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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.

April 2011

People in the News

bSir Michael Charles Dennis Byron (BIIJ 2006 and 2009), President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), has been elected as the new President of the Caribbean Court of Justice. A citizen of St. Kitts and Nevis, Sir Dennis joined the ICTR in 2004 and has served as its president since 2007. Before becoming an international judge, he served as High Court judge, Justice of Appeal and then Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. Read more details and comments from Sir Dennis in SKN Vibes.



gMr. Philippe Gautier has been re-elected as Registrar of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). A Belgian national, Mr. Gautier has served as Registrar since 2001. He is Professor at the Catholic University of Louvain and is the author of a number of publications on the Tribunal and the law of the sea. Read the ITLOS press release here.



Judge Bert Swart of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) has died. He acted as the presiding judge of the Trial Chamber and was involved with the STL from its inception, contributing greatly to its legal framework. The process of identifying a replacement for Judge Swart is currently underway. Read more from the STL website.



zThe search committee for a new International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor is being led by Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein, Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations. Prince Zeid played a central role in the establishment of the ICC and in September 2002 was elected the first president of the Court’s Assembly of State Parties. The Committee hopes to have a short list of candidates by the end of this summer. The term of the current Prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, ends in June 2012. Read more about the search committee and its process in an ICC press release.



Developments in International Justice

aThe African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights has issued an order for provisional measures in relation to an application received from the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, alleging serious and widespread violations of human rights by the government of the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. The Court decided that in view of the extreme gravity and urgency of the matter, and in accordance with certain powers and rules of the court, it was necessary to order provisional measures in order to avoid irreparable harm being caused to persons who are the subject of the application.

The Court has called on the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya to “immediately refrain from any action that would result in loss of life or violation of physical integrity of persons, which could be a breach of the provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights or of other international human rights instruments to which it is a party.”

Read the ACHPR press release, and view the order for provisional measures, here. Learn more in an article from The Canadian Press


gSpain’s High Court (Audencia Nacional) has rejected a Spanish prosecutor’s effort to stop an investigation into the role of United States officials in the torture of Guantánamo detainees. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which has submitted many papers in this and a related case in Spain, released the following statement:

“This is a monumental decision that will enable a Spanish judge to continue a case on the ‘authorized and systematic plan of torture and ill treatment’ by U.S. officials at Guantánamo. Geoffrey Miller, the former commanding officer at Guantánamo, has already been implicated, and the case will surely move up the chain of command. Since the U.S. government has not only failed to investigate the illegal actions of its own officials and, according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, also sought to interfere in the Spanish judicial process and stop the case from proceeding, this will be the first real investigation of the U.S. torture program. This is a victory for accountability and a blow against impunity. The Center for Constitutional Rights applauds the Spanish courts for not bowing to political pressure and for undertaking what may be the most important investigation in decades.”

Read more about this case and others against U.S. officials at the website of the CCR.


oThe pre-trial chamber of the International Criminal Court has issued summonses for the six persons named as responsible for post-election violence in Kenya in late 2007 and early 2008. More than 1,300 were killed and more than 300,000 were displaced in ethnic violence that engulfed Kenya in the wake of the disputed presidential election. The six have been accused by the Prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, of being indirect co-conspirators in the chaos by financing and organizing the violence. The Court decided to bring all six to The Hague, although the judges of the pre-trial chamber did not agree with Moreno’s assessment of two of the accused. Read more from VOA News.


iThe International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) has issued an advisory opinion of the Seabed Disputes Chamber on "Responsibilities and Obligations of States Sponsoring Persons and Entities With Respect To Activities in the Area." According to an Insights article of the American Society of International Law, “[t]his is the first time that the advisory jurisdiction of ITLOS has been invoked and the first time that the Seabed Disputes Chamber has been called upon. It is also the first time that the Tribunal—whose jurisprudence has to date been marked by a multiplicity of dissenting and separate opinions—has reached a completely unanimous ruling in a case referred to it.” Read more about the opinion in the ITLOS press release and ASIL Insights.


dThe Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) recently released a substantive report on immigrant detention in the United States. Immigration in the United States: Detention and Due Process responds to a growing concern about the dramatic increase between 2001 and 2008 in the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) detention of non-citizens, from just over 200,000 to over 375,000 detained. The IACHR investigation was based on visits to detention facilities and hearings, as well as consultation with ICE officials, immigration experts, attorneys, detainees and their families, and analysis of relevant reports and research by state agencies, non-profits, and media. The IACHR investigation and subsequent report aimed to determine the compatibility of ICE policies and practices with international human rights obligations. Download the full report here.


