A grave in Kosovo: “Unidentified.”


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.


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

Rohingya refugees gather in an open field at Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhia, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh to commemorate the two-year anniversary of the Myanmar military’s ethnic cleansing campaign in Rakhine State on August 25, 2019. 

© 2019 K M Asad/LightRocket via Getty Images

(The Hague) – The Gambia’s case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for violating the Genocide Convention, filed on November 11, 2019, will bring the first judicial scrutiny of Myanmar’s campaign of murder, rape, arson, and other atrocities against Rohingya Muslims, 10 nongovernmental organizations said.

States that are party to the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide agreed that genocide “whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish” and, by extension, have an obligation not to commit it. The convention permits member states to bring a dispute before the ICJ alleging another state’s breach of the convention, and states can seek provisional measures to stop continuing violations. Myanmar became a party to the Genocide Convention in 1956.

“The Gambia’s legal action triggers a judicial process before the world’s highest court that could determine that Myanmar’s atrocities against the Rohingya violate the Genocide Convention,” said Param-Preet Singh, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch.  “The court’s prompt adoption of provisional measures could help stop the worst ongoing abuses against the Rohingya in Myanmar.”

The nongovernmental organizations supporting the initiative are No Peace Without Justice, the Association pour la Lutte Contre l’Impunité et pour la Justice Transitionnelle, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, the Global Justice Center, Human Rights Watch, the International Bar Association Human Rights Institute, Parliamentarians for Global Action, and the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice.

In its first Genocide Convention case, the ICJ imposed provisional measures against Serbia in 1993 and eventually found that Serbia had violated its duty to prevent and punish genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Canada, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Turkey, and France have asserted that Myanmar committed genocide against the Rohingya. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has encouraged its 57 members to bring Myanmar before the court. Malaysia’s prime minister has also alleged that Myanmar committed genocide against the Rohingya and called for efforts to bring Myanmar before the court.

“As a country recently emerging from decades of brutal dictatorship, The Gambia’s leadership on the Rohingya genocide is especially striking and welcome,” said Alison Smith, international justice director at No Peace Without Justice. “Other members of the Genocide Convention should follow The Gambia’s lead and lend their clear and unwavering support.”

In September 2019, the United Nations-backed Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar concluded that “Myanmar is failing in its obligation to prevent genocide, to investigate genocide and to enact effective legislation criminalizing and punishing genocide.” The fact-finding mission highlighted “the enormity and nature of the sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls” during Myanmar’s military campaign as one of seven indicators of the state’s intent to destroy the Rohingya people.

“The Gambia’s proceedings before the ICJ offer countless survivors of sexual violence and other victims some hope that Myanmar could legally be held to account for its ruthless campaign against the Rohingya,” said Melinda Reed, executive director at Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice.

Legal actions addressing individual criminal responsibility are also underway at the international level. The fact-finding mission has called for the investigation and prosecution of Myanmar’s military leaders for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Rakhine State in Myanmar, the state where most Rohingya lived.

The UN Human Rights Council has established an Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, which is mandated to collect evidence of the most serious international crimes and prepare files for criminal prosecution. The International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has sought to open an investigation for the crime against humanity of deportation and possibly other offenses, but a broader investigation would need a referral by the UN Security Council.

The Myanmar government has failed to prosecute or punish perpetrators of human rights abuses. The current domestic commission of enquiry established by the government follows eight failed commissions and lacks credibility, and its chair has stated that it will not hold those responsible for abuses to account

“The Gambia’s case before the ICJ could pressure Myanmar to reverse its course of violence and live up to its obligation under the Genocide Convention to punish those responsible,” said Andrea Giorgetta, Asia director at the International Federation for Human Rights.

On November 11, the 10 organizations convened a meeting in The Hague with Abubacarr Tambadou, The Gambia’s attorney general and justice minister, and members of his legal team; several representatives of the Rohingya community; and others who have supported this initiative. The meeting provided an update on the initiative, addressed the implications of state responsibility under the Genocide Convention for deterring further crimes and providing redress the victims, and discussed the role that civil society groups and other stakeholders could play in such an inter-state dispute.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

How long had you been investigating Ntaganda’s abuses?

I started documenting his abuses when I first moved to Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in 2008. Bosco Ntaganda was a member of the Rwandan-backed CNDP (Congrès national pour la défense du peuple – National Congress for the Defense of the People) rebel group, which committed countless atrocities against civilians. In late 2008, in the town of Kiwanja, north of Goma, Ntaganda orchestrated an attack where 150 people were killed over two days. For the next five years, I spent a lot of time covering his abuses, speaking to survivors who told harrowing tales of attacks they had survived. As part of a deal that was negotiated with the Congolese and Rwandan governments, Ntaganda was integrated into the Congolese army and became a general, commanding military operations in eastern Congo.

Later, after he created the M23, another notorious rebel group backed by Rwanda, he led attacks on many villages, summarily executing hundreds of people, and was accused of rape, torture, and forced recruitment of children to serve as soldiers in the group. We found that the M23 received support from Rwanda and we presented these findings to Rwanda’s donors. Some donors then suspended their assistance to Rwanda. This pressure was instrumental in Ntaganda’s surrender to the United States embassy in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, in 2013.

When Ntaganda rose in power, did you ever feel justice would never be served?

It was particularly tough when he became a general in the army. Many believed he was untouchable. It seemed he had no fear of being arrested – even with the International Criminal Court warrant out against him. When he lived in Goma, he lived quite close to me and I would see him drive by and around the town, going about his business and even playing tennis. At that time his troops still targeted rival groups, human rights defenders, and others who spoke out against him. They assassinated and abducted people with impunity.

Still, we and courageous Congolese human rights activists kept insisting that he be held to account. Diplomats and United Nations officials would wave us away, saying that he could not be arrested, or that he was too protected by his Rwandan backers and Congolese friends. But we did not stop.

When his own rebel group split, and his backers in Rwanda apparently decided to stop supporting him, Ntaganda knew his life was in danger – he had many enemies. He surrendered himself to the US embassy in Rwanda and asked to be transferred to the ICC.

Finally, he was brought to The Hague. It was inspiring for me to see Anneke van Woudenberg, former deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch who had documented his earlier abuses in northeastern Congo’s Ituri province, testifying against him during the trial. She gave a detailed account based on the work we had done over many years, and all this documentation had finally led to something.

What does this conviction mean for the Democratic Republic of Congo?

It sends a powerful message that those who commit serious crimes against the people, no matter their positions, can be held to account. I hope it will play a role in deterring others who are still committing abuses against civilians in Congo and elsewhere. This might make security forces think twice before commanding forces to violate people’s rights, even during conflict.

Since his conviction, I’ve spoken to victims of Ntaganda’s crimes. Many of them have been forced into exile since they were threatened with more suffering if they dared to speak up. Although his conviction does not erase their pain, they are encouraged that he is being held to account.

The conviction comes as some 130 armed groups remain active in eastern Congo, and many continue to commit serious crimes. Abusive leaders can see what has come of Ntaganda and learn that they are not above the law.

His conviction however only covers his crimes in Ituri province in 2002 and 2003. Activists in Congo seek justice for all his crimes, including the numerous attacks he led in the provinces of North and South Kivu.


Video: Verdict on Former Congolese Warlord

The International Criminal Court’s (ICC) conviction of the Congolese rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda sends a strong message that justice may await those responsible for grave crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Now that Ntaganda has been convicted and sentenced, what happens next?

