To Honor the Victims of the Rwandan Genocide, Innovation Must Continue


Rwanda is back in the news headlines this month as the world unites to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the country’s genocide. A list of who’s who in the world of international affairs and human rights landed in Kigali earlier in April to take part in an official ceremony to honor the victims of those who lost their lives needlessly in 1994.

Heads of state, diplomats, journalists and human rights groups gathered with the hope that lessons from the Rwanda genocide can usher in a new era in which the international community starts to do more prevention rather than commemoration. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, reminded everyone “The blood spilled for 100 days. Twenty years later, the tears still flow.” 

Many pessimists will repeat the narrative that nothing has changed since more than 800,000 people perished over a 100 day time span two decades ago. Some will point to Syria or to the Central African Republic to buttress their argument. However, if you stand back and look at the bigger picture, it is difficult not to see larger patterns of progress.

Take for example that the United Nations now has an office working full time on the prevention of genocide, which plays an important role in advising the UN Secretary General, who in turn can pressure national governments to provide more support to the organization’s specialized agencies and peacekeeping missions. 

The Rwandan genocide also spurred new thinking in how the international community must rethink the notion of national sovereignty when mass atrocity crimes are looming. An answer to this problem was the introduction of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, which all countries seated at the UN endorsed in 2005.  Invoked for the first time by the UN Security Council in 2011 to justify strong measures be taken to protect civilians in Libya, more than 30 national governments now have “R2P” focal points, meaning capacity and political will are being built where they did not exist before.

Another important development is that a global legal system to end impunity for those who commit atrocities is now in place. The International Criminal Court might not be perfect but by prosecuting former heads of state for crimes against humanity and indicting the current President of Sudan for the crime of genocide in Darfur, a strong message has been sent to those who unleash atrocities against their own people.

Equally astounding has been the emergence of a more powerful global civil society that is dedicated to building a community of commitment focused on preventing atrocities.  In 1994 only a few human rights organizations, led by Human Rights Watch, tried to persuade the international community to halt the Rwandan genocide. Unfortunately they were not successful in mobilizing the public and making more “noise”, which allowed political leaders to sit in the shadows, feign ignorance of the atrocities and casually dismiss their countries’ legal responsibility, as signatories of the Genocide Convention, to enforce international law.  

Today, in contrast, hundreds of NGOs and think tanks in the West and the Global South are creating innovative projects and strategies to make “never again” a reality. For example, the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS) has heeded the words of the late Nelson Mandela who once said “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” By launching the world’s first professional training program for the prevention of mass atrocities, new skills and knowledge are being imparted on the next generation of human rights leaders from inside and outside of government.  

MIGS has also recognized that advances in technology and social media also provide important new tools that can be used by all actors in the atrocity prevention field. To help policy makers and human rights advocates, the Digital Mass Atrocity Prevention Lab was recently formed to begin studying how genocidal ideologies can be fought online and how technologies can be harnessed to document human right abuses for eventual prosecution.

Samantha Power, the current U.S. Ambassador to the UN recently tweeted “Come far since 1994 with stronger peacekeepers, ICC, R2P, accountability tools, NGO activism—but Syria/DPRK/CAR/SSudan show we’ve far to go.”


Yes, important steps have been made since the Rwandan genocide. But if we are to continue this trajectory of progress, two important things need to happen. First, philanthropists and governments need to support those human rights groups who are on the front lines of innovative thinking. Second, increased engagement and dialogue between civil society and national governments needs to be ramped up. The goal of achieving innovation at the institutional levels of government must be a central focus of “NGO activism”. The development of new mechanisms, capacities and structures to enforce international law will save more lives than empty rhetoric. The Obama administration has led the way with the creation of the Atrocities Prevention Board within the White House.  If other countries emulate Washington, the prevention of future genocides might actually become a reality.


Kyle Matthews is the Senior Deputy Director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University and a Fellow at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute. His work focuses on human rights, international security, the Responsibility to Protect, global threats, and social media and technology. He works closely with the Canadian All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Prevention of Genocide and has advised Members of Parliament on issues related to international peace and security. He previously worked for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, where he was posted to the Southern Caucasus (Tbilisi), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Kinshasa) and Switzerland (Geneva). Prior to that he worked for CARE Canada in Albania and later at its headquarters in Ottawa, where he managed various humanitarian response initiatives and peace-building projects in Afghanistan, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. In 2011 he joined the New Leaders program at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. He is a member of the University Club of Montreal, the Montreal Press Club, the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations and the Federal Idea, a think tank devoted to federalism. He is currently the President of the Canadian International Council's Montreal branch. He blogs on international affairs for Global News and for the Canadian International Council’s website

Feature photo, "Belgium Peacekeepers Memorial in Rwanda" by Marie Lamensch, Institute for European Studies.

