The Sri Lankan government has not met its pledge to curtail police abuses prior to the March 2017 session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch said today. Security sector reform was one of 25 undertakings by Sri Lanka in the Human Rights Council resolution adopted by consensus in October 2015.
The Sri Lankan government has failed to repeal the abusive Prevention of Terrorism Act or take serious measures to reduce torture in custody.
“It’s crucial that the Human Rights Council consider closely whether Sri Lanka made progress in the security sector as well as its other commitments such as transitional justice,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Nearly 18 months after making important promises to the council, Sri Lanka’s leaders appear to be backtracking on key human rights issues, including reforming the police.”
Reform of the security sector has lagged behind action on the council resolution’s four pillars of transitional justice: accountability, the disappeared, truth-seeking, and reconciliation. A recent report from the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, highlighted the ongoing “culture of torture” in the country. A 2015 report by Human Rights Watch also found that Sri Lankans routinely face torture and other ill-treatment by the police. In the vast majority of cases, the victims were unable to obtain any meaningful redress.
The government has also yet to repeal the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which has been used to arbitrarily detain terrorism suspects and others without charge for years. During the country’s 26-year-long civil war, the government asserted that the PTA was a necessary tool in its battle against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Yet, nearly eight years after the war’s end in May 2009, the PTA not only remains on the books but continues to be used to arrest and detain people.
Lawyers and relatives of PTA detainees told Human Rights Watch in May 2016 that police arrests were still being made in the notorious white vans used by the previous government, creating fear of a return to a culture of enforced disappearances. The practice has abated somewhat after an outcry from the rejuvenated national Human Rights Commission and rights lawyers. Lawyers, families, and the Human Rights Commission report having access to PTA detainees, an improvement from past practice.
“A number of those arrested in 2016 under the Prevention of Terrorism Act were implicated in committing or plotting terrorist crimes,” Adams said. “Yet there was no good reason for not using the regular criminal code rather than an abusive law that should have been repealed years ago.”
The Special Rapporteur on torture, following a May 2016 visit to Sri Lanka, found that torture to produce confessions, including beatings, sexual violence, extreme stress positions and asphyxiation, was being committed in police stations, military facilities and detention centers throughout the country.
Human Rights Watch’s own investigations found that police routinely use torture to compel confessions for even minor offenses, such as petty theft and making illicit alcohol, and this affected all ethnicities and social groups. The Special Rapporteur described a “worrying lack of will within the Attorney General’s Department and the judiciary” to investigate and take action against those considered responsible for torture, noting that authorities kept repeating to him that there had been no complaints of ill-treatment or torture, and consequently no investigations.
“Deeply embedded practices linked to the war, like police torture, don’t just go away once the war is over,” Adams said. “Curtailing torture in Sri Lanka requires serious reforms of the security sector, prosecutions of those responsible, and sustained political will from the top.”
In June 2016, President Maithripala Sirisena issued a directive to the police and military to refrain from torture but the impact of the directive has gone unreported. Legal provisions in violation of international law remain on the books, such as permitting criminal liability at the age of 8. Ensuring the right to counsel at all stages of detention has also not been remedied.
The upcoming Human Rights Council session provides an important opportunity for UN member countries to closely examine the Special Rapporteur on torture’s report and the problem of torture and other police abuse in Sri Lanka. They should press the government to address these concerns as part of the overall reform efforts underway under the Human Rights Council resolution. And they need to be careful not to endorse measures that would set back human rights protections, such as earlier draft counter-terrorism bills to replace the PTA.
“The Mendez report on torture maps out a detailed reform proposal that the Sri Lankan government should embrace and implement,” Adams said. “The Human Rights Council can rev up this process by addressing torture and police reform in its review of Sri Lanka’s compliance with the council’s resolution.”
This article was published on HRW's website on February 20, 2017.
Today, human rights judges backed complaints against jail overcrowding lodged by detainees at Greece’s Chios prison.
