The fall of Srebrenica, 25 years on

A quarter of a century ago, a brutal conflict was raging in Bosnia. The disintegration of Yugoslavia had triggered a civil war pitting the different ethnic groups in the former socialist federal republic against each other: Bosniak Muslims, Croats and Serbs. By the summer of 1995, the war was three years old. It had already cost thousands of innocent lives and been defined by episodes of ‘ethnic cleansing’ – the forced displacement of unwanted population groups to create ethnically homogenous territories. The Bosnian Serb side, in particular, had been frequently accused of such attacks on civilian populations. However, in eastern Bosnia, during July 1995, a series of killings would occur which are now considered to have been the worst episode of mass murder on European soil since 1945. 

On 6th July, the Bosnian Serb army began shelling the town of Srebrenica, where 40,000 Bosniak Muslim civilians were sheltering. Soon, Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic was seen in Srebrenica’s streets, handing out chocolates to children and telling civilians that they had nothing to worry about. In truth, at the same time as he was publicly reassuring these civilians, his troops were separating military-aged Bosniak men from the women and children. The women and children were loaded onto buses and driven to refugee shelters in nearby towns. The men and teenage boys were loaded onto trucks and driven to the hills outside Srebrenica. Over the coming days, they were killed and dumped into mass graves, often with their hands tied behind their backs. The murders of more than 8,000 men would turn this part of eastern Bosnia into a killing field. 

Srebrenica was designated in United Nations Security Council Resolution 819 as a ‘safe area’ for civilians from April 1993. The UN had initially estimated that some 34,000 peacekeepers would be needed on the ground to ensure the safety of Srebrenica and a handful of other towns that were declared ‘safe areas’. However, member-states had only contributed some 7,400 peacekeepers. A Dutch battalion was assigned to protect Srebrenica. But these troops were 150 in number and lightly armed, as opposed to 2,000 well-equipped Bosnian soldiers, who began shelling Srebrenica in July 1995. Commanders on the ground assessed that the troops would not be able to withstand the assault unless supported from above. But those higher up in the UN’s chain of command, reluctant to take any steps that would put their troops in danger, refused repeated requests for close air support. Outnumbered and unsupported, the Dutch troops were unable to prevent the separation of men from women and the deportations that followed. The 40,000 civilians in and around Srebrenica were at the mercy of Ratko Mladic and his troops. A now-infamous photo, taken just before the mass killings began, shows Dutch UN commander Thomas Karremans sharing a drink with Mladic. The events in Srebrenica in July 1995 occurred despite the presence of a UN peacekeeping force and happened to people whose safety the international community had pledged to guarantee. 

Initially, UN officials did not expect any mass atrocities at Srebrenica to be imminent, believing Mladic’s assurances. However, by 13th July, Dutch peacekeepers had begun encountering civilian bodies in the Srebrenica countryside, as a subsequent UN inquiry found. In the following days, Western media began relaying the accounts of survivors and aid workers on the ground. On July 24th, the UN’s special rapporteur for human rights in former Yugoslavia, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, ended a week-long investigation with the conclusion that of the 40,000 civilians living in Srebrenica before the Bosnian Serb attack, 7,000 could not be accounted for – they were missing. Three days later, he resigned from his post, accusing the international community of having been too slow to act on the evidence of atrocities in Srebrenica, and of risking a repetition in Zepa, the next safe zone singled out for Serb attacks.

As more and more witnesses spoke out, evidence was accumulating in Western capitals. On August 10, at a closed-door session of the Security Council, Madeleine Albright, then US Ambassador to the UN, presented enlarged photos taken by US spy satellites, suggesting the presence of mass graves in the area around Srebrenica. News of the massacre served as a catalyst for a developing shift in the international community’s approach to the Bosnian war. At a July conference in London, the US and other states agreed to end the ‘dual-key’ policy, which had required air support requests for UN peacekeepers in Bosnia to be signed off by both a civilian UN and a military NATO commander, as a result of which most requests were denied or stalled. The NATO operation in Bosnia became more robust, employing airstrikes to deter and prevent further atrocities. By July 1995, the Bosnian war had lasted three years. After the Srebrenica massacre, it was brought to an end within five months. 

The international community may have proved unable to prevent the slaughter at Srebrenica. But it was not going to let the perpetrators get away unpunished. The next chapter in the story was just beginning. 

Chasing the perpetrators

In May 1993, the UN Security Council had adopted Resolution 827, providing for the establishment of an international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (the ICTY), with the aim of trying and punishing those responsible for atrocities in the Yugoslav wars. The Tribunal’s prosecutor began collecting evidence against those involved in the killings at Srebrenica and other atrocities. In November 1995, as the Dayton Accords ending the Bosnian war were drafted, indictments were filed charging Radovan Karadzic, leader of the Bosnian Serbs, and General Mladic with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes over the events at Srebrenica. Confirming the indictments, ICTY judge Fouad Riad described the alleged crimes at Srebrenica as “truly scenes from hell, written on the darkest pages of human history”.  

In August 2001, General Radislav Krstic – one of Mladic’s men – was found guilty of genocide at Srebrenica, and sentenced to 46 years in prison. Three years later, the Appeals Chamber would reduce his sentence and downgrade the degree of culpability attributed to him, but uphold the finding that genocide occurred at Srebrenica:

“…Bosnian Serb forces carried out genocide against the Bosnian Muslims (…). Those who devise and implement genocide seek to deprive humanity of the manifold richness its nationalities, races, ethnicities and religions provide. This is a crime against all humankind, its harm being felt not only by the group targeted for destruction, but by all of humanity. – Appeals Chamber decision on Radislav Krstic’s appeal, 19 April 2004.

