Archive for category Law of Armed Conflict

The Economist on Sexual Violence as a Weapon of War

The Economist has published about two weeks ago a very interesting piece on the use of rape as a weapon of war, in the past and present. It’s worthwhile reading for anyone interested. Here’s an excerpt:

Rape in war is as old as war itself. After the sack of Rome 16 centuries ago Saint Augustine called rape in wartime an “ancient and customary evil”. For soldiers, it has long been considered one of the spoils of war. Antony Beevor, a historian who has written about rape during the Soviet conquest of Germany in 1945, says that rape has occurred in war since ancient times, often perpetrated by indisciplined soldiers. But he argues that there are also examples in history of rape being used strategically, to humiliate and to terrorise, such as the Moroccan regulares in Spain’s civil war.

As the reporting of rape has improved, the scale of the crime has become more horrifyingly apparent (see table). And with the Bosnian war of the 1990s came the widespread recognition that rape has been used systematically as a weapon of war and that it must be punished as an egregious crime.

H/T Laura Seay (Texas in Africa).


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The Turkel Commission Releases Part I of its Report on the Legality of the Gaza Flotilla Raid

The Public Commission to Examine the Maritime Incident of 31 May 2010, also known as the Turkel Commission, has published Part I of its findings on the legality of the Israeli raid against the Mavi Marmara that caused the death of nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists and provoked an international outrage last year. The Commission has deemed the raid “in accordance” with international law.

From the New York Times article:

JERUSALEM — An Israeli commission that examined the deadly raid on a flotilla off Gaza last May concluded on Sunday that Israel had acted in accordance with international law when its military enforced its naval blockade by intercepting the ships in international waters.

The commission alluded to what it called “the regrettable consequences of the loss of human life and physical injuries,” — nine pro-Palestinian campaigners were killed and more than 50 were wounded during clashes on a Turkish vessel that was attempting to breach the blockade. But the commission found that Israeli soldiers had acted “professionally and in a measured manner in the face of extensive and unanticipated violence.”

Part I of the Report is available here. I will read it over the course of the next few days, and will probably publish some thoughts.

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Debate at the New America Foundation on Guantanamo for its Ninth Birthday

Yesterday was the ninth anniversary of the opening of the infamous detention center for “unlawful combatants” in the War on Terror at a U.S. Navy Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In order to reflect on the question of treatment of detainees in the struggle against terrorism, as well as Obama’s failure to keep his promise to close the Guantanamo detention facilities by now, the Washington D.C.-based think tank the New America Foundation organized a panel of experts to discuss these difficult and thorny issues.

Here is the NAF’s presentation of the panel:

Nine years after opening the prison at the Guantanamo Bay naval base, the United States still faces major questions and partisan rancor over the future of the prison, the fate of its 174 remaining detainees, and the proper means of trying and holding terrorism suspects detained at home and abroad. Please join the New America Foundation National Security Studies Program for an important discussion on the prison’s future, and the broader context of the state of terrorism, detention and the law today.

Read the rest of this entry »

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The War Against Rape

This is a post to praise UN Security Council Resolution 1960, passed on December 16 2010, which constitutes a step further to stop sexual assaults against women.

It finally allows public shaming of armed groups who have been proven to sexually abuse women. It also spells out instructions to end the practice and avoid future shaming. However most importantly sends a clear message that using rape as a weapon of war can lead to sanctions. The reason I bold rape as a weapon of war, is because I find it to be an under looked point, and one of the most serious war crimes. This type of sexual abuse is man’s lowest quality, and the worst form of obsession. No woman should be degraded in this manner.

So I would like to congratulate the UN Security Council for this strong step to stop these harness abuses, and quote Marianne Mollmann, women’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.

“Today is a big day for women worldwide.”

Of course as a side point which I often mention at the end of my posts, the question that arises is: why has this taken so long to be achieved?

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A Late Reaction on Omar Khadr, the United States, and Child-Soldiers

I came across this interesting piece of information today: France pressed U.S. on Khadr as Ottawa stood silent: WikiLeaks. According to this article:

France’s foreign minister asked the United States to consider releasing Omar Khadr from Guantanamo Bay even though the Harper government adamantly refused to intervene, according to leaked U.S. diplomatic cables.