Igbo and Others v. Greece (no. 60042/13)
The applicants are 14 Greek, Turkish, Nigerian, and Senegalese nationals who were born between 1951 and 1989. The case concerned their complaints about inhuman and degrading detention conditions in Chios Prison (Greece) where 12 of the applicants were detained either in pre-trial detention or serving prison sentences at the time of lodging their application. The other two applicants were detained in Chios Prison until 2013, one of them having been transferred to another prison and one other released.
The applicants essentially submitted that Chios Prison was overcrowded to the point that it was standard practice for inmates to have to sleep on the floor in their cells. They also complained about the lack of hygiene and inadequate medical care.
The government contested these allegations, essentially asserting that the prison slightly exceeded its capacity at the time when the applicants had lodged their applications with the European court but was not overcrowded.
Relying on Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) and Article 13 (right to an effective remedy), the applicants alleged that the conditions of their detention in Chios Prison were or had been inhuman and degrading and that there had been no effective remedies in domestic law for them to complain.
Violation of Article 3 -in respect of Igbo, Gur, Niamg, Kahraman, Dedonakis, Chirakis, Dimas, Karetos, Malamas, Kavaleros, Karetos and Vikelis.
Violation of Article 13 -in respect of Igbo, Gur, Niamg, Kahraman, Dedonakis, Chirakis, Dimas, Karetos, Malamas, Kavaleros, Karetos and Vikelis.
The Court further declared inadmissible the application in so far as it concerned Konstantinopoulos and Leontios
Just satisfaction: EUR 5,000 EUR to Chirakis, EUR 6,500 each to Gur, Niamg, Kahraman, Dedonakis, Dimas, Karetos, Malamas and Kavaleros, and EUR 6,700 EUR each to Igbo, Karetos and Vikelis (non-pecuniary damage).
This press release was published on the Council of Europe's website on February 9, 2017.
By Phelim Kine, Deputy Director, Asia Division
Authorities in Indonesia’s Aceh province imposed the Sharia, or Islamic law, punishment of multiple lashes of a cane against 339 people in 2016, the first full-year of implementation of Aceh’s Sharia’s Criminal Code since it went into effect in September 2015.
The Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, an Indonesian nongovernmental organization that compiled the statistics, warned the abusive practice will “continue to rise” in 2017.
Those punished with caning last year included 37 women for violations of Sharia including gambling.
Aceh is the only one of Indonesia’s 34 provinces that can legally adopt bylaws derived from Sharia. Since those bylaws began to go into effect in 2001, Human Rights Watch has documented human rights abuses linked to enforcement of Sharia bylaws prohibiting adultery and imposing public dress requirements on Muslims. The khalwat(“close proximity”) law makes association by unmarried individuals of the opposite sex a criminal offense in some circumstances. While the dress requirement is gender-neutral on its face, in practice it imposes far more onerous restrictions on women with the mandatory hijab, or veil, and long skirts. These “offenses” are not banned elsewhere in Indonesia.
Aceh’s so-called Sharia police have interpreted the broadly worded Sharia-inspired adultery law to prohibit merely sitting and talking in a “quiet” space with a member of the opposite sex to whom one is not married or related – even without any evidence of intimacy. Human Rights Watch has documented such abuses as aggressive interrogation, conditioning the release of suspects upon their agreement to marry, and, in one case, the Sharia police’s rape of a woman during her detention.
Aceh’s Sharia bylaws have proliferated. On September 27, 2014, Aceh’s provincial parliament approved bylaws that extend Sharia to non-Muslims, criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual acts as well as all zina (sexual relations outside of marriage). The criminal code permits up to 100 lashes and up to 100 months in prison for consensual same-sex sexual acts, while zina violations carry a penalty of 100 lashes. Those bylaws were implemented as part of Sharia Criminal Code in September 2015.
Discriminatory enforcement of Sharia has also had a chilling effect on the basic rights to security and freedom of expression for Aceh’s deeply marginalized LGBT community. In April 2016, four United Nations special rapporteurs wrote to the Indonesian governmentexpressing concerns about the abusive enforcement of Sharia against LGBT people, and requesting information on the government’s response.