Confronting Evil: Genocide in Rwanda

Alison Des Forges was Human Rights Watch's senior advisor in the Africa Division and one of the world's foremost experts on Rwanda. In the period leading up to the genocide, she worked tirelessly to alert world powers to the impending crisis in Rwanda. Her efforts did not stop when the genocide ended. She continued painstakingly gathering information on these horrific crimes, which she compiled into what has become one of the main reference books on the Rwandan genocide: "Leave none to tell the story: Genocide in Rwanda", published in 1999. Alison Des Forges campaigned vigorously for justice for the genocide until her sudden death in a plane crash in the US on February 12, 2009. She also documented human rights abuses by the new government of Rwanda after the genocide and advocated for accountability for all abuses, past and present.

A Must Watch: Ken Roth on the Colbert Report

Take Ken Roth, the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, who is a human encyclopedia on all things human rights and mix in Stephen Colbert, a political satirist/comedian + the last person you'd expect to discuss human rights abuses and you get a very entertaining interview.

Here are some of the gems that emerged from the interview:

Colbert: "My guest is Ken Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch. If he's here, who's watching the humans?"

Roth: "No one likes to have their human rights abuses known. Even Saddam Hussein tried to hide his human rights abuses against the Kurds." Colbert: Right, I don't tell anybody about my interns.

Colbert: "I don't want to be on the wrong side of Apartheid…again. It's a long story."

Colbert: "King Hamad, again, is a friend of mine. President Xi and Hamad and I get together and it's like…have you ever seen 'The Hangover?' It's like that; only the tiger belongs there." (on the King of Bahrain and the President of China).

The 20th Anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide in which 800,000 Rwandans where brutally killed over three months. In honor of the victims that lost their lives, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect has sent an open letter to all UN member states asking them to take "concrete steps" in preventing mass atrocity crimes and to essentially fulfill their commitment to the Responsibility to Protect principle.

Your Excellency,

Twenty years ago, on 11 January 1994, the Hon. Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Roméo Dallaire, then Force Commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda, sent his infamous ‘genocide fax’ to UN Headquarters warning that Hutu extremists were stockpiling arms and preparing lists of Rwandan Tutsis to be exterminated. Between 7 April and 19 July 1994, after Dallaire’s warnings of impending atrocities went unheeded, over 800,000 Rwandans were killed during the genocide. The horrific events that transpired during those 100 days later served as the impetus for all UN Member States to commit in 2005 to the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

The commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide is an important opportunity for the international community to honor the victims. In this spirit, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect calls upon all UN Member States to take concrete steps during this period to demonstrate their commitment to the prevention of mass atrocity crimes and R2P.

States can do this by:

  • Appointing a National R2P Focal Point, a senior-level government official responsible for mainstreaming the prevention of mass atrocity crimes and R2P domestically. Thirty-five countries from across the globe have already appointed a R2P Focal Point;
  • Publicly affirming that the prevention of mass atrocity crimes is a national priority and demonstrate this by developing a national action plan to strengthen domestic and international capacities to prevent mass atrocity crimes;
  • Recognizing the 20th commemoration of the Rwandan Genocide within national legislatures and fostering all-Party initiatives on the prevention of mass atrocity crimes;
  • Ratifying relevant legal treaties, including the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, if they have not already done so;
  • Supporting multilateral initiatives aimed at the voluntary restraint on the use of the veto in situations of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In particular, the Global Centre encourages the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States – to publicly commit to this during the 20th commemoration of the Rwandan genocide.

The Rwandan Genocide was a preventable tragedy. Conscientious reflection and determined action by all UN Member States during the 20th commemoration of the Rwandan Genocide will make it clear that the world will no longer tolerate genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Yours truly, Dr. Simon Adams Executive Director

Glancing Back at 2013


This year was rife with important milestones, achievements and events related to the human rights movement. We’ve compiled the milestones that most resonated with us. Let us know what resonates with you in the comments section below. 1) Defeated Militia: Colonel Sultani Makenga, Commander of the M23 rebel group in the eastern DRC, surrendered in Uganda along with 1,700 of his rebel fighters this past November. The M23 were ambushed by the Congolese army (also backed by 3,000 UN fighters) and were forced to either be captured or flee. It was under these pressures that they declared a ceasefire, ending a very bloody 20-month uprising.

2) In RemembranceNelson Mandela, former South African President and beloved anti-apartheid leader, died on December 5th 2013. Widely called “Madiba,” Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years for his political activities during apartheid in South Africa.  Despite his imprisonment he preached the importance of reconciliation and represented survival in the struggle for human dignity. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and leaves behind a legacy of equality, justice and freedom.

Seamus Heaney, an Irish poet and playwright who won the Nobel Peace Prize in Literature in 1995, died on August 30th, 2013. One of his most famous poems spoke of suffering and conflict in Northern Ireland. Below is an excerpt; for the full poem click here.

History says, Don't hope On this side of the grave, But then, once in a lifetime The longed-for tidal wave Of justice can rise up And hope and history rhyme.

3) AppointmentsSamantha Power’s appointment as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations began on August 5th, 2013. Power is widely considered one of the most important thought leaders and is most known for her strong human rights background and specifically for her extensive genocide research. She wrote “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide,” a study on the response of U.S. foreign policy in regards to various cases of genocide. She also authored “Chasing the Flame: One Man's Fight to Save the World,” a book about the heroic life of Sergio Vieira de Mello.

4) Symbol of Defiance: Surviving a gunshot wound to the head for defending her right to an education, Malala Yousafzai continues to promote girls education and serves as an inspirational role model for millions of girls around the world. Malala publically debuted with a moving speech to the UN to mark her 16th birthday.  Malala tells her story of being shot by the Taliban in Pakistan in newly published book, “I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban.”

5) Most Perplexing Conflict: Syria’s civil war continues to escalate in intensity, complexity and scope. For more than two years, violent conflict has ravaged this country and has maimed or taken the lives of thousands of innocent civilians and produced an epic refugee crisis with estimates of 6.5 million people now forcibly displaced with little access to aid or security. Widely considered one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises partly due to the internal chemical weapons attacks that have killed more than 10,000 Syrians, international observers remain baffled as to a viable political (non-military) solution that would result in meaningful peace and lasting stability.

6) More than Meets the Eye: When Edward Snowden, former CIA worker, leaked classified details of the NSA surveillance program, he initiated a controversial, if not historic, debate on privacy vs. security in a post 9/11, digital world, questioning how far the government should go to protect the American public. At the core of this debate is whether the metadata surveillance collected in the name of national security is pursued at the expense of civil liberties, such as privacy rights and freedom of expression. Human rights defenders say current surveillance policies must be reformed to respect privacy and maintain freedom of speech. This is a debate worth following as the implications are serious and far-reaching. For more information click here.

7) Notable Movies: 12 Years a Slave, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Anita and Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry.

8) Favorite Reads: The Lemon Tree, The Glass Palace, Long Walk to Freedom, The Kitchen House, Strength in What Remains.

9) Favorite Tweets

@CivCenter: When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.” -Kenyan proverb

@AmbassadorPower: Violence against women isn’t cultural, it’s criminal. Equality can't come eventually; we must fight for it now.

10) Stunning Statistic: The NSA tracks 5 billion cell phone records daily!

In Honor of Human Rights Day: The Honorable Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe Reflects on U.S. Leadership Towards Human Rights

Written by Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, Former US Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council, for the A3A blog in honor of International Human Rights Day. In the lead up to International Human Rights Day, I had the opportunity this past week to participate in the annual Human Rights First summit in Washington, D.C. Human Rights First CEO Elisa Massimino asked me to share my reflections on my tenure as the first US Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.  Our conversation was framed around the question of US leadership on human rights and what difference full and wholehearted US engagement can make in multilateral organizations like the UN Human Rights Council.  The simple but clear answer from my experience is that principled, pragmatic US engagement can make a huge difference.

Donahoe copy

Press conference with cross-regional co-sponsors of the Syria resolution, including Turkey, Jordan, UK, France, Qatar, Italy, Saudi Arabia, US. Photo by U.S. Mission Geneva / Eric Bridiers

When the US arrived as a new member four years ago, the Council was perceived both domestically and globally as the poster child for UN bureaucratic dysfunction.  Most egregious crisis and chronic human rights situations were ignored, and core civil and political rights so essential to human rights advocacy were de-emphasized.  Obstructionist regional group dynamics - - through which members of groups prevented criticism of each other so that they in turn would be protected from future criticism - - was the modus operandi of most voting members.  The views of human rights defenders, civil society actors and victims were not incorporated into the work of member states, and their voices were sometimes squelched in the chamber where member states worked.  In effect, this all meant that most meaningful action on human rights was blocked.

With a full and realistic understanding of these weaknesses, we set out three core priorities:

1.   To make a difference on the ground and in the halls of the UN for human rights defenders and victims;

2.  To enhance the efficacy of the Council in addressing crisis and chronic human rights situations;

3.  To find new avenues to work cooperatively with other nations cross-regionally toward effective human rights protection and promotion.

These priorities became touchstones for US engagement at the Council.  In the past 4 years, we made significant progress in all three areas.  The Council agenda now includes most of the world’s worst human rights crisis situations and chronic human rights settings, including Iran, Syria, Sudan, Sri Lanka, DPRK and many others.  Freedom of expression and Freedom of association and assembly have regained a place of importance as foundational elements for the work of human rights defenders around the globe.  The voices of victims and civil society actors are protected in the Council chamber and human rights advocates and defenders play a significant role in influencing the Council’s agenda.  And very importantly, most initiatives are co-sponsored by creative cross-regional coalitions, rather than by parochially oriented groups of countries from the same region.

 Reception in honor of Somalian Prime Minister, with members of civil society including Juile DeRivero, Geneva Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch. Photo by U.S. Mission Geneva.

At the Human Rights First summit, Elissa asked how such a dramatic turn around could have happened in such a short period of time, and what tactics the US employed to help in this reform process.  There are several answers.  First off, passion, clarity of purpose and basic skills of human interaction go a long way in diplomatic settings.  Delegations are made up of people, who often are impacted as much by how a message is delivered, as by the substance of the message itself.  We found that early outreach to small delegations from all regions of the world was a great way to show respect and find new allies.  Listening well, making the effort to understand the views of others, and finding ways to incorporate their concerns into our initiatives went a long way in building trust and new partnerships.

