Brazilian Senate. While noting the bill’s significant strengths, the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) has also pointed out its challenges and subsequent opportunities for successfully bringing justice to victims and their families, as well as preventing future violations. Read the ICTJ’s commentary here.

* Current UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and former ICTJ president Juan E. Méndez published a book this month, Taking a Stand: The Evolution of Human Rights, together with South Carolina Poet Laureate Marjory Wentworth. A long-time political activist, Méndez was arrested and tortured by the Argentinean government in the 1970s. He was the first executive director of Americas Watch, in 1981, and the UN’s first special adviser on the prevention of genocide, from 2004 to 2007. Taking a Stand offers critical analysis of human rights movements throughout the world and policy recommendations on both the international and domestic levels. The book has garnered favorable reviews, in part for its reliance on facts and research in addition to the author’s personal experiences.

* On September 16, ICTJ held a panel discussion called “Why the Silence on Sri Lanka?” on accountability for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during the country’s civil war. Earlier this year, the UN Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka released a report alleging that scores of civilians were killed by governmental operations against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam between January and May 2009. Led by Gordon Weiss, former UN spokesman in Sri Lanka and author of The Cage, and Dr. Vasuki Nesiah, academic and Sri Lanka human rights activist, the discussion focused on ways to ensure proper investigation of all crimes in Sri Lanka and other steps that will enable victims, and the country as a whole, to work toward a sustainable peace.

Photo: livejournal.com

* Sri Lanka is trying to prevent a report by a UN panel of experts from being forwarded to the Human Rights Council. The report, written in March, detailed “credible allegations which, if proven, indicate that a wide range of serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law were committed both by the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam], some of which would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.” The report also called for an independent international probe into the violations and invited the Human Rights Council to reconsider the conclusions from its May 2009 special session on Sri Lanka, during which a resolution was adopted praising the outcome of the country’s 1983–2009 civil war.

* On September 9, INTERPOL issued Red Notices, the agency’s highest arrest alert, for Muammar Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, and Abdullah Senussi, his former director of military intelligence. The International Criminal Court indicted the three for war crimes and crimes against humanity in June. INTERPOL’s action is considered a crucial step towards recognition of Libya’s National Transitional Council [NTC] as the country’s official government. It is speculated, but unconfirmed, that Gaddafi, like many other members of his family and regime, is being harbored in Niger. The Red Notices also have the effect of restricting the ability of the fugitive men to cross international borders.

* In the first ICC case on post-presidential election violence in Kenya in 2007, the prosecution and defense have accused one another of “unclear evidences.” Defense attorneys argue that the prosecution did not conduct proper investigations, while the prosecution maintains that defense witnesses have been inconsistent and contradictory. The first three suspects summoned by the ICC for the confirmation of charges hearings are former ministers William Ruto and Henry Kosgei and radio presenter Joshua Sang, all members of the Orange Democratic Movement, the opposition party at the time of the elections. The ruling on whether or not initial evidence presented can support crimes against humanity charges in full trial is expected out on December 24.

Photo: jour210srilanka.wordpress.com/

* After months of debate, Israeli courts ruled in favor of extraditing Aleksandar Cvetkovic to Bosnia to stand trial for crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the breakup of Yugoslavia. Cvetkovic, who immigrated to Israel in 2006, was arrested in January by Israeli authorities after Bosnian-based courts accused him of participating in the Srebrenica massacre.

* Two Burmese men living in Australia admitted to committing crimes against humanity—including the arrest, torture, and execution of civilians—during Burma’s political turmoil of the late 1980s. The men reportedly admitted to the crimes out of guilt.

* A Sri Lankan government report said that while state forces may have caused civilian deaths during the final months of the country’s civil war, they did not violate international law. The report, issued by the Ministry of Defense, did admit to accidental civilian deaths, but a large portion was devoted to criticizing the conduct of the rebel Tamil Tigers. Said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch: “This is just the latest and glossiest effort to whitewash mounting evidence of government atrocities during the fighting.”

