Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Jon Van Dyke, a constitutional and international law scholar from the University of Hawai'i School of Law, has died unexpectedly in Australia. He was expected to deliver the keynote address at a conference in Melbourne. Professor Van Dyke was an expert on the law of the sea and on islands. He was also a strong advocate for the natives of Hawai'i.
His publications included a casebook on "International Law and Litigation in the United States." One of the co-editors of that book was Professor Jordan Paust, who wrote that Jon "stood tall for human dignity."
We extend our deep sympathy to his family and friends, to the faculty and students of the University of Hawai'i School of Law, and to the many colleagues who knew what a wonderful man he was.
We thank his former student, Professor Kim Chanbonpin, for passing along the news to us.
Ruth Wedgwood, President of the American Branch of the International Law Association (ABILA), sent out this message about Professor Van Dyke:
Jon van Dyke, who died on November 29, was a unique figure in our common profession -- known as a pioneer in defending and explaining the rights and claims of native Hawai'ians under international and American law.
Jon was the ABILA's representative to the London ILA Committee on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. He joined the faculty of the University of Hawai'i in 1976, teaching constitutional law, international law, international oceans law, and international human rights. He was a law clerk for the celebrated Chief Justice Roger Traynor of the California Supreme Court and a visiting fellow at the Center for Democratic Institutions in Santa Barbara, California. He served as the Hawai'i law school's associate dean, directed the Spark M. Matsunaga Institute for Peace, and was a fellow at the East-West Center.
His books include Sharing the Resources of the South China Sea, Who Owns the Crown Lands of Hawai`i?, International Law and Litigation in the U.S. - Consensus and Confrontation, The United States and the Law of the Sea Convention, International Navigation: Rocks and Shoals Ahead? , Freedom for the Seas in the 21st Century, Updating International Nuclear Law, Maritime Boundary Disputes, Settlement Processes, and The Law of the Sea. Jon was a Visiting Professor at the University of California at Berkeley in Spring 2011.
Alongside his scholarship, the tributes to Jon note his larger-than-life role as a voice for native Hawai'ians, and as a champion for human rights and the preservation of the oceans. He was a towering figure within the islands and beyond.
The United Kingdom announced today that it had closed its embassy in Tehran and withdrawn all of its diplomats. It also ordered Iran to close its embassy in London within 48 hours. The closing of the British embassy and the order to close Iran's embassy follow an invasion of the British Embassy and a diplomatic residence in Tehran. Click here for more information from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Although Iran appears to have expressed its regret over the incident, the attacks on the embassy and diplomatic residence were alleged to be a goverment-supported protest against economic sanctions imposed by Britain against Iran. The attack immediately brought back memories of the 1979 crisis in which U.S. diplomatic personnel were held hostage at the start of the revolution that overthrew the former Shah of Iran.
Saturday, November 26, 2011
Last Thursday, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that a method used by music companies to prevent customers from illegally sharing music files violates customer rights of privacy and the right to impart and receive information. The ECJ also held that the practice interferes with the right to freely do business. The practice ruled illegal was the requirement that internet service providers install filtering systems to monitor electronic communications to ensure that copyrighted music files are not being shared without permission and payment of royalties.
The underlying dispute was between Scarlet, an internet service provider, and SABAM, a Belgium management company that authorizes the use by third parties of musical works. SABAM determined that Scarlet's customers were illegally sharing music files on peer-to-peer networks without permission or payment of royalties. SABAM obtained a court order from a Belgium court directing Scarlet to install a monitoring system to prevent this illegal activity. SABAM appealled to the ECJ, which found that the court injuction did not properly balance intellectual property rights against the rights mentioned above. The ECJ determined that the injunction was overbroad because it required monitoring of all electronic communications by customers, regardless of any indication of wrongdoing, and was not limited in time.
The ECJ press release regarding the case contains more details.
