December 2020

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, Justice and Culture

Language, Culture and Justice Hubs celebrates inaugural event

Thanks to the 120 persons who recently participated in Rights, Rules and Rhetoric: Exploring Language for and about Migrants in Australia, Europe and North America. This was the first public program sponsored by Brandeis University’s Language, Culture and Justice Hub, with conveners hailing from the three continents. Participants logged on from 19 countries across the globe, including several in Africa and Latin America. We appreciated the open and thoughtful discourse that occurred during the 48-hour event and over multiple thematic discussion boards. The lively back-and-forth brought forward numerous thought-provoking ideas about communicative rights and language access, and it suggested new ways to emphasize, problematize, decolonize, and prioritize the ways in which migrants and migration are (mis)(re)presented via language.

We thank our partner institutions and facilitators for their important contributions to the event, and the Rice Family Foundation for its financial support. Summaries and next steps from the exchange will be available in the near future. In the meantime, please visit the Hub’s newly updated migration theme page for a wealth of resources relevant to language, culture and migration. Suggestions for additions to this theme page may be sent to

People in the News

Hanqin Xue, Peter Tomka, Julia Sebutinde, Yuji Iwasawa and Georg Nolte

The United Nations Security Council recently elected five judges to the bench of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the organization's principal judicial organ. Four of the judges are current members who will serve a second nine-year term: Hanqin Xue (China), the incumbent Vice-President; Peter Tomka (Slovakia); Julia Sebutinde (Uganda); and Yuji Iwasawa (Japan). The fifth judge is a newcomer, Georg Nolte (Germany). The judges were elected in a single round of voting. The GQual Campaign, which promotes gender parity in international organizations, must be pleased that two women, Judges Xue and Sebutinde, will remain on the bench, while disappointed that the only other female candidate, Maja Seršić (Croatia), was not elected. A recent GQual statement notes that the ICJ "holds an embarrassing record (pdf) when it comes to gender representation. As such, since its establishment in 1946, only 4 women out of 108 ICJ judges have served on the Court. Additionally, 4 women have served as ad hoc judges as compared to 113 men."

Patricia Viseur Sellers

The Washington University School of Law has awarded its 2020 World Peace Through Law Award to Patricia Viseur Sellers. Sellers serves as Special Advisor on Gender in the International Criminal Court's Office of the Prosecutor. She was formerly Legal Advisor for Gender and Acting Head of the Legal Advisory Section and prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (1994-2007), and Legal Advisor for Gender at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (1995-1999). The World Peace Through Law Award is bestowed upon an individual who, by his or her work and writings, has considerably advanced the rule of law and thereby contributed to world peace. Established in 2006 by a gift from Whitney and Anna Harris, the Award recognizes individuals who have achieved great distinction in the field of international law and international relations. On 18 November 2020, Sellers delivered a keynote address as part of the award ceremony titled "Peace as the Deal-Breaker."

Read more about Sellers' career in international criminal justice in an interview conducted for the Brandeis Ad Hoc Tribunal Oral History Project.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu

World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has declared that the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have "demonstrated the consequences of chronic under-investment in public health." Tedros noted that the pandemic "has ignited a socio-economic crisis that has impacted billions of lives and livelihoods and undermined global stability and solidarity," adding that a return to the status quo is not an option. An Al Jazeera article describes how different levels of investment can make a difference. It compares the experience of COVID in the United States, which does not provide its citizens with publicly funded healthcare, with that of neighboring Canada, which does. "While COVID-19 arrived in the neighbouring countries around the same time in late January, as of November 10, Canada had 282 deaths per million residents while the US had 722 deaths per million people."

Philippe Sands

A recent lecture by international lawyer, professor and author Philippe Sands marked the launch of the Nuremberg Academy Lectures. In "International Justice and Personal Stories: From East West Street to The Ratline and Beyond," Prof. Sands discussed the origins of international criminal law in light of the 75th anniversary of the opening of the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg and addressed contemporary developments of international criminal law. While highlighting various aspects of his two most recent books, named in the lecture title, Sands mused on the difficulty of bringing proper attention to crimes against humanity, the issue of guilt and accountability when criminal trials can only prosecute a select few, and the role of testimony in fleshing out a historical record of heinous crimes. The event was recorded and the video is available on the Nuremberg Academy YouTube channel.

ICC prosecutor search

Portrait of International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou BensoudaCurrent ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda

The search for a new International Criminal Court Prosecutor has been far from straightforward. After whittling down the candidates to a shortlist of four, and subjecting them to a round of live-streamed interviews last July, the Assembly of States Parties has adopted what it calls “Election of the Prosecutor — Way Forward.” According to this new roadmap, “[i]n addition to the four candidates selected by the Committee on the Election of the Prosecutor (CEP), the remaining individuals who were originally interviewed by the CEP that are still willing to be considered shall be included on the expanded list.” There are other provisions in the Way Forward to maximize transparency, neutrality, and consensus-building. ICL Media Review described the rationale for this new strategy like this: “The international civil society has raised multiple complaints regarding the lack of transparency on the State Parties’ consultations to elect the next Prosecutor. They have also expressed concern about allegations of misconduct faced by some of the shortlisted candidates and the reluctance of State Parties to commit to thoroughly vetting all candidates.” Reuters reports that five new candidates have now been added to the original shortlist of four. They include Britain’s Karim Khan, who now heads a United Nations team investigating Islamic State crimes in Iraq, and Robert Petit, a former prosecutor at the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Cambodia. Notably absent from the expanded list is Belgian Serge Brammertz, who has long prosecutorial experience at the Yugoslav Tribunal, its successor mechanism, and the ICC itself.

