ICC Declines Full Investigation into Suspected N. Korean War Crimes

By Hojin Choi

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia


SEOUL, South Korea – The International Criminal Court (ICC) declined to initiate a full investigation into two North Korean attacks against South Korea in 2010. The ICC typically deals with cases of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Although North Korea is not a member of the ICC, attacks on a member country, such as South Korea can give rise to jurisdiction over the possible war crimes.

The first attack was the sinking of the South Korean corvette, Cheonan, in the West Sea of Korea on March 23, 2010. North Korea officially denied any involvement with the incident, but South Korea and international inquiries revealed that a North Korean torpedo struck the corvette. 46 sailors died at the scene.

A monument for the 46 deceased navy sailors of the corvette, Cheonan (Reuters)

The second attack occurred approximately 8 months later at Yeonpyeong Island in the West Sea. North Korea launched artillery attacks on the island causing the death of two South Korean soldiers and two civilians.

The ICC initiated a preliminary probe of the two incidents, but prosecutor Fatou Bensouda concluded that there was not enough evidence to initiate a full-blown investigation. The first attack on the Cheonan corvette was “directed at a lawful military target and would not otherwise meet the definition of the war crime of perfidy as defined in the Rome Statute,” the prosecutor said. Of the artillery attack, he said that while it did kill civilians there was not enough information establishing a “reasonable basis to believe that the attack was intentionally directed against civilian objects or that the civilian impact was expected to be clearly excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage.” According to the Prosecutor’s office, North Korea has not cooperated with the ICC to provide relevant information and evidence.

However, it is still questionable whether the attack did not target civilians. During the artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island, 230 shells were fired by North Korea and about 30 of them hit on residential areas. About 50 landed on the sea. The wide range of attack did not seem to be focused on only military bases and facilities.

Even though the ICC will not initiate a full investigation, it will resume the examination if there is new information or evidence presented. The decision “in no way should be construed as condoning in any way” North Korea’s violent attacks, the prosecutor said.

Besides the two attacks, the United Nations and ICC have recently considered the possibility of prosecuting North Korea for crimes against humanity. The U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights reported that North Korea should be referred to the ICC for the alleged crimes. The U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a resolution demanding the Security Council take action against North Korea. Moreover, U.N. Human Rights Investigators reported that the ICC would find merit in prosecuting the humanity crimes in North Korea. One U.N. report, which accused North Korea, compared the crimes with Nazism.

South and North Korea signed an armistice agreement in 1953, but have no effective peace treaty. The two countries technically remain at war.


For more information, please see:

International Criminal Court – The Prosecutor’s Report – June 2014

Channel NewsAsia – ICC declines to open N Korea war crimes probe – 23 June 2014

Jurist – ICC prosecutor finds no grounds to investigate North Korea war crime allegations – 25 June 2014

Voice of America – ICC: No N. Korea War Crimes Probe – 24 June 2014

Reuters – International court says will not investigate 2010 attacks on South Korea – 23 June 2014

Fiji’s Military Dictator Announces Democratic Elections

by Max Bartels

Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania 

Savu, Fiji 

Fiji has been under the control of a military dictator since Rear Admiral Bainimarma seized power during a military coup in 2006. The island nation of Fiji has had a troubled political past with four military coups in the past decade. The international community has since put pressure on Fiji in order to push it toward democracy. Fiji is heavily reliant on tourism as a source of income and a stimulus for their economy. Both Australia and New Zealand introduced travel bans on Fiji in order to motivate political change in the country. The United Kingdom suspended Fiji’s Commonwealth Status, denying it the benefits of association with Great Britain.

IW #6 Fiji Elections
Bainimarma addresses the U.N ahead of the September elections
(Photo curtesy of news.com.au)

In March Bainimarma announced that he would be stepping down as dictator and stating that he will run for re-election as a civilian and a member of Fiji’s “First Party”, which he now supports. Bainimarma claims that his coup in 2006 was necessary to ensure the restoration of democracy and to purge the rampant corruption that plagued the previous Fijian government. He says that he now looks to implement his plan for a better Fiji by holding open elections. In the wake of these statements the international community has reacted positively, praising Bainamarma for his decision. The government’s of Australia and New Zealand have lifted the travel bans on the island nation. The United Kingdom has also said they will reinstate commonwealth status if elections are successful.

However, there are still many issues with the upcoming elections, while Bainimarma announces they will be free and democratic there are some troubling events that have happened behind the scenes. Fiji has a history of restraining human rights and free speech; after recent constitutional change the military government heavily restricted these freedoms. There were incidents last year where protesters protesting the new constitution were arrested for failure to have a permit. There are many other stories of the regime arresting human rights defenders, journalists and trade union leaders. Critics in the press are skeptical of the upcoming elections and say that Bainimarma’s actions have no real teeth and will not effect change.

