Past Editions

Go to the current edition.

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.

April 2015

Featured News


The International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life of Brandeis University, in partnership with the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University, recently held a conference exploring how and when the international community should intervene in response to mass atrocities. “The Responsibility to Protect at 10: the Challenges of Protecting the World’s Most Vulnerable Populations” brought together scholars and practitioners from a wide spectrum of disciplines and sectors. During the two-day conference, participants both examined the philosophical underpinnings of the “R2P” doctrine and analyzed situations where it has been implemented and, perhaps more significantly, where it has failed to be invoked. Read more about the event and see the detailed program here.

People in the News

      Judge Silvia Fernández
      de Gurmendi
The International Criminal Court (ICC) can now make a unique claim among institutions of international justice, past or present – all of its leadership positions are currently occupied by women. Judge Silvia Fernández de Gurmendi from Argentina was recently elected President of the Court; Judge Joyce Aluoch from Kenya was elected First Vice President; and Judge Kuniko Ozaki from Japan is now Second Vice President. The Gambia’s Fatou Bensouda has been the ICC Chief Prosecutor since 2012. A possible outcome of having this strong female presence in top positions is that more attention will be paid to gender-based violence. Although the ICC drew no attention in its official press release about the elections to this important moment in international justice, an IntLawGrrls blog post provides background on other women leaders in international courts and describes the significance of the current ICC leadership profile.

            Judge Ronny Abraham
The International Court of Justice (ICJ), the primary judicial organ of the United Nations, has also recently elected new leaders. Ronny Abraham (France) and Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf (Somalia) were elected by their peers as President and Vice-President, respectively. The ICJ adjudicates disputes between UN Member States and offers advisory opinions to UN agencies and organizations that the UN Charter authorizes to request such opinions. Fifteen judges preside over this Court, which renders final and binding decisions on all parties to a dispute. Find out more about the ICJ’s new leadership here.

       Commissioner Rose
      -Marie Belle Antoine
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has elected a new governing board. The members are: Rose-Marie Belle Antoine (Saint Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago), Chair; James Cavallaro (United States of America), First Vice-Chair; and José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez (Mexico), Second Vice-Chair. The Commission is tasked with promoting human rights within the Americas and it advises the Organization of American States. The newly elected board members have a wealth of experience that qualifies them to serve in such an important role in the protection of human rights. For example, Ms. Antoine has drafted numerous laws on issues ranging from human trafficking and HIV to juvenile justice and anti-corruption. Mr. Cavallaro is a well-published academic and founded both the International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic at Stanford and the Stanford Human Rights Center. Learn more in a Commission press release.

                  Fouad Siniora
The Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star has reported on the testimony of former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL). The STL is an international court based in The Hague charged with investigating and prosecuting the perpetrators of the 2005 terrorist attack that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others. In his testimony, Siniora denied any direct involvement in the 2005 arrest and release of four Lebanese generals in connection with Hariri’s assassination. He dispelled rumors that he had consulted with foreign officials before signing off on the arrest of the generals. Siniora furthered asserted that the judiciary was the sole decision-maker in the arrest and release of the generals, and that he and his administration played no role in it.

dTwenty leading security agents of the Hissène Habré dictatorship, which ruled Chad from 1982 to 1990, have been convicted of torture in a Chadian court. The State has also been ordered to pay out $125 million in reparations to thousands of victims, and to erect a memorial to those who were killed. Reed Brody, counsel for Human Rights Watch who has worked with Habré’s victims since 1999, declared that “[t]he sentencing of state officials for human rights crimes is not only a testament to the courage and tenacity of the victims, it is a remarkable development in a country where impunity for past atrocities has been the norm.” The Extraordinary African Chambers, a special chamber created by the African Union and Senegal in an appeal court in Dakar, Senegal, is currently preparing to try Hissène Habré himself. Read more from Human Rights Watch. 

Developments in International Justice

dA special chamber of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) was constituted in January 2015 to deal with a dispute between Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire concerning delimitation of a maritime boundary in the Atlantic Ocean. Côte d’Ivoire has recently requested this special chamber to prescribe provisional measures that would prevent all oil exploration and exploitation operations by Ghana in the disputed area, pending a determination of the maritime boundary. Read more in an ITLOS press release. Learn about the discovery of offshore oil in this area and earlier attempts to determine the maritime border between the two countries here.

dA conference of legal and human rights experts has identified three ways in which the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) can better discharge its expanded human rights mandate. The three primary suggestions are: the creation of an appellate chamber for decisions of the court; the harmonization of the various versions of the texts of the Court; and the facilitation by the ECOWAS Commission of the implementation of the decisions of the Court. The Court is tasked with protecting the human rights of all citizens of ECOWAS, as outlined in existing international instruments, and ensuring that member states respect their obligations to the community and its legal order.  Learn more about this conference and the improvement plan in an ECOWAS Court press release.

eCan loss of employment on the grounds of obesity be considered a violation of the principle of non-discrimination enshrined in European Union law? Might obesity alternatively be considered a disability and thus covered by another aspect of the European Equality Directive? Guidance from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) was sought on this matter after a union representing an overweight dismissed childminder brought proceedings before a Danish court. The CJEU ruled that the Equality Directive did not explicitly mention obesity as a ground for discrimination and that it should not be extended by analogy to cover this condition. However, it did rule that obesity might be covered by the concept of “disability” if the condition hindered the full and effective participation of that person in professional life on an equal basis with other workers, and the limitation was a long-term one. Read more about this case from the Court of Justice blog.

