Barring hurricanes, landslides and the occasional drug trafficking story, Guatemala doesn’t often reach our newspapers or TV screens. But in spring 2013, this small Central American country made the headlines when it put its former president on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity. The charges against General Efraín Ríos Montt and his Intelligence Chief, General Rodríguez Sanchez, were based on a military campaign in 1982-3 that targeted indigenous Mayan civilians. This was not a case of rogue troops, but sophisticated and brutal social engineering thinly masked as counter-insurgency against leftist rebels. Unlike Yugoslavia and Rwanda however, Guatemala was not given an international tribunal, or even a ‘hybrid’ war crimes court like Sierra Leone or Bosnia. Instead, justice came only 30 years later and from the most unlikely of places: an official state tribunal.
Rape and other acts of serious sexual violence in armed conflict are to be recognised as grave breaches of the Geneva Convention as well as war crimes, according to an announcement by British Foreign Secretary, William Hague and UN Special Envoy Angelina Jolie, at a G8 meeting on April 11th 2013.
The new Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict agreed by ministers, elevates the most under reported and least prosecuted aspect of war to a new status, on a par with wilful killing and torture, and provides a framework for investigating and prosecuting offenders. The move is welcome news to campaigners working to end sexual violence, and it sounds good on paper, but how easy will it be to enforce?
Since the beginning of February, hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis have been occupying a major intersection called Shahbag in the heart of Dhaka, calling for capital punishment for war crimes committed during the country’s liberation from Pakistan in 1971. But what began as a peaceful civic uprising may be taking a turn in the public’s perception as one that contradicts Islam.
While this moment has been in the making for decades, the current explosion of civic activity has a new and youthful character born out of optimism. The vitality and size of the crowd has surprised and delighted. As Shimul Bashar, a reporter for a private TV channel wrote of the #Shahbag protests on Facebook:
Dragoljub Draža Mihailović was a commander of the Yugoslav Army in the Homeland, also known as the Chetnik movement, during World War II. In 1946, he was captured by the communist Yugoslav authorities, convicted of high treason and war crimes, sentenced to death and executed.
The tribunal for his rehabilitation, which began in June 2010 on the request by Draža’s grandson Vojislav Mihailović, is nearing the end now. Although the request has been supported by some academicians, professors and politicians, the public in Serbia is divided. For some, Draža Mihailović is an innocent victim, for others, he is a justly convicted collaborator of the occupiers, who committed crimes not only in Serbia, but in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia as well.
While long denying having subjected Korean women to forced prostitution during Japan’s 1910-1945 occupation of the Korean Peninsula, in 1992 the Japanese government officially recognized its involvement in the ‘comfort women’ issue and apologized for having committed war crimes. Since then, every Japanese prime minister has further reaffirmed and expressed Japan’s official apologies to South Korea.
The issue remains however far from being resolved and continues to damage Japanese relations with the Republic of South Korea and other countries in the region. The dispute became more visible in December 2011 when the South Korean government established a monument for ‘comfort women’ directly adjacent to the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. In addition, South Korea now uses the question time of the Human Rights Council meeting as a venue to force Japan to provide answers to this painful chapter of the two countries’ shared history. In what follows, we will further explore the issue and place the ‘comfort women’ within the broader context of ongoing tensions between Japan and South Korea.