Ntaganda’s conviction is historic. He is the first person convicted at the ICC for sexual slavery, as well as the first person convicted at the ICC for crimes of sexual violence committed against his own troops. This sends an important message.

Both Ntaganda and the prosecutor have appealed the verdict. Now he can appeal the sentence if he believes it too harsh for the crimes for which he was found guilty. Appeals proceedings will likely last several months.

The court is also discussing reparations for Ntaganda’s victims. This could include restitution and compensation to victims and their families, and rehabilitation. At this stage, the court is taking steps to facilitate and expedite the reparations proceedings. However, a reparation order can only be carried out once a conviction has been confirmed on appeal.

We hope Ntaganda’s conviction will carry a message to other warlords and serious human rights abusers that they understand they are not above the law, and even years after their crimes, they can be held to account.

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

Relief services search for survivors after an airstrike on a private residence by an armed group known as the Libyan National Army killed three children on October 14, 2019 in Tripoli, Libya.


© 2019 Tripoli Ambulance and Emergency Services

(Beirut) – An airstrike by the Libyan National Army (LNA), on a home in a residential area of Tripoli on October 14, 2019 that killed three girls and wounded their mother and another sister, is an apparent violation of the laws of war, Human Rights Watch said today. This attack on civilians is one of many that require an impartial and independent investigation to attribute responsibility and hold those responsible to account.

Under the command of General Khalifa Hiftar, the armed group LNA and affiliated forces have conducted a series of air strikes that resulted in civilian casualties. They began a military campaign in April to conquer the capital, Tripoli, from forces affiliated with the Tripoli-based and internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA).

“General Hiftar and his forces have repeatedly shown their disregard for civilians’ lives with disproportionate or indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian structures,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “There is a dire need for an independent UN investigation to attribute responsibility for these airstrikes and ensure justice for war crimes and compensation for the victims’ families.”

In the October 14 airstrike, the LNA destroyed a home in the al-Fernaj residential neighborhood of Tripoli, and killed three sisters, ages 4, 5, and 7 and injured another sister, age 3, and the girls’ mother, said a statement by the GNA-aligned Tripoli military operations coalition Volcano of Rage, which is fighting the LNA The statement identified the casualties by name. An LNA spokesman, Ahmed al-Mismari, said that the airstrike targeted a “terrorist operations room” and denied targeting civilians. 

Destroyed private residence after an airstrike on a private residence by an armed group known as the Libyan National Army killed three children on October 14, 2019 in Tripoli, Libya.


© 2019 Tripoli Ambulance and Emergency Services

The LNA that is supported by the Interim Government in eastern Libya has consistently denied causing civilian deaths despite mounting evidence of their responsibility.

The UN has said that fighting between the two groups in and around Tripoli has, since April, killed at least 100 civilians and displaced 120,000.

The GNA in a statement blamed the LNA for the attack, as did the United Nations Mission in Libya, while the United States embassy attributed it to the “forces laying siege” to Tripoli.

Human Rights Watch spoke by phone with Husam Alter, a Tripoli resident who witnessed the airstrike and who was among the first responders to the incident, and with Osama Ali, the spokesman for the Tripoli Ambulance and Emergency services. Alter, who was on private business in the area, said he noticed at around noon a fighter jet circling for several minutes above the area, then dropping a bomb on a private house in a busy residential area. He said he ran toward the home and saw a large plume of smoke rising.

“As I arrived at the house, which consisted of two floors and a small annex, I saw that it had been completely destroyed,” he said. People had just started to clamber onto the debris to check for survivors. The father was outside with one of the girls, who was covered in gray dust, but he left quickly to take her to hospital. One of the neighbors said there were three more children in the house and other people and I started to remove the stones and debris with our hands until the ambulance and security services arrived.”

He said he left when relief services with a digger to came to search for the survivors as he could no longer see because of dust in his eyes.

Ali said that the Ambulance and Emergency Services recovered the bodies of the three sisters from the debris. He said that the family had been renting the house temporarily after being displaced from their own home in the Khila area in the southern suburbs of Tripoli due to the ongoing fighting.

Both men said that a fighter jet struck the house. Photographs and videos of the scene that Human Rights Watch reviewed showed damage consistent with an air-delivered munition.

The targeted house was about 20 meters from a compound belonging to Military Intelligence, Alter and Ali said. Some local sources said the compound, which seemed not to have been damaged, was not in use.

Mustafa al-Majae, spokesperson for the Tripoli military operations command, told Human Rights Watch that the compound adjacent to the house that was struck had been an administrative building for the military command, which owns it. He said that the compound was currently not in use and had no role in the military counteroffensive against the LNA. The LNA has produced no evidence showing that it was a military target justifying it being targeted despite being in a civilian neighborhood.

Both Alter and Ali said they did not see any military equipment in or around the house that was struck. Photos and videos of the attack reviewed by Human Rights Watch appear consistent with these statements.

Under the laws of war, civilians and civilian objects may never be the object of attacks. Warring parties are required to take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians and civilian objects and to refrain from attacks that would disproportionately harm the civilian population or fail to discriminate between combatants and civilians.

The laws of war also prohibit disproportionate attacks, attacks that cause loss of civilian life or damage to civilian objects that would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated from the attack.

While Human Rights Watch could not confirm the status of the compound next to the targeted house, the GNA is obligated as a matter of principle to ensure that no civilians are adjacent to operational military facilities, given the heightened risk of their being in the line of fire.

Since April 4, Human Rights Watch has documented other LNA strikes that resulted in killing or injuring civilians and destroying homes and civilian structures with apparently no measures taken against those responsible and no compensation or payments to civilians. These attacks included a strike against a migrant detention center in Tajoura in July that killed 46 civilians

On October 6, the LNA attacked the Janzour Equestrian Club in the Janzour area of Tripoli, injuring six children and killing several horses. UN staff conducted an assessment to identify the targeted site and the nature of the attack and, blaming the LNA, found that “a fighter jet had dropped four unguided bombs on the Equestrian Club, a civilian facility, and that neither military assets nor military infrastructure were observed at the targeted site.”

Fighters affiliated with the LNA have a well-documented record of summarily executing civilians and fighters; forcibly displacing, torturing, and disappearing people; and carrying out indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks that have harmed civilians. Armed groups affiliated with the GNA also have a record of abuses including summary killings of captured fighters, arbitrary detention, forced displacement, torture, and disappearances.

Due to the partial collapse of the domestic criminal justice system, Libyan authorities have failed to investigate or prosecute those responsible for grave abuses. The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has a mandate to investigate war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Libya, since 2011. The court has recently issued two arrest warrants for Mahmoud el-Werfalli, a commander linked to the LNA, for the war crime of murder related to incidents between June 2016 and January 2018.

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi also continued to be subject to an ICC arrest warrant for his alleged role in attacks on civilians during the country’s 2011 uprising. The ICC also issued an arrest warrant for Al-Tuhamy Mohamed Khaled, a former official in the Gaddafi government, for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Libya between February and August 2011. Their whereabouts remain unknown.

The United Nations has imposed a sanctions regime and arms embargo on Libya but has not effectively used them to punish those who commit gross human rights violations.

Given the current state of impunity in Libya, there is a dire need for an international inquiry, such as by an independent commission of inquiry or similar entity, with a mandate to impartially document abuses, identify those responsible for violations, and publicly report on the human rights situation in Libya, Human Rights Watch said. An upcoming opportunity to establish such an investigation will be during the March 2020 session of the UN Human Rights Council. Ghassan Salameh, the UN special representative to Libya; the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights; and several European governments have already endorsed such a move.

