Posts Tagged ‘impunity’

Silencing of Miriam Rodriguez Martinez in Mexico: a loud voice for the disappeared

June 21, 2017

Since December 2012, on average two human rights defenders have been killed every month in Mexico. During his recent visit to Mexico (25 January 2017), United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, highlighted the particular dangers faced by indigenous rights defenders and those campaigning to protect the environment from the impact of mega development projects. The situation of human rights defenders in Mexico is conditioned by the criminalisation of their activities through the deliberate misuse of criminal law and the manipulation of the state’s punitive power by both state and non-state actors, to hinder and even prevent the legitimate activities of defenders to promote and protect human rights,” said Forst. “The failure to investigate and sanction aggressors has signaled a dangerous message that there are no consequences for committing such crimes. This creates an environment conducive to the repetition of violations”Two major contributory factors are the impunity enjoyed by organised criminal gangs and the failure by state authorities to provide protection to HRDs or to bring the perpetrators of attacks to justice. Nothing demonstrates the problem better than the work and life of Miriam Rodriguez Martinez, who was gunned down on 10 May 2017.

The obituary in the Economist of 20 May 2017 tells the sad story of this enormously courageous woman in detail: http://www.economist.com/news/obituary/21722139-campaigner-mexicos-disappeared-was-50-obituary-miriam-rodr-guez-mart-nez-died-may

see also: https://socialistworker.org/2017/05/18/justice-for-miriam-rodriguez

and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/02/27/alarming-criminalisation-of-human-rights-defenders-in-latin-america/

Cataloger of Khmer Rouge Atrocities wins Judith Lee Stronach Award

April 8, 2017

Chang Youk, director of DC-Cam, talks to VOA Khmer about national reconciliation at his office in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, August 08th, 2016. (Neou Vannarin/VOA Khmer)
Chhang Youk, director of DC-Cam, talks to VOA Khmer about national reconciliation at his office in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, August 08th, 2016. (Neou Vannarin/VOA Khmer)

Chhang was a survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime. He fled to the United States as a refugee, but memories of the suffering he endured brought him back to his homeland in the early 1990s. He founded DC-Cam and has led the organization since 1995, creating a national genocide education program. Nushin Sarkarati, a senior attorney at CJA, said that without Chhang’s dedication there would be little justice for the victims and survivors.

In this photo taken on Aug. 20, 2012, Director of Documentation Center of Cambodia, Youk Chhang arranges photos, a part of about a thousand of newly-discovered photo collection of detainees at the former Khmer Rouge main prison S-21, in his office in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

In this photo taken on Aug. 20, 2012, Director of Documentation Center of Cambodia, Youk Chhang arranges photos, a part of about a thousand of newly-discovered photo collection of detainees at the former Khmer Rouge main prison S-21, in his office in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Beth Van Schaack, a Stanford law professor who advises DC-Cam, said the group’s orientation towards victims made Chhang a natural choice for the award. “What CJA really admires about DC-Cam is it also has a very victim centered approach, working-hard to help Cambodian victims, experience justice before the ECCC [Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia] and DC-Cam has become in many ways a model for other documentation centers around the world that are collecting information that can be submitted to justice processes where human rights are concerned,” she said.

Nate Thayer, a journalist who has reported on Cambodia for some three decades, said without Chhang’s work, the Khmer Rouge perpetrators would have gotten away with their crimes. “Youk Chhang was a one-man army fighting for justice for those who suffered in Cambodia and his personal passion and devotion bringing those who responsible for mass murder to justice, to face the music, to answer for their crime.

Peter Maguire, a law professor and an author of “Facing Death in Cambodia,” called Chhang a “Cambodian national treasure” whose efforts bring more truth and reconciliation to the Cambodian people than the combined efforts of the United Nations and ECCC.

Youk Chhang, a leading Cambodian genocide researcher, shows a copy of the Cambodian version of a Khmer Rouge history textbook to teachers in Takeo province, July 3, 2012.

Youk Chhang, a leading Cambodian genocide researcher, shows a copy of the Cambodian version of a Khmer Rouge history textbook to teachers in Takeo province, July 3, 2012.

Neth Pheaktra, ECCC spokesman, told VOA Khmer that DC-Cam deserved the award as it had uncovered valuable evidence that could be used at the court. “The work that DC-Cam has done helps the ECCC save time in finding evidence by ourselves, and it shows us the way, brings us information as well as some historical documents we needed for the trials.”

Chhang is currently working on developing the Sleuk Rith Institute, a permanent hub for genocide studies in Asia based in Phnom Penh.

