November 2022

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

"Decolonizing Accent in English-Language Teaching"

Mingyi LiThis month’s Spotlight comes from Language, Culture and Hub member Mingyi Li. Mingyi is a Ph.D. student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto. For her Master’s degree, she explored how Western influence has affected Chinese doctoral students’ understanding of the West before they came to Canada, as well as their decision to select Canada as the destination to advance their academic careers.

The Language, Culture and Justice Hub recently held a webinar that explored related issues. Entitled “Toward Language Justice in Higher Education," the event featured Hub members Marguerite LukesVijay Ramjattan, and Shawna Shapiro. View a recording of the webinar here.

In this Spotlight piece, I wish to present a small part of my MA thesis from OISE. The overarching goal of this thesis was to examine the identity formation of Chinese international students – born in the 1990s and having spent a substantial amount of time living in both China and Canada – as they negotiate their understanding of race, nationality, values and beliefs throughout their settlement journey in North American countries. This Spotlight aims to present how the language learning experiences of Chinese students before they come to the West can change their behaviors when they settle in the West. 
The findings of my study indicated that all participants received  “standardized North American English accent” training at different levels when they were in China. The impacts of the accent training were different for each individual participant. According to participants’ stories, the ideology of native-speakerism was deeply embedded in the professional thinking of and activities used by their English teachers during the time they studied in China. For example, one participant recounted:
OISE logoI do not think that we have the choice of having ‘Chinese accent’ when speaking English in China’s education system. We only can have North American accent or UK accent. I remember our elementary and secondary English curriculums were all North American English. My English teachers in high school asked us to repeat after all kinds of North American radios. We were required to try our best to have the same pronunciation and speaking habits as white people.
Another participant shared a very similar story:
All of my English teachers in elementary schools and my after-school English classes played the North American and UK radios for us. They wanted us to have the same accents as those broadcasters. I think the accuracy of English speaking was very emphasized in China’s English classroom. We tend to find the most accurate pronunciation [of English]. I cannot even have the same pronunciation as the Chinese broadcasters when I speak Chinese, which is my mother tongue. How is it possible to have the accurate pronunciations as the English broadcasters?
The process of asking students to imitate North American and British accents formed a colonized mentality within the language classroom. It divided students into accent hierarchies based on the level that they could speak the so-called standard English. As a result, the colonized mentality led to alienation and estrangement, which is often “accompanied by the internalization of deficit views toward self and community, inherently shaped by the scorn, hostility, and resentment of the dominant elite toward a subaltern population” (Darder, 2018, p. 12). One participant in this study explicitly indicated that, because of her training in standard English speaking in China, she has always been very conscious of her own accent when speaking English. Although she fully respects the diverse accents of English, she still critically judges her own accent and grammar every time she speaks English publicly. 
This particular finding in my study reflects a prevalent phenomenon in the language classroom, where monolingual ideologies still dominate teaching practices and there is a lack of critical consciousness. As language educators, we should neither annihilate nor devalue students’ dignity and their cultural backgrounds; rather, we should raise their cultural confidence through English teaching, and allow them to deconstruct, critique, reform, and reconstruct the ideological foundations of knowledge and culture.

People in the News

image of older persons

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) recently called on States in the Americas to advance their efforts to ensure that older people can enjoy all their human rights and fundamental freedoms, in conformity with the Inter-American Convention on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Older Persons. This convention, in force since January 2017, was established “to promote, protect, and ensure the recognition and full enjoyment and exercise, under conditions of equality, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms of the elderly, in order to contribute to their full inclusion, integration, and participation in society.” The first and only international treaty that recognizes the rights of older persons in a broad and comprehensive manner, this Convention has been ratified by only a handful of states in the region: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Uruguay. 

Judge Cancado Trindade

Judge Antônio Cançado Trindade

On 4 November, the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly will concurrently elect a replacement to serve out the International Court of Justice (ICJ) term of  Judge Antônio Cançado Trindade of Brazil, who died last May.  Cançado Trindade joined the ICJ bench in 2009 and was re-elected in 2018. His second term would have ended in 2027. In casual elections produced by the death of a judge, it is expected that the judge will be replaced by a national of a member of the same UN regional group (but not necessarily from the same country), in this case the Latin American and Caribbean Group. Three candidates have been nominated: Professor Marcelo Kohen, from Argentina; Professor Paulo Borba Casella, from Brazil; and Professor Leonardo Nemer Caldeira Brandt, from Brazil.

