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.

November 2017

People in the News

Five new judges have been elected to the bench of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). Mr. Óscar Cabello Sarubbi (Paraguay), Ms. Neeru Chadha (India), Mr. Kriangsak Kittichaisaree (Thailand), Mr. Roman Kolodkin (Russian Federation), and Ms. Liesbeth Lijnzaad (The Netherlands) began their nine-year terms early last month. With the election of Ms. Chadha and Ms. Lijnzaad, the number of women ever to have served on the ITLOS bench has tripled – Judge Elsa Kelley (Argentina) was the first to join the bench in 2011. After the five new members assumed their positions, Judge Jin-Hyun Paik (Republic of Korea) and Judge David Attard (Malta) were chosen by their peers as President and Vice-President respectively, positions they will hold until 2020. Furthermore, last month marked the reconstitution of the five major ITLOS chambers.

L-R: Judges Cabello Sarubbi, Lijnzaad, Chadha, Kittichaisaree
and Kolodkin

dMohammed Jabateh, the former commander of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy during the first Liberian civil war from 1989 to 1997, recently became the first person to be tried in relation to the conflict. “Jungle Jabbah,” as Jabateh was known during the war, was prosecuted in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – which has one of the largest Liberian populations in the US – for lying about his actions during the conflict while he sought political asylum. The US Department of Justice flew in 17 witnesses from Liberia, who testified that Jabateh or his soldiers “killed civilians, raped women and engaged in cannibalism.” Even though he was not charged for any of the acts of which witnesses accused him, Jabateh was convicted of lying about his involvement in the civil war. With this conviction, Jabateh faces up to 30 years in prison before being deported from the US. Although victims of the first Liberian civil war have not found justice, “this case shows that Liberians do not have to accept the status quo of impunity in Liberia,” according to Hassan Bility of the Global Justice and Research Project. Learn more about the trial from The Inquirer.

eFormer Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, who ruled Guatemala from 1982 to 1983 after a military coup, stands accused once again of committing genocide. Four years ago, Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide, but the ruling was subsequently overturned. The retrial, which was ordered by the Guatemalan Constitutional Court and is now underway, will reexamine the allegations that Ríos Montt ordered the massacre of over 1,770 Ixil Mayan Indians. Ríos Montt will not appear in court due to his diagnosis of senile dementia in 2015, but he and his lawyers maintain his innocence.

dEvidence has surfaced suggesting that Luis Moreno Ocampo, the former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), revealed sensitive information to Hassan Tatanaki, a possible war crimes suspect in Libya. Moreno Ocampo agreed to advise and protect Tatanaki, who had deep ties to the regime of Muammar Gadaffi. Before leaving the Office of the Prosecutor in 2012, Moreno Ocampo indicted both Gadaffi and his son, Saif al-Islam, for war crimes. The recent release of 40,000 documents reveal that Moreno Ocampo also allegedly informed Tatanaki during this time that he was being watched by the ICC. Moreno Ocampo denies the accusations and asserts that he did not sabotage the ICC with respect to the Libyan situation. In a press release, current ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda assured that all allegations surrounding this incident will be referred to the Independent Oversight Mechanism and that her office has had no contact with Moreno Ocampo in relation to any open ICC investigations or situations.

dNaser Oric, who served as commander in Srebrenica for the Bosnian Army during the 1992-1995 conflict, was recently acquitted of war crimes by the Bosnian state court. Oric and his subordinate, Sabahudin Muhic, were accused of killing three Serb prisoners in 1992. Judge Saban Maksumic, who presided over the trial, claimed that the prosecution failed to prove these allegations based on the contradictory statements of the prosecution’s main witness. Bosnian Muslims are celebrating the verdict since they view Oric as a hero for his defense of the Srebrenica area, while Bosnian Serbs are criticizing the decision. Oric was previously accused, and later acquitted, of committing crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Developments in International Justice

dWhat does the future hold for the World Trade Organization Appellate Body? Will it be able to replace the departing members of its seven-person decision-making body given the interference of a major player in world trade? Some observers recently sounded an alarm in the International Economic and Law and Policy Blog: “The future of the world trading system is at stake thanks to an impasse in Geneva over the appointment of members of the Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization. The Trump administration has been waging a behind-the-scenes campaign against the WTO’s dispute settlement systems. It is holding hostage the selection of new members to the AB, which functions as the WTO’s de facto court of appeals, unless unspecified U.S. demands are met.” The bloggers suggest that the U.S. has the potential to shut down this critical institution in the sphere of international trade.

dThe European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) recently issued two important judgments concerning the protection of free press and prisoners.

