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Home International Criminal Law Archive for category "Genocide"

‘Open for Business’: The Special Criminal Court Launches Investigations in the Central African Republic

Published on February 8, 2019        Author: 
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On 22 October 2018, the Special Criminal Court (SCC) held its inaugural session in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR). Several weeks later, the Special Prosecutor, Col. Toussaint Muntazini, announced his long-awaited prosecutorial strategy. Coming three years after Parliament initially requested a specialist ‘war crimes’ tribunal for CAR, these two acts mark a watershed in the country’s fight against impunity. After providing some background on the SCC, this post examines the prosecutorial strategy and the prospects of accountability in CAR.

The Legal Framework

Established by domestic legislation in June 2015, the SCC is a hybrid tribunal fully integrated into the Central African justice system. It is staffed by national and international prosecutors and judges, and relies on logistical and technical support from the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR. Funded by voluntary contributions, the SCC is functionally independent from both the United Nations and CAR government. Its five-year mandate, which officially began on 22 October 2018, is renewable.

Prosecutorial Strategy

Why did the SCC publicize its prosecutorial strategy? Other tribunals, for instance the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, never made their strategies public (to the extent such strategies existed). The SCC’s decision to ‘go public’ is more in line with the International Criminal Court (ICC)’s practice of adopting formal policies on a variety of matters. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Situation of the Rohingya: Is there a role for the International Court of Justice?

Published on November 14, 2018        Author: 
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In April 2017, the UN Human Rights Council established the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar to investigate alleged human rights abuses by military and security forces. The Fact-Finding Mission issued an initial summary reportin August 2018, followed by a 444-page report of detailed findingsin September.

Among other things, the Fact-Finding Mission found that after an armed group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army launched a series of small-scale attacks against government military outposts on 25 August 2017, a government campaign aimed at Rohingya communities in Rakhine State resulted in at least 10,000 deaths and caused 725,000 Rohingya to flee, mainly to neighbouring Bangladesh. The Myanmar authorities termed their actions “clearance operations” meant to eliminate a terrorist threat. The Fact-Finding Mission described a campaign of indiscriminate killing and maiming, rampant sexual violence, and widespread destruction of Rohingya villages—a “human rights catastrophe”, but one long in the making because of a history of state-sanctioned discrimination against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in a predominantly Buddhist country.

The Fact-Finding Mission (which Myanmar refused to admit into its territory) concluded that the actions of Myanmar’s forces constituted crimes against humanity and war crimes. It also found sufficient evidence to warrant the investigation and prosecution of senior officials for the crime of genocide. Among other recommendations, the Fact-Finding Mission urged the UN Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC) (Myanmar is not a party to the Rome Statute) or to establish an ad hoc international criminal tribunal. (After the Fact-Finding Mission issued its August report, a Pre-Trial Chamber of the ICC determinedthat the ICC has jurisdiction over the alleged deportation of Rohingya individuals from Myanmar to Bangladesh, and possibly over additional other crimes; ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has since announceda preliminary examination into the situation.) The Fact-Finding Mission also recommended targeted sanctions against government officials and an arms embargo. The Chair of the Fact-Finding Mission, Marzuki Darusman, addressed the Security Council last month (over the objections of China and Russia) to reiterate these conclusions. In the meantime, the UN Human Rights Council responded by establishing a mechanismto collect and preserve evidence of international law violations in Myanmar (discussed here).

The emphasis of the Fact-Finding Mission and the UN Human Rights Council on individual criminal accountability is unsurprising. Many other fact-finding missions and commissions of inquiry that have investigated large-scale human rights violations have been similarly focused—a reflection of the extent to which international criminal law has become the central or even dominant narrative of the international response to so many crises. Indeed, advocacy groups have long campaigned for an ICC-focused response to the Rohingya crisis, alongside the urgent need to provide humanitarian assistance to the thousands of Rohingya refugees now living in difficult conditions in camps across the border in Bangladesh. (A dealnegotiated by UNHCR and UNDP with Myanmar in May 2018 to facilitate the repatriation of the Rohingya has been widely criticizedand remains unimplemented.)

