Wednesday, June 29, 2011

"The Confession" by John GRISHAM

First Published in: Dunia Magazine

”An innocent man is about to be executed. Only a guilty man can save him.” These are the words of John Grisham, in his book: The Confession.

Many works of fiction fail to capture my imagination, but a legal thriller, my favorite book genre, always does. This explains why books by John Grisham, a former practicing criminal lawyer, always beacon on book shelves. The Confession is the acclaimed writer’s most recent book - as of the time of writing this review.

Title: The Confession
Author: John Grisham
Publication Date: 26 October 2010 (First Edition)
ISBN: 978-0-385-52804-7
Publisher: Doubleday

The Confession, a work of fiction, tells the story of a broken legal system in a small town in East Texas, United States. It is the story of a young African-American male college football (not soccer) player arrested and convicted of murder in 1999. The  innocent man is found guilty and sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit. For his defense attorney, family and anti-death penalty groups, it is a race against time to save his life.

Three days before the execution of the innocent man, a career criminal shows up and claims responsibility for the murder.

Would the authorities welcome this new twist in this sensitive case and admit their mistake?

Would the authorities admit that they have imprisoned an innocent man for nine long years pending execution?

More importantly, would a stay of execution be ordered?

The execution is planned for 6pm on a Thursday and the deadline to file an appeal to stop the killing machine is at 5pm – when the doors of the office of the Chief Justice close for the day. At 4:45pm on that fateful day, the defense team, armed with a new petition and sworn affidavit, sets out for the office of the Chief Justice to file a last minute appeal. Of course, this move by the defense team showcases legal representation at its best! But would ”last minute Hail Marys” save an innocent man from a powerful state-sponsored killing machine?

After reading this thriller, I have the answers to all the above questions, but you would have to find out the answers yourself by reading the book.

I like the fact that the author clearly shows the demerits of the death penalty - a form of punishment which I’m ideologically against. The author also portrays the innocent convict’s defense lawyer as a fighter who stands shoulder to shoulder with his client till the last minute, and refuses to give up hope even in the face of what appears to be an ”impossible mission.”

Some critics have argued that the story ”lacks realism.” I disagree.

The Confession captures the reality of wrongful convictions in the United States and beyond. I found myself unable to put the book down once I started reading.

Like me, you can purchase the book from 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Colonel Gaddafi of Libya wanted at The Hague

On 27 June 2011, judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC), in line with Article 58(1) of the Rome Statute, issued arrest warrants for the leader of Libya - Muammar Gaddafi. This means the embattled "leader of the revolution" who promised earlier this year to "cleanse" Libya of pro-democracy demonstrators is officially a wanted man at The Hague.

The issuance of this arrest warrant comes exactly one month and eleven days after the prosecutor of the ICC, Luis Moreno-Acampo applied for three international criminal arrest warrants for Gaddafi, his son - Saif al-Islam - and brother-in-law, Abdulla a-Sanussi.

ICC judges approved all three arrest warrants.

The judges believe that Gaddafi, Saif and Abdulla "conceived and orchestrated a plan" to crackdown on protesters and that the arrest of Gaddafi et al. "appears necessary."

Colonel Gaddafi of Libya is wanted for allegedly ordering attacks against demonstrators and committing crimes that amount to crimes against humanity.

According to the Director of Law and Policy at Amnesty International, Michael Bochenek, "justice must be delivered to victims of serious human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law committed in Libya..." 

This decision to issue three arrest warrants for some of the most feared men in Libya is commendable, but more crucial steps should be taken to ensure that Muammar Gaddafi  and his cronies are hauled to The Hague to face justice for systematic violence against civilians.

On a side note: In 2009, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for the President of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Darfur. But the Sudanese leader still walks free.

Pursuant to Article 58(4) of the Rome Statute, arrest warrants issued by the court "shall remain in effect until otherwise ordered by the court." Hence Omar al-Bashir remains wanted.

States Parties are obliged to cooperate with the ICC and arrest persons wanted by the court.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Pauline Nyiramasuhuko: First woman convicted of genocide

Normally, when women break the "glass ceiling," the world celebrates. However, when a woman breaks a wrong glass ceiling, there is no reason to celebrate. This is the case with Pauline Nyiramasuhuko - who has broken a wrong glass ceiling and gone down in history as the first woman to be charged (and convicted) of genocide.

