Tag Archives palestine

Tearing down the walls that colonise Palestine, a thousand bricks at a time

Tearing down the walls that colonise Palestine, a thousand bricks at a time

Palestinians are showing enormous bravery during this moment of horror. The walls of intimidation and despair that Israel has erected in the minds of Palestinians to prevent resistance are being ...

What can we do as Palestine burns?

What can we do as Palestine burns?

It is May 2021. Once again, Palestine is burning. Again, the US- and EU-funded Israeli military machine is in full throttle and again, the US – now led by Joe ...

Legal mobilization to end impunity for international crimes by Jeff Handmaker

In 2014, on the 20th of July, the Israeli military targeted and bombed a home in a refugee camp in Gaza, killing several family members of Saad Ziada, including his mother and three brothers. Since this day, Mr. Ziada, a Dutch citizen and resident of the Netherlands, has persistently been seeking justice through legal mobilization. Ziada’s search for justice reveals the immense challenges faced by individuals and organizations seeking to hold individuals accountable for international crimes through different forms of legal mobilization.


It hasn’t been an easy journey. Ziada’s family were some of the 2000 killed, overwhelmingly civilians, during this large-scale Israeli military operation, which was extensively documented by United Nations investigators as well as representatives of Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights organizations. Numerous reports, including extensive dossiers that have been submitted to the International Criminal Court in The Hague as part of a preliminary examination, allege that international crimes were committed during Israel’s 2014 military operation.

Holding individuals accountable who were allegedly responsible in either Gaza or Israel has been a non-starter. The Israeli government has not even acknowledged that crimes took place, let alone pursued investigations against the alleged individuals responsible for those crimes. Ziada has therefore been compelled to seek justice elsewhere.

The most common response to any crime committed by an individual is prosecution in the country where the crimes took place. Obviously, this is an unrealistic prospect in a country that is led by a government unwilling to even acknowledge that such crimes took place. But international crimes have a special character.

International crimes are described in the preamble of the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court as “unimaginable atrocities that deeply shock the conscience of humanity”. Accordingly, multiple alternatives to prosecute international crimes have gradually emerged on the basis of what is described as “universal jurisdiction”. These alternatives include prosecution by the International Criminal Court or other specialized tribunal and prosecution in a “third country” that may have little to no association with the crime committed or the nationality of the alleged perpetrator.

The person who is prosecuted for international crimes doesn’t even need to have committed the alleged crimes themselves. For example, the Netherlands prosecuted the Dutch businessman Guus Kouwenhoven in relation to his complicity in war crimes committed in Liberia. In 2017, the Dutch Court of Appeal found Kouwenhoven to be criminally liable for his complicity in these crimes.

Alongside criminal jurisdiction, there is the possibility to sue an individual who is alleged to have committed an international crime for damages in a civil court. This is currently the basis of the case that has been brought to the Dutch District Court in The Hague by Ziada. The case is being brought against two Israeli military commanders who were believed to have ordered the bombing, including the former General Chief of Staff of the Israeli military, Benny Gantz, who has been campaigning to become president of Israel.

Universal jurisdiction received significant attention in our 2019 book Mobilising International Law for ‘Global Justice’, particularly in a chapter by Aisling O’ Sullivan. O’Sullivan argued how the struggle for ending impunity for international crimes is locked in a struggle between two competing approaches: on the one hand, there is a desire to hold individuals accountable for the most heinous of crimes; on the other, there is a desire to maintain order between nations which can be disrupted by these kinds of criminal trials. What further complicates matters are the different power positions between states and the tendency to give “deference to the interests of powerful states” (p. 180).

Universal jurisdiction was also the topic of a seminar that I co-organized in 2010 with Professor Liesbeth Zegveld, the outcome of which was contained in an ISS Working Paper. One of the key observations at this seminar was that “while some governments show a willingness to prosecute these crimes, others see this as a ‘problem’ and even advising their nationals / soldiers not to travel abroad” (p. 14).

What we observed then as a “relatively new area of the law” (p. 15) is now gaining currency, particularly in the courts of the Netherlands. Zegveld, who is also a prominent human rights lawyer, has represented several individuals and groups who have been seeking justice for international crimes committed against them and their loved ones. This includes the family of three men, including Rizo Mustafic, an electrician, who were killed during a massacre in the town of Srebrenica in Bosnia-Herzegovnia by Serbian military forces in 1995. A Dutch military contingent was part of a United Nations military force stationed in Srebrenica at the time and was said to have mostly stood by while the massacre took place. In September 2013, the Dutch Supreme Court confirmed that the Dutch military commanders were partly responsible for not taking sufficient action to try and prevent the massacre.

