International Center for Transitional Justice: In Focus

ICTJ ICTJ World Report
May 2017

In Focus


Victims’ Views on Truth Seeking and Memorials in Nepal Take Center Stage in New Report from ICTJ and Martin Chautari InstituteVictims’ Views on Truth Seeking and Memorials in Nepal Take Center Stage in New ReportA new report from ICTJ and the Martin Chautari Institute highlights the continued need for truth about the human rights abuses committed during Nepal’s 10-year civil war. The report is aimed at helping those working on truth seeking in Nepal to better understand the gaps that currently exist between victims’ needs and rights, public policy and the current transitional justice process.

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World Report


AFRICAThe trial of Ugandan former Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commander Dominic Ongwen resumed at the International Criminal Court. A UN official in the Democratic Republic of Congo emphasized the need for a dialogue to end the conflict in the Kasai region. More than 500 people have been killed in the central DRC province in the past five months, according to police. International Criminal Court judges rejected a defense appeal to suspend reparations proceedings in the case of Jean-Pierre Bemba, the Congolese opposition leader currently serving an 18-year prison sentence. In 2016, Bemba was found guilty of crimes, including rape and murder, committed by his troops against civilians in the Central African Republic. In Sudan, human rights advocates resisted the National Assembly’s decision regarding constitutional amendments which contradict transitional processes outlined in the country’s 2016 National Dialogue document. A Dutch arms trafficker was convicted for selling weapons to Liberia’s former president Charles Taylor during civil wars that involved mass atrocities, the use of child soldiers, and sexual slavery. An appeals court in Senegal upheld the life sentence of former Chad president Hissene Habre on war crimes charges. A 1992 Chadian Truth Commission accused Habre’s government of systematic torture, saying 40,000 people died during his rule. Gambians have been looking for justice for the crimes of former dictator Yahya Jammeh’s regime, but the new government continues to face many challenges. More than two decades after the genocide in Rwanda, the people of the country reconcile through a monthly day of community service known as Umuganda.

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AMERICASColombia is trying to recover $478 million in public funds that got lost in corruption, which accounts for less than 3% of what allegedly was embezzled, extorted, or misallocated by state officials last year alone. Despite ongoing challenges, the UN Security Council “unanimously and solidly” supports Colombia’s peace process. A court in Chile charged 16 former military officials with the murders of more than a dozen opponents of General Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship in the 1970s, when they acted as operatives of the Caravan of Death. Meanwhile, Argentina’s Senate passed a bill aimed at preventing torturers and murderers during the 1976 to 1983 dictatorship who have been convicted of crimes against humanity from benefiting from a reduction in their sentences. In Peru, indigenous women have brought the case of mass sterilizations during former dictator Alberto Fujimori’s reign to the UN. Parents of Mexico‘s 43 disappeared Ayotzinapa students have accused the government of attempting to quietly shut down investigations into the case

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ASIAState Counsellor of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi rejected a UN Rights Council decision to investigate security forces for allegations of crimes against minority Rohingya Muslims, after first partially complying to its recommendations. In Sri Lanka, ethnic Tamils lit lamps and displayed photos framed in flowers of relatives killed in a bloody civil war, marking the eighth anniversary of the end of the fighting. However, a government order this month placed a 14-day ban on all ceremonies near a Catholic church in Mullivaikkal East, the last place to be captured by the Sri Lankan army in May 2009. Documentation Center of Cambodia Director, Youk Chhang, received the Center for Justice and Accountability’s Judith Lee Stronach Human Rights Award for exposing crimes against humanity committed by the Khmer Rouge regime. The UN Refugee Agency reported massive human rights violations and torturous conditions in Malaysia immigration detention centers, signaling flaws in its incarceration systems. In a private policy forum in Manila, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings argued against the “war on drugs” approach in the Philippines, and called for more effective strategies within the country’s justice sector. The Supreme Court in Bangladesh upheld its decision to imprison a powerful Jamaat-e-Islami leader for life on account of crimes against humanity during the country’s Liberation War.

