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.

Video

Act 1 of the Hissène Habré Trial

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.  

Video

Hissène Habré Finally Facing Justice

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
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The Philippine Navy band welcomes the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) vessel Her Majesty's Australian Ship (HMAS) Adelaide (III) upon arrival for a goodwill visit as part of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) Joint Task Group, Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2017, at the Pier 15, south harbor in Metro Manila, Philippines on October 10, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters/Romeo Ranoco
(Sydney) – The Australian government should require human rights vetting for all foreign military personnel who receive Australian training, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Defence Minister Christopher Pyne. The government should adopt a law or regulations that would prohibit training and other assistance to foreign military units and personnel who have been responsible for serious rights violations.

“Australia’s cooperation with often-abusive foreign armed forces means that human rights vetting is crucial for any training of foreign military officers and soldiers,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director. “Foreign forces seeking Australian support should be compelled to deter abuses and hold violators to account.”

In October 2018, Australia’s Department of Defence acknowledged that it does not vet Myanmar military personnel taking part in its training activities, despite the Myanmar military’s long history of war crimes and other abuses.

A recent United Nations report detailed crimes against humanity, war crimes, and possible genocide by Myanmar’s security forces against ethnic Rohingya in Rakhine State. The report found that the actions of the Myanmar military “so seriously violated international law that any engagement in any form with the Tatmadaw [military], its current leadership, and its businesses, is indefensible.” Since the report, the Australian government has imposed targeted financial sanctions and travel bans against five Myanmar military officers for human rights violations committed by units under their command.

Human Rights Watch urged the Australian government to examine the “Leahy Law,” as it is known, in the United States. The law prohibits the US government from using funds for assistance to units of foreign security forces if credible information implicates that unit in committing gross human rights violations.

Australia’s training for the Myanmar military is limited to cooperation in non-combat areas, providing training in relation to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, peacekeeping, and in the English language. However, any military training bestows legitimacy on those who receive it and the Australian government should avoid legitimizing forces involved in widespread and systematic human rights violations.

“Targeted sanctions are an important first step, but we know it’s not just the five Myanmar officers sanctioned by Australia who are responsible for atrocities against the Rohingya,” Pearson said. “Human rights training can only be effective if combined with a will to hold forces accountable. Soldiers who commit murder and rape know it’s wrong, but also know they can get away with it.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

On December 12, Patrice Edouard Nagaissona, a one-time self-declared political coordinator of anti-balaka militias, was arrested in France on International Criminal Court (ICC) charges. With his arrest, the prospects for justice for grave crimes committed during the Central African Republic’s most recent crisis took a welcome step forward.

A burned Pentecostal church in Zéré. Hundreds of Christian and Muslim homes and places of worship were destroyed in the town during a series of attacks by both ex-Seleka and anti-balaka forces. November 4, 2013.

The anti-balaka is implicated in grave abuses during the country’s conflict since 2012, including attacking and killing civilians suspected of collaborating with Seleka rebels during the conflict.

Nagaissona is accused by the ICC of alleged responsibility for murder, deportation, imprisonment, and torture as part of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the western part of the Central African Republic between December 2013 and December 2014.

Nagaissona is the second arrest in a month in the ICC’s more recent investigation in the Central African Republic, thanks to the cooperation of authorities in France where Nagaissona was taken into custody. The ICC’s first investigation in the country, which focused on crimes committed in 2002 and 2003, has brought just one case, which ended in acquittal in June. Human Rights Watch criticized the lack of additional cases in the ICC’s first investigation, and has urged the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor to pursue charges that are representative of the crimes committed to ensure meaningful delivery of justice.

To that end, it will be crucial to see charges in this investigation cover suspects implicated in grave crimes from all warring groups. In particular, the Seleka and ex-Seleka groups are implicated in widespread continuing abuses and no ICC charges of individuals involved with the Seleka have been announced. As we have seen, pursuing cases involving individuals associated with just one side in a crisis can create enormous problems.

Nagaissona’s arrest is positive. Many in the Central African Republic claimed he was “untouchable” because of his senior post at the Confederation of African Football. But today’s news should be a wake-up call for perpetrators of the worst crimes all over the world: even those in positions of power can be held to account.

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

Kim Jong-Un watches a performance in Pyongyang, North Korea, on February 23, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters/KCNA

It is a bitter irony that on the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations Security Council will give North Korea’s atrocious human rights record a free pass.

In 2014, a blistering UN commission of inquiry report found the North Korean government responsible for a laundry list of crimes against humanity over decades. Ever since, the UN Security Council has held annual meetings on the situation in North Korea, which has given states a critical opportunity to discuss Kim Jong Un’s continuing authoritarian rule as a threat to international peace and security.

Until now.

Holding a meeting requires the agreement of at least nine of the council’s 15 members and every year, the usual suspects, led by China, try to block it. This year, there are reports that China leaned heavily on Ivory Coast, the critical ninth vote, in order to tank the United States-led meeting, as it did earlier this year to scupper council discussion of Syria’s disastrous rights record. There are also questions about how much diplomatic muscle the US devoted to securing the needed votes this year.

Whatever the reason, this year’s lapse should not become the new normal.

While the council still hasn’t taken up the commission of inquiry’s key recommendations – referring the situation to the International Criminal Court and adopting targeted sanctions on human rights grounds – these annual meetings have broadened the council’s view from an exclusive focus on North Korea’s nuclear program to the rights violations inflicted on its people. As departing US Ambassador Nikki Haley told the council last year, North Korea’s “menacing march towards building a nuclear weapon arsenal begins with the oppression and exploitation of ordinary North Korean people.”

The council cannot afford to revert to its nuclear non-proliferation tunnel vision. Keeping human rights on the council’s radar makes it much harder to bargain away the suffering of the thousands of North Korean victims, survivors and their families in the name of security. There are reports that the US may try again in January when new states join the council. If North Korea is truly on the cusp of opening itself up to change, this meeting is needed more than ever. 

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

Mr. President,

Coming at the end of the Rome Statute’s twentieth anniversary year, this Assembly session is occurring in difficult circumstances.

In Rome, the international community, in response to genocides in Rwanda and Srebrenica, created a court that could reach, wherever horrific crimes occurred, those from the most powerful countries as well as less powerful states.

The 20 years since have demonstrated both the necessity and the fragility of what was achieved.

Brutal human rights crises have proliferated. The horrors of the 20th century so clearly in mind in Rome have not, regrettably, diminished. Ongoing ICC investigations in Cote d’Ivoire and the Central African Republic, and investigations in Palestine and Afghanistan, as well as Syria, Myanmar, and North Korea indicate the vast need for justice the ICC seeks to provide. The court is not able to act everywhere, but by acting where it can, it signals the importance of accountability far beyond its own cases.

At the same time, the court continues to attract political threats from those who fear accountability. Threats by the Trump administration to undermine the court’s investigations and discredit its legitimacy come as no surprise. But there is a particular risk today that the deteriorating human rights climate will facilitate new, damaging efforts to thwart justice.

When the important work this court needs to do is juxtaposed against its fragility, that sounds a clarion call to action for this Assembly and court officials.

For the ICC to more fully succeed, states parties will need to clearly voice and act on their commitments. They will need to resist any effort to impede the court’s impartial and independent discharge of its mandate, and ensure the court has the necessary cooperation and resources. At this Assembly session, we urge states parties to reference this reality in plenary debates and the Omnibus resolution.  

Simultaneously, court officials will need to deliver on their commitments to draw lessons, improve court performance, and correct shortcomings in the implementing of its mandate. Stronger investigations, more expedient proceedings, and a clear priority on communities most affected by the crimes are areas for focused attention. The ICC has a difficult job to do, but more can be done to close the gap between legitimate expectations for justice and the court’s delivery of it.

Together, a strengthened ICC firmly supported by its states parties will be more resilient to indefensible efforts to derail it. We call on this Assembly and court officials, in consultation with civil society, to develop a common understanding of the acute challenges and forge a commitment to address those challenges. This understanding will provide the basis to advance the Rome Statute system further in effectively delivering justice.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

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

© 2016 UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

(The Hague) – International Criminal Court (ICC) member countries should reaffirm the court’s mandate in the face of United States threats to weaken its essential role in international justice, Human Rights Watch said today. The 17th session of the court’s annual meeting, the Assembly of States Parties, will take place in The Hague from December 5 to 12, 2018.

