Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Walls Are Closing In On Syria

The US and EU stepped up pressure on Syria yesterday with increased sanctions and calls for President Assad to step down. The EU Members agreed to impose an oil embargo, hoping to cut off a main source of funding for Syria. The EU will also add fifteen more persons and five more Syrian corporations to its blacklist of persons subject to economic sanctions. It also is considering expanded sanctions on Syrian banks and telecommunications companies, among other measures. In the meantime, the special Fact Finding Mission on Syria established by the UN Human Rights Council earlier this year issued a report suggesting that Syria committed crimes against humanity in suppressing the protestors. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has urged the UN Security Council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court for an investigation of its use of violence in suppression demonstrators. (cgb)

August 20, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Need to Protect Judges in Brazil

A United Nations human rights expert today called on Brazilian authorities to take immediate steps to better protect the country’s judges, magistrates, prosecutors, public defenders and other lawyers in the wake of the recent assassination of a high-profile judge.  Gabriela Knaul, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, issued a statement a week after Judge Patrícia Lourival Acioli was shot dead by unknown gunmen at her home near Rio de Janeiro. Judge Acioli was renowned for her fight against criminal gangs, death squads and corrupt police officers.

“The assassination of Judge Acioli is evidence of the existence of a pervasive and serious problem regarding the protection of judges in Brazil,” said Ms. Knaul, who is herself a judge in Brazil.  “The National Council for Justice has reported at least 69 threatened judges all over the country, while studies from the [Brazilian] justice ministry have reported that more than 90 judges are on a ‘most wanted’ death list.”

In her statement Ms. Knaul stressed that “it is high time for the Government to set up a national system of protection in order to allow judges to discharge their functions without fear for their life, integrity and security, and that of their families.”  She noted that Brazil’s Government is obliged under international law to adequately protect the judiciary against threats, intimidation, harassment and attacks.

Since August 2009, Ms. Knaul has served – in an independent and unpaid capacity – as UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers. She reports to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

(From a UN Press Release)

August 19, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

New Video Shows Contributions of American Muslims

A group promoting tolerance and increased understanding has produced a short video about Muslims in America, a group that has been unfairly attacked and about which a great deal of misinformation is circulated.  The group is responding to recent mosque protests in the United States as well as Congressional hearings on American Muslims.  The video shows the many contributions of American Muslims while its soundtrack illustrates the harmful rhetoric directed against them.  It's certainly worthwhile to watch.   And if you want more information about the My Fellow American project, click here.  Here's the video . . .


Hat tip to Elizabeth Potter


August 18, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Syria's Attacks May Be Crimes Against Humanity

The Syrian Government's "widespread and systematic" attacks against its own people may amount to crimes against humanity and warrant an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC), the United Nations human rights office said in a report released today.  The Report of the Fact-finding Mission on Syria was produced by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), in response to a request by the UN Human Rights Council.  Click here for more information about the report.

The mission was tasked with investigating "all alleged violations of international human rights law and to establish the facts and circumstances of such violations and of the crimes perpetrated." It found "a pattern of human rights violations that constitutes widespread or systematic attacks against the civilian population, which may amount to crimes against humanity," states the report, which covers events from 15 March to 15 July.

As many as 2,000 Syrians have been killed in the past five months since the start of the pro-democracy protests, which are part of a broader uprising across North Africa and the Middle East that has led to the toppling of long-standing regimes in Tunisia and Egypt and conflict in Libya.  As Syria did not provide OHCHR access to the country, the findings in the report are based primarily on the mission's analysis of first-hand information obtained through interviews conducted with victims and witnesses. It also examined more than 50 videos and numerous photographs related to apparent human rights violations, as well as information compiled by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the media and other information in the public domain.

The 13-member mission, headed by Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang, gathered corroborative eyewitness statements with respect to numerous summary executions, including 353 named victims, and describes the disproportionate use of force by Syrian military and security forces.

"Reports from witnesses indicate that there was a widespread modus operandi to kill civilians by using: (a), forces on the ground; (b), snipers on rooftops; and (c), air power," states the report. "Consistent with an apparent shoot-to-kill policy, most of the victims' bullet wounds were located in the head, chest and general upper body area."

