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.


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.  


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
October 9, 2018
Rodney Jose
Inspector General
Malawi Police Service
Dear Inspector General:
We, the undersigned local, regional, and international organizations, write to urge the Malawi Police Service to urgently and thoroughly investigate attacks and threats against human rights defenders and an opposition legislator that have occurred in recent months.
The attacks include an incident reported to the police in Lilongwe, where, on the night of August 30, five unidentified individuals invaded the Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) offices and severely beat up a security guard (who sustained two broken front teeth) before trying to petrol-bomb the offices. According to Timothy Mtambo, CHRR director, the police have so far not indicated any progress in investigations since the filing of the complaint by a CHRR staff member. Human rights defenders often complain that the police treat their complaints with indifference and take no action to carry out investigations.
Timothy Mtambo (who also chairs the Human Rights Defenders Coalition of Malawi) and CHRR are known not only in Malawi for efforts to promote human rights, but also internationally for advocacy to assure justice for the most serious crimes, including through the International Criminal Court (ICC). The attack has generated concern across Africa and beyond among international and regional organizations that partner with CHRR on this work.
In two other recent incidents, unknown individuals sent death threats to Youth and Society Director Charles Kajoloweka, and in August, unidentified attackers in Mangochi torched a vehicle belonging to opposition legislator Agness Nyalonje of the United Transformation Movement (UTM). The arson attacks took place ahead of a planned rally by the opposition UTM.
As Malawians enter the campaign period ahead of national elections expected in May next year, the police should do more to curb incidents of harassment and political violence. Decisive police action to thoroughly investigate and arrest those responsible would help to end impunity for these crimes and send a clear message of zero tolerance for political violence and related abuses.
The government of Malawi has obligations under domestic and international law to ensure full protection of human rights including freedom of expression, association, personal liberty, and security. The Malawi Police Service and other responsible state institutions should reassure all citizens and act to ensure their protection, including human rights defenders who should be able to do their important work without fear of attacks or harassment.
We urge the Malawi Police Service to act on these concerns.
With assurances of our highest consideration,
Africa Center for International Law and Accountability (Ghana)
Africa Legal Aid
Amnesty International
Center for Accountability and Rule of Law (Sierra Leone)
CLEEN Foundation (Nigeria)
Coalition for the ICC
Coalition for Justice and Accountability (Sierra Leone)
Enough Project
Human Rights Watch
Kenya Human Rights Commission
Nigeria Coalition for the ICC
Southern African Center for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes
Transitional Justice Working Group (Liberia)
Wayamo Foundation
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A Sri Lankan Tamil man holds a placard during a protest in Colombo on August 21, 2018, demanding the release of lands still occupied by the military. 

© 2018 Eranga Jayawardena/AP Photo
 (New York) – The Sri Lankan government has yet to fully restore civilian ownership of land and property nearly a decade since the end of the civil war in 2009, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Progress, particularly since the election of a new government in 2015, has been hindered by broad military claims of national security and the lack of a transparent process.

The 80-page report, “‘Why Can’t We Go Home?’: Military Occupation of Land in Sri Lanka,” details security force occupation of land both during and after the armed conflict. It identifies the lack of transparency and due process, failure to map occupied land, inadequate support to affected people and communities, and prolonged delays in providing appropriate reparations for decades of loss and suffering. The military has also used some confiscated lands for commercial profit rather than national security and returned damaged or destroyed property to owners without compensation.

“All those displaced during Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war are entitled to return to their homes,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director. “Despite repeated pledges by the authorities, the military has been frustratingly slow to restore land to its rightful owners.”

The report is based on over 100 interviews between August 2017 to May 2018 with members of affected communities, activists, local officials, and lawyers. It looks into cases of military occupation and land release in 20 areas in six districts, primarily in Sri Lanka’s north and east.

The three-decade civil war in Sri Lanka ended with the decisive defeat of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May 2009. Large areas, including those previously held by the LTTE in the north and east, came under military control. At the end of the war, some 300,000 people ended up in a military detention camp.

