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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.


October 2013


People in the News


cThe Appeals Chamber of the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) has upheld the conviction and confirmed the 50-year sentence of Charles Taylor, the former President of Liberia. In April of 2012, the SCSL Trial Chamber found Mr. Taylor guilty on all eleven counts of indictment. He became the first ex-head of state to be convicted of war crimes by an international court since the Nuremberg trials. Mr. Taylor was also found guilty of crimes against humanity during the civil war in Sierra Leone that began two decades ago.  He is currently being held in The Hague, but the UK has offered to accept him into one of its maximum-security prisons. Read more about the trial and appeal from Reuters.



bSudanese President Omar al-Bashir has cancelled his plans to come to New York to speak at the UN’s General Assembly. He had applied for a U.S. visa, at which point the International Criminal Court (ICC) requested that U.S. authorities act on his outstanding arrest warrant – issued by the ICC for Mr. Bashir’s alleged role in the atrocities committed against civilians in Darfur – upon his arrival. However, after protests broke out in Khartoum and other cities in Sudan over his government’s decision to cut fuel subsidies, Mr. Bashir decided not to attend the Assembly meeting. This announcement seems to have been met with a sigh of relief. Christian Wenaweser, the UN ambassador of Liechtenstein and former president of the Assembly of States Parties to the ICC, remarked: “We understand he’s not coming and we are glad he’s not coming. We think it would have been bad for the United Nations to host someone who has been issued an international arrest warrant.” Read about some of the efforts made to discourage Mr. Bashir’s visit from the International Justice Project.



fRobert Roth (Switzerland), Presiding Judge of the Trial Chamber of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), has resigned his position. He will be replaced by Alternate Judge Janet Nosworthy (Jamaica), as the court moves into its trial phase in January 2014.  The Court was established to bring to justice the perpetrators of a terrorist attack in 2005 that led to the deaths of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and others. Read more from ilawyer.



The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) has announced the death of Judge Soji Yamamoto (Japan). Judge Yamamoto was a Member of the Tribunal from 1996 until 2005. He was a respected international lawyer and a member of the Japanese Society of International Law, of which he served as president from 1988 to 1991, and he acted as Adviser and Special Adviser for his country on various occasions.  Read more in an ITLOS press release.




fThe new Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Roberto Azevêdo (Brazil), has begun his mandate. This marks only the second time that the WTO will be led by an official from a developing country, and the first time that such an individual was elected by clear consensus. It has been suggested that Mr. Azevêdo’s status may help bridge the divide that exists between developing and developed countries over trade negotiations. Read more from IntLawGrrls.


Developments in International Justice


dJudges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) have rejected Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto’s request to adjourn his trial until mid-October so that he can attend to matters related to the recent attack on a Nairobi shopping mall. The judges said the trial must resume on 2 October, which will permit Mr. Ruto to attend a memorial service for those killed in the terrorist attack. Mr. Ruto and his superior, President Uhuru Kenyatta, face charges of crimes against humanity related to the violence that followed Kenya's 2007 elections, in which 1,200 people died. Both have voluntarily complied with all the court's summonses. However, they have asked judges for more flexibility in attending court hearings, saying their presence is needed in Kenya. The court has not yet given a final ruling on whether the two men can be excused from most hearings. Read more about the situation from Reuters. Learn about the pressures being put on the ICC in relation to the two Kenya cases and its inconsistent responses in a Justice in Conflict blogpost



dA group of international war crimes experts is calling for the creation of a special tribunal in the Syrian capital to try any top-ranking officials, soldiers or rebels who may have committed atrocities during the country's civil war. The experts include Prof. Michael Scharf of Case Western Reserve University, legal scholar Cherif Bassiouni, who chaired the drafting of the ICC’s Rome Statute, and Richard Goldstone, first Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.  The draft statutes for the tribunal are to be formally introduced at the National Press Club in Washington in early October. Read more from The Washington Post.

