War Crimes Prosecution Watch: Vol. 8, Issue 20 — Monday, 30 December 2013

International Criminal Court

Central African Republic & Uganda 

Darfur, Sudan

Democratic Republic of Congo


Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)


International  Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda



Court of Bosnia & Herzegovina, War Crimes Chamber

International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

Domestic Prosecutions in the Former Yugoslavia

Middle East and Asia

Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia


Special Tribunal for Lebanon

Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal

War Crimes Investigation in Burma

North and South America

United States

South & Central America








Gender-Based Violence


UN Reports

NGO Reports

Truth and Reconciliation Commissions


Sri Lanka


Commentary and Perspectives

Worth Reading


The Creator of the AK-47 Assault Rifle, Mikhail Kalashnikov, Dies at 94

by Tony Iozzo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

Izhevsk , RUSSIA – The Russian creator of the AK-47 assault rifle, Mikhail Kalashnikov, died on Monday, December 23rd at the age of 94.

Kalashnikov passed away last Monday at the age of 94. (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera)

Kalashnikov died in his hometown of Izhevsk near the Ural Mountains in Russia, where his gun is still manufactured. No cause of death has been released. Kalashnikov had been fitted with a pacemaker at a Moscow hospital in June and had been hospitalized in Izhevsk since November 17. Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed “deep sympathy” for Kalashnikov’s family.

Kalashnikov created the AK-47 while being treated in a hospital in Kazakhstan after he was severely wounded in a burning tank during World War II, while still in his 20’s. Five years later, his design was chosen by the Russian military. The “47” in AK-47 stands for the year 1947, the “A” is for “avtomat” (automatic rifle), and the “K” for Kalashnikov.

The rifle, which has killed more people than any other firearm in the world, is officially in service in 55 countries. Several national emblems feature it. However, approximately half of the world’s estimated 100 million AK-47’s are counterfeited copies that were produced without licenses.

Modern versions of the AK-47 are still used by Russia’s armed forces and police more than 60 years after the original rifle went into service in the military in 1949. However, Kalashnikov has stated that his pride in the rifle was mixed with pain in observing it being used by criminals and child soldiers. The AK-47 has also been used worldwide by gangsters, drug traffickers, militants and rebels in various countries.

“It is painful for me to see when criminal elements of all kinds fire from my weapon. I created this weapon primarily to defend the borders of our fatherland,” Kalashnikov stated in an address to a Russian arms conference in 2009.

Kalashnikov was born on November 10, 1919 into a large peasant family in the village of Kurya in the Altai region of southern Siberia during the Bolshevik Revolution. During Soviet times, he was twice honored as “Hero of Socialist Labor” and became a Stalin Prize and Lenin Prize laureate. Kalashnikov also was given the rank of colonel in 1969 and subsequently rose to become a two-star general during his time with the Red Army.

Though it is widely believed that Kalashnikov was wealthy from his design, he was not a rich man and lived in a modest Soviet-era apartment in Izhevsk, despite the Kremlin decorations.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Mikhail Kalashnikov, AK-47 Inventor, Dies at 94 – 23 December 2013

CNN – Mikhail Kalashnikov, Inventor of AK-47, Dies at 94 – 23 December 2013

New York Times – Mikhail Kalashnikov, Creator of AK-47, Dies at 94 – 23 December 2013

Reuters – Ak-47 Rifle Inventor Mikhail Kalashnikov Dies at 94 – 23 December 2013

NSA Intercepts Computer Deliveries and Hijacks Windows Error Messages

by Michael Yoakum
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States – German magazine Der Speigel revealed more information about the NSA’s hacking unit Sunday, reporting that that the intelligence agency intercepts computer deliveries, exploits hardware vulnerabilities, and hijacks Microsoft’s internal reporting system to spy on their targets. The report is based on internal NSA documents that claimed the agency’s mission was “Getting the ungettable.”

