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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.


February 2018


People in the News


The Assembly of States Parties (ASP) to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) convened its 16th session in December 2017 at the UN Headquarters in New York City. During this session, the ASP elected 6 new judges – from a group of 12 nominees – to serve 9-year terms beginning in March of this year. Tomoke Akane (Japan), Luz del Carmen Ibañez Carranza (Peru), Reine Alapini-Gansou (Benin), Solomy Balungi Bossa (Uganda), Kimberly Prost (Canada), and Rosario Salvatore Aitala (Italy) will replace the 6 outgoing ICC judges, among whom are the President and First and Second Vice-Presidents. At this session, the ASP also elected its new President, O-Gon Kwon of South Korea, who previously served as a Judge and Vice President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Kwon began his 3-year mandate upon the conclusion of this session of the ASP. Past participants of the Brandeis Institute for International Judges are among those elected to these new positions: Alapini-Gansou (2006), Bossa (2012 and 2016), and Kwon (2006). Learn more about the new ICC judges here.

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dJudge and Law Professor Kai Ambos (Germany) has been selected as a member of the Colombian Specialist Jurisdiction for Peace. The Specialist Jurisdiction was established by the 2016 Peace Agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. It consists of both Colombian judges and foreign nationals, the latter known as amici curiae, who will serve as legal experts and advisors. Ambos is also on the roster of international judges for the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC), located in The Hague, which was established to prosecute senior members of the Kosovo Liberation Army for crimes committed during Serbia’s war with Kosovo in the late 1990s. The KSC has recently, however, come up against some powerful voices in Kosovo. In December 2017, Kosovo’s Prime Minister, Ramush Haradinaj, attempted to overturn a 2015 law meant to ensure Kosovo’s cooperation with the KSC. The attempt failed after a warning of “severe consequences” for such an action was issued by both the US and leading EU countries.



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Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor
(Credit: Al Jazeera)
As former Liberian President Charles Taylor serves a 50-year prison sentence, handed down by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, two of his ex-wives find themselves in radically contrasting positions to one another. In June of 2017, Agnes Reeves Taylor, a Coventry University lecturer, was arrested in London by the Metropolitan Police’s war crimes unit for allegedly committing two counts of torture during the first Liberian Civil War, between 1989 and 1991. She was recently denied bail ahead of her trial and will remain in custody while waiting for proceedings to begin later this year. Meanwhile, ex-wife Jewel Howard Taylor recently assumed the office of the Vice Presidency of Liberia, after claiming victory along with new Liberian President George Weah in the December 2017 elections. Jewel Howard Taylor has continuously asserted her lack of knowledge of the atrocities committed by Charles Taylor and has expressed eagerness to prove herself politically despite the shadow cast by her ex-husband. Shortly after Weah’s and Taylor’s inaugurations, President Weah was urged in an open letter, sent by 20 domestic, regional, and international human rights organizations, to investigate war crimes committed during the Liberian Civil War, during which an estimated 250,000 persons were killed and more than half the population was forcibly displaced.



dPatricia Viseur Sellers has been appointed Special Advisor on Gender to ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. According to a Court press release, "Her immediate priority will be to further strengthen the Office [of the Prosecutor]'s approach to a range of gender issues and support office-wide strategic responses to sexual and gender-based crimes under the Rome Statute." With more than 20 years of experience in international criminal justice and human rights, Sellers previously served as a Legal Advisor on gender-related crimes and a trial attorney in the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. To learn more about Sellers' earlier experiences in the international justice field, read her interview transcript from the Brandeis Ad Hoc Tribunals Oral History Project.


