Thursday, July 27, 2017

Iraqi 'Rehabilitation' Camps: A Possible Crime Against Humanity

The forcible removal and transfer of civilian populations, and detaining them constitutes a crime against humanity under the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute. Statute expresses the standing international law standard that this is a crime that applies to all nations without exception. The Court must enforce it according to that standard although its jurisdiction may not reach all offenders. These acts as part of systematic attack against those individuals seen to be indirectly associated with the terrorist group IS. The topic of this blog is deportation, forcible transfer and imprisonment of sections of the Iraqi civilian population and how the Court might address those responsible for this crime.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has recently spoken out against the use of ‘rehabilitation camps’ in Iraq. HRW argues that these camps, designed to rehabilitate family members of alleged Islamic State (IS) members, have amounted to evictions and are a form of collective punishment. HRW claims that at least 170 families are victims of Iraqi Security Forces evictions, as well as being subject to threats and attacks. These rehabilitation camps have been in response to a Mosul District Council direction, issued on 19 June 2017, that IS families are to receive psychological and ideological rehabilitation. Soon afterwards, a rehabilitation camp in Bartalla was opened. HRW visited this camp to conduct interviews, revealing that no one detained had said they were accused of any wrongdoing and did not know when they would be allowed to leave. HRW also noted that the families were composed of mostly women and children.

Bartalla 'Rehabilitation' Camp.
Image sourced from Human Rights Watch.

This is not the first time HRW has reported this kind of incident in Iraq; in March HRW reported the displacement and detention of 125 suspected IS families and in January reported on Iraqi provincial government’s decree authorizing the demolition of homes of anyone proven to have participated in terrorism activities. However, this most recent event of institutionalizing individuals based on assumed criminality is a new development.

Iraq is not a State Party to the Rome Statute, and therefore the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) jurisdiction would have to come from an unlikely referral to the United Nations (UN) Security Council. However, with territorial jurisdiction the Court would be able to try these actions by the Iraqi Government as a crime against humanity under Art 7 of the Rome Statute. If these Iraqi ordinances and decrees were applied without due process. This might constitute an additional crime against humanity.

Although the Court’s jurisdiction is largely limited to states parties to the statute, Art 12(2) may provide an alternative avenue for ICC intervention. Personal jurisdiction could apply if members of the Combined Joint Task Force, Operation Inherent Resolve, are participating or facilitating in the removal of families of those accused of terrorist activities. These individuals must be nationals of states parties of the Rome Statute. Art 12(2) of the Rome Statute places two conditions on the ICC’s jurisdiction, specifically either the crime must have been committed by within the territory of a state party or alternatively the crime was committed by a national of a state party. For example, citizens of countries like Australia, New Zealand and Iceland, members of Operation Inherent Resolve, could be accountable to the ICC by virtue of their status as citizens of a State Party.

To be clear, this is not to imply or infer that foreign forces are involved in crimes against humanity or specifically in the removal of Iraqi families. In fact, HRW has clearly articulated that the removals are the result of sovereign Iraqi provisional authorities’ various decrees. Although the removals are the result of Iraqi decrees, it is possible that foreign forces may be involved in the process of deportation and forcible transfer. In this instance, the ICC does provide victims of atrocities with an avenue to seek justice and accountability from the citizens of countries in those forces. The provisions of the Rome Statute on war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity also serve as a standard in the international community, and all states parties should be aware of their obligations under the treaty when engaging in foreign intervention.

Written by Ally L. Pettitt

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Office of Global Criminal Justice: Why it matters.

On 17 July 2017 there were strong indications that the US States Department was planning to either close the Office of Global Criminal Justice (GCJ) entirely, or to reassign its staff and responsibilities to the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (the Bureau). There is no official statement yet, but the reassignment of Todd Buchwald, acting head, makes its impending close appear very likely. The purpose of this blog post is to explain why the closure of an independent GCJ matters to those interested in the International Criminal Court and the values it upholds. The GCJ has been the office responsible for the official US relations with the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Todd Buchwald, Acting Head of the Office of Global Criminal Justice
US State Department Photo

The principles enunciated by the GCJ has its origins in a fundamental shift in US foreign policy during the Carter Administration. Carter’s election symbolized a move was away from acknowledging human rights, to actively pursuing the cause. In 1977, his inauguration speech explicitly stated “Because we are free, we can never been indifferent to the fate of freedom elsewhere.” Twenty years later, this commitment led Madeleine Albright to create the Office of War Crimes Issues (now GCJ) within the States Department.

The GCJ has been in operation twenty years, and its achievements have been great in dealing with atrocities around the world.
  •          Continued campaigning to ensure foreign Governments do not extend diplomatic invitations to Sudanese officials that are wanted by the ICC, including incumbent President Al-Bashir;
  •          Negotiations and fund-raising to assist the creation of the AU-Senegalese Court;
  •          Continued technical support to the government and people of Colombia in their transitional justice process;
  •       Obtained and released 30,000 Caesar photos from Syria, exposing the recent atrocities committed under the current Bashar al-Assad regime;
  •           Assisted the State Department in assisting the African Union to set up a hybrid court to prosecute international crimes within Africa;
  •           Provided active support to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia;-          Seconded staff to the European Union’s Special Investigative Task Force;
  •           Drawn attention to the ongoing conflict in Burundi, including assisting the Atrocity Prevent Board’s mission in the region; and
  •           Raising American and global awareness of the Yazidi genocide in Iraq, perpetrated by the international terror group IS.

Beyond its commitment for accountability and against impunity, the GCJ also runs an active War Crimes Rewards Program. This has been in operation since 15 January 2013, and offers up to $5million USD to individuals who provide information regarding designated defendants who have been charged with the commission of international crimes. This program has been effective, in securing fugitives subject to arrest warrants from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Tribunal for Rwanda. More recently, the Program has assisted in detaining Dominic Ongwen, Ladislas Ntaganzwq and Jean Bosco Ntaganda; Ongwen and Ntaganda being ICC defendants. The program is currently seeking information to aid the capture of other perpetrators such as Joseph Kony. 

The importance of the GCJ is evident from these achievements. The GCJ is a continued demonstration to the world that the United States is committed to ending impunity and bringing those responsible for grave atrocities to justice. Although the functions of the GCJ may remain when the Office is subsumed under the Bureau; there is a reasonable concern that its integration may come at the cost of a specific focus on war crimes and international justice. The values of the Bureau are to promote freedom, democracy and protect human rights. Although a focus on international criminal law may be inferred by the nature of the Bureau’s objectives, issues of criminal justice are unlikely to be at the forefront. The consequences may be that the US may appear to have backed away from its commitment to end impunity, and international criminals may conclude that they will not be held accountable for their crimes. 

Written by Ally L. Pettitt