Remembering Srebrenica

this article was originally posted on University of Essex News on 5th July

 

25 years ago this month, a genocide unfolded in Srebrenica.  To mark Srebrenica Memorial Week, Essex Human Rights Centre has issued a statement and Members of the Centre have offered reflections.

 

***Trigger Warning: this report contains descriptions of sexual violence and genocide.

The Srebrenica genocide

Between late 1992 and the spring of 1995, the conflict in the former Yugoslavia led to thousands of Bosnian Muslims seeking refuge in the area around Srebrenica, a town in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina.

To protect this group, on 16 April 1993 the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 819, demanding all parties treat “Srebrenica and its surroundings as a safe area which should be free from any armed attacks or any other hostile act.”

Despite this – and the presence of United Nations peacekeepers in the area – on 6 July 1995, Bosnian Serb forces attacked Srebrenica.

Following a decree from the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic that the Bosnian Serb Army should make life “unbearable” for those living in Srebrenica, more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim boys and men were detained, abused, tortured and executed.

The International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia established that the ethnic cleansing that took place in Srebrenica amounted to genocide.

 

A statement from Essex Human Rights Centre to mark Srebrenica Memorial Week 2020

In the worst mass atrocity on European soil since 1945, over 8,000 Muslims, including children, were massacred, in July 25 years ago. Today, we honour the memory of those who were slain in Srebrenica, express solidarity with the survivors and reflect on the lessons of that savagery.

The important lesson that we draw from this and other genocides is that they do not happen spontaneously. Such atrocities begin with attitudes of intolerance and unchecked expressions of hostility towards others based on their identity. They are led by entrepreneurs of hate, catalyzed by discrimination and powered by impunity. They tell a tragic tale of numerous missed opportunities and are an indictment of our collective failure to stop the escalation of intolerant attitudes to mass slaughter at every stage of that collapse. The Srebrenica genocide was the tragic outcome of a sustained campaign over several years that drew on discrimination, exclusion, forced deportation, torture, systematic sexual violence and mass murder.

All of us can and should act to combat such horrors. We must challenge the exclusion, scapegoating and stigmatisation that fray social capital and destroy the pillars of trust amongst various communities resulting in devastation for all. This is all the more important in our interconnected world where every one of us can contribute online and offline to build trust and promote inclusion.

 

 

Reflections

Dr Ahmed Shaheed, Senior Lecturer in the School of Law and UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief said: “Today, as we remember Srebrenica, we join the surviving friends and families in paying tribute to the victims of this genocide. We call on all to be clear-eyed about the lessons of the past and reject discourses of denial, and to work collectively to strengthen the societal foundations of peace and trust. ‘Never again’ must well and truly mean ‘never again’.”

Dr Carla Ferstman, Senior Lecturer in the School of Law and Human Rights Centre, and formerly the Executive Legal Advisor of the Commission for Real Property Claims of Refugees and Displaced Persons in Bosnia and Herzegovina, one of the international institutions established as part of the peace process to address the consequences of ethnic cleansing, noted that: “The genocide in Srebrenica occurred within a context of ethnic cleansing involving mass expulsions of the civilian population, unlawful confinements, enforced disappearances, mass rape, sexual assault, torture, as well as the destruction of mosques and community centres. It has left massive scars on the local population. There have been vital efforts to secure accountability, which have resulted in important convictions of senior military leaders for the genocide. But it is also important to recognise the need to secure justice for victims, to recognise the suffering they have endured, and to ensure their right to a remedy and reparations. That fight continues.”

Dr Andrew Fagan, Director of the Human Rights Centre, said: “One of the main reasons for the establishment of the modern human rights movement was the Holocaust: a European genocide. Despite the development of a vast body of international human rights law and the growth of a global human rights movement, the world witnessed another European genocide barely half a century later.

“Srbrenica bears many lessons for us today. One of the most important is that the human rights community must never assume that our work is complete, particularly in those parts of the world where it is wrongly assumed that human rights are largely secure.

“The vital need to never become complacent is fundamental to the Human Rights Centre’s approach to supporting the human rights project and hence the importance of remembering the genocide suffered by Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995.”

