Chinese Human Rights Lawyer Admits To Being “Brainwashed”

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

BEIJING, China – Chinese human rights lawyer, Xie Yang was brought up on charges of subversion in 2015. Initially, Xie maintained his innocence.

In recent court proceedings, Xie then altered his statement and plead guilty to charges of subversion and disrupting a court order. Xie stated he was “brainwashed” in Hong Kong and South Korea to promote western constitutionalism in China. Xie appeared in a video where he stated he had not been mistreated in custody by Chinese officials.

Xie’s trial was said to be open by the Chinese government. However, Western journalists and diplomats were denied entry. Many friends and supporters of Xie Yang reported that his confessions during trial appeared rehearsed.

Xie Yang and his wife, Chen Guiqui. Photo courtesy of New York Times.

Since President Xi Jinping took office, his government warns against Western ideals and the threat these ideals can have on national security.  Cases dealing with “land grab victims” and proponents of democratic reform are considered highly sensitive to government authorities in China. Recently, Xie Yang and several human rights lawyers were put on trial dealing with these issues.

Amnesty International has stated that the Chinese government wanted to use Xie Yang’s trial “to discredit his lawyers and the Western media.” The United Nations requested that Chinese authorities release all activists and attorneys being held in custody who have been accused of defending basic rights of Chinese citizens.

Xie Yang’s attorney, Chen Jiangang, who represented him throughout trial was also taken into custody, according to sources close to Xie Yang.

For more information, please see: 

BBC – China human rights lawyer Xie Yang ‘admits being brainwashed’ – 8 May, 2017

NYT – In Reversal, Chinese Lawyer Confesses, and Rights Groups Denounce His Trial – 8, May 2017

Reuters – China begins trial of rights lawyer for ‘subversion of state power’ – 8 May, 2017


Syria Deeply: Collecting Evidence of War Crimes in Syria

Collecting Evidence of War Crimes in Syria

Law professor David Crane, who has a record of taking on the prosecution of war criminals, is keeping a detailed record of the events in Syria for future prosecution. His Syrian Accountability Project’s latest report takes a close look at Aleppo.

Written by Kim Bode Published on Read time Approx. 5 minutes
Syria conflict aleppo aftermath
People walk past heavily damaged buildings on March 9, 2017, in the formerly rebel-held al-Shaar neighbourhood of Aleppo, which was recaptured by government forces in December 2016. AFP/JOSEPH EID

The Syrian Accountability Project (SAP) at Syracuse University doesn’t know about weekends. “It’s a seven-day-a-week operation,” says project leader and law professor David Crane. The SAP team updates its extensive database constantly and provides quarterly reports to its clients, “which are the United Nations, the [U.S.] Office of the Legal Advisor, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as various countries,” he says.

Since 2011 the SAP has been documenting war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria. “It’s a neutral effort. We’re not looking at one side or the other, we’re building a trial package against anyone who commits war crimes and crimes against humanity,” says Crane. The trial package is for domestic or international prosecutors in the future who decide to bring a case to court.

Crane is confident that it will happen, it might just take a little longer. He’s got experience.

As founding Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Crane helped to send Charles Taylor to prison. He created SAP as an organization using “the tried and proven techniques of what we did in West Africa and apply them to the Syrian civil war.”

Syria Deeply spoke with Crane about SAP’s latest research on Aleppo, its techniques and quality control and his viewpoint on the chances of prosecuting war crimes in the context of the Syrian crisis

Syria Deeply: In your latest report “Covered in Dust, Veiled by Shadow: The Siege and Destruction of Aleppo” you provide a historical narrative of the city, going as far back as the 3rd millennium B.C. to when it was known as Ha-lam. Why did you decide to look back so far?

David M. Crane: Like all white papers these are information assets for people who know nothing about Aleppo to people who are deeply involved and everything in between. The purpose is to inform, for example, a policymaker, a diplomat or someone who is in the international criminal business and to allow someone who is not informed at all to read through the white paper and have a basic overview – a four corners overview – of what took place in Aleppo over the past six, seven months. We wanted to also give the important historical context of Aleppo and the tragedy of the destruction of this ancient city.

Syria Deeply: What methodology and tools did you and your team use?

Crane: We work with researchers, investigators and criminal information analysts. We used the same techniques, the same analysis and data collection that we had been using for well over six years, and that is through various sources. We have an incredible amount of data at our fingertips.

We have what we call open source material, which is data that is currently available on the web, social media and what have you. We also have what we call walk-in information; in other words, we received on a regular basis individuals who report to us incidents and situations they want to bring to our attention. Then we have our clandestine methodologies; we’ve been developing an information network within Syria that is reporting to us through clandestine means.

We use this data to build a trial package or, if we have a particular incident that needs international attention and assertion, to create white papers. We did one for the chemical attack [in Khan Sheikhoun]. We had a white paper out within 14 days after the chemical attack.

Syria Deeply: How do you verify the accuracy of all this information?

Crane: Any incident that is asserted, any incident that is known, any incident that there is an allegation we have to verify at least once, if not two times, before we actually consider it an incident. We look at other sources and other ways. Either through open source, other walk-ins or we go back to other assets. Our assets don’t know each other so that they’re not doubling and repeating the same thing. We go out and verify if something has taken place.

Syria Deeply: What are the key findings in this Aleppo report?

