Thursday, August 9, 2012

March 20 is Named "International Day of Happiness"

Perhaps the world needs more holidays like this one, the "International Day of Happiness."  The United Nations General Assembly designated March 20th as the Happiness Day.  Click here to read the U.N. Resolution.


August 9, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA)

The Security Council has voiced its support for the role that preventive diplomacy and early warning mechanisms play in settling disputes peacefully, and praised the work carried out by a United Nations centre in Central Asia to strengthen this practice in the region.  “The members of the Council reaffirmed the importance of preventive diplomacy and early warning mechanisms in the peaceful settlement of disputes and underlined the overriding political, humanitarian and moral imperatives, as well as the economic advantages, of preventing the outbreak, escalation or relapse of conflicts,” according to a press statement issued on Wednesday night by Ambassador Gérard Araud of France, which holds the Council’s presidency for this month.    

The Council’s statement came in the wake of a briefing by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Miroslav Jenca, on the work of the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA) – which Mr. Jenca also heads.     

Established in 2007 at the initiative of the governments of the five Central Asian countries and based in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, UNRCCA is a special political mission which works to promote dialogue between the region’s governments in finding solutions for emerging problems and eliminating potential threats.    

The Council members emphasized the need to increase cooperation and coordination among governments in Central Asia, and welcomed UNRCCA’s work over the past seven months to achieve this goal. “In this regard, they welcomed the role of the Regional Centre as an example of preventive diplomacy mechanisms available to the United Nations and acknowledged the role played by UNRCCA in assisting Central Asian countries to respond, in accordance with its mandate and through regional cooperation, to domestic and trans-national threats to peace and sustainable development of the region,” Ambassador Araud said.    

Council members also commended the Centre’s focus on supporting efforts by the region’s governments to ensure stability and create a more conducive environment for bilateral and multilateral cooperation, as well as to find sustainable solutions to challenges in Central Asia, including the management of water and energy resources and the implementation of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. They encouraged continued cooperation and coordination between governments in the region, UNRCCA and relevant regional organizations, and, in addition, they noted that the regional centre can play an important part by assisting Central Asian countries to normalize the situation in Afghanistan, which affects the entire region.

(UN Press Release)

August 9, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

A Peaceful Transfer of Authority in Libya

The United Nations today welcomed Libya’s peaceful transfer of authority from the National Transitional Council to the newly elected National Congress, and reiterated its continuous support to assist the North African country in its democratic transition. “I warmly congratulate the Libyans on this peaceful and democratic transfer of power, which is not only a first for this country but an inspiration for others,” said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya, Ian Martin. “It reflects the people’s confidence in their political process. It is a profound break with the past and a great leap forward on the road to a democratic and accountable State.”

On 7 July, some 2.7 million Libyans headed to the polls to vote for members of the new National Congress. Over 3,000 candidates ran for office, including more than 600 women. The election was conducted in a largely peaceful manner, receiving praise from international observers and the Security Council.  The polls were the first free elections in decades in Libya, where Muammar al-Qadhafi ruled for more than 40 years until a pro-democracy uprising last year – similar to the protests in other countries in the Middle East and North Africa – led to civil war and the end of his regime.

The National Congress will decide on the composition of a constitutional commission that will draft the North African country’s new constitution. “Much work lies ahead to consolidate and build on what has been accomplished. This requires all Libyans, political leaders and civil society, to join hands to chart the future of their country,” Mr. Martin said, adding that the UN looks forward to working with the new members of the National Congress, and with the new Government that the Congress will appoint.

Mr. Martin, who also heads the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), reiterated the readiness of the United Nations to continue to assist Libyans in their democratic transition as well as in building a security sector under democratic control and protecting human rights through the rule of law. “At this moment of peaceful, democratic transition to new authorities, Libyans can take huge pride in what has been accomplished,” he said.

(UN Press Release)

August 9, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Save the Date: ABA Section of International Law 2013 Retreat

The American Bar Association Section of International Law held a successful retreat last week at the Union League Club of Chicago.  More than 150 attorneys attended from all over the world.  The section's next retreat will be July 30 to August 1, 2013 at the Cavallo Point in Sausalito, California.