“There needs to be a much stronger focus on justice and accountability in Libya to deter further crimes,” Goldstein said. “As the attacks continue, civilians – and in this case small children – pay with their lives.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am


  1. Widespread and systematic violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law characterized Liberia’s two brutal armed conflicts that occurred between 1989 and 2003. Although the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommended prosecution of individuals accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law, Liberia has taken few steps toward holding anyone to account before a court of law. In a move welcomed by stakeholders to this report, President George Weah in September 2019 sent a letter to the legislature in which he appeared to back the establishment of a war crimes court. A resolution was introduced in July 2019 to the National Legislature to support establishment of a war crimes court and to call on President Weah to request assistance from the United Nations and Liberia’s other international partners to foster its creation, which is now pending with significant support. These are important steps, but they will need to be followed up with concrete creation of a court to prosecute grave crimes in accordance with international standards and practice, ensuring that victims have access to a remedy for violations. As growing numbers of Liberian citizens demand justice, impunity for conflict-era crimes should end.

                                             II.  BACKGROUND AND FRAMEWORK

  1. 2015 Universal Periodic Review of Liberia
  1. Impunity for past human rights violations

Status of Implementation: Accepted, Not Implemented

2.   During the 2015 Universal Periodic Review (UPR), Liberia accepted two recommendations that explicitly address implementation of the TRC recommendations and establishing an accountability mechanism for past human rights violations.[1]  The Liberian government also accepted several recommendations regarding increasing the capacity of the Independent National Commission on Human Rights[2], which was given responsibility for implementing the TRC recommendations, investigating human rights violations, and increasing protections for human rights.

3.   Most of the recommendations made by the TRC have yet to be implemented by the Liberian Government.[3] The State has also taken few steps toward holding to account before courts of law those responsible for atrocities committed during conflict, nor has it implemented legislation necessary to provide victims of these abuses with an effective remedy.

  1. Compliance with international human rights standards 

Status of Implementation: Accepted, Partially Implemented

4.   The Liberian Government accepted and made meaningful progress on implementing numerous UPR recommendations to ratify and report to international human rights treaties, issue standing invitations to all special procedures,[4] and to bring its Constitution and domestic legislation into compliance with international human rights standards[5] and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.[6]

  1. Liberia ratified both the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,[7] offered a standing invitation to special procedures in September of 2015,[8] and has maintained a moratorium on the Death Penalty since 2000.[9]  The State has not, however, fulfilled its international obligations to prosecute war crimes and serious violations of human rights or to implement the right to a remedy for victims.
  2. Further, reprisals against human rights defenders, journalists, and lawyers remain serious problems, especially with respect to actors who speak out against impunity for human rights violations committed during the civil war. There is currently no specific legislation to protect them from prosecution or arbitrary action by State actors such as the police.[10]
  3. Widespread and systematic violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law characterized Liberia’s brutal armed conflicts from 1989-2003, a period of armed conflict within the TRC’s mandate. These abuses included summary executions; large-scale massacres; rape and other forms of sexual violence; mutilation and torture; and forced conscription and use of child combatants.


Liberia has not fulfilled its international obligation to hold accountable those who have committed war crimes and serious human rights violations

  1. The TRC report concluded that all warring factions were implicated in serious abuses. The TRC specifically recommended the establishment of the Extraordinary Criminal Court for Liberia, a hybrid international-national chamber to try individuals accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international law. 
  2. Although the Government of Liberia has taken some steps to implement the TRC recommendations through the Strategic Roadmap for National Healing, Peacebuilding, and Reconciliation launched in 2012, the focus of the Roadmap is “in particular on those recommendations that are most compatible with restorative justice,” as opposed to criminal accountability.[11]
  3. International law mandates prosecuting serious crimes that violate international law such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, and this duty to prosecute lies primarily with domestic authorities.[12] Moreover, Liberia has assumed obligations to prosecute serious crimes and implement the right to a remedy for victims of such crimes through ratification and accession to multiple international instruments.[13]
  4. In a move welcomed by stakeholders to this report, President George Weah in September 2019 sent a letter to the legislature in which he appeared to back the establishment of a war crimes court.[14] A resolution was introduced in July 2019 to the National Legislature to support establishment of a war crimes court and call on President Weah to request assistance from the United Nations and Liberia’s other international partners to foster its creation, which is now pending with significant support.[15] These are important steps, but they will need to be followed up with concrete creation of a court to prosecute grave crimes in accordance with international standards and practice, ensuring that victims have access to a remedy for violations.[16]
  5. The few cases seeking accountability for these civil wars-era crimes thus far have all occurred outside Liberia, primarily in Europe and the United States.[17] Liberia has, under President Weah, pledged to cooperate with these investigations and, in 2019, authorized for the first time a foreign government to investigate such a case in Liberia.[18]  Further, these cases have complemented accountability efforts by Liberian civil society within Liberia.  For example, The Global Justice and Research Project, a Liberia-based and staffed non-governmental organization, has documented war-related crimes in partnership with Geneva-based non- governmental organization Civitas Maxima for use in litigation.
  6. A coalition of 76 civil society organizations, the majority based in Liberia, submitted a report for Liberia’s review by the UN Human Rights Committee (Committee) in 2018.  The report highlighted the government's failure to prosecute crimes committed during the civil war or end impunity, as well as the need for perpetrators of past crimes to be held to account fairly before courts of law. In its Concluding Observations, the Committee noted with concern that “none of the alleged perpetrators of gross human rights violations and war crimes mentioned in the [Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s ] report have been brought to justice and that some of those individuals are or have been holding official executive positions, including in the Government.”[19]
  7. The Committee recommended as a matter of priority that Liberia “…establish a process of accountability for past gross human rights violations and war crimes that conforms to international standards….The State party should, in particular:
    1. Ensure that all alleged perpetrators of gross human rights violations and war crimes are impartially prosecuted and, if found guilty, convicted and punished in accordance with the gravity of the acts committed, regardless of their status or any domestic legislation on immunities, and remove any persons who are proven to have been involved in gross human rights violations and war crimes from official positions;
    2.  Take all necessary measures to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and consider establishing a well-resourced body, comprising government representatives, the National Independent Commission on Human Rights and civil society organizations, to monitor the implementation of those recommendations.”[20]
  8. Following the Committee’s recommendations, the Liberian government promised to immediately respond with their position on implementing the recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.[21] However, the Liberian delegation has yet to provide a response.

