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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.

December 2018

People in the News

                      Credit: EPA
Amnesty International (AI) has withdrawn its Ambassador of Conscience Award from Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar. She was granted the award in 2009 for her commitment to democracy and human rights, but has now been stripped of the award primarily for her failure to intervene in the persecution of the Rohingya people in the Rahkine state of Myanmar.  AI stated upon announcing the withdrawal, “we are profoundly dismayed that you no longer represent a symbol of hope, courage, and the undying defence of human rights.” Other human rights groups have also criticized Aung San Suu Kyi for allowing brutal violence against the Rohingya people and the jailing of journalists and critics.

          Lundin CEO Alex Schneiter
(credit: Fredrik Bjerknes/Bloomberg)

The Swedish government has authorized the International Public Prosecution Office to continue its case against two top officials at Lundin Petroleum, a Swedish oil company, which could result in charges of atrocity crimes. Lundin’s CEO Alex Shneiter and Chairman Ian Lundin could be found guilty of aiding and abetting crimes against international law committed by the Sudanese government between 1997 and 2003. The company is accused of exacerbating the civil war in Sudan by extracting oil from the region, an activity that led to thousands of deaths and the dislocation of local populations. The case against Lundin, as discussed in an EJIL Talk! commentary is an example of the growth of corporate accountability in European justice systems for extraterritorial atrocity crimes and human rights violations.

                      Credit: AFP
Former Central African militia leader Alfred Yekatom – also known as “Rambo” – was recently extradited to the International Criminal Court (ICC) by authorities of the Central African Republic (CAR) and made his initial appearance before Pre-Trial Chamber II. The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Yekatom in November 2018 on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, allegedly committed between 2013 and 2014. Yekatom was a leader of the Christian Anti-Balaka movement, which was formed to counter the Muslim armed group Seleka that took control of the CAR government in 2013. Since the fighting erupted, more than one million people have been displaced and thousands have been killed. Around 13,000 United Nations peacekeepers are stationed in the country, where fighting is still occurring. In a video statement, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda pledged to the people of the Central African Republic that her office “will continue its quest for the truth and to seek justice under the Rome Statute.”

                 Women wearing the niqab
(credit: picture-alliance/dpa/I. Langsdon)

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has ruled that France’s 2010 law banning Muslim women from wearing a full-face veil – a niqab or burka – violates their rights to freedom of religion and to non-discrimination under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This decision contrasts with a 2014 decision from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) that upheld the French ban, finding that the restriction on concealing one’s face in public was proportionate to the aim of “living together” in a diverse society. The Human Rights Committee decision came in response to the appeal of two women from Nantes who were convicted and fined under the 2010 law. The Committee’s decision could have implications for other countries with so-called “burqa bans”, such as the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, and Denmark. Human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, have opposed the ban as an infringement upon freedom of expression.

               The hands of Rehbogen
           (credit: Guido Kirchner/DPA)

Johann Rehbogen, a former SS guard at Sutthof concentration camp, has gone on trial in Germany for crimes he committed during World War II. He is charged with assisting in the murder of hundreds of people between 1942 and 1944. Many of the prisoners at the camp were left to freeze to death or were killed by poison injection. Rehbogen, who is now 94 years old, is being tried in a juvenile court because he was not yet 21 years of age when the alleged crimes were committed. He could face ten years in prison if found guilty.   

Rehbogen denies knowing about the crimes committed at the camp. Several Sutthof survivors and their families were present at Rehbogen’s trial. "If one looks at how many evil doings and crimes were perpetuated, one can understand why elderly people too have to face prosecution," said Andreas Brendel, the prosecutor in the case.  

The Minister of Foreign Affairs and East African Community Cooperation, Dr. Augustine Mahiga, recently urged the United Nations International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals to continue to track down the last génocidaires in order to ensure that an atrocity like the 1994 Rwandan Genocide will never happen again. Out of the 90 Rwandans indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, eight still remain at large. Mahiga also urged East African community leaders to promote democracy, respect for human rights, and good governance.


