Sir John Chilcot's report on lessons to be learned from the 2003 invasion of Iraq has taken seven years to produce. David Cameron has said it should not be about "punishing" British soldiers, but holding senior people to account. However, 13 years of numerous inquiries and criminal investigations into alleged war crimes by UK military personnel in Iraq have so far produced little in terms of criminal accountability, especially for senior military and political figures.

The mother and son of Baha Mousa hold pictures of him at their house in Basra on September 7, 2011.

© 2011 Reuters

Now that Chilcot's report is out there will be many calls to put senior people on trial for 'war crimes' – including at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. But the ICC is not in a position to do this concerning the actual decision to invade Iraq. The court does not have the authority – yet - to prosecute people for the crime of 'aggression', such as the unlawful military invasion of another country.

But the ICC, which the UK helped establish, does have jurisdiction over 'war crimes' committed during a conflict or military occupation itself. While the ICC is designed to be a court of last resort, its prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has opened a preliminary examination into alleged war crimes by UK nationals in Iraq. Bensouda's office will consider whether the gravity of war crimes — provided there is evidence for them —warrant its involvement and, crucially, whether the UK authorities are willing and able to properly investigate and prosecute war crimes themselves.

Allegations of war crimes by some UK soldiers quickly surfaced after the invasion, but more than a decade on we are little advanced in knowing the whole truth about these claims, let alone in seeing anyone put on trial. Two public inquiries into specific incidents were forced on reluctant British governments by UK courts.

The first, in 2011, found that Baha Mousa, an Iraqi hotel receptionist, had died in British custody in Basra in 2003 after suffering at least 93 injuries over two days of abuse, including food and water deprivation.

The second, the Al Sweady inquiry in 2014, dismissed allegations of deliberate murder of detainees in a 2004 incident, but still found that UK interrogators had committed serious abuses against Iraqis – including deprivation of food and sleep and sight – that have all previously been found to constitute torture. Hundreds more allegations of abuse of detainees by UK nationals have been submitted to various courts, including the ICC.

So far, many of these allegations have not been properly investigated. It seems the only UK conviction for war crimes in Iraq is of Corporal Donald Payne, who received a one-year prison sentence in 2006 after pleading guilty to the war crime of inhumane treatment in connection with the death of Baha Mousa. In 2010 the government set up the Iraq Historic Allegations Team to conduct criminal investigations into alleged war crimes, but six years on there are still no new prosecutions. The findings of serious abuses in the Baha Mousa and Al Sweady inquiries did not result in new prosecutions.

UK authorities have also shown little interest in investigating whether senior military and political figures are criminally liable for any war crimes. This is despite a powerful new law of 'command responsibility' enacted in UK law in 2002, which states that military and civilian commanders should be held criminally liable for war crimes committed by people within their chain of command when they knew, or should have known, of the crimes but failed to take necessary measures to prevent them or ensure they were investigated. For civilians – for example politicians commanding the armed forces - the test is whether they knew of the crimes or 'consciously disregarded' information about them.

Given that some of the crimes allegedly carried on for years, that some allegations were published by the British media early on during the occupation, and even that the International Committee of the Red Cross' concerns about abuses in UK detention reached the desks of ministers, one would expect investigations into criminal liability of senior figures to have been launched. But there is no evidence this has happened.

The UK's previous investigative failures suggest it's more important than ever for senior figures to be held accountable after Chilcot. It is vital that UK authorities now launch prompt and thorough investigations into these grave allegations – without governmental interference – both to clear the innocent, and hold those responsible to account. The UK authorities also need to show themselves genuinely willing and capable of investigating senior military and political figures and, if the evidence warrants, prosecuting them for command responsibility for war crimes. The UK clearly has the law and the resources to bring about these prosecutions. But if it is not willing to do so, the ICC could step in.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am


On May 30, 2016, judges at the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegal court system will deliver their verdict in the trial of former dictator of Chad, Hissène Habré. Habré faces charges of crimes against humanity, torture and war crimes, and the prosecutor has asked the court to hand down a life sentence. The chambers were inaugurated by Senegal and the African Union in February 2013 to prosecute the “person or persons” most responsible for international crimes committed in Chad between 1982 and 1990, the period when Habré was president.

The trial began on July 20, 2015 and ended on February 11, 2016, after testimony from 93 witnesses and final arguments. It was the first trial in the world in which the courts of one country prosecuted the former ruler of another for alleged human rights crimes. It was also the first universal jurisdiction case to proceed to trial in Africa. Universal jurisdiction is a principle of international law that allows national courts to prosecute the most serious crimes even when committed abroad, by a foreigner and against foreign victims. The New York Times has called the case “a milestone for justice in Africa.”

The following questions and answers provide more information on the case.

  1. Who is Hissène Habré?
  2. What are the charges against Habré?
  3. What crimes fall within the jurisdiction of the court?
  4. Why did it take so long to bring Habré to justice?
  5. What was the role of the Chadian government in bringing about Habré’s prosecution?
  6. How did the chambers carry out their investigation?
  7. Why was Hissène Habré the only person standing trial?
  8. What about Idriss Déby, Chad's current president?
  9. What were Habré's rights before the Extraordinary Chambers?
  10. Habré and his chosen lawyers refused to cooperate with the chambers. What effect did that have?
  11. How did the trial proceed?
  12. What were some of the highlights of the prosecution's evidence?
  13. What was the defense lawyers' strategy?
  14. How was information about the trial disseminated? 
  15. What is the maximum punishment Habré could receive if found guilty?
  16. What was the victims' role in the trial?
  17. Will the victims receive reparations?
  18. Can there be an appeal? 
  19. How are the Extraordinary Chambers structured and administered?
  20. How were the prosecutors and judges assigned?
  21. What about the trial in Chad of Habré-era security agents?
  22. How are the chambers funded?
  23. What will happen to the Extraordinary Chambers after the trial? 
  24. What were the key steps in the campaign to bring Habré to justice?
  25. What is the significance of Habré's prosecution under universal jurisdiction?
  26. How does this trial fit into critiques of the role of international justice in Africa and claims that universal jurisdiction cases target Africans?
  27. Why wasn’t Habré prosecuted in Chad?
  28. Why couldn’t the International Criminal Court prosecute Habre?


1. Who is Hissène Habré?

Habré was president of the former French colony of Chad from 1982 until he was deposed in 1990 by Idriss Déby Itno, the current president. Habré has been living in exile in Senegal ever since.

A 714-page study by Human Rights Watch documented evidence of Habré’s government’s responsibility for widespread political killings, systematic torture, and thousands of arbitrary arrests. The government periodically targeted civilian populations, including in the south (1983-1985), and various ethnic groups such as Chadian Arabs, the Hadjerai (1987) and the Zaghawa (1989-90), killing and arresting group members en masse when the administration perceived that the groups’ leaders posed a threat to Habré’s rule.

A 1992 Chadian Truth Commission accused Habré's government of systematic torture and said that 40,000 people died during his rule. Most abuses were carried out by his political police, the Documentation and Security Directorate (DDS), whose directors reported directly to Habré. The four successive directors belonged to Habré’s inner circle, some to the same ethnic group, Gorane anakaza, and one to the same family as Habré.

The United States and France supported Habré as a bulwark against Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, who had expansionist designs on northern Chad. Under President Ronald Reagan, the United States gave covert CIA support to help Habré take power in 1982 and then provided his government with massive military aid. The United States also used a clandestine base in Chad to organize captured Libyan soldiers into an anti-Gaddafi force in the late 1980s. Despite the abduction of the French anthropologist Françoise Claustre by Habré’s forces in 1974 and the murder of Captain Pierre Galopin, who went to Chad to negotiate her release in 1975, France also supported Habré against Gaddafi after he took power, providing him with arms, logistical support and information, and carrying out military operations “Manta” (1983) and “Hawk” (1986) to help Chad push back Libyan forces.

2. What are the charges against Habré?

On July 2, 2013 the four investigating judges of the Extraordinary Chambers indicted Habré for crimes against humanity, torture and war crimes. On February 13, 2015, after a 19-month investigation, the judges found sufficient evidence for Habré to face charges of crimes against humanity and torture as a member of a “joint criminal enterprise” and of war crimes on the basis of his “command responsibility.” Specifically, they charged Habré with:

  • The practice of murder, summary executions, and kidnapping followed by enforced disappearance and torture, amounting to crimes against humanity, against the Hadjerai and Zaghawa ethnic groups, the people of southern Chad and political opponents; 
  • Torture; and
  • The war crimes of murder, torture, unlawful transfer and unlawful confinement, and violence to life and physical well-being.  

3. What crimes fall within the jurisdiction of the court?

The chamber’s statute gives it competence over the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture as defined in the statute. The definitions generally track those used in the statutes of the International Criminal Court and other international tribunals. The crimes must have taken place in Chad between June 7, 1982, and December 1, 1990, which correspond to the dates of Habré’s rule.