The administration of US President Donald Trump has sought to undermine the court’s legitimacy and threatened to thwart investigations involving the US or its allies. On September 10, the US national security adviser, John Bolton, declared that the US would not cooperate with the ICC. He threatened a number of retaliatory steps if the court investigated US citizens or citizens of allied countries, including against court officials and governments cooperating with the ICC. Trump also made critical remarks at the United Nations General Assembly.

“US threats against the ICC are an affront to every victim seeking justice before this court,” said Elizabeth Evenson, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “ICC member countries should demonstrate at their annual meeting their resolve to oppose any effort to undermine the court’s investigations and prosecutions.”

The ICC prosecutor’s request to open an investigation in Afghanistan, which could include crimes committed by Taliban forces and the Afghan government, as well as US military and Central Intelligence Agency personnel, is pending before the court. An ICC investigation in Afghanistan would advance accountability and provide victims with a path to justice, while putting those responsible for serious crimes on notice that they could face prosecution, Human Rights Watch said.

ICC member countries responded to the US threats with strong statements of support for the court. Similar efforts in the past to undermine the court’s work have also been met by firm resistance from members, including a hostile US campaign by the George W. Bush administration.

Given the broader pressure on the international rule of law, it is all the more important for ICC member countries to defend the court’s mandate with clear statements and actions, Human Rights Watch said. ICC members should seize opportunities during the meeting’s general debate in the language of resolutions adopted, in discussions on state cooperation, and at other moments to show their resolve to ensure that the court can do its job.

Members will mark the 20th anniversary of the ICC’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute, during a dedicated debate at the session, capping a year of anniversary commemorations. They will also discuss victim rights. Governments and court officials should use discussions to address the court’s challenges, including improving court investigations, deepening the court’s impact in affected communities, and securing arrests based on its warrants since the court depends on member countries to make the arrests. On November 17, Alfred Yékatom, known as “Rombhot,” was surrendered to the court in a case arising out of its investigation in the Central African Republic, the second arrest in 2018 for the court. But 17 arrest warrants remain outstanding, at the expense of victims and their families.

“The ICC has struggled to deliver on expectations,” Evenson said. “It’s precisely because the court’s role is so crucial in bringing justice that court officials need to step up their performance and member governments need to increase their support.”

Human Rights Watch issued a briefing note in advance of the session, with recommendations to ICC states parties, including for the election of the court’s next prosecutor. The term of the current prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, expires in June 2021. Early preparations and a strictly merit-based approach to the election is needed, Human Rights Watch said.

Negotiations about the court’s annual budget, with funds provided by its member countries, will be part of the agenda. Some member countries have demanded “zero growth” in the court’s budget, but other countries increasingly have insisted that the court should have the resources it needs to manage its growing workload. During 2018, the ICC prosecutor opened three new preliminary examinations – into the situations in the Philippines, Bangladesh/Myanmar, and Venezuela – and received two referrals from member countries to examine the situations in Palestine and Venezuela.

The ICC is the first permanent global court mandated to bring to justice people responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide when national courts are unable or unwilling to do so. It is a court of last resort and has 123 member countries. In addition to the request to open an investigation in Afghanistan, the ICC prosecutor has opened investigations in Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, the Darfur region of Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Georgia, Kenya, Libya, Mali, and northern Uganda. The prosecutor is also examining allegations of crimes committed in a number of places to determine whether to open investigations. In addition to Venezuela, Bangladesh/Myanmar, and the Philippines, these include Colombia, Guinea, Nigeria, Palestine, Ukraine, and alleged abuses by United Kingdom armed forces in Iraq.

“The court is a crucial yet vulnerable component of the rule-based global order, and has a vital role to play in backstopping victims’ access to justice,” Evenson said. “Members should take every opportunity to make clear that they will provide the support it needs.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, attends a bilateral meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in the Executive Suite at UN Headquarters in New York.

© 2018 Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
As the G20 Summit approaches and world leaders get ready to meet in Buenos Aires on Friday, a cloud of suspicion looms over Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. His visit to Argentina was supposed to help him rebuild his shattered reputation after the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But Argentine judicial authorities have turned back that effort as they take steps toward investigating the crown prince’s connection with alleged war crimes by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and torture by Saudi officials.

