South African faith leaders today signed a declaration to end modern slavery

At a ceremony at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg on March 15, 2022, faith leaders in South Africa endorsed the Joint Declaration of Religious Leaders against Modern Slavery.

The signing in Johannesburg is the eleventh since 2014 when Pope Francis and Grand Ayatollah Taqi al-Modarresi joined other faith leaders from many of the world’s great religions in declaring that modern slavery must be eradicated.

The Global Freedom Network, which convened the signing, is the faith-based arm of Walk Free, an international human rights organization. The Network is building a coalition of faith leaders to accelerate the end of modern slavery. Walk Free believes faith leaders can be a bridge between victims and law enforcement, social workers, and victim support groups.

Modern slavery is an umbrella term that includes human trafficking, domestic servitude, the worst forms of child labor and forced and child marriage.

Franca Pellegrini, director of the Global Freedom Network, who presided over the ceremony, said faith leaders were in a unique position to see into the hearts of their communities.

“Faith leaders occupy a prominent position and are well placed to lead the fight against modern slavery in their communities”, said Ms. Pellegrini. “The philosophy of Global Freedom Network is built on interfaith collaboration.

Pellegrini said that the Global Freedom Network was “acutely aware that poverty and inequality were driving forces of many forms of modern slavery”.

She noted that Walk Free’s Global Slavery Index rated South Africa a B – the top rating in Africa, which is accorded to nine countries on the continent. Ten countries – mainly in Europe – are rated A. The most recent Global Slavery Index was published in 2018, with an updated index due for release later this year.

The signing event coincided with the launch of the Faith For Freedom smartphone app, which was developed in collaboration with faith leaders to help guide them to tackle modern slavery in their communities and congregations.

“This a practical tool designed for and developed by faith leaders to assist with their important work addressing modern slavery in their congregations and communities,” Ms. Pellegrini said. “We are using modern technology to address an age-old problem.”

Guinea: Coup Further Complicates Massacre Justice

By Elise Keppler: Associate Director, International Justice Program

The trial of suspects in the massacre of more than 150 people and the rape of dozens of women in a Guinea stadium on September 28, 2009, should begin as soon as possible, six human rights groups said today. Twelve years later, victims and their families should not have to wait any longer for justice to finally be delivered.

As Guinea embarks on a political transition process after the September 5, 2021 coup, the opening of this trial would send a strong signal that the authorities are willing to put respect for human rights and the fight against impunity at the center of their priorities.

The groups are the Association of Victims, Relatives and Friends of September 28, 2009 (AVIPA), Equal Rights for All (MDT), the Guinean Human and Citizen Rights Organization (OGDH), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch.

Although 12 years have gone by, the need for justice remains as strong as ever for the survivors of the massacre and victims’ families. Just one year ago, the six groups had denounced the delays and time wasted in organizing the trial. The wait has become unbearable for the survivors and victims’ families, the groups said, given that the investigation phase concluded in late 2017. The Guinean government has promised several times to begin the trial as soon as possible, and no later than June 2020. The organizations remain concerned by an evident lack of will to complete preparations for this trial in Guinea.

In recent months, the steering committee overseeing the preparations for the trial, made up of government officials and international partners, had resumed its work and adopted a road map. Construction had progressed at Conakry’s Court of Appeal, where the trial is to take place, and a training session for judges was planned by the French government. However, despite these efforts, no trial date has yet been set.

“Given the deteriorating health of the survivors, we, together with the Association of Victims, Relatives, and Friends of September 28, 2009, are calling for this year to be the last commemoration before justice is done,” said Aissatou Diallo, a survivor of the September 28 events. “It is urgent for the trial to be held and reparations awarded before all the victims die.”

Residents cheer on army soldiers after the uprising that led to the toppling of President Alpha Conde in Kaloum neighborhood of Conakry, Guinea September 6, 2021, REUTERS/Souleymane Camara NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES

The investigation by Guinean judges began in February 2010. More than 13 suspects were charged, 11 of whom were sent for trial. Among them is Moussa Dadis Camara, the former leader of the National Council for Democracy and Development junta that ruled Guinea in September 2009, who is living in exile in Burkina Faso. Some of the suspects who have been charged held influential positions until the recent coup, including Moussa Tiegboro Camara, who was in charge of fighting drug trafficking and organized crime.

The organizations are closely following Guinea’s period of political transition after the National Committee for Reconciliation and Development (Comité national du rassemblement et du développement, CNRD) took power on September 5, and reiterated their call for the respect of human rights and fundamental liberties of all Guineans. As the CNRD leader, Mamady Doumbouya, stated that “justice will be the compass guiding every Guinean citizen,” the fight against impunity should be at the heart of the authorities’ actions, the groups said.

“It is more than urgent for Guinea to put an end to the cycle of impunity that has deeply marked the country’s history for more than 60 years,” the groups said. “We remind the authorities that international law requires states to provide effective remedies to victims of human rights violations and that any lack of justice or the adoption of an amnesty for serious crimes is incompatible with these requirements.”

“It is also essential for the new authorities to guarantee the protection of human rights defenders and activists who have suffered numerous violations of their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly for years,” the groups said. “The new authorities should make justice a prerequisite of their actions.”

The International Criminal Court (ICC) opened a preliminary examination of the situation in Guinea in October 2009. Designed as a court of last resort for the most serious crimes, the ICC steps in when national courts are unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute such cases. In its latest report, the ICC had expressed its disappointment that “the trial has not yet started and no timeline or action plan for the opening of the trial has been communicated by the Government of Guinea.” The ICC had indicated that “the Guinean authorities must demonstrate, in the coming months, their will and ability to combat impunity and to prevent renewed cycles of violence.”

Guinea’s partners, particularly the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union, the European Union, the ICC, and the United Nations should pay increased attention to the current situation in the country and strengthen their actions and support, on the one hand, for the September 28 trial to be organized as soon as possible, and on the other, for the new authorities in Guinea to respect human rights.

ICC hosts Third Asia-Pacific Forum of The Hague

On 17 July 2021, the International Criminal Court (“ICC” or the “Court”) hosted the Third Asia-Pacific Forum of The Hague via online format bringing together judges and staff from the Court, and around 200 students and young professionals from the Asia-Pacific region. The event was co-organised by the ICC and The Hague Project Peace and Justice.

The event facilitated a dialogue on enhancing the contribution of international justice for the Asia-Pacific region as well as encouraging students and young professionals from the region to consider a career in the field of international justice. Out of the 123 States Parties to the Rome Statute, 19 are Asia-Pacific States.

“Despite the important contributions of the Asia Pacific, we do not have enough staff members from the region at the Court and we would really like to see that situation change in the future. We also hope that more people from the Asia-Pacific region come to work with us – it would help spread the understanding of the ICC, and over time, contribute to interest in and joining the Rome Statute among those States that have not yet done so,” said ICC President Judge Piotr Hofmański.

The first session of the Forum was reserved for presentations of ICC Judge Chang-ho Chung and Judge Tomoko Akane, who spoke on the topic of “Enhancing the Contribution of International Justice for the Asia-Pacific Region.”

In the second session of the Forum, ICC staff from the Asia-Pacific region addressed the topic of “A Career in International Criminal Justice,” by sharing their individual career perspectives and experiences with participants.

This Forum forms part of a broader effort to enhance global understanding and support for the Rome Statute and the Court and to promote cooperation at the regional level. These include the organization of or participation in high-level regional cooperation seminars and symposiums, technical events and workshops aimed at Government leaders and officials, parliamentarians, members of the judiciary, academics and civil society representatives.

Trial of accused war crimes perpetrators in the CAR postponed to 16 February 2021

Trial Chamber V postponed the opening of the trial in the case The Prosecutor v. Alfred Yekatom and Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona at the International Criminal Court (ICC) to 16 February 2021.

The opening of the trial was initially scheduled for 9 February 2021 but the Chamber had to postpone due to unexpected Covid-19-related circumstances. The ICC will also explore the technical possibilities to conduct the hearings with remote participation.

Mr Yekatom and Mr Ngaïssona are accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in the Central African Republic (CAR). The hearings will be held before Trial Chamber V, composed of Judge Bertram Schmitt (Presiding judge), Judge Péter Kovács, and Judge Chang-ho Chung.

During these hearings, the Prosecution, the Legal Representatives of the Victims and the Defence of Mr Ngaïssona will deliver their opening statements. The Chamber granted six hours to the Prosecution, three hours to the Legal Representatives of the Victims, to be divided between them, and three hours to the Ngaïssona Defence.

The Defence of Mr Yekatom will make its opening statements at the beginning of the presentation of its evidence. The trial is scheduled to resume on 15 March 2021, when the Prosecution will begin to present its evidence and call its witnesses before the judges.

Anti-Balaka forces in the CAR Photo credit: BBC

The arrest warrant for Alfred Yekatom was issued on 11 November 2018 and unsealed on 17 November 2018. He was surrendered to the ICC on 17 November 2018 and his initial appearance took place on 23 November 2018. The arrest warrant for Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona was issued on 7 December 2018. He was arrested by the authorities of the French Republic on 12 December 2018 and transferred to the ICC detention centre on 23 January 2019, upon completion of necessary national proceedings. His initial appearance took place on 25 January 2019. On 20 February 2019, Pre-Trial Chamber II joined the Yekatom and Ngaïssona cases.

The confirmation of charges hearing was held on 19-25 September and 11 October 2019. On 11 December 2019, Pre-Trial Chamber II partially confirmed the charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity brought by the Prosecutor against Alfred Yekatom and Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona and committed them to trial. The public redacted version of the decision on the confirmation of charges was published on 20 December 2019.

Biden assures Africa for partnership in solidarity, support and mutual respect

President Joe Biden has assured African leaders “The United States stands ready now to be your partner in solidarity, support and mutual respect”.

The United States president said in a video address, his first speech to an international forum as U.S. president while delivering a message to African leaders meeting virtually this weekend at the African Union Summit 2021, hosted from Addis Ababa.

In his remarks, Biden outlined what he called a shared vision of a better future with growing trade and investment that advances peace and security.

