By Jasmine Garsd
There’s a sadness to Amal — but it isn’t weakness. It’s like a firm, concrete melancholy. It’s hard to imagine her running away from anything. But here’s what happened: She had been teaching math when government forces torched her village in Sudan.
She and the villagers decided to make their way to a refugee camp.
That, she says, is when she saw the baby.
A baby girl, no more than 5 days old, trying to feed off her mother, who was dead. Amal picked that baby up, and walked for three days to the camp. Then and there, she decided to become an activist for women and children.
Amal says hardly any men came to the camp — they were all fighting or dead. The camp was mostly women, rape victims, some pregnant, many suicidal.
"It's a systematic targeting of women who are the bearers and the fabric of society," says Monica Feltz, the executive director of the International Justice Project, which assists victims of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. She works with many victims of the Sudanese conflict.
"Commanders and those who are perpetrating the crime — they know women will be stigmatized if they are raped, if they bear children who are not of their tribes. This is a very systematic approach by the government forces," she explains.
There are currently over a dozen cases and investigations against African leaders being reviewed by the International Criminal Court. Most of these cases involve systematic sexual violence against women.
Amal says back in Darfur when she would report rapes, the official response would be, "Look, this happens. Assault, happens." And then, it happened to her.
She was detained, she was tortured, she was assaulted. When it was over, she was able to make her way to the US, as a speaker at a conference. She stayed, as a refugee.
Around the time Amal was fleeing to the US, something completely unprecedented happened. The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. Among the charges? Systematic sexual violence. The court had never issued an arrest warrant for a sitting president before.
But Bashir was never arrested.
"My clients from Darfur, who have been waiting for 10 years ... longer ... for justice, were really let down," Feltz laments.
Bashir traveled freely to South Africa. A lot of people saw this as a sign of how ineffective the International Criminal Court has become. Last year, South Africa announced it was leaving the court. At the time, The Gambia released a statement saying "The ICC, despite being called 'the International Criminal Court', is in fact, an international CAUCASIAN court, for the persecution and humiliation of people of color. Especially Africans."
The Gambia ultimately decided to stay in the ICC. But just a few weeks ago, the African Union announced a mass withdrawal from the court, for the same reasons. The US and China, for example, aren’t even members of the court.
Defenders of the court point out that it’s current chief prosecutor is an African woman, Fatou Bensouda. Most of the cases have been referred by African countries. Luis Moreno Ocampo, the first chief prosecutor for the court and the man who brought charges against Bashir, says African countries pulling out is a sign of how scared they are of the court.
"Leaving the court is not because the court is inefficient. No. Burundi is leaving the court because the court is the only efficient international institution we have to stop massive atrocities," he says.
Ocampo says it’s not the future of the court he’s worried about. The court will survive — even if they don’t get President Bashir. But at least they are trying to get the truth out.
"African states need the ICC. Victims in Africa need the ICC. At least ICC is helping to keep saying, 'OK, but Bashir committed genocide. You'd like to ignore it, you'd like to forget it. But Bashir committed genocide.' So, the truth is important," he adds.
It's especially important for women, says Feltz. "I mean the domestic courts in Darfur are a joke. I think it's very hard for many women to gain any sort of justice at the local level if there aren't mechanisms in place for it. Which is where the ICC comes in."
Far away from Sudan, in the freezing grip of the US winter, Amal has been watching it all unfold. She recently got asylum status, but she says she wants to see justice in Sudan. And she asks herself what the value of an international court is if it can’t even get a leader arrested.
But she also says whether it’s the International Court, or God, someone will someday bring her justice.
This article was published on PRI's website on February 24, 2017.
BY TOVAH LAZAROFF
The groups announced their plans to turn to the court almost immediately after the Knesset authorized the legislation in a historic 60-52 vote.
Non-governmental groups plan to petition the High Court of Justice against a new Israeli law that retroactively legalizes close to 4,000 settler homes on private Palestinian property.
The groups — Peace Now, Yesh Din and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel — announced their plans to turn to the court almost immediately after the Knesset authorized the legislation in a historic 60-52 vote.
In the months leading up to the vote, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, which offers the Palestinians compensation, was unconstitutional.
He added that he did not plan to defend it before the High Court.
Left-wing legal experts have argued that the legislation is also illegal under international law, while right-wing ones have said that it actually places Israel in compliance with international law because it compensate the Palestinians for the land. Until now the Palestinians have not been offered any financial compensation for the loss of their property.
Yesh Din said, ”The land regulation law, approved today, is an unlawful, immoral law sanctioning land-grab and rewarding thievery.”
"The law constitutes a fundamental violation of the right to property; given the Knesset’s lack of authority to legislate upon the West Bank, the landowners’ struggle will continue in court,” it added.
"By passing this law, [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu makes theft an official Israeli policy and stains the Israeli law books,” Peace Now said.
"By giving a green light to settlers to build illegally on private Palestinian land, the legalization law is another step towards annexation and away from a two state solution.
“In light of this madness, we must act as the responsible adults and turn to the Supreme Court in order to strike down this dangerous law,” Peace Now.
After the Knesset passed the legislation MK Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi) thanked Peace Now and Yesh Din. He implied that their persistent petitions to the HCJ to force the state to take down settler homes on private Palestinian land compelled right-wing Israeli legislators to draft the bill.
The international non-governmental group Human Rights Watch warned Israel that the legislation could sway the International Criminal Court to rule on the issue of West Bank settlements.
