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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.

July 2014

Dear subscribers, International Justice in the News will take a break in August and resume in September 2014. Look for our next issue at that time with news items covering the intervening period. Enjoy your summer!

People in the News

fPrince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein of Jordan has been appointed, through a unanimous vote of the United Nations General Assembly, as the new High Commissioner for Human Rights. He will be the first High Commissioner to hail from the Muslim and Arab worlds. Prince Zeid will succeed Navi Pillay of South Africa (Brandeis Institute for International Judges 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2007), a powerful advocate for human rights and former judge of both the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the International Criminal Court. Read about Prince Zeid’s background and experience from ABC News.

Prince Zeid, currently a member of the advisory board of Brandeis University’s International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life, delivered the university’s 2013 Distinguished Lecture in International Justice and Human Rights. Watch the video and read the full text of his lecture, titled “Beyond Nuremberg: the Future of International Criminal Justice.” 

dA recent meeting of the States Parties to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea resulted in the retention of five sitting judges and the addition of two new members to the bench of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). Re-elected are Judge Shunji Yanai (Japan), Judge Albert. J. Hoffmann (South Africa), Judge Stanislaw Pawlak (Poland), Judge James L. Kateka (Tanzania) and Judge Jin-Hyun Paik (Republic of Korea). The newly elected members are Mr. Alonso Gómez-Robledo Verduzco (Mexico) and Mr. Tomas Heidar (Iceland). All judges will serve for a period of nine years, commencing 1 October 2014. For biographies of the judges and details about geographic distribution on the bench, see an ITLOS press release.

dJustice Shireen Avis Fisher (BIIJ 2013) of the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone has been awarded the Global Jurist of the Year Award by the Center for International Human Rights at Northwestern University School of Law.  The Award is granted annually to a judge in recognition of his or her contribution to the advancement of international human rights law or international criminal law. Special account is taken of those who have shown outstanding dedication to the rule of law and courage in the face of adversity, including personal risk.  Jurists from all nations and tribunals are eligible for consideration. Justice Fisher will receive the award in October.

gInternational Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has issued a Policy Paper on Sexual and Gender-Based Crimes describing the approach her office will take with regard to such crimes going forward. The Policy Paper is the latest indicator that the Office of the Prosecutor plans to emphasize sexual and gender-based crimes in its preliminary examinations, investigations, and prosecutions of international crimes. “The message to perpetrators and would-be perpetrators must be clear: sexual violence and gender-based crimes in conflict will neither be tolerated nor ignored at the ICC,” Bensouda said upon the release of the paper.

The Court’s Pre-Trial Chamber II demonstrated its focus on such crimes shortly after the publication of the Policy Paper with its confirmation of charges against Bosco Ntaganda, alleged deputy chief of the staff of the Forces Patriotiques pour la Libération du Congo.  Ntaganda is charged with 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including rape and sexual slavery. Read more in an ICC press release.

dGender-based crimes received further attention in June through the high-profile Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. Co-chaired by British Foreign Secretary William Hague and UN Special Envoy Angelina Jolie, the London summit aimed to shatter the culture of impunity for crimes of sexual violence, take practical steps to reduce danger for women in conflict zones, support victims, and change attitudes. Read more about the summit from The BBC.

Developments in International Justice


The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has adopted a landmark resolution condemning violence and discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons. In adopting Resolution 275 – titled “Resolution on the Protection against Violence and other Human Rights Violations against Persons on the Basis of their Real or Imputed Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity” – the Commission makes a clear statement about the treatment experienced by LGBT persons in a number of African countries. Resolution 275 specifically highlights the Commission’s alarm at acts of violence against sexual minorities in Africa, including “‘corrective’ rape, physical assaults, torture, murder, arbitrary arrests, detentions, extra-judicial killings and executions, forced disappearances, extortion and blackmail.” According to the resolution, the Commission is also “deeply disturbed” by the failure of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute crimes targeting persons on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Read more from the International Justice Resource Center.

dGuatemala's Congress recently approved a non-binding resolution that denies there was any attempt to commit genocide during the bloody 36-year civil war, while calling for "national reconciliation" in the Central American country. "It is legally impossible ... that genocide could have occurred in our country's territory during the armed conflict," said the resolution, which with support from 87 of the 158 legislators. The resolution was proposed by a legislator of the party founded by former dictator Efrain Rios Montt. Rios Montt was convicted of genocide for crimes during his 1982-83 rule, but a court later annulled the 80-year sentence for the massacre of thousands of Mayans and ordered his trial re-started. Rights organizations have reacted with outrage to the passage of the Guatemalan resolution. The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights said in a statement, “The resolution ignores the unequivocal conclusion by the United Nations (UN) Historical Clarification Commission that genocide was committed against the indigenous population during Guatemala's decades-long internal armed conflict. The UN and multiple other institutions have found that violent acts including massacres, scorched earth operations, forced disappearances, and executions were perpetrated with the intent to destroy the indigenous population.”

