My Daughter Drew Me This Picture

My 10-year-old daughter drew me this picture and slipped it into my briefcase as a surprise.

Sometimes it is children who have the  strongest sense of justice. How do we lose that as adults?

 I’m going to hang this picture in my office where I can see it every day –

a reminder to never give up!

News You May Have Missed (15-21 February 2015)

Photo from Muslim Public Affairs Council's Facebook page
Photo from Muslim Public Affairs Council’s Facebook page

A weekly roundup of the human rights news items that I’m following that I think deserve a little more attention.

More than 1000 Muslims formed a human shield around a synagogue in Oslo, NORWAY on February 21  in response to an attack on a synagogue in Denmark last weekend.  Chanting “No to anti-Semitism, no to Islamophobia,” an estimated 1200-1400 Norwegian Muslims formed a “ring of peace” around the synagogue, offering symbolic protection for the city’s Jewish community.  See video coverage on the NRK website here.  One of the speakers in the video is 17-year-old Hajrah Asrhad, one of the event’s organizers.

Children began returning to classrooms in LIBERIA this week after seven months of closure due to the Ebola epidemic.  Education is key to development and improving human rights, so the schools are being reopened but UNICEF and its partners are putting in place safety measures to minimize the potential risk of transmission of the virus.  Safety measures, including taking children’s temperatures when they arrive to school and making them wash their hands before entering the classroom, have been successfully used in GUINEA, where more than 1.3 million children have returned to school since January. Nearly all of Guinea’s more than 12,000 schools are now open, and school attendance is at 85 per cent of pre-Ebola attendance, according to data collected by the Ministry of Education and UNICEF.  Following Guinea’s experience, UNICEF has worked closely with the Liberian government and local communities to develop similar safety protocols. Teachers have been trained to implement and monitor the safety measures, soap and other hygiene materials have been distributed.  

Beginning last summer, UNICEF collaborated with Liberian musicians to conduct mass mobilization campaigns on Ebola prevention nationwide.  In case you missed it, here is one example from August 2014:

The International Labour Organization (ILO) spotlighted recent progress in the fight against child labour in KOSOVO, where children as young as 10 are forced to work on garbage dumps or in the fields harvesting grapes and onions, risking their health.   Since March 2013, members of the Kosovo Chamber of Commerce are obliged to observe the ILO’s four fundamental labour principles, including the elimination of child labour.  So far, 40 members of the Chamber of Commerce have adopted codes of conduct on combating child labour in their supply chains and communities. In addition, occupational safety and health issues will be mainstreamed into the compulsory education (grades 8-9) and upper secondary school curricula.

Turkish men aren’t known for wearing skirts. But they are turning out in large numbers in Istanbul later to protest about violence against women in TURKEY.

Men in mini skirts campaign
Men in mini skirts campaign

They’re joining others outraged by the murder of 20-year-old Ozgecan Aslan who was abducted on 11 February and killed for apparently trying to prevent a bus driver from raping her.

In the UNITED STATES, a federal jury has awarded $14 million in compensatory and punitive damages to five Indian guest workers who were defrauded and exploited in a labor trafficking scheme engineered by Gulf Coast marine services company Signal, an immigration lawyer and an Indian labor recruiter who lured hundreds of workers to a MISSISSIPPI shipyard with false promises of permanent U.S. residency. The trial was the first in a series of cases spearheaded by the Southern Poverty Law Center that together comprise one of the largest labor trafficking cases in U.S. history. 

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Signal used the U.S. government’s H-2B guest worker program to import nearly 500 men from India to work as welders, pipefitters and in other positions to repair damaged oil rigs and related facilities. Under the guest worker program, workers are not allowed to change jobs if they are abused but face the loss of their investment if they are fired or quit.

The plaintiffs in this case are Jacob Joseph Kadakkarappally, Hemant Khuttan, Padaveettiyl, Sulekha and Palanyandi Thangamani.  Each paid the labor recruiters and a lawyer between $10,000 and $20,000 or more in recruitment fees and other costs after recruiters promised good jobs, green cards and permanent U.S. residency for them and their families. Most sold property or plunged their families deeply into debt to pay the fees.