4. Why did it take so long to bring Habré to justice?

The advent of the trial, almost 25 years after Habré’s fall, is entirely due to the perseverance of Habré’s victims and their allies in nongovernmental groups. When Habré was arrested in July 2013, the Toronto Globe and Mail lauded “one of the world’s most patient and tenacious campaigns for justice.” The New York Times wrote that the “Habré case has stood out because of determined victims who were advised and supported by Human Rights Watch and other advocates.” Habré was first indicted by a Senegalese judge in 2000, but for the next 12 years the Senegalese government of former President Abdoulaye Wade subjected the victims to what the Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu and 117 groups from 25 African countries described as an “interminable political and legal soap opera.” It was only in 2012, when Macky Sall became president of Senegal and the International Court of Justice ordered Senegal to prosecute Habré or extradite him, that progress was made toward the trial. 

5. What was the role of the Chadian government in bringing about Habré’s prosecution?

Habré’s supporters claim that Deby’s government is behind the effort to prosecute him. However, since the victims’ first complaint in 2000, it has been the victims and their supporters who have pressed the case forward, overcoming one obstacle after another. The Chadian government has long expressed its support for Habré’s prosecution, and in 2002 it waived Habré's immunity from prosecution abroad, but it did not otherwise contribute to advancing the case in a meaningful way until it agreed to help finance the court and cooperated with the investigating judges during their four missions to Chad in 2013 and 2014. More recently, the Chadian government seemingly cooled toward the chambers, particularly in Chad’s refusal to transfer additional suspects or to allow Habré-era agents convicted in a separate proceeding in Chad (see below) to testify at Habre’s trial. 

6. How did the chambers carry out their investigation?

The investigating judges began with access to a considerable amount of evidence collected in the years since Habré’s fall, including prior Belgian and Chadian investigations into Habré’s alleged crimes.

A 1992 Chadian Truth Commission accused Habré's government of systematic torture and said that 40,000 people died during his rule. In addition, the chambers’ judges obtained the extensive file Belgian investigators prepared on Habré during four years, which contains interviews with witnesses and “insiders” who worked alongside Habré, as well as DDS documents.

Most important, the chambers’ four investigating judges conducted their own thorough 19-month investigation, and for the most part relied on evidence they developed themselves.

On May 3, 2013, Senegal and Chad signed a “Judicial cooperation agreement” to facilitate the chambers’ investigation in Chad.

The investigative judges conducted four missions (“commissions rogatoires”) to Chad - in August - September 2013, December 2013, March 2014, and May - June 2014. They were accompanied by the chief prosecutor and his deputies as well as police officers. During their visits, the judges gathered statements from 2,500 direct and indirect victims and key witnesses, including former officials of the Habré government.

The judges took copies of DDS files that Human Rights Watch had recovered  in 2001. Among the tens of thousands of documents were daily lists of prisoners and deaths in detention, interrogation reports, surveillance reports, and death certificates. The files detail how Habré placed the DDS under his direct control and kept tight control over DDS operations. Analysis of the data for Human Rights Watch revealed the names of 1,208 people who were killed or died in detention and 12,321 victims of human rights violations. In these files alone, Habré received 1,265 direct communications from the DDS about the status of 898 detainees.

The judges also appointed experts on data analysis, forensic anthropology, handwriting, the historical context of Habré’s government and the functioning and command structure of Habré’s military.

7. Why was Hissène Habré the only person standing trial?

The Chadian victims’ goal in seeking justice in Senegal since 2000 has been a trial of Habré, the head of state who directly controlled the security apparatus and had primary responsibility for his government’s actions. The victims also filed cases in 2000 in Chad against other officials of Habré’s government who were still in Chad.

Under article 3 of the chambers’ statute, the Extraordinary African Chambers can prosecute “the person or persons most responsible” for international crimes committed in Chad during Habré’s rule. In July 2013, the chief prosecutor requested the indictment of five additional officials from Habré’s administration suspected of being responsible for international crimes. These are:

  • Saleh Younous and Guihini Korei, two former directors of the DDS. Korei is Habré’s nephew;
  • Abakar Torbo, former director of the DDS prison service;
  • Mahamat Djibrine, also known as “El Djonto,” one of the “most feared torturers in Chad,” according to the National Truth Commission; and
  • Zakaria Berdei, former special security adviser to the presidency and one of those suspected of responsibility in the repression in the south in 1984.

None of them was brought before the court, however. Younous and Djibrine were convicted in Chad on charges stemming from the complaints filed by victims in the Chadian courts (see below), and Chad refused to extradite them to Senegal. Berdei is also believed to be in Chad, though he is not in custody. The locations of Torbo and Korei are unknown. As a result, only Habré was committed to trial.

8. What about Idriss Déby, Chad’s current president?

President Déby was commander in chief of Habré’s forces during the period known as “Black September,” in 1984, when a murderous wave of repression was unleashed to bring southern Chad back into the fold of the central government. In 1985, Déby was removed from this post, and after a period of study in a military school in France, he was appointed a defense adviser until he left Chad in 1989 to take up arms against Habré.

It is important to note that Article 10 of the chambers’ statute provides that “[t]he official position of an accused, whether as Head of State or Government, or as a responsible government official, shall not relieve him or her of criminal responsibility….” The chambers were thus free to pursue charges against President Déby even though he is currently a head of state, but they did not.

9. What were Habré’s rights before the Extraordinary Chambers?

The process before the Extraordinary Chambers was governed by its own Statute and the Senegalese Code of Criminal Procedure. Habré was entitled to a fair trial in accordance with international law. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights outline the minimum guarantees that must be afforded to defendants in criminal proceedings.

In accordance with those standards, the chambers’ Statute provides a number of rights to defendants, including:

  • the right to be present during trial;
  • the presumption of innocence;
  • the right to a public hearing;
  • the right to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of the defense;
  • the right to counsel and legal assistance;
  • the right to be tried without undue delay; and
  • the right to examine and call witnesses.

10. Habré and his chosen lawyers refused to cooperate with the chambers. What effect did that have?

Many defendants facing trial for alleged crimes under international criminal law – such as Slobodan Milošević, Radovan Karadžić and Charles Taylor– asserted that they did not recognize the authority of the tribunal or that they would not cooperate, or have sought to use the trial as a platform to present their version of events.

The burden always remains on the prosecution to prove the accused’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. However, if the accused decides to not cooperate in their own trial, that inevitably undermines the exercise of their right to an effective defense, which includes the ability to challenge the evidence against them and the opportunity to call into question the prosecution’s case.

After Habré’s lawyers refused to appear at the opening of the trial in July 2015 because they consider the court to be illegitimate, the court appointed three Senegalese lawyers to defend him and adjourned for 45 days so they could prepare. The first day back, on September 7, Habré was brought in to the court by force, kicking and screaming. After that, he was brought into the courtroom for each session before the doors to the public opened. The three court-appointed lawyers played an active role in questioning each witness and challenging the prosecution’s case, but were handicapped by Habré’s refusal to cooperate with them. Habré has remained silent, as is his right, even when the prosecutor tried to question him in line with standard criminal trial procedure in civil law jurisdictions.

11. How did the trial proceed?

The chambers sat for 56 days and heard from 93 witnesses. The trial examined evidence regarding alleged crimes committed during various periods in Chad under Habré: attacks against the Hadjerai ethnic group (1987), the Zaghawas (1989), and southern populations including the so-called “Black September” in 1984; the arrest and torture of political prisoners, and the treatment of prisoners of war. Some of the most moving testimony came from survivors, who described their experience in prisons and camps. Among the other witnesses were experts on that period in Chad, the president of the 1992 Chadian truth commission, former members the DDS, the Belgian judge who carried out a four-year investigation into a complaint filed against Habré in Belgium, a French doctor who treated 581 torture victims, researchers from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and forensic, statistical and handwriting experts.

The witnesses, after presenting their testimony to the court, were questioned, in turn, by the prosecutor, the civil party lawyers and Habré’s court-appointed lawyers. The judges, in a departure from the French civil law “inquisitorial” model, generally did not put many questions to the witnesses. 

