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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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Syria: Draft Resolution in Security Council

On Wednesday, France, Britain, Portugal, and Germany submitted a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council condemning the actions by the Syrian government against civilian protesters. Explicitly referring to the Syrian authorities’ responsibility to protect its civilian population and suggesting that the violent measures may constitute crimes against humanity, the draft resolution called for an end to the violence, the enactment of political reforms and an investigation of the situation in full cooperation with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The resolution also urged other states stop and prevent sales of arms and related supplies to Syria. Discussion on the draft resolution is to begin on Thursday with a vote taking place in several days. While the draft resolution has the support of as many as 11 of the 15 members of the Security Council including the United States, Russia and China have expressed strong reservations against it, leaving open the possibility of a veto.

The draft resolution follows last Thursday’s warning from Special Advisers of the United Nations Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, Francis Deng, and on the Responsibility to Protect, Edward Luck, and Human Rights Watch’s report regarding the situation in Syria. Deng and Luck expressed alarm at the attack on the civilians, called for “an independent, thorough, and objective investigation,” and urged the Syrian government to cooperate with the inquiry and “to refrain from further attacks against the civilian population.” The Human Rights Watch report, in addition to detailing what it considered to be “crimes against humanity,” went further, recommending that the UN Security Council not only condemn the human rights violations, but also refer the violations to the International Criminal Court and adopting sanctions against Syrian officials if necessary.

Kyrgyzstan: Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International Reports

On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International each issued new reports on the Kyrgyz government’s investigation into last year’s ethnic violence. As a result of the violence between the Kyrgyz and the minority Uzbeks, nearly 500, mostly Uzbeks, were killed, and 400,000 fled their homes. The Amnesty International report, which alleges that some of the atrocities against the Uzbeks may have constituted crimes against humanity, argued that the government did not fully investigate the violence perpetrated by the ethnic Kyrgyz and possibly even the security forces against the ethnic Uzbeks. Human Rights Watch detailed allegations of torture, as well as ethnic bias against Uzbeks during the trials following the investigation. Furthermore, the organizations expressed concerns that the government’s inadequate investigations may lead to future unrest between the two ethnic groups.

Bangladesh: War Crimes Tribunal

Bangladesh has been instituting a war crimes tribunal relating to its 1971 independence war against Pakistan. One to three million, mostly civilians, are estimated to have been killed, and approximately 300,000 women were raped. The tribunal, which is investigating the participation of Bengalis in the atrocities, is significant as it raises questions on whether accused war criminals should be tried in an international court or in a domestic tribunal, and whether countries without advanced legal systems have the capacity to properly deliver justice. The tribunal, charged with prosecuting genocide and crimes against humanity, is also important because it will be considering sexual violence as evidence in its decision-making. The court’s independence and fairness has been a point of contention, with Human Rights Watch, the International Bar Association, and the International Centre for Transitional Justice all expressing concern over several aspects of the proposed legal proceedings. It remains to be seen whether the tribunal can proceed free from political pressure and according to international judicial standards.

Photo: Guardian

The International Criminal Court said it would investigate possible crimes against humanity in the upheavals that followed last year’s presidential election in Ivory Coast. ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said reasonable suspicion exists that serious crimes were committed in the West African state. Associated Press reported that rights groups believe both sides in the conflict may have committed crimes.

Tharcisse Karugarama, Rwanda’s justice minister, said the country’s gacaca grassroots courts, which have judged the bulk of people suspected of taking part in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, will officially close in December, Agence France-Presse reported. “Through gacaca we have been able to judge and resolve up to 1.4 million dossiers,” Karugarama said. “A great achievement that would have been impossible otherwise.”

Georgia’s parliament voted on Friday to recognize the 19th-century killings of ethnic Circassians by czarist Russia as genocide. The New York Times reported that the move was “likely to inflame tensions between the two countries,” as Moscow is extraordinarily sensitive to any anti-Russian movements in the North Caucasus. The vote has been hailed as historic, given that no other country has recognized the killing of Circassians as genocide. The statement passed on a vote of 95 to 0, with only one lawmaker speaking against it in debate.