When the men arrived at Signal shipyards in Pascagoula, MISSISSIPPI, they discovered that they wouldn’t receive the green cards or permanent residency that had been promised. Signal also forced them each to pay $1,050 a month to live in isolated, guarded labor camps where as many as 24 men shared a space the size of a double-wide trailer. None of Signal’s non-Indian workers were required to live in the company housing.  An economist who reviewed Signal’s records estimated the company saved more than $8 million in labor costs by hiring the Indian workers at below-market wages.

Pro bono legal representation was provided in this case by Southern Poverty Law Center, Crowell & Moring, LLP, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Sahn Ward Coschignano & Baker, and the Louisiana Justice Institute.

An estimated 93 million children (1 in 20 up to age 14) worldwide live with a moderate or severe disability. #Draw Disability is a new global campaign launched by the United Nations Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative (GEFI), in partnership with the Global Observatory for Inclusion (GLOBI) and theUnited Nations Global Education First Initiative Youth Advocacy Group (GEFI-YAG).

The campaign has two main objectives: 1) To encourage dialogue and raise awareness on disability and related issues among teachers and learners within educational environments. 2) To create a global art project focused on disability. Schools from all over the planet are encouraged to get involved in the project. Teachers can use the #DrawDisability guidelines to promote critical reflections and awareness on disability within the classroom (guidelines are available in Spanish, French and English).  Children with and without disabilities are encouraged to #DrawDisability. Drawings can portray their understanding and feelings towards disability and related issues, such as accessibility, inclusion and discrimination.

All drawings received will be uploaded and displayed on a website and shared on social networks using the hashtag #DrawDisability. Early submissions by April 1, 2015 are highly encouraged as selected drawings will be showcased at the World Education Forum in May 2015 in Incheon, SOUTH KOREA, and the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (COSP-CRPD) in June 2015 New York, USA. The final deadline for all submissions will be July 15, 2015. Check out submission information here.  

Human Rights Tools for a Changing World

Change the World front cover

Originally published on The Advocates Post

The Advocates for Human Rights’ Executive Director Robin Phillips is in London today speaking about The Advocates’ human rights monitoring work at the International Bar Association’s colloquium on “Rule of Law Fact-Finding by NGOs: Monitoring Standards and Maximising Impact”.

This international convening to explore the standards and impact of non-governmental organization (NGO) fact-finding on human rights violations is also an appropriate setting to introduce The Advocates’ latest publication:

        Human Rights Tools for a Changing World:  A Step-by-Step Guide to Human Rights Fact-finding, Documentation and Advocacy 

Human rights advocacy takes many forms, and human rights activists can be found in every corner of the world.  Human Rights Tools for a Changing World was created with the express purpose of providing advocates of all backgrounds and experiences a full range of tools and resources to promote human rights in a changing world.

This manual provides practical, step-by-step guidance for individuals and community groups who want to use human rights monitoring, documentation, and advocacy in their work to change policy and improve human rights conditions throughout the world. From framing an issue in terms of internationally recognized human rights standards to submitting a detailed complaint to an international human rights body, advocates can use this manual to plan and implement their work. The manual is designed to aid advocates undertaking a variety of activities—from the relatively simple to the more complex. With background information, key questions to consider, case examples, and practitioner’s tips, this manual provides tools to combat human rights abuses and change social institutions and structures to promote the full realization of human rights.

The practice-oriented sections help advocates to do the following:

  • Monitor: identify ongoing human rights abuses and collect the information advocates need about these issues;
  • Document: analyze, present that information, and make recommendations within the framework of international human rights standards;
  • Advocate: choose and implement a strategy to bring the lived reality closer to the ideals proclaimed by international human rights treaties, including through advocacy at international and regional human rights mechanisms;
  • Address Impunity and Accountability: identify strategies and legal mechanisms i for holding perpetrators and governments accountable for human rights violations; and
  • Build Capacity to Improve Human Rights: develop a better understanding of the international human rights system, identify strategies for applying a human rights framework, and develop competence in setting up and effectively running an organization in safety and security.

The Advocates for Human Rights  is uniquely qualified to present the human rights tools in this manual. Human Rights Tools for a Changing World is grounded in the The Advocates’ daily work in human rights fact-finding, documentation and advocacy.  For more than 30 years, The Advocates has adapted traditional human rights methodologies to conduct innovative research and generate human rights reports and educational trainings designed to bring laws, policies, and practice into compliance with international human rights standards. The Advocates has monitored human rights conditions and produced more than 75 reports documenting human rights practices in dozens of countries around the world on a wide range of human rights issues.

