International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Tag Archives: war crimes

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.

Destruction of Protected Buildings is a War Crime


The ICC’s first ever case prosecuting an individual for the war crime of attacking protected objects, like religious and historic monuments, involved charges brought against Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi in the northwestern African country of Mali. Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi is a member of a Tuareg Islamic extremist militia and in this case is responsible for the intentional destruction of ten religious and historic sites in Timbukti, Mali. These sites include nine mausoleums and one mosque. Attacks on these types of buildings constitute “protected” under the law because they are considered a significant part of the cultural heritage of Timbuktu and Mali. Ahmad Al-Mahdi was charged with the co-perpetration of this destruction, and his charges were significant because of his specific intent of targeting these places due to their religious and historical identity. The impact of this crime on the local community was extensive; destruction of mausoleums and mosques is extremely disrespectful against the Islamic culture.

Although the building destruction occurred throughout June and July of 2012, the warrant for his arrest was not issued until September 18, 2015. The situation was referred to the ICC by the Mali government on July 13, 2012, and the investigation began in January of 2013. This case is unique in that it is the first case to prosecute perpetrators for destructing protected buildings, compared to attacks against civilians. Additionally, another unique aspect of this case is that it is one of the only instances where the defendant pleaded guilty before the ICC. It only took eight days from the initial issuing of his warrant to Ahmad Al-Mahdi’s surrender, which occurred on September 26, 2015. The authorities of Niger are responsible for surrendering him to the ICC and transferring him to The Hague. The trial lasted from August 22 to the 24 of 2016, where Ahmad Al-Mahdi pleaded guilty. The final verdict was reached in September which determined his unanimous guilt as a co-perpetrator in the alleged war crime and he was sentenced to nine years imprisonment (minus the time he has already spent in detention since his arrest in 2015). This conviction was celebrated by many within the community of Mali as progress made towards ending impunity for attacks on heritage and cultural cleansing. However, some society members also criticize the Court for failing to prosecute other crimes, like rape and murder, which also occurred during the 2012 Mali conflict.

Vigilante Justice in Ukraine?

pavlov1Pro-Russian rebel leader, Arsen Pavlov, was assassinated this weekend, leading to further uproar in the country. Rebel members suspect the assassination was the work of Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko. Pavlov is accused many war crimes, including killing prisoners of war on multiple occasions, leaving many people rejoicing about his death. However, his rebel members describe the assassination as an “act of terrorism” and feel that the government of Ukraine has now declared war on them. While Pavlov’s rebel group is convinced this was an act by the government, there are many groups that could have perpetrated this crime. Even still, this killing violates the ceasefire order, creating heavy tension and fighting throughout eastern Ukraine. While killing Pavlov means he will never be able to be tried for his war crimes, many leaders and groups believe he got what he deserved.

Why not the Winners too?

History is written by the victors. The winners decide the rules, and the punishments to dole out to those who break those rules. The Nuremburg and Tokyo trials after WWII proved that. The defeated Germany and her allies were put on trial by the victorious world powers, but these winners had the express design to punish the losers in this war. That is how it has always been; the winners punish the defeated for their crime, but what about the crimes of the victors? The crimes of the victors are often ignored in favor of publicizing the crimes of the losers, but shouldn’t all crimes in a conflict be persecuted? Shouldn’t the nations that preach that impunity cannot exist, be held responsible for the crimes that they committed? It is this in mind that the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia) and the ICTR (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda) were created. They were made in the image of the Nuremburg and Tokyo Trials, but with a new purpose of prosecuting both the winning and losing sides in the conflict. These tribunals are trying to make sure that no matter what side you are on, that committing war crime will never go unpunished.

The White House tolerates an atrocity in Syria


Tuesday evening, The Washington Post reported that the United States acted illogically in response to the attack on UN humanitarian aid trucks in Syria the day prior. Although the Red Cross and UN officials suggested a war crime had been committed, Secretary of State John Kerry refused to give up on the US’s tentative relationship with Russia ― one of the parties suspected to be responsible for the horrific bombing. The State Department recorded Kerry declaring that the previously discussed cease-fire agreement, clearly violated by this vicious act, was “not dead” and that talks with Russia should continue. There is abundant evidence that the aid convoy, distinctly marked “humanitarian”, had not deployed before those parties involved in the conflict had been notified of its incoming presence. Russian and Syrian officials deny any and all responsibility for Monday’s attack, but contrary to their unconvincing testimony, there is little doubt about their involvement at this point. How alarming is it that our government is willing to show an overwhelming level of tolerance for such abhorrent atrocities for the sake of protecting a proposed alliance with Russia, the alleged perpetrator of this attack?

