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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.

September 2017

People in the News

dJudge Vicente Marotta Rangel (Brazil), a member of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea from 1996 until his resignation in 2015, passed away on 17 July 2017. Over the course of his career, Marotta Rangel served in several different positions, including Legal Advisor to Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Read more in a Tribunal press release.

dHyun Chong Kim (Korea) has resigned his position as member of the World Trade Organization Appellate Body. Kim, who served as chief negotiator for the Korea-US free trade agreement signed in 2007, has been tapped to serve as trade minister. The bureau that Kim will oversee is expected to lead negotiations on President Trump’s amendments to the existing trade agreement.

ICC President Fernández
On 1 July 2017, the International Criminal Court (ICC) celebrated the 15th anniversary of its formal establishment in 2002. In honor of this anniversary, the ICC launched the #wheniwas15 campaign to invite people to tell stories about how events from their youth shaped how they view justice. The campaign includes a series of video interviews of ICC judges and other personnel to discuss how their views of justice changed between the time they were 15 years old and today. In the video of President Judge Silvia Fernández de Gurmendi of Argentina, she explains: “When I was 15, justice was essentially about retribution, about dispensing rewards or punishment, giving to each one what they deserved. Today, justice for me is not only about retribution, it’s about protection, it’s about protecting those who have suffered, trying to prevent violence against them, and when you cannot prevent it, trying to remedy the harm they have suffered and trying to express solidarity with their harm.” The #wheniwas15 campaign interviews can be found on the ICC’s website.

dIn other ICC news, the Pre-Trial Chamber has issued a warrant of arrest for Mahmoud Mustafa Busayf al-Werfalli for war crimes committed in Libya. Al-Werfalli allegedly ordered the murder of 33 people in 7 separate instances between June of 2016 and July of 2017. According to Opinio Juris, Al-Werfalli’s warrant of arrest is the first in ICC history to be based solely on video evidence uploaded to social media. The ICC move to use open source evidence could play a significant role in the future of the Court. Shortly after the implementation of the arrest warrant, al-Werfalli was arrested by the Libyan National Army, which controls most of Eastern Libya. It is unclear if they will turn him over to the ICC. However, Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has called on Libya and the global community to cooperate with the ICC by arresting and surrendering al-Werfalli to the Court.

dCarla del Ponte, former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and a senior member of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, has stated that the Commission has gathered enough evidence to convict President Bashar al-Assad of war crimes. She also announced her decision to step down from this position, citing the UN Security Council's failure to establish a special tribunal to try alleged Syrian war crimes or even to refer the situation to the ICC. She asserts that Russia, with its veto, has been blocking the Security Council from taking either step forward. Read an article from The Conversation to learn more about possible judicial processes that could address crimes committed in Syria.

dDuring summer 2017, there were significant events associated with justice-seeking in post-conflict Rwanda. Leopold Munyakazi, a prominent Rwandan academic, was convicted of genocide by a Rwandan court and sentenced to life imprisonment. After seeking refuge in the United States in 2004, Munyakazi was extradited to Rwanda last year to stand trial for genocide and genocide denial. Some observers believe that his conviction may be based on charges invented by Rwandan President Paul Kagame to silence critics. The United Kingdom High Court of Justice has taken a different stance, rejecting the extradition back to Rwanda of 5 residents suspected of involvement in the genocide. This decision upheld a lower court’s decision, which reasoned that, if extradited, the defendants would be denied a fair trial. Noting the authoritarian style of the Rwandan government, the High Court found a high risk that pressure would be placed on the judiciary by officials within the government. The UK court called on the Rwandan government to put safeguards in place to ensure a fair trial for all defendants before these 5 suspects could be tried in their home country.

               Paolo Vannuchi
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has praised a historic decision by a court in Argentina, which sentenced 25 former federal judges to terms ranging from 15 years to life in prison for their collaboration in crimes against humanity from the civil-military dictatorship (1976-1983). According to Paulo Vannuchi, IACHR Rapporteur on Memory, Truth, and Justice, “This decision is an important step forward for the justice system in Argentina and sets an example for the region in terms of the serious crimes of the past. The ruling also shows that there was systematic conduct in the past by the Argentine judiciary to collaborate with State terrorism. In a context of threatened setbacks in the region in this area, this decision represents progress against civilian impunity.”

