December 2021

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

bronze badge that has a white portion in the shape of Australia and the words White Australia, Australia for the Australians

Brass ‘White Australia’ protection badge, 1906. Image credit: National Museum of Australia

Readers are invited to explore the newly updated thematic resource pages at the Language, Culture and Justice Hub on International Criminal Justice and Processes of Migration. You can also read about the Hub’s ongoing project, Multilingual Life on a Monolingual Campus: Exploring the linguistic experiences of international students in English-language medium universities, a collaborative project of Brandeis University, Macquarie University, and the University of Birmingham.

"Securing the Borders of English and Whiteness"

This month’s Spotlight features a recently published commentary from Language on the Move (LOTM), a peer-reviewed sociolinguistics research site devoted to multilingualism, language learning, and intercultural communication in the contexts of globalization and migration. It was prepared by Ingrid Piller, LOTM editor and Distinguished Professor of Applied Linguistics at Macquarie University, Sydney. The commentary introduces a new article in the journal Ethnicities, authored by Piller, Hannah Torsh, and LCJ Hub member Laura Smith-Khan. Thanks to LOTM for permission to republish a portion of this commentary.

The typical Aussie is widely imagined as a white English speaker

Despite decades of multiculturalism, the typical Australian is widely imagined as a white monolingual speaker of English. Australians who do not look white regularly report that they are made to feel that they do not belong and those with non-native accents sometimes avoid speaking in public so as to remain inconspicuous. With almost half of Australians born overseas or having at least one parent born overseas and about a quarter speaking a language other than English at home, the perception of Australia as a nation of white English speakers is completely out of step with demographic realities. Why do so many people continue to hold on to this perception?

The historical roots of Australia as a white English nation

There are historical reasons that can explain how Australia came to be an Anglo nation. One of these is the pernicious fiction of terra nullius that wrote Indigenous people out of the imagined nation. Another reason is the erasure of the British-Irish conflict that was imported into the penal colony but subsequently glossed over into an imagined homogenous “Anglo-Celtic” settler population. Black convicts, who accounted for 1-2 percent of transportees, were cancelled even more completely. A third foundation lies in a restrictive immigration policy that was designed to exclude non-British settlers in the first half of the 20th century and which was literally known as the “White Australia” policy. These historical myths have deep roots, but do they still influence perception today?

The media teach us ways of seeing

Contemporary Australia is patently diverse. So why do we continue to see Australians who are not white and who do not speak English as their first and only language as perpetual outsiders? Many scholars have suggested that the media are partly to blame because they overrepresent white English speakers and underrepresent everyone else. This may be true of news, current affairs, and fictional genres but there are some extremely popular genres that do show high levels of diversity. Reality TV is one such genre and none more so than the ever-popular Border Security.

Imagining Australia on Border Security

Since it was first aired in 2004, Border Security has provided Australians with “a fascinating insight into the daily workings of the thousands of officers who dedicate their lives to protecting Australia’s border,” as the show’s website explains. Over the years, the show has attracted many millions of viewers and you are likely familiar with the format: each episode has immigration, customs, or quarantine officers face off with passengers who are suspected of constituting a security threat. The basic story arc is always suspicion, investigation of the suspicion, and resolution.

My colleagues Hanna Torsh, Laura Smith-Khan, and I have been collecting these episodes because they provide us with a data source for our research in intercultural communication. They also help us answer the question why we continue to imagine the prototypical Australian as a white monolingual speaker of English.

Read the rest of this LOTM commentary.

Read an open-access pre-print version of the full research article “Securing the Borders of English and Whiteness.”

People in the News


Judge Hilary Charlesworth

“What’s 76 years old and 3.7% female?” A recent Human Rights Watch commentary began with those words, continuing: “Sounds like a joke, right? But it’s not funny at all, especially when it refers to a global judicial body.” The commentator was writing about the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the UN court resolving interstate disputes, in advance of the appointment of a judge to replace the recently deceased ICJ member James Crawford of Australia. The ICJ has had only a handful of women on the bench over its long history, with eminent Australian jurist Hilary Charlesworth, subsequently elected to serve out the term of Judge Crawford, becoming the fourth woman on the current bench and only the fifth woman ever to serve there. Charlesworth’s election did not go unchallenged despite the fact that ICJ vacancies brought about by the death or resignation of a judge have historically been filled with someone of the same nationality. This time, however, the Greek national group also nominated former President of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) Linos-Alexandre Sicilianos for the position. In the end, Charlesworth was elected with an absolute majority.

In a Just Security piece, scholar Fionuala Ní Aoláin writes of the “gendering” of the ICJ and the benefits of diversity. “I claim that multiple diversities matter when we appoint 15 independent judges to the ICJ. Indeed, the selection process already demands diversity in its geographical, cultural and legal systems practices. In parallel, gender rightly matters as a fundamental diversity on the Court. It matters to its legitimacy and standing in a world where increasingly the absence of women from decision-making and leadership processes is understood as inadequate, unrepresentative and brings contestation to outcomes in sustained ways.”