Under Indonesian law, the national home affairs minister can review and repeal local bylaws, including those adopted in Aceh. In June 2016, Minister of Home Affairs Tjahjo Kumolo backtracked on an announced commitment to abolish abusive Sharia regulations in the country. It’s up to President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to prod Kumolo to deliver on his promise, or to personally take action against Aceh’s Sharia bylaws and any other local regulations that are discriminatory or otherwise unlawful.
This article was published on HRW's website on February 9, 2017.
Confessions by Palestinians who have been tortured are regularly accepted by Israeli judges, rights groups say.
By Ben White
A recent article published by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz has confirmed the extent to which Shin Bet interrogators subject their prisoners to torture.
Methods include slapping the head "to hurt sensitive organs like the nose, ears, brow and lips", forcing a handcuffed individual to squat against a wall for long periods of time, and placing the suspect bent backwards over a chair with his arms and legs cuffed.
The interrogators' accounts echo what Palestinians and Israeli human rights groups have long documented. Prisoners' rights NGO Addameer said that such practices "are known to be routinely and systematically used against Palestinian detainees". Other torture methods used against Palestinians include sleep deprivation and threats against family members, an Addameer spokesperson told Al Jazeera.
Rachel Stroumsa, the executive director of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), said that her NGO was aware of hundreds of complaints and allegations along these lines.
In addition to interrogation being used to gain information about future acts, "our experience is that torture is also used to obtain confessions regarding past acts", Stroumsa told Al Jazeera.
In its annual report last year, Amnesty International found that Israeli forces and Shin Bet personnel had "tortured and otherwise ill-treated Palestinian detainees, including children, particularly during arrest and interrogation", with methods including "beating with batons, slapping, throttling, prolonged shackling, stress positions, sleep deprivation and threats".
A representative of Defence for Children International - Palestine told Al Jazeera that the group's research had shown that almost two-thirds of Palestinian children detained in the occupied West Bank by Israeli forces had endured physical violence after their arrest.
"Palestinian children are regularly subjected to coercive and violent interrogation techniques intended to extract confessions," said Ayed Abu Qtaish, the group's accountability programme director. "Interrogators use position abuse, threats and isolation to coerce confessions from some children, and Israeli military court judges seldom exclude these confessions."
Torture and ill-treatment are so rife, human rights campaigners say, that convictions of Palestinians for "security offences" are fundamentally unreliable, not least because the abuse is part of a wider lack of due process.
According to one study, as many as 91 percent of Palestinian detainees interrogated by the Shin Bet in the occupied West Bank are held incommunicado for either part or all of their interrogation. Stroumsa says this practice is "an enabling element for torture".
In the military court system, which has a 99 percent conviction rate, Palestinians can be held for 60 days without access to a lawyer - compared with the United States, where the average length of interrogations producing false confessions is 16 hours.
"As Palestinian children continue to experience systematic ill-treatment and denial of due process rights, it becomes evident that military courts have no interest in justice," Abu Qtaish said.
In addition to the torture and lack of access to counsel, Palestinians are asked to sign confession sheets in Hebrew, which they often do not understand. All of this "creates a coercive environment which results in confessions made under duress", Addameer noted.
A recent example is the case of Mohammad el-Halabi, a Gaza-based employee of World Vision who was charged by Israel with funnelling money to Hamas. Halabi, who is being tried in a Beer Sheva civilian court, has protested his innocence, saying that he was tortured by his interrogators. These claims were also made by his lawyers, who Halabi was prevented from seeing for three weeks after his arrest.
The new Haaretz report draws attention to a topic that is not often in the limelight. In November 2015, a video of the interrogation of 13-year-old Ahmad Manasra sparked outrage, while Israel's appearance at the United Nations Committee Against Torture last May - which referred to "coerced evidence" being used in courts - also gained coverage.
But many other events fly under the radar. An academic study published in November 2015 in a peer-reviewed medical journal revealed dozens of cases of sexual torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian prisoners detained by Israel.
Activists on the ground say that an international spotlight on Israel's torture practices is urgently needed, not least because of the institutionalised nature of the problem.
