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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.

February 2011

People in the News

Bellemare sitting behind a microphoneProsecutor for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, Daniel A. Bellemare, has issued the first indictment in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and twenty-two others. According to a public statement issued by the Prosecutor, this “marks the launch of the judicial phase of the Tribunal’s work. For the first time, a legal case has been launched by an international Tribunal against those responsible for a political assassination in Lebanon.”

The next step is for STL Pre-Trial Judge Daniel Fransen (BIIJ 2010) to review the indictment and the supporting evidence presented by the Prosecutor to determine whether the STL should formally charge the person or persons named in the indictment with any crime. The Rules of the Tribunal require that the individuals named in the indictment remain unknown until the Pre-Trial Judge issues his final decision. Read more from the Voice of America and view a video statement by Bellemare.

PocarJudges from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) recently met with their peers from the Balkan States as part of the regional War Crimes Justice Project, led by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. Some 20 judges, mainly from appellate courts in the region, participated in the meeting with Judge Fausto Pocar (BIIJ 2002-2010) and Judge Carmel Agius (BIIJ 2007) from the ICTY. The judges discussed several topics including the protection of witnesses and victims, the definition of “civilians” in war crimes cases and the role of appellate judges in reviewing cases.

Judge Pocar stated that sharing common experiences with judges in these courts strengthens the local judiciary and also enhances the work of the judges at all levels. “It is not just about the transfer of technical resources or knowledge, but it comes to sharing experiences, because we all have the same goal and we are faced with common problems in working on cases.” Read more in an ICTY press release.

The European Court of Human Rights has elected Françoise Tulkens (Belgium) as Vice-President. It has also re-elected Josep Casadevall (Andorra) as a Section President and has elected Nina Vajić (Croatia, BIIJ 2007, 2009 & 2010) and Dean Spielmann (Luxemburg) as Section Presidents. Read the ECHR press release with full biographical information here.

outside of a white buildingIn anticipation of International Criminal Court (ICC) judicial elections in late 2011, an independent panel has been created to vet the various judicial nominations put forward by States Parties. The panel was constituted by the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, whose member organizations work to strengthen cooperation with the ICC, ensure its fairness and efficiency, and support the victims of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

Panel members, representing legal systems from the five geographical regions recognized at the United Nations, include the following experts:
  • The Honorable Hans Corell, Former Judge of Appeal and former Under-Secretary- General for Legal Affairs and Legal Counsel of the United Nations (BIIJ 2002, 2003, and 2006). 
  • The Honorable Justice Richard Goldstone, Former Chief Prosecutor, International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia (BIIJ co-director, 2002-2010).  
  • Judge O-Gon Kwon, Vice President of The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and former Presiding Judge at the Daegu High Court (BIIJ 2006).  
  • Dr. Cecilia Medina Quiroga, Co-Director of the Human Rights Centre at the University of Chile and former President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.  
  • The Honorable Patricia Wald, Former Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and former Judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

    The panel, tasked with providing an independent assessment of whether judicial nominees satisfy the qualifications prescribed by the Rome Statute, will report its findings and conclusions in advance of the ICC elections. For more details, click here

Developments in International Justice

logo of a wreath with a scale on top of waves in the middleThe Seabed Disputes Chamber of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea has rendered its Advisory Opinion on the Responsibilities and obligations of States sponsoring persons and entities with respect to activities in the Area. The Advisory Opinion is the first decision of the Seabed Disputes Chamber of the Tribunal and was submitted by the Council of the International Seabed Authority.

The Advisory Opinion relates to the recovery of resources from the ‘Area’, a zone established by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea as the seabed and ocean floor and subsoil thereof beyond the limits of national jurisdiction. The Convention declares the Area and its resources to be the common heritage of mankind. The International Seabed Authority has established regulations for the  prospecting and exploration of resources of the Area, such as polymetallic nodules and polymetallic sulphides. The Authority regulates deep seabed mining and endeavours to ensure the protection of the marine environment. The Authority  Countries already involved in the prospecting or exploration of resources in the Area include China, France, Germany, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation and a consortium of Bulgaria, Cuba, the Czech Republic, Poland, the Russian Federation and Slovakia.

The eleven judges of the chamber decided unanimously upon the Advisory Opinion. Download a detailed press release and the full opinion text here

Fleet Street street signThe European Court of Human Rights has ruled, in MGN v UK, that lawyers acting for claimants in privacy and libel cases should no longer be allowed to recover a "success fee" from defendants. Such success fees have been an integral part of the no-win, no-fee agreements on which many claimant lawyers currently take these cases. NGOs and small publishers, including bloggers, are extremely vulnerable to the threat of costly libel or privacy actions in the United Kingdom. Darian Pavli, senior attorney at the Open Society Justice Initiative, said: "The Court confirmed that legal fees awarded in England and Wales for libel and privacy cases are disproportionate and dramatically out of line with the rest of Europe. With London having become the world's libel capital, this is a victory for free speech that goes well beyond Fleet Street." Read more about the case. Download the judgment here.

airplane flyingThe World Trade Organization has delivered a final ruling to the United States and the European Union concerning their dispute over unfair and illegal support for each other's aircraft industries. While the report is confidential, it is rumored to state that Boeing received billions of dollars of unfair subsidies from the U.S. government. Meanwhile, the WTO's appellate body is reviewing an appeal by the EU and U.S. into a ruling in a related case that Airbus benefited from illegal EU subsidies. See an article from Reuter’s for a complete timeline of the dispute.

a group of people seated around a circle of tablesThe United Nations Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, has established an ad hoc mechanism to finalize the work of the two criminal tribunals—the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). The so-called International Residual Mechanism for the International Criminal Tribunals (UN Security Council Resolution 1966) is scheduled to start its mandate on 1 July 2012 for the ICTR and 1 July 2013 for the ICTY. Both the tribunals have been requested to take “all possible measures to expeditiously complete all their remaining work” by 31 December 2014. Access the full resolution here.

Brazil flag: green and yellow, with a blue circle in the middleThe Inter-American Court of Human Rights has ruled in Gomes Lund v. Brazil that Brazil’s amnesty for “political offenses” committed during its 1970s military dictatorship is “incompatible with the American Convention and void of any legal effects.” This makes Brazil the third country in the region to have its dictatorship-era amnesty law invalidated by the court, following the precedents of Barrios Altos v. Peru (2001) and Almonacid-Arellano v. Chile (2006). According to the Open Society Justice Initiative, “the Gomes Lund decision strengthens jurisprudence on the right to the truth about gross human rights violations and clearly affirms the fundamental right to government information. In a victory for transparency and accountability, the court’s ruling should force the Brazilian government to open its archives from the period to public scrutiny and accept responsibility for past abuses.” Click here to read more about the case and the implications of this ruling, and to download the judgment (in Spanish).

Articles and Publications of Interest

a hand holding onto fencingAmos N. Guiora, professor of law at the University of Utah's S.J. Quinney College of Law, and Laurie R. Blank, director of the International Humanitarian Law Clinic at Emory University School of Law, have published an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times about the fate of persons detained by the United States in the so-called war on terror. In “Don’t Deny Detainees their Day in Court,” the authors ask whether those in U.S custody are ever going to have access to a judicial proceeding. “Multiple judicial forums have been created to try nonstate actors who have perpetrated war crimes from Rwanda to Sierra Leone to Cambodia to the former Yugoslavia — to give them their day in court. That makes the failure to answer this question for post-9/11 detainees particularly perplexing and deeply troubling.” Read the entire op-ed here.

logo of the world with the words "Human Rights Watch"Human Rights Watch has concluded, in its World Report 2011, that too many governments are accepting the rationalizations and subterfuges of repressive governments, replacing pressure to respect human rights with softer approaches such as private "dialogue" and "cooperation." Instead of standing up firmly against abusive leaders, many governments, including European Union member states, adopt policies that do not generate pressure for change. 

The 649-page report, Human Rights Watch's 21st annual review of human rights practices around the globe, summarizes major human rights issues in more than 90 countries and territories worldwide, reflecting the extensive investigative work carried out in 2010 by Human Rights Watch staff. Access the full report, and read a summarizing commentary by HRW’s executive director Kenneth Roth, at this link

film poster of War Don DonAfter war crimes, can there be justice? The recently released film War Don Don, directed by Rebecca Richman Cohen, attempts to answer this question through following the trial of accused war criminal Issa Sesay at the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Through interviews with defense counsel, prosecutors, observers from the streets and villages of Sierra Leone, as well as the defendant himself, War Don Don forces the viewer to acknowledge the tensions and uncertainties inherent in the process of bringing war criminals to account.

For more information on this award-winning documentary, visit the War Don Don website. Or attend a public screening on 15 February 2011 at Brandeis University. Find more information about the event here.

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