Department of Defense Plans to Release Additional Prisoners

By Samuel Miller
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America and Oceania

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States of America — U.S. military officials from the Department of Defense have informed Congress that they plan to transfer about a dozen prisoners from the detention facility at the naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The first of the transfers are expected in the next few days and the others will take place in coming weeks, said one of the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Patrol Underway Outside Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)

Among them will be Tariq Ba Odah, a Yemeni man who has been on a long-term hunger strike.

At least two countries have agreed to accept the detainees, according to the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss pending transfers. A Pentagon spokesperson, Commander Gary Ross, issued this statement: “The Administration is committed to reducing the detainee population and to closing the detention facility responsibly.”

There are now 91 prisoners at the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Most have been held without charge or trial for more than a decade, drawing international condemnation. According to Reuters, the Pentagon has notified Congress of its latest planned transfers from among the 37 detainees already cleared to be sent to their homelands or other countries.

U.S. officials have said they expect to move out all members of that group by this summer.

The best known of the detainees expected to be resettled in the coming weeks is Tariq Ba Odah, a Yemeni prisoner who has been undergoing a hunger strike in protest of his detention. That process includes guards strapping him down, putting a rubber tube down his nose and pumping a liquid dietary supplement into his stomach.

One of the issues in Odah’s case is the congressional ban on repatriations to Yemen, a country mired in an ongoing military conflict. The country is also considered a breeding ground for terrorists associated with organizations such as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

President Obama, who last month presented Congress with a blueprint for closing the prison, continues his attempt to make good on his long-time pledge before he leaves office in January. The plan for shuttering the facility calls for bringing the several dozen remaining prisoners to maximum-security prison in the United States. But U.S. law bars such transfers to the mainland, and President Obama has not ruled out doing so by use of executive action.

The Obama administration’s main effort to close the prison has been transferring low-risk prisoners to countries that can meet security conditions, with the rest to be taken to a different prison on domestic soil. But the fate of the plan is uncertain because of a statute banning the military from taking detainees from Guantánamo to the United States.

The Guantánamo facility has been criticized both in the United States and abroad as a symbol of human rights abuses for indefinitely holding prisoners without trial.


For more information, please see:

BBC News – US to transfer dozen Guantanamo inmates to at least two countries – 31 March 2016

Independent – Guantanamo Bay inmates to be transferred to other countries, US confirms – 31 March 2016

Voice of America – US Preparing to Transfer More Prisoners From Guantanamo Bay – 31 March 2016

NY Times – Pentagon Plans More Prisoner Transfers From Guantánamo – 30 March 2016

Reuters – Pentagon to send about a dozen Guantanamo inmates to other countries soon – 30 March 2016

The Hill – Pentagon to transfer group of detainees out of Gitmo in coming weeks: report – 30 March 2016

Washington Post – Hunger striker at Guantanamo Bay slated for transfer – 30 March 2016

Maduro Vows to Strike Down Amnesty Law

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela — The Opposition-controlled National Assembly of Venezuela has passed an amnesty law which would free a number of imprisoned opposition activists and end the legal cases being brought against others. President Nicolas Maduro, who heads the government-supported Socialist Party, has promised to strike down the law.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. (Photo courtesy of the Wall Street Journal)

Venezuela’s constitution does not give the president veto powers. However, following the passing of a law by the National Assembly, Maduro has 10 days to sign the law into effect, or it is deferred to the Supreme Court. The Court then has 15 days to make a ruling on the law.

The Court is notorious for siding with the Executive, and has shot down most of what the National Assembly has tried to do since taking office in January, including allowing Maduro to rule by decree on issues related to the economy.

In order to declare the amnesty constitutional, the court must find that the beneficiaries of the law have committed crimes against humanity, or otherwise violated human rights.

Over 70 political prisoners would be freed by the bill, including Leopoldo Lopez. Lopez is considered by many to be Venezuela’s highest profile political prisoner. He was jailed in 2014 for allegedly spurring protests which resulted in the deaths of 40 people. He was convicted of “public incitement to violence and criminal association” last year, in a trial which has been called a “complete travesty of justice” by Human Rights Watch.

Maduro and his supporters deny that Lopez and others like him are political prisoners, instead calling them, “imprisoned politicians.”  Speaking on television hours before the bill was passed, Maduro said: “Laws to protect terrorists and criminals will not get past me, no matter what they do.”

