International Criminal Court

The ICC and Alleged US Crimes Committed During the War in Afghanistan

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In November of 2017, the International Criminal Court in the Hague began formally requesting an investigation of individual US citizens, including CIA employees and military personnel, over alleged war crimes committed in Afghanistan after the launch of the Iraq invasion in 2003.

The Office of the Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, had been conducting a preliminary investigation into what is being called the Situation in Afghanistan since 2006, and by 2017, the office found reasonable basis for the belief that war crimes and/or crimes against humanity had been committed by:

  1. The Taliban and their affiliated Haqqani network

  2. The Afghan National Security Forces, specifically, members of the National Directorate for Security and the Afghan National Police, and

  3. Members of the United States Armed Forces within the Afghanistan territory and Members of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in secret detention facilities located in states that are party to the Rome Statute, principally during 2003 and 2004.

In light of the gravity of the acts committed and the lack of national proceedings (accountability from the justice system within the United States), the Prosecutor has determined that the case will be permissible by the ICC pursuant to the Rome Statute.

Based on the evidence collected during the preliminary investigation, the Prosecutor can ask ICC Judges to issue either summons to appear or arrest warrants or those believed to be most responsible for international crimes committed in Afghanistan.

Response from the US in 2018

As of Monday, September 10, the US has announced plans to “adopt an aggressive posture” against the ICC, including threats to the sanction ICC judges if they proceed with the investigation into these war crimes.

A speech by John Bolton will occur on Monday in Washington, according to Reuters, in which he is expected to declare the ICC an “illegitimate court” and announce to plans to shield US citizens from prosecution.

Read more on this development here and also here. We’ll be following this story closely, so check back in for future updates.



Report on Myanmar Released After a UN Fact Finding Mission

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One year ago today, the marginalized and essentially stateless Rohingya people in Myanmar (denied full citizenship but also denied the right the leave the country legally), were subject to a brutal campaign unleashed by Myanmar’s Buddhist-majority state security forces.

 

In response to alleged attacks by Rohingya militants against government forces, security members and allied civilian mobs launched an all-out attack on defenseless Rohingya villagers, cutting off their efforts to escape to safety on foot and firing on them from helicopters and from the ground. The unofficial death toll quickly climbed into the hundreds, taking several decades of brutal and systematic oppression to the next murderous level. By mid-August of 2017, over 76,000 people had attempted a dangerous escape across the border to Bangladesh, through rain swollen areas that left more bodies washed up on riverbanks.

Many of those who eventually reached refugee camps described villages surrounded and families shot systematically and stabbed to death, including children.

A year later, six generals have been named as priority subjects for investigation and prosecution by a United Nations Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar. In a newly released report describing the campaign and its atrocities, their actions have been called “undoubtedly…the gravest crimes under international law.” Here’s the report.

The government of Myanmar has rejected the allegations, claiming that the attacks were warranted. But the three-member panel responsible for the report has attached the most serious allegation, genocide, to the list of charges against the military leaders. The panel finds enough evidence to support accusations of genocidal intent, and members have cited an organized plan for destruction and evidence of an extreme scale of brutality and violence. The panel cites over 10,000 deaths, harrowing witness accounts and over 700,000 refugees by the end of the 2017 actions in Rakhine.

Despite Myanmar’s refusal to allow access or cooperate with the investigation, the report contains hundreds of pages of witness accounts, interviews, satellite data and other information that will be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva next month.

The United Nations human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, has previously condemned the army’s actions, but this newly released report will likely increase pressure for immediate international action. After reviewing the report, the UN Security Council may refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court or set up an international tribunal. The Council may also impose an arms embargo on Myanmar and penalize those most responsible with travel bans or asset freezes.  

But the path toward justice, if one exists, will not be clear. Since Myanmar’s civilian authorities have proven unable and unwilling to investigate or deliver justice on their own, any form of accountability will need to come from the international community. And since international criminal law is a nascent entity at this point, the outcome of any form of condemnation remains uncertain.

A year after the fact, the generals responsible for high crimes and human rights violations and the civilian authorities who enabled them remain both unpunished and unrepentant. Read more here and please join us as we follow the developments surrounding the newly released report.

The ICC Reviews Developments in The Philippines and Venezuela

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda recently released this official statement regarding the interest of the International Criminal Court in alleged crimes against humanity taking place in the Philippines and Venezuela in 2016 and 2017.

In July of 2016, under the pretext of a “war on drugs”, the government of the Philippines engaged in thousands of extrajudicial killings and executions of individuals suspected of involvement in illegal drug use and trade. According to government reports, some of these deaths occurred under circumstances broadly described as “gang violence”, but many more are alleged to be part of government-supported police actions during anti-drug operations. (This statement, and the research efforts undertaken by Bensouda, also include armed action taken against protesters in Venezuela, which we’ll discuss in another blog).

