Posts Tagged ‘war crimes’

Universal Jurisdiction gathers momentum says group of NGOs

March 31, 2017

After my post on Civitas Maxima [] 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.


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 fight against impunity starts at home: US and torture

December 17, 2014

The issue of impunity is pertinent to the protection of human rights defenders. For that reason I refer to an interesting development that follows the disclosures on torture and abduction by the CIA in the courageous Senate report. If only more countries were willing to investigate so publicly their own records (China, Russia?).

The Federal Prosecutor must investigate former CIA boss Tenet, former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and others – and should not wait until they are on German soil.  Read the rest of this entry »

Video clip on Internal Criminal Court (ICC)

August 16, 2013

On 29 June 2012 (yes a year ago) AI published a short video on the Internal Criminal Court, which for some reason I had missed, so here is the link to the video which is a simple but clear assessment of 10 years ICC, it’s successes, it’s failures and the challenges it still faces in bringing to justice those accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

You can also visit and explore the new interactive world map and join the campaign:


1 year of Human Rights Channel on YouTube: 90 countries. 1,892 videos

May 27, 2013

Twelve months ago, Witness and its partners at Storyful launched the first dedicated space on YouTube for verified citizen video on human rights issues. Screen Shot 2013-05-20 at 4.54.46 PM Read the rest of this entry »

Sri Lanka and the war-time massacres: how ideally the Government should react

March 4, 2013

In one of my posts of last week I referred to the panicked, knee-jerk reaction of the Sri Lankan Government to the showing of the film  No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka  at the UN in Geneva. Now I have come across a much more reasonable and constructive reaction published in the Sri Lankan The Island of 1 march 2013. The whole piece is worth reading; here follow just some excerpts for those pressed for time:

Every time, the United Nations Human Rights Council meets in session or one of the international Human Rights Organizations issues a statement on violations of human rights in Sri Lanka, the government of Sri Lanka gets into a combat mode. Their response follows the rule that attack is the best form of defence. The attack takes the form of personal abuse directed at the human rights defenders; there is no attempt to meet the issues of violations that have been raised. Its apologists and other hangers-on merely follow suit with hysterical outbursts against the United Nations, the international community and the local human rights defenders. None of them seem to care to read the reports released by the Office of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights or by the different human rights organizations. Their criticism of the reports is therefore not informed and raises more issues than clarifying any. Mahinda Samarasinghe [the SL Ambassador] is normally not prone to such hysterical responses; his speech at the current sessions of the UNHRC therefore seems untypical of him.article_image 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:

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: The Sri Lankan Ambassador’s letter which certainly will help to attract a larger audience is to be found on: