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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.

September 2011

People in the News

QNow that rebel forces in Libya have taken control of the country and Colonel Muammar Qadaffi is being actively sought, the question of where he should face justice has moved from the realm of speculation to that of impending reality. Many believe that Qaddafi should be transferred to The Hague, in accordance with the warrant for his arrest issued by the International Criminal Court in June. A compelling argument for following through with this plan was recently made in an article from The Atlantic. Rebel leaders declare that Qaddafi should first face justice in Libya, however, and guarantee that he would have a fair trial. Read more here.



lThe trial of Thomas Lubanga, the first accused to face justice at the International Criminal Court, has come to an end. Closing arguments were made by prosecutors and victims in which they urged the judges to convict Mr. Lubanga of the war crimes of conscripting, enlisting, and using child soldiers during the ethnic conflict in the Ituri region of northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) during 2002 and 2003. Judges are expected to issue their decision sometime early next year, by which time Mr. Lubanga will have been in the custody of the ICC for six years. Read more at the Open Society Justice Initiative’s website. Download a briefing paper and time line summarizing events and issues raised by the trial here.



oPresident Barack Obama has issued two directives that will strengthen the US government’s commitment and capacity to prevent mass atrocities and other grave human rights violations around the world. 

The presidential directives create a high-level Atrocities Prevention Board within the US government to provide early warning of impending atrocities and human rights crises abroad and to recommend early action to prevent such crimes. They furthermore call for a “dissent mechanism” so that officials who believe needed action is being blocked can take their concerns directly to the president. 

Obama also directed the State Department to deny US visas to those responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of human rights.


These measures are an example of the concrete steps governments can take to carry out the “responsibility to protect” or R2P. This principle holds that states are responsible for shielding their own populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and related crimes against humanity and requires the international community to step in if this obligation is not met. Read more about the directives here


Developments in International Justice

tAre the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) a terrorist organization or an activist group seeking the self-determination of the Tamil population? The European Union decision to continue labeling the LTTE as a terrorist organization is the subject of a case before the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Find more details on TamilNet. Read an interview with the lawyer representing the Tigers before the ECJ, where he discusses the legal basis of his position, from Radio Netherlands Worldwide.



aPeru’s new Congress has passed a law that will for the first time make it mandatory to seek indigenous peoples’ consent before development projects are allowed to go ahead on their ancestral lands. This includes projects like digging mines, drilling for oil or building dams. Indigenous peoples must also be consulted before Congress can approve any proposed law that could affect their rights. Such a law is in line with international standards, including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Inter-American Court standard, that require the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples for any activity which could have a significant impact on their territories and resources.

UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, praised the new law, noting, “The law represents an important step forward for indigenous peoples’ rights in the country and elsewhere in the Latin American region.” Read more from MercoPress.



dThe United Kingdom High Court has overturned an appeal to stay the eviction of dozens of Traveller families from Dale Farm, an area east of London that they own but have developed without permits. The legal battle has been going on for 10 years. Travellers are a traditionally nomadic people of ethnic Irish origin, who maintain a separate language and set of traditions. Amnesty International declares that their eviction could break international law. Others assert that human rights law has been duly considered in this matter. Read more from The BBC.



sThe Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) is urging those indicted in the killing of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and twenty-one others to come forward. The STL stresses that the indictees are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Find details about the suspects at the STL website. The Tribunal appears frustrated by the fact that Lebanese authorities are still unable to personally serve the accused with the indictments confirmed in June. According to the Lebanese Daily Star, however, the government is actively seeking the suspects. Read more here.



gGrenada has become the 115th country to accede to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The Vice-President of the Assembly of States Parties, HE Mr Jorge Lomónaco, placed the occasion in Grenada’s historical context: “After 300 years as a colony, an overthrow of the government, an invasion in the mid-eighties and a full restoration of democracy to follow, Grenada has come out as a strong and independent state of the Caribbean Community”. That community, he added, is strongly committed to “combating impunity and bringing justice to victims.” Read more here.




Articles and Publications of Interest

oWas the killing of Osama bin Laden a violation of the Geneva Conventions or a legitimate use of force in the context of armed conflict? The debate continues. Read a recent Jurist op-ed by Harvard Law School’s Chibli Mallat, arguing that the killing “violated longstanding doctrines of international law prohibiting killing outside the context of hostilities.”






gA recent report by Human Rights Watch takes stock of the “gacaca” justice system, which has been used to deal with crimes committed during the Rwandan genocide that were addressed neither by national courts nor the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. As noted in the report summary:

“The report acknowledges the enormous challenges the Rwandan government faced in choosing a system that could rapidly process tens of thousands of cases in a way that would be broadly accepted by the population… [It] notes some of gacaca’s main achievements. Using dozens of cases, it also illustrates the price paid by ordinary Rwandans for the compromises made in the decision to use gacaca to try genocide-related cases, including apparent miscarriages of justice, the use of gacaca to settle personal and political scores, corruption, and procedural irregularities.”

Download the full report here. Read a commentary on the gacaca system by Shannon Powers in a recent ASIL Insight.



iProfessor Martti Koskenniemi of the University of Helsinki has recently published a collection of essays under the title of The Politics of International Law (Hart Publishing 2011). The collection examines the recent debates on humanitarian intervention, collective security, protection of human rights and the "fight against impunity," and reflects on the use of the professional techniques of international law to intervene politically. The essays both illustrate and expand Koskenniemi’s influential theory of the critical role of international law in international politics. 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 – “Challenges to Judicial Independence” – click here. To download the entire report, and to find details on BIIJ 2010 participants, go to the BIIJ website.


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