Source: Cataloger of Khmer Rouge Crimes Wins Prestigious Human Rights Award

Universal Jurisdiction gathers momentum says group of NGOs

March 31, 2017

After my post on Civitas Maxima [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/03/21/new-magazine-global-geneva-puts-civitas-maxima-in-the-limelight/] I feel that I should complete the picture with a reference to “Make Way for Justice #3” which argues that universal jurisdiction has gathered unprecedented momentum in 2016. In this annual report, ECCHR and its partners FIBGARFIDHREDRESS and TRIAL International look back on its application through 47 recent cases. Five years of conflict, hundreds of thousands of dead. In Syria, large-scale war crimes are committed in all impunity. Effective prosecution has been repeatedly impeded at the international level, yet justice has found a way forward: universal jurisdiction. Thanks to this principle, States can prosecute criminals regardless of their nationality or where the crime was committed. The interest of such procedures for lawless regions is obvious.

2016 alone, five States have brought charges for alleged crimes in Syria. Investigations are ongoing in three others. For victims, these proceedings may be their only chance to obtain justice. Universal jurisdiction has proved a significant tool against impunity in Syria, but it also applies to many more situations: Rwanda, Nepal, Guatemala and Iraq, to name but a few.

To illustrate this breadth, ECCHR, FIBGAR, FIDH, REDRESS and TRIAL International released their annual report on universal jurisdiction, Make way for Justice #3. In 2016 alone, 13 States have made use of this principle in 47 cases – an unprecedented success.

Source: publications – ECCHR – EUROPEAN CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL AND HUMAN RIGHTS (en)

New magazine “Global Geneva” puts “Civitas Maxima” in the limelight

March 21, 2017

Global Geneva is a new English language magazine for the international hub that Geneva want to be. In the issue of 15 March 2017. William Thatcher Dowell discusses the work of ‘CIVITAS MAXIMA’A Tiny Swiss Group of Lawyers Takes on War crimes and Crimes Against Humanity“.

The International Criminal Court at the Hague was created in 2002 to hold individuals responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The concept was good, but the international tribunal was almost immediately paralyzed by politics (See article in the latest edition of Global Geneva on justice must be seen to be done). As William Dowell writes, Alain Werner, who created Civitas Maxima in 2012, has a different idea: “represent the victims and fight the cases in domestic courts if need be

Rather than depend exclusively on international tribunals, Werner believes that it is worth shifting the focus to the actual victims of war crimes, and working with them to compile the solid evidence that is needed to enable a prosecution to stand up in any court of law. Once the evidence is there, the cases can be prosecuted in any court that expressly outlaws crimes against humanity. It does not matter if the court is an international tribunal, a specially constituted war crimes court or even an ordinary domestic court.

The name, Civitas Maxima, which translates roughly as “the greater state”, is reference to the legal term in Latin that captures the notion that all civilized societies hold certain values in common.  The implication is that any society, which considers itself civilized, will instinctively condemn international crimes such as crimes against humanity and war crimes. So far, Werner’s group has been investigating well over 10 cases, and at least three have led to actual arrests by national authorities since 2014. That may not seem much, but in fact, it represents a third of the extra-territorial arrests by national states for international crimes in 2014 and 2015. During that period, only eight extra territorial arrests by national authorities took place world-wide. One of Werner’s cases is currently being prosecuted in Switzerland; two are in Belgium. One of the accused, a naturalized American who held Belgian nationality and was arrested in Spain, died while in jail awaiting trial this spring.  This was the first time ever a Western businessman was arrested for the trade of so-called blood diamonds. Werner did this in conjunction with a local Sierra Leone partner, the Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL). Most of the current public cases involve militia leaders who were responsible for atrocities during civil wars in Liberia.

Alain Werner as a lawyer is also representing victims of Hissène Habré, who was president of Chad from 1982 until 1990. The Extraordinary African Chambers in Senegal, convicted Habré last May on charges of rape, sexual slavery, and slaughtering members of opposing tribes. Werner had been working on the case since 2008, and it was typical of the kind of case that the ICC would have particular difficulty in dealing with, even if it had jurisdiction. …….“One of the major issues in international justice,” Werner says, “is the fact that politics always affects the process. The International Criminal Court tries to create the impression that it is independent, but so far it has been mainly driven by political factors.” The answer to this conundrum, Werner feels, is for more independent organizations with legal expertise similar to that of Civitas Maxima to take the lead in building convincing cases that will stand up in court, and which cannot be ignored. “Organizations that advocate and write reports, like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, are doing a great job,” he says. “But in the end, you badly need independent lawyers and trained investigators who can compile evidence that meets international standards.”

A key requirement, of course, is funding. Werner says, “If you work independently you have to come up with the funds on your own, and in our case that is complicated by the fact that we do not accept funding from governments.”  

