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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 involved in the work of 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.

February 2010

People in the News

  • CoomaraswamyThe United Nations special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Rakhia Coomaraswamy, has urged judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to recognize the multiple roles that child soldiers – especially young girls – play after they are enlisted. Coomaraswamy said that the current definition of child soldiers “participating actively in hostilities” focuses only on activities that are directly linked to combat and thus excludes children who deliver food or who are used as domestic servants or sex slaves by commanding officers. Coomaraswamy, who appeared as an expert witness at the ICC, was the first person to testify in the trial of Thomas Lubanga since the prosecution rested its case on July 14. The trial has been stalled for several months while appeals judges considered, and ultimately rejected, the possibility of adding charges of sexual slavery and cruel and inhumane treatment to the case. See an analysis of this decision in ASIL Insights. Read or listen to a radio interview with Coomaraswamy and ICC Chief of Prosecutions, Fatou Bensouda, at Interactive Radio for Justice. Read a recent article on the Lubanga trial from The Atlantic magazine here.
  • TolbertDavid Tolbert, Registrar of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) since August 2009, has resigned his post and will leave the tribunal as of 1 March 2010. Mr. Tolbert will return to the United States where he will assume the post of President of the International Center for Transitional Justice. Both the President of the STL, Judge Antonio Cassese, and the Prosecutor, Mr. Daniel Bellemare, paid tribute to the leadership that Mr. Tolbert has shown and the contribution he has made to the efficient and effective functioning of the Special Tribunal. For more details, click here. Some observers believe that Tolbert’s resignation bodes ill for the work of the Tribunal. Read an article in The Daily Star.
  • Uganda ProtestUN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has taken the Ugandan government to task for the “draconian” draft bill on homosexuality that is due to be put before the Ugandan parliament in late January. “It is extraordinary to find legislation like this being proposed more than 60 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - as well as many subsequent international laws and standards - made it clear this type of discrimination is unacceptable,” stated Pillay. 

The so-called “Anti-Homosexuality Bill” prohibits any form of sexual relations between people of the same sex, as well as the promotion or recognition of homosexual relations as a healthy or acceptable lifestyle in public institutions. Read more of Pillay’s statement from The Huffington Post. Read about the reaction of activists here.
Developments in International Justice
  • searchAccording to a recent judgment by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the UK government must give up abusive, discriminatory and unlawful powers that allow the police to stop and search without reasonable suspicion. 

The ECHR heard a case involving two protesters, Kevin Gillan and Pennie Quinton, who were stopped near a protest against an arms fair in London in 2003 by police acting under the 2000 Terrorism Act, which allows senior officers to authorize stop and search procedures without reasonable suspicion. 

The Court ruled that the plaintiffs’ right to respect for a private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights had been violated. Read more details in the ECHR press release and an article from The Guardian. The full judgment may be accessed here.
  • A Web site dedicated to the legacy of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda as seen from the perspective of the defense is now available. The site, which was created after the conclusion of a November 2009 conference on the same topic, highlights the principal subjects discussed at the conference, offers information on follow-up activities, and provides full articles and video reports.  You may access the site here.
  • GitmoThe United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has issued a decision upholding the district court’s order denying Ghaleb Nassar Al-Bihani’s petition for writ of habeas corpus. Al-Bihani, a Yemeni citizen who served in a Taliban affiliated group, was captured in Afghanistan by the Northern Alliance and transferred to U.S. authorities in early 2002. He was then sent to Guantánamo Bay for detention and interrogation. Al-Bihani filed a habeas corpus petition challenging his detention. In part, he argued that the basis of his current detention—his alleged support of al Qaeda—was in violation of laws of war. The district court denied his petition and held that the government was authorized to detain anyone that had been a part of or supported Taliban or al Qaeda forces “or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.” The Court of Appeals unequivocally stated that the government is authorized to detain individuals, adding that the international laws of war “have not been implemented domestically by Congress and are therefore not a source of authority for U.S. courts.” Read an article in Yahoo News. Access the decision here.
  • museumThe Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) recently congratulated the government and people of Chile upon the opening of its new Museum of Memory and Human Rights. The institution was created to ensure that the tens of thousands of people who were imprisoned, killed or disappeared during Gen. Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship would not be forgotten. According to the IACHR, the State of Chile's initiative represents an important symbol of the determination to combat impunity and create a democratic culture based on respect for human rights. Read more in a Yahoo News article. Take a virtual visit of the museum here.
Articles and Publications of Interest
  • book coverA new book by Michael P. Scharf of Case Western Reserve University School of Law (Cleveland) and Paul R. Williams of American University (Washington DC) is now available. Shaping Foreign Policy in Times of Crisis: the Role of International Law and the State Department Legal Adviser (Cambridge University Press 2010) grew out of a series of meetings that the authors convened with all ten of the living former U.S. State Department legal advisers (from the Carter administration to that of George W. Bush). Based on their insider accounts of the role that international law actually played during the major crises on their watch, the book explores whether international law is real law or just a form of politics that policymakers are free to ignore whenever they perceive it to be in their interest to do so. Find more information here.
  • SchombergWolfgang Schomburg (Brandeis Institute for International Judges 2004), former Judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, has recently published an article entitled “The Role of International Criminal Tribunals in Promoting Respect for Fair Trial Rights” (Northwestern Journal of International Human Rights, Volume 8, Issue 1, Fall 2009). Judge Schomburg notes that the ICTY and the ICTR were established to protect human rights of victims by bringing former “untouchables”—individuals who were alleged to have committed grave crimes but had been shielded from prosecution—to justice. However, the tribunals must also provide for fair trials because they have a duty to guarantee the fundamental rights of the accused. This article analyzes how the two ad-hoc Tribunals have defined the notion of a fair trial by adopting the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Access the full article here.

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