Friday, November 9, 2012
The practice of enforced disappearances perseveres in many countries, a group of independent United Nations experts warned today, following their review of more than 400 cases spanning 31 nations. At the conclusion of its 98th session held in Geneva, the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances expressed their “deepest concern” that 20 years since the adoption of the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced disappearance, the practice of vanishing people was still continuing unabated around the world.
The Declaration was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1992. Among its articles, it states that “any act of enforced disappearance is an offence to human dignity,” and it condemns such actions “as a grave and flagrant violation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
The Working Group was established by the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1980 to assist families in determining the fate and whereabouts of disappeared relatives. It seeks to establish a channel of communication between the families and the Governments concerned to ensure cases are investigated.
In their news release, the experts also drew attention to a two-day event which opened their annual session on October 30th and was devoted to the impact of enforced disappearances on women, as well as on the role of women as actors of change. In addition, they underlined their session’s focus on the issue of reparations, methods of work, past and potential country visits, and specific country situations, particularly in the context of obstacles encountered in the implementation of the Declaration.
(Excerpt from a UN Press Release)
In an 8-3 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, sitting en banc, ruled earlier this week that two American contractors allegedly tortured by U.S. forces in Iraq cannot sue former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for damages. The decision reverses a ruling by a three-judge panel of the same court.
The plaintiffs, Donald Vance and Nathan Ertel, were working for a private security firm in Iraq in 2006 when they were arrested and detained on suspicion of illegal dealing in arms. A Detainee Status Board eventually determined that they were innocent of the allegations and they were released after several days without being formally charged. The plaintiffs sued, claiming that they were subjected to abusive interrogation and mistreatment by U.S. soldiers during their detention, including threats, sleep deprivation, denial of food, water and medical care, hooding, and exposure to loud music and extreme cold. They argued that Rumsfeld had authorized harsh interrogation techniques in Iraq and should be held accountable.
No U.S. statute authorizes damages against military personnel for mistreatment of detainees in these circumstances. Accordingly, the issue confronting the court was whether the court should create a private cause of action for damages against U.S. solders for abusive interrogation or mistreatment of prisoners under common law. The court declined to do so because subjecting those in the command chain to such lawsuits could hamper military effectiveness. In addition, the court reasoned that making defense secretaries liable for damages could unduly distract them from their critical public duties. The proper remedy, according to the court, is a suit for damages payable by the public Treasury, not a private party, and possible criminal action for violating the Detainee Treatment Act.
The Court's decision in Vance and Ertel v. Rumsfeld, No. 10-1687 and 10-2442, may be found here.
Thursday, November 8, 2012
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has announced that it will deliver its judgment in the Maritime and Territorial Dispute between Nicaragua and Columbia at a public hearing on Monday, November 19, 2012 at 3 pm. The reading of the decision will also be broadcast live. More information can be found in the press release.
Nicaragua instituted this proceeding in 2001 to settle questions regarding title to certain islands in the western Caribbean.
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
The International Law Section of the American Bar Association has announced the third annual "Live from L", a conversation with Harold Hongju Koh, Legal Advisor of the U.S. Department of State's Office of the Legal Advisor (aka "L"). The event will be held from noon to 2 pm on January 10, 2013 at the George Washington School of Law in Washington, DC. The event is also cosponsored by the American Society of International Law. Registration information will be available shortly.
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum holds an event in Chicago on Wednesday, November 14, 2012. Michael Dobbs, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Goldfarb Fellow, will discuss the Hague trial of Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb military leader who is accused of orchestrating Europe's deadliest massacre since World War II. He will discuss some of the documents, video recordings, and intercepted phone calls that shed light on Mladic's personality and motives.
The program will be held twice on November 14, 2012. The first discussion will be at noon at the Kirkland & Ellis law firm, 300 N. LaSalle Street, in Chicago. The second will be held at 7 p.m. at Am Shalom, 840 Vernon Avenue, in Glencoe, Illinois. The programs are free and open to the public, but advance reservations are requested. Call 1-847-604-1924.
