Posts Tagged ‘international justice’

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

Dictator Hissène Habré sentenced to life: impunity can be beaten (sometimes)

June 6, 2016

On 30th May 2016, the Extraordinary African Chambers declared Hissène Habré guilty of torture, crimes against humanity, war crimes and sexual crimes, perpetrated during his presidency of Tchad (Chad) between 1982 and 1990. The former Tchadian dictator has been sentenced to life in prison. Human rights organizations have hailed this verdict as “historical” and a victory for the thousands of victims who have fought for twenty years to make their voices heard and obtain justice before an impartial judiciary. They hope that it sends a strong signal to all perpetrators of international crimes. There are many sources but the two most active NGOs are probably: FIDH and its member organizations in Tchad and Senegal and Human Rights Watch (HRW). For more info on their views see the links below.

Explosion of happiness at the announcement of the verdict (source FIDH Facebook)

A summary of the decision was read out in court by chief judge Gberdao Gustave Kam of Burkina Faso, who shared the bench with two senior Senegalese judges. The written decision will be distributed at a later date, but on the Human Rights Watch site there is an unofficial summary from notes taken in court.

On 30 May 2016 the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights added its agreement: “After years of struggle and many setbacks on the way to justice, this verdict is as historic as it was hard-won. I sincerely hope that today, at last, Habré’s victims will experience some sense of relief,Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said. “Following earlier convictions by other courts of former president Charles Taylor and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, the conviction and sentencing of Hissène Habré shows that even heads of State and other leaders who commit terrible crimes will ultimately be held to account”.

HOWEVER, it is not over yet. The judges have until 31 July 31 2016 to approve measures of reparation for the victims.

———

https://www.fidh.org/en/region/Africa/chad/hissene-habre-case-a-historic-and-long-awaited-verdict-19999#

https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/05/30/chads-ex-dictator-convicted-atrocities

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=54088#.V1UbSYRptgc

http://www.martinennalsaward.org/?option=com_content&view=article&id=120&Itemid=135

ICC should continue its work in Africa, says Tutu in N.Y.Times

October 14, 2013

While 130 NGOs in Africa and elsewhere call in a joint letter to the African Union not to abandon the International Criminal Court, Bishop Desmond Tutu publishes in the New York Times of 10 October an excellent piece explaining why it is a terrible mistake. Here is it is in full:

 

CAPE TOWN — MEMBERS of the African Union will meet in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, today to discuss recent calls by some African leaders to withdraw from the International Criminal Court. These calls must be resisted. The continent has suffered the consequences of unaccountable governance for too long to disown the protections offered by the I.C.C. Read the rest of this entry »

Serbian Nataša Kandić receives first Civil Rights Defender of the Year awar

April 7, 2013

Natasa Kandic, Photo: Markus Junghard

(Natasa Kandic, Photo: Markus Junghard)

Nataša Kandić, founder of Humanitarian Law Center in Serbia and 1999 MEA Laureate, has been awarded the 2013 “Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award” for her “persistent and fearless work on documenting war crimes and the most serious human rights abuses in the former Yugoslavia, and for supporting war crimes trials by providing courts with evidence and witnesses.” Nataša’s human rights work has put her life at risk but her concern has always been with the war crime victims and not her own persona. “Those who choose to work with human rights connected to war cannot be afraid. I have never thought about risks. I am always only thinking about uncovering the truth about the crimes that have been committed and seeking the conviction of those responsible. There is no room for fear”, she stated.  Read the rest of this entry »

11th Human Rights Film Festival starts 1st March in Geneva with a bang that upsets Sri Lanka

February 26, 2013

Since 2003, the Geneva Human Rights Film Festival (with the more complicated French name and abbreviation: le Festival du film et forum international sur les droits humains – FIFDH) takes place in parallel to the UN Human Rights Council. Based on the concept “A film, a subject, a debate”, the FIFDH features documentary as well fiction, on themes linked to human rights such as: violence against women, poverty, torture, international justice and even climate change.  During 10 days the public is invited to watch the films, meet film makers, actors, experts and victims of human rights violations. There are special screenings for students, and teachers are issued with thematic material.  This year a total of 40 films will be screened. New this year is the competition for international fiction. The Jury includes filmmakers and human rights defenders such as:  Ai Weiwei, Patrick Chapatte, Romain Goupil and Fadwa Suleiman, Syrian actress in exile. The longstanding festival director is Leo Kaneman: for the programme see: http://www.fifdh.org/

In the meantime, a big controversy has erupted about the showing of the documentary  “No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka”  in what is called in UN terminology a ‘side event’, organised by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the above-mentioned FIFDH, on the premises of the UN. As reported by AP on 25 February, the Sri Lankan Ambassador has sent a letter to the whole Human Rights Council denouncing the film as “discredited, uncorroborated and unsubstantiated” and warning that the Council would be violating its own rules if the film is screened March 1 in Geneva as planned.

The 90-minute documentary alleges government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels engaged in war crimes during the final stages of the conflict in 2009. The film shows interviews with eyewitnesses and original footage of alleged atrocities against civilians including summary execution, sexual violence and torture. The film director Callum Macrae denied that it distorted the facts: “We believe that our film contains very important evidence about the terrible events in the last few months of this war and we believe we have a duty to make that evidence available to the diplomats and country missions at the U.N. Human Rights Council who must make important decisions about how to ensure accountability and justice in Sri Lanka“. See:  http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/sri-lanka-opposes-screening-critical-film-18590958. The Sri Lankan Ambassador’s letter which certainly will help to attract a larger audience is to be found on: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/465065/Letter-to-the-President-Human-Rights-Council-2.pdf.