[Werner’s own involvement in prosecuting war crimes started with his work for the Special Court for Sierra Leone in 2003, including the trial of the former president of Liberia Charles Taylor…… In 2009, he went to Cambodia to represent victims in the case of the Khmer Rouge who had run the infamous S-21 concentration camp that fed into the “killing fields.”  After that he joined an independent group, the Aegis Trust, which also runs the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda , and which had a small programme focused on helping victims gather evidence.  The initiative ran out of funding after about two years, but by then Werner was already heavily involved in a number of cases involving victims of Charles Taylor’s operations in Liberia.  Werner decided that he couldn’t abandon the work, and so he created Civitas Maxima]

Werner is also collecting evidence from victims of Ivory Coast’s current president, Alassane Ouattara, whose forces are accused of committing atrocities during the post-electoral violence of 2010 and 2011. His predecessor, Laurent Gbagbo, is the first head of state to be tried for war crimes at the ICC for atrocities committed during the same period by his own forces.  With both current and past president accused of war crimes, Ivory Coast is a particularly sensitive area…..

We need to grow the concept,” he says. “Will Civitas Maxima continue to be successful, or will another independent take the idea and make it grow? I don’t know, but I am convinced that we really need this innovative approach. In the United States, you have a head of state saying that torture is fine and in the Philippines another one boasting about the fact that he has killed criminals. The climate is getting crazy. We absolutely need more fiercely independent lawyers to use their expertise to counter impunity for mass crimes.

Source: CIVITAS MAXIMA—A Tiny Swiss Group of Lawyers Takes on War crimes and Crimes Against Humanity | Global Geneva

The killing of Oscar Romero – El Salvador’s ‘turbulent priest’ – written up after 36 years

January 18, 2017

Tom Sandborn wrote in the Vancouver Sun of 7 January 2017 review  of the book “Assassination of a Saint: The Plot to Murder Oscar Romero and the Quest to Bring His Killers to Justice“, by Matt Eisenbrandt, published by University of California Press.

Sainthood and civil torts
Book cover: Assassination of a Saint: The Plot to Murder Oscar Romero and the Quest to Bring His Killers to Justice

It took a single bullet to kill Oscar Romero, but his legacy has outlived many who plotted his murder and he may soon be officially named a saint by the Catholic Church. Assassination of a Saint is an exciting, dramatically paced account of his murder by a right wing death squad and the painstaking and eventually successful efforts to expose some of the men behind the Archbishop’s death.

In El Salvador in 1980, Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador, had been elevated to his position in part because the cabal of land owners and politicians that controlled the tortured Central American state saw him as unlikely to pose uncomfortable moral challenges to their power. But Romero was fast becoming a problem for the elites…. he was condemning the war of right wing terror being waged against the Salvadoran people by the army, police and paramilitary death squads, all of whom took orders and funding from the country’s ruling class and inspiration from a particularly bloody minded brand of Cold War anti-Communism….

During the three years he spent as Archbishop, Romero was gradually radicalized by the suffering inflicted on the poor of his country by the official and unofficial death squads. In the end, he condemned the state and ruling class sponsored murders and called on soldiers and policemen to refuse the orders to turn their guns on Salvadorans standing up for their freedom. “No soldier,” he thundered from the altar, “is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God.” That call for conscientious disobedience was the last straw. The decision was made that the “turbulent priest” must die.

On March 24, 1980, a sniper in a van parked outside the church fired a rifle once, striking Romero in the chest as he said mass and killing him. The assassination made the Archbishop a beloved martyr among the poor, and kicked off a new round of civil war and bloodshed. For decades, no one was held to account for the public murder.

The Assassination of a Saint is the compelling story of how a rag-tag band of idealistic lawyers collaborated with Salvadoran exiles to identify one of the killers, Alvaro Saravia. Because the assassin was found to be living in the United States, the legal team, working out of the San Francisco offices of the Center for Justice and Accountability, was able to file a civil suit against him under an obscure American law, the Alien Torts Act, for damages incurred by Romero’s killing. In the course of that effort, they brought to light much of the hidden history of the Romero murder, meeting with witnesses and accomplices in the crime and uncovering much more about the archbishop’s death than had been known before.

Matt Eisenbrandt was a member of the legal team, and he has written a fast paced, informative and dramatic account. …Before they were successful in that effort in 2004, the crusading lawyers experienced a series of dramatic meetings with perpetrators and potential witnesses, tense moments, mysterious phone calls, frightening visits to El Salvador and years of exhaustive research. Their win was a triumph for human rights defenders, and this book is a powerful account of how that victory was won. 

