International Criminal Court opens investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in Venezuela

By: Christopher Martz

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Managing Editor

The International Criminal Court opened a formal investigation at the beginning November into allegations of torture and extrajudicial killings committed by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and his security apparatus. This is the first time a country in Latin America is under investigation for possible crimes against humanity from the ICC.

Andreina Baduel wears a T-shirt that reads in Spanish “Justice and Freedom” and holds a sign with pictures of people during a protest against political prisoners outside the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN), known as the Helicoide, in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, Nov 3, 2021. Andreina’s father, former Defense Minister Raúl Isaías Baduel, died while in prison. The sign at right reads “Enough persecution!.” Photo courtesy of AP Photo and Ariana Cubillos.

On November 3rd, standing next to Maduro, ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan said he was aware of the political “fault lines” and “geopolitical divisions” that exist in Venezuela.  He continued, stating “I ask everybody now, as we move forward to this new stage, to give my office the space to do its work… I will take a dim view of any efforts to politicize the independent work of my office.”

The ICC announcement follows a lengthy preliminary probe started in February 2018 — later backed by Canada and five Latin American governments opposed to Maduro — that centered on allegations of excessive force, arbitrary detention, and torture by security forces during a crackdown on antigovernment protests in 2017.

The announcement was celebrated by human rights groups and the U.S.-backed opposition. Notably, since its creation two decades ago, the ICC has mostly focused on atrocities committed in Africa.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director for Human Rights Watch described the announcement as turning point. He stated that the investigation can provide hope to the many victims of Maduro’s government while also serving as a reality check that Maduro could be held accountable for crimes committed by his security forces and others with total impunity in the name of the Bolivarian revolution. However, It could be years before any criminal charges are presented as part of the ICC’s investigation.

Maduro responded that he disagreed with Khan’s criteria in choosing to open the probe, but expressed optimism that a three-page letter of understanding he signed with Khan allows Venezuelan authorities to carry out their own proceedings in search of justice, something allowed under the Rome statute. Maduro emphasized the importance of the letter of understanding, stating that collaboration was key to obtaining justice.

Maduro’s government last year also asked the ICC to investigate the U.S. — which is not among the ICC’s 123 member states — for its policy of economic sanctions focused on removing Maduro. Venezuela considers the U.S. sanctions tantamount to “unlawful coercive measures” that have subjected millions of Venezuelans into poverty.

United Nations investigators have repeatedly reported patterns of rights abuses in the authoritarian country that constitute “crimes against humanity.”

A report by the United Nations’ top human rights body last year concluded that Maduro, and members of his administration, coordinated activities and supplied resources for arbitrary detentions, torture, disappearances and extrajudicial killings. It recommended that the findings be probed by international courts.

One political detainee told U.N. investigators of being held in a coffin-like vessel in the basement of intelligence police headquarters. Another female witness who was arrested following street protests told a U.N. panel she was tortured with electric shocks and threatened with rape.

For further information, please see:

Reuters – ICC prosecutor says he will open investigation into Venezuela  – 03 Nov. 2021

The Washington Post –International Criminal Court opens probe into alleged crimes against humanity in Venezuela – 04 Nov. 2021

Your Basin – International Criminal Court to probe abuses in Venezuela – 03 Nov. 2021

 

ICC Closes 17-Year-Long Investigation into Colombia for War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity

By: Veronica Devries

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Senior Associate Editor

COLOMBIA – On October 28, 2021, the International Criminal Court (ICC) said that it would close a preliminary examination into Colombia for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The preliminary examination was originally opened in 2004 and was the longest in the history of the court.

Colombian President Ivan Duque (left) with ICC Prosecutor Karim Kahn (left). Photo courtesy of ICC.

ICC prosecutor Karim Kahn arrived at a formal agreement with Colombian President Ivan Duque, in which Kahn states that Colombia “lives up to its international obligations as well as its regulatory obligations based on the principle of complementarity.” Through this agreement, Duque formally commits to supporting Colombia’s war crimes tribunal and to continue sharing information with the ICC.

