The Middle East

The ICC Prosecutor’s Road to Justice for Afghanistan

By: Madison Kenyon 

Impunity Watch Staff Writer 

KABUL, Afghanistan — On September 17, 2019, the Pre-Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court (ICC) granted in part the request of the prosecutor for Leave to Appeal the Chamber’s earlier decision, which rejected the prosecutor’s request for authorization to investigate into the situation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The Pre-Trial Chamber originally rejected this authorization because it believed that an investigation at the current stage of the situation would not serve the interests of justice. Thus, on June 7, 2019, the prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, filed for leave to appeal this decision.

International Criminal Court’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda. Photo courtesy of the ICC.

This procedural history stems from the preliminary examination, which began in 2006, by the Office of the Prosecutor of the situation in Afghanistan. Specifically, the prosecutor examined alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes that have occurred in Afghanistan since July 1, 2002, with particular focus on alleged crimes that occurred on May 1, 2003. The prosecutor asserts that the results of this examination prove the following: (1) crimes against humanity and war crimes by the Taliban and their affiliated network; (2) war crimes by the Afghan National Security Forces, and in particular, members of the National Directorate for Security and the Afghan National Police; (3) and war crimes by members of the United States’ armed forces and the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Overall, through this examination, the prosecutor determined that there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into this situation and thus made the request for authorization to investigate on November 20, 2017.

The prosecutor asserts that, at a minimum, the crimes against humanity that have been committed include: murder; imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty; and persecution against an identifiable group or collectivity on political and gender grounds. Along with this, the prosecutor states that the war crimes that have been committed include: murder; cruel treatment and torture; outrages upon personal dignity; intentionally directing attacks against civilians; intentionally directing attacks against personnel or objects involved in a humanitarian assistance or peacekeeping mission; internationally directing attacks against protected objects; rape and other forms of sexual violence; using, conscripting or enlisting children under the age of fifteen; and killing or wounding treacherously a combatant adversary. Further, regarding the United States’ involvement in the situation in Afghanistan, the prosecutor states that there is a reasonable basis to believe that members of the U.S. armed forces and members of the CIA committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and rape and sexual violence against conflict-related detainees in Afghanistan and other locations.

Although the Pre-Trial Chamber granted the prosecutor leave to appeal its earlier decision, this does not mean that it will also grant the prosecutor authorization to investigate further into the situation in Afghanistan. Due to the evidence produced by the prosecutor from her preliminary examination, if the Chamber again refuses to grant authorization to investigate further, it may leave many to wonder if the court is actually concerned about the “interests of justice” or if it is actually trying to avoid upsetting an international powerhouse like the United States.

For further information, please see: 

International Criminal Court – Afghanistan: ICC Pre-Trial Chamber II Authorises Prosecutor to Appeal Decision Refusing Investigation – 17 Sept. 2019

International Criminal Court – Situation in Afghanistan: Summary of the Prosecutor’s Request for Authorisation of an Investigation Pursuant to Article 15 – 20 Nov. 2017

International Criminal Court – The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, Requests Judicial Authorisation to Commence an Investigation into the Situation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – 20 Nov. 2017

ICC Prosecutor Must Re-examine Attack After Appeal Chamber’s Decision

By: Madison Kenyon 

Impunity Watch Staff Writer 

MORONI, Comoros — On September 2, 2019, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) rejected the prosecutor’s appeal against the decision of Pre-Trial Chamber I on the Application for Judicial Review by the Government of the Union of the Comoros of November 12, 2018. This was a majority decision, however there were two dissenting judges.

Judge Solomy Balungi Bossa presiding over the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court on September 2, 2019. Photo Courtesy of the ICC.

This issue arose from an attack of a vessel ship, known as the Mavi Marmara, that occurred on May 31, 2010 by the Israeli Defense Forces. This ship contained 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid that a group of pro-Palestinian activists were bringing to Gaza. During this attack, nine people were killed and about 50 others injured.

In May 2013, the Union of Comoros, a party of the Rome Statute, sent a referral to the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor to investigate this attack. However, after a preliminary examination, on November 6, 2014 the prosecutor issued her decision not to investigate any further. She stated that although the acts committed constituted war crimes, which the ICC has jurisdiction over, the acts did not have “sufficient gravity to justify further action by the ICC.” In order for the prosecutor to open an investigation, it is required by the Rome Statute that she conclude that the alleged crimes are of sufficient gravity. Thus, she stated, “…I have to be guided by the Rome Statute, in accordance with which, the ICC shall prioritize war crimes committed on a large scale or pursuant to a plan or policy.”

