#GlobalJusticeWeekly – UN vote calls for North Korea ICC referral

A North Korean flag flutters on top of a tower at the propaganda village of Gijungdong in North Korea.  © 2014 Reuters

A North Korean flag flutters on top of a tower at the propaganda village of Gijungdong in North Korea. © 2014 Reuters

At the UN this week, 111 countries passed a resolution calling on the UN Security Council to refer alleged crimes against humanity in North Korea to the ICC prosecutor.

The measure, adopted in the UN General Assembly’s human rights committee, will go before the full assembly for formal approval in December.

The resolution is largely based on a recent report of a UN Commission of Inquiry led by Justice Michael Kirby which concluded that alleged long-standing, ongoing, systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights in North Korea—ranging from torture, rape, public executions to extensive use of forced labor—may amount to crimes against humanity.

There were 19 votes against—including permanent members of the Security Council China and Russia – and 55 abstentions—including several ICC member states such as Senegal, South Africa and Bangladesh. A Daily Maverick columnist faulted South Africa for arguing against and abstaining from voting on the resolution, saying that it was contrary to the country’s foreign policy principles.

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) welcomed the resolution, while Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the UN Security Council to act on it by referring the situation in North Korea to the ICC. HRW and FIDH—along with Amnesty International (AI) and other organizations—had written to UN member states calling on them to support the resolution.

North Korean envoys immediately condemned the vote, stating that the resolution was based on fabricated testimonies and threatening to perform a nuclear test in response. Its leadership had launched a high-level diplomatic campaign, including sending Kim Jong-Un’s personal envoy to Russia, to garner support to oppose the resolution and remove references to the ICC.

If it deems a situation a threat to international peace and security, the UN Security Council can give the ICC jurisdiction in states that are not party to the Rome Statute – the ICC’s founding treaty. The ICC prosecutor must then independently decide whether to open an investigation.

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Central African Republic
HRW’s Peter Bouckaert told CNN that the CAR continues to descend into chaos. CAR mediators said that it won’t be possible to hold elections in February 2015, as was previously projected. The International Committee for the Red Cross warned that civilians are still suffering the effects of the conflict in the CAR. Cameroon said that it pushed back a group of suspected anti-Balaka rebels from the CAR who attacked its territory.

Kenya
A witness in the trial of Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto and broadcaster Joshua Sang told judges about a camp where retired military officials allegedly trained Kalenjin youth before the 2007 election. The witness also testified that Kalenjin elders allegedly held a cleansing ceremony for youth who participated in the post-election violence and paid each 300 shillings using money donated by Ruto. Additionally, the witness said that Ruto called for the expulsion of the Kikuyu from Rift Valley prior to a 2005 constitutional referendum, while Sang used Kalenjin vernacular to rally support prior to the vote. The witness also testified that he began talking with an individual who offered money if he recanted his testimony after he became frustrated with ICC protection officers. ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda requested for the second time to introduce evidence obtained by the Waki Commission in the Ruto/Sang trial.

Njonjo Mue of Kenyans for Peace with Truth and Justice criticized Kenyan UN Ambassador Macharia Kamau anti-ICC comments. Kamau accused the ICC president, prosecutor and registrar of ganging up on Kenya after they criticized Kenya’s request to add an agenda item to the upcoming session of the ICC’s Assembly of States Parties (ASP) on what it calls violations of the Rome Statute by prosecutors and judges, saying that it amounts to interfering with the Court’s independence. A Star (Kenya) columnist argued that the ASP must consider amendments to the Rome Statute proposed by Kenya.

The Kenyan government says it has enough evidence to successfully retry a Kenyan police officer charged with killing a protester during the post-election violence. A Star (Kenya) columnist argued that Kenya has done much to help victims of the post-election violence.

Darfur
After UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called for Sudan to give UNAMID unfettered access to investigate the alleged mass rape in Tabit, Darfur, the Sudanese government reportedly blocked the peacekeepers for a second time and rejected a Security Council call for another investigation. The Sudanese military reportedly arrested dozens of Tabit men who informed media about the alleged rapes and transferred the accused troops out of North Darfur. The former UNAMID spokesperson said that time to conduct an investigation is running out.

