The Preah Vihear dispute

 

By Lennert Breuker

Although the news of (late) last week was understandably dominated by the events in Egypt, most media reported very briefly about the hostilities that broke out – again – on the Thai-Cambodian border. Fighting erupted between the military forces of both countries allegedly over a disputed land zone surrounding a 900 year old Hindu temple. ‘Allegedly’ as the most recent skirmishes may just as well have arisen over sentiments of ownership with respect to the temple itself. The temple in question is named Preah Vihear, and is one of the most beautifully located and popular temples that originate from the ancient Khmer empire.

Ownership of the temple and the adjacent area has been in dispute for over half a century by now. When French colonial forces withdrew from Cambodia following Cambodia’s independence in 1953, Thai forces took control of the temple in 1954. As diplomatic protests yielded nothing, Cambodia brought the case before the International Court of Justice in 1959. It asked the Court to rule that Thailand should withdraw its armed forces from the temple and to declare that the territorial sovereignty over the temple belongs to Cambodia.

Thailand apparently did not want the case to proceed to the merits, as they disputed the Court’s jurisdiction, but unsuccessfully. The Court assumed jurisdiction and focused on the work of a so-called ‘mixed’ commission, which was instructed to delimit the border between French Indochina and Siam in the context of a boundary treaty in 1904. With respect to the area in which Preah Vihear was located, the commission, composed of French and Siamese officials, was supposed to follow the watershed line as frontier. Continue reading

Civil or paramilitary police trainings mission…

By Lennert Breuker 

I recently blogged on the intentions of the Dutch cabinet to send a new mission to Afghanistan. Although I am strongly in favor of a sustained effort to support the reconstruction of the country, I lamented the lack of a genuine, thorough debate when it concerns decisions like these involving matters as war and peace. With for instance a virtually automatic support for the illegal invasion of Iraq as a result.

And also this time there were signals that warranted a critical scrutiny of the American request to send a police trainings mission, as the opinion of political activist Sytse Bosgra suggested. However, his claim that the Dutch would be training Afghan policemen who would subsequently also be deployed in combat situations without adequate armor, weapons and training found no resonance at all in the explanatory document that accompanied the decision of the cabinet. It spoke of the training of ‘civil police’ that stand ‘closest to the Afghan people’, and quite predictably of building a rule of law.

It may have led some – or maybe many – to believe that Bosgra’s account was a bit far-fetched. I even recall the comment of an editor of the same journal that published Bosgra’s opinion, that Bosgra engaged in leftish conspiracy thinking. Which cannot be excluded of course.

But neither can it be corroborated. Particularly after monday’s parliamentary hearings which revealed information that directly supported the core of his contentions. Afghan officials, an NGO representative and classified Dutch military intelligence reports affirmed that Afghan police would be deployed in combat situations if deemed desirable.     Continue reading

Dutch cabinet considering training mission in Afghanistan

By Lennert Breuker

The Dutch cabinet is currently considering participation in a new mission in Afghanistan. Dutch media are reporting that this time the mission would entail the sending of a contingent of police officers – approximately 350 – to serve as trainers for the Afghan police forces. Whether the cabinet will succeed in generating sufficient political support for the mission is still unclear. A majority in parliament does not support further participation in combat missions, and would only be open to initiatives aimed at reconstruction efforts. It is thus likely that the trainings mission will be framed in terms of reconstructing part of the executive branch essential for a functioning government, namely the police. Which indeed comes across as a legitimate goal.

Such a portrayal of the mission might obscure the fact that the Dutch will be asked to co-operate with a US policy worth a critical scrutiny at the least, as a recently published opinion of political activist Sietse Bosgra in a major daily journal suggested.

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ICC Prosecutor examines possible war crimes by North Korea

By Lennert Breuker

Last week the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the ICC released a press statement in which it announced that it would examine some recent incidents between North and South Korea. It indicated that it had received communications alleging that North Korean forces committed war crimes in the territory of the Republic of Korea (South Korea). Subsequently, a preliminary examination was opened up.   

The incidents that the OTP referred to were the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, resulting in military and civilian casualties, and the sinking of the Cheonan, a South Korean warship, claiming the lives of 46 sailors. 

In itself serious acts which have raised the tension between both States to extreme levels, yet the idea that a criminal court would interfere with a situation so unstable, intensely politicised and still developing feels like a rather progressive and bold step. Of course, the OTP already demonstrated a willingness to step into highly politicised, ongoing conflict situations, for instance by investigating the Darfur situation. But in that case, it was supported by a Security Council referral. And although the decision to issue the arrest warrant for Al-Bashir was contentious and relied on substantially less political support, there are some notable differences with the North Korean situation which are likely to negatively affect the outcome of the preliminary examination.

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Political repression and criminal trials

By Lennert Breuker

A few days ago Reuters reported that Paul Rusesabagina, the man so famously depicted in the movie ‘Hotel Rwanda’ as the hotel manager who saved many from falling victim to the génocidaires, is suspected by the Rwandan authorities of funding terrorist activities. Actually, the terrorist activities for which opposition leader Victoire Ingabire is currently being held for. Ingabire is also being held on charges of ‘genocidal ideology’, a questionable legal provision which allows for the prosecution of statements in which the genocide is denied or nuanced, and which seems to be used predominantly to attack the political opposition. I have also posted briefly on the arrest of Ingabire’s attorney, Peter Erlinder, for similar charges. He has been released in the meantime, but it seems that the pattern of harassment continues. Rusesabagina has criticised the Rwandan government over recent years and accused the government of conducting a smear campaign against him in response of the latest charges.

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Rwanda arrests American lawyer for denying genocide

Lennert Breuker 

Opinio Juris makes mention of the arrest of a U.S. law professor, Peter Erlinder, by the Rwandan authorities for “…’genocide denial’ — code for ‘criticizing the Kagame government.’ See here: http://opiniojuris.org/2010/06/02/two-thoughts-on-peter-erlinders-arrest-in-rwanda/ Erlinder is (or was, anyone who knows may come forward) one of the leading defense attorneys at the ICTR, and is also representing Victoire Ingabire. Unfortunately, his arrest fits perfectly in the pattern of pure political (ab)use of the legal prohibition of genocidal denial as I already reported on below. Harassing a lawyer for conducting his work as a defense lawyer however, is a step further in the repressive policy of the Rwandan government. I hope professor Erlinder will be released in good health as soon as possible.

Pre-Trial Chamber at the ECCC rejects JCE III

Lennert Breuker 

I will not engage in an analysis of the decision as I’m currently assisting one of the defense teams, but just to signal an interesting development at the ECCC (Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia) for those that may have missed it: the Pre-Trial Chamber has issued a decision in which it accepts the objections of the defense against the extended form of Joint Criminal Enterprise, also known as JCE III. This has always been the most controversial form of JCE for stretching the principle of culpability to far.

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‘Genocidal ideology’…

By Lennert Breuker

 

Several news-agencies made mention of a prominent Rwandan opposition member, Victoire Ingabire, being arrested on charges of cooperation with a terroristic rebel group, and perhaps more conspicuously, on charges of ‘genocidal ideology’. The precise scope of the relevant criminal provision is not known to me, but according to a Dutch news-agency it concerns a legal prohibition to deny genocide. However, the same (brief) article (http://www.bndestem.nl/algemeen/buitenland/6579160/Oppositieleider-Rwanda-Ingabire-gearesteerd.ece) also states that merely addressing ethnicity is formally prohibited according to Rwandan legislation since the genocide. This seems a bit unlikely, but readers who can confirm this are cordially invited to comment.

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