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EUROPEIn Turkey, human rights defender Murat Çelikkan was sentenced to 18 months in prison on “terrorist propaganda” charges for his work with the pro-Kurdish newspaper Ozgur Gundem. Professor Beyza Üstün was also sentenced to 15 months, but her sentence has been deferred. The Coalition for RECOM is resuming efforts for a regional truth commission in the former Yugoslavia to establish facts about the 1990s Balkan Wars. The Association of Camp Inmates of Bosnia and Herzegovina commemorated deceased wartime detainees from the 1990s war and called for improved law on social protection. Over one year later, Serbia [selected] ( Snezana Stanojkovic as the its new chief war crimes prosecutor to revive criminal justice within the country and combat impunity for crimes against Serbs. The Specialist Chambers (SC) court has been established in Kosovo to prosecute ex-guerillas in the Kosovo Liberation Army for crimes committed during the 1990s Balkan wars. A court in Croatia ordered that the state must pay 106,000 euros in compensation to the family of a Serb killed during Croatia’s 1995 Operation Storm.

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MENAProtestors in Tunisia marched in opposition to the proposed Economic Reconciliation bill and labeled it a contradiction to the country’s 2011 revolution. If passed, the bill would grant amnesty. A Palestinian asylum-seeker accused of war crimes in Syria was tried and sentenced to life in prison by an Austrian court. The trial marks the first case of Syrian war crimes carried out in Austria. In Lebanon, activists marked the 102nd anniversary of the start of the Armenian genocide. The country is home to more than 100,000 Armenians.

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Justice Mosaics: How Context Shapes Transitional Justice in Fractured Societies

What hope is there for justice for victims of atrocities in profoundly fractured societies, where systems of government have broken down and social and political divisions run deep? What is the role of transitional justice in forging peace in countries like Colombia, after decades of conflict? Or in countries like Tunisia, after years of repression and corrosive corruption?

When No One Calls It Rape: Addressing Sexual Violence Against Men and Boys

Sexual violence against men and boys in times of conflict or repression is alarmingly common— and takes a markedly consistent form across contexts in terms of how it affects victims and societies as a human rights violation that is taboo to talk about. It has been committed in all cultures, geographic regions, and time periods.

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Upcoming Events

June 08 – 09, 2017

Transnational & Global Dimensions of Justice & Memory Processes in Europe & Latin America Location: ParisView Details

June 25 – 29, 2017

Large-Scale Violence and Its Aftermaths The United States and the World Location: Kean University, New Jersey View Details

More Events
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Law and Order in Russia: Nikolai Gorokhov Returns to Moscow Court After Four-Story Plunge to Release New Evidence on Magnitsky’s Death Cover Up

Nikolai Gorokhov Returns to Moscow Court After Four-Story Plunge to Release New Evidence on Magnitsky’s Death Cover Up

24 May 2017 – Today at 3pm the Moscow Basmanny court will hear a complaint filed by Nikolai Gorokhov, the lawyer representing Sergei Magnitsky’s mother about new evidence of an official cover up of Sergei Magnitsky’s death in custody.

The previous court hearing which had been scheduled for 24 March 2017 in which Mr Gorokhov intended to present this evidence could not go ahead because Mr Gorokhov plunged four stories from his apartment in circumstances which many believe were intended to stop his activities.

The complaint filed by Mr Gorokhov alleges that an official cover up of Sergei Magnitsky’s death was orchestrated by the Russian investigator Strizhov, who closed the Magnitsky death case claiming there was “no crime,” despite injuries on Magnitsky’s body.

The new evidence submitted by Mr Gorokhov shows that investigator Strizhov worked closely with key suspects implicated by Sergei Magnitsky in the US$230 million fraud, while purportedly investigating them.

The new evidence comprises WhatsApp conversations and emails from the so-called “Pavlov Leaks” published on the Internet. The key conversations are between Andrei Pavlov, a key member of the Kluyev organized crime group, and his long-term associate, former Russian Interior Ministry investigator Oleg Urzhumtsev.

The Pavlov Leaks show that there were agreements between investigator Strizhov and members of the Klyuev group one month before investigator Strizhov exonerated Pavlov, Interior Ministry officer Urzhumtsev and other criminal group associates from liability for the US$230 mln theft and its cover up.

Mr Gorokhov filed a complaint against the refusal by the Russian Investigative Committee to investigate the new evidence of abuse of office by investigator Strizhov in Magnitsky’s death investigation.