The NSA, headquartered in Fort Meade, Maryland, has come under fire in the past year for increasingly invasive spying systems. (Photo courtesy of CNET)

Der Speigal’s reports relate to the select group of hackers within the NSA’s Tailor Access Operations (TAO) division, which specialize in stealing data from the tough targets. The report claims that the TAO has some high-tech gadgets for gathering from tough targets, including computer monitor cables that record everything typed on the computer and a USB drive with a radio transmitter that broadcasts data over airwaves.

Beyond their gadgets, the report says that the TAO has exploited weaknesses in the architecture of the Internet to deliver malicious software to specific computers. Their techniques even take advantage of vulnerabilities in software created by some of the leading tech firms, including Cisco Systems and Dell.

The report added that one of the most effective techniques involved intercepting computer deliveries and taking them to workshops to install spyware before delivering them to a target. The NSA has taken to calling this technique “interdiction” and regularly involves support from the FBI or CIA.

One of the most startling revelations came in regards to the TAO’s ability to spy on Microsoft crash reports that come up when a game or document crashes on the Windows operating system. The reports are designed to allow Microsoft engineers work on fixing Windows errors, but Der Speigel reports that the NSA is sifting through these reports to help break in to computers running the operating system.

The report further noted that the NSA has succeeded in tapping the massive underwater fiber optics bundles used to connect the global data infrastructure. In particular, a cable bundle connecting Western Europe with North Africa and the Middle East (known as “SEA-ME-WE-4”) has been tapped.

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Report: NSA Intercepts Computer Deliveries – 29 December 2013

CBS News – Report: NSA intercepts computer deliveries – 29 December 2013

CNET – NSA reportedly planted spyware on electronics equipment – 29 December 2013

Forbes – Report: NSA Intercepting Laptops Ordered Online, Installing Spyware – 29 December 2013

The Washington Post – Report: NSA intercepts computer deliveries – 29 December 2013

New Plans Produced by Former Pussy Riot Band Members

By Ben Kopp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – Newly freed Russian musicians Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova have declared to shift their work from Pussy Riot to human rights.


After release from prison, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova announced that they will create a human rights group in place of their abandoned band. (Photo courtesy of RadioFreeEurope RadioLiberty)

Pussy Riot band members Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova recently served 21 months of a two-year sentence for “hooliganism.” On 23 December 2013, Russia released both members on amnesty.

Except for prison-acquired cigarette habits, no signs suggest that the women’s spirits are broken from their time served. Together, they hope to abolish Moscow’s neo-Gulag prison system.

In a 27 December 2013 media conference, the women declared that they will not continue Pussy Riot’s music project. Instead, Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova will become crusaders for prison reform, through their new human rights group, “Rights Zone.”

“For us, the punk prayer in the Christ the Savior Cathedral is not very important anymore,” said Tolokonnikova. “We are different people now. We lived through a long life in prison. It is a totally different reality from the one you live. And this common experience unites us now much more than our joint participation in the punk prayer in the Christ the Savior Cathedral.”

“Imagine,” said Alyokhina, “that at six this morning you were free: you could go where you want, say what you want, eat what you want. Then you were suddenly arrested; slung in a holding cell, and you were told to strip naked, bend over, then squat. So you’re standing there, naked, utterly helpless. And that’s how your journey to prison begins. It is the first thing you see. And it is legal.”

Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova hope to create Rights Zone in close “ideological and conceptual” cooperation with other public figures were also released on amnesty, such as opposition leader Aleksey Navalny and former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Indeed, in a statement that they want Russian President Vladimir Putin out of office, they backed Khodorkovsky for President.

“For us, [Khodorkovsky] is important, because he’s a very strong person, a very tough person, and an incredible human being who went through a much tougher and much longer prison experience than we did,” said Tolokonnikova. “And that’s why he’s very valuable for us. He will work in the field of human rights protection in prisons, and that’s why we have to count on him.”

Nevertheless, while the former band members do not have the funds to create Rights Zone on their own, they have refused to ask Navalny or Khodorkovsky for sponsorship. Instead, the women plan to raise money by crowdfunding, which is a fundraising method commonly used by activists and artists asking for public donations via the internet.

