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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.

May 2010

People in the News

  • whitneyWhitney Harris, one of the last remaining prosecutors from the Nuremburg war crime trials, has died at the age of 97. In 1945, Mr. Harris led the prosecutorial team's case against Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the highest-ranking leader of the Nazi Security Police to face trial. In concentrating on the secret services, Mr. Harris interrogated Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Hoess, former commander of the Auschwitz concentration camp. See more in a Washington Post article.
  • GarzonSpanish judge Baltasar Garzón, made famous for prosecuting Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and other suspected international criminals, now faces his own prosecution for abuse of power. Garzón has been charged with knowingly acting without jurisdiction by launching a probe in 2008 of tens of thousands of wartime executions and disappearances of civilians by forces loyal to General Francisco Franco, even though the crimes were covered by a 1977 amnesty. If convicted, Garzón could be removed from the bench for 10 to 20 years, which would effectively end his career as a judge. Read more in a New York Times article. The International Center for Transitional Justice declares that the prosecution of Judge Garzón will have a chilling effect on both Spanish and international efforts to promote accountability for international crimes. Read more here.
  • bashirOmar al-Bashir of Sudan has been reelected as president of Sudan, despite his status as the first head of state to be indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Some observers believe that his victory demonstrates the limits of ICC influence, as well as the divide that seems to be widening between Western countries, which support the work of the ICC, and Arab and African countries, which increasingly reject it. Read more from CNS News. Critics both inside and outside Sudan have charged, however, that the election was beset by irregularities and fraud, as reported in a Washington Post article.
Developments in International Justice
  • riverThe International Court of Justice (ICJ) has announced its judgment in a high-stakes environmental dispute between Argentina and Uruguay, Pulp Mills on the River Uruguay. The case concerned Uruguay’s authorization for pulp mills on the banks of the Uruguay River, which forms the international boundary between the two countries. The Court ruled that Uruguay was obligated by treaty to notify and consult with Argentina before authorizing construction of the mills, and that Uruguay breached this obligation. However, the Court found that its declaration of Uruguay’s breach was in itself a sufficient remedy for Argentina’s claim. This judgment is a significant step forward in the ICJ’s jurisprudence on environmental law and on shared watercourses. The Court recognized environmental impact assessment as a practice that has become an obligation of general international law in these situations. Read the ICJ press release and download footage of a live reading of the judgment here.
  • gravesA Dutch appeals court has ruled that the United Nations cannot be prosecuted for failing to protect the more than 8,000 Bosnian victims of the 1995 Srebrenica genocide, thereby rejecting a suit filed by a victims rights’ group. The law firm representing the group claims that the appeals court should have presented the question to the European Court of Justice before ruling, given that the case addressed issues of fundamental European civil rights. Read more in a Reuters article. Shortly after this decision, the Serbian parliament passed a landmark resolution condemning the 1995 Srebrenica massacre but stopped short of labeling the killings “genocide.” Some observers believe that this move, and other efforts by Serbia to deal with its past, are being made as the country positions itself for membership in the European Union. Read more from Radio Netherlands International.
  • boatThe European Court of Human Rights is currently considering an important case filed by asylum seekers in Italy. Since May 2009, Italy has made it a procedure to intercept in international waters boats filled with migrants, coming mostly from African countries, who aim to reach Italian shores. Many of these migrants are then brought to Libya. Human rights organizations have condemned the Italian practice, claiming that the country is putting immigrants’ lives at risk as Libya has a poor reputation when it comes to the protection of illegal immigrants. A lawyer representing the plaintiffs says that Italy is violating three articles in the European Convention of Human Rights: Article 3 on the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment; Article 4 of Protocol 4 prohibiting collective expulsions; and Article 13 on the right to proper legal remedy. Read more in an article from NRC Handelsblad.
  • ECJjudgesThe European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that the families of men in the UK suspected of terrorist links should not have controls imposed on their use of state benefits. The men in question were placed on an international list of suspects drawn up at the United Nations following the 9/11 attacks, and their assets were subsequently frozen. The UK Treasury wanted to similarly monitor the benefits paid to their spouses, a policy that was upheld by both the High Court and the Court of Appeal. The House of Lords then requested an ECJ ruling on how the matter stood in relation to European law. In its judgment, the ECJ wrote that "The freezing of funds of persons with suspected links to Bin Laden, al-Qaeda or the Taliban does not apply to certain social security benefits paid to their spouses …It is hard to imagine how those funds could be turned into means that could be used to support terrorist activities, for the benefits are fixed at a level intended to meet only the strictly vital needs of the persons concerned." The Treasury has said that the case will now be referred back to the UK Supreme Court for a final ruling. Read more in a BBC article.
Articles and Publications of Interest
  • sajcA detailed report is now available of the proceedings of the South American Judicial Colloquium. This event, held in Buenos Aires in November 2009, was jointly organized by the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life of Brandeis University and the International Judicial Academy. The full report, entitled El Valor del Derecho Internacional respecto de los Sistemas Legales Nacionales, may be downloaded here. A summary of the report will soon be available in English. 
  • Skylight Pictures has created a series of mini-documentaries based on the proceedings of the Consultative Conference on International Criminal Justice, held at UN Headquarters in New York in September 2009. Each of these videos, 5-to-7 minutes long, highlights a contemporary issue facing the system of international criminal justice.
  More information about the series is available here. 

  • bookEric Posner and David Weisbach, professors at the University of Chicago Law School, have recently published Climate Change and Justice (Princeton University Press, 2010). The authors strongly favor both a climate change agreement and efforts to improve economic justice, but they also make a powerful case that the best--and possibly only--way to get an effective climate treaty is to exclude measures designed to redistribute wealth or address historical wrongs against underdeveloped countries. Read more about the book here.
  • The International Center for Transitional Justice recently released a briefing paper entitled Closing the International and Hybrid Criminal Tribunals: Mechanisms to Address Residual Issues. This document represents the work of a group of experts since 2007 and covers issues such as the essential functions of residual mechanisms, considerations regarding archives, the relationship between residual mechanisms and national authorities, and funding and oversight. Download the paper here.

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