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Statement: US House Hearing on Liberia War Crimes Court

Africa
International Criminal Law
United States
War Crimes
Download full statement House Foreign Affairs Committee Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Hearing on Liberia: Next Steps Towards Accountability for War & Economic Crimes June 13, 2024 – 10:30 a.m.  2360 Rayburn House Office Building STATEMENT Submitted by The Advocates for Human RightsCenter for Justice and AccountabilityCivil Society Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia (CSO Platform)CIVITAS MAXIMACoalition for the Establishment of a War and Economic Crimes Court in LiberiaGlobal Justice and Research ProjectGlobal Justice CenterHuman Rights WatchSecretariat for the Establishment of War Crimes Court in Liberia Delivered by Liz EvensonInternational Justice DirectorHuman Rights Watch Many thanks for the opportunity to brief the commission. I am Liz Evenson, and I direct the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch investigates and reports on abuses in some 100 countries around the world. We direct our advocacy towards governments, armed groups and businesses, pushing them to change or enforce their laws, policies and practices. And we work globally to champion meaningful and fair justice for victims and survivors of atrocity crimes, before national and international courts. My statement today is presented on behalf of Human Rights Watch, together with The Advocates for Human Rights; Center for Justice and Accountability; Civil Society Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia (CSO Platform); CIVITAS MAXIMA; Coalition for the Establishment of a War and Economic Crimes Court in Liberia; Global Justice and Research Project; Global Justice Center; and the Secretariat for the Establishment of War Crimes Court in Liberia. This group represents American, Liberian, and international organizations all working together to bring justice to Liberian citizens. Together our groups have been advocating for the establishment of a Liberian-led war crimes court in Liberia to address the legacy of impunity for the widespread and systematic violations of international human rights and humanitarian law[1] that characterized the country’s two brutal armed conflicts, which took place between 1989 and 2003. Liberian men, women, and children were gunned down in their homes, marketplaces, and places of worship. In a few cases hundreds of civilians[2] were massacred in a matter of hours. Girls and women were subjected to horrific sexual violence[3] including gang-rape, sexual slavery, and torture. Children were abducted from their homes and schools and pressed into service, often after witnessing the murder of their parents. The violence blighted the lives of tens of thousands of civilians and displaced almost half the population. While there have been a number of important criminal and civil cases outside of Liberia—and these cases have contributed to momentum within the country for justice[4]—to date not a single person has faced criminal investigation or prosecution in Liberia for serious crimes committed during the civil wars.In its 2009 final report, the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended the creation of an extraordinary criminal court[5] which would be a hybrid court composed of Liberian and international judges, prosecutors and other staff with a mandate to try those allegedly responsible for committing serious crimes. A legislative conference to talk about accountability was organized in Monrovia in 2019 with the legislature of Liberia, a Liberian coalition of NGOs, and international partners.[6] There is now renewed momentum after nearly two decades for the establishment of a court. Most recently, in March and April of 2024, the Liberian Senate and House of Representatives passed a resolution supporting the creation of a war and economic crimes court. On May 2, 2024, President Joseph Boakai signed an executive order[7] establishing an Office of the War and Economic Crimes Court for Liberia. The US government has played a critical role in advancing progress. US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice Beth Van Schaack has repeatedly voiced the US government’s partnership with Liberia in its journey to justice. Her commitments on behalf of the US government to support this process have been widely welcomed within Liberia. Members of Congress have also expressed their support for this court and justice for the Liberian people.[8] These developments are promising, and yet there is much work ahead that will need the support of the United States and others in the international community. Making Liberian-led justice a reality in Liberia requires sustained attention from justice champions in and outside of Liberia. What is needed now is for President Boakai’s administration to translate its stated commitment to a war crimes court into concrete steps for the court’s creation. We have made the following recommendations to the government of Liberia: Establish the Office proposed by President Boakai to be responsible for developing and implementing a concrete plan to establish a war and economic crimes court to hold perpetrators of grave crimes committed during Liberia’s armed conflicts to account, consistent with international standards and practice and ensure this plan is consistent with a victim-centered approach, including consultation with affected communities on the design of the court; Establish an independent committee comprised of government officials, a member of the Independent National Commission of Human Rights, international legal experts, and Liberian and international civil society actors from various sectors that is mandated to advise the government on the court’s creation. The committee should help establish a roadmap on the way forward for ensuring justice for war crimes and for strengthening the rule of law; Request assistance from the United Nations, African Union, Economic Community of West African States, and other international and regional partners as needed; Ensure a war crimes court for Liberia includes key elements in order to achieve trials that would be fair, meaningful, and credible:Composition of judicial benches that will have sufficient independence and expertise by including a majority of international judges on each trial and appeals bench;No bars on prosecution of individuals on the basis of their cooperation with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission;Inclusion of crimes and modes of liability in line with international