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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.

May 2012

People in the News

bThe bench of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) once again has its full complement of fifteen judges. Indian Supreme Court Justice Dalveer Bhandari has been elected to fill a judicial vacancy left by the resignation of Judge Awn Shawkat Al-Khasawneh (Jordan). Judge Bhandari will occupy the seat until February 2018, the remainder of Al-Khasawneh’s term. Bhandari is the first Indian judge to serve on the ICJ bench in over two decades. Read more about Judge Bhandari from The Hindustani Times. Download the ICJ press release with Bhandari's full curriculum vitae here.

Nine judges have been officially sworn in as members of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals. Their charge is to continue the jurisdiction, rights and obligations, and essential functions of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and Rwanda (ICTR) – the so-called “ad hoc tribunals” – and to maintain their legacy. The judges are Carmel Agius (Malta), Jean-Claude Antonetti (France), Christoph Flügge (Germany), Burton Hall (Bahamas), Liu Daqun (China), Bakone Justice Moloto (South Africa), Prisca Matimba Nyambe (Zambia), Alphons Orie (The Netherlands), and Patrick Robinson (Jamaica). All currently serve as judges with the ad hoc tribunals. The President of the Mechanism is Judge Theodor Meron, current ICTY President. Read more in an ICTY press release.

                   babar ahmad

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled, in Babar Ahmad and Others v. United Kingdom, that terror suspects currently jailed in Britain can be extradited to the U.S. because imprisonment in a maximum security facility would not violate their human rights. The Court considers that the potential for a life sentence and solitary confinement in a “super-max” federal prison in Colorado is justified in cases where inmates are a “significant security risk.” It also noted that the U.S. facility has amenities that go beyond those provided in most prisons in Europe. Read more about the case from the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights. For more information about super-max prisons and a diagram of a typical cell, see a BBC News article.

cAfter a trial lasting many years, former Liberian President Charles Taylor has been found guilty by the Special Court for Sierra Leone for crimes committed in the 1990’s during intertwined wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone. The charges included multiple counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, conscripting child soldiers and sexual slavery. While Taylor was found to have “aided and abetted” the commission of these crimes, he was not found guilty of either “command responsibility” over the Revolutionary United Front, which carried out the atrocities, or “joint criminal enterprise” with other regional leaders. Charles Taylor’s sentence has yet to be determined. Read more about the trial and verdict from The Washington Post.

Taylor is the first head of state to be found guilty by an international tribunal since the Nazi trials at Nuremberg. Other political leaders – namely Laurent Gbagbo of Côte d’Ivoire and Radovan Karadžić of Republika Srpska – have also been charged with international crimes and are either already on trial or will be soon. Omar al-Bashir of Sudan has been indicted as well but has yet to be arrested. Slobodan Milošević of Serbia and Muammar Gaddafi of Libya both died before they could reach the end of international proceedings. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay observed after the Taylor verdict, “The days when tyrants and mass murderers could…retire to a life of luxury in another land are over. And so they should be. Few things are more repugnant than seeing people with so much blood on their hands, living on stolen money with no prospect of their victims seeing justice carried out.” Read the High Commissioner’s full comments here.

The verdict, while applauded by many in the international community, is certain to raise many questions. Taylor’s defense counsel, Courtenay Griffiths, claims there is no difference between what his client did for rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone and the assistance provided by the U.S. government to rebels in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Afghanistan. El Hadji Malick Sow, who as alternate judge sat through the entire trial but was excluded from deliberations, sought to express a dissenting opinion at the end. "The guilt of the accused from the evidence provided in this trial is not proved beyond reasonable doubt," he said, remaining in the courtroom after his colleagues had left and his microphone had been switched off. Read more about Judge Sow’s unauthorized statement from IntLawGrrls.

A summary of the judgment can be accessed here.

Developments in International Justice


                 council of ministers at brighton

The 47-member Council of Europe recently completed its High Level Conference on the Future of the European Court of Human Rights in Brighton, England. There was some trepidation before the conference over suggested reforms to the Court that would potentially weaken the protection of human rights across Europe. In a statement circulated by the Open Society Justice Initiative before the conference, it was noted that “[t]here is a real risk that some of the reforms under consideration will lead to greater delays, restrict the right of individual petition, place the Court in an inappropriate posture of acting as a fourth instance, and provide some governments with greater latitude to avoid their human rights obligations.”

In the end, the resulting “Brighton Declaration” affirmed the protections afforded by the ECHR since its creation, while noting that several issues must be urgently addressed. These include the responsibility of member states to implement the provisions of the European Convention of Human Rights at the national level, and the need for the court to process more efficiently its ever-increasing number of applications.

