Friday, October 21, 2011

Security Council Elections

Guatemala, Morocco and Pakistan will serve as non-permanent members of the 15-member Security Council in 2012-13 after winning their seats during the first round of elections held earlier today.

United Nations Member States voted in the General Assembly by secret ballot for five non-permanent seats divided by geographical grouping – three from the Africa and Asia-Pacific grouping, one from Eastern Europe, and one from Latin America and the Caribbean.  To win election, a country must receive a two-thirds majority of those countries present and voting, regardless of whether or not they are the only candidate in their region. Voting continues until the two-thirds threshold is reached for the required number of seats.

Guatemala received 191 votes and was duly elected to the Latin America and Caribbean seat, Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser announced after the conclusion of the first round of voting.

Morocco received 151 votes and Pakistan received 129 votes, which means they were elected to two of the three seats allocated this year to Africa and the Asia-Pacific.

Togo (119 votes), Mauritania (98), Kyrgyzstan (55) and Fiji (one) did not receive enough votes, and during a second, restricted round of voting Togo again received 119 votes while Mauritania obtained 72. A third round of voting will now be held for the third seat in that region.

In the Eastern European category, Azerbaijan received 74 votes, Slovenia picked up 67, and Hungary received 52 in the first round. Slovenia received 97 votes during the second round of balloting while Azerbaijan obtained 90. A third round of voting will be conducted.

Today’s elections are being held to replace the departing members of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Gabon, Lebanon and Nigeria.

The new members will join Colombia, Germany, India, Portugal and South Africa, whose terms end on 31 December 2012, and the five permanent Council members, which each wield the power of veto – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

(UN Press Release)

October 21, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Nine States Vie for UNSC Seats

Elections for five non-permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council will be held tomorrow. Nine countries are formally campaigning for the seats.

The UNSC seeks diverse geographic representation for these seats. Accordingly, three countries from Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, one from Eastern Europe and one from Latin America and the Caribbean will be chosen to succeed Gabon, Lebanon, Nigeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Brazil, whose terms all expire at the end of 2011. Kyrgyzstan, Mauritania, Morocco, Pakistan and Togo are vying for the three seats for Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, while Azerbaijan, Hungary and Slovenia are vying for the Eastern European category. Guatemala is the only declared candidate for the Latin America and the Caribbean region.

a UN Press Release describes the voting process as follows: "Member States will meet in the General Assembly tomorrow morning to elect the Council members by secret ballot, with winning candidates needing two thirds of those countries present and voting. Balloting will continue until enough candidates reach that threshold, even if only one country is competing for a seat in a particular region."

The other non-permanent seats are currently held by Colombia, Germany, India, Portugal and South Africa. Their terms expire on 31 December 2012. The five permanent UN Security Council members are China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

(cgb)

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

Khmer Rouge Leader With Dementia May Not Be Able to Participate in Trial

One of the Khmer Rouge regime leaders facing genocide and other war crime charges has been diagnosed with dementia and may not be able to participate in court proceedings, the United Nations-backed tribunal in Cambodia heard today.

According to the UN Assistance to the Khmer Rouge trials (UNAKRT), a decision on whether Ieng Thirith, former Social Affairs Minister for the Democratic Kampuchea, can continue with trial proceedings will be issued before the start of substantive hearings next month.

Ms. Ieng is on trial for genocide and other crimes against humanity along with her husband and former foreign minister Ieng Sary, former Brother Number Two Nuon Chea, and former head of State Khieu Samphan, all leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime during the late 1970s.

Four expert psychiatrists who examined her last month diagnosed Ms. Thirith with clinical dementia, most likely Alzheimer’s, which would hinder her participation in court hearings.

“She has a diagnosis of dementia… This was a consensus diagnosis, so we all agreed on this,” forensic psychiatrist Seena Fazel told the trial chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), which was established based on an agreement between the Cambodian Government and the UN.

The experts told the court that while she did understand questions posed to her, she had trouble understanding why they were being asked, and did not remember the name of her husband or whether she had a son.

“We came to the conclusion that she would have considerable difficulty following court proceedings,” said Huot Lina, who also took part in the examination.

Ms. Ieng’s counsel, Diana Ellis, argued it would be unfair if she was tried when she was unable to comprehend the nature of the charges and to participate in the proceedings in a meaningful way.

“We submit that it would be wrong to let her stand to trial in this circumstance,” she said, urging the chamber to sever her from the case and consider discontinuation.