Apart from the obvious political sensitivities involved in holding individuals accountable for international crimes, these kinds of cases are incredibly complex, not least the challenges of gathering evidence to prove what happened. There are also various cultural and other challenges associated with international criminal justice, particularly through international criminal tribunals, which I have discussed in other academic work.

Zegveld represents Ziada in the case that will be heard on 17th September, 2019. Will the outcome of this particular case of legal mobilization further advance the struggle against impunity for international crimes? There can be little doubt that international lawyers, human rights groups and concerned individuals around the world will be awaiting the outcome of this hearing with great anticipation.


Image Credit: Palestine Justice Campaign


JeffHandmakerISS
About the author:

Jeff Handmaker is a senior researcher at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) and focuses on legal mobilisation.

He is a regular author for Bliss. Read all his posts here. 

 

 

Confronting Apartheid Through Critical Discussion by Ana María Arbeláez Trujillo and Jeff Handmaker

Confronting Apartheid Through Critical Discussion by Ana María Arbeláez Trujillo and Jeff Handmaker

The history of apartheid in South Africa is generally well-known. Yet, apartheid is not exclusive to that country. According to international law, and on various social grounds, Israel too may ...

Distorted anti-Semitism allegations in UK’s Labour Party are a cover for Israeli apartheid by Jeff Handmaker

Distorted anti-Semitism allegations in UK’s Labour Party are a cover for Israeli apartheid by Jeff Handmaker

On 18 February 2019, Luciana Berger and six other British Members of Parliament (MPs) left the UK Labour Party. The most prominent reason provided by the departing MPs, led by ...

Resistance and persecution: fighting the politics of control by Salena Tramel

Social justice movements from around the world are pushing back against a shift toward nationalism, extraction and environmental destruction. Those who resist increasingly do so at risk of great personal harm, arrest and indefinite jailing as political prisoners, or the criminalisation of their movements as a whole. Even so, the resistance not only remains steadfast, but is also steadily gaining strength.


Introduction

The rise of destructive and reactionary political power impacts people and ecosystems across many global settings. These shifts in control, characterised by a resurgence of racist and nationalistic rhetoric and policies, a redoubling of environmental exploitation and even climate change denial, and a renewed expansion into and pillaging of indigenous territory, represent urgent challenges for social movements and activists. Although these contemporary pressing issues have some distinctive new features, they are rooted in past forms of injustice, whether that be borrowing from the colonial playbook or amplifying the privatisation schemes of the more recent neoliberalism, such as free trade and deregulation.

At the same time, these are precisely the dynamics that cultivate resistance. Social justice movements from around the world are pushing back against this shift toward nationalism, extraction and environmental destruction. Those who resist increasingly do so at risk of great personal harm, arrest and indefinite jailing as political prisoners, or the criminalisation of their movements as a whole. Even so, the resistance not only remains steadfast, but is also gaining strength, in places as diverse as Brazil, Honduras, and Palestine—countries featuring violent, conservative, reactionary and acquisitive governments.

Power grabs in Brazil

Gaining political control starts with power grabbing—a concept to which the sprawling country of Brazil is no stranger. Power grabbing in the form of smashing intricate peasant leagues occurred during the military dictatorship, and it continues to this day. Most recently, the parliamentary coup that ousted a democratically elected president and relegated authority to an unelected and corrupt right wing was the ultimate seizure of power.

Under such corruption and disregard for democratic processes, social movements suffer even more intense criminalisation. This has often included the pre-emptive imprisonment and even assassination of peasant and indigenous leaders, most notably those connected to the Landless Workers Movement (MST) that is arguably the largest and most important state-level peoples’ movement in the Americas.

Nearly twenty-two years ago in April 1996, 19 activists from the MST were killed by the Brazilian military police in what would come to be known as the Eldorado dos Carajás massacre. Now, more than two decades after the massacre, the Brazilian government tends to treat activism—especially that which takes place in the countryside—as a criminal activity. Mining in Brazil, much like logging, is strongly opposed by peasant and indigenous movements as one of the greatest threats to the world’s largest rainforest while championed by the powerful nexus of state, business, and lobbies.

These massive power grabs contextualised within a definitive push for right-wing exclusionary populism have spelled trouble for seekers of social justice. The MST as a whole is increasingly criminalised and its members imprisoned. This is due in large part to the peasant movement’s relentless efforts towards agrarian reform, for which its activists can be arrested without evidence.

Resource grabs in Honduras

Power grabbing is indeed oftentimes connected to resource grabbing, yet another piece of the overall political dynamics of control. Although resource grabbing, in the form of taking away peoples’ rights to water and land, have been fixtures of injustice for centuries, this phenomenon has recently taken new shapes under globalisation. More specifically, powerful states and their militaries tend to prey on the weak points of former colonies for their own financial and political gains. As the case of Honduras warns us, when intertwined with power grabs, resource grabs become even more deadly—especially for those who resist.

