International Justice in the News is a monthly e-newsletter about the people involved in the work of international courts and tribunals, significant developments in international justice, and publications and resources of interest. This issue is edited by Leigh Swigart, director of Programs in International Justice and Society.
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Spotlight on Language, Culture and Justice
The research project VIOSIMTRAD is carried out by researchers of the Research Group TRADIC (Translation, Ideology, Culture) at the University of Salamanca, Spain along with collaborators affiliated with other institutions. The project goes beyond the assumption that language functions as a powerful tool used in the construction of reality and identities, asserting that it also reflects — and very often perpetuates — power relations between diverse social groups and varied identities which, though unequal and inequitable, are generally perceived as natural.
Research by project members has drawn on Pierre Bourdieu's ( 1977;  2001) notion of "symbolic violence," which suggests that by way of repetition, discourse practices often contribute to dehumanising, stereotyping and rendering invisible certain communities in subtle and concealed ways, even with the complicity of those groups subordinated by said dominant discourses, who often accept these as natural and inadvertently perpetuate them. This notion helps to illuminate to what extent translation also participates in frequently ideologised processes of (re)construction and negotiation of identities in the current, asymmetrical globalisation model of our era. After all, although it generally goes unnoticed, translation is a fundamental component of globalisation in general and, more precisely, of the processes involved in the dissemination of discourses by powerful socialising and regulatory agents who currently play a major role in the discursive construction of identities and the social orders in which these coexist, such as institutions and the mass media.
Research by the group has explored the subtle mechanisms through which translation often aligns itself with patterns of institutionalised subordination that result in symbolic violence and its minoritisation of certain identities in fields as varied as audiovisual translation and translation for the media; advertising; photography and visual arts; history and historiography; literature; performing arts and music, etc. View a list of recent publications by members of the group. This research project has paid particular attention to the legal and institutional sphere, as dominant translation practices in these fields have been perceived as potentially contributing, albeit perhaps involuntarily, to the engendering and perpetuation of unequal relations of hegemony and subordination between dominant cultures and powers and minoritised languages and identities.
In this regard, some of the factors that have been identified as potentially creating and/or aggravating "symbolic violence" in the legal and institutional realm include the following: global language dynamics which aggravate asymmetries in the uneven translation flows between "translated" and "translating" languages; ingrained centripetal language ideologies and ethnocentric translation practices which have an impact on the (re)construction of (often transnational) phenomena and subjectivities of our present, frequently resulting in the taming and neutralisation of hybridity and heterogeneity; the long-standing preference in the legal and institutional realm for literal and lineal models of equivalence, which are becoming even more prominent in recent years due to increasingly automated translation processes and which idealise and promote uniformity and standardisation to the detriment of heteroglossia and diversity; and the prevailing professional narratives and expectations which mould legal and institutional translators into conduits, thus obscuring important and ever-present implications related to ideology, identity, and power issues, and ultimately constraining their room for manoeuvre in favour of cross-cultural understanding (Vidal 2013; Martín Ruano 2014, 2018). Taking as the point of departure the assumption that power and power differentials are enacted, maintained and perpetuated through discourse (Vidal 2018), even well-intentioned translation practices that comply with prevailing quality standards and with normal and/or normative procedures emerge as practices which potentially fuel symbolic violence and domination.
Read Martín Ruano's full commentary and see the references cited at the Spotlight Archive of the Language, Culture and Justice Hub.
People in the News
In advance of World Refugee Day, celebrated on 20 June, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Muvatović addressed the issue of pushbacks and border violence against refugees. She paid tribute to the resilience of refugees and called upon European states to protect them and uphold their rights. "Governments should start with tackling the most blatant violations of refugees' rights. Pushbacks are a case in point. They are becoming more normalised and are carried out in an increasingly violent way across Europe. The illegal practice of pushbacks not only deprives those who may seek asylum from this opportunity. It also eats away at the foundation of international human rights law which protects refugees." The world recently watched while Malta delayed for more than a month the disembarkation of over 400 migrants held in private ships offshore. Maltese authorities argued that this was necessary due to the pandemic, but the Council of Europe stressed that persons rescued at sea should continue to be disembarked, with coastal states being assisted by other member states.
A broad coalition of human rights groups is applauding the indictment of a Gambian national in the United States on charges of torture. According to Human Rights Watch, Michael Sang Correa was an alleged member of the notorious "Junglers" death squad, set up by then-president Yahya Jammeh in the mid-1990s. The 21-year regime of Jammeh, who fled to Equatorial Guinea after being ousted in a 2016 presidential election, was notorious for its extensive human rights abuses. In its indictment before the US District Court of Colorado, the US Department of Justice alleges that Correa is responsible for the torture of at least six people in 2006, following an attempted coup against Jammeh. Correa was originally arrested in 2019 by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Colorado for overstaying his visa. Other members of the Junglers have recently appeared before the Gambian Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission, with their crimes provoking outrage by the public.
