Pre-Trial Hearing for Accused War Crimes Criminal, Ratko Mladic

Pre-Trial Hearing for Accused War Crimes Criminal, Ratko Mladic

By Alexandra Halsey-Storch
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

Mladic was arrested in May of this year, and is awaiting trial at the Hague (Photo Courtesy of MSNBC).
Mladic was arrested in May of this year, and is awaiting trial at the Hague (Photo Courtesy of MSNBC).

THE HAGUE, Netherlands–On Thursday, notorious genocide suspect and former commander of the Serbian Army, Ratko Mladic appeared at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal of Yugoslavia (ICTY) for a pre-trial hearing at The Hague. He wore a gray suit, crème colored shirt and “sober black tie.” Lead defense attorney Branko Lukic, to whom Mladic left most of the talking, accompanied him.

At his arraignment in July, Mladic was thrown out of court after shouting at the judges.  Pursuant to international law, A plea of not guilty was entered on his behalf by the presiding judges.

On May 26, after 16 years of hiding, Mladic—one of the United Nation’s most wanted fugitives—was found north of Belgrade in the small farming town of Lazarevo.  Officials arrested him after receiving a tip. He was thereafter indicted on 11 counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity that were committed during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war.  He has been incarcerated at The Hague prison. Should he be found guilty, Mladic faces life in prison.

At the hearing, presiding Judge Alphons Orie explained that the purpose of the hearing was to set deadlines for pre-trial procedures.  He expressed concern over the inevitably long length of the trial and Mladic’s purported bad health, and asked when prosecutors would be ready to turn over evidence to the defense that could demonstrate Mladic’s innocence.

While the pre-trial hearing on Thursday was largely procedural, at controversy was Mladic’s health and its potential effect on the trial; however, due to privacy rules, the conversation was conducted without the media being present, in a closed session.

What is known is that the defense attorney argued that Mladic, whose poor health has been a persistent issue since his arrest, might be too ill to stand trial.

When Mladic appeared in court on May 27, his questioning was postponed to the following day as a result of illness. Furthermore, according to the defense, Mladic was committed last week to a hospital in The Hague for a hernia operation; however, the court claimed that to the contrary, Mladic had not left the detention center.

In response to Mladic’s poor health, the prosecution proposed in a motion that the trial be set up into two phases.  First, the prosecution would try Mladic as the mastermind behind the worst genocide since World War II: the death of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in July of 1995, who were “mowed down” with their “hands behind their backs” by the Serbian Army.  The prosecution said that sufficient evidence for this atrocity could be collected within a year as ICTY had already collected relevant evidence from the preceding trials of Mladic’s subordinates and Radovan Karadzic.

The prosecution further proposed that once a decision had been entered for the first crime, Mladic would be tried in a following trial for the remaining crimes, foremost, the three and a half year siege of Sarajevo where 10,000 people died, including 1,500 children.

Lukic responded that this procedure would not be conducive to the defense’s argument; however, he has until August 31 to respond in greater detail to the motion before the judge makes a ruling.

The next pre-trial hearing is set for October 6.

For more information, please see:

The New York Times — Serbian Says Jailed Mladic Will Face War Crimes Trial — 27 May 2011 — Mladic back in court after Croatia suspect pleads not guilty — 25 August 2011 — Court gives Mladic lawyers week to decide on split trial — 25 August 2011

Monsters and Critics — Mladic back in ICTY courtroom for procedural hearing — 25 August 2011

The Washington Post — Former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic back in court for pretrial hearing — 25 August 2011

Radio Netherlands Worldwide  — Mladic: 2 pre-trial plans? — 27 August 2011

Children with Disabilities denied education in Nepal

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch, Asia

KATHMANDU, Nepal – A report by Human Rights Watch expressed concern that children living with disabilities in Nepal are denied access to education.

Sixteen-year-old student, Amman, is forced to crawl up the steps to reach his classroom each day (Photo Courtesy of Human Rights Watch).
Sixteen-year-old student, Amman, is forced to crawl up the steps to reach his classroom each day (Photo Courtesy of Human Rights Watch).

Contributing to this concern is the inaccessibility of school structures, lack of instructors who are properly trained to accommodate children with disabilities and neighborhood schools denying admission to disabled children.

These factors result disproportionately in low school attendance and high dropout rates for disabled children when compared to children who do not suffer from a disability. According to Education Ministry officials, disabled students comprise a significant number of the almost 330,000 students who are not in school despite being school aged.

Shantha Rau Barriga of Human Rights Watch reports, “[t]ens of thousands of children with disabilities in Nepal are being shut out from or neglected by the school system.” Barriga also states that these failures exist despite a national policy of inclusive schools.

According to the Human Rights Watch report, “Futures Stolen: Barriers to Education for Children with Disabilities in Nepal” which is based on 97 interviews, more than half the interviewed families of disabled children stated that their children had been denied admission to schools and many of the parents were not even made aware that their children had the right to an education.

The inability of parents to enroll their children in schools has prompted some parents to state that they have “…no choice but to lock their children with disability in a room or tie them to a post” according to the report.

One parent reported to Human Rights Watch that she would be unable to care for her other child and manage the household  if she had to constantly care for her disabled child and therefore locks him in a room, only letting him out one or two times a day to see the sun.

The problem facing Nepal’s disabled children also extends to those who manage to attend school.  Classes are often segregated and the classes offered to disabled students are generally inferior to classes attended by children who are not disabled.

In one case, Nepal’s failure to take into account differences in learning ability caused a fifteen year old boy to spend three years in Class one, three years in Class two and then one year in Class three. Despite the time spent in school, the student reports that he still does not know the alphabet and only passed because teachers began to take exams for him.

The inaccessible structure of schools also contribute to the difficulties disabled children face. One student interviewed by Human Rights Watch, a sixteen year old named Amman, reported that he is forced to crawl to his classroom because the school entrance has steps that he is unable to access any other way and no other entrance to the school. He is also unable to use the restroom without assistance and because staff is unwilling to help him, another student must either run home to get his mother or he must wait until the end of the school day.

The extent of the problem is unknown because there is no reliable data about the number of children who have a disability but it is estimated that between .45 percent and 1.63 percent of Nepal’s child population is living with at least one disability.

These failures come despite Nepal’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on March 1, 2008.

For more information, please see:

Hindustan Times – Right to Equality, but Only on Paper– 27 August 2011

Nepali Times – Educating Children with Disabilities – 26 August 2011

Daiji World – Nepal’s Hellen Kellers, Stephen Hawkings Await Their Rights – 24 August 2011

The Himalayan Times – Disabled Kids Denied School Admission – 24 August 2011

Human Rights Watch – Nepal: Separate and Unequal Education – 24 August 2011

United Nations – Convection Optional Protocol Signatures and Ratifications– 1 March 2008

Human Rights Watch Report Documents Worker Abuse in South Africa’s Wine Industry

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) issued Ripe with Abuse: Human Rights Conditions in South Africa’s Fruit and Wine Industries, a 96-page report, describing unsafe working conditions for workers on vineyards that produce internationally renowned wines in South Africa. Based on 260 interviews with farm workers and owners, government officials, civil society members, lawyers, union officials, and industry representatives, the report encourages the government to respect labor laws.  Wine and fruit farms are valuable economic contributors to South Africa, the seventh-largest wine producer in the world.

Report document abuse of South Africas vineyard workers.  (Photo Coutesy of BBC)
Report document abuse of South Africa's vineyard workers. (Photo Coutesy of BBC)

The report states, “Workers also often have no access to drinking water, hand washing facilities, or toilets as required by labour regulations.” However, industry group Wines of South Africa (“WOSA”) believes the report is misleading and challenges the report’s accuracy.  WOSA feels the report undermines efforts to redress past wrongs and improve workers’ working and living conditions.  However, WOSA said they would investigate the study.

Su Birch, chief executive of WOSA, commented, “Ironically, [the report] could also jeopardise the jobs of the very people it claims to be championing.” Emphasizing workers compete with South Africa’s strong currency, face a global economic downturn, and lack of government support global competitors receive, she added “[WOSA] call[s] on government to partner the wine industry in accelerating reform and in rooting out problems.”

HRW reported although some farms comply or exceed the law regarding worker’s condition, the vineyard community lacks sufficient investigators to monitor worker’s conditions.

Although South Africa has strict labor laws, these farm workers are some of the lowest paid workers in the country with women receiving lower wages than men do.

Furthermore, a majority of the workers are casual or seasonal workers who are unaware of their rights.  These workers face difficulty joining labor groups to learn about their rights.  Many workers were victims of illegal evictions that the government did not criminally investigate.  According to the HRW report, workers are also subject to inadequate housing, and Kaitlin Cordes of HRW recalls speaking “to a worker who has been living in a pig stall with his family for more than 10 years.”

Daniel Bekele, Africa director at HRW, encourages consumers “not to boycott South African products, because that could be disastrous for farmworkers” but rather urges retailers to push suppliers to amend workers’ conditions.

HRW stated, “Greater coordination within the government; more robust monitoring, resource allocation, and transparency; and clarity on responsibility for the millions of farm workers and dwellers in South Africa would go a long way towards ameliorating the intolerable abuses that they suffer.”

For further information, please see,
BBC South Africa wine grown by ‘abused’ workers23 Aug 2011
Harpers South African vineyards accused of human rights abuses23 Aug 2011
Mail & GuardianFruit of a poisoned vine23 Aug 2011
Reuters Africa HRW alleges abuses in S. African wine industry23 Aug 2011

Former Ivory Coast President and Wife Charged with Economic Crimes

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – On Friday, 19 August, the Ivorian government charged former President Laurent Gbagbo, 66, and his wife Simone Gbagbo, 62, with economic crimes including aggravated theft, damage to the national economy, misappropriation of public funds, and looting.  Under current President Alassane Ouattara’s administration, officials arrested the couple in April after the five-month post-election dispute.  This violence displaced 500,000 people and killed 3,000 people.

