INTERNATIONAL CRIMES AND ACCOUNTABILITY

Despite claiming support for the principles of universal human rights, many governments and their legal authorities continue to ignore them. Even in those countries where human rights are firmly entrenched in the legal system, these rights do not necessarily enjoy protection or respect. Grave violations of human rights can represent crimes attracting individual responsibility. Yet criminal investigations into such violations – particularly when the charges are leveled against state actors – are rarely initiated, and even then they are often inadequate. As a result, these cases tend not to make it to trial, where a court would have the chance to uncover the truth. Meanwhile, victims’ compen­sation claims are often dismissed by courts. The combined result of these factors is that the truth of what happened is never established before the courts, which in turn makes it more difficult for a given society to come to terms with its past.
 
ECCHR uses a variety of legal ways and means to ensure that in particularly emblematic cases, human rights violations are prosecuted and that perpetrators are brought to justice. This is intended to provide those working locally in the regions and countries affected by the crimes with a new way of highlighting the structures in society, politics and the military that engender grave human rights violations. This can pave the way for the dismantling of political and legal obstacles in the affected countries and can bring about a new impetus for change.
 
In order to be able to effectively utilize legal procedures ECCHR depends on thorough research and documentation of human rights violations. Only with a foundation of solid information can ECCHR develop strategies for addressing human rights problems and their root causes through legal intervention on a national and international level. Alongside national and international criminal law, other useful approaches include pursuing civil and administrative law avenues as well as providing expert legal opinions. On top of this, ECCHR plays an active role in legal/political debates on specific human rights issues by publishing opinions and journal articles, speaking at public events and engaging in dialogue with policy makers.
 
ECCHR also makes use of the complaint procedures of various bodies and institutions of the United Nations and the Council of Europe such as the European Court of Human Rights. Further support is provided in national and international proceedings around the world through the submission of expert opinions and amicus curiae briefs. The publication of statements on human rights-related political decisions at home, abroad and on an international level have also helped to stimulate debate and influence subsequent developments.
 
ECCHR is currently focusing its work on the following countries and themes:
  • Grave human rights violations committed in the course of countering terrorism by the USA, the UK and their allies in Guantánamo, Iraq and Afghanistan as well as through drone strikes
  • War crimes and sexual violence in Sri Lanka
  • Grave human rights violations including murder, torture and sexual violence in Egypt, Bahrain, Colombia, Chechnya and Uzbekistan
  • Dealing with the crimes of the dictatorships in Argentina and Chile (Colonia Dignidad)
  • NATO and UN responsibility in Serbia and Afghanistan

Background papers: