Thursday, July 28, 2011
Today, July 28, marks the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees in 1951. The Convention defines a refugee as a person who does not want to return to his or her country due to a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Today, there are 15.4 million refugees worldwide, in addition to millions of other displaced persons . 80% of them are being hosted in developing countries. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Guterres, has used this anniversary to call attention to their plight and specifically to call on the members of the European Union to create common rules for asylum and to accept a greater share of refugees. More information can be found on the UNHCR website at http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee has issued a commentary on freedom of expression that says anti-blasphemy laws and restrictions on criticism of governments are incompatible with existing norms and that free expression is essential for the protection of human rights, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported today.
The committee also said counter-terrorism measures, including laws that outlaw acts that allegedly “encourage” or “justify” terrorism, “should be clearly defined to ensure that they do not lead to an unnecessary or disproportionate interference with freedom of expression;” and laws against defamation of public officials and heads of State “should not provide for more severe penalties solely on the basis of the identity of the person that may have been impugned.”
The committee’s report, entitled General Comment, is an interpretation of the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which has 167 States parties. The UN Human Rights Committee is an independent body tasked with supervising compliance with the ICCPR. “Prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the covenant,” except in specific circumstances, it said, and States “should not prohibit criticism of institutions, such as the army or the administration.”
The committee said that so-called “memory laws,” which it defined as “laws that penalize the expression of opinions about historical facts,” are also “ incompatible with the obligations that the covenant imposes on States parties in relation to the respect for freedom of opinion and expression.” “General Comment is a comprehensive response to numerous requests from lawmakers, judges, prosecutors, lawyers, rights defenders and even journalists asking for clarification on many of the issues covered by the rights to freedom of expression and opinion,” said committee member Michael O’Flaherty, the principal drafter of the report. “It is a strong reaffirmation of the central importance for all human rights of the freedom of expression and sets out the very strict parameters within which the right can be restricted by States.”
“Freedom of expression is a necessary condition for the realization of the principles of transparency and accountability that are, in turn, essential for the promotion and protection of human rights,” the report said. “States parties should put in place effective measures to protect against attacks aimed at silencing those exercising their right to freedom of expression.”
(Adapted from a UN Press Release) (mew)
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
The United Nations Human Rights Committee (HRC) has accused Belarus of violating its international agreements by executing two persons while their cases were still under review by the committee.
The HRC is charged with overseeing compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). It expressed “dismay” that the executions were the second such breach by Belarus in two years.
According to a press statement issued by the HRC, Oleg Grishkovtsov and Andrei Burdyko had alleged that they were subjected to torture at the pre-trial investigation stage and did not receive a fair trial. Media reports indicated the two were found guilty of premeditated murder, armed assault, arson, kidnapping of a minor, theft and robbery.
The committee had asked authorities in Belarus not to carry out the executions while their cases were under consideration. The exact date of the executions remains unknown but it is presumed that they took place between 13 and 19 July.
The HRC sent a letter to Belarus calling the executions a grave breach of the ICCPR. The letter further stated that under the covenant: “It is imperative that a death sentence be imposed only in full respect of the right to a fair trial. The imposition of a death sentence after a trial that did not meet the requirements for a fair trial amounts to a violation of articles 14 and 6 of the covenant."
According to the HRC, last year, Belarus executed two other persons while their cases were also under review.
Adapted from UN Press Release (cgb)
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
US President Obama issued a Presidential Proclamation yesterday suspending the entry into the United States of all immigrants or nonimmigrants who are subject to travel bans imposed by the United Nations Security Council. The ban applies to persons from Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire, Sudan, Lebanon, North Korea, Somalia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Iran, Afghanistan, and members of Al Qaeda.
Sunday, July 24, 2011
The United Nations-backed commission set up to help Cameroon and Nigeria resolve their border dispute has called for swift agreement to resolve the remaining border areas that have not yet been fully demarcated. At a two-day meeting in Abuja, Nigeria, that wrapped up yesterday, the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission instructed its sub-commission on demarcation to find "effective and practical solutions on the remaining 350-kilometre land border areas that include the skipped areas, areas of disagreement and inaccessible areas," according to a press release issued by the commission.
The Mixed Commission -- which contains representatives of Cameroon, Nigeria, the United Nations -- was established by the world body at the request of the African neighbours to help implement a 2002 International Court of Justice (ICJ) decision on the delineation of the border. It has already reached agreement on more than 1,600 kilometres of the border. In a communiqué issued at the end of this meeting, Cameroon and Nigeria reiterated their commitment to complete the demarcation by the end of next year.