Friday, November 25, 2011
The Irish Centre for Human Rights and the School of Law, National University of Ireland Galway, will hold a conference on 24 March 2012 to explore and analyse issues of law and policy for Ireland arising from the 2011 adoption by the United Nations of Professor John Ruggie's framework for business and human rights. The framework emphasises a State's duty to protect human rights, a corporate responsibility to respect human rights and the need to provide remedies to respond to violations of human rights by business. This conference seeks to look beyond the voluntary corporate social responsibility approach to business and human rights; as Maurice Manning, President of the Irish Human Rights Commission has observed, 'voluntarism can never be a substitute for global standards on businesses' mandatory compliance with human rights'. The organisers welcome in particular contributions which address seek to address legal questions which arise in relation to the UN framework on business and human rights. Ireland represents an obvious case study in this context, given the presence of numerous multinational corporations, increasing privatisation of public services and allegations of corporate involvement in human rights violations both in and outside of Ireland. The conference aims to address the following topics:
· Legal and policy approaches to regulation of Irish companies for human rights
· Obligations of the State and companies when public functions are privatised
· Role of extraterritorial jurisdiction in Irish law to address violations committed overseas by Irish companies or multinationals based here
· The potential role of criminal law to address violations of human rights by business
· Civil litigation as a means accountability - lessons from the Alien Tort Claims Act
· Remedies for victims
Abstracts should be sent by 21 December 2011 to: Dr Shane Darcy (email@example.com) and Dr Ciara Hackett (firstname.lastname@example.org). Successful applicants will be informed in January 2012 of their acceptance. For further information and registration for the conference please contact:
Hadeel Abu Hussein: email@example.com
United Nations human rights experts spoke out this week against newly adopted legislative amendments in Belarus, warning that the changes could severely curtail basic rights such as those of freedom of assembly, association and expression. Three independent experts issued a joint statement in Geneva in which they said the amendments recently adopted by the Eastern European country''s National Assembly could worsen the "current climate of fear and intimidation" in Belarus.
Under the new laws, organizing public assemblies without the prior and explicit consent of the authorities is a criminal offense, and organizers also face reporting liabilities regarding the financial resources used for any assemblies. Public calls for initiating assemblies and disseminating information -- including through social media platforms -- about assemblies without permission is also banned. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are prohibited from storing funds in banks on foreign territory, and receiving foreign grants or donations could also be a criminal offense in some circumstances.
One of the experts, Maina Kiai, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, described the amendments as representing "a direct affront to the exercise of fundamental civil and political rights which are at the core of any democratic society." He noted that the changes to existing laws on public associations, political parties, public gatherings, the criminal code and the election code were done without proper consultation with civil society.
Frank La Rue, Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, voiced particular concern with criminal sanctions for the "staging of seminars" or the distribution of "propaganda materials." He said the measures "will undermine the ability of all individuals to disseminate information and to express their legitimate grievances and concerns peacefully."
Margaret Sekaggya, the UN expert on the situation of human rights defenders, stressed that defenders must be able to carry out their work without undue obstacles, including restrictions on funding. "When defenders are allowed to associate but cannot effectively seek, receive or utilize funding resources, the right to freedom of association becomes void," she said.
The three experts voiced fears that the amendments may be linked to the situation of Ales Bialiatski, the head of Viasna, a human rights centre. He is currently facing legal proceedings for alleged tax invasion.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
Thursday, November 24, 2011
A former Cambodian head of State during the rule of the notorious Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s told a United Nations-backed war crimes tribunal yesterday that the genocide trial he is facing is based on guesses, generalizations and bias. Khieu Samphan told the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) in Phnom Penh, where he is facing charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, that he was merely a nominal head of State with no real powers.