War Crimes in Syria

The civil war in Syria that is still going on today has created many problems in the country including a countless number of war crimes that have been committed. The government is to blame for a lot of these war crimes. They deliberately target innocent civilians and they use illegal weapons to do so. They specifically drop bombs called cluster bombs. These bombs are devastating as they release a number of tiny projectiles that go all over the place. The government cannot possibly say that they were only targeting soldiers because they have no control over what these projectiles hit. War crimes are also being committed by the people of Syria who are fighting against the government. The most well known war crime that they are committing is the killings of soldiers who they have in custody. It is an international law that you are not allowed to unlawfully execute enemy soldiers who are in your custody as your prisoners. These Syrian rebels  have also been accused of treating captured government officials very poorly. These war crimes are a serious problem as they put the lives of so many innocent civilians in jeopardy.

Banality of Evil

“The Banality of Evil”

I remember first hearing this phrase and thinking how can evil be ordinary? It gives many great comfort to think that people are born inherently evil, that your neighbor, friend, colleague, would never be this caricature of evil. But that is not the truth, and the truth is a terrifying reality. Normal people can do more damage than the person holding the gun, The Nazis proved that. The bureaucratic officials of Nazi German were a well-oiled machine where one signature at the bottom of an insignificant piece of paper could send thousands to their death. It was so easy to blame the figurehead of the movement, Hitler, but he never pulled a trigger (except on himself). The power behind Hitler was the fire he ignited with his rhetoric and promises, and to a severely economically depressed Germany, his words sounded like salvation. People still question why anyone would follow a man like Hitler, but they didn’t follow the man, they followed the promise of a future that Hitler promised. Hitler made the masses proud to call themselves German once again after humiliation in WWI. People could have felt they had an obligation to the man who raised their country back up, they could have whole-heartedly believed in his rhetoric. The important thing to remember is that without the support of the masses, the ordinary people, no dictatorship or genocide would ever happen; they would have no army, no followers to fill their ranks, no support for their cause.

Amnesty International declares Hamas committed war crimes during Gaza War

In a report released Thursday, Amnesty International stated claims to war crimes committed by Hamas during the Gaza War. The focus of these claims is centered around the violence against Israeli and Palestinians through the use of indiscriminate projectiles. In their press release, Amnesty International declares, “Palestinian armed groups displayed a flagrant disregard for the lives of civilians.” Due to the nature of the indiscriminate projectiles, many of the rockets launched during the Gaza War did not accurately reach their targets and thus, many civilians, both Israeli and Palestinian, were injured and killed.

Although there were killings on both sides of the conflict throughout the entire war due to these rockets, the Palestinian government has tried to lay blame on the Israeli military for these acts of indiscriminate projectile use. Despite these claims, however, Amnesty International’s investigations led to a resounding conclusion that these projectiles were used by both parties in the war. Furthermore, Amnesty International is looking to hold Palestinian conflict groups accountable for other humanitarian law violations including storing supplies and weapons in UN schools and inciting conflict and attacks in civilian-dominated spaces.

In an effort to improve the current political and civilian situations in both Palestine and Israel post-conflict, Amnesty International is calling for both nations to begin cooperating more freely with the United Nations and the International Criminal Court. Despite similar encouragements in the past and now with this newly released report, both Hamas and the Israeli government have not actively responded nor engaged in meaningful dialogue for resolution with neither the United Nations or the International Criminal Court.

