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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 2014

Featured News

dFormer South African Constitutional Court judge Albie Sachs and filmmaker Abby Ginzberg recently visited Brandeis University for a screening of Ms. Ginzberg’s new biographical film, Soft Vengeance: Albie Sachs and the New South Africa. Justice Sachs was an early anti-apartheid activist and suffered tremendously for his brave stand against injustice. He was subjected to a period of solitary confinement that forced him into self-exile following his release. He was nearly killed in a car bomb set by South African security forces while he was living in Mozambique. Justice Sachs ultimately returned to South Africa and helped write the nation’s new constitution after apartheid was deconstructed. Justice Sachs was appointed by President Nelson Mandela to serve on the inaugural bench of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. There he was involved in several landmark decisions, including that which legalized same-sex marriage in South Africa. Read more about the film at the official website.

People in the News

Augustino Ramadhani
Tanzania’s former Chief Justice Augustino Ramadhani has been elected President of the African Court for Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), and Nigeria’s Elsie N. Thompson as Vice-President. They replace Ghana’s Sophia Akuffo, a participant in the Brandeis Institute for International Judges (BIIJ) in 2012 and 2013, and South Africa’s Bernard Ngoepe, who participated in BIIJ 2007. Read more about the African Court and the recent judicial elections here.

dThe Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone (RSCSL) has approved an application for the early release of former Civil Defence Forces leader Moinina Fofana. This will be the first early release of an individual convicted by an international criminal court or tribunal. In 2007, Mr. Fofana was found guilty by the Special Court of murder and inhumane acts as crimes against humanity, along with murder, cruel treatment, and pillaging as war crimes. The RSCSL has determined that Mr. Fofana may be released upon serving two-thirds of his sentence and completing remedial, educational, moral, spiritual or other programs to which he was referred while serving his sentence at Mpanga Prison in Rwanda. Furthermore, he may not reveal the names of protected witnesses, approach or interfere with any other witnesses who testified against him, or become involved in local politics. Read more about the early release and its contingent conditions in an RSCSL press release.

dThe national government of Côte d’Ivoire is petitioning the International Criminal Court (ICC) to permit it to prosecute former First Lady Simone Gbagbo for crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, persecution and other inhumane acts. Her husband, Laurent Gbagbo, has been charged by the ICC on similar charges and is currently awaiting trial in The Hague. The ICC can only prosecute cases when national jurisdictions are incapable or unwilling to do so. Thus the government of Côte d’Ivoire has been asked by the ICC to provide evidence that it is both capable and willing to prosecute Ms. Gbagbo. A panel of ICC judges will ultimately decide if Côte d’Ivoire can continue their proceedings against Ms. Gbagbo or if the case is to be redirected to The Hague. Read more from

dMark Wolf, Senior United States Federal Judge for the District of Massachusetts, has proposed the establishment of an international anti-corruption court. Such a court would be specifically designed to combat corruption at the highest levels of government and international finance, something he terms “grand corruption” – corruption based on a culture of impunity arising from the unwillingness of leaders to permit the honest and able investigation of their friends, families, and, indeed, themselves. Judge Wolf believes that such an anti-corruption court could effectively investigate and prosecute the complex and massive corruption cases plaguing the international community. Much like the International Criminal Court, this court could help end impunity for corrupt officials and help restore faith in governments the world over. Read more about his proposal in a paper from the Brookings Institution.    

dInternational Criminal Court (ICC) judges have issued an arrest warrant for Abdallah Banda Abakaer Nourain, the accused in a case concerning the attack of African Union peacekeepers in the Darfur region of Sudan. Mr. Banda had previously appeared voluntarily before the ICC for pre-trial proceedings, but the Trial Chamber in the Banda case has determined that the accused can no longer be trusted to appear voluntarily for the opening of his trial, which was scheduled for 18 November 2014. An enormous effort has gone into the preparation of this trial as Mr. Banda chose to communicate with the Court in his native Zaghawa, a language for which translators and interpreters have been painstakingly trained. Read more from the Coalition for the ICC. 