Photo: Reuters

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has found two Croatian generals guilty (Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač) and acquitted one (Ivan Čermak) of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war for acts committed by Croatian forces during Operation Storm between July and September 1995. The three officers were sentenced to 24 and 18 years’ imprisonment respectively. The court found the crimes were committed as part of a joint criminal enterprise whose objective was permanent removal of the Serb population by force or threat of force, which amounted to and involved deportation, forcible transfer, and persecution through the imposition of restrictive and discriminatory measures, unlawful attacks against civilians and civilian objects, deportation, and forcible transfer.

Rwandan Ambassador to the United States James Kimonyo, speaking to students and faculty of California Baptist University as part of the 17th commemoration of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, called for genocide denial to be fought internationally, AllAfrica.com reported. “Denial is the last stage of genocide and it could be the beginning of another cycle of genocide, if left unchecked or stopped,” Kimonyo told the audience.

Last Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a compromise bill (H.R.1473) to fund the government until the end of the 2011 fiscal year. Save Darfur reported that, unfortunately, the Complex Crises Fund, which has enabled the United States to more effectively respond to situations where mass atrocities are occurring or likely to occur, was reduced by 20 percent compared to last year’s level. The Civilian Stabilization Initiative, which runs programs to mitigate conflict, was also reduced, by more than 70 percent. Funding allocated to the Civilian Stabilization Initiative serves to prevent violent conflict in areas critical to U.S. interests, inlcuding Sudan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Photo: un.org

The Third Regional Forum on the Prevention of Genocide took place April 4-6 in Bern, Switzerland, co-organized by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) with the foreign ministries of Argentina and Tanzania.

FDFA Secretary of State Peter Maurer, in his statement opening the forum, asserted “how important it is to ensure regional ownership in order to prevent the threats of genocide and mass atrocities.”

As he pointed out, “The special advisers of the United Nations Secretary-General for the Prevention of Genocide and for the Responsibility to Protect, Mr. Francis Deng and Mr. Edward Luck, have repeatedly called for the creation of regional mechanisms to adapt and implement the policies developed at the multilateral level.”

On the topic of how governments can incorporate genocide prevention into their work, Maurer highlighted the fact that policy discussions “are now increasingly centered on how to set up effective prevention architectures.”

Policy areas Maurer gave special attention to were transitional justice and early warning.

Noting “the relation between prevention and the struggle against impunity,” Maurer emphasized: “When atrocities have been committed, violators need to be judged, and the societies need to be rehabilitated in order to ensure the guarantee of no repetition. Effective transitional justice strategies are crucial to preventing recurrence of such tragedies.”

In conclusion Maurer stated: “In order to prevent the recurrence of such tragedies we need to work on strengthening the already existing early warning systems. We need to link them with the appropriate decision-making structures to ensure that risks are taken into account early on by decision makers, and that proper decisions are made on time.”

Photo: All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Prevention of Genocide and Other Crimes Against Humanity

Khmer Rouge war criminal Kaing Guek Eav (Duch) appealed his 35-year sentence in the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, the New York Times reported. During his trial Duch admitted to overseeing the torture and killing of 16,000 people as the Khmer Rouge chief prison warden. He is the  is the only person so far to be tried by the UN-backed tribunal set up to investigate and prosecute officials of the Khmer Rouge.

The United Nations Human Rights Council’s decisive action on Iran and Côte d’Ivoire sends a clear message that ongoing violations in those countries should end, according to Human Rights Watch. The decision to appoint an expert to investigate rights abuses in Iran was the first time the Council created a post dedicated to a particular country since the Council was created in 2005. The Council also took strong action to address the human rights crisis in Côte d’Ivoire. “The steady crescendo of abuses including targeted killings, enforced disappearances, politically motivated rape, and indiscriminate shelling continues to claim many lives,” said Julie de Rivero of Human Rights Watch. “Establishing a Commission of Inquiry for Côte d’Ivoire sends a strong signal to all parties to the conflict that they will be held accountable for their actions.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a message marking the 17th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, observed on April 7. Said Ban: “The recognition of the collective failure of the international community to come to the assistance of the people of Rwanda, and to shield the victims of the wars in the Balkans, led to the endorsement by the 2005 World Summit of the responsibility to protect.” The Secretary-General also stated that “preventing genocide is a collective and individual responsibility.”

Photo: un.org

Today’s post “From the AIPR Team” comes from Operations Intern Daniel Mitzner:

As AIPR focuses on expanding its outreach by developing new editions of its standard Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention, I have been involved in a few different projects.

One is the development of a Lemkin Seminar focusing on women in genocide. To this end, we have been seeking advice on curricular development strategy from academics and organizations around the world. Recently I contacted women’s human rights organizations in South America prior to a trip there by our president, Mr. Fred Schwartz, so we could arrange meetings for him with the aim of working together with these groups to develop the seminar. I have also drafted various legal documents, including a proposal for a donation of real estate to AIPR from the Polish government.

However, my main focus at AIPR has been drafting an academic article with Tibi Galis, our executive director, on judiciary reforms in regimes in transition and how these reforms affect the administration of transitional justice. Specifically, I have researched several regimes that have undergone a transition and compiled data on the effectiveness of the various approaches these governments have taken when vetting their public officials and judicial officers. I began the writing process last week, and Tibi and I hope to have the article published this spring.

The prosecutors of the war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia have demanded harsh sentences for six former Bosnian Croat officials and military commanders: Jadranko Prlic, Bruno Stojic, Slobodan Praljak, Milivoje Petkovic, Valentin Coric and Berislav Pusic.  The men are accused of crimes against humanity during the 1992-1995 war, Adnkronos International has reported.

The term Mass Atrocity Prevention and Response Operations, or MAPRO, is gathering momentum in the Pentagon, evidenced by its support of a new initiative to use drones and other overhead surveillance gear in order to prevent genocide. Wired states that drones will be used to “place watchful eyes on the perpetrators of mass atrocities,” jammers used to stop the radio transmissions of aspiring genocidaires, and text and social media to alert the American forces about civilians at risk.

Human Rights Watch has stated that the sentencing of a Rwandan opposition politician to four years in jail for inciting ethnic division by the High Court was a sign the country was using the judicial system to stifle criticism. Reuters Africa has reported that President “Paul Kagame has been praised for restoring stability after the genocide, implementing reforms and fostering robust economic growth in recent years, but critics say his leadership is authoritarian and intolerant of dissent.”

Photo: Crunch Gear

In November 2010, the International Peace Institute (IPI) published a report by I. William Zartman titled “Preventing Identity Conflicts Leading to Genocide and Mass Killings.” Published in cooperation with the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide at the United Nations, the paper discusses stages in the prevention of identity conflicts and the tools available for the international community to use. Read it here.

In “Putting Complementarity into Practice: Domestic Justice for International Crimes in DRC, Uganda, and Kenya,” published by the Open Society Foundations, Eric A. White argues that the “principle of complementarity, under the Rome Statute, not only sets forth a key test for admissibility of cases in The Hague; it also places a heavy burden on individual states to help achieve the Rome Statute’s overarching goal: ending impunity for grave atrocities.”

A Report by the Physicians for Human Rights from Cambridge shows that the Burmese military regime commits human rights abuses like forced labor, torture and religious and ethnic persecutions against the Chin in western Burma, as reported by Eurkalert. The authors carried out a population-based assessment of health and human rights in Chin State where multiple reports of human rights abuses were documented.

The trial of Charles Taylor, former Liberia president, was expected to conclude this week but was delayed as Taylor’s legal defense lawyers boycotted the final stage of the proceedings, contending the court was unfair and driven by politics.  The NY Times reported on February 8 that the source of their anger was the rejection by the judges of a 600-page trial summary by Mr. Taylor’s team that, despite frequent warnings, had missed a deadline.

Foreign Affairs reported on the recent succession of South Sudan by analyzing whether the South can part from the North without war. “One way to avert violence might be to encourage the two sides to cooperate in the name of their economic co-dependence” even though the state is still incredibly fragile, the authors stated.

Photo: RFI English

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