Friday, July 20, 2012
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued its decision today finding that the Republic of Senegal has an obligation to bring proceedings against Mr. Hissene Habre or extradite him to face trial elsewhere. Mr. Habre is the former president of the Republic of Chad and is accused of crimes under the Convention Against Torture (CAT) during his time in office. Belgium instituted proceedings in 1999 against Senegal (where Mr. Habre has been residing as a political asylee) pursuant to CAT to force Senegal to prosecute or extradite Mr. Habre to Belgium to face prosecution there.
The ICJ found that Senegal violated its obligations under CAT by failing to enact implementing legislation that would establish universal jurisdiction over acts of torture occurring in another country in its domestic courts, and taking other actions that prevented the prosecution of Mr. Habre in Senegal.
This decision is certainly a legal victory in a number of ways. It establishes ICJ jurisdiction under CAT; it affirms and strengthens the erga omnes obligation to prevent and punish torture; and it helps to bring accountability to ruthless dictators. However, Senegal has managed to drag its feet in prosecuting Mr. Habre for many years. It remains to be seen whether the international community will take action to enforce this ICJ judgment against Senegal and ensure that Mr. Habre is held accountable for his actions.
The next Global Legal Skills Conference will be held in San Jose, Costa Rica, from March 8-11, 2013. The call for presentations will go out next month, with the first round of proposals due in October.
After that, the Global Legal Skills Conference will be held in Verona, Italy in late May 2014.
Thursday, July 19, 2012
Yesterday, the Dominican Republic notified the World Trade Organization (WTO) Secretariat of a request for consultations with Australia “on certain measures concerning trademarks, geographical indications and other plain packaging requirements applicable to tobacco products and packaging” (WT/DS441/1). Australia's laws are said to violate several provisions of the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPs) Agreement, the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). If consultations do not resolve the matter within 60 days, the DR may request the establishment of a panel.
In March and April 2012, Ukraine and Honduras requested consultations with Australia on this same issue (DS434 and DS435 respectively). Several other countries have requested to join the consultations, which are ongoing.
The European Commission issued progress reports yesterday on the rule of law in Bulgaria and Romania which indicates continued concerns in both countries. Overall, the reports indicate that both countries have made some progress, but that there is much more work to be done on issues of judicial independence, organized crime and corruption. Romania particularly was criticized for undermining the competence of its constitutional court; whereas Bulgaria was told that it must make more inroads against high-level corruption and organized crime.
Despite the appeals for united and concerted action to help end the escalating violence in Syria, the United Nations Security Council today failed to adopt a resolution that would have threatened sanctions on Damascus, owing to the negative votes of permanent members Russia and China.
Eleven of the Council’s 15 members voted in favor of the resolution’s text. Two other members – Pakistan and South Africa – abstained. A veto by any one of the Council’s five permanent members means a resolution cannot be adopted.
Ahead of today’s action, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, along with the Joint Special Envoy for the United Nations and the League of Arab States for the Syrian Crisis, Kofi Annan, repeatedly expressed the hope that the Council could reach agreement on a course of collective action to end the bloodshed in the Middle Eastern country.
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 some 16 months ago.
The Security Council is also expected to make a decision today on the future of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), which recently suspended its regular patrols due to the escalating violence on the ground and whose 90-day mandate expires tomorrow.
The Mission was set up to monitor the cessation of violence in Syria, as well as monitor and support the full implementation of the six-point peace plan put forward by Mr. Annan. That 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.
“It pains me to say, but we are not on the track for peace in Syria and the escalations we have witnessed in Damascus over the past few days is a testimony to that,” the Mission’s head and Chief Military Observer, Major-General Robert Mood, told reporters in the Syrian capital today.
A bomb attack on the National Security Headquarters building in Damascus yesterday killed and wounded several Government officials. Among those killed were Syria’s defence minister and his deputy. There were also reports of clashes between Syrian Government forces and opposition fighters in several neighbourhoods of the city.
Maj.-Gen. Mood noted that it is for the Council to decide the fate of UNSMIS and the UN political and military presence in Syria. “It is no secret that its members are divided on what actions are needed to end the killing and begin a political transition process,” he stated. “For the sake of the Syrian people we need effective leadership from the Security Council and genuine unity around a political plan that meets the aspirations of the Syrian people and that is accepted by the parties,” he added.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release) (mew)
The United Nations Security Council said it is encouraged by the stability that continues to prevail across the so-called Blue Line separating Israel and Lebanon, and emphasized the need to move forward on all outstanding issues regarding the implementation of relevant resolutions. In a statement issued to the press on Wednesday night, the 15-member body “urged the parties to continue working within the framework of the tripartite mechanism, in order to progress notably on the marking of the Blue Line.”
