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International Justice in the News

The International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life brings you a monthly selection of news about the people who work in international courts and tribunals, significant developments in international justice, and articles and publications 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.

September 2009

People in the News
  • Three new permanent judges have been appointed to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia: Burton Hall of The Bahamas; Howard Morrison of the United Kingdom (who resigned a position with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon upon his appointment); and Guy Delvoie (Belgium). The new judges, who will replace three resigning judges, will be sworn in on 2 September. Read more in an ICTY press briefing.
  • ICTR logoThe United Nations Security Council has extended the term of office of six permanent judges of the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda until 31 December 2010, or until the completion of the cases to which they were or will be assigned if sooner. The Council also extended until the same date the term of office of eleven ad litem judges. Read the ICTR press release for more details.
  • Rob-ObamaMary Robinson, the first woman president of Ireland and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by U.S. president Barack Obama. According to a statement by Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International, "As an outspoken, passionate and forceful advocate for human rights and human dignity in all regions of the world, Mary Robinson has helped countless individuals from Sierra Leone to Rwanda to the Balkans to Somalia and to the Middle East." Robinson is also the founder and president of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative. Read more in an Irish Times article.
  • SotomayorSonia Sotomayor has been confirmed as the newest associate justice of the United States Supreme Court. Justice Sotomayor is the third woman and the first person of Hispanic origin to be named to this position. President Barack Obama commented that, “With this historic vote, the Senate has affirmed that Judge Sotomayor has the intellect, the temperament, the history, the integrity and the independence of mind to ably serve on our nation’s highest court.” Read more in this New York Times article. Get the European perspective from this London Times piece.
Developments in International Justice
  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has carried out an on-site visit in Honduras in order to observe the human rights situation in the context of the recent coup d’état. The suspension of Honduras’ right to participate in the Organization of American States (OAS), decided on July 4, 2009 by an extraordinary session of the OAS General Assembly, does not alter the country’s obligations as a signatory to the Convention and other inter-American Human Rights treaties ratified by the State. Read the Commission’s press release on its preliminary observations and an article from The Havana Times.
  • TunisiaItaly has been criticized for expelling a Tunisian terrorism suspect to his home country, despite repeated rulings by the European Court of Human Rights to suspend the expulsion until the suspect’s claims that he would face mistreatment or worse could be fully investigated. Read a press release by Human Rights Watch and an article from Euro Weekly News on the general state of human rights in the name of security and counter-terrorism in Tunisia.
  • The International Court of Justice has announced that it will hold public hearings on the question of the Accordance with International Law of the Unilateral Declaration of Independence by the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government of Kosovo. According to the Court’s press release, the public hearings are scheduled to commence on 1 December 2009. The hearings will allow the United Nations and its Member States to present statements and comments on the legality of Kosovo’s declaration of independence, and also enable the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government of Kosovo to respond to any such statements. 

  • The Israel Defense Forces have reportedly decided to improve the warnings given to civilians before attacks, but, according to Human Rights Watch, they still need to ensure that the warnings are effective and do not allow attacks otherwise prohibited under international law. Under the laws of war, parties to a conflict must, whenever possible, provide effective advance warnings of attacks that may affect the civilian population. Read a press release. This decision has come out at a time when Israel is being criticized by the United Nations for its alleged violations of humanitarian law during the December 2008 and January 2009 offensive in Gaza. Read more in a Reuters article. Read an alternative perspective on the UN mission to investigate the Gaza offensive here.
  • Clinton KenyaKenya's plan to use its judiciary to try perpetrators of post-election violence reneges on an earlier pledge to use an independent tribunal, claims Human Rights Watch. An independent commission has determined that the national judiciary is not credible enough to try the suspects, but the government is still resisting the creation of a special tribunal, made up of national and international judges.  Read more in an article by CNN. During her recent visit to Kenya, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged the Kenyan government to use the International Criminal Court to prosecute perpetrators of last year’s post-election violence. She then added that she regretted that the US was not a party to the ICC, a public statement that suggests a softening of the US attitude toward the court. Read more in an article from The Guardian.
  • Charles TaylorThe population of Sierra Leone is taking little notice of the trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, reports Amnesty International. “Despite the importance of this trial for the victims of the conflict in Sierra Leone, Amnesty International said it is concerned that many Sierra Leoneans are unaware about it and are not following the court proceedings.” Read more here.
Articles and publications of interest
  • ReckoningThe Public Broadcasting Service of the United States recently aired a new documentary film about the International Criminal Court. Entitled “The Reckoning: The Battle for the International Criminal Court,” the film was featured at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. The director, Pamela Yates, is a 2008 Guggenheim fellow and co-founder of Skylight Pictures. To view the film online through 14 September, click here.
  • indigenous smallUN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, wrote in an opinion piece in The Hindu that the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples – proclaimed by the General Assembly as 9 August – is an occasion to reaffirm the commitment to translate positive developments in international human rights standards into concrete progress for indigenous peoples. 

“To achieve this, we all – States, indigenous peoples, the United Nations system and others concerned – must join our efforts and reach solutions based on true dialogue, mutual understanding, tolerance and respect for human rights…This is no easy task. But it is the only way we can move the rights of indigenous peoples from paper to practice.” 

 Ms. Pillay, stressed that the world's indigenous peoples need and deserve more than just symbolic celebrations on 9 August. “After centuries of repression, they need comprehensive tools to defend their human rights, their way of life, and their aspirations.” 

One such tool, she noted, is the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Read the entire opinion piece by Commissioner Pillay here.
  • The War Crimes Research Office of the Washington College of Law (American University) has recently published the seventh and eighth reports of its series entitled “Early Issues before the International Criminal Court.” These reports deal with the topics of “Witness Proofing” and “The Relationship between the International Criminal Court and the United Nations.” These and earlier reports may be downloaded here
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