“Israeli officials driving settlement policy should know that the Trump administration cannot shield them from the scrutiny of the International Criminal Court, where the prosecutor continues to examine unlawful Israeli settlement activity.”
This article was published on The Jerusalem Post's website on February 7, 2017.
UN and Donors Need to Back Accountability for Conflict Era Crimes.
New York) – The mandates of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission on Investigation of Disappeared Persons (COID) should be extended indefinitely to ensure that justice, accountability, and reparations are achieved for the thousands of victims of Nepal’s brutal civil war, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said today. The United Nations and donors, who played a major role in post-conflict peacemaking and rights protections, should publicly call on the government of Nepal to amend the law which created the commissions in line with international norms and extend their mandates.
“In spite of delays caused by political parties, the two commissions have succeeded in accumulating a body of evidence of wartime atrocities that can lead to justice, accountability, and reparations for survivors,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The victims and their families who showed great courage to appear before the commissions did so expecting the commissions to complete their work. It is time for Nepal’s political parties to prove their commitment to justice and truth.”
The two commissions, whose mandates are set to expire on February 10, 2017, were set up as a result of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2006 between the government of Nepal and the rebel Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) to address accountability for human rights violations that took place during Nepal’s 10-year civil war.
Nepal’s 1996-2006 civil war caused an estimated 13,000 deaths and thousands of disappearances. Credible allegations to both sides of the conflict reveal a pattern of torture, killings, enforced disappearances, and sexual violence. In spite of numerous calls for answers and accountability, the government has stalled on delivering justice to victims.
The commissions finally began receiving submissions in early 2016. By September 2016, together they had received nearly 60,000 complaints. Due to limitations on their mandate and persistent political and resource constraints, the commissions have been unable to complete their work. The COID recently indicated that it will need a further three years to achieve its objectives.
Although the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction has said that the mandates of the commissions mechanisms will be extended, there has been little concrete action to date. It is also unclear whether the Investigation of Disappeared Persons, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act, 2014 (TRC Act), which formally established the commissions, will be amended before the mandates are renewed in line with two separate Supreme Court rulings in 2014 and 2015, which found that the act did not conform to Nepal’s international legal obligations since it allowed for amnesties for crimes prohibited under international law.
In May 2016, the four main political parties agreed to a nine-point deal containing provisions shielding perpetrators of wartime abuses. Provision 7 directs the authorities to withdraw all wartime cases before the courts and to provide amnesty to alleged perpetrators.
Several TRC commissioners have expressed concerns that extending their mandate without the necessary legal amendments would render any future work meaningless and would not lead to justice for victims. To date, the government has not implemented the court’s directives despite repeated calls from the commissions, victims’ groups, and the international community to amend the act in line with the Supreme Court directives, including the removal of any amnesty provisions. In addition, calls to adopt legislation to criminalize torture and disappearances and to lift any time limitations on prosecutions for rape have not been heeded.
“The government of Nepal cannot continue to ignore the rights of victims to justice, truth, and reparation,” said Biraj Patnaik, South Asia director at Amnesty International. “Failure to amend the act as ordered by the Supreme Court and grant the commissions a reasonable extension of their mandates will squander the hope that wartime victims have placed in this process.”
Nepal’s transitional justice efforts have been plagued by a lack of political will on all sides of the political spectrum, including the army and former armed members of the CPN-M. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International renewed their calls on the international community, including donors and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to publicly call on the government to amend the TRC Act and provide adequate support and resources to the commissions so they can make meaningful progress to secure justice for victims and their families.
“The UN was deeply involved in Nepal’s peace process and transitional justice issues for many years, before withdrawing due to governmental pressures against their presence and voice,” Adams said. “The international community needs to stand up for the rights of wartime victims now – otherwise more than a decade of international efforts for Nepal to fulfill its obligations to deliver truth, reparation, and justice to victims will have been wasted.”
This article was published on Human Rights Watch's website on February 3, 2017.
By AGGREY MUTAMBO
The African Union (AU) wants its member states to pull out of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
This is a message to the international community to stop "harassing" Africans, the AU said.
The decision was arrived at in a closed session of the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Tuesday.
However, Nigeria, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Mali, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Tunisia, Cape Verde, Botswana and Chad want to remain members of the court.
The summit adopted a withdrawal strategy which had been circulated to members beforehand but was overshadowed by Monday’s elections of AU Commission leaders. The document says: “A growing number of African stakeholders have begun to see patterns of only pursuing African cases being reflective of selectivity and inequality”.
Member states also agreed to press for a reformed United Nations Security Council. African countries have no permanent representation in the council. The council can refer cases to the court, yet it is not a UN court. The document is the brainchild of a ministerial committee formed after the African Union summit in Johannesburg in 2015.
At the time, South Africa had rejected an ICC order to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir wanted by the ICC for war crimes in Darfur. South Africa has since notified the UN of its intention to withdraw from the ICC.
The committee is made up of foreign ministers of Kenya, Ethiopia, Chad, Burundi, Eritrea, South Sudan, Kenya, Libya, Sudan, Madagascar, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Senegal.
Kenya is one of the fiercest critics of the court and had proposed that it should be complimentary to domestic or regional judicial courts.
During the Addis summit, Kenya focused on campaigning for Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed for AU Commission chairperson. She lost to Faki Mahamat of Chad, which supports the court.
National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale admitted the loss may have had something to do with Ms Mohamed’s criticism of the ICC. But he said Kenya will not stop pushing for reforms.
This article was published on Daily Nation's website on February 2, 2017.