What is Happening Along the Border of Turkey and Syria?

By: Madison Kenyon 

Impunity Watch Staff Writer 

DAMASCUS, Syria — On Sunday, October 20, Syrian Kurdish forces began their withdrawal from Ras al-Ayn, a town along the Syrian border. This withdrawal is part of a cease-fire negotiated by the United States’ Vice President, Mike Pence, and Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo with Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. This cease-fire began Thursday, October 17, and will end on Tuesday, October 22. By Tuesday evening, the Kurdish forces must not only have all soldiers removed from Ras al-Ayn, but also, they must withdraw from a zone about 75 miles wide and 20 miles deep between Ras al-Ayn and the town of Tel Abyad.

The aftermath of a shelling by Turkish forces on a target in Das al-Ayn. Photo courtesy of NPR.

Despite the Kurdish forces’ withdrawal from this zone, Turkey states that this is not enough. Rather, Erdogan wants the Kurdish forces to withdraw more than 260 miles from the Syrian border.  He has vowed that if the forces fail to do so, he will “continue to crush the terrorists’ heads.” Erdogan’s persistency to remove the Kurds from the Syrian border comes from his belief that the presence of any Kurds along the Turkey border is an “existential threat” to Turkey.

This tension between Turkey and the Kurds stems from years of conflict. The Kurds, a largely Muslim ethnic group, are one of the largest groups of people without a state of their own (despite being promised one after World War I). Due to this, for years, a Kurdish militant group has launched attacks throughout Turkey in an attempt to achieve autonomy. Therefore, Turkey sees the Kurdish forces located in northern Syria as linked to this militant group. Thus, Turkey argues that it wants to create a “safe zone” between the Turkey-Syrian border. It also argues that it wants to resettle at least a million refugees living in Turkey who were displaced by the Syrian war into this zone.

Previously, the U.S. has backed the Kurds in their defense against Turkey. However, recently, President Donald Trump signed an executive order withdrawing U.S. troops from northern Syria. The Kurds have now had to turn to Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s leader, and Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President, for help in this conflict.

Since President Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria, over 200,000 people have been displaced. Many of these people blame President Trump for this displacement. One 70-year-old Kurdish man, forced to flee from his home in Ras al-Ayn, stated, “This was a clear betrayal by the Americans. The Turks never would have done what they did had the Americans stayed.”

This criticism is what led the U.S. to negotiate this cease-fire. However, despite the Kurds’ current withdrawal, both sides claim that the other side still repeatedly violates the cease-fire. For example, Turkey’s Defense Ministry stated that the Kurds killed one of its soldiers today during an attack.

It is hard to believe that this cease-fire will make any real difference in this conflict. Rather, the world is awaiting to see what happens at the Turkey-Syrian border Tuesday evening once the cease-fire ends.

For further information, please see: 

Time – Kurds Begin to Evacuate Besieged Syrian Border Town – 20 Oct. 2019

Washington Post – The Latest: Kurdish Fighters Pull Out of Syrian Border Town – 20 Oct. 2019

Bloomberg – Syrian and Kurdi News: Trump Approach to Turkey Syria Incursion – 20 Oct. 2019

Los Angeles Times – ‘How Long Can We Live Like This?’: Kurds in Growing Refugee Camp Plead for Help, End to Losses, Suffering – 20 Oct. 2019

CBS News – Turkey’s Involvement in Syria’s Civil War: The Complicated History of How We Got Here – 15 Oct. 2019

Akdağ v. Turkey: Right to a Lawyer While in Police Custody

By: Mujtaba Ali Tirmizey

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

ANKARA, Turkey — On September 17, 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (“ECHR”) held that the Turkish government unfairly restricted a citizen from gaining access to a lawyer, thus violating Article 6 §1 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Hamdiye Akdağ was arrested in November 2003 and while in police custody, she confessed to being a member of the PKK/KADEK (the Workers’ Party of Kurdistan), an illegal organization. On her statement form, in the “no lawyer sought” section, she printed an “X” next to it, and was not provided a lawyer subsequently. However, once she was brought before the public prosecutor and the investigating judge, she instantly retracted her statement.

Before the trial court, Akdağ maintained her position, claiming that she was forced into signing her statement. She also noted that she was illiterate. Ultimately in 2009, Akdağ was found guilty of membership in a terrorist organization and sentenced to over six years in prison. In 2010, the Court of Cassation upheld the conviction.

Here, the Government argued that Akdağ had specified on her statement form that she did not require legal assistance. Therefore, the Government noted that she justifiably waived her right to a lawyer. However, the Court held that Akdağ did not waive her right to a lawyer because she immediately withdrew her statement before the public prosecutor and the investigating judge, and also asserted that position before the trial court. In addition, her statement form just had a printed “X” next to the type-written “no lawyer sought.” With regards to her contention that she was illiterate, the trial court did not perform a proper assessment. Lastly, the Government failed to show that Akdağ had explicitly been advised about the consequences of not requesting the assistance of a lawyer.

The Court stated that while Akdağ had been allowed legal representation during the trial, the national courts had failed to examine the validity of the waiver or of the statements she had made to the police in the absence of a lawyer. As a result, the Court found the Government violated Article 6 §1 of the ECHR and the trial was unjust because the insufficiency of close scrutiny had not been resolved by any other procedural measures.

The ECHR dedicates an entire section of the Convention to rights to access court, the right to a fair trial, and the right to access a lawyer. In this decision, the ECHR ensured that Akdağ was not deprived of this fundamental right after the lower courts failed her. This decision will help set the precedent for citizens from member states who find themselves in a similar situation.

For further information, please see:

European Court of Human Rights – Case of Akdag v. Turkey – 17 Sept. 2019

ECHR Case Law – Invalid Resignation of an Illiterate Accused of the Right to a Lawyer, Infringement of Fair Trial – 17 Sept. 2019

European Court of Human Rights – Guide on Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights – 30 Apr. 2019

The ICC Prosecutor’s Road to Justice for Afghanistan

By: Madison Kenyon 

Impunity Watch Staff Writer 

KABUL, Afghanistan — On September 17, 2019, the Pre-Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court (ICC) granted in part the request of the prosecutor for Leave to Appeal the Chamber’s earlier decision, which rejected the prosecutor’s request for authorization to investigate into the situation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The Pre-Trial Chamber originally rejected this authorization because it believed that an investigation at the current stage of the situation would not serve the interests of justice. Thus, on June 7, 2019, the prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, filed for leave to appeal this decision.

International Criminal Court’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda. Photo courtesy of the ICC.

This procedural history stems from the preliminary examination, which began in 2006, by the Office of the Prosecutor of the situation in Afghanistan. Specifically, the prosecutor examined alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes that have occurred in Afghanistan since July 1, 2002, with particular focus on alleged crimes that occurred on May 1, 2003. The prosecutor asserts that the results of this examination prove the following: (1) crimes against humanity and war crimes by the Taliban and their affiliated network; (2) war crimes by the Afghan National Security Forces, and in particular, members of the National Directorate for Security and the Afghan National Police; (3) and war crimes by members of the United States’ armed forces and the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Overall, through this examination, the prosecutor determined that there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into this situation and thus made the request for authorization to investigate on November 20, 2017.

The prosecutor asserts that, at a minimum, the crimes against humanity that have been committed include: murder; imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty; and persecution against an identifiable group or collectivity on political and gender grounds. Along with this, the prosecutor states that the war crimes that have been committed include: murder; cruel treatment and torture; outrages upon personal dignity; intentionally directing attacks against civilians; intentionally directing attacks against personnel or objects involved in a humanitarian assistance or peacekeeping mission; internationally directing attacks against protected objects; rape and other forms of sexual violence; using, conscripting or enlisting children under the age of fifteen; and killing or wounding treacherously a combatant adversary. Further, regarding the United States’ involvement in the situation in Afghanistan, the prosecutor states that there is a reasonable basis to believe that members of the U.S. armed forces and members of the CIA committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and rape and sexual violence against conflict-related detainees in Afghanistan and other locations.

Although the Pre-Trial Chamber granted the prosecutor leave to appeal its earlier decision, this does not mean that it will also grant the prosecutor authorization to investigate further into the situation in Afghanistan. Due to the evidence produced by the prosecutor from her preliminary examination, if the Chamber again refuses to grant authorization to investigate further, it may leave many to wonder if the court is actually concerned about the “interests of justice” or if it is actually trying to avoid upsetting an international powerhouse like the United States.

For further information, please see: 

International Criminal Court – Afghanistan: ICC Pre-Trial Chamber II Authorises Prosecutor to Appeal Decision Refusing Investigation – 17 Sept. 2019

International Criminal Court – Situation in Afghanistan: Summary of the Prosecutor’s Request for Authorisation of an Investigation Pursuant to Article 15 – 20 Nov. 2017

International Criminal Court – The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, Requests Judicial Authorisation to Commence an Investigation into the Situation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – 20 Nov. 2017

African Court Orders Return of Mau Forest Land to Ogiek People

By: Jordan Broadbent

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

NAIROBI, Kenya — On July 4, 2019, the Kenyan government and the Ogiek people submitted arguments to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights for the compensation paid to the Ogiek people for violations of their rights and interference with their land.

Ogiek women in Kenya. Photo Courtesy of Minority Rights Group International.

On May 26, 2017, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights ordered the Kenyan Government to return ownership of the Mau Forest lands back to the Ogiek people. The Ogiek are an indigenous tribe that have inhabited roughly 500 square miles of the Mau Forest in Kenya for centuries. The Ogiek people consider the land their ancestral ground, and have battled for centuries with colonizers, and now the Kenyan government, to maintain control of their homeland.

In recent years, the Kenyan government has attempted to evict the Ogiek people and remove them from their land. Under the guise of environmental protection, the Forest Act brought the control, use, and regulation of forest and forest areas under the control of the central government. The Kenyan government has used a two-pronged approach in order to remove the Ogiek people from this land. Using the Forest Act as support, the government first claimed that the Ogiek actually moved from the land, constituting a forfeiture of their land, ancestral or not. The second argument laid in an environmental issue, that the area is a water catchment zone and the Act gives the government power to take control of the land to protect the water catchments. The Kenyan government issued a 30-day eviction notice and allowed logging companies into the Mau Forest.

