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Venezuela Announces Migration Force to Stem Border Crossings

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.

Colombian aid agency assisting migrant children. Photo Courtesy of Luisa Gonzalez.

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.

Venezuelan refugees in Northern Colombia. Photo Courtesy of Greg Kahn of National Geographic.

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.

For further information, please see:

Al Jazeera — Venezuela forms Migration Force as thousands continue fleeing — 6 Oct. 2018

Americas Society/Council of the Americas — Explainer: The Case against Venezuela in the ICC — 4 Oct. 2018

International Criminal Court — International Petition — 26 Sept. 2018

Reuters — Venezuela creates migration police, new passport payment system — 5 Oct. 2018

ICC Launches Preliminary Investigation on Deportation of Rohingya from Myanmar to Bangladesh

By: Charlotte Volpe
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

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.

Rohingya refugees in borderland between Myanmar and Bangladesh. Photo courtesy of Adam Dean.

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.

For further information, please see: 

The Straits Times – International Criminal Court opens preliminary probe into Myanmar crimes against Rohingya – 19 September 2018

International Criminal Court – Statement of ICC Prosecutor, Mrs Fatou Bensouda, on opening a Preliminary Examination concerning the alleged deportation of the Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh – 18 September 2018

DW – Rohingya genocide: Will Myanmar generals face ICC justice? – 11 September 2018

The New York Times – International Criminal Court Opens Door to a Rohingya Inquiry – 6 September 2018

Murder of Human Rights Lawyer Sparks Protests in Kiev

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

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.

A Photo of Iryna Nozdrovska Adorns her Coffin. Photo Courtesy of Efrem Lukatsky.

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.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Ukraine Murder Probe Over Lawyer Nozrovska’s Death – 2 January 2018

The Guardian – Killing of Lawyer Sparks Protests Against ‘Criminal System’ – 4 January 2018

The New York Times – In Ukraine, a Successful Fight for Justice, Then a Murder – 9 January 2018

NY Daily News – Funeral Held for Lawyer Found Stabbed in River – 9 January 2018

Irish Times – Ukraine Claims it has Caught Killer of Campaigning Lawyer – 9 January 2018

Syria Justice and Accountability Centre: Race to the Ballot Box – UN Must Learn from Past Mistakes, Avoid Pre-Mature Elections in Syria

SJAC Update | December 12, 2017
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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
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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 info@syriaaccountability.org.

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China Banned Travel to North Korea Ahead of Trump Visit

Brian Kim
Impunity Watch 
Reporter, Asia 

BEIJING, China – On Tuesday, November 7th, the Chinese government banned tourism to the North Korean capital Pyongyang. This order was issued right before President Donald Trump’s first official visit to China.

The statues of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il in Pyongyang. Photo courtesy of AFP/Getty Images.

Based on numerous sources, Chinese tour groups based out of the border city of Dandong have been ordered to stop all trips to Pyongyang. The companies were also ordered to run only one-day trips to the North Korean city opposite of Dandong called Sinuiju. Previously, the Chinese tour companies were allowed to run three-day or longer trips to North Korea.

The government did not provide a reason for this recent ban. Although some believe that it is because there aren’t many people traveling to Pyongyang, many believe that it is connected to increasing sanctions against North Korea.

With 80 percent of all foreign visitors to North Korea coming from China, the experts believe that it will have an impact with the North Korean economy. Currently, tourism is one of few ways North Korea is able to earn hard currency. Moreover, a think-tank in South Korea has reported that tourism generates around $44 million in annual revenue for the North. In 2012, around 237,000 Chinese visited North Korea.

During his two-day trip to China, President Trump discussed with Xi Jinping on a number of issues. Most importantly, the two leaders discussed North Korea’s nuclear missile tests.

Earlier this year, the United States banned all travel to North Korea after the death of a 22 year-old student, Otto Warmbier. The University of Virginia student was held in North Korea for more than a year and died soon after arriving back to the United States.

For more information please see:

Reuters – Exclusive: China curbs tourism to North Korea ahead of Trump visit – 7 November, 2017

Independent – China ‘bans tourism to North Korea’ day before Trump visit – 7 November, 2017

Newsweek – CHINA BANS NORTH KOREA TOURISM ONE DAY BEFORE TRUMP ARRIVES – 7 November, 2017