October 19, 2012
US-Russia Bilateral Adoption Agreement To Take Effect November 1
The U.S. government has announced that the Agreement between the United States of America and the Russian Federation Regarding Cooperation in Adoption of Children will enter into force on November 1, 2012, following an exchange of diplomatic notes between the U.S. and Russian governments.
In the United States, international adoptions are handled jointly by the US Department of State and the US Citizenship and Immigration Service, which work "to promote safe, ethical, and transparent adoption processest for prospective adoptive parents, birth families, and children involved in intercountry adoptions."
The U.S. and Russian governments began negotiating the Agreement to strengthen procedural safeguards in the adoption process between the United States and Russia in April 2010. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov signed the Agreement on July 13, 2011 in Washington, D.C. The Russian Duma approved the Agreement on July 10, 2012 and the Russian Federation Council approved the Agreement on July 18, 2012. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the Agreement into law on July 28, 2012.
October 18, 2012
A United Nations group of independent experts today urged countries to eliminate laws that classify adultery as a criminal offence, noting that they give rise to punishments that range from fines to flogging and death by stoning or hanging. “Adultery must not be classified as a criminal offence at all,” said Kamala Chandrakirana, who currently heads the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice.
Established by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council in September 2010, the Working Group’s focus is charged with identifying ways to eliminate laws that discriminate against women or are discriminatory to them in terms of implementation or impact, and helping States to ensure greater empowerment for women in all fields.
Ms. Chandrakirana noted that in many countries, adultery continues to be a crime punishable with severe penalties. “Provisions in penal codes often do not treat women and men equally and establish harsher sanctions for women, and in some countries, rules of evidence value women’s testimony as half that of a man’s,” she said.
In a statement issued today at the end of the Working Group’s fifth session in Geneva, the Working Group’s experts recognized that in accordance with some traditions, customs and different legal systems, adultery may constitute a civil offence with legal consequences in divorce cases. However, they stressed that this does not mean it is an offence that is punishable by imprisonment, stoning or hanging, among other practices.
The group of experts warned that maintaining adultery as a criminal offence – even when it applies to both women and men – means in practice that women mainly will continue to face extreme vulnerabilities, and violation of their human rights to dignity, privacy and equality, given continuing discrimination against them. “We urge all Governments which retain criminalization of adultery and allow the imposition of fines, imprisonment, flogging, death by stoning or hanging for convictions of adultery, to repeal any such provisions and to ensure that all accused enjoy their rights to a fair trial,” Ms. Chandrakirana said.
She added that criminalizing sexual relations between consenting adults violates their right to privacy and is an infringement of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly almost two decades ago and commits members to respect the right to life as well as freedom of religion, speech and assembly. “States parties to the Covenant are obliged to ensure that domestic norms take account of developments in international law,” she said.
In their statement, the experts also pointed to countries like Guatemala, which has struck down legislation punishing marital infidelity on the basis of the Constitution’s equality guarantees as well as human rights treaties, and Uganda, which overturned an adultery law penalizing women for adultery but leaving their male partners unpunished.
(from a UN Press Release)
UN Security Council Has VItal Role in Assisting the International Criminal Court
The United Nations Security Council has a vital role to play in assisting the International Criminal Court (ICC) to ensure that war crimes and crimes against humanity around the world do not go unpunished, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said yesterday. Mr. Ban was speaking at the start of a day-long Council debate on the role of the Hague-based ICC, an independent international body that is not part of the UN and tries those accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Any of the currently 121 States Parties to the 1998 Rome Statute which set up the ICC can ask its prosecutor to carry out an investigation, a non-State Party can accept its jurisdiction for crimes committed in its territory or by its nationals, and the Council may also refer cases to it. Its mandate is to try individuals, rather than States.
In its first verdict, the ICC in March found Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo guilty of conscripting child soldiers under the age of 15 into his militia in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and jailed him for 14 years.
In his remarks to the Council meeting, ICC President Sang-Hyun Song highlighted the intertwined nature of the two institutions: the Council with its focus on peace and the ICC with its goal to seek justice. “While the ICC's contribution is through justice, not peacemaking, its mandate is highly relevant to peace as well,” he told the 15-member body, stressing the Council’s role to ensure that full cooperation from Member States. “The worst nightmares of humanity lie at the intersection of our respective mandates. When massive crimes against innocent victims threaten international peace and security, both the Council and the ICC have an important role to play,” he added. “And in the ICC, the Council may recognise a unique avenue for ensuring justice as a crucial element in wider international efforts.”