The complaint will be heard today by judge Safina of Basmanny district court at 3 pm.

For more information, please contact:

Justice for Sergei Magnitsky

+44 207 440 1777


U.S. Strikes a Syrian Pro-Assad Regime Convoy

By: Yamillet Brizuela
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

AL-TANF, Syria – The U.S. military carried out an air strike on Thursday, May 18, against the supporters of President Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime convoy and Iranian-backed militia that neared a Western special forces unit and US-backed rebels’ base in al-Tanf.

Residents walk through damaged streets at town of Zabadani in the Damascus countryside on 18 May 2017. Photo Courtesy by AP.

On Friday, May 19, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (“SOHR”) reported that at least eight members of the pro-Assad regime forces were killed, most of them were of non-Syrian nationalities. SOHR reported that the airstrike destroyed at least four vehicles which were carrying supporters of the regime, suggesting that injuries from the destruction could cause the death toll to rise.

Syria and Russia claimed the U.S airstrike on the convoy was “government terrorism” that caused a “massacre” which killed several people, both civilians and soldiers in al-Tanf. Specifically, the Syrian government stated that the airstrikes were a “blatant attack on forces fighting terrorism.” The Russian government claimed the airstrikes violated Syria’s sovereignty.

On the other hand, the U.S. claimed the airstrike was “defensive” in nature. The U.S. Defense Secretary reported that the U.S. military determined that the convoy posed a threat to the U.S. and partner forces; he also claimed that Russia was warned prior to the airstrike that the convoy was “getting too close to coalition forces.”  The U.S. claimed airstrike to be a signal to President Bashar Assad to keep his forces out of a zone where U.S.-backed rebels are fighting the Islamic State group, and that they will continue to defend themselves against any threat to the coalition or its allies in the area.

This airstrike has been the second of such confrontation between the United States and the pro-Assad regime. In April, U.S. President Donald Trump authorized the launch of dozens of missiles against the Shayrat airbase, destroying a number of key Syrian military assets, in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack on civilians believed to have been conducted by the Assad regime that week.

In addition, U.S President Donald Trump’s first foreign trip as president began on Friday, May 19, in the Middle East. Syria’s war and Arab-Israeli peace are said to be the top of his agenda.

For more information, please see:

ABC News- Syria Says US Airstrike Killed Several Soldiers Near Jordan- 19 May 2017

Aljazeera- Syria, Russia Condemn US-led Strike on pro-Assad Forces- 20 May 2017

BBC- Syria and Russia Condemn US-Led Attack on pro-Assad Forces- 19 May 2017

Malaysia Sun- U.S. Claims it Launched Defensive Strikes on pro-Assad Troops, but Syria and Russia Claim Dozens of Civilians and Soldiers Killed- 20 May 2017

Middle East Eye- Syria War: Russia Claims US Attack Killed Civilians- 19 May 2017

Reuters- Syrian Negotiator Calls U.S. Strike ‘Terrorism’ and a ‘Massacre’- 19 May 2017

Reuters- U.S. says Iranian-Directed Convoy Targeted by U.S. Strike in Syria- 19 May 2017

SOHR- 8 Killed Mostly non-Syrians in targeting by Coalition’s warplanes for a Military Convoy of the Regime Forces and the Militiamen Loyal to them in the Syrian Desert- 18 May 2017

Western Europe cracks down on racially charged harassment of government officials

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

Sylvana Simons speaks to the public about her newest book in March. Image courtesy of the Associated Press.

In Italy, a member of the European Parliament was ordered to pay $55,670 in damages to another member of the Parliament, Cecile Kyenge. Ms. Kyenge is Italy’s first black minister, born in the Congo but educated as an ophthalmologist in Italy. Her harasser, Mario Borghezio, had said in a 2013 radio interview that  Ms. Kyenge had “[taken] away a job from an Italian doctor” and that he did not want her to “impose her tribal traditions from the Congo” on Italians.

Before deciding to press charges against Mr. Borghezio, Ms. Kyenge had been given police protection after being physically harassed at a political rally. At the rally, she had bananas thrown at her and was compared to an orangutan by the harassers.

