Burundi has become the first country to withdraw its membership from the International Criminal Court (ICC).
It accused the ICC of deliberately targeting Africans for prosecution.
The government of Burundi is accused of committing crimes against humanity, including execution and torture. The UN Commission of Inquiry is urging the ICC to open a prosecution soon.
In theory its withdrawal from the ICC has no effect on the court's ongoing investigations on the country.
Fadi El-Abdallah, a spokesman for the ICC, told the BBC's Newsday programme that "article 127 states that withdrawal does not affect the jurisdiction of the ICC over the crimes that have been committed" while the country was a member.
But the case of Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, one of the ICC's "most wanted", has highlighted the difficulty of getting a non-member to co-operate in surrendering suspects.
The withdrawal comes a year after Burundi lodged an official notice to quit the organisation, which has 122 member countries, 34 of which are African nations.
In 2015, Burundi saw major unrest and a crackdown by the security forces after President Pierre Nkurunzize decided to run for office for a third time, leading to protests from the opposition which deemed it unconstitutional.
The BBC's Anna Holligan in The Hague, where the ICC is based, says Burundi's decision to leave the ICC is unprecedented - a statement that if you don't like the focus of the prosecutor, you can simply leave.
She adds that the real impact - and whether or not it creates a domino effect - will be determined by what happens next.
Kenya and South Africa have made similar threats to withdraw their membership.
Published on BBC News on October 27, 2017.
The trial of more than 1,600 people suspected of ties with Boko Haram was expected to begin in Nigeria on Monday behind closed doors, in the biggest legal investigation into the eight-year militant Islamist insurgency.
More than 20,000 people have been killed and two million forced from their homes in northeastern Nigeria during the insurgency, contributing to what the United Nations has said is among the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
Nigeria’s ministry of justice said last month the trial of around 1,670 people held at the Kainji detention facility would begin at the site, in the central Niger state, on Monday and would be presided over by four judges.
A spokesman for the ministry did not respond to requests for confirmation that the trial had begun. A military spokesman declined to comment, saying questions should be addressed to the judiciary.
The ministry has said that after the Kainji trials are completed, a further 651 people suspected of having links to Boko Haram and currently being held at prisons in Maiduguri, the capital of the northeastern state of Borno, would go on trial.
Clement Nwankwo, a human rights lawyer based in the capital, Abuja, said the trials would provide a more effective deterrent if they were open to the media and public.
“On the Boko Haram issue, stories need to be told for the public to be made aware what has been going on and understand the nature of the crimes committed,” said Nwankwo, adding that secrecy also made it hard to determine whether trials were fair.
“The Nigerian authorities have not been known to be diligent in investigating and properly prosecuting suspects,” he said, warning that a sense of injustice could breed resentment among relatives that could yield future radicalisation.
However, Fatima Akilu - who headed the government’s counter violent extremism programme under the previous administration - said secrecy was needed to encourage witnesses and judges to take part in the trials because Nigeria does not have a witness protection programme.
“A lot of witnesses were afraid to come forward,” Akilu, who was based in the Office of the National Security Adviser from 2012 to 2015, said of previous efforts to pursue trials.
She said judges and witnesses had previously been subjected to death threats.
“If the witnesses don’t come forward there is limited evidence in terms of reaching a conviction, so I think there was little choice,” she said, adding that there were no clear alternatives in the absence of an amnesty programme.
Nigeria’s handling of thousands of people accused of ties with Boko Haram insurgents has previously attracted criticism.
The legal process marks a steep escalation in the number of insurgency-related cases being handled by Nigerian authorities.
The Ministry of Justice has said that, as of Sept. 11, only 13 “terrorism cases” had been concluded and nine convictions had been secured.
”The decision to start the trials is a response to persistent complaints by local and international human rights groups over thousands of persons detained without access to lawyers and without any specific charges, said Nnamdi Obasi, of International Crisis Group. (Reporting by Camillus Eboh, Paul Carsten and Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos; Editing by Gareth Jones)
Published on Reuters on October 9, 2017.
