Saturday, July 7, 2012

New Scholarship on the Crime of Aggression

Our good friend Professor Jordan Paust recommends the following article written by a former student of his:  Surendran Koran, The International Criminal Court and Crimes of Aggression: Beyond the Kampala Convention, 34 Hous. J. Int’l L. 231 (2012).  The article is also available on SSRN at http://ssrn.com/abstract=2085030

(mew)

 

July 7, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

ICTR Transfers Convicts to Mail and Benin

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has transferred four convicts to serve their sentences in Mali and four to Benin.  Yusuf Munyakazi, Tharcise Renzaho, Dominique Ntawukukukyayo and Théoneste Bagosora were transferred to Mali, while Aloys Ntabakuze, Ildephonse Hategekimana, Gaspard Kanyarukiga and Callixte Kalimanzira will serve their sentences in Benin. 

The ICTR has made other transfers in recent months, with three other convicts having been transferred to Benin on 20 March, bringing the total number of convicts serving sentences to 14, while another 19 are serving theirs in Mali. According to a press release issued by the tribunal, two convicts, Jean Bosco Barayagwiza and Georges Rutuganda, who were serving a 32 year sentence and a life sentence, died on 25 of April 2010 and 11 October 2010, respectively, in Benin. 

(Adapted from a UN Press Release) (mew)

July 7, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Abolishing the Death Penalty

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon this week called on Member States which use the death penalty to abolish this practice, stressing that the right to life lies at the heart of international human rights law. “The taking of life is too absolute, too irreversible, for one human being to inflict on another, even when backed by legal process,” Mr. Ban told a panel organized by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on ‘Moving away from the death penalty – Lessons from national experiences’ at UN Headquarters in New York. “Where the death penalty persists, conditions for those awaiting execution are often horrifying, leading to aggravated suffering,” he added.

In 2007, the General Assembly endorsed a call for a worldwide moratorium of the death penalty. Since then, the practice has been abolished by countries like Argentina, Burundi, Gabon, Latvia, Togo and Uzbekistan. More than 150 States have either abolished the death penalty or do not practice it. However, Mr. Ban noted, the death penalty is still used for a wide range of crimes in various countries. In particular, he expressed concern that 32 States retain the death penalty for drug-related offences, and its use on juvenile offenders.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has also repeatedly called for the universal abolition of the death penalty, citing a host of reasons ranging from the fundamental right to life to the possibility of judicial errors.

In addition, Mr. Ban’s Guidance Note of 2008 on the UN Approach to Rule of Law Assistance stated that the United Nations will not establish or directly participate in any tribunal that allows for capital punishment.

(Adapted from a UN Press Release) (mew)

July 7, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Friday Fun: The Travel IQ Game

Test your knowledge of world capitals.  Click here to play.   Yes, this is a legitimate distraction from whatever meaningful work you should otherwise be doing.

(mew)

July 6, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

European Parliament Rejects Anti-Counterfeiting Treaty

For the first time since the Lisbon Treaty took effect, the European Parliament has used its powers to block the adoption of an international treaty.  Members of Parliament voted overwhelmingly against ratification of the Anti-Counterfeiting Treaty Agreement (ACTA).  ACTA is intended to establish international standards for the enforcement of intellectual property rights to combat counterfeiting and piracy.  It also would establish a new international body, the ACTA Committee, to oversee the treaty's implementation.  It has been signed by eight nations, including the US, plus the EU and 22 of its member states, but has not been ratified by any nations yet.  Six ratifications are needed for the treaty to take effect.   Concerns have been raised regarding the treaty's impact on freedom of expression, privacy, transparency, and access to medicines in developing countries.  The final text of ACTA may be found here.  However, some predict that the European Commission may now try to persuade the other signatory parties to reopen negotiations on the more controversial provisions.

(cgb)

July 5, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

US Files WTO Dispute Against China Over Cars

Earlier today, the United States formally filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) alleging that China is violating its WTO obligations with respect to its imposition of antidumping and countervailing duties on certain automobiles from the United States.  The parties will now enter the consultation stage.  If consulations do not resolve the matter within 60 days, the United States may request the formation of a dispute resolution panel.  More information regarding this dispute, WT/DS440/1, may be found here.

