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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.

June 2015

People in the News

dAs desperate migrants continue their perilous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea, the world waits to see if Europe can handle the crisis. In a single day in late May 2015, 4,200 migrants were rescued from 22 vessels in a single 24-hour period. Since the beginning of the year, over 1,700 migrants have died on their journey, a 30-fold increase over the whole of 2014. The countries that are receiving the bulk of the migrants – Italy, Greece, and Malta – are asking other European Union members to help shoulder the burden of resettling asylees, an approach that the European Commission will soon formally announce in a controversial plan. Europe is also waiting for a United Nations resolution that will allow it to destroy boats that belong to people smugglers in Libyan waters. Read more from Al Jezeera.

fJudge Vicente Marotta Rangel (Brazil) of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea has resigned his post on the bench. The ITLOS president will issue invitations for nominations to fill the vacancy. The elected judge will serve for the remainder of Judge Rangel’s term, which would have expired on 20 September 2017. Read more in a tribunal press release.

dInternational Criminal Court indictee Omar al-Bashir was recently re-elected as president of Sudan in a landslide vote. The election process has been widely condemned as unfair by Western governments and civil society. Sudanese opposition parties boycotted the election, stating that it was a foregone conclusion that the incumbent president would win. Bashir is wanted by the ICC on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide over his long military campaign in the western Darfur region. Although an arrest warrant for Bashir was issued by the ICC in 2009, there is little indication that he will be transferred anytime soon, if ever, to The Hague.

dThe African Union (AU) has appointed its first woman Secretary General, Ms. Djenaba Diarra of Mali.  She has a long experience at the AU, most recently having served as its Deputy Legal Counsel and acting Executive Secretary of the African Union Advisory Board on the Fight against Corruption. Read more from IOL News.

Developments in International Justice


The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has made two recent statements concerning communication technology and human rights in the region.

The Commission’s Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression issued a thematic report on Freedom of Expression Standards for the Transition to a Diverse, Plural and Inclusive Free-to-Air Digital Television. According to a Commission press release, “the role of media in a democratic society implies that any decision on the transition to digital television must observe the guarantees related to the exercise of freedom of expression, legal certainty and the promotion of diversity principles and pluralism in all platforms.”

The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression has also called on the United States to introduce strong reforms to the National Security Agency’s (NSA) telephone metadata collection program to ensure it complies with the State’s obligations under international human rights law. In a press release, the Commission reiterated a statement from the May 2015 Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Responses to Conflict Situations, issued by various international and regional entities: "[i]n accordance with the three-part test for restrictions on freedom of expression and, in particular, the necessity part of that test, surveillance should be conducted only on a limited and targeted basis and in a manner which represents an appropriate balance between law enforcement and security needs, on the one hand, and the rights to freedom of expression and privacy, on the other. Untargeted or ‘mass’ surveillance is inherently disproportionate and is a violation of the rights to privacy and freedom of expression." In early May 2015, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in ACLU v. Clapper that the NSA bulk metadata telephone collection program is unlawful. See more on this decision from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. As of publication of this newsletter, the US Senate continues to debate whether reforms curtailing the collection program will be instituted.

dThe recent arrest of officials of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) on charges of corruption and money laundering leave some observers wondering about the transnational character of the crimes allegedly committed and the international cooperation needed to investigate and prosecute them. In an OUP Blog post, International and Criminal Law professor Robert Cryder (University of Birmingham) analyzes the current FIFA debacle. He notes, “What this affair shows is the intermingled nature of even domestic crimes with territorial links, with international cooperation and activity. Frequently owing to their nature, such crimes require international cooperation and relate to conduct that crosses borders, which also leads to multiple investigations in different States…” Read Cryder’s entire post here.

rThe public hearings on the preliminary objection raised by the Republic of Chile in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) case concerning the “Obligation to Negotiate Access to the Pacific Ocean” (Bolivia v. Chile) have been concluded. The Court has now begun its deliberations. The case involves Chile’s alleged obligation to negotiate in good faith and effectively with Bolivia in order to reach an agreement granting Bolivia a fully sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean. Chile had filed a preliminary objection to the jurisdiction of the Court in the case. The parties have each selected an ad hoc judge with impressive international law bona fides: for Bolivia, Prof. Yves Daudet of the Sorbonne with prior ICJ experience; for Chile, Louise Arbour, former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and past UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.  Read more about the case at the ICJ website.

dThe Central African Republic (CAR) has established a hybrid criminal court to investigate and prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity that have been committed on its territory since 2003. The CAR government first referred the State’s situation to the International Criminal Court in 2004 about the events that occurred there between 2002 and 2003. The ICC then decided to open an investigation in 2007, confirming that the national justice system did not have the capacity to investigate and prosecute the alleged crimes. The ICC opened its second investigation in September 2014 after CAR authorities made a referral in May 2014 to examine war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed since 2012. These investigations resulted in two cases at the ICC, one of which has closed and is under deliberation, the other scheduled to open in several months.