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What do judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and other international tribunals need to know about gender in order to adjudicate knowledgeably? Noting the need for a deeper understanding of gender among criminal judges, Africa Legal Aid has held seven training sessions around gender, facilitated by experts and resource persons, for this target audience. In the words of the organization, “[a]cknowledging the impact of gender and diversity in decision-making is an essential prerequisite to ensuring equal protection of the law to all – a core commitment of the ICC. Judgments of the ICC have been criticised academically in the past for not recognising the effects of gender and the intersectionality between gender, race and gender identity.” The reports of all seven training sessions can be found here.
Oleksandra Matviichuk
Ukrainian human rights activist Oleksandra Matviichuk of the Centre for Civil Liberties, a joint winner of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize, reports that her organization has documented numerous and diverse war crimes committed by occupying Russian forces in her country since 2014. According to Matviichuk, as reported in The Guardian, “[t]his hell which we’re going through now is a result of total impunity of Russia, which they enjoyed for decades, because they committed horrible crimes in Chechnya, in Moldova, in Georgia, in Mali, in Libya and Syria they have never been punished for. They believed they could do what they wanted because they are a member of the UN security council”. Read more of her views in a recent interview with Matviichuk from The Intercept
The need to create a special tribunal to prosecute Russia’s acts of aggression in Ukraine was recently laid out in Just Security by Ambassador David Scheffer. As early as May, researcher Alexandre Skander Galand argued in Opinio Juris that to provide an accurate picture of the crime of aggression perpetrated by Russia in Ukraine, any “‘special justice mechanism’ should be truly international and provide for victims’ right to representation and reparations.” Meanwhile, in a historic decision by the UN General Assembly in October, the body adopted a resolution rejecting Russia's move to annex Ukrainian territory as illegal and invalid under international law, with 143 members voting in favor.

Developments in International Justice

Women in mourning

Women mourn the victims of a massacre in Tigray, Ethiopia.


While the world waits with bated breath for daily updates on the Russian war against Ukraine, another dire conflict affecting millions of people in northern Ethiopia receives very little attention. A recently-delivered report by the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia has laid out evidence of numerous violations in Ethiopia which may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity (watch a presentation of the report to the UN General Assembly here). These violations include extrajudicial killings, rape, sexual violence, and starvation of the civilian population as a method of warfare.  The Commission was established by the United Nations Human Rights Council in December 2021 to “conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into allegations of violations and abuses of international human rights law and violations of international humanitarian law and international refugee law in Ethiopia committed since 3 November 2020 by all parties to the conflict.”  The New York Times calls the conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia “the world’s unseen war, a sprawling conflict hidden behind a punishing government siege that has severed communications in the region, locked out reporters and left 5.2 million people in urgent need of food aid.” The conflict, which began two years ago, has only intensified in recent weeks. Negotiators for the Ethiopian government and regional forces from Tigray met for peace talks in South Africa in late October, with mediation by the African Union. As this newsletter goes into press, the talks have been extended with no information available about what has occurred to date. 

There has long been a general consensus in the international community that humanitarian personnel and operations should not be targeted in the context of armed conflict. Technological change has now required that these protections be extended to online as well as offline environments. This understanding was recently adopted by the Council of Delegates of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in a resolution entitled “Safeguarding Humanitarian Data". Learn more about this new resolution in an ICRC Blog post by Tilman Rodenhäuser, Balthasar Staehelin, and Massimo Marelli, who “explore how these rules impose limits on digital threats against impartial humanitarian organizations and propose legal, policy and operational measures to safeguard them against such threats”.

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FIFA 2022 logo
As the start date for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in 
Qatar approaches, reactions to the host country’s various violations of international norms have only increased. 

First, there is the treatment of migrant workers, many working under conditions of forced labor, who built the World Cup stadia in Qatar. The Atlantic Council notes that despite supposed reforms of the Qatari employment model, “workers in Qatar are still victims of a litany of rights abuses, including retaliation by their employers when trying to leave employment, nonpayment of wages, lack of repercussions when employers commit crimes against their workers, and, in extreme cases, worker deaths.” Then, there is the suppression of LGBT rights in Qatar.  Human Rights Watch believes this issue should have been taken into consideration when Qatar was selected as the 2022 host by FIFA, which in 2016  adopted the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. In the lead-up to the competition, it has also been found that Qatari authorities are restricting the accreditation process for journalists who are to cover FIFA matches. According to Reporters Without Borders,  “[b]y requiring that the media, when they apply for accreditation, agree to abide by a number of conditions, some of which are vague, ambiguous, and open to arbitrary interpretation, Qatar is clearly seeking to discourage, if not prevent, the foreign media from talking about anything other than football.” Finally, there is the environmental impact of the Qatari World Cup, as reported by Al Jazeera: “Qatar World Cup 2022 organisers have promised a carbon-neutral tournament but environmental groups are warning that the football event will be far more polluting than advertised.”

In response to these alleged human rights violations, some major European cities – including Barcelona , Paris and London – are banning public viewing areas where fans can gather to watch the World Cup matches.

The first report of the United Nations International Independent Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in the context of Law Enforcement stresses the critical place of lived experience in taking action against racism. The chair of the Mechanism, Yvonne Mokgoro, made a statement to this effect before presenting the report during an interactive dialogue at the recent UN Human Rights Council meeting. The Expert Mechanism's mandate was established in 2021 “in order to further transformative change for racial justice and equality in the context of law enforcement globally, especially where relating to the legacies of colonialism and the Transatlantic slave trade in enslaved Africans, to investigate Governments’ responses to peaceful anti-racism protests and all violations of international human rights law and to contribute to accountability and redress for victims”. Read the full report of the Mechanism.

