• Monday, March 08, 2010

    Special Rapporteur Philip Alston participates in a Conversation on Human Rights in the 21st Century

    On 11 March 2010, the U.S. Government will release its annual Country Reports on Human Rights. The Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, will be joining Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Mike Posner, who is responsible for the production and release of the Country Reports, as well as Amnesty USA’s Executive Director Larry Cox for a conversation on human rights. They will discuss the trends in human rights for the year 2009 and how those trends and the findings of the reports will influence the democracy and human rights goals of the Department for 2010, as well as those of non-governmental organizations and the United Nations.

    Published annually and mandated by Congress, the Country Reports on Human Rights are considered to be an essential element of the U.S.’s effort to promote respect for human rights worldwide. They inform U.S. government policymaking and may serve as a reference to other governments, international institutions, non-governmental organizations, human rights defenders, and journalists. The Country Reports aim to advance worldwide efforts to end abuses, to help strengthen the capacity of countries to protect the human rights of all, and to shine a spotlight on countries that fail to live up to international human rights standards.

    “Tracking Human Rights Worldwide: A Conversation on Human Rights in the 21st Century and the State Department’s 2009 Country Reports.”
    Featuring Mike Posner, Philip Alston, and Larry Cox
    When: Friday, March 12, 4:00-6:00 PM
    Where: Lester Pollack Colloquium, Furman Hall, 9th Floor, NYU School of Law (245 Sullivan Street)
    Who: The Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ), The Institute for International Law and Justice (IILJ), and the Hauser Global Law School Program

    Those interested in attending should RSVP to iilj@exchange.law.nyu.edu by March 10, 2010 as seating is limited. The event will be followed by a brief reception.

  • Monday, March 08, 2010

    Albania to cooperate in investigation into killings after the 1999 Kosovo war

    Albania today responded to accusations from Philip Alston, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, that the Albanian Government has been obstructing international investigations into allegations relating to a number of killings following the 1999 conflict in Kosovo. The response follows a visit to the country by Professor Alston. The press release announcing his visit can be found here, and a press statement announcing the findings of his visit can be found here.

    The Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Albania, Ilir Meta, stated that the Albanian Government was keen to cooperate with international institutions in an investigation. He stated that allegations of murder were unfounded, and he hoped an investigation would end such claims.

    International investigations have been launched by Serbian judicial officials, EULEX, and the Council of Europe, following allegations which first appeared in a book by former Chief Hague Prosecutor Carla del Ponte. It has been alleged that hundreds of persons were forced from Kosovo into Albania, that some were tortured and killed, and that some may have had their organs traded on the black market.

    Further news reports:
    Albania "will cooperate in organ trafficking case"

  • Monday, March 08, 2010

    Philippines: Witnesses to massacre may be in danger themselves, according to Human Rights Watch

    Human Rights Watch issued a press statement urging Philippine authorities to act to protect witnesses and the families of witnesses to the massacre massacre of 57 civilians in the Manguindanao province, in the wake of killings of two relatives to witnesses and the shooting of a third. According to HRW, “the large number of police, military, and paramilitary personnel implicated in the massacre…remain at large.” The press statement refers to UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston’s report following his 2007 visit to the Philippines, in which he recommended better witness protection measures for those who testify to killings. According to the press statement, HRW has made similar recommendations in 2007 and 2009 and none have been implemented. The Special Rapporteur's 2009 follow-up report, assessing the implementation of his earlier recommendations, is available here.

  • Tuesday, March 09, 2010

    Fresh accusations of MONUC support to Colonel accused of human rights abuses by Special Rapporteur

    On 9 March 2010 the Washington Post published an article alleging that a military Colonel from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, alleged to be responsible for grave human rights violations, has been receiving food, fuel and logistical support from the UN.

    In October 2009, UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston visited the DRC and found “credible evidence” that Colonel Innocent Zimurinda had led his troops in a massacre of civilians which included the abduction of around 40 women. The ten who escaped described being gang raped, and it is not known what has happened to the other 30 women. A full press statement describing his findings can be found below.

    In November 2009, UN officials said that MONUC, the UN mission in the DRC, would halt all support to units implicated in human rights violations. Yet in the interview with the Washington Post, Zimurinda and one of his deputies claimed that they were still receiving supplies in December 2009 and January 2010.

