International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Tag Archives: UN

Burundi withdrawing from ICC


Since April of 2015 Burundi has been a place of violence and injustice. This all started due to the announcement of president Nkurunziza when he announce that he was going to run for a third term in office. He won  the election and many citizens felt this was not right because he was only supposed to be allowed to run for two terms in office. People have been getting killed, and thousands of people have been fleeing the country. The ICC has recently decided to do more investigation involving Burundi. Six months after the decision to investigate was made, Burundi decided to withdraw from the court. The UN wanted to establish a commission of inquiry which would make the perpetrators who committed these killings responsible for there actions. On this past Tuesday, October 4, 2016, Burundi declined this commission and claimed that it would be a “one sided account of the events.” I believe that this is a huge red flag, and the UN should investigate further into these events because it is clear something is not right within the nation of Burundi.

When will the ‘blame game’ in Aleppo end?

57e12b8fc46188a4178b45e4-1It is clear from the crisis in Syria over the past five years that no significant progress is being made to end the violence. In fact, matters have gotten increasingly worse. Despite a cease-fire being put in place between the Syrian government and the rebel groups (excluding Isil), attacks continue to inflict havoc in Syria. Just this past Monday an attack occurred in Aleppo, which is located in the northwest corner of Syria. A UN aid convoy carrying flour and other emergency supplies for 78,000 citizens in Aleppo was destroyed by a series of bombs. Residents described that “the bombs were falling like rain”. More than 20 people were killed. This attack is a major issue because it destroyed the cease fire causing the UN to suspend all aid convoys to Syria, a detrimental consequence for civilians. Fingers are being pointed at who is responsible for the attack; the US is blaming Russia and Assad while Russia is blaming rebel terrorist groups. Furthermore, Russia’s defense ministry referenced drone footage stating that terrorists were driving a truck carrying a heavy mortar alongside the convoy before it was bombed. However, monitors in Aleppo captured footage of more than 35 bomb strikes in the area. Innocent civilians are dying and no has the audacity to take responsibility and provide reparations.

Why Anniversaries Could Be Damaging: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge

In the Foreign Policy article by Justine Drennan, she discusses how April 17th, 1975 which commemorates Phnom Penh’s fall to the Khmer Rouge is a date that represents just one point in an ongoing disaster brought about not only by the Khmer Rouge but also France. She goes on to say that in having an anniversary, it can fade the context of the issue since it only focuses on one aspect of the atrocity. In having a strict timeline that has clean dates as to when a tragedy started and ended it can “help conceal the events that led to them”. It is interesting to think about timelines in the context of tribunals and truth commissions. I agree with Drennan’s argument in that timelines do seem to constrict the rhetoric surrounding tragedies however I also find them necessary in order for the mechanisms of international justice to work. It would be rather hard to have a tribunal without time limits. Drennan recognizes that having an anniversary such as April 17th does help victims and the general population to memorialize the experience. But she continues to argue that anniversaries “draw too clear a line between those considered guilty and the rest” which is problematic when considering atrocities including the one in Cambodia which isn’t so black and white when it comes to identifying those who are guilty or not. Anniversaries serve to encapsulate “the suffering in a neat span of time” which ultimately can lead to belittling the roles of different actors in the face of the atrocities committed.

UN Special Representative Stresses Role of Sexual Violence in Conflict

In her latest report on sexual violence in conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, Special Representative of the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, stressed that sexual violence has been implemented “as a ‘tactic of terror'” meant to target ethnic and religious minorities, as well as homosexuals, bisexuals, and transgender individuals. Bangura’s report discusses sexuSRSG in Central African Republical crimes committed by non-State actors, including ISIL, Boko Haram, and Al-Shabaab. These crimes include the abduction, rape, and selling of women and girls into slavery. Bangura also argues that these terrorist groups have been using sexual violence in order to forcefully displace mass amounts of people so that they can use their land for it’s resources or for growing narcotics. Bangura’s report derives from information gathered by UN peacekeeping and political missions, NGO’s, and Member States.

As far as what the international community can do about this, Bangura asserts that the Security Council will have to work with Member States to develop an effective response that will quash this increasing threat. Bangura also notes that it is especially crucial that countries with pervasive sexual violence make a political commitment to dealing with the issue, acknowledging that progress to this end has been made in the DRC, Columbia, Somalia, and Cote d’Ivoire.