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Former President Fujimori asks for
forgiveness in a Facebook video after
his pardon (credit: NYT)
Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori was recently issued a humanitarian pardon by current President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. Fujimori, who served as President between 1990 and 2000, has been serving a 25-year sentence since 2009 for murder, kidnapping, and crimes against humanity committed during his presidency. The pardon came just three days after a group of legislators led by Kenji Fujimori, son of the former President, thwarted an impeachment attempt by Kuczynski’s opponents. Since Kuczynski issued the pardon, several protests have been held against his decision, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has expressed concern, and UN experts have also condemned the pardon, claiming that it has undermined Peruvian rule of law and accountability for grave crimes. For further legal perspectives on the presidential pardon, read an EJIL-Talk! commentary.



dPrince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein has decided not to seek a second term as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. He suggested that re-election would require him to be less outspoken in his criticism of world powers, including the US and President Trump. According to a report by Foreign Policy, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Prince Zeid to end his public disapproval of President Trump for fear of retaliation against the UN. Shortly thereafter, in an email sent to UN staff announcing his decision, Prince Zeid explained that remaining in his position, “in the current geopolitical context, might involve bending a knee in supplication; muting a statement of advocacy; lessening the independence and integrity of my voice — which is your voice.” To learn more about Prince Zeid's views on international justice and responsibility, read the text of his 2013 lecture delivered at Brandeis University, "Beyond Nuremberg: the Future of International Criminal Justice."


dFormer European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) Judge Paul Mahoney, who sat in respect of the UK between 2012 and 2016, has been appointed to the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George for his services to international justice. In addition to his tenure as a judge at the ECtHR, Mahoney also served previously as the registrar of the court.


Developments in International Justice


dThe Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) recently ruled in Asociación Profesional Élite Taxi v. Uber Systems Spain SL that the ride-hailing electronic platform Uber must be classified as a transport service instead of an information service or a combination of both types of service. The case was initiated by a group of Spanish taxi drivers claiming that Uber used misleading practices and unfair competition. In order for the court to determine if these allegations had weight, they needed to decide on the nature of the service that Uber provides. After concluding that it is most linked to transport, the court ruled that Member States of the European Union are allowed to regulate the conditions under which Uber provides transport services as long as they are in conformity with EU rules.



dIn late December 2017, the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) officially closed its doors, a milestone marked by a ceremony at the historic Dutch Parliament. The ICTY was in operation for more than 24 years, saw 10,800 trial days and heard the testimony of 4,650 witnesses as it brought to justice each of its 161 accused persons. Ninety individuals were ultimately sentenced for war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide. The closure of the tribunal has given legal experts and other observers the opportunity to reflect on both its successes and failures. While assessments from the United Nations – the tribunal's parent body – are unabashedly celebratory, reports from other quarters are more mixed. But despite the various challenges the tribunal faced, the ICTY's impact in providing a voice for victims and transforming the role of criminal justice in post-conflict situations has been widely recognized.


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People celebrate after release of
advisory opinion (credit: BBC)
The Inter-American Court on Human Rights (IACtHR) has issued an advisory opinion on the guarantees for gender and sexuality equality set forth by the American Convention on Human Rights. The motion for an opinion by the court was filed by Costa Rica, whose capital city is headquarters for the regional court. In this significant opinion, the court determined that Member States of the American Convention must ensure that the rights of same-sex couples are protected equally to those of heterosexual couples. Bolivia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Paraguay, and Peru are the Convention signatories that do not currently recognize either same-sex marriage or same-sex civil unions. With this opinion, these countries will be expected to modify their domestic laws to extend the right of marriage to same-sex couples. The court also found that the Convention defends the right for a person to change their gender on official documents without a medical examination, or other complicated and intrusive procedures. Instead, any change to these documents should be a simple administrative process.

fIn other human rights news from the region, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has pointed to various human rights issues in Puerto Rico since it was devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017. The hurricanes led to widespread shortages of food, water, electricity, medical care, and telecommunications, shortages that met with a less efficient response from the US government than those brought about by similar disasters in other parts of the country. The Commission has called on the US to continue to offer aid to Puerto Rico and to consider the economic crisis and poverty in the territory as it rebuilds from these natural disasters. This guidance is in line with a recently released Commission report that details the obligations of members of the Organization of American States to address poverty in the Americas from a human rights perspective. The report establishes the relationship between poverty and basic human rights, including the right to work, education, health, and justice. This report is the first of its kind to be presented by the Commission, illustrating a new direction for the regional body since the position of Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental rights was established last year.



