International Experts Continue Investigating Cause of MH17 Crash

By Kyle Herda

Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

KIEV, Ukraine – As an international team of investigators continues to look into the cause of the MH17 crash, it appears that the focus has shifted to gathering and protecting witnesses who can support the theory that it was a Buk missile that took down the plane last summer. The Joint Investigative Team (“JIT”) is offering protection to any witnesses who are concerned about coming out for safety reasons.

A map of Ukraine that shows where into pro-Russian territory MH17 crashed. (Photo courtesy of Newsweek)

The JIT is currently “looking for witnesses who have seen Buk crew members or have more information about the identity of those involved in ordering and launching the Buk.” A Dutch report claims that the plane was downed by “high-velocity objects,” which other sources such as the JIT believe came from a Buk missile system. Intelligence appears to show such a system in the area moving prior to the plane going down, and so the investigation is currently focused on finding witnesses who can verify the involvement of this system, or perhaps help find those responsible and fill in some of the missing pieces to this story. It further appears that the Buk launcher crossed into Russia shortly after the plane was downed.

In the meantime, while the second Minsk cease-fire largely holds in Eastern Ukraine, both sides continue to commit minor violations. On Saturday, 22 Russian tanks crossed from the Russian town of Gukovo into Eastern Ukraine via Luhansk and towards Sverdlovsk. The Donetsk regional government also claims that Kiev violated the truce 13 times on Saturday. On Sunday, pro-Russian rebels fired 15 Grad missiles at Horlivka, and they claim to have received the 122mm Grad missiles from one of Russia’s “humanitarian convoys,” which are still arriving.

A survey by Ukrainian agency Interfax, which surveyed over 2,000 citizens in Donetsk and Luhansk, found 45% of residents did not have enough to eat. The United States is also stepping in to help by sending 35 paratroopers from the Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Vicenza, Italy, to train six Ukrainian National Guard companies over a two-month deployment. Britain has also sent 35 military personnel, along with non-lethal equipment, to train Ukrainians in Mykolaiv during a two-month deployment.

Meanwhile, while Russia continues to deny direct involvement in the Ukrainian fight, some Russians, such as Dmitry Sapozhnikov, claim to have left Russia to go to Ukraine to fight. Not only that, but Sapozhnikov claims that “all operations, especially large-scale ones, are led by Russian officers, by Russian generals… we fulfill the orders.” US Lt Gen Ben Hodges reports that nearly 12,000 Russian troops are currently operating inside Ukraine.

For more information, please see:

RT – MH17 probe looking for witnesses to back ‘Buk missile’ scenario – 31 March 2015

BBC – How Ukraine rebels rely on Russians – 31 March 2015

The Telegraph – Separatist fighter admits Russian tanks, troops ‘decisive in eastern Ukraine battles’ – 31 March 2015

Newsweek – U.S. Sending Army Paratroopers to Train Ukraine Forces – 31 March 2015

BBC – MH17 disaster: Appeal for Buk rocket witnesses – 30 March 2015

The Wall Street Journal – Dutch-Led Probe of MH17 Crash Says Buk Missile Launch is Primary Theory – 30 March 2015

Newsweek – Russian Tanks and Fighters Enter Eastern Ukraine, Says Kiev – 30 March 2015

Bloomberg – Ukraine Says Rebel Attacks Ebb as Tanks Said to Cross Border – 29 March 2015

Bill Browder’s Book, ‘Red Notice’, Launched in Russian Language in the West After Being Banned inside Russia

31 March 2015 – ‘Red Notice’, the Number One New York Times bestseller by Putin critic Bill Browder, hasnow been released in the Russian language, after its successful launch in nine languages and thirteen countries.

Shunned by all major Russian publishing houses and online book distributors because of its controversial content, Browder’s ‘Red Notice’ will now be published by Kiev-based publisher, Laurus, in the Russian language and distributed outside of Russia through Google Play, where the reader can order a hard copy (https://play.google.com/store/books/details/RED_NOTICE_Russian_Edition?id=YQWgBwAAQBAJ&hl=en_GB), and Amazon, where an electronic edition is available (http://www.amazon.com/Red-Notice-Russian-Bill-Browder-ebook/dp/B00UN2FZTG/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1427452245&sr=8-3&keywords=red+notice, http://www.amazon.com/Red-Notice-Russian-Bill-Browder-ebook/dp/B00UN2FZTG/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1427452245&sr=8-3&keywords=red+notice)

The Russian people are the natural audience for ‘Red Notice.’ But because of the fear among Russian publishers of government retaliation for associating themselves with this work, we had to publish the Russian edition outside of Russia. Currently, publishers from twenty different countries spanning from Brazil to Japan to Greece have displayed an interest in publishing this book, but none inside of Russia,” said Bill Browder, author of ‘Red Notice’.

‘Red Notice,’ the personal expose by Bill Browder of the events leading to the arrest and murder of Russian anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, the subsequent cover-up by the Putin regime and the Western response, has become an instant international bestseller since its release in February 2015 worldwide.

In the first week of sales, ‘Red Notice’ hit the New York Times bestseller list, and has stayed on it for the seven weeks running (http://www.nytimes.com/best-sellers-books/2015-02-22/hardcover-nonfiction/list.html).