ICC Upholds Acquittal of Former Congolese Rebel Leader

Mathieu Ngudjolo, former leader of the Congolese rebel group, Nationalist and Integrationist Front, was once again acquitted on Feb. 27, 2015. He was charged with commanding a militia of fighters who in 2003 destroyed the village of Bogoro (eastern Congo) and in the process raped and hacked to death roughly 200 people including children.
The prosecutors on the case felt that there were errors on the parts of the judge’s during the first trial and that they had been denied a fair trial because, in part, they were not permitted to cross examine witnesses with Ngudjolo. The decision was ultimately upheld because the ruling judge felt that the errors did not affect the outcome of the acquittal.
The Ngudjolo case was important because it was only the second case the ICC handled and the first acquittal.
More can be read about this here.

Impunity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

2118453159The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been a zone of political upheaval and armed conflict for the better part of the last twenty years, and as such its population has been subjected to blatant instances of war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as indications of genocide. Regardless of recent relative stabilization in the country, two provinces continue to struggle with atrocity. Thousands of people are continually displaced from the two Kivu provinces, and civilians are being raped and massacred while their homes and schools are destroyed and looted. The Mai Mai militia has perpetrated many of the rapes, killings, mutilations, and abductions in the past two decades of conflict, and on January 6, of 2011, a Congolese arrest warrant was issued for the the militia’s leader, Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka.

In a blatant show of impunity, Sheka openly traveled to Goma in July of 2011 for health treatments and ran for parliament in November, conducting his campaign across the country’s Walikale territory. There are suspicions that Sheka, along with other war criminals in the region, are kept abreast of all military operations, participate in the exploitation of regions to trade their resources, and receive arms and ammunition when needed.

Typically, this would be a case for the International Criminal Court, especially when we consider the country’s signing and ratification of the Rome Statute in 2002. Unfortunately, the legislation of the ICC was never successfully implemented in the DRC due to the neglect of the transitional government in power at the time and the tabling of subsequent proposals. Instead, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and acts of genocide have been adjudicated by a system of military tribunals since 2002. In response to concerns for the legal rights of those involved in the tribunals, the DRC gave the 12 provincial Courts of Appeals the power to hear cases concerning atrocities in 2013. The ICC is also working to utilize temporary legislation in the country to adjudicate the crimes committed in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The DRC has seen little progress in the pursuit for justice within the country. Proposals for specialized tribunals like those established in Cambodia have been abandoned, and the government has largely ignored the crimes committed before the signing of the Rome Statute. All of this demonstrates that the Democratic Republic of the Congo is struggling with a significant impunity problem, and the absence of justice will continue until national and international leaders shift their focus to prosecuting war crimes, crimes against humanity, and acts of genocide.

I wonder how the justice system in the DRC would evolve were the ICC to reach out to the current government regarding the lack of permanent national legislation supporting the charter of the court, or if stronger powers in the international community were to voice support for the establishment of specialized tribunals to address acts of atrocity and to adjudicate perpetrators of such crimes. Impunity is a national problem that is perpetuated throughout all levels of the government, and it will likely take international voices to change the landscape of justice in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Israel Threatening to Defund ICC in Light of Recent War Crimes Investigations

Since January 16, 2015, Chief Prosecutor of the ICC, Fatou Bensouda, has being pursuing a preliminary investigation into possible war crimes committed in Gaza, in which Israel allegedly led an offensive involving war crimes that killed 2,300 and left 500,000 without homes. Last month, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Israel Radio that they would demand of their allies in Canada, Australia, and Germany to cease providing funding for the ICC. Since the investigations have begun, Israel has been able to force the head of the UN inquiry into Operation Protective Edge, the military mission launched by Israel in Gaza, to resign. Since then, Israel has been calling on state parties to defund the Court.

These war crimes allegations stem, in part, from attacks on schools and buildings in Gaza that appear to be unrelated to military objectives. Investigations by Human Rights Watch have revealed that during Operation Protective Edge, three Gaza schools were attacked. According to the watchdog, one of those attacks was disproportionate and indiscriminate, while the other two attacks did not seem to fulfill any necessary military objective and were also indiscriminate. An Amnesty International Investigation further revealed attacks by Israel on Gaza buildings, in which it appears that civilians and buildings were deliberately targeted on such a huge scale, and according to Amnesty, were militarily unnecessary actions.

