With the Islamic State capture of the Syrian city of Palmyra this week, the UN and EU have warned that deliberate destruction of the city’s ancient heritage would be a war crime under international law.
Palmyra is a UNESCO World Heritage site containing the ruins of a city that was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world.
UNESCO director Irina Bokova said in a video statement that destruction of Palmyra would be “not just a war crime but… an enormous loss to humanity.”
Meanwhile, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini cautioned that “mass killings and deliberate destruction of archaeological and cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq amount to a war crime according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.”
The Rome Statute outlaws intentional attacks against civilian objects or buildings dedicated to religion, art, science, charitable purposes, and historic monuments, provided they are not military objectives.
As Syria is not a party to the Rome Statute, the ICC does not have jurisdiction in the country. Last year, Russia and China vetoed an attempt to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC prosecutor for investigation.
Central African Republic
Appeals judges rejected Jean-Pierre Bemba’s appeal for interim release.
The victims’ representative in the case against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said that Kenyatta was rewarded for his obstruction of the case. Kenya’s attorney general asked the ICC to reject a victims’ appeal to refer Kenya to the Court’s governing body for non-cooperation in the case against President Uhuru Kenyatta. The Standard reported that mystery surrounds the status of Kenyatta’s $1 million pledge for the establishment of an expanded African Court, which a Kenyan opposition senator said was designed to undermine the ICC and would have to be approved by parliament.
South Africa invited Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir to an AU summit next month, but the Institute for Security Studies notes that South African authorities are obligated by law to arrest him. The Coalition for the ICC’s Dan Verderosa told the Sudan Tribune that Saudi Arabia should arrest ICC suspect Ahmed Haroun, who is currently visiting the country.
The Sudanese government approved a strategy to end tribal violence in East Darfur. Authorities authorized the arrest of ‘tribal clash agitators.’ Militia attacks have displaced the majority of residents in East Jebel Marra, Darfur.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Legal scholar Emma Irving argued that Matheiu Ngudjolo Chui’s removal from the Netherlands to the DRC demonstrates the complications faced by persons acquitted by the ICC.
Former Lord’s Resistance Army commander Dominic Ongwen could face charges related to sexual and gender-based violence, in addition to the enlistment of child soldiers and an attack on a camp for internally displaced persons, ICC prosecutors indicated during a status conference in The Hague this week.
Ongwen is currently facing seven charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, enslavement, pillaging and directing attacks against civilians. An initial hearing to confirm the charges against him will be held in January 2016. In an interview, Ongwen’s lawyer said that he will plead not guilty to all charges.
Verdicts in the trial of Abdullah Al-Senussi and other former Gaddafi regime officials could be delivered in July. Amnesty International (AI) called on the international community to support the ICC’s efforts in Libya. Lawyers for Justice in Libya, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and other organizations welcomed the recommendations made to Libya during the Universal Periodic Review—including the ending of the country’s culture of impunity—and called for their implementation. The UN warned Libyan armed groups that abducting civilians, torture and murder are war crimes under the jurisdiction of the ICC. A militia clashed with ISIS fighters in Sirte, Libya. ISIS militants took control of Sirte, Libya.
The ICC Appeals Chamber will issue its decision on the admissibility of the case against Simone Gbagbo on 27 May. Ivorian politicians formed an opposition coalition whose charter calls for therelease of Laurent Gbagbo and other ‘political prisoners.’
A former Russian general was named chief of army for the Georgia‘s breakaway territory of Abkhazia.
The International Federation for Human Rights criticized former coup leader Moussa Dadis Camara’s decision to run in Guinea’s presidential election and called for him to be held accountable for his alleged role in the 2009 Conakry stadium massacre (in French). Guinea’s opposition leader said that he is disappointed with talks aimed at ending political deadlock that has caused deadly protests throughout the country.
The Nigerian Coalition for the ICC urged the government to release funds to assist victims of the Boko Haram. The New York Times reported that hundreds of women and girls kidnapped by the Boko Haram were raped, possibly with the goal of creating a new generation of Islamist fighters.
Palestine will reportedly deliver two reports to the ICC on 25 June regarding Israeli settlements and the 2014 Gaza conflict. Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticized an Israeli court ruling permitting the forcible eviction of Palestinians from their homes. HRW’s Fred Abrahams discussed how Israel’s use of heavy artillery contributed to civilian deaths during last summer’s fighting in Gaza and called for impartial investigations into the conflict.
The Ukrainian government will prosecute two alleged Russian soldiers captured in eastern Ukraine.
Campaign for Global Justice
After a meeting with the UN special representative on sexual violence in conflict, Parliamentarians for Global Action called on Iraq and Syria to join the ICC and ask the Court for help to stop sexual violence on territory controlled by ISIS. A Jewish Chronicle columnist called on Israel to join the ICC. A Daily Times columnist called on Pakistan to join the Court.
What else is happening?
AI called on all parties in Burundi to prioritize the safety of civilians. Avocats Sans Frontières interviewed a Burundian lawyer providing legal assistance to those detained during election protests.
HRW warned that Sri Lanka’s promotion of a senior army officer implicated in alleged abuses casts doubt against its pledge to investigate alleged war crimes.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s behavior makes it likelythat he will find himself tried by the ICC.
International law expert Kevin Jon Heller argued that ICC judges’ repeated decisions to allow the prosecution to change modes of liability after the confirmation of charges risks making the confirmation stage irrelevant.
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