standards;Fair trial protections;Witness protection and support;Involvement of victims of abuses in proceedings; and Outreach and communications that inform the victims and public. Work with the legislature to ensure the war crimes court established to hold perpetrators of grave crimes committed during Liberia’s armed conflicts to account is consistent with international standards and practice; Request from international partners adequate support and funding, for programs designed to improve Liberia’s judiciary and criminal justice system, to ensure an effective war crimes court and victims’ access to justice and the right of the accused to a fair trial; Continue to support efforts by third countries to bring universal jurisdiction cases for civil war-era crimes, including by continuing to fully cooperate with foreign authorities who request authorization to come to Liberia to investigate international crimes; Develop and implement a comprehensive reparations scheme for all victims of gross human rights violations and war crimes; Ensure protection for human rights defenders inside Liberia against attacks and intimidation, and bring to justice those who intimidate or attack human rights defenders. The process and the work of the court itself must be Liberian-led. This means primarily that Liberians who were impacted by the civil wars and have long advocated for accountability have a leading voice in determining the court’s trajectory. Liberian experts should also fill key positions in the judiciary, prosecution, defense, and registry. Liberian ownership of the court is crucial to build and maintain local support for accountability processes. Ensuring the court benefits from Liberian experts will also ensure that investing in the court strengthens the domestic justice system, leading to long-term benefits across Liberian institutions. The first step towards ensuring that the court is Liberian-led is making sure that Liberians and regional experts play critical roles in the creation of the court. Liberian civil society has been advocating for accountability in Liberia at great personal risk. Powerful actors opposed to accountability for wartime atrocities and former warlords hold positions of power in Liberia, and international actors have also at times worked to undermine their efforts. As a result, members of civil society have received threats to their security and their work over the years. These threats continue to this day. It is imperative that international partners, including the United States government, continue to support Liberian civil society organizations and the crucial work they are doing to see accountability in Liberia for civil war-era atrocities. High-level messages from Liberia’s international and regional partners in support of a court are also needed to maintain positive momentum. Liberia should request international and regional support to help it to determine the best legal and structural modalities for the court’s creation in a manner that will enable fair, credible functioning and partners should pledge international support and expertise based on accumulated experience. We recommend that the US Congress: Make clear its support to a Liberian-led process to achieve justice in the country through the creation of a credible war crimes court, and support to Liberian civil society organizations engaged in this effort; Provide the requested support to the Liberian government and civil society organizations working on behalf of justice, including assistance in developing the necessary legislation and systems for the protection of victims and witnesses, support in the legal representation of victims, and processes to engage meaningfully with the public and victims and survivors to create awareness of the objectives of a war crimes court and to allow Liberian voices to inform the design of the court; Offer financial support for the court, as the US has done in several other contexts, including, for example, the annual contributions to the Special Criminal Court in the Central African Republic. [1] Human Rights Watch, Q&A: Justice for Civil Wars-Era Crimes in Liberia (April 1, 2019), https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/04/01/qa-justice-civil-wars-era-crimes-liberia. [2] Jane W, John X, John Y, John Z v. Moses Thomas, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Case number 2:18-cv-00569-PBT, https://cja.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Jane-W-v.-Moses-Thomas-18-cv-00569.pdf. [3] Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia, Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia, https://www.trcofliberia.org/resources/reports/final/trc-final-report-volume-1-full.pdf. [4] Civitas Maxima press release, US Court finds Liberian Rebel Commander “Jungle Jabbah” Guilty of Crimes Linked to Atrocities in Liberia’s First Civil War (October 18, 2017), https://civitas-maxima.org/us-court-finds-liberian-rebel-commander-jungle-jabbah-guilty-of-crimes-linked-to-atrocities-in-liberias-first-civil-war/; Civitas Maxima press release, Liberian Plaintiffs Make Swiss and Liberian Legal History (June 18, 2021), https://civitas-maxima.org/liberian-plaintiffs-make-swiss-and-liberian-legal-history/; Center for Justice and Accountability press release, U.S. Court Finds Former Liberian Military Commander Liable for War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity (September 16, 2021), https://cja.org/u-s-court-finds-former-liberian-military-commander-liable-for-war-crimes-and-crimes-against-humanity/. [5] Human Rights Watch news release, Justice for Liberia, (December 10, 2009), https://www.hrw.org/news/2009/12/10/justice-liberia. [6] University of Nottingham, SEWACCOL, Legislature of Liberia, Civitas Maxima and the GJRP press release, Legislative Conference Brings Liberia Closer to the Establishment of a War Crimes Court (July 20, 2019), https://civitas-maxima.org/legislative-conference-brings-liberia-closer-to-the-establishment-of-a-war-crimes-court/. [7] Dounard Bondo and Ruth Maclean, The New York Times, Liberia Moves to Create War Crimes Court, Decades After Civil Wars Ended (May 3, 2024), https://www.nytimes.com/2024/05/03/world/africa/liberia-court-war-crimes.html. [8] United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations press release, Risch Applauds Establishment of War and Economic Crimes Court in Liberia (April 10, 2024), https://www.foreign.senate.gov/press/rep/release/risch-applauds-establishment-of-war-and-economic-crimes-court-in-liberia.
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Tigray: Call for Service for CRSV Survivors

