A grave in Kosovo: “Unidentified.”

© FRED ABRAHAMS ⁄ HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH

This week marks 20 years since the end of the Kosovo war. What began as systematic Serbian state oppression led to attacks by an ethnic Albanian armed group, a vicious government response, and 78 days of NATO airstrikes.

Civilians paid a hefty price. In Kosovo, Serbian and Yugoslav forces rampaged through villages burning homes, executing men, and raping women and girls. Roughly 850,000 Kosovo Albanians were forcibly expelled.

Human Rights Watch’s main report on the conflict found “a coordinated and systematic campaign to terrorize, kill, and expel the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo that was organized by the highest levels of the Serbian and Yugoslav governments.” Serbian authorities tried to hide those crimes by moving hundreds of bodies to Serbia and dumping them in mass graves.

These were not the conflict’s only crimes. The ethnic Albanian insurgency known as the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) also abducted and murdered Serbian, Roma, and Albanian civilians during and after the war. NATO forces used cluster munitions and its attacks killed about 500 civilians, some in legally dubious strikes.

Today, 1,653 people remain missing from the war: 1,092 Albanians, and 562 Roma and Serbs.

Justice is mostly missing, too. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) indicted Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic for his role in Kosovo, but he died during trial. Six of his senior co-conspirators were convicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Kosovo, three of whom were granted early release after serving two-thirds of their sentences. One of the six, police chief Vlastimir Djordjevic, whom the ICTY found guilty of coordinating the body-removal operation, is eligible for early release this month. 34 NGOs from Serbia and Kosovo have opposed that until he shares information about the location of missing persons.

Other senior security officials credibly implicated in war crimes have eluded justice. A Belgrade-based war crimes court has focused on low- and mid-level perpetrators, and ignored many of the most serious Kosovo crimes, including the removal of bodies. The European Union, which Serbia aspires to join, has not made war-time accountability a top demand.

Meanwhile, senior leaders of the KLA accused of killings and body transfers to Albania remain  at-large, some in high government posts. A new court in The Hague offers hope for justice, and Serbia’s protection of war criminals does not justify attempts to undermine that chance.

Some people advocate a turn of the shoulder: let wounds heal with time. The EU has focused on negotiations to normalize Kosovo-Serbia relations. As important as that dialogue is, justice is a critical medicine for lasting health.

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

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

(Goma) – The death in the Democratic Republic of Congo of a rebel leader wanted by the International Criminal Court highlights the need to bring justice for his forces’ many victims. The Congolese army announced on September 18, 2019 that its forces killed Sylvestre Mudacumura, commander of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), and “his closest lieutenants” the previous night.

Sylvestre Mudacumura. 

FDLR forces under Mudacumura’s command committed numerous atrocities against people in eastern Congo and Rwanda. He had been wanted by the ICC since 2012 for the war crimes of murder, mutilation, cruel treatment, rape, torture, destruction of property, pillaging, attacks on civilians, and outrage upon personal dignity allegedly committed in eastern Congo between 2009 and 2010.

“Mudacumura’s death should not mean that victims and their families are denied justice,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Remaining FDLR leaders should still be prosecuted and the victims provided redress.”

A villager who lost seven family members to Mudacumura’s forces in Masisi territory in 2008 told Human Rights Watch, “Even with Mudacumura dead, we continue to cry for the many Congolese who remain orphans, widows and widowers.” Another person from Masisi, whose village the FDLR attacked in 2009, said: “Mudacumura killed our brothers, sisters, and children…. I regret that he was killed without being brought to justice and held accountable.”

Human Rights Watch repeatedly pressed the Congolese government and the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the country, which had waged a military campaign against the FDLR, to arrest Mudacumura and transfer him to The Hague. This would have been a critical step toward advancing international justice in the region.

Human Rights Watch documented the killings of over 700 civilians by FDLR fighters in 2009-2010. Most victims were women, children, and the elderly, whom the rebels hacked to death with machetes or hoes or burned to death in their homes. These attacks were accompanied by widespread rape and other sexual violence.