Calls for accountability from civil society and Liberian public

  1. On January 22, 2018, a coalition of 20 Liberian and international non-governmental organizations, wrote to President George Weah after he took office, calling on him to revisit the issue of justice for past crimes.[22] In recent months, Liberian citizens have increased their calls for justice for civil war era crimes. Fifteen years since the end of armed conflict in Liberia, the call for war crimes prosecutions continues to be a topic of debate in the national legislature and the public.[23] 
  2. Several prominent leaders have come forward to support renewed calls for justice for civil war-era crimes. These include Leymah Gbowee, who won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize along with former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who recently spoke in support of renewed calls for a war crimes court in Liberia, stating: “There is no way that we can overlook peoples’ quest for justice; it is a legitimate quest.”[24] In addition, the President of Liberian National Bar Association, Counsellor Tiawan Gongloe called on Liberian law makers to ensure accountability for war crimes over impunity.[25] 
  3. Religious groups have also expressed their support for justice for past human rights violations. Catholic Bishop Andrew Karnley issued a statement reiterating his support of the TRC recommendations for the establishment of a war crimes court to pave the way for reconciliation in Liberia, stating: “I strongly believe that those who bear the greatest responsibility for gross abuses of human rights in Liberia during the war should face trial.”[26] The Liberian Council of Churches also came forward and called on President Weah to fully implement the TRC recommendations, including those calling for accountability.[27]
  4. Remarks by UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed at the Liberian National Peace and Reconciliation conference on March 22, 2018 echoed calls from civil society to implement the TRC Recommendations: “It is also critical to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and for the legislature to pass key bills that will support local inclusion and reconciliation.  These would be timely measures that would assure Liberians that there is strong resolve to see a conclusion to this process.”[28]
  5. To quote one victim, Suzana Vaye, a widow who was profiled in the Liberian Observer: “The TRC is not enough; I want the war crimes court to be established here to hold perpetrators who inflicted pains on us accountable for what they did. We do not want recurrence of what happened in this country.”[29] According to Hassan Bility, executive director of the Monrovia-based Global Justice and Research Project: “Justice must be one of the cardinal points of the President’s new agenda. There must be justice for war crimes; otherwise there will be no lasting peace in Liberia.”[30]
  6. Between May 2018 and July 2019, civil society groups have led several protests calling for accountability. A coalition of civil society groups and individuals, for instance, marched in the streets of Monrovia on May 8 and May 22, 2018, calling for accountability and demanding the creation of a war crimes court. On November 12, 2018, Liberians advocating for the establishment of a war crimes court marched in the capital Monrovia.[31] Liberian civil society organizations also led mass protests in Monrovia in June and July of 2019.[32]
  7. Protestors have called for the prosecution of current government officials involved in civil war-era crimes. Many families of the victims of war-time atrocities attended the protests. Several attendees wore white t-shirts with the name of loved ones lost during the civil war written on them in black ink, in an attempt to draw attention to the imperative of establishing a tribunal.[33]
  8. A National Justice Conference on accountability, convened by Liberian civil society groups with support from international organizations, was held in Monrovia in November 2018.[34] The conference marked the first time since the TRC recommendations were issued that members of the government, UN, civil society, and diplomatic missions discussed steps forward in accountability for wartime atrocities.
  9. The Liberian Bar Association added its support for a war crimes court in April 2019;[35] the bar association also prepared a first draft of a bill to establish a court.[36] In July 2019, lawmakers attended a legislative conference on accountability organized by local and international groups.[37] The joint committee of Liberia’s House of Representatives then put forward a resolution backing the court, which was immediately endorsed by nine lawmakers, and has since been signed by 42 more.[38] The resolution calls for the full implementation of recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.[39] 
  10. The Traditional Chiefs Council backed a war crimes court in September 2019.[40] 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.
  11. The groups urged the legislature to move ahead with a law to establish the court and work with President Weah to request assistance from Liberia’s international and regional 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.
  12. 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.”[41] During his speech at the UN General Assembly on September 25, 2019, President Weah reported that he was beginning consultation with the Liberian legislature on the creation of a war crimes court and asked the international community for their "unflinching support as we embark upon this important national endeavor."[42] 
  13. At present, 51 lawmakers have signed on to the resolution supporting the implementation of the TRC recommendations, including recommendations on accountability for war crimes.[43]

Concerns regarding freedom of assembly and speech

  1. Many journalists, especially those who criticize the government or express political opinions have been harassed, detained, and fined.  It has been reported that, in April 2018, two days before the Press Union of Liberia addressed an open letter to the UN secretary-general voicing alarm at the “pace at which official intolerance for independent journalism and dissent is escalating in Liberia,” the entire staff of a Monrovia-based newspaper, Front Page Africa, were arrested and questioned by court officials in connection with a story about associates of the ruling party. Later that same month, Tyrone Brown, a TV and radio reporter was found dead and reportedly had been “thrown from a car after being stabbed twice” by police. As noted by several sources, his murder is emblematic of growing hostility towards journalists, despite assurances by President Weah to defend press freedom. Some international journalists have fled after questions were raised regarding the sincerity of Weah’s defense of human rights during Liberia’s civil war. [44]
  2. President Weah, at a joint press conference on March 22, 2018 with UN Deputy Secretary-General Amin Mohammed, evoked fears and memories of the 1985 brutal killing of journalist Charles Gbenyon when he openly described local journalist and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) stringer Jonathan Paye-Layleh as one person that has been against him even in his (Weah’s) advocacy over the years. [45]
  3. A serving parliamentarian and critic of the Liberian government, Hon. Koluba, who accused ex-militants of receiving money from Liberia’s Minister of State for Presidential Affairs Nathaniel McGill for the purpose of going after people who criticize President Weah, was threatened on April 17, 2019. In a video issued on April 16, 2019, at their National Headquarters on Benson Street, Monrovia, ex-generals threatened to deal with the parliamentarian if he continued criticizing the government: “The same thing we did for Madam Sirleaf for the past 12 years we can do the same thing for President Weah and whosoever that will come after President Weah, we will support that president,” said G. Benjamin Taylor, former chief of staff of the former MODEL rebels.[46]
  4. Members of the Liberian judiciary also face an increasing atmosphere of unease. Normal court activities at the Temple of Justice on April 18, 2019, came to a temporary halt when several ex-generals from three defunct rebel factions and the disbanded Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) stormed the courtyard in two jeeps, one of them, a white jeep bearing markings indicating it is assigned to the Ministry of State and the other, a black jeep without license plates. They disembarked the vehicles in such military style and fashion that was clearly meant as a show of force and which frightened people, mainly party litigants, and had them scurrying for safety. Later, court staff informed the frightened onlookers that the appearance of the ex-rebel generals at the Temple of Justice courtyard was a result of an invitation from Montserrado County Attorney Edward Kla Martin, who is an employee of the Ministry of Justice.[47]


  1. This stakeholder report suggests the following recommendations for the Government of Liberia:
  • Work with the legislature to ensure a war crimes court is established to hold perpetrators of grave crimes committed during Liberia’s armed conflicts to account consistent with international standards and practice.
  • Request assistance from the United Nations, and other international and regional partners as needed, to develop a credible war crimes court.
  • Ensure a war crimes court for Liberia includes key elements in order to achieve trials that would be fair, meaningful, and credible:
    • Composition of judicial benches that will have sufficient independence and expertise by including international judges;
    • No bars on prosecution on the basis of their cooperation with the TRC;
    • Inclusion of crimes and modes of liability in line with international standards;
    • Fair trial protections;
    • Witness protection and support;
    • Involvement of victims in proceedings; and
    • Outreach and communications that inform the victims and public.
  • Establish an independent committee comprised of government officials, a member of the Independent National Commission of Human Rights, and civil society actors from various sectors that is mandated to advise the government on justice and the rule of law. The committee would be chaired by a special presidential advisor and be mandated to establish a roadmap on the way forward for ensuring justice for war crimes and for strengthening the rule of law.
  • Request from international partners adequate support and funding for programs designed to improve Liberia’s judiciary and criminal justice system to ensure victims’ access to justice and the right of the accused to a fair trial.
  • Support efforts by third countries to bring universal jurisdiction cases for civil war-era crimes, including by continuing to fully cooperate with foreign authorities who request authorization to come to Liberia to investigate international crimes.
  • Guarantee protection for human rights defenders inside Liberia against attacks and intimidation, and ensure that those who intimidate or attack human rights defenders are brought to justice.
  • Ensure respect for freedoms of assembly and speech for members of civil society  engaging in peaceful demonstrations in favor of accountability and transparency, and for journalists endeavoring to fulfill their important mandate.