Opposition politicians have stated that no one who would be released by the law has been accused of homicide.


For more information, please see:

Associated Press – Venezuela Opposition Passes Bill to Free Imprisoned Activist – 29 March 2016

Financial Times – Venezuelan congress passes amnesty law – 30 March 2016

Media with Conscience – Venezuela congresses passes bill to free jailed activists – 30 March 2016

Reuters – Venezuela parliament approves amnesty law, Maduro vows to veto – 30 March 2016 

UPI – Venezuela’s Maduro vows to veto amnesty bill passed by National Assembly – 30 March 2016

Wall Street Journal – Venezuelan President Nicolas Mauro Vows That Amnesty Law Won’t Stand – 30 March 2016

ICTJ | World Report March 2016 – Transitional Justice News and Analysis

In Focus

Truth is the First Step Towards Peace

As we search for ways to halt the violence and foster lasting peace in societies grappling with a legacy of massive human rights abuse, there is arguably no more important day to reflect upon the importance of the struggle for truth and justice than today, March 24. Thus, we take a moment to mark the International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims.

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World Report


Former vice-president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jean-Pierre Bemba, was convicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes committed in the Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003. It was the first time a commander of a military force was convicted by the ICC both for the crimes of his subordinates and for using sexual violence as a weapon of war. The trial of Congolese militia commander Germain Katanga started in Kinshasa over new charges in his native country. The warlord left prison in January after serving the term handed down by the ICC in The Hague. On the same week,the ICC confirmed all the 70 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity brought against the Ugandan commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) Dominic Ongwen. A court in Ivory Coast sentenced Simone Gbagbo, the wife of the former president Laurent Gbagbo, to 20 years in prison for her role in a 2011 post-election crisis in which around 3,000 people were killed, her lawyer said. The army of Nigeria has established an office of human rights, which will train soldiers to respect the rights of civilians in the continuing fight against Boko Haram and other terrorist groups. In Kenya, international judges have barred the use of recanted testimony in the ongoing trial of Kenyan Vice President William Ruto, who is accused of committing crimes against humanity during the violence that followed the 2007 elections. In Sudan, a human rights body called on South Sudanese leaders to establish a unity government in order to bring to justice those who committed crimes during the 21-month conflict. Several days later, South Sudanese government troops attacked a U.N. base, killing at least 18 civilians. Since the attack, investigations have found that soldiers from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army planned and carried out the attack, possibly with the help of militias. In South Africa, the national human rights commission has expressed concerns that racism is still an issue for the country, noting that 10% of violations reported to the commission had to do with inequality, with more than half of those complains related directly to racial discrimination.

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Colombia’s government and left-wing FARC rebels missed the March 23 deadline for the signing of a peace agreement. While peace was not obtained, some progress has been made in the past six months.The peace talks have established the need for a Special Tribunal for Peace, which will investigate over 100,000 crimes in 32,433 open trials. Santiago Uribe, brother of the former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe, was arrested for creating and leading a death squad known as the Twelve Apostles. In Guatemala, two former military members were sentenced to 360 years in prison for the murder, rape, and sexual enslavement of indigenous women during Guatemala’s military conflict in the 1980s. In Mexico, a report released by the Oaxaca Truth Commission documented massive and systemic human rights abuses committed in 2006 and 2007, including widespread torture and extrajudicial killings. Additionally, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights declared in a report that Mexico is currently undergoing a human rights crisis, as evidenced by thousands of deaths, disappearances, kidnappings, and threats. Chile has been investigating human rights abuses that occurred under military rule, utilizing soldiers’ testimonies to uncover the truth about any atrocities they witnessed or took part in.

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In Nepal, the government has endorsed the regulation of the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP), providing an impetus in the previously delayed transitional justice process. However, victims still complain about the inefficiency of Nepal’s transitional justice bodies, and victims criticize their lack of sensitivity and sympathy toward survivors. The UN has warned that it cannot provide financial support to Nepal’s transitional justice bodies in their present condition. A human rights report on Sri Lanka has urged the Sri Lankan government to translate its promises on transitional justice into action. Although Sri Lankan President Sirisena has been opposed to foreign involvement in national war crimes investigations, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera assured that foreign participation is in fact being considered. The UN strongly suggested that Sri Lanka accept foreign help due on the grounds that they lack the technical competencies to handle the war crimes probes. In Bangladesh, Prosecutor Mohammad Ali was suspended from his role in ongoing war crimes trials due to professional misconduct. The Bangladeshi Supreme Court has expressed displeasure with the investigators and prosecutors involved in the cases, claiming that they have not been effective despite their having sufficient financial resources to properly investigate and prosecute crimes.

