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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.

July 2009

People in the News

•    The World Trade Organization Dispute Resolution Body has appointed two new members to its seven-member Appellate Body (AB). Mr. Ricardo Ramírez Hernández of Mexico will serve for four years commencing on 1 July 2009, and Mr. Peter Van den Bossche of the EU will serve for four years commencing on 12 December 2009. The AB hears appeals from reports issued by panels in disputes brought by WTO members. Read the WTO press release.

•    The International Criminal Court has appointed Juan E. Méndez of Argentina as its Special Advisor on Crime Prevention. Mr. Méndez’s role will be to advise the ICC Chief Prosecutor on how to maximize the impact of the court’s work and to prevent the commission of massive atrocities. Read the ICC press release.

•    The international prosecutor of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, Mr. Robert Petit of Canada, has resigned his position. Although he cites “family and personal reasons” for this decision, it is known that he and his Cambodian co-prosecutor disagreed on important issues and that Petit feels there is political interference in his office. Read more in an article in the CBC News.
•    Fifteen judges have been sworn into the new United Nations Dispute Tribunal and Appeals Tribunal. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the judges that he was hopeful that this reformed work-related dispute settlement system would be more professional and independent, while also contributing to greater accountability in the Organization. For the judges’ names and more information, read the UN press release.

•    Richard Goldstone, appointed by the United Nations to investigate alleged violations of international law during the conflict in Gaza last January, reported that this mission has been the hardest of his career. Read an article by Radio Netherlands Worldwide. As part of its investigations, Goldstone’s fact-finding mission listened to testimony from victims of the conflict for two days in Gaza City and will hold a second round of public hearings later in Geneva. Read more from Al Jazeera here.

Developments in international justice

•    There is currently much international discussion surrounding the fate of persons who have been detained, some say unlawfully, by the US government at Guantánamo Bay prison camp. The European Union has asked its member states to accept detainees within their own borders, a request that a number of countries – including Italy, the UK, France, Belgium, and Sweden – have now honored. Read more in a BBC article. The Pacific nation of Palau has also accepted a number of Chinese Muslim detainees who fear persecution in their home country, as reported in this ABC News item.

•    Another Guantánamo detainee, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, has been transferred to a New York court where he will be tried for alleged acts of terrorism related to the 1998 US bombing in Dar es Salaam. Read details from the U.S. Department of Justice here. His trial is being applauded by leaders in his home country, Tanzania: “I personally congratulate President Barack Obama for advocating the rule of law…” said the opposition leader of the Tanzanian parliament. Read more from the Dar es Salaam Citizen here.
•    The International Court of Justice has accepted Senegal’s assurances that it will keep former Chadian dictator, Hissène Habré, under house arrest while he awaits trial for alleged human rights abuses. A Chadian inquiry found that Mr. Habré was responsible for 40,000 political killings during his eight years as president. He has lived in Senegal since 1990 when he was toppled from power in Chad. Belgium had asked the ICJ to order Senegal to keep Mr. Habre in custody, citing fears he could escape and go into hiding. Habré is wanted under Belgium's universal jurisdiction laws for torture and crimes against humanity, but Senegal has refused to extradite him, with the support of the African Union, saying that its own judiciary will try him. Senegal argues, however, that it does not currently have the funds to do so. To read the ICJ press release, click here. Background on the Habré case is available at the Human Rights Watch website.

•    Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has finalized its report on the civil conflict in Liberia that ended in 2003. The report recommends that the government prosecute those responsible for the gross violations of human rights during the country's violent conflicts that occurred over a 24-year period.  Read an article from Voice of America News.

•    Shell Oil has settled a lawsuit in a New York court, brought by relatives of assassinated Nigerian activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, through a payment of $15.5 million. It was alleged that Shell’s subsidiary in Nigeria was complicit in the 1996 death of Saro-Wiwa, who sought to protect the Ogoni people from exploitation by the oil industry. Read more in an article by the New York Times. The responsibility of the government of Nigeria for the actions of oil producers in the Ogoni region was the subject of a 2001 decision by the African Commission of Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). The Commission determined that the Nigerian government should compensate the Ogoni people for abuses against their lands, environment, housing, and health caused by oil production and government security forces. At the time, this decision was considered a rare and sweeping affirmation of the UN's International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Read more from Foreign Policy in Focus here. Access the original ACHPR decision (Annex V, pp. 31-44) here.

•    The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has sentenced Callixte Kalimanzira, former Directeur de Cabinet of the Rwandan Ministry of the Interior, to 30 years’ imprisonment. The Trial Chamber found Kalimanzira guilty of genocide and direct and public incitement to commit genocide. Read the tribunal’s press release.

Articles and publications of interest

•    We are pleased to announce the publication of our report on the 2009 session of the Brandeis Institute for International Judges (BIIJ). Held in Trinidad from 4 to 8 January, BIIJ 2009 was organized around the theme of International Justice: Past, Present, and Future. Participants included 14 judges from 11 international courts and tribunals as well as other eminent figures in the field of international justice. The new report, as well as reports of earlier institutes, may be downloaded here.

•    Michael Goldhaber’s 2007 book, A People’s History of the European Court of Human Rights, has now been published in paperback. A reviewer notes that “[w]hat the author has done is to seek out the applicants in a number of leading cases determined by the Court over the last thirty years and explore their personal stories before, during and subsequent to their victories at Strasbourg.” Read the entire review of Goldhaber’s book in the Oxford Human Rights Law Review.

•    Legal Aid in the state of Maryland has recently adopted a human rights framework to guide its mission of finding legal remedies for the problems that afflict the poor and to advance the recognition and protection of basic human rights. Judge Cathy M. Serrette of the Prince George’s County Circuit Court, who recently attended Brandeis University’s North American Judicial Colloquium, had the following to say about the significance of international human rights law in the domestic context: “The U.S. Constitution provides that treaties made under the authority of the U.S. are the supreme law of the land, binding judges in every state. In addition to treaties, the courts have also historically considered customary international law. Ratified human rights treaties and customary international law which is consistent with the Constitution can thus be considered where appropriate.” Read more from The Daily Record here (subscription only).

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