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 2015

People in the News

dShould persons responsible for violations of international law during the mandate of US President George W. Bush be tried at the International Criminal Court? How does the plight of today’s Syrian and Iraqi refugees compare to European Jews seeking to resettle in safe countries in the 1930’s? Read the views of Thomas Buergenthal (United States), former judge of the International Court of Justice and member of the International Advisory Board of Brandeis’ International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life, on these and other topics in a recent Newsweek interview.

dA new judge has joined the bench of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Raul Cano Pangalangan (Philippines) was elected during the thirteenth session of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute and will serve until 10 March 2021. Judge Pangalangan came to the ICC from the University of the Philippines where he has taught constitutional law and public international law as a Professor of Law and former Law Dean. Read his full bio here.

dIn other news from the ICC, the Court is currently considering whether to release its first convicted person, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, who has now completed two-thirds of his 14-year sentence. According to International Justice Monitor, Lubanga’s defense team argues that he has exhibited good behavior in prison and that his release will not destabilize the situation in the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he committed the crimes of recruiting and enlisting children under 15 years of age in an armed conflict. The ICC prosecution and victims groups counter-argue that Lubanga’s release and return could reignite tensions in Ituri, and the prosecution has furthermore claimed that he has engaged in witness tampering in another ICC case, The Prosecutor v. Bosco Ntaganda. Read a full account of the debate surrounding Lubanga’s release here. Follow the lively commentary in two blogs – Justice in Conflict and Opinio Juris – engendered by Lubanga’s unexpected announcement that an early release would allow him to pursue a Ph.D. in the sociology of ethnic harmony. 

fJoseph Cannataci (Malta), the newly appointed and first ever United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy, has stated that digital surveillance is worse than anything George Orwell could have foreseen. Canatacci’s mandate is extensive and includes: the review of government policies and laws on interception of digital communications and collection of personal data; identification of actions that intrude on privacy without compelling justification; and assisting governments in developing best practices to bring global surveillance under the rule of law. Read more from The Guardian.

dSam Muller, a former official at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Court, has launched a new organization that uses innovative techniques to gather and analyze information in organized wildlife crime networks in order to build cases and support accountability processes. The Wildlife Justice Commission, based in The Hague, is a response to the lack of an international mechanism to deal with organized wildlife crime, a lack that is exploited by those who pillage resources from ivory to timber, and engage in poaching and smuggling of endangered species. According to an article in The Independent, the Commission “claims it will be able to demand those accused of corruption and smuggling to appear before fact-finding hearings in The Hague.” This will be accomplished through a combination of cutting-edge techniques, including DNA profiling and GPS tracking of shipments, and the establishment of a high-level panel to adjudicate on evidence.

Developments in International Justice

gThe International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) has ruled against Italy’s request for India to provisionally release two Italian marines accused of killing two Indian fishermen in February 2012 while on anti-piracy duty onboard the Italian oil tanker Enrica Lexie. ITLOS also ordered both parties to stop all legal proceedings relating to the incident, saying that an international arbitration hearing will rule on the dispute. The Enrica Lexie Incident (Italy v. India) has raised a number of challenging questions in the law of the sea, especially as related to jurisdictional matters. Read more in a blog post from the Cambridge Journal of International and Comparative Law. Click here for the ITLOS press release following its recent ruling.

In other latebreaking ITLOS news, the President of the Tribunal, Judge Vladimir Golitsyn (BIIJ 2015) and Singapore’s Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Law, Mr. Ng How Yue, have signed a Joint Declaration to mark a major move for Singapore to become a venue in Asia for proceedings in cases before a special chamber of the Tribunal or before the Tribunal to settle disputes relating to the law of the sea. Read more in an ITLOS press release.

sThe International Justice Resource Center (IJRC) reports that last month the Kosovo Parliament passed the Law on Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor’s Office. This “constitutional amendment [will] establish a special war crimes court to prosecute former Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas for crimes committed during and after the Kosovo War between January 1, 1998 and December 31, 2000. The court will operate under Kosovo law and prosecute crimes against humanity, war crimes, and organ harvesting, among others. The court is likely to be based in the Netherlands because of concerns regarding judicial corruption and the lack of a robust witness protection program in Kosovo.” Read the full IJRC article to learn more about the structure, staffing, and mandate of the court as well as background to the Kosovo War. The prosecutor of the new Kosovo special war crimes court will be US lawyer David Schwendiman, the lead prosecutor of the EU’s Special Investigative Task Force on Kosovo. Learn more about Schwendiman’s appointment and background from Serbia’s InNews.

