Peace Agreement Signed in South Sudan

By Skylar Salim 
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

JUBA, South Sudan — On September 12, 2018, South Sudan’s President Slava Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar signed a peace agreement. The agreement ends the five-year civil war and reinstates Machar as Vice President.

President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar at the signing. Photo Courtesy of Michael Twelde.

In 2011, South Sudan gained independence from Sudan with Slava Kiir as President and Riek Machar as his Vice President. In 2013, tensions that had built up between the two turned into an armed conflict when Kiir accused Machar of planning a coup against him. According to the United Nations, five years of conflict with rebel factions ensued that led to at least 50,000 deaths. Many of those who died were civilians. It has also been estimated that at least 4 million South Sudanese, a quarter of the population, were displaced by the fighting. The civil war has substantially hurt the country’s economy and agricultural sector.

The deal, signed in Ethiopia and mediated by Sudan, calls for a cease-fire and allows Machar to return as Vice President. As Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed noted before the signing, “the eyes of the world are upon us as the South Sudan leaders commit today to press for reconciliation and lasting peace in their country.” Many countries in the region have an interest in ending the conflict between the government and rebel factions. The civil war threatens the stability of the region. This stability would worsen with the outpouring of refugees from South Sudan.

This is not the first peace agreement between the government and rebel factions. Previous peace deals lasted only months before fighting resumed. With these previous failures in mind, some are skeptical as to whether this deal will last. In light of such skepticism, Ateny Wek Ateny, a government spokesman, told The Associated Press that this was the “final final” deal and that both Kiir and Machar found it to be an acceptable agreement. In response to the question of whether peace would be permanent, Taban Deng, South Sudan’s current Vice President, referred to an African proverb. Addressing the UN, Deng said that this agreement was different because leaders look “where you have slipped, because it is there you will find what made you fall.”

Despite the peace deal and the assurances made by those who have signed it, there have been reports to the UN Security Council that some fighting continued in Central Equatoria and Unity.

For further information, please see:

Africa News — South Sudan Peace Deal is Permanent: VP Deng Tells UN — 29 September 2018

Al-Jazeera — South Sudan President Signs Peace Deal With Rebel Leader — 12 September 2018

Reuters — South Sudan’s President, Rebel Leader Sign Peace Deal — 12 September 2018

International Criminal Court Confirms Probe on Myanmar for Crimes Against the Rohingya.

By: Ethan Song
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar- The International Criminal Court has a confirmed the preliminary probe on Myanmar for crimes against Rohingya Muslims.

ICC opens probe into crimes against Rohingya

Several thousands of Rohingya Muslim has fled from Myanmar in fear of Muslim crackdown. Photo Courtesy of (Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters)

Since last year, more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslim has fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh following a brutal muslim crackdown from the governing body. This crackdown has been a retaliatory action following the Rohingya militant’s attacks against security post in Myanmar.  The alleged actions by the Myanmar government include murder, sexual violence and arson against the Rohingya Muslim.

The initial probe will open up possibility for a full investigation by the International Criminal Court. The probe will focus on the different acts committed by the Myanmar government that led to the fleeing of Rohingya Muslim. Once it is deemed plausible, the court will continue investigating possible genocide claims against Myanmar.

The initial probe by the ICC comes days after the U.N. report demanding Myanmar be investigated for genocide charges. The 444 page report by the UN reports detailed allegations committed by the military in relation to the Rohingya people.

Myanmar has denied all allegation on this matter. This is not the first denial by the Myanmar government of its actions against the Rohingya Muslim. Myanmar continues to discredit the U.N. report by stating that it is misleading and a one-sided report of the incidents.

Despite Myanmar not being part of the ICC, the court will still continue to establish jurisdiction due to Bangladesh’s membership in the ICC. The court hopes that the probe will lead to different investigations on the alleged matter by Myanmar.

For more information, please visit: 

BBC – ICC opens Myanmar Rohingya crimes probe – 19 September 2018

Times – The ICC Has Launched a Preliminary Examination Into Myanmar’s Expulsion of Rohingya Muslims – 19 September 2018

Al Jazeera – ICC opens probe into crimes against Rohingya – 19 September 2018

African Court Rules on Tanzanian Rights Violations

By: Hannah Gabbard
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

DODOMA, Tanzania – On Friday, September 18th the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights (AfCHPR) issued decisions of their 50th Ordinary Session. All applications were filed against the Attorney General of the United Republic of Tanzania.

African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights. Photo Courtesy of AfCHPR.

It was originally reported that judgements would be issued on three pending cases, however only two decisions were finalized and published by the court. The court published judgements on the matters of Anaclet Paulo and Diocles William.

Anaclet Paulo filed an application to AfCHPR alleging that the United Republic of Tanzania had violated the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights by denying his right to be heard, right to legal aid, and right to bail. Paulo was originally sentenced to 30 years in prison for armed robbery and violence in 1997.

AfCHPR unanimously held that the United Republic of Tanzania did not violate Paulo’s rights to freedom, right to be heard, and the Charter was not violated by the original conviction. The court ruled that Paulo’s right to defense was violated and ordered the Tanzania to pay Paulo 300,000 Tanzanian shillings (approximately $130 USD) as fair compensation for unfair access to legal representation.

