Prosecutors Clear Lead Investigator In Magnitsky Death, But Kremlin Ombudsman Calls For Prosecution

By Christina Berger
Special Features Editor

MOSCOW, Russia — Russian officials declared on Monday that the lead investigator in the case against Sergei Magnitsky was not guilty of any legal violations in connection with Magnitsky’s death while he was in police custody. The finding has been widely-criticized and a Kremlin official refuted the finding and urged prosecution over Magnitsky’s death.

Sergei Magnitsky was a lawyer working with Hermitage Capital Management Ltd. who had uncovered evidence of a $230 million tax fraud scheme committed in 2007 by Russian tax officials and Interior Ministry investigators, according to colleagues. Magnitsky was arrested himself for the $230 million tax fraud after accusing a handful of officials, including Oleg Silchenko the lead investigator in the case. Magnitsky spent almost a year in pre-trial detention and he died in jail in November 2009 as a result of a serious medical diagnosis made while in detention.

In response to international pressure, President Dmitry Medvedev has repeatedly promised a full investigation into Magnitsky’s death. On Monday, Russia’s Investigative Committee stated that prosecutors had found that Silchenko had not allowed any legal violations in the case of Magnitsky. The Interior Ministry, where Silchenko holds the rank of colonel after having been promoted since Magnitsky first accused officials of the tax fraud, declined to comment.

In response to the Investigative Committee’s findings, Valery Borschev, a member of a human rights panel set up by President Medvedev, urged that Silchenko be prosecuted for the “central role” he played in Magnitsky’s death. According to Borschev, Magnitsky had complained of acute abdominal pain, having been diagnosed with a serious pancreatic conduction while in police custody, and it was Silchenko who repeatedly refused to allow Magnitsky medical care including ultra-sounds and an operation.

Borschev said he visited the jail after Magnitsky’s death and he spoke with a doctor who claimed she had tried to transfer Magnitsky to a hospital several times but Silchenko interfered. “They asked to have him taken to the hospital to do an ultrasound examination, and Silchenko gave a definitive refusal,” Borshchev said. “That’s a clear violation of the criminal and professional code.”

Magnitsky documented the treatment he was receiving while in detention, telling of conditions some have labeled torture, as well as the denial of medical care. Some of these writings have been made public since Magnitsky’s death, and according to Borschev, Magnitsky implicated Silchenko as being responsible for denying medical care.

Borschev headed an independent commission ordered by the Kremlin to investigate the Magnitsky case. The preliminary results were released in April and found that the charges brought against Magnitsky had been fabricated and investigators he had accused of the tax fraud were improperly involved in his case. A full report will be submitted to President Medvedev this summer. According to Borschev, President Medvedev has the authority to order a new investigation as a result.

Despite calling for prosecution of Silchenko, Borschev acknowledged over the phone to the Moscow Times that “Silchenko has powerful figures backing him up.” So far no one has been held accountable for Magnitsky’s death, and in fact many of the officials implicated by Magnitsky have been rewarded, promoted, or living beyond their means. A series of videos have been produced by Russian Untouchables detailing this, and episode 1 can be viewed here, episode 2 viewed here, and episode 3 viewed here.

Hermitage CEO William Browder has been calling for the arrest and prosecution of 60 Russian officials connected to Magnitsky’s death. Browder, US-born and London-based, was the biggest foreign investor in Russia until his visa was revoked in 2005 by Russian officials citing national security reasons. It was in 2007 that, according to Hermitage, its Russian offices were raided by Interior Ministry officials and documents were seized that allowed those officials to re-register ownership of Hermitage’s Russian funds. This made it possible for Interior Ministry officials to claim $230 million in fraudulent tax rebates, and was what Magnitsky had uncovered and attempted to report before his arrest.

Many believed that Silchenko was the most likely target of prosecution in connection with the Magnitsky case, and it was viewed as a test of Russia’s law enforcement and judicial systems, especially given that President Medvedev has made fighting corruption and improving those systems a priority of his administration.

“The Russian government appears impervious to the damage to its credibility that this type of whitewash is doing,” Browder said. “It will take many years for the Russian justice system to recover any gloss of credibility after this public and corrupt miscarriage of justice.”

For more information, please see:

BLOOMBERG — Kremlin Ombudsman Urges Prosecution Over Hermitage Death — 31 May 2011

WSJ — Russia Exonerates Lead Investigator in Prison Death — 31 May 2011

MOSCOW TIMES — Prosecutors Support Magnitsky’s Accuser — 31 May 2011

NYT — Police Investigator Is Cleared in Death of Russian Awaiting Trial — 30 May 2011

NYT — After Russian Death, Inquiry Doors Open and Shut — 22 December 2010

Violence in Yemen Brings Civil War Worries

By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

SANAA, Yemen– Explosions and the sounds of gunfire have become an everyday occurrence in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa. Violent uprisings have the government struggling to battle opponents all over the country as fears of civil war begin to rise.

Protests in Yemen lead to violence; Photo courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor
Protests in Yemen lead to violence. (Photo courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor)

The current violence stems from a recent broken promise made by president, Ali Abdullah Saleh.  Saleh promised last week to sign an agreement, mediated by the Gulf States, to step down as the president of Yemen.  On the day the agreement was to be signed Saleh instead refused, reigniting the unrest of his opposition.  In the days following well over 54 people were killed in the capital.

Following the initial unrest at Saleh’s broken promise, the violence has spread beyond the capital.  In the city of Zinjibar, located on Yemen’s southern coast, some 300 opposition fighters took control of the city last Sunday. In retaliation, the Yemeni military launched a jet attack, in an attempt to retake the city.

The identity of these particular opposition fighters is in question, with some alleging they are linked to al-Qaeda. The opposition Collective Forum disregards this rumor stating that Saleh uses “the spectre of al-Qaeda to frighten regional and international parties.”

The military jet attack resulted in the deaths of at least 30 individuals.  The attack, called “catastrophic” by Tareq al-Fadhli, a leading tribal member, left corpses in the streets, no water or electricity, and hospitals unable to provide aid.  Many of the city’s 20,000 inhabitants have already fled.

Elsewhere, in Taiz, soldiers opened fire on a protest camp killing at least 50 people.  There have also been reports of soldiers setting fire to protester’s tents, and shooting tear gas and water cannons into the crowd.

The situation appears to have boiled over when Yemeni security forces attempted to take Taiz’s “Freedom Square,” where anti-government demonstrations had been taking place for days. Members of the opposition called the event a “massacre,” condemning Saleh’s actions as “crimes against humanity.”

The Yemeni opposition appears to be lead by the Ahmar family, Saleh’s tribal rivals.  However, some of the youth protesters are hesitant of an Ahmar presidency.  They fear that such would not bring about the kind of change they want.  These youth protesters are practicing non-violence during the uprisings, condemning the violence that has already occurred.

Some military units and government officials abandoned Saleh when he began deadly crackdowns on anti-government protests in March.  As of yet there have been no major conflicts between Saleh’s security forces and a breakaway military unit.

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera — Fighting Raises Yemen civil war fears — 31 May 2010

BBC News — Yemen unrest: UN says 50 killed in Taiz since Sunday — 31 May 2010

Al-Jazeera — Yemen jets ‘bomb al-Qaeda-held city’ — 30 May 2010

New York Times — Yemeni Military Battles Opponents on Two Fronts — 30 May 2010

New York Times — Evasions by Leader Add Chaos in Yemen — 25 May 2010

Gay Rights Rally Banned, Dozens Arrested

By Christina Berger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia — Over thirty people were arrested at a gay rights rally held in Moscow on Saturday after clashes broke out between gay  rights activists and opponents. The gay rights activists had applied for a permit to hold a demonstration, but were denied authorization amidst reports that Moscow officials have vowed to never permit gay rights demonstrations in the city.

Gay activists had gathered on Saturday in front of the Kremlin wall and city hall to demonstrate when groups of men showed up–some wearing fatigues and combat boots–to disrupt the rally. Violence soon broke out, and police arrested 18 gay activists and 14 anti-gay activists.

The gay rights activists had applied for official permission to hold the rally, and were issued a denial from Moscow authorities on May 17. This ended the hope many had that Moscow’s new mayor would be more tolerant of the gay community.  The gay rights activists had vowed to hold the rally anyways, continuing the pattern that has existed since around 2006 when the first demonstrations were held–and subsequently broken up by police after frequently ending in violence.

Human rights groups called on Moscow to retract the ban. “The Moscow City Authorities must overturn their decision to ban this year’s Moscow Gay Pride.  So-called public morality concerns can never be used to justify restrictions on the freedom of expression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people,” said Nicola Duckworth, Director of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Program. “The right response to such objections is not to cave in to their demands, but to ensure that those seeking to exercise their rights lawfully are able to do so in safety and in dignity.”

This latest incident in the struggle to publicly demonstrate in Moscow for gay rights comes not even a year after the European Court of Human Rights fined Russia for denying gay rights activists permission to demonstrate, which can be read about here. The court found that the denials violated the freedom of peaceable assembly guaranteed in the European Convention, as well as violated the prohibition discrimination in the enjoyment of rights also found in the Convention.

Despite this ruling, Moscow authorities have continued to routinely ban gay rights demonstrations, often citing complaints received from other groups such as religious groups or ultra-nationalists, or stating that allowing homosexuals to hold demonstrations would cause violent reactions from the community.

St. Petersburg, Russia’s second largest city, has recently begun practicing greater tolerance of gay community rallies and events. A St. Petersburg court found in October 2010 that banning a St. Petersburg Pride event was illegal. In May, gay rights activities held a demonstration in St. Petersburg which was authorizes by city officials and attended by more than 100 activists. It took place peacefully.

Nikolai Alexeyev, Head of Gay Russia and chief organizer of the Moscow Gay Pride Parade, told CNN, “We [in Moscow] have been asking for the last six years to gather. We are being deprived of a very simple right that is taken for granted in democratic countries.”

For more information, please see:

AP — More than 30 arrested at Moscow gay rights demos — 28 May 2011

RFE/RL — Clashes, Arrests As Gay-Rights Activists Rally In Moscow Despite Ban — 28 May 2011

NYT — Threats and Arrests at a Gay Rights Rally in Moscow — 28 May 2011

CNN — Dozens arrested in Moscow gay rights parade clashes — 28 May 2011

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL — Moscow authorities ban gay pride event — 18 May 2011

RFE/RL — Activists Vow To Defy Moscow Gay-Parade Ban — 18 May 2011

War Crimes Prosecution Watch: Breaking News

War Crimes Prosecution Watch is prepared by the International Justice Practice of the Public International Law & Policy Group and the Frederick K. Cox International Law Center of Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

Ratko Mladic arrested in Serbia
BBC News
May 26, 2011

Fugitive Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic has been arrested in Serbia after 16 years on the run.

Gen Mladic, 69, was found in a village in northern Serbia where had been living under an assumed name.

He faces charges over the massacre of at least 7,500 Bosnian Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995.

Serbian President Boris Tadic said the process to extradite the former Bosnian Serb army chief to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague was under way.

Following the arrest of Radovan Karadzic in 2008, Gen Mladic became the most prominent Bosnian war crimes suspect at large.

Serbia had been under intense international pressure to arrest him.

The detention, President Tadic said, brought the country and the region closer to reconciliation, and opened the doors to European Union membership. Mr Tadic also rejected criticism that Serbia had been reluctant to seize Gen Mladic.

“We have been co-operating with the Hague tribunal fully from the beginning of the mandate of this government,” he said.

Serbian media initially reported that Gen Mladic was already on his way to the UN tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague.

But Serbian prosecutors later said the procedure to extradite him might take a week.

A spokeswoman for families of Srebrenica victims, Hajra Catic, told AFP news agency: “After 16 years of waiting, for us, the victims’ families, this is a relief.”

‘Village stake-out’

Gen Mladic is due to appear before a Serbian judge later on Thursday.

He was seized in the province of Vojvodina in the early hours of Thursday, Serbian Justice Minister Slobodan Homan told the BBC.

Serbian security sources told AFP news agency that three special units had descended on a house in the village of Lazarevo, about 80km (50 miles) north of Belgrade.

The house was owned by a relative of Gen Mladic and had been under surveillance for the past two weeks, one of the sources added.

Gen Mladic was reportedly using the assumed name Milorad Komodic.

The Belgrade broadcaster B-92 radio said he was not in disguise – unlike Mr Karadzic, who had a long beard and a ponytail when he was captured in Belgrade three years ago.

UN war crimes chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz welcomed the arrest, saying: “Today’s events show that people responsible for grave violations of international humanitarian law can no longer count on impunity.”

Mr Brammertz said UN prosecutors thanked the Serbian authorities for “meeting their obligations towards the tribunal and towards justice”.

Gen Mladic was indicted by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague in 1995 for genocide over the killings that July at Srebrenica – the worst single atrocity in Europe since World War II – and other alleged crimes.

Having lived freely in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, he disappeared after the arrest of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in 2001.

Speculation mounted that Gen Mladic would eventually be arrested when Mr Karadzic was captured in Belgrade in July 2008.

In a message from his UN cell in the Hague, Mr Karadzic said he was sorry Gen Mladic has been arrested.

The Bosnian Serb leader added that he wanted to work with him “to bring out the truth” about the Bosnian war, in a message relayed to the Associated Press by his lawyer.

In other reaction:

  • US deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said the US was “delighted”
  • UK Foreign Secretary William Hague hailed the arrest was a “historic moment”
  • Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said it finally offered “a chance for justice to be done”
  • French President Nicolas Sarkozy said it was “a very courageous decision by the Serbian presidency”
  • Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said Serbia’s EU prospects were “now brighter than ever”

War Crimes Prosecution Watch is a bi-weekly e-newsletter that compiles official documents and articles from major news sources detailing and analyzing salient issues pertaining to the investigation and prosecution of war crimes throughout the world. For more information about War Crimes Prosecution Watch, please contact

War Crimes Prosecution Watch, Vol. 6, Issue 4

War Crimes Prosecution Watch is prepared by the International Justice Practice of the Public International Law & Policy Group and the Frederick K. Cox International Law Center of Case Western Reserve University School of Law.


