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
This month’s feature is contributed by the co-chairs of the Global Coalition for Language Rights, Lucio Bagnulo, Veronica Costea, and Gerald Roche. They introduce our readers to an exciting and much needed initiative.
The early period of the covid pandemic was a strange time of simultaneous isolation and connectivity, as we all bunkered down at home and shifted our lives online. It was during this time that a group of language advocates got together (virtually of course) to form the Global Coalition for Language Rights (GCLR), with the simple mission of promoting language rights for all people.
GCLR pursues this mission by raising awareness of language rights in general, and of the specific challenges that people and communities in different places face in relation to language rights. And, since our coalition members already aim to promote language rights in their own work in various ways, we also aim to support each other by sharing our knowledge and skills with one another.
Coalition members currently include a wide range of individuals and organizations: professional translators, activists, advocates, and academics whose work intersects with language in a variety of ways. This diversity of membership—crossing a range of sectors and bringing together people with very different approaches, experiences, and skills—enables us to support and learn from each other.
One of the coalition’s key activities is the Global Language Advocacy Day (GLAD). We held our first Global Language Advocacy Day on February 22nd, 2022, aiming to boost a simple message: 'language rights are human rights.' Coalition members organized thirteen different local events in six countries, bringing people together to discuss language rights. We also coordinated a social media campaign across Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram, and got our message out through traditional media and online forums, including the coalition’s own blog, helping to bring awareness of language rights to thousands of people. Currently, we are planning the 2023 Global Language Advocacy Day under the theme of ‘language rights save lives.’
GCLR also raises awareness of language rights throughout the year by participating in other public events, such as RightsCon and International Translation Day. Any member of the coalition can propose initiatives that contribute to the coalition’s goals, and we then pursue these by forming temporary working groups that disband once their task has been completed.
To give some idea of our activities, one of these working groups is currently working on a declaration of language rights: a short statement outlining what language rights are in clear, accessible language. Our aim is to translate this declaration into as many languages as possible for the Global Language Advocacy Day in 2023. Having worked out a draft of the declaration, we have now translated it into eleven languages, and will soon begin road-testing it on social media, so we can collect feedback and revise the declaration before formally launching it on the Global Language Advocacy Day 2023.
As part of our broader efforts to raise awareness about the importance of language rights, in 2022 we started issuing public statements in response to pertinent events. We released our first statement following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Members of the coalition were concerned with how the invasion was being justified with reference to language rights: Russia claimed to be protecting the rights of Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine. We therefore issued a trilingual statement, in Russian, Ukrainian, and English, expressing our stance that language rights should never be used to justify state violence. We also collated and published translation resources for people impacted by the war in Ukraine. The coalition has since issued a second statement, again in multiple languages, in response to news that prisons in the US state of Michigan were denying prisoners access to printed materials in languages other than English.
Our work to promote and raise awareness of language rights is growing as the coalition grows, and new members bring new ideas for how we can and should work. One of the key challenges we are currently working on is how to embed our mission within the organization itself: how can we promote language rights within the coalition and move beyond an English-only model? We are also working to ensure that we live up to the ‘global’ part of our name by recruiting members from a wide range of locations and contexts.
We are always happy to welcome new members to the coalition, and invite you to join us and help contribute to our mission of language rights for all people.
People in the News
Photo Credit: European University Institute
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has elected Síofra O’Leary of Ireland as its new President. Judge O’Leary, who succeeds President Robert Spano of Iceland, will be the first female President of the Court since it opened its doors in 1959. She will take up office on 1 November 2022. President O’Leary received her PhD in 1993 from the European University Institute. A book based on her doctoral thesis, The Evolving Concept of Community Citizenship: From the Free Movement of Persons to Union Citizenship, was published in 1996 by Kluwer Law International. She has been an ECtHR judge since 2015. Read more about President O’Leary.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/AFP/ANP/B Czewinski
Several individuals associated with the International Criminal Court (ICC) have recently been making headlines.
On 12 September, the ICC Appeals Chamber issued its judgment in the appeals presented by the Defence of Bosco Ntaganda, along with the Legal Representative of one of the two groups of victims, against the order on reparations delivered by the Trial Chamber in March 2021. The Appeals Chamber decided to remand several issues for the Trial Chamber to address in a new reparations order. Mr. Ntaganda was convicted in 2019 on multiple counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, committed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2002-2003. Read more about the new reparations order from the ICC.
Photo Credit: Credit: ©ICC-CPI
Photo Credit: Credit: ©ICC-CPI
National Public Radio fills in some of the details: “The role of the army in the students' disappearance has long been a source of tension between the families and the government. From the beginning, there were questions about the military's knowledge of what happened and its possible involvement. The students' parents demanded for years that they be allowed to search the army base in Iguala. It was not until 2019 that they were given access along with Encinas and the Truth Commission.”
The latest development in this long saga is the resignation of the prosecutor leading the investigation since 2019, Omar Gomez Trejo. According to the Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center, a nongovernmental organization representing the students’ families, this resignation signals unjustified interference by superiors in the Attorney General’s Office, including rushed accusations and cancelled arrest orders. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has called for an investigation into the disappearances to be carried out with independence and integrity.
Developments in International Justice
Photo Credit: greenleft.org
In recent days, there have been important developments around how states respond to and take responsibility for the effects of climate change.
The Guardian reports that Denmark is the first central government of a developed country to propose funding for poorer countries to compensate for “loss and damage,” a term referring to the “the ravages of climate-related disasters which are so extreme that no protection against them is possible.” The Danish government announced its intention at the UN General Assembly meeting. Although the amount of funding offered is small, some environmental experts believe that Denmark’s pledge “sends the right political signal and could incentivise other countries to follow.”