Our thanks to Amnesty International for the image used on this page.

 

 

 

Proposed amendments to the Human Rights Act to disadvantage UK war crimes victims

by Alexandra Fowler (first published on Oxford Human Rights Hub)

On 18 March 2020, the UK Minister for Defence introduced into the UK Parliament his promised package of new legislation designed to ‘protect veterans’. Entitled the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, the proposed laws would amend the UK’s Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) in ways that impact on its human rights obligations, including under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Civil Claims by Victims in UK Courts

Civil claims for compensation in UK courts for death, abuse and other mistreatment amounting to war crimes can be brought in two ways; the first is an action in UK common law for the tort of assault and/or battery.  The second avenue is that under the Human Rights Act 1998, which was enacted to give effect to the UK’s obligations under the ECHR. Importantly for victims, Article 13 of the ECHR (see HRA ss6-8) requires a member State to grant an effective remedy (often monetary compensation) for violations of protected rights. The HRA/ECHR regime applies in whichever territory the UK exercises sufficient authority and control (jurisdiction), and this can occur outside EU territory (Al-Skeini). While time limitations may operate to refuse civil redress in tort, an HRA claim can still be upheld, such as in Alseran (2017).

Against this background, the Bill’s Section 11 proposes to insert a new provision (s7A) in the HRA which imposes a maximum of six years’ time limit (or 12 months from the date that the victim knew or ought to have known that the alleged violation was committed by UK troops) for bringing civil claims under the HRA in connection with overseas operations. Although this appears to bring things in line with the time period for personal injury claims under the Limitation Act 1980, the provision is troublesome because in recent conflicts in which the UK has been involved war crimes victims already face substantial difficulties in making claims. As in Alseran, many if not most victims have been prevented by both the local law and by logistics from making claims until long after the alleged abuse took place, often significantly more than six years. The existing HRA requires courts to take such factors into account in deciding whether the claim has been improperly delayed.  The new Bill will take this discretion away, resulting in most, if not all, of the remaining claims from Iraq and Afghanistan being time barred, and future claims running the risk of being so too.

US_Troops_Afghanistan

Is a Time Bar consistent with UK Obligations under the ECHR?

Is the time bar restriction in the new Bill consistent with the right to a remedy stipulated in Article 13 of the ECHR? Much of the European Court’s caseload deals with unreasonable delays in obtaining a remedy, and the Committee of Ministers has accepted that deadlines within national systems to accelerate or conclude investigations and/or the judicial process are legitimate (see Rec(2004)6 on the improvement of domestic remedies). Given the provisions in the Bill, many alleged victims will probably find that a judicial remedy is not available by the time they finally lodge a claim, but it is true that on the face of the law an opportunity has been given for a remedy in the courts.

Of course, remedies need not be judicial. The UK operated an extensive system of administrative remedies over the years of its involvement in Iraq, and its Ministry of Defence paid nearly 1500 claims totalling almost £22 million in compensation for war crimes over the period 2003/4 – 2016/7.  In addition, over 4500 claims from Afghan civilians had been made, up until 2015, resulting in out-of-court payments of estimated £5.3 million.

If this Bill is enacted, the operation of a credible administrative compensation mechanism will be essential to avoid potential liability for breaches of ECHR Article 13. Even so, it sends a very detrimental signal to the world about the UK’s commitment to justice and human rights.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexandra_fowlerDr Alexandra Fowler is a specialist in public international law at the University of Westminster, London. She holds a Doctor of Juridical Studies from the University of Sydney, and has taught international law and constitutional law at a number of Australian universities.  Her research interests include victim compensation in international humanitarian law, international human rights and international criminal law, and transitional justice;

Poignant memories of Yemen after 5 years of war

by Pauline Canham, Student Editor

I stepped off the Yemenia Airways flight, and onto a bus, transporting me and a dozen or so Yemeni nationals the short distance to the arrivals terminal at Aden International Airport.  It was April 2014 and my brief visit to the country, once dubbed ‘Arabia Felix’ or ‘fortunate Arabia’, came amidst a build-up of political tension.  Just 11 months after my visit, Yemen would tragically descend into what is now described as the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.

