Special Features

High Court’s Decision in Northern Ireland Puts Pressure on the Legislature to Liberalize Abortion Laws

By: Madison Kenyon 

Impunity Watch Staff Writer 

BELFAST, Ireland — On Thursday, October 3, the high court in Belfast, Ireland held that Northern Ireland’s abortion law violates human rights. Specifically, Justice Keegan, the presiding judge, found that the law is incompatible with the United Kingdom’s human rights commitments. Justice Keegan will hear more submissions before deciding what definitive action to take.

Sarah Ewart and her mother after the October ruling. Photo Courtesy of BBC.

The current abortion law in place in Northern Ireland only permits an abortion in cases where it is necessary to save the life of the mother or prevent permanent mental or physical damage of the mother. There is no exception for rape, incest, or fatal fetal abnormalities. Further, abortion is a criminal offense under the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Due to this law, women who seek an abortion must travel outside of Northern Ireland in order to get one. Although England, Scotland, and Wales all legalized abortions in 1967, Northern Ireland did not follow suit.

In June 2018, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission brought a case in the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court challenging Northern Ireland’s abortion law. The court dismissed the case though because it found that the Commission lacked standing and rather the case needed to be brought by a woman who had been denied an abortion. The court did state however, that Northern Ireland’s abortion law was incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Following this dismissal, in January 2019, Sarah Ewart brought the present case. Ms. Ewart had previously been denied an abortion in 2013 even though her doctor told her that the child would either die during birth or shortly after leaving the womb. Along with being denied an abortion, she did not receive any advice as to where she could get an abortion or what she should do. Thus, Ms. Ewart had to travel to London in order to obtain an abortion. Justice Keegan found Ms. Ewart’s testimony to be very persuasive and she held that she did not think another woman should have to go through the same trauma that Ms. Ewart went through.

Regarding Thursday’s decision, Ms. Ewart stated, “Today’s ruling is a turning point for women in their campaign against the outdated laws prohibiting against abortion in Northern Ireland.” As Ms. Ewart suggests, this is definitely a step towards liberalizing Northern Ireland’s abortion law however, it is still very dependent on how the legislature reacts to this decision. Yet, this is not the only pressure the legislature has received to change Northern Ireland’s abortion law. Rather, in July 2019, the British Parliament voted on a plan that would decriminalize abortion in Northern Ireland if the local government, which stopped functioning in January 2017, did not re-establish itself by October 21. Thus, with an upcoming deadline, the legislature must act fast and in compliance with Thursday’s holding, or the court should expect a lot more cases like Ms. Ewart’s.

For further information, please see: 

The Hill – High Court Rules Northern Ireland’s Abortion Ban Violates Human Rights – 3 Oct. 2019

AlJazeera – Northern Ireland Abortion Law Breaches Human Rights, Court Says – 3 Oct. 2019

CNN – Northern Ireland Abortion Law Breaches Human Rights, High Court Rules – 3 Oct. 2019

House of Commons: Women and Equalities Committee – Abortion Law in Northern Ireland – 3 Apr. 2019


What is Happening Along the Border of Turkey and Syria?

By: Madison Kenyon 

Impunity Watch Staff Writer 

DAMASCUS, Syria — On Sunday, October 20, Syrian Kurdish forces began their withdrawal from Ras al-Ayn, a town along the Syrian border. This withdrawal is part of a cease-fire negotiated by the United States’ Vice President, Mike Pence, and Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo with Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. This cease-fire began Thursday, October 17, and will end on Tuesday, October 22. By Tuesday evening, the Kurdish forces must not only have all soldiers removed from Ras al-Ayn, but also, they must withdraw from a zone about 75 miles wide and 20 miles deep between Ras al-Ayn and the town of Tel Abyad.

The aftermath of a shelling by Turkish forces on a target in Das al-Ayn. Photo courtesy of NPR.

Despite the Kurdish forces’ withdrawal from this zone, Turkey states that this is not enough. Rather, Erdogan wants the Kurdish forces to withdraw more than 260 miles from the Syrian border.  He has vowed that if the forces fail to do so, he will “continue to crush the terrorists’ heads.” Erdogan’s persistency to remove the Kurds from the Syrian border comes from his belief that the presence of any Kurds along the Turkey border is an “existential threat” to Turkey.