Speaking on behalf of ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, the Director of the court’s Jurisdiction, Complementarity and Cooperation Division, Phakiso Mochochoko, stressed that the relationship between the Office of the Prosecutor and the Council could be nurtured and strengthened by extending interaction beyond specific situations referred by the Council and creating space for open discussions on thematic issues. “The Council and the Office should together seek more constructive strategies for attaining their mutual goals,” he said.
The Council has already referred two cases to the ICC over alleged crimes committed in Libya and Sudan’s Darfur region, and Mr. Ban noted that it is also investigating, prosecuting and trying situations on the Council’s agenda, such as persons from the DRC, Côte d’Ivoire and the Lord’s Resistance Army, the rebel group allegedly responsible for atrocities in Uganda and neighbouring countries. “Only if perpetrators of grave crimes are prosecuted and held to account, can there be any hope that future such crimes will be prevented and peace preserved,” the UN chief said, underlining the role that the both bodies can both play in strengthening national capacities to prosecute serious crimes – the Council through its peacekeeping missions, and the ICC through the domestic incorporation of provisions of the Rome Statute.
(Excerpts from a UN Press Release)
Burkina Faso and Niger Finish Presenting Their Cases to the International Court of Justice
The West African countries of Burkina Faso and Niger have completed the presentation of their respective cases in a border dispute to the United Nations International Court of Justice (ICJ), which is expected to issue its judgment within four to six months. The ICJ was asked to delineate the border between the two nations from the so-called Tong-Tong marker to the start of the Botou bend.
During the hearings, Burkina Faso explained that the delimitation of the disputed part should be based on a 1927 French colonial decree, when both countries were part of French West Africa, while Niger contended that the decree was not precise enough to define the frontier in certain areas and asked the Court to delimit it by using a 1960 map of the French Institut Géographique as adjusted with factual evidence of territorial sovereignty. As a result, the frontier line put forward by Niger runs south-west of the one offered by Burkina Faso, with the biggest disagreement relating to the Bossebangou area in the centre of the disputed sector.
(from a UN Press Release)
ABA Section of International Law Meeting in Miami
The Fall Meeting of the American Bar Association Section of International Law opened yesterday afternoon in Miami, Florida. The meeting is always a great place for networking, learning, and simply enoying being in the company of other international lawyers. The registration number right now is just a shadow short of one thousand attendees from all over the globe.
This morning I am moderating a panel on Private International Law with speakers Hal Burman (U.S. State Department), David Stewart (Georgetown University Law Center, formerly with the U.S. State Department), and Louise Ellen Teitz (Hague Conference on Private International Law, on leave from Roger Williams University School of Law). My co-moderator is Lelia Mooney (Partners for Democratic Change, Washington, D.C.).
Today's luncheon speaker is Ellen Gracie Northfleet, former Chief Justice of the Federal Supreme Court of Brazil.
October 16, 2012
Sri Lanka's Civil War
In a meeting with a senior Sri Lanka Government official, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today emphasized the need for to find a speedy political solution to the underlying factors behind the country’s civil war that ended three years ago with a Government victory over Tamil separatist rebels, according to his spokesperson.
In a meeting at UN Headquarters in New York with the Sri Lankan Minister of Plantation Industries and Special Presidential Envoy on Human Rights, Mahinda Samarasinghe, Mr. Ban noted the Government’s latest efforts on accountability as well as the steady progress on resettlement issues, his spokesperson added in a note to the news media.
Sri Lankan Government forces declared victory over the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009 after a conflict that had raged on and off for nearly three decades and killed thousands of people.
Mr. Ban has long called for full accountability, and the UN Human Rights Council in March called on the Government to take “all necessary additional steps to fulfil its relevant legal obligations and commitment to initiate credible and independent actions to ensure justice, equity, accountability and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans.”
A three-member UN panel of experts on accountability issues during the civil war found there were credible reports that both Government forces and the LTTE committed war crimes during the final months of the conflict. It recommended that the Government respond to the allegations by initiating an effective accountability process starting with genuine investigations.