On 24 June 2011, 65-year-old Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, Rwanda's former Minister of Family and Women Development, was convicted and sentenced to life imprison by the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal  for Rwanda (ICTR). She was arrested in July 1997 for her role in perpetuating the 1994 Rwandan genocide which claimed 800,000 Rwandan lives. She was accused of ordering and assisting massacres and rapes in Butare, southern Rwanda.

Pauline Nyiramasuhuko first appeared in court for the "Butare case" in 2001. The trial dragged on for 10 years before the court sentenced the ex-Minister to life imprison for "conspiracy to commit genocide, genocide, crimes against humanity (extermination, rape and persecution), and serious violations of article 3 of the Geneva Conventions and of additional Protocol II..". [Source]

According to a summary of the judgement in the case of The Prosecutor v. Nyiramasuhuko et al., the court found that:

"Nyiramasuhuko entered into an agreement with members of the Interim Government on or after 9 April 1994 to kill Tutsis... with the intent to destroy in whole or in part the Tutsi ethnic group. She conspired with the Interim Government to commit genocide against Tutsis..."

The 18-paged summary of judgement and sentencing reveals "horrific events" - including rapes, abduction, beatings and killings of Tutsis - in Butare, perpetrated by Pauline and other interim government officials.

The Trial Chamber sentenced Pauline Nyiramasuhuko and her 41-year-old son 
Arsène Shalom Ntahobali to life imprisonment for their role during the genocide.

Four other accused, namely: Silvia Nsabimana, Alphonse Nteziryayo, Joseph Kanyabashi and Elie Ndayambaje were sentenced to 25 years' imprisonment, 30 years' imprisonment, 35 years' imprisonment and life imprisonment, respectively.

During the trial, a total of 189 witnesses were presented and about 13,000 pages of documents.

The long trial and eventual sentencing of Pauline Nyiramasuhuko et al. sends a clear message to perpetrators of heinous crimes that they would have their day in court.

*Photo of Pauline Nyiramasuhuko. [Source].

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Cameroon: Tortured and imprisoned journalist speaks out

It is no secret that press freedom in Cameroon is limited and journalists who dare to investigate and criticize the 28-year-old government do so at great personal risk. Many have been arbitrarily arrested, beaten and imprisoned for expressing dissenting views. A lot has already been said and written about the plight of journalists in Cameroon. In May, a journalist was arrested after questioning the authorities in the northern city of Ngaoundere; in April 2010, a journalist died after the state failed to provide him with adequate medical care in a notorious prison in Cameroon's capital city. The journalist, Bibi Ngota, was arrested while investigating allegations of corruption. One year after the death of Bibi Ngota, New York-based Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ) urged Cameroon to carry out reforms to guarantee greater freedom for journalists. The story of another Cameroonian journalist, Charles Artangana, once again puts press freedom in the central African country in the spot light.

On 21 June 2011, I read the story of Charles Artangana, a Cameroonian journalist living in exile. His story is a story of arbitrary arrest, torture and imprisonment. It is a disturbing story titled, In exile: From a Cameroonian jail to immigration limbo, written in his own words and published on the CPJ Blog.

The journalist was reportedly arrested, beaten and imprisoned for 40 days in a jail in Cameroon. He fled the country in 2004 and sought asylum in the United Kingdom.

He was granted asylum in April 2011 - after 7 daunting years in "immigration limbo."

Cameroon is party to key human rights instruments. As a matter of fact, the greatest human rights document of all - the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) - is attached to the Constitution of the Republic. Despite this strong commitment on paper to uphold international human rights standards, the reality on the ground is disturbing.

The state should take concrete steps to ensure that all individuals within its borders enjoy all rights laid down in the Constitution and international human rights conventions. Stories of the arrest, torture and imprisonment of journalists damage the country's image abroad.

Read the story of Charles Artangana: In Exile: From a Cameroonian jail to immigration limbo.

*Photo: Journalists in Karachi, Pakistan protest against press censorship. [Source].

Saturday, June 11, 2011

In honor of South African freedom fighter Albertina Sisulu

On 2 June 2011 a beacon of freedom, justice and human rights was extinguished with the passing of South African freedom fighter - Albertina Sisulu. The anti-apartheid activist died in her home in Johannesburg after bravely fighting for decades to restore respect for human rights and human dignity in South Africa at a time when nonwhite South Africans were targeted and oppressed by immoral and unjust laws in their own country. Albertina Sisulu was among those who led a popular uprising against what will be remembered as one of the world's most ruthless, immoral and discriminatory regimes.