Despite the many instances of limiting the freedoms of the Fijian people, Bainimarma is extremely popular amongst the voters. He has implemented policies such as free education, free transportation for children and price controls on staple foods, all of which have made the military leader popular amongst the lower socioeconomic classes. In addition to these policies he has greatly improved the infrastructure of the islands making him popular amongst the rural population as well. It remains to be seen whether the elections will affect change in Fiji but Bainimarma has stated his intentions, his campaign is popular and the election in September will show whether he is sincere or not.

 For more information, please see: 

Human Rights Watch — Rights Abuses Continue in Fiji — 9 April 2014

ABC Australia News Network — Fiji Welcomes Lifting of Travel Bans by Australia, NZ — March 31 2014

ABC Australia News Network — Frank Bainimarma Appears to have Widespread Support Ahead of Elections — 28 May 2014

The Telegraph — Fiji’s Military Dictator Swaps Uniform for Suit — 6 March 2014

Newlyweds Murdered in Honor Killings in Pakistan

 By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch Managing Editor

Islamabad, Pakistan – A newlywed couple was murdered at the hands of the bride’s family in an honor killing in eastern Pakistan police said Saturday. The newlyweds, Sajjad Ahmed, aged 26, and Muawia Bibi, aged 18, were married on June 18 in the Punjab region of Pakistan without the consent of the Bibi family. Police say the girl’s father and uncles lured the couple back to their home promising that they would give their blessings to the union.

"Honor" killings in Pakistan persist despite the issueing of a fatwa against people who commit these murders by relgious leaders in Pakistan (Photo courtesey of Al Jazeera America)
“Honor” killings in Pakistan persist despite the issuing of a fatwa against people who commit these murders by religious leaders in Pakistan (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera America)

Members of the Bibi family then reportedly tied and decapitated the couple, while there were no outside witnesses the family members turned themselves into policy and are now jailed in Punjab. The family members say they were embarrassed by the girl’s marriage because she married a man who they considered to be from a less prominent tribe.

These so called honor killings are not uncommon in Pakistan. According to the country’s human rights commission 869 women were victims of honor killings last year. Honor killings such as this most recent horrific murder often originate from tribal traditions in Pakistan and are most commonly carried out in rural communities. Human rights activists say that in many cases bystanders, including police officials, don’t often step in and interfere because the killings are regarded as family matters.

According to the United Nations, approximately 5,000 women across the globe are murdered by family members in honor killings every year. However, many advocacy groups believe the crime is under-reported and the actual number of women killed at the hands of their own families in the name of “honor” is much higher.

A number of honor killings have made international news in Pakistan in recent months, drawing awareness to this horrendous trend. Earlier in June 18 year-old Saba Masqood was found inside a sack after she was left for dead in a canal in Pakistan by her brother and father.

A coalition of religious leaders in Pakistan has responded to the honor killing crisis by issuing a fatwa against honor killings, calling them “un-Islamic” and “highly condemnable.” The fatwa came just days after 25 year-old Farzana Parveen was killed by about two dozen relatives, including her father and brothers, in front of Lahore High Court as onlookers watched but did not intervene to saver her.

“A daughter is a gift by Allah. And the feeling of being dishonored by your daughter is forbidden in Islam,” the edict issued by the group read. “Killing one’s daughter and humiliating them is a sign of ignorance.”

For more information please see:

CNN International – Pakistani Newlyweds Decapitated by Bride’s Family in Honor Killing – 29 June 2014

The New York Times – Family Kills Pakistani Couple After They Married For Love – 28 June 2014

Al Jazeera America – Faith Leaders in Pakistan Issue fatwa Against ‘Un-Islamic’ Honor Killings – 1 June 2014

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan – State of Human Rights 2013 – March 2014

Syria Justice and Accountability Center: Child Soldiers and Child Scholars: Syria’s Next Generation


I lost my studies, I lost my future, I lost everything”—Saleh,  17, who has fought for opposition groups since he was 15 years old. 

For Syrian young adults, it’s becoming harder to go to school, and easier to take up arms. The result may be a generation with more training in shooting than in science. Looking forward, Syrians and international supporters need to address this generation of youth—ensuring opportunities for study, discouraging armed groups’ recruitment of children, and promoting re-integration of child soldiers.

According to Human Rights Watch’s June 23rd report, armed groups in Syria have used children as young as 14 in support roles and as young as 15 in active combat. The number of children participating in Syria’s fighting is unknown, but, as of June 25th, the Violations Documentation Center has recorded 196 “non-civilian” male children killed during the conflict. In interviews with Human Rights Watch, young men recalled participating in a variety of operations, including front-line fighting and suicide bombing preparations.