While the administration of then-President Mahinda Rajapaksa released some land to its original owners, the military retained control over large areas for military but also non-military purposes, such as agriculture, tourism, and other commercial ventures.

The new government, led by President Maithripala Sirisena, took some steps to release civilian land held by the security forces. At the United Nations Human Rights Council in October 2015, the government promised to address conflict-related issues, including returning land to its original owners. However, the government’s response has fallen far short of its promises. On October 4, 2018, the president ordered the state to release all civilian land by December 31, 2018.

The military has also retained control of land it previously announced it would return. For instance, in April 2017, the navy responded to protests by displaced communities from the Mullikulam area in Mannar by announcing it would release 100 acres of the land that security forces had been occupying. More than a year later, people are still waiting.

“Now there is no war,” said Francis Crooss, a village elder. “It’s now peacetime. So why can’t we go back home?”

State agencies have exchanged properties without releasing the land to civilians. In Pallimunai in Mannar, land belonging to residents displaced since 1990 was occupied first by the army and then the police. At war’s end, the police promised to release their land and homes, but instead, the navy took control.

“We’ve been made refugees in our own village,” said Helena Perera, one of the residents.

All three major ethnic communities in the country – the Sinhalese, Tamils, and Muslims – are affected by military occupation of land in the north and east. However, the vast majority of cases impact the Tamil community.

Human Rights Watch documented a number of cases in which properties were destroyed while held by the military after the war, including Hindu temples, churches, mosques, and Buddhist shrines.

Government authorities have also carried out land grabs since the end of the war. In July 2010, the military forcibly evicted residents of Ragamwela, Panama, in southeastern Ampara district. In November 2011, 200 soldiers arrived in Ashraf Nagar village in Ampara district and demanded that all its occupants leave. In such cases, the security forces set up military camps or used the land for other purposes, including commercial use.

The government’s failure to establish a uniform policy on resettlement remains a critical problem, Human Rights Watch said. Some displaced families did not receive proper resettlement assistance when they returned to formerly occupied lands. The government transferred others from displacement camps, but they then entered into other forms of displacement, such as living with friends and relatives, or moving to other camps closer to their original properties, which the military still occupied. Those resettled more than once were denied full resettlement assistance when their land was eventually released.

A 70-year-old fisherman from Myliddy said his family had moved 24 times in 27 years until the military released his property in July 2017. But without resettlement assistance, he is severely in debt. “We hope the government will at least help us restart our lives this one last time,” he said.

Partial releases pose particular problems for returnee communities. Military control of neighboring areas hinders access to services and jobs, and heightens fears of surveillance and harassment by soldiers.

Establishing ownership of land where multiple displacements have occurred over decades is difficult, Human Rights Watch said. But instead of leaving it exclusively to the military, the government should urgently set up a transparent and consultative process, including displaced communities, to establish land claims and restore civilian ownership.

“The government has adopted an arbitrary, piecemeal approach to land returns, which is fomenting deep distrust among communities wary that the military is still in charge,” Ganguly said. “It should address rights violations and provide remedies to end the distress of those who have long suffered because of the military’s occupation of land.”


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Goma) – Unidentified fighters have killed more than 1,000 civilians in Beni territory in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in a series of massacres beginning four years ago, Human Rights Watch said today. On September 22, 2018, fighters killed 17 people in Beni town, bringing the number of civilians killed this year to at least 235. On September 24, fighters attacked the town of Oicha and abducted 16 people, mostly children, who remain missing.

Congolese human rights activists hold a peaceful protest in Kinshasa, demanding an end to the killings in Beni, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, with signs reading “Beni in Danger” and “The Silence of those in Power,” on September 28, 2018.

© 2018 Private

The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) should expand its Congo investigation to cover the attacks that began in Beni on October 2, 2014, Human Rights Watch said. The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo (MONUSCO) should strengthen its analysis capabilities and community engagement to uncover responsibility for the attacks and improve protection for civilians.

