Newsletter - October 2015


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Universal Jurisdiction: A progressive principle, inadequately implemented


Switzerland has the legal right to prosecute perpetrators of international crimes in conformity with the principle of “Universal Jurisdiction”. What is this principle? How is it applied in Switzerland? How can it be invoked?


With the support of Amnesty International, TRIAL has just published a new reference manual to help answer these questions. The Fight against Impunity under Swiss law: Universal Jurisdiction and International Crimes provides a unique insight into how the most heinous of crimes committed outside of the country can be judged in Switzerland.


In 2011, Switzerland reviewed its law of Universal Jurisdiction. As a result, it has at its disposal today solid legislation in this regard.


However, the actual application of this law often leaves much to be desired. Even though the Swiss authorities express their will to put an end to impunity, they demonstrate great reluctance when it comes down to action.


Furthermore the resources allocated to the fight against international crimes have been significantly reduced. In the space of three years, the work of the National Center of Competence against War Crimes (CCV) the corner stone in the fight against impunity in Switzerland, has been severely constrained.


The reference manual published this week serves as a reminder to the relevant authorities that there are clear-cut rules which commit them to fighting impunity.


Read TRIAL's new manual (in FR)

Order it now!


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Torture victim defended by TRIAL murdered in Bujumbura


Patrice Gahungu has been murdered last month in Bujumbura by unidentified men. A former spokesperson of the Union for Peace and Democracy (UPD), he was also a torture victim defended by TRIAL. His death occurred just as justice had been rendered for the acts of torture inflicted to him a few years ago.


The facts date back to 2010. Patrice Gahungu, then an executive advisor of the UPD, was arrested by agents of the National Intelligence Service (SNR). They submitted him, along with agents of the Burundian National Police (BNP), to numerous acts of torture. Detained in poor conditions for over 15 days, he was unrecognizable by the time he was freed.


With the help of TRIAL, Patrice Gahungu filed a complaint in 2012 before the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT). A month ago, the CAT has finally rendered its decision, condemning the Burundian government, inviting it to immediately open an inquiry on the crimes committed and to provide redress to the victim.


Patrice Gahungu is not here to witness this moment of justice. But the CAT decision remains applicable. TRIAL, which still follows the case, asks the Burundian authorities to open an inquiry on the crimes committed, to redress the victim’s family and to bring the culprits before justice.


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International Protocol to combat sexual violence


This month in Kinshasa, the International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict was officially presented in the presence of more than 60 NGO representatives. Powerful tool to fight impunity, it offers fundamental guidance on how to investigate crimes of a sexual nature.


In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the victims of sexual violence often fear to speak out about the atrocities they endured. If their testimonies could lend momentum to procedures on sexual violence, they would not be able to open up about their experiences without an atmosphere of trust.


It is in this context that the International Protocol makes perfect sense. It offers lawyers and human rights defenders all the necessary tools to conduct interviews with victims under the best possible conditions. 


This protocol is frequently referred to by TRIAL in its training sessions at Bukavu in 2015. The British Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, who was present at the ceremony, pledged her support for TRIAL’s project, claiming that it would "ensure that survivors have access to the support they need to rebuild their lives". 


TRIAL is honored to have been chosen as a partner NGO for the implementation of this Protocol in the DRC. The fight against impunity continues.







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New Constitution: a breakthrough yet to be materialized


After over seven years of political deadlock, Nepal adopted on 20 September the world’s youngest Constitution. In a recent statement, UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon termed the newly enacted document a “milestone in the peace process”.


With the Constitution, Nepal has once and for all moved away from the Hindu Kingdom it once was. Thanks to the new document, Nepal's status as a federal republic and secular state has indeed been confirmed. Nepal has also become the third country in the world to enshrine the protection of LGBTI rights in its Constitution.


Nevertheless, the adoption of the new Constitution has prompted unrest among ethnic minorities in the southernmost part of Nepal. Feeling marginalized, they claim that the new Constitution will further limit their representation. To date, the recent clashes between protestors and security agents have left at least 40 people dead.


The violence near the Southern borders with India has even led to an informal blockade of essential goods such as petroleum and rations from India to Nepal. This is deeply problematic as Nepal is highly dependent on exports from India since the recent earthquakes.


Recently, the major parties have initiated a process to amend the Constitution in a bid to meet the demands of protesters. TRIAL welcomes this effort towards dialogue and hopes that the supply of essential goods returns to normal very soon. The NGO also hopes that achievements in the new Constitution will be materialized thanks to the joint efforts of everyone.


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Investigation opened against Bahraini General Prosecutor for torture


An investigation has been opened in Switzerland against the General Prosecutor of Bahrain Ali Bin Fahdul al-Buainain, suspected of having condoned acts of torture.


With the support of the NGOs TRIAL, ECCHR, BIRD and REDRESS, the victim, Jaafar al-Hasabi, had filed a complaint against al-Buainain in September 2015.


This coincided with the latter’s visit to Switzerland as he attended the conference of the International Association of Prosecutors (IAP), of which he was elected vice-president.


The facts date back to 2010. Jaafar al-Hasabi, a Bahraini activist in favour of human rights, had travelled back to his country of origin to visit his family. In a country where freedom of expression is all too often flouted, he has paid a high price for his involvement: Arrested by the Bahraini authorities, he was tortured in detention.


Numerous hints indicate that al-Buainain knew such acts were committed but did nothing to prevent them – quite the contrary.


When the victim’s detention was being supervised by his services, he has for example ordered that the victim be maintained in incommunicado detention and forbid the press to cover the case.


TRIAL welcomes the opening of this investigation and hopes that it will cast a light on the grave violations that were committed.



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A woman obtains justice in the name of her disappeared husband


Sakiba Dovadžija finally obtained justice before the Human Rights Committee (HRC) for the enforced disappearance of her husband Salih Dovadžija. This decision crowns her 23-year-long fight to learn the truth.


Sakiba Dovadžija and her daughter last saw Salih Dovadžija in 1992, at the beginning of the armed conflict that set BiH ablaze for three long years. At the time, he was serving in the BiH army. Taken away by the Bosnian Serb forces (VRS), he was allegedly submitted to torture and forced labor before disappearing forever.


Following her loss, Sakiba Dovadžija sought justice and redress before BiH authorities, but in vain: they systematically turned down her plights. In 2012, she turned to TRIAL, who accompanied her in her quest for justice by bringing her voice before the HRC.


In its recent decision, the HRC strongly condemned BiH for refusing to shed light on the fate and whereabouts of Salih Dovadžija. It asked the country to conduct an investigation into this case and hold accountable those responsible.


Sakiba Dovadžija and her daughter have also been considered victims of inhumane treatment. The HRC asked BiH to compensate them and provide them psychological support and medical care in order for them to cope with the scars left by the disappearance of their loved one.


BiH has 180 days to inform the HRC on the measures taken to live up to their international obligations.





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