 * Responding to reports that ICC charges against Muammar Qaddafi might be dropped if he agrees to step down, Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch wrote that “instead of putting a conflict to rest, a de-facto amnesty that grants immunity for crimes against humanity may just spur another cycle of grave abuses while failing to bring peace.”

Photos (from top): Interpol, topnews.in, tntmagazine.com

* Four former Guatemalan military officers are being tried for crimes against humanity they allegedly committed in 1982. They are accused of taking part in the Dos Erres Massacre, in which government forces murdered over 200 villagers suspected of being rebel sympathizers.

* Today a United Nations–organized seminar aimed at preventing genocide in South Sudan, hosted in the country’s capital of Juba, concludes. Special Adviser Francis Deng said the UN hopes to “prevent the new State from getting into. . . errors”—such as “discrimination, dehumanization, inclusivity, marginalization, and suppression”—that led to the breakup of Sudan.

* The Democratic Republic of Congo’s main opposition party, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, chose Jean-Pierre Bemba, currently on trial at the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity, as their presidential candidate. Bemba is accused of leading militias that killed hundreds of civilians in the Central African Republic. 

* President Mahinda Rajapaksa dismissed the controversial British documentary “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields,” claiming the footage, which purportedly shows the Sri Lankan army committing war crimes during the final weeks of the country’s civil war, was a “film” staged by the rebel Tamil Tigers.

* United Nations officials issued a statement saying Syrian authorities may have committed crimes against humanity in their suppression of the democratic uprisings sweeping the country. Citing reports of the murder and arrest of civilians, Francis Deng and Edward Luck called for an investigation and requested that the Assad regime abide by international regulations when responding to protests.

Photos (from top): thebellforum.com, realsociology.edublogs.org, Associated Press

Bosnia: Mladic appears before ICTY again

Ratko Mladic, the commander of the Bosnian Serb army, yesterday appeared for the second time before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The hearing was marked by heated exchanges between Mladic and the presiding judge, Alphons Orie of the Netherlands. His indictment on 11 charges—including genocide, persecution, and deportation—stems from his leadership of the Bosnian Serb army during the 1992-95 war, including the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre. In court yesterday, Mladic said he would not enter a plea without the presence of his Serbian and Russian lawyers, while the court said the Serbian attorney was not qualified to represent Mladic since he does not speak English. On Sunday, Agence France-Presse had reported that Mladic planned to boycott the hearing as a protest against issues with his representation. After Mladic’s expulsion, the judge entered pleas of not guilty on all 11 charges, but did not set a date for his next court appearance.

Laws of War: Crisis Group president Louise Arbour delivers speech

Louise Arbour, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and current president of the International Crisis Group, delivered the annual Kirby Lecture at the Australian National University on June 23. Titled “The Laws of War: Under Siege or Gaining Ground?” the speech examined the current state of international humanitarian law and the laws governing warfare.

Arbour noted that international law regarding the conduct of war has come under attack from both sides, one arguing that traditional laws of war constrain governments’ ability to fight asymmetric wars against terrorists or insurgents, the other arguing that international law gives too much leeway to states that inflict civilian casualties. While Arbour acknowledged important gaps in international humanitarian law, she said some criticisms were a result of the law’s greater effectiveness in recent years in holding perpetrators of atrocities accountable and the desire of some states to avoid being held accountable for their actions.

Arbour noted that armed conflict has changed dramatically since international treaties like the Geneva Conventions were formulated. It is not always clear whether military, counterinsurgency, and counterterrorism operations against non-state actors can be considered acts of war, which means they need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine how they should be governed under international and domestic laws. However, even if non-state actors violate laws governing warfare, Arbour argued that states should abide by them, especially when it comes to protecting civilians. Non-state violators can be held accountable through the criminal process, whereas states are still bound by their obligations under those treaties.

Even if asymmetric warfare has made it more difficult to distinguish between civilians and combatants, Arbour said today’s criteria remained useful, relevant, and necessary: “The current formulation does allow for the targeting of ‘civilian combatants’ when they are engaged in hostilities. To expand humanitarian law to allow the targeting of those civilians not directly involved in hostilities would be a dangerous step, and would entirely undermine the rationale of civilian protection.”