Although an Israeli Supreme Court ruling in 1999 prohibited "physical means" of interrogation, Shin Bet agents were effectively given impunity for torture and ill-treatment by the so-called "necessity defence" or " ticking bomb" exemption.
According to anti-torture campaigners, this exemption has served as a green light for torture ever since. Since 2001, hundreds of formal complaints have been made against Shin Bet interrogators, but not a single criminal investigation has been opened.
"I think international pressure is essential, and has on some issues proven its efficacy," Stroumsa said.
"It is also the duty of the international community to speak out on abuses, given the massive economic and political support for the State of Israel from abroad."
This article was published on Al Jazeera on February 7, 2017.
By Maria Biery C’18
On February 1, Penn Law hosted a panel discussion titled “Double Standards: Mass Incarceration, Sexual Assault, and the Brock Turner Case.” Georgetown Law professor and criminal defense attorney Abbe Smith, Penn Law professor Dorothy Roberts, Executive Director of Restorative Encounters Barbie Fischer, and Attorney Advisor at AEquitas Vikki Kristiansson participated in the event to discuss how sexual assault cases and the problems associated with mass incarceration coincide.
The case of former Stanford student Brock Turner, who was convicted of sexually assaulting a woman and sentenced to six months in jail, was referenced as an example of this connection throughout the discussion.
Kristiansson started with the topic of rape and the biases and misconceptions associated with the term. She stated that, as a society, many of us don’t know what rape is. “We are all brought up thinking that rape, still, is a stranger grabbing a stranger violently off of a street corner, bringing that person into a dark alley, beating up that person, and very, very violently raping that person,” said Kristiansson.
However, she has seen that most rape usually happens between people who are not strangers, and, since this does not conform to most people’s definition of rape, victims are met with scrutiny that results in legal challenges.
Professor Abbe Smith went on to look at the case of Brock Turner. To her, the sentence of six months in county jail was appropriate, given the circumstances. She stated that the judge in the case — a fact, she remarked, that people have often overlooked — “was being respectful of the victim’s wishes in crafting a sentence,” since the victim stated that she did not want Turner to “rot in jail.” Turner, she continued, expressed remorse for his actions, there was no evidence suggesting he would commit an act of sexual assault again, and, therefore, his sentence was fair.
Professor Roberts, then, segued into the topic of mass incarceration. “I think we live in a state where imprisonment is the solution for problems that arise from social inequality in our country,” she stated. The role of racism shapes who feels entitled to sexually assaulting another, according to Roberts, and, in connection, “racism and sexism within rape law is related to the other problem of mass incarceration.”
Roberts stated that, “It is important while we work to reform views about sexual assault, that we also work against mass incarceration.”
Barbie Fischer closed with a discussion on her work in restorative justice. To counter some of the misconceptions surrounding the term, Fischer explained that, “Restorative justice is a framework, a philosophy. It is not a one-size-fits-all thing, and it is not soft on crime.”
Fischer stated that she feels the criminal justice system is set up so that offenders don’t have to face what they did, and they get to hide from it.
She does not discount that the criminal system has to exist, but she does not think that one can find support in the system. She believes the best way to fix this is for lawyers to be trauma-informed, and there should be defense-initiated victim outreach, plea bargains, and sexual deviant evaluations. Fischer also stated that lawyers should respect victim advocates, as they best understand the needs of the victim.
This article was published on the University of Pennsylvania Law School's website on February 7, 2017.
A chilling new report by Amnesty International exposes the Syrian government’s calculated campaign of extrajudicial executions by mass hangings at Saydnaya Prison. Between 2011 and 2015, every week and often twice a week, groups of up to 50 people were taken out of their prison cells and hanged to death. In five years, as many as 13,000 people, most of them civilians believed to be opposed to the government, were hanged in secret at Saydnaya.
Human slaughterhouse: Mass hangings and extermination at Saydnaya prison, Syria also shows that the government is deliberately inflicting inhuman conditions on detainees at Saydnaya Prison through repeated torture and the systematic deprivation of food, water, medicine and medical care. The report documents how these extermination policies have killed massive numbers of detainees.