The statement came after a closed-door meeting in which the Council was briefed by the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Derek Plumbly, and the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the implementation of resolution 1701, which helped end the 2006 war between Israel and the Lebanese group Hizbollah.
The resolution calls for respect for the Blue Line, the disarming of all militias in Lebanon, and an end to arms smuggling in the area. While the resolution has largely been respected over the past six years, but there has been little progress towards an envisaged permanent ceasefire.
Mr. Plumbly told reporters after the briefing that he got “both a strong sense of the value and the importance of what UNIFIL [UN Interim Force in Lebanon] is doing with the parties to sustain what has been a very extended period of calm across the Blue Line, but also a concern about some of those issues which really have been outstanding for a long period and which continue to require attention.”
Council members also welcomed Lebanese President Michel Sleiman’s initiative in reconvening the National Dialogue of the country’s political leaders and the declarations adopted following the first two meetings, and looked forward to the continuation of this process. “The commitment of the country’s leaders to safeguarding Lebanon from the impact of regional tensions at this difficult time is particularly important,” they stated. In its statement, the Council also expressed grave concern over repeated incidents of cross-border fire, incursions, abductions, and arms trafficking across the Lebanese-Syrian border as well as other border violations.
(From a UN Press Release) (mew)
The United Nations human rights chief has called for the appeal trial in the case of a murdered Congolese human rights defender, Floribert Chebeya Bahizire, and the disappearance of his driver, to fully respect international standards of due process. “The importance of this trial cannot be overstated,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, said in a news release issued earlier this week. “Mr. Chebeya was a pioneer of the human rights movement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and his murder sent a devastating blow to human rights defenders across the country.”
Mr. Chebeya was found assassinated on June 1, 2010 on the outskirts of DRC’s capital, Kinshasa. More than a year later, the military court of Kinshasa/Gombe convicted five policemen, three of them in absentia, of murder, illegal arrest and detention, as well as abduction. The Inspector-General of the National Congolese Police was suspended in connection with the case in 2010, but was never formally charged. The next hearing of the ongoing appeal trial is scheduled to take place today.
“A number of due process issues have been raised about the original trial, including that key witnesses were not interviewed,” Ms. Pillay said, calling on the Congolese judicial authorities to take all necessary measures to ensure that the appeal is fully in line with international standards of due process. “Given the possible involvement of high-level authorities in these crimes, it would be advisable to appoint sufficiently high-ranking judges to preside over the trial,” she added.
The High Commissioner also noted serious concerns about the security and proper preservation of important new information that has recently come to light. “Any evidence must be secured and preserved with great care,” she said. Ms. Pillay noted that two years after Mr. Chebeya’s murder, the situation of human rights defenders in the DRC remains precarious, and that the conduct of this case will be seen “as a reflection of the new Government’s commitment to the independence of the judiciary and respect for due process.” She also called on the DRC’s new Parliament to adopt draft laws for the protection of human rights defenders, as well as for the creation of an independent national human rights commission as soon as possible, and reiterated her office’s readiness to provide assistance to the Congolese authorities to this end.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release) (mew)
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has appointed Adama Dieng of Senegal, currently serving as Registrar of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), as his Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide. Mr. Dieng will replace Francis Deng of Sudan, who has served in the post since 2007.
As a legal and human rights expert, Mr. Dieng has a distinguished career in contributing to the strengthening of rule of law, fighting impunity and promoting capacity building in the area of judicial and democratic institutions, including through fact-finding missions, publications and media, according to a note announcing the appointment. He has also contributed to the establishment of several non-governmental organizations in Africa; served on the International Commission of Jurists; served as the UN Independent Expert for Haiti; acted as Envoy of the UN Secretary-General to Malawi; and was the driving force behind the establishment of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Mr. Dieng, 62, also has experience with a number of international organizations, including the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
The Office of the Secretary-General’s Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide was set up in 2004 in recognition of the international community’s collective failure to prevent or stop past genocides. It is tasked by the Security Council with collecting and assessing information on situations that might lead to genocide. It is also mandated to advise the Secretary-General and, through him, the Security Council, and make recommendations to prevent or halt genocide, as well as to liaise with the UN system on preventive measures and enhance the UN’s capacity to analyze and manage information on genocide or related crimes.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release) (mew)
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the deadly bombing attack on a bus carrying Israeli tourists in Bulgaria earlier this week. His spokesperson expressed the Secretary-General's condolences to the victims and their families, to the Governments and people of Bulgaria, and to Israel. According to media reports, the bus was outside of the airport of the city of Burgas when it exploded, killing at least seven and injuring more than 30 people, some critically.
