By Anna Neistat, Amnesty International's senior director for research
Seventeen years ago, Kofi Annan stood before the United Nations and apologized.
The then-secretary-general acknowledged that the UN had failed the people of Rwanda during the 100-day genocide in which almost a million people were killed, and pledged to ensure that the UN would "never again" fail to protect a civilian population from genocide or mass slaughter.
In Aleppo today, Annan's promise is inaudible beneath the roar of bombs and the whimpers of children trapped under rubble, their faces caked with blood and dust.
After years of images from this atrocious war being screened around the world, they are faces we know well.
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The opening of the trial of former Malian junta leader Amadou Haya Sanogo is an important first step to put an end to an agonizing three-year-long wait for justice for those who suffered torture, as well as the murder and enforced disappearances of loved ones, at the hands of his soldiers, Amnesty International said today.
Sanogo and several soldiers under his command will be tried on 30 November by the Assize Court in Mali’s capital, Bamako, on charges linked to the abduction and murder of soldiers accused of supporting the ousted President, Amadou Toumani Touré. The charges also include the enforced disappearances of 21 soldiers between 30 April and 1 May 2012, whose bodies were later found in a mass grave.
“Sanogo’s brief rule was characterized by torture, disappearances and extra-judicial executions. For the victims and their families this trial brings a fresh hope of justice,” said Gaëtan Mootoo, Amnesty International’s West Africa Researcher.
President Vladimir Putin’s statement that Russia does not intend to become a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which it signed in 2000 but never ratified, is a huge blow to international justice, Amnesty International said today.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the ICC was not a “truly independent and authoritative judicial body” and had failed to live up to its promises.
“It is hard not to see this as an attempt by Russia to undermine the progress towards international justice. This decision was apparently made with lightning speed, just hours after the ICC Prosecutor said that the situation within the territory of Crimea and Sevastopol may amount to an international armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine,” said Sergei Nikitin, Director of Amnesty International Russia.
Victims of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations deserve to have their day in court, Amnesty International said as it urged states to work to strengthen, rather than withdraw from, the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The call comes on the eve of the 15th Assembly of States Parties (ASP) to the Rome Statute – the ICC’s founding treaty – taking place from 16 to 24 November in The Hague, Netherlands.
“Rather than choosing to abandon what is in many cases the only avenue towards justice for millions of vulnerable victims of crimes under international law, states must engage in good faith with the International Criminal Court. They must use their collective power to challenge the double standards, shameful failures and politicization of justice by the UN Security Council,” said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for Africa.
Following the announcement yesterday by the Gambian Information Minister that Gambia has withdrawn from the International Criminal Court (ICC), Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for Africa said:
“The announcement is a blow to millions of victims around the world, particularly coming as it does on the heels of recent moves by South Africa and Burundi to also withdraw from the ICC”.
“Rather than joining this drastic march away from justice, other African states should follow the lead of Botswana and many concerned African member states which have encouraged countries to work constructively with the Court to resolve any legitimate issues.”
“The Information Minister’s statement regarding the Court’s persecution and humiliation of people of colour, especially Africans could not be further from the truth. For many Africans the ICC presents the only avenue for justice for the crimes they have suffered”.
Amnesty International is building a network of digital volunteers to help uncover human rights violations and abuses in the conflict-ravaged Sudanese region of Darfur as part of a revolutionary crowdsourcing project launched today. Within hours, some 4500 digital volunteers were already on the job spending a combined 525 hours analysing already over 33,000 square kilometres of satellite imagery
The Decode Darfur interactive platform will enable Amnesty International supporters to analyse thousands of square kilometres of satellite imagery in remote parts of Darfur where bombings and chemical weapons attacks are suspected to have taken place – just by using their phone, tablet or laptop.
“This is an ambitious, revolutionary project that marks a fundamental shift in the way we view human rights research – and gives anyone with internet access the chance to help expose some of the world’s gravest injustices,” said Milena Marin, Amnesty International’s Senior Innovations Campaigner.
The Burundian parliamentary vote today endorsing a withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC) is part of the government’s continued effort to deny justice for victims of human rights violations committed since the crisis began in April 2015, said Amnesty International today.
“This vote, at a time when the ICC is examining allegations of crimes committed in Burundi, highlights the government’s unwillingness to deliver justice for victims,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
“Burundi’s on-going attempts to hinder cooperation with human rights bodies and international justice mechanisms are deeply troubling and an added injustice to victims that must end. Interventions by international and regional bodies should be seen as opportunity rather than a threat.”