How can the ICC investigate these crimes? As we learned in class, the ICC has jurisdiction when the perpetrator is a national of the state party, when the crimes committed were done so in the territory of the state party, or when the Security Council refers a conflict. Well, back in January, the Palestinian government ratified the Rome Statute, which thus made it a state party. Through territorial jurisdiction, this ratification gave the ICC jurisdiction over possible war crimes committed in East Jerusalem and Gaza.

This call to defund may become significant, especially in light of the fact that the ICC depends upon voluntary contributions in order to function. Some of Israel’s allies, France, Britain, and Germany, are big powers whose loss of funding may have the potential to impact the ability of the Court to deliver justice. Moreover, losing funding could also pose a serious challenge to the legitimacy of the Court, as Israel has called upon member states (122 in total) to defund the Court, justifying this request through claims that the Court is purely political. As of now, these three allies have ignored Israel’s request, though it will be interesting to see what happens as the investigation into these crimes gets deeper.

For more on the story, click here.

Bashar al- Assad’s use of chemical weapons condemned by international watchdog

Bashar al-Assad thought he had found a loop hole in the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ ban on chemical weapons when he decided to use chlorine against his people knowing that this was not listed on the prohibited chemicals of the organization. However, on Wednesday the use of chlorine as a chemical weapon has been labeled as an international breach of law and whoever is responsible should be brought to justice. A fact- finding mission’s report concluded “to a high degree of confidence” that chlorine was used on three villages in northern Syria, killing 13 people and an abundant amount of livestock. It is clear that Assad’s regime is continuing to violate the Chemical Weapons Convention.However Assad is denying any ties to these attacks and is blaming “terrorists” for the attack. What I found interesting was that both US and Russia cooperated towards making this statement to the OPCW and Iran tried to block their efforts in order to shield Assad. In the Foreign Policy article it states how Syria and its allies have tried to prevent the UN security council’s meddling of internal affairs. I think this opposition of the UN highlights how accountability is a struggle that continues to face international justice efforts. The article also highlights how OPCW has refused to turn in evidence to the UN Security council and it further explains how even with evidence the UN security council will face obstacles if it tries to place sanctions on Syria. The atrocity that is going on in Syria is emphasizing the critiques of the international justice system that we have discussed in class. Hopefully the international community continues to take steps towards finding justice for the victims in Syria.

The Curious Case of Dominic Ongwen: Child Soldier turned LRA Leader

As we discussed in class, Dominic Ongwen was abducted at age 10, and forced to become a child soldier in Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda. As the global Kony 2012 campaign asserted, Kony’s LRA thrived off of the kidnapping and manipulation of many young children—forcing hundreds of impressionable youths to commit heinous crimes on behalf of Kony, who is portrayed as “a godly person” (Invisible Children). As many of these blog posts contend, Ongwen’s adult actions (which he will be tried for by the ICC) consist of seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, to echo the sentiments of many of my classmates, “Ongwen is the first person to be tried for the very same crimes for which he was a victim,” introducing an inherent complexity to his case (ckeefe2016’s post). Will it be possible for the ICC to rectify that fact moving forward, and to determine a truly appropriate sentence for him? Will they be able to determine if Ongwen was really responsible for his actions, or if his extensive childhood trauma as a child soldier has forced him to this terrible fate?

Today, data has been collected from “87 war-torn counties,” leading to an estimate that “300,000-500,000 children are involved with fighting forces as child soldiers” (Harvard School of Public Health). These children are forced to commit unspeakable atrocities from age 7, and are even sometimes “injected with drugs to curb their inhibitions against committing violence” (Harvard School of Public Health). According to the Irish Forum for Global Health, “even when being compared to other children that lived through civil wars and have witnessed the brutality of war, former child soldiers suffer from markedly higher levels of psychological disorders” (IFGH). All three of the articles cited above assert that it is critical for child soldiers in the post-conflict environment to receive treatment, in order to overcome the enduring scars from their traumatic experiences. Perhaps the most problematic discrepancy in these international justice cases is the divide between former child soldiers that receive amnesty and mental health care, while others are prosecuted for their crimes. Ongwen is undoubtedly responsible for countless heinous atrocities he committed as Kony’s right-hand man, and should rightfully be punished to the fullest extent of the law for his wrongdoings. However, it becomes troublesome to think that he may have received amnesty if he had not been manipulated from such an early age. Further, this case poses many interesting problems due to the difficulty of assessing the state of mind of Ongwen when he committed these unspeakable atrocities and due to the lack of relevant jurisprudence for the ICC.

