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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.
People in the News
Should sitting African heads of state be granted immunity, at the yet-to-be-expanded African Court of Justice and Human Rights, from prosecution for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide? Such a proposal was prepared by African Union (AU) legal experts and presented to justice ministers in the form of a draft protocol at the recently concluded AU meeting in Addis Ababa. Over 40 civil society groups on the continent submitted a joint letter in advance of the meeting asking the AU to reject such a proposal. The letter states,
“The African Union’s (AU) Constitutive Act represents a significant declaration of the union’s unequivocal rejection of impunity, and commitment of the AU to intervene in a member state with respect to genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, as provided under articles 4 (o) and (h). Immunity for sitting heads of state and other high-level officials for serious crimes would represent a major retreat from these objectives and be inconsistent with the spirit of the AU Constitutive Act.”
The consideration of the draft protocol comes at a time of intense opposition to the International Criminal Court by some African leaders, particularly in the face of the Court’s proceedings against Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, who were later elected as Kenya’s president and vice president. Read more about the draft protocol from Human Rights Watch. The final decision on the protocol will be made at the next AU assembly in June.
Marie Guiraud of France has been appointed as new international Civil Party Lead Co-Lawyer at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). Ms. Guiraud has 15 years of experience in the field of criminal law and human rights. She obtained an LL.M in Public International Law and Human Rights at University College London, and a postgraduate degree in law from the University of Montpellier. She has represented civil parties before the ECCC since 2008, and she has also represented victims of international crimes before courts in the Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Read more in an ECCC press release.
Slobodan Praljak, a wartime commander of Bosnian Croat forces who was found guilty by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and sentenced to 20 years in prison last year, has been ordered to pay back nearly three million euros in legal fees to the tribunal. Praljak stood trial with five other Bosnian Croat military and political leaders in one of the biggest trials ever held at the ICTY. In March 2006, after being ordered to do so by judges, the tribunal registrar assigned Praljak counsel, to be paid for by the tribunal. In August 2012, however, the registry decided that Praljak was ineligible for this financial assistance since he was “able to fully remunerate counsel.” He has been asked to pay back the entire sum within 90 days, or in monthly installments over a three-year period. Read more from the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.
Will Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of Libya’s former dictator Muammar Gaddafi, be tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the end? ICC appeals judges recently reaffirmed that the case against Gaddafi for alleged crimes against humanity can proceed and said that he must be transferred to The Hague to face charges. Gaddafi has been held in prison by a Libyan militia since he was captured in 2011 while trying to escape the country, and they have refused to turn him over to central authorities. Human rights groups are now calling for his release so that he can face justice. Read more about the charges and background to the case from Amnesty International.
Developments in International Justice
In May, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) made news around the world with its decision that internet companies can be made to remove irrelevant or excessive personal information from search engine results. The case in question – Google Spain SL, Google Inc. v Agencia Española de Protección de Datos, Mario Costeja González – pitted privacy campaigners against the mammoth search engine. The decision gave rise to a flurry of commentary in technology circles, with Google Chairman Eric Schmidt calling the ruling "a collision between the right to be forgotten and the right to know." Read the ECJ press release on the decision and an explanation from Digits Tech News and Analysis of what it might mean for search engine operators going forward. Learn about the first steps that Google has taken to comply with the "right to be forgotten" ruling from Reuters.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) Appellate Body has upheld a European Union ban on the sale of seal-based products, which includes meat, boots, coats, gloves and other products. The ban has three exceptions: one for marine resource management, a second for travellers who buy seal products in other countries, and the third for hunts by Inuit or other indigenous communities. Canada and Norway launched an appeal of the WTO dispute panel decision shortly after it was issued last December. Animal welfare groups have welcomed the Appellate Body decision, but there are many questions about how the controversial ban will be implemented. Read more and access the WTO decision at CBC News.
