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.


June 2016

Dear subscribers,

International Justice in the News will take its summer break early this year. In late June, we are convening the 11th Brandeis Institute for International Judges in Copenhagen, in partnership with the iCourts, the Danish National Foundation’s Centre of Excellence for International Courts. There will thus be no IJIN issue in July, but look for us again in August 2016.

People in the News


dThe International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life notes with sorrow the passing of Michael Ratner, an alumnus of Brandeis University and former member of our International Advisory Board. A passionate and principled lawyer, Michael led the Center for Constitutional Rights, and through that institution fought tirelessly for justice for men and women at the margins of the American legal system. His most notable triumph came in winning the right of judicial review for detainees in Guantánamo Bay. Read more about Michael’s achievements and find links to other remembrances and obituaries here.



dIn an historic judgment, former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré has been found guilty of crimes against humanity, torture and rape, and sentenced to life in prison by an ad hoc criminal tribunal based in Senegal. Habré’s trial at the Chambres Africaines Extraordinaires (CAE) is notable as the first time the leader of one country has been tried by the courts of another, and the first time universal jurisdiction has been exercised in Africa. The CAE proceedings also demonstrate that there can be viable local alternatives to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for cases involving African accused persons. Read more details about the trial and verdict from The New York Times, and background to the case from Human Rights Watch, an organization that was closely involved in bringing Habré to justice. A blogpost by legal scholar Kerstin Carlson discusses the implications of the trial for Habré’s victims, Senegal, and the ICC.



dThe United States government is being criticized for blocking the reappointment of Seung Wha Chang, the South Korean member of the World Trade Organization Appellate Body (AB), for a second non-renewable four-year term. According to EJIL: Talk!, the objection appears to be motivated by dissatisfaction with Mr. Chang’s voting record – and in particular his “undue judicial activism” –  on cases involving the US. The other six AB members support Mr. Chang unequivocally. Although it is customary that “re-appointment of a sitting member of the Appellate Body is routine except in case of misconduct or infirmity,” in 2011 the US similarly sabotaged the second term of AB member and US citizen Jennifer Hillman for supposedly failing to defend US perspectives. In response to the current situation, South Korea has declared that it will veto all AB member reappointments, throwing the AB into crisis mode. Read more about how the US is attempting to undermine the WTO from scholar and commentator Gregory Shaffer.


dThe trial of former first lady of Côte d'Ivoire, Simone Gbagbo, has begun before the country’s highest criminal court, la Cour d'Assises. She is charged with crimes against humanity committed during the crisis that followed the November 2010 Ivorian presidential elections. For many months, her husband, former President Laurent Gbagbo, refused to cede power to his political rival and current President Alassane Ouattara. Laurent Gbagbo is himself on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) and his wife is also charged with crimes by the ICC. However, Côte d’Ivoire has insisted that it will prosecute Simone Gbagbo domestically. Some human rights groups representing victims of the alleged crimes have refused to take part in the proceedings, claiming that the government has not carried out proper investigations. This is the second trial in Côte d'Ivoire for Simone Gbagbo. She was convicted in March 2015 for offenses against the state during the post-election crisis and sentenced to 20 years in prison. For a discussion of the push-and-pull between the ICC and Côte d’Ivoire over the prosecution of Simone Gbagbo, read a Justice in Conflict blogpost.



Developments in International Justice


dCan Greece appeal to international law to help it regain the marble sculptures ripped from the Parthenon on the orders of Lord Elgin, British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, and purchased by the British Museum almost 200 years ago? According to The Guardian, the Greek government has sought advice from international law experts who opine: “We consider that international law has evolved to a position which recognises, as part of the sovereignty of a state, its right to reclaim cultural property of great historical significance which has been wrongly taken in the past – a rule that would entitle Greece to recover and reunite the Parthenon sculptures… The legal case is strongly arguable, both under international customary law and provisions of the European convention.” The idea is that Greece would either bring the United Kingdom before the European Court of Human Rights or ask the United Nations’ cultural body, UNESCO, to request an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice. Read a commentary by the Acropolis Museum director who claims that the return of the marbles is a “matter of cultural morality.”



dThe East African Court of Justice recently ruled that the East African Community (EAC) had breached its obligations by not effectively investigating expulsions of Rwandan and Burundian refugees from Tanzania and offering redress for any violations of the EAC Treaty created by the expulsions. The case was brought by the East African Law Society, a well-known regional organization involved in human rights litigation. Read more about the case, East African Law Society v. Secretary General of the EAC, from the International Justice Resource Center. Read about the expanding, and somewhat unexpected, role played by the East African Court of Justice in regional human rights issues in a recent article by James Thuo Gathii.