Mr. Samphan, 80, used his opening statement in the trial to deny any responsibility for the atrocities that took place under the Khmer Rouge, which ruled Cambodia from April 1975 to January 1979 and is thought to be responsible for the deaths of as many as two million people. “From the beginning, the co-prosecutors have conducted guesswork and peremptory claims and generalizations in statements,” he said, saying they had relied on anonymous witnesses, books and newspapers to present their case. “As far as I know, historians, chroniclers and journalists are not judges… They are entitled to be biased, partial, wrong and express opinions freely.” He said he bore no responsibility for the evacuation of thousands of Cambodians from Phnom Penh in 1975, saying this took place before his arrival in the capital.
Mr. Samphan is one of three co-defendants in what is known as Case 002 at the ECCC, a mixed court which was set up under an agreement between the UN and the Cambodian Government. The others are Nuon Chea, the former second-in-command of the Khmer Rouge, and Ieng Sary, the former foreign minister and deputy prime minister.
Mr. Ieng told the ECCC today that he would not testify until the country’s Supreme Court rules on a previous court ruling over a 1996 royal pardon and amnesty. Convicted of genocide while in absentia in 1979, he had been pardoned in 1996.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
If you ever competed in the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition, you know how important that experience was in promoting international law. If you are on LinkedIn, you know the importance of keeping up your connections. There are more than 600 people in the LinkedIn Jessup Fan Group right now. The group is open for competitors (past and present), judges, and other fans of international law.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
According to a United Nations press release today, Yemen’s warring factions have agreed to a political transition settlement. Jamal Benomar, the top United Nations envoy to Yemen, called the deal “an important milestone towards restoring peace and stability, maintaining national unity and territorial integrity, and laying the foundation for economic recovery.” The pact was formally signed in neighbouring Saudi Arabia.
The UN press release indicates that under the agreement, President Ali Abdullah Saleh will hand over his powers to Vice-President Abed Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi and presidential elections will be staged within 90 days. Over the next two years, a government of national unity will establish a national dialogue to ensure that a broad section of society takes part in determining Yemen’s future, with a constitutional review to follow. It is anticipated that new political actors will be able to form political parties and compete in elections held at the end of the two-year transition process.
With respect to involvement of the youth movement, Mr. Benomar stated that "the parties have agreed to engage immediately with the youth movements in the squares to seek their support for and active participation in the transition process.”
Today’s agreement follows months of deadly clashes between supporters and opponents of Mr. Saleh and his regime, part of the so-called Arab Spring movement that has swept the Middle East and North Africa this year.
Mr. Benomar stressed that the agreement’s success depended on its full implementation, and he urged all sides to honour their commitments to immediately cease all violent acts and refrain from further provocations.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters he was encouraged by the agreement and pledged the UN’s assistance to ensure the pact is fully implemented. “I will do my best to mobilize the necessary resources and support so that peace and stability and democratic order will be restored in Yemen,” he said.
The United Nations human rights chief today deplored the role of Egypt’s military and security forces in attempting to suppress recent protests demanding a return to civilian rule, particularly the reported killing of some 30 protestors, and called for an independent probe into the abuses. High Commissioner Navi Pillay called on Egyptian authorities to end the “clearly excessive” use of force against protesters, including the apparent improper use of tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition, according to a news release issued by her office (OHCHR).
“Some of the images coming out of Tahrir [square], including the brutal beating of already subdued protestors, are deeply shocking, as are the reports of unarmed protestors being shot in the head,” she stressed. “There should be a prompt, impartial and independent investigation, and accountability for those found responsible for the abuses that have taken place should be ensured.”
On Monday Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and several independent UN human rights experts voiced their alarm at the violent crackdown on protesters, and urged Egypt’s interim authorities to guarantee the protection of key liberties ahead of next week’s parliamentary elections. UN officials have also called on all Egyptians to preserve the spirit of the historic changes that took place earlier this year, when popular protests aimed at greater freedoms toppled the long-standing regime of Hosni Mubarak.
Ms. Pillay noted that “the actions of the military and security forces, instead of improving security and helping Egypt’s difficult transition to democracy, have once again simply served to inflame the situation, resulting in huge numbers of people taking to the streets to demand their rights. “The more they see fellow protestors being carted away in ambulances, the more determined and energized they become,” she stated.
