ICC Voices Concern Regarding Increasing Violence in the Ivory Coast in Response to President Alassane Seeking a Controversial Third Term

By: Hannah Bennink

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – Citizens in the Ivory Coast began casting their votes on Saturday, October 31st, 2020, in what has been an extremely controversial presidential election. The polls closed at 18:00 local time (GMT) and the votes are currently being counted; however, early estimates show a likely win for the incumbent.

A woman casts her vote during the presidential election in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Photo courtesy of AP News.

Running in the election is: President Alassane Ouattara, age 78, of the Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace; Henri Konan Bédié, age 86, of the Democratic Party of Ivory Coast; Pascal Affi N’Guessan, age 67, of the Ivorian Popular Front faction; and Kouadio Konan Bertin, age 51, as an independent candidate.

Protests broke out in August when, in response to the death of his preferred successor, President Ouattara said he would run for a third term despite it violating the country’s constitution’s two-term presidential limit. The President justified his running for a third term because of a 2016 constitutional referendum, which he claimed, “reset the clock” and invalidated his first term. His opponents disagreed, however, saying a third term for the president would be illegal.

The protests in response to the election began in August and have resulted in at least 30 deaths. There were at least 12 more deaths from election day clashes. Opposition parties had called for civil disobedience, mass protests, and an overall boycott of the presidential vote in an effort to “block a dictatorship.” Opposition activists blocked roads and burned election materials, shutting down an estimated 23 percent of polling stations. The protestors closest to the neighborhood where President Ouattara cast his ballot were cleared with tear gas.

There have been long-standing tensions in the Ivory Coast between several of the country’s leading politicians, but most the most recent conflict occurred in 2010 when Laurent Gbagbo, the president at the time, refused to concede to now President Ouattara. A violent civil war followed and resulted in more than 3,000 deaths in five months of violence. Gbagbo was acquitted of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court, however many believe that anger over Ouattara’s seeking a third election may end in another massive violent conflict.

The International Criminal Court voiced its concern about the escalation of violence in the Ivory Coast as the election grew near, specifically the allegations of intercommunal violence and the destruction of civilian-owned property. The Court noted that its investigations on the Ivory Coast, opened in October 2011, remain ongoing and that the violence seen in 2010 must not be repeated by any side.

On November 2nd, in response to what seems to be an overwhelming win for President Ouattara, opposition leaders announced that they will not recognize the President’s victory. The leaders also stated that they have formed a national transition council and that an interim government would be named to prepare for a new election.

For further information, please see:

BBC NEWS – Ivory Coast elections: Voters go to the polls amid opposition boycott – 31 Oct. 2020

International Criminal Court – Statement by the ICC Prosecutor on the pre-election violence and mounting intercommunity tensions: The violence seen in Côte d’Ivoire during the first pre- and post-election crisis of 2010 must not be repeated – 28 Oct. 2020

AP News – Ivory Coast Opposition asserts 12 dead in election violence – 31 Oct. 2020

AP News – Ivory Coast tensions rise as president seeks 3rd term – 30 Oct. 2020

Thomson Reuters – Ivory Coast’s Ouattara takes early lead in election – 1 Nov. 2020

Al Jazeera – Ouattara’s election victory could risk Ivory Coast’s stability – 2 Nov. 2020

The European Court of Human Rights Upholds Foreign Nationals Rights to Information During Deportation Proceedings

By: Hannah Gavin

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

STRASBOURG, France – On October 15, 2020, the European Court of Human Rights came to a final judgment in the case of Muhammad and Muhammad v. Romania. The court found that Romania had violated the plaintiff’s rights in concealing information pertaining to their deportation status.

Justices from the European Court of Human Rights deliver the judgment in Muhammad and Muhammed v. Romania. Photo Courtesy of PBS.

Adeel Muhammad and Ramzan Muhammad are Pakistani nationals who originally came to Romania on student visas. Both men attended university until December of 2012. At that time, the SRI provided classified documents to the prosecutor’s office who then proceeded to submit an application to the Bucharest Court of Appeals. This application requested that the men two men be deemed “undesirable in Romania”.  The prosecutor’s office claimed in the report that the classified information implied that the men were threats to national security. That evening, on December 4th, the local police summoned both Adeel and Ramzan to appear in court the following day.

