WTF Friday, 10/30

Our beloved Intern Chris tells it like it is:

  • If we can’t trust our poets, who can we trust? (no one).
  • Semi-old news: British mining company ‘Monterrico Metals’ assets frozen after allegations of torture of protesters in Peru in 2005. No proof (yet) that they were actually “involved,” but protesters say Monterrico director Andrew Bristow was giving orders. Either way, when a guy is left bleeding to death for 36 HOURS at your mining site, it’s tough to give you benefit of the doubt.
  • And, just in case you thought it was just police and big business doing messed up shit. Though, and call me old fashioned, shouldn’t claims about a rise in vigilantism be coupled with, say, a statistic? (sigh).
  • Too sad to be cute? Your call.
  • Somali pirates doing their best Captain Planet (not even sure if our readership gets that reference). (via Global Dashboard)

Things That Annoy Me, 8/20/09 Edition

Today my “war crimes” Google News Alert coughed up this gem from the New York Daily News: “Stop the world court from hauling Israelis off to the Hague” by Jay Sekulow and Brett Joshpe.

My first thought was “Wow, Jay and Brett, you have clearly fallen victim to the same sort of irresponsible headline writers that got Jeffrey Gettleman in so much trouble a few weeks back.”

After all, surely anyone contributing a guest column on the topic of the International Criminal Court to a newspaper with over 600,000 daily readers would know that (1) the ICC is not the “World Court” and (2) that it is famously incapable of hauling anyone anywhere (see, e.g., Omar al-Bashir).

Sadly for Jay and Brett’s reputations, however, it turns out an ill-informed headline writer was not at fault. Midway through the piece, they opine: “Before long, the International Criminal Court could very well drag Israelis into The Hague and put them on trial for defending themselves from terrorists.”

Let’s review, shall we? The ICC has an Office of the Prosecutor; a Registry; a Presidency; Pre-Trial, Trial, and Appellate divisions; and some space down at the Scheveningen cellblock. You know what it doesn’t have? A “dragging people into The Hague” unit.

So, even if the current controversy regarding ICC jurisdiction over alleged war crimes in Gaza gets resolved in favor of allowing a prosecution, the Court would rely on State Parties to enforce its warrant. Israel is not a State Party to the Rome Statute and would therefore have no obligation to hand over its commanders. (Although it’s worth noting that if there is clear evidence of war crimes, Israel could preempt an ICC prosecution by holding its own trial.)

Of course, there’s always the possibility of an accused getting picked up while traveling abroad, but somehow I doubt that the U.S. government is going to look too favorably on any of its allies or aid recipients handing over Israeli military commanders for prosecution. And it shouldn’t be too difficult for said commanders to avoid beach holidays in the countries that are not susceptible to such pressure. So really, short of getting tangled up in the wheel spokes of a Dutch person’s bicycle and being unable to extricate themselves prior to arrival within city limits, the likelihood of anyone getting “dragged into The Hague” is pretty minimal.

So there.

*Photo of ICC exterior from wikimedia.

Meanwhile, in the Congo…

A military court in Katanga province (bottom right on the map over there) handed down a death sentence for Mai-Mai militia leader Kyungu “Commander Gedeon” Mutanga for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by his troops between 2003 and 2006. As Human Rights Watch points out, this is cool because it “has shown the important role that Congolese courts play in giving victims a voice and in making clear that attacks on civilians will have serious consequences.” But it’s also not cool, because they imposed the death penalty, and that’s not very human rightsy.

The court also held that the families of Mutanga’s victims were entitled to $17 million from the Congolese government for its role in supporting the Mai-Mai. (I’m thinking they’re probably not going to pay up.)

And the news you’ve all been waiting for: Laurent Nkunda is… still unaccounted for.

But that may change. A court in Kigali is considering papers filed by Nkunda’s wife (yeah, we’re all surprised to learn there’s someone other than Bettie the goat in his life) alleging that the authorities have violated the Rwandan constitution by holding Nkunda incommunicado with no access to counsel. Nkunda’s supporters are worried he will be extradited to the Congo, and are attempting to use the aforementioned existence of the death penalty there as a reason to keep him in Rwanda (where capital punishment was suspended in 2007). Perhaps it’s time to start placing bets on where he’ll turn up?

While We Wait…

As long as we’re all waiting with bated breath for this afternoon’s (or this morning’s, if you’re in the U.S.) ICC press conference revealing Pre-Trial I’s decision on the Bashir warrant, I thought I’d do a quick update on what else has been going on in the wonderful world of international criminal law.

