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War Crimes Prosecution Watch Editor-in-Chief Natalie Davis FREDERICK K. COX Volume 17 - Issue 2 INTERNATIONAL LAW CENTER July 31, 2021 Technical Editor-in-Chief Erica Hudson Founder/Advisor Michael P. Scharf Managing Editors Matthew Pheneger Faculty Advisor Alan Dowling Jim Johnson

War Crimes Prosecution Watch is a bi-weekly e-newsletter that compiles official documents and articles from major news sources detailing and analyzing salient issues pertaining to the investigation and prosecution of war crimes throughout the world. To subscribe, please email [email protected] and type "subscribe" in the subject line.

Opinions expressed in the articles herein represent the views of their authors and are not necessarily those of the War Crimes Prosecution Watch staff, the Case Western Reserve University School of Law or Public International Law & Policy Group.

Contents

AFRICA

NORTH AFRICA

Libya

Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar due to respond to US court allegations of war crimes (Foreign Brief) Libyan Militia Leader Sanctioned for War Crimes Killed in Shootout (Al Monitor) CENTRAL AFRICA

Central African Republic

Sudan & South

U.S. Quietly Gives Up on South Sudan War Crimes Court (Foreign Policy) Sudan's Darfur conflict's latest surge in violence displaces thousands (BBC) UN calls for end to extrajudicial killings in South Sudan (The Arab Weekly

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Sixteen civilians killed in eastern DRC ambush (Al Jazeera) At least eight dead in two attacks in DR Congo (Yahoo News) WEST AFRICA

Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast)

Lake Chad Region — Chad, Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon

African Militant Islamist Group Violence Maintains Record Pace, though Slowing (Africa Center for Strategic Studies) Nigeria: Moves to Recharge Shrinking Lake Chad Begin (AllAfrica) Could increasing incidents of kidnap for ransom be opening the door to terrorism in Benin? (Daily Maverick)

Mali

Liberia

Massaquoi war crimes trial returns to Liberia in August (The Premium Times) EAST AFRICA

Uganda

UPDF kills 6 suspected rebels (NTV ) Anti-Gay Legislation Sparks Controversy — and Fear (Global Press Journal)

Kenya

Rwanda

Rwanda genocide convict Ngirabatware to be transferred to Senegal (The Guardian) Rwanda: Genocide Fugitive Venant Rutunga Extradited From the Netherlands (All Africa)

Somalia

Senior al-Shabab terrorist killed in central region of ‘A very dangerous precedent’: Democrats take aim at Biden’s Somalia airstrikes (Politico)

EUROPE

Court of Bosnia & Herzegovina, War Crimes Chamber

Bosnian Serb Ex-Soldier Pleads Not Guilty to War Crimes (Balkan Transitional Justice) Bosnian War Crimes Denial Ban Causes Trial Postponement (Balkan Transitional Justice) Bosnian Serb Ex-Fighters’ Wartime Rape Sentences Reduced (Balkan Transitional Justice)

International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

Domestic Prosecutions In The Former Yugoslavia

Croatia Charges Bosnian Croat Ex-Fighter with War Crimes (Balkan Transitional Justice)

Turkey Turkish-backed rebels leave trail of abuse and criminality in ’s Afrin (Al-Monitor) US targets Turkey-backed extremists in Syria with sanctions – analysis (The Jerusalem Post)

Kosovo Specialist Chambers

The Hague Court Denies Claimants Victim Status to Participate in Trial against KLA Leaders (Exit News) Kosovo War Rape Survivors Tell Stories of Pain and Courage (BIRN)

Azerbaijan

Technical Briefing Note: Cluster Munition Use in the Karabakh Conflict (Human Rights Watch)

MIDDLE-EAST

Iraq

Iraq protesters demand accountability after killings of activists (Aljazeera) Islamic State group claims responsibility for deadly suicide bombing near Baghdad (AFP)

Syria

Yemen

21 Houthis killed in overnight Saudi-led coalition air strikes (The New Arab)

Special Tribunal for

Israel & Palestine

Gaza: Apparent War Crimes During May Fighting (Human Rights Watch) Israeli army kills Palestinian boy in West Bank: Ministry (Aljazeera)

Gulf Region

ASIA

Afghanistan

Afghanistan's embassy says videos show Afghan civilians being tortured, murdered by Taliban (ABC News) Ben -Smith trial to resume as mental health of witnesses deteriorates (ABC News) Taliban killed 43 people in Afghanistan's Ghazni, residents say (Hindustan Times)

Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia

Khieu Samphan appeals case at ECCC (The Phnom Penh Post)

Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal

It’s settled: Life term means 30-year imprisonment (Dhaka Tribune) War Crimes Investigations in Myanmar

Myanmar Detains Three Soldiers for Alleged Rape and Murder of Kachin Woman (Radio Free Asia) Myanmar Junta shells villages in Hpakant township (EastMojo)

AMERICAS

North & Central America

U.S. Quietly Gives Up on South Sudan War Crimes Court (Foreign Policy) Drone Whistleblower Gets 45 Months in Prison for Revealing Ongoing US War Crimes (TruthOut)

South America

The Colombian military killed 127 civilians passing as guerrillas (Al Dia)

Venezuela

Venezuela, the International Criminal Court, and Impunity (Human Rights Watch)

TOPICS

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

The secret ‘Pact of Forgetting’ and the suppression of post-TRC prosecutions (Daily Maverick)

Terrorism

Piracy

Nigerian court sentences 10 men to prison for 2020 Chinese ship hijacking (Reuters)

Gender-Based Violence

Japan Cannot Claim Sovereign Immunity and Also Insist that WWII Sexual Slavery was Private Contractual Acts (Just Security)

Commentary and Perspectives

WORTH READING

Silvia Borelli and Helin Laufer: Protection of individuals hors de combat: Convergence of International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law (D. Rogers, Human Rights in War) AFRICA

NORTH AFRICA

Libya

Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar due to respond to US court allegations of war crimes (Foreign Brief) By Ali Slimi July 20, 2021

Today marks the deadline given to Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar by which he must respond to civil litigation in the United States or face default.

In three separate lawsuits, a district court in Alexandria, Virginia has levied charges of war crimes against the leader of the Libyan National Army, which opposed the UN-recognized government in the country’s bloody civil war. The plaintiffs have alleged that Haftar is responsible for extrajudicial killings and torture and seek to recover an estimated $50 million in damages from assets in Virginia owned by Haftar, who is a dual-citizen in the US.

Although Haftar claims that his status as a head of state grants him legal immunity, a US district judge rejected the assertion earlier this month, foreshadowing a ruling that will likely go against the general. While it is unclear if Haftar himself will directly respond, his defense will likely focus on the difficulty of attributing responsibility for atrocities committed during the civil war and claiming that alleged victims were armed combatants. A guilty verdict is unlikely to significantly detract from efforts to form a new administration in Libya as the UN has maintained Haftar’s inclusion in negotiations as a crucial figure with influence over armed groups opposed to the Western-backed government.

Wake up smarter with an assessment of the stories that will make headlines in the next 24 hours. Download The Daily Brief.

Libyan Militia Leader Sanctioned for War Crimes Killed in Shootout (Al Monitor) July 27, 2021

The leader of Libya's notorious Kaniyat militia, who was sanctioned for alleged war crimes by the United States and European Union, died in a raid by security forces near Benghazi on Tuesday.

Mohammed al-Kani was killed at a farm outside of the eastern city of Benghazi, Libyan journalist Mahmoud al-Misrati reported.

One other person was reported killed in the raid and a third person arrested. A number of Kani’s associates were also detained in Benghazi, Tobruk and Ajdabiya, Misrati reported, citing a document from the civil and military prosecutors’ offices.

The Associated Press confirmed the news of Kani’s death, citing Libyan officials and militia spokesman Mohamed al-Tarhouni.

Kani’s militia previously sided with the UN-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli before switching sides to join rogue warlord Khalifa Hifter’s surprise offensive against the western Libyan capital in 2019.

The Trump administration sanctioned him in November under the Global Magnitsky Act after accusations of torture, forced disappearances and mass executions came to light in and around the Libyan town of Tarhouna.

The town, which lies some 40 miles southeast of Tripoli, was under Kaniyat control for some five years before the militia withdrew as Turkey’s intervention on Tripoli’s side turned back Hifter’s offensive.

At least 100 bodies have been uncovered in some two dozen mass graves in and around Tarhouna. Locals have accused Kani’s men of forced disappearances and torture. Many of the unearthed bodies have shown signs of having been restrained and tortured. Women and children have also been found among the graves. The International Criminal Court has investigated the crimes in cooperation with the Tripoli government. The court’s top prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has said the discoveries in Tarhouna may constitute crimes against humanity.

It was revealed last year that another Kaniyat leader, Kani’s brother Abdul Rahman, had sought medical treatment in Germany before returning to Libya.

A previous effort by the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Estonia to muster United Nations sanctions on Kaniyat leaders failed amid Russia's opposition last year. Russia backed Hifter’s offensive along with the and .

The previous US administration of President Donald Trump also offered tacit approval for Hifter's offensive before reversing course to push for a UN-backed cease-fire. The EU placed sanctions on Kani and other militia leaders in March.

Could Kani's death be part of the close of a grim subchapter in Libya’s decade of civil war? The country is taking other actions. In December, the country is to hold nationwide elections for the first time since 2012.

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CENTRAL AFRICA

Central African Republic

Official Website of the International Criminal Court ICC Public Documents - Cases: Central African Republic

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Sudan & South Sudan

Official Website of the International Criminal Court ICC Public Documents - Situation in Darfur, Sudan

U.S. Quietly Gives Up on South Sudan War Crimes Court (Foreign Policy) By Robbie Gramer July 20, 2021

For several years, the United States championed the establishment of a criminal court in South Sudan to hold war criminals accountable for atrocities committed against civilians during the country’s devastating 2013 civil war. But the Biden administration appears to be giving up on the court in the face of South Sudan’s persistent refusal to set up a tribunal that could potentially uncover serious war crimes. In recent weeks, the U.S. State Department has signaled it is planning to reallocate most of the $5 million in funding it had earmarked for the court, sending some back to the U.S. Treasury and another portion to other programs in South Sudan.

The decision to take back the money reflects mounting frustration with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit, who recently claimed the court is unnecessary, as well as with his chief rival, Vice President Riek Machar. But it also reflects a certain exasperation with the African Union (AU), which played a critical role in advocating for a regional tribunal to be staffed by AU and South Sudanese lawyers and judges. The AU—which has the authority to set up the court—has been reluctant to move ahead without buy-in from South Sudanese parties.

In 2015, the Obama administration pledged to donate some $5 million to help the court get on its feet. Then-Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry urged the establishment of a “credible, impartial and effective justice mechanism, such as a hybrid court, in order to hold perpetrators of violence to account.”

Six years later, the so-called “AU hybrid court” has still not been formed, and the bulk of U.S. money for the court is set to be quietly returned to the U.S. Treasury or allocated into other programs on South Sudan. The procedural move, though small in monetary terms, signifies a defeat for human rights advocates and the U.S. government’s leadership role in South Sudan’s transition to independence, according to half a dozen U.S. officials and experts familiar with the matter. In their eyes, the move is also a blow to U.S. President Joe Biden’s ambitious agenda to promote democracy and human rights worldwide—and a victory for Kiir’s efforts to stonewall the establishment of the court.

In 2019, the South Sudanese government signed a multimillion-dollar contract with a lobbying firm that included former senior U.S. diplomats to try and convince the United States to “delay and ultimately block establishment of the hybrid court,” according to the contract. The lobbying firm and the South Sudanese government later scrapped the contract and replaced it with a new one that removed the language on blocking the hybrid court, following public outcry from former U.S. officials and human rights groups.

International human rights watchdogs and Western governments have accused Kiir and Machar of running a government riven with corruption and mismanagement and backpedaling on promises to build up a democratic government in South Sudan, despite it receiving more than half a billion dollars in U.S. aid per year since war broke out in 2013. Around two-thirds of South Sudan’s population—7.7 million people out of 11.3 million people—require food assistance, according to data from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the United Nations has warned that portions of South Sudan’s population face famine-like conditions.

Without the court, human rights experts fear South Sudanese soldiers and militia responsible for carrying out atrocities, such as mass executions, gang rape, torture, sexual slavery, and the orchestrated starving of civilians, will never be held accountable.

An estimated 400,000 people were killed in South Sudan’s civil war, which erupted in 2013, nearly two years after the country’s independence from Sudan. There are only three recorded cases of conflict-related crimes that have ever been prosecuted from the conflict in South Sudan, according to Nicole Widdersheim, senior policy advisor for the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“Thus, the establishment of this court has come to symbolize the only hope for justice for so many,” said Widdersheim, who previously worked on African affairs for USAID and the National Security Council. “If this court is not established, there is no deterrent to committing atrocities against civilians, and there doesn’t seem to be an alternative accountability or justice mechanism for the South Sudanese people.”

A U.S. State Department spokesperson who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed that $2.15 million in funds unused for the hybrid court would revert back to the U.S. Treasury Department, and a separate $1.5 million grant awarded to the African Union’s Office of the Legal Counsel to set up the court would not be renewed, with that money instead being reallocated to other programs “to advance justice and accountability in South Sudan through other means.” Ten years after independence, Africa’s youngest country remains mired in conflict and poverty.

“We recognized that forming the court without consistent cooperation and support from the government of South Sudan would be a challenge and have regularly engaged with the AU on ideas to make progress on justice even in the absence of clear cooperation from South Sudan,” the spokesperson said. Behind the scenes, several officials describe frustration and exasperation with the African Union for bungling the efforts to establish the court.

Their public account of the situation appears to differ from what the U.S. State Department has presented on its efforts to support the hybrid court’s creation. In the State Department’s 2021 annual report to Congress on genocide and atrocities prevention, released on July 12, the department reported: “In South Sudan, State coordinated financial and political support to establish an African Union hybrid court to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

The State Department spokesperson said the department’s focus is on “pressing the government of South Sudan to live up to its commitments and to manage our foreign assistance resources as effectively as possible to advance U.S. priorities, including achieving justice and accountability in South Sudan.” Several U.S. officials and congressional aides said they are frustrated that senior leaders in the Biden administration aren’t doing enough to use the United States’ significant diplomatic and financial clout to publicly or privately pressure either the African Union or the government of South Sudan to break through six years of impasse and establish the court.

“Our diplomatic might has not matched our investment and our responsibility,” said one Senate aide, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Pumping close to or more than a billion dollars a year into a country to keep people alive, to help keep the peace, and then also having that historical tie to helping establish an independent South Sudan … does not match the kind of investment we are putting into this.”

“It’s our impression that everyone agreed to support this, and then nothing happened,” added another senior Democratic Senate aide. “The South Sudanese, who agreed to it, may have never intended to do it, and the Trump administration probably didn’t care. It is also quite possible that the international community never considered it a priority and just dropped the ball. We are concerned about this because many atrocities were committed in South Sudan and people should be held accountable, so we are trying to get to the bottom of it.”

The proposal for a South Sudanese hybrid court has its roots in a 2015 African Union commission of inquiry report, which established that forces loyal to South Sudan’s Kiir and his renegade vice president, Machar, engaged in mass atrocities during the country’s civil war.

Both Kiir and Machar committed to creating the mixed tribunal, which was to be administered by judges and prosecutors from the African Union and South Sudan, in two U.S.- and African Union-backed peace agreements. First, in 2015, the Sudanese leaders agreed to participate in an AU-led effort to establish the tribunal. But the government never moved forward. In 2017, the effort got a boost when South Sudanese leaders, along with the African Union and the United Nations, negotiated the terms of a memo of understanding and a draft statute for a new court. Again, the South Sudanese government dithered.

Kiir and Machar agreed again in 2018 to set up a criminal tribunal, but the commitment has been short lived. In a recent interview with Kenyan news outlet Citizen TV, Kiir said it would be better to establish a truth and reconciliation commission, along the lines of what South Africa did.

“[The] hybrid court will not solve the problems of South Sudan,” Kiir said. “You cannot bring justice or peace through [a] hybrid court. We would want the truth and reconciliation process to start.” Kiir warned that the prospect of war crimes prosecutions or indictments would prompt powerful South Sudanese to “pack and go back to the bush with their forces.”

The effort to stand up the court has “hit roadblock after roadblock, and identifying the precise obstruction has been a challenge,” said Elise Keppler, an expert on the court negotiations at Human Rights Watch. Keppler said much of the responsibility for inaction rests with the African Union, which she insists has the legal authority to stand up the court even in the face of opposition from Sudanese parties.

Keppler defended the U.S. role in pursuing a South Sudan court, saying, “I assure you the U.S. is not the problem here.”

“The U.S. has been a huge proponent of justice for grave crimes in South Sudan; they have encouraged the creation of the court and made significant funding available for its creation,” she added.

Peter Ajak, a South Sudanese scholar and former political prisoner in the country, said part of the problem was the United States largely stopped paying attention to South Sudan under both the Trump and now Biden administrations—despite the U.S. role in midwifing the country and pouring billions of dollars’ worth of aid into it.

“Since the time the peace agreement was signed and John Kerry made that pledge and the money was put on the table, South Sudan has just dropped off the list of priorities for U.S. foreign policy,” Ajak said.

Many of the officials who helped orchestrate South Sudan’s independence—including Susan Rice and former U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations Samantha Power—now hold senior positions in the Biden administration. Other government posts remain empty; Biden’s nominee to be the top diplomat for African affairs, Mary “Molly” Phee, has yet to be confirmed, although her Senate nomination hearing is scheduled for Tuesday. The U.S. ambassador post in South Sudan has been empty for more than a year, held on an interim basis by a lower-level diplomat in an acting capacity. U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan Donald Booth is scheduled to step down from his post in the next two months, and it is unclear if he will be replaced, according to several diplomatic sources.

“Many of these people that would actually be shaping South Sudan policy have not yet even been confirmed,” Ajak said.

Others believe the problem goes deeper than that. “We gave up on that country after they got independence; we moved on,” said the first Senate aide. “We got frustrated by the corruption. We got frustrated by the leadership. We moved on. The problem is we have a moral obligation, and certainly a historical one, for the role we played in helping birth this nation.”

Sudan's Darfur conflict's latest surge in violence displaces thousands (BBC) By Reha Kansara July 21, 2021

Two years after the , hundreds of thousands of people have been internally displaced as violence in Darfur continues. Many hoped a hard-earned peace agreement would put an end to the decades-old conflict, but the region's bloody legacy continues.

Thirty-five-year-old Khamisa Juma Ishag Abaker is perched on a pile of rubble that was once her home.

Dressed in a floral print fabric that covers her from head to toe, she sifts through the dust to uncover an old bottle of perfume and dinnerware gifted to her but now broken - remnants of her old life.

"My house had a garden and a door. I could lie down in the shade. I could cook for my children."

It's her first time returning to Krinding - a settlement for displaced people - after clashes in January left tens of thousands of people homeless and hundreds dead.

"They burnt all the houses. We tried to flee into the street, but they shot my brother. He fell and when he tried to stand up, they shot him again - they killed him in front of me. I've cried so much… my eyes can barely see now."

Now living in cramped conditions in a school classroom in El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur state, she is struggling to take care of her ailing parents and her children.

"We don't have money. We don't even have beds, pillows, or blankets… I don't have anything. I just stare and do nothing."

Ms Abaker says the [RSF], a paramilitary group tasked by the government with keeping civilians safe, is behind the attacks.

She is too afraid to go back.

"If the international forces came, we could return, but they won't."

The absence of joint UN-African Union (Unamid) peacekeepers is being felt by many in West Darfur. After 13 years on the ground, experts say their gradual withdrawal since December has been met with a surge of violence.

Some 20,000 Sudanese troops were promised to take their place, but they are yet to arrive. The began in 2003 after ethnic African rebels revolted against former President Omar al-Bashir's Arab-dominated government.

Bashir responded by arming local Arab militias - infamously known as the Janjaweed - who targeted non-Arab tribes accused of supporting the rebels. Hundreds of thousands of people died and many villages were burnt and pillaged.

Then in 2019, he was ousted from government by some of his own generals following mass street protests calling for his removal. Now in prison in Sudan serving a sentence for corruption, Bashir is due to be transferred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to face genocide and war crimes charges, which he denies.

A year after the revolution the new military-civilian transitional government signed a peace agreement with local rebel groups. Residents believed it was the beginning of a new era of calm, but unrelenting violence, which began in December 2019, has continued to grip the region.

As a result, more than 150,000 people have been displaced, according to data from the International Organization for Migration.

El Geneina is overflowing with people left twice displaced. Some 80 government sites host at least 50,000 civilians - all now experts in building makeshift homes assembled together from plastic sheets and sticks.

As people shift from the peripheries of town into temporary urban camps, so too has the conflict.

In April, fighting between one of Darfur's biggest communities, the Masalit, and the Arabs spread to the centre, leaving people terrified of a future attack.

Khamis Mohamed Ishag Osman - a victim of the April clashes - was shot while fleeing for safety from El Geneina's El Jebel settlement.

With a look of anguish across his face, he points to the bullet wound protruding from his left shoulder. "The attack was massive. My mother and I held the kids and ran. They shot me whilst I was holding my kid in my arms and running." He took shelter in a temporary camp in town, but found living there unbearable.

"I needed basic things for my kids… If you needed the bathroom you would have to walk for two or three hours with over a thousand people queuing.

"The children wanted to wash themselves and use the bathroom, but they didn't feel comfortable."

After the attack, the Sudanese government installed checkpoints in some areas to ensure security and to encourage people to return to settlements.

It's been a month since Mr Osman returned to El Jebel - now a dusty, desolate settlement devastated by conflict.

He and his family spend the mornings rebuilding his destroyed home - using natural resources to salvage what's left of it. The tree that once shielded his family from the oppressive Sudanese sun has now been chopped down for the foundations of his house.

Many more people who spoke to the BBC also don't feel safe. They say the government, including the RSF, which grew out of the Janjaweed, are untrustworthy.

In early July, 20 people were killed in inter-ethnic violence 60km (37 miles) east of El Geneina.

One of the prerequisites to peace was a full integration of the RSF into the military.

However, its commander, Mohamed Hamdan "Hemeti" Dagolo - who is also the country's vice-president, has since publicly refused to unify with the .

Experts believe this is slowing down the peace process, affecting Darfuris tormented by the violence of the past and present.

Humanitarian organisations working on the ground have also emphasised the government's need to work harder to ensure security.

Elliot Vhurumuku, from the UN's World Food Programme - which is providing life-saving nutrition to more than a million people in the region - says every attack heightens food insecurity.

"All our operations are affected [during clashes] and normally for two weeks or even more, we cannot move any commodities from our warehouses to the population in El Geneina and the population outside it."

With no end in sight for the violence that has engulfed West Darfur, the peace process is beginning to show signs of cracks.

That's why Ms Abaker is not optimistic about the future.

"The conflict will not end soon," she says. "It will erupt again and again."

UN calls for end to extrajudicial killings in South Sudan (The Arab Weekly) July 27, 2021

The United Nations on Monday demanded an end to extrajudicial killings in South Sudan after the grisly execution of at least 42 people, including boys, in lawless parts of the troubled country.

Some were executed in front of their families and others left bound to trees in a spate of gruesome lynchings in a country where peaceful governance has remained elusive in the aftermath of civil war.

Since March, UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) rights investigators have documented the killing of 29 accused criminals in Warrap, a northwest state plagued by deadly conflict between rival ethnic groups.

The victims, including elderly men and young boys, were taken from prison or police custody and killed without a fair trial.

“Eyewitnesses reported that some men were taken to remote areas, tied to trees, and executed by firing squad. In some instances, their bodies were reportedly left on the trees as an example to the community,” UNMISS said in a statement.

The UN said another 13 people were summarily executed since mid-June at the instruction of local officials in Lakes States, a conflict-prone central region. “People accused of crimes have the right to a fair trial as part of a formal judicial process,” said Nicholas Haysom, UN special envoy to South Sudan, in a statement.

“They should not be subjected to the random judgement of government or traditional leaders that they should be taken out and shot in front of their families and communities.”

The UN has asked South Sudan’s justice ministry to investigate and prosecute those responsible and raised concerns directly with local officials in the two states.

South Sudan, which attained independence in 2011 before plunging into civil war two years later, has struggled with lawlessness and inter-ethnic violence since the fighting that left nearly 400,000 dead.

A ceasefire was declared in 2018 but peace remains fragile, with many parts of the vast country of 12 million ungoverned and violent and the security forces underfunded and divided.

The coalition government in , in power in a shaky alliance since February 2020, struggles to police its realm, riven by infighting and economic malaise.

Haysom said the UN was working with the government and courts to deploy more judges where they were needed.

“There is a strong desire among communities for accountability and access to justice. But extrajudicial killings are not a solution to restoring law and order,” he said.

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Democratic Republic of the Congo

Official Website of the International Criminal Court ICC Public Documents - Situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Sixteen civilians killed in eastern DRC ambush (Al Jazeera) July 23, 2021

Attackers in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have killed at least 16 civilians as they were returning from a weekly market, according to a report citing medical and local sources.

The ambush on Thursday evening occurred on a highway between the towns of Maimoya and Chani-chani, some 40km (25 miles) from the city of Beni in North Kivu province.

Jerome Munyambethe, head of the hospital in the town of Oicha, told the AFP news agency that six women and a child – all of whom were shot – were among the victims.

“We have 16 bodies in the hospital morgue,” said Nicolas Kikuku, town mayor, adding that nine others who were wounded had been taken to the hospital for treatment.

Fighters belonging to the (ADF) – the deadliest of an estimated 122 armed groups in the mineral- rich eastern DRC, many of them a legacy of two regional wars from 1996 to 2003 – carry out frequent attacks in the Oicha region.

“The ambush is the work of ADF roaming the area. They also fired a rocket,” said Lewis Saliboko, a representative of grassroots groups in Oicha.

“It’s the ADF enemy which yet again has attacked peace-loving people,” said Kikuku.

The ADF, which first appeared in western Uganda before making its base in the eastern DRC in the mid-1990s, does not claim responsibility for attacks. The DRC’s Catholic Church says the ADF has massacred nearly 6,000 civilians since 2013, with the toll sharply rising since 2019.

The Kivu Security Tracker (KST), a respected United States-based monitor of violence in the eastern DRC, blames the ADF for more than 1,200 deaths in the Beni area alone since 2017.

On March 10, the US branded the ADF a “foreign terrorist organisation” and said its leader Musa Baluku had pledged allegiance to the ISIL (ISIS) armed group.

But experts are still unsure about the extent of links between the ADF and the ISIL.

In May, DRC President Felix Tshisekedi proclaimed a “state of siege” in North Kivu and neighbouring in a bid to curb growing insecurity and step up the fight against armed groups.

Under the move, senior civilian officials were replaced by army officers.

But Saliboko, the representative of grassroots groups, complained that the new measures had failed to curb the attacks.

“What is the point of this state of siege when we continue to have massacres?” he said. “There are no operations, there are no additional forces.”

At least eight dead in two attacks in DR Congo (Yahoo News) July 28, 2021

At least eight people including a soldier were killed in two separate attacks in the troubled Kivu region of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a local source and the army said Wednesday.

Lewis Thembo told AFP that Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) fighters had raided the commune of Bulongo in Beni in North Kivu in overnight, killing four women and two men.

"They abandoned a baby on its mother's body," added Thembo, who is president of the local civil service organisation.

Bulongo's mayor Jean-Paul Kahingo confirmed the attack to AFP, as well as the preliminary toll.

In neighbouring province, the army said two people including a civilian businessman and a soldier had been killed on Wednesday in an attack on a public bus.

The unidentified attackers took the businessman's "briefcase containing money", the army said, adding that the soldier was unarmed.

The other passengers were unharmed, but the driver was reportedly kidnapped, it said.

According to a respected US-based monitor, the Kivu Security Tracker (KST), some 120 armed groups operate in eastern DR Congo, of which the ADF is considered to be the deadliest.

The DRC's Catholic Church says the ADF has killed around 6,000 civilians since 2013, while KST blames it for more than 1,200 deaths in the Beni area alone since 2017.

In March the United States officially linked the ADF, a historically Ugandan Islamist group, to the Islamic State.

DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi proclaimed a "state of siege" in May -- effectively martial law -- in North Kivu and neighbouring Ituri province in a bid to curb ADF bloodshed.

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WEST AFRICA

Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) Official Website of the International Criminal Court ICC Public Documents - Situation in the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire

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Lake Chad Region — Chad, Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon

African Militant Islamist Group Violence Maintains Record Pace, though Slowing (Africa Center for Strategic Studies) July 27, 2021

A review of mid-year data of violent episodes involving African militant Islamist groups and their evolution over the past decade underscores the growing threat posed by these actors. The threat, however, is characterized by considerable variance in levels and types of violence. Key findings include:

Militant Islamist group violence continues to be primarily concentrated in five main theaters: Somalia, the western Sahel, the Lake Chad Basin, northern Mozambique, and the Sinai Peninsula.