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French soldiers alongside paramilitaries
during the Rwandan genocide
(credit: Getty Images)
The government of Rwanda recently released a report that accuses French officials of complicity in the 1994 genocide. The report alleges that members of the French military trained their Rwandan counterparts, supplied them with weapons even though there was an arms embargo, and protected them at the end of the genocide. Researchers from the Washington law firm conducting the investigation, and the Rwandan government, claim that they were unable to convince France to open its archives or investigate the situation. The investigators still managed, however, to obtain documents that show France’s close relationship with the Rwandan regime during the genocide. Rwanda is joined by Guyana, Iran, Israel, Kenya, Mozambique and Namibia in calling on France to bring justice to the victims of the genocide. This is the first time that a bloc of nations has joined Rwanda to push for extradition to Rwanda or arrest and prosecution of genocide suspects by France.



dEarly last month, the International Criminal Tribunal in Bangladesh sentenced two defendants to death and three others to life in prison for crimes committed during Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence, including rape, murder, confinement and torture of unarmed civilians. Three of the convicted persons, however, remain at large. The tribunal was established after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of Bangladesh’s independence hero, came to power. Several people have already been executed for crimes committed during the war, including leaders from both the Jamaat-e-Islami Party and the Bangladesh National Party. Both parties have criticized the court, asserting that the trials are just for show, especially as they operate without the support and oversight of the United Nations.



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                         credit: BBC
In a landmark judgment, 11 members of a Congolese militia group have been convicted of crimes against humanity for the murder and rape of 37 young children from the community of Kavumu. A variety of domestic and international actors have been instrumental in bringing about this victory, a significant one not just for victims and families but also for those engaged in the ongoing struggle against impunity for crimes of sexual violence in the DRC. According to a press release by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), which provided crucial technical support to members of the Congolese medical and legal communities, the court of Bukavu ruled that members of an armed group had carried out the rapes under the leadership of lawmaker Frederic Batumike. "This was the first time that a sitting government official in the Congo was found guilty of superior responsibility for crimes he and his militia, whom he controlled and financed, committed. The 11 accused who were found guilty of sexual violence, including Batumike, were all condemned to life imprisonment." The court also awarded compensation to rape victims and the families of murdered individuals.

In 2013, Brandeis University collaborated with PHR and the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation on a colloquium exploring how sexual violence in the DRC might best be adjudicated. Read more details about that event here.



dA recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on the wearing of Islamic headgear stands in contrast to a number of earlier judgments on a similar issue. The case of Hamidović v. Bosnia and Herzegovina involved the refusal of an orthodox Salafist Muslim to remove his skullcap in a Bosnian courtroom where he was called to testify. His refusal led to a charge of contempt of court, imposition of a fine, and ultimately a jail sentence. After Hamidović's treatment by his home judicial system was upheld by the Constitutional Court, he brought a complaint to the ECtHR, which found that Bosnia and Herzegovina had violated both Article 9 (conscience and religion) and Article 14 (discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights. Eva Brems commented on the Hamidović case in Strasbourg Observers: "As almost all claims for accommodation of Islamic religious practice have failed before the Court, this is an important case. The Court reaffirms member states’ wide margin of appreciation in this field, yet this judgment makes clear that such a margin is nevertheless not unlimited." The commentator concludes, "Religious minorities across Europe – and Muslim minorities in particular – would welcome a judgment that would include clear criteria that determine the limits of the margin of appreciation in this field, and that would emphasize and clarify the room that does exist in Europe for the public expression of religious practice."

In an Intlawgrrls blogpost, Sital Kalantry and Maithili Pradhan review how the ECtHR has ruled on cases around the wearing of both headscarves and full face veils in various Council of Europe member states. In these judgments, women's rights to express their religion through this practice have generally not been upheld for a variety of legal reasons. But Kalantry and Pradhan also mention an earlier case from Turkey where the restriction of men's religious garb was instead ruled to be a violation of their rights.  They suggest that the Court "may be giving less weight to Muslim women's freedom of religion because of an assumption that religious attire worn by Muslim women is oppressive to them, whereas Muslim men's attire is not." The scholars ultimately call on the Court to recognize that prohibiting face veils may promote equality in some contexts but not in others.