The authorities have an obligation to ensure a peaceful and safe environment for next week’s polls, she said, adding that the people of Egypt deserve to exercise their right to vote in the country’s first elections since Mr. Mubarak’s departure in a violence-free environment. She also renewed her call for the lifting of the state of emergency, the implementation of an effective monitoring system during the elections, the full eradication of torture and ill-treatment, the adoption of a comprehensive approach to transitional justice and a comprehensive reform of the security sectors, all of which were identified as key future steps by the fact-finding mission she dispatched to Egypt in April.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
The second-in-command of the Khmer Rouge told a United Nations-backed war crimes tribunal, where he is facing trial for genocide and other charges, that he had been trying to protect Cambodia from aggression when the notorious regime ruled the country in the late 1970s.
“I devoted myself to fight for my country,” said Nuon Chea, the former deputy secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea and “Brother Number Two” in the Khmer Rouge, which ruled Cambodia from 1975 and 1979 and is thought responsible for the deaths of nearly two million citizens. “I had to leave my family behind to liberate my motherland from colonialism and aggression, and oppression by the thieves who wished to steal our land and wipe Cambodia off the face of the Earth.” He added that whatever the accusations before him, they were “not true.”
Speaking in Phnom Penh before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), where he is facing trial along with Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan, two other senior Khmer Rouge figures, Mr. Nuon was making his opening statement, a day after prosecutors outlined their case against him. Mr. Nuon has been indicted by the ECCC – a mixed court set up under a 2003 agreement between the UN and the Cambodian Government – on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Convention.
Prosecutors have alleged that Mr. Nuon, Mr. Ieng and Mr. Khieu carried out a series of crimes, including killings, enslavement, the use of violence to “smash” enemies, forced marriage, religious persecution and the forced movements of people from urban to rural areas. Andrew Cayley, an international prosecutor, said “these crimes were the result of an organized plan developed by the accused and other leaders and systematically implemented by them. These men are common murderers… They removed all emotions of people. No one in this country was unaffected by these evil men.”
Opening statements will continue this week, with the hearing of evidence and examination of witnesses scheduled to begin on 5 December.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
A United Nations policy guide released this week offers advice on how to reform and improve criminal justice systems so that they are fairer and more sensitive to the needs of the victims of terrorism and their families. “Victims matter. Their rights and needs, as well as those of their families, should be at the heart of any criminal justice response,” said Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Yury Fedotov during the report’s launch today at UN Headquarters in New York. The publication includes advice for policy-makers and criminal justice officials and examples of good practices to support victims of terrorism. Recommended measures include judicial assistance, protection from intimidation and retaliation, material, medical, psychological and social assistance, and access to compensation.
According to UNODC, victims have long played a secondary and mostly silent role in criminal trials, making it crucial to grant them equal and effective access to justice to ensure the effective prosecution of perpetrators.
Robert Orr, Chair of the UN Counter Terrorism Implementation Task Force (CTITF), stressed the importance of helping victims find their public voice to shed light on issues that would otherwise not be addressed. “The CTITF continues to be committed to elaborating on the compendium of best practices on supporting terrorism victims including media coverage and exploring options for financial and material support for victims.”
The UN has previously taken measures to emphasize the human rights of victims including the adoption of the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy five years ago, which the report aims to expand on.
Click here for more information.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
A topic of special interest to readers of this blog is how international court decisions are implemented. The excerpt below (adapted from a UN Press Release) describes steps that the nations of Cameroon and Nigeria are taking to implement a 2002 decision of the International Court of Justice on the demarkation of the Bakassi Peninsula. In the past, nations would easily go to war over similar boundary disputes. Instead, nations can go to court for the settlement of these disputes. This must be seen as a victory of international law and diplomacy.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has congratulated Cameroon and Nigeria for progress in implementing the ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on their dispute over the Bakassi Peninsula, saying the process had demonstrated that preventive diplomacy can succeed. The peninsula, located on the Gulf of Guinea, had been the subject of intense and sometimes violent disputes between the West African neighbours for decades until they agreed to a United Nations-backed process to settle the matter.