Interviews were conducted with a number of former soldiers who had deserted the army, the police and different branches of the security forces, who stated that they received clear orders to use live ammunition against protesters, "and those who did not shoot civilians were shot from behind by other security officers and Shabbiha [an Alawite civilian militia] units."

From the 180 witness accounts taken by the mission, 98 revealed acts of torture and other examples of inhuman and degrading treatment of civilians by military and security forces. "A clear widespread or systematic policy appears to have been in place whereby security forces targeted people suspected of having taken part in demonstrations, with a view to intimidating and terrorizing them as a way of quelling protests." The report adds that "children have not only been targeted by security forces, but they have been repeatedly subject to the same human rights and criminal violations as adults, including torture, with no consideration for their vulnerable status.

(From a UN Press Release)

August 18, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

UN Pulls 26 Staffers Out of Syria

The United Nations is temporarily withdrawing some staff from Syria amid mounting international concern about the violent crackdown by Government forces against civilian demonstrators.

The UN is relocating 26 non-essential international staff and their families from Syria, according to Michael Williams, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon.

In comments to Reuters news agency earlier today, Mr. Williams said he was "very concerned" about the situation in the northern port city of Latakia, where Syrian military forces have engaged in a heavy and sustained assault since the weekend. Dozens of people have reportedly been killed.

The assault on Latakia is the latest in a series of deadly confrontations between Government forces and protesters since large numbers of Syrians first took to the streets in mid-March to demand greater freedoms.  Those protests are part of a broader uprising across North Africa and the Middle East that has led to the toppling of long-standing regimes in Tunisia and Egypt and conflict in Libya. As many as 2,000 people have been killed in Syria in the past five months and top UN officials, including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, have spoken out against the Government's crackdown.

On Sunday, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) voiced grave concern about the situation in Latakia, where a camp housing Palestinian refugees has come under attack from Government forces.

(From a UN Press Release)

August 17, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Special Tribunal for Lebanon Unseals Indictment

A judge in the United Nations-backed tribunal set up to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri today ordered the unsealing of the full indictment that spells out prosecutors’ case against four men accused of carrying out the crime.

In his ruling confirming the indictment, a pre-trial judge of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) found that there was sufficient evidence to proceed to trial, where prosecutors will then have to prove that the accused are guilty beyond reasonable doubt.  “The pre-trial judge found that the indictment meets the requirements with regard to the specific facts and grounds as required under international case law, the statute and the rules (of procedure and evidence),” the judge’s decision states.

Last month, the tribunal released the identities of the four men accused of the crime, which was committed on 14 February 2005.  The four accused are Salim Jamil Ayyash, Mustafa Amine Badreddine, Hussein Hassan Oneissi and Assad Hassan Sabra. All Lebanese, they are charged over the massive car bombing in central Beirut that killed Mr. Hariri and 21 others. International arrest warrants were issued on 8 July.

In his decision today, the pre-trial judge explained why, until now, the indictment was confidential, saying the intention was to “ensure the integrity of the judicial procedure and, in particular, ensure that the search and, where appropriate, apprehension of the accused are carried out effectively.”  Some parts of the judge’s decision and small sections of the indictment remain confidential. They relate to issues that could affect the ongoing prosecution investigation, as well as the privacy and security of victims and witnesses.

Welcoming the judge’s decision, Prosecutor Daniel A. Bellemare said “this unsealing of the indictment answers many questions about the 14 February 2005 attack. The full story will however only unfold in the courtroom, where an open, public, fair and transparent trial will render a final verdict.”

According to the indictment, Mr. Hariri left his Beirut residence on the morning of his killing to attend a session of Lebanon’s Parliament. The team of suspected assassins positioned themselves in several locations to track and observe Mr. Hariri’s convoy, as they had done on previous days.  After leaving Parliament and then visiting a nearby café, Mr. Hariri headed back to his residence. As the convoy passed the St Georges Hotel about 12:55 p.m., a male suicide bomber detonated a large quantity of explosives concealed in the cargo area of a strategically placed Mitsubishi Canter van.  Shortly after the explosion, Mr. Oneissi and Mr. Sabra are accused of calling media outlets to give information on where to find a videotape that had been placed on a tree in a Beirut square.  In the video, later broadcast on television, a man named Ahmad Abu Adass falsely claimed to be the suicide bomber on behalf of a fictitious fundamentalist group using the name “Victory and Jihad in Greater Syria.”

