TJ | In Focus: UN Rights Chief Sees Hope amid Challenges in Fight against Impunity

In Focus

UN Human Rights Chief Sees Hope amid Challenges in Fight against Impunity

On December 8, ICTJ and the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University hosted UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein for the 8th Annual Emilio Mignone Lecture on Transitional Justice.

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ICTJ: Year in Review 2015

Highlights from ICTJ’s work and impact over the past year, reflections from our experts, with a special message from ICTJ President David Tolbert.

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Victims Know Best Which Reparations Programs Will Succeed

In this podcast, Cristián Correa, senior associate in ICTJ’s Reparative Justice program, discusses the importance of engaging victims in the reparations process in Côte d’Ivoire.

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Opening Up Remedies in Myanmar

This briefing paper calls on the soon-to-be-established NLD-led Burmese government to seriously consider taking steps to deal with Myanmar’s troubled past as a way to help end the cycle of violence and human rights violations in the conflict-torn country.

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Education and Transitional Justice: Opportunities and Challenges for Peacebuilding

This report, part of a joint research project by ICTJ and UNICEF on the intersections of education, transitional justice, and peacebuilding, explores how a transitional justice framework can help to identify educational deficits relating to the logic of past conflict and/or repression and inform the reconstruction of the education sector.

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Killers of Bangladeshi Blogger Sentenced to Death

By Christine Khamis

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia


DHAKA, Bangladesh –

Two Bangladeshi students, Faisal bin Nayem and Rezwanul Azad Rana, were sentenced to death last week for the murder of atheist blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider in 2013. Mr. Rana, who is believed to be the mastermind behind the attack on Mr. Haider, is currently on the run and was sentenced in absentia.

Mr. Haider was hacked to death with a machete while returning home from a public rally in 2013. Mr. Haider was known to be critical of the Islamist political party Jamaat-e-Islami in Bangladesh. He was also one of several bloggers who called for the execution of Islamist leaders who committed war crimes in the 1971 conflict leading to Bangladesh’s founding.

Mourners carry Mr. Haider’s coffin during his funeral in February 2013. (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera)

Six others have received prison sentences for their involvement in Mr. Haider’s murder. Jasimuddin Rahmani, the head of Islamist extremist group Ansarullah Bangla Team, received a five year sentence. Ansarullah Bangla Team, which is a banned group in Bangladesh, has taken full responsibility for the killing of Mr. Haider.

The defendants’ defense lawyer, Mosharraf Hossain Kajal, plans on challenging the sentences in a higher court, stating that the prosecution failed to prove the allegations against his clients. Mahbubur Rahman, a state prosecutor, states that the evidence gathered helped to prove the charges against the accused beyond reasonable doubt. Mr. Rahman also plans on appealing the verdict because he expected at least five of the accused to receive the death penalty.

Four other atheist bloggers who spoke out about Islamic extremism in Bangladesh were also killed in 2015, along with a publisher. Bangladesh’s government has been criticized over the past year for failing to adequately protect writers and activists.

Anisul Huq, Bangladesh’s Law and Justice Minister, has stated that investigators are working to bring those responsible for attacks on other bloggers to justice. The convictions handed down in Mr. Haider’s case mark a positive step toward confronting the increasing violence toward bloggers in Bangladesh.


For more information, please see:

CNN – Bangladesh Court Hands Down Death Sentences for Blogger Killing – 1 January 2015

Time – Students Who Killed Atheist Bangladeshi Writer Sentenced to Death – 1 January 2015

Al Jazeera – Two Sentenced to Death for Murdering Bangladeshi Blogger – 31 December 2015

New York Times – 2 Sentenced to Death in Killing of Bangladeshi Activist in 2013 – 31 December 2015

Russia Lists U.S., NATO as National Security Threats

by Shelby Vcelka

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia–

NATO and the United States are among those Russia sees as its greatest threats to national security, according to a paper released and signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin. He accuses the organization of practicing policies of containment, intensifying military activities of member nations, expanding the alliance, and moving military infrastructure closer to Russia’s borders. The paper itself was a reflection of Russia’s national security strategy, which had not been updated since 2009.

A new national security strategy released on New Years Eve by the Russian government lists both the United States and its NATO allies as threats. This is the latest in cooling relations between Russia and the West. (Photo courtesy of Huffington Post).