The ICJ resolved the issue with a ruling in 2002. The verdict was followed by the 2006 Greentree Agreement – signed under the auspices of former Secretary-General Kofi Annan – under which Nigeria recognized Cameroonian sovereignty over Bakassi peninsula.
“The commitment of Cameroon and Nigeria to peacefully resolve their border dispute should be a source of inspiration for countries around the world that face similar challenges,” said Mr. Ban at the meeting of the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission and Follow-up Committee on the Greentree Agreement. “As we look ahead, one main challenge will be to protect the livelihoods and human rights of the affected populations, whether they are Cameroonian or Nigerian, and whether they live along the boundary or in the Bakassi Peninsula,” said Mr. Ban. “These men and women should be able to build a peaceful and prosperous future for themselves and their children.” Important tasks remain regarding the demarcation of the border, he said, adding that “the continued commitment of all will be essential in completing this final chapter in the implementation of the court’s ruling.”
He pointed out that the international community had “noted with relief” the progress achieved by the Mixed Commission, including the withdrawal and transfer of authority in the Lake Chad area and in the Bakassi Peninsula, the final agreement on the maritime boundary, the 1,700 kilometres of already agreed land boundary, as well as the absence of border incidents since the beginning of the process. He also took note of the fact that Cameroon and Nigeria had agreed to discuss the exit strategy of the Mixed Commission. “I am confident that your two countries will continue to work together to allow both peoples to live in peace along the international dividing line,” he said. “In order to ensure the successful completion of the exercise, I encourage you to maintain the same forward-looking approach that has helped you to overcome delicate legal and administrative obstacles,” he added.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa, Said Djinnit, told UN Radio in an interview that the meeting was an opportunity to brief the UN chief on progress so far. “Our intention in taking this initiative was to bring the parties to reiterate their commitment to finalize the [border] demarcation process as soon as possible, and actually the challenge they set for themselves is by the end of 2012,” said Mr. Djinnit.
During the meeting, both countries welcomed UN readiness to support the assessment of the remaining 250-kilometre land border, as well the consideration of outstanding issues of disagreement. Cameroon’s delegation was led by Maurice Kamto, the Deputy Minister of Justice, while the Nigerian team was headed by Mohammed Bello Adoke, the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Argentina, the first country in Latin America to legalize same-sex marriage, has produced a series of advertisements promoting equality and non-discrimination. Here's one of those ads (in Spanish, with English subtitles).
Hat tip to Rex Wockner and Blabbeando
Opening statements are scheduled this week from the prosecution and defence in the trial of former foreign minister Ieng Sary, former so-called Brother Number Two Nuon Chea, and former head of State Khieu Samphan on charges including genocide, crimes against humanity and torture. This is the second case to be brought to trial by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), a mixed court set up under a 2003 agreement signed by the UN and the Government to try those deemed most responsible for crimes committed between 1975 and 1979 during which nearly two million people are thought to have died.
“This is another historic day for the people of Cambodia, many of whom have waited a long time to see the start of this trial, and who can at last begin to hear evidence of the atrocities committed all across the country over 30 years ago,” said United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. She also noted that despite the progress made so far by the tribunal, it continues to face challenges, particularly regarding the need to safeguard the integrity of its proceedings.
In a series of recent decisions, the minority judges of the pre-trial chamber have found “serious deficiencies” in the application of international standards in the cases still before the court’s investigating judges.
“It is essential that these concerns are squarely addressed as the court moves forward,” said the High Commissioner, adding that allegations of interference “mar the credibility of any court in the eyes of the public.”