The Sudanese air force reportedly carried out heavy airstrikes on villages in North Darfur.

Sudan launched a demobilization program for former Darfur rebels. Sudan and the SPLM-N rebels have reportedly reached a peace deal. Peace talks between Darfur rebel groups and the Sudanese government are set to begin next week. Meanwhile, the Justice and Equality Movement said that it wants a new track for peace talks not based on the Doha agreement.

In an OpenDemocracy op-ed, Kamal Elgizouli of the Sudanese Writers’ Union argued that Sudan’s claims of sovereignty are no defense against the ICC’s investigation in Darfur.

Democratic Republic of Congo
The ICC Appeals Chamber will issue its decision on the verdict and sentence in the Thomas Lubanga case on 1 December.

US Ambassador Stephen Rapp praised improvements to the DRC’s justice system. A military tribunal in eastern DRC sentenced a senior army officer and a rebel leader to death for terrorism and belonging to a rebel group.

Uganda
The Lord’s Resistance Army is increasingly relying on trafficking ivory and minerals to buy weapons and supplies.

Libya
AI condemned widespread human rights abuses committed with impunity in Libya. No Peace Without Justice convened a conference on commonalities between the transitional justice processes in Libya and Tunisia.

Armed clashes between militias shut down Tripoli’s airport. Warring militias in Benghazi agreed to a12-hour ceasefire on Wednesday.

Mali
FIDH and AMDH held a seminar in Bamako on transitional justice and national reconciliation in Mali. The International Crisis Group urged participants in the Malian peace talks not to rush through the final phase of negotiations.

Côte d’Ivoire
The ICC trial of former president Laurent Gbagbo is set to begin on 7 July 2015.

Preliminary Examinations
The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) will hold a conference on what Colombia can learn from international justice experiences. Colombia and the FARC agreed on conditions to free an army general abducted by the rebel group. Colombia’s president had earlier suspended peace talks with the FARC because of the kidnapping. The president had previously said that the talks would be in danger if a deal is not reached in the next year, and Colombia’s lead negotiator warned the FARC that the government’s patience is limited and demanded they stop attacks against civilians and government soldiers.

Academic and blogger Kevin Jon Heller criticized the reasoning behind the ICC prosecutor’s decision not to open an investigation of the Mavi Marmara incident.

Nigeria’s president will seek to extend the state of emergency in three northern states hit by the Boko Haram insurgency. The Nigerian military, aided by local hunters and vigilantes, retook two towns in northeast Nigeria from the Boko Haram. The military also pushed the group out of Chibok, the town from which over 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped earlier this year. Analysts say that the Boko Haram’s brief occupation of Chibok shows that the group is making gains in northeast Nigeria, and that the military is unable to stop them.

HRW warned that rights abuses in Crimea have surged. The UN human rights chief said that justice is at the core of ensuring peace and reconciliation in Ukraine.

Campaign for Global Justice
Parliamentarians for Global Action member M. Kulasegaran said that Malaysia’s participation in a joint investigation of the downing of MH17 would be bolstered if it joined the ICC. San Marino ratified the Kampala amendment to the Rome Statute on the Crime of Agression. The UN human rights chief urged Iraq to join the ICC. The European Parliament called on South Sudan to join the ICC.

What else is happening?
In a letter to the ICC registrar, FIDH expressed its concerns regarding the potential consequences of proposed reforms on victims’ participation and legal representation at the ICC.

In an OpenDemocracy op-ed, ICTJ’s Paul Seils argued that the ICC is not the enemy of peace just because it rejects impunity. In an op-edICTJ President David Tolbert called on states to redouble their resolve to ensure accountability for serious crimes.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Al-Haq and other Palestinian organizations condemned Israel for barring members of the independent commission of inquiry for Gaza from entering Israel.

The ICC is holding a seminar on cooperation with focal points from states where the Court is active. In a statement on the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda iterated her office’s commitment to prosecuting crimes against children and protecting children’s rights. ICC Vice President Judge Sanji M. Monageng told journalists that the ICC brings justice to those who have no other means to seek justice.

UN investigators said that ISIS commanders are responsible for mass war crimes.

In an op-ed, a former CIA chief expressed concern that US admissions of torture could eventually be used at the ICC.

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