With several controversial public figures released from Russian prisons on amnesty, only time will tell how successful any of them can be in political reformation, or whether new attempts could place them back in Russian prisons.

For further information, please see:

Telegraph – We Still Want to Cast Vladimir Putin out, Say Freed Pussy Riot Members – December 28, 2013

RadioFreeEurope RadioLiberty – Pussy Riot Members Want Khodorkovsky for President – December 27, 2013

Rolling Stone – Pussy Riot Unveil Plans for Human Rights Organization – December 27, 2013

RT – Pussy Riot Abandons ‘Brand,’ Will Form Human Rights Group – December 27, 2013

Egyptian Students Activists Clash With Police on College Campus

By Darrin Simmons
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

 CAIRO, Egypt-One student was killed, four injured, and numerous others were arrested during a protest supporting the Muslim Brotherhood clashed with Egyptian police at Al-Azhar University, located in Cairo.

Protesters stand outside a burning building on Al-Azhar’s campus (photo courtesy of Al Jazeera)

The Egyptian security forces used teargas and water cannons in dispersing students and supporters of the ousted Morsi.  The student activist was killed after being hit in the face with a birdshot.

The protesters were staged outside of university buildings attempting to prevent students from entering to take their exams.  Protesters threw rocks at the police and set tires on fire to counter tear gas attacks.

Two college buildings caught fire during the violence.  State TV broadcast footage revealed black smoke billowing from the faculty of commerce building as well as setting the agriculture facility building on fire.

Police arrested 101 students for possession of makeshift weapons that included petrol bombs, reported one state news agency.  Eventually, calm had been restored and scheduled exams proceeded after the morning clashes subsided.

The Brotherhood condemned what it called a “violent crackdown on student protests”, saying in a statement that the deployment of security forces on university campuses was an attempt by the government to “silence any voice opposition.”

Protesters gathered at the university following a harsh court verdict on Wednesday against a group of young female protestors.  The verdict implemented a new law criminalizing protests held without police permits with violators facing fines and prison sentences.

Prosecutors have ordered the continued detention of seven Al-Azhar students that the arrested during the protest.  The students are the first to be ordered detained by prosecutors on allegations of belonging to a terrorist group since the Brotherhood’s formal listing on December 25th.

The widespread crackdown against the pro-Morsi movement was enacted following the overthrow of veteran leader Hosni Mubarak in 2011 increasing tension in Egypt which has experienced one of the worst internal strife in modern history.

On Thursday, General Mohammed Ibrahim, the interior minister, stated “security forces will confront any violation and will face with all decisiveness any attempt to cut roads, block public facilities, hinder citizens’ movement or obstruct their interests.”

The protesters later left the campus and marched down a main road, further instigating confrontation with the police.

For more information, please see the following: 

Al Jazeera-Egyptian students clash with security forces-28 December 2013

Euro News-One student dead reported dead in Egypt university clashes-28 December 2013

The Guardian-Egyptian student killed as security forces clash with protesters in Cairo-28 December 2013

Reuters-One killed as Islamist students and police clash in Cairo-28 December 2013

Bombing Targeting Mohamed Chatah Kills Six in Beirut

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Middle East

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Mohamed Chatah, Lebanon’s former Finance Minister and six others were killed in an attack on Friday in central Beirut. The bombing struck close to the government headquarters and parliament in the capita. Initial medical reports indicated that more than 71 people. The blast was reportedly so powerful it blew out the windows of nearby buildings. The shared glass insured dozens of people.

Six people, including Lebanon’s former finance minister, Mohamad Chatah, were killed in a car bombing on Friday (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera)

Mohamed Chatah is believed to have been the target of the attack, which was carried out as his convoy was passing through the area.