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For now, the key takeaway from this statement is as follows: This examination into both sets of events has been opened in order to determine if either government has violated the Rome Statute, an international criminal law that holds national courts responsible for investigating and prosecuting individuals who have been accused of international crimes. Nations are often reluctant to submit their own leaders, former leaders, or citizens to a full investigation or prosecution for international crimes related to extrajudicial killings, genocide, trafficking, or other crimes that transcend national borders. The Rome Statute has been drafted to address this obstacle. So in this case, the pending examination will seek to uphold that statute and establish the appropriate jurisdiction for what may become a full investigation at a later point in the process.

The progress of justice in ICC cases like this can seem agonizingly slow, especially for the families of those killed by police and government actors during these events. While the relevant jurisdiction is established by ICC prosecutors, Rodrigo Duerte remains president of the Philippines. He also remains openly defiant of the proceedings and continues to deny government involvement in the violent deaths of over 4,000 people suspected of drug crimes.

At a recent speech in Cebu City, Duerte made his position clear. “The war on drugs will not stop and will last until the day I step down,” he said. “If I go to prison, I go to prison.

Human rights groups state that the 4,000 figure is an underestimation. As always, we’ll follow the development of this case as it unfolds.

A Golden Age for Humanity: Is it Possible?

In addition to defending those who are vulnerable to the environmentally destructive actions of big business and government, our team works to advance a system of justice that transcends national borders. For example, leaders who participate in or condone acts of genocide, exploitation, or human trafficking are rarely held accountable by their own governments. But a strong and reliable system of international justice can prevent such individuals from justifying these actions or refusing to face those who have been harmed.

The International Criminal Court (ICC), centered in The Hague, has come into existence within our lifetimes—a major advancement in the course of human history. And while the institution has yet to gain the strength that’s more accessible to criminal courts established by individual nations, we believe that this goal is on the horizon. Here at Just Atonement, we live in two worlds: First the present, in which a complete system of international criminal justice has yet to be shored up to put to the ultimate test. And second, the future, in which such a system is respected and feared by would-be tyrants and opportunists.

We also believe that an established system of international justice forms just one pillar of a golden age that may be within reach for humanity—And maybe, like the ICC, this golden age might be attainable within our own lifetimes.

Despite the threats that currently face our shared environment and despite populations around the globe that struggle with hunger and lawlessness, 2017 can be considered an excellent year for advancements against poverty and human suffering. Check out this useful collection of data points.

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Globally, more people than ever before are living above the extreme poverty line of two dollars a day, more people have access to electricity, and more have access to clean water then in years past. Vaccinations and simple life-saving treatments for common ailments are more available than ever before to isolated communities. And while the environment is certainly in peril, access to information and education are improving, and hopefully, the more we know about how to protect the planet from ourselves, the sooner we’ll transition to renewable energy and find ways to limit waste and environmental exploitation.

Here at Just Atonement, we believe that a golden age lies within our reach. Our goal: a world in which health, hygiene, literacy, access to justice, and freedom from fear are available to all people in every part of the world. We imagine living in balance with a planet that can safely and sustainably provide for all of us, and when we add up the numbers, we recognize that this is not a mathematical impossibility. If you have the skills or training to help us move forward toward this goal, we’d like to hear from you! Contact our office and find out how you can contribute to our efforts.  

Defining the Crime of “Aggression”: An ICC Update

Back in October, we posted a short summary of the relationship between the ICC (International Criminal Court) and the crime of “aggression”. At that point, even though the ICC’s 1998 founding treaty included a mandate to prosecute crimes of aggression, the ICC was unable to actually pursue charges of aggression.

As we mentioned at that time, the 2010 amendments that made it possible for the court to prosecute an entity for this crime were finally ratified in 2016…but even after the amendments had been ratified, the text had not yet been promulgated and the amendments had not yet gone into effect.

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Well we have some news! In December 2017, the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (also known as “the Assembly”) met in New York and adopted six resolutions by consensus. Among them: The resolution on the activation of the jurisdiction of the Court over the crime of aggression. 

This is a very big deal and a welcome announcement for those who follow advances in human rights around the world. With this move, as described in the PDF we’ve attached here, “the Assembly recognized the historic significance of the consensual decision at the Kampala Review Conference to adopt the amendments to the Rome Statute and decided inter alia to activate the Court’s jurisdiction as of 17 July 2018.”

In another one of the six resolutions, the Assembly added three war crimes to the jurisdiction of the Court: 1.) employing microbial, biological or toxin weapons; 2.) employing weapons that injure by fragments undetectable by X-rays; 3.) and employing laser weapons.

Read the full announcement, and if you’d like to learn more or join our efforts to support the rulings of ICC and advance the development of international criminal law, please contact our office.