At the time of Krstic’s conviction and appeal, his superiors – Karadzic and Mladic – had still not been captured. Karadzic evaded justice until July 2008, when Serbian authorities arrested and surrendered him to The Hague, after 13 years on the run. Mladic was not apprehended until May 2011, when he was also extradited to stand trial before the ICTY. On March 24, 2016, Karadzic was convicted of the Srebrenica genocide, alongside a number of crimes against humanity and war crimes, and sentenced to 40 years in prison (later increased to a life sentence on appeal). In November 2017, the Tribunal handed down a life sentence against Ratko Mladic. 

These convictions stand against the persistent efforts by some, especially in the successor states of the former Yugoslavia, to deny the facts or rewrite history. In 2018, Serbian Prime minister Ana Brnabic, while acknowledging Srebrenica as a ‘terrible massacre’, told press she did not believe it amounted to genocide. In 2015, Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on the 20th anniversary of Srebrenica, objecting to the use of the term genocide and the resolution’s criticism of any attempts to deny it. In 2018, Milorad Dodik, president of Republika Srpska (the governing entity for the Serb parts of Bosnia under the 1995 peace agreement) set up a commission to assess events at Srebrenica, after overturning the findings of a previous such commission which had in 2004 acknowledged the death toll at Srebrenica, and accepted the ICTY’s legal assessment of the facts (and caused Dodik’s predecessor to make a televised apology to the victims). Dodik, by contrast, has stated that he believes some of the victims of the 1995 genocide are still alive. But the conclusion that events at Srebrenica meet the legal definition of genocide is backed up by international law: for not only the ICTY affirmed several times that the atrocities of July 1995 constituted genocide: the International Court of Justice in 2007 came to the same conclusion when it decided the issue in Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Bosnia and Herzegovina v Serbia and Montenegro). The US Senate and the European Parliament, among others, have adopted resolutions acknowledging these findings by international jurists. 

Dutchbat and the Mothers of Srebrenica

And yet, there was another battle for accountability to be fought. Relatives of victims of the genocide (the ‘Mothers of Srebrenica’) have spent years fighting in courts to hold the Dutch government accountable for the failure of its peacekeeping troops. The fact that grave mistakes were made is now beyond doubt: a report presented to the UN General Assembly in 1999 concluded that “through error, misjudgment and an inability to recognize the scope of the evil confronting us, we failed to do our part to help save the people of Srebrenica from the Serb campaign of mass murder.” In 2002, the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation blamed political failures and misjudgments for having led to the events at Srebrenica, noting that the Dutch troops had been sent “to keep the peace where there was no peace” to keep. The Dutch government of the day resigned in response to these findings. But the question of legal responsibility was yet to be settled. The UN’s immunity from suit was confirmed by the Dutch courts and by the European Court of Human Rights. As for the Netherlands, Dutch courts have found that their state was responsible for the eviction of 350 men from a UN compound near Srebrenica in July 1995, a decision that resulted in these men being killed by Bosnian Serb forces. A Dutch appeal court’s finding that the Netherlands were liable for 30% of the damages resulting from the killings was reversed last July by the country’s supreme court, which reduced the Dutch share of liability to a mere 10%. This latest decision, as of January 2020, is again being challenged by the Mothers of Srebrenica in the European Court of Human Rights. 

25 years on, the memory of the Srebrenica genocide needs to be kept alive, its victims honoured. What happened in July 1995 remains a searing indictment of the fatal consequences of an international community unwilling to do what it takes to prevent mass atrocities. What happened in the years since is more of a reason for optimism. A determined effort to try and punish the architects of the Srebrenica genocide has been successful, most notably in the cases of Karadzic and Mladic, but also in a number of other genocide convictions handed down by the ICTY and local courts in the former Yugoslavia: by July 2018, a survey found that the Hague tribunal and domestic courts together had sentenced some 45 people to prison terms totaling 699 years in length (plus 3 life sentences) in connection with Srebrenica. With its reasoned and evidence-based findings, the work of the ICTY (and the ICJ) has helped solidify the world’s knowledge of what happened at Srebrenica, and produced a historical record of the genocide which serves as a powerful antidote to any attempt to deny, mischaracterize or forget history. 

References:

Power, Samantha: ‘A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide’, New York, 2003. 

Robertson, Geoffrey: ‘Crimes against Humanity: the struggle for global justice’, London, 2012. 

UN General Assembly, “Report of the Secretary-General Pursuant to General Assembly Resolution 53/35: the fall of Srebrenica”, 15 November 1999, A/54/549 

Karcic, Hikmet, “Denying and glorifying the Srebrenica genocide is inspiring extremists around the world”, EuroNews, 11 July 2020, https://www.euronews.com/2020/07/11/denying-and-glorifying-the-srebrenica-genocide-is-inspiring-extremists-around-the-world-vi 

*This blog post discusses sensitive information that may be triggering for some individuals. EIJI is an impartial organization that seeks to inform people about contemporary issues of international justice. Views, information, and opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect EIJI, its team or Edinburgh University. If you are interested in hearing more about our content approach please read our previous post on EIJI content philosophy.*

Guest Author: David Zuther

Editor: Nikita Nandanwad

Editor in Chief: Zora Stanik

The BLM protests and excessive force utilised by U.S. police officers

On 25 May, 2020, George Floyd died in Minneapolis, United States, after he was stopped by police on suspicion of using counterfeit money. Floyd was pinned by officer Derek Chauvin, who kneeled on his neck, despite Floyd repeatedly saying he couldn’t breathe, and died shortly after. 

Floyd’s death sparked a series of protests across major US cities regarding systemic racism and excessive force used by police officers against the black community. While many protests were and continue to be peaceful, there were individuals participating in violence, such as burning and looting stores. However, it has become evident that police forces have utilised indiscriminate and excessive violence against demonstrators, seemingly failing to distinguish (as legally required) between peaceful protestors and those individuals acting unlawfully. 