In the second judgement, the court ruled on the matter of Diocles William. William was convicted in 2010 to 30 years in prison and 12 strokes of the cane for raping a minor. William alleged that the United Republic of Tanzania violated his right to be heard, right to legal aid, and right to equal representation.

AfCHPR ruled unanimously that the violation of equal rights wasn’t established by the William but Tanzania did violate the Charter by not providing legal aid, failing to hear defense witnesses, and convicting William with both insufficient evidence and contradicting witness statements. The court ordered the United Republic of Tanzania to reopen the case and guarantee a fair trial.

For further information, please see:

Habarileo – African Court to Adjudicate on Cases Against Republic – 20 September 2018

African Union – The Matter of Anaclet Paulo v. United Republic of Tanzania – 21 September 2018African

Union – The Matter of Diocles William v. United Republic of Tanzania – 21 September 2018

Concerns of Injustice in Boko Haram Trials

By: Hannah Gabbard
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

ABUJA, Nigeria – In a statement published by Human Rights Watch on September 17, 2018 the Nigerian government was called upon to prosecute Boko Haram suspects by standards of international law and to prioritize the prosecution of those responsible for the organization’s atrocities.

Handcuffed Boko Haram suspects. Photo Courtesy of Getty Images.

In October 2017, Nigerian authorities began conducting mass trials for suspects of Boko Haram, the terrorist organization responsible for over 27,000 deaths in northeastern Nigeria since 2009. There have been reports that these trials have focused on prosecuting suspects who provided support to Boko Haram and have denied suspects a fair trial and due process. Additionally, many of those tried have been detained since the Boko Haram insurgency began in 2009.

Concerns of fair trial and due process stem from the short length of the proceedings, ambiguous charges, and lack of official translators and appropriate legal defense. Since October 2017, nearly 1,700 suspects have been prosecuted in makeshift courts outside of Abuja where the detention centers were located.

The Human Rights Watch report highlights the importance of prosecuting Boko Haram suspects under international law standards and particularly cites the risk of increasing recruitment by the terrorist organization if due process procedures are not followed. Other groups monitoring the trials, including the National Human Rights Commission, share similar concerns to Human Rights Watch in the errors in trial procedure and treatment of Boko Haram suspects.

Human Rights Watch draws attention to lack of implementation of the recent policy adopted by the Nigerian government in 2017 which aims to prevent and counter Boko Haram extremism. Though this report notes that there is increased international support for Nigeria’s counterterrorism policies, they emphasize the importance of conducting these trials in a manner that limits extremism and prioritizes correct trial procedure and due process.  

For further information, please see:

Times Live – Due process concerns over Boko Haram trials in Nigeria – 17 September 2018
Financial Express – Due process concerns over Boko Haram trials, says rights group – 17 September 2018
Human Rights Watch – Nigeria: Flawed Trials of Boko Haram Suspects – 17 September 2018

Trial Delayed for Murder of Honduran Activist, Berta Cáceres

By: Zoe Whitehouse
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – The Honduran Supreme Court has delayed the criminal trial regarding the murder of Berta Cáceres. Cáceres, an internationally known environmental and indigenous activist, was shot to death inside her home in La Esperanza in Western Honduras on March 2, 2016.

Amid claims of impartiality, international lawyers representing the family of Berta Cáceres have filed to suspend the trial. Attorneys allege the presiding judges have abused their authority. During pre-trial, judicial decisions and omissions had violated the due process rights of the victim’s family. In one instance, the Court had failed to sanction the public prosecutor for ignoring a court order to provide evidence to the family’s legal team. The attorneys have argued this demonstrated a “disregard for the rule of law,” and have requested the recusal and replacement of three presiding judges.

Lawyers for the Cáceres family have also filed five injunctions with the appellate court. One injunction challenges the court’s decision to reject witnesses, experts, and documentary evidence. The legal team believes this evidence would demonstrate a greater criminal conspiracy.

Cáceres was a vocal critic regarding hydroelectric-dam construction in Western Honduras. In 2015, a year before her death, she was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for her efforts to stop the Agua Zarca project along the Gualcarque River. Cáceres had filed complaints, organized local assemblies, and led protests regarding the negative impact of the proposed dam for indigenous communities. Her campaign reached greater international recognition when she brought the case to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.

Farmers carry photo of Cáceres. Image courtesy of Jorge Cabrera. 

While Cáceres garnered international acclaim for her efforts, military officials and high-profile business associates continued to issue death threats against her. Cáceres had reported receiving 33 death threats for her campaign against the Agua Zarca dam. In early 2017, Roberto David Castillo Mejia, the former CEO of Desarrollos Energéticos S.A., the Honduran company responsible for the Agua Zarca dam project, was arrested and charged. Prosecutors alleged Castillo Mejia acted as the “intellectual author” of Cáceres’s murder. He is not currently part of the suspended trial.

For further information, please see: 

Al Jazeera – Trial for murder of Honduran activist Berta Caceres delayed – 17 September 2018

The Guardian – Berta Cáceres murder trial delayed after judges accused of abusing authority – 17 September 2018

The New York Times – Trial for Murder of Honduran Environmental Activist Delayed – 17 September 2018