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 2016

People in the News

Trygve Lie (Norway),
first UN Secretary-GeneraL,
Over the 70-year lifespan of the United Nations, eight persons have held the position of Secretary-General. The year 2016 will see the election of the ninth. Historically decided behind closed doors by powerful nations, the 2016 Secretary-General selection process is instead being conducted in a new and more transparent fashion. As noted on the UN website, the process for the first time includes public discussions with each candidate who is campaigning for the world’s top diplomatic post. Each of the current eight candidates was formally introduced to the General Assembly –– after having submitted a written statement laying out his or her vision for 2017 and beyond –– over three days of informal dialogues in mid-April. The public was able to submit questions for the candidates through both civil society members and social media beforehand. The public may view videos of the informal dialogues here. Although the process is still ongoing, there appears to be some pressure for the next Secretary-General to hail from Eastern Europe, given that the geographic rotation of this position has not yet included that region. There is also talk of a woman finally holding this important post. 

dJudge Navi Pillay has been awarded the title of Commandeur de l’Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur. According to the website of the French Embassy in Pretoria, the French Legion of Honour, established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, “celebrates the accomplishments of distinguished individuals, irrespective of sex, social background and nationality.” Judge Pillay was the first woman of color to be appointed to the High Court in her native South Africa. She subsequently served as judge and then president of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and as judge of the International Criminal Court. During this time, she was a frequent participant of the Brandeis Institute for International Judges. From 2008-14, Judge Pillay served as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

dThe Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) recently elected its new board. The board of officers is composed of James Cavallaro (USA) as Chair, Francisco Eguiguren Praeli (Peru) as First Vice-Chair, and Margarette May Macaulay (Jamaica) as Second Vice-Chair. The other members of the Commission are José de Jesús Orozco Henriquez (Mexico), Paulo Vannuchi (Brazil), Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño (Panama), and Enrique Gil Botero (Columbia). A process is now underway to replace IACHR Executive Secretary Emilio Alvarez Icaza Longoria (Mexico) when his term ends in August 2016. Five finalists for the position have already been identified.

dPhilippe Gautier (Belgium) has been re-elected as Registrar of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), a post he has held since 2001. Elected from among candidates nominated by ITLOS judges, Mr. Gautier will serve as Registrar for another five years. Read more in a Tribunal press release.

dThe International Criminal Court case against William Samoei Ruto and Joshua Arap Sang has been officially terminated. The two were accused of crimes against humanity allegedly committed in the context of the 2007-2008 post-election violence in Kenya. The trial chamber vacated the charges against the accused and discharged them, but neither acquitted them nor found there was “no case to answer,” as requested in a motion by the defense. In a concurring opinion, one of the judges declared a mistrial, “due to a troubling incidence of witness interference and intolerable political meddling.” The termination leaves open the possibility of “re-prosecution” if new or better evidence pertinent to the case emerges in the future. The termination of the Ruto/Sang case marks the end of a long, politically charged and controversial period in the Court’s short life, during which it was itself accused of demonstrating neo-colonialist tendencies, bias against Africa, and weak prosecutorial work. This is also the second Kenyan case to founder; the charges against President Uhuru Kenyatta, also associated with post-election violence, were withdrawn in 2014. While certain Kenya populations celebrated the ICC’s decision (where the press tended to characterize it as a full exoneration of the accused), international criminal justice experts such as James Goldston and Mark Kersten analyzed the decision in order to draw lessons for the future.

Developments in International Justice

dThe European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) recently ruled, in Armani da Silva v. United Kingdom, that members of an elite London police unit who killed a suspected terrorist in the days following the 2005 public transport bombings cannot be prosecuted. The victim, Jean Charles de Menezes, was a Brazilian electrician who happened to live on the same street as some of the perpetrators of the so-called “7/7” attacks. Police officers, who believed Menezes to be a suicide bomber, pursued him into a London underground train and shot him at close range. By a majority of 13 to four, the ECtHR judges ruled that the UK had not violated Article Two of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to life. “The decision not to prosecute any individual officer was not due to any failings in the investigation or the state’s tolerance of or collusion in unlawful acts,” the court declared. “Rather, it was due to the fact that, following a thorough investigation, a prosecutor had considered all the facts of the case and concluded that there was insufficient evidence against any individual officer to prosecute.” A UK government spokesperson stated: "The government considers the Strasbourg court has handed down the right judgment. The facts of this case are tragic, but the government considers that the court has upheld the important principle that individuals are only prosecuted where there is a realistic prospect of conviction." Read more about the judgment and reactions to it from the victim’s family.