dSpanish cases currently before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) suggest that the European Convention on Human Rights affords insufficient protections to victims of human trafficking in Europe. In a two-part series recently published in IntLawGrrls, Teresa Fernández Paredes lays out the ways in which trafficked women, particularly from Sub-Saharan Africa, are regularly subjected to discriminatory treatment. She points out that they “suffer intersectional discrimination, because of gender, race, and socioeconomic status, among other reasons, perpetuated by the authorities, who thereby deprive them of their rights as victims of sexual trafficking.” Fernández urges the Court to link the situation of trafficked women clearly to Article 14 of the Convention – the prohibition of discrimination – as it has done in relation to domestic violence. She concludes, “It is clear that State institutions must work to free themselves from the reliance on stereotypes, and that they must treat victims with the human dignity already denied to them, and fairly dispense justice. But to achieve this goal, the ECtHR needs to have a strong and clear response condemning these acts as violations of the principle of non-discrimination.”



dThe Inter-American Commission of Human Rights has expressed concern over decisions made by interim Brazilian President Michel Temer – who took over after the recent suspension of President Dilma Roussef by the Brazilian legislature – “that represent a regression and have a negative impact on the protection and promotion of human rights in the country.” These decisions include naming only white men to cabinet positions in the new government, although they represent barely more than 20% of the Brazilian population, and reducing the funding earmarked for social programs related to housing, education, and poverty reduction. Read the full press release here.



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          Photo: Catholic Herald
What are some of the international implications of the so-called “Brexit,” the upcoming United Kingdom referendum that will decide if it is to leave the European Union? Some observers believe that it will bring with it a loss of human rights protections as guaranteed by the 1998 Human Rights Act, which enacted the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights into British law. Read a discussion of how the Brexit might impact domestic human rights here. For an examination of what Brexit might mean from the World Trade Organization perspective, read a post at the OUP blog which argues that “contrary to the prevailing view, remaining in the WTO post-Brexit could entail a greater threat to UK sovereignty than is currently the case.” In the meantime, we all wait with bated breath to see the outcome of the 23 June referendum. 



fA recently concluded on-line debate, hosted by the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), examined the following provocative question: "Does collective remembrance of a troubled past impede reconciliation?" Writer and journalist David Rieff believes it does, arguing that the idea that “it is always both an ethical and a political imperative to remember does not actually hold water either ethically or politically.” His fellow debater Pablo de Grieff, UN Special Rapporteur, disagrees, believing that the failure to “acknowledge violations of the past, far from fostering reconciliation, is an invitation to instrumentalize the past or leave us at the mercy of the fear that unacknowledged abuses almost inevitably generates, with the attendant predisposition to preemptive defensive action and the closing of groups.” Read the debaters’ full statements, their rebuttals, and the comments of other contributors at the ICTJ site.



dThe European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) has determined that Ireland is violating the rights of “Travellers” by not providing and maintaining adequate accommodations for their community.  According to the Irish Traveller Movement, this population is an indigenous minority with a long shared history, cultural values, language, customs and traditions that make them a self-defined group in Ireland. As reported in the Irish Times, Ireland was in breach of article 16 of the European Social Charter, which deals with the rights of the family to social, legal and economic protection. The International Justice Resource Center notes that the decision “reinforces an earlier ruling from the ECSR on Roma communities in Greece, in which it found the same violations under Article 16. The European Court of Human Rights has also held in past cases that evictions of and insufficient accommodations for Roma communities violate the right to family life.”



Publications and Resources of Interest

dA new website had made it easier to access information about the International Criminal Court. According to the Court’s press release, the site features “revamped content, a refreshed visual identity, and a mobile-friendly, accessible approach. Most features are available within one click of the homepage.” The old website had been much lambasted by international justice commentators so the reworked site has been greeted enthusiastically. 



dA critical publication for governments around the world, Rule of Law – A guide for politicians, is now available in 22 languages beyond English: Arabic; Bahasa Indonesia; Chinese; Czech; Farsi; French; Georgian; German; Italian; Japanese; Kiswahili; Korean; Norwegian; Polish; Portuguese; Romanian; Russian; Slovenian; Spanish; Swedish; Turkish; and Ukrainian. The publication, originally published in August 2012, was elaborated under the auspices of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at Lund University, Sweden, and The Hague Institute for the Internationalisation of Law (HiiL), The Netherlands. The short guide is freely available for downloading and printing from the web. 



dA new infographic by Orde F. Kittrie introduces the notion of “lawfare,” the use of law as a weapon of war. The infographic provides information on the history of lawfare, its ongoing evolution, and the ways in which different actors utilize this strategy, including international organizations, activists and advocacy networks, sovereign and semi-sovereign states, and cities. View the infographic at the OUP blog.



dInternational lawyer and scholar Philippe Sands has published a new book that chronicles the origins of the concepts of genocide and crimes against humanity. In East West Street (Alfred A. Knopf 2016), Sands explores the lives of two giants in the development of international humanitarian law, Hersch Lauterpacht and Rafael Lemkin, both from the city of Lvov in present-day Ukraine, interweaving their stories with that of his own family. Read a review of Sands’ book from The New York Times.


“International Justice in the News” is edited by Leigh Swigart, Director of Programs in International Justice and Society.

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