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Private Investigators Helped Germany Arrest Two Former Syrian Secret Service Officers

Published on February 26, 2019        Author: 

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On 7 February 2019, the investigative judge of the German Federal Court of Justice issued arrest warrants against two former secret service officers from the Syrian government, since they were strongly suspected of having carried out or aided torture and crimes against humanity. On 12 February 2019, the German Federal Prosecutor – through officers of the Federal Criminal Police Office (Bundeskriminalamt) – arrested the two suspects in Berlin and Zweibrücken. As a result of the creation of a French-German Joint Investigation Team, another Syrian alleged to have worked for the secret service was arrested by Parisian prosecutors. This is the first time western criminal prosecutors have arrested alleged torturers working for Bashar al-Assad.

The strong suspicion that the suspects had carried out the alleged crimes is based – to a considerable extent – on evidence that has been collected by private individuals and entities: First, the photographs taken by the “Group Caesar”, the code name of a former Syrian military photographer who brought over 50,000 photographs out of the country, 28,000 of which show detainees in Syrian prisons killed by torture, outright execution, disease, malnutrition or other ill-treatment. Second, the assistance of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, which provided the testimony from six survivors of torture in Al Khatib detention center in Damascus. Third, the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA), who provided documentary evidence against one of the two former secret service officers. Nerma Jelacic, CIJA’s deputy director, announced on Twitter: “#CIJA is proud to have supported the #German prosecutor’s investigation and arrest of the first high-ranking Syrian regime official”.

This shows that the appeal of private investigations has now reached the level of International Criminal Justice. Of course, investigatory work done by private non-state agencies is not novel, considering that there are countless Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and Inter-Governmental Organisations (IGOs) who interview witnesses and collect documents. The aim is that this material may be used in International(ised) Criminal Tribunals or before a national court trying international crimes. Private investigations are indispensable on the international level, and privately funded international human rights organisations have been crucial to hold perpetrators of international crimes accountable. Read the rest of this entry…

 
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The Kosovo Specialist Chambers’ Rules of Procedure and Evidence

Published on August 17, 2017        Author: 

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The Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) and the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office (SPO) are the latest addition to a multi-layered and broad spectrum of international institutions dedicated to the investigation and prosecution of international crimes. In March 2017, the Judges of the KSC adopted the Rules of Procedure and Evidence (RPE), which are now finally available on the Tribunal’s website. In the following, I will provide a first analysis of the RPE and evaluate them against existing procedural laws of International(ized) Criminal Tribunals (ICTs). It goes without saying that, in the face of the sheer number of rules (211), this analysis can only be cursory.

The biggest achievement of the Judges certainly is that they translated the institutional uniqueness of the KSC – an internationalized tribunal with a Constitutional Chamber (‘Specialist Chamber of the Constitutional Court’) and the European Union as the primary sponsor – into the rules. This especially becomes apparent through the incorporation of an interpretation rule (Rule 4) into the RPE, which refers – inter alia – to ‘the framework as set out in Article 3 [KSC-Law]’. This Article 3 (its length makes it impractical to reproduce it here) is not only a modern version of Article 21 of the ICC-Statute. It also determines that the KSC shall adjudicate and function in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) and the Constitution of Kosovo. This is remarkable in many regards: the preference to refer to the ECHR rather than ‘internationally recognized human rights’ (Article 21(3) ICC-Statute) has the potential of strengthening the rights of the defendant. The vagueness of the term ‘internationally recognized human rights’ has led to the assumption that it denotes something less than universal acceptance. The European human rights jurisprudence, by contrast, is one of the most developed and most discussed in secondary source material (Young, ICLQ 60 (2011), 204). Moreover, through its Article 22, the Constitution of Kosovo gives the ECHR constitutional value. Of course, one could think that this does not make any practical difference, since the ECHR is mentioned as a source of the KSC anyway. However, recall that Kosovo is not a party to the ECHR and therefore not internationally liable for its implementation. The reference to the ECHR in Kosovo’s Constitution makes these human rights justiciable because both the accused and the victim are entitled to make referrals to the Constitutional Chamber in relation to alleged violations by the KSC of their human rights guaranteed by the Constitution (Article 113(7) Kosovo Constitution). Thus, in questions of the KSC’s activity and subject-matter jurisdiction, it is the Constitutional Chamber – not an appellate body – that serves as the final authority for the interpretation of the Constitution (Article 49 KSC-Law). This turns the rights enshrined in the ECHR into basic rights and contributes to a constitutionalization.

Of course, the strengthened judicial review at the KSC through the establishment of a Constitutional Chamber comes at a price, and it does not take much to predict a governance problem. More concretely, as praiseworthy as a constitutionalized ECHR may be in theory, in practice it will not make it any easier for the Judges to face the daily task of running an ICT. Take, for instance, the first Constitutional Chamber judgment about the constitutionality of the KSC RPE, Rule 19 in particular: in the version that was first referred to the Constitutional Chamber on 27 March 2017, Rule 19 contained a paragraph 3 where a hearing could continue for no more than five working days in the presence of just two instead of three Judges, in case one Judge was absent due to circumstances such as illness. Such a rule has great practical importance and is modelled after Rule 16(A) of the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) RPE and Rule 15bis ICTY RPE. Nevertheless, the Constitutional Chamber declared Rule 19(3) KSC RPE unconstitutional, because Article 25(1) KSC-Law prescribes that the Trial Panels, Court of Appeal Panels and Supreme Court Panels are comprised of ‘three’ Judges, and the KSC-Law is silent on whether hearings may be conducted before a ‘Panel’ of two Judges (Specialist Chamber of the Constitutional Court, para. 39). Read the rest of this entry…

 
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