The contents of this manual were also shaped by the requests for assistance and guidance that The Advocates routinely receives from human rights defenders and others seeking to change human rights conditions in their communities throughout the world. Partnership on projects identified and led by local organizations is a powerful means to effectively implement human rights work in the field. At The Advocates, we view our constituencies as partners and form enduring working relationships with organizations and community groups in the U.S. and around the world.

The Advocates’ participatory model of working with in-country civil society organizations to document human rights abuses and coordinate advocacy for change has also demonstrated to us the critical importance of having access to a wide range of human rights tools.  Flexibility is key; there is no “one size fits all” human rights methodology.  Activists need a full menu of strategies and resources so they can choose the ones that will work best in each specific context. With the right tools, real human rights improvements are eminently possible.

We hope that that Human Rights Tools for a Changing World will benefit and be used by human rights defenders and civil society organizations throughout the world. Because every person matters.

Download your free copy at:  TheAdvocatesForHumanRights.org/Change

Individual chapters and appendices can also be downloaded individually.

By:  Jennifer Prestholdt, Deputy Director and Director of  the International Justice Program at The Advocates for Human Rights

Human Rights News You May Have Missed (10 – 16 January)

 Participants march towards Mnazi Mmoja grounds during Tanzania Albino Day celebrations in Dar es Salaam.  Photo Credit: Voice of America
Participants march towards Mnazi Mmoja grounds during Tanzania Albino Day celebrations in Dar es Salaam. Photo Credit: Voice of America

A roundup of some of the human rights news stories (both good and bad) that I am following this week.

TANZANIA declared a ban on witchcraft in an effort to halt deadly attacks on albinos. The move follows mounting pressure on the government to protect albinos, who lack pigment in their skin and hair, and whose body parts are used by witch doctors in so-called magic potions thought to bring power and wealth.  The U.N. human rights agency says more than 70 people with albinism have been killed for body parts in Tanzania since 2000. Minister for Home Affairs Mathias Chikawe said on January 13 that the government has formed a task force that will investigate killings and review court cases for accused attackers, some of whom have gone free. Ernest Kimayo, chairman of the Tanzania Albino Society, welcomed the government’s actions, saying it will improve life for his community.

Also in TANZANIA, some 800 school girls returned home on Monday, January 12 after escaping female genital mutilation (FGM) by spending three months hiding in safe houses.  FGM is traditionally carried out on girls between October and December. Run by charities and church organisations, the shelters offer protection (including police protection at some) to ensure the girls remain safe. FGM was outlawed in Tanzania in 1998 and carries a punishment of up to 15 years in prison, but is still regularly carried out, especially in northern and central regions of Tanzania.http://allafrica.com/stories/201501050530.html

CANADA:  The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a report on the disappearances and murders of indigenous women in British Columbia, finding it part of a “broader pattern” of violence and discrimination against aboriginal women   Aboriginal women are significantly over-represented as victims of homicide in Canada; The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has reported that about 1,200 aboriginal women and girls were murdered or went missing in Canada between 1980 and 2012.) The IACHR called on the Canadian government to institute a national inquiry into the issue and to develop a coordinated national response that addresses the root causes of the violence, including Canada’s history of colonization, inequality and economic and social marginalization.)

 fierce winter storm swept through the Middle East this week bringing icy temperatures, high winds and heavy snow. In Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, more than 400,000 refugees have been enduring freezing conditions since snow levels not seen in many years arrived. Photo ©UNHCR/A.McConnell. Retrieved from UNHCR.org.
A fierce winter storm swept through the Middle East this week bringing icy temperatures, high winds and heavy snow. In Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, more than 400,000 refugees have been enduring freezing conditions since snow levels not seen in many years arrived. Photo ©UNHCR/A.McConnell. Retrieved from UNHCR.org.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees issued its Mid-Year Trends 2014 report on global formed displacement in first six months of 2014.  Armed conflicts displaced an estimated 5.5 million people, with 1.4 million of those fleeing to other countries, says a report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Syrians have become the largest group of displaced people within UNHCR’s mandate, overtaking Afghans who held that position for three decades. 