(UN Press Release)
Islamic Finance Contracts
The American Bar Association Section of International Law (which holds its Fall Meeting this week in Miami) has just published "The ABA Practical Guide to Drafting Basic Islamic Finance Contracts." The author is Dena H. Elkhatib, a U.S. lawyer who is now working in the United Arab Emirates. She is also the author of several articles that help explain Islamic finance to audiences who are unfamiliar with technical terms such as fiqh, sukuk, and murabaha.
The book includes an overview of Islamic finance and information about its place in the current global financial markets. It also discusses various types of Islamic finance contracts and how they are structured. The appendix to the book includes helpful charts that make it easy for readers to tell the difference between various finance contracts.
Ms. Elkhatib is a graduate of The John Marshall Law School in Chicago, where she was the Student Body President. She became active in the ABA Section of International Law and presently serves as Co-Chair of the ABA International Law Section's Islamic Finance Committee.
The ISBN Number for "The ABA Practical Guide to Drafting Basic Islamic Finance Contracts" is 978-1-61438-619-3.
Former Guantanamo Bay Detainee Hamdan's Conviction Overturned
Earlier today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit announced that it is vacating the conviction of Salim Hamdan, Osama Bin Laden's former driver, who had been convicted in 2008 by a military commission at Guantanamo Bay of providing material support for terrorism. Hamdan’s conviction had been upheld by the Court of Military Commission Review, a newly created appeals court for the military commissions.
In overturning the conviction, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals found that the charge of material support for terrorism did not exist as a war crime under international law at the time Hamdan committed the acts in question. Because authorizing punishment for something that was not a crime when committed would run afoul of the Ex Post Facto Clause of Article I, section 9 of the U.S. Constitution, the court found that the Congress intended to authorize punishment for only pre-existing war crimes.
Hamdan is no longer at Guantanamo Bay. He was transferred to Yemen in late 2008 near the end of his sentence and was freed in 2009. His case continued, however, and will likely have an impact on other persons who are charged with providing material support for terrorism. The court's decision may be found here.
D.C. Circuit Overturns Conviction of Osama bin Laden's Driver: "Material Support for Terrorism" Was Not a War Crime
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has overtunred the conviction of former Guantanamo detainee Salim Hamdan for “material support for terrorism.” Hamdan had been convicted in 2008 following a United States military commission trial at Guantanamo Bay. A military jury had acquitted him of conspiracy but convicted him of providing "material support for terrorism" for his service as a driver to Osama bin Laden from 1996 to 2001. The case is Hamdan v. United States, No. 11-1257 (D.C. Cir. Oct. 16, 2012).
In overturning the conviction, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the charge of material support for terrorism did not exist as a war crime when Hamdan committed the alleged acts. Because authorizing punishment for something that was not a crime when committed would run afoul of the ex post facto clause to the U.S. Constitution, the court found that the Congress intended to authorize punishment for only pre-existing war crimes.
“The court rightly ruled that a war-crimes commission can’t convict someone for an act that wasn’t a war crime when it was committed,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director at Human Rights Watch. “The decision shows us yet again why it’s better to try terrorism suspects in the tried-and-true federal courts rather than in the make-it-up-as-you-go-along military commissions.”
Hamdan’s conviction had been upheld by the Court of Military Commission Review, a newly created appeals court for the military commissions. Seven detainees have been convicted in the military commission system at Guantanamo, five by plea bargain. One detainee was prosecuted but refused to put on a defense in protest. Hamdan’s conviction was the only one obtained following a contested trial.
In the decision, the court first found that Hamdan's appeal was not moot even though he had been transferred from Guantanamo to Yemen in 2008 and had been released there. The court found that "a defendant's direct appeal of a conviction is not mooted by the defendant's release from custody." (Slip Op. at 4).
Second, the court also found the Military Commissions Act of 2006 did not authorize "retroactive prosecution of crimes that were not prohibited as war crimes triable by military commission under U.S. law at the time the conduct occured." (Slip Op. at 5)(emphasis in original).