Although it is the prosecutor’s decision to investigate further into a case or not, on July 16, 2015, Pre-Trial Chamber I of the ICC requested the prosecutor to reconsider the decision not to investigate. Two years later though, on November 29, 2017, the prosecutor reiterated her earlier decision, stating she will not investigate further. Yet, on November 15, 2018, the Pre-Trial Chamber I went one step further, and directed the prosecutor to reconsider her decision.

This decision to direct the prosecutor is what led to the prosecutor’s appeal and this decision by the Appeals Chamber. Due to the September decision by the Appeals Chamber, the prosecutor must now once again reconsider whether she will investigate further into this attack by the Israeli Defense Forces. The Appeals Chamber however, made sure to clarify that this decision does not take away the prosecutor’s power to ultimately decide whether or not to initiate an investigation.

Despite this clarification, this decision by the Appeals Chamber leads one to question whether this is truly the case. It will be interesting to see how the court responds if the prosecutor decides once again not to investigate further.

For further information, please see: 

International Criminal Court – Situation of the Registered Vessels of Comoros, Greece and Cambodia: ICC Appeals Chamber Rejects the Prosecutor’s Appeal – 2 Sept. 2019 

International Criminal Court – Statement of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, on Concluding the Preliminary Examination of the Situation Referred by the Union of Comoros: “Rome Statute Legal Requirements Have Not Been Met” – 6 Nov. 2014 

The Guardian – Israeli Attack on Gaza Flotilla Sparks International Outrage – 31 May 2010


EHCR Rejects Said Mansour’s Request to Block Denmark Deportation

By: Brianna Ferrante
Impunity Watch News Reporter

RABAT, MOROCCO- The European Court of Human Rights has unanimously rejected Moroccan Said Mansour’s appeal against being deported from Denmark for his terror-related convictions in fear of being subjected to torture.


Said Mansour prior to his deportation from Denmark. Photo courtesy of Carl Redhead

A court in Denmark had previously convicted Mansour in July of 2015 on charges related to the editing and publishing of three books and multiple Facebook posts considered to be terrorist propaganda.

The works were written and distributed by Mansour for the purposes of praising Osama Bin Laden and encouraging readers and followers to join an al-Queada affiliate in Syria known as the al-Nursa Front. Mansour was sentenced to four years in prison and had his Denmark citizenship revoked.

Additionally, the Moroccan ambassador to Denmark has previously stated Mansour is suspected for his alleged involvement in a 2003 terror attack that claimed the lives of 42 people in Casablanca. Since his release from prison, he was deported to Morocco on January 4th.

Mansour’s appeal to the ECHR was premised on Article Three of the European Convention on Human Rights, which he alleged his deportation would directly conflict with.

Article 3 prohibits anyone from being subjected to torture, inhumane or degrading treatment of punishment. Mansour argued that he would be in danger in the north African country, due to his publicized criticisms of its king and the government.

The ECHR rejected this claim unanimously, relying  on international reports that the human rights situation in Morocco has generally improved over several years, and that the authorities have been working to improve and increase compliance with internationally mandated human rights standards.

For more information, please see:

The Local Denmark- European Court of Human Rights Upholds Danish Deportation of Former Citizen Who Incited Terror. February 14, 2019. 

Morocco World News- ECHR Rejects Said Mansour’s Request Against Deportation. February 15, 2019.

Yaabiladi English- European Court of Human Rights Endorses Mansour’s Deportation. February 15, 2019.

Saudi Women Arrested, Receive Social Backlash as the Lift on the Driving ban Approaches

By: Natalie S. Maier
Impunity Watch Reporter, The Middle East

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — As Saudi Arabia prepares to lift its ban on women driving, activists behind the change are experiencing backlash. Activists Loujain al-Hathloul, Iman al-Nafjan, Aziza al-Yousef and Aisha Almane were arrested last week, accused of “suspicious contact with foreign entities to support their activities, recruiting some persons in charge of sensitive government positions, and providing financial support to hostile elements outside the country,” according to a state news agency. A headline in the daily al-Jazirah newspaper branded the women as “traitors.”

Saudi Activist Manal Al Sharif. Courtesy of Marwan Naamani/AFP/Getty Images.

