Africa Rights Watch

ICC Office of the Prosecutor Targets Slavery Crimes with Landmark Policy

By: Remy Kane

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

THE HAGUE, The Netherlands – On March 19, the International Criminal Court (ICC) Office of the Prosecutor announced that a new Policy on Slavery Crimes is in the works. The policy will mark the first specific action taken by an international judicial institution to combat crimes of slavery. This reflects the ICC’s dedication to achieving justice for victims of such crimes and preventing the future commission of them.

Permanent premises of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the Netherlands. | Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch.

Modern slavery encompasses sex trafficking, forced labor, bonded labor or debt bondage, domestic servitude, and the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers. To quote Prosecutor Khan, “Slavery crimes are committed against an untold number of persons and populations, including child soldiers, persons forced to migrate or be trafficked, and persons detained, disappeared, or forced into marriage or labor that devolves into slavery.”

As of 2021, 49.6 million people were living in modern slavery per the International Labour Organization. Of those individuals, 27.6 million were subject to forced labor and 22 million were in forced marriages. Twelve percent of those in forced labor were children and more than half of these children were victims of commercial sexual exploitation. Child trafficking occurs in every country in the world and makes up a third of all human trafficking cases. Human trafficking and forced labor generate roughly $150 billion annually. These numbers are testimony to how slavery crimes are a grave and pressing issue.

The Policy on Slave Crimes will aim to take a survivor-centered, trauma-informed and gender-competent approach, and will be “rigorously implemented” once formulated, according to the Prosecutor. It will be in alignment with other recent policies tackling similar issues, including the 2022 Policy Paper on Gender Persecution, the 2023 Policy on Gender-Based Crimes, and the 2023 Policy on Children.

The Office of the Prosecutor has consulted survivor communities, civil society organizations, national authorities, international organizations, and other justice actors to help shape the Policy. To further aid in the process, the Office is also seeking input from the public. External experts are welcome to offer substantive comment on how the Policy can be best effectuated. Such comments will be accepted via email until April 30, 2024 (see more information about submissions on the ICC website, linked below).

For further information, please see:

ICC – Office of the Prosecutor Launches Public Consultation on Policy on Slavery Crimes – Mar. 19, 2014

ICC – Policy on Children – Dec 7, 2023

ICC – Policy on Gender-Based Crimes – Dec. 4, 2023

ICC – Policy on The Crime of Gender Persecution – Dec 7, 2022

International Labour Organization – Forced Labour, Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking – Sept. 12, 2022

Lexology – ICC Opens Consultation for New Policy in Slavery Crimes – Mar. 20, 2024

UNICEF – UNICEF and The Fight Against Child Trafficking – Nov. 9, 2022





ICC to Hold First In Absentia Hearing Against Ugandan Rebel Leader

By: Tatiana Vaz
Journal of Global Rights and Organizations
, Associate Articles Editor

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – On March 4, 2024, the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) Pre-Trial Chamber II issued a decision granting Prosecutor Karim Kham’s request to hold a confirmation hearing in the case against Joseph Kony in his absence, should he not appear, to commence on October 15, 2024. This is will be the ICC’s first in absentia hearing.

The International Criminal Court’s Headquarters at the Hague. | Photo courtesy of ICC.

Joseph Kony was the founder and leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (“LRA”) in Uganda. The LRA is a Ugandan rebel group that currently operates in the border region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic (CAR), and South Sudan. The group was established by Kony in 1998 with the claim of resorting to the honor of his ethnic Acholi people and installing a government based on his vision of the Ten Commandments. From July 1, 2001, until December 31, 2005, the LRA, an organization within the meaning of Article 7 (2)(a) of the Rome Statue, carried out widespread and systematic attacks against the civil population of northern Uganda.

Joseph Kony is suspected of twelve counts of crimes against humanity including murder, enslavement, sexual enslavement, rape, and inhuman acts of inflicting serious bodily injury and suffering. He is also suspected of 21 counts of war crimes, including murder, cruel treatment of civilians, intentionally directing an attack against a civilian population, pillaging, including rape, and forced enlistment of children between the years of2003 and 2004. The ICC issued a warrant for Kony’s arrest in 2005. However, he remains at large and is the only remaining suspect.

The Rome Statute, which is the treaty that governs the ICC, allows for a confirmation hearing proceeding at the pre-trial stage in the absence of the suspect. The confirmation hearing is not a trial, but it allows the prosecutor the opportunity to outline their case before the court. The Pre- Trial Chamber II consists of Presiding Judge Rosario Salvatore Aitala, Judge Tomoko Akane, and Judge Sergio Gerardo Ugalde Godinez.

Following the receipt of documents containing the charges against Kony and the Registry report on its efforts to inform Kony on those charges, the Court found that all reasonable steps to inform Kony of the charges against him have been taken within the meaning of Article 61 (2)(b) of the Rome Statue. The Court decided that the confirmation of charges hearing is to be held in the absence of Kony, should he not appear, and will begin October 15, 2024.

The Court also stated that it would ensure Kony’s right to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defense under Article 61 (1)(b) of the Rome Statue, and Rule 121 (1) of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence will be fulfilled. The ICC stressed this right in light of the fact that, should the Court definitively decide that there is a cause to authorize a confirmation of charges in Kony’s absence, counsel will have to be appointed to represent his rights and interests in the proceeding.

The Court also required that Counsel have sufficient time to prepare their case Kony’s absence. As a result, the Prosecution must provide the Court with information in terms of the evidence and witnesses they plan to call within four weeks of the notification of the present decision. The Court further instructed the Registry to commence the process of searching for counsel to represent Kony’s rights and interests during the confirmation process and confirmation hearing, should this take place in his absence. The Registry is instructed to report back on their progress within three weeks of the notification of this present decision, whom they will appoint in time for the Prosecution’s disclosure of witnesses and evidence they plan to present.

The ICC’s decision is most certainly a step in the right direction, as many affected communities in Uganda believed it was over and lost hope. The confirmation hearing provides many victims with the opportunity to finally have their voices heard. The ICC has also taken other steps for the victims affected. Earlier this year the ICC granted reparations of more than $56 million to the victims of one of the convicted commanders of the LRA. Victims include former child soldiers and children born as a result of rapes and forced pregnancies. The ICC is currently seeking more state and non-partner assistance to capture Kony.

For further information please see:

AP – ICC Awards $56 Million in Reparations to Thousands of Victims of Convicted Ugandan Rebel Commander – 28 Feb. 2024

AP – International Criminal Court to Hold First Ever in Absentia Hearing Over Ugandan Rebel Leader Kony – 4 Mar. 2024

Counterterrorism Guide – Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) – ND

FIDH – Uganda and the ICC: Justice at Last? – 14 Feb. 2024

ICC – Information on the Kony Case – ND

The East African – ICC Prosecutor Seeks Support in Hunt for Ugandan Warlord Kony – 4 Feb. 2023

Reuters – ICC Allows in Absentia Hearings in Case against Ugandan Warlord Kony – 4 Mar. 2024


Ghanaian Parliament Passes Legislation Cracking Down on LGBTQ+ Rights

By: Cynthia Achieng

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

GHANA – On February 27, 2024, the Parliament of Ghana passed legislation that severely restricts and penalizes the LGBTQ+ community. Ghana is the latest to impose hefty penalties against those who identify as LGBTQ, as part of a growing opposition to LGBTQ rights in conservative West Africa.

A same sex-couple sitting together during a session on LGBTQ rights in Accra, Ghana. | Photo Courtesy of Francis Kokoroko/Reuters.

The bill seeks to punish those who engage in LGBTQ sexual acts as well as those who advocate for their rights with prison sentences ranging from six months to three years. It also imposes a three-to-five-year sentence for wilful promotion, sponsorship, or support of LGBTQ activities. This new legislation will take effect if signed into law by President Nana Akufo-Addo. 