  • From the Khmer Rouge Tribunal: The Phnom Penh Post reports that the Office of the Co-Investigating Judges (OCIJ) has ordered Ieng Sary’s defense team to take down its website, which the OCIJ alleges contains confidential material. Lawyers for Ieng and other defendants have countered that the Tribunal is needlessly secretive, failing in its obligation to keep the public informed, and that the posted documents weren’t confidential anyway. (Given that the Tribunal’s website has been down the last several times I’ve tried to access it, I feel like there may be some truth to those charges.) In other news from the KRT, last week Ieng Sary’s wife, Ieng Thirith, threw a fit and cursed the Tribunal, and earlier this week Judge Kong Srim announced that there are no funds available to pay local staff salaries this month. So it sounds like things are going well there.
  • From the ICTY: Yesterday Radovan Karadžić refused to plead to the prosecution’s once-again amended indictment (third time’s the charm guys!); an automatic not-guilty plea was (again) entered on his behalf. It’s nice that he seems to be settling into a routine, isn’t it? Oh, and former Serbian President Milan Milutinovic was found not guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 1999 conflict in Kosovo. The other five high-ranking Serb officials on trial were not so lucky; everyone got prison sentences.

  • From the Special Court for Sierra Leone: Trial Chamber I returned a verdict last week in the case of three RUF commanders. Not only were all three found guilty on an impressive array of charges, but “forced marriage of captured women” made its debut as a crime distinct from your run-of-the-mill sexual violence charges. So congratulations to the prosecution for the first (and second and third) ever conviction for forced marriage under international criminal law!
  • From the Special Tribunal for Lebanon: Not much to report yet other than yes, we have a new tribunal on the scene in the Hague. (Good thing, too, because the ratio of Dutch people to international lawyers was getting perilously close to 1:1 around here.) Its purpose is to “try all those who are alleged responsible for the attack of 14 February 2005 in Beirut that killed the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 22 others.”

So that’s the news for now. See you in a few hours…

What Rock Has Bob Herbert Been Living Under?

I tried really hard not to post about Bob Herbert’s latest column, “The Invisible War,” which breaks the shocking news that *gasp* large numbers of women and girls have been raped in the Congo. Again.

I said to myself “Self, you have already complained extensively about the media’s treatment of the alleged rape epidemic in the Congo. And really, you’ve become increasingly inarticulate the more annoyed you get about this, so you are not going to do yourself any favors with an incoherent post along the lines of ‘Argh! Not news! Lack of reporting is not the problem here! #$%#$!’”

But then I found myself bitching about the column to everyone I know and thinking “man, making fun of the New York Times to only one person at a time is hella inefficient!” So, here goes:

The column begins: “Perhaps we’ve heard so little about them because the crimes are so unspeakable, the evil so profound.” For the love of God, seriously??? Don’t you read your own paper? In the words of a friend of mine: “If you’re going to write that, even if you don’t personally know about something, wouldn’t you like, look into it a little?” So true. But I’m guessing Bob Herbert actually did know what’s going on in the Congo, given that it is regularly reported in the news. And yet he still choose to attribute invisibility to the phenomenon. Why? Because for some reason “insufficient action” consistently gets translated as “insufficient awareness.”

Herbert concludes by saying: “If these are not war crimes, crimes against humanity, then nothing is.”

Um, yes, they’re war crimes. Happy now? Rape of civilians by combatants is more or less a shoo-in. And if the rapes are widespread and systematic enough, well then, you’ve got crimes against humanity too. But really, that’s not the point, is it? Because nobody’s arguing that this isn’t a problem or that it isn’t a colossal violation of international law.

So, to sum up: Argh! Not news! Lack of reporting is not the problem here! #$%#$!

Holy Sh*t, Khmer Rouge Tribunal Actually Going to Try Someone

Stop the presses!

The Khmer Rouge Tribunal is about to actually conduct a trial. Like, apply principles of international criminal law to the conduct of a real live former Khmer Rouge member. And it only took 30 years. (Alright, 12 since plans for the Tribunal began taking shape.) Not bad, guys.

Kaing Guek Eav, better known as “Duch,” will be tried for his role as Pol Pot’s Head Torture Guy (yeah, that’s the technical term). Duch ran the S-21 prison, where approximately 17,000 of the regime’s enemies were imprisoned and tortured into signing outlandish confessions of crimes against the Khmer Rouge.

