(For older news updates, please visit our news archive.)
30 March 2020: Sri Lanka's president has pardoned a soldier who was sentenced to death for war crimes involving killing eight civilians during the country’s civil war, leading to accusations that the government was taking advantage of the chaos from the coronavirus pandemic to free a wartime ally accused of atrocities. The pardoned soldier, former Staff Sgt. Sunil Ratnayake, was sentenced in 2015 for blindfolding eight civilians from the Tamil ethnic group, slitting their throats and dumping their bodies into a sewer in 2000. Three of the victims were children. The pardon brought outrage from rights activists, including Amnesty International, which accused the government of taking advantage of a world distracted by the coronavirus to release those convicted of heinous crimes and termed the action as "reprehensible".
30 March 2020: Chad rebel chief Mahamat Nouri has been freed from detention in France, where he was charged with crimes against humanity. Nouri was charged in Paris nine months ago over alleged crimes in Sudan and Chad between 2005 and 2010. He is the founder and exiled leader of the Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD), one of the main groups opposing Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno. Before joining the rebels, Nouri served in several ministerial positions and held the position of defence minister between 2001 and 2003.
27 March 2020: A report published by the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Centre NGO asserts that Serbian war crimes prosecutors are continuing to issue only a small number of indictments, most of them in cases transferred from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and none of them charging high-ranking suspects. It argues that bearing in mind that the War Crimes Prosecution Office’s data from November 2019 exhibits 2,557 cases in the preliminary investigation stage, only 15 cases are in the active investigation stage, hence such a work rate will solve a negligible percentage of war crimes cases in the coming period.
26 March 2020: The UK government has presented new legislation to protect military personnel and veterans from prosecution for alleged historical war crimes in conflicts overseas. The legislation proposes a five-year limit on criminal prosecutions from the date of an incident, unless there is compelling new evidence and a six-year limit for any civil case involving personal injury or death. The bill will also compel any future government to consider a derogation, effectively opting out from the European Convention on Human Rights in any conflict overseas. Human Rights Watch argues that if passed, the bill would greatly increase the risk that British soldiers who commit serious crimes will avoid justice.
25 March 2020: According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the "apparently systematic" human rights violations in North Korean detention centres, including sexual violence against women and girls, could amount to crimes against humanity. Michelle Bachelet said the alleged violations appeared to have taken place under the "direct authority of two ministries" and with the likely involvement of "higher authorities" in North Korea. North Korea has repeatedly rejected accusations of human rights abuses and blames sanctions for a dire humanitarian situation. The country has been under UN sanctions since 2006 because of its ballistic missiles and nuclear programmes.
24 March 2020: The trial by a German court of two alleged former Syrian intelligence officers accused of participating in crimes against humanity is set to begin in April and is expected to run at least until August. Anwar Raslan, 57, is charged with crimes against humanity, rape and 58 counts of murder, while 43-year-old Eyad Al-Gharib is accused of having been an accomplice. Raslan allegedly led the investigations division of "Branch 251" of the Syrian secret services, which operated a prison in the Damascus area. Prosecutors say he participated in the torture and abuse of prisoners between April 2011 and September 2012.
23 March 2020: The Swiss Federal Criminal Court has postponed the long-awaited war crimes trial of former Liberian rebel leader Alieu Kosiah due to the rapid spread of Covid-19. The trial had been scheduled to take place from April 14-30 in Bellinzona. It will be the first international criminal trial in a non-military Swiss court and “historic” according to Swiss group Civitas Maxima, one of the NGOs representing Liberian victims in the case. Kosiah, a former commander of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO), is charged with war crimes committed during the first Liberian civil war between 1989 and 1996. He was arrested in Switzerland in November 2014 and has been in pre-trial detention ever since, as Swiss authorities conducted investigations.
New cases, briefs and videos
(For older announcements, please visit our announcements archive.)