NIGERIA:  International coverage of the tremendous human rights tragedy in Baga, Nigeria has finally picked up, but there has been less coverage of Boko Haram’s use of children as suicide bombers. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has expressed concern about what it called “escalating violence against children in northern Nigeria.”  The statement came after two explosions ripped through a market in northeastern Nigeria Sunday killing at least five people, including the two bombers. Twenty-one others were wounded.   The attacks were said to be carried out by two young girls. Sunday’s explosions came after a bomb strapped to a girl exploded in Maiduguri killing at least 19 people.  “We are seeing a new trend of using girls and women, and now of children, as suicide bombers. This is something that is new to this conflict. So, this trend is very worrying to us because this is something that is very difficult to find [a] solution to.”

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC:  A spokesman for the Ugandan army announced that on January 14 Lord’s Resistance Army rebel commander Dominic Ongwen was handed over to Ugandan troops that are part of an African Union force in the Central African Republic.  He will be flown to The Hague to stand trial at the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.   He was indicted by the ICC almost a decade ago, but only surrendered  last week and was taken into the custody of US special forces.   One issue that is sure to come up during the ICC trial: Ongwen is the only one among the five LRA indictees who was abducted as a child and forcibly conscripted into the LRA.

TAJIKISTAN:  Prominent human rights lawyer Shukhrat Kudratov was sentenced on January 13, 2015, to nine years in prison following what Human Rights Watch describes as a “politically motivated trial” that struck a blow to freedom of expression and the independence of the legal profession in Tajikistan.  A court in Dushanbe found Kudratov, who is also deputy head of the opposition Social Democratic party, guilty on criminal charges of fraud and bribery. Kudratov is known for taking on politically sensitive cases, including representing victims of police torture and those accused of “religious extremism.”

EGYPT:  The acquittal in Egypt on January 12, 2015, of 26 men accused of “practicing debauchery” is a rare success in protecting the rights to privacy and nondiscrimination against LGBTI persons. The men were arrested at a hammam or bathhouse in Cairo on December 7, 2014.  Government prosecutors have appealed the decision, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), a nongovernmental group, reported, but authorities released all 26 men. It is the first time since 2011 that a trial court is known to have handed down a total acquittal in a “debauchery” case. Rights activists say 2014 was the worst year in a decade for Egypt’s gay community, with at least 150 men arrested or put on trial.    Because there are no laws criminalizing homosexuality in Egypt, a decades’ old law criminalizing prostitution is often used in penalizing the gay community. The trial opened unusually quickly – only two weeks after the raid on the bathhouse — amidst biased media coverage that “convicted the defendants before they even set foot in court”.

Jorge Sánchez, son of the missing journalist Moisés Sánchez Cerezo demands his father’s release outside the municipal building of Medellín de Bravo, Veracruz, Mexico. Photograph: IMG Veracruz/Demotix/Corbis.  Retrieved from TheGuardian.com
Jorge Sánchez, son of the missing journalist Moisés Sánchez Cerezo demands his father’s release outside the municipal building of Medellín de Bravo, Veracruz, Mexico. Photograph: IMG Veracruz/Demotix/Corbis. Retrieved from TheGuardian.com

MEXICO: State prosecutors have detained the town of Medellín de Bravo’s entire police force following the disappearance of journalist Moisés Sánchez Cerezo in Mexico’s southern state of Veracruz.    A group of nine armed men took Sánchez from his home earlier this month along with his computer, camera and telephones.  Sánchez publishes a local weekly La Union where he wrote about local government corruption and violent deaths, as well as publishing citizen complaints. Some of his journalism was aimed at Medellín de Bravo’s mayor, Omar Cruz.   Thirty-six members of the  police department were brought in to give statements in the investigation. 

In other news related to Mexico‘s serious problem with local corruption and disappearances and extrajudicial killing, the Mexican attorney general’s office this week obtained arrest warrants for kidnapping against the former mayor José Luis Abarca and 44 others implicated in the case of 43 students who went missing in September 2014 after being attacked by municipal police allegedly working with a local drug cartel.

GERMANY:  Dresden police have launched a murder investigation into the death of Eritrean refugee Khaled Idris Bahray.  On Tuesday morning, Bahray was found stabbed to death in an inner courtyard at the housing complex where he lived.  According to his flatmates, he had left the flat late the night before to go out to a shop but never returned.  Dresden has been making headlines recently for its anti-immigrant rallies, which, on the night of Bahray’s death, attracted a record number of 25,000 supporters. Tensions in the city have been high in the 12 weeks since the rallies began, with a reported increase in racist attacks. While the motive for Bahray’s killing and the identity of his killer remain unknown, a Swastiska was found daubed on the 2nd floor flat where Bahray lived with 7 other Eritrean refugees just three days before he was killed. It was accompanied by the threat, “We’ll get you all”.

