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 2015

Dear subscribers, International Justice in the News will take a break in August and resume in September 2015. Look for our next issue at that time with news items covering the intervening period. Enjoy your summer!

People in the News

dThe stealthy departure of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir from South Africa, where he was attending an African Union Summit, has rocked the international justice community and raised new questions about South Africa’s commitment to the International Criminal Court (ICC).  A South African court had ordered Mr. Bashir to stay in the country while it ruled whether he could be arrested on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, issued by the ICC. However, the South African government said that he enjoyed diplomatic immunity. 

These events quickly spawned a flurry of commentaries, including the following: 1) an opinion piece by South Africa’s Justice Richard Goldstone and Marie-Claude Jean-Baptiste, “The Bashir Debacle: How South Africa Betrayed Itself and the World”; 2) a Justice in Conflict blogpost, which argues that President Bashir’s sneaky departure shows that the ICC has both strengths and weaknesses; and 3) a video interview by Al Jazeera of ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who states, “I believe that in this particular case there was no ambiguity. The obligation of South Africa under the Rome Statute... was really clear. What they had to do is to arrest and surrender Omar al-Bashir to the ICC.”

fThe Organization of American States has elected four members to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Enrique Gil Botero (Colombia), Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño (Panama), Margarette May Macaulay (Jamaica, Brandeis Institute for International Judges 2009 & 2012), and Francisco José Eguiguren Praeli (Peru) were elected to a four-year term, which starts on 1 January 2016, and ends on 31 December 2019. Read more about the new commissioners in a Commission press release.

dJudge BAIK Kang Jin (Republic of Korea) has been appointed as an international judge in the Pre-Trial Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), replacing Rowan Downing (Australia, Brandeis Institute for International Judges 2013 & 2015). Judge BAIK most recently served as a judge at the Seoul High Court. Professor Michael Bohlander (Germany) has been appointed as new Reserve International Co-Investigating Judge, replacing Judge Olivier Beauvallet (France) who was appointed as International Judge in the Pre-Trial Chamber earlier this year. Professor Bohlander is currently Chair in Comparative and International Criminal Law at Durham Law School, where he has been a professor since 2004. Read more in an ECCC press release.

dKarenzi Karake, a top Rwandan military leader, has been arrested in London in relation to alleged retaliatory war crimes committed in the years after the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The arrest warrant was issued in Spain in 2008, as Karake is accused of ordering the killing of three Spanish nationals in the Democratic Republic of Congo, along with many persons of Hutu ethnicity. Rwandan President Paul Kigame has reacted angrily, according to The Guardian, declaring the arrest to be an act of neo-colonialism. Karake has been set a bail of 1 million pounds.

Developments in International Justice


A new mobile phone app, developed by the International Bar Association (IBA), will help human rights activists document and store photographs and films that can be shown in court. The “EyeWitness to Atrocities” app records the user’s location, date and time, and nearby Wi-Fi networks to verify that the footage has not been edited or manipulated, before sending it to a database monitored by a team of legal experts. Once a video is submitted, it is stored in a virtual evidence locker, where it can only be accessed by legal experts who analyze the footage and identify the appropriate authorities to pursue criminal charges. Read more about the app from The Guardian. Download the app and watch an instructional video here.

dTwo new documents safeguarding the rights and protections of vulnerable groups were recently approved.

The United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice has adopted the Mandela Rules, which are revisions to the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. These rules, which had not been updated since they were drafted in 1955, honor the late South African President Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned for 27 years by the country’s apartheid regime. The Mandela Rules emphasize the need for improvement in nine thematic areas, including health care in prisons, investigations of deaths in custody, disciplinary measures including strict limitations on the use of solitary confinement, and professionalization of prison staff and independent inspections. Countries are encouraged to reflect the Mandela Rules in their national legislation so that prison administrators can apply them in their daily work. Read more in the UN press release.

dThe Member States of the Organization of American States (OAS) have approved the Inter-American Convention on Protecting the Human Rights of Older Persons, the first regional instrument for the promotion, protection, and recognition of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of older persons. The purpose of the Convention is “to promote, protect and ensure the recognition and the full enjoyment and exercise, on an equal basis, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms of older persons, in order to contribute to their full inclusion, integration, and participation in society.” It also establishes that persons may submit complaints to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights alleging violations of the human rights recognized in that instrument. Read the full text of the Convention here.

rEast Timor has officially dropped its case against Australia at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The tiny country took on its formidable neighbor in 2014 when it accused Australia of spying to gain a commercial advantage during negotiations over the Timor Sea gas treaty, which covers a vast gas field between the two nations worth billions of dollars. East Timor reported that Australia has now returned the sensitive documents that it was accused of having stolen and has requested that the ICJ remove the case from its docket. Read more about the situation here.


Croatian lawmakers have passed a bill that compensates the victims of rape during the country's war for independence in 1991-95. The legislation entitles the victims to a one-time compensation of 13,000 euros, a monthly allowance, as well as health care, counseling and legal aid. Experts have estimated that several thousand women suffered some form of sexual violence during the war that broke out when Croatia declared independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991. However, only small numbers have sought justice in Croatian courts and experts are hopeful more women will now come forward. Read more from The New York Times.