Africa
Sexual Violence
United Nations
To: Pramila Patten Office of the Under Secretary General Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict ( USG SRSG/SVC) Re: Service Provision for Survivors of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence in Tigray Your Excellency, We the undersigned are writing to you at this time in accordance with the landmark United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (S/RES/1325) on Women, Security, and Peace, adopted in 2000 that calls on “all parties to the conflict to respect fully international law applicable to the rights and protections of women and girls, in particular the obligations applicable to them under the Geneva Convention of 1949 and the additional protocols” to request for a response to the ongoing siege imposed by the federal government on the Tigray region of Ethiopia. This siege, characterized by a total blockade of essential services and life-saving humanitarian supplies, has been predictably devastating to the civilian population of Tigray and even more particularly so to the survivors of brutal weaponized rape (Amnesty International, 2021) who have been denied urgent post-rape care as a result (Human Rights Watch, 2021). Even more alarming, domestic ability to provide support for survivors is curtailed completely as a result of the deliberate devastation of the Tigrayan health care system by Ethiopian and allied forces during active conflict and because even the most basic healthcare supplies are no longer available in Tigray (A. Mark Clarfield et al, 2022). Read the Full Letter
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Ending Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Harassment in Global Health

Africa
Sexual Violence
United Nations
Your excellencies, The 16 Days of Activism, 25 November to 10 December, mark the global campaign for the prevention and elimination of Gender Based Violence. During the 16 Days of Activism 2021, we the undersigned organizations, wish to express our deep concern at the sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment (SEAH) of women and girls by WHO staff during the tenth Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). We stand with survivors of SEAH and whistleblowers in their pursuit of justice and the truth, and we call on WHO to act now to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls. Power imbalances and root causes As diverse organizations working for the rights of women and girls in global health, we are appalled at the reports of SEAH by United Nations’ employees and international aid workers, including WHO, outlined in the Independent Commission report of 28 September 2021. The Commission uncovered 83 alleged perpetrators, 21 of whom were WHO employees. The allegations included 9 rapes and countless demands for sex for jobs. Women and girls as young as 13 years old became pregnant, had miscarriages and abortions as a result of rape and sexual exploitation, and a reported 22 children were born. It is shameful and completely unacceptable that male staff of UN and aid agencies have caused such deep harm and blighted the lives of women and girls whose health they were paid to protect. This case in DRC is one in a long series of such cases and almost certainly the tip of the iceberg within the health sector. Download the Full Letter
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Ethiopia: The UN Human Rights Council should urgently hold special session to address the ongoing human rights crisis

Africa
Human Rights Council
We, the undersigned human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs), strongly urge the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to hold a special session on the ongoing human rights crisis in Ethiopia and to establish a robust investigative mechanism in that context. We urge your delegation to support such action without further delay. On 3 November the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) released a joint report that found evidence of widespread violations of international human rights, humanitarian, and refugee law by all parties to the conflict in Tigray, including the Ethiopian National Defense Forces, Eritrean Defense Forces, the Tigray Defense Forces, and Amhara regional special police and affiliated Fano militias. The report also found that many of these violations and abuses may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. The report concluded that “the seriousness of these allegations calls for independent investigations and appropriate prosecution of those responsible,” and said that an international, independent mechanism can be established to collect evidence of the atrocities in preparation for future criminal prosecution. The joint report acknowledges it was not a comprehensive investigation into the crisis in northern Ethiopia and calls for further investigations. OHCHR and the EHRC were unable to visit key sites of massacres, like Axum, which was previously documented and reported on by international NGOs. Moreover, the report was only mandated to investigate abuses that took place from 3 November 2020 to 28 June 2021. The conflict remains ongoing and has spread to neighboring regions, threatening millions more civilians and where serious abuses have now also been documented. Abuses linked to the conflict are also taking place outside of the affected zones, as the High Commissioner reported last week, scores of ethnic Tigrayans have been arbitrarily arrested, including in Addis Ababa, in the last weeks alone. Download the Full Letter
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Joint NGO Call for a UN Human Rights Council resolution on the ongoing human rights crisis in Tigray, Ethiopia

Africa
Human Rights Council
To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council (Geneva, Switzerland) Your Excellency, We, the undersigned human rights non-governmental organizations, strongly urge the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to adopt a resolution at its upcoming 47th session (HRC47) on the ongoing human rights crisis in Tigray, Ethiopia. Over the last seven months an overwhelming number of reports have emerged of abuses and violations of international humanitarian and human rights law (IHL/IHRL) during the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region. Reports by civil society organizations have detailed widespread massacres, violence against civilians and indiscriminate attacks across Tigray while preliminary analysis by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) indicates that all warring parties have committed abuses that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. There is now ample evidence that atrocities continue to be committed, notably by the Ethiopian National Defense Forces, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, Eritrean Defense Forces, and Amhara regional special police and affiliated Fano militias. These include indiscriminate attacks and direct attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, widespread and mass extrajudicial executions, rape and other sexual violence, forced displacement, arbitrary detentions, including of displaced persons, widespread destruction and pillage of civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, schools, factories and businesses, and the destruction of refugee camps, crops and livestock. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) on Sexual Violence in Conflict has repeatedly expressed alarm over the widespread and systematic commission of rape and sexual violence in Tigray. On 21 April she stated that women and girls in Tigray are being subjected to sexual violence “with a cruelty that is beyond comprehension,” including gang rape by men in uniform, targeted sexual attacks on young girls and pregnant women, and family members forced to witness these horrific abuses. The SRSG also stated that these reports, coupled with assessments by healthcare providers in the region, indicate that sexual violence is being used as a weapon of war. Download the Full Letter 
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Coalition Letter to UN African Group on Ensuring Effective Accountability for Police Violence in US

Africa
United Nations
United States
To: Ministers of Foreign Affairs of African States CC: Permanent Representatives of African States in Geneva Re: The UN Human Rights Council’s role to ensure effective accountability and follow-up to HRC Resolution 43/1 Dear Excellencies, The families of victims of police violence and undersigned civil society organizations write with regard to the follow up to Human Rights Council resolution (A/HRC/43/1) on “the promotion and protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Africans and of people of African descent against excessive use of force and other human rights violations by law enforcement officers.” We appreciate your governments’ leadership at the Council and your support to the demands made by victims’ families, civil society organizations, and Special Procedures in the context of the urgent debate on the “current racially inspired human rights violations, systemic racism, police brutality and violence against peaceful protests”. We urge your governments to continue supporting these demands in the follow up resolution at the 47th session of the Council. During her first oral update, the UN High Commissioner affirmed to the Council that the report will reflect and amplify the voices of victims of people of African descent, their families, and communities. She also affirmed that the report will examine the root causes that have enabled systemic racism and police violence including the legacies of enslavement, the transatlantic trade of enslaved Africans, and its context of colonialism. We share the High Commissioner’s assessment that we cannot let the urgency felt in the Council in June 2020 subside, and that the Council “can contribute to making this moment a critical turning point in the respect and protection of the human rights of people of African descent.” Read the Full Letter
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Joint NGO Letter call for a Special Session on the deteriorating human rights situation in Ethiopia

