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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.

May 2015

Featured News

   ICC Prosecutor with Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs

On 1 April 2015, Palestine became the 123rd member State of the International Criminal Court (ICC). That same day, the ICC formally welcomed Palestine, while Israel issued a statement asserting that Palestine is not a state under international law and that its ICC membership is an overtly political act. Which alleged crimes might Palestine ask the ICC to investigate? Which individuals might be put under the spotlight? Might any benefits accrue to Israel despite its non-membership? More generally, what does Palestine’s change in status mean for the longstanding conflict in the Middle East? Commentators in the international law blogosphere began to weigh in almost immediately.

In a recent American Society of International Law Insight, “The ICC and Palestinian Consent,” Prof. John Cerone examines the issue of ICC jurisdiction over Palestinian territory and explicates a number of tricky legal questions in regard to Palestine’s statehood. He ends by reminding readers, “If the Court seeks to prosecute high government officials of states that are not parties to the Rome Statute, e.g., Israel, it will have to deal with the issue of immunity… Palestinian officials who are prosecuted before the ICC would not benefit from any immunities they might otherwise have under international law. Israeli officials, however, may still benefit from such immunities, at least while in office.”

The Justice in Conflict blog is featuring an ongoing symposium on “Palestine and the International Criminal Court.” The contributions of astute international law commentators address questions such as the following: To what extent was Palestine’s decision to join the Court motivated by concerns about justice and to what extent was it a political attempt to undermine Israel? How likely are we to see trials in cases to do with the 2014 Israeli attacks on Gaza or the Israeli settlement policy…? How likely are we to see trials in cases to do with Hamas attacks on Israel? What are the implications of Palestine’s accession to the ICC for the peace process with Israel? Is the ICC a barrier to peace, likely to facilitate peace, or likely to have no real effects on the process? Access the various symposium contributions here.

Brandeis University alumnus David Benger (‘14) approaches the issue from another angle. In his blogpost “No Politics, Just Justice: The ICC and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict," Benger argues that the anger and apprehension of Israelis and Israel supporters about Palestine’s ICC membership is “largely misplaced.” He writes, “A careful analysis of the Rome Statute and of the Court’s jurisprudence indicates that the Palestinian Authority may have shot itself in the foot. Indeed, any ICC investigations are far more likely to implicate Hamas operatives than Israeli soldiers.”

This is just a small sampling of interesting sources about Palestine and the ICC. We urge our readers to explore the full range of perspectives.

People in the News

dUnited Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al Hussein recently likened certain anti-immigrant articles in the British tabloid press to the kind of media coverage that led to the Rwandan Genocide. According to a Commission press release, “In language very similar to that employed by Rwanda’s Kangura newspaper and Radio Mille Collines during the run up to the 1994 genocide, the [British] columnist said ‘make no mistake, these migrants are like cockroaches.’ Leading figures in both Rwandan media organizations were later convicted by an international tribunal of public incitement to commit genocide.” Zeid has called for the U.K. authorities, media and regulatory bodies “to take steps to curb incitement to hatred by British tabloid newspapers, in line with the country’s obligations under national and international law.”

         Pauline Nyiramasuhuko
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) recently heard oral arguments in its final appeal case, which involves Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, former Rwandan Minister for Family Affairs and Women’s Development, and her five co-accused in the Butare case. Nyiramasuhuko, who was sentenced on first instance to life in prison, was the first woman to be tried and convicted by an international war crimes court. The judgment, pronounced by the Trial Chamber in June 2011, convicted the Butare group of various acts of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. They group appealed the judgment, contending that the Trial Chamber committed a number of errors of law and fact and requesting the Appeals Chamber to stay the proceedings, overturn their convictions, or reduce their sentences. Read more in an ICTR press release.

fUS President Barack Obama has apologized for drone strikes carried out in Pakistan in January 2015 that killed American and Italian citizens held hostage by Al Qaeda in the targeted site. Despite hundreds of hours of surveillance, the presence of the two hostages remained unknown to authorities. Read more details in a New York Times article. This incident brings to the foreground once again a number of questions around the US use of drones for counter-terrorism: What are the criteria for authorizing a particular target? Can US citizens affiliated with Al Qaeda be targeted? How can loss of civilian life be minimized? A more fundamental question is whether the use of drone warfare is acceptable under international law in the first place. In October 2013, reports on the use of armed drones were released by the UN Special Rapporteurs on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions and Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism, as well as by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The reports underscore essential areas of legal controversy and call for transparency by states in the use of drone warfare.

