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 2017

People in the News

dSophia Akuffo (BIIJ 2012 & 2013), former judge and president of the African Court of Human and Peoples' Rights, has been named Chief Justice of Ghana. She will be the second woman to hold this position, succeeding Georgina Wood who has served since 2007. Ghanaian President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo explained his choice: “[Akuffo] has enriched her judicial experience by serving with credit on continental judicial bodies, such as the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, where she ended up as President of the Court. I have no doubt that Justice Akuffo will be a worthy successor to Chief Justice Wood, and uphold jealously the independence of the judiciary."
sThis movement from the international sphere to the height of a domestic judiciary recalls the recent appointment of Hassan Bubacar Jallow (BIIJ 2003), former Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and former appeals judge of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, as Chief Justice of The Gambia. Jallow was named by the newly elected Gambian President Adama Barrow, who in early 2017 succeeded an oppressive dictator whose reign lasted 22 years. President Barrow stated that the expertise and experience of Chief Justice Jallow would be needed in The Gambia as it moves into a new era. It is expected that the country will set up a truth and reconciliation commission to hear alleged crimes committed during the previous regime and that some major figures in the regime will be prosecuted.

dLuis Ernesto Vargas Silva (Colombia) has been elected by the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States as one of seven Commissioners of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). He will replace former Commissioner Enrique Gil Botero, who resigned on March 9, and serve out his predecessor's four-year term. Upon being elected, Vargas Silva stated, "As Commissioner, I place my experience as a judge at the service of the users of the inter-American human rights system, victims and States. I will work to improve the effectiveness of the system and to advance a culture of respect for human rights in all member countries of the Organization.” Read more details about the new commissioner and his election in an IACHR press release.

The Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) recently hosted judges of the four courts based in Arusha, Tanzania at a Colloquium for National, Regional and International Judges. The event was attended by judges of the Tanzania High Court, East African Court of Justice, African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, and MICT itself. According to a MICT press release, participants were able "to share respective knowledge and experience in the area of international criminal law and to deepen a shared understanding of insights into four foundational components of modern international criminal practice. These encompassed the law of the crime of genocide, the law of crimes against humanity, the law of war crimes, and the law of modes of liability for international crimes. The Colloquium also offered valuable opportunity to assess complementary roles of all four judicial institutions, within their respective mandates, in addressing different aspects of international crimes and contributing collectively to accountability and an end to impunity."


fA group of indigenous women in Peru have brought a case concerning their forced sterilization to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The sterilization campaign occurred during the second term of former dictator Alberto Fujimori. According to Telesur, "Fujimori's administration implemented a health program that carried out the sterilization of almost 300,000 women. The program particularly affected poor indigenous Quechua women living in rural areas who could not understand documents written in Spanish that they were forced to sign before the operation. Thousands of women were sterilized, without consent, and were often pressured, coerced and even physically restrained by medical professionals." It is reported that 24,000 men underwent sterilization as well. Peruvian courts have already ruled that there is not enough evidence to bring any individuals to account for the sterilization program. Given that the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has no adjudicatory mechanism, the case would seem to constitute a last resort publicity move rather than an action designed to bring results. A recent commentary from Human Rights Brief urges Peru, along with the United States, which also historically practiced forced sterilization, to "compensate the victims of forced sterilization regardless of whether there is a final judgment on the matter."

Developments in International Justice

dThe International Court of Justice (ICJ) recently found itself in the unusual situation of staying the execution of a person sentenced to death. In its ruling on provisional measures in the Jadhav Case (India v. Pakistan), the Court indicated to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan that it "shall take all measures at its disposal to ensure that Mr. Jadhav is not executed pending the final decision in these proceedings and shall inform the Court of all the measures taken in implementation of the present Order." Read more in an ICJ press release.

              credit: Agence France Presse
In the context of massive protests, turmoil and political violence, and after criticism from neighboring states for its increasingly authoritarian response, Venezuela has declared it will leave the Organization of American States (OAS). In an OUPblog post, legal scholar Thomas Antkowiak articulates what Venezuela's withdrawal, along with the US's current defiance toward the OAS, might mean for the Inter-American human rights regime more generally: "If member states turn away from the OAS, this will seriously debilitate its vital human rights institutions: the Inter-American Commission and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. For decades the Commission and Court have saved lives, secured redress for victims of rights violations, bolstered the rule of law, and provided crucial opposition to despotic regimes in the hemisphere." While acknowledging that the decisions of these human rights bodies may not be perfect, he concludes, "in our era darkened by rampant nationalism, violence, and discrimination, these rights monitors are needed now as much as ever before."