The increased focus on Myanmar in 2018 is to be welcomed. UN officials and some governments have already characterized the conduct of the Myanmar authorities as acts of genocide (see herehere, here, and here), and the reputation and credibility of Myanmar’s de facto leader, the Nobel peace laureate Aung Sung Suu Kyi, has seen a rapid and precipitous decline (see here, here, and here). Yet amidst all of these developments, the almost singular focus on an international criminal justice response to the plight of the Rohingya is striking. The idea of seeking legal accountability at the level of State responsibility has gone largely unmentioned, a further example of what Laurel Fletcher has called the “effacement of state accountability for international crimes”. In that vein, the remainder of this post will consider the prospects for a case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Read the rest of this entry…

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Jurisdictional Immunities in the New York Southern District Court? The case of Rukoro et al. v. Federal Republic of Germany

Published on August 13, 2018        Author:  and
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In 2015, German State officials began referring to the atrocities committed by Imperial German soldiers in today’s Namibia between 1904 and 1908 as ‘what would now be called genocide’. This paradigm shift sparked considerable societal debate about Germany’s long neglected colonial past – finally, one might say. Although an official apology is still lacking, Germany and Namibia are currently addressing this ‘terrible chapter in history’ at an inter-State level. Despite this diplomatic progress, however, and much to the dismay of many descendants of victims of the German colonial era, individual compensation is not a subject of those negotiations. On 5 January 2017, various Herero and Nama representatives filed a (subsequently amended) class action complaint against Germany in the New York Southern District Court, which addresses both past and present day issues (for an overview of the case see here and here). The plaintiffs, first, request compensation for ‘the horrific genocide and unlawful taking of property’ by Germany (complaintpara 1). Secondly, the plaintiffs ask the Court to declare that their exclusion from the ongoing negotiations between Germany and Namibia violates international law (ibid. para 2).

After more than one and a half years of proceedings, things now seem to be getting serious. At a ‘pre-trial conference’ held on 31 July, both parties pleaded for the first time on the delicate question of the Court’s jurisdiction. This short contribution focuses on whether and to what extent Germany is entitled to claim immunity from jurisdiction. It then analyses at which point of the proceedings this immunity would be (or has already been) violated, and considers possible implications of the case from an immunity perspective and beyond.

Can Germany claim immunity from jurisdiction?

Deriving from the sovereign equality of States, jurisdictional immunity protects States from being subjected to the jurisdiction of courts in another State. It is widely accepted in contemporary international law that States only have an obligation to give effect to this immunity for another State’s acta jure imperii. The ICJ defined these as ‘exercises of sovereign power’ (Jurisdictional Immunities, para 60), as distinct from States’ private and commercial activities (acta jure gestionis), which are excluded from the scope of immunity.

Today’s negotiations between Germany and Namibia – the object of the plaintiffs’ second request – touch upon issues such as inter-State compensation (and other forms of redress). Such matters can only be settled by States acting in sovereign capacity, i.e. by way of acta jure imperii. The various acts of the colonial era – the objects of the plaintiffs’ first request – have to be distinguished. The genocidal crimes were committed by Imperial Germany’s armed forces in military operations. A State’s armed forces typically exercise sovereign power. The situation is less clear when it comes to the takings of property. The plaintiffs seem to argue that these were sovereign acts (complaint, para 39). Yet, the German authorities also stripped many Herero and Nama of their belongings by (grossly unfair) contracts. If viewed as private law agreements, these might constitute acta jure gestionis. From an international law perspective, a more nuanced assessment of the different forms of colonial wrongs could therefore have been a promising strand of argument for the complaint. Read the rest of this entry…

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First and Second Degree Genocide? Considering a Case for Bifurcation of the Law

Published on June 19, 2018        Author: 
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At its inception, the crime of genocide, which broadly concerns criminal conduct targeted at a group, was generally seen as somehow more culpable or aggravated than international crimes targeted at an individual. Critical opposition to that view exists (See Milanović on the Karadžić and Mladić Trial Chamber judgments). Contemporary application, however, of the law continues to consider genocide as “horrific in its scope” precisely because perpetrators identify “entire human groups for extinction” and “seek to deprive humanity of the manifold richness its nationalities, races, ethnicities and religions provide” (Krstić, Appeals Chamber judgment, para. 36).

The Appeals Chamber in Krstić has emphasized that the gravity of genocide is “reflected in the stringent requirements which must be satisfied before this conviction is imposed” (para. 37). This includes proving a specific intent to destroy a group such that the group targeted for destruction was either the whole “protected group”, or a “substantial” part of that whole (the “substantiality test”). Where the requirements are satisfied, the Appeals Chamber implores that “the law must not shy away from referring to the crime committed by its proper name” (para. 37).