The commission, chaired by Said Djinnit, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for West Africa, also noted the progress made by the two nations regarding the confidence-building initiatives for the populations affected by the demarcation. The next session of the commission will be held in Yaoundé, Cameroon, on 8-9 December 2011.
(mew) (Adapted from a UN Press Release)
Friday, July 22, 2011
United Nations human rights officials today urged Haitian authorities to ensure that the closure of camps for people displaced by last year’s catastrophic earthquake is done in a planned way as part of a broader plan to improve access to adequate housing.
The statement from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) follows last weekend’s closure of a camp inside the Sylvio Cator Stadium in Port-au-Prince, where more than 400 families had been living. Each of the evicted families was given the equivalent of about $250.
The relocation proposed by the mayor does not respect the right to adequate housing, OHCHR said in a press release, noting that the lack of basic services and the poor-quality shelters means that the former camp residents will be much more vulnerable than they were in the camp.
“A successful reconstruction and a secure and long-term stabilization of the country will depend in part on the realization of the right to adequate housing,” OHCHR stressed. It noted that the Haitian Government had been repeatedly urged “to take a holistic approach” regarding the closure of camps – many of them makeshift collections of tents – to allow for a reasonable time as well as alternative accommodation to be found.
“Given the continuous cycle of movement of neighbourhood camps, OHCHR remains convinced that only a comprehensive plan can help advance the cause of sustainable progress and respect for human rights,” according to the press release. As many as 2.3 million people, or about a quarter of the national population, were displaced from their homes as a result of last year’s quake, while more than 200,000 others were killed.
(UN Press Release)
The Security Council today strongly condemned the persistent attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) across Central Africa, demanding that the group end its atrocities against civilians and that its members disarms and surrender.
Attacks by roaming bands of LRA insurgents have displaced more than 380,000 people across Central Africa, the Council said in a press statement read by Ambassador Peter Wittig of Germany, which holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council this month.
“The members of the Security Council expressed their deep concern that the Council’s previous calls for the LRA to cease its attacks, halt the recruitment, abduction and use of children, and to release all women, children and non-combatants, have not been heeded.
“The members of the Security Council demanded an end to all attacks on civilians by the LRA, and urged all LRA elements to surrender and disarm,” said the statement.
The Council commended military operations by the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), South Sudan and Uganda against the LRA, and stressed the importance of sustained coordinated action by those governments to bring the problem to an end.
The United Nations body welcomed the leadership shown by the African Union (AU) in its recent initiative in which it proposed a range of measures to lead to the implementation of a comprehensive strategy to tackle the LRA threat.
The AU measures go beyond military action and have prioritized the protection of civilians and the process of demobilization, disarmament, repatriation, resettlement and reintegration.
The Council welcomed the information shared by Ambassador Téte António, the Permanent Observer of the AU to the UN, on the AU proposals for a regional task force, joint operations centre and joint coordination mechanism.
The press statement underlined the need for all action against the LRA to be conducted in compliance with applicable international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law and the need to protect civilians.
The Council encouraged all UN offices in the LRA-affected region to further enhance information-sharing and coordination with all relevant actors and undertake more regional assessments and programming, particularly with regard to the humanitarian response and the protection of civilians.
It requested the UN Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), in coordination with UN Office to the African Union (UNOAU), to engage with the AU and facilitate cooperation between the UN and the pan-African body on issues related to countering the threat.
(UN Press Release)
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Mike Koehler, an Assistant Professor of Business Law at Butler University in Indiana, has a new and improved website on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Click here for a quick visit. It is a great resource for professors, students, and practitioners.
World Trade Organization (WTO) Secretary-General Pascal Lamy has recently revived the question of whether regional or preferential trade agreements (PTAs) help or hurt the WTO's overarching goal of free trade. On the one hand, some argue that PTA's create trade between the members of the PTA, thereby increasing trade overall and benefitting the worldwide economy. On the other hand, some contend that PTA's simply divert international trade to trade among the PTA partners.
Director-General Lamy seemed to take the latter view in his speech today launching the World Trade Report 2011. He warned that PTAs “may lock in their members to a particular regulatory regime reducing the potential for trade to prosper with countries outside the arrangement . . .The new challenge posed by deep PTAs to the multilateral trading system is one of market segmentation because regulatory systems, which can become divergent, have now more importance on trade flows than tariffs.”
The WTO rules permit PTAs, subject to notification and some oversight and regulation, but the rules have not really been enforced. This issue continues to arise as countries like the United States consider signing additional regional and bilateral free trade agreements, such as the ones currently under consideration by the U.S. Senate with Columbia, South Korea and Panama.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has dismissed the appeal of a former staff member against her conviction for contempt of court. Florence Hartmann, who served as a prosecution spokesperson at the ICTY, was convicted of contempt by the tribunal in September 2009 for disclosing confidential information in violation of a court order.
