Thursday, December 31, 2009
As reported previously on this blog, there are many international law events at the annual American Association of Law Schools meeting in New Orleans next week. However, I am writing to remind you that you are specially invited to two events in which I am personally involved.
The first is a breakfast program on "How to Publish International Law Books and Other Materials" that will be held on Saturday morning, January 9 at the Hilton Riverside Hotel from 7-8:30 am. Authors and publishers will be part of the program, which is sponsored by the Teaching International Law Interest Group of the American Society of International Law. There is no cost for the breakfast, but we do appreciate advance reservations.
The second is a program on "Cross Currents in International Law, Human Rights Law, and National Security Law" which is being jointly sponsored by those three respective AALS Sections. Speakers include Cindy Buys, Eugene Kontorovich, Michael Malloy, and Milena Sterio. That program is being held from 9-10:45 am on Sunday, Jan. 10. So if you are still in New Orleans Sunday morning, please come join us.
Saturday, December 26, 2009
The tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru became the fourth nation to establish diplomatic relations with Abkhazia.
Nauru is an eight-mile-square piece of land in the South Pacific, with 11,000 inhabitants. According to a report in the New York Times, Nauru reportedly requested $50 million for "urgent social and economic projects" in exchange for the diplomatic recognition.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
In the resolution, the Council expressed concern over Eritrea’s rejection of the United Nations-facilitated Djibouti Agreement, a 2008 peace accord between Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS). Despite that pact, fighting and humanitarian suffering continue to engulf Somalia, which has been without a central authority for nearly two decades. Eritrea and Djibouti are also engaged in a border dispute. The resolution “demands that all Member States, in particular Eritrea, cease arming, training, and equipping armed groups and their members including al-Shabaab, that aim to destabilize the region or incite violence and civil strife in Djibouti. It also calls on all nations to support the Djibouti peace process and support the TFG’s reconciliation efforts in Somalia. It also demands that Eritrea acknowledge its dispute with Djibouti and actively take part in talks to defuse tensions.
The Security Council also reiterated its “serious concern at the refusal of Eritrea so far to engage in dialogue with Djibouti, or to accept bilateral contacts, mediation or facilitation efforts by the sub-regional or regional organizations or to respond positively to the efforts of the Secretary-General.”
This is a particularly significant judgment as it radically undermines the legitimacy of a rather complex constitutional framework that was devised and imposed by members of the “Contact Group” (i.e. the US, UK, France, Germany and Russia) as part of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement. The Constitution of Bosnia itself constitutes Annex 4 of the Dayton Agreement and as noted by the Court, “constitutes the unique case of a constitution which was never officially published in the official languages of the country concerned but was agreed and published in a foreign language, English.” The discriminatory, not mentioning unwise and unworkable, nature of several of its provisions have long been known and criticized.
In this case, the Court examined the Bosnian Constitution’s distinction between two categories of citizens: those belonging to the so-called “constituent peoples” (Bosniacs, Croats and Serbs) and the “others” (Jews, Roma and other national minorities together with those who do not declare affiliation with any ethnic group). The House of Peoples of the Parliamentary Assembly (the second chamber) and the Presidency are composed only of persons belonging to the three constituent peoples. In light of such manifestly discriminatory arrangements, the Court’s ruling is not exactly surprising. It is never acceptable to prohibit individuals from running for high political office solely on the ground of their ethnic origins. While the Court easily acknowledges that this power-sharing constitutional arrangement was put in place at a time when a fragile ceasefire had been reluctantly accepted by all the parties to a nasty inter-ethnic conflict and is further convinced that it pursued the legitimate aim of restoring peace, the Court also reasonably concludes that full compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights means that Bosnian authorities must at the very least devise new power-sharing mechanisms that do not automatically lead to the total exclusion of representatives of communities or persons which do not belong or do not wish to belong to the “constituent peoples.”
Last week, the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights issued its first ever ruling in the Matter of Michelot Yogogombaye vs. The Republic of Senegal. Yogogombaye petitioned the Court to intervene in a legal matter against former Chadian president, Habre, now pending in Senegal, where Habre is under house arrest pending trial for his alleged participation in war crimes and crimes against humanity in Chad. Yogogambaye argued that the case against Habre should be dimissed on the basis of the principle of non-retroactivity and abuse of the principle of universal jurisdiction. Yogogambaye is generally considered a supporter of Habre and argued that any citizen of Chad should have standing to bring this matter before the African Court. The Court dismissed the petition because Chad has not entered a declaration accepting the Court's jurisdiction to hear individual petitions as required by the 1998 Protocol establishing the Court. The Court's decision has been criticized, not so much for the result, but for the length of time (12 months) it took to render a fairly short decision (12 pages) with respect to a jurisdictional issue that appears relatively straightfoward.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
In more WTO news, the WTO Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) established a panel today to examine complaints by the United States, the European Union (EU) and Mexico regarding China's export restrictions on raw materials. It is alleged that the measures violate articles VIII, X, and XI of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) 1994, as well as China's WTO Accession Protocol. Under WTO rules, there will be a 45-day period in which the panel will be set up and panelists chosen. The panel has six months in which to hear the parties' arguments and issue its decision.