The Ogiek people brought the Kenyan government before the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights after a 15-year fight through the Kenyan Courts with the concern that the government’s actions endangered their community and culture. The Ogiek advocated for the Court to halt the eviction, recognize their legal rights to the land, and order the government to compensate the Ogiek people. The Provisional order declared the Kenyan Government to immediately reinstate all land transaction restrictions in the Mau Forest and report back to the Court in 15 days. On May 26, 2017 the Court ruled that the Kenyan government violated 7 sections of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Right and that the land was ancestral and belonged to the Ogiek, giving the indigenous people a historic win.

The victory signifies an important case for indigenous people in Africa. The Court overturned a government’s actions and ordered compensation to be paid to a group of the 20,000 individuals that make up the Ogiek. Ogiek were at risk of becoming “conservation refugees,” a term used for indigenous people who are forced off their land via conservation methods. This case marks a turning point to fight for the rights of indigenous groups to remain on their land.

In Kenya, the wait remains for the government to take tangible steps in restoring the Ogiek to their land.

For further information, please see:

African Court – African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights Order 006/2012 – 4 July 2019

Minority Rights Group International – Two Years on, Kenya has yet to implement judgement in Ogiek case – 5 June 2019 – Ogiek People – 2004






Velásquez Paiz et al v. Guatemala: Gender Stereotypes in Guatemala

By: Justin Furry

Special Feature Reporter

Gender stereotypes and discrimination is an issue that has been in societies across the world. Recently, gender discrimination has been a big problem in Guatemala. Guatemala has one of the highest rates of femicide, or gender motivated killings of women, in the world. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights was able to explore the relationship between this discrimination and violence towards women in Guatemala in the 2015 case Velásquez Paiz et al. v. Guatemala.

On August 12, 2005, Claudina Isabel Velásquez Paiz, a 19-year-old student, went to a party. Throughout the evening, Claudina was regularly in contact with her parents. At around 11:45 pm, Claudina contacted her parents for the last time. Two hours later, Claudina’s parents were informed that their daughter may be in danger. They called the police, who told them that they would have to wait at least 24 hours to report Claudina’s disappearance. Claudina’s parents and friends searched for her throughout the night. The police did not formally take notice of Claudina’s disappearance until 8:30 am the next morning.

Shortly after, an anonymous tip provided information that helped police and firemen find a woman’s body. The body was later identified as Claudina by her parents. Claudina was found with a bullet wound on her forehead, as well as signs of sexual violence. There is no evidence that the Public Ministry of Guatemala or the police had undertaken any action following information of Claudina’s disappearance, except for the report made at 8:30 am on August 13, 2005. No criminal investigation was initiated until after Claudina’s body was found.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights found that Guatemala was responsible for violating Claudina and her family’s human rights. The judgment is important because it casts further light on what specific steps are necessary for a state to satisfy its due diligence obligations within the particular context of violence against women. The Court acknowledged that Guatemala had taken some measures to prevent the generalized violence of woman in society, but the measures were far from sufficient. The Court said that whenever a report is made to the police about a missing woman, a duty of strict due diligence arises from the very first hours of the disappearance. Thus, the Court ruled that Guatemala had violated Articles 4.1, 5.1, 1.1 of the American Convention on Human Rights (“ACHR”) and Articles 1.1 and 7 of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (“IACVAW”).

The Court also found that the lack of a fundamental due diligence on the part of Guatemalan officials throughout the investigation process had deprived Claudina’s family access to justice in violation of Articles 8.1 and 25 of the ACHR. The Court criticized the investigation and thought the process was directed at the culture of gender bias and discrimination prevalent within both the police and prosecuting authorities. One discriminatory practice the Court considered was a report filed by the prosecutor in which the motive of the murder was described as “passionate possibly under the influence of alcohol”. The Court relied on the statements of Professor Christine Chinkin, Director of the Centre for Women, Peace and Security, at the LSE. Professor Chinkin cautioned against the concept of a “crime of passion” which is founded on gender stereotyping that justifies violence against women. To describe the murderer as “passionate” justifies the violent act and at the same time blame the victim. The Court noted that the prosecutor’s attitude was not exclusive to the authorities leading the investigation but, rather, reflected a general tendency among officials to victim blame by pointing out factors such as the victim’s lifestyle or clothing.

The judgment represents one example of the way in which the due diligence standard has the potential to address the causes of gender discrimination and violence against women.

For further information please see:

IACHR Project – Velásquez Paiz et al. v. Guatemala, Case Summary – 2015

Oxford Human Rights Hub – Velásquez Paiz et al v Guatemala: Gender Stereotypes and Lack of Justice – Part I – 9 August 2016

Centre For Women, Peace & Security – Velásquez Paiz et al v. Guatemala