Central African Republic & Uganda

Darfur, Sudan




International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

Special Court for Sierra Leone


European Court of Human Rights

Court of Bosnia & Herzegovina, War Crimes Chamber

International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

Domestic Prosecutions In The Former Yugoslavia

War Crimes Prosecution Watch is a bi-weekly e-newsletter that compiles official documents and articles from major news sources detailing and analyzing salient issues pertaining to the investigation and prosecution of war crimes throughout the world. For more information about War Crimes Prosecution Watch, please contact

Serbian war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic arrested

By Polly Johnson
Senior Desk Officer, Europe

Ratko Mladic stands accused of orchestrating the worst massacre in Europe since the Holocaust. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters).
Ratko Mladic stands accused of orchestrating the worst massacre in Europe since the Holocaust. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters).

SERBIA – Bringing a gruesome chapter in history to a close, former Serbian army commander Ratko Mladic, 69, was arrested on Thursday.

Mladic’s arrest followed sixteen years of hiding and a three-year investigation. He has been charged with genocide, extermination and murder by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

The genocide charge stems from his alleged role in directing the murder of eight thousand Bosnian Muslim men and boys in July of 1995 after the fall of Srebrenica, Europe’s worst massacre since World War II.

Mladic also stands accused of ethnic cleansing, forcible deportations, torture, forced labor, mass killings, and widespread psychological, physical and sexual violence against Bosnian Muslims between 1992 and 1995.

In a written statement, prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia Serge Brammertz wrote, “Mladic’s arrest clearly signals that the commitment to international criminal justice is entrenched. Today’s events show that people responsible for grave violations of international humanitarian law can no longer count on impunity.”

After the 1995 indictment, Mladic disappeared. Though he was occasionally seen at football games and at his home in Belgrade, he vanished after the fall of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. Milosevic died in 2006 while his trial in The Hague was still going on.

Though some have called for the quick transfer of Mladic to the Netherlands for trial, extradition could take up to a week. The process depends on whether Mladic will appeal or not, which is unlikely as most accused fight extradition. If he does not appeal, he could be in the Netherlands within a day.

Elated reactions resonated throughout Europe and beyond upon news of the arrest. The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, called Mladic’s arrest “an historic day for international justice.” French President Nicolas Sarkozy called the arrest “very big news.”

“As Bosnian Serb military commander, General Mladic played a key role in some of the darkest episodes of Balkan and European history, including the siege of Sarajevo and the massacre of thousands of Bosnian men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995,” said NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

“Almost sixteen years since his indictment for genocide and other war crimes, his arrest finally offers a chance for justice to be done,” Rasmussen added.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Mladic’s trial “should teach again the grim reality of ethnic cleansing and, I hope, bring some comfort to those who survived.”

“Justice works,” Albright said in a statement.

The arrest moves Serbia one step closer to integration into the European Union, which forbade Serbia from membership talks because of the country’s failure to arrest Mladic. Still, the integration process takes years to complete.

For now, however, human rights advocates, world leaders and those who were affected by the massacre can rejoice over the arrest of the man who Interpol called, “Europe’s most wanted war crimes suspect.”

In the news release, Interpol Secretary General Ronald K. Noble said, “The arrest by Serbian police of Ratko Mladic, an alleged architect of human carnage and mass murder, is a triumph for international justice.”

For more information, please see:

BBC – Ratko Mladic arrested in Serbia – 26 May 2011

CNN – Bosnia genocide suspect Ratko Mladic arrested in Serbia – 26 May 2011

CNN – Mladic arrest hailed as ‘important day for international justice’ – 26 May 2011

Economist – Ratko Mladic: Caught at last – 26 May 2011

New York Times – Mladic Arrest Opens Door to Serbia’s Long-Sought European Union Membership – 26 May 2011

Telegraph – Ratko Mladic arrest: extradition could take a week – 26 May 2011

New Study Shows 420,000 Raped Each Year in DR Congo

by Laura Hirahara
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

A victim of the New Years rape in Fizu, South Kivu with her son; Photo courtesy of USA Today
A victim of the New Years rape in Fizu, South Kivu with her son; Photo courtesy of Pete Muller, AP

Democratic Republic of Congo– An upcoming report in the American Journal of Public Health has revealed that more than 420,000 women are raped annually in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  This number is significantly higher than those being reported by other organizations, like the UN, who previously estimated a figure closer to 16,000 annually.  However, the AJPH study is based on a 2007 nation-wide survey that also found 1.7 million women in the DRC will be raped at some point in their lives and an additional 3 million will be raped by an intimate partner.  The report, which will be released this June, reads “Not only is sexual violence more generalized than previously thought, but our findings suggest that future policies and programs should focus on abuse within families[.]”

Previously, an accurate accounting of rape in the DRC has been made difficult by the instability of the region.  The DRC is still suffering the effects of the civil war that officially ended in 2003.  Since that time, rebel factions have terrorized civilian populations in an effort to gain control of mineral deposits located primarily in the east.  Rape has become a common weapon and while some men and boys are victims, women are the primary target.  Tony Gambino, the Congo mission director for United States Agency for International Development (USAID), told ABC News, “The worst violence is done by armed boys and men, many of whom are in the Congolese military.”

A number of factors play into the lack of accountability for the crime.  Throughout most of the country, women who are raped are disowned by their families and try to hide the rape rather than speak about it.  Tia Palermo, a co-author of the AJPH study, told ABC News, “There is stigma, shame and impunity so why bother reporting a rape if nothing is going to happen. We know from other conflict regions that less than half of rape victims report their abuse.”  Additionally, even when perpetrators are arrested for rape it is likely they will receive light sentences or simply escape from jail, as a March report from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated.  As Gambino told ABC, “Because officials can be paid off, even a small fish can get out of prison for $5 in the Congo.”

While the February conviction of Lt. Col. Kibibi Mutuare and 10 of the soldiers under his command for the rape of dozens of women in a small South Kivu village over New Years brought 49 women to court to testify, many believe the perception of women in the DRC needs to change.  Melanne Verveer, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, said, “The DRC cannot move ahead without the full inclusion of women politically . . . . economically, through agriculture and beyond, and socially, through a robust civil society movement. . . .Investing in women is not only the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do.”

For more information, please see;

NYTNotes From a Young American in Congo: The Stigma of Rape– 6 May, 2011

USA Today420K Congolese Women are Raped Each Year– 11 May, 2011

SF ChronicleCongo Rape Problem More Widespread Than Thought, Study Shows– 12 May, 2011

ABC NewsNearly Every Minute a Woman is Raped in the Congo– 13 May, 2011

VOA NewsCurbing DC’s Gender-based Violence– 13 May, 2011

Legal Arithmetic: Adding Up the Legality of Operation Geronimo

By David Crane
Originally Publishing by JURIST

To assist in the important debate related to the targeting of Osama Bin Laden, I offer up a formula to assist in this important debate related to that targeting. Though simplistic, and in acknowledgement of valid concerns legally and practically related to the targeting, this formula helps clear an intellectual path to a conclusion that perhaps his targeting was lawful.

The death of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan was a lawful military operation. It is a matter of (A) + (B) = (C). When a nation contemplates the use of force, that force must be done with legal authority (A) and within the strictures of the laws of armed conflict (B). If there is both legal authority and that force follows the principles laid down by The Hague Rules of 1907 and the Geneva Conventions of 1949 then there can be a justified result (C).

Let’s break down the formula further using the facts that are apparent in the killing of Bin Laden. In the early morning hours of May 2nd (Pakistan time), United States Special Operations Forces dynamically entered the compound where Bin Laden, some members of his family, and others lived. Let’s consider (A) the legal authority. After September 11, 2001, Congress authorized the Commander-in-Chief at the time to use force against those individuals who had perpetrated the attack on the United States that fateful day. Under our constitutional scheme, the President could direct the National Command Authority to use armed force against Al Qaeda, including Bin Laden and others. Additional international authorizations via the United Nations and NATO followed. Overlaid in this authorization to use force was the basic international principle of the inherent right of a nation to self-defense, found in Art. 51 of the UN Charter.

Domestically, the authorized use of force was most certainly buttressed by a Presidential finding to kill Bin Laden as a hostile. By law the President must inform the leadership in Congress about these findings. This apparently was done years ago.

Thus President Obama had the legal authority to order Operation Geronimo and to executive the plan. The (A) part of the formula is complete. However in order to have a justified result (C) there must be the comporting of that use of force with the laws of armed conflict (B). Was Operation Geronimo conducted within the parameters of the rules of war?

When the Special Forces entered the compound they had to use the force authorized by following certain principles: military necessity, proportionality, and distinction/discrimination. Bin Laden had been declared a hostile target and as such there was a militarily necessary reason to engage him, an act to further the military objectives of the international community and the United States against Al Qaeda, the Taliban and global terrorism. If there is no militarily necessary reason to engage a target then engaging it is illegal. There was a military necessary reason to engage Bin Laden; hence the principle of military necessity was satisfied.

When the Special Operation Forces entered Bin Laden’s bedroom the force that they used was proportional to the threat proffered by those in that room. Bin Laden apparently showed no sign of surrendering and there were weapons close by him. The use of assigned small arms to engage the lawful target was a proportional response to the threat Bin Laden posed to the Special Forces. The principle of proportionality was thus satisfied.

A final relevant principle related to the use of force in the operation was that of distinction/discrimination. When force is used, the force must be discriminate with the target distinctly engaged. What does this mean? Those who use that force must aim at the target they intend to engage ensuring no one that is protected under the law of armed conflict, e.g. civilians, are hit. The intentional targeting of civilians is never authorized except in self-defense. Unintentional injury or death of civilians in a military operation is called collateral damage and, though unfortunate, not a violation of law. Here the use of force in Bin Laden’s room was very discriminate, two well-aimed shots once in the chest and head of the military target, Bin Laden. The principle of distinction and discrimination was satisfied. The alleged shooting of a wife of Bin Laden appears to have been in self-defense according to the facts given by the Obama administration.

Other persons in the compound were either protected, such as the children, or those who offered resistance or who fired on the Special Forces also were properly engaged as hostile at a minimum under the principle of self-defense. It appears that no civilians were intentionally targeted. Thus the essential (B) part of the equation was satisfied.

Since (A) legal authority and (B) adhering to the laws of armed conflict were in place, the killing of Bin Laden, and those who engaged the Special Forces to protect him were justified killings under our domestic law as well as international law (C). The killing of human beings is never to be lightly taken and when it is done it must be done lawfully. The death of Bin Laden was lawful. It was a matter of (A) + (B) = (C) as well as a great deal of courage by our armed forces.

David Crane is a professor at Syracuse University College of Law and the founding former Chief Prosecutor of the international war crimes tribunal in West Africa called the Special Court for Sierra Leone, 2001-2005.

Violence Continues in Syria Despite US Sanctions

By R. Renee Yaworsky
Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

A fire hose is turned on protesters. (Photo courtesy of LA Times)
A fire hose is turned on protesters. (Photo courtesy of LA Times)

DAMASCUS, Syria—Dozens of people have been killed by security forces in Syria in various cities throughout the country.  The continued violence comes even as the US attempts to increase pressure against Syria by sanctioning President Bashar al-Assad.

On Friday, at least 34 people were killed by Syrian forces and plainsclothes militiamen.  The government forces have been targeting areas where pro-democracy activists have been protesting and demonstrating in the streets.  The security forces used live ammunition and tear gas in efforts to disperse the protesters.  In some cases, homes and businesses of suspected activists were burned down.

In the city of Homs, in central Syria, about 11 people—including a child–were killed.  In Maarat al-Numan, a northwestern city, over 13 people were killed.  According to one protester who spoke with AFP, “The victims in Maarat al-Numan were gunned down at the entrance of the city where many people were converging from other nearby towns to join the protests.”

There were also six deaths in the smaller towns of Daraya and Barza near Damascus, four deaths in Latakia, Hama and Deir al-Zour, and two deaths in Sanamein.

The UN has reported that over 850 people have died as a result of the violence in Syria since March 15.  About 5,000 refugees have poured into Lebanese border towns seeking security.  A UN spokesman explained, “Most of the people who have crossed the border in recent weeks are women and children.  In addition to their immediate need for food, shelter and medical help, they also need psycho-social support.”

On Wednesday, President Obama stepped up sanctions against Syria by adding Assad to a list of officials subject to travel bans and asset freezes.  On Thursday, Obama criticized Syria’s use of force against demonstrators and said, “President Assad now has a choice.  He can lead that transition [towards political reform] or get out of the way.”

SANA, the official news agency of Syria, retorted that “Obama is inciting violence when he says that Assad and his regime will face challenges from the inside and will be isolated on the outside if he fails to adopt democratic reforms.”

For more information, please see:

Deutsche Welle-Dozens killed in Syria as Washington increases political pressure-20 May 2011

LA Times-Syrian protests: Syrian troops fire on protesters, 34 killed-20 May 2011

Al Jazeera-Syrian protests draw deadly fire-20 May 2011

[Breaking News] President Obama’s Speech on the Middle East and North Africa

Text courtesy of the Wall Street Journal

May 19, 2011
State Department
Washington, D.C.
12:15 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you very much. Thank you. Please, have a seat. Thank you very much. I want to begin by thanking Hillary Clinton, who has traveled so much these last six months that she is approaching a new landmark — one million frequent flyer miles. (Laughter.) I count on Hillary every single day, and I believe that she will go down as one of the finest Secretaries of State in our nation’s history.

The State Department is a fitting venue to mark a new chapter in American diplomacy. For six months, we have witnessed an extraordinary change taking place in the Middle East and North Africa. Square by square, town by town, country by country, the people have risen up to demand their basic human rights. Two leaders have stepped aside. More may follow. And though these countries may be a great distance from our shores, we know that our own future is bound to this region by the forces of economics and security, by history and by faith.

Today, I want to talk about this change — the forces that are driving it and how we can respond in a way that advances our values and strengthens our security.

Now, already, we’ve done much to shift our foreign policy following a decade defined by two costly conflicts. After years of war in Iraq, we’ve removed 100,000 American troops and ended our combat mission there. In Afghanistan, we’ve broken the Taliban’s momentum, and this July we will begin to bring our troops home and continue a transition to Afghan lead. And after years of war against al Qaeda and its affiliates, we have dealt al Qaeda a huge blow by killing its leader, Osama bin Laden.

Bin Laden was no martyr. He was a mass murderer who offered a message of hate –- an insistence that Muslims had to take up arms against the West, and that violence against men, women and children was the only path to change. He rejected democracy and individual rights for Muslims in favor of violent extremism; his agenda focused on what he could destroy -– not what he could build.

