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

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

© 2019 AP Photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


It’s been a dramatic week for Gambia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International Special Prosecutor Toussaint Muntazini (left) and former Central African Republic prime minister Mathieu Simplice Sarandji (right) at the inaugural session of the Special Criminal Court on October 22, 2018 that marked the official launch of the court's judicial activities. Photo courtesy of Special Criminal Court.

(Nairobi) – The Central African Republic’s Special Criminal Court should intensify investigations and urgently recruit additional staff to deliver justice for war crimes and other serious offenses, Human Rights Watch said today. The new court is operating in a tremendously difficult setting after years of brutal conflict and insecurity in the country and needs greater government and international support.

The Special Criminal Court (SCC) is a new court in the Central African Republic’s court system with the authority to try grave crimes committed during the country’s armed conflicts since 2003.

“Central Africans have waited so long to see justice for the many killings, rapes, and other atrocities committed in the Central African Republic,” said Elise Keppler, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “The Special Criminal Court holds promise but it’s had a slow start and needs to intensify investigations so trials can be initiated based on strong, compelling evidence.”

The Special Criminal Court is staffed by both international and national judges and prosecutors, and benefits from international assistance. The law to establish the court was adopted in 2015, but the court had to wait to start investigations until parliament adopted its rules of procedure and evidence in May 2018. The court held its first official session in October, and investigations are now pending in the prosecutor’s office and before the court’s investigative judges.

Following up on its May 2018 report on the Special Criminal Court, Human Rights Watch conducted research in the country’s capital, Bangui, from April 10 to 14, 2019 on the court’s progress and the challenges it faces.

Researchers interviewed 25 people, including court staff, United Nations staff, court consultants, human rights defenders, lawyers, and donors, and conducted two group interviews, one with human rights defenders and one with victims who are working with associations of victims of the crimes. Human Rights Watch sought to meet with government officials who work on the Special Criminal Court, but they were not available. Human Rights Watch also conducted interviews by phone and in person in New York in May, June, and July, in addition to reviewing relevant documents on the court’s activities.

“Justice must be at the forefront of a state that promotes good governance and democracy,” one human rights defender told Human Rights Watch in April. “Without justice, everything else will be wrecked.”

Human rights defenders and victims expressed strong concerns that vague provisions on justice in a peace accord signed in February could limit the government’s cooperation and support to the Special Criminal Court. They criticized the integration of people implicated in crimes into the government as a result of the recent peace deal. “We are seeing at this moment that our persecutors rule over us,” said a woman who leads a victims’ group. “They have entered the government.”

Human Rights Watch identified key elements needed to bring the court to full operations:

  • Staffing: The level of court staff overseeing investigations is very limited. Existing staff should work to intensify investigative activity, but an additional panel of investigative judges and more prosecutors would help boost investigative capacity. Many of the staff needed for the court’s administration are also not in place and should be recruited without further delay.
  • Services: The court needs programs that have yet to exist in the country’s domestic system, including witness and victim protection and support, legal assistance for accused and victims, and outreach to affected communities. International experts are assisting in developing these areas, but further progress is needed and the experience gained should be leveraged to benefit the country’s national justice system over time. The government should also move ahead with providing secure accommodation for the Special Criminal Court’s domestic judges.
  • Coordination: The court remains highly dependent on the UN, which can limit the court’s capacity to make decisions and move its work forward. Efforts to regularly bring together court principals, UN partners, and donors to resolve outstanding questions more efficiently are underway and should be continued. A unified comprehensive budget that identifies all court costs and funding sources should also be prepared to better clarify the court’s needs.
  • Funding: As of July 10, the court had a funding gap of approximately US$1 million for 2019 operations, and no funds pledged for future years of operations, which are anticipated to annually cost approximately $12.4 million. Existing donors – the United States, France, the Netherlands, and the European Union – should increase their support. Other justice-supporting states that have yet to make a financial contribution, such as Canada, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden should consider stepping forward. UN oversight in the handling of funds remains advisable to insulate the court from actual or perceived concerns of financial impropriety.

“The Special Criminal Court emerged out of the strong, unequivocal desire on the part of Central Africans to break cycles of violence and impunity in the country,” Keppler said. “The government and international partners should protect their investment by being vigilant on the need for justice and giving the court essential resources to get its difficult job done.”

Why Justice Is Critically Important

During the conflict in the Central African Republic, which began in 2012, armed groups violated the laws of war with impunity, attacking civilians and civilian infrastructure, and leaving trails of death, displacement, and destitution. The predominantly Muslim Seleka and the largely Christian and animist militia known as “anti-balaka,” two main parties to the conflict, also committed sexual slavery and rape across the country.

