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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 involved in the work of 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.

November 2010

People in the News

Photo of Baragwanath
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The names of all the judges serving in the Appeals Chamber of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) have now been released. The names of three of the judges had previously been withheld from the public as a security measure. These judges are Afif Chamseddine (Lebanon), Kjell Erik Bjorberg (Sweden), and David Baragwanath (New Zealand). They will serve alongside Antonio Cassese (Italy), STL president, and David Riachy (Lebanon), STL vice-president. All judge biographies may be found here.

Photo of a woman Man posing in front of books
Two new judges have been elected to the European Court of Human Rights for nine-year terms, Ms. Julia Laffranque in respect of Estonia, and Mr. Linos-Alexander Sicilianos in respect of Greece. Both have prior experience with the ECHR, Ms. Laffranque as an ad-hoc judge and Mr. Sicilianos as a litigator. Read more in the ECHR blogspot.

Photo of San-Hyun SongPresident of the International Criminal Court, Judge San-Hyun Song, has expressed optimism that the United States will become a State Party to his court. “When I had a series of meetings with high-ranking Obama administration officials and some leaders of the U.S. Congress, their hostile stance has changed 180 degrees," Song said. "However, in terms of political reality over there, you have to have two-thirds of the U.S. senators to approve the Rome Statute (establishing the ICC) so realistically speaking it will take some time," he added.  For more of Song’s comments, see his interview with Reuters.

For a more in-depth exploration of the U.S. change of stance vis-à-vis the ICC, read a commentary by John Washburn, convener of the American NGO Coalition for the International Criminal Court (AMICC). See the IntLawGrrls blog for a recent analysis of United States’ Cooperation and the ICC, countered by another addressing U.S. Laws against ICC Cooperation.

Two women and a man smiling togetherThe United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has highlighted that “millions of older persons around the world face unequal treatment or denial of their human rights, particularly in relation to their right to personal security, health, social security and adequate standard of living.” While acknowledging that growing older is inevitable, Ms. Pillay said that “we do not have to, and must not, accept…that old age brings with it lesser access to, and enjoyment of, the full range of human rights.” These remarks were made on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the International Day of Older Persons. Read her complete comments here.

Developments in International Justice

A group of people standing on rocks in white suitsThe Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) recently ruled, in Mangouras v. Spain, that Spain did not violate Article 5 § 3 (conditional release) of the European Convention on Human Rights when it set the applicant’s bail at three million Euros. The Grand Chamber concluded that factors—such as the applicant’s age, profession, income, and previous convictions, which all pointed to a low risk of flight—were outweighed by the severity of the crime committed and the environmental damage caused.

The applicant, a Greek national and ship master on the ship Prestige, was arrested in Spain and detained for the economic and environmental damage caused when the ship Prestige suffered damage and started leaking into the Atlantic Ocean in 2002. The leakage, which “caused an economic disaster [with] effects on marine flora and fauna [that] lasted for several months and spread as far as the French coast,” was of such scale that the Spanish courts ordered the applicant immediately arrested after Spanish authorities rescued him and his crew. Once arrested, an investigative judge set his bail at three million Euros. The applicant appealed this amount as being too high and argued that the judge did not take into account his personal circumstances. After exhausting domestic remedies, the applicant filed an application with the ECHR, which sided with the Spanish government. Read more details and access the full judgment here.

Map of MexicoThe Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) has ruled that the Mexican government must pay compensation to women sexually abused by members of its military. The rulings come after 8 years of litigation by Valentina Rosendo Cantú and Inés Fernanda Ortega. The judgment “represents a light of hope” that victims and their families can attain justice, said the director for the Mexico and Central American program at the Center for Justice and International Law. The Mexican government has indicated that it will abide by the Court’s call for a civilian investigation, for compensation, and for publication of the judgment. The government added that it reiterates its full commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights, in particular to combatting violence against women and girls. For more, see the IntLawGrrls blog. Access the full IACHR judgments of the two cases here (Spanish only).

6 men standing behind barsA Kenyan court recently convicted seven Somali pirates and sentenced them to five years in prison. The seven were captured by the Spanish navy last year while attempting to hijack a Maltese-flagged merchant ship. Read more details and access related articles at Jurist. In the meantime, the UN’s top adviser on piracy issues, Jack Lange, has called for the international community to aid Kenya in its efforts to try pirates. Read more from Voice of America. The issue of combating piracy and trying pirates is currently being debated both on an international and national level as the incidence of piracy off the East African coast increases. For a more in-depth analysis, see a recent article in the American Journal of International Law by J. Ashley Roach, “Countering Piracy off Somalia: International Law and International Institutions.”