Last week the ECCC’s trial chamber ruled that Ieng Sary’s wife, 79-year-old Ieng Thirith, the former Social Affairs Minister for the Democratic Kampuchea who was on trial for genocide and other crimes against humanity along with the other three men, is unfit to stand trial and ordered her unconditional release.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
Four United Nations human rights experts have voiced alarm at the violent crackdown against protesters in Egypt that has led to the deaths of at least 20 people, urging the country’s interim authorities to engage in dialogue ahead of next week’s parliamentary elections.
More than 1,700 others have been injured since Saturday in the clashes between security forces and demonstrators, according to media reports, with Cairo the focus of the violence. In a statement issued in Geneva the independent UN human rights experts expressed concern both at the degree of violence and the deterioration of the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
Christof Heyns, the Special Rapporteur on summary executions, said the use of lethal force should not be an option when controlling demonstrations. “Dissent must be tolerated and not restrained with excessive force, which can lead to loss of life,” he said. “I strongly urge the security forces to exercise the utmost restraint to avoid the escalation of violence and take immediate measures to protect the right to life of the demonstrators.”
Frank La Rue, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, described that right as a “cornerstone of democracy.” He said it was essential that diverse views, including criticism of authorities, can be expressed peacefully in Egypt, where the long-standing regime headed by Hosni Mubarak was toppled in February after weeks of protests.
Parliamentary elections, originally scheduled to take place in September, are now slated to begin next Monday and continue in a series of stages through January 2012.
“At its current historic juncture, the interim authorities should encourage plural voices to be heard, including through human rights NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and the media, particularly in light of the upcoming parliamentary elections,” said Mr. La Rue.
Human rights defenders are especially important in promoting and consolidating democratic life, according to Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. She called on Egyptian authorities to “create an enabling environment so that human rights defenders can carry out their activities.”
Maina Kiai, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, stressed that the violence must end immediately. “An independent investigation should be immediately initiated into the cause of death and escalation of violence.”
Earlier this month the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) voiced concern at what it called “a diminishing public space for freedom of expression and association in Egypt.”
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
The International Criminal Court will decide where Saif al-Islam Qadhafi, son of the former Libyan leader, will stand trial to face charges for crimes against humanity, the court’s Prosecutor said today as he arrived in Tripoli for talks with national authorities. The visit by Luis Moreno-Ocampo and Deputy Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda comes just days after the arrest in Libya of Mr. Qadhafi and amid unconfirmed reports of the capture of former intelligence chief Abdullah Al Sanousi, who is also wanted by the Court. “Their arrest is a crucial step in bringing to justice those most responsible for crimes committed in Libya,” said Mr. Moreno-Ocampo.
He said he will seek information from the interim Libyan authorities about proposed national proceedings to assist the Court in analyzing the admissibility of the case against Mr. al-Qadhafi and Mr. Al Sanousi and to understand their plans moving ahead. “The issue of where the trials will be held has to be resolved through consultations with the Court,” he stated in a news release issued by the ICC. “In the end, the ICC judges will decide. There are legal standards which will have to be adhered to.”
In June the ICC issued arrest warrants for Mr. Qadhafi, Mr. Al Sanousi and former leader Muammar al-Qadhafi for their roles in attacks against protesters, hundreds of whom are confirmed to have been killed since opposition forces rose up against the regime as part of a wider pro-democracy movement across North Africa and the Middle East. The former Libyan ruler was killed last month during the final days of the eight-month-long conflict.
The ICC, based in The Hague in the Netherlands, is an independent, permanent court that investigates and prosecutes persons accused of the most serious crimes of international concern, namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
Monday, November 21, 2011
The Libyan government has announced that it intends to try Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, Muammar Gaddafi's son, for crimes against the Libyan people in the country of Libya rather than sending him to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for trial. The ICC had issued an indictment for crimes against humanity stating that it has evidence of Saif al-Islam's role in planning attacks against civilians. However, under the ICC statute, which follows the principle of complementarity, the ICC does not have jurisdiction to try a person unless the state is genuinely unable or unwilling to do so. The National Transitional Council of Libya believes that it is possible to give Saif al-Gaddafi a fair trial in Libya. Some experts have expressed doubt that the Libyan court system is ready to take on such a task.