Third, the court found that "the international law of war did not proscribe material support for terrorism as a war crime." (Slip Op. at 5)(emphasis in original). The court found that international law established that at least some forms of terrorism, including the intentional targeting of civilians, were war crimes. (Slip Op. at 22). But the court found that "material support for terrorism," rather than terrorism itself, was not a crime under international law. "There is no international-law proscription of material support for terrorism." (Slip Op. at 22). No applicable treaties made it a crime and customary international law did not make it a crime.
Because the Military Commissions Act did not retroactively punish crimes, and because existing support for terrorism was not a pre-existing war crime, the court found that Hamdan's conviction for material support for terrorism could not stand.
Senior Circuit Judge Ginsburg wrote a concurring opinion in which he lamented that the court needed to rule on a case when the individual had long been released and that he was barred from entering the United States.
(mew) (adapted in part from a press release from Human RIghts Watch)
Is Diplomacy the Only Answer for the Situation in Syria?
The Syrian crisis can only be resolved through diplomatic means, the head of a United Nations-backed inquiry today urged, while warning that the conflict in the Middle Eastern country was steadily worsening amid the growing presence of armed jihadist groups.
In an interview with UN Radio, the chairperson of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, Paulo Pinheiro, expressed concern that the conflict in Syria had deteriorated since his Commission presented its report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva last month. “The civil war is much more acute and much more serious than one month ago,” said Mr. Pinheiro, noting that children, women and the elderly were suffering disproportionately from the continuing violence. “The civilian population is paying the price of this conflict because the Government regularly bombards the neighbourhoods where the rebels are and the rebels take refuge among the civilians without distinguishing themselves from the general population,” he continued.
According to the UN, an estimated 20,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began some 19 months ago. In addition, a further 2.5 million Syrians urgently need humanitarian aid, and over 340,000 have crossed the border to Syria’s neighbouring countries.
Mr. Pinheiro, a Brazilian diplomat who previously served as the UN Special Rapporteur for Burundi from 1995 to 1999, acknowledged the difficulties the Commission had encountered in preparing its report, including a lack of access to the embattled country for fact-finding missions. He noted, however, that the lack of an on-the-ground presence did not imply a lack of information. “It’s precisely because we don’t have access to Syria that we need to prepare our report using all the possibilities,” Mr. Pinheiro stated, adding that his commission was retrieving its information from a range of sources, such as refugees and families still inside the country as well as members of the armed forces and the opposition’s Free Syrian Army. The Commission chairperson also drew attention to the expanding list of potential war crimes committed by both sides of the conflict.
At the presentation of his report to the Human Rights Council in September, Mr. Pinheiro made clear that the Commission had found reasonable grounds to believe that Government forces and members of the Government-controlled militia known as the Shabiha, had committed war crimes, gross violations against human rights and crimes against humanity. Violations conducted by Government forces include murder, summary executions, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, sexual violence, violations of children’s rights, pillaging and destruction of civilian objects – including hospitals and schools.
In a recent survey of the violence, the UN World Health Organization noted that almost 67 per cent of Syria’s public hospitals have been affected as a result of the conflict, and half of the country’s ambulances have been the subject of attack, leaving many of them out of service, according to the health agency.
Mr. Pinheiro noted that armed opposition groups had also committed war crimes, including murder and torture, and were recruiting children under 18 years of age to fight or perform auxiliary roles.
The Commission chairperson said that the additional element of radical Islamist groups to the fighting mix was proving to be “more scary and worrisome,” and that the jihadists were “taking advantage opportunistically of the conflict” to pursue their own agenda as well as commit abuses. But, he stressed, there was a clear disparity in terms of the intensity of human rights violations perpetrated by the Syrian Armed Forces and the opposition groups for what he described as “a simple reason” – the Government forces outnumber the rebels.
Turning to the efforts for the international community to agree on a unified approach to resolving the conflict, including the deadlock in the UN Security Council, Mr. Pinheiro stated that only diplomacy would suffice in bringing the violence to an end. “It’s the responsibility of the international community. It’s the responsibility of the Security Council to find the solution,” he said. “There is no military solution for the crisis. The only solution is diplomatic and political, through a negotiation. We are repeating this as a mantra.”
(UN Press Release)
Assisting Somalia with Peace and StabilityWith the nine-year-old transitional period in Somalia having ended peacefully, the authorities need urgent assistance to meet the challenges associated with peacebuilding as well as stabilizing areas liberated from insurgents, the top United Nations envoy to the country said today. “The change met the expectations of most Somalis and has raised higher expectations for more change,” the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS), Augustine P. Mahiga, told a United Nations Security Council meeting on Somalia.
