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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.

June 2012

People in the News

tFollowing his conviction by the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) last month, former Liberian president Charles Taylor has now been sentenced to 50 years in jail. Mr. Taylor was the first head of state convicted by an international court since the Nuremberg trials after World War II. The sentence is expected to be appealed by both the defense and prosecution. Read more in The New York Times

The full SCSL judgment in Prosecutor v. Charles Taylor was published only a few days before his sentence was announced. It is the longest judgment of any international tribunal to date – 2499 pages – and is in a non-searchable format. However, a searchable version was quickly created and made available by IntLawGrrls. It can be accessed here.

nJudge Motoo Noguchi (BIIJ 2010) has resigned his position in the Supreme Court Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). He intends to return to service in the Ministry of Justice in his native Japan. Judge Noguchi’s resignation follows that of ECCC co-investigating judges Siegfried Blunk and Laurent Kasper-Ansermet in recent months. Read more from the UN News Centre.

mThe opening hours of the long-awaited trial of Ratko Mladic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) were dramatic. Mladic, who remained at large for 16 years until his arrest in 2011, faces charges including genocide for his role as the top military commander overseeing the massacre of more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica, Bosnia in 1995. As reported by the BBC, the courtroom heard of the panic caused by the approach of Mladic’s forces to Srebenica and the threats he made to Muslims. The proceedings were then halted – ironically by Dutch Judge Alphonse Orie whom the defense had earlier attempted to bar from the trial – when it became clear that the ICTY prosecution had not fully disclosed its evidence to the defense. The trial is now scheduled to resume in late June 2012.

sInternational justice may not be perfect but it is making a difference and is here to stay. There is no denying, however, that individuals from powerful countries are rarely seen in the international dock and that international justice “will be better, stronger and even more legitimate when the playing field is more level.” So writes international lawyer and law professor Philippe Sands in a recent op-ed in The Guardian. Access the full editorial here.

Developments in International Justice

eThe Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) recently heard the case of Khaled el-Masri, who claims that the Republic of Macedonia complied in his rendition to an American secret prison in Afghanistan. A German citizen of Lebanese descent, el-Masri says he was abducted by the Macedonian authorities in 2003 and transferred to Afghanistan, where he was imprisoned for four months. He claims that his abduction was a case of mistaken identity – he bears the same name as a man wanted in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It is alleged that once intelligence agencies realized that el-Masri was innocent, he was abandoned on a roadside in Albania.

The US Supreme Court previously rejected a 2007 attempt to bring a suit against the US Central Intelligence Agency for the incident. El-Masri now claims that Macedonia violated the European Convention on Human Rights by torturing him and being complicit in a plot to deprive him of his liberty. El-Masri is represented by James Goldston of the Open Society Initiative. Listen to an interview with Goldston, watch the ECHR hearing, and read more about the case. An ECHR decision will be issued in several months.

lThe administration of President Barack Obama is urging the United States to ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty. More than 160 nations belong to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which governs how nations may use the world's oceans and the resources they contain.  All major industrialized nations have ratified the treaty except the United States. In a recent congressional hearing, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton noted, "If we do not join the convention, our companies will miss out on opportunities to explore vast areas of continental shelf and deep seabed.  If we do join the convention, we unlock economic opportunities worth potentially hundreds of billions of dollars." Defense Secretary Leon Panetta argued that adhering to international conventions strengthens America's moral authority when it comes to pressuring other states to do likewise. The ratification vote is unlikely to take place until next November’s presidential election is past. Read more from Voice of America.

rThe Organization of American States reports in a press release that Brazil is establishing a Truth Commission to investigate human rights violations committed between 1946 and 1988, “with a view to reclaiming the historical truth of what occurred during those decades, including during the last military dictatorship.” Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has announced the names of the seven members of the Commission, which will have a two-year mandate to investigate what occurred and submit a report.

President Rousseff, a former leftist guerilla, has a personal interest in the proceedings, having been imprisoned and tortured during the military dictatorship. Along with more than 100 other individuals, she will receive an apology from the Rio de Janeiro state government, as well as $10,000 under a compensation law passed in 2001. The president will donate the funds to charity. Read more from The Washington Post.

