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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 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.

September 2013

Featured News

A group of people standing for a photoSixteen judges from 13 international courts and tribunals attended the Brandeis Institute for International Judges in late July in Lund, Sweden. The theme of the program was “The International Rule of Law in a Human Rights Era.” The institute was organized in partnership with the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law and the Lund University Faculty of Law. To learn more about the discussions that took place at the BIIJ, read a summary of the program and reflections on the event from Brandeis University students who interned at the BIIJ.

People in the News

5 people sitting and 2 people standing behind a table that has the sign "International Humanitarian Law Dialogs"International prosecutors recently released a declaration at the conclusion of the 7th Annual International Humanitarian Law Dialogs, held in Chautauqua, New York. Organized around the theme "The Long Hot Summer After the Arab Spring," the purpose of the 7th Annual Dialogs was to "consider, discuss, and reflect on the Arab Spring and the concerns related to accountability and the rule of law stemming from the conflicts that have caused thousands of deaths and millions displaced." The Seventh Chautauqua Declaration was signed by prosecutors Fatou Bensouda of the International Criminal Court; David M. Crane, formerly of the Special Court for Sierra Leone; Hassan Jallow of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda; Serge Brammertz of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia; and Brenda J. Hollis of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Read the full declaration, which focuses on timely issues such as the use of chemical weapons and the arrest of fugitives from international justice.

PhumzileThe new head of UN Women, former deputy president of South Africa Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, has been sworn into office. To read more about her background, click here. Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka takes over as executive director from Michelle Bachelet, who resigned in March to run for another term as president of Chile.  

KaradzicThe Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has unanimously reversed Radovan Karadžić’s acquittal for genocide, handed down by the Trial Chamber last year. The earlier decision found that the charge of genocide committed by Bosnian Serb forces against Bosnian Muslims and/or Croats in a number of Bosnian municipalities in 1992, with Karadžić participating in a joint criminal enterprise, could not be upheld by a reasonable trier of fact based upon the Prosecution’s evidence. The Appeals Chamber considered that the Trial Chamber erred in fact when it made its findings with regard to the actus reus and mens rea of genocide in municipalities other than Srebrenica.

Read details of the Appeals decision in an ICTY press release, and a discussion of the implications of the reversal in a blog post of the European Journal of International Law.

In other ICTY news, a specially constituted Chamber has disqualified Judge Fredrik Harhoff from the case of Vojislav Šešelj for demonstrating “an unacceptable appearance of bias in favour of conviction.” The decision follows Vojislav Šešelj’s defense motion seeking the disqualification of Judge Harhoff from his case, on the basis of a letter written by the Judge that showed his bias in the current proceedings. Read regional reactions to the decision from Balkan Insight.

Rosemary BarkettFormer Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court Rosemary Barkett is leaving the United States federal appeals bench to join the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal, based in The Hague. Judge Barkett, who was born in Mexico and previously served as a Catholic nun in the Sisters of St. Joseph, became the first woman Florida Supreme Court justice in 1985. She was also the first female chief justice, from 1992 to 1994. She was appointed as federal judge of the 11th Circuit by President Bill Clinton and took the bench in April 1994. Judge Barkett will join a group of eminent jurists at the Tribunal, including Bruno Simma (Germany), former judge of the International Court of Justice, and Gabrielle Kirk MacDonald (US), former judge and president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Developments in International Justice

A person laying down with smoke in the backgroundAs the world waits to see what action the United States may take in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by President Assad’s regime against Syrian civilians, the parallel to the 1999 situation in Kosovo is unmistakable. As reported by The New York Times, “Kosovo is an obvious precedent for Mr. Obama because, as in Syria, civilians were killed and Russia had longstanding ties to the government authorities accused of the abuses.” 

Knowing that a UN Security Council veto on intervention was certain, President Bill Clinton instead used the endorsement of NATO and the rationale of protecting a vulnerable population to justify 78 days of airstrikes to stop Serbian forces from ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.  Learn about the report of the Independent International Commission on Kosovo – where the NATO action was deemed “illegal” but “legitimate” – from a 2000 event at Brandeis University, Intervention and Prevention: the Lessons of Kosovo.

Not all observers agree that the Kosovo and Syria situations are parallel, however, as reported in articles from Voice of America and Slate.

A logo of a scale with the letters "CCJ" in front of it. Above are the words "Caribbean Court of Justice"The Caribbean Court of Justice recently delivered a landmark decision in British Caribbean Bank Ltd. v. The Attorney General of Belize. The decision narrows the circumstances in which a government may resort to its domestic courts to restrain international arbitration proceedings. The court confirmed that its role is to support the parties' agreement to arbitrate, and that it thus should grant an injunction only if it is positively shown that the arbitration proceedings would be oppressive, vexatious, inequitable, or an abuse of process. The fact that domestic proceedings had been instituted in Belize was no reason to allow the Belize government to renege on its contractual obligation to arbitrate disputes abroad. Read more about the case and download a summary and full version of the judgment from Caribbean New Media Group.