The ongoing Colombian armed conflict has spanned nearly six decades. A peace deal was struck in 2016 with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels, but the conflict continues. As a result of the FARC deal, however, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) was created. The JEP is a justice tribunal, trying ex-rebels and military officials for crimes related to the decades-long conflict. Khan stated his support for the JEP, announcing that this new cooperation agreement would help the JEP to function. Some have criticized the JEP for being too lenient, while Duque has also been criticized for not providing enough support to the JEP.

Khan noted that closing the preliminary examination does not equate to and end of the Office of the Prosecutor’s (OTP) engagement with Colombia. He also pointed out that the OTP can reassess its decision to close the investigation, should Colombia not comply with its responsibilities.

This decision has concerned members of the international community. For example, Human Rights Watch (HRW) Americas director, Jose Miguel Vivanco, criticized the decision to close the preliminary examination. He wrote on Twitter, “The ICC prosecutor’s decision to close the Columbia preliminary examination…is premature, misinformed, and detrimental to justice… The country’s transitional justice system may now be an easier target.” HRW also submitted a letter to the ICC prosecutor on September 30, advocating against the closing of the preliminary examination into the situation into Colombia.

For further information, please see:

Colombia Reports – International Criminal Court closes Colombia probe – 28 Oct. 2021  

Human Rights Watch – Colombia: Letter to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court – 30 Sept. 2021  

ICC – ICC Prosecutor, Mr. Karim A. A. Khan QC, concludes the preliminary examination of the Situation in Colombia with a Cooperation Agreement with the Government charting the next stage in support of domestic efforts to advance transitional justice – 28 Oct. 2021

Reuters – ICC Closes Preliminary War Crimes Examination into Colombia After 17 Years – 28 Oct. 2021  

European Court of Human Rights Dismisses Age Discrimination Claim

By: William Matthew Krueger

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

VILNIUS, LithuaniaOn October 26, 2021, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Housing Act was reasonable and did not discriminate based on age.

The Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania. Photo Courtesy of Lithuanian Courts.

On January 1, 2015, the Housing Assistance Act came into effect. The Act provided three types of housing assistance: subsidies that would cover a portion of a home loan, a right to rent housing from the State, and partial rebates of rent payments. Article 8 of the Act defines two general conditions for an individual or family to qualify for subsidies to cover a portion of a home loan.

First, the annual income of the individual or family must not exceed the threshold provided in other provisions of the Housing Assistance Act. Second, they must be seeking their first home in Lithuania or alternatively, should not have owned residential property during five years prior and did not previously receive this form of assistance; that the residential property currently owned falls underneath a legally established threshold; or the individual or family member(s) have a disability and the home is not adapted to fit the individual’s needs.

Furthermore, the applying individual had to fit in one of many categories just to qualify for the home loan.

In 2016, Loreta Šaltinytė, a single mother with a four-year daughter, applied for a housing subsidy available to lower income “young families” who were buying their first home. Šaltinytė’s application was denied by municipal authorities on the grounds that she was thirty-seven at the time of her application.

Soon, Šaltinytė filed a complaint with the administrative courts, alleging that the refusal of the housing subsidy was age discrimination, which was prohibited by Lithuania’s Constitution and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Šaltinytė also asked for her claim to be referred to the Constitutional Court, which was dismissed. In addition, the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court dismissed Šaltinytė’s complaint on the grounds that legislature has discretion to limit who qualifies for welfare benefits.

In an appeal, Šaltinytė stated the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court failed to address the potential conflict between the Act, the Constitution, and the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The appeal was dismissed on December 6, 2018 by the Supreme Administrative Court based on precedent from the Constitutional Court that permits legal regulation of certain categories of persons, the State has wide discretion when performing social assistance and has an obligation to service the most vulnerable members of society. The Court also held that the Act was not built solely on age parameters.