Some FDLR leaders participated in the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda, in which Hutu extremists set out to destroy the Tutsi minority. Since then, Rwandan Hutu militias based in eastern Congo have reorganized politically and militarily, going through various name and leadership changes. The rebel group’s current configuration, the FDLR, was established in 2000.

FDLR forces continue to carry out serious abuses, sometimes alongside other Congolese armed groups.

In the last two years, armed groups in Congo’s eastern Kivu provinces have killed at least 1,900 civilians and abducted more than 3,300 others. Congolese authorities should make accountability for grave crimes a domestic priority, and officials will need support to investigate, apprehend, and appropriately prosecute abusive commanders who remain at large, Human Rights Watch said.

Mudacumura was the last person wanted by the ICC for crimes related to the situation in Congo.

The Congo-related cases that have come before the ICC have not adequately addressed the scale of the crimes committed in the country since 2002, when the court’s jurisdiction began. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly urged the ICC prosecutor to expand the investigation in Congo to include, for example, the role of senior political and military officials from Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda who supported, armed, and financed abusive armed groups in eastern Congo over the last two decades. The ICC prosecutor should formulate a clear strategy to address outstanding accountability needs in Congo, including by supporting Congolese authorities.

“Armed groups like the FDLR will continue to kill, rape, and pillage because so few commanders are ever held to account,” Mudge said. “Mudacumura is dead but his lieutenants are still committing atrocities against civilians in eastern Congo. Both the Congolese government and the ICC have a role to play in bringing them to justice.”

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

 

(Monrovia, September 17, 2019) – Liberian President George Weah took a major step to bring justice for atrocities committed during Liberia’s civil wars by endorsing a war crimes court, 10 Liberian and international groups said today. The legislature should promptly establish a court in line with international human rights standards, drawing on relevant international support and expertise.

President Weah, in a letter to the legislature dated September 12, 2019, wrote: “I ... do hereby call on the National Legislature to advise and provide guidance on all legislative and other necessary measures towards the implementation of the TRC [Truth and Reconciliation Commission] report, including the establishment of the Economic and War Crimes Court.”

“President Weah’s support for a war crimes court is an important step for victims and for helping to ensure the violence that brought so much pain and loss to Liberia will not happen again,” said Adama Dempster at CSO Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia and the Secretariat for the Establishment of a War Crimes Court in Liberia. “This decision benefits the victims, the country, and the rule of law in Liberia.”

During Liberia’s armed conflicts from 1989-96 and 1999-2003, Liberians suffered widespread violations of international human rights and humanitarian law such as mass killings, rape and other forms of sexual violence, summary executions, mutilation and torture, and use of child combatants.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which operated between 2006 and 2009, recommended creating a war crimes court – the Extraordinary Criminal Court for Liberia – to try those responsible for grave crimes committed. Many of the TRC’s recommendations, including for the war crimes court, have never been carried out.

The few cases involving civil wars-era crimes have all occurred outside Liberia before United States and European courts. Authorities have been pursuing cases under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows national courts to try international crimes committed abroad, as well as for crimes related to immigration, such as lying on immigration forms.

“In the past few years we have made significant progress in cases abroad to try alleged perpetrators of Liberia’s wartime crimes,” said Hassan Bility at Global Justice and Research Project and the Secretariat for the Establishment of a War Crimes Court in Liberia. “But our people should have the chance to see justice at home. Liberia should work with the United Nations and other international partners to set up a court that can hold fair, credible trials.”

Liberians have held marches to campaign for a war crimes court, and petitioned the legislature to carry out the commission’s recommendations. Liberian, African, and international nongovernmental organizations have come together to campaign for justice in Liberia. In May several of the groups released a video appeal for the court, with statements from people of varied backgrounds who took part in a national conference on accountability in Monrovia in November.