National consultations in May 2015, known as the Bangui Forum, prioritized justice for past crimes and stated that “no amnesty” would be tolerated. The forum brought together more than 800 representatives of community and other nongovernmental organizations, political parties, and armed groups.

In April, one human rights defender told Human Rights Watch that the court “comes from the will of the population expressed during the Bangui Forum.” “Justice counteracts this culture of violence; it can change the behavior, not only of criminals, but also of the state,” said another defender. “The population has a lot of hope,” said a third defender. “The court needs to accelerate its activities.”

An image of the justice scales adorns the wall outside the Special Criminal Court premises in Bangui, Central African Republic.

© 2019 Elise Keppler / Human Rights Watch

One victim working with a victims’ association explained the value in having a war crimes court based in the Central African Republic: “We trust in the Special Criminal Court because it is the national justice, it is based here and knows the perpetrators.” A lawyer also noted that there is a benefit to the court’s location in the country as victims do not have to travel far to participate.

The Special Criminal Court operates alongside two investigations by the International Criminal Court (ICC), one on crimes committed in 2002 and 2003, and one on crimes committed in the conflict since 2012. The ICC appeals chamber in June 2018 overturned a conviction in the first investigation’s only case, against Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former vice-president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, increasing the stakes for the Special Criminal Court. The ICC took two anti-balaka leaders, Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona and Alfred Yékatom, into custody on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the country’s recent conflict toward the end of 2018.

The Special Criminal Court has a five-year renewable mandate, and human rights defenders called for the court to act more quickly to deliver justice. In December, the Special Criminal Court made public a prosecutorial strategy, and a roadmap for the strategy’s implementation has been developed. In the first quarter of 2019, the Special Criminal Court moved into its permanent premises, although construction to renovate parts of the building continues.

One human rights defender told Human Rights Watch in April, “The population has trust so far but awaits the court’s first cases with impatience.” “The population is waiting for justice to be done in their name, and for their suffering to be acknowledged,” said another defender. “All this must yield results,” said a third defender.


The Special Criminal Court’s investigation process, which is consistent with the Central African Republic’s civil law legal system, provides for two phases of investigation prior to cases going to trial. The first is conducted by the prosecutor’s office, to be completed within a six-month period, unless the judges approve an extension. The second is by a two-judge panel (cabinet d’instruction) consisting of one national judge and one international judge, which can last up to two years. International and domestic prosecutors and judges were recruited, and they are now installed in Bangui, save one judge whose arrival is pending.

Seven investigations are underway. The special prosecutor has opened 4 investigations from 22 priority cases he has identified, and the judges also conducting investigations of 3 cases, which were transferred from the ordinary courts. The special prosecutor also is examining 27 complaints submitted by individuals to the SCC.

The three-year delay before the Special Criminal Court could officially commence investigations makes it all the more pressing for existing prosecutors and investigative judges to identify ways to intensify investigations. But additional staff is also needed. The prosecutor’s office has only four prosecutors: the special prosecutor, a deputy, and two substitute special prosecutors. In addition, although the court’s founding law allows for three panels of investigative judges, only two have been established.

The court should recruit additional prosecutors and a third panel of investigative judges. While that involves additional costs, it should increase the number and pace of investigations, helping to maximize the overall investment in the court.

A team of 20 domestic judicial police officers conducts investigations directed by the prosecutors and investigative judges. The members lack experience with international criminal law and practice, but the police officers have received specialized training. International advisers also are working with them to strengthen their skills, although the advisers are constrained as they have lacked access to confidential material since they are not court staff. The court is working with the UN to address this challenge.

Advisers from the UN peacekeeping force also provide research and analysis to the court on request, and the court is trying to recruit a legal adviser to support the prosecutor’s office and an adviser to support the investigative judges.

Given insecurity in the country, investigators need to rely on UN peacekeepers for security. This can make it difficult to operate discreetly, which can be important to minimize risks to potential witnesses. The investigators can prioritize working in more secure areas and may need to develop other strategies to move investigations forward.

Legal Representation and Assistance

A team of approximately 20 lawyers from the Central African Republic are to provide legal assistance to suspects and victims at the Special Criminal Court. International lawyers may also be appointed to assist suspects in the most sensitive cases and may work as a team with national lawyers if requested by a suspect, accused, or victim.

A committee of representatives from the Central African Republic bar association, human rights nongovernmental organizations, and the UN are to select the lawyers, but they have yet to be selected. The committee should proceed without delay as immediate access to counsel will be needed once suspects are charged, although the court’s rules allow for temporary appointments as necessary. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime is assisting the court with the process.

Training in international criminal law and practice has already been made available for lawyers who may be under consideration for this team. Given the complex, specialized nature of cases involving international crimes, ongoing access to training opportunities will be valuable.

