Georgia’s Dilemma: Former President Saakashvili Arrested in absentia

By Marysia Radziejowska and Konrad Zasztowt

Konrad Zasztowt is an analyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs specializing in Turkey, South Caucasus and Central Asia regions. Previously, he worked at the Polish National Security Bureau (2008 – 2010), where he monitored  international security issues in the Black Sea and Caspian regions. He received his doctoral degree from the Faculty of Oriental Studies at the University of Warsaw (2012) and is a graduate of the University’s Institute of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology and East European Studies.

Mikheil Saakashvili , Brooklyn, NY (Photo source: New York Times)

The Georgian Prosecutor’s office announced on 28 August 2014 that it has filed charges against former President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili. This raised concerns in the European Union and the U.S., where he has a reputation as the author of police and anti-corruption reforms in Georgia. But in his own country, he is perceived by many as an authoritarian politician.

On 2 August, Tbilisi City Court accepted the request of the Georgian Prosecutor’s office to arrest in absentia Mikheil Saakashvili and scheduled the first sitting of the court for 22 September. On 5 August, the Tbilisi Court of Appeals rejected an appeal submitted by Saakashvili’s Defence against this decision as being inadmissible (Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association offers a detailed analysis of this decision here). The charges against the former president include alleged abuses of power in November 2007 during street protests in the capital, take over the office of private TV station, Imedi, assaults on his political opponents and misusing funds (about $ 5 million) from the budget of the Special State Protection Service for personal luxury expenses. Earlier this month, the Court of Appeal in Tbilisi upheld the ruling to impound  property owned by Saakashvili and his family, ranging from a vineyard in Kvareli to his grandmother’s Toyota RAV4.

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Situation en Palestine : clarification du nouveau Procureur de la Cour pénale internationale

Le 29 août 2014, l’actuel Procureur de la Cour pénale internationale, Mme Bensouda, s’est exprimée dans un journal de portée internationale (The Guardian), par un article intitulé : « la vérité à propos de la Cour pénale internationale et Gaza. ». Curieusement, le contenu de cet article n’a été publié sur le site internet officiel de la Cour que postérieurement, le 02 septembre 2014.

La Procureur explique à titre liminaire les raisons de l’élaboration de cette déclaration : « rejeter catégoriquement » les allégations selon lesquelles le Bureau du Procureur refuse d’ouvrir une enquête en Palestine a cause de pressions politiques. En effet, un autre article au contenu très critique a été publié dans le même journal dix jours avant. Cet aspect, accessoire à la problématique, mérite toutefois attention. Le droit international n’échappe pas à la dynamique actuelle d’accélération de l’information et d’assujettissement des personnages publics au pouvoir médiatique.

La Procureur, qui reconnaît « l’agitation qui entoure ce sujet et fait perdre toute objectivité », répond notamment à M. Dugard, qui affirme que la compétence de la Cour devrait être exercée au moyen d’une interprétation téléologique des règles de compétence inscrites dans le Statut de Rome. Selon elle, cette position n’est ni du bon droit, ni conforme à une action judiciaire responsable.

Pour mémoire, la Palestine avait adressée le 21 janvier 2009 au Greffe de la Cour pénale internationale une déclaration d’acceptation de la compétence de la Cour en vertu de l’article 12§3 du Statut de Rome. Selon cet article, un État non-partie peut ponctuellement accepter la compétence de la Cour.

Le Procureur précédent, M. Ocampo, avait estimé le 3 avril 2012 qu’il revenait aux organes compétents de l’Organisation des Nations Unies (ONU) ou à l’Assemblée des États parties de décider si la Palestine constituait ou non un État. Le 29 novembre 2012, l’Assemblée générale de l’ONU a accordé à la Palestine le statut d’ « État non-membre observateur » (A/RES/67/19).

Dans sa dernière déclaration, l’actuel Procureur estime que la résolution susmentionnée ne valide pas rétroactivement la déclaration palestinienne d’acceptation de compétence de la Cour. En revanche elle ouvre la possibilité pour la Palestine de « rejoindre le système établi par le Statut de Rome ». Suivant ce raisonnement, la Procureur affirme que la Palestine doit devenir partie au Statut ou déposer une nouvelle déclaration d’acceptation de compétence en vertu de l’article 12§3 du Statut afin que la Cour exerce sa compétence.