Bangura, in an interview previewing the report, also stressed the importance of community and religious engagement in not only helping to understand the nature of the violence, but also in helping the victims get the healing they need. Tackling the issue, according the Bangura, involves capacity-building, technical support, reforming laws, and collaborating with the judiciary to ensure that sexual violence crimes are investigated, perpetrators are prosecuted, and victims are given essential psychological, medical, legal, and livelihood support and services. This is really where a country’s political will come in.

What will be interesting to see is how the international community responds to these allegations made against these terrorist groups, especially since they are non-State actors. Bangura herself notes that this will be a challenge, as these groups are different than the non-State actors that the UN has formerly dealt with. What makes them difficult to deal with is that they are well-organized, have developed structures, have lots of land spread out in many countries, and use up-to-date technology to communicate with their members. To deal with these innovative groups, the UN and the rest of the international community will have to develop new tools and strategies.

Another interesting part of this report is the implication of establishing that sexual crimes have been committed by these actors. While sexual violence has often been viewed as a lesser crime in comparison to other atrocities, there is some precedent for elevating sexual violence crimes to the highest status of crimes, such as we have read about in post-genocide Rwandan justice. Will sexual violence crimes committed by these terrorist groups be elevated to such high status if these groups are ever brought to justice? The answer to this remains to be seen.

Putin and Russia Lift Ban on Missile Sales to Iran

On Monday, President Vladimir Putin approved the delivery of a missile system to Iran. The missile system could possibly complicate the negotiations on Tehran’s nuclear program that Washington has been working so hard on. Additionally the sale potentially undermines the efforts of Obama’s administration to sell Congress and foreign allies on the nuclear deal. This is problematic since the U.S. and Iran are still struggling to complete the deal. Also if Iran has advanced air defense missile, Israel and/or the U.S. will have a harder time threatening Iran with airstrikes if they ignore agreements. No timetable has been announced for the deliverance of the weapons to Iran, but the sale was suspended five years ago because of a flurry of UN sanctions against Iran.

Russia has said that the missile sale will not complicate negotiations; instead it will help Iran along. They believe that the missile they are selling (S-300) is a defensive weapon and does not pose a threat to Israel. The Obama administration fears that this deal could be the first of many between Russia and Iran including a deal that would exchange food for oil and this would raise potential sanctions concerns.

A display of S-300 missiles in Russia. These are the missiles that are being sold to Iran.

While Iran has denied repeatedly that it is using its civilian nuclear program to mask their efforts of building a bomb, much of the West is dubious. Arming Iran with missiles is not appeasing these fears.

Read more here.

Kenya tells UN to close Dadaab camp after Garissa attack

On April 2nd, 148 students were killed in an attack by Somali militants from the al-Shabab Islamist movement. The attack took place at a college in Garissa. The United Nations has been asked by William Ruto to close Dadaab camp. Ruto is Kenya’s Deputy President.


Dadaab camp is the largest refugee camp in Africa that is surrounded by the desert in the north east of Kenya near the border of Somalia. Set up in 1991, the camp arranges housing for families escaping conflict in Somalia. Dadaab has been a home for some families for 20 years. In addition Dadaab has a Unity Primary School where about 2,500 children get a free education.

Ruto has given the UNHCR 3 months to close the refugee camp and “make alternative arrangements for its residents- otherwise, Kenya would ‘relocate them ourselves.’” He insists the the camp be closed and that the residents are moved back to Somalia. Somalia now has safe areas where the militants have been chased out of by African Union Forces. Moreover Ruto has asked for the relocation of more than 500,000 Somalis.

So far the UN has taken no action, according to the head of the UN refugee agency UNHCR in Kenya.

Other controversy with the Dadaab camp is that before, Kenyan members of parliaments and governors have accused al-Shabab of hiding in the camp. Furthermore the group was responsible for a siege at the Westgate mall in 2013 located in Nairobi.

Will the UN take action? It is in my opinion that the UN is unlikely to close the camp and relocate all of its inhabitants. At the moment the camp has a strong community and resources. There are families, schools, and stores established in Dadaab. I do believe though that the UN will increase it’s measures of security and continue monitoring the al-Shabab Islamist movement. This then beckons the question of whether or not this action will be enough.

Special Criminal Court for the Central African Republic: A fight against impunity

The Central African Republic interim government along with the United Nations drafted a law that calls for the establishment of a Special Criminal Court. The article found on the Human Rights Watch website explains how this court would speed up justice for the victims of atrocity in the country. The court is to be made up of a combination of Central African judges and prosecutors along with international judges and prosecutors. The court’s mandate is to investigate and prosecute the most serious crimes in the Central African Republic committed since January 1st, 2012. This clear mandate establishment is very similar to that of the Special Court Sierra Leone and this gives me hope since this was one of SCSL large successes. Also similar to SCSL, the funding for this special court is looking very promising since it is backed by the UN. The article also explains how by establishing this hybrid court the international community will strengthen the national judiciary capacity while also ending impunity fairly and efficiently. Although the ICC is prosecuting those most responsible for serious international crimes, this specialized court will complement the work of the ICC by investigating and prosecuting many others for serious human rights violations. In addressing the crimes committed by the smaller figures as well, I believe this makes large strides towards justice and peace. As we discussed in class it is hard for the ICC to investigate and prosecute everyone responsible for the atrocities committed in certain countries however if the country also makes an effort and targets other smaller perpetrators of atrocity crimes it will ,in my opinion, create an added deterrence towards committing these crimes no matter how small the role is in committing said crime. In investigating and prosecuting these perpetrators the Central African Republic will be making a conscious effort to end impunity thus stabilizing the chaos in the country.

The Gacaca court system in Rwanda

As we have discussed in class, three different court systems have been used to prosecute the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide: the ICTR, the national court system, and the local-level Gacaca court system. These systems have, on the aggregate, been quite successful in terms of the sheer number of cases they have tried since the genocide; however, there are still many concerns about the legitimacy and biases of the Gacaca courts, ultimately resulting in what the BBC terms, ‘controversial justice’ (BBC).

Immediately following the genocide in 1994, Rwanda’s legal system was left largely in disarray. In order to prosecute the large volume of genocidaires, it became clear that employing various court systems would be necessary. As a result, the Gacaca courts transitioned from settling only small local disputes and adapted to “a more conventional model of punitive justice,” which sought to “reveal the truth about the genocide” (HRW). In 2005, these courts began prosecuting the “thousands of accused still awaiting trial in the national court system,” to further their goals of achieving “justice and reconciliation at the grassroots level” (UN).

By 2012, the system of 12,000 community-based courts had tried over 1.2 million perpetrators throughout Rwanda (UN & BBC). According to statistics, approximately 65% of those tried were found guilty, and were subsequently sentenced. In these local courts though, it was possible to significantly reduce your sentence if you showed signs of remorse, publically apologized, and asked for forgiveness from your community (UN). Consequently, some called into the question the legitimacy of the courts— fearing that convicted genocidaires could deliver falsely “sincere” apologies in order to “return home without further penalty” (HRW & UN).

As the Human Rights Watch asserted, the expectation that the Gacaca courts would achieve “national-level reconciliation” in these few years was pretty far-fetched (HRW). In fact, a multitude of other factors caused people to question the legitimacy of these trials, including corruption, personal ties, and intimidation (HWR). Although the BBC reported that “many people in Rwanda” have credited the system for “help[ing] to mend the wounds of the past,” the Gacaca’s ability to promote justice and reconciliation has undoubtedly been challenged by these underlying problems (BBC & HRW). For these reasons— as well as the many reasons we have discussed in class— it is and will remain to be very difficult to assess the success of these courts for many years to come.

Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine: A Possible Crime of Aggression?

What’s the Situation in Ukraine right now?

Right as the young and fresh new Ukrainian government was scrambling to get themselves together, Russia moved their military into Crimea this past weekend. It was a rapid, unexpected, and non-violent military takeover that caught not just Ukraine but the entire international community by surprise. The Ukrainian government has not authorized military action against the Russians in fear of starting a bloody war.

