Monday, April 23, 2012

First Ever Atrocities Prevention Board Meets After Obama's Speech at Holocaust Memorial Museum

By Anjie Zheng

The U.S.’s new Atrocities Prevention Board, a standing, inter-agency body responsible for forming responses to mass atrocities and working to prevent future war crimes and crimes against humanity, met today for the first time at the White House, followed by panel presentations as well as interactions with civil society. In a speech at the Holocaust Memorial Museum earlier today, President Obama said that the work of the Board, the first of its kind, is “not an afterthought,” and that preventing atrocity crimes “is not a sideline in our foreign policy.” The speech highlights the Obama administration’s unprecedented work on human rights and international justice.

The APB was created in August 2011 under a Presidential Study Directive partially out of necessity: Sixty years after the Holocaust and 17 years after the Rwandan Genocide, the U.S. still “lack[ed] a comprehensive policy framework and a corresponding inter-agency mechanism for preventing and responding to mass atrocities and genocide,” crimes prosecuted by the International Criminal Court. Many situations (particularly Sudan and Uganda) in which the APB is interested are those where the ICC is working to achieve accountability. The APB could create opportunities for NGOs and civil society to engage with the administration on issues relating to the ICC.

Samantha Power will chair the APB, which comprises other senior officials from the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security, and government entities such as the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Office of the Vice President. Among those on the Board is Don Steinberg, Deputy Administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice Stephen Rapp will also work closely with the Board. The Board will meet regularly in the future to help formulate a systematic approach to identify and respond to mass atrocity threats.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Ambassador Rapp Speaks at Columbia on the Lubanga Verdict and U.S. Relations with the ICC

Ambassador Stephen J. Rapp. Photo by Toby Hanson. Photos by Hannah Dunphy are in AMICC's Facebook photos.

Download MP3

By Anjie Zheng

The United States Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice, Stephen J. Rapp, yesterday addressed a diverse audience of students, academics, practitioners and diplomats at Columbia University at an event presented by the university's Institute for the Study of Human Rights and co-sponsored by the Columbia Society of International Law and the Law School's Human Rights Institute. He discussed the ICC's first verdict with conviction of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, its strong impact on international justice, and reiterated U.S. support for the ICC in taking up the case. Although the U.S. is not an ICC State Party, Ambassador Rapp noted that it supports all 28 arrest warrant issued thus far by the ICC, and already provides important material support to the Court.

In his speech, the Ambassador highlighted that it may be a long time before the U.S. ratifies the ICC's Rome Statute. There are nevertheless many ways the U.S. could contribute to the ICC's functions and goals and move strategically toward a closer relationship with the Court in the meantime. He noted that the ICC is especially important now for victims of atrocity crimes because it will help to encourage domestic justice in the situations it investigates, as has occurred with the UN's ad hoc tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

The Ambassador suggested the U.S. could increase assistance with witness protection, and expand the Rewards for Justice Program to include suspects wanted by the ICC. He also noted that he does not see the ICC as a threat to U.S. servicemembers, a fear that lay behind the passage of certain legislation such as the American Service-Members Protection Act, also known as ASPA. This is because the U.S. has robust and functioning justice systems that would require the ICC to defer to them. Ambassador Rapp also stated that UN Security Council referrals and accompanying political support to the Court would strengthen the ICC's operations.

The Ambassador's remarks made clear that there has been a close, established working relationship between the U.S. and the ICC's Office of the Prosecutor and that the Ambassador was directly involved in that relationship.

The Ambassador urged that since the ICC is a court of last resort, the U.S. ought to work to support the development of courts of first resort in troubled nations. Moreover, the ICC, although young, is strained by its own financial limitations and decreased funding. Ambassador Rapp noted that in the Lubanga case the OTP would ideally have had more resources to conduct more thorough investigations.

Ambassador Rapp is a former U.S. Attorney and international prosecutor at the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the Special Court for Sierra Leone, where he won the first convictions in history for recruitment and use of child soldiers. The Ambassador also worked on a team with ICC Prosecutor-elect Fatou Bensouda when he was Head of Prosecutions at the ICTR.