The Liberian Bar Association added its support for a war crimes court in April. The Traditional Chiefs Council backed a war crimes court in early September. On September 6, the National Economic Dialogue, attended by 350 Liberians, including members of the government, political parties, youth, and civil society, recommended establishing the court.

In July, lawmakers attended a legislative conference on accountability organized by local and international groups. The joint committee of Liberia’s House of Representatives then put forward a resolution backing the court, which was immediately endorsed by nine lawmakers. 

The groups urged the legislature to move ahead with a law to establish the court and request assistance from Liberia’s international partners in the effort, particularly the United Nations, as well as the European Union, African Union, United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and Sweden. There should also be greater involvement from nongovernmental organizations with expertise in war crimes courts.

Governments and international organizations have supported war crimes courts and developed expertise in recent decades in addressing challenges that often arise with them. Such expertise includes protection and support for witnesses and victims, security for judges and staff, assuring fair legal process, and educating the local population about the court.

“All eyes now turn to our national legislature,” said Aaron Weah at Search for Common Ground-Liberia and the Secretariat for the Establishment of a War Crimes Court in Liberia. “Some victims have been waiting more than two decades. The legislature should move ahead to establish the court without delay.”

The groups issuing this news release are: Advocates for Human Rights, Center for Justice and Accountability, Centre for Civil and Political Rights, CSO Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia, Global Justice and Research Project, Human Rights Watch, Liberia Massacre Survivor Association, Search for Common Ground-Liberia, Transitional Justice Working Group, and the Secretariat for the Establishment of a War Crimes Court in Liberia. 

For a question and answer document on accountability for past crimes in Liberia, click here:
https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/04/01/qa-justice-civil-wars-era-crimes-liberia

For a video appeal for the war crimes court, click here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-uGUiX3ArrM&feature=youtu.be

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Armed forces allied to internationally recognized government fight with armed group in Tripoli, Libya September 22, 2018. 

© 2018 Hani Amara/Reuters

The scars ran deep. His back was a maze of thick welts, thinner scars and parts that resembled small craters. His wrists and ankles were raw from where he’d been shackled and suspended from a ceiling for hours, and his limbs appeared limp and stretched. His eyes were expressionless. The torture destroyed me as a person, Ali[1] said.  

Ali, 24, told me he had been tortured within an inch of his life in Benghazi. He was stopped at a checkpoint by an armed group affiliated with the Libyan National Army (LNA) who accused his brother of fighting against the LNA in Benghazi. No matter that his brother was 1,000 kilometers away in Tripoli. Ali said he barely made it out alive after three days of almost non-stop torture. 

Sadly, his story is not unique. During the past eight years, as Libya researcher at Human Rights Watch, I have interviewed hundreds of victims of human rights violations, or their relatives, and have visited dozens of prisons, migrant detention centers and informal detention facilities. 

The list of serious abuses is long and goes well beyond torture and arbitrary detention, including those arising from the 2011 war that ousted Muammar Gaddafi, the more recent conflicts in 2014 and the current conflict in Tripoli.

I have investigated the plight of thousands forcibly displaced from their homes in Tawergha by armed groups from Misrata, the vast majority of whom cannot return home; extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances by groups linked with the LNA; and  sieges by the LNA that left civilians without access to food, water or medical care.

In the ongoing Tripoli conflict, there is wanton destruction of private property and indiscriminate attacks against civilians by all parties. 

Many more violations are the direct result of systemic failures of consecutive post-Gaddafi governments and their supporters during periods of peace. We visited people held in long-term arbitrary detention without judicial review, primarily because post-2011 governments failed to establish a functioning justice system. In Misrata, we interviewed torture victims in detention facilities run by the Justice Ministry, still bloodied after their ordeal. In Benghazi, we documented scores of politically motivated assassinations, including of activists and journalists, mostly by unidentified perpetrators where no one was held to account. In Tripoli, we met relatives and friends of victims of kidnapping and enforced disappearances by armed groups linked with the Government of National Accord (GNA). 

