By: Brianna Ferrante
Impunity Watch Reporter, North American Desk
The State department has ceased communications on all new and outstanding inquiries from special rapporteurs at the United Nations’ Human Rights Council.
Special rapporteurs are a network of independent experts appointed by the Human Rights Council of the United Nations. The specialized division is tasked with acting as global monitors of human rights and war crimes around the world.
The most pertinent challenge facing the group is non-compliance with its investigatory processes by governments. In addition, persistent lack of resources coupled with weak measures that have little to no viable implementation methods further frustrate the the group’s objective. With a multitude of variables beyond its control, the special rapporteurs operation in this capacity is highly dependent on the influence of nations that demonstrate cooperation.
The United States has not responded to any UN requests for compliance on investigations into potential human rights abuses since May 7, 2018. There are currently 13 outstanding, unanswered investigation requests. The majority of these investigations are in relation to migrants at southern border.
The final May 7th correspondence occurred about a month and a half before Trump Administration formally announced it had withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council.
A January 14th report from the Human Rights Watch as part of its annual review contained its most recent “List of Issues” regarding the United States. The report was primarily focused on the country’s mass incarceration and disproportionate sentencing, along with proposed recommendations and additional past recommendations that had been on the same issue.
The continual denial of cooperation places the US among the likes of nations such as North Korea, who has traditionally denied any cooperation with UN investigations into its conduct.
According to a 2010 study by the Brookings Institute, America’s place in the global system yields immense influence over other nations, which makes its public non-compliance with the UN’s human rights efforts particularly problematic. While the nation serves as a catalyst for advancing human rights when its administration is readily and willing to comply with the council’s inquiries, continual refusal to do say establishes a precedent that could result in other nation’s following suit.
By: Zoe Whitehouse Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
CARACAS, Venezuela — In a televised address this past Friday, Venezuela announced plans to implement a police force to strengthen its border security. According to Vice President Delcy Rodriguez, this Migration Force will help monitor and control the thousands of citizens fleeing Venezuela.
Since 2015, millions of Venezuelans have left amid economic turmoil and political instability. Shortages of consumer goods, increasing inflation, and a drastic drop in international oil prices has generated economic insecurity for a once prosperous nation.
In early 2014, protestors lead anti-government demonstrations to combat the economic crisis, which lead to repressive tactics by the government of President Nicolás Maduro. Venezuela’s draconian response has garnered international attention by organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
On September 26, 2018, six countries, including neighboring Colombia, filed a petition with the International Criminal Court (ICC) for human rights violations in Venezuela. Days later, France joined the petition. The ICC petition alleges President Maduro’s government committed generalized and systematic attacks, known as the Zamora Plan, against civilians from 2014 to 2015 for subversive activity.
Generalized attacks included arbitrary detentions, murders, extrajudicial executions, torture, sexual abuse and rape. Reports indicate the government’s systematic attacks comprised of arresting young men between the ages of fifteen and thirty without due process protection. Anyone who resisted arrest faced automatic execution by the government. In the petition, a UN panel of experts have verified that Venezuela’s repressive tactics constituted crimes against humanity.
Many have equivocated the mass exodus of Venezuelans to neighboring countries such as Brazil, Columbia, and Peru, with the Mediterranean refugee crisis. In the past fifteen months alone, over one million Venezuelans have relocated to Colombia. To assist with the Venezuelan refugee crisis, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has partnered with agencies and government institutions in Bogota to provide food kitchens, temporary shelters, and medical care.
In light of the growing humanitarian crisis, the Venezuelan government believes its new Migration Force will help determine that the “truth will come out and not the imperial lies that Washington wants to be sold to the world.” By monitoring the 72 official entry and exit points, as well as strengthening border control at ports, airports, and border crossings, this Migration Force will deter illegal crossings with neighboring Colombia.
Since the televised announcement this past Friday, Vice President Delcy Rodriguez has not provided any further details regarding the new border security force.
THE HAUGE, Netherlands – The International Criminal Court stated that they will begin a preliminary investigation on the forced displacement of more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar to Bangladesh. Led by ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, the preliminary inquiry will examine evidence of the atrocities that the Myanmar military has committed against Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine state of Myanmar since 2017. The military’s alleged atrocities include mass rape, murder, destruction of Rohingya villages, and deportation. These crimes have gone unacknowledged and unpunished by Myanmar’s national government.
Though Myanmar is not a member state of the ICC, Bensouda argues that the Court holds jurisdiction over the conflict because the Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh, which is a member of the Court. Thus, the crime of forced displacement has continued into Bangladesh, providing a means for the ICC to exert its authority over this aspect of the conflict in a member state. This move is an attempt to insert international oversight over a genocide that has been occurring with impunity in Myanmar. The international community continues to have limited ability to investigate Myanmar army’s crimes against the Rohingya in Rakhine because Myanmar has refused international humanitarian organizations entry to that particular region.
A preliminary investigation is not a formal investigation, however. It is the ICC’s means to determine whether there is sufficient reason implicating an aggressor party for crimes against humanity, thus validating a full investigation to proceed. If the Court finds enough evidence demonstrating the Myanmar military’s violation of human rights against the Rohingya, it can launch a full-fledged investigation. However, to do so it will require that the UN Security Council refer the case in Myanmar to the ICC’s jurisdiction. The divisive nature of the Council, as well as Russia and China’s economic and geopolitical interests in Myanmar, make a Security Council referral an unlikely feat.
