In this week’s review, news about the ICC Prosecutor’s statement on Libya, the ICC’s rejection of Bemba’s reparation request, Austria’s conviction in domestic court for Syrian war crimes, Serbia and the vacant war crimes prosecutor position, Argentinian legislation on human rights abusers’ sentences, and more.
ICC Prosecutor addresses UN Security Council on Libya; raises crimes against migrants
On 9 May 2017, the ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda made a statement to the UN Security Council on the situation in Libya; noting with concern the deterioration of the situation since last year. Her statement addressed the unsealing of the arrest warrant against Mr Al-Tuhamy a few weeks ago. The former head of the Libyan Internal Security Agency under Muammar Gaddafi is alleged to be responsible for crimes against humanity of imprisonment, persecution, torture, and other inhumane acts, and the war crimes of torture, cruel treatment and outrages upon personal dignity of persons perceived to be opponents of Muammar Gaddafi. The Prosecutor stated that unsealing of the warrant will “enhance the chances of its execution” and “send an important message” that the ICC continues to carry out its work in Libya. She called upon States and Security Council cooperation for the warrant’s timely execution. Then, she renewed her call for the surrender Mr Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi.
She also recalled that both Mr Al-Senussi and Gaddafi were convicted by domestic courts in Libya and that the case of Al-Senussi is currently on appeal. While a recent report issued by the UN Support Mission in Libya concluded that the domestic trial “fell short of international fair trial standards”, the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) declared the case inadmissible. Bensouda stated that the Office of the Prosecutor is considering whether “new facts have arisen which [would] negate” the PTC conclusion. Bensouda finally highlighted the ongoing “widespread commission of serious crimes” against those in detention and against migrants attempting to transit through Libya, stating she was “dismayed by credible accounts that Libya has become a marketplace for the trafficking of human beings.” She called upon a “concerted response” and declared that her Office was examining the “feasibility of opening an investigation into migrant-related crimes in Libya.” Finally, the Prosecutor highlighted the need for state cooperation and funding. (ICC press release, Al Jazeera, Reuters)
ICC Trial Chamber rejects Bemba’s request to suspend reparations proceedings during appeal
On 5 May, Trial Chamber III of the ICC, in the case of The Prosecutor v. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, rejected the Defence’s request to suspend the reparations proceedings. In its filing of 3 April 2017, Mr. Bemba’s Defence requested the Chamber to refrain from instructing expert witnesses to assist in the determination of appropriate reparations and to suspend the reparations process altogether, claiming that a suspension is consistent with prior ICC practice. The Defence further argued that the fact that the appeals proceedings for Mr Bemba’s sentence are still ongoing renders the reparations process inconsistent with the rights of the accused, as it is based upon a presumption of guilt of the defendant.
Accordingly, the Defence added, the appointment of experts would be premature and possibly unavailing if Mr Bemba were to be acquitted on appeal. The Prosecution, echoed by the Legal Representative for Victims and the Office of Public Counsel for Victims, asked the Chamber to reject the Defence’s request, arguing that the pending appeal has no impact on the reparations proceedings according to the prior practice of the Court. The Prosecution further specified that reparations proceedings would not be prejudicial to Mr Bemba’s rights and that their suspension would only negatively impact the expeditiousness of the overall proceedings and, in turn, the victims’ timely access to reparations.
The Trial Chamber ultimately rejected the Defence’s request arguing that the legal texts of the Court contemplate that reparations proceedings may indeed commence in parallel to a pending appeal and that the issuance of a reparations order is not prejudicial to the rights of the convicted given that reparations order would only be implemented once the conviction decision has been confirmed on appeal. The Chamber also noted that the provisions concerning a possible suspension of the proceedings, a decision which would nevertheless only fall within the remit of the Appeals Chamber, would not applicable to the case at hand, and that a suspension of the reparations proceedings would only negatively impact the victims’ interests to access reparations in a timely manner. (ICC Trial Chamber Decision)
Austria convicts refugee of Syrian war crimes; issues life sentence
A court in the Austrian city of Innsbruck sentenced an asylum seeker to life imprisonment for war crimes committed in Syria. The 27-year-old man, allegedly a stateless Palestinian who grew up in a refugee camp in the Syrian city of Homs, was accused of shooting unarmed or wounded soldiers in a battle in Homs. According to local media, the man shared with others refugees details of the matter, claiming to have shot dead government soldiers when fighting with the Islamist rebel group ‘Farouq Brigade’, which is linked to the Free Syrian Army. Said account of the events has been dismissed as ‘mistranslation’ by his lawyers, who are now looking to appeal the sentence. This is thought to be the first-ever case involving war crimes in Syria to have been tried in Austria. (BBC)
Serbian Parliament to fill vacant war crimes prosecutor position
Serbia’s National Assembly has announced it will elect a new chief war crimes prosecutor after the post was left vacant for a year and a half. The two candidates for the post are both deputies of former war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic, with rumours placing Snezana Stanajkovic as the frontrunner. While her programme as a candidate mostly focuses on Serb victims and ending impunity for crimes against Serbs, both candidates call for more employees at the prosecutor’s office and for more regional cooperation. Experts view the absence of a chief war crimes prosecutor for such a long period of time as having further damaged an already fragile institution, which has been suffering from a lack of support and resources and has been the subject of strong political pressure over the past couple of years. (BalkanInsight)
Argentinian Senate passes bill to combat Supreme Court’s decision on reduced sentence for human rights abusers
On Wednesday, Argentina’s Senate passed a bill aimed at preventing the reduction of jail sentences for dictatorship-era human rights abusers. The bill was approved amid nationwide and international outcry sparked by last week’s Supreme Court ruling that saw the reduction of the 13-year sentence given to Luis Muina for the kidnapping and torture of five people during a military operation, based on an interpretation of the repealed “two for one” law. The said law, which was valid from 1994 until 2001, determined that defendants who served a pre-trial detention of more than two years would see each day spent in jail after the two-year mark counted as double. The new bill, supported unanimously by the Senate, stipulates that the “two for one” law “is not applicable to criminal conduct that falls into the category of crimes against humanity, genocide or war crimes, according to international law”.
The new law also determines that a sentence reduction can only be applied if the defendant was in pre-trial detention between 1994 and 2001, when the “two for one” law was still in force. “Numerous judges rejected the requests for a reduction of sentences and the freeing of human rights abusers,” said Estela de Carlotto, president of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo addressing the demonstrators across the country. “Today, lawmakers approved a measure that seeks to put a break on this law that favours genocide and repressors,” she added. (Telesur, The Daily Progress)
80 schoolgirls formerly held by Boko Haram released in Nigeria
On 6 May 2017, more than 80 of the Chibok schoolgirls held by Boko Haram were released, after being abducted over three years ago. UNICEF has called on Boko Haram to end all grave violations against children, and is on standby to assist the Nigerian authorities with reintegrating the girls. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is currently undertaking a preliminary examination into crimes committed in Nigeria, with a focus on alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in the context of the armed conflict between Boko Haram and Nigerian security forces and in the Niger Delta and the Middle-Belt States. (UN News Centre)
Photos: Muhammadu Buhari/Facebook and ICC-CPI/Flickr