dThe Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has expressed deep concern over the situation of unaccompanied children migrants who are arriving to the southern border of the United States. In an IACHR press release, the Commission reports that almost 50,000 unaccompanied children, mostly from Central America and Mexico, have been apprehended by the US Border Control since the start of 2014, a 50% increase over last year at the same time. The Commission further reports that human rights organizations have documented abuses suffered by children while in detention, including insufficient food and water; overcrowded and unsanitary holding cells and facilities; and a lack of blankets, mattresses, and clean bedding provisions; in addition to over one-hundred reports of physical, verbal, and sexual abuse by agents towards children filed in a complaint by NGOs against the US Department of Homeland Security. The impetus for this increased migration by children is thought to be extreme violence and poverty in the home countries as well as a misunderstanding of a US immigration policy that places certain restrictions on carrying out deportation proceedings against young undocumented immigrants. Read a detailed account of the current child immigration crisis from The Economist.

dOne year into the life of the Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC), the special court created in Senegal to investigate and try former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré and others accused of mass killing and torture during Habré’s reign, problems are emerging between the EAC and the Chadian authorities. The EAC Chief Prosecutor has requested that two of Habré’s co-defendants be transferred to Senegal so that the investigative phase of the proceedings can proceed as planned. The Chadian government has bristled at these demands, a reaction that has perhaps been conditioned by the EAC’s ruling that Chad cannot take part in the Habré proceedings as a civil party, a decision that the Chadian government is now appealing. Read more from the International Justice Tribune

Is the United States softening its stance on important international treaties from whose list of signatories it is conspicuously absent? President Obama has once again called on the US Senate to ratify the UN Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC), already ratified by 166 countries. As noted by one scholar, the US Secretary of Defense has criticized China’s domination in the South China Sea, purporting that China has breached international provisions. “However, such statements would surely be more meaningful and persuasive if the USA itself had ratified the LOSC? Such a stance could appear to be hypocritical and difficult to take seriously.”

dHowever, there appears to be growing support by the United States for the global treaty that bans antipersonnel land mines, the so-called Ottawa Convention that has 161 signatories. The New York Times reports that the Obama administration has put the country on track to sign the Convention, announcing that the United States would no longer produce or acquire antipersonnel land mines or replace old ones that expire, which will have the practical effect of reducing the estimated 10 million mines in the American stockpile.

Leaders of the UN International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia recently reported on the accomplishments of their respective institutions to the Security Council. Always sensitive to the "legacy issue," the two presidents noted the impacts of the two tribunals' work on Rwanda and the Balkan region.

ICTR President Vagn Joensen declared, “The development of Rwanda’s judicial system, including holding accountable those who participated in the atrocities in 1994, remains a crucial part of the peace and reconciliation process in Rwanda and there can be no question that the ICTR has played an important role as an accountability mechanism.” ICTY President Theodor Meron also noted the groundbreaking role of his tribunal and the valuable contributions made by international criminal justice more generally. He added, however, that international courts on their own cannot resolve long-running historical conflicts. They must be part of a “panoply of transitional justice measures,” including broader societal efforts, spearheaded by community leaders, focused on history, memory, responsibility, and respect for the rule of law. Read more of the presidents' comments as well as those by tribunal prosecutors from the UN News Centre.

dA recent conference hosted by the Institute on War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) also questioned the capacity of the ICTY to bring about reconciliation in the Balkans. Panelists drew a distinction between the two disparate aims of the ICTY - on the one hand, bringing justice to those responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law and, on the other hand, creating a historical record, combating denial,  and providing the basis for future transitional justice initiatives in the region. They suggested that while the ICTY had secured all its suspects and put them on trial, the wider aim of contributing to lasting peace and reconciliation was perhaps never realistic. Read more about the conference and download a special report by IWPR, Hague Tribunal: Truth, Justice - and Reconciliation Too?.

Publications and Resources of Interest

dThe European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has released six new factsheets summarizing its jurisprudence on the following topics: hunger strikes in detention; migrants in detention; domestic violence; elderly persons; persons with disabilities; and political parties and associations. The factsheets provide valuable insights into the kinds of issues being raised before the Court, direct practitioners to key cases and decisions, and help them identify the articles of the European Convention on Human Rights most implicated by particular types of human rights violations. Find the new factsheets along with dozens of others addressing a wide spectrum of topics at the ECHR website.

dA new article by Durham Law School’s Michael Bohlander, “Language, Culture, Legal Traditions, and International Criminal Justice,” explores the influence of the English language and Anglo-American intellectual and legal culture on international criminal law. Prof. Bohlander suggests that not all practitioners are able to engage equally in the important exchanges that constitute international justice and furthermore elaborates on some of the conceptual and cultural differences in the field beyond the superficial labels often used, such as “adversarial v. inquisitorial” and “statute v. judge-made law.” 

dWhat exactly does the term “rule of law” mean? Why is the concept appealed to so often in discussions of global politics? In a new book, The Rule of Law: the Common Sense of Global Politics (Elgar 2014), Christopher May of Lancaster University argues that we can no longer merely use the idea of the rule of law without question but rather must appreciate its multifaceted and contested character. Only then can we begin to understand how and why it is now seen as a “good thing” across the political spectrum. He expertly examines the problems encountered by rule of law programs in post-conflict and developing countries, as well as presents the range of contested meanings of the term. The author also considers the possibility of establishing a pluralistic account of the rule of law and investigates the plausibility of an international rule of law.

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

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