Our Projects | Guernica 37 Centre
Our work in Colombia aims to support various ethnic and rural communities in Northern Cauca, Buenaventura, Montes de Maria and Putumayo, in their quest to claim their rights and seek accountability for violations they have endured. Given the active implementation phase of the transitional justice mechanisms that derive from the Colombian Peace Agreement, The Guernica Centre is promoting and supporting these communities to actively participate and claim the protection of their rights in the framework of the Truth Commission, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace and the Unit in charge of tracing missing and disappeared persons.
The Guernica Centre has paired with the Institute of Intercultural Studies (IEI) of the Javeriana University of Cali to produce rich contextual and analytical reports that document criminal patterns and analyze the international responsibility of different actors for crimes prioritized by the ethnic communities we work with. Implementing the Guernica Approach, we work next to our partners and lend our international experience and expertise to these community-based efforts, thus creating a methodology for the effective participation of victims before the transitional mechanisms that places them at the centre and at the forefront of the accountability process.
Additionally, The Guernica Centre is also involved in providing training and advisory services to Colombian authorities, including control and protection bodies (such as the Procuraduría General de la Nación), aimed at promoting the rule of law and protecting the rights of victims of crimes.
On November 29, 2017, Salvadoran Colonel Inocente Orlando Montano was extradited from the US to Spain, so that he could be tried for his participation in the 1989 massacre of six Spanish Jesuits and two Salvadoran women, committed by the Salvadoran armed forces.
His transfer to Spain marked the beginning of a promising path to justice, after nearly three decades of impunity for this heinous crime. The brutal slaying had a deep impact within the Jesuit community and a chilling effect on all of those demanding social justice in El Salvador at the time of the war in that country. Ever since the case was included in the 1992-1993 UN-sponsored truth commission report, the family members of the victims and many sectors of Salvadoran society have demanded that the perpetrators be brought to justice.
Alongside Spanish criminal lawyer Manuel Ollé Sesé, The Guernica Centre will support the representation of some of the victims and intervene as a formal party in the case before the Spanish National Court. With Montano in detention in Spain the case has entered the final stages; trial is likely to commence in late 2019.
The Guernica Centre strives to ensure that justice is served in relation to this particular defendant, but also wants to contribute so that the case can serve as a catalyst in El Salvador to overcome some of the ongoing obstacles to accountability in that country. The Guernica Centre acts pursuant to the conviction that the Montano case will provide an opportunity to reaffirm basic principles related to the quest for justice globally, and to refine legal standards related to the duties of the Spanish state and other European states in bringing those responsible for international crimes to justice.
Over the past year, The Guernica Centre has worked with the #Jammeh2Justice coalition to design and adopt a strategy to effectively prosecute international crimes committed in The Gambia before the Senegalese courts, applying the principle of Universal Jurisdiction.
The Centre has also continued working alongside victims and #Jammeh2Justice partners to identify legal avenues for cases that can be pursued in different European jurisdictions and in the United States. On a parallel basis, investigation efforts are oriented at identifying and locating potential subjects, including Junglers and other members of the Gambian security forces responsible for the commission of human rights violations.
A Civil Society Movement to Bring Meaningful Change
Addressing Corruption, Bringing Accountability
Lebanon has experienced deep-rooted corruption and governmental negligence for years, to the extent that some of these practices have been normalized and many state institutions are coopted by private interest. Traditional political elites appear caught in power grabbing exercises that do not provide avenues for change; renewed attention by the international community offers some room for hope, however needed transformations can only come from the strategic and enduring engagement by civil society in Lebanon. Citizen involvement and civic trust in public affairs need to be reestablished. A key step in devising forward-looking solutions relates to achieving meaningful accountability and justice for the gross malfeasance that has been experienced: holding offenders accountable and, in the process, enhancing national judicial independence and capacity, as a means of breaking the cycle of impunity and promoting prevention – goals that have been prioritised by our partners.
The Guernica Centre was approached by a sector of Lebanese civil society to build a strategy aiming at collaborating with local organizations, Lebanese lawyers and retired judges, as well as leading international experts, to strategize and contribute to conditions that favor the independence of the Lebanese judiciary and its authority to administer justice, and, in turn, foster citizen oversight that will constructively contribute to the protection of the Rule of Law. Justice needs to be recovered as a cardinal value and a leading function of the administration of power in Lebanon. An effective response by the justice system can be a meaningful catalyst in the quest for accountability and change, contributing to restore the eroded trust in government and state institutions.