In western Libya, we uncovered widespread abuses against migrants and asylum seekers by smugglers and the GNA-linked coast guards and prison authorities. Some were held in slave-like conditions. 

Multiple armed conflicts and political rifts since 2011 have had a devastating effect on civilians. In the absence of central authority, armed groups have committed human rights crimes with impunity. Most notable are “Dignity” (Karama) the May 2014 military campaign by LNA commander General Khalifa Hiftar to take control of the eastern region to “root out terrorism,” and the ensuing war in Tripoli between competing factions, from which emerged three, then two, authorities, claiming legitimacy. 

The situation has worsened since Hiftar’s April 4 war  on Tripoli. The LNA, an armed group controlling eastern Libya and parts of the south and allied with the Interim Government, is trying to wrest control of western Libya from the competing, internationally recognized Government of National Accord. Over 100 civilians have been killed, thousands more displaced, and civilian infrastructure has been damaged. 

Despite the magnitude of the human rights crimes in Libya, attempts to hold wrongdoers to account, in domestic and international courts, and through sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council, have failed to break the cycle of impunity. 

Few cases have been heard by civil and military courts in Libya. The post-Gaddafi interim government, strongly supported by the UN and western governments, did not prioritize a functioning justice system. So thousands of people in east and west of the country remained in long-term abusive arbitrary detention without a hearing. Domestic courts, affected by political divisions and armed conflict, are barely functional, with procedures hampered by grave due process violations, including forced confessions, ill treatment, and lack of access to lawyers. In some areas, including the south, the criminal justice system has collapsed. Lawyers, judges and prosecutors are also prime targets of militias.

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has a mandate to investigate war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Libya yet the prosecutor has issued only one arrest warrant since 2011: against Mahmoud el-Werfalli, a commander linked to the LNA, for extrajudicial executions. 

The UN sanctions have been underused: only eight people have been listed for individual targeted sanctions since the 2011 revolution, including two militia commanders and six people involved in trafficking. Attempts to list abusive warlords and officials have failed because powerful backers within the Security Council have blocked such designations. The UN Human Rights Council shut down its Commission of Inquiry on Libya in  2012 leaving inadequate public reporting on crimes committed by all sides in Libya.

Nor has Libya seen justice for crimes committed under Gaddafi’s rule. Although media reports that a Tripoli criminal court is investigating the June 1996 Abu Salim prison massacre in which 1,200 prisoners were killed, no one has yet been held responsible. Many who opposed Gaddafi remain missing, including prominent opposition members Jaballa Hamed Matar and Izzat al-Megaryef, who were arrested by Egyptian security forces in Cairo in 1990 and sent to Abu Salim. Lebanese Shia cleric Imam Musa al-Sadr disappeared in Libya in 1978; his fate remains unknown. 

It will take strong political will to expose those behind the most serious violations and bring justice. The narrative that peace in Libya will come only through political and economic settlements and holding abusive warlords and officials to account is counterproductive, is ill conceived. Real peace depends on first seeing justice done. Libya urgently needs a robust investigative mechanism to establish responsibility for violations and to document and preserve evidence of these crimes – for example, an independent UN International Commission of Inquiry.  

Peace and justice depend on each other. Ali was tired but he wanted me to document every detail that he could remember of his ordeal, and to see every scar. It mattered a lot that he could tell his story and know that someone would preserve it. Then maybe one day, those who tormented him would be arrested and sent to jail. 

[1] HRW interview with Ali (name changed), October 2017, Tripoli, Libya.

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

We welcome the continued spotlight from the work of the United Nations Human Rights Council Group of Eminent Experts on the armed conflict in Yemen and thank them for their compelling report. The Experts have documented in detail the terrible toll the conflict has taken on the country’s civilians. We have just heard horrifying accounts of laws-of-war violations and human rights abuses committed with complete impunity by various parties to the conflict. 

