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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.

January 2010

People in the News

  • CostaJean-Paul Costa (France) has been re-elected as President of the European Court of Human Rights for a second term of three years with effect from 19 January 2010. In addition, the Plenary Court has also re-elected Nicolas Bratza (UK) as Vice-President of the Court and Françoise Tulkens (Belgium) as President of the Second Section. Read the ECHR press release.
  • KenyaKofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, says ethnic political and social divisions could revive the sort of violence Kenya witnessed in early 2008 following the disputed presidential election. Annan called on Kenya to fulfill its commitment to set up a local tribunal to try suspects of violent crimes committed immediately after the election.  The former UN chief also praised President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga for agreeing to cooperate with the International Criminal Court during a recent visit by ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo. Read more from Voice of America here.
  • DuchThe end of the trial of Kaing Guek Eav, a.k.a. Duch, the former head of the Khmer Rouge detention and torture centre S-21, has surprised even those closely associated with this case in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. Duch had pleaded guilty and apologized to his victims throughout his defense, but then his Cambodian counsel asked for an acquittal of his client, reversing the defense line that was maintained for over two years under his French co-counsel. Read more from Radio Netherlands Worldwide.

Developments in International Justice

  • HabreThe African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights has rendered its first judgment ever. In the matter of Michelot Yogogombaye versus the Republic of Senegal, the Court ruled that it did not have the jurisdiction to decide whether charges against Chad's former president Hissene Habré should be dropped. In July 2006, the African Union (AU) appointed Senegal to try Chad's former president, who had been accused of crimes against humanity when ruling Chad from 1982 to 1990, after which he took refuge in Senegal. Mr. Yogogombaye, a Chadian citizen residing in Switzerland, petitioned the court to stop the judicial proceedings against Habré. The Court, however, said it was incompetent to decide the matter because Senegal had not yet submitted “a special declaration that accepts the competence of these courts to receive requests emanating directly from individuals or non-governmental organizations”. Read more in an article from Yahoo! News. Download the Court’s judgment here.
  • AmericasThe Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has published its new Rules of Procedure, based on reforms approved during the 137th Period of Sessions that took place in October and November 2009. The new Rules of Procedure will enter into force on January 1, 2010. 

The central objective of these reforms is to further strengthen the Inter-American system through the enhancement of participation by victims, guarantees to harmonize procedural participation of the parties and enhance the publicity and transparency of the system, as well as the adoption of other necessary adjustments after the 2001 reform. These modifications involve four essential components of the system for the protection of human rights: the mechanism of precautionary measures, the processing of petitions and cases, the referral of cases to the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court, and the holding of hearings on the situation of human rights in the Member States. Access the new Rules of Procedure here.
  • ECHRThe European Court of Human Rights recently held a Grand Chamber hearing in the case of A. B. and C. v. Ireland. The applicants, all three of whom live in Ireland, claim that their human rights were violated because they had to travel from Ireland to Britain to terminate their pregnancies. They complain about the restrictions on the possibility of abortion in Ireland. Read the Court’s press release and obtain background on the case in an Rté News article.
  • MaoriIndigenous peoples from around the world made their voices heard on climate change during the Copenhagen COP 15 climate talks in December 2009. Indigenous activists claim that no populations suffer more from — but contribute less to — human-caused climate change than the indigenous peoples of the world. Explicit references to “respect for the knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples” have been included in the negotiating text on policy approaches and positive incentives on issues relating to REDD (the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation Programme), as well as references to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Most of the forests under consideration by REDD are found in the territory of indigenous peoples. Read more from the Maori News and Indigenous Views, and a discussion of the implications of REDD from Environmental Leader.
  • LivniA warrant that was issued by a British court for the arrest of Israel’s former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and then revoked when it was discovered that she would not be visiting Britain, has created much ill feeling on the part of the Israeli government. The arrest warrant, requested by Palestinian plaintiffs who alleged that war crimes were committed in Gaza during last year’s military offensive, was possible under universal jurisdiction laws in the UK. Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Israel was a "close friend" of the UK, adding that, "the Government is looking urgently at ways in which the UK system might be changed in order to avoid this sort of situation arising again." Read more from the BBC.
  • SeaJudge José Luis Jesus, President of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York on 4 December 2009, on the occasion of its annual consideration of the agenda item ‘Oceans and the Law of the Sea.’ President Jesus welcomed the new States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea – Switzerland, Dominican Republic and Chad. He noted that a growing number of agreements relating inter alia to fisheries, marine pollution, conservation of marine resources and underwater cultural heritage make reference to the Tribunal as a means for the settlement of disputes. The full text of the President’s statement may be found here. The United States is the only major industrialized nation that has failed to ratify the 27-year-old Law of the Sea, despite a broad base of supporters that includes the military, mining interests, the oil and gas industry, and environmental groups. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the treaty in 2007, but action stalled shy of the Senate floor.
Articles and publications of interest
  • GuerraA number of former Argentine military officials have finally come to trial for their alleged involvement in the 1976-83 Guerra Sucia or “Dirty War.” For decades, such persons avoided prosecution through amnesty laws that were passed in 1986-87. The Argentina Congress annulled these laws in 2003, paving the way for the prosecution of human rights violations and other atrocities. The most notorious of those being tried worked in ESMA – la Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada – where many thousands of people were detained and tortured and then eventually disappeared. Read a report by Truthout on the ongoing trials here.
  • EU flagAfter almost a decade, the Lisbon Treaty, which is designed to improve the functioning of the European Union, has entered into force. The treaty was signed by all EU member states in 2007 and, after battles in many European states, it was finally ratified by all as well. The Lisbon Treaty introduces some important changes in the EU. These include: more qualified majority voting in the Council of Ministers; increased involvement of the European Parliament in the legislative process through extended co-decision with the Council of Ministers; the attribution of explicit legal personality to the EU; and the creation of a long-term President of the European Council and a High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to present a united position on EU policies. The Treaty also made the Union's human rights charter, the Charter of Fundamental Rights, legally binding. Read more about the treaty and access the full text at the Treaty of Lisbon website.

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