“The brutal killings of Beni residents won’t end until the commanders of the responsible forces are brought to justice,” said Ida Sawyer, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “As Congolese authorities have not credibly investigated or prosecuted these atrocities, the International Criminal Court should investigate them for future trials.”

According to the Kivu Security Tracker, a joint project of Human Rights Watch and the Congo Research Group, at least 235 people were killed in more than 100 attacks in Beni between January and September. Many were hacked to death with axes or machetes or shot dead. More than 165 civilians have been kidnapped for ransom or abducted, and dozens of others have been wounded or disappeared this year.

The attacks complicate efforts to stem an Ebola virus outbreak that has left at least 70 people dead since August. The risks of the outbreak worsening are heightened, with health workers unable to access some areas due to the insecurity and neighboring Uganda facing an “imminent” threat, according to the World Health Organization.

Human Rights Watch has conducted seven research visits to Beni territory over the last four years and spoken to more than 200 victims and witnesses to attacks, as well as with Congolese army and government officials, UN officials, and others.

Congolese government and army officials have repeatedly asserted that nearly all attacks in Beni have been carried out by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan-led Islamist armed group that has been in the area since 1996. But Human Rights Watch research, as well as findings by the UN Group of Experts on Congo, the New York-based Congo Research Group, and Congolese human rights organizations, point to the involvement of other armed groups, and certain Congolese army officers, in planning and carrying out many of these attacks. The ADF also appears to have splintered, with some ADF fighters working with local armed groups.

In 2016, the UN Group of Experts found that Brig. Gen. Muhindo Akili Mundos, a Congolese army commander with close ties to President Joseph Kabila who was responsible for military operations against the ADF from August 2014 to June 2015, had established a new armed group by recruiting ADF fighters, former fighters from local armed groups known as Mai Mai, and others. This group was implicated in some of the massacres in Beni territory that began in October 2014, according to the Group of Experts.

Mundos was sanctioned by the European Union in May 2017 and by the UN Security Council in February 2018 for his alleged involvement in serious human rights abuses, including in Beni. Mundos was deployed to Ituri in mid-2015 and to the eastern city of Bukavu in August 2018. It is unclear whether he plays a role in the ongoing killings.

Following a relative lull in Beni for much of 2017, the attacks started up again in September 2017. Then on December 7, unidentified fighters attacked a UN military base on the Mbau-Kamango road, killing 15 Tanzanian peacekeepers and 5 Congolese soldiers, and wounding 43 peacekeepers. One Tanzanian peacekeeper remains missing. The UN secretary-general called it “the worst attack on UN peacekeepers in the organization’s recent history.” It followed two attacks in September and October, in which four peacekeepers were killed and 19 wounded. The UN blamed the attacks on the ADF.

The Congolese army launched new military operations against armed groups in Beni in January – this time without MONUSCO’s support. Led by Gen. Marcel Mbangu, the army promised it would be “the last military operation to restore peace and security in the region.” Yet the new offensive coincides with an increase in attacks on civilians, according to independent researchers and the UN Group of Experts.

As during previous military operations in Beni, many local civilians note the inefficacy of the army’s efforts and its failure to respond when community members report an attack or the suspicious presence of armed men.

“The only thing they’re doing is protecting themselves,” a farmer in Beni told Human Rights Watch. “When they attack armed groups, they just push them back, but they don’t actually pursue them.”

“I saw a few dozen people loot the little shop right in front of our house and then kill the owner,” said a local resident of the September 22 attack on Beni town. “How could they make it past the army camp nearby? The soldiers and police just fled. We’re abandoned, and we’ve been thrown into the lions’ den.”

A Congolese military operational court in Beni, which has no right of appeal, tried about 180 suspects for their alleged role in the killings, including alleged ADF fighters, civilians accused of collaborating with the ADF, and Congolese soldiers. In January, more than 130 people were convicted, including three army colonels. Congolese authorities did not investigate the alleged role of General Mundos. Independent trial observers described numerous concerns about the credibility of the trial including witness tampering, a lack of due process for the accused, and a failure to thoroughly investigate leads regarding the alleged involvement of more senior commanders. Human rights activists and independent researchers said they were intimidated by Congolese security officials, and several were forced to flee the area.