Nonetheless, the ICC’s preliminary investigation is a first step towards circumventing Myanmar’s refusal to hold their own army accountable for ethnic genocide. This preliminary examination has the potential to demonstrate that the international community will exert the authority it can in seeking justice for the atrocities experienced by the Rohingya, the “world’s most persecuted minority.” The extent to which the ICC can exact justice, however, is yet to be determined.
KIEV, Ukraine – A well-known human rights lawyer and activist was murdered just days after helping to block an influential Ukrainian judge’s nephew from being released from jail.
Iryna Nozdrovska’s body was discovered in a river by a passerby in Ukraine’s capital city of Kiev on January 1st. She had been stabbed multiple times.
Nozdrovska rose to fame in Ukraine for her role in preventing the release of the driver who ran down her sister while under the influence of drugs and alcohol in 2015.
Dmytro Rossoshansky was sentenced to seven years in jail this past May for the death of Svitlana Sapatanyska, Nozdrovska’s sister. Rossoshansky ran down Svitlana while she walked to work. He was found to be under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
Rossoshansky had served just eight months of his sentence before applying for amnesty. Nozdrovska spearheaded a public campaign to bring awareness to the case and help prevent Rossoshansky from being released. His application was denied in December.
Nozdroska received several death threats before and after the original trial as well as during the hearing on appeal this past December. Rossoshansky’s father told Nozdrovska at the appeal “this will end badly for you.” Nozdrovska was steadfast in her efforts despite these threats, and said of the case, “I will win…if it costs me my life.”
A rally outside the police headquarters drew hundreds of supporters on January 2 in Kiev in response to Nozdrovska’s murder. The protesters called for an investigation into her death.
Nozdrovska’s murder comes at a time when calls for reform in the criminal system have risen. A staggeringly low 0.5 percent of Ukrainians said that they trusted Ukrainian judges in a survey conducted in 2016.
Mykhailo Zhernakov, a former judge and the current director of a judicial reform group, Dejure, said, “It’s almost a cliché case, where a relative of a judge avoids punishment and the person who tries to fight this injustice is herself punished in the most horrible way.”
Corruption is deeply rooted in Ukraine’s court-system. Nozdrovska’s struggle for justice and ultimate victory for her sister became a symbol in Ukraine for the fight against corruption.
The governments’ response to the murder is “a test of our society’s ability to protect female activists and to ensure justice as a whole,” the Ukrainian foreign minister, Pavlo Klimkin said.
Despite her mother’s murder, her daughter, Anastasia Nozdrovska, is studying law at university in Kiev. “She always fought injustice in this country. She wanted me to be a fighter, too,” Nozdrovksa said.
Syrians cast their vote in a controversial presidential election in 2014. Although the government claimed voter turnout was at 73%, many observers criticized the process and said the results were illegitimate. | Photo from Wikimedia
Race to the Ballot Box: UN Must Learn from Past Mistakes, Avoid Pre-Mature Elections in Syria
Last week, the eighth round of UN-sponsored peace negotiations between the Syrian government and the opposition began in Geneva. Leading the talks, Syria Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura prioritized discussion of elections. In March 2016, de Mistura had proposed an 18-month timeline for the election date, and the issue has continued to be on the top of his agenda. His emphasis on elections is likely a strategic one. Elections would symbolize a turning point in the conflict and signal that recovery is on the horizon. It would also lessen an overwhelming obstacle in the negotiations – who will lead in post-conflict Syria – by leaving the decision to the Syrian public. Despite these benefits, the Special Envoy should bear in mind lessons-learned from past transitional elections and avoid prioritizing a short-term win over adherence to best practices.
Some scholars argue the promise of early elections is vital to peace and democracy in post-conflict settings because they facilitate peace settlements, encourage international actors to contribute peacekeeping forces, and expedite democratization processes. But elections also carry a number of risks, particularly in unstable post-conflict contexts:
Renewed violence: In transitional elections, security issues are a primary concern. Early elections in the absence of demobilization or disarmament efforts increases the likelihood that one side to the conflict will reject the results and return to armed conflict. This is especially true when there is no means of power-sharing and government institutions have not been rebuilt. In 2010, a presidential election in Côte d’Ivoire descended the nation into a renewed civil conflict after losing candidate Laurent Gbagbo refused to cede power and forces loyal to each candidate took up arms.
Inaccessible ballot locations: Insecurity and violence will also prevent voters from going to the polls. Moreover, some 11 million Syrians have fled their homes since the war began. Ensuring that displaced peoples have a safe, confidential, and practical means of voting will require resources, infrastructure, and coordination with states that are hosting refugees. Without security at ballot boxes or an opportunity for the displaced to vote, the results of any election will be skewed and seen as illegitimate.
The Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC) is a Syrian-led and multilaterally supported nonprofit that envisions a Syria where people live in a state defined by justice, respect for human rights, and rule of law. SJAC collects, analyzes, and preserves human rights law violations by all parties in the conflict — creating a central repository to strengthen accountability and support transitional justice and peace-building efforts. SJAC also conducts research to better understand Syrian opinions and perspectives, provides expertise and resources, conducts awareness-raising activities, and contributes to the development of locally appropriate transitional justice and accountability mechanisms. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.