Putin’s intentions in Ukraine aren’t entirely clear. More modest speculations include wanting to protect the Russians in Crimea from anti-Russian violence , wanting to stabilize a potentially volatile political situation right along Russia’s border. More bold speculation includes Putin wanting to potentially take over Crimea or even all of Ukraine and annex it into Russia. Other former Soviet states have expressed concern that Russia’s aggression might extend to their territories as well. Estonia’s president called for stronger defense in fear of further Russian aggression.

Is This an Act of Aggression?

There has been significant international outcry against Russia’s actions, centered largely around the illegality of such military action under international law. Acts of aggression are defined by amendment of the Rome Statute as the use of armed force carried out by one state against another state without the justification of self-defense or through UN Sanction. By this definition, Russia’s actions can definitely be construed as a crime of aggression.

Can/Will/Should the ICC Step In?

Although the ICC is technically a retroactive court, it has demonstrated since its inception that it has a clear interest in intervention and prevention.  It would not be entirely inconceivable for the ICC to want to prevent mass violence in this case by stepping in under the umbrella of crimes of aggression.

Whether the ICC can is another question entirely, and the answer is a pretty resolute no. Russia and Ukraine are both not party to the Rome Statute, so the prosecutor cannot initiate an investigation. The UN Security Council referral option is out, given that Russia would veto any action on that front. One possible option, should Ukraine really want the intervention of the ICC, is for Ukraine to pull the stunt that the Cote d’Ivoire pulled in 2011, where they invited the ICC to open an investigation and accepted the jurisdiction of the court without being a member state of the Rome treaty. 

But the chances of that occurring are slim to none, particularly in a case where there have been no deaths or mass violence on Russia’s part. The crime of aggression, although clearly defined in the ICC’s jurisdiction, has never actually been acted upon. A good precedent would be the war between Russia and Georgia in 2008, which faced limited international retribution for its potential violation of aggression laws. Even if military action breaks out in Crimea, consequences for aggression are unlikely.

If not the ICC, then Who?

The United Nations is the most obvious international player with an interest in preventing a potential war, but is severely handicapped by Russia’s position on the Security Council. Some articles have speculated that NATO will play one of the biggest roles in standing up to Russia. Although Ukraine is not a part of NATO, NATO has interests in the surrounding Baltic states and Poland, all of which are threatened by Russia’s expansion into Ukraine. The European Court of Human Rights has also been mentioned, although what role it could or would play appears to be ambiguous.  

Without any international regulatory institutions directly involved, it might come down to political and economic pressure to convince Russia to not advance. But that poses its own problems–Russia’s economy is largely dependent on the exportation of natural resources, and sanctions on resources such as gas would severely impact European countries like Germany and France, for whom Russia is the biggest supplier.

Given the rapid developments over the past few days, there is no telling where the situation will go in the next few weeks, and who will end up being pulled into this potential crisis in Eurasia.



In the Middle East – a Challenge to International Tribunals

Mideast Strife Turns Trial on Beirut Assassination Into Another Fault Line

After the suspected assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri nine years ago, an international investigation supported by the UN attempted to find the perpetrators and bring accountability to the region. Though it does not concern a human rights violation by a state official, this situation serves as an example of the ways in which international law can be unsuccessful in achieving justice.

First of all, the investigation has been incredibly costly and drawn out. Each of the four suspects has evaded arrest, and is being tried in absentia; should they be arrested later, they will receive another trial. Most significantly, this trial is taking place as a conflict is ongoing. As a civil war rages in neighboring Syria that involves the same groups under investigation, the tribunal’s ability to enforce any law is under question. As tensions between factions in Lebanon grow, each side has used the tribunal to highlight the perceived wrongs it has suffered, decreasing again the tribunal’s credibility. This shows that in the midst of ongoing conflict, international tribunals and prosecutions have a low chance of success.

UN’s “State of Palestine”

Upon the State of Palestine’s recognition as a non-member observer state of the UN, it has earned a set of obligations under the realm of international law, as the Amnesty International article explains. Palestine is now in a position to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, as well as other international humanitarian law treaties. This is a crucial opportunity for the pursuit of justice for the local victims of human rights violations in giving them the power to claim their respective rights. In constituting a highly important step in the process of achieving international justice for the war crimes and crimes against humanity that have been committed by all involved parties in the two year period in Gaza and Southern Israel in 08.