Amnesty International documented 125 acts of excessive force committed by state personnel, local police departments, National Guard troops, and federal security forces from the 26th of May till the 5th of June. These violations include beatings, indiscriminate use of tear gas, pepper spray, and inappropriate firing of less-lethal projectiles such as rubber bullets. Acts of violence against peaceful protestors have been documented across 40 states and the District of Columbia, displaying their broad geographical scope across the US. For instance, on 1 June in Lafayette Park, Washington DC, DC National Guardsmen and National Park Police committed a range of human rights violations against protestors. These include tossing ‘stinger ball’ grenades and firing rubber pellets in all directions. In Iowa City, Iowa, local police used tear gas and flash-bang grenades against kneeling protestors. Police in Huntington Beach, California fired pepper balls at crowds who were similarly lying on the streets. 

Instances of police violence against journalists have also been recorded. Ed Ou was reporting protests in Minneapolis, where curfews and riot control measures were imposed after a surge in looting and theft of stores when he was targeted by concussive grenades and tear-gassed. As of 4 June there were 192 reports of attacks on journalists, including an Australian news crew. The attacks received international condemnation, such as Australian politician Anthony Albanese calling them harassment against members of the media.

However, this is not the first time that US police face accusations of violating international human rights through overuse of deadly force. A recent study from the University of Chicago found that none of the police departments in the 20 largest cities are complying with the minimum standards of conduct set out by international laws. Specific requirements under scrutiny are that lethal force should only be used as a last resort, or when facing an immediate threat. Reports of recent deaths of black people under police custody demonstrate prior – and continuing – violations of the aforementioned requirements across the US. For instance, on 13 March 2020, Breonna Taylor was shot in her home by Louisville Metro Police Department officers, who entered without knocking or announcing a search warrant. Floyd was pinned under Chauvin’s knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, although video footage displays him seemingly complying with his arrest. On 12 June, Rayshard Brooks was shot twice while running away from a police officer, although prosecutors state that he posed no immediate threat. By contrast, policing policies across Europe require an escalating series of measures prior to deadly force. In Spain, officers must use verbal cautioning and fire warning shots before directly aiming at anybody, while chokeholds have been long banned across Europe. The study concludes that US police officers are given too much deadly discretion, which has contributed to police killings of unarmed black people in non-threatening situations. 

Responses to the protests have been significant on a local, national and international level. Lawmakers and city councils began enacting a series of measures to prevent deadly police conduct when Black Lives Matter protests began back in 2013, but their effectiveness has been widely questioned in the recent demonstrations. Despite the requirement for police officers to wear body cameras, research shows that the killings have not stopped, the cameras have almost never yielded charges or convictions, and have instead been more readily used in prosecuting civilians. Elijah McClain died after being put in a chokehold in Colorado last year. The three officers involved in the incident later reported that each of their body cameras had fallen off during the encounter. Charges against them were subsequently dropped. The potential for police tampering of body cameras and the lack of accountability in such measures has since been recognised. “Not only is it ineffective in stopping police violence, it actually expands the powers and surveillance capabilities of police,” said Mohamed Shehk, of the abolitionist group Critical Resistance. Recent scrutiny of the failure of previous reforms to stop brutality has led to a significant increase in abolitionist groups. Following calls to defund the police, the Minneapolis City Council pledged to disband their police department. 

However, on a national level, the Trump administration faces widespread criticism and accusations of encouraging unlawful use of force against peaceful demonstrations. On 1 June, 2020, police and National Guard troops allegedly used tear gas and other riot control agents to forcefully clear protestors from Lafayette Square, so that Mr Trump and other senior officials could walk from the White House to St John’s Episcopal Church. In his speech outside the White House, Mr Trump also threatened to use the US army to tackle the “violent mobs” who he said are drowning out peaceful protests, in order to stop the “rioting, looting and wanton destruction of property.” This prompted condemnation by several former US military chiefs such as James Mattis, John Allen, Martin Dempsey, and Michael Mullen, while the clearing of protestors in Lafayette Square was criticised as an injustice against the First Amendment right to freedom of assembly. 

Floyd’s death has sparked worldwide protests, and the United Nations Human Rights Council held an Urgent Debate on 17 June regarding police violence against demonstrators and killings of black people in the US. The final resolution pledges to investigate systemic racism and human rights violations committed by law enforcement agencies against the black community. Most notable are the criticisms expressed by the UN regarding the government’s response to protests. The resolution calls upon the High Commissioner to investigate the US government’s “alleged use of excessive force against protestors, bystanders and journalists.” UN independent experts criticised US Attorney General William Barr’s use of the term “domestic terrorism” to denote alleged violence committed by Antifa and other protest movements, in a statement that “terrorism rhetoric” undermines the legitimacy of the protests and freedom of expression. Special Rapporteur Fionnuala Ní Aoláin said that responding to protests and violence through a lens of “counter-terrorism” could fuel further tensions, and urged the US government to instead adopt a “human rights-based approach” to the protests.

References

George Floyd: Why are there huge protests in the US and around the world? : https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/52813673

Teargassed, beaten up, arrested: what freedom of the press looks like in the US right now: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/06/george-floyd-protests-reporters-press-teargas-arrested

‘State-sanctioned violence’: US police fail to meet basic human rights standards : https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/22/us-police-human-rights-standards-report

George Floyd protests: Has policing changed? : https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/world-us-canada-53092557/george-floyd-protests-has-policing-changed?intlink_from_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.bbc.co.uk%2Fnews%2Ftopics%2Fcv7wlylxzg1t%2Fgeorge-floyd-death&link_location=live-reporting-map

Elijah McClain: Colorado to review black man’s death in custody : https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-53182122

Ex-military chiefs add to criticism of Trump over protest response : https://www.ft.com/content/0ce3efa5-c27f-4c45-a55a-a2750be4f855

Human Rights Council calls on top UN rights official to take action on racist violence : https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/06/1066722

Mapping police violence across the USA : https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/06/usa-unlawful-use-of-force-by-police-at-black-lives-matter-protests/