12. What were some of the highlights of the prosecution’s evidence? 

  • Four women sent to a camp in the desert north of Chad in 1988 testified that they were used as sexual slaves for the army and that soldiers had repeatedly raped multiple women. Two were under 15 at the time. One testified that Habré himself had also raped her. 
  • Other survivors testified that rape of women detainees was frequent in the DDS’s Locaux prison in N’Djaména.
  • Ten witnesses testified that they had personally seen Habré in prison or were sent to prison personally by Habré.
  • Prison survivors said that corpses were kept rotting in jail cells until there were considered to be enough to be taken away.
  • Survivors described the main forms of torture, in particular the “arbatachar,” which involved tying all four of a prisoner's limbs behind their back to interrupt the bloodstream and induce paralysis.
  • Bandjim Bandoum, once a top DDS agent, testified about the agency’s inner workings. He explained that when reports on detainees were sent to the presidency, they came back with annotations: E for “executer - execute”; L for “liberer - set free” or V for “vu - seen.” “Only the president could request a release," he said.
  • A court-appointed handwriting expert confirmed that it was Habré who responded to a request by the International Committee of the Red Cross for the hospitalization of certain prisoners of war by writing “From now on, no prisoner of war can leave the Detention Center except in case of death.”
  • Patrick Ball of the Human Rights Data Analysis Group presented a study of mortality in Habré’s prisons, based on the DDS’s own documents, concluding that prison mortality was “hundreds of times higher than normal mortality for adult men in Chad during the same period” and “substantially higher than some of the twentieth century’s worst POW contexts” such as German prisoners of war in Soviet custody and US prisoners of war in Japanese custody.
  • Experts from the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team carried out exhumations at a number of potential mass grave sites. In Deli, in southern Chad, the site of an alleged killing of unarmed rebels in September 1984, the experts located 21 bodies, almost all military-age men, most of whom were killed by gunshot. In Mongo, in the center of Chad, the experts uncovered 14 bodies from another 1984 massacre.
  • Clement Abaifouta, the president of the Association of Victims of the Crimes of the Hissène Habré Regime, testified that he was forced to bury the bodies of deceased detainees in mass graves.
  • Souleymane Guengueng, the founder of the victims’ association, showed the court crude eating utensils he had carved in jail.
  • Robert Hissein Gambier, who survived five years in prison, earning the nickname “The man who runs faster than death,” said that he counted 2,053 detainees who died in prison. He brought wooden sticks to demonstrate how his head was squeezed as torture.
  • Abdourahmane Guèye, a Senegalese merchant imprisoned in Chad, testified that his release was won through diplomatic negotiations between the Senegalese and Chadian governments. His Senegalese companion, Demba Gaye, died, according to DDS documents, after being placed in the “cell of death” in the Locaux prison.
  • Mahamat Nour Dadji, the child of a close adviser to Habré, testified that the DDS director arrived at their home in Habré’s car saying, “The president needs you.” Dadji was detained with his father, who was never seen again.
  • Bichara Djibrine Ahmat testified that in 1983 he was taken with 149 other Chadian prisoners of war to be executed. Only he survived to take the truth commission 10 years later to find the mass grave. 

13. What was the defense lawyers’ strategy?

The court-appointed lawyers tried to show that Habré himself was not involved in committing crimes, and challenged the credibility of a number of witnesses, particularly those who implicated Habré directly. They asserted that the accusations against Habré were part of an exaggerated media and political campaign originated by Amnesty International and the Chadian truth commission, and then taken up by Human Rights Watch with the support of the current Chadian government.

The lawyers said that Habré was a patriot, committed to defending Chad against Libyan aggression and secessionist rebels. (“If it were not thanks to President Habré, Chad would not be Chad today, but a province of Libya.”) Habré’s response was to combat insurgents but not civilians. The DDS was not under his authority, but under the Interior Ministry. 

14. How was information about the trial disseminated?

The trial was recorded in its entirety, except for some technical problems. It was streamed live on the internet and broadcast on Chadian television. Almost all the sessions have been posted to the internet. Human Rights Watch considers this a major success in ensuring that the trial was meaningful to, and understood by, the people of Chad and Senegal. The landmark nature of this trial made it all the more important that it was available for viewing by the widest possible audience.

The chambers, through a consortium of non-governmental organizations from Senegal, Belgium and Chad that received a contract from the court, undertook outreach programs to both Chad and Senegal. The consortium has trained journalists in both countries, organized public debates, created a website and produced materials to explain the trial.

Human Rights Watch was part of a separate consortium of non-governmental organizations that facilitated the travel of Chadian journalists to Senegal to cover the trial, and the travel of Senegalese journalists to Chad during the pre-trial proceedings.

15. What is the maximum punishment Habré could receive if found guilty? 

If Habré is found guilty, the chambers could impose a sentence of up to life in prison. This is the punishment requested by chief prosecutor Mbacké Fall in his closing statement on February 10. The prosecution also requested the seizure of Habré’s property frozen during the inquiry - two small bank accounts and a property in an upscale Dakar neighborhood.

If Habré is sentenced to prison, he could serve that sentence in Senegal. However the statute also provides that he could serve it “in one of the African Union member States with which Senegal has entered into an agreement concerning the execution of prison sentences.”

16. What was the victims’ role in the trial?

Victims were permitted to participate in proceedings as civil parties. More than 4,000 victims registered as civil parties. Two teams of lawyers represented the civil parties, questioning witnesses, presenting evidence and participating in the closing statements.

The victims also left their mark on the trial through their long campaign for justice as well as their dramatic testimony. An opinion article in The New York Times reflected that “[n]ever in a trial for mass crimes have the victims’ voices been so dominant.”

17. Will the victims receive reparations?

Under its statute, in the event of a conviction, the chambers may order reparations against the accused. These can be paid into a victims’ fund, which can also receive voluntary contributions by foreign governments, international institutions, and non-governmental organizations. Reparations from the victims’ fund will be open to all victims, individually or collectively, whether or not they participated in Habré’s trial.

The chief judge, Gberdao Gustave Kam, has said that if Habré is found guilty, there will be a second set of hearings on damages for the civil parties

In July 2013, after the chambers arrested Habré, President Déby said that the Chadian government would compensate survivors and relatives of those who died. There is also a Chadian court judgment ordering the government to make reparations (see below). Chad’s responsibility under international law to provide reparations to victims of gross human rights violations is separate and distinct from reparations against the accused. 

18. Can there be an appeal?

Whether Habre is found guilty or acquitted, all parties in the trial – that is the prosecution, the accused and the victims with respect to their civil interests, could appeal. Although Habré does not recognize the Chambers’ authority, the court-appointed lawyers could lodge an appeal on his behalf. If an appeal is lodged by any party, an Extraordinary African Appeals Chamber would be constituted to hear the appeal. 

19. How are the Extraordinary Chambers structured and administered?

The Extraordinary African Chambers were created inside the existing Senegalese court structure in Dakar. The chambers have four levels: an Investigative Chamber with four Senegalese investigative judges, an Indicting Chamber of three Senegalese judges, a Trial Chamber, and an Appeals Chamber. The Trial Chamber and the Appeals Chamber each have two Senegalese judges and a president from another African Union member state.

The chambers also have an administrator to ensure the smooth functioning of their activities and to handle all non-judicial aspects of the work. The administrator’s responsibilities include financial management of personnel, outreach and media information, witness protection and assistance, and judicial cooperation between Senegal and other countries, such as Chad. The administrator since the opening of the chambers has been Aly Ciré Ba, a Senegalese magistrate.

20. How were the prosecutors and judges assigned?

The prosecutors and investigative judges were nominated by Senegal’s justice minister and appointed by the chairperson of the AU Commission. The president of the Trial Chamber is Gberdao Gustave Kam of Burkina Faso. 

21. What about the trial in Chad of Habré-era security agents?

On March 25, 2015, a Chadian criminal court convicted 20 Habré-era security agents on charges of murder, torture, kidnapping and arbitrary detention, based on complaints filed by the same group of victims in 2000 but that were stalled until Senegal created the extraordinary chambers. During the Chad trial, about 50 victims described their torture and mistreatment at the hands of DDS agents. The court sentenced seven men to life in prison, including Saleh Younous, a former director of the DDS, and Mahamat Djibrine, described as one of the “most feared torturers in Chad” by the Truth Commission. Both men were also originally wanted for possible indictment by the chambers, but Chad declined to transfer them. Most of the 20 gave their testimony to the chambers when they visited Chad, but the Chadian government also refused to allow them to travel to Senegal to testify at trial. The Chadian court acquitted four others.

The Chadian court ordered the Chadian government to pay half of the US$125 million in reparations to 7,000 victims and those convicted to pay the other half. The court also ordered the government, within a year, to erect a monument to those who were killed under Habré and to turn the former DDS headquarters a museum. These were both among the long-standing demands of the victims’ associations. One year after the court decision, the Chadian government has not implemented any of these compensatory measures. 

22. How are the chambers funded?

The chambers are funded in large part by donor countries. In November 2012, Senegal and donor countries agreed to a budget of €8.6million (US$11.4 million at the time) to cover Habré’s trial. Commitments were made by: Chad (2 billion CFA francs or US$3,743,000), the European Union (€2 million), the Netherlands (€1 million), the African Union (US$1 million), the United States (US$1 million), Belgium (€500,000), Germany (€500,000), France (€300,000), and Luxembourg (€100,000). The Netherlands has also given extra support to the Outreach consortium. In addition, Canada, Switzerland, and the International Committee of the Red Cross have provided technical assistance. A Steering Committee chaired by the African Union and consisting of Senegal and the donors receives and approves periodic reports from the administrator.

23. What will happen to the Extraordinary Chambers after the trial?

The Extraordinary African Chambers will be dissolved once the judgment in the case of Hissène Habré is final.

24. What were the key steps in the campaign to bring Habré to justice?

In January 2000, inspired by the London arrest of the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, a group of Chadian victims filed a complaint against Habré in Senegal. In February of the same year, a Senegalese judge indicted Habré on charges of torture, crimes against humanity, and “barbaric acts.” However, after political interference by the new Senegalese government of President Abdoulaye Wade, which was criticized by two UN human rights rapporteurs, appellate courts dismissed the case on the ground that Senegalese courts lacked competence to try crimes committed abroad.

Other Habré government victims, including three Belgian citizens of Chadian origin, then filed a case against Habré in Belgium in November 2000. The Belgian authorities investigated the case for four years, then indicted Habré in 2005 and sought his extradition. A Senegalese court ruled that it lacked competence to decide on the extradition request.

Senegal then turned to the African Union, which in July 2006 called on Senegal to prosecute Habré “on behalf of Africa” before its own courts. President Wade accepted the AU mandate and Senegalese law was amended to give the country’s courts explicit universal jurisdiction over international crimes, including torture and crimes against humanity. However, Wade contended that Senegal needed full up-front international funding of €27.4 million (US$36.5 million) before beginning any prosecution. Three years of halting negotiations over the trial budget ensued, until Senegal and donor countries finally agreed in November 2010 to a budget of €8.6 million (US$11.4 million) for Habré’s trial.

Just days before the budget agreement, the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) ruled that Habré should be tried before a “special ad hoc procedure of an international character.” In January 2011, the AU responded to the ECOWAS court ruling by proposing a plan for special chambers within the Senegalese justice system with some judges appointed by the AU. Senegal rejected the plan, and in May 2011, withdrew from negotiations with the AU over creation of the tribunal.

In July 2011, Senegal’s foreign minister ruled out holding Habré's trial in Senegal. The Chadian government then announced its support for extraditing Habré to Belgium to face trial.

In 2011 and 2012, Belgium issued three more extradition requests, which were not properly transmitted by the Senegalese authorities to its courts.

On July 20, 2012, in response to a suit brought by Belgium, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the UN’s highest judicial organ, found that Senegal had failed to meet its obligations under the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and ordered Senegal to prosecute Habré “without further delay” if it did not extradite him.

The new Senegalese government of Macky Sall reacted quickly to the ICJ decision, expressing regret that Habré’s trial had not taken place sooner and reaffirming its commitment to begin proceedings quickly. Negotiations resumed between Senegal and the AU, ultimately leading to an agreement to create the Extraordinary African Chambers to conduct proceedings within the Senegalese judicial system. On December 17, the Senegalese National Assembly adopted a law establishing the special chambers. On February 8, 2013, the Extraordinary African Chambers were inaugurated in Dakar.

25. What is the significance of Habré’s prosecution under universal jurisdiction?

As demonstrated by the Habré case, universal jurisdiction is an important safety net to ensure that suspects of atrocities do not enjoy impunity in a third state when they cannot be prosecuted before the courts of the country where the crimes were allegedly committed or before an international court. There has been an increase in the use of universal jurisdiction over the past 20 years, notably but not exclusively by courts in European countries. To strengthen the fight against impunity for the most serious crimes, it is critical for courts on all continents to use universal jurisdiction. The African Union has encouraged its member states to adopt legislation to give their national courts universal jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide and has taken steps to initiate a network of national prosecutors working on war crimes cases. Several investigations have been opened in South Africa and Senegal on the basis of universal jurisdiction.

26. How does this trial fit into critiques of the role of international justice in Africa and claims that universal jurisdiction cases target Africans?

Habré’s trial is an important step forward in African states taking responsibility to prosecute serious international crimes. However, the Habré trial does not negate the importance of the ICC and the use of universal jurisdiction by non-African states, including European courts, for crimes committed in Africa. These tools are often the only available hope for justice for African victims.

International justice has been applied unevenly. Powerful countries and their allies have often been able to avoid justice when serious crimes are committed on their territories, notably by failing to ratify the ICC treaty and wielding their political influence at the UN Security Council.

Nongovernmental organizations have actively campaigned for African governments to work to improve international justice and its reach —as opposed to undermining it— to limit impunity for atrocities. 

27. Why isn’t Habré prosecuted in Chad?

Chad never sought Habré’s extradition, and there are serious doubts that Habré could have gotten a fair trial in Chad, where he had been sentenced to death in absentia for his alleged role in a 2008 rebellion. In July 2011, President Wade threatened to expel Habré to Chad but, days later, retracted his decision in the face of an international outcry over the risk that Habré would be mistreated or even killed. 

28. Why couldn’t the International Criminal Court prosecute Habré?

The International Criminal Court only has jurisdiction over crimes committed after July 1, 2002, when its statute entered into effect. The crimes of which Hissène Habré is accused took place between 1982 and 1990.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Dakar, September 4, 2015) – The trial of the former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture will begin in earnest on September 7, 2015.

The long-awaited trial of Hissène Habré, was adjourned almost as soon as it was opened, as an outburst from the former dictator of Chad caused a scene in the courtroom.

When the landmark trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegal court system formally opened on July 20, Habré had to be removed from court after an outburst. Habré’s lawyers then refused to appear and the trial was adjourned, giving new court-appointed lawyers time to study the case.  

“After 25 years of campaigning and 45 days waiting patiently, the survivors will finally get their day in court,” said Reed Brody, counsel at Human Rights Watch who has worked with the victims since 1999. “Hissène Habré may try to create more disturbances, but he does not get a veto on whether he should be tried, or if the victims get justice.”

Habré has refused to communicate with the court-appointed lawyers, and it is expected that he will try to have them taken off the case. The president of the court, Gberdao Gustave Kam, has made clear, however, that in keeping with Senegalese law and international practice, the lawyers are needed to safeguard the rights of the accused and the integrity of the proceedings.

Habre is accused of tens of thousands of political killings as well as systematic torture during his rule, from 1982 to 1990. The trial is the first in the world in which the courts of one country prosecute the former ruler of another for alleged human rights crimes.

Habré is standing trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegal court system. The chambers were inaugurated by Senegal and the African Union in February 2013 to prosecute the “person or persons” most responsible for international crimes committed in Chad between 1982 and 1990, the period when Habré ruled Chad. Judge Kam, of Burkina Faso, president of the Trial Chamber, will hear the case along with two senior Senegalese judges.

The trial is expected to last two months, with about 100 witnesses and victims expected to testify.

“If I get a chance to look Hissène Habré in the face, I will do it without fear,” said Fatimé Sakine, 53, a secretary who was subjected to electroshocks and beatings during 15 months in prison from 1984 to 1986 and who is in Dakar for the trial. “I want to know why we were kept rotting, why so many of my friends were tortured and killed.”

“This case is a milestone in the fight to hold the perpetrators of atrocities accountable for their crimes, in Africa and in the world,” Brody said. “It's taken many years, and many twists and turns, but in the end a group of tenacious survivors have shown that it was possible to bring their dictator to justice.” 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Dakar, July 17, 2015) – The trial of Chad’s former dictator Hissène Habré is a victory for the victims of his government. The trial began in Senegal on July 20, 2015, almost 25 years after he was overthrown.  

The trial of Chad’s former dictator Hissène Habré is a victory for the victims of his government. The trial will begin on July 20, 2015, almost 25 years after he was overthrown.

“The opening of Hissène Habré’s trial, 25 years after he fled Chad, is a tribute to the survivors of his brutal rule who never gave up fighting for justice,” said Reed Brody, counsel at Human Rights Watch who has worked with the victims since 1999. “This case warns despots everywhere that if they engage in atrocities they will never be out of the reach of their victims.”

Habré is charged with crimes against humanity, torture, and war crimes. The trial will be the first in the world in which the courts of one country prosecute the former ruler of another for alleged human rights crimes.

Habré will stand trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegal court system. The chambers were inaugurated by Senegal and the African Union in February 2013 to prosecute the “person or persons” most responsible for international crimes committed in Chad between 1982 and 1990, the period when Habré ruled Chad. Judge Gberdao Gustave Kam of Burkina Faso, president of the Trial Chamber, will hear the case along with two senior Senegalese judges.

The trial is expected to last three months, with about 100 witnesses and victims expected to testify.

Habré, through his lawyers, has said that he does not want to appear in court. Under Senegalese law, however, the court president can require his appearance. 

