Africa

ICC Prosecutor Files Response to Ntaganda Appeal

By: Andrew Kramer

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

THE HAGUE, The Netherlands – On April 14, 2020, the International Criminal Court (“ICC”) released the public redacted version of the Prosecutor’s response to Appellant’s brief in the case of The Prosecutor v. Bosco Ntaganda.  ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda presented the appellee’s brief.

Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda stands in the ICC courtroom during closing statements of his trial. Photo Courtesy of Reuters.

The Prosecutor’s brief addresses each of Ntaganda’s twelve grounds of appeal in turn.  Whereas Ntaganda attempted to downplay his involvement in crimes of sexual violence and slavery in grounds one through four, the Prosecutor asserted that Ntaganda played an essential role in the commission of these crimes throughout the period of the charges.  Furthermore, the Prosecutor asserted that Ntaganda himself killed and raped, participated in recruitment drives, and used children under 15 years of age as his personal escorts.  The Prosecutor maintained that the Trial Chamber assessed these factors correctly when arriving at Ntaganda’s 30-year prison sentence.  

In addressing Ntaganda’s argument in grounds seven through twelve, that the Trial Chamber failed to properly assess alleged mitigating factors, the Prosecutor asserts that the Ntaganda simply disagrees with the Court’s fair evaluation and rejection of these circumstances.  The Prosecutor stated that the Court correctly considered Ntaganda’s alleged acts of protecting civilians from attacks, saving the lives of enemy soldiers, and contributing to the reconciliation with the Lendu community, among others, however they did not carry enough weight to impact his sentence.  This difference of opinion does not indicate a failure to consider the circumstances properly.

As for grounds five and six, that the Court erred in applying some aggravating circumstances, the Prosecutor argued that Ntaganda misapplied the relevant provisions of the Rome Statute.  While Ntaganda asserted that the Court considered an improper aggravating circumstance in ground 5, the Prosecutor stated that the elements of the uncharged crime allow for it to be considered as an aggravating circumstance.  In ground 6, which Ntaganda accused the court of “double-counting” some factors the Prosecutor argued that Ntaganda failed to understand the “two-step” process the Court uses for sentencing established by article 78(3).

While grounds one through four and seven through twelve are likely based on matters which were at the discretion of the trial court, and therefore likely to be upheld on appeal, the arguments in grounds five and six present reasonably more nuanced legal issues. Particularly interesting is the Court’s “two-step” process for sentencing, in which the individual sentences for each crime is calculated before the appropriate joint sentence is determined.  While sentences are calculated two times using this process, aggravating factors are not “double-counted,” for each sentence.

No scheduling order has been released for the Appeals Hearing of Ntaganda.  Ntaganda also stated to be appealing the judgement of conviction in his notice of appeal, however no brief has been filed yet.

For further information, please see:

International Criminal Court – Prosecution Response to “Sentencing Appeal Brief” – 14 Apr. 2020

International Criminal Court – Case Information Sheet: The Prosecutor v. Bosco Ntaganda – 7 Nov. 2019

Indigenous Namibians Fight for Rights to Ancestral Land

By: Katherine Davis

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

WINDHOEK, Namibia – In 2015, eight members of the Hai//om brought a class action suit against Namibia’s government and other interested parties, seeking to gain rights in Etosha National Park, their former homeland. In November 2019, the Namibian High Court dismissed the case after Hai//om chief, David // Khamuxab withdrew his support. The Hai//om await an appeal date for the Supreme Court; however, Peter Watson, legal counsel for the Hai//om, announced that his team is prepared to take the case to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

A Hai//om woman and children outside of their homes in the Oshikoto Region. Photo Courtesy of the Legal Assistance Centre and the Desert Research Foundation of Namibia.

The Hai//om occupied Etosha until 1954, when they were forced to leave their homes and move off of the property. This move forced them to become farm-laborers on the borders of Etosha, working for the white-owned commercial agricultural sector. Now, the Hai//om want to have a share in Etosha’s profits and the right to determine the use of the land as guaranteed to them in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

It is not the Hai//om’s intent to take this land away from the people of Namibia, tourists, and others. Their main goal is to promote and preserve the Hai//om culture, knowledge, and language. “If we win this case, we do not want to get rid of Etosha,” said Nicodemus Hawaseb, one of the eight applicants, in an interview with Reuters, “[w]e just want to be included in it. We want to showcase our culture to the world.”