The Israeli government, being one of these parties, is thought to be concerned that Palestinians may use the significant rise of their status to make use of precisely these aforementioned new opportunities. In case of an investigation, upon request by the Palestinians, Israelis must be worried that their practices in the occupied territories will be viewed as violations of international law, arguably even as crimes against humanity. It seems to thereby be a wide concern that several states who have voted against the status change, namely the P5 of the UN Security Council, share the same concern. They are expected, by Amnesty International sources, to put diplomatic pressure on Palestinian authorities to reject mechanisms of accountability for crimes of international law.

Amnesty International also seems to think that the Palestinians should accept the ICC’s jurisdiction over crimes committed since 2002, however a question of whether this would be in the Palestinians best interest could also be raised. In order to ensure that justice for all those affected will one day be achieved is within possibility, I agree that the State of Palestine must accede to the Statute, as well as the relevant treaties. This provides an invaluable chance, in that sense, to provide lawful and just investigation into the alarming amount of international humanitarian law violations that have been reported.

Some believe that the UN move to change the said status could be as an internationally recognized encouragement of the power of recognized Palestinian authorities over that of Hamas. While another concern remains to be the issue of expected change of policies in terms of providing funding for UN initiatives by the Israelis, as well as their known allies such as the United States. Considering their pivotal role in financing most UN projects, including those in Gaza, a similar situation would surely exacerbate the set of international humanitarian circumstances. Hopefully, increased support of Palestine will provide enough leverage to prevent  such problems from occurring and ensuring the affected people of Gaza and Southern Israel, including all those displaced, will receive their earned justice.

With Palestine’s New UN Status, Will the ICC Investigate Israeli Crimes?

As mentioned in an earlier blog post this week, on Thursday the UN General Assembly voted on the PLO’s bid to become a non-member observer state. Over 130 countries voted to upgrade Palestine’s status, with 9 opposed and 41 abstaining – apart from Canada, no major country joined the US and Israel in voting no (UK and Germany abstained). One important result of this vote is that it provides the Palestinians with potential ICC membership. As mentioned in another recent blog post, there have been concerns about the effects of the vote on the peace process, and Israel views the possibility of legal action as a credible threat. In September, Bensouda stated,“if Palestine is able to pass over that (statehood) hurdle, of course, under the General Assembly, then we will revisit what the ICC can do.”

However, ICC prosecutions against Israel do not seem likely – at least in the foreseeable future. Israel is not a signatory to the ICC, and so is unlikely to cooperate with any indictments. Given the United States’ relationship with Israel, it is also unlikely that it would abstain from voting in a UNSC vote and thus allow a UNSC referral to go through. Even if Bensouda was to initiate an investigation under proprio motu powers, the prosecutor may have difficulty determining the territory under which it can exercise jurisdiction, and the requests to investigate can be time-consuming; the Palestinians’ last request was turned down three years after it was submitted (and it was turned down on a matter of jurisdiction, not on merits). Furthermore, under the ICC’s complementarity principle, Israel could argue that its courts are capable of conducting legitimate investigations on their own.

The Palestinians’ UN envoy stated that his government would not immediately join the ICC, but indicated that if it did, it would pursue Israeli settlement policy as a war crime. However, although the Palestinians could invite the ICC prosecutor to investigate the general conflict situation, it cannot dictate which specific crimes the court should choose to examine. As a result, the prosecutor could also investigate crimes committed by Palestinian extremists. Christian Wanewaser, the former president of the ICC’s assembly of states parties stated that this would make it unlikely for the Palestinians to act immediately: “I think they will let this sit for a while. They will just use the threat of resubmitting [a claim] as leverage to stop the settlement policy.”

ICC investigations and potential indictments against Israelis would possibly gain support from many who have accused the court of having an “Africa bias.” However, such actions would likely have many geopolitical ramifications, and would be detrimental to the court’s relationship with the United States. As one Western diplomat with UN experience said, “The best the Palestinians can hope for is Sudan-like situation.” In such a case, indictments would be issued, but indicted parties would likely avoid prosecution. Would other international actors (for example, the 138 who voted in favor of Palestine’s improved status) put more pressure on Israel and the ICC? Or would stigmatization, as is the case with Bashir, be “better than nothing?” (as Akhavan states).