At the judgment, the prosecutor’s office asked the court to rule that the men were undesirable on the grounds that they had engaged in behaviors that threatened national security. They again referred to the classified documents in their possession. The men informed the court that they had no understanding of why they had been summoned and that the initial application contained only references of legal provisions that were of no specificity to them. The Court of Appeals found both men to be undesirable for the next 15-years in Romania, meaning they were not able to be in the country for that time. The men were then set to be deported.

On Adeel and Ramzan’s initial appeal they were dismissed. The High Court of Cassation viewed the reluctance to expose the classified documents as proper. They stated that the men had “been in a position to know…the reason why they had been summoned to court in the exclusion and expulsion proceedings.” The men appealed again, stating that they were not given their right to effective counsel due to the court not releasing the details of the classified documents.

On the appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, the court sent the case to the Grand Chamber. There the Chamber attempted to determine whether or not the limitations on the information given to the men were proper and if they were necessary as a safeguard. The Chamber found that there was no law in place that clearly established the need for the court to impose non-disclosure. Additionally, the court had not explained the reasons for withholding the information that was concrete. Finally, SRI published a press-release that contained details of the classified information only one day after the judgment.

The Chamber ruled that Romania had violated Article 1 of Protocol no. 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights which allows those facing deportation to have information so that they may provide a reasonable defense. The court found that Romania must pay each of the men EUR 10,000 in damages and another EUR 1,365 for costs and expenses.

For further information, please see:

European Court of Human Rights – Grand Chamber Judgement Muhammad and Muhammad v. Romania – 15 Oct. 2020

European Court of Human Rights – Video Delivery of the Judgement Muhammad v. Muhammad v. Romania – 15 Oct. 2020

Christopher Jones v. Tanzania Reparations Ruled On

By: William Krueger

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

ARUSHA, Tanzania – On October 1st, 2002 Christopher Jones and Erasto Samson were alleged to have stolen valuables from Habibu Saidi and assaulted him with a machete strike to the face. Jones was a second-hand clothes street trader in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Image of the African Court on Human and People’s Rights. Photo Courtesy of the African Court.

After a trial in the Morogoro District Court, Jones and Samson were found guilty of the charges on February 13th, 2004, and were both sentenced to thirty years in prison and twelve cane strokes, a form of corporal punishment. Jones had filed appeals for his conviction to the High Court of Tanzania on February 26th, 2004 but was dismissed. Jones then filed with the Court of Appeal of Tanzania on September 21st, 2005. The Court of Appeal of Tanzania responded on March 27th, 2009 by amending his sentence to remove the twelve cane strokes but otherwise denying action on his thirty-year term of imprisonment.

Jones had alleged to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in an application received by the Court on May 11th, 2015 that he was wrongly convicted of the offense against Habibu Saidi as the victim incorrectly identified some of the stolen items. Jones argued that the applied sentence was incorrect because the statute used in his conviction was amended in 2004 to allow a sentence of thirty years. Finally, Jones alleged that the United Republic of Tanzania failed to provide him with counsel or any form of legal assistance as promised under the 1977 Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania. For the injustices Jones alleges to have suffered he asks for his guilty verdict to be reversed, to be immediately released from prison, and to issue Tanzania to pay an order of reparations.

Tanzania’s response to the Court states that Jones has not invoked the jurisdiction of the court and should be dismissed. Tanzania goes further and says that even if jurisdiction was invoked then Jones’ complaint should be dismissed for being inadmissible under Rules of the Court and that the Court itself has no jurisdiction to compel Tanzania to release Jones from prison via order. Tanzania asks for the Court to find that its treatment of Jones did not violate the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the 1977 Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania. Tanzania also requests that the court find Jones’ sentence to not be excessive or discriminatory.

In the final judgment of the case by the Court, it found that Jones was not wrongly convicted as there was testimony by multiple witnesses beyond Habibu Saidi and he was apprehended on the scene of the robbery by authorities. On the allegation that Jones was not provided legal assistance by Tanzania, the Court found that Jones was never offered legal aide and thus Tanzania had violated Article 1 and 7 (1) (c) of the Charter. The Court ruled that Jones’ thirty-year sentence for armed robbery was correct as Tanzania had allowed a minimum sentence of thirty years for armed robbery since 1994. The Court ruled that Jones would be able to seek reparations for the failure of Tanzania to provide him with legal assistance.

On September 25th, 2020 the Court released its ruling on the reparations for Jones. Jones was not ordered to be set free as his conviction was found to be just by the Court. The only reparation to be granted to Jones was 300,000 Tanzanian Shillings for not being granted legal aid by Tanzanian authorities.  