Witness and Victim Protection and Support

Witness and victim protection and support should be at the forefront of any court proceedings, and the plans initially drafted for the court needed to be more concrete and specific. The court now has a unit in place to provide concrete protection and support for witnesses and victims, drawing from international experience.

The unit is implementing steps to maximize confidential interaction between witnesses and court staff and to ensure minimum risk to potential witnesses and victims during investigations. But the unit needs additional staffing to be able to provide risk assessments, transport and logistical assistance, and psychosocial support.

Assuring adequate measures early in the process is critical given that access by defense counsel and accused to information about witnesses and victims may be available during investigations.

One human rights defender told Human Rights Watch: “The major difficulty is that the victims and the tormentors live in the same neighborhood. It takes tremendous courage for the victims to dare to bring a complaint and turn to justice. We must have the protection of witnesses so that they can testify without fearing for their lives.”

Victim Engagement: Civil Parties

In addition to serving as potential witnesses, victims can join the criminal proceedings as civil parties (parties civiles). A feature of civil law systems, civil parties serve as a formal party to the proceedings, alongside the prosecutor and the defendant. Civil parties may request an investigation, make submissions to the case file, examine witnesses, request steps to advance the investigation, and appeal the court’s decisions.

Victims have yet to become civil parties at the court, and victims and human rights defenders asked Human Rights Watch questions about how the court will manage requests from different victims’ associations to be civil parties on the same case. One human rights defender said that their organization needs to better understand protections available to victims and witnesses before they provide information to the court about cases or seek to become civil parties.

The court will need to continue to make information available to affected communities about the opportunity to be civil parties, and to develop procedures for handling questions and concerns that may be raised about the process, Human Rights Watch said.


Security remains one of the most significant problems as much of the country remains under the control of armed groups. Insulating the court premises and staff, witnesses, and victims from risk to the greatest extent possible is crucial, albeit difficult.

In line with the recent peace accord, three armed group leaders were named special military advisers to the prime minister’s office. Fighters under one of those advisers, Sidiki Abass (also known as Bi Sidi Souleymane), commander of the group called Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation, or 3R, allegedly killed over 50 civilians in May in the northwestern part of the country.

The court premises benefits from protection by peacekeepers and joint patrols with domestic security units. Judges generally are provided with full-time personal security. One court staff member said that protecting judges who live outside the peacekeepers’ security perimeter remains a problem. The government promised to provide the judges with housing within the peacekeeping zone but has not provided it yet.

Another anticipated problem is making arrests. One observer suggested that the suspects may be the people who are in control of an area. Peacekeepers will need to play a central role in making arrests, in close collaboration with court staff.

Detaining suspects will be another problem since the country has limited facilities for high-risk suspects. Initiatives to establish a facility for high-risk individuals in the country are in the initial stages, but lack funding. In the meantime, UN personnel are supporting national authorities in identifying the most secure locations within current overcrowded detention facilities for SCC suspects.


The Special Criminal Court now has a functioning outreach and public affairs department and is undertaking an array of initiatives to ensure that communities most affected by the crimes have adequate information about the court. Such initiatives are important to ensure that the court’s operations have maximum impact and resonance with the population. National authorities can also draw from the court’s experience in developing initiatives to inform the population on access to justice in the country more generally.

The outreach team has prepared radio programs about the court that have been broadcast more than 80 times. With much of the population illiterate, radio is a primary way people get information and radio can reach a far larger audience than meetings. The outreach team also has written and performed a play about the court in parts of the country and has prepared written materials, including in picture formats.

Local nongovernmental groups are partnering with the court on outreach. While that is no substitute for paid outreach staff who can develop proper responses to questions and concerns that are raised, it can help to bolster court initiatives. Representatives of nongovernmental groups said that the court’s outreach activities are positive and progressing well. “Outreach is very important in explaining the crimes covered by the court and explaining how the population can access it,” one human rights defender said. “People know about the court now, even those who live outside the capital.”


The administration of the court includes a far-reaching set of responsibilities handled by the court’s registry, including case management, legal assistance, detention, human resources, security, witness and victim protection and support, budgeting and finances, and outreach and public information.

A major problem has been finding a suitable deputy registrar. The post – which is to be filled by an international expert – has responsibility for the aspects of the court’s administration that are largely novel for the Central African Republic’s justice system, but that are important for courts trying international crimes. UN staff say a person has been selected, but the court has not announced the appointment.

Many of the staff required to carry out administrative activities also are not in place. The peacekeeping force has secured an international expert to advise on staffing arrangements for the registry. In the meantime, the UN Development Program (UNDP) and peacekeeping force have assisted with some administrative functions, including by subcontracting some staff to the court. Because they are not staff members, subcontracted staff do not have full access to confidential materials, but the UN and the court have been working to address that issue. Training in some areas of administration, such as case management, also is underway.

