Italian Police Weaken Large Migrant-Smuggling Network

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

ROME, Italy —  The Italian Police have issued detention orders for 38 people suspected of smuggling migrants into Italy.  On Monday morning, 23 of the 38 people were taken into custody. Those arrested were were a mix of Eritreans, Ethiopians, and Italians.  The remaining suspects who have not yet been caught are all South African nationals.  These arrests occurred in ten different cities across Italy including Rome, Palermo, and Milan.

Police officers in Palermo escort a woman amidst a crackdown on a network smuggling migrants into Italy (Photo Courtesy of The Wall Street Journal)

Investigations last May led to the discovery of the large migrant-smuggling network between Italy and Africa.  According to the investigation, migrants paid smugglers through a system called ‘hawala’ which is a cash transfer system based entirely on trust, and leaves no paper trail.

Investigators were able to gain more insight into the network through the testimony of Nuredin Wehabrebi Atta, an Eritrean man who was arrested in 2014 for his connection to the smuggling network.  Atta’s testimony led to the police raid of a perfume store in central Rome.  Migrants would bring cash to the store and give the cash to two intermediaries who were then caught on film transferring the money to smugglers in several African nations via the hawala system.  At the perfume store, Italian police seized nearly €526,000 ($600,000) and $25,000 in cash, as well as an address book with the names and phone numbers of members involved in the migrant-smuggling network.  According to Atta, migrants who were unable to pay in cash for their voyages were involved in the removal and selling of their organs.

Smugglers utilize different schemes to illegally transport the migrants into Italy.  Palermo Prosecutor Francesco Lo Voi singled out the two main hubs of the network – Sicily and Rome.  The smugglers often organize fake events in Italy, such as weddings or family reunions, to allow the migrants to stay in the country legally.  Lo Voi also revealed another network scheme which involved legal migrants within Italy falsely stating that they had relatives who wanted to reach them in Italy.  This scheme operates under the Italian law which gives immediate family members who live outside of Italy permission to enter the country.  Smugglers will also scoop up migrants who were brought to Sicily after being rescued from a ship, so they can bring them to alleged family members in northern European countries.

For more information, please see:

ABC – Italy Detains 38 in Crackdown on Migrant Trafficking Ring — 4 July 2016

Daily Mail — Italian Police Smash Suspected People-Smuggling Ring, Arrest Dozens — 4 July 2016

Express — Italian Police Arrest 33 People Suspected of Smuggling Thousands of Migrants into Europe — 4 July 2016

The Telegraph — Migrants who Cannot Pay are being Sold for Organs, Smuggler Tells Italian Authorities — 4 July 2016

The Wall Street Journal — Italian Police Arrest 23 in Fresh Crackdown on Migrant Smuggling — 4 July 2016

Lebanese Christian Village Attacked by Suicide Bombers

By Zachary Lucas
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BEIRUT, Lebanon — A majority Christian village in Lebanon was attacked by suicide bombers on Monday June 27. The suicide bombings occurred in waves leaving five people dead and numerous people injured.

Christian church in Qaa attacked by suicide bombers (Photo Courtesy of Telegraph)

The village of Qaa is located near the Lebanese-Syrian border and is home to a majority Christian population. The first wave of attacks occurred early in the morning. At around 4am, a man walked outside of a house and detonated the bomb vest strapped to his body killing five people, all civilians. Lebanese soldiers and civilians went to investigate the explosions and check on the injured when a second wave of suicide bombers attacked. Three bombers blew themselves up injuring many including four soldiers. A fourth suicide bomber was chased by soldiers before the bomber blew himself up.

Following the initial bombings in the morning, another series of attacks occurred in the evening. At least another four suicide bombers were involved in the evening attacks. Two of the suicide bombers detonated outside a church where villagers were gathering for a funeral of the victims in the morning. At least 15 people were hurt but no one was killed in the evening attack.

After the attacks the Lebanese government warned people in the village to stay in their homes and to “shoot anyone suspicious.” The Lebanese army has the city on lockdown while they sweep the area for potential threats. Residents of Qaa state they are fearful to leave their homes. Near Qaa, Syrian refugees have set up an informal camp. Following the attacks the provincial governor set a curfew for the refugees in that camp.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks on the Christian village . However, Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite group, stated the attacks were carried out by the Islamic State (IS), a radical Sunni group. Hezbollah also claimed that IS was still in the area preparing more attacks with car bombs.

