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Home Posts tagged "War Crimes"

A War Crimes Trial That Needs More Attention

Published on November 15, 2018        Author: 
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Introduction

There is an ongoing landmark domestic trial for international crimes that is steadily progressing at this very moment in relative obscurity. The case is about one of the worst single-event crimes that has occurred since the Second World War and was matched in its methods and gravity only by the likes of the Nyarubuye, Gikondo, and Srebrenica Massacres of 1994 and 1995. In 3 days, 1000 people from several neighboring villages were rounded-up, imprisoned, tortured, raped and killed. More than 500 of them were children. The crime was committed during an internal armed conflict that lasted 12 years during the final decade of the Cold War. The crime was then denied, forgotten and eventually literally exhumated by Argentinian forensic experts in 1992. The crime took place between 11 and 13 December 1981 in a cluster of small villages in North-East El Salvador. The crime is remembered as the El Mozote Massacre.

It will be 37 years in December since this massacre took place. So far, nobody has been held criminally responsible for it, despite the fact that the details of the incident were well documented in the 1993 Report of the UN Truth Commission for El Salvador. This is largely because of the General Amnesty Law which was passed in 1993, shortly after the signing of the Chapultepec Peace Accord by which the Salvadoran civil war ended. However, in 2012, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights passed the Judgment in the Case of the Massacres of El Mozote and Nearby Places v. El Salvador in which it declared the Amnesty Law incompatible with the Inter-American Convention of Human Rights and with the peace accord itself.

It took some 4 years for the Salvadoran Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court to declare the Amnesty Law unconstitutional. Shortly after the law was derogated, the investigation into the El Mozote Massacre continued, and in March 2017 charges against 18 high-ranking military officers were brought before the criminal court of first instance in San Francisco Gotera, a small municipality in Morazán department. The charges were not brought by the Salvadoran Attorney General (Fiscalia), but by two NGOs – Fundacion Cristosal and Tutela Legal Maria Julia. The Attorney General initially claimed that the case was res judicata and that, therefore, it should be rejected. The trial judge, Guzman Urquilla, disagreed and let the proceedings continue. Read the rest of this entry…

 

Customary International Law and the Addition of New War Crimes to the Statute of the ICC

Published on January 2, 2018        Author: 
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In addition to the activation of the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression (see previous post), the recently concluded Assembly of States Parties (ASP) to the Statute of the ICC, also adopted three amendments adding to the list of war crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court. These new war crimes relate to the use of prohibited weapons in international as well as non-international armed conflicts. However, in the lead-up to the ASP there was controversy regarding the wisdom and even the legality of adding to the list of war crimes. One of the concerns was that there would be fragmentation of the Rome Statute system with different crimes applicable in differing situations to different individuals. This is because under the amendment procedure to the Rome Statute (Art. 121(5)) these new crimes would not apply to nationals of, or conduct on the territory of, non-ratifying states parties. Another concern was that the new crimes (or at least some of them) are, in the view of some states, not criminalised under customary international law and thus not suitable for addition for inclusion in the ICC Statute. It is this latter issue that I focus on this post, though as I will explain later, the issue overlaps with the question of fragmentation of the Rome Statute regime. In this post, I discuss the implications of criminalising conduct under the ICC  Statute which do not amount to customary international law crimes. I take no position on whether the crimes that have been added are, or are not, crimes under customary international law (though I think few would doubt that the use of biological weapons is such a customary international crime), but explain why this is an important question that states are right to pay attention to.

The new war crimes to be inserted into the Rome Statute are as follows (see Resolution ICC-ASP/16/Res.4):

  • Employing weapons, which use microbial or other biological agents, or toxins, whatever their origin or method of production [to be inserted as Art. 8(2)(b)xxvii) and Art. 8(2)(e)(xvi)]
  • Employing weapons the primary effect of which is to injure by fragments which in the human body escape detection by X-rays [to be inserted as Art. 8(2)(b)(xxviii) and Art. 8(2((e)(xvii)];
  • Employing laser weapons specifically designed, as their sole combat function or as one of their combat functions, to cause permanent blindness to unenhanced vision, that is to the naked eye or to the eye with corrective eyesight devices [to be inserted as article 8(2)(b)(xxix) and Art. 8(2)(e)(xviii)].

Read the rest of this entry…

 

The Al-Werfalli Arrest Warrant: Denial of Fair Trial as an Additional Allegation and a Hint at a Possible Defence

Published on August 23, 2017        Author: 
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Last week, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant in the Libya Situation against Mahmoud Al-Werfalli. The arrest warrant alleges that Al-Werfalli is criminally responsible for the war crime of Murder, in a non-international armed conflict, pursuant to Article 8(2)(c)(i) of the Rome Statute, in relation to the alleged summary execution of 33 persons. Based on the facts laid out in the arrest warrant, the ICC Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) could also have alleged that Al-Werfalli is criminally responsible for the war crime of “sentencing or executing without due process” (“denial of fair trial”) pursuant to Article 8(2)(c)(iv) of the Rome Statute. This choice would be novel in modern international criminal law practice. However, it has been done in other jurisdictions (See J. DePiazza, “Denial of Fair Trial as an International Crime — Precedent for Pleading and Proving it under the Rome Statute” 15 Journal of International Criminal Justice (2017)). Another interesting element of the arrest warrant is that it hints at a possible defence to any eventual charge of murder or denial of fair trial – mistake of fact.

According to the arrest warrant, Al-Werfalli is a Commander in the Al-Saiqa Brigade, an elite unit reported to comprise 5,000 soldiers. In May 2014, the Brigade joined “Operation Dignity”, with other armed elements, for the reported purpose of fighting terrorist groups in Benghazi. The operation continued until at least 18 March 2017. In this context, the arrest warrant alleges that, in seven separate incidents, 33 persons who were either civilians or persons hors de combat, were detained and then executed. It is alleged that they were either executed personally by Al-Werfalli or on his orders. The arrest warrant further alleges that “[t]here is no information in the evidence to show that they have been afforded a trial by a legitimate court, whether military or otherwise” (Arrest Warrant, para. 10). Read the rest of this entry…