In a book she wrote and in a separate article, Ms. Hartmann was found to have disclosed the contents, purported effect, and confidential nature of two decisions by the ICTY appeals chamber in the case involving the former Serbian leader Slobodan Miloševic. When convicting her, the court had said Ms. Hartmann’s actions could deter countries from cooperating with the ICTY regarding the provision of evidence.
The ICTY’s appeals chamber, in dismissing the appeal today, noted that neither the parties to a case nor third parties can decide which aspects of a confidential decision may be disclosed. The appeals chamber also upheld the imposition of a fine of €7,000 against Ms. Hartmann. She is required to pay the fine in two instalments by mid-August and mid-September respectively.
(mew) (Adapted from a UN Press Release)
On October 20-22, 2011, the American Branch of the International Law Association and the International Law Students Association will present the annual International Law Weekend (“ILW”) in New York City.
ILW 2011 will bring together hundreds of practitioners, professors, representatives of government and NGO organizations, and law students. It is a gem of a conference that you don't want to miss if you live near New York (and many people fly in from across the United States and Canada to attend it as well). The ABILA Committee on Teaching International Law (which I chair) will present a program on "Libel Tourism." Click here for more information about the International Law Weekend in New York City.
The ILW is one week after the Fall Meeting of the American Bar Association Section of International Law meeting in Dublin.
Mark E. Wojcik
Monday, July 18, 2011
Our blog launched just over three years ago. This week, we celebrate more than 150,000 visits from readers in more than 100 countries and territories. We are extremely proud of our global community and we thank you for your continued support. Please continue to send us news of important international law developments around the world.
Thank you all for visiting the International Law Prof Blog.
Mark, Cindy, Cyndee, Laurent, and Mike
Here's the press release from the United Nations about today's ruling from the International Court of Justice. Click here for a copy of the decision.
The International Court of Justice today ordered Cambodia and Thailand to withdraw their military personnel from around a disputed temple site near their joint border and to agree not to engage in any further fighting in the immediate area.
The ICJ issued a series of provisional measures in the dispute between the South-East Asian neighbours over Preah Vihear, an 11th century Hindu temple complex located on the Cambodian side of the border. The site is inscribed on the UN World Heritage List.
Cambodia and Thailand have repeatedly clashed over the area in recent years and earlier this year there were fatal skirmishes that forced thousands of people to flee. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other top UN officials have urged the two countries to engage in dialogue to resolve the dispute.
Cambodia had applied for provisional measures as part of its request to the ICJ for an interpretation clarifying the meaning or scope of a 1962 judgement that it made in the dispute.
Today the court’s 16-member panel found unanimously that the matter was urgent enough, and the potential risk of damage and renewed clashes sufficiently serious, that provisional measures were necessary. Thailand had requested that the case be removed from the ICJ’s general list, but the court rejected that.
By a vote of 11 to five, the judges then ruled that the two sides should immediately withdrew their military personnel from a provisional demilitarized zone around the temple which the tribunal has defined, and that they should refrain from having any military presence within the zone or directing any armed activity at the zone.
In a vote of 15 to one, the ICJ also stated that:
1. Thailand should not obstruct Cambodia’s free access to Preah Vihear, or prevent it from providing fresh supplies to its non-military personnel;
2. Cambodia and Thailand should continue their cooperation within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in relation to the dispute, particularly by allowing the ASEAN observers to have access to the provisional demilitarized zone;
3. The two countries should refrain from any actions which could aggravate or extend the dispute or make it more difficult to resolve.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
Professor Jordan Paust (University of Houston) has published a new essay on "Nonstate Actor Participation in International Law and the Pretense of Exclusion." You can find it in the Summer 2011 issue of the Virginia Journal of International Law (volume 51 at page 977). It won't take you long to read (unless you read the footnotes!). In the essay, he shows that for the last 250 years, international law has not merely been state-to-state. Contrary to many popular myths about the history of international law, Paust shows that international law has reached a wide range of non-state actors over all of these years. As such, we need to re-evaluate the nature, sources, and evidence of international law. As Paust writes: "Ignorance of our past should no longer be used to deny our common dignity."
Be sure to put this article on your summer reading list!
Hat tip to Jordan Paust
The International Court of Justice has just issued its ruling in the Request for interpretation of the Judgment of 15 June 1962 in the Case concerning the Temple of Preah Vihear (Cambodia v. Thailand).
Ruling on a request for preliminary measures, the ICJ found that both Parties must immediately withdraw their military personnel currently in the provisional demilitarized zone and refrain from any military activity directed at that zone.
Let us know your thoughts on the ruling.
Sunday, July 17, 2011