Foreign Policy Blogs

War Crimes 2011 Year In Review – Asia


This is the second in a 3-part year in review series on war crimes around the world in 2011.

E.C.C.C. – The Big Four Stand Trial

In what has been called the most important trial since Nuremberg, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia commenced the trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea, Ieng Thirith, Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan in December. The court has been rife with corruption scandals and many see current prime minister, and former Khmer Rouge soldier, Hun Sen as working behind the scenes to prevent more Khmer Rouge leaders from being brought to justice.

The trial chamber initially ordered the release of Ieng Thirith due to her advanced alzheimers disease, but the order was stayed in order for exhaustive efforts to be undertaken to improve her mental condition so that she could stand trail.

In the current trial the defendants are accussed of forcibly relocating political enemies from Phnom Penn to the Cambodian countryside where thousands were executed or died during forced labor. During the reign of the Khmer Rouge 800,000 people were killed and 1.4 million Cambodians starved to death.


Arab Spring Violence Yields No War Crimes Arrests

Governments in Bahrain, Yemen and most notably Syria violently suppressed political protests killings thousands of their own citizens this year. In Syria alone more than 5,000 citizens have died in the violence. Leaders of these countries have not yet been charged with war crimes.

Yemen’s president Ali Abdulllah Saleh fled his country for Saudi Arabia after being critically injured during an attack on his compound. Saleh signed an agreement in November to relinquish power in early 2012, and he is currently seeking to gain entry into the United States purportedly for medical treatment. Hundreds have been killed in the violence in Yemen this year, with more than a dozen this past week alone.

Syria’s Bashar al-Assad has faced increasing international pressure to resign but has yet to show any intentions of doing so. The Arab League voted in November to suspend Syria due to its continued violence directed toward civillians, but then offered to monitor a peace plan aimed at ending the violence allowing Syria to avoid expulsion. The Arab League monitoring efforts have so far been viewed as ineffectual and have been criticized for overlooking gross human rights abuses.

Violence in Bahrain occurred at a smaller scale with 25 civillians recorded killed. The violence which started after February protests was largely quashed after the intervention by international forces led by Saudi Arabia in March. Protests against the ruling Al Khalifa family continue.


Sri Lanka’s Internal War Crimes Investigation Flimsy

Sri Lanka’s internal investigation into alleged war crimes during the defeat of the Tamil Tigers in 2009, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, issued a report in November that all but exonerated the Sri Lankan military from any wrong doing. Human Rights Watch said the report “disregards the worst abuses by government forces, rehashes longstanding recommendations, and fails to advance accountability for victims of Sri Lanka’s civil armed conflict.” Western governments unsatisfied with the quality of the report are pushing for an international investigation. Former president, and accused war crimes perpetrator, Mahinda Rajapaksa recently visited China in an effort to shore up support against an international investigation. An estimated 6,500 civillians were killed during the final phase of the Sri Lankan Civil War in 2009.


Justice 40 Years In The Making In Bangledesh

The International Crimes Tribunal of Bangledesh began its first trial in November against Delawar Hossain Sayedee. Sayedee is charged with Genocide, rape and religious persecution, among other crimes. A total of seven, mostly former leaders of Bangledesh’s two main political parties, are set to be tried for crimes committed during the 1971 war for independence against Pakistan. A total of 3 million civillians died and hundreds of thousands of women were raped. The ICT was set up without the help of the U.N. and applies Bangledeshi law.


Regime Changes, War Crimes Continue In Burma

Burma’s government changed from military junta to a nominally civillian government in March for the first time since 1962. President Thein Sein signed a law permitting peaceful protests for the first time in Burma, and oversaw the release of 200 political prisoners. Despite these moderate reforms no serious effort has been taken to hold the former military junta accountable for alleged war crimes that include deliberately attacking civillian villages and mass rape. Further, Human Rights Watch charges that such abuses continue. In a report issued in July, HRW documented Burma’s use of prisoners as human shields for soldiers and using prisoners to clear mine fields by walking through them until a mine is detonated. Also in July, an Australian citizen, Htoo Htoo Han, confessed to war crimes he committed while working for the Burmese military regime. He recounted taking part in the murder of more than one hundred political enemies of the ruling party. International pressure for a U.N. war crimes investigation in Burma has waned due to the regime change in March.


Biggest Surprise

The world marked the death of two of the world’s most notorious war criminals in 2011; Osama bin Laden and Kim Jong Il . Bin Laden’s death by U.S. forces in May raised questions about the Geneva Conventions which you can read about on this blog here. The ICC launched an official investigation late last year into North Korean war crimes for its attack on South Korea in 2010.


Next up:  War Crimes 2011 Year In Review – Africa



Brandon Henander
Brandon Henander

Brandon lives in Chicago and works as a Project Coordinator for Illinois Legal Aid Online. He has a LL.M. in International Law and International Relations from Flinders University in Adelaide. Brandon has worked as a lobbyist for Amnesty International Australia and as an intern for U.S. Congressman Dave Loebsack. He also holds a B.A. in Political Science, Philosophy and Psychology from the University of Iowa. His interests include American and Asian politics, human rights, war crimes and the International Criminal Court.

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