United Nations: “Never Has the Hour Been More Desperate In the Palestine Refugee Camp of Yarmouk”

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Managing Editor

DAMASCUS, Syria – The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees has begun an urgent mission to Syria in response to growing concerns over the health and safety of thousands of Palestinian refugees and Syrian civilians living in the Yarmouk refugee camp which has been overrun in recent days by militants loyal to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). Pierre Krähenbühl, Commissioner-General for the agency in the Near East, is visiting Yarmouk to assess the situation in the camp, hear from refugees affected by the violence, and consult with leaders on how to get desperately needed aid to people in need. A statement by The United Nations relief and works agency said: “Never has the hour been more desperate in the Palestine refugee camp of Yarmouk. We demand humanitarian access and the establishment of secure conditions under which we can deliver life-saving humanitarian assistance and that enable civilians to be evacuated.”

A mother and child in in the besieged Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria (Photo courtesy of The United Nations News Centre)

Since 1 April, Yarmouk has been the scene of intense fighting between a number of armed groups including ISIS which has made it virtually impossible for civilians to leave the camp located near Damascus. Yarmouk is the largest Palestinian camp in Syria and has been home to several generations of refugees. The camp has been a frequent battlezone in the Syrian Civil war, today just 16,000 residents remain in the settlement, down from a high 200,000 before the war. Most of the residents of the camp fled to nearby Lebanon where they now live in overcrowded refugee camps becoming refugees for at least a second time. Some have attempted to flee on dangerous migrant boats to Europe and Egypt.

“It’s beyond a nightmare,” said Salim Salamah, a former resident of the Yarmouk refugee camp who now leads the Palestinian League for Human Rights and speaks daily to people still living in the camp. Camp residents who have reached out to the outside world through the Internet say they don’t know which to fear most, long-term hunger, bombings from the Assad regime or the presence of ISIS. “We are afraid of everything, of the future and the unknown,” said Sameh Homam, an activist living in Yarmouk who uses an alias because he is being hunted by both the Assad regime and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

The situation has been dire for the refugee camp for several years. Last year the community was largely cut off from the outside because of militant attacks as well as forces loyal to the Assad regime clash in the largely civilian community. For the civilians who remain in the community survival is a daily struggle. Chris Gunness, estimates that camp residents are surviving on 400 calories a day or less, he said, and conditions soon could become critical. “We simply cannot stand by and watch a massacre unfold,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said last week, urging concerted international action to save Yarmouk residents. “In the horror that is Syria, the Yarmouk refugee camp is the deepest circle of hell.”

For more information please see:

United Nations News Centre – UN Official on ‘Urgent’ Mission to Besieged Yarmouk Refugee Camp – 11 April 2015

The Washington Post – New Misery in Yarmouk, Symbol of Syria’s suffering – 11 April 2015

Belfast Telegraph – Isis Accused Of Beheading Captives In Palestinian Refugee Camp Yarmouk As Advance Towards Syrian Capital Damascus Continues – 7 April 2015

The Guardian – UN Warns Situation in Damascus Refugee Camp Is ‘Beyond Inhumane’ – 6 April 2015

Property Restoration as a Component of Transitional Justice

April 9, 2015

ahfad rasul brigade

A member of the Southern Front Coalition announces the return of property to civilians whose goods and vehicles were seized by rebel forces during the capture of the Nasib Border Crossing between Syria and Jordan from the Assad regime. (YouTube: 6 April 2015).

In early April, Syria’s Southern Front coalition seized the Nasib Border Crossing from government forces in a major rebel-led victory. Following the seizure, the rebels and their supporters looted the checkpoint, duty free shops, and trucks that were abandoned while crossing customs. Onlookers photographed and filmed rebels driving away from the checkpoint carrying everything from cooking oil to refrigerators, and soon afterwards, news of the looting spread through social media sites. Outrage ensued among the local community in nearby Dera’a. Plundering, however, has not been unique to the rebels. The Shabiha, a government militia force, has been documented looting and destroying civilian houses in Sunni neighborhoods. The stolen goods are then taken to Alawite areas and sold cheaply in so-called “Sunni Markets.”