Chatah was well known as a critic of the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, whom he accused of meddling in his countries domestic affairs. Hezbollah, the leading political organization in Lebanon supports the Assad regime and has sent fighters to help al-Assad’s forces in the Syrian civil war. In his last blog post Chatah wrote that “A united and peaceful Syria ruled by Assad is simply not possible anymore. It has been like that for some time.” He continued saying that “the status quo ante cannot be restored. Iran and Hezbollah realize this more than anyone else.”

In a Tweet posted less than an hour before his death Chatah accused the Hezbollah of trying to take control of the country. The Tweet read “Hezbollah is pressing hard to be granted similar powers in security and foreign policy matters that Syria exercised in Lebanon for 15 years.”

On Friday, Saad Hariri and his March 14 allies issued statements implying that the Syrian government or its ally Hezbollah was responsible for the attack. Hariri’s “March 14 coalition” is a pro-Western, political alliance dominated by Sunni Muslims.

Taking its name for the day in 2005 when thousands of people gathered in Beirut a month after the assassination of Hariri’s father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, demanding an end to what they viewed as a Syrian occupation of Lebanon.

The Assad regime has so far denied any involvement in the attack. Syria’s Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi, in remarks published by state news agency SANA said “these wrong and arbitrary accusations are made in a context of political hatred.”

Chatah’s killing occurred three weeks before the start of a trial of five Hezbollah members indicted for a 2005 bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Saad’s father, and 21 other people. The trial is set to open in The Hague in January.

Hezbollah, denies any role in the 2005 assassination and has refused to cooperate with the court, which it claims is politically motivated.

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his March 14 coalition have accused Hezbollah, a major Shia political organization in Lebanon, of, of involvement in Chatah’s death. Hariri said “As far as we are concerned the suspects … are those who are fleeing international justice and refusing to represent themselves before the international tribunal”

For more information please see

Al Jazeera – Beirut Car Bombing Kills Top Politician – 27 December 2013

CNN International – Lebanon’s Mohamad Chatah — U.S. Friend, Hezbollah Foe — Killed In Blast – 27 December 2013

The New York Times – Bomb in Beirut Kills Politician, a Critic Of Syria And Hezbollah – 27 December 2013

Reuters – Lebanon’s Hariri Points to Hezbollah over Beirut Killing – 27 December 2013

An Op-Ed by Professor Mark V. Vlasic: Guatemala’s Ríos Montt and an end to Impunity

His name might not be as infamous as “Milosevic” or “Saddam,” but the fight against impunity claimed another “first” earlier this month. Efraín Ríos Montt, a former Guatemalan general, became the first former Latin American president convicted of genocide and war crimes, extending the long arm of justice to another corner of the world, for at least a moment in time.

It was only a moment, because about a week after Ríos Montt was sentenced to 80 years for the slaughter of nearly 2,000 Ixil people (an indigenous Mayan ethnic group), Guatemala’s constitutional court overturned the conviction due to technical issues, in effect, calling for a retrial. This was despite the fact that the earlier ruling found that during his time in power, “Ríos Montt had full knowledge of everything that was happening,” including the torture and killing of the Ixil, “and did not stop it.”

The former dictator had enjoyed immunity from investigation for nearly 15 years, while he served as a Guatemalan congressman, even though a number of inquiries conducted had found him responsible for atrocities. In 2001, international human-rights organizations filed an application with the Guatemalan Public Ministry to spur an investigation into past crimes. When Ríos Montt lost power — and his immunity — in 2012, the Guatemalan government moved quickly to haul him into court.

In many ways, Ríos Montt’s initial conviction was the first step in delivering some sense of justice to the victims of a bloody civil war, where impunity has long-shielded human rights violators from the long arm of the law. And despite this week’s setback, it constitutes not only a win for the human-rights advocates in Guatemala, but also for those internationally.

Referring to the initial judgment, David Tolbert, president of the International Center for Transitional Justice, stated, “This was the first time that a former head of state has been tried for genocide in clearly genuine national proceedings . . . [It] . . . shows the importance of justice being done nationally, even when the odds are long. It is a great leap forward in the struggle for justice in Guatemala and globally.”

Tolbert speaks from experience. A former deputy prosecutor at the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, he is part of an ever-growing “Hague alumni” community that began with the Slobodan Milosevic prosecution, who are both well informed of the challenges of heads-of-state prosecutions, and aware of their unique role in fighting the impunity that, for most of human history, has been the norm.

Thus, whatever the final result of the Ríos Montt case, the fact that he faced a courtroom trial, at all, is historic, as he is part of a critical international trend that is targeting those heads-of-state who, traditionally, were those most likely to escape justice. Because today, the question is not if another former leader will ever be charged, but rather when, and who is next?

This is a fundamental change in the presumption. For centuries, dictators acted with impunity, perpetrating atrocities without fear of prosecution. But unlike those of us who studied in the 20th century — the next generation will only know a world where such terrible dictators actually do stand trial. Such a presumption will embolden the next generation of leaders to act — and perhaps with time — bring a true end to impunity.

Such an end does not depend on any one trial. When Milosevic died, just months before his trial was to conclude, I was disappointed. But then it occurred to me, the “Butcher of the Balkans,” the most powerful man in Yugoslavia, in the end, died in a prison cell, yearning to be free — and arguably changed the arc of history. That is because today, we are not surprised by a trial in Guatemala, nor would a trial in Syria cause shockwaves. And that we are starting to expect justice might be the biggest change of all.

Mark V. Vlasic, an adjunct professor of law and senior fellow at Georgetown University, served on the Slobodan Milosevic prosecution trial team at the U.N. war crimes tribunal. A former White House Fellow to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and adviser to the President’s Special Envoy to Sudan, he leads the international practice at Madison Law & Strategy Group.

An Op-Ed by Professor Mark V. Vlasic: When Museums Do the Right Thing

STONES and bones rarely make the front page, and even less frequently in the same month, but this has been no ordinary month. And it’s not over yet.

On May 4, The New York Times announced that the Metropolitan Museum of Art would voluntarily repatriate twin 10th century statues to Cambodia, after the museum received “dispositive” evidence that the pieces were products of the illicit antiquities trade.

A few miles away and a few days later, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security celebrated the not-so-voluntary repatriation of a looted 70-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus bataar (a relative of Tyrannosaurus rex) to Mongolia, having seized it from a self-described “commercial paleontologist” (and now confessed smuggler) named Eric Prokopi. Taken from the Gobi Desert, the dinosaur bones were seized last year after Prokopi tried to sell them in violation of U.S. and Mongolian law.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Cambodia publicly called upon other American museums to examine their Khmer collections and return any pieces that were plundered after the start of the country’s civil war in 1970.

With these two high-profile returns, attention may turn to Sotheby’s auction house next. The historic institution is fighting in New York courts to hawk a Cambodian sculpture that — along with the Met’s pair — once formed a three-dimensional tableau at the ancient temple of Koh Ker. These stone figures remained in situ for a millennium, until the country descended into war against the Khmer Rouge, when they were allegedly looted and trafficked overseas. Having traveled around the world through illicit and licit markets, the statues finally resurfaced in Manhattan.

In 2011, the Cambodian government asked Sotheby’s to return the piece in its possession, and enlisted the help of the U.S. government when the auction house declined. As a result, Sotheby’s now finds itself in the sights of the very federal agents and attorneys who so successfully investigated and prosecuted the T. bataar case.

Of course, Sotheby’s may still follow the Met’s lead, decide that its reputation is more important than a high-end sculpture, and repatriate the contested piece. But at the least, this month’s headlines offer a lesson. In both the Met and T. bataar cases, the looted items are going home. While the press and public are now honoring the museum, Prokopi is facing years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

Of course, the return of treasures like these to Phnom Penh and Ulan Bator are still the exception, but they are growing as governments, law enforcement agencies and the public increasingly realize that looting cultural treasures is a crime — and not a victimless one. Just last year, the Dallas Museum of Art returned to Turkey a 194 A.D. mosaic, “Orpheus Taming Wild Animals,” which was likely looted from the floor of a Roman building in the southeastern part of the country.