[1] Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Liberia Addendum 1, (September 25, 2015), U.N. Doc. A/HRC/30/4Add.1 100.150 Deepen the national dialogue to establish an accountability mechanism for human rights violations committed in the past (Argentina); 100.164 Continue the implementation of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to foster national harmony (Senegal)

[2] Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Liberia Addendum 1, (September 25, 2015), U.N. Doc. A/HRC/30/4Add.1 100.83 Strengthen the institutional capacity of the Independent National Commission on Human Rights established in 2011, the Ministry of Justice and the Judiciary (Costa Rica); 100.84 Provide the independent National Commission on Human Rights with adequate resources to assist in discharging its core mandate (Egypt); 100.85 Take the necessary measures to ensure that the independent National Human Rights Commission fully complies with the Paris Principles (France); 100.86 Boost the investigative capacity of the National Independent Human Rights Commission and ensure full participation by civil society in its work (Mexico); 100.87 Strengthen the capacity of the Independent National Commission on HumanRights, providing it with the necessary means to allow it to coordinate human rights monitoring, investigation, and field activities (Portugal); 100.88 Take necessary measures to develop internal governance procedures in order that the Independent National Commission on Human Rights could perform its mandated role, in particular by ensuring adequate funding for the commission (Republic of Korea);

[3] Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2017/18: The State of the World’s Human Rights: Liberia. (London, U.K.: Amnesty International Ltd., 2018), 239. Also available at https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/POL1067002018ENGLISH.PDF

[4] Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review : Liberia Addendum 1, (September 25, 2015), U.N. Doc. A/HRC/30/4Add.1100.107  Issue standing invitations to all special procedures (Ghana); 100.108  Extend a standing invitation to the special procedures, as accepted during the first cycle of the universal periodic review of Liberia, as previously recommended (Latvia); 100.109 Extend a standing invitation to the special procedures in order to improve its cooperation with the international community in the field of human rights (Turkey); 100.110 Step up its cooperation with the special procedures of the Human Rights Council by responding positively to the pending visit requests of the special procedures mandate holders without delay (Latvia); 100.111 Strengthen its cooperation with the special procedures mandate holders of the Human Rights Council (Tunisia)

[5] Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Liberia Addendum 1, (September 25, 2015), U.N. Doc. A/HRC/30/4Add.1100.43 Conclude the process of revision of its Constitution and national legislation so as to guarantee that they are compatible with regional and international human rights instruments to which the country is a State party (Mexico); 100.44 Ensure that the revision of the Constitution is firmly based on human rights and complies with international human rights standards (Czech Republic)

[6] Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review : Liberia Addendum 1, (September 25, 2015), U.N. Doc. A/HRC/30/4Add.1100.7 Ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention aagainst Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumain or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Spain); 100.51 Fully align its national legislation with the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (Estonia); 100.52 Bring domestic legislation into line to cooperate with the International Criminal Court (Costa Rica);

[7] Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “UN Treaty Body  Database”, accessed Aug. 8, 2019, https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/TreatyBodyExternal/Treaty.aspx?...

[8] Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Standing Invitations” Accessed Aug. 8, 2019, https://spinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/SpecialProceduresInternet/Stand...

[9] World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, “Liberian, Africa (Western Africa)” accessed Aug. 8, 2019,http://www.worldcoalition.org/Liberia

[10] Submission of Information to Special Procedures (May 2019), 12 (on file with authors)

[11] Human Rights Committee, Common core document forming part of the reports of states parties: Liberia, supra note 2, sec. 20.

[12] See Human Rights Commission, Updated Set of Principles for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights through Action to Combat Impunity (Updated Principles), (Feb. 8, 2005), E/CN.4/2005/102/Add.1, preamble and principle 19; UN General Assembly, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (hereinafter “ICCPR”), 1966, Art. 2(3). See also UN General Assembly Resolution 60/147, preamble and parts VII and VIII, U.N. Doc. A/RES/60/147 (Dec. 16, 2005), https://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/RemedyAndReparation.....

[13] This includes: ICCPR, supra  4, Art. 2; United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 1984, Art. 14; United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989, Art. 39; Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I) of 8 June 1977, 1977, Art. 91; and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, 1981, Art. 7.  Liberia is also a member of the International Criminal Court, which provides for the prosecution of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity by the ICC when national courts are unable or unwilling, since 2004. Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, 1998, preamble and art. 17.

[14] Liberia: President Backs War Crimes Court, Human Rights Watch, September 17, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/09/17/liberia-president-backs-war-crimes-court

[15] Leroy M. Sonpon, III, House Gets 51 Signatures to Establish War, Economic Crimes Court, Liberian Daily Observer, October 1, 2019, https://www.liberianobserver.com/news/house-gets-51-signatures-to-establish-war-economic-crimes-court/

[16] Leroy M. Sonpon, III, 43 Lawmakers Sign for War, Economic Crime Courts, Liberian Daily Observer, September 23, 2019, https://www.liberianobserver.com/news/43-lawmakers-sign-for-war-economic-crime-courts/

[17] These cases include: the 2009 conviction of Charles “Chucky” Taylor, the son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, in the US for torture; the 2017 conviction of former rebel commander Mohammed “Jungle Jabbah” Jabbateh for immigration fraud in the United States in relation to his involvement in civil war abuses in Liberia; the trial of former National Patriotic Front (NPFL) Defense Minister Tom Woewiyu in the United States for immigration fraud related to human rights abuses in Liberia; the indictment of NPFL Commander Martina Johnson in Belgium for atrocity crimes in Liberia; the indictment of United Liberation Movement (ULIMO) Commander Alieu Kosiah in Switzerland for crimes against humanity and torture; and the indictment of Agnes Reeves Taylor in the United Kingdom for her alleged role in NPFL abuses in Liberia. A civil suit for torture and extrajudicial killing was also filed in the U.S. against former Armed Forces of Liberia commander Moses Thomas on behalf of victims of the Lutheran Church Massacre in Liberia. See Press Release, Human Rights Watch, Liberia: Make Justice a Priority, (Feb. 12, 2018), https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/02/12/liberia-make-justice-priority; see also Cristian González Cabrera and Nushin Sarkarti, “Using U.S. Courts to Promote Accountability for the 1990 Liberian Church Massacre and Beyond,” Just Security, Feb. 26, 2018, https://www.justsecurity.org/52970/u-s-courts-promote-accountability-199....

[18] Civitas Maxima, et al. The French judicial authorities have investigated in Liberia, (June 12, 2019) Available online at: https://www.civitas-maxima.org/sites/default/files/docs/2019-06/the_fren...

[19] UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Concluding observations on the initial report in Liberia, (August 27, 2018), U.N. Doc CCPR/C/LBR/CO/1, 10

[20] UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Concluding observations on the initial report in Liberia, (August 27, 2018), U.N. Doc CCPR/C/LBR/CO/1, 11

[21] UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Concluding observations on the initial report in Liberia, (August 27, 2018), U.N. Doc CCPR/C/LBR/CO/1, 10

[22] Letter from Twenty Human Rights Organizations to his Excellency President George Weah (Jan. 22, 2018), https://cja.org/letter-george-weah/; see also Letter from Human Rights Watch to President of Liberia George Weah (Feb. 12, 2018), https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/02/12/hrw-letter-president-liberia-george-weah

[23] James Harding Giahyue, Nearly 10 Years on the TRC Report Still Dominates Liberian Politics, Front Page Africa June 11, 2018, http://frontpageafricaonline.com/news/nearly-10-years-on-the-trc-report-still-dominates-liberian-politics/

[24] Voice of America, “Daybreak Africa,” accessed May 14, 2018, https://www.voanews.com/a/4369939.html, 19:46.