More recently, a Bosnian court has found two former soldiers guilty of raping a Croatian minor during the same conflict. Each man was sentenced to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay a total of 26,500 Bosnian marks (13,500 euros) in compensation to the victim. The ruling is an unprecedented one – Bosnian courts have persecuted and jailed a number of war criminals for committing sexual violence during the war, but they have always directed victims to pursue compensation claims in costly civil proceedings. It is predicted that this ruling could open the door to justice for thousands of victims. Read more about the decision here.


The heated dispute over territories in the South China Sea continues unabated. The dispute concerns sovereignty claims over a number of mostly uninhabited island chains and outcroppings of potential economic and strategic importance. Vietnam and The Philippines claim that China seeks to control areas that are historically theirs and that furthermore intrude on their respective 200-mile exclusive economic zones. In the meantime, satellite photography shows that China is currently constructing a military base on reclaimed land in the area. The Philippines have brought a claim to the Permanent Court of Arbitration on the matter but China refuses to participate in the procedure, claiming that the Philippines had “no legal grounds” to file the case and also violated the non-legally binding 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, made by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. China’s refusal will not prevent the Court from proceeding with the case.

Read a Q&A about the South China Sea dispute from The BBC. Read a recent opinion piece on aggression in the South China Sea from The Diplomat.


The Inter-American Court of Human Rights will take on a new case concerning the forced sterilization of a woman in a Bolivian public hospital. The case has been referred by the Inter-American Commission, which has concluded that the surgical intervention constituted a violation of the woman’s physical and psychological integrity, as well as of her right to live free of violence and discrimination and her right to access to information and to a private and family life, understanding that reproductive autonomy is part of such rights. The Commission also concluded that the State did not provide the victim with an effective judicial response to these violations. Read more in a Commission press release.

dWhat is the fastest way for a state to rid itself of what it considers an undesirable ethnic population? Julia Harrington of Open Society Foundations recently published a powerful piece with an ironic title, “Seven Easy Steps to Ethnic Cleansing in the Dominican Republic.” The piece outlines how persons of Haitian background born in the Dominican Republic have been methodically disenfranchised, with the outcome that they will soon be “legally” deported to a country that many have never even seen, Haiti. Harrington writes, “There, they will likely be stranded, stateless—unless they manage to sneak back across the border to live as undocumented immigrants in their own country.” For the full piece, click here.

Ethnic cleansing is one of the crimes that theoretically invoke the principle of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), along with crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide.  A recent conference at Brandeis University examined many aspects of R2P, including a number of current situations in the world that seem tailor-made for interventions by the international community but which have gone largely ignored. Read more about the conference and see the full program here.

dAlmost 40 countries have signed a new Safe Schools Declaration, by which they commit to protect education from attack in situations of armed conflict. The Declaration notes, “Worldwide, schools and universities have been bombed, shelled and burned, and children, students, teachers and academics have been killed, maimed, abducted or arbitrarily detained. Educational facilities have been used by parties to armed conflict as, inter alia, bases, barracks or detention centres. Such actions expose students and education personnel to harm, deny large numbers of children and students their right to education and so deprive communities of the foundations on which to build their future. In many countries, armed conflict continues to destroy not just school infrastructure, but the hopes and ambitions of a whole generation of children.”  Read more about the Safe Schools movement and the context for the Declaration in an IntLawGrrls blogpost. See the “Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use During Armed Conflict” and view a short video at the website of the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack.

Publications and Resources of Interest

dShould high-ranking accused persons be required to be present during their trials at the International Criminal Court? In a recent ASIL Insights article, "Presence and Politics at the International Criminal Court," Steven Arrigg Koh addresses this thorny question. According to the author, “The resolution of this issue—resulting in amendments to the ICC’s Rules of Procedure and Evidence—has engaged a diverse array of actors, from the ICC Trial and Appeals Chambers to the UN Security Council and the African Union.”  Read Koh’s detailed report and analysis of how the ICC has handled its cases against the President and Deputy President of Kenya, which, among other outcomes, “reaffirms that the ICC is a still-maturing institution, confronting sensitive legal issues of first impression that inextricably carry political implications.”

dA short film (11 minutes) presenting the jurisdiction and role of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in the settlement of disputes under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is now available in English and French. The film features narration by ITLOS President Vladimir Golitsyn (Brandeis Institute for International Judges 2015). To view the film, click here.

gIn a new report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) asserts that the World Bank has done little to prevent or dissuade governments from intimidating critics of the projects it funds. In “At Your Own Risk: Reprisals against Critics of World Bank Group Projects,” HRW “details how governments and powerful companies have threatened, intimidated, and misused criminal laws against outspoken community members who stand to be displaced or otherwise allegedly harmed by projects financed by the World Bank and its private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC).” Read more in an HRW press release.

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

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