*This blog post discusses sensitive information that may be triggering for some individuals. EIJI is an impartial organisation that seeks to inform people about contemporary issues of international justice. Views, information, and opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect EIJI, its team or Edinburgh University.*

Author: Nikita Nandanwad

Editor: Kelsey Greeff

Editor in Chief: Zora Stanik


SUMMER RESEARCH OPPORTUNITY:

The Edinburgh International Justice Initiative stands with the BLM movement and the insurance of human rights and international justice everywhere. In light of current events and protests around the world, EIJI has decided to collaborate with Leiden University to conduct a Digital Evidence Verification Project. This project will focus on verifying footage of excessive force used by police officers during protests to compile evidence that can be used in litigation and advocacy. We are looking for passionate student volunteers, regardless of major, to join our new legal research team. If you are passionate about current events in the United States or Hong Kong then this is an amazing opportunity to become directly involved in making a real difference and de-institutionalizing racism and excessive force in the justice system.

EIJI seeks to bridge gaps in the international justice system and highlight international human rights law issues around the world through our research and writings. Our partners at Leiden University will be providing expert training to our volunteer researchers so no prior knowledge of digital verification is necessary to become involved in this fantastic two-month-long summer project. All prospective researchers should be willing and able to commit at least 25 hours a week and should be extremely passionate about international justice and its research. The submission deadline for the application posted below is 12:00 pm on June 11th and interviews will follow from the 12th till the 14th. We hope to hear from many of you soon and look forward to viewing your applications and getting started on this pertinent project.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfRZAuCwNcSF9nuAuAehSHVNKMtmkCAJyikaWFhbs0DGNk06A/viewform?usp=sf_link

Author: Zora Stanik

Editor: Shy Zvouloun

Editor in Chief: Zora Stanik

Spotlight Interview: Meghan Ingram (EIJI’s Head of Acquisitions)

Recently we interview Meghan Ingram our Head of Acquisitions regarding her role in EIJI and her responsibilities within the team. This inside look into her position provides as both informative and clarifying for anyone considering taking on this job opening in September. Remember applications close at 12 AM this Sunday, so please read more about this exciting position and we look forward to hearing from you!

1.  Introduction (Name, Year, Study and what your experiences have been before joining EIJI?)

Meghan Ingram, 4th year Psychology and Sociology. Prior to joining EIJI, I had been heavily involved in Enactus Edinburgh, a social enterprise society at uni – I helped start one of the social enterprises and then went on to become president of the society. I was also a member of the Swimming and Water Polo Club although spent very little time actually in the pool. Outside of Uni, I have done two different human rights / criminal law internships, one with a law firm in London and the other with the Social Responsibility department at Unilever Kenya. 

2. Why did you join EIJI? 

I am very interested in international criminal law and international human rights law, but as a non-law student, I didn’t know how to get experience in this field or even find out more. When the opportunity to be a part of the EIJI came up, I saw it as a great way to learn more about the area, potential career prospect within it, and a chance to build up the key skills and relevant experience. 

3. What is your role? What do you do? 

My role within the EIJI is ‘Head of Acquisition’ – a fancy term for recruiting our clients and supervisors. This means that I reach out to all of the names and organizations on our contact list as well as doing my own research to find more international institutions that may benefit from the work we do. Once initial interest has been expressed, I typically set up a call to hear more about the potential project or supervisor, making sure that it, or they, are in line with what we strive to do at EIJI. From there, I go through a series of steps and criteria to ultimately on-board the project or supervisor that will work best with our team. This past year we have worked with 3 international NGOs or institutions and have had 3 supervisors on-board our team – an achievement I am very proud of. 

4. What is your favorite part of the role? 

My favorite part of the role is having the opportunity to talk to people from all over the world and hear their stories and backgrounds. We work with incredible people and for life-changing projects, initially hearing about these has never failed to intrigue me and provides the motivation to keep moving the clinic forwards. 

5. What is the highlight of your time here? Alternatively, the thing you are the most proud of? 

I joined the EIJI when it was little more than an idea my friend Matthias, the now director of the clinic had. Seeing the EIJI grow from this into a fully-functioning clinic, recruiting students with the same passions that I had, and working with amazing people from all over the world, is the highlight of my time here. I am incredibly proud of everything the team has done and feel honoured to have had the opportunity to be a part of such an amazing group. 

6. What kind of people have you interacted with as Head of Acquisition? 

I’ve interacted with early-career professionals to international criminal law / human rights law veterans, senior NGO members, and clinic directors. The list is exhaustive – It’s the best way to find out more about different institutions and gain contacts from key organizations from all over the world. This role is the ultimate networking position. 

7. What is the most important skills you have learned in your role?

Being a part of the EIJI is unlike many other student-run initiatives. It requires a new level of professionalism and initiative as we’re working with senior level individuals for really important causes. Particularly in my role, I have really developed and drawn on these two qualities as it has always been my aim to represent the EIJI as best as possible. The clinic would not be successfully functioning if it wasn’t for the Head of Acquisition role so having the initiative, organization, time management and communication skills is critical. If I didn’t have these skills before joining the team, I definitely do now.

Everything You Don’t Know About U.S. Drone Strikes

Recently, Qassem Suleimani, the Iranian general was killed in a U.S. drone attack which has re-sparked debates on the U.S. justifications for violence, how ‘ethical’ drone warfare really is, and the ideology of military humanism. Today, drone warfare has become a prominent tactic within militarist strategies. On the surface, it seems to target specific dangerous insurgents whilst sparing the lives of innocent civilians and increasing the likelihood of U.S. soldiers coming home. In reality, some reports point towards the horrific realization that drone strikes inevitably kill substantial numbers of civilians whilst creating a culture of terror. Ultimately, drone warfare has blurred the lines between legality and illegality, civilian and combat, war and peace. 