My contention is that the law in fact has shied away from referring to the crime of genocide by its proper name. Read the rest of this entry…

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What lies beneath? The turn to values in international criminal legal discourse

Published on April 23, 2018        Author: 
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On the 9th of April, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the International Criminal Court submitted a request for a ruling by the Pre-Trial Chamber on whether the Court has territorial jurisdiction over the deportation of Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh. This development may impact how the ICC approaches its territorial jurisdiction in future, and raises interesting questions over the legal nature of the crime of deportation. However, the submission also gives rise to questions of a more theoretical nature that relate to the normative basis of international crimes, or more specifically, the acts that constitute them. The Prosecutor’s submission on jurisdiction over deportation into Bangladesh highlights an emerging trend in international criminal law towards identifying and surfacing the individual values or rights underlying international crimes. This coincides with a broader debate on the legal goods protected by these crimes, and invites us to consider the implications of this trend for the communicative function of the law.

Part of the Prosecutor’s submission on jurisdiction in Bangladesh addresses the distinction between the crimes of deportation and forcible transfer. Read the rest of this entry…

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Gravity of the Past: Polish-Ukrainian Memory War and Freedom of Speech

Published on February 22, 2018        Author: 
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There is a power to the words ‘I remember’: the power of an event long past, exerting itself upon the present […] When the words begin a flow of warmth or love, it is a positive, binding power, but it is the most divisive and negative one possible when they lead on to events of death and destruction…

Ilana R. Bet-El

Collective memory matters politically: it provides a nation with an identity and common myth of origin, legitimizing power by creating a desired image of the past. This explains why states are preoccupied with memory, prescribing by law what has to be remembered and what must be forgotten. Revanchism, ethnic cleansing and war are all results of memory. The clash of historical narratives sponsored by states can destroy interstate relations. This happened in the case of Poland and Ukraine; these States were involved in memory war because of the attempts, from both sides, to instrumentilise history and use it for nationalist and populist goals.

These two countries were the ‘bloodlands’ during the Second World War. Yet, they have different memories of controversial events of the twentieth century. Describing the differing memories of the Polish-Ukrainian conflict Timothy Snyder writes:

[…] for patriotic Ukrainians the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists created a moment of Ukrainian sovereign action by declaring a Ukrainian state under Nazi occupation in 1941 and a lasting memory of national heroism by their doomed struggle, for Poles its UPA [the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. – A.Ch.] was the organization which cleansed Poles from Western Ukraine in 1943 and 1944. Ukrainian patriots […] are unwilling to accept that the UPA did commit mass race murder in 1943-4. Poles […] are apt to believe that the anti-Ukrainian military operations of 1944-7 were a direct result (and a just one) of the UPA’s earlier ethnic cleansing. Both views are substantially incorrect. The UPA did indeed brutally murder […] Polish civilians in 1943-3. But in 1944-7 the Polish communist regime acted to ‘resolve the Ukrainian question in Poland’, not only to liquidate the UPA […]. [C]leansing actions (the word used at the time) […] was carried out in the name of the Ukrainian nation against Poles and in the name of the Polish nation against Ukrainians.

Read the rest of this entry…

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Some Thoughts on the Mladic Judgment

Published on November 27, 2017        Author: 
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Last week the ICTY rendered its trial judgment against Ratko Mladic, the wartime military commander of the Bosnian Serbs (summary; the judgment itself is available here, in four volumes at some 2500 pages). The outcome was basically as I predicted in my previous post: Mladic was convicted on all counts except for count 1, genocide in Bosnian municipalities other than Srebrenica. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. Justice was done, and that is a very good thing; the nationalist reactions to the judgment in the Balkans were unfortunately also as predicted, and that is not. In this post I will briefly give a few thoughts on the two issues I raised in my previous post – the count 1 genocide acquittal and the shelling of the Markale marketplace in Sarajevo.

As for the former, the basic outcome here was the same as in the Karadzic case – the Trial Chamber unanimously found that no genocide was committed in Bosnian municipalities other than Srebrenica. The road taken to get to that outcome was, however, different. In the Mladic case the majority of the Trial Chamber (Judge Orie dissenting) found that the physical perpetrators of the killings in (some, but not all of) the municipalities DID have an intention to destroy a part of the Bosnian Muslim group as such (para. 3456 / p. 1764 et seq of the judgment, conclusion in para. 3526); however, they then found that this intention was not to destroy a SUBSTANTIAL part, as required by the jurisprudence of the ad hoc tribunals (para. 3527  et seq, conclusion in para. 3536).