The Government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands has filed in the Registry of the International Court of Justice separate applications against nine States, accusing them of not fulfilling their obligations with respect to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament. The States are China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America. In this unprecedented legal action, the Republic of the Marshall Islands accuses the nuclear weapons States of a "flagrant denial of human justice" and argues it is justified in taking the action because of the harm its population has suffered as a result of the nuclear arms race. In particular, the Marshallese say they have been suffering serious health and environmental effects ever since their chain of islands was the site of numerous nuclear tests carried out between 1946 and 1958. Read more from The Guardian.
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) has recently made public its determination that two media organizations, together with two officials from the organizations, can be prosecuted for contempt. The media outlets are charged with broadcasting and publishing information about purported confidential STL witnesses. As noted by legal scholar Yvonne McDermott, “The question of whether corporations can be held accountable for international crimes has been the subject of much debate over the past number of years, and this is the first time that an international criminal tribunal has found itself to have jurisdiction over corporations.” She does not, however, find the STL decision well-reasoned. Read more of McDermott’s commentary here.
The European Court of Human Rights recently examined the compatibility of plea bargaining with the fair trial protections of the European Convention on Human Rights. In Natsvlishvili and Togonidze v. Georgia, the applicants alleged that the plea bargaining process as they experienced it was unfair and mishandled. The ECHR judgment addressed the standards applicable to plea bargains generally, noting that the Court “subscribes to the idea that plea bargaining, apart from offering the important benefits of speedy adjudication of criminal cases and alleviating the workload of courts, prosecutors and lawyers, can also be, if applied correctly, a successful tool in combating corruption and organised crime and can contribute to the reduction of the number of sentences handed down and as a result to the number of prisoners.” After reviewing the facts, the ECHR also concluded that the plea bargain in the Natsvlishvili case had respected the applicants’ rights. Read more details from European Courts Blogspot.
Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has sentenced Germain Katanga to a total of 12 years of imprisonment. In March 2014, Katanga was found guilty, as an accessory, of one count of crimes against humanity (murder) and four counts of war crimes (murder, attacking a civilian population, destruction of property and pillaging) committed on 24 February 2003 during the attack on the village of Bogoro, in the Ituri district of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The trial chamber considered, in determining the sentence, that account had to be taken of Katanga's conduct after the events and, in particular, his active participation in the demobilization process implemented in Ituri for the benefit of the child soldiers and, to a certain extent, of his personal situation. Read more in an ICC press release.
Publications and Resources of Interest
What are the responsibilities of States toward migrants who arrive on their shores by boat? The legal issues regarding the disembarkation of migrants rescued on the high seas remain a point of contention between States, in particular due to the lack of clarity under international law governing search and rescue at sea. Read about the case of a Liberian-registered tanker and the reception of its human cargo in Malta in a new ASIL Insight by Prof. Patricia Mallia of the University of Malta, “The MV Salamis and the State of Disembarkation at International Law: The Undefinable Goal.”
Recent news that the Antarctic polar ice cap is melting at an accelerated pace has refocused the world’s attention on the impacts of climate change. A new book by Peter Lawrence (University of Tasmania), Justice For Future Generations: Climate Change and International Law (Edward Elgar 2014), breaks new ground by using a multidisciplinary approach to tackle the issue of what ethical obligations current generations have towards future generations in addressing the threat of climate change. According to a reviewer, “This insightful book draws on contemporary theories of justice to develop a number of principles which are used to critique the existing global climate change treaties. These principles are also used as a blueprint for suggestions on how to develop a much-needed global treaty on climate change. The approach is pragmatic in that the justice-ethics argument rests on widely shared values and is informed by the author’s extensive experience in the negotiation of global environmental treaties as an Australian diplomat.”
What is the role of culture in international human rights law? How can this law be conceptualized so as to help individuals living in diverse communities to pursue their life expectations and dreams? A recent post by Federico Lenzerini in OUPblog asserts that “conceiving human rights in terms of a monolithic system of inflexible rules, destined to be applied according to pre-determined and standardized criteria, wouldn’t help much in ensuring their effectiveness in pursuing the wellbeing and happiness of human beings.” Read more of the blogpost and details of Lenzerini’s recent book, The Culturalization of Human Rights Law, here.
International Justice in the News is edited by Leigh Swigart, Director of Programs in International Justice and Society.
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