The arrests are cause for concern for women’s rights campaigners around the world, who applauded the lift of the ban as a significant step for women’s rights in the country. Sydney-based Saudi activist and author Manal Al-Sharif told CNN on Sunday that she thinks the arrests show a pattern of character assassination that has previously plagued the efforts of social reform. “We used to live in a police state; if you speak up you go to jail. And then there would be a defamation campaign against you, saying all sort of untrue things… We are seeing the same pattern now,” she says. Al-Sharif also says that the security forces arrested the women in their homes, without a warrant.

Amnesty International has condemned the arrests and negative coverage by the local media in the days following. Samah Hadid, Amnesty International’s Middle East director of campaigns, said that, while the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman presents himself as a reformer, “his promises of reform seem entirely superficial as the repression of human rights activists continues unabated.”

Other citizens against lifting the ban have taken to social media using the hashtag #YouWontDrive, which has been used 65,000 times since Monday. Some women chose to respond humorously by tweeting pictures and videos of their dream cars. Others, such as Sarah Al-Otaibi, responded on a more serious note, calling the hashtag a threat to women and the free exercise of their rights.

The pressure to lift the ban on driving comes as a larger call by women to end Saudi Arabia’s practices of male guardianship, which require women to get the permission of a male guardian to do almost everything. Other key changes since December of 2015 include women voting and standing as candidates in political elections, attending public sporting events, and entering the workforce in the hotel industry.

King Salman issued the decree in September of 2017 allowing women to drive for the first time in the country’s history. The ban on driving is set to be lifted on June 24, 2018.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Saudi Arabia women’s driving activists ‘targeted in smear campaign’ – 20 May 2018

BBC – Saudi women troll men telling them ‘you won’t drive’ – 16 May 2018

CNN – Saudi Arabia arrests female activists week before lifting of driving ban – 20 May 2018


UK Apologizes for Torture of Libyan Rebel Commander and his Wife

By: Natalie S. Maier
Impunity Watch Reporter, The Middle East

TRIPOLI, Libya – Libyan Rebel Commander Abdul Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar have received an apology from the UK government following “appalling treatment” during their detention in 2004.

Boudchar and her son. Photo Courtesy of BBC News.

Mr. Belhaj and Ms. Boudchar were taken to Tripoli where they were both tortured by Libyan jailers. Belhaj had been an opponent of Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi and lead the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group in multiple assassination attempts on Gaddafi. Belhaj and his wife were abducted in 2001 while trying to fly from Bangkok to London to seek asylum in the UK . Boudchar was five months pregnant at the time.

In the aftermath of the terrorists attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the US and its allies sought to track jihadists groups more closely. This included British Intelligence agencies’ monitoring of Libyan dissidents who had been living under UK protection. Senior MI6 officer, Sir Mark Allen, was at the center of an operation attempting to convince Gaddafi and his henchmen to work with the West. Papers found by the Human Rights Watch, known as the Tripoli documents, show that Allen and his Libyan counterpart, Moussa Koussa, had agreed that counterterrorism experts from both party’s sides should meet and discuss their common enemies. Koussa allegedly wanted intelligence that would lead to the capture of LIFG leaders on the run, in addition to recognition for Libya.

In 2004, Prime Minister Tony Blair and Gaddafi made a diplomatic move ultimately known as the “deal in the desert.” As consideration, the UK agreed to provide information on the whereabouts of the regime’s enemies.

On March 1, 2004, information from London to Tripoli tipped off Belhaj and his wife, who were in Malaysia at the time. Malaysian authorities, in communication with the Libyans, put the couple on a flight to Bangkok, where they were received and immediately detained. A day later, the couple was transported to Tripoli. Belhaj alleges that he was continuously tortured during a six-year period in prison. Boudchar was released only a few months after being detained, and shortly before giving birth.

On Thursday, May 10, 2018, British Prime Minister Theresa May issued a public apology to Belhaj, Boudchar, and their son, with whom Boudchar was pregnant at the time of her detainment. All three family members were present at the reading of the apology. Belhaj told BBC news, “I hope that it is a new page in history, that we guarantee and strengthen human rights and this practice is not repeated.”

For further information, please see:

BBC News – Belhaj rendition: UK apology over Libyan dissident treatment – 10 May 2018

Evening Standard – Libyan dissident Abdul Hakim Belhaj, tortured by Gaddafi regime, receives apology from Theresa May – as his wife Fatima Boudchar is given £500,000 payout – 10 May 2018

Middle East Eye – British government apologizes to Libyan dissident Belhaj over rendition – 10 May 2018 

BBC News – Abdul Hakim Belhaj: the documents trail that nailed  UK’s secret role in rendition – 10 May 2018