This substantiality criterion has admittedly never been conceptually clear, or easy to apply in practice. Even so, the majority was probably in error here – essentially they inferred the intent to destroy from the massive scale of the crimes and the fact that individual victims were targeted on a discriminatory basis, i.e. they were killed because of their ethnicity. But that confuses killings on the basis of a discriminatory motive with an intention to destroy (a part, however defined) of a group, as such. The majority’s approach also invites problematic line-drawing with regard to how Srebrenica was in fact genocide, which essentially boils down to the number of people killed, or available to be killed, belonging to a certain ethnic group. (That said, I have personally never been comfortable with this arithmetic of genocide or with essentially morally arbitrary distinctions between genocide and crimes against humanity, which we are legally compelled to get into.)

By contrast, Judge Orie in his very brief dissenting opinion (the Chamber was otherwise unanimous on all counts, which is again a good thing), finds that the only reasonable inference that could be drawn from the evidence is that the physical perpetrators had the intention to displace Bosnian Muslims (killing many in the process) from certain areas, but not destroy them as a group. The Trial Chamber was unanimous that a genocidal intent could not be attributed by inference to the high-ranking leadership or members of the overarching joint criminal enterprise, whose purpose was ethnic cleansing rather than genocide (paras. 4234-4237).

As things stand, with unanimous trial chambers in both the Mladic and Karadzic cases finding on the facts that genocide was not committed in the Bosnian municipalities, I think it is unlikely in the extreme that this conclusion will be disturbed by the MICT Appeals Chamber on appeal, especially because the trial chambers are due some deference on their factual findings. (Not, again, that this will stop Bosniak nationalists from saying that the totality of the conflict was a genocide.)

On the Markale shelling, unlike in Karadzic, the Mladic Trial Chamber was unanimous that the shelling was perpetrated by Bosnian Serb forces. Reading through the judgment, it is clear that the defence strategy was to raise reasonable doubt as to the identity of the perpetrators by any means necessary. For that purpose it called a host of different factual and expert witnesses, virtually each of which had a different (conspiracy) theory as to what had actually happened. The Trial Chamber essentially demolished each of these witnesses in turn; perhaps the most amusing example (if a macabre one) was the testimony of defence expert Zorica Subotic who claimed that the shell that had hit the marketplace was planted on the scene rather than fired from Serb positions. Her basis for claiming so is that a particular piece of the shell could never be detached from it, but was found detached on the scene. This is what happened then (paras 2091-2092):

Subotić testified that the mortar shell that exploded at Markale Market was planted there. In this respect, the Trial Chamber observes with concern the lengths to which the witness was prepared to go to ‘prove’ that the evidence regarding the Markale market incident had been staged. One of the most disconcerting theories offered by the witness was her evidence that bodies at the scene of the explosion had been ‘staged’ or planted there for the occasion. This theory, besides falling squarely outside her area of expertise, rested on rampant speculation. … The witness’s basic claims were that (i) the mortar shell which hit Markale Market could not have fallen at the angle which other experts concluded it had, and (ii) that the tail fin of the mortar shell – also called the stabilizer – was planted at the Markale Market site after the explosion. The witness testified that she examined whether there were two stabilizers. The witness’s research on the Markale incident was based on examining photographs of the tail fin that was found at Markale Market and using a similar tail fin she had brought into court. On this basis, the witness drew her conclusions. The claim that the stabilizer was planted at the site was, in the witness’s opinion, supported by the fact that the mortar shell’s base charge could not by any kind of force before, during, or after the mortar shell exploded, be disconnected from the body of the stabilizer. To prove this point, the witness brought a stabilizer attached to base charge to court and stated that they could not be unscrewed from each other which, the witness claimed, was a technical matter not in dispute. When the charge was handed to the bench, the judges managed to unscrew the charge within a matter of seconds using a plastic ballpoint pen. For her research on the Markale incident, the witness used firing tables from 2001 and testified that she did not have firing tables from before that time. At the same time, the witness acknowledged that precise firing tables are essential to calculate matters such as a mortar’s velocity or its angle of descent.

And so forth. The judges found none of the evidence presented by the defence in this regard to be persuasive. Thus, 5 of the 6 ICTY trial judges who last looked at the matter thought that the shell was fired from Bosnian Serb positions. That should be good enough for anyone, but unfortunately it will not be so in the Balkans, where the conspiracy theories dispelled in the courtroom will continue to persist.