Lebanon has seen numerous militant attacks since the Syrian Civil War began. Hezbollah is currently supporting the Syrian Regime in the war with both arms and fighters. However, Qaa, has seen few instances of violence during the course of the war, despite being a border town. It is not clear as to why the village was targeted now.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Lebanon: Christian village hit by multiple suicide attacks – 27 June 2016

BBC – Elaborate Suicide Attack Hits Christian Village in Lebanon – 27 June 2016

Reuters – Eight suicide bombers target Lebanese Christian village – 27 June 2016

Telegraph – Lebanese Christians hit by double wave of suicide bombings – 27 June 2016

The Killing of 6567 Civilians in the First Half of 2016… 1271 civilians killed in June 2016

SNHR has published its monthly report for the month of June in which it documented the killing of 1271 civilians in June and 6567 civilians in the first half of 2016 at the hands of the main influential parties in Syria.
The report points out the notable and relatively good decline in killing rates after the commencement of the Cessation of Hostilities statement on 27 February 2016 compared to the previous months since March 2011 especially in areas controlled by armed opposition factions given that other areas such the areas controlled by the Democratic Union Parties and the Syrian regime are not targeted with a heavily and daily aerial bombing which is the main cause behind the killing of more than 60% of victims, destruction of building, and displacement of residents. However, one day after the High Negotiation Committee decided to postpone its participation in Geneva talk on 19 April, government forces and Russian forces resumed bombing areas outside the Syrian regime’s control and the killing rates increased back to its former levels before the Cessation of Hostilities.

Additionally, the report notes that SNHR team encounters difficulties in documenting victims from armed opposition factions as many of those victims fall on battlefronts and not inside cities. Also, we aren’t able to obtain details such as names, pictures and other important details on account of the armed opposition forces’ unwillingness to reveal such information for security among other reasons. Therefore, the actual number of victims is much greater than what is being recorded.
The report notes that It is almost impossible to access information about victims from government forces and ISIS, and the margin of error is considerably higher due to the lack of any applicable methodology in this type of documentation. The Syrian government and ISIS don’t publish, reveal, or record their victims. From our perspective, the statistics published by some groups on this category of victims are fictitious and are not based on any actual data.
Therefore, the report only includes civilian victims who were killed by all parties and compare them
The report noted that 3417 civilians were killed by government forces in the first half of 2016 including 590 children (four children are killed every day), 422 women, and no less than 230 individuals due to torture.

The percentage of children and women among civilian victims is 30% which suggests that government forces are deliberately targeting civilians.
Also, the report recorded that 1378 civilians including 310 children and 179 women were killed by allegedly Russian forces.
Self-administration forces killed 78 civilians, including 10 children, three women, and two individuals due to torture.
Furthermore, 785 civilians were killed by extremist Islamic groups as follows:
ISIS killed 764 civilians including 103 children, 146 women, and seven individuals due to torture, while Al-Nussra Front killed 21 civilians including two children, one woman, and two individuals due to torture.
The report also recorded the killing of 462 civilians including 118 children, 109 women, and two individuals due to torture at the hands of armed opposition factions during the first half of 2016.
On the other hand, international coalition forces killed 127 civilians including 54 children and 22 women.
Additionally, the report documented the killing of 266 civilians including 70 children and 38 women who either drowned to death as they were feeling, or in bombings that were carried out by parties that SNHR has not been able to identify or by unknown armed groups to SNHR.
Also, the report included civilian death toll for the month of June 2016 where government forces killed 706 civilians including 101 children (four children are killed every day), 79 women, and 32 individuals at least due to torture.
The report also notes that 187 civilians including 57 children and 32 women were killed by allegedly Russian forces.

Furthermore, self-management forces (consisting mainly of the Democratic Union Party forces, a branch for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party) killed 38 civilians including four children and two women.
ISIS killed 116 civilians including 19 children and 10 women.
The report also records that armed opposition factions killed 72 civilians including 17 children and 16 women, while international coalition forces killed 76 civilians including 39 children and 11 in June.
Also, 76 civilians, including 22 children and 11 women, either drowned to death as they were fleeing or in bombings carried out by parties that SNHR has not been able to identify or by unknown armed groups to SNHR.
The report emphasizes that government forces and Russian forces have violated the international human rights law which guarantees the right to life. In addition, there are tens of cases that fulfill all the elements of war crimes in relation to murder. Evidences and proofs, according to hundreds of eyewitnesses’ accounts, suggest that 90% at least of the widespread and single attacks carried out by government forces and its loyal forces were directed against civilians and civilian facilities.
Moreover, Extremist Islamic groups perpetrated a number of extrajudicial killings that amount to war crimes.