August 9, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Mali: U.N. Secretary General Urges More Action, Including Targeted Sanctions

Addressing the “deeply troubling situation” in Mali, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today encouraged the Security Council to consider taking more action – such as travel and financial sanctions – against those responsible for some of the West African country’s current instability.  “I encourage the Security Council to give serious consideration to the imposition of targeted travel and financial sanctions against individuals or groups in Mali engaged in terrorist, religious extremist or criminal activities,” Mr. Ban told a Security Council meeting on peace and security in Africa.

In January, fighting between Government forces and Tuareg rebels resumed in northern Mali. The instability and insecurity resulting from the renewed clashes, as well as the proliferation of armed groups in the region and political instability in the wake of a coup d’état in March, have led over 250,000 Malians to flee to neighbouring countries. Some 174,000 Malians are estimated to be internally displaced. “Since the start of the crisis earlier this year, we have seen the situation take one alarming turn after another, reaching seemingly new depths with every passing week,” Mr. Ban said. “These grave developments have brought enormous suffering to the people of Mali. They also pose a widening threat to international peace and security.” He added, “I am also extremely concerned about reports that armed groups in the north are committing serious human rights violations, including summary executions of civilians, rapes and torture.”

In addition to international engagement, the UN chief stated that the crisis in Mali will require a holistic and comprehensive approach, rather than partial and disconnected measures, given its complex and multidimensional nature. “I strongly encourage the Government of Mali to develop an over-arching political strategy to return the country to constitutional order and reestablish state authority in the north,” Mr. Ban said. “The strategy should clearly spell out responses to genuine socio-economic and political grievances, the modalities for political dialogue and negotiations, and the aims of eventual military action against extremist forces in the north.” 

“Looking ahead, it is essential for Malians to take ownership and show leadership,” he noted, adding that the regional grouping known as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU), the European Union, key regional countries and bilateral partners should all assist in this endeavour.

In a unanimously adopted resolution in early July, and acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the Security Council condemned the forcible seizure of power in Mali, and demanded the immediate and unconditional cessation of hostilities by rebel groups in the country’s north. It also indicated its willingness to consider the deployment of a stabilization force in the troubled West African country, and expressed serious concern about the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation and the increased terrorist threat due to the presence of members of Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in the country.

“With last month’s adoption of resolution 2056, this Council has expressed its concern,” Mr. Ban said. “Today, as we consider the latest developments, it is clear that more may be required of you.”

In June, ECOWAS and the AU requested a Security Council mandate authorizing the deployment of an ECOWAS stabilization force to ensure the protection of Malian state institutions, and assist in upholding the country’s territorial integrity and in combating terrorism.  In resolution 2056, Council members expressed their readiness to further examine this request and encouraged close cooperation between the Malian transitional authorities, ECOWAS, the AU and other countries, to prepare detailed options in regard to any such force’s mandate.

Turning to the political situation, the Secretary-General noted that limited progress had been made in restoring constitutional order.  “Mali’s socio-political forces remain divided over support for the transitional arrangements and, more broadly, over future prospects for the country,” he said. “The military junta reportedly maintains a strong influence on the transitional process. It has retained control over the security and defence forces, and continues to violently repress fellow soldiers suspected of having supported the attempted counter-coup of 30 April.”

Heads of State and Government from ECOWAS have called for a more inclusive Government, and mandated the ECOWAS Mediator – President Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso – to urgently engage in consultations with Malian stakeholders. In addition, the regional grouping decided to deploy an ECOWAS Standby Force to Mali and to send a Technical Assessment Mission to the capital, Bamako, to prepare for its deployment. 

In his remarks to the Council meeting, Secretary-General Ban welcomed the return of President Dioncounda Traoré to Bamako as a “positive development,” with his presence enhancing the constitutional legitimacy of the transitional arrangements. “I commend the steps the President is taking to ensure the formation of a government of national unity,” Mr. Ban said. “I also welcome his announcement of the creation of the National Transition Committee, the National Dialogue Committee, and the High Council of State, which he plans to chair.”