(cgb) 

July 5, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Have Your Say: Panel on Defining the Future of Trade

The Panel on Defining the Future of Trade was established in April 2012 by WTO Director-General Lamy to analyze challenges to global trade opening in the 21st century. The Panel invites you to contribute your views on this important subject.  You can participate in the discussion and get more information about the panel by clicking here.

(mew)

July 4, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Possible transfer of Guantanamo Bay prisoners to Afghanistan

News reports at the end of last week indicate that the United States and Afghanistan are in talks regarding the possible transfer of several Afghani nationals currently being detained at Guantanamo Bay back to Afghanistan.  If the transfer occurs, they will likely be held in a detention facility at Bagram air base, which is under U.S. control until September, when the Afghans are scheduled to take control.  The men are not supposed to be released, but once they leave U.S. control, the U.S. will have to rely on the Afghanistan government to ensure that they men do not become a threat to the U.S. in the future.  News reports indicate that there are currently 17 Afghan nationals being held at Guantanamo Bay.  The detainees to be transferred will likely not include the five top Taliban officials, who may be transferred to another country, such as Qatar, instead.  The deal is being proposed as a goodwill gesture to help restart peace talks between the Afghani government and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

(cgb)

July 3, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Human Rights Watch Discloses Torture Centers in Syria

We received the following press release from Human Rights Watch, which has just released a report on torture centers in Syria.  If you have problems opening any of the links, we suggest going to the Human RIghts Watch website directly.

(mew)

For Immediate Release
***To download raw footage, maps, and graphics:

http://hrwnews.org/distribute/2012MENA_Syria_Torture/
***To view video feature:
http://youtu.be/5lr-dcHOtzo

Syria: Torture Centers Revealed
For 27 Detention Sites: Locations, Commanders’ Names, Torture Methods 


(New York, July 3, 2012) – Former detainees and defectors have identified the locations, agencies responsible, torture methods used, and, in many cases, the commanders in charge of 27 detention facilities run by Syrian intelligence agencies, Human Rights Watch said in a multimedia report released today. The systematic patterns of ill-treatment and torture that Human Rights Watch documented clearly point to a state policy of torture and ill-treatment and therefore constitute a crime against humanity, Human Rights Watch said.

The 78-page report, “Torture Archipelago: Arbitrary Arrests, Torture and Enforced Disappearances in Syria’s Underground Prisons since March 2011” is based on more than 200 interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch since the beginning of anti-government demonstrations in Syria in March 2011. The report includes maps locating the detention facilities, video accounts from former detainees, and sketches of torture techniques described by numerous people who witnessed or experienced torture in these facilities.  

“The intelligence agencies are running an archipelago of torture centers scattered across the country,” said Ole Solvang, emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch. “By publishing their locations, describing the torture methods, and identifying those in charge we are putting those responsible on notice that they will have to answer for these horrific crimes.”

Human Rights Watch called on the United Nations Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and to adopt targeted sanctions against officials credibly implicated in the abuses. 

The facilities cited in the report are those for which multiple witnesses have indicated the same location and provided detailed descriptions of torture. The actual number of detention facilities used by intelligence agencies is probably much higher.

Almost all the former detainees interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they had been subjected to torture or witnessed the torture of others during their detention. Interrogators, guards, and officers used a broad range of torture methods, including prolonged beatings, often with objects such as batons and cables, holding the detainees in painful stress positions for prolonged periods of time, the use of electricity, burning with acid, sexual assault and humiliation, the pulling of fingernails, and mock execution. Altogether Human Rights Watch documented more than 20 distinct torture methods used by the security and intelligence services.

In most cases former detainees were subjected to a range of these torture methods. A 31-year-old detainee who was detained in Idlib governorate in June described to Human Rights Watch how the intelligence agencies tortured him in the Idlib Central Prison:

They forced me to undress. Then they started squeezing my fingers with pliers. They put staples in my fingers, chest and ears. I was only allowed to take them out if I spoke. The staples in the ears were the most painful. They used two wires hooked up to a car battery to give me electric shocks. They used electric stun-guns on my genitals twice. I thought I would never see my family again. They tortured me like this three times over three days.

While most of the torture victims interviewed by Human Rights Watch were young men between 18 and 35, the victims interviewed also included children, women, and the elderly.

