People's Stories Justice

Amnesty calls on States to uphold human rights principles in new treaty on universal jurisdiction
by Agnes Callamard, Fisseha Tekle
Amnesty International
May 2023
Amnesty International calls on States to uphold the highest international law and human rights standards in negotiations for new treaty on universal jurisdiction.
Government officials from over 77 countries are meeting in Ljubljana, Slovenia from 15-26 May to conclude negotiations and adopt a landmark treaty, the Convention on International Cooperation in the Investigation and Prosecution of the Crime of Genocide, Crimes against Humanity, War Crimes and other International Crimes.
The purpose of the treaty, also known as the Mutual Legal Assistance Convention, would require governments that have joined it to investigate and, if there is sufficient admissible evidence, prosecute suspected perpetrators of these crimes in their own domestic courts, or hand them over to another country or to an international criminal tribunal for trial.
May 26, 2023
Global: States agree landmark treaty to help deliver justice to victims of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes
Reacting to the agreement on a treaty on international legal cooperation in cases of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes following negotiations between states in Slovenia, Law and Policy Advisor at Amnesty International Fisseha Tekle, said:
“The adoption of this new convention on international cooperation is a historic step towards delivering justice to victims of crimes under international law. In a world with ever more visible atrocities, and where huge numbers of victims are often left without any remedy, the convention opens more routes to justice.
“Rules on the recognition, role and rights of victims were expanded; there is an increased emphasis on the duty to provide fair treatment to the accused throughout; statutes of limitations for these crimes have largely been outlawed; and language on gender was improved. Importantly, the principal duty of states to prosecute or extradite suspects of crimes under international law was enshrined and expanded to cover certain crimes in non-international armed conflicts.
“However, it is of great concern that last-minute efforts by a few states succeeded in carving out an exemption and securing discretion on whether to investigate and prosecute suspected perpetrators present on their territory, when this should be a universal duty. But the determination of most states involved in the negotiations to minimize ‘safe havens’ for those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and to fulfil the victims’ right to remedy, ensured that this exemption was limited.
“The core principles of the treaty were preserved, and it should significantly reduce the impunity of perpetrators. Overall, a historic opportunity to strengthen international legal cooperation has been seized, and we now urge states to promptly sign the treaty and ratify it without reservations.”
12 May 2023
States can help deliver justice for victims of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes by backing new treaty
States must adopt a landmark treaty to strengthen international legal cooperation in the investigation of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes to improve victims’ access to justice and reparations, Amnesty International said before the start of a high-level conference on an accord.
Negotiations on the proposed convention, which sets out international obligations of states, including on mutual legal assistance and extradition in the investigation and prosecution of crimes under international law, are due to begin in Ljubljana, Slovenia, on Monday 15 May.
Fisseha Tekle, Legal Advisor on International Justice at Amnesty International, said: “Investigating genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes under international law often involves victims, evidence and perpetrators in different countries, so there is an urgent need to ensure that states can work effectively with each other to deliver justice.
“While international treaties exist for countries to collaborate legally on issues such as corruption or organized crime, the absence of a global convention on cooperation concerning suspected genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes has been a glaring omission from the landscape of international law and justice. This convention would be an effective tool in the fight against impunity for crimes under international law.
“Pursuing international justice cannot be the sole responsibility of the International Criminal Court or other international bodies. While these mechanisms are often crucial, comprehensive justice and reparations for victims requires states to investigate crimes under international law using their own national legal systems, in cooperation with other countries.”
Many states, particularly in Europe, have opened national investigations into war crimes and crimes against humanity following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This convention would provide a significant improvement to the international legal framework for states conducting such investigations and prosecutions of crimes under international law, wherever they are committed.
“Amnesty International calls on negotiators to adopt a treaty which incorporates the highest international law and human rights standards. This would include the broadest possible definitions of these crimes as well as who is recognized as a victim, and enhance their rights and access to justice, truth and reparations,” Fisseha Tekle said.
