The Middle East Channel

Egyptian Officials Claim High Turnout as Voters Pass Constitution

Preliminary results in Egypt's constitutional referendum show the draft approved by over 90 percent of voters, in what the military-backed government has portrayed as an endorsement of its legitimacy. Egyptian officials reported high voter turnout, with the state media saying it surpassed that from the Morsi government's constitutional referendum in 2012, citing unofficial counts, which excluded Cairo. The Muslim Brotherhood, whose leaders were arrested after the ouster of Mohamed Morsi in July, boycotted the referendum. The vote advances the "road-map" transition plan of the military-backed government with the next step expected to be a presidential election. Army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi implied a referendum victory could prod his presidential bid, and he appears to be the only serious candidate.

Syria

Head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Ahmet Uzumcu, said Thursday that the removal and destruction of Syria's most dangerous chemicals from its arsenal may not be completed until the end of June. The "primary" chemicals were slated to be destroyed by the end of March, but security concerns, bad weather, and bureaucratic issues delayed their transport. Uzumcu continued, however, that he is confident they can meet the deadline at the end of June. Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said that half of Syria's population, roughly 9.3 million people, is in urgent need of assistance. He addressed a donor conference in Kuwait seeking to raise $6.5 billion for the United Nations to provide medical care, food, water, and shelter for Syrians as the number of refugees has climbed dramatically and conditions inside Syria continue to deteriorate. By Wednesday, donor countries had pledged over $2.4 billion for Syrian assistance.

Headlines  

  • The trial for the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has begun in the outskirts of The Haque, with four Hezbollah members being tried in absentia.
  • A suspected suicide car bombing killed five people Thursday in Lebanon's northeastern town of Hermel, a Hezbollah stronghold near the border with Syria.
  • The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee released a report concluding that the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya was "likely preventable," criticizing the State Department.
  • Israel conducted a series of air raids on the Gaza Strip injuring five people after five rockets were fired into southern Israel, intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.
  • Iraqis in the Anbar city of Fallujah say ISIL fighters are distributing pamphlets calling on residents to fight alongside them, as well as give them money and shelter.   

Arguments and Analysis

'Rumour and referendum in Egypt: Staying on side' (The Economist - Pomegranate Blog)

"Back in bustling Cairo, the government's get-out-the-yes-vote campaign takes many forms. Funded by aid from rich Gulf states, make-work schemes have sent teams of workmen to pave and clean streets, paint bridge railings and otherwise tidy the accumulated clutter of post-revolutionary neglect. In the posh district of Zamalek, new stripes have appeared on some roads, although, in their haste to complete the make-over, painters have in places made the newly demarcated lanes converge dangerously, or stray off on collision course with the kerb.

The same impatience can be seen in efforts to 'secure' the voting from what Egypt's media ceaselessly decry as Brotherhood terrorists and saboteurs. Overzealous police, for instance, took it upon themselves to arrest half a dozen fellows who were silly enough to think they might add a few posters counselling a no vote to the countless thousands chorusing YES. Some officials admit with a sigh that such security excesses threaten to undermine the legitimacy of the vote, if not the regime itself. Most, however, accuse the foreign press of being unfair. Why, they ask, do you stress such negative details rather than the bigger, positive picture of Egypt's return to stability?

Significant sums of that generous Gulf aid have gone towards addressing this perceived image problem. Among several Washington public relations firms recently hired, one sent a film crew to Egypt to shoot some pretty footage of order and progress. Within hours of setting foot on the streets of Cairo, they were arrested."

'To achieve peace in Syria, better start in Aleppo not Geneva' (Jean-Pierre Filiu, Al Jazeera English)

"I spent part of last summer in the part of Aleppo under rebel groups control, embedded with the civilian population, not depending on the dubious 'protection' of any armed group. I could see how families are torn apart, with Skype as the main venue for keeping contact between the two halves of Aleppo. Patriots on each side, despaired to see their city destroyed, are discreetly cooperating to maintain basic services to the population.

Since the beginning of this year, the fighting groups in Aleppo have launched what they called their 'second revolution', now against Al-Qaeda. After days of intense battles and hundreds of casualties, they have successfully driven ISIS out of the city. They had no time to celebrate this victory, since the regime started -- at once -- a major offensive against them.

So the Syrian revolutionary forces, not the regime, are fighting Al-Qaeda, while the same forces are fighting the regime on a second front. A ceasefire in Aleppo would, therefore, not only be a blessing for the battered population, but it would also open at last the possibility for consolidating a zone liberated from Al-Qaeda.