The memo, released by WikiLeaks, shows that Bernard Kouchner, who was French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s foreign minister until three weeks ago, personally asked U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to review the case in a meeting in February of 2009.

Oddly enough, France, a country which has, to my knowledge, no relation whatsoever with Mr. Omar Khadr, tried to plead his case before the American authorities even though the country of Mr. Khadr’s nationality, Canada, refused to.

Aside from the oddity of it all, that’s not really what made me jump to the ceiling. It turns out – and I do realize I’m about seven years late into this debate – that Mr. Khadr was “arrested” on the battlefield in Afghanistan, wounded, at age 15:

Khadr is the last Western prisoner at the Guantanamo Bay detention centre. He has been held at the American naval base since October 2002, accused of killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon said that after a July 2002 attack by U.S. forces on a suspected al-Qaeda compound, Khadr threw a grenade that killed one soldier, Sgt. Christopher Speer, and wounded another.

Khadr was 15 at the time. His defence team argued that their client was a child soldier and should be treated as a victim.

No kidding. I have heard of the Khadr case, like everyone else, for a long time, but bizarrely enough, that piece of information had escaped me until today. Read the rest of this entry »

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SCL Lecture Series – Booklaunch and lecture by author Maria Nybondas and discussant Judge Kourula

I just wanted to post a quick heads-up to all our readers in The Hague right now. This coming Wednesday, there’s an interesting event in the Supranational Criminal Law Lectures series, organized by the Grotius Center for International Legal Studies, the T.M. C. Asser Institute and my current employer, the Coalition for the ICC. Here is the presentation of the lecture:

Lecture on the occassion of the publication of the book:

Command Responsibility and Its Applicability to Civilian Superiors by Maria Nybondas

Title of the lecture: The Purpose of Command Responsibility under International Criminal Law?
Speaker: Maria Nybondas
Discussant: Judge Kourula
The lecture is followed by a reception.
Registration not needed, seats available on a first come first serve basis

The Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies, the T.M.C. Asser Institute and the Coalition for the International Criminal Court invite you to the Supranational Criminal Law Lecture Series.
The Supranational Criminal Law Lecture Series (SCL Lecture Series), aim to contribute to information-sharing and public discourse on contemporary legal issues, while benefiting from the input of distinguished practitioners and experts in the field. The lecture series are particulary interesting for all professionals working with, or interested, in international legal activities in The Hague. These include lawyers, journalists, diplomats, NGO representatives, LL.M-students, and academics. However, everyone who is interested is welcome to attend.

The event is located at the T.M. C. Asser Institute, at R.J. Schimmelpennincklan 20 in The Hague. It starts at 19H30. I’ll be there to attend, so if anyone is going as well, I look forward to meeting you there.

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Legal And Ethical Issues – What Is Wrong With Taking Photographs of Prisoners In A Conflict?

Israeli soldier posing in front of Palestinian prisoners

A shameful controversy has recently crossed over the borders of Israel and made a splash in the media worldwide: a former Israeli soldier, Eden Abergil, had posted on her Facebook page photographs of her posing with bound and blindfolded Palestinian prisoners. And to add insult to injury, Ms. Abergil does not understand what is “wrong” with her posting the pictures, claiming that she had published those pictures were taken “in good will” and that she had no idea that they would be “problematic.”

The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has quickly reacted to what could be another PR nightmare for Israel at a time when Israel really does not need any more of those. The problem is that the Breaking the Silence group, a very interesting NGO that gathers testimony from IDF veterans, has already published many other photos of Israeli soldiers posing next to Palestinian prisoners or even corpses, claiming that such behavior is the norm, not the exception.