The ICC has jurisdiction over serious international crimes committed in Congo. It opened an investigation there in June 2004 and has brought several cases to trial, but the ICC has not prosecuted recent crimes.

For several years Congolese youth movements and human rights groups have organized peaceful protests demanding an end to the killings in Beni and international engagement to improve security and bring those responsible to justice. Congolese security forces have beaten or arrested peaceful protesters during these demonstrations, including in the capital, Kinshasa, on September 27, when 29 people were arrested.

“Over four years, the Congolese government has proved incapable of putting an end to the abuses and suffering in Beni,” Sawyer said. “Beni needs more international action to protect  civilians, bring perpetrators to justice, and help health workers trying to tackle Ebola.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Conakry) – No one has yet been tried for Guinea’s stadium massacre of September 28, in which at least 156 opposition supporters were killed and more than a hundred women were raped, five human rights organizations said today. The organizations are the Association of Victims, Parents and Friends of the September 28 Massacre (AVIPA), the Guinean Human Rights Organization (OGDH), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch.

In Guinea’s capital, Conakry, family members cry after identifying the body of a relative killed on September 28, 2009, when security forces fired on opposition supporters as they marched to and later held a rally in the September 28 Stadium. The body of their relative was one of 57 dead displayed at the Grand Fayçal Mosque on October 2, 2009.

© 2009 Reuters

While the investigation has been completed since the end of 2017, it is imperative that the judges be appointed and a timetable be established. These are the conditions for this emblematic trial to open in 2019 and for the 13 defendants – three of whom have been detained beyond the legal limits – to finally be tried.

On April 9, 2018, Justice Minister Cheick Sako set up a steering committee tasked with the practical organization of the trial. It should adopt a clear roadmap as soon as possible, in order to move ahead efficiently toward the trial.

Although the committee was supposed to meet once a week, it has only met twice in six months, raising doubts about the imminent prospect of a trial. Yet the trial is within reach and several international donors maintain they are ready to support it, the organizations said.

“People have been killed, women have been raped, and, for the first time in Guinea's history, members of the security forces have been indicted,” said Asmaou Diallo, president of AVIPA. “There is no longer any reason not to move swiftly toward a trial. But without political support for the work undertaken by the justice ministry, the case risks getting stalled. Yet the victims, their families, and the whole Guinean population have been waiting for it for almost 10 years.”

The organizations are urging the steering committee to hold weekly meetings as specified in the decree that set it up, rapidly determine the location of the trial, its budget, and its support needs, and establish logistical and security procedures. In particular, the committee should take appropriate measures for the participation of former junta leader Dadis Camara, who has been charged in this case and who has always said he would participate in the trial though he is in exile in Burkina Faso. At the same time, experienced judges should be appointed without delay in order to begin working on this major case.

While these operational steps can be dealt with quickly, the trial requires political support at the highest level in order to guarantee strong and impartial justice, given the real or perceived risks of influence by certain defendants who still hold government positions.

“Trying acts of political violence is no longer taboo in Guinea,” said Abdoul Gadiry Diallo, president of OGDH. “The process of uncovering the painful past has shown that Guinean society is expecting the perpetrators of the most recent and egregious political crimes to be tried and wants to put an end to the total impunity that protected perpetrators of grave human rights violations for decades. It is now time to open a new chapter and for both the victims and the alleged perpetrators of the crimes committed in the stadium on September 28, 2009 to have their day in court.”


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Rohingya refugees try to take shelter from torrential rain as they are held by the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) after illegally crossing the border, in Teknaf, Bangladesh, August 31, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

(Geneva) – The United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council has advanced justice for victims of grave crimes in Myanmar by creating an international body to help prepare case files for future criminal proceedings, Human Rights Watch said today. The council on September 27, 2018 passed a resolution for that purpose, a joint initiative of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the European Union, by a vote of 35 to 3, with 7 abstentions. 

