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.

December 2015

Featured News


The International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life of Brandeis University announces the launch of the Ad Hoc Tribunals Oral History Project website.

The Ad Hoc Tribunals Oral History Project, initiated in Fall 2014, seeks honest evaluations about the challenges and successes of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). The Project aims to preserve the voices of those individuals who worked to bring justice to those two zones of conflict and contributed to the development and “institutionalization” of international criminal law during the early years of the ICTY and ICTR.

To date, the Project has interviewed almost 30 judges, prosecutors, defense counsel, and administrators connected to the ICTY and ICTR, as well as commentators on international criminal law and civil society actors. As a primary resource, this growing collection of oral history transcripts can be used in a variety of ways to inform the public about the Ad Hoc Tribunals and international criminal justice more generally. Students, scholars, and educators can use the materials in their research and analysis, in written histories of international criminal tribunals, and in studies across disciplines such as human rights, criminal law, sociology, history, and international relations.

Click here to read more about the Project, access interviewee profile pages and full-text interviews, and view video clips of selected excerpts. A keyword search can also be made across the collection through the Brandeis Institutional Repository.

More transcripts will be available soon.

People in the News

New blood has been infused into the benches of the European regional courts since September 2015. The European Court of Human Rights, whose jurisdiction encompasses the Council of Europe, has seen the arrival of Carlo Ranzoni (Liechtenstein), Armen Harutyunyan (Armenia), Stéphanie Mourou-Vikström (Monaco), Georges Ravarani (Luxembourg), Gabriele Kucsko-Stadlmayer (Austria), and Pere Pastor Vilanova (Andorra). The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) welcomes Judges François Biltgen (Luxembourg), Küllike Jürimäe (Estonia), Constantinos Lycourgos (Cyprus), Michail Vilaras (Greece), and Eugene Regan (Ireland). The CJEU also has four new advocates general – Maciej Szpunar (Poland), Manuel Campos Sánchez Bordona (Spain), Henrik Saugmandsgaard Øe (Denmark), and Michal Bobek (Czech Republic). To learn more about the new members of the two courts, visit the websites of the ECtHR and the CJEU.


fFormer Spanish investigative magistrate Baltasar Garzón approves of the fact that ex-Chadian dictator Hissène Habré is being “tried by his own” on the African continent. Mr. Garzón is best known for having ordered the arrest of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998 under the principle of universal jurisdiction. Mr. Habré, sometimes referred to as the “African Pinochet,” is currently under trial at the Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC), constituted within the courts of Senegal, on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and torture. Mr. Garzón commented, “The precedent created with the EAC is very important because here the doctrine of universal justice comes together with that of international criminal justice.” Read more of his views on the EAC here.

Unfortunately, the impact of the EAC’s work may well be diminished by the recent cancellation of its outreach program. The program was ambitious and aimed to provide, among other things, ongoing coverage of the Habré trial in Chadian languages. According to the EAC website, the Court has “a vision of international justice that cares about being understood, explained and debated by the greatest number of people and by all parties.” Its work has been halted due to a shortage of funding. 

dIn a recent interview Angèle Dikongué-Atangana, Representative of the UN High Commission on Refugees to Nigeria and the Economic Community of West African States, expressed concern about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Nigeria and the displacement of millions of people due to government clashes with the Islamist group Boko Haram. She reported that the number of Internally Displaced Persons in the northeastern region of Nigeria has risen to 2.2million. A further 177,000 have fled to neighboring Chad, Cameroon, and Niger, with over 20,000 losing their lives in this refugee crisis. Ms. Dikongué-Atangana called for help from the international community to help solve the root causes of the insurgency situation. She also noted that without much more funding, the growing numbers of displaced persons could not be assisted, fed, and protected. Read an eyewitness account of the situation in Nigeria from The Washington Post.

dThe European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has declared inadmissible an appeal of the 2009 ruling by French courts that found French comic and performer Dieudonné M'bala M'bala guilty of publicly insulting people of the Jewish faith. The ECtHR held that Mr. M’Bala M’Bala could not claim the protection of free speech and freedom of expression, guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, because the show in question was “unmistakably negationist and anti-Semitic in nature.” Although blasphemy and the criticism of religion is not illegal in France, the comic’s show and speech were considered by the ECtHR as “public insults directed at a person or group of persons on account of their origin or of belonging to a given ethnic community, nation, race or religion, specifically in this case persons of Jewish origin or faith.” Read the Court’s press release here.