Two new requests for panels were made to the WTO today - one by China to examine U.S. rules on passenger vehicle and light truck tires and one by the EU to examine Philippine taxes on distilled spirits. Both requests will be introduced a second time before a panel can be established.
The WTO also received several reports on efforts to comply with WTO DSB decisions, including an update on U.S. efforts to amend its intellectual property laws to conform to its WTO obligations. Among other measures, the U.S. reported on efforts to amend section 211 of the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 1998 prohibiting registration or renewal of trademarks abandoned by owners because of confiscation of property under Cuban law, and section 110(5) of the US Copyright Act, which permits the playing of certain music in public places without payment of royalties. More WTO news can be found here.
Yesterday, the World Trade Organization Appellate Body (AB) rejected China's appeal of a WTO panel decision in favor of the United States finding that China had violated its WTO commitments by imposing certain restrictions on print and audiovisual materials. The Report of the Appellate Body in China - Measures Affecting Trading Rights and Distribution Services for Certain Publications and Audiovisual Entertainment Products upheld the panel's findings that China violated its Protocol of Accession to the WTO by its rules on film regulation and film enterprise, as well as its rules on audiovisual products regulaton and importation. The AB disagreed with the panel on one point - it held that the panel erred in finding that China's publication regulation is likely to protect "public morals" in China within the meaning of Article XX(a) of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), but upheld the panel's ultimate conclusion that the relevant regulations did not meet all the criteria of the Article XX exception. The AB also upheld the panel's findings that China's rules regarding distribution of sound recordings violated Article XVII of the General Agreement on Services (GATS). In conclusion, the AB made its usual recommendation that the WTO Dispute Settlement Body request that China bring its measures into conformity with its WTO obligations. China now has a reasonable time to decide how to comply before any enforcement measures may be taken.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
An International Commission of Inquiry has written a report on the deadly crackdown on demonstrators in Guinea on September 28, 2009. At least 150 civilians were killed and many others raped by members of Guinea's armed forces. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said he transmitted the Commission's report to the U.N. Security Council, the African Union (AU), and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The commission visited Conakry between November 15 and December 4 and sent its report to Mr. Ban earlier this week. Its members are Mohamed Bedjaoui, Francoise Ngendahayo Kayiramirwa and Pramila Patten.
Friday, December 18, 2009
On December 4, 2000, the UN General Assembly declared December 18 to be International Migrants Day to draw attention to the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the large and increasing number of migrant workers around the world. On that day in 1990, the UN General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (resolution 45/158). We are fast approaching the 20th anniversary of that Convention. According to the United Nations, there are over 200 million migrants living and working in other countries around the world today.
Here in the United States, there are more than 42 million migrants. Many immigration advocacy groups are marking the day by calling on the U.S. government to reform the immigration laws in a manner that recognizes and respects the human rights and dignity of persons regardless of their status. Immigrant community groups around the country are marking the day with press releases, candlelight vigils, movie screenings and other activities designed to educate the public about the rights of immigrants and migrant workers in particular.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
From a press release just issued by the United Nations . . . .
A United Nations human rights expert voiced concern today over the decision of a court to order Liberia to pay debts of about $20 million to two so-called “vulture funds” – private investment firms that buy the debts of struggling countries or companies at below face value and then aggressively pursue repayment of the entire sum.
Cephas Lumina, the UN Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States, said in a statement issued in Geneva that asking Liberia to pay back the debts – which date to 1978 – was “a morally unacceptable trade-off.”
London’s High Court ruled late last month that Liberia must pay the $20 million owed to Hannah Investments and Wall Capital Limited.
Dr. Lumina said the amount sought was equivalent to a “significant portion” of the West African country’s annual budget for health and education.
“Payment of this debt by Liberia would have a direct negative effect on its Government’s ability to fulfil its human rights obligations, resulting in further impoverishment and privation of basic human rights, especially economic, social and cultural rights, such as the rights to water and sanitation, health, housing and education,” he said. “In return, two private speculative investors will unfairly increase their profit margins.”
Liberia is currently undergoing the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC) process, an internationally agreed measure for debt relief that is designed to free up funds so that poor countries can invest in health, education and poverty reduction.
This follows its emergence from a protracted and brutal civil war in the 1990s and early this decade that devastated the country’s infrastructure and economy.
Dr. Lumina noted that Liberia was one of several HIPC countries that had been targeted by vulture funds for the repayment of debts owed.
“I strongly urge the international community, the Paris Club and, in particular, the United Kingdom, the United States and France – which are preferred jurisdictions for many vulture funds – to urgently consider enacting legislation to prevent vulture fund activity within their jurisdictions as a clear indication of their commitment to find a durable solution to the debt problem.
“It is illogical to cancel poor country debt and at the same time allow unconscionable vulture fund claims.”
Dr. Lumina added that poor countries should for their part “ensure transparency, participation and accountability in the negotiation, contraction, restructuring and settlement of public loans, including through legislation providing for oversight by parliaments and civic organizations. It is time to move beyond the rhetoric to more robust action outlawing this retrogressive practice.”
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
We have just received the following statement from the U.S. State Department concerning a case under the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction.
STATEMENT BY SECRETARY CLINTON
I was pleased to hear that the Appellate Court in Rio de Janeiro has upheld the lower court’s decision that Sean Goldman, a young American boy wrongfully retained in Brazil for more than five years, should be reunited with his father David in New Jersey. We appreciate the assistance and cooperation of the Government of Brazil in upholding its obligations under the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction. And it is my hope that this long legal process is now complete and that the Goldman family will be reunited quickly. They will be in my thoughts and prayers today and throughout this holiday season.
The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) has posted several internship opportunities to its website. Click here to learn more. The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) is non-partisan public policy and grant making institution dedicated to promoting greater cooperation between the United States and Europe.
The U.S. State Department has announced the creation of a new website to faciliate its participation in the United Nations Human Rights Council’s (HRC) Universal Periodic Review process. Through this process, the HRC reviews the human rights records of each of the 192 UN Member States once every four years to monitor compliance with international human rights laws. The United States' human rights record will be reviewed in December 2010 based on a report that the U.S. government will submit as well as input from civil society organizations. According to the State Department:
This website will facilitate communication between civil society and the United States government before, during, and after the preparation of the U.S. report to the UN Human Rights Council. An important feature of the website will be an inbox, through which the Department of State will invite ideas, comments and analysis from civil society on issues relating to human rights in the United States.
To view the new State Department website and submit comments, click here.
In more European legal news, the European Commission (EC) has decided to drop a case alleging that the software giant, Microsoft, harms competition by bundling Internet Explorer with its Windows software. The EC's decision came as a result of a settlement between the European regulatory authorities and Microsoft pursuant to which Microsoft agreed to offer its customers a choice of rival web browsers, including Mozilla, Apple and Google. Microsoft will install a pop up screen offering the choice both in new computers and for existing customers. Microsoft must report to the EC every six months on the implementation of the agreement for the next 5 years to avoid fines.
This settlement appears to reflect a change in legal strategy for Microsoft. In a previous legal dispute with European competition authorities that lasted almost a decade, Microsoft was charged with abusing a dominant market position by tying Windows to its media player and server businesses. The EC fined Microsoft $2.44 billion dollars and forced Microsoft to change its business practices in order to continue its sales in Europe. Now, Microsoft appears more willing to compromise rather than face costly litigation and fines.
The settlement only covers Windows users in Europe and reports indicate that Microsoft has no plans to extend the terms to other markets, despite the fact that 90% of computers in the world run on the Windows operating system.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
World Trade Organization Director General Pascal Lamy today applauded the successful efforts of Latin American banana producing nations, the United States and the European Union to end their long running dispute over trade in bananas.
The banana issue is one of the longest running disputes in the post-WWII multilateral trading system. It has generated considerable debate and litigation among the widest range of the entire WTO membership. And it has resulted in multiple legal rulings by dispute panels, the Appellate Body, and special arbitrators. All this attention has focussed on the treatment the EC gives to the import of bananas from the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries in preference to bananas from Latin America. Today, the EC announced the final, comprehensive agreement to settle this dispute.
Click here to read more. That link contains a timeline of significant events in this dispute, which started back in the early 1990's.
A blog hosted by Doug Ireland is reporting the murder this week of Walter Trochez, a 25-year-old activist in Honduras who was an active member of the National Resistance Front against the military coup. The blog reports that Mr. Trochez was assassinated on the evening of December 13. He had previously been arrested and beaten for his sexual orientation after participating in a march against the coup. He had documenting and publicizing homophobic killings and crimes committed by the military forces behind the coup, which reprotedly has killed at least 10 LGBT persons since the coup. Click here to read more.
Monday, December 14, 2009
The New York Times has just reported that the Obama administration is expected to announce on Tuesday that it has selected a prison in northwestern Illinois to house terrorism suspects now being held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Moving the prisoners would be a major step toward shutting down the military detention facility. The New York Times reports that an administration official said President Obama had directed the federal government to proceed with acquiring the Thomson Correctional Center, a maximum-security prison about 150 miles west of Chicago.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Public hearings wrapped up this week in the International Court of Justice on the question of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia early last year, with the court now ready to begin its deliberations.
Representatives of Serbia and the authors of the declaration of independence, the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government (PISG) of Kosovo, spoke during proceedings at the ICJ, which began December 1, 2009. Twenty-seven other United Nations Member States also addressed the proceedings.
In October 2008 the General Assembly adopted a resolution requesting the ICJ to give an advisory opinion on the legality of the move by the PISG of Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians outnumber ethnic Serbs and other minorities by about nine to one.
Adapted from a UN Press Release