Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Feature: War Crimes Probes Proliferate

IWPR provides a roundup of the growing number of war crimes investigations around the world.
By Chris Stephen

AFGHANISTAN


A UN mission has completed a trip to Afghanistan to investigate the alleged slaying of up to 960 Taleban prisoners by Northern Alliance forces in November 2001.


The mission officials met with warlord Rashid Dostum, who commands the area in which the incident took place, shortly after the fall of the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif. A report to the United Nations is expected early this year.


AMERICA


The United States has lost a bid to block a UN anti-torture treaty, which is expected to become law early this year.


Washington and other opponents, including China, Cuba, Israel, Nigeria and Japan, had tried to block it, saying it feared its implementation would divert UN resources from more urgent tasks.


But the UN General Assembly’s Social Humanitarian and Cultural Committee has approved the draft treaty by 104 votes to eight, and the assembly is expected to concur. The treaty will not come into force until 20 nations have both signed and ratified it.


CZECH REPUBLIC


The republic’s success in being given the green light to join the European Union has re-ignited demands for an investigation of atrocities committed against the country’s former German minority after World War Two.


More than three million Germans living in the Sudetenland were expelled in revenge for six years of Nazi occupation. Some survivors now living in Germany are demanding that the authorities launch an investigation.


DENMARK


Former Iraqi general Nizar al-Khazraji, who has applied for asylum in Denmark, is currently under house arrest there to prevent him escaping possible war crimes charges.


He was head of Iraq’s armed forces between 1987 and 1990, during which time Kurdish civilians were gassed at Halabja. He fled the country in 1995 and travelled to Denmark. While the Danes refused to grant his asylum request, he was allowed to stay under special provisions for those at grave risk if forced to return home.


ESTONIA


Eight pensioners are currently on trial accused of helping the Soviet Union deport 400 Estonians to Siberian labour camps in 1949.


The defendants, aged between 75 and 81, are accused of being Soviet agents and of drawing up a list of 475 “enemies of the state” for deportation. Three of the accused are too ill to appear on trial. All are expected to plead innocent to charges that carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.


FRANCE


The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that France treated former Nazi collaborator Maurice Papon unfairly during his trial for shipping more than 1,500 Jews to death camps.


Papon, 91, was jailed for ten years in April 1998 for crimes against humanity after a 17-year legal battle.


A French court ruled in 1999 that Papon should lose his right to appeal because he fled to Switzerland shortly after his conviction was announced. But the European judges say that despite the gravity of his crimes, Papon must retain the right to an appeal. France is considering its response.


ISRAEL


Israel is drafting a convention for war crimes charges to be brought against suicide bombers, who have been responsible for the deaths of scores of people.


The law, which the country hopes will be agreed internationally, would give the authorities powers against those who sponsor the bombers. However, human rights activists are calling on Israel to sign a wider war crimes convention.


GREAT BRITAIN


Veterans of the Kenyan Mau Mau guerrillas will visit London this year to press a compensation claim on the British government for sufferings inflicted by the former colonial authorities.


The latter were detailed by a BBC documentary called Kenya White Terror, which was screened last November. It described mistreatment of prisoners at a holding camp and alleged instances of murder, torture and rape of Mau Mau, a guerrilla movement, which was itself no stranger to brutality.


MEXICO


A government investigation into the so-called Dirty Wars by the security forces against left-wing radicals in the Sixties and Eighties has seen a second prominent figure refuse to testify.


Retired army commander General Luis Gutierrez Oropeza said he was forbidden by the constitution from answering a list of 36 questions submitted to him by the special prosecutor.


His decision follows the refusal earlier last year of former president Luis Echeverria to answer questions about war crimes committed at the time when he was interior minister.


The investigation was launched by President Vincente Fox after his National Action Party won elections in 2000, toppling the Institutional Revolutionary Party which had ruled the country for 71 years.


POLAND


Survivors of Polish atrocities committed against ethnic Germans in the Second World War have erected a memorial, consisting of a stone circle, in a forest in Silesia, western Poland.


Each of the 80-plus stones contains the name of a village in which massacres took place. The ethnic Germans were attacked in revenge for the sufferings meted out to Poles by Nazi forces.


Poland is better known for Nazi atrocities committed against Poles, with more than two million slaughtered, and it was also home to concentration camps in which more than six million Jews perished. But former ethnic Germans say their victims should also be remembered.


RUSSIA


Human rights groups have condemned Russia’s decision to clear an army colonel of the murder of a teenage Chechen girl in what is the country’s most high-profile war crimes case.


After a trial lasting more than two years, a military court in Rostov said Colonel Yury Budanov was not responsible for the abduction and murder of an 18-year-old Chechen girl three years ago - by reason of temporary insanity.


The case ended with judges announcing that Budanov, a former regimental commander, would not go to jail for murder, but would instead be sent to a psychiatric hospital. The announcement was made shortly before midnight on December 31, a time when the country was busy with New Year celebrations.


“The Budanov acquittal is simply a travesty of justice,” said Elizabeth Andersen of US-based Human Rights Watch. “If the Russian authorities continue to shield servicemen from accountability and deny justice to their victims, the conflict in Chechnya may never be resolved.”


SIERRA LEONE


The special court set up to try war crimes during the Sierra Leone civil war appointed high-profile human rights activist and lawyer Geoffrey Robertson as its new president last month (December).


The court was created by the UN, which has given it a three-year mandate and a 60 million US dollar budget. Eight judges were also appointed last month.


Chris Stephen is IWPR Bureau Chief in The Hague.