The coming week marks the 5th anniversary of the launch of ‘Operation Decisive Storm’, the Saudi Coalition offensive against Houthi rebels on 25th March 2015.  The anniversary was marked with the closure of airports to all traffic, except for humanitarian aid, due to concerns that the coronavirus would exacerbate what is an already catastrophic situation.

YEMEN_AREAS_CONTROL

Yet again at the top of IRC’s Emergency Watchlist for 2020, the fragile hope brought about by a recent de-escalation in the conflict was rocked by a renewed surge in fighting in some provinces.  The UN Special Envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths said last week that Yemen is at a “critical juncture” and urged warring parties to “de-escalate now” to prevent a slide back to greater violence.   His statement came after what he described as “the most alarming military escalation” which included a Saudi air strike in February that killed more than 30 civilians.  He also reiterated calls for access to the Safer Oil Tanker, as fears of an environmental disaster grow.  The ship, anchored in the Red Sea, contains 1.15 million gallons of crude oil, and experts fear it could explode at any time, due to a lack of maintenance.

In a statement to the Security Council on 12th March, the UK Permanent Representative to the UN, Karen Pierce said that the crisis “cannot be allowed to deteriorate any longer”.  The renewed violence has pushed even more people out of their homes and into camps around the country with three quarters of the 4.3 million internally displaced being women and children.

 

UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia unlawful

The civilian death toll in Yemen led to a British High Court ruling in 2019 that declared UK sales of arms to Saudi Arabia unlawful.   Despite this, the Government has continued to grant arms licenses to the Saudi Kingdom, in what were described as “inadvertent breaches” of the ruling.   The UK, US and other European Governments came under pressure to cease arms trading with Saudi Arabia after a number of so called ‘targeted’ attacks resulted in high civilian casualties.  One such attack killed 40 children and injured 56 while they were travelling on a school bus in the Sa’ada district in 2018.

Yemen_bus_bombing

Despite Human Rights Watch describing that incident as a war crime, Saudi Arabia has increased its arms purchases and those involved in the business of selling them have been accused of having blood on their hands.  In what appeared to be an eerie echo of German-American political philosopher, Hannah Arendt’s theory of the ‘banality of evil’, an official working at the UK Export Control Joint Unit, which signs off on shipments of weapons to Saudi Arabia said “I’m doing what I’m told and doing my job, but I’m uncomfortably aware that Adolf Eichmann said the same thing.”

Amnesty International is calling on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate executives and officials involved in the sales of arms used in alleged war crimes in Yemen.  Working alongside the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), they are requesting an investigation into 26 specific airstrikes which resulted in the unlawful killing or injuring of civilians “and destroyed or damaged schools, hospitals and other protected objects.”

 

Memories of a different Yemen

My flight from Qatar to Yemen’s southern coastal city of Aden in 2014 had felt unexpectedly like a family outing, with me in a role akin to visiting cousin from a distant land.  There was a fair amount of curiosity as to why I might want to visit Yemen during such a ‘delicate’ moment in time.  Though the Saudi-led intervention was still almost a year away, sporadic violence was commonplace and protests by Al Hirak Al Janoubi (Southern Secessionist Movement) were held regularly in Aden.  Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) had been very active in Yemen and there had been kidnappings of Westerners by the group or their affiliates.

IMG_3556

But whatever apprehension I had before my departure was quickly soothed.  I was welcomed warmly from the very moment I stepped on the Yemenia jet in Qatar all the way through to my eventual departure from Aden.  I was embraced by the famously generous Arabic culture of my hosts, Yemeni people considered by many as the friendliest and most welcoming to visitors in the world.

Of course security was tight, there were checkpoints all over the city, we had several power cuts, and on one occasion Aden Mall was evacuated due to an escalating skirmish in the surrounding streets, but what I witnessed was a resilient community continuing with life undeterred.  The beaches were busy with families enjoying the spring sunshine, children swimming, young men riding horses along the sand and women having lunch with friends.  It was a happy atmosphere with no hint of the tragedies yet to come less than a year later.