    In a daily press briefing by the Office of the Secretary General, the UN strongly denied directly providing support to Zimurinda or any units under his command. It was, however, acknowledged that MONUC had brought supplies to around 80 distribution points, from where it was further distributed until late January 2010, and that it was possible that rations had been distributed to Zimurinda or his battalions from these points.

  • Friday, March 19, 2010

    Obama administration to announce legal basis of drone attacks

    State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh has announced that the Obama administration plans to share the details of its legal position on the use of drone strikes to kill suspected terrorists and militants “at an appropriate moment”.

    On Tuesday 16 March the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit aimed at securing from the government all documents which illustrate its legal position on drone strikes. This follows a FOIA request filed by the ACLU in January asking the government to turn over documents detailing its legal justification for drone strikes, as well as the facts underlying it. In responding, the CIA claimed it could neither confirm nor deny the existence of such documents.

    The Project on Extrajudicial Executions has long been involved in research and advocacy efforts surrounding the question of the legality of drone strikes. The Special Rapporteur, through communications with the government, has also sought to obtain a legal justification for drone strikes from the administration. The government has refused to provide its legal justification on the basis that as a question of humanitarian law, it is outside the remit of the Special Rapporteur. In a recent Guardian article, Special Rapporteur Philip Alston and Hina Shamsi explained the serious legal concerns raised by drone attacks, stressing that a killing as a result of a drone attack must fulfil a military need, there should be no reasonable alternative (such as capture), the use of force should be proportionate, and the target must have a direct connection to the combat, either as a Taliban or al-Qaida 'fighter', or as a civilian who is 'directly participating in hostilities'. Violating these requirements could constitute a war crime.

    Further news coverage can be found here:

    Huffington post: State Department to Produce Legal Justification for Drone Attacks
    National Journal: U.S. Will Explain Drone Position In Due Time, Adviser Says
    The American Prospect: Koh Says the Drones Are Legal

  • Thursday, March 25, 2010

    An assessment of Albania's efforts to eliminate domestic violence

    Amnesty International publishes a report assessing the effect of Albania’s 2007 Domestic Violence Law on the pervasive domestic violence in the country (according to the report, around one in three Albanian women are victims of domestic violence). UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary killings Philip Alston also focused on domestic violence in his mission to Albania in February 2010. In the press statement on his mission to Albania, available below, Special Rapporteur Alston commends the significant attention that the government, with UN support, has taken to addressing this issue. He points to the establishment of special domestic violence police units, the increased support of shelters for abused women, and education campaigns aimed at changing negative social attitudes that contribute to the phenomenon of domestic violence. According to both Amnesty and the UN Special Rapporteur, government efforts have had positive impacts, including the dramatic increase in the number of women coming forward to report violence.

    Nevertheless, much remains to be done. The Special Rapporteur found that much of the financing for shelters, for instance, comes from private donors rather than government budget allocations. Furthermore, as Amnesty notes, resolution of the problem will also require the authorities “to address the discrimination girls and women face in education and employment which deprives them of economic independence,” which can affect their ability to assert their rights against an abusive partner.

    The Special Rapporteur's full report on his mission to Albania is forthcoming.

  • Thursday, March 25, 2010

    United States explains the international legal basis for targeted killings and drone attacks

    On 25 March 2010, Harold Koh, the Legal Adviser to the United States' State Department, delivered the keynote address to the annual meeting of the American Society of International Law (ASIL). A portion of his remarks addressed the legality of targeted killings and drone attacks. The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions has consistently called upon the US to offer a public justification for its practice of targeted killings of terrorist suspects, for example see here and here.
    Koh’s speech is the first time the US Administration has set forth its official position on the legal basis for the practice. Koh’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, are available below. The UN Special Rapporteur will be reporting to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2010 on the practice and law of targeted killings.

    For further commentary on Koh's speech, along with links to video of it, see here.

  • Sunday, March 28, 2010

    Special Rapporteur's warning of LRA atrocities in the DRC - HRW releases report on massacre

    On 28 March 2010 Human Rights Watch released a report, found below, detailing atrocities committed by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in the Makombo area of Northeastern Congo. The report details the previously unreported Makombo massacre during which at least 321 civilians were killed, and 250 others abducted, including at least 80 children. The Special Rapporteur has contested the government's claim that it has pushed the LRA out of the Congo, and released a press statement detailing LRA violations of human rights and warning of continued violence in Oriental Province, in the north of the DRC, during his visit to the country in October 2009. He will present his final report to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2010.

  • Tuesday, March 30, 2010

    Special Rapporteur Philip Alston comments on surge of executions in Iran

    Amnesty International interviews UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Philip Alston in a news report on the recent, troubling surge of executions in Iran. According to the report, the fact of a marked upswing in the rate of executions during the period of protests over last year’s contested election raises concerns that “Iranian authorities are once more using executions as a tool to try and quell political unrest, intimidate the population and send a signal that dissent will not be tolerated.” Amnesty states that one hundred and twelve people were executed in the eight weeks between the election in June and the re-inauguration of President Ahmadinejad in early August. According to the organization, the number of people put to death in the eight-week period constituted almost a third of the total for the entire year of 2009, a year in which Iran executed more people than any in Amnesty’s records of recent years.

    Although many of those executed during the period of post-election protests were put to death for criminal offenses committed before the unrest, the number of executions, the speed of the trials leading up to them, comments by a Tehran prosecutor against dissidents, as well as the invocation of the offense of “moharebeh” in several cases all suggest that the Iranian authorities wanted to “send a chilling message to those involved in protests,” according to Amnesty.

    The crime of “moharebeh,” with which many people have been charged, translates as “enmity against God.” In the interview with Amnesty, Special Rapporteur Philip Alston states:

    “[The charge of Moharebeh] is imposed for a wide range of crimes, often fairly ill-defined and generally having some sort of political nature…It’s particularly troubling that even that term is now being expanded to embrace what appears to be pretty straightforward exercise of freedom of association rights. Executing people for the crime of moharebeh is itself inconsistent in my view with the requirements of international law.” As Professor Alston explains:

    "International law says very clearly that the death penalty can only be carried out for the most serious crimes. I have shown very clearly that that phrase was intended to refer to crimes which result in an intentional death of some sort - homicide - and that any lesser crimes cannot be punished by the death penalty. Again, that is a prohibition that the Iranian courts and the Iranian government have consistently neglected or ignored."

    Iran is also reportedly executing an increasing number of juvenile offenders: those who were sentenced to death for offenses committed when they were under the age of 18. Iran is one of very few countries to carry out such executions, and, according to Special Rapporteur Philip Alston, "there is a very clear, incontestable standard” prohibiting this practice. He continues, “No state really tries to defend it as a matter of principle - it's clearly outlawed. And yet Iran continues to not only charge juveniles, but to execute them in significant numbers."

  • Wednesday, March 31, 2010

    ICC cites Special Rapporteur's report in decision to open investigation into Kenya election violence

    On 31 March 2010 the pre-trial chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) authorised an investigation into post-election violence in 2007 and 2008 in Kenya which killed more than a thousand people and forced over 35,000 to flee their homes. Two out of three judges of the pre-trial chamber ruled in favour of the application for a formal investigation submitted by Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo. This marks the first time the ICC has opened an investigation without a referral either by a national government or the UN Security Council.

    In his application, the chief prosecutor presented the report prepared by Special Rapporteur Philip Alston following his visit to the country between 16 and 25 February 2009. The judges relied heavily on evidence provided in the Special Rapporteur's report detailing the findings of his visit when reaching their decision, citing evidence of the large number of violent acts, including killings, rape and sexual violence; extensive violence in the context of the government joint military-police operation in the Mount Elgon region against the Sabaot Land Defense Force; retaliatory attacks in places where people had sought refuge; the killing of 28-35 people in an attack on the area surrounding the Assemblies of God church in Kiambaa and the subsequent burning of the church; police killings in Nyanza; and rape and sexual violence in the Rift Valley, Western Province and Nyanza, including gang rapes, along with allegations that such acts were committed by police and security agents. The court also cited the Special Rapporteur's assessment that there had been inadequate police investigation into killings and other acts of violence, as a result of limited resources, poor training, and a lack of will.

    The Special Rapporteur's report can be found here.