Europe

ECHR finds Russia responsible in the death of Alexander Litvinenko

By: Elyse Maugeri

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

STRASBOURG, France – In 2006, while living in London, former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko died after being poisoned with polonium 210, a radioactive substance. It has been long believed that Moscow was behind the attack due to the allegations that Mr. Litvinenko as working with western European authorities to prove high levels of corruption and organized crime in the Russian intelligence services. Now, the European Court of Human Rights confirmed what many suspected, that Russia was behind the attack.

The Litvinenko Inquiry, the report used during the investigation. Photo curtsey of Reuters.

In October 2006, over the course of the month, two Russian men, Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitriy Kovtun, both acquaintances of Mr. Litvinenko, visited him in London for multiple meetings. After each meeting, there were found to be trace amounts of polonium contamination in areas where the men had met. During the final meeting on 31 October 2006, Mr. Litvinenko and the two men met in their hotel’s bar and drank tea together. Three days later, Mr. Litvinenko fell extremely ill and was admitted to a hospital in London. Trace amounts of polonium were found in the teapot. He was later transferred to the University College Hospital, where it was suspected he had been poisoned using a radioactive substance. Mr. Litvinenko died three weeks later, with cause of death as acute radiation syndrome.

Shortly after he died, UK police opened an investigation into the poisoning. In 2007, they determined that there was sufficient evidence to charge Mt. Lugovoy for the murder. Later, in 2011, Mr. Kovtun was also charged. However, due to Russian extradition laws, neither man stood trial in the UK. In fact, later in 2007, Mr. Lugovoy became a member of Russian Parliament and acquired parliamentary immunity.

The Russian Prosecutor General launched its own investigation but provided little to no information for the ECHR.

In the UK a public inquiry was carried out, finding that beyond a reasonable doubt, Mr. Lugovoy and Mr. Kovtun poisoned Mr. Litvinenko with polonium. It also rejected any allegation that the two men had been set up by British authorities or that Mr. Litvinenko accidentally or purposefully poisoned himself. The inquiry also found that the two men had strong ties with the Russian state and the assassination had been directed by the FSB. All information in the inquiry was provided to the ECHR.

In its decision, the ECHR found that Russia failed to provide any necessary documents that had been requested, such as the investigation file, Mr. Lugovoy’s statements, and legal assistance requests. Further, despite Russian objection, the UK’s inquiry was permissible to be used as evidence because it was an independent and unbiased inquiry.

The Court also determined that since Russia investigated the death, a jurisdictional link had been established in the incident. Also, there existed a “special feature” in the case, that Russia retained an exclusive jurisdiction over Mr. Lugovoy, which further established the jurisdictional link. The Court acknowledged the lack of information provided by Russia in their investigation and thus concluded that the investigation was not effective in identifying and punishing those involved.

In the UK inquiry, it was determined that neither Mr. Lugovoy nor Mr. Kovtun had specific reason to kill Mr. Litvinenko, leaving State involvement as the most, and only, plausible reason. This paired with Russia’s refusal to cooperate, strengthened the belief that the assassination was ordered by the Russian State.

The Court held that Russia was to pay the applicant, Mr. Litvinenko’s widow Marina Litvinenko, €100,000 for non-pecuniary damage and €22,500 for costs and expenses. Punitive damages were not awarded.

For further information, please see:

The European Court of Human Rights – Press Release: Russia was responsible for assassination of Aleksandr Litvinenko in the UK – 21 Sept. 2021

BBC News – Russia behind Litvinenko murder, rules European rights court – 21 Sept. 2021

NPR – Russia Fatally Poisoned A Prominent Defector In London, A Court Concludes – 22 Sept. 2021

Reuters – Russia was behind Litvinenko assassination, European court finds – 21 Sept. 2021

Chocolate Making Companies Can Learn A Lesson From Ferrero’s Ethical Commitments

By: Ryan Ockenden

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

YAMOUSSOUKRO, Côte d’Ivoire The cocoa harvesting industry in Côte d’Ivoire continues to be rife with child slavery. Children have been forced to overwork in unhealthy environments often kidnapped from their homes, brought across country lines, and held prisoner on cocoa plantations. Some of the largest international chocolate-making companies – such as Hershey, Nestle, and Mars – stand at the center of this controversy.