CAMBODIA: Self-exiled Cambodian-American dissident Serey Ratha was sentenced in absentia yesterday at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to seven years’ imprisonment and fined 25 million riel ($6,250) under the charges of treason, obstructing electoral procedures in 2013 and inciting to overthrow Cambodia’s government related to a Facebook post prior to the 2013 election. Three other men (Serey Bunlong, Sen Someng and Oum Phirum) were each sentenced to six years in prison and fined 5 million riel ($1,230) for treason and obstructing electoral procedures after they reportedly distributed T-shirts with slogans admonishing citizens to abstain from voting in the last national election.

Finally, some brilliant teenagers in the UNITED STATES inspired me this week with their spoken word poem Somewhere In America. 

That’s it for this week.  Please feel free to add other human rights news in the comments.

As always, feedback on this new weekly feature is appreciated!

Injustice Anywhere Is A Threat To Justice Everywhere

justice

As the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said,

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

 

Use your voice.

Say it loud.

speak

 

This post is a response to the Weekly Photo Challenge:  Letters.  Click here to read more entries.

For another post that is not new but meets the same challenge, see Weekly Photo Challenge: The Sign Says. 

 

 

Cutting The Head Off The Snake

Charles G. Taylor with NPFL fighters during attack on Monrovia in 1990

(Image Source) 

The Special Court for Sierra Leone  today sentenced former Liberian President Charles G. Taylor to 50 years in prison for his role in the Sierra Leonean conflict in the 1990s.   Mr. Taylor helped fuel bloody conflicts between 1989 and 2003, not only in Liberia and Sierra Leone, but also throughout the sub-region of West Africa.  For thousands – if not millions – of West Africans, May 30 will now mark the anniversary of accountability.

Eight years ago, in May 2004, I was in Sierra Leone to monitor the efforts that were being made to bring justice and reconciliation to that shattered country.  In August of the previous year,  Charles Taylor had resigned as President and exited Liberia for temporary asylum in Nigeria, the result of a deal brokered to end Liberia’s brutal civil war.  His infamous last words as he boarded the plane were, “God willing, I will be back.” Almost everyone I talked to in Sierra Leone expressed fear of a return to chaos and war in the region if Mr. Taylor did not stand trial.  As one person explained,

“We have a saying in West Africa.  If you cut off the head of the snake, it is then only a rope.  That’s why Taylor must go.”

Mr. Taylor was indicted on seventeen counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), a United Nations-sponsored “hybrid” war crimes tribunal based on international and Sierra Leonean law that had strong support (including $20 million appropriated by Congress) from the United States.  The charges against Mr. Taylor included aiding and abetting the most serious of human rights abuses:  killings, torture, mutilation, rape and other forms of sexual violence, sexual slavery, conscription of children, abduction and forced labor perpetuated by Sierra Leonean rebel forces that Mr. Taylor actively supported.  Not to mention the part about fueling the conflict by trading arms for diamonds.

Special Court for Sierra Leone

Under construction in Freetown, Sierra Leone in May 2004

Yet, even after trials began at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Mr. Taylor remained in Nigeria, immune from justice.  Even worse, he appeared to continue to meddle with affairs in Liberia.  Impunity for Mr. Taylor was an affront to the thousands of victims and their families.  Fortunately, international pressure finally resulted in Mr. Taylor being taken into custody and brought to the SCSL for trial in 2006.  Due to concerns about security and the potential destabilizing impact of holding the trial in West Africa, Mr. Taylor’s trial was moved to The Netherlands to a chamber borrowed from the International Criminal Court.  (Mr. Taylor complained bitterly about the food he was served.)

I interviewed Sierra Leonean staff members of the SCSL in The Netherlands about the Taylor case in 2008.  Their estimates at the time about the length of the trial proved far too optimistic. The trial, which included testimony from more than 100 witnesses in addition to the defendant (who testified during 81 trial days), took twice as long as planned.