Second, it was very important to seize opportunities when they presented themselves.  The Arab spring brought a wave of popular demands and protests across an entire swath of the Middle East and North Africa region.  Those human rights developments presented Council members with a whole new set of country situations to consider and challenged members to consider their responsibilities in a new light.  While Libya, as a sitting member of the Council would have never made it to the agenda in the past, the spirit of the Arab awakening shook up the dynamics and caused many counties in the region to consider anew whether they really wanted to back a dictator like Qaddafi while he declared to the world that he would “hunt down the opposition like rats.”  Similarly, in case of Syria, the emotional impact of a news report about a funeral for peaceful protestors at which family members were gunned down by Assad forces, made it possible to convince voting members to hold an urgent session and get Syria onto the Council agenda. The human rights and humanitarian crisis in Syria has dominated the agenda at the Council ever since that first urgent session in April 2011. While Council members have not been able to find a way to end the bloodshed, the Council did establish a Commission of Inquiry that has been methodically investigating and documenting evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity so that those responsible will be held accountable.  Before the Arab spring, this would have been inconceivable at the Human Rights Council.  In effect, the Arab awakening brought an awakening to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, and we seized the opportunity.

  Syria Commission of Inquiry presenting their findings in the Human Rights Council chamber. Photo by U.S. Mission Geneva / Eric Bridiers

Syria Commission of Inquiry presenting their findings in the Human Rights Council chamber. Photo by U.S. Mission Geneva / Eric Bridiers

None of the significant changes in the working dynamics at the Human Rights Council would have been possible but for an entire group of gifted diplomats from around the world, open to new ways of working together and willing to trust and partner with the United States.  But the decision made by President Obama early in his first term along with Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Rice, to distinctly shift the US policy stance toward the Human Rights Council from one of principled resistance to one of principled but pragmatic engagement, has meant that the full effect of US leadership could be made manifest.

If there is one overriding basis for knowing that US leadership at the Council has made a difference, it is that human rights defenders turn to the US delegation on a daily basis to ask for support in championing their causes and to help ensure that their voices are heard.  The people who risk their lives on the front lines of the struggle for human rights believe that the United States presence at the Council has real and positive impact.  Their message has been received and the US will not disregard their call or turn back.


Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe served as United States Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, the lead UN body responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights.

Appointed by President Obama as the first U.S. representative to the Council, Ambassador Donahoe served during a period marked by transformative change, as people around the world have given ever-greater voice to their desire to forge their own destinies and live with liberty, dignity, justice, and opportunity.

Before undertaking her role as Ambassador, Ms. Chamberlain Donahoe was an Affiliate Scholar at the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) at Stanford University. Her Ph.D. dissertation, entitled:  “Humanitarian Military Intervention: The Moral Imperative Versus the Rule of Law,” addressed conflicting legal and ethical justifications for humanitarian military intervention.

ICC: The Court of Last Resort by Richard Dicker

This article was originally posted in Foreign Policy and has been re-posted below in its entirety.

July 1 marks the 10th anniversary of the entry into force of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the first permanent international court with a mandate to investigate, charge, and try people suspected of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes worldwide. At the ripe old age of 10, the court has become a high-profile institution on the world stage -- central to nearly every call for international justice for the most serious crimes. Nearly two-thirds of the United Nations' membership, 121 states, have ratified the ICC's statute, which legally obligates them to cooperate with the court. And the ICC is staying busy: The current docket includes the cases of, among others, three heads of state, a former vice president from a fourth country, and two presidential candidates from a fifth.In August, judges will consider sending former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, now in court custody, to trial. Meanwhile, there are growing, but initial diplomatic efforts are under way to have those Syrian officials responsible for alleged crimes appear before the ICC.

Photo by BAS CZERWINSKI/AFP/GettyImages

At the same time, however, the court has been unable to take custody of several leading suspects such as Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and the Lord's Resistance Army's Joseph Kony, who continue to reap murder and sow mayhem. In addition, the Office of the Prosecutor has failed to pursue any investigations outside Africa. In just the last few weeks, in the starkest crisis in the court's institutional life, an ICC defense lawyer and three staffers visiting Muammar al-Qaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam, have been detained by a militia in Libya that is holding him.

The ICC is also managing a large investigative docket and caseload. It is conducting investigations in seven countries -- in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Darfur in Sudan, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Libya, and Uganda. The Office of the Prosecutor is also considering whether to open investigations in Afghanistan, Colombia, Georgia, Guinea, Honduras, Nigeria, and South Korea. Meanwhile, the court's investigations have spawned renewed interest in bolstering national prosecution of serious crimes in Congo, Guinea, and Uganda. These initiatives could be a lasting spillover effect of the ICC as "a court of last resort."

Despite serious performance problems and the ebb and flow of support from governments, the court has made significant initial headway, giving rise to enormous expectations wherever the world's worst crimes occur -- as poignantly demonstrated by the Syrian protesters' signs last month that read "Assad to The Hague." Today, the International Criminal Court is the address for international criminal accountability. Yet as the court, with its daunting mandate, extends its reach, the flaws in its workings have become more visible.

The ICC differs in several essential aspects from the earlier ad hoc tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. These were created by U.N. Security Council resolutions. Coming as the result of a multilateral negotiation involving 150 countries over several years, the ICC was created in an extraordinary spate of judicial institution-building in the 1990s. As a result, at the outset, the court enjoyed a broad legitimacy and resonance with governments around the world. Countries that had recently made a difficult but successful passage from dictatorship to democracy, like South Africa and Argentina, saw their experiences and newfound commitment to accountability as empowering them to bring real value-added to the court's creation.

Despite its all-Africa concentration, the court, unlike the ad hoc tribunals, has a reach that goes far beyond one continent or subregion. The ICC is authorized to exercise its mandate over the "most serious crimes of concern to the international community" if either the state on whose territory the crimes occurred or the state of nationality of the accused has ratified the treaty and has failed to do its own investigations. This broad authority offered the promise of a more level international playing field for justice, and this prospect fueled widespread support.

Over the decade, though, this expectation has been undercut by the double standard of the world's most powerful states. Three permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- the United States, Russia, and China -- have not joined the court. Through their non-ratification and veto power, they have insulated themselves from the ICC. They have also shielded the leaders of certain "client states." Syria, which has not ratified the ICC treaty, is just the most recent beneficiary. President Bashar al-Assad has been effectively insulated from the court because of Russia's veto. This double standard scars the global terrain on which the ICC works, marking it with an ugly unevenness where the same law does not apply to all. The court's authority, virtually with the exception of referrals by the Security Council, rests on the voluntary decision of states to join the "Rome Statute system," and with 121 members, the court's arm reaches far beyond a law-abiding handful of states. Unsurprisingly, those with the most egregious records -- North Korea, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, to name a few -- have not joined. Because of the limitations in this consent-based jurisdictional regime that states negotiated in Rome, there are sizable "impunity gaps" on the international landscape.

The prospect of a "more level playing field" was at the heart of the U.S. government's ambivalent relationship to this project from the outset. In May 1998, Defense Secretary William Cohen told a visiting Human Rights Watch delegation that he would not recommend that President Bill Clinton endorse the treaty without an "ironclad guarantee" that no U.S. service member would be brought before the court. At the Rome conference where the treaty was completed, the large U.S. delegation, which certainly made some important substantive contributions, also extracted major concessions in the name of "raising the comfort level in Washington" that weakened the court. The latter included insistence on the tight restrictions inherent in the consent-based regime. In the end, the United States voted against the final text along with Iraq, Israel, Libya, and China.

In part because of the unexpectedly large number of countries that signed the treaty by the deadline for signature, by December 2000 the Clinton administration, then in its last weeks in office, took the important symbolic step of signing. In an unprecedented diplomatic step, however, George W. Bush's administration sought to "unsign" the treaty and derail the court. When that backfired embarrassingly, the administration in 2005 adopted a more pragmatic approach on a situation-by-situation basis, supportive of ICC investigations in Congo, Darfur, and Uganda. The Obama administration has been much more positive and engaged. It has sent large observer delegations to the annual meetings of ICC states and has participated actively in those. Given the 40 years it took the U.S. Senate to ratify the treaty to prevent and punish genocide, however, Senate ratification is a very, very long way off. If there is a second Obama term, to maintain credibility in its pronouncements on behalf of justice, the administration will need to step up its engagement with the court.

In establishing a judicial institution with this extraordinary mandate, there were bound to be shortcomings. And there have been serious problems. Some are caused by external conditions, while others are performance problems internal to the workings of the court.

First among external challenges is the ICC's dependence on countries to execute its arrest warrants because it does not have a police force. This causes delays and obstacles in getting custody of suspects. Thus, President Bashir and two other ICC suspects who are Sudanese government officials remain at liberty as Khartoum unleashes a new round of atrocities in southern Sudan. Robust diplomatic backup by the states that have joined the treaty, as well as the U.N. and the European Union, is crucial to bringing about compliance with arrest warrants, but support has been more of an inconsistent, on-again, off-again quality, depending on political circumstances. Nonetheless, Bashir has clipped his travel schedule, avoiding both ICC and non-ICC states out of fear of arrest. In fact, the African Union decided to move its July summit from Malawi because President Joyce Banda threatened to arrest Bashir if he attended.

The status of Libya's ICC suspects reflects another glaring failure of support for the court. The Security Council's unanimous vote on Feb. 26, 2011, to refer Libya to the court generated a palpable sense of pride among the ambassadors in the council chamber. The resolution imposed a binding obligation on Libya to surrender Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi and former intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi to the court. Yet, for the United States, Britain, and France, this obligation has vanished from official talking points. The word from Washington, London, and Paris is that justice for past crimes "is in the hands of the Libyan people." This is reminiscent of what American administrator Paul Bremer's people in Baghdad said to me in July 2003, discussing the modalities for trying Saddam Hussein.