Human Rights Watch research shows that the worst torture has taken place in detention facilities run by the country’s four main intelligence agencies, commonly referred to collectively as the mukhabarat:

  • The Department of Military Intelligence (Shu`bat al-Mukhabarat al-`Askariyya);
  • The Political Security Directorate (Idarat al-Amn al-Siyasi);
  • The General Intelligence Directorate (Idarat al-Mukhabarat al-`Amma); and
  • The Air Force Intelligence Directorate (Idarat al-Mukhabarat al-Jawiyya).

Each of these four agencies maintains central branches in Damascus as well as regional, city, and local branches across the country. In virtually all of these branches there are detention facilities of varying size.

All of the witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch described detention conditions that would by themselves amount to ill-treatment and, in some cases, torture – extreme overcrowding, inadequate food, and routine denial of necessary medical assistance. A graphic model depicting an overcrowded cell described by one former detainee illustrates how the conditions fall short of international legal standards.

The individuals who carried out or ordered crimes against humanity bear individual criminal responsibility under international law, as do those in a position of command whose subordinates committed  crimes that they were aware of or should have been aware of and failed to prevent or punish. This command responsibility would apply not only to the officials overseeing detention facilities, but also to the heads of intelligence agencies, members of government, and the head of state, President Bashar al-Assad.

Because Syria has not ratified the Rome Statute, which created the ICC, the court will only have jurisdiction if the UN Security Council adopts a resolution referring the situation in Syria to the court. Russia and China have previously blocked Security Council efforts to push for accountability.  

“The reach and inhumanity of this network of torture centers are truly horrific,” Solvang said. “Russia should not be holding its protective hand over the people who are responsible for this.”

A table with the detention facilities where torture was documented, along with their respective locations, operating agencies, and commanders follows.

For more Human Rights Watch reports on the 2011-2012 Syria conflict, please visit:

The Human Rights Watch report “Torture Archipelago: Arbitrary Arrests, Torture and Enforced Disappearances in Syria’s Underground Prisons since March 2011” is available by clicking here.

Human Rights Watch has documented the use of torture and ill-treatment in the following detention facilities:

Agency

Name of Branch

City

Head of Branch

Military Intelligence

Branch 215

Damascus

Brig. Gen. Sha’afiq

Military Intelligence

Branch 227

Damascus

Maj. Gen. RustomGhazali

Military Intelligence

Branch 291

Damascus

Brig. Gen. BurhanQadour (Replaced Brig. Gen. Yousef Abdou in May 2012)

Military Intelligence

Branch 235 (“Palestine”)

Damascus

Brig. Gen. Muhammad Khallouf

Military Intelligence

Branch 248

Damascus

Not identified

Military Intelligence

Branch 245

Daraa

Col. Loaial-Ali

Military Intelligence

Aleppo Branch

Aleppo

Not identified

Military Intelligence

Branch 271

Idlib

Brig. Gen. Nawfel al-Hussein

Military Intelligence

Homs Branch

Homs

Muhammad Zamreni

Military Intelligence

Latakia Branch

Latakia

Not identified

Air Force Intelligence

Mezzeh Airport Branch

Damascus

Brig. Gen. Abdul Salam Fajr Mahmoud (director of investigative branch)

Air Force Intelligence

Bab Touma Branch

Damascus

Not identified

Air Force Intelligence

Homs Branch

Homs

Brig. Gen. Jawdat al-Ahmed

Air Force Intelligence

Daraa branch

Daraa

Col. QusayMihoub

Air Force Intelligence

Latakia Branch

Latakia

Col. Suhail Al-Abdullah

Political Security

Mezzeh Branch

Damascus

Not identified

Political Security

Idlib Branch

Idlib

Not identified

Political Security

Homs Branch

Homs

Not identified

Political Security

Latakia Branch

Latakia

Not identified

Political Security

Daraa Branch

Daraa

Not identified

General Intelligence

Latakia Branch

Latakia

Brig. Gen. KhudrKhudr

General Intelligence

Branch 285

Damascus

Brig. Gen. Ibrahim Ma’ala (Replaced Brig. Gen. HussamFendi in late 2011)