Seventy-seven states are co-sponsoring the current draft of the Convention on International Cooperation in the Investigation and Prosecution of Genocide, Crimes against Humanity, War Crimes and other International Crimes. If adopted, the treaty would oblige states that have joined the convention to either prosecute suspected perpetrators of these crimes in their own domestic courts, or hand them over to another state or to an international criminal tribunal for trial there.
“Amnesty International urges all states present in Ljubljana to negotiate and adopt a convention that can be regarded as a genuine and historic legal landmark which will benefit not only investigators and prosecutors but ultimately deliver justice to the victims and survivors,” Fisseha Tekle said.


Mali: Slavery by descent must be criminalised
by Tomoya Obokata, Alioune Tine
UN Office for Human Rights (OHCHR)
May 2023
Slavery by descent and the resulting violence perpetrated by so-called ‘nobles’ or ‘masters’ against people born into slavery persists in Mali, UN experts said, urging authorities to adopt legislation to criminalise slavery in the country without delay.
“Nothing can justify slavery, whether it be culture, tradition, or religion,” Tomoya Obokata, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences and Alioune Tine, Independent Expert on the situation of human right in Mali”, said.
“Continuing to support slavery in the 21st century contradicts the repeated commitments made by Malian authorities to respect, protect and fulfil human rights for all.”
Slavery by descent was forcing the displacement of hundreds of people and entire communities, who have no hope of returning to their home communities for fear of attack, the experts said.
They highlighted the example of the Kayes region of Mali, where violent clashes have resulted in injuries and forced people to flee their homes. The experts said descent-based slavery was also widespread in the central and northern regions of the country, including Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal. According to Mali's National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH), there is no data on the number of victims of slavery by descent in the country.
However, some organisations estimate that at least 800,000 people are considered to be born into slavery, of whom around 200,000 live under the direct control of their “masters.”
The experts acknowledged important efforts made by the Malian authorities, in particular the Ministry of Justice and judicial authorities, to end impunity for cases of slavery by descent. They welcomed the conviction of several individuals for such crimes at a special session of the Kayes Assize Court from 27 February to 17 March 2023.
“The Government as a whole must act, and the criminalisation of slavery must be a priority,” the experts said.
“Some human rights violations and abuses committed in the context of descent-based slavery could constitute offences under the Malian Penal Code, but not all,” the experts said. “A specific law criminalising slavery by descent would facilitate the prosecution of perpetrators and increase the protection of victims,” they said.
In a recent study, Mali's National Human Rights Commission detailed human rights violations and abuses related to slavery by descent, including acts of violence, assault, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, public humiliation, insults, intimidation, kidnapping and rape committed daily by “masters” against “slaves”, denial of access to basic social services (including water facilities such as pumps or wells, schools, sports and health facilities); and denial of access to businesses or farmland. Individuals or communities who resist slavery are often subjected to physical or social isolation and restrictions on movement by their “masters.”
“Slave ‘masters’ must be held accountable for their actions, compensate victims and restore their rights and dignity,” the experts said. Traditional and religious leaders must play in eradicating slavery by descent in the country, given their influence, they said.
The implementation of the recommendations made during the Interactive Dialogue on Mali in March 2023, and Mali's Universal Periodic Review in May, provide an opportunity for the country to immediately adopt specific legislation criminalising slavery. “Mali is the only country in the Sahel region that does not have such legislation,” they said.
The experts have previously called on Mali to criminalise and eliminate slavery by descent and raised the issue on 8 September 2020, 19 July 2021, and 29 October 2021.
Sep. 2022
50 Million People Worldwide in Modern Slavery - ILO, IOM, Walk Free Foundation
Fifty million people were living in modern slavery in 2021, according to the latest Global Estimates of Modern Slavery Report. Of these people, 28 million were in forced labour and 22 million were trapped in forced marriage.