The court faces other external problems. It inevitably applies its judicial mandate in highly polarized situations, and there is a real danger that it can be seen as a tool to advance political objectives. This risk is reinforced by the inconsistent support from states, especially the Western governments that champion accountability. The inconsistency can make the court seem less like a permanent institution of international justice and more like a light switch at the fingertips of a few permanent Security Council members. The patchy support fuels the argument of court opponents that the ICC is just another instrument in the diplomatic tool kit of the big powers. In July 2009, driven by Col. Qaddafi, the African Union called on its members not to cooperate with the ICC arrest warrants for Bashir.Qaddafi, who had long sought influence in Africa, was seeking to curry favor with regressive African governments and oppose, out of well-founded self-interest, greater accountability across the continent.

Finally, driven by economic concerns, several of the largest contributing states are trying to slash the court's budget at a time when demands on the ICC are growing. If successful, this "zero nominal growth" approach risks sacrificing legal defense, victim participation, and outreach. Ultimately, it could gut the court's ability to have impact in the communities most affected by the alleged crimes.

Other challenges include the court's own performance problems. The prosecutor's task was always going to be difficult. Having finished his nine-year tenure on June 15, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, while extremely energetic, put a premium on short-term results as opposed to taking a more strategic view. Yet hemade important progress. At his request, the court issued unsealed arrest warrants for 19 suspects and voluntary summonses for nine. There have been significant flaws in prosecutorial policy, however, especially the absence of coherent practice in selecting cases. While proclaiming to target "those most responsible," the policy in a number of countries appeared highly selective. In Libya, for example, Moreno-Ocampo did far too little about the serious crimes committed by militias opposing Qaddafi. This seeming lack of impartiality left the bitter impression of "victor's justice."

Choosing cases to bring to trial that are representative of the underlying patterns of ICC crimes requires a broader vision than Moreno-Ocampo employed. In eastern Congo, for example, ethnic conflicts have killed as many as 60,000 people in more than a decade of fighting. Yet the Office of the Prosecutor has brought cases against only several militia leaders -- but no government officials or senior military officers believed to be implicated in atrocities. That has undermined local perceptions of the court's independence and impartiality.

For the court to be viable, proceedings must move expeditiously while remaining scrupulously fair to the rights of the accused and the interests of victims. The court's first trial -- on three counts of conscripting child soldiers in eastern Congo-- took three years and cost many millions of dollars,aprohibitively long and expensive process. Fortunately, the second and third trials of Congolese militia leaders are moving more efficiently, and the judges are looking to make changes in their procedures to better advance the interests of justice. This year, the ICC had a budget of roughly $144 million, a sum that was contributed proportionately by its state parties. Indeed, trying mass crimes and atrocities while respecting due process rights and reaching out to communities thousands of miles from The Hague is not cheap. But though this cost remains a much smaller sum than is required for military or peacekeeping operations, it is imperative for court officials to be accountable for their budgets and alert to efficiency.

Another problem, despite some initial headway, has been insufficient emphasis by some member states in seeing the court make its proceedings meaningful in the communities -- whether eastern Congo or northern Uganda -- most affected by the crimes alleged. For the rule of law to take root where it most needs to, the states that pay for the court, especially the biggest contributors, need to see the importance of the trials having an impact in the communities where the crimes were committed. This will mean a change in the prosecutor's selection of cases, outreach to victims, and programs through the court's Trust Fund for Victims to repair some of the harm that has been done.

The ICC's tasks would be formidable in one country, let alone the seven that have ongoing investigations. Drawing from the experiences of the previous ad hoctribunals, a more comprehensive vision of the ICC's mission is, however, essential to fulfilling its mandate. There is a risk that as the court is asked to take on more cases in more countries that it will "hollow out" its approach and do less in each -- especially given the difficult economic times.

The increased financial pressure on the court coincides with the awakening of popular protest across the Middle East and North Africa. This upheaval presents both real opportunities and formidable obstacles for the court in extending the reach of justice to crimes against humanity and war crimes there. Until recently, the region, whether Arab states or Israel, had been immune to justice for these crimes -- an "accountability-free zone." Calls for accountability have never been so pronounced as they are today, but old habits die hard and impunity is not easily shaken.Given the high geopolitical stakes in the region -- oil, terrorism, Western fears of political Islam, and sensitivities over both Israel and Iran -- there is a danger that the more traditional interests of the most powerful states will get even greater weight in policy formulation, pushing justice to the periphery. We have already seen the worrying use of amnesty for senior officials implicated in serious crimes.

Tunisia's former president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, was given haven in Saudi Arabia. Former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his family received a "get out of jail free card" for crimes committed in suppressing the opposition in Yemen. There is growing talk of a similar immunity deal to induce Syria's Assad to leave power. This could create a regressive spillover effect regionally and beyond.

The qualitative headway that has occurred in enforcing human rights through criminal justice would have been unthinkable even 10 years ago. Yet, the progress is fragile. Clear-eyed realism is needed to see the obstacles and opportunities for justice as they are. At the same time, that realism should be steeled by an optimism grounded in a sense of the distance already traveled. Every advance in the construction of the architecture of international justice went against the prevailing conventional wisdom of the moment. A shift of tectonic proportions has taken place, but the road ahead remains steep and is lined with challenges.