The court’s 123 member countries are due to meet in New York from 7 to 13 December 2020 to pick the new Prosecutor, whose term will begin in June 2021. The expanded group of candidates will first be interviewed via public and live-streamed hearings.

Developments in International Justice

UN experts hail landmark environmental treaty in Latin America and the Caribbean

Flyer that reads "The Ezcau Agreement: Placing equality at the center of sustainable development and leaving no one behindThe UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights welcomes the impending entry into force of the first environmental human rights treaty in Latin America and the Caribbean. Known as the Escazú Agreement, the landmark treaty includes strong protections for indigenous peoples and environmental human rights defenders, at a time when they are subject to unprecedented levels of violence. It is also a ground-breaking pact to fight pollution and secure a healthy environment. "In the face of proliferating environmental conflicts and persistent intimidation, harassment and detention of environmental human rights defenders, the Escazú Agreement offers hope to the countless individuals and communities in the region that suffer from pollution and the negative impacts of extractive industries," said the UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights, Marcos Orellana. Read more about the provisions of the agreement, how it was negotiated, and the role of civil society in this process at Civicus.

Report: Australian elite troops killed Afghan civilians

A recently released report on likely war crimes committed by Australian special forces in Afghanistan has captured the world's attention. The so-called Brereton Report, named for the major general who conducted a four-year inquiry into the acts, was based on interviews with more than 400 witnesses. According to The BBC, the report documents an unchecked "warrior culture" among some elite soldiers, the shooting of Afghan prisoners by junior soldiers to achieve their "first kill," and the cover-up of crimes by planting weapons and other items near Afghan bodies. There were also incidents of "cruel treatment." The report recommends that 36 incidents in total, involving 19 soldiers, be investigated by federal police. An Australian Defence Force chief has stated that none of the incidents could be "described as being in the heat of battle." A subsequent BBC report notes that 13 more special services soldiers have since been notified that they risk dismissal because "they are suspected of being accessories or witnesses to the killings, or of being dishonest in testifying."

IACHR calls on states to guarantee human rights of women engaged in sex work

iachr logoThe Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has expressed its concern about the impact of the pandemic on the human rights situation of both CIS and trans women who practice sex work in the Americas. Civil society organizations have seen the worsening of violence, discrimination, poverty, lack of housing and access to health and social assistance programs for this population. This results in an increase in the social exclusion that afflicted sex workers even before the COVID-19 pandemic. The Commission reiterates its 2017 call to States to reinforce the guarantees of economic, social, cultural and environmental rights for sex workers, particularly during the measures to contain and mitigate the pandemic, and to eradicate stigmatization and discrimination against women.

Prisoner's religious rights violated, European Court of Human Rights rules

echr logoIn the case of Saran v. Romania, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has unanimously held that the plaintiff suffered a violation of Article 9 (right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion) of the European Convention on Human Rights (pdf). While held in five Romanian prisons between 2016 and 2018, Mr. Saran complained of not being provided with meals compatible with the precepts of Islam in two of them. He was asked to furnish written proof of his adherence to that religion, although he had declared that he was a Muslim when admitted into prison and some "ethical and religious assistance records" also stated that he was a Muslim. The ECtHR found, in particular, that in refusing to provide Mr. Saran with meals compatible with his religion in two prisons, the national authorities had not struck a fair balance between the interests of the prison, those of the other prisoners and the individual interests of the prisoner concerned. It also noted that Mr. Saran had received meals compatible with his religion in three other prisons, which suggested that the Romanian prison system was capable of accommodating such requests. Read more details in an ECtHR press release (pdf).

Former KLA soldiers indicted on war crimes charges

In late October 2020, a Pre-Trial Judge of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) confirmed the indictment of four former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army — Jacob Krasniqi, Kadri Veseli, Rexhep Selimi, and Hashim Thaçi. They stand accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity including torture, murder, enforced disappearances, removing those perceived as opponents, and illegal detentions between March 1998 and September 1999. These crimes were allegedly committed as part of a joint criminal enterprise with the aim of taking control of Kosovo. Most of the alleged crimes occurred in KLA detention centers in Kosovo and Albania. The confirmed indictment has been made public with redactions. On 4 and 5 November, the indictees were all arrested and transferred to the Detention Facilities of the KSC in The Hague, as reported in this KSC press release. Mr. Thaçi subsequently resigned as President of Kosovo to face the war crimes and crimes against humanity charges against him. According to a Guardian report, Thaçi stated in his announcement that he was resigning "to protect the integrity of the presidency of Kosovo."