dDoha was the venue of the recently concluded Asia Regional Forum on Business and Human Rights. The meeting focused on the three pillars of the Guiding Principles On Business and Human Rights: the State duty to protect human rights against business-related impacts; the corporate responsibility to respect human rights; and the need for effective remedy for victims of business-related human rights abuse. The Forum also examined salient issues in the region, such as the rights of migrant workers, the rights of women in a business context, garment sector supply chains, and mega sporting events. The Asia Regional Forum built on earlier ones in Africa and the Caribbean and Latin America.

dLeast developed countries (LDCs) are calling on their fellow members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to implement recent WTO decisions that favor LDC exports of goods and services, as outlined in the so-called “Nairobi Package.” According to a WTO press release, respecting the agreements of the Package “will support poorer countries in diversifying their exports away from commodities and also help them climb up the value chain in manufacturing and services … Members must now ensure that their national regulators recognize these agreements for preferential treatment for LDCs.”

dThe African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has adopted a draft protocol on disability rights. The protocol guarantees equal protection of economic, social, cultural, civil, and political rights to individuals with “physical, mental, intellectual, developmental or sensory impairments” and will require States parties to implement affirmative actions to advance their equality. As reported by the International Justice Resource Center, “The intent in drafting the protocol was to lay out the rights of persons with disabilities in a continental context, drawing from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities but also addressing additional issues specific to Africa. The draft protocol, accordingly, addresses issues faced by persons with disabilities in Africa, such as increased rates of poverty; systemic discrimination; and risk of violence and abuse, particularly for those with albinism and women and girls with disabilities.”

dWhat do tax evasion and illicit financial flows by wealthy individuals and corporations have to do with human rights? A lot, say some lawyers and economists. In response to the revelation of the Panama Papers by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, experts are starting to weigh in. The United Nations Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights has called on the international community to urgently put an end to financial secrecy. He warned that tax evasion and the flow of funds of illicit origin undermine justice and deprive Governments of resources needed for the realization of economic, social and cultural rights. The Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) echoes this perspective: “Dozens of political leaders from all corners of the globe have been implicated in large-scale tax evasion and avoidance through secrecy jurisdictions (tax havens), effectively robbing government coffers around the world of much-needed resources that might otherwise be used to fulfill the human rights of ordinary citizens.” Click here to learn more about CESR’s work on tax justice and human rights.

The Hague was recently the venue for two important celebrations of international justice.

dOn 19 April, the permanent premises of the International Criminal Court (ICC) were officially opened. The event was attended by past and present Court judges and staff, members of the Assembly of States Parties, and a number of dignitaries, including UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon and His Majesty King Willem-Alexander of The Netherlands. Among other formal speeches, ICC President Judge Silvia Fernández delivered remarks on the importance of the new premises for the efficiency of the Court's daily work and for fulfilling its mandate: “With its innovative solutions, the building supports the judicial mission of the ICC. It helps us hold fair and transparent trials. It helps us protect witnesses and facilitate the participation of victims in our proceedings. In sum, it helps us safeguard the independence of the Court, its credibility, and, ultimately, its legitimacy.” Read more details and access the full text of speeches in an ICC press release.