When I traveled to Liberia in February 2008, I asked people about what they thought about the Taylor trial.  Many Liberians did not seem to understand that Mr. Taylor was being tried for crimes committed in Sierra Leone, not Liberia.  When I pointed out the distinction, most seemed not to care.  In general, the Liberians I talked to just seemed relieved that he was behind bars – and that those bars were controlled by the international community.  When I mentioned the analogy to cutting the head off a snake, I was uniformly met with wise nods of agreement.

The verdict of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in late April of this year marked a historic moment in international justice – the first conviction of a serving head of state on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.    The sentence today of 50 years (which was consistent with the previous sentences of Sierra Leonean commanders tried by the SCSL) essentially means that Mr. Taylor will spend the rest of his life in prison.

Holding Charles Taylor accountable for the war crimes that he aided and abetted in Sierra Leone is important, but we must never forget the remaining impunity for the war crimes that he is responsible for in Liberia.  Liberian civilians were subjected to massive human rights abuses, exercised with direct command responsibility by Mr. Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) and, after his election in 1997, the Liberian security forces and paramilitary Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU) .  Of a pre-war Liberian population of 3 million, an estimated 250,000 were killed and 1.5 million displaced, with tens of thousands of refugees forced to flee West Africa for safety in the United States.

I spent three years working with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia, taking statements in the United States, United Kingdom and Buduburam Refugee Settlement in Ghana.  The statement giver’s account of violence below is representative of the scope of the human rights abuses and level of brutality suffered by many Liberians:

At the initial stages of the war, I moved to Ninth Street in Sinkor, Monrovia…  The children were outside cleaning the yard. Suddenly they ran inside and said that they saw armed men coming. Moments later, Taylor’s men busted  in. One of them said, “This is the dog I’m looking for.” He told us to come outside. Myself, my ten children, and my wife obeyed.

The NPFL [commander] knew me…He had run against me in an election… before the war. He said to me, “You cheated me during the election, but now I am in power. I will teach you a lesson you will never forget.” He told his NPFL boys to take my eldest daughter into the house. She was 11
thirteen years old. They dragged her inside and dragged me in after her. [The commander] raped my daughter in front of me. My father (my daughter’s grandfather) was still in the house. He rushed at the NPFL men, trying to stop the rape. One of the men – I don’t know his name – shot and killed my [father] right there.
[The commander] then brought me and my daughter back outside. He said, “I’m going to show you what I came here for.” He beat the children with the butt of his gun. He made two of my sons, who were seventeen and twenty, drink dirty water with the urine of one of the NPFL men in it. When the twenty year old refused, he shot him in the foot. [The commander] stabbed my other son, who was eighteen, in the elbow with his bayonet.

He then began to beat my wife. He told her to lay on her back and stare at the sun. [The commander] said, “You will eat your husband’s heart very soon.” He took the daughter who had been raped. [The commander] held her and said, “I want you to know how you all will die.” He ordered one of his men to cut off my daughter’s head. She was beheaded in front of our eyes.

They dragged me over to lay beside her body. [The commander] said, “You will be the next one.” Then I heard heavy shooting. ECOMOG was coming. The NPFL scattered.  Before [the commander] left, he made a remark. He said, “Anywhere in
Liberia I meet you or your family, I will kill you.”

Will it make a difference that the international community has now “cut off the head of the snake”? I do, in fact, think it will.  Our international justice system is still in its infancy.  As of yet, it is neither swift nor strong; neither peremptory nor comprehensive.  But with the sentencing of Charles Taylor, not only can West Africans be confident in the knowledge that one individual who wrought destruction will not do so again, but we can all have hope that one day, as a matter of practice, all perpetrators of gross human rights abuses and war crimes will be held accountable.

Justice delayed may be justice denied for Minnesota Cambodians

Skulls of Khmer Rouge victims.
Skulls of Khmer Rouge victims. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Justice delayed may be justice denied for Minnesota Cambodians.

Monoram Hang was just 9 years old in April 1975, when Khmer Rouge soldiers forced his family from their home in Phnom Penh. His mother, weak from giving birth two days earlier, fell to her knees and begged for permission to wait for her husband to return from work so their family could leave together. The soldiers kicked her to the ground and ordered them out at gunpoint, forcing them to join the swollen river of people leaving Cambodia’s capital. As Hang related, “At that time we walk, we don’t know where we are going, we don’t know where we end up. We just walk and walk. …  And Khmer Rouge soldiers behind us and shoot from behind and force us to go.”