Report examines shortcomings of private rescues at sea

The past two decades have seen growing numbers of migrants, and would-be asylum seekers, embarking on perilous sea crossings to flee violence, conflict or persecution. Private vessels have increasingly been called on to assist persons in distress. These vessels are regularly faced with delays in disembarkation of rescued persons and instructions to return persons to countries where they risk harm and persecution.

A newly issued report, When Private Vessels Rescue Migrants and Refugees: A Mapping of Legal Considerations (pdf), describes the findings of a research project undertaken on this topic by the British Institute of International and Comparative Law (BIICL). It was authored by Jean-Pierre Gauci, BIICL's Arthur Watts Senior Research Fellow. During a recent webinar, the report was presented and commented on by a panel of experts in the fields of maritime and refugee law. A recording of the webinar will be available soon at the BIICL event page.

Publications and Resources of Interest

How Trump's language contributed to erosion of democratic ideals in the U.S.

cover of "Language in the Trump Era"As the United States moves through a difficult presidential transition period, complicated by the fact that the current president and his supporters continue to deny his electoral loss, it is a good moment to reflect on how President Trump's language has contributed to an erosion of democratic ideals in the US, as well as to a general decline in oratorical practice. Here is a central question to consider — how can one "do justice" to the language of this controversial figure?

A new edited volume, Language in the Trump Era (Cambridge University Press), edited by linguistic anthropologists Janet McIntosh and Norma Mendoza-Denton, offers a variety of perspectives on Trump's linguistic usages and tactics. Chapters include analyses of Trump's speech style and its deployment during his presidency, the impact of his rhetoric on specific populations in the US, and how his speech expresses notions of masculinity, white supremacy, and xenophobia. In her introduction, "The Trump Era as Linguistic Emergency," McIntosh describes some of the phenomena that spurred this publication project: "Trump supporters often refuse the notion that word choice creates problems, arguing instead that linguistic care stokes oversensitivity, or that it evades harsh realities that harsh language merely describes. They also feel his simple, profane verbal style and even his spelling and grammatical errors reflect his 'authenticity' and positive masculinity. Trump's critics, meanwhile, believe his insulting words and hate speech incite violence while his style denotes lack of education and care, possibly even dementia, while demoting the verbal standards expected of a president. Disagreements over Trump's verbal style and propriety have sometimes played out over class lines. Trump's well documented prevarications have exhausted journalists and seemed to influence his supporters, some of whom take his statements as merely hyperbolic articulations of a deeper underlying truth."

An English version of the 2019 book by French translator Bérengère Viennot, La Langue de Trump, has also just been issued as TrumpSpeak (translated by Susan Pickford). In her own lively and evocative language, Viennot describes the difficulty of accurately conveying the often incoherent, crass, and vocabulary-poor speech of Trump when called upon to translate it into French for a larger international audience. Rob Zaretsky captures the dilemma of the translator working with Trump's words in his Los Angeles Times review of La Langue de Trump: "In general, when translators encounter passages that are somewhat obscure or convoluted, they simplify them without violating the idea evoked in the original text. But with Trump, this is not possible. By straightening out his speech, we end up in a place far, far away from where we — or rather, he — started. Trump's language is of a piece with Trump's person; to alter the first would misrepresent the second. The repetitions and reprises, the stunted vocabulary and severed clauses, in effect, the desolate debris of words Trump leaves in his wake is not incidental, but elemental to his success."

New book considers integrity as a legally binding standard in international courts

Cover of "Integrity in International Justice"The International Nuremberg Principles Academy has published its latest volume in the Nuremberg Academy Series. Integrity in International Justice, edited by Morten Bergsmo and Viviane E. Dittrich, can be downloaded in electronic format free of charge at the Nuremberg Academy website. The book considers integrity as a legally binding standard in international courts, while including perspectives from other disciplines such as philosophy, history, psychology and religion. It argues that respect for integrity among high officials and staff members is a prerequisite for international courts and other international organizations to fulfil their mandates.The authors include the prominent judges Hans Corell, Richard J. Goldstone, Hanne Sophie Greve, Ivana Hrdličková, Erik Møse and David Re, and 37 other leading actors and experts in the field of international justice.

Video explores crucial role of interpreters in criminal proceedings

screenshot from "Court Interpreting" video.An early 2020 video, from the United States Courts Knowledge Seminars series, explores the critical role of court interpreters in US criminal proceedings. The seminar, entitled "Court Interpreting: Access to Justice," is described thus: "For a criminal defendant with limited English proficiency, or who has a hearing impairment, a skilled courtroom interpreter is a vital part of the justice system. Like court-appointed attorneys, interpreters enable defendants to understand proceedings and assist in their own defense. ... Court interpreting requires language fluency, interpreting skills, familiarity with technical terms and courtroom procedure, and a knowledge of particular cultures." This seminar features a panel discussion between two US federal judges and two career interpreters. While focused on the US judicial system, the challenges discussed are applicable to national contexts across the globe characterized by linguistic diversity.