The war-torn Horn of Africa nation now has a new Constitution, a new Parliament and new elected Speaker and President. Earlier this month, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud appointed Abdi Farah Shirdon as the new Prime Minister. Once confirmed, Mr. Shirdon will form the country’s first post-transition Government.
Briefing the 15-member body via video-conference, Mr. Mahiga added that the Somali authorities now urgently need assistance to meet new challenges. Among the priority tasks facing the new administration is to move quickly to lead in the stabilization of the liberated areas. “This is critical in filling the vacuum which could otherwise emerge from the retreat of the insurgents,” the envoy said. “The immediate challenge which the Government faces is, hence, the establishment of local and district administrations, justice and rule of law, as well as to provide basic services to the population.”
He noted that the security situation in Somalia has “vastly improved,” thanks to the continuing efforts of the UN-supported African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), the Ethiopian forces and the Somali Government and its local allied forces. “The fall of Kismayo, the last stronghold of the extremist Al-Shabaab insurgents, in late September, marked a decisive turning-point in the conflict,” he stated, referring to the southern port city that was liberated by AMISOM. “The challenge now is to align the security and political strategies in Kismayo as part of the overall stabilization strategy in the newly-recovered areas.”
Although the Al-Shabaab has now dispersed into a “rag-tag militia,” it has nonetheless, embarked on more asymmetrical, terrorist and hit-and-run tactics as it occasionally does in Mogadishu, said the UN official. “These are tactics which AMISOM and the Somali forces must be equipped to deal with, as they control more territory and their lines of supply get extended. Another worrying trend is the ongoing assassinations and targeted killings of civilians,” Mr. Mahiga said. “These trends call for the expeditious deployment of AMISOM to its full strength, with the necessary logistical support and the enhanced training and strengthening of the Somali Security Forces.” It is also essential that AMISOM – the current mandate for which expires on 31 October – is supported to control more effectively the coastal waters around Mogadishu, Marka, Baraawe and Kismayo, in order to protect its own forces, supply lines, interrupt Al-Shabaab re-supply lines and effectively secure the ports for commercial use, Mr. Mahiga added.
The African Union (AU) has informed the Council that, working together with the UN, it intends to undertake a thorough assessment of AMISOM and how best it can contribute to the stabilization of Somalia in light of the gains made on the ground and the challenges ahead. This process is expected to start in the next few weeks and to be concluded in the coming months. In the meantime, the AU has requested that the Council authorize a technical rollover of the current support package for AMISOM for four additional months, until February 2013, with some slight adjustments “to take into account pressing issues on the ground,” according to a letter before the Council. This includes requests for the deployment of an additional 50 civilian personnel across the Mission area, as well as a maritime component, taking into consideration “the critical role of naval assets for the effective implementation of the AMISOM mandate and the stabilization of Somalia.”
Mr. Mahiga said that UNPOS had begun a consultative process to review the future presence of the UN in Somalia, and that this would be led by the needs and expectations of the Somalis. He added that the political and security strides that Somalia has made must not distract the international community from the ongoing dire humanitarian situation, in which more than two million Somalis remain in urgent need of food aid and other assistance.
(From a UN Press Release)
Fighting Transnational Organized Crime
The United Nations’ top anti-crime official hascalled for integrated international and civil society initiatives to choke off crime syndicates that have shown they can evade justice by quickly shifting to a new location when the law catches up with them at an initial location. “Our collective goal must be to end the 'era of displacement,’ which sees crime simply move elsewhere when challenged, and to begin a time of interconnected cooperation, coordination and communication against crime,” the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Yury Fedotov, said in Vienna, at the opening of the sixth session of the conference of parties to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. He added, “Where the criminals are smart, we must be smarter, where the criminals are sophisticated, we must be even more sophisticated and where crime transcends borders, so must our cooperation.” Click here to read more about his statement.
Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2000, the Convention – supplemented by three protocols – is the main international instrument in the fight against transnational organized crime. The conference provides an opportunity to improve the capacity of States which are party to the Convention to combat transnational organized crime and to promote and review its implementation.