Children work side by side on cocoa plantations to cultivate cocoa from pods in order to serve a massive international chocolate-making market. Photo Courtesy of Fortune and Benjamin Lowy.

Chocolate-making companies seem inept at solving the child slavery problem, or perhaps they simply do not care to. Executives at these companies publicly abhor child labor in the chocolate industry. For decades, companies have promised to make changes through either stricter regulatory measures, or changing where they buy cocoa from – but these promises remain largely empty. The executives know that their success relies on gaining competitive advantages within the international market. For them, using child labor gives them an advantage because they can keep their cocoa purchase costs down.

One company, Ferrero, has put ethics before the zeal of gaining a competitive advantage. In 2011, Ferrero partnered with Save the Children in order to work toward a ten-year goal of transitioning their cocoa purchases to 100% sustainable and broadly ethical sources. Ferrero met their goal, and just last week renewed their partnership with Save the Children for an additional five years. Together they are committing €8M ($9.43M) to continue their sustainability and ethical devotion to cocoa cultivation. The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights has noted that all actions taken by another person that concern a child must be primarily focused on that child’s best interests. In many African communities, cultural expectations of children’s labor contributions differ from those generally sought by countries enforcing United Nations policies. Therefore, Ferrero and Save the Children agreed that moderate child labor is acceptable so long as it includes healthy working conditions that will protect child workers from economic exploitation, hazardous activities, and will give them an opportunity to attend school.

Ferrero’s project with Save the Children incorporates a variety of ways to ensure those goals are met. Ferrero is investing in tracking the supply chain to trace the source of cocoa so that they can check farms for any violations. Additionally, they are mapping farmers in order to prevent deforestation, helping women in the communities to attain small business loans, and ensuring children have access to continually improving education. While other international chocolate-making companies find themselves subject to lawsuits for aiding and abetting human rights violations, perhaps they can learn a lesson from a company that stands invested in ethics.

In order to ensure that abusive child labor is eliminated from the cocoa industry in Côte d’Ivoire, it will take contributions from all chocolate-making companies to commit to ethical and sustainable cultivation. These commitments will strengthen protections for child workers, increase access to quality education, empower women to engage in markets, and develop communities across West Africa.

For further information, please see:

African Court on Human and People’s Rights – African Court Law Report – 2017-2018

European Food Agency News – Ferrero Still In Field Against The Scourge Of Child Labor – 25 Mar. 2021

The Guardian – Mars, Nestle and Hershey to face child slavery lawsuit in US – 12 Feb. 2021

The Washington Post – Supreme Court Weighs Child Slavery Case Against Nestle USA, Cargill – 1 Dec. 2020

Fortune – Bitter Sweets: A special on-the-ground report from West Africa – 1 Mar. 2016

Second International Human Rights Forum Promotes Judicial Dialogue and Collaboration Among Three Regional Courts

By: Kimberly Erickson

 Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

STRASBOURG, France – The European Court of Human Rights hosted the second International Human Rights Forum on March 25, 2021 in Strasbourg, France and via an online conference platform.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France hosted the second International Human Rights Forum on March 25, 2021. Photo Courtesy of the Council of Europe.

The fora’s objective was to enhance judicial dialogue and collaboration among the three regional human rights courts, meeting on a biennial basis in rotating locations.

The first forum was held in Kampala, Uganda in October 2019 and hosted by the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Discussion themes included “Operationalizing the International Human Rights Forum,” “Enhancing Jurisprudential Dialogue,” and “Financing and Sustaining the Forum.” A memorandum of understanding, also known as the Kampala Declaration, was signed at this time by representatives of each regional court to reaffirm their commitment to international human rights.

The second forum included discussions on jurisprudential cross-fertilization, current regional issues, and developments made since the first forum. Practical advancements in capacity building aimed towards information sharing and direct contact have been implemented, such as wider judicial dialogue networks and staff exchanges among the regional courts. For the former, each regional court has hosted and participated in a variety of other regional and national dialogues on human rights. In addition, each regional court has created or used digital communication platforms, online learning courses, and annual electronic reports, thereby expanding the network of information sharing and collaboration on human rights. For the latter, lawyers, judges, and executive leaders conduct working visits to the other regional courts in order to develop bi- and tri-lateral relationships, study case law, and become familiar with regional judicial methods.