Hang was lucky to survive; as many as 2 million Cambodians died in the “killing fields” of the Khmer Rouge regime. He found refuge in the United States, one of nearly 10,000 Cambodians now living in Minnesota — the country’s sixth-largest home to Cambodians. Like Hang, most witnessed genocide and endured forced migration and labor camps under the Khmer Rouge.

1990: Minnesota puts the Khmer Rouge on trial

In 1990, Hang and other survivors testified at a mock trial of the Khmer Rouge leadershipthat was held at the State Capitol in St. Paul. The Advocates for Human Rights organized the mock trial with Minnesota’s Cambodian community to give voice to the victims of Khmer Rouge atrocities. The panel of public officials serving as judges at the mock trialfound the Khmer Rouge leaders guilty of genocide. The entire Minnesota Congressional Delegation issued a statement formally recognizing members of Minnesota’s Cambodian community for their testimony and joined “the appeal to establish an international inquiry into crimes of genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge between 1975-79. Well-established principles of international law require accountability and punishment for those responsible for genocide, the Khmer Rouge being no exception.”


2012: Actual justice remains elusive
The mock trial was such a positive experience for the Cambodian community that The Advocates then created the Khmer Oral History Project, enlisting volunteer attorneys to interview Hang and other members of Minnesota’s Cambodian community about their experiences under the Khmer Rouge, their life in refugee camps, and their immigration to the United States. Transcripts and video recordings of those interviews are available through the Minnesota Historical Society.

Yet more than two decades after The Advocates put the Khmer Rouge on trial in Minnesota and Minnesota lawmakers called for accountability, one — and only one — Khmer Rouge leader has actually been brought to justice. In 2010, a hybrid United Nations-Cambodian tribunal, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), found Kaing Guek Eav responsible for the deaths of more than 14,000 people at the notorious S-21 prison and convicted him of crimes against humanity, murder, and torture. An ECCC appeals court last month increased his sentence to life imprisonment.

For survivors like Hang, justice delayed may be justice denied. Thirty-five years after the Khmer Rouge took power, only three additional leaders, all in their 80s, are answering charges in an ECCC “mini-trial.” Additional mini-trials against the same elderly defendants will follow — if their health holds out. Proceedings against a fourth defendant have been stayed as she battles age-related dementia.

Culture of impunity

A recent dispute between U.N. and Cambodian authorities threatens to bring the ECCC’s slow progress to a grinding halt. The Cambodian government, which is bidding for a rotating seat on the U.N. Security Council for 2013–2014, has made plain that it opposesany additional charges against other defendants. International co-investigating judge Siegfried Blunk resigned last October, complaining of government interference. According to the painstakingly negotiated agreement establishing the ECCC, Cambodia’s Supreme Council of the Magistracy was obligated to appoint reserve judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet to replace Blunk. Kasper-Ansermet took his post in December, paying no heed to government efforts to obstruct justice and launching investigations against new defendants. In January, however,the Supreme Council rejected his appointment and Kasper-Ansermet’s Cambodian co-investigating judge has contested his authority to investigate cases. U.N. Special Expert to the ECCC, David Scheffer has emphasized to Cambodians on the court that Kasper-Ansermet has full authority to serve as the international investigating judge.

On March 19, frustrated with the recalcitrance of his Cambodian colleague and the resulting “dysfunctional situation within the ECCC,” Kasper-Ansermet tendered his resignation. He did so in view of “the victims’ right to have investigations conducted in a proper manner.” The UN has voiced “serious concern” at the developments prompting Kasper-Ansermet’s departure.

Time to get tough

Hang and other victims of the Khmer Rouge have waited too long for justice. For their sake, it is time to ensure that the work of the ECCC goes forward to hold the perpetrators of horrific crimes against humanity accountable. Minnesota’s lawmakers should joinCalifornia Rep. Ed Royce in calling for more trials and an end to the Cambodian government’s culture of impunity. The United States, which has contributed more than $6.7 million to the ECCC, should demand that the Cambodian government cease its interference in the proceedings. Unless the meddling ends, Cambodia has no place at the table on the Security Council.

Jennifer Prestholdt is the deputy director of The Advocates for Human Rights and the director of The Advocates’ International Justice Program. Amy Bergquist is a staff attorney for the International Justice Program.