General Intelligence

Al-Khattib Branch

Damascus

Not identified

General Intelligence

Aleppo Branch

Aleppo

Not identified

General Intelligence

Branch 318

Homs

Brig. Gen. Firas Al-Hamed

General Intelligence

Idlib Branch

Idlib

Not identified

Joint

Central Prison - Idlib

Idlib

Not identified

(Adapted from a Human RIghts Watch Press Release)

July 3, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Three Pillars of R2P

The rule of law is key to the implementation of the "responsibility to protect" principle, often referred to as R2P, and the prevention of atrocities, according to Patricia O'Brien, the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs at the United Nations.  She made the statement last week at a roundtable discussion during the 55th annual meeting of the Russian Association of International Law in Moscow.  “The international community has a responsibility to help States meet those obligations, or to step in when States manifestly fail to do so . . . . These obligations are anchored in international law, and reflect obligations of humanity,” she added.

Ms. O"Brien, the UN’s top lawyer, emphasized that international law is crucial to uphold the three pillars of R2P:

  • Pillar I is the enduring responsibility of States to protect their populations;
  • Pillar II is the role of the international community to assist States to protect their populations before conflicts escalate; and
  • Pillar III involves a commitment in which States are prepared to take collective action through the Security Council when national authorities are “manifestly failing to protect their populations.”

Ms. O’Brien underscored that the international community, through regional organizations and the UN, can assist States to build rule of law capacities that will make them less susceptible to R2P situations, including technical assistance, engagement on human rights, peacekeeping and peacebuilding projects. “International assistance serves to reinforce and not to undermine national sovereignty while helping governments to provide additional protection and security to their populations,” Ms. O’Brien said. She noted that laws such as those dealing with international humanitarian activities, refugees and the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court (ICC) will provide the necessary structures to prevent large scale atrocities within a country’s territory.

In her remarks, Ms. O’Brien also touched upon several cases where the R2P principle has been invoked. These included Libya, and more recently Syria, where she said that despite measures taken to enforce Pillar II and III, violence has not ceased. “The challenge for the international community is to find ways to prevent further escalation of the conflict,” Ms. O’Brien said. “R2P’s contribution is to continue to underscore the responsibilities of States vis-à-vis their populations, and to pressure and motivate the international community to help State meet those obligations.”

“To a very large extent, the Syrian authorities have disregarded their responsibilities,” she added. “However, the international community is focused and motivated, and, while much remains to be done, the doctrine of R2P is very much engaged.”

(mew) (adapted from a UN Press Release)

July 2, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

UN Human RIghts Chief Calls Again for Security Council to Refer Syria to the Interational Criminal Court

The United Nations human rights chief today renewed her call on the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC), stressing the need to ensure accountability for the serious abuses committed by both sides in the ongoing conflict. “In my view, both Government forces and armed opponents have been involved in actions harming civilians,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told reporters after a closed-door briefing to the Council. “Those responsible for attacks against civilians must be held accountable, and so I reiterated my call on the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court as I believe that the evidence points to the commission of crimes against humanity,” she stated.

The UN estimates that more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Syria and tens of thousands displaced since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began 16 months ago. “Ending the conflict is what we all seek,” said Ms. Pillay, whose office (OHCHR) and the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria – appointed by the UN Human Rights Council – have documented serious human rights violations by both Government and opposition forces. The violations by Government forces include indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, targeted killings of activists and opposition supporters, arbitrary detentions, torture and rape, as well as attacks on hospitals and clinics and the use of health facilities for military operations.

Meanwhile, the violations by the opposition forces include killings of suspected government informers and perceived collaborators, and the increasing use of improvised explosive devices causing civilian deaths and injuries. “We have credible reports that indicate that armed groups have also taken over at least one medical facility for military purposes,” she added.

The High Commissioner’s briefing comes a day after the Action Group on Syria, which met in Geneva under the auspices of the Joint Special Envoy for the UN and the League of Arab States on Syria, Kofi Annan, agreed on a set of principles and guidelines for a Syrian-led transition that meets the aspirations of the Syrian people. This includes the establishment of a transitional governing body that would exercise full executive powers and that would be made up by members of the present Government and the opposition and other groups. The Group also called for all parties to immediately re-commit to a sustained cessation of armed violence, to fully cooperate with the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), and to implement the six-point plan put forward by Mr. Annan without waiting for the actions of others. 