Both the rebels and government-affiliated forces believe that they are justified in their actions because the goods they take are spoils of war. The rebels’ justification is rooted in the legacy of government corruption, whereby Syrian state assets have been illegally appropriated by the governing elite; for ordinary government forces, meanwhile, there are few incentives to fight in a complicated war except the ability to gain wealth through looting.

Property dispossession is a common occurrence in conflicts as each side feels as though it deserves compensation for the hardships their people have suffered. Where systems of justice have broken down and no accountability exists for bad behavior, certain groups take advantage of society’s grievances for their own financial gain. In rare instances, communities hold perpetrators accountable and behavior changes. In the case of the Nasib Border Crossing, for example, the documentation of looting by rebels created a sense of accountability, and as a result, the Southern Front Coalition issued a statement promising that it would return stolen goods to anyone who could prove ownership. Several stolen trucks were consequently returned. Conversely, despite significant documentation of the Sunni Markets, the regime has taken no known steps to restore property or put an end to this alarming practice.

Unlike the physical harms of torture and murder, property damage cannot be addressed in whole or in part by holding perpetrators accountable through prosecutions. For society to move on, rather, people must be able to repossess their houses and property or at least receive alternative resources to start a new life. In Syria, where the conflict has resulted in the widespread destruction of houses, cars, and household goods, social reconstruction cannot take place without addressing property as part of the transitional justice process. But making this happen can be a challenge, and the more time that elapses between the loss and the compensation program, the more difficult it will be to identify victims or their heirs and calculate the value of the damage.

This is where human rights documenters can play a pivotal role. Through the documentation of property dispossession, activists can create a record of loss and help facilitate the implementation of programs that enable victims to return to a life of dignity. The resulting restoration and reparations programs will require ingenuity and significant resources. In Bosnia, where the conflict led to massive displacement of half the population, Bosnians worked closely with the international community to create multiple institutions that oversaw the return of over 1 million displaced persons to their homes by 2003. Choice is also an important component of the process. Property restoration mechanisms should offer victims a choice of whether to return to their pre-conflict property or start anew elsewhere. The ability to choose restores a sense of dignity which is often lost when victims are forced to flee their homes with few possessions.

With over 12 million displaced persons in Syria, the challenges are immense. Nonetheless, property restoration and reparations must be included within a holistic transitional justice program. Recovering from the realities of the Syrian conflict will require nothing less. For more information or to provide feedback, please contact SJAC atinfo@syriaaccountability.org.

Violations Documentation Center in Syria – VDC  Syria: Urgent call to protect civilians caught between fires in besieged Yarmouk Camp

 

9 April 2015.

In view of the dramatic deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian Yarmouk refugee camp (located South Damascus), the undersigned organizations urge all parties on the ground to abide by their obligations under international law and to ensure protection of the lives of civilians trapped in the fighting. The international community should take urgent measures to protect thousands of civilians at risk and alleviate the suffering of the most vulnerable. For almost two years, the area has subjected to a lengthy siege imposed by Syrian governmental forces backed by allied militias, which already resulted in a severe humanitarian crisis characterized by unprecedented starvation of civilian populations and shortage in basic food and aid supplies. On April 1 2015, the organization “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)” launched an attack on the Yarmouk camp seemingly coordinated in an alliance with the Al Qaeda-linked “Jabhat Al Nusra” Front.

As ISIS fighters took over several areas in the camp which were previously controlled by the anti-governmental battalion “Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis”, random mortar shelling reportedly resulted in the death of media activist Jamal Abu-Khalifah and civil society activist Abdallatif Al-Rimawi. Scores of others were injured, including medical personnel of the Palestine Hospital which was targeted by governmental forces on 1st April, an attack which resulted in the death of two ISIS fighters and several casualties, according to information provided to the EMHRN by activists based inside the camp.

On 4 April, the Syrian Air Force launched air raids on the camp and dropped explosive barrels on civilian populated areas, including Magharba St., Palestine St. and Said Alas St. Governmental forces and supporting militias tried to invade the camp from the North, causing scores of casualties and injuries amongst civilians, thus escalating the suffering of a civilian population already weakened by the siege imposed on the camp for two years.