By MICHAEL SHERMER
In the wake of the Las Vegas massacre — the worst in modern American history, with 58 dead and some 500 wounded — the onus falls once again to those against gun control to make their case. The two most common arguments made in defense of broad gun ownership are a) self protection and b) as a bulwark against tyranny. Let’s consider each one.
Stories about the use of guns in self-defense — a good guy with a gun dispensing with a bad guy with a gun — are legion among gun enthusiasts and conservative talk radio hosts. But a 1998 study in The Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, to take one of many examples, found that “every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides and 11 attempted or completed suicides.” That means a gun is 22 times more likely to be used in a criminal assault, an accidental death or injury, a suicide attempt or a homicide than it is for self-defense.
A 2003 study published in the journal Annals of Emergency Medicine, which examined gun ownership levels among thousands of murder and suicide victims and nonvictims, found that gun-owning households were 41 percent more likely to experience a homicide and 244 percent more like to experience a suicide. The Second Amendment protects your right to own a gun, but having one in your home involves a risk-benefit calculation you should seriously consider.
Gun-rights advocates also make the grandiose claim that gun ownership is a deterrent against tyrannical governments. Indeed, the wording of the Second Amendment makes this point explicitly: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” That may have made sense in the 1770s, when breech-loading flintlock muskets were the primary weapons tyrants used to conquer other peoples and subdue their own citizens who could, in turn, equalize the power equation by arming themselves with equivalent firepower. But that is no longer true.
If you think stock piling firearms from the local Guns and Guitars store, where the Las Vegas shooter purchased some of his many weapons, and dressing up in camouflage and body armor is going to protect you from an American military capable of delivering tanks and armored vehicles full Navy SEALs to your door, you’re delusional. The tragic incidents at Ruby Ridge, in Idaho, and Waco, Tex., in the 1990s, in which citizens armed to the teeth collided with government agencies and lost badly, is a case study for what would happen were the citizenry to rise up in violence against the state today.
And in any case, if you’re having trouble with the government, a lawyer is a much more potent weapon than a gun. Politicians and police fear citizens armed with legal counsel more than they do a public fortified with guns. The latter they can just shoot. The former means they have to appear before a judge.
A civil society based on the rule of law with a professional military to protect its citizens from external threats; a police force to protect civilians from internal dangers; a criminal justice system to peacefully settle disputes between the state and its citizenry; and a civil court system to enable individuals to resolve conflicts nonviolently — these institutions have been the primary drivers in the dramatic decline of violence over the past several centuries, not an increasingly well-armed public.
States reduce violence by asserting a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, thereby replacing what criminologists call “self-help justice,” in which individuals settle their own scores, often violently, such as drug gangs and the Mafia. Homicide rates, for example, have plummeted a hundredfold since 14th-century England, in which there were 110 homicides per 100,000 people a year, compared with less than one per 100,000 today. Similar declines in murder rates have been documented in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands and Scandinavia. (American homicide rates are around five times higher than in Europe, owing primarily to the deadly combination of guns and gangs.)
There’s no question that tyrannical states have abused the freedom of their citizens. But it is no longer realistic to think that arming citizens to the teeth is going to stop tyranny should it arise. Far superior are nonviolent democratic checks and balances on power, constitutional guardians of civil rights and legal protections of liberties.
Published on The NY Times on October 5, 2017.
Efforts to bring those responsible for atrocities in Syria before European courts are starting to bear fruit, notably in Swedish and German courts, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. While various authorities in Europe have opened investigations of serious international crimes committed in Syria, Sweden and Germany are the first two countries that have prosecuted and convicted people for these crimes.
The 66-page report, “‘These Are the Crimes We Are Fleeing’: Justice for Syria in Swedish and German Courts,” outlines efforts in Sweden and Germany to investigate and prosecute people implicated in war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Syria. Drawing on interviews with 50 officials and practitioners working on these cases and 45 Syrian refugees in the two countries, Human Rights Watch documented the difficulties German and Swedish investigators and prosecutors face in taking up these types of cases, and the experience of refugees and asylum seekers with the authorities.