Former President Laurent Gbagbo charged with economic crimes.  (Photo Courtesy of The Australian)
Former President Laurent Gbagbo charged with economic crimes. (Photo Courtesy of The Australian)

Since their arrest on 11 April 2011, the coupled lived under house arrest in separate cities in the northern part of the country.  However, public prosecutor Koffi Kouadio Simplice reported officials charged and took Simone Gbagbo into custody on Tuesday before they charged Laurent Gbagbo on Thursday.  Officials will transfer Simone Gbagbo to a prison in Odienné, the city where she lived under house arrest.  Laurent Gbagbo will continue living under house arrest in Korhogo.  This is the first time the Ivorian government stated the legal status of the couple since their arrest.

The BBC reports Laurent Gbagbo’s charges relate to his use of millions of dollars of state funds from the central bank while he attempted to retain power after the election.  During the post-election struggle, the former president forcefully obtained control of the central bank’s local headquarters in addition to nationalizing foreign private banks.

Since the Ivorian government is only charging Laurent Gbagbo with economic crimes, the International Criminal Court (“ICC”) will be able to investigate the post-election violence if the judges accept Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo request.  Prosecutor Ocampo has stated he also wants to investigate alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes that occurred during the post-election violence.

Mr. Kouadio stated the Ivorian justice system prefers the ICC prosecute the violence crimes.  Mr. Bruno Koné, spokesman for the Ivorian government, stated the country “is not yet equipped to judge those kind of crimes”.

Previously, officials arrested and charged dozens of people who served under Laurent Gbagbo, including his son.  Since the Ivorian government did not charge the couple for their crimes until now, human rights groups criticized the government for not charging them until months after their arrest.  The United Nations also stated both political sides engaged in war crimes and crimes against humanity.  Although President Ouattara enforces that participants in the violence on both political sides will face justice, he has not charged a member of his group for participating in the violence.

For further information, please see:

NationGbagbo and wife charged with economic crimes19 Aug 2011
The Australian Ex-Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo charged with ‘economic crimes’19 Aug 2011
BBC – Ivory Coast conflict: Gbagbos face economic charges18 Aug 2011
Forbes Ivory Coast’s ex-president charged with theft18 Aug 2011

State of Emergency Helps Deter Drug Violence in Trinidad & Tobago

By Brittney Hodnik
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago – Trinidad and Tobago has declared a “limited” state of emergency in order to combat the drug-related violence occurring there.  The capital city, Port of Prince – along with other hotspots – is under a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.  Authorities are enforcing the curfew in an effort to curb a recent increase in murders.  Last weekend alone, there were 11 homicides, bringing the total for the year up to 264; surprisingly this number is lower than at the same point last year.

A policeman approaches a vehicle for questioning after curfew hours in Trinidad and Tobago.  (Image Courtesy of The Guardian)
A policeman approaches a vehicle for questioning after curfew hours in Trinidad and Tobago. (Image Courtesy of The Guardian)

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar attributes the recent murders to a large seizure of cocaine.  Trinidad seized $22 million of cocaine two weeks ago, supposedly setting off the string of murders and violence, reports The New York Times.  Many fear that drug gangs are using Trinidad as a shipping point for South American cocaine heading to places such as Europe and the United States. 

Persad-Bissessar and her national security advisors aim to bring the offenders to “swift justice,” according to CNN International.  The imposition of the curfew is mainly to preserve the safety of the law-abiding citizens and tourists.  As reported by The Guardian, Persad-Bissessar says that the response must “halt the current spike in gang activity and crime in general in the shortest possible time.”

Under a state of emergency, the Emergency Powers Regulations take force, giving the police much broader power.  Many civil rights are temporarily denied, including seizure of weapons, arrests without a warrant, and even warrantless searches of vehicles and homes.  Along with the police, 5,000 military personnel are on hand to aid in the restoration of peace, reported The New York Times

Trinidad’s citizens accept the policy because they know that it is for the public good.  Although it is an inconvenience, the state of emergency will limit unnecessary death and injury.  “I feel very safe for the first time in a long while,” Dolarlchan Hanomansingh, a teacher in Trinidad told The New York Times.

So far, the measures have eased the violence and led to the arrest of 58 gang leaders, according to The New York Times.  Trinidad and Tobago’s Newsday reports that Trinidad officials arrested 121 people in a 14-hour span.  However, opposition party leader, Keith Rowley sees the state of emergency as a sign of desperation.

The country’s state of emergency will remain in effect until at least September 6, and may be extended with the approval of Parliament.

For more information, please visit: — Port of Spain, Trinidad Under Curfew — 25 Aug. 2011

The Guardian — 100 Held in Trinidad and Tobago’s State of Emergency — 25 Aug. 2011

Trinidad and Tobago’s Newsday — Curfew Stops Drug Trafficking Ring — 25 Aug. 2011

The New York Times — Trinidad and Tobago Declares Emergency Over Drug Crimes — 24 Aug. 2011

CNN International — Authorities Impose Curfews on Trinidad and Tobago — 22 Aug. 2011