US pardons for accused war criminals, contrary to international law: UN rights office

UN Photo Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.


A presidential pardon for two United States soldiers accused of war crimes, and a sentence reduction for a third, “run against the letter and the spirit of international law which requires accountability for such violations”, the United Nations human rights wing said on Tuesday.

“While pardons exist in international law, and can properly address issues of injustice or unfairness”, Rupert Colville, Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), told reporters at a regular press briefing in Geneva that these cases showed no circumstances to suggest anything other than “simply voiding the otherwise proper process of law in the cases”.

“These pardons send a disturbing signal to military forces all around the world”, he added.

The accused

According to news reports, Lieutenant Clint Lorance was tried and convicted for ordering the shooting of Afghanistan civilians in 2013 and handed down a 20-year prison sentence. Last Friday, he was given a full pardon.

Major Mathew Golsteyn was charged with executing an unarmed Afghan man who was a suspected Taliban bombmaker in 2010. He was scheduled to be tried in February.

And Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher was charged with murdering a captive in Iraq. He was acquitted but received a demotion for posing with the corpse for a photograph. President Trump on Friday vowed to restore his rank.

“These three cases involve serious violations of international humanitarian law, both proven and alleged, including the shooting of a group of civilians and execution of a captured member of an armed group”, said Mr. Colville.

Some US news outlets applauded President Donald Trump’s reprieves, while others saw them as a sign of disregard for the decisions of military juries as well as for the judicial process itself.

“International Humanitarian Law establishes the obligation to investigate violations and prosecute war crimes”, reminded Mr. Colville.

He pointed out that by investigating the allegations, and initiating and completing criminal proceedings, the US military justice system had been in compliance with international law.

Underscoring that “victims of gross human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law have the right to a remedy”, Mr. Colville maintained that the pardon terminating further criminal proceedings in the case of Major Mathew Golsteyn, was “particularly troubling”.

He elaborated that remedies include equal and effective access to justice, the right to the truth, and to see perpetrators serve punishments proportionate to the seriousness of their conduct, “rather than see them absolved of responsibility”.

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