International Justice in the News

The International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life brings you a monthly selection of news about the people involved in the work of international courts and tribunals, significant developments in international justice, and publications and resources of interest. We hope that this brief selection will help you keep abreast of the field and lead you to sites where you can inform yourself further.

October 2015

People in the News

dThe European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has a new President. Judge Guido Raimondi (Italy) will take office on 1 November 2015, succeeding Dean Speilmann (Luxembourg) who has been President since 2012.  Judge Raimondi joined the ECHR bench in 2010 and has served as Vice-President for the past three years. He previously held positions at the Italian Court of Cassation and the International Labour Office. Learn more about Judge Raimondi’s background in an ECtHR press release.

    Edward Snowden
Privacy activists – including US National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, and UN Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy Joseph Cannataci – have started a campaign to create an international treaty that safeguards online privacy rights and whistleblower protections. The proposed agreement, formally called the International Treaty on the Right to Privacy, Protection Against Improper Surveillance and Protection of Whistleblowers,” has been nicknamed the “Snowden Treaty” by supporters in recognition of Snowden’s harsh treatment in the wake of his 2013 revelations concerning the widespread surveillance practices of the US government. The international treaty would require signatory states to prohibit mass data collection, like that conducted by the NSA, mandate stringent public oversight over national surveillance programs, and offer asylum to people who say they are whistleblowers. The activists supporting this proposal argue that “the right to privacy is vital not just in itself but because it is an essential requirement for the exercise of freedom of opinion and expression, the most fundamental pillars of democracy.” Read more about the proposed treaty and see who supports it here.  
                            Credit: Robert H. Jackson Center

Prosecutors of international criminal courts and tribunals have made a joint declaration as the culminating event of the Ninth International Humanitarian Law Dialogs, organized by the Robert H. Jackson Center.  Every year since 2007, Prosecutors from the International Criminal Court, International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Special Court for Sierra Leone, Special Tribunal for Lebanon, and the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia have met, along with legal experts and practitioners, at the Chautauqua Institution in New York State for a symposium on pertinent issues in international criminal law. The ninth annual Dialogs offered attendees a look at the impact of modern international law on war crimes and crimes against humanity. This year’s theme, “The Wrongs We Seek,” commemorated the anniversary of the Srebrenica Massacre (1995) and the opening of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg (1945). Read the text of the Ninth Declaration here.

dThe now former President of Guatemala, Otto Pérez Molina, had a spectacular fall from grace this month. Following accusations of malfeasance and public protests calling for his removal from office, Pérez resigned and was subsequently indicted and arrested on charges of corruption, illicit association and bribery. A major player in this development is the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a UN-backed independent international body with the mandate to investigate the existence of illicit security forces, to help the State of Guatemala disband covert security forces and organizations, and to make recommendations to the State regarding policies to “eradicate and prevent re-emergence of [these] structures.” Pérez Molina was allegedly the commander of “La Linea” (“The Line”), a large-scale customs tax fraud scheme that was uncovered by the CICIG in April 2015. Such a triumph by an international commission to end impunity has been met by calls for similar institutions to be established in other Central American states.

September 2015, it has been observed, was “a big month for international justice in Africa.” The trial of Bosco “The Terminator” Ntaganda, a former militia leader from the Democratic Republic of Congo charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, opened at the International Criminal Court. It has been suggested that this trial may strike fear in other quarters, namely that of Rwandan President Paul Kagame whose government, according to a Justice in Conflict blogpost, has had close links to Ntaganda.

September also saw the resumption of the trial of Hissène Habré, the former Chadian dictator allegedly responsible for mass torture and murder, who, after decades of evading justice, has finally been brought to trial at the Senegalese Extraordinary African Chambers. Habré is purported to have questionable past links of his own, and ones that the West might well wish to forget. Commentator Kelly Bluen recounts that “[w]hen Habré came to power in 1982, it was, in large part, as a result of a CIA covert operation” related to the Cold War power struggle with Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.

Developments in International Justice

dIssues surrounding gender and justice have recently been given powerful expression.

The United Nations Committee for the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has adopted a general recommendation that women’s access to justice be improved so that the rights enshrined in CEDAW can be realized. The Committee highlighted six key components in ensuring justice for women: justiciability, availability, accessibility, good quality justice systems, effective remedies, and accountability. Read more about the general recommendation from the International Justice Resource Center.

Approaching women’s access to justice from a different angle, a recent publication and blogpost by Prof. Nienke Grossman describe the ongoing challenges to gender parity on the benches of international courts and tribunals. Grossman rejects the argument that the paucity of women on the international bench results from the small pool of qualified women from which to choose, and urges readers to follow the GQual Campaign that aims to “get states to nominate and vote for more women for these important positions.”

Finally, the United Nations Broadband Commission has just issued its report on “Cyber Violence Against Women and Girls.” The report notes that “respect for and security of girls and women must at all times be front and center of those in charge of producing and providing the content, technical backbone and enabling environment of our digital society. Failure to do so will clip the potential of the Internet as an engine for gender equality and women’s empowerment.” A Washington Post op-ed by Caitlin Dewey critiques the conclusions of the report, however, seeing the imposition of protective but restrictive measures on the Internet as an “attempt to transform the Web from a libertarian free-for-all to some kind of enforced social commons.”