NEW BRIEF: A new ICD Brief is available on the International Crimes Database entitled “Human Rights Remedies for Violations of the Law of Armed Conflict: Reflections on the Right to Reparation in Light of Recent Domestic Court Decisions in the Netherlands and Denmark”, by Vessela Terzieva.
Vessela Terzieva is an international criminal lawyer and an external PhD researcher at the University of Amsterdam. Her ICD Brief relates to recent decisions in the Netherlands and Denmark awarding compensation for damage at the hands of the military during armed conflict, including the July 2019 ruling of the Dutch Supreme Court in the 'Mothers of Srebrenica' case. It explores how these decisions contribute to the debate on the right to reparation for victims of international humanitarian law violations.
NEW CASES: New case summaries are available on the International Crimes Database!
Prosecutor v Ayyash et al.
Two of the five new case summaries relate to the case of The Prosecutor v Ayyash et al. before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL). In its Interlocutory Decision of 16 February 2011 (available here), the Appeals Chamber of the Tribunal found whilst it was bound to apply Lebanese criminal law, international law could be used to aid in the interpretation of these domestic provisions. Significantly, the Chamber concluded that the crime of terrorism exists in customary international law. In the STL Trial Chamber Decision of 1 February 2012 (available here), the Tribunal found that the four accused may be tried in absentia, as all four of the accused had absconded or otherwise could not be found and all reasonable steps had been taken to secure their presence.
Prosecution of Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan
The other three summaries (here, here and here) relate to the trial of Nuon Chea, the former Deputy Secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, and Khieu Samphan, the former Head of State of Democratic Kampuchea, before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). This string of cases culminated in the conviction and life sentence of Chea and Samphan for crimes against humanity relating to the forcible transfer of the population, as well as war crimes and crimes against humanity committed at security centres and worksites. Both were also found guilty of genocide of the Vietnamese people, whilst Chea was also guilty of genocide of the Cham people.
The Asser Institute received assistance from the Washington College of Law Internship Programme in the preparation of these case summaries.
NEW CASES: New case summaries of the two most recent decisions in The Public Prosecutor v. Guus Kouwenhoven in the Netherlands are now available online. The 's-Hertogenbosch Court of Appeal decision found Guus Kouwenhoven guilty of weapons smuggling and complicity in war crimes committed by Charles Taylor's regime in Liberia during the second civil war from 1999-2003. The Court found that the amnesty scheme implemented by Charles Taylor's government shortly before Taylor fled Liberia did not prevent the prosecution of Kouwenhoven in the Netherlands, and sentenced Kouwenhoven to 19 years' imprisonment. The Supreme Court of the Netherlands upheld this decision, finding that the Court of Appeal had correctly decided that the amnesty scheme did not prevent the prosecution of Kouwenhoven.
NEW BRIEF: The first ICD Brief of 2019 (available here) is now available on our website! Matt Brown has written on the evacuation of Eastern Aleppo in Syria, dealing with a question as to whether it could be classified as forced displacement under international law.
NEW CASES: The twelve summaries (available in the database) added are related to terrorism, attempted terrorism, and providing material support. Most of the cases are from the United States as well as England and Wales, and relate to (attemped) fighting in Syria and Iraq (foreign fighters). They give a good insight of common law approaches to prosecuting terrorism-related offences. An example of a new case analysis is United States of America v. Nader Elhuzayel and Muhanad Badawi. Both Mr. Elhuzayel and Mr. Badawi were convicted by a federal jury of conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist group, the Islamic State (IS). The defendants had used social media accounts to support IS, and Mr. Badawi had filmed Mr. Elhuzayel pledging allegiance to IS and promising to travel to Syria to fight. Mr. Elhuzayel was arrested prior to boarding a flight to Israel via Turkey. They were also found guilty of financial fraud charges, the proceeds of which had been used to fund the travel. In the preparation of the US cases for the ICD database, the Asser Institute received assistance from students enrolled in the International Justice Project of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Law.