In his remarks, Mr. Fedotov included civil society as having an indispensible role to play in solving the challenges of transnational organized crime, according to an UNODC news release, which cited the agency chief as saying “largely opportunistic” criminal enterprises preyed on countries where the rule of law and institutions were vulnerable to criminals. “We are able to quantify the cost of transnational organized crime, it is $870 billion, but we cannot calculate the misery and suffering caused to millions of people by these illicit activities,” said Mr. Fedotov. Among victims of transnational crime, he cited women and children trafficked for sex, communities in developing countries devastated by illegal logging, and family and friends of someone lost to illicit drugs.
The UNODC chief said Member States needed to be “creative and proactive” in the exchange of ideas and information on what is working in the global fight against drugs and crime. This, according to UNODC, would enable them to deliver “timely strategic activities in an integrated manner. “We must take lessons learned and create practical policies,” noted Mr. Fedotov
Others addressing the opening included President Danilo Türk of Slovenia, Mexico’s Interior Minister, Alejandro Poiré; Bolivia’s Justice Minister, Cecilia L. Ayllon Quinteros; and the Director General of the Austrian Ministry of Justice, Christian Pilnacek. A range of representatives from national governments and civil society are among some 800 participants attending the Conference, which ends on 19 October.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
Cambodia: A Quest for Justice
Cambodia’s efforts to deal with genocide and war crimes and its current efforts towards reconciliation were highlighted at a United Nations-backed panel discussion examining the issues that led to mass murder during its Khmer Rouge regime era. “It can be argued that the development of individual criminal responsibility, like we saw in the case of Duch [Kaing Guek Eav], for perpetrators of genocide and war crimes and crimes against humanity has been one of the major legal developments of the last 60 years which began with the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals,” the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, Stephen Mathias, told the event, referring to the former head of a notorious Khmer Rouge detention camp who was sentenced to life in prison following convictions on war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Held on Thursday evening at Rutgers University in the US state of New Jersey, the event – centred on the panel discussion and a documentary film screening – was organized by the Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme, part of the UN Department of Public Information, and the Rutgers University Center for the Study of Genocide, Conflict Resolution, and Human Rights and the Documentation Center of Cambodia. In addition to the broader genocide and war crimes issues, the panel also explored the role of the United Nations in Cambodia and the impact of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) – the first tribunal ever held in the country where the atrocities where committed. Audience members also heard of the efforts of the Documentation Center to preserve memories and seek justice.
The panel discussion involved Mr. Mathias; Benny Widyono, a former representative of the UN Secretary-General in Cambodia; Professor Alex Hinton, the Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Genocide, Conflict Resolution, and Human Rights; Samphoas Huy, a representative of the Documentation Center of Cambodia; and Andi Gitow, a UN television producer who co-produced ‘Cambodia: A Quest for Justice,’ a documentary film on Mr. Kaing.
Mr. Kaing headed the Toul Seng security prison, also known as S-21, in Phnom Penh, where numerous Cambodians were unlawfully detained, subjected to inhumane conditions and forced labour, tortured and executed in the late 1970s. A minimum of 12,272 people died at S-21 over a period of three years.
As many as two million people – one-quarter of Cambodia’s then-population – are thought to have died during the rule of the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979, which was then followed by a protracted period of civil war in the South-East Asian country.
Through the UN Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials (UNAKRT), the world body has been assisting the ECCC – a hybrid court set up after a 2003 agreement between the UN and the Cambodian Government – try cases of mass murder and other crimes committed under the Khmer Rouge regime.
“One of the principal tasks of the Office of Legal Affairs at the UN is to insist that accountability follows serious international crimes like those that were committed in Cambodia,” Mr. Mathias told the gathering. “And the Secretary-General of the United Nations is at the forefront of the efforts of the United Nations to ensure that impunity is not tolerated.”
In describing her approach to making ‘Cambodia: A Quest for Justice,’ Ms. Gitow said that it was important to report on the facts and provide many perspectives, while always remaining sensitive to the impact it has on the survivors who appear in the film and others who have experienced the trauma.