This tension between Turkey and the Kurds stems from years of conflict. The Kurds, a largely Muslim ethnic group, are one of the largest groups of people without a state of their own (despite being promised one after World War I). Due to this, for years, a Kurdish militant group has launched attacks throughout Turkey in an attempt to achieve autonomy. Therefore, Turkey sees the Kurdish forces located in northern Syria as linked to this militant group. Thus, Turkey argues that it wants to create a “safe zone” between the Turkey-Syrian border. It also argues that it wants to resettle at least a million refugees living in Turkey who were displaced by the Syrian war into this zone.

Previously, the U.S. has backed the Kurds in their defense against Turkey. However, recently, President Donald Trump signed an executive order withdrawing U.S. troops from northern Syria. The Kurds have now had to turn to Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s leader, and Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President, for help in this conflict.

Since President Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria, over 200,000 people have been displaced. Many of these people blame President Trump for this displacement. One 70-year-old Kurdish man, forced to flee from his home in Ras al-Ayn, stated, “This was a clear betrayal by the Americans. The Turks never would have done what they did had the Americans stayed.”

This criticism is what led the U.S. to negotiate this cease-fire. However, despite the Kurds’ current withdrawal, both sides claim that the other side still repeatedly violates the cease-fire. For example, Turkey’s Defense Ministry stated that the Kurds killed one of its soldiers today during an attack.

It is hard to believe that this cease-fire will make any real difference in this conflict. Rather, the world is awaiting to see what happens at the Turkey-Syrian border Tuesday evening once the cease-fire ends.

For further information, please see: 

Time – Kurds Begin to Evacuate Besieged Syrian Border Town – 20 Oct. 2019

Washington Post – The Latest: Kurdish Fighters Pull Out of Syrian Border Town – 20 Oct. 2019

Bloomberg – Syrian and Kurdi News: Trump Approach to Turkey Syria Incursion – 20 Oct. 2019

Los Angeles Times – ‘How Long Can We Live Like This?’: Kurds in Growing Refugee Camp Plead for Help, End to Losses, Suffering – 20 Oct. 2019

CBS News – Turkey’s Involvement in Syria’s Civil War: The Complicated History of How We Got Here – 15 Oct. 2019

Politico Magazine: Gina Haspel Is a Torturer. What Else Does the Senate Need to Know?

Gina Haspel is pictured. | AP Photo
CIA via AP


Gina Haspel Is a Torturer. What Else Does the Senate Need to Know?

President Donald Trump is notoriously hostile toward the CIA. He frequently denigrates it in public and reportedly rarely even bothers to read its reports. None of Trump’s critical tweets, utterances or acts, however, carries as much venom or has the potential for causing as much harm to the agency as the president’s recent nomination of Gina Haspel to serve as the CIA’s next director. If evidence were needed of the president’s continuing grudge against the agency, this is it.

And why?

The answer begins with an understanding of the role of the director. As is the case with any agency, the director is critical to the CIA’s identity and effectiveness. Inwardly, she sets the standard, defines the vision and mission, drives effectiveness, ensures legal compliance, and is accountable for everything and everyone. If the director rises from the ranks (as Haspel did), she serves as the honored model of and guide to career success and accomplishment. Externally, the director represents the public face of the agency and the embodiment of its ethos, character and competence. And while these functions are common to all agencies, arguably the role is most important at the CIA because it uniquely operates at the boundary of law and illegality—a dangerous intersection for a democracy where particular care is required.

In nominating Haspel, Trump could hardly have selected a person more demonstrably ill-suited to carry out any of these essential duties. Although most of her career has taken place in the shadows and part of it was reportedly distinguished, Haspel is most prominently known for being intimately involved in carrying out the agency’s catastrophic Bush-era torture program or, as it was euphemistically called back then, the CIA’s Rendition, Detention and Interrogation program. As such, she bears great personal responsibility for a program famous for its exceptional savagery and brutality, managerial incompetence and consistent ill-judgment.

Haspel was no mere CIA paper-shuffler. By all accounts she was an engaged participant in the torture program. She reportedly ran the CIA’s torture “black site” in Thailand and directly supervised the inhuman interrogations of Al Qaeda suspects Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. Later, when a congressional committee sought to exercise its constitutional oversight of the RDI program, Haspel was instrumental in the destruction of the videos of the black site waterboarding sessions—against the advice of superiors in the Bush administration. This act alone, which I believe was almost certainly motivated by a desire to destroy the evidence that waterboarding exceeded the legal threshold for torture and thus to evade both personal and institutional accountability and oversight, should be sufficient to disqualify her from confirmation.