cThe European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that the presence of crucifixes in State-school classrooms in Italy does not violate Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 (right to education) to the European Convention on Human Rights. In Lautsi v. Italy, the Grand Chamber reversed an earlier ECHR ruling that there had been a violation of this article, taken together with Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion). On 28 January 2010 the Italian Government requested that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber and the request was accepted. Read more details and background of the case in an ECHR press release. Read a commentary on the case from the European Humanist Federation.


gHearings have begun at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the dispute between the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Greece, relating to Greek opposition to the Balkan state's membership of NATO due to its use of the name “Macedonia.” FYR Macedonia filed a lawsuit with the International Court of Justice in November 2008, asking the court to order Greece "to cease and desist from objecting in any way, whether directly or indirectly, to (Macedonia's) membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation nor any other international multilateral and regional organisations and institutions of which (Greece) is a member." Greece insists that the use of the name implies a claim on Greek territory and has argued that the ICJ has no jurisdiction to hear the case. The state further argues that Macedonia broke its side of the Accord by “stealing” Greek history in renaming airports, highways and sport arenas after Ancient Greek heroes. Read the ICJ press release.


tThe International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) recently delivered approximately 2,500 pages of transcripts produced in local languages to the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Croatia. The transcripts were delivered as part of the War Crimes Justice Project (WCJP), which aims to enhance the capacity of regional judiciaries to handle complex war crimes cases and assist the transfer of knowledge and materials from the ICTY to the former Yugoslavia. The provision of transcripts in the local languages is expected to improve the ability of legal practitioners in the region to access and utilise testimony given before the ICTY. Read more in an ICTY press release.


dAmnesty International has welcomed the decision by Governor Pat Quinn of the state of Illinois to sign into law a bill abolishing the death penalty. He also commuted the death sentences of the 15 men on death row in the state. Illinois will become the 16th state in the USA to ban capital punishment when the law signed by Governor Quinn comes into effect on 1 July. 
It will be the third state to enact abolitionist legislation in the past two years after New Jersey and New Mexico. Read more in an Amnesty press release.

A global picture of death sentences, and a sense of where the US stands in relation to other countries, can be obtained from the recently published report of Amnesty International, Death Sentences and Executions 2010.




Articles and Publications of Interest

sThe recent unanimous ruling of the Appeals Chamber of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon provides, for the first time, a clear definition of the crime of terrorism under international law. As Michael Scharf (Case Western Reserve University School of Law) notes in his Insights article from the American Society of International Law, the Appeals Chamber has found that “although it is held by many scholars and other legal experts that no widely accepted definition of terrorism has evolved in the world society because of the marked difference of views on some issues, closer scrutiny reveals that in fact such a definition has gradually emerged.” According to the Appeals Chamber, the definition of terrorism, as found in international customary law, consists of the following:

i) the perpetration of a criminal act (such as murder, kidnapping, hostage-taking, arson, and so on), or threatening such an act; (ii) the intent to spread fear among the population (which would generally entail the creation of public danger) or directly or indirectly coerce a national or international authority to take some action, or to refrain from taking it; (iii) when the act involves a transnational element.

Access the full text of Prof. Scharf’s article, entitled “Special Tribunal for Lebanon Issues Landmark Ruling on Definition of Terrorism and Modes of Participation,” here.



wNienke Grossman of the University of Baltimore School of Law has recently published an article exploring the gender disparity found on the benches of international courts and tribunals, “Sex on the Bench: Do Women Judges Matter to the Legitimacy of International Courts?” In an IntLawGrrls blog post, Prof. Grossman writes the following:

“As is frequently noted, international courts are playing a growing role in both deciding international disputes and defining the content of international law.  And their increasing importance has led to many serious questions about their legitimacy.  Because international courts generally lack enforcement powers and guaranteed funds, without legitimacy – defined as justified authority – states and others are less likely to cooperate and comply with their judgments.   Among the factors that may impact a court’s legitimacy is the ratio of the sexes, or “sex representation,” on the bench… This article seeks to shine light on the paucity of women judges participating in these vital decisions and in defining the content of international law today. It argues that we must pay more attention to sex representation if we wish to strengthen the legitimacy of these increasingly important institutions.”

Read more details in Grossman's blog post.  Access the abstract of her article and download the entire text here.


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