Developments in International Justice

dDuring summer 2017, the UN Human Rights Council created or extended 11 special mandates, including the creation of a Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members. The mandate establishes that the Special Rapporteur reports on steps taken to eliminate discrimination and makes recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council. This mandate will complement the work of the World Health Organization to eliminate leprosy transmission and to end discrimination of people with leprosy by 2020. Read more about the steps taken to fight leprosy from the International Justice Resource Center.

dThe Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) recently reversed the convictions of two men who were sentenced to death for a 2006 murder. In the case of Edwards and Haynes v The Queen, which was brought upon appeal from Barbados, the Court found that the convictions could not be upheld because there was insufficient evidence brought forward for a conviction. The only evidence was the alleged oral confessions made to police officers a year after the murder. The court determined that a defendant cannot be convicted when the only evidence is a disputed and uncorroborated oral confession. Read a CCJ media release here.

Wedding dresses strung up in Beirut
to protest marry-your-rapist law.
(Independent: Abbad)
Both Jordan and Lebanon recently repealed laws that allowed rapists to escape punishment by marrying their victims. This follows similar actions by Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt over the last few years. In Jordan, the repeal effectively destroyed all legal loopholes which let rapists escape the consequences of their crimes. Suad Abu Dayyeh, the Middle East and North Africa Consultant for Equality Now, believes that this will send a message to other countries in the region. Many human rights activists view the repeal of such laws as the first step in changing the mindset and traditions in the region that hurt and oppress women.

dThe Polish government has defied a ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) by continuing to log in the Bialowieza Forest. The Forest is a UNESCO World Heritage site, a primeval ecosystem that is home to hundreds of bison. After Poland increased its logging limits last year and repealed protection of forest areas, the European Commission sued Poland, which resulted in the suspension of all logging. However, Poland claims that the logging is for protective purposes and the government has shown no sign of suspending these actions in the near future. This flouting of a CJEU ruling is in line with other actions by the conservative and nationalist government elected in 2015. The European Commission has warned Poland about its efforts to consolidate power over the judiciary and weaken the rule of law.

dDespite US President Trump’s insistence that he “forcefully” spoke out against white supremacists in the wake of the recent racial violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, the international community has begun to voice its discontent. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination indicated that they were “disturbed by the failure at the highest political level of the United States of America to unequivocally reject and condemn the racist violent events and demonstrations.” They released a statement to coincide with the International Day for the Remembrance of Slavery and its Abolition. Anastasia Crickley, the chairwoman of the committee, repudiated the belief that both sides were to blame for the clash in Charlottesville. Crickley explained, “we are alarmed by the racist demonstrations, with overtly racist slogans, chants and salutes by white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan, promoting white supremacy and inciting racial discrimination and hatred.” The committee has urged prosecutors to ensure that any human rights violations are investigated and all perpetrators are prosecuted. Read more about the committee’s response here.

dThe Fulani community of Nigeria recently filed a lawsuit against the Nigerian government and the authorities of the state of Taraba at the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The plaintiffs claim that there were violations of rights during a conflict in the Mambilla plateau between Fulani herdsmen and farmers, and they are demanding $200 million in compensation for the losses sustained by the Fulani community. While the Nigerian government has stated that only 18 people died, the plaintiffs claim that at least 732 people died or are missing and that 25,000 cattle were slaughtered. What began as a protracted land dispute has turned into a massive lawsuit to right the wrongs of this conflict at a regional court. Learn more about the case here.

dThe ICC recently ruled that Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi should pay reparations amounting to €2.7 million ($3.2 million) for the 2012 destruction of 10 mausoleums and religious sites in Timbuktu. This ruling comes about a year into al-Mahdi’s nine-year sentence. He was the first person to be tried by the ICC for the crime of cultural destruction, and some believe that his trial sends a clear message to the global community that the destruction of cultural heritage will not go unpunished. The Executive Director of the International Bar Association, Mark Ellis, welcomed the court's decision: “With cultural destruction, by destroying cultural heritage, it’s really an attack on collective memory. It’s ethnic cleansing. It's an intention to erase people's identity, and that is very difficult then to provide any justice for individuals who have gone through this and have watched the destruction of cultural property.” The ICC Trust Fund for Victims must now decide how to pay the awarded reparations, given that al Mahdi does not possess the wherewithal to do so himself.