Latest estimates show that forced labour and forced marriage have increased significantly in the last five years, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), Walk Free and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
The number of people in modern slavery has risen significantly in the last five years. Ten million more people were in modern slavery in 2021 compared to 2016 global estimates. Women and children remain disproportionately vulnerable.
Modern slavery occurs in almost every country in the world, and cuts across ethnic, cultural and religious lines. More than half (52 per cent) of all forced labour and a quarter of all forced marriages can be found in upper-middle income or high-income countries.
Forced labour
Most cases of forced labour (86 per cent) are found in the private sector. Forced labour in sectors other than commercial sexual exploitation accounts for 63 per cent of all forced labour, while forced commercial sexual exploitation represents 23 per cent of all forced labour. Almost four out of five of those in forced commercial sexual exploitation are women or girls.
State-imposed forced labour accounts for 14 per cent of people in forced labour.
Almost one in eight of all those in forced labour are children (3.3 million). More than half of these are in commercial sexual exploitation.
Forced marriage
An estimated 22 million people were living in forced marriage on any given day in 2021. This indicates an increase of 6.6 million since the 2016 global estimates.
The true incidence of forced marriage, particularly involving children aged 16 and younger, is likely far greater than current estimates can capture; these are based on a narrow definition and do not include all child marriages. Child marriages are considered to be forced because a child cannot legally give consent to marry.
Forced marriage is closely linked to long-established patriarchal attitudes and practices and is highly context-specific. The overwhelming majority of forced marriages (more than 85 per cent) was driven by family pressure. Although two-thirds (65 per cent) of forced marriages are found in Asia and the Pacific, when regional population size is considered, the prevalence is highest in the Arab States, with 4.8 people out of every 1,000 in the region in forced marriage.
Migrants particularly vulnerable to forced labour
Migrant workers are more than three times more likely to be in forced labour than non-migrant adult workers. While labour migration has a largely positive effect on individuals, households, communities and societies, this finding demonstrates how migrants are particularly vulnerable to forced labour and trafficking, whether because of irregular or poorly governed migration, or unfair and unethical recruitment practices.
"It is shocking that the situation of modern slavery is not improving. Nothing can justify the persistence of this fundamental abuse of human rights," said ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder.
"We know what needs to be done, and we know it can be done. Effective national policies and regulation are fundamental. But governments cannot do this alone. International standards provide a sound basis, and an all-hands-on-deck approach is needed. Trade unions, employers' organizations, civil society and ordinary people all have critical roles to play."
Antonio Vitorino, IOM Director General, said: "This report underscores the urgency of ensuring that all migration is safe, orderly, and regular. Reducing the vulnerability of migrants to forced labour and trafficking in persons depends first and foremost on national policy and legal frameworks that respect, protect, and fulfil the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all migrants -- and potential migrants -- at all stages of the migration process, regardless of their migration status. The whole of society must work together to reverse these shocking trends, including through implementation of the Global Compact for Migration."
Grace Forrest, Founding Director of Walk Free, said: "Modern slavery is the antithesis of sustainable development. Yet, in 2022, it continues to underpin our global economy. It is a man-made problem, connected to both historical slavery and persisting structural inequality. In a time of compounding crises, genuine political will is the key to ending these human rights abuses."
Ending modern slavery
The report proposes a number of recommended actions which, taken together and swiftly, would mark significant progress towards ending modern slavery. They include: improving and enforcing laws and labour inspections; ending state-imposed forced labour; stronger measures to combat forced labour and trafficking in business and supply chains; extending social protection, and strengthening legal protections, including raising the legal age of marriage to 18 without exception.
Other measures include addressing the increased risk of trafficking and forced labour for migrant workers, promoting fair and ethical recruitment, and greater support for women, girls and vulnerable individuals.
# Modern slavery, as defined for the report, is comprised of two principal components - forced labour and forced marriage. Both refer to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or cannot leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, or abuse of power. Forced labour, as defined in the ILO Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No.29), refers to "all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily". The "private economy" includes all forms of forced labour other than state-imposed forced labour.

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