In the Eyes of the Beholder: The Legitimacy of International Justice to Non-State Actors

As we’ve seen in the ICC case study examples in class, the benchmark of success for international justice efforts seems to be the system’s capabilities when it comes to indicting, arresting, and prosecuting former or sitting state officials (in some cases, even heads of state). Moreover, it is those indictments against state officials that stir up the most controversy in the transitional justice and human rights community. That being said, the ICC has, of course, issued arrest warrants for rebel leaders as well. A question emerges, however, when we look to the legitimacy of international justice mechanisms such as the ICC in the eyes of non-state actors.

In the case of Syria, for example, there has been growing international pressure for an ICC investigation into the crimes committed by the state under the Assad regime. Evidence of atrocities committed by rebel groups has very recently come to the forefront of the news as well, though. This situation brings to light a sense of tension in the pursuit of international justice.

Looking at cases in states that have self-referred their situations to the ICC, we see that it is often difficult to bring charges up against governments whose cooperation is necessary to the gathering of information in investigations. In a case such as Syria, however, there is little doubt in the international community that the actions of the government must be investigated (even though Syria is notably not a state party to the ICC). The question will be, though, whether or not the violent actions of rebel groups will also be perceived as worthy of investigation and legal action. Here arises the ultimate question: How do non-state actors view international justice institutions? Do they feel they are not bound by the international norms that their governments have subscribed to, either because the state has violated such rights standards, or (more broadly) because they see the actions of their state as wholly illegitimate to begin with? Looking back to Syria, we must remember that the nation is not a state party to the ICC, therefore making this latter question somewhat less applicable. Nevertheless, considering the ever-growing role that non-state actors play in global politics, the broader issue of the legitimacy of international justice in the eyes of these non-state actors will take on increasing importance as we continue to use the deterrence factor as an argument in favor of transitional justice mechanisms.

Rwanda and UN Security Council

Last week, it has been reported that Rwanda will hold one of the five non-permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council. In his interview for NPR with the Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo, one of the things brought up by host Michael Martin is that a “firm hand” is necessary in government to stave off ethnic conflict. Mushikiwabo’s response is that yes, in fact, it is and that President Kagame has been one of the better leaders to help Rwanda gain its current success. I find this to be somewhat of a conflict of interest, especially when viewed side by side with Victor Peskin’s account of victor’s justice in the case of the ICTR. Fearing indictments of the officials of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, Kagame’s government banned travel for the witnesses asked to testify in the hearings. According to Peskin, “The government’s decision to bar witness travel was one of the most damaging acts of noncompliance in the history of both ad hoc tribunals” (225, Peskin). Rwanda’s actions received little criticism and the UN Security Council was slow to respond to the official appeal of the government’s actions.

How is it, that a country so set on working against the UN-sanctioned Tribunal meant to help fix the terrible wrongs that occurred, is welcome with open arms into the UN Security Council?

When Should We Intervene?

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan criticized the UN Security Council earlier this week for its inaction regarding Syria. Erdogan compared the lack of intervention to the massacre at Srebrenica in 1995, saying that a system such as the UN Security Council that allows one or two nations to block intervention in such a dire humanitarian crisis is inherently unjust.

The UN Security council is divided between Western Powers on one side who are afraid of entering into a long and costly war and Russia and China, who have sided with Syrian President Bashar al Assad and believe that any solution to the Syrian crisis should come about without outside intervention.

But as the death toll rises (now at approximately 30,000) and refugees are flooding into surrounding countries (an estimated 200,000 refugees), the need for a solution in the near future becomes increasingly apparent. The US has promised only humanitarian and logistical aid. President Obama has said he would consider military options if Syria appeared to be planning to use chemical weapons. But what options would the US and its allies have at that point? Armed conflict will result in more deaths and more refugees. Officials from Syria’s neighboring countries have said that they are reaching their refugee limit and may have to close borders, which would further upset society if done in the midst of chemical warfare. The longer the Security Council delays intervention, the fewer options they will have once intervention is a necessity.