Attacks directed against civilians; torture of detainees; sexual slavery – when committed within the context of armed conflict, these and other grave crimes amount to war crimes as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. While the system of international criminal justice makes it possible to prosecute war crimes, in many cases those responsible are not held to account.
There is often a huge gap between the promise of international criminal law and the reality of how it is enforced. While there have been trials for war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, to date no politician or military officer from a Western state has ever sat on the defendant's bench at the International Criminal Court or a UN Special Tribunal. The double standards of international criminal justice in many cases represents an obstacle to the enforcement of universal human rights.
When addressing crimes committed in armed conflict, it is essential that the law applies equally to all. ECCHR takes legal action to address war crimes like the abuse of Iraqi detainees by British soldiers and torture in detention facilities run by the Syrian intelligence services. ECCHR uses a range of legal approaches – submissions to the International Criminal Court, criminal proceedings in national jurisdictions, actions under the principle of universal jurisdiction – to challenge impunity for war crimes.
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.
The Higher Regional Court in Stuttgart handed down convictions in the trial of two Rwandan leaders of the Hutu militia group FDLR, Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni. The FDLR are alleged to have utilized sexualized violence against the Congolese civilian population and to have in numerous cases plundered, killed and inflicted grievous bodily injuries.
In the course of a military action in Gaza in 2014, Israel's armed forces killed, among others, members of the German-Palestinian Kilani family. Israeli legal authorities have refused to investigate. ECCHR, on behalf of Ramsis Kilani from Germany, demands that Germany investigate the case.
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.
ECCHR calls for individual compensation to be provided to Philippine survivors of sexual violence (so-called 'comfort women') during the Second World War. Already at the time of the Second World War, the systematic wartime enslavement of women by Japanese soldiers constituted a violation of international law.
Ever since the final stages of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009, issues of the criminal accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity and the ongoing sexualized violence against women have been part of ECCHR's work.
Sri Lanka must comply with its international obligations in the fight against gender-based discrimination. The country should bring its law in line with the UN Convention on Women.
Eleven former Syrian employees of French company Lafarge submitted a criminal complaint against Lafarge. By having business relations with the terrorist group ISIS in Syria, the company may have taken part in the financing of the group, being therefore complicit in war crimes and crimes against humanity.
"As the head of Syrian Air Force Intelligence, Jamil Hassan was responsible for the torture me and my friends suffered. The international arrest warrant shows, that our criminal complaint is the right path to achieve justice”, says Yazan Awad, a Syrian torture survivors who cooperates with ECCHR.
The Syrian government led by president Bashar al-Assad is responsible for systematic and widespread torture. ECCHR together with seven Syrian torture survivors as well as the Syrian lawyers al-Bunni and Darwish submitted the first criminal complaint against six high-level officials of the Syrian military intelligence service to the German Federal Prosecutor.
The group around the former Syrian military police employee 'Caesar' took for the first legal action by filing together with ECCHR a criminal complaint against senior officials from the Syrian intelligence services and the military police concerning crimes against humanity and war crimes.
In Syria, the word Saydnaya has become a synonym for unimaginable torture, systematic degradation and mass executions. Together with four individuals who survived the torture in Saydnaya ECCHR has filed in Germany a criminal complaint against seven high-ranking Syrian military officials.
They survived torture and detention in Syria and fled to Europe, where they now hope to obtain justice. Austrian authorities should follow the example set in Germany, Sweden and France and initiate investigations into systematic torture under Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
(Also) Sweden can play an important role in the fight against impunity for turture in Syria. This is why, in February 2019, nine torture survivors submitted a criminal complaint in Stockholm against senior officials in the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – including for crimes against humanity.
Former Guantánamo detainees Sassi and Benchellali filed a complaint in France against William "Jim" Haynes. He was one of the Architects of the US torture system during the George W. Bush administration.
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.
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.