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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.

June 2010


People in the News

  • TrevidicFrench Investigating Judge Marc Trévidic has launched a new probe into the death of former Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, whose plane was shot down by unknown assailants as it was approaching the capital, Kigali, on 6 April 1994. It was this event that triggered the 100-day mass killings of about 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

    French judicial investigations into responsibility for the crash of the presidential plane were initially started three years ago. At that time, Judge Jean-Louis Brugiere issued arrest warrants against members of the entourage of current President Paul Kagame, suspected of having had a responsibility in the episode. This created a breakdown in diplomatic relations between Rwanda and France, which were only restored last December. President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Kigali in February, the first French president to do since the 1994 genocide. Read more from Radio France International.
  • justicesUnited States Supreme Court justices have disagreed once again over the appropriateness of citing international norms. In the recent ruling on Graham v. Florida, the Court holds that sentences of life without parole for juveniles convicted of non-homicide offenses are unconstitutional. Justice Kennedy, who was joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, said both national and international practices supported the court’s ruling. Justice Thomas said the majority was wrong about the facts in the United States and abroad and wrong as a matter of principle to take account of international opinion. Justice Antonin Scalia joined all of Justice Thomas’s dissent and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. most of it. Read more in an article from the New York Times.  Learn about the background of the case from the Equal Justice Initiative.
  • STLThe President of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, Judge Antonio Cassese, the Vice-President, Judge Ralph Riachy, and Pre-Trial Judge, Judge Daniel Fransen, recently visited Lebanon. During their stay, they took part in a colloquium, jointly organized by the Tribunal and Saint Joseph University, comparing the applicable law of the Tribunal with that of Lebanon. This colloquium enabled the Tribunal judges and Lebanese experts to have an exchange of views on three major topics: the status of victims, the rights of the accused and trials in absentia. The Tribunal judges also took this opportunity to hold talks with representatives of Lebanese and international non-governmental organizations. Read an interview with President Cassese about the Tribunal’s work, and his views on immunity for heads of state, from the Lebanese English language newspaper, the Daily Star.
  • garzonJudge Baltasar Garzón, currently suspended from his post while awaiting trial in Spain, has been invited by the International Criminal Court to work as a consultant in the Office of the Prosecutor where he will assist in the improvement of the Court’s investigative methods. In early April 2010, Spain’s Supreme Court accused Garzón of ‘knowingly exceeding his powers’ during his 2008 attempt to investigate alleged crimes against humanity committed during General Francisco Franco’s
 40-year dictatorship. He has, however, been cleared by Spanish authorities to accept this consultancy. See the ICC press release.
  • gay coupleSteven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, an openly gay couple in Malawi, have been pardoned by Malawian President Mutharika after initially being sentenced to 14 years imprisonment with hard labour for “gross indecency and unnatural acts.” Upon hearing of the conviction, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called their prosecution “blatantly discriminatory” and said that it set an alarming precedent in the region for the treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, as well as groups that support them. 



The High Commissioner called for the conviction to be repealed and for the penal codes criminalizing homosexuality to be reformed. After a visit by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to Malawi, President Mutharika agreed to order the immediate release of the couple, a decision characterized as “courageous” by Mr. Ban.  Read more from the BBC

Developments in International Justice

  • The Pre-Trial Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), in reviewing an appeal filed by five defendants charged with crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, has ruled that the extended form of joint criminal enterprise was not part of customary international law during 1975–1979. This ruling rejects an earlier decision by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Prosecutor v. Tadic, that holds otherwise. Joint criminal enterprise (JCE) is a legal doctrine under which individuals belonging to a group may be held individually responsible for crimes committed pursuant to a common plan or purpose. There are three categories of JCE. The third and broadest category, rejected by the ECCC ruling, “exists where one of the participants engages in acts that go beyond the common plan” but the acts are “natural and foreseeable consequences” of the initial common plan. Read more about the legal doctrine of Joint Criminal Enterprise and this landmark decision in a blog post on Opinio Juris. Access the ECCC judgment here.
  • ITLOSThe Seabed Disputes Chamber of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) has received its first request for an Advisory Opinion from the Council of the International Seabed Authority. The questions to be considered include the legal responsibilities and obligations of States Parties to the Convention with respect to the sponsorship of activities in the international seabed and the extent of liability of a State Party for any failure to comply with the provisions of the Convention. See the ITLOS press release.
  • The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has adopted a resolution on practical and legal aspects surrounding the widespread occurrence of piracy off the coast of Somalia. The resolution spells out some of the issues commonly noted in connection with efforts to combat piracy. For example, the resolution warns that the release of suspected pirates without formally charging them with a crime “is a matter of concern” because it breeds impunity and discourages the rule of law. The resolution also stresses the need to understand all the potential legal problems raised by the very nature of the crime—“the majority of pirate attacks take place in a state’s territorial waters: in such cases, according to international law, the sole responsibility for apprehension and prosecution lies with the coastal state…” Click here for the text of the resolution.