In a world where the media – in the larger sense – is everywhere, the question of publishing photographs and other images of conflicts and their different facets are regularly the subject of controversies. The biggest recent scandal that we have in mind when seeing these pictures is the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004. It goes without saying that in many ways, the two don’t compare: whereas the photographs coming out of Abu Ghraib were absolutely horrifying and gruesome, Ms. Abergil’s photographs remain relatively decent. She “only” poses next to prisoners, does not appear to touch them or to taunt them, let alone abuse them sexually. The Arab media, by claiming that this was Israel’s Abu Ghraib, are largely exaggerating. Read the rest of this entry »

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Another Victory for NGOs in the International Legal System: The Cluster Bomb Ban

Good news this weekend: the Convention on Cluster Munitions, signed by 107 States and ratified by 38 as of today, has entered into force today. It is now binding international law. But it is also a great victory for non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the confirmation of a recent trend: the influential role civil society is starting to play in the elaboration of international law.

First of all, a few words on the Convention on Cluster Munitions. It was negotiated in Dublin in May 2008 following a diplomatic conference on Cluster Munitions, attended then by 127 States, and signed in December of the same year in Oslo. The purpose of the Convention is to ban the use of cluster bombs, a specific type of anti-personnel weapon that disperse large numbers of either explosive submunitions or bomblets over an entire area (see the ICRC Cluster Munition FAQ or the New York Times Cluster Munition Page for more information on cluster bombs), the military purpose being to “contaminate” the area and make it unusable by the enemy forces.

As you probably can imagine, it can raise depending on its use some major issues with regard to international humanitarian law, as it seems almost fundamentally incompatible with the principle of distinction between combatant (essentially military) and non-combatant  (civilian) targets. It is hard to imagine it being used in an exclusively military zone that will never be used again by civilians, especially considering that these cluster bombs can still go off 30-40 years after being dropped, killing or mutilating civilians by accident. According to the Cluster Munition Coalition, one third of all recorded cluster munitions casualties are children, and 60% of the casualties are injured while undertaking their normal activities. These bombs are still in use by a certain number of conflicts in the world today, including the United States in Iraq in 2003, Israel in Lebanon in 2006, as well as by both sides in the Russian-Georgian conflict of 2008. Read the rest of this entry »

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Genocide charges for Dutchbat peacekeepers

Last week the biggest massacre on European soil since the Second World War was commemorated. While the massacre occurred fifteen years ago, victims and relatives of those killed near Srebrenica have been relentless in their quest for justice. Relatives have already brought civil cases against the Dutch state and the UN. Both have thus far not led to the results the relatives had hoped for.

Relatives are now filing criminal complaints against three Dutchbat peacekeepers (the Dutch battle group operating under the UN flag). The charges are assisting in genocide, war crimes and murder.

It is interesting, but perhaps not very surprising that one of the charges is assisted genocide, which does not require that the peacekeepers in question possessed genocidal intent, that is the intent to destroy in whole or in part a racial, ethnic, religious or national group. It would be sufficient to prove that the peacekeepers knew of the genocidal intent of the Serbian soldiers at Srebrenica. Even though the bar is not set as high as in other cases of genocide (where the perpetrator’s intent needs to be proven, it may still be difficult to prove that the peacekeepers in question had knowledge of the intent. As the International Court of Justice has recognized that genocide has taken place in Srebrenica and the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has also convicted General Krstic of genocide, most of the ground work seems to be done. However, they do not prove that the Dutch peacekeepers in question were aware of the genocidal intent of the Serbian perpetrators. Knowledge of genocidal intent will be difficult to prove as Bosnia has not known widespread acts of genocide similar to those in Rwanda. While there have been numerous (and serious) acts committed in Bosnia that fall under either war crimes or crimes against humanity, most acts are usually cited as falling under ‘ethnic cleansing’ which does not have a clear legal counterpart. It will therefore be hard to use other atrocities in Bosnia to argue that Dutch peacekeepers knew that the perpetrators intended to destroy the Muslim population as those other atrocities have not been named genocide. There was no overall pattern that could lead to the Dutch peacekeepers concluding that genocide would occur. In fact, ‘Srebrenica’ was the only place in Bosnia where the acts committed were recognized as genocide.

Whether because of this case, or one of the civil cases, the relatives of those killed at Srebrenica will ensure that all the legal routes will be taken in order to hold accountable those that played a role (if even a minor one) in the Srebrenica genocide.

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