Drones are used in various ways, the ultimate goal being, the elimination of threatening individuals and situations. In essence, drone technology conducts two different types of strikes: ‘personality strikes’ and ‘signature strikes’. ‘Personality strikes’ target specific individuals who have been tracked and whose names appear on a blacklist. The drones can circle in the air for up to 40 hours whilst relaying video footage and details of cell phone calls to centres in the Middle East, Europe or America. If enough ‘evidence’ is accumulated the drone can issue strikes if there are no, or few civilians nearby. 

The evidence accumulated to justify an attack varies immensely depending on the situation. For example, in the past drone operators have admitted that there have been cases where the only evidence they have to link a person on the ground to a name on their list is the fact that the person is in possession of the identified target’s mobile phone. Evidence is also sourced from local informants who will reveal to the U.S. potentially threatening people or the location of the target’s house. Yet, such evidence is certainly unreliable because these local informants may be tempted by large sums of money to point fingers at innocent people in order to settle a feud. Pakistani Anthropologist Akbar S. Ahmed states that tribesmen ‘seemed to be playing their own devious games with the drones’. Furthermore, it is troubling to think that the evidence used by the U.S. to condone a strike could be misinformation.

‘Signature strikes,’ involve people who are targeted based on them exhibiting a particular appearance or behaviour in accordance with what is labelled as ‘threatening’. Some behaviour profiling is clear-cut such as firing on U.S. troops, however, there are a lot of grey areas when it comes to ‘signature strikes.’ For example, behaviour such as digging may constitute enough evidence for a strike but this does not necessarily mean the target is burying an Improvised Exploding Device (IED). One tragic case occurred in 2011 when a drone operator attacked a convoy of families in Afghanistan because they prayed at dawn. This religiosity gave the mistaken impression that they were Taliban. The attack killed over a dozen children. 

In some instances, the killing of innocent civilians is justified by U.S. military lawyers through granting that the civilians are ‘proportionate’ to the risk of the target. In other words, they have the power to decide if the killing of civilians is acceptable and in accordance with the laws of war given the perceived risk of the target. Software such as Bugsplat calculates the probable repercussions in relation to the selected placement of the missile. According to an investigation team from Der Spiegal, drone operators have, in the past, been pushed by their superiors to stretch the justifications for a strike. For instance, the investigation discovered that only women, children and the elderly were treated as civilians. By only considering women, children, and the elderly as civilians it enables the U.S. to conduct more drone strikes since ‘officially’ there is ‘less’ risk of killing innocent non-combatants. 

Drone warfare has been portrayed by U.S. officials as the ‘clean, surgical excision of insurgents who were terrorizing the local population’. This is known as ‘drone essentialism,’ the false claim that drones minimize suffering. The U.S. National Security and leaders defend U.S. drone warfare by claiming it shows a kinder and gentler discourse of fighting and that it is more in line with international law than alternative weaponry and tactics such as torture. The CIA director, John Brennan argued that ‘it is hard to imagine a tool that can better minimize risk to civilians than remotely piloted aircraft.’ Such ideas allow for ‘ethical slipping’ where drone operators relax their operational practises. This process enables drones to become weapons of terror and be used to discriminate against innocent victims. It seems that the United States can use drone strikes to campaign terror in a foreign territory causing significant civilian casualties, whilst also continuing the American principle of acting with restraint and humanitarian concern. Such a statement is a good example of ‘Military humanism,’ a concept where war is represented as an unfortunate obligation which has been begrudgingly thrust upon a nation through the dysfunctional way that the world works; conclusively, the United States is forced to take salvationist responsibility for the greater good of society. 

Currently, according to the Bureau of Investigative journalism between 910-2,181 civilians have been killed by drone strikes. However, the realities of drone strikes are difficult to fully comprehend since ‘the United States has to date failed to reveal its own data on the level of civilian casualties inflicted through the use of remotely piloted aircraft in classified operations.’ The U.S. has repeatedly dismissed the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s inquisition into the concerning effects that drone warfare has on the civilians on the ground. In particular, disagreeing with the estimate that at least 400 civilians have died in Pakistan drone strikes. Brennan has said that the claims of high civilian casualties amount to ‘disinformation’. He also stated that in 2010 ‘there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency and precision of the capabilities we’ve been able to develop.’ However, as law professor Christiane Wilke points out, it is difficult to identify who is considered to be a civilian because the status of a civilian or non-civilian is blurred, and drone operators may not confidently know how many people lie inside a collapsed building. 

Human Rights organisation, Reprieve, tracked official U.S. announcements of successful kills and found that there were 41 instances claiming that the same insurgent leader had been killed in many different drone strikes. This alone highlights the danger drone strikes pose due to drone operators wrongly believing that someone on the ground is a match with someone on their ‘kill list’. Disappointingly, British Lawyer Ben Emmerson notes that operations that kill civilians are not necessarily illegal under international law, but national states do have a duty of transparency where there are credible allegations of non-combatants being harmed. 

The persistent buzzing of the drones instils profound psychological and effects within targeted societies. Such effects are especially visible within children’s behaviour. For example, Michael Kugelam reports, ‘I have heard Pakistanis speak about children in the tribal areas who become hysterical when they hear the characteristic buzz of a drone.’ Waziristan, which is located in the ‘tribal area’ of Pakistan, has probably endured the most drone strikes per square mile than any other place on earth. This has inevitably created a culture of terror. The terror in part alludes from the confusion of not knowing what type of behaviour will get them killed. For example, a doctor might have no way of knowing that the patient he is treating is on the U.S. target list. Strict rules of hospitality within the Pashtun honour code eliminates people’s choice to refuse potential targets into their guesthouses because of the peer pressure, cowardice and loss of face that this would bring. Therefore, innocent people are being framed as threatening due to a lack of cultural understanding. Drone strikes are inevitably forcing a sense of powerlessness, anticipatory anxiety and dread upon targeted regions. 