The six-point peace plan calls for an end to violence, access for humanitarian agencies to provide relief to those in need, the release of detainees, the start of inclusive political dialogue, and unrestricted access to the country for the international media. Ms. Pillay stressed that any solution to the conflict must adequately address the root causes of the conflict, namely the human rights grievances. “I welcome the Action Group’s plan and hope that it will rapidly pave the way for a genuinely democratic and inclusive State with full respect for human rights and the rule of law.”

She also stated that the presence of UNSMIS in the country remains “vital,” and that she urged the Security Council to support and strengthen its mandate to enable it to effectively monitor and report on the human rights situation in Syria.

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

July 2, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Praising the Work of Gay and Lesbian Rights Defenders

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today hailed the work of gay and lesbian rights defenders all over the world, stressing that States have a legal obligation to stop violence and discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation.  “No custom or tradition, no cultural values or religious beliefs, can justify depriving a human being of his or her human rights,” Mr. Ban said in a message delivered by the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonovic, to the Human Rights Film Festival in New York. “Violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people is a human rights violation: a violation that States have a moral duty and a legal obligation to address,” Mr. Ban stressed.

The festival screened the American documentary film “Call me Kuchu,” which explores the struggles of the LGBT community in Uganda, focusing in part on the murder of LGBT activist David Kato last year.

At the end of last year, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published the first official UN report on rights abuses based on sexual orientation, revealing that there are currently 76 countries where individuals face criminal sanctions for engaging in private in consensual sexual relations with another adult of the same sex.

“As UN Secretary-General, I take every opportunity to push leaders to listen and to act, but I am conscious that the hardest work is done by local activists like those you will see in this film,” Mr. Ban told festival attendants.  “To them I want to say: You are an inspiration to me and to millions of people around the world. I am proud to join in this great human rights cause. However hard and however long it may take, I know that justice will prevail and that all people can enjoy the rights and dignity they deserve,” Mr. Ban added.

(UN Press Release)

July 2, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Human Rights of Migrants

A United Nations independent expert today called on Turkey and the European Union (EU) to make the human rights of migrants a priority in their cooperation managing immigrants between territories.

“While the EU and Turkey have developed close cooperation on migration issues, which has led to some notable positive developments, the assistance offered to Turkey regarding migration management appears to focus largely on securitising the borders and decreasing irregular migration to the European common territory through focusing on the detention and removal of migrants in Turkey,” said the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau, in a news release. “Often neglected from this equation is an equivalent emphasis on the human rights of those most vulnerable and most affected by the migration process: the migrants themselves,” he added. 

Mr. Crépeau, who just finished a five-day official visit to Turkey, noted that detention of migrants remains an issue of concern in the country, and that the Greek-Turkish border point remains one of the key passages of irregular migration in Europe. “Despite the fact that Turkey is at the geostrategic juncture between Europe and Asia, the pressures on Turkish authorities to control irregular migration should not trump the human rights of migrants,” Mr. Crépeau said, noting that the EU’s focus on heightening border security has led to an increase in detention as a solution strategy for migration control, with more funding for new detention centres.

“The lack of safeguards for detainees in these centres is notable, and I insist that all centres of detention uphold human rights standards and organisations be provided full and free access to monitor them appropriately,” Mr. Crépeau said. “I am further troubled about the detention of some vulnerable migrants in an irregular situation, including families and children,” he added, emphasizing that “alternatives to detention must always be explored.” 

Mr. Crépeau’s visit to Turkey was the third stage of a special study on the management of the EU’s external borders. He visited Brussels in May, and Tunisia earlier in June. Later in the year he will visit the two main entry points into the EU, Greece and Italy. The Special Rapporteur will present a report on his findings to the UN Human Rights Council in June next year. 

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

(UN Press Release)

July 2, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

USCIB Urges USTR to Deny Ecuador Access to ATPA Preference Benefits

The United States Council for International Business (USCIB) has issued a press release stating its strong supported for the U.S. Government’s network of trade preference programs to accord qualifying developing countries duty-free access into the U.S. market.  The USCIB believes that these preference programs have, over time, shown their value to U.S. consumers, to U.S. manufacturers seeking inputs, and to the beneficiary nations.  But the USCIB says that it has always seen these unilateral U.S. programs, including the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), the Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA), and the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) as only conditional programs, not an entitlement.  The USCIB states that beneficiary countries’ eligibility for these preference programs should be conditioned under U.S. law and regulation on meeting the eligibility criteria. 