A number of civilians who attempted to flee through the Northern part of the camp – controlled by pro-governmental forces – remain detained in the Zeinab Al Hilalia School in the Tadamon area, which is adjacent to the camp, according to local rights activists. In parallel, hundreds of civilians were compelled to seek refuge outside the camp in neighboring areas South of Damascus including a large proportion of women and children. These events occur in a context where the international community, including UN agencies, is failing to address the urgent humanitarian needs of the civilian population in Syria, notably Palestinian refugees.

At this date, thousands of civilians, including a large proportion of women and children, remain stranded and are suffering under a siege imposed by both governmental forces and the ISIS. The situation in the camp continues to rapidly deteriorate and is expected to turn into a large scale humanitarian tragedy if safe humanitarian corridors are not immediately secured.

As basic medical supplies run out in health facilities in the camp, such as the Palestine Hospital and al-Basil Hospital, fighting parties refuse to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to provide humanitarian aid to civilians in the camp and to evacuate the scores of injured civilians.

The undersigned organizations urge the international community to take urgent steps to facilitate access of humanitarian aid in compliance with UN Security Council resolutions 2139 (2013) and 2165 (2014) which demand unhindered passage to all areas for humanitarian personnel, equipment and transport as well as safe and unhindered evacuation of all civilians who wish to leave certain areas. The Syrian government should therefore allow the ICRC unfettered access to the camp in order to deliver food and medical supplies and evacuate wounded civilians.

Targeted measures also need to be urgently enforced in order to protect humanitarian and human rights defenders who are exposed to critical threats from both armed groups and governmental security apparatus. Before the recent assault, several activists were assassinated inside the camp by unknown assailants, such as the case of Mr Firas Al Naji, member in the Palestinian Human Rights League in Syria who was shot dead on 23 February 2015, as well as Mr Yehia Hourani, a Red Crescent activist, who was killed on 30 March in the camp. An unknown number of aid workers were reportedly arrested by governmental forces for attempting to smuggle aid inside the camp.

The Syrian government should abide by its obligations under IHL by immediately ending the siege imposed on Yarmouk Camp, and cease indiscriminate and disproportionate air shelling and the use of explosive barrels. All fighting parties should cease their military operations in civilian populated areas in the camp, refrain from targeting non-violent activists, humanitarian workers and civilians regardless of their political affiliations.

Signatory Organizations:

Assyrian Human Rights Network – AHRN

Committee for the Defense of Prisoners of Conscience in Syria

Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies – DCHRS

Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network – EMHRN

Front Line Defenders – FLD

Palestinian Human Rights Organization – PHRO

Syrian Center for Legal Studies and Research

Syrian Center for Statistics and Research

Syrian League for Citizenship – SL4C

Syrian Network for Human Rights – SNHR

The Day After – TDA

Palestinian League for Human Rights- Syria

Violations Documentation Center in Syria – VDC

Humanitarian Problems Grow as ISIS Seize Palestinian Refugee Camp

By Max Bartels 

Impunity Watch Reporter, The Middle East 

 

Damascus, Syria

This week ISIS fighters attacked and seized a large portion of the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp outside of Damascus in Syria. The camp has been a humanitarian issue for years, when fighting in Syria broke out many groups such as Hamas supported Sunni rebels efforts to topple Assad’s government. Prior to ISIS involvement Assad limited food and aid coming into the camp. Over the last four years the camp has been virtually destroyed by the conflict between various factions. Most recently, ISIS has entered the fight for the camp with the intention of using it as a platform for further advances into the South of Syria and into Damascus itself.

A street devastated by fighting in the Yarmouk Refugee camp. (Photo Curtesy of the BBC).

ISIS has overrun the Palestinian militia group called Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis, a group aligned with Hamas to control an estimated 70 percent of the camp. It is reported that ISIS has support from one of its chief rivals in Syria, the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra front. Civilians left in the camp are caught in the crossfire between ISIS, its allies and various Palestinian rebel factions. Prior to the fighting in Syria the camp composed of about 150,000 Palestinian refugees, now that number has been reduced to just 18,000. 2,000 residents were evacuated during the latest outbreak of fighting by the U.N. and other international aid groups.