The High Court in Pretoria, South Africa’s administrative capital, has ordered South African authorities to investigate and prosecute members of the Zimbabwe government who have tortured their political opponents. Under South African law, the police are obliged to investigate evidence of a crime against humanity, wherever it occurs, if the rule of law does not exist there. Read more details from

gThis historic case comes close on the heels of a decision by Argentine courts to investigate crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the Franco era in Spain. Could these two cases herald “a rise in universal jurisdiction from the global South”? Read a commentary on this subject from IntLawGrrls.

oThe saga of the “Ocampo 4” continues. The prominent Kenyans charged by International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo have attempted a number of means to avoid being tried in The Hague, including a challenge to the ICC’s jurisdiction and a move to shift the case to the East African Court of Justice. But now the ICC Appeals Chamber “has literally sealed all exits on the Nairobi-Hague expressway for Kenya’s high-profile suspects indicted for crimes against humanity,” as reported in the Kenyan media.

The ICC has just informed the four that they should expect to spend at least a year and a half in The Hague during their trial. Two of the accused, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, would like to stand in the upcoming Kenyan presidential elections, but the ICC says that its trial schedule should not take into account their political aspirations. Many challenges to the Court remain to be solved. Defense lawyers are asking that the ICC hold the trials in East Africa, given that the Rome Statute allows for an alternative venue. The defense and the prosecution teams have also indicated to the trial chamber that they will need translators in multiple Kenyan languages – Kikuyu, Luo, Kalenjin, Kamba, Kisii, and Luhya. Read an update on the situation here.

In the meantime, another ICC accused, President Omar al Bashir of Sudan, recently called on all African nations to reject the ICC. The Sudan Tribune reports that Sudanese Justice Minister Mohamed Bushara Dousa considers the ICC guilty of applying a "double standards policy," which "should push the African countries to withdraw from the Hague-based court and activate the African Court of Justice and Human and People's Rights." The latter refers to another initiative under consideration – the expansion of the African Union’s human rights court to address a wider range of legal issues. The new ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda of The Gambia, rejects allegations that her court is targeting Africa, as reported in The Guardian.

Articles and Publications of Interest

iA new article by Andrew Strauss of Widener University School of Law, “Cutting the Gordian Knot: How and Why the United Nations Should Vest the International Court of Justice with Referral Jurisdiction” (44 Cornell International Law Journal 603, 2011), argues that the United Nations General Assembly should give the International Court of Justice what he calls “Referral Jurisdiction.”  This new form of jurisdiction would allow states to secure advisory judgments in their disputes with fellow states, regardless of whether those states had consented to the Court's jurisdiction. Professor Strauss makes the case that Referral Jurisdiction is politically achievable, that it would improve compliance with international law and that it would strengthen the International Court of Justice. 

Strauss and his colleagues are embarking on a political initiative to promote Referral Jurisdiction (see and are interested in readers’ comments about the article or the advancement of Referral Jurisdiction. Professor Strauss can be contacted at

cIn recent years, the differing and overlapping experiences of men and women in situations of armed conflict have garnered significant international attention. Such attention results from the confluence of multiple factors including greater visibility of the violations experienced by women in times of war; the increasing reliance by UN member states on gendered violations as a basis for justifying multi-national humanitarian interventions; and greater exposure of the broader social, economic and cultural effects on women of inter-state and intra-state armed conflict.

A new collection of essays edited by University of Iowa’s Elizabeth D. Heineman, Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones: From the Ancient World to the Era of Human Rights (University of Pennsylvania Press 2011), provides a historical perspective on these issues. Written almost exclusively by historians, the 14 essays survey an outstanding array of sites, ranging from ancient Greece to medieval England, from the American Revolution and pre-colonial warfare in Tanzania to the Bangladeshi war, from ancient warfare to World War II. A final essay addresses how far legal approaches to sexual violence have come—and how much farther they need to go. Read more about the collection here.

aAmnesty International recently issued its annual report on the state of human rights worldwide. Access the full report, read a summary, and view a short video featuring highlights and trends from the report at the Amnesty International website.


wReaders of International Justice in the News have the opportunity to purchase the Emmy Award nominated documentary WAR DON DON at a discounted price.

WAR DON DON is an intimate picture of the Issa Sesay trial in the Special Court for Sierra Leone.  While making the film, the director, Rebecca Richman Cohen, was given unique access to both the prosecution and defense teams, so the film offers a glimpse of the mechanics of international justice. The recent verdict in the Charles Taylor trial, as well as current developments at the International Criminal Court and other international tribunals, make this a timely moment to view the nuanced story of WAR DON DON.

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International Justice in the News is edited by Leigh Swigart, Director of Programs in International Justice and Society.

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