In the complaint to the European Court of Human Rights, Šaltinytė alleged a violation of Articles 14 and Article 1 of Protocol No. 1. Article 14 states that discrimination based on sex, race, color, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth, or other status is prohibited. Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 states that every legal person is “entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions” except in cases where the public interest is at risk and such a right is subject to other legal conditions. Šaltinytė alleges that Lithuania failed to demonstrate a reason for establishing the cut-off age at thirty-five.

In response, Lithuania stated that the purpose of the relevant portion of the Housing Assistance Act was not as a general form of welfare, but as a way of assisting younger people to acquire property and hopefully reverse the decline of the working population. Finally, Lithuania stated that at the time Šaltinytė had her daughter she could have applied as she met the definition of “young family.”

The Court found that this difference in treatment was legitimate as the Act intended to encourage younger people to have children and reduce potential emigration. Secondly, the Act was based on statistical data gathered by Lithuania and possessed a “reasonable relationship of proportionality” between the treatment based on age and the goal of Lithuania.

The European Court of Human Rights found no violation of Article 14 or Article 6, Section 1 of the Convention.

For further information, please see:

European Court of Human Rights – European Convention on Human Rights – 1 Aug. 2021.

European Court of Human Rights – Case of Šaltinytė v. Lithuania – 26 Oct. 2021.

European Union – Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union – 26 Oct. 2012.

Republic of Lithuania – Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania – 25 Oct. 1992.

Leader of West African Terrorist Group is Dead

By Alexis Eka

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

On Thursday, October 16, 2021, the head of Nigeria’s armed forces, Military Commander and Chief of Defense, General Lucky Irabor announced that a key figure in the West African terrorist group, Abu Musab al-Barnawi, had passed away. Al-Barnawi was said to be the son of Boko Haram’s late founder Mohammed Yusuf.

Islamic State West Africa Provenience (“ISWAP”) has been regarded as the most prominent jihadist group in Nigeria since the death of Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau that occurred earlier this year. After Shekau’s father died in law enforcement’s custody, Shekau was appointed the group’s new leader. And after, Shekau’s death, Barnawi was said to be the leader of the ISWAP. 

ISWAP is a splinter of Boko Haram, a terrorist group that has killed several thousands of people, kidnapped students, and added to the increasing homeless population in Nigeria. ISWAP has been fighting against the Nigerian armed forces for about 12 years. ISWAP has primarily focused on its attacks on the Nigerian military as opposed to Boko Haram who has terrorized several other groups. However, in Nigeria, the ISWAP insurgency group is still referred to as the “Mamman Nur Faction,” a term coined by West Africans explaining that they are still under the control of Boko Haram.

The two militant groups have been at conflict with each other for several years, until ISWAP became Boko Haram’s successor. The conflict between Boko Haram and ISWAP and the insurgents in Nigeria’s armed forces has spread to neighboring countries, Cameroon and Chad, and has left about 300,000 people dead and millions of Nigerian citizens injured.

Ibrahim Awami, an individual who was kidnapped by ISWAP in 2016 and forced to join the ISWAP insurgency, said that “the death of Shekau will not be the end of insurgency in the Northeastern region.” Awami escaped from the ISWAP insurgency less than a month ago and indicated that there are several Shekaus that are still seeking to abduct other west Africans and enlist them into the ISWAP insurgency. ISWAP stated that often, there are fights that break out for power between the ISWAP members, sometimes resulting in their deaths.

For more information, please see:

AP News – Nigerian Military says Leader of IS-Linked Group is Dead – 14 Oct. 2021. 

BBC News – Nigeria Says ISWAP Leader Abu Musab al-Barnawi is Dead – 14 Oct. 2021.

New York Times – Leader of West African Terrorist group is Dead, Nigerian Army Says – 14 Oct. 2021. 

Reuters – Nigerian General Says Leader of Islamic State West Africa is Dead – 14 Oct. 2021.