Here is an excerpt from their press release on ATPA Benefits for Ecuador: 

[We] are quite concerned with the USTR determination to maintain access to ATPA trade preference benefits for the Government of Ecuador.   With Peru and Colombia now moving up to full Free Trade Agreement partner status, Ecuador is the sole potential recipient of ATPA preferences going forward.  Yet, in recent years, the Government of Ecuador has flaunted international and ATPA standards in key areas of rule-of-law and respect for arbitral awards.  We appreciate that USTR has pointed out at some length these failings of the Government of Ecuador in their annual report to Congress last Friday.  But we are disappointed that USTR has, nonetheless, opted to maintain Ecuador’s access to ATPA preference benefits.  We urge that the Administration and the Congress reconsider this decision.  It is inappropriate to reward the Government of Ecuador for its behavior in these key areas with preferential access to our market.  Ecuador should only obtain these benefits by coming into compliance with the eligibility criteria in the ATPA statute.     

The USCIB promotes open markets, competitiveness and innovation, sustainable development and corporate responsibility, supported by international engagement and regulatory coherence.  Its members include U.S.-based global companies and professional services firms from every sector of our economy, with operations in every region of the world.  With a unique global network encompassing leading international business organizations, USCIB provides business views to policy makers and regulatory authorities worldwide, and works to facilitate international trade and investment.  More information is available at www.uscib.org.

(Adapted from a press release from USCIB)

July 2, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Libya Releases Detained ICC Staff Members

Libyan authorities today released the four International Criminal Court (ICC) staff members who were detained in the country for nearly a month following their visit to Saif Al-Islam Qadhafi, who has been indicted by the court in relation to attacks against protesters and rebels during last year’s pro-democracy uprising.  

“The ICC is grateful to the Libyan authorities for their agreement today to release the Court’s staff members so that they can be reunited with their families,” the President of the ICC, Judge Sang-Hyun Song, said at a press conference in the Libyan city of Zintan. He also thanked the Zintan authorities for their cooperation and expressed his relief that the ICC staff members were well treated during their detention. 

The four – Alexander Khodakov, Esteban Peralta Losilla, Melinda Taylor and Helene Assaf – were detained on 7 June after meeting with Mr. Qadhafi in Zintan, in part as a privileged visit by the ICC’s Office of Public Counsel for the Defence, currently appointed to represent Mr. Qadhafi in the case brought against him. 

The ICC 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 if national authorities with jurisdiction are unwilling or unable to do so genuinely.

Libya is one of seven situations currently under investigation by the ICC, which is based in The Hague. The others are the Democratic Republic of the Congo, northern Uganda, the Darfur region of Sudan, the Central African Republic, Kenya, and Côte d'Ivoire.

(UN Press Release)

July 2, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Protecting Women's Rights During Political Transitions

A group of independent United Nations experts today called for urgent actions to advance women’s human rights during political transitions, stressing that their equal participation is critical for any democratic and lasting change.

Political transitions “offer unprecedented opportunities for progress on women’s human rights, despite there being a risk of regression and new forms of discrimination,” according to the UN Working Group on discrimination against women in law and in practice.  “Good practice is evidenced where States take advantage of the opportunities to advance women’s human rights and avoid any kind of regression,” said Kamala Chandrakirana, who currently heads the group and presented its first annual report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The group voiced concern at reports that women who have been active in the fight for democracy and justice find themselves excluded from decision-making in new state-building processes. 

Countries in transition need to effectively take advantage of the ongoing legal, policy and institutional reforms to guarantee strong participation of women in all spheres of political and public life, especially at decision-making levels, and include them as equal partners in shaping the future of their country, they noted.

“Women’s full and equal participation in ongoing political transitions in many regions of the world is a prerequisite for any democratic and lasting change, and is critical to sustainable development, peace, and progress,” said Ms. Chandrakirana. “There is a window of opportunity to consolidate women’s involvement in politics as many have participated in and driven the civil movements in their countries and are poised to make further progressive contributions to their societies,” she added.