And yet there is more to consider. To weigh the merits of her nomination, the full, unredacted version of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s 2014 Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program should be released to the public. The data in the devastating 6,700-page report will help the public better understand why the Intelligence Committee concluded that the torture program was such a failure, despite the CIA’s bogus claims to the contrary, and why it helped weaken—not strengthen—the nation’s defenses against terrorism. It will also help us better understand Haspel’s central role in the fiasco and probe the questionable presumption of competence that she would bring as director.

In the end, though, confirmation should not hinge merely on Haspel’s technical competence, but on her integrity and her ability to lead the agency and to credibly represent our country in that role. In making this judgment, a rhetorical question posed to test journalistic integrity is apt: “What do you call a reporter who tells the truth 99 percent of the time but deliberately lies the other 1 percent?” The correct answer is, of course, “a liar.” So it is with torturers in the service of a government. Regardless of the other good a person may have done in the course of her career, the act of having tortured indelibly and forever defines the character and identity of that person.

Is Haspel a torturer? Yes, inescapably. The Justice Department may have approved the RDI program in concept, but its lawyers were not present in the black sites to witness the conditions of confinement, the totality of the torment, and the effect on the victim, which are always the ultimate tests of whether torture was applied. But Haspel was there; she lived it. The situation may have varied from site to site, but she can be presumed to have felt the piercing cold, experienced the bleak darkness and heard the deafening, ceaseless music; she directed and then oversaw the application of pain—the blows, the hanging from shackles, the confinement in coffin- or suitcase-size boxes, the suffocation when water was inhaled time and again; and she heard the cries and groans and saw the bruises, the loss of consciousness, and the blood. And all of this not for a moment, but ceaselessly for weeks on end.

American law and values teach us that the test for torture will always be the severity of the pain, not merely whether a lawyer may have approved its infliction. Haspel didn’t have to rely on a lawyer to tell her whether the pain inflicted under her authority amounted to torture because she was there to see it applied and could not have mistaken it for anything else.

During my service as chief counsel for the Navy and Marine Corps, I was involved in numerous discussions where an officer’s fitness to command was evaluated. Anyone with Haspel’s involvement with brutality would have been summarily dismissed from either service. Perhaps the CIA is different, its standards lower. And perhaps there are no standards. I’m hoping this is not so, but this confirmation hearing will be the test.

These are the questions the Senate will have to answer: Is Haspel the person the Senate would want to stand before the agency’s personnel as the model CIA officer, the leader, the person to be emulated? To recruit at colleges and challenge students to join her and be like her? To reach out to foreign partners and receive their respect? To be a trusted facilitator of congressional oversight? To represent the agency’s future, not its discarded past? Is she to be the face of the agency?

We can guess why Trump is nominating Haspel: He dislikes the CIA and likes torture, so she suits him. Trump may not care much for the agency, but the Senate must. That’s why the Senate must withhold its consent for Haspel’s nomination and advise the president to find a more fitting director.

Alberto Mora is a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy and a former general counsel of the Department of the Navy. He was an early opponent of torture during the Bush administration.

War Crimes Prosecution Watch: Volume 13, Issue 2- March 5, 2018


Michael P. Scharf

War Crimes Prosecution Watch

Volume 13 – Issue 2
March 5, 2018

Taylor Frank

Technical Editor-in-Chief
Ashley Mulryan

Managing Editors
Sarah Lucey
Lynsey Rosales

War Crimes Prosecution Watch is a bi-weekly e-newsletter that compiles official documents and articles from major news sources detailing and analyzing salient issues pertaining to the investigation and prosecution of war crimes throughout the world. To subscribe, please email warcrimeswatch@pilpg.org and type “subscribe” in the subject line.

Opinions expressed in the articles herein represent the views of their authors and are not necessarily those of the War Crimes Prosecution Watch staff, the Case Western Reserve University School of Law or Public International Law & Policy Group.




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Lake Chad Region — Chad, Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon





Rwanda (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda)





Court of Bosnia & Herzegovina, War Crimes Chamber

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War Crimes Investigations in Burma

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