Geneva Solutions’s monthly “war criminal hunt” round-up, in collaboration with Geneva-based NGO Civitas Maxima.
“Once again our monthly round-up is a testimony of the importance of extra-territorial cases for international crimes, with cases on Ukraine, Liberia, and Kenya making significant progress this past month.
As I type, I am with my colleagues at a Paris court representing Civitas Maxima, plaintiff in a landmark case for torture and crimes against humanity committed in Liberia. Whether it will be an acquittal or a conviction, this is the first trial for crimes against humanity connected to the Liberian civil wars. With both the government and the international community having abandoned Liberian victims for almost 20 years, and impunity still rampant in the country, such cases outside of Liberia give the victims a lot of hope.”
- Alain Werner, director of Civitas Maxima
First Liberian war crimes tried in France
Prosecutors asked a court in Paris on Monday to sentence Liberian ex-rebel commander Kunti Kamara with life imprisonment, the maximum possible sentence in France meaning 30 years. The trial opened before the Paris court of appeal on 10 October and is expected to last until 4 November.
Kamara is charged with crimes against humanity and torture he allegedly committed as leader of military group ULIMO during the First Liberian Civil War, in which roughly 200,000 people were killed between 1989 and 1996. It is the first international crimes case, unrelated to the Rwandan genocide, to be tried under France’s law recognising universal jurisdiction over crimes against humanity and torture, passed in 2012.
Civitas Maxima is itself a civil party in the case, and it is also monitoring the trial. Several witnesses and civil parties came from Liberia to testify. Two witnesses told of the terror experienced by the population Foya, when ULIMO took over the northwestern town in Lofa county. “What you did to Foya and Foya’s people… today is for justice, so that the people that died can rest,” one of the witnesses told Kamara, who was present.
Kamara is accused of aiding and even participating in killings, torture, rape and forced labour in Foya, including shooting a woman suspected of witch-craft and witnessing the cutting open of a man and eating a piece of his heart. The defendant denies all allegations made against him.
Kamara was released from pre-trial detention in 2019 due to a procedural error, and then arrested again in January 2020 for violating his bail conditions as he attempted to flee France. During the investigations, Liberian and French authorities collaborated on a fact-finding mission in northwestern Liberia, where the crimes were allegedly committed. It was the first time that European police and judges were authorised to visit crime scenes in Liberia.
TotalEnergies accused of complicity in war crimes in Ukraine
NGOs Darwin Climax Coalition and Razom we stand filed a complaint on 13 October with the French national antiterrorist prosecutor against French petroleum firm TotalEnergies. The multinational is accused of being complicit in war crimes for allowing the manufacture of fuel in Russia, which was then used by the country’s aircraft to carry out attacks against Ukraine.
TotalEnergies sold in September its 49 per cent stake in Terneftegaz. The Russian company operates Termokarstovoye, a gas field in northern Russia that provides fuel for Russian aircraft, according to reports by Le Monde. The complaint closely echoes the trial against French cement firm Lafarge, which is accused of complicity in crimes against humanity committed in Syria.
Russia rejects court jurisdiction over genocide case
Russia submitted preliminary objections on 6 October to the United Nations’ International Court of Justice (ICJ), rejecting the court’s jurisdiction in a genocide case brought by Ukraine against Moscow. Shortly after the intensified aggression by Russia in February 2022, Ukraine brought the case before the court, refuting Russia’s justification of its invasion that it was acting to prevent a genocide committed against Russians in eastern Ukraine. The ICJ can judge on this matter because both Russia and Ukraine have signed the UN 1948 genocide convention.
After Russia had previously skipped hearings and refrained from filing documents, it is now for the first time engaging actively with the court. In March, ICJ judges ordered Russia to stop the invasion of Ukraine as an emergency measure. The case is still under investigation and a hearing of Russia’s objections before the court is expected in a few months.
First crimes against humanity case before Kenyan courts
Kenyan prosecutors announced on October 28 that 12 Kenyan officers would face charges of crimes against humanity for acts of rape, murder and torture committed during the clampdown of post-election protests in 2017. The indictment includes the death of six-month-old baby Samantha Pendo, killed during the demonstrations after her head was reportedly crushed by police whilst in the arms of her mother.
The decision was hailed as “an important advance towards accountability for gross human rights violations” by the UN high commissioner for human rights Volker Türk.
The case marks the first crimes against humanity case before Kenya’s national courts. According to the group Partners in Justice International, it is also an important case for arguing command responsibility under the 2008 Kenya International Crimes Act, where superior officers can be held accountable for the atrocity of crimes committed by those who serve under them.
Survivor testifies against Gambian ‘death squad’ driver
Ida Jagne, survivor and joint plaintiff, testified against Bai L. before a German criminal court on 6 and 7 October. The accused, who was a driver of the “death squad” paramilitary unit of former Gambian president Yahya Jammeh in the mid-1990s, was allegedly involved in several murders committed by the government. Jagne was in the car with renowned newspaper editor Deyda Hydara, when he was murdered in 2004 on the alleged orders of Jammeh.
The trial can take place in Germany under the principle of universal jurisdiction, because the murders Bai L. was allegedly complicit in constitute crimes against humanity. Taking place since 25 April, it is the first trial to prosecute crimes committed in The Gambia during the Jammeh era. The Geneva-based NGO Trial International is one of the human rights groups involved in the case.
Calls in The Gambia for the prosecution of the former president have intensified. Current minister of justice Dawda Jalloh has already held out the prospect of creating a hybrid court in partnership with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to try the brutal ruler.
Spokesperson of the Jammeh2Justice campaign Fatoumatta Sandeng said: “It’s time for the Gambian government to bring to justice Jammeh himself and those perpetrators in The Gambia.”
Iran: NGOs call for debate at UN Human Rights Council
On 17 October, 43 NGOs including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International published a joint statement, urging the rights body to hold a special session addressing the international law and human rights violations currently taking place in Iran. The government has brutally reacted to protests that erupted at the end of September, when 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died after being arrested for not complying with the country’s strict veiling laws.
The rights groups point to evidence of the Iranian government having killed over 200 people and firing live ammunition and metal pellets at protestors and bystanders, including children, since the beginning of demonstrations. They also denounce the ongoing systemic impunity that makes it very difficult to condemn crimes committed in Iran, also because the perpetrators of the regime rarely leave the country.
Russians war criminals could be sent to the Hague
International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Karim Khan told a press conference at the EU judicial agency Eurojust on 13 October, that Ukraine could extradite suspected Russian war criminals to the Hague-based court if trials cannot take place in Ukraine for legal reasons. This would not be prevented by the fact that Russia is not a state party to the ICC, he said.
The ICC can try war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on Ukrainian grounds because the country lodged two declarations, enabling its prosecution of crimes committed on Ukrainian soil from 21 November 2013 onwards. According to Ukrainian prosecutor general Andriy Kostin, Kyiv already convicted 10 people over such crimes committed since the 2022 invasion.
The article first appeared on Geneva Solutions as part of a Civitas Maxima/Geneva Solutions collaboration, on the 1st of November, 2022.
Image Credit: © Civitas Maxima/art by JP Kalonji