The Working Group also regretted that there were still too few women in politics and in decision-making positions despite decades of efforts, and underscored the importance of affirmative action and of the guarantees of freedom of expression, assembly and association to rectify this.

The Human Rights Council, which is currently holding its 20th session, appoints experts to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The experts work in an independent and unpaid capacity.

(UN Press Release)

July 2, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

First Gay Pride Held in Laos

Laos Pride Laos held its first-ever Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride event on June 25 in Vientiane. The event, called "Proud to be Us!", was produced by a group of young Lao LGBT activists and featured music, dance, skits, and dramas exploring issues faced by LGBT people in Laos today, such as discrimination, gender roles, and sexual health. 

More than 100 people attended the event, which took place on the sports field of the U.S. Embassy. The guests of honor were U.S. Ambassador Karen Stewart and Dr. Bounpheng Philavong, Director of the Center for HIV/AIDS/STI (CHAS) at the Lao Ministry of Health. During their remarks, both Dr. Bounpheng and Ambassador Stewart congratulated the event organizers for taking an important first step to achieving full acceptance of LGBT people in Lao society. "The message we want to send is that no matter what you look like or where you come from or what your sexual orientation is, every single one of you is a person with value and should be treated with dignity and respect," Ambassador Stewart told the crowd to loud applause.

The event drew performers and participation from a number of organizatons that provide outreach and services to Laos' LGBT community, including the Purple Sky Network, Lao Positive Health Association (Lao PHA), Population Services International (PSI), the Burnet Institute, Family Health International (FHI), the Vientiane Youth Center for Health and Development, and UNFPA. While each of these organizations conducts outreach to certain isolated LGBT groups (i.e. Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) or transgender sex workers), the event marked the first time all had collaborated to stage an activity directed at the broader LGBT community.

Anan Bouapha, a longtime youth leader on HIV/AIDS, sexual reproductive health and youth empowerment issues for the Purple Sky Network and Y-PEER (UNFPA) and one of the key organizers of the "Proud to be Us!" event, called it a huge step forward for LGBT people in Laos."I am proud to call this event our first victory for the LGBT movement in this country. ... We have made history," he said. "I'll remember this memorable day and will meaningfully celebrate it throughout the generations."

(Adapted from a US Embassy Press Release) 

Hat tip to Rex Wockner

(mew)

July 2, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Lord's Resistance Army

The United Nations Security Council has endorsed the regional strategy developed by the United Nations to tackle the threat posed by the Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), and called for the necessary support to ensure that it is carried out successfully. 

The strategy, developed by the UN Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), focuses on five key strategic objectives to address the threat from the LRA, which has been causing suffering to civilians in South Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR) and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), in addition to Uganda. They include support for the full operationalization and implementation of the African Union regional cooperation initiative against the LRA; enhancing efforts to promote the protection of civilians; and expanding current disarmament, demobilization, repatriation, resettlement and reintegration activities to cover all LRA-affected areas. The other objectives are to promote a coordinated humanitarian and child protection response in these areas, and to support LRA-affected governments in the fields of peacebuilding, human rights, rule of law and development, to enable them to establish State authority across their territories.

“The Security Council welcomes the development of the United Nations Regional Strategy to Address the Threat and Impact of the Activities of the LRA and takes note of the five strategic areas of intervention identified in the strategy,” the 15-member body said in a presidential statement read out during a meeting on the issue. It also called on the international community to “provide assistance as possible to advance these strategic goals.”

The LRA carried out the worst of its atrocities in northern Ugandan in the 1990s, but had, by 2004, largely been driven out of the area through a sustained military effort. However, remnants of the insurgent group continued to attack civilians in the four affected countries. Led by Joseph Kony, the group is notorious for carrying out massacres in villages, mutilating its victims and abducting boys for use as child soldiers, while girls are forced into sexual slavery. The Council strongly condemned the ongoing attacks carried out by the LRA and the continued violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses committed by the group, and demanded an immediate end to all attacks.

Abou Moussa, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of UNOCA, told the Council that in spite of the recent capture of one of its senior commanders and its “significantly diminished” capacity, the LRA remains extremely dangerous and retains the capacity to inflict considerable suffering on the population. “The strategy must only represent the beginning of vigorous attention by the Council to address the LRA issues, in order to put an end to these atrocities once and for all,” he said. “Its successful implementation will depend on the level of cooperation and engagement among the affected countries and resource mobilization to address funding gaps.”