“The Human Rights Council took an important step for justice by creating a body to pinpoint criminal responsibility for the countless atrocities in Myanmar,” said John Fisher, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch. “It deals a blow to Myanmar’s deep-seated culture of impunity and moves victims closer to seeing Myanmar’s generals held to account.”

The resolution mandates the new body to “collect, consolidate, preserve and analyze evidence of the most serious international crimes” in Myanmar since 2011 and to “prepare files…to facilitate and expedite fair and independent criminal proceedings.” The resolution calls on the UN secretary-general to appoint staff and allocate the resources necessary to support the body’s work. The UN secretary-general should act promptly to ensure that it is fully operational as soon as possible, Human Rights Watch said.

The resolution follows the report in August by the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, which found that Myanmar’s security forces committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide against ethnic Rohingya in Rakhine State. The report also examined abuses by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army and by government forces and ethnic armed groups in Shan and Kachin States.

The Fact-Finding Mission recommended that either the Human Rights Council or the UN General Assembly should create as a matter of urgency an international, independent, impartial mechanism, similar to the one created by the General Assembly for Syria in late 2016. It also urged the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court. The Fact-Finding Mission will brief the General Assembly on its findings in October.

“The UN General Assembly should support justice for victims of murder, sexual violence, and mass arson by welcoming the new body and calling on Myanmar’s government to cooperate with it,” Fisher said. “Raising the mechanism’s profile in the General Assembly would also make clear that all countries, including Security Council members, should make justice a priority as part of any proposed solution to Myanmar’s devastating rights crisis.”


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Supporters of George Weah attend a meeting during their party's presidential campaign rally at Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex in Monrovia, Liberia December 23, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

(New York) – Liberian President George Weah should show leadership at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly by announcing his government’s endorsement of justice and reparations for victims of grave crimes during the country’s civil wars, 80 nongovernmental organizations said in a letter to the president released today.

Liberian, regional, and international groups sent the letter ahead of President Weah’s expected presentation on September 26, 2018 during the high-level segment of the General Assembly in New York. Liberian activists have scheduled a news conference regarding the letter in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, on September 25 at 11:30 a.m. at the iCampus location.

“When President Weah takes the international stage at UN headquarters, he should support justice for past crimes in Liberia,” said Hassan Bility, executive director of the Monrovia-based Global Justice and Research Project.

Liberia’s civil wars, which spanned 14 years and ended in 2003, were characterized by widespread atrocities by all sides, including summary executions and large-scale massacres. At Carter Camp and St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, hundreds of civilians were killed in a single night.

Abuses also included widespread systematic rape, mutilation and torture, and forced conscription and use of child combatants. 

Attacks against aid workers and foreigners working in Liberia, including the killing of five American nuns, brought international attention to Liberia’s war.  

“Liberia has not initiated a single prosecution for the widespread crimes committed against civilians during its wars,” said Nushin Sarkarati, senior staff attorney at the Center for Justice and Accountability.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Liberia in 2009 recommended creating a war crimes court to investigate and try people responsible for grave violations of international law. But the Liberian government has never moved ahead with this recommendation.

“The few cases addressing civil war-era atrocities have occurred outside Liberia, in Europe and the United States,” said Alain Werner, director of Civitas Maxima.

The UN Human Rights Committee on July 26 said that the Liberian government should establish a process to bring about accountability for past war crimes. The committee expressed “concern that none of the alleged perpetrators of gross human rights violations and war crimes mentioned in the TRC [Truth and Reconciliation Commission] report has been brought to justice.” 

“President Weah should take seriously UN concerns that no perpetrators of war crimes have been brought to justice,” said Adama Dempster, secretary general of the Civil Society Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia.

Liberian officials pledged to the Human Rights Committee in July that it would soon issue a public statement about carrying out the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations. The government has yet to do so.

