July 31, 2010
Cluster Munitions Treaty Enters into Effect
The international treaty banning the manufacture, use and stockpiling of cluster munitions entered into effect this week. The treaty required 30 ratifications for it to enter into effect. That number of ratifications was achieved back In February, when the nations of Burkina Faso and Moldova both submitted their instruments of ratification of the Convention on Cluster Munitions at the U.N. Headquarters in New York. To date, 37 countries have ratified the treaty. There are 107 signatories to the treaty.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
July 29, 2010
Friday Fun: The Newport Video from Wales
When I was a college student I had the great honor and pleasure to study at Trinity College in Carmarthen Wales. Today I received from a lawyer friend in London a link to this spoof music video about the small Welsh village of Newport. It's a cute video and I hope you enjoy it. If you've seen the movie Sex and the City 2, you'll recognize the song ("New York"). After the two minute mark I found myself laughing out loud.
Hat tip to Giles Usher
Concern over Dismissing Judges in Honduras
The recent dismissal of three judges and a magistrate in Honduras, apparently because they spoke out during the political crisis that engulfed the country last year, sends a disturbing message to other jurists in the Central American country, three independent United Nations human rights experts warned today. The experts said the dismissal last month of the judges Guillermo López Lone, Luis Chávez and Ramón Enrique Barrios and the magistrate Tirza Flores could intimidate other members of the judiciary “to refrain from expressing views different from those expressed by the authorities” in Honduras.
“None of the decisions that led to the dismissal of the judges and the magistrate contains legal grounds that justify why the conduct that was the object of the disciplinary proceedings was considered to be grave,” the experts said in a statement issued from Geneva. The Supreme Court notified the four jurists that they had been dismissed for “non-compliance or serious breaches of their duties,” but the experts said the sackings seem to be connected to the jurists’ public remarks during last year’s crisis, when there was a coup d’état in Honduras, and their involvement in several acts of protest.
“Judges can be dismissed only on serious grounds of misconduct or incompetence, in accordance with fair procedures that guarantee objectivity and impartiality. Accepting an invitation to give a lecture, write an article, present an application for habeas corpus in favour of the dismissed president or participate in public demonstrations does not seem to meet these criteria.” The dismissed judges and magistrate have appealed the decision to the Judicial Career Council of Honduras, and a ruling is expected soon.
The experts stressed in their statement that it is important to resolve the matter “in accordance with international standards in this area” and for Honduras to consolidate the independence of the judiciary and guarantee both democracy and the rule of law. The three experts are: Gabriela Knaul, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; Frank La Rue, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression; and Margaret Sekaggya, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. They each serve in an independent and unpaid capacity and report the UN Human Rights Council.
(from a UN Press Release)
What Happens Next? Discussing the ICJ's Advisory Decision on Kosovo
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Foreign Minister of Serbia, Vuk Jeremic, met today at United Nations Headquarters in New York, where they discussed questions related to Kosovo as well as a planned high-level meeting on disarmament. The meeting comes one week after the International Court of Justice released its advisory opinion on the legality of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia in February 2008, which Belgrade rejects. Click here for links to that decision.
By 10 votes to four, judges at the ICJ concluded that the declaration does not breach either general international law, a Security Council resolution from 1999 following the end of fighting in Kosovo, or the constitutional framework that was adopted by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on behalf of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). UNMIK was established after Western forces drove out Yugoslav forces amid inter-ethnic fighting in 1999. Ethnic Albanians outnumber ethnic Serbs and other minorities by about nine to one in Kosovo.
The Secretary-General said today that he planned to closely coordinate next steps with the European Union (EU), which has offered to facilitate a process of dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade. He and Mr. Jeremic also discussed a Serbian draft General Assembly resolution on this subject, according to information provided by the Secretary-General’s spokesperson. Mr. Ban said he continued to appeal to all sides to support constructive dialogue and the settlement of all remaining concerns, while encouraging political stability and discouraging provocations.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
UN General Assembly Declares A Human Right to Clean Water
The U.N. General Assembly declared yesterday that safe and clean drinking water and sanitation is a human right essential to the full enjoyment of life and all other human rights. The General Assembly voiced deep concern that almost 900 million people worldwide do not have access to clean water.
The 192-member Assembly also called on United Nations Member States and international organizations to offer funding, technology and other resources to help poorer countries scale up their efforts to provide clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for everyone.