Nelson Mandela is widely known and celebrated as the South African who led the liberation struggle against apartheid, but the icon clearly did not work alone. He fought for freedom along side relatively less known "comrades"  and freedom fighters like Albertina Sisulu and her late husband Walter Sisulu.

It is worth mentioning that the passing of Albertina Sisulu comes at a time when I am reading a book, titled Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela - which captures in great detail some the immoral laws which Albertina Sisulu and other anti-apartheid activists stood up against.

In his book, Mandela repeatedly mentions "the Sisulus'" - referring to Albertina and her husband Walter Sisulu. Mandela recalls how their home was his home. [Long Walk To Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, page 88]. This is how I came to know about the fallen icon.

Some of the harsh laws in South Africa under the apartheid regime, included the following:
  • The Separate Representation of Workers Act which abolished the representation of "Coloureds" (what is known today as "people of colour") in parliament.
  • The Prohibition of Mixed Marriage Act which prohibited interracial marriages.
  • The Immorality Act which outlawed sexual relations between whites and nonwhites.
  • The Population Registration Act which classified South Africans by race.
  • The Group Areas Act which required different racial groups to live in separate urban areas.
[Source: Long Walk To Freedom. The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, page 98-99].

In 1956, Albertina Sisulu and other women marched against the infamous Pass Laws Act which was designed to limit the movement of nonwhites in South Africa and enacted in 1952. She braved imprisonment, house arrest and other forms of persecution by the repressive minority regime. [Source]. [Source].

In Nelson Mandela's emotional speech read by his wife on 11 June 2011 at the funeral of Albertina Sisulu in Orlando Stadium, Soweto, and published by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Mandela referred to Albertina as "one of the greatest South Africans" who "provided leadership and exercised power with quiet dignity."

Albertina Sisulu evidently promoted and bravely defended, at great personal risk, respect for human rights and freedom for all South Africans irrespective of race or color. Her passing leaves a vacuum in a world faced with a growing need for more heroes and heroines to continue the struggle for justice and human dignity around world.

Albertina Sisulu, 92-year-old former member of parliament, leaves the world a better place.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Prospective protesters arrested in Cameroon

Freedom of expression and peaceful assembly remain illusive in Cameroon, central Africa, as security forces continue to enforce limitations on fundamental freedoms "enshrined in Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Charter of the United Nations, and The African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights...". It is not uncommon for authorities to ban peaceful assemblies and order the arrest and detention of demonstrators - in violation of the right to peaceful assembly and expression. This afternoon, I was once again disturbed by news of the arrest of prospective peaceful protesters in Yaounde, capital of Cameroon.

According to a local news outlet, The Post, security forces raided the office of Association Citoyenne de Défense des Intérêts Collectifs (Citizen's Association for the Defense of Collective Interests) - ACDIC - in Yaounde and arrested 39 activists. The activists were arrested while preparing for a peaceful protest against the government's agricultural policies. The protesters, mostly farmers, were demanding good farm-to-market roads and more support for agriculture. [Source: Reuters].

The demonstration planned for 31 May 2011 was reportedly banned by the Senior Divisional Officer (SDO) for Mfoundi. It is worth recalling that the same authority barred an opposition party from participating in National Day celebrations in the nation's capital.

It is common knowledge that the right to free expression and peaceful assembly are fundamental rights which must be guaranteed in a free and democratic society. The Constitution of the Republic of Cameroon provides for these freedoms.

The Constitution clearly states in the Preamble that "... freedom of communication, of expression, of the press, of assembly, of association and of trade unionism, as well as the right to strike shall be guaranteed...". It also states that "the state shall guarantee all citizens of either sex the rights and freedoms set forth in the Preamble of the Constitution."

Although the arrested members of ACDIC have reportedly been released, such a violation of rights must be condemned. Arresting activists planning a peaceful protest to express their grievances is purely unconstitutional and contravenes the rule of law.

The state should uphold all principles laid down in the Constitution and respect its human rights obligations under international law.