Kosovo President Hashim Thaci and others have been accused of war crimes by the Special Prosecutor's Office (SPO) before the Kosovo Special Chambers (KSC) in The Hague. According to the court's press release, the SPO filed a 10-count indictment with the KSC for the Court's consideration, charging Hashim Thaci, Kadri Veseli, and others with various crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, enforced disappearance of persons, persecution, and torture. It is alleged that the suspects are criminally responsible for nearly 100 murders, and that their crimes involve hundreds of known victims of Kosovo Albanian, Serb, Roma, and other ethnicities and include political opponents. ICL Media reports that "[t]he indictment was filed in April 2020, though was kept confidential at the time. A Pre-Trial Judge of the Kosovo Specialist Chamber is reviewing the indictment and will decide whether to confirm the charges at a later time. The Prosecutor announced that it issued a public notice of the previously confidential charges due to a belief that Thaçi and Veseli have worked to 'obstruct and undermine the work' of the Specialist Chambers."
In a significant breakthrough in the pursuit of justice for crimes in Darfur, Sudanese militia leader Ali Kushayb — charged with 50 crimes against humanity and war crimes related to the regional conflict — has been arrested more than 13 years after an International Criminal Court (ICC) warrant was issued for him. The militia leader surrendered to the authorities in the Central African Republic and asked to be handed over to the Court. The suspect was subsequently transferred to The Hague and has since had an initial appearance before a single ICC judge via video link from the ICC detention centre. The judge verified the suspect's identity and ensured that he was clearly informed of the charges against him in a language he fully understands and speaks. During the proceeding, the suspect clarified that his name was actually Ali Abd-Al-Rahman. Read more about the Darfur situation and the significance of this arrest from Just Security.
Developments in International Justice
All the recent news about the ICC has not been as encouraging as the arrest of a long sought-after suspect. In a blow to the Court's standing, it has been made the subject of an executive order by US President Donald Trump, wherein sanctions are threatened against persons associated with the ICC who have, among other activities, engaged in efforts "to investigate, arrest, detain, or prosecute" personnel of the US or its allies. Just Security reminds readers that this move is just the latest in a series of attacks on the ICC by the Trump administration, which is intent on avoiding scrutiny of US military activities in Afghanistan.
The Executive Order has given rise to a flurry of media appearances and commentaries, including a heated BBC HARDTalk interview with ICC President Chile Eboe-Osuji, and an informative Asymmetrical Haircuts podcast featuring former US deputy war crimes ambassador Beth van Schaak. Human Rights Watch reports that 67 ICC member states have "reconfirmed their unwavering support for the court as an independent and impartial judicial institution, … renewed their pledge to assist the ICC's work under the court's founding Rome Statute and called on all governments to ensure cooperation with the court." As a comment in the Twittersphere noted, for once Trump is a "unifier."
The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) will now be able to sit in Singapore. In a joint press release of ITLOS and Singapore's Ministry of Law (pdf), it was announced that a Model Agreement had been adopted "establishing the terms and conditions under which the Government of Singapore agrees to provide the appropriate facilities for the Tribunal or one of its chambers to sit or otherwise exercise its functions in Singapore." While the ITLOS Statute establishes the seat of the Tribunal in the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg in the Federal Republic of Germany, it also stipulates that the Tribunal may sit and exercise its functions elsewhere, whenever it considers this desirable.
A recent ASIL Insight describes the landmark decision, issued by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) in February 2020, recognizing the right to a healthy environment. In Indigenous Communities Members of the Lhaka Honhat Association v. Argentina (pdf), the Court analyzed, for the first time in a contentious case, the rights to a healthy environment, indigenous community property, cultural identity, food, and water based on Article 26 of the American Convention on Human Rights (pdf) (progressive development of economic, social, and cultural rights). The Court held that Argentina violated these rights of the Lhaka Honhat indigenous groups and ordered measures of reparation toward their restitution, including actions for access to adequate food and water, for the recovery of forest resources, and to maintain indigenous culture.