The Assembly resolution received 122 votes in favour and zero votes against. Forty-one countries abstained from voting. The text of the resolution expresses deep concern that an estimated 884 million people lack access to safe drinking water and a total of more than 2.6 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation. Studies also indicate about 1.5 million children under the age of five die each year and 443 million school days are lost because of water- and sanitation-related diseases.
Here is the breakdown of the vote on the draft resolution on the human right to water and sanitation (document A/64/L.63/REV.1), which was adopted by a recorded vote of 122 in favour to none against, with 41 abstentions:
In favor: Afghanistan, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chile, China, Colombia, Comoros, Congo, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Finland, France, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Jamaica, Jordan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Madagascar, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Switzerland, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Timor-Leste, Togo, Tunisia, Tuvalu, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zimbabwe.
Abstain: Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Ethiopia, Greece, Guyana, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Latvia, Lesotho, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, United States, Zambia.
Absent: Albania, Belize, Cameroon, Chad, Fiji, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kiribati, Malawi, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Micronesia (Federated States of), Mozambique, Namibia, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Sao Tome and Principe, Sierra Leone, Suriname, Swaziland, Tonga, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Uzbekistan.
Liberia Gets a New Prison
The United Nations deputy envoy in Liberia has assured the country of the world body’s continued support for recovery and development in the West African nation, which include a new modern UN-funded prison and a centre where peacekeepers will teach vocational skills to young people. Henrietta Mensa-Bonsu, Deputy Special Representative for the Rule of Law at the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), handed over the maximum security prison in Sanniquellie, the provincial capital of Nimba, to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf today.
The facility was built by the UN in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice in Sanniquellie at a cost of $350,000 – provided by the UN Peacebuilding Fund, which provides assistance to jump-start rebuilding projects in countries emerging from conflict. It has the capacity to hold 72 inmates, with separate facilities for men and women, and electricity, sanitation, kitchen and recreational facilities, as well as a solar-powered water pump and rain-harvest water storage to guarantee a constant supply of water.
The Peacebuilding Fund has also sponsored the training of 50 new corrections officers, 20 of whom will be deployed to the new prison. In addition, Bangladeshi UN peacekeepers in Sanniquellie will assist the inmates with farming implements and seedlings to grow vegetables and cassava for their own use.
In a report issued in February, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated that, more than a decade after its civil war, Liberia is heading towards reconciliation but significant challenges remain in the development of its security and legal institutions, which will impact the future of the UN mission there. Noting the need to ensure that the Liberian National Police are independently operational and that Liberia redoubles its efforts in the area of rule of law, Mr. Ban identified financial resources as a requirement for continued progress in Liberia.
(Excerpt from a UN Press Release)
Latest Payments for Invasion of Kuwait Bring Total Compensation Paid Now to More than $30 Billion
The United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC), which settles the damage claims of those who suffered losses due to Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, today made $650 million available to nine successful claimants.
The UNCC’s Governing Council has identified six categories of claims: four are for individuals’ claims, one for corporations and one for governments and international organizations, which also includes claims for environmental damage. The latest round of payments brings the total amount of compensation disbursed by the Commission to more than $30 billion, according to a press release issued by the Geneva-based body.
Established in 1991 as a subsidiary organ of the Council, the United Nations Compensation Commission has received nearly three million claims, including from close to 100 governments for themselves, their nationals or their corporations. The majority of funds for compensation payments have come from the sale of Iraqi petroleum under the so-called Oil-for-Food programme, which came to an end in 2003, and later within the scope of arrangements made under Security Council resolutions.
(from a UN Press Release)
July 28, 2010
US Court Blocks Much of Controversial AZ Immigration Law
U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton has ruled that many of the most controversial provisions of S.B. 1070, the recent immigration law adopted in Arizona, are unconstitutional. The decision may be found here. The Court reached its decision largely on the basis that much of the Arizona law is preempted by federal immigration law and implementation of the Arizona law would interfere with federal government policy with respect to immigration. The decision has international implications because some foreign states, such as Mexico, have joined in lawsuits against Arizona and because some provisions of the law may violate international human rights norms. Although Judge Bolton mentioned the U.S. government's argument that the law is likely to interfere with foreign relations, she did not base her decision on the international aspects of the law.