In her remarks to the event, the manager of the Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme, Kimberly Mann, emphasised the importance of prosecuting the perpetrators of genocide and war crimes in furthering reconciliation efforts in the country. The Outreach Programme’s activities include producing online and print educational materials, holding seminars and exhibitions, screening films and the holding the annual worldwide observance of the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust on 27 January each year.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
UN Security Council Opens Possibility of International Military Force in Mali
Citing the threat to regional peace from terrorists and Islamic militants in rebel-held northern Mali, the United Nations Security Council has now held out the possibility of endorsing, within the next 45 days, an international military force to restore the unity of the West African country. In a unanimously adopted resolution, the 15-member body called on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to provide, at once, military and security planners to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU) and other partners to help frame a response to a request by Mali’s transitional authorities for such a force, and to report back within 45 days.
Upon receipt of the report, and acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the Council said it was ready “to respond to the request of the Transitional authorities of Mali regarding an international military force assisting the Malian Armed Forces in recovering the occupied regions in the north of Mali.” Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter allows the Council to use force in the face of a threat to peace or aggression, taking “such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security,” including blockades and other operations by the forces of Member States.
In August, the Council urged ECOWAS, in cooperation with the transitional authorities, the AU Commission and regional countries, to prepare detailed proposals for a stabilization force to restore the territorial integrity of the country.
Fighting between Malian Government forces and Tuareg rebels broke out in the country’s north in January. The instability and insecurity resulting from the renewed clashes, as well as the proliferation of armed groups in the region, drought and political instability in the wake of a military coup d’état in March, have led over 250,000 Malians to flee to neighbouring countries, with another 174,000 Malians estimated to be internally displaced. In addition, Islamist militants currently control the country’s north and have imposed strict Sharia law, including amputation of limbs as punishment.
The Security Council called on Malian rebel groups to cut off all ties to terrorist organizations, notably Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and affiliated groups, and expressed its readiness to adopt targeted sanctions against those groups which do not do so. It also urged the Transitional authorities, rebels and other legitimate representatives of the local population in the northern Mali to engage, as soon as possible, in credible negotiations to seek a sustainable political solution in conformity with the country’s unity, and demanded that all groups in the north cease all human rights violations such as attacks against civilians, sexual violence, recruitments of child soldiers and forced displacements.
The Security Council resolution reiterated “grave concern” at the continuing deterioration of the security and humanitarian situation in the north of Mali, the increasing entrenchment of terrorist elements including AQIM, affiliated groups and other extremist groups, and its consequences for the countries of the Sahel and beyond. In addition, it strongly condemned the abuses of human rights committed “by armed rebels, terrorist and other extremist groups, including violence against its civilians, notably women and children, killings, hostage-taking, pillaging, theft, destruction of cultural and religious sites and recruitment of child soldiers,” and stressed that some of these acts might amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
Executions in Iran
A group of i
ndependent United Nations human rights experts has called on Iran to immediately halt all executions, particularly the 11 that were scheduled for Saturday, and establish a moratorium with the aim of abolishing the death penalty. “We urge the Iranian authorities to stop the executions of Saeed Sedeghi and 10 other individuals scheduled for Saturday, 13 October,” said the UN Special Rapporteurs on Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, on extrajudicial executions, Christof Heyns, and on torture, Juan E. Méndez.
Mr. Sedeghi was sentenced to death on 2 June 2012 for drug-related offences. According to available information, Mr. Sedeghi did not receive a fair trial and was subjected to torture during his detention, according to a news release from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). “Any death sentence must comply with international obligations related to the stringent respect of fair trial and due process guarantees, as stipulated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the Islamic Republic of Iran is a State party,” the experts stressed. “In countries which have not abolished the death penalty, the sentence of death can be imposed only for the most serious crimes, which do not include drug crimes. Cases that do not meet these standards are tantamount to arbitrary executions,” noted the experts, who are tasked by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council with examining and reporting back, in an unpaid capacity, on specific human rights themes.
Over 300 people are known to have been executed since the beginning of 2012, the majority in respect of drug-related activities. A large number is reportedly on death row, and face risk of imminent execution.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
International Law Weekend
International Law Weekend 2012 will be held on October 25-27, 2012 in New York City. The overall theme of ILW 2012 is Ideas, Institutions, and Interests – Dynamics of Change in International Law. There will be over 40 panels dealing with international law issues. ILW 2012 is expected to attract an audience of more than 1,000 practitioners, academics, diplomats, members of the governmental and nongovernmental sectors, and foreign policy and law students who are learning about the range of practice and career opportunities.