Crane: It is a continuation of a horror story that started back in March of 2011. All sides have dropped any kind of decorum as far as treating civilians respectfully under the international humanitarian law principles, which they are violating, which makes them war crimes or crimes against humanity.

We saw, again, unlawful use of weapon systems. We saw weapon systems that were calculated to cause unnecessary suffering. We saw indiscriminate attacks on civilians. We saw the attacks on protected places, as we say in international humanitarian law, such as hospitals, churches, mosques. What we wanted to do with this white paper is underscore the microcosm of the horror that is Syria in and of itself.

Syria Deeply: What kind of consequences do you hope publication of the report will have?

Crane: The Syrian Accountability Project and an ancillary I Am Syria program aim to keep the Syrian narrative in discussion. Syria has slowly but surely taken a back seat to ISIS and is slowly but surely slipping into the middle of the paper, or is not in the paper at all anymore. Like Syria Deeply, we wanted to make sure that the public just doesn’t walk away in this terrible 24-, actually, 5-minute news cycle that we find ourselves in.

The white paper is publicly available through the internet. Obviously, key people have had it and responded very positively towards it. It also goes out to high-school students around the world. We have over 12,000 teachers that use our lesson plans for Syria through the I Am Syria campaign on a weekly basis.

We need to show the people of the world that we have an industrialized killing machine going on not quite seen since Saddam Hussein. Also, the industrialized way they’re doing it, slowly but surely with a great deal of organization, we haven’t seen that since Nazi Germany.

Syria Deeply: As founding Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, how do you see chances of prosecuting war crimes in the context of the Syrian crisis?

Crane: Right now, there is no chance. The geopolitical situation does not have the capability of doing anything. I don’t see anything happening for the next five or 10 years. However, that shouldn’t dissuade us as far as continuing our work.

President Assad and his henchmen know who we are, they hear our footsteps and someday there’ll be a knock at the door. There is no statute of limitations for international crimes. So whether Assad is prosecuted next week or 20 years from now, he will be prosecuted. That’s why it’s so critical to have a very professionally put together set of evidentiary documents that they can take to court because this may not happen for some time.

I took down Charles Taylor and indicted him, and he was found guilty for aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity and the destruction of over 1.2 million human beings. He never thought that he would be held accountable for that, and he now sits in a prison, for the rest of his life.

Time is not the essence. We have to have the patience or perseverance and a desire to keep moving forward. But he knows we’ve got him, it’s just a matter of time. When there is a geopolitical opportunity, I wish he and all the others who bear the greatest responsibility for all the tragedy will be held accountable.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Venezuelan Protestors Tried in Military Courts

By: Max Cohen
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – Earlier this year, during a huge economic crisis, protests began against the ruling government of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela. In April, the protests escalated after the country’s Supreme Court, controlled by Maduro loyalists, attempted to dissolve the country’s legislative National Assembly. Now Maduro has taken another apparent attempt to silence the critics of his government by prosecuting civilian protestors before military courts.

Opposition supporters in Venezuela rally against the Maduro government as the military takes position in the background. Photo courtesy of Reuters.

According to the BBC, at least 50 have been detained thus far, while the New York Times estimates that the minimum number of actual detentions reaches as high as 120. If the protests continue, it is likely that number will rise.

The trial of civilians in military courts is traditionally forbidden, both by international law and Venezuela’s own constitution except in crimes, “of a military nature.” However, the prosecution of these protestors in military, rather than civilian courts, is claimed to be justified by the Venezuelan government’s Zamora Plan. On its official blog, Human Rights Watch describes it as an initiative meant to address, “internal and external attacks that threaten the country’s peace and sovereignty.” However, critics of this action claim it is nothing more than an attempt by Maduro’s government to crack down on and silence the protests.

A researcher from Human Rights Watch claimed that the shift is because the government can control the results in said courts. Although, it should be noted that even in civilian courts, liberal judges and prosecutors have caused hundreds to be jailed in the past. Rights groups point to the fact that there is a different standard of evidence in military courts, as well as the lack of due process protections for defendants as proof that the system is rigged against them. However, at least for now it does not appear that this move has dissuaded protestors from taking to the streets.

For more information, please see:

New York Times – Venezuela Tries Protestors in Military Court ‘Like We Are in a War’ – 12 May 2017

BBC – Venezuela military courts ‘used against protesters’ – 9 May 2017

Human Rights Watch – Civilians Tried by Military Courts – 8 May 2017

NBC News  – Venezuela Protests and Economic Crisis: What Is Going On? – 8 May 2017

New York Times – At Least 3 Die in Venezuela Protests Against Nicolás Maduro – 19 April 2017

War Crimes Prosecution Watch: Volume 12, Issue 4



Michael P. Scharf

War Crimes Prosecution Watch

Volume 12 – Issue 5
May 15, 2017

James Prowse

Technical Editor-in-Chief
Samantha Smyth

Managing Editors
Rina Mwiti
Alexandra Mooney

War Crimes Prosecution Watch is a bi-weekly e-newsletter that compiles official documents and articles from major news sources detailing and analyzing salient issues pertaining to the investigation and prosecution of war crimes throughout the world. To subscribe, please email and type “subscribe” in the subject line.

Opinions expressed in the articles herein represent the views of their authors and are not necessarily those of the War Crimes Prosecution Watch staff, the Case Western Reserve University School of Law or Public International Law & Policy Group.




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Court of Bosnia & Herzegovina, War Crimes Chamber

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