The document reflects diminishing relations between Russia and the West over the past two years. Tensions began to rise after Russia annexed Crimea and got involved in the war in eastern Ukraine. As retaliation, the West has imposed sanctions on both the Russian government and individuals aiding perceived Russian aggression.

Putin accuses the West and its allies of attempting to “maintain dominance in global affairs” leading to “political, economic, military, and informational pressure” on Russia. The paper also condemns the West for their stance on the conflict in Ukraine, stating, that it appeared the United States supported an “anti-constitutional coup d’etat in Ukraine.”

Reportedly, Putin has told his aides that he wants the West to admit that Russia has the right to intercede in its sphere of influence in Eastern Europe, without any condemnation or undue influence from NATO. He is also looking for ways to weaken the United States’ ties to Europe, and replace its influence with Russia. Through military interventions in both Syria and the Ukraine, Russia hopes to flex its military muscle and demonstrate that its needs must be met just as much as the U.S. and other Western countries.

The document repeats Russia’s criticism of the Arab Spring revolutions and other “color” revolutions in Eastern Europe, stating that the “practice of overthrowing legitimate political regimes is becoming more widespread, provoking domestic instability and conflicts.” Russia further criticizes the West by blaming the rise of the Islamic State on a “policy of double standards which some countries adhere to in the fight against terrorism.”

For more information, please see– 

BBC– Russia security paper designates Nato as threat— 31 December 2015

Financial Times– Putin names Nato among threats in new Russian security strategy— 2 January 2016

Huffington Post– Putin Lists U.S. As One Of The Threats To Russia’s National Security— 2 January 2016

Reuters– Putin names United States among threats in new Russian security strategy— 2 January 2016

Recent NSA Surveillance Includes Israelis, Congress

By Samuel Miller
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America and Oceania

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States of America — U.S. spying programs picked up communications between members of Congress and Israeli leaders, giving the White House insight into Israel’s lobbying of U.S. lawmakers against the Iran nuclear deal. In a report first published by The Wall Street Journal late Tuesday, the U.S. reportedly continued to spy on select leaders of allied nations, despite President Barack Obama’s pledge to curb such surveillance two years ago.

Prime Minister Netanyahu Addresses Congress on Capitol Hill. (Photo Courtesy of RT)

The Obama administration decided against monitoring Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, but continued to monitor Netanyahu and Turkish President Recep Erdogan.

Although President Obama had promised to curb eavesdropping on world leaders who are U.S. allies, there were a few leaders the White House wished to continue monitoring, including Netanyahu. The original reason for the stepped up surveillance of Netanyahu, according to the Wall Street Journal, was the fear that he would strike Iran without warning.

It was also discovered that Netanyahu and his advisers leaked details they had learned though Israeli intelligence concerning the US-Iran negotiations, and coordinated talks with Jewish-American groups against the deal and tried to influence votes of undecided US lawmakers. As a part of the surveillance, the NSA eavesdropped on communications between Israeli and US lawmakers amid efforts to reach a nuclear deal with Iran.

Specifically, the efforts of the Netanyahu government to turn legislators against the negotiations and convince them to block the emerging agreement were revealed. Before Netanyahu came to address Congress, the NSA had intercepted Israeli messages that said Netanyahu ‘wanted the latest U.S. positions in the Iran talks.’

According to the report, Obama administration officials thought the information they uncovered could potentially counteract Netanyahu’s crusade to stop the nuclear deal. Ultimately, the administration decided to let the NSA decide what to share.

“We didn’t say, ‘Do it,'” a senior U.S. official told the Journal. “We didn’t say, ‘Don’t do it.'”

Netanyahu spoke out against a potentially unsatisfactory nuclear deal during a speech to a joint session of Congress in March. The U.S. and five other world powers reached a deal with Iran in July. Netanyahu has previously criticized the United States for its spying efforts, specifically those targeted toward Israelis.

Officials said Obama insisted that keeping tabs on Netanyahu served a compelling national security purpose.

For more information, please see:

CBS News – Report: NSA recorded members of Congress with Israeli leaders – 30 December 2015

The Jewish Press — US not Only Spying on Israel, but on U.S. Pro-Israel Legislators and Groups – 30 December 2015

Russia Today — NSA spied on Israel amid Iran talks, caught some US lawmakers’ private talks – report – 30 December 2015

Politico — Report: U.S. spying on Israel swept up members of Congress – 29 December 2015

The Hill — US snooping on Israel also caught talks with lawmakers: report – 29 December 2015

Wall Street Journal — U.S. Spy Net on Israel Snares Congress – 29 December 2015

Armed Militiamen Stand Off With Feds In Oregon Wildlife Refuge

By Samuel Miller
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America and Oceania

BURNS, Oregon — Over the weekend, a group of armed protesters seized the remote Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters Saturday after splintering off from a larger protest about ranchers’ rights in the small town of Burns. The armed occupation is being led by Ammon Bundy, an Idaho rancher whose father, Cliven Bundy, led an armed standoff with federal agents in Nevada in 2014 and who has described his supporters as “militia men.”