Developments in International Justice

                                      credit: Reuters
Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, two senior Khmer Rouge officials, have been found guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). When the crimes in question were committed between 1975 and 1979, Nuon Chea served as Deputy Secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, and Khieu Samphan was Head of State of Democratic Kampuchea. This judgment represents the ECCC’s first finding of genocide by members of the Khmer Rouge regime. Both men were already serving life sentences from an earlier judgment in 2014, but they were sentenced to life again by this recent judgment.
There is disappointment in some quarters about what this historic judgment has left out. According to scholar Rosemary Grey, the summary of the judgment failed to distinguish the different types of crimes that men and women experienced under the Khmer Rouge, for example the fact that women were often raped in detention centers or worksites. The summary did bring up the crime of forced marriage, however, and was ground-breaking in its finding that both men and women were victims of this practice.
Some have criticized the ECCC because it has spent $300 million but only convicted three people since its establishment in 2006. Although five top Khmer Rouge officials were arrested and brought before the court, two died before their trials ended due to advanced age and poor health. Despite the Court’s uncertain legacy, this recent decision  on genocide may have implications for countries like Myanmar and Sudan that are facing their own allegations of atrocities.

foodThe European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that the taste of a food product cannot be copyrighted. The case of Levola Hengelo BV v Smilde Foods BV revolved around a Dutch cheese company that claimed its herb and vegetable herb spread, “Heks'nkaas,” was being unlawfully copied by a rival company. According to The New York Times, Levola argued that the cheese was its unique “work” and should thus be covered by the EU Copyright Directive, pointing out that the scent of a perfume had been granted a copyright in an earlier case. Smilde counterargued that taste is subjective and thus should be ineligible for copyright. When a Dutch court turned to the ECJ for guidance, the judges were not convinced by Levola’s view. “Unlike a literary, pictorial, cinematographic or musical work, the taste of a food product cannot be identified with precision and objectivity,” the decision read. Some have characterized the ruling as a “setback for the food industry.”

                      ECOWAS Court of Justice
                          credit: The Guardian

A group of Nigerians has brought a case against their government to the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) after independently affiliated candidates were banned from running in electoral races. The plaintiffs claimed that the ban forced candidates to affiliate with political parties, which was a violation of their rights. They also expressed frustration with the notion that political parties are often considered more important in elections than are actual individual candidates. The plaintiffs want the Nigerian government to acknowledge that requiring electoral candidates to affiliate with a political party violates parts of the Declaration of Human Rights, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, and the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights.

NigeriamapIn other news about Nigeria, the African Bar Association (AFBA) has received a petition from Lead Counsel of victims of crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Sierra Leone by Nigerian Armed Forces. The petition includes video evidence and witness testimonies detailing the crimes committed by the Nigerian Armed Forces while they were in service in the ECOWAS intervention force during the conflict in Sierra Leone between 1997 and 2000. Some of the crimes detailed in the petition include sexual abuse, torture, cruel treatment, and arbitrary detention. The AFBA has decided to get involved in the situation in order to provide redress and bring justice to the victims.

                   credit: John Bompengo/AP

The United Nations World Food Programme has condemned violence that could slow down humanitarian responses to the Ebola crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The condemnation followed an attack on a UN base in the city of Beni. No UN employees were injured in the attack, although some were temporarily relocated to the city of Goma. The World Food Programme is supporting the medical response to Ebola by transporting, delivering and storing medical supplies, constructing safe rooms for response teams, and getting food to those receiving medical care for Ebola in health facilities. The UN says that all parties need to respect international law so that it may continue to provide proper assistance to the region. The attack occurred just two days after seven UN peacekeepers were killed and ten injured during a joint operation with government forces against an armed group called the Allied Democratic Forces.