Honduras, however, has vast alliances—peasant, environmental, feminist, LGBTQ, indigenous, Garífuna (Afro-indigenous), and labour struggles that engage in multiple forms of resistance, from land occupations to human rights documentation to interfacing with the state. The criminalisation of these movements and imprisonment of activists is routine.

In Garífuna communities along Central America’s Caribbean coast, the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH) has been at the forefront of resistance to what has become an attack on their ancestral resources and cultural identity from all sides: sea, water, land, and forest. OFRANEH uses organizing tactics from community radio broadcasts to land occupations, all of which the government has noted and responded to with violence. The group’s leaders face threats or instances of imprisonment on falsified charges on a daily basis. OFRANEH’s vice president Alfredo López spent six years in prison before finally being released for ‘lack of evidence’ and intense international pressure in 2015.

Control grabs in Palestine

In Palestine, power grabs and resource grabs have resulted in the ultimate manifestation of enclosure—control grabbing. First by British Empire, and then by Israeli occupation, Palestinians have been continually squeezed out of their homeland, and those who remain are subject to various forms of violence and discrimination.

The current hard-line political climate in Israel has increased the Israeli government’s stronghold on Palestinian lands. This amounts to territorial restructuring in the forms of illegal settlement expansion and transfer of Israeli citizens into occupied Palestinian territory, in the case of the West Bank, and increasing restricted access zones and militarised attacks, in the case of the Gaza Strip. These and other forms of control perpetrated by the Israeli occupation are likewise made possible and maintained through outside military and financial support.

Palestinian human rights defenders and social movements pose one of the biggest threats to maintaining and proliferating the occupation, a fact that has not been lost on the Israeli government. The result has been a trend of mass incarceration, including administrative detention, where people are held in prison for months or even years without charge or trial, supposedly because of ‘secret evidence.’ The Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association in Palestine, Addameer found that as of July 2017, 449 Palestinians were being held without trial or even charge.

One such political prisoner held without charge is Abdul-Razeq Farraj, a leader in the Union of Agricultural Works Committees (UAWC). Farraj has spent more than 16 combined years in Israeli prisons, most of them under administrative detention. Most recently, he was wrested from his home and family at midnight on May 24, 2017, and has been held without cause ever since. Abdul-Razeq’s work with UAWC has been focused on improving the lives of Palestinian farmers, whose suffering is in large part due to confiscation of land and water resources and repression under Israeli occupation.

Grabbing back

The struggles in Brazil, Honduras, and Palestine are indicative of politics of control—and resistance—that are happening all over the world. In Brazil, the coup government has chosen corporate-driven economic growth, privatisation, and corrupt politics through power grabbing rather than respect for democratic processes and the well-being of its low-income populations, particularly peasants and indigenous peoples. Honduras, a fragile state in the wake of a coup, bears the scars of external influence, and these wounds are most pronounced in the form of unchecked natural resource grabbing.

And in occupied Palestine, one of the world’s few remaining colonial projects continues with no end in sight; in the absence of statehood or any meaningful form of political sovereignty, the Israeli occupation has become the extreme expression of control grabbing. In each of these cases, oppressive states and business interests use a variety of tools of repression, from criminalisation and the creation of political prisoners, to physical threats and assassinations.

Winning back sovereignty and achieving justice are the political tasks at hand in these and other cases around the world, and ones that movements and activists take seriously—no matter how high the stakes. From Brazilian mass movement building to pinpoint alternatives and retain the countryside, to Honduran reclamation of natural resources through food sovereignty, agroecology, and climate justice, to relentless Palestinian efforts of upholding international law and defending human rights, people are challenging destructive political orders. Doing so is a collective act of resilience and resistance, ‘grabbing back’ in order to move forward in uncertain times.

What you can do

Grassroots International, a U.S.-based non-profit, supports small farmers and producers, Indigenous Peoples and women working around the world to win resource rights: the human rights to land, water and food. Grassroots works through grant-making, education, and advocacy. The Landless Workers Movement (MST), Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH), and Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) are among its global network of partners.


The unabridged article originally appeared in Huffington Post and can be read here


picture_2Salena Tramel is a PhD researcher at the ISS, where her work is centered on the intersections of resource grabs and climate change mitigation, and the intertwining of (trans)national agrarian/social justice movements. In addition to her research at ISS, Salena draws on her global experience with social movements and grassroots organisations to inform her work as a policy and communications consultant and freelance journalist. Prior to joining the academic community at ISS, Salena served as the program coordinator for the Middle East and Haiti at Grassroots International, where she oversaw two key geographical areas while developing pro-poor advocacy strategies at the US/UN levels.