Mexico Files WTO Complaint Against China Regarding Textile Subsidies
Yesterday, Mexico notified the World Trade Organization (WTO) that it is requesting consultations with China concerning several measures allegedly taken by China to support the production and exports of clothing and textile products. Mexico requested consultations because it believes China is maintaining a wide variety of measures that support producers and exporters of apparel and textile products, both directly and indirectly. Mexico stated that these measures appear to involve both prohibited ("red light") and actionable ("yellow light") subsidies that are inconsistent with China’s obligations under the Subsidies and Countervailing Measures Agreement, GATT 1994, the Agreement on Agriculture, and China’s Accession Protocol. More information will be available shortly on the WTO website under case number WT/DS451/1.
October 15, 2012
Human Slavery and Trafficking
The American Bar Associaiton is offering its members a free CLE program on how to detect and combat trafficking and human slavery. One of the resources just shared is the website "Truckers Against Trafficking," which includes a powerful training video. Click here for more information.
October 14, 2012
Online Journal of Africa AffairsThe Online Journal of Africa Affairs (OJAA) is currently accepting manuscripts for publication. OJAA publishes in English, in all areas of the subject pertaining to political issues in African countries. The OJAA provides free access to its articles, which provides a large readership base. Click here for more details about the journal.
UN Can Help Countries Establish the Rule of Law
With its many years of experience and its entrenched neutrality, the United Nations is ideally placed to help countries establish the rule of law, a vital factor in post-conflict reconstruction, overall development and enforcing fundamental rights, a top UN official said last week. “Newly-constituted governments are looking to the United Nations for advice and assistance in constitution-making processes, reforming justice and security institutions and dealing with legacies of atrocities,” Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told the General Assembly committee that deals with international legal matters, also known as the Sixth Committee.
“The United Nations has a comparative advantage in providing this assistance,” Mr. Eliasson stressed, noting that it is currently helping 150 Member States on various aspects of the rule of law. “We have a broad range of experience dating back many years. The UN brings neutrality and the weight of the international community to the work. We are also using out convening power to advance the issues and the debate.”
The committee is following up on the Assembly’s High-Level Meeting on the Rule of Law that was held last month, when world leaders stressed the universality of humanitarian law and the importance of the system of international courts in enforcing fundamental human rights.
Mr. Eliasson highlighted the crucial role played by the network of international tribunals such as the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal UN judicial organ set up in 1945 to settle legal disputes submitted by States, and the more recent Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC), an independent international body that is not part of the UN and tries those accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Other UN-backed country-specific international courts deal or have dealt with such crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Cambodia. Mr. Eliasson reiterated the call Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made at last month’s meeting for all States to accept the jurisdiction of the (ICJ).
“The International Court of Justice plays a particularly important role,” he said. “It is the only judicial forum to which Member States can bring virtually any legal dispute concerning international law. No other forum’s jurisdiction is as far-reaching. Yet the court is only competent to hear a case if the States concerned have accepted its jurisdiction.”
Only 67 of the UN’s 193 Member States, or 34 per cent, including only one permanent member of the Security Council, currently accept the ICJ’s compulsory jurisdiction. That compares with 59 per cent in 1948, when 34 of the then 58 UN Member States, including four of the five permanent members of the Security Council, recognized its jurisdiction.
Mr. Eliasson highlighted the crucial role played by the UN-backed international criminal tribunals, noting that the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) last year sentenced former Liberian President Charles Taylor to 50 years in prison for planning and abetting crimes committed by Sierra Leonean rebel forces during that country’s civil war, finding him guilty of acts of terrorism, murder, rape, sexual slavery and enlisting child soldiers.
Meanwhile, the ICC earlier this year found Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo guilty of conscripting child soldiers under the age of 15 into his militia in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and jailed him for 14 years.
Looking forward, Mr. Eliasson called for strengthening the linkages between the rule of law and all three pillars of the UN’s mission – peace and security; development; and human rights. This includes strengthening peace and security in post-conflict countries; establishing the necessary framework for commerce and international trade, including the sanctity of contracts and labour safeguards; and the need for governments to ratify international rights treaties and promulgate national laws that uphold these obligations.
(Adapted from a UN press release)