Photo of Callixte MbarushimanaMr. Callixte Mbarushimana, a leader of the Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), has been arrested in Paris by the French authorities, following a sealed arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court. ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo described the arrest of Mr. Mbarushimana as a “crucial step in efforts to prosecute the massive sexual crimes committed in the DRC” where over 15,000 cases of sexual violence were reported in 2009 alone. As late as August 2010, the FDLR was involved in the commission of more than 300 rapes in DRC’s North Kivu province, yet Callixte Mbarushimana blatantly continued to refute any allegation against his movement. Read more details in the ICC press release. Learn about the recent United Nations report on the widespread nature of rape in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and download the full text in an article from Digital Journal.

A drawing of a hand pulling a "yes no" switch that is connected to an electric chairOn the occasion of the World Day against the Death Penalty, Amnesty International urged the USA, the only country that carried out executions in the Americas in 2009, to end its use of this cruel and inhumane punishment. “A clear majority of countries have rejected the death penalty. How can the USA claim leadership on human rights yet still commit judicial killings?” said Widney Brown, Senior Director of International Law and Policy at Amnesty International. “The death penalty is cruel, degrading, ineffective and entirely incompatible with any concept of human dignity. Its use in the USA is marked by arbitrariness, discrimination and error.” Read the Amnesty International press release here.

5 women wearing face veilsThe Constitutional Court in France has ruled that a bill making it illegal to wear complete face veils in public is constitutional. The court concluded that public policy grounds, including the need to ensure equality of women, were balanced with the right to religious freedom. In addition, the court ruled that the punishment for violation of the law – violators can be punished with one year imprisonment or fined 30,000 Euros – was not disproportionate and arbitrary. Opponents contend that the ban breaches French and European human rights legislation. Read more from EU Observer.

Articles and Publications of Interest

A woman walking in front of rubbleThe Committee of Independent Experts, tasked with monitoring and reviewing the investigative proceedings by the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, as recommended by the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the 2008-2009 Gaza Conflict and mandated by the Human Rights Council (HRC), has issued its report (a follow-up to the so-called Goldstone Report).

The Committee has concluded that, due to the lack of cooperation by Israel, it could not “make a definitive determination as to whether the investigations carried out by Israel meet the criteria in resolution 13/9,” the HRC resolution authorizing the follow-up report. According to the report, the Committee was unable to visit Israel or the West Bank and had to rely on three government-issued reports and its own communications with NGOs and witnesses. This, the report notes, was “inadequate as a basis for a reliable evaluation of the independence, effectiveness and genuineness of investigations into such serious allegations.” With respect to the Palestinian side, the report concluded that, while the Palestinian Authorities established an independent commission to investigate the alleged humanitarian and human rights violations, several investigations remained incomplete.

The Human Rights Council has decided to renew the mandate of the Committee.

Bonita Meyerfield, associate professor of law at the University of Witwaterstrand School of Law, has recently published a book entitled Domestic Violence and International Law (Hart Publishing 2010). The book provides a detailed legal analysis as to why a state should be accountable in international law for allowing women (and other marginalized or vulnerable groups) to suffer extreme forms of domestic violence and how the system of international law can help individual victims. The argument is based on a theory of non-coercive state compliance with international law and the principles of state responsibility. It seeks to reformulate academic and political debate on domestic violence and the responsibility of states under international law, mapping the extensive recent developments in the UN, European, Inter-American, African and other global legal systems. It is based on empirical data combined with an honest assessment of whether or not domestic violence in its myriad forms is a violation of international human rights law and what possible benefit there could be in confirming such a principle of law.

Read a commentary by Professor Meyerfield on the book at the IntLawGrrls blog.

Book cover of "Unspeakable Truths"A second edition of Priscilla Hayner’s Unspeakable Truths is now available (Routledge 2010). In a sweeping review of forty truth commissions, Priscilla Hayner, co-founder of the International Center for Transitional Justice, delivers a definitive exploration of the global experience in official truth-seeking after widespread atrocities. When Unspeakable Truths was first published in 2001, it quickly became a classic, helping to define the field of truth commissions and the broader arena of transitional justice. This second edition is fully updated and expanded, covering twenty new commissions formed in the last ten years, analyzing new trends, and offering detailed charts that assess the impact of truth commissions and provide comparative information not previously available.

Read an interview with Ms. Hayner about the new edition at Radio Netherlands Worldwide.

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