Much of the court’s staffing, organization, and support are developed through a joint project between the UN Development Program, the peacekeeping force, and the government. The project will be updated at the end of 2019, which will be an opportunity to better incorporate the full range of needed staffing and equipment.


The Special Criminal Court has a complex funding situation. It has a patchwork of support comprised of voluntary contributions from foreign governments and the UN, and support from the Central African Republic government. Support includes general assistance and earmarked and in-kind assistance. Governments that provide international magistrates through secondments help to minimize costs, but links to governments could risk compromising the court’s perceived or actual independence.

Despite its important mandate, the Special Criminal Court has a relatively limited budget compared to similar judicial institutions trying international crimes. In addition to the funding gap for 2019 of approximately $1 million of its $13.4 million budget, no funding has been pledged for operations in future years, which are expected to cost $12.4 million annually.

The United States, the Netherlands, France, and the European Union have made direct financial contributions, and the governments of Benin, Burkina Faso, Canada, Democratic Republic of Congo, France, and Togo have seconded magistrates.

A positive development was the first contribution by the European Union of $2.3 million, and EU plans to consider funding for future years, in addition to continued support from UNDP and the UN peacekeeping force. However, the Netherlands and France have yet to renew previous contributions, beyond funding through the EU, and the United States also has yet to renew its funding.

States that appreciate the importance of justice for grave crimes in building respect for rule of law should step forward to provide greater funding. The court also should receive support from the Central African Republic government and international donors that can be deployed for its greatest needs, as opposed to funding allocated for certain programs or equipment, wherever possible.

A group of countries interested in the court’s work and relevant UN agencies operates in New York, chaired by the government of Morocco. This group can be valuable in mobilizing greater resources for the court. The group should consider identifying a focal point on the court’s resources to capitalize on fundraising opportunities.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Prominent human rights lawyer and investigator Reed Brody has told The Chronicle that the current allegations of abuse against ex-president Yahya Jammeh will make it harder for Equatorial Guinea to refuse to hand him over for trial when the time comes.

Brody, an American with Human Rights Watch, is part of a group which aims to bring the former president to justice for alleged atrocities and human rights abuses. He worked with the victims of former Chadian ruler Hissene Habre and was a key figure in the process of the trial that led to Habre’s conviction and imprisonment.

Brody is currently working with Gambian victims of the former regime. His latest project involved the investigation and documentation of rape and sexual assault allegations against Jammeh. He spoke to The Chronicle about this investigation.  

The Chronicle: Why did you undertake this investigation?

Reed Brody: When we started researching Jammeh’s alleged crimes, we had heard rumors about his abuse of women. It was an open secret, but no one had ever nailed the facts down. As you know Sheriff, in the Hissène Habré case, we were late in documenting sexual violence, just as prosecutors were late to raise sexual violence in Rwanda and even failed to raise it in many other situations.  I was determined not to let sex crimes be overlooked here. But researching this kind of issue requires persistence, patience, and especially sensitivity and empathy. Fortunately our lead researcher Marion Volkmann-Brandau showed these qualities in gaining the confidence of victims – especially two women we identified in our report as “Anta” and “Bintu” who accused Jammeh of raping or assaulting them.  And of course we interviewed Fatou (Toufah) Jallow, who was determined to make her story public. Fatoumatta Sandeng put us in touch with Toufah.

Who else did you interview?

We interviewed a number of Jammeh’s former aides, “insiders” with direct knowledge of his system – two men who worked for the Protocol Department at State House; four of his close protection officers; a woman who worked at State House, a former senior official at the National Intelligence Agency, and several others. Some of them are still in The Gambia and several are abroad. These insiders described Jammeh’s “system,” and showed us that the stories of Toufah, “Anta” and “Bintu” were not isolated cases, but were part of a pattern in which women would be pressured to visit or work for Jammeh and then abused.

What were your principal findings? 

We found credible evidence that Jammeh took advantage of his position to rape, sexually abuse and exploit women for sex. Some women were dragooned by Jammeh’s aides after he picked them out at events. Five former officials said that he ordered them and others to get the phone numbers of women he identified. Some women were put on the state payroll at State House, as so-called “protocol girls.” Jammeh gave these women cash and gifts and promised them scholarships or other privileges if they had sex with him.

How many women were involved? 

It’s really hard to know.  Several witnesses who worked at State House said that Jammeh had young women brought to him almost every night. There were about 10 “protocol girls” at any given time.  We were given the names of 16 women, but most refused to speak with us. I would think that what we could document is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

Some people questioned the authenticity of Toufah Jallow’s allegation that she was raped by Jammeh. What did you do to verify her account?

