June 23, 2012
Freedom of Assembly and Association
The rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association are violated or at risk in a number of countries, an independent United Nations expert said this week, calling on governments to establish minimum standards to protect these rights. “It is astonishing how often States have encroached upon the right of individuals to assemble peacefully by also violating their rights to life and to be free from torture, rights which allow no limitation,” the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, said in a news release.
Presenting his annual report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Mr. Kiai stressed that the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association are essential components of democracy. “States should protect the rights of all individuals, including persons espousing minority or dissenting views or beliefs, human rights defenders, trade unionists or even migrants, to assemble peacefully and associate freely,” he said.
Mr. Kiai stated that the events that have occurred in numerous Arab countries since December 2010 have proved how these rights are important for people to express their aspirations and to influence policy decision-makers. Freedom to peacefully assemble and associate is to be considered the rule and limitations the exception, he added.
A vital part of the right to freedom of association, the expert noted, is the ability of associations to access funding. “Without the ability to access funding, from sources local, regional or international, this right becomes void,” Mr. Kiai stated. He pointed out that some States have clamped down on use of the Internet, particularly social media, and other information and communication technology, to deter or prevent individuals from exercising their right to organize peaceful assemblies.
Among his recommendations, the Special Rapporteur calls on states to ensure that the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association are enjoyed by everyone, including women, youth, indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, minorities or groups at risk. No one should be criminalized for exercising the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, or be subjected to threats or acts of violence, harassment, persecution, intimidation or reprisals, he added.
Mr. Kiai, a human rights advocate from Kenya, works in an independent and unpaid capacity for the Human Rights Council, which appoints independent experts, or special rapporteurs, to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
June 21, 2012
Inaugural Conference of the Society for Mediterranean Law and Culture
Mare Nostrum, the Inaugural Conference of the Society for Mediterranean Law and Culture, has just opened in Italy at the University of Cagliari, a city on the Southern coast of Sardinia. (The flag to the right is the flag of Sardinia.)
The opening speaker is Professor Gianmario Demuro of the University of Cagliari Faculty of Law, who addressed the impact of the economic crisis on the European Union, government economic subsidies, the role of the European Court of Justice in promoting European integration, constitutional law and the social state, issues that will promote sustainability throughout Europe, as well as issues of diversity and identity (particularly as they affect southern Europe). Professor Demuro noted with approval observations (such as made by Michelle Everson) that there is only a thin line between the "legitimate" legal-constitutional politics of the establishment of principles of social and political organization and the "illegitimate" personal-judicial pursuit of substantive political programs Among other questions posed for the conference is whether the market will prevail over social rights, or the pursuit of a neo-liberal notion of economic justice.
Professor David Austin of the California School of Law in San Diego, was the second speaker. His presentation expanded the scope of the conference discussion beyond economic and market issues to cultural and religious identities. His topic is "A Cross Culture," a comparative investigation of the regulation of the displays of religious symbols in public schools. He focused in particular on, Lautsi v. Italy, a decision of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled that the mandatory display of the crucifix in Italian public school rooms did not violate fundamental rights under the European Charter and that the margin of appreciation doctrine applied to the regulation of religious symbols in school settings. The case was brought by a Finnish immigrant in Italy, after the local school board had refused to remove the crucifix from the public school classroom. Professor Austin discussed the particular and complicated procedural history of the case. He explained several points of Italian Constitutional Law (including, for example, articles 7 and 8 of the Italian Constitution). He also explained the original decision of the European Court of Justice prior to rehearing by the Grand Chamber. He compared the result of that European court decision with U.S. federal court decisions on the displays of religious symbols on government property and raised additional issues involving the tension between secularism and neutrality, as well as national identity and multiculturalism.
Dr. Regina Lopata Logan of the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwesten University in Chicago served as one of the conference moderators and commentators. Her comments focused on the benefits that schools can acheive when they internationalize their curriculum and activities. She noted in particular that educational institutions that have not yet deeply involved themselves in international and comparative education would derive great benefits from doing so.
Another conference participant and commentator was Professor Angela Cacciarru of the University of Cagliari Faculty of Law (pictured at right), who also shared her perceptions and experiences of legal education in the United States, Europe, and Africa. She urged greater communication as a tool for education as well as enhanced training and exchange opportunities for students.
My own presentation at the conference described legal education in the Mediterranean, with a particular focus on legal education in Egypt and ideas to promote interactive teaching techniques in that country. Last year, shortly after the Egyptian revolution, I had the opportunity to work with a select group of law professors throughout Egypt to discuss legal education issues in Egypt. The conference attendees discussed not only teaching techniques but also a wide array of substantive legal issues facing educators in North Africa and other Mediterranean countries. The participants noted that future conferences of the Society for Mediterranean Law and Culture could help support professors throughout the region on teaching techniques, subjects, and materials.