    In the meantime, the East African nation of Tanzania has enacted its own anti-piracy law, criminalizing the act of piracy and enabling the prosecution in Tanzanian courts of pirates captured in international waters. Read more from the Tanzanian newspaper The Citizen.
  • TAYLORThe high-profile trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor, being conducted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, has relocated from the premises of the International Criminal Court in The Hague to those of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in nearby Leidschendam. Taylor’s trial is not being held at the SCSL headquarters in the Sierra Leonean capital of Freetown for security reasons. Read more here.
  • maori totemNew Zealand recently declared its recognition and support of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. New Zealand was one of the four countries – along with the United States, Australia, and Canada – that voted against the Declaration in September 2007. Since that time, Australia has endorsed the Declaration, and Canada and the US have both indicated that they are reviewing their positions. The Declaration states that indigenous peoples "have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied, or otherwise used and acquired." The UN declaration potentially questions the ownership of land in a number of countries, like those that initially rejected it, whose present population is largely descended from settlers who took over territory from previous inhabitants. Access the Declaration here.
  • canadaThe Canadian Indian Residential School Truth and Reconciliation Commission (IRS TRC) is gearing up for its first national event, to take place in Winnipeg in June 2010. The IRS TRC was created to heal the wounds created by the country’s former practice of sending aboriginal children to mandatory residential schools, where many were subject to neglect, violence, dire living conditions and a system aimed at forcibly assimilating them into the non-aboriginal population. The Commission is retracing the history of the IRS system through the direct testimony of former students, staff, their families and their communities at such events.

    The Winnipeg meeting will be the first of seven national events that the TRC will hold throughout the country, over a period of five years. Truth and Reconciliation Chair Justice Murray Sinclair said, “This [Winnipeg] event is a first for former Indian Residential School students, and a first for Canada. My fellow Commissioners and I have made a commitment to former students that we will hear from as many of them as we are logistically and humanly able to.” The truth commission is one component of a wider effort to build a new relationship between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals in Canada characterized by mutual respect and beneficial co-existence. Read more at the Commission’s website. Canada’s TRC has furthermore called for the international community to work together on dealing with the legacy of aboriginal abuse around the world. Read more from CBC News.
  • burkaThe Belgian parliament has voted overwhelmingly to ban the wearing of full-face veils in public, an action that has been condemned by human rights groups. Amnesty International’s expert on discrimination in Europe, John Dalhuisen, said, 

"The Belgian move to ban full-face veils, the first in Europe, sets a dangerous precedent. Restrictions on human rights must always be proportionate to a legitimate goal. A total ban on full-face veils would not be." 

Amnesty International has called on the Belgian Senate to exercise its prerogative to review the law and carefully consider it in the light of Belgium's obligations under international human rights law. Read more, and see illustrations of the different styles of Islamic head coverings, in a BBC article.
  • The International Criminal Court (ICC) will prosecute six Kenyans over the election unrest that occurred from 2007-2008, claiming 1,200 lives and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. According to ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo, who recently met with victims of the post-election violence, the Court will select those who are most responsible for the incidents under investigation and present the case by the end of the year. The prosecutor said that the Kenyan case would send a signal to other African countries against post-poll violence. Some 15 African countries are to hold elections in the next 18 months. Read more from France 24.

Articles and Publications of Interest

  • sajcA summary in English is now available of the proceedings of the South American Judicial Colloquium. This event, titled “The Value of International Law for National Legal Systems,” was jointly organized by the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life of Brandeis University and the International Judicial Academy. The summary can be downloaded here. As announced last month, a full report of the event is available in Spanish.
  • Two scholars from the University of Zagreb Faculty of Law, Budislav Vukas (former judge of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea) and Trpimir M. Sosic, have edited a book titled International Law: New Actors, New Concepts Continuing Dilemmas (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers / Brill Academic 2010). Celebrating the long career of their colleague, Professor Božidar Bakotić, the book is a collection of essays dealing with the subjects of international law, various international régimes of spaces, international protection of human rights and humanitarian law, settlement of international disputes, and the law of armed conflicts. Read more details here.
  • coverProfessor Andrew Williams of the University of Warwick has published The Ethos of Europe: Values, Law and Justice in the EU (Cambridge University Press 2010). Williams asks whether the European Union can become a “just institution” and examines five salient values said to be influential in the governance and law of the Union: peace, the rule of law, respect for human rights, democracy, and liberty. Read more details here.

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