sThe European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has made what some observers consider a controversial Grand Chamber ruling, and one that may have major significance for countries across its jurisdiction. The case of Medžlis Islamske Zajednice Brčko and Others v Bosnia and Herzegovina revolves around several Bosnian NGOs that wrote private letters to government officials expressing concern about a candidate for director of a public radio station. These NGOs alleged that the candidate held problematic attitudes towards Muslims and Bosniacs, a view that turned out to be based on false rumors. When the letters went public, a defamation case was brought against the NGOs in a Bosnian court and won by the candidate. The organizations then appealed that decision to the ECtHR, claiming that their right to freedom of expression had been violated. In its reasoning, the ECtHR sought to balance Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects freedom of expression, against Article 8, which protects the right to respect for private and family life. The ECtHR ultimately found that there had been no violation of Article 10 in the Bosnian court's ruling. According to the International Forum on Responsible Media Blog, "the majority of the Grand Chamber relied upon the ethical obligations of NGOs to verify the veracity of their allegations, which it held operate in much the same way as the obligations of the press to verify." Commentators in Strasbourg Observers take issue with this view, however, noting that the judgment is "marked by contorted reasoning," and that the Court "suggests that it ultimately does not matter all that much whether wrong factual allegations are made in private letters or disseminated publicly." The problem with the judgment, write some commentators, "is that it begs as many questions as it answers."

A boat of Rohingya Refugees
(Huffington Post)
For the first time in almost a year, journalists have been allowed to visit Myanmar’s northern state of Rakhine. During this time, the government of Myanmar has been accused of using tactics against its own people that may amount to crimes against humanity, recently causing thousands of refugees to flee into Bangladesh. Indeed, there is a growing global concern that the government of Myanmar intends to eradicate the Rohingya people. After the US urged Myanmar to allow a UN inquiry to enter the country, Myanmar officials agreed, calling for a domestic and international investigation. Recently, an international commission, led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, called on Myanmar to grant citizenship to the Rohingya.

Publications and Resources of Interest

dPeter Robinson, an international criminal defense lawyer who has defended clients before several international tribunals, has made available to the public his personal summaries of significant international criminal decisions. He found such summaries – which cover cases from the ICC, the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, and now the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals – to be useful early in his career when it was more difficult to access relevant jurisprudence. According to Robinson's website, "The summaries in these documents are not verbatim quotations from the decisions and are intended only to assist in locating the relevant precedent. They are guides to, but not substitutes for, reading the decisions themselves." He will continue to update his website each month.

dThe International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) has passed a resolution on the increased use of armed drone strikes. Over the past few years, the accessibility of drones to both state and non-state actors has increased tremendously. The resolution was adopted in response to the complications that drones pose to the interpretation and application of international law. Ambassador Hans Corell, one of the IBAHRI Co-Chairs, states, “As the tactics employed in warfare evolve, so must our legal interpretation of the laws which govern them.” The resolution lays out the concerns of the IBAHRI, clarifies that the use of drones must follow current laws regarding the use of force, and explains how the context of drone usage changes its lawfulness. Read the IBAHRI’s press release and access the full resolution text here.

dEven as the international justice landscape shifts, Benjamin Dürr’s ICC Dictionary: The International Criminal Court from A to Z will continue to be a valuable resource. Dürr compiled this dictionary over two years ago, while serving as a correspondent and foreign reporter covering the ICC and other international tribunals, as a guide for proceedings in The Hague. The dictionary contains about 200 terms and concepts along with short explanations. Visit Justice Hub to see some of the ICC Dictionary entries.

dWith the number of refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons reaching an unprecedented high, the 15 member states of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have taken action to combat statelessness. During a regional ministerial meeting, organized by ECOWAS and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, these 15 countries created a regional action plan to eliminate regional statelessness by 2024. The “Banjul Plan of Action” establishes specific measures and timeframes in order to resolve obstacles in the region. When the plan officially became legally binding early in summer 2017, it marked the first time a global region had adopted a plan to eradicate this growing international issue. Readers can also learn more about efforts to eliminate statelessness in Africa, and subscribe to a monthly bulletin, from the Citizenship Rights in Africa Initiative.  

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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