But even as these returns are being made, looters are devastating ancient sites in search of prized artifacts to sell on the international market. To underscore the point, the very week that one of us visited the ancient Roman cities of Leptis Magna and Sabratha in Libya, we heard about the looting of a “heavyweight” statue in the middle of the night.

The smuggling of stolen cultural objects has become an underground industry that spans the globe. Though the F.B.I. estimates that the value of this black market is as much as $6 billion a year, we do not really know the actual extent of the trade in illicitly obtained antiquities. (Researchers at the University of Glasgow have received a $1.5 million grant from the European Research Council to attempt to quantify and qualify it.) Nevertheless, if looting on the current scale continues, by the time we have accurate numbers there will be much less of our world heritage to protect. This will not only be a loss for culture and science — there are additional if not readily apparent side effects. The black market in antiquities has been reported as a source of income for organized crime, rebel fighters and even terrorist groups.

The U.S. government, and specifically the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security, should be commended for treating the illicit trade in cultural objects like the crime that it is, protecting the past, and improving America’s international relationships in the process.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York should likewise be praised for refusing to hold on to looted antiquities. Unlike Prokopi, museum authorities did not wait for a court order or lawsuit to return stolen property, thereby demonstrating that it is never too early to do the right thing. In light of this month’s news, it is hoped that Sotheby’s and others will realize that it’s never too late, either. As Edmund Burke said, “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

Mark V. Vlasic, a senior fellow and adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University, served as the first head of operations of the World Bank’s Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative and leads the international practice at Madison Law & Strategy Group. Tess Davis, a researcher at the University of Glasgow, served as the executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation, and is working with Cambodia to combat the illicit trade in the kingdom’s antiquities.

An Op-Ed by Professor Mark V. Vlasic: The “Evil” Swiss Banker?

When I joined the Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR) Initiative, a joint World Bank-United Nations initiative to help recover stolen assets from past dictators and grand corruption cases, I figured my first target would be the “dirty”/“evil” Swiss banker. Made famous from Bond films, the Da Vinci Code, and of course—litigation regarding the Holocaust and so-called “Nazi Gold”—much of my views of Switzerland as a “safe haven” for illicit assets were well established based upon portrayals in the media. As the first head of operations at StAR Secretariat, then, I was ready to take on the challenge of Swiss stonewalling on asset recovery. It was much to my surprise, however, when I met my first senior Swiss officials—Ambassadors Valentin Zellweger and Paul Seger (at a conference in Switzerland focused on kleptocracy and asset recovery), they were not only pleasant and open—but pro-active and enthusiastic about the Swiss role in stolen asset recovery.

Indeed, it is due to the tireless work of such public servants that the Swiss government has played an important role in asset recovery cases in recent years. For example, by working with Haitian and StAR officials, the Swiss were able to secure an order to return millions of dollars of ill-gotten gains from former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, a kleptocrat who allegedly funded his lavish lifestyle with illicit assets from his time in power. The Swiss government froze millions in assets and, through a special law devised with “out of the box” thinking to help solve some of the challenges of asset recovery—the Return of Illicit Assets Act (RIAA)—Swiss officials helped pave the way to returning millions of Duvalier’s illicit funds to its rightful owners: the nation and people of Haiti.

After the so-called “Arab Spring,” the Swiss officials worked with other public servants, including those from StAR, to help the Tunisian government to recover two executive jets, worth an estimated US$30 million, linked to the family of ousted Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Switzerland also quickly froze over $60 million in funds held in Swiss bank accounts linked to the Ben Ali family. In addition, to deter banks from enabling such corruption and asset theft, the government reprimanded and fined three major Swiss banks for improperly handling accounts belonging to family and close friends of Ben Ali. And these are not one-off cases. According to Swiss officials working on asset recovery matters, Switzerland has helped return nearly $1.7 billion to countries affected by graft or corruption.

