Saturday, February 20, 2010
As the subject of trade agreements will continue to be an important on in U.S. foreign policy debates, we want to share a bit of somewhat boring news: The United States and Peru held their first bilateral Environmental Affairs Council meeting in Washington, D.C. this past week.
Exciting right? No, not really, but it is exactly these kinds of meetings that facilitate the important benefits that can be achieved under bilateral treaties such as the U.S.-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement.
Peru and the United States established the Environmental Affairs Council within the Environment Chapter of the United States-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement (USPTPA) as way of discuss how to implement the Environment Chapter. The Council will report to the Free Trade Commission regarding Chapter implementation and also discuss implementation of the Environmental Cooperation Agreement.
During their meeting this week, U.S. and Peruvian trade and environment officials discussed compliance with environmental provisions under the USPTPA and reviewed implementation of the Annex on Forest Sector Governance. They also discussed implementation of the Environmental Cooperation Agreement, including areas where the U.S. and Peru collaborate on environmental protection.
Tom Countryman, Principal Deputy Assistant U.S. Secretary for Political-Military Affairs, gave a briefing on Thursday regarding the efforts of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia. Mr. Countryman noted that In the year since the Contact Group was formed, its membership has grown from 24 countries to 47 countries and a number of international organizations.
Mr. Countryman observed that the root causes of piracy off the coast of Somalia rest in the state of disorder that has characterized Somalia for 20 years, and that an effective solution to the piracy question will require further efforts to re-stabilize Somalia. The Contact Group attempts to manage the consequences of that disorder, specifically as they relate to piracy and the disruption to trade in the region, as well as the human cost that this imposes both upon the people of Somalia and upon seafarers in the region. Mr. Countryman also noted that while piracy remains a serious challenge to maritime safety, the delivery of humanitarian aid, and global commerce, the Contact Group’s concerted effort has made a positive difference contributing toward a declining success rate of pirate attacks from as high as 60 percent in 2007 to less than 25 percent today.
According to Mr. Countryman, the success rate for pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden, the body of water between the Somalia and Yemen coastlines, has fallen to nearly zero. There has been only one successful hijacking in that area since last summer. However, that success has shifted the focus of pirate attacks southward into the Somali Basin, a body of water twice as large as the Gulf of Aden. And the success rate for pirate attacks in that area has gone up, as has the absolute number of attempts in that region. He estimated that the international force had encountered slightly more than 700 pirates in 2009; that 400 attempted attacks had been disrupted; and that between 200 and 300 pirates had been turned over for prosecution.
Mr. Countryman asserted that the Contract Group has made steady progress in the coordination of military, business, and legal measures to deal with the consequences of piracy and political disorder in Somalia. With respect to military coordination, he noted that more than 20 nations are now participating in an international naval force in the Gulf of Aden, stating: "On any given day there are, on average, 17 ships in patrol in the Gulf of Aden creating a recognized transit corridor that provides maximum security for the 30,000 cargo ships that pass through this area every year."
In addition, over the last year, the Contact Group worked closely with the International Maritime Organization to establish and codify best management practices that ships should employ when they are in dangerous territory. According to Mr. Countryman, the U.S. Coast Guard and Maritime Administration have required U.S.-flagged vessels to employ these practices when they are delivering food aid or undertaking other commercial voyages in that region. The United States hopes to see other major flag nations require the same kind of best practices of their commercial ships that operate in the region.
With respect to legal prosecutions, Mr. Countryman stated that the United States believes that as piracy has long been defined as a universal crime, every state has the jurisdiction to prosecute pirates. The United States therefore encourages the states affected by piracy to prosecute pirates. In this regard, Mr. Countryman praised Kenya for stepping forward and offering itself as a site for the prosecution of suspected pirates.
Friday, February 19, 2010
Did you know that February 18 is the "Day of Women of the Americas"? Here is U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's statement honoring women in the Americas:
"On this Day of the Women of the Americas, I am proud to honor the women of the hemisphere who are working every day to build a better future for themselves, their families, and their societies. Unfortunately, in too many parts of our hemisphere and beyond, women are still denied rights, deprived of dignity and marginalized in the political, social, and economic spheres. The Organization of American States has designated 2010 as the Inter-American Year of Women, making this an important opportunity to redouble our efforts to ensure that women are accorded equal rights, opportunities and respect. Empowering women is a high-yield investment that results in stronger economies, more vibrant societies, healthier communities, and greater peace and stability.