We checked out her story with multiple people with whom Toufah interacted right after the incident. When she fled to Senegal a few days later, she told her story to the United Nations, Amnesty International and Article 19.  They all have records of her account.  Toufah signed a waiver allowing access to her files with the Canadian immigration and refugee authorities. We also spoke to her family and to those who helped her escape. What Toufah is saying now is what she described back then, days after the event.

The outlines of Toufah’s account also match the experiences of “Anta” and “Bintu,” who she didn’t know. In each case, it was the same driver who picked them up; in each case it was Jammeh’s cousin Jimbee who befriended them, phoned them, had them brought to State House, took them to Jammeh, and stayed with them and the president in his room before leaving them alone.

Your hashtag #IamToufah has gone viral. What do you think of the reaction in Gambia to Toufa’s alleged revelations? 

I never expected that. It was so gratifying. It was like a taboo had been lifted and every woman had a story to tell.  And many men have come out to support them. The Attorney General Ba Tambedou showed real leadership by praising Toufah and calling on others to come forward. New groups are forming, including an organization that Toufah is founding.

What comes next?

The TRRC will hold hearings on sexual violence later this year, and has reached out to women to give statements in ways that preserve their safety and dignity and protect them from retaliation. Toufah, of course, plans to speak in open session. Last year, the TRRC organized a series of women-only listening circles bringing victims together to share privately their traumatic experiences.  So, I hope that our report and Toufah’s declarations were part of a conversation which will continue at the TRRC and in many other ways.

And holding Jammeh to account?

These revelations are going to make it harder for Equatorial Guinea to refuse to hand Jammeh over when the time comes.  Thanks to the TRRC and the courage of the victims, we are learning more each day about Jammeh’s alleged crimes: multiple allegations by Jammeh’s henchmen at the TRRC that he personally ordered killings; the phony “HIV treatment” program; evidence that Jammeh’s “Junglers “ were behind the massacre of 56 migrants from Ghana, Senegal, Togo, Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria; attacks on journalists; and now rape.

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

Abdul Kareem, a Rohingya Muslim, carries his mother, Alima Khatoon, to a refugee camp after crossing from Burma into Bangladesh on Sept. 16, 2017.

© 2017 Dar Yasin/AP

Twenty-one years ago today, 120 countries adopted the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), creating a permanent international court to hold perpetrators of the world’s gravest crimes to account. The anniversary is a moment to reflect on the successes and challenges of bringing justice to victims over the past year.

With armed conflicts raging across the globe and devastating civilian populations, demand for accountability is growing. In Liberia, citizens and civil society groups are calling on President George Weah to support the creation of a war crimes court to provide justice for atrocities committed during the country’s two civil wars.

In the Central African Republic, the Special Criminal Court has finally opened investigations into abuses committed during the years-long conflict there. Several prosecutors in Europe are investigating and bringing to trial atrocity crimes cases committed in countries such as Syria and Iraq, where the ICC has no jurisdiction. Some governments are also attempting to fill this gap by creating teams of independent investigators to examine crimes in Syria and Myanmar.

At the ICC, two suspects of grave crimes in the Central African Republic, Patrice Edouard Ngaissona and Alfred Yékatom, were arrested and transferred to the court. Earlier this month, the ICC prosecutor filed a request to open an investigation into certain crimes against ethnic Rohingya arising from government atrocities in Myanmar. Last week, ICC judges convicted Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and began hearings for the confirmation of charges in the case against Al Hassan for crimes in northern Mali.

But there have also been serious setbacks for victims awaiting justice from the court. In January, ICC judges dismissed the case against former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo and the written reasons for the oral decision were only filed on July 16. In April, judges rejected the prosecutor’s request to open an investigation in Afghanistan on a problematic legal basis. In the face of evident shortcomings, the court needs to step up its performance.

The ICC is also facing unprecedented threats from the United States. In March, the Trump administration threatened visa bans on ICC staff if the court began investigating US nationals for alleged crimes in Afghanistan, and then proceeded to revoke the prosecutor’s visa in April. 

While challenges to securing accountability around the world persist, 21 years after the completion of the Rome Statute, the victims’ need for justice and an effective court are greater than ever.

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

Permanent premises of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the Netherlands. © 2018 Marina Riera Rodoreda/Human Rights Watch

(New York) – Member countries of the International Criminal Court (ICC) should renew their commitment on International Justice Day, July 17, 2019, to defend and strengthen this important justice institution, Human Right Watch said today. On July 17, 1998, 120 countries adopted the Rome Statute creating the ICC.

“Twenty-one years after its creation, the International Criminal Court is needed more than its founders ever imagined,” said Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “Despite the challenges the court is facing, its mandate and founding aspirations remain vitally important.”

The anniversary is occurring during the meeting of the United Nations High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in New York. Sustainable Development Goal 16 (SDG 16) on peace, justice, and strong institutions, is one of the goals under review at this year’s session. SDG 16 highlights the strong link between sustainable development and the rule of law. The court, as the centerpiece of the Rome Statute system’s evolving network of accountability for atrocity crimes, can contribute to reaching SDG 16 by prosecuting the world’s worst crimes, promoting the rule of law, and providing access to justice for victims.

In today’s difficult international landscape, the ICC is a fragile, yet crucial component of the rules-based global order. It is currently facing serious challenges resulting from its own missteps, as well as external threats to its independence. In the past year, the court’s performance shortcomings have become evident, underscoring the need for changes in policy and practice, Human Rights Watch said.

On January 15, ICC trial judges acquitted former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo, finding that the prosecution had not presented sufficient evidence for the case to proceed. While acquittal is a legitimate and necessary outcome if the prosecution’s evidence does not establish a suspect’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt, the written reasons were only filed on July 16, six months after the oral decision.

On April 12, a pretrial chamber unanimously rejected the request by the prosecutor to investigate serious crimes committed during the armed conflict in Afghanistan since May 2003. The judges found that such an investigation would not be in “the interest of justice” because “the current circumstances of the situation in Afghanistan are such as to make the prospects for a successful investigation and prosecution extremely limited.” This problematic interpretation of “interest of justice” injected political and practical considerations into a judicial decision.

These decisions and other recent developments have highlighted shortcomings at the court that also include the pace of judicial proceedings, management of victim expectations, lack of cooperation, and inadequate resources. Moreover, with preliminary examinations ongoing in 10 countries and investigations underway in 10 more, the prosecutor’s docket far outstrips the reach of current and foreseeable staff capacity.

These issues need to be addressed forthrightly rather than backing away from the court’s mission. An appropriate step toward meaningful change in the court’s policy and practice would be the creation of an independent expert group tasked with assessing a select number of issues confronting the court, Human Rights Watch said.

Other international and hybrid tribunals have undertaken similar independent expert assessments, namely the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, as well as the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

At the ICC Assembly of States Parties session in late 2020, there will be significant changes in court leadership, including the election of a new prosecutor and six new judges. An independent expert assessment would provide an important basis to inform these elections while also providing a set of recommendations to guide the incoming prosecutor and judges, Human Rights Watch said.

The court is also facing serious external challenges. Hostile non-member states are seeking to obstruct ICC investigations and weaken its independence.

Under the Trump administration the US government launched an unprecedented attack against the ICC. On March 15, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced that the US would impose visa bans on ICC officials involved in the court’s potential investigation of US citizens for alleged crimes in Afghanistan. He indicated the same policy may be used to deter ICC efforts to investigate nationals of allied countries, including Israelis. In early April, the US revoked the ICC prosecutor’s visa.

Given the prosecutor’s request to appeal the decision that rejected opening an investigation in Afghanistan, as well as the ongoing preliminary examination in Palestine, no one should expect changes in the US administration’s approach toward the court. It is critical for ICC member states to push back against Washington’s pressure to blunt the threat to judicial independence and any chilling effect on the court’s work, Human Rights Watch said.

“Change at the court is needed because the values underlying the Rome Statute system far exceed in importance the ICC’s performance shortcomings,” Dicker said. “Court officials, ICC member states, and civil society groups need to meet the challenges head on by strengthening ICC practice and providing much more robust state support.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Relatives of disappeared persons participate in a silent protest, demanding an investigation into the disappearances of people in Kashmir. 

© 2019 AP Photo/ Dar Yasin
(New York) – India and Pakistan should act on the recommendations of the United Nations human rights office to protect basic rights in the contested region of Kashmir, Human Rights Watch said today.

The 43-page report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), released on July 8, 2019, raises serious concerns about abuses by state security forces and armed groups in both Indian and Pakistan-held parts of Kashmir. The Indian government dismissed the report as a “false and motivated narrative” that ignored “the core issue of cross-border terrorism.” Pakistan welcomed the report but requested that sections be removed or amended in which the information was “not specific to Pakistan-Administered Kashmir but were general human rights concerns affecting all of Pakistan.”

“India and Pakistan blame each other for human rights violations in Kashmir while ignoring their own responsibility for abuses,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director. “Authorities in both countries should use the opportunity created by the UN report to change course and hold accountable those who’ve committed serious abuses.”

India and Pakistan blame each other for human rights violations in Kashmir while ignoring their own responsibility for abuses.