Sunday, November 20, 2011
The University of Lucerne Faculty of Law hosted a two-day workshop last week (18-19 November 2011) on the theme of "Global Trends in Law and Religion." The workshop allowed new and emerging scholars to connect with more experienced professors and to share papers and presentations on a broad range of topics.
The conference was organized by Professor Lauren Redman (Lauren Fielder) and Dr. Kyriaki Topidi (pictured here on the right with me). They are two of the brightest stars at the University of Lucerne Faculty of Law. They did an amazing job of organizing a highly interesting and interactive workshop.
Opening remarks were given by the two organizers and Professor Alexander Morawa(University of Lucerne Faculty of Law). A rich and diverse group of speakers came from around the world to present papers, including these:
- Professor Ruth Hargrove (California Western School of Law), the keynote speaker (pictured at right) who discussed religious and cultural defenses to criminal charges;
- Prof. Eyene Okpanachi (University of Alberta, Canada), who spoke on the implementation of Sharia in Nigeria
- Ms. Mridhula Dharshini Pillay (a student at the School of Oriental and African Studies in the United Kingdom), who spoke about legal pluralism, religion, and conflict in India (pictured below with Professor Amien);
- Professor Waheeda Amien (University of Cape Town, South Africa), who spoke on the different faces of legal pluralism in South African religious family law;
- Ms. Dimitra Georgaraki (Democritius University in Greece), who spoke on culture in welfare states;
- Mr. Todd Williams, an attorney from the United States, who spoke on designing an Islamic credit union;
- Prof. Arshad Alam (Jamia Millia Isalmia, India), who spoke on Islamic madrasas in India;
- Prof. David Austin (California Western School of Law), pictured at right who spoke on contrasting approaches in the United States and Italy to the display of religious symbols in public school classrooms; and
- Prof. Cosmina Paul (Babes Bolyai University, Romania), who spoke on abortion and religious non-governmental organizations in Romania.
The conference organizers plan to publish a book of the papers presented (with possible additional materials or articles).
Lauren Fielder and Kyriaki Topidi organized the most diverse legal conference that I have ever attended, and it was a privilege to participate. Professor Adrian Loretan (Die Professur für Kirchenrecht und Staatskirchenrecht der Universität Luzern) also attended both days of the program and was equally enthusiastic at the high quality of the conference. Special thanks for her help on organizing the conference also go to Ms. Uta DIetrich of the University of Lucerne Faculty of Law.
The Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) ruled this week that a 79-year-old former senior member of the Khmer Rouge is unfit to stand trial and ordered her unconditional release. Ieng Thirith, former Social Affairs Minister for the Democratic Kampuchea, was on trial for genocide and other crimes against humanity along with her husband and former foreign minister Ieng Sary, former so-called Brother Number Two Nuon Chea, and former head of State Khieu Samphan, all leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime during the late 1970s.
In its ruling, the trial chamber of the ECCC said it has found that Ms. Thirith suffers from “a progressive, degenerative condition” and that her condition is unlikely to improve even with treatment. Four expert psychiatrists who examined her in September diagnosed Ms. Thirith with clinical dementia, most likely Alzheimer’s, which would hinder her participation in court hearings.
In addition, the expert geriatrician concluded that it would be difficult for her to understand the nature of the charges against her or to follow the proceedings, to understand witness statements from events taking place 35 years ago, to instruct her counsel, or to testify in her own defence. “The trial chamber judges are unanimously of the view that Ieng Thirith is unfit to stand trial and that the proceedings against her shall be stayed,” stated the decision handed down today.
Set up under an agreement signed in 2003 by the UN and the Government, the ECCC is an independent court that uses a mixture of Cambodian staff and judges and foreign personnel. It is tasked with trying those deemed most responsible for crimes committed under the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979 during which as many as two million people are thought to have died.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)