Human Rights Watch research corroborates the severity and scope of these abuses. Since the conflict escalated in March 2015, the warring parties have committed numerous laws-of-war violations, worsened the country’s humanitarian situation, and failed to hold those responsible for war crimes to account. The United States, United Kingdom, France, and other weapons suppliers have risked complicity in abuses through arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other coalition governments.

Fighting in Yemen has killed and wounded thousands of civilians. Millions suffer from shortages of food and medical care, yet the warring parties continue impeding aid. Across the country, civilians suffer from a lack of basic services, a spiraling economic crisis, and broken governance, health, education, and judicial systems. Furthermore, the Experts have expressed deep concern that parties to the conflict may have also used starvation as a method of warfare.

The Saudi-led coalition has conducted scores of indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes, killing thousands of civilians and hitting critical infrastructure and other civilian structures in violation of the laws of war. Houthi forces have recruited children, used landmines and fired artillery and rockets indiscriminately into cities such as Taizz and Aden, and into Saudi Arabia. Houthi forces, government-affiliated forces, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and UAE-backed Yemeni forces have arbitrarily detained or forcibly disappeared scores of people. Houthi forces have held people as hostages. Yemeni government officials in Aden have been responsible for the beating, raping, and torturing of detained migrants and asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa, including women and children.

Despite mounting evidence of violations of international law by the warring parties, efforts toward justice have been woefully inadequate. The coalition’s investigations into alleged war crimes in Yemen have lacked credibility and failed to provide redress to victims. Human Rights Watch has also not identified concrete measures the Houthis have taken to investigate their alleged abuses or held anyone to account.

The current state of impunity reinforces the need for the Human Rights Council to ensure that abuses against Yemeni civilians get continued and robust international scrutiny and that steps are taken to lay the foundation for concrete accountability. To this end, the Council should renew and strengthen the Experts’ mandate, and provide them increased resources to preserve evidence, identify perpetrators, and analyze command structures. The Experts should also be invited to publicly report to the Council on a regular basis.

It is imperative that this important work continue. By shining a light on violations by all parties, the Council can help deter further abuses and send a message that perpetrators will face justice. Victims deserve to know that the international community stands with them

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Rahama Khatun holds up photos of her husband who was massacred in Myanmar’s Inn Din village on September 2, 2017, in Cox’s Bazar refugee camp, Bangladesh, August 14, 2019.

© 2019 Human Rights Watch

Rahama Khatun’s husband, Shaker Ahmed, has been dead for two years. He was massacred alongside nine other ethnic Rohingya men in the village of Inn Din, in northern Rakhine State, by Myanmar security officers and local Buddhist villagers.

Soldiers arrived in their town on August 27, 2017, in the midst of the military’s brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing that would ultimately send 740,000 Rohingya fleeing across the border. They burned homes and emptied the village. Rohingya fled, seeking refuge nearby before attempting the trek to Bangladesh. On September 1, Rahama’s husband was picked up with the nine others; they were shot and hacked to death the next day.

“My husband was killed. He’s not here beside me anymore,” Rahama said, sitting among three of her children in the refugee settlement in Bangladesh where she has been living for two years. “He is the person with whom I spent my whole life, the father of my children. After losing him, I’m feeling very bad. I feel empty.”

She fled Inn Din with their eight children, ages 1 to 18. Seven months pregnant, she scrambled through the muddy jungle and flooded creeks for days. Her sons carried her when she could no longer walk. “If I also die, what will happen to my kids,” she said.

In November 2017, in the sprawling, overcrowded Kutupalong camp, she gave birth to her ninth child, a boy, Sadikur Rahman. “My youngest son was suffering from fever and his older brother, who is also a child, was comforting him saying: ‘You are suffering from fever. Nothing will happen. Baba [dad] will come soon and you will be cured,’” Rahama said. “This little child doesn’t know when his father will come.”

The nearly one million Rohingya Muslims in Bangladesh are trapped in anguished limbo, living in teeming camps in a foreign country, unable to return home at the risk of detention or death. “Living as refugees in another’s country, no one cares about us,” Rahama said. “If we go back to our country, they will kill us again.”