Meenakshi Ganguly

South Asia Director

The OHCHR said both India and Pakistan had failed to take any clear steps to address and implement the recommendations made in its June 2018 report, the office’s first-ever on human rights in Kashmir. The latest report comes after a deadly attack in February by a Pakistan-based armed group, Jaish-e-Mohammad, that targeted a security forces convoy in Kashmir, killing 40 Indian soldiers. Military escalation between India and Pakistan ensued, including cross-border shelling at the Line of Control (LoC), the de-facto international border in disputed Kashmir.

The Srinagar-based Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society reported that conflict-related casualties were the highest in 2018 since 2008, with 586 people killed, including 267 members of armed groups, 159 security forces personnel, and 160 civilians. The Indian government asserted that 238 militants, 86 security forces personnel, and 37 civilians were killed.

The OHCHR found that Indian security forces often used excessive force to respond to violent protests that began in July 2016, including continued use of pellet-firing shotguns as a crowd-control weapon even though they have caused a large number of civilian deaths and injuries. The Indian government should review its crowd control techniques and rules of engagement, and publicly order the security forces to abide by the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

The report also decried the lack of justice for past abuses such as killing and forced displacement of Hindu Kashmiri Pandits, enforced or involuntary disappearances, and alleged sexual violence by Indian security forces personnel. It expressed concern over excessive use of force during cordon and search operations, resulting in civilian deaths as well as new allegations of torture and deaths in custody.

The OHCHR noted that India’s Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (AFSPA) “remains a key obstacle to accountability,” because it provides effective immunity for serious human rights violations. Since the law came into force in Kashmir in 1990, the Indian government has not granted permission to prosecute any security force personnel in civilian courts.

The UN human rights office also said that India should amend its Public Safety Act, an administrative detention law that allows detention without charge or trial for up to two years. The law has often been used to detain protesters, political dissidents, and other activists on vague grounds for long periods, ignoring regular criminal justice safeguards.

In July 2018, the Indian state government of Jammu and Kashmir amended section 10 of the Public Safety Act, removing the prohibition on detaining permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir outside the state. At least 40 people, mainly separatist political leaders, were transferred to prisons outside the state in 2018, the OHCHR said. It said that transferring detainees outside the state makes it harder for family members to visit and for legal counsel to meet with them. It also noted that prisons outside the state were considered hostile for Kashmiri Muslim detainees, especially separatist leaders.

The UN human rights office said that armed groups were responsible for human rights abuses including kidnappings, killings of civilians, sexual violence, recruitment of children for armed combat, and attacks on people affiliated or associated with political organizations in Jammu and Kashmir. It cited the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental organization that monitors money laundering and terrorist financing, which has called on Pakistan to address its “strategic deficiencies.” India has long accused Pakistan of providing material support, arms, and training to the militant groups. Attacks in Kashmir have resulted in more than 50,000 deaths since 1989.

The OHCHR also found that human rights violations in Pakistan-held Kashmir included restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and association, institutional discrimination against minority groups, and misuse of anti-terrorism laws to target political opponents and activists. It noted threats against journalists for doing their work. The UN human rights office also expressed concern over enforced disappearances of people from Pakistan-held Kashmir, noting that victim groups alleged that Pakistani intelligence agencies were responsible for the disappearances.

“The Indian government’s rejection of the latest UN report on human rights in Kashmir shows that it’s unwilling to confront its own human rights failures,” Ganguly said. “Both India and Pakistan should accept the findings of the report and invite an independent investigation to help end serious abuses in Kashmir.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am


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. 

(The Hague) – 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, Human Rights Watch said today. 

On July 8, 2019, a panel of three judges unanimously found Ntaganda guilty of 13 counts of war crimes and 5 counts of crimes against humanity committed in Ituri, eastern Congo, in 2002 and 2003. The charges included murder and attempted murder, rape, sexual slavery, attacking civilians, pillaging, displacement of civilians, attacking protected objects, and recruiting and using child soldiers. The judges found that Ntaganda and others agreed on a common plan to attack and drive the ethnic Lendu population out of Ituri through the commission of crimes. Human Rights Watch issued a question-and-answer document on Ntaganda’s trial.

“The long-awaited judgment provides an important measure of justice for Bosco Ntaganda’s victims and puts others responsible for grave crimes on notice,” said Maria Elena Vignoli, international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch. “But renewed violence in eastern Congo highlights the need to address the impunity for other abusive leaders.”

The resurgence of violence in Ituri since early June has left scores dead and displaced more than 300,000 people.

During earlier fighting in Ituri, Ntaganda was chief of military operations of the Union of Congolese Patriots (Union des patriotes congolais, UPC), a predominantly ethnic Hema armed group. The UPC was led by Thomas Lubanga, who was convicted by the ICC in 2012 for using child soldiers. Between 2002 and 2005, forces under Ntaganda’s command were implicated in many serious crimes, including ethnic massacres, torture, rape, and the widespread recruitment of children, some as young as seven. The ICC issued two arrest warrants against Ntaganda, one in 2006 and one in 2012. Ntaganda surrendered to the United States embassy in Kigali, Rwanda in March 2013.