Young adults join are joining fighters for different reasons. Many volunteer to fight, others are recruited at schools. Some child soldiers are paid. One interviewee, who joined Jabhat al-Nusra at 14, reported earning a 20,000 Syrian pound (US $135) monthly salary. Another, who joined Jabhat al-Nusra at 17, reported earning a monthly salary of 10,000 Syrian pounds (US $68) in addition to a monthly food box.

Nonetheless, international law prohibits use of child soldiers. Most pointedly, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child—which Syria has ratified—bans states and non-state armed groups from recruiting or using children under 18 in armed conflict. TheRome Statute of the International Criminal Court—not ratified by Syria—classifies conscription of children under 15 as a war crime. Regardless of the legality, employing children as soldiers limits their capacity to re-integrate into a post-conflict society; child soldiers will have little experience at operating as adults in a non-combat capacity, and skill sets geared more towards fighting than participating in a non-combat economy.

A parallel, though inextricably linked trend challenges Syrian young adults: extremely limited opportunities for schooling. Within Syria, pro-regime forces have targeted students at universities, and anti-regime forces have kidnapped students travelling to exams. Due to the fighting, many Syrian students only return to school for their exams—sometimes only to die in the classroom. Refugees outside of Syria face considerable obstacles as well. In Jordan andLebanon, limited resources for education, Syrians’ own financial pressures, and administrative hurdles prevent Syrian students from going to school. It is important to note that not all Syrian youth are soldiers, but all Syrian youth could benefit from access to education.

Ultimately, Syrians and international supporters must not forget this generation. Syrian youth have the capacity to re-build Syria and advance discussions of justice and accountability in the long-term. Consequently, looking forward, engaging this generation must be seen as a component of holistic transitional justice efforts. A first step is to cease use of child soldiers, stop targeting students, and promote greater access to education.

President Maduro Silenced During Venezuela Blackout

by Delisa Morris

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela—In Caracas, each year a fortnight of heavy downpours known colloquially as El Cordonazo de San Francisco (the lash from St. Francis of Assisi’s belt) cover the Venezuelan capital, the storms are considered a tropical winter.

People Scramble During Blackout Chaos. Photo courtesy of Reuters

Currently, President Nicolas Maduro, is drawing heavy ire from critics on both the left and right, and seemingly in a constant state of damage control.  In early February, a rash of street protests and barricades paralyzed the nation, and were violently suppressed by state authorities in a series of crackdowns that saw several notable opposition leaders incarcerated.

In the middle of a triumphalist speech for “national journalists day,” broadcast by law on every Venezuelan television and radio station, the lights suddenly went out on Maduro—and on much of the country.

Much of Caracas, and areas in nearly all of Venezuela’s other 22 states was affected.  The country’s aging and poorly maintained power grid struggled to get back online.  The Caracas metro had stopped working and people had trouble making it home.  Lots of people that would normally have been on the metro were overflowing the sidewalks and taking up much of the roadways.  All of the stoplights were out.  The result was a perfect storm of commuter congestion where normal Caracas chaos became absolute mayhem.  There have been three major blackouts this year.

On some previous occasions blackouts have been blamed on saboteurs from either the U.S. imperialists (“the CIA”) or else sinister Venezuelan groups from the traditional elite (“los fascistas”).  At other times, nature itself has taken the blame, such as in 2012 when a wire-hungry opossum was held responsible for a day-long blackout in Guayana City, or the iguana two years earlier who got loose in the grid, sufficed to cut off the lights in Anzoátegui State for an extended period.

Pending the outcome of Maduro’s investigation, preliminary culpability seems to have been attached to the wind, or, more specifically, the unusually heavy winds caused by El Niño, toppling a collection of eight electrical towers.

Many people are uneasy and not amused about the excuses provided by the government for the blackouts.  Maria “Macarena” Paz, a Caracas engineer, is underwhelmed by the explanations. “So it’s no longer the cable-eating iguanas, the CIA, or the opposition, it’s the wind! Knocking down no less than eight towers specifically designed to withstand hurricane gales but swept away in unison by light breezes… they must really think we’re idiots.”

For more information, please see:

The Daily Beast — Who Will Maduro Blame for Venezuela’s Blackout’s This Time? — 28 June 2014

Wall Street Journal — Power Outage Hits Venezuela — 27 June 2014

Reuters — Venezuela Blackout Leaves Commuters Scrambling, Silences President — 27 June 2014

The Guardian — Widespread Blackouts Hit Venezuela — 27 June 2014