International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

Reactions to Bemba’s Conviction

The conviction of Congolese politician Jean-Pierre Bemba has received wide coverage online, with numerous media outlets highlighting the significance of the verdict for the responsibility of commanders to discipline their forces, and others stressing the significance of the court’s recognition of sexual violence as a weapon of war.

Bemba, a former rebel leader who later served as a vice president in Congo, was on March 21 found guilty of two counts of crimes against humanity (murder and rape) and three counts of war crimes (murder, rape, and pillaging). International Criminal Court (ICC) judges ruled that as commander-in-chief of the rebel force known as the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), he knew that his troops were brutalizing civilians in the … Continue Reading

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Progress and Controversy in Guatemala Grave Crimes Cases

The January arrest of 18 former senior military officers in two high-profile cases, followed by the landmark trial and conviction in the Sepur Zarco sexual violence and domestic and sexual slavery case, energized Guatemala’s transitional justice process in early 2016. Since then, the genocide retrial of former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt and his former chief of intelligence José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, has gotten off to a rocky and controversial start. This report provides a brief update on the status of each of these cases.

New Genocide Trial

After several false starts, the retrial proceedings against Ríos Montt and Rodríguez Sánchez in the Maya Ixil genocide case began on March 16 in special closed-door proceedings. The trial started despite controversy about the … Continue Reading

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Al Faqi Tells Chamber He Intends to Plead Guilty to War Crime Charge

Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi has informed the International Criminal Court (ICC) that he would like to plead guilty to a single war crime charge of destroying or partially destroying historic buildings in the northern Mali city of Timbuktu.

Al Faqi informed the court of his decision on March 1, but the details of what he said have only become public this week.

The Malian Islamic rebel leader made his intention known during a hearing Pre-Trial Chamber I held on March 1 to listen to the prosecution argue why the chamber should confirm the charge against him. During the pre-trial phase of a case, a suspect is not required to enter a plea. The focus of the pre-trial phase at the ICC … Continue Reading

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ICC Confirms War Crime Charge against al Faqi

The International Criminal Court’s Pre-Trial Chamber I decided on March 24 that Ahmad al Faqi al Madhi should stand trial on a single war crime charge for his alleged role in the complete or partial destruction of mausoleums in the northern Mali city of Timbuktu.

In one of the quickest confirmation of charges decisions made by a pre-trial chamber of the ICC, Pre-Trial Chamber I unanimously confirmed the single war crime charge the prosecution filed against al Faqi. The decision was made just 23 days after Pre-Trial Chamber I held a hearing on whether to confirm the charge. The chamber also confirmed the four types of individual criminal responsibility the prosecution alleged applied to al Faqi.

The three judges of Pre-Trial Chamber … Continue Reading

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Join the Guidelines on Fact-Finding

When atrocities are committed, it is the community affected who are the first on the scene. Neighbors rush to find survivors in the rubble after bomb attacks against civilians in Syria. Family members gather to help find a missing loved one forcibly disappeared during political tensions in Sri Lanka. Local medical staff record injuries inflicted on their patients who have survived rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Communities are the first to take care of its members and, as a result, are the best placed to provide potential evidence that may lead to perpetrators being held responsible for their crimes. So why is this information at risk of not being found reliable in court?

International criminal law requires that information … Continue Reading

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Reactions to Historic Sepur Zarco Judgment

On February 26, 2016, High Risk “A” Tribunal in Guatemala convicted military officers Esteelmer Reyes Girón and Heriberto Valdez Asig of sexual violence and domestic and sexual slavery against 15 Maya Q’eqchi’ women, as well as several counts of homicide and enforced disappearance. This was the first time a Guatemalan court has prosecuted a case of sexual violence related to the country’s 36-year civil war. The three-judge panel sentenced Reyes Girón to 120 years in prison, while Valdez Asig was sentenced to 240 years.

Human rights activists hailed the judgment as a landmark ruling that demonstrates Guatemala’s commitment to assuring victim’s rights to truth and justice in grave crimes cases and as an important step in the global struggle to end all forms of … Continue Reading

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Al Faqi Declines to Make Submissions in Northern Mali Case

A Malian rebel leader decided not to defend himself during a hearing at the International Criminal Court (ICC) that was held to hear whether he should stand trial for a war crime charge of destroying religious and historic monuments in northern Mali.

Defense lawyer Mohamed Aouini informed Pre-Trial Chamber I of this decision towards the end of Tuesday’s last session when it was his turn to speak. Aouini spoke after the prosecution has spent most of the day arguing why his client, Ahmed Al Faqi Al Mahdi, should stand trial.

“We shall reserve our submissions as to the merits [of the prosecution’s case] to the later stage of the proceedings,” Aouini told the chamber. This statement suggests Aouini expects his client to … Continue Reading

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First ICC Case Involving Crimes in Northern Mali to Open

This week’s confirmation of charges hearings against Malian rebel leader Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi represents the first time that a member of an Islamist armed group is facing charges before the International Criminal Court (ICC).

It is also the first case of an individual facing, as a main charge, a war crime allegation involving the destruction of religious or historic monuments at the ICC. (Congolese rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda has been charged with the same crime as part of the 18 charges he faces at the ICC.)

Al Faqi is alleged to have participated in, helped in planning and directed attacks on eight mausoleums and the door of a mosque in Timbuktu, Mali between June 20, 2012 and July 11, 2012, according … Continue Reading

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Guatemala Court Finds Both Sepur Zarco Defendants Guilty

A court in Guatemala has found two former senior military officers guilty of crimes against humanity in a case involving murder, sexual slavery and other atrocities committed at the Sepur Zarco army base in the east of the country in 1982 and 1983.

Esteelmer Reyes Girón, the former base commander, was given prison sentences totaling 120 years. Heriberto Valdez Asij, the former regional military commissioner, was given sentences totaling 240 years. The trial before High Risk Court A in Guatemala City lasted three-and-half weeks.

In delivering the judgment to a crowded courtroom on Friday, February 26,  presiding judge Yassmin Barrios said that rape had been deliberately used at Sepur Zarco as a weapon aimed at destroying the local indigenous Maya Q’eqchi’ community.

The … Continue Reading

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Bemba Verdict to be Delivered on March 21

On March 21, former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba will know whether judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) convict or acquit him of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

According to a scheduling order by the court, Trial Chamber III, comprised of Judge Sylvia Steiner (Presiding), Judge Joyce Aluoch, and Judge Kuniko Ozaki will deliver its judgment at 14:00, in open court.

Bemba has been in the court’s detention since July 2008. His trial over the murder, pillaging, and rape allegedly committed by his troops during 2002 and 2003 opened in November 2010. Whereas Bemba did not directly commit these crimes, prosecutors say he is culpable because, as commander-in-chief of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), he knew that … Continue Reading