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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 publications and resources 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.

December 2012

People in the News

sThe International Criminal Court’s Assembly of States Parties has elected a new Deputy Prosecutor, James Stewart of Canada. Mr. Stewart won the fifth round of voting, after the other candidates withdrew their names. Mr. Stewart’s experience includes stints at both the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. He takes the place of Fatou Bensouda, the former Deputy Prosecutor, who was sworn is as Chief Prosecutor this past June. For detailed biographical information on the new Deputy Prosecutor, click here.

dThe case of the imprisoned Swedish-Eritrean journalist and activist, Dawit Isaak, has been referred to the African Commission of Human and Peoples’ Rights. Isaak has been imprisoned in his home country of Eritrea for twelve years without trial. The reason for his arrest allegedly surrounds his and other journalists’ calls for democratic reforms within the country. The jurists who brought the case to the African Commission did so on grounds of Eritrea’s failure to respect the writ of habeas corpus as protection against illegal and arbitrary imprisonment. Read more here.

cCuban nationals now have more freedom to travel outside their country. The Cuban government has reformed the strict “Immigration Law” that required citizens to obtain various forms of permission from both their own and host countries in order to undertake travel. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has reacted by “urg(ing) the State of Cuba to continue adopting reforms until it fully guarantees the right of all Cubans to leave the country, move about within their territory, choose their place of residence, and decide whether to enter or reenter the country of which they are nationals.” See the IACHR press release.

         laurent and simone gbagbo
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has ruled that Laurent Gbagbo, 67, former President of the Ivory Coast, is fit to stand trial in The Hague. He is charged with crimes against humanity following the Ivory Coast's controversial presidential elections in 2010. It is alleged that up to 3,000 persons died in the violence that erupted after Mr. Gbagbo refused to accept defeat in the polls. The ICC decided that practical adjustments could be made to enable the ailing Mr. Gbagbo to participate in hearings, including shorter court sessions and facilities for him to rest during breaks. Read more from Jurist.

In related news, the ICC has now unsealed an arrest warrant for Mr. Gbagbo’s wife, Simone, who is also charged with crimes against humanity. The warrant explains how Ms. Gbagbo was part of the “inner circle” that planned post-election violence in the Ivory Coast against civilians who supported her husband’s political rival, Alassane Ouattara. The warrant notes that while she was not elected, “Ms Gbagbo acted as an alter ego for her husband, exercising the power to make State decisions.” Ms. Gbagbo is not the first woman to come before an international criminal tribunal; Pauline Nyiramasuhuko and Biljana Plavsic were charged and convicted by the ICTR and ICTY respectively for crimes against humanity. Read more about the three women from Justice in Conflict.

Developments in International Justice

aThe Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) recently adopted the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD) at its 21st Summit in Phnom Penh. The AHRD is the first-ever regional human rights instrument to be adopted by Asian States. The Declaration has been criticized for a lack of transparency in its drafting, and a group of 57 civil society organizations quickly released a common statement asserting that the Declaration falls well below international standards. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay concurred with this assessment, although she expressed hope that the document will evolve much like other regional documents of its kind. Read more about the Declaration here.

This historic gesture by leaders of Southeast Asian states did not prevent U.S. President Obama from criticizing Cambodia, the host of the ASEAN meeting, for its own human rights record when he visited the country during the ASEAN summit.

hThe European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that citizens of The Netherlands who reside in other EU states are not discriminated against when required to follow the health insurance regimes of the local populations. In 2006, The Netherlands adopted a new health insurance system that replaced separate private and public health care regimes. The result for non-resident citizens of The Netherlands was that their existing insurance plans were terminated, although they had the opportunity to receive the coverage available locally. In some cases, this required the purchase of supplemental private insurance. Two citizens of The Netherlands, living in Spain and in Belgium, alleged that this constituted discrimination but the ECHR did not find their application admissible. The European Court of Justice had previously made a preliminary ruling on the same case, finding that the requirement to contribute towards health care did not impede freedom of residence or freedom of movement, although an unjustified difference of treatment between residents and non-residents was contrary to European Union law. Download the ECHR press release.