If this ceasefire holds, with the international monitoring that this requires, a local version of the [transitional governing authority] could even be established to run the city. Aleppo would then become a laboratory for a bolder and wider political transition in post-conflict Syria."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Iraq's Long Shadow of Injustice Haunts Britain

It is often said that unresolved human rights violations cast a long and harrowing shadow. Atrocities and crimes committed in the past can come back to haunt even the most powerful states. For Britain, that restless shadow is the war in Iraq.

Earlier this week, two groups -- the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) -- lodged a formal complaint at the International Criminal Court (ICC), demanding that the ICC investigate British political and military officials for their alleged role in the commission of war crimes in Iraq. The filing maintains that senior figures within the British government bare the greatest responsibility for systematic torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of Iraqi citizens between 2003 and 2008.

The complaint comprises a judiciously organized, comprehensive, 250-page dossier. Notably, it relies not only upon witness testimony but on documents and manuals revealed and produced by various commissions, inquiries, and British ministries. Its focus is on Britain's Ministry of Defense and officials such as General Sir Peter Wall, former Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon and former Defense Minister Adam Ingram. Those hoping to see former Prime Minister Tony Blair targeted will be disappointed; his name does not appear once in the filing.

While the ICC is frequently criticized for its myopic focus on sub-Saharan Africa, attention has shifted in recent years, rather dramatically, toward the Middle East and North Africa. The court has grabbed headlines for its actual and potential role in Libya, Syria, Palestine, and now Iraq.

Still, the complaint should not be confused as constituting a judicial intervention into Iraq. Rather, this week's filing could represent the best opportunity to expose senior British officials to investigation by the ICC. This poses an unprecedented political and legal challenge for the court.

Unsurprisingly, British government officials played down the importance of the filing, maintaining that it was a preposterous and baseless move. They argued that enough has been done -- or is being done -- to achieve justice for any human rights violations or crimes committed by British citizens in Iraq. As Foreign Secretary William Hague stated: "These allegations are either under investigation already or have been dealt with already in a variety of ways, through the historic abuse system that has been established, through public inquiries, through the UK courts or the European courts." Under the ICC's complementarity regime, the court can only investigate crimes in instances in which the state is unwilling or unable to genuinely do so itself. The British government appears prepared to argue that it satisfies the ICC's complementarity criteria and that, therefore, the court has no grounds to investigate British officials.

Not so fast, argue those involved in the filing. At the official launch of the complaint in London, Wolfgang Kaleck of the ECCHR maintained that no investigation conducted by the British to date would preclude the ICC from taking up the case. Even if some lower level perpetrators have been brought to justice, those "most responsible" continue to enjoy impunity. Phil Shiner from PIL added that various public inquiries and the provision of damages simply don't cut it. What is needed, and what the filing seeks, is individual criminal responsibility. Moreover, this isn't about a few "bad apples." The authors of this "devastating dossier" have those "at the top" in their cross hairs.

Of course, allegations of inhuman treatment and human rights violations committed by Western troops in Iraq is nothing new. In fact, the ICC has received hundreds of complaints in the case of Iraq. In 2006, then ICC Chief-Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo decided that, while alleged abuses committed in Iraq fell under the jurisdiction of the court, they were not of sufficient gravity to warrant further investigation. Other situations warranted his attention.

Some, however, believe that the ICC prosecutor was guided by political -- rather than legal -- motivations in deciding not to investigate allegations of torture and cruelty by British troops in Iraq. Since its inception in 2002, the British government has been amongst the most fervent and important supporters of the court. Undermining that relationship, as well as its relationship with the United States, by targeting its military and political officials could easily be seen as politically unwise -- especially for a young and fragile institution.

This accommodation to Western powers, however, has come at some cost to the ICC. The court has only issued arrest warrants in African states where the political interests of Western powers are either minimal or where ICC interventions actually complement their interests. This has undermined the court's global reputation. Rather than being seen as an impartial and even-handed judicial institution, the ICC is increasingly derided as a tool of Western states, meting out selective justice by targeting weak states while turning a blind eye to crimes committed by powerful ones.

This filing should thus be seen as a momentous challenge to the ICC and an opportunity to restore its international respectability. Its authors clearly believe that opening an investigation into alleged abuses committed by the British would not only serve justice but also demonstrate that the ICC does not propagate double standards. And they are very confident that the ICC will do so. As far as they are concerned, the court simply has no other choice.

Mark Kersten is a researcher at the London School of Economics. His work focuses on the nexus of international criminal justice and conflict resolution, specifically examining the effects of the ICC on peace processes and negotiations in northern Uganda and Libya. He is also the creator and co-author of the blog, Justice in Conflict

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