International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Tag Archives: torture

Cold Blooded Killers

Amnesty International has stated that it has gathered evidence, that men dressed in Iraqi federal police uniforms have tortured and killed residents of different villages in south of Mosul.

Researchers from Amnesty visited several villages in the Al-Sura and Al- Qayyara sub-districts of Ninewa governorate, southwest and south of Mosul. They found evidence that indicated up to six people were “extrajudicially” executed in late October, (the sixth man was apparently shot dead as he ran towards forces that included men in police uniform while pulling up his clothes to show that he had no explosives). The reasoning behind this killing was apparently due to suspicions that the victims had ties with the Islamic State.

An Iraqi soldier stands next to detained men accused of being Islamic State fighters, at a check point in Qayyara, south of Mosul, Iraq“Deliberately killing captives and other defenceless individuals is prohibited by international humanitarian law and is a war crime. It is crucial that the Iraqi authorities carry out prompt, thorough, impartial and independent investigations into these crimes under international law, and bring those responsible to justice. Without effective measures to suppress and punish serious violations, there is a real risk that we could see war crimes of this kind repeated in other Iraqi villages and towns during the Mosul offensive.” Said Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Director for Research at Amnesty International (Beirut Regional Office).

Since the federal Police forces command has denied the accusation, they must investigate and bring the perpetrators to justice. Amnesty is also asking Iraqi authorities to grantee protection to the families of the victims and witnesses. While the Iraqi authorities did deny taking part of the torture, there were a number of Iraqi forces present in, or passed through the villages during the time the crime was taking place. To further pressure the authorities, “all those killed were buried without autopsies after their corpses were found”. This is similar to burying the evidence.

Pro-government forces have launched an offensive operation to retake Mosul last month. About 50,000 Iraqi security forces personnel, soldiers, police, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, Sunni Arab tribesmen and Shia militiamen are involved in the three-week operation.

Torture or Trickery in Guantanamo Bay

The early 2000’s were filled with a great amount of speculation surrounding the circumstances of the American military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Questions of torture tactics and classified messages between top FBI officials over the legality of the treatment of prisoners filled the media. Many agents working at Guantanamo Bay say tactics used by interrogators and other officials were certainly forms of torture violating international law; however, interrogators responded that they were following orders and their officers told them the prisoners were not protected by the Geneva Convention. Officials working at the prison did admit to their awareness of international laws, but many claimed they used trickery, not torture, as a way to get prisoners to give up information. While speculation still remains about the events that took place at Guantanamo Bay, a few things are for sure. First, the prison most certainly must follow international laws and is covered under the Geneva Convention. Next, the definition of torture is one that should be defined in broad enough terms to encompass all forms of mistreatment or ‘trickery.’ Lastly, if the question needs to be asked whether torture is taking place, it most likely is.


US Torture Reports as Multiple Core Crimes?

According to an ICTJ article, the recently released torture reports revealed that the US government has been committing “systematic torture,” against prisoners in foreign jails – a flagrant disregard of the US’s policies and values on torture. This immediately reminded me of a recent in-class discussion regarding the core crimes, including war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The ICTJ’s label of the torture as “systematic” may be misleading because it initially reminded me of crimes against humanity because our in-class definition reads, “widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population.” While the prisoners cannot be classified as civilians, they were also not allowed a “shred of due process or even the semblance of justice” and the torture was not an isolated incident, as the over 6,000-page report illustrates. Yet mistreating prisoners of war, which is what the gruesome torture report describes, is classified as a war crime. To add to the confusion, the ICTJ article reports that 26 out of the 119 men were wrongfully held, causing me to think that they were not deserving of being a POW in the first place. If they were totally undeserving of punishment, as the ICTJ suggests, can they actually be considered civilians? The issue of the recent torture reports and the individuals involved seems to be a messy situation in terms of defining exactly what type of atrocity it is.

Article:  After Torture Report, Rights of Victims and Accountability of Perpetrators Must Not Be Denied

Rape as a War Crime

A British documentary revealed a disturbing account of the rape chambers of Gaddafi.

When rape is used as a weapon in war and peace, there is a thin line where violators cross from what would be recognized as torture to the ICC or classified as an “ordinary crime” handled by civil court.

