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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.


February 2013


Featured News

hPrince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations, recently delivered a Distinguished Lecture in International Justice and Human Rights at Brandeis University. In his lecture, entitled “Beyond Nuremberg: the Future of International Criminal Justice,” Prince Zeid delved deeply into the question of how men and women seek to restore their humanity in the wake of genocide and other atrocities. He argued that none of our usual transitional justice mechanisms – international trials, amnesties, truth commissions, or community-based courts – successfully promotes remorse by perpetrators or healing for victims.  He insisted rather that, as we undertake the long and essential process of extending the rule of law across the globe, we keep our eyes on other means to address the shortcomings of law itself. Read more about Prince Zeid’s visit to Brandeis and view his full lecture here.



People in the News


iThe Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) has three new judges: Eduardo Ferrer Mac-Gregor Poisot (Mexico), Humberto Sierra Porto (Colombia) and Roberto de Figueiredo Caldas (Brazil). Once an international court with an impressive female presence, the IACHR is back to having an all-male bench.  It has also lost the representation of small Caribbean nations. Visit the website of the Center for Justice and International Law for more information and to view the curricula vitae of the new members of the bench.


cThe appeals hearings at the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) in the case of former Liberian President Charles Taylor have now been completed. The judges have retired to deliberate and consider their judgment, which is expected by the end of 2013. The April 2012 verdict found Mr. Taylor guilty on all counts of his indictment, for which he was sentenced to a prison term of 50 years. The Prosecution has appealed the judgment on 4 grounds, arguing that Mr. Taylor should have been found guilty of “other modes of liability” and received a longer sentence. The Defense has appealed on 42 grounds, asserting that systematic errors in the evaluation of evidence and the application of law were “sufficiently serious” to reverse the entire judgment. The Defense also questioned the fairness of the trial, and argued that the length of the sentence is “manifestly unreasonable.” Read more details in the SCSL press release.



bAn open letter from the International Commission of Jurists to Sri Lankan leaders has condemned the removal of Shirani Bandaranayake as the Chief Justice of Sri Lanka and her replacement by former Attorney General Mohan Peiris. It furthermore states that this turn of events raises serious concerns about the future of the rule of law and accountability in that country. Read the full text of the letter at the website of South Asians for Human Rights.



iInternational Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has appointed three women as her Special Advisors: Patricia Viseur Sellers as Special Adviser on International Criminal Law Prosecution Strategies; Leila Nadya Sadat as Special Adviser on Crimes against Humanity; and Diane Marie Amann as Special Adviser on Children in and affected by Armed Conflict. All three women are international law professors at their respective universities, and their expertise will be used to advise the chief prosecutor at her request or on their own initiative on training, policies, procedures and legal submissions. For more information on the appointments, click here



The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has convicted Augustin Ngirabatware of genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, and rape as a crime against humanity. The judgment in this case marks the end of the ICTR’s trial phase. Read the tribunal’s press release and a statement made by ICTR Chief Prosecutor Hassan Jallow to mark this significant occasion.




Developments in International Justice


eThe Court of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) has ruled that Iceland did not act wrongly in refusing to pay compensation to 350,000 bank depositors from the Netherlands and Britain who lost their savings in Landsbanki, one of three major banks to fail during the country’s financial meltdown in 2008. Read more about the EFTA case from The Washington Post. The so-called Icesave judgment is notable in being the first in the history of a European court of regional integration to reference academic literature (paragraphs 167 and 176). Access the press release and full judgment from the EFTA Court website.



iThe Inter-American Court of Human Rights has ruled that Costa Rica’s longstanding ban on in-vitro fertilization violates the right to privacy, the right to liberty, the right to personal integrity, and the right to form a family, as recognized under international law. The Court also found that obstructing access to reproductive health services violates the right to be free from discrimination. This judgment extends to all 22 Latin American countries that have accepted the jurisdiction of the court. Read more from the Center for Reproductive Rights.




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The issue of religious freedom has been much in the news. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled, in Eweida and Others v. The United Kingdom, that religious freedom can be expressed in the workplace, as long as it doesn’t infringe on the rights of others. Hearing four cases in total, the Court accepted the application of a British Airways employee who had been refused permission to wear a cross visibly at work. But it rejected three other applications, including one filed by a city hall registrar who claimed discrimination after she was disciplined for refusing to officiate same-sex civil partnerships. Read details about all the cases at the BBC.

