Pakistan High Court Releases Ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif

By: Charlotte Volpe                                                                                                             Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – On September 19th, the Islamabad High Court announced the release on bail of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz, and his son-in-law. The three were convicted in July by an anti-corruption court due to inquiries related to their ownership of high-value properties in London, drawing scrutiny on how government officials could afford such luxury real estate abroad.

Supporters of former PM Nawaz Sharif celebrating the Islamabad High Court’s decision. Photo courtesy of Anjum Naveed.

Sharif was ousted from office last year by the Supreme Court for alleged acts of corruption related to the properties the family owned in London.

The ruling to release the Sharifs has been praised by observers as the court’s declaration of its authority and assertion of proper judicial process, independent of external influences. Back in July, independent lawyers and analysts viewed the court’s sentencing of the Sharifs as unsubstantiated by enough evidence linking the family to the London properties. The court too has now come to that conclusion.

Sharif’s political supporters and his party, the Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz (PML-N), are in high spirits. They contend that his conviction was an attempt by Imran Kahn and his rival party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), to discredit Sharif as a political candidate for the general elections in July and harm his chance for re-election.

Kahn, the favored candidate of the Pakistani military, swept the elections and is now prime minister. 

PLM-N supporters feel that this is clear indication of PTI involvement leading to Sharif’s original conviction in July. PTI supporters, however, retort that Sharif would never have been released if there was a PTI conspiracy to undermine him.

In any case, the Islamabad High Court’s overturning of their sentence will allow the Sharifs to resume rallying support for PLM-N. Seen by many as her father’s chosen political successor, Maryam in particular has added personal grievance towards Kahn and will likely begin mobilizing support against him and the ruling PTI party.

For more information, please see:

The Economist – Pakistan’s former prime minister is freed from prison – 20 September 2018

The New York Times – Pakistan Court Releases Nawaz Sharif, Ex-Prime Minister, From Prison – 19 September 2018

Al Jazeera – Pakistan court releases ex-PM Nawaz Sharif and daughter – 19 September 2018

The Telegraph – Pakistan court orders release of former prime minister Sharif and daughter – 19 September 2018

European Court of Human Rights Judges that UK Surveillance Violates Freedoms

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

STRASBOURG, France – In the case of Big Brother Watch and Others v. the United Kingdom, the Chamber voted that some parts of the UK’s Investigatory Powers Act of 2016 violated human rights.  This is the latest occurrence in a five-year challenge directed towards the UK’s surveillance policies.

European Court of Human Rights rules that UK policies towards surveillance violate right to privacy and expression.  Photo Courtesy of European PhotoPress Agency. 

Applicants lodged complaints about the bulk interception of communications, obtaining data from communication service providers, and intelligence sharing with foreign governments.  Advocates such as Big Brother Watch note, “Under the guise of counter-terrorism, the UK has adopted the most authoritarian surveillance regime of any Western state, corroding democracy itself and the rights of the British public.”

The Chamber found that the bulk interception strategy violated Article 8 of the Convention that states individuals have a right to a private life without interference by a public authority.  The judges deemed that there was not enough oversight on filtering who was selected for interception or what communication data was read.  It is important to note that the Court did not find the idea of a bulk interception regime a violation of human rights but rather the way in which the UK was handling the strategy.  Additionally, using communication service providers to obtain data was found as a violation of privacy.

Both of these aspects were also found to violate Article 10 as well, which protects freedom of expression.  The Court ruled that there are no safeguards in place for the protection of the data that is collected.

Intelligence sharing was not found to violate Article 8 or 10.

This case involved three joined applications: Big Brother Watch and Others v. the United Kingdom, Bureau of Investigative Journalism and Alice Ross v. the United Kingdom, and 10 Human Rights Organisations and Others v. the United Kingdom.  Those included were Amnesty International, American Civil Liberties Union, Bytes for All, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, the Legal Resources Centre (South Africa), Liberty and Privacy International, Open Rights Group, English PEN and Dr Constanze Kurz.

Of the case decision, activist Carolina Wilson Palow says, “Today’s judgment rightly criticises the UK’s bulk interception regime for giving far too much leeway to the intelligence agencies to choose who to spy on and when. It confirms that just because it is technically feasible to intercept all of our personal communications, it does not mean that it is lawful to do so.”