With the photo archives that have been revealed in the “sex dungeon” cases and even the tortures in Syria, what kind of suit would have to be brought against a person if there is not enough evidence of torture? In situations of massacres and large scale violence, how are rape cases distinguished between crimes of war, crimes against humanity, and instruments of genocide?

Because of such personal accounts and humiliation that come with the reporting of a rape crime, it is most likely the case that a lot of rape events have not been confronted as war crimes until much later after it actually happened. If an offender identifies with a party opposed to that which the civilian victim belongs to or to which she/he owes allegiance, is the crime ultimately considered to be carried out in unison with the ultimate goals of a military campaign?

The timing of the offense perpetrated during a non-international armed conflict is a complicated one. How is it proven that an offense has been created by an armed conflict? Does the timing of conflict necessarily create the context of rape? I ask this because I’m sure not all rape cases during conflict times are carried out in consonance with the ultimate goals of a military campaign and against a protected person.The same applies to the case of an offense committed (e.g. murder) in breach of IHL, by a civilian against a combatant belonging to the opposing party to the conflict.

Assad, Torture and Warcrimes


This week the Syrian regime has come under increased pressure. This is nothing new, but what is different is the angle of attack, as a report on the ‘Credibility of Evidence Certain Evidence With Regard to the Torture and Execution of Persons Incarcerated by the Current Syrian Regime’ speaks more to the treatment of prisoners than the more widely covered civil war, which we are in general more familiar with. 

The indictment would thus be war crimes, and the three lawyers that compiled the reports were the senior lawyers on the ICTY and Sierra Leone. The lawyers obtained their evidence by interviewing a senior defector codenamed ‘Caesar’, who detailed the egregious treatment of prisoners, which included maiming, removing of eyes and worse. To quote De Silva, the former Chief Prosecutor of the special court for Sierra Leone, “This is a smoking gun of a kind we didn’t have before. It makes a very strong case indeed”.

Let’s assume Assad is guilty of this. There are two main problems with the report. The first is it is incomplete-it focuses on Assad as an individual and his regime, but does nothing to address the other groups involved in the conflict. For instance, it is  likely that al-Nusra, an extremist group in the region, are responsible for similar atrocities. Part of the problem with the emphasis on individualism in international law is that groups like al-Nusra are much more difficult to prosecute. In other words, the media or al-Nusra itself would have to work harder to elevate an individual a level that they could be held responsible and prosecuted. 

The second problem is that Syria is not a part of the ICC or the Rome Statute, and thus would require referral by the UNSC. With the already given reluctance from Russia and China on such matters, it seems unlikely that this matter would proceed further than it already is. Ultimately this is the main problem the ICC faces: even when faced with, what the three lawyers believe to be conclusive evidence, it is unable to function. What such reports can do, however, is put further pressure on the Assad regime by means of increased exposure to its crimes. In this, we see that the ICC’s ability to generate political pressure does not just come from the trials it has, but the process by which such trials are called. In other words, if the ICC did not exist, and the mechanisms to bring such crimes to the court via such reports did not exist, there would be no need to generate them, and thus this avenue of pressure would be lost. 


Arrest Bush!



Four former detainees in Guantanamo Bay and Afghanistan filed a complaint with the U.N. Committee against Torture against Canada for failing to arrest and prosecute former U.S. president George W. Bush. The Canadian Centre for International Justice and the U.S.-based Center for Constitutional Rights filed the complaint on behalf of Hassan bin Attash, Sami el-Hajj, Muhammed Khan Tumani, and Murat Kurnaz (The Canadian Press). This episode goes back to last year, when they filed a criminal complaint in Canada alleging torture against Bush (Wittes). When Bush and Clinton visited British Columbia for a speaking engagement in October, 2011, hundreds were out to protest, and bin Attash, el-Hajj, Tumani and Kurnaz called on the Canadian government to uphold its legal obligation under the UN Convention against Torture and conduct a criminal investigation against Bush while he was on Canadian Soil (Gallagher). The picture above is from the protest that occurred during Bush’s visit. Amnesty International also called on the Canadian authorities on October 12, 2011, to arrest and prosecute Bush (Comte). Regarding this incidence, Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, wrote: “no, this isn’t an episode of South Park.”

