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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.

September 2014

People in the News

dThe Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) have issued their first convictions against former senior Khmer Rouge leaders for crimes against humanity in Case 002. In a long-awaited verdict, Nuon Chea, age 88, and Khieu Samphan, age 83, were found guilty of participation in a “joint criminal enterprise” to implement the Khmer Rouge’s social revolution in the 1970’s by forcible displacement of approximately two million people to rural areas without adequate provisions, resulting in mass death and starvation. They have been sentenced to life imprisonment. Learn more details in an ECCC press release. Read a discussion of the interconnected definitions of justice raised by the Chea and Samphan conviction in an article from Khmerican. Read about the next phase of Case 002, when Chea and Samphan will answer the charge of genocide, and the judicial bias that some fear they will face in an article from The Cambodia Daily.

dThe African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACtHPR) has three new judges on its eleven-member bench: Mrs. Solomy Balungi Bossa (Uganda), Mr. Rafaa Ben Achour (Tunisia), and Mr. Angelo Vasco Matusse (Mozambique). Justice Sylvain Oré (Côte d’Ivoire) was re-elected to serve a second term. Read the ACtHPR press release. Bossa previously served as a trial judge with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and in this capacity attended BIIJ 2012. She is also a member of the judicial roster available to the residual Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals.

In related news, the ACtHPR recently had to reject a number of complaints dealing with alleged human rights violations by Egyptian authorities. Egyptian citizens filed complaints to the Court in June against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Azhar Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb, Egypt’s Copt leader Pope Tawadros II, Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, former Interim President Adly Mansour and former Public Prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmoud. ACtHPR Registrar Robert Eno responded that the court was unable to review the complaints as Egypt has signed but not ratified the Protocol on the Establishment of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Read more from Turkish Press.

dSurvivors of a 1995 massacre in Bosnia have found some justice in the recent Dutch court ruling that found The Netherlands liable for the deaths of more than 300 men taken from a Dutch peacekeepers’ compound in the town of Srebrenica and subsequently killed by Bosnian Serb forces. The civil case against the Dutch state was brought by the Mothers of Srebrenica group in connection with the massacre of nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, one of the worst atrocities of the Balkans conflict. The court ruled that the Dutch state should compensate the wives and children of the adult men who were killed and the parents of the boys who died. Read more about the decision in a blogpost from Opinio Juris.

dJean Léonard Teganya, a suspected Rwandan war criminal, was recently arrested as he attempted to cross the border from Canada into the United States. A Canadian warrant says Teganya is wanted under the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act for activities related to the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Teganya’s whereabouts had been unknown since 2011 when he disappeared after being placed on a deportation list in Canada. A hearing in the US will decide if he will be deported to Rwanda or sent back to Canada. Read more from CBC News.

dA plenary of International Criminal Court (ICC) judges has ruled that pre-trial Judge Cuno Tarfusser (Italy) can continue on the case of the The Prosecutor v. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo. Bemba’s defense team had alleged that Judge Tarfusser lacked impartiality toward their client, as demonstrated through his use of language “manifestly contravening the presumption of innocence and instead implying guilt,” and his speedy approval of arrest warrants for certain members of the team accused of bribing witnesses and presenting forged evidence in Bemba’s ongoing trial. As reported by the International Justice Monitor, “the plenary … determined that the concerns regarding the conduct of the case by the judge in terms of speed and language did not satisfy the high standards required to establish an appearance of bias.”

dJudge Hans-Peter Kaul, who served for 11 years in the pre-trial division of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and served as the Court's 2nd Vice-President from 2009 to 2012, recently passed away. Judge Kaul contributed to important decisions in proceedings regarding situations in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Darfur (Sudan), the Central African Republic, Kenya, Libya and Cote d’Ivoire, and the related cases. He also participated in the 2010 session of the Brandeis Institute for International Judges. "We will long remember him with respect and admiration on a personal and professional level, for his relentless commitment and extensive contributions to international justice,” said ICC President Judge Sang-Hyun Song. Read more of the tribute to Judge Kaul in an ICC press release.

Developments in International Justice

dThe Argentine Republic has instituted proceedings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against the United States, charging a violation of its sovereignty. According to an ICJ press release, “The Argentine Republic contends that the United States of America has committed violations of Argentine sovereignty and immunities and other related violations as a result of judicial decisions adopted by US tribunals concerning the restructuring of the Argentine public debt.” The Court has duly transmitted the application to the US Government but indicates, “no action will be taken in the proceedings unless and until the United States of America consents to the Court’s jurisdiction in the case.” Read more about the judicial decisions by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Griesa that prompted Argentina’s reaction in an article from Fox News Latino.