[25] Starting the Accountability Process: Liberian Lawyers Draft Bill for Establishing War Crimes Court, Front Page Africa, May 23, 2019, https://frontpageafricaonline.com/news/starting-the-accountability-process-liberian-lawyers-draft-bill-for-establishing-war-crimes-court/

[26] Willie N. Tokpa, Liberia: Catholic Church Bishop Calls for Prosecution of Warlords, Front Page Africa May 8, 2018, https://frontpageafricaonline.com/news/liberia-catholic-church-bishop-ca....

[27] Preston Gayflor, Liberia Council of Churches Calls on President Weah to Implement TRC Recommendations, Front Page Africa, Feb. 26, 2018, https://frontpageafricaonline.com/news/2016news/liberia-council-of-churches-calls-on-president-weah-to-implement-trc-recommendations/.

[28] Press Release, Secretariat. Confidence-Building, Broader Inclusion Needed to Cement Hard-Won Gains in Liberia, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Peace, Reconciliation Summit, UN Doc. DSG/SM/1147 (Mar. 22, 2018), https://www.un.org/press/en/2018/dsgsm1147.doc.htm.

[29] Joaquin M. Sendolo, Female Victim Pleads for War Crimes Court, Liberian Daily Observer, May 21, 2018, https://www.liberianobserver.com/news/victim-pleads-for-war-crimes-court/.

[30] Press Release, The Center for Justice and Accountability, 20 Human Rights Groups Urge President Weah to Prosecute War Crimes (Jan. 21, 2018), https://cja.org/10394-2/.

[31] Advocates for War Crimes Court March for ‘Justice’ in Liberia, African Star, November 12, 2018 , https://www.africanstar.org/advocates-for-war-crimes-court-march-for-jus...

[32] Ruth Maclan Protests in Liberia over George Weah’s failure to tackle corruption, The Guardian, Jun 7 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/07/thousands-protest-in-liber...

[33]Liberians March in the streets of Monrovia in Demand for Justice against War and Economic Crimes, Front Page Africa, Aug. 6, 2019,  https://frontpageafricaonline.com/liberia-war-crimes-trial/liberians-march-the-streets-of-monrovia-in-demand-for-justice-against-war-and-economic-crimes/

[34] Press Release, The Center for Justice and Accountability, Historic War Crimes Conference in Liberia Brings Justice a Big Step Closer, (November 11, 2018), https://cja.org/historic-war-crimes-conference-in-liberia-brings-justice-a-big-step-closer/

[35] Liberia: Bar Asso., Transitional Justice Working Group Endorsed Establishment Of War & Economic Crimes Cour, Front Page Africa, April 2, 2019, https://frontpageafricaonline.com/news/liberia-bar-asso-transitional-justice-working-group-endorsed-establishment-of-war-economic-crimes-court/

[36] LNBA Constitutes War Crime Court Roadmap Committee -Endorses Draft Bill, The Analyst, July 10, 2019. https://liberiananalyst.com/2019/07/10/lnba-constitutes-war-crime-court-roadmap-committee-endorses-draft-bill/

[37] Civitas Maxima, et al. Legislative Conference Brings Liberia Closer to the

Establishment of a War Crimes Court, (2019) Also available at: https://www.civitas-maxima.org/sites/default/files/docs/2019-kjh07/legislative_conference_brings_liberia_closer_to_the_establishment_of_a_war_crimes_court.pdf; The Liberian Bar Association also began reworking its draft bill after receiving input at the conference. Liberia Bar Association Backs Traditional Council Recommendation for War Crimes Court, Front Page Africa, September 13, 2019,


[38] Joaquin M. Sendolo, 9 Lawmakers Sign Resolution for War Crimes Court, Daily Observer, July 23, 2019, https://www.liberianobserver.com/news/9-lawmakers-sign-resolution-for-war-crimes-court/

[39] Mae Azango, War Crimes Court Resolution Gets Green Light from Lawmakers, Front Page Africa, July 22, 2019, accessed Aug. 6,2019, https://frontpageafricaonline.com/liberia-war-crimes-trial/war-crimes-co...

[40] Liberia Bar Association Backs Traditional Council Recommendation for War Crimes Court, Front Page Africa, September 13, 2019, https://frontpageafricaonline.com/news/liberia-bar-association-backs-traditional-council-recommendation-for-war-crimes-court/

[41]Alpha Daffae Senkpeni, Liberia: 26 Lawmakers Sign Resolution for the War Crimes Court following President’s Letter, Front Page Africa, September 19, 2019, https://frontpageafricaonline.com/liberia-war-crimes-trial/liberia-26-lawmakers-sign-resolution-for-the-war-crimes-court-following-presidents-letter/

[42] Pres. George Weah’s Speech at the 74th United Nations General Assembly (Full Text), Front Page Africa, September 25, 2019, https://frontpageafricaonline.com/front-slider/pres-george-weahs-speech-at-the-74th-united-nations-general-assembly-full-text/

[43] Leroy M. Sonpon, III,  43 Lawmakers Sign for War, Economic Crime Courts, Daily Observer, September 23, 2019, https://www.liberianobserver.com/news/43-lawmakers-sign-for-war-economic...

[44]Information provided by Liberian human rights defenders (May 2019), 8 (on file with authors)

[45]Information provided by Liberian human rights defenders (May 2019), 6 (on file with authors)

[46] Ex-Rebel Generals Give Rep. Kolubah 72 Hours To report To Their Command, Front Page Africa, 17 Apr. 2019, Accessed Sep 17th, 2019. Available at https://frontpageafricaonline.com/news/ex-rebel-generals-give-rep-kolubah-72-hours-to-report-to-their-command/

[47]Information provided by Liberian human rights defenders (May 2019), 6 (on file with authors)

Annex I: Reporting Organizations

The Advocates for Human Rights (AHR)

330 Second Avenue South, Suite 800, Minneapolis, MN 55401-2211 USA


Contact Person:  Jennifer Prestholdt

612 341 3302  jprestholdt@advrights.org

Founded in 1983, The Advocates for Human Rights (AHR) is a volunteer-based non-governmental organization committed to the impartial promotion and protection of international human rights standards and the rule of law. The Advocates conducts a range of programs to promote human rights in the United States and around the world, including monitoring and fact finding, direct legal representation, education and training, and publication. As the primary provider of legal services to low-income asylum seekers in the Upper Midwest region of the United States, The Advocates has represented numerous Liberian refugees seeking asylum. From 2006 to 2009, The Advocates worked with the Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Liberia to give the Liberian diaspora a voice in the process of investigating human rights abuses during the country’s long period of civil conflict and to make recommendations to promote peace and reconciliation. The Advocates continues to work with human rights defenders in Liberia and in the Liberian diaspora.

Center for Justice and Accountability

One Hallidie Plaza, Suite 406, San Francisco, CA 94102 · cja.org

Contact Person: Nushin Sarkarati

USA +1 (415) 544-0444 · nsarkarati@cja.org

The Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) is a San Francisco-based human rights legal organization dedicated to deterring torture, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious human rights abuses around the world through innovative litigation, policy and transitional justice strategies. CJA partners with victims and survivors in pursuit of truth, justice, and redress, and has successfully brought cases against a former Minister of Defense of Somalia’s Siad Barre regime, the military officer responsible for the assassination of Chilean activist and singer Victor Jara, and Syria’s Assad regime for its targeted killing of war correspondent Marie Colvin.