President of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Justice Sylvain Oré, emphasized the importance of sharing the courts’ experiences so that they may each better address distinct regional judicial issues, including implementation of court decisions, jurisprudence, and ratification of international and regional human rights covenants. “We should have a certain harmonization on judgements we deliver. We had it in mind when we reached this memorandum of understanding,” he said, referring to the Kampala Declaration. His message of collaboration embodies the universality of human rights and transcends geographic boundaries.

Uganda and the African continent as a whole benefitted greatly from the improved dialogues among the regional courts according to Ugandan Chief Justice Bart Katureebe and Dr. Robert Eno, Registrar of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Both live and online presence dialogues included relevant topics such as migration, violence against women, environmental hazards, climate change, bioethics, terrorism, and mass data surveillance.

Discussions and results from the second forum have not yet been made public.

For further information, please see:

African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights – Memorandum of Understanding: Kampala Declaration – 29 Oct. 2019

African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights – Press Release: All Set for the Second International Human Rights Forum Tomorrow – 24 Mar. 2021

AllAfrica – Uganda: Kampala Declaration Casts Wider Net to Safeguard Human Rights – 29 Nov. 2019

Anadolu Agency – Regional human rights courts sign cooperation pact – 30 Oct. 2019

European Court of Human Rights – Programme: 2nd International Human Rights Forum (Regional Courts) – 25 Mar. 2021

European Court of Human Rights – Speech: Inter Court dialogue: how make closer the relations between the Courts – 28-29 Oct. 2019

Reparations Finally Given to the Many Victims of War Criminal Bosco Ntaganda

By: Samuel Schimel

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

THE HAGUE, NetherlandsBosco Ntaganda, whose armed forces terrorized the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, was once again on trial in Chamber VI of the International Criminal Court (“ICC” or “Court”) on March 8th, 2021. What was conveyed by the Chamber in a public hearing was the formation of an Order of Reparations to victims under Article 75 of the Rome Statute in the case of The Prosecutor v. Bosco Ntaganda. Ntaganda was originally sentenced by the ICC to 30 years in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity on November 7th, 2019. In the 2021 decision, the Chamber, composed of Judge Chang-ho Chung, Judge Robert Fremr, and Judge Olga Herrera Carbuccia, set the reparations award, for which Ntaganda is liable, at a total of USD 30,000,000.

Bosco Ntaganda at Trial Chamber VI of the International Criminal Court during the order for Reparations. Photo Courtesy of Reuters.

Nicknamed the “Smiling Terminator,” among others, Ntaganda was first indicted in 2006 for allegedly recruiting child soldiers during the Democratic Republic of Congo’s five-year war. He was a member of the Rwandan-backed Congrès national pour la défense du peuple – National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), a rebel group that has committed countless atrocities against civilians. While a part of this group, he orchestrated an attack where 150 people were killed over two days in the town of Kiwanja, North of Goma. Ntaganda was integrated into the Congolese army and became a general. He commanded military operations in eastern Congo after an agreement was reached between the Congolese Army and the Rwandan government. For many Rwandan donors, the final straw was Ntaganda’s creation of the M23, another rebel group backed by Rwanda. As the leader of the group, Ntaganda orchestrated many other attacks on villages, executed hundreds of people, and was accused of rape, torture, and the forceful recruitment of child soldiers.

He surrendered to the U.S. embassy in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, in March 2013, and was transferred to the Hague some time afterward. Ntaganda was convicted on thirteen counts of war crimes followed by five counts of crimes against humanity. These counts included murder, rape, and sexual slavery committed during the conflict in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 2002 and 2003. On the basis of the Rome Statute, Ntaganda was sentenced to 30 years of imprisonment.

Given his criminal history, the eligible victims for reparations are direct and indirect victims of the attacks, victims of crimes against child soldiers, victims of rape and sexual slavery, and children born out of rape and sexual slavery. The Chamber notably found that the priority shall be given to individuals who are in need of immediate medical and psychological care, victims with disabilities, the elderly, victims of sexual or gender-based violence, victims who are homeless or have encountered financial hardship, as well as children born out of rape and sexual slavery and former child soldiers. A gender-inclusive and sensitive approach to the reparations will also be instituted.