Africa
Human Rights Council
To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Geneva, Switzerland Your Excellency, We, the undersigned human rights non-governmental organizations, strongly support the call for a UN Human Rights Council (HRC) special session on the deteriorating human rights situation in Ethiopia and urge your delegation to support such a session without further delay. Since 4 November 2020, fighting between federal government forces and affiliated militias with forces and militia allied to Tigray’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, has reportedly killed hundreds of civilians and caused more than one million people to flee their homes, including at least 57,000 refugees who are now in Sudan. There have been widespread reports of serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights violations and abuses including possible atrocity crimes, including indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, unlawful killings, widespread looting, and rape and sexual violence against women and girls. There have also been reports of massacres committed along ethnic lines within Tigray, as well as ethnic profiling, discrimination, and hate speech against Tigrayans both within and outside the country. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has also expressed alarm for the “safety and well-being” of the 96,000 Eritrean refugees in Tigray, given the unconfirmed but “overwhelming number of reports of Eritrean refugees in Tigray being killed, abducted and forcibly returned to Eritrea,” where they could face persecution. Access to independent humanitarian aid continues to be limited in Tigray despite an agreement reached between the federal government and the UN on 29 November. Journalists critical of the government have been arrested, exacerbating existing restrictions on communication and information from the region. Read the Full Letter
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The Rwandan Genocide: Rape and HIV Used as Weapons of War

Africa
Genocide
Sexual Violence
By Katya Kolluri The Rwandan Genocide, a horrific event in human history, is once again making its way into current news due to Jina Moore’s recent article in The New Yorker. Moore’s piece explores how those responsible for the Rwandan mass slaughter (termed genocidaires), may be freed years before their sentence ends. One of them is Théoneste Bagosora, widely regarded as the mastermind of the genocide. Survivors and family members of victims are protesting the decision of early release, stating that this practice of the court is, “a new form of impunity.” Critics are challenging this aspect of the parole system, particularly due to the fact that the convictions of these genocidaires is considered a landmark ruling in international justice. Twenty percent of the convicts of Rwanda’s International Criminal Tribunal have been released early. Allowing these perpetrators of genocide to be paroled is an injudicious decision, especially when considering the brutal pain and suffering this campaign of violence has caused. The Interahamwe (the Hutu militia group), subjected Rwandan women to sexual violence on a massive scale. Hundreds of thousands of Tutsi women were systematically raped with the intent to instill terror and to eradicate the Tutsi population. In order to degrade the Tutsis and achieve a political end with Hutus in power, this non-killing crime of genocide was used reguarly. However, rape as a weapon of war was accompanied by something even worse. Because of this constant sexual contact, rape victims were exposed to sexually transmitted diseases like HIV and AIDS. Rape is known to torment, inflict psychological and physical trauma, and endanger victims’ life. In addition to that distress, women were also infected with HIV. There is evidence that proves that the perpetrators intentionally infect their victims with the diseases, which in turn makes diseases like HIV and AIDS their own weapons of war. A study in 2001 revealed that 70% of rape survivors from the Rwandan genocide were HIV-positive. Although some may have been infected previously, an Amnesty International report states, “the mass rape during 1994 contributed significantly to the spread of the virus in Rwanda, particularly as rates of HIV transmission during sexual violence believed to be high.” Victims of sexual violence in conflict have the right to seek medical treatment, including psychological/physical rehabilitation and health security. As a result, Rwandan women have sought treatment for their sexually transmitted diseases, and for their unwanted pregnancies. In addition, since abortion was illegal, doctors routinely treated women for complications arising from self-induced and clandestine abortions. These health incidents, driven by the weaponization of rape and HIV transmission, raise human security issues in post-conflict societies like Rwanda. The link between the victims of rape, HIV, and the extensive health problems that come with it are proof enough that freeing these genocidaires is a threat to the logic of international criminal law. Photo Credit: Larissa Lee Beck / dpa / Alamy Live News  
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Global Justice Center’s suggestions and comments regarding the National Election Bill of South Sudan

Africa
Human Rights Treaties
Topic Article Issues/Comments The Commission Art. 8 (1)[…] “Selection of the Commission Members shall take into consideration consultations with women and civil society groups and include representation of these groups.” Suggest including a concrete procedure for these consultations to guarantee the participation of women groups in the selection process. Art. 8 (1) “The Commission shall be compromised of nine members to be selected and appointed by the President in accordance with article 197 (3) of the Transitional Constitution” Insert “ at least 3 of the members appointed should be women” National Legislative Assembly: Number of women representatives Art 35 (2) (b) The National Legislative Assembly shall be composed of members elected as follows… twenty five percent of women members shall be elected on the basis of proportional representation at the national level from closed party lists; Change the 25% to 35%. CEDAW General Recommendation #23 on Article 7 (Political and Public life) suggests that the “number” should ideally be at 30-35%. “Research demonstrates that if women’s participation reaches 30 to 35 per cent (generally termed a “critical mass”) there is a real impact on political style and the content of decisions, and political life is revitalized. Download PDF
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