In the wake of a UN Human Rights Council vote to investigate possible violations of international humanitarian and human rights law during the recent armed conflict in Gaza and Israel, three individuals have been appointed to an independent commission of inquiry: William Schabas (Canada), a well-known scholar of international criminal and human rights law; Doudou Diene (Senegal), former UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, with experience in post-conflict Côte d’Ivoire; and Mary McGowan Davis (United States), former judge of the New York Supreme Court and renowned expert on transitional justice and human rights law. Learn more about the commission members here. A report from the commission is due in March 2015.

dIn the meantime, Hamas leadership has signed a pledge to support any move by the Palestinian Authority to become a state party to the International Criminal Court statute. Palestine’s recent accession to 14 international treaties has set a precedent for such a development, and now all Palestinian factions seem to agree that they can be held responsible for war crimes committed throughout the territory. Palestine’s membership in the ICC could trigger another set of investigations focused on individual criminal responsibility for recent events in Israel and Palestine. Read more from Just Security.

dWill Southeast Asia soon have a human rights system comparable to those in Africa, the Americas, and Europe? There is mounting pressure from civil society organizations in the region on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) to expand its mandate. Civil society is calling for the inclusion of country visits, inquiries, and a complaints mechanism, as well as for adequate independence and staffing support for AICHR members. Read more from the International Justice Resource Center.

dShould Bitcoin transactions in Europe be subject to Value Added Tax (VAT) on the service they provide? So-called “cryptocurrencies” are so new that many European countries have not figured out how VAT rules apply to them. Sweden recently asked the European Court of Justice its opinion on the matter and the Court’s conclusion could have far-reaching implications for tax directives in the region. Read more in a Coindesk article.

dThe Constitutional Court of Uganda has struck down the Anti-Homosexuality Act, a punitive law that proposed to punish some gay behavior with life in prison. Although gay activists and citizens are pleased with the ruling, they note that the Act was overturned not because of its discriminatory nature but because it was originally passed when the Ugandan Parliament did not have the necessary quorum. Reaction to the Anti-Homosexual Act was strong in Western nations, many of which curtailed aid to Uganda in protest. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, as reported by The New York Times, described the overturning of the Act as “a victory for the rule of law.” 

Just a few weeks prior to these events in Uganda, Ban Ki-Moon announced that the United Nations was changing its own institutional policies on gay marriage among its staff. According to the UN News Centre, the organization will now “honour the marriage of any same-sex couple wed in a country where same-sex marriages are legal. Previously, a staff member’s personal status was determined by the laws of the country whose passport he or she carried.” It was noted that the Secretary General acted on his own authority and did not consult UN member states about the policy change.

dThe Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has expressed concern over the killing of African-Americans in the United States. Its statement was prompted by separate incidents that led to the deaths of unarmed African-Americans Eric Garner and Michael Brown, at the hands of the police in New York City, New York, and Ferguson, Missouri, respectively. Ferguson was the site of multiple demonstrations and considerable unrest as community members and activists protested Mr. Brown's death. According to a Commission press release, “the IACHR emphasizes that in cases of killings at the hand of State security forces it is necessary for the State to ensure that investigations into the killings are carried out promptly, thoroughly and independently and it urges the State to do so.”

dIn its first judgment concerning the human rights of current Guantánamo detainees, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has found that Poland failed to uphold its international obligations by allowing the secret detention, torture, and extraordinary rendition of a Saudi Arabian national and a stateless Palestinian, both suspected of terrorist acts. In Al Nashiri v. Poland and Husayn (Abu Subaydah) v. Poland, reports the International Justice Resource Center, the Court found Poland had violated the applicants’ rights under the European Convention on Human Rights by: enabling the United States to secretly detain and torture the applicants on Polish soil; conducting an inadequate investigation into the acts of torture and ill treatment committed in Poland; and allowing the applicants’ transfer to Guantánamo despite the real risk they would be tortured and could be subjected to unfair trials and the death penalty by the United States. The ECtHR has awarded al-Nashiri and Abu Subaydah 100,000 euros each as compensation for moral injury. For more details, download the ECtHR press release.

dSri Lanka will not grant visas to United Nations investigators charged with probing war crimes allegedly committed during the island's decades-long separatist conflict. The government has refused to accept the authority of the UN Human Rights Council, which voted in March to investigate allegations that the military killed 40,000 civilians in the final months of the separatist war in 2009. President Mahinda Rajapakse said that his country continues to cooperate, however, with all other UN agencies. Read an analysis of the situation from Eurasia Review.

Publications and Resources of Interest

dWould it be a good idea to have a World Court for Human Rights? Could it be effective? Would it have legitimacy across the globe? Philip Alston, international legal scholar and United Nations Special Rapporteur, analyzes the proposal to establish such a court and argues against the idea in a recent article in Ethics and International Affairs, “Against a World Court for Human Rights.”

dOn the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the original Geneva Convention, the International Committee for the Red Cross has created an engaging five-minute animated video that covers the basic elements of international humanitarian law (IHL). View “Rules of War in a Nutshell” and learn more about the 1864 Convention here.

dWhat are the most important challenges to international criminal justice today? Resolving issues of governance? Establishing truly complementary relations between domestic and international legal systems? Eliminating impunity for the world’s worst crimes? Read the brief commentary of six leading scholars of international law on this question at the Oxford University Press blog

dFor a more targeted discussion of the challenges facing the International Criminal Court in regard to state politics, read Mark Kersten’s commentary on the recently published Rough Justice: the International Criminal Court in a World of Power Politics (OUP 2014), authored by David Bosco.

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

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