Referring to the situation in northern Mali, where the Ansar Dine and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa – which are reportedly linked to AQIM – have taken control after pushing out the Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (known by the French acronym MNLA), and have illegally imposed Sharia law on the residents, the UN chief said that with the influx of regional and international jihadists, there is reason to be concerned that the area is becoming a safe haven for terrorists and criminal elements.  “The ECOWAS Mediator, President Blaise Compaoré, has taken initial steps to meet with representatives of the MNLA and Ansar Dine,” Mr. Ban said. “But no meaningful dialogue has commenced between the Government of Mali and any of the groups in the north.”   He noted that with the establishment of President Traoré’s National Commission for Negotiations, it is expected that a Malian-owned dialogue process, with the assistance of ECOWAS and neighbouring countries, will commence shortly. 

The Secretary-General has been using his ‘good offices’ to help address the crisis, through his Special Representative for Africa, Said Djinnit, in addition to support from the UN Department of Political Affairs, which is consulting with ECOWAS Member States, and UN military planners, who have helped advise an ECOWAS technical assessment mission. “As the Malian transitional authorities prepare to initiate a national dialogue, the United Nations stands ready to offer its considerable expertise in designing such processes and facilitating such dialogue,” Mr. Ban said.

The Secretary-General also noted that the ongoing conflict has exacerbated a perilous humanitarian situation in Mali, with a severe food security and nutrition crisis already affecting 4.6 million people in Mali.  The food and nutrition situation in Mali is part of a wider crisis in the region. Humanitarian organizations estimate that there are currently some 18 million people facing food insecurity in the western part of African’s Sahel region, which stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea.

(UN Press Release) 

August 8, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

ICC Creates First Ever Compensation Plan for Victims

ICCThe International Criminal Court (ICC) has announced a plan to provide reparations for victims of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  This is the first ICC decision implementing its power to award reparations. Lubanga was convicted earlier this summer of war crimes for the use of child soldiers and sentenced to 14 years in prison.  Under the victims compensation plan, funds will be administered by the Trust Fund for Victims (TFV), an entity created by the Rome Statute to implement court-ordered reparations and to help rehabilitate victims.  The TFV will hold consultations with the victims and communities affected by the war crimes in the DRC to determine appropriate compensation. Payments will must be approved by the ICC.  Lubanga has been declared indigent, so the reparations will be paid by the TFV.  The TFV is funded through fines and forfeitures as well as donations by States and private donors.  For more information, click here.


August 8, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, August 6, 2012

Reminder of Recent ICJ Ruling in Belgium v. Senegal

In case you missed our earlier post on the recent ruling of the International Court of Justice, the Court ruled that Senegal must either prosecute former Chadian President Hissène Habré for war crimes or extradite him “without further delay.”  The decision by the Court, based in The Hague, Netherlands, is in response to a request by Belgium to prosecute Mr. Habré, who has been accused in a Senegalese court of massive human rights abuses committed by his regime during the 1980s. Belgium had also sought to have him extradited to face charges in Belgium, citing among other things procedural delays in Senegal’s handling of the case. Senegal had maintained that its judiciary is competent to carry out the prosecution.

In its judgment, the Court unanimously found that Senegal “must, without further delay, submit the case of Mr. Hissène Habré to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution, if it does not extradite him.”

He was charged in February 2000 by a lower court in Dakar, the Senegalese capital, but an appeals court later ruled that Senegalese courts did not have the legal competence to try such cases if they were perpetrated in another country.  In April 2008, however, Senegal’s National Assembly adopted an amendment to the constitution that together with previous changes allowed the country’s legal system to deal with such cases. 

Mr. Habré ruled Chad from 1982 to 1990, when he was overthrown and went into exile in Senegal. It is alleged that during his rule thousands of Chadians were tortured and unlawful killings and other serious human rights violations took place. 

(mew) (adapted from a UN Press Release)

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

Violence Continues in Syria

The head of United Nations observers in Syria today spoke out about the ongoing fighting taking place in the Middle Eastern country, particularly in the city of Aleppo, and on its impact on civilians.  “I am extremely concerned about the continued violence in Syria, in particular the significant deterioration in Aleppo and its impact on the civilian population,” said the UN Military Adviser, Lieutenant General Babacar Gaye, who is currently serving as the head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS).  “I urge the parties to protect civilians and respect their obligations under international humanitarian law,” he added in an UNSMIS statement. “Civilians must not be subjected to shelling and use of heavy weapons.”   

Syria has been wracked by violence, with more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began some 17 months ago.  Over recent days, there have been reports of an escalation in violence in many towns and villages, as well as the country’s two biggest cities, Damascus and Aleppo, with the latter reportedly the centre of intense combat between Government and opposition forces, involving both aerial bombardments and heavy weaponry.   

Following reports of shortages of food, gas and electricity, the United Nations is preparing to deliver food assistance to some 28,000 people in Aleppo. The International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent estimate that some 200,000 people have fled the city and the surrounding areas because of the increase in fighting.   

“I call on all parties to take all necessary steps to open a dialogue as the only way to alleviate the suffering of civilians and bring this conflict to an end,” Lieutenant General Gaye said. 

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

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

When Is International Law Useful?

Alan O. Sykes, the Innagural Robert A. Kindler Professor of Law at New York University School of Law, will present a lecture on the topic “When is International Law Useful?” on Wednesday, October 17, 2012 at 6:00 p.m. in Vanderbilt Hall, 40 Washington Square South. A reception will immediately follow the lecture. One CLE credit is available. The registration link is: . (mew)

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

Sunday, August 5, 2012

UN General Assembly Condemns Violence in Syria

Seeing no action from the U.N. Security Council, and following the resignation of Kofi Anan as a Special Envoy for the Syrian Crisis, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution condemning the increasing use of heavy weapons by authorities and urging all sides to immediately cease armed violence.   

The General Assembly Resolution, presented by the Arab Group, was adopted by a vote of 133 in favour to 12 against with 31 abstentions, and comes two weeks after the Security Council failed to agree on collective action to help stop the bloodshed.   It condemns “the increasing use by the Syrian authorities of heavy weapons, including indiscriminate shelling from tanks and helicopters, in population centres and the failure to withdraw its troops and the heavy weapons to their barracks . . . .” The General Assembly Resolution also condemned all violence, “irrespective of where it comes from,” and demanded that all parties implement the relevant Security Council resolutions to achieve a cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties.   

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced his regret over the divisions that have paralyzed action in the Security Council, adding that the immediate interests of the Syrian people must be paramount over any larger rivalries of influence.  “The conflict in Syria is a test of everything this Organization stands for,” he told the meeting. “I do not want today’s United Nations to fail that test.”  He warned that, despite repeated verbal acceptances of the six-point plan presented by the Joint Special Envoy for the UN and the League of Arab States for the Syrian Crisis, Kofi Annan, both the Government and the opposition continue to rely on weapons, not diplomacy, in the belief that they will win through violence.   

The city of Aleppo is currently the epicentre of a “vicious” battle between the Syrian Government and those who wish to replace it, said the Secretary-General. “But there are no winners in Aleppo today, nor anywhere else in the country. The losers in this escalating battle are the people of Syria.”  Mr. Ban stressed that united international pressure can make a difference. “All of us have a responsibility to the people of Syria. We must use all of the peaceful means in the UN Charter to help them unite around a Syrian-led transition process that is based on dialogue and compromise, not bullets and arrests.”  He added that the primary responsibility for stopping the violence rests with those on the ground, particularly the Government. “But their refusal to lay down arms does not absolve the rest of us of the need to act. I urge all members of this Assembly to face up to the collective responsibilities we shoulder.”   
Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser also voiced deep regret that the Security Council had again been unable to unite and take collective action to put an end to the crisis, stating that the deadlock in the Council “sends the wrong signals to all parties in the Syrian conflict.”  Given that the six-point plan is not being implemented and that the violence is increasing, Member States have no choice but to take the necessary credible action, he said. “The credibility of the United Nations is at stake; regional stability in the Middle East is at stake. The lives of thousands of innocent people depend on our response.”   

Mr. Annan announced last week that he will not continue on as the Joint Special Envoy past the end of August. The Secretary-General said that while a successor is being sought to replace Mr. Annan, mediation can only succeed where there is a commitment to solving conflict through dialogue and real leverage to back it up.     

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 UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that more and more people are being forced to abandon their homes to seek safety as the violence continues, with hundreds of thousands having already fled to neighbouring countries.  “Those most difficult to aid – as many as 1.5 million – remain in Syria, uprooted and taking refuge in host families or makeshift shelters. Many others are trapped, fearing the risk of being caught up in fighting or targeted during escape,” UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming told a news conference in Geneva.  

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

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

Legislation in Liberia Would Criminalize Homosexual Behavior

The United Nations human rights office has voiced concern about draft legislation currently being considered by Liberian lawmakers that would broadly criminalize homosexual behavior.  The legislation has already been passed by the Liberian Senate but is still being considered by the House of Representatives.  It makes homosexual behavior a second degree felony for which people can be fined and imprisoned for up to five years.

According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the proposed legislation would impose penalties for a person who “seduces, encourages, or promotes another person of the same gender to engage into sexual activities.” 

“We are also concerned about the atmosphere of intimidation and violence against gay and lesbian activists, as well as reports of attacks against them,” said OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani. “Such harassment illustrates the difficult, discriminatory environment in which gay rights activists are operating.”

Sodomy, voluntary and involuntary, is already a criminal offence under Liberian law. However, Ms. Shamdasani stressed that the proposals under consideration, including one to explicitly prohibit same-sex marriage, could make an already bad situation for lesbian and gay people in Liberia even worse. “Legislation criminalising homosexuality can have a seriously negative impact, not only on gay and lesbian people, but also on the most vulnerable populations, such as people living with HIV, sex workers, refugees and internally displaced populations, who might be in need of special attention but will not come forward due to the high risk of stigmatisation, discrimination and possible violence,” she told a news conference in Geneva.

OHCHR called on Liberia to implement the international human rights treaties that it has ratified, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and warned that laws criminalising homosexual acts between consenting adults violate individuals’ rights to privacy and to freedom from discrimination.

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

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

Persecution of Bloggers in Viet Nam

The United Nations human rights office has voiced concern at reports of the ongoing persecution of bloggers and people who use the Internet and other means to freely express their opinions in Viet Nam.
“We are concerned by what appears to be increasingly limited space for freedom of expression in Viet Nam,” Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), told reporters in Geneva.

The office voiced particular concern that the upcoming trial of Nguyen Van Hai (also known as Dieu Cay), Pan Thanh Hai and Ta Phong Tan for “conducting propaganda” against the State is directly linked to their legitimate exercise of freedom of expression, including their online publications about social and human rights issues.  Mr. Nguyen Van Hai and Mr. Pan Thanh Hai have been in detention since 2010 while Ms. Ta Phong Tan has been detained since September 2011. The three face charges under Article 88 of the Criminal Code and could face penalties ranging from seven to 16 years’ imprisonment. 

“The trial, which was scheduled for 7 August and was just postponed indefinitely, will reportedly be closed and witnesses will not be called, raising concerns that the process will not comply with fair trial guarantees,” said Ms. Shamdasani.  “A number of arrests and harsh convictions in recent years suggest a disturbing trend of curbing freedom of expression, opinion and association of bloggers, journalists and human rights activists who question Government policies in a peaceful manner,” she added.

OHCHR urged the Government to fulfil its commitments with respect to ensuring fair trial guarantees and to consider promptly releasing the accused for the exercise of their right to freedom of expression, opinion and association.

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

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