However, prosecutors oppose the move, saying doctors had found Ms. Ieng could still understand the meaning of questions and was capable of interacting with others, arguing this would enable her to participate in the proceedings.

(UN Press Release)

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

UN Legal Chief Urges Cambodian Government to Let Tribunal Do Its Work

The United Nations legal chief today strongly urged the Cambodian Government to refrain from interfering in any way with the judicial process relating to the United Nations-backed tribunal set up to try those accused of the worst crimes under the notorious Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s.

Patricia O’Brien, the UN Legal Counsel, met with Cambodia’s Deputy Prime Minister Sok An in Phnom Penh, the capital, to discuss recent developments at the tribunal, known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (<"http://www.eccc.gov.kh/en">ECCC).

Last week Judge Siegfried Blunk, the international co-investigating judge at the ECCC, resigned from the tribunal. He cited repeated statements by senior Government officials opposing the progress of what are known as Cases 003 and 004 – which concern senior Khmer Rouge officials suspected of being responsible for the deaths of thousands of people.

In a statement issued after her meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister, Ms. O’Brien voiced concern about recent developments at the ECCC and reiterated the UN’s call on everyone to respect the integrity and independence of the tribunal’s judicial process.

“The Legal Counsel strongly urged the Royal Government of Cambodia to refrain from statements opposing the progress of Cases 003 and 004 and to refrain from interfering in any way whatsoever with the judicial process,” the statement noted.

“She emphasized the obligation of the Royal Government of Cambodia to cooperate fully with the ECCC.”

The tribunal, which uses a mixture of Cambodian and foreign judges and personnel, is tasked with trying those alleged responsible for mass killings and other crimes committed under the Khmer Rouge, which ruled Cambodia between 1975 and 1979. Up to three million people died under the regime in what is widely recognized as genocide.

(UN Press Release)

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

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

New! Improved! Now Including Kyrgyzstan!

The nations of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia have agreed to expand their Customs Union to include Kyrgyzstan.  Click here for more information.

(mew)

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

Judicial Abuses in Iran

The United Nations independent expert on the situation of human rights in Iran today voiced concern over alleged violations in the country’s judicial system, citing practices such as torture, cruel or degrading treatment of detainees, and the imposition of the death penalty without proper safeguards.  Presenting his report to the General Assembly’s third committee, which deals with social, humanitarian and cultural affairs, Ahmed Shaheed, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, also identified denial of access to legal counsel and medical treatment, and widespread use of secret and public executions, as other issues of concern.  There were also reports of capital punishment in juvenile cases, and the use of the death penalty for cases that do not meet the level of serious crimes by international standards, he said.

“In some cases, elements of Iran’s penal code and legal practices amount to contravention of those international laws it acceded to,” said Mr. Shaheed.  He said Iran’s record seems to have gained particular attention because of the country’s “lack substantive cooperation with the UN human rights system and because of the existence of frequent reports of suppression of those self-correcting mechanisms that deprive Iranians from freely seeking redress or reform within the parameters of their human rights.”

The “self-correction mechanisms” that are suppressed include free and fair elections, denial of freedom of expression and assembly, allegations of depravation of the right to education, harassment and intimidation of religious and ethnic minorities, human rights defenders and civil society and religious actors. He urged Iranian authorities to provide adequate medical access to the well-known cleric Ayatollah Kazemeini-Boroujerdi, and to consider his immediate release.

He also called upon Tehran to consider releasing all individuals listed in his report, including political leaders Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who consider themselves detainees of the Government, human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, student and women’s rights activist Bahareh Hedayat, student activist Abdollah Momeni, and Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani.  He also urged Iran to cooperate with him as he carries out his mandate. “In the absence of this, however, my course of action will be to continue to obtain information through interaction with Iranians both in the region and in other parts of the world, as well as with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other parts of the UN system.”

Mr. Shaheed said he had been informed of the arrests and prosecution of at least 42 lawyers for their attempts to provide legal counsel. Charges brought against the majority of them include acting against national security; participating in illegal gatherings; insulting the Supreme Leader; and spreading propaganda against the regime.  He took notice of the positive steps taken by the Iranian authorities, including the Government’s recent decision to release between 60 and 100 prisoners, many of whom had been arrested as a result of their participation in events related to the 2009 presidential elections.