In late August, the Myanmar and Bangladesh governments attempted to start sending Rohingya families back. But refugees say they are unwilling to return without guarantees of safety, citizenship, and freedom. Myanmar has not eased the oppressive and brutal conditions the Rohingya fled.

“We don’t want to go back to Myanmar where so many of our loved ones did not even get a funeral, and ended up in mass graves after they were killed,” a Rohingya man said. Inside Myanmar, camps surrounded by barbed wire and military outposts awaited them. They sit empty. No Rohingya from Myanmar’s approved list of 3,450 chose to return. “If we will get our rights,” said another, “we are ready to live there under the open sky.”

Seven soldiers who were convicted for their role in the Inn Din massacre were pardoned by Myanmar’s commander-in-chief, Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, after serving just seven months of their 10-year prison sentences. Their short-lived terms remain the government’s sole admission of military wrongdoing. The case was just the most egregious demonstration of the government’s unwillingness to punish crimes by its security forces. And yet, at the same time, two Reuters journalists who exposed the massacre spent 17 months in prison for doing so.

Two years on, Rahama and the other Rohingya survivors are still awaiting justice. “We complained to the world and also to our Almighty and still no one is able to bring those people who did this to justice,” she said. “Maybe there is no chance.”

“I want justice for them killing my innocent husband.” Rahama took out a laminated sheet of two photos that Reuters collected from a villager in Inn Din—one of her husband and the other nine men kneeling in a row surrounded by paramilitary officers, their hands strung together behind their backs. Below it, a photo taken shortly after, their bodies lying bloodied in a shallow pit. They are the only photos she has of her husband; everything else was burned.

“I want to see the place where my husband was killed, where his blood fell into that soil,” she said. “That’s his graveyard. If some time I’m able to go back to my country, I want to go to that place to offer some prayers.”

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

Rohingya refugees gather behind a barbed-wire fence in the “no-man’s land” border zone between Myanmar and Bangladesh, April 25, 2018.

© 2018 Ye Aung Thu/AFP/Getty Images

(Bangkok) – The Myanmar government should stop obstructing international efforts to investigate widespread crimes committed against Rohingya Muslims, Human Rights Watch said today. Donors and concerned governments should press Myanmar to protect their basic rights, facilitate international justice for victims, and ensure that any returns of Rohingya refugees are voluntary, safe, and dignified.

August 25, 2019, marks two years since the Myanmar military began a campaign of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity that drove 740,000 Rohingya to neighboring Bangladesh. A United Nations-backed Fact-Finding Mission found sufficient information to warrant the investigation and prosecution of senior military officials for grave crimes, including genocide, in Rakhine State.

“Two years since the Myanmar military carried out ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya population, the government still denies its troops committed any atrocities,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “The bulldozing of Rohingya homes to destroy evidence after the ethnic cleansing is emblematic of the government’s campaign to whitewash its crimes.”

The Myanmar government has not acted to improve conditions or address the causes underlying the human rights crisis facing Rohingya in Rakhine State.

An estimated 500,000 Rohingya remain in appalling conditions in Rakhine State. Security forces have confined them to camps and villages and severely restricted their freedom of movement. The government has denied them fundamental freedoms and deprived them of access to sustainable livelihoods and basic humanitarian services including adequate food, medical care, and education.

The government restricts access to Rakhine State by news media and aid workers and since June 21 has imposed an internet blackout across nine townships, including one in Chin State. The disruption of internet services has increased difficulties for humanitarian agencies and human rights groups to assist vulnerable people in the face of increased fighting in the area. The government should not use broad, indiscriminate shutdowns to curtail the flow of information, or to harm civilians’ ability to assemble freely and express political views.

The government should immediately amend its discriminatory 1982 Citizenship Law to provide Rohingya equal access to Myanmar citizenship. The government should also take necessary steps to ensure the security of the Rohingya population from abusive security forces and other groups.