Bin Laden and his murderous vision won some adherents. But even before his death, al Qaeda was losing its struggle for relevance, as the overwhelming majority of people saw that the slaughter of innocents did not answer their cries for a better life. By the time we found bin Laden, al Qaeda’s agenda had come to be seen by the vast majority of the region as a dead end, and the people of the Middle East and North Africa had taken their future into their own hands.

That story of self-determination began six months ago in Tunisia. On December 17th, a young vendor named Mohammed Bouazizi was devastated when a police officer confiscated his cart. This was not unique. It’s the same kind of humiliation that takes place every day in many parts of the world -– the relentless tyranny of governments that deny their citizens dignity. Only this time, something different happened. After local officials refused to hear his complaints, this young man, who had never been particularly active in politics, went to the headquarters of the provincial government, doused himself in fuel, and lit himself on fire.

There are times in the course of history when the actions of ordinary citizens spark movements for change because they speak to a longing for freedom that has been building up for years. In America, think of the defiance of those patriots in Boston who refused to pay taxes to a King, or the dignity of Rosa Parks as she sat courageously in her seat. So it was in Tunisia, as that vendor’s act of desperation tapped into the frustration felt throughout the country. Hundreds of protesters took to the streets, then thousands. And in the face of batons and sometimes bullets, they refused to go home –- day after day, week after week — until a dictator of more than two decades finally left power.

The story of this revolution, and the ones that followed, should not have come as a surprise. The nations of the Middle East and North Africa won their independence long ago, but in too many places their people did not. In too many countries, power has been concentrated in the hands of a few. In too many countries, a citizen like that young vendor had nowhere to turn -– no honest judiciary to hear his case; no independent media to give him voice; no credible political party to represent his views; no free and fair election where he could choose his leader.

And this lack of self-determination –- the chance to make your life what you will –- has applied to the region’s economy as well. Yes, some nations are blessed with wealth in oil and gas, and that has led to pockets of prosperity. But in a global economy based on knowledge, based on innovation, no development strategy can be based solely upon what comes out of the ground. Nor can people reach their potential when you cannot start a business without paying a bribe.

In the face of these challenges, too many leaders in the region tried to direct their people’s grievances elsewhere. The West was blamed as the source of all ills, a half-century after the end of colonialism. Antagonism toward Israel became the only acceptable outlet for political expression. Divisions of tribe, ethnicity and religious sect were manipulated as a means of holding on to power, or taking it away from somebody else.

But the events of the past six months show us that strategies of repression and strategies of diversion will not work anymore. Satellite television and the Internet provide a window into the wider world -– a world of astonishing progress in places like India and Indonesia and Brazil. Cell phones and social networks allow young people to connect and organize like never before. And so a new generation has emerged. And their voices tell us that change cannot be denied.

In Cairo, we heard the voice of the young mother who said, “It’s like I can finally breathe fresh air for the first time.”

In Sanaa, we heard the students who chanted, “The night must come to an end.”

In Benghazi, we heard the engineer who said, “Our words are free now. It’s a feeling you can’t explain.”

In Damascus, we heard the young man who said, “After the first yelling, the first shout, you feel dignity.”

Those shouts of human dignity are being heard across the region. And through the moral force of nonviolence, the people of the region have achieved more change in six months than terrorists have accomplished in decades.

Of course, change of this magnitude does not come easily. In our day and age -– a time of 24-hour news cycles and constant communication –- people expect the transformation of the region to be resolved in a matter of weeks. But it will be years before this story reaches its end. Along the way, there will be good days and there will bad days. In some places, change will be swift; in others, gradual. And as we’ve already seen, calls for change may give way, in some cases, to fierce contests for power.

The question before us is what role America will play as this story unfolds. For decades, the United States has pursued a set of core interests in the region: countering terrorism and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons; securing the free flow of commerce and safe-guarding the security of the region; standing up for Israel’s security and pursuing Arab-Israeli peace.

We will continue to do these things, with the firm belief that America’s interests are not hostile to people’s hopes; they’re essential to them. We believe that no one benefits from a nuclear arms race in the region, or al Qaeda’s brutal attacks. We believe people everywhere would see their economies crippled by a cut-off in energy supplies. As we did in the Gulf War, we will not tolerate aggression across borders, and we will keep our commitments to friends and partners.

Yet we must acknowledge that a strategy based solely upon the narrow pursuit of these interests will not fill an empty stomach or allow someone to speak their mind. Moreover, failure to speak to the broader aspirations of ordinary people will only feed the suspicion that has festered for years that the United States pursues our interests at their expense. Given that this mistrust runs both ways –- as Americans have been seared by hostage-taking and violent rhetoric and terrorist attacks that have killed thousands of our citizens -– a failure to change our approach threatens a deepening spiral of division between the United States and the Arab world.

And that’s why, two years ago in Cairo, I began to broaden our engagement based upon mutual interests and mutual respect. I believed then -– and I believe now -– that we have a stake not just in the stability of nations, but in the self-determination of individuals. The status quo is not sustainable. Societies held together by fear and repression may offer the illusion of stability for a time, but they are built upon fault lines that will eventually tear asunder.

So we face a historic opportunity. We have the chance to show that America values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator. There must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity. Yes, there will be perils that accompany this moment of promise. But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.

Of course, as we do, we must proceed with a sense of humility. It’s not America that put people into the streets of Tunis or Cairo -– it was the people themselves who launched these movements, and it’s the people themselves that must ultimately determine their outcome.

Not every country will follow our particular form of representative democracy, and there will be times when our short-term interests don’t align perfectly with our long-term vision for the region. But we can, and we will, speak out for a set of core principles –- principles that have guided our response to the events over the past six months:

The United States opposes the use of violence and repression against the people of the region. (Applause.)

The United States supports a set of universal rights. And these rights include free speech, the freedom of peaceful assembly, the freedom of religion, equality for men and women under the rule of law, and the right to choose your own leaders -– whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus, Sanaa or Tehran.

And we support political and economic reform in the Middle East and North Africa that can meet the legitimate aspirations of ordinary people throughout the region.

Our support for these principles is not a secondary interest. Today I want to make it clear that it is a top priority that must be translated into concrete actions, and supported by all of the diplomatic, economic and strategic tools at our disposal.

Let me be specific. First, it will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy. That effort begins in Egypt and Tunisia, where the stakes are high -– as Tunisia was at the vanguard of this democratic wave, and Egypt is both a longstanding partner and the Arab world’s largest nation. Both nations can set a strong example through free and fair elections, a vibrant civil society, accountable and effective democratic institutions, and responsible regional leadership. But our support must also extend to nations where transitions have yet to take place.

Unfortunately, in too many countries, calls for change have thus far been answered by violence. The most extreme example is Libya, where Muammar Qaddafi launched a war against his own people, promising to hunt them down like rats. As I said when the United States joined an international coalition to intervene, we cannot prevent every injustice perpetrated by a regime against its people, and we have learned from our experience in Iraq just how costly and difficult it is to try to impose regime change by force -– no matter how well-intentioned it may be.

But in Libya, we saw the prospect of imminent massacre, we had a mandate for action, and heard the Libyan people’s call for help. Had we not acted along with our NATO allies and regional coalition partners, thousands would have been killed. The message would have been clear: Keep power by killing as many people as it takes. Now, time is working against Qaddafi. He does not have control over his country. The opposition has organized a legitimate and credible Interim Council. And when Qaddafi inevitably leaves or is forced from power, decades of provocation will come to an end, and the transition to a democratic Libya can proceed.

While Libya has faced violence on the greatest scale, it’s not the only place where leaders have turned to repression to remain in power. Most recently, the Syrian regime has chosen the path of murder and the mass arrests of its citizens. The United States has condemned these actions, and working with the international community we have stepped up our sanctions on the Syrian regime –- including sanctions announced yesterday on President Assad and those around him.

The Syrian people have shown their courage in demanding a transition to democracy. President Assad now has a choice: He can lead that transition, or get out of the way. The Syrian government must stop shooting demonstrators and allow peaceful protests. It must release political prisoners and stop unjust arrests. It must allow human rights monitors to have access to cities like Dara’a; and start a serious dialogue to advance a democratic transition. Otherwise, President Assad and his regime will continue to be challenged from within and will continue to be isolated abroad.

So far, Syria has followed its Iranian ally, seeking assistance from Tehran in the tactics of suppression. And this speaks to the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime, which says it stand for the rights of protesters abroad, yet represses its own people at home. Let’s remember that the first peaceful protests in the region were in the streets of Tehran, where the government brutalized women and men, and threw innocent people into jail. We still hear the chants echo from the rooftops of Tehran. The image of a young woman dying in the streets is still seared in our memory. And we will continue to insist that the Iranian people deserve their universal rights, and a government that does not smother their aspirations.

Now, our opposition to Iran’s intolerance and Iran’s repressive measures, as well as its illicit nuclear program and its support of terror, is well known. But if America is to be credible, we must acknowledge that at times our friends in the region have not all reacted to the demands for consistent change — with change that’s consistent with the principles that I’ve outlined today. That’s true in Yemen, where President Saleh needs to follow through on his commitment to transfer power. And that’s true today in Bahrain.

Bahrain is a longstanding partner, and we are committed to its security. We recognize that Iran has tried to take advantage of the turmoil there, and that the Bahraini government has a legitimate interest in the rule of law.

Nevertheless, we have insisted both publicly and privately that mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens, and we will — and such steps will not make legitimate calls for reform go away. The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail. (Applause.) The government must create the conditions for dialogue, and the opposition must participate to forge a just future for all Bahrainis.

Indeed, one of the broader lessons to be drawn from this period is that sectarian divides need not lead to conflict. In Iraq, we see the promise of a multiethnic, multisectarian democracy. The Iraqi people have rejected the perils of political violence in favor of a democratic process, even as they’ve taken full responsibility for their own security. Of course, like all new democracies, they will face setbacks. But Iraq is poised to play a key role in the region if it continues its peaceful progress. And as they do, we will be proud to stand with them as a steadfast partner.

So in the months ahead, America must use all our influence to encourage reform in the region. Even as we acknowledge that each country is different, we need to speak honestly about the principles that we believe in, with friend and foe alike. Our message is simple: If you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the full support of the United States.

We must also build on our efforts to broaden our engagement beyond elites, so that we reach the people who will shape the future -– particularly young people. We will continue to make good on the commitments that I made in Cairo -– to build networks of entrepreneurs and expand exchanges in education, to foster cooperation in science and technology, and combat disease. Across the region, we intend to provide assistance to civil society, including those that may not be officially sanctioned, and who speak uncomfortable truths. And we will use the technology to connect with -– and listen to –- the voices of the people.

For the fact is, real reform does not come at the ballot box alone. Through our efforts we must support those basic rights to speak your mind and access information. We will support open access to the Internet, and the right of journalists to be heard -– whether it’s a big news organization or a lone blogger. In the 21st century, information is power, the truth cannot be hidden, and the legitimacy of governments will ultimately depend on active and informed citizens.

Such open discourse is important even if what is said does not square with our worldview. Let me be clear, America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard, even if we disagree with them. And sometimes we profoundly disagree with them.

We look forward to working with all who embrace genuine and inclusive democracy. What we will oppose is an attempt by any group to restrict the rights of others, and to hold power through coercion and not consent. Because democracy depends not only on elections, but also strong and accountable institutions, and the respect for the rights of minorities.

Such tolerance is particularly important when it comes to religion. In Tahrir Square, we heard Egyptians from all walks of life chant, “Muslims, Christians, we are one.” America will work to see that this spirit prevails -– that all faiths are respected, and that bridges are built among them. In a region that was the birthplace of three world religions, intolerance can lead only to suffering and stagnation. And for this season of change to succeed, Coptic Christians must have the right to worship freely in Cairo, just as Shia must never have their mosques destroyed in Bahrain.

What is true for religious minorities is also true when it comes to the rights of women. History shows that countries are more prosperous and more peaceful when women are empowered. And that’s why we will continue to insist that universal rights apply to women as well as men -– by focusing assistance on child and maternal health; by helping women to teach, or start a business; by standing up for the right of women to have their voices heard, and to run for office. The region will never reach its full potential when more than half of its population is prevented from achieving their full potential. (Applause.)

Now, even as we promote political reform, even as we promote human rights in the region, our efforts can’t stop there. So the second way that we must support positive change in the region is through our efforts to advance economic development for nations that are transitioning to democracy.

After all, politics alone has not put protesters into the streets. The tipping point for so many people is the more constant concern of putting food on the table and providing for a family. Too many people in the region wake up with few expectations other than making it through the day, perhaps hoping that their luck will change. Throughout the region, many young people have a solid education, but closed economies leave them unable to find a job. Entrepreneurs are brimming with ideas, but corruption leaves them unable to profit from those ideas.

The greatest untapped resource in the Middle East and North Africa is the talent of its people. In the recent protests, we see that talent on display, as people harness technology to move the world. It’s no coincidence that one of the leaders of Tahrir Square was an executive for Google. That energy now needs to be channeled, in country after country, so that economic growth can solidify the accomplishments of the street. For just as democratic revolutions can be triggered by a lack of individual opportunity, successful democratic transitions depend upon an expansion of growth and broad-based prosperity.

So, drawing from what we’ve learned around the world, we think it’s important to focus on trade, not just aid; on investment, not just assistance. The goal must be a model in which protectionism gives way to openness, the reigns of commerce pass from the few to the many, and the economy generates jobs for the young. America’s support for democracy will therefore be based on ensuring financial stability, promoting reform, and integrating competitive markets with each other and the global economy. And we’re going to start with Tunisia and Egypt.

First, we’ve asked the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to present a plan at next week’s G8 summit for what needs to be done to stabilize and modernize the economies of Tunisia and Egypt. Together, we must help them recover from the disruptions of their democratic upheaval, and support the governments that will be elected later this year. And we are urging other countries to help Egypt and Tunisia meet its near-term financial needs.

Second, we do not want a democratic Egypt to be saddled by the debts of its past. So we will relieve a democratic Egypt of up to $1 billion in debt, and work with our Egyptian partners to invest these resources to foster growth and entrepreneurship. We will help Egypt regain access to markets by guaranteeing $1 billion in borrowing that is needed to finance infrastructure and job creation. And we will help newly democratic governments recover assets that were stolen.

Third, we’re working with Congress to create Enterprise Funds to invest in Tunisia and Egypt. And these will be modeled on funds that supported the transitions in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. OPIC will soon launch a $2 billion facility to support private investment across the region. And we will work with the allies to refocus the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development so that it provides the same support for democratic transitions and economic modernization in the Middle East and North Africa as it has in Europe.

Fourth, the United States will launch a comprehensive Trade and Investment Partnership Initiative in the Middle East and North Africa. If you take out oil exports, this entire region of over 400 million people exports roughly the same amount as Switzerland. So we will work with the EU to facilitate more trade within the region, build on existing agreements to promote integration with U.S. and European markets, and open the door for those countries who adopt high standards of reform and trade liberalization to construct a regional trade arrangement. And just as EU membership served as an incentive for reform in Europe, so should the vision of a modern and prosperous economy create a powerful force for reform in the Middle East and North Africa.

Prosperity also requires tearing down walls that stand in the way of progress -– the corruption of elites who steal from their people; the red tape that stops an idea from becoming a business; the patronage that distributes wealth based on tribe or sect. We will help governments meet international obligations, and invest efforts at anti-corruption — by working with parliamentarians who are developing reforms, and activists who use technology to increase transparency and hold government accountable. Politics and human rights; economic reform.

Let me conclude by talking about another cornerstone of our approach to the region, and that relates to the pursuit of peace.

For decades, the conflict between Israelis and Arabs has cast a shadow over the region. For Israelis, it has meant living with the fear that their children could be blown up on a bus or by rockets fired at their homes, as well as the pain of knowing that other children in the region are taught to hate them. For Palestinians, it has meant suffering the humiliation of occupation, and never living in a nation of their own. Moreover, this conflict has come with a larger cost to the Middle East, as it impedes partnerships that could bring greater security and prosperity and empowerment to ordinary people.

For over two years, my administration has worked with the parties and the international community to end this conflict, building on decades of work by previous administrations. Yet expectations have gone unmet. Israeli settlement activity continues. Palestinians have walked away from talks. The world looks at a conflict that has grinded on and on and on, and sees nothing but stalemate. Indeed, there are those who argue that with all the change and uncertainty in the region, it is simply not possible to move forward now.

I disagree. At a time when the people of the Middle East and North Africa are casting off the burdens of the past, the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent than ever. That’s certainly true for the two parties involved.

For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state. Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection. And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.

As for Israel, our friendship is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values. Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. And we will stand against attempts to single it out for criticism in international forums. But precisely because of our friendship, it’s important that we tell the truth: The status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace.

The fact is, a growing number of Palestinians live west of the Jordan River. Technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself. A region undergoing profound change will lead to populism in which millions of people -– not just one or two leaders — must believe peace is possible. The international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome. The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.

Now, ultimately, it is up to the Israelis and Palestinians to take action. No peace can be imposed upon them — not by the United States; not by anybody else. But endless delay won’t make the problem go away. What America and the international community can do is to state frankly what everyone knows — a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people, each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.

So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, a secure Israel. The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.

As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself -– by itself -– against any threat. Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism, to stop the infiltration of weapons, and to provide effective border security. The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state. And the duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated.

These principles provide a foundation for negotiations. Palestinians should know the territorial outlines of their state; Israelis should know that their basic security concerns will be met. I’m aware that these steps alone will not resolve the conflict, because two wrenching and emotional issues will remain: the future of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees. But moving forward now on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation to resolve those two issues in a way that is just and fair, and that respects the rights and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians.

Now, let me say this: Recognizing that negotiations need to begin with the issues of territory and security does not mean that it will be easy to come back to the table. In particular, the recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel: How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist? And in the weeks and months to come, Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to that question. Meanwhile, the United States, our Quartet partners, and the Arab states will need to continue every effort to get beyond the current impasse.

I recognize how hard this will be. Suspicion and hostility has been passed on for generations, and at times it has hardened. But I’m convinced that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians would rather look to the future than be trapped in the past. We see that spirit in the Israeli father whose son was killed by Hamas, who helped start an organization that brought together Israelis and Palestinians who had lost loved ones. That father said, “I gradually realized that the only hope for progress was to recognize the face of the conflict.” We see it in the actions of a Palestinian who lost three daughters to Israeli shells in Gaza. “I have the right to feel angry,” he said. “So many people were expecting me to hate. My answer to them is I shall not hate. Let us hope,” he said, “for tomorrow.”

That is the choice that must be made -– not simply in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but across the entire region -– a choice between hate and hope; between the shackles of the past and the promise of the future. It’s a choice that must be made by leaders and by the people, and it’s a choice that will define the future of a region that served as the cradle of civilization and a crucible of strife.

For all the challenges that lie ahead, we see many reasons to be hopeful. In Egypt, we see it in the efforts of young people who led protests. In Syria, we see it in the courage of those who brave bullets while chanting, “peaceful, peaceful.” In Benghazi, a city threatened with destruction, we see it in the courthouse square where people gather to celebrate the freedoms that they had never known. Across the region, those rights that we take for granted are being claimed with joy by those who are prying lose the grip of an iron fist.

For the American people, the scenes of upheaval in the region may be unsettling, but the forces driving it are not unfamiliar. Our own nation was founded through a rebellion against an empire. Our people fought a painful Civil War that extended freedom and dignity to those who were enslaved. And I would not be standing here today unless past generations turned to the moral force of nonviolence as a way to perfect our union –- organizing, marching, protesting peacefully together to make real those words that declared our nation: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

Those words must guide our response to the change that is transforming the Middle East and North Africa -– words which tell us that repression will fail, and that tyrants will fall, and that every man and woman is endowed with certain inalienable rights.

It will not be easy. There’s no straight line to progress, and hardship always accompanies a season of hope. But the United States of America was founded on the belief that people should govern themselves. And now we cannot hesitate to stand squarely on the side of those who are reaching for their rights, knowing that their success will bring about a world that is more peaceful, more stable, and more just.

Thank you very much, everybody. (Applause.) Thank you.

END 1:00 P.M. EDT

Former Rwandan Army General Found Guilty for Coordinating Genocide

By Eric C. Sigmund
Managing Editor of News

ARUSHA, Tanzania – The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on Tuesday sentenced former Rwandan army chief General Augustin Bizimungu to 30 years in prison for organizing and ordering the 1994 genocide in Rwanda which left approximately 800,000 people dead.  The Court found Bizimungu guilty of six counts of genocide, crimes against humanity, extermination, rape and other violations of international law.

Bizimungu Sentenced to 30 Years Role in 1994 Genocide
Bizimungu Sentenced to 30 Years for Role in 1994 Genocide (Photo Courtesy of CBS News)

Bizimungu, who fled to Angola after the atrocities in Rwanda, was arrested in 2002 and detained by the tribunal until formally charged with leading the genocide in 2004.  The conclusion of the nine year trial marks a critical step towards reconciliation for Rwanda.

The 100-day genocide resulted in the murder of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Tutsis and Tutsi sympathizers at the hands of the country’s Hutu majority.   Bizimungu, who labeled the Tutsis “cockroaches,” had ordered their extermination and expulsion from the country.  In addition to the dead, over one million people are said to have fled the country during the genocide.

Rwandan Prosecutor General Martin Ngoga welcomed the decision and commented that “it is a big sentence, even if many people think he deserved the highest.”