(UN Press Release)

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

Malawi Asked to Explain Why It Didn't Arrest Omar Hassan al-Bashir

The International Criminal Court (ICC) today requested Malawi to explain its alleged failure to arrest and surrender to the court Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir who is wanted on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.  The request follows media reports indicating that Mr. Bashir visited Malawi last Friday, according to a press release issued by the ICC.

The court said a diplomatic note sent its registrar sent to the Malawian embassy in Brussels reminding the country of its legal obligations as a State Party to the Rome Statute, the treaty the established the ICC, and asking for cooperation was not answered. Malawi has until 11 November to submit its observations to the ICC.

The ICC last year issued a second arrest warrant for Mr. Bashir, adding genocide to the list of charges for crimes he has allegedly committed in Sudan’s war-ravaged Darfur region. He had the previous year become the first sitting head of State to be indicted by the Court. States are obliged to arrest him and hand him over to the ICC in the event that he enters their territory.  Under the Rome Statute, States that fail to comply with a request to cooperate with the Court may be referred to the Assembly of States Parties or to the Security Council if the Council had referred the matter to the ICC.

In August last year and May this year, the ICC pre-trial chamber issued three decisions informing the Security Council and the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute about Mr. Bashir’s visits to Kenya, Chad and Djibouti “in order for them to take any measure they may deem appropriate.”

In October and December last year, the judges also issued two decisions requesting Kenya and the Central African Republic (CAR) to inform ICC about any problem which would impede or prevent the arrest and surrender of Mr. Bashir in the event that he visited those countries.

(UN Press Release)

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

U.S. Judge Theodor Meron Elected as President of ICTY

ICTYJudge Theodor Meron of the United States, a veteran jurist with long experience in dealing with war crimes and international law, was today elected to his second term as President of the United Nations war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

He will begin a two-year term on 17 November, succeeding President Patrick Robinson of Jamaica, as the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) hears cases against two of the most important defendants ever brought before it during its nearly 20 years of  existence, the former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadžic and military chief Ratko Mladic.

Both have been indicted on a slew of charges over atrocities committed during the Balkan wars of the 1990s, including genocide, extermination, murder, persecutions, deportation, hostage-taking and inflicting terror on civilians, particularly in the massacre of up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the supposedly “safe haven” of Srebrenica in July 1995 in one of the most notorious events of the conflict.

Since his election to the ICTY by the UN General Assembly in March 2001, Judge Meron has served on the appeals chamber for both the ICTY and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), and already served as ICTY President from March 2003 to November 2005. He was elected today by acclamation today by his fellow ICTY judges.

A leading scholar of international humanitarian law, human rights, and international criminal law, Judge Meron spearheaded a series of reforms during his first presidential term to increase the efficiency of court proceedings and helped to establish a war crimes chamber in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, an important step in the development of the rule of law in the Balkans.

Prior to his election to the ICTY, Judge Meron was a member of the US delegation to the human dimensions conference of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) in Copenhagen in 1990 and to the Rome conference in 1998 on setting up the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The judges today also elected Carmel Agius of Malta, who was first elected to ICTY in 2001, as Vice-President in succession to O-gon Kwon of the Republic of Korea (ROK).

(UN Press Release)

Click here to read more about Judge Meron.

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

Cambodia Tribunal Gets "WIsh List" from Khmer Rouge Victims

Lawyers representing 4,000 victims of Khmer Rouge atrocities today presented a wish list for reparations to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).  The ECCC was set up under an agreement signed in 2003 by the UN and the Cambodian Government.  It is 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.

Former leaders of the Democratic Kampuchea, the Khmer Rouge-controlled communist organization -– Defence Minister Ieng Sary, head of State Khieu Samphan, Social Affairs Minister Ieng Thirith and Nuon Chea, also known as Former Brother Number 2 –- are currently on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity. 

Victims are allowed to participate before the ECCC as civil parties in an international criminal trial and can request “moral and collective” reparations in the event of conviction.

“Reparations have to be satisfactory for civil parties. Reparations have to alleviate their pain and grief,” said international lead co-lawyer Elisabeth Simonneau-Fort. “It is our duty to be ambitious… If we are not ambitious, we cannot represent our civil parties.”  Among the reparations listed were the establishment of a national remembrance day, providing health services for elderly victims, and supplying vocational training to victims of forced marriage and their children. There was also a request to provide legal counsel to help ethnic Vietnamese who had been forcibly deported by the Khmer Rouge to obtain Cambodian nationality.