The Arizona law was scheduled to take effect tomorrow. Judge Bolton has preliminarily enjoined enforcement of four sections of the law, including the provision that directs state law enforcement officials to ask for documentation of lawful presence in the United States. In addition, the Court enjoined enforcement of the provisions that make it a crime to fail to carry alien registration papers and to solicit, apply for or perform work without employment authorization. Finally, the Court enjoined the provision authorizing the warrantless arrest of a person where there is probable cause to believe the person has commited a removable offense.
EU Opens Formal Accession Talks with Iceland
The European Union (EU) began formal accession talks with Iceland this week, at a time when the EU's popularity in Iceland has been dropping. Many of Iceland's laws are already EU-compliant, but it will have to revise its fishing policies if it joins the bloc. Much of the recent unhappiness with the EU comes from a dispute arising out of the recent banking crisis in which the Icelandic bank Icesave failed. The UK and the Netherlands bailed out the bank's depositors located in their countries at a cost of 3.8 billion euro and those governments now wish to be repaid. Although the EU describes the controversy as a bilateral matter, many Icelanders believe the EU has sided with the UK and the Netherlands. Recent opinion polls show that as many as 60% of Icelanders oppose joining the EU, a real problem for the Icelandic government as it negotiates with Brussels and tries to sell any compromises reached to its citizenry.
July 27, 2010
Preventive Diplomacy and Mediation
Preventive diplomacy and mediation are an effective means of resolving crises across the world, the top United Nations political official said today, adding that the Organization is increasingly resorting to the use of diplomacy to defuse tensions before they escalate into conflict.
“Member States are seeking better tailored approaches all along the conflict cycle, and in doing so they are having a fresh look at an old art – diplomacy and mediation – that had somehow become less fashionable than other UN instruments,” B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said in a speech at the Brookings Institution, a non-profit public policy organization based in Washington.
Making the case for diplomacy as a tool for conflict resolution, Mr. Pascoe said that the root causes of most conflicts that may, or have already turned violent were political problems requiring political solutions. Secondly, distrust among rival parties in national conflicts often ran so high that they were unable to arrive at compromises without international mediation, facilitation or diplomatic encouragement.
“Ideally we want to prevent violence from erupting in the first place. But even if that fails, robust diplomacy and mediation is still required to end the fighting through negotiations and then to help countries navigate the difficult politics of reconciliation and rebuilding,” Mr. Pascoe said. “Too many nations fail in this last stage, and slide right back into conflict,” he added.
He gave the example of the post-election violence triggered by disputed polls in Kenya in 2008 as an example of successful preventive diplomacy facilitated by the UN.
“We quickly deployed political officers, electoral, constitutional and security experts that became the main support staff for the mediator [former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan] as he helped the parties forge the agreements to end the crisis. I think few would contest that prompt international mediation in Kenya helped prevent an even larger catastrophe,” Mr. Pascoe said.
He said that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had, from the beginning of his term, pursued the use of preventive diplomacy, making it a priority to refocus UN capabilities so that diplomats and mediators can be mobilized as first responders to trouble spots. Mr. Ban was himself active in diplomacy, talking with global leaders in person or by telephone, urging those involved in conflict to resolve differences and other parties to use their influence to end crises.
“The Security Council is also focusing on this theme, and Member States in the developing world, African countries in particular, are among the most enthusiastic,” Mr. Pascoe said.
The main UN platforms for preventive diplomacy were the “political missions” in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. They included the UN missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Nepal, Lebanon, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, Somalia, Burundi, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and the Central African Republic. There were also regional missions in Central Asia and West Africa, Mr. Pascoe said.
Challenges to preventive diplomacy included reluctance, in some instances, by governments and leaders to accept help, and limited resources to boost the capacity of the UN Department of Political Affairs, Mr. Pascoe said.
“I know that, progress aside, the United Nations and the international community as whole still have a long way to go before we can reliably predict, prevent and respond through diplomacy to reduce the extent of conflict around the world.
“That said, we at the United Nations are in a much better position today than we were even three years ago to make a positive contribution. This trend should continue as the Member governments of the Organization dedicate more of their attention and support to preventive action,” he added.