In the meantime, a bipartisan group of U.S. congressmen has also introduced a resolution (H.CON.RES.51) calling for the creation of an ad-hoc Syrian War Crimes Tribunal. However, critics of the motion note that even if it is passed by Congress, the UN Resolution necessary to create the tribunal is unlikely to be allowed to pass by veto-holding members of the UN, given the political deadlock regarding Syria up until now. Read more about the proposal from ilawyerblog.



dNicaragua has launched new legal action against Colombia in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), claiming potentially oil-rich areas in the Caribbean. Last year, the ICJ ruled that a small group of islands belonged to Colombia, but expanded certain maritime limits in favor of Nicaragua. Columbia rejected that ruling, saying that new international borders can only be agreed upon bilaterally. Nicaragua has now requested an expansion of the borders fixed by the Court last year to include several more islands currently owned by Colombia.  The case has been before the ICJ since 2001. Read more details and background of the case from The BBC.



fThe Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has requested an advisory opinion from the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights about the effects of corruption on poverty, and whether “increased poverty breaches the right to equality and non-discrimination, right of the people to socio-economic development, and their right to natural wealth and resources.” Amnesty International and other human rights groups have now secured the permission of the Court to join in the suit, arguing successfully that the court, while generally only accepting States as parties, also holds subject matter jurisdiction under Article 4 of its Charter.  Read more from The Guardian Nigeria.


In other African regional news, the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights has adopted Resolution 234, concerning the right to nationality. The Commission reaffirmed that the right to nationality is a fundamental human right, and calls upon African States to "refrain from taking discriminatory nationality measures and to repeal laws which deny or deprive persons of their nationality." The Resolution particularly calls upon states to adopt legislation aimed at preventing statelessness. Read more about the contents of the resolution here.



On 10 September 2012, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States received a formal notice of denunciation of the American Convention on Human Rights on behalf of the government of Venezuela.  The denunciation took effect a year later, pursuant to Article 78(1) of the American Convention. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has stated that it “reiterates its deep concern over the consequences of the denunciation's entry into force, namely that any human rights violations that take place in Venezuela after September 10, 2013, may not be analyzed by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights." The Commission "calls on Venezuela to reconsider this decision." Read more in a Commission press release.

fThe State of Texas has also defied the Inter-American human rights system with its recent execution of Robert Gene Garza. The Inter-American Commission had called for suspension of the execution, after granting Mr. Garza “precautionary measures to protect [his] life and physical integrity.” The Commission alleged the violation of rights enshrined in the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, pointing to due process irregularities. According to the Texas court, Mr. Garza was involved in the murders of four women during a gang ambush eleven years ago.  He is the 12th inmate this year to be executed by the state of Texas. Read more about the Garza case and execution here.



fThe International Labour Organization's (ILO) Domestic Workers Convention came into force on 5 September 2013. The Convention was adopted by the ILO in 2011 and required ratification by two ILO member States to become binding international law; to date, eight ILO member States have ratified the Convention. An estimated 50 million individuals are employed as domestic workers globally, and the Convention recognizes such employees' entitlement to basic labor rights such as weekly rest periods, set hours, and a minimum wage. Watch a video segment on the ratification here.



In Demirkan v. Germany, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that Turkish citizens may not travel to European Union countries without a visa to receive services. The controversial case started in 2007, when Ms. Leyla Ecem Demirkan, a Turkish national born in 1993, applied to the German Embassy in Ankara, Turkey for a visa in order to visit her step-father, a German national living in Germany. In response to the rejection of her application, Ms. Demirkan took the case to court first in Germany and then to the ECJ. The ECJ's landmark verdict closes the doors for visa-free travel for Turks in European Union member states. Read more in an ECJ press release.


Publications and Resources of Interest


fBrandeis undergraduate student Dave Benger (’14) was recently featured in Opinio Juris as an “Emerging Voice.”  Read his post, “Bemba as a Watershed in Judicial Discretion at the ICC- The Limits of Regulation 55”, which explores the controversial practice of recharacterizing charges at the International Criminal Court. Dave was a participant in the Spring 2013 Brandeis in the Hague Program, and his analysis was informed by his work as an intern on the defense team of Jean Pierre Bemba, whose case is currently in trial before the ICC.



dThe European Court of Human Rights has launched both print and online collections of its leading judgments, decisions, and advisory opinions since 1998.  Although the Court receives thousands of applications and has issued many judgments, the collections will only contain the Court’s most significant decisions interpreting the European Convention of Human Rights. The collection was compiled to assist lawyers in their research by providing them with only the most relevant jurisprudence. Read more about the collection and visit it here.



dThe United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has introduced a new database of information on combatting racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance.  According to the OHCHR, the database includes examples of existing protections and practices used at the regional, national, and international levels, including: treaties, relevant decisions from domestic and supranational courts, texts of legal provisions, avenues for remedies and redress, policy measures and institutional measures (e.g., ministries, working groups, committees). Read more and access the database at the International Justice Resource Center.



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

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