In the wake of the August 4, 2020 explosion in Beirut, confronting the harm and the consequences of the malfeasance is at the core of countering the sense of generalized injustice that has taken hold over large sectors of Lebanese society.
The type of criminal offending and abuse of power transpiring in Lebanon reflect complex patterns of perpetration that involve sources of private and public power in planning, committing and covering-up egregious conduct. Guernica brings together seasoned practitioners from around the globe that have successfully led and advised accountability initiatives in similar adverse settings. Undoubtedly, the quest for accountability will be resisted by powerful players in Lebanon. Moreover, the situations that need to be addressed put traditional conceptions of legal and political responsibility to the test. The Guernica Centre will work with its local partners to ensure a multi-dimensional and incremental approach to the quest for accountability that engages society and contributes to restore trust in institutions.
In the process, this quest needs to be brightened by concrete achievements. As the Lebanon project starts at the Guernica Centre, our partners at Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers have already provided counsel and promoted the use of legal recourses in the United Kingdom and Europe that should lead to holding perpetrators accountable and recovering funds (when possible). These cases show that exposing powerful actors acting as part of criminal enterprises is possible and, put quite simply, that justice can be achieved.
The Guernica Centre has prioritized the quest for accountability in Lebanon as part of its programmatic action in national settings. Seed funding and sweat equity for this project, so far, has come from concerned citizens in Lebanon and outside. And much of the original research on the Guernica 37 work on Lebanon came from the excellent work done by Lebanese investigative journalists, which was graciously made available to the general public.
In recent weeks, many individuals and organizations reached out to us with offers of support so we can continue and expand our efforts to advance the cause of justice related to crimes committed against the Lebanese people. See the link below for a listing of some of these organisations.
The Guernica Centre has set up a special account for funds related to this initiative. The funding and support, apart from the time of the Guernica team, will come from Lebanese citizens and persons with ties to Lebanon that are driven exclusively by the will to converge in a quest for justice and accountability. We are seeking the support of Lebanese citizens living in Lebanon and abroad to invest in this initiative to signal their determination to continue to fight against the crimes committed against them and their country. Donations of any size, however small or large, are encouraged. Donations from PEP (Politically Exposed Persons) or PEP related individuals or entities will not be accepted.
The Guernica Centre has been working side-by-side with Nicaraguan organizations, both in country as well as in exile, to respond to their demands for truth, justice and reparations in connection with the repressive acts of government and paramilitary forces against demonstrators starting in April 2018.
International human rights protection bodies have reported on the violations and underscored the gravity and the systematic nature of some these acts, finding that crimes against humanity have likely been committed by state-sanctioned groups. Base crimes include: persecution, executions, arbitrary deprivation of liberty, forced disappearances, torture, rape and forced displacement, amongst others.
Though the crackdown on various forms of protected speech and expression has continued, and violent attacks and threats against human rights defenders and social leaders have not subsided, civil society mobilization remains staunch and, unlike any other moment in Nicaraguan history, the demands for truth and justice are overwhelming. The way forward is highly complex, as polarization is at its height, the political climate is volatile, and the rule of law has been compromised. Consonant with the Guernica Approach, the Centre has promoted, together with Nicaraguan counterparts, a coalition destined to explore all viable alternatives in the quest for justice. The Coalition for Justice in Nicaragua has recently been conformed and is working with a group of partners to document, assess and explore all alternatives that can serve the interests of justice, particularly those tied to criminal accountability.
The Guernica Centre is working together with Nigerian organizations and supporting a network of victims and survivors of violence in a quest to promote justice in that war-torn country. In the context of the longstanding conflict between the Nigerian government and the Islamic armed group “Boko Haram”, thousands of persons have experienced egregious human rights violations and abuses that have been amply documented. After an initial participatory assessment that took place in 2018 in Senegal, The Guernica Centre will jointly develop a victim-centered accountability strategy for the investigation and prosecution of international crimes and human rights violations that took place between 2011 and 2016 in Northeast Nigeria.
The context of our actions is complex, as violence is ongoing, and the conflict responds to a wide range of socio-cultural, economic, ethno-religious and sub-regional factors.
The Guernica Centre filed an amicus curiae brief with the Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court, analyzing whether the Court had jurisdiction over the crime of forced deportation of the ethnic Rohingya minority from Myanmar to Bangladesh.