The AU Special Envoy on the LRA, Francisco Madeira, said that the major objectives of the AU-led regional initiative are the strengthening of the capacity of the affected countries to effectively respond to and neutralize the LRA threat, facilitating the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the affected communities and creating an environment conducive for the stabilization and rehabilitation of the affected areas. 

When fully operational, the initiative is expected to bolster efforts against the LRA, particularly through military operations so as to heighten pressure on the group, leading to more captures, surrenders, defections and its eventual elimination, he stated.

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

July 1, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

UN Security Council Extends Terms of Four ICTR Judges to 2014

The United Nations Security Council on Friday decided to permit four judges of International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to serve beyond the expiry of their terms of office so that the court can wrap up its work by the target date of December 2014.

In a unanimously adopted resolution, the Council decided that Judge William H. Sekule of Tanzania, Judge Solomy Balungi Bossa of Uganda and Judge Mparany Mamy Richard Rajohnson of Madagascar may continue until the completion of cases that they began before the 30 June expiry of their tenure. The Council also decided to extend until December 31, 2014 the service of the President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Judge Vagn Joensen of Denmark, whose term was also to have expired on June 30, in an effort to complete the court’s remaining work. 

The Security Council also asked the ICTR to report on the projected schedule for transferring its remaining functions to the so-called “Residual Mechanism.” The Council set up the International Residual Mechanism in December 2010 and mandated it to take over and finish the remaining tasks of the ICTR when it is closed after its mandate expires. The ICTR branch of the mechanism will begin functioning on July 1 this year, and is set to conclude its work by the end of 2014. 

(mew) (adapted from a UN Press Release)

July 1, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

More Executions in Iran

Three independent United Nations human rights experts have condemned the recent execution of four members of the Ahwazi Arab minority in Iran after a reportedly unfair trial, and called on the Government to halt the use of the death penalty.    

Abdul Rahman Heidarian, Abbas Heidarian, Taha Heidarian – who are brothers – and Ali Sharif were reportedly arrested in April 2011 during a protest in the province of Khuzestan and convicted of Moharebeh (enmity against God) and Fasad-fil Arz (corruption on earth), according to a news release issued by the experts.   They were sentenced to death and executed on or around 19 June in Karoun Prison, in the province’s capital, Ahwaz.    

“Given the lack of transparency in court proceedings, major concerns remain about due process and fairness of trials in cases involving the death penalty in Iran,” said the three UN Special Rapporteurs – Ahmed Shaheed, Christof Heyns and Juan E. Méndez – who deal respectively with Iran, summary executions, and torture.    
  
“Under international law, the death penalty is the most extreme form of punishment, which, if it is used at all, should be imposed only for the most serious crimes,” they said. “Defendants in death penalty cases should also receive fair trial guarantees stipulated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Iran in 1975.”  The experts stressed that "[any] death sentence undertaken in contravention of those international obligations is tantamount to an arbitrary execution.” 

The rights experts noted with concern the high numbers of executions carried out in public – at least 25 this year alone – despite a circular issued in January 2008 by the Iranian Chief Justice banning the practice. “Executions in public add to the already cruel, inhuman and degrading nature of the death penalty and can only have a dehumanizing effect on the victim and a brutalizing effect on those who witness the execution,” the experts underscored.  They voiced regret that the authorities continue to apply the death penalty with alarming frequency, despite numerous calls to the Iranian Government to establish a moratorium on executions.    

At least 140 executions are known to have been carried out since the beginning of 2012, with some sources indicating the figure to be as high as 220. The majority of these are for drug-related offences, which the experts do not believe constitute the “most serious crimes” as required by international law.    

The experts urged the Iranian authorities “to halt immediately the imposition of the death penalty for crimes which do not constitute the most serious crimes, as well as ensure stringent respect for fair trial guarantees.”   

The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Mr. Shaheed; the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Mr. Heyns; and the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Mr. Méndez all serve in an independent and unpaid capacity.  They report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, which appoints experts to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme.  

(mew) (adapted from a UN Press Release) 

July 1, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)