Since pro-democracy demonstrations erupted in North Africa and the Middle East, the 28-year-old government of Cameroon has been on alert and has heavy-handedly dealt with prospects of an uprising. On 23 February 2011, riot police brutally cracked down on peaceful demonstrators in the country's economic capital. The government ordered the suspension of Twitter mobile in March.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Switzerland: 2011 Fellowship programme for people of African descent

I received a message on Facebook calling my attention to a human rights fellowship programme for people of African descent organized by the Anti-Discrimination Section of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) based in Geneva, Switzerland. I found the message very useful and thought it wise to share the information with a wider audience.

The aim of the fellowship is to foster understanding of the human rights system and mechanisms of the United Nations. The programme will focus on issues that are relevant to people of African descent and candidates for the programme must be of African descent.

Deadline for application is 15 July 2011.

The programme will run for less than a month - from 10 October 2011 to 4 November 2011.

More information about the fellowship programme, including eligibility of prospective applicants and application procedure is available here.

According to OHCHR, the fellowship programme for people of African descent will allow fellows to make significant contribution to the "protection and promotion" of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of people of African descent.

All eligible candidates are encouraged to apply.

Selected candidates will be given a stipend and other benefits like basic health insurance and return plane ticket.

Friday, June 3, 2011

General Ratko Mladic first court appearance in The Hague

It is no secret that after 16 years on the run, justice caught up with General Ratko Mladic of the Bosnian Serb army. This morning, the General appeared in court before three judges. The first court appearance in The Hague was to inform Ratko Mladic of his rights and the charges brought against him. I was not in the court room in The Hague, but I followed the session live from my living room and took some pictures. I must say it was great to finally see the accused in court.

The session began with a verification of the identity of the accused. As a matter of procedure, the judge checked to confirm the name, date and place of birth of the accused. The General confirmed, "I am General Ratko Mladic."

Judge Alphons Orie also checked with Mladic to ensure that he understands the language of the proceeding and whether he has read the 37-page indictment written in a language he understand. Mladic claimed he is a "gravely ill man" and has been unable to read the indictment or sign any documents. Besides, he needs at least 2 months or more to read the indictment.

The judge informed Mladic of his right to have the entire 37-page indictment read to him in court, but the accused waived this right. However, judge Orie went ahead to read a summary of the indictment which including the following:
  • Count 1: Genocide.
  • Count 2: Also deals with genocide (complicity in genocide).
  • Count 3: Persecution as a crime against humanity.
  • Counts 4, 5 and 6: Extermination and murder as crimes against humanity and violation of the laws and customs of war.
  • Counts 7 and 8: Deportation and inhumane acts as crimes against humanity.
  • Counts 9 and 19: Terror and unlawful attacks as violations of rules and customs of war.
  • Count 10: Taking of hostages (including UN Peacekeepers).
Guilty or not guilty?

Ratko Mladic entered a no plea for what he called "obnoxious charges" and "monstrous" words. 

He has 30 days to enter a plea.

The court moved into private session to hear Ratko Mladic's health concerns and when the court reconvened in open session, the presiding judge adjourned the trial until 4 July 2011 at 10am in courtroom number one.

General Ratko Mladic is being tried for his role in a military operation which killed more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in the course of the 1992-1995 Bosnian War.

The wheels of justice have started to turn, but it remains to be seen how long before victims of the atrocities committed under the command of Mladic see justice. It is my wish that this case moves on fast so as to provide closure to the victims who have waited 16 years to see Ratko Mladic in court.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Finland: President acknowledges rise of racism and xenophobia

On Sunday, 17 April 2011, voters in Finland went to the polls in a parliamentary election which changed Finland's political landscape and cleared all doubts about the level of racism and xenophobia in the country. Opinion polls conducted before the election predicted that a nationalist, racist and xenophobic political party known as the True Finns (Perussuomalaiset) was gaining support. Election results confirmed the polls and propelled the xenophobic True Finns to third position in Finland's parliament. This party which had only one Member of Parliament when it was founded in 1995 has steadily gained more seats despite its hard-line stance and now has a record 39 out of 200 seats with 560,075 votes in 2011.[Source]. Less than 2 months after the 2011 parliamentary elections, the President of Finland acknowledged the rise of xenophobia and racism in the Nordic country.

Speaking on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Amnesty International, an organization fighting for freedom and respect for the rights of all individuals, irrespective of race, ethnicity, nationality or immigration status, President Tarja Halonen (see photo) said:

"We have to take seriously the rise of racism and xenophobia in Finland...". [Source]

This is a kick in the groin of the good people of Finland and weakens the country's position in international human rights discourse in a time when democracies around the world, including Finland, are supporting calls for freedom and human rights in the Middle East and North Africa.