The following day, on 20 April, Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon and King Willem-Alexander crossed town to attend the 70th anniversary celebration of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), a milestone marked by a commemorative sitting of the Court. The dignitaries delivered speeches, along with ICJ President Ronny Abraham who stated: “[T]he need for a world court working for international peace and justice is as strong today as it was when the [UN] Charter was first signed. The Court's judgements on the merits all represent disputes that have been settled, and situations that might otherwise have led to open conflict and that have found a peaceful outcome.” Learn more in an ICJ press release.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has filed an application to bring a case about the rights of an indigenous Brazilian group before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. According to a Commission press release, “the case relates to violations against the right to collective property of the Xucuru indigenous people resulting from a delay of more than 16 years, between 1989 and 2005, in the administrative process of recognition, titling, demarcation and delimitation of their territory and ancestral lands and territories… This case provides an opportunity for the Inter-American Court to build up its jurisprudence on cases of collective property of indigenous peoples regarding their ancestral territories and lands.”

fThe Commission’s ongoing concern with the situation of indigenous peoples in the region is also expressed by the recent publication of a report on extractive industries and indigenous peoples. A press release notes, “Extractive, exploitation, and development activities, which are increasing in the hemisphere, are generally implemented in lands and territories historically occupied by indigenous and Afro-descendent communities, which host a great wealth of natural resources.  The Commission does not discourage these projects and recognizes the importance of these initiatives for the economic development of countries in the Americas. However, economic development of Member States cannot be undertaken in disregard of their ineluctable obligations to respect and guarantee human rights.”

Publications and Resources of Interest


The Justice in Conflict (JiC) blog recently featured an online symposium on the prosecution of child soldiers and various issues raised by the International Criminal Court’s trial of Dominic Ongwen of Uganda. Editor Mark Kersten notes: “Ongwen’s trial is momentous for many reasons. It marks the first time that a former child soldier will be prosecuted at the ICC and the first time that an accused faces charges for the same crimes perpetrated against him. As such, the Ongwen trial raises myriad questions and poses difficult dilemmas regarding the prosecution of child soldiers.” Symposium contributors include leading commentators on international criminal justice. The symposium ends with a statement by ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who characterizes the prosecution of someone who was himself recruited as a child soldier as a “necessary evil.”

dA newly published volume, The Rule of Law at the National and International Levels: Contestations and Deference (Elgar 2016), aims to enhance understanding of the interactions between the international and national rule of law. According to the publisher’s site, the volume – edited by Machiko Kanatake and Andre Nollkaemper – demonstrates “that the international rule of law is not merely about ensuring national compliance with international law. International law and institutions (e.g., international human rights treaty-monitoring bodies and human rights courts) respond to national contestations and show deference to the national rule of law.” 

The emergence of an international rule of law and its interaction with national systems has also been explored during past sessions of the Brandeis Institute for International Judges. To learn what judges have to say about these connections, read Toward an International Rule of Law (report of BIIJ 2010), The International Rule of Law: Coordination and Collaboration in International Justice (report of BIIJ 2012), and The International Rule of Law in a Human Rights Era (report of BIIJ 2013).


An interactive website created by the World Food Programme allows visitors to visualize “how different scenarios of global greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation to climate change could change the geography of food insecurity in developing and least-developed countries.” To choose a country and see how different global levels of greenhouse gases could impact local vulnerability to food insecurity, click here.

dA number of new publications focus on accountability for crimes of gender-based and sexual violence and access to justice for victims of these crimes.

Prosecuting Conflict-Related Sexual Violence at the ICTY (Oxford University Press 2016), one of whose co-editors is ICTY Prosecutor Serge Brammertz, “provides a practical and comprehensive resource on conflict-related crimes of sexual violence” and “offers clear and concrete recommendations to improve the effectiveness of the future investigation and prosecution of sexual violence crimes.”

The United Kingdom House of Lords select committee on sexual violence in conflict has released a report entitled, Sexual Violence in Conflict: A War Crime. According to an article in The Guardian, “the report is an assessment of the UK government’s work to stop people being raped during wars and of how best to support survivors. The inquiry touches on the accountability of perpetrators and justice for victims.”

Finally, the International Commission of Jurists has published a Practitioners’ Guide on Women’s Access to Justice for Gender-Based Violence. According to an IntLawGrrls blogpost, the guide “serves as a manual designed to introduce legal practitioners to the international and regional framework relevant to gender based violence advocacy.” The focus of the publication is on domestic and intimate partner violence and state responsibility to both prosecute alleged perpetrators and ensure access to justice for victims.

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

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