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ICTY Due to Render Mladic Trial Judgment

Published on November 21, 2017        Author: 
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The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia will tomorrow render its very final trial judgment, in one of its most important cases, that of Ratko Mladic, the commander of the army of the Bosnian Serbs during the conflict in Bosnia. As with the case of Radovan Karadzic, the wartime president of the Bosnian Serb republic, there are few unknowns in Mladic’s case – he will be convicted, and he will spend the remainder of his life in prison, whether his sentence is formally that of life imprisonment or not (for our coverage of the Karadzic judgment see here, here and here). Let me nonetheless address two of the remaining uncertainties, and one clear certainty.

The first count of the indictment charges Mladic with genocide in several Bosnian municipalities in 1992; the second charges him with genocide in Srebrenica in 1995. And it is on the former that Mladic actually has a realistic chance – even a likelihood – of being acquitted. This is exactly what happened with Karadzic, and the ICTY has ‘only’ been able to find genocide in Srebrenica, not in any of the other municipalities. This whole issue was also of great relevance to the botched attempt to revise the 2007 Bosnian Genocide judgment of the ICJ earlier this year. That said, while in the Karadzic case the Trial Chamber deciding on a rule 98 bis motion originally found that Karadzic could not be convicted of genocide in the municipalities by a reasonable trier of fact – a finding later reversed by the Appeals Chamber – in Mladic the Trial Chamber’s rule 98 bis decision found that the prosecution did, in fact, make it out its initial evidentiary burden (see here, at p. 24). The possibility thus remains that the Mladic and Karadzic trial chambers will disagree on the existence of genocide outside Srebrenica; that possibility is relatively low, but it is not zero. The whole thing will in any event receive its judicial epilogue before the Appeals Chamber of the MICT.

Secondly, one difficulty with the Karadzic judgment was the factual 2:1 divide among the judges regarding the first shelling of the Markale marketplace during the siege of Sarajevo. As I explained in my Karadzic post:

[W]hen it comes to the siege of Sarajevo the Trial Chamber confirmed the overall picture of the terrorization of the civilian population as established in the ICTY’s previous cases, such as Galic. There is however one politically very big issue here – the two shellings of the Markale marketplace in Sarajevo, on 5 February 1994 and 28 August 1995, in which dozens of people were killed and injured. The standard Bosniak narrative is that the marketplace was deliberately shelled by the Bosnian Serb army to terrorize the civilian population; the standard Serb narrative is that the shellings were done by the Bosniaks themselves in order to demonize the Serbs and provoke an international military response (which the latter one did). The Trial Chamber found (starting at p. 1662) that both incidents were perpetrated by Bosnian Serbs. However, Judge Baird dissented (p. 2542 et seq.) with respect to the 5 February 1994 incident, finding that there was reasonable doubt that the Bosnian Serbs did not commit the attack. Clearly this opens the door for Karadzic to appeal (rightly or wrongly), but even more importantly the division in the Trial Chamber reinforces the divided realities lived by the different communities in Bosnia as well.

It will be interesting to see what the Mladic Trial Chamber decides on these two attacks.

Finally, one thing that is absolutely certain is how the trial judgment will be received in the former Yugoslavia. Again, absent massive judicial aneurysms Mladic is going to be convicted; there is no conceivable reality in which he walks from the courtroom tomorrow morning as a free man. That conviction will not, however, persuade any ethnic Serbs in Bosnia or Serbia who previously believed in his innocence that he is in fact guilty; rather, they will treat the judgment as yet another example of a Western conspiracy against the Serbs. For example, a 2011 public survey of the Serbian population commissioned by the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights found that 55% of ethnic Serbs thought that Mladic was not guilty of the crimes he was charged with by the ICTY, only 17% felt that he was guilty, and 28% did not know or did not want to give their opinion. I have no reason to believe that these results would be any different if the poll was conducted today (if anything they are probably worse), or that the trial judgment convicting Mladic would change anyone’s views. Similarly, if Mladic is – like Karadzic – acquitted on count 1, genocide in the municipalities, the negative reaction among Bosniak nationalists and victim groups is similarly going to be quite predictable.  (For more on this, see the series of articles I did on the impact of the ICTY and other criminal tribunals on local audiences – here, here and here).