IMG_3677My hosts took me to Aden’s historic sites, long since abandoned by visitors from around the world who used to flock to the South Arabian coast for winter sun.   The stunning 11th Century Sira Castle, embedded into a rocky peninsula in a prime defensive spot in the Gulf of Aden, and the incredible Cisterns of Tawila, estimated to be 1500 years old.  But my lasting memories were not of rock and stone, but rather of joy, laughter, friendship and a sense of living life in the moment that I realised I had lost.

On the way back to the airport, as I stressed about getting there on time, my friends pulled over at a small roadside tea stand.  Little glass cups of red tea were passed through the window and as I sipped at the sweet hot liquid, my friend turned up the car stereo, stepped out into the middle of the road and began to dance.  These poignant memories have become more precious with every anniversary of the war that passes.

What now for Yemen?

This anniversary brings with it the threat of coronavirus on top of an already perilous humanitarian situation.   But for Yemen’s collapsing health system, coronavirus is simply another issue on a growing list of threats.  Among the immediate concerns, in addition to the escalation in violence, is the impending rainy season, which every year heralds the onset of a rise in cholera cases.  In 2019, Yemen recorded 860,000 cases of the disease and 56,000 cases have already been recorded in 2020.  Oxfam’s Yemen Country Director said “This is a health crisis hiding in plain sight.  It’s shocking that this ongoing crisis is getting so little attention.”   With health workers needed evermore urgently, they too are coming under attack, being targeted by all warring parties in a blatant violation of humanitarian law.

Yemen hospital

The situation on the ground in Yemen is incredibly complex, with various proxy battles playing out between vying Gulf neighbours, most notably Saudi Arabia, UAE and Iran.  The UAE, officially part of the Saudi Coalition, recently tested the relationship with the Kingdom when it backed Al Hirak Al Janoubi to seize Aden from forces loyal to President Hadi, still internationally recognised as Yemen’s leader.   The Yemeni people, as always are caught in the cross-fire between major global powers, hungry to secure their positions in such a strategic location on the Bab al-Mandeb strait at the mouth of the Red Sea.

As we hunker down to protect each other from coronavirus, Yemen slips silently into a 6th year of war, unreported by a world focused on an unseen enemy of a different nature.

About the Author:

PC_AJ

Pauline Canham is the HRC Blog’s student editor.  Pauline is studying a Masters Degree in Human Rights and Cultural Diversity at Essex, after 20 years in the broadcasting sector, working for the BBC and AlJazeera, with a focus on large change projects including the BBC’s move into the new Broadcasting House in 2013, and the re-launch of Al Jazeera’s Arabic Channel in 2016.

Gender, War and Technology: Peace and Armed Conflict in the 21st Century

By Emily Jones 

Technology is vastly changing contemporary conflict. While there has been a lot of recent focus by international lawyers on topics such as drone warfare and autonomous weapons systems, very little has been published on these issues from a gender and law perspective. Seeking to bridge this gap, I recently co-edited a Special Issue for the Australian Feminist Law Journal on Gender, War and Technology: Peace and Armed Conflict in the 21st Century alongside Yoriko Otomo and Sara Kendall. The issue brings together a wide array of voices. Several different technologies are discussed; from drone warfare to lesser known technologies being used in conflict settings such as evidence and data collection technologies and human enhancement technologies.

As the introduction to the Special Issue notes, gender is used throughout the Special Issue in multiple ways, highlighting women’s lived experiences in conflicts as combatants, victims, negotiators of peace agreements, military actors and as civilians, as well as being used as a theoretical tool of analysis, ‘considering issues of agency, difference, and intersectionality, and contesting gendered constructions that presuppose femininity, ethnicity, and passivity.’ Intersectionality is also a key theme throughout the issue, with articles also ‘considering issues of race, colonialism, ability, masculinity and capitalism (and thus, implicitly, class).’ War is understood in light of feminist scholarship on conflict, noting how war and peace work on a ‘continuum of violence’ with neither war not peace being as easy to define as legal categorisations suggest.