According to the UN Assistance to the Khmer Rouge trials (UNAKRT), lawyers focused on the importance of preserving the memory of the Khmer Rouge period so younger generations can understand the significance of that time period in the country’s history.  Senior assistant prosecutor Vincent De Wilde D’Estmael supported the reparations requests, saying that civil parties “are the voice of all of the victims who remained voiceless during the regime of the Democratic Kampuchea” and encouraged the parties in court to do everything possible to ensure their requests are accepted.

But defence attorney Michael Karnavas said the list was beyond the scope of the tribunal. “It would appear highly commendable and aspirational, but it is something the Government should be doing,” he said. “I’m not convinced that the court is capable to grant those reparations requests.”

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

Click here for an article questioning whether the rights of victims are really being protected before international criminal tribunals.

Click here for an earlier blog post about a judgment from the ECCC.

(mew)

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

First Year Students Charge Classmates $20 to "Tryout" for Their Study Group

Above the Lawhas a story about a study group of first year students who are charging classmates $20 to "tryout."  Their poster says that they want to "suceed" but they don't know how to spell the word correctly.  Have a look.

Hat tip to Juli Campagna.

(mew)

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

Libel Tourism

International Law Weekend

The American Branch of the International Law Association (ABILA) and the International Law Students Association (ILSA) present:

Libel Tourism

Fordham University Law School

Friday, October 21, 2011, 10:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. [90 minutes]

Electronic communications have changed defamation laws in ways few would have anticipated. A defamatory statement posted on the internet may be read anywhere in the world. The legal consequences of that statement depend not on where the statement was made, but where it was downloaded or viewed.

This panel will review international developments under the defamation laws of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and other countries. One of the panelists is a U.S.-based author who was sued for libel in the United Kingdom because of a book she wrote on financing terrorism. Her story prompted legislative protections at the state and federal level. The panel is sponsored by the ABILA Committee on Teaching International Law.

Speakers:

  • Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, Director, American Center for Democracy
  • Daniel J. Kornstein, Kornstein, Veisz, Wexler & Pollard LLP
  • Steven M. Richman, Duane Morris
  • Prof. Mark E. Wojcik, The John Marshall Law School

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

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

US Supreme Court to decide whether non-natural persons may be liable under ATS and TPVA

The US Supreme Court granted certiorari in two cases yesterday involving international law issues. The first is Kiobel v Royal Dutch Petroleum in which the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that corporations are not liable for torts in violation of international law within the meaning of the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). Since that decision, two other federal circuits courts of appeal have issued decisions disagreeing with the Second Circuit-the DC Circuit in Doe and the Seventh Circuit in Flomo. The Supreme Court will now resolve this circuit split of authority.

The second case is Mohamad v Rajoub, a DC Circuit Court of Appeals decision which held that the Torture Victim Protection Act (TPVA) does not permit suits against non-natural persons. That case involves a suit by the family of a US citizen against a political organization, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), for torture allegedly committed by a PLO officer that resulted in the death of the US citizen.

The DC Court's decision to exclude liability for non-natural persons under the TPVA is on stronger ground than the Second Circuit's decision excluding corporate liability under the ATS just based on the text of the two statutes. The ATS permits suits by an alien for a tort in violation of international law. It says nothing about a proper or improper defendant. By contrast, the TPVA only permits suits against individuals who engage in torture or extrajudicial killing while acting under color of law. The use of the word individual can more easily be read to exclude non-natural persons such as political organizations or corporations. In addition, the ATS potentially covers a much broader range of tortious behavior where corporate liability may fit more easily than it does with respect to torture or extrajudicial killing.

(cgb)

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

Remembering the Nuremberg Judgment

 

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

Ban Ki-Moon Calls Prisoner Exchange a "Significant Humanitarian Breakthrough"

Calling today’s exchange of prisoners by Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas a “significant humanitarian breakthrough,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he hoped it would have a far-reaching and positive impact on the stalled Middle East peace process.  In a statement issued by his spokesperson, Mr. Ban noted that “he has long called for the end of unacceptable captivity of [Israeli soldier] Gilad Shalit and has also called for the release of Palestinian prisoners.”  Hamas today released Mr. Shalit, who had been held captive since June 2006, in exchange for the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners by Israel. The first 477 of those prisoners were released today.