Hannah Arendt (2012): The Banality of Evil

arendt“Hannah Arendt,” a film by German director Margarethe von Trotta, portrays one of the greatest and most controversial political theorists of the 21st century in biopic format. Von Trott, while maintaining a commitment to the medium, paints a fascinating picture of a historical moment of international justice (the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem) as experienced by a provocative German-Jewish intellect (Arendt) living in the shadow of the Shoah. Barbara Sukowa, who takes on the leading role, provides a stunning portrait of Arendt as she travels to Jerusalem to cover the trial of former Nazi Adolf Eichmann.

While von Trotta is dedicated to tracing Arendt’s personal life and intellectual development (not to mention including undercurrents of second wave feminism, although Arendt was certainly not a feminist), the overwhelming thrust of the film is in the representation of Arendt as a critical survivor; she views Eichmann, the guilty on trial in Jerusalem, through the eyes of a theorist, a theorist dedicated to explaining the societal, political, and cultural aspects which construct and manipulate the thinking and agency of the individual.

The film centers on the birth of Arendt’s thesis, the “banality of evil,” which subsequently was included in her report in the New Yorker, and later developed and extended in her book, Eichmann in Jerusalem. Arendt watches Eichmann on trial as he provides his “Nuremberg defense,” pleading that he was following orders and deferring to leadership. He argues that to not obey was to be a traitor to Germany and the Reich. Notably, von Trotta uses actual footage of Eichmann on trial which creates a very visceral experience as the audience observes the real Eichmann standing before Sukowa’s Arendt.

As Arendt watches the trial, she concludes that Eichmann, rather than suffering from any particular character flaw, acted like any human would under the pressures of the regime, the ideology of the Final Solution, and, importantly, his conviction that his actions were just. The crimes for which he faced trial were not the products of an inherent evil on the individual level.

Arendt’s conclusion, which in some ways accused the Jewish people of being compliant, was refuted across the world and even within her close intellectual community at the New School. Arendt challenged Nuremberg’s ability to provide true justice and theorized a new way of thinking about the power of regimes and the role of society (as a whole) in such atrocities. Her thesis added new complexities to debates of truth, justice, guilt, and conviction.

In these paragraphs, I have attempted to provide a brief summary of the film, but admittedly I could not account for all the intricacies of von Trotta’s cinematic work. I recommend watching the film if you have time or at least examining some of the more interesting commentaries such as this one in Black Wall/Dark Room by David Grossman or this New York Times article by Roger Berkowitz (which focuses more on Arendt’s actual philosophy).

The Meaning Behind Surrender

ntaganda Hague hears DR Congo’s Bosco Ntaganda ‘ordered killings’

Former Congolese rebel leader Bosco “The Terminator” Ntaganda appeared before the International Criminal Court this week for pre-trial hearings on 13 counts of war crimes and 5 counts of crimes against humanity. News at The Hague reports that Ntaganda voluntarily surrendered at the US embassy in Rwanda last March as the Congolese M23 rebel movement was fracturing.

The question is why surrender at this point in time? For a man who has been in combat for so much of his life, why is it now his “last resort and his only chance of staying alive after splits within the M23 rebels?”

Human rights groups celebrate Ntaganda’s surrender to the court as a victory for international law and the victims of atrocities in the region, however, the admissibility of Ntaganda’s surrender remains in conformity with the prosecutorial policy of the ICC. This can create political and practical complexities that could hamper the Court’s initial role aimed to encourage national systems to fulfill their duties under the Statute and to prosecute international crimes. Does ICC policy render admissible all referrals where no action was taken by national authorities? Would this encourage “laziness” on the part of state parties to investigate and prosecute? What sorts of policies should the ICC improve on to encourage how can ICC encourage states to improve policies so that they don’t simply pass their duties onto the ICC? States benefit from referring the situation to the ICC by avoiding the financial costs of such prosecutions. If this becomes a trend, the ICC may be overburdened and end up not being able to cover cases that have even more significant judicial impact.