The CAR's Special Criminal Court (SCC) will be composed of 27 domestic and international judges, who will serve renewable five-year terms. It will have a Central African chief judge and an international special prosecutor. According to the Justice in Conflict blog “… if the SCC of CAR emerges as something more than a stillborn institution or paper tiger, it could set new precedents for shared responsibility between domestic and international institutions in prosecuting international crimes.” Read the full blog post here.

fIn a recent decision, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Georgian authorities failed to adequately protect gay-rights activists and should compensate victims of attacks aimed at blocking a gay-pride event three years ago. The case stems from an incident in Tbilisi in May 2012, when activists tried to hold Georgia's first-ever gay-pride march to mark the International Day Against Homophobia. Orthodox activists blocked their way, and some of the gay activists were verbally and physically assaulted. Read more from the ECHR Sexual Orientation Blog, which explains how the Court decision invokes not only the right to association and assembly and the right to be free from discrimination, but also for the first time the right not to be subjected to torture or inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

In another recent decision concerning Georgia, the Strasbourg Court held that the State did not violate the right to property through its confiscation of the assets of officials accused of corruption. As reported by the International Justice Resource Center, the applicants claimed that Georgia had violated their rights to property and a fair trial under the European Convention of Human Rights. “In finding no violation of the right to property, the Court reasoned that the State had struck a fair balance between the means taken to confiscate the applicants’ assets and the public interest in combating State corruption. Regarding the right to a fair trial, the Court found that the applicants had waived their right to participate in proceedings by failing to appear at the trial.” Access the full judgment in Gogitidze and Others v. Georgia here.

dThe World Trade Organization Appellate Body has issued its “compliance report” in the United States — Country of origin labelling requirements case (WT/DS384/386). The complainants in this case were Canada and Mexico. The case involved the obligation to inform consumers at the retail level of the country of origin in respect of covered commodities, including beef and pork. The eligibility for a designation of a covered commodity as exclusively having a US origin can only be derived from an animal that was exclusively born, raised and slaughtered in the United States. Read more about the case from the WTO.

Publications and Resources of Interest

dInternational Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) Defense Counsel Beth S. Lyons has just published “Litigating Human Rights:  Fair Trial and International Criminal Justice” (Africa Law Today, Issue 2, 2015). The article discusses the reversals by the ICTR Appeals Chamber of Major Nzuwonemeye’s ("Military II" case) convictions for modes of liability, based on fair trial (right to notice) grounds and failure to provide a reasoned opinion.  Lyons contends that the Appeal Judgment, where it holds that there were fair trial violations, is a significant contribution toward strengthening the jurisprudence in support, and defense, of fair trial as an international human right. Access the full article here.

dA book by Amnesty International’s Kolawole Olaniyan, Corruption and Human Rights in Africa (Hart Publishing 2014), addresses a phenomenon that plagues Africa and impinges on the full enjoyment of human rights on the continent. In a new and substantive review of the book, Dr. Robert Wundeh Eno, Chief Registrar of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, notes that “Olaniyan challenges us to think outside the box, and adopt the more attractive and all-embracing human rights law approach [to corruption], to complement, but not replace, the criminal law approach.” Access Eno’s entire review here.

dIn a recent two-part blog post in IntLawGrrls, Dr. Cassandra Steer introduces the key aspects of why international law matters in outer space. The first part focuses on civilian and commercial activities in space. She asks, “with the so-called ‘democratization of space’, how does international law regulate this congested, contested and competitive environment?” The second part of the blog post addresses military activities in space. Steer notes, “While the notion of a legal vacuum [in outer space] is inaccurate, there is definitely a need to clearly articulate the law that applies to military activities in outer space as a matter of urgency.”

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

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