Human rights activists across the world have expressed discontent, calling the bill a set-back for human rights while urging President Akufo-Addo to reject it. However, the bill has received backing from Muslim, Christian, and Ghanaian traditional leaders who form a large part of the Ghanaian Parliament.

In 2022, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), Africa’s human rights watchdog, rejected applications by three Human Rights Organizations (HROs) for Observer Status on the ground that “sexual orientation is not an expressly recognized right or freedom under the African Charter” and is ‘contrary to the virtues of African values.” The groups, two of which were founded in Africa were Alternative Côte d’Ivoire, Human Rights First Rwanda, andSynergia–Initiatives for Human Rights. In their statement, the organizations expressed their dismay over the decision of the African Commission which, they said, departs from measures to protect the LGBTQ people and violates the African Charter’s principles of non-discrimination and tolerance.

Article 2 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights provides that:

“Every individual shall be entitled to the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms recognized and guaranteed in the present Charter without distinction of any kind such as race, ethnic group, color, sex, language, religion, political or any other opinion, national and social origin, fortune, birth or other status.”

The HROs argue that “other status,” as used in the Charter, is not limited to the grounds indicated in the Charter but extends to others, including sexual orientation.

According to Amnesty International, 31 African countries currently criminalize same-sex consensual sexual activities. As of March 4, the bill had not yet reached President Akufo-Addo.

For further information, please see:

Al-Jazeera – Ghana’s Parliament passes anti-LGBTQ Bill – 28 February 2024  

Amnesty International – Africa: Barrage of discriminatory laws stoking hate against LGBTI persons – January 9 2024

BBC – Ghana passes Bill making identifying as LGBTQ+ illegal – 28 February 2024

Joint Statement in Response to Decision of African Commission – N.D.

Reuters – Ghana parliament passes stringent anti-LGBTQ law – 28 February 2024

Reuters – Ghana’s president says anti-LGBTQ bill has not reached his desk – 5 March 2024

ECHR Rules Lithuania Violated Prisoner’s Right by Assisting CIA in Secret Detainee Program

By: Jacob Riederer

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

STRASBOURG, France – On January 16, 2023, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Lithuania violated multiple articles of the European Convention on Human Rights by permitting the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to detain and mistreat prisoner, Mustafa Ahmed Adam al-Hawsawi, at a CIA facility between 2005 and 2006.

Inmates like al-Hawsawi were held in detention sites in Vilnius, Lithuania | Photo courtesy of Reuters.

Al-Hawsawi, a citizen of Saudi Arabia, was first captured in Pakistan in 2003 during the American “War on Terror,” following the September 11, 2001, Attacks. After being transferred to the custody of the United States, he was moved to a CIA facility in Lithuania, known as “Detention Site Violet.” 

While at Detention Site Violet, al-Hawsawi alleges he was subjected to physical and mental torture by the CIA. These allegations include sexual penetration by a foreign object, exposure to noise and light, continuous use of leg shackles, and solitary confinement. Al-Hawsawi claims he now suffers from many medical conditions, such as rectal hemorrhoids, hearing loss, and chronic migraines which he maintains were caused by the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques. Al-Hawsawi also alleges that he was denied access to communication with family members, counsel, and doctors during his detention. 

Al-Hawsawi asserts Lithuania enabled the alleged inhumane treatment by permitting his detention there and allowing him to be transferred to other CIA detention sites where he was subjected to similar mistreatment. The ECHR agreed with many of his complaints and found that Lithuania had violated the prohibition against inhuman and degrading treatment, as well as al-Hawsawi’s rights to a fair trial, liberty and security. The court awarded al-Hawsawi €100,000 in compensation, and Lithuania agreed to comply.

Essential to the court’s judgment was evidence from a 2014 declassified U.S. Senate Report, which gave details on the CIA’s secret detainee program.  The court also relied on prior cases including Al Nashiri v. Poland and Abu Zubaydah v. Lithuania for relevant testimony from expert witnesses.

After his time at Detention Site Violet and another facility in Afghanistan, al-Hawsawi was transferred to Guantánamo Bay, where he is currently on trial with the U.S. Military Commission for his alleged role in al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks.

For further information, please see:

European Court of Human Rights, Case of al-Hawsawi v. Lithuania, January 16, 2024 

European Court of Human Rights, Press Release, Case of al-Hawsawi v. Lithuania , January 16, 2024

Reuters, Lithuania Broke Human Rights Laws In Case Tied to CIA Detention Program, European Court Rules, January 16, 2024 

The Guardian, ECHR Rules Lithuania Allowed “Inhuman” of Alleged 9/11 Suspect by CIA, January 16, 2024

Senate Intelligence Committee, Report Of The Senate Select Committee On Intelligence Committee Study of The Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program, December 9, 2014

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Legal Case Demands Details About How CIA Used Windowless Warehouse In Lithuania As Secret Prison, September 2, 2015


ICC Postpones Delivery of Judgment for Malian Crimes Against Humanity and Gender-Based Persecution Case

By: Joo Young Lee

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

THE HAGUE, The Netherlands – On January 15, 2024, Trial Chamber X of the International Criminal Court (ICC) postponed delivery of its verdict for The Prosecutor v. Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud (hereinafter “Al Hassan”) pursuant to article 74 of the Rome Statute.

Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud at the International Criminal Court in The Hague (Netherlands) on May 23, 2023. | Photo Courtesy of the ICC.

Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud is accused of perpetrating war crimes and crimes against humanity in Timbuktu, Mali. He is facing charges of persecution based on religious and gender grounds, rape, torture, sexual slavery, and forced marriages that occurred between April 2012 and January 2013. The delivery of the judgment by the ICC was originally set for January 18, 2024, and a new date will be announced in due course.

Notably, the Al Hassan case marks the ICC’s first prosecution of the crime against humanity of persecution on grounds of gender pursuant to the Rome Statute. The prosecution contends that Al Hassan and his group specifically targeted women and girls for breaking a strict dress code, restrictions on freedom of movement, and rules on segregation of the sexes. According to prosecutors, Al Hassan led a police force created by the al Qaeda-linked Ansar Dine group that tormented Timbuktu, particularly targeting women who faced rape, forced marriages and sexual slavery.

The United Nations’ Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda recognizes sexual violence as a weapon of war and acknowledges that it can amount to international crimes, calling for enhanced criminal accountability.

During a hearing on May 9, 2022, the defense argued that faced with dire circumstances, Al Hasan became involved with armed groups as a survival strategy. The defense maintained that Al Hasan was wrongly selected for prosecution and portrayed him as trying to maintain order in a chaotic situation in Timbuktu following the rebel takeover. The defense also argued that Al Hasan’s role in the conflict was too minor to warrant charges at the ICC for crimes against humanity.

Closing statements occurred before the ICC between May 23 and 25, 2023. Trial Chamber X of the ICC will deliver its decision on conviction or acquittal pursuant to article 74 of the Rome Statute. The Chamber bases its decision only on the applicable law and on evidence submitted before it at the trial.

For further information, please see:

Al Jazeera – ICC prosecutors: Mali rebel “enthusiastic” war crimes perpetrator – 23 May 2023

Courthouse News Service – Closing arguments begin in trial over Mali war crimes – 23 May 2023

Diplomat – ICC Trial Chamber X to deliberate on the Al Hassan case – 25 May 2023

ICC – Al Hassan case: Trial Chamber X postpones delivery of judgment – 15 Jan. 2024

ICC – Trial Judgment in Al Hassan case on 18 January 2024 – Practical information – 10 Jan. 2024

ICC – Al Hassan case: ICC Trial Chamber X to deliver Trial Judgment on 18 January 2024 – 6 Dec. 2023

ICC – ICC Trial Chamber X to deliberate on the Al Hassan case – 25 May 2023

Justice in Conflict – Writing the Jurisprudence of Gender-Based Persecution: Al Hassan on Trial at the ICC – 15 July 2020