The Supreme Court of Norway has unanimously held that the concession of a wind turbine park park in the Fosen-halvøya (Fosen peninsula) area of Norway violated the rights of the Indigenous Sami people. The affected Sami groups claimed that their rights under Article 27 of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – which is incorporated into the Norwegian Constitution – would be violated because the windmills prevented them from their traditional livelihood of herding reindeer in the area. Article 27 provides that “[i]n those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language.” The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination also asked for the project to be halted until the case could be reviewed. Nonetheless, the turbine park was built and went into operation in 2019. The recent ruling by the Norwegian Supreme Court notes that the need for green energy concessions cannot override the respect of Indigenous rights, especially when there are alternative locations for wind turbines. It is unclear what will happen with the turbine park that is already in operation.

Following the military coup that took place in Sudan in late October, in which Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was placed under house arrest and the internet cut off, the Peace and Security Council of the African Union (AU) suspended that country as a member state. This means that Sudan will no longer be allowed into AU sessions or vote on crucial matters until it restores a civilian government. Shortly afterward, the World Bank announced it would also suspend all aid to Sudan, a move which is likely to have dire consequences for Sudan's struggling economy. In recent days, Hamdok reached an agreement with the military in which he was reinstated as interim prime minister, a deal that was intended, reports The New York Times, “to end a bloody standoff that led to dozens of protester deaths and threatened to derail Sudan’s fragile transition to democracy.” Protests continued, however, as the Sudanese populace expressed their sense of betrayal over the deal. Hamdok has since dismissed the police chiefs who oversaw the violence exercised against post-coup demonstrators that led to over forty deaths. According to France 24, hundreds of political activists, journalists, protesters and bystanders watching the rallies were also arrested in recent weeks and remain in custody.

The incidence of aggression toward health care workers has increased substantially during the COVID-19 era, reports The Guardian, noting that these critical workers have been attacked and abused in countries across the globe. An analysis by the International Committee of the Red Cross showed that “the vast majority of incidents were interpersonal violence where community groups, patients or their relatives lashed out at healthcare workers, with sometimes severe consequences.” The Lancet reported that this phenomenon was already happening early in the pandemic. “Nurses and doctors have been pelted with eggs and physically assaulted in Mexico. In the Philippines, a nurse was reportedly attacked by men who poured bleach on his face, damaging his vision. Across India, reports describe health-care workers being beaten, stoned, spat on, threatened, and evicted from their homes. These are just a few examples among many across numerous countries, including the USA and Australia.”

Acts of aggression are now increasingly occurring in other public-facing spheres, reports the US Centers for Disease Control. “Workers may be threatened and assaulted as businesses try to put into place COVID-19 prevention policies and practices… These threats and assaults can come from customers, other employees, or employers… [They] can happen in any workplace, but may be more likely to occur in retail, services (e.g., restaurants), and other customer- or client-based businesses.” In response to this rise in aggression, a UK Member of Parliament has introduced a new bill that aims to counter rising complaints from public-facing workers in England of unprecedented levels of aggression and anger that have soared during the pandemic.

Developments in International Justice

After 17 years, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has decided to close its preliminary examination into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the context of the armed conflict between and among government forces, paramilitary armed groups, and rebel armed groups in Colombia. According to the ICC, “based on thorough legal and factual analysis of the information available, the Office [of the Prosecutor] concluded that there was not a reasonable basis to believe that potential cases arising from an investigation of the situation would be admissible.” This decision was made by ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan, who considered that Colombia was taking responsibility domestically for prosecuting any international crimes committed – as indicated by the Court’s “complementarity principle” – under its Jurisdicción Especial de la Paz (JEP). JusticeInfoNet reports of this move, “In choosing to end the Office of the Prosecutor’s exam instead of opening a formal investigation, the ICC endorsed the innovative transitional justice system stemming from the 2016 peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). It also gave a much-needed backing to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), the system’s judicial arm which is seeking to strike a balance between restorative and retributive sanctions…” The ICC announcement apparently caught some human rights NGOs off-guard, including the local branch of Human Rights Watch which called the decision “premature, misguided and counterproductive.”
tweet that says La decisions del fiscal de la corte penal internacional de cerrar su examen preliminar en colombia con un acuerdo de coopersacion es prematura, equivocada y contraproducente. La decision puede dejar a la JEP mas expesta ante ataques contra su independence. 10:10 am, Oct 28, 2021, by Jose Miguel Vivanco @JMVivancoHRW

The acquittal of five men by a Bangladeshi tribunal for the alleged 2017 gang rape of two women recently sparked outrage and demonstrations. Presiding Judge Mosammat Kamrunnahar indicated there was a lack of evidence and criticized the alleged victims for waiting one month to report the crime. She furthermore directed the police to not consider any rape allegation reported more than 72 hours after the incident took place. The judge was subsequently relieved of her duties by the Chief Justice, with Bangladesh’s law minister telling the media that “the observation made by Judge Masammat Kamrunnahar is absolutely unlawful and illegal as there is no time limit in the criminal justice systems for recording case for committing this criminal offense.” The conviction rate for rape in Bangladesh is under 1 percent. Bangladesh is nonetheless a party to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, which has provisions for combatting violence against women.