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) recently decided to reinstate Turkey into a monitoring procedure that is designed to ensure that Council of Europe Member States are in compliance with their human rights obligations. This decision was expressed through Resolution 2156, The Functioning of Democratic Institutions in Turkey. The International Justice Resource Center reports, "The resolution expresses PACE’s concerns about the Turkish government’s respect for 'human rights, democracy and the rule of law,' particularly the actions taken under the ongoing state of emergency in the country, which PACE states has gone beyond 'what is necessary and proportionate' and the more recent steps towards consolidation of executive power through a constitutional amendment."


dIn a recent address to the UN Security Council, International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced that her office may investigate incidents of migrant-related crimes in Libya. As reported by the UN News Centre, Bensouda stated, “My Office continues to collect and analyze information relating to serious and widespread crimes allegedly committed against migrants attempting to transit through Libya… I’m similarly dismayed by credible accounts that Libya has become a marketplace for the trafficking of human beings." Read the Prosecutor's full address to the Security Council about the situation in Libya here.

dAlthough it currently remains unclear what stance the Trump administration will ultimately take on the Paris Climate Accords, climate activists were somewhat encouraged by the US Secretary of State's recent signing of a commitment to protect the Arctic and extend scientific cooperation. This action took place at the end of an eight-nation Arctic Council in Alaska, a consultative body dedicated to sustaining the Arctic. The Council representatives acknowledged that “activities taking place outside the Arctic region, including activities occurring in Arctic States, are the main contributors to climate change effects and pollution in the Arctic, and underlining the need for action at all levels.” Read more from The Guardian.

While there are human rights courts serving the European, American, and African regions, there is no comparable institution safeguarding the rights of populations in Asia. This may change if regional civil society groups get their way. At a recent meeting, civil society organizations across Southeast Asia called on their governments to prepare the ground for the establishment of an independent regional court to promote and protect human rights and prosecute abuses by member states. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Civil Society Conference said it was time for the regional bloc to create its own human rights court, especially since governments in the region were “installing laws and committing actions that continue to destroy the enabling environment for civil society organizations and grassroots organizations.” ASEAN currently has an Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights but no entity that can issue binding rulings on human rights matters. Read more from Global Nation.


dIndigenous rights groups are celebrating a landmark judgment by the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, which ruled in favor of the Ogiek community in Kenya in a land rights case dating back to the colonial era. The Court found that the government of Kenya had violated seven separate articles of the African Charter of Human and Peoples' Rights, including Ogiek rights to life, property, natural resources, development, religion and culture. The Ogiek people had engaged in a years-long battle to remain in their ancestral homeland in the Mau Forest of the Rift Valley. According to Minority Rights Group International, "Crucially the Court has recognised that the Ogiek – and therefore many other indigenous peoples in Africa – have a leading role to play as guardians of local ecosystems, and in conserving and protecting land and natural resources, including the Mau Forest. By ruling that through a persistent denial of Ogiek land rights, their religious and associated cultural and hunter-gatherer practices were also violated, the Court has sent a crystal clear message to the Kenyan and other African governments that they must respect indigenous peoples’ land rights in order to secure their livelihoods and cultures."

Publications and Resources of Interest

fWhat role should lawyers and judges play in guaranteeing the rights of migrants? The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) recently issued a set of Principles on the Role of Judges and Lawyers in Relation to Refugees and Migrants. As the International Justice Resource Center explains, the ICJ "developed the Principles, with input from stakeholders, to be a guide on the implementation of existing international binding instruments and United Nations guidance on the protection of migrants in the context of large or mixed movements. Accordingly, the Principles rely on international binding instruments and non-binding guidance as explained throughout the Principles and in a list of sources at the end of the document. The Principles support migrants and refugees’ rights to a lawyer, fair procedures during removal, and redress for human rights violations, and they emphasize that judges should know of and uphold international human rights standards."

dAJIL Unbound has posted the contributions to its recent symposium entitled "Revisiting Israel's Settlements." The issue, including contributions by scholars from Israel and elsewhere, features an introduction by José E. Alvarez. The series serves as an accompaniment to the article by Theodor Meron, published in the newly released issue of American Journal of International Law, "The West Bank and International Humanitarian Law on the Eve of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Six-Day War." Jon Keller writes in an Opinio Juris review: "Meron's essay revisits the famous memo he wrote in 1967 as the Legal Advisor of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in which he made clear, inter alia, that Israel was occupying the West Bank and that building settlements there would violate the Fourth Geneva Convention. Once again Meron painstakingly vivisects the frivolous legal arguments that Israel and its apologists have offered to excuse the occupation and the settlements."

The publication of these articles comes at a time when Israel is planning, as reported by Reuters, to build 15,000 new settlement homes in East Jerusalem and beyond.

                                        credit: Justice Hub
A new film, "No Place for a Rebel," documents the dilemma in which child soldiers find themselves when they return home after having engaged in conflict. According to Justice Hub, filmmakers Maartje Wedgam and Ariadne Asimakopoulos skillfully show us the "relay circuit of victim-turned-perpetrator-turned pariah" by following the experience of a particular former child soldier in Northern Uganda. With Dominic Ongwen on trial at the International Criminal Court, the fate and ultimate responsibility of child soldiers is much under debate. Read an interview with the filmmakers here.

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

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