ICC Closes Preliminary Examination into War Crimes Committed by British Troops in Iraq

By: Rebecca Buchanan

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – On December 9, 2020, the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC) closed the preliminary examination into alleged war crimes committed by British troops in Iraq from 2003 to 2008. The Prosecutor’s decision to close this examination marks an end to a long and tumultuous push for justice by Iraqi civilians and international human rights organizations.

British Troops in Iraq during Operation Telic. Photo Courtesy of Anadolu Agency.

The preliminary examination into the situation in Iraq was filed in 2004 but was closed by the ICC on February 9, 2006, when it failed to unearth a sufficient number of claims to meet the gravity threshold of the Rome Statute. The requirements of the gravity threshold established in Article 17(1)(d) of the Rome Statute are indistinct. Historically, the Court has considered whether the alleged conduct is systematic or large scale, the number and severity of the complaints, and the position of the persons or institutions responsible for the harm.

On May 13, 2014, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced the re-opening of the Iraq/United Kingdom examination after reports from the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and the Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) alleged that the detainee abuse, rape, and torture by British troops in Iraq was widespread and systematic. In its 2017 Report on Preliminary Examination Activities, the ICC Office of the Prosecutor announced that the examination had yielded enough evidence to believe that members of the British armed forces had committed war crimes within the Court’s jurisdiction against Iraqi civilians in their custody.

The Final Report on the Situation in Iraq/UK issued by the Office of the Prosecutor on December 9, 2020 affirmed the findings of the 2017 report. The Prosecutor underscored the believability of the allegations of willful killing, murder, torture, cruel and inhumane treatment, and rape and sexual violence by British forces against Iraqi detainees. The Final Report highlighted the failure of the British Government to effectively address these reports at the time of the alleged offenses and noted the Army’s “lack of genuine effort” to carry out active investigations during the conflict. The report stated that ongoing national efforts to investigate and prosecute these crimes were largely insufficient.

According to the Prosecutor, the decision to close the preliminary examination was an issue of the charter, not of the sufficiency of evidence. The Rome Statute allows the ICC to pursue an investigation only if evidence shows that no relevant proceedings have been undertaken by the responsible nation, or that proceedings have been disingenuous as a result of the Nation’s unwillingness to prosecute or its desire to protect perpetrators from justice. Although the nature, severity, and prevalence of the crimes committed by British troops fell within the ICC’s jurisdiction, the Prosecutor could not find sufficient evidence that the United Kingdom was disingenuous or obstructionist in its domestic proceedings.

This decision has angered the international community. Human Rights Watch said the decision not to open an investigation would “fuel perceptions of an ugly double standard in justice, with one approach for powerful states and quite another for those with less clout.” Amnesty International called the decision a “road-map for obstructionism” that “rewards bad faith and delays” in the prosecution of war crimes. In the conclusion of the Final Report, the ICC Prosecutor noted that although the UK’s domestic legal process fell short of unwillingness or disingenuity, there “continue to be areas of concern.”

For further information, please see:

Amnesty International – ICC Decision on UK Military in Iraq Rewards Obstructionism – 10 Dec. 2020

Human Rights Watch – United Kingdom: ICC Prosecutor Ends Scrutiny of Iraq Abuses – 10 Dec. 2020

International Crimes Database – Gravity Threshold Before the International Criminal Court: An Overview of the Court’s Practice – Jan. 2016

International Criminal Court – Preliminary Examination Iraq/UK Closed – 9 Dec. 2020

International Criminal Court – Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, Re-opens the Preliminary Examination of the Situation in Iraq – 13 May 2014

International Criminal Court – Situation in Iraq/UK Final Report – 9 Dec. 2020

Freedom of Assembly and Expression Threatened in Senegal as Protesters are Beaten and Killed in Response to the Arrest of Prominent Opposition Leader, Ousmane Sonko

By: Chiara Carni

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

DAKAR, Senegal –  Protests arose on March 3, 2021, after the arrest of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko over rape allegations. Ousmane Sonko has denied the rape accusations and believes that his arrest was a political move called for by President Macky Sall and Sall’s government. Subsequently, Senegalese activists called for protests over a three-day period to combat the arrest of the opposition leader. “The Movement for the Defense of Democracy (M2D), a coalition of groups demanding change in the West African nation, announced the decision in a press conference.”  The press conference also demanded the release of political prisoners held by President Sall and his government.

Protesters shout slogans near the Justice Palace of Dakar, Senegal. Photo Courtesy of Human Rights Watch.

Following his arrest, Ousmane Sonko was charged with disturbing public order and participating in an unauthorized demonstration while he was on his way to court to respond to the rape accusation. According to Amnesty International, the protests in Senegal have already led to the deaths of at least eight individuals, some of them caused by excessive use of force and firearms by government security forces. Additionally, approximately 235 people were injured during the protests on March 5th in Dakar, and around 100 people have been arrested since March 3rd.  

Security forces fired tear gas and live bullets to disperse protesters. Ida Sawyer, the deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said “the recent deaths and injuries of protesters should be credibly investigated, and security force members” should be held responsible for unlawful or excessive use of force. Additionally, Human Rights Watch reported nationwide internet disruptions throughout “the day on March 5, making it difficult for national and international journalists, human rights activists,” and others to communicate, gather information, or report on current events.

Senegalese citizens and human rights activists are concerned with the lack of protection afforded to them by the Senegalese Constitution to protect their right of freedom of assembly and expression, and uphold the prohibition of the excessive use of force by law enforcement officials. The United Nations Human Rights Council has previously condemned internet shutdowns by governments and stated that human rights apply offline and online.  

President Sall addressed the nation on March 8th, calling for “calm.” He offered his condolences to the families affected by the protests but failed to mention any investigation into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the protestors.

The Movement to Defend Democracy called for a national day of mourning on March 12th and for more demonstrations to occur on March 13th. Ida Sawyer told Human Rights Watch that “instead of cracking down on peaceful protesters, the authorities should work to address their concerns, including by advancing democratic governance and the rule of law and protecting basic economic rights for everyone.”

While it is unclear whether the national internet shortages will continue, it appears evident that the Senegalese citizens do not plan to stop the protests, citing issues including a general deterioration of the economy related to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the increasing lack of jobs for its citizens and youth in particular.

For further information, please see:

Africa Times – At least 4 dead as Senegal’s opposition calls for new protests – 6 Mar. 2021

Amnesty International – Senegal: Restraint needed as country-wide protests planned after eight died last week – 8 Mar. 2021

Human Rights Watch – Senegal: Respect Free Expression, Assembly – 12 Mar. 2021


The ECHR issues ruling on COVID-19 related human rights violations

By: Ryan Ockenden

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

STRASBOURG, France – On March 11, 2021, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) awarded compensation to Joseph Feilazoo after a nearly 13-yearlong immigration battle. In 2008, Mr. Feilazoo was sentenced to 12 years in prison in Malta for drug trafficking. He was also fined €50,000 but was unable to pay the fine. As a result, two years were added to his sentence.

Prisoners like Joseph Feilazoo are kept in detention at Safi Barracks where they are subject to forced quarantine with COVID-19 patients. Photo Courtesy of the Council of Europe.

In 2019, he was scheduled for release. He made it known that he intended to return to Spain, which is where he was living prior to his arrest in 2008. However, Spain refused his return. Shortly after his release, he was charged with violence against prison officers and was resentenced to imprisonment. The sentence was changed from imprisonment to deportation and a fine. Mr. Feilazoo could not pay that fine and Nigeria refused to issue a travel document for his deportation. Malta ultimately placed him in the Safi Barracks immigration detention center.

Mr. Feilazoo complained to the ECHR, based on European Convention of Human Rights, alleging violations of: (1) inhuman and degrading treatment; (2) denial of his right to liberty; and (3) denial of his right to individual petition. First, per the European Convention on Human Rights, Malta is required under Article 3 to provide detention conditions that respect human dignity and avoid unnecessary hardship. The ECHR found that Mr. Feilazoo was subjected to non-functioning toilets, pest infestations, solitary confinement without natural light for 77 days, no exercise, and was forced to be in proximity of people in COVID-19 quarantine. Thus, the ECHR found that Malta violated his Article 3 rights by keeping him in inhuman and unacceptable conditions.