Arbour noted the continuing debate over what constitutes excessive civilian casualties, with one side arguing that any restriction on civilian casualties is too restrictive and the other that current laws of war allow too many civilian casualties. She said that current laws struck a proper balance between “military and humanitarian imperatives,” and that clearer standards would develop over time.

Finally Arbour discussed the concept of “lawfare”—the “use or the abuse of laws of war as a military tool.” While she cautioned against the manipulation of law for political aims, she also highlighted international humanitarian law’s potential to play a major role in protecting civilians and prevent conflict if implemented and enforced properly, and warned against attempts to cast aside or radically revise the current system of international humanitarian law.

Photo: The Guardian

Guatemala: Former military chief of staff arrested

Former Guatemalan general Héctor Mario López Fuentes was arrested last Friday in Guatemala City. As the third-highest-ranking military official, he is alleged to have been responsible for massacres and violence against the regime’s opponents during the country’s 36-year civil war. Amnesty International says General López Fuentes planned 12 massacres that killed an estimated 317 indigenous Maya in Guatemala’s Ixil Triangle from 1982 to 1983. A truth commission (Commission for Historical Clarification) backed by the United Nations found that approximately 200,000 people were either killed or disappeared during the civil war, and that 440 massacres in indigenous communities may amount to genocide. López Fuentes faces charges that include genocide, forced disappearances, and crimes against humanity. His arrest follows that of two former heads of the national police force, who are also accused of severe human rights violations during the conflict.

News of the general’s arrest comes not long after the International Crisis Group released a report on the progress of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), an investigative body created in 2007 by agreement between the Guatemalan government and the UN to strengthen the Guatemalan judicial system, investigate crimes committed by illegal security forces and clandestine security organizations (CIACS), and dismantle the CIACS, whose origins date back to the government intelligence forces during the civil war. The report states that the judicial system has come to rely on the CICIG too much as a crutch in dealing with issues involving CIACS. According to the report, the Guatemalan judicial system needs to take greater responsibility and initiative in investigating and prosecuting those crimes.

Sri Lanka: Miliband and Kouchner urge action based on UN report

David Miliband and Bernard Kouchner, the former British and French foreign ministers, published an op-ed in the International Herald Tribune on Monday, calling on the international community to carry out the recommendations of last month’s UN report on Sri Lanka. “Report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka” labels abuses committed by both the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam as war crimes and crimes against humanity, and calls for the creation of “an independent, international mechanism to monitor Sri Lanka’s reconciliation efforts and independent investigations into alleged violations.”

Referring to Sri Lanka’s and the global community’s responsibility to protect civilians, the two former ministers said there was evidence the Sri Lankan government had failed to protect Tamil noncombatants from violence. Miliband and Kouchner especially stressed the need for a process to hold human rights violators accountable for their wartime actions. They said if the Sri Lankan government was reluctant to proceed on its own, the international community should move forward with implementing the report’s recommendations, which have been endorsed by the UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay.

The Sri Lankan government claims the UN report makes judgments based on “unverified information,” and says its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) is looking into allegations of human rights violations. Kouchner and Miliband argue that the LLCR “fails standards of impartiality and independence and is deeply flawed.”

Photo: UltimaHoraOnline.com

Sri Lanka: New documentary reignites debate

Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields (watch it here; viewer discretion advised), a British documentary that details the last days of the decades-long Sri Lankan civil war, has reignited discussions about the prosecution of war crimes possibly committed at the end of the conflict. Sri Lanka’s government has long maintained that it perpetrated no crimes in its 2009 offensive into territory held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Despite a post-conflict UN investigation that found credible evidence of war crimes on both sides, neither the UN nor Sri Lanka itself has shown any interest in acting on the investigation’s findings, and Security Council members Russia and China supported the Sri Lankan government’s claim that it took justified and necessary measures to end a stubborn resistance.

The documentary, which aired yesterday on the UK’s Channel 4, depicts evidence of crimes including indiscriminate bombardments, extrajudicial executions, and rape and murder.

NGOs and governments alike have released statements calling for further investigation. But UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has stated that he can only call for an investigation if the Sri Lankan government consents.

Photo: TamilCanadian.com

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