The crown prince, known as MBS, seems to understand that. He was scheduled to stay with his 400-member delegation at the Four Seasons hotel, one of the fanciest in Buenos Aires. Instead he has moved into the Saudi embassy, which has turned into a fortress with metal barricades and bullet-proof windows added this week, the Argentine media reported. He was reportedly planning to visit the city on Thursday but did not leave the embassy all day.

On November 26, Human Rights Watch filed a submission with an Argentine federal prosecutor, asking him to examine the crown prince’s possible responsibility for torture of Saudi citizens in government custody and violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen. The violations include carrying out indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes that killed thousands of civilians and maintaining a blockade that has contributed to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Two days later, the federal prosecutor who was assigned the case endorsed the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows judicial authorities to investigate and prosecute international crimes no matter where they were committed, and regardless of the nationality of the suspects or their victims. He and an investigating federal judge moved forward toward an investigation. They requested information from other governments on the status of investigations elsewhere into these allegations, and from Argentina’s Foreign Ministry on the crown prince’s diplomatic and immunity status in Argentina.

If a formal investigation is opened, it will take time. The crown prince is going to be in Buenos Aires only for a few days, so there is little chance that he will be vulnerable to questioning or arrest while he is in Argentina. But the fact that justice officials are already taking steps toward an investigation sends a powerful message.

We can’t be sure why Mohammed bin Salman moved into the embassy. But if he’s smart, he would have sought legal advice about the prospects of a future criminal investigation and his potential liability. He might want to have such a conversation every time he plans to leave Saudi Arabia, because this week’s developments show that even the most powerful are not above the law.

Meanwhile, in Buenos Aires, global leaders should think twice before rubbing shoulders with someone who may end up under investigation for war crimes and torture.

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

It has been a bad couple of months for the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. His government’s murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in its Istanbul consulate — which the CIA concluded the prince ordered — has heightened attention to other aspects of his government’s brutality. That includes reports of torture of activists and perceived opponents at home, the bombing campaign in Yemen that has repeatedly struck civilians indiscriminately and disproportionately, and the enforcement of a blockade that has helped push millions of Yemeni civilians to the brink of starvation.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, attends a bilateral meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in the Executive Suite at UN Headquarters in New York.

© 2018 Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

In an apparent effort to redeem his reputation, the crown prince, or MBS as he is known, has been touring friendly Arab states recently and is attending the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires this week. Suddenly, however, his visit to Argentina looks as though it may deepen his problems rather than advance his resurrection.

On Monday, Human Rights Watch filed a submission — a summary of our public reporting — formally requesting that Argentine prosecutors examine MBS’s role in alleged war crimes and torture. Having lived through its own “dirty war” and then brought many of those responsible to justice, Argentina has a history of addressing such grave crimes. The Argentine justice system should seize this opportunity against someone who may have so much blood on his hands.

In an ideal world, victims of atrocities would be able to seek justice closer to home. But MBS’s iron grip over his own country and Saudi Arabia’s repeated refusal to credibly investigate apparent war crimes in Yemen mean there is no chance of justice there.

It is precisely for such cases that the international legal principle of “universal jurisdiction” can come into play. It provides that certain crimes are such an affront to humanity that every state has an interest in bringing those responsible to justice, no matter where the crime was committed and regardless of the nationality of the suspect or their victims. War crimes and torture are among these crimes. As a U.S. court said in a landmark case against a Paraguayan official who had come to the United States, “the torturer has become like the pirate and slave trader before him hostis humanis generis, an enemy of all mankind.”

Twenty years ago, the principle was famously invoked by the British House of Lords when it upheld the arrest in London of the visiting former dictator of Chile, Augusto Pinochet. Since then, a number of governments have created specialized war-crimes units of investigators and prosecutors to take up these cases. The U.S. Department of Justice has such a group. In France and Germany, prosecutors and investigators are hard at work on cases against senior members of the Syrian regime. An Argentine judge in 2016 used the principle to seek the extradition to Argentina of Spanish officials alleged to have committed torture during the Franco dictatorship, given the absence of any prosecutions in Spain.