“With other avenues for justice currently blocked, criminal investigations in Europe are a beacon of hope for victims of crimes in Syria who have nowhere else to turn,” said Maria Elena Vignoli, Leonard H. Sandler fellow in the international justice program at Human Rights Watch. “As the first two countries to hold trials and convict people for atrocities in Syria, Sweden and Germany are putting war criminals on notice that they will have to pay for their crimes.”
Syrian refugees consistently stressed to Human Rights Watch the importance of bringing to justice those responsible for atrocities committed in Syria.“My brother was killed with 14 bullets by the regime,” said Samira, who lives in Sweden and lost several family members in the war. “All my family died. I saw five children being executed, I saw their heads being cut off. I couldn’t sleep for a week. […] It’s very important to have justice, which will let me feel that I’m human.”
Muhammad, an activist working on behalf of some Syrian victims in Germany, said of the Syrian government: “These people think that the political solution will come and they will be able to escape to Europe. I want them to feel haunted like they’ve haunted people all their life. We need to send a message of hope to victims and to send the message to criminals that they will not escape.”
On September 25, Sweden became the first country to convict a member of the Syrian army for crimes in Syria. The accused, identified through a photo in which he posed with his foot on the chest of a dead victim, was found guilty of violating the dignity of a dead body.
Both Sweden and Germany have elements in place to allow for the successful investigation and prosecution of grave crimes, including comprehensive laws, well-functioning specialized war crimes units, and previous experience with such cases. In addition, due to the large numbers of Syrian asylum seekers and refugees, previously unavailable victims, witnesses, material evidence, and even some suspects are now within the reach of the authorities in these countries.
Nonetheless, Human Rights Watch found that both Sweden and Germany are facing some difficulties.
“The standard challenges associated with pursuing these kinds of cases are compounded by an ongoing conflict in Syria, where there is no access to crime scenes,” Vignoli said. “Swedish and German authorities have to turn elsewhere for information, including from Syrian refugees, people doing similar work in other European countries, UN entities, and nongovernmental groups documenting atrocities in Syria.”
Human Rights Watch found that many Syrian asylum seekers and refugees are not aware of the systems in place to investigate and prosecute grave crimes in Syria, the possibility of their contributing to justice efforts in these countries, or the right of victims to participate in criminal proceedings.
Gathering relevant information from Syrian refugees and asylum seekers has also proved difficult due to their fear of possible retribution against loved ones back home, mistrust of police and government officials based on negative experiences in Syria, and feelings of abandonment by host countries and the international community.
Both Sweden and Germany have systems to protect victims and witnesses in criminal cases. Consistent with fair trial standards, both countries should explore options to increase protections in these cases for witnesses’ families in Syria, Human Rights Watch said.
Because of the difficulties involved, Human Rights Watch found only a small number of cases have been concluded, which do not represent the scale or nature of the abuses suffered by victims in Syria. Most cases have been against low-level members of non-state armed groups opposed to the Syrian government.
In Germany, the majority of cases are brought under terrorism charges rather than for grave international crimes. That could send the message that the authorities’ only focus is to combat domestic threats, Human Rights Watch said. Efforts to pursue terrorism charges should go hand in hand with efforts and resources to investigate and prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
Authorities in both countries are working to address some of these issues, although more needs to be done, Human Rights Watch said. Sweden and Germany should ensure that their war crimes units are adequately resourced and staffed, provide them with ongoing training, and consider new ways to work with Syrian refugees and asylum seekers on their territory through outreach and public information efforts.
“European countries should follow Sweden and Germany’s lead and work to expand these justice efforts for Syrians in Europe,” Vignoli said. “Overall, these cases are not enough on their own and highlight the need for a more comprehensive justice process to address the ongoing impunity in Syria.”
Published on HRW on October 3, 2017.