Electoral gains enjoyed by the True Finns and outright racist and derogatory statements by the party's Parliamentarians over the past couple of months, concretize fears that Finland is going down the wrong road.

Following the April 2011 parliamentary election, a video was posted on the internet in which a member of parliament for the True Finns, Teuvo Hakkarainen, made derogatory and racist comments on camera against African and Muslim immigrants. In the video, the parliamentarian mockingly mimicked a Muslim call for prayers and used a derogatory and offensive word to address immigrants of African descent.

A free society should be void of lawmakers who use immigration scaremongering and disparage a group of people in a bid to score political points.

The rise of racism and xenophobia in Finland is real. These vices are unacceptable and must be unequivocally condemned. A blogger in Finland who shines light on the plight of immigrants on the ground notes that the internet is Finland's breeding ground for racism. "True" Finns publish derogatory articles and make no secret of their prejudice online.

Immigrants in Finland are a vulnerable group in need of protection. More votes for the nationalist anti-immigration True Finns signaled tough times for immigrants and tough times call for tough measures to ensure that immigrants and ethnic minorities are adequately protected in the European country.

According to a BBC article, the True Finns believe, amongst other things, that "young women should study less and spend more time giving birth to pure Finnish children." 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Ratko Mladic extradition sends message to international law skeptics

Two days ago, I explained why all Serbians should welcome the arrest of Ratko Mladic and support his extradition to face justice. On 31 May 2011, the infamous former General of the Bosnian Serb Army was extradited to The Hague for his role in the massacre of more than 8,000 Bosniaks during the 1992-1995 Bosnian War. This extradition is "a milestone for international justice" and sends a message to international law skeptics.

It is no secret that the international justice system is regarded by many Africans as a tool designed to target African leaders. A growing number of international justice skeptics often argue that individuals charged for genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and other heinous crimes are predominantly Africans.

Former President of Liberia, Charles Taylor, is currently facing justice in The Hague before the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) for his role in the Sierra Leone Civil War.

The President of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, is currently wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of crimes committed in Darfur.

Six Kenyans, dubbed the "Ocampo Six" were indicted by the ICC for allegedly perpetuating violence against civilians during the 2007-2008 post-election violence that claimed more than 1,300 lives in Kenya.

The ICC has also issued arrest warrants for other Africans in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), including Thomas Lubanga Dyilo and Bosco Ntaganda.

More recently, the Prosecutor of the ICC applied for three arrest warrants for Colonel Gaddafi, his brother-in-law and son for their role in widespread violence against pro-democracy demonstrators in Libya.

Many skeptics have wondered why there has never been a concerted effort to try George W. Bush for international crimes - even after the former president of the U.S. defiantly justified widespread torture and violation of international law.

It is true that the majority of individuals in trouble with international law are Africans. However, this does not mean the system is designed to target Africans. The arrest of Ratko Mladic in Serbia on 26 May 2011 and his swift extradition to The Hague less than a week later adds weight to this assertion. Mladic is clearly not African, but he shares one thing in common with many Africans held or wanted in The Hague: charged with crimes against humanity, genocide, complicity in genocide, unlawfully inflicting terror upon civilians, war crimes and other crimes that have shocked humanity.

For too long, international law skeptics in Africa have taken their eyes off the ball and focused on the assertion that international law targets the continent. This explains why many kick against the extradition of individuals wanted at The Hague.  As a result, impunity for heinous crimes in the continent is endemic. The high level of impunity is compounded by the fact that national justice systems are either unwilling or unable to try perpetrators of human rights abuses - which is exactly why international courts step in.

The extradition of Ratko Mladic, a powerful former General regarded as a war hero in Serbia, is testament to the fact that international justice is blind and does not target Africans.

It is worthy to mention that Ratko Mladic is not the only Serbian or European extradited to The Hague. Others who have been extradited before him include, General Radislav Krstic, Vujadin Popovic and Ljubisa Beara. [Source].

Mladic was arrested after 16 years on the run. No matter how long it takes, perpetrators of grave crimes would eventually have their day in a national or international court of law.

Search this Blog

Related Posts with Thumbnails