The humanitarian situation in Yarmouk is concerning. The camp has no water or power and the residents face constant shelling from forces on all sides. Aid has been unable to enter the camp because of the intense shelling and fighting since ISIS has entered the fold. In response to the worsening humanitarian situation the International Red Cross, among other agencies have called for all sides and all factions to allow aid to enter the camp immediately and for these agencies to be allowed to evacuate as many of the estimated 18,00 civilians still trapped inside the camp as possible.

Palestinian leaders in the West Bank have reported that they have come to an agreement with Assad’s government for the Syrian army to take military action to push ISIS out of the camp. Officials in the West Bank have stated clear support for the Syrian government and their effort to push ISIS out of Yarmouk however; there are Palestinian groups in the camp who have opposed Assad’s government since the beginning of the conflict. As of now it is unclear whether all the Palestinian factions in Yarmouk support the deal  between the West Bank and Assad for a Syrian military offensive to retake the camp.

For more information, please see: 

BBC News — Syria Conflict: Huge Suffering in Yarmouk, Activist Says — 8 April, 2015

Al Jazeera America — ISIL Takeover of Yarmouk a “Siege Within a Siege” — 8 April, 2015 

Reuters — PLO Backs Syrian Army Drive to Regain Yarmouk Camp From Militants — 9 April, 2015

Yahoo News — Palestinian Envoy: “Military Option Agreed for Syria Camp — 9 April, 2015

 

Ukraine Refugee Situation Causing Problems in Nearby Countries

By Kyle Herda

Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

KIEV, Ukraine – As the unrest in Eastern Ukraine continues on, those living in the east are facing severe problems that compile more by the day. In particular, economic woes are plaguing Eastern Ukraine, as well as a constant military threat and plenty of destruction to civilian areas. Many from the east have been displaced in the past year and more continue to look elsewhere to escape the instability, but nearby countries are beginning to close up their borders to Ukrainian refugees.

A woman in Sloviansk stands in what remains of her home. (Photo courtesy of Gulf Times)

Over 1 million people have been displaced since fighting began over a year ago in Eastern Ukraine, and applications for refugee status have typically been denied in countries around Ukraine. Only 70 people sought asylum in Lithuania, but only 31 were granted that status. Further, Lithuania states that it is suspending asylum applications from Ukraine due to the increase (Lithuania typically only receives around 5 asylum applications per year). A U.N. refugee agency claims that non-EU countries like Moldova and Belarus received 300,000 applications for asylum, while even further EU countries also received numerous applications. For example, France received 1,415 asylum applications last year, and only accepted 35. Russia also saw roughly 300,000 refugees seeking asylum who fled east after the conflict sparked up.

While fighting in Eastern Ukraine appears to have died down some momentarily, both sides appear to be taking the down time to fortify and dig in. This may actually be an opportunity for both sides to bulk up, as is furthered by a new report claiming that both pro-Russian rebels as well as Kiev and the United States believe a major offensive by Russia is due to occur within the next two months. 60,000 Russian troops are along the border with Ukraine, and Mariupol may be the target of an impending attack. While over 6,000 have been killed in fighting over the past year, only about 100 have died since the February 12th ceasefire deal in Minsk was agreed to.

Given that the situation in Eastern Ukraine is already bad, compounded by the impending reawakening of heavy fighting, many civilians are fleeing before things heat up again. Times are already tough as is, and the future looks dark for now. Other countries, however, are unsure of what will come of all this fighting and unrest, and so they are even more hesitant to take action, much to the dismay of those seeking asylum.

For more information, please see:

Newsweek – Pro-Russian Rebels Told: Major Attack on Ukraine Imminent – 8 April 2015

IBT – Lithuania Suspends Asylum Applications for Ukrainians Fleeing War – 8 April 2015

The Local – Norway sees Ukrainian asylum seeker boom – 31 March 2015

The Local – France rejects hundreds of Ukrainian asylum bids – 26 March 2015

The Local – Sweden sees Ukrainian asylum seeker boom – 26 March 2015

Gulf Times – Ukrainian refugees facing dwindling options in Poland – 26 March 2015

Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty – Russia Says Almost 300,000 Ukrainians Asked For Asylum – 16 February 2015

US Holocaust Memorial Museum: Lessons Learned from Rwanda

Dear friend,On this day, 21 years ago, the Rwandan genocide began, and in just 100 days between 500,000 and one million Rwandans, predominantly Tutsi, were killed.