A logo of countries in between a wreath. The words at the bottom read "Jumuiya Ya Afrika Mashariki"Four of the five partner states of the East African Community (EAC) and the bloc’s chief executive have been taken to court by a Ugandan political party for their failure, refusal or delay to accept the competence of the African Court on Human and People’s Rights. Uganda’s Democratic Party has argued that the inaction of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and EAC Secretary-General Richard Sezibera is an infringement of the Treaty establishing the regional bloc. The First Instance Division of the East African Court of Justice, an organ of the EAC, is hearing the case. Read more from Afrique Jet Actualité en Ligne.

People standing behind a poster that reads "END Long-Term Solitary Confinement"The Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) has expressed concern about the ongoing hunger strike by prisoners in the California state prison system, meant to protest what inmates see as the excessive use of solitary confinement. The IACHR “urges federal and state authorities … to restrict the use of solitary confinement of prisoners in accordance with the international human rights standards,” particularly the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. Read more in an IACHR press release. As the hunger strike approaches the two-month anniversary, some California lawmakers and religious leaders are calling for action on the situation. Read more here.

A group of people standing besides an open graveThe Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the International Criminal Court has released a report on the jurisdiction of the Court with respect to alleged crimes committed in Nigeria.  The report represents the first phase in the OTP’s preliminary examination of possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in relation to inter-communal violence, the activities of the Islamist organization Boko Haram, and the situation in the Niger Delta. Access the full report here.

A group of judges sitting behind the benchApproximately 100 staff members at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) have gone on strike in protest over unpaid wages. More than 250 staff members, including judges, prosecutors and interpreters, have not been paid since June of this year because of budgetary problems. Under the agreement for support of the ECCC, the United Nations pays for international staff and operations while Cambodia pays for the national side. However, the Cambodian government has been repeatedly criticized for its lack of support. Read more from Reuters

logo of a drawing of a building. The words are "European Court of Human Rights Cour Europeenne Des Droits De L'HommeAmong the many significant decisions rendered by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) over recent months, several Grand Chamber judgments stand out:

The Court ruled in Vinter and Others v. The United Kingdom that the life sentences issued to three men convicted of murder in the UK courts had breached their human rights, particularly the prohibition on torture or inhuman treatment. The judges held that whole-life prison term sentences in the UK had to be subject to review, and consideration should be given to a possible release in appropriate cases. Read more details and access the full decision from the International Justice Resource Center.

The Grand Chamber recently ruled in Maktouf and Damjanović v. Bosnia and Herzegovina on the sentences of two men convicted of war crimes by the Court of Bosnia and Herzogovina (BiH). The Court said that the two convicts could have been given shorter sentences had the 1976 former Yugoslav criminal code been applied in their trials instead of the 2003 BiH criminal code that was adopted after the crimes were committed in the 1990’s. The ECHR judges thus found there had been a violation of Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights, namely “no punishment without law.” Download the judgment here. Read about how the decision might affect numerous past cases of the BiH Court in an article by the Southeast European Times.

A man standing behind a poster of photos of peopleA district court in India has directed the authorities to send a summons to the US-based Dow Chemicals, making it an accused in the Bhopal gas tragedy case. Dow Chemicals is the owner of Union Carbide Corporation. The Bhopal disaster was a gas leak incident that occurred in 1984 at the pesticide plant of Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL), killing thousands and maiming scores of people. Amnesty International has applauded the ruling, stating that Dow “must acknowledge its responsibility towards survivors of the devastating Bhopal industrial disaster.” Read details about the disaster and its aftermath in an informative blogpost by a Brandeis student involved in the Brandeis-India Initiative.

Publications and Resources of Interest

The words "Seeds of Justice Sierra Leona"The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) recently released a video called Seeds of Justice, which brings together the voices of five Sierra Leoneans of different backgrounds reflecting on the legacy of the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) as it nears the completion of its mandate. The film features, among others, the stories of a child soldier who lost his arm and a local businesswoman. View the video and read more about the ICTJ’s multimedia project on the SCSL legacy.

A photo of fish piled on top of one anotherIn March 2013, the full bench of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea was asked for the first time to give an advisory opinion. The request, which came from the Permanent Secretary of the Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission (SRFC), a Senegal-based intergovernmental organization, focused on the rights and obligations of flag States and coastal States in relation to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in the sub-region and sustainable management of stock. Read an account of the advisory opinion process and its findings by Michael A. Becker (J.D., Yale Law School), as recently published in ASIL Insights.

Book cover of "The European Court of Human Rights and Its Discontents"A new book about the European Court of Human Rights is now available. Entitled The European Court of Human Rights and its Discontents: Turning Criticism into Strength (Elgar, August 2013), the volume was edited by Spyridon Flogaitis, Director, European Public Law Organisation; Tom Zwart, Director, The Netherlands School of Human Rights Research; and Julie Fraser, Research Fellow, The Netherlands School of Human Rights Research. The book notes that although the Court has long been part of the most advanced human rights regime in the world, it has increasingly drawn criticism, with questions raised about its legitimacy and backlog of cases. This book for the first time brings together the critics of the Court and its proponents to debate these issues. The result is a collection that reflects balanced perspectives on the Court’s successes and challenges.

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

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