The Chambers decision is not final.  During the next three months either side has the opportunity to appeal the decision to the Grand Chamber of the Court.  There is the possibility of appeal as many activists believe that the decision did not go far enough in condemning bulk surveillance.

For more information please visit:

Amnesty International – Campaigners win vital battle against UK mass surveillance– 13 September 2018

European Court of Human Rights- Press Release: Some aspects of UK surveillance regimes violate Convention- 13 September 2018  (link to download press release)

European Court of Human Rights: Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 

EURACTIV – UK guilty of human rights abuse, ECHR finds in groundbreaking surveillance case -14 September 2018

Head of OAS Refuses to Rule Out Military Intervention Against Venezuela

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela — On Friday, September 14, the secretary-general of the Organization of American States (OAS) Luis Almagro held a press conference addressing the ongoing economic crisis in Venezuela.

President Nicolas Maduro’s 2018 electoral win has been widely denounced as illegitimate by member-states of the OAS, the Lima Group, and many in the international community. (Photo Courtesy Ariana Cubillos, Associated Press)

During the press conference where he spoke to Venezuelan migrants in Colombia, Mr. Almagro stated that the OAS would not rule out military action to overthrow Nicolás Maduro, the president of Venezuela, and restore democracy.  Mr. Almagro further alleged that the Maduro regime is “Perpetrating crimes against humanity toward its population and violations of human rights.”

However, Mr. Almagro’s statements have been condemned by the Lima Group, a coalition of Latin American countries plus Canada, formed in 2017 specifically to address the Venezuelan crisis.  The Lima Group has accused Mr. Almagro of promoting military interventionism against Venezuela—a sentiment echoed by the Venezuelan government.  “Almagro attacks Latin America and the Caribbean. . . [and] intends to revive the worst military intervention on the continent,” said Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez.

Venezuela denounced the American Convention on Human Rights in 2012 but remained a member-state of the OAS until 2017, when President Maduro announced Venezuela would begin the two-year process to withdraw from the organization.  In June 2018, OAS held an extraordinary assembly to vote on suspending Venezuela from the OAS with a majority voting in favor of suspension.

In 2017, the Maduro Administration replaced Venezuela’s legislative branch, the National Assembly—which was dominated by opposition parties—with the regime-controlled “Constituent Assembly.”  The administration has gone further to stay in power by blacklisting and jailing opposition candidates and shutting down critical news outlets.

Critics of the Maduro Administration have proposed that a military coup is one of the last hopes to restore a legitimate constitutional democracy in Venezuela.  They have also warned that allowing President Maduro to remain in power could lead to a return to the Latin American military dictatorships of the mid-20th century.

At least 2.3 million people have fled Venezuela’s political and economic crisis that began in 2014 following a sharp decline in crude oil prices.  Approximately 93% of Venezuelans still in the country do not earn enough to buy food, and most must devote hours every day just to find food.  According to a recent report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Venezuelan security forces have killed over 8,000 people in non-protest related operations since 2012.

For more information, please see:

Independent – Venezuela government guilty of ‘worst human rights crisis in its history’ – 21 September 2018

Al Jazeera – Lima Group rules out military intervention in Venezuela – 17 September 2018

BBC News – How Venezuela’s crisis developed and drove out millions of people – 22 August 2018

PBS – 5 reasons why the crisis in Venezuela could get worse – 27 July 2018

United Nations Human Rights OHC – Venezuela: Continued impunity amid dismal human rights situation – UN report – 22 June 2018

Foreign Policy – It’s Time for a Coup in Venezuela – 5 June 2018

Reuters – OAS calls extraordinary assembly to vote on suspending Venezuela – 5 June 2018

Al Jazeera – Venezuela’s crisis explained from the beginning – 23 March 2018

Rwandan Opposition Leader Released From Prison

By: Skylar Salim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

KIGALI, Rwanda – Rwandan President Paul Kagame pardoned political opposition leader Victoire Ingabire from a 15-year prison sentence.

Victoire Ingabire as she is released from prison. Photo Courtesy of Jean Bizimana.

On September 15, 2018, Victoire Ingabire, leader of the FDU-Inkingi opposition party, and 2,140 other prisoners were pardoned by President Kagame and released from prison. Ingabire intended to run for president when she returned to Rwanda from exile in 2010. Upon her arrival she was arrested, charged with treason and terrorism and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Her sentence was extended by five years on appeal for “genocide denial” in relation to remarks she made concerning the government’s portrayal of the 1994 genocide.

