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Nadia Murad Basee Taha, a Yazidi woman who escaped sexual enslavement by Islamic State, bows her head after telling her story during a UN Security Council meeting (Photo: Flickr/UN Photo/Amanda Voisard)
21 July 2016 by Stephanie van den Berg, The Hague (The Netherlands)

After a United Nations Inquiry commission found last month that the crimes of Islamic State (IS also known as ISIS) against the Yazidi minority in northern Iraq amounted to genocide the call for accountability and prosecution of the perpetrators increased. What are the options to see anyone in the dock for not only genocide but also the underlying war crimes and crimes against humanity the commission said have occurred? International Justice Tribune spoke to former US ambassador for war crimes Stephen Rapp [IJT-186] who plays a central role in advising all stakeholders inside and outside on how to move forward and find justice for crimes against the Yazidi.

 

 

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Former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo at the opening of his ICC trial in January 2016 (Photo: Flickr/ICC-CPI)
05 July 2016 by Thijs Bouwknegt

Twelve witnesses over the past five months: the ICC’s case against former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo and his supporter Charles Blé Goudé is not getting up to speed. Already, it is lost in discussions on history, suffers from a lack of evidence tying him directly to the crimes and has slowly moved into closed-door hearings.

When the International Criminal Court’s new building [IJT-189] was officially inaugurated by the Dutch King last April, the celebratory ceremony ended with a performance of children singing Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World”. Three months earlier, there was a totally different atmosphere. On 28 January 2016, you could hear the swelling hymns of the crowd: “Libérez Gbagbo! Libérez Gbagbo! Libérez Gbagbo! (Free Gbagbo)” they chanted. Outside the guarded entrance, armed with megaphones, drums and banners, Ivoirians from the diaspora community in Europe had assembled to demand the release of the man they still consider to be their President: Laurent Gbagbo. Inside, while the court clerk read out the charges, some of the spectators sizzled, others burst out in sardonic laughter. They rejoiced in faith and uttered praises when Gbagbo and his companion in the dock, alleged mouthpiece, spin-doctor and ‘street general,’ Charles Blé Goudé, plead not guilty.

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Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic in the dock at the ICTY in June 2011 (Photo: Flickr/ICTY)
28 June 2016 by Iva Vukusic The Hague

The trial of Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) recently heard what is likely its last witness, Russian colonel Andrei Demurenko, invited by the defense to testify in relation to one mortar attack that killed around 40 and wounded over 70 people in a crowded Sarajevo market in August 1995. His testimony went on for hours, discussing projectiles, trajectories, meters and degrees, with the witness frequently evading giving clear, short answers.

His testimony is based on an investigation he claims he conducted while working for the UN protection force UNPROFOR in Sarajevo. That investigation showed, according to the witness, that the Bosnian Serb army could not have been responsible for the massacre. The testimony ended abruptly when Demurenko checked out of his hotel and never showed up to answer the final questions. The Russian colonel may have left suddenly because he did not like the questions of the prosecution, or because the presiding judge rejected his request to shake hands with Mladic in court. The unusual ending made me reflect on outreach and how it can be successful when what goes on in the courtroom is dull, or simply bizarre.

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Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo in the ICC courtroom during the delivery of his sentence on 21 June 2016 (Photo: Flickr/ICC-CPI)
23 June 2016 by Stephanie van den Berg, The Hague (The Netherlands)

The 18-year sentence the International Criminal Court handed down on Tuesday against former Congolese vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba [IJT-191, blog] for murders, rapes and pillaging committed by his troops while they were fighting in neighbouring Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003 has received a mixed reception. Some experts like Mark Ellis of the International Bar Association told Deutsche Welle he would have “preferred a significantly longer sentence” given the severity of the crimes Bemba was convicted of. Human rights groups focused on the fact that this was the longest sentence handed down by the ICC so far and Bemba's defence pointed it out that it was significantly higher than other convictions under command responsibility by international tribunals.

Just how much is eighteen years compared to other similar cases in different courts? Justice Tribune spoke to criminologist Barbora Hola of the Amsterdam Vrije Universiteit faculty of law who studies sentencing of international crimes and has done empirical, quantitative studies of sentences at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and it's sister court for Rwanda, the ICTR.

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Demonstration of widows of victims of former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré in the Chadian capital N'Djamena in 2005 (Photo: Human Rights Watch)
15 June 2016 by Reed Brody (Op-ed contributor)

A special court in Senegal convicted Hissène Habré, the former president of Chad, for atrocity crimes on May 30, and sentenced him to life in prison[IJT-192]. It was the first time  that the courts of one country had prosecuted the former ruler of another for alleged human rights crimes. It was also the first time in a human rights trial that a former ruler was found to have personally committed rape.

Most important for the future, however, the verdict was the result of a 25-year campaign by Habré’s victims and their supporters. They improbably succeeded in creating the political conditions to bring Habré to justice in Africa, with the support of the African Union.

 

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