Comrade Duch
Photo of Duch ©2009 Stuart Isett/www.isett.com

The S-21 interrogators were both enthusiastic and brutal in their work; of the tens of thousands of prisoners there are only 12 known survivors. When the invading Vietnamese stumbled upon the prison in 1979 they knew they’d hit intervention-justifying paydirt. They took photos of the mutilated bodies of the prisoners in each cell (the jailors had pulled a quick murder-and-run ahead of the advancing Vietnamese army), built a fancy skull map, and turned the place into a “Boy did these creeps deserve to be invaded” museum.

Now known as Tuol Sleng (rough translation: poisoned hill), S-21 is still an incredibly unpleasant place to spend an afternoon. (Took me 6 straight hours of counterdosing with America’s Next Top Model to even make it back to my usual mental state of morose paranoia and black hatred for all of humankind.)

Tomorrow’s hearing will be procedural; substantive proceedings will not begin until next month. But it marks a significant moment for the long-delayed justice process in Cambodia. Hopefully, the opening of this first trial will help the Tribunal shake off some of the political constraints that have impeded progress so far. -I’m not going to hold my breath on that, though. As the Times Online pointed out today, concerns about corruption and political interference are growing, as the co-Prosecutors remain at odds over whether to issue more indictments.

Cambodian Prosecutor Chea Leang (who the Times Online inexplicably seems to think is a man) continues to insist that resource constraints and the need for national reconciliation trump the Tribunal’s mandate to try those “most responsible” for the atrocities. This position would, (coincidentally, I’m sure) produce the exact result preferred by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen who has stated that trying “four or five people” would really be plenty. International Prosecutor Robert Petit, on the other hand, either from an obsessive-compulsive need to prosecute as many Cambodians as he has Sierra Leoneans or (more likely) a preference that the Tribunal not totally look like the Cambodian government’s bitch, wants to get cracking on some more indictments. Be interesting to see how this one plays out…


Breaking Lubanga News!!!

Hours after testifying as the first witness in the first case to go to trial at the ICC, an alleged Congolese former child combatant recanted his testimony and announced that he wasn’t a child soldier after all.

According to AP, in testimony this morning the witness “had told the court that armed troops plucked him off the street while he was on the way home from school and sent him to a military camp.” When the court resumed session after a lunch break and the prosecutor summarized the morning’s testimony the witness suddenly denied the story:

“In a complete turnaround in his testimony, he said workers of a nonprofit organization had spoken to him and his friends at school. “They took our addresses and told us they could help us. After that we went back home,” he said, speaking through an interpreter.”

The prosecution immediately requested a delay in the proceedings that Judge Adrian Fulford granted in order to “to find out whether something has happened that could destabilise … the witness in such a way that he would deviate from the evidence.” AFP hints that the witness might’ve gotten spooked by Lubanga staring at him all creepy-like during his testimony.

God, I guess running an international criminal court is harder than it looks…

*Lubanga picture is from the AP article cited above.

ICC Begins First Trial, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse Inexplicably Fail to Appear

Well, I think the post title pretty much says it all.

But if for some reason you need more info, here it is: The trial of Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga opened today at the International Criminal Court. (Which you may know as the harbinger of the destruction of apple pie and everything else that is good and American by slavering rule of law obsessed European bureaucrats).

Lubanga is charged with war crimes, including the use of child soldiers, during the less-talked-about-these-days-but-seriously-just-as-hardcore-as-the-stuff-in-the-Kivus Ituri conflict.

As we’ve reported previously, “irregularities” in the prosecution’s handling of potentially exculpatory evidence nearly derailed the trial. This would have been way embarrassing for the ICC, whose credibility kind of hangs on being able to, you know, actually try people under international criminal law.

But check it out, after 6 years, they’re totally doing it. Take that, ghost of Jesse Helms!

*Picture of Lubanga in court from the New York Times.

What’s Up with the LRA, Anyway?

Have you been wondering what Ugandan rebels are doing massacring civilians in the Congo and Sudan? Did you briefly consider doing some googling or maybe just watching the “Invisible Children” episode of Veronica Mars? Are you way too lazy to actually do any internet research or watch a whole hour of canceled television?

If the answer to these question is yes, then you’re in luck because I’m about to break it down for you. Welcome to…

WrongingRightsNotes™: LRA Edition!