Second, under Article 5, Malta is required to protect detainees against arbitrary interference of their right to liberty. The ECHR found that Maltese authorities had not diligently pursued the travel documentation from Nigerian officials; they essentially gave up on trying. Thus, the ECHR found Malta violated Mr. Feilazoo’s Article 5 rights by keeping him detained for a period of time beyond necessary to complete deportation proceedings.

Third, under Article 34, Malta is required to ensure that a detainee’s access to the courts and judicial process is uninhibited. Unfortunately, the ECHR found that Mr. Feilazoo had not been allowed to access his documentation which was needed to submit a complaint to the ECHR. In addition, there were insufficient lawyer-client contacts and Maltese authorities were found to have done nothing to rectify this except to blame COVID-19 for the issues. Thus, the ECHR found that Maltese authorities inhibited his right to petition.

This is the ECHR’s first ruling on COVID-19 related detention issues. The ECHR makes it clear that placing someone in unfair detention with people who were exposed to COVID-19, and blaming COVID-19 for preventing a detainee from accessing the necessary documents and legal assistance to access justice, is unacceptable. This should set precedent in the ECHR that COVID-19 is not an excuse to deny detainees, or anyone, any rights granted to them by the European Convention on Human Rights.

For further information, please see:

Council of Europe – Torture prevention committee calls on Malta to improve treatment of detained migrants – 10 Mar. 2021

European Court of Human Rights – Deportation Detainee Housed With COVID-19 Quarantine Patients, And Multiple Other Violations – 11 Mar. 2021

Times of Malta – Man Wins €25,000 Compensation For Degrading Treatment At Detention Centre – 11 Mar. 2021

Olympic Medals and Championships… at What Cost?

By: Melissa N. Berouty 

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Managing Editor of the News

TOKYO, Japan A glimpse at the dictionary will tell you that a coach is “a person who teaches and trains an athlete or performer.” Yet, any athlete knows that the role of a coach stretches far beyond this simple definition. A coach can serve as a mentor, motivator, or even a catalyst for a young athlete to fall in love with their respective sport. Thus, a coach possesses a great deal of responsibility, power, and influence. However, for decades in Japan, coaches have prioritized Olympic medals and Championships over the safety and well-being of their child athletes, subjecting them to brutal physical and verbal beatings.

Child athlete abuse in the quest for Olympic gold medals. Photo Courtesy of Humanium.

While one might commonly hear tough coaches make tougher players, Japanese coaches utilize a training tactic that far exceeds tough coaching, referred to as taibatsu, or corporal punishment. Japanese child athletes report being “punched in the face, kicked, beaten with objects like bats or bamboo kendo sticks, being deprived of water, choked, whipped with whistles or racquets, and being sexually abused and harassed.” According to Human Rights Watch, in 2020, 425 current and former child athletes reported physical abuse at the hand of their coaches or trainers.

Recently, Japan amended the Child Welfare Act of 1947 to prohibit corporal punishment. While this prohibition does extend to athletics, the protection it offers child athletes is inadequate and irregularly enforced. Similarly, the 2013 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence in Sports and the 2019 government codes put forth by various leading sports organizations fails to specifically address child athlete abuse. Without clear legal implications for a failure to abide, these reforms carry little to no weight in ensuring the safety and welfare of child athletes.

“I was hit so many times I can’t count.” Photo Courtesy of Human Rights Watch.

Under international law, governments are obligated to protect children’s right to not only participate in athletics but to participate in a safe environment, free of both abuse and violence. This right is detailed in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Japan is a party to. With this, it is imperative for leading Japanese sports organizations, such as the Japan Sports Agency, the Japan Sport Association, and the Japanese Olympic Committee, to create clear and comprehensive reporting, investigation, and sanction protocols for child athlete abuse. Without the correction of these institutional failures, child athletes will remain vulnerable.

The Olympics are marketed as an idealistic and extraordinary meeting of the world’s most prominent and gifted athletes. To preserve this façade, numerous nations, from Japan to the United States, prioritize the quest for medals over athletes’ basic human rights. Meanwhile, these athletes, child and adult alike, still represent their countries with pride and dignity. But, at what cost?

In a matter of months, we will all sit down in front of our televisions to watch the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo. Here, the Japanese government has a unique opportunity to set the record straight and “serve as a model for how other countries should end child abuse in sports.” Japan should take the lead in demonstrating that child athletes’ health and well-being do not just simply matter, but that they are the priority.