Developments in International Justice

dThe Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) recently lost the opportunity to adjudicate a unique case, concerning the land rights of the Maya, through a last-minute consent order between the Mayan claimants and the Government of Belize. The Maya Customary Lands Rights case had been back and forth in the national courts of Belize, with their claim to the land in question upheld twice in the Supreme Court. However, the government of Belize continued to assert that the land title that the Maya hold should not be considered Native or Indigenous land title, but merely based on a long period of occupation. The claimants were making a final appeal to the CCJ, during an in situ session of the regional court in Belize, when the government conceded to the Mayan claims. Read more from the Belizean press.

fThe United Nations Human Rights Council has created a new position – Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy. The Special Rapporteur will focus on the challenges to privacy in the digital age, recognizing that the right to privacy must be protected both online and offline. According to the Electronic Frontier Agency, this new position “elevates the right to privacy to the priority level that the Human Rights Council ascribes to most other human rights. Most importantly, it gives the right to privacy the international recognition and protection it deserves.” Applications for the position are currently being accepted.

dSouth Sudan, the world’s newest nation, has declined to join the International Criminal Court (ICC). South Sudan’s Justice Minister Paulino Wanawilla Unago stated that joining the ICC is not an obligation and that any offenses punishable under the Rome Statute can be punished under South Sudanese law. “You don’t need to sign Rome Statute in order to prosecute people for the offenses that have been alleged under the Rome Statute like genocide, crimes against humanity, and other crimes," he said. The Minister had just returned from a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, where he was questioned as to why his government has not prosecuted anyone involved with the ongoing civil war in which tens of thousands have been killed and nearly two million have fled their homes. Wanawilla responded that they have not prosecuted anyone because they have not received any complaints so far regarding crimes committed. Read more from the local press. 

fRepresentatives from three continents recently gathered in New York City to discuss how best to confront some of the world’s most powerful nations over a subject that affects populations across the world: reparations for deprivations from the international slave trade, colonialism and legal segregation. Representatives to the summit, which was convened by the Institute of the Black World 21st Century, included ambassadors, legislators, activists and legal experts. Read a conversation between Jaisal Noor, editor of The Real News Network, and some of the delegates to learn more about the issues raised at the summit. See a list of the resolutions, pronouncements and action items from the summit here

fIn the wake of recent terrorist attacks on Kenya’s Garissa University College by Somali extremists, the Kenyan government has listed two human rights groups, Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI) and Haki Africa, as “terrorist organizations.” According to Human Rights Watch, “Haki Africa and MUHURI are highly respected groups that have focused on documenting human rights violations by the Kenyan security forces, including in the course of counterterrorism efforts… According to international standards regarding counterterrorism measures, governments should ensure a transparent terrorist listing and de-listing process, based on clear criteria, with an appropriate, explicit, and uniformly applied standard of evidence, as well as an effective, accessible, and independent mechanism of review for the individuals and entities concerned.” The Kenyan government has also threatened to close the Dadaab Refugee Complex, which houses more than a third of a million Somali refugees. This decision met with resistance from the UN High Commission on Refugees, and there has been a subsequent softening of this position by Kenya’s Refugee Affairs Commission. 

                San Francisco Peaks

The Navajo Nation, a Native American tribe, has filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights against the US in relation to sacred lands in Arizona. According to Native News, “[t]he petition addresses the violation of the Navajo people’s rights to religion, culture and judicial protection by the use of reclaimed wastewater for snowmaking for a commercial ski operation on the San Francisco Peaks, a site sacred to the Navajo… [It] gives the Navajo Nation and its people a voice in the international realm to express their serious concerns respecting the lack of interest by the federal government to hear the Navajo Nation when it comes to sacred sites.” US courts have previously ruled against tribes in the fight against expansion of the ski resort and snowmaking.

Publications and Resources of Interest

fThe Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights (JBI) has released the Manual on Human Rights and the Prevention of Genocide. Since 2008 JBI has worked with the UN Special Adviser on Prevention of Genocide to clarify the scope of the obligation to "prevent genocide" in the Genocide Convention. JBI created the Manual at the urging of the Special Adviser to advance this objective.  It identifies 21 patterns of serious human rights violations that can trigger States' responsibility to prevent genocide. It also provides guidance on steps States can take to prevent such violations from spiraling out of control, all of which is derived from the work of independent UN human rights experts. Read more about the manual and its recent launch at UN Headquarters here

dA recently published book addresses issues brought to world attention by the tragic deaths of migrants attempting to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea. In Justice and Authority in Immigration Law (Hart Publishing 2015), Colin Grey (Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada) provides a new and powerful account of the demands of justice on immigration law and policy. According to the publisher’s site, the book argues “that justice requires states to give priority of admission to the most disadvantaged migrants, and to grant some form of citizenship or non-oppressive status to those migrants who become integrated. It also argues that states must avoid policies of admission and exclusion that can only be implemented through unjust means. It therefore refutes the common misconception that justice places no limits on the discretion of states to control immigration.”

dA group of human rights organizations, including the prominent Fédération Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l’Homme, has published the 2015 Universal Jurisdiction Annual Review. The report’s introduction explains that the principle of universal jurisdiction “provides any national jurisdiction with the competence to investigate, prosecute and judge the alleged perpetrator of certain serious crimes under international law - including genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture and enforced disappearance - irrespective of where the crime took place and irrespective of the nationality of the perpetrator or the victim.”

This report covers universal jurisdiction proceedings in 12 nations across the globe. Perhaps most notable are the those against former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré currently taking place in Senegal, and the recent ruling by South Africa’s Constitutional Court that the South African Police Service must investigate crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Zimbabwe in 2007.

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

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