These practices, which amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, are authorized at the highest levels of the Syrian government.
“The horrors depicted in this report reveal a hidden, monstrous campaign, authorized at the highest levels of the Syrian government, aimed at crushing any form of dissent within the Syrian population,” said Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Director for Research at Amnesty International’s regional office in Beirut.
“We demand that the Syrian authorities immediately cease extrajudicial executions and torture and inhuman treatment at Saydnaya Prison and in all other government prisons across Syria. Russia and Iran, the government’s closest allies, must press for an end to these murderous detention policies.
“The upcoming Syria peace talks in Geneva cannot ignore these findings. Ending these atrocities in Syrian government prisons must be put on the agenda. The UN must immediately carry out an independent investigation into the crimes being committed at Saydnaya and demand access for independent monitors to all places of detention.”
The report reveals a routine of mass extrajudicial executions by hanging inside Saydnaya prison that was in place between 2011 and 2015. Every week – and often twice a week – victims were hanged in groups of up to 50 people, in the middle of the night and in total secrecy. There are strong reasons to believe that this routine is still ongoing today. Large numbers of detainees have also been killed as a result of the authorities’ extermination policies, which include repeated torture and the systematic deprivation of food, water, medicine and medical care. In addition, detainees at Saydnaya Prison are forced to obey a set of sadistic and dehumanizing rules.
The findings of the report are based on an intensive investigation, which was carried out over the course of one year, from December 2015 to December 2016. It involved first-hand interviews with 84 witnesses that included former Saydnaya guards and officials, detainees, judges and lawyers, as well as national and international experts on detention in Syria.
A previous report published in August 2016, for which Amnesty International partnered with a team of specialists at Forensic Architecture, University of Goldsmiths to create a virtual 3D reconstruction of Saydnaya prison, estimated that more than 17,000 people have died in prisons across Syria as a result of the inhuman conditions and torture since the Syrian crisis began in 2011. This figure does not include the estimated 13,000 additional deaths as a result of the extrajudicial executions exposed in this report.
The role of the Military Field Court
Not one of the detainees condemned to hang at Saydnaya Prison is given anything that resembles an actual trial. Before they are hanged, victims undergo a perfunctory, one or two-minute procedure at a so-called Military Field Court. These proceedings are so summary and arbitrary that they cannot be considered to constitute a judicial process. Testimonies from former government officials, guards, judges and detainees helped Amnesty International shape a detailed picture of the farcical procedures that lead up to the hangings.
One former judge from a Syrian military court told Amnesty International the “court” operates outside the rules of the Syrian legal system. “The judge will ask the name of the detainee and whether he committed the crime. Whether the answer is yes or no, he will be convicted… This court has no relation with the rule of law. This is not a court,” he said.
The convictions issued by this so-called court are based on false confessions extracted from detainees under torture. Detainees are not allowed access to a lawyer or given an opportunity to defend themselves – most have been subjected to enforced disappearance, held in secret and cut off from the outside world. Those who are condemned to death do not find out about their sentences until minutes before they are hanged.
Hangings at Saydnaya are carried out once or twice a week, usually on Monday and Wednesday, in the middle of the night. Those whose names are called out were told they would be transferred to civilian prisons in Syria. Instead, they are moved to a cell in the basement of the prison and beaten severely. They are then transported to another prison building on the grounds of Saydnaya, where they are hanged. Throughout this process, they remain blindfolded. They do not know when or how they will die until the noose was placed around their necks.
“They kept them [hanging] there for 10 to 15 minutes. Some didn’t die because they are light. For the young ones, their weight wouldn’t kill them. The officers’ assistants would pull them down and break their necks,” said a former judge who witnessed the hangings.
Detainees held in the building in the floors above the “execution room” reported that they sometimes heard the sounds of these hangings.
“If you put your ears on the floor, you could hear the sound of a kind of gurgling. This would last around 10 minutes… We were sleeping on top of the sound of people choking to death. This was normal for me then,” said “Hamid”, a former military officer arrested in 2011.