The projected 5,110 violent events linked to these groups in 2021 (based on mid-year data) represents a 3-percent increase from the record 4,956 violent episodes totaled in 2020. This reflects a dramatic slowing from the 43-percent increase the previous year and the average 20-percent annual increase over the preceding 4 years.

This relative leveling off in militant Islamist group activity in Africa belies stark differences in trajectories between and within the respective theaters. Nearly all the increases in violent activity are concentrated in two of the five main regions of violent extremist activity in Africa: the Sahel and Somalia. Violent activity in these areas, in turn, is closely tied to the Macina Liberation Front (FLM) in the Sahel and al Shabaab in Somalia.

In the Lake Chad Basin, both Boko Haram and Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA) are experiencing a decrease in momentum. Boko Haram has seen a drop by nearly half of violent events linked to it in 2020. This is likely attributable, at least in part, to the loss of its longtime leader, Abubakar Shekau, in May 2021.

By contrast, ISWA, which has been associated with more violent events than Boko Haram since 2017, is maintaining the same pace of violent activity in 2021. Moreover, ISWA is on track for a 20-percent rise in fatalities in 2021, nearly all of which are linked to an increase in battles (with security forces and other militant groups). The rise in battles continues a trend observed since 2018.

Despite the fluctuations, fatalities linked to militant Islamist groups in the Lake Chad Basin remain comparable in scale to that seen in the Sahel and Somalia. Moreover, the death of Shekau underscores that militant Islamist activity in this theater will be highly fluid during the second half of 2021.

Nigeria: Moves to Recharge Shrinking Lake Chad Begin (AllAfrica) By Hussein Yahaya July 27, 2021

Members of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) have begun moves that will lead to the recharge of shrinking Lake Chad.

Our correspondent reports that the shrinkage of Lake Chad has been one of the main factors responsible for and socio-economic unrests in the Lake Chad Basin Commission member countries, which include Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Nigeria, , the Central African Republic, Libya, and Sudan.

Major sources of livelihood including farming and fishing of about 40 million people living along the Chad Basin are said to be affected.

Consequently, stakeholders within the member countries, at various conferences, identified inter-basin water transfer project as the realistic solution confronting the receding Lake. As a first step towards the water transfer project, the Commission, in collaboration with Nigeria Federal Ministry of Water Resources, yesterday, began the process of opening and evaluating international bids to select consultant that will conduct in- depth studies to improve the hydraulic capacity of the Chari and Logone rivers.

Chari and Logone rivers are the major tributaries to the Lake.

Chairman LCBC council of ministers and Nigeria's minister of water resources, Engr. Suleiman Adamu, said the exercise was to take steps towards improving the water flow conditions of the Chari River and the development of Lake Chad as the first phase of the inter-basin water transfer project.

"The in-depth studies of Rivers Chari and Logone is pivotal for the revitalization of Lake Chad and necessary to sustainably address the effects of climate change, youth unemployment and endemic poverty in the region," he said.

Earlier, Executive Secretary, Lake Chad Basin Commission, Ambassador Mamman Nuhu, said the commission launched the international call for tenders in January 2021 to select a consultant that would conduct the in-depth studies to improve the hydraulic capacity of the Chari and Logone rivers.

"The study is aimed at addressing the challenges of excessive loss of water through flood and evapotranspiration, degradation of the riverbanks due to fluvial erosion and siltation of the rivers which has continued to contribute to the shrinkage of the Lake," he said.

Could increasing incidents of kidnap for ransom be opening the door to terrorism in Benin? (Daily Maverick) By Michael Matongbada July 27, 2021

Fears are mounting that kidnapping for ransom could trigger terrorism in Benin. This is amid an already growing threat of violent extremism in the country. National authorities and local communities worry that kidnapping could exacerbate Benin’s security challenges and provide an entry point for extremists operating nearby.

There has been no evidence of kidnappers being linked to violent extremist groups. Still, such incidents could be exploited by terrorists operating in neighbouring countries such as Burkina Faso, Niger and Nigeria. Extremists are already obtaining logistical and financial resources from West African coastal states.

From November 2019 to September 2020, five abduction cases were reported by the local press in the country’s northern and hilly communes. This may provide only a glimpse of the extent of kidnapping in Benin as incidents are not systematically reported to the authorities.

The local population and civil society organisations told the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) that the phenomenon began in 2016 in the Tchaourou commune, located in the northern Borgou department. Police interventions there in 2020 brought some calm to the area, but other communes such as Banikoara, Bantè, Bassila, KonKondji, Kétou, Malanville, Ouèssè, Pèrèrè, Perma, Savè and Ségbana have experienced sporadic abductions.

Locals say kidnapping for ransom in Benin has evolved since the armed and highway robberies observed in the northern communes since 2005. These attacks are explained by the lack of income-generating activities in these areas, among others. Locals believe establishing special border surveillance units in 2015, and an increased police presence in the region led to bandits refining their strategy and reverting to kidnapping.

The proliferation of livestock markets in several communes, particularly in the north, has also led to more kidnappings. Money changes hands in the open, providing easy targets for criminals who also take a keen interest in the movement of large numbers of valuable livestock. They target herders intending to obtain a ransom, which could be as high as 11 million XOF (nearly $20,000).

Locals suspect transhumant herders from Benin, Burkina Faso and Nigeria, of kidnappings in the country. Perpetrators target mainly wealthy local herders or those involved in large transactions on livestock market days. The kidnappers identify their victims, often with the support of the latter’s relatives, friends or associates. The victims are then kidnapped either on the road or in their homes and held in the forests.

Some locals consider kidnapping for ransom as an imported crime. This is mainly due to the suspected involvement of foreign herders and Benin’s proximity to Nigeria, where the attacks have been prevalent since the 2000s.

In 2021, Benin’s government created a technical committee to monitor and secure pastoral transhumance zones and combat abductions. The committee is mandated to, among other things, oversee the implementation of the December 2019 law prohibiting the cross-border movement of livestock.

The police’s efforts, often in collaboration with hunters and herders, has calmed the situation in Tchaourou and led to the release of hostages and the arrest of kidnappers. But police still struggle to identify the owners of the phones used to contact victims’ relatives to demand ransom. It is also difficult for police to access certain areas during rainy seasons. These problems, along with locals’ ability to circumvent the ban on cross-border transhumance, enable kidnappers to operate with little hindrance.

The continuation of kidnapping for ransom threatens Benin’s security and social stability in three ways. First, it stokes tensions between local communities and Fulanis, who are accused of being involved in the kidnappings.

Any collaboration between the police and hunters or herders to stop the abductions could trigger intra- and inter-communal conflicts. In 2014, officers in some localities used Dambanga hunters to track and arrest highway robbers. Instead of handing suspects over to the police, the hunters allegedly tortured, abused or murdered suspects. So using hunters raises human rights concerns.

Second, the prohibition of transhumance is unlikely to stem kidnapping in Benin as it doesn’t address the root causes of the problem. It also won’t reduce the risk of kidnappers turning their attention to communities other than herders or hunters.

Finally, ISS research in the region shows that violent extremist groups collaborate with criminals to gain footholds and obtain various resources. Benin must prevent extremists from forming alliances with kidnapping networks or bandits, particularly in its border areas.

Tackling kidnapping for ransom in Benin requires a preventive and proactive approach. Herders need to be made aware of how to conduct their livestock businesses safely, and the police must work to gain the trust of communities. Police and intelligence agencies should also use technology to trace communications between perpetrators, families and associates of kidnapping victims.

Inclusive development solutions are also needed. These must focus on the communities’ needs and address the factors that lead to people’s involvement in organised crime. It is also vital to ensure that security measures taken against kidnappers adhere to human rights principles, to avoid a breakdown of trust between civilians and the state.

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Mali

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Liberia

Massaquoi war crimes trial returns to Liberia in August (The Premium Times) July 15, 2021

The trial of Gibril Massaquoi, the Sierra Leonean former Revolutionary United Front commander accused of committing war crimes in Liberia’s civil wars, will return to Liberia, likely in August.

The Pirkanmaa District Court in Tampere, Finland, where Massaquoi was arrested in March 2020, made the surprise announcement this week and said it would hand down a judgement early next year.

The court was initially scheduled to rule on the case this autumn. The trial was upended in late May when defence lawyers presented new evidence that they said brought into question the trustworthiness of dozens of civilians and former combatants who testified that they had witnessed Massaquoi’s atrocities.

Massaquoi, faces charges including dozens of murders, eight rapes as well as aggravated war crimes and aggravated human rights violations dating back to the early 2000s.

He has denied all charges claiming he was not on the scenes when the crimes took place.

In February the court moved from Finland to Liberia and Sierra for hear from the witnesses. NN was not in the court in Tampere in May but has seen monitoring of the proceedings provided by Civitas Maxima.

Defence lawyer Kaarle Gummerus told the four-judge panel that the defence had received notebooks from the investigations of staff of Global Justice Research Project, the Liberia-based justice advocates.

The defence said the notebooks gave them cause to question the trustworthiness of prosecution witnesses. Gummerus told the court the witnesses had been improperly identified by GJRP before the Finnish police investigation began.

That prompted the defence to interview more witnesses who made startling claims.

“The conclusion is that [GJRP] has been asking these people to testify against Gibril, and for some kind of reward,” Gummerus told the court. “This question is so severe that we must take actions and take the people and witnesses to testify about the GJRP’s role in this trial. We are nothing short but obliged to do that, to interview people of the role of this” organisation.”

Gummerus said “it has been absolutely crucial that [GJRP and its Swiss partner Civitas Maxima] have been looking for witnesses. Without their deeds the police could not have been able to find at all persons in such numbers. The theme is that the witnesses in the investigations cannot be trusted.”

Prosecutor Tom Laitinen told the court that they too would be “obliged to act as well. We must bring in new evidence.”

The defence has named 4 witnesses to call in Liberia. The prosecution has named 16. The parties have also presented further documentary evidence.

The court is likely to also explore one of the major questions in the trial that has been a key point of questioning of witnesses in Sierra Leone and Finland: Did Massaquoi escape the safe house where he was being held in Freetown in July 2003 to command a battalion that committed atrocities in Waterside in Monrovia in the final days of Liberia’s civil conflict?

Massaquoi was under UN protection in Freetown for his role as a key informant to the Special Court for Sierra Leone. His testimony was instrumental in the convictions of key RUF commanders and former Liberian president Charles Taylor.

Several witnesses testified that supervision of the safehouse was lax and the defence was unable to close off the possibility that Massaquoi travelled to Liberia.

If the court rules that Massaquoi did escape the safehouse to commit war crimes on behalf of Taylor, the man on whom he was informing, it would mark an extraordinary failure on the part of the Special Court.

The role of GJRP and Civitas has consistently been raised by defence lawyers in international cases against ex-combatants in Liberia’s civil wars. Under-resourced defence teams have been overwhelmed by grisly and emotive testimony from more than a hundred victims in trials and investigations in the U.S. and Europe.

There is an increasingly forceful campaign against the justice activists has including several accusatory news stories – with no named sources – claiming that the activists have paid witnesses to lie.

Hassan Bility, head of GJRP would not comment on the ongoing Massaquoi trial but he recently responded to the same accusation from Alieu Kosiah, the former Ulimo commander convicted of war crimes in Switzerland in June.

“We know that there are many people against us, so they create and fabricate lies,” Bility said. “The same thing they did when some of them worked with the TRC, they think that’s what we’re doing here. You know, I will tell you one thing: when a man’s mind is weak, that man thinks that thread of weakness runs through every other man’s head. That’s not the situation.

“If you bribed people, don’t expect everybody to be like you. You have no evidence. How dare you accuse people without evidence? That’s ridiculous!

“For years alleged war criminal commanders associated with ULIMO, NPFL and other factions have been united together in denying any crime, and also accusing Civitas Maxima and the Global Justice and Research Project of committing themselves criminal acts to subvert the course of justice in its attempt to find justice for victims of war crimes committed in Liberia,” said Alain Werner of Civitas by email.

“We have never answered any of these specific baseless accusations made over and over against us because we believe it should be for judges to evaluate evidence, and any accusation against us should be made in court, not in newspapers. We will not be intimidated and we will carry on our mission on behalf of the Liberian victims of war crimes.”

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EAST AFRICA

Uganda

Official Website of the International Criminal Court ICC Public Documents - Situation in Uganda

UPDF kills 6 suspected rebels (NTV Uganda) By Joseph Tumwesigye July 16, 2021

The Uganda People’s Defence Forces has “put out of action” six attackers suspected to be members of the CODECO (Cooperative for Development of the Congo) rebels in Zeu Forest, Zombo district.

In a statement released by the UPDF Spokesperson, Brig Gen Flavia Byekwaso, the military’s actions happened after 20 men disguising as forest workers attacked UPDF personnel in Zeu Forest.

“Today, 16 July 2021 at 6:00am, a Uganda’s Peoples’ Defence Force repulsed an attack by about 20mewn disguising as fresh workers,” a statement from Brig Gen Byekwaso reads.

The statement furthers claims that the UPDF seized weapons from the attackers. These include an SMG with 11 live ammunitions, 11 bows with arrows and 3 machetes.

A UPDF soldier was killed in the attack while 3 others were injured. The injured have been airlifted to Bombo General Military Hospital.

According to Byekwaso, the attackers that were killed by UPDF soldiers include Ugandan informers .

“Those [Put out of Action] have been identified by locals as 2 Ugandans and 4 DRC nationals from Ayurpa and Mail trading centres in Muhagi Territory,” the statement reads.

The CODECO rebels are a militia group operating in Eastern Democratic republic of Congo. The organisation was once and agricultural cooperative. It later morphed into a robe;l group and is accused of war crimes by the United Nations (UN).

Anti-Gay Legislation Sparks Controversy — and Fear (Global Press Journal) By Nakisanze Segawa July 22, 2021

When police raided Mukiibi Henry’s community health center on the outskirts of town last year, authorities told him the arrests were due to violating coronavirus restrictions on gatherings.

It’s no coincidence, he believes, that the facility had been sheltering two dozen “Kuchu” people — Ugandans who, like himself, identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer or intersex (LGBTQI).

After the charges were dropped, he quietly resumed his daily routine: work as the Children of the Sun Foundation’s executive director, family life as a husband and father of three, and a relationship with his male partner of five years. But on May 3, the 31-year-old’s freedom was jeopardized once again: Uganda’s Parliament passed a Sexual Offences Bill with a section explicitly banning same-sex relationships. “They can’t rest until they make laws that punish us more by expanding criminalization and increase penalties against the LGBTQI community,” Mukiibi says, keeping his voice low as his staff laughs and chats in the background.

Uganda already outlaws a range of “sexual offences,” but the updated legislation, first introduced in 2019, further criminalizes specific behaviors between consenting adults. In the final Clause 11 language approved by lawmakers, “penetration of another person’s anus” and “sexual acts between persons of the same gender” are each punishable by up to 10 years in prison, says Jacob Oboth Oboth, head of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee.

If President Yoweri Museveni signs the bill into law, human rights and Kuchu activists predict a new surge of discrimination and hate crimes.

As a gay man in Kampala, Richard Lusimbo worries that a pending law against homosexuality will lead to more hate crimes.

Richard Lusimbo, 34, a gay man who is national coordinator for the Uganda Key Populations Consortium, says that even people wrongly suspected of being Kuchu will be attacked.

“There will be violence by people who feel they are entitled to hurt the LGBTQI community,” he says.

Uganda ranked 113 out of 174 countries for social acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and issues for 2014-2017, the most recent period covered by the 2019 Global Acceptance Index produced by the Williams Institute, a think tank at the University of California, Los Angeles. A 2019 survey by Afrobarometer, a pan-African research network, reported that 86% of Ugandans said they would strongly dislike having a gay neighbor; the 2016 ILGA-RIWI Global Attitudes Survey found that 53% agreed that homosexuality should be a crime and 54% agreed that “same-sex desire” is a “Western world phenomenon.”

Sexual Minorities Uganda, a national advocacy network, estimates that more than 4 million people could be arrested under Clause 11. The organization has publicly urged Museveni not to sign the bill, stating that “Parliament’s attempt at streamlining all laws on sexual offences by adopting new language to cater and name the sexual offences is applaudable if only the Bill does not criminalize same-sex relations.”

A previous Anti-Homosexuality Bill, introduced in 2013 and passed in 2014, led to a 1,900% increase in Ugandans being arrested, beaten, threatened or disowned by their families, according to the advocacy network’s “From Torment to Tyranny” report. The nation’s Constitutional Court overturned the law within months, determining that it had passed without the minimum required votes.

“They can’t rest until they make laws that punish us more by expanding criminalization and increase penalties against the LGBTQI community."MUKIIBI HENRYCHILDREN OF THE SUN FOUNDATION

Lawmaker Oboth Oboth says the quorum was correct this time, and therefore he does not foresee any legal challenges related to the parliamentary process.

The bill also has the backing of religious leaders, including the Catholic Church, Uganda’s largest denomination.

“The Bible is very clear when it comes to relationships,” says the Rev. Joseph Mukasa Nkeera, director of communications for the Kampala Archdiocese. “God created man and woman. If he’d intended for same-sex relationships, too, he would have catered for that, too, in his creations — perhaps a community of only females or males.”

Political efforts to clarify and increase penalties for “unnatural offences“ also appeal to conservative local voters like Namukwaya Esther, 36, a Kampala woman who says the bill aligns with her traditional Ganda culture, devout Anglican faith and protective nature as the mother of two boys.

“The anti-homosexuality law is way overdue,” she says. “We need it as of yesterday, and this bill provides some hope that as a country we stand for morals and need to protect our children from Western influence.”

Homophobia itself could be interpreted as a Western phenomenon, however, argues Nicholas Opiyo, a human rights lawyer who has studied British colonial-era laws and missionary efforts to convert Ugandans to conservative Christianity. By institutionalizing it, he says, “we are providing a basis for violence and assault.”

The bill’s supporters may not have considered its potentially negative impacts on Uganda’s reputation globally and personal privacy, adds Adrian Jjuuko, a lawyer and executive director of Uganda’s Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum.

“In essence, passing the Sexual Offences Bill communicates that as contemporary Uganda, we believe that people of the same sex cannot have consensual sexual relations with each other and have no right to privacy in matters concerning their sexuality and sexual expression,” he says.

Mukiibi and other Kuchu Ugandans hope Museveni will decline to sign the bill as written.

“Send it back to Parliament and seek to amend it so it includes provisions of equality and exercise of sexual rights to all Ugandans,” Mukiibi says, “regardless of their sexual orientations.”

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Kenya

Official Website of the International Criminal Court ICC Public Documents - Situation in the Republic of Kenya

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Rwanda (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda)

Official Website of the ICTR

Rwanda genocide convict Ngirabatware to be transferred to Senegal (The Guardian) July 21, 2021

Former Rwandan minister Augustin Ngirabatware, who has been sentenced to 30 years for his role in the country’s genocide, will see out the rest of his term in Senegal, his judicial overseers announced in The Hague on Wednesday.

In a document dated May 28, Judge Carmel Agius of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) said he had instructed the court registrar “to transfer Ngirabatware to Senegal for the enforcement of his sentence as expeditiously as possible” after the conclusion of a separate case.

Ngirabatware was planning minister at the time of the genocide, in which at least 800,000 and moderate were slaughtered between April and July 1994.

He was convicted in December 2012 for inciting, aiding and encouraging militiamen in his home district of Nyamyumba in northwestern Rwanda to kill and rape their neighbours.

An initial sentence of 35 years was reduced to 30 years in 2014 after the rape conviction was set aside. The sentence was otherwise confirmed in a review in 2019.

In the separate case, Ngirabatware and three others were found guilty on July 25 of having tried to bribe or intimidate witnesses to have his conviction overturned.

Ngirabatware, a Swiss-educated economist born in 1957, is the son-in-law of Felicien Kabuga, a major figure who is accused of having bankrolled the bloodshed. He was arrested in a suburb of Paris in May 2020.

The sentence against Ngirabatware was handed down by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which closed down in 2015, handed on its work to the UN-backed MICT.

Ngirabatware fled Rwanda in July 1994, finding work in research institutes in Gabon and France before being arrested in Germany in 2007 and transferred to the ICTR the following year.

Rwanda: Genocide Fugitive Venant Rutunga Extradited From the Netherlands (All Africa) By Bertrand Byishimo July 26, 2021

The Dutch government has extradited Venant Rutunga, the former regional director of ISAR Rubona, an agricultural research institute located in the southern district of Huye, formerly known as Butare Prefecture.

The 72-year old was received by officials from the National Public Prosecution Authority (NPPA) at International Airport on Monday July 26 at around 7:30pm.

He had lived in the European country for over a decade according to available information.

"We commend the Dutch judicial authorities for the extradition of genocide suspects, continued cooperation in matters of mutual legal assistance and contribution to the global effort to fight impunity," reads part of a statement from NPPA which was signed by Faustin Nkusi, the spokesperson. The Dutch police arrested Rutunga in March 2019 on an indictment issued by the NPPA's Genocide Fugitives Tracking Unit.

Reacting to the development, Olivier Nduhungirehe, Rwanda's ambassador to The Netherlands said that Rutunga was extradited after exhausting all his legal avenues to block the process.

"Arrested in March 2019 in the Netherlands, his extradition was confirmed by the Minister of Justice and Security in April 2020. In Dec 2020 and May 2021, Dutch courts rejected his appeals," Nduhungirehe tweeted.

According to survivor accounts, at the start of the Genocide against the Tutsi, more than 1,000 Tutsi sought refuge at ISAR Rubona.

Instead of offering them protection, the suspect is said to have alerted and brought in soldiers and militia at the institute who then killed them instantly.

Rutunga, alongside Charles Ndereyehe Ntahontuye, the former ISAR head, were also at the forefront of the killings that took place in Rubona village, current Ruhashya sector in Huye district.

Survivors accuse the two of having used their authority and influence as well as ISAR resources to communicate with other institutions, including the Gendarmerie of Butare where Tutsis were hiding.

Particularly Rutunga is charged with three crimes: his role in the genocide, complicity in killing and crimes against humanity.

Rutunga becomes the third person to be extradited from The Netherlands.

The country has previously extradited Jean Baptiste Mugimba and Jean Claude Iyamuremye who were both extradited in November 2016.

Mugimba's trial is still ongoing while Iyamuremye has been sentenced to 25 years.

Other genocide suspects have been domestically tried by Dutch authorities.

Those include Joseph Mpambara who was convicted for a life sentence in 2011 and Yvonne Basebya who was convicted of the crime of incitement to commit genocide for six years and eight months.

Sources indicate that The Netherlands received 18 indictments from Rwanda but twelve are yet to be answered to.

Some of the fugitives who are suspected to be in The Netherlands include Ndereyehe.

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Somalia

Senior al-Shabab terrorist killed in central region of Somalia July 17, 2021

Somali National Army (SNA) said Saturday that its forces killed a senior al-Shabab terrorist in Middle Shabelle, central part of the country.

The SNA said Nuh Dhagool, who was leading the operation to extort the local populace to fund the group's activities in town, was killed Friday night.

"The terrorist was the head of extortion in the coastal area," the military said in a brief statement.

The group, which fights to topple the internationally-backed government, uses portions of southern and central Somalia to plot and direct terror attacks, steal humanitarian aid, extort the local populace to finance its operations, and shelter radical terrorists.

The extremists have recently increased their attacks against African Union and Somali forces especially in Mogadishu, the national capital, targeting their bases, hotels and other public places.

‘A very dangerous precedent’: Democrats take aim at Biden’s Somalia airstrikes (Politico) By Andrew Desidario and Lara Seligman July 27, 2021

Top Democratic lawmakers took aim this week at the Biden administration’s recent airstrikes in Somalia, disputing the legal rationale for the operations and arguing that it undercuts the president’s stated desire to replace outdated war authorizations.

The Pentagon justified the strikes, which targeted al Qaeda affiliates in the war-torn country, by invoking the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force against the terrorist groups that attacked the U.S. on 9/11.

Democrats, who have long maintained that the 2001 authorization is irrelevant 20 years after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, said the Biden administration did not have the authority to strike in Somalia.

“What the Biden team is doing is consistent with what we’ve seen now in three prior administrations, but it’s, to me, inconsistent with the intent of Congress,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“I think President [Joe] Biden should submit a new authorization for the use of military force and should recognize that the 2001 AUMF should be terminated,” Cardin added.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who has been working with the White House on a replacement for the 2001 AUMF that better aligns with the current terror threats, called on the Biden administration to brief Congress “expeditiously” on its “counterterrorism goals and the current threats.”

“I have received no information suggesting that these strikes are necessary to protect any U.S. personnel and would need to understand, if this is so, why they are occurring,” Kaine added.

Biden has backed efforts to repeal some war authorizations, such as the 2002 AUMF for Iraq, and replace others, like the 2001 measure. Yet like his predecessors he has cited a range of legal justifications, including outdated war authorizations, following military action.

That includes twice invoking his Article II constitutional “self-defense” authority when he ordered airstrikes against Iran- backed militant groups in Iraq and Syria that attacked American troops.

“If you’re taking strikes in Somalia, come to Congress and get an authorization for it. If you want to be involved in hostilities in Somalia for the next five years, come and explain why that’s necessary and come and get an explicit authorization,” added Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), another top Foreign Relations Committee member. “This idea that that’s too much trouble, that that’s too much to ask, is a very dangerous precedent for Congress to set.”

The criticism comes days after the Pentagon struck al-Shabab in Somalia on Friday, marking the second such operation in less than a week and the Biden administration’s second in the country since taking office.

In both cases, Gen. Stephen Townsend, head of U.S. Africa Command — not Biden — authorized the strike. The mission was conducted to support an American-trained Somali force known as the Danab after they came under fire from al-Shabab militants in the Galmudug area of Somalia, defense officials said.

Murphy said the strike approval process raised questions about the chain of command. “Any time you’re taking strikes in countries that have no clear authorization for hostilities passed by Congress, the chief executive needs to be involved.” The U.S. resumed operations in the country after a six-month hiatus despite new limits the Biden administration placed on drone strikes outside active combat zones. While the Trump administration gave regional commanders broad authority to green-light such operations, proposals for airstrikes are now generally routed through the White House. Prior to last week’s actions, the U.S. had not conducted a strike in Somalia since Jan. 19, the day before Biden took office.

Biden’s invocation of the 2001 AUMF comes as his administration is conferring with lawmakers about a replacement for that authorization — one that includes specific geographic designations, mandates a cut-off date, and names specific terrorist groups covered under the AUMF.

“It illustrates that we need to come up with some sort of mechanism where we can approve geographies,” Sen. Todd Young (R- Ind.), who has long advocated for war powers reforms, said of the Somalia strikes. “We don’t want to hamstring the president’s Article II powers — which we don’t have the power to do anyway.”

Cardin said citing the 2001 AUMF “makes it more difficult” to get a new authorization through Congress, adding: “It undercuts our ability to see an urgency for action.”

The Foreign Relations Committee has asked the Biden administration for more information about the airstrikes. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who chairs the panel, said his main focus was on repealing the AUMFs that no longer have functional value.

But the committee is scheduled to hold a hearing next week with top State Department officials on AUMFs more broadly, allowing senators to question administration officials directly about the invocation of the 2001 AUMF as well as Biden’s Article II powers.

After that hearing, the committee will vote on a bipartisan measure to repeal the 2002 and 1991 AUMFs, both of which authorized military force in Iraq for different conflicts. But the 2001 AUMF is still on lawmakers’ minds as a future target.

“It’s just more evidence of how badly the 2001 AUMF is in need of reform,” Murphy added. “I think the administration is struggling a little bit to find the legal authorization for these strikes.”

Pentagon spokesperson Cindi King declined to give additional details about the dual attacks, including why the Biden administration had conducted two in a row after a six-month hiatus, citing operational security. But a defense official said the end of Somalia’s rainy season has allowed operations to resume on both sides and anticipated a resumption of active fighting.

The defense official defended the airstrike, drawing a distinction between “deliberate” strikes against a particular threat developed in advance by military planners, and close-air-support or self-defense operations based on an imminent threat. In the latter cases, commanders must be able to authorize a strike quickly in life-threatening situations. All strikes go through rigorous approval processes including assessments of civilian casualties and collateral damage, the official said.

Republicans defended and applauded the administration’s airstrikes, as they have often done since Biden became president. On the issue of war powers, GOP lawmakers have generally backed expanded presidential authority to conduct military operations.

“I don’t think the president needs a law passed by Congress in order to target terrorists who are posing a threat to the United States, no matter where they are in the world,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Especially if it’s a one-off, targeted engagement, not a full-scale military situation.”

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EUROPE

The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, War Crimes Chamber Official Court Website [English translation]

Bosnian Serb Ex-Soldier Pleads Not Guilty to War Crimes (Balkan Transitional Justice) By Marija Tausan July 23, 2021

Rade Macura, the wartime commander of the First Company with the Second Battalion of the Bosnian Serb Army’s First Gradiska Brigade, appeared before the Bosnian state court in Sarajevo as his trial opened on Monday and pleaded not guilty to war crimes against the civilian population.

The prosecution alleges that Macura and his subordinate soldiers carried out a search in the village of Turjak, near Gradiska, where a group of Bosniak civilians was located, on June 23, 1992.

It claims that the civilians, who were trying to cross the border into Croatia, had surrendered, but the soldiers commanded by Macura mistreated and abused them, then eventually shot them. Their bodies were exhumed in 2003.

The prosecution argued that Macura directly commanded the operation and was present at the crime scene, but failed to take measures to punish the perpetrators.

Bosnian War Crimes Denial Ban Causes Trial Postponement (Balkan Transitional Justice) By Azra Husaric July 28, 2021

A hearing in the trial of four former Bosnian Serb police officers accused of persecuting Bosniak civilians in the Vlasenica area during wartime was postponed on Wednesday because defence lawyers said they did not know how far they could go in defending their clients in light of legislative changes banning the denial of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The lawyers said that they had only read about the new changes to the criminal code in the media, and needed to know how strongly they can deny the charges of crimes of humanity against their clients.

“Now I am asking how far I can go without reaching the point of self-incrimination,” said Veljko Civsa, the defence lawyer for one of the accused, Radenko Stanic.

Civsa said that the lawyers need to study the changes thoroughly in order to work out how to represent their clients properly.

“In principle, we deny that our clients committed those acts,” said Milos Peric, lawyer for defendant Mane Djuric.

“We learned about the [legal changes] entering into force from the media. I have not seen the original version of the text. Neither have my colleagues,” he added.

The legal changes were imposed by High Representative Valentine Inzko, the international official who oversees implementation of the peace deal that ended the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

They outlaw the public denial, condoning, trivialisation or justification of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes when this is done in a way that is “likely to incite to violence or hatred”. They also prohibit the glorification of war criminals.

Defendants Mane Djuric, Radenko Stanic, Miroslav Kraljevic and Goran Garic are on trial for persecuting the Bosniak civilians through a series of murders, detentions, forcible disappearances, sexual abuse and other inhumane acts in the Vlasenica area in the period between April 1992 and March 1993.

According to the charges, Djuric was chief of the police’s Public Security Station in Vlasenica and a member of the Serb-run Crisis Committee in the area, Stanic was the commander of the Public Security Station, Kraljevic was commander of a special police squad known as Mica’s Strike Team, and Garic was a policeman.

The genocide and war crimes denial ban imposed by Inzko has infuriated Bosnian Serb political leaders, who do not accept that the massacres of Bosniaks from Srebrenica by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995 constituted genocide.

Bosnian Serb political representatives have begun a boycott of state institutions, which will effectively prevent them from functioning, in protest against the ban. Dragan Gotovac, the lawyer for defendant Miroslav Kraljevic, said that the Bar Association of Republika Srpska, Bosnia’s Serb- dominated entity, will come up with a joint stance on how defence lawyers should act in light of the amendments to the criminal code.

“We are acting very cautiously until the Bar Association has taken a clear stance,” Gotovac said.

The trial will continue on September 8.

Bosnian Serb Ex-Fighters’ Wartime Rape Sentences Reduced (Balkan Transitional Justice) By Haris Rovcanin July 28, 2021

The appeals chamber of the Bosnian state court has reduced the sentences handed down to wartime fighters Radovan Paprica and Slavko Ognjenovic for committing rape in the Foca area in 1992 from eight to seven years in prison.

Paprica, alias Papro, and Slavko Ognjenovic, alias Macak, were convicted in December 2020 of committing a crime against humanity as part of a widespread and systematic attack by Bosnian Serb military, paramilitary and police forces.

The verdict found that Ognjenovic and another man identified only as Nedjo took a Bosniak woman from a barracks in Stara Kolonija to an empty apartment in the village of Miljevina in the Foca municipality on June 9, 1992.

She was first raped by the man identified as Nedjo. After he left, Ognjenovic slapped her face several times and then raped her, while threatening her that he would kill both her and her children should she tell anyone about it.

The woman then went out into the hallway, where she met Paprica, who ordered her to go back into the apartment and also raped her.

Paprica told her not to leave because he would come back, but she jumped through a window to escape.

Under the verdict, the defendants were ordered to pay the victim 37,000 Bosnian marks (around 18,900 euros) in compensation.

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International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY)

Official Website of the ICTY

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Domestic Prosecutions In The Former Yugoslavia

Croatia Charges Bosnian Croat Ex-Fighter with War Crimes (Balkan Transitional Justice) By Anja Vladisavljevic July 21, 2021

Croatian police said on Wednesday that they have arrested and charged an unnamed 53-year-old former member of the Croatian Defence Council, HVO, the Bosnian Croat wartime force, with war crimes against civilians in Orasje in 1992.

The Bosnian state prosecution then identified the man as Pero Vincetic, alias ‘Horse’.

It said that Vincetic has already been indicted in Bosnia and Herzegovina for “war crimes of rape and sexual abuse in the Orasje municipality, as well as for committing other war crimes against Serb victims in that town during 1992 and 1993”.

Croatian police only said that the man was suspected of seriously abusing two civilians.

“There is a well-founded suspicion that in May 1992 in Orasje, the suspect, then a 24-year-old member of the Croatian Defence Council, brutally physically and mentally abused two civilians by exposing them to intense pain, suffering and humiliation, violating the international law of war and humanitarian law,” a Croatian police statement said.

The suspect, who has Croatian citizenship, was arrested on Tuesday in Vukovar-Srijem County in eastern Croatia after an investigation by the Osijek-Baranja Police Administration in cooperation with the Osijek County State Attorney’s Office.

Vincetic has long been the subject of war crimes allegations. In an interview with BIRN in 2016, two civilians, Croat Marko Benkovic and his Hungarian wife Tunde, who ran a Hungarian restaurant and nightclub in Orasje before the war broke out, accused him of rape and torture.

Tunde Benkovic also testified in court in Bosnia that she was raped in Orasje in May 1992 by Vincetic and his subordinate, who was later sentenced to 13 years in prison for war crimes including rapes and the abuse of prisoners.

Vincetic has denied the allegations.

“The only thing that is true in what the Benkovic couple is stating is that they stated their name and surname correctly, I guess,” Vincetic told Croatian reporters from NovaTV in February 2019.

In 1992, Orasje, which is separated from Croatia by the River Sava, was surrounded by Bosnian Serb forces and had a vital position on transport and communication lines between the Serb stronghold of Banja Luka and the Serbian capital Belgrade.

The town of Orasje was mainly populated by Bosniaks and the surrounding villages predominantly populated by Croats, so Croats and Bosniaks fought together against the Bosnian Serb Army to defend the municipality.

In 2016, ten former HVO fighters were arrested on suspicion of committing crimes against Serbs in Orasje from April 1992 to July 1993 in the town, sparking angry reactions from officials in Croatia.

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Turkey

Turkish-backed rebels leave trail of abuse and criminality in Syria’s Afrin (Al-Monitor) By Dan Wilkofsky, Amberin Zaman, Mohammed Hardan July 22, 2021

During 17 days of captivity, Leila Mohammed Ahmed witnessed, helplessly, 10 young women take their own lives after being raped by members of the Sultan Murad Brigade, a Sunni rebel faction which operates under the banner of the Turkish- backed Syrian National Army (SNA). The 63-year-old Kurdish woman from Afrin, the majority Kurdish enclave in northern Syria that has been occupied by Turkish-backed forces since January 2018, relayed to Al-Monitor the suffering of her fellow detainees in a telephone interview. “Some used belts to hang themselves, some pens or other sharp objects which they jabbed in their throats. Then there were the poor girls who just banged their heads against the wall until they collapsed,” Ahmed said.

Ahmed’s story is not uncommon. Across Turkish-occupied territories, a pattern of violence and criminality has been established. Turkish-backed opposition groups that once were dedicated to political causes are accused by residents of becoming criminal syndicates that kidnap for money and exploit citizens’ resources for their own gain.

“There were around 150 of us. We were given a potato with half a loaf of Syrian bread twice a day, and beaten every night from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. Each night the men would take away a few of the girls to defile them, saying, ‘We are taking you to the doctor.’ It was like a tradition,” Ahmed said of the detention facility in the SNA-occupied northern town of al-Rai, her voice swinging between grief and rage.

Ahmed was arrested because of her links to the Kurdish-led administration that formerly governed Afrin, a hilly, verdant region carpeted with olive groves and ancient ruins, before the Turkish army and its SNA allies captured Afrin in a bloody, two-month military campaign.

With the bulk of its Kurdish population forcibly displaced and reduced to minority status, Afrin stands as a grim testament to the Turkish-backed Syrian opposition’s shift from revolutionary zeal to unfettered greed and criminality — a laboratory for Turkey’s experiments in demographic engineering and cultural imperialism, underpinned by a determination to prevent Syria’s Kurds from establishing self-rule.

Turkey’s preening authority was on full display this week as the country’s hawkish interior minister, Suleyman Soylu, went to Afrin on the occasion of the Muslim Feast of Sacrifice holiday, or Eid al-Adha.

Photos of the tour posted on his feed showed Soylu at the Turkish special forces command center. Giant Turkish flags festooned the building and portraits of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Kemal Ataturk hung on the wall. Turkey’s “Peace Spring” invasion of Kurdish-controlled territory in northeast Syria in October 2019 was greenlit by the Donald Trump administration and prompted a global outcry. SNA-affiliated brigades engaged in a litany of abuses, most memorably perhaps, the summary execution of Kurdish woman politician Hevrin Khalaf. She was pulled out of her car, shot dead, then beaten to pulp by members of Ahrar al-Sharqiyah, a brigade under the SNA’s banner. Trump was denounced by politicians of both US parties as having betrayed America’s Kurdish allies who had heroically helped to defeat the Islamic State, and was pressured to rescind his decision to withdraw US forces from Syria.

No such uproar was heard when Turkey invaded Afrin on the grounds that the Kurdish administration running it was under the influence of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the militant group that is waging an armed campaign against Turkey. The United States has argued that Afrin was outside its control, rendering America powerless to act. Russia, which holds sway over the northwest, may have let Turkey invade Afrin in order to punish the Kurds over their refusal to sever ties with the United States and submit to the authority of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Bassam al-Ahmed, a Syrian human rights activist and founder of Syrians for Truth and Justice, a nonprofit research outfit that is recording abuses by all parties in Syria’s decade-long conflict, told Al-Monitor, “Almost all the world was against Peace Spring. But with Afrin there was a huge silence. What is going on now in Afrin is a deep ethnic cleansing from which Turkey and the brigades profit financially as well.”

Leila Mohammed Ahmed is lucky. She was freed by Sultan Murad because “I was too old” and taken back to Afrin. Her home in the village of Matina is now occupied by a Syrian Arab with two wives and 10 children; they were bused in from the Syrian city of Homs as part of Turkey’s alleged drive to ethnically cleanse Afrin of its Kurdish population. A maze of stubs is all that remains of the 150 olive trees owned by her family. She has been living in regime-held Aleppo since 2019, having bribed her way out of Afrin for $350, a hefty sum in today’s pauperized Syria.

“About a week ago a friend of mine who was being held in al-Rai came back and told me there is a large number of women and girls still in the jail,” she said.

Her account is consistent with the panoply of abuses documented in Afrin and other territories occupied by Turkish-backed SNA brigades, including rape, kidnappings, ethnic cleansing and recruiting child soldiers for Turkey’s forays in Libya and Azerbaijan.

The violations these brigades engage in — from looting, to imposing “taxes” on original Kurdish inhabitants or recent Arab arrivals in the Turkish-occupied zones — are increasingly linked by a common motive: profit. Brigade commanders use the money garnered from these illicit activities to invest in property and other lucrative projects in both Turkey and rebel-held northwest Syria.

In a March report, the UN’s Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic said, “After the capture of Afrin, declared in 2018 … a security vacuum emerged, creating a permissive environment for fighters to engage in abduction, hostage taking and extortion.” The report noted that similar patterns, “albeit to a lesser extent,” were observed in and around the towns of Ras al- Ain and Tell Abyad following Operation Peace Spring, “mostly affecting returnees of Kurdish origin, including women.”

“While detained, Kurdish (and on occasion, Yazidi) women were also raped and subjected to other forms of sexual violence, including degrading and humiliating acts, threats of rape, performance of ‘virginity tests,’ or the dissemination of photographs or video material showing the female detainee being abused,” the report added. Meghan Bodette, a Washington-based researcher and founder of “The Missing Afrin Women Project,” says she has documented 135 cases of women who are still missing out of 228 cases in total of reported kidnappings. She said 91 women are reported to have been released, while two were reportedly killed in custody. “From speaking to survivors directly and reading other testimonies, I assess that the real number of kidnappings and disappearances is likely higher than we know, due to the difficulties and dangers of reporting these abuses and Turkey’s refusal to allow independent media and human rights organizations access to the area,” Bodette told Al-Monitor.

On the rare occasion that Turkey did allow an international media outlet into Afrin, the result was an embarrassing whitewash. In its Feb. 16 piece, The New York Times said, “Turkey has become the only international force on the ground protecting some five million displaced and vulnerable civilians. Today, the Turkish soldiers are all that stand between them and potential slaughter at the hands of President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and those of his Russian allies.”

There was no mention of atrocities committed by Turkey’s rebel proteges. The Syrian Kurds were aghast.

Sinam Mohammed, the Washington representative of the Syrian Democratic Council, a political body overseeing the US- protected Kurdish administration in northeast Syria, said, “I was deeply upset that The New York Times was giving a very beautiful image about the people in Afrin who are committing crimes there. It was fake news showing that everything is good.”

Mohammed told Al-Monitor, “I know what is going on there. Daily they are committing abuses. Raping girls. Torturing men to death. Changing the demography.” Mohammed’s family home in Afrin has been usurped, her husband’s factories stripped of their machines and left to rot. “I and many members of the Kurdish community wrote to The New York Times. They never answered,” Mohamed said.

The UN and various rights groups say the abuses committed by the SNA-affiliated factions amount to war crimes. Yet, according to more than a dozen Turkish, Kurdish and Syrian Arab sources interviewed by Al-Monitor, the pillage and plunder persists, with several warlords getting fatter on the profits by the day. Turkish individuals with ties to Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) allegedly share in the spoils.

Bassam Ahmed of Syrians for Truth and Justice said, “If they didn’t know they are protected by Turkey they would never be able to do these things. Most of the top brigade commanders have Turkish nationality.”

Turkey denies the allegations. However, in a rare move, a military court of Syria's opposition so-called interim government sentenced a member of Ahrar al-Sharqiyah over the murder of Hevrin Khalaf, according to the UN.

Zero discrimination

It’s not just Kurds who are being targeted — Syrian Arabs brought into Afrin from East Ghouta after it fell to regime control are subjected to some of the same abuses. A resident who arrived in Afrin in the spring of 2018 paints a grim picture of the once-tranquil city. He told Al-Monitor, “I was renting a house from a Kurdish person, but the brigade in control of the area kicked me out, as well as the house owner, and confiscated the house under the pretext that the house owner was in the PKK.” The offending brigade was Ahrar al-Sharqiyah. “This happened to dozens of families from East Ghouta, who were kicked out of their homes by Ahrar al-Sharqiyah,” he said.

A Turkish researcher with deep knowledge of the SNA factions, who has traveled to Afrin several times, told Al-Monitor, “Afrin was divided up between the various brigades as spoils of war and they established mutually agreed zones and borders among themselves. They usurp property then sell it back to the original owner. None of it is legal or just,” the researcher said, on condition that he not be identified by name for fear of retribution from Turkish authorities.

The Afrin resident said, “Every neighborhood has its own brigade. The Mahmoudiya neighborhood, for example, contains 10 smaller neighborhoods, and each smaller neighborhood has a brigade in charge. Civilians who have no support from a given brigade, their property is as good as gone.”

He continued, “If you come to Afrin, as soon as you walk around you’ll be sure that only the force of arms rules this area. There’s a terrible phenomenon, the spread of stores that sell weapons. Wherever you walk, you’ll find ‘Hunter’s Gun Store,’ ‘So and So’s Gun Shop.’ It’s a really ugly sight.”

The Turkish researcher contended that the Turkish government is seeking to impose law and order in Afrin. However, the office of governor of Hatay, which administers the occupation of Afrin, securing basic services and overseeing reconstruction, has had little impact. “They seem either unwilling or unable to control the brigades,” he said. “Turkey’s main focus is on its own security,” he added.

This includes staving off sporadic attacks by the Afrin Liberation Forces, a PKK offshoot, which is waging a low-intensity insurgency to drive out Turkish and opposition forces, to little effect. Attacks attributed to this group and its affiliates, including the bombing of a popular market in central Afrin, have claimed civilian as well as soldiers’ lives.

Lay off my stash

On May 21, Turkey’s security seemed to be threatened by the very same SNA-linked factions that rely on its support, when hundreds of their alleged members breached a gap in the concrete border wall separating Turkey from Syria. They poured in from Atmeh, a giant camp for displaced Syrians, and attacked a Turkish border post manned by gendarmerie forces in Hatay’s Reyhanli district. Local villagers cited by the Turkish independent online news outlet, Duvar, said the Syrians set fire to their wheat crops and olive trees. One of the villagers said, “The [gendarmerie] station came under a hail of gunfire. Was it a Molotov cocktail or something else, I don’t know but one of them threw an explosive. Had it not been for the concrete wall all of the soldiers there would have died.” Images of people running, with clouds of smoke and a bright orange flame rising near the gendarmerie watch tower, appeared to corroborate the claims.

The villagers said they did not know what had prompted the attack. However, Umit Ozdag, an independent lawmaker in the Turkish parliament, suggested in a tweet a week later that it was linked to the May 15 seizure at Hatay’s Iskendurun port of more than a ton of Captagon pills, a stimulant drug, with a street value worth $37 million. Turkish police said the pills were destined for the United Arab Emirates and had been concealed in bricks.

Ozdag, a vigorous advocate of expelling Turkey’s estimated 4 million Syrian , tweeted, “The Syrians rose up in Reyhanli. A Turkish border post was raided. The soldiers withdrew to avert a confrontation. Weapons were stolen from the border post. The reason for the eruption of the events was the narcotics operation in Iskenderun. The Syrian mafia is saying, ‘Lay off my property.’ Enough.”

Turkish officials offered no explanation.

Sefik Cirkin, a seasoned nationalist politician from Hatay and a member of the center-right opposition Iyi or “Good” Party, told Al-Monitor, “Regretfully, I can say that this story is true. One hundred percent.” Cirkin declined to elaborate. Ozdag did not respond to Al-Monitor’s request for comment.

Numerous other drug seizures were reported this year in Hatay, most recently in July when a cargo vessel carrying 117 kilograms (258 pounds) of cocaine was apprehended off the coast of Iskenderun. In several cases, arrests were made. But the identities and the nationalities of the suspects were not revealed. No arrests have been announced by Turkish authorities in relation to the May 15 seizure.

Elizabeth Tsurkov, a doctoral student at Princeton University and a fellow at the Newlines Institute, a think tank in Washington, is counted among the leading experts on the Syrian opposition. Tsurkov told Al-Monitor, “Several Syrian factions in areas under Turkish control are involved in the drug trade.”

Tsurkov noted however that Atmeh is under the control of Hayat Tahrir Sham, the militant group that governs Idlib and is at odds with many of the the SNA factions.

Meet Abu Amsha

Mohammed Jassem is the Afrin-based commander of the SNA-affiliated Sultan Suleiman Shah brigade, named after one of the founders of the Ottoman Empire whose remains are buried in northern Syria. Jassem, or “Abu Amsha” as he is better known, is a prime example for the northwest Syria war profiteering game. The Suleiman Shah brigade, commonly referred to as the “Amshat” after their leader, has been implicated in rights abuses in Afrin, including abductions, ethnic cleansing and forcing olive farmers to pay the brigade a cut of their harvest.

Jassem’s Twitter feed reads like a pledge of fealty to Turkey and its latter-day sultan, Erdogan. There are tributes to assorted Turkish ultra-nationalists, condolences for Turkey’s interior minister over the loss of his mom (who died at age 75 of heart failure in March) and vows to pursue the “dogs” of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who are “really PKK.” Turkey’s “Olive Branch” operation against Afrin and the ensuing “Peace Spring” operation rest on that logic — that the SDF is “the same” as the PKK.

Parroting Turkey’s talking points on the PKK — and Erdogan’s Islam-tinged nationalist rhetoric — has served as useful cover for Jassem as he expands a mini-fiefdom out of Afrin’s Sheikh Hadeed area, which he took over after helping Turkey wrest control of the enclave.

A Sultan Suleiman Shah militant speaking on condition of anonymity told Al-Monitor, “When the opposition factions took control of Afrin, the Sultan Suleiman Shah Division took over the Sheikh Hadeed area and set up its command center there. The division commander, Abu Amsha, doesn’t take orders from the Syrian National Army or the Ministry of Defense [of the Syrian opposition’s interim government based in Istanbul], he directly coordinates with Turkish intelligence.” Rights groups assert the factions have aided Turkey’s security apparatus in illegally transferring hundreds of Syrian Arabs and Kurds accused of working for the PKK from Turkish occupied areas to Turkey. Factions routinely wield the threat of rendition to extract large sums, and those who are unable to pay are handed over to Turkey, as previously reported by Al-Monitor.

Jassem’s newfound prosperity comes from multiple sources. Control over checkpoints that charge transit fees for commercial vehicles is one. Olive oil is another. The Sultan Suleiman Shah militant explained, “In the beginning, the Sultan Suleiman Shah faction in Afrin operated like other factions in the region. It cut and sold olive trees, but it recently changed its strategy. The faction members started growing olives on confiscated land from those accused of being loyal to the SDF. They then imposed an income tax of 25% percent to 50% on landowners.” The militant continued, “However, logging has not yet stopped as brigade members cut down trees and sell them to take advantage of their price. The faction’s leadership allows members to individually benefit from a small margin of profit in order to guarantee their loyalty.”

In Turkey, the state Agricultural Credit Cooperative buys the olive oil from the brigades through intermediaries then sells it to Turkish producers who export to Europe and the United States.

The illicit trade has been amply documented.

“Had it not been for the Afrin olives we could not have achieved this level of exports,” Turkish oil exporter Ali Nedim Gureli told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle’s Turkish language service. “In the old days, this product used to come illegally from Afrin and be sold to producers. Now the sales are being done by the state. Now the majority of Afrin’s estimated [annual production of] 30,000 tons of olive oil comes to Turkey. Afrin’s olive oil has become Turkish produce,” he crowed.

Not all Turkish producers are as pleased. According to Cirkin, the nationalist politician, a fair share of Afrin olive oil winds up getting sold locally, well below market prices through elaborate schemes. “I told the [Hatay] governor Afrin olive oil is being smuggled and sold here. I said ‘Do something. Producers are hurt.’ Nothing was done.”

Turkey’s attempts to paint a veneer of legitimacy on the olive oil trade by routing it through the Agricultural Credit Cooperatives leave international jurists unimpressed. “International law provides a number of protections to those living in occupied territory such as those living in Turkish-occupied Afrin. Their real and personal property is protected by the Geneva Conventions,” said Roger Lu Phillips, an international lawyer and legal director for Syrian Justice and Accountability Centre, a Washington based nonprofit documenting war crimes in Syria.

“Most importantly,” Phillips added, “It is contrary to international law for an occupying power to requisition foodstuffs, particularly where the civilian population is suffering from food shortages.”

Furthermore, the occupying power, Turkey, must ensure that fair value is paid for any requisitioned goods. “If Turkey is taking olive trees and olive oil from local farmers without fair compensation, it has violated the laws of occupation, even if it has done so through the cover of armed militias under its control.”

Jassem has invested some of his gains in businesses in Turkey, according to the sources who briefed Al-Monitor on the subject.

These are said to include several restaurants and car dealerships. Al-Monitor’s correspondent rang El Safir Oto, a car dealership Jassem is said to own in the border city of Gaziantep, and asked, “Is this the car dealership that belongs to Abu Amsha?” A man responded in thickly accented Turkish, “Yes, it is. Who are you?”

Jassem “is number one in terms of business in the area,” said Ahmed Ramadan, the editor-in-chief of the Euphrates Post, a Syrian opposition outlet based in Istanbul. Ramadan, who has investigated the factions’ commercial activities, told Al- Monitor, “The entire world knows they steal, they’re war profiteers, crisis profiteers. They are no longer ashamed.”

The pro-opposition StepNews agency alleged in a May 17 article that Turkish security officials had raided the homes of several individuals from the Sultan Suleiman Shah Brigade, including Jassem’s brother, in separate operations in Gaziantep, Reyhanli and Osmaniye. StepNews claimed the raids were connected to the May 15 Captagon drug bust. ASO, a news agency affiliated with the Kurdish-led administration in northeast Syria, echoed the claim.

Tsurkov said her own findings match the claims as well. “My research into the illicit activities of the factions, it appears that the Amshat are the most heavily involved in the drug trade.”

Tsurkov continued, “According to my sources inside the Amshat, the drug trading effort is led by Sayf Jassem, the brother of Abu Amsha and the fighters and commanders in his personal entourage.”

“Most of the drugs are smuggled from regime areas by the Syrian Army’s 4th division, which is the regime apparatus leading the drug manufacture and drug-running inside Syria and cross border. The drugs are smuggled from Nubul and Zahraa, Shia towns under Hezbollah control in Aleppo into Afrin by the Amshat,” Tskurkov said.

“Abu Amsha instituted a total ban on smuggling drugs into Turkey,” Tsurkov added. But this does not preclude using Iskenderun for transit purposes.

Jassem’s alleged involvement in the narcotics trade aside, internal resentment over his behavior has been brewing for some time.

In 2018, Isra Khalil, the wife of a fighter with the SNA’s Sultan Murad brigade, alleged in a video recording that Jassem had raped her numerous times, including at gunpoint. “Abu Amsha raped me,” she said. “Afterward he stood in the doorway, as he was leaving. He took me out of the room and said, ‘If you say that I came to you, I’ll kill your husband your brother-in-law.’ I told him, ‘For God’s sake, mister, I haven’t done anything, OK? God will keep private what he keeps private, I’ve never done anything to you.’” Khalil added, “It’s not just me he raped. A number of women. A lot of women have been scandalized by him.” Khalil described several other incidents in detail.

A week later Khalil posted another video claiming “a bad person” had offered to pay her “whatever amount of money you want, I’ll give it to you if you record this video about Abu Amsha.” A credible opposition source told al-Monitor that Khalil had been strong-armed into recanting her previous accusations.

Ahmed Rahhal, a general who defected from the Syrian army to join the revolution, and is a vocal critic of the factions' corruption and abuse, said Khalil's subsequent denial "didn't sit right with me."

"When I followed up with people I trust, inside Syria, they said Abu Amsha simply paid bribes, four cars, one for the judge, one to the police official, and two to others, and the issue was resolved. And the girl recorded the second video against her will. By force. I wrote about it. That rape is wrong," Rahhal added.

Rahhal's outspokenness came at a price. In August 2020 he was stripped of his Turkish residency and jailed for 73 days, "without being formally accused of anything. It was incredibly insulting to me." He believes Jassem and his men likely made false statements against him to Turkish authorities claiming that he was an "agent for the UAE, or an agent for , or the Kurds." Rahhal says he receives hundreds of threats every day from people affiliated with the brigades, targeting him and his family, and that his life is in danger. He has publicly appealed to Erdogan, Soylu, and Syrian Interim Government leaders for their help.

In April, Orient, another Syrian pro-opposition outlet, relayed accusations made in a video by Turkish-backed SNA fighters that Jassem “stole” the salaries that they were promised for fighting in Azerbaijan in its war against Armenia. “They were promised $2,000 per month but received far less and with delays,” Tsurkov said.

A Turkish whistleblower

Sedat Peker, a convicted Turkish mobster who lives in exile in Dubai, has been implicating current and former Turkish officials with close ties to the Erdogan government in grave crimes, including rape, drug trafficking and ferrying weapons to Syrian jihadis. The stream of tell-all videos are clocking millions of views on YouTube, and for many, ring truer because Peker, by his own admission, participated in some of the crimes. In a recent video, he claimed, “If you want to do business in Syria, you know what you have to do? There is a Mr. Metin Kiratli, let me say the name of his office: The administrative affairs directorate of the [Turkish] presidency. You must go to him but not for small deals, like two trucks worth of stuff. I mean for the big deals.”

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Bashar Jaafari said in a recent interview with Deutsche Welle, “I’d like to express that I confirm, affirm and verify what Mr. Sedat Peker said is completely true.” Kiratli has denied the claims and filed a criminal complaint against Peker.

Whether Peker is telling the truth or not, the commerce he describes appears to be expanding with Ankara’s blessings: A new unofficial border crossing lying between Ras al-Ain and Tell Abyad in the Peace Spring zone called Tufaha or “apple,” connecting Turkish backed opposition and SDF territories in northern Raqqa, began operating earlier this year.

Tufaha is run by Ahrar al-Sharqiyah leader Abu Hatem Shaqra, a top figure in the war profiteering racket who has been nicknamed “the Octopus” owing to his deep financial reach. Two other SNA-linked brigades, Jaysh al-Sharqiyah and Squad 20, share control over the Tufaha. Open source intelligence mined by Al-Monitor and observed by the researcher known as @obretix on Twitter showed an oil tanker truck parked at the crossing July 13.

“The crossings between areas of different parties’ control are like treasures for the rebel brigades. Tufaha is going to be a big economic crossing point, the monthly income on it might reach $1 million,” said Ramadan, the newspaper editor. The Syrian Democratic Council’s Sinam Mohammed insists that United States must designate the SNA brigades that have committed war crimes as terrorists. “It is a necessary step,” she said. “Otherwise they will not stop.”

But Bassam Ahmed of Syrians for Truth and Justice said he believes that this is an unrealistic goal, saying, “The most we can hope for is that some of these warlords be individually sanctioned for their crimes.”

“It’s time the United States act against these groups,” Bassam Ahmed added.

A State Department spokesman speaking on background told Al-Monitor, “The Administration is concerned by continued reports that some elements of the Syrian National Army have violated the law of armed conflict and abused human rights in northern Syria. We continue to urge Turkey to pressure Turkish-supported opposition groups to stop human rights abuses, hold perpetrators accountable, and take steps to prevent any future such abuses.”

The spokesman added, “The United States and Turkey share an interest in sustainably ending the conflict in Syria and we will continue to consult Ankara on Syria policy and seek areas for cooperation. The United States and Turkey have shared interests in countering terrorism, ending the conflict in Syria, and deterring malign influence in the region.”

In July, the United States added Turkey to a list of countries that are implicated in the use of child soldiers over the past year, marking the first time a NATO ally was placed designated as such.

The State Department noted in its 2021 Trafficking in Persons report that Turkey was providing “tangible support” to the Sultan Murad division which deployed child soldiers to Libya as have other parties to the conflict there. The State Department also named the SDF along with other armed groups in Syria which recruit minors for combat. Ankara was furious.

The Turkish foreign ministry said it “completely rejects” the claim and its record is clean.

US targets Turkey-backed extremists in Syria with sanctions – analysis (The Jerusalem Post) By Seth J. Frantzman July 28, 2021

The US Department of Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned a variety of individuals and organizations in Syria on Wednesday, among them a group backed by Turkey that has carried out widespread human rights abuses.

The sanctions came amid a group of sanctions that “eight Syrian prisons run by the Assad regime’s intelligence apparatus, which have been sites of human rights abuses against political prisoners and other detainees.” Of interest is the decision by the Biden administration to finally speak up about the abuses of extremist groups backed by Ankara which have been targeting Kurds and other minorities.

This is a major change from the Trump administration, which tended to be silent on abuses of minorities in Syria, and even worked with Turkey to empower some extremist groups.

According to the statement “OFAC is also sanctioning Syrian armed group Ahrar al-Sharqiya, which operates in northern Syria, for abuses against civilians, and is also sanctioning two of the group’s leaders.” Ahrar al-Sharqiya has committed numerous crimes against civilians, particularly Syrian Kurds, including unlawful killings, abductions, torture, and seizures of private property, the statement said. “The group has also incorporated former Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) members into its ranks. These horrific acts compound the suffering of a population that has repeatedly endured mass displacement.”

This is a major decision and reflects a change in tone from the new administration, as well as a shift in policy. In interviews, former Trump administration officials revealed that there was an active pro-Ankara policy being pushed by some in Washington. This pro-Ankara policy believed the US could use Turkey and Turkish-backed extremists, some of whom were jihadists similar to ISIS, to confront Iran.

Under this bizarre policy, Ankara was permitted to invade and ethnically cleanse Afrin, a peaceful area in Syria. Afrin was attacked not only by Ankara but also by the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army, a rabble of jihadists and mercenaries Turkey had recruited from among Syrian refugees and which Turkey then radicalized and armed, encouraging them to attack Kurds, Yazidis, Christians and women in Afrin.

Since 2018, Afrin has been ethnically cleansed of some 170,000 indigenous Kurds and women have been targeted for kidnapping, rape and imprisonment in secret prisons run by groups backed by Ankara.

According to VOA and their expert reporter Sirwan Kajjo, “in addition to the Turkish military, the al-Hamzat Division and Jaish al-Islam, there are at least a dozen Syrian militias that control different parts of Afrin, including the National Liberation Front and several other Islamist factions such as the Sultan Murad Division, Ahrar al-Sharqiya and the Suleiman Shah Brigade.” Various other local media have documented abuses by groups like Ahrar al-Sharqiya, often targeting women.

The worst abuse by Ahrar al-Sharqiya was in October 2019 when then US president Donald Trump agreed to let Turkey invade eastern Syria and ordered US troops to withdraw. Kurds, who had been helping the US fight ISIS, were suddenly vulnerable to Turkish-backed jihadists. Ahrar al-Sharqiya, likely with intelligence provided by Ankara, hunted down the young female politician Hevrin Khalaf in eastern Syria and murdered her. They chanted jihadist Islamist slogans as they cheered the murder of the unarmed woman and as they kicked her lifeless body on a video they proudly circulated. This was seen as a gross human rights abuse at the time and France 24 called it an extrajudicial killing. Far-right media in Turkey, which is a member of NATO, praised the operation.

While some US officials, such as Deputy US Special Envoy William Roebuck, at the time raised concerns about Turkish- backed extremists, others did not. Matthew Petty, at the time writing at The National Interest, noted that “in addition to the uptick in tense verbal exchanges, the three different sources described to the National Interest how State Department officials attempted to condemn the brutal murder of Kurdish-Syrian politician Hevrin Khalaf only to have their efforts waylayed by Ambassador James Jeffrey, who oversees anti-ISIS efforts. Jeffrey blocked the statement, they said.

During the Turkish incursion into Syria last week, Turkish-backed elements of the Free Syrian Army kidnapped, murdered, and mutilated Khalaf, who led a joint Kurdish-Arab-Assyrian party called the Syrian Future Party that is unaffiliated with the SDC. Khalaf had met several times with Deputy Special Envoy William Roebuck, a member of Jeffrey’s team.”

Today the former Trump administration officials who were sympathetic to Turkey are out of office. Although Hevrin Khalaf’s life can never be brought back, the change in views in Washington at the highest levels means that Ankara’s extremists may not get the quiet approval they got from 2018-2020.

The days of the US thinking it might use NGOs or even media people to reach out to extremist groups like Hayat Tahrir al- Sham, another sanctioned group, appear to be over. During the previous US administration there were attempts at outreach to these extremist groups, perhaps under a fantasy that they could be used either against Iran or the Syrian regime.

Evidence has shown that these groups never fight Iran or the Syrian regime, they spend most of their time killing and kidnapping women, stealing, looting, and ethnic cleansing or gathering money from stolen property that is under Turkey’s occupation. They thus receive the protection of a NATO-member air force while committing human rights abuses.

By going after Ahrar al-Sharqiya, the US is putting on notice all the jihadist, extremist, Islamist and far-right groups of militias, bandits and ethnic cleansers backed by Ankara in northern Syria. These groups operate openly in Afrin, in areas near Jarabulus and in areas outside of Aleppo which Turkey invaded between 2016 and 2020.

The US designation notes that Ahrar al-Sharqiya “has a record of human rights abuse that includes the unlawful killing of Hevrin Khalaf, a Kurdish politician and Secretary General of the political party Future Syria, as well as her bodyguards in October 2019. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights identified the murders as a possible war crime.” It goes on to note that Ahrar al-Sharqiya has killed multiple civilians in northeast Syria, including health workers.

The militia has also engaged in abductions, torture, and seizures of private property from civilians, barring displaced Syrians from returning to their homes. Ahrar al-Sharqiya constructed and controls a large prison complex outside of Aleppo where hundreds have been executed since 2018.

“The group has also used this prison to operate an extensive kidnapping for ransom operation targeting prominent business and opposition figures from the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo. Ahrar al-Sharqiya has also integrated former ISIS members into its ranks,” the report also says. “Ahrar al-Sharqiya is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13894 for having engaged in the commission of serious human rights abuse in Syria.” This shows that groups aligned with Ankara may now be sanctioned for abuses. The era of Ankara backing these groups may now be more difficult. Turkey hasn’t only backed them in areas it occupies in Syria, but has exported them to conduct human rights abuses in Libya, Azerbaijan and perhaps other countries.

The US also singled out Ahmad Ihsan Fayyad al-Hayes, Ahrar al-Sharqiya’s leader, who Washington says “is directly complicit in many of the militia’s human rights abuses. Hayes commanded Ahrar al-Sharqiya’s prison outside of Aleppo, where hundreds of detainees have been executed since 2018.

Ahmad al-Hayes has been implicated in the trafficking of Yazidi women and children and has integrated former ISIS members into the ranks of Ahrar al-Sharqiya. A number of former ISIS officials had sworn allegiance to Hayes and worked to support Ahrar al-Sharqiya’s ransom and extortion efforts.”

Another extremist mentioned is Abu Ja’afar Shaqra, a cousin of Ahmad al-Hayes, who “has been the military commander of Ahrar al-Sharqiya since late 2017. As a senior figure within the militia, Raed al-Hayes has personally supervised and profited from the militia’s organized theft and sale of equipment from civilian homes and farms. He also commands former ISIS members, including a former member of an ISIS force known for frequent torture of civilians, who is now a heavy weapons official in Ahrar al-Sharqiya.”

What is extraordinary is that under the US anti-ISIS Coalition the US was working with the Syrian Democratic Forces and Kurdish fighters against ISIS, while other US officials were working with Ankara which supported groups like Ahrar al- Sharqiya to fight the SDF and basically continue the ISIS legacy of abuses. With one hand the US was fighting ISIS, but other officials and former think tank members and Turkish lobbyists in DC were hoping that extremists similar to ISIS might dominate Syria one day.

This bizarre contradiction was built into a US policy that has been corrupted by countries like Turkey which funnel money to US think tanks which in turn hire former US officials or channel them into administrations. The US under the Obama administration intervened and agreed to send troops back to Iraq to fight ISIS in part because of the ISIS genocide of Yazidis. Yet by 2019 groups seeking to kidnap and enslave Yazidis and continue the ISIS war crimes were being backed by Ankara to do so.

By putting out such a major and unprecedented statement about Ahrar al-Sharqiya’s crimes the US administration is illustrating that it will stand by its promise to put human rights first. This includes a promise to support women and minorities in Syria.

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Kosovo Specialist Chambers

The Hague Court Denies Claimants Victim Status to Participate in Trial against KLA Leaders (Exit News) July 19, 2021

An appeals panel at The Hague-based Kosovo Specialized Chambers rejected the complaints lodged by several individuals claiming to have been victims of war crimes committed by former leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) Hashim Thaçi, Kadri Veseli, Jakup Krasniqi, and Rexhep Selimi.

The appeal decision of July 16 upheld an earlier decision of April 21 by the pre-trial judge, who had rejected the applications of several persons to participate as victims in the trial proceedings against the former KLA leaders.

The applicants had claimed that they had been victims of crimes against humanity and war crimes at the hands of the KLA, and that the pre-trial judge had erred in not recognizing their right to participate in the trial proceedings. The appeals panel ruled that their arguments did not support their claims.

The court stated that applicants had not provided sufficient arguments to show that they “fall under the material, geographical and temporal parameters of the charges, as specified in the Indictment.” It means that they presented insufficient evidence to show what crimes were committed against them by the KLA, when, and where.

As a result, the court ruled that the link between the crimes claimed by applicants and those of the indictment could not be established.

The four former military leaders became politicians after the war. They were arrested in 2020 and transferred to The Hague tribunal, where they are facing charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during the 1998-1999 war against Serbia.

Kosovo War Rape Survivors Tell Stories of Pain and Courage (BIRN) By Serbeze Haxhiaj July 20, 2021

“They took us to the police station in Shtime and we were taken inside one by one. My turn was around midnight. It was raining.

“We could hear screams from the torture coming from inside. Then two police officers grabbed me and put me into the bathroom. I was screaming while one of them was holding and pushing my head down. The other one removed my trousers and belt using a knife and… the first one raped me.” Luli - not his real name - is recalling how he was raped inside a police station in the town of Shtime/Stimlje in September 1998 during the Kosovo war.

After the rape, the police sent him to the capital Pristina, where his ordeal continued. “Then I was seriously abused again, beaten up… I was praying to be killed rather than endure what was happening to me.”

Luli’s story is one of several rape survivors’ accounts in a new book entitled ‘Beyond Pain, Towards Courage: Stories about the Trauma of ’, published in English, Albanian and Serbian by the Kosovo Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims and ForumZFD Kosovo.

The book is a powerful chronicle of rape, torture and trauma, as well as hope and courage, digging deep into the long-term consequences of wartime sexual violence.

Thousands of women are believed to have been victims of sexual violence inflicted by Serbian forces during the Kosovo war of 1998-99, which NATO brought to an end by terminating Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s rule over what was then a Yugoslav province.

Feride Rushti, the head of the Kosovo Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims, which provides medical, legal and financial support to wartime rape survivors, told BIRN that the book includes the stories not only of women and girls, but also of men and boys in order to “deepen our understanding of the gender dynamics of the Kosovo war”.

“Silence [about sexual assault during wartime] has been more pronounced among male survivors. Their damaged sense of pride… has been made them silent and doubled their suffering,” Rushiti said.

The book examines how the survivors’ suffering has affected them, their families and children for more than two decades, “because the consequences of such huge trauma are never limited to the victims of rape”, Rushti explained.

“As was proven in other cases, in Kosovo as well, with victims who have not been treated, the trauma was passed on to the next generation,” she said.

Fear of Stigmatisation

‘Beyond Pain, Towards Courage’ is the follow-up to a previous book from 2017, ‘I Want to be Heard: Memory Book with Stories of Women Survivors of Torture During the Last War in Kosovo’, which also explored experiences of wartime sexual violence, stigmatisation, exclusion and denial.

“This [new book] is a call for humane acknowledgement and empathy. Reflecting upon rape and trauma is vital to a healthy way of dealing with the difficult past and establishing social cohesion and sustainable peace,” said Korab Krasniqi from ForumZFD Kosovo, an NGO that focuses on dealing with the past in the western Balkans.

Many of the survivors and their family members say in the book that the shame and stigma attached to sexual violence meant they could not tell anyone what they had been through.

In February 2018, the government’s Commission to Recognise and Verify Survivors of Sexual Violence during the Kosovo War began receiving applications for the official status of survivor of wartime sexual violence.

Being granted this status not only bestows official recognition of a victim’s suffering, but also makes them eligible for benefits such as monthly payments of 230 euros.

But many have been hesitant to apply, fearing that they could be stigmatised and ostracised.

So far there have been 1,510 applications, of which 976 have been accepted. But 217 have been rejected, often because of a lack of supporting documents, showing how difficult it can be to establish facts about assaults that happened more than 20 years ago.

Rushiti argued that the rejections sent out a “discouraging message” to other potential applicants. “It will affect others who are fighting within their families to get their support for an application,” she said.

The book, while exposing the traumas of the past, also highlights narratives of hope. In his story, Luli explains how, after many years of living in misery, he managed to reunite with his wife and start medical treatment.

He also offers a message for other survivors, urging them not to remain silent: “Don’t keep it all inside,” he says.

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Technical Briefing Note: Cluster Munition Use in the Karabakh Conflict (Human Rights Watch) July 15, 2021

Human Rights Watch documented the use of two types of ground-launched cluster munitions in multiple locations in Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh during the armed conflict that began on September 27 and concluded on November 10 with a ceasefire. Both Armenian and Azerbaijani forces used cluster munitions during the conflict. The cluster munitions attacks caused civilian casualties, both at the time of attack and from submunitions that failed to detonate at the time of attack.

Cluster munitions have been banned because of their widespread indiscriminate effects and long-lasting danger from their remnants. The 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, ratified by 110 countries, comprehensively prohibits cluster munitions and requires clearance of cluster munition remnants and assistance to victims of the weapons. Neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan is a party to the treaty. Both have stated in the past that they cannot accede to the ban convention until the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh and other contested territories is resolved.

Methodology

Human Rights Watch documented the use of cluster munition rockets through its on-site investigations in Nagorno-Karabakh in October and November 2020 and Azerbaijan in November 2020. During these investigations, Human Rights Watch examined remnants of the cluster munition rockets and submunitions that exploded, as well as submunitions that failed to detonate at the time of attack. Its researchers consulted mine clearance operators on the ground in Nagorno-Karabakh, who plan to comprehensively survey and clear contaminated areas. Throughout its research, Human Rights Watch has sought to distinguish cluster munitions from other explosive weapons used in the conflict, some during the same attacks.

Human Rights Watch also reviewed videos and photographs taken by international journalists, disseminated by citizens over social media, or shared directly with its researchers. For example, one video recorded on October 4 captures a cluster munition attack on a street in Stepanakert. Several photographs from the attack show unexploded submunitions. A video posted by a Russian news outlet after the attack shows a man in unform handling unexploded submunitions and loading them into a container in a vehicle.

Examples of Use of Cluster Munitions

This Briefing Note compiles research conducted by Human Rights Watch, but it does not seek to provide a complete accounting of the use of cluster munitions during the conflict. It has not been possible to investigate every reported or alleged cluster munition attack during this conflict.

Azerbaijani armed forces used cluster munitions in Nagorno-Karabakh on several occasions. This included attacks on September 27, October 3, and October 4 on Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh’s administrative center, called Khankendi in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan also used cluster munitions in attacks on Hadrut on October 3 and 4. It may have used cluster munitions in Martakert on October 14.

Armenian forces possess Smerch cluster munition rockets, but Nagorno-Karabakh forces do not. Therefore it is likely that Armenian forces used or supplied the cluster munition rockets to Nagorno-Karabakh forces who used them in attacks on Azerbaijan. There is evidence that Armenian and/or Nagorno-Karabakh forces used cluster munitions in Gizilhajili on October 3, Tapgaragoyunlu on October 23, Kebirli on October 24, Garayusifli on October 27, and Barda on October 28.

In addition to these attacks, other sources have reported the presence of remnants of cluster munitions and/or submunition duds elsewhere in the conflict area. For example, the Washington Post reported in December 2020 that deminers found and destroyed ten unexploded M095 submunitions, a type only possessed and used by Azerbaijan, from a residence in Kaghartsi Village, 16 miles east of Stepanakert.

Types of Cluster Munitions

Cluster munitions can be fired from the ground by artillery, rockets, and mortars, or dropped by aircraft. They typically open in the air, dispersing multiple bomblets or submunitions over a wide area.

Two types of cluster munitions were used during the 2020 conflict, both delivered from the ground by rockets: LAR-160 rockets containing M095 submunitions and 9M55K Smerch rockets containing 9N235 submunitions. According to Cluster Munition Monitor, both types of cluster munition rockets were used previously in Nagorno-Karabakh in April 2016.

The Israeli-produced and exported LAR-160 cluster munition rockets have a minimum range of 12 kilometers and a maximum range of 45 kilometers. Each rocket delivers 104 M095 dual-purpose submunitions equipped with a self-destruct mechanism and a distinctive pink nylon stabilization ribbon. Each M095 submunition produces lethal metal pre-formed fragments and a jet of molten metal intended to destroy vehicles and materiel. Azerbaijan possesses LAR-160 cluster munition rockets that it received from Israel in 2008–2009, according to SIPRI, which reports that the Azerbaijani designations for the cluster munition rocket launchers are Dolu-1, Leysan, and Shimsek. Armenia is not known to have received LAR-160 cluster munition rockets or any other weapons or ammunition from Israel.

A 300mm launch system delivers the 9M55K Smerch cluster munition rocket over a minimum range of 20 kilometers and a maximum range of 70 kilometers, according to its state-owned manufacturer Splav SPRA in Tula, Russia. Each rocket delivers 72 9N235 fragmentation submunitions, which are designed to self-destruct within two minutes of being ejected from the rocket. There is evidence that Armenia or Nagorno-Karabakh forces used Smerch cluster munition rockets in the conflict. Azerbaijan possesses Smerch cluster munition rockets, but Human Rights Watch does not have evidence that Azerbaijan used them during the conflict.

Responses to the Use of Cluster Munitions

Both Armenia and Azerbaijan denied using cluster munitions in the 2020 conflict but accused each other of using the weapons.

Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Human Rights Watch on November 27 that Armenia does not possess cluster munitions. A representative from Armenia’s Ministry of Defense on October 28 described allegations that Armenia used Smerch cluster munition rockets on the town of Barda as “groundless and false.” At the United Nations in October 2020, Armenia called on states to condemn Azerbaijan for using banned cluster munitions.

On October 16, 2020 at the United Nations, Azerbaijan accused Armenia of using prohibited cluster munitions. In a BBC report aired on November 8, Azerbaijani President Ilham Ailyev denied that his government’s forces used cluster munitions during the conflict, describing the evidence provided as “fake news.” On November 25, Azerbaijan told the Second Review Conference of the Convention on Cluster Munitions that there is no evidence to support allegations that its forces used cluster munitions in the conflict and condemned “in the strongest terms any use of cluster munitions by any actor under any circumstances.”

Authorities from Nagorno-Karabakh did not confirm or deny use of cluster munitions during the conflict. Previously, in May 2017, a Nagorno-Karabakh representative stated that the “Republic Artsakh [the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic] does not possess cluster munitions and there has been no use, production, or transfer of cluster munitions on the territory of the Republic.”

The use of cluster munitions in the Karabakh conflict has received worldwide media coverage, provoked public outcry, and been condemned by countries including Austria, Belgium, Canada, Costa Rica, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. The president of the Second Review Conference of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, Swiss Ambassador Félix Baumann, condemned the use of cluster munitions the conflict. The United Nations and the Cluster Munition Coalition of non-governmental organizations, chaired by Human Rights Watch, has firmly condemned the use of cluster munitions by Armenia and Azerbaijan.

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MIDDLE-EAST

Iraq Grotian Moment: The International War Crimes Trial Blog

Iraq protesters demand accountability after killings of activists (Aljazeera) July 18, 2021

Hundreds of Iraqis have protested in central Baghdad to demand that authorities hold accountable the killers of dozens of activists associated with a long-running protest movement.

More than 70 activists have been targeted in assassinations, attempted murders and abductions since a pro-democracy protest movement erupted against government corruption and incompetence in 2019. “We’re here to say that we want to end impunity in Iraq,” Hussein Al-Faili, an 18-year old student, told AFP news agency on Sunday from Firdos Square, a key protest site.

“We want freedom! This revolution started because of this and we won’t stop until we win.”

Dozens also turned out in the southern city of Nasiriya, where tensions have been running high following a hospital fire that killed at least 60 people on Monday.

Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi on Friday announced the arrest of four suspects in the point-blank shooting of prominent academic and government adviser Hisham al-Hashemi a year ago.

Iraqi state television broadcast brief clips late on Friday of the alleged confession of Ahmed al-Kenani, a 36-year-old police lieutenant, who said he had used a pistol to murder al-Hashemi.

A security source told AFP Kenani was affiliated with Kataib Hezbollah, a pro-Iranian militia.

But Faili said the arrests were not enough.

“We want the big man who ordered the murder,” Faili said.

The mostly young protesters on Sunday chanted against “political parties and traitors” as others tearfully remembered their assassinated comrades.

Iraq, still battered and impoverished after the 2003 US-led invasion and the turmoil that followed, has been a battleground for influence between arch-foes Washington and Tehran, which has backed paramilitaries and politicians.

Activist Shatha Al-Qaisi said, “this campaign … seeks to gain support from all over the world to stop the bloodshed. It’s not a politicised movement”.

The High Commission for Human Rights reported nearly 35 activists have been killed in Iraq since an anti-government protest movement swept Iraq in October 2019.

Many expect the killings to continue as Iraq plans to hold early elections in October, which had been a key demand of anti- government protesters.

Islamic State group claims responsibility for deadly suicide bombing near Baghdad (AFP) July 19, 2021

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility early Tuesday for a suicide bombing that ripped through a busy market in the Iraqi capital ahead of Eid holiday celebrations, killing nearly 30 people, according to medical sources.

In a message posted to its Telegram channel, the militant group said a suicide bomber named Abu Hamza al-Iraqi detonated his explosive belt in the middle of a crowd in Sadr City, an eastern Baghdad suburb on Monday night, killing more than 30 and wounding 35 others.

In one of the worst attacks in Baghdad in recent years, body parts of victims lay scattered across the previously bustling market that had been crowded with shoppers buying food ahead of the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha, according to an AFP photographer.

Some 50 people were also wounded in the blast, medics said. Iraqi President called the bombing in the densely populated majority-Shiite suburb of Sadr City a "heinous crime" and offered his condolences.

"They are targeting our civilians in Sadr City on the eve of Eid," Salih said in a message on Twitter. "They do not allow people to rejoice, even for a moment."

Eight women and seven children were among the dead, according to a medical source, who said the toll lay between 28 and 30 killed.

In an early Tuesday statement, children's agency UNICEF confirmed that children were killed and injured in the attack.

"This horrific attack right before Eid Al-Adha is a terrible reminder of the violence Iraqi children continue to face," it said.

Screaming in terror

Video footage shared on social media after the blast showed bloodied victims and people screaming in terror. The blast was so strong it ripped the roofs off some market stalls.

"A terror attack using a locally made IED (improvised explosive device) in Woheilat Market in Sadr City, in east Baghdad, left several victims dead and others injured," Iraq's interior ministry said in a statement.

Refrigerators full of water bottles were drenched with blood, and shoes were strewn on the ground alongside fruit, AFP journalists said.

Baghdad Operations Command, a joint military and interior ministry security body, said it had launched an investigation into the blast, and police and forensic teams late Monday were searching through the smoking wreckage for clues.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi convened an emergency meeting with his heads of military and security agencies.

In January, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for a rare twin suicide bombing that killed 32 people -- also at a crowded market in Baghdad.

That blast was the city's deadliest attack in three years.

Such violence was commonplace in Baghdad during the sectarian bloodletting that followed the US-led invasion of 2003, and later on as IS swept across much of Iraq and also targeted the capital.

But after years of deadly violence, militant attacks have become relatively rare in the capital Baghdad.

'Impossible to celebrate'

Monday's bloody attack sparked a furious response from Iraqis on social media.

"Terrorism and the government's failure keep on stealing our lives," tweeted Alaa Sattar, a youth activist. "The authorities have nothing but condolences to dole out and empty investigative committees."

Another Twitter user wrote "every Eid, there's a tragedy in Baghdad. It's impossible to celebrate like the rest of humanity".

Iraq declared IS defeated at the end of 2017 after a fierce three-year campaign.

Yet the group's sleeper cells have continued to operate in desert and mountain areas, typically targeting security forces or state infrastructure with low casualty attacks.

The US-led coalition that had been supporting Iraq's campaign against IS has significantly drawn down its troop levels over the past year, citing the increased capabilities of Iraqi forces.

The United States, which provides the bulk of the force, has 2,500 troops left in Iraq -- down from 5,200 a year ago.

They are mainly in charge of training, providing drone surveillance and carrying out air strikes while Iraqi security forces handle security in urban areas.

Sadr City, where Monday's bomb blast took place, is named after revered Shiite cleric Mohammed al-Sadr.

His son, Moqtada Sadr -- a firebrand cleric with millions of followers and in command of paramilitary groups -- is a crucial player in Iraqi politics who has often protested against the influence of both the United States and Iran. The boycott by Sadr of upcoming elections slated for October is a blow to Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi, who had called the early vote in response to demands by pro-democracy activists.

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Syria

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Yemen

21 Houthis killed in overnight Saudi-led coalition air strikes (The New Arab) July 24, 2021

At least 20 Houthis were killed in overnight air strikes launched by the Saudi-led coalition targeting rebel positions in the central Yemeni province of Al-Bayda.

"The air strikes hit the Iran-backed Houthi militia in several positions in Nati district, killing 21 and injuring 13 others ... they were brought in the morning to the hospital in the province," medics told Chinese Xinhua news agency on condition of anonymity.

Houthi-run Al-Masirah TV reported five air strikes on Nati district late on Friday, without providing further details.

Al-Bayda is a rebel stronghold, with much of the province being under the control of the Iran-backed militant group since 2014.

The Yemeni army backed by the Saudi-led coalition has advanced this month to several new strategic areas in the north and south of Al-Bayda.

Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war since 2014 when the Houthis swept across much of the north and seized the capital, Sanaa, forcing the internationally recognised government into exile.

The Saudi-led coalition entered the war the following year on the side of the government, led by President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

Riyadh’s involvement has been widely criticised, with particular focus on its alleged war crimes in the neighbouring country.

Worsening crisis

The situation for civilians in Yemen is dire, prompting the United Nations to describe the conflict as "the world's worst humanitarian crisis".

Earlier this month, Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed warned of a "complete collapse" of the country’s economy, amid a currency crash and the absence of international support.

Saeed spoke of measures being taken by his internationally-recognised government to confront the collapse of the Yemeni rial, coordinate with the central bank to control exchange rates, clamp down on currency exchanges violating the official rate, and enhancing public revenues.

Saeed called on "brotherly nations to provide urgent support so that a complete collapse does not occur after which it (will be) difficult for any intervention to save Yemen's economy", according to the official state-run news agency SABA. He urged relevant authorities to carry out their necessary duties in districts under government control to alleviate the suffering of Yemenis.

The US dollar has been changing hands for 1,000 Yemeni rials in recent days on the black market, while it stood at around 250 Yemeni rials in early 2015 just before a Saudi-led coalition intervened against Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

This has sent food and fuel prices soaring, hitting poor families hardest.

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Special Tribunal for Lebanon

Official Website of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon In Focus: Special Tribunal for Lebanon (UN)

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Israel and Palestine

Gaza: Apparent War Crimes During May Fighting (Human Rights Watch) July 27, 2021

Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups carried out attacks during the May 2021 fighting in the Gaza Strip and Israel that violated the laws of war and apparently amount to war crimes, Human Rights Watch said today. The Israeli military and Palestinian authorities have a long track record of failing to investigate laws of war violations committed in or from Gaza.

Human Rights Watch investigated three Israeli strikes that killed 62 Palestinian civilians where there were no evident military targets in the vicinity. Palestinian armed groups also committed unlawful attacks, launching more than 4,360 unguided rockets and mortars toward Israeli population centers, violating the prohibition against deliberate or indiscriminate attacks against civilians. Human Rights Watch will separately release findings on rocket attacks by Palestinian armed groups.

“Israeli forces carried out attacks in Gaza in May that devastated entire families without any apparent military target nearby,” said Gerry Simpson, associate crisis and conflict director at Human Rights Watch. “Israeli authorities’ consistent unwillingness to seriously investigate alleged war crimes, as well as Palestinian forces’ rocket attacks toward Israeli population centers, underscores the importance of the International Criminal Court’s inquiry.”

The United Nations reported that during the May fighting, attacks by the Israeli military killed 260 Palestinians, including at least 129 civilians, of whom 66 were children. The Gaza Health Ministry said Israeli forces injured 1,948 Palestinians, including 610 children. Israeli authorities said that rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian armed groups resulted in the death of 12 civilians, including two children, one soldier, and injured “several hundred” people. Several Palestinians also died in Gaza when rockets fired by armed groups fell short and landed in Gaza.

Members of the Palestinian civil defense remove the body of one of the 44 civilians killed after three multi-story residential buildings collapsed as a result of Israeli airstrikes in central Gaza CityClick to expand Image Members of the Palestinian civil defense remove the body of one of the 44 civilians killed after three multi-story residential buildings collapsed as a result of Israeli airstrikes in central Gaza City on May 16, 2021. © 2021 Rizek Abdeljawad/Xinhua via Getty Images Since late May, Human Rights Watch interviewed in person 30 Palestinians who witnessed Israeli attacks, were relatives of civilians killed, or were residents of areas targeted. Human Rights Watch also visited the site of four strikes, inspected remnants of munitions, and analyzed satellite imagery, video footage, and photographs taken following the attacks.

Human Rights Watch focused its investigation on three Israeli attacks that resulted in high numbers of civilian casualties and where there was no evident military target. Other Israeli attacks during the conflict were also likely unlawful.

On May 10 near the town of Beit Hanoun, an Israeli-guided missile struck near four houses of the al-Masri family, killing 8 civilians, including 6 children. On May 15 a guided bomb destroyed a three-story building in al-Shati camp, killing 10 civilians, 2 women and 8 children from two related families. And on May 16 a series of Israeli airstrikes lasting four minutes struck al-Wahda Street in Gaza City, causing three multi-story buildings to collapse, killing 44 civilians. The Israeli military said it was targeting tunnels and an underground command center used by armed groups, but presented no details to support that claim.

On July 13 the Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson replied to a June 4 Human Rights Watch letter that had summarized our findings on the above cases and requested specific information. The Israeli military said in part that it “strikes military targets exclusively, following an assessment that the potential collateral damage resulting from the attack is not excessive in relation to the expected military advantage, … makes concerted efforts to reduce harm to uninvolved individuals [and] in many of the [May] strikes … when possible … provided civilians located within military targets with prior warning.” The military also said that it was investigating a number of attacks that took place during the May fighting to determine whether its “rules had been breached.”

Human Rights Watch on May 30 requested permits for senior Human Rights Watch researchers to enter Gaza to conduct further investigation of the hostilities, but Israeli authorities on July 26 rejected the request. Israeli authorities have since 2008 refused access to Gaza for Human Rights Watch international staff, except for a single visit in 2016. Israel’s allies should push for access to Gaza for human rights organizations to investigate and document human rights abuses.

Israel's partners, particularly the United States, which supplies significant military assistance and whose US-made weapons were used in at least two of the attacks investigated by Human Rights Watch, should condition future security assistance to Israel on it taking concrete and verifiable actions to improve its compliance with the laws of war and international human rights law, and to investigate past abuses.

Human Rights Watch is conducting research and will separately report on rocket attacks by Palestinian armed groups that unlawfully killed civilians in Israel and Gaza between May 10 and 21. During that period, more than 3,680 rockets struck Israel, according to the Israeli military. Lacking guidance systems, the rockets are inherently indiscriminate when directed toward areas with civilians.

The Israeli military said that victims of Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks included 5-year-old Ido Abigail, killed in an attack in Sderot on May 12; Khalil Awad, 52, and his daughter Nadine, 16, both Palestinian citizens of Israel, killed on May 12 in the village of Dahmash; and Gershon Franco, 55, killed in Ramat Gan by a rocket on May 15 when for health-related reasons he could not reach a bomb shelter after sirens sounded.

Under international humanitarian law, or the laws of war, warring parties may target only military objectives. They must take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians, including by providing effective advance warnings of attacks. Deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian objects are prohibited. The laws of war also prohibit indiscriminate attacks, which include attacks that do not distinguish between civilians and military targets or do not target a military objective. Attacks in which the expected harm to civilians and civilian property is disproportionate to the anticipated military gain are also prohibited. Individuals who commit serious violations of the laws of war with criminal intent – that is, deliberately or recklessly– are responsible for war crimes.

On May 12, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) indicated that it was monitoring the situation in Gaza. The prosecutor’s office should include in its Palestine investigation Israeli attacks in Gaza that resulted in apparently unlawful civilian casualties, as well as Palestinian rocket attacks that struck population centers in Israel.

The May hostilities, like those in 2008, 2012, 2014, 2018, and 2019, among others, took place amid Israel’s sweeping closure of the Gaza Strip, which began in 2007, and discriminatory efforts to remove Palestinians from their homes in occupied East Jerusalem, policies and practices that are part of the Israeli government’s crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution, as Human Rights Watch has documented.

On May 27 the UN Human Rights Council established a Commission of Inquiry to address violations and abuses in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and Israel, including by advancing accountability for those responsible and justice for victims. The commission should examine unlawful attacks committed by Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups during the May fighting. It should also analyze the larger context, including the Israeli government’s discriminatory treatment of Palestinians. The commission’s findings should be shared with the ICC prosecutor and other credible judicial authorities examining the situation, Human Rights Watch said.

Judicial authorities in other countries should also investigate and prosecute under national laws those credibly implicated in serious crimes in the OPT and in Israel under the principle of universal jurisdiction. Governments should also support a strong political declaration that addresses the harm that explosive weapons cause to civilians and commits states to avoid using those with wide-area effects in populated areas.

“Israel and the Palestinian authorities have shown little or no interest in addressing abuses by their forces, so global and national judicial institutions should step up to break the vicious cycle of unlawful attacks and impunity for war crimes,” Simpson said. “These investigations should also address the larger context, including the Israeli government’s crushing closure of Gaza and its crimes of apartheid and persecution against millions of Palestinians.”

Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, May 10-21

The May 2021 fighting followed efforts by Jewish settler groups to evict and confiscate the property of long-time Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem. Israeli courts allowed Jewish settler groups to pursue claims from before 1948 in occupied East Jerusalem, even though the Palestinians set to be displaced and all other Palestinians are barred under Israeli law from reclaiming property confiscated from them in the events of 1948 inside Israel. Palestinians held demonstrations around East Jerusalem, and Israeli security forces fired teargas, stun grenades, and rubber-coated steel bullets, injuring hundreds of Palestinians.

On May 10, Palestinian armed groups in Gaza started to launch rockets toward Israeli population centers. The Israeli military, in turn, carried out attacks in the densely populated Gaza Strip with missiles, rockets, and artillery. Many of the attacks by the Israeli military and Palestinian armed groups used explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas. A ceasefire between the warring parties went into effect on May 21.

Human Rights Watch researched three attacks by the Israeli military in violation of the laws of war that killed 62 civilians and injured dozens more. Human Rights Watch also examined a fourth attack that killed two civilians and that may have targeted a Hamas fighter.

Beit Hanoun

Shortly after 6 p.m. on May 10, a guided missile struck near the town of Beit Hanoun and killed 8 people, including 6 children, all apparently civilians, and reportedly injured 18. The missile exploded about a meter above the ground, 10 meters from the closest of four houses built next to each other and owned by four brothers of the al-Masri family – Arafat, Ibrahim, Mohammed Attallah, and Youssef – who lived there with their families. The houses are located about a kilometer to the east of Beit Hanoun in the northeastern corner of Gaza.

Eight people killed in attack on Beit Hanoun, May 10, 2021

Ahmad Mohammed al-Masri, 21

Ibrahim Youssef al-Masri, 11

Marwan Youssef al-Masri, 7

Rahaf Mohammed al-Masri, 8

Yazan Soltan al-Masri, 14 months

Ibrahim Abdullah Hassanein, 16

Hussein Munir Hamad, 10

Mohammad Ali Nusseir, 23

Three al-Masri family members who saw the munition approach spoke to Human Rights Watch. Four other al-Masri family members and a relative of a victim not from the family also spoke to Human Rights Watch about what they saw during, and immediately after, the attack. Human Rights Watch also spoke to three relatives of two of the people killed who were not from the al-Masri family, one of whom witnessed the aftermath of the attack.

Those interviewed said that the attack happened shortly after 6 p.m., when family members were packing processed barley into sacks to sell to a local trader, Mohammed Nusseir. A video showing the aftermath and photographs taken the next day show empty and overturned sacks of barley. Mohammed Attallah’s son, Mohammed Mohammed described the approaching munition:

I was with my brothers, packing barley into sacks. Suddenly, I saw something coming toward us from the east. When I first saw it, it was high in the air. Then it gradually descended as it came in our direction. It exploded about one meter from the ground. Something hit me in the eye, the abdomen, and legs. I flew into the air and landed on the ground. I didn’t lose consciousness. I saw that24 my brother Ahmed, my sister Rahaf, and my nephew Yazan were dead. Their bodies were all torn up. It was awful.

At the time of the attack, Youssef al-Masri was with his brother Ibrahim about 200 meters from their houses. He said he heard an explosion and saw smoke coming from near the houses:

We immediately ran to our houses. I saw my two dead sons, Marwan and Ibrahim. Imagine seeing your child’s brain on the ground. Imagine seeing your children’s eyes outside their heads. Imagine carrying your own child and feeling his body flop because his spine was broken. There was smoke coming out of my children’s mouths and from their clothes. It was horrible.

Three others said they saw the munition as it approached the area before it exploded. Ahed Hassanein, 12, said that while he was on the roof of his house, he saw a “big mass come from the Nahal Oz area” in Israel, which is about 7.5 kilometers southeast of Beit Hanoun, before it exploded nearby. Ghassan al-Masri, 24 , who was packing barley next to those who were killed and was injured in the attack, said that he was facing east when he saw something coming from the southeast that was “flying low and quietly towards the group which then exploded in the air close to the ground.”

Ihsan al-Zaneen, Arafat al-Masri’s 29-year-old daughter, was sitting outside her parents’ house when the attack happened. She said that before the explosion she saw “a missile” coming through the air “from the east.”

Relatives of the victims said that the attack killed Youssef’s sons Ibrahim, 11, and Marwan, 7; Mohammed Attallah’s son Ahmad, 21, his daughter Rahaf, 8, and his grandson, Yazan, 14 months; two children from neighbors’ families, Ibrahim Abdullah Hassanein, 16, and Hussein Munir Hamad, 10, and a neighbor and trader, Mohammed Ali Nusseir, 23.

Human Rights Watch visited the site on May 26, June 23, and June 26, and spoke with witnesses to the attack and its aftermath. Human Rights Watch analyzed photographs of munition remnants taken by another human rights organization that Human Rights Watch independently confirmed were taken the morning of May 11 at the location, as well as video footage filmed in the immediate aftermath of the attack that Human Rights Watch determined was authentic.

The limited blast and fragmentation damage at the scene suggests the use of a munition with a small explosive yield. The lack of an impact crater suggests the munition detonated in mid-air. Remnants of the munition photographed on the morning of May 11 indicate that the weapon used was a type of guided missile used to attack armored vehicles, fortified positions, or personnel in the open.

Based on interviews with al-Masri family members and geospatial imagery, Human Rights Watch concluded that significant additional damage to two of the four al-Masri houses occurred during another attack, after the families had left their homes, sometime between midday May 11 and May 20.

All those interviewed said that none of those who were killed or who survived the attack took part in any armed group. Relatives of Ahmed al-Masri, who was killed, said he was a member of Fatah, the dominant political party in the Palestinian Authority, which took no part in the Gaza hostilities. None of Gaza’s armed groups referred on their websites to any of those killed as members, which is their standard practice when a fighter is killed. Human Rights Watch found no evidence that any of the victims were combatants.

Official Israeli claims about this attack are unclear and contradictory.

On May 11 the Israeli news website Ynet reported that the Israeli military had said that six children in Gaza had been killed by “failed launches” by Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

On May 16 the Israeli military published on social media a poster featuring men they said were Palestinian “activists” whom Israeli forces had killed in the Gaza Strip since May 10. These included “Mohammed Ali Mohammed Nusseir,” one of the men killed in the strike. The poster did not say when and where they had died. The same day, an article by the Israeli news website Walla reported that the Israeli military said that it had killed eight “activists” from Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, including Nusseir, again without saying when and where they had been killed.

Three people – a survivor of the al-Masri attack, a local journalist, and one of Mohammed’s brothers – told Human Rights Watch that the photo on the Israeli military poster showed Mohammed Nusseir. Human Rights Watch visited his house, saw a banner hanging on the outside of the family home showing Mohammed Nusseir’s face, and established it was the same person as appears in the Israeli poster. Nusseir’s brother Jalal and three others told Human Rights Watch that he belonged to no armed group and that he was a trader who bought and sold barley for animal feed, including regularly from the al-Masri family, and did other piecemeal jobs.

Jalal said that Nusseir regularly carted materials and goods for sale using a horse cart. He said that on May 10, Nusseir took the horse cart to the al-Masri homes to pick up barley for the market. Mounir’s son Hussein, who was killed in the attack, joined Mohammed on the cart. Two people said that one of the reasons so many children were killed in the strike was that they had crowded around the horse when it arrived at the al-Masri homes.

Four witnesses said that shortly before the attack, they heard one or more munitions being launched into Israel from Gaza, though they did not see them and did not know where they had been launched. Based on interviews with a witness and a review of video footage, Human Rights Watch determined that just after 6 p.m., a Palestinian Islamic Jihad rocket struck a civilian vehicle at Camel Hill Lookout, also referred to as Yanchik Hill, in Israel, 2 kilometers west of the Israeli city of Sderot and about 2.6 kilometers east of the al-Masri houses, injuring a civilian standing next to it.

Israeli authorities, however, have not sought to justify the al-Masri strike as a response to the rocket attack. Other than the proximity in time, Human Rights Watch found no evidence of a connection between the rocket attack and the strike.

Human Rights Watch found no evidence of a military target at or near the site of the strike. An attack that is not directed at a specific military objective is unlawful. The Israeli military has not provided information that would justify the attack. An investigation of the attack should consider whether Israeli forces targeted a military objective, and, if there was a legitimate military objective, whether all feasible precautions were taken to minimize civilian harm, and whether the expected military gain outweighed the anticipated loss of civilian life. An attack that was unlawful and was carried out with criminal intent – deliberately or recklessly – would be a war crime.

Al-Shati refugee camp

May 15 attack

At about 1:40 a.m. on May 15, an Israeli airstrike destroyed a three-story building owned by Alaa Abu Hattab in the al-Shati refugee camp. The camp, which covers half a square kilometer along the coast of northern Gaza, houses about 90,000 people, many in multi-story buildings. It is considered one of the most densely populated places in the world.

Abu Hattab told Human Rights Watch that he had lived on the first and second floors of the building for 30 years with his family. He said he rented the ground floor to a barber, a confectionery store, and a grocery shop, all of which were closed at the time of the attack. He said:

I left my house on foot at about 1:30 a.m. to go to some of the local shops that were open late during the run-up to Eid [holiday concluding the holy month of Ramadan] to buy toys and snacks for the kids for the Eid festival and to buy some food, as we were hungry. Before I left the house there was no warning that anything would happen to our house. We didn’t receive a phone call and there was no drone strike that they sometimes do to warn people that they will target a building. At least that would have scared the kids and they would have fled the house in time.

Abu Hattab said that about 15 minutes after he had left, he heard “a very loud explosion that shook the whole area”:

I ran back towards the smoke and saw it was my house. It was all rubble. I felt like everything was revolving around me. I was in shock and I fainted. When I regained consciousness, I saw rescue workers looking for bodies under the rubble and recovering body parts. The attack had shredded the bodies. Other parts remained under the rubble because they could not find them. There were no militants in or near my house and no rockets or rocket launchers there. I still don’t know why they bombed my house and killed my wife and children and my sister and her children. What sin did they commit?

Alaa Abu Hattab’s cousin Sami Abu Hattab, who lives close to his home, heard an explosion and soon heard on the local news that his cousin’s house had been hit. He ran to the house and saw that the whole building had collapsed. He said:

At first, I found his daughter Maria. She was walking in the street, with injuries to her face. Someone said that the explosion had been so strong, she had been blown out of a window. Then we heard a baby crying and found an opening in the rubble, about 50 centimeters wide. Through it, we could see a baby and his mother. It was Alaa’s sister, embracing her child. I saw that the back of her body was torn up. If she hadn’t been embracing him, he would have been killed. They said later that the baby’s leg was broken and I could see some other injuries on his face and body.

Sami said he continued to search under the rubble:

I suddenly touched a leg. Then I found a brain. Then I saw a child and recognized him as one of Alaa’s children, Yamen. Some of the features of his face remained. Then I found another of Alaa’s children, Youssef, also dead. We worked to free the bodies until 7 a.m. A bulldozer helped free some of the children’s bodies. All of them were missing parts: a hand, a leg, the skin from their head. It was indescribable. Just trying to imagine it, you start crying.

The attack killed 10 people, 2 women and 8 of their children. These included Abu Hattab’s wife, Yasmine Hassan Abu Hattab, 30, and four of their children, Youssef, 11, Bilal, 10, Mariam, 8, and Yamen, 6. Their 5-year-old daughter, Maria, was injured but survived. The attack also killed Abu Hattab’s sister, Maha Abu Hattab Al Hadidi, 35, and four of her children, Sohaib, 14, Yahya, 11, Abdulrahman, 8, and Osama, 6. Her 5-month-old son, Omar, was also injured but survived. There were no other reports of injuries in the attack.

Ten people killed in attack on al-Shati refugee camp, May 15, 2021

Yasmine Hassan Abu Hattab, 30

Youssef Abu Hattab, 11

Bilal Abu Hattab, 10

Mariam Abu Hattab, 8

Yamen Abu Hattab, 6

Maha Abu Hattab al-Hadidi, 35

Sohaib al-Hadidi, 14

Yahya al-Hadidi, 11

Abdulrahman al-Hadidi, 8

Osama al-Hadidi, 6

Human Rights Watch visited the site on May 23 and June 12, spoke with seven witnesses to the aftermath of the attack, found, photographed, and analyzed munition remnants on the roof of an immediate neighbor of the Abu Hattab family, and reviewed photographs and videos posted on social media.

Four people said the Abu Hattab building had collapsed by the time they arrived minutes after the attack. Satellite imagery taken the previous day shows no signs of damage, whereas imagery taken on May 15 at 10:36 a.m. shows that the Abu Hattab building had been destroyed. High-resolution satellite imagery collected on May 20 also shows that the four surrounding buildings were severely damaged with debris visible nearby.

Based on a review of the munition remnants that Human Rights Watch found on May 23, Human Rights Watch determined that the building sustained a direct hit from a guided air-dropped bomb equipped with a delayed-action fuze that allowed the detonation of the munition to destroy the structural supports of the building, leading to its collapse. The GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb is produced by Boeing and exported by the United States to Israel.

The Israeli military said it targeted a building in al-Shati camp on the night of May 15 because “a number of Hamas terror organization senior officials [were] in an apartment used as terror infrastructure,” and that the attack killed 10 people. The Israeli military also said that their strike on a bunker had collapsed the building.

Everyone Human Rights Watch interviewed about the attack said they were not aware of any militants in or near the building at the time of the attack. Human Rights Watch found no other evidence of any Palestinian armed groups’ presence in the building at the time of the attack, or any evidence that there was a bunker underneath the building. Mohammed al Sayed, a relative of Abu Hattab, the building owner, who rented space on the ground floor of the building for 14 years, said that Abu Hattab had no connection with any armed group.

Human Rights Watch found no evidence of a military target at or near the site of the airstrike An attack that is not directed at a specific military objective is unlawful. The Israeli military has not provided information that would justify the attack. An investigation of the attack should consider whether Israeli forces targeted a military objective, and, if there was a legitimate military objective, whether all feasible precautions were taken to minimize civilian harm, and whether the expected military gain outweighed the anticipated loss of civilian life. An attack that was unlawful and was carried out with criminal intent – deliberately or recklessly – would be a war crime.

May 11 attack Shortly after 4:30 a.m. on May 11, an air-dropped munition struck the seven-story Tiba building, 50 meters from the Abu Hattab building, which was hit four days later. Two civilians were killed and two others were reportedly injured.

Ra’id Baroud, who lives on the fifth floor of the building and whose ceiling was damaged, said that he was preparing to perform dawn prayers when the attack occurred. He said that he did not hear an explosion and that suddenly his apartment was filled with black smoke and dust.

Ahmad Salah, who lives near the Tiba building, heard an explosion while attending dawn prayers at the nearby al-Sosi mosque. He ran to the building and climbed with other local residents and members of the civil defense to the sixth floor to look for survivors:

We found Um Soboh in the bathroom. She had been washing to get ready for her morning prayer. Half of her body was inside the bathtub. The other half was hanging outside it. There were fragments all over her body. We covered her body with the shower curtain. We looked for a long time for her son, Aboud. I found a blanket and then one of his heels, which was cold. He was under the rubble, lying on his stomach, his head fractured.

The attack killed Amira Abdelfatah Soboh, 58, and her son, Abdelrahman Youssef Soboh, 19, who had cerebral palsy.

During visits to the site on May 23 and June 12, Human Rights Watch observed that the southeast corner of the seventh floor of the building was completely destroyed and the same corner of the sixth floor was partially damaged. Human Rights Watch also visited an apartment on the fifth floor that was damaged, with part of the munition used in the attack visible in the ceiling. The damage to the building can also be seen in high-resolution satellite imagery collected on May 14.

The observed damage, photographs of a remnant that Human Rights Watch analyzed, and the apparent lack of an explosion on impact suggest that the weapon used was a guided air-dropped munition equipped with a delayed-action fuze, which allows it to penetrate a structure rather than explode on contact. This type of munition is frequently used by the Israeli military.

One civilian living in the immediate area of the attack, who wishes to remain anonymous, told Human Rights Watch that a member of the al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, was in the building at the time of the attack. No one Human Rights Watch spoke to about the attack reported him among the casualties.

Israeli authorities have not publicly provided any information about the May 11 attack, including the intended target and the precautions they took to minimize civilian harm.

Al-Wahda Street, Gaza City

Just before 1 a.m. on May 16, the Israeli military launched a series of strikes, lasting four minutes, in the center of Gaza City.

Omar Abu al-Awf was the only survivor in his family, after the four-story building they lived in collapsed. His father, Ayman, head of internal medicine at Gaza City’s al-Shifa hospital, his mother, and two siblings were killed. He said:

At about 1 a.m., I was sitting with my family in the living room. My father, a doctor, had just come back from work at al-Shifa hospital. Then we heard loud explosions. After the first, my mother wanted to flee the building, but my father refused and said they couldn’t possibly be attacking us as we live in a civilian area.

Then four explosions shook our house. They all happened in about five seconds. The house swayed and I thought it was going to collapse. After the second, the house started shaking. I caught my sister’s hand, pulled her to the corridor, and hugged her in an attempt to protect her. Then I heard another bomb and saw fire outside the window and the wall of the corridor collapsed and suddenly the floor disappeared, and everything started falling down on us. Then the final bomb came. It devastated us.

My sister remained under my arm, breathing for about 15 minutes. I asked her to say the shahada [statement of faith] and then she became a martyr [she died]. I didn’t know where my father was. I heard my mother say the shahada and then she was silent. My brother was still alive.

He said he was under the rubble for 12 hours:

I heard the civil defense members and ambulances. I shouted, but they didn’t hear me. I felt like I was dead. They finally found me.

Why did they kill my family and leave me orphaned? Until that day, we had a house. I had a family. Each family member had a dream. It all disappeared in one second. Azzam al-Qoulaq lived with his family on the third floor of a building on the eastern side of the al-Qoulaq building complex. He said:

I heard a very loud explosion and felt the building vibrate. A minute or so later, a second explosion happened and the electricity went off, the walls started cracking and dust fell on our heads. A few seconds later a third explosion threw us to the floor. The floors and walls were badly damaged, the doors were gone, and we were leaning towards the street. I heard my cousins and neighbors outside saying, “Get out of here!” My wife and I grabbed the children and civil defense members helped us out.

His family’s apartment stayed largely intact while the two floors below collapsed, killing his two brothers, one of their wives, and five of their children:

At that point, the shock set in. Our [third-floor] apartment had come down to street level and I just remember thinking, “Where is the rest of the building?” When they found the body of my brother, Ezzat, about four hours later, they also found his 11-year-old son Aziz alive between his arms. God bless my brother’s soul, he had protected him.

Human Rights Watch reviewed aerial imagery posted online by the Israeli military, photographs and videos posted online and collected by independent researchers who visited the scene, and satellite imagery collected on May 20. The material shows that the four-minute attack involved between 18 and 34 strikes at various points along approximately 1,030 meters of five streets within a 0.7 square kilometer area. At least 11 of the strikes were along an approximately 400-meter stretch of al- Wahda Street.

The Israeli military said it was targeting tunnels and an underground command center used by armed groups. According to the Gaza Ministry of Health and relatives whom Human Rights Watch interviewed, the strikes killed 44 civilians – 18 children, 14 women, and 12 men – and reportedly injured 50, after three buildings collapsed. Of those killed, 22 were from the al- Qoulaq family. Twenty of the 22 people killed in the destroyed parts of the Abu al-Awf building include 11 members of the Abu al-Awf family, 5 members of the Eshkontana family, and 4 members of the al-Franji family. The strikes also damaged a number of nearby buildings.