“The UN General Assembly is an ideal moment for the Liberian government to deliver on its pledge to speak up on implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations,” said Elise Keppler, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
September 20, 2018
His Excellency George Weah
President of the Republic of Liberia
Re: Endorsing Accountability for Past Crimes at the UN General Assembly
Dear President Weah:
In anticipation of your participation in September’s high-level segment of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, we urge you to show leadership at this global platform by announcing that the Liberian government will develop, with support from the international community, a roadmap to ensure justice and reparations for victims of the gravest crimes committed during Liberia’s civil wars.
The UN Human Rights Committee on July 26, 2018, called upon the Liberian government to establish a process of accountability for past war crimes following its first-ever review of the human rights situation in Liberia. The committee expressed “concern that none of the alleged perpetrators of gross human rights violations and war crimes mentioned in the TRC [Truth and Reconciliation Commission] report, has been brought to justice.”
In its final report issued July 1, 2009, Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission called for the creation of a war crimes court in the country, and Liberia is obligated under international law to try grave crimes committed. Nonetheless, Liberia has yet to hold a single person to account for past abuses. According to the committee, “such a situation fosters a climate of impunity and fails to achieve transitional justice.” The only prosecutions of past abuses are taking place in the United States and Europe.
Liberia’s civil wars were characterized by widespread atrocities, including summary executions and large-scale massacres, including at Carter Camp and St. Peter’s Lutheran Church where hundreds of civilians were killed in a single night; widespread as well as systematic rape; mutilation and torture; and forced conscription and use of child combatants. Attacks against humanitarian aid centers and murder of international aid workers, such as the death of five American nuns, brought international attention to Liberia’s war.
The Human Rights Committee identified measures to provide justice, truth, and reparations for civil war victims as a priority, and Liberia will need to report back on these issues by 2020. Meanwhile, calls for justice by Liberian civil society groups and ordinary citizens, in addition to international organizations, continue to grow.
Several of our representatives attended Liberia’s appearance before the Human Rights Committee and we welcome the pledge by the government delegation during the session that the government would soon issue a public statement on implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations.
By seizing the General Assembly high-level segment to present plans for Liberia to bring justice for the serious abuses committed during the civil wars, you would stand with victims and take an important step to address impunity—which has undermined development and reconciliation in Liberia for far too long—and build sustainable peace for Liberians.
We thank you and stand ready to support you in this important effort.
Liberian Organizations:
1. Accountability Lab Liberia
2. African Advocacy Network
3. African Career, Education, and Resource, Inc. (ACER)
4. Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia
5. Association of Liberian Journalists in America
6. Better Future Foundation
7. Campaigners for Change
8. Catholic Justice and Peace Commission
9. Center for Social Justice and Human Development (CSJHDEV)
10. Coalition for Justice in Liberia
11. Dehkontee Artists Theatre, Inc- DATI
12. Economic Freedom Fighters of Liberia
13. ECOWAS Women in Liberia
14. The Emancipation Movement of Liberia Inc. (EMOL)
15. Flomo Theatre Production Inc.
16. Foundation for Human Rights and Democracy
17. Foundation for International Dignity
18. Friends of the Congo
19. Fubbi Foundation for Development and Sustainability
20. Global Justice and Research Project
21. Goba Foundation
22. Holistic Education Advocating Leadership (HEAL)
23. Human Rights Protection Forum
24. Human Rights Monitor Liberia United Methodist Church
25. Independent Human Rights Investigators
26. International Disable Women (IDS)
27. International Justice Group
28. IsraAID – Liberia
29. Liberia – America Friendship Organization
30. Liberia Human Rights Campaign
31. Liberian Diaspora Initiatives (LIDIN)
32. Liberian Human Rights and Welfare Organization
33. Liberia Judicial and Prisons Monitors
34. Liberian Massacre Survivors Association
35. Liberians United for Justice and Accountability
36. Liberia Working Group
37. Love 113
38. The Movement to Establish Peace, Justice and Unity in Liberia (MEPJUL)
39. National Civil Society Council of Liberia
40. National Economic and Social Development Action Committee
41. National Health Workers Union of Liberia
42. National Human Rights Monitor
43. National Street Children Activists Network
44. National Student Movement for the Establishment of Economic & War Crimes Court in Liberia
45. National Teachers’ Association of Liberia
46. Operation We Care for Liberia
47. Patriot Crusaders
48. Prison Fellowship of Liberia
49. Research for Documentation on Human Rights
50. Regional Watch for Human Rights
51. Rights and Rice Foundation
52. River Gee County Association in the Americas
53. Rural Human Rights Activists Programme
54. Student Unification Party
55. Tambasons Global Human Services Inc.
56. Transitional Justice Working Group
57. United Liberians Association of Alberta
58. Universal Human Rights
59. Voice of the Voiceless
60. Women Empowerment Foundation of Liberia
61. Women of Liberia Peacebuilding Network
62. Women Solidarity
African civil society organizations outside Liberia and international civil society organizations:
63. The Advocates for Human Rights
64. Africa Legal Aid
65. Amnesty International
66. The Ghana Center for Democratic Development
67. Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law – Sierra Leone
68. Center for Justice and Accountability
69. Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (Malawi)
70. Children’s Education Society (Tanzania)
71. Civitas Maxima
72. Human Rights Center, University of California, Berkeley – School of Law
73. Human Rights Watch
74. International Federation of Human Rights
75. Kenyans for Peace with Truth and Justice
76. National Centre For Human Rights and Development (Sierra Leone)
77. No Peace Without Justice
78. Parliamentarians for Global Action
79. Southern African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (Zambia)
80. World Federalist Movement – Institute for Global Policy
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