What do Indigenous Peoples think of COP 26, the recently concluded climate summit held in Glasgow? A recent article from Cultural Survival analyzes and reflects on the occurrences of COP26, its accomplishments and deficiencies, particularly where it relates to Indigenous Peoples’ rights. The evaluation is not positive, noting that “[g]lobal leaders failed to empathize with what we, as Indigenous Peoples, experience on a daily basis-- the direct impacts and catastrophes of climate change. If the climate crisis is to be abated, and if we are to reach the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5֯°C, the global community must wake up and acknowledge climate change is an urgent matter that requires true commitment and changed behaviors now.” The article concludes that much of the burden of keeping governments accountable, and of promoting collective rights to lands and resources, is bound to fall on the shoulders of Indigenous Peoples.
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The Organization of American States (OAS) has also weighed in on the relation between climate change and human rights, noting that the violation of rights in this situation may impact diverse groups. In an OAS press release, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights (REDESCA) call for consideration of “the fact that the effects of climate change and environmental degradation are particularly serious for those populations that are in a situation of special vulnerability or historical discrimination and contribute very marginally to greenhouse gas emissions, such as women, children and adolescents, indigenous peoples, people of African descent, and people living in rural areas or living in poverty.” REDESCA was created expressly with the task of developing and strengthening standards relating to the human right to the environment and, in particular, the impact of climate change on human rights in the Americas.

ECtHR logo

A recent judgment by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) may serve to strengthen judicial independence in Bulgaria. The case of Miroslava Todorova v. Bulgaria involved a judge in the criminal division of the Sofia City Court who was president of the Bulgarian Union of Judges from 2009 to 2012. During her presidency, Judge Todorova publicly criticized the Bulgarian Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) regarding certain appointments of court presidents, condemned the government’s judicial policy, and publicly opposed the candidacy of a judge known to be a close friend of the minister of interior. For these actions, her ECtHR application alleged, the SJC accused Todorova of a systematic failure to meet deadlines, reduced her salary, and recommended her dismissal from the judiciary. After Todorova’s case was denied repeatedly by Bulgarian courts, she applied to the ECtHR alleging violation of a number of rights, including the right to a fair trial, respect for private life, freedom of expression, and freedom from discrimination. While the European Court ultimately rejected some of her allegations, it recognized that there had been interference with her right to freedom of expression and that her punishment was exceptionally and disproportionately severe. Read more about the case and its potential impacts from the Library of Congress Global Legal Monitor.

Publications and Resources of Interest

graphic of people traveling with luggage and the words La Ruta

The Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), an organization promoting the full enjoyment of human rights in the Americas through regional and international protection mechanisms, recently launched a podcast series on migration. La Ruta: cartografía de una región en tránsito (in Spanish) is an invitation to learn about the stories, realities, impacts and endurance associated with human movement in Central America. Episodes address issues such as the impact of the pandemic on migration, the lack of options for persons fleeing violence in their home communities, and the hidden internal migration that is occurring in some Central American countries.

CEJIL is now celebrating its 30th anniversary. It is taking stock of its “achievements, struggles, contributions, joys and heartbreaks” while acknowledging “the Latin American region's progress and remaining challenges over the past three decades.”

graphic of people standing on a globe adn waving signs and the words Human Rights adn the Internet Joy Liddcoat Intersentia

A new book provides a short and accessible introduction to the concepts of human rights, the Internet and the emergence of an era of human rights online as a new legal challenge. Human Rights and the Internet (Intersentia 2021) was authored by Joy Liddicoat, an expert on privacy, technology and human rights. The publisher writes of this new publication, “[t]he past decade has witnessed unprecedented use of the Internet for both advancing and suppressing human rights, giving rise to complex new issues that can both inspire and overwhelm. With ever-growing concerns about the (non-)regulation of our digital environment, it is surprising that both the theoretical and practical application of human rights to the Internet and our online lives remain unclear.” Human Rights and the Internet seeks to illuminate this area.

Brandeis University’s Language, Culture and Justice Hub provides an online space where researchers and practitioners working at the intersection of these phenomena can learn, contribute and communicate. The Hub also provides links to other websites and initiatives relevant to this field. These include Antena Aire, a language and justice experimentation collaborative; Political Language in Multilingual Societies, a trans-institutional forum; and From Words to Deeds: Translation and the Law, a site that builds bridges between academia and practice, and between translation, interpreting and legal practitioners.

Explore the full list at our Other Resources page, and suggest additions by sending an email to