As many as 50 people can be hanged in one night. Their bodies are taken away by the truckload to be secretly buried in mass graves. Their families are given no information about their fate.
Policy of extermination
Survivors of Saydnaya also provided spine-chilling and shocking testimonies about life inside the prison. They evoke a world carefully designed to humiliate, degrade, sicken, starve and ultimately kill those trapped inside.
These harrowing accounts have led Amnesty International to conclude that the suffering and appalling conditions at Saydnaya have been deliberately inflicted on detainees as a policy of extermination.
Many of the prisoners said they were raped or in some cases forced to rape other prisoners. Torture and beatings are used as a regular form of punishment and degradation, often leading to life-long damage, disability or even death. The cell floors are covered with blood and puss from prisoners’ wounds. The bodies of dead detainees are collected by the prison guards each morning, around 9am.
“Every day there would be two or three dead people in our wing… I remember the guard would ask how many we had. He would say, ‘Room number one – how many? Room number two – how many?’ and on and on... There was one time that… the guards came to us, room by room, and beat us on the head, chest and neck. Thirteen people from our wing died that day,” said “Nader”, a former Saydnaya detainee.
Food and water are regularly cut off. When food is delivered, it is often scattered over the cell floors by the guards, where it mixes with blood and dirt. The very few who leave Saydnaya often do so weighing half the body weight they had when they arrived.
Saydnaya also has its own set of “special rules”. Prisoners are not allowed to make any sounds, speak or even whisper. They are forced to assume certain positions when the guards come into the cells and merely looking at the guards is punishable by death.
The international community, notably the UN Security Council, must take immediate and urgent action, to put an end to this suffering.
“A firm decision must be made by the UN Security Council. It cannot turn a blind eye to these horrible crimes and must pass a resolution demanding that the Syrian government opens up its prisons for international monitors. The UN Human Rights Council must immediately demand an independent investigation into these grave violations of international law,” said Lynn Maalouf.
“The cold blooded killing of thousands of defenceless prisoners, along with the carefully crafted and systematic programmes of psychological and physical torture that are in place inside Saydnaya Prison cannot be allowed to continue. Those responsible for these heinous crimes must be brought to justice.”
This article was published on Amnesty International's website on February 7, 2017.
Lawyers representing the sister of a Syrian man allegedly tortured to death in 2013 files criminal complaint to Spain’s National Court in first case ever brought against Syrian officials in a Western court.
LAWYERS REPRESENTING THE sister of a Syrian man alleged to have been tortured to death in a detention centre in Damascus in 2013 have launched a criminal complaint against members of the Syrian security forces in Spain’s national court.
Nine members of the Syrian government’s security and intelligence forces were accused of crimes of state terrorism in the 95-page complaint that was filed on Wednesday in Madrid.
The case is the first in a Western court brought against members of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s government, with the nine accused understood to include senior officials.
The full names of the nine officials and the name of the victim and his sister have not been made public.
The sister, who is only identified in the complaint as Mrs AH, claims she is a victim of Syrian state terrorism because her brother was arbitrarily detained, forcibly disappeared, tortured and executed in 2013.
Under Spanish law, Spanish prosecutors can investigate the complaint because Mrs AH is a Spanish national, a precedent that has previously been used to investigate crimes committed by state actors in Latin America during the Cold War.
Her lawyers, Guernica 37, said in a statement: “The evidence submitted clearly demonstrates that the Syrian State led by President Bashar al-Assad committed the Crime of Terrorism against its civil population using its security forces and intelligence apparatus.”
It added: “Thousands of detainees have been executed or have died as a result of torture, mass starvation and illness.”
The case was brought to light after a defector known by the codename Caesar, who had worked as a forensic officer, escaped from Syria in September 2013 with more than 50,000 photos documenting the deaths of more than 6,000 people.
Mrs AH and her family were able to identify her brother based on images of victims posted on online by the Syrian Association for Missing and Conscience Detainees.
Almudena Bernabeu, the lawyer representing Mrs AH, said: “This complaint materialises the efforts of extraordinary professionals from Syria and other parts of the world, who have tirelessly fought for justice during the last five years.