The report also notes that some of the armed opposition factions perpetrated extrajudicial killings that amount to war crimes as well. Additionally, the Democratic Union Party forces perpetrated war crimes through the crime of extrajudicial killing.
The report calls on the security council and the relevant international institutions to uphold its responsibilities with respect to the continuous and ceaseless killing crimes, and to press on the Syrian government to cease the indiscriminate and deliberate bombing against civilians.
Furthermore, the report considers the Russian regime, all Shiite militias, and ISIS foreign parties that are effectively involved in the killings, and holds it and all the funders and supporters of the Syrian regime legally and judicially responsible.


Read the full report here.

Aung San Suu Kyi Visits Thailand, Myanmar Migrant Workers

By Kaitlyn Degnan

Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer

Samut Sakhon, THAILAND —A number of Thai officials and law enforcement officers have reportedly been transferred to other positions, and some are reported to have lost their jobs entirely, following a visit from Myanmar  State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi to Talad Talay Thai in Samut Sakhon province. The area is known as “Little Myanmar” due the large number of Myanmar migrants working there, who mostly work in fishing and manufacturing.

Aung San Suu Kyi meets with Myanmar Migrant Workers in Thailand, 23 June 2016. (Photo courtesy of Radio Free Asia).

Aung San Suu Kyi spoke to a group of migrant workers at the Talay Thai Hall, though their numbers were smaller than expected. Although about 500 migrant workers had been “selected” by business owners to attend the gathering, only about 200 were permitted inside. Thousands reportedly gathered nearby hoping to see the State Counsellor, claiming that those with the “worst” grievances were not permitted to attend.

Migrants living and working in Thailand have long complained of abuse from business owners and Thai officials. International groups have also reported abuses in the area, including allegations of human  trafficking, forced labor, child labor and discrimination. The migrants are especially vulnerable because they lack citizenship status, and there is great confusion among the general population and even migrant aid groups as to what Thai law requires.

During her visit, Aung San Suu Kyi met with Thai Prime Minister Prayutth Chan-o-cha to negotiate two agreements and a memorandum of understanding, which discuss employment, labor cooperation and border crossing. The goal of the negotiations is to simplify the process and provide information to the migrants. One  aspect would create a pre-departure orientation center in Maw Sot, Tak province.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won Myanmar’s first free and fair parliamentary elections in  November 2015. Although the leader of the party, she was not permitted to be “President” due to a constitutional amendment that bars persons with foreign relatives from holding that title. As a result, the position of “State Counsellor” was created specifically for her, allowing her to rule by proxy. Despite Aung San Suu Kyi’s international status as an advocate for democracy (she was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991), she and her party have faced criticism for not addressing the plight of the Rohingya.

For more information, please see:

CNN – Aung San Suu Kyi Fast Facts – 17 June 2016

Radio Free Asia – Aung San Suu Kyi Visits Myanmar Migrant Workers in Thailand – 23 June 2016

Andalou Agency – 23 Thai officials removed from posts after Suu Kyi trip – 27 June 2016

Burma News International – Thousands of Burmese Migrant Workers Kept Away from Aung San Suu Kyi – 28 June 2016

Fish Info & Services – Officials removed due to alleged link to migrant workers’ abuse – 28 June 2016

Myanmar Times – After state counsellor’s visit, overhaul of Thai migrant workers scheme expected, 1 July 2016

Implications of the 30th Ratification of the International Criminal Court’s Crime of Aggression Amendment by Palestine