Edmund Burke once opined that, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil, is that good men do nothing.” Thus, whatever the perceptions may be, I am pleased to have learned that are good men (and women)—public servants on both sides of the Atlantic, in the United States, and in Switzerland—doing their part to fight the evils associated with illicit assets and grand corruption. Let there be more, and let them all be recognized.

Mark V. Vlasic, an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center and senior fellow at Georgetown’s Institute for Law, Science & Global Security, worked on the Haiti/Duvalier asset recovery team while serving as head of operations of the World Bank’s StAR Secretariat. A former White House Fellow to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Slobodan Milosevic prosecution team member, he served as international legal adviser to the Charles Taylor/Liberia asset recovery team, and leads the international practice at Madison Law & Strategy Group.

An Op-Ed by Professor Mark V. Vlasic: Stolen History: Why we Should Care about Saving Syria’s Antiquities?

Art is often a forgotten victim of wars. As the toll of human suffering builds, worrying about the fate of paintings, sculptures, and antiquities might seem frivolous, even callous. But there is good reason to care about preserving culture both in conflict and after — and there are plenty of proponents of this view, including among governments. For instance, the upcoming movie Monuments Men, starring George Clooney, tells the true story of the group of individuals tasked by the U.S. government during World War II with finding art stolen by the Nazis and returning it to the rightful owners.

Today, a new conversation about how to protect the priceless when people are trying to survive is playing out, this time with regard to war-torn Syria. At a gathering this fall in New York, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the U.S. Department of State, and the International Council of Museums (ICOM) announced the publication of the Emergency Red List of Syrian Cultural Objects, which aims to prevent the transport and trade of Syria’s invaluable cultural goods.

Syria is rich with ancient and medieval treasures: Greek and Roman cities, Byzantine villages, Bronze and Iron Age sites, centuries-old castles, and ornate Islamic art and structures. But the State Department says that nearly 90 percent of these invaluable historical sites and objects are within areas of conflict.

Much like the Nazis, looters have taken note and ruthlessly pillaged Syrian cultural sites, seeking to sell treasures on the black market. Just last spring, a cobble-stone, columned street built by Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius in the city of Apamea was plundered and damaged. Architectural gems have also fallen prey to armed conflict. In April 2013, the nearly 1,000-year-old minaret of Aleppo’s Umayyad mosque collapsed during an intense battle.

With these problems becoming more serious, the Red List is an initiative that notifies law-enforcement personnel, customs inspectors, art dealers, auction houses, and museums around the world of the types of pilfered objects that may be on the market and moving through legitimate shipping channels.

Speaking at one of America’s premier sanctuaries for cultural heritage, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Anne Richard explained that the Red List includes nearly every object imaginable, such as ancient writings, vessels, coins, stamps, sculptures, and accessories. Giving notice helps prevent stolen objects from becoming ill-gotten spoils of war.

Red Lists have been created before for other countries. In the past five years, lists have helped French officials identify and recover cultural goods from Iraq and Togo. In 2007, Switzerland stopped the illegal online sale of a cuneiform tablet, one of the earliest examples of written language, thought to have been smuggled out of Iraq. More recently, U.S. customs inspectors recovered and returned stolen Afghan items, including a Roman wine pitcher, taken by looters. ICOM envisions the Red List for Syria will lead to similar success stories.

The rationale behind the Red List, however, extends beyond a desire to keep things where they belong. Indeed, there are other important reasons to protect Syria’s historical gems.

The preservation of Syria’s cultural heritage is critical to its reconstruction, reconciliation, and re-building of civil society, Richard argued at the Met event. Historical sites and objects “are a part of Syrian life — a source of pride and self-definition for their present and future,” she said. Losing its cultural history would rob Syria of the economic opportunities linked to tourism and cultural preservation; in 2010, tourism accounted for 12 percent of the country’s GDP and employed 11 percent of its workers.

