International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

Critical hearing in Guatemala’s Molina Theissen case delayed again

The next hearing in the Molina Theissen case, already postponed once earlier this month from December 9 to December 22, has been rescheduled again by the office of Judge Víctor Hugo Herrera Ríos of High Risk Court C, with a new court date now set for January 13, 2017.

This is a critical hearing, at which the parties will present their concluding remarks, followed by the judge’s determination as to whether there is sufficient evidence to send to trial the former military officers who have been indicted in this case. Five high-ranking military officers have been indicted in this case, for the illegal detention, torture, and sexual violence committed against Emma Guadalupe Molina Theissen, and for the enforced disappearance of her … Continue Reading

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Court Reinstates CREOMPAZ Victims, but Obstacles Remain

On December 14, the Constitutional Court granted a provisional protective measure (amparo) to the plaintiffs in the CREOMPAZ case. The amparo seeks the reincorporation of dozens of victims who were excluded by the June 2016 decision by presiding pretrial judge Claudeth Domínguez to send eight of the eleven defendants to trial. CREOMPAZ is the current name for the installations in Cobán, Alta Verapaz where Military Base No. 21 (MZ21) was located. Since 2012, investigators have exhumed 558 bodies from MZ21, over 100 of which have been identified as victims of enforced disappearance and related crimes.

Juan Francisco Soto, executive director of the Center for Legal Action in Human Rights (CALDH), which is one of the organizations representing the victims in the … Continue Reading

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Victims Seek to Revoke Immunity of Congressman Wanted for War Crimes

Congressman Edgar Justino Ovalle has spent the better part of 2016 under threat of criminal charges. Though he took his seat as a deputy in the Guatemalan National Congress on January 14, 2016, the Attorney General’s Office has not ceased in its efforts to prosecute him for war crimes.

Guatemala’s Attorney General, Thelma Aldana, made international headlines last year when she arrested then-President Otto Pérez Molina and a slew of other government officials for their involvement in alleged massive corruption schemes. She surprised again on January 6, 2016, when her office ordered the arrest of 18 high-ranking retired military officials for war crimes. These included individuals like Benedicto Lucas García, the former head of the army, whom most Guatemalans believed to … Continue Reading

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ECCC Supreme Court Affirms Life Sentences for Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea while Criticizing Trial

On November 23, 2016, the Supreme Court Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts in Cambodia (ECCC) affirmed the life sentence convictions given to Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan by the lower Trial Chamber in August, 2014. However, the Supreme Court was severely critical of some aspects of the handling of the trial of the two surviving senior Khmer Rouge leaders by the lower court.

The entire ruling is 512 pages long. We invite you to download our 7-page summary and analysis of the main points of the judgment [pdf].

Both two men remain on trial on a second set of charges arising from their role in genocide and crimes against humanity committed by the Khmer Rouge regime that ruled Cambodia from April 1975 … Continue Reading

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Senior UN Human Rights Official Issues Stinging Rebuke to African States Withdrawing from ICC

The United Nation High Commissioner for Human Rights has strongly rebuked African states wanting to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC) while at the same time praising African nations for being strong supporters of the court during its formative stage.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights did not name any particular African country in his hard-hitting speech on Wednesday, but his statements come nearly one month after South Africa wrote to the United Nations Secretary-General to withdraw from the ICC. When South Africa began the process to withdraw from the ICC in late October, it became the first member state to do so.

The same week South Africa sent what it described as “instruments of withdrawal,” dated October 19, … Continue Reading

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Witness Interference at the ICC: A Widespread Practice Across Virtually All Cases

All eyes of the international justice community will be on the 15th session of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute (ASP) beginning today in The Hague. There is no doubt that one of the biggest issues States Parties must address is the recent withdrawal of three African countries from the International Criminal Court (ICC). While this reflects the larger political troubles the court faces, there are also significant internal challenges the ICC must address in relation to its ongoing investigations and trials.

The Open Society Justice Initiative has conducted research that suggests that witness interference has been alleged in nearly every case before the ICC. Actions aimed at interfering with witnesses and their testimony impede due process, undermine … Continue Reading

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Death of a Middleman Thwarts Blood Diamonds Case

The illegal trade in “blood diamonds” smuggled from Sierra Leone helped fuel a brutal civil war that lasted from 1991 to 2002 and caused an estimated 50,000 deaths. But so far, no one has been held to account for creating the system that moved stones from hellish mines in eastern Sierra Leone to the world’s diamond markets. Regrettably, that prospect is now even less likely, following the sudden death in a Belgian jail on September 28 of Michel Desaedeleer.

Desaedeleer, an international businessman who held dual U.S. and Belgian nationality, was arrested in August last year on suspicion of involvement in the war crimes of pillage and inhumane treatment and complicity in enslavement as a crime against humanity, among other charges.

The … Continue Reading

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Challenges of Legal Representation in the Case of Dominic Onwgen

Dominic Onwgen is a former top commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) whose trial is due to commence on December 6, 2016 at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. Ongwen is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in the villages of Lukodi, Odek, Pajule, and Abok, all located in Northern Uganda.

As his trial date looms closer, however, complications have arisen around the issue of legal representation for victims. At the moment, 2,036 victims have been approved for participation in the trial, with more still being registered by the ICC field office in Uganda. The problem stems from the existence of two separate teams of lawyers representing them, a factor that has turned out … Continue Reading

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ICC Convicts Al Faqi of Single War Crime, Sentences Him to Nine Years in Prison

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has convicted former Malian Islamic leader Ahmed Al Faqi Al Mahdi of a single war crime of destroying historic and religious buildings in the northern Mali city of Timbuktu four years ago.

In a unanimous judgement made on Tuesday, Trial Chamber VIII sentenced Al Faqi to nine years in prison. Presiding Judge Raul C. Pangalangan said the chamber found that the guilty plea Al Faqi made in August this year was supported by the facts.

By sentencing Al Faqi to nine years imprisonment, the chamber was upholding the sentence range the prosecution, Al Faqi, and his lawyers had agreed to in a plea deal they all signed on February 25 this year. A redacted version of … Continue Reading

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Thousands of Victims in Uganda Express Willingness to Participate in the Ongwen Case

On December 6, 2016, the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague will commence the trial of Dominic Onwgen, a former top commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Ongwen is charged with committing war crimes and crimes against humanity that allegedly occurred between 2002 and 2004 when the LRA was engaged in an insurgency against the government of Uganda. He is alleged to have committed the crimes in the Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps of Lukodi, Odek, Pajule-Lapul, and Abok, all located in Northern Uganda.

Victims of crimes under investigation by the ICC can apply to participate in proceedings through a lawyer, apply for reparations, seek assistance, and submit communications to the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP). Such participation is … Continue Reading

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