International Criminal Law – A month in review – July 2015

3 August 2015

A summary of the significant International Criminal Law developments in July from around the world.

UK / Rwanda:  Rwandan spy chief General Karenze Karake arrested in UK European Arrest Warrant issued by Spain

At the end of last month, Rwandan spy chief General Karenze Karake was held on a European Arrest Warrant issued by Spain for alleged war crimes 21 years ago.  He appeared at the City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 25 July and was secured bail with conditions including security payment of £1 million.  Following the hearing, the BBC reported that he was in London to meet the head of MI6.  For more information about the case, please see our blog.

South Africa / ICC:  South Africa judge rules al-Bashir did not have immunity from ICC arrest warrant

At the start of the month, South African judge Mlambo ruled that President al-Bashir did not have immunity while attending the African Union summit and that South Africa had disregarded international law as reported by the BBC. For more information about the al-Bashir controversy, please see our blog.

Guatemala:  Former ruler found unfit for genocide retrial

On 7 July, former Guatemalan general Efrain Rios Montt was found mentally unfit for genocide retrial.  He briefly ruled the country in the early 1980s, during a period in Guatemala’s civil war.  He was convicted two years ago of ordering the army to carry out massacres of Ixil Maya indigenous people, in which around 1,700 members of the Ixil Maya population were killed.  The conviction was overturned and a retrial was ordered due to procedural error.  More information can be found here.

Ivory Coast:  Ex-rebels charged with war crimes following post-election violence

For the first time since the post-election violence in 2010-2011, rebels who supported Ivory Coast’s current President Alassane Ouattara have been charged with war crimes.  Both sides were accused of atrocities in the violence that followed the disputed polls but until now only those who supported the ousted government had faced justice.  The clashes began when ex-President Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept defeat in the election and resulted in more than 1,000 people dying.  Mr Gbagbo is awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court, where he faces charges of crimes against humanity, which he denies, as reported by the BBC.

Germany:  The “book-keeper of Auschwitz” convicted and sentenced to four years

On 15 July 2015, Oskar Gröning was convicted of being an accessory to the murder of at least 300,000 people during World War Two and sentenced to four years in prison by a court in Germany.  He was stationed at Auschwitz concentration camp and was responsible for the belongings of prisoners when they arrived.  At 94 years old, it is likely that Oskar Gröning will be the last to face a trial of this kind. More on this story.

ICC / Israel:  Disagreement within ICC regarding investigation of Flotilla incident

On 16 July, the ICC ordered Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to review her decision not to open an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by the IDF when they boarded the Mavi Marmara ship in May 2010.  The ship was part of a flotilla attempting to break Israel’s blockade.  On 27 July Ms Bensouda appealed the decision as reported by The Times of Israel.

Mali / UNESCO:  Destruction of mausoleums by Islamist extremists referred to ICC for war crimes by UNESCO

Mausoleums in a World Heritage Site in northern Mali have been rebuilt, three years after they were destroyed by Islamist extremists.  UNESCO’s chief, Irina Bokova, officially opened the rebuilt mausoleums on 18 July and said that the destruction of cultural heritage is considered a war crime under the UN’s 1954 Hague Conviction.  She added that she met with the ICC prosecutor two months ago and hopes they will be presenting the case before the ICC soon.  She did not provide details of charges. More information.

Chad / Senegal:  Trial begins in Senegal against Chad’s former dictator for war crimes

On 20 July, the “event of the year” in the field of international criminal law began when the historic case of Chad’s former dictator Hissène Habré started, almost 25 years since he was overthrown.  Senegal agreed to host the case after pressure from the African Union.  It is the first time the courts of one country have prosecuted the former ruler of another country for human rights abuses.  It is alleged that his government were responsible for 400,000 murders and 200,000 incidents of torture.  The case was adjourned by 22 July until September 2015 so that court-appointed lawyers can prepare his defence.  Habré had refused legal representation, saying he did not recognise the court’s jurisdiction. As reported by the BBC and Guardian.

Libya:  Gaddafi’s son sentenced to death for war crimes during 2011 revolution

On 28 July, Saif al-Islam, son of former Prime Minister Colonel Gaddafi, was sentenced to death by a court in Libya.  He was found guilty of war crimes during the 2011 revolution.  He was not present in court for his sentencing as he is currently being held by a former rebel group that refuses to hand him over.  He is also wanted by the ICC on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. To read more on this story click here. 

Malaysia / The Netherlands / Australia / Russia:  Russia veto worldwide calls for MH17 tribunal

This month marked one year since the shooting down of airliner MH17.  The anniversary has coincided with calls by The Netherlands, Malaysia and Australia (amongst others) to create a UN-backed tribunal to bring those responsible to justice.  On 29 July, Russia used its veto at the UN to block the draft resolution to set up the tribunal and was the only nation in the UN Security Council to oppose the motion. More on this story.

Co-authored by Emily Elliott.

You can find out more about the Kingsley Napley Criminal Law team here and more detail about its work relating to International Criminal Law here.                                            

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