It makes sense to me to assume that the primary responsibility to protect the people within a state should be first, tried by the affected state concerned, so the international community would be assumed a secondary responsibility. How can the UN and ICC better reconcile the principle of sovereignty and its mandate to maintain international peace and security with the vision to promote the interest and welfare of people within the states experiencing armed conflict?

This challenges the traditional understanding of state sovereignty by allowing the international community to intervene in cases where serious human-rights violations are taking place. In the event that governments are unable or unwilling to protect their citizens from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing, is the international community the first line of responsible to protect those vulnerable populations?

Referring to ICC as the court of last resort is ambiguous in that “last resort” may imply different conditions for many states. When referrals have transferred the burden from the states to the ICC along with the political, financial, and social complexities, what is the best line of order to handle these situations, especially when ICC’s interventions have been accused as bias?

No one knows for certain why he surrendered, but there may be something to do with the deterrence of responsibility or a pressure by higher powers in Rwanda to turn himself in.

Road to Accountability in Sri Lanka


Next month, the United Nations Human Rights Council will vote on a resolution concerning Sri Lanka and whether or not an in vestigation can be brought forth concerning the crimes and human rights abuses on both sides of the bloody, decades long conflict during its last few months of conflict in 2009. Many member states in the UN–including the United States–want to initiate an investigation into the horrific finale of Sri Lanka’s  war and hold it accountable for its perceived gross human rights abuses and crimes against humanity. A United Nations panel reported that as many as 40,000 civilians may have been killed in the last stages of the violence between the mainly Sinhalese-dominated government and the militant rebel group LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), many of them by military shelling. Crimes against humanity have been cited on both sides of the conflict, as the Sinhalese police and armed forces were known to be notoriously brutal, including dumping bodies in mass graves and rivers and beheading its victims and placing their heads on spikes. The LTTE, conversely, was well-known to have recruited child soldiers and commit a myriad of other human rights abuses during the war. BBC News estimates that in the years before 2009, over 70,000 people had died in the last 25 years of the conflict.

However, despite the end of the conflict, the country’s government has refused to hold any officials accountable for crimes and has resisted every inquiry by the international community into investigating these human rights abuses. Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa has ignored two separate UN resolutions calling for Sri Lanka to investigate the war crimes initiated by both the LTTE and governmental forces. Sri Lanka has clearly shown that it is unwilling to start an investigation into its own actions concerning human rights abuses, so in what way can the international community force those responsible for gross human rights abuses to be held accountable? Sri Lanka is not a member-state of the ICC, so what can be done to find justice for those who suffered during the civil war–both from the LTTE and the reigning government?

Here are my sources:

Victor’s Justice in Tokyo

US Veteran Congressman defended WWII Tokyo Tribunal

World War II was a hugely devastating conflict whose effects are still felt to this day. This article illustrates the view of a former United States congressman and war veteran on one of the outcomes of that war: the trial of accused war criminals in Japan. In the recently surfaced letter, the congressman expressed concern over the then-prime minister’s visit to the Yasukuni shrine to war criminals, and defends the tribunal against the common charge of providing only victor’s justice.

This continues to be relevant, as the current Japanese prime minister has recently caused global consternation with his own visit to Yasukuni. The question surrounding the shrine and the tribunal is as follows: can the tribunal’s assertion that these Japanese military leaders and members were war criminals be taken legitimately, in light of the fact that the tribunal only examined the actions of the Japanese losers and not the Allied victors? Certainly, if victors are held to the same standards of justice as losers, the American firebombing of Tokyo and the use of nuclear weapons caused enough civilian casualties to at least warrant an investigation. In his letter, however, the congressman argued that the Axis of Evil were the aggressors in the war, and that American actions were simply self-defense. This question, though it may seem dated, will in fact become increasingly relevant  as American foreign policy interests increasingly turn towards the Pacific; America must address charges of lopsided justice if it is to decrease tensions in the area surrounding Japan’s continued veneration of its military members.

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. 