In the case of Becker v. Norway, Cecilie Becker, a journalist for a Norwegian newspaper, was ordered to provide evidence against one of her sources. Becker’s source was accused of market manipulation after Becker used the source to write an article about an oil company’s poor financial position, which allegedly caused its stocks to fall. Becker’s source verified with the police his role in Becker’s article, but the journalist refused to testify against him. The Norwegian court found that Becker had no source to protect with this confirmation and ordered her to testify against him. Even though they convicted Becker’s source without her assistance, the ECtHR unanimously found that Norway violated Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which ensures freedom of expression. The ECtHR found no justification for the Norwegian court to force Becker into testifying because her refusal hindered neither their investigation nor the subsequent trial of her source.

The ECtHR also released a judgment in the case of Ābele v. Latvia, where the court unanimously found that Latvia violated Article 3 of the European Convention, prohibiting inhuman or degrading treatment. Valters Ābele, who is deaf and mute, was convicted of murder in 2008. He issued a complaint to the ECtHR that he was being held in overcrowded cells and was unable to communicate with other prisoners and authorities due to his disability, which forced him into an isolated and vulnerable position. Ābele’s complaints to both prison authorities and the courts were rejected, which led him to bring the complaint to the ECtHR. The court found that the overcrowded cells and Ābele’s inability to communicate, and subsequent feelings of isolation, constituted inhuman and degrading treatment.

President Pierre
Burundi has become the first member state to leave the International Criminal Court (ICC), justifying its action by the fact that the Court has to date concentrated its prosecutions in Africa. The move comes a year to the day after Bujumbura officially notified the United Nations of its decision. Although the Burundian government has hailed its withdrawal on 27 October as a “historic” day, many remain skeptical of the real reasons for Burundi’s departure from the international court. In 2015, President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term sparked unrest in the population and triggered violent responses from the government. The ICC opened a preliminary investigation into the situation in Burundi in April of 2016, which some suspect to be the real reason for Burundi’s disenchantment with the Court.

     Demonstrators in support of Catalan
     Independence (credit: New York Times)
Early last month, the regions of Kurdistan and Catalonia voted to secede from Iraq and Spain, respectively. Even though both central governments ardently opposed the independence referendums held by the regional authorities, the election results demonstrated overwhelming support for secession, with a voter turnout of 72% in Kurdistan and 43% in Catalonia. One question around these movements is whether or not secession is a legal option with respect to international law. Most international law scholars would assert that secession is not a right, but rather an option for managing significant ethnic conflict. In Catalonia, many would claim that secession is not an appropriate response in Spain, which is a democracy and has not violated any human rights. Kurdistan, on the other hand, may be a different story. The Kurds continue to endure the consequences of European colonization and the boundary lines that were established irrespective of national identity. Although it is questionable if secession is a legal option, the Kurdish people’s right to self-determination continues to be undeniable. However, history suggests that international support or governmental approval provides the mechanism for a successful secessionist movement.

dUN Special Rapporteur for Transitional Justice Pablo de Greiff has called out the Sri Lankan government for being slow to deal with war crime allegations from its almost 26 year-long civil war. During his recent visit to Sri Lanka, de Greiff showed concern over the government’s failure to address issues that he emphasized during his previous visit. De Greiff is apprehensive over the continued military occupation of civilian lands, the endurance of an anti-terror law, the absence of speedy trials for terror suspects, and the preservation of a surveillance structure. “Each of these issues involves questions of basic rights and, thus, the continued failure to achieve progress in fully addressing them constitutes a denial of justice,” de Greiff has asserted. The Sri Lankan civil war, during which Tamil rebels aimed to establish an independent state for the Tamil minority, ended in 2009. By the end of the conflict, over 100,000 people had been killed and both sides were accused of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. President Maithripala Sirisena has been slow to deliver on his promise for justice. According to de Greiff, Sirisena risks foreign jurisdictions investigating the situation if he and his government fail to bring justice to victims of the civil war.

wThe Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) recently ruled on the legality of a Greek law establishing a minimum height requirement for admission to a police school. Marie-Eleni Kalliri was refused entry into the Greek police school because she did not meet the height requirement of at least 1.7 meters. Kalliri filed an action to the Dioikitiko Efeteio Athinon, the appeals court for Athens, claiming that she suffered discrimination based on her sex. The court annulled the law because it was contrary to the principles of gender equality. However, members of the Greek government appealed the decision, causing the CJEU to review the case. The Court found that a fixed minimum height requirement “constitutes indirect sex discrimination since it works to the disadvantage of far more women than men.” The CJEU concluded that even if the functions of the police force required specific physical ability, it is not necessarily associated with a particular height.