Namibia’s government claims to be working diligently with the Hai//om in granting tourism rights, so that the indigenous communities can benefit financially from the park. However, the government refuses to label the park as ancestral land. In a phone interview with Reuters, the head of Namibia’s Wildlife and National Parks directorate, Colgar Sikopo, explained, “If we do this, then everyone else will want to claim a park of the park.”

For further information, please see:

Kim Harrisberg – Indigenous Namibians Fight for Ancestral Land in National Park – 13 Apr. 2020

Legal Assistance Centre – Constitutional Rights & Human Rights: Litigation – 2020

Xoms | Omis Project – History of the Hai||om – 2020

Werner Menges – Hai||om sue for Rights Over Etosha – 19 Oct. 2015

Ute Dieckmann, et. al. – Scraping the Pot: San in Namibia Two Decades After Independence – 2014

Appellant’s Brief Released in Ntaganda Case

By: Andrew Kramer

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

THE HAGUE, The Netherlands – On April 8, 2020, the International Criminal Court (“ICC”) released the public redacted appellate brief of former Congolese militia leader and convicted war criminal Bosco Ntaganda. The brief was originally filed on February 10, 2020 but was unavailable to the public. Ntaganda is currently appealing only his 30-year sentence of imprisonment.

Bosco Ntaganda looks on in an ICC courtroom during trial. Photo Courtesy of CNN.

Ntaganda raised twelve grounds on appeal, generally asserting that the Trial Chamber failed to assess mitigating factors properly when determining his sentence. Grounds one through four claim the Trial Chamber failed to properly assess Ntaganda’s “limited” degree of participation in various crimes committed, including rape and sexual slavery. Grounds seven through twelve claim the Trial Chamber failed to properly assess mitigating conduct of Ntaganda, both during the commission of the crimes and in the courtroom. These grounds assert the Court did not properly consider that Ntaganda saved the lives of enemy soldiers, protected civilians from attacks on occasions, protected an individual from harm, contributed to reconciliation with the Lendu community, and cooperated with the Court. 

The remaining grounds assert the Court erred in assessing aggravating factors. Ground five asserts the Court considered an improper aggravating circumstance in determining its sentence, which it claims fell outside the scope of the crimes charged. Ground six asserts the Court “double-counted” certain aggravating factors to arrive at its sentence.

This is a robust brief submitted on behalf of Ntaganda. While he may find little sympathy from the Appeals Chamber for his “limited role and knowledge” in crimes of sexual violence and slavery, a merit which the Court may more thoroughly address is the question of what constitutes a proper aggravating factor. The degree of relation of the factor to the crime, relations to an uncharged crime, and how to apply the factor in a sentencing decision are all areas which the Court might provide clarity.

There is not much precedent for the appellate process of the ICC. Only two other cases have reached decision by the Appeals Chamber, both of which confirmed the Trial Chamber’s findings. In the only appellate decision, which upheld a sentence of imprisonment, the case of The Prosecutor v. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, the Appeals Chamber declined to reduce a prison sentence, partially because the appellant had already served most of it. If the present case reaches a decision on the merits, it could solidify sentencing procedure, and depending on the outcome, empower or restrain the Trial Chambers in their sentencing decisions.

Once the Prosecutor responds to the Appellant’s brief, a hearing date will be set. The COVID-19 outbreak will likely slow progress of this appeal process, as all ICC staff members based in The Hague will be working remotely until at least April 28.  

For further information, please see:

International Criminal Court – Public Redacted Version of “Sentencing Appeal Brief” – 10 Feb. 2020

International Criminal Court – Case information Sheet: Situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo – 7 Nov. 2019

International Criminal Court – The Prosecutor v. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo – 15 Dec. 2017

Cameroonian Government Accused of Additional Human Rights Violations

By: Katherine Davis

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

YAOUNDE, Cameroon – On March 30, 2020, Human Rights Watch (HRW) raised concerns about human rights violations in Cameroon in a shadow report to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). The report highlights violations of arbitrary arrest, detention, torture, and other ill treatments; the right to life, the right to equal protection under the law, and violations of freedom of speech and assembly, all of which were not included in the 6th Periodic Report of Cameroon (“the Report”). HRW urges the ACHPR to consider these violations during its 66th Ordinary Session for the discussion of the Report.