Access the full text of the Brighton Declaration here.

iSince delivering its historic inaugural judgment last month in The Prosecutor v. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo case, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has seen several more “firsts”:

1) A defense counsel has challenged the seemingly all-powerful ICC Prosecutor. Xavier-Jen Keita, the Court’s public defender who is representing Saif Al Islam Gaddafi, insists that his client be brought to The Hague to avoid a judicial proceeding in Libya. He furthermore declares that Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo is aligned with the interests of the Libyan authorities and should recuse himself from the case. Read more from Radio Netherlands Worldwide. In the meantime, a number of human rights groups have asserted that Gaddafi cannot get a fair trial in Libya and that he is being mistreated while in detention there. Read a statement by Human Rights Watch.

2) The Prosecutor has declined to consider allegations of serious international crimes due to uncertainty about the status of the plaintiff. The situation pertains to incidents that took place during the Palestinian/Israeli conflict in Gaza in 2008-09. Moreno Ocampo claims that he cannot proceed with investigations unless it is determined that the Palestinian Authority is a State and thus has standing with the Court. While human rights observers claim that this leaves Palestinians without access to justice, Moreno Ocampo has said that the ICC has no mechanism for determining which entities are States and that such decisions should be left to the United Nations. Read more about the decision in an LA Times article, and a commentary on the Palestinian statehood issue in relation to international justice in OpinioJuris.

3) The Court has been asked to consider whether economic austerity measures can constitute international crimes. A group of Greek citizens charges that the imposition of such measures by its government amounts to peacetime genocide and crimes against humanity. The ICC has acknowledged receipt of the paperwork in relation to the situation and says that it will give the evidence due consideration. Despite the unlikelihood of such a case going forward, reports the BBC, “what it does reiterate is the depth of fury [in Greece] against the status quo and against a political class that many Greeks feel are responsible, through corruption and mismanagement, for bringing their country to near-collapse. Read more here.

aThe African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), based in Arusha, Tanzania, recently held its first public hearing. The application, instituted by a Nigerian lawyer and human rights activist Mr. Femi Falana, was brought against the African Union (AU). He challenges the validity of Article 34 (6) of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, under which the court was established six years ago, and on which Nigeria failed to make a declaration accepting the competence of the court to receive cases to date. Read more about the case from Sahara Reporters.

gThe Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has ruled as admissible the case of a Guantánamo Bay detainee held without any charge or trial for more than 10 years. Algerian national Djamel Ameziane is represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the Center for Justice and International Law, which have made the following statement: “This ruling marks the first time the IACHR has accepted jurisdiction over the case of a man detained at Guantánamo, and underscores the fact that there has been no effective domestic remedy available to victims of unjust detentions and other abuses at the base. The IACHR will now move to gather more information on the substantive human rights law violations suffered by Djamel Ameziane—including the harsh conditions of confinement he has endured, the abuses inflicted on him, and the illegality of his detention.” Read more at the CCR website.

vThe refusal of Spanish courts to address the human rights abuses committed during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco – and the disbarring of Judge Baltasar Garzón for his efforts to open up investigations – is not the end of the story. Descendants of Franco victims in Argentina are pursuing the case in their national courts, using the principle of universal jurisdiction for crimes against humanity. It is expected that the number of plaintiffs in Argentina could rise into the hundreds. Read more from IPS News.

Articles and Publications of Interest

cA new book by Jane McAdam (University of New South Wales), Climate Change, Forced Migration, and International Law (Oxford 2012), addresses an issue of fundamental future importance to many parts of the world – whether States have obligations to protect people displaced by climate change under international refugee law, international human rights law, and the international law on statelessness. Read more details from the author’s blogpost in IntLawGrrls.

jTwo recently published volumes explore the workings of international courts and their place in the contemporary legal landscape.

1) The Rules, Practice, and Jurisprudence of International Courts and Tribunals (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2012), edited by Chiara Giorgetti (White & Case, LLP).

This volume examines existing international dispute resolution institutions, including those of general jurisdiction and specialized jurisdiction, as well as human rights courts, international criminal courts and tribunals, courts of regional integration agreements, claims commissions and tribunals, and administrative tribunals of international organizations. The growing number and complexity of these institutions, as well as their increasingly important role in the development of international law, makes a detailed study of their practice particularly timely.

2) The Practice of International and National Courts and the (De-)Fragmentation of International Law (Hart Publishing 2012), edited by Ole Kristian Fauchald (University of Oslo) and André Nollkaemper (University of Amsterdam).

In recent decades there has been a considerable growth in the activities of international tribunals and the establishment of new tribunals. Furthermore, supervisory bodies established to control compliance with treaty obligations have adopted decisions in an increasing number of cases. National courts further add to the practice of adjudication of claims based on international law.  While the increasing practice of courts and supervisory bodies strengthens the adjudicatory process in international law, it also poses challenges to the unity of international law. This book explores how international and national courts can, and do, mitigate fragmentation of international law. It contains case studies from international regimes and from various national jurisdictions, providing a basis for conclusions to be drawn in the final chapter.

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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