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Good morning, this is Michelle. Activists often turn to the UN to denounce human rights abuses by their governments. For some, those actions have triggered serious repercussions.

A report presented yesterday at the Human Rights Council highlights some of those stories. We spoke to two defenders from Djibouti and Andorra named in the report and whose trips to Geneva got them punished for speaking out.

In our monthly round-up of international justice developments, Civitas Maxima director Alain Werner asks whether local justice is possible.

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Michelle Langrand


On our radar

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The Human Rights Council holds its 54th session at the Palais des Nations in Geneva on 13 September 2023. (Keystone/MAXPPP/Jean Marc Ferré)

Punished for speaking up at the UN. Collaborating with the United Nations can have consequences, some more serious than others. In a report report, presented on Thursday before the Human Rights Council, 41 states are cited for acts of intimidation or reprisals. Two activists from Djibouti and Andorra listed in it share their stories with us.

Geneva Solutions

Here's what else is happening

War crimes round-up

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Can the Central African Republic set an example for justice on the continent? These past weeks, there has been considerable movement on the international justice front in countries such as France and Switzerland. When victims of international crimes are unable to find justice in their own countries, some manage to find it elsewhere. Either states, for the most part in Europe, pursue such cases through universal jurisdiction, or the International Criminal Court holds its own trials in the Hague. However, this raises the question as to whether justice for international crimes is ever served where the crimes were actually committed.

On the African continent, precedents do exist. Over two decades, there have been successful trials in Arusha and Kigali on the Rwandan genocide, in Freetown on the civil war in Sierra Leone, and in Dakar, Senegal, on the case of the former president of Chad, Hissène Habré. Since then, however, on a continental scale, little has happened to bring justice for international crimes on African soil.

One of the most interesting – and most recent – of these justice efforts remains relatively unknown to the general public, even though it has achieved tangible results since 2022 under terribly difficult conditions. In 2015, under UN sponsorship, a Special Criminal Court (SCC) was created in Bangui, the Central African Republic, a country which has been plunged into a deadly civil war since 2013.

The SCC, faced with numerous challenges, only started working three years after its creation. It nevertheless managed to begin its first trial in April 2022, followed by its first appeal in July 2023. This judgement – hailed internationally for its legal rigour – concerned three members of one of the most powerful armed groups that terrorised the north-west of the country. Each one of them was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In early September, the court indicted a former rebel leader of national stature, who has been under UN sanction since 2017, Abdoulaye Hissène, on suspicion of international crimes. Last week, a self-proclaimed general of the anti-balakas faction, Edmond Patrick Abrou, was indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Other major arrests are expected to follow.

The courageous work of this court in the Central African Republic demonstrates that it is still possible for fair justice for international crimes to be delivered in Africa. It is also helping to create an interesting alternative justice model to the “extra-territorial justice” of the ICC and universal jurisdiction.

- Alain Werner, director Civitas Maxima

Read September’s full war crimes round-up, in partnership with Civitas Maxima, on Geneva Solutions 🌐

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