While most observers are satisfied with the result, some commentators remained concerned about the slow pace of justice.  Rwanda’s Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama, commented that the process was too expensive and time consuming.  “You had massive resources put at the disposal of the court and the amount of work….leaves a lot to be desired,” expressed Karugarama.  According to reporters, the total cost of the tribunal is estimated around $1 billion dollars.  Mr. Karugarama further noted that the mandate of the tribunal should have been extended to allow for compensation to victims.

Addressing these concerns, Chief Prosecutor Hassan Jallow stressed that the tribunal process is complex and was slowed by the fact that the tribunal was not located in the same country where the crimes were committed or where the witnesses reside.

Some critics, including Karugarama, have proposed that remaining military officers be tried in Rwanda’s domestic Gacaca courts.  The Gacaca court process is much more informal, notes Karugarama, ensuring a speedy trial.   According to Mr. Karugarama “One of the reasons why we allowed the Rwandans to prosecute these serving military officers is because I think it has a better impact on efforts towards reconciliation if the Rwandans themselves are seen to prosecute their own people.”   Since 2002 more than 1.5 million people have been tried in the Gacaca courts, resulting in the conviction of 40,000 people.  Human rights groups however, have questioned the fairness of these trials, noting that more informal procedures could undermine the legal process.

Despite his criticism of the tribunal, Justice Minister Karugarama concluded that “It is very important to us that [the ICTR] has set an international precedent on the crime of genocide.”

Two other senior military officers François-Xavier Nzuwonemeye and Innocent Sagahutu were also found guilty for participating in the genocide.  Each was sentenced to 20 years in prison.  The Bizimungu trial is the 59th trial completed by the ICTR since 1994.

For more information, please see:

BBC Africa – Rwanda Genocide: Did Bizimungu Trial Take too Long? – 17 May, 2011

CBS World News – Rwandan Genocide Architect Given 30 yrs in Prison – 17 May, 2011

CNN – Former Rwandan Army Chief Gets 30 years for Genocide – 17 May, 2011

Mirror UK – Brutal Former Army Chief Jailed over 1994 Rwanda Genocide – 17 May, 2011

Uruguay Supreme Court Denies Human Rights Abuses by Military Dictatorship

By Eric C. Sigmund
Managing Editor of News

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay – About 200 Uruguayans were kidnapped and murdered by military officials during the military dictatorship which ruled Uruguay from 1973-1985. Since the demise of the military regime, human rights activists have sought to bring those military leaders responsible for the detainment and state-sanctioned executions to justice for human rights violations. Over 25 years later, Uruguay’s Supreme Court ruled last week that the actions of two military officials accused of killing 28 people did not amount to human rights crimes.

The country has long debated how to address dictatorship-era crimes. A 1986 amnesty law currently protects former military officers from prosecutions for crimes committed during military rule. While the country’s legislature is currently deciding whether to repeal the law, stiff opposition from within President Jose Mujica’s ruling leftist coalition is causing political fragmentation within Parliament.

President Mujica, who has traditionally been supportive of the amnesty law, has said that he would not veto a repeal of the law. Despite the President’s support of the military, his ruling coalition has stressed that many of the cases against military officials fall outside the purview of the amnesty law. This has allowed the government to convict 20 former military officials since 2005. Many citizens however, remain unhappy with the government’s progress, noting that the amnesty law continues to shield some high profile officials from the reach of the law.

Last week’s ruling was another blow to human rights activists. While not denying the significant evidence of guilt presented against the officers, the Court ruled that the killings should be classified as murders rather than human rights violations. The Court’s decision is significant since the statute of limitations for murder in Uruguay, twenty years, has already expired. There is no statute of limitations for human rights crimes.

Human rights groups have been vocal in their opposition to the Court’s ruling. Representatives of the Memory and Justice Assembly called the ruling a “disgrace that will go down in history.” The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has also urged the Uruguayan government to lift all restrictions to prosecution.

Perhaps the staunchest criticism of the government’s attempts to annul the amnesty law has come from within the military. A number of soldiers have condemned trials against former military officials and have called for an end to “political persecution.” Colonel José Araujo, further raised the prospect of fierce governmental infighting, stating that continued prosecution “may destabilize the country.”

While commentators have denied the existence of any tangible threats to democracy in the country, the process moving forward will likely continue to divide the country. Repeal of the 1986 amnesty bill could open the door for the prosecution of at least 10 more former military officials.

For more information, please see:

Reuters – Uruguay Rules State killings Not Human Rights Crimes – 13 May, 2011

Agence France Presse – Amnesty Law Overturn Stirs up Old Passions in Uruguay – 9 May, 2011

Guardian – Uruguay Split Over Ending Amnesty for Rights Violations Under Dictatorship – 26 April, 2011

ICC Issues Arrest Warrant for Gadhafi

By R. Renee Yaworsky
Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

Col. Gadhafi (Photo courtesy of Globe and Mail)
Col. Gadhafi (Photo courtesy of Globe and Mail)

TRIPOLI, Libya—Colonel Moammar Gadhafi has been accused of “crimes against humanity.”  On Monday, International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo asked judges to issue the indictments against Gadhafi.  It has not even been two months since Gadhafi’s file was opened at the request of the United Nations Security Council, making this the quickest probe of its kind.

Moreno-Ocampo accused Gadhafi of “commit[ing] crimes with the goal of preserving authority,” using snipers to gun down protesters, encouraging violence against civilians and sending tanks into cities.  He also alleged that the leader ordered attacks on innocent civilians in their own residences, at funerals, and as they left religious services.   Gadhafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, and intelligence chief Abdullah al-Sanoussi were also accused of participation in the Colonel’s reign of terror.  The ICC believes that these 3 men bear the most guilt for “widespread and systematic attacks” against Libyan citizens.

NATO allies have celebrated the arrest warrant against Gadhafi.  Canada’s government issued a statement displaying its support of the ICC “in its efforts to ensure that justice is served and to show the world that crimes perpetrated by the Gadhafi regime will not be tolerated.”  Guma el-Gamaty of Libya’s Interim National Council stated that the acts of the ICC are “a very important step along the way to putting more pressure on Gadhafi and his son to leave or face arrest.”

Others remain skeptical that the ICC arrest warrant will be powerful enough, citing examples where war criminals have evaded justice (such as in the case of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir who remains free to travel even after the ICC issued him a similar warrant).  Human rights defenders have been supportive of the ICC but stress the need for other war criminals to be held accountable as well.

Michael Bochenek of Amnesty International explained, “The request for arrest warrants is a step forward for international justice and accountability in the region.  [But] by any standard, what is happening in Syria is equal to, if not worse than, the situation in Libya when the Security Council referred that country to the ICC.”

One of Gadhafi’s spokesmen ridiculed the accusations against the Libyan leader and pointed out the fact that Libya was not a signatory to the ICC. Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khalid Kaim dismissed the ICC as a “baby of the European Union designed for African politicians and leaders” with “questionable” practices.

For more information, please see:

Tripoli Post-ICC Seeking Warrant for Al-Qathafi and Two Other Family Members ‘For Crimes Against Humanity’-16 May 2011

BBC-Libya: Gaddafi ICC arrest warrant raises questions-16 May 2011

NPR-UN Prosecutor Calls For Gadhafi Arrest Warrant-16 May 2011

Globe and Mail-Warrants for Gadhafi could jeopardize possible exile deals-16 May 2011