The United States is working with partners across the Americas to create economic opportunity for women, advance educational opportunities, and increase public awareness, among both men and women, of the obstacles that still stand in the way of progress. In particular, we are committed to combating the scourge of violence against women in all its forms. We support efforts to increase legal and judicial protections and health sector capacity to respond to sexual and gender-based violence. And we are strengthening our fight to curb human trafficking.
The women of our hemisphere have a tremendous resource in the Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM). Established at the Sixth International Conference of American States on February 18, 1928, CIM has been the principal Inter-American forum for generating hemispheric policies to advance women's rights and gender equality. Currently under U.S. leadership, CIM is hard at work to promote public policies in the member states that contribute to ending violence against women, increasing their political participation, and achieving economic prosperity, among other priorities.
Efforts to empower women across the Americas have gained new urgency in the wake of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, which left so many homeless and in need. In the first hours after the disaster, Haitian women played a vital role in distributing emergency assistance and securing lifelines for shattered communities. In the difficult days of rebuilding that lie ahead, their determination and hard work will be crucial to Haiti’s rebirth. As we celebrate this Day of the Women of the Americas, let us reaffirm our solidarity with the women of Haiti and their families.
And let us recommit ourselves across the Americas and the world to the cause of empowering women and supporting their efforts to build a brighter future for us all."
U.S. Supreme Court to Decide Whether Federal Courts Can Order Release of Guantanamo Detainees into the United States . . . Unless it Dismisses the Case
Two weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered additional briefing on whether the case should be dismissed. That happened after the parties informed the Court that the Swiss government had agreed to accept two of the Uighurs detained at Guantanamo. Five others have also been offered resettlement in the Republic of Palau and elsewhere, although the detainees apparently have not yet accepted those offers.
Solicitor General Elena Kagan told the Court that the factual premise for the case has evaporated, and that "the Court may wish to dismiss the writ of certiorari as improvidently granted."
If the case goes forward, it will be argued on Tuesday, March 23, 2010.
The University of Connecticut School of Law will hold an all-day program on March 19, 2010 on the suject of "international Law in a Time of Scarcity." The event also marks the 25th anniversary of the Connecticut Journal of International Law. Speakers include Mark W. Janis, Sean D. Murphy, and many other distinguished speakers.
RSVP by March 12, 2010.
The Australian Law Firm Piper Alderman has published a short and interesting update on several important issues under Australian and international law. Their current publication includes short and informative articles on these four topics:
- Australia's International Commercial Arbitration Law (noting that Australia is modernizing its law to promote Australia as a regional seat for international arbitration.
- New Australian Legislation: The Personal Property Securities Act
- Class Actions in Australia -- A Plaintiff's Paradise? (noting that Australia is now the place outside the United States where a corporation will most likely find itself defending a class action)
- Directors' Duties -- Current Perspectives in the Australian Legal Context
The International Court of Justice has directed the Republic of Croatia and the Republic of Serbia to prepare further written submissions in the case concerning the Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Last month, Serbia filed a counter-claim alleging that Croatia violated the Genocide Convention (or at least conspired to do so) during and after Operation Storm in August 1995 by acting against the Serb national and ehnical group living in the Krajina Region (UN Protected Areas North and South) in Croatia.
Among the remedies sought in the counterclaim are that Croatia remove from its list of public holidays the celebrations on August 5 which mark the "Day of Victory and Homeland Gratitude" and the "Day of Croatian Defenders."
Under the ICJ order issued this week, Croatia must file a written pleading by December 20, 2011. Serbia must file its rejoinder by November 4, 2011.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
The United Nations announced today that it had received the 30th ratification of the Convention on Cluster Munitions meaning that the treaty will take effect August 1, 2010. Both Burkina Faso and Moldova deposited their instruments of ratification allowing the treaty to become legally binding. The treaty was opened for signature in 2008 and has received over 100 signatures since that date.
The treaty bans the production and use of cluster munitions and obligates states to compensate victims of such weapons. Cluster bombs contain a number of sub-munitions or "bomblets" that are designed to spread out upon explosion to cover a wider area and deter an advancing army. However, unexploded cluster bombs pose serious hazards to civilians similar to landmines.