Protester Ryan Bundy Talks on his Phone in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo Courtesy of ABC News)

The FBI said in a statement Sunday that it was working with local and state police to bring a peaceful resolution to the situation.

The activists set themselves up in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge 30 miles southeast of Burns, Oregon, defying the organizers of a rally and march held Saturday in support of two local ranchers who are scheduled to report to federal prison Monday to serve a sentence for arson. Protesters gathered Saturday in Burns to denounce the five-year sentencing of Dwight and Steven Hammond — father-and-son ranchers who were convicted of arson.

Prosecutors accused the Hammonds of committing arson on federal land in 2001 and 2006. The men and their attorneys argued that the fires had been set on their own property: once to prevent the spread of an invasive species of plant and, once in attempt to prevent the spread of a wildfire.

Ultimately, they were found guilty on only two arson counts, which covered the activities, namely setting fires, the Hammonds admitted to. As part of their plea deal, they agreed not to appeal their sentences. Dwight Hammond was sentenced to three months in prison and his son Steven was sentenced to 11 months, both sentences below the mandatory minimum of five years.

Although the Hammonds agreed not to appeal their sentences, the Department of Justice did, getting the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn Judge Hogan’s decision and order the Hammonds to return to jail. Both Hammonds are expected to do so on Monday.

Apparently, Ammon Bundy met with Dwight Hammond and his wife in November, seeking a way to keep the elderly rancher from having to surrender for prison. The Hammonds professed through their attorneys that they had no interest in ignoring the order to report for prison.

In phone interviews from inside the occupied building Saturday night, Ammon Bundy and his brother, Ryan Bundy, said they are not looking to hurt anyone. But they would not rule out violence if police tried to remove them, they said.

Ammon Bundy said the goal is to turn over federal land to local ranchers, loggers and miners. In a video interview with reporters on Saturday that was posted on his Facebook page, Ammon Bundy said the group is standing up against government overreach because the people have been abused long enough.

“I feel we are in a situation where if we do not do something, if we do not take a hard stand, we’ll be in a position where we’ll be no longer able to do so,” he said.

For more information, please see:

ABC News — Feds Monitor Armed Protesters in Oregon but Keep Distance – 4 January 2016

BBC News — Oregon: Armed protest at US government building – 4 January 2016

CNN — Armed protesters refuse to leave federal building in Oregon – 4 January 2016

NBC News — FBI Seeks ‘Peaceful’ End to Armed Standoff at Oregon Federal Building – 4 January 2016

Chicago Tribune — Armed militia, Bundy brothers take over federal building in rural Oregon – 3 January 2016

The Oregonian — Militia takes over Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters – 3 January 2016 — Armed Protesters in Oregon Occupy Remote Federal Outpost at Wildlife Refuge After Marching Against Sentence of Father and Son Ranchers – 3 January 2016

Washington Post — Armed men, led by Bundy brothers, take over federal building in rural Oregon – 3 January 2016

ISA News Update: Saudi-Iranian Tensions Could Lead to War

The Middle East’s Leading Rivalry

Sectarian Divisions Threaten the Entire Region

Bitter Rivals

Saudi Arabia’s execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, that country’s leading Shiite cleric, triggered a dramatic rise in tensions between the leader of the Middle East’s Sunni Muslims (Saudi Arabia) and the leader of the world’s Shiite Muslims (Iran).  Already, tensions between these two countries were dangerously high as a result of the fact that they are on opposite sides of the religion-fuelled conflicts in places such as Iraq, Syria and Yemen.  Adding to these tensions in recent years has been Iran’s efforts to develop a nuclear program, which led to last year’s deal between Iran and the international community regarding its nuclear activities (a deal condemned by the Saudis).  Now, as tensions have reached their highest level in recent years, there is a growing possibility of an outright conflict between Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies on one side and Iran and its Shiite partners on the other, a development that has the potential to destabilize the region and the world.