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) has been busy over the past several months. October saw hearings in the M/V “Louisa” Case, regarding the detention by Spanish authorities of a vessel flying the flag of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. This was followed by the swearing in of ad-hoc judges in the M/V “Virginia G” Case, a dispute between Panama and Guinea-Bissau concerning the arrest of a Panamanian oil tanker by Guinean authorities and reparations for damages incurred during its detention.

aFinally, the Tribunal has just held hearings in the ARA “Libertad” Case between Argentina and Ghana. Argentina requests provisional measures to allow the Libertad, which is a training vessel of the Argentine navy, to leave Ghanaian jurisdictional waters. The ship was arrested in the Port of Tema in September after a subsidiary of the US hedge fund Elliott Capital Management (NML Capital) gained an injunction from the Ghanaian Commercial Court to prevent the ship and its crew from leaving the port. The ship was arrested due to a sovereign debt moratorium announced by Argentina in 2001. Argentina claims that the order of the Ghanaian court is in violation of international law and, in particular, of the immunities enjoyed by warships. For more background on the Libertad case, read an analysis from the Cambridge Journal of International and Comparative Law blog

tThe committee tasked with interpreting and monitoring the implementation of the United Nations Convention against Torture has adopted an authoritative interpretation of the content and scope of the right to redress for victims of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. The new interpretation, called General Comment No. 3, holds weight within most international and some national courts. Its main goal is to inform states of the broad legislative, institutional, and policy measures they are to undertake in order to truly ensure that redress for victims of torture is “available, adequate, and effective”. For more background, click here.

iTwo high profile judgments have recently been delivered at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

The Appeals Chamber, in a 3 to 2 decision, has reversed the earlier conviction by the Trial Chamber of two Croatian generals, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač, for their roles in an operation that led to the flight of 250,000 Croatian Serbs from their homes. The rejection of the convictions came from an acceptance of the defense’s main arguments that the shellings of the Serbian population were not unlawful, and thus the accusation of ‘joint criminal enterprise’ could not be used. Read more about the decision and the two dissenting opinions from The Guardian. For an interesting analysis of the reversal, see a Justice in Conflict post.

An ICTY Trial Chamber has also acquitted, for the second time, the former prime minister of Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj. He was first tried for crimes against humanity against Serbs in 2008 and found not guilty. A rare retrial was undertaken, due to reports of witness intimidation during the first trial, with the tribunal backing up its original verdict. Read more details here.

Both of these judgments have reinforced a perception among Serbs that the tribunal was established only to try members of their ethnic group. The Tribunal is currently taking measures to articulate its own legacy for the region and has recently launched a series of conferences in Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia to that end.

tThe State of Tanzania has announced plans to build a permanent residence for the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) in Arusha, which also hosts the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Currently, the ACHPR is housed in buildings owned by the Tanzania National Parks. In his address to the judges of the Court, Tanzania’s Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs observed that by agreeing to host human rights institutions in Arusha, his own country's human rights record comes under close scrutiny. Read more about the plans from

Publications and Resources of Interest

vDr. Ingo Venzke, Senior Researcher and Lecturer at the Amsterdam Center for International Law at the University of Amsterdam, recently published How Interpretation Makes International Law: On Semantic Change and Normative Twists (Oxford University Press 2012). The book applies developments in linguistics to the practice of international legal interpretations, and according to the publisher, “Challenge[s] the classic narrative that sovereign states make the law that constrains them… [and] argues that treaties and other sources of international law form only the starting point of legal authority.”

rA new informative guide, Rule of Law: A Guide for Politicians, was recently published by the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, in conjunction with the Hague Institute for the Internationalisation of Law. Its purpose, according to the Wallenberg Institute, is to provide a basic orientation for politicians regarding the fundamentals of the rule of law. The idea for the Guide stemmed from the InterAction Council of Former Heads of State and Government conference in June 2008, where the need for raising politicians’ awareness of the basics of international law and the meaning of the rule of law was discussed.

aTimo Koivurova, Director of The Northern Institute for Environmental and Minority Law, Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, recently published an article, "New Ways to Respond to Climate Change in the Arctic" (American Society for International Law Insights, Volume 16, Issue 33). The article reviews the Arctic Council’s response to climate change, and its ongoing transition from recommendations to legally-binding agreements between its eight-member states: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Russian Federation and the United States. The author also presents his views of the role of international law should play in handling climate change in the Arctic in the future.

wWashington College of Law’s War Crimes Research Office has published reports on early issues before the International Criminal Court since 2007 as a part of the ICC Legal Analysis and Education Project. The most recent report examines potentially problematic aspects of the Office of the Prosecutor’s investigative practices that have been noted by the judges of the Court and outside observers. The report marks the ten-year anniversary of the Rome Statute’s entry into force. Download the report here.

International Justice in the News is edited by Leigh Swigart, Director of Programs in International Justice and Society, with the assistance of Kochava Ayoun '14.

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