Today’s International Criminal Court (ICC) conviction of Ahmad Al Faqi Al-Mahdi, a senior member of the Ansar Eddine armed group, must be the first step towards broader accountability for all crimes committed during Mali’s 2012 conflict, Amnesty International said.
The ICC sentenced Al-Mahdi to 9 years imprisonment for intentionally directing attacks against religious buildings and historical monuments in the northern town of Timbuktu between June and July 2012. Al-Mahdi admitted his guilt to the court.
“This verdict is a clear recognition that attacks on religious and historical monuments can destroy the culture and identity of a population and constitute crimes under international law,” said Erica Bussey Amnesty International’s Senior Legal Advisor.
“This positive development should not let us lose sight of the fact that hundreds of civilians were murdered, tortured and raped during the 2012 conflict in Mali. The ICC should therefore continue to investigate crimes committed by all sides to the conflict.”
By Gaëtan Mootoo, Amnesty International's Researcher on West Africa
21 July 2015 marked my 29th anniversary working at Amnesty International and also marked the opening of the trial of former Chadian President Hissene Habré. When I joined Amnesty International in 1986, I was immediately struck by the amount of work already undertaken by colleagues on Chad since 1982, when President Hissène Habré came to power. I joined the team, part of my job was meeting people and collecting testimonies, which Amnesty International then turned into reports, press releases and actions, to shine a light on these grave human rights violations, including torture, arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances. Many of these were produced in the period from 1982 to 1990, when Hissène Habré’s rule ended.
By Steve Crawshaw, the director of the Office of the Secretary General at Amnesty International and a former Eastern Europe editor of The Independent. Follow Steve on Twitter @stevecrawshaw
Srebrenica. A drive through eastern Bosnia seems to be full of sleepy Balkan charm. The landscape is one of wooded hills, small farmsteads, abundant plum orchards. The road winds its way through maize fields beside the quiet river Drina. In the woods, a cuckoo calls on a midsummer’s day. All is peaceful.
As is so often the case, landscapes deceive. Twenty years ago, this idyllic setting was the scene of the worst crimes committed on European soil since 1945. The world looked the other way, as genocide was committed in and near the town of Srebrenica.
Here, more than 8,000 men and boys were murdered in a series of executions and massacres in the days after Srebrenica fell to Bosnian-Serb forces on 11 July 1995. Almost a generation later, it is still unclear whether wounds have even begun to heal.
By Netsanet Belay, Africa Director, Research and Advocacy at Amnesty International. Follow Netsanet on Twitter @NetsanetDBelay
As the International Criminal Court (ICC) opens its Assembly of States Parties – the periodic gathering of all the countries who have ratified the Court’s statute – in The Hague today, it does so with a bloody nose.
The Court was yet again met with contempt this month by South Africa’s failure to cooperate with its arrest warrants for one of its longest running fugitives, President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan.
On 15 June, South Africa’s government failed to obey an order from its own high court to prevent al-Bashir from leaving the country. The order had been made while the court decided whether to compel the government to fulfil its international and constitutional obligations to uphold two ICC warrants for the arrest of Sudanese President al-Bashir. The Sudanese leader, who was visiting Johannesburg for an African Union Summit, faces seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as three counts of genocide in Darfur.
The rejection of any claim to immunity and the strong call to bring to trial those suspected of criminal responsibility for crimes under international law and human rights violations are a positive step towards justice in Central African Republic, Amnesty International said today, following the conclusions of a national reconciliation forum.
“For years, the usual solution to crises in the Central African Republic has been one of compromise and accommodation towards those responsible for the conflicts and violations. This week the delegates of the forum clearly indicated that the party was over and that justice cannot wait,” said Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty International Deputy Regional Director for West and Central Africa.
The US government’s callous and dehumanizing practice of holding prisoners in prolonged solitary confinement in the country’s only federal super-maximum security prison amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and is in violation of international law, said Amnesty International today.
Highlights from the report
The decision by the Assembly of the African Union (AU) to grant sitting African leaders immunity from prosecution for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity is a backward step in the fight against impunity and a let down for victims of serious violations of human rights, Amnesty International said.
An official communiqué released yesterday confirmed that African heads of state and government meeting at the AU Summit in Equatorial Guinea on 26 and 27 June had voted to adopt an amendment granting incumbent government leaders and other senior officials immunity from prosecution in the African Court of Justice and Human Rights.
“At a time when the African continent is struggling to ensure that there is accountability for serious human rights violations and abuses, it is impossible justify this decision which undermines the integrity of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights, even before it becomes operational,” said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Africa Director for Research and Advocacy.