If upheld on appeal, the case could become the first final conviction at the ICC for crimes of sexual violence, including against men. In addition to crimes against Lendu, the court found Ntaganda guilty of the war crimes of rape and sexual slavery against members of the UPC. This is the first time the ICC has convicted a commander for sexual violence offenses committed by his troops against other members of the same force.

Human Rights Watch documented ethnic massacres, killings, rape, torture, and recruitment of child soldiers by troops under Ntaganda’s command in the Kivus, and called for these charges to be added to his case at the ICC. However, his trial, which began in September 2015 and concluded in August 2018, only dealt with crimes related to the Ituri conflict.

In May 2019, Ntaganda filed a request to disqualify Judge Kuniko Ozaki, who in early 2019 briefly acted as Japanese ambassador to Estonia while still serving on the Ntaganda case. Ntaganda’s lawyers argued that the appearance of her judicial independence and impartiality had been compromised. In June 2019, a plenary of judges rejected the request, finding that the circumstances of Judge Ozaki’s tenure as ambassador did not disqualify her.

The court will schedule hearings in the coming weeks to determine Ntaganda’s sentence and reparations for victims. It should take all necessary steps to ensure that affected communities in Congo learn about the judgment and next steps, including participating in the reparations proceedings, Human Rights Watch said.

Ntaganda was the fourth person the ICC prosecuted for grave crimes in Congo. A fifth ICC arrest warrant is pending against Gen. Sylvestre Mudacumura, the military leader of a largely Rwandan Hutu armed group active in Congo, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). Congolese authorities, with the help of United Nations peacekeepers, should act urgently to arrest Mudacumura and surrender him to the ICC, Human Rights Watch said.

The number and stature of Congo-related cases before the ICC have not addressed the scale of the crimes committed in the country since 2002, when the court’s jurisdiction started. 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 years, as well as other crimes, including those committed in the attacks that began in Beni, North Kivu, in October 2014.

The ICC prosecutor should formulate a clear strategy to address outstanding accountability needs in Congo, including by supporting Congolese authorities. This will help reinforce the rule of law and address Congo’s recurrent cycles of violence. The court, in turn, needs strong long-term support from ICC member countries, which should allocate sufficient resources to meaningfully address the court’s growing workload, Human Rights Watch said.

“The verdict against Ntaganda is important, but thousands of victims of atrocity crimes in Congo still await justice,” Vignoli said. “The ICC and Congolese authorities should work together to bring to trial many more of those responsible for grave crimes, including senior officials.”

Timeline on Bosco Ntaganda:


Born in Kinigi, Rwanda.


Joins Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebels in southern Uganda.


Fights with RPF to end the Rwandan genocide and joins the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA).


First Congo War begins - participates on the side of the RPA/Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFDL).


Joins the Congolese army.


Second Congo War begins - joins the Rwandan backed Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) rebels in Goma.


RCD splits. Joins the RCD-K-ML splinter faction in Kisangani.


Moves to Bunia, Ituri district, with the RCD-K-ML rebels.


RCD-K-ML splinters. Joins the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) rebels.


Joins the Revolutionary Movement of Congo (MRC) rebels, but the militia group is short-lived.

Nov 2005

Placed on UN sanctions list for violating arms embargo.


Joins the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) rebels and moves to Masisi, North Kivu.

Aug 2006

ICC issues sealed arrest warrant for Ntaganda for war crimes committed in Ituri.

April 2008

ICC arrest warrant for Ntaganda is made public.

Jan 2009

Overthrows Laurent Nkunda with the backing of Rwanda and takes over leadership of the CNDP.


Promoted to general in the Congolese army and appointed as deputy commander of military operations in eastern Congo.


Appointed acting commander of military operations.

March 2012

Ntaganda’s co-accused, Thomas Lubanga, found guilty of war crimes at the ICC.

April 2012

Ntaganda urges his loyalists to mutiny and desert the Congolese army, creating the March 23 Movement (M23).

July 2012

ICC issues second arrest warrant for Ntaganda for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Ituri.

March 2013

Surrenders himself to the US embassy in Kigali, Rwanda, after the M23 breaks apart, and is transferred to the ICC.

February 2014

Confirmation of charges hearing.

June 2014

The Pre-Trial Chamber of the ICC unanimously confirms 18 charges against Ntaganda for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

September 2015

Trial against Ntaganda begins.

August 2018

Trial against Ntaganda ends.

July 2019

Convicted on all 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am