Dott. Giovanni Coinu of the University of Cagliari Faculty of Law (pictured at right) spoke on educational policies and goals of various countries, and how those policies and goals may differ (particularly in countries where education is not yet considered to be a legal right). He discussed the influence of standardized tests and measurements, including standards developed by the Organization for Economic Control and Development, as well as the impacts of ranking systems (and in particular, those found in the United States). His presentation highlighted problems that can arise when liberal educational goals focus only on mechanisms of production rather than cultural education, noting that it is difficult to reverse global trends in education and that in future years it will be more difficult to find different educational models. The discussion brought in educational goals and policies from a number of Mediterranean countries, including also various nations of North Africa, and emphasized the rights and duties of education and the social model of education common in Europe.
Professor Lauren Fielder of the University of Lucerne Faculty of Law in Switzerland was an additional speaker, bringing her considerable expertise on legal education and legal reform in Africa. Her talk focused on issues of migration affecting Africa, North Africa, and Europe. She spoke of factors that increased the vulnerability of migrants in the Mediterranean region and the importance of protecting and promoting human rights, particularly in the "process" of migration. In the particular context of North Africa, she noted the impact of recent political developments stemming from migration following the Arab Spring. She also noted migration patterns generally and in the particular contexts of Europe, North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa. She also discussed the effects of trade agreements and land reform on various African nations and on the issue of migration. She called for a broad effort to improve human rights across Africa in a number of specific areas. She also noted the need to fulfill the promises of human rights protections.
Professor William B.T. Mock of The John Marshall Law School served as the closing speaker. His presentation focused on a comparative analysis of the human rights philosophies in the United States, Europe, and parts of the Middle East and North Africa. He noted the pressure on certain human rights in times of economic stress. His presentation focused on identifying human rights that are most vulnerable in times of economic crisis.
The Society for Mediterranean Law and Culture will likely organize additional conferences in future years, expanding topics, speakers, and locations.
Mark E. Wojcik (mew)
June 20, 2012
World Refugee Day
Today, June 20, is World Refugee Day. According to the website of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, "World Refugee Day was established by the United Nations to honor the courage, strength and determination of women, men and children who are forced to flee their homes under threat of persecution, conflict and violence." There are currently over 43.7 million refugees and internally displaced people around the world and 80% of them are women and children. More more information, visit the UNHCR World Refugee Day website.
June 19, 2012
US State Dept. Releases Annual Trafficking in Persons Report
Earlier today, the US State Department released its annual report on Trafficking in Persons (TIP). The 2012 report may be found here. The report estimates that there are 27 million men, women and children who are victims of trafficking worldwide.
Each year, in conjunction with the release of the annual TIP Report, the U.S. Department of State
honors individuals from around the world who have devoted their lives to fighting human trafficking. These “TIP Report Heroes” include NGO advocates, lawyers, police officers, scholars, and concerned citizens who engage in tireless efforts to protect trafficked persons, to hold traffickers accountable for their crimes, and to raise public awareness of this worldwide problem.
Tomorrow, the Open Society Foundations will host the first public question and answer session ever to be held with the TIP Report Heroes. This event presents a prime opportunity for the general public to engage the heroes in discussions regarding their work and their perspectives on current efforts to combat human trafficking worldwide. The event will be held at Open Society Foundations, 1730 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, 7th Floor, Washington, DC 20006 on Wednesday, June 20, 2012 from 9:30am – 11:00am.
ICJ Issues Judgment on Compensation in Ahmadou Sadio Diallo Case
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) announced today that it has determined that the Democratic Republic of the Congo must pay the Republic of Guinea the amount of US$95,000 as compensation for the injury suffered by Mr. Diallo in the case of Ahmadou Sadio Diallo (Republic of Guinea v. Democratic Republic of the Congo). The ICJ press release with more details may be found here.
Rwandan Gacaca Courts End Operations
Yesterday, the Rwandan community courts known as gacaca courts, which were set up to hear genocide-related cases, concluded their operations after ten years of work. The courts were established by the Rwandan government in 2001 to help relieve pressures on other national courts hearing genocide-related cases. The gacaca courts have been praised for their work by the UN; but also have been criticized by Human Rights Watch in a 2011 report for bribery, untrained judges and witness intimidation. During their ten years of operation, the gacaca court tried approximately two million persons and issued guilty verdicts in approximately 65% of the cases.
June 18, 2012
Recent WTO News
First, the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) adopted the panel and Appellate Body (AB) reports in the tuna dispute, more properly known as United States - Measures Concerning the Importation, Marketing and Sale of Tuna and Tuna Products (DS 381). As is often the case with AB rulings, this one was a mixed result for the parties. The official reactions of the various parties to the AB report can be found here.
Second, at the end of last week, the panel issued its report in China — Countervailing and Anti-Dumping Duties on Grain Oriented Flat-rolled Electrical Steel from the United States (DS414). The panel found that China had acted inconsistently with several articles of both the Anti-Dumping and the Subsidies Agreements in its initiation and conduct of the relevant investigations and requested that China bring its measures into conformity with its WTO obligations. The panel report may be found here.
Finally, the WTO DSB welcomed its newest member last week - Mr Seung Wha Chang of the Republic of Korea. He was sworn in on June 13 and replaces Mr Shotaro Oshima.