The Court, referring to our submission no less than seven times in its decision, ruled that it could exercise jurisdiction over the crime against humanity of forced deportation, as —although Myanmar is not a State party to the Rome Statute— certain elements of the crime were committed in Bangladesh, which has ratified the jurisdiction of the ICC. The Court also confirmed that it could exercise jurisdiction over two other crimes, “persecution” and “other inhumane acts”.
In addition, The Guernica Centre has partnered with five civil society organizations in Myanmar to develop and deliver a comprehensive training program to those organizations. The training will focus on international investigatory standards, including the retention, storage and presentation of evidence before investigatory panels and tribunals. Thereafter, the work undertaken by those organizations will be used in the drafting of further detailed evidence-based submissions to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and to other existing international human rights mechanisms, focusing on forced disappearance, persecution, and other inhumane acts.
Spain has only sparingly addressed the crimes committed during Franco’s dictatorship.
One of the practices of that regime, with unfathomable and devastating effects on individuals, families and communities, has received little to no attention: the abduction of babies and their forced transfer from persecuted families to institutions or families charged with “saving” the children, who had been stripped of their identity. The theft of babies took place in Spain for nearly five decades, starting in the 1930s. The reach and scope of the abduction and transfer of babies is unknown, though suspected to be in the thousands. Spanish society remains in deep denial in relation to this practice. Very few victims have come to terms with their heinous past, others suspect hidden and unspeakable secrets in their family history, whilst most victims live unwittingly, as they remain unaware of the practice of forced separation at birth.
The Guernica Centre has forged an alliance with a local organization, Todos los niños robados son también mis niños. First steps taken in this framework include, the promotion of legislative and policy proposals that can help address the abduction of children nationally and start systematic victim-tracing activities. The Guernica Centre is currently seeking support to ensure a sustained effort of an interdisciplinary working group that can conduct practical research, adopt and implement victim-tracing tools, and protect the rights of victims of this abhorrent and still surreptitious practice.
In January 2017, The Guernica Centre filed before the Spanish National Court, the first criminal complaint ever brought against Syrian military leaders for the commission of international crimes during the armed conflict.
Guernica acted on behalf of Mrs. A.H., a victim of Spanish nationality, whose brother was arbitrarily detained, forcibly disappeared, tortured and executed in 2013 in a detention centre in Damascus. Even though in March 2017, Judge Velasco admitted the criminal complaint, the Spanish National Court subsequently ruled that Spanish Courts lack jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute the crimes committed in Syria. Our legal team maintains that this decision ignored international and European law regulating the concept of victim, and is in contravention of the victim’s right to access a Court of Law. Consequently, The Guernica Centre has filed an application for amparo before the Spanish Constitutional Court, where the case is pending.
Simultaneously, through its partner organization Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers, based in London, legal counsel is advising the family of Dr. Abbas Khan, a British orthopedic surgeon who travelled to Syria to treat civilian victims and was executed by members of the Syrian Security Forces following a year of being imprisoned and subjected to torture. The case is currently in an exploratory/investigative phase, available evidence is being assessed to determine whether a request can be made to the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command to open a criminal investigation into his death.
In July 2018, The Guernica Centre built a detailed curriculum and a manual to train Syrian judges and prosecutors in exile on accountability and international justice strategies and subsequently provided their training, having been specifically selected for this task by the International Bar Association Human Rights Institute in London.
Furthermore, following the decision of the International Criminal Court regarding its jurisdiction over crimes committed by Myanmar against the Rohingya in Bangladesh, The Guernica Centre employed the logic established in this decision to file on March 1, 2019 a communication with the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to open a Preliminary Examination into crimes against humanity committed by the Syrian Regime.
In order to respond in a context-sensitive fashion and ensure accountability for the serious crimes that have been committed in Venezuela in the recent past, The Guernica Centre is working in association with a wide-array of Venezuelan counterparts that remain in country and others that have been forced to flee.
Given all political, economic and humanitarian dimensions of the Venezuelan crisis, and its protracted nature, The Guernica Centre has adopted a broad and comprehensive strategy to protect victims’ rights, including active exploration of available international mechanisms and recourses that can achieve accountability for the crimes that have been committed, and reflective exploration of appropriate means to respond to the complex goals of an eventual transitional justice process that strengthens the rule of law in Venezuela.
Based on its technical capacity and the practical experience of its members in other jurisdictions, The Guernica Centre has built formal relationships with Venezuelan civil society to maximize their impact and to design and implement a grounded and exhaustive accountability strategy, while preparing the ground for a socially rooted transitional justice process led by Venezuelans.