(mew) (Adapted from a UN Press Release)
Expressing alarm over the intensifying violence in Syria, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemns yesterday’s bomb attack at the National Security Headquarters in Damascus, according to his spokesperson. “The Secretary-General reiterates that acts of violence committed by any party are unacceptable and a clear violation of the six-point plan,” the spokesperson added in a statement. “He is also gravely concerned about reports of the continued use of heavy weapons by the Syrian security forces, including in the Damascus area, against civilians, despite repeated Syrian government assurances that such weapons would be withdrawn.”
According to media reports, a high-level meeting was underway in the National Security Headquarters building when the attack occurred, killing and wounding Government officials. Amongst those said to have been killed are Syria’s defense minister and his deputy. Media reports also noted that the Free Syrian Army has claimed responsibility for the bombing, as has another opposition group. In addition, there have been reports of clashes between Syrian Government forces and opposition fighters in several neighbourhoods of Damascus.
Put forward earlier this year by the Joint Special Envoy for the United Nations and the League of Arab States for the Syrian Crisis, Kofi Annan, the six-point 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.
“The deteriorating situation in Syria underscores the extreme urgency for all sides to stop armed violence in all its forms, implement the six point plan and move swiftly towards a political dialogue and a peaceful democratic Syrian-led transition,” Mr. Ban’s spokesperson said. He noted that the Secretary-General urges the Security Council to “shoulder its responsibility and take collective and effective action on the basis of UN Charter obligations and in the view of the seriousness of the situation on the ground.”
Council members are expected to meet on Thursday to discuss the crisis in Syria, which has continued unabated since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began some 16 months ago. The UN estimates that more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Syria and tens of thousands displaced. In addition, the mandate of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) – which recently suspended its regular patrols due to the escalating violence on the ground – ends on July 20, 2012, with Council members expected to decide on its future before then. The Council established UNSMIS in April to monitor the cessation of violence in Syria, as well as monitor and support the full implementation of the Joint Special Envoy’s six-point peace plan.
Both Secretary-General Ban and Joint Special Envoy Annan have previously expressed the hope that the Council can reach agreement on a course of action for the situation in the Middle Eastern country.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release) (mew)
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Yesterday, Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Nassir Abdulaziz
Al-Nasser, President of the General Assembly, urged member states to take action to strengthen the United Nations' human rights treaty body system. The system and has doubled in size over the past 12 years and needs reform to make it more effective. Porposed reforms include better coordination of the 10 human rights treaty bodies and scheduling of member state reporting, as well as increased use of technology. To read the news report, click here.
Monday, July 16, 2012
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomes the election of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma of South Africa as Chairperson of the African Union Commission, and congratulates her on being the first African woman chosen to lead the regional body, his spokesperson said today. Ms. Zuma, who is South Africa’s home affairs minister, defeated the incumbent, Jean Ping of Gabon, in the vote that took place yesterday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, during the summit of the 54-member African Union (AU).
The Secretary-General also expressed his appreciation to Mr. Ping for his stewardship of the AU Commission over the past four years, the spokesperson noted, and assured Dr. Zuma of the full support of the UN system. “The United Nations will continue to strengthen its strategic partnership with the Africa Union to consolidate peace, security and development in Africa in the years ahead,” the spokesperson said.
(adapted from a UN Press release)
Earlier today, the World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute resolution panel issued its report in China - Certain Measures Affecting Electronic Payment Services (DS413). The United States initiated the proceedings in September 2010 when it alleged, inter alia, that China permits only a Chinese entity (China UnionPay) to supply electronic payment services for payment card transactions denominated and paid in renminbi in China. Service suppliers from other Member States can only supply these services for payment card transactions paid in foreign currency. In its report, the WTO panel determined that at least part of the electronic payment services at issue were covered by China's market access commitments under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) and that China had violated its obligations under Article XVI of GATS by granting one company a monopoly on clearing certain credit card transactions. However, the panel also rejected some of the United States' other allegations. More information and the full opinion may be found on the WTO website.
ICJ to Deliver Judgment in Questions Relating to the Obligation to Prosecute or Extradite (Belgium v Senegal)
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has announced that it will hold a public hearing on Friday, July 20 at 3 pm to announce its judgment in the case of Questions relating to the Obligation to Prosecute or Extradite (Belgium v. Senegal). The proceedings will also be broadcast live.
Belgium initiated these proceedings in February 2009 when it alleged that Senegal had failed to comply with its obligation to prosecute the former president of Chad, Hissène Habré, or to extradite him to Belgium for the purposes of criminal proceedings. Mr. Habré has been living in exile in Senegal since 1990 and is accused of acts of torture and crimes against humanity.
For more information regarding Friday's proceedings, check the ICJ press release.