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Annual report 2020

Seeking justice


is the number of transitional justice cases in Tunisia where the OMCT is a civil party


lawyers from across the world exchanged on legal strategies in pandemic times

The three OMCT SOS-Torture Litigators’ Groups set up in Africa, Asia, and Latin America in 2019 redoubled their efforts last year to keep up with the new challenges and curtailment of rights brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. They focused on alerting on the deterioration and sudden limitations to the enjoyment of rights of persons deprived of liberty, as well as on the documentation and legal defence of victims of arbitrary and heavy-handed policing practices in the context of the enforcement of sanitary measures and restrictions. Regional reports on the impacts of Covid-19 on detention were published with the Litigators’ Group in Africa and Latin America.

In November, lawyers and advocates from four continents exchanged concerns, strategies and success stories during a series of virtual regional litigation labs that culminated in a global “Litigation Lab on Detention, Torture and the Right to Defend in Times of Covid-19”. Best practices included a leading Covid-19 Vulnerability Grading Index developed by Justice Project Pakistan (JPP) to identify and release the most vulnerable prisoners in Pakistan, a collective habeas corpus lodged by Xumek that triggered the release of thousands of prisoners in Argentina, and sustained legal advocacy in Togo that led to similar decongestion measures, including the release of children deprived of liberty. The labs were jointly organised with Open Society Justice Initiative and Network members CACIT, Frayba and PAHRA.

The OMCT supported partners and victims in their pursuit of justice at the international level when local remedies had proven to be ineffective and/or unavailable. SOS-Torture Burundi, the Africa Litigators’ Group and the OMCT submitted an individual complaint to the UN Committee against Torture on behalf of a victim of torture in Burundi, as a critical step to break the cycle of impunity for the thousands of victims of grave human rights violations committed in the context of the 2015 peaceful protests.

The story of Emil Bustamante López

The OMCT, along with a local human rights lawyer, filed a case with the UN Human Rights Committee on behalf of the wife and daughters of Emil Bustamante López, who was abducted by the Guatemalan army in February 1982 and never seen again. It was the first time the Committee was asked to examine a situation of enforced disappearance in the Central American country.

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In Tunisia, despite important democratic progress since the 2011 revolution, justice advances at a glacial pace in cases of torture and police brutality.

In answer to the slow and inadequate judicial process, OMCT Tunisia created in April SANAD-Elhaq ("the law" in Arabic), a new entity that aims to provide victims of torture with high quality legal assistance. SANAD-Elhaq and OMCT partners scored an important victory when the Administrative tribunal suspended, for the first time ever, the arbitrary detention of 22 migrants. They were set free in September.

The OMCT is also a civil party in seven transitional justice cases in Tunisia. Transitional justice trials have been suspended throughout most of 2020, due to the pandemic and other factors. In May, the OMCT office in Tunisia launched the Justice first campaign and published a report on the stalled transitional justice process, two years after the creation of specialised chambers on serious past crimes, including torture that sometimes led to the death of the victims. A second report, No reconciliation without Justice, followed in December.

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