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of drone strikes is what is known as the ‘Double tap strikes’ which are favoured more by the CIA than military commanders. Double tap strikes are when drone operators launch further attacks against those who help the targets of the original attack. These are also used against those who attend the funerals of the original target. However, culturally the Pashtunwali honour code in Waziristan may compel men to attend funerals of their enemies as well as their friends. Such forms of attacks have been condemned by human rights lawyers as war crimes. UN Special Rapporteur Christof Heynes states that those pulling survivors out of the rubble are just as likely to be Good Samaritans as they are insurgents. To further this point Clive Stafford, the lawyer in charge of the charity Reprieve, argues that double tap strikes ‘are like attacking the Red Cross on the battlefield.’ 

Many view drone warfare as taking the moral high ground, believing that this technology is unprecedented in its ability to target insurgents whilst sparing the lives of innocent civilians. However, in the words of General David Deptula, ‘the real advantage of unmanned aerial systems is that they allow you to project power without projecting vulnerability.’ Understandably, the United States turned to drones because they offered a way to kill the enemy without risking the lives of American soldiers. Yet, drone technologies should not be seen as a solution to warfare. It is evident that there is too large a disconnect between drone operators and the real consequences occurring on the ground. This creates a double standard that allows the U.S. to preach human rights and morality whilst simultaneously killing innocent children. Furthermore, in order to keep within the proposed concept of military humanism, this dichotomy needs to be clarified and the suffering of others made more visible by holding the U.S. accountable for their actions and lack of transparency.

References: 

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-drone-strikes-civilian-casualties-deaths-killed-cia-barack-obama-terror-pakistan-somalia-libya-a7115281.html

https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2020/jan/03/iran-general-qassem-suleimani-killed-us-trump-drone-strike-baghdad-reaction-live-updates

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/18/drone-strikes-us-violate-law-un

https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/stories/2014-03-01/un-report-identifies-30-drone-strikes-that-require-public-explanation

Hugh Gusterson, Drone Warfare in Waziristan and the New Military Humanism, 19 Feb 2019, Current Anthropology, Vol. 60, 19. 

*This blog post discusses sensitive information that may be triggering for some individuals. EIJI is an impartial organization that seeks to inform people about contemporary issues of international justice. Views, information, and opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect EIJI, its team or Edinburgh University. If you are interested in hearing more about our content approach please read our previous post on EIJI content philosophy.*

Author: Bella Eperon

Editor: Kelsey Greeff

Editor in Chief: Zora Stanik


Human Rights Violation in China’s Hidden Camps

In recent months China’s ruling Communist party claims to have established ‘re-education’ camps which provide “free job training” for Chinese citizens. These camps have emerged predominantly in the Xinjiang region to offer an escape from poverty and provide unfortunate individuals with new opportunities. However, in light of leaked documents, it has become evident that these ‘re-education’ camps are in reality not simply for the average Chinese citizen. Rather, this has become a targeted system of forced labor for a sought out minority group. The Chinese Communist party seem to be targeting their Muslim population, in particular the Uighurs and Kazakhs. 

There has been speculation that inside these camps numerous human rights violations have occurred such as mass rape, forced abortions and sterilisations, organ harvesting, and experimental medical procedures as well as torture and undocumented cases of death. Due to media censorship in the People’s Republic of China, much of the evidence on these violations are scarce. The internet is effectively banned from Xinjiang and all foreign journalists are closely monitored, making it impossible to conduct interviews or gather concrete evidence. Chinese officials have dismissed any documents as fake news and when the UN panel questioned a senior Chinese official he denied allegations of forced labour and claimed that the camps were ‘vocational schools for criminals’. 

Nevertheless, there is an overwhelming surplus of personal accounts, documentation, and inconsistencies. The Washington-based East Turkistan National Awakening Movement released information that identified 465 camps in Xinjiang, including ‘182 suspected Concentration Camps, 209 suspected prisons, and 74 suspected Bingtuan labor camps’. Images of these were captured using Google Earth Satellite imagery.

The varied branding of each of these camps allows for immense ambiguity that further muddles the global disquisition on this issue. Some appear to be voluntary training camps, prison camps, mass detention camps, and others as ‘re-education’ camps. Often such compounds act as feeder-camps that funnel individuals into forced labour factories. Satellite images show the close proximity of the factories to the camps suggesting an agenda to quickly transfer inmates to the factories upon “release”.  

Leaked documents describe the camps as training centres with detailed plans of uprooting villages, restricting personal freedoms, and pressuring or forcing inmates to stay in their jobs. Other documents clearly state that the camps should run like high-security prisons including military-style training, strict discipline, and punishment. The camps are often located amongst desert dunes surrounded by high walls and some have barbed wire and security cameras. One statement, in particular, instructs that ‘the students should have a fixed bed position, fixed queue position, fixed classroom seat, and fixed station during skills work, and it is strictly forbidden for this to be changed.’ This exemplifies the extreme restrictions placed upon the Uighur community and highlights the overbearing limitations imposed upon their everyday activities. 

Furthermore, sexual violence within this controversy has largely gone unnoticed and hasn’t been thoroughly discussed in the media as of yet. There have been reports and personal accounts of women and girls being raped by guards in front of the masses within some of these camps. 

Sayragul Sauytbay, an ethnic Kazakh, was forced to work in one of the women’s camps in Xinjiang. She informed Israeli newspaper Haaretz that in the evenings, the guards would choose ‘pretty’ inmates, put bags over their heads and then suspiciously return the females to their rooms in the morning. She also claims to have witnessed cases of gang rape, she describes one particular occurrence including other inmates being forced to watch a man rape a woman. Shamseden states talk amongst the Muslim women alludes to rape as a common occurrence inside the camps as well as outside the camp walls, in which Uighur women are forced into situations where issues of sexual harassment and abuse are likely, such as through the the ‘Pair-up and Become Family Scheme,’ which forced marriages upon women. This has allowed for many undocumented cases of domestic abuse and sexual violence to continue.  