This ruling came at the same time as 20 people in The Netherlands were convicted of online racial and sexist hate speech. Sylvana Simons is a black politician and media personality who had received harassing comments from thousands of people on the internet. Ms. Simons was born in Suriname but raised in the Netherlands. One of her harassers had photo-shopped her face onto a picture of a Ku Klux Klan lynching.

Mr. Borghezio believed that his remarks about Ms. Kyenge were within his rights as a lawmaker to criticize a government minister. He felt as if he was being “politically prosecuted”.

In the Netherlands, four of the 20 convicted were charged with community service while the rest were fined $165 to $500 for their behavior.

Though free speech is valued in both countries, the Dutch court said that when the opinion is an “insult, threat, riot, or discrimination, there is a criminal offense.”

Ms. Kyenge, like Ms. Simons, hope that this verdict will show that racist harassment won’t be tolerated by her country. The Dutch court said they hope that this will deter people from engaging in harassing behavior in the future.

These stories come at a time where right-wing populism is on the rise, bringing with it the resentment of political correctness, or the “culture of tolerance”. It is left unclear whether the decisions by these courts really will prevent future cases of hate speech and defamation.

For more information, please see: 

New York Times – 20 Are Convicted for Sexist and Racist Abuse of Dutch Politician – 18 May 2017

BBC News – Italy’s first black minister ‘vindicated’ by racist slurs verdict – 19 May 2017

New York Times – Italian in Europe’s Parliament Convicted of Defamation for Racial Insult – 19 May 2017

BBC News – Dutch race hate row engulfs presenter Sylvana Simons – 25 November 2016

Aljazeera – Sylvana Simons: Racism is accepted in the Netherlands – 18 January 2017


Syria Deeply: (Un)Safe Zones in Syria, Evacuation of Remaining Rebel-Held Damascus Districts and Confrontation Between the U.S. And Syria

Syria Deeply
May 19, 2017
This Week in Syria
Welcome to our weekly summary of Syria Deeply’s top coverage of crisis in Syria.
Safe Zones In Syria: As another round of United Nations-led peace talks kicked off in Geneva on Tuesday, Syria Deeply launched its Safe Zones platform.
Russia, Iran and Turkey are not the first to propose creating some form of “de-escalation” zone in Syria. We’ve compiled a comprehensive overview, including original reporting, our own in-depth analysis and thought-provoking expert commentary, of the various plans discussed on the international stage to stem the conflict and alleviate the humanitarian crisis.
We’ll keep adding to it over time, providing you with the necessary context and facts as this issue unfolds.
U.S.-Syria Tensions: Diplomatic tensions escalated between the U.S. and the Syrian government this week, concluding in military action. On Thursday, U.S.-led coalition warplanes hit a pro-government convoy advancing “inside an established de-confliction zone” near the al-Tanf base in southern Syria and “posed a threat to U.S. and partner forces,” according to a coalition statement. Syrian state news said there were “a number” of casualties.
U.S. and British special forces use the base to train Syrian rebel forces fighting ISIS. Earlier in the week, pro-government forces advanced near Syria’s borders with Iraq and Jordan following a rebel operation that cleared ISIS out of the area.
On Tuesday, the State Department released aerial images of Saydnaya military prison outside of Damascus and other “newly declassified information,” accusing the Syrian government of building and operating a crematorium at the detention center “to cover up the extent of mass murders taking place.” In February, Amnesty International released a report claiming that between 5,000 and 13,000 detainees were executed at Saydnaya during the first five years of the conflict, amounting to between 20 and 50 executions once or twice a week.
Also on Tuesday, the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced new sanctions on five Syrian people and five Syrian companies “in response to continued acts of violence committed by the Government of Syria.” Among them are President Bashar al-Assad’s cousins Ihab Makhlouf and Iyad Makhlouf and the Bustan charity, which OFAC said regime ally Rami Makhlouf used to create “a vast private network of militias and security-linked institutions … to support and augment Syrian military forces.”
Green Buses Leave Damascus: The last remaining rebels in Qaboun left the Damascus district on Sunday, concluding an agreement between rebels and government forces. Some were sent to rebel-held areas in northern Syria, while others fled to opposition-controlled areas of the Damascus suburbs.
In total, more than 3,000 rebel fighters and their families were bused out of Qaboun over the weekend, following evacuations last week in the adjacent districts of Tishreen and Barzeh.
Read our daily Executive Summaries