Richard Dicker is director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch and is a longtime observer of the International Criminal Court.

Charles Taylor Sentenced to 50 Years in Jail

Charles Taylor

Charles Taylor, former Liberian President charged by the Special Court of Sierra Leone with 11 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes, was sentenced to 50 years in jail today. Below is a video of his sentencing.

To read the background of his gross human rights violations click here.
Cover photo by Ben Curtis/AP

Charles Taylor Found GUILTY.

Earlier this week we posted about the Charles Taylor trial and the strong message a guilty verdict would send to other heads of states committing and supporting gross human rights violations. Well, today was a historic day not only for the human rights world but for the people of Sierra Leone and some in Liberia. Today Charles Taylor, former Liberian President charged by the Special Court of Sierra Leone with 11 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes, was found GUILTY. This verdict brings some justice to the people of Sierra Leone, many of whom where victims to Taylor's abuses. Mark Doyle, BBC Correspondent in Freetown, Sierra Leone, spoke to Jusu Jarkar, a man whose arms were chopped off by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), the rebel group Taylor is charged with supporting.

Jusu Jarka (R), chairman of Sierra Leonian amputee association watches the trial of Liberian ex-leader Charles Taylor taking place in the Hague, inside the Special Court in Freetown on April 26, 2012.
(Jarkar on the right. Photo credit: AFP).

"This is a happy day. I have not been able to do many things because my arms were cut off, but today I am happy. Tomorrow I will be happy too, because it is Sierra Leone independence day," Jarkar said.

For more information on the trail and verdict please read the article below taken directly from the BBC.

Charles Taylor Guilty of Aiding Sierra Leone War Crimes, BBC

International judges have found former Liberian leader Charles Taylor guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes during the Sierra Leone civil war.

Taylor, 64, has been on trial in The Hague at the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone for almost five years. He was accused of backing rebels who killed tens of thousands of people in Sierra Leone's 1991-2002 civil war. Taylor was convicted on 11 counts including terror, murder and rape - but cleared of ordering the crimes.

He is the first former head of state convicted by an international court since the Nuremburg military tribunal of Nazis after World War II. Human rights groups described the judgement as historic.

"This is an incredibly significant decision," Elise Keppler from the campaign group Human Rights Watch told the BBC. Another group, Amnesty International, said the verdict sent an important message to all high-ranking state officials.

"While today's conviction brings some measure of justice to the people of Sierra Leone, Taylor and the others sentenced by the Special Court are just the tip of the iceberg," the group's Brima Abdulai Sheriff said in a statement. The US State Department said the ruling sent "a strong message to all perpetrators of atrocities, including those in the highest positions of power, that they will be held accountable".

Diamonds for weapons

Chief prosecutor Brenda Hollis said it was "confirmation of what the people in Sierra Leone told us from the beginning of our investigations, and that is that Mr Taylor was one of those who bore greatest responsibility for the crimes against them".

But defence lawyer Courtenay Griffiths denied this, saying the verdict was a "major blow to the prosecution" as it had failed to show that Taylor was part of a conspiracy led by Libya to take over West Africa. The judges, Mr Griffiths added, had also rejected the contention that Taylor was micro-managing events in Sierra Leone.

Reading out the verdict in The Hague, Judge Richard Lussick said Taylor had been found guilty beyond reasonable doubt in connection with 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Those included terror, murder, rape, and conscripting child soldiers, he added.

Judge Lussick said that as Liberian leader, Taylor had extended "sustained and significant" support to the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in neighbouring Sierra Leone. The judge said the accused had sold diamonds and bought weapons on behalf of the RUF - and knew the rebels were committing atrocities.

But Judge Lussick added that this support fell short of effective command and control over the rebels.

"The trial chamber finds the accused cannot be held responsible for ordering the crimes," he said.

He also said the prosecution had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Taylor was part of a joint criminal enterprise.

The BBC's Mark Doyle in the capital of Sierra Leone, Freetown, says traditional chiefs and victims of the war watching the proceedings by video link breathed a sigh of relief when the verdict was read out.

In the Liberian capital, Monrovia, newspaper publisher Tom Kamara hailed the verdict, saying "justice has been done" and it was "an end to impunity". However, young supporters of Charles Taylor took to the streets brandishing placards reading: "We love you Taylor, God willing you will come back."

A sentence hearing will be held on 16 May, with the sentence to be handed down on 30 May, he added.

Taylor has a right to appeal against the conviction. If he loses the appeal he is expected to serve his sentence in a British prison, as the Dutch government only agreed to host the trial if any ensuing jail term was served in another country.

Taylor, a rebel leader in the 1980s and early 1990s, was elected president of Liberia in 1997 following a peace deal which ended a brutal civil war.

He governed for six years before being forced into exile in Nigeria following a second conflict. In 2006 he was arrested, repatriated to Liberia and eventually sent to The Hague to be tried.

Cover photo by George Osodi/AFP/Getty Images.