For further information, please see:

African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights – Judgment (Reparations) – 25 Sept. 2020

African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights – Judgment Summary – 25 Sept. 2020

African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights – Judgment – 28 Sept. 2017

New Public Redacted Documents available on Al Hassan Trial

By: Rebecca Buchanan

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – On October 21st, 2020, Trial Chamber X of The International Criminal Court (ICC) released new public redacted versions of key trial decisions in the case of Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mohamed (Al Hassan).

Al Hassan during pre-trial discussions at the International Criminal Court. Photo Courtesy of the ICC.

The Al Hassan trial began on July 14th, 2020, following a lengthy Pre-Trial Phase. Al Hassan is accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Timbuktu, Mali between 2012 and 2013. On September 8th, 2020, the prosecution began its ongoing presentation of evidence and witness testimony.

The newly released trial documents address the inclusion of prior recorded testimony, the validity of expert witnesses for the prosecution, and the late addition of evidence to the Final List of Evidence by the prosecution. The documents, originally dated August 5th, 2020, provide valuable insight into the ongoing witness testimony brought by the prosecution, and shed light on the Chamber’s application of its own Rules of Procedure and Evidence.

On June 1st-2nd, 2020, the prosecution filed multiple requests regarding 27 proposed expert witnesses. They sought to authorize the validity and use of specific expert witnesses (noted in the document by number, rather than name), and the introduction of previously recorded testimony by additional expert witnesses pursuant to Rule 68(3). Rule 68(3) of the ICC Rules of Procedure and Evidence allows the introduction of previously recorded testimony so long as the witness is present before the Trial Chamber, the witness does not object to the inclusion of the testimony, and all parties have the opportunity to examine the witness during the trial.

The defense filed a response to the request challenging the relevance and probative value of 6 expert witnesses and objecting to the inclusion of previously recorded testimony by 8 of the prosecution’s witnesses. In its ruling, the Chamber noted that it would not determine the admissibility of evidence until the end of the trial but would offer preliminary decisions relating to Rule 68(3) and the general permissibility of certain expert testimony. The Chamber determined that 21 of the 27 proposed expert witnesses for the Prosecution would be allowed to testify. The Chamber deemed the previously recorded testimony of 12 expert witnesses admissible under 68(3) but, in service of fairness to the defense, limited the prosecution’s examination to one hour.

The June 1st-2nd, requests also included an appeal for late additions to the prosecution’s Final List of Evidence pursuant to Regulation 35 of the Regulations of the Court. Regulation 35 allows the court to extend any time limit placed upon parties when good reason is shown, or when a party can prove they were unable to file their application within the time limit for reasons beyond their control. The defense filed a response opposing portions of the prosecution’s request, noting that the prosecution had already been granted an extension on the deadline to produce evidence from April 14, 2020, to May 12, 2020. The Chamber judgment granted the addition of 11 items into the prosecution’s Final List of Evidence, none of which were objected to by the defense.

The prosecution’s presentation of evidence and witness testimony is ongoing. The defense and Legal Representatives of Victims will give their opening statements when the prosecution concludes its presentation of the case.

For further information, please see:

International Criminal Court – Al Hassan Case: Decision on the Prosecution’s Proposed Expert Witnesses – 21 Oct. 2020

International Criminal Court – Al Hassan Case: Decision on the Prosecution Requests Pursuant to Regulation 35 Regarding P-0660 and P-0661 and to add 12 items to its Final List of Evidence – 21 Oct. 2020

International Criminal Court – Al Hassan Case: Case Information Sheet – Oct. 2020

Impunity Watch – First Witness of the Prosecution Testifies at Al Hassan’s Trial – 5 Oct. 2020

The IACHR Brings Freedom of Expression Violations, Against Indigenous Broadcasters, to the Attention of the Inter-American Court and the Government of Guatemala

By: Christian González

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

GUATEMALA – Two recent cases involving actions of the Guatemalan government against local indigenous radio stations have been reported and brought to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (hereinafter “the Inter-American Court”) and the Government of Guatemala, by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

Anastasia Mejía Triquiz, the director of Xolabaj Radio and TV, was arrested by police on September 22nd, 2020. Photo Courtesy of The Coalition For Women In Journalism.

The first involves the legal obstacles faced by four local stations operated by indigenous people, including access to radio frequencies and criminal consequences imposed on any unauthorized operations. The second involves the arrest, detention, and delayed hearing process of indigenous journalist Anastasia Mejía Triquiz.