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is headed up by Joseph Kony, a four star lunatic who swears by holy water and believes that the Bible authorizes him to abduct children for use as combatants. The LRA’s goal is a bit opaque, but it definitely involves something about the 10 Commandments, liberating Kony’s home region of Acholiland, and probably doing something unspeakably nasty to (non-Acholi) Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. Here’s how they’ve been doing so far:

  • Joseph Kony (pictured in an early photo at right) becomes main spirit-channeling militia leader in Acholiland following the defeat of Italian-army-officer-possessed Alice Auma and her Holy Spirit Movement by Ugandan government forces in the late 1980s and subsequent peace agreement between Kampala and rebel forces.
  • By 1990, Kony is the only game in town; absorbs rebels from the Holy Spirit Movement and Uganda People’s Democratic Army who don’t feel like disarming.
  • Kony & Co. realize they’re never going to make it big in the atrocity business without a signature move, try their hands at breakdancing, but ultimately decide abducting children is the way to go. 44 children are kidnapped from two girls’ schools near Gulu in 1992.
  • They get more adept with time, terrorizing Acholiland with unpredictable sweeps through the local villages, slaughtering adults and abducting children for use as combatants and sex slaves. The lucky ones get added to Kony’s growing collection of wives.
  • Now that they’ve got a signature move, Kony decides his gang/cult needs a better name, christens them the Lord’s Resistance Army.
  • In 1994, as the Ugandan government starts to get serious about dealing with Kony, Sudan decides to muddy the waters, invites Kony over for tea and sandwiches (and by “tea and sandwiches” I mean “a base of operations and lots and lots of weapon-y goodness” in exchange for assistance in Sudan’s ongoing civil war). Kony denies converting to Islam as part of this deal.
  • Villagers in the Sudanese state of Eastern Equatoria now get a taste of what Acholiland has been experiencing for the last few years; attacks and abductions for everybody!
  • Hostilities continue in utterly uncompelling manner for the next few years despite LRA attempt to drum up some outrage by making a brief cameo appearance in the Second Congo War. Kampala never really liked Acholiland that much anyway and global attention is focused elsewhere on more interesting atrocities / possibility that a U.S. president might have gotten a blow job.
  • Khartoum and Kampala work out their issues and in 2002 the Sudanese government okays launch of “Operation Iron Fist,” an offensive by the Ugandan army against LRA bases in southern Sudan. Unfortunately, the operation is not quite fist-y enough, fails miserably.
  • In 2003 the LRA start to spread their activities out of Acholiland, possibly because they’ve already kidnapped / looted everyone and everything worth having in the area. World becomes aware of the plight of children attempting to escape abduction and recruitment (pictured at right), probably because someone comes up with a catchy new term: Night Commuters.
  • After a few failed attempts at peace talks, Museveni gets bright idea to refer the matter to the newly established ICC, which issues its first ever indictments in 2005! Guess what? They’re for Kony, his second-in-command Vincent Otti, and three other LRA commanders.
  • Meanwhile, in fall 2005, LRA forces cross over into northeastern DRC, decide it looks like a nice place to hang out. Museveni tells Kabila he’d better disarm them, or he’ll be playing host to the entire Ugandan military; diplomatic row ensues, LRA not disarmed.
  • Juba peace talks between LRA and Kampala mediated by Riek Machar, Vice-President of Southern Sudan, begin in July 2006 amidst uncharacteristic and ultimately unwarranted optimism.
  • In October 2007, Kony kills second-in-command Otti for allegedly plotting a coup, possibly eats his penis. (No word on whether fava beans and a nice Chianti were involved.)
  • Juba talks collapse in April 2008, possibly due to concern over the ICC indictments, possibly due to Kony having a bellyache, most likely because the LRA are big atrocity-committing jerks who can’t be trusted. LRA immediately returns to old weapons-acquiring and recruit-abducting tricks.
  • Uganda, Sudan, and the DRC launch hilariously named Operation Lightning Thunder in December 2008, destroying LRA bases in the Congo’s Garamba National Park. So far, rather than forcing Kony’s re-entrance into the peace process, it has prompted the slaughter of several hundred Congolese and South Sudanese villagers. Way to go, guys.

So that’s the condensed story. As matters stand now, the LRA is continuing its atrocity rampage through the DRC, and everyone’s arguing about the merits of continuing Operation Atmospheric Electrical Discharge (or whatever).