The indictment charges all four men with conspiracy to commit a terrorist act. Mr. Ayyash and Mr. Badreddine are also charged with committing a terrorist act by means of an explosive device, intentional homicide with premeditation, and attempted intentional homicide.  Mr. Oneissi and Mr. Sabra also face charges of being accomplices in the crimes. All charges in the indictment are crimes under Lebanese criminal law.  According to the indictment, Mr. Badreddine was the overall controller of the attack. Mr. Ayyash coordinated the team that was responsible for the actual perpetration of the attack. Mr. Oneissi and Mr. Sabra, along with others, were conspirators and allegedly prepared and delivered the video, which sought to blame the wrong people, in order to shield the conspirators.

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

August 17, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Developments in Private International Law

The U.S. State Department Advisory Committee on Private International Law announced that its annual meeting on developments in private international law would be held on September 22 and 23, 2011 at the Georgetown University Law Center, 600 New Jersey Avenue, NW, Washington D.C.

Hat tip to the ABA Governmental Affairs Office.


August 17, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

WTO Dispute Settlement News

WTO Two recent developments in WTO Dispute Settlement news include a request for consultations with Canada filed by the European Union (EU) relating to alleged Canadian subsidies for its energy sector and a panel report in the Phillipines-Taxes on Distilled Spririts (DS396) case.

In Canada-Measures Relating to the Feed-In Tariff Program (DS 426), the EU alleges that several Canadian measures relating to the energy sector constitute prohibited and/or countervailable subsidies.  More specifically, the EU considers that these measures are inconsistent with Canada's obligations under:  

  • Articles 3(1)(b) and 3(2) of the SCM Agreement, because the measures are deemed to be subsidies within the meaning of Article 1.1 of the SCM Agreement that are prohibited insofar they are provided contingent upon the use of domestic over imported goods, namely contingent upon the use of equipment for renewable energy generation facilities produced in Ontario over such equipment imported from other WTO Members, including the EU;
  • Article III:4 of the GATT 1994, because the measures accord less favourable treatment to imported equipment for renewable energy generation facilities over like products originating in Ontario; and
  • Article 2.1 of the TRIMs Agreement, in conjunction with paragraph 1(a) of the Agreement's Illustrative List, because the measures are trade-related investment measures inconsistent with Article III:4 of the GATT 1994 which require the purchase or use by enterprises of equipment for renewable energy generation facilities of Ontario origin.

The parties will now have 60 days in which to engage in consulations before a dispute settlement panel may be established.

In other WTO news, the panel in Phillipines-Taxes on Distilled Spririts found that Phillipines law relating to taxes on distilled spirits (e.g., gins, rum, vodka, brandies) violates Phillipines' obligations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) 1994, Article III:4 because although facially neutral, de facto, higher taxes are charged on the types of raw ingredients commonly used in imported spirits as compared to the raw material (mainly cane sugar) used in domestically-produced spirits. 

The panel circulated its report on Monday, August 15.  The Phillipines will now have 60 days to decide whether to appeal the report to the Appellate Body or to bring its tax regime into compliance.  More details may be found here.


August 17, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Serbia Seeks Relief Upon US Failure to Give Consular Notification

The Serbian government has requested that the State of Nevada halt the scheduled execution of a Serbian man, Avram Nika, and grant him a writ of habeas corpus because Nika was not provided his consular notification rights under Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR), to which both the US and Serbia belong.  The case stems from a 1994 conviction of Nika for the killing of a person who stopped to help him along the highway when his vehicle broke down.  The Serbian government contends that it never received notice of Nika's arrest and that it would have provided assistance had it been notified that might have helped Nika avoid the death penalty.  In its defense, the Nevada district attorney has stated that Serbia did not exist as a country in 1994 and that it was unclear what consulate should have been notified.  Nika has filed a petition for habeas corpus alleging that his counsel provided ineffective assistance for failure to ensure consular notification and assistance, an argument that has been effective in some other consular notificaiton cases. See, e.g., Osagiede v. U.S., 543 F.3d 399 (7th Cir. 2008). Serbia's amicus brief in connection with Nika's petition for habeas corpus may be found here.


August 16, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)