dThe transitional parliament of the Central African Republic (CAR) is considering a bill that would establish a special court to complement ICC efforts to prosecute those responsible for mass atrocities in the nation. The CAR has faced sectarian violence since 2012, primarily between Muslim and Christian rebel groups, leaving thousands of civilians dead. The ICC is investigating and prosecuting crimes in the CAR but the Rome Statute mandates that it focus only on those “most responsible” for war crimes and crimes against humanity. A special court in the CAR would focus on lower level perpetrators, thereby augmenting the ICC’s top-down approach and holding more individuals accountable. Numerous regional and national NGOs support the creation of such a court, which would have a mix of national and international judges presiding over it, and an international prosecutor. Learn more about the proposed court and the situation in the CAR from the Coalition for the International Criminal Court.

dThe European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled unanimously, in the case of Y.Y. v. Turkey, that the State’s refusal to authorize gender reassignment surgery for the transsexual applicant violated the right to respect for private life under the European Convention of Human Rights. A trans man applied to a Turkish court to have gender reassignment surgery but was denied on the grounds that he did not meet the requirements of Article 40 of the Turkish Civil Code. That law states that an individual can only receive gender reassignment surgery if he or she is unable to procreate and that the surgery is essential to his/her mental health. The applicant was able at the time to procreate and was thus denied. The ECtHR did not believe the Turkish government had sufficient ground to deny the applicant his right to respect for his private life, despite Article 40. You can read more about this case in this summary from the International Justice Resource Center.

fThe Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) recently upheld the Trial Chamber’s acquittal of Mathieu Ngudjolo.  The former Congolese rebel leader was acquitted in 2012 of charges related to the mass murder, rape, and destruction of the people of Bogoro, a small village in Eastern Congo. He was charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role as a commander of the attack. Interestingly, the five-judge Appeals Chamber was split 3-2, with the two dissenting judges writing they would have ordered a retrial. Ngudjolo was only the second individual to complete the trial process at the ICC and has been the first acquittal. Learn more from U.S. News & World Report

        Omar Hassan al-Bashir

In other ICC news, the Court has publicly called for UN Security Council pressure to coerce Sudan into extraditing its president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, to answer for his charges at the Hague-based court. ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced three months ago that she is suspending her investigation into incidents in Darfur as, without Sudanese cooperation or Security Council intervention, she and her office can make no progress in prosecuting alleged war criminals and génocidaires, or in providing justice to victims. It has been suggested that part of the problem stems from Sudan’s close connections to Russia and China, two permanent members of the Security Council that are expected to veto any resolutions seeking to enforce the ICC’s arrest warrants. In the meantime, Sudanese government officials with warrants for their arrest have operated with impunity. President al-Bashir and other officials have even travelled to other countries, despite the risk of arrest. Read more about the Sudanese situation from The New York Times

dThe Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has expressed concern over Brazil’s proposal to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility for adolescents from 18 to 16 years of age. A constitutional reform bill to this effect is currently working its way through the Brazilian House of Representatives. The IACHR has expressed concern over this proposed change as the Brazilian constitution is currently in line with various international treaties and conventions, which firmly establish the age of adulthood for the purposes criminal liability at 18. The IACHR further argues that individuals under the age of 18 commit a mere 4% of crimes in Brazil and that restorative and rehabilitative justice models, not retributive ones, are best suited to confronting the security threat posed by such adolescents and children. To learn more about this proposed law and the IACHR’s response, read a Commission press release

Publications and Resources of Interest

d“Athough we rarely see them behind the shaded glass of their courtroom booths, international justice could not exist without interpreters.” Thus begins a recent article by the Deputy Registrar Kate Mackintosh of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia on the critical role played by interpreters in the international criminal justice process. She describes many of the challenges faced by court interpreters, including the need for them to convey the demeanor of witnesses so that their credibility may be assessed by judges, and the emotional burden that comes with interpreting victim testimony. Read the whole article here.  

dWhat kinds of sentences are appropriate for convicted terrorists? This thorny issue has has recently been addressed by Susan Easton and Christine Piper, authors of Sentencing and Punishment: the Quest for Justice (OUP 2012), in the OUP Blog. Cases in the United Kingdom “have highlighted the issue of whether the radicalisation of young men and women is best countered by the use of tough sentencing or by other means, such as the development of educative programmes in schools or measures to encourage the cooperation of parents.”  Read the entire blog post here.

dAmnesty International has published its annual report on The State of the World’s Human Rights. The report notes that African governments, and not just terrorist organizations such as Boko Haram and al-Shabab, are responsible for countless human rights violations on the continent. Additionally, the report discusses the suppression of free expression and the persecution of LGBTI individuals. It does positively mention, however, several decisions in national and regional African courts protecting the rights of marginalized peoples. To learn more about the report’s Africa section, read an interview with Amnesty’s African Research and Advocacy Director, Netsanet Belay. 

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

To comment, or to receive our monthly “International Justice in the News” e-letter, send a message here.