Around the same time, the UN Human Rights Committee issued a decision that Australia’s failure to adequately protect indigenous Torres Islanders against climate change impacts has “violated their rights to enjoy their culture, free from ‘arbitrary interference’ with their private life, family and home.” Committee member Hélène Tigroudja noted, “[t]his decision marks a significant development as the Committee has created a pathway for individuals to assert claims where national systems have failed to take appropriate measures to protect those most vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change on the enjoyment of their human rights.” The UN has asked Australia to compensate the Islanders for harm suffered, consult with them to assess their needs, and take measures to continue to secure the communities’ safe existence.
While the developments above would appear to be a step in the right direction, environmental scholars Prakash Kashwan and Jesse Ribot assert that such actions do not acknowledge all the sources of environmental injustice. In their recent article entitled “Violent Silence: The Erasure of History and Justice in Global Climate Policy,” Kashwan and Ribot note that technocrats and climate scientists too often ignore the history of extractive relations that marginalized and impoverished the populations that now find themselves the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
“In international climate change negotiations, countries in the global South demand that the global North pay to address the climate-related crisis that it caused," they write. "Unfortunately, these demands for reparations are about funding only the ‘adaptations’ required to avoid additional damage associated with increased climate hazards. Invoking the Polluter Pays Principle (PPP), they neglect to demand reparations for the vulnerabilities also produced by the long history of Northern domination and extraction—let’s call it the Exploiter Pays Principle (EPP).”
Kashwan and Ribot conclude that effective climate-related adaptation requires addressing the full range of both immediate and root causes.
The UN’s Independent International Inquiry on Ukraine, chaired by Judge Erik Møse (a frequent participant at the Brandeis Institute for International Judges), delivered a report on investigators’ findings at a recent meeting of the Human Rights Council. Judge Møse declared unequivocally, “Based on the evidence gathered by the Commission, it has concluded that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine.” Read his full remarks to the Council and watch an interview with Judge Møse from the PBS NewsHour.
The question of what the world does in response to the Commission of Inquiry’s findings is a burning one. International legal scholar Oona Hathaway, in a recent radio interview with National Public Radio, outlines several types of meaningful action that could assist Ukraine. These include symbolic denunciations of Russia’s aggression by the UN General Assembly and the call to Russia by the International Court of Justice to suspend its military operations. Hathaway believes such symbolic actions are important as they “legitimate the unprecedented global sanctions against Russia and the really, truly unprecedented marshalling of resources to support Ukraine in opposing the war of aggression by Russia.” Hathaway also references as significant the ongoing investigations by the International Criminal Court into Russian acts of aggression in Ukraine, as well as war crimes trials taking place in Ukraine’s own courts.
Learn more about the case brought by Ukraine against Russia before the ICJ (Allegations of Genocide under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide) in a recent podcast in The Hague Courts Dialogue series with Prof. Ingo Venzke. Read the “declaration of intervention” filed in September by the United States, whereby it joins a number of other intervening states from Europe and beyond that consider that they have an interest of a legal nature in the case.
As this newsletter goes to press, Russian President Vladimir Putin has just announced “accession treaties” that formalize Russia’s illegal annexation of four occupied regions in Ukraine, after referenda of questionable validity held between 23 and 27 September. According to The Guardian, these annexations mark “the largest forcible takeover of territory in Europe since the second world war.” Read a white paper prepared by the Public International Law and Policy Group and Ropes & Gray LLP that explores the legality and impact of these referenda.
• Incites the commission of a terrorist offense, such as kidnapping with the aim to seriously intimidate a population.
• Solicits a person or a group of persons to participate in the activities of a terrorist group.
• Commits or contributes to the commission of a terrorist offense.
• Provides instruction on the making or use of explosives, firearms, or other weapons or noxious or hazardous substances, or on other specific methods or techniques for the purpose of committing or contributing to the commission of a terrorist offense.
• Constitutes a threat to commit a terrorist offense. (Art. 2, para. 7.)
The impetus to create a tribunal in response to the murder of journalists emerged from widespread frustration with the pervasive impunity around such acts and the lack of action from states to investigate and prosecute these crimes despite their international legal obligation to do so. The legal framework of the Tribunal is based on international human rights law, particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Read the documentation for this case around the murder of journalists, including the indictment, case files and judgment. Watch video of the delivery of the judgment from the closing hearing of the Tribunal on 19 September 2022. Learn more about the Peoples' Tribunal on the Murder of Journalists at its FAQ page.
Photo Credit: Reuters-ECCC
This ECCC judgment marks the end of the long and sometimes contentious judicial work carried out by this court, composed of both Cambodian and international judges, which was established in 2003. Trials began sixteen years ago and a total of three persons have been convicted. Several indictees died along the way and one was decreed unfit to stand trial due to senile dementia. According to JusticeInfo.net, the last judgment “does not bring any surprises or new facts. The conviction of Khieu Samphan on appeal confirms, four years later, the judgment of the trial court and seals for history this court’s legacy.” This legacy is, however, a mixed one, there being a general feeling among Cambodians that justice has not been served by the ECCC. “This feeling will be compounded by the fact that, despite much rhetoric from international justice experts and activists, the hoped-for impact of the ECCC on the functioning and independence of the national judiciary and strengthening of rule of law has not materialised.”
Publications and Resources of Interest
The Durham University Comparative Criminal Judgments Project, under the direction of Prof. Michael Bohlander, is looking for contributions. This practice-facing, decolonisation-minded and best-practice sharing project will create a valuable resource of criminal judgments, drafted by experts on criminal law and procedure from a number of jurisdictions. A comprehensive factual case scenario will form the basis of the judgments, which will be based on the law and practice of each jurisdiction, written in English, but in the style of the relevant court in each jurisdiction.