Rising Tensions

Saudi Arabia’s decision to execute the leading cleric among the Shiite minority that inhabits eastern Saudi Arabia was the catalyst for a series of events that have dramatically raised between that country and Iran.  First, the execution of Sheikh Nimr led to major protests in Shiite-populated areas of eastern Saudi Arabia, a region that is already dealing with high levels of instability.  Shortly thereafter, Iran condemned the sheikh’s execution and warned Saudi Arabia that it faced “divine retribution” for this execution.  In scenes reminiscent of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, protestors stormed the Saudi Arabian embassy in Tehran, burning much of it and forcing Saudi diplomats to flee the country.  In response, Saudi Arabia (and later some of its Sunni allies) broke off diplomatic relations with Iran and expelled all Iranian diplomatic personnel from their countries.

Allies for Both Sides

This dramatic increase in tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran is leading to other countries in the region lining up to take sides behind one of these two countries.  For example, the governments of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan quickly followed Riyadh’s lead and broke off diplomatic ties with Iran.  Moreover, Saudi Arabia’s allies fighting in the civil wars in Syria and Yemen have already expressed their support for its stance against Iran.  On the opposite side, Iran’s allies, such as the governments of Syria and Iraq, as well as the Houthi rebels in Yemen, will certainly move to back Tehran in its showdown with the Saudis.  Meanwhile, a major factor to watch will be the role of outside players in this dispute.  For example, the United States and its European allies have moved to improve relations with Iran in recent months, but this could be jeopardized by this new dispute.  Another outside power, Russia, has found itself allied with Iran in Syria’s civil war and it may move to support Iran in its showdown with Saudi Arabia, once again placing the US and its Western allies in opposition to Russia in a strategic region.

Looking for War?

The biggest threat posed by this dispute is the potential for an all-out conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran.  Initially, the biggest threat will be posed by the likelihood that the proxy wars between the two countries in places such as Syria and Yemen will intensify, while Iran may move to promote Shiite insurgencies in places such as Bahrain and Lebanon.  However, the potential for a direct conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran cannot be ruled out, given the fact that both sides are preparing for just such a conflict.  For Saudi Arabia, King Salman and his government have taken a much harder line towards Iran than their predecessors and are dismayed by the presence of an Iran-backed government in Iraq and the fact that Iran is supporting the Assad regime in Syria and the Houthi rebels in Yemen.  For Iran, hardliners that have been challenged by the moderate government of President Hassan Rouhani see a conflict with their leading rival as a means of restoring their dominant position in Iran.  For the international community, a potential conflict between two of the Middle East’s most powerful states is very disconcerting, given the impact that such as conflict would have on that already-volatile region’s stability as well as on the global economy.  For an already nervous world, the Saudi-Iranian showdown is an inauspicious start to 2016.

Mein Kampf Enters Public Domain, Set to be Republished in Germany

by Shelby Vcelka

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe


BERLIN, Germany–

For the first time since the conclusion of the Second World War, Mein Kampf will be available to the general public in Germany. The manifesto, written by Adolf Hitler in 1925, served as a documentation of his plans to take over Germany and lead the country. After the Allied Powers defeated Nazi Germany in 1945, they handed the copyright of the book over to the German state of Bavaria, where local authorities announced they were banning production of the work to prevent igniting racial tensions in the post war period. Since then, Mein Kampf has been completely out of print within Germany, and its dissemination was made a criminal offense.

A copy of Adolf Hitler’s work, Mein Kampf, from 1940. The work has been banned from Germany since the end of WWII. (Photo courtesy of The Atlantic).

Under German law, a copyright can be held through the life of the author, and 70 years after that person’s death. The work enters into the public domain on January 1st of the following year. In Hitler’s case, those seventy years ended on April 30th, 2015, with Mein Kampf entering the public domain on January 1st, 2016.

Munich’s Institute of Contemporary History is set to publish the new edition of Mein Kampf, with thousands of academic notes, intended to give context to the reader.

The ban’s lift has not been without mixed opinions and criticism. Many accept that times have changed since Mein Kampf was first published, but want an updated introduction and editor’s notes to preface the work. An endnote noting work’s relationship to today’s international politics has also been pushed for, so racial tensions will not be reignited as a result of the new publications.

“Mein Kampf is an important historical document and it should not be erased or forgotten, but it remains important to explain clearly what this work set out to achieve,” commented Philippe Coen, president of the European Company Lawyers Association.