The Red List is also part of a larger project to combat corruption and poor governance that benefits from illicit commerce, which the World Economic Forum estimates might include up to 15 to 20 percent of annual global trade. Illicit trade networks, which facilitate the exchange of trafficked persons and wildlife, ill-gotten funds, and cultural objects, also allow corrupt leaders and officials to retain and grow their power. And the need for international cooperation to combat regional and global illicit trade is paramount.

This is the reason that, halfway around the world from New York, political leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Pathfinder Dialogue in Bangkok met almost simultaneously to the Red List gathering. On the APEC agenda was a discussion of the global fight against illicit trade and corruption. Dialogue participants shared their best practices and agreed to support the drafting of new international documents and investigations to combat illegal commerce.

Together, the Pathfinder Dialogue and the Red List demonstrate the importance that the international community places on preserving art and artifacts. And as Monuments Men shows, this support is nothing new.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower, then supreme allied commander in Europe, took a particular personal interest in protecting, preserving, and repatriating cultural property in World War II. Led by American and British soldiers, the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Section of the Allied military effort included a collection of 345 men and women from 13 countries who recovered thousands of stolen artworks between 1943 and 1951, including works by Johannes Vermeer, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo.

Their efforts to protect and preserve Europe’s cultural history — now on display in the great museums of Europe — are a living legacy to those striving to protect Syria’s cultural relics. Much like our collective efforts in the 1940s helped preserve the foundation of European cultural identity, preventing looters and illicit markets from robbing Syria of its past will protect an important component of the country’s future, peaceful identity.

Mark V. Vlasic, an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center and senior fellow at Georgetown’s Institute for Law, Science & Global Security, served as head of operations of the World Bank’s StAR Secretariat. A former White House Fellow/special assistant to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Slobodan Milosevic prosecution team member, he served as international legal adviser to the Charles Taylor/Liberia asset recovery team, and leads the international practice at Madison Law & Strategy Group.

Thousands of Protesters Gather Outside Stockholm to Rally Against Racism

by Tony Iozzo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

STOCKHOLM, Sweden – Thousands of Swedish citizens gathered in the streets of Stockholm on Sunday in an effort to protest widespread racism, in response to a neo-Nazi attack on a similar rally held last weekend.

Neo-Nazi’s attacking demonstrators back on December 15th. (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera)

Last weekend, approximately thirty neo-Nazis attacked an anti-racism demonstration in the Stockholm suburb of Karrtorp by throwing bottles and firecrackers at the protestors. Scuffles quickly ensued, and two people were stabbed, while twenty-six of the neo-Nazis were detained by police officers.

Organizers of Sunday’s protest suggest that over 16,000 protestors participated in the rally. The protestors could be heard chanting requests for fellow citizens such as, “End racism now”, and “No racists on our streets.” Several Swedish musicians and politicians were on hand. The musicians performed on a stage assembled on a football field. The politicians represented both the current-ruling center-right coalition and the center-left opposition.

“I want to contribute to a broad revulsion against Nazism and racism. Last week’s attack was sad. The lesson learned is that the fight for the equal value of all humans must carry on, or we won’t manage the fight against xenophobia,” Swedish Integration Minister Erik Ullenhag stated.

Sweden has seen a rise in support for the far right Anti-Immigration party as immigration has grown. These Swedish Democrats have reached roughly ten percent in the polls ahead of a parliamentary election next year. Stockholm experienced the worst riots in years this past May in mostly-impoverished immigrant Stockholm suburbs, as youths threw rocks at police officers and set cars on fire for over a week.

Sections of Karrtorp, which does not have a particularly large immigrant population compared to other areas of the city, were sprayed-painted with swastikas and Nazi slogans in response to last week’s protest.

Similar lower-key anti-racism rallies were held in support at several other Swedish cities on Saturday and Sunday.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Thousands Rally Against Racism in Sweden – 23 December 2013

Haaretz – After neo-Nazi Attack, Thousands Rally in Sweden Against Racism – 23 December 2013

The Local – Anti-Racism Rally Attracts Thousands in Stockholm – 22 December 2013

Reuters – Thousands of Swedes Rally Against Racism – 22 December 2013