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International Justice in the News

The International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life brings you a monthly selection of news about the people who work in international courts and tribunals, significant developments in international justice, and articles and publications 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.

August 2009

People in the News

  • UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has appointed David Tolbert of the United States of America as the Registrar of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL).  He will commence his duties on 26 August 2009. Mr. Tolbert previously held various positions at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Read the Tribunal’s press release. The STL also has a new Vice-President, Judge Ralph Jacques Riachy of Lebanon, as reported by the UN News Service.
  • Stephen Rapp has been nominated by President Obama to serve as the United States Ambassador for War Crimes. Mr. Rapp is currently Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. He served previously as a Senior Trial Attorney and Chief of Prosecutions at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. If his nomination is confirmed, he will leave his position at the Special Court after ensuring a smooth transition in the prosecution of former Liberian president, Charles Taylor. More details are available in this article from the Des Moines Register.
  • South African President Jacob Zuma is being pressured by human rights groups to uphold his own government’s treaty obligations toward the International Criminal Court. Mr. Zuma did not object when the African Union voted to reject the ICC’s arrest warrant for Sudanese President al-Bashir. Human rights activists claim that South Africa is duty-bound to honor the warrant. Read more in an article from Voice of America.  Local coverage of the matter comes from The Sowetan. In contrast, the government of Uganda has publicly vowed to arrest al-Bachir should he enter onto its territory. Read more from Radio Netherlands Worldwide.

Developments in international justice

  • On 21 July 2009, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon outlined a report on the Responsibility to Protect. “R2P” measures are designed to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and related crimes against humanity. 

Agreed to by world leaders in 2005, R2P holds States responsible for shielding their own populations from genocide and other major human rights abuses and requires the international community to step in if this obligation is not met. Read the UN press release.  Debates in the General Assembly about R2P began on 23 July 2009. Read statements about R2P by States and by the High Commissioner for Human Rights here. More about the R2P movement, including a description of its origins and the challenges it currently faces, is available in this article from The Economist.
  • UN humanitarian agencies are calling for a freeze in the construction of the barrier in the West Bank and its re-routing to the Green Line, in light of both the Advisory Opinion rendered by the International Court of Justice five years ago and the wall’s humanitarian impact. Read more in an article from The Guardian. A statement from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is available here. Read local coverage in this Jerusalem Post article.
  • In a recent judgment, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against the Turkish state for failing to protect a citizen from domestic violence. Legal experts are hailng Opuz v. Turkey as a precedent that may have significant consequences for the way in which European governments respond to cases of domestic abuse. Learn more in an article from CNN News. The judgment is available here.
  • Spain’s ability to prosecute international crimes has been curtailed by a recent vote by Madrid’s lower house of parliament. Recognized in recent years as a country willing to evoke the principle of “universal jurisdiction” in order to prosecute heinous crimes occurring outside its borders, Spain has now succumbed to outside pressure to curb it’s wide-ranging prosecutorial practices. Many in the field of international justice and human rights are lamenting this limitation of Spain’s legal mandate. Read more in an article by the Christian Science Monitor.
  • Foreign Ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed to establish a regional human rights commission at their recent meeting on Phuket. While this agreement is seen as a positive move toward establishing a human rights regime in the region, critics point out that the commission will play mostly a promotional role. Many believe that Southeast Asia is long overdue for a human rights court that would rule on charges of human rights violations. Europe and the Americas already have courts that fulfill this function. Africa has established such a court but it is not yet fully functional. Read an op-ed about ASEAN’s actions in the area of human rights from The Irawaddy.

Articles and publications of interest

  • Daniel Terris, director of the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life of Brandeis University, has published an op-ed in the Boston Globe defending the open views of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor toward international and foreign law. Some lawmakers have raised this issue during Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings.
  • Former UN Legal Counsel Hans Corell recently delivered an address at the Stockholm Criminology Symposium entitled “Addressing Impunity: How United are the Nations?” Access the full text of the address here.
  • Human Rights Watch has published a comprehensive report, entitled "Selling Justice Short: Why Accountability Matters for Peace," based on its work over the past twenty years and in nearly twenty countries. The report “documents how ignoring atrocities reinforces a culture of impunity that encourages future abuses.” Read more, and find a link to the integral text of the report, in this press release.
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