“The Caesar photographs demonstrate the degree of perversion of a state when it decides to attack its people through its institutions. Our desire is that this first step would allow for criminal justice efforts in other jurisdictions, and consequently, bring hope to the thousands of Syrian civilians that continue suffering the consequences of this barbarity.”
The Syrian government has faced international condemnation over its conduct during the country’s more than five-year civil war, in which it is accused of killing the great majority of the hundreds of thousands of people who have died.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights documented the deaths of 14,638 detainees, including 111 children from the start of the uprising until December 2016. This did not include more than 5,500 people who had gone missing or been abducted by state forces. Some 1,500 people were disappeared by the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) and rebel factions in Syria.
Overall civilian deaths until December 13 documented by SOHR were 90,506, including 15,948 children and 10,540 women.
More than 102,000 government troops and militia members have died and more than 53,000 rebel fighters have been killed, according to the Observatory. In addition, more than 54,000 foreign anti-government and ISIS fighters have been killed in Syria.
In October then-UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said that Assad’s government was responsible for 300,000 deaths.
Efforts to prosecute Syrian leaders have been obstructed by the presence and vetoing powers of Russia, Assad’s main ally, on the UN Security Council, which normally refers potential war crimes and crimes against humanity cases to the International Criminal Court for investigation.
This article was published on News Deeply's website on February 3rd, 2017.
Defendants Show Clear Signs of Abuse at Hearing
The spectators entering the courtroom last week knew something was wrong before they even stepped inside: Police were there at the doors, forcing people to surrender their cellphones. There was something inside the authorities didn’t want photographed or recorded.
The administrative center of Burundi’s eastern Muyinga province had been shaken awake a few days earlier, on January 24 at 2 a.m., when unknown men allegedly attacked the town’s military base, Camp Mukoni. Later in the day, an army spokesperson claimed the base hadn’t been attacked but rather armed thieves had attacked soldiers on patrol nearby. Rumors continued to swirl.
The facts surrounding the attack are still murky, but the response from the authorities was clear: crackdown on the soldiers suspected of involvement in the attack. Twenty people were put on trial – seven soldiers, 12 civilians, and one policeman. Many were badly beaten and tortured during interrogations by the intelligence service, witnesses have told me.
The injuries they’d suffered were clear to the crowd, according to witnesses in the court room: They had badly swollen hands and feet, many were limping, and one had his arm in a sling.
Witnesses have described how two of the soldiers struggled to stand. Chairs were brought, but sitting was difficult, so at times, during the hearing that dragged on for more than five hours, two of the soldiers lay down on the floor, the only position that brought some comfort. A bucket was brought over because one soldier started vomiting blood.
The same soldier, in a barely audible voice, asked the president of the court for the trial to be postponed given his state of health. He said his testicles had been tortured, and he wanted to be treated before presenting his defense. He also asked the presiding judge for a lawyer. The judge ignored his requests, a clear breach of Burundian and international law.
The court deliberated for about an hour after hearing defendants’ statements. The verdict: 30 years of prison time for attempted organized armed robbery and illegal weapons possession plus a fine of about $2,900. If they fail to pay, the prison sentence will be increased to 55 years. Two of the defendants – waiters in a Muyinga bar – were fined about $50 each.
When asked the why the soldier’s request for a lawyer was denied, Minister of Justice Aimée Laurentine Kanyana said: “Fortunately, there is still a means of recourse. They can call for an appeal and ask that they are assisted by a lawyer then.”
In a separate interview on Burundian state radio, she said: “According to the information I received, there was no defendant who had been tortured. It was a public hearing where everyone could attend the debate. If someone was tortured, one is going to see it.”
Madame la Ministre, check your facts. Those in the courtroom say they did indeed see the signs of torture.
These abusive tactics, as well as the manipulation of the justice system, have become hallmarks of the ruling party’s efforts to quash dissent. As the International Criminal Court considers opening a full investigation into Burundi – a step that looks increasingly necessary – this case, and other abuses committed by members of the security forces, should be considered.
This article was published on Human Rights Watch's website on February 3rd, 2017.