“I have been waiting for this day since I walked out of prison almost 25 years ago, “ said Souleymane Guengueng, who nearly died of mistreatment and disease in Habré’s prisons, and later founded the Association of Victims of Crimes of the Regime of Hissène Habré (AVCRHH). “I want to look Hissène Habré in the face and ask him why I was kept rotting in jail for three years, why my friends were tortured and killed.”

Habré is accused of thousands of political killings and systematic torture. After he was deposed by the current president, Idriss Déby Itno, in 1990, Habré fled to Senegal. Habré was first arrested in Senegal in February 2000, but Senegal refused to prosecute him then or to extradite him to Belgium in 2005. It was only in 2012, when Macky Sall became president of Senegal and the International Court of Justice, acting on a suit by Belgium, ordered Senegal to prosecute or extradite Habré that progress was made toward the trial with the creation of the Extraordinary African Chambers. The chambers indicted Habré in July 2013 and placed him in pretrial custody. After a 19-month investigation, judges of the chambers found that there was sufficient evidence for Habré to face trial.

“This case is a milestone in the fight to hold the perpetrators of atrocities accountable for their crimes, in Africa and in the world,” Brody said. "It's taken many years, and many twists and turns, but in the end a group of tenacious survivors showed that even a dictator can be brought to justice." 

On March 25, a court in Chad convicted 20 top security agents of Habré’s government on torture and murder charges. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch's international justice program since it was founded in 2001, has worked at Human Rights Watch since 1991. He started working on international justice issues in 1994 when Human Rights Watch attempted to bring a case before the International Court of Justice charging the government of Iraq with genocide against the Kurds. Dicker later led the Human Rights Watch multi-year campaign to establish the International Criminal Court (ICC). He continues to be closely involved on issues that are important at the ICC. He has also spent the past few years leading advocacy efforts urging the creation of effective accountability mechanisms. He monitored the Slobodan Milosevic trial in The Hague and made many trips to Iraq before and at the start of Saddam Hussein's trial. A former civil rights attorney in New York, Dicker graduated from New York University Law School and received his LLM from Columbia University.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

As Co-Director of the US Program, Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno guides Human Rights Watch’s work on criminal justice, drug policy, immigration, national security, and surveillance in the United States.

Previously, as Deputy Washington Director for Human Rights Watch, McFarland Sánchez-Moreno conducted advocacy before the US government on a wide array of global human rights issues, including matters related to the Middle East and North Africa during the “Arab uprisings” of 2011. Earlier, she held the position of Senior Americas Researcher, covering Colombia's internal armed conflict and working on the extradition and trial of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori.

McFarland Sánchez-Moreno is the author of the narrative non-fiction book There Are No Dead Here: A Story of Murder and Denial in Colombia, forthcoming from Nation Books in February 2018. She holds a law degree from New York University School of Law and did most of her undergraduate studies in Lima, Peru, before completing her BA at the University of Texas at Austin. She is a native speaker of both Spanish and English.


"Your Reaction to NSA Curbs," on BBC World Service’s “World Have Your Say” (January 2014)

"Deadly Threats: Successors to the Paramilitaries in Colombia ," (February 2010)

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Beirut) – Forces loyal to the Libyan National Army (LNA) in eastern Libya appear to have executed captured fighters in Benghazi and desecrated corpses, Human Rights Watch said today. Video recordings posted online since January 2017 seem to show LNA fighters carrying out seven distinct unlawful executions of “extremists.”

The most recent video, which appeared on social media on July 24, 2017, shows the apparent summary execution on July 17 of 20 blindfolded men with their hands tied behind their backs in orange jumpsuits, whom the commander in charge accuses of “terrorism.” The executioners appear to be members of a special forces unit headed by Mahmoud al-Werfalli. The Army Special Forces in Benghazi, under the command of Wanis Bukhamada, are linked to the LNA, which is commanded by Gen. Khalifa Hiftar. The LNA is allied with the Interim Government, one of the three governments vying for legitimacy, international recognition, and control of territory in Libya.

The above image is a screenshot from a video posted on July 24, 2017 showing the apparent summary execution by LNA fighters of 20 prisoners, whom the commander, believed to be ICC suspect Mahmoud Al-Werfalli (wearing cap),  accuses of “terrorism.” The original video can be found here


On August 15, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for al-Werfalli for the war crime of murder. He is wanted by the court for his alleged role in the killing of 33 people in seven incidents that took place in and around Benghazi between June 2016 and July 2017. The Interim Government should take immediate steps to facilitate the surrender of al-Werfalli to the ICC, Human Rights Watch said.

“The posted videos suggest that LNA-linked forces committed a series of grave war crimes over many months,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The ICC warrant for al-Werfalli is a wake-up call to other abusive commanders in Libya that one day their serious crimes could land them in a prison cell in The Hague.”

Human Rights Watch reviewed seven videos and several still images that appear to show distinct incidents of LNA-affiliated soldiers executing prisoners in their custody. Some of these videos and images show fighters desecrating the bodies of supposed fighters who opposed the LNA, including the burning and kicking of a corpse and posing for photographs with another corpse that had a leash tied around its neck.

In the video that was posted on social media on July 24, al-Werfalli and LNA soldiers are seen wearing the insignia of the Army Special Forces. Al-Werfalli reads out the execution judgment, identifies the unit, the date of July 17, and the capital offenses attributed to those in custody. He is the main executioner or supervisor of executions in six more video recordings of apparent summary executions of people accused of “terrorism” and committing crimes against the LNA.

The summary execution of fighters who have been captured or who have surrendered is a war crime.

Despite a commitment to investigate alleged crimes by its forces, the LNA has yet to announce the findings of any investigations or sanctions it has imposed on any of its members found to have committed violations. In a July 20 statement, the LNA rejected allegations made by the United Nations on July 18 that soldiers under al-Werfalli’s command were responsible for summary executions and that captured fighters in Benghazi were at “imminent risk of torture and even summary execution.”

The LNA said in its response that there was no evidence to substantiate the accusations of torture and executions and that any conclusions of the LNA’s investigative commission to uncover abuses in “unverified videos” would be made public.

Human Rights Watch was not able to verify the date when the videos and photos were taken, or the location where they were recorded. However, an analysis of the imagery revealed no indications that they had been doctored or were otherwise inauthentic. Human Rights Watch sought comment from the LNA spokesman but was unable to reach him. On August 8, Human Rights Watch emailed the LNA for comment on the videos and photographs that appear to show al-Werfalli presiding over or carrying out the execution of prisoners. Human Rights Watch did not receive a response.

Three of the seven videos appear to show al-Werfalli himself executing captured and unarmed men, individually or in groups. In three other videos, he appears to give orders to men in military uniform to execute unarmed detainees. In the seventh and most recent video to surface, a commander, who appears to be al-Werfalli, both gives orders and participates in the execution of the 20 unarmed, blindfolded prisoners in orange jumpsuits with their hands tied behind their backs.

The video starts by showing several incidents of crimes the captured men allegedly committed. The commander, who is dressed in fatigues, a black t-shirt, and black cap, then reads out the judgment of execution by firing squad against 18 of the men kneeling in four rows. The commander refers to the men as “terrorists” and says that a “field court” has found them guilty of “kidnapping, torturing, killing, bombing, slaying, and torturing the sons of the military establishment in particular and the Libyan people in general.”

The commander does not name any of the captured men or cite their affiliations. He says the date is July 17. Once the reading of the judgment is over, he orders armed men in military uniforms to execute the captured detainees row by row. The recording shows them doing so. Two more individuals are executed in the same way at the end of the video.

In another video recording posted on social media in June, a man who appears to be al-Werfalli is seen reciting religious texts and then ordering four men in fatigues, black t-shirts, and face-masks to shoot in the head four men kneeling in an open field. The captives are hooded and appear to have their hands bound behind their backs. Al-Werfalli does not name the victims but accuses them of crimes, including assassinations, and calls them Kharijites – a term for Muslims who rebelled against the Caliphate in the early ages of Islam. Al-Werfalli says that it is the month of Ramadan, which would mean June 2017.

Another undated video appears to show al-Werfalli reciting religious verses in a room while a man kneels on the floor with his arms behind his head. Other soldiers can be seen and heard in the background. Al-Werfalli accuses the man of being a member of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), and then pulls out a handgun and shoots him in the back of the head, apparently killing him. Another undated video shows the apparent interrogation of this same man, who says he is Algerian.

On May 22, an undated video appeared online showing the apparent execution of two men: Emad Eddin al-Jazawi, a fighter with the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council, a coalition of fighters including extremists who oppose the LNA, and the son of a minister of the National Salvation Government, another of the rival governments. The video begins with al-Jazawi being interrogated and later shows him in a cage with another man, Haitham Jomaa al-Kafrawi, identified in the video as an Egyptian member of Al-Qaeda, who is also being interrogated. The recording ends with al-Jazawi and al-Kafrawi kneeling on the ground, backs to the camera, as al-Werfalli gives two soldiers an order to execute them. A photo bubble appears above the heads of the victims, showing photos of both men.