The outreach coordinator for the U.S. based Uighurs Human Rights Project believes that the Chinese government is targeting these women because “if you want to eradicate a people, you must destroy its women.” He explains that this would ensure the destruction of “Uighur culture and identity”. 

Some critics speculate that this overall brutalization stems from a fear that the Uighur Muslims are a threat to China’s security. Events such as 9/11 and the idea of the ‘War on Terror’ are being used to justify this victimization. The camps have been described as a method of controlling and indoctrinating the Muslim population, attempting to turn Muslims into disciplined and obedient Chinese citizens. From the Chinese Communist party’s view, the camps are a solution to the rise of religious extremism and ethnic violence. It is a strategy of social re-engineering that results in loyal non-denominational Chinese nationals. 

Dishearteningly, China’s economic power means that other governments are less willing to help the Uighurs at this time. Presently, the United Nations are divided in their response with 54 countries supporting China’s stance. Surprisingly, 14 of these supporting countries are active members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. Liu Xiaoming, the Chinese ambassador to the UK, said these measures, referring to the camps, have protected the local people and emphasised that there had not been a single terrorist attack in Xinjiang in the past three years. This again reinforces the idea that anti-terrorism is being used as a justification for these human rights violations. However, in July 2019, 22 western nations including the UK. Canada, New Zealand and Australia, all signed a letter to the UN calling on China to stop these camps. In October 2019, although the US did not sign the letter, they placed visa restrictions on Chinese officials ‘believed to be responsible for, or complicit in’ the detention of Uighur Muslims. Although, actions have been initiated there has not been enough support to ensure the termination of these horrific camps.

History shows that some of the greatest atrocities and human rights violations have been justified by minorities being portrayed as subhuman, through dehumanization, frequently being branding as “viruses” “plagues” or “defects” of their nations. The Chinese government’s leaked documents state that freedom is only possible when this ‘virus’, alluding to Muslim religion and culture, is eradicated.  Ben Emmerson QC, a leading human rights lawyer and an adviser to the World Uighur Congress, argues that the camps are changing people’s identity.”It’s a total transformation that is designed specifically to wipe the Muslim Uighurs of Xinjiang as a separate cultural group off the face of the Earth.”

References:

Data leak details China’s ‘brainwashing system’: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-50511063

China’s Detention Camps for Muslims Turn to Forced Labor: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/16/world/asia/xinjiang-china-forced-labor-camps-uighurs.html

Inside China’s Push to Turn Muslim Minorities Into an Army of Workers: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/30/world/asia/china-xinjiang-muslims-labor.html

CONCENTRATION CAMPS IN XINJIANG, CHINA — shit you should care about: https://shityoushouldcareabout.com/china

China’s attacks on Uighur women are crimes against humanity: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/10/21/chinas-attacks-uighur-women-are-crimes-against-humanity/

*This blog post discusses sensitive information that may be triggering for some individuals. EIJI is an impartial organization that seeks to inform people about contemporary issues of international justice. Views, information, and opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect EIJI, its team or Edinburgh University. If you are interested in hearing more about our content approach please read our previous post on EIJI content phiolosphy.*

Author: Bella Eperon

Editor: Kelsey Greeff

Editor in Chief: Zora Stanik


EIJI Content Philosophy: Our Approach on Current Events, Issues, and News

The Edinburgh International Justice Initiative aims to bridge the gaps in the international justice system and we believe this includes informing, inspiring and impacting the community around us. We have therefore made the decision to include content posts on our blog with a focus on human rights, international justice, and the systems that govern these. The content of our blogs is to be as inclusive and impartial as possible while still highlighting potential injustices and cracks within the system. Through this, we hope to contribute towards making a practical impact as well as inspire like-minded people to further scrutinize the issues and consider the opportunities they may have to support and strengthen the international justice system alongside us.

*Our current event blog posts may discuss sensitive information that could be triggering for some individuals. EIJI is an impartial organization that seeks to inform people about contemporary issues of international justice. Views, information, and opinions expressed in our content posts do not necessarily reflect EIJI, its team or Edinburgh University.*

Author: Zora Stanik

Editor: Mathias Jacobsen

Editor in Chief: Zora Stanik



EIJI Project Bio: We Value Teamwork!

This semester EIJI has a new research team headed by Dorcas Baah, the team leader and research team coordinator. The project currently underway is for a motion on behalf of an incarcerated person charged at an international tribunal. Along with Dorcas Baah, the team consists of senior legal researcher Ipek Attalay, as well as researchers Shy Zvouloun, David Zuther, and Ayah Annab. 

EIJI values collaboration, democracy, and shared responsibility when working together to form an efficient and professional research team. Since the project launch in January, the team has found that their research has not only allowed them to become directly involved in the international justice system but has also has allowed them to individually improve upon their legal skills. Our initiative has already provided resources and valuable work experience to students of various majors and has fulfilled our members through a supportive sense of community and teamwork.

The members of the team are driven, motivated and committed to providing our clients with thoughtful and detailed researched reports. Dorcas Baah, a third-year Law student is a stellar example of the dedication EIJI values. She has a background in International Law and Private International law and currently also studies International law and Criminology of Atrocity at Honours level. She has sophisticated organizational skills, handling the day-to-day running of the research team as well as delegating jobs and conducting deadlines to deliver reports. Dorcas is a team player, fully trusting her fellow research members and effectively delegating responsibilities. She states that the EIJI experience has equipped her with invaluable research skills and leadership abilities. 