German officials have announced they will limit access to the work amid concerns that neo-Nazi sentiments will arise.  The new editions are set to be released on January 8th.

For more information, please see–

The Atlantic–Who’s Afraid of Mein Kampf?— 31 December 2015

NPR–‘Mein Kampf’ Enters Public Domain; Arguably, Anne Frank’s Diary May, Too— 31 December 2015

BBC– Copyright of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf expires— 1 January 2016

CNN– Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ to be republished in Germany next week— 1 January 2016

Japan and South Korea Reach Agreement on WWII Comfort Women

By Christine Khamis

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia


SEOUL, South Korea –

South Korea and Japan reached a settlement on Monday to resolve their long-standing dispute over the women forced to serve as sex slaves for the Japanese army during World War II. The women, otherwise known as comfort women, have been a major point of contention between the two countries since the end of World War II.

In the settlement, Japan issued an apology and pledged to give $8.3 million from its national budget to the South Korean government to set up a fund for the remaining comfort women. The fund will offer services such as medical care to the former comfort women. It is unclear at this time whether the women will receive direct payments from the fund.

Japan has conceded that its military authorities contributed to the enslavement of the comfort women. However, Japan has not admitted to having any legal responsibility for the acts of its military officials. It instead seems to consider the new fund as a humanitarian gesture rather than an effort at making legal reparations.

Tens of thousands of Korean women were forced to act as comfort women to the Japanese during Japan’s colonial rule of South Korea and throughout World War II. Most comfort women who survived World War II lived in silence instead of speaking out because of the stigma surrounding their role as sex slaves. In the 1990s, some of the women finally began to speak out about their experiences. Only 238 South Korean women have come forward throughout the decades. Currently, 46 former comfort women women are still alive.

Former comfort women at the House of Sharing,, a home set up in South Korea for their care. (Photo courtesy of Voice of America)

South Korea says that it will consider the issue of comfort women “finally and irreversibly” settled as long as Japan follows through with its end of the deal. On its own part, South Korea has agreed to negotiate with local civic groups for the removal of a statue of a comfort woman which stands in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul.

Japan and South Korea’s agreement has already drawn criticism, some of it coming from former comfort women themselves. One such woman, 88 year-old Lee Yong-soo, says that the settlement does not reflect the views of former comfort women. Ms. Lee says that the former comfort women are not looking for money and that they want official reparations from Japan instead.

This is not the first time that Japan has apologized for its treatment of comfort women. In 1993, Japan formally acknowledged and apologized for its use of sex slaves. Japan also created a fund for the comfort women in 1995, financed by private donors. South Korea and some of the remaining comfort women criticized the fund because it did not come directly from Japan’s government. Many of the former comfort women refused to take payments from the fund. The fund was then disbanded in 2007.

Earlier in 2015, President Park of South Korea called for the settlement of the issue of comfort women with Japan by the end of the year. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the start of diplomatic relations between Japan and South Korea.


For more information, please see:

Voice of America – Comfort Women Criticize Japan, South Korea Settlement – 29 December 2015

BBC – Japan and South Korea agree WW2 ‘comfort women’ deal – 28 December 2015

The Guardian – Japan and South Korea Agree to Settle Wartime Sex Slaves Row – 28 December 2015

The New York Times – Japan and South Korea Settle Dispute Over Wartime ‘Comfort Woman’ – 28 December 2015

Syria Deeply – When Barrel Bombs Fall, Enter the White Helmets

Dear Readers,

Welcome to the Syria Deeply holiday update. Here are a few of our recent headlines. We’ll return to our regular Friday newsletter in the new year. Happy holidays from the whole News Deeply team.

When Barrel Bombs Fall, Enter the White Helmets

When barrel bombs fall on opposition-held neighborhoods across Syria, the White Helmets rush in. The selfless work of the Civil Defense volunteer force is well known, but the individuals who risk it all on a daily basis are not. Syria Deeply met with a young volunteer in Aleppo to hear his story.

The Stories Behind the Caesar Photos of Killed Detainees

Human Rights Watch has concluded a nine-month investigation into the Caesar photographs, a collection of thousands of images of more than 6,700 detainees who died in Syrian government custody. Syria Deeply spoke with one of the report’s authors to learn more.

Self-Delusion at the U.N. Over Syria

With no mention of embattled President Bashar al-Assad, the “milestone” resolution passed by the U.N. Security Council on Friday is the latest example of a peace process that is entirely missing the point, writes political analyst Sharif Nashashibi.


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