On May 15, al-Werfalli announced his resignation from the special forces, after he and his forces were accused of abuses, including looting and burning homes, as well as attacking a rescue division linked with the Interior Ministry in Benghazi that resulted in the killing of an officer. Al-Werfalli denied responsibility for those acts. However, the next day, the commander of the Special Forces, Wanis Bukhamada, rejected al-Werfalli’s resignation due to the “many sacrifices al-Werfalli” had made, and kept him in his position.

Armed conflict, insecurity, and political divisions have plagued Libya since May 2014, when General Hiftar announced a war to root out “terrorism” in Benghazi. As a result of armed conflicts in both the east and west, central authority collapsed and the three competing governments emerged, including the Interim Government, which the House of Representatives supports. Key institutions, most notably law enforcement and the judiciary, are dysfunctional in most parts of the country. On July 5, General Hiftar announced the complete “liberation” of Benghazi from armed groups opposing the LNA, including extremists, but pockets of resistance remain.

The ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has a mandate to investigate crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide committed in Libya since February 15, 2011. Human Rights Watch’s research in Libya since 2011 has found rampant violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including mass long-term arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment, forced displacement, and unlawful killings. In the face of mounting atrocities, Human Rights Watch has called on the ICC prosecutor to urgently pursue an investigation into ongoing grave crimes by all sides, including possible crimes against humanity.

In May, Bensouda said her office was committed to making the Libya situation a priority in 2017. Given the serious crimes committed in Libya and the challenges facing the authorities, the ICC’s mandate remains crucial to ending impunity in Libya, Human Rights Watch said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

General Khalifa Hiftar

Commander of the Libyan National Army

Al-Marj, Libya


Delivery by e-mail


Dear General Hiftar:

Human Rights Watch has been tracking violations against civilians in Benghazi since the 2011 uprising. Our researchers were on the ground to document the situation from the first days of the revolution. We have continued to document violations in Benghazi by all sides since the beginning in May 2014.

Human Rights Watch is writing to you as commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) to invite your comment on a series of videos and photographs that have appeared on social media since January 2017 that appear to show Major Mahmoud Al-Warfalli, commander of a Special Forces unit under the LNA-linked Army Special Forces, presiding over the execution, or himself carrying out the execution, of captured prisoners. These videos include the following:

The extrajudicial execution of captured persons, whether combatants or criminal suspects, is a war crime under the Geneva Conventions.

We would be grateful to know if you can confirm Major Warfalli as the person presiding over, or carrying out executions in each of these videos and if so, whether the LNA sanctions these acts. If not, we wish to know if the LNA is taking to hold accountable Major Warfalli and any other person implicated in these killings.

Should you have any questions regarding this matter or to provide responses to our queries, please do not hesitate to contact my colleague, Sarkis Balkhian, at or +1-XXX-XXX-XXXX.


Sincerely yours,

Sarah Leah Whitson

Executive Director

Middle East and North Africa

Human Rights Watch



Major Mahmoud Al-Warfalli

“Thunderbolt” Special Forces Brigade

The Libyan National Army


Brigadier General Wanis Bukhamada

“Thunderbolt” Special Forces Brigade

The Libyan National Army


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A road sign is seen near Abu Samra border crossing to Saudi Arabia, Qatar June 12, 2017. 

© 2017 Tom Finn/Reuters

The age-old adage that finds opportunity in every crisis is truer than ever in Qatar today. No doubt the Qatar government is under intense pressure from its once-brotherly neighbours, led by Saudi Arabia.

Yet it can take some immediate actions to alleviate the impact of the crisis on its citizens, as well as those who have sought shelter in the country from more repressive governments in the region; it can also take actions that may well deter its neighbors from violating the laws of war in its territory. These actions are not only the right things for Qatar to do; they are smart as well, with direct, practical import to the security and safety of its people.

Citizenship Rights

Perhaps in an act that is easiest, quickest and already entirely within its powers, the Qatar government can move to grant citizenship automatically to the children of Qatari mothers and non-Qatari fathers. Like many of the countries in the Middle East, Qatar does not allow women automatically to pass nationality to their children, in violation of its obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and in insult to the at least 100,000 Qatari women who are deprived of this basic right.

Qatar allows adult children of Qatari women and non-Qatari fathers to apply for citizenship, but it has strict criteria, including residency in Qatar for 25 years; the process can take years and is often arbitrary. Qatari families are feeling the harm of this unjustifiable policy during Qatar’s current stand-off with its neighbors, as such children and fathers in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE are barred from rejoining their families in Qatar.

Human Rights Watch spoke to a 36-year-old man in June who said that despite being born in Qatar to a Qatari mother and having lived his entire life there, he had spent years waiting in vain on a response to his citizenship application.

In our meeting in Doha last week, Qatar’s Prime Minister Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa al-Thani said that it would be difficult to amend the nationality law, as it requires the same majority vote and procedures by the Advisory Council, Qatar’s legislative body, to change the constitution.

But the prime minister can issue a decree overnight stating that the government will automatically approve any application by a person born to a Qatari woman for citizenship, without requiring any change in the law.

Such a procedural fix will not only solve the crisis many Qatari families are now facing and put Qatar closer in line with its human rights obligations to its citizens. It will make Qatar a better model among the Gulf Cooperation Council states, where discriminatory nationality laws remain rampant.

Second, Qatar should immediately ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention and establish procedures for those in Qatar who have fled political persecution to apply for asylum. Some of Qatar’s neighbors have raised a ruckus about Qatar’s “sheltering” political exiles from some of the region’s tyrannical regimes, like Egypt and Libya, in fact a brave and honorable tradition for the small Gulf state.

I spoke with several such exiles in Doha, grateful for their refuge, but lacking any security in their status, subject to deportation at any time, and in many cases unable to travel due to expired passports from their home states.

Providing Asylum

If Qatar were to ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention and establish an asylum procedure, it would allow the government to review asylum claims in a disciplined and orderly fashion, and provide asylum – and rights, not just mercy – to those who are deemed eligible. And no one would be in a position to criticize Qatar for doing what so many other countries have done in providing political asylum to today’s “undesirables,” within its obligations under international law.

Some Qatari officials expressed concern that joining the Refugee Convention would open Qatar to a flood of refugees from around the world, but the reality is that Qatar’s geographic location makes that extremely impractical. Those who would benefit are the refugees and asylum seekers Qatar is already sheltering, but in a fashion that would entitle them to travel and receive basic protections.

Qatar would once again also chart a path of progress for the Arab world, where many states have failed to ratify the Refugee Convention and establish asylum procedures.

While Gulf states have been generous in signing checks to support Jordan and Lebanon’s hosting of Syrian refugees and generally allowed Syrians in their countries to remain indefinitely, the lack of asylum procedures precludes them from recognizing them as refugees with the legal protections such status affords. Qatar can show the Arab world that it can do better.

Rome Statute and ICC

Finally, Qatar should move urgently to accede to the Rome Statute and join the International Criminal Court (ICC), as well as the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Joining these treaties is not just the morally sound thing to do. The protections they offer at this critical juncture are not hypothetical. They could provide an important shield of deterrence against Qatar’s neighbors, specifically Saudi Arabia and the UAE, should they ever consider mimicking the unlawful military tactics they have carried out in Yemen.

We know that the Saudi-led coalition, of which Qatar was a part only a few weeks ago, has repeatedly bombed Yemeni schools, hospitals, markets and homes. We’ve documented 81 apparently unlawful coalition attacks, some of which most likely amount to war crimes that could fall under the ICC’s prosecutor’s scrutiny were Yemen a member of the court. We know that the Saudi-led coalition has littered Yemen with cluster munitions, with unexploded submunitions that unless cleared will leave a legacy of contamination in the country for generations to come.

Perhaps the Saudis and the Emiratis would think twice about using such heinous tactics in Qatar should the current political conflict ever deteriorate into a military one.

Perhaps they will pause before they deploy cluster bombs along the Qatari border, knowing that the strong weight of the international community, including the targeted state, deems their use de facto unlawful; perhaps the risk of facing war crimes charges could make them think twice before engaging in any potential war crimes such as launching strikes on Al Jazeera’s headquarters, which some commentators have repeatedly encouraged them to target.

These are not just sound policies that stand to benefit Qatari women and families, those who have fled violence and persecution in neighboring countries, and Qatari civilians.

These are not just policies that will benefit the reputation of Qatar as a state committed to upholding its human rights obligations and a leader in the Arab world. They are policies that will resound to the benefit of all of humanity, and pave a path for a more peaceful, rights-respecting region.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Armed conflicts that have given rise to horrific war crimes in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and South Sudan are all beyond the reach of the ‘court of last resort’, the International Criminal Court (ICC). But domestic courts in Europe are stepping into the void and giving the victims some hope.

The ICC was created to take on crimes that shocked the conscience of humankind where national courts failed to do their job. But by making consent from the states almost a necessary precondition for invoking the court’s authority, governments gave this court only limited power. With obstruction and division at the United Nations Security Council, the council was blocked from “referring” Syria to the ICC.

Former Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon at an anti-corruption conference in 2012. In 1998 he used universal jurisdiction to attempt to try Augusto Pinochet for grave crimes in Chile. © Reuters 2012

Near-absolute impunity has dominated on the ground at the price of unimaginable human suffering in Syria. But even with impunity ascendant there and no international court with the necessary authority available, the trials of low level armed insurgents and returning members of ISIS in the national courts of several European countries highlights an important trend. Swedish, German and French courts are using what’s known as universal or extraterritorial jurisdiction to take up cases against those believed to have committed serious crimes in Syria. This trend is especially significant when neither the ICC or the domestic courts where the crimes occurred are available.

In February, a court in Stockholm convicted a Syrian rebel of killing seven captured members of the Syrian armed forces – a war crime – in 2012 and sentenced him to life in prison. The convicted man, Haisam Omar Sakhanah, had applied for asylum in Sweden. Prosecutors used video recordings of the killings to demonstrate that, despite the defense claims that the executions followed a court verdict, the time lapse – a mere 41 hours – between apprehension, trial and execution was deemed too short to be credible.

Universal jurisdiction has come a long way since it first jolted to world attention with the detention of the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in London on an arrest warrant issued by a Spanish judge nearly 20 years ago. Its use still generates controversy, but even in the face of real setbacks in several countries, the principle has evolved into an effective legal tool in the fight against impunity. Driven by violence and slaughter, the millions of Syrian refugees who put their lives at risk in small boats and on long overland treks to reach hoped-for safety in neighboring countries and Europe have provided a powerful spur to these universal jurisdiction cases.  

As they gave accounts of serious crimes they had experienced or witnessed to investigators in Sweden, Germany and France, the authorities began looking at individuals who had made their way to Europe, but who may also have been responsible for crimes in Syria. With prosecutors using their domestic laws and courts to fill the accountability void, two essential structural developments have powered this positive trend.

First, at the national level, The Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland, France and Germany, among others, created specialized war crimes units mandated specifically to investigate and prosecute those accused of grave crimes. The staff in these units are able to draw on institutional experience and lessons about investigating and prosecuting international crimes. This, in turn, enhances the efficiency and proficiency of investigations and allows ongoing accumulation of expertise concerning these cases. Politically, the creation of these units also conveys a national commitment to take these prosecutions seriously.

These countries had incorporated these same international crimes into their domestic law and assumed an obligation to prosecute. In the last year civil society organizations, together with Syrian activists and victims, have been working hard to bring cases to court. In March, a German civil society organization, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, together with Syrian torture survivors and lawyers, submitted a criminal complaint against six high-level officials of the Syrian Military Intelligence Service to the German Federal Prosecutor. The victims said they had been tortured or witnessed torture in the prisons of the intelligence services. The prosecutor responded positively and, using the approach of “structural investigations,” took evidence from the victims even though the accused were not on German territory. 

A French-based civil society group, the International Federation for Human Rights, FIDH, acting on behalf of a relative of the victims, referred the case of the forced disappearance of two Franco-Syrian nationals to the prosecutor of the specialized war crimes unit in Paris. This complaint cited a father and son who had been arrested by the Syrian Air Forces Intelligence Service in November 2013 and were never seen again. The complaint requested an immediate judicial investigation into the events of their disappearance.

But the development of the specialized units is hardly a panacea. Prosecutions by national courts using universal or extraterritorial jurisdiction face daunting obstacles. Gathering evidence in the midst of an armed conflict abroad is dangerous, expensive and time consuming. Protecting witnesses and victims and their family members is enormously difficult.

In some European countries investigators face an overwhelming flow of incoming tips and information from Syrian refugees. The units need more analysts who have expertise in Syria. They need translators to interview refugees and to reach out effectively to refugee communities. Greater outreach and information to the diaspora is necessary, but not sufficient to expand the docket from low-level suspects to former regime officials or armed forces commanders. So far, only insurgents and returning members of ISIS, relatively ‘low hanging fruit’, have been in the dock.

The units, not surprisingly, require continued and stepped up support from their governments. This includes the funding and resources necessary to enable the investigators and prosecutors to do their job. The governments that created the units should support them and other governments should consider creating these units or comparable entities.

The second key structural development driving this trend, in dynamic synergy with the specialized units, was initiated by European Union. In June 2002, the EU Justice and Home affairs (JHA) Council called for the creation of a network of investigators and prosecutors from each member state to increase cooperation in cases of grave international crimes. In May 2003, the EU went further and called for the network to hold regular meetings. The decision also recommended that EU states set up specialized war crimes units and emphasized the importance of collaboration between national immigration and law enforcement authorities. 

In the last 15 years, the network has evolved into an invaluable forum for national investigators and prosecutors to develop additional expertise, discuss their experiences, share best practices, and exchange information on specific cases. The network holds twice yearly meetings attended by delegations from nearly all EU member states plus Switzerland, Canada and the United States. Beyond the actual meetings, the network has strengthened the all-important working relationship between national war crimes units. In light of today’s events, these EU decisions, adopted at a very different international moment, seem farsighted, even visionary.

Amid conditions characterized by brutal armed conflicts with devastating effect on civilians, the European Commission also needs to go further in supporting its network. Rather than decreasing the network’s budget as it has done, the Commission should strive – even in difficult financial times— to increase funding so that its small secretariat could do more to assist the work of participating prosecutors and investigators.

With more funding the network secretariat could convene ad hoc meetings with member states that do not have specialized war crimes units to aid their national efforts. With additional funds the network secretariat could convene more meetings focused on specific countries as needed. Given a world situation marred by more crimes and more impunity, this is hardly the time to decrease resources for this network.

In sum, the individual investigators and prosecutors, the specialized units, the network and its secretariat need support – financial and institutional – now more than ever from their governments, from the European Commission, from nongovernmental organizations and refugee communities. The decisions by the EU governments to establish these units and to create a network of focal points have helped to bend the arc of history further toward justice. The scale and gravity of crimes shocking the conscience of humankind today require those in authority to strive to bend that arc even further. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Civilians fleeing Kajo Keji county, toward the southern border with Uganda, April 27, 2017. 

© 2017 Jason Patinkin

(Nairobi) – South Sudanese government and opposition leaders have failed to halt atrocity crimes, including killings, rape, and forced displacement, or to hold those responsible to account, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 52-page report, "‘Soldiers Assume We Are Rebels’: Escalating Violence and Abuses in South Sudan’s Equatorias," documents the spreading violence and serious abuses against civilians in the Greater Equatoria region in the last year. The report focuses on two areas: Kajo Keji county, in the former Central Equatoria state, and Pajok, a town in the former Eastern Equatoria state.

Nine men – including President Salva Kiir, former Vice President Riek Machar, former army chief of staff Paul Malong, and six other commanders – should face sanctions in view of the mounting evidence of their responsibility for grave violations during the conflict, Human Rights Watch said. The United Nations Security Council, European Union, and other states should impose sanctions on the nine men, and the Security Council should also impose a long overdue, comprehensive arms embargo on South Sudan.

“Four years into this crisis, gruesome crimes continue, with millions displaced and hundreds of thousands facing a man-made famine,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “It’s well past time to send a strong message to those in positions of power that atrocities will come at a price.”

Human Rights Watch conducted research into the crimes in both states, which have since been divided and renamed by presidential decrees, in May 2017 in northern Uganda, where the vast majority of the victims have fled to refugee settlements. In both South Sudan locations, government soldiers, mostly ethnic Dinka recruits deployed to fight rebels in counterinsurgency operations, committed a range of crimes against Equatorian civilians on the basis of their ethnicity, including unlawful killings, arbitrary detention, torture, enforced disappearances, and widespread looting.

In Kajo Keji county, attacks began with the deployment of new government forces in mid-2016. Witnesses described at least 47 unlawful killings by government soldiers between June 2016 and May 2017, though the total is most likely much higher. In several cases, witnesses said soldiers entered homes and shot civilians, including children, elderly, and people with disabilities.

A middle-aged woman from Romogi village said that soldiers killed her husband, a farmer, and two of her children, ages 5 and 10, on a Tuesday afternoon in January. “I was cooking dinner when about 10 soldiers came to our house,” she said. “My husband went out and they shot him. Then my sons followed him out and they shot both boys.”