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A Bad Decision from GTMO: Why the Commission Lacks Jurisdiction over 9/11 Defendants

By Tara Van Ho

This week, US courts issued two important cases for international law, in the areas of business and human rights and the laws of armed conflict. First, the US Supreme Court’s Jesner v. Arab Bank decision foreclosed the use of the Alien Tort Statute to hold corporations accountable for their role in violations of human rights. Then, the US military commission at Guantanamo Bay found it had personal jurisdiction over the 9/11 defendant in US v Mohammad, et al. To do this, the commission had to determine an armed conflict existed between the US and Al Qaeda on 9/11.

Both cases significantly warped international law.

I’ll address both cases through a series of posts here, at Nadia Bernaz’s Rights as Usual, and on my own blog. In this post, I’ll address issues with the most significant decision of the Mohammad judgment: the finding of the commission that on 9/11 the US was engaged in an armed conflict.

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Derogations from the European Convention on Human Rights During Armed Conflict?

By Daragh Murray

The UK Joint Committee on Human Rights is currently conducting an inquiry into the Government’s proposed derogation from the European Convention on Human Rights during armed conflict.

Prof. Françoise Hampson, Prof. Noam Lubell and Dr. Daragh Murray of the Essex Human Rights Centre submitted written evidence to the Committee.

The submission addressed derogations from human rights law treaties in the context of military operations. It argued that the derogation regime does not nullify the applicability of human rights law, but rather allows for the modification of specific human rights obligations in response to emergency or exceptional circumstances.

The submission suggests that derogations play a key role within the international human rights law system and that derogations during military operations may be both appropriate and necessary. In particular, in situations of armed conflict, derogations may be required in order to ensure the coherent co-application of international human rights law and the law of armed conflict. As such, appropriate derogations permit the application of both human rights law and the law of armed conflict, ensuring the existence of a legal ‘bottom line’ that is appropriate to the situation.

The full text of the submission is available on the Committee’s website.

 


Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are the author(s) alone.

Supreme court rulings open door to future ‘war on terror’ litigation in Britain

By Daragh Murray

The UK Supreme Court has handed down three landmark judgements relating to the activities of UK authorities and officials in the fight against terrorism. The court ruled on January 17 that cases could now proceed against UK officials accused of involvement in detention and rendition operations – even if foreign states and their officials were the “prime actors” of alleged human rights violations. This means that cases can now proceed against, among others, the former foreign secretary Jack Straw.

Another key element of the rulings relates to the authority to detain people in armed conflict, and the interplay between the law of armed conflict and international human rights law.

The Supreme Court’s rulings will have a significant impact on future litigation in relation to the activity of UK authorities and officials abroad. As a number of the claims relate to the extraterritorial application of the Human Rights Act and its application to UK armed forces, these cases are particularly sensitive in the current political climate.

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Theresa May’s Attempt to Shield British Soldiers Gets the Law Very (Very) Wrong

By Tara Van Ho

 

UK Prime Minister Theresa May and defense secretary Michael Fallon announced Tuesday a plan to limit the UK’s human rights obligations in future conflicts. According to The Guardian:

 

May said the change would “put an end to the industry of vexatious claims that has pursued those who served in previous conflicts”. It would be implemented by introducing a “presumption to derogate” from the ECHR in warfare. 

The plan raises two issues I wish to touch upon briefly here. The first is the question of whether there can be a presumption of derogation. The second is whether the derogation would actually limit the UK’s relevant human rights obligations – or its ability to fight war appropriately.

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Lethal Autonomous Robots and the Dehumanization of War

Over the last week several newspapers around the world have highlighted the second round of meetings in Geneva, under the supervision of the Convention on Certain Convention Weapons CCW, regarding the legal future of so-called Lethal Autonomous Robots (LARs). For some, who argue that LARs can be more ethical than human soldiers this new technology represents the future of warfare (R. Arkin). For others, LARs are ‘killer robots’ that should be subject to a prohibition similar to that applicable to Blinding Lasers Weapons, which were prohibited by Protocol IV to the CCW (Human Rights Watch; Article 36).

By Afonso Seixas-Nunes, SJ.

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