Canada’s Justice Department answered with “It’s complicated” in briefing notes on the subject, pointing out that investigations involving crimes against humanity are complex, lengthy, and resource intensive and that Canada prioritizes those who reside in Canada. The note also writes that officials should tell the UN Committee, “Canada does not address specific criminal complaints in a public forum,” if pressed for information on Bush and Cheney (The Canadian Press).

The call for Bush’s arrest was supported by three civil organizations from U.S., Canada, and U.K., and this shows that civil society and victims will not be silent about human rights violations committed by the U.S. Although it is unlikely that Bush will actually be arrested and prosecuted, incidence like this significantly mars the reputation of the former leader of the U.S. Do you think incidence like this would change United States’ future calculations and actions? Also, I read someone’s comment on one of the news articles, which said, “Amnesty, I have just lost respect for you…what kind of idiot attacks the U.S. while ignoring the ACTUAL crimes of groups like Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, etc….?” These organizations probably didn’t think they would actually put Bush in jail. Then why do you think they did this? Also, do you think these organizations should just focus on “worse” human rights violations? Below are the links to the news and blog posts I read.

Amnesty accuses Rwanda of torture

Almost eight years after the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda for violations of international law, Amnesty International is accusing Rwandan military intelligence of detaining civilians and using extreme interrogation techniques after a series of violent attacks before the presidential election of 2010 . Amnesty International “says researches in Rwanda documented 45 cases of unlawful detention and 18 allegations of torture at Rwanda military prisons between March 2010 and June of this year”.  In order to move forward with this case, Amnesty International is having trouble finding Rwandan citizens to file a case for these human rights violations. There is also the ethical question of how much Amnesty International should probe the case because of the trauma that the violations have caused the Rwandan people. However, failing to take these human rights violations to court has the consequence of allowing a government to “get away with” several crimes and invoking a desire for revenge among citizens.

On a larger scope, I find this case especially interesting because it highlights how difficult it is to prove that military intelligence has indeed unlawfully detained and tortured civilians.  Even with appropriate evidence, it is extremely difficult to carry out a successful trial that will result in justice and reparations for the people; as we saw the United States simply excuse the United Nations’ concerns of its military intelligence using “advanced interrogation techniques” on Iraqi civilians. Without any action against these Rwandan human rights violations, the cycle of politically tied vengeful violence will continue.

Truth Commissions as Political Tools

Like much of Latin America, Brazil experienced many political crises and transformations from the early 1900s through to the late 70’s. Pseudo republican governments, military dictatorships, and full dictatorships all held power at some time in the country. It was during these periods that torture, disappearances, unjustified jailing, and killings were all committed by those in power. The current president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, was an activist that was jailed and tortured in 1970. Intellectuals were jailed and many fled the country in fear of their government. In May, president Rousseff created a truth commission made up of seven people to help bring to light the truth of what happened to the more than 9000 people that were tortured and killed. The commission promises amnesty for those who come forward and is intended to give closure to many generations affected by these brutal regimes.

I find myself doubting whether this initiative will be truly helpful to those affected by the crimes committed; many are in their 60s and 70s now and even more have already died. Is this is more of a political move to boost the popularity and image of the current political system, particularly for a political party in an election year? We talk about the role of transitional justice being necessary and incredibly useful for helping a country that has just experienced awful atrocities move past these awful occurrences, but is a country as advanced, rich, and powerful as Brazil in a transitional period from oppression to democratic government forty years later? Can the purpose of truth commissions be perverted into a political tool for strengthening the leaders that came out of opposition movements? How important is the intention behind different forms of transitional justice?


Unilateral Jurisdiction

In one of our past lectures we learned about the idea of Universal Jurisdiction, or the authority of a governing body to take legal action against those whose alleged crimes may not have taken place within their jurisdiction.  Critics of the idea argue that it violates individual states sovereignty, and that any state could possibly construct universal jurisdiction tribunals.  The linked article discusses a Spanish judge named Baltasar Garzon, who was known for exercising universal jurisdiction from his home country.  While article primarily covers his recent personal legal problems, Garzon was made famous by calling for an investigation into the Bush Administration’s actions over Guantanamo Bay.

While an investigation never gained any traction, the idea of universal jurisdiction and the legality of Garzon’s action was in question.  Was their any legal basis for his actions, and if he did issue warrants, was anyone going to take them seriously?