44 people killed in attack on al-Wahda Street, May 16, 2021

People killed in eastern al-Qoulaq building:

Ezzat Mueen al-Qoulaq (Abu Azeez), 44

Doaa Omar al-Qoulaq (Om Azeez) 39

Mohammed Mueen al-Qoulaq, 39

Hala Mohammad al-Qoulaq, 13

Yara Mohammad al-Qoulaq, 10

Zaid Ezzat al-Qoulaq, 8

Rola Mohammed al-Qoulaq, 6

Adam Ezzat al-Qoulaq, 4

People killed in western al-Qoulaq building:

Saeeda Youssef al-Qoulaq (Om Fayez), 86

Fawaz Ameen al-Qoulaq (Abu Waseem), 63

Bahaa Ameen al-Qoulaq, 50

Amal Jameel al-Qoulaq, 42

Riham Fawaz al Qoulaq, 32

Sameh Fawaz al-Qoulaq (Abu Qusai), 29

Taher Shukri al-Qoulaq, 24 Abdelhameed Fawaz al-Qoulaq, 23

Ayat Ibrahim al-Qoulaq (Om Qusai), 19

Ahmad Shukri al-Qoulaq, 16

Hana Shukri al-Qoulaq, 15

Ameen Mohammad al-Qoulaq (Abu Fayez), 93

Khetam Saleem al-Qoulaq, 50

Qusay Sameh al-Qoulaq, 1

People killed in the eastern part of the Abu al-Awf building:

Sobhia Ismail Abu al-Awf, 68

Diana Abu al-Awf, 46 (died on 3 June)

Shaimaa Alaa Abu al-Awf, 21

Rawan Alaa Abu al-Awf, 18

Rajaa Sobhi Abu al-Awf, 41

Deema Rami al-Franji, 16

Yazan Rami al-Franji, 14

Mira Rami al-Franji, 12

Amir Rami al-Franji, 10

Mohammad Ahmad Akki, 40

People killed in the western part of the Abu al-Awf building

Tawfiq Ismail Abu al-Awf, 80

Majdiya Abu al-Awf, 82

Ayman Tawfiq Abu al-Awf, 50

Reem Abu al-Awf, 40

Tawfiq Ayman Abu al-Awf, 17

Tala Ayman Abu al-Awf, 13

Abeer Nimer Eshkontana, 30

Dana Riad Eshkontana, 9

Yahya Riad Eshkontana, 5

Lana Riad Eshkontana, 6

Zein Riad Eshkontana, 2

Hazem Adel al-Qamaa, 48

Human Rights Watch visited the site on May 27, June 12, and July 6, spoke with 10 witnesses to the strikes and their aftermath who lived near the affected buildings, analyzed satellite imagery, photographed the location of the strikes and the destroyed buildings, and analyzed photographs and videos of the attack’s aftermath, as well as photographs and videos posted on social media. Satellite imagery collected on May 20 shows multiple impacted areas along al-Wahda Street and the adjacent streets. The three buildings that were destroyed are within a 150-meter stretch of road and are located on al-Wahda Street between two perpendicular roads that cross it: Abd al- Qader al-Husseini Street and Saeed al-Aas Street. Two witnesses of the aftermath said that they saw craters in the street in front of the Abu al-Awf building.

Interviewees said that all 44 people killed were inside the three buildings when the attacks occurred.

The al-Qoulaq family owned two of the three buildings destroyed. Azam al-Qoulaq, a survivor from one of the al-Qoulaq buildings, said his building was not struck directly but collapsed nevertheless. Omar Abu al-Awf, 17, said his family owned one building that had three sections and that people died in two of them. According to the description from another attack survivor interviewed and experts consulted by the New York Times, at least one of the two sections was not struck directly, but collapsed after strikes hit the street or sidewalk nearby.

On June 9, an Israeli military official told The Independent newspaper that the strikes on al-Wahda street involved targeting underground infrastructure by hitting the road at an angle with “a standard type of ammunition” that exploded “a few meters” underground to ensure “minimal collateral damage to anything above the surface.” He also said that the Israeli air force believed – but had not yet found evidence – that there may have been explosives or munitions stored underground and that these caused the buildings to collapse. The Israeli military also told the New York Times that they programed fuzes to allow the bombs to explode deep underground to increase the impact on the tunnels and minimize damage above.

On June 2, the Israeli military told the New York Times that during the attack on al-Wahda street they were actually targeting an underground command center. The military did not specify what that meant. They also admitted to not knowing its size or exact location at the time of the attack. If they were in fact targeting “an underground command center,” the extent of the strikes on al-Wahda street and the other four streets, involving about 1,000 meters of road, suggests they believed the center to be somewhere along those sections of the streets.

Based on Israeli military videos of the attack and images of munition remnants that the Palestinian police in Gaza said they recovered on al-Wahda Street on May 16 and showed the New York Times, Human Rights Watch concluded that the al-Wahda Street strikes involved the use of 1,000-kilogram GBU-31 series air-dropped bombs mounted with a Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) guidance kit. This kit is produced by Boeing and exported by the United States to Israel.

None of the witnesses that Human Rights Watch interviewed said they had received or heard about any warning issued by the Israeli authorities to evacuate their buildings before the Israeli strikes.

The Israeli military has presented no information that would demonstrate the existence of tunnels or an underground command center in this vicinity, and has not shown that the anticipated military gain from the attacks exceeded the expected harm to civilians and civilian property. The military has also not said why circumstances did not permit providing an effective advance warning to residents of al-Wahda Street to evacuate their buildings before the attack.

The use of explosive munitions with wide area effects such as GBU-31 bombs in this densely populated area caused foreseeable harm to civilians and civilian objects.

Human Rights Watch did not find any evidence of a military target at or near the site of the airstrikes, including tunnels or an underground command center under al-Wahda street or buildings nearby. An attack that is not directed at a specific military objective is unlawful. An investigation of the attack should consider whether Israeli forces targeted a military objective, and, if there was a legitimate military objective, whether the expected military gain outweighed the anticipated loss of civilian life and property. It should also consider whether all feasible precautions were taken to minimize civilian harm, including the likelihood that attacks on the road could cause adjacent multi-story buildings with hundreds of residents to collapse. An attack that was unlawful and was carried out with criminal intent – deliberately or recklessly – would be a war crime.

Israeli army kills Palestinian boy in West Bank: Ministry (Aljazeera) July 28, 2021

A Palestinian boy wounded by Israeli army fire in the occupied West Bank has died from his injuries, the Palestinian health ministry has said.

Mohammed al-Alami, 12, died in the town of Beit Omar, to the northwest of Hebron, after he was shot in the chest while travelling in a car with his father, the ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

He is the second young Palestinian to die of wounds sustained by Israeli fire in days.

Nasri Sabarneh, mayor of the town, said the father was driving with his son and daughter when Mohammed asked him to stop at a shop to buy something. The father made a U-turn, the mayor said, and Israeli troops nearby began shouting at him to stop. A soldier then opened fire at the vehicle, fatally shooting the boy in the chest.

Sabarneh said he knows the family, who lives in town, and had spoken to the father. The father and daughter were not hurt, he said.

The Israeli military is investigating the incident and had no immediate comment.

On Saturday a 17-year-old Palestinian died from wounds he received the day before. Mohammed Munir al-Tamimi, who suffered gunshot wounds, died in hospital, the Palestinian health ministry said, a day after violence in the flashpoint Palestinian village of Beita.

Hundreds of Palestinians had gathered on Friday afternoon in Beita, a hot spot in recent months, to protest the wildcat settlement of Eviatar, located nearby.

The clashes pitted Palestinians against Israeli soldiers and resulted in 320 Palestinians being wounded, according to the Red Crescent.

Late Tuesday, a 41-year-old Palestinian man was shot dead near Beita, the Palestinian health ministry said.

All Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank are regarded as illegal by most of the international community.

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Gulf Region

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ASIA

Afghanistan

Afghanistan's embassy says videos show Afghan civilians being tortured, murdered by Taliban (ABC News) By Stephen Dziedzic July 16, 2021

Afghanistan's embassy has released a series of videos which appear to show appalling atrocities committed by the Taliban as the militant group intensifies its campaign to take control of the country.

The embassy says it collected the recordings from several parts of the country which have recently fallen back under the Taliban's control as Western forces withdraw.

The deeply distressing videos show civilians being beaten, tortured and murdered. Two separate clips show Afghan civilians – who the embassy say are civil servants working for the government of Afghanistan – being beheaded by the Taliban.

Another shows Afghan soldiers surrendering and then being shot and killed by men who appear to be Taliban soldiers.

Another video shows a man – apparently a civilian – being subjected to brutal torture in a public square, while a fifth video shows a woman being whipped by Taliban soldiers for breaking "modesty" laws.

The embassy also provided photos showing the dead bodies of three people which it has identified as Afghan civil servants.

It didn't send any of the material directly to newsrooms because of the disturbing content, but the ABC requested and was granted access to the videos in order to verify their contents.

The ABC confirmed that the content matches the descriptions provided by the embassy. However, the ABC cannot independently verify other details – including the identities of those killed or the locations where the videos were recorded.

In a statement, the embassy said the videos showed "the extreme violence, heartbreaking atrocities, and the horrible war crimes committed by the Taliban in the areas where they have recently entered".

"Whilst, the Taliban have orchestrated to portray that they have changed after attending peace negotiations, a number of videos clearly unveil the Taliban's true intent, behaviour, and the world they are determined to make for the citizens," the statement says.

Human rights groups have already documented the Taliban burning homes belonging to those they accuse of cooperating with the Afghan government, while CNN has obtained a video showing the Taliban executing 22 unarmed soldiers as they surrendered.

The embassy said the videos and photos proved that the Taliban remained wedded to its "distorted interpretation of Islamic ".

"The Taliban's behaviour clearly indicates their vision and ambition for the return of an Emirate with no difference whatsoever from the 90s," it said.

"Basic human rights are not a matter of concern to them."

The militant group now controls substantial swathes of the country and has intensified its campaign in recent weeks, seizing several northern and western districts.

Analysts fear that as US troops withdraw the whole country may fall to the Taliban within six months.

Several media organisations have reported that the group has also reintroduced sweeping restrictions on women's education and freedom in the areas they now control.

But the Taliban's representatives in Doha – who had been engaging in long stalled peace negotiations – have denied that they are intent on repressing women and say girls are still able to go to school.

They have also repeatedly denied subjecting innocent civilians to violence or torture.

Rodger Shanahan from the Lowy Institute said the Afghan embassy in Canberra was intent on undermining the Taliban's attempt to present itself as a more modern and responsible political entity.

"The Afghan government is trying to make the point that Taliban 2.0 is the same as Taliban 1.0," he said.

"They want to counter Taliban messaging. One of the things the Taliban want is legitimacy, and the Taliban are putting forward the line that they're not the same as before, that they've changed.

"Afghanistan's government is trying to court diplomatic support, and make sure that regional governments which are comfortable with the Taliban taking power, or which loosely tie themselves to the Taliban, are also tied to these atrocities."

Mr Shanahan said with Western troops departing, the Afghan government wanted to make it harder for the international community to "countenance" the possibility of the Taliban seizing power.

But he said it wasn't yet clear if Afghan diplomatic missions in other countries were taking similar steps.

"What will be interesting to see is if this is part of a broader campaign by the Afghan government – whether this effort has been directed from Kabul to try and begin a concerted information campaign across the world."

Photojournalist killed in crossfire In the country’s south, the Taliban have surrounded the second largest city, Kandahar, and this week captured the strategic border crossing with Pakistan, Spin Boldak.

Reuters photojournalist Danish Siddiqui was fatally shot this week while embedded with the Afghan security forces as they fought the insurgents.

Siddiqui was at the border town of Spin Boldak when he and a senior Afghan officer were ambushed and killed in crossfire, according to reports.

On his last assignment, the Pulitzer-winning photographer was embedded with Afghan special forces as they extracted a police officer besieged on the outskirts of Kandahar.

"Danish was an outstanding journalist, a devoted husband and father, and a much-loved colleague," Reuters president Michael Friedenberg and editor-in-chief Alessandra Galloni said in a statement.

"Our thoughts are with his family at this terrible time."

Based in Mumbai, Siddiqui worked for Reuters for more than a decade, and this year captured some of the most iconic photos during India’s catastrophic second COVID wave.

Ben Roberts-Smith trial to resume as mental health of witnesses deteriorates (ABC News) By Jamie McKinnell July 18, 2021

Ben Roberts-Smith's defamation trial will temporarily resume on Monday with the war veteran's barrister telling a court the mental health of military witnesses was declining because of the trial's delay.

The case was paused last month as Sydney's COVID-19 outbreak worsened but will temporarily resume on Monday to hear from a group of Afghan civilian witnesses on a video link from Kabul.

The judge has also been asked to consider moving the proceedings to South to avoid the uncertainty of restrictions in NSW.

Mr Roberts-Smith is suing The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Canberra Times over 2018 stories that reported serious allegations, including bullying of colleagues and war crimes in Afghanistan.

Many of the witnesses will be current or former members of the Special Air Service Regiment who served with Mr Roberts- Smith.

However, one of those, referred to as "Person 70", will no longer participate because they are in "too bad a psychological condition" partly as a result of their service, the Federal Court was told.

"There are many of the witnesses on both sides who are in a similar position, and their mental health is declining," barrister Bruce McClintock SC said today.

"It is imperative, we would say, to get this case on as soon as possible as can be done consistently with the public health position in NSW and the other states."

Mr McClintock has now asked Justice Anthony Besanko to consider moving the trial to Adelaide, noting all members of the legal teams would need to quarantine before resuming.

"The alternative of letting the case go off into limbo is extremely concerning," he said.

Mr McClintock said Canberra may also be a possibility.

He said his client's life was "in effect on hold" until the case is over.

Nicholas Owens SC, the barrister for two of the papers, said the court should take the evidence of the Afghan witnesses as planned next week because they are situated in the "dangerous environment" of Kabul, where there are credible terrorist threats.

"We're not going to get an orderly two-week notice period that the Taliban is going to attack Kabul," he said. "If things change, they're going to change very quickly."

There was already a threat to the electricity supply, Mr Owens added, which could become "an almost insurmountable problem" for video links.

Additionally, the witnesses may simply decide to no longer participate, because the trial is "not their fight", the barrister said.

"There is, as the evidence shows, an understandable position they might take as things get worse in Afghanistan that it's not worth their while to participate in a foreign Western country's court processes for reasons that don't produce any direct benefit to them."

Justice Besanko ordered the trial should temporarily resume on Monday to hear from the Afghan witnesses.

When the trial was halted, Mr Roberts-Smith had just finished being cross-examined about a range of allegations contained within the 2018 newspaper articles.

Mr Roberts-Smith has denied all of the allegations, including unlawful killings, while the newspapers are relying on a truth defence.

Taliban killed 43 people in Afghanistan's Ghazni, residents say (Hindustan Times) By Meenakshi Ray July 26, 2021

The Taliban shot and killed 43 civilians and security force members after the group attacked the Malistan district in Afghanistan's central province of Ghazni earlier this month, residents have said. “Taliban fighters after entering Malistan district committed war crimes and killed civilians who were not involved in the fighting," Mina Naderi, a civil society activist from Ghazni, said at a press conference in Kabul on Sunday, according to Tolo News.

"They attacked people’s homes and after looting their property, they burned residential houses. In the centre of Malistan district, they also destroyed and looted shops,” Naderi read a joint statement from Malistan residents. The Taliban has rejected the claim by the residents of Malistan. According to Tolo News, Haji Nadir said his sons Ramazan Ali, 29, and Ishaq Ali, 31, were killed by the Taliban 10 days ago and they were not government employees or members of the country's security forces. Nadir said they were trying to leave Malistan with their families as fighting in the area escalated. The wives of the men who were killed said the Taliban blindfolded their husbands in front of their children, took them near a mosque in the area and then “opened fire on them.” “We were on our way when we were stopped by the Taliban. The two were taken (Taliban) and both were killed,” Jamal, Ishaq Ali’s wife, was quoted as saying by Tolo News. “They were taken out and were taken a bit far (from their home) and were martyred,” Ramazan’s wife Zulaikha said. The men have five children, who are now in Kabul, and the eldest of them is seven years old, Tolo News reported. Those who have been displaced after the fighting in Malistan have also said the Taliban collected food from people and issued an announcement saying that they will treat people, especially women, based on the “Islamic emirate” rules. Tolo News cited figures saying at least 3,000 people have been displaced from Malistan in the last 10 days following the attack by the Taliban.

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Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)

Official Website of the Extraordinary Chambers [English] Official Website of the United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials (UNAKRT) Cambodia Tribunal Monitor

Khieu Samphan appeals case at ECCC (The Phnom Penh Post) By Nov Sivutha July 28, 2021

The Supreme Court Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) announced that it would hear an appeal in the case of former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan, who has been sentenced to life in prison.

The ECCC Trial Chamber found Samphan, now 90, guilty of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide against Vietnamese ethnics in his capacity as head of state during the Khmer Rouge’s Democratic Kampuchea regime between April 17, 1975 and January 6, 1979. ECCC spokesman Neth Pheaktra confirmed to The Post on July 28 that the hearing would be held virtually in order to comply with Covid-19 preventive measures. “The hearing of an appeal in case number 002/02 against Khieu Samphan will be held on August 16-19, 2021, beginning at 9am each day. The Trial Chamber has also reserved additional days for the hearing – should they prove necessary – on August 20-27, 2021,” he said. The accused in case 002/02 were Nuon Chea, the deputy secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, and Samphan. They were charged with crimes against humanity, genocide and for serious violations of the Geneva Conventions, the treaty that forms the basis for international humanitarian law and attempts to limit the conduct of nations during armed conflict. Chea – a former senior leader of the Khmer Rouge and “Brother Number Two” after Pol Pot – passed away at the age of 93 in August, 2019, at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital following his conviction for crimes against humanity in 2018.

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Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal

It’s settled: Life term means 30-year imprisonment (Dhaka Tribune) July 15, 2021

The convict will not be entitled to get the benefit of section 35A of the Code of Criminal Procedure

Life imprisonment in Bangladesh means a convict will remain behind bars for 30 years unless specifically mentioned in the verdict that the person is sentenced to imprisonment until natural death. The 120-page full verdict of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh on the matter was published on its website on Thursday. “Imprisonment for life is equivalent to imprisonment for 30 years if sections 45 and 53 are read together along with sections 55 and 57 of the Penal Code and 35A of the Code of Criminal Procedure,” it read. However, the convict will not be entitled to get the benefit of section 35A of the Code of Criminal Procedure, if awarded life imprisonment by the International Crimes Tribunal under International Crimes Tribunals Act, 1973. A seven-member bench, led by Chief Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain, passed a short verdict on December 1 last year over the matter following a review petition filed by a convict, Ataur Mridha. Attorney General AM Amin Uddin stood for the state while Advocate Khandakar Mahbub Hossain represented the petitioner.

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War Crimes Investigation in Myanmar

Myanmar Detains Three Soldiers for Alleged Rape and Murder of Kachin Woman (Radio Free Asia) July 20, 2021

Myanmar’s military has detained for investigation three soldiers accused of raping and murdering a 55-year-old ethnic Kachin farmer, but the slain woman’s family, neighbors, and activists say they fear the military’s legal system lacks the transparency to ensure justice will be served. The incident took place in the country’s northernmost Kachin state, near Myanmar’s border with China, in a region has seen fighting between a local army and the military junta that overthrew the elected civilian government in a coup on Feb. 1, triggering widespread protests and armed clashes.

Khaw Ywe, a resident of a small village in Kachin state’s Bhamo district, went missing July 14.

Her husband, Yin Fu, had been waiting for her to sow seeds in the rice paddies of their farm, but went home after sunset when she did not show up—only to be told by other family members that Khaw Ywe had gone out to the fields that morning.

The family searched for Khaw Ywe the next morning and first found her bag of seeds on a road, and what appeared to be signs of a struggle. They later found her body with multiple stab wounds in a forest about a mile away.

“It was a case of rape and murder,” Yin Fu told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“There were many stab wounds. We want [the military] to deal with the killers effectively in accordance with the law. They didn’t seem to regard this as murder,” he said.

A military encampment lies between Khaw Ywe’s home in Nwe Lan village and the family farm. On her way to the farm, she had to pass through about 20 acres of army camp land.

The family lodged a complaint on July 15 with the Myothit police station in Bhamo’s Momauk township against the three soldiers, but the family told RFA that they remain unsure whether the police would take the case.

On July 17, the military acknowledged the incident in a statement saying that the three soldiers had accidentally killed Khaw Ywe in an altercation.

The army detained the three soldiers and ordered an autopsy on Khaw Ywe’s body. Evidence has been sent to the military’s chemical office, but the statement did not specify if rape or murder had occurred.

A spokesperson for the Kachin State Women’s Network (KSWN), a rights organization assisting Khaw Ywe’s family, told RFA that the military justice system cannot be trusted based on experiences in similar cases in the past.

“I don’t think they will take full responsibility. It would be better to file a case in a civil court right now,” she said.

“There have been many such incidents in the past. No one knows if they really did anything to the perpetrators. In many cases they just pay around 300,000 kyats [U.S. $182] as compensation to settle the case,” said the spokesperson.

The Kachin Independence Army (KIA), an ethnic armed group, told RFA that it does not trust the military justice system due to a lack of transparency, even when the military prosecutes soldiers.

“I think this needs to be addressed more effectively. We see all the time that they take only mild action, such as saying the crime was a quarrel or they refuse to do anything about it,” said Col. Naw Bu, the KIA’s Information Officer.

“I think effective action should be taken against soldiers who torture civilians on the battlefield and commit crimes like rape. If they lawfully want to take action as they are always saying, they need to take action according to the law,” he said.

Nickey Diamond of the Fortify Rights NGO said that Myanmar would need to reverse the Feb. 1 coup and become a democratic country again in order to take any kind of real action against military personnel who commit crimes.

“Rape and murder by soldiers are also war crimes. As a human rights group, we condemn such acts of using rape as a weapon,” Diamond said.

“I think we can only take action under a democratically elected government because right now the military is building up its power by committing acts of terrorism,” he said.

Nwe Lan is a small village of about 150 houses populated mostly by farmers.

In late April, heavy fighting broke out between the military and the KIA near the village. A 72-year-old man was killed, and 27- year-old woman was injured during the fighting, and the villagers fled.

Now that the rainy season has arrived, residents have returned to farm their land. Khaw Ywe’s family were among those who fled in April, but they returned to work in the fields in the third week of June.

Myanmar Junta shells villages in Hpakant township (EastMojo) By Haynashree Narjary July 21, 2021

According to a report by Myanmar Now, artillery shells were fired at Hkum Tsai Zup and Gaw Lu Yang villages in the Hpakant township in Myanmar by the Junta’s armed forces stationed in Nam Ya on Monday afternoon at around 1 pm. According to volunteers aiding the internally displaced persons (IDPs), one of the shells exploded near Hkum Tsai Zup’s church while another hit an area near Gaw Lu Yang.

As per the report, more than 200 locals were forced to flee from their homes after the military shelling and had to run to the nearby village of Seng Hpra for refuge. This was the second time the villagers had to flee within a week after a military shelling on July 15, which left six injured. The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) had ambushed the military forces near Gaw Lu Yang on July 15 and 16.

La Htoi, leader of the IDP support committee based in Hpakant, while taking to Myanmar Now said, “There was no battle, but the military stationed in Nam Ya fired the shells. We don’t know the reason for sure yet. Maybe they’re trying to clear the area.”

“At the time of reporting, around 200 people from the villages of Tada Nyi Naung, Gaw Lu Yang and Hkum Tsai Zup were staying in Seng Hpra’s church, the children’s development centre and in the homes of relatives. There are some supplies that have been donated by the congregation. Some villages donated a couple sacks of rice too. That’s what we’ve been living on.” added La Htoi.

The military ordered a meeting with the local administrators on Hpakant on Monday morning and threatened to launch artillery strikes on their villages if they did not inform them of the presence of KIA troops.

The Kachin Independence Army also reportedly attacked a police vehicle carrying around ten troops in Yumar village in Hpakant on July 12.

Both attacks took place in the territory controlled by KIA’s Brigade 9. KIA Battalion 44, operating under Brigade 9 was the main unit involved in the Hpakant clashes that took place on July 15.

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AMERICAS

North & Central America

U.S. Quietly Gives Up on South Sudan War Crimes Court (Foreign Policy) By Robbie Gramer July 20, 2021

For several years, the United States championed the establishment of a criminal court in South Sudan to hold war criminals accountable for atrocities committed against civilians during the country’s devastating 2013 civil war. But the Biden administration appears to be giving up on the court in the face of South Sudan’s persistent refusal to set up a tribunal that could potentially uncover serious war crimes. In recent weeks, the U.S. State Department has signaled it is planning to reallocate most of the $5 million in funding it had earmarked for the court, sending some back to the U.S. Treasury and another portion to other programs in South Sudan.

The decision to take back the money reflects mounting frustration with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit, who recently claimed the court is unnecessary, as well as with his chief rival, Vice President Riek Machar. But it also reflects a certain exasperation with the African Union (AU), which played a critical role in advocating for a regional tribunal to be staffed by AU and South Sudanese lawyers and judges. The AU—which has the authority to set up the court—has been reluctant to move ahead without buy-in from South Sudanese parties.

In 2015, the Obama administration pledged to donate some $5 million to help the court get on its feet. Then-Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry urged the establishment of a “credible, impartial and effective justice mechanism, such as a hybrid court, in order to hold perpetrators of violence to account.”

Six years later, the so-called “AU hybrid court” has still not been formed, and the bulk of U.S. money for the court is set to be quietly returned to the U.S. Treasury or allocated into other programs on South Sudan. The procedural move, though small in monetary terms, signifies a defeat for human rights advocates and the U.S. government’s leadership role in South Sudan’s transition to independence, according to half a dozen U.S. officials and experts familiar with the matter. In their eyes, the move is also a blow to U.S. President Joe Biden’s ambitious agenda to promote democracy and human rights worldwide—and a victory for Kiir’s efforts to stonewall the establishment of the court.

In 2019, the South Sudanese government signed a multimillion-dollar contract with a lobbying firm that included former senior U.S. diplomats to try and convince the United States to “delay and ultimately block establishment of the hybrid court,” according to the contract. The lobbying firm and the South Sudanese government later scrapped the contract and replaced it with a new one that removed the language on blocking the hybrid court, following public outcry from former U.S. officials and human rights groups.

International human rights watchdogs and Western governments have accused Kiir and Machar of running a government riven with corruption and mismanagement and backpedaling on promises to build up a democratic government in South Sudan, despite it receiving more than half a billion dollars in U.S. aid per year since war broke out in 2013. Around two-thirds of South Sudan’s population—7.7 million people out of 11.3 million people—require food assistance, according to data from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the United Nations has warned that portions of South Sudan’s population face famine-like conditions.

Without the court, human rights experts fear South Sudanese soldiers and militia responsible for carrying out atrocities, such as mass executions, gang rape, torture, sexual slavery, and the orchestrated starving of civilians, will never be held accountable.

An estimated 400,000 people were killed in South Sudan’s civil war, which erupted in 2013, nearly two years after the country’s independence from Sudan. There are only three recorded cases of conflict-related crimes that have ever been prosecuted from the conflict in South Sudan, according to Nicole Widdersheim, senior policy advisor for the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“Thus, the establishment of this court has come to symbolize the only hope for justice for so many,” said Widdersheim, who previously worked on African affairs for USAID and the National Security Council. “If this court is not established, there is no deterrent to committing atrocities against civilians, and there doesn’t seem to be an alternative accountability or justice mechanism for the South Sudanese people.”

A U.S. State Department spokesperson who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed that $2.15 million in funds unused for the hybrid court would revert back to the U.S. Treasury Department, and a separate $1.5 million grant awarded to the African Union’s Office of the Legal Counsel to set up the court would not be renewed, with that money instead being reallocated to other programs “to advance justice and accountability in South Sudan through other means.”

“We recognized that forming the court without consistent cooperation and support from the government of South Sudan would be a challenge and have regularly engaged with the AU on ideas to make progress on justice even in the absence of clear cooperation from South Sudan,” the spokesperson said.

Behind the scenes, several officials describe frustration and exasperation with the African Union for bungling the efforts to establish the court.

Their public account of the situation appears to differ from what the U.S. State Department has presented on its efforts to support the hybrid court’s creation. In the State Department’s 2021 annual report to Congress on genocide and atrocities prevention, released on July 12, the department reported: “In South Sudan, State coordinated financial and political support to establish an African Union hybrid court to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

The State Department spokesperson said the department’s focus is on “pressing the government of South Sudan to live up to its commitments and to manage our foreign assistance resources as effectively as possible to advance U.S. priorities, including achieving justice and accountability in South Sudan.” Several U.S. officials and congressional aides said they are frustrated that senior leaders in the Biden administration aren’t doing enough to use the United States’ significant diplomatic and financial clout to publicly or privately pressure either the African Union or the government of South Sudan to break through six years of impasse and establish the court.

“Our diplomatic might has not matched our investment and our responsibility,” said one Senate aide, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Pumping close to or more than a billion dollars a year into a country to keep people alive, to help keep the peace, and then also having that historical tie to helping establish an independent South Sudan … does not match the kind of investment we are putting into this.”

“It’s our impression that everyone agreed to support this, and then nothing happened,” added another senior Democratic Senate aide. “The South Sudanese, who agreed to it, may have never intended to do it, and the Trump administration probably didn’t care. It is also quite possible that the international community never considered it a priority and just dropped the ball. We are concerned about this because many atrocities were committed in South Sudan and people should be held accountable, so we are trying to get to the bottom of it.”

The proposal for a South Sudanese hybrid court has its roots in a 2015 African Union commission of inquiry report, which established that forces loyal to South Sudan’s Kiir and his renegade vice president, Machar, engaged in mass atrocities during the country’s civil war.

Both Kiir and Machar committed to creating the mixed tribunal, which was to be administered by judges and prosecutors from the African Union and South Sudan, in two U.S.- and African Union-backed peace agreements. First, in 2015, the Sudanese leaders agreed to participate in an AU-led effort to establish the tribunal. But the government never moved forward. In 2017, the effort got a boost when South Sudanese leaders, along with the African Union and the United Nations, negotiated the terms of a memo of understanding and a draft statute for a new court. Again, the South Sudanese government dithered.

Kiir and Machar agreed again in 2018 to set up a criminal tribunal, but the commitment has been short lived. In a recent interview with Kenyan news outlet Citizen TV, Kiir said it would be better to establish a truth and reconciliation commission, along the lines of what South Africa did.

“[The] hybrid court will not solve the problems of South Sudan,” Kiir said. “You cannot bring justice or peace through [a] hybrid court. We would want the truth and reconciliation process to start.” Kiir warned that the prospect of war crimes prosecutions or indictments would prompt powerful South Sudanese to “pack and go back to the bush with their forces.”

The effort to stand up the court has “hit roadblock after roadblock, and identifying the precise obstruction has been a challenge,” said Elise Keppler, an expert on the court negotiations at Human Rights Watch. Keppler said much of the responsibility for inaction rests with the African Union, which she insists has the legal authority to stand up the court even in the face of opposition from Sudanese parties.

Keppler defended the U.S. role in pursuing a South Sudan court, saying, “I assure you the U.S. is not the problem here.”

“The U.S. has been a huge proponent of justice for grave crimes in South Sudan; they have encouraged the creation of the court and made significant funding available for its creation,” she added.

Peter Ajak, a South Sudanese scholar and former political prisoner in the country, said part of the problem was the United States largely stopped paying attention to South Sudan under both the Trump and now Biden administrations—despite the U.S. role in midwifing the country and pouring billions of dollars’ worth of aid into it.

“Since the time the peace agreement was signed and John Kerry made that pledge and the money was put on the table, South Sudan has just dropped off the list of priorities for U.S. foreign policy,” Ajak said.

Many of the officials who helped orchestrate South Sudan’s independence—including Susan Rice and former U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations Samantha Power—now hold senior positions in the Biden administration. Other government posts remain empty; Biden’s nominee to be the top diplomat for African affairs, Mary “Molly” Phee, has yet to be confirmed, although her Senate nomination hearing is scheduled for Tuesday. The U.S. ambassador post in South Sudan has been empty for more than a year, held on an interim basis by a lower-level diplomat in an acting capacity. U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan Donald Booth is scheduled to step down from his post in the next two months, and it is unclear if he will be replaced, according to several diplomatic sources.

“Many of these people that would actually be shaping South Sudan policy have not yet even been confirmed,” Ajak said.

Others believe the problem goes deeper than that. “We gave up on that country after they got independence; we moved on,” said the first Senate aide. “We got frustrated by the corruption. We got frustrated by the leadership. We moved on. The problem is we have a moral obligation, and certainly a historical one, for the role we played in helping birth this nation.”

Drone Whistleblower Gets 45 Months in Prison for Revealing Ongoing US War Crimes (TruthOut) By Marjorie Cohn July 28, 2021

On July 27, a federal district court judge in Alexandria, Virginia, sentenced former U.S. Air Force intelligence analyst Daniel Hale to 45 months in prison for revealing evidence of U.S. war crimes.

In 2015, Hale, whose job involved identifying targets for drone strikes, provided journalist Jeremy Scahill with secret military documents and slides that exposed shocking details about the U.S. drone program. Hale’s revelations became the basis of “The Drone Papers,” which was published on October 15, 2015, by The Intercept.

Although the government admitted it had no evidence that direct harm resulted from Hale’s revelations, in 2019, the Trump administration charged Hale with four counts of violating the Espionage Act and one count of theft of government property. Facing up to 50 years in prison, Hale pled guilty to one count that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.

The leaked documents disclosed the “kill chain” the Obama administration used to determine whom to target. Countless civilians were killed using “signals intelligence” in undeclared war zones: Targeting decisions were made by following cell phones that might not be carried by suspected terrorists. The Drone Papers divulged that half of the intelligence used to identify potential targets in Yemen and Somalia was based on signals intelligence.

During one five-month period during January 2012 to February 2013, nearly 90 percent of those killed by drone strikes were not the intended target, according to The Drone Papers. But civilian bystanders were nonetheless classified as “enemies killed in action” unless proven otherwise.

Hale said, “It’s stunning the number of instances when selectors [used to identify “terrorist” targets] are misattributed to certain people.” Calling a missile fired at a target in a group of people a “leap of faith,” he noted, “it’s a phenomenal gamble.” Hale added, “Anyone caught in the vicinity is guilty by association.”

The Drone Papers reveal that reliance on drones actually undermines U.S. intelligence gathering. Drones terrorize communities, breeding resentment against Americans and making the United States more vulnerable to violence. Indeed, Hale wrote in his 11-page pre-sentencing letter, “the war had very little to do with preventing terror from coming into the United States and a lot more to do with protecting the profits of weapons manufacturers and so-called defense contractors.”

Drone strikes shield U.S. military members from harm in order to minimize Americans’ opposition to war. But drone operators who make or carry out remote targeting decisions nevertheless suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

At his sentencing hearing, Hale told U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady, “I believe that it is wrong to kill, but it is especially wrong to kill the defenseless.” Hale said he revealed what “was necessary to dispel the lie that drone warfare keeps us safe, that our lives are worth more than theirs.”

“You had to kill part of your conscience to keep doing your job,” Hale added.

In November 2013, I participated in a panel on the illegality of drones and targeted killing at a drone summit in Washington, D.C. Hale also spoke on a panel at that conference. He described how he located a man riding a motorcycle in the mountains who then met up with four other people and they sat around a campfire, drinking tea. Hale relayed information that resulted in a drone strike, killing all five men. He said he realized that he “was no longer part of something moral or sane or rational.” He had heard someone say that “terrorists are cowards” because they used improvised explosive devices (IEDs). “What was different,” Hale asked, “between that and the little red joystick that pushes a button thousands of miles away?”

Hale told the sentencing judge about this incident in his pre-sentencing letter, writing, “Despite having peacefully assembled, posing no threat, the fate of the now tea drinking men had all but been fulfilled. I could only look on as I sat by and watched through a computer monitor when a sudden, terrifying flurry of hellfire missiles came crashing down, splattering purple- colored crystal guts on the side of the morning mountain.”

Hale’s revelations did not pose a threat to national security, even by traditional interpretations. Harry P. Cooper, a former senior CIA official, wrote in a declaration in Hale’s case that “the disclosure of [the Drone Papers], at the time they were disclosed and made public, did not present any substantial risk of harm to the United States or to national security.”

Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden have used armed drones to drop bombs on other countries in violation of international law. All four administrations have killed and are still killing untold numbers of civilians.

It is estimated that U.S. military and CIA drone operations have killed 9,000 to 17,000 people since 2004, including 2,200 children and many U.S. citizens. But those numbers are likely low because the U.S. military labels all individuals killed in those operations as presumptive “enemies killed in action.”

Bush authorized about 50 drone strikes that killed 296 alleged “terrorists” and 195 civilians in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Obama vastly increased the number of people killed with drones.

Obama presided over 10 times more drone strikes than his predecessor. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, during his two terms in office, Obama carried out 563 strikes — largely with drones — in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, killing between 384 and 807 civilians.

Obama’s 18-page Presidential Policy Guidance (PPG) was made public after a Freedom of Information Act request by the ACLU and resulting court order. It purported to outline targeting procedures for the use of lethal force outside “areas of active hostilities.” The PPG required that a target pose a “continuing imminent threat.” But a secret 2011 Justice Department white paper leaked in 2013 permitted the killing of a U.S. citizen even without “clear evidence that a specific attack on US persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.” The bar was presumably lower for non-U.S. citizens.

Obama’s PPG also mandated that there be “near certainty that an identified HVT [high-value terrorist] or other lawful terror target” is present before lethal force could be used against him. But the Obama administration mounted “signature strikes” that didn’t necessarily target individuals, but rather men of military age who were present in an area of suspicious activity.

It was also necessary to have “near certainty that non-combatants [civilians] would not be injured or killed.” But the revelations of The Drone Papers call into question the Obama administration’s compliance with that requirement as well. Plus, activists have emphasized that “near certainty” is a dangerous barometer when it comes to the decision of whether to take a human life.

Trump lowered the bar even further for drone strikes. His administration reduced the requisite level of confidence that a target was present in a strike zone from “near certainty” to “reasonable certainty.” Under Trump, targets were not limited to “high-value terrorists” but could include foot soldiers. Whereas decisions about drone bombings had been made at the highest levels of government — with Obama having the final say about who would be targeted — Trump allowed commanders in the field to make targeting decisions. Trump gave increased authority to the Pentagon and CIA to conduct drone strikes. He weakened the targeting rules in large areas of Somalia and Yemen by designating them as “areas of active hostilities.” And Trump eliminated the government’s commitment to report on civilian casualties.

During his first two years in office, Trump launched 2,243 drone strikes, compared to 1,878 in Obama’s eight years in office.

In March, Biden secretly set temporary limits on drone strikes outside of recognized battlefields. He has ordered a comprehensive review of whether to keep Trump’s relaxed rules in place, or return to Obama-era rules, or impose some middle ground. In any event, it is doubtful that Biden would comply any better than Obama did with the tighter rules.

Meanwhile, the United States conducted a drone strike against Shabab “militants” in Somalia on July 20. The White House had rejected some requests by the U.S. military’s Africa Command to conduct drone strikes against Shabab targets in Somalia because they didn’t meet the new rules. However, White House approval was considered unnecessary here because the Africa Command has authority to carry out strikes in support of allied forces under what the military calls “collective self-defense.” But that does not constitute lawful collective self-defense under the United Nations Charter.

Although Biden is withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan, he is continuing to launch airstrikes, including drone strikes, there. “We’ve been doing it where and when feasible, and we’ll keep doing it where and when feasible,” an official involved in operational planning said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Gen. Kenneth E. McKenzie Jr., the top U.S. general in charge of Afghanistan, refused to say whether airstrikes would continue past the cutoff date of August 31.

The Air Force is requesting $10 billion to perpetuate the U.S. imperial footprint in South Asia and the Middle East.

On June 30, 113 organizations, including Veterans for Peace, wrote a letter to Biden, “to demand an end to the unlawful program of lethal strikes outside any recognized battlefield, including through the use of drones.”

The UN Charter requires that international disputes be settled peacefully. It allows a country to use military force only in self- defense after an armed attack or with the consent of the UN Security Council. Neither the U.S. war in Iraq nor in Afghanistan complied with the Charter’s mandates.

“Outside the context of active hostilities, the use of drones or other means for targeted killing is almost never likely to be legal,” Agnès Callamard, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, tweeted. She added that “intentionally lethal or potentially lethal force can only be used where strictly necessary to protect against an imminent threat to life.” Thus, Callamard said, the United States would need to demonstrate that the target “constituted an imminent threat to others.”

Targeted or political assassinations — also known as extrajudicial executions — violate international law. Willful killing is a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions and is punishable as a war crime under the U.S. War Crimes Act. Civilians must never be the target of military strikes. A targeted killing is only lawful if it is deemed necessary to protect life, and no other means — including capture or nonlethal incapacitation — is available to protect life.

Yet the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations have all prosecuted whistleblowers for revealing evidence of U.S. war crimes. In addition to Hale, those courageous folks include Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange and John Kiriakou, who revealed that CIA officials used waterboarding, which constitutes the war crime of torture.

The Espionage Act of 1917 was enacted to prosecute foreign spies. It was never intended for use against whistleblowers. Nevertheless, Obama charged eight whistleblowers with violating the act, more than all prior presidents combined.

But although Obama refrained from indicting Assange for publishing evidence of U.S. war crimes (for fear of setting a dangerous precedent), Trump indicted Assange for 17 charges under the Espionage Act. Assange now faces 175 years in prison. A British judge denied Trump’s request that Assange be extradited to the U.S. to stand trial for those charges. But Biden has continued Trump’s appeal of the denial of extradition, notwithstanding the grave threat Assange’s prosecution poses to the First Amendment right to freedom of the press.

Hale is the first person sentenced under the Espionage Act during the Biden administration and he probably won’t be the last.

Ironically, Hale told the sentencing judge that he was a descendent of Nathan Hale, who was executed by the British for spying during the Revolutionary War. “I have but this one life to give in service of my country,” Hale said, quoting his ancestor.

[back to contents]

South America

The Colombian military killed 127 civilians passing as guerrillas (Al Dia) July 16, 2021

On January 22, 2002, Jesús Emilio Márquez Gutiérrez was detained by a paramilitary commando and his family never saw him alive again. He was assassinated on Jan. 25, 16 days after Lieutenant Colonel Publio Hernán Mejía Gutiérrez assumed command of the La Popa Battalion, in Valledupar, on the Caribbean coast of Colombia.

On January 22, 2002, Jesús Emilio Márquez Gutiérrez was detained by a paramilitary commando and his family never saw him alive again. He was assassinated on Jan. 25, 16 days after Lieutenant Colonel Publio Hernán Mejía Gutiérrez assumed command of the La Popa Battalion, in Valledupar, on the Caribbean coast of Colombia.

He was the first of 127 men and women who were extrajudicially executed in a macabre plan designed by those who directed the operations of the Army unit in the area of northern Colombia. The purpose was to make civilians pass as guerrillas to obtain benefits such as days of rest or economic incentives and earn points with military achievements, which in reality, were serious violations of human rights.

This was recorded in the indictment of crimes against humanity of murder and forced disappearance of persons and the war crime of homicide, which was announced on Thursday, July 15 by the Reconnaissance Chamber of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP).

The high court was created in 2017 after the signing of the peace agreement between the Colombian State and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army (FARC-EP) on Nov. 24, 2016. It is the transitional justice mechanism that investigates, clarifies, judges and punishes the most serious crimes that occurred in the context of the armed conflict until Dec. 1, 2016.

The measure involves two lieutenant colonels who commanded the battalion, as responsible for promoting and pressuring the murder of civilians, as part of the war declared against illegal far-left organizations.

Three majors, a lieutenant, two second lieutenants, two first sergeants, a first vice sergeant, a third corporal and three professional soldiers were also charged, who belonged to the Artillery Battalion No. 2 La Popa between Jan. 9, 2002 and Sept. 9, 2005. It is part of the investigations carried out by the JEP within the chapter of 'Assassinations and forced disappearances presented as casualties in combat by State agents' on the Caribbean Coast, and also in other areas of the country: Antioquia, Norte de Santander, Huila, Casanare and Meta.

A week ago, the JEP had also charged crimes against humanity and war against a group of soldiers from the Catatumbo region, in Norte de Santander, on the border with Venezuela. There, the main crimes involved a general, as well as two colonels, two lieutenant colonels, a major, a captain, two sergeants, a corporal and a civilian, for the murder of at least 120 people between January 2007 and August 2008.

Judge Eduardo Cifuentes, president of the JEP, pointed out Thursday that "the crime pattern in Catatumbo is repeated, with its own peculiarities, also in the La Popa Battalion."

In the announcement about the latter case, the JEP established Lieutenant Colonels Publio Hernán Mejía Gutiérrez (commander of the battalion between 2002 and 2003) and Juan Carlos Figueroa Suárez (between 2004 and 2005) as the main responsible parties. Mejía Gutiérrez has an active participation in social media, proclaims himself a pre-candidate for the Presidency and is supported by sectors of the extreme right connected with the Colombian government and with former president Álvaro Uribe Vélez.

Meanwhile, what is known about Figueroa Suárez is that he lives abroad and that there is no photo of him on the Internet.

‘I was taught to be a murderer’

The decision of the high court is consigned in a document of 418 pages of mainly military testimonies that confirm they murdered civilians as part of the dirty war against the guerrillas to show results before their superiors and get incentives. Furthermore, the strong pressure on the troops by superiors to achieve results is clear, regardless of whether civilians had to be killed and passed off as guerrillas "at any cost."

This is how Carlos Yobany Medina Bayona, former commander of several platoons, recounted it in his version before the JEP: “Colonel Mejía arrived with his arrogance and to treat me badly: 'you have to give results, you are stupid, a fool and look at your partner Lora how he kills, that man does have his balls on, you are an idiot, you are a fag, you are a nosequé.'”

For his part, the third corporal Elkin Rojas, squad commander, said that in “most of the training I was in, they always instilled that in me: being a murderer. It is what they always instilled in me, that I was going to carry the arms of the State. Everything I would have done was going to be legal."

It was established that they prepared documents for the operations after the crimes occurred with "information that would allow the murders to give a cloak of legality."

When Nelson Javier Llanos Quiñones related his version before the JEP, he referred to an incident with Colonel Hernán Mejía, commander at the time of the La Popa Batellón.

"At some point I met him and told him: 'my colonel, I don't have to make that report, last night there was no combat, last night he did not shoot himself.' The answer I received was practically the same as in the previous case: ‘brother, they are bandits and they have to die.’”

In 121 of the 127 murders investigated, the victims were reported as unidentified and their bodies were moved without the presence of the judicial police to obstruct the investigations. They were publicly shown with uniforms, weapons and war material from illegal groups to justify that they died in combat. They even carried out drills on the ground so that the communities believed that they were indeed clashes with members of the guerrilla.

One of the cases has to do with the murder of 17 men and a woman, which occurred on October 27, 2002. They were reported as members of the guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN) without being, and the fact was presented as a great military achievement.

Likewise, the JEP indicated that between 2002 and 2003, there was an alliance between the battalion led by Colonel Mejía Gutiérrez with paramilitary groups, illegal far-right organizations, for joint actions. It is known that the paramilitaries, accused of serious human rights violations and allies of drug gangs, handed over 41 civilians alive to the battalion who ended up being executed.

Among those killed are 13 members of the Wiwa and Kankuamo indigenous communities, who live in that region of the country. One of the cases that most attracted the attention of the magistrates was that of a 13-year-old Wiwa indigenous girl who was pregnant.

War and impunity at its finest What happened with the La Popa Battalion coincides with the end of the peace negotiations between the government of President Andrés Pastrana and the FARC-EP, on Feb. 20, 2002, and the beginning of an unprecedented military offensive, supported by the United States. It had its maximum support during the two presidential terms of Álvaro Uribe Vélez (2002-2010).

In these years, the war reached unsuspected limits and drastically affected the civilian population, especially in rural areas. It is estimated that 3,633,840 suffered firsthand the effects of the armed conflict, according to the Single Registry of Victims.

Added to the unleashed violence was impunity, which has been counteracted by the work of the JEP.

Referring to the case of the La Popa Battalion, Judge Cifuentes stated that “most of the perpetrators have confessed,” which implies that from the transitional justice of the JEP “there has been progress beyond ordinary justice, despite that the ordinary justice has given the first basis to these investigations.”

Of the 71 operations in which 127 civilians were killed, the ordinary criminal justice investigated 58 and the other 13 were in the hands of the Military Criminal Justice, which either shelved them or did not advance.

"The military agreed to present false statements before the ordinary justice and the Military Criminal Justice," said Judge Óscar Parra, magistrate of the JEP's Recognition Chamber, on Thursday. Thus, in three years, the JEP has done more than ordinary criminal justice and Military Criminal Justice in 20 years.

6,402 'false positives' As happened in the La Popa Battalion, what happened in other military garrisons in the country is being investigated for the responsibility of at least 6,402 civilians extrajudicially executed, between 2002 and 2008, during one of the chapters of horror of war of more than 50 years in the South American country. These cases have been called "false positives" because they made it appear as a good result of the war, something that had nothing to do with the armed action against guerrilla groups.

Most of these cases occurred during the government of Álvaro Uribe Vélez, who has denied any connection with these events and has focused his discussion on the fact that it is all about manipulations of courts and human rights organizations close to the FARC. The former president even opposes the existence of the JEP, and has asked that the military not be tried there and the budget be reduced to the minimum.

The Democratic Center, the ruling party led by Uribe, and sectors of the retired military have said that the "false positives" are isolated events and that at no time were systematic.

However, as other magistrates have expressed, Eduardo Cifuentes, president of the JEP, pointed out on Thursday that "organized power apparatuses were entrenched in those military units, policies that were executed and therefore do not simply correspond to 'bad apples' , but to an organization that perverted the public force within it.”

There are 6,402 dead, identified by name and ID number according to the investigations carried out by the JEP, which has been informed by reports from the Office of the Attorney General of the Nation, the Ministry of Defense and victims' organizations and human rights organizations.

Before the JEP, former guerrilla and military combatants responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity must confess the truth so as not to expose themselves to penalties exceeding 20 years in prison in ordinary justice.

In exchange for the truth, they are subjected to sanctions specific to the jurisdiction, such as forgiveness activities and symbolic and material reparation works, which are determined by the high court and the victims. The goal is to repair the damage done to people and communities.

[back to contents] Venezuela

Venezuela, the International Criminal Court, and Impunity (Human Rights Watch) July 21, 2021

The situation in Venezuela, an International Criminal Court (ICC) member country, has been under preliminary examination by the court’s Office of the Prosecutor since February 2018. The Office of the Prosecutor carries out preliminary examinations to determine whether a formal investigation by the court is warranted.

In December 2020, the office reported that based on the information available during the preliminary examination it had found a reasonable basis to believe that crimes against humanity had been committed in Venezuela. These include, at least since April 2017, the crimes against humanity of “imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty,” “torture,” “rape and/or other forms of sexual violence,” and “persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political grounds” by the civilian authorities, members of the armed forces, and government supporters. The office indicated that it would continue to assess relevant domestic proceedings, given that the ICC is a court of last resort, stepping in only when there are no genuine national proceedings.

At the end of her mandate in mid-June 2021, the then-ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, announced that her office had concluded its preliminary examination of Venezuela. Bensouda did not make the office’s conclusions public, given the then- pending litigation before the court launched by Venezuelan authorities asking for the court’s oversight of the prosecutor’s examination. Later in June, the ICC pre-trial chamber dismissed Venezuela’s request.

In reaching determinations as to whether a formal investigation is warranted in accordance with criteria set out in the Rome Statute, the ICC treaty, the Office of the Prosecutor examines whether relevant national proceedings exist in relation to potential cases that could be included in an ICC investigation.

Under existing ICC case law, for the ICC to find a case inadmissible on the basis of national proceedings, there must be proceedings encompassing both the person and the conduct that are the subject of the ICC case. Furthermore, the state must demonstrate its genuine willingness and ability to conduct those proceedings. The Rome Statute provides guidance about the meaning of “unwillingness” and “inability” in article 17, which sets out admissibility criteria.

A state may be considered “unwilling” if: its proceedings are for the purpose of shielding the person concerned from criminal responsibility; there has been an unjustified delay that, under the circumstances, is inconsistent with an intent to bring the person concerned to justice; or the proceedings were not or are not being conducted independently or impartially, and they were or are being conducted in a manner that, under the circumstances, is inconsistent with an intent to bring the person to justice.

When considering a state’s ability to conduct genuine national proceedings, the Rome Statute instructs the judges to consider “whether, due to a total or substantial collapse or unavailability of its national judicial system, the State is unable to obtain the accused or the necessary evidence and testimony or otherwise unable to carry out its proceedings.”

Human Rights Watch research has shown that Venezuela’s judiciary has failed to adequately investigate widespread abuses despite compelling evidence and that impunity for human rights abuses remains the norm. Since the late President Hugo Chávez and his supporters in the National Assembly carried out a political takeover of Venezuela’s Supreme Court in 2004, the judiciary has stopped functioning as an independent branch of government. Supreme Court justices have openly rejected the principle of separation of powers and have consistently upheld abusive policies and practices.

Human Rights Watch reports released in 2014 and 2017, which were shared with the Office of the Prosecutor, found widespread abuses during crackdowns in Venezuela. Security force personnel beat detainees and severely tortured them. Security forces also used disproportionate force, violently abused people in the streets, and arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted government opponents. The nature and timing of many of the abuses – as well as the frequent use of political epithets by the abusers – suggest that their aim was not to enforce the law or disperse protests, but rather to punish people for their perceived political views.

Human Rights Watch research shows that the abuses were not isolated cases or the result of excesses by rogue security force members. Instead, the repeated widespread violations by multiple security forces, during a specific time frame, and in numerous locations, support the conclusion that the security force abuses have been systematic. Human Rights Watch also documented cases of enforced disappearances for days or several weeks, and other egregious abuses since 2014. In addition to the repression on the streets, Human Rights Watch has documented the arbitrary arrest and torture of suspected coup plotters and their family members, extrajudicial killings by a special police force, egregious abuses by armed groups and Venezuelan security forces in the Venezuelan border with Colombia, abuses in Venezuela’s gold mining industry, attacks on free speech, and harassment of humanitarian actors and human rights defenders. Venezuelan authorities have used Covid-19 emergency measures as a pretext to intensity a police state and control of the population.

[back to contents]

TOPICS

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

The secret ‘Pact of Forgetting’ and the suppression of post-TRC prosecutions (Daily Maverick) By David Forbes July 24, 2021

While the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was hearing “all the truth about our history”, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it at the opening hearing in East London’s City Hall, which resonated to cries of grief, the ANC’s hard men were chatting with South African Defence Force (SADF) generals and, in separate talks, with South African Police generals about how their criminal members could avoid prosecution.

Just three years earlier, amid a media fanfare, then president FW de Klerk had boasted in March 1993 that they had dismantled six deliverable nuclear weapons.

This was unprecedented, but it was also a smokescreen. Just before the first democratic elections, De Klerk – without consultation – very quietly granted amnesty to more than 4,000 military officers.

The result was that the TRC hardly scratched the surface of how the SADF grossly violated human rights, committed war crimes and was responsible for atrocities during deployment in townships, in the Border War, and in cross-border raids.

Meanwhile, the clandestine talks continued.

Major-General Dirk Marais, the former deputy chief of the army and convenor of the SADF Kontak Buro (the coordinated military response to the TRC, and which provided former soldiers with network support), told two separate historical researchers, Michael Schmidt and Ole Bubenzer, about how the negotiations had begun.

This “Pact of Forgetting”, as Marais calls the two sets of clandestine negotiations, continued until the talks finally both collapsed in 2004.

Marais told Schmidt: “My counterpart on the ANC side was [businessman] Mr Jürgen Kögl. The deliberations were initiated by the ANC.”

Kögl was closely connected to leading ANC members, especially to Jacob Zuma.

Bubenzer says Marais told him there were seven reasons for the clandestine talks:

1. KwaZulu-Natal was still very volatile. 2. The SADF was involved in conflicts between the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the ANC. 3. Kontak Buro had ensured low levels of SADF amnesty applications, especially for covert operatives. 4. South Africa could face reparations claims by neighbouring countries. 5. The ANC was wary of making a purge within the SADF. 6. Consultations showed that government was “not at all keen to promote post-TRC prosecutions”, according to Geldenhuys. 7. The seventh reason, Marais said emphatically, was “the quid pro quo. They won’t want us to be charged – and they don’t want them to be charged.”

Schmidt was told the ANC group included then deputy president Thabo Mbeki, Joe Modise, Sydney Mafumadi and Dullah Omar. Bubenzer names only Zuma, Penuell Maduna, Charles Nqakula, Mathews Phosa and Mafumadi as taking part, occasionally with Mbeki attending.

The SADF side was represented by generals Geldenhuys, Malan, Viljoen and “Kat” Liebenberg. Marais said meetings took place every few months, a few times at Kögl’s house, a few times at the Presidency, once in Mbeki’s house and once in Durban with Zuma.

Some of these ANC names, incidentally, crop up in affidavits by former National Director of Public Prosecutions Advocate Vusi Pikoli as “influential forces in government” who did not want to see former comrades prosecuted and illegally pressured him to stop the post-TRC prosecutions while he was in charge of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

And interestingly, all of the people named above were either denied amnesty by the TRC, or did not apply.

Bubenzer says the consulting parties had agreed on a legal mechanism that practically amounted to a new amnesty law by the end of 2002, but Mbeki rejected it in early 2003.

Both sets of talks then fell apart.

A political advocacy group, the Foundation for Equality Before the Law (FEL), had been formed for police involved in political conflicts. It was advised by Pretoria-based Advocate Jan Wagener.

The FEL aimed to “find a solution to avoid prosecution of former members of the security police who had not received amnesty”, Bubenzer wrote.

The FEL and Wagener had compiled complete dockets to support the prosecution of top ANC members, including Mbeki, former national police commissioner General Johan van der Merwe said in an interview.

This hung like the proverbial sword of Damocles over the ANC, particularly over the “ANC 37”, who had been denied amnesty. When the NPA requested the dockets, the FEL refused – its interest, obviously, was to stop all prosecutions.