Cameroon Renaissance Movement members march in protest of arbitrary arrests. Photo Courtesy of Joel Kouam, BBC News, Pidgin.

In early 2019, Cameroonian security forces arrested hundreds of members of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement, including their leader, Maurice Kamto, his closest advisors, and hundreds who joined in protest. These individuals were denied access to their attorneys and then charged “with a number of offenses including hostility against the homeland, threats to public order and rebellion.”

HRW says the Report makes no mention of these arbitrary arrests and detentions or of the violent dispersals of demonstrators. According to the shadow report, “the government of Cameroon failed to uphold those freedoms for opposition members arrested during and following peaceful demonstrations.”

In addition to the depravation of basic legal rights, HRW has also notes various human rights violations by the government of Cameroon. Since late 2016, security forces have been killing civilians, burning dozens of homes and villages, and torturing and detaining individuals to extract confessions regarding opposition forces. None of which was reported to the ACHPR by the Cameroonian government, according to HRW.

“Cameroon has submitted 6 reports in the last 18 years. Cameroon’s 6th period report fails to provide any comprehensive account of efforts to mitigate further abuses by security forces against civilians and to ensure that military operations are conducted with respect for human rights,” writes HRW.

HRW urges the government of Cameroon to promptly investigate these allegations, to develop and implement safeguards in accordance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and to provide appropriate medical care to victims of torture. They also strongly encourage ACPHR to consider the absence of these violations in their upcoming discussions during the 66th Ordinary session.

Originally scheduled to begin on April 22, ACHPR’s 66th Ordinary Session has been tentatively rescheduled for May/June 2020 due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. As of April 11, 2020, the ACHPR has not commented on HRW’s allegations.

For further information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Shadow Report to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Response to the 6th Periodic Report of Cameroon – 30 Mar. 2020

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights – Cameroon: 4th – 6th Periodic Report, 2015 – 2019 – 3 Jan. 2020

BBC News, Pidgin – Opposition say Cameroon Police Arrest About 100 Party Mimbas wey March – 2 Jun. 2019

The Guardian – Hundreds of Opposition Members Arrested in Cameroon – 4 Jun. 2019

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights – Press Statement of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the postponement of the 66th Ordinary Session in light of the global Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic – 17 Mar. 2020

Depreciating Human Rights Conditions in Zimbabwe

By: Eronmwon Joyce Irogue

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

HARARE, Zimbabwe – Since the reelection of Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa in July 2018, human rights conditions in the country have deteriorated. In September 2019, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of freedom of peaceful assembly and of association fact-finding mission discovered a “serious deterioration of the political, economic and social environment.” Even after supposed legal reforms, Zimbabwe continues undeterred on its path of human rights violations.

On March 4, 2020, the United States extended its restriction on several senior Zimbabwean government officials for another year. The United States referenced the extant human rights oppression by the government against critics as one of its reasons and urged for a more tenable reform. This extension occurred one month after the European Union commented on the “deteriorating humanitarian crisis” in Zimbabwe.

Human rights violations have allegedly been committed by the Zimbabwean security forces. Specifically, they have used force against peaceful protesters. In August 2018, the security forces used deadly force against post-election protesters where 6 people died and thirty-five were injured. In mid-January 2019, the security forces used brutal force against protesters of the President. There, seventeen people died, seventeen women were raped, eighty-one people were injured, and over a thousand protesters were arrested. After the incident, the government shut down social media and the internet on January 15 and only restored social media and internet access on January 21 after a ruling by the Harare High Court. The Zimbabwean government relies on the authority on “subverting a constitutional government” contained in Section 22, Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act to punish individuals suspected of organizing protests.

Zimbabwe remains a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The ability of the human rights conditions in Zimbabwe to continue to deteriorate despite the country’s status as a signatory indicates that these instruments may lack importance in the region. Increased awareness and compliance with these human rights covenants is required if there is to be growth and stability in Zimbabwe and likewise in other African countries. As is apparent from the reports, continuous human rights violations contribute to both economic and political setbacks.

For further information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Rampaging Rights Violations Despite Lukewarm Reform – 20 Mar. 2020

Human Rights Watch – World Report 2020

Human Rights Watch – UN Expert “Shocked” By Abuses In Zimbabwe – 27 Sept. 2019