International Justice in the News

The International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life brings you a monthly selection of news about the people involved in the work of international courts and tribunals, significant developments in international justice, and publications and resources of interest. We hope that this brief selection will help you keep abreast of the field and lead you to sites where you can inform yourself further.

July 2019

Please note that we will take a break in August and bring you the next issue on 1 Sept 2019.

People in the News


GautierThe International Court of Justice (ICJ) will soon have a new registrar, but he is not an unfamiliar face in the world of international law and justice. Philippe Gautier of Belgium served as the registrar of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea from 2001 to the 2019, having served as Deputy-Registrar of the Tribunal from 1997 to 2001. Gautier will replace Philippe Couvreur, also of Belgium, who is retiring as ICJ registrar on 1 July after having held the post since 2000. He previously held other positions at the ICJ and served the institution for 37 years in total.

WhitingAlex Whiting recently joined the Kosovo Specialist Prosecutor’s Office as Head of Investigations. A dual US/French national, Whiting has extensive experience in both domestic and international prosecutions, the latter including stints at both the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Court. He has also had a distinguished academic career, having served as a professor of practice at Harvard University Law School. The Special Prosecutor’s Office, together with the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, have jurisdiction over crimes against humanity, war crimes and other crimes under Kosovo law in relation to allegations reported in the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly Report of 7 January 2011. Learn more about Whiting’s ICTY experiences at Brandeis University’s Ad Hoc Tribunals Oral History Project.

protestersThe final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada has directed a spotlight on this population. According to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, “the National Inquiry concluded that persistent and deliberate human rights violations are the root cause behind Canada’s staggering rates of violence against Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual people. This report addresses the systemic causes of all forms of violence, including sexual violence, against Indigenous women and girls in Canada, as well as the institutional policies and practices implemented in response to violence experienced by them.” The inquiry found that Indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to be murdered or to go missing than members of any other demographic group in Canada — and 16 times more likely to be slain or to disappear than white women. A National Public Radio piece suggests that the same problem exists in the US but it has so far received no attention from national authorities.

Canada has also been recently criticized for its handling of toxic chemicals and industrial waste in areas with large Indigenous populations. According to The Guardian, the United Nations special rapporteur on toxic chemicals has found that “numerous [Indigenous] communities were unable access to clean drinking water, while others had elevated levels of toxins in the water and soil.” This situation shows “a blatant disregard for Indigenous rights.” 

BashirSudan's public prosecutor has charged ousted president Omar al-Bashir with corruption. This announcement came more than two months after the military removed Bashir last April following months of nationwide protests against his 30-year rule. An unnamed official indicated that Bashir has been charged with “possessing foreign funds, acquiring suspected and illegal wealth and ordering (the state of) emergency." The International Criminal Court (ICC) has still not given up hope, however, that Bashir might be transferred to The Hague where he has long been wanted on charges of crimes against humanity and genocide relating to abuses by Sudanese forces in Darfur between 2003 and 2008.  As reported by Al Jazeera, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda recently urged Sudan, in a statement at the United Nations, to turn over Bashir and other Sudanese charged with international crimes. “I have a clear message to convey: now is the time to act. Now is the time for the people of Sudan to choose law over impunity and ensure that the ICC suspects in the Darfur situation finally face justice in a court of law.”

AlstonHow might climate change affect populations across the globe? UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston asserts that the impacts of global warming are likely to undermine not only basic rights to life, water, food, and housing for hundreds of millions of people, but also democracy and the rule of law. “Perversely, while people in poverty are responsible for just a fraction of global emissions, they will bear the brunt of climate change, and have the least capacity to protect themselves,” Alston said. “We risk a ‘climate apartheid’ scenario where the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger, and conflict while the rest of the world is left to suffer.” Read more in Alston’s recently issued report, Climate Change and Poverty.

