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 2014

People in the News

                     President Spielmann
The President of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), Judge Dean Spielmann (Luxembourg), told BBC News’s HARDtalk that it would be a “political disaster” if the United Kingdom left the European Convention on Human Rights. This statement is in light of UK Conservative Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s proposal to limit the role of the Convention in the UK, saying that it did not “make this country a better place.” Likewise, Prime Minister David Cameron has said that the ECtHR risks becoming a “small claims court” buried under a mountain of “trivial” claims. The Court’s Deputy Registrar Michael O'Boyle offers a different point of view: "For six decades this institution has radiated a highly impressive body of case law out to the legal systems of a large number of countries – 47 today. It's an advance in civilization." Watch Judge Spielmann’s full interview here and read more details about both the controversy and the Court’s achievements from The Guardian.

dRatko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb army chief whose trial is ongoing at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), recently received a subpoena to testify as a defense witness in the ICTY trial of the former president of the Republika Srpska, Radovan Karadzic. Mr. Mladic’s lawyers have filed an urgent motion against the subpoena, as well as a grant for a medical examination of their client that would determine whether his health permits him to appear as a witness. Read more from the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.

gAn attempt by Hissène Habré to avoid standing trial for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture, allegedly committed while he was dictator of Chad, has been foiled. Habré’s lawyers applied to the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), claiming that the Extraordinary African Chambers, established expressly in Senegal to try their client, were not legitimate. The ECOWAS Court held in November 2013 that it did not have jurisdiction to rule on the application because the Chambers were established pursuant to a treaty between Senegal and the African Union. In addition to rejecting the application for provisional measures, the court dismissed the underlying request, thus ending the case before it. Read more from Human Rights Watch and access the full judgment (in French) here. Learn more about the ECOWAS Court in a recent article by Karen Alter, Laurence Helfer, and Jacqueline McAllister.

        The four accused On trial at the STL

Judge Nicola Lettieri (Italy) has been assigned to the Trial Chamber of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), just days following his appointment as the new alternate judge. From 1987 to 2004, Judge Lettieri was Deputy Prosecutor at the Court of Naples, and since then he went on to serve as the Deputy Attorney General at the Supreme Court of Cassation in Italy, as well as an ad hoc judge at the European Court of Human Rights. Read the STL press release here. Judge Lettieri joins the STL just in time for its first trial, Prosecutor v. Ayyash et al., which opened on 16 January 2014

dNicholas Koumjian (USA) has been appointed as international Co-Prosecutor of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). Before his appointment, Mr. Koumjian was the Senior Appeals Counsel for the prosecution of former Liberian President Charles Taylor at the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), and he also represented two Sudanese defendants in a trial before the International Criminal Court involving the Darfur situation. Read more about Mr. Koumjian’s background and appointment in an ECCC press release.

dFormer judge of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Karl T. Hudson-Phillips (Trinidad and Tobago) has passed away. He was elected by the States Parties to the Rome Statute in February of 2003 and served until September 2007.  “Judge Hudson-Phillips made important contributions to establishing the judicial foundations of the Court. He chaired the first meetings of judges before the election of the Presidency and was influential in drafting the Regulations of the Court as well as the Code of Judicial Ethics. His passing is a great loss to us all and his contribution will be cherished for a long time to come”, said ICC President Judge Sang-Hyun Song. Read the ICC press release here.

Developments in International Justice

dEdgar Tamayo has been executed in Texas in defiance of requests for a delay by both the Mexican government and the US State Department. The Mexican national was convicted of killing a Houston police officer in 1994. He had argued for 19 years for a reprieve of execution on the grounds that he did not have access to Mexican consular officials as stipulated by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, to which the US is a party. The Tamayo case is the latest in a long dispute over whether individual US states have to recognize international treaties. The issue of consular access has been the subject of several cases at the International Court of Justice, most recently in Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (Mexico v. United States of America). Read more about the Tamayo case from The Christian Science Monitor.

One of the compelling reasons to respect foreign citizens’ rights of consular access – as noted in a US State Department press release – is to ensure the same rights for American citizens abroad. Sarah Shourd, a US citizen who was detained in an Iranian prison without consular access, recently wrote in The Huffington Post: “Each time we execute a foreign national whose consular rights were stripped away, the bonds of mutual trust between nations are loosened and the delicate fabric of international cooperation unravels a little more. Each time we shirk our responsibility to make things right, the freedom and safety of Americans abroad becomes a little more endangered. Never think for a moment that the threat to U.S. citizens imprisoned overseas is just a rhetorical talking point, or that Texas can continue its defiance of civilized conduct without consequences. There is nothing hypothetical about the risk of retaliation. I know. It happened to me.” Read Shourd’s full statement here.

