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 2014

People in the News

Judge Patrick Lipton Robinson
The General Assembly (GA) and Security of Council (SC) of the United Nations have elected five Members to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Judges Mohamed Bennouna (Morocco) and Joan E. Donoghue (United States of America) were re-elected, while Mr. James Richard Crawford (Australia) and Mr. Kirill Gevorgian (Russian Federation) were elected for the first time, on 6 November 2014. Read about these judges in an ICJ press release. Several days later, Mr. Patrick Lipton Robinson (Jamaica) was also elected to the Court after obtaining a majority in both the GA and SC. Judge Robinson (BIIJ 2010) previously served as Judge and President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Read more about his election and varied background in international law here.

dSenegal’s Minister of Justice Sidiki Kaba is slated to become the next President of the Assembly of States Parties (ASP), the ICC’s governing body. He would be the first African to hold this position. Minister Kaba has received the endorsement of the Bureau of the ASP as well as that of 34 African States Parties. He will be running unopposed in the December election for President. Civil society has broadly welcomed his appointment as he is a very experienced legal official and has a long working relationship with international criminal law and the ICC. Additionally, given that the ICC has active cases only in Africa, the election of an African to the Presidency has been seen as promising for future relations between the Court and the continent. Learn more about Minister Kaba and the ASP from the Coalition for the International Criminal Court.

dRhetoric about international law has frequently emerged in the ongoing conflict between Russia, Ukraine, and the West. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has once again invoked such language in a recent speech decrying Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine. She stated that Russia’s actions in Ukraine interrupt “the peaceful international order and breach international law.” Although she did not go into great detail on what laws President Putin has broken, the appeal to international law exemplifies how throughout this conflict each party has tried to take the legal, and perhaps moral, high ground. No NATO state has taken direct military action in halting the violence in Ukraine or to prevent Russia from further influencing events. However, this strong language from Chancellor Merkel might imply her growing impatience with Russia’s intractability and the disorder it is creating in Ukraine. Read more about Chancellor Merkel’s comments and their implications for the on-going international crisis in Ukraine from TIME Magazine and The BBC.

dInternational Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has reaffirmed her office’s commitment to protecting the rights of children in remarks celebrating the silver anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by the UN General Assembly. She announced that the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) has begun drafting a Policy Paper on Children, which will draw upon civil society experts, academia, various UN offices, and member states to report on the status of the rights of children and the extent of crimes against them. Ms. Bensouda also discussed the connection between the Convention and two ICC cases: that of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, who was convicted of conscripting and deploying child soldiers; and and that of Bosco Ntaganda, who has been charged with the same charges as Lubanga as well as with employing sexual slavery and sexual violence against soldiers he enlisted in his militia. The ICC has posted Prosecutor Bensouda’s full statement here

In other significant OTP news, Prosecutor Bensouda has decided to close her preliminary investigation into the Israeli interception of the MV Mavi Marmara. The vessel was part of the “Gaza Freedom Flotilla” and was intercepted by Israeli authorities on 31 May 2010. Ms. Bensouda determined that although there is a “reasonable basis” to believe war crimes were committed by Israel, the incident fails to pass the “sufficient gravity” standard explicitly set down by the Rome Statute. In essence, the incident was not serious enough to warrant the use of the very limited resources of the ICC. Read more in an ICC press release.

dDr. Denis Mukwege of the Democratic Republic of Congo has been awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in recognition of his work in helping victims of sexual violence in his home country. Dr. Mukwege established the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu where over 30,000 rape victims have been treated. Read more from The BBC. Read a summary of the 2013 Judicial Colloquium on Sexual Violence in the DRC, organized by Brandeis University, Physicians for Human Rights, and the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation, at which Dr. Mukwege was a featured speaker. Photo credit: Human Rights First

Developments in International Justice

xThe International Olympic Committee (IOC) has announced that it will include human rights protections in future host city contracts. Part of this reform stems from the advocacy efforts of numerous NGO’s, including Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and AllOut, which petitioned the IOC to take measures to prevent host cities from violating human rights in connection with the Olympics. Several former host nations, including China and Russia, have poor human rights records but no tangible measures were taken by the IOC to ensure that rights were not violated in the process of mounting the games. A particularly common problem is the exploitation of migrant labor in the construction and maintenance of facilities for the athletic events. According to Human Rights Watch, new text in the contracts requires the host cities to “take all necessary measures to ensure that development projects necessary for the organization of the Games comply with local, regional, and national legislation, and international agreements and protocols, applicable in the host country with regard to planning, construction, protection of the environment, health, safety, and labour laws.”

lThe executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Mr. Yury Fedotov, has stated that the growing trend of individual states in the USA to legalize recreational marijuana use appears to contravene the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. That treaty requires signatories to limit legal marijuana use to medical and scientific purposes due to its dependence-producing potential. Mr. Fedotov said that he will bring the problem to the attention of the U.S. State Department and other UN agencies. However, he implied UNODC may be taking a similar tack as the Obama administration, which has maintained a policy of leeway with states that have legalized recreational marijuana use. If UNODC decides that the new state policies are in violation of the Single Convention, it is unclear what UNODC can do to secure American compliance. Read more about Mr. Fedotov’s statements and international drug policy in a Reuters article.

dThe Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) has released its opinion in the Case of Dominican and Haitian People Expelled v. the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic’s discrimination, detention and mass expulsion of people of Haitian descent was held to violate, among other rights, those individuals’ rights to: nationality, a name, personal liberty, a fair trial, protection of the family, and the rights of children, as set forth in the American Convention on Human Rights. The Dominican Republic has rejected the Court’s decision as “out of season, biased, and inappropriate” but the Center for Justice and International Law, an NGO and one of the litigators of the case, hopes that the decision will foster a dialogue with Dominican officials about addressing the multiple human rights violations. Learn more about the specifics of the case from the European Network on Statelessness.