That said, while the bottom line of the Mladic case is clear, there are bound to be various different legal and factual issues in the judgment that are worth exploring in more detail. We will have more coverage on the blog in the days to follow.

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A Moving Conference: Rights, Justice and Memories of the City

Published on November 21, 2017        Author: 
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Conferences rarely get reviewed (but see a recent such review here), but given the amount of time, money and carbon emissions that goes into them, we may wish to evaluate them. Moreover, in reviewing a conference, we can try to capture and share an experience that, unlike a book, cannot be picked up again.

The conference Rights, Justice, and Memories of the City that took place in Lviv, Ukraine, from 9 to 12 November, is worth an attempt at capturing. If allowed to pick only one adjective, I would choose ‘moving’. Unlike most academic conferences, the conference involved a lot of physical moving around: the opening lecture took place at the Ukrainian Catholic University; the workshop next day, Placeless/Placeness: Ideas of Rights and Justice in Eastern Europe, was at the Center for Urban History and in the city hall on the city’s beautiful main square; the Saturday included a discussion at the Mayor’s office, a three-hour city walk and an art performance in the Lviv Philarmonic; while the Sunday offered a visit to the nearby town of Zhovkva. These were not mere ‘excursions’, agenda items peripheral to the core business of seated discussion. Rather, they were key to what was being discussed throughout the conference, including during the walks: the role of a place in the development of ideas on rights and justice.

Inspired by Philippe Sands’s celebrated East West Street: On the origins of genocide and crimes against humanity (Weidenfeld&Nicholson 2016, published in Ukrainian in September 2017), this event connected Hersch Lauterpacht and Raphael Lemkin and their legal work to the socio-political context within which they developed. Historians provided brilliant insights into the need for members of minorities to think and act in a cosmopolitan way. Reut Paz outspokenly illustrated the significance of Lemberg/Lwów/Lviv/Lvov with an excerpt from the Eichmann trial, where Eichmann mentions that it was here that he saw something he had not seen before: ‘Blutfontänen’, fountains of blood springing up from the soil due to the extent of killing of Jews that had taken place. Sean Murphy explained how the International Law Commission was working on a draft convention on the prevention and suppression of crimes against humanity, a concept inserted in the Nuremberg Charter at Lauterpacht’s recommendation. And the Ukrainian Judge on the European Court of Human Rights, Judge Ganna Yudkivska, pleaded civil society to continue its fight for human rights in an environment of backlash. Read the rest of this entry…

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Myanmar’s Rohingya Crisis and the Need for a Regional Response to Statelessness in Southeast Asia

Published on October 30, 2017        Author: 
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Over the past two months, about half a million Rohingya people have fled from Myanmar (Burma) to neighboring Bangladesh. The immediate trigger for this mass exodus was a crackdown by Myanmar’s security forces against Rohingya insurgents and civilians, which reportedly included widespread torture, rape, and killing. However, the roots of this conflict lie far in the past.

The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic minority based in the western part of predominantly Buddhist Myanmar. Since the establishment of Myanmar in 1948, Rohingya leaders have made separatist claims, at times accompanied by a violent struggle by some insurgent groups. The government, on its part, has denied Burmese citizenship to the Rohingya people and refused to include them among the country’s 135 officially recognized ethnic groups. The government asserts that the Rohingya are illegal migrants from Bangladesh, whereas the Rohingya consider themselves to be indigenous people of western Myanmar. Neither Bangladesh nor any other country has been willing to grant citizenship to Myanmar’s Rohingya, and the vast majority of the group’s one million members have thus remained stateless.    

As a stateless minority, the Rohingya have suffered severe discrimination in Myanmar. They have been denied the right to participate in elections and have faced severe restrictions on movement, land ownership, family life, religious freedom, education, and employment. They have also been persecuted by extremist Buddhist groups without government interference. During the last decades, this reality has pushed tens of thousands of Rohingya to seek asylum in neighboring countries. The present crisis thus marks the culmination of the longstanding persecution of this stateless minority.

In this contribution, I argue that the adoption of a more effective regional response to the problem of statelessness is essential in order to ameliorate the plight of the Rohingya and other stateless groups in Southeast Asia. I begin by providing a brief factual background on statelessness in Southeast Asia. I then describe the existing international legal framework on statelessness, noting the limited impact that it has had in Southeast Asia. Finally, I present the justifications for adopting a new Southeast Asian regional approach to statelessness, and discuss the role that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) should play in this respect. Read the rest of this entry…

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