The destruction of cultural monuments and its characterization as a possible war crime has been much in the news of late. At the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Ratko Mladic, commander of the Bosnian Serb army from 1992 to 1996, is charged, among other crimes, with the “destruction of cultural monuments and sacred sites” in relation to eleven Bosnian municipalities. The Prosecution and Defense have each brought forward expert witnesses, who have offered conflicting accounts of the systematic nature of the destruction of mosques in Bosnia by Serbian forces. Read more from the Institute for War and Peace Reporting about the Defence’s expert witness testimony delivered at the ICTY last month.

Palmyra's ancient temple
of Baalshamin, Syria

More recently, the destruction of an ancient temple in Palmyra by the Islamic State has refocused the world’s attention on how cultural treasures can become sites of war making. The Director General of UNESCO has condemned ISIS’ action, stating, “Such acts are war crimes and their perpetrators must be accountable for their actions. UNESCO stands by all Syrian people in their efforts to safeguard their heritage, a heritage for all humanity.” Read more about the temple destroyed by ISIS here.

dSystematic discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons in many African countries has been decried as a violation of their human rights and has had diplomatic and even foreign aid consequences for a number of governments on the continent. Some positive movement toward rectifying the challenges faced by the LGBT community in Africa has recently been noted, however.  A Jurist Professional Commentary describes court decisions from Botswana, Kenya and Zambia over the last nine months that have asserted LGBT rights in the face of popular prejudice and discriminatory laws.

dThe Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) has ruled that a law in Burkina Faso barring some political parties and individuals from standing for election constitutes a violation of the right to freely participate in elections. The ineligible parties were those who supported the efforts of now deposed Burkinabe leader Blaise Compaore to change the constitution in order to extend his 27-year rule.  The plaintiffs' lawyer told the Court that the amendment was a “witch hunt” which violated the ECOWAS Treaty and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. Read more from France24. Although not strictly a human rights institution, the ECOWAS Court, based in Abuja, Nigeria, has gained a reputation for upholding human rights in the West African region.

dThe International Labour Organization (ILO) has adopted a new international labor standard that is expected to help hundreds of millions of workers and economic units move out of informality and into the formal economy. The ILO reports, “More than half of the world’s workforce is estimated to be trapped in the informal economy, which is marked by the denial of rights at work, the absence of sufficient opportunities for quality employment, inadequate social protection, a lack of social dialogue and low productivity, all of which constitutes a significant obstacle to the development of sustainable enterprises.” The new Recommendation acknowledges that most people enter the informal economy not by choice but due to a lack of opportunities in the formal economy and an absence of any other means of livelihood. This recommendation is the first ever international labor standard specifically aimed at tackling the informal economy.

Publications and Resources of Interest

dThe Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has launched an Individual Petition System Portal (IPSP), making the IACHR the first regional human rights body to offer a digital system that provides remote access to petitions and cases. The IPSP is a document transmission tool that provides online access by the State and the petitioner to information on their pending cases before the IACHR. Moreover, the parties can use the Portal to send communications and annexes and to consult documents issued by the Commission. Individuals, organizations, and States can access information about their pending petitions, cases, and precautionary measures before the Court, thus contributing to greater transparency in procedures and expeditious processing through the use of technology and automated management tools. Access the portal here.

dA new book provides a comprehensive overview of the case law and practice of the International Criminal Court in its first ten years. Edited by Carsten Stahn, Professor of International Criminal Law and Global Justice at Leiden University and Program Director of the Grotius Centre, The Law and Practice of the International Criminal Court (Oxford University Press 2015) features contributions by over forty leading contributors, including both practitioners with experience of working at the court and eminent scholars. Get a flavor of the book’s content in a post from the OUP Blog.

dA recent contribution to the IntLawGrrls blog outlines the steps that need to be taken to clarify and enhance environmental protection in relation to armed conflict under international law. As Britta Sjöstedt of the Faculty of Law at Lund University writes, “The core problem is that environmental damage is complex and may have long-term, severe and even irreversible implications that may not be foreseeable or even be visible at first, which is not an aspect considered under the law of armed conflict. At the same time, international environmental law has developed as a response to tackle complex global environmental problems. Thus, looking at other areas of law, especially international environmental law, will be a welcomed contribution to wartime environmental protection.” Read the entire blogpost here.

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

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