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The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) found the former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić guilty of genocide over the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and sentenced to 40 years in jail. Karadžić was found guilty of 10 out of the 11 charges, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, like murder, terror and extermination. Atifete Jahjaga, president of Kosovo, has ratified an agreement with the Netherlands regarding the establishment of a special war crimes court in The Hague to address crimes possibly committed by ex-guerillas from the Kosovo Liberation Army. Additionally, Kosovo high schools are set to begin teaching transitional justice as part of their curriculum thanks to the implementation of a proposal from the Humanitarian Law Centre.

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Tunisia’s Truth and Dignity Commission, which has been established to uncover past human rights violations and compensate victims, is struggling to remain effective given its decreasing political support and resistance from some members of the ruling elite. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon, a special court set up to try the killers of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, quashed on appeal the conviction of Karma Khayat, a senior TV journalist accused of obstructing justice. In Libya, delegates from rival factions have proposed the establishment of an 18-member unity government, a proposal which requires approval from the internationally recognized parliament based in eastern Libya. In Egypt, a prominent human rights organization that documents allegations of torture, death, and medical negligence in police stations and prisons was closed by the Egyptian government. Following a series of incidents involving police abuse, the Free Egyptians Party demanded rigorous implementation of existing laws and new regulations from the Ministry of Interior to restrict the authority of police officers. Tensions in Egypt have been further stoked by recent incidents involving torture and murder at the hands of police officers, including the shooting of a 21-year-old cab driver in late February.

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More Than Words: Apologies as a Form of Reparation

This report explores many of the issues and challenges likely to be faced by those considering a public apology as a form of reparation for victims of serious human rights violations.

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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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More Publications

Third ICC Conviction is Full of Firsts

By Tyler Campbell
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

BRAZZAVILLE, Congo ­– On March 21st the International Criminal Court (ICC) declared Jean-Pierre Bemba, the ex-vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, guilty of all five charges brought against him. Bemba was being charged for his leadership role with the MLC militia, which committed atrocities in the Central African Republic’s civil war. This is only the third conviction ever reached by the ICC but it comes with multiple landmarks for the court.

Photo of Jean-Pierre Bemba during his ICC hearing. Photo Courtesy of NBC News.

Bemba was convicted of two counts of crimes against humanity, murder and rape, and three counts of war crimes, murder, rape, and pillaging. This is the first time that the ICC has landed a conviction for rape as a war crime. This conviction by the ICC shows the continued change of how rape is viewed in the context of war. Instead of being written off as an inevitable byproduct of war it is now seen as weapon of war that must receive consequences when used.

The ex-vice president is also the highest-ranking official to ever be convicted by the court. Conviction of a high-ranking official, who was not present or near the ground fighting, shows acceptance of a different line of legal reasoning from the court. The all women three-judge panel stated Bemba was guilty by failing to properly exercise the control he had over the troops. This line of reasoning could now be taken to hold military commanders and high up government officials for, not only what they do, but also when they have failed to responsibly exercise the control their office gives them. The judges summed up this line of culpability when they said they were finding him guilty for what he had “failed to prevent.”

Now that the court has accepted that superiors can be held accountable for the actions of those below them we could see more convictions come from the ICC. Although, we should be cautious of expecting any large changes too quickly. The next step in Bemba’s case will be sentencing after the court has heard from the two parties and the legal representatives of the victims.

For More Information Please See:

BBC – Jean-Pierre Bemba: DR Congo ex-warlord guilty of war crimes – 21 March 2016

The New York Times – Congolese Politician, Jean-Pierre Bemba, Is Convicted of War Crimes – 21 March 2016

ICC – ICC Trial Chamber III declares Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity – 21 March 2016

NBC News – Jean-Pierre Bemba Convicted at ICC of War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity – 21 March 2016