MeronNever one to slow down, international judge Theodor Meron, who recently stepped down from the presidency of the United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, will be an Honorary Visiting Fellow at Trinity College Oxford for the next three years. Meron, a renowned scholar and professor of international law, was elected as judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in 2001, where he also served several terms as president. He was a frequent and enthusiastic participant in the Brandeis Institute for International Judges, as well. Meron says that Trinity will be an open and stimulating home for his writing and lectures.

Developments in International Justice

shipsThe European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) recently decided that the Italian Government is not required to apply the interim measure requested by applicants in the case of Rackete and Others v. Italy, which would have allowed them to disembark in Italy from the ship Sea-Watch 3. The applicants are ship captain Ms. Rackete and about forty individuals who are nationals of Niger, Guinea Conakry, Cameron, Mali, Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Burkina Faso. The applicants applied on 21 June 2019 to the ECtHR, under Rule 39 of its Rules of Court, requesting permission to disembark from Sea-Watch 3. Rule 39 indicates that the Court may order interim measures – which apply only where there is an imminent risk of irreparable harm – to any State Party to the European Convention on Human Rights. The applicants have been on the ship since 12 June 2019, when they were rescued in international waters within the Libya Search and Rescue Region. The ECtHR also indicated that Italian authorities should continue to provide all necessary assistance to those persons on board the ship who are in a vulnerable situation on account of their age or state of health. A recent EuroNews reportage suggested that conditions on the ship were deteriorating during this standoff. In late-breaking news, The New York Times reported that Capt. Rackete has been arrested by Italian authorities after docking her ship in Lampedusa without permission.

logoThe so-called “China Tribunal” has released its final report. The seven-member independent tribunal, headed by Geoffrey Nice QC, was established to determine what international law crimes, if any, were committed by state or state-approved bodies, organizations or individuals in China that may have engaged in forced organ harvesting of prisoners of conscience. The members found that they are “certain – unanimously, and sure beyond reasonable doubt – that in China forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience has been practised for a substantial period of time involving a very substantial number of victims.” While the Tribunal alleges that these practices targeted members of the Falun Gong and Uyghar communities, it did not find sufficient evidence to conclude that a specific genocidal intent existed. As to the consequences of these findings, the ICL Media Review explains that “[t]he China Tribunal was created as a Peoples’ Tribunal which has no legal authority but hears evidence from witnesses and makes a determination on whether international crimes have been committed. Peoples’ Tribunals are aimed at providing some resolution to survivors or the loved ones of those killed or who have died since the relevant event. They may also provide material that can be used to urge official international organisations to further action and create an historical ‘evidence-based’ record.” 

logoPublic hearings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the preliminary objections raised by the Russian Federation in the case concerning Application of the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism and of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Ukraine v. Russian Federation) were concluded in early June. The judges are now deliberating on the case. As Radio Free Europe explains, “Ukraine filed the case at the ICJ in January 2017, accusing Russia of violating the [two conventions]. It said Moscow had stepped up its interference in Ukraine's affairs since 2014, ‘intervening militarily...financing acts of terrorism, and violating the human rights of millions of Ukraine's citizens, including, for all too many, their right to life.’ The case also includes claims of Russian involvement in the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 by a missile over the conflict zone in July 2014.” Since the ICJ hearings were concluded, a Dutch-led inquiry into the aircraft crash has named four persons – three Russians and a Ukrainian – who will be charged with their roles in the downing of the aircraft, which killed all 298 people on board.

logoThe United Nations Security Council has adopted a resolution on persons reported missing in armed conflict, expressing concern that the number of such cases worldwide shows no signs of abating. Resolution 2474 (2019) was unanimously adopted. Among numerous provisions, the resolution calls upon parties to armed conflict to actively search for persons reported missing, to pay utmost attention to reports of missing children, to establish national information bureaus or other mechanisms for the exchange of information, to enable the return of the remains of the deceased, and to allow safe and unimpeded access of humanitarian personnel, including those engaged in the search for and identification of missing persons or their remains as soon as circumstances permit.