(UN Press Release)
EU and Canada Join US in Additional Sanctions Against Iran
As anticipated, the European Union (EU) issued new economic sanctions against Iran yesterday. Canada also followed suit. The new EU sanctions take effect immediately and target the petroleum, banking, insurance, and transportation industries. They are designed to prevent investment, assistance or technology transfers by European companies in the oil and gas industries that form the basis of the Iranian economy. The sanctions also aim to freeze foreign holdings of Iranian banks and to prohibit European insurance firms from doing business with Iranian companies. Additionally, they block holdings of Iranian shipping companies accused of helping Iran avoid previous sanctions.
Canada's sanctions are similar and include a ban on any new Canadian investment in Iran's oil and gas sector and restrictions on exporting goods that could be used in nuclear programs. In addition, Iranian banks will be barred from opening branches in Canada and Canadian banks will not be able to operate in Iran.
Russia described these unilateral efforts at sanctions as "unacceptable" because they undermine international efforts to curb Iran's nuclear program. Russia is unhappy with the unilateral application of sanctions against companies and individuals from third countries who are complying with UN sanctions.
The US, EU and Canada hope these expanded sanctions will force Iran into serious negotiations regarding its nuclear program. In response to the additional sanctions, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is quoted as warning that: "Anybody who participates in the U.S. scenario will be considered a hostile country." Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only, but has been unable to convince the international community of that claim.
July 26, 2010
First Sentence Issued by Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia
The Trial Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) today found KAING Guek Eav alias Duch guilty of crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and sentenced him to 35 years of imprisonment. The sentence was reduced by 11 years for time served in pre-trial detention, and reduced by an additional five years because his pre-trial detention exceeded the period allowed under Cambodian law.
KAING Guek Eav was the first person to stand trial before the ECCC. He served as Deputy and then Chairman of S-21, a security centre tasked with interrogating and executing persons perceived as enemies of Democratic Kampuchea by the Communist Party of Kampuchea. S-21 was operational between 1975 and 1979.
The Chamber found that every individual detained within S-21 was destined for execution in accordance with the Communist Party of Kampuchea policy to “smash” all enemies. In addition to mass executions, many detainees died as a result of torture and their conditions of detention. Although finding a minimum of 12,272 individuals to have been detained and executed at S-21 on the basis of prisoner lists, the Chamber indicated that the actual number of detainees is likely to have been considerably greater.
Americans with Disabilities Act is 20 Years Old Today
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a comprehensive federal statute in the United States that protects individuals with disabilities from acts of discrimination. The statute also can apply outside the United States in some circumstances. Click here for more information about the extraterritorial application of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
We're coming up also on the one year anniversary of the United States signing the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. That treaty--still largely unknown in the United States--entered into force on May 3, 2008. The United States signed the treaty on July 30, 2009 but has not yet ratified it. There are 88 parties to the treaty. Click here to see the status of ratifications. And in a new development for international law, not only individual countries can become parties to the Disability Treaty (and its Optional Protocol), but also Regional Integration Organizations (RIO's).
July 25, 2010
Experts Named to Investigate Flotilla Incident
The United Nations Human Rights Council has announced the names of the three experts who will serve on a fact-finding mission to investigative violations of international law resulting from Israel’s interception of a flotilla of aid ships bound for the Gaza Strip, which led to the deaths of nine civilians.
The panel will be comprised of these three individuals:
- Judge Karl T. Hudson-Phillips of Trinidad and Tobago. Judge Hudson-Phillips served as a judge on the International Criminal Court (ICC) between 2003 and 2007.
- Sir Desmond de Silva of the United Kingdom. Sir Desmond was the Chief Prosecutor at the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) in 2005.
- Mary Shanthi Dairiam of Malaysia. Ms. Dairiam has been a member of UN Development Programme’s (UNDP) Gender Equality Task Force since 2007.
The Human Rights Council President, Ambassador Sihasak Phuangketkeow of Thailand, called on all parties to fully cooperate with the fact-finding mission, saying he hoped its work would contribute to peace and justice in the region.
The three experts will now map out their plan of action and contact all relevant parties before they travel to the region, according to a press statement issued by the Human Rights Council. The panel is expected to report on its finding to the Council at a session in September.
The Council ordered the formation of a fact-finding mission on 2 June, three days after members of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) intercepted the convoy of six ships in international waters. The flotilla was trying to deliver aid to Gaza, which has been the subject of an Israeli blockade since 2007. Nine people were killed and dozens more were wounded.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)