Universal jurisdiction is the doctrine that permits domestic courts to investigate and prosecute serious crimes against international law that occurred in the territories of other countries and were committed by non-nationals of the prosecuting State. Relying on this concept, the South African Constitutional Court recently ruled that the South African Police Service (SAPS) must investigate crimes committed in neighboring Zimbabwe. Zimbabwean security agents are believed to have murdered and tortured opponents of the ruling party following national elections in 2007. The South African Court specified that while carrying out its investigations, SAPS must respect the doctrine of complementarity, that is only investigate crimes that Zimbabwe is unwilling or unable to investigate on its own. Find background on the case and an analysis of the decision at Just Security.

dIn a similar move, an Argentine judge has ordered the extradition of 20 former officials from Spain, accused of torturing and killing dissidents during General Francisco Franco’s dictatorship. A Spanish amnesty law dating from 1977 has prevented any prosecution of crimes against humanity or war crimes committed by members of General Franco’s regime. Spaniards who say that they were victims of torture filed their lawsuit in Argentina in 2010. Read more from The Guardian.

dThe Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights recently issued a judgment in the case of Jaloud v. The Netherlands. The case concerned the shooting death of an Iraqi national, Azhar Sabah Jaloud, at a military checkpoint overseen by Dutch troops serving as part of the Stabilisation Force in Iraq (SFIR) in April 2004. The Court found that the Dutch investigation into Jaloud’s death was inadequate because it failed to preserve certain evidence, to ensure a suitable autopsy, to prevent potential suspects from colluding with key witnesses, and to provide critical reports to the reviewing court. Thus, the Court found that the Netherlands breached the procedural obligations of Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights. The judgment is particularly significant because it expands on the Court’s previous jurisprudence concerning the application of extraterritorial jurisdiction in armed conflict situations. Read the ECHR press release here.

dThe United States has filed a Notice of Appeal before the World Trade Organization (WTO) Appellate Body in “US – Certain Country of Origin Labelling (COOL) Requirements (Article 21.5 – Canada and Mexico).” The case concerns provisions related to the obligation to inform consumers at the retail level of the country of origin of covered commodities, including beef and pork. Read more about the case at the WTO website.

dA common criticism of the International Criminal Court is that it is biased towards Africa and is perpetuating the myth that Africa, writ large, is incapable of prosecuting crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide on its own. The Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC) in the courts of Senegal, along with courts in Chad, are seeking to disprove that notion. Former Chadian dictator Hisséne Habré is currently being held in Senegal, and if judges decide that the prosecution has enough evidence, his trial will begin in early 2015. The International Justice Resource Center has reported on this case as well as the cases against 26 of Mr. Habré’s senior officials and agents in Chad. The defendants, including Mr. Habré himself, are charged with crimes including torture, murder, arbitrary detention, and assault. The African Union has supported these efforts, and dozens of NGOs throughout Africa have very publicly supported and encouraged the activities of the EAC and Chadian courts. They are also working to ensure the trials are fair and provide each defendant with due process of law. Read an open letter of support for the proceedings against Mr. Habré, signed by over 140 African human rights groups from 32 countries, from Human Rights Watch.

Publications and Resources of Interest

dA newly published book, The Cuban Embargo under International Law: El Bloqueo (Routledge Research in International Law 2014), examines the history, legality and effects of US sanctions against Cuba. Author Nigel White argues that the embargo has largely become a matter of politics and ideology – in October 2014 only the United States and Israel voted to uphold the embargo before the UN General Assembly – while subjecting Cuba to apparently illegitimate coercion that has resulted in a prolonged global toleration of what appears to be a serious violation of international law. The book demonstrates how the Cuban embargo undermines the use of sanctions worldwide, and asks whether the refusal of world governments to address the illegality of the embargo reduces international law to tokenism where concepts of sovereign equality and non-intervention are no longer a priority.


The International Justice Resource Center now has a new and user-friendly web page that brings together information and news about the various human rights mechanisms and monitoring bodies in regions across the globe. Regional human rights bodies monitor, promote and protect human rights in several geographic regions around the world. In Africa, the Americas, and Europe, the regional human rights systems play a significant role in protecting human rights among their Member States, including by deciding States’ responsibility for violations alleged in complaints submitted by individuals. Additionally, newer bodies with fewer functions monitor human rights conditions in the countries of the Middle East and Southeast Asia. You can link to this useful site here.

dHow can the human rights situation in Haiti be changed? Through a bottom-up social movement supported by local and international challenges to the status quo, argues a new book. In How Human Rights Can Build Haiti: Activists, Lawyers and the Grassroots Campaign (Vanderbilt University Press 2014), Fran Quigley describes the work of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. He contends that their efforts are creating a template for a new and more effective human rights-focused strategy to turn around failed states and end global poverty. 

Special Opportunity

The Centre of Excellence for International Courts (iCourts) welcomes applications to a Ph.D. program oriented toward the study of international courts and dispute resolution with an empirical and interdisciplinary focus. In particular, candidates interested in the institutionalization of global courts, such as the ICC, ICJ, WTO AB and the ITLOS; in international commercial arbitration; and in the justificatory practices of international courts in philosophical context are encouraged to apply. Candidates may also have the opportunity to apply for a dual degree from the University of Copenhagen and Northwestern University. Read more about the iCourts program here.

International Justice in the News is edited by Leigh Swigart, Director of Programs in International Justice and Society, and Michael Abrams '15.

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