The inquiry into MBS has now been assigned to an Argentine investigating prosecutor who on Wednesday reaffirmed Argentina’s duty to investigate these crimes and asked an investigative judge to request information from the Yemeni and Saudi governments about their own investigations. (He also sought information from the Argentine Foreign Affairs Ministry about MBS’s diplomatic status.) If a formal probe is opened, an investigative judge will seek further evidence about MBS’s role.

Argentina’s reaffirmation of the duty to investigate these crimes sends a strong signal that even powerful officials such as MBS are not beyond the reach of the law. Abusive officials commit atrocities because they assume they can get away with them. Often they are right.

Initiating an investigation of the crown prince would send an important reminder that the reach of justice is long, that not everyone stands in awe of the impunity that brutal leaders build for themselves at home. That signal is important not only as a matter of respect for his current victims and their families. It is also essential for preventing more victims tomorrow.

 

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

Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, attends a bilateral meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in the Executive Suite at UN Headquarters in New York.

© 2018 Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
 
(Buenos Aires) – The Argentine judiciary on November 28, 2018, took steps toward a formal investigation of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s possible responsibility for war crimes in Yemen and alleged torture of Saudi citizens, Human Rights Watch said today. Mohammed bin Salman arrived in Buenos Aires for the G20 Summit on November 28.
 
Ramiro González, the federal prosecutor, formally asked Judge Ariel Lijo, an investigating federal judge assigned through a lottery, to examine the Human Rights Watch November 26 submission to request information from the Saudi and Yemeni governments about whether they are investigating the allegations. He also asked for the Foreign Ministry to provide information about the crown prince’s diplomatic status.
 
Following the prosecutor’s decision, Judge Lijo sent information requests to the Turkish and Yemeni governments and the International Criminal Court (ICC) inquiring about whether they are investigating the allegations. He also sent a request to the Argentine Foreign Ministry on the question of the crown prince's immunity and diplomatic status. Neither Saudi Arabia or Yemen are members of the ICC.
 
“The Argentine judiciary has sent a clear message that even powerful officials like Mohammed bin Salman are not above the law and will be scrutinized if implicated in grave international crimes,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “A cloud of suspicion will loom over the crown prince as he tries to rebuild his shattered reputation at the G20, and world leaders would do well to think twice before posing for pictures next to someone who may come under investigation for war crimes and torture.”
 
The Human Rights Watch submission described violations of international humanitarian law during the armed conflict in Yemen, for which Mohammed bin Salman may face criminal liability as Saudi Arabia’s defense minister. The submission also highlighted his possible complicity in alleged torture and other ill-treatment of Saudi citizens, including the murder and alleged torture of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
 
The prosecutor’s written decision outlines states’ obligations to investigate alleged war crimes and torture and constitutes a ringing endorsement of the principle of universal jurisdiction, Human Rights Watch said. Under this principle, judicial authorities in the country are empowered to investigate and prosecute international crimes no matter where they were committed, and regardless of the nationality of the suspects or their victims.
 
Universal jurisdiction cases are an increasingly important part of international efforts to hold those responsible for atrocities accountable, provide justice to victims who have nowhere else to turn, deter future crimes, and help ensure that countries do not become safe havens for human rights abusers.
 
The inquiry to Argentina’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the crown prince’s diplomatic status in Argentina is intended to help determine if Argentina’s Supreme Court should directly examine the case. The Argentine Constitution provides that, in certain kinds of cases involving foreign officials, the Supreme Court has exclusive jurisdiction.
 
If the judiciary decides to open a formal investigation, the investigating federal judge would then gather further evidence to establish Mohammed bin Salman’s role in international crimes
 
The Argentine Foreign Ministry has stated that Mohammed bin Salman has immunity to attend the G20 Summit because he is an official diplomatic envoy under the 1969 Convention on Special Missions, to which Argentina is a party, according to media reports. Under the convention, “[t]he receiving State may, at any time and without having to explain its decision, notify the sending State that any representative of the sending State in the special mission … is persona non grata.” The sending state would need to either “recall the person concerned or terminate his functions with the mission,” in which case he would lose his immunity.
 
Existing immunities should not stop the Argentine judiciary from investigating the case, Human Rights Watch said. If an inquiry into the allegations of war crimes or torture is opened, the status of Mohammed bin Salman’s immunity could potentially be challenged as it would raise important legal questions regarding the extent of immunity for grave international crimes.
 