Despite the large number of signatories, some of the largest stockpilers of such weapons, including the United States, China and Russia, have not signed the treaty, lessening its potential effectiveness. The United States takes the position that cluster bombs have military utility and are necessary to protect its troops. For more information, visit the website of the Cluster Munition Coalition.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs
February 17, 2010
Today, the Haitian judge released eight of the ten American citizens and they have departed Haiti for the United States. Two members of the group are being detained in Haiti to answer further questions, as the investigation is ongoing.
The United States Government respects the sovereign right of the Government of Haiti to conduct its own judicial processes. The United States Embassy in Port au Prince has been providing the detained Americans with consular visits and assistance to ensure that they are safe and receiving necessary care. Haitian authorities have been cooperative in ensuring the individuals’ safety and welfare since their arrest and we have every expectation this will continue.
ICJ Case on Jurisdiction and Enforcement of Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters (Belgium v. Switzerland)
The International Court of Justice has fixed the briefing schedule for Belgium's case against Switzerland in the case known as Jurisdiction and Enforcement of Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters.
Belgium must file its memorial by August 23, 2010. The Swiss Confederation must reply by April 25, 2011. Each party has eight months, which may surprise blog readers as being a shorter period than usually allowed. A press release from the court states that the Agents for each nation agreed to a shorter time to have the case dealt with as soon as possible. Click here for more information on the order just entered by the International Court of Justice.
So what's this case about?
Just before Christmas, the Kingdom of Belgium filed an ICJ action against Switzerland concerning "the interpretation and application of the Lugano Convention of 16 September 1988 on the jurisdiction and the enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters . . . and the application of the rules of general international law that govern the exercise of State authority, in particular in the judicial domain, [and relating to] the decision by the Swiss courts not to recognize a decision by Belgian courts and not to stay proceedings later initiated in Switzerland on the subject of the same dispute."
The underlying dispute arose from parallel judicial proceedings in Belgium and Switzerland in cases between Sabena (the former Belgian airline now in bankruptcy) and its main shareholders. The main shareholders in Switzerland are SAirGroup (previously known as Swissair) and its subsidiary SAirLines. The main shareholders in Belgium are the Belgian State and three companies in which it holds the shares.
Are you interested in getting a better understanding of the legal system in Japan? Or in the advantages (and dangers) of selecting Japanese law or Japan as a place to arbitrate? Or other issues relating to doing business with (and in) Asia?
There's a teleconference on "Doing Business with Japan" on Wednesday, February 24, 2010 from noon to 1:30 p.m. Eastern US Time. The program is organized by the Asia/Pacific Committee of the American Bar Association Section of International Law. Click here for the program description, speaker bios, and registration form. Download Japan. There is an extremely modest fee to call in ($15 for section members and $25 for non-members). Register by Monday, February 22, 2010.
Hat tip to Mo Syed.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
The World Trade Organization (WTO) Appellate Body (AB ) released its annual report for 2009 today. In its Foreward, the AB stressed that the Members of the WTO continued to abide by the international trading rules despite the economic downtown that led to fears of protectionism.
The report also noted two major milestones in 2009. The WTO dispute settlement body saw the initiation of the 400th dispute since its inception in 1995. The AB also completed its 100th report. The workload of the AB was not as heavy in 2009 with only three new appeals filed during the year. The report predicts a heavier caseload for 2010 based on the number of WTO panel reports due out in the near future.
Two members left the AB in 2009: Luiz Olavo Baptista and Giorgio Sacerdoti. Two new members joined: Ricardo Ramirez Hernandez and Peter Van den Bossche.
The full report may be found here.
The so-called ‘Anti-Homosexuality Bill’ under consideration by the Ugandan Parliament not only violates the fundamental human rights of Ugandans, but will also impede efforts to combat HIV, a United Nations independent expert warned.
“Uganda is in great danger of taking a step backwards – away from realizing human rights for its people and away from an effective, evidence and rights-based HIV response,” stressed Anand Grover, the Special Rapporteur on health.
Lessons from the past three decades of the HIV epidemic have shown that recognizing the rights of people with different sexual identities is a crucial element of efforts to respond to the virus, he said.