As we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Genocide Convention, I wish to address the crucial role of the International Criminal Court in realizing its ideals.

This year also marks the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the ICC’s founding treaty in Rome. At the time, some questioned the need for the court—that perhaps the horrors of the 20th century that spurred the adoption of the Genocide Convention were behind us.  Instead, it’s clear that the ICC is needed now more than ever.  Last month’s report of the fact-finding mission on Myanmar, which flagged possible genocide of the Rohingya, underscores this point.

It was the singular determination of a group of like-minded states that resulted in the creation of the ICC. But as long as the court does its job, it will stir fierce opposition. This week’s hyperbolic speech from the US government in anticipation of an ICC investigation in Afghanistan is a stark reminder of what’s at stake.

While the global demand for accountability has increased, the will to deliver it has weakened. The veto by permanent members of the UN Security Council of a much-needed resolution referring Syria to the ICC is the best example of this disturbing trend.

There are glimmers of hope. In the wake of the Security Council’s failure in Syria, the General Assembly established an international mechanism to preserve evidence of crimes. And last week, a panel of ICC judges confirmed the court’s jurisdiction over the mass deportation of Rohingya from Myanmar to Bangladesh as a crime against humanity.

Still, the climate for a Security Council referral of Myanmar – critical to address the full scale of criminality - remains chilly. In the meantime, the Human Rights Council is well-positioned to create a Syria-type mechanism for Myanmar to preserve a path to justice.

ICC member countries – and non-members – should increase efforts to ensure justice for genocide and other crimes. The court has shortcomings, but greater resources would help it handle its increased caseload and engage better with victims. And states should be prepared to defend the court’s mandate and independence in the face of politicized opposition to its work. Victims of the worst crimes, including genocide, deserve nothing less. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Federica Mogherini

High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security

Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission


September 10, 2018


Dear High Representative/Vice-President Mogherini,

On behalf of our organizations, we are writing to call on you to swiftly establish an EU Special Representative for International Humanitarian Law and International Justice.