While Ambassador Rapp did not mention it in his speech, President Obama is expected to deliver a speech next week in which he announces appointments to the Atrocities Prevention Board. The APB was created in 2011 to help prevent mass atrocity crimes. Ambassador Rapp's office is expected to be directly involved in the work of the APB.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

April 19 in New York: Ambassador Rapp on the Lubanga Verdict and its Impact US-ICC Relations

Ambassador Stephen J. Rapp

The Columbia University Institute for the Study of Human Rights will present a major speech on April 19 by US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice Stephen J. Rapp, one of the most senior government officials dealing with international justice policy.

When: Thursday, April 19, 2012, 12:10 - 1:10 pm

Where: Columbia Law School, Jerome Greene Hall, Room 102, 435 West 116th Street, New York

Who: Free and open to the public. No RSVP required. Lunch will be provided.

Ambassador Rapp will discuss the conviction of the ICC’s first defendant, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo and what it means for the ICC and the evolving US relationship with the world’s first permanent international criminal tribunal. Lubanga was convicted for the war crime of enlisting and using child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Ambassador Rapp is a former US Attorney and international prosecutor at the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the Special Court for Sierra Leone. He won the first convictions in history for recruitment and use of child soldiers.

Thomas Lubanga Dyilo
Following his speech, Ambassador Rapp will answer questions to be moderated by AMICC Convener John Washburn. For more details, visit

Co-sponsored by the Columbia Society of International Law and the Human Rights Institute.

ICC in the Media, Update #63

The ICC has been the focus of significant media attention since our last update. Last week the ICC judges rejected a request by Libyan authorities to postpone handing over arrestee Saif al-Islam Gaddafi. On Tuesday Libya appealed the decision, insisting that it can and will provide a fair trial for former President Gaddafi's son, and saying that doing so is essential to proving the functioning of the new Libyan judicial system. A Libyan official reportedly said earlier this week that they intend to try Seif quickly, and plan to have a verdict out by mid-June of this year. Seif's Libyan lawyers have complained to the ICC and media that his current conditions fall significantly below international standards. In other news, last week the ICC's Office of the Prosecutor rejected Palestine's request to investigate war crimes allegedly committed by Israel. In a statement released the ICC prosecutor noted that Palestine remains an observer as opposed to member state by relevant bodies in the UN, and since the ICC lacks a mechanism for determining what qualifies as a state they will defer to the UN's determination. Since the ICC accepts UN determinations of statehood, the Office of the Prosecutor concluded that they lacked jurisdiction in the case. In his statement, Ocampo did not address any views regarding the substance of Palestine's complaint against Israel.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

April is Genocide Prevention Month

Nearly all genocides that have occurred over the past century all began in April. To both commemorate these terrible histories and to raise awareness about all genocides, April is genocide prevention month.

To learn more about genocide, check out this infographic on the history of genocide by the numbers. Learn about past genocides and present conflicts from AMICC member World Without Genocide. Read about preventing atrocities before they happen.

Tuesday, April 3: Anniversary of the Darfur Genocide

To commemorate Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month, Act for Sudan members will host a series of National Days of Action events in April. Each event will be unique and locally designed. For more information on how you can get involved, visit their website.

Darfur Interfaith Network and United to End Genocide are holding the annual Hope for Darfur Justice in Sudan Rally on Sunday, April 29, 2012 in Washington D.C.

Thursday, April 5: Anniversary of the siege of Sarajevo
2012 is the 20th anniversary of the siege of Sarajevo, the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina, from April 5th, 1992 to February 29, 1996. Serbian forces lay siege to the city and began a campaign of ethnic cleansing in response to the Bosnian government declaring independence from Yugoslavia, creating a multiethnic state. It was the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare.

Saturday, April 7: Rwandan Genocide Remembrance Day
The UN has named April 7 as the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of the Rwanda Genocide. This day commemorates the deaths of 800,000 people who were murdered during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, central Africa.

Tuesday, April 17: Anniversary of the Cambodian Genocide

Thursday, April 19: Holocaust Remembrance Day

If you are in the D.C. area, visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to commemorate. If you have a Holocaust museum or memorial in your area, see if you can include the ICC and its work on genocide in its activities or celebrations on Holocaust Day.

Tuesday, April 24: Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day

Interested in getting involved in Genocide Prevention month? AMICC encourages members to organize commemoration events in your community! Some ideas on such an event: