Swiss firm accused of pillaging, new trials at ICC, Ukraine violations: April war crimes round-up
Geneva Solutions's monthly "war criminal hunt" round-up, in collaboration with Geneva-based NGO Civitas Maxima. This article was updated on May 5, to include the trial of Gibril Massaquoi.
“The public has discovered in the past weeks through the media more and more of the numerous and unspeakable atrocities committed against civilians in the conflict in Ukraine, including crimes of sexual violence. The importance of collecting according to professional standards the evidence of these crimes could not be higher, as there will be no accountability in any criminal trial in the future if the evidence is manipulated or tampered with. And obviously the amount of existing evidence to be collected is also in itself a formidable and daunting challenge, both for national and international prosecutors working on the Ukraine war.
This month and for the second time this round-up will give you a summary of the most interesting developments in the field of international criminal law, with cases moving forward in several continents.”
- Alain Werner, director of Civitas Maxima
Criminal proceedings against Swiss company
The Swiss Office of the Attorney General formally opened criminal proceedings against Zug-based company Kolmar Group, economic crime magazine Gotham City reported on 13 April. Geneva-based NGO TRIAL International, and shortly after the Money Laundering Reporting Office of Switzerland, had filed a criminal report with the Swiss Attorney General in May 2020. The company allegedly committed the war crime of pillage when purchasing smuggled gas-oil from Libya during the Second Libyan Civil War.
Philip Grant, director of TRIAL International, said “the OAG sends a strong signal to all companies operating in conflict zones that their activities must respect international humanitarian law”. Should a conviction take place, it would be the first conviction of the crime of pillage since the Second World War.
Former alleged Liberian Rebel Leader Sekou Kamara arrested.
The alleged former commander of rebel group LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy), also known as “K-1” or “General Dragon Master”, was imprisoned on 26 March in New York. He is suspected of having lied to US immigration authorities about his involvement in the Second Liberian Civil War. According to Genevan NGO Civitas Maxima, the rebel leader is out of bail since 8 April and currently “subject to home monitoring except for employment, court and medical visits”.
Civitas Maxima and Liberian sister-organization GJRP represent many Liberian victims in their quest for justice. The two organisations collaborated with US authorities in 2017 and 2018 on the cases of Liberian rebel leaders Mohammed Jabbateh and Thomas Woewiyu for immigration fraud before US courts. In the case of a conviction, Kamara would be the third Liberian war criminal to be brought to justice on the basis of the strict US migration laws.
Abd-Al-Rahman trial opened
On 5 April, the International Criminal Court opened a trial against Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman. The former commander of Sudanese militia group Janjaweed is accused of 31 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity he allegedly committed during the War in Darfur, Sudan, between 2003 and 2004.
Abd-Al-Rahman had been in ICC-custody since June 2020, after he surrendered himself voluntarily in the Central African Republic. In a statement, ICC-prosecutor Karim Khan claimed to be confident “that the first few drops of justice will land on what has hitherto been a desert of impunity in Darfur”.
Trial opened against Gambian in Germany
Bai L., an alleged member of the Gambian paramilitary unit “Jungler” is being tried for crimes against humanity he supposedly committed as a member of the group. The accused, who was indicted on 3 March, can be tried before the German courts on the principle of universal jurisdiction, which enables jurisdiction over certain international crimes, regardless of where, when and by whom the crime was committed. Human Rights Watch called the criminal proceedings “a major step for justice”, because Bai L. is the first person to be tried in Germany for serious crimes committed in the Gambia.
Karim Khan in Venezuela
The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) paid a visit to the South American country on 31 March. Since November 2021, the ICC has been investigating possible crimes against humanity, which were committed particularly during the repression of the 2017 protests against President Maduro’s government. During his visit, Khan announced that the ICC will open an office in the Venezuelan Capital Caracas as part of the investigations.
‘Clear patterns” of humanitarian law violations and war crimes by Russia in Ukraine: OSCE
OSCE releases report on war crimes in Ukraine. Experts at The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said they had found “clear patterns” of violations of international humanitarian law by Russian forces in Ukraine, in findings published last month. The 108-page report, which investigated events from 24 February to 1 April, focuses on war crimes committed by Russian forces, but also documents crimes the Ukrainian army allegedly committed.
Amongst other observations, the report states, that the Russian attack on the Mariupol maternity house and children’s hospital “constitutes a clear violation of IHL [International Humanitarian Law]” and that “those responsible for it have committed a war crime”.
Calls for a prosecution of war crimes by Russia has intensified as more and more atrocities committed in Kyivv suburbs like Bucha and Borodyanka are revealed. ICC-prosecutor Karim Khan and EU foreign policy chief Joseph Borell met on 11 April to discuss the Ukraine situation, and the European Commission promised to allocate € 7.5m to support the investigation into potential war crimes committed in the Ukraine.
President of the European Council Charles Michel tweeted after a visit to Borodyanka: “History will not forget the war crimes that have been committed here. There can be no peace without justice”.
Rebel leader acquitted
On 29 April 2022, the Finnish Prikanmaa District Court dismissed all charges against former Revolutionary United Front (RUF) commander and spokesman Gibril Massaquoi. The trial, which started in February 2021 and ended in January 2022, saw Massaquoi tried for murder, aggravated rape, aggravated war crimes and violations of human rights he allegedly committed during the Second Liberian Civil War. The prosecutors haven’t disclosed yet whether they will appeal. If so, the appeal has to be filed before the 29th of May, within 30 days after the judgment. The court found that there was reasonable doubt Massaquoi committed the offences.
Following the judgement, there has been fierce criticism regarding the trial, and some say that the trial was ‘misguided’.
The trial was an attempt to bring justice to Liberia. Since the country's two brutal civil wars between 1989 and 2003, impunity still prevails because the atrocities committed have neither been tried before Liberian courts nor before a Special Tribunal. NGOs Civitas Maxima and GJRP, which provided the initial information to the Finnish authorities, stated that “any acquittal is also the reflection of a fair and functional criminal justice system that ensures that everyone may defend themselves in a court of law, through impartial, objective, and transparent proceedings.”