The Charles Taylor Verdict, April 26th


On April 26, 2012 the first ever verdict by an international war crimes tribunal of a head of state will be handed down in the trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor.

Taylor is charged with 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for supporting rebels responsible for mass human rights atrocities (including violently severing limbs, killing, raping and robbing the civilian population). Taylor, if found guilty, could be sentenced to life in prison; a sentence that will send a strong message of justice prevailing to other dictators committing human rights abuses.

Geoffrey Robertson, former president of the U.N.’s war crimes court in Sierra Leone and author of Crimes Against Humanity: The Struggle for Global Justice, wrote a thorough article outlining the background of Taylor's case and analyzes some of the disputed issues the court faces in deciding Taylor's verdict. His article is included below in its entirety.

Awaiting a Verdict In Charles Taylor’s War Crimes Trial by Geoffrey Robertson

The verdict on Charles Taylor, former president of Liberia, will be announced on April 26 by the Special Court for Sierra Leone. It has sat for over three years in The Hague to hear accusations that in order to gain a share of Sierra Leone’s diamonds, he conspired with Foday Sankoh’s Revolutionary United Front to wage Africa’s most brutal war against a democratically elected government. Taylor and Sankoh (who died in 2003) are alleged to have trained in Libya at the invitation of Col. Muammar Gaddafi (an “unindicted co-conspirator”).

During the war, it is said that Taylor, posing as a peacemaker, presented some of his ill-gotten uncut diamonds to supermodel Naomi Campbell, after dinner chez Nelson Mandela. He is charged with murder, rape, terrorism, pillage, sexual enslavement, and recruiting children.

Much of the evidence has been stomach-turning. The RUF fighters lopped off the hands of anyone who had voted in the U.N.-sponsored elections and engaged in widespread mutilation and murder of civilians as part of Operation No Living Thing in Freetown. There is no doubt that they recruited children as soldiers and sex slaves, and killed prisoners of war to eat their hearts out in the juju belief that they would gain their enemies’ strength.

But was Charles Taylor in any way responsible for these atrocities? He never set foot in Sierra Leone and the prosecution had to rely on evidence that he was in communication with rebel leaders. That contact was necessary, so Taylor testified, to perform his U.N.-accredited role as peacemaker. The prosecution claimed he was directing his RUF proxies, and in return for diamonds was arranging to supply them with weapons, military personnel, and safe haven on the Liberia–Sierra Leone border.

It will be for the court—a judge from Northern Ireland, a judge from Uganda, and a judge from Samoa (trained in Australia) to determine where the truth lies. Instead of defying the court like Milosevic or trying to disrupt it by defending himself, Taylor retained a British Queen’s Counsel (a senior Old Bailey advocate) to represent him throughout the trial. This made it a true adversarial proceeding and enhanced his prospects of acquittal by independent judges on prosecution evidence that has been mainly circumstantial—no witnesses testified to receiving orders from him to fight the war. The judges must be satisfied of his guilt beyond reasonable doubt, so his conviction on all or any of the charges is not a foregone conclusion.

One disquieting feature of the case is the time the court has taken to deliver this judgment—thirteen months, no less, since the final speeches finished. The trial itself lasted over three years, during which time the judges should have been working on their assessments—the issues are complicated but it should not take over a year to give reasons for a verdict. While it is not necessary to follow the lead of the German judges who convicted one of the last Nazis—John Demjanjuk—only two days after the end of his two-year trial, it remains true that justice delayed is justice denied, especially in a court whose first president promised that “our justice, whilst it may not be exquisite, will never be rough.”

At any event, it can be predicted that the judgment will be lengthy. It has been touted as the first international-court decision on the guilt of a head of state (Milosevic having died mid-trial and Jean Kambanda, president of Rwanda, having pleaded guilty before the tribunal in Arusha established to deal with the Rwandan genocide), although purists will note that Admiral Dönitz, briefly head of Germany after Hitler’s death, was convicted at Nuremberg.

Media interest will doubtless center on the findings in respect to Naomi Campbell’s “blood diamonds.” The prosecution alleges they were a gift from Taylor (he denies it)—an example of his gains ill gotten from the war. Some light may also be shed on how Charles Taylor ever became a guarantor, with the U.S. and the U.N., of the Lomé Accord—the infamous peace agreement that put the fox in charge of the henhouse by making RUF leader Sankoh the deputy prime minister of Sierra Leone and minister in charge of the diamond mines. It was Jesse Jackson as President Clinton’s emissary who had secured Sankoh’s release from prison (hailing him as “West Africa’s Nelson Mandela”) and who joined in sponsoring the worst peace deal since the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. “The Lomé Accord stank,” says David Scheffer in his recent autobiography: as Clinton’s war-crimes ambassador, he should have brokered it but says he was shut out. Taylor relies on Lomé as evidence that he only met Sankoh at the request of the U.S. and the U.N.: they wanted him to act as a peacemaker in the region. The prosecution, claiming he was the “godfather” of the RUF, suggests that he exploited this role to deliver the spoils of war into the hands of his proxies. These are some of the disputed issues on which the court must make findings of fact.

Cover Photo by Vincent van Zeijst