dThe European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) has lodged a complaint against the United Kingdom for abuses in Iraq with the International Criminal Court (ICC). Along with the Public Interest Lawyers Birmingham UK (PIL), the group is requesting that the ICC Office of the Prosecutor investigate allegations of abuse and mistreatment of Iraqi detainees by UK military forces. The groups say that the UK has failed to sufficiently investigate these allegations, therefore opening it to ICC jurisdiction. The ICC declined the case in 2006, saying that the crimes had occurred but were not of sufficient gravity to justify a formal investigation, but left open the possibility for investigation should new information arise. Eight years later, there are hundreds of new allegations filed by Iraqi detainees.  Read more from the ECCHR. Also, read a Justice in Conflict blog post debating whether Iraq will present the ICC with a “Pinochet Moment.”

dThe Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has reported alarmingly high levels of pretrial detention in Latin America, a situation it sees as one of the most “serious and widespread challenges faced by the vast majority of the States in the Americas.” Countries like Panama, Bolivia, Uruguay, and Paraguay make excessive use of pretrial detention, often with conditions worse than those of convicted criminals. In light of this, the Commission issued a Report on the Use of Pretrial Detention in the Americas (in Spanish) that prescribes new standards to help alleviate this problem. Read the press release here and look out for the English version of the Report in the coming weeks.

dThe European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has issued a controversial judgment on state immunities for torture. In Jones and Others v. United Kingdom, the Court upheld a British court’s decision to grant immunity to Saudi Arabia and its heads of state for the alleged torture of British citizens in their custody. The ECtHR held that the British court’s decision did not contravene the European Convention on Human Rights, specifically Article 6(1) which guarantees the right to a fair and public hearing.  Read more details about the case and judgment from the International Justice Resource Center.

dUN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has condemned Nigeria’s Same-Sex Prohibition Act, which recently took effect. She stated that it stood in violation of fundamental human rights and could cause antigay violence. Although Nigeria had already criminalized homosexual relationships, the new law increases jail time to 14 years for a person who enters a same-sex union and 10 years for anyone who witnesses or aids them. “Rarely have I seen a piece of legislation that in so few paragraphs directly violates so many basic, universal human rights,” Ms. Pillay said. The United States is considering cutting down its aid programs to the country in light of this new law. However, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa and the eighth largest oil producer worldwide, so economic sanctions will likely have little impact, according to an article in The Voice. Read about how the new law is being enforced from Los Angeles Times.

dThe UN-backed Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia has announced that it will soon begin the second phase of Case 002 against former Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan. According to a court spokesman, “The Trial Chamber has set plans involving parties from now through the middle of 2014 to tackle all issues before the actual trial of the case.” A clear time frame is necessary for the Court’s donors to continue to pledge money, especially in light of the funding issues it has faced in the past year. Read more from the Voice of America Khmer here.

dFormer prosecutors from the Yugoslav and Sierra Leonean tribunals say that Syrian government officials could face war crimes charges after evidence smuggled out of the country implicates a “systematic killing” of thousands of detainees. The evidence includes government photographs and files detailing the gruesome deaths of the victims. Although human rights groups and the UN have documented abuses from both sides of the conflict, nothing of this scale had before emerged. Read more from The Guardian. It is unclear what impact this evidence will have on the UN’s Geneva II peace conference, which has been convened to end the Syrian crisis but has not yet made definitive progress.

Publications and Resources of Interest

dThe Oxford Handbook of International Adjudication (OUP 2014) is now available! Edited by Cesare Romano, Karen J. Alter, and Yuval Shany, the volume provides an original and comprehensive understanding of the various forms of international adjudication. A series of cross-cutting chapters overview key issues in the field, both theoretical and practical, providing scholars, students, and practitioners with a detailed understanding of important legal and political influences within the international adjudicative process.

"Comprehensive in its coverage, innovative in its wide variety of multi-layered approaches to international adjudication, this Handbook presents a highly stimulating challenge to our current perceptions of this subject."
Georges Abi Saab

"This Handbook marks a milestone in the evolution of international courts and tribunals, transforming a field devoted to the careful documentation and analysis of individual institutions into a rich tapestry of cross-cutting themes and issues. It is an indispensable reference book for lawyers, political scientists, sociologists, and legal philosophers and is almost certain to be the precursor to a casebook and a set of web-based teaching materials."
Anne-Marie Slaughter

“This book marks a great achievement and a genuine service to the international legal profession. I have not come across any other collective volume on international adjudication as enlightening and rewarding to read. As an insider, I had never expected to learn so much about what I was doing as a judge and an arbitrator.”
Bruno Simma

Read about the content, view the illustrations, and order the Handbook here.


dTwo recent reports from the War Crimes Research Office (WCRO) of American University’s Washington College of Law provide impartial legal analyses of critical issues raised by the ICC’s early decisions. “Regulation 55 and the Rights of the Accused at the International Criminal Court” examines a provision that allows the Chamber to convict the accused of a crime other than that with which the Prosecution originally charged him, or to convict him based on a different mode of liability. “Obtaining Victim Status for Purposes of Participating in Proceedings at the International Criminal Court” explores challenges associated with the Court’s much-lauded victim participation scheme. These reports are the 17th and 18th in the WCRO series Early Issues Before the International Criminal Court. All reports are available here.

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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