The Chamber additionally encouraged the Trust Fund for Victims to add funds that would accompany the reparation awards, to the extent that is feasible given its available resources, and to take part in additional fundraising efforts as necessary to accompany the totality of the award. The Trust Fund for Victims was asked to create a draft implementation plan on the basis of all the modalities of reparations identified in the order, with the victim’s input. These modalities of reparations within the order incorporate measures of restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, and satisfaction, which may incorporate, when appropriate, a symbolic, preventative, or transformative value. The due date for the Trust Fund’s plan is September 8th, 2021 and an urgent plan for priority victims is due on June 8th, 2021. 

Ntaganda’s name is still likely to send chills across the citizens of the Congo and he is particularly remembered for his ruthlessness. Many of the victims of Ntaganda’s crimes have been forced into exile since they were threatened with more suffering if they dared to speak up against him during his trial. Hopefully, the judgment can be of some consolation to the victims, and may they finally be given the reparations they deserve.

For further information, please see:

BBC – Bosco Ntaganda – the Congolese ‘Terminator – 8 July

International Criminal Court – Ntaganda case: ICC Trial Chamber VI orders reparations for victims – 8 Mar. 2021

Human Rights Watch – Congo Warlord Gets 30 Years: Persistence Over Many Years Helps Bring Bosco Ntaganda to Justice – 7 Nov. 2019

International Criminal Court – Bosco Ntaganda sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment – 7 Nov. 2019

Reuters – War crimes court orders record $30 million compensation for Congo victims – 8 Mar. 2021

Education Crisis: Syrian Refugee Students Denied Access to Learning

By: Chiara Carni

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

BRUSSELS, Belgium – A ministerial conference on Supporting Syria and the Region was held on March 30, 2021 in Brussels. Many argued that this conference should focus on the unprecedented education crisis facing Syrian refugee children in Lebanon. Before the COVID-19 school closure, only 42 percent of the 660,000 school-age Syrian children in Lebanon were going to school. There has been a substantial drop since COVID-19, with the number now resting at 190,000 Syrian children while another 25,000 who should have re-enrolled or entered grade 1 have not. Fewer than one percent of Syrian children complete grade 9.

Less than half of the school-aged refugee children in Lebanon are in formal education. Photo Courtesy of Human Rights Watch.

The Education Ministry announced its official shift to distance learning in March 2020. The Ministry announced that it would publish a distance learning strategy in August, but has failed to do so. Additionally, it has not established any clear plans for school re-openings. The cause for this dramatic drop in enrollment stems from many reasons, including restrictions on education. In many cases, refugee children cannot attend school because their families cannot afford transportation or because public schools have refused to enroll them.  Schools have refused to allow Syrian children to take mandatory exams if they fail to prove legal residency in Lebanon, which is required beginning at age 15. Unfortunately, approximately 70 percent of Syrians cannot qualify or afford to provide this proof.

During the summer of 2020, the Education Ministry forced the closure of nine unlicensed private schools. The schools provided education to approximately 5,000 Syrian students, and in return, the Ministry only provided spaces at public schools for 800 students. Two humanitarian groups paid for 3,000 children to enroll at private schools, leaving 1,200 students still unenrolled by the closure. Because of the financial toll COVID-19 has put on Lebanese families, 70 percent of Lebanese children previously enrolled in private schools are now enrolled in public schools. This transfer has left almost 40,000 fewer spaces for Syrian children.

Donors pay Lebanon for each Syrian refugee child enrolled in school and pay school fees for Lebanese children. As of 2020, humanitarian funding has decreased from 1.3 billion dollars to 944 million dollars. This decrease can expect to continue if the participants contributing to the funding refuse their pledges. This decrease, coupled with the Education Ministry’s refusal to run back-to-school campaigns to promote enrollment, has contributed to the education crisis at hand.

An insufficient number of Syrian refugee children have access to the technology necessary for their education. In 2018, donors provided funds to the UN to purchase laptops for public schools. These laptops were never distributed to the students. The import company falsely claimed that 2,335 of the laptops had been destroyed in the Beirut port explosion while, instead, the laptops were sold to private buyers. Unaffordable cost of data, little internet access, and the lack of technology devices have limited Syrian children’s online access.

For further information, please see:

Executive Magazine – Lebanon’s experience with distance learning – 11 June 2020

Human Rights Watch – Lebanon: Action Needed on Syrian Refugee Education Crisis – 26 Mar. 2021

The 961 – A Company Sold Donated Laptops That Were Supposed To Go To Schools In Lebanon – 8 Feb. 2021