dThe Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) has delivered a judgment in a contempt case that, as stated in the judgment’s introduction, is “the first in the history of international justice in which a legal person is accused of a crime.” In Al Jadeed S.A.L./New T.V. S.A.L, decided by STL Contempt Judge Nicola Lettieri (Italy), Ms. Karma Mohamed Tahsin Al Khayat, a Lebanese journalist and deputy director of Lebanese TV station Al Jadeed, S.A.L. – the legal person in question – were both found not guilty of contempt of court, the first count of the order in lieu of an indictment. As for the second count, interference in the administration of justice, Judge Lettieri found only Ms. Khayat guilty. She was sentenced to a fine of €10,000, a penalty far lower than the maximum sentence for contempt at the Tribunal, which is seven years imprisonment or a fine of €100,000, or both. Read more details in STL press releases on the judgment and sentencing in this contempt case.


dThe 11th annual conference of the European Society of International Law (ESIL) was recently held at the University of Oslo, where it was hosted by the PluriCourts Center for the Study of the Legitimate Roles of the Judiciary in the Global Order. The theme of the conference was “The Judicialization of International Law: a Mixed Blessing?” Read more about the theme and access webcasts of selected sessions here.

fThe United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OCHCR) has released a report outlining human rights violations committed by both the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Sri Lankan government between 2002 and 2011. The report describes enforced disappearances, indiscriminate shelling, extrajudicial killings, recruitment of child soldiers, gender-based violence and other grave crimes that occurred in the context of the civil war. The report posed several recommendations, including the establishment of “an ad hoc hybrid special court, integrating international judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and investigators, mandated to try war crimes and crimes against humanity, including sexual crimes and crimes committed against children, with its own independent investigative and prosecuting organ, defence office, and witness and victims protection programme.” Two days before the release of the UN report, Sri Lanka’s foreign minister, Mr. Mangala Samaraweera, announced his government’s plans to establish a Commission for Truth, Justice, Reconciliation and Non-Recurrence. The government has come under increased pressure to prosecute the alleged perpetrators of war crimes.

dThe Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has found that Italian tax law has established de-facto impunity regarding the evasion of valued-added tax (VAT). The result is that Italian law is at odds with European Union law, which requires EU member states to “counter illegal activities affecting the financial interests of the European Union through effective deterrent measures…” The controversy arose when Italy brought criminal charges against Mr. Ivo Taricco and others for participating in a VAT evasion conspiracy amounting to several million euros. The core problem, and the reason for the CJEU ruling, is that Mr. Ivo Taricco, his fellow conspirators, and anyone else similarly being charged with VAT evasion will almost undoubtedly face no legal consequences for their crimes.  This is because under Italian law many tax evasion cases are “time-barred,” meaning that there is a statute of limitations for when Italy can legally collect the debt.  Italian prosecutors are rarely given more than a few years after the offenses are committed to complete their cases, a very short window of opportunity given their complexity.  The CJEU ruling is expected to result in Italy reforming its VAT evasion laws so they better coincide with European Union norms. Read more in a CJEU press release.

dThe International Court of Justice (ICJ) has ruled that it has jurisdiction to hear the case of Bolivia v. Chile. The dispute revolves around Bolivia’s contention that Chile has an obligation to negotiate in good faith with Bolivia for access to the Pacific Ocean. Bolivia argued that under Article XXXI of the 1948 Pact of Bogotá, the ICJ has jurisdiction over Chile’s alleged breach of its obligation to negotiate such access.  Chile counter-argued that territorial sovereignty should be “settled by arrangement between the parties,” and therefore “governed by agreements or treaties in force on the date of the conclusion of the [Pact of Bogotá].” An important note on this ruling is that while the ICJ presumes that Bolivia’s eventual goal is a right of access to the Pacific Ocean, this case only regards Chile’s obligation to negotiate with Bolivia over this access.

Publications and Resources of Interest

Three recent publications highlight important connections between language and justice.

1) “International Justice in the News” editor Leigh Swigart (Brandeis University) has a new publication, African Languages in International Criminal Justice: the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and Beyond” (from Promoting Accountability under International Law for Gross Human Rights Violations in Africa: Essays in Honour of Prosecutor Hassan Bubacar Jallow. Charles Chernor Jalloh and Alhagi B.M. Marong, Eds. Brill Nijhoff, 2015). This book chapter explores the various challenges and strategies associated with the participation of speakers of African languages in processes of international justice. Read her blogpost about the publication at IntLawGrrls.

d2) Ellen Elias-Bursac (former ICTY translator and teacher of Slavic languages) has published an e-book focused on issues of translation and interpretation at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Translating Evidence and Interpreting Testimony at a War Crimes Tribunal: Working in a Tug of War (Palgrave MacMillan 2015). This book explores the dynamic courtroom interactions at the ICTY in which witnesses testify—through an interpreter—about translations; attorneys argue—through an interpreter—about translations and the interpreting; and judges adjudicate on the interpreted testimony and translated evidence.

3) Javier Alcalde (International Catalan Institute for Peace) has written an extensive review of the literature addressing the notion of “linguistic justice” and, more generally, fairness in multilingual contexts. “Linguistic Justice: an Interdisciplinary Overview of the Literature” (Amsterdam Working Papers in Multilingualism #3, 2015) focuses the biggest part of its attention on political philosophy, but it also presents several contributions from economics, sociolinguistics, interlinguistics, and law. The review also discusses how different theories or approaches to linguistic justice have been applied to the case of the management of multilingualism in the European Union.

dIn response to the refugee crisis in Europe, Oxford University Press has made more than 30 book chapters, journal articles, and pieces of content from online resources freely accessible to assist those working with refugees on the ground, as well as anyone who would like to know more about the framework of rights and obligations concerning refugees. The materials are structured around four key questions: who is a refugee, what rights do they have, what are transit states’ obligations, and what are the duties of the state where a refugee applies for asylum. Read more and access the online resources here.

“International Justice in the News” is edited by Leigh Swigart, Director of Programs in International Justice and Society, with the assistance of Daniel Jaffe '17 and Leonie Koch '16.

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