“Argentine judicial authorities should move quickly, within the boundaries of Argentine and international law, and demonstrate that they are committed to accountability for the most serious crimes,” Roth said.
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, attends a bilateral meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in the Executive Suite at UN Headquarters in New York.

© 2018 Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
 

(Buenos Aires) – Argentine judicial authorities have begun examining a submission concerning the role of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in connection with alleged war crimes by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and torture by Saudi officials, Human Rights Watch said today. The crown prince is expected to attend the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires on November 30, 2018.

On November 26, Human Rights Watch filed a submission with an Argentine federal prosecutor outlining its public findings on alleged violations of international law committed during the armed conflict in Yemen for which Mohammed bin Salman may face criminal liability as Saudi Arabia’s defense minister. The submission also highlights his possible complicity in serious allegations of torture and other ill-treatment of Saudi citizens, including the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“Argentine prosecutorial authorities should scrutinize Mohammed bin Salman’s role in possible war crimes committed by the Saudi-led coalition since 2015 in Yemen,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “The crown prince’s attendance at the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires could make the Argentine courts an avenue of redress for victims of abuses unable to seek justice in Yemen or Saudi Arabia.”

Argentina’s constitution recognizes universal jurisdiction for war crimes and torture. This means that judicial authorities in the country are empowered to investigate and prosecute these crimes no matter where they were committed, and regardless of the nationality of the suspects or their victims. Universal jurisdiction cases are an increasingly important part of international efforts to hold those responsible for atrocities accountable, provide justice to victims who have nowhere else to turn, deter future crimes, and help ensure that countries do not become safe havens for human rights abusers, Human Rights Watch said.

Argentina’s Criminal Procedure Code provides that any person can make a submission with judicial authorities in the country if they learn about, or are affected by, the commission of a crime. If there are indications that a crime may have been committed, the matter is later allocated, through a lottery, to a federal prosecutor or judge for formal investigation. The Human Rights Watch submission was sent to a federal judge, Ariel Lijo.

Mohammed bin Salman is the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, and also serves as the country’s deputy prime minister and defense minister. He oversees all Saudi military forces and has served as the commander of the international coalition that has been carrying out a military campaign in Yemen, says the Saudi Defense Ministry website. Mohammed bin Salman and senior Saudi commanders face possible criminal liability as a matter of command responsibility because of the key role Saudi Arabia plays in coalition military operations, Human Rights Watch said.

Since March 2015, the Saudi-led coalition has carried out scores of indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes on civilians and civilian objects in Yemen, hitting homes, schools, hospitals, markets, and mosques. Many of these attacks – if carried out with criminal intent – indicate possible war crimes. The coalition has also imposed and maintained a naval and air blockade on Yemen that has severely restricted the flow of food, fuel, and medicine to civilians. Millions of civilians face hunger and disease.

The Saudi-led coalition’s investigations into alleged war crimes in Yemen have lacked credibility, Human Rights Watch said. In 2016, the coalition created a team to investigate, collect evidence, and produce reports and recommendations regarding “claims and accidents” during coalition operations in Yemen. Human Rights Watch research found the body has failed to meet international standards for transparency, impartiality, and independence

The Saudi government under the authority of the crown prince has also been implicated in serious allegations of torture and other ill-treatment of Saudi citizens, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch and other groups have reported allegations that Saudi authorities tortured Saudi women activists who have been detained in Saudi Arabia since May. Various reports also tie Mohammed bin Salman to the extrajudicial execution and possible torture of Jamal Khashoggi. Human Rights Watch has called on Turkey to seek a United Nations investigation to determine the circumstances surrounding the Saudi government’s role in Khashoggi’s killing. 

Over the past two decades, the national courts of an increasing number of countries have pursued cases involving grave international crimes such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, torture, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial executions committed abroad. National experiences in various countries show that the fair and effective exercise of universal jurisdiction is achievable where there is the right combination of appropriate laws, adequate resources, institutional commitments and political will, Human Rights Watch said.

“A decision by Argentine officials to move toward investigation would be a strong signal that even powerful officials like Mohammed bin Salman are not beyond the reach of the law,” Roth said. “And Mohammed bin Salman should know that he may face a criminal probe if he ventures to Argentina.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am