The International Committee for the Red Cross recently held an online launch of the updated Commentary on the Third Geneva Convention relative to the treatment of prisoners of war. An expert panel discussed the Commentary's main findings, examining how international humanitarian law protects prisoners of war taking into account existing practice and operational challenges. The panel discussion provided insights on the relevance and application of the law in practice. This is the first time in 60 years that the "GC III Commentary" has been updated. A series of blogposts in the coming months, to be published in collaboration with EJIL: Talk! and Just Security, will analyze different issues related to the new Commentary.
Dalhousie Law School in Nova Scotia, Canada has announced the launch of the first ever International Restorative Justice Lab. Located in the Schulich School of Law, the lab's vision is to be a global center of excellence that will accelerate the growth and development of a restorative approach to protect the health, safety and well-being of individuals and communities in Canada. It will also support the development of restorative cities around the world and respond to institutional abuses and failures. The Lab will be led by Professor Jennifer Llewelyn, a distinguished global leader in restorative justice. She noted the significance of the Lab being created at this historical moment. "The need for restorative justice is not new, indeed systemic and historical injustices mark the experience of marginalized and racialized communities around the world. … [A]s we confront the pandemics of COVID-19 and anti-Black racism, we can see clearly that our current ways of doing things are not working. The urgency of a new and different way of imagining and doing justice — doing right by each other — cannot be allowed to pass by this time."
Publications and Resources of Interest
What will the world look like after the coronavirus pandemic era has passed, and can it be changed for the better? The public square abounds with commentaries on this subject. Here is a sampling:
The World Economic Forum has published a report entitled "Challenges and Opportunities in the Post-COVID World" (pdf), which asks these questions: "What might be the silver linings in the crisis and how might leaders use this moment to build a more prosperous, equitable and sustainable world?" The report consists of a collection of essays providing insights into fields as diverse as governance, trade, digital technology and social psychology.
UNESCO has seized the moment to consider how education might be redesigned for a better future. A new report, "Education in a Post-COVID World: Nine Ideas for Public Action," notes that "the pandemic has revealed vulnerabilities; it has also surfaced extraordinary human resourcefulness and potential." The report sets forth ideas which UNESCO deems critical for education in the wake of COVID. These include expanding the notion of a right to education; providing free and open-source technologies; ensuring scientific literacy in school curricula; protecting the financing of public education; and advancing global solidarity to end current levels of inequality.
Philanthropist George Soros, in an interview with Project Syndicate, characterizes the current moment as the crisis of his lifetime. Among many wide-ranging comments, he predicts this: "We will not go back to where we were when the pandemic started. That is pretty certain. But that is the only thing that is certain. Everything else is up for grabs. I do not think anybody knows how capitalism will evolve."
An OUP blog post by MacArthur Fellow Stuart A. Kauffman seeks to envision a post-crisis world. He notes of the current state of humanity: "Our $100 trillion global economy growing at 3% a year is lifting millions from poverty, links our nations in trade, is the means by which we earn our livings and find much of our meaning. But the same juggernaut growing economy is driving climate change, a mass extinction, and wave after wave of pandemics as we invade habitats." Kauffman goes on to suggest that the world may need to reinvent the international institutions that arose from World War II if they no longer serve humanity well.
The Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) recently launched the System to Monitor Recommendations or SIMORE. According to an IACHR press release, SIMORE is "an online tool that systematically collects all recommendations made by the IACHR through its various mechanisms. … The new tool democratizes the process of monitoring recommendations in the Americas, since it promotes greater participation by all stakeholders in the Inter-American Human Rights System." The Commission invites States, victims, civil society, academics, and the general public to use SIMORE.
A recent statement, signed by almost 60 independent experts of the Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council, condemns systemic racism in the United States and asserts that "[t]he protests the world is witnessing, are a rejection of the fundamental racial inequality and discrimination that characterize life in the United States for black people, and other people of color." The statement also expresses disquiet about the reaction of the Trump regime to anti-racism demonstrations, with the experts declaring that they "are deeply concerned that the nation is on the brink of a militarized response that reenacts the injustices that have driven people to the streets to protest." The Human Rights Council subsequently held an urgent debate, at the request of the African group of UN member states, on racially inspired human rights violations, systemic racism, police brutality and violence against peaceful protests. E. Tendayi Achiume, Special Rapporteur on racism, urged the Council to create an international commission of inquiry with the necessary authority to investigate systemic racism in law enforcement in the United States. Elsewhere, Achiume has exhorted U.S. policymakers and lawyers, to "treat international human rights law as a resource, as well as a source of binding legal obligations. … At least one avenue going forward should be to push back against the sort of exceptionalism that implicitly treats existing domestic law as a high watermark for achieving justice and equality, when this law falls short even of global human rights anti-racism standards that U.S. civil rights leaders helped established."