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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.

October 2011

People in the News

PopeCan the leadership of the Catholic Church be held accountable for the criminal actions of priests? Pope Benedict XVI and three cardinals may be investigated by the International Criminal Court for their role in aiding and abetting widespread rape and sexual violence against children by priests. Human rights lawyers say that cases of sexual abuse were kept secret by the Vatican in a cover-up that amounts to a crime against humanity. The request for investigation was sent to the ICC by a worldwide network of victims of sexual abuse by priests, represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Learn more about the situation from the BBC. Read a report from Amnesty International alleging that the abuse of priests in Ireland amounts to torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

            New ITLOS Judges
Judge Shunji Yanai (Japan) has been elected as President of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) and Judge Albert J. Hoffmann (South Africa) as Vice- President by the members of the Tribunal for the period 2011–2014. Three newly elected judges have also been sworn in – David Joseph Attard (Malta), Elsa Kelly (Argentina) and Markiyan Z. Kulyk (Ukraine). Judge Kelly is the first woman to serve on the Tribunal since its creation.  Read the ITLOS press releases here.

mAgnieszka Klonowiecka-Milart (BIIJ 2003 and 2012), an international judge at the UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal in Cambodia, has criticized the media for leaking confidential information about ongoing war crimes trials at her institution. The breach has caused a debate over whether further leaders will stand trial in potential third and fourth cases, details of which were among the leaked confidential information.  Read more from Voice of America.

bSerge Brammertz has been reappointed Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the unanimous adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2007 (2011). His term may not extend past 31 December 2014 but is subject to an earlier termination upon completion of the ICTY’s work. Brammertz has served as Prosecutor of the ICTY since 1 January 2008. Read more in a UN press release.

kJudge Meddzida Kreso, President of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is pleased with the progress of judicial reform in her country, which is under international administration. The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina was established in 2002 primarily for the prosecution of war crimes, although it also handles cases concerning organized crime and corruption. To read an interview with Judge Kreso about the challenges her Court has faced and the lessons it has learned, click here.

Developments in International Justice

iThe International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has delivered its judgment in the so-called “Government II” case, involving four former state ministers of Rwanda. Two of the accused were convicted of the crimes of conspiracy to commit genocide and also direct and public incitement to commit genocide. They have been sentenced to 30 years imprisonment. Two other ministers were acquitted and their immediate release was ordered by the Trial Chamber. Delivery of the judgment comes 12 years after the accused were arrested and nearly eight years after the trial began. Read more from AllAfrica.

gThe Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has found the United States to be in violation of several provisions of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. In its decision on Gonzales et al. v. United States, the Commission asserts that the United States failed to provide sufficient protection to three girls killed by their father in a domestic violence case. The petitioner Jessica Gonzales, mother of the three slain girls, had previously filed a restraining order against her ex-husband who was known to be unstable and violent. On the evening that her ex-husband took the girls without permission, her calls to the police were left unanswered, and she was criticized for her persistence. The Commission reasoned that failure to protect victims of domestic violence amounts to discrimination and reaffirmed its previous finding that “gender-based violence is one of the most extreme and pervasive forms of discrimination, severely impairing and nullifying the enforcement of womens’ rights.”

Read a summary of the case and download the full decision at the Legal Momentum website.

tThe Dutch Civil Code violates the human rights of transgender people, says a recent report by Human Right Watch, entitled “Controlling Bodies, Denying Identities: Human Rights Violations against Trans People in the Netherlands” Article 28 of the Code requires transgender people to take hormones and undergo surgery to alter their bodies and be permanently and irreversibly sterilized before they can have their gender legally recognized on official documents. The Netherlands has between 10,000 and 30,000 people who feel they should be a different sex and not all wish to undergo serious procedures in order to officially change their names. Read more from Dutch News.