‘Red Notice’ has grabbed readers with widely diverse interests comprising business, politics, and spy thrillers. It is featured this month as number one bestseller in the New York Times’ Crime section (http://www.nytimes.com/best-sellers-books/crime-and-punishment/list.html), number two in Espionage, number three in Business section, and number six in Politics.

‘Red Notice’ has also been Number One bestseller in ‘International Business’ on Amazon.com; and it has appeared on the bestseller lists by NPR, USA Today, Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, and Indiebound, among others.

Readers on amazon.co.uk commented on ‘Red Notice’:

“This is one of the most captivating and interesting books I have read in a long time.”

“If you start this book, you will keep reading until you have finished, stopping only to weep and also to email your friends to read it, too.”

“This deeply disturbing, tempestuous and Kafkaesque story is written in a no-nonsense and racy style that makes it easy to read and take in.”

“Surprising & informative.”

“Gripping throughout. One of the best books I’ve read recently.”

‘Red Notice’ is on the bestseller list published by The Sunday Times (http://timesbooks.tbpcontrol.co.uk/TBP.Direct/CustomerAccessControl/Home.aspx?collection=10557072&d=timesbooks&s=C&r=10000414&ui=0&bc=0) in the United Kingdom.

In Canada, ‘Red Notice’ peaked at Number Three as the best-selling book on Amazon.ca.

In New Zealand, it was number six on the Nielsen weekly bestseller list (http://www.booksellers.co.nz/book-news/nzs-bestsellers/nielsen-weekly-bestsellers-lists-week-ending-saturday-28-february).

The Swedish edition of ‘Red Notice’ featured in the top 10 purchases on Aldibris, Sweden’s largest online book retailer, and the Dutch edition of ‘Red Notice’ featured on the Holland “Bestseller 60” list. The German edition also featured on the German bestseller list.

To learn more, visit the ‘Red Notice’ website: http://billbrowder.com

For more information, please contact:

Magnitsky Justice Campaign

The Rules Have Not Changed Regarding Armed Conflict

Monday 30 March 2015 at 3:21 PM ET
JURIST Guest Columnist David M. Crane of Syracuse University College of Law discusses enforcing the laws of armed conflict in an age of extremes…

Shortly after three planes went into three buildings on September 11, 2001 the chief law enforcement officer of the US, Attorney GeneralAlbert Gonzalez declared that the Geneva conventions were quite out dated. This amazing and naïve statement followed a similar declaration by then President George W. Bushthat the “rules have changed” related to fighting terrorists. These statements set off a series of policy missteps that led to Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram AFB, secret prisons in Eastern Europe and North Africa and the perceived loss of the moral high-ground by the US related to conflict in the 21st century.

No longer that “bright and shining city on the hill” the US continues to limp into the new century not as a leader regarding the international rule of law, but only as a participant in a series of kaleidoscopic events that seem to challenge the very foundation of the rule of law, particularly the laws of armed conflict. At no time is the rule of law more needed than now in this apparent “age of extremes”. Do the rules really need to be changed?

A recent trial shows those rules do not need to be changed, just followed. Four Polish soldiers were found not to have committed war crimes in an incident in 2007 where civilians were killed. Poland had been part of theNATO led coalition in Afghanistan for 12 years. A military court found that they did not intentionally target civilians, a war crime if proven. The military judges did find them negligent in following orders, a dereliction of duty type offense in the US military. The press seemed to take this as some type of failed judgement. I consider it an affirmation that the laws of armed conflict are alive, vibrant and being used in the way contemplated by the drafters and followed for over 60 years by nations involved in conflict situations.

The laws of armed conflict state that no civilians can be intentionally targeted. The law recognizes that in the heat of combat there are collateral effects to the battle to include civilian deaths excusable in law. Additionally the laws of armed conflict require that all signatories to the Geneva Conventions, when faced with allegations of a war crime investigate, prosecute (under their domestic system of justice) or hand the alleged perpetrators over to a party to the conventions willing to prosecute for the war crime.

The Poles appear to have followed not only the spirit but the letter of the law. They investigated the civilian deaths and charged the four soldiers with war crimes under Polish domestic law. The outcome was decided in a fair and open trial. The fact that it was not proven that they intentionally targeted those civilians was up to the trier of fact in that domestic prosecution. Hence the outcome as reported.

This shows that the rules are working and they do not have to be changed. The NATO coalition followed thelaws of armed conflict. The coalition does investigate and hand over perpetrators to member domestic systems for resolution. Though not perfect, the record does show that coalition forces do hold accountable members of their armed forces who violate the laws of armed conflict in trials and courts-martial.

A further review of the record shows that in combat the coalition followed the law despite the fact that theTaliban and various terrorist groups ignored the law in almost all instances to include the intentional killing of civilians. This is another important tenant of the laws of armed conflict that despite the fact that the other side ignores the law signatories are bound to follow the laws of armed conflict.

It is not intended for this opinion to gloss over and ignore other acts committed by the coalition, particularly the US, as it related to torture and other inhumane acts. These too violate the rule of law at many levels. As noted before, the statements made by the Bush administration led the US down a very slippery slope to where they were operating at the same level as the Taliban and others operating in the extreme related to torture.

In this apparent age of extremes we should continue to fight extremism using the rule of law, such as the laws of armed conflict and a system of laws that are practical and flexible enough to ensure that the battlefield is governed by rules that protect and regulate a given condition—war and conflict. The laws of armed conflict minimize the horror and allow for a return to possible stability at its conclusion. As stated by Albert Einstein decades ago: As long as there are sovereign nations possessing great power, war is inevitable.

David M. Crane received his JD from Syracuse University. He is a Contributing Editor for JURIST and the former Chief Prosecutor, Special Court for Sierra Leone 2002-2005.

Suggested citation: David M. Crane The Rules Have Not Changed Regarding Armed Conflict, JURIST – Academic Commentary, Mar. 30, 2015, http://jurist.org/forum/2015/03/david-crane-armed-conflict.php

 

ISIS Sets Booby-Traps in Attempt to Halt Iraqi Advance on Tikrit

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Managing Editor

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqi forces fighting to liberate the strategic city of Tikrit from the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS) have reportedly found that ISIS forces have booby-trapped, slowing the advance of Iraqi soldiers who have been supported by U.S airstrikes as well as Iranian fighters. “A rapid advance in a city where the ground is littered with bombs and booby-traps is too tough to achieve,” said the Tikrit Mayor Osama al-Tikriti. The use of Bobby-Traps, traps that target objects or persons with special protection under international humanitarian law or traps that are likely to attract civilians are strictly prohibited under international humanitarian law.

Iraqi Security Forces check their weapons in the embattled city of Tikrit on March 28, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

The security forces and Shia militias, who provided the largest number of fighters, began their offensive against ISIS on 2 March but stopped their operations temporarily after two weeks of fighting after suffering heavy casualties and tensions and seeing high tensions between the Iraqi government and with US officials over Iran’s prominent role in the fight to liberate Tikrit. Ultimately, the United States insisted on the pullback of the Iranian backed Militia as a precondition for involvement in airstrikes, General Lloyd Austin of the United States said. “Once those conditions were met – which included Shia militia not being involved – then we were able to proceed,” he told lawmakers.

Security forces said on Sunday that they were slowly advancing into Tikrit’s western area with the help of US-led airstrikes despite Shia militias boycotting the offensive. “There is some resistance from the enemy, but it’s mainly due to the booby-traps set up on the roads, in the houses, shops and government facilities,” Brigadier-General Thamer Mohamed said. “As you can see, our units are advancing and we have air support.” On Sunday, Iraqi forces attempted to clear a path through booby-trapped areas infiltrate Tikrit from the southern district of Shisheen, however the militants used anti-tank missiles to destroy a bulldozer being used by the Iraqi military create a safer path around booby-trapped roads, an official said.

Coalition airstrikes led by the United States against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) targets in Tikrit began late last Wednesday. According to General Lloyd Austin of the United States, the Iranian-backed Shia militia in Iraq which has led an operation against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in the strategic city of Tikrit is no longer leading the operation to recapture the city. General Austin, head of United States’ Central Command, said the withdrawal was a precondition for American-led airstrikes. However, even as airstrikes open the door for Iraqi forces to enter the city these strikes do little to protect Iraqi forces and civilians from the dangers they have found in and around the booby-trapped city.

For more information please see:

Al Jazeera – Booby-Traps Halt Iraqi Forces’ Advance On Tikrit – 30 March 2015

Reuters – Booby-Traps Halt Iraqi Forces’ Advance On Tikrit – 30 March 2015

BBC News – Iraq Crisis: Tikrit Push ‘No Longer Led By Shia Militia’ – 30 March 2015

The Washington Post – U.S. Forces Begin Airstrikes In Tikrit, Where Iran-Backed Militias Are In Lead – 25 March 2015

Guantánamo’s Charade of Justice By MORRIS D. DAVIS

How Will Syria’s Assad Be Held Accountable For Crimes Against Humanity?

Every week, The WorldPost asks an expert to shed light on a topic driving headlines around the world. Today, we speak with David Crane, a Syracuse University professor involved in the impartial effort to catalog Syrian war crimes.

The conflict in Syria has entered its fifth year. The death toll tops 220,000 and the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate. In addition to fighting among rebel groups, Islamic State militants and government forces, there is proof of systemic killing of detainees by the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The most tangible and shocking evidence of mass murder was presented last year in a report that included thousands of photographs smuggled out of Syria by a former military policeman who has been dubbed “Caesar.” A report on these photos by top international lawyers and forensic scientists verified his account, and said there had been “industrial-scale” killing.

One of the authors of the Caesar report was David Crane, who acted as chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone that indicted Charles Taylor, the former Liberian president now imprisoned for war crimes. Crane is now a professor at Syracuse University, where he is involved in the Syrian Accountability Project, an impartial body documenting crimes in the Syrian war. The WorldPost spoke with Crane about his work and the future of efforts to hold those responsible accountable.

Can you speak to the scope of the crimes and the evidence that you’ve witnessed?

The international crimes, which are still going on, are war crimes and crimes against humanity. We see no evidence of genocide, which is a specific-intent-crime, and you literally have to have a smoking gun to prove that. But war crimes and crimes against humanity are being committed across the board by all parties.

When I co-authored the Caesar report, we highlighted to the world that the Assad regime has been conducting a long-term industrialized killing of their own citizens for decades. The pictures coming out from Caesar — that he smuggled out in his shoe — these are high-definition, forensic photos that he took as a military forensic photographer of the deceased. The good thing about the photos is that they’re all numbered and verifiable, and we have the very person who took the photos able to verify them.

War crimes and crimes against humanity are being committed across the board by all parties.

We have Caesar safely ensconced in a country that is protecting him. We were able this time last year to capture as much as 50 percent of the original photos and put them in an evidence locker. In addition, we have a chain of custody, so we can establish legally the verifiable aspects of all these horrific photos.

Something that was mentioned in your report was an estimate of 11,000 detainees that were killed.

That’s correct. How we established that was we had a great team of very experienced individuals: two former chief prosecutors, the lead prosecutor for the [Slobodan] Milosevic case, chief forensic pathologist, forensic anthropologist and a photograph expert. We were able to determine scientifically that these 54,000 photographs probably showed about 11,000 deceased.

The scariest part about this was that this was only from three detention facilities in and around Damascus, but the Syrian Accountability Project has found as many as 52 detention facilities. So what we may be looking at is the tip of a horrific iceberg.

We have no idea how bad this is and I suspect that it’s going to be far worse than imagined.

We have no idea how bad this is and I suspect that it’s going to be far worse than imagined.

How does the Syrian Accountability Project get its evidence?

We get our data from many sources. Open-source information gives us a sense of what’s happening, and then we also have agents in place on scene, including human rights and victims groups that are reporting directly to us.

Our crime base matrix is now over 2,100 pages of Excel spreadsheet. The way we organize it is by listing the time, date, incident and alleged perpetrator. We also list specific violations of the Geneva Convention and specific violations of the Rome Statute. In addition, we translated the Syrian criminal code into English and list specific violations of Syrian law as well. This allows a future local or international prosecutor to take this and review which crimes they may charge or investigate.

It’s fascinating, 10 years ago we didn’t have any of this concept of social media. We used to have to go out and get all our evidence the old-fashioned way. Now it’s gone completely in reverse, and there is so much information that it’s a tsunami. In most cases, it’s important information, but useless in court due to legal issues such as verification and chain of custody. Our challenge now is building a case against all these parties, and we’re very careful about not putting anything on the crime base matrix unless it’s verifiable two or three times over.

Is there a precedent for how social media might be used in court?

The information that’s coming on social media is just information, it’s not evidence yet. It becomes evidence when it’s verifiable. We’re confronted with a new phenomenon, and the legal rules of evidence require us to do certain things to verify it. It can be done, but it’s just a function of having to go back to the source — just because it’s on YouTube means nothing to a court of law. It has to be authenticated.

Just because it’s on YouTube means nothing to a court of law, it has to be authenticated.

A lot of the data that is useless in a court of law is still important historically and for truth-telling, of course. It’s just not usable. As much as 98 to 99 percent of all the data coming out of Syria has no legal significance.

What are the step-by-step processes of bringing accountability to these crimes when the conflict in Syria finally ends?

Once the geopolitical aspect of this is solved, if it ever is, we can prosecute heads of state and henchmen for what they’ve done. We’ve done it before in the Charles Taylor case. It will be an international court — probably not the International Criminal Court because of likely Russian and Chinese objections — but we can create a hybrid international court like the special court I helped found in 2002. You may also see an internationalized Syrian domestic court or even just a Syrian domestic court. We’ve been building this trial package with the anticipation of any of that happening.

I’ll leave you with this: 10 years ago, President Charles Taylor of Liberia was the most dangerous warlord in Africa and never thought he’d be held accountable. Ten years later, he has been convicted in an open court. His appeals have been run and now he’s spending the rest of his life in her majesty’s maximum-security prison in the northeast of England.

It may seem that justice is slow, but justice is justice. The people of West Africa can look at this monster that destroyed over 1.2 million of them having been held accountable and serving the rest of his life in jail. Patience is important, and we need to keep moving forward.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Violence in Guatemala Linked to a ‘Green’ Dam

By Lyndsey Kelly
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

GUATEMALA CITY- Guatemala – A planned mega-dam in Guatemala has been linked to grave human rights abuses, including the killing of six indigenous people, two of them children. The dam’s carbon credits will be tradable under the European Union’s trading system. Several European banks and the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation have provided funds for the $250 million Santa Rita dam.

Indigenous people protest the violence and killings of innocent civilians for the furtherance of the planned mega-dam. (photo courtesy of The Guardian)

 

The Mayan community stated that they were never consulted about the hydro project, as it is reported to forcibly displace thousands of people in order to generate 25MW of energy, which will me mostly exported to neighboring countries. The issue has caused the indigenous protest in Guatemala. The People’s Council of Tezulutlan wrote a letter to the UNFCCC’sCDM executive board, which outlined human rights abuses that have occurred in the region attributable to the planned dam. The abuses included kidnappings, evictions, house burnings, physical attacks, and the arrest of community leaders.

The situation started to deteriorate last August, when 1,500 people were sent into Q’eqchi’ communities of Coban, Chisec, and Raxruha, to evince residents for dam construction. Citizens said that the police fired tear-gas at villagers who has set up a blockade, and proceeded to occupy the area. It is alleged that the officers pillaged the community, stealing animals, food, property and money, forcing families to take refuge in the mountains.

The annual report of the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights implicitly blamed the approval of the dam for the outbreak in violence. A member of the European Parliament’s development committee said, “These allegations are well-documents and it is outrageous that the UN’s CDM can register such projects that are clearly violating the human rights of indigenous peoples.”

A spokesman for the IFC told the Guardian that the project has only been given the green light for funding on the understanding that it would increase access to local, affordable electricity. “The project is on hold, as the fund manager discuses further with the local communities,” the spokesman said.

 

Fore more information, please see the following:

ECO NEWS TODAY – ‘Green’ dam linked to killings of six indigenous people in Guatemala – 26 March 2015.

THE GUARDIAN – ‘ Green’ dam linked to killings of six indigenous people in Guatemala – 26 March 2015.

 

National Security Agency May Be Forced to Stop Mass Data Collection

By Lyndsey Kelly
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C., United States of America – Unless Congress extends a law authorizing bulk collection of data on calls by U.S. telephone subscribers, U.S. intelligence agencies will be forced to stop the practice in June. A spokesman for President Barack Obama’s National Security Council said that abandoning the practice of mass collection of domestic telephone data would deprive the country of a “critical national security tool.” The law, set to expire on June 1, allows the NSA to collect data on numbers called and time and length of the calls, but not their content.

The National Operations Center at the Department of Homeland Security (Photo courtesy of CNBC).

The revelation by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that the National Security Agency was collecting this data was one of the most controversial revelations in recent history. The public is split on views regarding bulk collection, some see it as violating individual freedoms, while others consider it a vital tool for preventing terrorist attacks. Some legal experts have suggested that even if Congress does not extend the law, the President’s administration may be able to convince the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to authorize collection under other authorities.

However, National Security Council spokesman, Ned Price, has told the media that the administration intends to enact the legislation that would allow the collection to continue. A Senate Intelligence Committee spokeswoman said a panel is developing legislation. However, it seems as though any NSA reform bill is unlikely and efforts by Congress to extend the law so far have proved fruitless.

 

For more information, please see the following: 

CNBC – US To Stop Collecting Bulk Phone Data If Law Expires – 23 March 2015.

THE GUARDIAN – US To Stop Collecting Bulk Phone Data If Congress Lets Law Expire -23 March 2015.

REUTERS – U.S. To Stop Collecting Bulk Phone Data If Spying Law Expires – 23 March 2015.

Excide Plant Closed after Decades of Polluting in Low Income California Community

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Managing Editor

WASHINGTON D.C., United States of America – Excide Technologies immediately began shutting down its battery recycling plant in Vernon California after reaching an agreement allowing the company to avoid facing criminal prosecution for decades of pollution in a lower income community just five miles southeast of the city of Los Angeles. Under the deal struck by federal officials and the company, Exide acknowledges criminal conduct, including the illegal storage and transportation of hazardous waste products. Company officials will avoid criminal charges in exchange for shutting down, demolishing and cleaning the 15-acre battery recycling plant.

Community members gather at an Eastside home to celebrate the Exide Closure agreement. Residents want the company to follow through on the cleanup of lead and other contamination in their neighborhoods and homes. (Photo courtesy of The Los Angeles Times)

Over decades of operation, the Excide recycling facility has polluted soil beneath the plant with high levels of lead, arsenic, cadmium and other deadly toxic metals, according to state environmental records. Pollutants from the plant have also contaminated groundwater and released battery acid onto roads. The plant also contaminated homes and yards in surrounding low-income Hispanic communities with lead emissions. Following the announcement of the closure Msgr. John Moretta, of Resurrection Catholic Church in Boyle Heights, whose parishioners had raised health concerns about the plant and have argued for its closure for several years, said “our long nightmare is over. He continued; “we now look forward to a thorough and just cleanup of our homes and neighborhoods.”

Roberto Cabrales, a community organizer with the organizations, Communities for a Better Environment, said news of the plant closure was “a shocker.” His organization and others fought for years to see the plant closed and had expected that state officials would allow Exide, which has been operating on a temporary license, to remain open. “We’re concerned that they will not be pursued for criminal prosecution,” Cabrales said. “But if that means that Exide will stay closed, then that’s in itself a victory for the community.”

State Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Huntington Park), who wrote legislation requiring the state agency to issue Exide a permit or shut it down by the end of 2015, said the plant’s closure will bring relief to the residents of the community neighboring the plant. “But the legacy of impacts of this facility will not go away overnight,” he said in a statement. “To truly understand the magnitude of this issue, we need a comprehensive review of soil contamination and better data on the health impacts to people who continue to be exposed to unhealthy levels of lead and arsenic.”

Federal officials have insisted the agreement would require Exide International to pay the cost of the entire cleanup, even if the costs exceed $50 million. “They’re on the hook with this agreement to pay whatever it takes to clean that site up,” said Joseph Johns, assistant U.S. attorney and chief of the environmental crimes section. Johns said he would have liked to secure a conviction and penalties against the company but argued that prosecuting the corporation would have resulted in the liquidation of the company which would have left taxpayers with the bill for the cost of the cleanup. “We decided that the balance of justice required us to think out of the box,” Johns said. “We struggled with this, and we decided that the right thing to do was not worry about sending one or two people to jail for a year or two, but rather, to prevent another 50-to-100-year sentence for the 110,000 people, the children and grandchildren that live in the communities.”

For more information please see:

The Lost Angeles Times – Exide faces a long, costly cleanup of closed Vernon plant – 21 March 2015

The Natural Resources Defense Council – Exide’s L.A. Lead Battery Facility to Close — Next Up, Clean Up – 16 March 2015

The Los Angeles Times – Q&A: Exide closure a long-sought win for working-class neighborhood – 12 March 2015

Reuters – UPDATE 2-Exide to close California battery recycling plant to avoid prosecution – 12 March 2015

Syria Deeply: Former Chief Prosecutor Decries Lack of Will to Prosecute War Crimes

“We have a solid case against all of the parties involved in this tragedy: The Syrian regime, the FSA [Free Syrian Army], ISIS, the jihadist groups.”

In the face of Russia and China’s refusal to allow alleged war crimes in Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC), one of the court’s former chief prosecutors has called for new ways to bring the perpetrators to justice, including, potentially, a hybrid international court.

Speaking to Syria Deeply, David Crane – the former chief prosecutor for the Sierra Leone war crimes tribunal that indicted former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor – said that Moscow and Beijing’s intransigence on the issue meant the ICC was “no longer a relevant option.” He suggested that a local or internationalized domestic court could be set up outside the U.N. Security Council in conjunction with the Gulf Cooperation Council or the Arab League.

Crane spoke with Syria Deeply after the head of a U.N. panel investigating human rights violations in the Syrian conflict said the panel was ready to share secret lists of alleged Syrian war criminals with judicial authorities in countries preparing to prosecute them. Such a move could come back to haunt the court, Crane said.

Normally, it is policy not to name alleged war criminals, but investigators from the U.N.’s Commission for Inquiry on Syria said there had been an “exponential rise” in atrocities committed and expressed concern about a standstill at the U.N. Security Council that has reinforced a climate of impunity inside Syria.

The U.N. has detailed a gruesome array of alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes by the Syrian regime, Islamic State fighters and other armed opposition groups over the course of the Syrian conflict.

Last year was the deadliest yet in Syria’s four-year conflict, with over 76,000 killed, including 17,790 children. Notably, the number of barrel bomb casualties – 6,479 civilians – has actually increased since a resolution was passed condemning their use. Even the U.N. Security Council’s notable achievement – compelling Syria to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile – has been undermined by reports that chlorine gas was used in an attack against civilians just last week.

In the face of continued Russian and Chinese opposition to a referral of the Syrian conflict to the ICC for prosecutions, lawyers and academics have been working on alternatives to the ICC in an attempt to find justice in Syria.

Crane was also one of three international lawyers who examined photographs, smuggled out of Syria by a former military police photographer, that war crime prosecutors claim provide direct evidence of the brutal torture of 11,000 detainees by Assad’s security forces from March 2011 to August 2013.The evidence, Crane said at the time, would easily stand up in a court of law, but he noted a lack of political will on the part of the international community to prosecute.

Crane spoke to Syria Deeply about alternatives to the ICC.

Syria Deeply: Amid Russian and Chinese opposition to an ICC referral, what are some of the other ways to find justice for crimes against humanity committed in Syria?

Crane: We’ve been working on various alternatives to the ICC for several years.I chaired a panel of 12 leading experts, practitioners and academics charged with coming up with a statutory blueprint for a local, regional and international tribunal or court. At this point, there are four possibilities for a justice mechanism: The first would be a Syrian domestic court that would try individuals for violations of civil law. The second is an internationalized domestic court that uses Syrian criminal law to prosecute, and where international experts assist with prosecution. The third is a regional court that has bilateral or multilateral representation from regional countries; and the fourth option is an international court other than the ICC. I see that Carla del Ponte is calling for an ad hoc tribunal, which is a possibility, but the one that is catching on, as far as reality is concerned, is a hybrid international court.

Syria Deeply: What are some of the obstacles to documenting and gathering information about war crimes? What are some of the difficulties faced in linking the crimes to mid- or high-level commanders? Who is involved in this documentation?

Crane: We have a solid case against all of the parties involved in this tragedy: The Syrian regime, the FSA [Free Syrian Army], ISIS, the jihadist groups. The real challenge with these types of situations in the social media age is that there is a tsunami of data coming out of Syria – video, witness testimony, documentary evidence. In my opinion, 98 percent of it is worthless in a court of law because of chain of custody issues, authentication issues etc. Nonetheless, the documentation in terabytes is useful from a historical and a truth-telling point of view.

Be that as it may, there are several groups, including the Syrian Accountability Project, CIAJ, the Syrian Justice and Accountability Center, that are beginning to work together and have built solid cases against the individuals creating this tragedy. The challenge is not coming up with the case, it’s ensuring that the evidence showing that war crimes and crimes against humanity are being committed is appropriate and authenticated.

Syria Deeply: U.N. investigators offered on Tuesday to share names from secret lists of alleged Syria war criminals with prosecution authorities in any county preparing cases, to help end the “culture of impunity” in the country and get around the standstill at the U.N. Security Council. Is there a precedent for this? How would it work?

Crane: If I were the chief prosecutor, which I was once, I wouldn’t do it. If I was investigating individuals for crimes, I would keep [the list] closed until I had a solid case, then I would seek an indictment and then announce it publicly, which we did in West Africa. I don’t see any benefit to releasing names. I think it’s a public relations ploy that could come back to haunt the decision later on. There are many challenges related to it, including legal liability in terms of slander and libel, particularly since the individuals haven’t been charged with crimes yet – it’s simply the opinion of the panel, which is saying they have committed war crimes. There is also the practical challenge that these individuals could start covering up for themselves, and evidence related to their case can be destroyed.

Syria Deeply: What are some of the challenges involved in prosecuting this case?

Crane: I’m not saying this is going to be easy, but the international community has done it before and it has the experience and the practical knowledge to do so. However, there are many challenges to be considered such as witness protection, authenticating documentary evidence, state cooperation, capturing and detaining fugitives etc.

Syria Deeply: Human rights groups and U.N. envoys have compiled chilling evidence of the war crimes committed inside Syria. In addition, the “Caesar Report” gave direct evidence of the torture of detainees by the Syrian regime. Last year was also the deadliest in the Syrian conflict thus far. How do you fight a culture of impunity? Why are we seeing such significant delays in the prosecution of war crimes?

Crane: We have a solid case against these individuals and can prove it in a court of law. It’s the political will of the international community that is the ultimate hindrance, as well as geopolitical challenges such as the issue of China, Russia and Iran backing Syria. It will be a political decision if and when we decide to seek justice for the people of Syria. We’ve seen this play out throughout the four years we’ve been working on this. Right now, there is no stomach, politically, to do something about Syria from a justice point of view.

It’s not possible to get Russia and China on board for an ICC referral, but there are other tribunals that don’t need their approval. For example, a local or internationalized domestic court can be set up outside the Security Council, as well as a regional court like the Gulf Cooperation states or Arab League. China and Russia are not going to back off. At this point, the ICC is no longer a relevant option.

Syria Deeply: A U.N. report said that ISIS, rebels and the Syrian regime were responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity and that all three should be referred to the ICC.To what scale is each individual group guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes? Is there a precedent for prosecution of extremist groups at that level?

Crane: Sadly, the scale of war crimes and crimes against humanity has increased since I started working on the case at the beginning of March 2011.The conflict has gotten bloodier and more personal the longer it has gone on. At the end of the day, no one is following international law and sadly civilians are suffering greatly because of it. All parties are equally committing international crimes. We’ve never prosecuted a non-state actor like the Islamic State at an international level, but it can be done statutorily – they can be included within groups and individuals committing these crimes.

Syria Deeply: In what ways is the Syria case different from/similar to other war crime trials/prosecutions you’ve worked on?

Crane: We do have practical experience in prosecuting – it’s just a matter of picking the right type of court, with the right political backing. It’s not dissimilar. But again, we should take heart that in the past 20 years we have gained the experience to do this, though we have to wait on the will of the international community to do so.

It’s important that we continue to move forward, to build the proper legal case against the parties, to continue to build consensus politically that we need to do something, and not to be deterred by the immediate challenges.

Ten years ago, President Charles Taylor of Liberia would never have thought that he would be held accountable for what he had done in West Africa. Now he sits in a maximum-security prison in northeast England for the rest of his life. Sometimes it takes time, but justice will prevail. It’s important for everyone to understand that we shouldn’t be deterred. We might see a political breakthrough or a geopolitical situation that will allow us to take action.

 

Saudis Lead Airstrikes against Houthi Targets continue for Second Day in Yemen

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Managing Editor

SANA’A, Yemen – Collation airstrikes led by Saudi Arabia continued bombing Houthi targets in Yemen a day after Yemini President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who fled the Yemini capital in February, arrived in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. Coalition targets included the Shia rebel group’s stronghold of Saada.  Yemen’s besieged government said Saudi-led airstrikes would not last long on the second day, however spokesman of the coalition announced on Thursday that the military operation against the Houthi would continue “as long as necessary.” United States Department of State Spokesperson Jeff Rathke, stated that the United States government “understands the concerns” of the Saudis and is “supportive of their effort”. According to the international human rights group Amnesty International at least six children were among 25 people killed in the air strikes in the capital city of Sana’a on Thursday. Earlier, Houthi sources reported that at least 18 people had been killed by the strikes.

Warplanes from a coalition led by Saudi Arabia continued hitting Houthi targets in Yemen for a second day on Friday. (Photo courtesy of al Jazeera)

The Saudi led coalition, whose members are mostly Arab Gulf States, began its campaign of airstrikes Thursday in an attempt to push back Houthi gains in Yemen, which borders Saudi Arabia on the Arabian Peninsula. President Hadi left Yemen on Thursday and is expected to attend an Arab summit meeting Shamal Shake Egypt on Saturday, where he is expected to attempt to shore up Arab support for the campaign against the rebels. In a Facebook post by President Hadi the Yemini leader urged Yemenis to be patient, saying the “rebels” would soon be gone. However, despite the air strikes, Houthi forces pushed forward in their attempt to extent control in the region south of Sana’a.

Houthi leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi, in a televised speech, described the Saudi-led operation as a “despicable aggression.” Al-Houthi said, “What do they expect us to do, surrender, announce our defeat and act like cowards? Absolutely not. This is not how the honorable Yemeni people think. We will fight back. All 24 million Yemenis will stand united and face that despicable aggression.”

Iran, which has been accused of supporting the Houthis but denies the allegation, has condemned the airstrikes as “a dangerous step” that violated “international responsibilities and national sovereignty”. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the coalition airstrikes amounted to “military aggression” and “condemned all military intervention in the internal affairs of independent nations.” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is in Switzerland participating in negations regarding the country’s nuclear program, argued that air strikes would lead only to greater loss of life. “Military action from outside of Yemen against its territorial integrity and its people will have no other result than more bloodshed and more deaths,” he told the Iran’s state-owned Al-Alam television channel.