Tom Sandborn lives and writes in Vancouver. He has been involved in human rights activism for over five decades. He welcomes feedback and story tips at tos65@telus.net.

Source: Sainthood and civil torts

‘FOR THOSE WHO DIED TRYING’ Photo Exhibit on human rights defenders in Thailand by Protection International

January 16, 2017

exhibit 2

Protection International opened the photo exhibition, ‘For those who died trying’ on the Place des Nations in Geneva on Monday, 9 May 2016. The exhibition run from 9-11 May and presented the photographs of 37 murdered or abducted human rights defenders in Thailand. It has toured or will be touring various countries (e.g. Thailand, Brussels, Pamplona) and as from 22 January 2017 a small town in the Netherlands, Dordrecht (www.defendersindordrecht.org), houses the images.

The project looks to remember those who died defending human rights and protecting the environment by placing a portrait of the human rights defender, where possible, at the exact place he or she was murdered or abducted. It is vital, for the victims and their families, that their fight and their death is not forgotten and left un-recognised. Ultimately, those responsible must be brought to justice. Recognising those who died trying as HRDs and a better administration of justice are critical steps to end these killings.

More information can be downloaded here: ‘For those who died trying’ photo exhibition.

see related: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/12/02/new-on-line-memorial-to-remember-killed-human-rights-defenders/amp/

 

Greece: MPs of Golden Dawn far-right party attack minority rights defenders – no police action

January 10, 2017

On 6 January 2017 the International Secretariat of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) requested urgent intervention in the following situation in Greece.

OMCT-LOGO Read the rest of this entry »

Front Line launches its 2016 Report on Human Rights Defenders at Risk

January 9, 2017

 

After a short break, this blog resumes its job of selecting and summarizing events related to Human Rights Defenders. 2016 was a horrible year for HRDs and the launch of the annual report of Front Line Defenders confirms this by reporting that “more than 1000 human rights defenders were killed, harassed, detained, or subjected to smear campaigns and other violations in 2016″.

Download the Report

According to the report, 281 human rights defenders were murdered in 25 countries, 49 percent of whom were defending land, indigenous and environmental rights. Front Line Defenders found that in the vast majority of cases, killings were preceded by warnings, death threats and intimidation which, when reported to police, were routinely ignored. In addition to killings, over half of the cases reported by Front Line Defenders in 2016 concerned criminalisation, a tactic which the organisation calls “the first choice of governments to silence defenders and to dissuade others”.

For other post on Front Line last year, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/category/front-line/page/4/

Two remarkable women rights defenders from Mexico: Olga Guzmán and Stephanie Brewer

December 15, 2016

OMCT-LOGOpublishes a series of 10 profiles human rights defenders to commemorate International Human Rights Day, 10 December 2016. Here two women HRDs from Mexico: Olga Guzmán and Stephanie Brewer: Read the rest of this entry »

New on-line memorial to remember killed human rights defenders

December 2, 2016

 

President Michael D Higgins with international activists and NGO representatives in Dublin at the launch of the Human Rights Defenders Memorial. Photograph: Conor McCabe

Irish President Michael D Higgins with international activists and NGO representatives in Dublin at the launch of the Human Rights Defenders Memorial. Photograph: Conor McCabe

Rachel Flaherty reports in the Irish Times of 24 November on the launch of an on-line Memorial o honour human rights defenders who have been killed The online memorial would be a tool to track investigations and advance the struggle for justice for human rights defenders. The Human Rights Defenders Memorial (HRD Memorial) has been set up by Dublin-based Front Line Defenders as an online international and interactive database. It will detail all the human rights defenders who have been murdered around the world since 1998. The Front Line Defenders organisation has estimated 3,500 have been murdered since then.

A coalition of 20 national and international human rights organisations jointly coordinated the project. Contributors included human rights groups from Colombia, Honduras and the Philippines, which Front Line Defenders said are ranked among three of the deadliest countries in the world for human rights defenders. The organisation said other countries included among the worst in terms of killing and physical attacks against human rights defenders included North KoreaChinaRussiaEgyptSaudi Arabia and Zimbabwe.

Andrew Anderson, executive director of Front Line Defenders, said the memorial sent a message the human rights community was stronger than any one person. “It will not be deterred, and its leaders will not be forgotten,” he said. “This is not random violence. This is the calculated elimination of those who speak out to defend the rights of the most vulnerable. Autocrats and powerful economic interests think that if they kill an activist, they kill a movement. The goal of the HRD Memorial is to prove them wrong.”

http://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/new-online-memorial-honours-human-rights-defenders-1.2881256

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/statement-report/celebrating-those-who-were-killed-defending-human-rights