Developments in International Justice

dIn the wake of the recent attacks in Paris, the human rights consortium FIDH has issued a statement about the need to ensure the rule of law when security is increased in response to terrorism. “FIDH and its member organisations have voiced their immense distress, condemned these barbaric and cowardly crimes and expressed their condolences to the victims’ families. At the same time, they have drawn on tragic and countless lessons learned from their lengthy experience to warn of the potentially dramatic consequences of ramping up security… Experience tragically demonstrates how this fight [against terrorism] must not under any circumstances be disengaged from the rule of law and from guaranteeing respect for human rights in accordance with international norms.” Read FIDH’s full statement here.

dOne of the reactions in the United States to the Paris attacks has been a call by numerous politicians to end refugee resettlement to the US from Syria. This position is illogical given that, as noted by European Commission Vice-President Federica Mogherini, all of the identified Paris attackers were EU citizens. President Obama has been very vocal regarding his frustration with the more than twenty US governors who have stated their objection to admitting Syrian refugees to their respective states.  Resettling refugees in the US is a long-term process that requires cooperation between the federal government and both state and local government agencies and non-profit organizations. The hostility of state governors to Syrian refugees could thus impede their access to English language classes, job training, housing, and other local resources. When the topic of Syrian refugees was raised at the recent G20 summit in Turkey, President Obama passionately defended America’s historical leadership in refugee resettlement.  He also threatened to veto the American SAFE Act, claiming it would be contrary to both national security and humanitarian obligations by imposing unnecessarily onerous burdens on an already difficult acceptance process for refugees.  The number of Syrian refugees that President Obama would ideally like to admit still falls far short of the number taken in by countries such as Turkey and Lebanon. This number is also insignificant in the context of the total relief required to combat the ongoing refugee crisis

fThe Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has delivered a judgment granting financial compensation to the Mayan People of southern Belize for the failure of the government to protect their customary land rights under the Constitution of Belize. The “centuries of oppression they have endured and their legitimate concerns about the damage to and marginalization of their culture” were cited as justification for the use of the Court’s jurisdiction to order relief for the Mayan People for the breach of their constitutional right to protection of the law. The Court has ordered the Government of Belize to form a fund in order to redress the damages to the Mayan population, in addition to paying 75% of their costs. Furthermore, the Government of Belize should establish an effective procedure for identifying and protecting the property and other rights for the Mayan People in accordance with their “customary laws and tenure practices.”  Read more about the judgment from Caribbean 360.

fClosing events at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) have begun at its seat in Arusha, Tanzania. The Tribunal was established in November 1994 by the UN Security Council Resolution to bring to justice those most responsible for the Rwandan Genocide and other serious violations of international law between 1 January and 31 December 1994. Having delivered its final trial judgment in December 2012, the Tribunal’s work since then has consisted solely of appeals. Its one remaining appeals judgment, in the case of The Prosecutor v. Nyiramasuhuko et al. (Butare Case), is to be delivered on 14 December 2015. The Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) began assuming the Tribunal’s residual functions in the summer of 2012. These include oversight of sentences imposed by the Tribunal, and tracking the three individuals accused by the Tribunal who remain at large. Should these individuals be apprehended in the future, the MICT would assume their trials. For a full schedule of the ICTR’s closing events, click here.

fThe African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACtHPR) has issued a judgment concerning due process before the law, trial in absentia, and legal aid for a man serving a 30-year sentence after being convicted by the courts of Tanzania. The ACtHPR held that the Tanzanian court violated the right of the applicant, Mr. Alex Thomas, to a fair trial, as he waited over eight years for his appeal to be resolved, and his numerous requests for legal aid were not addressed, which violated Article 14(3)D of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Although the applicant claimed that his rights to equality before the law were violated by being tried in Tanzania for a crime committed in Kenya, and that he was tried in absentia, the ACtHPR found that Mr. Thomas had not been denied the right to “equality before the law, dignity, freedom from slavery, freedom from torture or degrading treatment, liberty, presumption of innocence, or access to information.” The ACtHPR thus denied his request to be released from detention. However, the Court ordered the Government of Tanzania to take all necessary measures to resolve these violations without having to subject Mr. Thomas to a retrial.

dThe Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recently referred cases against Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Peru to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR). In the case against Guatemala, the state is accused of failing to properly investigate the disappearance of a citizen who worked on the issue of illegal adoptions. In the Nicaraguan case, the government has allegedly been negligent in investigating the murder of the husband of a human rights defender. In the case against Peru, employees of the state assert that their rights to a fair trial and to judicial protection have been violated. The Commission had recommended that the respective governments accept responsibility for their negligence and violations and fully compensate affected parties accordingly. Lack of compliance with its recommendations has led the Commission to refer the cases to the Court. The Court, in turn, sees these cases as an opportunity to expand its case law concerning “the duty to protect” when states learn about disappearances, “the duty to investigate” when states are informed of serious crimes such as murders, and the duty of states to ensure that workers who are victims of mistreatment are fairly compensated and assisted.