So when the NPA proceeded in 2004 with the Reverend Frank Chikane poisoning case, alarm bells clanged.

The prosecutor was phoned on the way to execute the Chikane arrest warrants and told to withdraw them immediately, apparently on Mbeki’s orders.

“The suspension of the arrests was mainly the result of a political settlement behind the scenes,” said Wagener. He had called Mbeki’s office.

In January 2007 the NPA announced it would push ahead with attempted murder charges against former minister of law and order Adriaan Vlok, General Van der Merwe and three security policemen.

By August, the accused had made a plea bargain, agreeing to turn state witness against General “Basie” Smit, and pleading guilty. Vlok and Van der Merwe each got 10 years, suspended.

The policy of suppressing the post-TRC cases was revealed only recently by court judgments based on evidence from former NPA prosecutors and Advocate Pikoli, who told the courts of his falling-out with senior ministers over their attempted “improper interference”, which was in conflict with his oath of office.

This, together with the impending arrest of corrupt police commissioner Jackie Selebi, led Mbeki to suspend him and set in motion Pikoli’s revelations about the suppression policy.

The “Pact of Forgetting” that General Marais called the secret talks and the policy of suppressing the post-TRC prosecutions by any means necessary have resulted in many calls for a commission of inquiry.

The Foundation for Human Rights (FHR) has “broad support from all constituencies” to pursue litigation to compel the President to establish a [commission of inquiry]”, said Ahmed Mayet of the FHR.

The families of the victims never forget and there are many families that are forcing the wheels of justice to grind slowly onwards to open up the dark secrets and lies of our recent past. [back to contents]

Terrorism

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Piracy

Nigerian court sentences 10 men to prison for 2020 Chinese ship hijacking (Reuters) July 23, 2021

A court in Lagos sentenced 10 men to 12 years in prison on Friday for kidnapping the crew of a Chinese-flagged merchant vessel last year, the navy said, a verdict that officials hope will help tackle piracy in the waters off Nigeria's coast.

Federal high court Justice Ayokunle Faji, who also fined each man 250,000 naira ($608) for each of the three counts for which they were charged, said their actions in kidnapping 18 crew from the FV HAILUFENG II in May 2020, were "an embarrassment to the nation that has impacted the economy negatively".

The defence counsel said the men would appeal.

The hijacking ended when the navy said it had rescued the vessel's crew members and arrested the pirates.

The Gulf of Guinea, which spans more than a dozen West African countries, has been known as "pirate alley" for years due to persistent attacks. Last year pirates in the region kidnapped a record 130 seafarers in 22 separate incidents, according to the International Maritime Bureau. read more.

Most of the pirates operating in the area come from the Delta region of Nigeria, which is poverty-stricken despite being rich in oil resources.

Last year a Nigerian court made the first convictions under a 2019 anti-piracy law. Before that, there was no specific law against piracy.

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Gender-Based Violence

[Japan Cannot Claim Sovereign Immunity and Also Insist that WWII Sexual Slavery was Private Contractual Acts (Just Security) By Dr. Ethan Hee-Seok Shin and Stephanie Minyoung Lee July 20, 2021

In South Korea, two conflicting decisions by the Seoul Central District Court are testing the limited exceptions to sovereign immunity in a historic case of sexual violence in armed conflict. On April 21, a three-judge panel rejected a lawsuit filed against Japan by Korean victims of wartime sexual slavery and upheld Japan’s jurisdictional immunity as a foreign State from civil claims in South Korean courts. The decision came barely 100 days after a Jan. 8 decision by a separate panel in the same court that denied Japan’s sovereign immunity for crimes against humanity and ordered Japan to compensate a separate group of victims for the same violations. The plaintiffs in both cases are known as “comfort women,” a dismissive code word used by Japanese military authorities and collaborators to describe the women and children whom they trafficked and detained in facilities for mass sexual violence and reproductive harm before and during World War II. This systematic violence was implemented throughout large swathes of Japanese-held territories and front lines – from Micronesia to India – between 1931 and 1945. The “comfort women” system is the largest known case of modern State-sponsored human trafficking and sexual slavery and an unresolved atrocity of the Second World War.

The two panels of judges divided starkly over (1) whether an exception to sovereign immunity for grave violations of human rights as peremptory norms (jus cogens) was established under customary international law, (2) the impact of sovereign immunity on constitutional rights, and (3) a controversial 2015 oral settlement imposed by South Korean and Japanese bureaucrats upon elderly victims who rejected the terms. The April decision comprehensively analyzed the “restrictive” theory limiting sovereign immunity for tortious governmental or private commercial acts, but both decisions glossed over details in determining whether the “comfort women” system constituted governmental acts. Meanwhile, Japanese officials and politicians have characterized the system as non-military and voluntarily contracted labor, which undermines the Japanese government’s claims to “sovereign” immunity.

We are working with 93-year-old survivor Lee Yong-soo, who has petitioned South Korea and Japan to submit all related disputes, including sovereign immunity and substantive crimes, to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the United Nations’ highest court. Her claims were part of the civil case dismissed in April and will be appealed through litigation counsel to the Seoul High Court. The appellate court’s decision may shed light on the larger Korean judiciary’s stance on sovereign immunity, which is far from a settled doctrine, as victims of past and recent atrocities and injuries continue to seek redress in domestic courts.

Japan’s Positions on Governmental Involvement and Treaties

Throughout cases filed by “comfort women” over the past three decades in the courts of Japan, the United States, and, most recently, South Korea, Japan has advanced inconsistent arguments regarding the government’s role and individual claims for redress. Publicly, the Japanese government denies that the “comfort women” system comprised sexual slavery for which Japan’s imperial military was responsible, but it expediently admits governmental responsibility in order to claim sovereign immunity when confronted with civil lawsuits.

Under the 2004 U.N. Convention on Jurisdictional Immunities of States and their Property (U.N. State Immunity Convention), neither appearing nor appealing a case to argue jurisdiction waives sovereign immunity, but Japan refused to appear in both cases and declined to appeal the January decision. Subsequently, the Japanese Foreign Ministry posted statements that the “forcible” removal of victims by Japanese military and government authorities “could not be confirmed,” and Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide and Education Minister Hagiuda Kōichi approved textbooks deleting the word “military” as an adjunct to “comfort women,” to avoid characterizing the system as nonconsensual sex work commanded over by Imperial Japan.

At the same time, however, Tokyo claims that the cases violate sovereign immunity and previously argued in U.S. courts that the “comfort women” system constituted governmental acts. In 2000, 15 survivors from South Korea, Taiwan, China, and the Philippines sued Japan in the D.C. District Court under the Alien Tort Statute, asserting the commercial activity exception in Section 1605(a)(2) of the 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), which codifies the “restrictive” theory of sovereign immunity. The U.S. federal court agreed with Japan’s argument that trafficking victims and operating “comfort stations” did not constitute private commercial activity and instead formed a “premeditated master plan” better characterized as a “war crime or crime against humanity.” This seemed to blend the “purpose” of the acts with their “nature,” the latter being the determinative factor under Section 1603(d) of the FSIA, underscoring the difficulty of distinguishing the inquiries.

On appeal, the D.C. Circuit did not reach that question and dismissed the suit on the separate grounds that the FSIA does not apply retroactively. After the Supreme Court remanded the case in light of Republic of Austria v. Altmann (2004) confirming the FSIA’s retroactive effect, the D.C. Circuit dismissed the case as a non-justiciable political question concerning post-war treaties with the victims’ countries under the foreign policy purview of the executive branch.

Japan maintains that “comfort women” claims were waived under those treaties, although they were concluded in the 1950s- 70s, decades before Kim Hak-sun became the first survivor to come forward in 1991. Japan initially denied involvement in the “comfort women” system, then reversed itself and acknowledged it for the first time in 1992, after Japanese historian Yoshimi Yoshiaki published incriminating records. Concurrently, survivors from South Korea, China, Taiwan, the Netherlands, and the Philippines began suing Japan in Japanese courts, which dismissed the cases on treaty waiver grounds, with one exception: a 1998 ruling by the Shimonoseki branch of the Yamaguchi District Court that held Japan partially responsible but was later reversed.

While those cases were pending, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Kōno Yōhei issued a statement expressing remorse to the victims, acknowledging that Japan’s government was directly or indirectly “involved,” and promising to record the history in perpetuity. This statement, unlike other addresses from Tokyo, was not approved by Japan’s Cabinet.

Subsequent administrations, most notoriously under former Prime Minister Abe Shinzō, have effectively hollowed out the 1993 Kōno Statement and rendered it an equivocal “apology” through prolonged, expensive efforts to suppress memorials and archival projects around the world, which have spawned revisionist scholarship in America. In 2017, Tokyo filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in an unsuccessful case seeking the removal of a “comfort girl” statue donated by one of our organizations to the City of Glendale, California, as within Japan’s “core national interest,” but SCOTUS denied certiorari, preserving the statue.

2015 Announcement

Following a 2011 ruling by South Korea’s Constitutional Court that the South Korean government’s failure to seek compensation for the victims violated the mandate to provide diplomatic protection to citizens, Seoul initiated contact with Tokyo about resolving the dispute, but officials failed to adequately inform the victims and include them in ensuing talks.

On Dec. 28, 2015, the foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea held a joint press conference and took turns announcing what they declared to be a “final and irreversible settlement.” The deal is essentially a bifurcated gentlemen’s agreement and was never merged into a single integrated, signed document. It was accompanied by Japan’s payment of approximately $8.3 million for South Korea’s creation of a victims’ trust fund and a private call where former Prime Minister Abe reportedly apologized to South Korean President Park Geun-hye for the victims’ suffering.

Upon learning about the 2015 Announcement, many of the victims and South Korean citizens rejected its problematic terms, discussed further below. U.N. human rights bodies have also condemned the 2015 Announcement as falling short of recommended guidelines. Amid widespread public backlash, the first of the Seoul Central District Court cases, filed in 2014, gained traction. The second case was filed in 2016 by Lee Yong-soo and other survivors.

April’s Decision and the Landscape of Sovereign Immunity

The April 21 decision (2016 Ga-Hap 580239) surveyed the history and practice of sovereign immunity and held that neither a tort exception nor a jus cogens exception is established under customary international law. The panel also rejected arguments that the trafficking and management of “comfort stations” were private commercial acts or that their character as human rights violations transformed them from governmental acts entitled to default immunity.

Beginning with The Schooner Exchange v. M’Faddon (1812), the panel reiterated the origins of sovereign immunity as an absolute doctrine under which States cannot be sued in foreign courts, extending from the principle that governments cannot be sued in their own courts for exercising “crown” or “sovereign” power. In the international context, sovereign immunity maintains comity and reciprocity and recognizes the difficulty of executing judgments against a foreign State’s assets. But in the late 19th century, as States waded into global commerce through owning merchant ships and industrial trade ventures, courts in various countries began allowing claims against foreign governments for acts analogous to private business transactions (acta jure gestionis), as distinct from acts exercised through public power (acta jure imperii).

As the panel of judges acknowledged in the April decision, this “restrictive” theory of limiting State or sovereign immunity is now established practice. The U.S. State Department first recognized, in a 1952 letter by acting Legal Adviser Jack Tate, the private commercial exception as a matter of executive discretion, then supported the 1976 FSIA, which shifted decision- making to the courts and codified other carve-outs. The FSIA includes a terrorism exception that extends to acts abroad, through provisions enacted after the 1988 Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, that were subsequently amended, as well as exceptions for waiver, expropriation, and tortious personal injury and property damage within the United States.

Similar tort exceptions are also set forth in the 1972 European Convention on State Immunity (ECSI) and the 2004 U.N. State Immunity Convention, modeled after the ECSI but with key differences. Paradoxically, common law jurisdictions have tended to codify the “restrictive” theory, whereas civil law jurisdictions, including South Korea, have largely recognized exceptions through rulings.

In the panel’s opinio juris, the tort exception is not a “constant and uniform” practice under the “restrictive” theory, based on its review of domestic legislation and international jurisprudence; statistically, out of 193 U.N. member States, only 22 States (11.3 percent) have ratified the U.N. State Immunity Convention and only 37 States (19.2 percent) in all have adopted the tort exception through that convention, the ECSI, or domestic legislation. Plaintiffs’ counsel focused on the tort exception to argue that customary international law is trending away from sovereign inviolability and did not expressly argue for a jus cogens exception, but the panel took up the latter issue in view of a 2012 ICJ decision as clearly relevant authority on tortious (more accurately, atrocious) acts committed within the forum State in a wartime context.

The ICJ dispute arose after Italian national Luigi Ferrini obtained judgments and enforcement measures against Germany in Italian courts for forced labor under the Third Reich, with Greece intervening after its Supreme Court also denied immunity to Germany for Nazi massacres in the village of Distomo. In a 12-3 decision, the ICJ ruled: (1) the tort exception does not apply to “acts committed by the armed forces of a State (and other organs of that State acting in co-operation with the armed forces) in the course of conducting an armed conflict”; (2) the procedural rule of sovereign immunity does not bear upon the substantive legality of conduct under jus cogens; and (3) while Italy argued that domestic courts were a “last resort,” the existence of “effective alternate means of redress” is not a “precondition” for sovereign immunity, which is entirely separate from a State’s substantive obligation to make reparations.

The panel of judges then determined that the mobilization and recruitment of “comfort women” by State organs of Imperial Japan, including by the governor-general of Korea, then a subjugated colony and not a site of active hostilities, were “in the course of conducting an armed conflict” and governed by the ICJ judgment barring a tort exception for wartime governmental acts.

January’s Decision and a Jus Cogens Exception

The Jan. 8 decision (2016 Ga-Hap 505092) by a different panel of the same Court was widely recognized for declaring that sovereign immunity is not a jurisdictional bar to crimes against humanity and jus cogens violations. By not fully engaging with State practice, however, including the 2012 ICJ decision and international rulings that uphold sovereign immunity even in extreme cases such as torture, the reasoning is vulnerable to criticism.

The panel first determined that Imperial Japan’s operation of the “comfort women” system was governmental activity, and not private or commercial, because (1) it aimed to regulate the military as a State organ, (2) the non-military State actors involved did not amass economic profits, and (3) the system necessitated policies such as amending laws and budget allocations.

Departing from the ICJ’s holding that jurisdiction and criminality are separate queries, the panel then ranked the procedural law of sovereign immunity as an inferior norm that must be construed to realize substantive rights under higher peremptory norms (jus cogens). It determined that sovereign immunity would effectuate the “unreasonable and unjust outcome” of impunity for crimes arising from Japan’s illegal occupation of Korea. These violations ranged from mass rape to forced sterilization to torture, which were clearly prohibited under contemporary customs of international law (under the 1907 Hague Convention, 1921 Anti-Trafficking Convention, 1926 Slavery Convention, 1930 ILO Convention (no. 29), and Charter of the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal), and fulfilled the criteria for crimes against humanity.

With this decision, the panel added South Korea as the third country in which national courts have recognized a jus cogens exception, together with the Italian and Greek courts in Ferrini and Distomo.

Procedural Rights under Constitutional Law and Alternate Remedies

In both decisions, the panels picked up on subsequent history to Ferrini concerning constitutional guarantees to procedural rights. After the ICJ’s ruling, Italy acceded to the U.N. State Immunity Convention and passed implementing legislation to rescind the judgments against Germany, but the Italian Constitutional Court struck down the law in 2014 as violating the right to trial.

Following the Italian court’s lead, the January decision in Seoul found that sovereign immunity for crimes against humanity violates the fundamental right to trial under the South Korean Constitution, as well as Article 8 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In contrast, the April decision used a balancing test and declared immunity to be a “minimal infringement” on due process that is “necessary and proper” for respecting international law. This rationale seemed to echo the European Court of Human Rights’ narrow decision in Al-Adsani v. UK (2001) that conferring sovereign immunity in cases brought by torture victims does not violate the principle of necessity and proportionality; the Ninth Circuit in the United States has also rejected a jus cogens exception for torture by a State.

The two panels also split over civil lawsuits as a “last resort” in relation to the 2015 Announcement. The ICJ held that the question of sovereign immunity is agnostic to whether alternate remedies exist because national courts are “not well-placed to determine” the point when “prospects for an inter-State settlement [a]re considered to have disappeared.” But the April decision relied upon the 2015 Announcement as a past alternate remedy to justify immunity, although the victims’ trust fund has been liquidated and the plaintiffs rejected its terms.

These terms warrant further scrutiny, including the implied content-based restriction aimed at a “comfort girl” statue by the Japanese embassy in Seoul, which may conflict with the Vienna Conventions, as one of us previously wrote, and the vague prior restraint that both States “refrain from accusing or criticizing each other.” Two months after the 2015 Announcement, upon questioning by the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Japan’s deputy foreign minister declared there was “no evidence” confirming Japan’s government or army forced “comfort women” into sex servitude. From a statist and surface perspective, the 2015 Announcement may be said to enhance comity, but realistically it has accelerated Japan’s distortion of facts and deepens discord with South Korea; it further disregards victims from China, North Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, and other countries who were forcibly taken and sexually enslaved.

Lump-sum settlements are customary in the aftermath of war, as the Ferrini judgment noted, and have limited symbolic meaning for past colonization. But such concessions presume that the offending State has committed some wrongdoing, which remains wholly disputed by Japan.

Trafficking and Detention in “Comfort Stations”

These decisions, like the lower courts in the Hwang case, fixated on the harms committed at “comfort stations” as the gravamen of the claims and determined the entirety of the system to be governmental acts. The spectrum of acts encompassed by the sexual slavery and trafficking system, however, are difficult to shoehorn into the existing framework for sovereign immunity and “restrictive” theory exceptions.

The January decision recounted the facts for each of the 12 plaintiffs, who were abducted through physical and non-physical force within Korea by agents of Japan’s colonial administration under executive orders from Tokyo. Victims were then transported via trains and ships to China, Manchuria, the Pacific Islands, and Japan. At “comfort stations,” Japanese soldiers purchased tickets from civilian operators to gain access to victims and inflict multiple rapes, with the rates and methods of payment controlled by the Japanese government. Medical personnel were engaged to administer forced gynecological exams and arsenic injections for sexually transmitted diseases. One victim was infected with syphilis and forced into mercury treatments that left her infertile; another was forced into pregnancy and had to leave a baby behind. Victims were regularly beaten, and one was nearly burned to death. The facilities were surrounded by iron bars or barbed electrical wire, and victims witnessed other detainees committing suicide or being shot after attempts to escape.

Taking each act separately, the abductions in Korea could be argued under the tort exception, which U.S. courts have applied to the assassination of dissidents by a foreign State’s agents; while fraudulent recruiting and operating stations resemble private and illicit pecuniary exchanges. The larger illogicality is that those acts potentially fall under the “restrictive” exceptions, but the grave human rights violations at the stations remain cloaked in immunity, based on the dubious premise that such conduct is innately of a governmental type.

Japan’s War on Facts in the Pacific Theater

Japan is not the first State to refuse to appear in a foreign court, but if it had done so here, it likely would have argued the “comfort women” system constituted governmental acts. This would have significantly compromised its official declarations in the court of public opinion that the system was consensual, contractual, and non-governmental, and that the “forceful taking away” of victims by military or State authorities as “sex slaves” contradict the “historical facts.”

In fact, the imperial military used terrorizing physical tactics against victims in countries such as China and the Philippines and commandeered local culture in colonies such as Korea and Taiwan through trafficking and grooming with deceptive offers of jobs, education, and gifts. Many girls could not attend school and were taught to commit suicide after sexual assault in order to preserve family honor, the euphemism for rape in that era, which ensured their long-term silence and invisibility. Racial discrimination permeated the system to the degree of forcing victims to take Japanese names and charging higher fees for access to “comfort women” victims who were ethnically Japanese. In a singular 1936 case, the Nagasaki District Court convicted Japanese civilians under domestic law for trafficking Japanese victims to Naval “comfort stations” in Shanghai, but equal protection was not extended for victims from colonized or occupied territories.

Researchers emphasize that conflict-related sexual violence spans policy and practice, and the “comfort women” system reinforced a staggering military culture of sexual and gender-based violence, including against Red Cross nurses in Hong Kong, Dutch boys in Indonesia, and Tamil women whose families were forced laborers on the Thai-Burma railway. Some of those atrocities, including at Nanking, were prosecuted in the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, but specific “comfort women” cases were prosecuted only in the subsequent trials at Batavia, where Japanese military personnel and civilians were sentenced for the questionably named war crime of “enforced prostitution” of Dutch victims. Notably, those convictions were founded upon a range of indicia that the victims’ servitude was involuntary, including poverty, deception, and inhumane conditions in the “brothels,” regardless of any profits earned.

In hindsight, the Allied Powers’ failure to prosecute the multi-national sexual slavery and trafficking system as an imperial military institution – despite substantial evidence introduced in the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal and mentioned in the Judgment – has contributed to the present situation. In the 1990s, “comfort women” testimonies, amid the U.N.’s recognition of mass sexual violence during genocides in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, led to the inclusion of sexual slavery, rape, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, and enforced sterilization as war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, but that tribunal lacks retroactive jurisdiction. Elderly women survivors have had to turn to domestic courts, absent a satisfactory resolution through diplomatic or political channels from which they are traditionally excluded, as the January decision observed.

There may not be a bright-line rule for a “last resort,” but there is a judicial principle of exhausting all remedies. Courts upholding sovereign immunity for WWII-era violations not addressed in the war crimes tribunals, including claims brought by Holocaust survivors and their heirs, are maintaining this lacuna in international law.

Appropriate Remedy for Resolution

Time is running out for the last survivors, an estimated 100 known individuals across the victimized countries today, including 14 registered survivors in South Korea. For the past 30 years, the “comfort women” have called for Japan’s government, as a whole, to issue a direct and personal apology and acknowledgement that it committed crimes under international law, and to disclose and preserve the truth through education and memorials. None of these have been fulfilled by the government of Japan.

In the meantime, survivors have pursued civil claims for monetary reparations as judicial recognition of Japan’s governmental responsibility, but, in the end, national courts have limited utility. After the January decision, Japan refused to comply with the order, and enforcing the judgment against Japanese assets in South Korea requires overcoming a separate, more stringent jurisdictional privilege granted to a foreign State’s assets against enforcement measures. Simultaneously, Japan’s political leaders have urged Tokyo to sue South Korea at the ICJ. This prompted survivor Lee Yong-soo’s appeal to both States to submit outstanding issues for the ICJ’s adjudication through a proposed special agreement that sets forth discrete procedural and substantive questions, including that of Japan’s liability for military sexual slavery under international law, which she has delivered to their respective heads of State.

The ICJ is a pragmatic recourse for many reasons, but there remains an untried option consistent with comity and human rights. The governments of Japan and South Korea, as one of the countries representing “comfort women” victims, can signal a reset of diplomatic relations through initiating talks for a new agreement. To be successful, the negotiations must include the survivors at the table. Without the survivors’ participation, any resulting deal will be perceived as inadequate and continue to hinder cooperation, as is the hapless fate of the 2015 AnnouncementFor negotiations to happen at all, however, it is crucial for President Joe Biden, who, as Vice President, backed the 2015 Announcement, to press Tokyo about resolving its responsibility for “comfort women” in indisputable good faith, beginning with a direct apology and acknowledgement to the survivors that is affirmed by Japan’s Diet or Cabinet.

Ultimately, realizing this remedy may be one of renewing political will, as with other atrocities, and public opinion favors the aging victims, who are living the daily ordeal of seeing their rapes denied by Japan. Before May’s summit between President Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reiterated her desire for justice and her support of House Resolution 121, which passed unanimously in 2007 and urges Japan to accept historical and legal responsibility in a “clear and unequivocal manner,” as does a similar resolution by the European Parliament.

Although the history of “comfort women” is complex, dating back to the first “comfort stations” in 1930s Shanghai, we believe that reconciliation can begin with the straightforward step of including the surviving victims and seeking their approval in the redress process. Only then can any resolution be described as a lasting one for these historic gendered crimes.

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Commentary and Perspectives

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WORTH READING

Protection of individuals hors de combat: Convergence of International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law (D. Rogers, Human Rights in War) By Silvia Borelli and Helin Laufer July 22, 2021

The principle that persons who are not, or are no longer, taking part in hostilities cannot be attacked or harmed represents one of the cornerstones of international humanitarian law. This principle is embodied by the protections afforded under international humanitarian law to individuals who are hors de combat, which apply in both international and non-international armed conflicts. Alongside the extensive protections envisaged by international humanitarian law, individuals who have fallen into enemy hands during an armed conflict also enjoy a range of substantive and procedural protections under international human rights law. The present chapter provides an overview of the relevant protections under the two systems, highlighting similarities and differences between the protections applicable under both systems, and their interaction. In doing so, it provides a critical assessment of the extent to which the protections arising under international human rights law apply to combatants who are in the power of the adverse party, and the extent to which they extend beyond those afforded under international humanitarian law.

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War Crimes Prosecution Watch Staff

Founder/Advisor Dean Michael P. Scharf

Faculty Advisor Jim Johnson

Editor-in-Chief Natalie Davis

Managing Editors Matthew Pheneger Alan Dowling

Technical Editor-in-Chief Erica Hudson

Senior Technical Editors Bailey Kadian

Associate Technical Editors Lexi Stovsky Kayla Briskey Matthew Koutsky Katarina Johnston

Emerging Issues Advisor Judge Rosemelle Mutoka Contact: [email protected]

Africa Libya Katarina Johnston, Associate Editor

Alan Dowling, Senior Editor

Central African Republic David Codispoti, Associate Editor

Alan Dowling, Senior Editor

Sudan & South Sudan Katarina Johnston, Associate Editor Alan Dowling, Senior Editor

Democratic Republic of the Congo David Codispoti, Associate Editor Alan Dowling, Senior Editor

Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) Zachary Tomi, Associate Editor Alan Dowling, Senior Editor

Lake Chad Region Zachary Tomi, Associate Editor Alan Dowling, Senior Editor

Mali Taylor Mehalko, Associate Editor Alan Dowling, Senior Editor

Liberia Taylor Mehalko, Associate Editor Alan Dowling, Senior Editor

Uganda Matthew Koutsky, Associate Editor Francesca Bergeret, Senior Editor

Kenya Matthew Koutsky, Associate Editor Francesca Bergeret, Senior Editor

Rwanda (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda) Austin Milliren, Associate Editor Francesca Bergeret, Senior Editor

Somalia Austin Milliren, Associate Editor Francesca Bergeret, Senior Editor

Europe

Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, War Crimes Section Alicia Mallo, Associate Editor Natalie Davis, Senior Editor

International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia Zheng Li, Associate Editor Natalie Davis, Senior Editor Domestic Prosecutions in the Former Yugoslavia Alicia Mallo, Associate Editor Natalie Davis, Senior Editor

Turkey Kyle Dunnell, Associate Editor Natalie Davis, Senior Editor

Kosovo Specialist Chambers Zheng Li, Associate Editor Natalie Davis, Senior Editor

Azerbaijan Kyle Dunnell, Associate Editor Natalie Davis, Senior Editor

Middle-East

Iraq Matthew Perry, Associate Editor Maryam Assar, Senior Editor

Syria Matthew Perry, Associate Editor Maryam Assar, Senior Editor

Yemen Alireza Nourani-Dagiri, Associate Editor Maryam Assar, Senior Editor

Special Tribunal for Lebanon Matthew Mullins, Associate Editor Maryam Assar, Senior Editor

Israel and Palestine Alireza Nourani-Dagiri, Associate Editor Maryam Assar, Senior Editor

Gulf Region Matthew Mullins, Associate Editor Maryam Assar, Senior Editor

Asia

Afghanistan Frankie Collins, Associate Editor Estefania Sixto Seijas, Senior Editor

Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia Estefania Sixto Seijas, Senior Editor

Bangladesh Estefania Sixto Seijas, Senior Editor

War Crimes Investigations in Myanmar Frankie Collins, Associate Editor Estefania Sixto Seijas, Senior Editor

Americas North and Central America Sam Rodis, Associate Editor Maryam Assar, Senior Editor

South America Maryam Assar, Senior Editor

Venezuela Sam Rodis, Associate Editor Maryam Assar, Senior Editor

Topics

Truth and Reconciliation Commissions Francesca Bergeret, Senior Editor

Terrorism Kayla Briskey, Associate Editor Francesca Bergeret, Senior Editor

Piracy Matthew Koutsky, Associate Editor Francesca Bergeret, Senior Editor

Gender-Based Violence Francesca Bergeret, Senior Editor

Commentary and Perspectives Alan Dowling, Associate Editor Francesca Bergeret, Senior Editor

Worth Reading

Maryam Assar, Associate Editor

Natalie Davis, Senior Editor

War Crimes Prosecution Watch is prepared by the International Justice Practice of the Public International Law & Policy Group and the Frederick K. Cox International Law Center of Case Western Reserve University School of Law and is made possible by grants from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Open Society Institute.

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