U.N. Peacekeeping in the Eastern Congo

This article offers an interesting insight into the myriad difficulties faced by U.N. military intervention, specifically in the Eastern Congo. As highlighted in the article, MONUSCO has repeatedly failed to protect the civilian population as per its mandate-the most striking example involved rebels decapitating civilians and parading their heads in front of an apathetic peacekeeping force. The litany of failures by MONUSCO is appalling, as per the article:

In 2005, MONUC (the former name for MONUSCO) expelled 63 of its soldiers for paying refugee children for sex. A separate internal inquiry the same year found that Pakistani peacekeepers sold weapons to militias in exchange for gold. While those incidents may be exceptional, TIME has seen in repeated trips to eastern Congo how, at the first sign of trouble, blue-helmet peacekeepers habitually barricade themselves into their bases, leaving crowds of several thousand refugees who tend to gather outside to fend for themselves.

Given the fairly obvious failures of the U.N. peacekeeping force to protect civilians, does it instead make more sense to focus efforts on alternative means of support? A large majority of the authors read and discussed thus far are concerned with rebuilding societies after conflict and devastation have occurred, not during. Given the inability of the U.N. to protect civilians through peacekeeping forces, what other means can be employed, or is it simply a matter of reforming MUNESCO?

Former Mexican President Responds to War Crimes Allegations


Earlier this month Ernesto Zedillo, Mexico’s former president, made a statement claiming he was immune to a civil lawsuit that was filed against him last year regarding a massacre of indigenous people that occurred during his administration in 1997. The Mexican government officially claimed (and continues to claim) that the killing–primarily of unarmed women and children–in Acteal had occurred as a result of religious and territorial disputes among indigenous populations, though the victims’ families and other groups have alleged that the killings were carried out by paramilitaries acting under government orders to decimate leftist members of indigenous groups. As public outcry over the massacre intensified, Mexican authorities swiftly tried and convicted 84 people. Of the convicted, however, 37 have been released because the Mexican Supreme Court believed them to be innocent, and many of the remaining cases are being reopened because the prosecutor’s office committed serious violations, including using torture to extract confessions and the falsification of evidence to get convictions.

The group that filed the lawsuit last year is seeking $50 million in damages, but is also requesting an official admission of guilt.  Military documents have been uncovered which allegedly detail plans to eradicate indigenous rebels who challenged the government the year Zedillo began his presidency, and the group representing the victims claims that Zedillo had knowledge of these policies and of the human rights abuses that occurred during the massacre in Chiapas. In Mexico, immunity is frequently used to cover wrongdoings of preceding presidents, and current president Felipe Calderón has urged that immunity be given to Zedillo (which sets a powerful precedent considering that Calderón himself has also faced allegations that he was committed war crimes and crimes against humanity).

Zedillo did not address the allegations that he participated in or permitted the killings and other acts of violence, including forced displacement of indigenous populations, and instead spent the bulk of his 26-page response describing the lawsuit as slanderous.  Interestingly, Zedillo currently lives in the United States, and since the civil suit was filed in Connecticut, the federal court in that state will decide the next step. In correspondence with the Mexican government in September of this year the U.S. State Department has also officially suggested immunity for Zedillo. It will, of course, be extremely difficult to prove Zedillo’s involvement, and it is unlikely that a U.S. court will try Zedillo for crimes committed while he was president. This raises a number of interesting questions about the trend of impunity that emerges, specifically because many believe that Calderón will also move to the U.S. and seek immunity after finishing his term this December.

Just War Theory

Jeff McMahan, a philosopher who specializes in normative and applied ethics, wrote two posts for a NY Times blog summarizing and critiquing just war theory. I’ll try to summarize the two posts briefly: While just war theory can be traced to writings as early as Augustine, only since the 17th century has the theory begun to evolve in conjunction with international law. And during the aftermath of WWII a consensus began to emerge of just war principles that coincided with law as codified in the United Nations Charter and the Geneva Conventions.

Both just war theory and international law distinguish between the justification for the resort to war (jus ad bellum) and justified conduct in war (jus in bello). In the jus ad bellum section of classical just war theory, there are typically six principles of jus ad bellum: just cause, legitimate authority, right intention, necessity or last resort, proportionality and reasonable hope of success. Jus in bello comprises three principles: discrimination, necessity or minimal force, and proportionality.