Ingabire brought a claim against the Rwandan government in the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. In November 2017, the court found that the Republic of Rwanda violated Ingabire’s right to freedom of speech. Although calls for a retrial were initially ignored by the government, the president pardoned Ingabire. Ingabire thanked Kagame for releasing her and she said, “this is the beginning of the opening of political space in Rwanda.” She also called on the president to “release other political prisoners.”

The government has noted that the pardons are not a result from outside pressure, and that “there is nothing political about [Ingabire’s] release, there is nothing political about her imprisonment.” Rwandan Justice Minister Johnston Businge told Reuters “the president has granted mercy, and under the constitution, he is allowed to do that.”

While Ingabire and other political prisoners were released, one notable opposition leader remains imprisoned and will go to trial on September 24. Diane Rwigara, in a situation similar to Ingabire, ran for president in 2017 but could not complete her run due to issues raised by the electoral committee. Rwigara and her mother were later arrested on charges relating to the claims of electoral fraud and treason.

Typically in elections, Kagame wins with over 90% of the vote and the ruling party, Rwandan Patriotic Front, faces little opposition. Kagame commanded the rebel force that helped end the 1994 genocide and he has been president for 18 years. A new amendment to the Rwandan constitution that ends two-term limits could allow Kagame to remain in power until 2034.

For further information, please see:

CNN – Rwandan Imprisoned Opposition Leader to go on Trial as Another Walks Free – for now – 22 September 2018

Al Jazeera – Rwandan Opposition Leader Among 2,100 Released from Prison – 15 September 2018

The Citizen – Rwandan Opposition Leader Freed From Jail – 15 September 2018

ICC Launches Preliminary Investigation on Deportation of Rohingya from Myanmar to Bangladesh

By: Charlotte Volpe
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

THE HAUGE, Netherlands – The International Criminal Court stated that they will begin a preliminary investigation on the forced displacement of more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar to Bangladesh. Led by ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, the preliminary inquiry will examine evidence of the atrocities that the Myanmar military has committed against Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine state of Myanmar since 2017. The military’s alleged atrocities include mass rape, murder, destruction of Rohingya villages, and deportation. These crimes have gone unacknowledged and unpunished by Myanmar’s national government.

Rohingya refugees in borderland between Myanmar and Bangladesh. Photo courtesy of Adam Dean.

Though Myanmar is not a member state of the ICC, Bensouda argues that the Court holds jurisdiction over the conflict because the Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh, which is a member of the Court. Thus, the crime of forced displacement has continued into Bangladesh, providing a means for the ICC to exert its authority over this aspect of the conflict in a member state. This move is an attempt to insert international oversight over a genocide that has been occurring with impunity in Myanmar. The international community continues to have limited ability to investigate Myanmar army’s crimes against the Rohingya in Rakhine because Myanmar has refused international humanitarian organizations entry to that particular region.

A preliminary investigation is not a formal investigation, however. It is the ICC’s means to determine whether there is sufficient reason implicating an aggressor party for crimes against humanity, thus validating a full investigation to proceed. If the Court finds enough evidence demonstrating the Myanmar military’s violation of human rights against the Rohingya, it can launch a full-fledged investigation. However, to do so it will require that the UN Security Council refer the case in Myanmar to the ICC’s jurisdiction. The divisive nature of the Council, as well as Russia and China’s economic and geopolitical interests in Myanmar, make a Security Council referral an unlikely feat.

Nonetheless, the ICC’s preliminary investigation is a first step towards circumventing Myanmar’s refusal to hold their own army accountable for ethnic genocide. This preliminary examination has the potential to demonstrate that the international community will exert the authority it can in seeking justice for the atrocities experienced by the Rohingya, the “world’s most persecuted minority.” The extent to which the ICC can exact justice, however, is yet to be determined.

For further information, please see: 

The Straits Times – International Criminal Court opens preliminary probe into Myanmar crimes against Rohingya – 19 September 2018

International Criminal Court – Statement of ICC Prosecutor, Mrs Fatou Bensouda, on opening a Preliminary Examination concerning the alleged deportation of the Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh – 18 September 2018

DW – Rohingya genocide: Will Myanmar generals face ICC justice? – 11 September 2018

The New York Times – International Criminal Court Opens Door to a Rohingya Inquiry – 6 September 2018