Developments in International Justice

dThe Arms Trade Treaty, which aims to curb trafficking in “conventional arms” – including heavy weaponry and ammunition as well as small arms and light weapons – has now been ratified by more than 50 states and will consequently enter into force next December. According to the United Nations website, “The treaty will foster peace and security by thwarting uncontrolled destabilizing arms flows to conflict regions. It will prevent human rights abusers and violators of the law of war from being supplied with arms. And it will help keep warlords, pirates, and gangs from acquiring these deadly tools.” More than half of arms-exporting states have ratified the treaty, and others, like the United States, have signed but not yet ratified. Read more about the implications of the treaty from Deutsche Welle.

dThe Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has filed an application with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights involving crimes against humanity and genocide perpetrated against the Mayan indigenous people in Guatemala in the 1980’s. The alleged crimes include massacres, extrajudicial executions, torture, forced disappearances and rapes perpetrated as part of the operations carried out by the National Army and its collaborators during the internal armed conflict in Guatemala. The Commission claims that the Guatemalan government has failed to adequately provide reparations for victims and has not performed the necessary administrative, disciplinary and criminal investigations to determine which officials are responsible for the crimes. Read more in an IACHR press release.

dThirteen states and intergovernmental organizations have petitioned the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) for an advisory opinion from the Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission (SRFC). The issues to be addressed include state responsibility for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities, as well as state obligations to ensure sustainable fishing practices.  The petitioning entities each had a hearing in front of the Tribunal, and a decision either approving or denying the request for the SRFC advisory opinion is now awaited. Read more in an ITLOS press release.

dThe European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) recently ruled that the United Kingdom is not responsible for the unlawful detention, ill treatment, and death of Iraqi national Tarek Hassan in 2003. As reported by the International Justice Resource Center “[t]he key issues before the Court were whether the British army’s actions were brought within the Court’s jurisdiction through extra-territorial application of the European Convention on Human Rights and to what extent the surrounding context of international armed conflict modified the State’s human rights obligations.” The ECHR ruled that the Mr. Hassan’s detention did not violate international humanitarian law and that insufficient evidence existed to prove his mistreatment at the hands of the British army. Read background on the case and a summary of the judgment, including a separate opinion, here.

dIs a quiet genocide taking place in Myanmar? Do the approximately one million Rohingya Muslims living in Myanmar need an intervention from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to prevent the violation of their basic human rights and even ethnic cleansing? Casey Karr and Naomi Kikoler describe the treatment of the Rohingya, noting it constitutes “a test of the degree to which Asean member states take seriously their commitment to regional cooperation on protecting human rights and their global pledge to the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), a pact to protect populations from mass atrocity crimes.” The situation is particularly poignant given that Myanmar is chairing ASEAN in 2014. Read the full article here.

dThe World Trade Organization (WTO) recently ruled against Argentina in a case begun in 2012 by the United States, European Union and Japan. The case centered on Argentina’s licensing rules used to restrict imports. The WTO ruled that these provisions violate WTO agreements and urged the Argentinian government to repeal them so as to bring the nation in line with WTO policy. Read more about the decision in a Reuters article. Argentina has since appealed the ruling.

dThe Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has delivered its judgment in three cases: Édouard Karemera and Matthieu Ngirumpatse; Ildéphonse Nizeyimana; and Callixte Nzabonimana. These bring the total number of appeal judgments rendered by the ICTR to 44, disposing of appeals concerning 55 persons. The remaining caseload of the ICTR Appeals Chamber consists of one case concerning six persons. Read more about the cases from Relief Web.

Publications and Resources of Interest

dThe Citizenship Rights in Africa Initiative (CRAI) has announced the creation of a new web resource on citizenship issues in Africa. The CRAI helps monitor, report, and, in certain instances, litigate cases of statelessness and violations of citizenship rights on the continent. The new site includes a searchable resource of over 2,000 documents, including national citizenship legislation from across the continent, NGO reports and news articles, tagged by theme, country and source, allowing users to search using any or all parameters. Read more and access the web resource here.

dProfessor William Schabas, a prominent figure in international legal scholarship, has been appointed Chairman of the recently established commission to investigate possible violations of international humanitarian and criminal law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The UN Human Rights Council created the commission to examine the numerous incidents and allegations of war crimes committed during the recent Israeli offensive into Gaza. The commission is intended to be an impartial and independent body that will investigate all actors in the conflict in accordance with international law. View a CNN interview (9 minutes) in which Prof. Schabas discusses his decision to lead the commission and the idea that the ICC will be “sitting in the wings” as this work is carried out.

dRecent Brandeis University alumnus David Benger has been published for the second time in the Opinio Juris blog. Mr. Benger writes in his latest post about International Criminal Court investigations into potential British war crimes committed in Iraq. He also discusses how these investigations may negatively affect the gradually warming relationship between the United States and the ICC. Read his full post here.

dIn a recently published book, Iris Haenen of Tilburg Law School examines the issue of forced marriage. In Force and Marriage (Intersentia 2014), she explores whether and how this practice can be criminalized under both Dutch and international law. Forced marriages occur all across the globe and are arguably a crime against humanity as they occur during times of conflict and peace. The book delves into the history and current practice of forced marriage while also engaging in a legal analysis of how it can be prosecuted. 

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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