In the past 15 years, the changing character of wars has become apparent and has caused many theorists to revise the classical just war theory. I think it is interesting to consider the changes made to the classical just war theory in context with human rights abuses and the massacre of civilians during war.

McMahan explains one aspect of the classical theory: the theory holds that in an unjust war fought in accordance with the principles of jus in bello, only the accessories who have instigated the killing (the political leaders) are responsible for it and have therefore done wrong, while the perpetrators (the unjust combatants) bear no responsibility and have done no wrong. But how can a combatant’s actions be considered permissible when his aims are unjust? This reminded me of many defense cases of war criminals we discussed in class. International law has decided that following orders and one’s duty is not a defense for committing human rights violations. As McMahan points out, assurance that unjust combatants do no wrong provided they follow the rules makes it easier for governments to initiate unjust wars.

McMahan gives examples of several other moral inconsistencies in the classical just war theory that relate to human rights violations that we have discussed. I definitely recommend going through and reading both posts. Enjoy!

Part 1:

Part 2:

Sri Lanka and the Best Transitional Justice Joke Ever

As I was researching our homework project for this week, I came across a super interesting article on Sri Lanka and Transitional Justice.

I found this blogpost particularly approachable, and it was especially helpful in supplementing the knowledge I’d just gained from watching the assigned documentary. Of course, it ends with a coarse toilet joke that is entirely inappropriate (and still embarrassingly funny), but the material isp resented in an intelligent and compelling fashion.

Perhaps the most valuable quote was the following: “The situation in Sri Lanka approximates a scenario of total victory. It appears that, despite international pressure, most believe that any justice the commission metes will be little more than victor’s justice”

The failures of the Sri Lankan truth commissions makes me wonder if the international community should intervene to ensure adequate justice is served on both sides of the ball. What do you guys think?

Dealing with compensation for victims.

As is well noted, the next chief prosecutor of the ICC is Fatou Bensouda, who many believe will take the Court in a more victim-centered direction.  One of the ways that justice is provided to victims is through compensation, which would come out of the finances of those on trial at the Hague.  The victims of war crimes undoubtedly suffer more misery and pain than most people can imagine, and the healing process takes a lot of time.  This article from All discusses the possible ways that victims of war crimes could be compensated.

I thought this article was interesting because it touched on some of the more difficult aspects about providing justice for victims.  The ICC has what they call the Trust Fund for Victims (TFV) to assist them, but often has budget issues.  Often times the TFV’s financial problems hinder its ability to properly compensate those who have been harmed.  And it is not just the monetary aspect of it; there have been countless people who have been affected by war criminals and money is not going to solve the problem.  What the article cited as most important was recognition of wrongdoing.  Acknowledging that a crime took place perhaps eases victims suffering.

My Lai Massacre

I know this is not a topic we have discussed yet but I thought it was interesting to bring up after all this talk of genocides that occurred in other governments.  Although this is not considered genocide, the My Lai Massacre was a mass murder conducted by the U.S. Army (Charlie Company of 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade, 23rd Infantry Division) during the Vietnam War.  Basically, this group of soldiers was informed of a group of Vietcong fighters hiding out in this village in South Korea. As it turned out, the American soldiers killed over 500 innocent men, women, and children.  Although this event seems terrible, it was really just men who had been out in the Korean wilderness, seeing fellow soldiers die at the hands of the communist Viet Cong groups, given specific orders and not having the sense to realize that something had gone horribly wrong when the plan was actually executed.  The government tried to charge these soldiers with criminal offences of murder, but was it really their fault, or were they just following orders?  If they had refused to carry out the plan, they would have faced dishonorable discharge, so what choice did they really have?  This goes along with the “A Bit of Political Philosophy” post showing that the separate parts of an operation such as this often leaves the people that create the plan remorseless and the people that execute the plan confused and seemingly at fault.

The video is a little long but very interesting if you want to learn the whole story from execution to trials. (The link doesn’t work for some reason, just click watch full episode)

Watch the full episode. See more American Experience.