fThe International Criminal Court’s (ICC) case against Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, notable for the many setbacks it has faced, suffered another blow recently when eight victims withdrew as participants in the proceedings.  The reason cited for this withdrawal was frustration over the ICC Prosecutor’s decision in late 2014 to cease “active” investigations into the Darfur situation. According to an ICC document, the victims “will seek no further role in the al-Bashir case nor, for that matter, in the Darfur situation. Without waiving any right to protection and to confidentiality of their identity, the Participants will not object to the removal of their participatory rights in the case against Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir.” Read more about the action of the victims and other obstacles facing the al-Bashir case from Justice in Conflict.

dSome welcome news about the ICC is that it has now moved to its new premises in The Hague. In 2007, the Assembly of States Parties decided that the Court should receive permanent premises in order for the court to effectively fulfill its duties, and in 2009 the Danish architecture team schmidt hammer lassen architects was selected to design the new buildings. The design is meant to reflect the key values of the ICC, as expressed through seven operation keywords: Justice, Human Dignity, Openness, Credibility, Safety, Global, and Icon. Read more about the features of the new premises and view video and photos here.

dThe Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) recently ruled on a highly ambiguous question revolving around patent protections for pharmaceutical products – whether the relevant date to be used by national patent offices when calculating the duration of a supplementary protection certificate (SPC) should be the date the health authority makes a decision granting market authorization (MA) or the date the applicant is notified of the decision. Ultimately, the CJEU decided that the date on which the applicant is notified that their MA has been granted is the date that should be used for calculating SPCs.  While the few days that typically pass between the two dates may seem negligible, they are of critical commercial value to companies because the market for medical products is often at its peak towards the end of the patent term.  Now that this ruling has clarified how SPCs should be calculated, patent holders, generic product producers, and government regulators will all have a much clearer understanding of the scope of legal protections and compensation awarded under EU law. Read more in an OUP blogpost.

fShould products made by Israeli businesses in the Occupied Territories be labeled as such or is “Made in Israel” an accurate representation of their origin? The European Commission recently announced guidelines under which goods manufactured in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Golan Heights and other occupied areas be clearly labeled. Goods manufactured by Palestinian-owned businesses can be labeled as a “product of Palestine.” EU officials have stated that this action is “technical,” rooted in a desire to ensure that European consumers are not misled.  However, prominent government officials of EU member states as well as pro-Palestinian NGOs have explicitly requested this action, arguing that it should be the next step in pressuring Israel to end violations of international law via its occupation of Palestinian territories and its use of disproportionate military force targeting Palestinians.  While this action has received widespread support, it has also been criticized in Israel, the United States, and some parts of Europe.  A New York Times op-ed by Law Professor Eugene Kontorovich argues that the new guidelines would violate both EU law and WTO policies because both require that trade policies be applied equally and consistently. Israel would be treated differently, he contends, from countries like Morocco and Turkey that also occupy territories in violation of international law but are not being asked to re-label their exports. 

                    Credit: JusticeHub

South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), has sent mixed signals regarding the possible withdrawal of the country from the International Criminal Court (ICC). In October, the ANC approved a plan for withdrawal and expressed its intent to bring the issue up at the recently concluded meeting of the ICC’s Assembly of States Parties. However, South Africa’s Foreign Minister did not ultimately make any clear statements about withdrawal at the meeting, although she did reiterate South Africa’s primary concerns with the ICC – that it is “one-sided” and “unfair” in its investigation and prosecution of Africans, and that powerful nations like the United States, Russia, and China should be members of the Court.  Kenya’s previously vocal discontents with the ICC and posturing vis-à-vis withdrawal were similarly muted at the meeting. Read more from The Globe and Mail.

Publications and Resources of Interest

dAn online symposium, co-hosted by Opinio Juris and the NYU Journal of International Law and Politics, is exploring the extent to which collective memory is compatible with judicial systems, which are individual-centered. The focus of the symposium is a recently published article by Rachel E. Lopez, The (Re)collection of Memory After Mass Atrocity and the Dilemma for Transnational Justice, (Volume 47, Number 4, of NYU JILP). Read more about the symposium and access Lopez's article in an IntLawGrrls post

fA recent book, The UK and European Human Rights: a Strained Relationship?, analyses the topical and contentious issue of the relationship between the UK and the European systems for the protection of human rights from doctrinal, contextual and comparative perspectives.  Edited by Katja S. Ziegler, Elizabeth Wicks and Loveday Hodson, the volume’s contributors explore the various factors that influence the relationship between the UK and European human rights.
For more on this topic, view a short video of Oxford University Research Fellow Eirik Bjorge discussing the impacts that Europe would feel if the UK revoked its 1998 Human Rights Act. He notes that choosing to be bound by regional human rights conventions should be seen as a positive expression of, instead of simply a challenge to, national sovereignty, a point also made by participants at the 2015 Brandeis Institute for International Judges.

“International Justice in the News” is edited by Leigh Swigart, Director of Programs in International Justice and Society, with the assistance of Daniel Jaffe '17 and Leonie Koch '16.

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