In many nations where sex between men is not criminalized and where both stigma and discrimination have been eased, men who have sex with men are more likely to pursue HIV prevention, care, support and treatment services, Mr. Anand emphasized.
“I urge the Ugandan Parliament to build on its past successes in responding to HIV and to refrain from passing this bill,” he said, noting that several UN human rights conventions ban discrimination on the grounds of sexual identity or orientation.
Further, laws criminalizing homosexual acts between consenting adults also infringes on the right to privacy, the expert pointed out.
Homosexuality is already criminalized through Uganda’s existing penal code, but the new bill – which was tabled by a Parliament member and is due to be put before the entire legislative body later this month – prohibits any form of sexual relations between people of the same sex, as well as the promotion or recognition of homosexual relations as a healthy or acceptable lifestyle in public institutions.
Since the bill would also include the publication of materials which ‘promote or abet homosexuality,’ Mr. Anand cautioned that it could impact the work of civil society actors and human rights defenders working on issues of sexual orientation or gender identity, which are essential to addressing vulnerability to HIV.
The new legislation also criminalizes failure to report relevant offenses, in effect compelling citizens, including health workers and civil society organizations, to report anyone they suspect of being homosexual to the authorities.
Those deemed to be ‘serial offenders’ and those living with HIV could receive the death penalty, the Special Rapporteur said.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has also spoken out against the bill. “It is extraordinary to find legislation like this being proposed more than 60 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – as well as many subsequent international laws and standards – made it clear this type of discrimination is unacceptable,” Navi Pillay said. Describing the bill as “blatantly discriminatory,” she said that, if passed, it would have “a tremendously negative impact on the enjoyment of a range of fundamental human rights by homosexuals, lesbians and transgendered individuals, as well as on parents, teachers, landlords, human rights defenders, medical professionals and HIV workers.”
The High Commissioner added that she was “encouraged” by the fact that a number of Ugandan civil society groups were actively opposing the bill, and by the recent statement by President Museveni, reported in the Ugandan press, which appeared to suggest the Government would intervene to prevent the draft bill from becoming law.
(adapted from a UN Press Release)
“This is the only responsible course of action for a government to take in such circumstances,” she said, while also urging the Government repeal existing Ugandan laws that criminalize homosexuality, albeit with less severe punishments.
Legislation introduced in Uganda (and condemned by human rights activists around the world) would impose the death penalty on gay people. Here is a link to the legislation and here is a video that explains how the bill would also bring the death penalty upon anyone who befriends a gay person in Uganda. Here's the video:
Hat tip to Rex Wockner
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
The Stetson Internation Environmental Moot Court Competition is the world’s largest moot that is devoted solely to global environmental challenges. Regional competitions are being held in Africa, Brazil, North India, South India, Ireland, North America (California and Maryland), Southeast Asia, and Ukraine. The top two teams from each region are then invited to the International Finals, which will be held at Stetson’s Gulfport campus from March 11-14, 2010. If a particular area does not have a regional moot, Stetson invites select schools directly to the International Finals with the aim of encouraging them to establish regional rounds in the future. (For example, China University of Political Science and Law will be participating as a direct invite this year.)
The 2010 problem focuses on noise pollution associated with marine seismic surveys and their effect on beaked whales. Students must engage with international custom, treaties, and policy to produce a memorial. The complete record and rules are available at by clicking here.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
The tensions between the judiciary and the presidency in Pakistan continue with the rejection by the Pakistani Supreme Court of two judicial nominees by President Asif Ali Zardari. The Supreme Court deferred the appointments because the President had not consulted with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court as required by the Pakistani Constitution. Some news reports suggest that the President did in fact consult with the Chief Justice, but went ahead with the appointments despite the Chief Justice's objections, prompting an emergency order from the Court postponing the nominations.
Many readers of this blog will recall that in 2007, former Pakistani President Musharraf dismissed all the judges on the Supreme Court and High Court. Public protest led to the reinstatement of many of the judges. This latest episode demonstrates that tense relations between the judiciary and the executive branch continue. Last month, the Pakistani Supreme Court issued a decision declaring unconstitutional an ordinance that provided immunity from suit for the president and thousands of other government officials on corruption, money laundering, embezzlement and other charges. President Zardari can now be charged, but cannot be prosecuted while in office.