Il s’agit d’un élément déterminant dans l’histoire du conflit palestino-israélien. En effet, relativement peu d’institutions judiciaires internationales, en tant que tiers impartial et indépendant, se sont impliqués dans ce conflit, à l’exception de l’avis consultatif rendu par la Cour internationale de Justice portant sur les conséquences juridiques de l’édification d’un mur dans le territoire palestinien occupé.

Tout l’enjeu actuel, pour la Palestine, est de mener de manière constructive les consultations internes visant à déterminer quelles suites doivent être données à la déclaration du Procureur. Monsieur Riad al-Malki, l’actuel Ministre des affaires étrangères de la Palestine, est publiquement favorable à la saisine de la Cour pénale internationale. Cette position n’est cependant pas partagée par tous…

Call for Papers – ICTR Legacy Symposium – Deadline 15 August

ICTR

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has launched a call for papers for an International Symposium on the Legacy of the ICTR to be held in Arusha, Tanzania on 6-7 November 2014.

With the ICTR’s closure scheduled for 2015, the Symposium aims to provide an opportunity for experts in the field of international justice to reflect on the ICTR’s contributions to the development of international humanitarian law, administration of justice, and promotion of the rule of law, particularly in the Great Lakes Region. We invite experts in the field to submit proposals for papers to be presented during the Symposium.

Applicants should submit the following by 15 August via email to the ICTR Legacy Committee at ictrlegacy@un.org: (1) a 300 word abstract of the proposed paper; (2) the author’s name, title, and affiliation (if any); (3) the author’s Curriculum Vitae/Résumé; and (4) the author’s contact details including phone number and email address.

The Legacy Committee further notes that “successful applicants will receive an invitation to submit a paper by 5 September 2014 and a first draft of papers will be expected to be submitted by 17 October 2014. Submission of an application will be considered as acknowledgement that the author is available to be in Arusha from 5-8 November 2014 to participate in the Symposium. The ICTR will endeavour to cover travel and accommodation for successful applicants.

Papers should focus on the topics indicated in the draft programme, which can be found at http://unmict.org/ictr-remembers/docs/legacy_symposium-draft_agenda.pdf

Rwanda 20 Years Later

by Jacqueline Murekatete

Jacqueline Murekatete is a New York-based attorney, a human rights activist, and a Women’s Media Center SheSource Expert. She is currently working on a book about her genocide experience and prevention work as well as starting a human rights organization through which she plans to continue her advocacy and raise support for genocide survivors. The following is cross-posted from the Women’s Media Center, where it was first published on July 2, 2014.

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A remembrance ceremony for families killed during the genocide. photo courtesy of GAERG (a Rwandan-based survivors’ organization)

About three years ago, I returned to Rwanda for the first time since the 1994 genocide. Upon returning to the village where I grew up, I was both saddened and angry as I realized there was no sign my family ever lived there. Yams and cassava were growing in the same spot where my family’s home once stood. Horrific memories came flooding back.

From April to July of each year, Rwanda and the world commemorate the genocide. This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the genocide. But for those of us who lived through it, in some ways, it may as well have been yesterday. Even today, I am deeply troubled by the memories of those 100 days in which neighbor turned against neighbor, friends became enemies, and even priests and nuns actively participated in the killing of those who sought refuge in churches.

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Whither impunity?

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Photo: The Guardian

by Paul Bradfield

On 30 June, African Union (‘AU’) leaders voted to give themselves immunity from prosecution for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide before the nascent ‘African Court of Justice and Human Rights,’ by adopting the ‘Protocol on Amendments to the Protocol on the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights.’

This new court, which is to merge the existing African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights together with the Court of Justice of the African Union, was formally created by the AU six years ago, but is not yet in operation.

What was originally intended to be a civil court for hearing human rights complaints will now be a fully-fledged criminal court with authority to deal with the most serious crimes, including genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression. On a progressive note, other crimes such as piracy, mercenarism, corruption and money laundering will also fall within its international judicial mandate.

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How Do Witnesses Feel Testifying Against Accused War Criminals?

By Stephen Smith Cody and Robin Mejia

Stephen Smith Cody directs the Atrocity Response Program at the University of California, Berkeley’s Human Rights Center, where he designs and manages research related to human rights violations in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda. Stephen holds a PhD in sociology and JD, both from Berkeley. You can follow him hereRobin Mejia is a journalist and researcher whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post Magazine, Wired, Nature, Mother Jones and many other outlets. Currently, she is pursing a PhD in biostatistics at UC Berkeley and working as a researcher for the Human Rights Center at UC Berkeley School of Law.

This is cross-posted from The Huffington Post.

A protected witness testifies at the International Criminal Court. Source: Reporting Kenya

A protected witness testifies at the International Criminal Court. Source: Reporting Kenya

Witnesses who testify at the International Criminal Court (ICC) against accused war criminals often take great risks to do so. Yet, until now, their voices have been missing from discussions about how the ICC is fulfilling its responsibility to prepare and protect those who testify.

The Human Rights Center at UC Berkeley School of Law has just released “Bearing Witness at the International Criminal Court,” the first empirical study to document the perspectives of ICC witnesses, many of whom survived heinous violations of human rights. The study surveys more than 100 witnesses from the first two ICC cases, those against Congolese warlords Thomas Lubanga Dyilo and Germain Katanga.

From the ICC’s inception, the Court has set out to serve and protect witnesses who may be survivors of conflict-related sexual violence, genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity. Yet this past year has brought allegations of sexual assault committed by ICC staff in the Democratic Republic of Congo and reports of government intimidation of potential witnesses in the cases against sitting Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto for crimes against humanity.

Scholars and advocates have debated how best to prepare and protect witnesses who testify — basing strategies mostly on anecdotal evidence. Now we have data.

These data show that despite the burden of traveling long distances, often from central Africa to The Hague, to testify, and waiting days or weeks without family or friends before confronting hostile lawyers and the accused, most witnesses reported positive experiences with the Court.

Asked to describe their overall feelings about participating in the trials on a scale of 1 to 5 (least to most positive), women reported an average rating of 4.6, and men 4.4. Fully 96 percent of women and 93 percent of men said they were glad that they had agreed to testify, and most said that they would be willing to serve as a witness again.

“I felt like I was letting go of something I’d been holding on to,” said one witness.

Another explained, “I want to fight against impunity. I want justice to be done.”

Witnesses expressed a duty to testify to ensure an acknowledgement of the killing of loved ones, neighbors, and colleagues.

“I felt naked, very exposed, vulnerable,” said one witness interviewed for the study. “I felt a very heavy responsibility having to take part in the process of justice.”

Although most witnesses had no previous court experience at home or abroad, they reported that pretrial orientations and support services helped assuage their anxieties.

“All the information, preparation, and advice I received helped me a lot,” said one witness. “This made it easier for me during my testimony period.”

Witnesses reported feeling safe during their preparation for trial as well as afterward, with women feeling slightly more secure than men.

However, the findings also reveal ongoing concerns about being identified and targeted. Most women and men reported using some form of identity protection at trial. And many survey participants expressed fear about potential repercussions following trial. “Now, after my testimony, I will have a bigger need for protection,” said one witness.

The study also shows some divides in the ways that men and women experience trials. Women, on average, viewed their interactions with the ICC more positively. Yet only 60 percent of women believed that their testimony helped establish the truth, as compared with more than 70 percent of men.

Also, somewhat surprisingly, only a quarter of witnesses in the study were women, and they provided almost all the testimony on sexual violence. Understanding why women participate in trials at lower rates than men and whether they are being used disproportionately to testify about sexual violence are key issues for the court to address.

Additionally, more data are needed to understand what happens to witnesses when they return home. The Court has developed a survey that is intended to be offered six months after a witness lands back in his or her home country; however, due to logistical, safety and financial constraints, fewer than half of eligible witnesses had been approached to take the survey. Therefore, we can say little at this point about the long-term impact of testifying in international criminal cases.

