Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Why is this case in military court?

A Hamas military court in Gaza has convicted four drug dealers and sentenced them to death, according to this Al Jazeera account. Excerpt:
Last year, Hamas politicians passed a law deeming drug dealing to be a national security threat, which opened the door for trying drug traffickers before military courts. Nasser Suliman, the head of Gaza's military judiciary, said there were at least 30 cases of drug dealing before his courts. 
The two who received death sentences in March were government security officers "who were not deterred from previous lighter punishments and returned to the trade", Suliman told Al Jazeera.
Under military law, penalties against dealers are usually stricter than those granted by the civil code, Suliman said. Penalties are also lighter for users, as compared with dealers: "If an addict resorts to treatment, he is spared from punishment."
Why try drug cases in a military court?

Trump administration sends a new (old) case to a military commission

The Trump administration has sent the case of a long-time Guantanamo detainee to a military commission for trial. The case charges an Indonesian citizen with attacks in that country in 2002-2003. Details here, courtesy of The Daily Beast. Excerpt:
A Trump administration official familiar with an internal and still-unfolding debate over the future of detentions told The Daily Beast that charging Hambali was “short-sighted” and “indicative of a lack of understanding of the complications of U.S. detention policy,” particularly without a broader policy framework for the Hambali case.
“It’s kicking off a procedure that will take an indefinite period of time. This system doesn’t work,” said the official, who was not cleared to speak publicly.

Is the South Sudan rape trial a publicity stunt?

Roger Alfred Yoron Modi writes here about an ongoing rape court-martial in South Sudan. Excerpt:
A trial of thirteen South Sudanese soldiers accused of raping foreign aid workers and killing a local colleague is ongoing in Juba. The events being examined occurred in July 2016 at the Terrain Hotel following a three-day battle in the capital. 
The fact that these government troops are being tried may appear to be a positive development amidst the country’s devastating conflict, lack of accountability, and dire humanitarian situation. It will be for the victims if justice is served. 
However, in terms of tackling impunity in South Sudan more broadly, the trial is sadly little more than a publicity stunt – and one that could even forestall wider justice in the country. 
The incidents at Terrain Hotel are a drop in the ocean when it comes to the extensive crimes committed since the start of the war. Moreover, the fact that the case is being heard in a military court further undermines the establishment of the Hybrid Court, the body supposed to investigate and prosecute such crimes in the interests of all South Sudanese.

War crimes v. crimes against humanity v. murder

How important is it to pursue charges of crimes against humanity or war crimes charges as opposed to simply pressing murder charges? The UN has objected to the abandonment of the first two in favor of the third in a Democratic Republic of Congo court-martial. According to this account:
"We regret" the tribunal's decision, Jose Maria Aranaz, director of the United Nations joint human rights office (UNJHRO) and representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the DRC, told AFP. 
"Prosecuting these crimes is a way of preventing other legal violations and further excessive use of force by the armed forces," Aranaz said. 
The seven soldiers were on trial for war crimes and other offences -- including murder, mutilation and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment -- apparently committed in the Kasai region. 
They are being prosecuted after a video emerged in February showing a group of uniformed men opening fire on civilians, then walking among at least 20 bodies. 
The alleged incident occurred during an operation in a village called Mwanza Lomba in Kasai, according to the government. 
On Saturday prosecutors in the trial, which began on June 5, dropped the war crimes charges but kept the murder charge and others. 
"You can justify dropping the war crimes charges because there is no declared conflict in the Kasai," Aranaz said. 
But it would have been important to prosecute the officers for crimes against humanity because it would send "a strong signal in the direction of those who are implicated in the violence in Kasai." 
Spiralling unrest 
An attorney at the trial, Jimmy Bashile, told AFP that military prosecutors, pressing charges of murder against five of the accused, on Monday sought jail terms of life or 20 years against two majors, a captain, lieutenant and a sergeant-major. 
They also called for a 10-year term against a sergeant-major for failing to denounce the crimes and a 12-month suspended term against another non-commissioned officer for handling images sent to him by one of the accused.

Monday, June 26, 2017

A look inside Venezuela's military courts

Americas Quarterly has this vivid story about the use of military courts to try civilians in Venezuela. Excerpt:
This has grave consequences for defendants. Lawyers familiar with Venezuela’s military court system say that it operates under different rules than civilian courts, and puts detainees at a clear disadvantage. For a start, the judges are military officers picked by the Ministry of Defense, and so depend on the executive branch for their jobs. The prosecutors tend to be officers of lower military rank than the judges, and are therefore unlikely to feel free to make independent decisions, said Ali Daniels, a legal expert at the Venezuelan NGO Acceso a la Justicia
Private lawyers are allowed to represent detainees, but they’re often denied access to police depositions, which are the basis for accusations against their clients. When they can see depositions, they are not allowed to get copies of them. 
“It's a form of intimidation,” Daniels said. “They try to make every step so hard that you eventually want to give up.” 
In many cases, the government has done little to present its legal case against demonstrators. In [Carlos] Ramírez’s case, the military judge granted the prosecution 45 more days to find additional evidence. The defense, however, is hamstrung, since they don’t know the exact contents of the testimony they are challenging. The declaration read at Ramírez’s hearing has not been made public or available to his lawyers, said Pedro Troconez, one of the lawyers from Barquisimeto, who later filed a complaint to be allowed onto Ramírez’s case.