Responding to a reporter’s question in Geneva, Mr. Ban said he was very encouraged by today’s actions and voiced hope that the two parties will return to negotiations so they can realize the vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.  In the statement Mr. Ban thanked Egypt and Germany for their contributions to the process that led to the prisoner exchange.  “In the aftermath, the Secretary-General hopes that more far-reaching steps will be taken to end the closure of Gaza and enable reconstruction. He continues to call in the same context for an end to the smuggling of weapons and a sustained calm between Israel and Gaza.”

(UN Press Release)

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

Solitary Confinement

A United Nations expert on torture today called on all countries to ban the solitary confinement of prisoners except in very exceptional circumstances and for as short a time as possible, with an absolute prohibition in the case of juveniles and people with mental disabilities.  “Segregation, isolation, separation, cellular, lockdown, Supermax, the hole, Secure Housing Unit . . . whatever the name, solitary confinement should be banned by States as a punishment or extortion technique,” UN Special Rapporteur on torture Juan E. Méndez told the General Assembly’s third committee, which deals with social, humanitarian and cultural affairs, saying the practice could amount to torture.  “Solitary confinement is a harsh measure which is contrary to rehabilitation, the aim of the penitentiary system,” he stressed in presenting his first interim report on the practice, calling it global in nature and subject to widespread abuse.

Indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement in excess of 15 days should also be subject to an absolute prohibition, he added, citing scientific studies that have established that some lasting mental damage is caused after a few days of social isolation.  “Considering the severe mental pain or suffering solitary confinement may cause, it can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment when used as a punishment, during pre-trial detention, indefinitely or for a prolonged period, for persons with mental disabilities or juveniles,” he warned.  The practice should be used only in very exceptional circumstances and for as short a time as possible, he stressed. “In the exceptional circumstances in which its use is legitimate, procedural safeguards must be followed. I urge States to apply a set of guiding principles when using solitary confinement,” he said.

He told a later news conference these circumstances could include the protection of inmates in cases where they are gay, lesbian or bisexual or otherwise threatened by prison gangs.  There is no universal definition for solitary confinement since the degree of social isolation varies with different practices, but Mr. Méndez defined it as any regime where an inmate is held in isolation from others, except guards, for at least 22 hours a day.

In his report he noted that in the United States an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 individuals are being held in isolation, while in Argentina a prevention of violent behaviour programme consists of isolation for at least nine months and, according to prison monitors, is frequently extended.

He warned of an increased risk of torture in these cases because of the absence of witnesses and said some detainees have been held in solitary confinement facilities for years, without any charge and without trial, as well as in secret detention centres.

Mr. Méndez told the news conference that he had been following the case of US soldier Bradley Manning, detained in connection with his alleged leaking of secret cables to the WikiLeaks website. Mr. Manning was held in solitary confinement for eight months but has now been moved and is no longer subject to the same restrictions, he noted, adding that he would release a report on the issue in a few weeks. 

Examples he cited in his report from around the world included Kazakhstan where solitary confinement can last for more than two months, and the US terrorist detention centre in Guantánamo Bay, where experts found that although 30 days of isolation was the maximum period permissible, some detainees were returned to isolation after very short breaks over a period of up to 18 months.

Elsewhere, two prisoners are reported to have been held in solitary confinement in Louisiana, US, for 40 years after attempts for a judicial appeal of their conditions failed, he noted. In China an individual sentenced for “unlawfully supplying State secrets or intelligence to entities outside China” was allegedly held in solitary confinement for two years of her eight-year sentence.

“Social isolation is one of the harmful elements of solitary confinement and its main objective. It reduces meaningful social contact to an absolute minimum,” Mr. Méndez told the committee, noting that a significant number of individuals will experience serious health problems regardless of specific conditions of time, place, and pre-existing personal factors.

He called for an end to solitary confinement in pre-trial detention based solely on the seriousness of the alleged offence, as well as a complete ban on its use for juveniles and persons with mental disabilities.

Solitary confinement for shorter terms or for legitimate disciplinary reasons can amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in cases where the physical conditions of prisons, such as sanitation and access to food and water, violate the inherent dignity of the human person and cause severe mental and physical pain or suffering.

Today’s news conference also heard from Claudio Grossman, chair of the UN Committee against Torture, and Malcolm Evans, chair of the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture.

(UN Press Release)

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

Thailand Urged to Reform Defamation Provisions in Thai Penal Code

A United Nations human rights expert has called on Thailand to amend laws that impose jail terms of three to 15 years on “whoever defames, insults or threatens” top members of the country’s royal family, stressing that their vagueness contravened international treaties.