The United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said on Friday that Saudi Arabia felt it necessary to intervene in Yemen to avoid an Iranian-backed regime taking over Yemen, which shares a border with Saudi Arabia. He said, “the Saudis are very exercised by the idea of an Iranian-backed regime in Yemen,” he told reporters during a visit to Washington. “They cannot accept the idea of an Iranian-backed regime in control of Yemen, which is why they felt compelled to intervene the way they have.” He added, “we know there has been Iranian support for the Houthi and we are all concerned to avoid this becoming a proxy war.”

For more information please see:

Al Jazeera – Coalition Jets Continue To Hit Houthi Targets In Yemen – 27 March 2015

Reuters – Britain’s Hammond: Saudis Cannot Accept Iranian-Backed Regime in Yemen – 27 March 2015

Reuters – Saudi-Led Campaign Strikes Yemen’s Sanaa, Morocco Joins Alliance – 27 March 2015

Al Jazeera – Iran Warns Of Bloodshed as Saudi-Led Forces Bomb Yemen – 26 March 2015

Canada’s House of Commons Passes Motion to Impose Visa Sanctions and Asset Freezes against the killers of Sergei Magnitsky

26 March 2015 – The Canadian House of Commons has unanimously passed a motion calling for the imposition of targeted visa sanctions and asset freezes against those responsible for Sergei Magnitsky’s torture, death, and the subsequent cover-up.

The motion introduced by Hon. Irwin Cotler MP, Liberal party spokesman on International Justice and one of 21 parliamentarians from 13 countries who form the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Inter-Parliamentary Group, calls on the Canadian government to:

Explore and encourage sanctions against any foreign nationals who were responsible for the detention, torture or death of Sergei Magnitsky, or who have been involved in covering up the crimes he exposed.” (http://irwincotler.liberal.ca/blog/motion-sanctions-human-rights-violators-magnitsky-case/)

The unanimous support of this motion sends a clear signal to human rights violators in Russia and around the world that they will be held to account for their crimes,” said Irwin Cotler MP. “By imposing sanctions, we can impose meaningful penalties on human rights violators and deter future violations.”

The Magnitsky Sanctions motion voted on yesterday in the Canadian parliament also calls on the government to sanction human rights abusers around the world, stating that targeted Magnitsky sanctions are “appropriate against any foreign nationals responsible for violations of internationally recognized human rights in a foreign country.”

We are pleased to see Canada taking such a definitive stance against human rights abusers,” said Bill Browder. “This legislation will be an important step in ensuring that the legacy of Sergei Magnitsky will continue to protect victims of human rights abuse, both in Russia and around the world.”

The Magnitsky Sanctions motion adopted in the Canadian House of Commons follows a private members bill introduced by Irwin Cotler in October 2013, calling for sanctions to be imposed on those responsible for the torture and death of Sergei Magnitsky (https://openparliament.ca/bills/41-2/C-339/).

A similar motion has also been introduced in the Canadian Senate.

Seven Canadian Parliamentarians from four different political parties, along with Bill Browder, leader of the Magnitsky Justice Campaign, presented their support for the motion in a press conference at the Canadian Parliament yesterday. Parliamentarians in attendance included Irwin Cotler MP, Senator? Raynell Andreychuk, Conservative MP and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs David Anderson, Liberal Foreign Affairs Critic Marc Garneau, NDP MP Murray Rankin, Conservative Senator Linda Frum, and Green Party leader Elizabeth May.

The Sergei Magnitsky case is today recognized as a symbol of what can happen when the principles of fundamental justice and rule of law are manipulated for personal gain,” said Senator Andreychuk, who introduced the motion in the Senate. “I hope that the Senate will soon join with the House of Commons and parliaments around the world to express our commitment to accountability for foreign nationals who commit the most serious violations of human rights.”

The tragedy of Sergei Magnitsky’s death in Russian custody and appalling posthumous show trial are stark symbols of the precipitous decline of Russian democracy,” added Green Party leader Elizabeth May. “Bill Browder’s inexhaustible efforts to commemorate the life of his lawyer and friend are laudable and instructive. I urge the Government to give full support to Mr. Cotler’s call for sanctions that will hold the perpetrators of Sergei Magnitsky’s torture accountable. Today’s motion is an important step in the international effort to achieve justice for Magnitsky and help to guarantee the human rights of all Russian citizens.

Sergei Magnitsky was killed in Russian pre-trial detention in 2009 after uncovering a $230 million corruption scheme and testifying against the government officials involved.

Following his death, the US passed the 2012 Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, which imposes visa bans and asset freezes against those involved in Sergei’s case. 34 individuals are currently banned from the US under the Act. (http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/OFAC-Enforcement/pages/20130412.aspx; http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/ofac-enforcement/pages/20140520.aspx;http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/OFAC-Enforcement/Pages/20141229.aspx).

The European Parliament passed a similar resolution in 2014, calling for 32 individuals to be sanctioned. (http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=TA&language=EN&reference=P7-TA-2014-0258). Motions and resolutions calling for sanctions have also been passed by the OSCE, PACE, the UK, Holland, Sweden, Italy and Poland.

For more information, please contact:

Magnitsky Justice Campaign

+44 2074401777

e-mail: info@lawandorderinrussia.org

website: www.lawandorderinrussia.org

Facebook: http://on.fb.me/hvIuVI