12 July 2017 - NPWJ News Digest on international criminal justice

NPWJ press release

ICC: Court finds South Africa failed in its obligation to arrest President Al Bashir. UN Security Council needs to take responsibility for its own ICC referrals
Brussels - Rome, 06 Jul 2017

In June 2015, President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, who is subject to an arrest warrant for crimes against humanity and genocide by the International Criminal Court, visited South Africa to attend a Summit of the African Union. South Africa is a State Party to the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court and is under a legal obligation to execute all orders and decisions of the ICC, including the arrest warrant. President al-Bashir fled the country while its highest constitutional court was hearing a petition from the Southern African Litigation Centre for his arrest and surrender to the ICC. The matter was subsequently referred to the ICC for determination as to whether South Africa had failed to fulfil its international obligations under the Rome ICC Statute to arrest President al-Bashir and transfer him to the ICC; and, if so, what the consequences of that failure should be. On 6 July 2017, the ICC has handed down its decision, determining that South Africa had indeed breached its obligations in failing to arrest President al-Bashir while he was on South African territory.
“We are pleased that with today’s decision, the ICC has finally put this matter to rest”, said Alison Smith, NPWJ’s International Criminal Justice Director. “It was clear to us from day one that South Africa was in violation of its legal obligations to arrest President al-Bashir and transfer him to the ICC to stand trial. There was never a conflict of law: the Rome Statute, customary international law and even South Africa’s own domestic law are clear that Head of State immunity simply does not apply to crimes under international law, particularly when an arrest warrant for those crimes is issued by the ICC.”

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Justice for Syria: A new hope dawns
Brussels-Rome, 04 Jul 2017

The appointment of French jurist Catherine Marchi-Uhel to head the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism(IIIM or Mechanism) to support the investigation and prosecution of crimes committed in Syria marks an important step towards justice and redress for victims in the conflict in Syria.
The IIIM was formally established by the United Nations General Assembly under the leadership of Liechtenstein last December in an unprecedented show of support by UN member States for victims in Syria in the face of inaction by the UN Security Council. Yesterday’s appointment gives life to the UNGA Resolution establishing the Mechanism and brings with it a weight of expectations, hopes and fears.
With its mandate to support investigations, gather information from a wide variety of sources, including the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, and prepare case files, the Mechanism has the chance to lay a solid foundation for future prosecutions, whether in national or international courts. Wherever its case files will be used, the Mechanism has a chance to make a real difference through the way it conducts its work.

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NPWJ in the news

ICC South Africa Ruling: Interview with Alison Smith, Director of No Peace without Justice Program
TRT World TV, 12 Jul 2017


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Justice in Syria: 5 ways to prosecute international crime
By Business Standard, 11 Jul 2017

The conflict in Syria has seen atrocities committed by all sides for six long years. Barbarities are an everyday occurrence.There are rules governing the conduct of warring parties. The 1949 Geneva Conventions form the core of international humanitarian law. Violating these rules is a war crime. Some atrocities go even beyond this level of criminality. Genocide, for instance, is an international crime in itself, while the systematic killing of political opposition would constitute a crime against humanity.The existence of these offences counts for little, of course, unless the law is enforced. This raises the question: is there any way of prosecuting any side of the Syrian conflict? These are some options that could help inform the way forward.

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NGOs ask International Criminal Court for Mexico probe
By Associated Press, 11 Jul 2017

Dozens of civil society organizations have presented a report to the International Criminal Court in The Hague in hopes it will lead to an investigation of possible crimes against humanity in northern Mexico. The report focuses on the state of Coahuila, which borders Texas. It documents crimes including the use of a prison in the city of Piedras Negras by the Zetas drug cartel to dispose of its enemies.  Olga Guzman of the Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights said Tuesday there is "reasonable evidence" of a deliberate policy of systematic and generalized violence.

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Khmer Rouge tribunal explains limits on prosecutions
By The Associated Press, 11 Jul 2017

The U.N.-backed Cambodian tribunal trying Khmer Rouge leaders for atrocities committed while they ruled the country acknowledged Monday that only a handful of former high-ranking officials will face justice for their crimes.The tribunal explained in a statement the dismissal in February of a case against Im Chaem, a middle-ranking Khmer Rouge district chief whom prosecutors had charged with crimes against humanity, including murder, extermination and enslavement.

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Childhood Friend of LRA Leader Testifies About Attack on Odek
By International Justice Monitor, 10 Jul 2017

A childhood friend of Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), told the International Criminal Court (ICC) how Kony’s character changed once he became involved in the rebellion in northern Uganda in the mid-1980s. Lakoch Par Oyoo told the court on Monday that Kony was a happy person before he started fighting the Ugandan government. Oyoo said Kony became rude and ferocious after spending some time in the northern Uganda rebellion. Oyoo was testifying in the trial of a former LRA commander, Dominic Ongwen, which resumed after a 19-day break. Ongwen has been charged for his alleged role in attacks on four camps for people displaced by the conflict in northern Uganda. The camps he is alleged to have had a role in attacking between 2003 and 2004 are Abok, Lukodi, Odek, and Pajule. In total, he faces 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

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