by Jennifer Trahan

[Jennifer Trahan is Associate Clinical Professor, at The Center for Global Affairs, NYU-SPS, and Chair of the American Branch of the International Law Association’s International Criminal Court Committee. The views expressed are those of the author.]
A significant event happened quietly at the UN on June 27: Palestine deposited the thirtieth instrument of ratification of the International Criminal Court’s crime of aggression amendment, with 30 ratifications being the required number for activation. However, one more vote to activate the amendment, to occur after January 1, 2017, is required by the ICC’s Assembly of States Parties for the ICC to be able to exercise jurisdiction. Thus, Palestine’s deposit did not cause the amendment to become operational, although it brought it a step closer to the activation vote planned for December 2017.
There may be some confusion on the meaning of Palestinian ratification among those not steeped in the jurisdictional nuances of the crime of aggression amendment negotiated in 2010 in Kampala, Uganda. Although one might think that this is all about the Palestinians trying to create jurisdiction over Israel vis-à-vis the crime of aggression, that is not how it will work.
The crime of aggression amendment has a different jurisdictional regime than what currently exists under the ICC’s Rome Statute concerning the crimes of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. If a national of a non-State Party (e.g., Israel) commits any of those crimes in the territory of a State Party, there would be ICC jurisdiction.
The crime of aggression amendment — whether for good or ill (depending on one’s perspective) —per 15bis(5) keeps crimes committed on the territory of, or by the nationals of, non-States Parties entirely out of its jurisdiction for purposes of State Party and proprio motu referrals (article 15bis). This mean that Israeli nationals or crimes committed on Israeli territory will be outside the ICC’s crime of aggression jurisdiction. This then has a bizarre consequence here – that Palestine can ratify the crime of aggression amendment, not “opt out” of jurisdiction (something a State Party can also do per 15bis(4)), and, even after the crime activates, the ICC still could not prosecute Palestinian nationals who commit aggression against Israel, since Israel is a non-State Party. A Handbook compiled by some of the Kampala drafters clearly states: “Non-States Parties are thus excluded both as potential aggressor and victim States.” The crime of aggression amendment thus has significant jurisdictional loop-holes, and will create quite a narrow jurisdictional regime, even once activated. Stated more positively, it creates a consensual regime.
While activation also will activate ICC jurisdiction if the U.N. Security Council makes referrals (under article 15ter), it is considered unlikely that the US would permit alleged Israeli aggression to be referred.
So, the 30th ratification brings the world one step closer to having crime of aggression jurisdiction activated before the ICC, but it does not have direct ramifications for Israel – whether that was the Palestinian goal or not.
At this point, the reader may well wonder – is this Kampala amendment worthwhile with all these jurisdictional loopholes? I will argue it is: activation of the crime will undoubtedly cause states to take pause and ponder more seriously the potential consequences of starting an illegal war, and this is a good thing – even if ICC jurisdiction will not cover the specific case in question; also, states may implement the amendment into their domestic laws, and that may create jurisdiction – giving further pause to states inclined to commence an illegal war. The goal of course is not to generate ICC cases, but to influence state behavior positively.
The crime of aggression, of course, is hardly a novel concept. It criminalizes what is already illegal under article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter, and is similar in concept to the prosecutions of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, which prosecuted war of aggression. In fact, states were working already over 100 years ago on this concept, when in 1913 they founded the “Peace Palace” in The Hague, Netherlands — in an attempt to have states litigate and arbitrate over issues of war, rather than go to war.
A few states have concerns about activation — the US for example, although it too as a non-State Party is exempt from jurisdiction vis-à-vis its nationals and crimes on its territory. Yet, the process is proceeding, with the 30 ratifications accomplished, and several other States Parties in the process of ratifying the amendment. US concern that humanitarian intervention would be criminalized may be something of a “red herring” – first, the US does not appear to have any clear and consistent policy of humanitarian intervention (for instance, as the UK has) and second, because, as at least most scholars seem to agree, humanitarian intervention would not be covered by the crime, as it would not constitute a “manifest” Charter violation. (The crime has a significant “threshold” in requiring that there be a “manifest” Charter violation [.pdf]; this means that only very serious cases that are unambiguously illegal , could be prosecuted.) The crime of aggression, in these ways, is rather conservative — having both jurisdictional loopholes and this high threshold.
There is still a chance, that, at some point, the ICC judges will find that Palestine is not a “state,” and thus was incapable of ratifying the Rome Statute, and similarly incapable of ratifying the crime of aggression amendment. (Judges always have jurisdiction to review their own jurisdiction – so regardless of the UN’s acceptance of the instruments of ratification, the ICC Judges could view the issue differently.) This would have little impact on the process of activating the crime, since several ratifications are in the pipeline, and will undoubtedly happen prior to December 2016. (There must be a year’s delay after the 30th ratification, for activation, along with the ASP vote).
Overall, while the Palestinians may have hoped to make a strong political statement, what the ICC crime of aggression tries to do is take the issue of aggression more out of the political process and into judicial hands. How one feels about this may depend on one’s confidence in the ICC, which, despite some setbacks, has gradually been proving itself to be a responsible, judicial institution, warranting confidence and support.



[This article originally ran in Opinio Juris and can be found here.]