hThe Hershey Company may have abused the human rights of foreign students when a summer cultural exchange program allegedly used 400 foreign students in the United States on a J-1 student “work-travel” visa as underpaid labor at a Hershey’s packing facility. A Human Rights Delegation linked their situation with that of domestic laborers and drew parallels with the treatment of undocumented migrant workers in the United States. The report alleges various violations of human rights law, including the right to freedom of association awarded to everyone without regard to nationality or immigration status in accordance with Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  Read the Delegation’s report here. Learn more about the situation from IntLawGrrls blog.

uIn a controversial move, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has gone before the United Nations Security Council to plea for UN recognition of Palestinian statehood. Palestine has support from a variety of nations. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India, has stated that India looks forward to welcoming Palestine as an equal member of the United Nations. Pakistan and Azerbaijan have also expressed their support, and Abbas is planning a world tour to drum up more supporters.

The United States plans to veto the Palestinian request. Watch President Obama’s address to the UN General Assembly where he declares that Israel and Palestine must resolve their dispute through continued negotiation. A controversial report by Oxford University researcher Goodwin-Gill also challenges the Palestinian bid for statehood, on grounds of constitutionality, statehood legitimacy and representation. The application for recognition has been sent to the admissions committee of the United Nations Security Council for review.

eShould “ecocide” be considered an international crime, alongside genocide, crimes against humanity, crimes of aggression and war crimes? Ecocide can be defined, according to British environmental lawyer Polly Higgins, as “the mass damage, destruction to, or loss of ecosystems of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished.” The United Nations Law Commission is currently considering a proposal to enact a law against ecocide.

To highlight the importance of this concept, a mock trial has been conducted at the United Kingdom Supreme Court as though the crime of ecocide had already been adopted. The CEO’s of fictitious fossil fuel companies, played by actors, were grilled and defended by real barristers and international lawyers. The two crimes chosen for the ecocide mock trial were the extraction of oil from Canada's tar sands and a major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The verdict handed down by the volunteer jury? Both bosses were found guilty as charged. Read more from The Independent.

Articles and Publications of Interest

mTheodor Meron ((BIIJ 2006, 2010 & 2012), judge and former President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), has published a collection of the most important speeches from his first decade on the ICTY bench (OUP 2011). The speeches in The Making of International Criminal Justice offer the reader Meron’s personal insights on the development of international law as well as an insider’s perspective on the role of judges in the enforcement of international law. Read more here.

aCould Africa be ready for supranational courts? Africa Legal Aid explores this question in a recent opinion piece. It is argued that the idea of creating a regional criminal court for Africa has emerged out of debates surrounding the jurisdiction of the ICC. The creation of a regional court would remove the criticism that Western nations are targeting Africa and would create an African solution to problems plaguing Africa. The court could potentially enhance the legitimacy of international criminal tribunals, although questions remain as to what would be realistic expectations for the Court, particularly due to the role of politics in regional courts in Africa, like the East African Community Court of Justice and the Southern African Development Community Tribunal. Read the full piece here.

fFeminist international legal scholarship has been brought together in a new publication, Feminist Perspectives on Contemporary International Law (Hart Publishing, 2011). The collection, edited by Sari Kouvo and Zoe Pearson, features various articles by established international law scholars as well as newcomers to the field. It is divided into three themes: theory and method, national and international security, and global and local justice. Read more here.

bAs announced in recent issues of International Justice in the News, a report of the 2010 Brandeis Institute for International Judges (BIIJ) is now available. Organized around the theme “Toward an International Rule of Law,” BIIJ 2010 hosted 16 judges from 13 international courts and tribunals last July in Salzburg, Austria.

To read an excerpt from the BIIJ 2010 report – “What Does Diversity Imply for an International Rule of Law?” – click here. To download the entire report, and to find details on BIIJ 2010 participants, go to the BIIJ website.

International Justice in the News is edited by Leigh Swigart, Director of Programs in International Justice and Society, with the assistance of Katherine Alexander '12.

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