On April 3rd, 2020, the IACHR presented a merits report to the Inter-American Court regarding four Guatemalan radio stations, each operated by a different indigenous ethnic group. These four are: a station based in Sumpango operated by Kaqchikel Maya, a station based in San Miguel Chicai operated by the Achí Maya, a station based in Cajolá operated by Mam Maya, and a station based in Todos Santos Cuchumatán operated primarily by Maya of Mam heritage. The IACHR found that the Guatemalan government placed legal barriers that prevent access of radio frequencies to local indigenous communities and caused indirect discrimination against them.

Guatemalan law dictates that radio frequencies are assigned to parties that can produce the highest financial offer, making it essentially a bidding process. The IACHR asserts that this burdens indigenous communities due to the fact that many suffer from poverty and cannot afford to make competitive offers. This in turn disenfranchises these communities from lawful radio broadcasting. Article 13.3 of the American Convention states that “[t]he right of expression may not be restricted by indirect methods or means, such as the abuse of government or private controls over newsprint, radio broadcasting frequencies…. or by any other means tending to impede the communication and circulation of ideas and opinions.” According the IACHR, the Guatemalan government has violated Article 13.3 by imposing these funds-based restrictions, effectively preventing indigenous communities from preserving and sharing their culture and language through community radio stations.

Furthermore, Guatemalan law criminalizes unauthorized operation of radio broadcasts as a theft offense, which the IACHR views as an additional burden on indigenous communities and as government censorship, a violation of Article 13.2 of the American Convention. The IACHR has compiled a list of remedial recommendations for the government to follow that include increased access to radio frequencies, refraining from the use of criminal law against indigenous communities, and full reparations to those communities already harmed. The case is pending in the Inter-American Court, which is currently waiting on receipt of written arguments from parties.

On October 22nd, 2020, the IACHR Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression released a statement to the Guatemalan government regarding the arrest and detention of Anastasia Mejía Triquiz. Mejía Triquiz is a journalist of K’iche Maya heritage and the director of the Xolabaj Radio and TV stations based in Joyabaj. On September 22nd, she was arrested by the National Civil Police on charges of sedition and attempt with aggravated arson and aggravated robbery, though further justification of these charges has not been given by the government.

The Office believes that Mejía Triquiz’s arrest is possibly linked to her coverage of local demonstrations against the alleged corruption surrounding Joyabal Mayor Francisco Carrascosa’s use of COVID-19 relief funds. Her coverage and criticisms of Carrascosa were broadcasted on Xolabaj’s Facebook page.

Mejía Triquez has been detained for 31 days without a judge’s official order of pre-trial detention. Her first statement hearing has been postponed twice, and it seems she will have been detained for a total of 37 days before her first hearing. The Office alleged that this as a deprivation of her personal liberty and freedom of political speech, and acknowledges the indirect censorship effects this has on other indigenous broadcasters. In its press release, the Office called on the Guatemalan government to respect the expression and liberty rights of Mejía Triquez and to guarantee her a diligent investigation of the charges brought against her.

The Office stated that it believes that Mejía Triquez’s arrest and the above pending case in the Inter-American Court constitute an ongoing effort by the government to quash the freedom of expression rights of indigenous community broadcasters throughout Guatemala.

For further information, please see:

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – Press Release: The IACHR presents case involving Guatemala before the Inter-American Court (Spanish) – 25 Sep. 2020

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – Report No. 51/18, Petition 1779-12: Indigenous Kaqhikel Maya People of Sumpango and Others vs. Guatemala (Spanish) – 5 May 2018

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – American Convention on Human Rights – 22 Nov. 1969

Inter-American Court of Human Rights – Case Information: Indigenous Kaqhikel Maya People of Sumpango and Others vs. Guatemala (Spanish) – 5 Aug. 2020

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression – Press Relese: The Office of the Special Rapporteur considers inadmissible the delay in the detention process of indigenous journalist Anastasia Mejía Triquis in a pandemic context and calls on the State of Guatemala to respect and guarantee her right to personal liberty and due process of law – 22 Oct. 2020

Iniciativa Mesoamericana de Mujeres Defensoras de Derechos Humanos – We demand the release of the journalist Anastasia Mejía in Guatemala (Spanish) – 21 Oct. 2020

Facebook – Xolabaj Radio – Last Updated Oct. 19, 2002