Decision makers in Western democracies often apply double standards when it comes to human rights. While the Global North will condemn and in some cases prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Global South, there is little appetite to examine the role played by Western politicians, military leaders and corporations in crimes against international law. Serious human rights violations committed by Western actors – such as torture, forced disappearances or civilian deaths by drone – are rarely prosecuted. It seems as though different standards apply to human rights abuses, depending on who commits them.
ECCHR undertakes strategic legal interventions to challenge these double standards, to end the impunity of the powerful and to change power structures. ECCHR chooses cases that make political, economic and legal shortcomings visible, in order to force decision-makers in the Global North to question – and ideally, to dismantle – their double standards.
After more than six years, the International Criminal Court closed its preliminary examination of war crimes by UK forces in Iraq. The decision from December 2020 reveals systematic failures of international justice and proves, once again, that powerful actors can get away with torture.
In October 2016, an airstrike – alleged to have been carried out by the Saudi-led military coalition – struck a civilian home in the village of Deir Al-Hajari in northwest Yemen. The intentional directing of attacks against the civilian population amounts to war crimes. ECCHR is taking legal action against this.
On 4 September 2009, two US fighter jets, acting on the orders of German Army Colonel Georg Klein, bombed a large group of people and two tanker trucks on a sandbar in the Kunduz River in Afghanistan. More than 100 people were killed or injured. ECCHR is assisting Abdul Hanan, a father who lost his two sons, aged eight and twelve, in the attack.
In the summer of 2012, two members of the bin Ali Jaber family were killed and many survivors traumatized in a drone attack in the Yemeni village of Khashamir. The US Ramstein Air Base in Germany played an important role in the attack. The German government’s response has been to deny any knowledge of or responsibility for the death of these and other civilians from US drone attacks.
Sigonella Air Base in Sicily, Italy, is considered of strategic importance for US drone operations in North Africa. ECCHR has filed requests to access information regarding US drones located at Sigonella according to the Italian Freedom of Information Act.
ECCHR has filed a criminal complaint with the German Federal Public Prosecutor calling for investigations into Gina Haspel’s role in the torture of detainees at a CIA secret prison in Thailand in 2002. Haspel was appointed director of the CIA by President Donald Trump in May 2018.
Belgium failed to investigate and prevent torture in US detention camp Guantánamo. Former detainee and Belgian citizen Zemmouri together with ECCHR argues that Belgian officials were complicit in the abuse.
After learning that Mourad Benchellali and Nizar Sassi were being detained by the US at Guantánamo detention center, their families filed a criminal complaint before French courts asking authorities to investigate torture, ill-treatment and arbitrary detention. That was in November 2002. Since then, the French judiciary has been conducting investigations into the US torture program and the high-ranking officials responsible for it.
In March 2009, ECCHR partner lawyer Gonzalo Boye filed a criminal complaint against six former US officials of the Bush administration regarding their accountability for violations of international law, including war crimes and torture. The US officials became known as the “Bush Six.”
ECCHR sumbitted an amici curiae brief in order to support the compensation claim in the Arar case. Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, was arrested and abducted by US officials in 2002 and brought to Syria. During his one-year detention he suffered torture and was imprisoned under inhumane conditions.
Between 2004 and 2007, three complaints were filed in Germany and in France against members of the US Government, including former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and members of the military forces in connection with war crimes, torture and other criminal acts in the military prisons of Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib.
As a signatory of the Convention against Torture, the US is obliged to prosecute for these crimes. Nevertheless, there is evidence concerning the torture program after 11 September 2001 with a particular focus on the liability of high ranking US officials, including former President Bush.
For several years now, ECCHR has been working on socalled terrorism lists. The main focus of this work is to address the grave violation of basic constitutional and human rights that arises by identifying individuals and groups in such a process of listing.
ECCHR advises in the case of the German victim of a drone strike in Pakistan, Bünyamin E. According to ECCHR’s examinations, the case raises a number of serious doubts as to the application and interpretation of the law and shows insufficient investigations.
ECCHR sent an advisory opinion to the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. The statement seeks to draw the commission’s attention to the cases of two persons who suffered severe injuries when they were shot at by Bahraini security forces before being forcibly removed from hospital, imprisoned, and abused.
In December 2005, Wolfgang Kaleck, founder and general secretary of ECCHR, filed a criminal complaint against former Uzbek minister of interior Zakir Almatov, the Uzbek head of secret service Rustan Inojatov, and others to the Federal Public Prosecutor on behalf of eight Uzbek citizens because of torture and crimes against humanity.
The Spanish judiciary brought charges against judge Garzón, who declared his court competent to undertake preliminary investigations into the enforced disappearance, torture and execution during the Spanish Civil War and the Franco dictatorship. Garzón was acquitted of the charges later-on. It remains doubtful whether Spain is willing to independently adress the past atrocities.
British-German surveillance technology provider Gamma infringed on its human rights obligations with products such as “state trojan” FinFisher. This was confirmed by the UK’s OECD National Contact Point. In 2013, ECCHR submitted a complaint against Gamma and German firm Trovicor.