Centre for Civil and Political Rights (CCPR-Centre)

Rue de Varembé 1, CP 183, 1202 Geneva, Switzerland · ccprcentre.org

Contact Person: Andrea Meraz Sepulveda

+41 22 332 25 55 · ameraz@ccprcentre.org

The Centre for Civil and Political Rights (CCPR-Centre) is an independent, non-governmental organisation, established in 2008, dedicated to contribute to the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) through supporting civil society and through connecting key actors engaged to implement the UN Human Rights Committee recommendations at the national level. The Centre also aims at ensuring that the work of the Human Rights Committee is fully taken into account in the framework of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) established by the Human Rights Council.

Civil Society Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia

Monrovia, Liberia

Contact Person: Adama Dempster, Secretary General
+231-886-510- 059         adama.dempster78@gmail.com

The Civil Society Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia is a non-governmental organization made up of human rights organizations from across Liberia. It was established in 2017 to consolidate human rights advocacy in Liberia to ensure timely redress and change.

Civitas Maxima

Place de la Fusterie 14, 1204 Geneva, Switzerland · www.civitas-maxima.org

Contact Person: Lisa-Marie Rudi

+4122 346 12 43 · lisa.rudi@civitas-maxima.org

Civitas Maxima facilitates the documentation of international crimes, and pursues the redress of such crimes on behalf of victims who do not have access to justice. Civitas Maxima was established in 2012.

Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP)

Caldwell, Liberia · www.globaljustice-research.org

Contact Person: Hassan Bility

+231 77 017 9752 · hassan.bility@globaljustice-research.org

The Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP) is an impartial non-partisan non-governmental national human rights organization that is free from bias. GJRP strives to ensure justice and accountability for all victims of both Liberian civil wars that took place between 1989-1997 and 1999- 2003. GJRP was established in 2012.

Human Rights Watch (HRW)

350 Fifth Avenue, 34th Floor, New York, NY 10118 · hrw.org

Contact Person: Elise Keppler

212 216 1249 · kepplee@hrw.org

Human Rights Watch investigates and reports on abuses happening in all corners of the world. We are roughly 450 people of 70-plus nationalities who are country experts, lawyers, journalists, and others who work to protect the most at risk, from vulnerable minorities and civilians in wartime, to refugees and children in need. We direct our advocacy towards governments, armed groups and businesses, pushing them to change or enforce their laws, policies and practices. To ensure our independence, we refuse government funding and corporate ties. We partner with organizations large and small across the globe to protect embattled activists and to help hold abusers to account and bring justice to victims.

Secretariat for the Establishment of a War Crimes Court in Liberia  (SEWACCOL)

Tubman Boulevard

Monrovia, Liberia

+231 88 651 1205  warcrimesliberia@gmail.com

Secretariat for the Establishment of War Crimes Court in Liberia (SEWACCOL), is a civil society organization founded in 2019 to advocate for justice and post war accountability action in Liberia. SEWACCOL focuses on transitional justice advocacy, and is comprised of Liberian advocates that engages with victims and survivors across the country, leading a campaign for the establishment of a war crimes court in Liberia.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Image from On the President’s Orders.

© James Jones and Olivier Sarbil

The International Criminal Court (ICC) recently made a surprising request for its preliminary examination into thousands of alleged extrajudicial killings in Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs.” The court said it wanted to review footage from a movie set to be released to international audiences later this month.

For their documentary On the President’s Orders, Emmy-winning co-directors James Jones and Olivier Sarbil spent time with an indiscreet police chief and his officers in the Philippine city of Caloocan, as well as the families of some people killed there. Filmmaker James Jones confirmed media reports that due to the movie’s graphic scenes of killings and disturbing personal accounts of abuses in an anti-drug campaign that has resulted in the deaths of over 6,600 people in police raids, the ICC has requested the filmmakers officially submit their documentary.

The film had its United States premiere at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in New York in June, after which Human Rights Watch’s Philippines researcher Carlos Conde spoke about his extensive work on this issue.

Image from On the President’s Orders.

© James Jones and Olivier Sarbil

Human Rights Watch also arranged for the film to be shown in Geneva during the 41st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. During that session, Iceland formally introduced a resolution requesting, among other things, that the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights prepare a report on the human rights situation in the Philippines, and urging the Philippine government to cooperate with that inquiry. The resolution passed the council over the Philippines’ strenuous objections and threats of retaliation.

The penetrating film continues to inspire profound reactions. Prior to the recent screening of the film in Manila to an audience of over 800 people, the filmmakers received a wide variety of reactions, ranging from Duterte's spokesman condemning the film as “black propaganda” that “reeks of malice,” to audience letters applauding the film and profusely thanking the filmmakers for their work.

On the President’s Orders will be released in cinemas in London this month, and in Los Angeles and New York in October. The film is slated to be broadcast on TV on PBS’s Frontline, Arte, and BBC Storyville later this year.

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

Guinea: A Decade Later, No Justice for Massacre

Families of victims of the September 2009 massacre by Guinea’s security forces are still awaiting justice 10 years later, 6 human rights groups said today.


(Conakry) – Families of victims of the September 2009 massacre by Guinea’s security forces are still awaiting justice 10 years later, 6 human rights groups said today. The groups released a video to mark the massacre’s tenth anniversary, featuring victims pleading for the trial to go ahead.

The security forces killed more than 150 people demonstrating in a stadium in the capital, Conakry, in the massacre, which began on September 28, 2009. Hundreds of people were wounded and more than a hundred women were victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence in the events of September 28 and their aftermath.

The organizations are the Association of Victims, Parents and Friends of the September 28 Massacre (AVIPA), Equal Rights for All (MDT), the Guinean Human Rights Organization (OGDH), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch.

“A decade has passed since the stadium massacre in Conakry, but for those who lost their sons, daughters, fathers or mothers, the horror of that day remains forever etched in their memory,” said Asmaou Diallo, president of AVIPA. “Ten years is already too long to wait when one has a thirst for justice. We have the right to see those responsible for these atrocities to be held to account.”

Shortly before noon on September 28, 2009, several hundred members of Guinea’s security forces opened fire on tens of thousands of people peacefully gathered at a stadium for a rally to oppose then-junta leader Moussa Dadis Camara’s presidential run. The security forces also individually or gang raped women, and sexually assaulted them with objects such as batons and bayonets.

The security forces then engaged in an organized cover-up to hide the extent of the killings by sealing off and removing bodies from the stadium and morgues and burying them in mass graves, many of which have yet to be identified.

The domestic investigation, which began in February 2010 and concluded in late 2017, progressed slowly amid political, financial, and logistical obstacles. But in a country in which impunity largely prevails when security forces are implicated in crimes, the closing of the investigation sent a strong signal and raised hopes for the opening of a trial that could bring justice to the victims.

In April 2018, former Justice Minister Cheick Sako set up a steering committee tasked with the practical organization of the trial. This committee has since identified Conakry’s Court of Appeal as the location.

However, almost two years since the investigation closed, a trial date has yet to be scheduled. The steering committee was supposed to meet once a week but it has met only intermittently.

Although Guinea’s Supreme Court in July dismissed all appeals relating to the end of the investigation, the judges presiding over the trial have yet to be appointed. Some survivors have died as progress in the case languished. A timeline of the events can be accessed here.


Victims explain in the video why justice for the crimes is important to them:

  • “Since that day we cry and then we dry our tears and hope that we will have justice.”
  • “I ask the president of the republic to think of us, the victims of September 28.”
  • “By giving us a date for the trial, it would give us hope.”

More than 13 suspects have been charged, including current and former high-level officials. Suspects include Dadis Camara, the former leader of the National Council of Democracy and Development junta which ruled Guinea in September 2009, and his vice president, Mamadouba Toto Camara. Some of the suspects facing charges continue to occupy positions of power, including Moussa Tiegboro Camara, who is in charge of fighting drug trafficking and organized crime in Guinea.

Abubakar “Toumba” Diakité, Dadis Camara’s aide-de-camp, has also been charged, and was extradited to Guinea in March 2017 after evading justice for more than five years. Four other individuals are in detention at the central prison of Conakry since 2010, 2011, 2013, and 2015, respectively, for the stadium massacre case. Their provisional detention exceeds the maximum legal limit under Guinea law of 18 to 24 months in criminal matters. They should be tried fairly without further delay.

On August 14, at a meeting of the steering committee, Mohammed Lamine Fofana, the new justice minister, reiterated President Alpha Condé’s commitment to the trial and said that “concrete preparations” for the organization of the trial would begin now.

The government and Guinea’s international partners, including the European Union and United States, have already set aside crucial funds for the trial to take place.

“The trial date should be set and judges appointed for the case,” said Frédéric Foromo Loua, president of MDT. “The steering committee should also address any outstanding construction needs, and logistical and security procedures for the trial. Appropriate measures should be taken for the participation of Dadis Camara in the trial, who is in exile in Burkina Faso.”

The International Criminal Court (ICC) opened a preliminary examination into the situation in Guinea in October 2009. The ICC is designed as a court of last resort, and the ICC only steps in when national courts are unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute cases under its authority.

“The September 28, 2009 trial requires political support at the highest level to go ahead,” said Abdoul Gadiry Diallo, president of OGDH. “President Condé has previously affirmed a commitment to end impunity. Our hopes lie with the president to stand up for victims by unequivocally backing the start of the trial and for Minister Fofana to efficiently herald in its commencement as soon as possible.” 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy,

Your Excellency,

We respectfully call on your government to immediately ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which Ukraine signed in 2000 and take all necessary measures to fight impunity for grave international crimes at the domestic level.

Our organisations, the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC) and its members, ask you and your government to put accountability for grave international crimes at the forefront of your agenda.

Ratification of the Rome Statute of the ICC will send a strong message to the international community and to the people of Ukraine that your country is committed to bringing perpetrators of international crimes to justice, and that the suffering of victims will not be ignored. In order to fully address accountability and strive to end impunity, recourse to justice must be readily and permanently available. Full membership in the International Criminal Court will provide this.

In this regard, we welcome the entry into force on 30 June 2019 of the amendment to Article 124 of the Constitution of Ukraine recognising the jurisdiction of the ICC. This removes the final obstacle to Ukraine’s ratification of the Rome Statute.

Your Excellency,

Ukraine has already recognized the role that the ICC can play in addressing impunity, not least with the two formal declarations submitted to the ICC on 17 April 2014 and on 8 September 2015, under Article 12(3) of the Statute, accepting the exercise of the ICC’s jurisdiction in relation to alleged crimes committed in the territory of Ukraine from 20 February 2014 onwards. Ukraine is also notably the only State not party to the ICC Rome Statute that has acceded to the Agreement on Privileges and Immunities of the Court (APIC) on 29 January 2007.

Furthermore, Ukraine committed to secure Rome Statute ratification and implementation as part of the European Union-Ukraine Association Agreement (Article 8)[1]. There is now no obstacle to the implementation of this important provision, which is fully in line with the European Union’s policy of strong support and commitment to international justice and the ICC.

With these developments in mind, we warmly welcome the recent announcement[2] by then Deputy Head of your Office, and current Prosecutor General, Ruslan Ryaboshapka, that one of your priorities would be to ratify the ICC Rome Statute signed by Ukraine 20 years ago.

We also take note that during the United Nations General Assembly plenary meeting on the responsibility to protect and the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, held on 28 June 2019, in New York, Your Representative noted “We (Ukraine) removed internal legal obstacles in the way of Ukraine's ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and actively work on preparation of legislation aimed at implementing the Statute.

Your Excellency, 122 states have recognized that the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court is the cornerstone of efforts to end impunity. Global ratification of the Rome Statute is necessary to achieve an international criminal justice system that eradicates safe havens for individuals who commit the worst crimes known to humanity. The high demand for justice and accountability in Ukraine makes ratification of the Statute all the more crucial today.

There are a number of additional benefits to joining the ICC system. By taking this step, Ukraine can help to ensure justice for victims all across the globe and deter future crimes.

Moreover, with the ratification of the Rome Statute, Ukraine will be able to exercise full rights of membership to the Assembly of States Parties, the Court’s governing body, which provides an important forum for all States that are committed to ensure justice for victims of grave crimes. The Assembly discusses and takes decisions on a large number of issues central to the functioning and success of the Court and the Rome Statute system, and thus is among the most important fora of the international legal order.

Your Excellency,

The ICC cannot replace domestic courts, but is one of “last resort” with the ‘principle of complementarity’ at the centre of its Statute. States have the primary responsibility to investigate, prosecute and punish the perpetrators of the Rome Statute crimes and provide redress to victims of these crimes.

Therefore, in addition to ratification of the Rome Statute, we urge you to make it a priority for the government and the new Parliament of Ukraine to fully align its national legislation with the ICC Rome Statute and international law, including incorporating provisions to investigate and prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes effectively before its national courts.

Harmonisation of national laws with the Rome Statute will strengthen the domestic justice system and rule of law. We therefore call on you to expedite legislative proposals to this end, including the consideration of the existing Draft Law 0892 (previously 9438) “On amendments to some legislative acts of Ukraine to ensure the harmonization of the criminal legislation with the provisions of international law” adopted in first reading by the previous Rada in June 2019, in this new Parliamentary term.

We believe that there is no better time than now to take the critical next step of ratifying the Rome Statute as a positive affirmation of Ukraine’s commitment to maintaining international peace, security and justice, and ensuring that Rome Statute crimes can be prosecuted at the domestic level.

We hope to count Ukraine among the ICC membership in the near future, and remain available to your office for any questions or assistance that you may have during this process.




The Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC),

and the following CICC member organisations:

-Advocacy Advisory Panel (AAP), Ukraine

-Amnesty International

-Center for Civil Liberties (CCL), Ukraine

-Civil Rights Defenders (CRD)

-Human Rights Center ZMINA, Ukraine

-Human Rights Watch (HRW)

-International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

-International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR)

-International Renaissance Foundation (IRF), Ukraine

-Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG), Ukraine

-Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC)

-No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ)

-Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI)

-Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA)

-Regional Center for Human Rights (RCHR), Ukraine

-Truth Hounds, Ukraine

-Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union (UHHRU), Ukraine

-Ukrainian Legal Advisory Group (ULAG), Ukraine

-World Federalist Movement (WFM) - Canada

-Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice (WIGJ)


[1] “Article 8: International Criminal Court. The Parties shall cooperate in promoting peace and international justice by ratifying and implementing the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) [of 1998] and its related instruments.”

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