“A future committed to investing in our democratic institutions and promoting the human rights of all people, women and girls, LGBTQ individuals, people with disabilities, and people of every ethnic background, religion and heritage,” Biden said.

Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat welcomed the message and said the African Union looks forward to “resetting the strategic AU-USA partnership.”

Alleged chief financier of the Rwanda genocide arrested

Felicien Kabuga, a fugitive from justice for alleged responsibility for the genocide in Rwanda for more than 25 years arrested on Sunday in France.

“The arrest this morning in France of Félicien Kabuga, a wealthy businessman alleged to be a chief financier of the Rwanda genocide in 1994, is an important step towards justice for hundreds of thousands of genocide victims. It shows that even after twenty-six years, survivors can hope to see justice and suspects cannot expect to escape accountability.” – Mausi Segun, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

The 84-year-old was living under a false identityin a flat in Asnières-Sur-Seine, a Paris suburb, according to a press release from the public prosecutor and regional police.He was arrested on Saturday morning by French gendarmes, France’s Justice Ministry told Reuters.

During the Rwandan genocide of 1994, members of the Hutu ethnic majority in the east-central African nation of Rwanda murdered as many as 800,000 people, mostly of the Tutsi minority. Started by Hutu nationalists in the capital of Kigali, the genocide spread throughout the country with shocking speed and brutality, as ordinary citizens were incited by local officials and the Hutu Power government to take up arms against their neighbors. 

ICC Trial Chamber VI declares Bosco Ntaganda guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity

ICC found Mr Ntaganda guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Photo credit: The Globe and Mail

On Monday, the Trial Chamber VI of the International Criminal Court (ICC) found Mr Bosco Ntaganda guilty, beyond reasonable doubt, of 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, committed in Ituri, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), in 2002-2003.

Trial Chamber VI, composed of Judge Robert Fremr, Presiding Judge, Judge Kuniko Ozaki and Judge Chang-ho Chung, announced its judgment during a public hearing held in Courtroom I at the seat of the Court in The Hague (The Netherlands).

To make its decision, the Chamber reviewed all the evidence submitted during the trial, including documents, eye witnesses and insiders.

Trial Chamber VI found that the Union des Patriotes Congolais [Union of Congolese Patriots] (UPC) and its military wing, the Forces Patriotiques pour la Libération du Congo [Patriotic Force for the Liberation of Congo] (FPLC), were at all times involved in at least one non-international armed conflict with an opposing party, in Ituri, district of the DRC from on or about 6 August 2002 to on or about 31 December 2003.

The conduct of the UPC/FPLC against the civilian population was the intended outcome of a preconceived strategy to target the civilian population, and the crimes committed took place pursuant to a policy of the UPC/FPLC. Mr Ntaganda fulfilled a very important military function in the UPC/FPLC.

In this context, the Chamber found Mr Ntaganda guilty of crimes against humanity (murder and attempted murder, rape, sexual slavery, persecution, forcible transfer and deportation) and war crimes (murder and attempted murder, intentionally directing attacks against civilians, rape, sexual slavery, ordering the displacement of the civilian population, conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 years into an armed group and using them to participate actively in hostilities, intentionally directing attacks against protected objects, and destroying the adversary’s property).

While the evidence did not sustain all incidents indicated by the Prosecutor, it did demonstrate that in relation to each of the 18 counts at least part of the charges were proven beyond any reasonable doubt.

The Chamber has found that Mr Ntaganda was liable as a direct perpetrator for parts of the charges of three of the crimes, namely murder as a crime against humanity and a war crime and persecution as a crime against humanity, and was an indirect perpetrator for the other parts of these crimes. He was convicted as an indirect perpetrator for the remaining crimes.   

In order to determine Mr Ntaganda’s sentence in this case, the Chamber will receive submissions from the parties and participants regarding the possible sentence, and will schedule a separate hearing, to receive evidence and address matters related to sentencing. Pending the decision on sentencing, Mr Ntaganda continues to be detained.

The parties (the Prosecution and Defence) may appeal the decision of conviction within thirty days. Issues related to the procedure for victims’ reparations will be addressed in due course.

The trial of Mr Ntaganda opened on 2 September 2015 and closing statements from 28 to 30 August 2018.

Over the course of 248 hearings, the Chamber heard 80 witnesses and experts called by the Office of the ICC Prosecutor, Ms Fatou Bensouda, 19 witnesses called by the Defence team lead by Mr Stéphane Bourgon and three witnesses called by the legal representatives of the victims participating in the proceedings, as well as five victims who presented their views and concerns.

A total of 2 129 victims, represented by their legal counsel, Ms Sarah Pellet and Mr Dmytro Suprun from the ICC Office for Public Counsel for the Victims, participated in the trial after having been authorised by the Chamber to do so.

The Trial Chamber issued 347 written decisions and 257 oral decisions during the trial phase. 1791 items were admitted into evidence. After the presentation of evidence, the Chamber received written closing submissions from the parties and the Legal Representatives of Victims; in total more than 1 400 pages. The total number of filings of the parties and participants and the Chamber’s decisions is more than 2300 filings.