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The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) recently issued a significant decision on the right to life in the case of mental illness. As explained in the UK Human Rights Blog Mortier v. Belgium “concerns an adult Belgian citizen who underwent a euthanasia procedure at a time when she was suffering from severe depression, without her son or daughter being properly informed.” Euthanasia in Belgium has been legal since 2002 if a person is in a “medically futile condition of constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering that cannot be alleviated, resulting from a serious and incurable disorder caused by illness or accident”. Nonetheless, the son, Tom Mortier, claimed that the government failed to protect both his mother’s right to life (Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights) and her right to respect for private and family life (Article 8). The ECtHR judgment supported those claims by addressing the way in which the facts surrounding the mother’s euthanasia were handled by Belgium’s Federal Commission for the Control and Evaluation of Euthanasia and the promptness of a criminal trial following her death. The judgment did not, however, rule that there was any violation of Belgium’s legislative framework for the practice of euthanasia. An ECtHR summary of the case notes, “[m]atters of end-of-life care, and in particular euthanasia, raised complex legal, social, moral and ethical issues. The legal opinions and responses among the States Parties to the Convention varied greatly, and there was no consensus as to the right of an individual to decide how and when his or her life should end.”
Mahsa Amini


In response to the death in September of Mahsa Amini in Iran  at the hands of the so-called  "morality police," which triggered protests across Iran, the governments of the United States, United Kingdom and European Union have imposed sanctions against the morality police and leaders of Iran’s security organizations. US Secretary of the Treasury Janet L. Yellen stated, “Mahsa Amini was a courageous woman whose death in Morality Police custody was yet another act of brutality by the Iranian regime’s security forces against its own people. We condemn this unconscionable act in the strongest terms and call on the Iranian government to end its violence against women and its ongoing violent crackdown on free expression and assembly.” UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly expressed similar sentiments: “The UK stands with the people of Iran who are bravely calling for accountability from their government and for their fundamental human rights to be respected. These sanctions send a clear message to the Iranian authorities – we will hold you to account for your repression of women and girls and for the shocking violence you have inflicted on your own people.” As protests continue in Iran, further sanctions against Iranian officials are being enactedThe Guardian reports that the 40th day after Amini’s death, which traditionally ends a mourning period, saw renewed protests and crackdowns by Iranian security forces.

Publications and Resources of Interest

Opinio Juris logo
A recent feature in Opinio Juris tackled the topic of “white ignorance” in international law. Scholar Mohsen al Attar takes inspiration from the late philosopher Charles Mills who, according to a New York Times obituary, “argued that white supremacy was a feature of the Western political tradition, and that racism represented a political system as intentional as liberal democracy.” Al Attar describes how the notion of race is ghettoized in the legal academy, how attempts at “inclusion” in international law events can cultivate ignorance, and how international law more generally shows a reluctance to confront epistemic violence. In concluding his piece, al Attar writes, “[w]hite supremacy was never a universal way of knowing. It is a political system of racial domination designed to subordinate those racialised as non-white and to blind those racialised as white to the racial and epistemic violence they benefit from. International law is hegemonic and elicits consent to its racist logic from across the spectrum: positivist and critical, practicing and academic.” 
In a response to al Attar’s piece, scholar Vivek Bhatt – who notes he is writing not in disagreement but in solidarity with al Attar – describes his own experiences in introducing students to international legal knowledge that lies outside the usual canon. In his “mission to incorporate issues of injustice and inequality into [his] teaching,” Bhatt has “consistently found communities of exceptional students who urge one another to develop more sophisticated critique of international law.” He underscores the “importance of discussing and teaching critical thought, including racial injustice: each individual’s lived experience of international law is shaped by history, context, and sense of place, and each experience deserves to be known.” 
cover of book
The Public International Law and Policy Group recently announced that a book authored by its co-Founders Mike Scharf and Paul Williams and Managing Director Milena Sterio, The Syrian Conflict's Impact on International Law (Cambridge University Press 2020), has received the Association Internationale De Droit Pénal 2022 Book of the Year Award for Scholarly and Theoretical Contributions to the Field. The book seeks to contribute both to understanding the concept of accelerated formation of customary international law and the specific ways the Syria conflict has led to development of new norms and principles in several areas of international law. Learn more about the publication and view a recording of the book launch here
book cover
A new book by Jeffrey S. Bachman, The Politics of Genocide: From the Genocide Convention to the Responsibility to Protect (Rutgers University Press 2022) explores how the United States, Soviet Union/Russia, China, United Kingdom, and France have used the Genocide Convention to isolate themselves from its very reach. The publisher notes: “By situating genocide prevention in a system of territorial jurisdiction; by excluding protection for political groups and acts constituting cultural genocide from the Genocide Convention; by controlling when genocide is meaningfully named at the Security Council; and by pointing the responsibility to protect in directions away from any of the P-5, they have achieved what can only be described as practical impunity for genocide.”