This genocide remains one of the most horrifying examples of state-directed mass violence against civilians since the Holocaust.

The Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide is today releasing the findings from a conference examining the failure of the international community to prevent or effectively respond to the genocide and exploring whether and how it might have been averted. Review the findings now.

Kigali Genocide Memorial

LEARN MORE

Co-organized by the Museum, the National Security Archive at George Washington University, and The Hague Institute for Global Justice, the conference, held in June 2014, brought together former peacemakers, peacekeepers, and peace monitors from more than a dozen countries.

The conference findings include an annotated transcript of the discussion, with references to over 100 newly declassified documents; a report detailing the main areas of discussion, debate, and lessons learned that emerged; and a compendium of original source documents that reconstruct key moments in the international decision-making up to and throughout the genocide.

This Rwanda conference is part of a broader Museum initiative to examine pivotal moments when international action could have prevented genocide. In the coming months and timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the event, we will analyze the international decision-making surrounding the fall of the “safe area” of Srebrenica in July 1995, termed a genocide through ICTY proceedings in 2004, where over 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were killed.

We hope this initiative will lead to greater understanding of the causes of genocide and how to prevent it, as well as new scholarship and research about these tragic events.

Sincerely,

Cameron Hudson
Director, Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide

Photo: A display of victims’ photographs at the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda. US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Syria Justice and Accountability Centre: Recent Prisoner Release Fails to Build Trust Among Syrians

April 6, 2015

prisoners-in-syria

Photo Credit: Middle East Monitor

 

In late March, Russia facilitated the release of nearly 700 prisoners held by the Assad regime. While Russia’s Foreign Ministry lauded the decision as a confidence building measure designed to demonstrate Assad’s willingness to begin negotiating a political solution, the arbitrary nature of the prisoner release illustrated the serious rule of law concerns that plague detention conditions in Syria.

Principally, the prisoner releases lacked transparency, information on the detainees’ original charges, and details on the legal justification for their amnesty. Instead, the prisoners were used as political ploys by Assad to garner international support while ignoring the many problems plaguing Syrians — particularly the more than 60,900political prisoners who remain in government custody under inhumane conditions.

According to Syrian law, the government can order the release of prisoners through either parliamentary action or presidential decree. In both situations, information about the decision must be disclosed. However, no such procedure was followed in this case, and as a result, Syrians on both sides of the conflict regard the regime’s decision with suspicion. For regime supporters, the prisoner release was baseless because the government failed to provide grounds for why the prisoners were no longer a threat to society.

For regime opponents, there seemed to be little justification for why these prisoners were released while many prominent human rights activists remain in detention, leading to speculation that the released prisoners were nothing more than petty criminals.

Syrian Human Rights Lawyer Michaal Shammas’ comments on the matter:

michaal shammas copy

The prisoner release came as a surprise and without prior notification — it appears that most of those freed are regular civilians and not [political] activists. Maybe — and I repeat, maybe — the prisoner release is related to the upcoming Moscow II conference. All of those freed were released from security branches…none were released by the Terrorism Court, nor from civilian or military prisons. Until now, we have been unable to obtain the names of those freed; in the event we do acquire that information, we will post their names on my personal facebook page.

The military’s actions shortly after the release also cast a shadow over the government’s sincerity. Before retreating from a rebel advance on Idlib, military intelligence officials arbitrarily executed at least 15 prisoners who had been held at the Idlib detention facility. The executions were a gross violation of international criminal and human rights law and signals that the regime does not intend to sincerely pursue reconciliation.