Ipek Attalay is a fourth-year Law and International Relations LLB Honours student. Ipek has previous experience working for various Non-Governmental Organisations in the US. She too is an essential part of the research team, coordinating the research reports and combining her legal experience and degree knowledge to engage with the projects. Another Legal researcher Shy Zvouloun, a second-year LLB Law student (Hons) has previously concentrated on International Criminal Law with a focus on genocide, asylum, migration law, and indigenous human rights law. Shy is an integral part of the team regularly collaborating and sharing her ideas with her fellow project members again, exemplifying the importance of teamwork to the EIJI community.

David Zuther is also a second-year LLB student with a special interest in issues relating to public, international or human rights law. He is a new and committed member of the EIJI research team. Lastly, researcher Ayah Annab, a second-year Law and International Relations Student has added tremendously to the structural teamwork of this project. Her degree has led her to find a particular interest in international human rights law which sparked her curiosity to seek and advocate the truth for those unable to access it themselves. 

Overall, our research team’s goal coincides with the overarching ambition of the Edinburgh International Justice Initiative; to aid institutions and clients with credible legal research, to strengthen the international justice system, and provide pro-bono legal research assistance to make a long-lasting difference!

*These posts reflect personal experiences and thoughts. While we value the freedom of speech and expression, we do not tolerate personal attacks and/or hate speech. Inappropriate comments will not be tolerated and as such, will be reported and removed from the page.*

Introducing: Susan Kemp!

Every research team in EIJI is supervised by an experienced professional to ensure that the research we deliver to our clients is of the highest quality, and that our researchers develop and learn as much as possible during their time at EIJI. Today, we are excited to introduce one of our supervisors this year, Susan Kemp! 

Susan is currently a commissioner on the Scottish Commission of Human Rights. Susan has previously worked with the Prosecution’s office at the International Criminal Court, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and was picked to be part of the United Nations (UN) team on, “The Rule of Law and Sexual Violence in Armed Conflicts” which was established by the United Nations Security Council. She has also consulted the UN, NGOs and prosecutors on international law on a regular basis throughout her career. She has worked on prosecuting individuals ranging from war criminals and violators of crimes against humanity to presidents. 

She will be guiding and supervising one of our two research teams in January, and we are looking forward to working closely with someone of her amazing experience and expertise. 

If you want to have the opportunity to work with clients on international human rights, humanitarian law and international criminal law while interacting with seasoned professionals like Susan, apply for our legal research positions! They close at midnight tonight (16 November).

A Note From the Co-Founders of EIJI

Linn and Mathias are both fourth year students studying International Relations and International Law at the University of Edinburgh. Here they co-author a post about their experience and the inspiration to found EIJI.

The idea of founding the Edinburgh International Justice Initiative was born last summer, sometime between the typical rainy days in Edinburgh and the slightly sunnier ones in Scandinavia. Just like almost every other university student between third and fourth year, the both of us were frantically looking for internships, work experience, or really anything remotely related to our degrees (we were both rejected from everything we applied to…). Mathias had some old contacts that he reached out to, and by coincidence, they needed some legal researchers for a project on international criminal law. Both of us were very eager to gain more knowledge and experience within this sector, and so we dove straight into our first research-to-report journey.

Actually, painting the image as if it is a ‘journey’ might be a bit too straight-forward – it really was not a linear travel from point A to B. Think of it more as someone who has never been on a hike, and is suddenly thrown into the task of climbing a mountain without a clear trail, while the rain is pouring down, and they’re running on about four hours of sleep. (Yes, Linn’s introduction to hiking was rough.) A lot of steps had to be retraced, and a lot of breaks had to be taken too. Along the way we learned a lot about the International Criminal Court and its procedures, as well as other international criminal tribunals and treaty bodies. We learned about how to structure legal research and how to compile a professional report. And a lot of it is thanks to the amazing people that we reached out to for help along the way!

A few reoccurring themes stood out to us during this process. One of these was how underfunded the international human rights and international criminal law sectors are. Literally anything was helpful for a smaller NGO working with these issues, even a report written by two inexperienced non-law students. Personally, we found the research really interesting and rewarding, and while talking to our friends, we realized we were not the only ones. The final tipping point was when we talked to professors and professionals, who not only thought it was a good idea to start a clinic like the EIJI, but also wanted to be involved.

It was a simple idea to get more students involved and make an actual difference. The world of international law seems so distant in the classroom, but somehow, we were handed an opportunity to open a way in. We were both surprised that it was possible, which is probably why nobody really tried this before. We, like many others, underestimate how much students can do, and also overestimate what is needed to make a difference for the actors of international law.

From there, things happened quite quickly. We were lucky to have friends around us that are really good at what they do, and that we were able to put people in the right places. We had some friends, Ipek and Kate, who we knew were passionate about international criminal law and human rights law, and that were hard-working and skilled legal researchers. Suddenly we had our first research team. Then we realized it might be possible to expand, so we started talking to a friend who had experience in business development and management, which is how Meghan became the first member of our organizational development team. Together, we figured out what else we needed to realize our goals. This is where it was very convenient to have a friend who is really good at marketing and branding, which is the story of how Kayla joined.  From there, Kayla recruited Zora, and Linn recruited Dorcas, who have been exceptional additions to the team, and we could not have expanded this quickly without them. Lastly, we met Henriette in the hallway on the way out of a lecture, and we happened to have just opened a spot in the organizational team one hour before that. All of these people made amazing contributions behind the scenes, and their passionate and dedicated work is the reason we were able to expand to a second research team in January 2020, and officially launch the Initiative.

So, while the idea of EIJI was born because we were lucky enough to stumble upon an opportunity, and ambitious enough to make the most out of it, the reason EIJI was founded is because we are blessed with an amazingly talented circle of people that have been putting in the work to make sure that EIJI became a reality. What we are trying to say is that anyone could have done what we did, as long as they are able to see the opportunities in front of them, and ask for help along the way.

*These posts reflect personal experiences and thoughts. While we value the freedom of speech and expression, we do not tolerate personal attacks and/or hate speech. Inappropriate comments will not be tolerated and as such, will be reported and removed from the page.*