Participation in athletics should be a root of joy, empowerment, and growth, not fear, abuse, and manipulation. While winning may be the ultimate goal, one day, these child athletes will move on from competition and the global spotlight. As you view the Olympics and Paralympics this summer, keep in mind that behind every uniform is a human being. A human being that should be offered all fundamental human rights both in and out of athletic competition. The abuse of child athletes is not exclusive to Japan and remains a pressing issue worldwide.

For further information, please see:

End Violence – Japan Prohibits all corporal punishment of children – 28 Feb. 2020

Human Rights Watch – Pressure Builds on Japan to Protect Child Athletes – 28 Jan. 2021

Human Rights Watch – I Was Hit So Many Times I Can’t Count: Abuse of Child Athletes in Japan – 20 July 2020

Merriam Webster Dictionary – Coach – 2 Apr. 2021


In a Historic Vote, Argentina Legalizes Abortion

By: Elizabeth Maugeri

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina In 2018, Amnesty International of Argentina (AIAR), Catholics for the Right to Decide (CDD), Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), and the Latin American Team for Justice and Gender (ELA) hosted a public hearing regarding reproductive rights laws in the country. This hearing, hosted alongside the IACHR, called upon the Argentine Congress to adopt a law legalizing abortion nationally.

Young pro-choice activists celebrating the passing of the abortion legalization bill. Photo Courtesy of BBC News.

At the time, under the Argentine criminal code, abortion was legal in some provinces and only in cases of rape or when the mother’s health was at risk. However, no national standard had been set to provide all women with safe access to voluntary abortions. The IACHR asserted the importance for Argentina to enact a nationwide standard that coincided with the country’s international human rights obligations.

In 2018, Congress attempted to pass a sweeping bill that would provide abortion access, although it ultimately failed when it reached the Senate. However, the prospect of a second attempt arose in 2019 when President Alberto Fernández was elected. A large part of his running platform was reproductive rights and abortion access, making the statement “I’m Catholic but I have to legislate for everyone” during his campaign. In December 2020, he delivered on his promise.

The Argentine Senate passed a bill legalizing voluntary abortion up to 14-weeks in a 38-29 vote. The same day, the CIDH – IACHR expressed approval for the Argentine Senate passing the Law on Access to Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy and Post-Abortion Care. It stated that the passing of the law marked a new set standard for inter-American human rights which it hoped would influence Argentina’s neighbors.

President Fernández asserted that providing free and legal abortions was a public health matter, highlighting how many women die from undergoing dangerous and illegal abortion procedures. Alongside this bill, the Senate also passed a piece of targeted legislation titled the “1,000-Day Plan,” which provides higher quality healthcare to pregnant women and women with young children.

Despite the new sweeping measure, anti-abortion activists have made it a point to challenge the legislation on all fronts. They have made sure doctors know they can deny a woman an abortion, they have called the laws unconstitutional, and they have filed lawsuits in at least 10 provinces.

Doctors in northern Argentina, mostly in the Jujuy province, consider themselves “conscientious objectors” and have asserted that they will not provide the services for women who ask. Only a few obstetricians and gynecologists in the province will offer the care, leaving many women in the same circumstances as before the bill was passed. The most rural provinces, where women are most likely to suffer from clandestine abortions, are those opposing the bill.

It is believed that at least one of the lawsuits will make it to Argentina’s Supreme Court. Though it is not clear as to what might happen once it arrives. However, pro-choice activists have been pushing for this legislation for years, even changing the perspectives of once anti-abortionists. Former president and current Vice President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner originally opposed a similar bill during her tenure as president but has since changed her position thanks to her daughter’s activism. This change was considered a big win for the pro-choice movement, and activists are hoping to continue this charge.

For further information, please see:

BBC News – Argentina abortion: Senate approves legalization in historic decision – 30 Dec. 2020

CELS – iachr hearing on abortion: legalization is a human rights imperative – 9 May, 2018

CIDH – IACHR – IACHR approval of Law on Access to Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy and Post-Abortion Care tweet thread – 30 Dec. 2020

The New York Times – Abortion Is Now Legal in Argentina, but Opponents Are Making It Hard to Get – 7 Mar. 2021