Serbia Seeks Probe Into Albanian Organ Trafficking

Serbia is urging international authorities to investigate allegations of a trade in the kidneys and other human organs of Serbian and Albanian civilians slain in the aftermath of Kosovo’s 1999 war of secession.

Swiss senator Dick Marty last week released a report on the alleged illicit trafficking of human organs by members of the Kosovo Liberation Army. Marty’s report to the Council of Europe suggested Kosovo’s Western-backed prime minister and former rebel commander Hashim Thaci was behind the grisly trade.

The kidneys and other organs were allegedly removed from Serbs and other Kosovar opponents of the KLA in detention facilities in neighboring Albania. Thaci and Albanian officials have vehemently denied the accusations.

Marty led a team of investigators to Kosovo and Albania in 2009, following allegations of organ trafficking published in a book by former chief U.N. War Crimes tribunal prosecutor Carla Del Ponte who said she was given information by Western journalists.

Marty’s investigation found that there were a number of detention facilities in Albania, where the victims were allegedly held once the hostilities in Kosovo were over, including a “state-of-the-art reception center for the organized crime of organ trafficking.” It is alleged that captives were taken to one of the detention facitlities near Albania’s capital, Tirana, where they were shot in the head and their kidneys were removed.

Albania has previously been accused of resisting inquiries into the allegations concerning KLA detention facilities in the north of the country. Philip Alston, a special UN rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, told a press conference in Tirana in February that Albanian officials had played “diplomatic ping pong” and stalled investigations. There had been “no meaningful cooperation from Albania”, he said. “The [Albanian] government should do everything it can to facilitate an independent and objective investigation by the international entities investigating abuses,” he added.

Council of Europe investigators are understood to have been among those who, according to Alston, received only limited assistance from Albania during their inquiries.
Members of the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly are being heavily lobbied over Marty’s report, which they will be asked to adopt at the end of January. The report has already been endorsed by the council’s influential legal affairs committee.

Council of Europe parliamentarians are understood to have requested to see evidence cited in Marty’s report, which bases its claims on first-hand testimony from alleged witnesses to war crimes as well as FBI and MI6 intelligence reports.

In our opinion, these allegations need to be investigated thoroughly. War crimes are not a political football to be used against enemies and dismissed if they are committed by allies.

Nationality, ethnicity and religion are of no matter.

All war crimes allegations are equal and should be treated as such.

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Sudan Leader Alleged Thief As Well As War Criminal

A prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno Ocampo has said he has evidence that Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir stole billions of dollars from his impoverished country.

But he went on to say that his prosecution is focused on Al Bashir’s alleged orchestration of genocide in Darfur and not suspected embezzlement. “The most urgent reason to arrest Mr Bashir is not because he could have billions in his secret accounts but because he is still controlling an ongoing genocide in Darfur,” Moreno Ocampo said.

The court issued arrest warrants for Al Bashir in July on three charges of genocide for allegedly masterminding atrocities in his country’s Darfur region. He also was charged last year with crimes against humanity in the war-torn region.

But Al Bashir, who was re-elected to a new five-year term earlier this year, refuses to recognise the court’s authority and has insisted he will not turn himself in to stand trial.

The United Nations estimates 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million have been forced from their homes in Darfur since ethnic African rebels rose up in 2003, accusing Sudan’s Arab-dominated central government of neglect and discrimination.

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Russia Aiding Serbian War Crimes Suspect

According to diplomatic cables published on Wikileaks, the Serbian government has told the US government that Russia may be withholding vital information about the whereabouts of the fugitive Bosnian Serb general and genocide suspect, Ratko Mladić, who faces war crimes charges in The Hague.

Serbian presidential adviser Miki Rakić, who heads Serbia’s intelligence-based Mladić manhunt, has detailed specific contacts between Mladić associates and Russian diplomats, as well as ‘phone calls and trips to Russia by Mladić associates’.

Although prosecutors in The Hague believe Mladić to be in Belgrade, Serbian officials say they have had no firm information on his whereabouts since 2006.

Unconfirmed reports have suggested that Mladić may have found sanctuary in Russia as pressure grew on Serbia to arrest him.

The Russian authorities have been sheltering several of the most wanted people in Serbia for years. Mladić and Goran Hadžić, a leader of Croatian Serbs during the 1991-95 war, are the last Serbian war crimes suspects wanted by the international tribunal in The Hague. Hadžić has also been reported to be in Russia.

Mirjana Marković, the widow of the late Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosević, and her son, Marko Milosević, have both been protected in Russia for years despite being sought by Belgrade on fraud and embezzlement charges and in connection with the murder of a Serbian journalist. An Interpol arrest warrant for Marko has been ignored by the Russians.

If Russia wants to be respected on the international arena, it must be prepared to cooperate on the prosecution of war crimes suspects and be prepared to hand them over to be tried in international courts.

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Court Told of Rape of 8-Year Old Girl

A witness testifying at the war crimes trial of Congo’s former vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba broke down in tears as he described an 8-year old girl being raped in front of her mother by rebel fighters.

The witness, whose identity is being shielded while he testifies at the International Criminal Court, said that Bemba’s troops raped the girl shortly after they arrived in his village in Central African Republic in 2002.

Prosecutors say Bemba bears responsibility for atrocities committed by members of his private militia in Central African Republic in 2002-2003 as they helped forces loyal to then-president Ange-Feliz Patasse fight rebels led by Congo’s former army chief of staff Francois Bozize.

Bemba pleaded not guilty Monday as his trial opened to charges of murder, rape and pillage. His lawyers say he had no control over his fighters once they passed into Central African Republic.