In July 2018, in the face of mounting criticism from the UN and various governments for the lack of accountability for grave crimes, Myanmar authorities established the Independent Commission of Enquiry to investigate alleged human rights violations during the Rohingya crisis. In March 2019, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that following discussions with the Myanmar commission’s chair, the High Commissioner was “seriously concerned about the impartiality of the mechanism and whether it can implement its mandate independently.”

“The composition, mandate, and statements of the Independent Commission of Enquiry reveal that it is following the same failed path of past commissions,” Robertson said. “The Myanmar government has demonstrated its inability and unwillingness to investigate and prosecute grave crimes committed by its security forces.”

In September 2018, the UN Human Rights Council created the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar to collect and preserve evidence of crimes for possible use in future criminal proceedings. The Myanmar government should cooperate with this body and with other UN bodies, including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar.

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, is seeking an investigation into the crime against humanity of deportation, since Rohingya were deported to Bangladesh, a party to the ICC. However, even if the judges grant her request, an ICC investigation would not cover most of the crimes committed in Myanmar. The UN Security Council should refer the situation in Myanmar to the ICC so that all ICC crimes can be considered.

The Security Council and other governments should also impose or expand targeted sanctions on Myanmar military leaders and key military-owned enterprises. Sanctions should include travel bans, asset seizures, and restrictions on access to financial institutions, as well as a comprehensive military embargo.

The Myanmar government recently verified that 3,450 people are eligible to return to Myanmar out of an overall list of 22,000 refugees submitted by Bangladesh authorities. The Bangladesh government asked the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, to consult individually with these refugees and determine who among them may wish to return at this time.

Many of the refugees with whom Human Rights Watch spoke said they feared returning under the current conditions. They said they did not feel safe going back to a country where they faced systematic persecution and violence. “On the way to Maungdaw, the law enforcers will stop and harass you, demand bribes, or end up finally torturing you,” one refugee said. “All of this they can just do because we are Rohingyas who don’t have any freedom of travel to anywhere. All this has to end if they want us to repatriate, so that we can live there as citizens and without discrimination.”

Returnees will be required to sign up to a digitized National Verification Card (NVC) process that effectively identifies them as a foreigner and could subsequently deny them Myanmar citizenship rights. They said that without recognized citizenship before they return, they felt they would be subject to further persecution in Myanmar. “If we will take NVC cards, then the Myanmar authorities will never recognize us as Rohingya,” one man from camp 24 said. “Because taking NVC means you are acknowledging yourself as a foreigner.”

Human Rights Watch and other human rights and humanitarian groups have determined that conditions for voluntary, safe, and dignified return of Rohingya refugees to Rakhine State do not currently exist. The Myanmar government has restricted UNHCR from reaching or monitoring areas where the Rohingya would return, and so the UN agency has not publicly stated that conditions are suitable for their return. In an August 22 statement, UNHCR said that they visited families in shelters to establish whether they wished to return to Myanmar, but none had accepted: “So far, none of those interviewed have indicated a willingness to repatriate at this time.”

Before any refugee returns, the Myanmar government should significantly improve conditions and address the root causes of the crisis, including systematic persecution and violence, statelessness, and military impunity for grave violations.

“Myanmar’s rampant atrocities and the failure over two years to address them has been made even worse by the Security Council’s apathy,” Robertson said. “For Rohingya languishing in camps in Bangladesh and Myanmar, concerted international action to provide them with justice could not come a moment too soon.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Marzuki Darusman and Christopher Sidoti, chair and member of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, speak at a press conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, August 5, 2019.

© 2019 AP Photo

The United Nations-mandated Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar released a new report earlier today detailing the Myanmar military’s longstanding but opaque web of control over the country’s economy. The mission urged the international community to take immediate steps to financially isolate the military.

The 111-page report arrives a year after the Fact-Finding Mission’s extensive documentation of the security forces’ atrocity crimes, which called for top generals to be investigated and prosecuted for crimes against humanity and genocide. Yet Myanmar’s security forces continue to commit violations against Rohingya, Kachin, Rakhine, and other ethnic minorities, while the government has shown no willingness to hold perpetrators to account.

The report reveals the structure and network of the main military conglomerates – Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) – which together own at least 120 businesses spanning Myanmar’s industries. Led by current and former high-ranking military officials, including Commander-in-Chief Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the two groups generate vast revenues without effective oversight or regulation, in turn affording the military unrestricted profits and influence to perpetuate an unending cycle of abuse and impunity.

Not only have military commanders evaded justice for their widespread crimes, but they have done so while sabotaging the country’s economic and democratic growth. The military’s power in these spheres needs to be minimized if Myanmar ever hopes to achieve genuine democratic governance, including bringing the armed forces under civilian control.

The report names 14 foreign firms that have supplied the Myanmar military with arms since 2016, and calls on the UN Security Council to order a comprehensive arms embargo.

The European Union, United States, Canada, and Australia have imposed sanctions on key Myanmar military officials, but greater action is needed to create pressure with real costs. The Fact-Finding Mission’s report offers new evidence that the Security Council and concerned governments should use to launch a campaign of coordinated targeted sanctions on enterprises linked to the Myanmar military, starting with MEHL and MEC, a long-time call from Human Rights Watch. Stemming the flow of investment and profits to these companies, and by extension the abusive commanders they support, is crucial for undercutting the military’s rights violations and promoting justice for the victims of decades of military abuse.

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

A sreenshot of TRRC lead counsel Essa Faal questioning Staff Sgt. Amadou Badjie at Gambia Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission, July 25, 2019 

© QTV

It’s been a dramatic week for Gambia.

As Gambians stayed glued to their radios and TVs, three admitted henchmen of former Gambian president Yahya Jammeh implicated him before the country’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) in a series of political killings.

Under the sharp questioning of TRRC lead counsel Essa Faal, Lt. Malick Jatta, Sgt. Omar Jallow, and Staff Sgt. Amadou Badjie – former members of the “Junglers,” Jammeh’s elite hit-squad – named their ex-boss in a series of crimes that they claimed to have carried out, including:

  • The 2004 murder of newspaper editor Dayda Hydara. Jatta told the TRRC that the Junglers’ leader Tumbul Tamba gave each 50,000 GMD (US$1,250 at the time) as a token of appreciation from Jammeh after the killing.
  • The gruesome 2013 murder of Alhajie Ceesay and Ebou Jobe, two Gambian-American businessmen. Jallow and Badjie said that Jammeh ordered that “they be chopped into pieces.”
  • The 2005 killing of 56 African migrants, including 44 Ghanaians. Jallow testified that Lt. Col. Solo Bojang, the operation’s leader, told the men that “the order from Jammeh is that they are all to be executed.” The testimonies of Jatta and Jallow corroborate a May 2018 report by Human Rights Watch and TRIAL, and flatly contradict a still unpublished United Nations-ECOWAS report, which found that Jammeh’s government was not “directly or indirectly complicit” in the massacre.

The witnesses also said that they participated in the strangling death of Haruna Jammeh, Jammeh’s cousin, as well as the torture of the outspoken cleric Imam Baba Leigh and the 2012 execution of nine prison inmates, among other actions.

These revelations come a month after Human Rights Watch and TRIAL International reported that three Gambian woman, including former pageant queen Fatou (“Toufah”) Jallow, accused Jammeh of sexually assaulting them. Ms. Jallow will testify before the TRRC later this year.

It was painful for the victims’ family members, with whom I work , to listen to the testimony of the killers of their loved ones, but they recognized that these revelations are a huge step toward justice and the day that they might sit across a courtroom from Yahya Jammeh, who now lives in Equatorial Guinea.

As Deyda Hydara’s son Baba Hydara told me: “It wasn’t easy to go through it, but this shows that we are on the right path and that justice is coming.”

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