International criminal law – a month in review September-October 2016

14 November 2016


A communication on behalf of Cambodian complainants has been filed before the ICC requesting that the Prosecutor investigate environmental crimes over the last 20 years. On 15 September 2015 the ICC Prosecutor announced that they will prioritize crimes that “result in the destruction of the environment, illegal exploitation of natural resources and the illegal dispossession of land.” To read more on the case click here, for the ICC’s position click here and for analysis click here.


On 25 October 2016 the Bosnian Serb (Republika Srpska) Parliament voted to make January 9th a secular national holiday. It is the anniversary of the 1992 date when Bosnian Serbs declared independence from Bosnia, triggering the subsequent conflict. Such a holiday had previously been declared illegal by the Bosnian Constitutional Court since it discriminated against Republika Srpska’s Catholic Croat and Muslim Bosnian communities. It has been alleged that the referendum supporting the holiday was a dry run for a possible independence referendum on Bosnian Serb independence. To read news on this story click here.

Days earlier the Parliament of Republika Srpska decorated three Serbs convicted of crimes against humanity by the ICTY, including Radovan Karadzic.


Eight former Serb troop commanders were charged by the Croatian prosecutor on 18 October 2016 with rape, torture, expulsion and the murder of more than 100 civilians in Croatia between 1991 and 1995.


The International Criminal Court is soon to decide on the amount of compensation due to child soldiers that formed the ranks of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) in the DRC between 2002-2003. Thomas Lubunga, head of the UPC was sentenced to 14 years, and found liable for reparations to victims under the age of 15. The number of victims is not defined. To read news on this story click here.

On 19 October 2016, the ICC convicted former Vice-President of the DRC Jean-Pierre Bemba and four members of his legal team of interfering with witnesses. This is the first time anyone has been convicted by the ICC of attempting to pervert the course of justice. He is already sentenced to 18 years imprisonment for commanding the Congolese Liberation Movement who were alleged to have engaged in acts of rape, murder and pillage in the Central African Republic between 2002 and 2003. To read news on this story click here.


On 25 October 2016 a Guatemalan court indicted former military chief of staff Manuel Benedicto Lucas Garcia and four other high-ranking officials linked to the kidnapping and disappearance of 14-year of Marco Antonio Molina Theissen, and the torture and rape of his sister Emma Guadeloupe in 1981. They are charged with crimes against humanity, forced disappearance and aggravated rape. All five were alleged to have command responsibility or operational involvement in the actions of the Quetzaltenango army unit. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights found the Guatemalan state guilty of the disappearance of Molina Theissen in 2004. For news on this story click here.



Boris Johnson has suggested to Parliament that Russia should be investigated for war crimes in relation to its bombing campaign in Aleppo. US politicians including John Kerry and Hillary Clinton have also condemned Russian and Syrian government bombing of Aleppo, as well as Ban Ki-moon.  UN Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein has said that although all parties have violated international humanitarian law, Syrian “government forces and their allies are responsible for the overwhelming majority of civilian casualties.” For news on these stories please click here, here and here.

Vladimir Putin cancelled a planned trip to France in mid-October after François Hollande suggested that Russia had committed war crimes in Syria. According to Reuters, France is trying to find a way for the ICC to launch an investigation into war crimes by Syrian and Russian forces. However, the court has no jurisdiction over crimes in Syria because neither Russia nor Syria are ICC members. The only way the ICC could investigate would be through a unanimous UN Security Council referral. Moscow, a permanent member of the UNSC, vetoed a resolution attempting to refer the Syrian situation to the ICC in May 2014. It may still be possible to bring charges under universal jurisdiction against Syrian and Russian leaders however. For news on this please click here and here.

On 27 October 2016, Ban Ki-moon called for an investigation into the bombing of school compounds in Idlib and Aleppo, saying that if deliberate it may amount to a war crime. The US and France have accused Russia or the Syrian regime, but Russia’s foreign ministry has strongly rejected such claims. For news on this story click here.


Saudi Minister of Culture and Information Adel Tarifi has said that Riyadh does not support calls by the High Commissioner to form an international investigation committee because the work of the Yemeni National Commission of Inquiry, as set up by the President of Yemen to investigate human rights violations, was sufficient. At the end of September the Human Rights Council of the UN refused to open an independent investigation into war crimes in Yemen, demanding instead a national commission of inquiry to investigate attacks on hospitals and the killing of civilians. For news on this story please click here.

UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has stated that the UK has provided training to the Royal Saudi Air Force to improve their targeting processes and to support International Humanitarian Law. They have also delivered two training sessions on the process for investigating alleged violations of International Humanitarian Law under a joint incident team. He clarified that the UK was not directly involved in investigations, nor had it provided operational advice to Saudi Arabia with regard to operations in Yemen. For news on this story click here.

Reuters has reported that US government lawyers have raised concerns that the sale of weapons by the US  to Saudi Arabia, in the knowledge that that Saudi Arabia did not have the ability to intervene in Yemen without harming civilians, might make it liable for Saudi war crimes as a “co-belligerent” in the conflict under international law. The definition of co-belligerent can include practical assistance, encouragement or moral support for war crimes. For news on this story click here.

This blog was written by Rebecca Niblock

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