“The recent spike in lèse majesté cases pursued by the police and the courts shows the urgency to amend them,” Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression Frank La Rue said, using the legal term for offences or crimes against a State’s rulers or affronts to their dignity.  Mr. La Rue cited section 112 of the Thai penal code, which states that “whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir to the throne or the Regent shall be punished with imprisonment of three to 15 years,” and the Computer Crimes Act, which can impose jail terms of up to five years for any views on the monarchy made on the Internet that are deemed to threaten national security.  He stressed that Thailand has been a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) since 1996, which contains legally binding human rights obligations, including the obligation to fully guarantee the right of all individuals to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds.

“The threat of a long prison sentence and vagueness of what kinds of expression constitute defamation, insult, or threat to the monarchy, encourage self-censorship and stifle important debates on matters of public interest, thus putting in jeopardy the right to freedom of opinion and expression,” he said. “This is exacerbated by the fact that the charges can be brought by private individuals and trials are often closed to the public.”

While acknowledging that freedom of expression carries with it special responsibilities and that under certain exceptional circumstances it may be limited, including to protect the reputation of individuals and national security, he emphasized that laws limiting such freedom must be clear, unambiguous as to the specific type of banned expression, and proven to be necessary and proportionate, so as to prevent abuse for purposes beyond their intended purpose. 

“The Thai penal code and the Computer Crimes Act do not meet these criteria,” said Mr. La Rue, who acts in an independent, unpaid capacity and reports to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council. “The laws are vague and overly broad, and the harsh criminal sanctions are neither necessary nor proportionate to protect the monarchy or national security.”   He voiced concern that the Computer Crimes Act had been used by the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, in cooperation with the army, to reportedly block hundreds of thousands of websites containing commentary on the Thai monarchy, and noted that countries had also raised concerns during the Human Rights Council’s universal periodic review of Thailand on Friday.

(Adapted from a UN Press Release) (mew)

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

Cambodian Judge Will Press On After Resignation of German Colleague

The national co-investigating judge in the United Nations-backed Cambodian genocide tribunal yesterday affirmed that he will continue to fulfil his mandate independently and in compliance with the principles stipulated in the law, despite the resignation of his international colleague.

Judge Siegfried Blunk, the international co-investigating judge at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), submitted his resignation to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as of 8 October, citing repeated statements by Government officials regarding what are known as cases 003 and 004.

Case 003 reportedly involves two former senior members of the Khmer Rouge military suspected of being responsible for the deaths of thousands of people, while case 004 is believed to involve three other senior members.

“His resignation was very surprising to me,” said You Bunleng, the national co-investigating judge, in a statement.  “In fact, the work relationship between the international co-investigating judge and myself as national co-investigating judge has so far developed in a smooth and responsible manner based on legal principles and the ECCC internal rules, although there have been some allegations through media speculations made by some outsiders of the Court.”  He said judicial investigations with regard to cases 003 and 004 have been conducted by the office of the co-investigation judges “independently without any obstacle.”

“Although speculations have been made in various media reports with regard to the procedural measures and decisions of the co-investigating judges, the national co-investigating judge still affirms that he will continue to fulfil the works of the office of the co-investigating judges independently and in compliance with the principles stipulated in the law and the ECCC internal rules, and he is resolved to resist any attempt to interfere into his works from any source,” Judge  Bunleng said in his statement.

Under an agreement signed by the UN and the Government, the ECCC was set up as an independent court using a mixture of Cambodian staff and judges and foreign personnel. It is designated to try those deemed most responsible for mass killings and other crimes committed under the Khmer Rouge three decades ago.

After his appointment as a co-investigating judge last year, Judge Blunk proceeded with investigations in cases 003 and 004 with the expectation that a previous statement reportedly made by the Cambodian Prime Minister to the Secretary-General that these cases “will not be allowed” did not reflect Government policy, according to a news release issued by the tribunal.

Click here to read more about an upcoming Visit of UN Legal Counsel to the Cambodia Tribunal.

Click here to read more about the Tribunal and its investigating judges.

(mew)(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

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

Security Council Allows an ICTR Judge to Work Part-Time

The Security Council this week allowed one of the judges in the United Nations tribunal for the 1994 Rwandan genocide to work part-time and engage in another judicial occupation until the end of the year, under exceptional circumstances.  In authorizing Judge Bakhtiyar Tuzmukhamedov of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to work part-time, the Council, in a resolution, took note of the fact that upon the completion of the cases to which they are assigned, four permanent judges will be redeployed from the trial chamber to the appeals chamber and two permanent judges will leave the tribunal.  It also considered Judge Tuzmukhamedov’s commitment to ensuring timely delivery of judgment in the two cases in which he is currently involved.

The Security Council underscored that the exceptional authorization shall not be considered as establishing a precedent.  In its resolution, the Security Council said that the President of the ICTR shall have the responsibility to ensure that this arrangement is compatible with the independence and impartiality of the judge, does not give rise to conflicts of interest and does not delay the delivery of the judgment.

The ICTR was set up by the Security Council in the wake of the genocide, in which it is estimated that more 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and Hutu moderates were killed, mainly by machete, during a period of about 100 days starting on 6 April 1994.

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

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

Cambodia Draft Law on NGOs May Violate ICCPR

A Cambodian draft law making registration of associations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) mandatory and banning unregistered groups, risks breaching an international treaty, a United Nations rights expert warned this week, calling on the Government to review it. 

“The current draft NGO law contains a set of problematic provisions, raising concerns over a potential negative impact on Cambodian citizens’ democratic participation in furthering the development of their country,” UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Maina Kiai said in a news release, noting that it could violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) 

The mandatory nature of the draft law “constitutes a clear infringement of the right to freedom of association. Having a recognized legal status may confer rights and benefits to organizations such as the ability to open bank accounts, but legal status is not necessary for the enjoyment of the right to freedom of association,” he added. 

He welcomed a recent statement by Cambodia’s ambassador to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council promising “further consultations” and called on the authorities to review the draft law in open and meaningful discussions with associations and NGOs.   By excluding refugees, stateless persons and other non-Cambodian residents from forming associations or domestic NGOs and limiting eligible founding members to Cambodian nationals, the draft further violates freedom of association, which should be enjoyed by all individuals within Cambodia’s territory, he noted.  

Other concerns include the high minimum membership requirement; lack of clarity of the criteria for registration, suspension or termination; and the overly cumbersome and bureaucratic registration process for foreign NGOs, which could limit the scope of their activities and hamper their independence.   “A legal framework to ensure freedom of association should facilitate, rather than control, individuals’ enjoyment of this right formally or informally,” Mr. Kiai said. “It should also emerge from an open, transparent process that engenders goodwill and confidence.” 

Two other UN experts raised concerns over the effects of the draft law on human rights defenders. The Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, stressed that the draft could affect the defenders’ ability to exercise such rights. 

The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Margaret Sekaggya said the free and full exercise of the right to freedom of association places a duty on States to create a favourable environment for defenders to act freely.  “We urge the Cambodian authorities to fully take on board the legitimate concerns repeatedly raised by NGOs and associations during the announced further consultations,” the two said, noting that the Government has reviewed and revised the draft law numerous times. 

Last month, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Surya P. Subedi, urged the Government to review the draft and not proceed with it in its present form. 

(Adapted from a UN Press Release) 

October 18, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Cambodia Tribunal

The United Nations Legal Counsel will travel to Phnom Penh next week for meetings concerning the Cambodia genocide tribunal in the wake of the resignation of one of the judges.  The tribunal, known officially as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), was set up under an agreement signed in 2003 by the UN and the Government.  The independent court uses a mixture of Cambodian staff and judges and foreign personnel.  It is tasked with trying those deemed most responsible for mass killings and other crimes committed under the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979 during which as many as two million people are thought to have died.

The visit by Patricia O’Brien, the Under Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, follows the resignation earlier this week of Judge Siegfried Blunk, the international co-investigating judge at the ECCC.  Judge Blunk cited repeated statements by senior Government officials opposing the progress of what are referred to as cases 003 and 004 – which concern senior members of the Khmer Rouge military suspected of being responsible for the deaths of thousands of people.  Judge Blunk noted in his letter of resignation that these could be used to call into question his ability to perform his duties independently.   This would call into doubt the integrity of the whole proceedings in these cases.

The UN has consistently stated that the ECCC must be permitted to proceed with its work without interference from any entity, including the Cambodian Government.

Ms. O’Brien will hold meetings with Government officials and others concerning the tribunal, UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky told reporters in New York.  He will also adress other concerns raised about other aspects of the court’s work. 

(mew) (Adapted from a UN Press Release)

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