Protecting witnesses can be challenging and expensive, especially in the long term, and the ICC’s commitment to witnesses after they have appeared at trial is critical.

“Now that I have completed my testimony, I hope the ICC does not abandon us,” said one witness, articulating a looming issue for the ICC and all who care about international justice.

In spite of the limitations of the survey and uncertainty of long-term witness protection, the Human Rights Center’s study suggests that when done right, testifying at international criminal trials can be a safe and even empowering experience.

Katanga Accepts Conviction and Expresses Regret for Victims’ Suffering: What About Reparations?

By Stephen Smith Cody

Stephen Smith Cody directs the Atrocity Response Program at the University of California, Berkeley’s Human Rights Center, where he designs and manages research related to human rights violations in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda. Stephen holds a PhD in sociology and JD, both from Berkeley. You can follow him here. This is cross-posted from The Huffington Post.

Bogoro

International Criminal Court staff speak about the Court’s activities to residents of Bogoro, the town in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo at the center of the trials against Germain Katanga and Mathew Ngudjolo Chui. Source: Human Rights Watch

Few observers expected Germain Katanga, a militia leader found guilty of promoting ruthless attacks on civilians in eastern Congo, to lay down his arms and accept the judgment of the International Criminal Court (ICC). However, according to a statement from the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor released Wednesday, both the Katanga defense team and the prosecution team discontinued their appeals, making the Court’s guilty judgment and sentence of 12 years imprisonment final.

The statement also reports that Katanga expressed “sincere regret to all those who have suffered as a result of his conduct, including the victims of Bogoro,” a town where many of the brutal killings occurred.

Katanga’s acceptance of the Court’s judgment is somewhat surprising given the controversy surrounding the guilty verdict. One of the three judges deciding the case, Judge Van de Wyngaert, wrote a scathing 170-page dissent finding that the Court transformed the charges during the course of proceedings, relied on facts outside of the scope of the charges, and failed to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Writing for the majority, the other two judges, Judge Cotte and Judge Diarra, had redefined the standard for Katanga’s participation in the alleged crimes from “perpetrator” to “contributor” before ruling that Katanga was guilty of one count of crimes against humanity and four counts of war crimes. Some, including Judge Van de Wyngaert, viewed such ratcheting down of the standard for conviction during trial as a violation of due process and the rights of the accused.

Judge Van de Wyngaert writes:

As concerns the rest of the Majority’s Opinion, I find myself in disagreement with almost every aspect of it. Not only do I believe that the timing and manner in which the recharacterisation has beenimplemented is fundamentally unfair and has violated several of the accused’s most fundamental rights, I am also of the view that the evidence in this case simply does not support the charges against him.

It is yet unclear exactly why Katanga discontinued his conviction appeal. He may have cut a deal with the prosecution to accept the Court’s judgment in exchange for dropping an appeal of his acquittal for rape and sexual slavery, or he may have made a decision to forego any ongoing legal battle for more personal reasons, as his attorney contends. Either way he has already served seven of his 12-year sentence, and will be eligible for review in about a year, after serving two-thirds of his sentence. Regardless of his reasons, the ICC will no doubt celebrate its victory in the battle against impunity.

Yet for victims in eastern Congo the victory is partial.

Earlier this year, I interviewed victims of the Bogoro attack, many of whom were involved in the Katanga case, and they expressed complicated views of the trial. Some victims will no doubt applaud the guilty verdict, but for many others the conviction will change little in their lives. Their loved ones are gone, their houses charred, their cows and goats missing. It is important to remember that a symbolic win for the Court does not necessarily translate into meaningful justice for victims.

Katanga’s expression of regret is an important development, but it is still unknown what this will mean to the victims of Bogoro, if anything. What is known, however, is that the final phase of the case can now begin. With the guilty judgment final, the Court must now decide on whether they will award reparations to victims and what forms such reparations might take. For those struggling to survive in eastern Congo, the promise of compensation may be the most vital decision in the case.