logoThe Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a US-based NGO, has filed a complaint with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers and requested a comprehensive and independent investigation into US interference with the ICC with regards to the opening of the situation in Afghanistan. The Court’s Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) unanimously rejected the Office of the Prosecutor’s request to open investigations into alleged crimes against humanity committed by the Taliban and alleged war crimes committed by Afghan National Security Forces and the US military and Central Intelligence Agency. The PTC decided that opening the investigations would not be in the “interests of justice.” According to the CCR website, the organization’s complaint to the UN “cites the steady stream of threats made by Donald Trump and other senior officials against the court if it proceeded to open an investigation into war crimes committed by U.S. military and C.I.A. officials in Afghanistan and other countries. In the face of these threats, the Pre-Trial Chamber refused to authorize the investigation of any crimes in Afghanistan or involving U.S. citizens, citing ‘changes in the relevant political landscape’ as a basis for concluding that an investigation would be unsuccessful.” The CCR Senior Staff Attorney stated that in failing to investigate powerful states for committing crimes, the ICC fails to fulfil its mandate. The ICC Prosecutor has filed a request to appeal the PTC decision, and Afghan victims groups have also filed submissions on the matter.

boy carrying heavy basket
credit: ILO

A recent study has shown that the use of child labour remains high across the globe, especially in countries that supply goods to the West. The Guardian reports, “Despite high economic growth and big improvements in education and development, countries such as China, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Cambodia have made little progress  in tackling child labour… Child labour victims number an estimated 152 million, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), 73 million of whom work in hazardous conditions.” The ILO sets the minimum age for work at 15 years of age.

Publications and Resources of Interest

logoA new animated video, “Interpretation at the Court of Justice of the European Union,” highlights what parties before the Court need to know about the process of interpretation in one of the 24 official languages of the European Union. To learn about how multilingual jurisprudence is produced at the Court, visit the website of the Law and Language at the European Court of Justice Project.

book coverUNESCO has launched a new publication titled "Legal Standards on Freedom of Expression: Toolkit for the Judiciary in Africa". This toolkit provides a theoretical and practical understanding of the key issues concerning the rights to freedom of information, freedom of the press, and freedom of expression. The publication aims to train African judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and other legal professionals as well as civil society representatives and media. DevDiscourse explains, “this six-module manual explains the legal basis of these fundamental rights through the lens of both international and regional standards. It also provides an in-depth discussion of the main challenges to their application in practice, such as legitimate restrictions to free speech, the issue of impunity for crimes and attacks against journalists and the media, and the newer challenges brought forth by the digital age.” 

cyber stuff

A recent post from the Humanitarian Law and Policy blog explores the potential human costs of cyber operations, including those that would cause death, injury, physical damage, or affect the delivery of essential services to the population or the core internet services. The blogpost notes that it is equally important to analyze how cyber operations may be used by belligerents during armed conflicts—a task rendered more difficult by the secrecy surrounding the development and use of cyber operations. It is clear that such operations raise challenges for international humanitarian law, especially since technology is evolving fast and the capabilities of the most sophisticated actors may remain largely unknown. 

logoTwo recent publications from Africa Legal Aid (AFLA) explore a range of topics relevant to the work of the International Criminal Court. The first reports on a series of consultation meetings that AFLA convened with stakeholders from Central, Eastern, and Western Africa around the topic 'Emerging Trends on Complementarity'. Participants included members of the judiciary, prosecutors, civil society, legal fraternities, academics, representatives of intergovernmental organizations, and victims of atrocity crimes.

The second publication is a special issue of the AFLA Quarterly commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Rome Statute. Articles address a range of topics, including the ongoing fight against impunity, victims’ rights, and the Boko Haram situation. The issue also features an interview with ICC Judge Howard Morrison and a biographical sketch of the life and accomplishments of former ICC Judge Sanji Monageng, prepared by IJIN editor Leigh Swigart.

International Justice in the News
is edited by Leigh Swigart, Director of Programs in International Justice and Society.

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