dThe International Criminal Court (ICC) has found that the Kingdom of Jordan failed to comply with its obligations as a State Party to the Rome Statute by not arresting Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir and surrendering him to the Court when he attended the League of Arab States’ Summit there in March 2017. An arrest warrant for Al-Bashir was originally issued in 2009, followed by a later one with additional charges. He is charged with five counts of crimes against humanity, two counts of war crimes, and three counts of genocide for alleged actions in Darfur between 2003 and 2008. Since arrest warrants were issued, Al-Bashir has escaped arrest several times, most notably in South Africa in 2015. The ICC's Pre-Trial Chamber has referred Jordan's lack of action to the Assembly of States Parties and the UN Security Council, a decision that Jordan subsequently appealed. In late-breaking news, there is mention in the Twittersphere that the African Union (AU) decided during its recent summit to request an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice with regard to immunity for heads of state so that there is clarity on the issue.



Publications and Resources of Interest


sBelow 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.

“Practically speaking, having gotten a certificate as an interpreter, I also really understood what was happening in the booth [at the ICTR] … you really needed to be conscious of your pace, and most speakers are oblivious to that. And so the interpreters, I built a rapport with them, and I also just gave them my questions because I knew that would also help … and most lawyers wouldn't do that. And, why?  Because they just presumed the interpreters would be able to do their work seamlessly without it.  And I knew that if the interpretation was that much better, I would get that much better evidence, and that it would be much more — I'd avoid issues and misunderstandings.”  

dAccess the full oral history transcript of international lawyer Gregory Townsend, who worked with both the ICTY and ICTR in a variety of capacities. 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.

For more about interpretation and other language services in international criminal justice, see the recent IntLawGrrls blogpost and paper by International Justice in the News editor Leigh Swigart, both based on her ongoing study of how the International Criminal Court pursues multilingual justice. 


dThe International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) recently enhanced its online “A to Z” dictionary for International Humanitarian Law (IHL). This resource now contains both definitions and references for 422 key terms and concepts related to IHL. According to the ICRC website, “From ‘Solferino’ to ‘cyber warfare’, from ‘judicial guarantees’ to ‘detention’ and from ‘customary IHL’ to ‘medical treatment’, the ‘A to Z’ section provides IHL students, researchers and practitioners with a user-friendly ‘online IHL dictionary’. In addition, ‘A to Z’ entries are updated on a regular basis with new case studies. This ‘online IHL dictionary’ can definitely save time for any thematic research or presentation and help users get access to comprehensive and topical IHL information in two clicks.” 


Two new publications explore important aspects of the contemporary human rights landscape.

dThe International Human Rights Judiciary and National Parliaments: Europe and Beyond (Cambridge University Press, 2017), edited by Matthew Saul, Andreas Føllesdal and Geir Ulfstein, examines the interplay between national parliaments and international human rights bodies. Taking the European Court of Human Rights as its focus, the volume proposes that this important human rights judiciary does not threaten national democratic processes but can instead support and advance them.

dA new anthology, Human Rights and Children (Edward Elgar, 2017), provides a comprehensive overview of children’s human rights, collecting the works of leading authorities as well as new scholars grappling with emerging ideas of “children” and “rights.” According to the publisher’s site, “This volume provides a comprehensive overview of children’s human rights, collecting the works of leading authorities as well as new scholars grappling with emerging ideas of ‘children’ and ‘rights.’ Beginning with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world, this book explores the theory, doctrine, and implementation of the legal frameworks addressing child labor, child soldiers, and child trafficking, as well as children’s socio-economic rights, including their rights to education.”


More than four months after referenda on the independence of Kurdistan and Catalonia, international legal scholars continue to question the legality of their secession. In two different articles published by the American Society of International Law, scholars assert that Kurdistan and Catalonia do not have the right to external self-determination, or secession. Given that neither region is a colony, nor are they subjugated, dominated or exploited, they do not have the legal backing to secede from Iraq and Spain, respectively. However, the Kurds and the Catalans may maintain their right to internal self-determination or autonomy within Iraq and Spain. If that autonomy were to be replaced with oppression by a central government, then remedial secession would be an option as it was with Kosovo, the legality of whose independence was upheld by the International Court of Justice. Read more on self-determination and secession in international law from legal experts Milena Sterio and Sabrina Ragone.

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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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