      African Union’s Executive Council
The African Court on Human and People’s Rights (ACtHPR) recently failed to resolve a dispute between the African Union’s Executive Council and the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights. In 2015, the Commission gave the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL) observer status. Shortly afterward, the Executive Council, which has final authority over the granting of observer status, ordered the Commission to reverse its decision and revoke the CAL’s status. In the Executive Council’s decision, they asked the Commission to “take into account the fundamental African values, identity and good traditions, and to withdraw the observer status granted to NGOs who may attempt to impose values contrary to the African values.” The CAL and another NGO subsequently filed a request for an advisory opinion from the ACtHPR in order to find a way forward. However, the Court instead found that the NGOs were not entitled to make such a request in the first place, thus leaving the substantive question of power relations between the Executive Council and the Commission unanswered.

Responses to discrimination against vulnerable persons have been in the news over the last month.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) recently instructed states to tackle discrimination against older persons. The commission aims to reaffirm the commitment by all member states to fight against both stereotypes of older persons and ageism. It is estimated that by 2050, over 20% of the global population will be of age 60 or older. In the Americas, it is expected that this population will reach 400 million by 2075. The IACHR recognizes that the region has made significant strides in the protection of older persons. However, the Commission has pushed for ratification of the Inter-American Convention on the Protecting the Human Rights of Older Persons and the establishment of concrete domestic reforms guaranteeing the security of older persons.

dThe UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) has cited Tanzania for its violation of the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (ICRPD). A case was brought to the UNCRPD regarding an albino man of Tanzanian nationality who was attacked and dismembered. Even though the victim could identify his attackers, the case was dropped. The UNCRPD held that Tanzania violated Article 5 of the ICRPD, which ensures the right to non-discrimination. They also established that Articles 15 and 17, which prohibit torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment and safeguard the right to personal integrity, were disregarded. A continued concern with this case stems from the high rate of albinism in Tanzania and the failure of Tanzania to equally protect all its citizens. To learn about the movement for albino rights in Africa, visit the website of Malian musical superstar Salif Keita, perhaps the most high-profile albino on the continent.

Publications and Resources of Interest

rBelow is this month's featured excerpt from the Ad Hoc Tribunals Oral History Project. This project aims to preserve the voices of individuals who worked to bring justice to the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and who contributed to the development and “institutionalization” of international criminal law during the early years of the ICTY and ICTR.

"There are many reasons that the atmosphere in the ICTY was not only very masculine, but peopled with professionals who were men and who had been used to working mainly with males too in their home jurisdiction. Also, they assumed that it was normal for men to be in charge. They also felt it was absolutely normal in the crux of our job — when a war occurred — that they were to look for "who killed the dead bodies," not where there was the sexual violence. They essentially transferred their domestic police outlook to the international arena."

dAccess the full oral history transcript of ICTY and ICTR gender expert Patricia Viseur Sellers here. Visit the interview collection page to explore the full range of available transcripts and the Brandeis Institutional Repository to conduct a keyword search across the collection. We hope that educators will use the collection to teach their students about the Ad Hoc Tribunals and the critical role they played in the development of international criminal justice.

dA new publication offers in a single edited volume a wealth of expertise in the French language on international criminal justice. Le Dictionnaire Encyclopédique de la Justice Pénale Internationale (Berger Levrault 2017), prepared under the direction of Judge Olivier Beauvallet of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (Brandeis Institute for International Judges 2016) and others, features 250 distinct entries contributed by more than 200 experts. The Dictionnaire shows that there is no single global criminal justice in today’s world but rather a variety of different tribunals and courts, a complexity of laws and decisions, and a wide diversity of issues raised by the most serious crimes of our time. The Dictionnaire provides the readers with accurate knowledge that is easy to access, allowing everyone to understand the importance, rationale and functioning of these jurisdictions. Contributors represent a wide range of backgrounds, including law, history, psychology, sociology, diplomacy, politics, economy, and the arts. A perusal of the Dictionnaire will demonstrate that international criminal justice, as a subject, is as stimulating as the world itself.

dAfrica Legal Aid recently issued a report on its July 2017 seminar organized around the theme, “Carrying Forward the Legacy of the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Habré Trial: An African Solution to an African Problem.” The seminar was organized in conjunction with the African Union as a side event of the 29th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of States and Government of the African Union. The seminar featured the views of those intimately involved with the Habré trial as well as the voices of other leading figures in international criminal justice and Chadian citizens affected by the crimes in question.

International Justice in the News is edited by Leigh Swigart, Director of Programs in International Justice and Society, and Lee Wilson '18.

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