In principle the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre welcomes the release of prisoners as an important component of the transitional justice process, but cautions that such decisions must be transparent and not arbitrary. In Northern Ireland, where prisoner releases were central to the peace process, the Good Friday Agreement providedspecific guidelines on the individuals eligible as well as the justification and conditions of the releases. The provisions explained to society what they could expect, an essential component of citizen buy-in to the reconciliation process. Unless similar protocols are followed for future prisoner releases in Syria, such actions will continue to be viewed with derision by the vast majority of Syrians and fail to fulfill Syria’s need for principled and open justice processes.

A corresponding duty of the Syrian regime is to address ongoing human rights concerns vis-a-vis detentions, including the situation of the tens of thousands not released. The regime is obligated to prosecute detainees still awaiting trial in a fair and timely manner, and release all prisoners held without charge as well as those who have completed their sentences.

Basic human rights principles also require that the regime make information regarding the number of detainees and their status publically available, and allow families, lawyers, and international monitoring groups like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit detainees and monitor prison conditions.

Finally, confidence building is a fantasy as long as the Assad regime refuses to respond officially to allegations of torture, such as those explicitly documented in the Caesar report, and detail methods of holding officials accused of committing torture accountable.

Johns Hopkins Sued For $1B Over STD Experiment In Guatemala

By Lyndsey Kelly
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C., United States of America – A lawsuit filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court seeks $1 billion in damages from defendant Johns Hopkins University for its alleged role in the deliberate infection of hundreds of Guatemalans with syphilis, gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), during a government medical experiment program in the 1940s and 1950s.

Marta Orellana was experiments on when she was just a child (Photo Courtesy of The Guardian).

The lawsuit, which also names the philanthropic Rockefeller Foundation, alleges that both institutions helped design, support, and finance the experiments by employing scientists and physicians. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, researchers initially infected Guatemalan sex workers in order to research the spread of STDs and then ascertain if penicillin could prevent the diseases. Later the experiment extended to orphans, prisoners and mental health patients.

The experiments were kept secret until they were discovered in 2010 by a college professor, Susan Reverby. The then secretary of state, Hillary Clinton apologized for the program after a presidential bioethics commissions found the experiments “involved unconscionable basic violations of ethics.” Ultimately, the program published no findings and did not inform the Guatemalans of the consequences of the infection, and they were also not provided with the necessary follow up medical care to inform them of ways to prevent the infections from spreading.

A federal lawsuit for damages under the Federal Tort Claims Act failed in 2012 after a judge determined that the United States Government could not be held liable for actions outside the United States. Lawyers for the victims believe that the new lawsuit stands a a greater chance for success as it is against private entities.

 

For more information, please see the following:

AL JAZEERA – Johns Hopkins Sued Over STD Study in Guatemala – 1 April 2015.

FOX NEWS – Johns Hopkins Sued For $1B Over Guatemala Venereal Disease Study – 3 April 2015.

THE GUARDIAN – Guatemalans Deliberately Infected With STDs Sue Johns Hopkins University for $1bn – 2 April 2015.

WASHINGTON POST – Johns Hopkins Faces $1 Billion Lawsuit For Role In STD Study in Guatemala – 1 April 2015.

Assad: “When it Bleeds it Leads;” Syrian Dictator Accuses Media of Engaging in Propaganda

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Managing editor

DAMASCUS, Syria – Syrian’s President Bashar al-Assad, whose regime has been engaged in a brutal civil war in Syria since 2011, sat down with CBS News journalist Charlie Rose for a 60 Minutes interview last week. During the interview Assad dismissed charges that his regime has used chlorine gas against his own people and has systematic used indiscriminate barrel bombs against civilian targets as media propaganda. Assad argued that claims that his regime has committed war crimes, including the use of chemical weapons against civilians, is part of the malicious propaganda against Syria.”

Charlie Rose of CBS’ 60 Minutes, interviews Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Thursday, March 26, 2015, in Damascus, Syria. (Photo courtesy of the Washington Times)

Assad accused the media of participating in “malicious Propaganda” against his regime. He argued that calls for chemical weapons inspectors and accusing that his regime used chemical weapons against the Syrian people were “part of the propaganda because, as you know, in the media when it bleeds it leads. And they always look for something that bleeds, which is the chlorine gas and the barrel bombs.” He also argued “chlorine gas is not military gas” because “you can buy it anywhere” he also argued that Chlorine gas is ineffective and said that if it were more effective as a weapon “the terrorists” would have used it on a larger scale.