Meanwhile, religious freedom is under attack in Indonesia, where a group of Shi’a Muslims has been threatened with forced relocation if they refuse to convert to the majority religion of Sunni Islam by March. The group has been living in inadequate conditions at a sports complex since August 2012 when they were displaced after their village was attacked by a violent mob. Read more from Amnesty International.



vFifty-eight states have asked the UN Security Council to refer the conflict in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for a war crimes investigation. Switzerland drafted the letter, and signatories included all European Union member states, with the notable exception of Sweden. As Syria is not a party to the Rome Statute, which established the ICC, a referral from the Security Council is the only way in which such an investigation could proceed; such referrals have already been made in the cases of Libya and Sudan. However, given that Syrian allies Russia and China sit on the Security Council, a referral seems unlikely. Read the letter submitted to the Security Council and a discussion of whether this strategy would end violence in Syria from International Policy Digest.




iThe International Court of Justice (ICJ) recently rendered a judgment in the case of a maritime and territorial dispute between Nicaragua and Colombia. The Court has found that the islands in dispute belong to Colombia and has determined that the maritime boundary between the two states will be “a continental shelf boundary dividing by equal parts the overlapping entitlements to a continental shelf of both Parties.” Read more in an ICJ press release. The ruling has proved a disappointment to Columbia as it has lost territorial waters, as reported by ABC News.



sA new service, FrontlineSMS:Legal, has innovated SMS technology to be used in under-served areas to improve dispute resolution services. The service is a free, open-source mass text-messaging hub that allows people in under-served regions of the world to make court appointments, saving them thousands of hours in traveling and wait time. According to FrontlineSMS, “every day, dozens of people line up in front of these Justice Houses, where they wait for hours to fill out paper forms.” Indeed, around the world, legal aid projects, despite their hard work and dedication, lack the resources to meet their communities’ needs. In 2008, the UN estimated that 4 billion people lacked “meaningful” access to the rule of law. Read more about the opportunities and challenges associated with this new technology at Innovating Justice.



The United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC) has awarded $1.3 billion for two claims relating to damages suffered during Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. In its press release, the UNCC said that the compensation was for the “damages to Kuwait’s oil field assets (oil wells, pipelines and related equipment) and associated production and sales losses.” So far, the Commission has awarded reparations to over 100 governments and organizations, placing the total amount of payouts at $40.1 billion for 1.5 million successful claimants. The UNCC was set up by the United Nations Security Council in 1991 to settle the claims of losses suffered due to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Read the press release here.



eThe Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) is facing more trouble. Its Cambodian staff is protesting for unpaid wages dating from December 2012. While the United Nations pays the international staff of the ECCC, Cambodian staff are to be paid by the Cambodian government. So far, the ECCC has only received a fraction of its operating costs for 2013 from donors. The Court is also facing the failing health of its elderly defendants. Within a one-week period, two of the three Khmer Rouge leaders on trial, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Che, have been hospitalized. Read more in an iLawyer blog post.



Publications and Resources of Interest

Two university presses in the Boston area have recently published works of interest to those working on the intersection of law, gender, and the family.

bGender, Religion, and Family Law: Theorizing Conflicts between Women's Rights and Cultural Traditions, edited by Lisa Fishbayn Joffe and Sylvia Neil (Brandeis University Press), explores the conflicts that often exist between the rights guaranteed to women under civil law and principles of religious law. This anthology brings together leading scholars and activists doing innovative work in Jewish law, Muslim law, Christian law, and African customary law. Using examples drawn from a variety of nations and religions, they interrogate the utility of recent theoretical models for engaging with gender and multicultural conflicts, explore contextual differences, and analyze and celebrate stories of successful initiatives that have transformed legal and cultural norms to improve women's lives.  Read about the anthology here.

hBattered Women, Their Children, and International Law: The Unintended Consequences of the Hague Child Abduction Convention, by Taryn Lindhorst and Jeffrey L. Edleson (Northeastern University Press), explores how the current Hague Child Abduction Convention agreements may unintentionally harm abused women and their children. Drawing on a series of true-life stories, the book examines how international treaties come into play when a woman fleeing an abusive relationship is charged with child abduction and forced to return the children to an abusive father. Visit the publisher’s page here.




iSpecial Opportunity!!!

The University of Copenhagen’s Centre of Excellence for International Courts (iCourts) is hosting a high-level summer school in June 2013 for PhD students and junior scholars with a special interest in interdisciplinary studies of international law and its social and political context. Applications are encouraged from those writing up a PhD thesis or a post-doctoral project that involves a study of one or more international courts. Click here for more information.



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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