Witnesses from Pajok said that large numbers of government soldiers entered the town on April 3, and killed at least 14 civilians on the spot. “They pulled me out of the car and took my keys,” said a man in his 60s. “Then, right in front of me, they shot at a man.” He saw them kill several others as well.

Witnesses and victims from both locations also reported dozens of cases of arbitrary detention by the army, including holding victims in shipping containers for long periods, torture, and enforced disappearances, with the authorities refusing to acknowledge the detention or disclose the person’s whereabouts or fate.

Since the conflict started in December 2013, almost 2 million people have fled South Sudan, and another 2 million are internally displaced with more than 200,000 still in UN protection sites. In the last year alone, the spreading conflict and abuses pushed over 700,000 South Sudanese into refugee settlements in northern Uganda, leaving many areas in the Greater Equatoria region empty.

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An August 2015 peace agreement did not end the fighting, which resumed in Juba in July 2016, and continued in areas south and west of the capital. Human Rights Watch has documented serious crimes against civilians in Yambio, Wau, and Yei, including clear patterns of sexual violence by government soldiers against aid workers and South Sudanese displaced women in the UN protection site.

Human Rights Watch and others have long urged the UN Security Council to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on South Sudan and additional targeted, individual sanctions. The Security Council has not imposed an arms embargo but has placed travel bans and asset freezes on three government and three opposition commanders. The United States and EU also have sanctions in place against the six individuals. The EU has had an arms embargo in place for years but the African Union (AU) has not imposed additional individual sanctions or an arms embargo.

Sanctions should be imposed against the following nine commanders against whom Human Rights Watch has accumulated evidence of responsibility for serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law:

  • President Salva Kiir, the army commander in chief;
  • Former Vice Presdient Riek Machar, leader of the opposition forces, in exile in South Africa;
  • Gen. Paul Malong Awan, former army chief of general staff and governor of Northern Bahr el Ghazal state;
  • Lt. Gen. Johnson Juma Okot, formerly in charge of the army’s Division 6 troops accused of abuses in the Equatorias and now deputy ground forces commander;
  • Lt. Gen. Bol Akot, who was in charge of the Gudele and Mio Saba areas of Juba at the time of killings of Nuer civilians in December 2013, formerly in command of the army commandos accused of abuses in Western Equatoria, currently director of the National Police Service;
  • Lt Gen. Marial Nour Jok, military intelligence chief since April 2014, and the superior of officers accused of arbitrary detention, torture, and enforced disappearances in the Equatorias and Wau regions;
  • Lt. Gen. Attayib Gatluak “Taitai,” formerly head of Division 4 of the army, accused of abuses in the Unity region in 2015, and now in charge of Division 5, accused of abuses in Wau late 2015;
  • Gen. Johnson Olony, an opposition commander accused of forced recruitment of fighters, including children, in the Upper Nile region;
  • Maj. Gen. Matthew Puljang, who commanded army forces accused of abuses in the Unity region in 2015, accused of forced recruitment of children.

The Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan should also urgently investigate the potential criminal responsibility of all these men, both direct and on the basis of command responsibility, Human Rights Watch said. The UN Human Rights Council in March mandated the Commission to collect and preserve evidence with a view to prosecute those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in fair and credible trials.

While the 2015 peace agreement envisioned a hybrid court for South Sudan to be established by the AU Commission, almost no tangible progress toward its establishment was made in more than eighteen months. A key challenge was that South Sudan’s government had yet to substantively engage with the AU Commission on the court’s creation.

On July 21, 2017, AU Commission, South Sudanese, and UN officials met in Juba to discuss the Hybrid Court for South Sudan and agreed on a roadmap for the court’s establishment, including finalizing the court’s statute by the end of August.

The AU should ensure continued forward momentum – even without cooperation from South Sudan’s leaders, if necessary. If a credible, fair, and independent hybrid court is not established, the option of the International Criminal Court (ICC) remains and should be pursued. As South Sudan is not a member of the ICC, either referral by the Security Council or a request from the government of South Sudan would be needed.

“The proposed AU Hybrid Court for South Sudan raised hopes of ending the cycle of violence and impunity,” said Roth. “Yet, nearly two years later the court still does not exist. The July 21 roadmap could be a breakthrough for victims, but the proof will be in the establishment of the court.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Today, July 17, is the Day of International Criminal Justice. It marks the 19th anniversary of the 1998 Rome Statute: the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is the only permanent criminal court that holds perpetrators of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity accountable. This day is a moment to enumerate some of the positive steps toward accountability brought about by the ICC and other justice mechanisms on a difficult international landscape.

On December 6, 2016 the ICC began its trial of Lord’s Resistance Army commander Dominic Ongwen for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in northern Uganda. The LRA leadership is notorious for its brutality against Africans, but never before has an LRA commander faced trial.

The trials of two other leaders at the ICC continued: former Ivoirian president Laurent Gbagbo for crimes committed during Côte d’Ivoire’s 2010-2011 post-election violence, and Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda for atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

There was progress in a movement to establish a Special Criminal Court for the Central African Republic, a hybrid court that will function as part of CAR’s national court system.

Steps necessary for any future trials for grave abuses in North Korea inched closer to reality, with the United Nations Human Rights Council approving plans to strengthen evidence-gathering efforts to support the eventual prosecution of North Korean leaders and officials responsible for crimes against humanity.

In several European countries, prosecutors have initiated criminal proceedings against Syrians believed to be responsible for serious crimes there.

This year, a new UN team tasked with investigating serious international crimes committed in Syria since 2011 will begin its work.

Numerous African countries also reaffirmed their support for the ICC after South Africa, Burundi, and Gambia announced their withdrawals, with the new government in Gambia stating it would remain an ICC member. Zambia also came out strongly in support of membership with the ICC in public consultations launched by the Zambian government.

The ICC, however, faces major roadblocks. As the court works to strengthen its own practices, backing from member countries is needed to carry out the court’s investigations, arrest warrants, and witness protection programs. Private and public diplomacy is necessary to protect the court’s independence and legitimacy from outside political pressure. Next year’s 20th anniversary of the Rome Statute on July 17, 2018, and the activities leading up to it are an invaluable opportunity for member countries to demonstrate their support.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The Permanent Premises of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. 

© 2016 UN Photo/Rick Bajornas
(New York) – International Criminal Court (ICC) member countries should increase their support for this essential court of last resort as its 20th anniversary nears, Human Rights Watch said today.

The court’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute, was adopted on July 17, 1998. A year of activities leading up to the 20th anniversary in 2018 presents an opportunity to build much-needed political support for the ICC's important judicial work.

“The International Criminal Court needs the active support of its member countries to bring people accused of the world’s most horrific crimes to justice and to bring dignity to their victims,” said Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “The countries that helped create this court with such high hopes need to strengthen their support for its critically important work.”

In 1998, more than 150 governments negotiated the court’s treaty over five weeks at a diplomatic conference in Rome, establishing the only permanent global court with a mandate to try the gravest crimes under international law. Since the court began functioning in 2003, the ICC has conducted investigations in nine countries for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

For nearly 20 years, ICC member countries have worked to bring the court from aspiration to reality, but challenges remain, Human Rights Watch said. As the court works to strengthen its own practices, constant and visible support from ICC members for the court’s work is essential to its success. Backing from member countries is needed to carry out the court’s investigations, arrest warrants, and witness protection programs. Private and public diplomacy is necessary to protect the court’s independence and legitimacy from outside political pressure.

The importance of strong backing from member countries was clear as the Rome Statute faced its first state party withdrawals in 2016. Earlier in the court’s history, members successfully resisted efforts by the US administration, under President George W. Bush, to undermine its work between 2002 and 2005.

“So long as the ICC is doing its job, it will draw opposition from those who fear accountability,” Dicker said. “The commitment of member countries to the ICC, a global institution rooted in the rule of law, can provide an essential defense to the erosion of international human rights values.”

The ICC is already planning events to mark the 20th anniversary, but the crucial initiative rests with member countries. Commemorative events planned for New York, The Hague, and Dakar are an opportunity to build momentum and expectation for the 2018 anniversary.

Steps member countries can take to help prepare for the court’s 20th anniversary include:

  • Strengthening their efforts to assist the arrest of ICC suspects;
  • Bolstering the court’s investigations with technical and diplomatic assistance;
  • Directing their own development assistance to better facilitate prosecutions of ICC crimes before national courts; and
  • Ensuring that the ICC is properly funded and resourced to address the growing demands on the court.

“This 20th anniversary is far more important than a rosy recollection of the negotiating triumph 20 years ago in Rome,” Dicker said. “The ICC’s 20th anniversary is an important opportunity to strengthen and support the role of the ICC today, when the need for justice has never been greater.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am