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
As I watch the unending coverage of the elections in the United States this evening, I cannot help but be struck by the differences in the meaning of the right to vote in the United States and other countries of the world.
China is also holding an election this week at its 18th Party Congress, at which time the Chinese will elect a new president and a new premier. However, unlike the winner of the U.S. election, the Chinese elections seem a foregone conclusion as it is expected the the vice president and vice chair will take the places of their former party bosses.
In Zimbabwe, the government reports that it does not have sufficient revenue (estimated to be $219 million), to conduct national elections, including a vote for a new president. That may mean that President Robert Mugabe continues his three decades of rule. Contrast that amount with the estimated $6 billion spent in the United States on the 2012 election.
Despite the flaws in our electoral process,we in the United States should be grateful that we have choices and the resources to effectuate those choices.
Here is a video of an electronic voting machine being used today in the United States. The voter wants to select OBAMA, but when he does, the vote registers for Romney. The Obama campaign is aware of the problem. We will have to see how this plays out.
The surge in websites that promote hate speech and racism requires States to implement measures to combat online extremism without curbing freedom of speech, a United Nations independent expert said yesterday. “The increase of extremist hate websites, the use of the Internet and social media by extremist groups and individuals to propagate hate speech and incite racial violence, and the increased number of incidents of racist violence and crimes prompted by racist content on the Internet remain to be addressed, despite the adoption of positive measures,” the Special Rapporteur on Racism, Mutuma Ruteere, told the General Assembly in New York, during the presentation of two reports, one on racism on the Internet and the other on extremist political parties, movements and groups.
In relation to his report on racism on the Internet, Mr. Ruteere called for greater cooperation on this issue among governments, international bodies, the private sector, civil society and local communities, and stressed that a cohesive approach developed through dialogue is needed. In particular, he noted that States should adopt legislative measures that examine the link between manifestations of online racism and hate crimes committed. “Additional measures such as self- and co-regulatory initiatives developed by service providers and other relevant actors may also be useful in making efforts more effective,” Mr. Ruteere said.
“I believe that a possible way of countering racism on the Internet is through content diversification, in particular by promoting local content,” he added, inviting States to adopt policies and strategies to make the Internet widely accessible and affordable to all. “Education about racist content on the Internet and awareness raising measures are also important tools.” However, the Special Rapporteur emphasized that any measures taken to counter online racism should not limit the right to freedom of expression and opinion and should comply with international human rights law. “Any restrictions, control and censorship of the content disseminated via the Internet should be done on a clearly defined legal basis and in a manner that is necessary, proportionate and compatible with States’ international human rights obligations including under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,” he stated.
Mr. Ruteere’s report on extremist political parties, movements and groups urges States to adopt the necessary legislation to protect vulnerable groups who are victims of racist and xenophobic attacks. “A comprehensive approach based on a solid legal framework is essential,” he told the General Assembly when presenting the report. He also encouraged States to strengthen awareness-raising activities aimed at fostering tolerance, to sensitize youth on the dangers of ideologies and activities of extremist groups, and to strengthen governments’ capacity to address racist crimes through human rights trainings. “Cooperation with all the relevant actors, including civil society, is crucial to effectively prevent the rise and dissemination of extremist ideologies based on racial superiority,” he said, adding that political leaders and parties have the responsibility to condemn and refrain from disseminating messages that scapegoat vulnerable groups and incite racial discrimination.
Independent experts, or special rapporteurs like Mr. Ruteere, are appointed, in an honorary capacity, by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
Monday, November 5, 2012
The World Trade Organization (WTO) announced today that China has requested consultations with the European Union (EU) and some of its member states regarding measures affecting the renewable energy generation sector relating to the feed-in tariff programmes of these EU member states. The affected member states include (but are not limited to) Italy and Greece. The measures include domestic content restrictions and are inconsistent with the GATT 1994, the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (SCM) and the Agreement on Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMS). The matter has been assigned case number WT/DS452/1.
A request for consulations is the first step in the initiation of a dispute resolution matter at the WTO. The parties have 60 days in which to engage in consulations to resolve the matter before China may request the establishment of a dispute resolution panel.