While Charlie Rose addressed several alleged atrocities committed by the Assad regime during the interview some journalists criticized 60 Minutes for allowing the interview to move forward, arguing that it simply gives a mouthpiece and a degree of legitimacy to an alleged war criminal. The interview was given under the condition that it be filled by Iranian television cameramen leaving the regime with a great deal of control of the interview.

Despite Assad’s continued denial that chemical weapons have been used by his regime the international community has little uncertainty about the source of the attacks. Last month, The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution condemning, in the highest terms, the use of chlorine gas as a chemical weapon in Syria. The Council also signaled it would take Chapter IV action if such weapons were used again in Syria. Resolution 2209 (2015) was adopted with a vote of 14 in favor, zero against, and only one abstention (Venezuela). The Council adopted the resolution expressing deep concern that toxic chemicals had been used as a weapon in Syria, as concluded with a “high degree of confidence” by the Organization for the prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) fact-finding mission in Syria.  Syria’s Civil war has killed more than 200,000 people and has created more than 4 million refugees.

For more information please see:

The Washington Times – Assad Interview Just Latest Case of Malfeasance for ‘60 Minutes’ – 1 April 2015

CBS News – Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad on 60 Minutes – 29 March 2015

CBS News – Assad: Chlorine Gas, Barrel Bomb Claims “Propaganda” – 27 March 2015

United Nations Press Release – Adopting Resolution 2209 (2015), Security Council Condemns Use of Chlorine Gas as Weapon in Syria – 6 March 2015

Palestine Formally Joins the International Court of Justice

By Max Bartels 

Impunity Watch Reporter, The Middle East 

 

The Hague, Netherlands  

On Wednesday Palestine officially joined the International Court of Justice after signing the Rome Statute in January if this year. Palestine seeks to pursue charges against Israel for alleged war crimes committed on Palestinian territory by Israeli troops. Israel is not a party to the Rome Statue however; military and civilian officials could still face charges if the court believes that crimes were committed on Palestinian territory. The signing of the Rome Statute by Palestine also opens up Palestinian officials and militants to be prosecuted by the court.

The judges and prosecutors of the International Criminal Court have full discretion as to which cases to pursue. (Photo curtesy of BBC News)

There are reports that several Palestinian are set to file complaints with the ICC, however it is the prosecutors and the judges who decide which cases to pursue. When Palestine signed the Statute in January, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda launched a preliminary to determine if there will be a formal investigation into Palestinian grievances.

The Israeli government objected to the Palestinian Authority joining the Court, stating that Palestine is not recognized as a sovereign state. The U.S has also objected to the addition of Palestine to the Court for the same reason and warned that it would cut funding for the Palestinian authority. The Israeli government froze about $400 million in tax revenues collected by Israel on behalf of the Palestinian organization. Human Rights Watch called for governments who are penalizing Palestine for joining the Court to end their pressure. Human Rights Watch claims that it documented what it believed to be war crimes during the 2014 Gaza conflict which claimed 2,000 Palestinian lives as well as 73 Israeli. However, both sides had prevented meaningful justice for these incidents. Israel has launched investigations into the incidents in Gaza but the Palestinian authority has not announced an investigation of its own.

It remains to be seen whether the Court will chose to launch formal investigations into the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. The Court will be hesitant of being dragged into such a heavily politicized case. Furthermore, the ICC does not investigate cases that are already being looked into by other judicial institutions. The Court will not investigate these allegations if an Israeli judicial institution is investigating the case up to the standards if the International Criminal Court. Experts have stated that if the Court does open formal investigations they will not open them in an area that includes only Israel, they will want to look into both sides.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera — Palestine Formally Joins International Criminal Court — 1 April, 2015

BBC News — Palestinians Formally Join International Criminal Court — 1 April, 2015

The Huffington Post — Palestinians Join International Criminal Court, Risking Loss of U.S. Aid — 1 April, 2015

Reuters — Dilemma for Israel as Palestinians Join War Crimes Court — 31 March, 2015