The Global Citizen: Civilian Protection
Today and tomorrow, the International Criminal Court (ICC) will be hearing closing arguments in the trial of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, accused by the Court of conscripting child soldiers in battle in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This marks an important milestone for the Court: the long-awaited conclusion of the first completed trial since its creation.
Lubanga is alleged to be the founder of Union des Patriotes Congolais (UPC) and the Forces patriotiques pour la libération du Congo (FPLC); the former Commander-in-Chief of the FPLC, and president of the UPC. He is charged with war crimes including enlisting and conscripting child soldiers under the age of 15 into the FPLC. His trial began in January 2009.
The closing arguments are scheduled to wrap up tomorrow, and a verdict in the Lubanga case is expected early next year.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice has stated that it should be up to the new Libyan National Transitional Government (NTC) whether Muammar Gaddafi, once captured, is tried by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague, or in Libya. This seems to me to be a rather strange statement, and apparently the ICC thinks so too.
Ambassador Rice asserted in an interview with CNN that "This is something that must be decided not by the United States or any other government, but by the people of Libya and by the interim transitional government that we expect will soon be constituted. These are all choices that the Libyan people will ultimately have to make for them."
But the ICC disagrees with Ambassador Rice. Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo reportedly has said that the Court, rather than Libyans, must make the decision on where Gaddafi and his fellow indictees will be tried.
For the second time this year, the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) held a special session on Syria, adopting a resolution today condemning the ongoing violence and voting to send an independent international commission of inquiry into the country.
The resolution was adopted by the Council in a vote of 33 to 4, with 9 abstentions. Among other things, it:
- Strongly condemns grave and systematic human rights violations by the Syrian leaders;
- Welcomes the recent report of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Syria and expresses profound concern about its findings; and
- Calls upon the Syrian authorities to immediately end all human rights violations and to protect their citizens.
The commission of inquiry would be sent to Syria to investigate all alleged human rights abuses which have occurred in the country since March. One of the goals of the commission's work would be to identify any perpetrators of abuses, including crimes against humanity, who would then be held accountable for their actions.
Russia and China both voted against the resolution. Russia claimed it was overly political and ignored positive steps taken by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; China stressed the importance of Syrian sovereignty in solving the country's problems. The two other HRC member countries to oppose the resolution were Cuba and Ecuador.
A day after the Libyan National Transitional Council (TNC) claimed it had captured Saif Gaddafi--son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi who, like his father, is wanted by the ICC on charges of crimes against humanity--Saif appeared this morning to refute this story and currently remains at large. Meantime, fighting continues in Tripoli between rebel and pro-Gaddafi forces. CGS will continue to provide updates on Libya as events unfold.
As fighting continues today in Tripoli between rebels and Gaddafi loyalists, it appears that the rebel forces are moving closer to fully securing control of the capital city. One big piece of news that has emerged from the chaos is that Saif Gaddafi, son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi--who is, like his father, wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC)-has been captured by the National Transitional Council (NTC). So, what happens now?
ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has confirmed that the NTC has captured Saif Gaddafi and put him under house arrest. Ocampo is now speaking with the NTC about transferring Saif into ICC custody, so he can ultimately face charges issued against him by the Court for crimes committed in Libya.
Muammar Gaddafi's own whereabouts are still a mystery but he, too, faces an ICC arrest warrant for the violence he has unleashed on civilians in his country since February. If Gaddafi attempts to flee Libya to find safe haven elsewhere, any ICC country on whose soil he steps foot is obligated to turn him over to the Court. It is of urgent importance that all ICC state parties honor this commitment.
It has been a busy week for those of us following the situation in Syria. At the beginning of the week Syrian President Bashir Al-Assad upped the ante of his reign of terror by turning gunships on residents of a coastal town. Just today, President Obama made a bold move in telling Assad to step down from power and let the Syrian people decide their future. I wrote an op-ed discussing these developments, as well as suggestions for future United Nations Security Council action, featured on the Care 2 website.
Here is the full text of the op-ed:
In Syria, blood is being hosed off of the streets. Gunship strikes terrorize unarmed protestors in the coastal town of Latakia. The L.A. Times quotes a Syrian student saying "Entire buildings are being shelled with heavy artillery. The bodies stay on the streets because we are unable to leave our home and get them... The smell of death is around us."
President Obama took his boldest step yet in addressing the violent crackdown in Syria today, calling on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to leave office.
"The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way. His calls for dialogue and reform have rung hollow while he is imprisoning, torturing, and slaughtering his own people. We have consistently said that President Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way. He has not led. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside," Obama said in a statement released this morning.
Obama's call for Assad to step down comes after months of protests in which approximately 2,000 Syrians have been killed. Additionally, Obama issued an executive order which prohibits U.S. persons from investing in Syria; bans imports of Syrian petroleum; and blocks the property of the Syrian government. To read the full executive order, click here.
Obama's call for Assad's resignation is a welcome development. The Syrian leader has for months now engaged in brutal attacks on his own citizens, targeting civilian protesters and killing thousands for speaking out against his regime. He needs to go.
In what has become an unfortunate habit since being indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has left home to travel to an ICC member country. On August 7th, he attended the presidential inauguration in neighboring Chad. As a party to the Rome Statute, Chad had an obligation to arrest Bashir as soon as he set foot on their soil; but they did not do so.
This marks the second time Bashir has traveled to Chad and not been turned over to the ICC by the Chadian government. Bashir has continued to flout his ICC indictment by traveling to Kenya and Djibouti, both of which are also ICC members, without facing arrest.
It is undoubtedly true that the Court's indictment has limited Bashir's movements over the past several years, and largely kept him isolated in Sudan. However, the failure of Chad, once again, to arrest Bashir indicates that compliance with the ICC's arrest warrants by member states remains a serious problem. Justice cannot be served when international pariahs still find safe havens to which they can travel with impunity. All ICC member states should honor their obligation to help bring war criminals like Bashir to justice.
On Wednesday the Security Council released a presidential statement concerning Syria by Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri of India, who is the acting President of the Council this month. The statement calls upon Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to implement democratic reforms, demanding a peaceful Syrian-led transformation of government from one that perpetrates crimes against humanity to one that respects and protects fundamental rights and freedoms, such as the freedoms of expression and assembly.
The statement is the first formal UN document to condemn the violence and gross human rights violations that have occurred in Syria since March. The statement calls for:
- The full respect and protection of fundamental rights and freedoms;
- Humanitarian workers to have access to the Syrian people;
- The full cooperation of the Assad regime with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights;
- Calls upon the UN Secretary General to provide a report to the Council in seven days with an update on government actions in Syria.
This is an important first step towards substantive UN action in Syria and comes after months of pressure from the international community.
Anticipating more protest activity, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government forces engaged in its most violent assault against civilians before the dawn of the holy month of Ramadan on Sunday July 31st. Remarks from UN representatives and renewed media attention have followed since the resurgence of government-directed violence in Syria has led to the deaths of many civilians during one of the holiest times on the Islamic calendar.
The crackdown led to an unknown number of dead and wounded civilians, adding to the ever increasing death-toll since the beginning of the Syrian uprising in mid-March. International journalists, independent human rights organizations and representatives connected to the mandated UN fact-finding mission in Syria are all banned from entering the country. In light of these restrictions, the number of dead and wounded in Syria since March is estimated to be just under 2,000 people, but cannot be confirmed.
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