Sixth Annual Meeting of the Global Network of R2P Focal Points

The Governments of the Republic of Korea and the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste co-hosted the sixth annual meeting of the Global Network of R2P Focal Points in Seoul, Republic of Korea, from 20 to 22 June in association with the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. This was the first meeting of the Global Network to take place in the Asia-Pacific region.

The meeting brought together senior government officials from more than 50 countries as well as representatives from the European Union and United Nations, including the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Mr. Adama Dieng. During the meeting UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon and the Assistant High Commissioner for Protection at the UN Refugee Agency, Volker Turk, also addressed the R2P Focal Points via video message.

Opening the meeting on 20 June, H.E. Mr. Choi Jong-moon, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea remarked that, “our task should be to transform R2P from a vital principle into visible practice. I hope that this meeting will be an opportunity to harness the collective wisdom of the Focal Points in our search for meaningful, practical ways to provide protection to people at risk.”

During the three-day meeting participants discussed practical measures they can undertake as Focal Points towards implementing the responsibility to protect at the national, regional and international levels. R2P Focal Points shared best practices from projects they are currently engaged in, including providing inter-ministerial guidance to policy makers on atrocity prevention, and making links between human rights protection, early warning and R2P.

More than a quarter of the UN membership participates in the Global Network, with 53 states and the European Union having appointed a senior government official to serve as a R2P Focal Point. Dr. Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, noted that, “at a time when 65 million people are displaced by war, persecution and conflict, we need this Global Network more than ever. These 53 governments and the European Union constitute an important community of commitment dedicated to working together to prevent mass atrocities and protect the vulnerable.”

Reflecting upon the importance his country places on atrocity prevention and post-conflict reconciliation, H.E. Mr. Hernani Coelho da Silva, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, announced during the opening ceremony that his government has appointed an R2P Focal Point.

The meeting concluded with the R2P Focal Point from the State of Qatar announcing that his country will be hosting the seventh annual meeting of the Global Network in Doha in 2017.

Bahrain Strips Top Cleric of Citizenship

by Zachary Lucas
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

MANAMA, Bahrain — The Kingdom of Bahrain stripped top Shiite Cleric, Sheikh Isa Qassim, of citizenship on Tuesday. Iran has issued a statement saying the revocation of leadership could lead to an overthrow of the government.

Supporters Protest Sheikh Isa Qassim’s Loss of Citizenship (Photo Courtesy of CNN)

The government of Bahrain stripped Qassim of his citizenship, stating he helped to divide the country. The Bahrain News Agency said Qassim helped create “an extremist sectarian environment and worked on dividing the society.” The government also stated that Qassim formed groups that were loyal to foreign religious groups and governments, purportedly in reference to Iran.

Following Qassim’s revocation of citizenship, hundreds of Bahraini protesters have gathered outside the cleric’s home to support him. The protesters denied the allegations against the cleric. Clashes between the protesters and police have been sporadic following the sit-in outside the cleric’s house. The Bahraini government has warned that legal action will be taken against those who incite “security disturbances.”

The Iranian government warned Bahrain that these actions could lead to an overthrow of the government. Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, warned that this could set the” whole region on fire” and lead to armed resistance against the government.

This is one of a string of actions taken by the Bahraini government against the opposition groups in the country. Earlier in the week a Bahraini court suspended the main Shiite opposition party, al-Wefaq, along with freezing its assets. The government also more than doubled a prison sentence  for Al-Wefaq’s secretary-general, Sheikh Ali Salman. In response to the government crackdown on the opposition, more protests and violence have emerged including a gasoline bomb that killed a police officer.

Human rights organizations are concerned about human rights violations by the Sunni ruled Bahraini government and actions against the majority Shiite population. Brian Dooley, the director of the Washington-based group Human Rights First, said, “the targeting of the theological side of things, I think, is particularly worrying.”

In 2011, Bahrain saw mass protests during the Arab Spring as predominantly Shiite protesters argued for more political and civil liberties. During the protests, Qassim supported the protesters in their cause. The government along with help from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates crushed the protests.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Iran general warns Bahrain after Shia cleric stripped of citizenship – 20 June 2016

CNN – Iran: Bahrain’s leadership could fall over cleric’s treatment – 21 June 2016

Reuters – Bahrain summons senior Shi’ite clerics for questioning: lawyer – 23 June 2016

ABC News – Rally Outside Shiite Sheikh’s Home Reflects Bahrain Unrest – 23 June 2016