                         credit: Reuters
The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) has expressed concern over the treatment and possible human rights violations experienced by people in the “migrant caravan” that has been traveling toward the United States from Central America for almost two months. The IACHR has urged States to protect the rights of caravan members, especially their right to seek asylum. Migrants also suffer from a lack of proper resources and may face forced deportation to their home countries. Many Hondurans and other Central Americans have joined the caravan in hopes of escaping violence and instability at home. The caravan includes many families, pregnant women, children, and elderly people. The Commission states its particular concern over “the statements made by United States officials characterizing the caravan as a threat to sovereignty and national security, and affirming that this movement of migrants includes many criminals. In this context, the IACHR rejects the use of stigmatizing and criminalizing language and unfounded accusations in reference to migrants and asylum seekers, which may encourage xenophobic attitudes against such persons.”

ADCICTThe Association of Defence Counsel Practicing before the International Courts and Tribunals (ADC-ICT) has issued a press release deploring the lack of gender balance in a new list of judicial candidates for the International Residual Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (IRMICT). Only male candidates are on the list, which was recently issued by the UN General Assembly. “The current composition of the roster of judges at the IRMCT already lacks an appropriate gender representation, having predominately male judges with only five women out of 22 judges on the Bench. The list of nominations includes 11 candidates, none of whom are women. The ADC-ICT expresses its deep regret at this practice and calls upon the General Assembly to start the nomination process anew.” Gqual, the campaign for gender parity in international representation, has added its voice to this call.

Publications and Resources of Interest

AdHocsiteBelow is an excerpt from the Ad Hoc Tribunals Oral History Project. This project aims to preserve the voices of individuals who worked to bring justice to the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and who contributed to the development and “institutionalization” of international criminal law during the early years of the ICTY and ICTR.

Morrison“Everybody wanted to do it the way they'd done it at home. If you were British, you wanted to do it the British way; American, the American way. In the very early days of the tribunal there wasn't really a homogenized system because people were still doing it the way they were used to, [which led to] conflict between civil and common law systems, but it was also conflict between national systems. For instance, I remember standing up in the Čelebići case, and I was halfway through a submission and a rather shrill American voice came out from the prosecutor - 'I object!' You don't do that in the UK; you wait until somebody's finished their submissions and then you raise the objection."

Access the full oral history transcript of Howard Morrison, who acted as defense counsel in numerous trials before the ICTY and ICTR between 1998 and 2004. In 2009, he became an ICTY judge and sat on the trial of Radovan Karadžić. Since 2012, he has been a judge of the ICC. Visit the interview collection page to explore the full range of available Ad Hoc Tribunals Oral History transcripts and the Brandeis Institutional Repository to conduct a keyword search across the collection. We hope that educators will use the collection to teach their students about the Ad Hoc Tribunals and the critical role they played in the development of international criminal justice.

                    credit: Lynsey Addario

A newly published collection by award-winning photojournalist Lynsey Addario, Of Love and War, draws from work she carried out over the last two decades as she bore witness to the world’s most urgent humanitarian crises. Her photographs serve as visual testimony not only of war and injustice, however, but also of humanity, dignity, and resilience. View some of her remarkable images in a photo gallery at The Guardian.

bookA recent book, International Court Authority, provides interdisciplinary and wide ranging analyses of various international courts and of international law more generally, including human rights, regional integration, international trade and economic law, harmonized commercial law, and international criminal law. Edited by Karen Alter (Northwestern University), Laurence Helfer (Duke University), and Mikael Madsen (University of Copenhagen/iCourts), the book systematically compares 13 international courts and tribunals across the globe while proposing a new theoretical approach to the concept of international authority. To learn what international judges have to say about the authority of their institutions, read the report of the Brandeis Institute for International Judges 2016, organized in collaboration with the University of Copenhagen/iCourts around the theme “The Authority of International Courts and Tribunals: Challenges and Prospects.”

International Justice in the News
is edited by Leigh Swigart, Director of Programs in International Justice and Society, and Samantha Lauring '19.

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