Bemba, 48, is the most senior political figure to appear before the court but his trial is significant not just because of that.

It is the first at the International Criminal Court to focus on widespread sexual crimes used as a weapon of war.

Rape of children is just one of the horrors that make up the brutal reality of war crimes.

It seems hard to believe that it has taken the World so long to even start addressing this evil.

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UK Forces Guilty of War Crimes?

More than 200 former inmates of a British interrogation centre known as the Joint Forces Interrogation Team (JFIT) have submitted statements to the UK High Court accusing UK forces of systematic and brutal mistreatment which could amount to war crimes.

The court has been told there is evidence that detainees were starved, deprived of sleep, subjected to sensory deprivation and threatened with execution at JFIT. It also received allegations that prisoners were beaten, forced to kneel in stressful positions for up to 30 hours at a time, and that some men detained by British forces were subjected to electric shocks.

Some of the 222 men bringing proceedings say they were subject to sexual humiliation by women soldiers, while others allege that they were held for days in brightly-lit cells as small as one metre square.

The UK Ministry of Defence has said that a public inquiry would be costly and unnecessary, and that a team of investigators should be permitted to continue its own investigation into the allegations, which it insists remain “unproven”.

The men’s lawyers say that an investigation by the military of the military would fail to meet the UK’s obligations under the European convention on human rights.

We say that if the UK military have nothing to hide, then why not allow a full, thorough and independent investigation of the allegations?

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US Investigated for Alleged Human Rights Abuses

America’s human rights record is coming under scrutiny before the UN Human Rights Council for the first time. Every UN member is subject to what is called a universal periodic review every four years. The US is taking it seriously, sending a high-level delegation of some 30 officials to fend off expected attacks in a forum dominated by developing countries, many of them Muslim.

But also allies, such as Britain, Japan and Norway have raised concerns, for example about the use of the death penalty in the US and the US detention facility in Guantánamo.

Groups like Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union, have also criticised the US, claiming that protection of fundamental freedoms in the US has eroded since 9/11.

Recently, Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, said the US had not started any investigations into alleged war crimes incidents detailed in thousands of documents published by WikiLeaks and has instead concentrated on tracking down those responsible for the leaks.

Last month, WikiLeaks published 400,000 US field reports containing evidence that US soldiers handed over detainees to a notorious Iraqi torture squad. This followed the publication of 75,000 documents in the summer revealing how coalition forces killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents in Afghanistan.

It will be interesting to see if all sides at the UN can avoid politicising the debate.

But we won’t be holding our breath.

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Serbia Nearer to EU Membership

Serbia has taken a step toward joining the European Union, while the EU warned that further progress would depend on arresting the remaining war-crimes suspects still at large.

The Dutch had ruled out further moves towards membership until Serbia captures former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic, the accused mastermind of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. But the Dutch gave in after the EU threatened to ram the decision through by majority vote. However, EU law guarantees the Netherlands a veto over further enlargement steps.

Unsurprisingly, The Netherlands has taken the EU’s hardest line on Serbia, stung by the failure of Dutch peacekeepers to prevent Mladic’s forces from slaughtering 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica, Europe’s worst atrocity since World War II.

Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic, who headed a breakaway Serb faction in Croatia, are the two last fugitives sought by war-crimes prosecutors in The Hague.

We hope this will provide the necessary motivation for Serbia to finally bring these two to trial.

If they don’t, we also hope The Netherlands does not hesitate to use its power of veto.

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War Crimes Suspect Arrested in France

Callixte Mbarushimana, a Rwandan rebel leader wanted for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been arrested in France under a warrant issued by the International Criminal Court.

Mbarushimana is charged with 11 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes including killings, rape, persecution based on gender and extensive destruction of property committed by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) during most of 2009.

As late as August 2010, the FDLR was involved in the commission of more than 300 rapes in DRC’s North Kivu province, according to a statement issued by the ICC.

Another FDLR commander sought by the ICC for war crimes, Bosco Ntaganda, is still at large.

Let’s hope he is apprehended soon.

Well done France.

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War Crimes Tribunals Hindered by Lack of Staff

War Crimes Trials in Rwanda and in the former Yugoslavia are being hampered by the international community’s lack of will to arrest fugitives and to offer long-term contracts to staff.

In the case of Rwanda, ten fugitives are still at large and in the case of former Yugoslavia, two key fugitives — Gen. Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic – have still not been arrested.

The delays mean that the tribunals find it hard to keep staff. The courts have a policy of offering only short-term contracts which run out well before any of the work is completed. The tribunals are said to be as much as 20% understaffed in some cases.

The work of bringing justice to victims of war crimes and the search for an end to genocide and crimes against humanity cannot be short-term.

If the international community is to succeed in its fight against these kinds of injustices, long-term, well-paid contracts must be offered to attract people with the best qualifications.

Justice demands nothing less.

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Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi Reject War Crimes Report

Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi are threatening to pull out of UN peacekeeping missions if the UN publishes a report accusing all three of war crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo from 1993 to 2003.

In an early leaked version of the report, Ugandan troops were accused of massacring and torturing civilians in several locations. The document said the slaughter in Congo of tens of thousands of Hutus by Rwandan troops seeking to avenge the 1994 genocide of Tutsis in their country could be classified as genocide.

Uganda has threatened to pull out of the peacekeeping mission in Somalia and Rwanda its peacekeeping troops in Darfur if the report is published.

The UN has already postponed the report once because of the complaints by the three countries.

It will be interesting to see if the UN backs down in the face of such outright blackmail.

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