EU leadership has been essential in the fight against impunity for international crimes and the promotion of respect for the laws of war. We welcome the personal leadership you have shown. As just one measure of this personal leadership, we were very appreciative of your February 2018 video statement in the context of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court’s commemorations of the twentieth anniversary of the 1998 adoption of the Rome Statute. In that statement, you indicated that “you can count on the EU’s constant support for the Court. We will continue to be the point of reference for all those who work for justice and peace all around the world. The path that started in Rome 20 years ago has only just begun.”

We could not agree more that our collective efforts to bring redress to victims of international crimes and to prevent their occurrence are far from completed. To the contrary, now more than ever, there is a need for increased, principled leadership by the EU. As the July Council Conclusions on the International Criminal Court (ICC) indicated, “the rules-based international order is facing increased pressure,” making “the strengthening of its criminal justice system … more important than ever.” The same is clearly true when it comes to reinforcing international humanitarian law. There is a very real risk that without stepped-up efforts impunity will reassert itself as the new norm, contributing to cycles of violence and new generations of victims, and rolling back the gains represented by the adoption of the Rome Statute.

A Special Representative for International Humanitarian Law and International Justice will provide the EU with significantly enhanced capacity to play this much-needed leadership role. In the attached concept note, we set out in more detail how a Special Representative would provide increased visibility and influence; consistency in the implementation of existing EU policies; expertise; and innovative approaches to navigate what is an increasingly complex landscape, in the face of a proliferation of crises and blockages to justice at the national and international levels. A Special Representative could ensure that the EU’s voice is increasingly brought to bear on key policy debates, while also acting nimbly to marshal resources to develop responses in specific situations.   

The need for a dedicated high-level expert has been recognized by the European Parliament, which first called for the establishment of this position in 2011. In a June 2018 letter, 34 parliamentarians reiterated this call. In his statement marking the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Rome Statute, Pier Antonio Panzeri, the chair of the parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights, also reiterated this call.

We understand that several EU member states’ foreign ministers also actively support the creation of a dedicated Special Representative for International Humanitarian Law and International Justice and indeed all EU foreign ministers in their July conclusions encouraged you “to present proposals for possible further steps on how the EU could further enhance its capabilities and structures to strengthen the visibility and coherence of EU action on international criminal justice and international humanitarian law.”  

We appreciate that you may have concerns regarding ensuring coordination between this Special Representative and other existing mandates, including that of the Special Representative on Human Rights, as well as the resources required to support a new position. But we strongly believe that the expertise that would be added in the field of international law and international justice would benefit the work of all Special Representative mandate holders, the European External Action Service (EEAS), and the EU’s foreign policy actions and would greatly outweigh any such concerns. 

When it comes to coordination, this is actually one of the significant advantages of establishing this position. A Special Representative would ensure dedicated attention to international humanitarian law and international justice issues, in dialogue and coordinated action with other Special Representatives, the ICC focal point within the EEAS, and member states. This level of consistent coordination—given the sheer number of situations in which these issues are relevant today—is not possible within existing resources, with the result that implementation of EU policies is not as consistent or robust. A Special Representative would also increase coordination with third-party governments, UN bodies, civil society, and other partners. When it comes to resources, the investment required would be repaid through more effective EU action in what are highly significant policy areas. The Common Decision on the ICC remains one of the few legally binding decisions in foreign policy.

That the twentieth anniversary of the ICC treaty is taking place at a time when the very crimes it seeks to prevent through accountability are occurring at an alarming pace brings into sharp focus the need for increased efforts to realize the promise of Rome. We urge you to seize on this momentum and establish a Special Representative in order to concretely advance the EU’s efforts to bring justice and prevent violations of international humanitarian law. Representatives of our organizations would welcome the opportunity to meet with you at your earliest convenience to discuss this matter in further detail.




William R. Pace

Convenor, Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC)

Executive Director, World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy (WFM-IGP)


Antoine Madelin

International Advocacy Director, Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l’Homme


Lotte Leicht

EU Advocacy Director, Human Rights Watch 


Alison Smith

Director of International Criminal Justice Program, No Peace Without Justice


James Goldston

Executive Director, Open Society Justice Initiative


Melinda Reed

Executive Director, Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am